Category Archives: Soup

Cullen Skink

So, Christmas has come and Christmas has gone and I’m left poorer and fatter, yet full of seasonal cheer.  As is tradition, myself and Mr. Cay spent it in our usual manner – eating, drinking, and searching for the number of NHS Direct whilst pissed because (after all), the festive season just wouldn’t be the festive season without one minor medical emergency.  Whereas last year it was because I’d gotten a little too merry on the sherry and chopped my finger off whilst making roast potatoes, this time it was the turn of Mr. Cay who has developed a cracking dental abscess, which has led to half of his face swelling up and him being nigh on incapable of swallowing solids.

Because we are nothing if not resourceful, we weren’t going to let anything as minor as a bit of mouth knack ruin our Christmas dinner. So, I did what anyone would have done under the circumstances – dose the fella up with as much Bruichladdich as humanly possible, and serve him a (practically) liquid Christmas dinner. Whilst he may not have been able to enjoy any roast potatoes  cooked in sizzling Iberico pork fat, he was at least able to get his potato fix with a large streaming bowl of Cullen Skink. 

There is something wonderfully comforting about Cullen Skink – a traditional Scottish soup comprising of cream, potatoes and smoked haddock. Hearty and warming,  it reminds me slightly of the chowders you find being served up at restaurants across the East Coast of the USA – tailor made to stick to your ribs on a cold night.  Best of all, it’s the kind of thing you can make out of all the leftover Christmas dinner ingredients you may find mouldering away at the back of your fridge – that wrinkly stinky onion and forlorn shrivelled leek. Whilst some recipes suggest that you mash the potatoes prior to adding them to the broth, I worried that this may give the soup a ‘gluey’ texture, so merely diced them instead.

There’s no hard and fast rule about making this, and it’s the kind of dish that can easily be adapted to the ingredients that you may have on hand. Don’t skimp on the smoked haddock though. Its smokiness really does make this dish, so use the best that you can afford. We ate ours with nothing more than a sprinkle of fresh parsley, a crack of black pepper, and a shot of the best Scotch our pay packets could buy.


CULLEN SKINK (Makes five – six decent sized portions)

You will need:

  • Two fillets of undyed smoked haddock, chopped
  • Two potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used Rooster potatoes, as they are quite firm, and retain their shape well when cooked)
  • One onion, finely diced
  • One leek, washed and sliced
  • 250ml fish stock (if you’re really pushed, you can buy some fresh white fish stock from any major supermarket, but if possible, do make your own out of leftover haddock bones and skin)
  • 300ml double cream
  • Two bay leaves
  • A sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Make It!

  1. Sweat the onions and leeks in a tablespoon of oil until they turn translucent. Add the potatoes and cook for a minute or so until they have just begun to colour slightly.
  2. Add the fish stock, the bay leaves and 150ml of double cream. Bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes have softened slightly (there should be a slight bit of give when you insert a knife into them).
  3. Flake the chopped smoked haddock into the pot. Add the rest of the cream, season and simmer for another ten minutes.
  4. Strain the bay leaves out of the pot, and serve immediately with fresh parsley and lots of black pepper.
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Red Lentil & Lemon soup with Harissa croutons

And so, December rolls around again like a tinsel-bedecked juggernaut. The big kid in me always loves this month, with the promise of Christmas (and the prospect of a week devoted to immense gluttony) just around the corner.  The part of me that appreciates not working to walk in the middle of a howling hailstone storm, however, isn’t as keen.

I always think that Bootle looks especially bleak in the Winter months, when not even the sight of the Seaforth docks, with its grain silos wrapped in fairy lights and cheap tinsel, can alleviate some of the gloom. I walked home last night in the rain; the slick wet pavements lit up by the sodium glare of streetlights the same dirty colour as the snood I’d bundled into, and decided that I needed three things to get me through a cold Monday night:

1) Tea

2) A hug from Mr. Cay

3) Soup. And plenty of it

One of my favourite soups to make when the weather take a turn for the worse is this Red Lentil & Lemon soup. I first read it about it on Orangette, who describes it (quite aptly in my opinion) as being ‘a quiet soup’. Indeed, there is something reassuringly simple and comforting about this combination of lentils, cumin and lemon juice – although it doesn’t smack you in the face with spice, there is a certain ‘something’ about it which makes it so much more than just another lentil soup. The dab of tomato paste also lends it a certain umami zing, which is just the thing to put some life back into cold bones.

Because I like a bit of crunch with my soup, I also whipped up some Harissa Croutons from the leftovers of a sourdough loaf I’d baked on Sunday. Whilst I am a firm believer in the benefits of making your own Harissa (Eat Like a Girl has an excellent recipe on her blog if you feel like whipping up a batch sometime soon), I am also terribly lazy. So, I just used the stuff from a jar which I’d recently bought from Steenberg’s Organics.

Warm soup, spicy croutons, hot tea and Masterchef on the telly. Winter may have hit Bootle with a vengeance, but so long as I have all of these things at my disposal, life will always be good.

RED LENTIL & LEMON SOUP WITH HARISSA CROUTONS (Serves four)

Soup recipe adapted slightly from ‘In the kitchen with a good appetite’ by Melissa Clark. Harissa Croutons recipe originally by Eat Like a Girl

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onions, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin (I like to use whole cumin seeds, which are toasted in a pan and then ground in a pestle and mortar)
  • 100g  red lentils
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • ½ tsp  salt, or more to taste
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • Pinch of red chilli flakes
  • 2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken)
  • Juice of a lemon  to taste
  • A good handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

For the croutons

  • 1 tbsp harissa
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g sourdough bread, cubed

Make It!

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2. Combine the harissa and olive oil and season. Toss with the bread to coat. Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp, shaking occasionally.
  2. In a large pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and sweat for around 4 minutes  until golden.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook for another two minutes. Add the stock,  the lentils, and the carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook for around half an hour  until the lentils and carrots are soft. Taste, and add more salt if necessary.
  4. Once cooked, puree around half of the soup using a hand blender (or a food processor if you’re lucky enough to own one) . It should still be slightly chunky. Reheat if necessary, then stir in the lemon juice and fresh coriander. Serve the soup drizzled with good olive oil and topped with the harissa croutons.
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Blackburne House Café: Is this the best soup in Liverpool?

As a rule, I dislike soup which I haven’t made myself. You may think that this sounds like a ridiculously arsey statement, but it’s rare I find a café, restaurant or lunch emporium which manages to get such a simple dish right. Most of the soups I’ve eaten recently have tasted of overcooked vegetable mulch and old string. Hell, even the ones I’ve made myself have lacked that certain something (that something mainly being a) seasoning and b) the ability to not smell like I’ve been stewing knicker elastic for an hour and a half).

However, yesterday, I managed to stumble upon possibly the best soup purveyor on Hope Street (if not the whole of Liverpool City Centre), the Blackburne House Café.

Blackburne House is a pretty ace place. Not only is it home to the Liverpool branch of the W.I. (who, may I say, aren’t your average W.I. and seem like a rather cool bunch of ladies), but it’s also a place which supports women’s enterprise, health and wellbeing. They provide massages, well being sessions, education and help for freelancers, or women starting out in business. Despite working on Hope Street for (almost) eighteen months now, and walking past it practically every day,  I’ve never really visited its rather unassuming little café, preferring the (ever so slightly overpriced) delights of the deli situated in The Quarter.

However, on Monday, I was craving something warm and comforting, and – seeing as the last time I bought soup from The Quarter I ended up spending far too much money on something which was, frankly, disgusting – I decided to pay Blackburne House a visit and see what they had on offer. And blimey, I’m glad I did.

There’s no fussy flavours here, no flavours of the East or strange grains chucked in for a bit of exotic flare. Instead, this is simple, uncomplicated fare which puts me in mind of the kind of thing your Nan would make for you when you’re feeling under the weather.  Homemade, well seasoned and absolutely delicious, truly these are the king of soups. Which would go some way to explaining why I’ve gone there for my lunch three days in a row, and demolished a bowl in under five minutes whenever I’ve been there.

Special mention should also go to the bread  it’s served up with.  Soft, fresh, doughy and delicious, it’s just the thing for mopping up all of that excess. Not that you’ll have much if you’re anything like me. And, best of all, you can get this and a Diet Coke and still have a change from a fiver. Bargaintastic!

Does Blackburne House Café serve the best soup in Liverpool? Well, at the moment, I’m reserving judgement until I actually manage to eat a bowl of soup in every restaurant situated within the Merseyside area. But it definitely serves up the best soup on Hope Street. And when I’m cold, hungry and grumpy, that’s enough for me.

Blackburne House Café

Blackburne Place (just off Hope Street)

Liverpool

L8 7PE

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Leek and Potato Soup with Soda Bread

London, I love you, but Christ you’re bad for my liver. And my wallet. And, judging from the way I felt when I woke up on Sunday morning after raucously celebrating my best friend’s 30th birthday, stomach lining. I paid London a flying visit this weekend, and left it with possibly one of the worst hangovers I’ve had this year. A hangover which was not helped by having to sit on a freezing cold Rail Replacement Bus on the way back to Liverpool. I spent four hours last Sunday cursing Virgin Trains, the person who invented red booze, the person who invented air conditioning and everyone inbetween.

When I finally managed to wake up from my golden slumbers on Bank Holiday Monday, my body was craving only one thing. And it sure as hell wasn’t a trip to the gym. It required comfort and warmth with a side of pork products. This was a situation which called for soup and soda bread.

Leek and Potato soup is one of those economical recipes that I’m very fond of making when it’s a week before payday, I’m skint and there’s nothing in my fridge apart from half a bottle of (flat) diet coke and a few rotting vegetables. Simple and comforting with a wonderfully velvet texture, it also has the added bonus of making you feel all virtuous when you’ve spent an entire weekend pickling yourself in gin. And it tastes even better if you’ve decide to fry up some bacon and crumble that over the top of it. The crisp shards of pork shatter pleasingly underneath your teeth and add a nice contrast to the sleekness of the soup.

Because no soup is complete without something to dunk into it, I decided to make my own soda bread to mop up the excess. I’d never made soda bread before, and was slightly worried that it wouldn’t live up to the various versions I’d tossed down my gullet during numerous St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.  Whilst I make no claims to this version being 100% authentically Irish – I can confirm that it was damn tasty. So tasty in fact that I found myself almost eating an entire loaf in one sitting. But then again, I never have been one for moderation.

Soup, bread, bacon. A holy Trinity of delights. This is the kind of meal your soul thanks you for. And your belly probably won’t complain about it either.

LEEK AND POTATO SOUP WITH SODA BREAD

Soda Bread recipe adapted from BBC Good Food

For the soup:

  •     3 large leeks, white and light green parts only
  •     1 onion, diced
  •     2 tablespoons olive oil
  •     2 tablespoons butter
  •     4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  •     6 medium potatoes, cubed
  •     2 pints chicken stock
  •     Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  •     Sour cream, for serving (optional)

For the soda bread

  •  250g plain white flour
  •  250g plain wholemeal flour
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 25g butter, cut in pieces
  • 500ml buttermilk

Make It!

  1. First, make your bread.  Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6 and dust a baking sheet with flour. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then rub in the butter. Pour in the buttermilk and mix it in quickly with a table knife, then bring the dough together very lightly with your fingertips (handle it very, very gently). Now shape it into a flat, round loaf. This dough is incredibly sticky, so be careful when you’re handling it. And be sure to have a wet cloth handy, as it also manages to get everywhere.
  2. Put the loaf on the baking sheet and score a deep cross in the top. (Traditionally, this lets the fairies out, but it also helps the bread to cook through.) Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bread is brown and crusty, and bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If it isn’t ready after this time, turn it upside down on the baking sheet and bake until cooked. Transfer to a wire rack, cover with a clean tea towel (this keeps the crust nice and soft) and leave to cool.
  3. Now you’ve made your bread, it’s time for the soup. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan and add the onions, garlic, potatoes and leeks. Cook for 3-4 minutes until they begin to soften and turn brown.
  4.  Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Season well and simmer for around half an hour or so, until vegetables are tender.
  5.  Whizz the soup with a hand blender or in a blender until it turns smooth – don’t overdo this, otherwise the starch in the potatoes will turn your soup into glue. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sour cream. If you’re feeling fancy, you can also cook up some bacon and crumble this over the top of the soup. Serve with big fresh hunks of the soda bread which have been smothered in butter.
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Hot and Sour Soup with Scallops

I love soup, especially at this time of year when Winter decides to have its last big temper tantrum before Spring creeps in. I’m an especially big fan of Hot and Sour soup – that delicious treasure trove of textures and flavours. Packed full of spice and  lip puckering tartness, it’s just the thing to have at your disposal when you’re battling through those fierce February winds.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I live in a city with the oldest established Chinese community in the UK, it’s surprisingly difficult for me to find decent Hot and Sour soup in Bootle. Then again, it’s hard for me to find a decent Chinese takeaway – the only one that actually does good potstickers always gets my order wrong, and let’s not mention the slop they served me the last time I put an order in for Mapo Doufu.

My Dad is fond of saying that if you want something doing properly, then you should do it yourself. So, on Monday night, when my belly craved spice, I decided that there was nothing for it but to make a batch of soup for myself. Hot and Soup soup is great in that you can just throw in whatever you have hanging around in your fridge, from leftover pieces of cooked meat to vegetables which have seen much better days. I was lucky enough to have a a job lot of Isle of Man Queenie scallops in my fridge which were just begging to be used up in a dish like this. If you’ve never had Queenie scallops, I highly recommend that you rectify this oversight immediately. Small, sustainably farmed and gloriously sweet, they’re an absolute joy to both eat and cook with – and their delicate flavour accompanied the spiced broth perfectly.

I tweaked this recipe here and there – an extra dab of sriracha, the merest hint of dark soy sauce – until the finished product was rich, fragrant and just begging to be slurped down my gullett in a decidedly messy manner. It was so good that I ate two huge bowls for dinner, a bowl for breakfast and an even larger bowl for lunch. Hooray for three meal soups. And for decent Chinese food. More of this type of thing please.

HOT AND SOUP SOUP WITH SCALLOPS

You will need

  • 4 medium sized mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ginger, minced
  • A large handful of scallops
  • 450ml good quality chicken stock
  • 1 can bamboo shoots, drained
  • 1 pack of tofu (I prefer soft tofu but use whichever type you prefer), cut into squares
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (I used Chinkiang Black Vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • Sriracha, to taste
  • Salt and pepper to season

Make It!

  1. In a medium pot, sauté mushrooms and ginger until the mushrooms are translucent.  Add chicken stock, scraping up any bits of ginger or mushrooms that stuck to the pan. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. In small bowl, combine sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, Sriracha and black pepper, and add to soup(I quite like to add szechuan pepper at this stage to give the broth a bit of a kick) . Taste, adjusting the heat and sourness of the soup with additional Sriracha or rice vinegar, as needed. Feel free to add as much or as little of these ingredients as you like – I tend to find that everyone’s personal preference is different when it comes to these kinds of flavours.
  3. Bring the soup to boil. In a measuring cup, whisk the eggs together. Slowly pour in the beaten egg in a tiny stream, stirring the soup to break up the stream of eggs.
  4. Reduce heat to simmer.  Cook the scallops in a separate pan until they are just beginning to colour slightly. Then, add them, the bamboo shoots and the cubed tofu to the broth. Simmer for five minutes. Ladle in bowl and top with finely sliced spring onions.
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