Charmaine’s spicy parsnip soup

KEEP your pumpkins for lanterns (for now at least) and turn to another of those seasonal veg for a great tasting soup – parsnips.
This dumbed down version of Charmaine Soloman’s spicy parsnip soup doesn’t take long to make and is a cheery enough to warm even the greyest day.
What you need
1lb parsnips, peeled and chopped into cubes.
2 stalks celery.
6 cups stock
2 tablspns oil
2 leeks
1 tsp mild curry powder
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 cup cream
1 tsp toasted cumin seeds and yoghurt to garnish.

What you do

Heat oil
Saute leeks until golden.
Add curry powder, chopped parships and celery and cook for a further 2 mins.
Add stock and simmer for 25 mins until tender.
Cool slightly and puree in a blender.
Reheat with the cream but don’t boil.
Garnish with toasted cumin seeds, choppped parsley and yoghurt.
serves 4-6
The full recipe for this soup in Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook includes first making stock from parsnip peelings, parsley and leek green leves. It’s worth the effort if you’rve time but otherwise you can simplify it by using pre-prepared vegetable stock. This is a recipe I’ve tried and test many times and it’s always a winner. Keep it thick and serve with crusty bread for a supper – perfect after bonfire night.
Thanks to Marj Joly for the pictures of organic, allotment grown parsnips.

Get green with leftovers

I was very heartened to read that the WI is coming to our rescue in the fight against greenhouse gases by giving the Government some advice on how to use up leftovers.
Apparently we waste a third of all the food we buy – that’s 6.7 million tonnes of food a year of which at least half is still edible.
Not only that, it estimated to cost each British household from £250 to £400 a year and releases methane, the most potent of the greenhouse gases.
I’m not at all surprised that the WI have got involved. After all, those unfashionable thrifty kitchen tips have kept women going through many past crisis – and every Christmas!
But what I do hope is that they include ways to make the menfolk appreciate these dishes. In my completely unscientific (and small!) survey of men’s eating habits, they tend to turn their noses up at anything with a whiff of recycled about it.
(If anyone wishes to challenge this sweeping generalisation, please go ahead below!)
So as we all gear up to plan meals, make smaller portions and use up anything leftover in a tasty and nutritious dishes we can now feel good about helping the environment too.
Time for a resurgence of popularity for the books of Marguerite Patten and to bring on the bubble and squeak and bread and butter pudding!
Thanks to avlxyz for the picture and a delicious looking leftover recipe.

Food bloggers unite!

With such an active blogging community across Manchester at the moment, I thought I’d try to link up with all the other city food blogs right here. If you’re busy cooking, eating, dining and sharing it all, then let me know and I’ll update this foodie blog roll.
So far I’ve found these like-minded souls:
Around the world in 80 dinners. Some nice pictures and city centre restaurant observations from the “Middle aged, middle class and growing midriff” of Robert Hamilton.
GastroGrrl. Food reviews, thoughts and opinions from this Macclesfield based blogger.
North Star Deli. As the name suggests this is a blog attached to a deli (in Chorlton) but it’s more than a platform to sell wares. Blogger Deanna provides recipes, tips, healthy suggestions and news about her many radio appearences as well as reports from local food events.
Secret lunch. This blog’s so secret there’s no hint as to its author and no contact details either but I enjoyed his(?) first experience of Japanese food at the New Samsi. Some interesting pictures too.
If you’ve got a food blog let me know about it by submitting the details below, dropping me an email or joining in on the Facebook group We live to eat (and blog) or the <a href=”Flickr group“>photo pool on Flickr
Thanks to Nico for the image on this page.

Fudge or compromise over organic?

Today’s news from the Soil Association doesn’t seem to have won much support. The organisation responsible for ensuring that food labelled “organic” meets strict standards has decided that air-freighted produce must also achieve ethical standards too.
The Soil Assiociation’s statement says that, in future, air freighted organic food will have to meet it’s own Ethical Trade standards or the Fairtrade Foundation’s standards .
Anna Bradley, chair of the Soil Association’s Standards Board explained: “It is neither sustainable nor responsible to encourage poorer farmers to be reliant on air freight, but we recognise that building alternative markets that offer the same social and economic benefits as organic exports will take time. Therefore, the Soil Association will be doing all it can to encourage farmers in developing countries to create and build organic markets that do not depend on air freight.”
But according, to the Farmer’s Guardian , the announcement has angered Government officials who say a limit on air-freighted organic produce could harm developing world markets.
And Nigel Jenney, ceo of the Fresh Produce Consortium, also slammed the proposals. He said: “It is unfortunate that the SA has chosen to ignore the independent data provided by the industry, and has proceeded to promote the concept of airfreighting produce as an emotive issue. The produce industry as a whole accounts for no more than three per cent of the UK’s carbon footprint, so perhaps the SA should focus its attention on other organic sectors with a much larger footprint. Most airfreighted produce is flown on passenger airlines, which would fly regardless of their cargo.
Even The Guardian seems to be in no doubt that the SA’s proposal isn’t strong enough. “Fudge. Intelligent fudge, sincere fudge – but fudge all the same” it decides in a leader column.
It’s actually hard to spot the most just argument here. The hard fact is that the sort of people who buy organic food believing that they’re doing their bit towards a healthier, more sustainable future are the exact same people who want to help the poorest farmers in the world.
Those two conflicting aspirations will never be successfully converged by Government committees, watchdogs or any other bodies. Only consumers will ultimately make that choice with the pound in their pocket.

Award for Indian Ocean

Well done to the The Indian Ocean in Ashton under Lyne which has been named the region’s finest curry house at the 2007 British Curry Awards.
Chefs at the restaurant on Stamford Street East have been serving up spicy sensations since 1993 and can now proudly declare that they are the best in the North West.
I shall certainly be getting along there in the near future, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your views on the restaurant right here.
The Indian Ocean is at Stamford Street East, Ashton-under-Lyne. OL6 6QH. 0161 343 3343.

Lunch break: Earth Cafe

Earth Cafe qualifies as an institution in my book. It seems to have always been there, tucked below the Manchester Buddhist Centre in Turner Street and it never changes. It doesn’t need to.
As one of the only solely vegetarian establishments in the city, it holds a special place in many people’s hearts and satisfies a demand which is often left lacking elsewhere.
The style of service (DIY) is a bit baffling but the food is great and the welcome genuinely warm. There’s not many places where you’re thanked for going – and actually you believe them!
The menu is restricted to a few choices, offered canteen style at the counter on the way in. There’s always a daily special for value plus a good range of smoothies as well as a cabinet aching with substantial looking cakes.
I tried the autumn pie (pictured). A surprisngly light mixture of lentils, root vegetables under the crispest pastry lid I’ve savoured for a long while.
Himself was equally delighted with his vegetarian paella which was heaped with veg and stylishly seasoned.
Unable to resist the cake counter, we finished with the moistest, lightest, fruitiest carrot cake that I’ve ever had. No small claim for a carrot cake connoisseur such as me.
The style of Earth is very much a cafe and it doesn’t open in the evening. There’s always a peaceful backing track suitable for its Buddhist ethics which could prove fainly irritating or deeply relaxing depending on your frame of mind. See what I mean with this clip of the atmosphere.
It might not be the best place to attempt to clinch a high-powered business deal, but as an escape from the hustle and bustle and some wholesome nutrition, Earth can’t be beaten.
Style: Inexcusably a bit dippy hippy.
Cooking: Good home-cooked vegetarian fayre.
Plus: Tasty, hoenst ethical change from the norm.
Minus: Doesn’t open in the evening.
Value: Difficult to beat. £2-3 for a dish and generous portions.
Earth Cafe is at 16 – 20 Turner Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester. M4 1DZ. 0161 834 1996

So what are you supposed to do with a chicken’s neck?

I know I’m being a bit pathetic, but I’m still plucking up the courage to deal with this – a chicken neck.
My excellent award-winning local butcher Mettricks provided this fantastic chicken for yesterday’s special meal. It’s so traceable that I think I’m in danger of being presented with pictures of its parents as well as being truly local, fresh and good value.
However I hadn’t banked on the livers, heart and neck being part of the package.
Yesterday they were just thrown into the fridge but today I’m working up to using them.
It does seem a waste to throw it away (my mum didn’t seem to keen on taking it away) so I’m determined to get over my sqeamishness and make some delicious chicken soup.
First stage the stock, so the stock pot will be out tonight with all the bits and bobs bubbling.
All I’ve got to consider know is that, when the whole gruesome thing is over, will I actually want to eat any of it? For a former veggie this is something of a trial of head over heart.
I’ll let you know how it goes but if anyone has any recipes that could help, let me know below or on my Facebook group We live to eat (and blog).

Cooking for mother

I’m planning a special birthday treat for my mum this weekend – a lovely home cooked meal, some good wine and excellent company(of course) with no washing up or preparation on her part.
So why am I running around like a headless chicken? There just seems to be so much to organise and a particular stress which comes from cooking for my mum.
I don’t get to see her very often, mainly because she’s too busy running a cafe, and my main challenge is that she’s a very good cook. So what do you feed the woman who can whip up syllabub at the drop of the hat and is known for miles around for the quality of her game pies?
After hours of agonising over the menu (this all seemed very straightforward when I made the invitation all those weeks ago) I’ve decided to keep it simple with dishes I know I can produce.
For starters there’s going to be that old favourite mackeral pate . Well I haven’t (yet) found anyone who doesn’t like it and I’ve got some very posh horseradish which I bought from a deli earlier in the summer and haven’t had occassion to use.
Then I’m going to do roast (local) chicken stuffed with lemon on a bed of celeriac with wilted spinach and root vegetables. What do you think? Surely everyone would like that?
But I’m still at a loss over the desserts. I just can’t make good puds. I did manage to buy a giant pack of gourmet jelly beans today so I’m toying with the idea. Could I get away with it?

Why do I always tell lies in restaurants?

It’s true. I always tell porky pies in restaurants . When that waiter arrives to check everything’s OK (i.e. making sure you’re going to pay the bill) I always nod and smile or otherwise acquiesce. But why?
Last night was a case in point at a restaurant I won’t name (it’s not in Manchester). After being served a starter of watery, over-chilled crab with tasteless cucumber relish and disagreeable, dying alfalfa sprouts, I returned the half full plate with a nod and a smile.
Why didn’t I explain why I’d left most of it because it was revolting? Hoping for a better main course, I suppose I wanted to keep the peace. Not make a fuss.
The main (pictured) was worse.

The sauce the consistency of custard with a taste I could only compare to a student toilet after too much cider had been consumed. Then there was the “herb-crust”. I’m not convinced it wasn’t actually stuffing mix with added soap. If it wasn’t, then it certainly did a good impression.

All this for the bargain price of more than £11 but what did I do? Pay, smile and then go home fuming about being ripped off. Obviously I will never, ever return – even if it becomes the last restaurant on earth – but why did I, and presumably lots of other people, pay up?
Yes there’s the embarrassment factor, then there’s the fear that it goes back to kitchen and some unspeakable bodily fluid is added before it return appearance. But more than anything I think it’s recognition that bad food is the norm and that good food is the exception.
After all, how can something that is truly vile be improved? It’s easy to rectify if the food is just not hot or burnt, but what if the entire idea of the dish is wrong?
Every single plate of it is going to be the same because that’s how it has been concocted. Only a mass rejection will ever persuade the chef that he’s gone off the rails.
So, having been so cowardly in person, I can only hope that enough people will never return to make the owners question their menu and tackle it themselves.

What a foodie night!

On what must be the worst night of the year to get a meal out in Manchester, everybody who is anybody in the food business was celebrating their success at the town hall last night.
There maybe a few surprises in the prizewinners, but mainly there will be the acknowledgement of well-deserved praise.
But as the top chefs, bar tenders, food producers and critics sat down to enjoy their gala dinner last night – the unenviable task of catering for such an exacting crowd fell to the Manchester’s Fayre.
Helped by some of the city’s top chefs, they delivered a feast fit for the Oscars of the food world. It was hard to keep count of the courses but each was a distinct part of the evening.
As the Champagne was quaffed and the congratulations proffered, these unsung heroes managed to deliver courses as varied as salt cod (designed by David Bright from Luso) and smoked duck salad (designed by Jem O’Sullivan from Café Jem and I).
The highlight for me had to be the trio of desserts designed by Andrew Nutter from Nutters Restaurant (pictured).
The fluffy, creamy, cheescake take on Kendal mint cake was genius and the chocoholics heaven would have any addict falling flatly, willingly and gratefully off any choc fast.
The festival maybe over for another year but the dinner was a reminder of how far the city has come in ten years and a chance to look forward to future success.
See more pictures from the event at my Flickrstream.
What did you think of this year’s festival? Let me know below.