Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Weekend Soup! - Anthony Bourdain's fennel & tomato soup

This is the recipe that has changed my mind about tomato soup and fennel forever.

I don't like tomato soup. Not the kind I was fed as a child, which was out of a can and topped up with a couple of cups of milk. It made me gag. As a four year old I knew it was rubbish, refused to eat it and still do.

And I have a difficult relationship with aniseed flavours. I find this strange given that I sat at my mother's knee as a child, taking sips from her ouzo and coke on hot summer nights, liking the combination of coke and aniseed flavour so much that it became my mixed drink of choice in my early 20s.

So then, I like ouzo. I like licorice. Star anise as part of mixture of other spices is fine. And while I avoided dill for long time I now tolerate it, finding that I enjoy it more as I grow older. I don't like fennel and have given it a wide berth until this winter when, faced with the need to look to other vegetables in view of constraints imposed by a recently diagnosed fructan intolerance/malabsorption, I thought I'd give it (yet) another try.

In early winter, with some trepidation, I made Toby Puttock's 'Celery and parsnip soup with bottarga' (Delicious, June 2010, p.50). Except I didn't use bottarga, I used bacon instead and despite having fennel as one of its ingredients, it was delicous. So lovely, light and yummy I've made it several times since.

And now I'm giving tomato soup and fennel and another go. When I posted my first weekend soup! recipe a friend contacted me to share her recipe with me. Here is it is in Ellen's words:


This recipe came from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook at a time when I was tearing my hair out over Stella’s rejection of food - pretty much every food, all the time – and I was trying to figure out how I could incorporate her love of liquorice into real food. Hence the aniseed taste of fennel proved to be an absolute winner, and I believe I almost cried when she told me this was yummy. And it is so simple to make. I love this soup!

4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small potato, cut into ½ cm cubes
1 225ml can plum tomatoes (Italian roma tomatoes)
6 cups/1.35 litres of chicken stock or broth
salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat, add fennel, onion and potato. Reduce heat to medium-low and let the vegetables sweat for 10 minutes, taking care not to let them brown. Add the tomatoes, cook for 10 minutes more. Stir in the chicken stock, bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 1 hour.

Remove the pot from heat and let the soup cool for a few minutes. Transfer the mix to a blender, working in batches to avoid accidents (and yes, there have been accidents aplenty in my kitchen from being too greedy and overfilling the blender!), and puree til smooth. Return to the pot, bring to the boil, lower to a simmer, season with salt and pepper. Serves 6.

Anthony Bourdain also suggests adding a few slices of garlic with the vegetables at the beginning, and a few drops of Pernod at the end. That’d probably be fantastic, but I like the basic soup just as it is…maybe with a Pernod or Ricard to go with it though!!

I made this recipe today and can categorically say that it is absolutely SENSATIONAL.

It's light and fresh but has enough substance to make it a great winter soup that doesn't weigh you down. Sweating the vegetables brings out a lovely sweetness, the addition of potato moderates any overbearing aniseed flavour and I think provides the light creaminess to the soup once blended.

I did add garlic and a dash of pernod to the soup, and also did a Keith Floyd by enjoying an alcholic drink during its preparation this morning - a glass of pernod mixed with lemonade. My reaction to the pernod drink was one of 'yukky/refreshing', as a friend's toddler likes to say. I think it will grow on me.

'Twas the best of cheese

I felt very honoured to be invited to Cheese Club last week. You can read all about it here.

My favourite? The Sovrano.

Please Sir, I want some more...

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Weekend Soup! - Spiced Cauliflower Soup

Each weekend in winter I try and cook a soup.

Soup is a great way of making the most of in-season vegetables and using up those left in the crisper at the end of the week. It provides me with a couple of delicious mid-week lunches to take to work, plus it's usually cheap to make (the deli near my workplace is absolutely gouging for a serve of soup - $9.00 for a cup of soup and some bread! Good grief Charlie Brown).

This weekend I made spiced cauliflower soup taken from The Beverly Sutherland Smith Collector's Edition. I have a couple of cookbooks written by her but this small cookbook is the one I use the most, featuring recipes published in The Age . Beverly Sutherland Smith wrote for The Age for nearly 20 years. Her cooking school was founded in 1967 and continues to run today. I think of her as Melbourne's answer to Margaret Fulton, although our Bev hasn’t become a grand dame of Australian cooking in the way that Madge has now become. This is a shame.

I have had this cookbook for nearly 10 years and use it regularly. It's organised by seasons and so is a great way to find a recipe to use in-season vegetables or a glut of something from the veggie garden. What I most like about the book is that the techniques it employs are simple, and it uses ingredients I am likely to find in my pantry – I won’t be needing to make a dash down the street for a list of ingredients I am unlikely to ever use again when making one of these recipes.

The use of herbs, spices and flavourings throughout is restrained and reflects the legacy of British empire – nutmeg, cinnamon, bay leaf, peppercorns, allspice, mango chutney and soy sauce. Taste buds in the 70s were only just starting to get adventurous but the beginnings were there.

This weekend I made 'spicy cauliflower soup'. It is a great recipe to make when cauliflower is in season. I love the use of a mild curry powder in this soup - it takes me back to childhood dinners of curried sausages, where 'Keen's curry powder' was the essential ingredient for providing the spicy flavours of a curry.


1 tbls vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
1 medium red pepper, seeds removed and cut into fine strips
30g butter
1 medium onion
1 tspn medium to mild curry powder
½ medium cauliflower
½ tspn grated fresh ginger
3 cups chicken stock
1½ cups milk


Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan and cook the strips of red pepper until they are softened. Remove and leave on kitchen paper to drain.

Leave oil in the saucepan, add the butter and cook onion over a gently heat until it has softened and is a golden colour. Do not let it brown. Add the curry powder to the onion and cook for a few seconds until fragrant.

Prepare the cauliflower by removing the flowerettes from the stalks (Actually I just roughly chop the cauliflower up). Put chopped cauliflower into a basin and cover with water. Leave for about a minute then drain through a colander.

Add the cauliflower and ginger to the onion and curry. Cook for a minute then add the stock. Bring to the boil, place a lid on the saucepan and leave to cook gently for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is softened. Do not overcook as the flavour will be too strong.

Blend soup (I use a stick blender but you can simply mash the soup at this stage if you don’t have any blending devices). Add a cup of milk to the soup and adjust for consistency. You may need more than the 1½ cups of milk if it is thick.

Season with some salt and pepper. You can either add all the red peppers to the soup now or reserve them as a garnish – I tend to stir them through.

Enjoy as is or add a dollop of yoghurt before serving.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The MasterChef drinking game

Ok, a little fun to start with. And given that Masterchef finals week starts tonight, it's time to get this up and out there.

S. and I have been developing this game for a while. It pays homage to the Eurovision Song Contest drinking game.

In our version the ubquitous utterances, cliches and body language of the contestants and hosts become reasons for a swig of your favourite alcoholic drink. It can be a swig or a sip. You decide - you know if you have to get up for work the next morning or not.

One swig/sip

1. I really want this.

You all want it. That's why you entered the competion.

2. It means everything to me.

3. Cooking is everything to me.

4. I was gutted.

No, that's what happens to fish.

5. I'm not ready to leave yet.

Who will be until they are wearing the Masterchef crown?

6. I'm excited.

So was Big Kev. A favourite statement of Gary Mehigan's. His opinions on Big Kev are unknown.

7. You have... minutes to go.

Two swigs/sips

8. It's utter chaos in the kitchen.

9. It came down to the dish.

Really? That's what the contestants are being judged on? I'm shocked.

10. Gary Mehigan makes a (bad) pun.

11. Matt Preston does his 'one-two'.

When it seems like he is going to say something negative but no! He starts by using a negative adjective to describe something he really likes. He was only fooling us. What a joker.

12. George Calombaris goes up on his tip-toes to speak to Gary.

Three swigs/sips

12. George says a 'yeah' for emphasis at the end of the sentence.

He must have had elocution lessons since the last series, as this utterance is much rarer this season. Definitely worth a three sipper this year.

Scull the whole glass

13. George or Gary exclaim 'that's what I'm talkin' about!'

If there is anything I've missed, drop me a line and let me know. It would be a shame to let a good drinking opportunity to go past for want of a cue.

Good viewing and Happy drinking for finals week!

And so I begin...

A (rare) free Sunday afternoon and look what happens - a food blog. Finally.

Well, there's nothing new in a food blog. There are oodles of them around. Can I make mine different? Maybe.

There'll be restaurant reviews and recipes shared. But I hope to go beyond this by exploring food in its context - sometimes looking at it through historical, sociological or philosophical lenses, telling somebody's story, sometimes mine. Food in its context is about people's relationship/s to food.

And I hope that this blog is interactive. Please feel welcome to comment or start a conversation. Don't just lurk!