This Sweetcorn Chowder is a hearty, vegetarian soup. It includes potatoes, which give it a thick, rib-sticking quality, which makes it perfect as a warming lunch on a cold winter’s day. To balance the sweetness of the sweetcorn, I have added smoked paprika which adds a smoky warmth and depth of flavour and also a touch of cayenne to give a bit more heat. Without these spices, and also the sour cream and chives which are added when it is served, I think this soup would be a bit too sweet and lacking in any complexity of flavour. My inspiration for the smoked paprika was my memory of the delicious, smoky corn cobs that we cook at our summer barbecues. I think that smokiness is a great flavour companion to sweetcorn.
My parents were very keen vegetable growers. They both loved to eat and to cook and they loved to produce home-grown vegetables to feed their family. Some vegetables, such as runner beans or onions, were good but not hugely better in taste to shop-bought versions. However, others such as new potatoes, peas, tomatoes and sweetcorn were so mind-blowingly different that it was almost like eating totally different vegetables.
Home-grown sweetcorn was one of my childhood favourites – young and eaten within hours of being picked so the natural sugars had not converted to starch – it was bursting with sweetness. This was in the 1970s and 1980s when supermarket veggies were not quite as good as they are now. Nowadays, the varieties of sweetcorn that are sold in shops are “supersweet”. The sweetness is good – no one wants un-sweetcorn – but it needs to be balanced. If you are cooking up a few sweetcorn cobs, here are some ideas to bring out the flavour.
Spice – As with this Sweetcorn Chowder recipe, adding some spice tempers the sweetness. Anything that adds a bit of warmth, such as paprika, is good.
Chilli – Adding a hit of chilli heat – either dried or fresh – is a great way to bring out the flavour of sweetcorn. Go as hot as you like.
Herbs – Adding a bit of herby greeness also balances sweetcorn’s sweeness. Coriander (cilantro), parsley or chives are good flavour partners. You need something with a bit of a punch.
Smoke – As with this recipe, sweetcorn loves a bit of smoke. Put it on the barbecue or grill it in the oven to give it that delicious smoky roasted flavour. Or you can cheat and add smoked paprika as I have done in this recipe.
Sour – Clearly, sour balances sweet! Add a squeeze of lemon, or even better lime, to make your sweetcorn’s flavour sing.
Fat – Not a healthy option but, as with many things, a big knob of butter will make it taste so much better.
Salt – A sprinkling of salt will bring out that delicious sweet flavour.
Savoury Pancakes are a fantastic make-ahead vegetarian supper. In this recipe, I have made a simple filling of garlic-flavoured mushrooms and have included some fresh chives in the pancake batter. The pancakes are rolled around the filling, topped with grated cheese and then heated through in the oven. The finished dish is a bit like a baked pasta dish – lasagne or cannelloni – but using pancakes make it less heavy. The other advantage of using pancakes rather than pasta is that you can put additional flavourings, such as the chives, into the batter.
I love all kinds of pancakes – both sweet and savoury. They are so quick and easy to make and so versatile. You get an almost instant hit of that “home-baked” satisfaction! When it comes to sweet pancakes or crepes, I have very traditional tastes – lemon and sugar is the only topping that I like – but I am a bit more flexible when it comes to savoury pancakes. If mushrooms are not your thing you could try ricotta and spinach or vegetarian or meat-based bolognese sauce.
Mushrooms, lovely mushrooms…
I am a huge mushroom lover. There is something about mushrooms, a savoury almost meaty flavour, which seems to please both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. As I cater to a household with a range of food preferences, I tend to use a lot of mushrooms! In my recipes, you can pretty much use any type of mushroom, or combination of mushrooms, that you happen to have available. However, there are a few rules of mushroom cooking that I think are worth bearing in mind.
First off, generally the larger the mushroom, the stronger the flavour. If you want a milder mushroom taste, stick to button mushrooms.
Secondly, make sure your mushrooms are fresh and perky. No one (and really, I mean no one) likes a slimy mushroom that has been sitting in your fridge for a couple of weeks. If you are going to keep your mushrooms for a few days, make sure that they can “breathe” – if they are wrapped in plastic, remove the covering.
Thirdly, (with reference to my second point), do not over-cook your mushrooms. They need to be cooked through and firm with a bit of a bite not sad, flaccid things which have been stewed for hours.
And finally, make sure you season them well – with salt and pepper and any herbs and spices that your like – in order to bring out their flavour. No one likes a bland mushroom. I think garlic is a particular friend to all types of mushrooms but they also go well with thyme and nutmeg.
These savoury pancakes, filled with garlic mushrooms topped with sour cream and chives, are the perfect vegetarian supper.
For the filling
50 g butter
475 g mushrooms (I generally use chestnut mushrooms but you can use any sort)
2 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper
For the pancakes
100 g plain flour
275 ml milk
Salt and pepper
A little vegetable oil
A little butter
150 ml sour cream
100 g strong cheese (eg cheddar)
First make the garlic mushroom filling as follows.
Peel and chop the onion. Heat the butter in a heavy-based pan, add the chopped onion and cook gently for 10 minutes until it is soft and golden.
While the onion is cooking, remove the stalks from the mushrooms and chop them finely. Slice the mushroom caps.
After 10 minutes, peel and crush the garlic and add it to the pan together with the chopped and sliced mushrooms. Cook for a further 5 minutes and then take off the heat and set aside.
Next make the pancakes as follows.
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and break the egg into it. Stir the mixture and gradually incorporate the flour with the egg. Then gradually add the milk and stir until all the flour is combined with it. You will then have a thin batter with the consistency of double cream. Season with salt and pepper. Finely chop the fresh chives and add them to the batter.
Heat a little vegetable oil in a heavy-based non-stick frying pan. Then, using a ladle or large spoon, pour a portion of the batter into the pan. Tip the pan so that it covers all of the base. Leave to cook for around four minutes. Then using a spatula or blunt knife, flip the pancake over to cook the other side and allow to cook for a further minute. Then slide the pancake onto a plate. Repeat until you have used all the batter. There should be enough to make six medium-sized pancakes.
At this point, you have a choice. Either you can simply put a tablespoonful of the mushroom mixture on top of each pancake, add a teaspoon of sour cream and a few chopped chives, roll up the pancake and eat it as it is. Or you can put the filled pancakes into a greased, oven-proof dish, top with grated cheese and bake in the oven set at 180 C (400 F or Gas Mark 4) for 10 minutes. If you are eating them immediately, I would recommend the former and if you are making them ahead, I would recommend the latter.
Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding gives a citrus boost to a traditional Bread and Butter pudding. In addition to marmalade, it also includes fresh orange zest and orange liqueur which boost the citrus flavour.
I love traditional British puddings and think they are particularly well-suited to our somewhat cold and damp winters. Bread and Butter Pudding is probably one of the quickest and easiest to make. It was actually the first pudding I ever made when I was eleven in a school “domestic science” class and it has regularly featured in my children’s school cookery lessons over the years. It is the perfect pudding for children to make due to its simplicity. I make Bread and Butter Pudding a lot and it is pretty much my go-to recipe when I suddenly realise that I need to make something to follow the Sunday roast. It can be made very quickly and you are likely to have all the ingredients in your store cupboard.
This Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding is a traditional variant on the basic Bread and Butter Pudding. It is also known as Osborne Pudding, allegedly because Queen Victoria enjoyed it when she stayed at Osborne House, her palatial holiday home on the Isle of Wight. Osborne Pudding is generally made with brown bread but I use either brown or white depending on what I happen to have available. The fresh orange zest and orange liqueur are my additions, as I think they enhance the flavour, and are not traditionally included.
Other easy puddings
I do not have a particularly sweet tooth. I am definitely a crisps rather than chocolate kind of person. However, I do love a home-made pudding. During the week, we aim to be healthy and will eat fruit or sometimes yogurt after our evening meal. However, I generally cook a big Sunday lunch, including a roast for the meat-lovers, and I will always follow it up with a pudding. During the summer, I will often go for home-made ice cream which can be made in advance, often with a floral note such as Rose Ice Cream or Lavender Ice Cream, or something involving meringue such as my Lemon Pavlova. However, in winter I will go for something with a bit more substance! That is when I will produce Bread and Butter Pudding, fruit crumble or, a particular favourite with my youngest son, Banoffee Pie.
This Beetroot and Carrot salad can be made in ten minutes and only contains three main ingredients plus a zesty, citrus dressing. It is great as a side dish and also as a filling for sandwiches or pitta bread. This is one of my favourite winter salads as it is so quick and easy, has fantastic fresh crunchiness that I crave at this time of year and also it is such a brilliant, almost psychedelic, red-pink colour that it always cheers me up!
Raw vegetables – easy, healthy and tasty
This recipe involves no cooking. The finely-grated beetroot and the carrot are is raw. You may have used raw carrot in salads before but possibly not raw beetroot. However, its sweet crunchiness – similar to that of the carrot but with an added depth of beetroot flavour – is a fantastic raw salad ingredient. Keeping the vegetables raw, in addition to tasting good and having that fresh crunch that is very welcome in a winter salad, also retains all their nutrients.
The dressing of this salad is a combination of orange and lemon juice. This gives it a flavour and tartness which enhances both the beetroot and the carrot. It will be thinner than a conventional dressing as it has a high proportion of juice to olive oil. In fact, it works partly as a marinade with the acid in the juice working to enhance the flavour of the grated vegetables particularly if you make the salad at least a couple of hours before you plan to eat it.
The final ingredient in this simple salad is dried cranberries. I have discovered these quite recently and love them as an alternative to raisins or sultanas. In addition to the sweetness of other dried fruit, they have a pop of cranberry sharpness which really perks up your recipes.
Salads – not just for summer..
I am a firm believer in winter salads. On cold, grey winter days, I crave crisp, fresh vegetables and sharp, tasty dressings. These are some of my favourite winter salads – all of which are extremely easy to make.
Thai Cucumber Salad – fresh, crunchy and tasty with brilliant Thai flavours which takes 5 minutes
Spiced Carrot Salad with Honey and Lemon – this salad takes a bit longer to make as the carrots are roasted but it is worth it as the lemon, honey and North African spices work magic on this versatile vegetable
This simple raw Beetroot and Carrot salad is healthy and delicious and can be made in only 10 minutes.
3 small beetroots
50 g dried cranberries
50 ml olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
Peel and coarsely grate the raw beetroots and carrots.
Put in a bowl with the dried cranberries.
Make the dressing by putting the olive oil in a measuring jug and adding the squeezed juice of the orange and the lemon, the honey and the salt. Mix well to combine. The dressing will be quite thin as the proportion of oil to juice is lower than in a normal dressing.
Pour the dressing over the beetroot, carrot and cranberries. If possible, leave for a couple of hours before eating to allow the flavours to develop.
This recipe is vegetarian. If you want to make it vegan, you can use an alternative, such as maple syrup, for the honey.