Gulaschsuppe – the perfect lunch for a dreary January day

IMG_4419THE DANK, DREARY days of January linger on. With little inclination to venture out into the garden or allotment in the limited daylight hours, I’m catching up on indoor jobs in my free time: sorting out my ancient cardboard seed boxes, a freebie from Thompson & Morgan many moons ago, ready for the move to my new and ultra-chic tin seed boxes, a lovely Christmas present from my sister. Once I’ve thrown away the inevitable flotsam & jetsam, I’ll be able to get on with ordering my seeds for the coming growing season – one of my very favourite tasks!

In the meantime, here’s a warming recipe for Gulaschsuppe, or goulash soup, a hearty skiing staple, but perfect for these January days of endless rain and minimal light. Mine is loosely based on the version in the Covent Garden Book of Soups, tweaked to adapt to a lack of beef stock in the freezer and my local farm shop’s suggestion that I use a piece of beef shin with the bone in – inspired!

Gulaschsuppe (Goulash soup)

Piece of shin beef on the bone (mine weighed about 1lb)

1 onion, small carrot, stick of celery, bay leaf, sprig of rosemary

Olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 sticks celery, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

12 oz potatoes, peeled and diced

1 tin chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato purée

1-2 red chillis (mine are smallish Apache which are hot, but not too hot – you’ll need to make that call yourself!)

¼ pt red wine

2 carrots, diced

½ red pepper, diced

½ green pepper, diced

2 tsp paprika

Seasoning

Start by making the stock: place the beef shin in a large pan with the onion, carrot, celery and herbs, cover with water (my pan holds at least 2 litres), season, bring to the boil and simmer for around 2 hours. Drain, reserving the precious liquid, and take the meat off the bone when cool enough to handle – it should more or less fall off (waiting dogs will no doubt be grateful for the fatty bits). Chop finely and set aside.

Heat a dash of olive oil and cook the onion, garlic and celery gently for about 5 mins. Add the potatoes, finely chopped chilli, carrot, red and green pepper and cook for a few minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, paprika and seasoning. Stir thoroughly, then add the red wine and at least a litre of your stock. Finally add half the chopped meat and simmer the soup gently for about 40 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Allow to cool a little, then blend in batches in a liquidizer, half coarsely and half quite smoothly, or as preferred. Return to a pan and add more stock if the soup looks too thick, then stir in the remaining chopped meat, and reheat to serve.

Enjoy with crusty bread and let your first mouthful transport you to the Austrian Alps! Well, anywhere away from the relentless rain of a wet English January….

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Any remaining stock can be frozen, as can any leftover soup. This should make plenty for six, depending on the size of your bowls, and family appetites, of course! When my student son is home, my portions for six strangely only make enough for 3/4…

P.S. I’d initially asked my local farm shop in Mark Cross for beef bones to make my stock, but as it was coming up to Christmas, their freezers were full of meat and there were no bones to be had. Hence the suggestion of the beef shin complete with bone, which I ordered for the following weekend when I collected my Christmas order and froze for a rainy day. However, she did let me have a couple of chicken carcasses for the princely sum of £1, so I could bolster my stock reserves in the meantime: I boiled them up in the same way, ending up with a good 2-3 litres of delicious chicken stock and a surprising amount of chicken, enough for a big pot of chicken broth, a risotto and arancini (little oven-cooked risotto balls the next day), plus a pasta dish – and another litre of stock in the freezer! There’s certainly never any need to go hungry…

Gulaschsuppe
Gulaschsuppe
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Mouth-meltingly good Coffee Macaroons

Coffee Macaroons

LEFTOVER EGG WHITES in the fridge from the Christmas festivities and an afternoon stretching ahead of you with the rain streaming down the windows? What better to do than to whip up some delicious coffee macaroons? My macaroon adventure started a few summers ago with Nigella’s delectable chocolate macaroons from her Domestic Goddess book, but they use four egg whites and considerable amounts of dark chocolate and cream – perhaps not quite what I had in mind after the excesses of Christmas eating, scrumptious though they are. Instead, I tried this recipe, loosely based on one of Great British Bake-off winner Jo Wheatleys’s from A Passion For Baking. Definitely moreish – and easier than you’d think – especially if you use the special macaroon moulds from Lakeland (http://www.lakeland.co.uk/15816/Silicone-Macaroon-Mould-) to stop them spreading and resist the urge to make bigger and bigger macaroons. I ended up with a miscellany of odd-shaped macaroons when I first made Nigella’s chocolate version as it’s harder than you think to make consistent sizes – needless to say, my son and his best friend were very appreciative of the jumbo macaroons and still maintain they are the best (even better than the pretty pastel ones we brought back from Paris, or so they say…)!!

 

Coffee Macaroons

4oz ground almonds

4oz icing sugar

2 large egg whites (not a problem if these have lingered in the fridge for a few days!)

2oz caster sugar

1 tsp Camp coffee essence

Espresso coffee powder to decorate (optional)

Filling:

4oz icing sugar, sifted

1oz  butter, softened

1 tbsp Camp coffee essence

1 tbsp milk

½ oz dark chocolate, just melted in the microwave

 Recipe

Mix the ground almonds and sifted icing sugar in a bowl until well blended.

Whisk the egg whites in another large bowl until they reach the soft peak stage, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar. Gradually fold in the almond/icing sugar mixture a third at a time and finally add the coffee essence until smooth and shiny.

Spoon into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle and pipe 24 small rounds, perhaps 1½” across, onto a parchment-lined baking tray or, even better, one of Lakeland’s macaroon moulds, placed on a baking tray for support and sprayed with a fine oil spray to prevent sticking. Sprinkle with finely sieved espresso powder if liked.

Leave to set for at least 30 minutes so that a skin can form and they don’t spread during cooking.

Bake at 150°C (fan) / 170°C (conventional oven) / Gas Mark 3 for about 15 minutes or until firm and crisp on top. Another test is to see if one can be lifted gently from the tray without sticking or leaving a gooey residue – return to the oven if they do! When you’re happy that they’re done, remove from the oven and leave on the trays until completely cold.

For the filling

Cream together all the ingredients until light and fluffy, but only adding half the milk until you can gauge the consistency. You need it to be firm enough to sandwich the macaroons without oozing out, but not too firm that it becomes stiff.

When the macaroons are cold, spread one half of each pair with the filling and sandwich together. Serve and enjoy!

A damp start to the year…

Allotment rather the worse for wear
Allotment rather the worse for wear

So much for my good intentions of catching up with the garden and allotment in all that free time over Christmas and the New Year: not only has it been a hectic, social whirl, but the monsoon conditions have definitely not been conducive to outdoor pursuits!

I finally dismantled the Christmas tree and decorations as the rain lashed down outside yesterday, but today it let up slightly, enough for a muddy walk with the dogs at our local reservoir, Bewl Water, and a quick visit to the allotment to harvest leeks and parsnips for dinner. I’ve been lucky and haven’t had any significant storm damage over the last few weeks, apart from my mini polythene greenhouse trying to blow away. I eventually gave up and let it lie, weighted down with a solid garden chair and the inevitable puddle of rainwater. Other plotholders have lost sheds to the gale-force winds, but the dastardly allotment thieves have also taken advantage of the lack of activity up there and vegetables have gone missing that can’t be attributed to the wind: Enviromesh neatly severed and the underlying chard removed? Hmmm… As if the weather isn’t enough of a damper!

Despite the wet, I’m still harvesting parsnips, leeks, swede, Swiss chard and spinach, although the brassicas have been poor this year: slug and caterpillar-attacked in spite of their netting/mesh overcoats. The kale and purple-sprouting broccoli has fared better and looks promising for a month or so’s time – unless we get snow to wreck the taller netting structure and let the pigeons in, that is. I’ve plenty of apples, small potatoes, pumpkins and butternut squash in storage, and a freezer full of soft fruit and beans, so last year was pretty good on the whole.

Returning home, I was able to do a little more tidying up: finally taking the chillis off the now-yellowing plants that have overwintered in the conservatory, storing them in a net bag in the kitchen and spreading the spent gritty compost over the clay soil in my raised beds, which are always grateful for a top-up. I also managed to cut the leaves off all the hellebores, as they were showing signs of unsightly leaf spot: removing them now should hopefully prevent the fungus spreading and allow the emerging buds to gleam purple, pink and white in all their glory over the next few months. One of my favourites, the pretty double Party Frock, was badly affected by black spot last year, so I cut all its leaves off in autumn and dosed it with liquid feed. I can just see signs of new growth and even the odd flower bud, so fingers crossed it has survived….

Final job of the day was transferring very wet kitchen compost from the overflow containers outside the back door (to save the long traipse to the main compost bins behind my garage in inclement weather). Not a pleasant task at the best of times, but even the overflow containers were overflowing after the Christmas festivities, so needs must, and well worth it in the end when there’s that lovely black magic compost to spread on the borders in a year or so.

Not at all what I’d hoped to have achieved by this time, but a start nonetheless – and it feels so good to come inside on a dull day having had your fingers in the earth, no matter how little. Roll on Spring!

Daphnes from the garden
Daphnes from the garden