When the Going Gets Tough – Make Soup!

With only a few days left until winter officially starts, it’s been a super busy week for me. I had the home stretch to traverse with a particularly difficult university assignment, lots of jobs building up around the house and loads to do in the garden. Okay, I’ll admit like any gardener, there’s ALWAYS loads to do in the garden and housework has never been my strongest suit. Cue the moment I come down with the latest virus that’s doing the rounds *sigh*

So I did all the right things, went straight for the Elderberry Syrup, did my best to do a little each day on my essay, slept as much as I was able, ignored a lot of things (mostly housework), kept my germs to myself for the first part of the week – and made soup.

Soup is my go-to comfort food almost year round, closely followed by any sort of salad from my garden. This time I went for the big guns and made a batch of rich and warming Slow Onion Soup. As the name implies, this is a long, slow cooking process and makes a very intensely flavoured, savoury soup. Be aware that I break it down with water and I recommend playing around with what suits you and your family. Any kind of stock is fine for the base (including vegetable for vegetarian friends), but I had pork stock on hand. Please note this takes two days to make so start this the day before you want to serve it. Here’s the recipe.

Slow Onion Soup (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course)

3 or 4 brown onions

1 head of garlic

Dried celery leaves (or 1 stick of fresh celery)

1 carrot

A sprig each of lemon thyme, sage and rosemary

2 bay leaves

2-3 cups stock

Approximately 1 cup white wine

Approximately 2 cups water

2 tabs Marsala or Dry Sherry (optional)

To serve:

Cream or plain yogurt (optional)

Parsley and croutons for garnish (optional)

Method:

Top and tail the onions and put them whole in a slow cooker with the carrot, sprigs of fresh herbs, bay leaves and celery stick. (I dry celery leaves when I have it growing and use a few instead in soups and stews). Break the head of garlic into cloves (I don’t bother peeling them) and put them in too. Pour over about half a cup of stock and half a cup of white wine – just enough to ensure it doesn’t burn – and cook on low for as long as possible. I did this batch for about 8 hours and switched the cooker off.

The next day when everything’s cold, use a slotted spoon and put the onions in a food processor or blender jar with the carrot and celery. The garlic will pop out of its skins very easily now and have a beautiful, nutty flavour. Take out the bay leaves and sprigs of herbs (I put mine in the compost). Strain the liquid in the bottom of the slow cooker and put that in the processor/blender too. Wash out the slow cooker – we’ll be needing it again!

Pulse the onions to start with and then blend until the mix is smooth. Feel free to add some more water if it’s too thick at this stage. Pour the mix back into the slow cooker and add the rest of the stock, white wine, Marsala and 1 cup of the water. Cook on low for at least 2 hours and check the flavour. I opted to add another cup of water to bring it to the consistency and calm down the intensity of flavour.

Serve with croutons, a tablespoon of cream or plain yogurt and a sprig of parsley. Some fresh crusty bread and a green salad are also great accompaniments to this comforting bowl of goodness.

I think just making this made me feel better – the whole house smelt like roasting onions for a couple of days – and I’m happy to say I managed to get my uni essay finished and submitted on time, (only five units left now!) and made a start on the many jobs in the garden this glorious weekend. The housework? I’m sure it’ll still be there next week 🙂

 

Fresh Lime & Lemon Yogurt Cheesecake

It’s been a wild time in more ways than one!

Just over a week ago, Hobart suffered a once in a century storm that saw major power blackouts, even cars being washed away and widespread flood damage, including heartbreaking scenes at the University of Tasmania Law Library, a few steps from my front door. We were incredibly lucky, with minimal damage to the yard and no perceivable harm to the menagerie apart from everyone – including me – being very damp!

I was particularly worried about some of the citrus trees that are something of an experiment in southern Tasmania’s cool climate. In particular, I’ve been nurturing a Dwarf Tahitian Lime for the past two years and let it set fruit this last summer. They were just getting to a reasonable size and I was hoping to pick them later this month, before the hard frosts hit. My worst fear was the torrential rain would cause them to all drop, though they all seemed firm and the tree still healthy. But a few days later, we had our first decent frost of the year and I hadn’t thought to put a bag over the little tree to protect it from freezing. Still, all the fruit were hanging in there (literally), and this morning, I picked the two biggest limes and a couple of lemons for a weekend treat.

Despite the shorter days and the distress of storms, my elderly chickens are still laying and I had a pot of homemade yogurt cheese I made earlier this week, so I thought I’d make a baked cheesecake for dessert.

Here are the recipes:

Lime and Lemon Yogurt Cheesecake

2 limes

2 lemons

6 eggs

400g yogurt cream cheese (recipe below)

¾ to 1 cup sugar

Pastry or biscuit base

Method:

Prepare base (I used pastry but a traditional biscuit and butter base would be lovely with this too) in a spring form pan and set aside.

Grate and juice the fruit, and put it in a blender or food processor jar with the sugar, eggs and cream cheese. Pulse to blend until everything is well combined and smooth.

 

Pour carefully into the prepared base and bake at 150 C (about 300 F) for 45 minutes. After cooking, leave the cheesecake in the oven for at least an hour.

This is incredibly delicious and really very easy to make – I think the hardest part is cleaning the food processor!

Yogurt Cream Cheese

1 litre (about 2 pints) plain yogurt

2 tablespoons salt

Cheesecloth and kitchen string

I make my own yogurt but any good quality store bought yogurt should be fine for this.

Tip the yogurt into a very clean non-metallic bowl and mix in the salt, stirring thoroughly. In another clean non-metallic bowl, lay the cheesecloth so the edges are hanging over the sides. Carefully pour the yogurt and salt mixture into the second bowl, taking care not to drag the cheesecloth into the mix. Gently draw the edges of the cheesecloth together and tie with kitchen string, leaving enough tail to make a loop. Hang the yogurt with the bowl underneath to catch the whey, taking care not to squeeze it. I usually make this in the evening, hang it on my laundry tap and leave it undisturbed until morning.

The next day, carefully remove the string and turn it onto a plate, making sure to get as much as you can off the cheesecloth. It should be very similar to cream cheese but with a beautiful sharp yogurt tang. Keep it in a closed container in the refrigerator. I use this in many dishes, from dips and desserts to ravioli fillings – anywhere you need cream cheese.

I’m seriously thrilled to be growing Tahitian Limes in cool temperate Hobart – it’s something of a gardening coup this far south! So my next question is, what’s your favourite recipe where limes shine? Let me know in the comments.

Take care 🙂

The Martian

The Martian (2015) Directed by Ridley Scott

I re-watched this tonight and was reminded what an excellent film it is and that I hadn’t written a review! In recent years, I’ve been very disappointed with Ridley Scott’s work but here, in a fairly straight science fiction drama, he’s in fine form.

Matt Damon’s Mark Watney is a scientist who gets stranded on Mars, but despite incredible odds, he manages to use his knowledge, training and problem solving ability to stay alive.  Damon brings a ton of heart to this role, there’s a lot of subtlety to Watney’s character arc and I think in lesser hands, this character could’ve become incredibly insufferable very quickly. Despite the set-up and resulting drama, the result is a surprisingly uplifting film, with some nice music choices.

The action switches between the earth-bound NASA personnel, who (when they realise he’s still alive) are desperately trying to work out how to help bring him home and Watney, who’s dealing with the vagaries of trying to survive on a planet which is hostile to him in every way. I particularly liked how Watney’s crew are reintegrated into the story after the tumultuous opening scene, led by the always excellent Jessica Chastain.

But the thing that really makes this work is the script, adapted from Andy Weir’s excellent novel by Drew Goddard (former staff writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer andx Angel as well as writer/director of the slasher homage Cabin in the Woods). Goddard makes the dialogue sing and brings both levity and pathos to the drama.

While the science is sometimes questionable (there’s one explosion that makes sense in the book but fails miserably in the film), the Mars sets (which I believe were shot in Jordan) bring a fabulous otherness and vibrancy to the movie and the supporting cast are uniformly great. But ultimately, this is Matt Damon doing the heavy lifting with the aid of a great script and Ridley Scott in all too rare form.

Very entertaining science fiction fare.