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 🙂

 

A Fool for April – Muesli Recipe

Chestnuts!

Happy April Fool’s Day! Well, there’s been a notable shift in the weather here, summer is clearly over and autumn is finally properly with us. I think this is my favourite time of the year, with generally lower overnight temperatures, crisp mornings and calm, often sunny days – perfect for gardening!

Soil temperatures are still quite warm – there’s a lot of growing still happening! – and I’ll be picking zucchini and especially tomatoes for bottling for a little while yet.

Salad from yesterday – kale, mustard, endive, rocket, silverbeet, red orach and tomatoes.

In the meantime, I’m madly preparing beds for kale, broccoli and garlic, which I’m planting in the coming weeks (later than usual for me), so it’s still very busy. Boudica Bunny is making a nest and should birth her kits (the first with Bernard Black) in the next week, the chestnut crop is still to come as you can see from the photo above, and the chickens are beginning to moult too so the egg supply is gradually slowing down. Having a mixed flock means that there’s usually someone laying and I rarely have to buy eggs except in the very middle of winter when day length is shortest.

Also, I’m pleased to say the jam melons are starting to get bigger – I haven’t grown these since I was a kid in South Australia and it’s exciting! I’ll keep you all up to date with what I end up doing with them, but I’m thinking Melon & Lemon Jam 🙂

Jam Melon sizing up at last

Recently, I made my version of toasted muesli, something I love this time of year, after the summer and autumn fruit drying is mostly over. Many recipes call for added oil, honey, corn or golden syrup and even peanut butter, but this is completely unadulterated. For me, the dried fruit provides enough sweetness and means the muesli keeps well in an airtight jar. If you need it you can always add a little honey, syrup or even a spoon of jam when serving. Personally, I love this with just a dollop of home made yogurt. Here’s the recipe:

Deb’s Sugar-free Muesli 

4 cups rolled oats (ordinary oats, not the “instant type”)

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup sunflower kernels

1/4 cup wheatgerm (optional)

1/2 cup coconut (I prefer flakes for this)

* 1/2 cup chopped nuts (use what you have on hand, for me it was almonds this time and see the note below)

1 tab fresh lemon zest or 1/2 tab dried lemon zest (optional)

1-1/2 cups of chopped dried fruit (again, use what you prefer or have on hand!)

Method:

Pre-heat an oven to 160 C/325 F. In a large bowl, mix the oats, seeds, wheatgerm (if using) and coconut. Chop the nuts fairly roughly and add to the oat mix.

I love lemon zest and the sherbet-like flavour it brings to my breakfast muesli (I keep a jar of dried zest in my pantry cupboard just for recipes like this) but it’s not to everyone’s taste. Try just a little if you’re uncertain.

If you use dried lemon zest, you can mix the chopped fruit thoroughly with the oats/seeds/nuts now, bypassing the toasting step and put the muesli in an airtight jar but I really think the toasting is so worth it for bringing out the flavours of the the seeds and nuts.

Lay the oats/seeds/nuts/fresh lemon zest evenly on a baking sheet or roasting pan and toast, turning every 10-15 minutes with a broad spatula. It’s fiddly but really worth it as you can determine exactly how toasted you want your muesli to be. I use coconut flakes that brown quite significantly and are my best indicator. Now for the dried fruit – the real star of this recipe – and where you can make it truly your own, with seemingly endless combinations of sweet, luscious, fruity goodness! Chop the larger pieces of dried fruit to a size that you prefer (I like mine fairly small, about sultana size). For this batch, I had a lonely piece of apricot fruit leather that needed using, plus this year’s prunes and dried nectarines. Kitchen scissors worked really well and I find them much easier than a knife for this job.

When the oat mix looks the right shade of toastiness, allow it to cool completely, mix in the chopped dried fruit very thoroughly and put into an airtight jar. It should keep well for ages but mine usually gets eaten in a couple of months.

Finished toasted muesli

*A note on the nuts. If you don’t like/can’t eat particular things or want a nut-free muesli, be bold and take them out of the recipe! Substitute nuts with more seeds and fruit – it’s entirely up to you and I encourage you to try different things. For instance, my muesli usually has linseeds but I didn’t have any in the house when I made this (sad face). Next time, I should have dried apples and some walnuts to add as well as my beloved linseeds and I might add a touch of ground cinnamon for a slightly different combo 😀

Apricot Fruit Leather, Prunes and Dried Nectarines for the muesli

In other news, The Superstars and Callum are playing at MONA next Saturday (8th April), which is huge news and I’ll do a separate post about that soon. Uni study is relentless but rewarding, and I’m loving my current unit CWR211 Writing Crime & Contemporary Romance, though romance literature isn’t my strength or preference. Nevertheless, I managed a very high mark for my first assessment and I was frankly, surprised and thrilled.

Finally, I’m sorry to say that Felicity lost her battle with cancer earlier this last week. While her death was entirely expected, it was still utterly heartbreaking and my thoughts go out to all her fabulous friends, family and especially her husband Dave. I plan to buy a shrub or small tree in the coming weeks to plant in her honour – a “Felicitree” ❤

Meanwhile, take care good people, be gentle to each other, this beautiful planet and never be afraid to tell the people that matter to you that you love them ❤