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Pumpkin Soup topped with Bacon, Crème Fraîche and Toasted Seeds

Every Halloween I have to make something with pumpkin. I imagine I’m not the only one. It would be an absolute crime to buy a pumpkin for carving purposes and to throw away the insides! Well, not actually crime (as far as I know) but it would be very, very wasteful!

Last year I used mini pumpkins – munchkins – and stuffed risotto into them. This year I made pumpkin soup. Perfect for Halloween and also for any evening when you’re just too tired to chew! The pumpkin can be substituted with butternut squash if you’re not making this in October.

Utterly warming, soothing and delicious… it went down very well – and quickly!

Pumpkin Soup topped with Bacon, Crème Fraîche and Toasted Seeds
Serves 4

Ingredients
– 1kg pumpkin flesh (that’s about 1 medium or 2 smaller pumpkins)
– 7 tbsps olive oil
– 1 cinnamon stick
– ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
– 25g salted butter
– 1 large onion
– 500ml hot vegetable stock
– 6 tbsp crème fraîche plus extra for serving
– 160g smoked bacon lardons

Method
1. Preheat oven to 200°/Gas Mark 6/400° Fahrenheit. If you want to serve the soup inside a hollowed out pumpkin then cut the top off of it, scoop out the seeds and fibres from the middle and set aside the seeds for later. Using a knife and a spoon, scoop out the pumpkin flesh leaving around 1cm of flesh around the sides of the pumpkin.

2. Place the pumpkin onto a foiled baking tray and cover with 4 tbsps of olive oil. In a pestle and mortar, crush up the cinnamon stick as much as you can and scatter it across the pumpkin. Finally using a micro-grater grate the nutmeg onto the pumpkin as well. Season the pumpkin with salt and pepper and using your hands smoosh together all of the spices, seasoning and oil with the pumpkin. Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes until tender and slightly browned.

3. When the pumpkin has been cooked take it out of the oven (leave the oven on though) and set aside, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Dice an onion and add to the saucepan. Fry for 10 minutes in the butter until soft. Add the pumpkin and then the stock and simmer everything together for 20 minutes.

4. Now it’s time to blend the soup! You can use a food processor or a hand blender. I used a hand blender with a small processing bowl and blitzed it in batches to get a smooth finish. Once processed, transfer to a smaller saucepan to warm through again. Add the crème fraîche and stir through, season to taste.

5. In a frying pan, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and fry the lardons until crispy. Scatter the pumpkin seeds onto a foiled baking tray, cover with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and place in the oven for 7-10 minutes.

6. Serve the soup in individual bowls or inside the pumpkin you hollowed out earlier. Finish with a swirl of crème fraîche and a generous topping of seeds and bacon. I served my soup with some tiger bread as well, because as bread goes, with its crackled crust, this looks the spookiest for a Halloween soup! Then it’s just a matter of dipping, dunking and devouring!

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The Luther Burger

Luther Burger

Never too much, never too much, never too much.

Well, in all honesty, 1 of these kind of was for me! And I blame my good friend Rich. You see Rich is doing something new every day in 2012 for charity and then blogging the results. Some of my favourites over the past 6 ½ months have got to be:

– Chased a duck
– Got chased my geese
– Crossed a ford (and lost his socks)
– Took a bath in a suit
– Ran around his garden, naked, in a snow storm (his wife told me he then caught man flu)

He’s also tried and cooked many new foods and dishes, a couple of which I’ve helped with:

– Made a Herman the German Friendship Cake
– Tried a stinging nettle curry
– Took on the cinnamon challenge (and failed!)
– Made a Celebrations toastie
– Cooked American pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
– Ate a curry cooked in a pineapple

You can read more about his exploits on his blog and make a donation here. You can also suggest something new and crazy for him to do!

A colleague of Rich’s suggested The Luther Burger as something new. The Luther Burger originates from Georgia, USA. It’s so called after Luther Vandross. The interweb doesn’t really confirm why, but it’s thought that he had one. Coming in at a massive 800-1,500 calories a Luther Burger is your standard burger, served in a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Oh Yes. Traditionally, the doughnut is opened and grilled on the inside, then eaten with the glazed side touching the meat, but we preferred ours the other way around.

When Rich suggested this to me, I was up for it. In my mind, it worked. After all, bacon and maple syrup work wonderfully together. Same goes for caramelised onions and barbequed meat. And the Luther Burger does work! It’s very tasty. But I just couldn’t eat a whole one again!

The Luther Burger 
Serves 1 (or 2 if sharing – recommended!)

Ingredients
-1 good quality beef burger
– A slice of burger cheese
– 1 rasher of smoky bacon
– 1 original glazed Krispy Kreme

Method
1. Simply barbeque your burger and stack the cheese and bacon on top.

2. Open the Krispy Kreme and lightly toast the inside on the barbeque.

3. Serve the burger inside the doughnut with the glazed side on top or on the meat, as you prefer. Find someone to share it with you!

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Seven Salads

I love salads. But substantial salads. Not a few iceberg leaves and a sad-looking tomato. A colourful, crunchy and fresh plate full of goodness! We’re talking hunks of cheese and chunks of meat covered in a blanket of sumptuous dressing! Something that is going to fill you up but is super-healthy at the same time.

And so here are seven salads that I like to make often. It’s a whole week’s worth of healthiness! You’ll just have to find another way to be bad!

1. Tuna Niçoise Salad

The base – Spinach, Watercress and Rocket

The rest – tomato quarters, trimmed beans, anchovies

The substantial stuff – rare tuna steak, Parmesan shavings, hard-boiled eggs

The dressing – extra virgin olive oil, dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, lemon juice

Not a traditional Niçoise, but a tasty one! Lay your base on a plate and top with your tomato quarters and some anchovy slithers.

Heat a saucepan of water on a high heat until boiling. Add a couple of eggs and boil for 8 minutes.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle pan until smoking. Season the tuna well with salt and pepper and lay not he griddle pan. For pink tuna, like this, 3-4 minutes on each side is good. At the sides of the pan, cook the trimmed beans so that they’re nicely charred.

Serve your tuna on top of the other salad ingredients and scatter over the trimmed beans. Peel the boiled eggs, chop and serve next to the tuna. Using a potato peeler, peel shavings of Parmesan onto your salad plate.

For a delicious dressing combine a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, half a teaspoon of dijon mustard, a little less than a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, the juice of half a lemon, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle over your salad before munching.

2. Chicken, bacon and Buffalo Mozzarella Salad

The base – Spinach, Watercress and Rocket

The rest – tomato quarters, sliced mushrooms

The substantial stuff – grilled chicken, smokey bacon, buffalo mozzarella slices

The dressing – extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice

Meaty chicken, smokey bacon and gooey mozzarella nom nom nom. Again, lay your base onto the plate and top with the tomato quarters and mushroom slices.

Season and put your chicken under the grill or use your George Foreman as I did. Grill your bacon as well until it’s nice and crispy.

When your chicken is cooked, cut on the diagonal and arrange onto your salad plate. Cut the cooked bacon into strips and then tear your buffalo mozzarella onto the salad.

For the dressing just combine a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and the same of extra virgin olive oil. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, season with salt and pepper and then drizzle over the scrummy salad.

3. Chilli and Garlic Prawns and Mango Salad

The base – Spinach, Watercress and Rocket (of course!)

The rest – cucumber ribbons and fresh mango

The substantial stuff – chilli and garlic Prawns, grated Parmesan

The dressing – extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice

You must be getting the hang of this now… lay your base onto your plate. To that add some fresh diced mango and ribbons of cucumber which you can make by taking your potato peeler to it.

For the Prawns, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan. When hot add a crushed glove of garlic and a finely chopped red chilli. When they are covered in the oil, add 250g of cooked King Prawns. After 4 minutes or so, the Prawns will be warmed through. Turn out onto the salad plate and cover with a good grating of Parmesan.

For the dressing, just mix the extra virgin olive oil with the juice of half a lemon and drizzle over.

4. Curry Spiced Salmon and Yogurt Salad

The base – Spinach, Watercress and Rocket (you guessed it, I love this stuff)

The rest – tomato halves and diced cucumber

The substantial stuff – salmon fillet and fat-free yogurt

The dressing – extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and lemon juice

A super-healthy and tasty salad! Lay out your base and top with the cucumber and tomato.

Heat your oven to 180°/Gas Mark 4. Cover the salmon in a teaspoon of curry powder – hot or mild depending on your preference. Place your salmon on a foiled baking tray and cook for 20 minutes. Serve on top of the salad and add a dollop of yogurt onto the fish. Sprinkle some chilli flakes on the yogurt and a drizzle of olive oil. Then just cover the salad in a dressing of 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and the same of white wine vinegar and the juice of half a lemon. Serve with a lemon wedge as well.

5. Scallops, Smokey Bacon and Butternut Squash Salad

The base – Spinach, Watercress and Rocket (in case you were unsure)

The rest – tomato quarters

The substantial stuff – roast butternut squash, scallops and smokey bacon

The dressing – extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice

A warm salad of fab flavour combos. Set your oven to 200°/Gas Mark 6. Lightly coat a diced butternut squash in olive oil and season. Spread across a foiled baking tray and roast in the oven for 45 minutes or until tender and golden.

Lay the salad base on the plate and add the tomatoes. Grill the smokey bacon on both sides until crispy and then cut into strips and arrange onto the plate.

When the butternut squash is ready, take out of the oven and place half of the cubes onto your salad plate. Finally, put a frying pan containing a tablespoon of olive oil on a medium to high heat. Season 180g of scallops and cook according to the pack instructions. Scatter onto the plate before finishing with a dressing made of 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and the juice of half a lemon.

6. Roast Duck, Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad

The base – Spinach, Watercress and Rocket (was there ever any doubt?)

The rest – tomato quarters and pomegranate

The substantial stuff – roast duck and beetroot

The dressing – extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice

Season the duck well and cook according to the pack instructions. While it is cooking, lay your base out an top with quartered tomatoes. Dice some beetroot and add that too.

When the duck is cooked, slice on the diagonal and arrange on the plate. Tap the pomegranate seeds all over the top. Then just drizzle over the sticky balsamic dressing.

7. Sausage, Roasted Red Onion and Sautéed Potato Salad

The base – Spinach, Watercress and Rocket (it would be weird to use another base now)

The rest – roasted pomodorino or cherry tomatoes, roasted red onion

The substantial stuff – sausages and sautéed potatoes

The dressing – not much is needed, a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Sausages in a salad? Why not! Heat your oven to  200°/Gas Mark 6. Quarter the red onion and then cut each quarter in two. Put the onion into a bowl, lightly season and cover with a drizzle of olive oil and stir so that the onion is coated. Then place it on a baking tray and roast it for 30 minutes in the oven, turning occasionally. Half way through the cooking time, season and oil a handful of tomatoes and roast them for 15 minutes too.

Take a handful of new potatoes and boil for 10 minutes until soft but retaining their shape. Slice them up into small discs and set aside.

Put the onion and tomato on a lower shelf in the oven to keep them warm. Then put your grill on to cook the sausages. If you have a separate grill to your oven then lucky you are!! Cook the sausages according to the pack instructions – cook as many as you want in whatever flavour you like!

Put a frying pan on a medium to high heat and splash some olive oil in there. Season the potatoes and then fry them on a medium heat for 10-12 minutes, turning every couple of minutes.

Lay out your salad base, scatter the tomato and red onion through it. Take your sausages out from under the grill, slice on the diagonal and dot them over your plate. Turn the potatoes out onto some kitchen paper to give them a quick drain and then put them through your salad as well. Finally since all of the components have already seen some oil, you won’t need much in way of a dressing, just a drizzle of some extra virgin olive oil and its ready to eat!

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American Pancakes with Bacon and Maple Syrup

It’s impossible to beat an English breakfast (fact), though this comes very close! Since it’s Shrove Tuesday this week you have to make some pancakes. It’s the law. You have been warned!

The bacon/maple syrup combo is undeniably good but when put with puffy, fluffy American pancakes it’s AMAZING! I used both smoked streaky and maple cured bacon to get a nice mix of fatty and flavoured rashers but you can use one or the other if you like.

American Pancakes with Bacon and Maple Syrup
Serves 6

Ingredients
– 250g plain flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– ½ tsp salt
– 40g sugar
– 250ml whole milk
– 2 eggs
– 50g unsalted butter, melted plus slices of unsalted butter for frying
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon and 3 rashers of maple cured bacon
– Maple Syrup for drizzling (at least 75mls)

Method
1. Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the baking powder, salt and sugar. Separately mix the wet ingredients into a jug before adding to the dry ingredients. Whisk well until there are no lumps. Let it stand.

2. Put a small frying pan on a medium heat (around 10cm diameter one is good). Add a slice of butter and let it melt before pouring in a ladle of the batter. Make sure it is evenly spread through the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes each side. Add another slice of butter to the pan when you are ready with your next ladle of batter. As you get towards the end of the batter you’ll need to add less butter to the pan each time. Keep the pancakes warm in a low oven while you fry the bacon.

3. Fry the bacon in a little olive oil until it’s crispy. Lay the bacon throughout the pancake stack and then drizzle the maple syrup on top. Serve straight away! Why would you want to wait?!

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