“Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheddar” from “Smitten Kitchen Every Day”


Meat Free Monday!

Tomato soup is one of my favourites, so I was happy to give this one a go. In fact, five years ago on this very blog, I shared my easy you-could-do-it-in-your-sleep tomato soup recipe, which I’ve copied and pasted below. I still make it all the time, and love it.

The trick to this one, like the Gwyneth Paltrow recipe I reviewed five years ago, is to roast the tomatoes ahead of time. However, Gwynnie had us roasting the tomatoes for five hours (FIVE HOURS! Not a typo), whereas with this one, you only roast them for half an hour, which is far more reasonable. Consequently, the roasted tomatoes take on much more flavour than just using chopped tomatoes. Even Tim, who is not a fan of tomato soup, said he liked this one. So in the future, I definitely will roast some tomatoes if I have the time.

The other thing that I cheated on for this recipe was you were supposed to pour the soup into mugs, and then broil a grilled-cheese lid. I’m very wary of doing this, as I once had a bowl shatter that I thought could take the heat of the broiler but could not. So what I ended up doing was making the grilled cheese toasts under the broiler, and then popping them on the top of the soup once they were done. I also threw some extra cheddar cheese on to the top of the soup, just for good measure. I mean, what can’t be improved by the addition of more cheese?

As far as I was concerned, this was a winner.

Quick Tomato Soup, for when you’re starving and time is of the essence: Chop up one small red onion, either by hand or if you’re really hungry and want to eat ASAP, in your food processor. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of garlic olive oil, add onion. Once the onion is soft and fragrant, add one can of chopped tomatoes. Depending on how thick you like your soup, add either 1/2 can or 1 can of water, vegetable stock or milk. (I went milk. Yum.) Add one teaspoon each of oregano and basil. Boil until thick. You can either puree soup or keep it chunky, depending on your preference. Done. Time taken? (including set up) 7 minutes. Even Jamie Oliver would approve. 

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“Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheddar” from “Smitten Kitchen Every Day”

“One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes” from “Smitten Kitchen Every Day”

Everyone should have liked this. It’s pretty much a risotto-adjacent dish, though you use farro instead of arborio rice. However, please note the use of the term, “should” because while I thought everyone would and should like this, not everyone did. And when I say, “not everyone” what I really mean is the teenagers.

I’m not really sure why they didn’t like it. It really was sort of like a risotto, and they love risotto, both traditional and Nigella’s fake (which is on permanent rotation in this house). But for whatever reason, the teens weren’t buying it. They didn’t like it and didn’t eat it. And anyone who’s met a hungry teenager will know that not eating when hungry is a very rare occurrence indeed.

The adults liked it, though. But I’m hardly going to make something again if half the house didn’t like it and wouldn’t eat it, so I don’t see this making a return to our dinner table any time soon.

You win some. You lose some.

“One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes” from “Smitten Kitchen Every Day”

“Creamy Macaroni and Cheese” from “Dinner in an Instant”

Sometimes, you really ought to follow your instincts.

In this case, when I first saw this recipe, I thought, “Why in the world would you want to make macaroni and cheese in a pressure cooker.” Quickly followed by the second thought, “How does it work? I’m so intrigued I want to try it.”

Melissa Clark even says in the introduction, “Why make macaroni and cheese in an electric pressure cooker when it’s so easy to do on the stove? You’re not necessarily going to save any time with this method, but cooking it all in one pot does make things more convenient.”

Having now made this recipe, I respectfully disagree. This was a disaster.

We definitely are experts when it comes to judging macaroni and cheese in this house. By my count, we’ve tried at least six via this blog. Our favourite, perhaps even a Desert Island Dish, would be this version from the New York Times. Delivers every time. For when we have less time, I’ve also made this version from Melissa Clark’s previous cookbook, “Dinner.” It’s also a winner. (It’s also very quick. It only takes about 15 minutes to make.)

Honestly, I should have just stopped considering it when my initial thought was that you couldn’t really cook macaroni and cheese in a pressure cooker. I mean, technically, you CAN, because we did end up with a dinner of macaroni and cheese. But I won’t bother to do it this way again.

The reason, quite simply, is that clean up requires a monumental effort. Not surprisingly, no matter how much butter you put on the bottom of the pot, it’s still going to burn when it’s cooking on a high heat for six minutes. Once the macaroni and cheese was taken out, we found a pot that was completely black at the bottom, which required a huge multi-day cleanup effort. It’s funny how the picture above does not accurately reflect the level of burning that went on, but trust me, it was significant. At least there was enough non-burnt macaroni and cheese to feed everyone.

The burning had a secondary effect as well: the macaroni and cheese ended up with a distinct smoky taste. Smokiness can be excellent in a variety of dishes, but not in macaroni and cheese, which should deliver the creamy goodness we know and love.

Would I make this again? I think you all already know the answer to this question.

Macaroni and cheese in a pressure cooker? Just don’t do it.

“Creamy Macaroni and Cheese” from “Dinner in an Instant”

“Roasted Vegetable Paella” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

Regular readers of this blog will know that Monday is Meat Free Monday in our house. But as much as I love Meat Free Monday, it’s not always easy. For reasons too boring and complicated to go into here, Mondays are always busy in this house. So when I look for a Meat Free Monday recipe, it’s got to relatively easy and quick.

This recipe was easy, but it certainly wasn’t quick. However, once I read the recipe again, I realised I could roast the vegetables in the early afternoon, before I had to head out (working from home does have its perks), and then I could make the rest of the paella upon my return.

The plan worked flawlessly. The recipe also worked. But the reception the dish received was less than enthusiastic.

I’m not sure why. I thought it was delicious. But the rest of the family was decidedly “Meh” about it. Given the effort involved to make it, I won’t be making it again, which is too bad for me, because I thought it was even better the next day, when I heated up the leftovers for lunch.

You win some. You lose some.

“Roasted Vegetable Paella” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

“Spaghetti Cake” from “Superfood Family Classics”

img_9483I read a lot. (This is germane to this post. Honest. Just stick with me.) For the last several years, it’s averaged out to at least a book a week. I’ve even kept a record of all the books I’ve read, which is either smart or sad, depending on how you feel about keeping track of things. Because I read so much and because I am nearly incapable of giving up on a book I’ve started, I have found myself “Hate Reading” books a few times a year.

Hate Reading is the literary equivalent of Hate Watching a television show. Hate watching is when you’ve devoted time to a series you love, which has taken a turn for the worse but you continue watching it to see how bad it can be. I’ve done the same with books, thus, Hate Reading.

Now I’ve done the same with this cookbook. But instead of Hate Watching or Hate Reading, I’m Hate Cooking from it. I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a cookbook on this blog that has forced me to Hate Cook from it. Several times in the past I’ve given up on a cookbook, but I’ve never persevered with one out of pure hate. Until now.

So today’s offering is “Spaghetti Cake.” We love spaghetti cake. I made it before from “Two Hungry Italians” but they called it the far more lyrical, “Frittata di Maccheroni.” We loved it. In fact, if I had to say one nice thing about this version, it’s that it reminded me how much we love Spaghetti Cake, so I will make another [good] version for Meat Free Monday very soon.

Since I was Hate Cooking from this cookbook, I also decided that I don’t have to follow the recipes to the letter anymore. Usually we are pretty strict with ourselves that we stick to the recipes as closely as possible for the cookbooks we’re testing, but given that I already hate this cookbook, there’s no point in giving it a proper test any more. In this case, I ignored Jamie’s entreaties to get wholewheat spaghetti (there’s just no way) and I also used some of the leftover 7-Veg Tomato Sauce rather than making the spaghetti sauce from scratch, as called for in the recipe. But I don’t think following his instructions to the letter would have made it any better.

How was it? It will surprise no regular readers of this blog to find out that it was disappointing. Like I said, we already made a better version once before, but this one definitely fell short. It wasn’t nearly as interesting or fun as the previous version from the two Italians. It seemed that there weren’t nearly enough eggs added to bind it as a cake. It tasted more like reheated spaghetti than a proper spaghetti cake.

Even the photo in the cookbook didn’t do it any favours, because it appears that the food stylist just threw a bunch of rocket on top so people wouldn’t notice how badly it was burned on the underside. No. Just no.

I wish Jamie had given Spaghetti Cake a proper chance, rather than trying to make it all healthy, which just ruined a perfectly good dish.

Thank god this month is nearly over. I should have known better. I was Hate Cooking, after all.

“Spaghetti Cake” from “Superfood Family Classics”

“Carrot and Cardamom Soup with Ricotta Dumplings” from “A Year of Good Eating”

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One of the many good things* about Meat Free Monday is it forces us to try different things.

While I do love a good hearty soup while we’re in the throes of winter (Editor’s Note: This was a week ago, when London really was winter-like. Now, not so much.) This soup has the added twist of dumplings in it, made by combining flour, fine oatmeal, ricotta, parsley and butter. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I thought it would be a bit different from our usual throes of winter soup fare, so I was willing to give it a go.

We all loved it. Andrew, 16, even requested that it go into the regular rotation of Meat Free Monday dishes, he liked it so much. Tim was surprised at how filling it was. Nicholas liked the dumplings. Having eaten the leftovers for lunch, I can tell you that it’s fantastic warmed up a few days later, too.

Yum. Yum. Yum. Another winner from Nigel.

*Some of the good things: Good for us. Good for our planet. Forces us, at least one day a week, to not look to meat as the starring player in our dinner. Did I say Good for Us? It bears repeating: Good for us.

Want to make this yourself? Find the original recipe from The Guardian, found by clicking on this link.

“Carrot and Cardamom Soup with Ricotta Dumplings” from “A Year of Good Eating”

“Gnocchi Dolcelatte” from “A Year of Good Eating”

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The photo may be rubbish, but the dish is anything but.

I made this for Meat Free Monday. It is far from healthy– there’s double cream, gorgonzola and the gnocchi– but it is delicious. It’s also easy, which is helpful when you’re trying to get back into the swing of things following the Christmas break. In this house, we are doing neither Dry January NOR a detox month, so this was just the ticket for a cold January night.

The original recipe calls for spinach, but Nigel helpfully offers up alternatives of purple sprouting broccoli or lightly cooked brussels sprouts. I used tenderstem broccoli, which isn’t purple, but it’s close enough. Three-quarters of this family like spinach, but the remaining one-quarter is a very vocal dissenter in fondness for spinach, and it’s not worth the fight sometimes.

The broccoli went a long way to breaking up the richness of the cheese, double cream and pasta. However, after a few bites the younger set found this dish too rich. But the adults loved it regardless.

Would I make it again? Most definitely.

If you’d like to make this yourself, click through on this sentence to find the original recipe in The Guardian.

 

“Gnocchi Dolcelatte” from “A Year of Good Eating”