Coupler Soup

Summer appears to be racing by at a dizzying pace, wildly spinning the wheel of weather as she goes.  From sultry heatwaves to spectacular storms, August has given us plenty of gloriously sunny days too.  It’s always a busy month for us, celebrating birthdays in the first few days & our anniversary later in the month (there’s much cake to be baked & eaten!).  Breakfasts, lazy lunches, pasta & Prosecco have all been enjoyed on the patio,  while the plants have been abundant with their produce & easily picked for dinner.

The last few months, I’ve been sharing the home office with Mr Hungry (his upstairs, mine down) & it’s been a change most households have seen this year.  There are some downsides (other people can hear & see you on live calls), but there are plenty of ups too!  Not so long ago, we would meet for lunch in town to share a coffee & a few kisses, before wandering back to work.  This brief interlude would put a pep in my step & make the afternoon brighter – we have now have resumed our mid-day meet-ups.  Even though we are all in much closer proximity at the moment, it doesn’t mean we should become territorial about sharing space with our loved ones.

Shopping has recently become a bit like a treasure hunt, heightening our resourcefulness & making us more aware of our limited pantry.  This is nothing new to some of us, especially those on a limited budget or diet.  Being frugal can be a blessing, especially in the taste department.  Think of it as one of those old TV shows, where you were given a bag of ingredients & had to make a delicious dish.  It’s a challenge, but you’re up to it!

One of my favourite frugal recipes is based on an old minestrone soup.  Hearty, healthy & heaped with lots of little ingredients that don’t cost much.  We call this the Coupler Soup, because you need a couple of this & a couple of that.  We’ve all bought a tin of this, a packet of that, hoping to use it in some elaborate & exquisite dish, but shoving it to the back of the cupboard.  Bits of leftover dried pasta, a random tin of beans & that twisted up tube of tomato puree with a tiny bit left.  All seemed a bit pointless when you popped them in there, but now they are like gold dust!  You might notice I’ve used spinach instead of Cavolo Nero or cabbage.  This is simply because I like spinach on my pizza & there’s always a bit leftover, just enough to chuck in a soup or whizz into a delicious pesto, as you will know if you’ve been following my blog.  Over the years, I’ve adjusted the recipe to accommodate whatever ingredients were available, but it always has the same result – soupy satisfaction!

One of the main ingredients for this recipe is fresh chicken stock & here’s the link to my stock recipe:  https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-ten-in-a-dish/ .  I dilute it for this recipe, with a little water to wash out the tomato tin.  If you prefer to use a stock cube, make enough according to the instructions on the pack.  Ready to take the plunge?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2 pints of fresh Chicken Stock, well-strained if homemade
4 rashers Bacon (I used streaky smoked or whatever is in the freezer)
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
2 medium Carrots, washed & finely chopped
2 sticks Celery, washed & finely chopped
2 dried Bay Leaves
1 tin White Beans, drained (such as Cannellini or Haricot beans, whatever you have available)
1 tin Italian Plum Tomatoes (save the tin for measuring your pasta)
2 handfuls of Dried Pasta (see above)
2 handfuls of fresh Spinach, washed & chopped chunky, stems & all
1 tablespoon Tomato Puree
1 sprig fresh Rosemary – remove leaves & chop finely (keep the stalk)
2 cloves fresh Garlic, chopped finely
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper

What to do:

Prepare your ingredients first – wash, peel & chop finely as above.  Set them aside, ready to start.  Keep the Rosemary stalk & dry it – they make fabulous skewers for mini kebabs (slide whole cherry tomatoes & bocconcini on, then bake for 5 minutes in a hot oven – delicious!).

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep saucepan (you will need the lid for later) & using some good kitchen scissors, finely snip the smoked bacon into the pan.  Let it sizzle for a couple of moments, allowing it to render it’s fat (this adds essential flavour & in all honesty, it’s a miniscule amount).

Add the onion, carrot & celery to the pan, mixing well with the bacon & oil.  Give everything a good stir & fry for about 4-5 minutes, until slightly softened & the onion become glossy.

Tip in the garlic & Rosemary into the vegetables & then add the beans.  Add the chicken stock & bay leaves, stirring everything gently together.

Pour the plum tomatoes into your hand over the pan, squishing them carefully into the liquid (you can always tip them into a bowl & do this beforehand, if you prefer).

Fill the tin with cold water, swish it around to get the last drops of tomato juice & pour into the pan.

Using the empty tin, fill it with dried pasta pieces – whatever you’ve got in the cupboard is fine.  This recipe is to make the most of those leftover bits you’ve been saving for a rainy day – well it’s chucking it down now!  Carefully, without splashing yourself, sprinkle them into the soupy liquid.

Add the tomato puree, tip the chopped spinach into the pan & get stirring, mixing everything together.

Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer & put the lid half on the pan.  Let it bubble away softly for about 15-20 minutes, giving it a swirl around with the spoon occasionally.

Using a clean spoon, have a taste of your soup  & adjust the seasoning to your personal taste (get a clean spoon before tasting again).  It’s worth noting that any stock (homemade or shop-bought), along with bacon, contain salt, so you shouldn’t need to add much.  When you’re happy with the flavour, turn off the heat & tuck in!

Scoop your soup generously into bowls, making sure you get to the bottom of the pan!  Add some well-buttered, crusty bread for dunking & indulge in some soupy comfort food.  Ladle any leftovers into tubs or pots when cooled, pop them into the fridge & save for another day (it should keep in there for a couple of days at least).  I’ve used jam jars to stash soup in the fridge, just put an upturned cupcake case on the jar before putting on the lid (it gives it a bit of a better seal).

Although an everyday soup, it can also be turned into a souptacular starter.  Got a bit of day old bread that needs using up?  Make your own croutons!  Cut into cubes (as chunky or dainty as you like), drizzle with a little olive oil & bake on a tray in the oven at 220*C for about 10-15 minutes (give them a shake halfway through cooking).  Once bronzed & crisp, tip them onto a sheet of greaseproof paper on a cooling rack, before transferring to a serving plate for people to help themselves.  Pile a few in the centre of your soup, swirl with a little olive oil & a dusting of grated Parmesan.  That’s it!

Whether a romantic lunch or a suppertime starter, try my Coupler Soup to use up those random ingredients & create a hearty, wholesome soup!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

Resplendent Risotto & the Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Tiny Little Arancini

Here we are, at the start of a brand new year, full of hope & a handful of resolutions!  After decadent December’s sparkly finale of festivities, January’s bright, crisp sunshine has been a welcome sight.  Although we’re barely into the New Year, piled up platefuls of plenty are replaced with sparse-looking salads, kale on a crispbread & some rather questionable smoothies.  Personally, I don’t go in for all that stuffing & starving yourself (there are other ways to be miserable).  As I’ve mentioned before in a previous blog, there are two things to remember: (1) your “in door” is much larger than your “out door” (think about it) & (2) everything in moderation (one slice of chocolate cake, not six).  January is not a sponge to wipe away the over-indulgences of December!  It’s still Winter & we need warming, cocooning comfort food that satisfies the appetite & fills you up, so this is no time to start depriving your body of much required sustenance!

Weekends here usually involve whizzing around on a Saturday doing chores, catching up with friends, family & phone calls, followed by a lovely lazy Sunday with the Husband, a glass or two of wine & watching old movies together while dinner’s cooking.  Sometimes, I’ll cook a roast chicken & make chicken stock at the same time (multi-tasking at it’s finest!).  Homemade stock is extremely easy to make, you know what’s in it (no hidden nasties) & is very versatile too, being the base to many soups, sauces & dishes.  It also means that we can have a rich, rib-sticking risotto on a Monday night, made with fabulously fresh chicken stock, a bit of bacon & a variety of colourful vegetables.  Here’s a link to my easy roast chicken & chicken stock recipe:  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/beauty-the-baste/

Risotto is a simply sumptuous staple dish & as long as you give it your full attention (no wandering off mid-cooking to check the score or your social media), it will reward you with a rich, resplendent rice dish.  Once you master the basic recipe, you can add your favourite flavoursome ingredients & toppings.

This is a recipe I’ve been cooking for years & have found it works well every time, plus the leftovers can be made into some rather tasty arancini – risotto is a bit like the gift that keeps on giving.  Gorgeously gooey & glossy risotto is beautiful piled on a plate, adorned with shimmering roasted vegetables & a drizzle of the oil from the pan with all it’s garlicky goodness.  A tray of roasted veggies will cook in about the same time too & any leftovers are perfect on pizzas, tossed in pasta or just topping some toasted ciabatta rubbed with a little raw garlic & olive oil, creating a beautiful bruschetta anytime (I’ve usually got a jar of these in the fridge).  If you’re cooking this risotto as a vegetarian meal, simply swap the chicken stock for homemade vegetable stock instead (& leave out the bacon, of course).  Ready to give it a go?  Hands washed, aprons on!

What you need:

For the Risotto:
Chicken stock (I usually have 2-3 pints in a pan heating up)
4 rashers Smoked Streaky Bacon or Pancetta
3 sticks of Celery, washed & trimmed
1 bunch of Spring Onions, washed & trimmed
4 large handfuls of Arborio Rice (or you can use Carnaroli if you prefer)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large glass of Dry White Wine (Pinot Grigio is good with this, but dry un-oaked white wine will do)
4oz grated Parmesan (because you’ll need some for garnish)
1oz Butter
Freshly ground Black Pepper

For the Roasted Vegetables:
Half a punnet Baby Plum or Cherry Tomatoes, halved
2 Peppers (each a different colour), deseeded
1 Courgette, trimmed
1 Red Onion, trimmed & outer skin removed
3 cloves of Garlic, chopped
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Firstly, get your stock ready.  If it’s already strained & been chilling in the fridge, simple scoop off any layer of fat from the top (there shouldn’t be much).  Strain into a large saucepan using a metal sieve to remove any bits in the liquid (if you’ve forgotten to do this, just use a sieve when adding the stock to the rice).  This is important, as you don’t want any gritty bits in your risotto.  Because homemade stock already has salt in it, you won’t need to add any to this recipe (there’s no added salt to the roasted veggies either – it draws the water out & makes them mushy).

Put the lid on the pan & heat gently on a low heat until nice & hot – don’t rush this, it will only take a couple of minutes.  Sometimes, I’ll add a cup of boiling water from the kettle if I’ve made a smaller amount of stock & need more liquid.  It’s best to have more than you need, just in case.

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare your roasting vegetables – wash thoroughly & apart from the tomatoes, chop into chunky pieces.

Chuck them all into a roasting tin or large dish, with a good glug of olive oil & some black pepper (a little goes a long way, so go steady with this).

Chop the garlic & add to the tin, giving everything a good toss around (get your hands in there!).  If you prefer, just give the garlic a bash with the back of a knife & chuck it in the pan whole – it will flavour everything, but more delicately (plus you can squeeze it onto crusty bread later for a snack).

Put in the middle of the oven to cook while you make the risotto.  Give everything a shake after about 10 minutes & return to the oven.  Once cooked, pop them on a cooling rack (this will be when your risotti is finished, but here’s a picture to give you an idea of what to expect).

Prepare your risotto vegetables – wash them thoroughly, trim the ends & chop finely.  Set to one side.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan & using a pair of scissors, cut the bacon into small pieces into the pan.

Add the onion & celery, stir frying for a couple of minutes until softened slightly & a little translucent.  Make sure you keep everything moving, as you don’t want the onions to “catch” & burn.

Add the rice to the pan, stirring well & ensuring it is thoroughly coated in the oil (this is important).

Pour the glass of white wine into the pan & stir well (the scent of this bit is always lovely!).  Always use the wine you would drink & absolutely never anything marked “cooking wine”!

Add a couple of ladles of stock into the pan, stirring thoroughly into all the ingredients.  Keep stirring gently until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice & repeat this step.

After about 20 minutes, give it a taste & the rice should be al dente (just like pasta – cooked “to the tooth”).  The rice should be easy to bite through, yet it will still be firm.  If you think it needs a bit longer, add another ladle of stock, stir well & when absorbed, taste it again.

Once you’re happy with your risotto, add a generous handful of Parmesan, along with a couple of small chunks of butter dotted around the pan & leave the pan to one side (you can cover it up if you like).  Give it a couple of minutes to rest, then slowly stir in the puddles of butter & melted cheese.

Spoon generously onto a plate & top with roasted vegetables, dust with a little black pepper & Parmesan, then tuck in!  This rich, warming comfort food tastes lovely with leftover chicken from Sunday dinner or try topping with crispy chicken legs roasted with honey, lemon & fresh Thyme.  Have a wander around my other recipes to give you some ideas.

Due to my lack of portion control, there are always plenty of leftovers, which are perfect for creating the most amazing arancini (which literally translates as “little oranges”).  Because the amount leftover varies each time I make risotto, I don’t tend to measure the ingredients when I make these beautiful little rice balls, so these are approximate measurements below.  An ice-cream scoop comes in very handy when you’re making these & I have been known to use a melon baller on occasion, hence the title to this blog.  Ready?   Let’s get rolling!

What you need:

Leftover Risotto (cold & preferably left overnight)
Breadcrumbs (4-6 thick slices of bread, whizzed in the food processor should do it & any bread – I’ve used seeded, white, brown, whatever needs using up)
1 large Egg, beaten
2oz Plain Flour
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Tip the cold risotto into a bowl & break up any large lumps.  Using a tablespoon or an ice-cream scoop, take little heaps of cold risotto & shape into balls in your hand (yes, you’re going to get messy but that’s half the fun).  Leave them on a tray in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour (if you can leave them for a couple of hours, this will be better).

Put the flour in a flat bowl or casserole dish lid.  Do the same with the breadcrumbs.

Beat the egg in another similar dish (tip: add a tiny pinch of salt to break down the egg & make it smoother).

Roll them around in a little flour, shaking off the excess, dip in the beaten egg, shaking off the excess again & drop into the breadcrumbs.  Give them a good roll around, making sure they are thoroughly coated in breadcrumbs & put on a large plate while you make the rest.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan & gently shallow fry a few of the arancini at a time, moving them around the pan gently.  Cook them until golden all over, which takes just a couple of minutes.

Once crispy & golden, remove the arancini & place on kitchen paper to remove the excess oil (or tip them into a metal sieve & shake).

Perch these plump little treats onto a watercress salad, drizzle with beautiful balsamic vinegar & add a dusting of black pepper.  My homemade tomato sauce goes very well with these – the richness of the risotto is cut by the sweet, but tart tomato (see my meatball blog for tomato sauce recipe).  These more-ish little mouthfuls are perfect for munching, whether for lunch, supper or as a simple starter (also great for nibbling with pre-dinner drinks or curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine & a good film).

Next time you cook a roast chicken for dinner, make some stock & rustle up a resplendent risotto & itsy bitsy teeny weeny tiny little arancini!  Stay hungry!  😉  A x

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Ten in a Dish

If I had to count how many single portion meals I can get from one fresh chicken, I would have to say at least ten – yes, you read that correctly: ten!  That’s ten individual meals from one regular sized chicken.  I’m not Merlin the Magician, I’m just a mere mortal woman who insists on getting value for money & doesn’t like waste.

We’ve all done it – shopping tired, hungry, after work or at the last minute, so you buy pre-prepared chicken portions to cook for dinner.   Not only is it ridiculously more expensive (think of the wine you could buy!), but learning to do it yourself is a great skill to have & it’s very satisfying knowing that you’ve got meals in the freezer for when you can’t be bothered to cook.

This is how I bone & fillet a chicken – I’m self-taught, it’s just me in the kitchen at home & this is the way I do it.  If you’re squeamish, please skip the next couple of paragraphs (I understand).

Before I begin, I usually give my husband a beer & hustle him off into the lounge (because he doesn’t like to watch, bless him).  Then I get to work!  You will need the following equipment for this stage, so get those aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

1 sharp boning knife
1 pair of good strong kitchen scissors
A chopping board (only use for cutting raw meat on)
A tea towel or cloth

What to do:

Firstly, wash your hands thoroughly & dry them (wet hands & sharp knives don’t mix!).

Find a space in the kitchen to work, with enough “elbow room” so you can move about comfortably.  This sounds obvious, but halfway through prepping your chicken you don’t want to have to shift everything because you keep banging your head on a cupboard.

Run the cloth/tea-towel under the cold tap, wring it out well so it’s slightly damp.  Place it on the worktop & then put the board flat on top.  This will stop it sliding around when you’re preparing your chicken.

Remove the chicken from it’s packaging, cut off the string & place the bird on the board.  If you’ve got a plastic tray in your chicken wrapping, wash in hot soapy water & put it in the recycling bin.

Hold the chicken in both hands, breast side up, with it’s legs in the palms of your hands & firmly push them outwards, away from the breast – you will feel them pop out easily.

Carefully slide the boning knife between the socket & joint, then cut all the way through to the other side, removing the legs from the body – I use scissors to cut the skin between them & the body because it’s easier, especially with a larger chicken (please use proper kitchen scissors for this).

Once that’s done, carefully peel the skin back from the chicken crown (leaving it attached to the carcass) & feel where the breastbone is – this runs across the top of the chicken.

Carefully, slide the knife as closely to the bone as you can & using firm strokes away from you, cut the meat away from the breastbone & rib cage (these are quite bendy towards the tips, so watch your fingers).  Take your time, there’s no rush & go at your own pace.  Once done on both sides, the bones should be pretty much clean & all that’s left is a thin membrane with the ribs intact (check each piece of meat to ensure no bones escaped).  

Place the legs & breast meat on a plate, then put the carcass in a roasting tin.  Sometimes, I like to do this in the morning & save time at night, so I will put the portions in double freezer bags & stash in the bottom of the fridge until dinner time (raw meat should always be kept on the bottom shelf).

A few minutes of filleting done & you have a plate of prepped chicken portions, plus a carcass to make a fuss-free stock!  Homemade chicken stock is simply beautiful & a staple base ingredient for soups, risotto, gravy, sauces & all kinds of lovely meals, so it’s always handy to have in the freezer.  Making stock is really easy & this is my simple way to do it – I make mine in the oven, not on the stove (because who has the time).  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2-3 sticks of Celery & a couple of the inner leafy stems
2-3 large Carrots
1 medium Onion & 1 small
2-3 sprigs fresh Rosemary
Handful of fresh Thyme
8-12 leaves fresh Sage
Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
Olive Oil
2-3 pints cold Water (depending on the size of your chicken/tin)

What to do:

Firstly, put the chicken carcass into the centre of a deep roasting tin.  This needs to be bout 4 inches deep, as you’re going to put liquid in & want it to be contained well.

Next, prepare your vegetables.  Wash the celery & carrots (you don’t want any bits of dirt, grit or bugs in there).

Peel any dirty outer leaves from the onion & cut the larger onion into quarters, placing in each corner of the tin around the carcass.

Chop the celery & carrots into quarters, then chuck them around the edges of the tin too.  Cut one of the pieces of carrot into slender sticks & save these for the next stage.

Peel back the skin from the chicken & cram with a handful of the fresh herbs, along with some leafy stems of celery, the smaller onion (cut in half first) & the carrot sticks you saved, pulling the skin back over the top of the chicken to hold it all in.

Drizzle the carcass with a good glug of olive oil, add a sprinkling of sea salt & few grinds of black pepper, then carefully pour the cold water around the tin (leave at least an inch between the top of the water to the top of the tin).

Once that’s done, just chuck it in the oven for a couple of hours & when ready, sit the tin on a wire rack for a few minutes to cool slightly. 

Get yourself a large metal colander & place over a deep pan that covers all the little holes (I use my pasta pan for this) & tip in the carcass, veg & stock to strain through.  I usually strain it again through a fine sieve to remove any sediment & that’s the stock done!  It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days or you can freeze it. 

To remove the layer of fat that will rise to the top of the stock, simply pop your pot of stock in the fridge for an hour.  Once it’s cooled, it will become a flat fat block & much easier to lift out with a slotted spoon or spatula (don’t mess around trying to spoon it off while it’s still liquid, or you’ll just stir it back in & get frustrated).  Again, you can freeze these fat blocks – slip them into separate freezer bags, ready to infuse flavour & seasoning in future roasting (especially good for making crispy & flavoursome roasted potatoes or vegetables!).  

That fabulously fragrant, golden stock will make a generous risotto for four people, or two portions of risotto & at least another four generous portions  of beautiful arancini balls the day after (arancini literally translates as “little oranges”).  The legs make a perfect Pollo alla Cacciatore for two people (I’ve included links for my recipes at the end), or they can simply be roasted in the oven with some wedges of lemon, a drizzle of honey & some sprigs of fresh herbs.

Then there are the very versatile chicken breasts – these are almost double the size of the ones you get in those pre-prepared packs! Usually, I can make four kievs per chicken (coating them in homemade breadcrumbs from leftover crusts), or use each breast to make a meal for two people – pie, curry, sweet & sour, whatever I like!  Plus, if someone is feeling a bit under the weather, I make a couple of bowlfuls of homemade soup using the vegetables that roasted with the carcass & a little diluted stock (which is why I always wash the veg before roasting).  It’s a great “pick me up”, especially when you have a few slices of warm, buttered bread to dunk in it too.

Let’s not forget the meat on the underside of the carcass & the wings – I strip this tender, lean chicken for our beautiful cat, who does a great Dyson impression & vacuums it from her plate!

If I can make more than ten meals from one chicken, anyone can – all it takes is a bit of practise & imagination, all for the princely sum of one lovely, whole chicken.   Where else can you get ten decent sized servings for about a fiver?

So show the chicken some respect: use the whole bird, fill your family & save yourself some money too!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

PS:  here are the recipe links for Pollo alla Cacciatore & Risotto (including Arancini):

http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/pollo-put-the-cacciatore-on-lets-all-have-tea/

http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/resplendent-risotto-the-itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-tiny-little-arancini/