Archive for August, 2010

Soup Kitchen did not defeat me…

August 18, 2010

Stancombe Research and Planning holds a weekly Soup Kitchen throughout the winter months where staff members take it in turns to cook soup for their fellow colleagues. A donation is made by all each week for their soup which at the end of winter is handed over to Father Sinn of St Canices Church. All of the money raised goes straight to supporting their own soup kitchen, one that has a long history of feeding the impoverished men and women of Kings Cross and beyond.

To say that I was apprehensive about my own efforts is the understatement of the year, the standard set in incredibly high, and I have tasted some of the best soups ever, so with the bar set high I was not looking forward to having to prepare not one, but two soups….

Although I have been on a bit of a bake-fest of late, anyone who knows me will know that kitchens and I do not mix well together. I actually have a fridge magnet at home that says “I have a kitchen only because it came with the house”, how true that is. I even managed to live in one place before for a good 6mths before I even turned on the oven, actually I didn’t turn it on a friend came round to cook me dinner and when she got there no light would come on when she turned any of those knobs on the thing. She opened the oven door and found all the “stuff” inside was still in wrapping and it had not even been plugged in. We ended up getting take-out that night, something to do with the fact that you have to ‘burn off’ something or other before you use it, whatever.

Now I have used a hob before, that’s what they call those hot round things on the top right?

So as you can imagine making a soup was going to be a bit of a challenge for me. However, everyone here at Stancombe makes a real effort and it’s for a good cause so I decided to take on the challenge and told myself “I can do that”.

My friends were all worried I might actually burn down the building and find myself out of work, as the last two times I have attempted the feat of making beans on toast have I have failed (miserably). I seem completely unable to get the timing right of the toast popping up in the toaster and the beans nicely bubbling in the saucepan together. My toast pops too early so down it goes again and then by the time the beans are done the toast has turned into something resembling coal. So that gets thrown out and more bread goes down in the toaster but then by the time that pops my beans have turned to mush and stuck to the pan….

I was given some great advice by The All Knowing I, who said I should make a nice and simple soup that has just two key ingredients. That is how I ended up making Broccoli and Cheese soup for my first attempt.

I was on cooking duties with Clive, who made a far more complicated soup than I, so hat’s off to him. We decided to make our soups together the night before, so come the night we were both there chopping away glass of wine in hand (to steady the nerves) and pans at the ready. His very quickly looked like something wholesome and tasty…. Mine on the other hand “looked liker a puddle of dirty water” (you know who you are). It really did look terrible sat side by side with Clive’s and I worried I had done something wrong. I must have picked up the recipe notes 100 times to check I had not missed anything. I was desperate to call a friend or ask the audience but I was on my own here.

The magic moment came when I blended the soup – all of a sudden it actually looked like a soup, the wonders of cooking technology….. and can you Adam and Eve it, it actually tasted like a real soup as well.

For my second attempt I followed The All Knowing I’s advice again, in fact he gave the advice, recipe, cooking instruction and even took me shopping to buy the ingredients, but no he was not there to guide me as I made it.

I made a parsnip and wholegrain mustard soup, which trust me tasted like Christmas in a bowl…

Will I be making it again? Will I buggery, the stress was far too much. But if you want to make it here is what to do:

Roughly chop onion and gently sweat in oil / butter with a sprinkling of salt.

Wash and roughly chop potatoes and parsnips (snip off both ends of the parsnips) – no need to peel if you give things a good wash.

Pieces the size of like roast potatoes.

When onions are browned, toss the pots and parsnips into the pan and whoosh it all around for a few minutes in the oil…just to get the veg coated

Grind in a good amount of black pepper at this point.

Then cover with stock / water….and bring to boil.

Let it all boil for circa 30 mins.

Veg should be soft and sort of falling to bits.

Let it cool for a while (about an hr)

Then liquidize in batches – it’ll probably be quite thick, make sure mix of veg and liquid.

Basic soup is now ready.

When you come to prepare it for eating, you need to heat it gently in a pan…when it is hot, stir in the cream and about 1 teaspoon per person of the wholegrain mustard.

You should end up with a creamy, yellow soup with mustard grains in it…and it should be delicious and warming.


A brand that scrubs up well…

August 5, 2010

WARNING: This is going to be a shameless plug for a brand I really like, simply because I can.

I was lucky enough to discover this range of products a few years back when I was on a work trip to Melbourne and stayed in the Prince Hotel in St Kilda, recommended to me by my guru in all things hip Kelly. Aesop products were provided as a courtesy in the bathroom and can I tell you I so did not want to get out of the shower and have to go and do my focus groups. On the morning of checking out I made sure I emptied the bathroom of any remaining product and have not looked back since, although I do buy the stuff now rathe than steal it.

Aesop was established back in 1987 (a cool decade if ever there was one) in the cultural heart of Australia, yes Melbourne. Their ethos was, and has remained, to provide a “range of superlative products”, and I challenge anyone who tries them not to like them. Their commitment to using plant-based ingredients appeals to the aspiring organic user in me, oh and can I just say all their products smell divine.

I was also very lucky to have the opportunity to hear one of the founders of the company give an inspiring speech about how dedication and a belief in innovation helped them get to where they are today. I believe them when they say they value “all human endeavours undertaken with intellectual rigour, vision, and a nod to the whimsical”.

The other thing about this brand that I love is their communications, I receive their newsletter and trust me they are great at living the promise they make to “advocate the use of our products as part of a balanced life that includes a healthy diet, sensible exercise, and a regular intake of good books”. It’s always a great read and they do make some very good recommendations re books.

They are known for being a different in terms of what they do, and nowhere is this more evident than in their retail outlets. I remember one autumn going into their store in Melbourne, they had the entire floor covered in piles of brown leaves, it was so cool. Going into their stores is a real sensory experience and they clearly put a lot of thought, effort and work into the space making it a great place to experience as a shopper. There is a novel idea, a retailer putting the shopper at the heart of what they do….

And finally – the product itself is brilliantly packaged, it is the kind of packaging you really want to keep once the bottle is empty. They are somewhat modest in appearance but the design is fast becoming iconic.

Oh and of course I should mention my two favourate products, are the Animal body wash – yes I did say animal. It is a mild “body and fur wash” which “is formulated with the same research, development and care” that they apply to all their products. It has lemon rind, tea tree and spearmint leaf in it, I love it. My other love is the body wash that has crushed coriander seeds and black peppercorns in it.