Several Firsts & Second Helpings

This little, lonesome purple flower is my first sweetpea flower, ever! My grandfather used to grow them every year and I was allowed to ‘help’ but I’ve never actually grown them from seed to flower myself before now.  This poor plant is a little bedraggled – I put it out a little early and it was caught by the bad storms we had.  I found it prostrate and languishing when I came back from hospital, helped it up onto the netting and now it’s starting to eagerly scramble its way up!  The comfrey tea I was attempting to brew looks well steeped now.  I’m not sure whether to be worried or happy about the fact that it doesn’t really smell much – maybe I’ve done it wrong?  Is it missing the vital feeding ingredient which gives it it’s usual horrible smell?  I’ll need to do some research.

Another first – tomato flowers.  These are another thing I’ve never grown by myself before.  My plants are doing well in their new pot which has a reservoir of water in the bottom, growing at a fair pace and flowering away happily.

These strawberries are ‘Cambridge Favourite’ and after producing masses of flowers are now living up to their promise with screeds of huge strawberries.  It’s a bit of a challenge to get them before the slugs, but there are at least plenty to go around – I’m picking two or three strawberries around this size each evening.  Now that the nasturtiums are in full bloom they, too, are adding vibrant colour to lunch – the flowers and leaves have a lovely peppery taste and worked really well with chickpeas, pineapple and feta cheese for a lovely summery salad.

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Gardening Scotland & Purple Profusion

Last Friday I got to go to Gardening Scotland – with the whole gallbladder saga it was a close thing but I was determined not to miss the ‘big event’ I’d been looking forward to for months.  We took it easy, sauntering around at a very gentle pace, but managed to see most of the show before we had to head off.  It was a great day in terms of both enjoyment and weather – almost too hot outside for Scotland!  I managed to restrain myself and only picked up a few african violets and a beautiful tile by Helen Michie.  You should check out her work, it’s gorgeous.  I fear I may have been a bit of a fanboy, gushing over her tiles.  I really do love pottery, I’ve discovered.  I left Andy to ponder over the food stalls whilst I went to look at the plants and he managed to pick up, I think, at least three types of cheese, some bacon and a nice chilli jam.  The cheeses included a really tasty smoked brie – I’ve never tried smoked brie before and could only have a wee nibble, but it really did seem a wonderful combination of flavours.  Started me thinking how well smoked paprika and brie might go together.  There were some other funky things there but since we bought them for presents I’ll have to keep them to myself ;)

I’ve got a wee gallery of photos from Gardening Scotland – I was too busy gawping to take as many as I would have liked – which are at the end of this post.  They’re the same ones as on my facebook, so if you’ve seen them there there’s nothing new here.

I had a few down days when I first came home feeling a bit lost – I couldn’t garden, couldn’t cook more than basics and my creativity was being busted by the heavy painkillers + boredom making me fall asleep.  It was because of that and finally getting back out into the garden that I realised just how sane my garden keeps me! Despite being barred from heavy lifting I’ve been out with camera in hand doing small jobs, picking salads and, of course, snapping some pictures.

The ‘season’ at the moment seems to include a lot of purple – this totally has nothing to do with my preference for that colour.  Honestly!  Most of the purple flowers are either from mixed colour seed, things which I had no idea they flowered purple or which I knew they did but it was nothing to do with choosing them.

Purple Venezuelan chilli, Salad Blue potato, Sage, Petunia, ‘Bijou Mix’ foxglove

In more productive garden news, I’ve been eating at least 4 salads a week which are majoritarily  from the garden – tonnes of salad leaves, potatoes, chives, herbs, radishes.  To mix things up a little I decided to pull up the makings of a stir-fry.  Now, my beans and peas are weeks behind schedule and I haven’t got many things in the garden which are typical stir-fry ingredients but I figured I’d ‘make do’ and it turned out  just fine.

Salad leaves, matchstick-cut potatoes (boil them for ~5 minutes before adding to the pan), pak choi, radishes, young turnips and turnip leaves.  The turnips, which were plump thinnings, tasted absolutely sweet and delicious – ‘Navet De Nancy’ is the variety and I had decided to give eating turnip leaf  a go when I heard this variety’s leaves were a good cooked green – waste not, want not, eh? Tempted to sow more just to have them as ‘baby’ veg.  I’ve also been fairly impressed by the vigour of my Forellenschloss and Really Red Deer’s Tongue lettuces – I’ve now chopped their crowns off 3 times and they’re still coming back!  I’d sown another couple of rows of them as I’d worried about keeping myself in salad leaves but if they’re all this happy then I might well end up with a fair glut at some point.

(more…)

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What A Week!

Last week I knew I’d likely not manage a post due to being in for surgery.  That’s fine, I thought, it’s ok to have a week off, I mean they’re taking bits of your insides out!  That’s totally a good excuse.  Little did I know I’d end up in there for a week and end up missing out on two/three posts.  Bah.  But oh well, at least I have plenty to write about now ;)

Even in hospital I managed to have a little bit of greenery as my awesome aunt brought me a beautiful bunch of roses.  Every one of the non-medical staff, when they came into the room, made a bee-line for the roses to give them a wee sniff and comment on how lovely they were =)

Being in for a week rather than one or two days max, though, meant having to try to sort out what to do about the garden and all of my indoor plants.   There were greenhouses which needed opening… but only at the right temperatures, my african violets needed watered but they are sensitive to over-watering and do better with warm water, and the plants in the greenhouses needed to be kept well watered on hot days – especially the tomatoes!

When we had the really bad windy weather last week I’d put some plants into the shed, intending to ask Andy to help me get them back outside once I got out of hospital.

I forgot about them even when I was going through everything that needed taken care of.

Oops.

I didn’t even want to look – my second peas and beans, my biennials, marigolds, purple cauliflowers, a big box of mixed lettuce, nasturtiums, and some extra sunflowers I’d sown were all in there. To my great surprise everything was pretty much fine!  The only real problem was that some had grown a bit leggy trying to stretch to the small shed window!

Less lucky were my outdoor beans, which suffered pretty hefty wind damage – this was especially annoying because they were heirloom ones sent to me by Matron.  The first leaves were all but wilted off and what was left looked peaky so I’ve nipped them off (they just seemed to be dragging the plants down) and I’m now just waiting to see if the rest of the plant will perk up any.  I still have a few seeds left, but I’m hoping these ones will pull through.

One of my big squashes looks to have died – I think the wind snapped the stem or pulled the roots out.  Either way it’s sitting limply on the surface of the ground.   The other one is looking ok though – I banked it up on all sides with earth and that seems to have saved it so far.

The leeks… probably won’t make it.

On the up-side, Andy and I ate garden-fresh potatoes smothered in freshly cut chives the night before last.  I think I finally started getting through to him about the wonderfulness of home veg growing when I asked him to help me dig some out of a bag and when he found one he pulled it up, looked it it and grinned “…it’s a potato!”.  I couldn’t help but laugh, but I knew exactly what he meant – that feeling of ‘wow, I’ve just put my hands into the soil and pulled food from it which was grown right here’ is like no other.  I’ll make a gardener of him yet.  He has a fairly green thumb, I think, given that he managed to keep everything alive and well whilst I’m away – it’s just overlain by drum and guitar callouses, hehe.  The potatoes (epicure) tasted pretty good – though they’re getting to be a fair size for first earlies as this was a bag planted early due to hopefulness with the  good spring weather we had.

The  ‘miscellaneous brassicas’, sweet peas, border plants, gladis, outdoor lettuce, garlic, sage, spring onions, and most of the sunflowers are doing ‘ok’.  A little battered but nothing that probably won’t mend.

The potatoes, strawberries, lupins, radishes, turnips and foxgloves seem to be doing great – almost totally unaffected by the weather and growing strongly.  I was expecting more casualties from the foxgloves and lupins but there’s nary a snapped stem betwixt them.  I can’t believe the colour of the turnips – such a bright, beautiful purple and white just under the surface. Finally, to add to what is becoming a UK-wide exclamation, I think I can say I’m looking at getting a really hefty crop of strawberries this year!

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Veggie Quinoa Laksa + Garden Salad

Although I call this Laksa it’s really for want of a better term.  The recipe I based it on called it ‘Laksa’ but I’m not sure if it can really count as such with quinoa in place of noodles.  It’s also usually served with shellfish of some sort and this is vegetarian and anyone who’s been around me knows what I think of giving vegetarian foods the same names as non-veggie ones.  However, it’s neither truly a soup nor a curry so I’ll use the name to distinguish the style of it – if someone knows a more generic name I’d be happy to learn and use it! =)

This recipe was inspired by a somewhat lacklustre one from BBC GoodFood.  Most of their recipes are really good but sometimes you come across ones which are so-so and it was that so-so-ness of it that sent me looking for improvements!

 

Veggie Quinoa Laksa

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 thumb of ginger
  • 1/2 a red chilli
  • 4 tbsp thai green curry paste
  • 400ml can of coconut milk (low-fat is fine)
  • 600ml milk
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 175g quinoa
  • ~450g of fresh vegetables (I used: fine green beans, sprouting broccoli, red pepper, sugar snap peas).
  • 10cm piece of cucumber
  • Handful of coriander

Directions

  • Chop and add the onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and curry paste to a deep wok or saucepan, cooking over a gentle heat for a few minutes until the curry paste is warmed through and the onions just beginning to soften.
  • Mix the coconut milk and milk, add to the wok with the lime juice.
  • Stir well and bring the heat up until the mix is simmering.
  • Add the quinoa and cook until the seed coats just start to crack (should take ~5-10 mins)
  • Add the fresh veg and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the quinoa is fully cooked (you should see the tiny translucent spirals around the white part).
  • Split into bowls and top with finely chopped sticks of cucumber and a generous handful of shredded coriander.

Extra Notes

  • I learned recently quinoa is pronounced ‘keen-wah’.  Having never heard anyone say the word I had no clue, hehe.
  • Apparently this recipe also tastes really nice the day after (Andy took leftovers for lunch) – though if you leave it sitting the quinoa will continue to absorb water and it will thicken.

I’ve been trying to find all sorts of ways to cook quinoa so that Andy likes it and this is, so far, the only thing he’s eaten all of (and gone back for more, too!).

Unfortunately the rain has meant I’ve not been out in the garden as much as I’d like and when I have managed to get out it’s mostly been to pick salads for the kitchen so that’s all I have to show for the outdoors world this week.

Two types of lettuce, chives, pea tips, nasturtium with a few sage  and mint leaves.


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Leftover Squash, Sage & Ginger Soup


On Tuesday I tried this squash recipe from BBC GoodFood.  Andy’s out all week for extra drumming practice and the like, so I ended up with half a squash left over and decided I’d make a soup with it.  My aim was to try making a butternut squash soup that was thin.  Usually squash soup is very thick and can be a bit heavy and cloying which is great in winter but not so great when it’s summery outside.  The choice of sage for the main herb, instead of my usual squash favourite accompaniment thyme, was influenced by the fact that the sage plants I grew from seed last year have burst into full growth once again and were looking ripe for plucking!

Leftover Squash & Sage Soup

Ingredients

  • 10g root ginger
  • 10g fresh sage
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 knob butter
  • 350-400g butternut squash (about 1/2 of a medium sized squash)
  • 400ml chicken stock

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 180C
  • Peel and chop the butternut squash into squares and place in an oven tray.
  • Tear half of the sage and add it to the squash, pour over the olive oil and season lightly.
  • Place in the oven for 15 minutes.
  • Whilst the squash cooks, chop the onion, garlic and ginger finely.
  • Melt the butter in a saucepan then add the onion, garlic and ginger and sauté with a lid on until soft.
  • Once softened chop and add the rest of the sage, mix and heat for a few minutes.
  • If the squash is not yet done, take the softened mix off of the heat and set aside.
  • Once the squash is done add it to the saucepan along with the stock.
  • Bring to the boil and then turn down and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Leave to cool, then blend (or alternatively, don’t leave to cool and have spatters of boiling soup launch themselves at your arms =(  Yeah, I’m really dumb sometimes…)

The soup ended up being more subtly flavoured than the main ingredients would suggest – the ginger adds a little bit of spiced flavour and adds to the aromatic flavour. As with most soups, it improves if left overnight =)

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Late Easter Treats

It’s been a while since I posted anything about cooking – I’ve been making plenty and quite a few tasty things too but for some reason I’ve felt really underconfident about posting on the subject – I guess possibly something to do with the fact there are so many amazing food bloggers out there who’re just so high above me I can’t see their feet for the clouds.  I don’t know why I don’t feel the same way about gardening – I’m a complete newbie with it, too, but I feel more of a sense of ‘sharing foibles’ with my gardening than my cooking, where it feels as though I’m sharing my ineptitude.

I’m pushing myself, thus, to post these even if they are now ‘out of season’ just so that I get back into the mode of publishing cooking stuff – I’d love to get back into doing my Saturday/Sunday soup recipes, especially since Mishi gave me the Covent Garden Soup Book – which has a recipe for every day of the year!  It was their soups, with the monthly seasonal changes, which added to my determination to make my own – I really liked them but they are were little  expensive and I figured I could have a go at making my own unusual soups.

Whilst hot cross buns are traditionally an easter recipe there’s no reason not to have them after!   I wish I’d taken more photos of these whilst I was making them but it was really late as I wanted to have them relatively fresh in the morning without actually making them first thing in the morning ;)  I have some pics over here, halfway down, from the last time I blogged about making hot cross buns.  Recipe is based on the bbc one here.

Hot Cross Buns

Ingredients

  • 450g strong white / bread flour plus a few extra tablespoons for decoration.
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 14g instant yeast
  • 100g mixed fruit and peel
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 150ml milk
  • 50ml of  water
  • 1 egg
  • 50g butter
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar for decoration

Directions

Add all of the ingredients to a bowl – flour, caster sugar, yeast, fruit & peel, cinnamon, mixed spice and nutmeg – if you will be using unsalted butter you should also add 1 tsp of salt. Melt the butter and warm the milk and water.  Make a hole in the middle of the dry mix, add the milk and water.  Beat an egg then add it to the bowl, quickly mixing so that the warm water and milk don’t start to cook the egg.

Once well mixed, turn out onto a floured work surface.  Knead the dough for around ten minutes by hand – I’m not sure how long it’d take in a mixer – I didn’t want to use mine at 2am.  Put the dough into a greased bowl, cover with a warm damp towel and leave in a warm room for around an hour.  The dough should have doubled in size, if it hasn’t then leave it a little longer.

Preheat the oven to 200C

Turn the dough out onto the work surface, punch it down gently and roll into a vaguely sausage shape.  Cut pieces off about 1/2 the size you want your buns to be.  Take the piece in your hands and flatten it a little by stretching, pull the edges underneath and form a bun shape.  Cut a cross or whatever simple design you’d like into the buns and leave them, again lightly covered by a damp cloth, for around 15 minutes.

Whilst they are rising, mix four tablespoons of flour with water until you have a paste which is thick but still flows.

Once risen, use your flour mixture to make crosses or markings where you made the cuts.  The buns should then go into the oven for 10-15 minutes.  They are ready when they are a deep golden brown colour and sound slightly hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Add the granulated sugar to a small pot with 1 and 1/2 tbsps of water.  Put the sugar mix over a low heat when you put the buns into the oven and it should be about ready when they come out – if it starts to burn or boil simply turn it off.

Once the buns are out of the oven transfer them to wire racks and use a pastry brush or similar to brush them with the sugar mix whilst they’re still warm.

Extra Notes

If you want to add extra juiciness to your buns then soak the fruit beforehand in fruit juice.  I soaked mine in orange juice for around 12 hours or so and this plumped them up well – making them softer once cooked.

You can use a piping bag to pipe the flour and water mix or you can roll up a piece of greaseproof paper into a cone and use that.

If you heat the sugar mix too fast or don’t let it melt fully before you brush it on the buns it can become very granular.  This isn’t a complete disaster as they’re still rather tasty and it can add a bit of crunch.  Andy apparently actually prefers them that way, too!

I made two batches as I wanted to make sure I had enough to feed ~15 hungry drummers with some spare and I used a cookie cutter to make circles on mine rather than crosses as the symbol the processional drummers (the group Andy is drumming with at Beltane) have on their tabards is a sun.

As well as a pile of hot cross buns I also took in some dyed eggs to roll down Calton Hill:

I used the instructions here and tips for making patterns here.  They didn’t all work out that well, but the mistakes often looked better than the deliberate patterns so I’m not too fussed ;)

Also, since it’s been a while since I posted one, here’s a silly tinfoil hat cat photo:

Sam is incredibly laid back and patient with us or possibly just too lazy to move when we put things on him…

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Pancakes

I’m bad at pancakes.  Like, really bad,  I’m sure I’ve mentioned several times, in fact, just how bad I am at making them!  The only time I’ve managed to make half-way decent ones was with wholemeal flour and those tasted great… until they cooled down.  Today however (or should that be yesterday, now?) I managed to make good pancakes and I have Coffee Muffins recipe to thank for it.

Thanks to her, I managed to make good pancakes.  Even when they cooled down.

They even looked good…

Yes, I did put sugar and lemon on them, even though they’re ‘Scotch’ or ‘American style’ pancakes.  It was good, too.

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Christmas Roundup

Oh dear, I’ve been slacking horribly on the blog front.  I don’t feel too bad about it, though – I’ve been having a pretty good time!

Christmas was wonderful this year.  I don’t know why, but I was more in the mood for it – making my own cards, making Christmas baking treats (including the iced biscuits I’d been meaning to do since the daring baker’s challenge!)  and with all of the snow outside it couldn’t have felt more festive.  Andy and I popped in to see Robbie and Beth as well as Scott and Kirsty on our way down to Andy’s parents which was really great – it’d been about… six or seven years since I saw any of my family on Christmas day.  Christmas itself, was never that big for me – it was always about the awesome dinner and company at Gran and Grandpas – relatives I only got to see a few times a year.   Andy’s family are wonderful people – welcoming and warm, but I did always miss seeing my own family at Christmas.

One thing I love about Christmas day at Andy’s parents is seeing him and his sister play together – they’re both really good musicians and Rachel usually brings her fiddle along.  This year it was fiddle + bass guitar / piano.  A mini-concert in the living room is not something most people can boast on Christmas day!

Anyway, sappiness aside,  this Christmas was a productive one.  We decided to make everyone treats rather than buying shop-bought boxes and whatnot – putting all the practice we’d done into confectionery and sweets throughout the year to good use.  In the end we made: two ‘types’ of macaroon balls, (Scottish) tablet, sugar icicles, iced biscuits,  shortbread (gluten free), and pfeffernusse.

For New Year we also added puff candy (also known as cinder toffee, puff toffee, honeycomb and others).  It took us three tries and only the last came close to ‘right’ but all of theme were tasty.  The second try, which simply didn’t ‘puff’ we crumbled up and ate in ice cream.  There was also an attempt at mince pies – which were ok but felt a wee bit to me like the mincemeat could do with a bit more time.  I’ve still got another jar of it, though, so I’ll give it a try at the end of January.

Not that people know me well or anything, but I did get quite a few cooking themed prezzies – A griddle pan, grater and Bakerella(!) book from Andy, and an apron from Andy’s mum with the motto: ‘Yes, it DOES take every pan in the kitchen!’.  I’ve been wanting a good apron for a while – the shops only tend to sell thin ‘pretty’ ones.  Not good, sturdy kitchen aprons made from similar material to chef’s whites.  The one Andy’s mum got me was that material but a snazzy black.  I’ve been using my griddle pan at every opportunity – something I’ve not used in years because it’s more ‘speciality’ cookware.  You don’t really need to have cool looking black lines on your food… but it tastes better if you do.  Really! ;)

New Year was, as always, great fun.  Andy and I headed over to Mishi n’ Mike’s place for games, dvds, board games food, too much sugar, and general geekery.  In true SURGe tradition we also spent all of New Years day celebrating too – with yet more of the above.  We had mad fun playing party games – both nights until almost 6-7am in the morning!

Over the holidays Andy had wanted to go out to a few restaurants he’d been with his work / music groups and thought I should try.  One of them was Sushiya in Edinburgh and oh man was that a treat.  The place is teeny-tiny and the seating is all tall bar-stool style but the food, oh man the food!  I’ve only been to a good sushi place once or twice – and neither time did I have more than a little sashimi (the raw fish type) as I was quite young and the idea squicked me.  This time, however, I was ready to have at it.  We ordered two mixed plates of sushi and sashimi as there is some non-fish sushi that I love – tamago and ‘inari’ or sweet tofu.  Large chunks of salmon, tuna, sea bass, clam, shrimp, and various veggies in or on rice wrapped in seaweed or rolled in crab roe.  Yum!  Then came the amazing soft-shelled crab rolls.  If you’re going to go there, try this.  Soft-shelled crabs are crabs which, just after they molt, can be cooked and eaten with their shell still on.  They are deep fried and crispy and Andy’s description of the rolls prior to us going turned out to be perfect:  “It’s like japanese fish and chips”.  Crude, maybe, but pretty much spot on in a deliciously tasty way.

Since then what I’ve mostly been doing is garden related and that’s relegated to a post of its own!   Hope everyone had a good Christmas and New Year =)  /hug

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Snow Day Soup – Purple Chicken

Due to spillover from last week, and plans going awry this week, I ended up with a large pile of veggies to be used up.  It was a rag-tag random collection – some looking a little sorry for themselves after two weeks in a freezer-cold vegetable compartment in the fridge but I figured what the hey, that’s exactly what soup is for, right? Throw in everything leftover which wouldn’t have made a ‘meal’ on their own and out comes tasty vitamin-enriched goodness.  Wonderfully perfect, too, for a snowy winter day!

Purple Chicken Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 sml red onions
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 2 chicken thighs
  • 80g broccoli
  • 250g red cabbage
  • 300g baby new potatoes
  • 100g green beans
  • Small handful of fresh cranberries
  • 3 stock cubes (chicken, vegetable or a mix thereof)
  • 800ml water
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 200ml milk

Directions

  • Chop up all of the veg roughly – quartering the new potatoes.
  • Heat a tsp of olive oil and add the celery and onion to it, covering and leaving to soften for 5 minutes.
  • Add chicken to the pot and cook for another couple of minutes.
  • Add all of the other ingredients except the lemon juice, boil for 20 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat, take the chicken out and shred, setting the meat from one aside.
  • Add the chicken from the other thigh back to the pot and blend with a hand blender.
  • Add the milk, heat and add the lemon juice.
  • Mix well and leave to sit for at least a few hours.

Extra Notes

I have to admit – this soup, when first made, was so-so.  It was not bad soup, just not overwhelmingly ‘Mmmmmm’.  However, on sitting it really improved in flavour =)

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Sunday (Honest!) Soup – Parsnip and Apple

This parsnip and apple soup from CookItSimply was one I picked at the last moment but I’m glad I did.  It was super simple to make, tasty and surprisingly light.

Parsnip and Apple Soup

Ingredients

450 g parsnips (about 4 medium-large parsnips)
1 large onion
2 tbsp olive oil
250g Cox’s apples (about 3)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
850 ml vegetable or chicken stock
285 ml milk
Salt and black pepper

Directions

Chop the onion finely, slice the parsnips; core, peel and chop the apples.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onions and cover with a lid to soften.

Once the onions have softened, add the nutmeg, apples, parsnips, stock and nutmeg, stirring well.

Simmer for around 15-20 minutes – the parsnips should be soft, but not falling apart.

Whiz with a hand blender.

Add the milk, season with salt and pepper.

Extra Notes

I sprinkled some chilli flakes on mine when done – it gave the whole thing a nice kick =)

Definitely a soup I’d make again – good quantities, simple ingredients and not too heavy.  Many parsnip soups are a little cloying but the apple seems to stop this one from being so at all.

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