The life artistic – Cooking up a blast from the past

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They say that nothing conjures up memories better than smells, a fact that anyone who has ever taken the Christmas box out of the attic and found old decorations made from cinnamon sticks and dried oranges will attest to.  For me, taste should definitely be included here.  Most of our sense of taste is really smell anyway, so I think it’s OK for me to stretch the definition of smell slightly.  I also think that the process can work in reverse; with the memory of the way a food smells and tastes being able to conjure up feelings that we associate with it.  This is why every time I feel ill I crave Knorr Austrian Cream of Herb soup, unusual, I know, but when I was little Mum always used to make it for me if I was ill, and the mere memory of the flavour is now enough to provide me with some comfort when I’m off colour.

Unfortunately for me, they discontinued it about ten years ago, and my sick days have been just that little bit worse ever since.  Not anymore though, as I think I’ve finally managed to come up with a recipe that just about reproduces it.  It takes a bit of effort, but it’s well worth it for the yummy, creamy, herby goodness that you end up with.  If, like me, you were once a fan, give it a go and see what you think.  If you’ve never heard of it, give it a go anyway.  I think you’ll like it.

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Cream of Herb Soup (à la Knorr Soups of the World)

Rich, creamy soup made with herbs, mushrooms and sweetcorn

Ingredients:

10g dried wild mushrooms

150ml boiling water

3 shallots, diced finely

2 cloves garlic, diced finely

25g butter

50g flat-leaf parsley, chopped

100g frozen spinach (or wilted fresh spinach)

20g basil, chopped

3 or 4 stalks of thyme, leaves stripped from stems

3 or 4 stalks of dill, chopped

500ml vegetable stock

100ml white wine

Bay leaf

170g tinned sweetcorn

150ml double cream

1 tsp lemon juice

Salt and Pepper

Method:

  1. Place dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour over 150ml boiling water.  Set to one side and leave for 30 mins.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pan and sweat the onions and garlic over a medium heat until soft and translucent.
  3. Drain the mushrooms, saving the liquor.  Chop finely, add to the onions and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add the parsley, basil, spinach, dill, thyme and bay leaf, and cook for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add the white wine and bubble for a minute or so, before adding the veg stock, mushroom liquor and sweetcorn.
  6. Give it a good stir, bring to a simmer and cook for ten minutes.
  7. Remove from the heat, fish out the bay leaf and blend with a plunge blender.  If using a goblet blender, allow to cool first.
  8. Return to a low heat and stir through the double cream.
  9. Add the lemon juice and season to taste.
  10. Heat through, but do not boil.  Serve with crusty bread and some decent cheese.

Note: The soup won’t be completely smooth, which I quite like.  If you want something with fewer bits, try using creamed sweetcorn instead of kernels.

The life scientific – The delicious smell of procrastination

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12 weeks to go … The countdown to my thesis deadline has begun.  This is supposed to be crunch time, days of endless drafting and re-drafting, living like a hermit and backing up my work onto 5 different devices, just in case.  The beautiful sunshine must be shut out to stop my house from turning into an oven, and all history-making tennis matches avoided. (Yeah, that didn’t happen.  You can’t ignore Wimbledon when you live round the corner from it.  Even the local supermarket has changed it’s sign over the last week from Morrisons, to Murrisons, to Murriwins!)

Why is it then, that despite my best intentions, I decide that now would be a really good time to start baking my own bread?  I’m not even trying to shoe-horn some quasi-scientific theory about kneading dough being therapeutic or the smell of baking bread releasing endorphins and therefore making you more productive.  I just woke up, ran out of bread and decided that baking my own was a better option than just buying some.  And this is despite the fact that I still had to go to the shops to buy the ingredients.

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Ah well, when it comes to procrastination I am a champion (the house is looking pretty clean these days), and at least you get to eat this, as well as making the neighbours jealous as yummy smells waft out of the window.

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Especially delicious with my home-made version of Austrian Cream of Herb soup.  Knorr used to make it as a packet mix, and it was my absolute favourite growing up (classy, I know), but one day they stopped making it and seem to have obliterated all trace of it, as I can’t even find a picture online.  I LOVED that stuff in all of its luminous green glory, complete with freeze-dried sweetcorn and mushrooms.  This is one of those sad occasions where the home-made version just doesn’t quite cut it.  Sigh.