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Chestnut Soup

We’ve been obsessed with chestnut soup lately. I’m pretty sure my body mass is 40% chestnut right now.

This is the perfect soup for a Christmas starter or evenings by the fire. We ladle it into mugs and serve it with hunks of hot sourdough. The reverie is palpable, like a toddler with a Twix.

Here’s a video of me making it on live TV earlier this week (yes, I said bollox), or a shorter Instagram video to give you an idea of how insanely easy it is.

3 white onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
250g cooked chestnuts (from a vacuum pack)
700ml veggie stock

Peel and roughly chop your onions. Ditch the skin.

In your largest pot, warm some olive oil over a gentle flame and tumble in the chopped onions. Sweat for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent and sweet. (video link below).

At this point, add the garlic and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Let the chestnuts and stock join the party. Fire up to a simmer and allow to putt-putter for 10-25 minutes.

Blitz in a blender until lusciously smooth, being careful not to scald yourself. I usually wait for the soup to cool down before using my blender.

Serve in dinky little espresso cups as a starter for loads of guests, or freeze in individual portions for another night. It’s worth remembering not to fill your jar or container fully with liquid if you plan on freezing (to avoid breakages). Fa la la la lahhhh …

From page 162 of Clever Batch cookbook . Have a merry Christmas friends! Know anyone who loves eating, but hates cooking? This might be the most perfect Christmas gift for them …

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Roasted Cauli Korma with Burnt Raisins and Pistachios

This vegetarian korma is immensely satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy meat. But I find myself wondering whether future generations will look back and yack at the idea of supermarkets selling solid lumps of animal flesh. If you arrived on Earth today and saw how we dismembered other living creatures, then sold them in plastic trays, you’d think that we were greasy psychopaths.

But for now, the mass manufacturing of meat limbs seems perfectly acceptable. Strange, eh? (Come to think of it, we’d probably find our obsession with Wow Brows and golf equally disquieting.)

If society’s relationship with factory meat seems disturbing, could we start buying less of it? Give sales a massive wedgie? I’d love to see footfall directed back into our butchers, where it mindfully and respectfully belongs. We’d also be doing our wallet, our health and our environment a whopping great service. Look, I’m pretty caffeinated right now, and this roasted cauli korma is making me disproportionately happy. Try it.

Photo by Jo Murphy, taken for the Clever Batch cookbook

Serves 6

1 head of cauliflower

1 small head of Romanesco cauliflower (or another head of the regular variety if this is tricky to find)

4 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee

3 onions, diced

8 garlic cloves, diced

1 large finger-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

25g Indian korma dried spice mix

6 ripe cooking tomatoes (e.g. Roma), chopped

1 x 400ml tin of full-fat coconut milk

1 large cup of Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Handful of raisins, to serve

Smashed pistachios, to serve

Wedges of lime, to serve

Fire up your oven to 220°C.

Prep your cauli pieces by removing the outer leaves from both heads of cauliflower and carefully slicing the arse off their stems. Compost these (they don’t make good stock – too much sulphur). Break your cauliflower into good-sized florets – not too small, but not too monstrous either. The Romanesco variety will need more stem trimming, but you can add these pieces onto your baking tray too. They taste just as good.

Jumble your florets onto two baking trays (or one large tray) with a lick of coconut oil or ghee and roast on high for 16–20 minutes, shaking halfway through to prevent them from sticking to the tray. You’re looking for a lightly charred, golden floret that still holds its shape and bite.

While the cauli cooks, get going on your korma. Using your biggest casserole or stockpot, sweat your onions with 2 tablespoons of your preferred choice of fat for 5 minutes before adding the garlic, ginger and korma spices. Stir until the garlic starts to colour.

Now add the fresh tomatoes, coconut milk, yogurt and maple syrup. Gently putter on a low heat for 15 minutes, until the cauli florets are ready – at which point, simply rocket in the roasted cauli and cook for another 5–10 minutes.

If you have time, heat a frying pan with the remaining 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil or ghee and add a handful of raisins. Stir until they turn chewy on the outside and are swollen on the inside. Sprinkle on top of your korma alongside some smashed pistachios and wedges of lime. Serve with brown basmati rice or steamed baby potatoes.

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Miso Caramels

Soon after posting a picture of my freezer over on Instagram (@SusanJaneKitchen) there was a steady stampede of kitchen nymphs demanding to know (a) what were miso caramels? (b) why the hell had I ANY left in my freezer?

I hear you.

These healthyassed caramels fill my toes with magic and pinball me around the house with happiness. No white sugar, butter or thermometers required. Instead we use licky-sticky Medjools and roasted cashew butter, whipped into submission.

And if you’re vegan? This could be a transcendental moment. Dating a vegan? Jackpot.

The secret to creating miso caramels is in pouring just enough hot water (or try coffee!) into the mix, facilitating a creamy, luscious whip that doesn’t set when frozen. Then we store them in the freezer behind the fish fingers where no one will find them. You can choose a white cacao shell to coat, with dehydrated strawberry powder (as pictured). Or just plain dark chocolate. Often they go straight into our mouths from frozen, no shell or rolling necessary.

Makes 50-60

25 Medjool dates

1x 185g jar of roasted cashew nut butter

100ml-125ml boiling hot water from the kettle

Squeeze of lemon

2 tablespoons sweet white miso paste

150g dark chocolate

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Soak the dates in boiling hot water for 4-5 minutes. While the dates soak, warm the jar of cashew nut butter by carefully placing the sealed jar in a bowl of hot water.

Drain the soaked dates, discarding the soaking liquid. Remove and compost the date stones. Blitz the fleshy dates with your warmed cashew butter, hot water, a squeeze of lemon and miso paste in a food processor or blender until smooth. If your kitchen is cold, the mixture might seize up. You can fix this by adding a little extra hot water.

Scrape the sticky ball of caramel into silicone ice cube molds to set (unless you feel you added a lot of water, in which case it’s best to use teaspoons as outlined below). I do this in several batches because I have only one silicone tray. You could also use two teaspoons and lots of patience, rolling the mixture into beautiful little bonbons and dropping on a lined tray to freeze until set (as pictured below, which is my preferred method).

When the caramels are frozen, collect them in a ziplock freezer bag.

As soon as all the caramels have been formed, frozen and collected, melt the chocolate over a bain marie. This is basically a pot of simmering water, 2.5cm in depth, with a heatproof bowl sitting on top where a lid might otherwise have gone. The contents of the bowl will gently melt from the steam of the water underneath. The trick is not to let the water violently boil or let the bottom of the bowl touch the water underneath. Sometimes I add cacao butter shavings if I have them, to help the coating behave better.

Briefly and briskly tumble each caramel into the melted chocolate directly from their frozen state. I find a fork handy for this step. Let the chocolate-coated caramels set on non-stick baking paper in the freezer before popping back into your reusable freezer bag or glass jar. Store them in the freezer, ready to plunder at will. You can eat these straight from frozen. Alternatively, they will last for 90 minutes outside the freezer to serve at parties.

In other news, I’ve been nominated for The Irish Book Awards for cookbook of the year.

If you are feeling generous (maybe have a batch of miso caramels in your belly first!) I’d be so grateful if you would consider clicking this link and ticking the box beside my name for your vote. Every vote counts, and I’m in way over my head beside some stellar cooks like beloved Donal Skehan, Diana Henry and the Ballymaloe empire. Wish me luck!