Friday, October 5, 2007

Day Five: Spicy Pumpkin

Louisa set out to make pumpkin soup today. She had a packet of creamed coconut, setting a West Indian vibe, so we went down to East Street together to shop for other ingredients and bought the biggest pumpkin we could find, a fifteen pounder. At 60p per pound, we paid nine quid, or an even tenner with the garlic and the ginger. We went to the cheerful lady in the headscarf, a bit further down the lane, for onions, green chillies and coriander and to Iceland on Walworth Road, six tins of chopped tomatoes for £2. And to Oli's, of course, for corek that was still warm.

Back at the Pullens Centre, while I peeled and cubed the pumpkin, Louisa chopped three pounds of onions and started frying them in Flora margarine for about a quarter of an hour while she minced equal quantities of garlic ginger and green chillis (roughly: one head of garlic; a couple of inches of fat fresh root ginger; five plump chillis). As the mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot) is in the West, this mix is the Holy Trinity of Eastern (and West Indian) cuisines. The proportions of spice mix to pumpkin are as shown:

Louisa added the trinity mix to the onions in the pot and continued to cook them for a further five minutes or so before adding the cubed pumpkin. She stirred the contents of the pot for a few minutes before adding the tinned tomatoes, plus enough boiling water to cover all the vegetables, put the lid on and turned up the heat. After the pot came to the boil, she turned down the heat and simmered for about half an hour, until all the pieces of pumpkin softened. Then she liquidised it. Louisa melted the creamed coconut in hot water and added it to the soup, stirring it in with the whizzer. She chopped fresh coriander to garnish the soup and also sprinkled a few pumpkin seeds over each bowl, from a packet we picked up in the market for a quid.

Emma was first to try the Spicier Pumpkin Soup and wrote in the log bok, The soup dragon hissed for more. Linda Brooker brought over a rail of clothes she had hanging around her Peacock Yard Atelier to give away. These garms. are hardly even second hand, but are mostly left over from advertising shoots. I got a perfectly decent pair of Abercrombie khaki kecks, ta very much, and there's still quite a few items left over for next week... Iraxte returned with baby Irene and wrote in the bok the soup was 'really delicious' and her 'favourite so far'. Other comments included, 'Yum, Yum, Police officer's posterior' (whatever THAT means) and, 'Wow great recipe + just right cup of tea. Thanks, I'll be back'.

Soup Maker: Louisa
Soup: Spicey Pumpkin
Other ingredients: Coconut, coriander
No. of bowls served: 22
Expenditure: £15.95
Donations: £27.17
Running balance: +£51.18

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Day Four: Broccoli

I was thinking this morning about a friend's broccoli soup with lemon and so I called her for the recipe and she said, it's not broccoli but pea! It's a soup she makes out of frozen peas with - er - whatever. I won't go into it now, because I'll probably have a go next week, like. I did go down to East Street to buy the ingrediments but I guess I had broccoli on the mind and, down East Street, they all had broccoli on ice.

I went to the stall displaying the cheapest price, but so did almost everyone else and I really didn't have time to queue. I noticed, BTW, that this was the only greengrocery stall in the market run by your actual b+b sarf Londoners. I mean, it's no skin off my nose, but what happened to all them ruddy faced f+v merchants? I looked around and they've all been replaced by immigrants. The woman who sold me my broccoli in the end had a headscarf and an indeterminate accent I can categorise only as 'foreign'. I filled up a carrier bag with probably five kilos of yer broccoli and got half a dozen big fat carrots and a couple of onions she said she'd thrown in for free. At least I think that's what she said, boom boom: £5.70.

With the bigger, 16 litre pot and a hunky outboard liquidiziser I've acquired and what with it being Fare Shares day, I figured I'd up the quantities. Strait broccoli soup is all very well, but then there's blue cheese; Stilton, even. But the trouble with cheese and yoghurt, too, come to mention it, is that they're not vegan and the kind of people who patronise Fare Shares tend to be. So I was wondering if it was worth bothering with cheese or yoghurt while buying a couple of corek at Oli's when I clocked the jars of Ajvar.

This piquant red pepper relish is what made Yugoslavia work until Tito toppled off his perch and maybe it could offer a way back to National unity? Instead of focussing on whose Ajvar is best, the independent republics of the former Yugoslavia need to recognise that the more important fact, upon which they can all agree, is that this concoction of sweet red bell peppers and aubergines spiked with chilli is what the Balkans should be famous for. Anyway, for what its worth, the brand I bought was Podravka, from Croatia.

In order to maximise the broccoli flavour, I cooked this soup in two stages. I chopped of the florets and set them aside, then cubed the stalks and sweated the chunks with the mirepoix - no garlic, no spice - slowly adding six litres of bouillon before liquidamisering the mixture. The new-to-me outboard needs a new blade but it churned the cooked vegetables into soup, eventually. Then I poured in another two litres of boiling water and added the florets. Brought the pot back to the boil, turned off the heat and left the soup to stand for ten minutes, cooling, before giving it a final whizz.

I finished the soup and brought the outboard over to the sink to rinse by running it in a jug of soapy water and it went pop. There's literal sparks and the fuse popped out. Luckily the soup was finished and Jan Duke of Enigma Systems was sitting right there, waiting for her soup, so she fixed it straight after. Good as second hand, but it still needs a new blade.

Jan had been round the yard in her capacity as Chair of the IYA and a lot of people from the workshops came in today. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and they tended to drift down to the picnic tables in the yard, but they also tended to make donations based upon a realistic estimate of the market value of the product combined with a sincere desire to see the venture succeed. Plus one passer by was so bowled over by the concept of a community soup kitchen that she gave us a tenner and another friend of mine who's been in for three days in a row finally put his hand in his pocket. The average donation today was nearly £1.50;-)

I had to split at three, but Louisa came in after her class at Morley College and Jen came too with Esme. They kept the place open for a other few hours and maybe a dozen more folks climbed the stairs for soup. Among them, a lovely woman called Iraxte who lives on Albert Estate. She wrote in the log bok: "Muy rica! Great idea! It's been a life saver having a place to nourish myself with my baby, thank you"

my name is Irene. i am four and half months old.
Soup Maker: Russell
Soup: Broccoli
Other ingredients: Ajvar
No. of bowls served: 28
Expenditure: £9.78
Donations: £41.50
Running balance: +£39.96

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Day Three: Leek and Potato

This morning I went down our local street market, East Street and spent a fiver on a bag of veg, including three kilos of leeks. I had the idea I wanted to do a chunkier soup that's not blended, but still had a thickened consistency, so in this recipe, I mashed the potato and dissolved it in the soup to give a creamy background against which the flavour of the leeks stands out.

Because this soup isn't blended, I took extra special care to cut the carrot/onion/celery base into a fine dice and cooked that in the bottom of the pot with a couple of bay leaves, lid on, while finely shredding the leeks. Leeks, BTW, have to be thoroughly washed: peel off the outer leaves and slit the leek length-wise before washing it under running water to rinse out any lingering traces of mud.

Rick the homeless guy was first through the door, around midday, before the soup was ready. Following the incendiary incident and with the vicar's connivance, he's relocated to a shed in the churchyard of St John's in Larcom Street, but is hopeful that soon he'll get a bedsit through St Mungo's. Helpfully, he vacuumed the carpet and mopped the lino before being the first to sample the soup of the day.

I sweated the shredded leeks with the cooked mirepoix and at the same time steamed half a kilo of peeled potatoes. When the leeks were cooked, I poured over three litres of boiling Marigold bouillon to fill the six litre pot and mashed the cooked spuds through a ricer directly into the soup, which immediately thickened it.

I chopped some parsley for garnish and, bizarrely, discovered an unopened jar of pesto in the 'fridge, so I was able to offer the option of a dollop of the stuff in the soup. I thought this worked pretty well and Rick agreed. He wrote in the log bok: "Just Right Nothing Better". Kai from Crampton Street wrote, who is also becoming a regular, wrote, "your soup just keeps getting better".

One of the blokes working on the exterior renovation of the estate complained, obliquely, that his soup wasn't salty enough. It's true that I don't add salt to my soups and a couple of people have remarked upon it. I reckon that's because these people are smokers and their taste buds are clogged!

I anticipated that more workmen would take advantage of a warm place to eat their sandwiches, not to mention free soup, but word evidently hasn't got round yet. However, if anyone knows the Bulgarian for 'free soup', the place could apparently get packed out v. quickly! Rick said he'd taken one of the Soup Kitchen flyers to Webber Street, which didn't exactly fill me with glee, and I gently explained that the Pullens Soup Kitchen is primarily intended to serve Pullens people.

Speaking of Pullens people, Linda Brooker was in today, adding a copious sprinkling of salt to her soup. Turns out that the big pot Gabrielle used to use when he ran the cafe at the Centre a few years ago belongs to her and she brought it back, so now we have a 16 litre pot to work with, if things get busier. As it goes, the last bit of soup went home with Jen York , who came in at the end of the day with Esme, six, and brought with her a saucepan for Shanti, 14, to have hot soup after school.

Soup Maker: Russell
Soup: Leek and potato
Other ingredients: Bay leaves, parsley/pesto
No. of bowls served: 14
Expenditure: Fiver
Donations: £11.15
Running balance: +£8.24

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Day Two: Roasted Tomato and Sweet Peppers

The day dawned grey and damp: good weather for soup. But then, miserable weather makes people reluctant to leave their cosy comfort zones. For whatever reason, too few people climbed the stairs at the Pullens Centre today. Which is a shame because today's soup was delicious. According to one comment in the log bok, it was 'soupylicious'.

What happened was I went down to Nine Elms to see what I could find there for free. Went into New Covent Garden through the gate in the corner of Sainsbury's car park and mooched about a bit, nonchalantly checking out those skips that weren't bolted shut. I passed over half a box of shitake mushrooms and bundles of asparagus, because I wasn't prepared to actually dive into those dumpsters. I walked past a discarded bag of perfectly good basil and around the corner to find a discarded box of very ripe tomatoes and some yellow bell peppers that had been spilled on the ground.

When picking discarded vegetables, the basic rule is to leave anything that's skin is broken. Mud can be washed off and bruised bits can be cut out, but if the skin's been breached, it's no good. I picked up at least a kilo of tomatoes and another kilo or more of yellow and red peppers. And I went back for the basil.

Back at base, I had a head of garlic and half a packet of red lentils - probably 150g - which I thought would work well for flavour and thickening, respectively. Louisa had volunteered to help and so while she got chopping, I nipped out to Somerfield on Walworth Road and picked up half a kilo of carrots, a few French sticks, and a tub of Flora: £3.18.

We roasted the cleaned and chopped peppers and the tomatoes to concentrate their flavours. The oven at the Pullens Centre is a cheap domestic model, only a couple of years old, but it's not much cop. I can't imagine where it's all gone, but most of the kitchen equipment that was there only a few months ago isn't. There's no saucepans, only one oven shelf and no roasting trays.

Anyway, we roasted the tomatoes and peppers with the peeled cloves of garlic for about half an hour and at the same time cooked down a mirepoix of diced carrots, celery and onion, before combining the two and covering the mixture with three litres of bouillon. Then we liquidised the soup and passed it through a sieve to take out the bits of skin and seeds. Finally, we returned the soup to the cleaned pot, added the red lentils and cooked them in the soup for another twenty minutes, until they softened. The basil leaves were torn and used to garnish each bowl as served.

Likesay, soup hungry punters were few, but appreciative. We got our first homeless person in. Rick has been living on the library steps on Walworth Road for the past six months, but is now reconsidering his options after last night's shenanigans, in which some kids set light to the bottom of his sleeping bag. Rick wrote in the log book that the soup kitchen was a 'life saver'. He said he'd be back with all his homeless mates, but that's what the workmen who came yesterday said and we didn't see any of them today.

Soup Makers: Russell & Louisa
Soup: Roasted tomato and sweet peppers with red lentils
Other ingredients: Garlic, basil
No. of bowls served: 11
Expenditure: £3.18
Donations: £5.13
Running balance: +£2.09

Monday, October 1, 2007

Day One: Cauliflower

Topcats frenetic performance last night KO-ed any help I might have expected this morning, when a plan to meet in Sainsbury's car park at Nine Elms to get free veg from the skips at the back of New Covent Garden was abandoned. Instead, I went down to Oli's, the Turkish greengrocer down Walworth Road and spent £4.64 on a couple of cauliflowers, a great big onion and a head of celery to add to the bag of carrots had in my fridge.

My other major expenditure was £4.50 on a tub of Marigold bouillon powder from Fare Shares, our friendly local not-for-profit whole-food anti-shop (you'd pay a quid more at the health food store). Recently, Marco Pierre White came out of semi-retirement and onto a TV game show and into the press. To The Caterer, he revealed his secret ingredient: "Knorr chicken cubes? Genius product". Which really goes to show how long Marco's been out of it because, as any fool knows, Marigold rules.

Twenty five years ago Alastair Little taught me to make a basic soup: mirepoix sweated well down in a pot with the lid on and any other flavours added to this base. Cut whatever vegetable into cubes and then sweat 'em in the mirepoix for a while before pouring over a stock - AL used Knorr chicken bouillon out of a tub - and simmer for up to fifteen minutes before liquidisizing. That's the way I made soup every morning at 192 for a couple of years back in the early 80s and that's still the way I make a basic vegetable soup. Except nowadays, I use Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon (reduced salt, natch.)

The idea is to shop every morning before opening the Pullens Centre at 11am and starting to make soup, which should be ready around midday. I was slow getting started this morning and had to ask Gordon, Graham and Naomi to come back later, so the first folks to sample the soup were Mike & Alex, film makers from the workshop across Iliffe Yard, who pronounced it 'excellent'. In the comments book, one of them wrote, 'Excellent Soup!!' and it's not like I twisted his arm too hard.

To make this excellent soup, I diced a big onion and sweated it with the lid on my pot over low heat in a little vegetable oil while peeling and dicing half a kilo of carrots and half a head of celery (a Big Head). I don't know why I went with cauliflower, because I had been thinking about parsnips. I'd been thinking about a curried parsnip soup, actually, but I ended up with cauliflowers, so I thought I'd spice 'em up a bit with turmeric and ground jeera, adding a couple of heaped teaspoons of each to the mirepoix.

Often, people don't get full flavour out of a cauli, because they focus on the florets and throw the stalk away. When making soup, its best to cut the florets off and set them aside before chopping the stalk into cubes and sweating them with the mirepoix for a good ten minutes so they're well softened before you add the stock. Then add the finely chopped florets before covering the vegetable mixture with about twice the quantity of boiling bouillon: in this case, three litres.

Jan Duke, of Iliffe Yard Arts, loaned a big tea urn type of thing, which is just as well because the boiler in the Pullens Centre is kaput, so you can't get hot water out of the tap. Once the boiling bouillon is poured over the vegetables, the soup doesn't need much more cooking. If you've got time, you can turn off the heat and leave it too cool for a while before liquimifising. There's an old Braun stick mixer but Shaun donated, among other things, a rather more superior whizzer. He also came up with a brand new chopping board and a choice of aprons. But not yet a bigger soup pot.

As it went, six litres was plenty of soup,. Maybe another bowl full but not much more was left in the bottom of the pot after fourteen people had had their soup and some of those had had seconds innit. Among notable visitors to the Pullens Soup Kitchen on its first day of operation was lifetime Pullenite, Daisy Kelly-Granger, whose brother is the recipient of a mysterious envelope that fell onto the mat addressed to 'Oscar, 184 Crampton St... Mmm.

Soup Maker: Russell
Soup: Cauliflower
Other ingredients: Jeera, turmeric
Bowls served: 14
Expenditure: £11.91
Donations: £12.05

Running balance: +14p

I neglected to get a photo of Daisy, but Gordon came back with Graham and Naomi, who had picked up some other items to go with the soup and make more of a lunch: