Mr A&N and I found ourselves with a day off together at the end of the Easter break. An extra day off is a prized thing and should be treated differently to your normal weekend day - there should be no cleaning, no grocery shopping, no chores or running about here and there. On my extra days off, I like to behave like I'm a tourist and take my camera and myself out into the city and see what I can find. I've lately been feeling as if I were in a bit of a rut, which isn't uncommon for me at the end of winter (I figure it's better at the end, with spring on its way, than at the beginning). When I'm in this rut, life seems to only move between paid work and house work with no time to do things I enjoy and no sense of taking advantage of the city I live in. Even when I know this isn't actually true, this winter-time fug stays with me. A day out in London, exploring a different area through new eyes, was coming just in time to help me re-charge my dead batteries.
We headed to Notting Hill, a place I've semi-explored a number of times but hadn't been back to in a while. It wasn't until we were there that I remembered a great spice shop in the area, and before I had finished whacking myself in the forehead for being thick and forgetting to copy down its location, we stumbled on the store. Called The Spice Shop (good name, eh?), it's a small but packed space, full of sachets and canisters of all sorts of wonderful things, many of which came home with me.
Across the road from The Spice Shop is another fantastic store, Books for Cooks. Just like the Spice Shop, it's a place that will make anyone cooking-inclined be beside themselves with possibilities. I had wanted some books about the science of baking and cooking, and I was able to scan through a few titles and chat to the staff about what they'd recommend. I also had my eye caught by a cookbook that I've been flipping through without purchase for ages. A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gyngell was the Cookery Book of the Year winner last year and is another contribution to the seasonal and non-fussy cooking genre. The spirit and place moved me, and into my bag it went.
I pawed through the cookbook over lunch and one of the first recipes to make me go 'Oooh' was a celery and leek soup, topped off with truffle oil (which I had, conveniently, just picked up from the Spice Shop). We already had a large celeriac from the previous week's vegetable box and had more celery arriving that day, so any plan to get rid of it all was a good one. Potatoes and cream helped thicken it out, and it tasted like a deeply flavored, grown-up leek and potato soup, particularly with the touch of truffle oil. I'll be looking through the cookbook more this weekend, since I'm already enticed and want to find out what else is possible.
Celery and Leek Soup with Truffle Oil, from Skye Gyngell
- 400 g celery (or celeriac - we used a combination of the two)
- 2 leeks, mostly white parts
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 2 medium or 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 thyme sprigs
- a couple of flat leaf parsley stems
- salt and pepper
- 1 liter chicken or vegetable stock
- 150 ml double cream
- truffle oil, to drizzle
- Separate the celery stalks and peel them finely, then chop roughly. If using celeriac, skin and chop into small cubes.
- Melt the butter in a large pot over a low heat. Add the celery and leeks and cook gently for 15 minutes or so, until the celery is soft but not colored.
- Add the potato, bay leaves, thyme and parsely and season with a bit of the salt and pepper.
- Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
- remove from the heat and discard herb.
- Puree the soup in small batches in a blender so it is quite smooth. Pass through a chinois before returning it to the pot so that the soup is very smooth.
- Pour in the cream and reheat gently.
- Check the seasoning and serve with a small drizzle of truffle oil.