Emergency stock? Well, yes: the stock you need to rustle up when you suddenly realise that you promised your Nan some homemade soup to take home with her and her eyes lit up but you’ve just considered that cardiac patients usually follow a low sodium diet and you’d quite like not to hasten her demise.
After a recent stay in hospital, Nan’s done incredibly well in terms of how fast she’s recovered. Her appetite is noticeably smaller, though, and she needs tempting to eat. Her energy levels fluctuate and so she needs to eat more often to build herself up a little and can’t eat much in one go. I know her tastes fairly well, and I suspect that a lot of the reluctance to eat is caused either by being given too much choice, when she didn’t do the shopping and doesn’t know what there is (“What do you want?”) or she’s being offered choice but it’s not what she’d choose if things were normal. Sometimes you just need someone to put what you like in front of you, and that’s my plan.
I know she likes leek and potato soup so was going to make this one, when I realised the salt levels in the stock were likely to be far from ideal for her. A quick check on the cardiac care information website from her hospital confirms my suspicions: they serve fresh soup on the coronary care ward every lunchtime. It’s freshly made, delicious (she tells me) and it specifies that it’s low salt. The stock jellies that I use every now and again are entirely unsuitable for making her a big batch of the soup I’ve promised and I don’t want to disappoint her by not making something after I said I would.
Obviously, one batch of soup isn’t going to cause massive harm, but if she will eat the things I know she likes if I make them, then I want something she can have daily if that’s what she fancies. I don’t want to make something tasty and then disappoint her next time with some horrible gruel. As it turns out, the stock didn’t kill the soup although I have no doubt that it could be improved further if I’d been able to get additional ingredients. I may also ask the hospital for their chosen base since she liked their soup so much. That didn’t help when I realised I needed to make one from scratch, though, on a Sunday evening. A quick thing that should have taken maybe an hour and a half took all night.
Due to Nan’s age and general health stuff, I also needed to keep the acidity levels of the stock low. I could have added lots more flavour with peppers, chilli or more tomatoes, but I’m trying to create small portions of something tasty that won’t then make her feel uncomfortable afterwards. I might have used a splash of white wine or maybe sherry to cook the onions and impart flavour, but chose not to, again, because of the intended
victim recipient and ruled out Balsamic vinegar for the same reason. I did add 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar to the stock and that helped with the flavour, which was only marginally off at this stage. More would have come through too strongly.
This is the recipe I liked the look of the most, largely because it only needed to cook for 1.5 hours and that was about 4 hours less than the next fastest version. It contains salt, though, and 4 tbsp olive oil. I wanted ultra-low salt, low fat, good flavour for Nan so I did my own thing on that.
No pictures in this post because, to be honest, I was too busy just getting on with it, sorry. I loosely followed the recipe in that I included those ingredients I had and improvised where possible. Where it says about cooking the veg in oil before adding liquid, I just dry fried them in a nonstick chef’s pan. I was using frozen onions so it wasn’t actually dry and I added a tablespoon of water as needed and stirred continuously to prevent sticking.
Having done that my way, I then went back to the next bit, which is adding in the stuff that doesn’t need pre-softening like carrots and tomatoes. I did all that, but didn’t add any salt initially. I did use quite a few fresh and dried herbs and spices to try and give flavour, but was absolutely prepared for vile veg water at the end, having removed most of the good bits of what makes a veg stock taste nice.
I tasted the stock at the point at which everything had cooked and it lacked depth of flavour, although was better than I’d expected. Time was getting on, so having read that 0.75g salt in a serving of soups and stocks is considered low, I added a half teaspoon to the whole thing. (I took all my guidance on nutrition from the British Dietetic Association, info here.) For comparison, the Knorr stock jellies I usually use contain 0.88mg salt per 100 ml of liquid stock. One of my mugs holds around 330 ml, so an actual portion would have contained far more salt than my version, although it would tasted better. I’m making up portions of about 250 ml for Nan initially, although if it’s something she’d like more of I can adjust serving sizes in the future.
I added a little paprika (a sprinkle over the top) and gave everything a good stir, having taken it as far as I thought I could without making something that would overpower the soup. If you’re the sort of person who keeps fresh fennel in the house, suggest adding some as I’d have done if I’d had it. I think that might have helped add flavour. Fennel is also traditionally used to aid digestion.
There was too much bay in the mix, which was bitter but I solved that in the end just by bringing up the sweetness with carrot to counteract it. Using dried mushrooms definitely would have helped counteract/prevent that, if I’d had them, and they’re an ingredient in most instant veg stock. Top tip: If you know what the problem is with a sauce or stock but don’t know how to fix it, Google is your friend. I knew the carrot trick: I’ve been throwing food together for years, but it’s great for substitutions and suggestions. If I hadn’t had any more carrot, I could have found several other things to try just by typing something like ‘how to fix a bitter stock’.
Umami paste would also have helped a lot with the overall flavour, but I only had a tiny bit and not enough to help. The more I think about this, the more I think umami (which has only been around over here for a year or two) is the development that could enable you to create something tasty whilst being ultra-healthy. It does contain some fat (no sat. fat though) and salt, but the information for a tablespoon looks fine to me when you think that’s being diluted in two litres or so of liquid.
The combined levels for everything I added would remain low and I might be able to do something like cut out the pure salt I added because the anchovies provide that flavour. I’ll play with that another time, when my freezer isn’t full. I’ve gone from being quite sniffy about it to actually planning to spend some time seeing if anyone’s come up with something genuinely good, or creating something if they haven’t.
At the straining stage of the recipe, I initially used a sieve but it wasn’t fine enough so I tried the kitchen paper method suggested. It was a massive faff and the paper seemed to clog up very quickly, although it did work. It would have been quicker to drive over to my parents’ house and grab the muslin I left there, but it was 3 a.m. at this stage and I didn’t think they’d appreciate that.
I could have made a passable stock in 5 minutes had I not needed to jump through a few hoops and improvise more than even I like to do. I could even have probably made something with a bought low-salt bouillon powder. If lower salt than the normal ones is actually low enough by health standards, of course. However, I learned all sorts of things about various techniques and found some good ideas. It’s entirely coincidental but there are cholesterol and heart problems on my dad’s side of the family so ever since they found that out, my parents have been using all the healthier oils and sprays, etc. with which to cook. 25 years ago, options were vastly more limited. I’m slightly scarred by the experience.
A Small Rant
The huge problem for me there is that low-fat versions make nice stuff taste rubbish and I tend to reject artificial low-fat blends of oils/spreads on principle, although I use Clover on a daily basis for cooking my own stuff instead of butter because I don’t notice too much of a difference in taste. My daughter tells me that the free tub of Flora Buttery I palmed off on her and the hungry students is actually also very nice, and she’s more of a flavour snob than me, so that might be worth considering.
My usual attitude, based on years of people trying to persuade me that some paste made from olives was comparable to actual butter, is scepticism. I certainly can believe it’s not butter: butter’s lovely and this stuff is just yellow grease. And, no, you will never make an acceptable roast potato using a spray bottle of some artificial ‘healthy’ stuff that is masquerading as a genuine alternative to real fat. If I sound bitter, I am. I sprayed some on a baking tray once and it never came off. Evil stuff to be avoided. You know, unless it’s your only option. It makes me come over all stompy…
Leek & Potato Soup:
After all that, I had the stock I needed to make the soup, which turned out a lot better than I thought and was something I might choose to make for myself. I know it could have been tastier if I’d stirred in cream and upped the salt, but given that I’d not used any fat or oil in making the stock, I did use unsalted butter to cook the leeks for the soup. I used less than the recipe said, without a discernibly negative effect, reasoning that if stuff looked like it was sticking I could add olive oil or liquid, although I didn’t need to. Semi-skimmed milk worked perfectly well to add creaminess without making it too watery. (I’d have used skimmed if I’d had it.) I stirred in a quarter teaspoon of ground nutmeg before deciding that was the right taste.
I was cooking in the early hours, so using mixers and blenders wasn’t an option. I tried mashing the potato as the recipe suggested but was concerned that although I’d cut the leek exactly as shown, the pieces might be a bit too big to have in a ‘drink’ if it was served in a mug. Nan has some problems swallowing sometimes, especially when she is tired and whilst neither of us would see her reduced to eating ‘baby food’ before she has to be, I did want a soup that she could drink without a spoon and that wasn’t likely to make her cough. In the end, I blended the soup with a stick blender, once the sun was up, and thought the texture was much improved for being much smoother.
Once the soup (the easiest thing to throw together quickly usually) was done, I turned my attention to making a russet apple compote and some scones, but that’s for the next post. I am 30 seconds from sleep…*
*Frank Turner’s Back to Sleep is the best song for shuffle to have picked just before I close down for the night. No thoughts on kitchen applications yet. 😉