chernobyl soup: cheap, cheerful and full of flavour

Chernobyl soup: it cooks itself! No, stop it, we won’t have any jokes about Chernobyl in here, this is a tasteful blog. However let me tell you this: the soup looks like something you’d find in a layby nappy, hurriedly thrown from a moving car by some frazzled parents, but it tastes bloody good. If you’re looking for something very quick, cheap and easy, then nip over and I’ll sort you out, and we can have the soup after. It’s a simple enough combination of stock, veg and sausage with paprika. It uses an Instant Pot but fret not – you can make it on the hob just as easy.

Why are we calling it Chernobyl soup anyway? Because it was part of the meal we had at the Chernobyl Power Plant Workers’ Canteen, and so, with the confident ease of someone who has played the up-a-bit-down-a-bit-push game all too often, let’s segue straight to part two of our Ukraine holiday report. Look! A fancy banner approaches – click it to whisk straight to the recipe – and this is a VERY long entry, so I won’t even hold it against you. 

Chernobyl, then. Our holiday package came with a twelve hour tour, which at 5.30am in the morning, pulling on sodden Dr Martens and wishing for death, felt like an awfully long time to stand around looking at dusty, toxic relics from a bygone era – we can do that easily enough by Skypeing Paul’s mother, and she’s only slightly less radioactive. We were up early as we had to be at a random hotel by 7am and we had no idea of the Metro schedule. After spending forty minutes feeling each individual drop of water hit me from the shower, we bustled out, asking the hotel concierge to call us a taxi. He gave us an earnest smile, coughed into his beard and pushed us outside to wait. Perhaps we were cluttering up the lobby or detracting from the entrance to the ‘Gentleman’s Club’, I don’t know. Anyway, we waited for a while until what would turn out to be a recurring theme of this holiday turned up: a car that looked like it was put together by my nephew in a fever dream. Rusted? I could see the petrol flowing through the door. No way were we getting in that, so the next ten minutes were spent stealthily hiding from both the very angry looking taxi driver and the concierge, who seemed bemused that we had disappeared into fat air. We stayed around the corner until the taxi driver drove off in a cloud of toxic blue smoke and the concierge went back to extracting new flavours of phlegm from his lungs. Paul called an Uber Exec in a fit of excitement and thankfully, a car that hadn’t been witness to seventy years of history rolled in, accompanied by yet another beautiful Ukrainian man whose name I’d never learn but whose eyes I’d always remember.

Honestly, long term readers of this blog will know that I have a real thing for taxi drivers – I think it’s simply any lust that allows me to sit down and rest my legs, to be honest – but it’s getting to a point where Paul’s having to pop a meter on and hang a Magic Tree off his knob if he wants to get his leg over.

The driver was cold and efficient and dropped us where we needed to be with a grunt. We gave him a tip of 5, 667,344,667 Ukrainian hryvnia (about £2.10) and sent him on his way. There were several white minibuses all boarding tour groups and of course, the anxiety of having to get on the right bus was overwhelming. Imagine my distress if I’d hopped on the wrong bus only to be taken to a gulag and passed around like life-raft chocolate. After I’d double-checked that this wasn’t happening, and hidden my disappointment from Paul, we climbed aboard. There’s always a worry about shared tour groups that you’re going to get onto a bus and find yourself sandwiched between folks who want to talk to you about Jesus and others who snack with their mouths wide open. Luckily – for the most part, ssh – this was a decent group – and once our tour guide (Cynthia, the doll beloved by Angelica from The Rugrats, electrified, made human and given an action-jackson gilet) jumped on, we were away.

She explained a few things: we were to buy snacks en-route because, obviously, nowhere to buy them in the Exclusion Zone. We had to try for a tom-tit at the petrol station because you really don’t want to be flaring your bumhole in the wild open air (she phrased it better, admittedly) and the toilet facilities were ropey. Don’t pick anything up. Don’t eat the berries. Buy some wet-wipes for your hands and dog treats for all the wild dogs that have set up home. We then had to sign a very official looking document (well sort of – the Ukrainian flag still had ‘shutterstock’ printed across it where they’d lifted it from google images, but top marks for theatre) to say we understood the risks of entering the Exclusion Zone and that we would be subject to punishment if we broke any of the rules. One of those rules? Don’t enter any abandoned structure. Just remember that. After twenty minutes, we pulled into the petrol station. I wish I could tell you the name because it was hilarious but I’d get wrong. So I can’t.

Whilst Paul busied himself trying to work out the coffee machine I took the role of class swot and went for a shite, bought my snacks and wet-wipes and then went outside to stand by the bus. Well no, I wanted to smoke, and as nonchalant as the Ukraine seemed to be about health and safety, I didn’t fancy sparking up in a petrol station. Oh and I know I shouldn’t smoke, but something has to take the bitterness of my words away. Luckily, my COPD-Club of One became three with the addition of two other Northerners, Vicky and Natalie. It took me a while to understand they were from the UK because with their strangled vowels and hissing sibilants I’d just assumed they were local engineers here to fix the bus. We bonded immediately over the sight of a dog and Paul’s ashen face at trying to drink a takeaway coffee consisting entirely of milk foam and cherry syrup, and then we were on our way. It was a good hour drive and I could tell Paul was itching to chat excitedly, so I shut my eyes and listened to my Billie Eilish tapes.

I can’t get enough of her, by the way. Imagine being eighteen and having a Bond theme out? The only thing I was responsible for at eighteen was an especially virulent outbreak for gonorrhoea. Well, it was the noughties after all.

An hour or two passed with very little to look at outside of the window save for the oncoming traffic, which the bus driver seemed to be taking a personal affront against given he was driving on both sides of the road at once. After twenty minutes of wincing, I nodded off, only for Paul to shake me from my slumber when we reached the first control point, where we told not to take pictures under any circumstances. There were a few burly mean-looking blokes hanging around so I’d cracked the emergency exit and slithered off like Tooms before our guide had finished telling everyone to behave. Our passports were checked, some tat was bought (I bought a gas mask, for reasons, not realising it was to fit a child – I look like one of those videos on Youtube where people put elastic bands around a watermelon when I wear it) and we were cleared to go exploring.

I should say at this point: we were given little Geiger counters to clip on, but at no time are you really in any major danger as long as you’re sensible. I did start clicking like the girl from The Grudge at one point but that was deliberate to shit Paul up.

This video, from the recent Chernobyl docudrama, explains what happened – and honestly if you’ve got ten minutes, watch it – amazing acting and you’ll never feel more like you could run a nuclear powerplant. Alternatively, cut to the ten minute mark, absolutely terrifying:

Now, since the reactor went boom, there were two exclusion zones set up – one 10km around the plant and another 30km. Both are safe for a day as long as you’re not snorting lines of dust, but you do have to be careful. You can’t explore yourself and must stay with a tour guide. Our tour started in a little village in the 30km zone, with us all tramping off the bus to walk around. Of course, it is eerie – a whole village lost to the forest – and we took some shots, walked around respectfully and went back to the bus. That was just a taster. Someone on the bus asked whether or not the dogs you see roaming around were the same dogs from thirty years ago and we all had to politely ball our fists in our mouth to stop laughing. Bless her, though I do like the idea of an irradiated Cujo wandering around looking for some glowing Bonio. That was a whistle-stop tour and the bus drove us to the next destination: the plant itself.

Perhaps you might not think it interesting to spend an hour looking at a power-plant, but in all honesty, the tour was captivating – we stood just outside the Containment Chamber which houses the incredibly radioactive remains of Reactor 4 and it’s mind-blowingly huge – an incredible piece of engineering when you consider it’s the largest man-made moveable object in the world. After Paul. Our tour guide showed us pictures of how it used to look and how it looked after the explosion and usually I zone out at stuff like that but she was terrific – and standing in front of something so destructive was genuinely terrifying. Brrr.

We drove on, with the next stop being Pripyat, the town built for the families of the workers of the powerplant. 50,000 people lived here in what looked to be a gorgeous town – then in the two days following the explosion, those who didn’t die were evacuated. This number rose as the Exclusion Zone grew to over 300,000. The bus turned a corner and we were on the Bridge of Death, where residents of the town gathered to watch the fire in the distance, all of them not knowing that they were watching their lives burn out in front of them. Everyone on the bridge died within days, captivated by the electric blue smoke pushed out by the reactor burning. The bus didn’t stop, which was entirely the right decision, and we parked up in the centre.

Our tour guide made a very stern face and told us we weren’t, by law, allowed to explore the buildings – partly out of respect, partly out of the fact they are unsafe structures, partly because they’re radioactive. If we were seen by the police who patrol the area we would be tossed back out with a flea in our ear. So, very clearly, if she saw us exploring inside the buildings, the tour would stop. Lucky, then, that she followed up this strict message by saying she would stay outside and do her paperwork, and if we wandered off…

So we explored five main points: the swimming pool, the school, a block of high rise apartments, the fairground and a nursery. I won’t go into all of them bar to tell you the common theme – imagine if someone pressed pause on an entire city. Everyone had to leave everything behind, soaked in radiation, and despite promises about returning, never could. You’re walking through a ghost city and it’s one of the must vaguely unsettling feelings I’ve ever felt. For example, in the high-rise buildings, you can walk up all twenty floors (and we did, with Paul gasping the entire way) and walk into people’s flats to see snapshots of their lives left to the dust: board games halfway played, pots left on the cooker, beds half-made and photos of loved ones cracked and fallen. It’s safe – so far as walking around buildings that haven’t been maintained for thirty years can be – but it’s absolutely haunting. When I’m uneasy or anxious I get an ache at the bottom of my back like someone is pressing on my spine and that feeling never left me. The faint taste of metal was a distraction though.

There’s so many photos out there of the various places you can visit so I won’t put my own up here, but have a look at our Instagram shots for a selection:

The floor full of children’s gas-masks was what got me though – tears actually welled up in my eyes when I realised that I shouldn’t have paid £20 for one from the gift shop and instead, just lifted one from here. Quick going over with a wet-wipe, job done.

One thing slightly irritated me – in quite a few places, you could tell things had been set up to make it ‘creepy’ – dolls with gas-masks on, faces half-buried in the soil. Chernobyl is dark tourism in its purist form – you don’t need to make a spectacle of it. Says the two lads who paid to tour it. That’s a fine looking high horse, fella.

We spent about two hours touring Pripyat and then it was back to the power-plant where we would join the current workers on site for lunch. We had another radiation check before going in – climb inside a little scanner, press your hands and wait for the beep – and then took a place in the queue (after I managed to fall up the stairs in my haste to get fed – they probably thought the reactor was having another wobbly when they felt the tables shake). We were warned that the ladies serving were miserable and christ, were they right – I’ve never been served lunch with such malice. I wanted to ask if I could swap my rye bread for a brown bun but it wouldn’t have surprised me if the bewhiskered babushka had pulled me over the counter and held me face down in the soup until my legs stopped kicking.

Lunch wasn’t bad mind – a little salad which I left because I’m not vegetarian, a soup which looked like someone had already digested it for me but tasted wonderful (see recipe below), a breaded (I think) piece of pork (I think) served on sticky rice (I think) and a lovely little muffin that I keep under my tongue even now so I can have a few more stabs at chewing it. This sounds like I’m being mean for the sake of it, and I am being facetious, certainly, but it honestly wasn’t bad at all. I made the mistake of scooping some mustard up off and putting it in my soup, not realising that this wasn’t mustard but something that must have been scrapped off the side of the blown reactor. Hot? I didn’t want to lose face, though ironically I did lose face as it burnt through my cheek. We made our way back to the bus, stopping (the group) to pet all the dogs milling around the plant and stopping (me) to smoke with all the workers in the vain hope I’d be squirrelled away as the office entertainment.

Next stop was something I hadn’t expected – a stop at the DUGA radar installation and the accompanying secret Soviet base. I adore stuff like this – incredible feats of engineering built for menace. I tried to take a photo to try and encapsulate the sheer size and freakery of this place and failed – it’s 500ft tall and half a mile long of tarnished metal, long-silent wires and rusting joints. At some points, you can stand under it and look up and it is all you can see. I’ve mentioned my phobia of dams before – part of that phobia is that dams look so unnatural and man-made set in usually beautiful countryside. This was the same with the DUGA station – so unnatural, so weird. That phobia of large structures is called megalophobia and I can’t deny that as excited as I was to see it, that little knot of anxiety was back in my spine. You can hear it creaking in the wind which is unsettling enough, and knowing it needs to come down soon but has to be taken apart by hand due to the radiation…nope. It was used to listen out for ballistic missile launches – I can’t help but think if Comrade Paul Anderson had his hands on it, he’d be using it to check my WhatsApp. Brrr.

The rest of the tour involved lots of little stops at various points – the working town where the current workers live (had to check we hadn’t turned off and ended up in Gateshead for a hot second), the memorial to the fallen, the little robots they attempted to use to shift the burning, highly radioactive graphite off the roof. The radiation was so intense that the robots only worked for moments before cutting out – they had to send humans up onto the roof to do what the robots couldn’t. Think on that for a second: so radioactive it fries a robot, so they sent these ‘bio-robots’ onto the roof instead. One minute to chuck as much rubble over the side as you can, and that’s you done, never to serve again. Fall over onto the graphite and you’re dead. Brush against it, and you’re dying. The thought of having to do something so intense made my spine hurt again: you’re talking to the man who fell up the stairs on his way to get soup, remember.

Though I have a confession: throughout the tour the guide kept telling us we would get a chance to meet the Roberts who helped with the clean-up exercise. I thought it was going to be a meet and greet of two blokes called Robert and spent a while on Wikipedia trying to work out who she could mean. Nope. Robots. I was a trifle disappointed.

Throughout the tour we spoke with the various folks on the bus with us – some were more engaging than others – and we made friends with the previously mentioned Natalie and Vicky, and then later Reiss and Sharlette (which made for an awkward moment when they both said that’s not how you spell my name when I was trying to find them on Facebook), a lovely couple who had come along on the same flight, with the same company, having watched the same documentary as us. I’ll circle back to these lovely four in the next blog entry but haven’t we come a long way since Paul and I pretended to be Armenian so that we didn’t have to make small-talk on a previous tour?

And that’s it – the driver got us all back on board, we cleared the checkpoint and then he cranked up the heating so we all fell asleep. I woke myself up with a fart so noxious (and I pray, silent) you’d be forgiven for thinking I was smuggling rubble back with me. It’s OK, I shut my eyes and went back to sleep with the lullaby of dry-heaving behind me to whoosh me to sleep.

So: would I recommend it? Absolutely. I knew Paul would enjoy it because he’s always been a fan of desolation, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Your experience will depend entirely on the skill of your tour guide – ours was incredible, the right balance of humour, knowledge and pathos – and we tipped her well. The bus – awash with jokes and jibes about radiation on the way there – was silent coming back. They played a video of what the town was like on the drive back, which was an especially timely touch. It’s fascinating to see an entire town held in a time bubble and utterly incomprehensible to realise what an evacuation on that scale would actually mean. It was almost so much worse, too – had the core hit the water pooled underneath the reactor, almost all of Europe would have been rendered uninhabitable by the subsequent nuclear explosion.

As a footnote: the official Soviet death-count for Chernobyl, as of today: 31. Official studies actually put the numbers up near 90,000.

And there’s me grumbling about my weak shower.


To the Chernobyl soup, then. If you have an Instant Pot this is truly the work of minutes, but if not, fear not: you can make it on the hob just as easy. This makes enough for four servings of Chernobyl soup, which I really ought to call veg and sausage soup, but hell. To the recipe!

chernobyl soup

Yeah I should have cleaned that bowl first. But I was too busy playing with my gas-mask.

chernobyl soup chernobyl soup

Chernobyl soup: veg, sausage and paprika

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 massive bowls

I love recipes like this - get a load of stuff from the supermarket, tip it in and set it away. Done in half an hour, just like your partner.

We apologise to the good folk in the Ukraine for this bastardisation of what is probably a staple recipe, but heck it's good.

You can make this syn free by omitting the smoked sausage but don't - it's worth those couple of syns, trust me.

By the way, do you hear the people sing? 

Ingredients

  • one packet of vegetable soup mix (the fresh chopped swede, potato, onion and carrot, already chopped - or feel free to chop your own) (600g)
  • 100g of Mattessons Reduced Fat smoked sausage, chopped into tiny chunks (8 syns)
  • fat-free bacon, as much as you like, cut into chunks
  • a teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • one litre of good vegetable stock or bouillon
  • one tablespoon of wholegrain mustard (1/2 syn, but you can shove that up your pumper if you think we're counting it)

Calorie wise, based on 100g of fat-free bacon, this kicks in at about 175 calories. And it's dead filling as owt divvent ya knaa.

Instructions

Using an Instant Pot? But of course you are, you're a very sensible sort and you know it's the best pressure cooker out there. So:

  • hit the saute button, add a little oil, tip your bacon and sausage in first followed by the paprika and vegetables, and saute for about five minutes, giving everything a good stir
  • once done, add the stock and mustard, seal it up and set it away on manual for about ten minutes 
  • vent, serve, applause, tears

Don't have an Instant Pot? Shame on you. But the same as above - stick it in a big old pot, saute for a little bit, add stock and cook.

Notes

Courses soup

Cuisine twochubbycubs like how

Nutrition Facts

Amount Per Serving

Calories 175

% Daily Value

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Canny! Of course, as with all our soups, you can chuck any old shite in, but the core recipe is as above. Enjoy!

Want more ideas for soup and using your Instant Pot? Oh my sweet hairy child, we’ve got you covered in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. Click either button to crack on.

soupsmall 

Ta,

Jasmine and Pauline

warming curried cauliflower soup: syn-free and tasty!

Curried cauliflower soup – and syn free to boot – perfect as the winter sets in and Christmas approaches. This is a dual purpose recipe: I wanted to find a soup recipe that took no effort at all AND used a vegetable that is cheap and abundant at the moment. Added bonus: it’ll make your arse so toxic that, should you be like me and have a husband who is constantly knocking on your nethers with Ole Blind Bob, you’ll be given a free pass. A free ass, if you will, though no-one’s ever thrown socks at my bottom. Pity. Anyway, the curried cauliflower soup will follow shortly, but first the usual balderdash.

One thing I haven’t mentioned on the blog lately is that I’ve been gallivanting quite a bit – a veritable blizzard of trips away and driving around the country snaffling a hundred service station sandwiches whilst owlishly ignoring my ‘Service Due’ spanner light on my car. One such trip took me to Birmingham to see Chernobyl Edition Paul who took me along to see Frisky & Mannish. Now, when someone recommends something to me, I’ll often nod and smile and die inside whilst I have to pretend to be interested in something awfully unfunny or just not up my street. If you ever meet me, you’ll see the exact ‘but I don’t care‘ face I pull the very second I ask you how you are and you reply with anything other than the most basic acknowledgement of the question. Honestly, it should be a crime to actually give a proper answer. In the North East we have this down to a fine art, which goes like this:

“Alreet mate?’

“Alreet?”

See? Didn’t even answer the question and then it’s off back down t’pit. Learn from that, people.

Anyway, it turned out his recommendation wasn’t duff at all, and after a few Youtube videos which actually made my insides ache we were booked and ready to go. Now, if you’ve never heard of them, they’re a musical comedy duo act who do shows which play on musical themes and mix pop parodies, jokes and some actual amazing singing. That’s a shit way of describing them, so let me simply encourage you to watch this:

It even won over my stone-hearted husband, who last laughed back in 2014, and even that was mainly acid-reflux.

Aside from spilling my beer as I sat down and creating a heart-stopping moment when Frisky came speeding out in massive heels and oh-so-almost slipped over, it was a genuinely fantastic show. You know how these things tend to go: there’s nearly always a ‘down bit’ where they try new material and not everything sticks. Not here: I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much at a live show, and I’m someone who ends up in paroxysms of laughter watching You’ve Been Framed. My benchmark isn’t high. I left that venue with my ribs aching like someone had spent four minutes slapping me about with a pair of fish slices to the key-change in Scared of the Dark by Steps. That’s a musical joke and you know it.

We were given a chance to meet them after and to their absolute credit, they remained entirely unfazed and positive even in light of being hugged by a giant sentient Sugar Puff and his glazed companion. I’d post the picture but I look like I’ve been awake for eight days and that’s not a treat for anyone. However, they were that bloody good that when I returned home I booked three more tickets to see them in Newcastle with Paul and someone who was sick of hearing me bang on about them. They loved it too, and it was great to see them playing to a much larger venue. Actually! Because I’m a narcissistic sod, I wanted to redo the picture I had taken from the other week and they were only happy to oblige:

I’m the one in the middle, in case you didn’t realise. Did I feel guilty about leaving Patrick and Paul outside in the pouring rain whilst I went full Annie Wilkes in the foyer? I did not. Worth it! They’re taking a break now but honestly, if you ever get a chance to see them, you absolutely must.

We also managed to squeeze in to see Jay Rayner on his Last Supper tour when we were both in Birmingham. I’m going to use that as a jumping off point for a fuller blog entry down the line but I’ll say two things now. Firstly, the man was an utter delight – hilarious, self-effacing and full of anecdotes you actually want to listen to. Which leads me to my next point: if you’re attending a show with a ‘question and answer’ element, don’t be that irritating raclure-de-bidet who thinks everyone in the room has come to hear your thoughts on the act as the show goes on. My word, she was bothersome – talking over everyone’s questions, guffawing in that ‘look at me look at me oh god won’t you look at me’ way at everything he said…the list could go on. I sure hope her heartbeat doesn’t.

Anyway, we’ll come back to Jay Rayner another time, but in the meantime, let’s do this curried cauliflower soup, shall we? I can’t pretend I’ve found a way of making curried cauliflower soup look exciting, but damn it’s syn free and delicious. What more do you want?

curried cauliflower soup curried cauliflower soup

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curried cauliflower soup

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 bowlfuls

We're trying to spin our meals around whatever vegetables are currently in season here at Chubby Towers - plus, eating meat for every single meal is getting a bit tiresome on both the entrance and exit doors. What can you do with a cauliflower? Some people - we'll call them mental - pretend you can make steaks with them. You can't. You can no more make a steak with a cauliflower than you can make a lamppost with a giraffe. Get ahad of yerself, lass.

However, the good folks at Olive Magazine posted this recipe last year, and although we've adapted it ever so slightly for twochubbycubs and Slimming World, it didn't lose any flavour in our tinkering. We heartily recommend!

We've also included a tip to really speed things up if you're pushed for time, but honestly, there's very little to do here.

Ingredients

  • one large cauliflower - remove the outer leaves
  • few sprays of olive oil
  • one large white onion (we used the cannonball onions from Morrisons, but only because the name got me all a-frisk)
  • two teaspoons of garlic paste
  • one tablespoon of hot curry powder
  • one litre of vegetable stock (made from bouillon powder if you have it)
  • 100g of fat-free Greek yoghurt
  • Worcestershire sauce

Instructions

  • chop up your cauliflower into little cauliflowers - don't waste the stem either, chop it finely
  • save a few shapely florets aside
  • slice up your onion
  • in a nice big pan, gently sweat off your onion and cauliflower until nicely golden
  • add the garlic paste and curry powder and give everything a good stir and cook for a couple of minutes more
  • add the stock and allow to simmer gently for around 25 minutes, or until everything has softened up
  • if you like a thicker soup, simmer for a bit longer to take off some of the stock
  • allow to cool, add the yoghurt and then blend together with a stick blender 
  • taste and if it needs salt, add it and reblend

For the top, I sliced the cauliflower florets nice and thickly and then in another small pan, fried them off in Worcestershire sauce - you want them to have a bit of a bite, but the Worcestershire sauce adds a lovely flavour - totally unnecessary though! I also added a bit of chilli oil because I'm not content unless my arse is melting like a summer ice-cream

Notes

  • you don't need a fancy blender for soup - we always recommend this wee stick blender which does the job and is rarely more than a tenner on Amazon
  • want to speed this up - you can buy already chopped cauliflower in Tesco sold as 'cauliflower rice' - combine with a pot of chopped onions and you could have this done in no time at all 
  • want more fabulous recipes of this scale and complexity - of course you do, you're wonderful - click away!

Click here to preorder our new cookbook! Now £10!

Courses soup

Cuisine vegetarian

This freezes well, I should have said – and what better way to say I want a divorce than present your partner with some freezer-burn soaked curried cauliflower soup? I ask you. You want some more ideas for soup? We got you – here’s all our syn free soups:

Tasty!

J

cheesy pea soup – yes, just like The Fast Show

Cheesy pea soup sounds revolting, and what better way to open a blog entry about food than with that line? I know, we’re awful, we took a month off to concentrate on a few things – most notably for me (it’s always me, James, who writes the blog) was half-heartedly walking away from a career in law, only to be tempted back in with the promise of working from home one day a week and condensing all my hours into one day in the office. Well, as someone who likes to sit at home and pick his bum, how could I refuse? It gives me a bit more time to write the cookbook and ogle at our gardener. Speaking of cookbook…

chicken, chorizo and seafood paella

It’s been a sad day near Chubby Towers with the passing of one of our neighbours. It’s inevitable, yes, when the average resident took their pension before the Boer War, but still, nobody likes to see a private ambulance trundling into the street early in the morning, do they? Especially when they park in my parking spot, but I didn’t think it was the time to cause a fuss. I’ll send a parking fine later with some white lilies. It did cause a slight moment of discomfiture when I realised I knew the name of the lady who had passed, but not her husband. The only time he’s ever talked to me was to ask me to remove my Vote Jeremy Corbyn sign, which to be fair to him I’d only put up to be mischievous given we live in a sea of Tory voters. You have no idea how much I want to put a pole up and hang a BEAR PRIDE flag up, if only so we get a few confused questions from the less enlightened. There’s one neighbour on the street who I hope to tempt over to the dark side and literally nailing my colours to the mast might just do it. Me going out in stretched hot-pants and wearing a permanently surprised look hasn’t done it yet.

Anyway. Not knowing the name only became an issue when it came to sending a Deepest Sympathy card. How do you address such a sensitive card when you don’t know the name of the recipient – it’s not like I can do my usual name-fudge and pop ‘soz she’s popped off, Chief‘ on the envelope, is it? In the end, after much agonising, I put ‘Sorry for your loss’ on the card (which seems incredibly disingenuous, as though the poor chap has mislaid his car keys or dropped a bank card down the drain) and signed it ‘Love James and Paul’, which I also immediately regretted because it looked piss-taking. Least I didn’t stick a xoxo on there. Sympathy and human emotion is just too much hard work. In retrospect, signing the card in glittery silver Sharpie probably wasn’t the most elegant move either, but look, it’s all I had to hand. I live in a very camp house.

I can’t imagine we’ll be invited to the funeral.

Which frankly, is a shame: I look splendid in black and I’m all for a wake buffet. Hell, we accidentally gatecrashed a wake in Oslo and only realised our error when we were shooed out by some hurly-burly bearded Norwegian whilst we filled our pockets from the koldtbord. Honestly, the grieving can be so touchy. Only been to three funerals in my time. My nana’s was a particular highlight: both Paul and I suffer from nervous laughter and even though I was genuinely distraught, the absurd sight of her coffin right in front of me whilst the entire church lurched through the eight-hundredth verse of All Things Bright And Beautiful really tickled me. Half of the congregation was made up of her equally elderly friends who were all on the last double-digit breaths of their life – I’m surprised we didn’t lose any. Plus, despite being 31 years old at the time, I still guffawed when the lavender crowd burst out in raptures about the purple headed mountain. Me too, loves. The vicar kept getting her name wrong too, which added an air of tension between the sobs – she didn’t even look like a Norman. I bit so much of my cheek that I can stay lying on my front when Paul wants a blowie.

It has got me thinking about what I want when I die. No fancy funeral, big coffin, lots of jewels – none of that. Nope, sell off all my chintz and bibelots, stuff me full of fireworks and pop a pipe cleaner somewhere indecent as a fuse and then push me out to sea. I want people to remember me how I lived – damp, colourful and usually on fire. No fake solemnity, no wailing, no dabbing daintily at your eyes whilst you remember times past. It’s an open invite to you all that, should you read in the paper of me dying in some tawdry fashion (it’s more inevitable than you can imagine), you can all come to the service. Just make sure you stop by Iceland first because fuck me, it’s going to have to be a good buffet.

What might not make it onto the buffet is this cheesy pea soup, which is a bloody shame because considering how quick it was to make, the fact it is syn free and actually tastes bloody good, it doesn’t deserve to be betrayed by the fact it looks like something Grotbags would cough into a handkerchief. Please, give it a go, and if you don’t like it I’ll take a personal responsibility for your loss. Hell, I might even send you a With Sympathies card. Written in silver Sharpie, natch. Snatch.

cheesy pea soup cheesy pea soup

1 vote

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cheesy pea soup - syn free, and tasty, I swear

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 big bowls

There's no way I can make that look appetising and for that, I'm sorry. Unless you like sink trap soup. But it's one of those meals that looks appalling but tastes nice, like moussaka, or Paul. Plus it's low in fat, like moussaka, or unlike Paul.

This does take no time at all to make however, uses only a few ingredients and is just the thing for those summer evenings when you have nothing in and the takeaway menu is just a shade out of reach.

Ingredients

  • one big old lettuce from the shops, or garden, if you please
  • 400g of frozen peas (I used petit pois - not for any culinary reason, but just because I couldn't be arsed to find the proper peas at the back of the freezer)
  • two large cucumbers
  • one large bunch of spring onions
  • 1 litre of chicken stock
  • 80g of extra mature cheddar (two x HEA, but this serves four) (and listen, you can totally get away with adding 160g, I'm just being polite)

Instructions

  • slice your spring onions - including all the green stalk - and gently fry off in a little oil
  • cut the lettuce and cucumber up roughly - it's all getting blended so no need for neatness
  • once the spring onions are softened, add the stock, lettuce, peas and cucumber and boil for about 10 minutes until everything has softened but still stays green
  • carefully blend the soup with a hand blender
  • stir in the grated cheese until everything is thick and tasty
  • serve adorned with cress and cheerful wishes (and a lot of black pepper)

Notes

Courses soup

Cuisine syn-free

Enjoy that? Of course you did, you saucy bugger. Want more? Click.

soupsmallnaughtyfooddrinkssmallbbqsmallonepot 

J

chicken soup for the soul: instant pot or in a pan

Been away, haven’t we? Anyway shut up, nonsense to follow. If you’re here for the chicken soup for the soul, that’s fine, scroll down until you see Willem Dafoe’s cumface. Everyone else, sit back, push out and prepare yourself, because I’ve got a lot to say!

First, a cat update! We’ve been ringing the vets occasionally over the last two weeks to find out how the stray cat we tirelessly and selflessly passed over to another gay is getting on. Good news: they’ve cleaned up his eyes, wiped his bum and found him a new home where he’ll be fussed over and spoiled rotten. The cat’s also doing fine. I did have to affect a genuinely awful accent when I called the vets because I loosely know the woman on reception and couldn’t deal with a guilt trip about rehoming him. We would have – in a heartbeat – only our two cats would have killed him without blinking. They’re hard cats: I’ve seen Bowser fighting a dog before, and Sola sells passable quality gear from her radiator bed. We were reflecting over this and patting ourselves on the back for a job well done when Paul started up with his nonsense about getting a dog. I shut that right down because, although I bloody love dogs, it’s too much of a commitment. With cats you can go on holiday, say, to Canada for five weeks, and as long as you leave their water fountain on, a tin opener within reach and a slab of Whiskas, they’ll be reet. They don’t care. I could die in my sleep tonight and the only concern Sola would show is that she’d have no-one to show her dewy bumhole to first thing in the morning.

We had a proper together-for-twelve-years day out yesterday. We’re not quite at the stage where that involves going to the garden centre and fingering the heathers whilst wishing for each other’s death, thank heavens – besides Paul won’t let me go to the garden centre because it’s right next door to a notorious gay cruising ground and frankly if you’re going to add getting seagulled into your day, you’re better off setting aside a couple of hours. So no, we went to Durham for no other reason than I wanted to go to the fancy tobacconist there and Paul wanted to ogle a bear we know. His was the better suggestion because he was fine (he had every episode of Juliet Bravo on tape!) and the tobacconist had nothing I needed and an unhelpful attitude. Paul, fan of a creaking apophthegm, told me that we’d come all that way for nothing and I could put that in my pipe and smoke it. How we laughed as I practised filling out a form D8 on his back with a rusty compass. We had a couple of drinks in a pub that gave me 60p change from a tenner for two pints and therefore made an enemy for life, then wobbled our way into a Wetherspoons.

Mentioned where we were to a good friend (introducing Paul II) who immediately sent us drinks via the app: I say drinks – he got me a double chambord (excellent choice, because I love insulin chasers) and Paul a glass of milk and a smoothie (he was driving, and Paul II is nothing if not a keen observer of the laws of the land) with some biscuits and crisps. Paul II tried to have Paul I’s milk delivered in a saucer for catty reasons but sadly, Wetherspoons weren’t playing ball.

Let me tell you: Brewdog Punk IPA combined with chambord and banana smoothie is a struggle to keep down, even for me. That app is cracking for mischief and I very much look forward to throwing it open to a group of 80,000 in due course. My liver has already taken a kicking – it’ll look like a pickled walnut by the end. Wandered back to the car, popping out little Chewit-scented burps and chewed-it-scented farts all the way – happened across an argument between a couple across the road. Spent ten minutes ‘tying my shoelaces’ so we could earwig from afar and it was a gloriously tawdry tale of cheating, shouting, adding ‘man’ onto every other word ‘Darren man for fucks man it meant nowt man’ and crying. We had to stop gawping when she clocked me trying to get a surreptitious recording of her grief: I don’t fancy breathing my last in a mist of Exclamation and spittle.

Went for a late dinner in Newcastle and I made the fatal error of saying to Paul he could pick anywhere he fancied. He fancied Chiquitos. I mean Christ, Newcastle has some proper exciting places to eat and he chose the last-resort restaurant of a regional airport. I had forgettable nachos and a beef burrito that celebrated Christmas in 2017. Paul had some jalapeño poppers and a chicken quesadilla that tasted like sandwich spread folded into one of those trays cheap pizza comes on. I ordered myself a honey and rhubarb margarita which tasted like a Strepsil and Paul’s cuba libre was adorned with a piece of palm and three fruit flies. We aren’t ones for complaining because we’re not devoid of all joy but didn’t fancy the desserts, so paid via the wee app thingy so we didn’t have to tip and made a dash for the escape room we were booked in for.

We’re all about escape rooms at the minute and reckon this was probably our 60th room – we’re still terrible at them, but always escape amidst much yelling and fretting. You know who I feel sorry for? The operators watching us on CCTV – we’re competent enough to crack on ourselves but they’re treated to all manner of sinister sights, including my arse-crack pushed up against the CCTV whilst I clit about trying to find clues. You’ve never lived until you’ve seen a 34″ waist pair of Calvin Klein knickers stretched over a 38″ waist. The name band looks like Japanese. Paul is no better – because he has absolutely no arse at all his trousers spend all their time jostling around his knees, meaning his cock and balls tumbling around in his Tesco boxers appear with frightening regularity. We finished the room with nine whole minutes to go and that’s after spending ten minutes furiously arguing over a combination lock, which, for the record, I was absolutely right about. The argument ended when I used my foot to tip him over as he bent to pick up the lock, leaving him rolling on the floor like the gluttonous turtle he is. We celebrated by having our photo taken and then immediately deleted because we look like two hot-water storage tanks, and then, after a brief stop to add more shit to the bottom of my shoes by visiting a Hungry Horse pub for a Stella, we were off to the cinema.

And how’s this for bliss: a cinema to ourselves. I spend all my time whingeing at Paul to come along to see superhero movies and he always says no, because the spinning fights make him queasy and they’re all the same. Please. Yet, in a rare moment of complaisance he readily agreed to come along and see Aquaman yesterday – I can’t imagine why a JASON MOMOA led movie would catch his interest but he certainly seemed more keen than joining me for Spiderman, for example. Actually, Spiderman 3 remains a sticking point in our Paris-car-crash marriage: our first date* involved us seeing that at some pokey Portsmouth cinema. Paul enjoyed it at the time – though it was probably just because he was sat next to the fragrant beau-ideal that is I – but even since has hurled it back in my face as ‘me suggesting bad movies’ whenever I point out my flawless record for choosing films. That’s how I knew we were a couple for life, you know: he shared all of his Revels with me, and not just the shitty raisin ones. Something I forgot yesterday when I almost snapped his fingers as he tried to reach into my £8.96 bag of pick-and-mix to steal a cola-cube: you can fuck right off, mate, you chose ice cream and picked shit flavours so I wouldn’t want to try any. I’m as wise to his games as he thinks he is to mine.

*I’m going to call that our first date, because me noshing him off behind the Spinnaker seems less romantic (he’s the one night stand that never went away!)

Aquaman was absolutely class though. Proper popcorn movie: brilliant action scenes, Patrick Wilson chewing the scenery like me with a vegan sausage roll and a villain who looks like a giant cock blowing things up. Highlights: Australia’s nana Nicole Kidman in a full-on action scene braying the shit out of water meanies. Jason Momoa ensuring I’ll be seeing those eyes whenever I shut my eyes during a “quiet moment of reflection” (I suppose I fell in love with him – like you do!). Fucking Pitbull sampling Rains of Africa during the bit in the movie when they go to Africa. Willem Dafoe in a good-guy role for once instead of being the last-minute turncoat like he always is (Willem Dafriend?) although I argue he’s never acted better than when he was knocking Sandra Bullock about in Speed 2:

Scary how much he looks like Paul’s mother when she finds an unopened 20-deck of unfiltered Rothmans in her boob creases, there. Anyway, final added bonus of the night? Empty cinema means time for shenanigans and I gave Paul a ‘thanks-for-coming’ handjob during the quiet bit in the middle. He seemed pleased (I was just a shag – I knew that!) and we agreed to meet again for the sequel. Came home, and so to bed.

And that’s that! Suppose we’re a recipe blog and I should bang out this chicken soup recipe, eh? Now look here: you can’t make a chicken soup look attractive in photos, you can’t. So don’t judge.

Oh and if you don’t have an Instant Pot, don’t shit the bed: you can make it in a pan too. Pleb.

chicken soup

chicken soup for the soul: instant pot or pan!

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 8 bowls

Yes that's right, just a bog-standard no frills instant pot chicken soup recipe, or use a pan if you're still mastering the basics. We'll cover both. This might look like a bowl of arse but damn it if it doesn't taste good!

This recipe comes from A Saucy Kitchen, and we've adapted it for SW. Take a look at her site though, there's all sorts of tasty shizz on there!

Ingredients

  • two large stalks of celery
  • three carrots of indecent size, sliced
  • one giant onion, sliced and diced
  • two big handfuls of mushrooms, sliced
  • two cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp of rosemary
  • 1 cup of wild rice (we buy ours in Tesco) (but feel free to use white rice)
  • 3 big chicken breasts
  • 1200ml of good quality chicken stock (low sodium is better so you're not clutching your arm in fright later)
  • Now honestly, you can add anything into this soup veg wise - don't be frightened

Instructions

Instant Pot

  • press the sauté button, wait for it to heat up and then add a few sprays of olive oil - or if you're sensible, like us, a good glug, and don't count the syns because oil is good for you - add the onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms and cook for three minutes until they're softened
  • add the garlic and rosemary and cook for another minute
  • add the chicken breasts (whole), stock and rice
  • seal the Instant Pot, cook on high pressure for five minutes (select Manual and then five minutes) and go pick your bum whilst it does its thing
  • let it depressurise unless you fancy putting a new parting in your hair with the roof tiles from your house
  • lift out the chicken and shred it on a chopping board and tip it all back in
  • let it sit for a few minutes to thicken nicely and then eat!

In a pan:

  • saute the veg
  • add the stock, rice, chicken and everything
  • cook until the chicken is cooked through
  • shred

I mean haway.

Courses soup

Cuisine dunno, something fancy

Want more Instant Pot recipes? No bother cock – fill yer boots:

Enjoy!

JX

spinach, pea and ham thick soup

I’ve tried so hard to make this soup look faintly attractive in the photos, but I can’t. It’s green slop, but it’s so tasty – pea and ham thick soup that looks like something from the sink trap. Anyway, it’ll do the job for days when you want something quick and easy to satisfy your hole and the postman has already been. I say that with an air of familiarity – our postman is delicious. I know it doesn’t do to judge people on looks but goodness me, he has legs I could spin around on and a face that just screams ‘I’ll apologise after’. Here’s me looking forlornly out of the window once he’s passed by.

If you’re a fan of sporadic updates, non-food related shenanigans and overly-saturated photos of bear cubs so past their prime we should be dancing on a rescue advert somewhere, then why not join us on Instagram?

The pea and ham thick soup, then:

pea and ham thick soup

pea and ham thick soup

pea and ham thick soup

1 vote

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syn free pea and ham thick soup

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 6 bowls

This syn free pea and ham thick soup - there's no way of making it sound attractive - comes straight from Jamie Oliver himself. I know he's divisive but I have a lot of time for him - anyone who can make decent food through such a heavy mist of spittle is a winner in my books. This soup is so easy to make - chuck it in a blender, throw it in a pan, spin it out the window, dance like no-one's watching. Keeps well in the fridge.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of spring onions
  • 350g frozen peas
  • 300g frozen chopped spinach
  • 100g ham
  • big handful of fresh mint
  • 300g dried pasta, any old shite will do
  • 50g feta cheese (use your HEA)
  • 1600ml of chicken stock

Instructions

  • chop the spring onions
  • throw the peas, mint, spring onion, ham, frozen spinach and 400ml of chicken stock in a blender and blend the buggery out of it - add a pinch of salt and pepper
  • pour into a pan and add 1200ml of chicken stock
  • smash up your pasta - hit it with a rolling pin - and tip it in - let everything bubble for about twenty minutes until the pasta is cooked
  • serve with the feta crumbled in
  • lots of black pepper and salt, natch

Notes

  • this recipe came from Jamie's book all about his family and their expensive house and wholewheat pasta and Cath Kidson tableware. If you fancy replicating the experience with your B&M saucepans and Charles and Diana pinny, you can order his book from here
  • actually fair play to him, it's a great book - tonnes of recipes easily adapted for SW
  • it won't surprise you but we have a fancy blender that could blend anything, you can get one, or just use a stick blender - you don't need to spend lots of money to do our recipe!
  • we let ours bubble away for a good two hours (accidentally, I fell asleep watching Murder She Wrote) and it was lovely and thick - don't be frightened to cook it for longer!

Courses soup

Cuisine twochubbycubs

Fancy, right? Want some more soup that you could smash your face in? Of course, we’ve got loads that are syn free!

Yum!

J

budget: creamy parsnip and apple soup

Creamy parsnip and apple soup – part of a new category of budget Slimming World recipes that we’re planning on doing. We’ve done a budget week before, you understand, but it became such a ballache having to work out a tenth of a stockcube that we stopped doing it – I know, I’m shameless. But at the time of writing ASDA are selling bags of parsnips for 20p, so you can make this entire pan of soup – which serves six – for less than £1.50. Freezes well, too.


Forgot to say: apologies everyone who received an empty email talking about a risotto – we haven’t published that yet and the email was sent in error – pressed the wrong button. Blame my sausage fingers, it’s why I’ve never mastered the keyboard or wettened an eager beaver. I’m a hamfisted slut! That’ll come online shortly, I’m sure.


Budget is a difficult topic to gauge, to be honest. What is cutting back to me might be eye-watering extravagance to you – what might be penny-pinching to everyone else might be essential to a few of you. Who knows. The reason we’ve decided to reboot this category is simple: I read an excellent article from Jack Monroe, author of cookingonabootstrap, entitled My Ready Meal is None Of Your Fucking Business. She tears apart the whole argument that people can eat ‘well’ on a few pounds a week far more eloquently than I ever could. So I won’t try, but I’ll give you the strongest push to have a read of her blog, especially if you’re struggling for money and need some cheap but decent food ideas. To think, somewhat ashamedly, that my only initial recollection of her was someone who used to vaguely vex me (because she looked like a teacher I disliked) on the Sainsbury’s adverts. Having read up, and realised that as well as everything else she does, she also managed to royally piss off the Daily Mail, well, fair play to her.

Paul and I are lucky – no dependents to fund, no mortgage to pay, plenty of that luscious pink pound to waste on Ritter chocolate and extravagant trips around Lidl. In theory. In reality, we’re both tighter than a photo finish – we hate spending money and will desperately try to avoid doing so unless it’s for a holiday. There’s a certain outdated stereotype that as gay blokes, we should be tripping the light fantastic in decadent clothes, but trust me when I say the most expensive thing in our wardrobe is the dehumidifier. All of our clothes come from the supermarket – I don’t think I’ve ever owned a shirt that hasn’t come from a multipack and poor Paul has been barrelling into work now in shirts that are almost six sizes too big for him. He fell over the other day in the wind and it took five minutes for him to float to the ground like a feather. I park 2.5 miles away from my work and walk in to save the £7 a day parking fee I’d otherwise occur. I like to tell people it’s because I’m trying to get fit but actually, it’s all about the money. The biggest muscle on my body is the thumb I use to keep my wallet shut. I’ve been trying to encourage Paul to allow us to be a ‘if it’s yellow, let it mellow’ sort of household but we had to stop when the entire house started stinking like Sugar Puffs mixed with tuna.

Both of us came from families that didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but neither of us is any worse off for it – I wasn’t one of those spoiled brats who looked enviously at other kids going to Florida for their holidays – I was more than happy piling into the back of my parents’ car for the eight hour drive to the top of Scotland, thank you very much. Even now I can’t relax in a car unless I’ve got a tent peg threatening to burst my eardrum as I drive along. We never stopped at a Little Chef or anywhere fun en route either, no no – it was warm egg sandwiches and sullen faces all the way. Paul didn’t even get to go on holiday bar a trip to Ireland at the height of the troubles and some trip to Spain at the height of teletext-bargains. I’ve just asked him for a ‘poor’ memory and his was going to school with a pair of Activ trainers from Whittlesea Market whilst everyone else had Diadora specials. Pfft. He won’t elaborate further but I bet his Adidas trousers were two-stripe, with the third stripe being formed from his mother’s cigarette ash. Tsk.

There’s two exceptions to our thrift that I can think of: we like expensive aftershave (Tom Ford) and decent shoes. I like to think when I leave a room that I leave a pleasing order and a wonderful footprint, even if I do look like I’ve come dressed for a bet. Cheap shoes are a false economy – Paul struggled the three miles into work one day in a pair of gardening shoes when the entire bottom of his shoe came away, leaving him limping home in the rain like he’d staggered away from an explosion. A good pair of boots will last you forever, but of course, getting the funds together to buy them in the first place…

Anyway, in my usual roundabout way, I want to apologise if our budget recipes aren’t budget enough for you – but please, do feel free to suggest some more to us! Without further delay, let’s crack on with the creamy parsnip and apple soup, shall we? It’s from the Hairy Bikers, you know. Nope, not the first time two hairy bikers have left us satisfied and smiling with a slight pain in our bellies, but here we are. Do enjoy!

parsnip and apple soup

parsnip and apple soup

creamy parsnip and apple soup

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 6 bowls

Remember: according to the folks at Slimming World, if you cook fruit, it becomes synned. We don't always agree with this blanket rule and in this case as we've used two apples between six people and haven't made it into an apple pie so we've chosen to not syn it. I know. Mags will put my lights out.

If you want to follow Slimming World's exact advice, this would be about 15 syns - 2.5 syns per bowl - or approximately 2x HeB choices split between six. How silly.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 600g parsnips, peeled and cut into wee chunks
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 600g Bramley apples, peeled, quartered and cut into chunks
  • 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
  • 150ml milk (3 syns)

Instructions

  • spray a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a bit of oil
  • add the onions and parsnips to the pan and gently fry for about fifteen minutes
    • as an aside - if you want, take your parsnip peelings, spray them with a bit of oil, rub in some curry powder and roast them for a few minutes to crunch them up - you can use these to top the soup!
  • add the garlic and apples to the pan and cook for another couple of minutes
  • pour in the stock and bring to the boil
  • reduce to a simmer and cook for about twenty minutes - the parsnips should be soft
  • remove from the heat and blend until smooth
  • add in the milk and give a good stir - add plenty of salt and pepper
  • serve!

Notes

We’ve done some amazing soup recipes! Have a look:

Enjoy!

J

syn-free minestrone soup in a hurry

Syn-free minestrone soup in a hurry tonight, and that’s very fitting indeed because I have to get the blog done, get washed and showered and dressed all before our taxi gets here at 7.30pm. I wish I could say we were off to do something exciting but good lord, we’re going to play bingo in Ashington. If you’re not familiar with Ashington, just picture Aleppo but with more B&M outlets. It’s a safe bet that I’ll be mugged, but all bets are off as to whether it’ll be by the taxi driver, the smokers outside the entrance doors or the old biddies feeding their pensions into the lobby slots. Wish me luck!

Now this syn-free minestrone soup looks like it’ll be a pain in the arse but it’s ridiculously easy, although I’ve taken some liberties with the recipe. The recipe this is cribbed from (Delia Smith) has you sweating vegetables and taking your time. Balls to that: this is soup in a hurry. This makes enough for four big bowls of soup.

syn-free minestrone

Ours looks a bit oily because we didn’t cut the fat off the bacon. Because we’re decadent.

to make syn-free minestrone soup in a hurry, you’ll need:

  • 100g of bacon medallions (see note below)
  • one large onion (see note below)
  • two stalks of celery (see note below)
  • 150g of carrots (peeled) (see note below)
  • 2 large tomatoes, ripe
  • 1 clove of garlic (minced)
  • two leeks (see note below)
  • handful of spring greens
  • 75g of pasta (little macaroni is best, but we only add proper size)
  • 1.5 litres of chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato puree

top tips for syn-free minestrone soup:

to make syn-free minestrone soup in a hurry, you should:

  • spritz a heavy-duty pan with oil, heat to medium and chuck your chopped onion, bacon, minced garlic, celery, leek and carrot chunks in on a medium heat with a splash of water – allow to sweat a little
  • add a good pinch of salt and pepper and continue to let them sweat for a good twenty minutes or so, giving it a bit of a stir every now and then so it doesn’t stick
  • add your hot stock, bring to the boil and then allow to simmer gently for a good hour
  • once the hour is done, add the macaroni, spring greens if you’re using, and cook uncovered for another ten minutes or so until the pasta is cooked
  • serve in bowls topped with your healthy extra allowance of Parmesan and lots of black pepper

Easy! Want more soups?

J

super spring greens soup, plus a new video!

Super spring greens soup is all well and good, but let’s be honest, it’s about as exciting as receiving bad medical results in the post. There’s simply no way to make it interesting, so, instead, let me post our latest video. We are messing about with making videos but can’t be fussed making ten-a-penny recipe videos, plus not sure if we can promise you diet recipes when you can see our fat wrists clawing away at the pan handle. There’s a euphemism.

What a catastrophe! Ah I hope you like it. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

So, the soup then. We wanted something nice and fresh, despite it being mid-winter. Here’s the thing: sometimes you really do need some vitamins to wash down your endless pasta, mince, cheese, beef…this doesn’t make a smooth soup mind, so if you’re one of those fannies who can’t abide soup that isn’t like drinking gossamer silk, then tough titty. This isn’t a taste explosion, no, but it’s hearty and healthy.

Do you need a soupmaker? You can use one if you like (this is the one we have) but in all honesty, this is a pan and stick blender job. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a stick blender – a tenner will do!

spring greens soup

a

spring greens soup

to make super spring greens soup, you’ll need:

  • one big head of broccoli
  • 200g of spring greens
  • 100g of watercress or spinach if you prefer
  • 750ml of veggie stock, made from bouillon powder preferably, but listen, I’m not arsed
  • lots of black pepper and salt
  • optional, but necessary if you’re a fancy-dan like me: a scattering of pumpkin or sunflower seeds (2 syns-ish)

to make super spring greens soup, you’ll need:

  • if you’re making in a soup maker – get the stock bubbling and then cook the broccoli and spring greens for about fifteen minutes until softened – add the watercress and blitz!
  • if you’re making in a pan, much the same – boil the veg, add the watercress, use a stick blender to blitz until fairly smooth
  • top with lots of black pepper and a pinch of salt
  • serve with your nuts laid on top if you’re using, mahaha!

Want more soup ideas? Who wouldn’t?

Yum! Off to mash another banana now. Someone call A&E!

J

christmas clear out: spicy red pepper and tomato soup

You’re going to think I’m taking the mick with this recipe for spicy red pepper and tomato soup, as it’s literally the laziest recipe you’ll ever make. But here’s the thing – we get asked all the time for truly simple recipes and well, it doesn’t get any easier than this. You’ll find everything you need either in your cupboard or down the supermarket, nothing fancy here! Plus it’s syn free and you don’t need to clart about peeling vegetables or feigning interest in someone else doing it for you.

Let’s get straight to the recipe – remember, this week, we’re away working on an exciting personal project and thus, no blog posts. But rather than leaving you hanging, we’re pumping out a few of our stragglers with hardly any guff at all! Don’t worry, normal service will, of course, resume soon!

to make spicy red pepper and tomato soup you will need:

  • 270g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 jar roasted red peppers, drained
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 100ml water
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes

to make spicy red pepper and tomato soup you should:

After more ideas? We’ve got you covered! We’ve got loads of soups:

Just click one of the buttons below to find more recipes!

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J

creamy chicken and vegetable soup

Creamy chicken and vegetable soup – well, actually, it’s thick enough to almost class as a stew, but you know sometimes you just want a bowl of chicken soup to put hairs on your chest and make yourself feel better? This is that dish. Easy to make, actually tastes decent and rammed full of vegetables to boot. What more could you want? But first, the final part in our Benidorm story – and thank goodness, because boy has this horse been flogged. I’d apologise, but we get plenty of lovely messages from folk who seem to adore our holiday stories, so…if you’re not one of them, click on the shortcut button of the (deep breath) ELDERLY BEWHISKERED CRONE DRESSED IN PEASANT’S CLOTHING WITH A SAGGY OLD ASS to go straight to the recipe. We’ll stay here and not gossip about you, promise.

Pfft. Right one wasn’t she, bet she buys her shoes from the market. Tsk. Right, back to the sun for one final trip…

click here for part one | click here for part two | click here for part three | click here for part four | click here for part five | click here for part six | click here for part seven

Part 8! We didn’t think it would take this long to reach climax, but well, it’s been a long week, and there’s worry at work, and sometimes he’s just not that into you. But hey, here we are. Now, rather than bore you with every tiny detail, I’ll sum up the end of the holiday in three key stages. Enjoy! But before we get started, just a quick video to get you slick in the nethers…

Final night

The final night was a long, drawn-out evening of gentle drinking and gambolling about. Nothing much of note save for the fact that Paul decided he had heartburn – we spent around an hour trying to find somewhere that sold El Gaviscon but it wasn’t to be. Don’t worry readers, he spotted a frozen yoghurt shop and decided that this was essentially the same thing as a glass of cool milk. I wasn’t so sure, but let me tell you how amazingly brave he was, choking back his 500ml of frozen yoghurt covered in brownie bites, caramel, Haribo sweets, marshmallow, flake bits, Rolos and chocolate sauce. It’s funny, his heartburn seemed to just melt away with this concoction. Isn’t he a trooper? Because I’m trying to be good I settled for some passion-fruit flavoured yoghurt that was as lurid as a hangover piss, but surprisingly tasty. Paul, still a bit sore from our bickering earlier in the day, wouldn’t share. I’m sure you can agree he’s a poor sport.

Our final meal was in the Italian Garden (we had given up trying to find a decent ‘local’ restaurant at this point, and our cankles were protesting at the thought of mincing over to the Old Town). Paul chose the place because he wanted some stodgy pasta to weigh down the sugar-bomb in his stomach. I agreed with his choice because the waiter was the spit of Gianno d’Marco from nineties Eastenders, who had been the cause of many a teenage erection back in my formative years. I can’t write anything exciting about the food other to say that the chef must have had an almighty tremor – I ordered an exotic mushroom salad and it was positively floating on balsamic vinegar to the point where it was like looking at a mirage of Paul through the vinegar fumes. Paul had pasta. Paul always has pasta and then complains he’s too full and can’t walk. Ten years together and he’s never left a meal without clutching at his belly and/or chest and graphically telling me how quickly he expects to see his dinner again. You can’t buy that sort of class, can you? We paid up, me personally thanking the waiter – he thought I’d left a massive tip but I had to explain that my phone number. He’s never called. Bastard.

Lockdown

Anyway, poor Paul did have to waddle because we were straight over to Lockdown, Benidorm’s Premier Escape Room. Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely sure there’s hundred of rooms in Benidorm where desperate young men and women fight to escape before the hour is up, but that’s the consequences of cheap drinks and easy living. We turned up fashionably early which led to us having to wait in the lobby. That would have been fine but we thought we had it to ourselves and were merrily shrieking and clarting about when some poor chap popped his head up from behind the counter where he’d been fiddling with the computer. Ah well. He introduced us into the room – it took us both a while to tear ourselves away from his delicate facial hair and big kind eyes – and left us to it.

The room was Cold War themed, with the curious task of defusing a nuclear bomb thrown in for good measure. It was brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! No point in giving you any spoilers but it was possibly the most interactive one we’ve done so far – tonnes of hidden secrets, attention to detail and hell, even a chance to dress up. What more could a lad want? Whenever we were stuck the phone would ring – we were supposed to reply with a codeword when he spoke but I was lost in a moment and asked ‘what was he wearing’. Paul took the phone and steered us to victory!

I say this each and every time – if you have never done an escape room, get one booked! They’re a great way to spend an hour and as they get more and more popular, the standards keep climbing. Do it!

With that done, we walked back to the hotel, took a drink up to the room and watched the streets hustle and bustle below. It was a great end to the holiday that we thought we’d never want to begin.

Return

Our flight back to Newcastle was at the altogether unseemly hour of 8.30am, which meant having to get up at around 4am to allow enough time to shave, shit, shower, get to the airport, learn how to fly and stand in for the pilot. I can’t deal with 4am: I look like I died four days previously and someone’s just pulled me out of the morgue. I may have told the receptionist who rang me at 3.50am with a wake-up call to fuck right off in my sleep-addled state. I later apologised. I can’t rely on Paul to get us up – he’s constantly saying ‘ten more minutes’ and going straight back to sleep. Our house could be a raging inferno and he’d still be lying in bed telling the firemen he can’t get up until he’d done his ‘stretches’. Pfft. The only thing belonging to Paul that stretches in the morning is his arsehole, and that’s only to release eight hours of shitgas that’s been building up through the night. I’m thinking about seeing if he can have a pilot light fitted on his taint – I can’t remember the last time I woke up not dry-heaving into my pillow.

Regardless, we were out of the hotel in enough time to sit and wait for our ‘private transfer’ back to the airport, which turned up late and in the sort of car you see rotting in fields near illegal caravan parks. We climbed in – gingerly, we didn’t want to disturb his rust collection – and he shot off like we were slingshotting round the moon. Three minutes later we stopped to let in a lovely couple from a less salubrious hotel and I’m going to tell you something now – if you’re a smoker and you’re one of those people who save half your cigarette in your packet for later – you need to know that you absolutely honk. There’s no two ways about it – I can smile politely through most things, but that smell, no way. Especially when you’re hacking away spreading it all around the taxi like a cloud of rancidness.

That was the least of my concerns, anyway – the driver, clearly just passed his test with the Henri Paul School of Motoring, drove us to that airport as though his life depending on us getting there before the sun came up. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate a fast driver and clearly he wanted to get us to the airport, but at the same time, I’d prefer not to fly home scraped into a strawberry jam pot. Twice I genuinely thought we were about to crash – first he overtook another speeding taxi with about four inches to spare, then he wandered across two lanes of traffic and the hard shoulder whilst he fiddled about with his phone, presumably trying to work out the necessary mph for take-off. I snuck a glance at Paul who was absolutely ashen-faced and then resumed the task of clinging onto the back-seat using the full suction of my own sphincter. I saw death that warm Spanish dawn, and he wears a soiled Benidorm or Bust t-shirt. We gave him a tip (“slow the fuck down!” – hello?) and cleared the area before our taxi companion had a chance to light up the remnant of her stinking tab.

What is there left to say? Our flight back was entirely uneventful – clearly the Spanish sun had calmed the lungs of most of the passengers as, unlike the flight in, it was relatively free of phlegmy coughing. One thing: do Ryanair switch the seatbelt sign on more often than other flights? I was bursting for a piss but every time I stood up for the bog, on came the light – felt like I was doing the hokey-cokey with my bladder. Either they were desperate to clear the aisle to make sure they could peddle their chotchkies and scratchcards or the pilot was a bastard, because that flight was as smooth as a vaselined otter. We landed in a sea of grey clouds and disembarked to a mist of blue smoke as the brethren of the blackened lung lit up, completely ignoring the no-smoking rules. Cases retrieved we made our way home and that’s it, readers – Benidorm done. Are you relieved? Have we left you satisfied and smiling? We always do.

Thoughts

I’m holding my hands up. As I touched upon in part one, we could not have been more wrong about Benidorm. We thought we’d absolutely hate it – that it would be full of rough people shouting incoherently and rustling in their shellsuits. Don’t get me wrong: it was, but by god it was a fun holiday. Doesn’t matter how late we were out or how spit-and-sawdust the pubs we were in, everyone has having a good time, there was no bother, no trouble. The only continuous loud noise I can remember was one of laughter. You don’t go to Benidorm to stroke your chinny-chin-chin at the museums and have yourself an egg-white omelette as you jill yourself off over the Observer, you go for a drink and the company. You’re not going to get Michelin food – hell, you’re hard pushed to find anything you wouldn’t find in the reduced bin at Farmfoods for the most part – but sometimes you need a bit of junk stodge food to fill your hole. There’s lovely parts that we left unexplored – we can always go back, and if we don’t, I’m sure there’ll be a Channel 5 shockumentary on it soon enough. Our trip to Guadalest provided a bit of proper Spain and with the addition of a hire car, we could have seen so much more. Don’t let this blog put you off going – we deliberately did the ‘Benidorm’ experience!

Would I recommend it as a holiday? If you’ve got no airs and graces – definitely. If you’re as common as muck but you consider yourself fancy because you buy name-brand baked beans and aren’t paying off your TV in weekly instalments, then also recommend. If you’re a genuine snob then nah, probably not. It is, after all, a resort where someone has made a career popping things out of her muff.

Still, if that’s good enough for Kate Middleton…


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Let’s do this thick chicken and vegetable soup, then. You can leave out the pasta if you like, it makes it super-thick, but really boosts the meal. The recipe we based this on is here! Please don’t be put off by the look of this, it tastes grand!


chicken and vegetable soup

to make creamy chicken and vegetable soup, you’ll need:

  • four big handfuls of shredded/chopped chicken – use leftovers from a roast, or follow our recipe here to slow cook / Instant pot it
  • two cloves of garlic, minced (save your fingers with one of these)
  • two large chopped onions
  • one large green pepper
  • one large red pepper
  • 1 stick of celery
  • one large leek
  • two large carrots cut into thin matchsticks, or sliced thinly
  • 1.25l of chicken stock
  • 1 tsp of hot sauce (google it, you can buy it in any supermarket, or leave it out)
  • half a teaspoon of dark soy sauce
  • one big bag of spinach
  • a couple of ‘nests’ of dried egg noodles
  • 220g of Philadelphia Lightest (2xHEA)

Damn, this is simple – add whatever veg you want, change it out, do what you like! Also, if you’re planning on stocking up on chicken, don’t forget you can build your own hampers with Musclefood now – so many chicken deals, just look!

to make creamy chicken and vegetable soup, you should:

  • super easy – prepare all of your vegetables (bar the spinach) by chopping them nice and small and chuck them in a big pan with some spray olive oil and sweat everything down until softened with the garlic
  • chuck in the soy sauce, hot sauce and stock and simmer for a good forty minutes until the vegetables are soft, I went for thirty minutes
  • add the spinach and pop the lid back on until everything has wilted down – then add the chicken and noodles (break them up a bit) and heat through until the noodles are softened
  • before serving, stir the Philadelphia in – make sure you stir it until it has completely absorbed into the sauce, then serve!

How easy. JUST LIKE YOU! Want more recipes?

poultrysmall lunchsmall    soupsmallonepot

Cheers!

J