July 9, 2020


I was dying to try making these cute and tasty little puffs as soon as my roll of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry arrived in my "click and collect" supermarket order.
They are incredibly simple to make but absolutely delicious.  The raspberry flavour packs a punch and the sprinkling of crunchy demerara sugar on top is just right.  Ideal for a picnic or afternoon tea. 

The recipe comes from a delightful French blog called "Chic Chic Chocolat" which is full of gorgeous recipes.  Having a bit of O'level French or some experience of French ingredients would help with some of them but this one is so straightforward that you could have a go with the use of a dictionary if need be.  You can see the original here. In it the author uses a circular sheet of pastry and shows how to cut it to make the puffs.  In the UK ready rolled pastry tends to be in an oblong sheet which makes it easier although the shape ends up slightly different.  If your pastry is circular just follow the pictures on the original blog post.

I reckon you could also make these in exactly the same way using strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or even cooked apple or rhubarb.  Maybe even chopped plums, cherries or apricots.  I shall experiment and report back!


1 pack of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry
1 jar of raspberry jam - you won't need a whole jar (I used Bon Maman which has a wonderfully intense flavour)
1 punnet of fresh raspberries - you won't need a whole punnet (I dare say frozen would also work)
milk and demerara sugar to finish
icing sugar to decorate (optional)


Take the pastry out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature well before using, at least half an hour.  Pastry that is still chilled will crack when you unroll it.

Preheat the oven to 200C / 180 fan.  Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Unroll the pastry and cut in half along its length.  Cut each half into six squares of equal size.

Put a teaspoon of jam and one or two raspberries on a square, slightly off centre.  Dampen the edges of the square and fold it diagonally over the off centre filling to form a triangle.  Press the edges together then seal by pressing a fork into the pastry along the edge.  Repeat with the rest of the squares and make three small slashes in the top of each triangle.

Brush each puff with milk and sprinkle with demerara sugar.  Divide the puffs between the two baking sheets and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.  The jam will leak out a bit but this adds to the charm of the puffs!

Serve as they are, slightly warm or cold, or dusted with icing sugar or decorated with a zig zag of icing made with lemon juice and icing sugar if you like.

Makes 12 turnovers (or puffs, however you want to call them!)

July 5, 2020


This cake was made using a recipe that I said at the time was probably one of the nicest cakes I have ever made.  This time I made it using chopped apricots and blueberries. 

I really like recipes like this, that can be adapted to whatever you have in the house.  On this occasion I happened to have a few blueberries, left over from the daily sprinkling on our porridge, and some apricots. 

The apricots had been part of our "click and collect" shop from Asda.  They weren't great. 
We have tried the "click and collect" service from a few supermarkets and on the whole have found Asda to be very good.  One thing we have learned is not to allow substitutions for certain things.  For example, in our local Tesco, observing the youngsters trundling the trolleys of trays around the store you can imagine how a bean is just a bean to someone who might not be familiar with the difference between a green bean from Africa And the delicious and short season British broad bean. 
Having said that, I remain immensely grateful to each and every one of them for keeping us fed and safe during a truly horrible and trying time.

The great thing about "click and collect" is that you avoid the risk of being in the vicinity of other people.  One of the downsides is that it takes ages to navigate the supermarket website and you can make mistakes in ordering.  This is how I found a packet of instant custard in my shopping.  I have no idea how it got there but I confess that I am now hooked...….Mary Berry eat your heart out.
The other is that you end up with stuff that you would never in a million years have bought if you had seen it for yourself in the store.  The cauliflower that was only the size of a large apple was one of them and these apricots were another.  I could somehow tell from the package that they would be tasteless and nothing at all like the wonderful, juicy, tasty and fragrant apricots that were given to me in France last year (which you can read about here).

However, disappointing fruit often benefits from cooking and they worked really well in this cake.  It was, like the first time I made it, utterly delicious.  You can see the recipe here.

July 3, 2020

CHOCOLATE AND GINGER CAKE and the importance of licking the spoon!

It was my little brother's birthday recently and he came to have a socially distanced lunch with us to celebrate.  He's ten years younger than me and not so little any more!
The forecast was for a nice warm, sunny day so we opted to have a barbecue.  For dessert I made a raspberry trifle, a favourite of his and of Nick's.  For a birthday cake a chocolate and ginger cake was requested.  At the back of my mind I vaguely remembered a Mary Berry recipe for the very same thing and with a bit of googling found it in several places.  One is on the Sainsbury's website here and the other is on the Happy Foodie website here.
I have given both links because links have a habit of disappearing after a while.  I find it really annoying to find that a link for something I have got all excited about has disappeared altogether, but that's the nature of the internet I suppose.  Hopefully with two links to go at one of them should still be there in a couple of years' time!
In any case, the recipe comes from a book entitled "Mary Berry cooks the perfect" and of course that's where I had originally seen it - although my copy is in France and we are not.  Yet.
This particular book is a "how to do it" kind of book, not just a series of recipes.  However, Mary in her wisdom omitted to remind the reader of one very important fact.
You should always lick the spoon, as soon as possible.
When I was a little girl I was always allowed to lick the spoon.  As soon as the cake was in the oven I couldn't wait to do it and, with no little brother around for the first ten years of my life, I had it all to myself.  It's a custom that I have continued to this very day and it has on several occasions saved the day.  This day was one of them!
On licking the spoon I thought "it doesn't taste sweet enough".  Within nanoseconds I had realised why.  The carefully weighed out sugar was still in a little pot on the worktop and not in the cake!
The cake had only been in the oven for about three or four minutes at the most (I'm that eager to get to the spoon licking part) and it was still liquid.  I whisked it out of the oven at the speed of lightening.  Getting the mixture out of the tins and back into a bowl was a messy job and the tins had to be washed, greased and relined.  Luckily it's an "all in one" kind of cake recipe (my favourite kind) so all I did was beat the missing sugar into the mixture as evenly as I could and get it back in the oven pronto.   
The cake was delicious and a great success.  You would never have known how close it was to being a complete disaster- although you might have if I hadn't licked the spoon so promptly.
It had a lovely texture, a good chocolatey flavour with a hint of ginger and the frosting looked pale and inviting against the darkness of the cake.  The only thing I did differently to the recipe was to decorate with sprinkles rather than shavings of preserved ginger.
It was a hit with the birthday boy and everyone else and I shall definitely be adding it to my list of favourite cakes.  But I'll try to remember to put all the ingredients in next time.
Cuts into 10-12 slices.

June 18, 2020


My friend Gaynor often makes flapjack (or is it flapjacks plural, I'm never sure which) using condensed milk and, every time I taste it (them), I hassle her to give me the recipe.  Then one day she did but I'll be blowed if I can find where I filed it.

This might be because although I'm an enthusiastic consumer of flapjack (or flapjacks) I rarely make them.  About once every five years at the most in fact.  So although I enthusiastically vowed to make the recipe without delay, obviously some time has passed and …… it was mislaid.  Or misfiled.  It will turn up because everything does, eventually.

The thing about flapjack made with condensed milk is that it is not of the dry, crispy, "make an appointment to see the dentist now, just in case" motorway services kind of flapjack.  It's deliciously squidgy, chewy, crumbly and almost fudgy.  Utterly delicious.  You can add things to it, such as chocolate chips, chopped ginger or apricots, but for my first venture into the world of condensed milk flapjack I just wanted it au nature.

Luckily there are a few other recipes for flapjack made with condensed milk to be found on the internet.  I chose this one because it made a smallish quantity.  Some seem to make enough to feed a football team.  Even two football teams at half time.  I just wanted enough to take on a picnic.  It was to be a three person socially distanced picnic with my brother.
For twelve weeks he has hardly been out of the house for fear of the Armageddon beyond his front door.  We decided to meet somewhere between his house and ours and chose the public park at Darley Dale.
It's a lovely spot and we were lucky with the weather.  It was a beautiful sunny day, but not too hot, so just right for a leisurely stroll around the park to take in the duck pond, the croquet lawn and the bowling green.  There were plenty of people there but the paths are wide and nobody had to break the social distancing rule of 2m in order to get around.

There are also plenty of benches around the park to take the weight off the feet and enjoy a picnic of coffee from a flask and home made flapjack.  All of the benches seemed to be quite ancient, most being engraved with the name of a local person who had presumably enjoyed the park decades before.
I couldn't help wondering how one qualified to have one's name commemorated on a park bench.

As opposed to on the side of the bowling green litter bin!
125g butter
100g golden syrup
90g golden caster sugar
280g porridge oats
Half a 400g tin of condensed milk (I used just over half)
2 tsp vanilla extract
Line a 20cm (8") square tin with baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 180 C / 160 fan / gas mk4.
Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a large non stick pan and heat gently until the butter has melted.  Stir often and do not let it boil.
Add the condensed milk and vanilla and heat for a further 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the oats.
Pour into the tin and level the top.  If anything have the edges slightly thicker than the middle as the edges will then be less likely to brown or burn too quickly.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until the edges are brown and the centre turning golden.
Leave in the tin for 20 minutes then lift out and cut into 16 squares.  This makes nice deep squares but if you use a larger tin you could make shallower fingers.
Cuts into 16 flapjack(s).

June 10, 2020


I made this tart this time last year while my brother was staying with us in France on holiday.  The cherries were from our own cherry tree and the recipe was in a book by Ed Kimber.
It was delicious!

Sadly, our cherry tree died after the heatwaves we had in France last summer.  However, the cherry season is upon us and there are plenty to buy in the shops, on both sides of the English Channel.  Not only that but I have tracked down the recipe!

It is essentially a custard tart with cherries in it, although a much richer custard tart than I usually make.  The recipe uses sweet shortcrust pastry.  For mine I cheated and used an oblong ready made puff pastry, just because I already had it in stock.
The traditional cherry custard dessert would be a clafoutis, universally popular at this time of year.  It's similar but different, being made with cherries and a rich batter but no pastry crust.  My favourite clafoutis recipe is here.
This is where we ate it.
Daisy kept a watch for passing wildlife that might have had their eye on it.
Hugo kept a watch for any fallen bits of pie that might come his way.
It being that time of year, we sat out late, listening to the crickets, the owls and the swallows.  When the swallows had gone to bed the bat formation team came out to entertain us. 
I miss all that, more than I ever could have imagined.
Shop bought pastry, sweet, shortcrust or puff (or make your own)
6 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
250ml whipping cream
100ml milk
150g cherries, stoned
Butter a 23cm round or an oblong tart tin.  Roll out the pastry to fit the tin then put in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C / 180 fan / gas mk 6.   Line the pastry case with baking paper and baking beans and blind bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 170C / 160 fan / gas mk 3.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cream and milk together until well combined.  Pour into the pastry shell and scatter the stoned cherries evenly over the top.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until just set with a slight wobble.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.  Dust with icing sugar before serving.
Serves 8.

June 6, 2020

BANANA AND LEMON DRIZZLE CAKE and a tale of two banana cakes.

It was the usual story, three neglected bananas calling to me from the fruit bowl, getting browner with every day.  So, with nothing better to do than bake a cake I decided to make one that had popped up a couple of times in various places on the internet recently.
It's a Mary Berry recipe for a banana and lemon drizzle cake from her book "One Step Ahead".
Banana and lemon are two of my favourite cakes and the combination sounded slightly intriguing.  I decided to give it a go.  Nick is not fond of (dislikes intensely) banana cake but loves lemon cake so I hoped that the lemon might make the cake edible for him.  That he might even enjoy a slice. 
I was wrong.  It was not for him, but I thought it was a lovely cake.  The sharpness of the lemon contrasted well with the sweetness of the banana and the texture was lovely.  Definitely a keeper and one that I shall make again.  Useful for the charity cake stalls methinks - easy and quick to make, a bit unusual and easy to cut into robust slices.
Now for banana cake number two.  Well number one actually as I made it a few weeks before the other one.
It was early in the lockdown and I had been taking stock of what baking ingredients I had in the house.  One of the things I was short of was butter, or rather, the spreadable butter that I usually use for cakes.  Then I remembered a recipe I had seen on the Trex website here.  There are numerous recipes for cakes, biscuits and buns on this website and I had spotted one for a banana cake with apricots in it a while ago.  "Why not?" I thought.  Years ago I had made something called a War Cake using lard instead of butter and it was delicious.
Well, it was disappointing to say the least.  It had a lovely texture, the cream cheese topping was divine and the little bits of apricot in it were a nice touch.  But unfortunately it tasted of lard.  It was not a strong lardy flavour (and I know that Trex is not lard) but it was unmistakably not butter.  It had a slightly cloying after taste that was quite unpleasant.  So, I won't be making any more cakes, biscuits or buns from the Trex website in future.  I will probably make the cake again one day using butter instead because everything else about it was good and it deserves a second chance.
Ingredients for the banana and lemon cake
175g butter, softened (I used Stork for Cakes)
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
300g self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
zest of half a lemon
2 tblsp milk
For the topping
juice of 1 lemon
100g granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk5.  Butter a 20cm round, deep springform tin and line the base with a circle of baking parchment.
Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and using a hand held electric whisk, beat together until smooth and creamy.  Pour into the tin and level the top.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until lightly browned and done.  Cool in the tin for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack.
Mix the lemon juice and sugar together for the topping and spoon over the cake while it's still warm, spreading it out to the edges.  Putting the rack over a large plate will help to catch the drips which can then be poured back over the cake.
Cool completely before slicing.
Cuts into 8-10 slices.
CHANGING THE SUBJECT.  A note about the new Blogger writing and editing format.  It's terrible.  It takes ages to upload pictures and a lot of faffing about to get them in the right place and I can't figure out how to resize them.  The area you have to work on is tiny which means you're constantly having to scroll up and down to see how things look.
It's absolute rubbish and I can only think that Blogger want to drive all their bloggers away.

June 3, 2020


This has to be one of the nicest cakes I have ever made.

The recipe comes from this book which I spotted on the Happy Foodie website recently and, for once, not being able to go hunting in charity shops for cheap books, I treated myself to brand new, full price book.  It was not expensive and is full of lovely recipes.  The cake is pictured on the cover.
In the book it's called an any fruit streusel cake and that appealed to me.  I do like recipes that you can adapt to what you have in the house.  On this occasion I had some strawberries and blueberries.
The cake is made using the rubbed in method.  I rarely do rubbing in by hand and usually use the food processor.  This time I had no choice because I took a tumble in the woods last week, landing head first on my face and hands.  The black eyes have healed up but the nose and heel of my hands are still sore.  Rubbing in by hand was not an option!  I was also in a bit of a rush, guests coming for a socially distanced lunch in the garden in a couple of hours.
The streusel topping is made separately, then the cake.  I remembered to stop the processing of the topping mixture so that it was still quite lumpy and not too fine.  It worked really well.
The cake took quite a bit longer than stated to cook and was still slightly warm when I served it for dessert with a little pouring cream.  It was worth the wait, delicious with a nice, even crumb and the fruit didn't sink!  Perfect for a sunny summer afternoon in the garden.
I can hardly wait to make it again, maybe using pears, raspberries, blackberries, cherries or maybe plums or apricots, or a combination.  I just love recipes like this!  You can see it here.  I have also given my method using the food processor.
For the topping
50g cold butter, cubed
75g plain flour
50g demerara sugar
50g flaked almonds
For the cake
125g cold butter, cubed
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g golden caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 tblsp milk (approx.)
300g a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, any combination
First make the streusel topping by putting the butter and flour into the bowl of a food processor.  Blitz until the stage of large breadcrumbs with a few lumpy bits (so not too fine).  Tip the mixture into a small bowl, add the sugar and flaked almonds and stir to mix together.  Set aside.
Butter and base line a 23cm springform cake tin.  Preheat the oven to 170C / 150 fan / gas mk 4.
Without washing the food processor bowl, make the cake mixture.  Put the flour and baking powder in and blitz for a couple of seconds to mix.  Add the butter and process until the fine breadcrumbs stage.  Then add the sugar, eggs and 2 tblsp of the milk.  Process  until smooth and add a little more milk if necessary to get a dropping consistency.
Transfer the mixture to the tin and level the top.  Chop or cut in half any larger pieces of fruit and arrange on top of the cake mixture.  Sprinkle the streusel mixture on top of that.
Bake for 35-40 minutes (mine took 55 minutes) until done and the cake passes the skewer test.
Leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
Cuts into 6-8 slices.

June 2, 2020


Since the beginning of lockdown we have been having apéros with friends at 6pm on a Saturday evening via Messenger.  It works really well.  Not anywhere near as well as sitting in the village square, watching passers by as they call at the butcher, boulangerie and maison de la presse for their shopping on their way home, stopping maybe at one of the bars for a quick pression or glass of rosé.  But better than nothing. 
These sessions can go on a bit.  After all, after a whole week of being confined to the house for seven more days and not being able to go anywhere or do anything much, we have a lot to talk about.  In any case, when we wind up our chat all we want for dinner is something quick and easy to make that's on the plate in minutes.  Pasta with sauce is ideal for that.
With my chilli problem, I carefully study the labels on all foods nowadays so checked this jar of tomato and red pepper sauce for it.  None was listed but guess what?  After two mouthfuls my tongue was tingling and the roof of my mouth was burning.  Chilli, and lots of it.  I stopped eating straight away but Nick continued and said that in fact the overriding flavour of the sauce was not tomato or red pepper, but chilli. 
No chilli was mentioned in the ingredients but it did say "spices".
We sent an email to Napolina to enquire if we were right and chilli was present and they in turn requested photos of the jar.  So we rescued it from the recycling bin and obliged.  (We are not normally in the habit of bin diving or photographing empty jars, but they did ask.)
On receiving the photos this was their reply, worded carefully so as to make it clear they are not at fault and no claim can be brought:
"Please can we explain that the ingredients declaration on the label is correct. The chilli powder comes under the spices ingredients as chilli powder is not an recognised allergen, there is no legal requirement to list this separately. 

We hope this information helps and is of assistance to you."

So there you have it.  A company that is keen to comply with legal requirements but not concerned enough to label their products clearly so that customers can fully understand what they are buying.  They are not alone in that, I would imagine.  I welcome myself to the world of allergy sufferers.
Surely, chilli powder is just powdered dried chilli - in other words, chilli.  Not in legal terms, apparently. 

May 21, 2020


Did you know that yesterday was National Quiche Day and International Chardonnay Day?  (Or maybe the other way round.)
No, I didn't either until after we had had quiche with salad and a nicely chilled glass of the aforementioned for lunch!
I was inspired to make this particular quiche after reading my friend Ken's blog post which you can see here.  He and Walt make one of these every year when the French white asparagus first appears for sale.  It always looks so delicious and I have meant to make one for a long time, but never got around to it.  Or never remembered when our English green asparagus is in the shops.
The asparagus spears are boiled until just tender, cooled then wrapped in slices of ham.  I made mine slightly differently from Ken's because I only had a small pack of asparagus in the house.  So I filled in the gaps with a few extra bits of ham and some cooked sprigs of broccoli.  I also sprinkled some cheddar on top, just because it seemed like a good idea.
We ate ours outdoors in the glorious sunshine that seemed more like July than the end of May.
You can see how I constructed it and what ingredients I used from the photos.  For a detailed account of how to make it, it's a variation on my standard quiche recipe which you can see here.

1 pack ready made ready rolled shortcrust pastry
5 slices of cooked ham, plus extra for filling in the gaps
10 spears of asparagus, trimmed and boiled until just tender
a few small sprigs of broccoli to fill in the gaps, boiled until just cooked
a handful of grated cheddar cheese
3 eggs, beaten
a good dollop of double cream or crème fraiche
approx. 200ml milk
salt and pepper

May 18, 2020


For a few years now I have become increasingly unable to eat chillies.  About ten years ago I developed an acid reflux and heartburn problem which was treated with medication called PPI's (proton pump inhibitors) which prevent the stomach producing the acid which leaks into the gullet and causes the pain, (usually in the middle of the night).  The treatment works really well and with a little thought I have been able to keep the condition under control.

Gradually I have been able to identify the foods that make the symptoms worse.  Above all I have a problem with chilli.  Which is rather awkward because nowadays you get chilli in everything.  Or so it seems.

For a few years now chilli has become the must have ingredient, either chopped fresh chilli, chilli paste or chilli flakes.  It's everywhere and for me that is a real pain, literally.  I now seem to have reached the point where I am allergic to chilli. 
It's not that I'm a wuss when it comes to a good curry.  I've had my fair share of decent and spicy curries in the past but sadly that ship has long since sailed.  If I accidentally consume a small amount of chilli in any shape or form my mouth furs up, tongue tingles and a couple of hours later there is intense chest pain.  The kind of debilitating pain that earlier this year caused me to go to A&E thinking surely I must be having a heart attack.  Several hours later I emerged from the hospital having had chest x-rays, multiple blood tests for absolutely everything, several ECG's and a reassurance that I was not going to die, it was just the old war wound playing up.

Chilli has become the ingredient that gets thrown into everything willy nilly.  It's in soups when you wouldn't expect it, pasta dishes, sausages, you name it, there's chilli in it.  Why?

Is it because it's fashionable and all the TV chefs use it with gay abandon?  Or is it because it's a good way to perk up otherwise bland and unpalatable processed food?  Ready meals are a real minefield.  I recently shared a pack of that ultra quick to boil pasta with Nick only to realise after two mouthfuls that the tortellini filling had chilli in it.  Yes, it was listed in the very small print on the back of the pack - but why was it there?  I swear we have had the very same pasta many times before for a quick snack lunch and they have changed the recipe.
It was also in the cauliflower and tomato gratin that came as a starter with a take away meal from the local pub.  You would not expect to find chilli in cauliflower cheese - would you?  Well, I wouldn't anyway.

Interestingly, it's less of a problem in France.  The French don't go for spicy food to the same extent as we Brits so there's less of it about.  Even when a French dish is advertised as "piquant" most of us would be hard pressed to find it spicy at all.  It's also obviously no problem with home cooking.  Nowadays we simply leave the chilli out of the recipe and rarely do we miss it.  We even make a very tasty non chilli version of chilli con carne.

Sadly I have now become not only a wuss where spicy food is concerned, but one of those people who has to study the ingredients on every pack of processed food in detail before I buy.  It no longer appears on the front of the pack as a significant flavour, they just put it in the food.  I also have to inform anyone who invites us round for a meal that I am allergic to chilli.  Restaurant meals are a nightmare.  When the server asks if we have any allergies the face goes completely blank when I say chilli and they usually have no idea if what I have ordered has any chilli in it.
It's a real pain and I shall be glad when the fashion for chilli with everything is replaced by something else.  Fresh herbs would be good.

May 16, 2020


Made using my usual way of making a quiche, which you can see here.
I had four thick slices of black pudding left over from a brunch and I wondered if it would work.  A kind of Bury in Lancashire meets Lorraine in France!  It worked!


1 pack ready made ready rolled shortcrust pastry
4 slices black pudding, grilled and diced
6 chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
a handful of wild garlic leaves
a few slices of goat's cheese
3 eggs, beaten
a good dollop of double cream or crème fraiche
approx. 200ml milk
salt and pepper
a sprinkling of mixed herbs
See the link above.

May 13, 2020


It was summer and ice cream weather here last week.  This week it's back to winter.  We had a frost overnight and it was perishing cold when walking the dog this morning.  Soup weather.  Luckily my over zealous click and collect internet shopping adventures have meant that there are always the ingredients for some kind of soup in the house.  What's more, it doesn't need any flour and not much cooking either.
The very first soup I ever made was a vegetable soup and it was probably less than ten years ago.  Which means that for the first forty of my cooking years (so excluding childhood and teenage years) I never made a soup from scratch.  I only ever opened a tin or a packet of dried soup mix.  I just assumed it would be terribly complicated and needed special equipment.  As it turns out, it's really easy and all you need is a big enough saucepan.  I bought my stock pot in a supermarket sale.  The other useful gadget is a food processor which makes short work of all the chopping.  In reality a knife would do it just as well but takes more time.
I have Nigella Lawson to thank for the idea that soup need not be fiddly and faffy to make.  In her preposterously named book "How to Eat" she has a recipe for vegetable soup that she describes as a "working model for a plain but infinitely variable soup".  The first time I made it I couldn't believe how good home made soup could taste.
These are the basic ingredients.
I don't always use turnip as they don't often appear in UK shops, so I would use about a third of a swede instead.  In France it's the other way round.  Turnips are much more readily available whereas swede is still regarded as animal food.
Having chopped all the veg fairly small you sweat them in a mixture of butter and oil before adding the stock and simmering for a while.
The final step is to blitz the soup in the pan using a stick blender which is less fiddly than transferring the liquid back into the food processor or blender.
The final, final step is to add a dash of what we have come to call "mystery ingredient".  A generous splash of dry sherry and a good grating of whole nutmeg.  Most of the soup I make now has some version of mystery ingredient in it.  A splash of some kind of wine enhances so many things!
(I have also lost count of the number of times I have dropped the nutmeg into the pan and had to go fishing!)
I like my soup fairly thick and with a few lumps of veg.  With or without chopped fresh herbs sprinkled on top or a swirl of cream or crème fraîche. 
(depending on the size of the veg you have)
1-2 onions
1-2 carrots
1 maincrop potato or 2 smaller ones
1-2 stalks celery
1 large or 2 small leeks (Nigella says white part only but I use it all)
1 small sweet potato or part of (optional)
1 turnip or a chunk of swede
a large knob of butter and a good splash of olive oil (about 1 tblsp)
1 litre of vegetable stock (made with Marigold powder and boiling water)
1 bouquet garni
grated fresh nutmeg
dry sherry, small glass
fresh parsley, chives or coriander (optional)
a spoonful of cream or crème fraiche (optional)
Wash and peel the veg as appropriate.  Cut into chunks and put into a food processor.  You may need two batches in which case I usually do the potatoes last.  Process until medium fine.  (Or chop everything as small as you can with a sharp knife.)
Heat the oil and butter together in a stock pot or large saucepan.  Add the veg, season with salt and cook uncovered until softened, about 10 minutes.  Shake the pan or stir occasionally to make sure they don't stick.
Add the stock, a good grind of black pepper and the bouquet garni.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently, covered for 25-35 minutes until cooked and mushy. 
Remove from the heat and either transfer to the processor or a blender to blend until smooth, or use a stick blender in the pan.  I like to leave it fairly lumpy and even with a few larger lumps of veg.  If it's a bit too thick add a splash of extra stock or just water and reheat if necessary.
Before serving, stir in a good splash of dry sherry and a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg to taste.  Ladle into bowls and add some chopped fresh herbs and a swirl of cream or crème fraiche if you like.  It's perfectly good without.
Makes 6 servings.