Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fabulous Fish Soup - guest post by Miss Buckle

This is one of my go-to party dishes, and always a crowd pleaser. Every time I make it I morph it to the people eating it:  their likes, and their dislikes.

Not everyone is that comfortable or acquainted with mussels, or blåskjell -blue shells, as they are known in Norway. Here, they are a cheap delicacy. Soft, melt in your mouth, mild and seafoody goodness.

And they make delicious stock as a base for fish soup. The last time I made it I only used mussels and prawns. Both in season. Both exceptionally fresh. At Julochkas I made it with fish. And I mix the veggies around a lot.

If you, or your guests, are a little scared of mussels then keep them on the side, and start with a few.

Fish Soup (feeds four)

1 kilo mussels (live in the shell)
1/2 to 1 kilo fresh prawns (small, cooked and peeled)
200 grams pink fish (like salmon or trout)
200 grams white fish (like cod or halibut)
1 organic unwaxed lemon
6 cloves of garlic
1 chili (or more, to taste)
2 carrots
1 medium fennel
1 cup white wine (I usually give a good glug to the mussels, and a good glug in the soup)
200 millilitres creme fraiche
Spring onions
Flat leaf parsley
2 tbs butter

Rinse the mussels, discard any crushed ones. Pull off beards. If you have farmed ones, they really don't need cleaning. If you pick them out of the sea, you might want to scrape off the barnacles, and make sure there is no poisenous algae in the ocean. In Norway we have a phone number and a web page to check this. Farmed bought ones are always safe.

First steam the mussels. This only takes about 3 minutes. Cook the mussels in the pot you want to make the soup in, a good glug of white wine, a couple of smashed cloves of garlic and some parsley stalks.

While the mussels steam prep the veggies. I half the peeled carrots and then I slice them diagonally. Just cause I think it looks pretty. The bits match the slices of fennel. I chop spring onion and parsley and set aside for later use.

Mussels done. Drain the stock into a bowl through a colander. Leave mussels to cool while you finish off the veggies.

Clean the mussels. Sometimes I just leave them in the shell, but they are easy to pick out, and you can always keep some in the shell for that rustique look. It is really easy: Empty one shell, and you now have 'tweezers' to pick out the other mussels with.

Start the soup off with four chopped cloves of garlic and chilli in the butter. Add veggies and sweat off. Steam it all off with another good glug of wine, and add your creme fraiche and mussel stock. Make sure you stop before the little gritty bits at the bottom sneak in. Salt and pepper to taste. At this point you can add some water to make more soup. Sometimes you can compensate with a fish stock cube to feep the flavour (but mind the salt).

The soup is ready for fish. Add it in square chunks. Three by three centimetres so they don't fall apart in the soup. Add spring onions.

As soon as the fish is opaque, add the parsley, zest from at least half the lemon, juice from at least half (this is a little about taste, again mind your guests. I like it lemony, Big Man doesn't), prawns and mussels.

That's it. It really isn't complicated, just about having everything ready in advance. For a great supper, serve it with a home made foccacia, or whatever bread you love.

* * *

thank you Anne for being our guest here at domestic sensualists. 
we've been a bit low on cooking mojo of late and this helps.
for more from Miss Buckle, please do check out her blog.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cream tea

Years ago, my parents and I travelled through the Cotswolds.  When my father received his credit card bill,, he marvelled that we could have spent so many pounds (in weight and money) on tea and scones.  When in England . . .

Really, is there anything more quintessentially English than a cream tea?

Last week, I went to The Ritz to celebrate a dear friend's 50th birthday.  The Ritz is famous for their afternoon tea; so much so that you have to book, sometimes months ahead, for a reservation.  The colors are all cream and gold, and they bring everyone an individual silver tea service -- with a tiered tower of treats to share.  On the ground level are the sandwiches:  smoked salmon, egg mayonnaise, ham and cheese.  On the top level are the little pastries and chocolate cake.  But the true centerpiece of the ritual is the plate of scones, with the obligatory china pots of clotted cream and jam on the side.

Americans and Brits have both been known to ask:  What is the difference between a biscuit and a scone?  And although I've tried many recipes going under each of these titles, I don't think there is an answer to this question . . . precisely because there is no definitive recipe for either the biscuit or the scone.  Really, it's just a matter of language. The essential ingredients are flour, butter/shortening, sugar and a leavening agent -- but the liquid ingredient might be buttermilk, whole milk or cream.  The amount of sugar can vary a lot, and as a general rule I would say that scones have more sugar than biscuits -- but I've eaten exceptions to that rule, too.  Both biscuits and scones can be cut into rounds, or they can be dropped by a spoon or cut into triangles.

Ritz scones are cut into rounds, and they have what I suspect is an egg glazed top.  They are soft, even slightly doughy, with a fine crumb -- and dense, but not heavy.   I would have asked for the recipe, but I couldn't get up the nerve.  This is the sort of place that won't even give you a doggie bag, and I DID ask for that.  The birthday girl had to secret away the left-over scones in a napkin and take them home in her handbag.  We had to leave behind, with some regret, the pastries that we couldn't manage.  They just weren't hardy enough for handbag transportation.

I have never been able to duplicate the Ritz sort of scone at home, no matter how many recipes I've tried.
For home use, though, I am fond of a recipe that is attributed to Claridge's -- one of the other famous places to take tea in London.  It is a more rustic kind of scone, but also very delicious.  It lends itself well to add-ins; so while raisins or currants are traditional, you can feel free to add nuts, dried berries or cherries, candied ginger, the zest of an orange or lemon or any other thing that you fancy.

(from Tea and Crumpets, by Margaret M. Johnson)

3 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup raisins
optional: sugar crystals or demerara sugar for the tops

Preheat the oven to 350F/175 C.  Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Combine the flour and sugar in a food processor.  Add the butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  (You can do this by hand, or with a pastry cutter -- but the food processor is faster.)
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, and stir in the buttermilk and egg with a wooden spoon until you have a soft ball of dough.  You may need to add slightly more liquid, but try to handle the mixture as lightly as possible.  Knead in the raisins.
Divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball.  Press each ball down until it is a round disk about 1 inch thick.  Then use a serrated knife to cut into wedges -- six or eight, depending on how big you want your scones to be.  Sprinkle the tops with sugar.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
These will sprawl out a bit, so don't place them too close together on the baking sheet.

Let them cool for about 10 minutes -- but the sooner they are served, the more tender they will be.  (Having said that, I heated up one of the left-overs in the microwave this morning and it was still pretty darn good.)

Now the really critical bit -- and here's where the real line between scones and biscuits is drawn.
While American biscuits might be dressed up by butter, honey, jelly or even gravy, an English cream tea calls for the following critical ingredient: clotted cream.  If you've never had clotted cream, I can only attempt to describe it -- really, there's nothing else like it.  It is thick enough to cling to an upside-down spoon, silky in texture and slightly yellow -- the color of, well, cream.  Apparently it is made by simmering cow's milk until a thick layer of cream can be skimmed off the top.  It has to be a certain kind of cow, though -- typically a Jersey or Guernsey who has been grazing on grass and clover year-round.

Believe it or not, there are two "methods" for garnishing your scone:  Devonshire and Cornish.  For the Devonshire method, which I have long subscribed to without ever realizing that it had a proper name, you split your scone in half and then cover each half with a layer of cream and then a topping of jam.  The Cornish method is slightly more fat-soaked:  first a thick swipe of butter, then the jam, with the clotted cream on top. 

And one more thing about scones:  even in the pronunciation they are controversial.  Americans (and some Brits) say scone in a way that follows typical phonetic rules for pronunciation:  scone, with a long o.  Many English people will scoff at this pronunciation, though.  They prefer to call this tea-time delicacy a sc-ah-n.

Another novelty is the tea party,
an extraordinary meal in that, being offered
to persons that have already dined well,
it supposed neither appetite nor thirst,
and no object but distraction,
no basis but delicate enjoyment.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

going bananas

i know what you're thinking...why on earth is she showing us her ugly black bananas? well, i can tell you that around here, we buy bananas in order to let them get like this. and once they get like this, we rejoice, because it means it's time to make my grandma goot's banana bread. grandma goot was my name for her - when i was little, i mispronounced her name, which was in fact, gert (short for gertrude) and it just stuck. grandma goot was a baker of the highest caliber. at christmas, she'd make dozens of cakes and cookies of different kinds - all absolutely beautiful and perfect. but my favorite recipe of hers is her banana bread (which husband argues is a cake). i argue that it's a bread so i can bake it in a loaf pan and slather it with butter before eating it, but he's right, it is a rather cake-like bread. next time you've let your bananas go, you've just got to try it.

grandma goot's banana bread

1/2 C butter
1 C sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 C flour (to make it "healthy," i often use half spelt flour and half ordinary)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 C buttermilk (plain milk totally ok if you don't have buttermilk)
3 (or 4 if they're small) mashed bananas
1/3 C walnuts (optional)
1 large milk chocolate bar, smashed into bits (or chocolate chips if you live where they have those) (optional)

cream together the sugar and butter, add the eggs one by one once it's creamy. combine your flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and pour half in, then add the buttermilk, then the rest of the flour. lastly, add the bananas. because i use my kitchenaid, i don't bother to pre-mash them, i just whack (as jamie oliver would say) them in in chunks, but if you don't have a stand mixer, you might want to pre-mash. nuts and chocolate pieces are optional. at our house, because of a certain 9-year-old, we leave out the nuts, but add the chocolate. i should add that the chocolate was the 9-year-old's idea in the first place, but it goes beautifully with the bananainess of the cake.  pour into a buttered/floured bread tin (or two - we always make a small loaf for the neighbors) and bake at 175°C/350°F for 40-50 minutes (when a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean).

it's delicious piping hot out of the pan with a steaming mug of tea, but it also makes a great breakfast. even marilyn thinks so...


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