Pasta with smoked salmon cream.

flag-mini-Scotland Salmon is my favorite fish. It's so pretty and meaty and tasty, no splintery bones to deal with, and it goes with just about everything you can think to serve it with, except perhaps chocolate. Although ... hold it ... a quick Google search and ... anyone for salmon goat cheese wraps with chocolate ganache? salmon with white chocolate sauce? hot chocolate salmon pancakes? (I might actually try that one.) If those are all too weird how about a nice fish-free solid chocolate salmon.
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Smoked salmon, I have to say, is a bit of a different story. As a rule, I don't like smoked fish. I don't really like smoked anything, not even barbecued potato chips! They're too smoky, and on my tongue that smoke flavor obliterates the taste of the actual food. I do like cheddar potato chips and cheese just about everything ... even, surprisingly, smoked Gouda (I think) and Blarney (although I can never find it anywhere).
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Ah, but Einstein Bagels' smoked salmon cream cheese (or "shmear" as they call it) has nudged me ever so slightly in the direction of smoked salmon. I could eat bowlsful of that stuff! It's more than wonderful on toasted Everything bagels, with extra Everything sprinkled on top. (I make my own Everything -- poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried garlic and onion, kosher salt all lightly toasted in a skillet and stored in a jar.) We finally stopped ordering puny little sides of salmon cream cheese whenever we venture into Einstein's -- now we grab a full-on 8 oz. container of it and spread it with abandon.
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Despite the "smoked" part, this Pasta with Smoked Salmon, Cream, and Dill recipe has beckoned to me ever since I opened the May 2004 "A Taste of Scotland" issue of Bon Appetit. I have a weakness for pasta with some sort of creamy sauce (and a few twists of black pepper and grated parmesan cheese). Now that I've had a bit of exposure to smoked salmon, I'm finally ready to give this dish a try.
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Like Salmon with Watercress Sauce, this dish is reasonably quick and easy to make, and requires just a few ingredients, nothing fancy. The recipe calls for 12 ounces of smoked salmon -- that felt a bit much to me so I bought two of those skinny li'l 4-ounce packets from the fish department at the grocery store, and for this smokeless gal the dish would have been just fine with only one. Four ounces of smoked salmon pack a LOT of smoky flavor! For me, anyway.
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The smoked salmon is chopped or slivered, sauteed in butter (yum!) then further cooked in heavy cream (forget about fat and calories at this point), stirred into cooked penne pasta and topped with fresh dill. It's like fast food, and is quite tasty! Although I confess it was still too smoky for me, even after cutting down the salmon by half. I'm obviously very sensitive to smoked fish. My Sweet Husband, on the other hand, eats smoked salmon straight up (must be his Scottish heritage) -- it was not too smoky for him. When I make this dish again, I will either poach the smoked salmon first in a small amount of milk, then pour off that milk and skip straight to the cream and dill mixture in the skillet, bypassing the butter. Or combine maybe two ounces of smoked with slivers of fresh salmon, to allow some of the smoky salmon flavor into the dish but not too much.
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The recipe comes from Valvona and Crolla, a family-owned Italian grocery, cafe and wine bar in Edinburgh, Scotland that is well known throughout the U.K. I first heard of V&C from the 44 Scotland Street stories by Alexander McCall-Smith. As Sweet Husband and I both descend from Scottish ancestors, eventually we'd like to take an official honeymoon (it's been three years already!) to the motherland. Even if that honeymoon is a long way off, for now we can eat like we're on Elm Row in the heart of Edinburgh.
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Hopefully we'll get a chance to personally tell the V&C folks how much we enjoyed their salmon pasta back in the U.S. Slainte!

Feel free to leave a comment about smoked salmon, pasta, salmon and chocolate, Scotland, bagels and cream cheese, or whatever inspires you.


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Pasta with Smoked Salmon, Cream, and Dill
Adapted from a Valvona & Crolla recipe appearing in
Bon Appetit "A Taste of Scotland" issue, May 2004

9 ounces dried penne, linguine, or your favorite pasta

1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces smoked salmon (or up to 12 ounces*, depending on your preference for smoked salmon),
chopped into bite sized pieces or cut into 1/3-inch-wide strips
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whipping cream
1 teaspoon tomato paste
3 teaspoons chopped fresh dill, divided
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.

While pasta is draining, melt butter in large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add salmon and cook until fish turns light pink, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Stir in cream and tomato paste. Cook until sauce is heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons dill and the cayenne pepper. Mix pasta into sauce (or pour sauce into pasta), adding pasta cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls as needed to moisten. Divide pasta among 4 plates or shallow bowls. Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon dill and serve.

*If using more than 4 ounces of salmon, increase butter to about 1 tablespoon per four ounces of fish.


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Chocolate Biscuit Cake.

flag-mini-british Ever since the recent royal wedding, where Prince William’s favorite “chocolate biscuit cake” was served, I’ve been wanting to jump on the chocolate biscuit cake train.
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Actually, I’ve been wanting to jump on a plane to London to hobnob with the Windsors, but making this simple refrigerator cake seemed like a less expensive way to feel kinship with the royals.
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Traditionally made from crushed Rich Tea Biscuits -- crisp, not-too-sweet British cookies -- mixed into a warmed chocolate mixture and glazed with chocolate ganache (a LOT of chocolate here), the no-bake cake is apparently a much-loved tea-time treat for Prince William. So in addition to traditional wedding fruitcake (I’ll be making that in the next few months!), this “groom’s cake” was served at the prince’s request.
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Reminder: “biscuits” in the U.K. are “cookies” here.
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With a surplus of homemade digestives biscuits, plus some Burton’s Digestives, there was no time like the present to finally make this cake. I would have used the Rich Tea biscuits, only I didn’t locate them until after I had made the recipe. Why o why hadn’t I checked Treasure Island first? Lesson learned.
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Recipes for Chocolate Biscuit Cake abound on the interwebs, many calling for caster sugar (“superfine” to you and me), golden syrup (a by-product of the sugar refining process -- sort of like pale amber colored corn syrup), cocoa powder, sometimes an egg. And quite a few allowed digestives to replace Rich Tea, so scour the World Market shelves for Rich Tea Biscuits, Jacobs Marietta Biscuits, Burton’s or McVitie’s digestives, or use a plain, crisp and barely sweet cookie from the grocery such as Lu Petit Buerre. One blogger I found used Salerno Butter cookies, and another used graham crackers.
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I was more attracted to the recipes with heavy cream or sweetened condensed milk, butter, squares of semi-sweet chocolate, and no eggs. After exhaustive online research, which included some unsightly drooling on my keyboard, I settled on the recipe from Dima’s Kitchen. Four ingredients! I like that.
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The recipe is simplicity itself: heat the butter and sweetened condensed milk (I managed to muddle this instruction by instead melting the butter with the chocolate, but I don’t think this hampered the outcome), add chocolate to melt, mix in crushed cookies -- oops! biscuits -- spread in a prepared 6" springform pan (you want a small pan so the cake has some height), chill for several hours, glaze, slice, eat. Gain weight, work out like a maniac, lose weight, feel proud. Repeat as many times as necessary from “heat the butter and ...” for eternal chocolate-fueled happiness.
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Many recipes call for a topping of glossy chocolate ganache. Ganache is darned easy to make so don’t be intimidated by the fancy French name. It’s warmed heavy cream with dark chocolate melted into it. That’s it. And you can give up counting the fat and calories right about now.
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Once the cake has sufficiently chilled, release it from the pan and -- here’s the trick to a really pretty cake -- turn it upside down. The top of this cake is fairly lumpy and homely. Turning it upside down reveals the nice flat bottom, which makes a lovely smooth surface for the ganache.
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Before the ganache set, I decorated the top with some blooms from my garden, as well as a few fresh raspberries and leaves from my friend Shay’s yard. At first I put a small clipping of cheerful orange butterfly weed, then yanked it out when I found out it’s TOXIC. Yikes! But didn’t it look pretty?
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(NOTE: I think it takes a lot of butterfly weed to make someone sick, but I wasn't taking any chances.)

William's cake was a vision of modern culinary construction, all masculine right angles and austere white chocolate lilly flowers. It included some “secret ingredients” that McVitie’s, who “baked” the biscuit cake for the royal couple, would not reveal. Oh, how I wish I could have tasted a slice of that supersecret cake. And the wedding fruitcake, too.
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The finished biscuit cake is truly a chocolate lovers delight -- creamy fudgy chocolate, crisp mildly sweet cookies, and the smoothest, most decadent chocolate glaze you’ve ever tasted. It defies easy categorization -- cake? cookie? candy? Ah, how about ... confection! And from just a few ordinary ingredients. Next time I’ll use Rich Tea biscuits, add dried cherries and toasted pecans, and possibly even spike the chocolate with some brandy, bourbon or whisky. There's lots of creative potential with this recipe.
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Naturally one eats slices of chocolate biscuit cake with tea. Cheers! And here's to a long, blissful marriage for the
happy couple. Obviously Kate, with her impossibly tiny waistline, is not overindulging in chocolate biscuit cake. Or else she's working out like an absolute maniac.

Please feel free to leave a comment below -- I love to hear what you think of the recipe, post, or anything else you want to talk about.


Chocolate Biscuit Cake
Adapted from Dima's Kitchen

6-8 oz. your choice of Tea biscuits or cookies, broken into pieces
4-5 oz. good semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter

Chocolate Ganache (see below)

Grease or butter a 6" round cake pan (a small springform pan is ideal), then line with parchment paper along the bottom and the sides.

In a small saucepan, combine sweetened condensed milk with the butter and stir over low heat until butter is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and stir until all chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth again. if tiny chocolate pieces persist and do not melt, use a rotary beater to beat the mixture till smooth. Remove from heat.

Add broken biscuits/cookies to the chocolate mixture and stir all to combine thoroughly. Spread into prepared pan, pressing to fill the corners of the pan. Refrigerate for 3 hours. Remove from pan, place upside down on a wire rack and pour chocolate Ganache over the cake; spread over top and sides to cover it. If desired, decorate with fresh (not toxic!) or candied flowers, or other decorations. Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving or until firm. Slice thinly -- this cake is
rich.

Chocolate Ganache Glaze
Adapted from Dima's Kitchen

This is half of Dima's original recipe.

1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
6 oz. good semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring whipping cream just to boiling over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolates (do not stir); let stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Cool for 15 minutes. Spread evenly over biscuit cake.
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