Digestive Biscuits.

flag-mini-british flag-mini-Scotland Have you ever had a digestive biscuit with your tea?
Digestive biscuits
Here in the U.S. of A. “digestive biscuit” could evoke an image of something strange, indeed. First off, here a biscuit is a quick bread akin to a scone, and is frequently used to sop up dinner juices or served smothered in sausage gravy for breakfast (but not in my house). Growing up we often ate biscuits -- like these cheddar biscuits -- warm topped with butter.
Cheddar biscuits

Then the “digestive” part doesn’t sound too appetizing ...

But in the U.K. biscuits are cookies!
Biscuit comes from Medieval Latin, via a detour through France, meaning “twice cooked,” like biscotti. Whereas cookie, according to everyone’s favorite free online encyclopedia, comes from the dutch word koekje or koekie meaning “little cake.” You say biscuit, I say cookie ... let’s have a nice cup of tea and a sit down.
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Digestive biscuits are like graham crackers -- light in texture, slightly grainy, and not-too-sweet. One of the ingredients is sodium bicarbonate -- baking soda to us plain folk -- and digestives were originally credited with having antacid properties, aiding the digestive process, and being good for people with “weak digestion.” Although one would think it’s all the nice whole wheat flour (or "wholemeal" according to U.K. ingredient lists) that’s good for the insides. Maybe they should have been called “digestible biscuits?”
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I’m guessing the best-known digestive is made by McVitie’s, originally a Scottish biscuit maker, which started manufacturing digestives in 1892. They also make a chocolate coated digestive biscuit. I haven’t tried those yet, but apparently they are so popular that “... each year, 71 million packets of these are sold -- and each second 52 biscuits are consumed.” That’s one of the funnest statistics I’ve ever read! Fifty two biscuits per second.
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I could easily consume numerous (although not 52) plain digestive biscuits in a single sitting with tea, milk, coffee, a mocha, or whatever is on hand. They go down easily, one ... after another ... after another ... after another ... They aren't available at our usual grocery store, but World Market carries McVitie's and Burton's (those are Burton's at the top of the post) and our local international grocer, Treasure Island carries them, too. A decent substitute is yummy Carr's Wheat Crackers, which seem like a grocery store standard.
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Once smitten by store-bought digestives, naturally the next step was to find a recipe and make them myself. There is no shortage of digestive biscuit recipes, but which would be closest to McVitie’s?
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First I tried this one from the King Arthur Flour company. They were delicious! And popular at home. But they were more like a light shortbread cookie and not crumbly enough so they missed the mark.
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Take 1: A plateful of King Arthur Flour digestives. Light and sweet, but not quite the what I was aiming for.

Then I discovered the Great British Kitchen site, a wonderful place for recipes and other information about British food. Their recipe got me closer to the grainy, graham-cracker quality I like about McVitie’s.

Digestives are as easy to make as sugar cookies, with ingredients you'd likely have on hand. These required only one “special” ingredient: powdered milk. (SHUDDER.) When I was growing up we drank gallons of the stuff. I, for one, didn't enjoy it. However, it
was economical for a family of 12 and it was plentiful at the grocery store. Nowadays I don't imagine there's the same demand for powdered milk, so it’s hidden on the bottom shelf of the hot-chocolate-and-Coffee-Mate display. And it costs $9 a box! What would I do with four pounds of instant nonfat dry milk? Likely have post-traumatic powdered-skim-milk-drinking nightmares about it. How my brother grew to 6'3" after a sucking down that pale watery brew throughout his formative years is beyond me.
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The recipe calls for just two tablespoons of powdered milk (I'd be manufacturing digestives for the rest of my life with that 4-pound box), so I substituted plain malted milk powder. I usually have plain and chocolate varieties on hand, for chocolate malted milk, pre-workout smoothies, and the occasional Chocolate Malted Milk Cake. As far as I’m concerned the plain flavor was the right substitute for powdered milk.
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Take 2: Light, crisp, toasty, a little grainy, not-too-sweet ... perfect!

Next time I'll show you how I used my leftover King Arthur Flour digestives (the shortbready ones), along with the store bought kind, to make the now-famous no-bake
Chocolate Biscuit Cake requested by Prince William for the most recent royal wedding. Swoon. No, no, not for the prince ... for the cake of course!

Digestive Biscuits
From the Great British Kitchen
Serves: 36

300 Gram Plain wholemeal or whole wheat flour (10 oz)
4 Tablespoons Wheatgerm
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon skimmed milk powder
4 tablespoon sugar
125 grams butter (4-1/2 oz)
5 Tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Combine the water and vanilla and drizzle over the dry mixture. Blend until the dough can be packed together.

Roll out between two sheets of waxed paper until the dough is about 3 mm (1/8 inch) thick (yes, I measured it!).

Cut into circles or other shapes and bake on a greased baking sheet at 325 °F (170 °C, Gas 3) for 20 to 25 minutes. They should not be too brown. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.


Salmon with watercress sauce.

flag-mini-Ireland It’s no surprise that countries surrounded by ocean and streaked with freshwater rivers and streams count seafood as a culinary staple. Through poems, fairy tales, history books and movies, I have come to associate fish like cod, mackerel, haddock, herring and flounder with Merrie Olde England.
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But the fish that shows up most commonly in my British cookbooks and magazines is rosy salmon, which looks and taste delicious no matter how it's prepared. And it’s almost always draped in sauce or dolloped with mayonnaise made beautifully green from rocket/arugula, parsley, watercress, sorrel, spinach or some other green leafyness.
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According to the
Scottish Salmon Producers' Organization, salmon is the U.K's most popular fish ordered in restaurants and purchased by consumers for preparing at home. The site also emphasizes how all those Omega 3's in salmon (up to 5 grams in an 8-oz. fillet) "help to develop and maintain our eyesight ... and conditions such as schizophrenia, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and even protect against sunburn, strokes and some types of cancers, as well as positive effects on the immune system and in mitigating the symptoms of arthritis." Protect against sunburn? Count me in! They do have some tempting salmon recipes, especially that Salmon Omelette. But wait -- don't leave yet ... there's more here.
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love salmon, so recently I picked a recipe with sauce made from watercress and cream out of my favorite "The Romance of Ireland" issue of Bon Appetit from May 1996. (It will take me a good long time to experiment with all the tasty recipes in that edition.) This recipe, like so many from this issue, is not available at the Bon Appetit site so I'm including it below.
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The recipe couldn't be simpler, with a whopping
five ingredients in all: butter (yum!), shallots, watercress, whipping cream, and salmon fillets. As usual, I did some skimping: in lieu of shallots I used up half an onion from the veggie drawer, and substituted a combo of evaporated milk and half-and-half for the whipping cream.
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Butter lover that I am, I'd rather have the butter called for in the recipe than the fat and calories from whipping cream. In some cases. The recipe is meant to serve 8, but I was able to easily halve the sauce recipe and cook up just two salmon steaks. Even for 8, this wouldn't take much time or effort and requires minimal prep -- mincing shallots (or onions), a small amount of watercress trimming, then sauteeing, blending, and poaching (or broiling, grilling, I opted for frying) the salmon.
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I was craving the golden color and crispiness that frying (in a combo of butter and olive oil) lends to the salmon, but in the future I might opt for the healthier method of poaching or grilling. Salmon doesn't take long to cook, even these fat fillets. You can cook them until just done, then let them finish cooking on a plate so they'll be perfectly moist and tender. Oh my mouth is watering just thinking about it!
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The sauce was bright and fresh, both in color and flavor, and complemented the salmon beautifully. We had lots of leftover turmeric-tinted rice with peas from the
Chicken Tikka Masala prepared earlier that week, which made for a colorful and dee-licious early summer dinner with chilled white wine. Lately we've taken to gulping down glasses of Three (formerly Two) Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's. We are always on the lookout for wine bargains, but we feel like we're stealing this stuff. Our wine rack is full! And we're happily wine buzzed. Now, Evanston, when the heck are you going to open a Trader Joe's here??
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Salmon is so pretty.

Salmon with Watercress Sauce
From Bon Appetit, May 1996 "The Romance of Ireland" issue
Serves 8 (but halves nicely)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
2 large bunches watercress, tough ends trimmed
1-1/2 cups whipping cream

8 8-ounce salmon fillets with skin

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallots and saute until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add watercress and stir until wilted and still bright green, about 3 minutes. Add cream. Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Remove from heat. Puree hot sauce in blender until almost smooth. Transfer to heavy small saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Refrigerate.)

Butter 2 steamer racks and place in 2 large saucepans over simmering water. Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Place salmon, skin side down, on steamer racks. Cover saucepans and steam until salmon is just opaque in center, about 10 minutes.

Whisk sauce over low heat to re-warm. Transfer salmon to platter. Spoon some of the sauce over salmon. Garnish with additional watercress. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately.


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