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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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.

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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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We
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.

Enjoy!

And please please feel free to leave a comment below, whether you are friend or foe. Let's talk about food!

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Chicken Tikka Masala.

flag-mini-british flag-mini-Scotland Chicken Tikka Masala sits atop a culinary tree sprouting from a one simple word: tikka. In Hindi, it means "bits, pieces." From there, it grows to "chicken tikka" -- chicken marinated in seasoned yogurt and broiled in a clay tandoor (or a really hot oven). One can conclude that either pieces are marinated and broiled, or the cooked chicken is cut into pieces. And finally, Chicken Tikka Masala is those bits and pieces of broiled marinated chicken simmered in a tomato-based sauce seasoned with aromatic Indian spices such as coriander and garam masala. Sound good?

Behold!
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What, you ask, does this Indian dish have to do with that little British flag at the top of this blog post? Well, like Kedgeree, Chicken Tikka Masala (henceforth "CTM") comes together as a sort-of hybrid of British and Indian cuisines, and its exact origins are sketchy. Some say it was created in Punjab sometime in the past 50 years, while others believe it came about -- some say in Glasgow, some say in 1970's London -- when a Brit decided his chicken tikka was too dry and "demanded" some British-style gravy to go with it. The annoyed Indian chef, so the tale goes, mixed Campbell's tomato soup with spices and yogurt to create a creamy, fragrant tomato sauce that, when mixed with chicken tikka, would go on to become one of Britain's most popular restaurant dishes.
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I discovered CTM only recently and was curious to find out how easily makeable it was. My first attempts to make Indian food were inspired by my purchase of
The Vegetarian Table: India by Yamuna Devi. That was probably inspired by my then 8-year-old son's decision to become a vegetarian. He was earnest in his desire not to eat animals (it was a revelation to learn bacon was meat, let alone that it came from pigs), so I bought a few vegetarian cookbooks, including one specifically geared for kids.
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In truth, after a week or so his craving for meat revisited him, and although he hopped back on the veggie bandwagon a few times -- wrestling with the animal flesh issue -- he has made peace with being a carnivore. But it was fun going through the books and coming up with ways to keep meat out of our meals. I donated most of the veg cookbooks (but kept
Simple Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin -- it's a good one), and truly regret not hanging onto that Indian cookbook (although I see it for $1.90 at Amazon!).
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At the time I found Indian food UNBELIEVABLY TIME-CONSUMING. I made
one Indian meal for the two other single moms and their kids who lived in our building, and I swear it took me three days from start to finish, what with sauteeing spices, marinating things in yogurt, seeding jalapenos, chopping fresh fruit, toasting sesame seeds and so on. Indian women must be absolute masters at engineering the advanced prep that goes into cooking for their families. I salute them. The meal I made was delicious (if I say so myself), but I was utterly spent afterward and vowed I would thenceforth eat Indian food only in restaurants.
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Chicken Tikka Masala won't take you three days to cook, I promise. It's not exactly fast food, but if you
buy garam masala (yes I made mine, lo those many years ago -- pan-toasted the spices and ground them up in an old coffee maker--took some time but good golly it smelled amazing!) and don't aspire to anything so slow-food as slaughtering your own chickens and culturing yogurt from scratch, it shouldn't take more than a few hours on a weekend afternoon. If you're ambitious, you'll have time to slip a batch of naan in there too.
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The absolute best part of cooking CTM is frying the fragrant spices until your kitchen, nay your entire house, smells so heady and heavenly you'll think you died and went to Delhi. Then it only gets better when you add tomatoes, spicy peppers, tomato paste or sauce, and a bit of cream. You'll want to eat the air above your stove.

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The yogurt-marinated chicken breasts broiled quickly and very nicely in the oven. It's a poor substitute for an actual tandoor, 'tis true, but one makes do with the tools at hand. When the broiled chicken pieces cool, cut them into tikka cubes.
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There are so many versions of CTM, each just slightly different from the next, and it was hard choosing one. I finally combined a recipe from Pioneer Woman's site (actually a guest post from the VERY cool Pastor Ryan) with one from Mrs. Wheelbarrow (how fun is that name!). I do that. Sometimes I faithfully follow a recipe, especially when it involves the chemistry of successful baking. But with cooking, I tend to tinker a bit -- tweaking this, adding that, omitting this, increasing that to suit my tastes. Since there doesn't seem to be a definitive CTM recipe, I'm not worried about being authentic and did make some minor adjustments to the two combined recipes.
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The Pioneer Woman/Pastor Ryan recipe includes directions for gorgeous golden turmeric rice with a cup of frozen peas. I cut the amount of turmeric down to two teaspoons and feel I could have gone down even more. A subtle gold colored rice, instead of blazing yellow, would have been equally appetizing, I think.
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Add a plate of buttered (my favorite!) freshly pan-cooked naan -- the recipe I used doesn't require activating yeast or proofing the dough (well sort of -- you let it sit for two hours but it doesn't really rise), and you just might believe you're at your favorite Indian restaurant. Or somewhere in London or possibly Glasgow.
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Britain's Food Service Intelligence (like the CIA for food? ) reports that Chicken Tikka Masala is the most popular dish ordered in restaurants throughout the U.K. And the late Robin Cook, a British Member of Parliament, proclaimed in 2006 that "Chicken Tikka Masala is now a true British national dish ... it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy." I'm not clear on whether everyone agrees with Cook that CTM should usurp, say, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding as a national culinary treasure, but it sounds like a lot of people are eating it over there.

For hoots, check out the
Little People Project's whimsically weird "Chicken Tikka Disasta."

Chicken Tikka Masala
Serves a small crowd, or 2 for several days running

3-4 chicken breasts
Kosher or other sea salt
Ground coriander
Ground cumin
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 Tablespoons butter or canola oil
1/2 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2-3 teaspoons garam masala, or more to taste
2” piece of warm/hot (but not scorching) chile pepper, such as Anaheim, sliced thinly
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes OR for creamier sauce 1 14-oz. can finely diced tomatoes plus 1 14-oz. can tomato sauce
1-2 Tablespoons sugar

1-1/2 cups light cream, skim evaporated milk, or fat free half-and-half (use heavy cream if your doctor has advised you to get more fat in your diet)

2 cups basmati, jasmine rice or other rice
1-2 teaspoons ground turmeric
sprinkling of salt
1 cup frozen or thawed green peas (optional)

Chopped parsley or cilantro (otional)

Make chicken: Sprinkle chicken breasts with ground coriander, cumin, and small amount of kosher salt on both sides. Stir lemon juice into yogurt and mix thoroughly. Brush over both sides of chicken breasts and let sit snuggled together in a pie plate for 30-60 minutes. (Good time to start chopping veggies.) Transfer to foil-lined baking pan and set about 10-12 inches below broiler heat/flame. Cook completely on both sides, allowing them to char and bubble a little. Keep an eye on them! Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once cool, cut into bite-sized cubes.

Make sauce: While chicken is cooling, heat 2 tablespoons of butter or oil in a large skillet. Add onions and sautee until lightly browned. Add garlic, ginger, garam masala, and sliced chiles. Stir together for a minute or two. Pour in the can of chopped tomatoes, or tomatoes plus sauce, and 1 Tablespoon sugar. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then taste to see if it needs the other tablespoon of sugar. (You don’t want it sweet, but the sugar can balance the spices and heat of the chile.) Add cubed chicken to sauce and let simmer over low heat while you finish up everything else.

Make rice: in a large sauce pan add rice, a dash of salt ,1-2 teaspoons of turmeric (depending on how yellow you want the rice to be) and recommended amount of water (probably around 4 cups). Cook according to directions for the rice you are using. When rice is almost done, toss in a cup of frozen or thawed peas. This makes a lot of rice, but we found it to be just right for the amount of leftovers.

Serve hot Chicken Tikka Masala over or next to the lovely green-pea-studded golden rice along with warm naan. Cheers!

As always, feel free to leave a comment below.

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Kedgeree.

flag-mini-british Scottish flag Monarch of the Glen, a BBC series filmed in the dreamy Scottish Highlands, introduced me to a strange new word: “kedgeree.” It was a dish the show’s characters -- the once wealthy but nearly bankrupt MacDonald family -- occasionally enjoyed at their manorly breakfasts alongside tea, toast, jam and cream. But I couldn't figure out what they were spooning out of that silver chafing dish! Kedgeree was some weirdly named mystery.
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I finally took to the web and learned that kedgeree (kedge-er-ree), according to the British Food Trust (and many other sources), consists of poached fish -- traditionally, smoked Findon (a Scottish fishing village) haddock known as “Finnan haddie” -- mixed with rice, butter, chopped hardboiled eggs, curry powder and parsley. It is thought to have evolved from the Indian rice-and-lentil dish khichdi (pronounced kitch-ri), possibly during the period of British colonial rule in South Asia known as the British Raj. Its association with Scotland originates with the belief that a Scottish regiment brought a version of the dish with them to India, where it evolved under Asian influence and was returned to the U.K. with exotic additions such as curry, fresh ginger and hot green chile. I'll let those who know the truth duke it out over kedgeree's true origins, but its Anglo-Indian history cannot be disputed: curry is definitely not a native British flavoring.
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Until recently, you could not get me anywhere near smoked fish -- smoked anything -- let alone eating fish of any kind for breakfast. I’m a devoted high-fiber-breakfast-cereal-with-milk girl, willing to eat toast, eggs, fruit, french toast, pancakes or whathaveyou when mid-morning hunger sets in on the weekends.
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But episodes of Monarch -- featuring deep blue Scottish lochs, rolling green Highland hills, misty moors, rustic stone crofts, a few kilts, some Scottish burr, occasional bagpiping, and the opulent 19th-century Glen Bogle estate -- made me homesick for the motherland-I've-never-seen and sparked my willingness to try kedgeree. Plus, just looking at all that brisk Highland air makes me hungry! If my British ancestors ate haddock for breakfast, then so shall I.
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Alas, smoked haddock is not a standard grocery item in these parts, and mail ordering it is not for the thin of wallet -- a whopping $23 per pound, with shipping, for fillets imported from Scotland. Ach, cannae do it. So for my first kedgeree attempt I settled on a pound of more budget-friendly tilapia fillets, but for future versions I’ll try a combination of smoked ($$!) and fresh (not as $$) salmon, or whatever fresh fish looks good and is reasonably bone-free, until I can find those authentic Finnan haddies without having to peddle family heirlooms on eBay.
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Recipes for kedgeree range from mild to fancy (three kinds of salmon!) to fragrantly seasoned with cumin and heady garam masala. It calls for hardboiled eggs, but I cheated and whipped up two poached ones -- they're a bit faster.
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I started with Jamie Oliver’s recipe, because, well check out the photo at his site. It's so appetizing! He had me at those pretty slivers of spicy red pepper and flecks of mustard seed. But of course I had to make a few wee changes, so my modified recipe is below. For example, I halved the curry powder to keep it from overwhelming the dish, added green onions, used a spicy green Anaheim pepper (couldn't find a red one), and used butter in place of butterghee, which requires a trip across town (file under "laziness").
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And instead of including steps for cooking the eggs and rice, I’m including those as already prepared ingredients. Both can be easily boiled up while you are chopping, measuring and poaching, but the whole thing comes together pretty quickly if you’ve made them in advance. I also added a few tablespoons of the poaching milk at the very end, to moisten things up and give it just the slightest creaminess.
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If you’re hip to smoked salmon for brunch (with or without bagels, onions, cream cheese and capers) you’re already used to fish in the morning, and now I'm hooked, too. Kedgeree is lovely any time of day -- it's light enough for a summer morning yet satisfying on a cold, rainy afternoon. The recipe can be easily tinkered with so add more curry or garlic, less onions, a cup of peas, a dash of nutmeg, some garam masala, more eggs, no eggs, more heat, no heat -- whatever strikes your fancy.
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Isn't it pretty? I promise you it tastes as good as it looks. The final word(s) is that kedgeree is versatile, easy to make and delicious comfort food that is truly suitable for any meal of the day. I know this because we ate it for breakfast -- or, more accurately, “second breakfast” -- and dinner. On the same day. And would have had it for dessert if there had been any left.

Kedgeree
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Serves 6 (or in our case, 2, twice)

1 to 1-1/2 pounds smoked haddock (traditional)
OR your favorite fish (try salmon, trout, tilapia), smoked ... or not
2 bay leaves
Milk (skim or 2%)

3-4 tablespoons butter
1” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (or more, if desired)
1/2 bunch of green onions, sliced (white and light green parts only)
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tablespoon yellow curry powder (add more or less, to taste)
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 14-oz. can chopped tomatoes, drained
OR 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped and seeded
Juice of 1 lemon, about 1/4 cup
1/4-1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, or arugula
1 fresh red or green hot chile, half of it chopped and half slivered
(optional)
2-3 hard-boiled (or poached) eggs, cooled, peeled and chopped into
quarters or eighths
3 cups cooked long-grain, basmati or brown rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)

Place fish into a saucepan or sautee pan with the bay leaves, and pour in just enough milk to cover the fish. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 5 minutes or until cooked through. Remove fish from pan with spatula or slotted spoon and cool on a plate or pie pan. Once cool, remove skin (if necessary) and flake fish into chunks; set aside. Reserve poaching milk.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a sautee pan over low heat. Add ginger, white onion and garlic. Sautee until soft, about five minutes. Add green onions, curry powder and mustard seeds, and sautee a few minutes more. Add chopped tomatoes and lemon juice; stir until mixed. Add flaked fish and rice to the mixture and heat through, stirring gently but thoroughly. Mix in the eggs, parsley and the chopped hot chile to taste (omit if you don’t want a spicy dish). Add a few tablespoons of the reserved poaching milk to moisten the mixture and add some creaminess.

Serve on plates or in bowls; top with slivers of chile and sprinkles of parsley.


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Scotch eggs ... not for the faint of heart.

flag-mini-Scotland flag-mini-british Scotch eggs, the sausage-wrapped-breaded-fried-hardboiled-eggs that are a staple on English (and Scottish, if my casual online research serves me) pub menus, have nothing to do with Scotch and apparently do not hail from Scotland. Their invention is commonly attributed to Fortnum & Mason, the stalwart 300-year-old English grocer-to-the-royal-family famous for their wicker hampers filled with wines, teas, scones, olives, crackers, cookies, fruitcakes, teacups and chocolates. (I want one of those hampers! I'll take this one. Or this one. Or this ... EGADS. I just checked the pounds-to-dollars exchange rate! Fine, I'll settle for this one.)
Scotch eggs 10
Anyway, Scotch eggs ... the story goes that back in 1738 (or by some accounts 1851), a clever foodie at F&M wrapped small hard-boiled pullet eggs with ground meat or sausage -- possibly Scotch beef (that would be beef from those big, furry, redhaired Scottish highland cows) -- fried it up, and declared it fit for a picnic in the country. Indeed, Scotch eggs would be ideal for picnicking -- they are good* warm, cold or room temperature, pack easily and travel well. *Understatement of the year.
Scotch eggs 1
Scotch eggs may have been inspired by a North Indian dish called Nargisi Kofta, a similar meat-wrapped-egg (with meatless variations) floating in a sauce spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and garlic, although I'm sure the recipe varies widely from one Indian kitchen to the next. Considering how long England has been associated with India, some recipe borrowing was inevitable but Scotch eggs are simple, hearty fare and not exotic -- all the recipes I've seen call for the same combination of eggs, sausage, herbs and breadcrumbs, with no aromatic vestiges of their supposed Indian ancestry.
Scotch eggs 2
This recipe comes from my other favorite Bon Appetit -- the May 2004 "A Taste of Scotland" issue. I think they grossly erred when placing it under the section called "Too Busy to Cook? Quick and easy favorites from Scottish readers." Quick? I don't think so! Easy? Well sure, but this is not a dish one throws together on a whim, unless you've already boiled/cooled/peeled the eggs, blitzed the breadcrumbs in a blender, chopped the herbs, squished them into the sausage, and set up your fryer.
Scotch eggs 4
Yes, those are sausage links in that bowl because our favorite brand -- Johnsonville -- didn't come in one of those handy tubes, and yes I pulled each one out of its filmy little casing so it looked like I had a pile of miniature condoms on the counter. And I didn't bother taking a picture because no one wants to see that.
Scotch eggs 6
Assembly is easy, but not exactly zippy: roll an egg lightly in flour, work a blob of herbed sausage around it to coat completely, brush with an egg/mustard mixture, roll in fresh breadcrumbs, and lower into hot oil.
Scotch eggs 7
Tip: wrangling a camera with flour, sausage and breadcrumbs on your hands in order to get good pictures for your blog is tricky at best, so not photographing the process will save you lots of time and multiple handwashings.
Scotch eggs 8
I rarely fry foods, but found it was quite painless and not even that messy, especially with the hood fan sucking up those hot oil vapors (although, oddly, the house still managed to smell like fried fish throughout the day). With a thermometer in the pan, I was able to keep the oil temperature just about right so each egg took the allotted 5-6 minutes to fizz to a nice deep brown. After a brief rest on some paper towels, they were sliced in half and served with mustard, ketchup and cold beer, alongside apple slices and carrot sticks to give the delusion illusion of a healthy, well-rounded pub snack.
Scotch eggs 11
Oh my stars and garters, they were really REALLY good!** And hard to resist. Munching on them fresh(ish) out of the fryer, with a cold Smithwick's close by, I had to restrain myself after two. I'm pretty sure it was only two. **Extreme understatement of the year.
Scotch eggs 12
I could have kept eating them with no regard for my waistline or the state of my arteries. I hope we had the good sense to have a big salad for dinner, but all I can remember about that entire day, foodwise, was these eggs.
Scotch eggs 13
Look at that. Two left! I confess it took my entire supply of willpower to save them for others in the house.
Scotch eggs final
I don't give a hoot about the nutritional shortcomings of deep-fried-sausage-eggs. If I have anything to say about it, those things won't last past the weekend.

Their English pedigree notwithstanding, Scotch eggs are, I am confident, enjoyed by the Scottish, too. And possibly the Irish. Maybe even the Welsh! I found the "receipt" in several of my own cookbooks including Favourite Scottish Recipes and Celtic Folklore Cooking, as well as in the The Scottish-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook. But to get your tastebuds together with a Scotch egg sooner than later, I've included the Bon Appetit recipe below. You can thank me later -- when your personal trainer gets through with you.

Scotch Eggs with Fresh Herbs
From Bon Appetit -- May 2004 "A Taste of Scotland" issue
Makes 6 (note that doesn't say
serves 6)

1 pound bulk sausage meat
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 large egg
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (or your favorite mustard)
5 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
(this is way too much -- 2-1/2 cups is more than plenty)
1 cup all-purpose flour
(this is also more than necessary -- 1/2 cup is quite enough)
6 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled

Vegetable oil (for deep-frying)

Mix sausage, chives, and parsley in medium bowl to blend. Whisk egg and mustard in bowl to blend. Place breadcrumbs in large bowl (or pie plate). Place flour in another bowl. Roll 1 hard-boiled egg in flour. Using wet hands, press 1/3 cup sausage mixture around egg to coat. Brush egg with mustard mixture, then roll in breadcrumbs, covering completely and pressing to adhere. (Repeat egg/mustard mixture and breadcrumbs for extra breading.) Place coated eggs on plate. Repeat with remaining eggs.
(Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerated.)

Add enough oil to heavy large saucepan to reach depth of 1-1/2 inches. Attach deep-fry thermometer and heat oil to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Add 3 prepared eggs to oil; fry, turning occasionally, until sausage is cooked through and coating is deep brown, about 6 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer eggs to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining 3 eggs. Serve warm with mustard, ketchup, or other favorite condiments.

As always, feel free to leave a comment -- but preferably not a note from your physician advising you to stay away from this blog -- below.
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Chocolate Victoria Sponge. Or What To Make When Your Cooker Blows.

flag-mini-british After making Treacle and Spice Victoria Sponge, I vowed to make the chocolate version next. And I did. And it’s delicious! And easy to make so don’t pass this one up.
Chocolate Victoria sponge closeup
Important reminder: "sponge" = cake.

According to Wikipedia, and a number of Victoria Sponge cake bakers I’ve visited around the internet, Victoria sponges -- because of their sensitivity to cooking times and temperatures -- are baked by oven manufacturers to test their ovens. Maria at Squirrelslarder, from whom I took this chocolate sponge recipe, relates that the British gas board took this culinary measure after her family’s cooker breathed fire upon her mum, vaporizing a bit of her hair. To make sure repair to the gas lines and oven was satisfactory, the gas board ladies baked sponges. I can’t think of a more civilized way to salve the trauma of a malfunctioning oven than to serve up jam-filled cake and tea. It would not surprise me at all to learn that stress levels in the English are far lower than ours.
Chocolate Victoria sponge ingredients
Anyway, don’t be put off by all the apparent sensitivities of Victoria sponge -- I’ve made two of them and although they were not taste-tested by authentically British folk, I can assure you they cooked up a treat and my family had no complaints. I am my worst kitchen critic and even I was most happy with the results.
Chocolate Victoria sponge flour
One thing I love about these British recipes is weighing out the ingredients on my spiffy Escali digital scale. Maria's recipe does include ounce equivalents, which I think you could measure out with a measuring cup, to make your life a little easier. The only problem is my pans are too large -- 9+ inches instead of the required 8” so my two sponge layers are thinner than they should be. But no less tasty!
Chocolate Victoria sponge batter in pans
Chocolate Victoria sponge drop seat jammies
Also, I highly recommend taking the extra time to cut a circle of parchment paper (or waxed, if you don’t have parchment) to make removing the cooked cakes easier. My layers suffered some cracking as I shimmied them from the pan bottom with a thin flexible plastic spatula. I’m beginning to think every cake pan should have a removable bottom. Wouldn’t life be easier if everything had a removable bottom? Like those old fashioned one-piece jammies with the back flap.

Although Maria includes a buttercream filling recipe, I happened to have leftover buttercream frosting, inspired by I Am Baker’s frosting rosettes, which I actually made from the frosting but have yet to blog about. The pretty rosettes actually are quite easy! Oh okay, here's a quick look at them. The cupcakes were strawberry (from the Cake Doctor cookbook) spread with a thin layer of chocolate ganache and topped with the rosettes. For Valentine's Day.
Strawberry chocolate buttercream rosettes
Where was I. Oh yes, I had leftover frosting -- from those very rosettes -- in the freezer. Freezers are fantastic, aren't they? Besides the obvious (ice, ice cream, ice packs) I use mine to preserve tortillas and sliced homemade bread, freeze bananas for smoothies, and save buttercream frosting for sponge cakes. I thawed the frosting and mixed in something like 3-4 tablespoons of Ghirardelli cocoa powder, which resulted in a chocolatey buttercream lightened and fluffed up from all the stirring.
Chocolate Victoria sponge filling
I smoothed a thin layer of buttercream onto the first layer of sponge (the uglier layer) and spread that with homemade (not by me) cherry preserves. Then the second sponge layer, a light dusting of powdered sugar, and ....
Chocolate Victoria sponge ready
Isn’t it pretty? And so simple! This just proves that really good cake does not have to be encased in a cloying armor of frosting. If you don’t want to buy or make buttercream, whipped cream will do and try a layer of your favorite jam or preserves.

The flavor of this sponge is somehow both light and rich (must be all that lovely butter) -- it’s not in-your-face chocolate like Devil’s Food, and almost reminds me of chocolate pudding.
Chocolate Victoria sponge sliced for tea
Served with tea, of course. Or coffee and an episode of Doc Martin or Jewel in the Crown, both of which we happen to be watching at the moment.

Find the Chocolate Sponge recipe (and many other scrumptious treats) at Squirrel's Larder. Cheers!

As always, feel free to leave a comment below.


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Victoria Sponge: Treacle and Spice and everything nice.

flag-mini-british Sounds like the name of an eccentric English detective, yes? Well, no. It's cake from the motherland.

Sometimes I think I was born on the wrong side of pond, so enamored am I of all things British. Well,
many things British. I was always fascinated by English accents, the royal family (didn't I dream of marrying one of the princes as a wee girl?), BBC shows on public television -- think Upstairs, Downstairs, double decker buses and London taxis, tea and finger sandwiches, Paddington Bear books. Over the years my fascination branched out from England to Scotland, Wales and Ireland--all of which hold the bones of my ancestors. I feel a kinship with the United Kingdom, and I’m on a quest to strengthen that kinship through--well, a trip there would be nice but until then--food.

Ever since I discovered
British Country Living magazine I’ve drooled over lots of interesting recipes from the U.K. And my favorite Miss Read books, about country life in the Cotswolds, have introduced me to a teatime treat called “Victoria sponge.”
Sea sponge cake
No no no, not that kind of sponge! This:
Treacle sponge on plate
It's Treacle and Spice Victoria Sponge -- darker than the usual Victoria sponges, which look more like this -- yellow cake layers with fruit or jam in between. A slice with a pot of tea, please!
440-400-0-0-24-96-68
Sponge cakes were, apparently, a favorite of
Queen Victoria, who not only invented the entire Victorian era but is also famed for her afternoon tea parties. For elevating the ritual of afternoon tea, credit is often given to the Duchess of Bedford, one of Queen V’s “Ladies of the Bedchamber." Apparently The Duchess got a bit peckish at 5ish, hours after the lunch dishes had been cleared and hours to go until dinner time (at 9:00 p.m.). The story goes that she convinced the household help to sneak pots of tea and snacks into her room, to quell the "sinking feeling" of low blood sugar in between meals. She started inviting friends for this daily repast, and when Queen Vic found out she adopted the ritual herself, enjoying slices of sponge cake with her tea every afternoon.

Back to Victoria sponge (named for guess who?), in which butter and sugar are beaten together until light and fluffy, then mixed with the remaining ingredients. The resulting cake is light, but not so light as angel food cake, which relies on whipped egg whites and cream of tartar to create marshmallow fluffiness and height. Typical Victoria sponge recipes call for equal portions -- usually 225g each (this is a British cake, remember) -- of butter,
caster sugar (ground to a fineness between granulated and powdered sugar--here we call it "superfine sugar"), eggs and self-raising flour (flour mixed with baking powder and salt, although my bag also lists baking soda). In fact, one Sponge recipe I found calls for weighing three eggs first, then adding the same weight in butter, sugar and flour. Clever! Like a pound cake.
Treacle sponge butter
With all those lovely grams to calculate, this cake calls for your trusty Escali Digital Scale. You say you don’t have one? Go here to buy! You won’t regret it.

This cake is a departure from regular Victoria sponge -- it is flavored with
dark muscovado sugar (like molasses flavored dark brown sugar), cinnamon and allspice, only one deep layer, no fruit in the middle, and a sweet orange glaze on top. I couldn’t find muscovado sugar anywhere, so I mixed about a tablespoon or more of molasses with dark brown sugar. Someday I’ll find that muscovado sugar to see how mine measured up. I also made my own self-raising/rising flour: 1.5 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt per cup of flour. Not being familiar with treacle, I'm assuming the muscovado sugar stands in for it in this recipe.
Treacle sponge all ingredients
The recipe calls for putting all ingredients into a bowl mixed together, rather than beating the eggs and sugar separately. Oh isn't it nice using just one bowl.
Treacle sponge batter in pan
I plopped the batter into a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper on the bottom.
Treacle sponge baked
It puffed up nicely with the most interesting bubblynubbly thing happening on top. What beautiful color!
Treaclel sponge on rack
I really worked the orange glaze so it dripped down the sides just as prettily as the picture from the recipe.
Treacle sponge on platter
The glaze cracked a bit when I transferred the cake from pan to platter, but thankfully this did
not affect the flavor. It's moist, not too dense or sweet, and tastes like gingerbread. The glaze is exactly right for it -- just a thin layer of sweetness instead of heavy frosting. When I make this again, I might flavor the glaze with fresh squeezed lemon juice instead of orange, to make it more zingly.

Next time, though, I'm making a
chocolate version. I just can't go too long without chocolate.
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