Thursday, October 27, 2011

On Soup

I mentioned quite a while back that I would write about soup.  If you know your way around a kitchen and how flavors can pair together, soup is a wonderfully organic, natural thing to cook.  Though I mean "organic" in the "naturally and harmoniously coming together" definition, it can also be organic in the "non-creepy stuff used in the growing process" definition.  Sadly, the second one didn't apply to me.

Soup is wonderful for fall and winter.  It's warm and soothing, and if it's a thick or rich soup, it can also be quite satisfying, especially if served with a warm, buttered crusty roll or something similar.  I need to make some more soup soon, but I don't have the freezer space to keep stock around all the time, so soup can't really be a spur of the moment thing for me, even though I have a selection of stock cubes (sigh).

The first soup I made was a broccoli-cheddar.  I was a bit leery about this; not that I don't love a good broccoli-cheddar--it's one of the few ways I truly enjoy broccoli--but I worried that if Adam and I couldn't eat it all quickly, it would start to smell.  Many different recipes and websites warned me of this, but I'm happy to report they were wrong, at least this time.  Admittedly, the soup didn't last more than 3-4 days, but I made it on a Friday, and Sunday it was absolutely fantastic, better than it had been late Friday or on Saturday.  It was also simple, though it could have been even more so.

Cheddar Broccoli Soup
1 head broccoli (medium to largish), cut into chunks, including stem
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 tablespoons olive oil/butter/other oil
4 tablespoons flour
Dried mustard powder (a tablespoon?  I never measure)
Garlic powder (a shake or two)
4 cups of warm liquid--about 2 cups of the broccoli water and 2 cups of cream/milk
Wholegrain mustard (optional, but a scant teaspoon is really tasty)
Cheddar cheese (perhaps 250 grams?)
Boil the broccoli florets and stem until reasonably soft in some salted water.  In a large, deep saucepan, saute the onion in some olive oil/butter/both until soft (you'll be making the soup in this).  Add the flour, dried mustard, garlic powder, and any other seasonings to make a roux (you may need some additional oil/butter).  Cook the roux for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly, then add the broccoli water/cream mix.  Stirring regularly, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to simmer (you don't want it to boil again).  Add the broccoli and the wholegrain mustard.  If your pan is big enough and you have a stick blender, you can blitz the broccoli in the pan; otherwise, pour small amounts into the blender/food processor and blitz until smooth.  Add the grated cheddar.  Don't let it boil after the cheese goes in--it should still taste fine, but it'll screw with the texture.  Adjust any seasoning as needed.

Normally I hate sea-foam green, but this was pretty and tasty.

I served the soup with mustard croutons, the concept of which was tastier than the execution.  If I do them again, I think they'll work better, but I was quite lazy in my preparation, so they were heavily greasy, and not as crunchy as a crouton should be.

Another soup I made in my crazy soup-making spree was one I found out of the Morrison's Magazine.  I first made it back in the spring, once for the in-laws, and once for my parents, and everyone pronounced it delicious.

Parsnip Parmesan Soup (from Morrison's Magazine, with my notes/changes)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
6 large parsnips, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1.25 litres vegetable stock (Beef stock is tasty, but soup ceases to be white.  Chicken, lamb, or anything else should work.  If using cubes, the recipe says 2 cubes.)
1 red chili, seeds removed and finely chopped (Optional, but adds a nice heat.)
50 grams grated Parmesan (Or more, I used about 65 with beef stock and it was nice.  Don't used fake-canned, but hit the cheese counter and get grated parm that way, or buy a block and grate it yourself.)
50 ml single cream (half and half, and I used closer to 100 ml.  or even more.  To taste, really.)
In large, deep saucepan, saute onion and parsnips in olive oil for 5 or so minutes, then add garlic and saute another minute or two, then add stock and bring to boil.  Turn down the heat and add the chili, and cook for a while longer, until parsnips are soft.  Remove from heat and blitz until smooth.  If the soup becomes too cool to melt the Parmesan, reheat (don't boil), then add the Parmesan, stir to smooth, and add the cream (to taste).  Season to taste.
I have no picture for this one, but it is so nice, and if you somehow have parsnips that are past their prime--they don't last long in any house I'm affiliated with, since everyone I know loves them unconditionally--this is a great way to use them up.

How can anyone be sad eating a bowl of bright orange soup with some lovely basil to complement it?

As winter comes steadily on, soup is always a warming, happy meal.  To me, homemade soup is a family meal, something that can be left on the stove, gently warming, for people to take a bowl as they please.  As a child this was mostly done with bean (num) or split-pea soup (ugh) during lazy holidays or important Duck football games, but stews and other soups are equally nice to be able to grab a bowl as one pleases during those cold winter days.  Soup can be so much more than just an appetizer.

EDIT:  Because I'm special, I forgot to even mention what that bright orange soup is.  It's curried carrot, and was quite tasty, and very pretty.  I didn't include a recipe because for the life of me I can't remember what I did.  It's not hard, though; I remember that much.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Larder on Goosegate: Nottingham, UK

I wish that I could do more reviews on here; sadly a combination of finances and locale make it difficult to eat out, let alone at places that are interesting enough for a review.  Since we got back from Iceland (in February!), we've only eaten out maybe 4 times until this weekend: once at a really quite nasty curry place after drinking, once at a Thai restaurant for my birthday (good, but not really review-worthy), once at the nice curry place near us (also good, but not review-worthy), and at The Larder (this review).  We also ate at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem twice this weekend, so that might warrant a review down the road, but wasn't that exceptional.  The good news is that in a few weeks we'll be in San Francisco, Napa, and then Eugene (with probable trips to Portland and McMinnville), so if I'm quick on the draw, lots of reviews may be coming your way!

A group of eight of us ate at The Larder on Goosegate for Sunday lunch.  The first problem is that they lost our reservations, but they quickly made good(ish) on that by a round of free soft drinks.  Since most of us didn't want alcohol--five of us had been at the beer festival the night before, and four of us the night before that--it was fine, if a bit cheap.

The second problem was a bit bad, but I wasn't as bothered by it as the others were.  Whenever you eat out in a group, the service tends to be slow.  So far as I can tell, that's because a) large groups often tip badly (assuming that someone else in the group will make up for it--usually me), and b) large groups are too busy talking to each other to actually pay attention to the menu and the staff.  Tips are less of a problem here in England; service staff are paid slightly better here, though I always add some sort of tip to a bill at a decent restaurant (not at a pub, though).  The Larder also includes a 10% gratuity on top of the bill for groups of 6 or more, which is something I absolutely agree with, especially in the US (see a) above).  So in short, our service was slow.  VERY slow.  Enough to really irritate everyone else, and to bother me slightly.  It was slower than necessary for the number of people in the restaurant, and we were actually paying attention.

But the food was quite tasty.  Claire recommended it, and she used to eat there often while she was living in Nottingham.  It's a cute, upscale, quasi-bistro style restaurant located up a flight of stairs, with huge windows and exposed architectural features.  Lots of light, rustic but clean.  Quite lovely and chic.  And comfortable, stylish chairs (which is extra-nice after two days spent largely in camping chairs).  The food was delicious, with a menu that changes daily.  Food is primarily seasonal and locally sourced.  It's essentially traditional British food, but done in a more modern, clean, and upscale manner.  One of our group, for example, ordered the puy lentil shepherd's pie, which came in an individual, very deep bowl.  She said it was excellent (though she complained that her gravy smelled like warm wine, but I just assume it was a wine gravy, which means she probably wouldn't like most of the gravy I make).  That's a cleaner, more modern take of the traditional shepherd's pie.  Or at least pretty much any variant I've had at home, which when made in a big dish, serves out as a messy pile.

Because we were in a group, it would have been awkward to ask everyone for a bite of their meals; this is something I can do amongst family and a few friends, but as we were with Adam's friends, whom I'm not as close to, I didn't think I'd be able to get away with it.  As such, the only comment I can make about the other dishes is that Claire's salmon appeared to be perfectly cooked.  It was a large slice off the fillet, firm and pink, served skin side up.  It appeared to be moist and not over-cooked, as is so often the case with fish.  It came with a mussel sauce, which included 3 mussels in shell, which also looked delicious.  With the salmon was an interesting looking side of cauliflower.  I'm not sure what they had done with it, but it had clearly been shaped in a ramekin or ring mold, possibly with some potatoes, and baked.  I don't think it was a gratin, as I saw no evidence of sauce or cheese, but it was rather in the style of an individual gratin.  Quite pretty, if a bit reminiscent of white brains.  I'm sure it was good, because Claire ate everything on her plate.

Adam and I split a starter of fried British seafood with a garlic mayonnaise.  The seafood included some anchovies (we think), chunks of salmon, and what purported to be balls of skate.  I say purported, because I don't remember the waitress mentioning salmon or anchovies in the list of fish included, but I'm sure I heard the word skate; however I couldn't hear well, since we were at the opposite end of the table.  We're fairly certain on the anchovies though, and salmon is clearly salmon.  All the fish was lightly battered, and fried perfectly.  Crispy and light batter that clearly wasn't tempura, but resembled tempura in it's lightness, and not at all greasy.  The anchovies maintained their rich oily flavor without becoming overpowering (I find heat makes oily fish like anchovies and mackerel overpowering and unpleasant), and the salmon was not overcooked, remaining firm and reasonably moist.  The probable skate chunks were probably my favorite; sadly, there were only a couple in the bowl.  They were also moist and nicely flavored, flaking apart nicely when bit, but not falling apart.  A slice of lime was provided in lieu of lemon, which I felt to be a very nice change.  The garlic mayo was also nice; very creamy and rich, but not greasy.  However, I felt that it could have used a bit more garlic flavor, or if the kitchen was afraid of overwhelming with garlic, a bit of citrus (lime to match the lime on the plate, perhaps) would have boosted its flavor tremendously.  Still, the fish was supposed to be the center, and it was.  I just happen to love a good condiment/sauce, and think that the quality of those is where a chef can really show off his or her skill.

Our main course was the same; Adam and I both had the roast pork belly.  I love pork, and I really really love bacon, so pork belly should be my favorite thing in the world.  Oddly, it's not, because as much as I love streaky bacon and all that crisp fat, I find pork belly is often greasy.  The Larder's was no exception, except I didn't mind it as much.  Instead of cubes of pork belly, or a slab, this was rolled, resembling either a roulade or a very thick slice of rolled panchetta.  It was maybe 8 centimeters/just under 3.5 inches across, and probably 4 centimeters/1.5 inches thick.  It was very crispy on the outside, just the way I like it, and the inside was so moist from the fat that it shredded apart perfectly.  It was also exceptionally rich from all the fat, and I couldn't finish mine (Adam persevered, but he was unsure for a while).  It came with 3 or 4 pieces of roast potatoes, and a Yorkshire pudding approximately the same size and shape as the pork belly.  Lightly poured on the plate (too lightly for my taste, but again, I like sauces, condiments, and gravies a bit too much) was a jus, which I think was a cider gravy.  It was superb, but I could have used more--I'll drink gravy, though.  The plating was quite attractive.  On a plain white round plate the gravy was poured, with the potatoes laid in the center with the pork belly leaning on them.  Leaning on the pork belly was the Yorkshire pudding, and between the two (I think it was supposed to be on top of the pork belly but slipped) was a small slice of baked apple, tart and soft.  I could have used more apple; not only was it a surprisingly simple but delicious addition to the plate, but it cut through the fat of the pork very nicely.

Served family style was a bowl (two bowls, actually) of wilted rainbow chard.  I'm not normally a huge fan of chard--I don't hate it, but I'm not going to actively seek it out, either--but this was a perfect match for everything ordered at the table (shepherd's pie, salmon, pork belly, and steak), and it was nicely warm and wilted without being limp or unpleasant.  It wasn't salty, but had been nicely salted as well.

The only real concern I had was that Adam and I are both unsure of the provenance of the potatoes and Yorkshire puddings.  Specifically, we think they might have been frozen.  They didn't taste bad or anything, but the potatoes were a little too perfect to be coming out of the kitchen (they looked like clones of each other on both Adam's and my plate), and the Yorkshire puds were tasty enough (I'm not picky when it comes to those, however), but not exceptional, and they held their shape creepily well.  I'd like to believe that's not the case, but Adam and I both got a hit of inauthenticity off of those.  It saddens me that they might have been frozen, since The Larder prides itself on local, fresh, and authentic foods.  Additionally, I hate paying for frozen when I'm supposed to be getting local and fresh.  But we're not sure.

For dessert, Adam and I--thankfully--split a Cordillera Chocolate and Honeycomb torte.  If you don't know what cordillera chocolate is, don't worry, I didn't either (it's Fairtrade and manufactured where grown, though I don't know where that is).  Honeycomb is not an actual honeycomb, but a type of candy.  Were it actual honeycomb, I probably wouldn't enjoy it so much.  Regardless, the chocolate tort was rich and dense, but not so rich as to make you feel ill--though had we not split it, I'm not sure that would have been the case--and the crust was crispy and crunchy and nicely lightened the chocolate.  And the outside edge of the torte had a big piece of honeycomb candy in it, that Adam and I split, by virtue of marriage being all about sharing things when you'd rather just stab the other person and take it all.  The torte was a nice balance of rich and light, and a nice end to the meal.

Overall, Adam and I really enjoyed The Larder, and we'd be very happy to eat there again.  However, we would not be inclined to eat there with a large group (in fact we won't next year, but that was primarily due to transport issues), as the slow service was verging on painful.  Definitely a place to check out if you're in Nottingham and fancy a nice meal that's not pub-cheap, but certainly won't break the bank.  Beware, however, that there's very little signage at ground level for The Larder, but if you find the area, just look up at the buildings until you find a glass-fronted section with "The Larder on Goosegate" written across it, then find the stairs under that and head up.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rhubarb-Peach Cobbler

I've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen lately; it's fall (with a brief summer stretch in there--what was that about, England?), which means late-summer fruit desserts and soup.  Lots of soup, but more on that in future posts.  It also means that I've been getting cold(er), so being in the kitchen is warm.  Not because it's a separate room that's easier to heat, but because I'm standing and moving, and spending at least part of my time in front of the stove or the oven or both.  Otherwise I tend to be sitting and writing, which makes me cold(er).

It's been several weeks since I made this, but it was an unqualified success.  So without further ado, Rhubarb-Peach Cobbler.

Rhubarb-Peach Cobbler

Preheat oven to 375º F.
3 peaches or 5 donut peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into half-inch chunks
3-6 stalks of rhubarb, depending on their size, cleaned and chopped into ½ cm - 1 cm pieces (halve über stalks first if necessary, but a variety in size is fine)
½ cup of sugar (give or take, depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
1½ teaspoons of vanilla extract (optional, but if used, make sure it's real vanilla extract)
Toss fruit in non-metallic baking dish that's been lightly greased.  The size and shape can vary, but think about the dough to fruit ratio when eating (the dough will rise slightly, and the fruit will cook down). Toss sugar over top, and mix to coat.  Pour vanilla extract over it, and mix again.  While making the cobbler dough, periodically stir some more, to ensure everything is coated, the sugar will eventually dissolve, and the fruit is starting to release its liquids.
Cobbler Dough (courtesy of Joy of Cooking, now with more sugar and vanilla)
1⅓ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted, but use less salt above)
⅔ cup heavy cream or ½ cup of milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or more, or less, or none.  need I keep repeating real vanilla?)
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.  Place the butter in the bowl in chunks, and blend until it's crumbly, and the butter is mostly incorporated (if you've not done this, I don't know how to describe it.  It's like making pie crust, unless you do that in a food processor).  Add the cream/milk (or a combo of the two--I told you it was flexible!) and vanilla, and stir together until you have a very sticky dough.  Don't overmix.
With a spoon, drop the cobbler batter over the fruit in the baking dish.  It doesn't have to be pretty, but it should mostly cover the fruit (there can be some small gaps; the dough will rise and expand, but it's also tasty if the fruit juice bubbles through in places).  If you desire, sprinkle some sugar over the top of the cobbler.  Bake in preheated oven on middle rack until the dough is done (or the fruit is done).  It's done when the dough is lightly golden on top and dry, but springy-soft to the touch.  You could try the toothpick test, but if you go too far, you'll hit fruit and ruin your results.  Besides, it's quite tasty if it's slightly undercooked as well.
Serve warm (or cold) with cream (plain, sweetened, or whipped) or ice cream, or just plain.

I love the Joy of Cooking cobbler dough because it's super easy to make, nice and rich, sweet (but not too sweet), and quite forgiving.  You can pretty much do whatever you want with it, and it'll cook (either fast or slow, whatever you need.  It's miraculous that way. Of course, so is fruit). You could probably use it for scones, but it's a bit sticky.  Still, it's a sweet biscuit dough, so it has many, many uses, and I imagine all of them would be tasty.  I made this with less fruit than listed, because it was all I had on hand.  Since The Boy prefers baked goods to basically all things, this was fine with him, but I would have preferred more fruit.  The donut peaches made this dish particularly beautiful, but when I made it again the next week with regular peaches, it was still tasty.  According to the internet, this can also be made with canned cling peaches.