Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Artichoke Soup

The following is a wonderful soup, but with a snag to it - or perhaps you might think it to be an amusing bonus. The fact is that this particular root vegetable (Jerusalem artichoke), when cooked in almost any form, creates a great deal of air in the stomach and gut. (I am told that we produce, on average, 3-5 litres of internal air in 24 hours.) And as this air has to escape somewhere, and as a rule choosing to exit in the downward direction, it can cause embarrassment, laughter, or pain. However, I read somewhere that asafoetida (or asafoetide), if used in the cooking of artichokes, would prevent the usually excessive egress of air from the body. Powdered asafoetida, gained from the dried resin of a plant, is used in Chinese medicine and Indian dishes. I owned some, tried it, and threw it away, mainly because of the foetid part of its name. On hearing about its wind-reducing properties I tried to buy some more, but Indians in three shops visited had never heard of it. Eventually I did manage to buy a packet from a Greek grocer. Volume experiments using a minimum quantity were disappointing. Using the maximum recommended ruined the soup (which afterwards was turned into a strong mulligatawny satisfactorily) and might have reduced flatulence. Asafoetida may, however, respond more happily to your own metabolism and help to reduce artichoke-generated air.


You will need:
Jerusalem artichokes
Pepper and salt
Stock, or stock and milk

To make it “special”, you will also need:
A few scallops
Egg yolk
Single cream

Melt a large lump of butter in a saucepan, and in it cook a chopped-up onion until it is soft and transparent. Add a dozen or so well-scrubbed and cut-up artichokes (they are usually knobbly and difficult to free of adhering soil) and a chopped potato or two. For a pale and finer soup, peel these vegetables. For a rustic one, don't bother, just chop them up. Season with pepper and salt. Cook for a little longer and add stock, or stock and milk, to cover generously. Boil this very gently for about half an hour. The vegetables will then be soft.
Now you have the choice of eating the soup as it is in its rough and ready form, liquidising it in an electric blender, or putting it all through a hand-operated soup Mouli. I prefer the last method. Test for seasoning and serve.
To turn it into a special, dinner-party piece, peel the vegetables before making the soup. Then poach a few scallops in a little milk for only a few minutes. Add the milk to the soup. Cut up the scallop meat. Add this to the soup. Thicken with an egg yolk whisked with some single cream. Then heat it to the desired temperature, but do not boil. Serve with a sprinkling of paprika over each plate full.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chocolate enhancement

I sometimes feel that milk chocolate is either too sweet or has not enough nuts and raisins in it. Here is what to do. The result is both filling and satisfying.


You will need:
A large slab of milk chocolate or one with nuts and raisins in it
A smaller slab of plain chocolate
Nuts of your choice, like peanuts, roasted cashews, almonds, pecans, or others
Sultanas or currants

Into a basin resting on a saucepan of boiling water put broken-up pieces of plain and milk chocolate.
Add nuts, whole, or broken up in a pestle and mortar, and sultanas or currants.
The chocolate will take a little time to melt. When it has, stir it all together with a spatula and scrape it out from its bowl on to greaseproof paper (or its like) in a baking dish. Spread it out to the desired thickness with the spatula and, if you feel like it, press the edge of the spatula into the chocolate to form rough squares when it has begun to re-set.
Allow the chocolate to cool and set, ending by placing it in the refrigerator.
When cold and solid, lift the chocolate mass from the greaseproof paper. Then break up the chocolate into smallish pieces. Keep them in a lidded box in the refrigerator until wanted.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Simple Soup

I think that it is almost essential to have a winter soup on the go. This one is warming, filling, nourishing, economical, and simple to make. Like most soups to which you may later be inclined to add bits and pieces over days, or even weeks, it is best to get into the habit of bringing it to the boil every day, as some items tend to ferment if left in a warm environment. If the glorious world of soup-making is new to you, start with this one.


You will need:
Stock cube
Pepper and salt

In a saucepan or pressure cooker put a large lump of butter (be generous with it). Melt this and add chopped onion (quantities will be according to the final volume wanted).
Cook the onion slowly until it has given off its initial strong smell and become transparent.
Now add potato, chopped into small pieces.
Crumble in a beef stock cube or two (again be generous).
Add pepper and salt, then liquid to about twice the volume of your ingredients.
The liquid used is generally water. Start with it. But tea (from the pot or unadorned) is a fine addition, and non-wasteful. Leftover water from boiling vegetables or pasta is good and, again, non-wasteful.
Boil the soup until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked through and soft.
Later on you may want to make soup with other things, but start with the above. Then, hopefully, if not already addicted to soup-making, you may have been converted to the pleasures it has to offer.