The other night The Original Soupwoman was browsing reviews of local restaurants for inspiration on which one try next, and she came across the entry for a local establishment. To her surprise, the reviews were positive overall, one reviewer even describing the food as “faultless”.

The Soupwoman’s initial reaction was put in her two cents worth, and share her and Inhouse Food Critic’s recent, much less impressive experience: how the sirloin steak was toughest Food Critic had ever had, Soupwoman’s burger unbelievably dry and the chips limp. Even the service did not save the day – why the sweet but somewhat clueless waitress thought it was  a good idea to to usher us to the very worst table in the whole, still practically empty restaurant (the one by the loos, so cramped that a couple would have to sit side by side, and enjoy watching the toilet traffic) is beyond comprehension.

Then she started to hesitate. To be fair, Food Critic had really enjoyed his starter,  and others had liked the food there, so perhaps it was only an accidental slip in the standards? And, more importantly, when the waitress had returned to ask if everything was alright, neither of them had not spoken up, and given the kitchen a chance to put things right.

And that is the question: why is it so difficult to give negative feedback in a restaurant? Is it just social code, that a proper well-mannered person just does not do it? Or are we afraid to offend the people who have access to the food we eat, out of sight?  Or is it because so often it does not make any difference, and you’ll only end up feeling like an ignorant fool or a nasty bitch?

Because Soupwoman has tried. For example once, in a well-known restaurant in Southampton’s Oxford Street, where she was served undercooked risotto. “But madam, it is supposed to be al dente,” was the condescending response. Yes. Soupwoman knows, but al dente does not mean the rice is still almost chalky. Another time was in a popular pub in Bursledon, where sauce in her dish was split and awful when it was served, and where she waited in vain for the waiter to return, as they are supposed to, to ask that very question. Eventually she had no choice but to eat it, as she was starving, but she did bring up the ruined sauce when the waiter eventually came to clear the table. He could not care less, disinterest ‘sorry about that’ was all she got.

Perhaps it is no wonder that we don’t bother, but simply go someplace else the next time. But perhaps we should. What do you think?

Baking is not one of The Original Soupwoman’s strong points, but I have decided to share this recipe of pulla. Many an expat-Finn struggles with this one, partly because fresh yeast is hard to come by in other parts of the world, and because the types of available flour are different. However, this recipe has been tried and tested in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

It is somewhat unusual as it omits egg, and is made with water instead of milk. I find that egg makes the texture more heavy, and also pulla made with egg seems to loose that fresh taste quicker. Milk, on the other hand, does not improve the taste or texture in any way, so what is the point? The method is also slightly unorthodox, but it is a little quicker than traditional one.

35 g fast-acting dry yeast
750-1000 g strong (bread) flour
150 g caster sugar
1.5 tsp salt
8 g crushed cardamom seeds
500 ml water, warmed to 45C
150 g butter, melted (lukewarm)
milk or beaten egg for brushing
butter and caster sugar for topping (optional )

In a large bowl, mix about 300 g flour, the yeast, sugar, salt and cardamom well. Add warm water and mix vigorously. At this point you should have a thick batter. When it is smooth, whisk it some more to get some air in.

Run some warm water in your kitchen sink, put the bowl in this warm water bath and cover with a tea towel. Let rise until the batter has at least doubled its size. Should not take more than 15 minutes or so. This is a good time to switch on the oven – 210C for fan assisted, otherwise 225C. Get also 2-3 oven trays ready, putting a sheet of baking paper on each.

Take the bowl off the water bath and add the melted, lukewarm butter. As you mix the butter in with a wooden spoon/spatula/fork, start adding more flour. When you cannot use the spoon/spatula/ anymore, start using your hands. Keep adding flour a handful or two at the time, kneading it well in before adding more. It is very important to ensure the dough does not get too hard – it should be workable but ever so slightly sticky. If you are unsure, it is better the dough is too soft than too hard.

When you are happy with the consistency and the texture of the dough, let it rest for a few minutes before turning it on a lightly floured worktop. Give it a few good kneads, divide it to equal-sized lumps, and make these into rolls. I usually make 36 small buns, but it is a matter of preference. Place the buns on the baking trays, spacing them evenly. Keep in mind they will about triple their size.

Cover the trays with a tea towel and let the buns rise until they have doubled their size. Brush them with milk or beaten egg. If you like, add a knob of butter and a generous pinch of sugar on top, pressing them lightly in (this is called “voisilmä” – “butter eye”).

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until they are golden brown. Let cool and enjoy with coffee or tea.

NOTE: If you wish to have dairy and egg free buns,  substitute the butter with 150 ml vegetable oil and brush the buns with coffee instead of milk or beaten egg.

The Inhouse Food Critic does not usually try to influence what the Soupwoman writes, but this time, he INSISTED I should write this recipe down and make it public.

See, he is not a big fan of parsnips. He thinks they are bland, boring and uninspiring. But today, I came up with a method to prepare them in a way that he now thinks is the only way to cook parsnips. Fortunately, it is pretty simple.

500 g peeled parsnips, in chunks (about the size of the top part of your thumb)
2 tbsp instant mash powder
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 medium eggs
knob of butter
salt and pepper to taste
butter and vegetable oil for frying

Cook the parsnips in microwave until tender (they need to be mashed). Time varies depending on your microwave, mine took 5 mins in full power. If you think using microwave is cookery blasphemy, then steam or bake them, but do not boil – it makes them too soggy. Then let the parsnips cool a little – you do not want the eggs start cooking yet.

Add all other ingredients to cooled parsnips and make a mash e.g. with a hand blender (such as Bamix). Then comes the important part – taste it! If the mixture is too sweet, add a little splash of lemon to balance it, if you prefer spicier, then add some, etc. You can try other spices than those mentioned above, but for the first batch, I recommend sticking to these.

When you are happy with taste of the “batter”, heat a large skillet (medium to medium-high heat), melt some butter with a splash of vegetable oil (helps prevent the butter burning) and spoon the mixture in the skillet to make 4-6 cakes. Fry until they are golden brown on the one side, add some more butter in the skillet and when it has melted, turn the cakes over. Fry until the other side is lovely and golden too. The cakes should now be done – you should have some lovely golden-yellow patties, crispy on the outside and quite fluffy inside. There are only 2 eggs in the mixture so they break fairly easily, so be careful. However I’d rather not use more eggs, as then their taste would come through, and the texture would be more dense.

I served these with pan-fried salmon, grilled (Irish) white pudding and spicy chutney. The Inhouse Food Critic gave two thumbs up for this ensemble.

Another New York Food Story? Wrong! This is first review of a food establishment in Soupwoman’s new hometown, Cork, Republic of Ireland.

Sam and Dan’s is actually Inhouse Food Critic’s find. He was lured to a side street off Washington Street, Cork, by delicious smell of donuts. There he found this little place where Sam and Dan sell only hotdogs, chips (that is fries to you across the pond) and donuts. He raved about the them, so I had to try them too, and the cinnamon-sugar dusted (3 for €2, fried to order) donuts were, in all their simplicity, truly scrumptious.

But what about the hotdogs? I was curious to find out if they were as good as the donuts, so as I was walking back home after some shopping, I stopped by to get New Yorker Hotdogs (with fried onions, cheese, sauerkraut, ketchup and mustard) to go (€3.95). I knew this was not ideal – hotdogs must be eaten right away – but I took the risk.

By the time I got home, the hotdogs were only lukewarm, and gotten slightly soggy. But still, it tasted very good indeed. Just the right amount of everything. Took me right back to New York!

The Conclusion: Sam and Dan’s fare is exactly what it says on the tin.

The Verdict: The place does not look like much on the outside, and a fussier person might be put off by the no-frills interior. But look past the decor (or the lack of it) and give it a go! Even if the food was not exactly to your liking, you would only lose a few Euros.

The Original Soupwoman apologises for her long absence – however, there is a fairly good excuse: she got a new job, and she and the Inhouse Food Critic moved, not only to another town, but to another country. From the old Blighty to the Emerald Island…

Getting settled has taken its toll, but hopefully she can find time and energy for active blogging very soon!

Our base was the lovely Village Guest House, a great value, no-frills  type of accommodation – no front desk, no daily maid service, and no breakfast. But getting the perfect breakfast was no problem whatsoever.

Colleen, the owner/manager of the establishment had prepared a little map of the surrounding area, indicating her recommended restaurants and other amenities. Marked on the map was also Patisserie Claude (or rather “Patisserie Pablo”, as Claude himself has apparently retired and his apprentice has taken over), and as it was the closest option, we decided to have our first breakfast there.

What happened was that for that week, we became regulars. There was absolutely no point going further: scrumptious fresh pastries and decent cappuccino, for a reasonable price – what else would one need?

From the outside, this little bakery doesn’t look like much, and there’s only three tiny tables inside. Therefore, for the rest of the week, one of us simply got us coffee and pastries (plain, chocolate, or almond croissants, all very nice indeed) from Patisserie Claude, and we enjoyed them in the comfort of our little studio apartment.

Later, I googled Patisserie Claude, and it seems that most people enjoy their fare, but there are few bad experiences as well, mainly relating to the service. However, during our week we had nothing to complain about.

One thing on the Original Soupwoman’s to-do list for this New York trip was to sample authentic New York cheesecake. The problem was, where?

Fortunately, this problem was solved during free Times Square Expose Walking Tour – our guide waxed lyrical about the cheesecake served at Junior’s, a Brooklyn establishment now having a location near Times Square as well (1515 Broadway, at 44th St): “The best cheesecake in town, take it from the fat guy.” And we took his word for it, and later, as we had an hour or so to spare before our allotted entrance to a nearby Tutankhamen exhibition, we thought a slice of cheesecake would make a nice snack.

First, we both wanted to have a slice of the plain original cheesecake, but our waitress advised that the second slice should be something else, and recommended carrot cake cheesecake. That suited the Inhouse Food Critic perfectly, as he loves carrot cake.

Daily calorie requirement and then some in one slice...

When our slices arrived, we were glad we had not ordered any food. They were huge. They were also good – rich, creamy smooth and not sickly sweet. I somehow managed to eat it all, but as Inhouse Food Critic’s slice was practically twice the size, with the added carrot cake, his efforts failed. I pondered for a moment asking for a doggy bag for it, but as we were going to the exhibition I thought it would have been impractical. But if and when I go to New York again, I will definitely get myself a slice of Junior’s cheesecake!

P.S. Apologies for the blurry photo, but it is the only one I got, and you have to see it to believe it!