Archive for April, 2011

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?

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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.

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