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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.

Ingredients
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.

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The Bamix crisis is over, so this week’s soup is a smooth puree again. And it is spicy!

Ingredients
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp thyme
1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 can of plum tomatoes
3 cans of water (use the empty tomato can)
4 tsp Kallo vegetable stock granules
2 tsp Harissa paste (the real stuff, not the kind that is diluted with carrot puree or somesuch)
salt to taste
(chopped coriander to garnish)

Heat the oil in the pot, add onion, garlic and cumin and fry until the onions have softened. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, water, vegetable stock granules, thyme and harissa paste. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20-30 minutes. Then puree with a had mixer until smooth,  check the seasoning, garnish with chopped coriander and serve with fresh bread.

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I was looking through my pictures from Vietnam, and started thinking about the fragrant broths I enjoyed there. This recipe draws inspiration from those, but it is by no means authentic. But it turned out quite tasty!

Ingredients
1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 cm piece of ginger,  sliced
100g carrots, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
200g onion, thinly sliced
1 tbls vegetable oil
1000ml chicken stock
100 ml water
1 tbl fish sauce
300g cubed fish (Abel and Cole’s fish pie mix)
garnish: chopped spring onion, coriander, basil, garlic, chilli

Put carrots and salt in a small bowl, rub the salt on the carrots and set the bowl aside.

Put peppercorn, cloves, star anise and ginger in a pot and roast them on medium-high heat for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vegetable oil, stir for a few seconds and then add the onions. Lower the heat to medium and fry until light golden, stirring constantly to ensure the onions do not burn. Add the stock, water and the fish sauce, bring to a boil and let the broth simmer for 15 mins. Add the fish, cover with lid and turn the heat as low as it goes.

While the fish cooks, rinse the carrots thoroughly and put them in a bowl. Divide the garnishes into small individual bowls or plates.

When the fish is cooked (should not take longer than few minutes), serve the broth immediately  with the carrots and the garnish selection – everybody can add as much or as little as they like.

Serves 2 as a light main, 4 as a starter.

Note: Be careful with the fish sauce, it is very strong. Add just a little at first and taste.

Tip: You can make this more filling by putting some cooked and rinsed rice noodles in the soup bowls and ladling the broth over them.

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My apologies – the Soupwoman has been distracted by holidays and other forms of busyness, not to mention serious bouts of being just plain lazy. I hope this recipe makes up for it!

Ingredients
1 tbls rice bran oil or other vegetable oil
150g chopped onion
2 cloves on garlic, minced
1 medium fennel, chopped (200g)
1 chopped red chili
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 l water
1 can chopped plum tomatoes
400g of firm white fish, such as pollack, cut into bite-size pieces
2 stalks of lemongrass
1 tbls fish sauce (nam pla)
salt to taste

Heat vegetable oil in a pot over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic, fennel and chili, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Add turmeric and coriander, and stir. Add water, tomatoes, and lemongrass, bring soup to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are done.

Add the fish into the pot and cook for a few minutes, so that the fish just done. Remove lemongrass stalks, if you can find them, and serve.

EDIT NOTE: After some consideration, I decided chopped onion works here better  – it’s much more pleasant to eat in a soup than stringy bits of leek! The recipe is updated accordingly.

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This soup uses Japanese ingredients, but I don’t know if one can call it authentic – I pretty much made the recipe up. It is a good example of  “cheating”, cooking with instant this and canned that. Of course one could make their own dashi from scratch, and braise the tofu, but this is comfort food, not penance.

Ingredients
5g instant dashi powder
1.5 tbls Clearspring Organic Japanese Brown Rice Miso paste
500 ml boiling water
1 tin Marigold Braised Tofu (drained, cubed)
a pinch or two of wakame, soaked in cold water and squeezed dry
sprinkling of dried negi or fresh chopped spring onions

Measure the dashi powder in a pot, add water. Measure the miso in a small sieve, immerse, but not fully, in the liquid, press the miso through the sieve using a spoon. Discard the grains. Add the tofu, bring to a boil and let simmer for a minute or two. Add the rehydrated wakame and negi, or spring onions.

Serves 2 as light lunch, 4 as small starter or side dish.

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Soup Disaster of the Week 1

Not all days in the kitchen are good. Sometimes something – or everything – goes horribly wrong, and you end up with something barely edible. This is what happened to the Original Soupwoman this week.

I had this great plan for some leeks and potatoes that I had in my fridge – a vision of this creamy light soup, spiced with cumin, with a little bit of creme fraiche for extra silkyness. I thought it would be a slam dunk.

But right in the end, I failed spectacularly.

Everything started so well: the potatoes and leeks were simmering happily, the aromas of cumin wafting around in the kitchen. Then the things started to go wrong.  I took out my trusted Bamix to whizz the soup silky smooth – but shock horror! I could not find the right attachment. The chopper had mysteriously disappeared. I had to make do with what I had, but the whisker wasn’t enough to make the leek disintegrate appropriately.

Fine, I thought. It doesn’t have to be a triumph every time, I am sure it will taste nice nevertheless, even with the wrong texture. Still confident, I added the creme fraiche and seasoning, and it was pretty good, but needed something. My eyes fell on the lemons on the counter, and I thought I had a revelation – a little bit of citrus would surely lift the soup to another level. Therefore, I added a generous squirt.

That was a mistake of gigantic proportions. The effect was nothing like I had anticipated. There was no lovely citrus note in the symphony of flavours – instead, everything had turned sour.

Hence, no soup for anybody.

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“I really, really like Christmas food,” the Inhouse Food Critic declared as we were having our Christmas Eve dinner. Wonderful, I thought – except that very few items on the table were traditional Christmas fare.

We have been living abroad for quite some time, and as going ‘back home’ for Christmas holidays is – for various reasons – both impractical and very expensive, we have had the opportunity to create our own Christmas food traditions, to pick and choose only those traditional Finnish things we like and top up with whatever we fancied.

This Christmas, for example, our table was laden with dishes such as pheasant terrine, carrot pate, caramellised leek, gravadlax, pickled herring, gammon cooked in cider and baked rubbed with jerk spice mixture, rosolli and imelletty perunalaatikko, sticky toffee pudding for afters, not to mention our traditional ‘light’ lunch (on Christmas day or Boxing day, it depends) of buckwheat blinis with toppings such soured cream, lumpfish roe, smoked salmon, pickled cucumber and honey.

Rosolli – a cold salad of boiled carrots, boiled beetroot, boiled potatoes, pickled cucumber, apples and onion – and imelletty perunalaatikko – best described as sweet (!)  mashed potato casserole – are the most traditional elements of our Christmas foods, they are dishes you only make for Christmas. Rosolli is the Inhouse Food Critic’s speciality, so no more about that, but I am going to give you my special recipe for the perunalaatikko. It is somewhat unorthodox – I took inspiration from Heston Blumenthal and his tips for the ultimate mashed potato –  but the result is very tasty indeed.

Imelletty perunalaatikko

Ingredients
2000g even-sized potatoes, washed (a floury variety, such as Maris Piper)
100ml plain flour
100-400ml milk
1.5 tsp salt
50-100g butter
(grated nutmeg)

Put the potatoes on a baking tray, put it in the oven and set the temperature for 250C. Bake until the potatoes are soft (the flesh should be all fluffy),  let cool a little so that you can handle them, cut in half and scoop the potato flesh into a large bowl. Add the butter and salt, and mash until silky smooth (bamix or other hand mixer is good). Add about third of the flour and mix well.

Now is the tricky part, where no cheating is allowed, otherwise you will end up with just a loose, baked mash. The whole point of the dish is to get some of the starch turn into sugars, so that the bake will have a rich, slightly sweet taste. In order to get the process started you need to keep the mixture warm enough. Therefore, set your oven to 60-70C, which  is about ideal, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and put it in the oven for a few hours, adding the rest of the flour in two batches. After a few hours, taste the mixture to ensure that there is distinct sweetness, if there is not, then add some more flour and put the bowl back in the oven for an hour or two, which should do the trick. After that you can turn the oven off and leave the bowl there, to allow the mixture to mature until the next day.

Now, the baking part. Set the oven to 160C. Grease a large, deep casserole dish – the mash mixture should come only around half way, as it may rise quite a bit momentarily while cooking. Then add the milk in the mixture in batches, mixing thoroughly. The mixture should be like normal mash that is a little bit too runny. Pour the mixture in the casserole dish, add some grated nutmeg  (if you like) and a few knobs of butter on top and bake in the oven until it is golden brown – for about 1.5-2 hours. To ensure it does not dry up it might be good to cover it with foil for the first 45 mins or so.

Serve as side dish with e.g. baked gammon.

Note: I have heard people using spices such as cinnamon and aniseed, but I cannot say whether they work well or not – in the spirit of the season of goodwill, I have not tampered with this tried and tested recipe which has been approved by the Inhouse Food Critic.

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