One hot, one cold

This week I’d like to return to the topic of soups. I’m something of a soup addict and among my favorites are shrimp bisque and Vichyssoise.

An inviting bowel of cool Vichyssoise

An inviting bowel of cool Vichyssoise

Bisque is a smooth, creamy and highly seasoned soup that originated in France.  It can be made from lobster, crab or shrimp.

It has a smooth consistency achieved by pureeing and an alcoholic beverage such as white wine, sherry, or cognac is usually added.

Soaking up the bisque with crusty French bread

Soaking up the bisque with crusty French bread

It’s thought the name is derived from Biscay, as in the Bay of Biscay, which lies along the western coast of France from Brest south to the Spanish border.

Ritz-Carlton in New York - birth place of Vichyssoise

Ritz-Carlton in New York – birth place of Vichyssoise

Although its name is French name, Vichyssoise (visheeswaz) appears to have Its origins in the US. It’s thought to have been created in 1917 by Louis Diat,  a celebrated French chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City.

Celebrated French chef Louis Diat

Celebrated French chef Louis Diat

In a 1950 interview with the New Yorker magazine he said “In the summer of 1917, when I had been at the Ritz seven years, I reflected upon the potato and leek soup of my childhood which my mother and grandmother used to make. I recalled how during the summer my older brother and I used to cool it off by pouring in cold milk and how delicious it was. I resolved to make something of the sort for the patrons of the Ritz”.
Diat named it ‘crème vichyssoise glacée’ (chilled cream vichyssoise),[ after Vichy, a spa town near his birthplace in France that is famous for both its exceptional food and its springs. The new item enjoyed ‘instant success’. American steel magnate, Charles Schwab, was the first to sample vichyssoise and asked for a second serving.

Vichyssoise is not only delicious, but very cooling – just the job in the hot weather we are currently experiencing.

Here are the recipes I use for both soups.

Bon Appétit!

Shrimp Bisque

  • 600gr large shrimp, peeled and deveined (keep the shells and heads)
  • 4 cups seafood stock
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (3 leeks)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic (3 cloves)
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup good quality Cognac or brandy
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 4 tablespoons  unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk cream
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Place the shrimp shells and seafood stock in a saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock. Add enough water to make 3 3/4 cups.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the leeks and cook them for 10 minutes over medium-low heat, or until the leeks are tender but not browned. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add the cayenne pepper and shrimp and cook over medium to low heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the Cognac and cook for 1 minute, then the sherry and cook for 3 minutes longer. Transfer the shrimp and leeks to a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until coarsely pureed.

In the same saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over medium-low heat for 1 minute, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the milk and cream and cook, stirring with a whisk, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pureed shrimp, the stock, tomato paste, salt, and pepper and heat gently until hot but not boiling. Season, to taste, and serve hot.

Vichyssoise

2 Leeks, chopped
1 Onion, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup thinly sliced potatoes
2 1/3 cups chicken stock
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/8 cups heavy whipping cream

Directions

Gently sweat the chopped leeks and the chopped onion in butter until soft, about 8 minutes. Do NOT let them brown.

Add potatoes and stock to the saucepan. Salt and pepper to taste; do not overdo them. Bring to the boil, and simmer very gently for 30 minutes.

Puree in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Cool. Gently stir in the cream before serving.

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The Great Scotch Egg Robbery

I was amused by a story in Britain’s Daily Mail last week of how an entire police force in southern England
became the butt of jokes after appealing for witnesses to the theft of a packet of Scotch eggs worth 1.65 British pounds. (Php122).

Scotch egg halved and served with mashed potato, gravy and vegetables

Scotch egg halved and served with mashed potato, gravy and vegetables

A woman was caught on CCTV walking into a shop and picking up these traditional British snacks before eating them and leaving without paying.

The police apparently spent a month investigating the crime before launching an online appeal in a bid to identify the woman.

Scene of the 'great Scotch egg robbery' in southern England

Scene of the ‘great Scotch egg robbery’ in southern England

However, the petty nature of the offence led dozens of web users to mock the force for its over-zealous policing.
Police has now deleted the appeal, after a witness came forward claiming to know who the thief was.

Amusement aside, I was reminded at just how delicious Scotch eggs are – that’s probably why the woman couldn’t resists them.

A Scotch egg consists of a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. There are also mini versions using quail eggs.

Fortnum and Mason, the famous London department store which supplies members of the Royal family, is said to have invented the Scotch egg in 1738.

They are usually a picnic food and home-made, though they can also be served as a main course with gravy and vegetables.

Although it’s a traditional British snack, similar dishes exist around the world including here in the  Philippines. Kwek-kwek are eggs with orange breading sold as street food dipped in vinegar, sweet and sour sauce or gravy.

Kwek Kwek on sale

Kwek Kwek on sale

In the Netherlands and Belgium, Scotch eggs may also be called vogelnestje (‘little bird’s nest’) because they contain an egg.

Brazil also has a dish that is very similar, if not a version, of the Scotch Egg called ‘Bolovo’. It also features an egg in the center but the dough does not contain any meat.

When I’m making pica-pica, this is my Scotch egg recipe.

Scotch eggs - tasty pica-pica a food

Scotch eggs – tasty pica-pica a food

500gr       sausage meat
5              hard boiled eggs, with shells removed
1              large raw egg
Dry breadcrumbs
Pinch of salt, ground pepper, nutmeg
Small quantity of flour
1 tablespoon water

Dust the hard boiled eggs in a little flour. Mix the nutmeg, salt and pepper with the sausage meat and divide into five equal portions. Place on a floured surface. Wrap/mould the sausage meat around the egg, making sure there are no gaps. Beat the egg and water together and coat the meat-covered egg with this and then breadcrumbs (you may have to press the crumbs onto the meat).

Deep fry in hot oil (360F/185C) taking care as you put the eggs into the oil. Cook for about 5/6 minutes. If you don’t have a deep fat fryer, they can be cooked in oil in a frying pan, turning frequently to ensure the meat is fully cooked. Drain and serve hot or allow to cool and keep in a refrigerator for a cold snack later.

English Pork Sausage Meat

1kg          lean pork
500gr       pork belly (fat)
400gr       fresh breadcrumbs
2t             sage
1t             thyme
S&P

The Scotch Egg Challenge takes place in England each year

The Scotch Egg Challenge takes place in England each year

Remove any bones or rind from the pork, and pass through a mincer. Mix in the bread and season generously. Pass through the mincer again. Fry a little of the mixture to test for seasoning adding more herbs and pepper if necessary.

Delicious!

Porsche offers bright future for Pinoy trainees

The first Porsche training facility established outside Germany – the Porsche Training and Recruitment Center Asia (PTRCA) in Manila – recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.

And to mark the occasion, Porsche importer and distributor, PGA Cars, hosted a glittering birthday party  graced by Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, which also saw the graduation of the PTRCA’s tenth batch of 16 certified Porsche Service Mechatronics.

The PTRCA's tenth batch of 16 certified Porsche Service Mechatronics with the center's 5th anniversary Porsche 911 training car.

The PTRCA’s tenth batch of 16 certified Porsche Service Mechatronics with the center’s 5th anniversary Porsche 911 training car.

The idea for the center was born in 2006 when PGA Cars chairman Robert Coyiuto Jr., noted an exodus of Porsche-trained Filipino technicians for the Middle East. They were being pirated by dealers in the region – obviously impressed by Filipino ingenuity, hard work, and skill – not to mention a firm grasp of the English language.

Coyiuto discussed the matter with former Porsche AG chairman of the board Dr.Wendelin Wiedeking at a Porsche importers’ meeting and proposed to set up a Porsche technical training school in the Philippines.

At the birthday party. PGA Cars chairman Robert Coyiuto Jr. (right) with Bacolod guests Chef Stessie Hecita and SunStar writer Robert Harland.

At the birthday party. PGA Cars chairman Robert Coyiuto Jr. (right) with Bacolod guests Chef Stessie Hecita and SunStar writer Robert Harland.

Crucially, Coyiuto envisioned the PTRCA not just to train Mechatronics, but to provide opportunities for the marginalized sector of society. Aware that a disturbing 33 percent of Filipinos live below poverty levels, PTRCA partnered with Don Bosco Technical Institute (DBTI), with a long-standing track record of providing education to this undeserved class.

Hertz Pura, global certified Porsche trainer for the PTRCA, says: “The educational foundation trainees get at Don Bosco is excellent. This is a perfect stepping stone to become Mechatronics.”

The PTRCA dips from DBTI’s talented pool. A two-stage selection process for choosing the final “Porsche Service Mechatronics” begins with DBTI selecting, twice a year, 35 of the best students of the current crop. Out of these, the Porsche trainer selects 16 qualified students per class.

Bacolod guest Chef Stessie Hecita at the wheel of a Porsche Cayman S

Bacolod guest Chef Stessie Hecita at the wheel of a Porsche Cayman S

The nine month training program includes theoretical and practical lessons as well as advanced learning using the Porsche Integrated and Workshop Information System diagnostic tool with instruction from Hertz Pura.

Pura also notes that while similar educational institutions have been set up by other car companies in the country, the PTRCA is the first to assure high-paying job placement for its deserving graduates.

The center’s newest 16 graduating students from the 10th batch are already set for deployment – mainly to the Middle East and Latin America. Porsche Centers in the South Pacific and other emerging markets have also signified their intent to source talent from PTRCA.

“While we are grateful for being able to touch and change lives for the better, we continue to look at ways where we can be of service in uplifting not only people’s lives, but their dignity as well,” states Porsche Philippines Managing Director Roberto Coyiuto III.

Since the center was launched in 2008, some 159 trainees have graduated.

In search of the perfect French Fry

For some, the McDonald’s French fry is perfect. It’s straight, skinny, salty and golden brown.

McDo says it’s known for producing what it proudly refers to as the ‘gold standard’ as far as French fries are concerned. The company’s internal surveys have shown that 30 per cent of customers come to their restaurants just to eat the fries.

But as good as they are, for me real French fries (or ‘chips’ as we call them in England) are homemade, thick, crispy and full of potato flavor.

French fries as served at Britain's White Rabbit pub. At Php45 a fry, they must be the country's most expensive

French fries as served at Britain’s White Rabbit pub. At Php45 a fry, they must be the country’s most expensive

Some of the best French fries in Bacolod can be found at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club (Marapara) in Bata Subdivision. Two fried eggs and a plate of their ‘chips’ make a delicious snack.

And some of the worst fries can be found in a certain so-called top class hotel, but I’d better say no more.

But first, why are they called French fries when they aren’t French at all?

It seems that when the Americans went to Belgium during World War I, they saw soldiers cooking potatoes in oil. As the official language of the Belgian military was French, the Americans called them ‘French fries.’ I suppose Belgian fries doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. As for the French, they call them pommes frites – “potato fries”.

A British 'delicacy' - a French fry sandwich. AKA a 'chip butty'

A British ‘delicacy’ – a French fry sandwich. AKA a ‘chip butty’

So how do you make the perfect French fry?

Unlike the US and Europe, here we do not have the luxury here of choosing which species of potato we’d like. In our supermarkets – it’s potatoes, take it or leave it. A pity foreign supermarkets like Tesco or Walmart are not allowed to operate here. They’d give the local boys a run for their money.

So, we have the potatoes. What next?

Wash your potatoes, and peel them. You can leave the skins on, but I refer them without.

Then soak them in cold water. This removes much of the starch thereby reducing the chances the fries will stick together. And you’ll also get a crisper fry.

The next little wrinkle is to fry the potatoes twice. The first time, called “blanching,” involves lower-temperature, longer-duration frying to thoroughly cook the potato. The next step is to brown and crisp the outside at a higher temperature.

Take a large saucepan or wok and fill it halfway with vegetable oil and heat to around 250F. It’s important to use a thermometer because it’s vital that the first frying is done at a lower temperature than the second.

Add your fries in batches that will not overcrowd the pot. Fry them gently until they are cooked through but not browned at all, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove them from the oil and drain them on a paper towel-lined sheet tray. Cool them to room temperature before proceeding.

One chef says he blanches his fries until they whistle to when they’re ready to come out. “Because,” he says, “the inside starts to steam, and it whistles like a steam whistle.”

Just before serving, heat the oil to 350-400F and add the blanched fries in batches. Cook them until they are golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, then remove, season and serve immediately.

They should about the best homemade French fries you’ve ever had.

Bon Appétit!

Brown Windsor Soup

On the eve of British Food Month in Manila, it’s apt that this week I’m featuring a truly iconic British dish – Windsor Brown Soup.

British Food Month, organized by the British Embassy in association with numerous top Manila hotels, will give Filipinos the chance to experience the different aspects and wide variety of British dishes without having to go abroad.

Queen Victoria served Windsor Brown Soup at Windsor Castle

Queen Victoria served Windsor Brown Soup at Windsor Castle

Running from January 13 to February 9, it’s part of “This is Great Britain” campaign – a five month celebration of the best of British business and culture.

No doubt Windsor Brown Soup will be on the menu.

Brown Windsor Soup

Brown Windsor Soup

This classic British starter is a hearty meaty soup much favoured during the Victorian and Edwardian eras in Britain. So hearty was this soup it has been said it did much to “sustain the British empire!”

Queen Victoria loved it and served it regularly at Windsor Castle as well as at state banquets. It’s a delicious, nourishing, thick and beefy dish which can be enhanced with a drop of Spanish sherry or brandy.

Queen Victoria - loved Brown Windsor Soup

Queen Victoria – loved Brown Windsor Soup

The popularity of Brown Windsor Soup went into steep decline after World War II due mainly to post war rationing and the lack of quality ingredients.

But now it’s undergoing something of a revival in Britain and it’s started to appear again on menus in hotels and restaurants up and down the country. Perhaps because of a feeling of nostalgia for the “good old days” or just because it’s a damn good soup.

Either way, it’s a great dish and I really would like you to try it. Your family and friends will be intrigued by its unusual taste.

Soups make tasty and filling snacks. I usually have a bowl for lunch every day with a slice of crusty bread. I make around two to three liters at a time and then portion it out into microwave boxes and freeze it. Keeps for weeks.

Brown Windsor Soup can be a meal in itself if served with crusty farm bread or perhaps even with a cup of rice.
I’ll be making a batch this week using this recipe:

Ingredients

Oil for frying (personally, I prefer to use lard)
300g steak, cut into small pieces
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small leek, well rinsed, trimmed and roughly chopped
Good knob of butter
2 tbsps flour
1tsp tomato purée
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Good pinch of thyme
1 small bay leaf
3 liters beef stock
Sea salt and ground black pepper
2tbsps cream sherry or brandy

Method

Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and fry the meat and vegetables over a high heat until nicely browned, stirring occasionally.

Add the butter and flour, stir well and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the tomato purée, garlic, thyme and bay leaf, and gradually add the beef stock, stirring well to avoid lumps. Bring to the boil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Simmer for 2 hours until the meat is tender.

Save a few pieces of meat and blend the rest of the soup in a liquidiser or with a stick blender. The soup should be rich in flavour and a nice brown colour; if not, return it to the heat and simmer it a little longer to concentrate the flavor.

Add the tender cubes of meat, check the seasoning, and pour in the sherry or brandy just before serving.

Bon Appétit!