Creamy French salmon, mussel and saffron soup and smoked mackerel pate


This is an amazingly quick and easy but very impressive fish soup. It is every bit as elegant and tasty as bouillabaisse but a lot quicker to make. Because of the cream it's not quite as healthy. I suppose you could cut down on the amount of cream, or use single cream or low fat creme fraiche, but for my parents I didn't want to make any compromises. Not that I want to feed them unhealthy food, but they don't visit me often, so when they do, only the best will do.

French salmon, mussel and safron soup with cream
Even ze table setting looks French, n'est-ce pas?
This may actually be the last time they visited me here, it is quite a trek for them from Finland and they are not as young and sprightly as they once were. Last time they came, two years ago, dad nearly died. He got pneumonia and was hospitalised after they got home for several weeks and mum and the terminally ill family dog were incarcerated at my sister's. So I was very happy that they plucked up the courage to visit us this one last time. I love to spoil them, cook them foods they wouldn't otherwise have and show them around the wonderful London.

I will obviously continue visiting them regularly in Finland, so it's not like it was the final  goodbye, which obviously would have been very sad. Although I must say I did go to the ladies at Gatwick for a little cry after waiving them goodbye at the ticket barriers.

I get a bit sentimental quite easily. We recently visited husband's old aunt in Dubai. As we sat there I started thinking about how this could be the last time the two of them met. I thought about how kind she had been to my husband when he was a little boy, about her long life, how so many of her generation have now passed away, her lonely years as a widow after her husband's death. How this mighty matriarch now is bed-ridden and quite dependent on the help of others. And I saw husband getting a bit emotional as well holding her hand and my bottom lip may have started to quiver a little, because husband urgently whispered to me to not start crying. Because if I did he would start crying and then the aunt would start crying. And then probably the nurse and the rest of the household. And then we'd all just cry. I could see how that would not be a good idea, so I masterfully blinked my tears away, pretending to sneeze blaming the air-con and really doing quite an Oscar-worthy performance of someone who's definitely not on the brink of tears. I think the nurse/carer was onto me, but she didn't give me away. And it worked which was great, because obviously it was better to have a calm, happy moment, than a hysterical bawl-fest.

But back to my parents' joyous arrival and the glorious golden the fish soup. I picked them up at Gatwick and we drove home. Getting out of the car dad said his left hand was completely numb after hanging on to the door handle for dear life for the 50 mile drive. And I was even trying to drive very carefully and smoothly which is entirely against my nature.

At home they unloaded their presents. Lots of lovely Finnish goodies, rye bread, salty licorice, smoked salmon, reindeer, moose etc. And a beautiful Alvar Aalto tray while I heated up the soup base which I had prepared earlier adding in the fish, mussels and cream. It was awesome, best fish soup they had had in a long time, apparently. Probably since my bouillabaisse, is my objective guess.

Our new Aalto-tray. My sister once lived in a house designed by Alvar Aalto. None of the doors opened properly but it was a beautiful building. Beauty and practicality don't always go hand in hand.

The other awesome things I cooked them was a Spanakopita for late Friday dinner after a classical concert which wasn't to husband's taste particularly. When the band had finally finished and had left the stage only to reappear, husband was panicking "Why are they coming back?". But they only came back for some more applause not an encore.

My gorgeous rustic Spanakopita
Saturday husband's kids came so it was a massive dinner of lamb yiouvetsi, feta pepper chicken, asparagus with pine nuts and parmesan, mushroom with blue cheese and a salad with Lappish squeeky cheese, that my parents had brought. Dad loved the yiouvetsi, and I must say it is one of my favourite recipes. I spoke to them a few days ago and he has a chunk of lamb in the freezer ready for my next visit for us to do the yiouvetsi together. Or if it's anything like "let's go and wash my car together" I will do the cooking and he will watch and point out any concerns in the process. But that is fine, I don't mind cooking for him or washing his car. And he does helpfully squirt water from the garden hose whenever necessary.

On Sunday I made my trusted Provencal duck legs which I know they love with haricot verts and cauliflower chevre pure.

We managed to squeeze in a fish and chip lunch on one of the river boats which was an interesting experience. You know the Tattershall castle on the Embankment. They don't have a proper menu outside anymore, only a fish a chip booth where a grumpy lady (I don't blame her, I would be grumpy if I was shut there on my own all day) is as unhelpful as possible, at one point telling me to run to the kitchen to get her some cutlery and salt. That went down well. But to give her her due, she didn't give a toss about my outrage, clearly thinking it was up to me how I ate my fish and calmly just went on frying her fishes. I decided to go downstairs to get cutlery and salt because I didn't want my parents to have to eat bland fish with their fingers.

So if you're after a high-end experience, go somewhere else. If not fussy and don't mind running around the ship for stuff and the weather is nice, like it was on the day, then why the hell not. Find some forks and salt, don't let the grumpy lady scare you and enjoy.

We had another nice pub lunch in a little hunting lodge in Richmond. Dad likes the British pub culture, although he is not a big drinker coming from generations of temperance movement ring leaders. Dad's grandfather wanted to make alcohol only available through the pharmacies. He must have been a popular fellow. And his daughter, my grandmother I remember being quite disapproving of even some mulled wine on Christmas.

Anyway the current generation is much more open-minded and dad has relaxed a bit, so on their last evening here we walked to our local pub which is quite nice and had a fun evening with husband and dad fighting in the bar who gets to buy the round (we had one round of drinks the entire night) and mum and me admiring our handsome husbands from the table.

Again back to the fish soup. I served it with saffron aioli. A spoonful on top of a plate of soup makes it even more delicious, like rouille on Bouillabaisse. And on the side some fresh French country loaf and homemade mackerel pate (recipe also below - it was awesome - inspired by Jamie Oliver).

I made an even healthier version of the pate again later. I substituted some of the cream cheese with low fat creme fraiche, left out the oil and loosened it with a little splash of water. I also added a lot of dill and basil, so it ended looking a bit like quacamole, but tasted absolutely amazing. I won't attach an image of this particular version, you can just google quacamole, that's how it looked.

Creamy salmon, mussel and saffron soup

Creamy French salmon and mussel soup with saffron

Rapeseed oil
One leek, chopped
1 garlic clove, grated
1/2 fennel bulb chopped
1/3 cup white wine
Pinch of saffron, ground (use your pestle and mortar)
4 cups of good quality fish stock (low salt if possible)
500g cooked mussels (I used ones in white wine sauce)
400g skinless, boneless salmon, cubed
3/4 cup of double cream
Zest and juice of half a lemon (or more to taste)

Heat up the oil. Add the leek, fennel and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and saute for a couple of minutes on medium heat. Add saffron and white wine and stir. Let the white wine evaporate a little and then add fish broth. Leave it to boil gently for 15 minutes.

Add cream, fish and mussels and bring back to boil. Let it simmer for 4-5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and check the taste.

Serve with saffron aioli and fresh bread.

Tip: If you want to make the soup thicker add a couple of tablespoons of plain flour on the vegetables and stir in before adding the white wine.

Jamie Oliver's easy and quick  smoked mackerel pate
Tastes better than it looks! Jamie Oliver's smoked mackerel pate - great for any lunch sandwich! And you can take a massive bite and breath into the face of a colleague you don't get along with if you are the passive aggressive kind.

Smoked mackerel pate

1 pack of smoked mackerel (around 200g), skin and bones removed
Generous handful of fresh parsley
100g cream cheese
Zest and juice of one lemon
Creamed horse radish, to taste (1-3 tsp depending on how hot you like it)
2 tbsp olive oil

Add all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until preferred consistency. You can eat immediately, but leaving it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight will only make it better.

I made this again substituting some of the cream cheese with low fat creme fraiche and leaving out the oil and it was awesome. I added a lot of dill and basil as well, so it ended looking a bit like quacamole,but tasted amazing. I won't attach an image, because you can just google quacamole and that's what it looked like.

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