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The English make really excellent desserts. Many of them, like syllabubs, trifles, custards, puddings and fools go back four or five centuries. I particularly like fools for their simplicity – at their best they’re made just with fruit, sugar and  thick cream – and yet they’re grand enough to serve at a special dinner party.

My favorite fools are strawberry and rhubarb. If most of the strawberries that come your way are in a carton, covered with plastic wrap, with maybe some large beauties on the top but either over or under-ripe ones lurking underneath, making a fool may be your answer. I am not suggesting that any old strawberries will do but if you are lucky enough once in a while to acquire perfect strawberries, you should just sprinkle them with a little sugar, perhaps a squeeze of lemon and douse them with thick, luscious cream.

Strawberry Fool

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 pint strawberries (about 1 lb.)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup whipping (or heavy) cream

Select four of the best-looking strawberries and keep them aside for garnish. Remove stem, white core if there is one, and any blemished parts from the rest and pulse briefly in the food processor with the sugar. Be sure to keep some texture (your don’t want too liquid a puree.)  Meanwhile in a chilled bowl whip the cream until it just stands in peaks.  Carefully fold in the pureed strawberries. Taste for sweetness – you may need more sugar. You may also want to add a teaspoon of lemon juice. Divide the fool between four champagne coupes or other suitable glasses, top with a reserved strawberry and chill for an hour or two. Serve with a cookie, if you like.

Rhubarb Fool

1 lb. rhubarb (as young as you can find)

6 tablespoons sugar

1 cup whipping cream or créme fraiche

Wash and cut the rhubarb into 1 inch pieces. Put it and the sugar in a heavy bottomed pot (no liquid), cover, and cook over the lowest possible heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionly, or until soft and well cooked.  Drain the rhubarb, reserving the liquid, and puree it lightly in a food processor. Check for sweetness – you may need extra sugar which it’s best to add while the rhubarb is still warm.  Chill until very cold.  Meanwhile whip the cream until it just stands in peaks. Carefully fold in the rhubarb and a little of the reserved liquid to make ribbon-like streaks. if using creme fraiche, fold in the rhubarb and a little juice in the same way.

Mound the fool into champagne coupes or glasses and chill until ready to serve.

Variation: If you love the combination of strawberry-rhubarb (as in pie), you can certainly combine the two fruits before adding the cream, making enough for 8 servings.

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Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish, brought back to England during the Raj. It combines the rich flavors of rice, curry and smoked fish and evolved from khichri, a spicy mixture of lentils and rice that contained no fish. It’s wonderful for brunch or supper, easy to put together and quite festive.  In England it’s usually made with smoked haddock (finnan haddie) but as it’s hard to find in the U.S., I use smoked salmon, not the Scottish or lox kind but the hot smoked, solid piece generally available at supermarkets.  You can of course use any smoked fish, or a variety if making a large amount. At its core this is a rice dish, so it’s important to use good rice. Basmati is best, but I’ve been known to use Uncle Ben’s Converted when making it for a crowd. (Uncle Ben’s is more forgiving than Basmati if there’s a delay in serving it.)

Serves 4 (double the ingredients for 8)

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon vegetable oil 

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, pounded

1 tablespoon good curry powder (Madras type)

1-1/4 cups basmati rice

2 cups hot water

1 piece cold-smoked salmon, 6-8 oz.

1 tablespoon crème fraîche or whipping cream (optional)

2 hardboiled eggs, sliced

3 tablespoons chopped parsley or a mixture of parsley and cilantro

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Lemon quarters

Mango chutney (optional)

In a heavy bottomed skillet or casserole (with a lid), melt the butter over low heat, add the oil and cook the onion until softened.  Add the ginger, ground coriander and curry powder and stir around for a minute or two.  Add the rice and continue to stir for another couple of minutes until the rice is opaque and is well impregnated with the butter and spices.  Then add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the hot water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to as low as possible – the rice should  barely simmer – cover the pan and let cook for 17 minutes.  Don’t peek!

Meantime, remove any skin, bones, and brown parts from the salmon and flake it.   When the rice has cooked for 17 minutes, check to make sure it’s done – the liquid should all be absorbed and the rice tender.  If it’s sticking at all, add a tablespoon of hot water to the pan.  Add the flaked salmon, half the parsley and the cream (for a richer flavor).  Stir in gently, close the pot and allow to steam for another 3 -5 minutes. Check for salt. 

Mound the kedgeree on a platter.  Decorate with the eggs, parsley and lemon quarters. Serve immediately with a bowl of chutney.