“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Monday, May 31, 2010

Great Combos

Laurel And Hardy.
Burger and fries.
Morecambe And Wise.
Eggs and bacon.
Lennon and McCartney.
Fish and chips.

All fantastic combinations of our time, I think you'll agree. They just... go together. My friends over at Noble Pig know this only too well, as evinced by their recent post Elvis Milk Shakes. It can't be denied - the peanut butter/banana combo is a taste delight. 

But I would like to go one step further and state that this is one duo that can be improved by the addition of a third. 


Oh, yes, my friends, it is true. For when you add the creamy smoothness of that delectable chocolate-hazelnut spread to your already delicious banana and your sweetly crunchy peanut butter then you have a taste explosion of cataclysmic proportions.

My favourite breakfast-on-the-go:

Peanut butter/Nutella/Banana toasted sandwich!

This trifecta of taste is good for when you're in a hurry - it has all the right things in it to get your day off to a good start, and when paired with a nice glass of 100% fruit juice and a black coffee, it's a good morning, believe me.

Peanut butter and Nutella were destined to be buddies. Take, for example, this recipe for 

Marbled Peanut Butter & Nutella Brownies

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used crunchy)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Swirl Mixture:
1 1/2 oz dark or dark chocolate with hazelnuts, chopped
1/2 teaspoon butter
1/4 cup Nutella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 inch square metal pan with non-stick foil.

In a mixing bowl, using medium speed and high speed of an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until soft. Beat in vanilla and peanut butter, then add eggs and beat just until mixed in. Scrape sides of bowl and beat in baking powder and salt, making sure they are evenly distributed; Add flour and stir until it is mixed in. Spread peanut butter batter in pan.

Make swirl mixture. Melt chocolate and butter in a small microwave-safe bowl at 50% power. Alternatively, you may use a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of barely simmer water. Remove melted chocolate from heat and stir in Nutella. Drop spoonfuls of Nutella mixture over peanut butter brownie batter and drag a knife through to make a marbled pattern.

Bake on center rack for 30 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from the side of the pan and center seems set. Cool pan on a wire rack. When brownies hit room temperature, chill them for an hour or so. Lift from pan and cut into squares.
She's a happy gal, huh?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

How Naughty!

Nun better!
Yesterday I told you all about my beer purchases. Well, tonight I had my bottle of Naughty Nun Witbier, and it's every bit as naughty as the label promises. It is a brew inspired by the Belgian Witbiers and heavily spiced with orange, and in fact it has the look of a glass of grapefruit juice when poured into a glass and you can really smell the citrus. It's fruit juice with a kick, though - 5% alc/vol is not shabby at all. At first blush it doesn't appear to have any carbonation but when you try a sip, it clearly has a light, almost mimosa-like quality to the fizziness. Just lovely.

Witbier (Dutch - "white beer") is based on the Belgian tradition of using flavourings such as coriander and orange peel. It is a barley/wheat, top-fermented beer brewed mainly in Belgium, although there are also examples in the Netherlands and elsewhere. It gets its name due to suspended yeast and wheat proteins which cause the beer to look hazy, or white, when cold. It is a descendant from those medieval beers which were not brewed with hops, but instead flavoured and preserved with a blend of spices and other plants referred to as "gruit". It therefore still uses gruit, although nowadays the gruit consists mainly of coriander, orange, bitter orange, and hops. The taste is therefore only slightly hoppish, and is very refreshing in summer. The beers have a somewhat sour taste due to the presence of lactic acid. The suspended yeast in the beer causes some continuing fermentation in the bottle.
Witbier differs from other varieties of wheat beer in the use of gruit. French regulation (the territory was French in the 14th century) excluded the use of hops in gruit. Witbier can be made with raw wheat, in addition to wheat malt.

Blah blah blah. Yeah, but what does it taste like? Like a light beer or lager would taste if you added some orange or grapefruit juice, really. Imagine a Hefeweizen with a wedge of orange and you're on the right track. Of course, it's a lot more complex than that, but when you're labeling your product with erotic art by a renowned artist (Lynn Paula Russell) then who cares about technicalities?

Well I never!
The brewer, Fallen Angel Brewery, based in East Hoathly, East Sussex, also makes a dark mead, which comes (!) in interestingly-shaped bottles. I had never really thought of East Hoathly as a hotbed of erotica, but it just goes to show that one must never judge a village by its name alone.
I do declare!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Good Eats

It was an unusual day today as I usually work on Fridays, yet today I had the day off as I had worked on Wednesday. Therefore Sis and I's usual Wednesday jaunt had to be put off till today, and we had planned on going up to Canterbury to go to The Goods Shed, an old railway building (duh!) that sits next door to Canterbury West Station in Station Rd., containing a farmers' market and restaurant which, according to its website, is "pure gastro-porn". It was recently featured on the Kent episode of The Hairy Bikers' Food Tour Of Britain also.

Alas, we were not able to go because it takes a while to get there and we would have not had very much time to enjoy it before having to come right back. So I looked at the website of The Kent Farmers' Market Association to see what local Farmers' Markets were open today, and it so happened that the market in the charming village of Horsmonden was up and running, on the village green.
Horsmonden is a lovely unspoilt little place and its big central village green is delightful, standing adjacent to The Highwayman pub on one side, and around the corner, The Gun & Spitroast (what a great name!) pub and the local village store. Only about a third of the green was taken up by stalls, but there had to have been at least twenty. Plant stalls, produce, fish, cheeses... there were plenty to choose from.

The first stall we stopped at was the Wrights' Original Ginger stall. These folks are based in Oxted, Surrey, and make A dark Ginger beverage... very unusual, lovely strong ginger flavour, and oddly refreshing. they alos make a lemonade-style drink, but what was more interesting to me was their Sticky Ginger Cake.

I love ginger cake and we always used to buy McVitie's Original Jamaica Ginger Cake when I was a kid. Now here I am back in the UK and recently tried a slice of said McVitie's product, and I noticed that (a) it wasn't as big as I remembered, and (b) it lacked any kind of ginger flavour, and (c) it was dry too. Not a good combo. So when I saw the Wrights' cake I was intrigued. Not only does their cake use their strong Ginger beverage, but stem ginger too. So I bought one. And am I glad I did. What a joyful mouthful of ginger deliciousness! I wholeheartedly recommend this cake!

Next stall was Birchden Asparagus, who sell... asparagus. Just asparagus. Several different types were available, so Sis and I bought a bunch to split.
I cooked it with tonight's meal, and it was lovely. You could tell it had just been picked this morning.

At the next stall, we purchased a loaf of bread with cheese baked on the top and a bottle of Beale's Apple Juice, which at £2 for a large bottle was a deal.

At this point we noticed we were getting a bit weighed down with all this gear, so we got a bag or two. There was a nearby stall serving refreshments. Some local young people were doing this to raise money for Epilepsy Action in honour of a friend who had recently died as a result of epilepsy. There was a wide and varied selection of teas, including Jacksons and Clipper, and a smorgasbord of homemade cakes and treats. We had a cup of tea apiece and I had a square (more like a big hunk, really) of Cherry-Almond Cake while Sis had a square of chocolate cake replete with chocolate icing. Both of these were frickin' delicious and the whole shamozzle only cost £2. What a deal!
I went and saw Johnnie at Milbank Olives and purchased some of his fantastic Johnnie's Mix, which came about as an accident when he was making a red pesto and some Rose Harissa accidentally got into it. Instead of tossing it, he tried it and liked it, and decided that perhaps other folks would like it too. Good thing he did - it's great.

I stopped by David Westphal's The Traditional Cheese Dairy to sample some cheese. I love these cheeses. He's usually at the Sissinghurst Farmer's Market which is held on the 2nd Monday of every month from noon to 3pm (except Jan and Feb), and that's right outside the restaurant where I work. We use his Sussex Scrumpy and Stonegate cheeses in our recipes, and delicious they are.

I was dead impressed by Home Gurr-own, despite the corny name. Nicci Gurr, the lady at the stall, who does all the cooking, had lots of lovely yummies on offer including several flavours of quiche (tuna nicoise was one that particularly intrigued me), pates and other goodies. I eventually purchased one of the two kinds of Scotch Eggs which were available, the vegan one with Carrot and Sesame, which was fantastic with a very nutty, almost Thai-inspired flavour. Next time I'll plump for the lamb one, just to see what that's like. Sis got a tub of potato salad which incorporated leek and bacon (ace!) and I bought a small tub of (get this) Venison, chcocolate and chilli pate! Oh my God, was it good! I spread that bad boy all over my slices of the crusty cheese bread and gobbled it down. Hot dang!

There was a lady there who I cannot seem to find on the list of stallholders who was selling Greek food such as Baklava and Spanakopita. We purchased a Spanakopita and another pastry treat filled with meat and veg for our lunchtime mini-feast.

After we stopped by VJ Game, Farmer Palmer and Far Acre Farm, we left with our haul and headed out to Biddenden Vineyards. I have lived in the UK for the first 25 years of my life, and of course since i got back here to the UK in January, and in all that time I had never visited this place which is only about 5 miles from where I grew up. Oh, I've had the Cider and juice and some of the wine before - just never been to the winery. Well, I put that right today. Inside the winery shop is a long counter where the very kind lady will gladly let you sample as much as you like... so after about the 4th sample I was getting a little toasted, I must say. But some excellent wines, nonetheless. I noticed they have several tours and walks and rambles happening on various Saturdays throughout the year - but since pretty much every Saturday between now and the end of October is going to be a workday for me, I'll probably miss out on them. Ah well. Maybe next year. Also in the shop were some lovely condiments and jams and such, postcards and recipe books, and a few local beers which caught my eye.I bought two... the first, from Dark Star Brewing , was a lovely brew called Espresso which in addition to being a dark roasted malt and barley brew also incorporates ground arabica coffee beans into its mix. When you pour this stuff out, its aroma is unmistakable and its rich dark deep brown, almost black colour is just gorgeous. It's a fairly mild brew, around the 4.2% alc./vol. mark, but it is delicious! And it's not just me who's a fan. Celebs get in on the act, too. Here's our old pal Ray Burns aka Captain Sensible enjoying a pint at the brewery itself.

The second one, I haven't tried yet, it's still in the fridge. I have high hopes for it though. I mean, what can you say about a beer (a Witbier, to be technical) called Naughty Nun?  Especially when its label art is by renowned erotic artist Lynn Paula Russell? The beer is by Fallen Angel Brewery, based in East Hoathly, Sussex, and they have a lot of oddly-named (and a bit naughty) beers, like Kama Sumatra, Fire in The Hole chilli beer (yes, that's right -  a beer made with chillies), and as if that wasn't hot enough, Black Death, a jet black oatmeal stout infused with - wait for it - the Naga chili, the hottest chili in the world! Holy cow.

We went into Silcocks Farm on the way home to have a poke around and ended up buying some Hannah's Dairy Ice Creams in little individual pots. Mine was a Mint Choc Chip which went down a treat and Sis had the Rhubarb & Custard!

Anyway - that's all for tonight, folks.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Name This Food! results, May 27th

All righty.  First on the agenda tonight is the question of Name This Food!

It was/is:

Greek Basil
As you see, it is not like your normal Basil.

Basil usually looks like this:

The leaves are larger and spaced further apart than on Greek Basil. In fact, a Greek Basil plant looks more like a small shrub than an herb. So it is unsurprising, then, that it is sometimes referred to as Bush Basil, and the fact is, the more you use it and cut it back the bushier it can get. It tastes just like normal Basil, but the small leaves are very tender.

I used a bit of Greek Basil tonight, in fact. My mother (who, in the absence of any other entry, wins Name This Food! by default as she knew what it was but did not say) has a pot of it on the windowsill next to my pot of regular Basil.

Tonight was spaghetti night.
I made the sauce I usually make, which is based on my Mum's spag bolo recipe which was taught to her by a friend of a friend many years ago and is delicious.

In Mum's version, she starts by browning some minced beef (that's ground beef for you Colonials) in a pan. Once browned, but not cooked to death, she drains off the fat from the beef and replaces it with a healthy glug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Back on the stove it goes, and in goes a chopped medium-to-large onion, and when that's started to get translucent, in goes some chopped mushrooms, a can of condensed tomato soup (Campbell's is the best) and a few sploshes of Worcestershire Sauce. Add enough water to make it wet but not soupy and simmer for about half an hour.
In my version, I not only use onion but a few cloves of garlic, finely chopped. Along with the soup goes in a small can of diced tomatoes, a sprinkle of dried oregano or two, and I used a few small sprigs of Greek Basil in there for good measure. I then served the whole shebang on top of spaghetti, adding shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and some chiffonade of Basil. 

'...oh my dear, I'm so lonely...'
*sound of stylus being scratched across prized copy of Dean Martin's Dino: Italian Love Songs (you know, the one with "Return To Me" on it)*

What-an-ade? I hear you cry.

Chiffonade is a cooking technique in which herbs or leafy green vegetables (such as spinach and basil) are cut into long, thin strips. This is usually accomplished by stacking leaves, rolling them tightly, then cutting across the rolled leaves with a sharp knife, producing fine ribbons.
"Chiffon" is French for "rag" referring to the fabric-like strips that result from this technique. To chiffonade simply means to turn into rag-like strips, as demonstrated here with some sage.

So what in the world is the Name This Food! food this week?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Squashed-Fly Biscuits

It's a Fruit Shortcake biscuit (or cookie, depending on which side of the pond you're from), known to the boys in Forensics and us Hickmotts as a 'squashed-fly' biscuit, for obvious reasons. Some people insist that Garibaldis are the squashed-fly biscuits, but they are wrong! Ha ha!
This is a Garibaldi, and you can see we have the same concept going on - cookie with raisins or currants in it. But the fruit shortcake wins out in my opinion because of the lighter texture and the light sprinkle of sugar. Yum!

When I think of Fruit Shortcake biscuits it always reminds me of being on holiday at Butlin's with my Mum and Sis with me in one chalet and in the next chalet, Len and Elsie, my grandparents, who always but always brought their camping stove with them (even though this was against the rules) and brewed up a pot of tea at the crack of bloody dawn every day. They would knock on our door bearing tea and Fruit Shortcake biscuits at around 6 a.m. Loved the idea of being brought a cup of tea in bed, but puh-lease! 6 a.m. (or sometimes earlier) is a bit much when you're on vacation - you know, supposedly relaxing and enjoying yourself....

Anyway, it's a superb cookie (sorry, biscuit), great for dunking in tea or coffee, and it's one of the British things I craved while in the States, along with Angel Delight and Spotted Dick.

Well, on to this week's question... Name This Food!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

Today Sis and I went out for our usual Wednesday morning excursion to who-knows-where. This seems to be turning into a ritual - it's my day off from work and the only morning she has on her own. Last week we hit the wilds of Goudhurst - today was a beautiful sunny one and so we decided a little trip down to the seaside would be just the ticket. At the top of Shrubcote, we were faced with a choice when turning onto the Appledore Road - left or right? Ah, what the hell. Right.

Knock Hill.
As we sallied forth, down the glorious Reading Street hill with its incredible views across the fields stretching all the way to the Marsh, through the charming little village of Appledore, we were faced with another choice... carry on straight, or turn right onto the Military Canal Road which would take us into Rye? Canal Road, with its long open stretches of road that a car loves. Past the bottom of Knock Hill which leads back up into Stone. Eventually getting to The Ancient Town Of Rye. But whither shall we wander now? I had been to Rye last week, with my mate Andy, for a lovely wander. We had sat in The Cobbles Tea Rooms (see link on right) and had some lovely crumpets with Marmite and a pot of steaming Oolong Formosa tea, a lovely brew of loose-leaf tea with a slightly chestnutty-honey flavour. We had gone into the amazing Grammar School Records, and I could have easily wasted the entire day in there looking at the predominantly vinyl selection of albums and singles. We had popped down to the Market and purchased some more fantastic Gjetost from the cheese man down there. And we had gone into a men's vintage clothing store called Classic Chaps and marvelled at the array of Aquascutum raincoats, multi-hued waistcoats, bowler hats, cufflinks and military uniforms.
Bear right, right....

Honk! Screee!
Today, though, despite the infinite varieties of eating and drinking establishments on offer in Rye, and the Farmer's Market by the harbour, we decided to press on, through the delightful Winchelsea with its hairpin bend, which is followed by an uphill climb and an ancient stone archway at the top which you almost want to go through, and then on through some lovely quiet villages with wonderfully evocative names - Icklesham, Guestling Thorn, Guestling Green and finally, you guessed it, Guestling. Soon after we come into a small suburb of Hastings, not the best part of town, appropriately named Ore. Here it was that we first stopped because Sis had but one errand to run - she needed a few picture hangers for the house. We stopped as we saw a B&Q DIY store, and it was only as we turned into the car park that we saw what a cardinal error this had been. The car park was (a) jammed full; and (b) about the size of my bedroom. As you can see.
After negotiating our way in and out of this nightmarish scenario, being faced with cars all coming in and out at the same time and trying to utilise the same space to stop, park, slow down, turn, reverse, and load their DIY purchases simultaneously, we pressed on into Hastings and finally came to rest in The Stade car park next to the Mini Golf.

Hastings is a town I have loved for many years. We have been coming down here to shop and go to the beach and generally have fun since I was a little kid. It has what I like to call a somewhat seedy charm, parts of it are just glorious and parts are somewhat shabby
Taken today, 19th May 2010, at about 11:15 am.
and tatty, but I love it all. Aside from all that, Hastings is the town where I first experienced the delights of Cappuccino. It was in the late 80s, and my friend Nigel and I were wandering around the Old Town in George Street, just off the High Street. We saw a little place on the corner called Fagin's Diner and decided to duck in and get a little something to drink. I saw they had cappuccino coffee on the menu, and impetuously ordered one out of curiosity, and so did he. I was a fan of The Style Council whose every record sleeve was adorned with liner notes by someone known only as The Cappuccino Kid. They were cool, I liked coffee, it made sense. It was the most decadent thing I had ever tasted up until that point in my life, sprinkled as it was with crumbles of chocolate from a Cadbury's Flake. Today when we went down George Street not only was I delighted to see that the formerly shabby and run-down street was now full of eateries, art galleries and generally cool shops of every ilk, but that Fagin's Diner was still there. Good on you, Fagin's.

We wandered up the old High Street and poked about in various cool shops selling antique furniture and organic snacks and local produce and freshly baked bread, but time was cracking on and we'd only paid for an hour at the car park, so we said farewell to the Old Town and wandered back to our starting point at The Stade. We were getting hungry but time was short as we had to get back home by 1pm. So it was that I ended up going to a McDonald's for only the second time since arriving back in the UK four months ago.

Mickey D's in the UK is much the same as in the US, save for a few differences, which I can illustrate here with the aid of a quickly-snapped photo of the drive-thru menu.
Notice the PG Tips Tea on the drinks menu and the Fish Fingers (aka fish sticks) on the Happy Meal options.
Now, outside the pace was a big banner advertising their "Great Tastes Of America" series of sandwiches, 5 in all, one per week, and of course I didn't know what week we were on. I only knew that I had to see what this was all about. Evidently the fist week's burger had been the New York Supreme and the following week had been some sort of BBQ chicken sandwich whose name escapes me now. This week we were on the New Orleans Deluxe and I was all over it like a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat. Here's what we ordered.
Had to go the Coke Zero route.
Now, despite the fact that in trying to eat my fries I accidentally dropped them, causing them - all of them - to land upside down inside my sister's purse (I still ate them), the New Orleans Deluxe was quite a tasty burger, what with its oval patty shape, the lettuce, red onion and cajun mayo. The bun was good too, with sesame seeds and some sort of herbage on the top - I want to say thyme or parsley but I couldn't really tell which.

McDonald's on their UK website has a project going on where you can visit the actual British farms that supply their ingredients, which is kind of a cool idea. If more fast food restaurants took that approach there may not be as much negative press about them. There'd still be enormous people, though.

Now, time for a cuppa. Who's with me?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Name This Food!: Answer Time

Sweet Woodruff

What is Sweet Woodruff?
It is a perennial flowering plant that loves the shade and a slightly acid soil, frequently seen in the woodland. So why is it here in my food blog? Because it has a lovely heady scent (smells like cut grass and vanilla) and some herbal properties, too.Sweet woodruff has a long herbal history for use in a variety of ailments, including liver problems and jaundice. A tea made from the leaves was used for stomach aches, and a poultice from the brewed, crushed leaves was applied to wounds to promote healing. But those are not the reason it's here. 

So why, then, Jeff? Don't keep us in suspenders.
Alright. The reason it's this week's Name This Food! food is because it is mainly used to flavour May Wine.

May Wine
A celebration of spring! This wine is extra special when the white flowers are blossoming. Plant some sweet woodruff and start your own springtime tradition.

3 litres white wine (any good, light white wine should do)
1/2 cup sweet woodruff, new growth
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 cup sliced strawberries

Early in the day that you are going to serve this wine, combine all ingredients in a large container and chill. After a few hours the flavours will have had time to 'get happy' together. Serve in a big punchbowl while your guests enjoy the spring sunshine!

(Or, you could do what they do in Scotland, where May Wine is part of the Beltane ritual, where they dress like this
and dance round a big bonfire. 
But, whatever floats your boat.)

So... what's the next Name This Food! food?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My, That's A Big One

So today being Wednesday a.k.a. Jeff's Day Off, Sis and I went for a little excursion out and about to see what we could see. The first place we went was to jolly old Tesco's to pick up a few choice items. Mum had gotten some beef out of the freezer this a.m and informed us boys (myself and Christopher) that we would be dining without her as she had a previous engagement. Chris was keen on a curry, so while in Tesco I purchased one of those lovely convenient Uncle Ben Basmati rice thingies in the pouch that you just bosh in the microwave. Sorted. I knew we had some Basmati rice at home but I also knew I wouldn't be going home till about 6pm and I wasn't sure I'd have the patience to cook it. I also bought a bottle of nice Chilean plonk which I'll tell you all about after I've drunk it. It's sitting in the fridge, ready to be consumed when chilled. I also thought it was a good idea to get some beer.

Now, I am sure I've mentioned in both blogs on numerous occasions my predilection for bargain-hunting, and a cheap streak. Thus it was that after spinning around 180 degrees from my spot in the wine aisle I was facing the canned beer. The cheap canned beer. Sis pointed out the Tesco Value Bitter.
As you can see, they went all out on the design budget for the can. They clearly put the alcohol content on the front. 2.1 % alc/vol is nothing to brag about, but the cheap streak won out and I purchased it. You can buy a 4-pack of this brew for 95p. Yep, 95p. The cans are 440ml, so it's more than a half-pint, but not quite a pint. Yes, it's weak (2 cans barely gave me a buzz, which wore off almost immediately), but it looks, smells and tastes like beer, which is remarkable for a beer that is almost 24p a can. That's about 35 cents.

After Tesco we went out towards Goudhurst, which for us Wealden folk is known as 'the village with that wall by the church and the 90-degree-angled-corner'. To the uninitiated, it is pronounced GOWd-hurst. Not GOOd-hurst. It is a beautiful little village with a charming duckpond with very friendly ducks sitting next to the Parish Hall at the top of Balcombes Hill with a striking tree (see pic).

 Before we went into Goudhurst proper we stopped off at a little place called Taywell Farm Shop, which in addition to being a lovely little farm shop full of great local produce and delicious treats from all over the country, is also a place where you can buy chicken houses, if you want to keep chickens in your backyard. If you have a garden big enough to do it, I think it's a worthwhile thing to do, especially if you like free range eggs fresh every day and are a keen gardener who knows about good fertilizer (chicken poo is really good for that). They have demo models on display, and one of them actually has some pretty chickens in it which are for sale also. We made a few purchases in the shop and went back on our merry way back to Goudhurst proper.

 We said hello to the ducks and walked up to a lovely little place called Weeks' Bakery. Weeks' used to have a branch in Tenterden where I live, but it is now Brasserie Gerard. The menu prices seemed pretty reasonable so we went in for a spot of lunch. It was a good thing we did, because less than 10 minutes after we had arrived the place started to fill up with lunchtime traffic.

On the Specials board was today's 'Meal Deal' wherein one could purchase a pie from a large selection, with chips and either peas or baked beans, followed by a dessert of apple or cherry pie (among others) with custard and a cup of tea or coffee (which, it must be mentioned, was not only very good coffee, but I also got a refill for no extra charge  a la USA-style). This entire thing was only £7.50 which is pretty decent for a big ol' lunch. My choice of meat-filled pastry item was a sausage roll, and when the huge six-incher arrived (I kid you not!) I was stunned to see it laying alongside a veritable mound of fries and a large ramekin filled with piping hot beans. The coffee cup was of above average size too. Sis plumped for the ham, egg & chips which was rather largely proportioned as well. Two big slices of ham, two eggs and the pile o' fries. Whoa. What had we gotten ourselves into?
So... onto dessert. I had chosen the cherry pie and custard. There is something so warm and comforting and silky about custard. It's a childhood thing, I think. And, like a lot of food items, there seem to be two schools of thought. With custard it's skin on, or skin off. Some people hate the skin. Personally, I adore it. The more the better. When the pie arrived it was an individual one, but I'm not talking individual like a Mr. Kipling two-bites-and-it's-gone type of pie. This was one you could really sink your teeth into. Homemade-looking, in a decent sized bowl, with a jug of custard on the side, sprinkled with a bit of icing sugar and cocoa powder, and a sliced whole strawberry as a garnish. Okay, it's not Marco Pierre White, but it still thrilled me. I knew I was gonna need help. Luckily I had not used my teaspoon, so I handed that to my sister, poured on the custard and we were away. After lunch we went up to the counter and selected a few baked goods for our afternoon delectation and delight, including a Gypsy Tart and a Lemon Slice, and a square of Bread Pudding.
Okay, I can hear several of you saying, "Well Jeff, I've heard of Bread Pudding, and I've heard of Bread-and-Butter Pudding. What up wit dat, yo?" or words to that effect. Well, I was a little unclear on the distinction myself, and I've eaten both many times. The main difference I've noticed is that Bread-and-Butter pudding is wetter, more custardy, and Bread Pudding is denser, more stodgy and sliceable when cold. Indeed, this is how come Sis bought a square of it.

Bread Pudding, according to The Food Lover's Companion, is "a simple, delicious baked dessert made with cubes or slices of bread saturated with a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and spices. Chopped fruit or nuts also can be added. Bread and butter pudding is made by buttering the bread slices before adding the liquid mixture. Both may be served hot or cold with cream or a dessert sauce." That does not really clear the issue up, though, does it? It's not really as simple as butter/no butter. So I did some more digging and discovered that

  • In Bread Pudding, the bread is torn, not layered in slices like bread-and-butter pudding;
  • In Bread Pudding, the bread is soaked in the liquid and then patted or squeezed dry before being mixed with the fruit and spices.
Further adding to the confusion is the fact that Bread-and-Butter Pudding is often referred to in the USA as Bread Pudding. Oy!

One last thing to mention about Weeks' Bakery is the restrooms. Where are they? Upstairs. Along a corridor I went, up a flight of stairs to a landing with a bookcase on it, up another short flight and onto a landing, along a corridor where I finally found them. The building is very very old so the floor is that delightfully uneven surface that makes you think you're drunk. On the doors of both Men's and Ladies bathrooms was printed a little rhyme:
Watch your head if you are tall, and slowly
Walk along the corridor where the lights are lowly. 
 Trouble is, there were at least two line breaks between the first and second lines, so I puzzled for a second what it meant to be "tall and slowly". Duh.

Prost, y'all!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Nuts, Missus

Yes, once again I lurch from giving you ones that are too hard to ones that are too easy. My Mum (for it was she) correctly identified the Name This Food! food as Kentish Cob Nuts, a type of hazelnut (or, to be more correct, a type of filbert) native to this region. Whaddya make with Cob Nuts, I hear you cry? Well, pretty much anything you can make with hazelnuts, really. But for a true Kentish Cob Nut experience there are really only two recipes worth worrying about, and those are (a)

Ginger Cobnut Cake

225g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
110g butter (at room temperature)
110g brown sugar
50g cobnuts, roasted and chopped
1 large egg, beaten


Grease a loaf tin, then sift the flour into a bowl along with the ginger. Rub in the butter with your fingers (this always makes my thumbs ache, so if you have joint pain, use one of those pastry cutter thingies) until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs then add the sugar and nuts and mix well to combine. Stir-in the beaten egg (don't worry if the mixture remains dry and crumbly, this is fine). Transfer the mix to the prepared loaf tin and pat down gently with a fork.

Place in the centre of an oven pre-heated to 180°C and bake for about 25 to 35 minutes. Test with a skewer and if this emerges cleanly from the centre of the cake then it is done. Hurrah! Allow to cool completely and slice thickly.

and (b)

Cabbage And Kentish Cobnut Rolls
These are like potato croquettes with a twist.

450 g (1 lb) potatoes
salt and pepper
900 g (2 lb) green cabbage, roughly chopped
45 ml (3 tbsp) fresh milk, if necessary
50 g (2 oz) butter
50 g (2 oz) plain flour
50 g (2 oz) Kentish cobnuts, chopped and toasted
2 eggs, beaten
100 g (4 oz) dry breadcrumbs
vegetable oil for deep-frying
lemon twists, to garnish

1.   Boil the potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and mash without adding liquid.

2.  Cook the cabbage in boiling salted water for 5 - 10 minutes or until just tender. Drain well. Puree in a blender or food processor, .adding the milk if necessary - you should have 450 ml (3/4 pint) puree.

3. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook gently, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Gradually blend in the cabbage puree and milk, if necessary. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Stir the mashed potatoes and cobnuts into the sauce, season to taste and mix well. Transfer to a bowl, cool, cover and chill for at least 1 1/2 hours or until firm.

5.  With dampened hands, shape the mixture into 16 rolls. Place on a greased baking sheet and chill again for at least 20 minutes.

6.  Coat the croquettes in the beaten eggs, then the breadcrumbs. Heat the oil to 180°C (350°F) in a deep-fat fryer. You can also do this in a high-sided skillet or frying pan, but be careful not to splatter hot oil on yourself. If you have one of those splash screen thingybobs, that'll do the trick. Or make the rolls more like patties and fry them like you would potato pancakes. Deep-fry the rolls in batches for about 4 minutes, until crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen paper while frying the remainder.

Serve hot, garnished with lemon twists. Accompany with a crisp salad.

Now then - onto the new Name This Food! food. What's it to be?

Yes, I know it looks like flowers. But does anyone know what it is, and more importantly, what you do with it?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Name This Food!: Answer

Angels On Horseback was the Name This Food! food. What is it? Well, I knew you would ask.
Angels on horseback is a hot appetizer made of oysters wrapped with bacon. In the British Isles they are also a savoury, which is the term used to describe the final course of a traditional British formal meal. They are somewhat similar to Devils on Horseback, and, in the States, a little like the Midwestern-style pigs in a blanket.
Strictly speaking, they're an hors d'œuvre whereas pigs in a blanket are canapés. Not sure about the difference? Canapés involve bread of some sort. Chips and salsa are an hors d'œuvre, bruschetta is a canapé. See?

Though the dish is English in origin, the most likely source of the name comes from the French anges à cheval. It first appeared in 1888, in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. Why the oyster is the angel and the bacon is the horse, we'll never know.

In the classic recipe, shucked oysters are wrapped in bacon. Sometimes scallops are used in place of oysters, and I suppose either would be good. They are then baked in the oven, about 3 minutes per side, or prepared with any other source of dry heat, such as broiling. An early recipe, from 1902, suggests frying the skewered oysters and bacon in butter, a bit like rumaki. Even though it's not a true canapé as mentioned earlier, the dish is often served on toast, though if prepared on skewers and broiled, it can be eaten straight from the skewer. There's usually some watercress involved as a garnish also. 

So... what's the new Name This Food! food?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Let's Talk About Mex, Baby

¡Hola amigos! ¿Cómo está usted?

Did I ever mention that I loooove Mexican food?

It's true, I do. I love it!

I've had a serious jones in my bones for some serious Mexican since, well, since I got here. Unfortunately, 'here', i.e. the Garden of England, is not known for its preponderance of Mexican restaurants. I think there probably about 10 in the whole country. Oh, sure, we can buy the Old El Paso Fajita and Taco kits in the supermarket, but that's really about as close as any Englishman ever comes to eatin' some full-on, screamin' Mexi.

So now I've been here almost 4 months (doesn't seem possible, does it?) and it was getting to be an urgent situation.
The other day I went to jolly old Waitrose and found some nice whole wheat tortillas and some pinto beans, thinking, 'I'll cook some south of the border-type cuisine sometime', and I really didn't think about it much beyond that.  Well, this morning that all changed. Today, being a Wednesday, was my day off, and I woke up and suddenly realised it was Cinco De Mayo. The day all Mexican restaurants go nuts. Free shots of Cuervo Gold for everybody!! Many of my happy memories of the States revolve around Mexican food... if I may just take a moment here to give a shout-out to my favourite Mex joints (and maybe yours too...)

So I resolved that tonight was gonna be a Mexi-fest. At least for me. Trouble is, I'm really up against it here in the land of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding (both terrific in their own way, don't get me wrong), because the acquisition of some bona fide Mex ingredients does require a bit of detective work and my family (with the exception of Christopher, bless his cotton socks) are not fans of the peppers and the spicy and the ooh, ow, that burns, I don't like food that hurts me, ooh, ow. So I knew I had to do something that was doable for all tastes.Hmmm... Quesadillas! Yeah....

Last week I had the good sense to soak some of my pintos and cook them and then freeze them, so they could just be reheated and doctored up. I already had the tortillas, as I said, and I'd also got some tiny on-the-vine tomatoes, and a little plant pot of fresh coriander (aka cilantro) that I bought on clearance from Waitrose. (It seems like a pricey store on the face of it, but do a bit of hunting at the right time of day and you can find some good deals).

This morning my Sis arrived and Mum wanted to go to Jempson's, a lovely supermarket in Peasmarsh where one used to be able to run into Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft and family shopping in their wellies and jeans, and since I was needing supplies I came along. I bought some lovely stuff I'll tell you about later, but let's focus. I purchased a little pack of about 4 small jalapeño-type chilies, 2 limes (natch), a 4-pack of Sol beer (Muchas cervezas!), a jar of roasted red peppers, and some mushrooms.

I started by cutting up a medium red onion, one half in larger pieces to be sautéed over a low heat until it started to caramelize, and the other half chopped finely to go in the salsa. Then I went to the backyard to snip some coriander off the plant, which got chopped finely also. Then one of the chilies was de-seeded and chopped finely. Then all 9 of the tomatoes, chopped finely and added to the salsa, then a squeeze of lime. Done & dusted. Next came the mushrooms which I sliced and sautéed also. The pintos were in the pan with a small knob of butter, some garlic salt and a bit of water to get soft, after a while I took the tater masher and just pressed down on them enough to make them semi-smooth. There was some chicken left over in the fridge from the other day which I de-boned and then I grated some cheddar. Okay, ready!
All I had to do was assemble the chicken-onion-mushroom quesadillas (making sure to only put roasted red peppers in mine and Chris's) and cook them and we were away. Pop open the bottle of Sol, add the lime wedge, and it was fiesta time, amigos!

I still have a pack of tortillas left. I'm thinking sopapillas. ¡Muy delicioso!


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