Words

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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

Easter in the States is not a serious affair. That's not to say that Easter is a serious time in the UK; rather, that we have established long-term traditions here that a country that is essentially still in its infancy in the grand scheme of things (i.e. the USA) could not. In the Colonies it's all candy, eggs and Easter Egg Hunts; here it's candy, eggs and Simnel Cake.

What is Simnel cake? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Simnel cake is a rich fruit cake. No, not fruitcake. Fruit cake. For the difference, check out I Like Fruit Cake! from my other blog, The World Of Jeff!

Simnel cake differs from fruit cake in one important respect. It is traditionally covered with a layer of marzipan. I am aware that there are two schools of thought on marzipan - those who absolutely adore it (like myself) and those who loathe and despise it. If you are one of the latter, read on anyway. What do you want to go cruising around the Web for when you could stay here and read on? I promise you'll be well-looked after here.

Anyway...

Simnel cake, as I said, has a layer of marzipan on the top and usually around the edge there are 11 marzipan balls, representing the 11 true apostles (Judas Iscariot being left out). Traditionally another layer of marzipan is baked into the center of the cake. It started out as a Mothering Sunday gift, but as Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Lent, it became an Easter tradition.

Here's a recipe:

Ingredients


300g/10oz self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
110g/4oz butter or margarine
110g/4oz brown sugar
2 tablespoons of golden syrup
350g/12oz mixed dried fruit
2 eggs
approx. 100 ml milk to mix

700g Marzipan
2 tablespoons of icing sugar for decoration

Oven temperatures: 150 °C 325 °F Gas Mark 3


1. Rub the margarine into the flour.
2. Add all the dry ingredients i.e. sugar, spice and dried fruit. Stir well.
3. Add golden syrup and eggs.
4. Add enough milk to form a soft dropping consistency.
5. Stir well to combine all the ingredients.
6. Grease a deep round 8 inch cake pan.
7. Place half the mixture in the pan.
8. Roll out a third of the marzipan into a circle just slightly smaller than the pan.
9. Place the marzipan on top of the mixture.
10. Add the remaining mixture on top and smooth out.
11. Bake in the centre of the oven for 1 to 1¼ hours, or until a thin metal skewer or toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
12. Let cool for about 10 minutes, loosen gently from the pan with a knife, or if you were smart and lined the pan with parchment paper, just slide the cake out, and turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
13. Roll out another third of the marzipan into a circle, this time slightly wider than the cake.
14. Mix the icing sugar with a little water to form a smooth paste and drizzle onto the cake. this is your glue.
15. Place the circle of rolled marzipan onto the cake. Using a fork, make a pattern around the edge of the marzipan, much as you would crimp the edge of a pie pastry.
16. Using the last of the marzipan, make 11 little rolled marzipan balls and dip each one into the icing sugar paste.
17. Arrange them around the edge of the cake.
18. In the centre of the cake, add any appropriate Easter decor of your choice. Et voila! You're done.

What you have now should look approximately like this.
Of course, you don't have to have a bow on yours. You could put little bunnies or chicks or little candy eggs in the middle, it's up to you. Have fun with it. The mixed dried fruit doesn't have to be specific - you could do just raisins or currants, or even dried cranberries are nice, or perhaps chopped dates. Play around with it.

By the way, there are only two days left to Name That Food! at the top of the page. What is it? It's clearly some sort of pancake, but what? Can you name it? Do you even care? Do I care if you don't care? No. I will still write this even if you don't read it.

À votre santé!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chefs, Bath Buns and Markets

Yesterday Sis and I had some errands to run around Ashford way. Afterwards we decided to head out towards Brenzett and have a bite to eat at the Little Chef. When I was growing up Little Chief (as we referred to it) did not have a great reputation. Most of them were located in motorway service areas and were little more than a franchised transport caff, with soggy chips and general nasty greasy-spoon atmos. The last time I went to one must have been in 1990 or 91, and that was more out of necessity than desire, and I don't recall being too impressed with it. I had heard good things from family members about this one in Brenzett though, so I looked forward to going, especially since celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal recently gave the company a makeover.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. The restaurant was nice and clean and, as all restaurants are these days in the UK, smoke-free. The menu was fabulous and full of great food, some of which was vegetarian or could be made vegetarian (such as the Bangers & Mash) and there were Gluten-Free choices too. My coffee was brought to me in a little French Press a.k.a. a cafetière,  and I ordered the Salmon and King Prawn salad after much debate. Sis ordered a cheeseburger. After a minute or so the waitress came back and apologised because they had no salmon available, but I wasn't upset. I just ordered another of the many that I had considered. (side note: why people get upset in restaurants is beyond me. If they're out of something, order something else. If you go to eat at a restaurant where you only like one thing on the menu then you're asking for trouble. But then again, it seems to me from an experienced waiter's point of view that some people come in just spoiling for an argument). I went instead for the Gammon and Egg, with a baked potato. When it came even I was amazed at the size of it. A veritable slab of Gammon (that's a Ham Steak for you Stateside peeps) with a sunny-side-up egg on top, a monster baked potato, a mound of peas and a side of coleslaw. Whoa. True, it was £7 and some change, but my sister was finished before I was, and that, as anyone will tell you, is unusual. It seems Blumenthal has had a great effect on the Little Chefs, and they're well worth a look. Oh, and by the way, for you nostalgia buffs, the Olympic Breakfast is still there, unchanged and just as massive as ever.

After we left we drove back through Snargate and Appledore, into Leigh Green where we stopped at Gibbet Oak Farm Shop. When I was very young my Grandparents Kath and Eric lived here and worked the orchards. They moved to Wittersham in the early '70s and so I had not been back to Gibbet for over 35 years. The house had changed a little bit with walls where there never were walls before, and high gates and a garage that was fairly new, and the pack-house which also seemed smaller (I guess because I'm a lot bigger now) was now the farm shop.
The shop was full of locally produced merchandise, from chocolates and baked goods to bacon and yoghurt, as well as fresh produce of course. Sis purchased a large Bath Bun, or really a large round Bath Bun Loaf, which had wedges marked in the top so you could tear it apart into individual buns. We had that with our afternoon tea, and it was great.
One thing I noticed about the shop is the prices vary from the good bargains to the wildly expensive, so you've got to make sure you're getting a good deal, unless you have pots of money, in which case, forget what I said and just splash the cash.

This morning after breakfast I went with my Mum and Christopher to Rolvenden to the local Farmer's Market. It's held inside Rolvenden Village Hall (it used to be in the nearby Church also during the Hall's renovation) and there were lots of vendors there (click here for the complete list). Many of the vendors were offering samples of their ware, and you know me, I can't resist a freebie, especially if you can eat it.
The first one I noticed when I walked in was Milbank Olives. Besides a fine selection of olives there were sun dried tomatoes and garlic with herbs and chilli, and an interesting orangey substance called Johnnie Mix. I asked Johnnie (for it was he behind the counter) what it was and he explained that it was "his mistake", one of those happy accidents that occur from time to time in a kitchen, when he was making a red pesto and some juice from one of the other products (some Rose Harissa, I believe, which is a staple of Tunisian cooking) slipped into the mix and so he tasted it and liked it. I like it too, it would be great on some tortelloni or something like that.

Moving on, I  sampled wares from various stallholders, first a lady selling some preserves and chutneys as well as some organic herbs (I bought a bag of fresh coriander for 80p) then there was a lady who made jewellery (Lisa Townsend) and then I came to Silcocks farm who produce Organic dairy products right here in St. Michaels, including their own cheeses, of which I had a sample. Oh my. There were three to try, one was a fresh unripened cheese called, appropriately enough, Saint Michaels cheese, the next was a ripened Camembert/Brie type called Boresisle (Boresisle was the original name of the town of St. Michaels) and the third was a Blue cheese, the name of which escapes me for the moment, which was not the blow-your-head-off type but still had a pretty good twang to it and a freshness I liked. I just checked the website and the Blue cheese isn't listed but I suspect it's a fairly new product, although I've been known to be wrong so it's probably best not to assume. The prices are good too, £3.75 for a 250g Camembert-style cheese is pretty decent.

Next we stopped by Amy Cup Cakes, a mother/daughter baked goods stall which specialise in, you guessed it, cupcakes. I sampled a Mocha one, Mum sampled the chocolate. They also do a gluten free cupcake which Mum bought and evidently it's very good and quite rich. My mocha one was excellent.
Next, Mum bought an organic chicken from Farmer Palmer and I was mooching some more free samples at VJ Game, including chorizo and wild boar, beer and apple sausage (to die for).
Next was The French Deli with more sausages and imported cheeses, some of the more obscure ones like Fourme De Montbrison and Comte and Crottin de Chavignol, and another table of some nice preserves including a Curried Mango and Apple preserve which was lovely and sweet and had a bit of an after-kick. Yum.
Then we got to the table for Buster's Farm Produce. These folks do a lot. They are based in a little place in Sussex called Salehurst, which is near Robertsbridge. They have a 400 acre farm  that produces beef, lamb and Gloucester Old Spot pork. These are offered butchered in their shop (and also at the Ringden Farm Shop in Hurst Green) along with bacon, a selection of sausages (including Pork & Apple, Old English Beef, Lamb & Apricot and Venison & Red Wine), meat pies, locally-produced cheese and much more. The table was groaning with Cornish Pasties, pies and sausage rolls so we picked some out for lunch. Chris' was the straightforward Cornish Pasty and I had the Lamb & Leek Pasty, purely because I was intrigued, and I was not disappointed - there were plenty of huge chunks of lamb with potatoes and loads of lovely leek in there. Both of these pasties were on the huge side. Mum had the sausage roll which was no slouch in itself. Buster's Farm Produce do have a website at www.bustersfarmproduce.co.uk but it appears to not be up and running correctly - this is hopefully a temporary glitch and I am leaving the link here anyway in hopes it'll soon be fixed. You can find when and where they will be on The Kent Farmer's Market Association website, under 'Stallholders'.

I love Farmer's Markets and could easily have wandered for another half hour as there were some tables we didn't really investigate fully. One I noticed was selling handmade woollen items made from locally produced wool. Another had different kinds of local honey. Another was selling fresh local produce and plants. There was a fishmonger and a stall selling organic and fair trade items.
There are many reasons to support your local farmers' markets. They help to stimulate the local economy, reduce food packaging and waste, reduce food miles, and they give you a wide range of fresh local produce, including stuff you may never find on a supermarket shelf. Plus, they're fun! You get to meet and talk with the people who actually produce the items for sale, and, I have to tell you, as a foodie, that's where the enjoyment lies.
To find your local Farmers' Market online, a good place to start is http://www.farmersmarkets.net/  or The Foody. Make a little morning jaunt out of it. I have always been a fan of buying what's in season and building your menus around that, and what better place to buy fresh, in-season produce than a little Farmers' Market?

We Have A Winner, Ladies and Gentlemen


Ding-ding-ding! Yes! My mother Christine tried to post a comment but apparently was having trouble, so she told me what her comment was - she knew what the food in the pic (above) was. So I shall keep you in suspenders no longer. They are Huffkins, Kentish Brown Huffkins to be precise. Great name. A traditional Kentish 'tea bread' (bread roll or bun) made with yeast and usually with a bit of lard for flavour and always with a little dimple in the top, like these ones pictured ready to be baked. Delicioso!
So Mum, even though you had trouble commenting, you had the answer (I didn't doubt it for a second) and so you have the somewhat dubious honour of your name here for all to see. You don't have a webpage or blog or anything that I can plug shamelessly but you are a Tenterden Town Councillor and an all-round good egg, so cheers!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

We Are Most Amused, And In The Mood For Some Cake

Just the other day I had the good fortune to be selected as the new Front Of House Supervisor for The Granary Restaurant at Sissinghurst Castle. For those of you who don't know what or where that is, it's located between Biddenden and Cranbrook  and you can read all about the castle and its lovely gardens here.
I went for a trial shift on Sunday, and having never even been to the castle before, wasn't sure what to expect although I had been told the food was great. That much is true, and we served a lot of it, and it certainly smelled fantastic. All the staff were uniformly good, everyone knew where they were supposed to be and what they were meant to be doing, so it looks like I'm not going to have too much trouble watching over the place. As to a more in-depth review, I'm leaving that to others as it would possibly be a conflict of interest!

I came home today from the town and discovered in my absence that Mum had made that most wonderful of baked goods, the classic Victoria Sponge Cake. Wow, is that thing delicious. Again, not one that my Colonial cousins would know about, so let me describe it to you in words and pictures.

The traditional British Victoria Sponge was named after Queen Victoria of England (1819 – 1901). Apparently, one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, is said to have been the creator of ‘teatime’. Because lunch was traditionally served at midday, the Duchess would get a little hungry about four o'clock in the afternoon. The Duchess spent most summers at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, and it became quite common for friends to join the Duchess for an additional afternoon meal in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu would consist of small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, and she would send invitations to her friends asking them to join her for “tea”. The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses, and soon Queen Victoria herself adopted the new craze for tea parties. By 1855, the Queen and her ladies were in formal dress for the afternoon teas. Rather than having lots of small individual cakes, this simple large cake became one of the Queen's favourites. After her husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861, Queen Victoria spent time in retreat at her residence, Osborn House on the Isle of Wight. According to historians, it was here that the cake was named after her.

All too often the Victoria Sponge is not well made, and is just a flat heavy sponge cake rather than the light and fluffy sponge that it should be, sandwiched together with strawberry or raspberry jam and occasionally buttercream or whipped cream if you're feeling devilish.

Here's a recipe:

Ingredients


1 cup (125g/4¼ oz) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (125g/4¼ oz) powdered (icing) sugar
1 cup (225g/ 8 oz) butter, softened
2 eggs
1/2 cup (125 ml / 4¼ fl.oz) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease an 8 inch springform pan or two 8in cake pans. Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time mixing thoroughly with each addition. Slowly stir the flour mixture in with the butter, sugar, and eggs. Beat in the milk and vanilla until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
This cake is traditionally served unfrosted, just cut in two horizontally and fill with jam (or sandwich the two cakes together if doing in two pans) and dust with powdered sugar.


À votre santé!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jeanette's Café

The other week my Sis and I were trolling around town doing a bit of shopping and we decided to stop in at Jeanette's Café, which is located inside Greenways Garden Centre on the A28 in Bethersden. Jeanette, I was reliably informed, makes most of the food, including chili, shepherd's pie and curry, from scratch. So naturally I was anticipating eagerly the culinary delights awaiting us. To get to the café you have to walk through the shop, past all the lawn ornaments etc. and through another internal door. When we got there the nice lady (Jeanette, it turns out) behind the counter told us that she'd been without power all day and consequently could only do sandwiches. So we disappointedly left and instead of going elsewhere for lunch, we decided to just go home and make a sammie. Little did I know...
However, the next week we were out and about once again and decided to try again, and I'm glad we did. Jeanette (for it was she) told us that on the day in question she was without power till after midnight. Evidently some road construction taking place nearby had hit a power main. Eek.

Jeanette's Café appears to be your average diner, with lawn furniture for tables and chairs, and a pretty standard menu. But oh! The food!

Sis ordered a baked potato with baked beans and cheese, which had a side salad. I ordered the Bumper Burger & chips, not knowing what was on it, but I was hungry, so I figured I'd go for the biggest one. Boy, was I in for a pleasant surprise.
First there was the mountain (I am not kidding here) of delectable chips on the plate, stacked so high they were spilling onto the top of the burger. Then there was the burger itself, nicely cooked, with lettuce, tomato, cheese, red onion, relish, and a big slice of bacon. I had to cut this bad boy in half just to pick it up. Humongous. Sis's baked spud was of a similar hugeness, laden with beans and a pile of shredded cheese on the top (real cheese, too - none of your pre-packaged rubber cheese here). Her side salad could have been a meal by itself. My coffee was really good too. I was eyeing the homemade chocolate cake on the counter also, but I was too full. After all, this was only lunch. Reasonable prices, nice atmosphere, nice staff, great food. I will give Jeanette's the Jeffy rating of 4 yums out of 5. I'll definitely be back, to sample the shepherd's pie... and the curry.

While I'm on the subject, I just want to say a word about that most wonderful and versatile of foods, BACON.
While Stateside I encountered instance after instance of overdone bacon. I like my bacon to be just starting to turn brown at the edges. To me any more than that and the bacon is ruined. I know I am not alone in this. But it seems most American restaurants that serve bacon (and hence most Americans) like their bacon crispy, some to the point where it just breaks apart. I'm sorry, but why is this? Can we not use our God-given teeth and chew a little? Must we have bacon that shatters like glass as soon as it's in our gob? I worked for a brief time at Cracker Barrel, a chain restaurant that does breakfast all day if you want it, and while there I encountered on the computer touch screens a button for limp bacon. This is their term for bacon cooked the way I like it. Limp? While this term may be factually correct - the bacon is not stiff as a board - I feel that the word limp is loaded with contempt in this context. As in weak, feeble, incapable, floppy, useless... limp. I tried, believe me, to make the case for (ahem) limp bacon, but try as I might, they are a nation of crunchy bacon eaters. And it's almost all streaky. Oy. Occasionally you'll find Center Cut  but absolutely no back bacon, and definitely no rind on any of it. I'm a rind man all the way. Oh well.

You will notice the Food Pic Of The Week is now a Can You Name This Food? Contest. Well - can you name this food? The winner of the contest will not win anything except the prestige of having their name in lights (well, pixels, but you get the idea). I will change the picture every week, so keep checking back!

Cheerio!

Eat thy bread with joy,
and drink thy wine with a merry heart.
-Ecclesiastes 9:10

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Memory Lane

Isn't it funny how certain foods can remind you of past events? Not funny, really, but great. Hopefully, your 'memory foods' only have good associations. I know mine do. I was just re-reading my previous post and when I got to the bit about Greek yoghurt it brought back (as it did when I wrote it) a very pleasant memory indeed. In my early twenties I had a girlfriend (who shall remain nameless to spare her embarrassment). She is the lady responsible for introducing me to the delights of Greek yoghurt. (Please, would you get your sick minds out of the gutter. Thank you.)

I was going to spend the weekend at her house, and I knew she was cooking dinner, so I'd availed myself of a nice bottle of Fume Blanc. I seem to recall it was a Rosemount Estate wine, and ever since that day I have not been able to find it again, so one must assume that Rosemount no longer make it.

Try as I might, no amount of straining or head-scratching can make my addled brain remember what she cooked, but I shall never forget that first taste of that silky smooth Greek yoghurt. It was plain, served with a good dollop of honey slathered on top, and tasted like nectar of the gods to me. I was immediately in love with it. If I could only remember anything else about that weekend.

Other foods make me remember other times in my life, For example, I once had a heavy cold and was not sick enough to get a day off work, but still it was the kind of debilitating cold where you blow your nose red raw, all to no avail, and guzzle Lemsip for all you're worth. After a late shift at the off-licence where I worked I went to my usual haunt, The Eight Bells, now Cafe Rouge. The Bells served pretty decent food, and as I got there I noticed a sign for the soup of the day - tomato. This sounded good to me. It was home-made, and came with a generous hunk of crusty baguette. It was just what I needed. Soothing and warm, and it made me feel miles better. Now I cannot think of tomato soup without picturing the interior of The Bells with its big fireplace and cosy atmosphere and that big rectangular table underneath the front right window where all the gang used to gather.

Some foods just make me think of home - Spaghetti Bolognese, Chicken Casserole - others make me think of places I've been - Clam Chowder from Ivar's in Mukilteo, WA. Spaghetti in browned butter from The Old Spaghetti Factory. Crab and avocado omelette from Mimi's Cafe in Buford, GA. Polenta with Italian sausage from Zanzo's in Cleveland, GA. Whiskeyed crab soup from Chandler's on Lake Union. The first time I had sweet potato pie made by one of my then-wife's cousins at Paula and Larry's house in Bellevue, WA. The vegetarian Rogan Josh I ate at a small cafe in Porthmadog. The Oxford pizza restaurant that served a spinach and egg pizza.The first time I ate Surf-and-Turf in The Longhouse Restaurant in La Conner, WA.

Other foods are reminiscent of events, like the pizza I used to insist my sister make at every party. Hard-boiled eggs remind me of the reception spread laid on for us by Joanne after my first wife and I had our blessing. She had done a bunch of them and coloured them as it was also Easter-time, and they looked so pretty sitting in a mound in a bowl on the big table, all pinks and blues. I remember the first time I ate ratatouille, when some of my Mum's French friends came over to visit and we visited them one day at their rented cottage. I'd never tasted anything quite so different.

Food can drum up emotions, feelings, places, laughter, tears, journeys, friends. Food can fill you up emotionally as well as physically. Food can make you travel through time. Sometimes just to think of a dish can make you recall your favourite people, like the time I cooked lasagne for my friends Janet and Helen. The time I made my special nitro deluxe espresso brownies for my buddies at LensCrafters. The time my wife and I had a spinach calzone from Papa Murphy's that was so huge it took us three days to finish it.

Speaking of finishing, here I am sitting and writing this and not having a single clue where I'm going with this or how to finish it. I suppose what I'm really saying is food makes 'sense memories', and that's one of the many great things about it. What a joy it is to be able to eat different things and taste multiple flavours and then to be able to associate the tastes, smells and sight of them with meaningful things in our lives. How dull life would be if those magnificent computers in our heads could not perform that function.

Well, folks, it's time for bed. Goodnight.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Foodie Kinda Day

Today was my Grandad Eric's birthday, and we went to see him this morning. While we were there his twin brother Uncle Bert showed up to join in the fun. Happy Birthday, Eric and Bert!

After the visit it was about lunchtime, so Sis and I ventured into The Lemon Tree in the High Street. The Lemon Tree used to be located in what is now Prezzo and what used to be The Cinque Ports Restaurant. It's now located in the half-timbered Tudor building that used to house The Tudor Rose and also a bookshop (which was the M&D bus office before that). Phew! Things sure have changed around here!

The interior of The Lemon Tree is not terribly different from the way The Tudor Rose used to look on the interior, of course being a listed building means that the main structure cannot be messed with, so really apart from things like the carpet and the tables etc. it's basically the same. It was a pleasant surprise, first of all, to discover that this is one establishment that offers free refills on coffee. That is a major selling point to me! In the States I had become accustomed to this, but on the whole UK restaurants don't (or at least never used to).

I ordered Plaice and Chips, and Sis got the Ham, Egg and Chips. Plenty of chips on everyone's plate, for starters. My plaice was breaded and perfectly cooked. Sis had lots of ham and a little side salad to boot. Nice friendly efficient service and not too bad on the prices. I looked at the prices of the Cream Teas, in the Light Bite menu that was sitting on the table. £4.95 for 2 scones, jam, butter, cream and a pot of tea ain't bad! Must go there again. Let's give it 4 yums out of 5.

This afternoon at Sis's place we were having an afternoon cuppa while we watched Pointless on TV, and we were partaking of what are rapidly becoming my favourite biccies, Fox's Chunkie Extremely Chocolatey Cookies. By crikey, they're good! They also come in a fruit and nut extremely chocolatey variety. Now the downside. There are only 8 to a packet, and when you consider that they cost around £1.59 here in the UK (and for those among you in the USA I have just learned that Cost Plus World Market carries them for $3.99), they are quite pricey. However, as long as you are not the kind of person that ploughs through cookies at a rate of knots, they are worth the occasional (and I do stress occasional) splurge, but they are so darn good it's hard to resist a second or a third.

This evening I cooked for myself and Chris (Mum wasn't feeling up to much) and I was in the mood for pasta, but I didn't want to do the same old same old, so I did a little Pasta Carbonara with a twist. Instead of using bacon, which is traditional, I used tuna.

I started with some spring onion and a tomato, chopped finely and sauteeing in a skillet with a little E.V.O.O. (that's Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but you knew that, right?) and little finely diced dried chili pepper in there too. Normally I would use dried red pepper flakes, but I didn't have any. I had some spaghetti cooking in some boiling water at the same time. I took a little Red Leicester and just did a rough chop into small pieces and put that to one side. In a little bowl I took a tablespoon of mayo, a big teaspoonful of cream cheese and one egg plus about a half-teaspoon of paprika and beat those together til smooth. When the spaghetti was done I drained off all except a couple of tablespoons of the water, which I left in the pan with the pasta. I then dumped the whole thing, along with a can of tuna, into the skillet. After a minute or so over medium heat I then added the creamy egg mixture and the chopped Red Leicester and tossed everything together in the skillet, so that the creamy sauce coated the pasta evenly and the little cheese chunks started to melt, and then served immediately, finishing with a grind of cracked black pepper on the top of each. It was delicious. I probably could have gone heavier on the red pepper, but next time I'll use red pepper flakes. I'm not sure how long the dried chilies had been around, because I really couldn't taste them. They do tend to lose potency over time.

Recently we have been eating Activia yogurt. I'm not sure about the digestive miracles they supposedly perform, but they are wonderful yogurts. Here in the UK we have flavours that our Colonial counterparts do not. Rhubarb, Fig, and Cranberry. I was a bit surprised by Prune, also, but I see on the US website that it is available there. However, you have Key Lime. And that's not the only difference. In the US it's marketed by Dannon. In the UK and most everywhere else, Dannon is known as Danone. I guess they had to change it for the US market to avoid Americans asking for some of that "Dan One" yogurt. In the US Jamie Lee Curtis is the spokesperson, here in Blighty we have the delightful Martine McCutcheon, known to you Yanks as Natalie, Hugh Grant's love interest in Love Actually. Here we also have the "Intensely Creamy" range of Activia, including the flavours of luscious cherry, zesty lemon, sumptuous strawberry, vanilla, and peaches and cream. But all differences aside, it's all great yogurt. Excellent on cereal (I've been eating mine with Shredded Wheat and Weetabix).

While we're on the subject of yogurt, we've been partaking of the Greek variety recently, specifically that made by Rachel's Organic. The one (OK, three) residing in our fridge right now happen to be the Honey variety, which is great on anything. Rachel's, based in Aberystwyth (boyo!),  make a wide variety of organic dairy products, including ice cream, butter, milk and rice pud! The Greek style yogurt is great and I want to try the Cherry and Coconut flavours. All the Waitrose and most of the Tesco supermarkets carry them, and the 450g size we have is around the £1.65 mark, and about £1.80 for a 4-pack of the 120g size. Good stuff.

Well, that's all for now, fellow food lovers. À votre santé!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Crankin' Up The Heat

Yesterday I surpassed myself. Let me explain.

When I arrived home in the afternoon I was informed that Christopher, who had not been feeling quite right all day, cursed with a bunged-up snout and sneezing, spluttering, and wheezing like a good'un, had requested that I make a nice hot Indian dish for him and myself. Mum, who does not partake in such frivolity, preferring somewhat milder tastes, abstained and had a nice bit of chicken with a baked spud. And why not?

However, I was up to the challenge. Something to clean out the old sinuses. Can do.

I started with a bit of beef, cut into cubes. I made a paste with about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, 1 and 1/2 tsp. mixed spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, etc.), a tablespoon of hot madras curry paste, a teaspoon of brown sugar, a teaspoon of ground ginger and a good dollop of Greek yoghurt. This I mixed in a small bowl, added the cubed beef and then walloped the whole lot into a Ziploc baggie for about an hour so the flavours could work their way into the meat.

After about 45 minutes I started on the rest. I was basically going to do a Channa Masala with beef, using what I had to hand and substituting where necessary, and accompany it with a nice rice and vegetable pilaf.

In a pan I started sauteeing some garlic and onion in a bit of Olive Oil. I chopped a tomato and added that too, with a squirt of tomato paste. I chopped about an inch of fresh ginger, added that. Then, I drained a 440g/15oz. can of chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) and added them over a medium heat. Then about a can of water and1/4 red bell pepper and 1/4 yellow bell pepper, diced, went into the pan. Finally a heaped teaspoon of garam masala went in. Everything was bubbling along nicely, so in went the meat, and I turned it down to medium low and put a lid on the pan. While that was simmering nicely I started on the rice. In a saucepan over a medium high heat I put in a knob of margarine and a drizzle of olive oil, and the remaining 1/3 of the chopped onion, and of course, more garlic, and a diced medium sized carrot.. Then in went 2/3 cup of a lovely Waitrose basmati rice/wild rice blend. This I sauteed for a minute or two and then added a pint (20 oz. or 2 1/4 cups) warm water with a chicken stock cube and some cumin, a little more ground ginger and a teaspoon of fenugreek. I brought this to a boil and then simmered it on medium low, covered, for about 35 minutes. When almost all the liquid was absorbed I added a good sized dash of both cumin and turmeric, and a decent handful of frozen peas. At this point I also added about a half teaspoon of dried coriander (if you have fresh, it's better) to the Beef and Chickpea curry, which was smelling better and better by the minute. We then served and ate, and boy was it good. Intense rich flavours, a pretty good amount of heat (Chris was wiping his brow and blowing his nose) without being just hot for the sake of it. Fragrant and rich without just blowing your head off, but coming close.
Remember when you do this to periodically stir both the rice and the curry, you don't want to have to scrub any pans afterwards. This made enough curry for two guys with healthy appetites and a little more.

Now, I am always on the lookout for decent Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi cuisine and there is only one in Tenterden, so if you know of some really good ones in the Ashford/Maidstone/Hastings/Tonbridge area that isn't crazy expensive, let me know.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Heat

I am proud, as an Englishman, to say that this country now produces the hottest little chili pepper in the known cosmiverse. The Dorset Naga is a little red bugger that can be found at Tesco's, of all places, and has entered the record books as the hottest pepper around. What amazes me is looking it up on YouTube and getting all these videos of loony people trying to eat a whole one to see what happens. The results are as you would expect, lots of sweating and spitting and gagging and drinking copious amounts of liquids. For those of you who want to know more about this thing, go to the website where you can even buy the seeds to grow these suckers. It's called Peppers By Post.

I like peppers, generally speaking, but not to this extreme. The only time I've ever used more than a smidgin of hot sauce is when I've had a serious cold, and by serious I mean the kind that make you unintelligible to other humans (by dose id blogged!) and I usually only get one of these every 10 years or so. I then blast my sinuses clean (albeit temporarily) by adding splashes of hot sauce to soups and stews etc, to provide a little relief.

That being said, Thai, Mexican and Indian cuisines are among my favourites. I sometimes like to make a Chile Relleno casserole, something that I was introduced to in the great state of Washington. If you are at all familiar with Mexican food, you'll know that Chiles Rellenos are whole poblano peppers de-seeded and stuffed with an egg-flour-cheese combination and then baked, sometimes after being breaded on the outside. This dish gives you the flavor of the Chile Rellenos without the hassle. It's really a very simple thing to make, and you can vary the heat factor somewhat, according to taste. Only you know what your heat preference is. I like to go medium, usually, but even the mild is nice because it's lovely and cheesy and eggy and warming. It's really good for breakfast, a light lunch, or even for dinner with a green salad or a couple of veggies.

Almost all the recipes I found online used a crust, rather like a quiche. I never needed one, I find it lifts out of the baking dish quite well without it. Some call for whole chilies, like the original Chiles Rellenos that this is a variation of. But I always used the canned, diced green chilies which I find give a more even chili distribution ratio within the casserole. Some people like to layer the ingredients, with the chilies in the bottom, then the eggs and milk combined, then the cheese and flour... you get the idea. Since it looks the same when it's done anyway, I just toss it all in together.

What you need is: (bear in mind that you can tweak this)

2 small cans diced green chilies (Mild, medium or hot -your choice)
3 or 4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk or so
About 16 oz. grated cheese - again, your choice
2 Tbsp plain flour


Preheat your oven to about 350F/175C. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick spray, or grease with a thin layer of margarine. Open and drain the chilies. Throw all the ingredients into a bowl and combine thoroughly, then transfer to the baking dish. Cook for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve.


It should cut into squares nicely. If you're feeling adventurous you could throw in some chopped ham or cooked chicken before baking. Now, go to it, my friends, and report back!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Café Rouge

I had the distinct pleasure today of having lunch with two of my old friends. We were in Tenterden and chose to eat at Café Rouge, a French-styled restaurant which is part of a chain. The restaurant chain was immortalised in print and on the silver screen by Bridget Jones' Diary, and even though they have received some recent bad press about wage practices, tipping, threatening people with the sack if they didn't get customers to tip on their credit cards so they could use them to subsidise wages because they were only paying £2.50 an hour, and even though they were started as a small chain, were bought by brewer Whitbread and subsequently sold to Tragus, a part of the Blackstone Group, whose chairman was once a fat cat at Lehman Brothers (i.e. evil empire), I am not here to talk politics. I am here to talk food.


This was my first experience of Café Rouge. They are housed in the building that once was the Eight Bells, a pub where I spent many a happy evening in the late '80s both alone and with friends supping Fremlins Bitter (now sadly gone the way of the dodo). The building itself is a 15th Century frame with an 18th century frontage. The interior is so different from how I remember it - it's almost as if the bar was picked up and turned 90 degrees. Everything inside is made to look like a French bistro, down to the walls being painted so that they are reminiscent of whitewashed walls yellowed with the smoke of a million Gauloises. One can almost imagine a knuckle-dragging Jean-Paul Belmondo type slumped in a corner chair regarding everyone with disdain the way only a Frenchman can. The red velvet-cushioned high-backed booths only add to the air of shabby elegance.


Lunch was a Prix Fixe menu, which is just as well, as the dinner menu's prices were a bit steep, to say the least. Here were the Prix Fixe prices: 1 Course £6.50, 2 courses £8.50. I didn't look any higher. My companions and I ordered our drinks first. I had a Caffe Latte, which came in a lovely tall glass mug with a long spoon. I ordered a 2-course option, but my friends only had the 1-course. Girls, eh? (Just kidding, ladies).  They both ordered the Steak Haché, a chargrilled burger which came sans bun, and appeared to have some lovely garlicky butter on it, which according to the menu was Beurre Maison, which means House Butter, so I'm still none the wiser. This came with a ton of French fries also. I ordered the Salade Paysanne, which consisted of rocket (arugula) and other baby greens with New Potatoes and green beans with what the menu describes as French dressing, but since I've been in the States for 18 years, and the Yanks tend to think of French dressing as a red substance, I should clarify that this was more like a homemade light vinaigrette that was anything but red, and probably more like an actual "French" dressing than anything found in US supermarkets. It was a great salad, actually. Very tasty. My main course was Omelette au Tomate, a perfectly cooked omelette topped with a mound of crushed tomatoes and a sprig of parsley, accompanied by another enormous mound of fries. After we'd all eaten, we reminisced and gabbed on for a while and decided on another beverage before we left, this time three hot chocolates, which came in huge cups, of a size not seen since the opening sequence of "So I Married An Axe Murderer".  Delicious, and a great way to round off the afternoon.


All in all, I would probably return to Café Rouge, although it likely wouldn't be my first choice, due to the controversial issues surrounding the chain. Bottom line, if this was a stand-alone mom-and-pop operation rather than some greedy corporation, it'd be fabulous. But it isn't and to make matters worse, it stands on the site of my favourite pub. It's pricey too, unless you go for the Prix Fixe menu. 


The verdict: 
3.5 yums out of a possible 5 yums (losing points for controversy).





Flags you can eat (link)

http://wildammo.com/2009/09/26/national-flags-never-tasted-this-good/

Monday, March 1, 2010

Welcome to the new stuff!

What better way to celebrate the official grand opening of my new blog than a plateload of eggs, beans, toast, potato cakes, and bangers washed down with a glass of fine Chilean Cabernet?
NB. You would not believe what horrors await you if you do a Google image search for 'bangers' and have the Safe Search set to 'Off'. Even on the moderate setting you're still not OK. But I digress.


Well, it is St. David's Day, and I suppose we should be eating something with leeks in it, but sorry, bangers sounded too good to pass up. They were Tesco's brand pork and Bramley apple sausages, and boy, were they good. You could taste the apple in there, definitely, but it wasn't overpowering, it was nice and subtle.

Since I have just arrived back in the UK a few weeks ago,  things have changed considerably in my hometown of Tenterden. For starters, there are a lot more places to eat.

The places to eat that were here before are mostly still here in one form or another. Pretty much everywhere else is within spitting distance of somewhere to eat or get a coffee. There are even coffee shops and cafes in the local garden centres and I even saw one at the Ashford B&Q DIY Superstore. Recently I went out to eat, twice by myself and once with my sister.

First place I went was The Honeymoon. This is a Chinese restaurant which used to be the Loong Sing back in the 70s and 80s, and became Honeymoon right around the time I got married the first time around, in 1990. I'd eaten there at that time, so for old times' sake. and because I had a raging appetite, I went and had lunch there a couple of weeks ago.  For a start I was tempted by the price: £6.50 for lunch isn't terrible, and when you consider it involved soup, a big pot of tea (good tea too, I might add) and a plate of sweet and sour pork balls and a ton of egg fried rice, it was actually very good value for the money. The Honeymoon is still great after 20 years!

I volunteer my time a couple of mornings per week at the British Heart Foundation's charity shop in Sayers Lane, and on one such morning, with the door open, we could smell delightful smells coming from Anderson & Campbell, the deli across the way. So after I left the shop I stopped in for a latte and a tuna sandwich. It was £5.80, which may seem a little on the pricey side, but when you consider that the sandwich was on hearty granary bread, which was cut into triangles yet was still humongous, jam-packed with tuna and cucumber, and the coffee, even though it was a small one, was still a good mugful for most normal people, it's not bad at all. Add to that the wild and wonderful selection of pickles, relishes and crackers on offer, not to mention the friendly staff, and it's a deli I'll be sure to revisit.

My sister and I were out shopping the other morning and we began to feel a little peckish. We popped into Brasserie Gerard in the High Street, which used to be the site of Weeks of Goudhurst, the baker's, and before that, Lavells Newsagents and Banks Newsagents before them. So the interior was completely different. We sat at a little round table over where the counter would have been at Banks'. I sat there thinking, can this really be the place where i bought a Valentines' card for Sarah Lynn back in the early 70s? I had a light lunch of pate, which came with a sliced baguette, a side salad with a lovely dressing, and a little ramekin of tiny pickled gherkins which were exquisite. My sister had a salad called Poulet et Lardons (I think) which had nice big slices of chicken on a bed of spring mix salad leaves with lovely bacon-y croutons. Both of these items were around the £6 mark and we were full afterwards, no need for a dessert. Again, a place I would definitely recommend to a friend and a favourite of my stepdad Chris, a man who knows his food also!

Tomorrow I am being taken out to lunch. Where, I do not know. But you can expect my report!

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