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Fabulous Finds for Your Favourite Foodie

by Deb on November 28th, 2014 No Comments ·

It’s holiday time and once again we wrack our brains trying to come up with gifts that will be both appropriate and appreciated (and let’s be honest, not too expensive). For the foodie in your life, this usually comes in the shape of a cookbook or some culinary gadget. But how many whisks does one kitchen need (even whisks with egg heads or handles in the shape of pigs). So here’s a few ideas that might push the envelope a bit without breaking the bank.

normal_haribo-starmix-sweet-tree-square-vaseBBC Good Food has a gift guide – having gone out and collected links to products they like. You can search by category (baking, gadgets, kids, etc) or price range (and with 81 products under £15, it’s worth a look)

Not the High Street as quite a nice gifts for foodies selection that runs from £3 milk chocolate letters to a £170 monthly wine club membership. There’s a ton of reasonably priced goodies in between so even if you don’t find something for someone else, you might find a little something to treat yourself. Go on, you deserve it.

It’s sale season so it’s worth checking out the Gifts For Foodies at Lakeland. I admit that sometimes the prices here give me pause but during the holiday sale season, something a bit special is a bit more within reach.

fairy-tale-feasts-a-literary-cookbook-3451-p[ekm]250x250[ekm]Literary Gift Company has some unusual and fun cookbooks that you can almost guarantee your foodie won’t have:

I confess that my favourite thing at that particular site isn’t food-related at all. It’s the Grammar Grumble Mugs. I want ALL of them.

Naturally the newspapers and food websites have their round-ups as well but they seem, in the case of newspapers anyway, to be going for the goofy gadget angle or just see how pricey a list they can compile. But every now and again, there is something that sparks an idea.

Obviously this is just the tip of the holiday gift iceberg. I’ll be putting together other lists *(Cookbooks, Gadgets, Food Writing, etc) over the next couple of weeks. All out of the goodness of my heart, of course. And not because I just love online browsing. Not at all :-)

→ No CommentsTags: News and Headlines · Notes and Passing Fancies · Product Watch

Delicious Distractions

by Deb on November 23rd, 2014 2 Comments ·

Contrary to circumstantial evidence, I really AM working on Part 2 of Looking at Leftovers: Bread. The thing is that I got distracted – by food and cooking, as it happens so I am giving myself a pass. For now.

frenchtoastThis is not to say that bread and what to do with leftovers has gone completely by the wayside. As I suggested in Part 1, an really excellent option for leftover bread is French toast (or eggy bread, if that’s what you prefer to call it). Something not unlike breakfast at TransAtlantic Towers this AM.

But long before that came the distraction First – I was distracted by a follow up trip to Bakergirl (which I went on about at some length). Second, I was overcome by a coffee cake idea I had try out despite being home ill from work Tuesday. Coffee cake, as regular readers will know, is kind of a thing with me and I’ve been trying to figure out a simpler, straightforward way to rustle some up without all the faff.

Faff, in my world, is special ingredients and things that get in the way of the coffee flavour. Nuts may be common in coffee cake but not in mine. It’s not that I want something intensely coffee-ish. I don’t. I want a distinct coffee undertone. But I don’t want it competing with anything else.

And I don’t want to think about it too much. Like I said – no faff.

Here’s what happened. I was home ill, as said but in the afternoon I was feeling a bit more myself (extra sleep and a few ibuprofen do wonders) and I wanted a bit of cake. I was not feeling well enough to go to the store however and I only had two eggs. So I decided I would weigh the eggs and make a simple Victoria sponge based on the weight of the eggs. After all, a Victoria sponge (that’s pound cake, my fellow Americans – a butter cake is a butter cake is a butter cake) is all pantry staples in this house so no shopping needed.

So there I was, weighing and measuring with the oven already pre-heating when suddenly I thought, “Wait a minute – if I swap the caster sugar out for dark brown and add some espresso powder – that ought to do SOMETHING coffee cakish!”

And so I did. What could it hurt, I thought. This was a sort of “use up what I had cake anyway and I wasn’t planning on serving it to guests. And so that’s just what I did.

  • Pre-heated the oven to 180 °C / 350 °F
  • Weighed the two large eggs. Measured the same weight of self-raising flour, dark brown sugar and room temp, softened unsalted butter.
  • Mixed the flour, sugar and butter together until thoroughly combined and fluffier than before.
  • Added the eggs, mixed some more – keeping at it until smooth.
  • Added a dash of vanilla (don’t ask – I didn’t measure. But a good sized dash
  • Added a tablespoon on espresso powder (powder, not granules)
  • Mixed until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes depending on your oven.

I rotated it half way though but that’s because I know my oven’s hot spot. You may want to. You may not want to. Know your oven, this is what I have learned. For a full recipe (using 3 or 4 eggs) I would have used a 2lb loaf  tin but this was a partial recipe thanks to a lack of shopping so I used a 1lb tin and it came about halfway up. Your results will vary depending on how much batter you end up with.

And do you know what I ended up with? An awesome, light, coffee infused sponge.

I was thrilled. So much so that instead of finishing up the bread post, I am going to tackle the coffee cake again – but this time, turning it into mini-loaves and muffins.

Fingers crossed, people.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Behind the Scenes · Recipes

Bakergirl Bakehouse in Banbury

by Deb on November 16th, 2014 4 Comments ·

Every now and then, you want to treat yourself. After a long week, a slow,relaxing weekend is just the treat I want. Nothing pressing to do, no appointments in the calendar. Just a lie in, coffee and maybe (weather permitting) a leisurely walk. Living as I do in Banbury that walk might be along the canal (which deserves a post in and of itself at a later time) or through town (which I believe I have already points out is full of excellent places to browse, eat, shop and people-watch).

bakergirlcoffeecupOccasionally, a weekend jaunt slightly out of the way is on the agenda and this weekend was once such occasion. Lately, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the newer spots on the local culinary landscape – a landscape that is rapidly expanding both in scope and size. Banbury is surrounded by quite a variety of easily reached delights – both culinary and otherwise. Today was a culinary jaunt – we went to Bakergirl, a relatively new artisan bakehouse open just outside Banbury.

It’s located in a superbly done up, converted barn next to Wykham Park Farm Shop. My first thought when we walked in was “OMG! I want to live here! It’s GORGEOUS!”

Bakergirl_lights

Then the smell of all those baked goods hit me and all I could think of was “OMG! I want to eat everything! It smells delicious!.”  The care and attention to detail that have done into creating the space – I mean just look at that light fixture? Amazing! –  is a sign of the kind of care and attention to detail that go into the bread and other amazing fare they produce.

bakergirl_interior

I had a morning bun the first time went there and it is one of the most amazing breakfast pastries I have ever had. I was slightly puzzled by the morning bun at first – as they really aren’t a thing in NYC. They looked like a cinnamon roll that had its middle poked up. But I soon discovered that though there IS cinnamon in involved, a morning bun is actually lighter than a cinnamon roll and ooooooh so buttery. These particularly morning buns have a hint of orange as well – which I must say went very well with my coffee of choice to accompany pastry – a mocha.

An aside about the coffee – it is excellent. If you have strong views on coffee (as dungeekin does) then you will enjoy and approve of the brew being brewed at Bakergirl.

I now have a confession to make. I couldn’t decide during our second trip what to order. I knew I wanted to write a review so I thought “I really OUGHT to have something new so I’ve tried a couple of things. But the morning bun was SO good …” It was a dilemma. For about 10 seconds. Then I decided, “Screw it. It’s the weekend. I’m having a morning bun AND chocolate croissant.” And so I did.Both were still slightly warm – and the croissant was one of the lightly, flakiest croissants I have ever seen. SO many layers with so much space between them and proper dark chocolate.

breakfast_bakergirl

 

Breakfast of Indecision – couldn’t decide between them so I had both.

My better half – dungeekin – had a chelsea bun and I really should have asked him what he thought of it so I could include his input but I was so transported to another party plane that I forgot to ask. Perhaps he will comment.

I am pleased to note that each time we’ve gone, a steady stream of people are making their way there – quite a range of different people as well. If you do something as right as these folks at Bakergirl most assuredly are, word gets around – word about the morning buns, the coffee, the fantastic space, the bread  (I haven’t even talked about the whole ‘real bread’ thing but I’ll get into that next time). It’s a good thing too because I want Bakergirl to be around for a long, long time.

bakergirllogo

→ 4 CommentsTags: Eating Out · Out and About: Explorations

Investing In Home Made Stocks

by Patrick on November 11th, 2014 2 Comments ·

Making a good stock may be all about reduction,
but it has nothing to do with “trickle down”.

Every few months I invest in a day of contemplation in the kitchen. And that day usually starts with opening the freezer door and contemplating the fact that I’ve got enough carcasses in there to give the Donner Party a run for their money.

Now before you go thinking that this blog is getting too dark for your tastes, let me assure you that I speak of chicken carcasses. Whenever I roast a chicken, I wrap the remnants in clingfilm and stuff them in my freezer, ready for when I need to make chicken stock. So every few months, when my current supply is about to run out, I invest a day in making a fresh batch.

I’ve been making my own chicken stock for a few years now, and of all the foodie habits I’ve picked up, it’s possibly the most useful and rewarding. Useful, because not only has it taught me about the patience necessary in learning to respect the processes of cooking well, but it’s also taught me to make use of the bits I might otherwise throw away. It’s also useful because it gives me that time, when I can’t stray too far from the kitchen or for too long, to indulge myself in fabulously foodie contemplations. As for the rewards, they’re perhaps like dividends; not so obviously immediate, but all the more rewarding when they do come home to roost.

Investing the Time

Now I use the term “invest” advisedly, because making a good chicken stock (or any stock, really) does take about a full day from start to finish. It’s not that making stock is difficult, or even that you have to pay it close attention throughout, but it does take a very long time to cook- about seven hours- and you do have to be around to skim from time to time, and then to sieve, and then to skim again, and finally to pour into suitable containers and freeze. Making stock is a bit like a day spent doing laundry; most of the time you’re not actually needed, but you do occasionally need to fluff and fold.

So why do I do it? Why do I give over a whole day to cooking something I’m not even going to eat that night, or the next night, or might not even use for weeks to come?

Well like I said, it’s an investment. That day will probably yield about 12 cups worth of chicken stock, which may not seem much. But those 12 cups will more than cover gravies for Thanksgiving and Christmas (not to mention any other roast chicken dinners in between), perhaps a risotto or even two, or , maybe an emergency chicken soup for a sick flatmate or friend,and most certainly a fabulous poaching liquid for chicken breasts. A poaching liquid that is not only recycle-able, but that even improves with every use. Excellent dividends indeed.

Which leads me to an excellent example of investing in stock. When I was but a college junior, before I could even call myself a foodie, I spent a summer working at an upmarket deli in Washington DC named Food & Co. One of my allotted tasks there was to poach chicken breasts. That process involved taking huge amounts of amber jelly from a tub in the fridge, bringing it up to heat,and then poaching the chicken breasts for about 10 minutes. The first time I completed the task I was about to pour the liquid down the drain when the owner (a wonderful woman named Elisabeth Siber) shrieked in horror and threw herself between me and the sink.

“I’ve been working on that stock for YEARS!”, she cried. “Do you have ANY idea what that stock is WORTH?”

It turned out she had been nurturing that stock, and using it time and again to poach more and more chicken breasts, which not only gave that bland avian white meat incredible flavor, but also served to deepen the flavor of the stock itself. Which would, in turn, yield yet more flavorsome breasts. Talk about protecting your capital. And it’s worth noting that she was by no means the only culinary professional to follow this practice. In fact the opposite is true. Probably the single most highly valued foodstuff in any decent restaurant kitchen is the stock. It ain’t there on sale or return, nor is it a high-end seasonal ingredient. But it’s the base of any good sauce, or soup, or risotto. It’s in fact the flavor backbone of such a wide variety of dishes that it is  a good stock on which most chefs depend. And so they husband their stocks with extreme care. After all, a professional stock can take five days to prepare.

Creating Culinary Value

So compared to five, what is one day? Especially when just that one day turns your culinary liabilities- that leftover chicken carcass, that last onion, those straggly bits of parsley, and that aging carrot that have been cluttering up your fridge- into fabulous liquid assets.  The only real financial outlay I ever encounter when making stock is having to buy celery, which although unpleasant, is certainly not expensive. If, unlike me, you can actually abide celery in any other context, then you probably already have some anyway! And the process of making the stock- simmering that huge pot gently for five hours or so, and then sieving it and simmering it again for another hour at a higher heat to reduce it- may leave you with less than you started out with, but if the quantity of your stock has diminished, it has actually intensified greatly in flavor. It has far greater value than when you started. We’re talking going from culinary penny to epicurean blue chip here.

veggiestockAnd you can diversify. I usually only make chicken stock because it’s it’s such a great all-rounder. But you can make vegetable stock with any leftover legumes you’ve got hanging around. Try mushroom stock! You can make beef, lamb, pork, or even ham stock from any meat you cook that still  has bones. All you need is water, heat,  those veg and herbs and seasoning and patience, and you can make culinary capital out of almost any gastronomic investment you’ve already ( made.

Yes, you can buy pre-made chicken stock (although that famous canned low sodium chicken broth that American tv cooks sing praises to is not readily available here in the UK, where the Oxo cube still reigns supreme). But why spend instead of investing? Your freezer may be small (mine is, and I share it with two others), but isn’t it better to stuff it with what you’ve made rather than what you’ve bought? After all, as a frozen asset home made stock thaws beautifully. So you can share.

Because that stock in which I’ve invested a day is all about shares. Yes, I cook for myself, and yes, I make stock for myself because I love that I can . But I know full well that when I’m glorifying in my little pots of gold at the end of the stock-making process, I will be sharing them with people I love. They will become the gravies at Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as sauces at dinners in between. Or it may become soup to share or give away. Making a good stock may be all about reduction,but it has nothing to do with “trickle down”.

So I am more than happy to invest a day, every few months, in making stock. And that day – when I have to be nearby to skim from time to time, to watch the vociferousness of the bubble and maybe turn the burner up or down a tad under the pot – that day gives me that day of contemplation I first mentioned. That day we all need from time to time, when you contemplate what you’ve got, and what you’ll make of it.

And shouldn’t we all invest a day, now and then, in taking-if not making- stock?

 

→ 2 CommentsTags: Leftovers / Looking at Leftovers · Notes and Passing Fancies · Tips & Tricks

Looking at Leftovers: Bread, Part 1

by Deb on November 10th, 2014 2 Comments ·

Welcome to the first in my ingredient-focused posts in Looking at Leftovers! I figured we’d start big with bread. Why big, you ask? Well, first – bread is one of the most thrown away foods in the US and the UK. It’s a big part of the leftovers landscape.

bread_frenchSecond – big also refers to the size of the topic. Bread itself is an enormous subject – the types, the ways to make it, the ways to use it, store it, serve it. Leftovers is also a subject worthy of considerable time and effort. So, I was unsurprised when what was supposed to be a single post decided to expand into a multi-part “series within a series.” We’ll tackle the basic issue here and discuss ideas for tackling it, then I’ll offer up some recipes and variations in the next part.

Going From Bread Bin to Waste Bin

Bread leftovers are not usually leftovers from last night’s dinner or from brunch-time entertaining (though I suppose some might be). It’s basic household waste in most cases, where for one reason or another, you’ve ended up not using the bread you have before it “goes off.”

  • With sliced white or wholegrain this is largely down to the fact that sliced white loaves come mostly in one size regardless of how much or how little you want. I am seeing a few more “half loaves” these days and that helps two person households like ours avoid waste. But these half loaves are few and far between.
  • Sometimes bread is an impulse or special treat purchase – you pick up an absolutely GORGEOUS artisanal loaf on a Saturday mooch about town and use only half of it by the end of the weekend. By the following weekend, it’s rock hard and you’re thinking it would make a lovely artisanal doorstop.
  • Or maybe you’ve found yourself with leftover bread lately because you’ve been making your own bread more often and homemade bread goes stale MUCH more quickly than store bought. This should not in any way be an obstacle to making your own bread – it’s becoming hugely popular and people are often shocked at how easy it actually is. And with a few tips like those below, you will find lots of ways to use up that random third or half a loaf you find yourself tossing away.

Freezing Bread

Obviously you could freeze what you know you aren’t going to need. It is best to freeze the freshest bread you can – so if you know you’ve bought twice as much as you can reasonably use up in time, wrap half of it in two plastic freezer bags (ensuring it doesn’t get freezer burn) and seal thoroughly. It’s best used within a month. To defrost, take it out of the freezer and let thaw at room temperature for about 3 hours. But what if you don’t know how much you’re going to need over the next few days? You can still freeze the bread for straight re-use as long as you do it before it gets stale. But who keeps on top of their kitchen contents like that?

How To Use It Before You Lose It

Even I don’t, and I’m more than usually focused on leftovers these days. No, we need to keep the bread we bought in play as long as possible but also find a solution for the bread that’s left toward the end of its shelf life. So, what’s the answer?

  • Buy only what you need? Even if you could (and I can’t think of anywhere that offers such a thing) no one is going to buy slices ‘a la carte’ as part of their regular (weekly or monthly) shop.
  • Increase the variety of standard loaf sizes to allow for consumer preference? The size of loaves isn’t gonna change overnight. Those half loaves are very much an exception, not a rule.
  • Eat more bread, more quickly? We’re not going to tell everyone EAT MORE BREAD RIGHT AWAY. Quite frankly, most of us probably eat too much bread already.
  • Make smaller homemade loaves? Well, yes that might help if that is the bread you end up with as leftovers. A show of hands? Right. So not the answer for most of us, most of the time.

No, the answer is find new ways to use that bread that you know (from experience), is gonna end up either too stale or looking like a science experiment. Ways that you can use now OR later. Putting something in the freezer will make you feel a lot better than tossing it in the bin. Here’s a few suggestions you can adapt to almost any amount or type of bread you have at home.

bread_leftovers

Some use the bread up now (in possibly unexpected ways) and some extend the life of the bread by prepping it for use later.

  • French toast and bread puddings: let your leftovers go stale, the better to soak up the custard-y goodness at the heart of french toast and bread pudding recipes. As for what kind of bread – you want something sturdy enough that it won’t go to pieces after soaking but soft and spongy enough to soak up the egg mixture properly. Challah is my bread of choice (boosting the eggy-ness of it all) but brioche works well also.
  • Breadcrumbs and croutons: if you have a supply of breadcrumbs on hand, you’re half way to casserole toppings, meatballs, thicker soups, cheese patties or even fish cakes. In my opinion, breadcrumbs (seasoned or plain – or even better both) in the freezer are almost as useful as stock cubes or frozen herbs. Freezing breadcrumbs is even easier than making them. Just store in sealable plastic bag, making sure to label and date each batch (I suggest doing them in 1 cup at a time so you can thaw only what you need later on). Then pop them into the freezer for up to three months. To use: move frozen breadcrumbs into the fridge until thawed, then they’re ready to use.
  • Stuffing: use up your leftover bread AND any spare onions and bits of veg (adding chopped up carrots & celery is especially good) you’ve got lying around. Don’t need stuffing today? No worries – stuffing also freezes well if frozen after being cooked.
  • Sandwiches: I know what you’re about to say. You’re going to say “Duh, sandwiches. I could always have made another PB&J or another ham and Swiss. How is that helpful”? Well, if you want YET another ham and Swiss, then go ahead but I’m suggesting you broaden your sandwich horizons. Hot open faced sandwiches are not only a delicious, indulgent weekend lunch, they are a great way to use up leftovers from a big roast dinner. Yes, of course you end up using the leftover meat (sliced thin and stopped with a rich gravy) but you can also do a veggie version with any leftover roast veg, topped with slices of strong cheese.  No roast dinner leftovers? No worries, grab those soon-to-be-binned hamburger or hotdog rolls and make some po-boys.
  • Bruschetta: And what could be easier or more leftovers-friendly than bruschetta? Yes, it works best with crusty bread (If you’ve got some rustic type of loaf or part of a baguette lying around, these are perfect) but depending on what your topping is, almost any bread can be bruschetta-ized. Not pre-sliced white though. It’s far to thin, soft and squishy to hold up under any reasonable bruschetta topping. If that’s what you’re looking to use up. this is not your solution.

There are other ways to make use of bread – panzanella makes a great summer lunch, for example. And I’ll be pointing you in the direction of some of my favourites in the next part of Looking at Leftovers: Bread. In the mean time, I’d love to hear how you use up the spare bread you’ve got going or any other leftover usefulness you might have up your sleeve. Stay tuned!

→ 2 CommentsTags: Leftovers / Looking at Leftovers · Tips & Tricks