I am quite often found – on a Monday morning – down at the Puritans Radio studio talking with Peter Evan Jones about food on the ‘Jones on Food and Travel’ program. This Monday was no exception and this week the topic was food worth traveling for. CNN Travel made some bizarre choices – including ketchup (not a food, in my opinion, much less a food worth traveling for), buttered popcorn (another head scratcher) and potato chips (honestly?) which is what prompted this segment.
What food is so good that you would tackle traffic, airport lines and baggage restrictions to reach it? And yes, my better half – I mentioned the tapas from Bar Pinotxo in La Boqueria in Barcelona. When do we leave?
If you’re a fan of food and/or travel, the show is on every Monday from 10-12 (UK time) and I will be posting links to the whole program as well as my segments for those who prefer to catch it later on. This week’s whole show can be heard at bit.ly/PuritansJan16
Oh the weather outside is … well, actually it isn’t frightful at all. It’s rather brisk and chilly, yes. But bright and sunny. Never mind the song then. What else can we talk about? Oooh, it’s December 4th – Cookie Day! We can talk about cookies. What is your favourite cookie? By which I mean either to eat or make (or both).
You kick off the holidays any way you like – send cards, put up the tree, start hanging light. Me, I’ll start with this festive cup of hot chocolate laced with Bailey’s. It was the perfect drink for our romp through the Banbury Festive Market and Christmas Light switch-on. Warming and wonderful.
So, the Banbury Town Fair has once again come and gone. As always, there were samples galore to try. We’ve learned over the years that once we’ve nibbled your way through the first batch of booths, had lunch and then nibbled and snacked our way through the rest – the idea of dinner often never occurs to us. But it’s not all about actually eating. It’s also about chatting with people about the food they have brought, prepped, turned into art or just enjoy. It’s an incredibly social occasion and with over 100 vendors, a day full of cooking demos and foodie’s everywhere – I always learn a lot.
This year I learned that in order to make a fruit gin, you may need to let the fruit infuse anywhere from several months (soft fruits like raspberries) to just over a year (sloe). Now, I am not a gin drinker (I’m a vodka girl with mixers, myself) but I tasted the raspberry gin from Foxdenton Fruit Gins and goodness! It was delicious – I can absolutely see baking a Christmas cake with that.
I learned from Anita Chipalkatty (while watching her making jalfrezi – an Indian stir-fry) that while Chinese stir-fry and Indian stir-fry have a lot in common cooking method wise, the chop is very different. Chinese veg is shredded or julienned quite fine for stir fry where as for an Indian dish, the chop is chunkier. It still cooks quickly but retains more individual taste and structural integrity (all the better for scooping, for example with chunks of pepper).
And sadly while I was not able to get close enough for a clear picture, Restaurant 56 head chef Andrew Scott (Banburian himself) and sous chef Nick Bennett (yes, that was him on Masterchef) did make disassembling a duck look GREAT fun.
We discussed timeframes for smoking beef and pork with Smoke and Spice BBQ – and as a Texas-raised BBQ eater from itty-bitty-hood, let me say the beef brisket with Kansas sauce is spot on! The North Carolina sauce seemed to be going over well too.
Today, so my research tells me, caviar day. Which kind? Whichever kind you like.
Black caviar is from sturgeon varieties – beluga, sturgeon and stellate sturgeon – and is not (as one might expect) always black. Sometimes it is grey (beluga), sometimes a quite a dark bronze-y shade (sturgeon) and finally deep inky black (stellate).
Red caviar comes from either on of variety of salmon or trout – keta (dog salmon) is apparently considered the best type of red caviar.
Though interesting in a sort of intellectual and Trivial Pursuit sense, all this this leaves me essentially unmoved to take any action since, I confess, I do not care for the stuff. No, it’s not because I have not had good quality caviar. It’s not because I wasn’t given the right “garnishes.” I have tried it on three occasions – and at BEST, I was able to summon an internal “meh.”
Caviar didn’t always have the cache it does today. In fact, it was used as pig and animal feed until the end of the 18th century and when it first became a “thing” in America, they gave it away free in bars – like a small fishy version of today’s free peanuts that are supposed to make you a thirstier and more profitable customer. The pigs and bar flys are welcome to it – at least, they are welcome to my share.
But don’t let me stop you – my lack of interest in caviar just means more for you. So grab your topping of choice and your champagne or ice-cold vodka (I gather there is some debate about which is best choice for maximum caviar enjoyment) and enjoy.
I’ll be over here prepping for Ice Cream Day (July 19).
Does anyone remember that craze back in the 90’s, where people gave each other little pocket sized computer thingies that you had to ” feed” and “bathe”, or they pinged in an annoyingly loud manner? Or that episode in “Frasier” where Niles attempted to simulate fatherhood by looking after an eight pound sack of flour for a week? No?
I had forgotten them too – but they all came rushing back to me in the early hours of the morning about a month ago, when I found myself under the glare of my kitchen lights, giving it the full Colin Clive and screaming, “It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE!!”
I was making my own sourdough bread.
Moreover, I was learning – all too painfully – that making your own sourdough bread is not about the baking the bread, but rather about making the “starter.” And making a sourdough starter is uncomfortably like looking after a small baby for an extended period of time. There’s a lot of feeding and changing, quite a bit of gas, the regular disposal of beige goop, some malodorous smells, and far too much fretting and crying.
How did I get to that darkly cinematic moment in my kitchen in those wee small hours? Not naturally or easily actually. I have always considered myself more of a “cook” than a “baker” but my confidence in baking had truly grown in the last few years.
I had routinely produced a bourbon pecan pie that simply could not be bettered,
poured wine during the baking of a glorious holiday challah bread,
nodded sagely at Paul Hollywood’s tips and criticisms on “The Great British Bake Off,”
even casually observed to former friends that they were dealing with puff pastry somewhat incorrectly. (“No, dear. Your butter must be cold. As cold as your shallow little heart.“)
I started a tad later and spent slightly (ok, considerably) less time in the kitchen. Culinary history and timely tips were my thing – and my favourites list reflects this, featuring as it does only one actual recipe.
What do you do with too many lemons and a ginormous mint plant? Well, if you are me, you grab the vodka and you start infusing.
As I found out last year, making lemon vodka is super easy. And if you ignore all the advice about letting it sit for two week and let it sit twice or three times as long, what you get is so smooth and so lemon, you’d swear it was limoncello.
The mint infusion is an experiment. We go a chocolate mint plant this year instead of standard mint. It’s still mostly minty – but there is that faint hint of chocolate mint as well. Not consistently warm enough out to infuse cream for ice cream yet (that’s coming son though) so I figured vodka was worth a try. Also, based on research, I am drying some leaves to add to coffee beans. They may also get added to a very strong ground coffee for the inevitable supply of cold brew iced coffee I intend to make this summer.
And no – this does not lead to massive lemon wastage. You can freeze lemons (whole or quartered with or without zest) quite easily – just wrap them foil or plastic wrap and pop the wrapped fruit in a freezer bag -and use them for juicing later on. Which is what I shall do. And considering the size of the mint plant, some of that may well end up in the freezer as well.
Banbury is, as you may know, forever entwined with Banbury cakes, flat-ish oval pastry filled with spiced currants. They’re not unlike Eccles cakes. They’re still widely available thought not in the two shops most associated with them in days or yore. I present to you – the days of yore.
E. W. Brown’s Original Cake Shop, 12 Parsons street.
Betts’s Cake Shop on Banbury High Street in 1878
There’s some dreadful idea being tossed around about turning that High Street space (it is very much present and in use to this day) into an arcade. Yes, a gaming arcade. I am very much hoping the request for the change of use required will be denied. But never mind that now. I will complain about that elsewhere.
Banbury has another eponymous foodstuff lurking in its past and today seems a good time to mention it. Why today? Because today is April 23rd — anniversary of both Shakespeare’s birth and his death.
“Banbury cheeses, for which the town was noted until the 18th century, were first mentioned in 1430” (Cal. Close, 1429–36, 74). It was a cow’s milk cheese, yellow in colour and quite strongly flavoured, made in thin (about 1 inch) rounds.
CELERY MONTH: An entire year has passed since I posited that there was no reason celery needs an entire month and I have yet to hear anyone present anything that has changed my mind. Not even the people who run Celery Flats in Portage, Michigan. What is Celery Flats, you ask? It is – I kid you not – an interpretive center (open seasonally) dedicated to explaining the importance and history of celery farming to region. If THEY can’t convince me the stuff is worth commemorating, I am unlikely to be convinced.
FROZEN FOOD MONTH: Now, I suspect they mean commercially frozen food but I am going to take this to include the freezing of food at home. Because quite frankly, the only difference between our freezer and pantry at TransAtlantic Towers is the temperature. Our freezer space works as hard or harder than anything or anyone in the house. Worthy of celebrating, indeed!