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The Magna Cater

by Patrick on August 26th, 2014 5 Comments ·

I was attending a christening celebration recently, when a great realization struck me. There I was, stood before an abundant buffet of tasty finger foods and tiny sandwiches, and yet something seemed wrong, jarring, out of balance. The smoked salmon sandwiches looked too corally bright next to the somber umber of the glazed chicken wings. The miniature vegetable spring rolls seemed pallid and listless placed right by the breaded fish goujons and the platter of chips. And at the center of the table stood a lonely little pot of English mustard, purposeless and  obsolete. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong, but this bountiful buffet was clearly adrift in some essential manner.

sauasgerollsIt was only as a waitress nudged me aside so that she could place the final platter on the buffet that I realized what had been missing. For that platter was piled high with little golden bite-sized sausage rolls.

And suddenly, that buffet was complete, at least for me. Not only because I happen to adore sausage rolls, but really because I don’t think I’ve ever attended a major social event in Britain at which sausage rolls have not been served. There seems to be some unwritten law here that any birth, marriage, death, or in fact any gathering of more than four people, must be accompanied by a healthy portion of these tasty savoury morsels of flaky pastry rolled around ground meat.

Well this got me to thinking: what are the other unwritten laws of British Cookery? What are the quirks and traditions so ingrained in the British culinary character that they have become canonical in the kitchen?  Across classes and generations, what are the laws that still hold true in the British larder? If it were inscribed and notarized, what would the Magna Carta of British Cookery be?

Having pondered, and sampled, and asked around, and pondered some more, here’s what I imagine what I like to call the “Magna Cater” might be:

1. Thou Shalt Serve Sausage Rolls

The British, when faced with any major life event that requires celebration or commiseration, immediately whip up (seemingly from out of nowhere) a tray of sausage rolls. They are the biggest seller during the holiday season party-supplying spree, and are the only standard hors d’oeuvre that remain on food hall shelves throughout even the hottest of summers. Ideally served warm from the oven, they remain satisfying at room temperature, and even in the scrag end of a party or a wake, even though the grease from the sausage has long since deflated the flakiness of the pastry. That said, they are usually the first consumable to be consumed. They are not- in Britain- to be confused with “pigs in blankets”, which here refer to cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon, or just well tended pigs.

2. On The Seventh Day, Thou Shalt Roast

The Sunday Roast is perhaps the great bastion of British culinary tradition. Whether you spend your Sunday cooking it at home, or instead venture out to your local pub, no weekend in Britain is truly complete without a roast dinner (by which they really mean a late lunch) on the Sunday. And not only the meat must be roasted. Be it a chicken, a turkey, a leg of lamb or a rib of beef, said roast simply must be accompanied by roast potatoes. Other side dishes may vary, but those roast potatoes are non-negotiable. In fact, your average British cook is more likely to be judged by the crunchiness of the outside and the fluffiness of the center of their potatoes than by the quality of the roasted meat. Other rules also apply, such as Yorkshire Pudding only being served with beef. And say what you like about this nation’s culinary capabilities, nobody in the world roasts beef as well as the British.

3. Be It Not Buttered, ‘Tis Not A Sandwich

‘Tis true. The British, when faced with a slice of bread, are constitutionally incapable of not slathering it with butter. In this matter the actual sandwich filling is irrelevant. It could be a chicken tikka masala sandwich, or a Mexican three-bean wrap, still the bread involved would be buttered first. They would butter a BLT. At sandwich bars I have had to physically prevent the server from buttering my roast beef, lettuce and avocado sandwich. I’ve even known Brits who would  butter a peanut butter sandwich.

4. Deem It A Pie, And It Shall Suffice

The British love pies. They will put anything- sweet or savoury- into a pastry case.  This has been true of the British since time immemorial, or at least since eggs and butter were introduced to the hard pastry cases that were first used simply to contain the actual meal. From steak and kidney to cheese, leeks, eels, pilchards and oysters, the pie as a meal is another great British tradition. And beyond that, they love calling things pies. Outside of these sceptered isles, one might think a pie necessarily involved at least a pastry lid.Within these sceptered isles, that narrow delineation is utter tosh. Neither shepherd’s, cottage, nor the dreaded (to me at least) fish pie- or in fact any dish covered with a topping of mashed potato- are in any rational sense a pie. Except to the British.

5. Thy Condiments Shalt Be Caustic

It’s often be said of British cookery that it’s bland, and lacking in heat and spice. That’s a misunderstanding of the British culinary character. In fact the British adore hot and spicy flavours. It’s just that- their burgeoning love for fiery Asian and South American cuisines aside- they prefer them in condiment form. That famous British Sunday roast is pretty much always accompanied by some sort of hot and/or pungent condiment, from the vinegar-sharp mint sauce for lamb (none of that mimsy American mint jelly for the Brits), to the sinus-clearing heat of horseradish for beef, and the hottest mustard in Europe for, well, anything. A good sharp and hot pickle to accompany a ploughman’s lunch of bread and cheese is another British pub staple. And the traditional American cranberry sauce for turkey is a descendant of that great British sauce for game, Cumberland Sauce, in which red currants and orange zest are enlivened by a healthy dose of searing hot mustard powder.

6. Thou Shalt Douse, Ergo Thou Shalt Douse With Cream

If the British can’t face a sandwich without butter, neither can they face a dessert without cream. Cream is poured over every possible dessert dish aside from trifles, only because trifles are topped with cream. Cakes, pies, bread puddings, even jellies; almost no “sweet” is served without at least the offer of cream. The British will pour cream directly onto an acidly sharp fruit salad, which is testament to their digestive fortitude. In fact when Heinz developed a savoury salad dressing specifically for the British market in 1914, they had the sense to call it “Salad Cream.” They knew what the British like to pour.

7. Be It A Dish, There Shalt Be Chips

Fish and chips, steak and chips, gammon and chips, egg and chips, pie and chips, lasagne and chips, chips and chips. Liberally salted and soused with malt vinegar for the true purists, the British love for the deep-fried potato is a bottomless well. As with roast beef, find a good traditional British chippie and you’ll never countenance McDonald’s or the like again.

8. At The End Of Days There Shalt Be Tea.

Ah yes, tea. Though tea as a meal has moved and morphed from the traditional 4 o’clock repast to just what the British call dinner (excluding, of course, those amazing “High” teas still served at Fortnum and Mason’s, glamorous hotels, and Cornish tea houses), tea as a drink remains the blood that runs through British veins. In fact, if you accidentally opened a vein, the first thing a Brit would do would be to offer you a cup of tea. Given how many cups of tea they drink a day, it’s something of a wonder that the British don’t behave in a more overtly caffeinated manner. It is still possible to differentiate generations in Britain by whether or not they have succumbed to teabags, and the question of whether or not one adds the milk to the cup before or after the tea remains a matter of class-related debate. A historical note: contrary to popular belief, the British aren’t actually bitter about the United States winning the war of Independence. They do, however, resent the waste of all that good tea.

9. The Scepter And The Orbs, They Shall Be Verdant And Rule Over All

The British have a reputation for mistrusting green vegetables. Again, this is a common misconception. The British are highly enamoured of at least three: the asparagus spear, the Brussels sprout, and the garden pea. The arrival of fresh asparagus marks the true start of the British summer, and many Brits are so loyal to that tradition that they forsake the (admittedly vastly inferior) asparagus from Peru that is now available in UK supermarkets all year round. And if summer isn’t summer without the Asparagus spear, then Christmas isn’t Xmas without that tight little green ball of gassy goodness, the Brussels sprout. Even those who claim to detest this little brassica don’t feel their holiday meal is complete without having to ingest at least one. British children may loathe the taste, but they are highly amused by the methane-related results.  And the garden pea is served all year round, with almost any dinner. And that’s not just because the pea is such a freezer success story and cooks so quickly. Generations of Brits (and even half-Brits such as I) have  very fond memories of shelling peas in their grandmother’s kitchen.

10. The Fruit, It Shall Be Abundant. Dried, But Abundant

Given the frequent inclemency of British weather, they quite understandably have a long tradition of drying and candying fruit rather than relying upon its freshness. And they put that dried fruit into almost every dessert, biscuit or cake imaginable. There are many regional variations across the land, but the great British Sweet Christmas staples are the mincemeat pie (originally- and intriguingly- made with actual meat as well as the fruit), the Christmas pudding, and the fruit cake. All are filled with a variety of dried fruits and nuts. The fruit cake is also the traditional British wedding cake. A time-consuming labor of love to prepare- and almost as arduous to eat- the fruit cake is famous for its density and its exceedingly long shelf life. There’s a British tradition that if a bridesmaid takes a piece of the cake home and sleeps with it under her pillow, she will be married within the year. Regardless of any vermin infestations or neck aches  that may incur, she would also be provided with a handy blunt weapon should she be faced with an unwelcome intruder. If the fruit cake is now falling out of favor as a wedding cake, that’s only because in this day and age the cake seems to outlast the actual marriage.

11. Thou Shalt Not Trifle With The Trifle

Around since at least the 17th Century in its current form, the trifle is the most singular expression of the uniquely British love for sweet food that is also easy to chew. As such, it is also a catalytic ingredient in the admittedly bleak British dental history. The layers of sponge soaked in sweet booze, jam, or jelly, or jam AND jelly, custard and whipped cream create a dessert course centerpiece that can vary from the garish to the, well, garish. Traditionally, enough sweet sherry is used to render entire families incoherent, but in this modern age other sweet fruity liqueurs are equally acceptable. Before you scoff at the trifle, do bear in mind that the globally popular Italian dessert Tiramisu is in fact a direct take on trifle, which just goes to show that Italians can, on occasion, willingly accept outside culinary inspirations.

12. The Day Is Begun: Gird Thine Arteries

The last tenet of the British Magna Cater is the one that starts the day. The dreaded European “Continental” breakfast is entirely at odds with the British national character, as is the traditional American carbohydrate fiesta. Every day, in home kitchens and greasy caffs across the land, the day begins with what is known as a “fry up.” This repast generally consists of fried eggs (scrambled or otherwise), fried sausages, fried bacon, and fried mushrooms. As a nod to other culinary processes, grilled tomatoes and baked beans may also be present on the plate. This breakfast is of course served with tea, and bread, which is also often fried. Whilst contemplating the  arterial sclerosis-inducing properties of such a start to the day, take into account that there is no greater salve for a hangover on this earth. In fact, if one stays up late enough to end a boozy night with such a meal, the hangover may never even occur. Whether or not that would be due to a cataclysmic pulmonary event in one’s subsequent sleep is neither here nor there.

So this is what I imagine the British Magna Cater to be. Had I a scroll to hand, or indeed the calligraphic ability, I would nail it to the doors of town halls and kitchens across the land. Except I really wouldn’t need to. Those laws are already in place.  But what do you think? Have I neglected one? Are there more British culinary traditions so entrenched that they belong in the Magna Cater? Answers on a postcard please.

→ 5 CommentsTags: History and Holidays · Notes and Passing Fancies

Waste Not .. and Enjoy!

by Deb on August 10th, 2014 No Comments ·

I’ve been thinking a lot about leftovers recently. This isn’t new. I’ve written before about the love we have for leftovers here at TransAtlantic Kitchen. But I’ve been thinking again about them – this time in a much broader sense and not just as a shortcut when I don’t want to cook.

leftovers2There are really two reasons for this – first, I’m trying to be better about bringing my lunch to work and leftovers are very often a part of that and second I’ve been doing research for work about various ways to use up leftovers.

Leftovers in both cases being either extra from previous meals or the bits and bobs we all end up with in the fridge when we have half a pack of this and only a slice of that.

I found a few things I already knew – leftover bread is excellent for breadcrumbs and french toast, for example. But I also found some facts and figures I found really shocking about consumer food waste.

  • 40% of the food purchased in the US is thrown away. Now, some of that is the “scraping the plates off at the end of dinner” type of waste but a lot of it is not
  • Bread is the most wasted food in both the UK and the US. We also place a fairly low value on grains so rice and pasta get tossed in vast quantities
  • The single most wasted vegetable is potatoes – which, in the context of what people buy, sounded quite likely but what I didn’t know was that 47% of the potatoes that are wasted in the UK (thrown away either after cooking or before) are thrown away having never come out of the packaging. 47%!
  • 40% of the apples purchased in the UK are thrown away untouched.

There are lots of other numbers I could toss out telling us that bread is wasted in gargantuan amounts. So are apples, milk, and packaged salad. But I have decided that the more productive thing to do is collect tips and tricks to address the issue and hopefully help us all make the more from the money we apparently throwing away.

A few ideas to get started (and to give me time to organize what I plan to be a series of posts n- broken down by specific food stuff):

bread_frenchBREAD:  bread puddings, french toast, eggy breads, strata, panzanella, croutons and of course, breadcrumbs.

Now, I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, “Yes, Deborah – we are well aware that we can make breadcrumbs. All well and good but for crying out loud – we can only USE so many breadcrumbs. What do you expect us to do with all of them?”

And to that I say – a) they freeze well and b) you can use them as toppings on casseroles, meatballs, meatloaf, and plant food. Yes, I said plant food! Some suggest that 1 part breadcrumbs or cubed bread, 1 part water and a tablespoon of plant food thrown into a mixer and voila, more plants get extra enriched food. Don’t fancy using plant food in your mixer? Can’t say I blame you and frankly the idea of having an extra one out in the garden seems silly. So I suggest this – swap used coffee grinds for the plant food. Coffee grinds are like plant growing magic. Your plants will thank you.

HERBS: as is often this case this time of year, TransAtlantic Towers is full of basil – Italian basil and Greek. It makes the kitchen smell divine but it does create rather a challenge. How to use it all. Now, obviously we don’t HAVE to use it all but it seems a shame to waste it just because basil does better when regularly harvested. So in addition to @dungeekin using the basil in a lot of the Big Weekend Cook standards, we make pesto, freeze it in a bit of cooking oil (we have quite a few handy dandy ice cube trays full of fresh herbs for using all winter) and since we’re eating more salads these days, we’ll throw it into store bought greens.

LEMONS: I’ve already put together a few thoughts on using up lemons, in the kitchen and throughout the house

CHEESE: I have saved the best for last. Iam a cheese fan. Many of you are cheese fans. Do you know of fromage fort? If yes, then you never have cheese going to waste in your fridge. If you do not know of it – behold.

FROMAGE FORT

cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of cheese – any bits and pieces in any combination
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine – any white wine works here except (in my opinion) very sweet wines
  • 3 tbsps unsalted butter, softened – unsalted is key especially if there is Parmesan going into this mix
  • 1 small clove garlic – or if you’re me, a bit more garlic
  • Herbs to taste. Start with parsley or chives. Or parsley and chives.

Preparation

  • Remove rinds from hard cheeses and grate them.
  • Cut the softer cheese cubes – 1/2 inch ought to do it.
  • Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes.
  • Serve immediately with crackers or bread of choice (the crustier the bread the better, if you ask me) or refrigerate for an hour if you like a firmer feel. Stores well covered in the fridge for up to 1 week.

A few notes for fromage fort:

  • If you don’t have a pound worth of cheese, adjust the rest of the ingredients to proportionally what you do have.
  • The herbs you use are very much a matter of taste and whatever cheese you’re using
  • This will almost never be the same twice because the cheeses will be different. Exciting, no?

Anyway – this is just my way of saying that I’m working on a larger effort – both in life and on this blog – to be aware or and better use the leftovers in the kitchen. I hope, at the same time, to find useful ideas to share and hear some of your ideas as well.

→ No CommentsTags: Leftovers · Notes and Passing Fancies · Recipes

The Mango And Me

by Patrick on August 1st, 2014 No Comments ·

madeleinesEach of us has our Madeleine. It can be Proust’s sweet little cake, or a handful of tart-sweet blackberries, a slice of warm apple pie, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a spoonful fiery hot curry, a bowl of chicken noodle soup, or a big plateful of meaty lasagne, but we all have one.

I’m talking of course about Memory Food, the mouthful that goes beyond comfort food of the moment and takes us back to our childhoods, that nourishes us as much with memories as it does with physical nutrients. We all probably have more than one. But if pressed, if we had to name just one foodstuff that represents our childhood, what would it be?

mangosMy Madeleine is a mango, eaten perhaps a day before the fruit could fully ripen, when the flesh is a toothsome buttercup yellow, and the sugars within haven’t yet taken control of all the flavour the fruit has to offer. Now it may seem odd, but I eat my mango seasoned with a light sprinkling of salt. One bite into this, and I have a direct connection to myself as a little boy, and to heat, and thunderstorms, and blue sky through palm trees.  Because that was the happiest part of my childhood. Because that’s how, as a little boy, I was taught to eat a mango.

When I was five years old, my family moved from La Paz, high on the dusty and arid Bolivian Altiplano, to San Jose, capital of balmy and lush Costa Rica.  Although I had been born in Kenya, the only memories I had then (and now) were of the snowy blasts of a Polish winter before we moved to Bolivia, and in La Paz then the thin air that kept an oxygen canister by my father’s side, and the acrid chill coming off the Andes. Seemingly having spent my scant five years in a least a bulky sweater, I remember to this day how the air in Costa Rica seemed to brush my skin all the time, how the humidity would constrict and then explode into shocking cloudbursts almost every afternoon (or so it seemed), cloudbursts that you could outrun if you were fast enough.

I have so many happy memories of our time in Costa Rica, and many of them involve our housekeeper, a wonderful woman named Balbina. She was a strict but kind woman  who had two great loves that are indelibly marked on my memory. Every night, after my  bath, Balbina would take me into her room and sit me down in front of a photograph of John F Kennedy she had pinned to the wall. There I would  sit while she combed my damp hair to look just like his, all the while telling me what a great man he was and all the wonderful things he had done for Costa Rica. And every afternoon she would take a mango from the tree in the garden, carefully picking one that was not yet quite ripe, and cut it into slices. She would lay the slices of yellow mango out on a plate and sprinkle them with salt and chili powder. If I was home, and she considered me sufficiently well-behaved that day to be worthy of a treat, she would set aside a few slices for me, omitting the chili powder she considered too fiery for my young palate, but retaining that sprinkle of salt that brought out both the sweetness and the profound sourness of the fruit. I may not remember the very first bite I took of that firm yellow flesh, but in a way I remember the flavour of every bite of mango I shared with Balbina,  tangy and salty and just a little bit sweet.

So began my love affair with the mango; a love affair that has lasted all my life. It hasn’t always been an easy love affair to sustain. Although my parent’s peripatetic occupations took us from Costa Rica to Nigeria, where mangoes were also abundant, we eventually traveled to points north, where mangoes were in exceedingly short supply, if available at all. I doubt the Soviets had ever encountered a mango, and the Greeks had fruits of their own.

During this period of my life, I would have to wait for trips to the US to get even a sniff of a mango, so it could be years between one salted mango and another. While you might think this would make the mango love fade from a little boy’s heart, in fact each mango I did get to eat was a bright and shiny treat, so delicious that I would often consume the whole fruit in one sitting, which would often upset my stomach but always enthrall my budding foodie soul.

At other times, more wisely aware that it would be a long while before I would experience such delicious joy again, I would  stretch out my delectation of the mango for as long as I could bear, allowing myself just a few bites or slices each day, until I could convince myself that the rest had to be eaten now, right now, before it was thrown out by somebody else. In between those trips to the US, and those fleeting chances to season my favourite fruit, I was forced to experiment with other fruits in a vain effort to find a suitable substitute.

peachesThe flesh of peaches and nectarines and even plums, caught at that same moment when they were just on the cusp of full ripeness and also sprinkled with salt, was just tangy enough to temporarily sate my yearning for my fruity childhood friend.  Pineapples and oranges also served that purpose from time to time. In fact I experimented with just about any fruit I encountered, but almost always met with disappointment. Salted bananas? Abhorrent. Salted berries? Not so much. And nothing, but nothing, can improve the dreaded apricot.

An eventual move to London in my early twenties brought me back into contact with the occasional mango. Initially disappointing, of course, as the British have never taken to the mango the way they did the pineapple. The mangoes I first encountered here were hard and flavourless, or woefully overripe and cloyingly sweet. But eventually I learned two important facts about the mango, facts that have allowed me a new pathway back to the intensely tangy tropical taste of my youth.

The first fact is that with mangoes, as with avocados, one should- as Nigella Lawson once said- buy early and use late. What she meant was that you should buy your mango at least two days before you intend to eat it. Leave it somewhere as warm and sunny as Britain allows, and let it ripen just that little bit, so that it feels in your hand like a firm, supple, buttock. That warmth magically allows flavour back into the mango, and cupping it in your hand without giving in to the temptation to squeeze, but instead just gently sensing its texture, lets you know when it has reached that optimal point of firm yet tender juiciness. Only then should you consider slicing that mango open.  It doesn’t- for me- take me the whole way back to the taste I remember; the refrigeration on the journey and the artificially chill air in the supermarket will always deny a mango here its full flavour potential. But it takes me just close enough. A spritz of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt and leaving it for a bit before I dive in, and I’m almost there. That first fact applies specifically to mangoes purchase from a large supermarket or food hall.

The second fact is- to me- even more glorious and rewarding. Because although I would have been forgiven for thinking as a child that mangoes came from Costa Rica, or then from Nigeria, I would have been totally wrong. Mangoes are native to India and Southeast Asia. And it has been the influx of people from that part of the world into Britain that has allowed my love affair with the mango to come full circle.

tangychutneyMangoes are an intrinsic ingredient in Indian and Southeast Asian culinary culture, and so they are utilised in a dazzling variety of ways, from being celebrated for their life-affirming sweetness to having that same intensely tangy quality I adore equally celebrated in chutneys, pickles, and fiery and sour salads.

And as Asian communities grow and take root here in Britain, they wisely ensure that the foods they celebrate come with them. And so these communities open their own shops in their own neighborhoods, and import the foodstuffs they need, the ones that can’t really be substituted or faked from vast chains that cater for a largely Anglo Saxon population. A wonderful aspect of eating (and cooking) in Britain these days is that Asian cuisine is becoming more palpably authentic, rather than less, if you know where to shop.

That’s where I’ve learned to shop for my mangoes now. I settle for a supermarket mango if I must, but wherever I move to on my travels in London, I seek out the nearest Southeast Asian neighborhood, and the accompanying unassuming little shops crammed next to each other, selling cigarettes and soft drinks at the front, but offering a treasure trove of whole spices and fragrant herbs and exotic fruits and vegetables once you step further in.

It was in one of these shops on the Kilburn High Road that I discovered tiny green mangoes, maybe a fifth of the size one might expect of a fully grown ripe fruit. They were still attached to bits of stem, and the moment I picked one up and snapped it free of that stem, and instantly caught the uniquely sharp resin scent that only the stem of a mango can give, I knew I had found my own culinary time machine. I knew that once I got that mango home, sliced, salted it, and let it make contact with my tongue I would be transported right back to that table with Balbina, to those delicately sweet and perfumed yet deeply, profoundly sour flavours all happening in my mouth at the same time. To rain smacking down on the tin roof, to the thrilling tremors that shook the house from time to time, to picking a mango from a tree. And I was right.

I am grateful- every time- I have my first bite of one of those little Asian mangoes. Grateful for the taste, of course, and very grateful too for the passport it provides back to that simpler time in my life. But most grateful really, for the world-and the life- that has allowed that bite to happen. Because here I am, having been born on one side of the world, and then being introduced to mangoes on another side of the world, and then finally finding the taste I yearned for on another side of the world, from a mango that came from yet another side of the world, a side thousands upon thousands of miles away from anywhere I’ve ever been, brought here by people very different from me and yet who share a very personal love, even if it’s just for a singular fruit.

And the last wonderful thing about that is that now I can have that mouthful of childhood mind-trip pretty much whenever I want. Which, surprisingly, doesn’t make that mouthful mean any less. Instead, it means that I don’t have to yearn for it, or to eke it out when I get it. I can just appreciate my childhood when I’m in the mood to do so, just like the mango.

As love affairs go, I think that’s a damn happy ending.

→ No CommentsTags: Notes and Passing Fancies

Lemon Vodka Twist Cake

by Deb on July 6th, 2014 No Comments ·

It was a quiet weekend – well, a quiet weekend as long as you weren’t driving at Silverstone , riding in the Tour de France or playing on Centre Court. As I was doing none of these things, I was having a quiet weekend and on quiet weekends, I often take the opportunity to bake and I knew what I wanted to tackle this weekend.

You see, earlier this week a friend from work brought a recipe to my attention – a recipe for Gin and Tonic cake. over on Pudding Lane, a British cooking blog. Gin and Tonic? A drink cake? I was not unfamiliar with the booze soaked cake concept. Remind me to tell you about effect of rum soaked pound cake on people from my past. It’s terribly amusing. But that’s for another time. I pondered the cake. I read the recipe. I decided that this was something I was going to try. After all, my in-laws and a good many of my acquaintances are all about a good gin and tonic. To here them discuss it, it sounds the most refreshing drink in the history of drink. So, it sounded like a great idea for summer cake. It was a classic pound cake from a proportion point of view and I’m all about pound cakes as many of you know.

So Gin and Tonic cake was my intention. Until Saturday. When I started to think, “well, but I don’t drink gin and tonic. Why couldn’t I swap in the making of one of my drinks?” And then it occurred to me, the lemon-infused vodka!

You see, several weeks back, we’d taken some half decent vodka, popped a mess-o-lemon rinds and a bit of bruised lemon grass into the bottle and left it to infused. We tasted it. DAMN it was smooth. It eventually took on SO much flavor from the lemon rinds that you could easily have just popped an ice cube into it and enjoyed it with no mixer at all. What about a twist on the drink in cake form?A Lemon Vodka Twist!

And so I did. I made a few changes beyond the choice of booze. I used caster sugar instead of granulated for the drizzle (I find it dissolves a bit better). I used SLIGHLTY less lemon juice since the lemonyness of the vodka was VERY intense.

LEMON VODKA TWIST CAKE

cakecool_blogIngredients

  • 4 eggs, weighed in the shells
  • equal weight of:
    • butter
    • caster sugar (that’s super-fine sugar if you’re in the US)
    • self-raising flour
  • 2 lemons – zest of one, juice of two
  • 10 or so shots of lemon infused vodka  (a shot =25ml)
  • 150g caster sugar (you can use granulated if you like – table sugar if you’re in the US)

Preparation

For the cake:

  • Make sure eggs are at room temperature and butter is softened. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  • Weigh your eggs in their shells, and make a note of the exact weight. (Remember – a classic pound cake is all about equal proportions)
  • Weigh out same weight of butter and caster sugar. Cream together until light, fluffy and pale. (This is when the softened butter makes life easier – especially if you’re me and you like to do all this creaming and whisking by hand.)
  • Crack in the eggs, and beat until combined.  (The goal here is as much smoothness as you can get)
  • Sieve in the flour, mix again. (I know sieving is a pain – and strictly speaking, you don’t have to. I often don’t. But I did it this time since I wanted a really smooth batter and sieving is another way of achieving that.)
  • Grate in the zest of one lemon and stir through the juice of that same lemon plus 3-4 shots of the vodka. (The batter is going to suddenly look AWFUL. It’s going to look uneven, watery, lumpy and weirdly translucent at the same time. Do not panic. Mix. Mix steadily and calmly. The smoothness will return.)
  • Then pour into a lined 1kg loaf tin. (I used a silicon loaf. You can use a tin. Your cake might be a smidgen higher than mine if you do. The silicon allows the cake to bulge slightly on the sides.)
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the cake passes the knife test.  (All ovens vary but 45 minutes is when yo need to start keeping a close eye on the situation. Mine took slightly longer than 45 minutes but then, having baked in it quite a bit I knew it would. Note to self: get oven re-sealed.)
  • Remove from the oven, and set aside while you make the drizzle.

For the drizzle:

  • Combine the sugar, rest of the vodka and juice of remaining lemon in a bowl.
  • Prick the surface of the cake with a fork or skewer, then pour over the drizzle.

Let the whole thing cool completely. It came out of the loaf tin brilliantly (thank goodness for silicon bakeware, that’s my position) and is cooling. Initial (very light) dousing with drizzle happened and has soaked in. When cooling complete, rest of drizzle will be poured along top.

cake_drizzle_blog

Slice and enjoy. I know I did. It was amazing (couldn’t wait until after dinner). You definitely get the lemon and then there’s “something else there” (which obviously is the remaining waft of the vodka though you don’t taste vodka and the alcohol has all cooked off). Texture-wise this is one of the softest cakes and most stable crumb-structures I have ever made and the drizzle has soaked into the top third perfectly. And now if you will excuse me, I’m gonna go finish this slice.

cake_slice_blog

 

 

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Savoring Fruit

by Patrick on June 13th, 2014 2 Comments ·

If there’s one dessert dish I loathe, it’s a fruit salad. Soak it in some exotic liqueur, and I can just about stand it. But throw a bunch of chopped up fruit in a bowl and call it a dish, and I’m instantly depressed.  At best, a fruit salad conjures up for me Cloris Leachman as the splendidly gruesome Nurse Diesel in Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety warning that “tardy boys don’t get fruit cup.” At worst, it reminds me of the dietetic pudding option in a fading British seaside hotel.

spinach-straw-saladThing is, I adore fruit in a salad. Taken away from its “sweet” context, fruit can make a savory salad really sing with flavor.  Because sweetness is just one of the flavor notes in any given fruit.

Citrus fruits are also acidic. Green apples, and even pears, have an almost steely edge of sharp crispness. Raspberries and cranberries are as tart as they are sweet. And in the height of summer peaches and nectarines have that juicy tang underneath their sweetness that that sends you off into the dreamy fullness of a hot July as soon as you bite into them.

And what really brings out all those extra levels of flavor is not sugar, or cream, or custard, but a light seasoning of salt and pepper.

If this seems culinarily counter-intuitive to you, consider the tomato, the avocado, and the olive. All, of course, are fruits. Yet we use these fruits in an almost exclusively savory manner. Would you chop a tomato into an Ambrosia fruit salad? Some olives into a fruit crumble? Serve whipped avocado instead of cream alongside a slice of pie? (Actually there are some fascinating vegan recipes for chocolate mousse that utilize avocado, but that’s an extremely inventive response to a necessarily restrictive diet.)

No. When we cook or prepare dishes with  these fruits, or even just snack on them, we think of them as being responsive to salt and pepper instead of sugar.

So why stop with these three fruits? There are, after all many world cuisines that already use other fruits in that savory context. North African cuisine uses dates and apricots in tagines. Middle Eastern cuisine scatters pomegranates over pilafs and lamb dishes. Thai cuisine pairs dry-fried beef mince with papaya and those intensely sour little green mangoes in fabulously hot and crunchy salads. Jamaican meals of jerk pork or saltfish and ackee wouldn’t be complete without fried plantains on the side.

plantains

European cuisines use fruit this way as well. There’s the classic French salad of pear, endive, walnut and blue cheese, and the Italian salad of orange and fennel that makes a magical counterpart to any grilled fish, not to mention the classic condiment Mostarda di Frutta.. There’s also the German dish of Himmel und Erde, which brings together apple, potato, and black pudding. Even the Indian traditions of fruit chutneys and pickles have become staples here in Britain, their use moving far beyond accompanying curries to being served alongside cheese and cold cuts. Indeed the British are rightfully well known for their inventiveness when it comes to fruit chutneys.

And yet, all too often I get an almost scandalized response when I suggest salting fruit instead of sugaring it (something I’ve done since a child, but that’s another story).  I get the impression that in the Western World, we all too often segregate fruit into either that depressing dessert, a virtuous snack,  the kind of breakfast that “gets things moving,” digestively speaking, or just juice. It’s been well known for quite a while now that only drinking the juice of a fruit rather than eating it gives you all of that fruit’s sugar, and actually little of its nutritional value, so in this increasingly nutrition-conscious day and age, it’s even more important to find ways to get all that goodness back into our diets.

There are so many fruits that are far more versatile than you might think, not to mention so many pairings that, while perhaps unexpected, really dance together on your plate and your palate. Mangoes and pineapple, for example, both partner brilliantly with the fruity heat of fresh red or green chillies.  So in that spirit (and it’s most certainly an evangelical one on my part) here are but a few suggestions:

  • Leave out that predictable tomato and make a leafy salad even more verdant with halved green seedless grapes, or slices of kiwi fruit!
  • Give a ham, cheese and mustard sandwich an added layer of tart crisp flavor and texture with thin slices of green apple!
  • Throw some raspberries into a salad of spinach, mushrooms and walnuts! Even better if it’s a warm dinner salad with chicken livers!
  • Go 80′s retro by turning grilled honey-and mustard chicken into a salad with snow peas and honeydew melon!
  • Go Greek with a salad of watermelon, feta cheese, red onion and mint to accompany grilled lamb!
  • Give a chicken salad tropical zing with green chillies and chunks of pineapple! For added camp value, serve in boats carved out of the pineapple!
  • Replace tomato with pineapple for a tart, fiery, and sweet salsa to accompany grilled fish!
  • Forget your usual salsa altogether and throw together a salsa of mango and black beans to go with any grilled meat, or even just a bowl of corn chips!
  • Make a kiwi fruit salsa to accompany grilled shrimp or calamari!
  • Liven up a plain grilled or steamed skinless chicken breast with a salad of mango, radicchio and spring onions, dressed with a simple lemon vinaigrette!
  • Enjoy the perfect summer lunch of nectarines, prosciutto, and mozzarella, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil! Add radicchio for bitterness and crunch!
  • Stir some pesto sauce into well-mashed avocado for a light and creamy dressing for a cold pasta salad!
  • Stuff pitted dates with slices of Parmesan cheese for extremely moreish cocktail nibbles!
  • Or make the ultimate savory fruit salad of pink grapefruit and avocado, dressed with a vinaigrette made from the grapefruit juice, Dijon mustard, and good olive oil! Add shrimps or scallops to make it a full-on meal!

As I said, these are but a few suggestions. They’re all incredibly easy and quick to prepare, and utterly delicious to boot. Recipes for all of the above abound on the internet and elsewhere, so there’s really  no excuse for not being a tad adventurous and turning that grim fruit salad into something spectacular to surprise yourself and anyone else you’re feeding.

So go, go now, and savor your fruits! It really doesn’t take much labor.

 

 

 

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