Happy Cookie Day

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).

various_cookies

What I Learned at Banbury Food Fair 2016

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).

hobbycooks
Anita explains it all – and I was totally listening and not plotting to elbow my way to the front when the “taste the dish” offer was announced.

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.

brisket
Beef Brisket from Smoke & Spice

The difference, in case you wondered, between BBQ sauce and style comes down to regional traditions in the US. Kansas style is a sweeter, wet baste and sauce whereas North Carolina’s taste profile is more tangy and vinegar based. I didn’t learn that yesterday – that was something drilled into my head growing up in BBQ country. Texas style is more about dry rubs. But that’s a larger discussion for another time. Actually pulled pork seemed to be a theme as it also came up in discussion with Dave of Big Dave’s BBQ Shack. His sits a lot longer than ours – 20+ hours.

I learned that everyone wants their picture taken with Jean-Christophe Novelli and the ladies from Siam House were no exception. And really he was so gracious and charming, who can blame them.

jcn_siam

I learned that when making churros, the key is watching the colour more than the clock. I mean, clearly the guys at Churros Ole know how long the churros needs but as they pointed out, the longer the oil has been heated and used, the hotter it gets so you get more of a sense of “done” by looking at the golden colour of the churro and when it looks right, out it comes.

churros
These looked ready – and delicious – to me!

The salted caramel ice cream at Just Rachel was so good, I went back twice. The year before, they’d had divine affogato and while they didn’t have it this year, there were plenty of coffee places about if I’d wanted to do a DIY dessert thing. But there was no need – the salted caramel suited my mood, my day and my taste buds down to the ground. You can imagine my JOY when they mentioned that their ice creams are carried by the shop at Wykham Park Farm. Not only is that just a few minutes away, Wykham Farm is also home to Bakergirl!

Finally, I learned that somewhere in the Banbury area is a budding food art artist with a delectable (and ever so slightly twisted) sense of humour. I fell utterly in love with this piece in the Flower & Produce art competition. Even looking at it now makes me smile.

cof
I cannot even describe the giggling/snorting sound I made when I saw this.

There was lots more to see, do and eat – and my waistline will no doubt reveal evidence that I participated fully. As is often the case when we attend these events, my fave photog was on hand taking pictures and you can see the best of those over on The Banburian’s post: Banbury Food Fair 2016 in Photos.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

On the Occasion of Caviar Day

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).

Black Caviar

Red caviar comes from either on of variety of salmon or trout – keta (dog salmon) is apparently considered the best type of red caviar.

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).

The Bread Baby

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!!

itsalive
That’s Dr. Frankenstein to you, thank you very much.

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.“)

So it was with a snoutful of self- confidence that I approached baking bread.

I got off to a very good start. I wasn’t initially after achieving anything like sourdough. Nothing fancy, just your basic white loaf from a very basic recipe, using instant “fast action” yeast as my rising agent. I hunted around on the net and found this BBC Good Food recipe for easy white bread, went out and bought my strong white bread flour and my instant active yeast, and it worked an absolute treat the very first time. I followed the recipe to the letter, kneaded the dough with vigor, set it to prove somewhere warm for a couple of hours, then proved it again, cut pretty slashes in my loaf, and baked for the allotted time at the allotted temperature, and I had great bread!

I did it again … and again. Soon, I was baking my own loaf on a weekly basis. It even occurred to me at the time that preparing a basic white loaf for baking was not unlike babysitting a baby for an evening. You feed it, play with it, and then leave it somewhere warm for a nice rest while it grows a bit. With basic bread dough, you can even pop it in the fridge overnight, though for legal reasons I would never recommend doing that with an actual child.

I do not know if this man is a baker - or even if he eats bread. But I knew I needed a man bun picture and his man bun was - at least - tidy. The same cannot be said of the many, many others.
I do not know if this man is a baker – or even if he eats bread. But I needed a man bun picture and this man bun was – at least – tidy. The same cannot be said of the many, many others I waded through.

I might have continued indefinitely and quite happily with just my basic white bread. Of course, I knew of sourdough but when and if I thought of it, it was only peripherally and always in terms of pretentious artisan bakers in Shoreditch with manbuns and ear spacers, carving equally pretentious runes into each loaf as their trademark before they set them to bake. In addition, there was something about a “starter”- a mystical, living substance hoarded by those men with manbuns in deepest darkest Shoreditch. It wasn’t for me. I knew I couldn’t carry off a manbun and at my age, putting spacers in my ears would give me lobes down to my knees.

Then I happened to watch the brilliant documentary series “Cooked” on Netflix. In the final episode, host Michael Pollan discusses the role fermentation plays in our cooking history, from cheese to chocolate to kimchee to bread. He mentioned that the first leavened bread probably originated in Ancient Egypt thousands of years ago when porridge or something similar was mistakenly allowed to ferment, and some thrifty ancient cook decided to use it anyway. That fermentation had drawn in and grown natural yeast and bacteria that both fed on and fed the flour. This, said Mr Pollan, was the first “starter”- the origin of the sourdough bread that is so fashionable today.

Now I may have been in a somewhat fermented state myself, but my ears pricked up instantly.

“Wait!” thought I, “Is that all a sourdough starter is? It’s that easy? If some ancient schmuck in a knee length skirt and a topknot (I should have made the manbun connection) could make his own sourdough starter, then why can’t I? I have tools! I have an electric oven! I have the internet!”

At this juncture, I should point out at that my newfound inspiration to make my own sourdough starter didn’t stem entirely from a sudden blaze of historical culinary appreciation and adventure. It also stemmed largely from the fact that the older I get, the cheaper I get. My very next thought was “I no longer have to pay for yeast!”

Turning to the internet for guidance, I found that researching sourdough starters was not unlike researching how to care for babies. On the subject of both, the internet is a teeming sea of opinions, intractable beliefs and contradicting advice rather than straightforward facts. From celebrity chefs to home cooks, everyone was adamant about their recipe/process.

  • I was to be careful about my choice of basket. (Basket? Why on earth would I need a basket?)
  • one chef insisted I add a grated apple to my flour and water mix,
  • another said no, add unsweetened pineapple juice,
  • a third website was very clear about my need to use a blend of three flours, rather than just one.

Three flours? Pineapple juice? I was about forget the whole thing (along with the nascent possibility of a manbun at the nape of my neck – perhaps more of a man-chignon), when I suddenly remembered that a dear friend of mine who had emigrated to Majorca (far less pretentious than Shoreditch) had been making his own sourdough for a couple of years now. Perhaps he could be that calm voice of friendship and experience that every beginner baker/babydaddy needs?

Imagine my relief when that was precisely what he turned out to be. What was his recipe? Nothing more than equal parts strong bread flour and water, whisked together and left to stand, just like that ancient Egyptian. All I had to do, he said, was whisk the flour and water together, and then let it stand for a day. After a day, I was to discard half the starter, and add in equal parts flour and water again. Within a few days, he assured me, my starter would start to bubble and smell, and I should be ready to bake my first loaf within a week. Couldn’t be easier!

That’s what he thought.

Unfortunately, my starter proved to be something of a late bloomer, so to speak. There I was, dutifully feeding and changing the damn thing every twenty-four hours (you see how these quasi-parental thoughts creep in?), and nothing. It lay there inert in its Tupperware container, stubbornly refusing to spring into yeasty bacterial life. I peeked at it and fretted over it constantly, my Colin Clive moment preceded by at least one Shirley MacLaine moment (“Rudyard? Rudyard she’s not breathing.”) and several new internet searches to see where I had gone wrong. I couldn’t entirely rely on my Balearic buddy you see. There are no doubt many delightful aspects of a semi-rural existence in the mountains of Majorca, consistent communication connect-ability is not one of them.

The putative answers I found online there only increased my growing belief that I was a terrible sourdough parent.

  • I was keeping it somewhere too warm (on top of the fridge).
  • I was keeping it somewhere too cold (Britain).
  • I was living in a hard water area and using plain tap water (You can’t raise children in the city!).
  • I should be looking for a smell somewhere between stale beer and acetone (so my kitchen should smell like I’d shacked up with a boozy floozy who spent a lot of time doing her nails? Didn’t sound like a healthy parental environment to me).
  • I was supposed to “inherit” a starter (I’m genetically unqualified).
  • I was fretting over it too much/not enough (what should my sourdough parental standards be? Mama Rose? “Flowers In The Attic”?)

And what was all this stuff I kept reading about baskets? It turned out that there was one point on which the internet was unanimous- should I ever get my starter to actually start, I was going to have eventually put the resulting dough in a fabric-lined basket. This seemed unnecessarily biblical to me. Was I going to sail it down the Nile? It was beginning to seem like I’d be weaving baskets in an institutionally calm environment long before I ever got close to actually baking.

Many times did I consider turning this whole farrago into a papier-mâché art project instead.  But then, after days and days of feeding and changing this seemingly lifeless wallpaper paste, I got home from work late one night, and there was a distinct whiff of Courtney Love in my kitchen. Dared I hope?

I peeked into my starter container, and Oh JOY! It was bubbling away!

Behold! Bubbles!
Behold! Bubbles!

So I fed it and changed it once more as per previous instructions, and the very next day set about making the sponge (where you mix some of the starter with more flour and water and then let that start to bubble too), and then that last big bit of flour and a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of salt to make the dough. I kneaded it for the full ten minutes as ordered, set it into a bowl for its first prove, waited for it to double in size, and then contemplated the problem of the basket/bassinet. Because apparently the point of the basket was that during its second “prove,” that dough was gonna grow.

Fortunately, some previous occupant of my flat had left behind one of those unwieldy wicker baskets wherein loo rolls are artlessly tumbled. Out went the loo rolls and in went two unused pillowcases.

basket
If one cannot be artisan, one should at least upcycle. Have spare pillowcase, will bake.

I re-kneaded my dough and then, much like either the fabled Jochebed (or just that schmuck with the skirt and the topknot), plopped it in the basket, and named it Moses. It seemed somehow right.

Several hours later, I came to understand the need for the basket. That dough had grown. It was massive – (several times its original size), loose, and somewhat difficult to control (not unlike a surly teen). But dutifully I moulded it back into a loaf-like shape, set it on a baking tray, slashed an SOS into the top, then – per my friend’s instructions – popped it into my oven set as hot as it could get. Keeping to what I had been told, I turned the oven down after fifteen minutes and then let it bake for a further twenty five minutes.

What I got was a brick – flavourless, dry, and suitable only for concussing an unwary intruder.

I was crushed. I thought I had finally done everything right! All that time and effort, nurturing, and money (the yeast may have been free but I still had to pay for the flour. I told you, cheap). It was almost as if I had carefully raised my child, instilled in them my values, paid for them to attend the best schools, only for them to inform me that they were dropping out of Harvard Pre-Med to deal drugs for a thrash metal band. I asked my friend if he had the same result and he cheerfully informed me that he used his bread mainly for toast. Without openly questioning his starter parenting philosophy – clearly there would be no Montessori bake dates for us- I seriously questioned mine.

Was I suited to this sourdough lark at all? In the baking world, would I always be more of Auntie Mame than Maria Von Trapp? What frustrated me most was that this was baking, If you follow the rules, you get it right. Right? Apparently not.

But my starter was still there, now fizzing happily away at me every time I opened my fridge. Was it my starter that was essentially flawed or just wrong? Should I have named it Rhoda? I started to seethe at it with resentment while it seethed back at me with yeast. But still. Could I really just throw it away now? And if so, would it block up the drains? So I thought, and I thought. And eventually it hit me.

The starter wasn’t the bread baby. I was the bread baby.

I knew nothing about baking from a starter; at least not in the real, experiential sense. I had only made one attempt. And if I gave up now, it would just be a tantrum worthy of a real crybaby.  So I thought about what it was I really wanted from my starter. And I realized that what I originally wanted had never been “fashionable” sourdough bread, with a fancy signature rune carved into it, more air than actual bread, and that damn manbun. What I wanted was just honest bread; bread that would stay fresh and moist enough to last me the week. And I already had the means for that with my starter. I just had to go back to what I already knew; what had already worked.

So back I went to that original bread recipe that had served me so well. I still kept to my friend’s instructions about creating the sponge and then adding the final heft of flour, and the double-prove (basket et al) but this time I tripled the amount of oil and doubled the amount of salt, and baked the bread (Moses Mark II) at the steady temperature indicated in the original recipe.

What I got was the most beautiful loaf I have ever seen in my life. You could smell the yeasty tang as it came out of the oven. When I cut greedily into it (there were always absolute limits to my parental affections), it was delicious!

loaf2
Light, fluffy, with some of those telltale sourdough bubbles, sure, but enough actual crumb that I wasn’t just eating air.

Was it artisan? Nope. Would it even have passed muster as a true sourdough? Probably not. But it was mine, and therefore perfect in my eyes.

That was a month ago, and I’m very pleased to say that I’ve been knocking out at least one sourdough loaf every week ever since. With each loaf, I’ve tweaked and adjusted proving times and baking methods. I now fill a roasting tray with boiling water and put that under my loaf as it bakes. The steam creates a lovely hard crust that also seems to trap moisture inside the bread. I’m lucky to have a flatmate willing to eat lots of the bread. Otherwise I would be a loaf too. I haven’t yet branched out into different flours yet, but I will. I’m saving that for an occasion that calls for it. And I haven’t bothered yet to come up with a signature slash on the top of my loaf. It turned out that particular act of violence was only to allow steam to escape. That said, the slashing I usually do is in an effort to create regular steam breaks, and the end-result looks not entirely unlike a scarab beetle. So I guess it’s back to Ancient Egypt on that front after all.

Though I’m very proud of my sourdough starter, I no longer feel even the slightest bit parental about it. I guard it jealously of course- and it is my starter. But I look forward to the day when I can lend somebody some of mine to start their own, should somebody ever ask. That won’t feel like parting with anything; the starter can be infinitely replenished, which is part of its wonder and genius.

And as my starter matures and deepens in flavour in my fridge, I’m maturing with each loaf I bake. I know now of course that nurturing a sourdough starter is not really at all like raising a baby. The real parents I know only toast their children with champagne, and almost never slather them with Marmite.

Patrick’s Basic Sourdough Starter And Bread Recipe
(With a Muchas Gracias to Majorca)

To make a starter:

  • Whisk 200g strong bread flour and 200g water in a tupperware container and leave somewhere at room temperature for a day.
  • 24 hours later discard 100g of the paste, and then add in another 100g of flour and 100g of water and whisk in.

Note: Keep doing this every day, but be patient. You will eventually start to see bubbles on top of your starter, and as the days pass, the bubbles will multiply, until they cover the top of your starter. These bubbles will be accompanied by a tangy smell of beer. This will take anywhere from 5 days to a week.

How long it takes will depend on so much: where in your kitchen you keep it, how often fresh air gets into your kitchen, whether the planets are in alignment, who knows? It’s a wild living thing, and therefore not subject to schedules. There is NO SET time limit for a starter. History does not record how long that first pot of porridge sat there bubbling away before it got noticed.

  • You now have a sourdough starter! It will now sit happily loosely covered in your fridge until needed! Once your starter is reliably fizzing, you can stop discarding half. Just give it the occasional whisk from time to time and feed it weekly (with 100g of flour and 100g of water), or whenever you’re going to bake. The goal is to have 200g of starter on the go at all times.

When you’re ready to bake, add another 100g each of flour and water (for a 200g combined total) to the starter, and let it bubble up again.

To make the bread:

  • Take 200g of the starter and place it in a large bowl with a further 250g each of flour and water and whisk or stir together. This is your “sponge” or “leaven.” This mixture itself will start to bubble in a couple of hours.
  • Once bubbling is evident, add in 300g strong bread flour, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 teaspoons salt.
  • Using your hands, bring this all together into a dough.
  • Knead on a floured surface for a good ten minutes until you have a smooth, stretchy dough. You may have to keep sprinkling more flour on the dough as you go.
  • Then pop the dough into a large lightly oiled bowl and leave to double in size. This will take about 4-5 hours (or at least it did for me).
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl and knock the air out. Knead it again for 5-10 minutes, and then pop into the fabric-lined basket of your choice.
My goodness, how you've grown!
My goodness, how you’ve grown!
  • Then, over at least another 4-5 hours (though I leave it overnight) let it grow as large as you dare! As soon as you pick it up it will collapse a bit, the more so the longer you have left it.
  • Preheat your oven to 220c, and line a baking tray with parchment.
  • (Optional: place a roasting tray on your oven floor and fill your kettle. Once you’re ready to bake, boil the kettle, and pour the contents into the roasting tray before you put your bread in the oven. This gives me a lovely hard crust and a moist crumb.)
  • Place your now collapsed loaf onto the baking tray and cut several slashes in it. They will seem to collapse on themselves but fear not. They will rise again.
  • Now place your baking tray on the middle shelf of your oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it! Of course your oven is your oven, so adjust cooking times and temperatures as you see fit. Ovens can be as temperamental as sourdough starters.

You have your first sourdough loaf!

loaf

Happy Anniversary to Us!

fabfoodie_10yrs

Ten years ago today – Patrick posted a Roundup with Saucy Tomato Salad and look what has happened since. Spices, culinary meditation and crispy culinary chaos feature in some of his favourite posts.

us_10a

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.

We have had guest posters, too (and welcome more … hint, hint).

We have talked turkey, gotten baked – uh, I mean, baking – gone multi-media with podcasts  and launched a Fabulous Foodie Facebook group. What a ten years it has been. Can’t wait for the next ten!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Summer Infusions Underway

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.

lemon_peel
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.

Chocolate_mint_plant

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.

icedcoffee

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 and the Bard

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.

banbury_cakeshop

E. W. Brown’s Original Cake Shop, 12 Parsons street.

BanburyCake

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 Cheese!

banbury_cheese

“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.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “What does this have to do with Shakespeare?” Continue reading “Banbury and the Bard”

Marching to a Foodie Drum

March is full to the brim with culinary observances.

CAFFEINE AWARENESS MONTH: I’m hugely aware of it, thanks. In fact, the more I have, the more aware I am. We’re always been more or less in a constant state of caffeination at Fabulous Foodie. From a few facts in our Quick Coffee Trivia Round Up to our tips for Crafting a Cup of Coffee; from the mildly mind-bending Coffee Conundrum, Caffeine Continuum to choosing which coffee day to celebrate in Coffee Really Gets Around.

coffee_beans

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.

celery-flats

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!

Continue reading “Marching to a Foodie Drum”

Spatchcock Psycho

It started a few weeks, back, under the cover of night.  I’d been aching to try it for a while, but it seemed so difficult and dangerous that I was nervous about an actual attempt. I’d read about it of course, and even seen a few videos on one of those specialty YouTube channels. They made it look so easy, but still I was afraid I’d wind up with a mangled corpse and a kitchen saturated with blood.

A Decision Made

Finally I plucked up the courage to try my hand.

I waited until I knew there would be no witnesses to catch me should I fail. I brought my victim home, put on my apron and sharpened my largest, heaviest knife. Then, with a drink to steady my nerves, I sneaked up behind my victim, and set to work.

The relief and pride as the job was done were immense. And later, as   I gazed down at my victim lying spread-eagled before me and sampled the juicy morsels of tender flesh, I knew I would do it again. And again and again. This was not some dark adventure to try only when the moon was full or when I could hold out no longer against my dark desires. This would happen regularly, perhaps once a week if I was lucky and could find people to share my new compulsion – and if my freezer could hold the rising tide of body parts. I had become a man obsessed.

cleaver

Yes. Spatchcocking chicken had changed me forever.

You may have heard of Spatchocking as “butterflying,” but that’s far too pretty a term for what this process involves.

Spatchcocking – not to be confused with Spatchcock, which is a culled immature rooster, or Spitchcock, which has to do with eels- is when  the backbone of a chicken is removed and the chicken is flattened out, ready for grilling or roasting. The term  is apparently an Irish word, which is another culinary reason to thank them, along with flavored potato chips and chocolate milk.  It’s been around since at least the 18th century, though it’s such a brilliant way to prepare a chicken for cooking that I’d be surprised if nobody had thought of it sooner. Spatchcocking has regained popularity for a while now, mostly because it’s perfect for the barbecue.

Flattening  a whole chicken like that allows you to grill it in one piece, like it’s one big piece of meat. And who doesn’t go berserk for a big piece of meat?

Now that’s all well and good, but why lose my mind over it? Continue reading “Spatchcock Psycho”