Dining Differently on Holiday

Another summer holiday is about the begin – and we’re off to France.  And though this is a self-catering holiday and we tackle the majority of meals ourselves as we do at home, the way we shop and eat during this now annual week in Brittany sets it apart from the rest of the year; not only because it is in a different country entirely. But the pace, times and types of meals we have change as well.

Breakfast is always purchased fresh in the morning – croissants and a loaf of crusty French bread (which gets us through lunch as well) with butter and jam. Now that we’ve been trying to cut down on bread, this means we’re eating more bread in a week than we normally do in a month. But – holidays are holidays and I’m not gonna sweat it. The French are very definitely on to something with this daily bread purchase though. If I am going to blow the bread limit, let it be exceptional bread and fresh to boot.

Continue reading “Dining Differently on Holiday”

News Round Up & New Reading

We are less than a month away from the Banbury Food Fair so as you can imagine all I really want to do is focus on that – and what a lot to focus on! Over 120 vendors, a full day of chef demos, vintage tea room, the flower and produce show … But that’s not until August 20 so what are some of the food headlines that caught my eye lately and what’s on the foodie ‘to be read’ pile these days? Cake, coffee and crumble as it happens.

Continue reading “News Round Up & New Reading”

10 Best (Non-Baking) Uses for Bicarb

Before anyone asks: yes, my fellow Americans – bicarbonate of soda is the same as baking soda. Now that we’re on the same page – Happy Bicarbonate of Soda Day!

There was a time when I assumed the only thing bicarb was good for was, once mixed in with water, as a hangover remedy. These days I bake more so I realize there’s more to it than that. But I’ve also realized in the past year or so, that its usefulness as a tool in the cleaning arsenal around the house is unrivalled. Well, only rivalled by lemons. Between bicarb and lemons, I hardly need anything else.

Bicarb_lemon

I’ve been switching to greener cleaning options these days – for a number of reasons, chief among which is the obsession that cleaning product manufacturers have these days about scenting EVERYTHING. They clearly have a very different understanding of the word “lemony” or the phrase “pine fresh scent” than I do. YUCK!

baking-soda-for-cleaning

So, I thought to mark the occasion of Bicarbonate of Soda Day, I thought I’d round up a few of the ways I used bicarb around the house. You may find a useful tip or two – and by all means, share any others you might have.

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Tarting Up Weekend Leftovers

I may or may not have mentioned that @dungeekin (taking cues from Heston Blumenthal) made triple cooked chips the other night. If I did not mention it, it’s quite likely because I was far too busy stuffing my face with the amazing meal in which the chunky chips featured. Behold!

Anyway, it was delicious but that’s not why I mention it today. I mention it today because it led to another discussion about using leftovers. Continue reading “Tarting Up Weekend Leftovers”

Delicious Distractions

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, a 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.

Lemon Vodka Twist Cake

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.

cakecool_blogYou 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. Continue reading “Lemon Vodka Twist Cake”

Musings on Transatlantic Kitchen …

When I decided that I was going to marry Deb, my prospective father-in-law took me to one side, handed me a bourbon* and shared with me his rules for a long and happy marriage. Chief among these rules was Rule Three, which was, “if in doubt, say ‘yes dear'”.

Good advice and, as we approach our first Second Anniversary (long story, don’t ask), so far highly successful.

So when Deb insisted, on pain of pain, that I actually start writing about the Transatlantic Kitchen, I figured it was best to apply Rule Three, say ‘yes dear’ and make a start on explaining about my kitchen, my food, and the pleasure it brings.

The Transatlantic Kitchen is my ‘happy place,’ a refuge. It’s where I get away from long working hours and nights away from home. It’s a place where all that matters is concentrating on what I’m doing, where the stresses melt away and are replaced by the zing of citrus on the tongue and the scent of garlic in the air. The Transatlantic Kitchen was one of the biggest reasons we bought Transatlantic Towers; it’s big enough to be a social space, is well laid-out and has plenty of working room for an experimental cook to spend many happy hours fiddling with his dishes and massaging his meat.

TK_shot2

garlic features heavily at Transatlantic Kitchen

Facebook followers will know that Transatlantic Kitchen is open mostly at weekends, when I’ll spend whole days prepping, marinating and experimenting to fill the fridge and freezer for the coming week**, as well as providing the meals for the whole family (Deb, Sprog and I) during the weekend itself. And I adore it. It’s a passion bordering on obsession – not to primp and fuss and produce esoteric artworks that wouldn’t be out of place at ‘El Bulli’, but to make good food from all over the world, strong on flavour and taste while working on a reasonably low budget and minimising waste. Oh, and taking ENDLESS photographs of what I make, to make me smile when I can’t be at home at the stove.

Eating is pleasure. Making something to eat should be too. For me at least, slaving over a hot stove feels more like freedom than servitude.

So I shall follow orders, and write about Transatlantic Kitchen. I’ll try and detail the recipes that come out of the Kitchen regularly (harder than it sounds, as I cook by touch and instinct and tend to forget to write anything down). I’ll try and describe what I’ve learned from almost twenty years of faffing about with food, what works for my pantry and, most of all, how much sheer joy there is in just messing about with food. I’ll also try to cover what works for us with pre-preparation (and no, I don’t plan meals a week ahead) and hopefully Deb can cover the science and research bit. I’m no good at that bit – I just never grew out of playing with my food.

I’ve promised Deb that I’ll post weekly, and I hope that reading about the food that comes out of Transatlantic Kitchen is as much of a sensory pleasure as making it can be.


*Several bourbons, actually. Large ones. I’ll spare you the details – those who know the gentleman know what I mean.

**Or month. As of today, there are 19 fully pre-prepared dishes sitting in the freezer.