Transatlantic Towers Culinary Round Up

There’s been a lot happening here at Transatlantic Towers – much of it being of a culinary nature so I offer this round up of links, thoughts and passing fancies.

As regular readers will know, @dungeekin enjoys making bread but you may not know that he has been experimenting with various flavoured breads. Behold the latest in that effort:

garlic_bread

The crust is always an important aspect of bread results for him (and for me as the official Transatlantic Bread Tester). So it was with great interest that I read “Rustic White Bread from a Bread Cloche” over on The Kitchn (if you don’t know the Kitchn, do check it out. Useful and inspiring). I’ve never used a bread cloche and if the results are as reported, it might be interesting to give it a go. I like the DIY options discussed in the comments as well. After all, if I can do the same with a dutch oven and a pizza stone, no need to splash out the cash on a new gadget. New gadgets in the kitchen always make me think of that Alton Brown advice about ensuring everything in the kitchen can do at least double duty and shunning what he calls unitaskers (with the exception of the fire extinguisher).

Speaking of Alton Brown – I’ve been going back and re-watching a lot of Good Eats. Damn, that’s a good show.  Also, I have to say – I love his Best Thing I Ever Made segments. The one I think made my mouth water the most was the Mushroom Stroganoff (ah the joys of YouTube when you live far away from US cooking channels) Love mushrooms!

Still, one can’t sit in front of the TV or computer screen all day. One must get out and about once in a while so next weekend we’re off to the Thame Food Festival and the Shipston Food Festival. Going to those types of things is always interesting for food folks. A) You’re surrounded by other food folks and quite likely they are doing things or using ingredients you have not yet used so you can not only get ideas but pick the brains of other food folks.  Last weekend was also a bit of a culinary explore – stopped by Daylesford Farm Shop where we stared in amazement at the size of the meringues, stood in awe of the breads and considered ideas prompted by the many herbs and oils on display.

That evening, exhausted from our adventures we relaxed by – what else – puttering about the kitchen, re-orging the spice/herbs cabinet and then @dungeekin produced a Sunday dinner like this:

sunday

Another thing that will be happening soon is the transition of a few of the herbs from back garden to window sill for the winter. Space is the main issue so we won’t be moving all them. Just three key herbs that we use the most and which can reasonably be expected not to try and take over the kitchen windowsill.

We’re trying to be good about how we use the space in the kitchen (and we are lucky in that there are quite a few cabinets) so we cleared out and organized the herb/spices. The tinned, boxed and jar-stored staples also got a check but it really wasn’t until we started re-arranging the cookery equipment itself that Miss Thing decided we needed closer supervision:

cabinet cat

I don’t know that our work was up to her standards – she didn’t LOOK impressed. But then, she is a cat.

Culinary Wool-Gathering

Have Caesar dressing but no greens. So made Caesar tuna for lunch then combined w/ lemon juice & Dijon mustard into a marinade for chicken. So this is what happens when killing time while my bagel toasts. I always have tuna on a toasted plain bagel.

  • I happened to be out in the garage earlier when it once again occurred to me, “Damned we have a lot of champagne for two people who don’t drink champagne.”  We have a lot of stuff in the garage (usefully set up as a spare pantry at one end) but it’s the champagne that always strikes me as particularly absurd. I mean, – what do we DO with it? How many champagne brunches can we POSSIBLY throw? And before you say “re-gift, I confess I can’t recall where a lot of it came from so that’s a no go.  As usual in cases where I am at a loss and my better half isn’t here to pester, I turn to the internet. There I found a few cooking uses for it including a champagne sauce for the poaching of seafood, using it as part of the liquid in risotto, in syrup for fruit – even a glaze for ham (paired with vanilla) . What do you guys do when you find yourself a few too many bottles up of the sparkling stuff? This MUST be a common issue after New Year’s parties, right?
  • Had wonderful brownie this weekend at the entertainingly named Greedy Goose Pub in Moreton-in-Marsh. It was served warm and as they plated it, they added a leaf of mint between the warm brownie and the vanilla ice cream on top. The heat from the brownie sent mint into both the cake and a ice cream. It was LOVELY
  • Last night’s Great British Bake Off involved that key British classic – the trifle. I rather like trifles. They are pretty, multi-layered and oh so flexible. I may have to try making one eventually. I’ve never done it – coming from the US as I do and trifles not being quite as popular there. In fact, I have no recollection of ever having been served a trifle or seen one on a menu there. I might be wrong but no memory comes to mind. I may shoot for a slightly less than traditionally sweet one though as a) hubby is not a sweets fan as a rule and b) I’m currently going through a spice phase and a trifle seems like a good chance to play around with them.
  • Speaking of desserts – Tomorrow is both Macadamia Nut Day and Eat An Extra Dessert Day. Which to choose, which to choose … Now hold on! February is Macadamia Nut Month. If that is the case, why does it also get a DAY? A day so far from it’s month? I smell a rat. In that case, I shall go with the dessert. Or rather desserts as I am told to have an extra one. I think this will do nicely:

dessert

 

 

TV: The Good, The Bad & the Bland

I watched two cooking shows last night – one good, the other not so good.

The Good – The Incredible Spice Men. These guys are terrific – they’re funny, knowledgeable, clearly LOVE cooking in addition to being good at it (quite often you don’t get the sense that some of the cooking presenters don’t actually enjoy what they’re doing. Maybe they did at one point but … ) But Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh – they love it. They love talking about food, cooking it, sharing it. And the delight they take in it is infectious. If nothing else, you want to sit in that madhouse of a kitchen set and watch them create these spiced up versions of classic British dishes.

S_M

If they can get across nothing else other than the idea that spice does not equal burn, they will have accomplished a lot and I think they are well on their way to that. They are using a vast arsenal of spices in this program for both sweet and savory dishes (adding the vanilla beans to the cheese? Brilliant and I can’t wait to try it) and showing that spices are ingredients worthy of attention, not after thoughts. There’s often a moment I have while watching the show – like when they put cinnamon and pepper with strawberries – when I think “Of course! It seems so obvious now that I’ve seen it done.” Another cinnamon moment was the pulled pork with cinnamon and clove. Pulled pork is a BBQ staple from my childhood and I love it but variety is the spice of life so I have no hesitation about changing up the flavor profile on this childhood favorite, especially as – another “OMG! Of course” moment – both those spices would play so well with pork. Also – because they explain what they are doing and why, extra useful information is imparted as well. I didn’t know how to pick out a decent chunk of ginger before – but now I do.

I’m sure there will be complaints about artificiality – some who don’t care for the puns, the gallivanting around, the “set ups” where we’re led to believe tension is high as spicy fish and chips are presented to “scary” biker gang (which was the mellowest, most clearly non-threatening biker gang I have ever seen in all my days). But it’s a TV show – and by definition it is an artificial construct. The secret to GREAT TV cookery shows is when the viewer feels like they are being talked to as opposed to being talked at – and this show, these men succeed beautifully in that regard.

Jamie Oliver on the other hand …

The Not So Good – Jamie’s Money Saving Meals. I’ll be honest – I’ve never much cared for Jamie Oliver as a TV presenter. His early cookbooks were really interesting and a useful read. But watching him on TV has always been a bit of a slog for me, even in the early days when he was “Gosh-Golly, Who Me?” Jamie. I just don’t think he’s very good as a presenter.

In the early days there were moments where he seemed to forget he was on camera and in THOSE moments, moments where he was just talking about the food to whoever was prompting from off to the left, worked. As soon as he recalled that he needed to hit his mark or hold to get an angle, it fell apart.

Now that he’s “Tilts At Windmills” Jamie, I find him even harder to watch. Not because of the tilting at windmills (he’s often gotten hold of a legitimate issue but then gets a bit ‘bull in a china shop’ when addressing it). No, I find him hard to watch because instead of becoming more at ease with the fact that he’s on TV, he seems to have forgotten how real people move and talk. People complain that Nigella is now a parody of herself, arch beyond words and over the top. But she’s got NOTHING on Jamie Oliver. With every successive show, he is more and more like someone playing Jamie Oliver, all his ticks and schtick while the cooking has all the depth and detail of a cooking sketch on a TV variety show. Dan Aykroyd as Julia Child comes to mind.

J_OLast night was perhaps the most glaring example to date. I commented mid-show that it was more infomercial than cookery show but I should have said it’s like a bad infomercial because there have been infomercials in my life that have imparted more information per sequence than last night’s show. Yes, the tips of storing fresh herbs was useful but mostly because it reminded me I needed to harvest the herbs outside before the weather gets properly chilly. Using leftovers is a great way to cut down on food waste but I can think of several equally interesting, quicker and MUCH cheaper ways to use leftover brisket and I can do it without the relative pantry and equipment luxuries he seems to assume are at hand.

Look, I don’t agree with eviscerating the man for pointing out that fewer and fewer people bother or know how to cook these days (he’s right). The articles last week, shrieking that he’s down on the poor for buying ready meals are clearly built around carefully picked comments from conversations about how PEOPLE (all of them) are subsisting on ready meals or take-aways. But that won’t sell as many papers so it became “Rich man criticizes poor for having audacity to eat.” As tedious in its way as Jamie himself and even more predictable.

Will definitely be keeping up with The Incredible Spice Men (and quite likely buying their book as they seem to share the TransAtlantic Towers outlook on what food and eating it about) and giving Jamie a miss. Might thumb through the book should I come across it in the shops – then make a call on the book separately but if the rest of the series is like last nights, no reason to miss something more interesting. Like emptying the dishwasher.

Jump Into Some June Food Fun

Normally I note the daily observances but the truth is – there are monthly observances as well. For example, June is:
fruit bowl

  • Candy Month – which I might have placed in October for convenience sake but no one asked me
  • Dairy Month – the timing of this seems to me like someone looked at the daily holidays and decided since all this ice cream was around, might as well throw the dairy doors open wider
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month – June makes complete sense for this to my mind. ALL that citrus-y goodness and weekends of “pick your own” – delicious
  • Frozen Yogurt Month – god, it’s been ages since I had a first class frozen yogurt
  • Papaya Month – I’m still very much on the fence about papayas. Maybe I’ve just not had really good ones.

Of course, we’ve examined some of the daily June observances in days gone by with monthly round ups, things like German Chocolate Cake Day and how German doesn’t mean German in the way you think. Or how we skated lightly over Peanut Butter Cookie Day (thanks to my personal distaste for all things peanut butter) and then made up for it by offering a plethora of choices for those interested in a Rockin’ Rocky Road Day.

But who wants to sit home all summer READING about all this food when you could be out and about among the food and other foodies. Food festivals are the answer and June is awash with Food and Drink Festivals across the United States:grilling

But what about if you are not in the USA (as – let’s face it – most of the world isn’t). No worries. Food festivals speak the international language of YUM! In the UK? Check out:

mangosLooking to wander a bit further afield? If all this talk of food making your thirsty, maybe you should think about the World Of Beer event in Montréal this weekend. Perhaps you’re someone who likes to play with your food. Go on! Mom isn’t watching. Head off to Spain’s Festival of Wine Drenching  in Haro, capital of northern Spain’s Rioja-producing region. Yes, you read right – wine drenching. Just you, a white shirt, water pistol full of cheap red wine and 5000 other people with the same. Hijinks – as they say – will ensue. Also on this month around the world?

  • International Mango Festival might be a good way to observe Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month – all you have to do is be in New Delhi, India on June 30 to July 2, 2013. Apparently it is QUITE the long standing event, having been established in 1987 and offering an ABUNDANCE of pickles, jams and the like as well as mango-eating competitions, tastings, quizzes and a mango market.
  • The BC Shellfish Festival is a great reason to check out Vancouver Island in June
  • Taste of Amsterdam is the four day Amsterdam arm of the “Taste festivals” (the same gorup that does Taste of London) and this year it is being held from June 6-9

Site Seeing and Tasty Reading

Just a fly by post at the moment, my friends as I have much on my plate – no pun intended. No seriously, none intended. Didn’t even see it coming until it was on the screen. But here’s some of the stuff I’ve been checking out lately and some things I will very likely be coming back to comment on. In the meantime, what  food news have you perused lately?

Back with more soon, my friends… eat well and enjoy

Food News Peruse: March 2012

UK Food News Peruse:

Some of the local (oxfordshire) food-related Twitter feeds I’m following:

  • @BarCornerstone is here in Didcot. Excellent baked goods and brunch! ?
  • @oxfork – need a place to grab a quick coffee or snack in Oxford? Check out Oxfork
  • Millets Farm – fantastic farm shop and cafe
  • Food of the Ox hunts out and reveals many of the eateries I wouldn’t have found myself
  • Oxfordcupcakes – CUPCAKES! What else do I need to say, really?

Taking National Cocoa Day Global

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the — what? Oh, the sun’s out. The weather isn’t all that bad after all. Well, never mind that – it’s still holiday season and nothing says holidays better than a festive, steaming mug of hot cocoa.* This must be why National Hot Cocoa Day (Dec 13) sits so comfortably smack in the middle of December and all its holiday chaos.

My friend Tara is a Cocoa Connoisseur – serious consideration is given to the taste, the smell, the texture of both basic and specialty hot chocolate. It doesn’t matter whether it’s left coast or west coast, a high end cafe or a food truck – to her, it’s the chocolate itself that matters. Tara adores the hot chocolate at Payard (NYC and Las Vegas) and with good reason. I’d go all the way down to West Houston Street** to indulge in this chocolatey goodness. I say “all the way” because I was up on 72nd Street and it was certainly a haul on cold wintery days. A haul but worth it. Then, Payard moved closer and my joy was boundless. Payard was part of the Plaza Hotel’s culinary concourse – on 58th street!***

Every February for the last 19 years, City Bakery celebrates hot chocolate with their Annual Hot Chocolate Festival and put different variations on offer every day of the month. Check out the cocoa line up from last year to get a sense of what fabulous flavors await those of us who make it through the holidays!

Of course, I can’t get to Payard or City Bakery at the moment as I’m in Oxfordshire at the moment. I’m look forward to hunting up some topnotch hot chocolate in the area but can anyone suggest a starting point for my search? I hear good things about Chocology (located in Oxford’s Covered Market) and their Valhrona hot chocolate. Yay or nay? Other recs? Suggestions further afield? I’ve had some excellent samples of the hot cocoa art in London (the Artisan du Chocolat stall at Borough Market^ sticks in my mind) and am always happy to wander in to try others. Have recently heard tell of a Spanish chocolate being served up at Tapas Brindisa ^^ as well.

Of course, it’s not necessary to go OUT for a first class cup of hot cocoa. My own preference is to make it at home (spiced up with some cinnamon or a bit of orange peel on occasion) and some of my friends do the same. Whether you use a mix or really  take the homemade thing serious and make it from scratch, you’ll no doubt want to try some of these yummy options such as:

  • Ellyn suggests: When using instant cocoa, add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg or splash of vanilla. For something my grown up, start with amaretti (kirsch or Grand Marnier), 1/3 milk or 1/2 & 1/2, mix it up til a thin paste or thick syrup, the stir in the hot water (or hot milk) it gets all frothy! Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate is also high on her list.
  • Laura Anne (whose advice on many and varied culinary issues has always served me well) mentions “Vanilla bean and mint, into Very Dark Cocoa.” To this end, she says, shove a vanilla pod into the cocoa while it’s stored, then scrape the seeds and mash it with the milk. Result? An intense (and in my opinion AMAZING sounding) taste.
  • Maribeth likes her spicy with a bit of chili
  • Patrick follows the advice of the great Ina Garten and punches his cocoa up by adding a dash of coffee and cinnamon. It will, as he says, ” perk up even the dodgiest of store bought brands of cocoa…”

Which version sounds best to you? Have you got a hot chocolate “best kept secret?” Are you willing to share it? Come on, other hot cocoa lovers are waiting with mugs at the ready!


* OK a few things say holiday season more directly such as – a brightly shining menorah, a pile of presents under a twinkly tree, leg lamps (extra points for reference ID) and Burl Ives singing “Silver & Gold.”

** 116 West Houston Street. New York, NY 10012 (between Thompson St. & Sullivan St.

*** 1 West 58th Street. New York, NY 10019 (Concourse Level of the Plaza Hotel)

^ Green Market, near Southwark Cathedral

^^18-20 Southwark St, SE1 1TJ

Need Breakfast Quick. Want Breakfast Edible

As I perused this morning’s news, I saw an article about breakfast on the go. Now, if I am in the mood and have time, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. But alas, I don’t often have the time and according to this article, I am not the only one.

People are always grabbing something “on the run” while pulling on their jacket or as they slap on that last touch of lipstick. And because speed is of the essence, they aren’t thinking much about the nutritional value of what is in that paper cup or styrofoam container. Over the long term, this can have a negative impact on your health and in the short term, it’s not actually very satisfying which is why you’re always jonesing for something else to eat by 10:30 am or so.

Given all that. I completely understand why the editors of Health magazine would consider it time well spent to work with nutrition experts to come up with a list of popular chain restaurants breakfast options that are – maybe not healthy, per se – less unhealthy than others. There seemed to be something missing from their examination and assessment of which “go go go” breakfast option you are going to “grab and gulp.” Taste.

starbucksprotein

So which chains did they speak with (Starbucks, Subway, IHOP and Dunkin Donuts) and what “healthy” options were on offer from those chains:

  • The ‘artisan protein snack plate’ from Starbucks looks good in theory and in the pic (above) but it looks very unlike the sad apple slices and hardening cheese I’ve seen in person. And how is this “faster than having an apple, coffee and a muffin at home?” If I’m rushing so much that I can’t grab my stuff at home, how do I have time to

a) wait in the line at Starbucks and

b) arrange everything so beautifully on the plate.

And c) when was the plate every that nice at Starbucks?

  • All the criteria in the world won’t make the Western egg white and cheese muffin melt at Subway any more edible.
  • Even if it came with a tiara, I’d avoid anything called the “simple and fit veggie omelet” – doubly so if it came from IHOP. IHOP is for silver dollar pancakes. End of.
  • I love me some Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee but I admit to having have serious doubts about the true nature of the ‘egg’ and ‘sausage’  in the egg white turkey sausage wake-up wrap.

It’s all well and good to declare these fast food options “healthy” because they fit some pre-determined caloric/sodium/fiber criteria but no where does it indicate whether any of this stuff tastes any better than the container is comes in.

I’m all for making healthier choices and I’m all for making healthier choices that also allow me to get where I am going on time. But I can buy some gala apples, some raisins and coffee. Pair that small bit of bi-monthly planning with a coffee maker with a timer and I’ll be at work long before the folks stopping off for this stuff. And – bonus – I’ll be paying less for it as well.

Hooray for Hot Chocolate Month!

I’ve been musing elsewhere about the snow.  Well, musing and whinging. So it was with great joy that I stumbled across the City Bakery calendar of flavors for the 2011 Hot Chocolate Festival (their annual Feb event). Don’t think there’s enough varieties of hot chocolate to fill a whole month – even if it’s a short month like February. Well behold!

The month kicks off with Banana Peel on Feb 1 – and frankly, I’m a bit hesitant about that but starting on Groundhog’s Day with Cinnamon we have a line-up I can really get behind. Espresso on Feb 3, Tropical on Feb 4 and Caramel on Feb 5. Fabulous.

Nothing can – or will – lift my snow-weary spirits like hot chocolate or cocoa. And while I do prefer to make it myself (and not from an envelope, thank you very much) sit curled up with it under a duvet, I do love City Bakery and I do find that while out and about in the wintery city, the hot chocolate urge can hit and hit hard so – looking forward to February and a month of yummy choices.

And the herbal winner is . . .

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an announcement to make. Apparently the Herb of the Year for 2011 is (drum roll please) . . . horseradish! Yes, yes – many are called but few are chosen – and in the case of Herb of the Year, only one is chosen.

I suppose that this means National Horseradish Month – July, according to the Horseradish Information Council – is gonna be a bigger than usual splash this year. Assuming it was last year. I really don’t know. This is the first I’ve heard of such a thing.  So congratulations, Horseradish on winning Herb of the Year. May your reign be happy and successful.

And, please – before you start whinging about thyme and basil splitting the vote or complaining that rosemary is the Susan Lucci of the herb world, I remind you that I didn’t make this decision. I simply reported it. If you take issue with the choice of horseradish, take it up with the International Herb Association. As soon as you recover from the shock that such an organization exists.

In light of the fact that they do exists, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’ve been pulling this Herb of the Year thing for a while now and – if the list of previous and future Herbs of the Year – is to be taken as a given – clearly intend to go on with it for at least several more years. Behold the list:

1995  Fennel
1996  Monarda
1997  Thyme
1998  Mint
1999  Lavender
2000  Rosemary
2001  Sage
2002  Echinacea
2003  Basil
2004  Garlic
2005  Oregano & Marjoram
2006  Scented Geraniums
2007  Lemon Balm
2008  Calendula
2009  Bay Laurel
2010  Dill
2011  Horseradish
2012  Rose
2013  Elderberry
2014  Artemisias
2015  Savory

Now, by and large I don’t have strong feelings about this. In the same way I have no strong feelings about the Golden Globes or the BAFTAS or the Oscars. But I do love learning new things – and I will confess that I had not heard of some of these. I bet you hadn’t either.  I also have some questions – notably, what was happening in 2005 that Oregano and Marjoram both got the nod? Was there no to chose one or the other? Could the non-choice, not be the choice for the following year?

But never mind that now. I have no doubt herbs are as rife with political infighting as everything else. I’d rather look at these new – well, new to me – herbs and see what they are all about. After all, they must really be something if they get to be Herb of the Year.

Monarda, Calendula and Artemisias. Never heard of them. Of course, I’m more eater than cook so maybe it’s just me but they don’t strike a chord with me at all and I’m surrounded by people who cook. A lot. And with great love, enthusiasm and knowledge. If they were that common, I’d have encountered them at some point. So I don’t think it’s just me and I will share with you what I have learned. As a public service. No need to thank me.

Monarda: First stop Monarda’s page on Wikipedia which gives me the more familiar names for this herb – bee balm, horsemint, Oswego tea, or bergamot. Now, bee balm I’ve heard of and I have the vague sense I’ve heard at least mention of bergamot before as well. What I know about bee balm is that it grows wild across North America, comes in various shades of pink, red and white – and has many traditional medicinal uses for everything from colds to cramps. I didn’t know – but now do thanks to the Ladybird Johnson WildflowerCenter at the University of Texas – that the early colonists used it to make tea when tea went scarce.  I should have know – or guessed – that it was good for treatment of bee stings. I mean, it’s called BEE BALM for crying out loud. But I confess, I often miss the obvious in very embarrassing ways.

Calendula: Sounds very much like a fan dance done with the calendars stores can’t sell by the beginning of the new year. But Wikipedia tells me that it’s not.  It’s a pot marigold. No – not a common marigold as in member of the sunflower family, used in perfumes and which were native to the New World. A pot marigold is a completely different plant – native to the Mediterranean and has been found to have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects. In fact the University of Maryland Medical Center Library Medical References section (hugely interesting, by the way and a fascinating way to kill time online if you geek out about stuff like that – which I do) details many of the uses, dosages and forms best for various conditions. If you like the idea of a medicine chest in your garden or window box, they are also supposed to be pretty easy to grow.

Artemisias: now, here again – as soon as I went to Wikipedia and saw the other more common names, I knew what this was.  Mugwort, sagebrush or wormwood, anyone? Yes, they are all part of this genus. So is tarragon. Which makes me wonder – why didn’t they just pick tarragon? How can such a HUGE genus – and a very diverse one – be herb of the year? Herbs of the Year maybe. But herb, singular? Maybe it was their stealthy way to spend more time with the wormwood. Goodness knows it’s interesting stuff – vermouth, absinthe – it all involves wormwood.

Of course, now that I’ve sorted some of of that out for myself (and hopefully for some of you as well), I really should go do something about dinner. I’m thinking of paying tribute to the 2004 Herb of the Year – garlic by making my garlicky white bean mash. It will do quite nicely with the chicken I’ve got in the fridge. Yes, garlic. That’s my herb of the year. What’s yours? Has your favorite made it to the top yet? Or has it been snubbed?