Saturday, July 28, 2012

English Food - Not what you think!

This week I wanted to share our dining experience in England.  Let's face it, England doesn't have the best reputation for food.  Everyone has criticized it from Julia Child onward.  It is often said to be bland, dull, and badly presented and served by staff that are down right rude.  But the country's farmers markets and celebrity chef restaurants are slowly turning around the English culinary reputation.   To read more about why the food developed this poor reputation, check this blog out

From our travels to England this summer (London and the South Downs, East and West Sussex) we found England to have a bounty of wonderfully prepared, fresh, locally grown foods.  These dishes are influenced by the British Empire's importation of ingredients and ideas from places such as North America, China, and India.  The ingredients have also been influenced by the local climate, which is wet and cool much of the time but produces lovely grazing pastures and vegetable gardens.  To be sure, it is not the Mediterranean, but even this cool climate produces much that can be enjoyed on your dinner plate. 

Fresh produce markets and local butchers offered up fresh ingredients of all types. The country's history of women producing jams and jellies seemed to be going strong.  Good food is there for the choosing.  But as is told on this school teacher's blog, not all of the locals are partaking of what's available to them and she provides a entertaining blog entry you might enjoy.

As you can see from the photos here (you can click through to the Picasa Web album for descriptions of each item), the food we found throughout the land was quite excellent from pub food, to the classic English tea tent and into some of the regions best restaurants. Never did we have anything but a wonderful meal.  During our trip we enjoyed classic meals, such as fish and chips, which were once urban street food eaten from newspaper with salt and malt vinegar, along with meat pies and sausages with mashed potatoes, onions, and gravy.  These are now matched in popularity by curries from India and Bangladesh, and stir-fries based on Chinese and Thai cuisine.  Italian cuisine is everywhere as was fast food from the United States.  London's Chinatown offered a myriad of specialty restaurants and were both clean and authentic.  And as you can see, the French have influenced many of the restaurants in their preparations and presentations.

Overall, our dining experience was quite excellent with good food, reasonably priced both in large cities and small.  If you visit the south of England you will find that its reputation for bad food has been overcome.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aunt Rose's Strawberry Ice Cream Topping

Growing up my mother and aunt took me with them on strawberry picking expeditions each summer.  I'm sure I ate more than I returned to the basket, but no one seemed to complain.  We would start very early in the morning, before it got very hot.  We would often come home with just around one hundred quarts.  That's a lot of strawberries!  While some were served up just sliced with some sugar that day, the rest were prepared for the freezer and would be used to top Goshen Dairy vanilla ice cream, which is where my uncle worked (so ice cream was never in short supply.) 

No one seems to have thought to write down Aunt Rose's preparation technique, perhaps because it was so simple.  So over the years I've developed two basic methods that I use to replicate those delicious summer ice cream desserts that you could get from Aunt Rose all year long.  The first is a cooked recipe and the second is raw.  The raw recipe works well if you are making the topping for use in 24 hours.  The cooked version is best for making a large batch and freezing in smaller containers for use later in the season or year.

Non-Cooked Method
Cooked Strawberry Ice Cream Topping
2 pints strawberries, cleaned and stemmed
2/3 cup white sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla

Cut all of the strawberries in half.  Set 1/3 aside and place the other 2/3 in a saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the sugar and vanilla and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. In a blender, puree about 1/3 of warm cooked strawberry sauce.  Add the pureed sauce back into remainder of the cooked berries.  Add the reserved raw berries to the warm sauce and stir in gently. Store in refrigerator or freeze a portion for later use.  To serve spoon over vanilla ice cream and top with whipped cream.

Note:  Martha Stewart has a similar recipe, although she suggests roasting them on a cookie sheet (300F for 1 hour 45 minutes).  Prior to baking she drizzles them with honey and tosses gently to coat.  The recipe works well and could be substituted if you are avoiding white sugar.

Non-Cooked Strawberry Ice Cream Topping
1 pint strawberries, cleaned and stemmed
1/4 cup white sugar (more if berries are not sweet)
2-3 Tablespoons strawberry vodka

Cut all of the strawberries in half and sprinkle with the strawberry vodka.  Add the sugar and stir gently to combine.  Let the berries sit in a bowl on your counter, covered, for 2-3 hours gently turning every 30 minutes.  Place 1/3 of the berry mixture into a blender and puree.  Pour mixture over the berries and stir to combine.  Spoon over vanilla ice cream and top with whipped cream.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Grilled Flank Steak - A summer favorite!

These flat and very beefy tasting steaks are perfect for your grill.  Three steaks (flank, skirt and hanger) all come from the breast and can be somewhat tough if not properly prepared.  The flank is the most common and the hanger the most tender and rare.  The hanger is sometimes called the "butcher's cut" because this one-steak-per-bovine cut was often reserved for the butcher himself.  If you want it, you usually have to order it in advance.

However as flank is most available and least expensive, I selected this one to prepare for dinner for two.  If you are having a larger group, plan on purchasing several.  Grilling will take about 5 minutes, so about one hour before you are ready to begin, get the steak(s) out, wash and dry then brush with oil.  Sprinkle with your favorite combination of spices and a bit of brown sugar, or purchase a prepared rub, as I  did here.  Rub this into the meat on both sides and let sit at room temperature until ready for grilling, about one hour.

Heat the grill to a high temperature and place the steak on the grates.  Turn it after about 2 minutes and let cook on the other side for another 1-2 minutes more.  Turn any time you see juices bubbling up to the surface.  Turning the steaks several times is fine.  In all this should take no more than 5-6 minutes, as this cut must be served medium-rare or medium at most. Otherwise it will become tough. 

Remove from the grill to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes while you finish up your side dishes.  Cut the steak across the grain when ready to serve.  While you may want to use a sauce, the steak's beefy flavor combined with the spices of the rub really require no assistance.  The steak will be flavorful and juicy all on its own!

Pair the steaks with other good summer foods, perhaps starting with a tomato salad, and serving roasted sweet potatoes and dilled green beans as sides.  For dessert consider a seasonal nectarine and blueberry crisp, which I served with this dinner.  As I posted that dessert last summer, you can follow the link if you are interested in my post on that classic summer dessert.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lemon Blueberrry Pie - The simplest pie of summer!

If you only make one pie this summer, it should be this one.  Nothing says summer more than the combination of lemon and blueberries.  That combination of lemon tartness with the sweet, fresh blueberries is irresistable.  My spouse is not a fan of a traditional blueberry pie, as the blueberries break down and become mushy when cooked.  So instead I make this pie which has fresh, uncooked blueberries folded into the blueberry sauce.

Julian's Lemon Blueberry Pie
Of all the pies I make, this one is certainly the quickest and easiest.  To make it even faster and easier I give you a couple substitutions you can make to ensure this pie is prepared in under 30 minutes.

Eggs:  Is it just me, or have eggs gotten smaller and less uniform in size?  Supposedly eggs are labeled by weight; a 'large' egg being 2- 2.5 ounces.  However, see the eggs in my photo below.  They were all labeled as Grade A Large.  The one was so small in comparison to the others, I added a second one which was equally small.  Some baking recipes require exacting standards. If yours does, best to weigh the eggs to know you have 'large' eggs. 

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 Tablespoons sugar
5 Tablespoons melted butter
  *(or 1 pre-made 9 inch graham cracker pie crust)

Lemon Cream
3 large egg yolks
14 ounces  sweetened condensed milk (1 can)
2 lemons

Blueberry Topping
2 pints of blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon lemon juice
    *(or one pint berries plus one can blueberry pie filling instead of the  items above)

Whipped cream, for serving


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

I make my own graham cracker pie crust, simply because I prefer the pie to be in a glass deep-dish pie plate..  But if you prefer, you can easily use a pre-made graham cracker pie shell.  If you are making your own graham cracker crust, just follow the directions on the crushed graham cracker box, mixing the crushed graham crackers crumbs with sugar.  Then stir in the melted buttter and press into your pie plate.  Bake for 6-8 minutes to set.  A pre-made crust need not be pre-baked before filling.

Zest one lemon and then squeeze the juice from both lemons.  You should have about 1/2 cup lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of lemon zest.

In medium bowl, whisk egg yolks until frothy; stir in sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice and lemon zest.  Pour into prepared crust and bake 8 minutes.  Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.

While the lemon cream is chilling, make the blueberry sauce or use a can of prepared blueberry pie fillng.  To make your own sauce, place 1/2 pint of the washed and stemmed berries into a sauce pan.  Sprinkle with sugar, lemon juice and corn starch.  Cook over low heat until the berries soften and stir until they make a sauce.  Let cool until warm but not hot.

Add the remaining fresh berries to the blueberry sauce (or your canned filling) and stir in.  Remove the pie from the refrigerator and top with the berry mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 3 hours before serving.
Garnish with whipped cream and a few fresh blueberries.

Lemon Blueberry Pie