Monday, 24 August 2009
This post isn't about a recipe for anything baked, fried or otherwise, however, I was just pondering the wonders of tea and wanted to tell you about the pleasures that I've gotten from drinking this popular beverage in Britain. Pictured above are photos of very important tea mugs which deliver tea to special people morning after morning. It's what goes in these mugs is what I'm here to discuss.
Before I moved here my friend Deanna gave me the best advice. She told me, "When in doubt, drink tea". I think of her telling me this often and always always accept a cup of tea. It's an absolute must. It's one of the small wonders on this island that makes living here pretty amazing.
I'm going to express my gratitude for tea and it's many rituals, but first I'm going to list a few facts that Americans may not know about tea, plus how to make a good cup.
-First, you may refer to a cup of tea as a 'cuppa'. Not, a 'cup-a tea' (by trying to say a 'cup of tea')by just being lazy with your words, but it's acceptable to say or write, 'Would you like a cuppa?' Also, you may refer to your cup of tea in casual conversation as, normal, proper, char, builders or brew, just to name a few. All of these are acceptable and won't get you strange looks. There are some discrepancies though, like 'builders tea' is really strong and made with more milk than usual. But when having casual conversation or when ordering, throwing these terms around is completely appropriate, so just let the lingo flow.
-Also guys, it's not hot tea, it's just tea. The trend of iced tea hasn't really caught on here (the weather is whole heatedly to blame for this) so if you ask for hot tea it's like asking for wet water. Of course your tea is going to be hot. How else would you drink it?
-When lounging around with Brits in your home, it's very appropriate to say, "Shall I put the kettle on?" This means you're going to make tea. Other flavors of tea may be introduced here but that's pretty straight forward and just like how Americans make any other sort of 'hot tea'.
--Americans have somewhat of a reputation for not being able to make a decent cup of tea. So pay attention- I'm about to tell you everything you need to know--
What I've been describing above is just black tea, what American's would recognize as Lipton tea or something similar. And like I said, it's always hot and it's something that everyone has in their house. Probably even if they aren't tea drinkers (an anomaly to say the least....) they have some proper tea in the kitchen. And here's how to make a good cuppa at home:
1. Boil some water, preferably in an electric kettle.
2. Put one tea bag in a mug. Putter around the kitchen or rooms close by until the kettle boils. You know, tidying up or sticking your head out the window to check the weather.
3. Once the water has boiled you may pour the water in the mug until it's about 3/4 full.
4. At this point, you will probably want to add milk. Most people do. A couple of tablespoons does the trick. Apparently the amount of milk is pretty important. I would stick with small amounts first- remember the marmite situation???
5. Leave the tea bag in and putter around some more. After a couple of minutes you are ready to take the tea bag out (with a tea spoon if you have it!). Squeeze the bag with your fingers or against the side of the cup to get all the good bits out.
6. The tea is ready to drink when cooled enough. Slurping and sighing/moaning is completely appropriate when drinking.
There are tea ceremonies and rituals all over the world, but my favorite so far is the morning tea ritual a lot of Brits adhere to. It is not uncommon to wake, make a brew according to the directions above and get back in bed. While your tea is cooling and you begin to slowly sip it, it's nice to listen to the radio, read a newspaper or lightly surf the internet. Books usually aren't introduced and while you may check your email, responses are usually saved for later in the morning. Responses need coffee. The best though, is having someone in bed with you to chat with, or to just stare at the wall with them in silence as you hang onto your warm mug with both hands coping with waking up. I've heard of families enjoying their tea together in bed in the morning and anytime I'm spending the night with a British friend, I always get a cup of tea in the morning. I must say too, it's just as satisfying being the one to wake first and make the tea as it is being the one who gets to lay in bed and have tea served to them. It's less harsh on the stomach than coffee and has a lighter flavor- perfect for gently waking up. Once your cup is empty it is then appropriate to make coffee, respond to emails and contemplate more difficult things like breakfast and showers.
My friend Amanda just visited from the States and I would make her tea every morning. We would sit in bed and discuss the day. But only trivial things like, "Hmmm...should I wash my hair today?" or "Wow, I should really cut my toenails" or "We should make some Yorkshire puddings for dinner". It seems meaningless and trivial, but those were some of my favorite moments of her visit. Spending that luxurious time, if only ten minutes, with a friend or family or lover, can make all the difference in ones day. Of course you can argue that this ritual is possible with any beverage but I have to admit, it's kind of nice to let years of tradition and culture take over my morning- a tried and true recipe for a successful day. And if you get into the day and things aren't going just right, hey, go have a brew and try again!
Posted by sweet-tempered at 15:31
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
I have a challenge for you. Try explaining an American biscuit to a Brit. They know biscuits as what Americans know as cookies. They have tea and biscuits (cookies) in the afternoon, sell dainty tins of biscuits at novelty shops and eat them to soothe a sweet tooth. And when looking through British cookbooks you always have to remember the difference between the two- otherwise, you find yourself confused and frustrated with a seemingly helpless cookbook index. I was recently trying to get a Brit excited about me making biscuits and got the response, "Oh! Awesome, homemade biscuits. Oh wait, you mean, your kind of biscuits, don't you?" Yes, my kind of biscuits. I normally go with the, 'they are similar to scones but better' response. I often wonder if I'm alone in the Southern biscuit defense battle here in the UK.....
I introduced you to Jenne a couple of posts ago but I'm going to take it a bit more personal and explain that while we met in London we are both American Southern Gals, she from Florida and I from Tennessee. I can't put into words how nice it is to meet someone of your nationality, specifically, from your region, when you live abroad. I adore London and all its ups and downs, but nostolgia can pull at even the toughest of heart strings so while I may boast about my 'seamless move' (ha!), the idea of blazing summer weather, sickenly sweet iced tea and hot water corn bread sometimes brings a small tear to my eye. And finding a friend who shares these small pleasures and nostolgia with me, well, makes a lovely kitchen companion and a dear friend.
Time was ticking because Jenne is leaving (she's gone now...:( ) the UK for a bit and it's still unclear as to when we will be in the same town to share a kitchen. So, temporarily, I had a partner in my biscuit defense battle. It's in our genes to make biscuits. We can do it in our sleep. However, turning the batter into a dough to roll out fold and create delicious little clouds of layered butter and flour takes time and patience and practice. Over several pints one night we confided in each other this slight Southern disability that neither of us in fact could make a decent roll out biscuit. And before we could continue to represent all things Southern we decided we must set things straight. So, armed with bags of flour, giant sticks of butter and a wine bottle to use as a rolling pin, we embarked on our big roll out buttermilk biscuit adventure.
We used this video for guidance and followed the recipe almost exactly. Thing is, buttermilk is a lot harder to find here so we did the ol' adding vinegar or lemon juice to milk and let it curdle. It's easy, and works almost the same. Almost. There is a certain tang lacking with the make-do option, but it still does the trick. Just add one tablespoon either lemon juice or white vinegar per one cup liquid, whisk for a few seconds and let it stand for about ten minutes. Yes, it will curdle so don't let the chunk factor gross you out- it's all worth it in the end.
Transforming the batter into a workable dough is a bit tricky. It's about adding just the right amount of flour and resisting from kneading it too much. Overworking the dough will release its gluten and leave you with hockey pucks, not heavenly pillows of delight. Jenne and I still have some practice to do in the roll out biscuit realm, however, we are well on our way to becoming experts. If you are doing this for the first time I have a bit of advice. A.) Be prepared to get your hands dirty. Just chuck yourself into it. B.) Please please don't over knead. C.) Try if you can to roll the biscuits out on a cold surface. This will keep the butter solid while working on it with warm hands. It's similar to pastry crust....but oh so much more satisfying!
I'm prepared to fight the biscuit battle alone. It's gonna take a whole lotta butter and whole lotta explaining, but I'm prepared to introduce Brits to the joy of Southern buttermilk biscuits. One Brit at a time if I have to- it's for their own good, really. And honestly, so far, I've gotten nothing but praise.
The recipe as it appears on the video link above:
4 C white flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks (16 oz) butter
1 1/4 C buttermilk
-preheat oven to 375 degrees
-cut the butter into chunks and let chill in the fridge (minimum of ten minutes)
-mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl
-work in the butter until it resembles course meal and has pea sized bits of butter throughout
-add the buttermilk (or make-do mixture) to the flour
-stir together gently (careful, it's a pretty wet batter)
-once it starts sticking together plop it out onto a floured surface and work it together into a soft dough
-roll out to about a quarter of an inch thickness and fold the dough in half, then in half again, like a piece of paper. repeat if necessary
-roll out again and cut the dough into circles with a cutter (or coffee cup) or cut into squares as pictured above
-bake for 18-20 minutes or until puffy and golden brown
-let them cool on a cooling rack and eat immediately. get ready to live!
Posted by sweet-tempered at 21:31
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Sorry to drop the F-bomb on you like that. I'm not here to tell you how much I like Fall and that horrible, unmentionable season that follows, I'm only here to tell you about a lovely little couscous dish I made that sort-of reminded me of Fall. It's around the corner, but let's not talk about that part. Ok? Just couscous, that's all.
My usual dishes consist of no more than five ingredients. That's because I'm broke, honestly. When considering my meals, it's like, hmmm, 'Should I amp up this dish by sauteing this onion with the rice and adding spinach at the end?' I usually opt to leave it out and save it for the next nights dinner. Things are less complicated in my kitchen. Don't go taking pity on me though, I eat well and often and spending money on good food is just as important as paying my rent. It's mainly about stretching here- which has resulted in creating some spectacular dishes I would have otherwise overdone. That being said, I did not hold back a bit with this dish. Avocado? Yes! Tomato, of course. Pickled peppers? Olives? It's all in the mix and boy did it feel luxurious!
The reason this dish reminds me of Fall is because of the sauteed garlic and celery. Not very distinctive, I know, but something about the smell of it with a bit of chili and pepper reminded me of stuffing, which reminded me of Thanksgiving. And the color and texture of the couscous was very much like the bread part in stuffing. And with the addition of vegetable broth, well, it was spot on. Almost got me excited about the holidays. Almost.
You're skimming this post wondering when I'm going to bring up the fact there are blackberries in the above picture, right?
So yes, I added blackberries to my Fall-ish couscous dish which makes no sense at all. Or does it? When reading Mark Bittman's blog the other day, he talked about the weirdest pizza he had ever made which included blackberries in place on tomatoes and some other lovely garden vegetables all topped with blue cheese. Mark Bittman can do no wrong in my mind. He's my go-to cook. Some people refer to the bible (Mastering the Art of French Cooking), others refer to the Joy of Cooking. I refer to Mark. Plus, he's kinda sexy. No? After reading the post I marched right over the grocery store and purchased blackberries then sat and waited to do something extremely strange/awesome with them.
My time came when I was preparing the couscous. It was not at all pre-meditated which is what I was going for in using the blackberries. Everything was just coming together spur of the moment and at the last moment, with visions of Mark dancing through my head, I immediately knew what to do.
The couple of people who tried this dish were very hesitant at first. My roommate, who was making her own lunch, kept side-eyeing the bowl and not with a hungry side eye. More of a, 'What the fuck' side eye. She tried it to be polite when I offered her some and then sheepishly said she loved the paring of sweet and spicy together and could she have some more please? Then Jenne (see previous post) came over exclaiming she was hungry and did I have anything to snack on? You bet! I could see her trying to get out of it once presented. 'That's ok, I'll just drink this beer for lunch'. I almost had to beg her to take a bite. Then ten fork fulls later she was a believer. It's just the blackberries that puts people off. So, if you make this dish you're going to have to be on top of your convincing game. Don't take no for an answer and bring extras because it will disappear in an instant.
2 T olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks of celery, diced
1 chili pepper- diced
1 1/2 C couscous
3 C water
1 T instant vegetable stock or 1 cube of stock. alternatively, use liquid stock in place of water.
1 large tomato- de-seeded and diced
1/2 large cucumber- de-skinned and chopped (seeds are ok)
1 ripe avocado- chopped into bite-size sections
10-12 green olives- cut in half
*6 pickled chili peppers- cut into thirds
10-12 fresh blackberries
salt and pepper for seasoning
- heat oil over medium heat in sauce pan and saute the garlic and pepper for about 3 minutes
-add the celery and continue to cook for about 5-7 more minutes
-add the couscous and toast until fragrant. about 3-4 minutes
-add water and cook the couscous according to package directions
-meanwhile, chop the vegetables
-once the couscous is cooked, fluff with a fork, put into a serving bowl and add the rest of the prepared ingredients. continue to use your fork for mixing and do it lightly and quickly. couscous mashes easily and i would hate for you to end up with mashed blackberry weirdness!
*pickled chili peppers are amazing! try to find them if you can. usually with the olives and capers and such in the grocery. if you can't find them, red chili flakes would make a nice substitution. perhaps about 2 teaspoons.
Posted by sweet-tempered at 15:12
Sunday, 2 August 2009
"Hi, this is my friend Alexandra! She can't ride a bike!"
This is how my friend Jenne (pictured above) introduces me to her bike forum buddies. So when I walked into the pub bearing a pink flowery birthday cake, wearing three inch glittery heels and flawless eyeliner, needless to say the bike posse was less than impressed. I suddenly felt the shift in atmosphere. They were all thinking - "Someone near me doesn't like bikes. I don't know how to feel about that." There were many shifty glances and people found themselves huddled together, all hoping the freak with no sense of anything hip would not try to talk to them.
It's not that I don't like bikes per say, I just never learned to ride one. My parents did buy me one which I lamely attempted to coast down a few hills before giving up to go play with my barbies or dance around my room singing to "Get into the groove" at full volume. (Yes, I was doing both at ten years old) And as the years went by it became clear that riding bikes was not my thing. I've made it to twenty-seven years of age without riding a bike. Jenne is determined to change that. I'll keep you posted.
In the end, the bike posse was really great. That's because, pink birthday cake brings everyone together! Once the cake was cut and eaten (devoured! sixteen pieces gone in an instant!) the gang started to warm up. Guys wearing silly (trendy?) bike hats with one pant leg rolled up started sheepishly coming up to me saying things like "Hey, you made that cake, right? Um, I just wanted to say it was really delicious. Ok, bye." Then their tuff girlfriends with scary looking gloves and beat-up velcro bike shoes would come say, "Hey, that cake was awesome! Are you really going to wear those heels all night?". To which I replied, "What else would I wear??"
The after party was a bit away from the pub and everyone, of course, was going to ride their bikes to the party. Everyone except me. Those who had not heard the terrible introduction were asking me, "So, which bike is yours? Are you going to bike to the party?" Then one glance at my shoes answered their question. It was decided that I would take a bus and the bike gang would follow me. So, in busy East London, I hopped on a crowded bus to the party with a posse of bike forum folks following me. "Just get off at Brick Lane next to the giant wall of graffiti and we'll meet you there!" So I hopped on the bus, and with several flashing bike lights behind me found my way to Brick Lane. Even though I felt a bit out of place, I had to admit I felt special ("I have a bike posse following me. Don't fuck with me" Is what I wanted to say to all the drunk Brits on the bus), and I have the feeling that this pink birthday cake was the reason they felt inclined to follow a giant double decker bus through the busy streets of London to meet me for the after party.
Just a few of the bike posse....
The cake which solved all of my problems for the evening is one in the same as the birthday cake I made for Ben and I. Jenne had high demands for her cake. She originally asked for strawberry mouse cake but I knew that would not travel well through the tubes and trains of London so I had to re-evaluate. (Or whip up mouse at a seedy pub in East London) She wanted pink, she wanted strawberry, she wanted layers and she wanted strawberry filling in the layers! Damn woman! So I went with what I knew best and happily accepted the challenge.
(It's no mystery I'm not the best at photography, but I blame this suckiness on the terrible lighting at the pub. Yeah, ok, and maybe the pints I was drinking had something to do with it too)
It's not close to being vegan, low fat or sugar-free, but it makes you friends fast which is essential when you are an American living in London (and hanging out with bikers). I did four layers instead of two because I knew I was feeding a small crowd and, really, I wanted to be dramatic. In reference to the last post, I just used strawberry jam for blueberry and omitted lavender- and discarded pistachios in the batter. For two layers I made just plain vanilla sponge cake and the other two I made the same thing but added real chopped strawberries. I made a simple cream cheese frosting and decorated it with cute little sugar flowers. Easy peazy!
The cake recipe is in the post referenced above and for the icing, well, I didn't follow a recipe but I used an 8oz container of full-fat cream cheese (soft cheese as it's called here. confusing!) mixed a tablespoon of milk and just started whisking in powdered sugar. I probably managed to whisk in about 10oz of sugar. It should be a nice creamy consistency free of any sugar lumps.
It goes to show you that you can do basically anything with this cake. It's my new standby for when I need an impressive cake fast. Now, if only riding a bike was as easy as baking a four layer cake......
Decorate as desired and go win some friends!
Posted by sweet-tempered at 14:55
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