Thursday, December 30, 2010

The "D" Word

Oh boy, here I am welcoming another year thinking about starting a diet . . . again. I apologize if the “D” word has you ready to quit reading because I know exactly how you feel. I have a dear friend that is pretty much diet obsessed. She is always counting her points, weighing her tofu and looking at me from under her eyebrows every time I order dessert, basically throwing me into a state of food guilt. She just doesn’t understand that for me dessert eating (or pretty much eating in general) is job related, kind of an occupational necessity if you will. I mean she has to understand that I have to stay on the cutting edge of trends in foods, and if that means consuming silken sauces and sugary confections all washed down with bubbly libations well, all I can say is, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Now, saying all this, I must make a confession, and please don’t tell her that I said so, but she’s right. I can no longer deny it; I’ve got to cut back. You know when your sweatpants are too snug it is time to make a change.

I think that the root of my problem goes way back. I was always the skinny kid in school. I could eat anything I wanted and lots of it without gaining an ounce, so I find myself a bit unprepared to make a serious lifestyle change. I always think of myself as that willowy school girl until I catch a glimpse of my real self in the escalator mirrors at one of my favorite department stores. How disheartening when you have spent an hour putting yourself together and patting yourself on the back for looking so ravishing, only to be contradicted by a lowly piece of reflective glass on your way up to the 1st floor café. If that doesn’t take the fun out of a cappuccino and slice of Victoria sponge I don’t know what will. I can only speak for myself here, but John Lewis if you have noticed a slump in your café sales, you might want to reconsider those brutal escalator mirrors and let me live in the land of denial that I love so much.

Well I guess I’ve finally come to the realization that my extra pounds aren’t going to just melt away and those mirrors aren’t going anywhere either, so I need a game plan. I’ve decided that I’m going to start power walking and I don’t just mean a brisk jog in my high heels across a rainy supermarket car park. I’m going to put on my trainers and actually break a sweat. I am also going to start eating off of tea plates so it looks like I’m eating more (I hear that’s an effective illusion). I’m going to skip the silken sauces (oh my) and pass on those tempting desserts (ouch) and consider quit buying butter (probably not). I’m also going to start taking the stairs. Personally I’ve never seen one, but I bet they don’t put mirrors in stairwells. The biggest change of all is going to be the way I eat and that is also the trickiest part. I don’t like recipes that substitute the really good ingredients for some substandard imitation product that was born in a laboratory, so I’m hitting the drawing board.

We’ve all heard the expression that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, well, I don’t know about that. Before that big mirror the aforementioned cappuccino and Victoria sponge made me feel pretty close to perfect. So here’s the hard bit, coming up with something creamy and delicious yet lower in fat and calories. I’m of the opinion that if you take the fun out of food, then you need to put something back in the way of flavor. After much deliberation with my in-house panel of food critics (my children), I’ve come up with a figure friendlier version of a couple of our favorites. I finally decided on cream of mushroom soup which is spiked with herbs and has tons of flavor. I’m pairing it here with tomato and artichoke bruschetta and some fun little truffles that are so satisfying you’ll only need one of them to calm your sweet tooth. Who says you have to deprive yourself of goodness and suffer to be beautiful?

Herbed Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 ounce (30g) dried Portobello mushrooms
4 cups (1 liter) hot chicken broth
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium size sweet yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
8 ounces (227g) white or Crimini mushrooms, chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 large bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, plus a couple of sprigs for garnish
2 medium to large size fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, crushed
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups (375ml) light evaporated milk
Pinch cayenne pepper

Place dried mushrooms in a medium size bowl and pour hot chicken broth over them; soak for approximately 15 – 20 minutes.

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, celery and fresh mushrooms and sauté for approximately 5 minutes before adding crushed garlic and sautéing for 1 minute longer.

Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid with a slotted spoon and transfer to a cutting board. Pour the soaking liquid into the stockpot with the vegetables. Add the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley and marjoram; stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for approximately 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
While the mixture is simmering, coarsely chop the soaked dried mushrooms; set aside.

Remove the vegetables and liquid from the heat. Discard the bay leaf and remove and set aside 1/4 cup of the liquid from the pot. At this point if you have an emersion blender, puree the remaining contents of the pot. If using a countertop blender, cool the contents of the pot to warm before pureeing and returning to the stockpot. Add the chopped and soaked dried mushrooms to the pot before placing it back over medium heat and bring back up to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes before adding the condensed milk, cayenne and salt and pepper. Bring the contents back up to a simmer and continue cooking.

Whisk together the all-purpose flour and the 1/4 cup of reserved broth. Add this to the stockpot and stir as the liquid simmers and thickens for 5 minutes.
Divide the contents equally among four warm soup bowls. Garnish with small rosemary sprigs. Serve immediately.

Tomato Artichoke Bruscetta

5 ounces (150g) marinated artichoke quarters, chopped
1 medium size tomato, seeds removed and chopped
1 spring onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped green or black olives
12 – 1/2" inch thick slices of bread from a French baguette
Olive oil cooking spray
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (200C).

In a medium size bowl toss together the artichokes, tomato, spring onion, basil, olives and a drizzling of the juice from the artichokes; set aside.

Spray both sides of the bread slices with the olive oil spray. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in the preheated oven. Bake until the bread is toasted and golden brown; turn over and toast lightly on the other side. Remove from the oven and sprinkle each piece of toast with 1 teaspoon of the Parmesan cheese; return to the oven for just a minute or so to melt the cheese. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use.

Top each piece of bread with a heaping teaspoon of the tomato mixture and serve immediately.
If you want to change this up a bit, I often toast sliced pita bread or flat bread and top it with hummus instead of the French bread and Parmesan.

Chocolate Cookie Truffles

18 ounces (540g) chocolate sandwich cookies (such as Oreo)
8 ounces (240g) light soft cheese (such as Philadelphia), softened to room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (125g) icing sugar or cocoa powder

Crush cookies to a fine powder. Food processors work great for this but you can also place them in a zipper seal bag and crush with a rolling pin.

In the bowl of a food processor or medium size bowl, blend in softened light cheese and vanilla extract.

Scoop out a heaping teaspoon of the dough at a time and roll it between your palms to form a ball.

Place truffles in refrigerator to set for approximately 1 hour.

Sprinkle icing sugar or cocoa onto a large plate. Roll balls one at a time in sugar or cocoa and place in a single layer on a covered plate. Store covered in refrigerator.
Makes approximately 48 – 1” truffles.

Even though plain chocolate is my family’s favorite, I sometimes add a few drops of orange or mint extract to make them just a bit extra special.

The original recipe calls for the truffles to be frozen and then dipped in melted chocolate instead of powdered sugar or cocoa powder which is delicious for those lucky people not dieting.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Home Again

When my husband agreed to his employment contract it included two trips home a year which we spaced out about six months apart. This timing was perfect because even though I loved our new home, at about the five month mark my heart began to ache to see my family and friends. I also missed really good Tex-Mex food, pulling into oversized parking spaces ten feet outside my chosen retail establishment, and doing my banking from the comfort of my automobile. I longed for a washing machine that would happily accept a stray sock after the wash cycle had begun, and sales clerks wishing me to have a nice day. I was tired of hearing people complain about how everything in America is so over the top, but then listening to their stories about the brilliant holiday they had in Florida. I needed to be with my own kind. I was craving to run with my own pack.

The one thing I never craved was the twenty hour trip back home which I often took by myself with my two young children. Just the thought of packing up my little crew made my blood run cold. You see I have always been a worrier. I don’t worry about the normal things that most people worry about. I’m the kind of person that fears that a discarded paper bag in the middle of the road is full of kittens, or even worse, puppies (sorry, but I’m a dog person). I’m always sure that I’ve left both the coffee pot and the iron on, turned up to high, so that one or both can burn our house to the ground twenty minutes after we leave. Oh sure, I realize that automatic shut off switches were invented with people like me in mind, but I have never, nor will I ever, trust them. I check my tickets and calendar no less than ten times the night before we travel, just to make sure that my plane didn’t leave earlier that morning. I really do my best to drive myself and my ever suffering family crazy.

After conquering all of my worries and fears, including which of my two children I would save first if our plane were to go down over Greenland, we would finally reach our destination. As always, we were treated like Madonna’s entourage on tour. The fatted calf was killed and our children were showered in gifts by their grateful grandparents. The sun was always shining, life was good, and we were happy…then reality came knocking. Since we were in rural south central Texas, there was a very long list of things not to do. The children were reminded to watch where they placed their fingers and toes so as not to run upon a deadly spider or snake. Probably the only place in the world worse for deadly critters than this place must be the Australian outback. Living in the gentle countryside of England I had begun to take for granted the lack of deadly insects and reptiles lying in wait to eat my young children. Oh sure, there is a legend in Nottinghamshire that long ago someone had spotted an adder in my friend’s parents’ garden but that was always discounted with a chuckle, a couple of sideways swings of the head and a sip of lager.

In addition to living in fear of spiders and snakes, most of our holidays were spent reconnecting with American life. It is amazing the changes that can happen to a place in a few short months. There was always some new fad, movie or fun place to eat. One of our favorite new developments in our town was the never ending supply of all you can eat buffet restaurants. There are all you can eat pizza buffets, Chinese buffets, Mexican buffets, and mega salad bars. On one of our trips home we brought our English babysitter who was so amazed by this spectacle that she had to record it in photos to prove to her family back home that she wasn’t exaggerating. Maybe this is how America gets the reputation for being over the top. Hmmmmm, could be.

I don’t want you to think that we spent all of our time hanging out in restaurants. Since I come from a long line of bakers, we spent a great deal of our time at home in the warmth of our kitchen, especially during the holidays. One of our favorite recipes is also my favorite import from England, Sticky Toffee Pudding. The first time I served it at a holiday dinner it earned me no less that rock star status. It is this well loved recipe that was the inspiration for one of my own favorites, Baby Sweet Potato Cakes with Coffee Toffee Sauce. Not only is my version a bit easier to prepare than the traditional recipe, it has that little bit of southern flair that in my opinion makes it the perfect dessert. Since we are talking sweet potatoes, I also want to share with you one of my other favorites, Sweet Potato and Cream Cheese Roulade. This recipe is most often made with pumpkin puree, but since that is often challenging to find in Britain, I’ve used sweet potatoes which are more readily available and I believe make for a better recipe anyway.

Sweet Potato Cream Cheese Roulade

3/4 cup (83g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (195g) sweet potato puree
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated gingerroot
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 ounces (226g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
6 tablespoons (85g) butter, softened to room temperature
1 – 1/2 cups (188g) icing sugar, plus about 1/2 cup (63g) extra for dusting towel and garnishing
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C).

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; set aside.

In another medium size bowl, mix together the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer set on medium until the mixture is light and a lemon yellow color. Add to this the sweet potato puree, gingerroot and vanilla; mix well.

Pour the mixture into a jellyroll pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, lined with parchment and sprayed again. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the middle springs back when pressed with a finger.

While the cake is baking, lay a clean cotton towel down on the counter and dust well with icing sugar. When the cake is baked, remove it from the oven and immediately turn out onto the towel. Remove the parchment paper. Starting with the short end of the cake, roll it up with the towel, jellyroll fashion. Leave to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, combine all of the filling ingredients in a medium size bowl. Mix until the filling is smooth; refrigerate until ready to use.

When the cake is cooled, carefully unroll it. Spread the filling onto the inside of the cake. Gently roll the filled cake back up. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for one to two hours before slicing, dusting with more icing sugar and serving. Easily serves 8 – 10.

Little Sweet Potato Cakes with Toffee Coffee Sauce

1/2 cup (113g) butter, softened
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup (195g) sweet potato puree (1 medium sweet potato, cooked and mashed)
1/3 cup (83ml) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 – 1/4 cups (138g) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup (113g) butter
3/4 cup (150g) lightly packed light brown sugar
1 cup (250g) single cream
1 teaspoon instant coffee
2 ounces (60g) chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C).

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sweet potato, buttermilk and vanilla, mix well and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, blend together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Add the dry ingredients 1/3 at a time, blending well after each addition until it is all combined with the wet ingredients.

Spray a 12 count muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray before dividing the batter evenly among the sections. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the muffins spring back when pressed in the middle. Cool for 2 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

While the cakes are baking, prepare the sauce by melting the butter in the bottom of a medium size frying pan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until the mixture is bubbly. Add the cream and coffee granules and stir until it is once again bubbly and the coffee granules melt.

Serve warm cakes with warm sauce and pecans sprinkled over with a scoop of ice cream or pouring cream. Serves 12.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Family Holidays...The Good the Bad and the Ugly

One of the many reasons we decided to move to England was the opportunity to easily travel to places that would otherwise take us a lifetime. Our first excursion was one of several that we would take to Disneyland Paris. We flew out of East Midlands Airport and, after waiting over three hours for our plane to be built, we were finally called to board. At about this time I was in the ladies room fretting over the most horrible looking rash that had suddenly covered my baby son’s body. Since he didn’t have any fever and wasn’t bothered by it as much as I, I redressed him and reluctantly boarded the plane. Two hours later after a blessedly uneventful flight, we climbed aboard a bus headed for the park. Our ride went well enough until our bus driver suddenly hit his brakes catapulting our daughter down the aisle and into the stairwell at the front of the bus. Her injuries were minor, only a scraped knee and a slight bump on her forehead, but her pride was mortally wounded. As it turned out, it was nothing that couldn’t be cured by a couple of days hanging out in Sleeping Beauty’s neighborhood. Our trip was capped off two days later when my son and I became trapped in the doors of a Metro train that was getting ready to depart threatening to send us both to an early grave. Thanks to the quick thinking of a fellow passenger who quickly pried the doors open, we were free to live another day.

Shortly after our first trip to Paris, we decided to stay a little closer to home and take a day trip to Bath. We spent the better part of the day visiting the Roman baths and the English Teddy Bear Co. before heading to the car with a couple of grumpy children in tow. While waiting in the crowded elevator lobby for the car park lift to arrive, I noticed that we would be riding with several other families and a Hyacinth Bucket look alike. When the empty lift arrived, most of the crowd slowly made their way inside until it was obvious that there wouldn’t be enough room for our little family and one other that was also pushing a baby in a stroller. Just as we fell back and the elevator door started to close, my little daughter quickly pushed her way through the crowd and on to the lift without her father, who I might add, had been assigned to watch her. The doors closed behind her and she was gone. We looked at each other in stunned silence before the father of the other family waiting with us called my petrified husband into action by hitting the stairwell. While my hero and the man I was married to ran into the abyss of the car park, I stayed behind envisioning my sweet little girl’s face on a milk carton. In what seemed like an eternity later, the light over the lift door lit up and sounded with a cheerful “ding” before opening. There stood Hyacinth, hat askew and lipstick smeared, holding the hand of my hysterical daughter. Goodness only knows what went on in that lift for those five minutes (I shudder to think). I couldn’t thank her enough for taking care of my little angel on her big adventure. In a selfless gesture of thanks I offered her my husband, who by this time had returned, but she obviously already had one of her own and declined.

Several months later, we made our first family trip to Amsterdam. Ten years earlier, I had spent a few days there with a friend of mine and had fallen in love with the city. I couldn’t wait to revisit all of the wonderful sights with my husband, who by this time was once again in my favor. Unlike my first trip to this beautiful city, we stayed at a lovely hotel in their huge “family room” which was really a three bedroom flat right on a canal. Yes siree, things were looking good for this vacation. We toured the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and finally the landmark my daughter had been waiting for, the Haagen Dazs ice cream shop. My husband and daughter went to order leaving me to take care of our infant son. As I lifted him out of the stroller, a dirty low down thief that will most certainly burn in hell for all eternity skillfully swept up my purse and escaped into the crowd. Gone was more cash than I care to think about, credit cards and identification, my son’s spare pacifiers and my daughter’s favorite Barbie. After spending the better part of our last day in Amsterdam at the police station in vain, we flew home to bluer skies and an abundance of dummies filing this vacation under “lessons learned.” Don’t worry, all was not lost, under my loving husband’s supervision, or lack thereof, my daughter was able to score a couple of questionable souvenirs that upon close inspection caused their confiscation and a short time out for Dad.

These experiences were just the beginning of many memorable travel adventures for our family. Space limitations here prevent me from telling you about the time the Pacific Ocean swallowed my daughter only to spit her out one very long and terrifying minute later; or the one when we drove straight into the middle of a very tense political rally in Jamaica followed closely by a minor car accident. Oh by the way, a word to the wise, Italy is closed Easter week. As you can tell, we have had some pretty wild and wonderful times. Our secret has always been to just hold on tightly to each other’s hands (well, most of the time) and keep on smiling.

With summer upon us, many of you will be heading out to make family memories of your own. I wish all of you brave road warriors the best for a fun and safe holiday. For those of you who are planning on many lazy summer days at home, I’m attaching a couple of my favorite summer recipes for you to enjoy.

Sparkling White Sangria

1 cup (250 ml) apple juice
1 cup (250 ml) orange juice (freshly squeezed if possible)
1 cup (250 ml) pineapple juice
1 cup (250 ml) Limoncello
1/2 small apple, thinly sliced
1/2 small orange, thinly sliced
6 thin slices lemon or lime
1 handful blackberries, raspberries or blueberries
4 large strawberries, thinly sliced
1 – 750 ml bottle Prosecco, Cava, or any favorite sparkling white wine, chilled
1 cup (250 ml) lemon lime soda

In a large jar or pitcher, combine the juices, Limoncello, and sliced fruit; cover and place in the refrigerator for one hour. Add the sparkling wine and lemon lime soda just before serving. Stir well and serve over ice with extra cut fruit as garnish.

Serves 6 – 8

Summer Fruit Cobbler

6 tablespoons (84g) butter, melted
1 cup (150g) plain flour
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for berries and topping
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (185ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (425g) berries (I use a mixture of raspberries, blueberries and blackberries)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F, 180 C.

Pour the melted butter in the bottom of a 9” square baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In a medium size bowl combine the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, milk and vanilla extract. Pour the mixture over the melted butter. Do not stir.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the berries and gently toss before spooning them over the top of the batter. Do not stir.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of the sugar with the cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the berries.

Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 40 - 50 minutes or until it is golden brown and set in the middle.

Serve warm with cream, ice cream or custard.

*In addition to fresh berries, this recipe is delicious made with tinned peaches, apples or cherries.

Serves 6 - 8

Friday, April 2, 2010

As seen in American in Britain: Food! Glorious Food!

I don’t know whether I call myself a cook who likes to write or a writer who likes to cook. You see I really have two passions in life. My first passion (in no particular order) is writing. I love to write about everything and there’s really not much that’s off limits. In addition to writing for American in Britain, I also write a blog where you can find out everything you would ever like to know about me, my husband, my children, my sister, my dog and my friends, much to their chagrin. In addition to throwing my family and friends “under the bus,” on occasion, I attach a related (or a kinda sorta, semi related) recipe to the end of each story much like I do here. This brings me to my second passion, food. I love cooking and writing about food because it has always been such a big part of my life. One of my first memories is dragging a chair up to my grandmother’s leaky gas stove, putting a large knob of butter in the bottom, frying a piece of sandwich bread in it and calling it French Toast. I must have been no more than three or four years old. Good grief, where were my parents? The possibilities of calamity were endless. Thank goodness this article isn’t about how I burned my grandmother’s house down when I was three or four. The subject of this article is food, the good, the bad and the ugly.

When we first moved to England, I hate to admit that I spent far too much time looking for American snacks and ingredients. I was actually delighted when I ran upon American food that I would have rarely purchased at home. Take corn chips for example. Before our big move, having a couple of these with a chili dog once a year was pretty much good enough, but then, running across a bag at the odd petrol station or delicatessen in the UK, was like hitting the lottery. This love affair endured until I was watching a survivalist show and the host used a corn chip as a candle because of the high fat content. I broke up with corn chips immediately and we have never reconciled.

Shortly thereafter, I was thrilled to discover my favorite processed cheese loaf was being stocked at my local supermarket. Preferring to live in a state of fat and calorie denial after the difficult corn chip break-up, I dreamed of all of the American treats I could make, super easy mac and cheese, Mexican queso, and smooth and creamy broccoli and rice casserole to name a few. I even hear that it has been used to make fudge. What a wonderfully versatile ingredient! How did the UK do without it for so long? I happily dropped a box in my shopping trolley and headed home for what would certainly be the first in many chili con queso covered nights to come. I tore the packaging open and, instead of the neon orange/yellow rubbery blob I expected, I saw a white rubbery blob looking back at me. In a leap of faith, I took one of my precious imported cans of tomatoes with green chillies and combined it with my loaf of cheese in my favorite non-stick pan over medium high heat. My children and I danced around the bubbling pot chanting, “Cheese dip, cheese dip,” in what can only be described as a mock pagan pageant. Much to our dismay, after 20 minutes or so, the only thing in the pot was tomatoes and juice with small white cheese curds that couldn’t have been blended with an atom smasher. No amount of whisking, heating, dancing or chanting could emulsify the macabre mixture stewing in my non-stick pot. No wonder the UK had gotten along without this product for so long, it was a substandard imposter.

Fresh off the imitation cheese loaf disaster I turned to discovering the beauty of English food and ingredients. I don’t know why English food has such a bad reputation in the culinary world. It must be perpetuated by someone who spent only 24 hours in the country and ate only bad airport pub food and never came back. Maybe it’s because visitors to England have preconceived notions about the food. They all seem to expect to find just fish and chips and steak and kidney pie. Little do they expect to find some of the world’s freshest and best fish, pork (ahhh, the bacon), poultry and produce. Not to mention, in my opinion, the best selection of dairy products in the civilized world. What’s not to love about clotted, single, double and extra thick double creams? In what I believe to be an act of revenge, someone (a former ex-pat no doubt) brought preserved jars of Cornish Clotted Cream and placed them in the deli section of many American supermarkets just to torture the homesick English who no doubt were heartbroken when they tasted it. Please trust me when I tell you it is the equivalent of the aforementioned cheese loaf, an imposter and should be made illegal. I think this makes us even.

Even though I am taking a stand in defense of English food, the one thing that is indefensible is English salad dressing or lack thereof. Oh, I will say that the shelves are stocked much better today than they used to be, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Out of sheer desperation, I actually became inspired to make my own dressing by mixing up condiment sachets in restaurants. A bit of ketchup mixed in with a tablespoon of salad cream and voila, creamy thousand island. Oil, malt vinegar and mustard equal a pretty tasty French vinaigrette. I guess it’s true that necessity is the mother of invention. Oh sure, it can’t hold a candle to the three tub salad dressing caddy that was served at most restaurants when I was a child. Next to the delicious four tub baked potato caddy, it was my favorite part of any dinner out. Those were the days. I blame the salad bar on its demise. In celebration of our differences I have included a couple of my favorite salad dressing recipes. It takes more than a couple of sachets to make them but, I hope you’ll agree, that they are well worth the effort.

Clockwise from left: Lime Chilli and Ginger Vinaigrette, Herb and Buttermilk Bleu Cheese Dressing and Herb and Buttermilk Dressing

Herb and Buttermilk Salad Dressing

Since it is still winter, I have called for dried herbs but if you have fresh herbs on hand, please by all means use them, but keep in mind that you may need to increase the amounts called for because dried herbs tend to be a bit stronger than fresh.

1/4 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 heaping teaspoon finely minced shallot
1 cream cracker, finely crushed
1 cup (250ml) mayonnaise
1/4 cup (62ml) buttermilk
1/4 cup (62ml) double cream
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried dill
1/8 teaspoon ground sage
1/8 teaspoon ground savory
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chives or spring onion top, thinly sliced across

Place all ingredients in a medium size bowl and mix to a smooth consistency; cover and refrigerate for one hour or preferably overnight.

Makes approximately 1-1/2 cups (375ml).

This is a wonderful base for many great dressings. To change it up a bit add to taste, mashed avocado, crispy crumbled bacon, chopped chillies, tomato salsa or my personal favorite bleu cheese crumbles.

Lime Chilli and Ginger Vinaigrette

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
1 medium size Serrano or jalapeno pepper (remove seeds for a milder flavor)
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
1 heaping teaspoon chopped fresh gingerroot
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/3 cup (80ml) honey
2/3 cup (160ml) light olive oil or any favorite mild tasting oil
1/4 cup (62ml) white or red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a blender or food processor; blend for approximately 15 seconds to emulsify ingredients.

Makes approximately 1-1/2 cups (375ml).

This dressing is delicious drizzled over salad greens, shredded cabbage, grilled prawns or chicken, or served with crudités.

Monday, January 4, 2010

As seen in American in Britain: Fitting In

The first three months of our lives in England were spent in a small urban flat that my husband had found for us before our arrival. As soon as we unpacked our suitcases, the clock started ticking because our household shipment was on its way and there was no way that our belongings were going to fit in our already cramped accommodations. Being unfamiliar with a whole new real estate market full of sky high prices and “gazumping,” we soon decided to rent a house on a quiet estate on the side of the city closest to our daughter’s new school. There was a park, a pub, a surgery, a grocery, and, for our summertime aromatic pleasure, a pig farm a couple of miles away. What more could a family need?! We were finally starting to settle in. Yes siree, this wasn’t going to be so hard after all.

I lived in this state of smug self appreciation until the head master and mistress of my daughter’s new school, who my readers might be interested to know resembled Julie Andrews and Hugh Grant (no kidding), presented me with the uniform list. When my husband and I decided to make this move, we were under the mistaken impression that we spoke English. I was quickly corrected when, upon reading the list, came across items such as plimsoles, and a kagool. Until this time I thought that plimsoles were an ’80’s new wave band. Never would I have guessed that they were also black slip on P.E. shoes. Live and learn. Reading further, I recognized items such as pinafores and jumpers but saw listed nowhere the sweaters that I noticed all of the children wearing as they entered the building. Oh boy. Ok, I thought, we’ll just sort it out at the uniform shop in Leicester... wherever that is.

Our school uniform safari set out the following Saturday morning. After queuing at the car park for what seemed like an eternity, we slipped our large car into one of the miniature parking spaces and somehow slid ourselves between our car and the one next to us. Long gone were the days of pulling our car up to the door of the shop and walking in. We now had to put a bit more effort into our shopping. We bundled up the children and hit the streets. Ten minutes later, fearing shaken baby syndrome, I removed my son from his American stroller that wasn’t made for the quaint cobbled streets of England, and carried the 15 pound baby the rest of the way. Exhausted, and soaking wet from a sudden cloudburst with gale force winds and sideways rain, we finally arrived at our destination.

The uniform superstore was a polyester wonderland. School uniforms in every imaginable color and style were on display. The super efficient sales lady took my tiny four-year-old by the hand and transformed her into a proper school girl in minutes. We bought pinafores, blazers, ties, overcoats, shirts, jumpers (a.k.a. sweaters), and yes, we even bought the most curious of all articles on the list, the kagool. I must admit, we were a little bit disappointed when this exotic sounding article turned out to be an ordinary windbreaker.

With every small hurdle we cleared, we came closer to feeling like we were home. It wouldn’t be long and we would start to blend in more and more. Even people in our area soon stopped asking us where we were from and telling us about their latest trip to Florida. The following Monday morning, our little girl arrived at her new school looking like everyone else. Mission accomplished. Her American accent began to fade and was replaced by her own homogenized blend of American and English accents. We realized through watching her that although originality is very important, blending in also means you belong and that’s what home really is, a place where you belong.

My accompanying recipe for this story is one of pure comfort and a great way to use that tin of salmon that came in your Christmas hamper. This updated version of an old favorite is not only great for a family supper but is also good enough to serve company.

Salmon and Prawn Croquettes with Lemony Jalapeno and Coriander Mayonnaise

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup (125ml) plus 1 tablespoon oil, divided
1/2 medium size orange, yellow or red bell pepper (75g), finely diced
1/2 medium size yellow onion (75g), finely diced
1 celery stalk (75g), finely diced
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 pound (250g) prawns, chopped into bite size pieces (An additional 1 – 14.75 ounce tin of salmon may be substituted for prawns if desired)
1 – 14.75 ounce (418g) tin pink or red salmon, that has been picked through or 1 pound (500g) poached or baked salmon, flaked
1 spring onion, thinly sliced across
1 cup (75g) fresh bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Zest of 1 small lemon
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup (100g) plain flour

Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a medium sized non-stick frying pan over medium high heat; stir to incorporate. Add the bell pepper, onion and celery to the hot oil and butter and sauté until the vegetables begin to soften; add the crushed garlic and sauté for one minute longer. Transfer vegetables with a slotted spoon to a large sized mixing bowl. In the same non-stick frying pan with the moisture from the vegetables, sauté the diced prawns for a couple of minutes or until they just start to turn opaque. Transfer to the mixing bowl with the vegetables.

To the mixing bowl add the salmon, spring onion, breadcrumbs, dill, sage, thyme, salt, black pepper, lemon zest and beaten egg. Let mixture sit for 5 minutes. Divide the mixture into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball then flatten to a patty shape and coat both sides with flour; set aside.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup oil into a medium to large size frying pan that has been set over a medium high heat. Once the oil is sizzling hot, add the patties and fry on each side until they are a dark golden brown, approximately 5-7 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with a dollop of Lemony Jalapeno and Coriander Mayonnaise (recipe follows).

Lemony Jalapeno and Coriander Mayonnaise

1 cup (250ml) good quality mayonnaise
1 – 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
1 small jalapeno pepper or other chili pepper, finely chopped (for a mild flavor, substitute jalapeno for a heaping tablespoon of green bell pepper or any other mild pepper)

Combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.


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