Tag: Cooking

As American As…

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”
― David Mamet, Boston Marriage

“Pie” means something quite different in Britain than in does in the US. Most pies Stateside are sweet concoctions of fruit and/or cream, trotted out typically in times of celebration. Pies over here are usually meat and vegetable dishes (mostly meat, let’s be honest) in some form of gravy or sauce, and totally wrapped in pastry. There are a few exceptions, such as mince pies which are small little bundles of goodness that have largely given up their meaty past, though there are a few holdouts scattered throughout the Isles.

I have nothing against meat pies, indeed I’ve inhaled not a few delicious ones in my time, but I’m afraid in this respect I will always be a Yank at heart.

My family has two pie recipes that are sacrosanct, an apple and a pumpkin. The pumpkin is the real treat and it is incredibly labor intensive, it takes months of preparation when you consider that the pumpkin puree is homemade. Courtesy of Halloween jack o’lanterns. However pumpkins never made it big here via the Columbian Exchange quite like turkeys and potatoes did. This fact, coupled with the reality that I have none of the equipment necessary to make it meant that Christmas Eve dinner this year was going to be an apple affair.

As it turns out this too was a labor of love that took two days start to finish.

I have to be blunt. British baking goods selections are dinky. Seriously small. Not just their packaging (which we’ve covered), but the actual space they take up on store shelves is tiny. Back in our old haunt the local grocery store had an entire aisle set aside for baking. Here at our nearest Tesco, we have three shelves that take up about a quarter of one side of an aisle. Finding what you need can be maddening.

I have theories about this, but my chief on is that like much of Europe, Britain has a larger number of bakeries and designated craftsmen who create their baked goods. Not that these don’t exist in America, but we also have a history of frontier dwelling which meant that for generations the well off might have a cook (and the extremely wealthy a French pastry chef), but most of us were responsible for providing our own treats and that sort of got into the culture. The French have boulangeries, the Brits have bakeshops, the Americans seem to do more DIY. Which I largely don’t mind, though I admit I do enjoy baking. And I use it constructively (I tend to make cookies when I’m angry or exceptionally bored, it’s probably kept me from using that energy less constructively. The results are pretty tasty too, rage cookies are the way to go, kids).

But I digress. Pie.

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First I had to find a pie crust recipe that didn’t call for shortening (a heathen American device). I was fine with this because, butter. Then I whipped it up by hand because we have no kitchen equipment besides a mixing bowl that’s a third of the size of what we’re used to, before leaving it to chill in the fridge overnight. The next morning I rolled it out with a highball glass in lieu of a roller (see: lack of kitchen equipment).

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Apple pie, no explanation required, right? Moving right along.

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One of the (many) secret ingredients in this particular plate of mouth goodness is grated lemon peel. Which did not exist in that one quarter of an aisle space dedicated; believe me, I scoured that store. So I painstakingly shaved off paper thin slices of fresh lemon peel and chopped it to bits by hand. Do you know how long it takes to get a teaspoon of that stuff this way? A lot longer that I anticipated!

I admit until this point I was getting a bit stressed because we were attempting a lot of food for just two people, but in the words of Tevye, “TRADITION!”

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Luckily after I tossed the seasoned and sugared mixture into that labor intensive crust, the grouchiness could simply no longer put up a fight. Even intense domestic irritation fades when confronted with this thing, it is that powerful.

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We ate it for breakfast for days afterward. Regretting nothing.

Like I said, a bit of a labor of love. But in the end well worth it. However, I admit I will not be repeating this until next year, or unless I’m entertaining guests. Or until I get more and better kitchen equipment.

My Love-to-Hate Affair With Mac & Cheese

“At least she’s eating better things than macaroni and cheese.”
– Heidi Klum

Translation of fragment: "Mac and Cheese is food fit for dogs. And Gauls. Go Rome!"

Throughout my life my mother has been in school, in some capacity or another.  When I was about three or four, she had to leave Dad and I for a few weeks to finish up something or other with one of her degrees (I misremember which.  Which isn’t me being a bad daughter, it’s her having one in Asian Studies, one in American History, and now another in Classical Studies from Cambridge because she decided to learn Greek and Latin.  In other words, my mother is exceptionally awesome).  Time has blurred the details a bit but as I recall, this was an absolute highlight of my short life because Dad and I subsisted on mainly pizza.

I didn’t realize this during the Great Pizza Blitz, but it turned out that my Dad hated cooking.  Really hated it.  He encouraged my Mum to go to school, continue her education throughout her life, and work if she wanted, but by golly the one thing he wanted was dinner to be on the table, because left up to him, dinner would come grudgingly from a frozen package.

So, a few years down the road when she decided to teach for a semester or two at a local university, I thought the Pizza Affair would be reborn.  I was sadly, terrifyingly mistaken.

This is NOT food.

Mac and Cheese.  From a box.  Every night.  Some days even for lunch.  Sometimes we varied it up with chunks of hotdog, but mostly not.  Again, I’m sure both time and horror have worked their magic on me and the vile orange sludge was not as prolific as I remember, but it sure seemed like it at the time.  When my mother’s teaching finished, I refused to eat another disgusting, processed bite, and I’ve never touched it since.  Once when shopping J. picked up a box for himself on days when I’d be at school late or he needed a lunch, I had to swallow escaping bile.

However, watching Food Network the other day, I saw a recipe for ‘Grown Up Mac And Cheese’ and thought suddenly to myself, “That doesn’t look so bad.”  It sounded pretentious enough that I could assure myself that it would be as un-Kraft-like as possible, but looked really easy to make.  So, on Sunday I girded my loins and made Mac and Cheese for the first time in years.

And you know what?  It was pretty darned tasty!

**I’ll still never make the packaged stuff again.  My children will not be subjected to this powdered cheese monstrosity, except to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.  And even then, I might choose death.

I’ll Never Bake Again!

“Angst!  Angst!”
– C.

Yesterday after heading home an hour early from work (sick + tired + nausea + cramps + no lunch break + 2-3 hour long meeting = blech) I recovered enough to, or rather the drugs kicked in and I was able to, cook.  I put in one of my new movies and got to work marinating steak (to be used tonight) and then whipping up a spinach quiche…

…sort of.

See, I got all the cream cheese, egg, and spinach into the crust (which I bought at the store, not trusting myself – rightly it turns out – to make pastry) and popped it in the oven.  But then two minutes later, glancing through the recipe to see how long it should cook, I realized I’d forgotten the parmesan cheese!   Quick as you’d like, I dragged it out and mixed in the parmesan and tossed it back into the furnace. 

Then I realized that if I had forgotten the parmesan, I might have forgotten the cheddar as well…and I had.  Back to the oven, quick quick!  The crust was turning a lovely golden color by this time, and I couldn’t have been more ticked at it for looking yummy when I’d apparently left out half the ingredients. 

"Did you remember the onions, my dear?" "GAHHHHHHHHHHHH!" "Now, now, there's no need to fret."

And THEN, after I put it back in the oven, I banged my head (metaphorically) against the counter when I saw the green onions sitting in smug little rows on the other cutting board, taunting me with their not-in-the-quiche-ness. 

Finally I got everything mixed in (at various stages of baking) but THEN I forgot about it after I collapsed on the sofa in defeat.  All in all, the crust has come out a fearsome black…but the inside still tastes pretty good.