Category Archives: Food

Christmas season in London, 2012

This December, as I keep saying every time I reflect on my continuing life here in London, is so vastly different from the previous. Last year I spent the weeks leading up to the holidays stuck in the library, nose buried in a book with 5 more stacked on the table. But still, of course, I saw how magical London becomes around the holidays. London does Christmas very well (which is good, considering they completely ignore any other winter holiday). The trees sparkle with white and blue lights, and each part of London pops with their own particular decorations. Last December I accompanied my friends on a botched ice skating trip (not that I would ever ice skate myself . . . phobias abound) and looked up into a giant tree decorated by Tiffany’s. I wandered around Christmas tree selling points and drank hot chocolate in coffee shops.

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This year, the Christmas trees are in friends’ homes and our new (centrally located to our flats) local. As much as I love the twinkly trees and Christmas cheer in shops, I much prefer my red and green paper garland and the holly fairy lights strung across my mantle. Hot chocolate is drunk at home, Christmas gatherings planned at my flat (curry takeaway for dinner and cider cocktails for drink). And celebratory wine is drunk, the spoils of victory from second place at the Christmas pub quiz.

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Christmas shopping is still difficult. The mix of shopping from my American amazon for American family and UK amazon for UK friends and shopping in person/fighting crowds is decidedly difficult. Of course, it’s made more difficult when the cat decides to help.

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But in 3 short days I’ll be boarding a plane to the States, to spend two lovely weeks with my family and friends back home. And then it’s back again. For more of whatever this is.

 

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Turkey for you and Turkey for me!

Needless to say, yet again time has flown by. As I wrap presents and trying to get my suitcase down from the wardrobe without being crushed, I think about my first foray into holiday entertaining.IMG_0767

Months and months ago, an at-the-time new friend said to me (essentially) (paraphrasing) “oh! You’re an American! We can have Thanksgiving this year!” to which I said something along the lines of “HELL YES WE CAN!”

Which of course, got me thinking about Thanksgiving. It seems like it must be this massive undertaking. Loads of dishes to prepare, loads of people . . . all the potential for a logistical nightmare. And the closer it got to Thanksgiving, with permission granted to host it at Sir Not Appearing in this Blog’s house, with his family and our friends, the more stressed I got. I combed the internet for recipes, desperately trying to figure out which sweet potato and marshmallow casserole would best capture the very ESSENCE of Thanksgiving in America. Not to mention converting recipes from US measurements to UK measurements, figuring out exactly how much food we needed to buy.

Because turkey is a Christmas bird in England, we had to special order our turkey from the butcher. And let me tell you, when you order a 9 kilo (18 pound) turkey from the local butcher in early November, their eyes kinda pop out of their skulls a little bit.

Skype conversations with my Mom sort of helped. But when you’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving meal before, and somebody else has done it a few times, you don’t necessarily trust that they’re remembering their first time with total clarity. But Mama insisted that a successful Thanksgiving was all about organization. So, by Friday night (we had our Thanksgiving on Sunday because, naturally, the English don’t get the day off on Thursday), we had planned our big event down to the minute and pound. We knew exactly how much food we were getting, and exactly when everything needed to be done.

And sure enough, 44 hours later everything went on the table exactly as planned and exactly when planned. And our turkey put all other turkeys to shame (not that I had anything to do with it). The skin was crisp and brown and the meat was juicy and flavourful (prepped with a sage and orange zest butter, of course). Our Thanksgiving cocktails (made for our own home-made cider* spiked with bourbon) went over well, it seems, as did our deliciously boozy cranberry sauce.

And it turns out that Mama was right, as usual. That the devil is in the details. My first real British Thanksgiving was perfect: good food, good people, and football on TV. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll do it all again next year.

*we bought the apple juice, let’s not go crazy
**there are much less blurry pictures that I’m much more proud of. However, they were not taken by me and . . . you know, this is the internet.

Penny Pinch Tuesday

Today I was craving a roast. Roasted potatoes, that is. Someday I’ll make a full English roast for friends and family here in England, but despite a delicious example made by my dear friend I think I need a few more examples before I endeavor to climb that Mt. Everest.

The English will tell you that roasted potatoes need serious fat to be done properly. Like lard fat. I know many a person with a jar of duck lard or some sort for special occasions. No no, I tell you. No no.

Give your potatoes a scrub, then chop them into bite-sized pieces (which for me is usually just quartering them) and pop them in a roasting pan lined with foil. While roasted potatoes can serve many many people, I find 2 medium sized King Edward potatoes (or 1 large and 1 smaller russet potato) is suitable for a single serving.
Put about 2-3 tablespoons or so of olive oil in the roasting pan. Season with sea salt and black pepper, and any other seasoning you like. I love herb de provence, so that always gets a healthy toss in the mix.
Toss to coat
***HERE is the difference. Most will tell you to bake at a high temperature, then turn on the broiler (grill for the uk kids) at the last minute. I reverse it. Broil them first. Get a good crisp on them, then turn it down and let them cook through while you cook everything else. Let them get browned to your liking (for me that’s about 10 minutes or so) then wack the oven down to 150 degrees celsius.

I had my potatoes with two leftover sausages and a slice onion and the last bell pepper in my crisper (hence the penny pinch). Slice the onion and the bell pepper while the sausage browns in the pan with some oil (don’t let it burn!). Then, after about 5 minutes or so, put in the onion and pepper and turn down the heat a bit.
(at this point, check on your potatoes. If they seem done to you, turn off the oven and keep the door closed. That will keep them hot until the rest of the meal catches up)
Saute the onion and peppers. I’ll be honest, I’m total shite at figuring out when sausages are done. It’s this magic thing that English people have, being able to just tell. I have to slice into them and all sorts of nonsense. Ultimately, if the juices run clear, they’re done.

Plate, and there you go. A slightly crap not very clear recipe of how a thrown together dinner really goes.

Penny Pinch Tuesday

This is a recipe I’ve started doing with things just about the kitchen. I’m sure any true Italian would turn his/her nose up at it . . . it’s nothing special. But it’s filling, quick, and gets the job done. And that makes me happy! These amounts (which I’ve honestly just guestimated) should make enough sauce for one bowl of spaghetti and leftovers, or dinner for two.

Spaghetti and Sauce*

1 can diced tomatos (regular-sized, not monster)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic gloves, diced
1 tsp dried oregano
a small handful of torn fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

spaghetti noodles
1. Put about 2 Tbsp. good olive oil in a saute pan, allow to heat.
2. Add your diced garlic and allow to cook until fragrant, but be careful not to burn it!
3. Add your onions, and just a touch of salt to let the onions sweat.
4. Add the tomato paste, give it a good stir to mix together the onions, garlic, and tomato. (Having the paste AND the diced tomatoes gives it a depth of flavor, don’t you know?)
5. Add the whole can of diced tomatoes, and allow it all to cook down to a consistency of your liking . . . I like it quite thick, so about 10-15 minutes depending on how high you bump up the oven.
6. Stir in the oregano and basil at the end . . . give the sauce a sniff, and if it doesn’t smell good to you, add spice/herbage until it does!

Pop the noodles in a pot of boiling, salted water towards the end, strain it once it’s cooked to your liking, then bang it all together. Delicious!

 

 

*you could easily add some mince meat . . . just brown most of the way with the onions and garlic (on a medium-low heat so’s not to burn the veg) then let it cook through with as the tomatoes cook down. I just tend to avoid meat while cooking, because I’m a chicken.

Penny Pinch Tuesday

(source: google.com via my tumblr)

I’m sure I’ve said this before but oatmeal raisin cookies make me think of Winston Churchill. Not just because he was strong and dependable with just a hint of spice (and a bit of a mouthful) but because my mom always put her oatmeal raisin cookies in an old tin with Old Winny’s face on it. Go figure.

Anyway, a good cookie never does you wrong at time time so I decided to rustle up some cookies with this recipe from Eating for England, a food blog from an English ex-pat living in America.

This recipe was fantastic because I managed to cream the butter and sugar with my wooden spoon. Operating without a mixer is difficult (and operating without a food processor is bringing me to tears), so anything that works around that devastating loss makes me jump for joy.
Chilling the dough seems pretty significant, as she points out. I popped mine in our dinky refrigerator for about 30 minutes and it worked out well. They’re chewy and have just a hint of warmth from the cinnamon and the nuttiness of the oatmeal. As my English flatmate said “I love Americans.” No no, my dear.
Love Winston.