Tuesday, 13 August 2013

One Hand on my Pastry Pocket

Travel food is always fun. The engineering that goes behind every snack or meal that can be eaten on the go without the stable support of a table or the use of utensils is pure genius. Steak and stew that I can eat with one hand while walking or travelling on a bumpy train ride? Yes, please. Yes, please very much big time. Welcome to the wonderful world of the pasty. It has many cousins across the globe: curry puffs, empanadas, calzones, turnovers and more. But this is the classic British incarnation of working man grub. Now catering to more commuters than coalminers, thanks to the widespread prevalence of franchises like the West Cornwall Pasty Company, it still provides tasty, filling and transportable treats for the busy traveller. 

At a train station, I couldn’t help but stop and get one of my favourites, a good old fashioned steak and ale – or Steak and Tribute, as the Company calls them. I also wanted to introduce my all-American husband to the flaky delights of these warm savoury pastries. I think he chose a Chicken and Mushroom. I must confess that despite spending many years as a customer, I have yet to pick anything but my beloved steak and ale. I am such a sucker for steak and ale. Typical hypocrite. I usually do make an effort to try new and different things, but I suppose everyone has those things to which they keep going back. The sultry malted tones of the ale just work wonders on the rich meaty bite of the melting steak. All the vegetables are stewed in the velvety juices and have sucked up all the goodness from both of the star players. And the flaky pastry is crisp and golden on the outside but soft and saturated in scrumptious sauce on the inside. It is such a warm and cosy treat that can be so comforting on a tedious journey. I am salivating just remembering its savoury silky scent. 

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Slippery Feels of Jellied Eels

I take so much pleasure in trying new dishes. It’s like a miniature adventure, a microcosmic window into history and culture, feeling and smelling a cool breeze of fresh air after being numb in a stale and stagnant room. Even after spending most of my summers in England, I had yet sample the slippery pleasures of the traditional dish of jellied eels. The eels popped up during a conversation with my brother-in-law at my sister’s house and I was fortunate enough to receive a (rather large) portion for my birthday. 

The chopped eels are stewed with vinegar and spices until a stock forms. The natural proteins and gelatine from the fish are released into the cooking liquid and cause it to set when cool, thus forming the wonderful wobbles of the illustrious English dish. I am quite fond of savoury jellies and if you like terrines or soft cold meat dishes, then jellied eels should be right up your alley. The jelly itself is very flavourful. Imagine a set seafood stock that has been lightly spiced. It had a very clean and refreshing seafood fragrance. The eels themselves were much like any other poached fish with flaky white meat. As this was my first experience with jellied eels, I wasn’t entire sure where this particular recipe sat on the scale of jellied joy. My sister said they were slightly overcooked, which I could understand. I really enjoy eel in other dishes so I could see how the meat in this particular batch had probably been taken a bit too far. But even so, the method of cooking the eel in the rich jiggly stock still produces a very tender fish meat with a texture similar to that of canned tuna or salmon. It went great on crisp buttered toast or just on its own to get the full jellied eel experience.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Pan-fried Pork and Pestiferous Postponing Plumbers

This was another lunch prepared in the little kitchenette of the London apartment I was residing in with my brother this summer. It was the day the apartment management had promised the plumbers would come, plus we had no plans, so it was another ideal opportunity to put the seemingly newly furbished kitchen to be put to proper use. Mind you there were already clear signs of use, or should I say abuse. In addition to those previously listed, the surface of the cabinets above the stove, toaster and electric kettle had shrunk and warped, despite the fact that they were all shiny white and new looking. Also, the walls were reasonably clean except for the confusing faint mystery splatter that stretched from the floor to the ceiling (yes, actually on the ceiling) in a pattern that gave a layman like me no clue as to the directional forces or point of origin that created it. But regardless, these superficial problems did not stop the pursuit of proper pukka nosh. It doesn't matter if your kitchen is big or small, old or new, equipped with hot water or not, if you put the effort in, you can make a decent meal (insert motivational fist pump).

The plump pink pork loins looked great in the store and were pretty good value to purchase. They were simply pan fried, again, in the world's largest frying pan using the amazing rotate-the-gargantuan-pan-over-the-tiny-hob-in-the-corner-to-try-and-heat-the-whole-surface technique. The meat was seasoned with salt, black pepper, garlic powder and fresh sage leaves. After browning both cut sides and when the steaks were almost done, I made sure to hold them upright with the fat edge in contact with the bottom of pan to ensure it cooked the luscious white stuff all the way through. The apple confit was made by peeling, coring and dicing apples (with a paring knife as there was no peeler. And yes, the potatoes for the mash in the last post were also peeled by paring knife) then heating them in a saucepan with butter, oil, a splash of water, salt and sugar until they were tender and caramelised. The pork and apples were served with a simple side of boiled green beans and baby carrots, the latter of which I did not bother peeling or trimming as they were so dinky I didn't want them to disappear completely. I was never a fan of fruit and meat in my younger years, but I have grown to really appreciate how the contrast in flavours and textures work together and create delicious magic. The savoury bulk of the rich fatty pork was beautifully balanced out by the sweet gentle softness of the apples and all the flamboyant flavours were refreshed by the clean simplicity of the beans and carrots. Happy home-cooked food to warm the heart (because the boiler had yet to be fixed...).

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Babies, Birds and Broken Kitchenettes

My dear sister and her husband welcomed their first baby boy into the family in June so we were all very happy and excited to be able to spend some quality bonding time with the little bundle this summer. I was in the UK for about a month, dividing my time between London and my sister's house. I've always liked visiting the UK because of particular produce items that are rare or ridiculously overpriced in my hometown. As a result, I can be frequently found foraging the refrigerated shelves of food-filled supermarkets, specifically for dairy products and berries. I adore good dairy and the UK has plenty of it. When I was younger I was allergic to cows milk, but as the years progressed I seem to have shed those ailments (that or I'm just ignoring any discomfort, which is much like how I allow my affinity for four-legged friends to overthrow the fact that I am completely allergic to pretty much all of them. Whatever. Puppies and kittens for all!).

Whilst in London, I was residing in a short-stay apartment with my brother. The cost of eating out for every meal in the city will eat through your wallet so we like to cook ourselves whenever the opportunity arises. On this culinary occasion, we had chicken thighs. It's so much more worth it to get those big packs of bone-in chicken thighs than it is to get those individually packaged filleted breasts, and they pack so much more flavour and moisture, I have no idea why people don't use dark meat more. Plus the stores frequently have offers on chicken legs or thighs and I think when we got our packs they were “buy 1 get 1 free”. The thighs were pan-seared with lemon thyme before being finished in the oven with some cherry tomatoes. This was served with a side of mashed potato and drizzled with pan juices. All this was done in a small apartment kitchen with a dodgy oven door suffering from dislocated joints, a dinky fridge in which every shelf was broken and a flat glass stove top with a raised metallic rim which prevented the largest frying pan in the world (the only pan that was in the apartment) from fitting in a sensible spot over a single stove (in order to cook anything you would have to place it in the corner of the pan that was receiving heat or constantly rotate the pan to try and even it all out). But regardless of the issues, the scrumptious lunch was a success. The chicken was very tasty and tender and went great with the sweet juicy sunshine of the warm tomatoes and garlic-spiked spuds. It even temporarily took our minds off the fact that there was no hot water for three days due to a broken boiler (also the world's largest). Temporarily being the operative word. Washing up was not as nice.