…and another week bites the dust…

My word, what a week it’s been. Full of ups and downs. Anyway, at the moment I’m investigating gluten and dairy free cake recipes. Zoe’s birthday is next week and with gluten and dairy allergies it sometimes becomes a bit of challenge – she’s managed to find usable workarounds for pretty much anything – Blondies, Banana Bread, Muffins, Cupcakes, Pancakes etc., but I really want to roll out the carpet on this one and cook a nice cake for her. I’ve been looking at all the different mixes, and all the different flours, including the OrgraN flours that are coming over to the US from Australia (the Plain Flour makes very good gluten free Popovers – but the OrgraN Egg Replacer isn’t something I’d suggest using in them – the Popovers I made with them came out very hard, not risen very well, and “gloopy” in the middle). Last year I tried making a Gluten Free Christmas Cake – following my mother’s family recipe, but substituting with Gluten Free flours etc. Wow. It wasn’t a great cake, but it would have made a fantastic man-hole cover :-) Very, very solid, so that one went in the bin, and since then I’ve shyed away from cakes generally.

But with a birthday coming up, I think that now’s the time to try again. There’s some wonderful moulds out there for cakes – I was in a Michael’s Craft and Hobby shop last weekend, and they had a whole aisle full of different moulds, shapes, ways to cut, carve, marble, etc., and it got me thinking. Really all I want to make is a Victoria Sponge, maybe put a jam filling – a got an amazing homemade blackberry jam as a gift on my birthday back in January – and dust it with confectioner’s sugar. Maybe add some fresh fruit like strawberries, etc., around it – nothing too ostentatious or over the top, but something we can stick a candle in for Zoe to blow out :-)

So there I was in Whole Foods this morning, whilst my car was in being serviced, wandering up and down the baking aisles. I grabbed a couple of mixes I’d not seen before, and I’m surfing the gluten-free websites, so I’ll let folks know what I come up with. Frankly, it’s a great excuse to use my lovely Kitchenaid 90th Anniversary Stand Mixer that was a Valentine’s Day present (the colour – Candy Apple – is gorgeous, much nicer than their Empire Red, it’s more of a pearlescent colour) to make some cakes. I made a Banana Bread in it last weekend and that turned out really well, so I’m hopeful – I’ve got the tools, even if I don’t have the capability :-)

I’m also looking at ice cream and sorbet. For Zoe’s party I’m going to be making a selection of curries. At the moment I’m thinking of Chicken Tikka Masala, Pork Vindaloo, a beef or lamb dish (maybe a Balti) and vegetable side dishes like Bombay Potato. I’ve also been asked to make an onion salad, and pear chutney, to go with the mango chutney and tamarind chutney that we already have. The pear chutney recipe came from Central Market in Mill Creek – they were having a cooking demonstration and making it and serving it with poppadums – it was just to die for – we’ve made it once since then and couldn’t stop eating it, so time to make it again. Our Organic food supplier (Eden Organics – they deliver a large box of fresh organic fruit and vegetables to us every Wednesday) has been giving us a lot of D’Anjou Pears both red and green, so we’ve got a few that are at the stage of ripening that we either need to cook with them or eat them as they are. They’ve been going in a lot of salads, but still, there’s plenty there for the recipe, so we’ll have some of that.

But back to the ice cream and sorbet. I bought a book called “The Perfect Scoop” a while ago, and have been drooling over the pictures ever since. The author, David Lebovitz, is an American living in Paris. He’s had all sorts of cooking and catering jobs, but his first love has always been ice cream, and boy does it come through in this book. Sure, there’s all the “normal” flavours like Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, etc., but there’s some more “interesting” ones as well – Olive Oil Ice Cream anyone? Or how about a scoop of Avocado Ice Cream? I can’t wait to try some of these, and as luck would have it, two things happened this week. Firstly, Zoe went and found her ice cream maker – a Krups one that makes about a quart, and secondly, I was in our local Target looking for something to put leaf tea in, clutching a $30 gift card which had also been a birthday gift, when I saw that the store had some Kitchenaid stand mixer accessories on clearence… unfortunately the food grinder I’d been looking out for to help make wonderful burgers in the summer had sold out (at the price they were selling it, I’m not surprised), but next to it they still had one of the ice cream maker attachements at a price so utterly bizarre that I had to scoop it up (oooh… scoop… ice cream scoop…. er… never mind) and double check the price on one of those little scanner thingy’s they have dotted around. Yup, it wasn’t a mistake, so I’m now the proud owner of one of them for a little under a third of it’s MSRP and I still had enough left over to buy some screen washer fluid for my car :-) Now this thing makes about 2 quarts, so with both of them, I can really start to try some of the recipes in the book. So, for the birthday party, after a curry, what to make? Well, at most Indian Restaurants in the UK, you’d have the option of a sorbet, usually orange or lemon, and usually crammed into half an orange or lemon as the container, or kulfi which is lovely (on a side note, my local Indian Restaurant back in the UK used to serve a lovely pistachio kulfi which had come out of a mould that looked almost exactly like a Dalek body, minus the sink plunger, gun and eye stalk – oh the fun I used to have squarking “Exterminate!” whilst pushing this slowly melting thing around my plate) but I wanted something a little different. So, I think I’m going to try and make Mango Sorbet – I grabbed a couple of nice looking Mangoes from Whole Foods – and a Toasted Coconut Ice Cream. I’m dithering at the moment as to whether to try and make the ice cream with dairy free alternatives, or for this first attempt follow the recipe fastidiously. I’m thinking the latter at the moment – it takes 24 hours to freeze the ice cream maker bowls, so I don’t think I want to mess around with this just yet. I think I’ll serve them separately, although the book shows them marbled together and tells you how to do it, and I have to admit….. Mmmm…. it looks amazing.

David Lebovitz has his own blog in his own witty style, packed full of stunning recipes – not just for ice cream – but for savouries as well as sweet. Check it out. Bookmark it. Then come back here, okay? His entry on Amnesty Cookies is fun, and I’m not only going to have to try making the cookies, but I like the sound of the E-Mail amnesty he talks about at the start of the article as well. Definitely sounds like it’s worth thinking about :-)

Well, the weekend is rapidly approaching. I’ve put the strawberry plants and the fig trees back outside after the risk of more frost seems to have passed – the raspberry and blueberry plants seem to have survived, but the beets and carrots, well… I think they might be hibernating because there nothing from them even though I planted them three weeks ago. The Heirloom Tomato seeds I planted indoors at the same time have gone completely bonkers – they’re now at the stage when I should start to snip out the more straggly or weaker looking specimens and give the remainder a diluted fish/seaweed fertiliser (which I have no doubt will pong as bad as it sounds). At this rate I think I’ll be giving away tomato plants in a few weeks, as I’ve got waaaaaaaay too many to plant!

Tomorrow I’m going paintballing in the morning – a surprise event for a friend who’s celebrating his birthday – and in the evening seeing him again for the not-a-surprise party. It should be a fun weekend. Sunday I think I’ll start pulling together everything I need to start making the curries – to make the curry base and curry stock, and to start toasting the spices and grinding them to make the aromatic masala spice blend I use in making the Chicken Tikka Masala. I’ll let you know how I get on…

Until then, keep on smiling, and happy times and empty plates.

Published in: on March 12, 2010 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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….and so it begins.

Welcome to my Blog! My name’s Mark Thompson, and I’m a 40 year old British gentleman, living in the Pacific Northwest with his girlfriend, her son, and two cats.

There’s a widely held belief that the British are lousy cooks, lousy lovers, sore losers, and enjoy standing in queues (or “lines” for the benefit of my American cousins). Whilst I don’t doubt some of these are true, I’ll happy take the stance that when it comes to cooking we British can give any other nation a run for their money.

Sure, there’s the “stodge” – the Steak & Kidney Puddings, the Spotted Dick (stop sniggering at the back there), not to mention Brain’s Faggots (okay, now you can really stop sniggering) but there’s also the delicacies. Give me a moment, I’m sure I’ll think of something…

All right… you may have a point. A lot of what we today call traditional British food is very definitely supposed to stick to your ribs – but hey, it’s cold in Great Britain (well, parts of it).

But is that really traditional? I mean, if you go back to the Victorians, or the Tudors, you’ll find lots of different dishes – Pease Pudding used to be a favourite dish in the North East of England, but I lived there for many years, and never touched the stuff – tastes change and it’s important to move with the times.

When you think of British cooking, certain dishes – like the aforementioned Steak & Kidney Pudding, or “Kate and Sidney” as you may hear it referred to - spring to mind. Fish & Chips (as a side note, I find it fascinating that in the US “chips” are what I would call crisps, and “fries” are my chips… apart from when served with Fish. “Fish & Chips” seems universal, but boy does it cause confusion when you’re a Brit’ arriving in the US, and you ask for chips and get a packet of Lays, Dorito’s or something like that. Anyway, I digress…), Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, Christmas Pudding, etc. etc. etc.

As a nation, we’ve become more multi-cultural. No longer are Fish & Chips the nation’s favourite food… no, that’s Curry. Indian Curry, and in particular “Chicken Tikka Masala” – a dish who’s origins are more hotly debated than who would win in a fight… Batman or Spiderman (my money’s on Batman – he’s got all the cool toys). You walk down a British High Street and you’ll find Indian food, Chinese Food, Italian Food (and not just Pizza’s) “fusion food” – try The Providores on Marylebone High Street in London for a treat – and everything in between. One of my favourite restaurants in the UK is called “WE” and they serve Indian and Thai food, in a small town called Fleet in Hampshire (that’s the original Hampshire, in the UK, not New Hampshire in the US).

And then there’s the new breed of “celebrity chefs”. Last weekend I watched “Julie and Julia“. I sat there with my girlfriend, having just decimated a Rib Roast with Sauteed Swiss Chard and Carrots baked in Oil and Vinegar that I’d knocked up from left overs, and was just completely taken in. Here was Julia Child, starting off with no real understanding of cooking beyond what she would pull together for dinner with her husband Paul, a 6’2″ woman who was bored in Paris and didn’t enjoy hat making as a hobby. After attending Le Cordon Bleu and learning to cook, she went on to (co)write the two volume “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” which became a bestseller, teaching the American public – the servantless American public – how to create masterpieces. But the best part of the film for me wasn’t Meryl Streep’s fantastically over-the-top Julia Child, it was Julie Powell - a Texan living in NYC, played by Amy Adams, who decided that over the course of 365 days she was going to cook all 524 recipes in the books. And blog about it. The Julie/Julia Project was born. Starting on Sunday 25th August 2002, this “government drone by day” worked her way through the recipes, risking her marriage and her weight in the process. But she succeeded. Even though Julia Child didn’t seem to appreciate it, it certainly made Julie Powell.

It got me to thinking. Who’s the “Julia Child” of our generation? There are so many different British chefs on television, writing books and opening restaurants. Of them all, there’s two that really stand out for me.

Gordon Ramsay has become as famous for his language, as he has for his cooking. Actually, his temper and frequent diving into expletives is probably more famous than his restaurants, but there’s no denying the food. It’s wonderful. Everytime I fly out of London Heathrow Terminal 5 now, I pick up a picnic from his “Plane Food”  and sit with the other cattle on the British Airways flight back to the US, secretly loving the envious stares as I unpack Tiger prawn salad with watercress and soy sesame dressing or a Caesar salad with pancetta and soft boiled egg followed by Roasted rump of Hereford beef with green bean salad and mustard and a dessert, whilst they stare moodily at their plastic lasagne or “Chicken Curry”. I love it. The air crew seem to love it too – they’re always commenting on it. There’s no denying that over the years Gordon has become more commercialized – I never ever thought I would see a range of Gordon Ramsay Cooking Sauces on the shelves of a UK Supermarket, but they’re there. As are the Gordon Ramsay crockery and cookware sets, the Gordon Ramsay Kin knife, and the Gordon Ramsay Sensio Kitchen Appliances. In recent times of economic downturn, everyone has suffered, Gordon has had to close some restaurants, sell the Ferrari, and I guess, look for any means of income. It’s a shame, but I can understand it. I love the guy’s books though. Even though it becomes more and more apparent that a large amount of them are written by Mark Sargeant or Angela Hartnett and Gordon’s name, and photographs, are added, they’re still great recipe books. I’ve been collecting them for years, and there’s many, many favourite dishes in there, some quick to make (Try his “Fast Food” book (Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk) for a look at how to make something in the same amount of time it would take to order a take-a-way and either have it delivered or go and get it) and some that take forever. But they are all designed to use the best ingredients, and whilst some of them aren’t easy to come by in the Seattle area, I can usually find reasonable substitutions. His new series and book in the UK – Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape (Amazon.co.uk) – combines his style with my favourite food – curry. I’m eagerly awaiting the show arriving on BBC America, or maybe a DVD release. The guy is definitely prolific, there’s a huge amount of books, to the degree that I really wish they’d publish them for the Kindle or other eReader – it’s far more convenient than the large, groaning, book shelf of his books I have.

Number 2 for me is Jamie Oliver. The Rib Roast that Zoe and I enjoyed over the weekend was from his “Cook with Jamie” book, the US edition, and it was simply to die for. We had guests over the night I made the Rib Roast with Roasted Beets (which I burnt… the horror!) – see what Nurit has to say here (then come back here and keep on reading!). The thing I love about Jamie Oliver though is his passion, and his enthusiasm. Over recent years he’s run cookery schools for disadvantaged people – the Fifteen Foundation – he’s taken on the UK Government on the subject of nutritional, health, tasty food in Schools – School Dinners – and now he’s on a mission to make us all realize that we don’t have to be obese – we all can eat healthily and enjoy it – his “Ministry of Food“. Here is a guy who not only is a fantastic chef, with multiple restaurants, but also an amazing business man. There’s the “Jamie at Home” club – a bit like the old Tupperware parties, but more up tempo – the Jamie Magazine, the Jamie crockery, the Jamie cookware, the books, the DVDs, the plants, it’s never ending! Just check out the shop on his website. But I don’t envy him. He’s worked very hard for his success, far harder than I think I’ve ever worked. It’s a shame his “Recipease” shops aren’t in the US, in particular on the Eastside of Seattle, as they’d definitely give the likes of “Dinner’s Ready” and “Designed Dinners” a run for their money. Hmmm… maybe there’s a business opportunity there… Check out Jamie’s award winning TED Talk on Teaching Children about Food – there’s no way you can’t feel the passion he has around these topics.

So, back to me. I’m 40. Living outside of Seattle with my girlfriend Zoe, her son, and two cats – Frog and Aslan. I’m sat watching “Julie and Julia” and wondering if there was something there for me. Well, it’s obviously had some effect, because I started this blog. Who knows how long it’ll last, but my intention here is to talk about the things I cook, the things I love (and loathe), and what it’s like to be “An Englishman in New York Seattle”.

Who knows, maybe I’ll decide that I just have to cook my way through all of Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver’s prolific library, but that’s probably a tall order given the speed with which they’re churning books out! Whatever, I’m going to have some fun, and hopefully you will too dear reader(s). Now, I’m going back to flicking through “The Perfect Scoop” and trying to decide if I want to make the Mango Sorbet, or the Toasted Coconut Ice Cream first… hmm…

Published in: on March 8, 2010 at 7:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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