Blog Archive

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Baking in UK, Part 2: "Goosnargh Cakes"

 Time again for British baking with Becky. Today I will show you my attempt to make Goosnargh Cakes. This recipe originates from the village of Goosnargh, in Lancashire, which happens to be the first area I visited over 30 years ago. It is a particularly beautiful area in England and hopefully after the world opens again, I can return for a visit and see several friends still living up North.

So, on a side note, I should take this time to explain that any baking attempted right now is difficult. We are currently in the middle of a kitchen remodel, that I am sure will be its own blog. When we made this recipe, I knew that in just days I would be having the oven pulled out and not replaced for several weeks. The kitchen is also in a state of flux with dishes, pans and utensils being constantly moved around as a cabinet is removed and another installed. I am not saying this to complain because I am excited about the remodel, but as a reminder that my love of baking will overcome a few inconveniences. 

As a reminder, this recipe is from "Paul Hollywood's British Baking", cookbook. I will once again be relying on him as my mentor.  I would classify the Goosnargh Cakes as a biscuit or cookie in the fact that they are round and flat. 

As you can see from the picture, the ingredients are relatively simple with the addition of caraway seeds to add a unique flavor to the cakes. It is also worth noting that there are no eggs or salt in the recipe. This is still mind boggling to me since I consider salt to be the one ingredient that must be in every recipe. Because of this, I have spent time reconsidering my butter choice. In the U.S. I have always used unsalted butter. I have been taught that the best cream is used in unsalted butter since impurities cannot be hidden behind salt but here I have greater faith in their butter. So after this butter is used up, I plan to switch to salted butter. 

So these cakes are basically flour, sugar and butter. Sounds simple enough! They are basically a shortbread with the butter being incorporated with my fingers instead of being creamed into the sugar with a blender. This might be because there is only 1 Tablespoon of sugar in the dough. Don't worry, these are a sweet cookie because the rest of the sugar is sprinkled on the top before baking and again after they are taken out of the oven.

The only struggle we had was the caraway. Paul suggests, "Add a little at first, grinding the seeds with a pestle and mortar to give it a more subtle flavour". (See the last word, "flavour", my computer just tried to auto-correct it to "flavor," but that is how it is printed in the book). Anyway, we don't own a mortar and pestle. I guess that is not true, I own two but they are in Washington so we tried various methods to try and get the right consistency. I first tried my rolling pin in a measuring cup. David noticed me struggling and grabbed the hammer, which he had laying nearby for the kitchen remodel, and gave it an attempt. Both had the same effect so I went with the the rolling pin method. It felt more appropriate for baking.

The recipe calls for lots of butter so the dough came together easily. After a quick chill in the fridge, I rolled, cut and baked them. While still warm, the last addition of powdered sugar is sprinkled on top. How do they taste? Delicious! I loved the caraway giving a subtle flavor. I ate a couple while warm but I also enjoyed them after they had cooled with a cup of tea. That sounds pretty British doesn't it.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Baking in UK, Part 1: "Chocolate Heavies"

We have been in England now for over 4 months and being self proclaimed "Foodies", we are feeling a bit sad that we are on the downward side of our trip and we have had little chance to explore and eat the local cuisine. It has also been particularly tough on me since my passion is baking and making people happy through food so we decided to do something about this, Bake!

Step one, find a good mentor through a British cookbook. I decided on, "Paul Hollywood's British Baking." Paul Hollywood seemed like a good choice because he doesn't use fancy equipment for his recipes. This is really important because I have limited resources. Now I know those of you who know me well, know that I have almost every baking tool one could hope for. I have a couple of Kitchenaid Mixers, (going to give them a big hug when I get home to Washington), several sets of measuring cups, knives, cutters, scrapers, baking pans, well you get the idea. Anyway, here I have 400 square feet of living space and the biggest kitchen appliance I own is a hand mixer. This is an excellent opportunity to get back to my baking roots and bake like I was taught as a creative! 

Step two, assemble ingredients. This sounds easy enough but they use different terms here than back home in the U.S.A. Is cornflour cornstarch or cornmeal? Which sugar is caster sugar? Is Fan 180 C. a real temperature? After several questions posed to our Echo, "Alexa" we set off to the store to get the final ingredients needed. One thing I have to say about Britain, the dairy products are amazing and fresh. I have been known to sample the butter before spreading on toast. If I could bring one thing, or several small things, back to Washington with me it would be a suitcase of butter. 

Step three, choose a recipe and bake. I am starting with three recipes that resemble a cookie. By cookie I mean that they are round and somewhat flat.

 The first one we baked is called Chocolate Heavies. This recipe is from the area we are currently living in, Southeast England. It was from the Victorian times and originally had currents instead of chocolate chips. (sounds like a good change by Paul). Notice by the picture, chocolate chips are sold in these small packets that to me look like a snack size and sorry Paul, I added the whole packet, which was 100 g instead of the 75 g in the recipe. This recipe also has lard as ingredient which I have not used in cookies. 

The recipe came together relatively easy. The only issue I had was the instruction that said to "use up to 40ml of milk". I used the whole amount and it still was very crumbly. I didn't want to stray from the recipe so I just carried on. Eventually the dough did come together and I was able to roll it out after the prescribed chill time.

The Heavies, aka cookies, came out a beautiful golden brown thanks to the egg wash before baking. I was pleased at how they looked and I think that Paul would also, they might not be handshake worthy but certainly good enough. 

The last instruction in the book said, "These biscuits are best eaten fresh". I took this quite literally and ate two while they were still warm. All in all, I think they were great tasting. Pretty dry compared to what I am used to but they would be great with tea, or another hot drink.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

Food in UK, Part 5: Chocolate

Now let's talk about chocolate. Again with the lockdown, we weren't allowed to visit any sweet shops or local chocolatiers, even though we have more than a dozen high rated shops within a few miles of here. This is certainly a let down. 

Once again it's back to the grocery store to explore local flavors. First, we note that some of those delicious meat flavored crisps are also available in chocolate - no kidding!

Cornish Pasty flavored chocolate bars

Now don't be discouraged by this trend, because there's plenty of really good chocolate bars available for bargain prices, compared to the USA. Green & Black brand has always been one of our go-to favorites. All the familiar ones are here and many great limited edition ones we don't see on the shelves in the USA such as this heavenly one.
Green & Black "Velvet Edition" chocolate bars

Cadbury's is another important chocolate brand from England. It has an important history much like Hershey's in the USA, it also has a theme park. Still, such places are closed here. Yet, grocery stores are a great place for the mass-produced confection brands such as Dairy Milk, Bournville, Flake and who could forget the Cream Eggs, available year round here. 

Chocolate also comes in other products such as biscuits (cookies).  Some interesting varieties can be found with familiar US brand names. How about these? I never saw these in the USA. 
Mars caramel filled chocolate biscuits (cookies)

The Italian brand Ferrero is also very popular among the Brits. They are makers of the brands such as Nutella, Kinder and of course Ferrero Rocher.  The Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread is always popular. There are many products and recipes made with Nutella or some imitation inside. Over here we even found some delicious crispy biscuits from them.
Nutella-filled wafer biscuit (cookie?)

Now as long as we're talking about chocolate, I have to mention Stracciatella flavored Kvarg! I discovered this in the dairy case next to the yogurts. The Stracciatella is a special recipe of Italian gelato with shavings of chocolate. Kvarg is Swedish for Quark, which is a type of fermented dairy product similar to yogurt, but with more protein and  very smooth velvety texture. Nestle has licensed the number 1 brand from Sweden (Lindahl's) and made it available in the grocery stores here. It's delightful as a desert after dinner or as a breakfast treat topped with my favorite granola. 

Lindahl's Kvarg with chocolate shavings


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Food in UK, Part-4: English Granola

A few weeks after moving into our new flat, Becky wanted to make some of our homemade granola using our favorite recipe from the B&B. This was our "Coconut Cardamom Granola" (sorry that recipe never appeared in the Blue Goose Inn cookbook, for whatever reason.) Anyway, it's always been my personal favorite and we were both craving some.  So we set out to the stores with our shopping list of ingredients. It was nothing too unusual, but did include three ingredients that proved nearly impossible to find: ground black cardamom, dried coconut flakes and slivered almonds. This recipe also used pistachios and  Canadian organic maple syrup as sweetener and flavoring. While we could find pistachios and maple syrup here, they were both quite expensive and the maple syrup just didn't have the same flavor as the one we used back home.  

We struggled making a couple of batches of this granola using substitutes we could find including desiccated coconut, which was too fine in texture and grinding our own whole cardamom pods. Whole Cardamom pods are available at most larger groceries, but the only place we ever found the actual ground cardamon after lots of Googling was at a specialized Indian spice shop that had been closed due to the lockdowns.  After all the hard work, it just wasn't the same, so we had the idea, why not adapt the recipe to local ingredients we can actually find easily here and this can be our new "English Granola"?  

The first thing we wanted to change was the spices. We needed something that was more English and more readily available. We kept seeing something in the spice sections and baking isles of the grocery called "Mixed Spice". This turns out to be something very English yet very similar to what we might call "Pumpkin Pie Spice" in the USA. There are many variations on the recipe, but it usually is a special blend of such ingredients as cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, mace, cloves and coriander - more or less depending upon the brand or recipe. It can be found everywhere and it seemed like a perfect candidate to spice up our English Granola

Mixed Spice blend

Next up was the sweetener. We decided we wanted to substitute Golden Syrup for the maple syrup, to make it more English. Golden Syrup is also something that is very English and very easy to find and much more economical than maple syrup. This specially refined cane sugar syrup was developed by chemists from the Lyle factory in London in 1883. It is quite unlike anything we have in the US and has a distinctive butterscotch-like flavor, reminiscent of Werther's Original butter candy. A perfect choice for our English Granola. 

Lyle's Golden Syrup

While the slivered almonds also proved nearly impossible to find locally and whole and sliced almonds were easy to find, we kept some almonds in the recipe  and we decided to substitute cashews for the pistachios, since they are more readily available here and we could even buy them in the bulk food section at the store for quite a bit less per pound than they might be in the USA.  

Of course all these substitutions set off the fine balance of the granola recipe. The first batch was under-done and too sticky. After Becky made a number of fine adjustments to the balance of ingredients and cooking process, I think she has perfected a great new recipe - at least it's now my personal favorite. 

The actual recipe remains unpublished for now.  As I am not the actual chef, nor do I play one on TV or at a B&B, it is possible that some of my details in this story may be in error. 


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Food in UK, Part 3: Takeaway

When you can't dine out, takeaway or take-out is what we get during the lockdowns. 

Let's start with a song about this important ritual by the talented Marsh Family Singers:

The Buy-In Eats Tonight by the Marsh seeFamily Singers:

Now over here, takeaway restaurants may look a bit different from what you're used to in the USA. Many of these little family businesses are located within the home that often fronts a busy street. There is usually just a small lobby and counter, with a kitchen in the back somewhere. The owners typically lives in the house too. This model has proved to be very adaptable for the harsh lockdowns in UK as they have no inside or outside dining anyway, everything on the menu was already designed for takeaway and nobody has to travel to get to work.  Many of these little shops are called "Kebab" shops. They often have a little of everything on the menu besides great kebabs including pizza, burgers, fish & chicken. 

The shop below is one we walk past every day on our walk to see the grandkids.   We haven't eaten there (yet) but it seems typical of this "jack-of-all-trades, takeaway" genre.  
Solent Kebab takeaway

Now there are also more specialized restaurants that try to do one thing well. Fish & Chippies are one type that are very popular here. There seems to be one in every neighborhood.  Here is Mother Kelly's Fish & Chips. It's also along our daily walk and one of the few that actually has a large indoor dining area. They have always done take away, so adapting to the lockdown was less painful for them. 

Mother Kelly's Fish & Chips

Now Indian food is a big thing over here too. After all, chicken tikka-masala is the national dish of Britain now, beating out bangers and mash or fish and chips!  Some of the best Indian food we've ever had was in Oxford (on a previous trip) at 4,500 Miles from Delhi. So expectations are high for Indian takeaway. Initially we were disappointed with the local choices. The shops we tried in and around Portchester and Portsmouth seemed to be produce curries that were overly sweet and lacking the depth and complexity of spices that we've come to love. One day I saw a thread on the local community facebook group that was discussing favorite Indian take away during the lockdown. Through the recommendations of the locals we discovered this little hole-in-the-wall shop near the train station called Leith Tandori that finally fulfilled the promise of  flavorful Indian take away we've craved. We've ordered from them many times and it has always been great. 

Leith Tandori takeaway

Now a little closer to our apartment, we also have a little strip of take away shops. These are just a five minute walk from our flat and there are three excellent choices right together including the Golden Bridge (Chinese) New Shahee Tandori (Indian) and Blue Ocean (fish & chips). So even while we are remodeling our kitchen in our flat, we always have convenient and tasty take away nearby. 

Golden Bridge, New Shahee Tandori and Blue Ocean - takeaway dining

Now we're about a month away from the opening up of some new out-door dining choices, according to the promised reopening schedule by Boris Johnson. We're looking forward to the many fine dining restaurants located near our flat with large outdoor dining on the board walk over in Port Solent. Doesn't this look like a great place for patio dining? 
Port Solent harbor & boardwalk

Yet, we are still in England, in the spring time. so this might be a better perspective on what outdoor dining might be like in on April 12th:  

Click the link to see the video on Twitter. 

(Click to see the video on Twitter)


Thursday, March 4, 2021

Food in UK, Part-2: Meat Flavored Vegetables

A lot of British fast food and snacks are very regional. Many of these foods were developed to feed local laborers as a way to get a bite to eat before or after work.  Take for example the history of the Cornish Pasty. These were developed as a handy way for the miners in Cornwall to grab a quick meal. There are many other very regional favorites and peculiar foods that came out of specific regions of the UK. We really wish we had time to explore some of these regional favorites on this trip, but the lockdown has dashed those plans. 

Instead we just spend more time at the local grocery stores, looking for regional flavors.  One fascination over here we noticed was that a tremendous amount of shelf space at the store is dedicated to the most obscure flavors of potato chips (crisps). For today's food update, we'll explore some of these specialties that you won't find back in the USA.   Many of these flavors are based on very specific meat dishes, yet are "approved for vegetarian diets". When was the last time you saw "crispy duck" flavored chips?


I tend to like strong or spicy flavors, so no doubt I snapped up these "Fiery Peri-Peri" crisps. Notice too that these have a 3-flame extra-hot rating. Don't let that fool you, these have nothing on the Flaming-Hot Cheetos we get back home. Spices tend to be very mild over here generally. 

Now sometimes these flavors seem a little too specific or too regional. How about that national taste treat of "Aberdeen Angus Beef & Suffolk Ale' hand-cooked potato crisps?  It's really a thing. Go ahead and just try to Google "best angus beef in UK" and you will surely see Aberdeen Angus come up near the top of the list There is probably nothing finer, but we wouldn't know, because all we could do is try the crisps so flavored. Again they are strictly vegetarian, no beef is used. 

Of course we already mentioned the famous Cornish Pasty that we did get to try last year on our trip to Cornwall. There are plenty of imitations everywhere you go, but everyone knows the original must be found in Cornwall.  For those who can't make the trip, this regional favorite is also available as flavored crisps. 

Now if you're in the mood for some flavors of breakfast, you'll find some "Crispy Bacon & Maple Syrup" flavored crisps too. Becky's maple-glazed crispy bacon was always a favorite at our B&B. This version of the man-candy isn't quite as good, but may bring back some memories - strictly vegetarian. 

Now there are also some holiday favorites with limited seasonal availability such as this classic "Turkey & Stuffing flavor - yumm! 

Not to leave out the seafood lovers, we also found these yummy "Sizzling King Prawn" flavored crisps.

Now this is a serious food trend and I could keep going with plenty more examples.

If you noticed, most of these flavors are very much meat flavors, though no animals were harmed in their manufacturing. But just in case you wanted something with a bit more vegetarian influence, there won't be as many choices, but we did find these. 

What's your favorite flavor of potato crisps? 


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Food in UK, Part-1: Terminology

With all the closures and lockdowns it's a particularly bad time to be a foodie tourist in England. With little opportunity to dine out and enjoy the local delicacies, we have been left with the choice of cooking in or ordering take-away.  First, let's talk about cooking in,  This has been the mainstay of our dining experiences, and we've done a lot to explore local ingredients and try our hand at cooking them. This usually means a trip to the grocery store and is usually one of the highlights of our cultural experience for the week. 

First we need to learn about basic ingredient names. Just because they speak English over here, doesn't mean anything else is the same. Shortly after we first arrived, I was in the produce department of the Tesco superstore nearby and couldn't find what I needed from my shopping list. I found a young employee working in that department and asked where I could find cilantro, egg plant and spaghetti squash. I had a mask on and spoke as clearly as possible, but I had to repeat myself three times and got the strangest looks!  Then it dawned on me, they call cilantro "coriander" over here!  The other two items remained missing on that trip.  

I finally found something called 'squash' but it came in a bottle!  Months later, I eventually found a package of the closest thing to spaghetti squash; it was something called "Swoodles" which is short for "Swede noodles".  We're still on the hunt for actual spaghetti squash. What's a "Swede" you ask? Isn't that someone from Sweden? 

Over here a swede is what they call turnips or rutabagas (I'm not making this stuff up!) 

Here's a basic translation chart for many common ingredients:

American Name  >   English Name
Cornstarch    =    Cornflour
Eggplant    =    
Buns (hamburger)    =    Baps or Floury Baps
Bacon (slice)     =     Rasher
Bacon (American) = Streaky Bacon
Canadian Bacon    =     Bacon
Cupcakes     =    Fairy Cakes
Cookies     =     Biscuits
Chips     =     Crisps
Dessert (any kind)     =     Pudding
French Fries     =     Chips
French Toast     =     Eggy Bread
Ground meat     =     Mince
Golden Raisins     =     Sultanas
Molasses     =     Treacle
Oat Meal     =     Porridge
Whipped Cream    =    Squirty Spray or Spray Cream
Sausage links     =     Bangers
Tomato Sauce (puree)     =     Tomato Passata
Turnips or Rutabaga     =      Swede
Zuchini     =     Courgette 

Food labeling requirements are also quite different over here. Sometimes it might appear that the ingredients are quite different for the products over here, but are they actually?  Take this example for instance:

Maybe the UK labeling requirements just don't need to be as specific as they have to be in the US? Is it possible it could be the same recipe, but with different labeling requirements?  Of course many products are quite different over here. Corn Syrup is not as common as it is in the USA, which is due to high import duties on cane-sugar in the USA, so just like in Mexico and elsewhere many product that are made with high-fructose corn syrup in the USA are made with actual sugar here. 

Speaking of labeling, they have a funny system to label taste strength over here on a numeric scale. For example, pretty much all cheese has labels from 1 to 6 for how 'strong' the cheese tastes. Other foods have similar, seemingly arbitrary numeric strength ratings like coffee and tea. I find it helpful, but not sufficient. Taking cheese for example a very mild cheese like Monterey Jack (typically a 1 or 2) might become a 4 when combined with peppers to become pepper-jack. Cheddar goes from a 1 to a 5 depending upon how long it has been aged. For coffee does "darkness" of the roast necessarily translate into strength of the flavor?

Generally, I find that English tea is very weak and requires much longer to steep or brew than most American teas. Perhaps this is a subtle way to remind you to slow down and savor the moment?  Maybe we shouldn't be in such a hurry to make our tea?   I found this curious chart that demonstrates that Maslows hierarchy of needs may be a bit different in England. We found a certain appreciation for the foundation of these needs during our initial quarantine. 

Marketing labels and brands can also be interesting over here. Take your average porridge or oatmeal, we have Quaker Oats and a few others, but Scottish Oats are a big thing over here.  When you see the packaging, it's not hard to see why it might be popular with the mums who do grocery shopping. I mean which would you prefer, the old white-hared man in a Quaker hat, or the strong young lad with a tank top and a skirt doing a shot-put?