Blog Archive

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Baking in UK: Part 3 - Staffordshire Oak Cakes

It has been a long month of no new baking. In my defense, my kitchen looked like this for a good part of the time!. Notice no oven, cooktop and no sink so that meant no cooking. I hope you have taken time to read David's posts about the remodel and have seen my beautiful new kitchen. So on to cooking.

Kitchen chaos

 As a reminder, I am taking my recipes from, "Paul Hollywood's British Baking" cookbook. Todays recipe is Staffordshire Oatcakes. Staffordshire is from the Midlands, in the area of Birmingham. Again, one of those areas I would love to explore more when life returns to normal.

This recipe caught my eye from the very beginning and was recommended by one of David's friends as a a local food we should try while we are here. It is a griddle cake using relatively simple ingredients with the addition of yeast as the leavening agent. The only preplanning necessary was the ingredient, "fine oatmeal". I was not sure what this meant. I figured that it was like oat flour but when I looked in the grocery store I couldn't find anything that was called fine oatmeal. I did hear that some of the porridge oats are pretty fine but I decided to take matters into my own hands and make some oat flour. This did require the use of my daughter in law's blender. After a few whirs in the blender I had fine oatmeal. If you are looking at the picture of the ingredients, that is what is in the glass jar and the oats I used are behind the jar.


Also notice that I switched to salted butter but since the recipe called for salt I used a bit less that the amount of salt that was called for in the recipe. The other thing to notice is the fact there is no sugar in this recipe. If you are like me, you think pancake when I say it is a griddle cake but these are more like a crepe than a fluffy pancake, with the exception that this recipe has no eggs.


This was an easy recipe. It did require some planning ahead. After mixing all the ingredients, with the exception of the melted butter, it needs to sit for 1 1/2 hours for the yeast to do its thing. This wait period gave me time to think about what fillings to roll into my griddlecake. Paul recommends crispy bacon and cheese. I am not sure where Paul shops but I have yet to find anything that resembles "crispy" bacon. There is a bacon here called 'streaky bacon" which I suppose is the closest a person can find to American bacon but I would not really call it crispy. I also looked at the photograph in the cookbook and to me it looked like traditional English bacon, more like Canadian bacon, so that is what I used.

In keeping with the tradition of crepes, the first attempt at cooking one was not pretty and was used to tear apart and sample and while none of them came our perfectly round, they were acceptable with the last one being the best of them all. (This picture is of attempt number 3).

Take a minute to listen to the bacon frying in the pan. After years of innkeeping, I can't smell and hear bacon cooking without thinking of one thing.....eggs. So while I did eat my first oatcake with Paul's suggestion of ham and cheese, (as pictured below), I also added eggs to my second and it was also delightful. David, not forgetting they are like crepes, rolled Nutella and jam into one. I am pretty sure he liked it by how fast he ate it. 

All in all, I would definitely make these fun oatcakes again. They were a light, slightly fluffy way to wrap up food and eat. Thanks Paul for another great bake. (Can I call it a bake when no oven was used?)

With bacon and aged English Cheddar Cheese


Monday, April 12, 2021

Kitchen Remodel: Part 2

 This is the rest of the story on the kitchen. This is the area that was so in need a of an upgrade. There were so many problems with the space originally, we struggled with how to start over. Let's review the status of this kitchen when we moved in. 

First the obvious code violation; directly above the cooktop or "hob" as they call it here there is a full size upper cabinet - no vent, no hood.  So anytime you cook a pot of spaghetti (or anything moist) the bottom surface of the cabinet collects all the steam until it literally rains back down on the stove. If you ever have a chance to design a kitchen don't do this!  Apparently they are quite lax about inspections over here.  Yes before you ask, we did get full approval from our town council to renovate the kitchen.

Next, the wasted space and total lack of any usable work surfaces.  Notice how the corner space is wasted and blocked by the cabinet with the double-oven.  Even the upper corner on that side had no cabinet, just a make-shift shelf and the narrow gap in the dead corner.  You can't really tell from this angle, but the cooker is off-center and probably too-close to the left side. Also notice that the sink is a single bowl with no drain-pan and the dishes are simply drying on a towel directly on the counter-top. Of course when we dismantled the cabinets, we noticed that this corner had an obvious moisture problem that we had to fix.  See the details in the "Before Picture" below. 

Another big obstacle we faced was the floor. When we removed each of the three pantries (larders), we found that the floor tile was missing below the cabinets!  We had to do something to fix these gaps because we weren't putting anything in their place. At first we thought we would just rip everything out and replace the entire floor. The tile was throughout three of the four rooms in the house, so it was going to be a big, messy job ripping everything out. Since we were also living in this flat while remodeling, we became dissuaded from this path.  

Missing floor tile

Another option we considered was putting in floating laminate click-lock planks directly over the existing tile floor.  It can be done, but making sure everything is perfectly level first can be a challenge. If there are any bumps, the planks can chip and break their tabs, creating a mess. These planks add another 1/4 inch to the floor, which also means that all the baseboard trim must be redone and possibly some of the interior doors may need trimming.  If instead you use a thinner, flexible vinyl, the bumps and seams will show through. 

So after much deliberation, we kept coming back to the need to just patch holes with matching tile. How hard could it be?  We found a couple of tile contractors who were willing to do it for a reasonable fee, but none of them had any tile that matched. We spent about a month trying to locate some matching tile and ended up finding some about 2 hours away. We made the four-hour round-trip drive nearly to Wales during the lock-down to retrieve the two boxes of matching tiles. It was just enough!  The tile installation turned out to be the only work we hired out to a local contractor. I just didn't want to deal with that part of the job. He came in and was done in a few hours, so we could move on.  

The existing kitchen was obviously an Ikea kitchen. I had previous experience doing a full Ikea kitchen back at the blue house in Washington, so that seemed like the natural place to start.  I was already familiar with their 3D design tools and the core technology (Google Sketchup), so that is where we started. We quickly ran into some problems with the space. Ikea cabinets only come in a few fixed sizes and they have only one option for corner cabinets. They also aren't designed with any off-set from the wall to allow for plumbing behind the cabinets.  Finally their upper cabinets are only avialable in either the standard 70cm or the the extra tall 100cm height, which we didn't have room for. Finally during the lockdown Ikea stores were closed and with the recent implementation of Brexit, many of the Ikea parts and components were delayed as much as six months!  

Trucks backed-up waiting for permission to cross the border at Dover after Brexit

We found a local big-box DIY shop here similar to Home Depot called B&Q that did these flat-pack kitchen cabinets.  They manufacture almost everything here in UK, so there wouldn't be any problems with bringing stuff over on the trucks.  B&Q also seemed like they were more adept at fitting kitchens into the English style of small flats. They offered many more variations of cabinet sizes and had offsets for the necessary plumbing that runs on the walls behind the cabinets. While they were more expensive than Ikea, we decided to go with the B&Q "Goodhome" brand for everything in the kitchen. 

The main kitchen arrived in two separate shipments. The first shipment was just the uppers and included 38 separate boxes that we had to stack-up in our lounge while we worked to install them. The second shipment for the lowers came about 3 weeks later and included 54 boxes!  It was quite a mess in the house wile we were installing. As we progressed, I kept discovering that there was just one more special tool I needed and had to make many additional trips back to the hardware store for these tools and extra items. Isn't that the way it always goes?  The hard part for me was, knowing that if I had been doing this project back in the states, I already had all the tools I needed. It was hard for me to buy a tool just for one job, knowing I can't bring it back and will probably never use it again.  

After much hard work it all finally came together. We decided to skip the vent-hood (not required here for electric cooktops, if there is an opening window nearby). But did leave the space open for the air to circulate above the stove. We used that space as an accent wall to match the color band of the existing back-splash (that we kept).  We also reused the existing cooktop which was in good shape. Becky was so sad to give up the double oven, but we replaced it with a very nice single multi-function convection oven, which we centered in the wall. We replaced the sink with a new composite (like quartz) black sink with an integrated drain pan.  The biggest change was in freeing up the extra counter space. The worktop space flows seamlessly into the breakfast bar so that can double as workspace when needed. 

We discovered a hidden power outlet after removing the double oven, which was a big bonus since we had decided not to upgrade the electrical for budget reasons. We installed new kickplates (plinths) which had been missing from the original kitchen and due to the clever size options of B&Q, we gained a few extra cabinets, making better use of the space with no dead-zones. The kitchen is so much brighter and more usable now and all the teal is gone!  


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Kitchen Remodel: Part 1

When we moved in, we understood the kitchen in our little flat was in serious trouble. Always eager for a project, we wanted to make it our own and redesign the kitchen. We started using the 3D design tools from Ikea from the first week we arrived in UK as a way to make use of our time in quarantine. This redesign began before we ever saw the flat! We were working only with photos and measurements taken by our son and daughter-in-law.  

First, let's look at the back-side of the kitchen. This is where you can see three full-size pantry (larder) cabinets. It's a little hard to see, but in the before photo below, the pantry cabinets each have a teal lower door and a beige upper cabinet door. There is one on the far left of the image, partially blocking the back door and blocking the boiler and plumbing in the corner. Number 2 is on the far right side of this before image. It was blocking the entrance to lounge. Finally pantry number 3 is directly to the right of the washing machine in this photo. 

Now these three pantries were shoe-horned into this tiny kitchen so that anytime you opened the cabinet doors, they would bang into another door or cabinet. They blocked the light and reduced the amount of counter space - they had to go.  We took all three of them out and actually sold them on Facebook marketplace. 

There were a few other problems with this side of the kitchen. For example, there was only 2 square feet of usable workspace. To the left of the original microwave, behind pantry #1, there was also a drop-off that would swallow anything that slipped off the edge of the counter into the pipe and plumbing zone below the boiler. The only way to recover such items was to remove the dishwasher!  

We reshaped this space by removing all three pantries. Removing pantry #1 exposed the boiler and the pipes. We fitted an extra tall wall cabinet here that worked out to be just tall enough to hide all the pipes and allowed us to recover some of this previously unusable space. We added a shelf on top of this cabinet to hold the microwave, just below the boiler, completely hiding all the pipes. We also added a barrier to keep anything from falling back there. Moving the microwave off the counter also doubled the usable worktop space on this side of the kitchen. 

We intended to put a blank panel to the left of the tall cabinet holding the microwave, but we found it was a perfect place to store our step-stool, so we decided to leave it open. We also expanded the upper cabinets by using extra tall cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling and adding an over-fridge cabinet. In the photo below, the new breakfast bar can be seen where pantry #2 was previously and we placed a new more compact fridge-freezer where pantry #3 was previously located. This shift also moved the fridge out of the lounge, expanding the usable space in that room. Finally, we placed a 4-drawer cabinet in the space where the old dishwasher was located. The original kitchen actually had no drawers anywhere!  

Comparison of space before and after renovation. 

This view (above) shows the dramatic difference of this space, when viewing from the lounge area. Notice the old (black) fridge extended the kitchen a full 3 feet further into the lounge area. Also notice that the old breakfast bar, was fully within the lounge area, up against the half-wall that separates the kitchen. The new breakfast bar is fully within the kitchen, freeing up more space for the furniture in the lounge area. 

In the next installment, I'll provide an update on the sink, oven and cooking side of the kitchen.