Friday, March 30, 2012

We Interrupt This Trip to England for Bake Together with Abby Dodge: French Quarter Sables

Sometimes there is nothing worse than having to see someone’s vacation slides for weeks on end, so this post for Abby’s Bake Together probably came just in time.  With my trip and all the laundry afterwards, I had to let this one go for a while, but since Abby likes to wrap this up by the end of the month, I thought I’d better get baking.

This month’s recipe is for Parmesan and thyme sables.  Sables are a buttery shortbread type of cracker/cookie that can be either sweet or savory.  They have a short and crumbly texture which in my opinion makes them the perfect cocktail snack.

It is really hard to improve upon perfection, so I had to put my creativity cap on for this one.  Since I love the bright salty flavor of Parmesan I decided to embellish the recipe this time instead of changing it.

I started by adding some bleu cheese to the Parmesan to deepen the flavor.  I then added some dry mustard to kick up the tang just a little bit more, and then added the aromatic flavors of herbs de Provence and garlic to further enhance the flavors.  Finally I finished them off by rolling them in some finely chopped pecans for the sweet and slightly smoky flavor that they would add.

The resulting flavor definitely has French overtones, but the toasted pecans speak English with a southern accent, so I decided to give them a name which expresses these flavors.

So whether you decide to make my version or Abby’s original, give these a try this spring or summer.  They are really the perfect pairing for a frosty glass of iced tea, a big refreshing glass of Pimm’s or anything else you drink in the shade for that matter.

French Quarter Sables

1 – 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (6 ounces)

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 – 1/2 ounces bleu cheese crumbles

1 ounce shredded Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon herbs de Provence

8 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into 7 pieces

2 tablespoons plus 1 – 1/2 teaspoons ice water

1/3 cup pecan pieces

In the bowl of a food processor combine the flour, mustard, garlic, pepper, bleu cheese, Parmesan, sea salt and herbs de Provence (a blend of lavender, sage, basil, savory, thyme and rosemary); pulse 10 - 12 times to blend well.

Add chilled butter to the bowl and pulse 8 – 9 times until the butter pieces are a bit bigger than pea size.  Add the water and pulse again to incorporate until clumps just begin to appear.   These two steps can also be prepared by hand in a large mixing bowl with a fork or pastry cutter if you don't have a food processor.

Pour mixture out on a clean dry surface (it will be crumbly at this point).  With the heel of your hand smear the mixture away from you about three times, scrape up the dough, turn it 45 degrees and repeat the smearing a couple of more times to make a cohesive dough.   To see Abby's photos on how to do this, please click here for her instructions.

Scrape it up once more and press it together.  Roll it on the counter making an even cylinder about 7” long. 

Spread the pecans on a clean dry surface.  In one motion, slowly roll and press the dough onto the pecans.  Tightly wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 3 hours or up to 2 days.

At this point dough can be frozen for up to a month for later use.  All you have to do is let it thaw on the counter for an hour or so before slicing and baking.  Baked sables can also be frozen in an airtight container and eaten later.  Abby suggests that you reheat them for a few minutes at 325 degrees to freshen them up a bit for optimum flavor.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.  Cut chilled dough into 1/4” thick slices and place on prepared baking sheet 1” apart; bake in preheated oven for 16 – 18 minutes or until sables are brown around the edges.

Makes about 20 sables

If you decide to make my version and roll them in nuts be warned that the more you handle them, the more the nuts will fall off.

If you'd like to join #Baketogether feel free to jump in anytime.  I know time is a bit short for this month but you still have plenty of time to bake a batch of these simple little sables and post your version.  Anyone is welcome to join in.  The more the merrier!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Back to the East Midlands and Beyond: Chatsworth House and My Favorite Recipe for Bakewell Pudding

When I was about 5 months preggers with my son, my husband was contacted by a former boss and asked if we would be interested in moving to England.  Since at that time his career was going nowhere and there was a new baby on the way, he agreed that we would come and take a look and see what we thought.

Before we headed over, we made a detour and took our daughter on a quick vacation to Disneyworld.  Little did we know at the time but Florida is a favorite holiday destination for the British.  The first time I got a chance I asked a couple with British accents if they had ever heard of Nottingham, and if they had, what they thought. 

The first couple had heard of it, but was sad to tell me that it was located in the East Midlands and not much there but coal mining and football hooligans.  Refusing to be deterred by one naysayer, we found a second couple and asked them.  They were happy to report that they had once driven through this area and felt the urge to push the accelerator to the floorboard and make a hasty escape. 

We were totally deflated having our dreams of a thatched cottage next to a warm neighborhood pub replaced with visions of black lung and constant rain, but we decided to take a free vacation and go have a look anyway.

Fortunately for my husband’s perspective employers, the day our train pulled into the Nottingham station for the first time was fair and bright. We had been wined and dined at the Savoy in London for 2 days prior, so to say we were in a good mood would be an understatement. 

While my husband looked at the office, I was chauffeured around the countryside with my husband’s boss’s wife and their daughter.  We discovered the beautiful Vale of Belvoir (pronounced, "beaver"), Sherwood Forest, Rutland Water and parts of the picturesque Peak District.  We thought those Disneyworld Brits must have been crazy and agreed to move over immediately.

We lived in our English home for almost five happy years making some great friends along the way and changing our outlook on the world forever.  Oh sure, there were many challenges and not all the times were good, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

Now that we have been back in America for years, my heart sometimes aches for the English countryside and those friends that I made that remain there.  Thankfully I often get the chance to return and reconnect with the things I love about England and the East Midlands in particular.

I often tell Americans that are planning a trip to the UK that if you only see London, you have not seen England.  Although it is by far my favorite city in the world, just staying there you miss seeing some of the most beautiful villages, stately homes and scenery in the country.

A few days ago I once again boarded a train in London to ride north to the East Midlands.  The day was bright and warm, albeit not as warm as that summer day when I first took this trip, but it was a blessed day for England in March.

My friend Karen, who is a “lifer” since she married a Brit many years ago, met me at the station.  Through many excited telephone conversations we had decided that we would bop around Nottingham and the surrounding villages for a couple of days and then would drive the hour or so to Bakewell and ultimately on to Chatsworth on the following Monday.

Monday worked out to be the perfect day for a drive.  It was beautiful and fairly warm so the Monday market in Bakewell was alive with every OAP (old age pensioner) in the Peak District.  I have to say that this market was a bit of a disappointment since it consisted mainly of cut rate beauty supplies in old boxes, unflattering cotton underwear and a few tables of tropical fruit.  Being professional shoppers from way back, we were in no way deterred by this lack of attractive merchandise, so we persevered until Karen bought a miracle mop and a couple of pots of eye glass cleaner.

By this time we were hungry and on the clock since the pay and display receipt in the car had only an hour or so left on it.  We moseyed over to the main area of this pretty little village in search of the ultimate Bakewell Tart, and we were in no way disappointed since every bakery and coffee shop in town claim to have invented this local specialty.

I guess I’ve always thought that the Bakewell tart and Bakewell pudding were the same dessert since the word “pudding” in England is synonymous for dessert.  The story goes that the tart was invented during Victorian times when a novice baker misunderstood the directions for a pie she was to make and the resulting dessert was so good that it became legend.  When researching the history of the pudding for this post, I was amused to find that the exact same story is told for its invention.

After much exhaustive research, I am here to report that the Bakewell pudding is definitely my favorite of the two. My best description of this dessert would be a puff pastry crust topped with a thin layer of jam and an egg custard topping very reminiscent of a chess pie.  The tart is a short crust base topped with a thin layer of jam and topped with more of a cake like filling than a custard.  Both of them are very good but the pudding definitely gets my vote.
Bakewell Tart (left) vs. Bakewell Pudding (right)

Full to the brim with tarts, puddings, Cornish pasties and coffee, we waddled back to the car and headed over to Chatsworth.  Chatsworth is in my opinion, the most magnificent stately home in all of England.  Home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, this gorgeous house and grounds have been the ancestral home of the Cavendish family since the 16th century.  For more history and information about Chatsworth, please click on the links.

Since it was late in the afternoon by the time we arrived at Chatsworth, and we had both toured the house on several occasions, we were happy to just walk around the grounds and visit the shops located in the old stables.  The only sounds breaking the silence on this day were those of bleating sheep and the laughter of playing children.    The peace and serenity of this special place is one of its main attractions for me.

After a cup of coffee in the cafe (as you can tell, lots and lots of coffee drinking and biscuit eating goes on in England), and a stop by the most gorgeous public toilets in the world, we sadly left the grounds of the main house and headed over to the farm shop.

The farm shop has the best in produce from the estate, tenant farmers and local suppliers.

The Chatsworth Farm Shop is known far and wide for the quality of its produce and estate reared meat.  I don’t even think that the food halls at Harrod’s or Selfridge’s could out do the beauty of the products found here.   We showed great restraint managing to leave with only a kilo of pork belly for a cassoulet Karen planned on making.  

Now in between visits when I get homesick for this part of the country, I’m going to make a Bakewell pudding to fill the void.  It took me a couple of tries but I finally made one that tastes very much like the ones they make at The Old Bakery.  It is custardy, gooey and a little bit flaky and tender from the puff pastry.  I love it served like the English like it, with a bit of heavy cream poured over, and of course, with a nice cup of coffee.

Bakewell Pudding

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 stick butter
1 – 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely ground almonds
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs
6 heaping tablespoons jam (strawberry, raspberry, cherry or a combination)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place puff pastry on a floured surface.  Dust top of pastry with a tablespoon or so of flour.  Roll pastry out so it is big enough to line a deep dish pie pan.  Lay the pastry inside of the pie pan, pressing it into the corners.  Trim the dough that hangs over the edge; set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Add almonds, flour and salt and mix well to combine.  Add half and half and extracts and mix once again.
Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition; set mixture aside.
Remove pastry from the refrigerator and spoon the jam into the bottom spreading in evenly with the back of a large spoon.  Pour the egg mixture carefully over the jam.
Place the pudding on the center rack of the preheated oven.  Bake for approximately 30 – 40 minutes or until it is golden brown and set in the middle.  Remove and cool to room temperature before serving. 
Dust with powdered sugar or serve with heavy cream poured over.
Serves 8

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Two Great London Markets and One Spectacular English Style Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Well I am finally home after a wonderful 2 week trip to the UK.  I split my time between London, Nottingham and London.  Yep, you read right.  I started my trip with 3 days in London, hopped a train and headed to the East Midlands, spent 9 days there, then back to London for 3 more days before returning home yesterday.

I had full intentions of blogging while I was there, but found that since I didn’t have a kitchen and was having so much fun letting my two great hosts cook for me, it just wasn’t in the cards.  Never fear, much to Mr. H’s delight, I’m turning the stove on today and the recaps and cooking will now commence.

On March 5th I boarded my British Airways flight from Denver to London.  I must have done something good in my life because I was able to score a bulkhead aisle seat for the trip.  I had carefully packed all of my belongings to the airline’s specifications, making sure that my ONE suitcase was less than 51 pounds and I had my liquids tucked in a quart size baggie.

As in every trip I take, things started out neat and orderly and by the time I reached my destination I had combed through my tightly packed carry on so many times that I had lost my cell phone and the 8 year old Ambien that I had packed to help me triumph over jetlag.  I eventually found said Ambien, but I am still looking for my ancient Motorola SLVR that I figure is presently being passed around Heathrow airport to give the 20 something baggage handlers a good laugh.

The first leg of my trip was spent with friends from Nottingham that had recently sold their beautiful home in Sherwood Forest and headed to London.  We were all sad to see this beautiful place go, but seeing how happy they are in London is consolation enough for me.

Our first excursion on Wednesday was to Camden Market.  This eclectic and bustling market is a great place for cheap souvenirs, some local color and the ever present food stalls.  Originally only open on Sundays, this market is now open seven days a week, but the weekends remain the most popular days for visitors.

Love the gothic shops
There's a little something for everyone
Of course there's food everywhere

On Thursday we headed over to Borough Market.  Borough Market is a food lover’s nirvana nestled among London’s beautiful architecture.  Only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Borough Market is comprised of over 100 vendor stalls brimming with the most tempting foods I think I have ever seen.  This popular market is bustling with customers every day that they are open, but we found the crowds to be very manageable on the day we were there.

There is every type of food available here that you can want or imagine.  Since I came with a pocket full of British pounds, an empty stomach and a friend who loves to eat as much as I, there was nothing that we didn’t taste, touch or smell. 

Fresh rustic breads

The fishmonger's stall
Every type of fresh fish you can imagine can be found here.  To the left are razor clams and in the middle a monkfish head.
Handcrafted cheeses

Just in case you work up a thirst . . .

Sausages of every description

Savory pies

Huge pans of bubbling curries

We started our dining experience with a few pieces of Turkish delight to whet our appetites before moving on to the prepared food stalls.  We took innumerable samples before finally deciding on splitting a sharp English cheddar and onion grilled cheese sandwich from the French raclette stall as our starter.  It was a hard decision as which one to choose, the sandwich or the melted raclette cheese off of the wheel shown below poured over meat and/or vegetables, but the sandwich won in the end.  I'm kicking myself now for not ordering both.  Next time.

After the raclette stall (as if things could get any better) my partner in crime and I split a duck baguette which was sauteed chopped duck dressed with just the perfect amount of English mustard and fresh spinach and served with a glass of red wine . . . picnic perfection.
We just couldn't resist this huge pan of duck

Our duck sandwich

Still in the mood for just a little something, we carefully decided on splitting an order of fish and chips for dessert.   One bite and you will realize why this crispy battered mild flavored fish and thick chunky fried potatoes pairing are so popular in this country.  

After a couple of hours here we reluctantly made our way out of the market but not before tasting a few sweets from the stalls on our way out.  The chocolate covered honeycomb (like a Butterfinger without the peanut butter flavor) and the lavender infused chocolates really won us over.
Giant Meringues
This stall had every type of sweet you could imagine
Beautiful little macarons
Pastries of every size and shape

With full stomachs and a couple of bags brimming with delicacies, we headed for the tube station and home for the day.  If you have plans to visit London anytime soon, I highly recommend adding Camden Market, Borough Market or both as “must sees” on your itinerary.

On Friday I headed north to Nottingham and the East Midlands for more great food and adventures.  These stories coming up so stay tuned, but for now I’ve got to go find a new ancient phone on Ebay.

English Grilled Cheese

My recipe offering for this post may seem a bit simple in comparison to all the great food shown here, but don’t underestimate the power of simplicity.  By changing just a few ingredients, a plain old grilled cheese can become something fresh and new.  Try this English version and you may never go back to American cheese sandwiches again.

2 slices granary or rustic bread
1 – 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 thick slice of sharp English cheddar (or a handful of grated)
1 – 2 green onions (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced across

Spread bread with butter.   Place cheese between the unbuttered sides of the bread.  Sprinkle the cheese with the onion; set aside.
Preheat a large frying pan to hot over a medium high heat.  Place sandwich, buttered side down into the hot pan.  Cook sandwich for 2 – 3 minutes on each side or until it is golden brown and crunchy on the outside and the cheese is melted on the inside.   Resist the temptation to press your sandwich with a spatula; allowing it to brown without pressing it makes a lighter, crispier sandwich.  Serve immediately.
Makes one great sandwich 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

IMUSA, USA Giveaway Winner!

I am pleased to say that has chosen lucky #84 which means that Carole is the winner of the beautiful IMUSA pressure cooker.  I hope you enjoy your prize Carole!  Please let me know how you like it and what you make with it.  Thanks to IMUSA for supplying me with such a great product and to everyone who entered.

Monday, March 5, 2012

IMUSA USA Digital Pressure Cooker Review and Giveaway and a Delicious Carne Guisada Recipe

I think we’ve all heard the urban legends about pressure cookers.  The one that always comes to my mind is the pressure cooker that exploded and permanently disfigured the cook before burning down her whole neighborhood and the city of Chicago.  This may be an exaggeration, but at the very least thinking about pressure cookers usually gives most cooks a knot in their stomach. 

Some time ago I went to a cooking class that was all about pressure cooking.  For my own protection I took a seat as far away from the action as I could just in case the top decided to blow off and kill everyone in the room.  The teacher stuffed the cooker with a beautiful piece of beef and an assortment of aromatic herbs and good red wine.  He secured the lid, turned it on and let her rip for about an hour or so. 

After the cooking time, he ran some cool water over the top to ease the pressure inside the cooker and gently loosened the lid (this is when I hit the deck).  He then removed the meat and set it aside to rest while he prepared a silken mahogany colored sauce from the juices left in the bottom.  The result of this fast and easy preparation was one of the best pot roasts I have ever eaten.

I was so impressed that on the way home I stopped and picked up my first pressure cooker.  Since then I have made several delicious meals with it.  If you live at a high altitude this is especially helpful for speeding up the cooking time of dried beans and tougher cuts of meat, but even if you live at sea level, this is just an incredible time saver for busy cooks.

Cooking with steam and pressure is nothing new.  The “Steam Digester” was first developed in France in 1769.  Inventor Denis Papin built this air-tight cooking vessel as a way to cook foods faster.  By 1941 the modern Presto giggle top pressure cooker was present in almost every home in America.  It held a place of importance until the 1980s when it was rivaled by the microwave as the king of speed cooking.

Between the invention of the microwave oven and tales of kitchen injuries, seasoned home cooks packed their pressure cookers away, and young cooks mostly turned their backs on these once loved kitchen helpers.  I never even witnessed anyone using a pressure cooker until my cooking class a couple of years ago.

A few weeks ago I was asked by the folks at IMUSA, USA if they could send me one of their many products to review.  I combed through their extensive website of cooking products, and it was really a hard decision, but I kept coming back to their electric digital pressure cooker.  Although I already had a pressure cooker, this one looked to be light years ahead of mine with its sleek new design and multiple functions.  I just couldn't resist it.

When the UPS man delivered my cooker a few days ago, I carefully unpacked the box, drinking in the intoxicating aroma of a new kitchen appliance.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this affordable unit (priced under $100) is not only a pressure cooker, but it also browns, steams and slow cooks.  It has a roomy, non-stick interior cooking pot which is also removable for ease of cleaning.  It comes complete with a cool touch exterior, a lid that snaps firmly and securely into place and a whisper quiet operation.  And to top it all off, it is super easy to program, even for those of us who read instructions only as a last resort.  

For my first dish in this new cooker I decided to make a family favorite, carne guisada which translates to "stewed meat" in Spanish.  Most often made with inexpensive, tougher cuts of meat, it normally requires hours of cooking to break the meat down until it is fall apart tender.  

After browning the meat and adding the Mexican herbs and spices, I programmed my cooker for 50 minutes on high pressure and left it alone to do its stuff.  My result?  A delicious and tender main course that was ready to eat in about an hour.  This was so easy that I am already planning our next pressure cooker meal of corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's day.

Carne Guisada

2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1” cubes

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 Poblano pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 medium size chopped chipotle pepper plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from the can

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 bay leaf

2 medium size Roma tomatoes, chopped

12 ounces beer (Dark beer if possible.  Personally I love Shiner bock)

1 tablespoon beef bouillon granules

Toss the chuck roast and flour together; set aside.

Heat oil in the bottom of a pressure cooker set to brown or in a large stock pot set over medium high heat.  Brown the meat on all sides; stir well.  Add the onions and peppers and cook for another 5 minutes or so before adding the garlic and cooking for one minute longer.  Sprinkle any flour leftover from dusting the meat over the top and stir well.  Add the cumin, chipotle, cilantro, bay leaf, tomatoes, beer and bouillon; stir well and bring to a boil.

At this time if you are using a pressure cooker, turn the browning setting off.  Cover the cooker with the lid making sure it is properly sealed.  Set the pressure to the high setting and cook for 40 - 45 minutes.  At higher altitudes, increase cooking time to 45 – 50 minutes.

For the conventional stove top method, cover with a tight fitting lid, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook (stirring occasionally) until the meat is fall apart tender, approximately 2 - 2 - 1/2 hours.

Serve in warm tortillas with your choice of avocado or guacamole, cilantro, sour cream, cheese or salsa.

After thoroughly reading the instructions, I seared my meat cubes in the pot set on the "Brown" setting.

I combined the meat, spices and liquid, closed the lid and set the timer.

In about an hour our Carne Guisada was ready to eat.
One of the best Carne Guisada tacos I've ever eaten.  We like ours with avocado, corn salsa and maybe just a little bit of shredded cheese.

 In addition to giving me this great new appliance to review, the generous folks at IMUSA, USA is also giving me one to give to one of my followers.  To enter you must be a public follower and leave me a comment saying you’d like to be entered.  To earn extra entries you can:

Please leave a separate comment stating each entry or they will be counted as one. will choose my lucky winner (so sorry, US residents only) on March 15th.  Good luck everyone!

*IMUSA, USA provided me with this product and the one to be given away at no charge.  Although very generous of them, the opinion expressed here is entirely mine and completely objective.