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 
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