Category Archives: British foods

Cornwall: Looe and Liskeard

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We spent a couple of beautiful days in the area of Looe and Liskeard in Cornwall. It is easy to see why so many people visit Cornwall every year, especially on a sunny day walking on the coastal path with the scent of honeysuckle and elderflower.

The pride that the Cornish take in their food is both apparent and understandable.

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Cornwall is famous for its seafood, as anyone who has ever watched Rick Stein will know. We went to Pengelly’s a very well known and popular fishmongers, where the fish comes from small day boats. We were lucky enough to find samphire, an edible sea plant that has a very short season. It is salty, green and crunchy and can be eaten raw or cooked. We ate some with a picnic lunch of local smoked mackerel and the rest in a salad.

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Cornwall is most renowned for its pasties. Cornish pasties now come in a huge array of flavors and are available all over the country. My favorite is cheese and onion, but we sampled a traditional pasty, from the pasty shop, with crispy pastry and a steaming steak and potato filling.

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Another Cornish delicacy is clotted cream which is a traditional part of the English cream tea, served with scones and jam. It is a very thick cream with a buttery crust. It is also used in fudge and ice cream and Cornwall has several award winning ice cream makers. Lots of the flavors sounded very English: gooseberry fool; raspberry pavlova, apple and blackberry crumble, Cornish golden crunch and rhubarb and clotted cream.

We stayed at a charming Bed and Breakfast called the Trussel Barn in St Keyne. Beautifully restored, gorgeous views and extremely hospitable owners.

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The Cornish pride was again apparent at breakfast with a delicious range of local products featured.

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We visited Cornish Orchards on our way back from Looe and sampled several of their different apple juices and ciders, made from a variety of different apples including Old Cornish.

One other place in Cornwall I should mention is Sunshine Deli in Liskeard who in addition to the deli have a catering business.  Sadly I don’t have a photo, but they produced a stunning spread with pasties, breads, cheeses, sandwiches, fruit and cakes. A separate post about a wonderful dinner at Langman’s Restaurant will follow.

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Hot cross buns

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There are certain times of the year that I miss England more than usual – Easter is one of those times. I miss big hollow foil wrapped and commercially themed Easter eggs that only seem to exist in such abundance in England, the conversations about how many Cadbury’s creme eggs so-and-so can eat in one sitting, the double bank holiday and most of all hot cross buns.

Hot cross buns, made famous by the nursery rhyme, were traditionally associated with Good Friday, but they are far too good to be relegated to one day a year, and now it seems you can buy them for a very extended spring season. When I was a hungry rower we used to buy bags of hot cross buns fresh from the oven at Manuel’s bakery on Lower Richmond Road and wolf them down by the dozen. 

One thing that has stopped me from making hot cross buns since I have been in the states, is that I hadn’t been able to find candied peel, and while opinions on the matter may vary, for me it is an essential ingredient. This year I found candied lemon peel on sale in the grocery store after christmas – apparently they only sell it in December for Christmas fruit cakes. While not quite the same as the English version, it would do. 

The recipe I used was from Waitrose Food Illustrated, but when I make them again I will revert to the faithful Delia Smith. Having consulted my veteran bread baking father, I think her method of dissolving the yeast would yield better results. Mine didn’t rise as much as I would have liked. Cooking for Engineers have a step by step guide to Delia’s recipe. For the fruit she uses currants and mixed peel but you can really use any mix of raisins, currants, sultanas (yellow raisins) and candied peel. My local grocery store sells something they called hot cross buns, but these contained dried strawberries and that is just wrong and should not be condoned.

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Another British ingredient in hot cross buns is ‘mixed spice‘. The components of this are variable but it generally contains cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. It can also contain mace, allspice, coriander or cassia. I made my own mix with some pumpkin pie spice and some additions from the cupboard. I used a mix of bread flour and Flying J whole wheat flour. 

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The Waitrose recipe does have a good method for making the crosses though. You make a paste of flour (4tbsp), oil (1tbsp) and water (3tbsp) and then pipe it on the buns. I think the rolled out crossed can be hard. I didn’t have a piping bag so I snipped the corner off a ziploc bag and it worked really well. They also used honey dissolved in water instead of sugar for the glaze.

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Marmite

Marmite is the one British food that I can’t live without and I always bring some back with me. It is probably the one foodstuff that I eat most frequently and the one that I never grow tired of.  I could buy some here, in a tiny jar, but it is ridiculously expensive and for some illogical reason it seems wrong. I will relent though, I can’t wait until Christmas. The last two jars I had were supplied by friends. Ed brought me a huge jar back after christmas and Helen sent me the special champagne edition for valentines day.

Marmite on toast

Marmite on toast

Most americans have never heard of marmite, athough you can buy it in the ‘ethinic’ food section in the grocery store. Yes, my fellow Brits, here we have our own ethnic section with shortbread, ambrosia custard, tetleys and the like. It is quite surreal. But back to marmite.

For the uninitiated, Marmite is a yeast extract, which looks like thick molasses. It is savory and tastes very salty. It is similar to an Australian product called Vegemite, but in my opinion far superior. It has more flavor and is darker in color. Marmite is a by product of the brewing industry, is vegetarian, high in vitamin B and should be used sparingly. It comes in an iconic jar with a bright yellow lid. Most people don’t like it when they try it for the first time as adults, but in England it is very common for children to eat…. and if you grew up eating it, you love it. It is definitely a love hate product (they build whole advertising campaigns around the fact) and it does not elicite moderate reactions.

As the adage goes ‘you either love it or hate it’. I adore it on toast but also eat marmite sandwiches and sometimes eat it straight off my finger. It is often made into marmite soldiers – strips of toast that are dunked into a soft boiled egg. It also goes very well with cheddar cheese and rice cakes and also in cheese toasties. My father eats it on baked potatoes but he is the only person I know who does. You can also make hot drinks with it, or use in cooking (instead of stock cubes). I was even given a marmite cookbook and there are some wierd and wonderful recipes involving marmite. I think even I would draw the line at a marmite, peanut butter and pastrami sandwich. 

Special edition marmites

Special edition marmites

Recently there have been marmite innovations – the squeezy marmite jar, which is great until you get near the end and the limited edition Guiness and Champagne marmites.  They really do taste different. Now over 100 years old, Marmite has a cult following (try googling it!) I had never seen the Paddington Bear Marmite advert – been away from England too long!

If you do like marmite, you should probably try twiglets! They aren’t made by  marmite but taste very similar. You can get quite a few marmite flavored foods such as marmite flavored cheddar, marmite crisps and marmite biscuits (crackers). I wasn’t a fan of the biscuits, something not quite right about the texture and you couldn’t really taste the marmite enough. 

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The latest Marmite innovations are Marmite flavored cashews and marmite rice cakes, which are so good that even marmite haters will eat them. 

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I am also smitten with my new Marmite coasters and coveting some of the other items in the Marmite shop

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Pancake Day

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One of my favorite English customs is pancake day. This is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent starts) and traditionally it was then you used up the fat and sugar before Lent began. Obviously it is a similar idea to Fat Tuesday. 

When I was at school we used to make and sell pancakes for charity. Some places hold pancake races or pancake tossing (flipping) competitions. There is of course a world record for pancake tossing. At Westminster School where I used to work pancake day is known as the Greaze and the tradition of an organized pancake fight has been followed since 1753. It is a bizarre event with a level of violence that would not otherwise be condoned, where the headmaster and staff join pupils in a packed school hall to watch the selected gladiators beat each other up over a large and disgusting horse hair filled pancake. The one with the largest piece at the end wins.

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English pancakes are really like crepes and not american pancakes. The most common filling on pancake day is sugar and lemon juice. You put your pancake on a plate, sprinkle it with sugar (ideally caster sugar/ fine sugar) and then squeeze lemon juice over the sugar. It can then be rolled or folded. They can of course, be served with other toppings but I am generally a purist when it comes to pancakes.

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Here is a basic pancake recipe:

2 tablespoons melted butter 
2 eggs
7 fl oz milk and 3 fl oz water 
4 oz flour
pinch of salt 

Ideally you should make the batter 1-3 hours ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. This helps to reduce bubbles when you make the pancakes. I believe the recipe originally came from Delia Smith

I was particularly excited by my pancakes this year because all of the ingredients were local. Snowville milk, home made butter made from Snowville cream, 2 silos eggs and Flying J wholewheat flour. Obviously the sugar and lemon weren’t, but we did have some Ohio Maple syrup as well. The wholewheat flour worked fine in the pancakes, but did add some texture!

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Burns Supper

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This is the second year that I have been to the Burns Supper at Barley’s Smokehouse, where the Burns Supper is a well established and obviously much loved tradition. This was the 10th dinner that they have held and it is one of my favorite food events. There is such a wonderfully warm and fun atmosphere and the owners obviously really enjoy putting on the event. I also love haggis. A Burns supper celebrates the birthday of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, the scottish equivalent of Shakespeare and writer of Auld Lang Syne and many, many famous poems. This year would have been his 250th birthday, although the actual date is January 25th. 

You arrive at Barley’s and mingle in the bar, possibly enjoying some of their fine micro brewed ales. The bagpipers enter and haggis is processed through the restaurant. The Burns dinner guests join the procession and follow through the restaurant cheered on my the restaurant patrons, to a special event room at the back (it is a great venue). Proceedings commence with the Address to a haggis and the spearing of the haggis…. and the eating and joking begins. Much of Burns’s poetry is very bawdy and you know that any event where the guests are shouting out ‘cock up your beaver‘ (it refers to a hat) and ‘fornicator‘ is a) not the for the faint hearted and b) going to be a riot. You sit at long communal tables and it is very convivial. 

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Chef and Brewmaster and the haggis

              Dinner starts with the Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

There is a speech in tribute to Burns, this year with a political theme and we learned about the links between Burns, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and the American Revolution. The rest of the evening comprises of more eating, drinking, the tapping of the firkin, whisky toasts (with some whisky education) and poetry reading. Anyone is welcome to stand and read a poem from the Burns supper veterans, who bring books of Burns poetry they have been practiced to the uninitiated Burns supper virgins, which included one of my brave friends.

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The master of ceremonies

Heather gamely reads the fornicator

Heather gamely reads the fornicator

The menu: 

Haggis with Neaps and Tatties
Tayside Tang (composed orange and grapefruit salad)
with Scotch Egg
Cock-a-Leekie Soup
Phyllo Wrapped Salmon with Spinach Filling
Honey and Whiskey Cake
with MacLenny’s Scottish Highland Liqueur
Three Single Malt Scotches for toasting
Tapping of this year’s Robert Burns Scottish Export Ale

The haggis was flown in from Oregon and is made to a traditional scottish recipe, but without the lungs which are not allowed by the USDA. Haggis is served with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes). Did I mention that I love haggis? Luckily there are usually a few people who don’t like it, so I was happy to help clean a couple of plates. 

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The home made scotch egg was excellent. A scotch egg is a hard boiled egg encased in sausage meat, with a deep fried bread crumb crust. It is most often eaten in England as a cold picnic food. Here it is served warm and I could happily have scoffed a few more. The Tayside tang was the only thing I didn’t like. The cock-a-leekie soup  was very tasty and the main course which differs every year (last year I think it was venison sausage) was delicious.  

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Whisky and honey cake (very fragrant with lots of orange zest) accompanied by MacLenny’s special Highland Liqueur, a home made version of Drambuie. The cake was especially good dipped in the liqueur. 

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The three scotches that we toasted with were Glenrothes private reserve (Speyside) which was my favorite of the three, Auchentoshan Three Wood (Lowland) and Glenmorangie 10 year (Highland). The meal was also accompanied by the annual Robert Burns Scottish Export Ale which Barley’s only make once a year. Our beer came from a special Firkin where it has been maturing and so was a little different to the beer that you get on tap in the bar which is filtered. It was dark, malty and fragrant but I am having trouble remembering the details of all of the special malts that were used. 

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Brewmaster Scott pours some of his finest

There is much heckling and hilarity. The evening concludes with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne and the guests stumble happily into the night. 


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Wagamama

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I first started going to Wagamama in 1992. In those days there was only one branch in Streatham Street, Bloomsbury near the British Museum and close to the intersection of Oxford St and Tottenham Court Road. I had just graduated from high school, was working in London and earning money for the first time. Wagamama was different, young, inexpensive, healthy and above all delicious. It became my go to place for meeting friends. It was always bustling  you invariably found yourself perched on the narrow staircase watching the diners and playing the game of guessing who would leave first. 

Wagamama is a noodle bar, where you sit on long communal bench tables, inadvertently eavesdropping on your neighbors. The orders are transmitted to the kitchen (not revolutionary now but it seemed so in the early nineties) and the food comes out as it is ready, so the concept of appetizers and main dishes does not follow the traditional chronology. Wagamama means spoilt child (according to the restaurant) and was the brainchild or Alan Yau, a successful restauranteur who know has a portfolio of London restaurants and a global empire including over 90 branches of Wagamama. In the spirit of spoilt children I have mixed feelings about the success of Wagamama. I applaud and understand the success but part of me is nostalgic for the day when it was smaller, more exclusive and not the global giant it is today. I am conflicted in my love for Wagamama and my dislike of chains. At the same time, I dearly wish that there was a Wagamama in Columbus. 

Yaki Udon

Yaki Udon

Wagamama specializes in large steaming bowls of ramen, gyoza (dumplings) and pan fried noodles. They also serve various mixed fruit and vegetable juices. Green tea is complimentary. The menu has expanded  a lot since the early days and they now have  a lot of seasonal specials, a range of asian inspired desserts and even breakfast in some locations but the old favorites are still there. As I now get to visit Wagamama infrequently, I usually fall back on my old faithful Yaki Udon and although I have had similar dishes elsewhere, I have not found anything that can sate that particular craving.  I do have the Wagamama recipe book, so I could try to recreate the magic at home.

The Wagamama website has some fun things. They usually have a clever online advent calendar and some cute games and animations but I think you have to become a member to see them.

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Boxing Day Pie

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It seems inconceivable that the new year starts and we are still eating up left over turkey. Slightly depressing when everything is about new year’s resolutions, fresh starts and all that, but I guess it goes along with the irony that most people start the new year with a hang over. Eating leftovers however, do fit with the financial fears and frugality that seem to be the impending theme of 2009. In any case, this post should really be entitled, increasingly desperate and creative ways to try and disguise leftover turkey. 

Turkey leftovers remind me of this funny Pizza Hut commercial from my childhood and in my memory turkey leftovers always went on for days and days. Dishes I remember are turkey tetrazzini (a pasta casserole), rissoles (croquettes) and a creation of my father’s disparagingly referred to only as turkey slop. One of my favorites was Boxing Day pie, which I remember having a mix of turkey and ham, a whitish sauce and a suet crust. 

I couldn’t find the original recipe for Boxing Day pie and went surfing around looking for a good pie recipe. The one I decided on was a new Jamie Oliver recipe from Jamie Cooks Christmas on Channel 4. The recipe was Jamie’s turkey and sweet leek pie. We didn’t have enough leeks (2kg is a lot of leeks) so I improvised with a mixture of leeks, celery and onion and it seemed to work out fine. I love celery anyway. I also substituted yoghurt for crème fraîche. We used puff pastry from the refrigerated section of the supermarket and it was really easy. Jamie adds sage and chestnuts into the pastry and I did follow this, because we happened to have a jar of chestnuts, but I am not sure how much it added to the dish, so I probably wouldn’t bother again.

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Overall it was very tasty, and I would recommend it as a way of using up turkey. One of the comments on the C4 website says that Jamie deserves a knighthood for this pie alone! I’m not sure about that, but I do think the school dinners campaign and the ministry of food are great initiatives. 

Another turkey leftover dish this week was turkey curry. It may have lacked Indian authenticity but it was delicious and colorful and definitely a good flavor contrast to the food of the last week. Easy to make: we used an onion, some fresh garlic and ginger, curry paste, a tin of tomatoes, and some vegetables for texture. It was garnished with toasted flaked almonds and fresh cilantro.

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Last night’s effort was less successful – a coq au vin-esque turkey slop that I added too much leftover gravy too and it never quite recovered, despite several applications of wine and brandy. I think that was the penultimate turkey meal….. one more round. Any suggestions?

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