Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Week Sixteen: A Journey to England

Even as I began my plans for a week focused on English Cuisine, I knew the challenge would be finding dishes with a specific flavor profile or ingredient that would surprise or intrigue me.  As Americans, we have many dishes rooted in English cuisine, and finding the nuances would prove to be an interesting journey.  Of course, I love a Sunday Roast, bangers and mash, fish and chips, and even chicken tikka masala (noted many times over as the national dish of England), but those are familiar dishes that I’ve eaten and prepared.  Interestingly, I found more real information about English cuisine on travel blogs than food blogs, and pub food tops the list of what the travelogues love about English cuisine.  With that inspiration, I set out to create a few simple, pub-inspired menus.

“Pie and a Pint Night”
Steak and Ale Pie

I could not resist the idea of “Pie and a Pint” night, a tradition dating back to the 1950s.  I read several different recipes and finally settled on the recipe for Beef and Guinness Pie on Epicurious with a few tweaks.  I took the lazy route and used store-bought puff pastry.  More importantly, I substituted Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale for Guinness in light of the fact that Guinness is not English.  (Plus, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is one of my favorite beers in the world, not just England, so it seemed appropriate to include it in this recipe.)  In addition to the ale, the filling included boneless beef chuck, onions, garlic, tomato paste, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, brined green peppercorns, and fresh thyme.  I braised it in the oven for an hour and a half.  The pie was amazing!  So good that the hubs starting saying things like, “You know, this filling would be good just served over rice…..Or, we could have it with egg noodles.”  When he starts thinking of ways I can make a dish more often, I know we have a winner!  Because the filling was so hearty, I made a simple mustard vinaigrette with Colman’s English mustard and dressed some fresh arugula greens to served with it.  The combination worked well together.

Bread and Butter Pudding
I wanted to conquer at least one dessert during this week’s project.  A braver woman would have attempted to make Spotted Dick, but I thought finding Beef Suet would be more of a challenge than I felt like attempting.  Instead, I opted to make Bread and Butter Pudding.  Having made many bread puddings previously, I was curious to experience this most basic version, and I must say that it was delicious and one of the easiest desserts I’ve ever made.  Quite simply, I buttered bread, sprinkled it with sugar and raisins, and covered it with a custard of egg and milk.  I let the bread soak in the custard for about an hour.  Then, I baked it for twenty minutes, sprinkled it with cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg, and broiled the top until it browned.  That’s it.  Nothing more.  I added a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream for good measure, and that made it even better.  So simple and comforting!

Scones for Breakfast
Cranberry Cherry Scones
I couldn’t resist making a fresh batch of cranberry cherry scones for breakfast on Sunday morning.  I’ve been a fan of scones since I discovered orange-cranberry scones at Red Rose Coffee House in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, during my college days.  Of course, later I learned that real scones are not nearly as sweet and dense as those orange-cranberry gems, but nonetheless, I grew to appreciate the simple goodness of an authentic, light, fluffy, mildly-sweet English scone.

Lunch Time:  Mushy Peas and Salmon Cakes
Yes, that’s right.  I started with the mushy peas, because I planned this quick lunch around my desire to have mushy peas.  In all honesty, I had never even heard of mushy peas until I visited A Salt & Battery Fish ‘n’ Chips in Greenwich Village.  (This place is definitely worth a stop for a quick lunch or late evening bite!  We tried the haddock, pollock, chips, onion rings, and battered beets on our visit last summer, and all were fabulous.  This little fish shop is a perfect way to sample great English cuisine.)  I opted for the deep-fried battered beets, instead of the mushy peas on that visit, but I never forgot about those peas.  In all honesty, I thought it was a novelty item on the menu, but the handsome young blokes working in the fish shop explained to me in lovely accents that mushy peas are the quintessential side item served with fish ‘n’ chips.  During my research, I found that they are also a common accompaniment to salmon cakes or grilled salmon, so I opted to serve them with a basic salmon cake. 
Mushy Peas & Salmon Fishcakes
For the salmon fishcakes, I found a basic recipe on the Hidden England website.  These fishcakes included flaked salmon, mashed potatoes, grated carrot, and minced onion with a binder of plain yogurt, paprika, and lemon juice.  This could be a great fishcake if it included the proper amount of salt and pepper, but I under-seasoned mine, and they were bland.  A squeeze of fresh lemon juice brightened the flavor a bit, but they still needed salt and pepper in the cakes.

For mushy peas, the traditional base is dried marrowfat peas, but I opted to use frozen peas as they are much more accessible.  Most recipes included sautéed onions, garlic, and/or mint, so I added all three for the full flavor punch.  Delicious!  The star of our lunch!  Forget about salmon cakes…I’d rather have a bowl of mushy peas any day.

While my week of English Cuisine did not include any cutting edge or ridiculously unfamiliar ingredients or techniques, I rather enjoyed its comfort factor.  The Steak & Ale Pies and Mushy Peas took top prize as my favorites for the week, and they were actually some of my favorite dishes of the year.  Now, I’m on to another week of discovery.  Cheerio dear friends!

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