Wednesday, 16 December 2015

National Maple Syrup Day - 17th December

The 17th December is National Maple Syrup Day in the United States and Canada.  I for one plan to celebrate the sticky, amber deliciousness on that day and pay homage to the great idea that you start with a colourless liquid from a tree and turn it into an essential item to drape ceremoniously over your Saturday morning pancakes!

I was born and grew up in Vermont in the North Eastern part of New England where the wonders of the elusive maple season never failed to excite.  I still remember the last time I entered a sugar house and the smell hits you right between the nostrils and enters your brain to become a memory forever!

I had the pleasure recently of meeting Andre Pollender, an award winning maple syrup producer from Canada.

Andre is a member of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers ,a group that aims to keep Canadian maple syrup production to a certain standard but also moves with the times to promote this natural, healthy and delicious product.

Andre still uses the traditional method of collecting the sap from each of his 1,200 trees by using a metal spike and collecting in metal buckets which will be picked up by traditional horse and sledge. Using a tractor will damage the shallow roots of the maple tree and in 3-4 years that tree will die, not something good for production!

It takes about 40 litres of the colourless, tasteless liquid to make 1 litre of maple syrup following a long boiling period in small wooden buildings. If you are fortunate enough to enter a maple syrup house during syrup production the smell and powerful steam and heat will stay in your memory for ever.

I was able to visit sugar houses as a child and teenager enjoying freshly made syrup poured over fresh white snow which would turn into a hard candy immediately.

But 'hold the front page' Andre told me about a product that he has some up with called Maple Vinegar!

As the elusive sap season progresses the darker the resulting syrup becomes and at the end it is often thought too dark with a slightly different and strong taste.  This is often discarded and thought to be too rough for syrup.

Andre hated wasting this syrup and after a long convoluted thought process he came up with the idea of maple vinegar and began the process of inventing it!  The vinegar is a natural marriage of sweet maple and acidic vinegar and rises the food it is used with to a new height.

Try imagining a chicken and smoked bacon salad on a base of baby spinach and fresh little lettuce leaves and then pouring an extra virgin olive oil and maple vinegar vinaigrette over the top! Maple heaven if you ask me.

Many thanks to Andre Pollender for spending a lovely couple of hours chatting to me and sharing his passion for one of my favourite ingredients! I hope I am able to visit Andre's sugar shack in the near future!

I was not required to write a positive review of my interview.  All opinions are my own.  Photos were supplied by Andre and his PR.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

London: Pizza Buzz - restaurant review

Pizza Buzz opened it's first restaurant in Worship Street a few minutes walk from Moorgate Underground station in London.
The idea of a pizza restaurant where you can sit in or take away is not new but the concept of building your own as you go down the line to the cash register is.  Pizza Buzz is really busy lunchtimes with people working locally popping in to sit and eat even phoning in their orders in advance to save some of the precious lunch time.
When I was asked to review Pizza Buzz I thought how great it would be to bring the Little People so they could build their own pizzas and therefore have no excuse not to eat them.

After a long and crowded day out in London recently we finished our trip into London at Pizza Buzz. Although they have their own special suggestions you can make your pizza absolutely individual, each part of the procedure is charged separately as well.

First you choose your base (made with a flour created specially for them which contains spelt flour as well and is easier on the digestion), with our without a tomato sauce, then move onto your favourite toppings. Littlest grandson aka 'Me Too' wanted salami and mushroom with some cheese but when he saw there were peas he squealed and added some to the top.
The child's pizza is a 6".  Older brother, aka 'Boo' didn't want cheese and only put tomato sauce and pepperoni on his!

I picked the base with tomato sauce and topped with cheese, ham, mushroom, artichokes and olives.  It was just perfect.
My daughter wanted the base with pesto and topped with sausage meatballs, tomatoes, mushrooms, panchetta and cheese.  Different but equally delicious.
There is a salad section where you can build your own salad the way you like including Buratta - the creamy mozzarella balls which I had served with beetroot chunks.
Lots of drinks to choose from including a drinks machine (free top ups) with loads of combinations.

Pudding is Mamoo Ice Cream, made just for Pizza Buzz with either cow's milk, goat's milk or almond milk and in a number of flavours.
Open evenings and weekends too - if you fancy a really traditional Italian style pizza cooked in a clay oven but exactly the toppings you like then pop in to Pizza Buzz.
Pizza Buzz
2 Worship Street
London EC2A 2AH
020 3815 6696
Open: Sun-Thurs. 11:00-10:30, Fri & Sat 11:00-11:30

I was a guest of Pizza Buzz. I was not required to write a positive review and all photos and opinions are my own.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

It's Taco Tuesday with Old El Paso

We are all familiar with Old El Paso and their range of fajitas, burritos and enchiladas as well as their crispy tacos.

Well now enter the 'Stand-n-Stuff' tortillas.
You can prepare a filling of mince beef, sliced chicken or vegetables and spice it up with the seasoning pack included in the pack or simply buy the stand-n-stuff tortillas and get creative with your fillings.
At a recent event I attended we got familiar with the new shape and got our fillings ready. 
The new stand up shape makes filling easier and certainly eating a lot less messy!
As well as the new stand-n-stuff 'Old El Paso' still have their range of salsas, guacamole, sour cream and sachets of spice mixes.
When I took some to my daughter's the little people didn't want the taco mince deciding instead to have a tin of baked beans warmed up and then proceeded to stuff with their favourites and they then ate it all!

For a really speedy midweek meal or 'taco Tuesday' make your filling, get your lettuce shredded, tomatoes chopped and cheese grated and just let everyone help them selves! Perfect!
I was a guest of Old El Paso at this event which was held at my old favourite cooking school Food at 52.  I was not required to write a positive review and I was not paid to write.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

St Albans: Travelling back in time

As I travel back and forth into London on a regular basis I chug past the St Albans South Signal Box. Up until 1979 all trains passing through St Albans City station were controlled, announced and shepherded through by the staff in the signal box.

A few times a year the volunteers who keep this signal box hold 'open days' allowing members of the public to come and have a look around, pill levers and press bells.  My daughter was visiting with the Little People for the weekend in October and it was one of the open day Sundays.

Little boys and bigger boys all love train sets and for a change we were home this weekend and stopped in to have a look.
There is no charge but there is a donation box raising funds to keep the signal box open to the public on select dates.
The signal box was built in 1892 by the Midland Railway and used right up to 1979 and fully restored by 2008 when it opened to the public.
The Little People really enjoyed ringing bells and watching the signals change. They pulled real levers in the garden area and saw how the tracks moved before we went upstairs into the actual signal box.
It was surreal as modern day trains whizzed past us into the station,
as we pulled the levers imagining we were sending the carriages to their next destination!
We had a coffee on the lawns on a lovely Indian Summer Sunday afternoon and can heartily recommend anyone local or localish to check out the website for opening dates and times and pop in for a trip back in train history.

North Carolina: For What We Are About To Receive - Give Thanks

Whilst visiting my sister in North Carolina we had a family Thanksgiving Dinner the Sunday before the big day and then they went off to visit family in California this year for the actual Thanksgiving. Mr R and I stayed at my sister's house in North Carolina to look after the house and the dogs.  I have been home for Thanksgiving over the years but I can't remember the last time I cooked the whole meal.
We didn't want a whole turkey, there was only the two of us and we didn't want a ton of leftovers as well as the fact that Mr R was travelling home the following day.  I would be staying another week and didn't want to be faced with loads and loads of food left over.

I bought a packet of four turkey wings which were huge and loaded with meat.  I cut up the sweet potatoes, potatoes, onion, yellow squash and covered with a little bit of oil and spread out on a baking dish.  The turkey wings were placed on top of the vegetables, seasoned lightly and popped into the oven for about one and a half hours.
We still had some cranberry sauce left over from the family meal we had the Sunday before leaving one less thing for me to make.

I bought a packet of cornbread stuffing which looked interesting.  Melt some butter and saute some onion and celery until starting to just brown and add chicken or vegetable stock. When the stock boils you add the stuffing (just stale bread and corn bread really), mix well and spread in a baking dish. Bake about 30 minutes until brown.
I also made a baked sweetcorn side dish I recently discovered but one which will be included in our family meals for the future.  In a large bowl mix one 14oz can of sweetcorn (including the water), one 14oz can of creamed sweetcorn, one cup soured cream, half a cup of butter melted, chopped red chilli or red chilli flakes to taste depending on how spicy you want it.  Mix in one box or packet of corn bread mix (you could use corn meal and self raising flour with a pinch of salt).  Pour into a greased 9" square baking tin and bake at 350F/180F for 50-60 minutes.  Really tasty and guaranteed to become a family favourite.

Green vegetables and gravy completed our meal along with a glass or two of red wine!
As I mentioned Mr R was flying back to the UK the following day so I have made him a little Thanksgiving leftover takeaway  meal. The plane food is never great and I thought it would be nice to have something tasty!

Don't know when I will be home for Thanksgiving again however this one will stay in my memory for a very long time!  

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, 7 December 2015

North Carolina: Family Thanksgiving Dinner

I usually celebrate American Thanksgiving at home with my family in the UK however every now and again I am able to celebrate it in the states with my American family.
Mr R and I made the trip this year for the biggest and most important holiday on the American calendar. Thanksgiving is the holiday that most Americans try to get home for whereby Christmas they tend to stay where they are and phone home.  

This holiday celebrates when the pilgrims landed in what is now known as Massachusetts following a terrible sea crossing and bad first year they made some local friends with native  Americans who taught them how to survive by eating local wild animals and grow vegetables that they could keep throughout the winter.  At the end of this year the native Americans and the Pilgrims got together and shared a meal which would have consisted of turkey, venison, squash, pumpkins and corn.

President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 set the date for Thanksgiving as the 4th Thursday of November and that is the date we still celebrate it.

Today the traditional Thanksgiving meal consists of much the same but each family will have their own traditional dishes that have evolved over time.

My Thanksgiving meal would consist of turkey, stuffing, gravy, my homemade cranberry relish, peas and carrots, sweet potato with marshmallows (don't say yuk until you have tried it), creamed sweetcorn with chilli, creamed onions, roast and mashed potatoes followed by pumpkin pie, apple pie and if I have time pecan pie.  I don't usually have turkey again for Christmas as it falls just four weeks later.

Although we were in the United States for Thanksgiving this year the family would be travelling to California to visit my niece leaving Mr R and myself to look after the house and the dogs.  We will be having our own little Thanksgiving meal.

My sister cooked an early Thanksgiving dinner for the family as we would be apart over the holiday.
This year my sister's spread was turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potato, roast sweet potato, cranberry jelly and cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin bread and an apple bread as well as an array of dips and crisps to keep people going until dinner time.

Tummies full the other tradition is to sit back and watch the Thanksgiving Day football matches! 

This year Mr R and I had a quiet Thanksgiving meal with our turkey, roast potatoes, cornmeal stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweetcorn souffle as well as green vegetables.  It is a quiet meal and one with reflection on what we have to be thankful for over the past year and what we are thankful to look forward to for 2016.

I will be bringing home tablecloths, napkins and other table settings with me for next year - who wants to come to mine for Thanksgiving dinner next year?

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Travels For Taste Cooks Lamb Curry For Me and Mr R

My friend Manjiri is always offering to come to my house and cook for me.  It suited us both recently to pick a mutually convenient day so I gleefully went off to the train station to collect Manjiri and her husband.

Manjiri had brought all the main ingredients including the lamb already marinated in a mixture of yoghurt and spices to help tenderise it.  After a quick look around the kitchen to see what gadgets, pots and pans I had she got to work.
Whilst Manjiri created I made a raita and some thinly sliced onions with lime juice to have as side dishes.

The lamb was cooked in a large pot slowly which gave us time to get on with the other jobs that needed doing.

Manjiri gently fried the spices for the rice in a bit of coconut oil.
Plates were cleaned and we were all full but fortunately there was loads left over for the freezer for another day!
Cheers Manjiri and thanks for treating us to one of your authentic Indian lamb curries!
If you want to read Manjiri's great blog click here and see what other fantastic meals she makes.