24 January 2010

Just a Minute

BBC Radio 4 has a delightful radio show called "Just a Minute." It is a kind of gameshow that is absolutely hilarious. There is a panel of contestants and one person is given a topic to speak on for sixty seconds without hesitation, repetition, or deviation. They are allowed to repeat the words in the topic, but that's it. And so, they begin speaking and when the other panelists catch the speaker hesitating, repeating themselves, or deviating from the topic the buzz in and if they make a correct challenge then they pick up the topic and the remaining time on the clock. The person speaking at the end of sixty seconds wins the round. It is the best show ever. I hope that I can contrive to get some tickets to see a recording while I'm in London this summer. Nicholas Parsons, the host, is hilarious. Such a good show. Check it out, you can listen on Radio 4's website.

19 January 2010

Cadbury or Kraft?

This just in. It looks like Cadbury is really truly on the brink of being bought out by Kraft. I've seen a few news articles to this extent over the last few months, but didn't think much of it until today. Check out the article. I really hope that if Kraft does in deed win the bid to buy out Cadbury that they don't change the chocolate at all. If they do then I will be quite saddened. Cadbury is one of the best chocolates on the market.

18 January 2010

One a penny, two a penny

Everyone remembers that song they learned in third or fourth grade called "Hot cross buns," right? Did you ever stop to think that maybe that song was based on a real kind of food? Well, if that thought never occurred to you, then maybe it's time for it to. Today (well and yesterday) I made Hot Cross Buns. I had some raisins left over from my adventures in December, and since I had some extra time because of the holiday today I thought that I would make buns. These buns are rather time intensive so I actually had to make the dough last night so it could rise in the fridge overnight, but it was so worth it. They really are delicious. It was nice to take a moment and remember the good times in England. They still eat these there. In the old days one a penny buns were larger than two a penny buns, but if you get the two a penny buns then I think you still ended up with more bun at the end.

10 January 2010

London called, I answered

Well, my love of London has finally paid off. I have found a way back to this beloved city, and adored country. I am to accompany a couple of professors and a number of students on a study abroad this summer term. It will be a wonderful experience, and one that I am desperately looking forward to. To return to the land where children say "yeh" after every sentence, and where I get to gratefully ignore all the strangers around me, where I can ride the tube everyday, and where I can consume as much Ribena as possible. Oh, it will be delightful. And maybe I can even learn more about the delightful gastronomy of the English.

02 January 2010

A Veritable Christmas Feast

For my final project in Victorian Literature this last semester I prepared a Victorian Christmas feast. It was an exciting project, one that certainly kept me on my toes. I ended up cooking for about 15 hours straight, but I think it was worth it. Though,I don't think that I will embark on such a venture again for a long time. Here is just a taste of the foods that I cooked. This is the finished product of the Christmas pudding I made. I made about a billion other dishes too. In fact, if you are curious, there is a pretty detailed account at refreshingfare.blogspot.com. This project forced me to learn so much about Victorian gastronomy. In fact, I have found a new interest. Victorian food is fascinating.

A Victorian Christmas Feast

Well, I tried to update my blog a few weeks ago, even in a reasonable amount of time since my feast, but I ran into a number of technical difficulties. But then we both know how quick I am to update.

For my Victorian Literature class this semester, my professor and I decided that instead of having me write a second paper for the class, that I would plan and execute a Victorian Christmas Feast. We decided this sometime in mid-October, and I spent much of the next nearly two months planning this meal (and for all that planning my logistics were awful). I did a lot of research, consulted a number of period cookbooks, and even attempted some of the recipes. In order to convert from mid-eighteen hundreds cooking style to present day can be a challenge. Many recipes I looked at instructed you to boil the food over a “clear fire” for 8 hours. How hot exactly does a “clear fire” burn anyways? All I really know about clear fires is that it must be a fire that isn’t smoky. But that doesn’t help me much since I cook on an electric range. And 8 hours? Really? Or how about the recipes that say “add the weight of two and one half eggs of flour”? How much does an egg weigh? How much is half an egg? And why not give me a measure of flour in cups and tablespoons? After some trial and error, and some decisions to go with my perhaps more modern recipes, but nonetheless tasty and authentic ones, I formulated a menu.

Now, Victorians like to eat a lot of meat, and so a traditional meal for them would often feature six or more different kinds of meat, however mine only included three (which was still costly enough). I started us off with a nice carrot soup. Of course a more traditional Christmas soup would have been a clear gravy soup featuring veal, but I neither know how to prepare veal nor know really where to buy it; so I went with the less traditional Christmas soup in favor of one that is perfectly acceptable in December. After the soup we settled in for our meat. A nice sirloin roast complete with horseradish sauce and Yorkshire pudding (one of which even came out of the pan perfectly), some cold boiled ham, and turkey with sausage stuffing. The turkey was quite an experience. I bought a turkey breast thinking that it would be something along the lines of a chicken breast (and therefore easier to deal with than a whole turkey), little did I know that while a chicken breast is about the size of your fist a turkey breast is about the size of your head (and definitely complete with bones). The turkey and I had a bit of a contest, but I won hands down—though I certainly wouldn’t say that I’m ready to carve the next thanksgiving bird.

Dessert is one of the most important parts of a meal, and not only would there be the big, large desserts served, but there would be a number of smaller dishes like nuts and fruit to sort of fill in the gaps and make everything look absolutely heavenly. Naturally I chose to make a classic, Christmas pudding in addition to the mince meat pies, orange jelly, Charlotte Russe, and gateaux de pomme. The Christmas pudding ought to have been doused in brandy and then set aflame as it was being brought in; however, as I told my class, the university frowns on open flames in the buildings—though the class reminded me that they also frown on food in classrooms. Puddings take forever to make. The recipe said that it should boil for about six hours. I didn’t really believe them, but it does in fact boil for about five. The pudding mold that I used wasn’t particularly large, and so I ended up having to boil two of them. Ten hours later when I was done with the puddings, my apartment was not only quite warm but also very humid and a little foggy. The desserts turned out very well, and were even well received. I was glad that my class took the time to set aside their prejudices and give the mince meat pies and Christmas pudding a chance.

For reasons I don’t understand the English have a reputation for rather awful food. I am here to dispel this rumor. Nearly all of your favorite Christmas and Thanksgiving foods are English. And besides, mince meat has no meat in it, it hasn’t for hundreds of years. Its really just apples, raisins, and spices—in a pie crust. How is that not delicious?

Well, this meal was certainly an adventure, I learned a ton, and enjoyed every minute of it. But then I always have enjoyed moldy, dusty books, sometimes even more than their non-moldy counterparts—so the research was a blast. The cooking took quite a long time. One thing I can say for the Victorian cook is that she had help. I had only myself, and consequently I would have been terminated as an employee of anyone since about half the food I served, I served quite cold. But I think that we spent probably comparable amounts of time in the kitchen, nearly 15 hours (not including the foods I prepared a day or two in advance). Since you likely didn’t get to enjoy the food, enjoy the pictures, though I warn you that some of them are a little blurry.