Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Big Reveal

Well, the Olympics are over, and even though Matt and I only caught snippets of the action in London (one of the downsides to having no TV), I'm already going through the early stages of UK withdrawal.

I know things have been a little Brit-centric around here lately, but there's good reason for it - beyond the infectious display of Olympic spirit. You see, while the rest of the world turns its attention away from the UK, in the coming weeks I'll be focusing on that lovely corner of the world more than ever. As the athletes fly back to their respective countries and the ink dries on London's Olympic headlines, the headlines on The Traveling Spoon will be zeroing in on all things British.

That's right, in plain English......

The Traveling Spoon is going to England!!!!!

And we're not just talking about a two-week jaunt: I'll be relocating with one suitcase, my computer, a few books and this blog for the next 9-11 months!

Those of you who've been following along for a while might be a little confused; I've mentioned that Matt is scheduled to deploy for Afghanistan soon...and he's still going. The only thing that's changing is that I'll be using our year apart to attend grad school at the University of Cambridge.

I can't believe I'll be seeing views like this every day!

As you might have guessed, this plan has been in the works for a while - and keeping it under wraps this long has been one of the hardest things I've ever done! I've talked about going back to school for the past few years, but when I submitted my application back in January, I really had no idea that I would be accepted, find funding, and actually end up, seven months later, packing all my worldly goods into a single suitcase for a year abroad.

It may sound hopelessly romantic, but sometimes the prospect is as daunting as it is thrilling. Preparing for a military deployment is challenging for any couple, but it's an entirely different experience when both parties are relocating within weeks of each other (on the bright side, the time difference will be less). Over the past few months, I've struggled to balance school work with deployment preparation, trying to carve out time for preliminary studies while preserving some quality time and making memories with Matt before he leaves.

While I've been stockpiling warm sweaters and potentially useful manuscripts, Matt has been spray-painting his name onto an endless array of military supplies. While I've been dropping useful gadgets into our large, blue suitcases, Matt has been filling olive-drab A-bags with issued gear. Usually my pre-deplyoment activities consist of researching what can and can't be sent by post to Afghanistan, not ferreting out the most competitive British banks and cell phone plans.

Which brings me to another important point. Much like this blog, Matt's past deployments have been fueled by baked goods and tasty treats in regular installments. During the last deployment cookie-filled packages arrived with absolutely regularity, but that's not likely to be the case with this one. While I haven't been allocated lodging yet (I'm still waiting for the student visa that will allow me to stay in the UK for a year) the likelihood that it will come with a kitchen is very, very small. I'm crossing my fingers for at least a hot plate of sorts, but it's possible that for the next 9-11 months, The Traveling Spoon could have a lot more traveling and a little less spoon!

Too bad I won't have a kitchen - I love this apron from Cost Plus World Market!

I hope this won't deter you from following along. At the very least, I'll be eating my way through one of Britain's most beautiful university towns, and possibly lifting the veil a little on my experiences as a Cambridge graduate student. As much as I'm aware of the challenges of this trip, I'm also incredibly excited about it - especially now that I've finally had the chance to break the news - and I hope you'll be excited about it too!

Since Matt and I are counting down the days to his departure, I might not be as much of a presence on the blog as I'd like over the next fews weeks. Rest assured, though, that I'll be back to take you all in my suitcase on this English adventure! Before you know it, we'll be saying 'Cheerio' to Kentucky and a sweet hello to Cambridge!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pub Grub at Home: More Free Kindle Books!

Those who've followed The Traveling Spoon for any length of time know that I have a very special relationship with the United Kingdom. It's where I spent the majority of my childhood and where I first developed a taste for travel. It's also where I developed a taste for mushy peas and Cadbury's chocolate; where I learned to devour any meat smothered in brown gravy, or any meal doused in malt vinegar.

These days - thanks to the Olympics - it seems the world is going bonkers for Britain, and while British food is much maligned in culinary circles, I believe its poor reputation is undeserved. Some of the best meals I've ever eaten have consisted of stick-to-your-ribs pub grub, and now I've uncovered a few more free Kindle books to help you whip up some up at home. Of course, I'm not sure how long they'll be free, so what are you waiting for? Get connected and start cooking!

How to Make An Authentic Sunday Roast with Yorkshire Pudding

How to Make Cornish Pasties

How to Make Devonshire Tea with Scones, Strawberry Jam and Clotted Cream

How to Make English Breakfast

How to Make English Fish & Chips in a Beer Batter

Again, I haven't been compensated for this post, nor have I had the chance to cook from any of these books. I'm just passing on a tasty-looking tip!
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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Best Cocoa Brownies (from Alice Medrich!)

A brownie, is a brownie, is a brownie, right? Not so fast. Anyone who's tasted more than a handful of these rich, chocolaty bars knows that not all brownies are created equal.

First of all, there's the eternal fudgy-versus-cakey debate. Then you might be forced to decide between dark or semi-sweet, and finally, if you're really pressed for time, between from-scratch or boxed. Bring up the topic of add-ins (walnuts or pecans? marshmallows? toffee pieces? mint swirl?) and the issue gets even more complicated. But there's one kind of brownie that almost always get a bad rap: the cocoa-based brownie.

In my kitchen, cocoa powder is the ingredient I reach for when I've eaten all my 'real' chocolate but still need that fudgy fix. It's my go-to for last minute potluck desserts, when I don't have time to run to the store for 'better' ingredients. It's my "this-will-have-to-do" substitution when I run out of chocolate mid-recipe. In short, I've always treated cocoa powder like chocolate's plain-Jane sister; the shelf-stable, last-ditch, emergency alternative for actual chocolate.

It's a shameful truth, but I get the feeling I'm not alone in this. There seems to be this unvoiced maxim, in the blog world, that baking with cocoa is somehow less. That if you don't swirl Scharffen Berger into your browned butter brownies, douse your homemade vanilla bean ice cream in molten Callebaut, or bake Valrhona into your Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookies, you're not really baking.

Sadly, the pictures in this post were taken in haste and of brownies that were no longer hot and gooey from the oven. Scroll to the end of the post for a fresher, fudgier version.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to disparage high-end chocolates: I'm sure they produce gorgeous results, but their richness comes at too dear a price for this home baker. Instead, I'm here to redress the prevailing prejudice against cocoa-based brownies, to remind you that cocoa can be an intentional choice, not just a failsafe or fallback. It's a simple and delicious lesson to learn. And trust me, your tastebuds - and your wallet - will thank you!

This simple recipe turns out silky, sultry, oh-so-chocolaty brownies every time, and the best part is that you don't even need expensive cocoa - even Hershey's will do nicely. In this recipe cocoa is the star, not just an afterthought, and because there isn't much flour included, these brownies have the richest, fudgy texture. Unbaked, the batter is as glossy and smooth as dark silk. This molten richness remains when the brownies are slightly underbaked - just the way we like them - but you can bake them fully for a thick and satisfyingly chewy treat. They can be whipped up in less than 10 minutes, using ingredients you most likely already have in your pantry - so what are you waiting for?

In case you need further convincing (and you shouldn't!), this recipe has a distinguished pedigree - it has been featured in Bon Appetit and comes from the doyenne of desserts herself, Alice Medrich. Certain versions don't include the browned butter step - but I think it makes these brownies so much richer. Browned butter or no, with such big names in their corner these brownies are guaranteed a total knockout! 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Traditional British Pudding Recipes" FREE Kindle download

True story (i.e. embarrassing but cute vignette from my English childhood): My family moved to the UK when I was four years old. Since my birthday came up shortly after our arrival, my mother made plans to bake a cake for sharing with my new school friends - that is until I came home and announced that all British school children celebrated their birthdays with pudding. Fortunately, my mother's suspicions were aroused and she did enough prior research to discover that 'pudding' was just a catch-all British term for dessert!

In the end it was a phrase well learnt: anyone who disparages British food clearly hasn't tasted their desserts (or Cadbury's chocolate!), and in the years that followed that early and important lesson, I would become intimately acquainted with British 'puddings.' They may give them funny names - like treacle, flapjacks, and, of course, the infamous spotted dick - but they still make them wonderfully delicious. And now you can, too!

"Traditional British Pudding Recipes" is currently available as a free Kindle download, so if you've always wanted to try Sticky Toffee Pudding (there's that word again!) or just want to celebrate the Olympics with a bit of host-country style, this book is a great find.

I have yet to try any of the recipes, but I should warn you you'll need a scale since they're given in metric measurements - and you may find some of the ingredients unfamiliar (caster sugar, for example, is extra-fine granulated sugar commonly sold in the UK). Also, while the term 'pudding' is used to denote pretty much any kind of dessert in UK parlance, most of the recipes in this book are for actual baked or steamed puddings, so you won't find Victoria Sponge Cake or Shortbread here. That being said, how can you argue FREE?

Update: I just came across Traditional British Biscuit Recipes for free, also (Biscuits = Cookies, and everyone loves cookies)! Apparently there are two other books in this series so I'll keep my eye on them and let you know if they come up for free as well.

Note: This does not constitute a review, nor was a I compensated in any way for this post - I'm just passing along free books!

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Beer Bread (Sweet and Cheesy Varieties)

After a week of convalescence, I have a confession to make: I'm a terrible, terrible patient.

When I'm not forgetting to take my medication, I'm misplacing it. When I'm not chafing against the doctors restrictions, I'm neglecting them. I know I should be more careful, pay closer attention and take things slowly. I know the limitations are intended for my good. I know that, in the end, my compromised convalescence hurts only me. But the truth is that recovery is always so terribly inconvenient.

I didn't always feel this way. In fact, when I was little I actually enjoyed being home sick. I suppose I should clarify: it wasn't the being sick part I enjoyed - that made me as miserable as anyone else - I simply relished being home.

Cheesy loaf with all-purpose flour

Growing up in a family of seven people, our house was always busy and bustling. On most days, I wouldn't have traded our full and happy home for anything, but on occasion it was nice to be home alone, just me and my mum - even if that solitude came at the price of a few hours on the sickbed. Liquid Jello was her secret weapon in the fight against sickness, and that, coupled with customary sickbed screenings of The Princess Bride, usually had me feeling better in no time.

I didn't make any liquid Jello this past week, but I did have a different (and somewhat inexplicable) craving - beer bread! I'd made a loaf when we were visiting Matt's parents last month and I guess I'd been subconsciously craving it ever since.

Mixed whole wheat and white cheesy loaf

Unfortunately, there were two strikes against my choice, it being both solid and made with alcohol. I tried to convince Matt that, with 28 teeth still in my mouth, I could easily gum a piece of fresh bread. He wasn't so sure and, in any case, didn't think I should be mixing painkillers with alcohol, even in bread form (he's sensible like that).

Eventually I had to agree, but that didn't mean I was dissuaded. For the next five days, I thought about beer bread. Nonstop.

I thought about beer bread while I sucked down glasses of milk. I thought about beer bread while I gummed bowls of watery applesauce. I thought about beer bread while I spooned down bowls of pudding.

And then, as soon as I got the all-clear from my dentist this week, I made some.

And boy, was it delicious. Definitely just what the doctor ordered.