By Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Have you been to the British Isles – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales? Last month Carol and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend two weeks traveling by coach through the beautiful countryside and visiting the major cities. We have never seen so many sheep. First some quick traveling tips:
If you shower in the morning, I suggest you examine how the shower operates the night before. We stayed in eight different hotels and each one had a unique plumbing operation. Remember to bring your own washcloths, and speaking from personal experience, bring lots of electrical adapters and converters for you are bound to leave one plugged in as you travel.
Space is precious in Europe. Your room will most likely be small, and good luck in finding a king bed for most rooms have one or two twin beds next to each other. Even hotel elevators are tiny – another good reason to travel light.
Both Americans and Brits can agree that bacon plays a critical role at breakfast, but any American who’s had the pleasure of eating a full English breakfast—baked beans, fried tomato, eggs and all—knows that British bacon is different from American bacon. American bacon is generally served in crispy strips, while British bacon, also known as rashers, is chewier and served in round slices; it’s closer to a slice of thick grilled deli meat.
As we traveled, we tried some of the traditional British Cuisine. Some examples are;
Bangers and Mash – Sausages served with mashed potatoes.
Shepherd’s Pie – A layer of minced lamb covered with mashed potatoes. There are many variations for this dish with the minced lamb replaced by either ground beef or seafood.
Steak and Kidney Pie – Needs no explanation, the name says it all.
Fish and Chips – An old British favorite. However, you may not know that the traditional fish and chips in Britain are eaten with salt and vinegar; whereas in the American version, ketchup and tartar sauce are the usual dips.
Haggis – While in Scotland Carol claims she tried it. In reality it was the American version consisting of ground lamb. True Haggis is a type of pudding composed of various organs from a sheep that are mixed with beef or mutton suet and oatmeal and seasoned with spices. I understand that true Haggis is banned from the U.S. due to heath and sanitation concerns.
Renowned the world over, the great British pub is not just a place to drink beer, wine, cider or even something a little bit stronger. It is a unique social center, very often the focus of community life in villages, towns and cities throughout the length and breadth of the country. We learned the great British pub actually started life as an Italian wine bar, and dates back almost 2,000 years by the invading Roman armies. Pubs, then known as the “tabernae,” were quickly built alongside Roman roads and in towns to help quench the thirst of the legionary troops.
We arrived in London on a Friday, and after checking into our hotel we walked to the Jack Horner Pub located in the West End. http://www.jackhornerpub.co.uk. En route we passed five or six other pubs, all jammed with people, and we thought it must be a holiday. Jack Horner’s manager Rachel informed us that this was just a typical Friday after work. The Jack Horner today is well known for its award-winning pies and its tasty cod and chips as well as its generous selection of wines and ales that dates back to 1845. They feature a great flight of ales on tap. Rachel also provided me the following site for those interested in the history of British pubs. http://www.pubology.co.uk/pubs/1158.html. Thank you Rachel.
Of course a visit to the British Isles would not be complete without traditional tea service. People start the queue early in the afternoon at Betty’s (www.bettys.co.uk/cafe-tea-room) in York, located in St. Helens Square. The founder of Betty’s in 1936, Frederick Belmont, traveled on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary. He was so enthralled by the splendor of the ship that he commissioned the Queen Mary’s designers and craftsmen to turn a dilapidated furniture store into a most sophisticated tea room. We enjoyed our tea and scones in the first floor Belmont Room, which was inspired by one of the cruise liner’s state rooms.
I am a lover of gingerbread, and Grasmere Gingerbread was invented by Victorian cook Sarah Nelson in 1854 in the English Lake District village from where it gets its name. A unique, spicy-sweet cross between a biscuit and cake, its reputation quickly spread, and it is now enjoyed by food lovers all over the world. Today the business is run by third-generation owners Joanne and Andrew Hunter, and every day visitors to the shop are greeted by the wonderful aroma of freshly baked Grasmere Gingerbread hanging in the air. Delicious! www.grasmeregingerbread.co.uk
Two venues to visit while in Dublin are Temple Bar and Guinness Storehouse. Temple Bar is a major center for tourist focused nightclubs, restaurants and bars. Two squares have been renovated in recent years — Meetinghouse Square and the central Temple Bar Square. We were there on a Saturday afternoon and briefly stopped at the Temple Bar Book Market.
Boxty Gallagher’s in Temple Bar pays homage to the potato: “The humble spud made beautiful.” A “boxty” is a traditional Irish potato and Chef Padraic Og Gallagher has published academic papers on the humble spud. The menu is extensive and a perfect opportunity to experience a taste of modern and traditional Irish cuisine. In addition, there are fine wines, craft Irish beers, and of course the best Irish Whiskeys. Manager Dave Power told us they serve up to 2,000 local and international customers a week. Their web site http://boxtyhouse.ie features numerous recipes from Chef Padraic.
Located in the heart of the St. James’s Gate Brewery, the Guinness Storehouse® is Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction. I recommend you order your tickets in advance online to avoid the lines for a trip through the history and making of the Irish classic.The journey begins at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass and continues up through seven floors filled with interactive experiences. At the top, you are rewarded with a pint of perfection. You may even have the opportunity to pour your own (there is a science in the proper method) in their world-famous rooftop Gravity Bar. https://www.guinness-storehouse.com
In Edinburgh, our hotel was located in the Grassmarket directly behind, and far, far below Edinburgh Castle. The Market is an open space that played an important role in Edinburgh’s history. As the name implies, the Grassmarket used to be where local farmers brought their hay and other produce for sale. But it was also the location of one of the main gallows in the city, and crowds would flock in huge numbers to see the public executions. The Last Drop Tavern is located immediately next to the scene of public hangings which took place there, back in the 18th century. It is named aptly after its sinister location. Reputedly ghosts in the cellar have been heard to call out the names of staff in the bar when they are working alone. The menu is not big, but food is cooked on the premises, tastes good and was delivered to the table with a smile. I purchased the T-shirt. www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk
We thank Fred and Nora Puglia, owners of Perfect Impressions for arranging our tour. The day we left for home, there was a bombing at a tube station and Heathrow Airport was at high security. International travel has changed. Expect to see increased police presence and new “bag check” stations at public places. On a personal note, we always felt safe and one of the advantages of taking an arranged tour is knowing they have done their homework in deciding where you go. I am reminded of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt below.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste the experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
Today’s recipe is a classic from Country Woman.
Guinness Chocolate Cake
1 cup Guinness (dark beer)
1/2 cup butter, cubed
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup baking cocoa
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sour cream
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Grease a 9-in. spring form pan and line the bottom with parchment paper; set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat beer and butter until butter is melted. Remove from the heat; whisk in sugar and cocoa until blended. Combine the eggs, sour cream and vanilla; whisk into beer mixture. Combine flour and baking soda; whisk into beer mixture until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Remove sides of pan.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add confectioners’ sugar and cream; beat until smooth (do not overbeat). Remove cake from the pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Ice top of cake so that it resembles a frothy pint of beer. Refrigerate leftovers. Yield: 12 servings.
Originally published as Chocolate Guinness Cake in Country Woman February/March 2011.