Carolina Bed & Breakfast
January Recipe of the Month: Sweet Breakfast Popovers 15 Jan 2017, 5:57 am
Here, as promised, is the recipe of the month for January: Sweet Breakfast Popovers. Guests at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast may recognize these as Wimbledon Popovers. So what are they really? Wimbledon Popovers are sweet breakfast popovers which are served with a mixture of summer berries reminiscent of the “Summer Pudding” which is a favorite treat in the UK and is often served in the hospitality tents at Wimbledon. Since I served these in January when summer berries are not available locally, I topped them with a Pear and Cranberry Compote in a Ginger Syrup. They are a relatively light main course so I usually start the meal with a yogurt based Vanilla Panna Cotta. You will find the recipe for the panna cotta in my cookbook, Our Family Table (available on Amazon or from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast Website).
Sweet Breakfast Popovers with Pear and Cranberry Compote
For the Compote:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup blush wine
3 inch piece fresh ginger root
1 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves
3 firmly rip pears
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Place water, sugar and wine in a medium saucepan. Thinly slice the ginger root (no need to peel) and add to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the mint leaves. Let cool in the pan. Once cool, strain the syrup and return it to the pan.
Peel and dice the pears and add to the syrup. Add the cranberries.
Can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Reheat gently to warm the fruit through before serving.
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
Spray or lightly grease a muffin tin.
Mix together all of the ingredients until they are well blended. (You can use a blender or an immersion blender for this). Place 3 tbsp of batter in each of 12 muffin cups. Place in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes. They will rise up in the tin and should be a light brown.
Remove the tin from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before trying to remove the popovers. The popovers will deflate, forming a lovely little cup for your compote. They should release easily from the tin but if they stick a bit on the bottom, use a spoon to gently lift them out. Fill with the Ginger Pear Cranberry Compote and serve warm.
I serve two popovers per person and accompany them with some crispy bacon. They will keep in a warm oven for up to an hour before serving.
For “Wimbledon Popovers” substitute a mixture of fresh raspberries, blueberries, and sliced strawberries for the pears and cranberries.
Make your Valentine’s Day Special! 9 Jan 2017, 3:00 pm
Valentines day is coming and can I just say, right off the bat, that it is hard to imagine anywhere more romantic (and affordable) than a bed and breakfast? Our Asheville inn, the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, is a perfect example of this. We would love to help you make your Valentine’s Day special!
Here is how we will help you create a perfect Valentine’s Day.
First you need a romantic setting:
How about a lovely, craftsman style home on a quiet street in a mountain town filled with wonderful restaurants, shops and things to do? In your room there is your own private fireplace, a comfortable bed and a huge bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub for two. If you thought in advance, you may have ordered a special package to greet you in your room on arrival: roses, champagne and chocolate, or, for those with different tastes, craft beer, fine cheeses and homemade pickles. The inn is a short walk from town, in the heart of one of the most extensive historic districts in the United States. On almost an acre of land, it is one of a number of beautiful homes built between 1885 and 1920. But while the house may be vintage, the interior is modern with WiFi throughout the house and a flat screen TV in every room. There is even a power strip in your room so you will be sure to have a place to plug in all your accessories!
Secondly you will need some good advice.
Your innkeepers are friendly, full of knowledge about the town and are happy to help you plan your evening to your liking. (Although we will do a better job of this if you talk to us about it when you book your room–after all, this is Valentine’s Day!). Our town is known for great beer, great restaurants and great music. There are places to walk, places to watch people, places to sit and talk, and places to dance. There are even special places to ask a question…
Thirdly you need to feel comfortable and pampered.
At the Carolina Bed & Breakfast there is always a comfortable place to sit, a cup of coffee or tea and cookie (or a special treat) waiting for you, and a sense that you have just come home. In the morning, coffee is ready for you when you get up. Breakfast is ready when you are, not the other way around (disclaimer: between 8:3-9:30AM!). Our breakfasts are fresh and filling but not over-the-top heavy. On Valentine’s Day you may find yourself being offered a Mimosa (FOC) while you wait for your food to arrive. After a wonderful day exploring the town, visiting the Biltmore, driving through the mountains, or even skiing, you return home to a delicious spread of canapes and a glass of wine which you can enjoy with the other guests in front of the parlor fire or retire to a different room for more privacy. If it’s not too cold, walk to town for your evening out. If it is cold and you don’t want to drive, we will help you get a taxi to your destination. When you return to the inn you will find another small sweet surprise to nibble on in your room. There are soft towels and robes, special lotion, shampoo and conditioner designed exclusively for the our Asheville Bed & Breakfast. The beds are comfortable, the rooms spacious and quiet.
Is it any wonder that engagements have been made and weddings planned on the porch or in front of the fire at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast?
I don’t think you can find a hotel in Asheville that will offer all of this to you, much less at the same price we do. Give us a call and let us help you put the ultimate in romance and comfort into your Valentine’s Day! 828-254-3608
New Year’s Resolutions 2017: Cookbooks, Blogs and Recipes 3 Jan 2017, 9:53 am
It’s New Year’s resolution time again!
In the past I tended to pooh-pooh the idea of making a resolutions but a conversation with one of my daughters has changed my mind. Abby doesn’t look at her New Year resolutions as large, life changing items. Instead she looks for small changes. For example, instead of deciding to dress better, she makes a resolution to wear lipstick every day. Making that little change may lead to her dressing better and if it doesn’t there is no loss, she still looks better! So last year I picked four discrete tasks and in reviewing last year’s post I find that I accomplished all of them. My mind is changed and my skepticism dispelled.
So here are my resolutions for the Carolina Bed & Breakfast for 2017: Cookbook, Blogs and Recipes
- Sell my cookbook! The number one item on
my list last year was to finish writing my book, which I did.
In the process it morphed into something more than the simple
self-published book of canape and cupcake recipes which I
envisioned and became a full fledged professional cookbook complete
with editor, book designer and professional food
photographer. And, more because I had such a great team than
because of anything I did, Our Family Table: Recipes and
Lessons from a Life Abroad is a beautiful book. The
recipes are from the inn but it’s not just breakfast. There
are tried and true recipes for main meals which are easy and quick
to prepare. Because we own an inn and because we are busy
people, most of the cooking I do needs to be quick to prepare or
something that can be done in advance and then put in the oven when
needed. You can find it on Amazon or on the Carolina Bed & Breakfast
- Blog more consistently. I started
writing my blog, The Kitchen Garden, in September of 2009. It
is intended to be a bit about Asheville, a bit about being an
innkeeper and a bit about my life. Over the past eight years
I have tried to blog at least once a week; partly this was to help
our guests learn about Asheville and our inn and partly this was to
help make our website show up first (or nearly) when someone
is searching for an Asheville Bed and Breakfast on Google.
Early on this was easy. Asheville was new to us and every day
found a new place to explore, a new restaurant to try, a new
experience or lesson to share. However, this past year I have found
it harder to keep up. So I am making myself a schedule and
creating a list of possible topics (suggestions welcome). I
am going to branch out a bit more. It will still be
about Asheville but it may be less about things to do and more
about life and my thoughts. I am also going to post a
new recipe once a month on the 15th. Which leads me to my
- Develop more new recipes. This links back to resolution #2. Not only will I need new recipes to post once a month but also, I was a bit burnt out last year and settled into a comfortable pattern. I know that my guests probably didn’t notice but that’s no excuse. I want the food here at the Carolina B&B to be vibrant and fresh and, while not strictly cutting edge, reflective of new trends and interesting combinations. To be fair to myself, I did work out two new breakfast dishes last year: Carolina Eggs Benedict and Wimbledon Popovers. You can look for those recipes coming soon on my website! Of course the positive side of this is that it means we will have to eat out regularly since many of my ideas come from seeing what others are doing.
So with that it mind, I am going to wrap this blog up and move on to planning a schedule of blogs, cooking Carolina Eggs Benedict and taking pictures as I do, and hopefully while I am doing that someone will go online and buy my cookbook.
Happy New Year!
Christmas in Asheville 13 Dec 2016, 5:30 am
It was December 10th, that pivotal day when it starts to be acceptable to indulge in all things Christmas. So I put on my reindeer earrings and green leggings and set out from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast to sell my cookbook while enjoying Christmas in Asheville.
My first stop takes me out to Addison Farms Vineyard for their Annual “Handcrafted Christmas” Fair. Here I was surrounded by artists and craftsmen as well as lovers of wine. The Leicester township of Sandy Mush Valley is known for sustainable farming and creative activity. So while I was ostensibly there to sell my cookbook Our Family Table: Recipes and Lessons From A Life Abroad, in fact I was busy buying Christmas presents for my family and friends and talking to the wonderfully interesting people, both artists and buyers. From lamps to leather, wood to wax, every medium was represented!
My next outing took me to Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe where I was surrounded by my favorite temptation, books! Malaprops is an independent bookstore which likes to celebrate Asheville’s local authors (of which there are many). They have an entire section on Southern Cookbooks and I am so proud to have my book on sale there. This particular occasion was for a day of signing. Along with six other Asheville authors, I was given a space to autograph and sell my cookbook…and buy more presents for family and friends.
Having now enjoyed the festivities and feel of an Asheville Christmas in arts and literature, Thursday found me at the Asheville Visitor’s Center. I was seated by a massive Christmas tree decorated by the folks from the Biltmore Estate. Hidden deep within the bough is a small pickle ornament. If you can find it you win a candy cane. It was really fun to watch tourists circle the tree, searching for the pickle while waiting for the next Gray Line Trolley departure! The Asheville Visitor’s Center is a hub of activity both for tourists stopping for information and for locals who come into say hello to the staff and volunteers as well as to pick up the occasional gift at the shop. And, yup, you guessed it, along with selling some of my books, I bought Christmas presents for family and friends.
Tourists, artists and authors are a large part of the Asheville scene but I had one more stop on my Christmas Tour of Asheville. I took my books and cookie samples to a historic house on the Montford Tour of Homes. The 1920 building has been beautifully and tastefully renovated and is owned by a family who moved here from Manhattan (typical of the Asheville mix of natives side by side with transplants!). My book table was in a sunny nook next to the fireplace. A live tree filled the room with the scent of pine and tasteful holiday music played softly as I chatted with the Asheville folks who came to see the art, the decor and the house. It was lovely way to spend an afternoon even though I was sadly unable to buy presents for my family and friends!
When people think of Christmas in Asheville, they usually think of the grand and glorious display at the Biltmore. And this is a justifiable thought, but like any small American town, the holidays here encompass many different events and offer a lot to see and do. There is still time to come for a quick visit this year and if not, there is always 2017!
Cooking with Susan! A Series of Cooking Classes at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast 25 Nov 2016, 6:00 am
I am really delighted to announce that we will be offering a series of cooking classes at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast this winter. Cooking with Susan: Lessons and Recipes from a Life Abroad takes place on select Wednesdays and Thursdays in January and March 2017. Each week offers a different series of foods to be explored with our guests along with a copy of my cookbook (of course) as well as a dining discount at nearby Chiesa Italian Restaurant. All of the recipes we will be making can be found in my cookbook, Our Family Table.
I am really excited about this. Even though winter in Asheville is not very severe, the town slows down and most of the tourists chose to come in other months. Typically we use the time to repaint, repair and deep clean. But I have often thought it would be a great time to do some special events here in the inn, cooking classes being one of them! With our large kitchen island, there is room for everyone to see and take part. I am limiting the guests in the inn to only those who are also taking part in the cooking classes so that the group will be small and have similar interests. Although the rooms are double occupancy so if you want to bring a friend or a spouse who does not want to take part in the classes you certainly can. In addition to the cooking class, you will have lots of free time to explore Asheville and all it has to offer.
Even if you can’t come to the class, I hope you will buy a copy of my book. The recipes are great for a family or for entertaining. In keeping with our cooking at the inn, they are seasonal and use lots of fresh ingredients but not at all scary. You can see sample recipes and order it on the Carolina Bed & Breakfast website by clicking here
COOKING WITH SUSAN
Join us this winter for a fun filled cooking series featuring recipes from my new cookbook, OUR FAMILY TABLE: LESSONS AND RECIPES FROM A LIFE ABROAD. Each month guests will prepare recipes from a different chapter of the book, ranging from breakfast to dessert and in-between.
- Two night stay at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast (breakfast, evening reception and dessert included)
- A three hour cooking lesson (Please see below for description of each month’s lesson)
- A dining discount of 10% off your dinner at Chiesa Italian Restaurant
- An autographed copy of OUR FAMILY TABLE: RECIPES AND LESSONS FROM A LIFE ABROAD
PACKAGE PRICE: $350 plus tax (Cottage $370
plus tax) Double Occupancy
PLEASE CALL 828-254-3608 TO RESERVE YOUR SPOT NOW
January 25-26th: Breakfast from around the world
Blackberries in Sweet Basil Syrup with Vanilla Mascarpone Cream
Yogurt Panna Cotta with Fresh Fruit Coulis
Butternut Squash Quiche
Mango Upside Down Bread Pudding
March 1-2nd : Desserts and Cookies
Whoopie Pies with Homemade Marshmallow Fluff Icing
Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
Mojito Cupcake with Candied Mint Leaf
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
March 15-16th: Canapes and Hors D’oeurves
Smoked Salmon Tartare
“Instant Appetizers: Using what’s in your Fridge”
(MENUS DEPEND ON AVAILABLE PRODUCE AND MAY BE CHANGED IF NEEDED)
4-7PM Check in at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast
5:30-7PM Meet the other participants at our Evening Reception
Dinner at your leisure. Explore downtown Asheville or enjoy a short stroll to nearby Chiesa Italian Restaurant
8:30-9AM Breakfast at your convenience
11AM-2PM Join me in the kitchen to a cooking lesson preparing dishes for the remainder of your stay
5:30-7PM Evening Reception
Dinner at your leisure as above.
8:30-9:30 Breakfast at your convenience
Quick and Easy Appetizers From the Carolina Bed & Breakfast 10 Nov 2016, 5:00 am
Guests at our Asheville Inn, the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, often ask me how I come up with all of the different canapes and hors d’oeuvres we serve every night. And I admit it is sometimes difficult not to repeat ourselves when guests stay for a week or more. But over time, James, Sara and I have come up with some tricks in creating quick and easy appetizers. These are things that almost everyone can do with not too much fuss. It requires just a little bit of imagination and a normally stocked refrigerator and pantry. (Disclaimer: if you are someone who never cooks or eats at home, these tricks probably won’t work for you!)
Canapes are the easiest type of appetizer to make on the fly. The technical definition of a canape is a piece of bread, pastry or cracker topped with a savory spread which is held with the fingers and can usually be eaten in one bite. At the Carolina we expand that a bit to include other bases than just bread and to incorporate more than just spreads. But the premise is the same: a small, single bite of finger food. I often tell people that this is my favorite form of cooking because it’s just a bite! And if someone doesn’t like one bite, chances are they will like one of the other ones.
So let’s start at the beginning with the base.
You look in your cupboard and all you have are some stale crackers from your last dinner party when you served cheese and crackers. Don’t worry, you have other options. You can turn to bread, (especially if you are like me and keep some in your freezer) but there is more than just bread. Edible bases can include cucumber slices, slices of sweet peppers, hollowed out cherry tomatoes, lettuce leaves and roasted potato slices just for starters. Apples slices can also be a great base. Dried fruits like apricots are another option. It’s pretty much up to you. Edible bases are not the only options. Small spoons can hold fruits or vegetables with dip or creamy sauces. Shot glasses are great for cold soups and ceviche. Toothpicks can be used as small skewers. Look around and experiment!
Now that you’ve chosen a base you need something to put on top of it.
Step one: look in your refrigerator. What do you see? In mine, I see cheese, condiments, left overs from previous meals and lunch meats and spreads and salad fixings. Granted, I live at my B&B so I probably have a wider range of items but I am willing to bet that most of you have at least some of these items listed here in your home.
Step two: put them together. Top cheese with jams or relishes, wrap vegetables in cheese or salami. Peppers and small tomatoes can hold hummus or soft cheese. I know I mentioned leftovers in my list, which may strike you as odd but it’s not really. Pulled Pork or BBQ chicken pieces can be served on mini biscuits. Leftover fish can be pared with mayonnaise (add a little lemon zest for zing). And if you have some rare steak leftover (like that’s going to happen!), spread a toasted slice of baguette or thick cut bread with mayonnaise and horseradish (or wasabi) and top with a thin slice of beef.
Step three: make it pretty. Here is where you raise the bar. Sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top of your canapes. Dice some tomato, or pimento and use for garnish. If you have fresh herbs, this is always a good option. Pickles are good as are chutneys and other relishes.
Most of all don’t be afraid to experiment!
Throw something together and give it a taste. Start with classic pairings and then vary an ingredient or flavor. Remember, it’s just one bite!
If you like these ideas and are interested in some more, my recently published cookbook, Our Family Table: Recipes & Lessons from a Life Abroad includes a chapter of canapes and hors d’oeurves served at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. You can purchase it by following this link: OUR FAMILY TABLE
My New Cookbook is Published! Our Family Table: Recipes & Lessons from a Life Abroad 24 Oct 2016, 12:00 pm
Those of you who follow this blog may remember my post of December 30, 2015 in which I made one of my New Year’s resolutions: to publish my new cookbook. At the time I thought I would self-publish a little book of recipes for hors d’oeurves and sweets. But my friends had bigger plans for me and Our Family Table: Recipes & Lessons from a Life Abroad is result!
For those of you who want to skip right to the book, you can see some excerpts and recipes on our website and follow the links to pre-order (shipping December 1). If you are of a more patient type, you can read on to find out a little about how this all came about.
My previous experience with online publishing had all been in the capacity of fund-raisers. Generally the books were spiral bound with few pictures and a hodge-podge of recipes badly formatted on the page. I knew I wanted something better than that but was unable to find it online. So I got together with Debbie Maugans, editor and publisher of Farmer & Chef South. Farmer & Chef South is a beautifully written and photographed book compiling recipes from restaurants ( and B&Bs) in Asheville. She was very excited by my ideas and before I knew it, I had an editor, a book designer, a publicist and a food photographer. So all I needed to do was to come up with enough recipes to fill a book!
Out went the original idea of “Cupcakes and Canapes”. I added in recipes for breakfast, main dishes and a chapter of sauces, jams, and pickles. But the book needed a theme. It needed a reason to be written and to be read. Debbie and my publicist, Susan Dosier (DK Communications Group) helped me figure out my “point of view” and my authority (this was hard as I am not always sure I have any authority). We dug into my background and looked at the foods I cook and came up with two things.
- My cooking and feelings about food come from a lifetime of cooking “off the grid”. My mother rarely used processed or convenience foods and my experiences living in Europe and Asia prior to global markets were similarly based in fresh local ingredients. Moving from Europe to Asia and back again I was forced to explore cuisines and foods, incorporating them into my cooking. This was solidified when I returned to the United States and bought the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, our Asheville Inn. Here I cook every day and the repetition of techniques coupled with changing seasons and my imagination has created my own style of cooking.
- I am, above all else, a home cook. I cook because I love to do it. I have no pretensions to being a “chef”. My training was in my mother’s kitchen, in my own kitchen and in the kitchens of friends. I have no fear of experimentation and I love to try out new recipes. And I want to share that passion. The benefits of home cooking are huge! You will be eating better, sharing good times in the kitchen and at the table and exploring a new world of flavor. So throughout Our Family Table I have included small tips and bits of knowledge which I picked up along the way. Nothing earth-shattering, just simple things which will hopefully be of some help to you.
So that’s it. I hope you will head on over to our website and find out more about the inside of the book. You can pre-order now and I will ship the books by December 1. After the books have arrived it will also be available on Amazon!
Quilts, Feral Pigs and the Blue Ridge Mountains 11 Oct 2016, 6:28 am
It was a perfect Fall day as we pulled out of the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville, NC heading towards Leicester and the Sandy Mush Valley nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The warm sun shone down from a cerulean blue sky while the brisk breeze kept the day October cool. We were taking advantage of a visit from my brother and his wife to try out the Fall Farms and Artisan Tour as our guests experience it. I have been there a number of times and had a role in creating the tour but have never actually done it. We had our picnic lunches in tow and I had made appointments for us with the artists Peggy, my sister-in-law, wanted to see.
I love the drive to Sandy Mush Valley and was happy to see the pleased and surprised look on my family’s faces as the route suddenly changed from an ugly two lane strip of used car lots and empty shops to a single lane road with the beautiful green fields and surrounding mountains just starting to show the colors of Autumn. I always feel like it is a bit of a magical transition.
Our first stop was Addison Farms Vineyard where we would eat our picnic lunch and enjoy a wine tasting. The vineyard was crowded with other guests, some from our B&B and some from other Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association Inns. Because of the chill wind we chose to sit on the steps in the sunshine looking out at the grape vines instead of on the shaded porch. We munched on sandwiches while discussing the lifespan of a grape vines. (It’s about 30 years as we learned inside) then returned inside for the tasting where we were offered samples of white pinot grigio, a number of reds and a port dessert wine. I have to be honest, this is North Carolina, not the Napa Valley, and the wines reflect this. Nevertheless it is a great experience and a good way to start the tour.
Moving on, our first stop was at the art studio of Christine Heild, (Sky Dance Artworks). Christine is an accomplished artist who uses a variety of styles and media. I was taken by some of her still lives and chose a small acrylic painting of cherries. Peggy also purchased something (and that’s all I am going to say about that as it may appear as a gift to someone!). And James talked at
length with Christine’s husband about the solar panels on the house, the experience of living in the mountains in relative isolation (Where do you shop?), and their lives overseas in Norway. This is what makes this tour so special: not only do you get to see some truly good art but also you get to meet the artists, see their work shops and learn about their lives and inspirations.
Next we visited Matt Jones at his potter’s workshop. I had met Matt before and seen his work elsewhere but had not been to his workshop in the valley. Matt is a nationally recognized artist who, in his own words, says ” my work is grounded in the Carolina traditions that go back 150 years, but I feel quite free to incorporate a modern sensibility and ideas from other cultures”. He has built a large wood-fired kiln because, as he told us, using wood gives his pottery the same feel and look as traditional pottery from earlier centuries before kilns were fired by gas or electricity. But while his methods are traditional, his work incorporates modern design and topicality. One of our favorite pieces was a large urn which had just been bought by the Asheville Art Museum. He is a tall, gentle man with a real passion for his art and proof that artist can survive and thrive in Western North Carolina!
Our last stop was to see the quilts of Laurie Brown. Laurie lives at the end of a long, long dirt drive with a beautiful view of the mountains. When we arrived we found her in the process of finishing a quilt by sewing in the quilted design of over the pieced together fabric. It was fascinating watching the machine, carefully guided by Laurie, as it laid down the stitches. And this was where we learned about feral pigs. Apparently they are a huge problem in the mountains around her. Pigs which have escaped from farms become feral in as little as three weeks. They begin to grow hair and tusks and become aggressive. They also breed at a great rate with two litters a year of six or more piglets. They forage in the woods, eating almost anything and leaving a trail of destruction in the forest undergrowth. You can see how this can get out of hand pretty quickly. We didn’t see any pigs while we were there but Laurie told us at least 35 had been killed in the area this year!
Leaving the valley you finish the circuit on a long winding road with magnificent views of the valley and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a wonderful day with lots to look at and many interesting people to visit with. Just one of my favorite things to do in Asheville, North Carolina!
The Best of British Cooking 26 Sep 2016, 1:23 pm
For those of you who don’t already know it, James and I recently took a break from our jobs as innkeepers at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville, North Carolina, and traveled to the UK to hike across the width of England on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast trail. More than 200 miles took us from the west coast of Northern England to the east coast, staying overnight in small B&B’s in often tiny villages. And along the way, paradoxically enough, we discovered some of the Best of British Cooking.
Fine food is often searched for in high end restaurants in big cities, and certainly England has plenty of these. But this was not the world of Ottolenghi and Gordon Ramsey. Nor is it the England of Happy Eater Road stops and McDonald’s in fake Tudor houses. Many of the villages we passed through were no more than a small collection of houses, some doubling as bed and breakfasts, a small shop and a pub. They are surrounded by fields and farms, sheep and cattle, and hedges heavy with sun-ripened sweet blackberries. Supermarkets are a distant drive away and we often passed small stands loaded with eggs and produce which could be taken and the money deposited in an “honesty box”.
James and I ate three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, the same way the people around us were eating. Breakfast was cooked to order for us at the bed and breakfast. When we left we received a packed lunch, also made by the innkeeper. And dinner was, most nights, at the local pub. A few times, when no pub was to be had, the innkeeper also made us dinner. It was plain fare but it was fresh. Pastries were homemade, meats and gravies stewed in the kitchen and very little processed food crossed our plates. Recipes and dishes were time honored and classic. It was an intimate view of the diets and cooking of Northern England.
So what did we eat?
Breakfast always included the option of a Full English Breakfast. This consisted two eggs (fried, poached or scrambled), bacon and sausage, grilled tomato and grilled mushrooms, toast, and baked beans and/or blood pudding. Now mind, you didn’t have to have all of that. You could pick and choose the items you liked. I would often pare it right down to a poached egg on toast. One observation: these people know how to cook eggs. In 26 days there was only one instance of a less than perfectly fried or poached egg. But as you can imagine, eggs every day can get a little much after a while so there was also the option of the classic British sandwich, the Bacon Butty. This is a fried back bacon sandwich served on buttered toast. Sounds hearty and it was but it was also delicious. Sausage sandwiches were also available. We were always asked if we wanted a “sauce” to go with our breakfast. Much as I was tempted to ask for hollandaise sauce, I know they meant ketchup or HP Brown sauce (a cross between a more vinegary ketchup and A-1 Steak Sauce). Nothing sweet like french toast or pancakes was ever offered.
I was delighted when given the choices for our first packed lunch. Having lived in England for 7 years I already had a fondness for the Cheese and Pickle Sandwich. The cheese should be a good English cheddar and the pickle will be Branston Pickle.This is not an American style dill or sweet pickle. It is almost a relish or chutney made of a variety of diced vegetables in a thick and vinegary tomato based sauce. The Ploughman’s Lunch served at many pubs consists of a chunk of cheese, a piece of good bread and Branston Pickle. This sandwich is the to-go version. Other sandwich options included ham (on bread with butter) and “salad” which was lettuce, tomato and cucumber on buttered bread. One of the more interesting options we were given was a cheese and carrot sandwich.
Best of all was when we got meat pies!
A meat pie is just what it sounds like, meat in one form or other encased in pastry to form a small hand-held pie. Our pies ranged from elegant to home-made. The homemade pie consisted of minced lamb, boiled potatoes and carrots and gravy. The elegant pie was bought from a pie shop and was a small tart fill with a type of pork country-style pate and topped with cranberries.
Along with the sandwich (or pie) we would be given a bag of chips, an apple and if we were lucky a piece of cake. The cake was, as you would expect, British style not American. Sometimes it was fruitcake, sometimes treacle or ginger cake and on occasion we would receive a slice of flapjack (a sweet oat bar made from oats, butter, brown sugar and golden syrup). We loved it when we got real cake and liked to eat it when we stopped to share a thermos of hot tea in mid-morning.
The pubs where we ate dinner were often the only dining option in town. Here we would usually run into a few other hikers as well as a assortment of local townspeople. Even the smallest town had a pub and on weekends this could be quite busy. The choices never changed much but a few things were really excellent. Steak and Ale pie would be counted on to be a good choice with a thick rich gravy and tender meat in a flaky crust. Lamb shank, if available, would usually be local lamb slow-cooked to fall off the bone, Gammon Steak (ham) was never something I wanted but was popular with the locals, as were sausages and mashed potatoes and, of course, fried fish. James claims that the British have perfected the fried onion ring and would often order them along with his chips (french fries). About the only thing it was hard to get was fresh vegetables or salad. Side vegetables, when offered, were always over cooked carrots, boiled cauliflower and sometimes broccoli. A memorable meal was at the local “Chippie” (Fish and Chip Shop) where we had fried cod, fried halloumi cheese, fried onion rings and, of course, fried potatoes. Our side veg was ketchup!
And finally dessert (or pudding). I never realized that James had not experienced Sticky Toffee Pudding before. This soft cake served hot with caramel sauce and custard (or ice cream) was his new favorite and he tried it everywhere from the best restaurant in London to the lunch on Virgin Air. I believe the final count was eleven different versions. When that was not available, Eton Mess was on offer: crumbled meringue tossed with whipped cream and strawberry jam. They tried to sell this to me as a British version of the Australian Pavlova but I’ve had Pavlova made by Aussies and this is not the same!
It all sounds very English and sometimes heavy but in actuality it was often just what was needed after a long day walking up to the moors in all kinds of weather.
But my all time favorite treat was a sweet, ripe, sun-warmed blackberry picked off the bramble as we walked by. And of all the things I would like try out here at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast it is to create an apple and blackberry topping for our sweet popovers in celebration of the best British pudding of all: Apple and Blackberry Crumble. Yum.
The Sausage Roll 15 Sep 2016, 8:29 am
Well, my parents are nearing the end of their long hike. The daily updates have been wonderful, mostly recaps on the weather, how they have honed their bog-traversing skills – and lots and lots of talk about food and what they have been eating. When you hike 16 miles in a day, you get to eat whatever you want!
England is not known for the food, but my parents are debunking the “British cooking is awful” myth one meal at a time. I won’t spoil anything because given my mothers love of cooking and food, I’m sure she will want to recap their culinary adventures, however I did think this would be a good opportunity to share with you the recipe for a classic British staple: the sausage roll. This is not a hot dog in a blanket – though that is its American cousin. These are great for parties – you can make them ahead of time and freeze them.
Amazingly, my father had never had one until this trip to England! How that is possible after living in England for 6 years is beyond me. But he’s seen the light, and agrees they are fantastic. So I’m passing on the recipe to you – this is a modified version of Delia Smith’s sausage roll recipe. Delia Smith is the British equivalent of Martha Stewart, without the scandal and jail time. If you’re ever looking for a solid, authentic Brit recipe, start with Delia.
Makes 12 Sausage Rolls
- One package of store bought puff pastry
- 8 oz of pork sausage meat
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 2 rounded tablespoons of chopped sage leaves
- Salt and pepper
- 1 egg – beaten
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Roll out your puff pastry to (2) 12”x 4” rectangles.
Mix the sausage meat, onion, sage and salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Divide the sausage meet into two and roll each piece out with your hands on a lightly floured surface until they are each 12” long.
Place one roll of sausage meat onto one strip of pastry. Brush the beaten egg along one long edge of the pastry, then fold the pastry over and seal it as carefully as possible. Roll the whole thing over so the sealed edge is underneath and gently roll lightly so the pastry is sealed. Repeat with the second piece of pastry and sausage meat.
Use a sharp knife to cut each roll into six sausage rolls. Cut three V shapes in the top of each roll with scissors and brush with the beaten egg.
Place the rolls on a baking sheet and bake high in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool
Serve hot. I like to eat them with ketchup mixed with a little bit of chili sauce. Delia suggests pickled shallots. You can dress up the sausage mixture if you want to get fancy, the possibilities are endless: chopped apple, parsley, mustard, nutmeg – go crazy!
You can store cooled sausage rolls in the freezer. Just defrost them for an hour at room temperature and warm them in a hot oven for 5 minutes.