Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Traditional British Food, Part 32: Two Georges

First up, we have St. George, the patron saint of England. St. George's Day was Friday, April 23rd, so I made a Treacle Tart to celebrate. Honestly, any holy day is a good excuse for a tart. This recipe is derived from The Cooking of the British Isles, Harvest Traditional British Cooking, and my own imagination.

Paul is constantly teasing me about how cheap I am, but if I hadn't saved my breadcrumbs, I couldn't have made this tart. It's really important to use breadcrumbs from actual bread rather than the breadcrumbs that come ready-made from the grocery store for this recipe, because the grocery store breadcrumbs are too dry.

Treacle Tart

serves 8

Short crust pastry:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons milk
Cold water, as needed

1 1/2 cups golden syrup
1 1/2 cups white breadcrumbs
juice from 1/2 small lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the crust:
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add the butter and cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add the milk and enough water so that the mixture forms a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease a 10" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Place it on a baking sheet and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out to 1/8" thickness. Roll it over the rolling pin and place on top of the tart pan. Picking up the dough as you work around the pan, lightly press (don't tear the dough!) the dough into the tart pan. Use the rolling pin to roll over the top of the pan, removing excess dough. Set remaining dough aside.

In a bowl, combine the filling ingredients. Then, pour the filling into the tart pan. Use the leftover dough to decorate the top of the tart. You can cut it in strips for a lattice design, or use a cookie cutter to make decorative shapes.

Bake the tart (leave the tart pan on the baking sheet) in the middle of the oven for 3o minutes, or until filling is set and has puffed up a bit (it will fall back down when you cool it).

When the tart is ready, remove the outer ring and place the tart on a cooling rack. Cool for a few minutes and then serve. Leftovers can be kept, covered, in the fridge.


Our second George is George Sanders, the actor. I enjoyed what I have inaugurated the First Annual George Sanders Film Festival this weekend. (Yes, I did watch a lot of movies. However, I was knitting most of the time, so that makes it OK.)
  • Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)- Sanders plays newspaper reporter Scott ffolliott ("both small 'F's"), who helps Joel McCrea uncover a sinister plot to drive Europe to the brink of war; Hitchcock's plea for American support; great film that foreshadows Hitchcock's later work with James Stewart and Cary Grant
  • Sundown (Henry Hathaway, 1941)- another propaganda film about British army officers who discover a German plot to arm tribes in Africa
  • The Lodger (John Brahm, 1944)- Sanders, as Inspector John Warwick, sets out to capture Jack the Ripper and the heart of Merle Oberon (who didn't annoy the crap out of me for once); this film was a nice surprise--it doesn't fall into the trap of hokeyness, the cinematography is perfect, and Laird Cregar, who plays titular character, does a fantastic job
  • A Scandal in Paris (Douglas Sirk, 1946)- Geroge Sanders--thief, lover, police chief?; fun popcorn movie; perfect for St. George's Day, because escaped convicts Vidocq (Sanders) and Vernet (Akim Tamiroff) pose for a painting of St. George and the dragon and abscond with the painter's horse!
  • The Strange Woman (1946)- George Sanders as a lumberjack?!
  • All About Eve (1950)- the only film I watched this weekend where Sanders actually plays a rotter (to perfection) in his Oscar-winning turn as Addison DeWitt, theatre critic and all-around stinker
All are available on DVD.

Link to Sundown (entire film) at Internet Archive
Link to The Strange Woman (entire film) at Internet Archive

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Traditional British Food, Part 31: Soup Kitchen

Since we might have a few days left of rainy, not-too-hot weather, I thought it would be a good time to post my favorite (British) soups that aren't overly wintry. If Tomato Soup doesn't sound like comfort food to you, you're probably an alien. Or a cyborg. Or both. Or something equally unpleasant.

(Cream of) Tomato Soup

serves 8

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2-28 oz. cans tomato puree (or diced tomatoes, if you like a chunkier soup)
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional, but it makes everything better!

Soften the onion in butter over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, but not browned.

Add the remainder of the ingredients, except the cream, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer one hour.

Stir in one tablespoon of cream into each bowl of soup just before serving. (You could also use sour cream.)

I prefer this recipe to Potage Parmentier, because I don't have to put it though the food processor. Smooth soups are overrated. However, what is not overrated is heavy cream, which you could also add to this soup.

Leek and Potato Soup

serves 6

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3 large leeks, finely sliced
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper

Over medium heat, cook the leeks and onions in the butter until softened and translucent but not browned.

Add the potatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes before adding the chicken stock and wine. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes. Season to taste.

Adapted from Traditional British Cooking.


Two old Brit mysteries I've read recently and were great crappy weather reading and would go really well with soup (or tea, for that matter):

Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey- it's unconventional in that no crime occurs in the book and the detective is hospital-bound and attempting to solve the mystery of Richard III and the "Princes in the Tower"

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin- Oxford professor solves theatre-world murder; overall too much pompous use of phrases in French and Latin (even for snobbish moi) but has some great humorous moments and is a pleasant read

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Traditional British Food, Part 30: Easter Biscuits

According to The Taste of Britain by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown, an Easter Biscuit is: "a circular biscuit with a fluted edge, 50-90mm in diameter, 5mm thick; Weight: 12-20g. Color: pale gold irregularly flecked with currants. Flavor: sweet, lightly spiced. Short texture" (40). My Easter Biscuits (cookies) are sweet and lightly spiced and contain currants. However, I didn't want to bake them all at once, so I turned them into slice-n-bake cookies and the source recipe I used makes much thicker cookies than 5mm.

The use of brandy in the recipe makes these Sedgemoor Easter Biscuits. Using lemon instead would make these London Easter Biscuits (41).

Easter Biscuits

yields 24

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, chilled and cubed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) dried currants
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1 egg
1/4 cup brandy

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, add the flour and butter. Cut the butter into the flour until mixture resembles moist sand. Stir in the sugar, currants and spices.

Add the egg and brandy and stir until all of the dough is moistened. If baking entire batch at once, roll the dough out to a half-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface and cut with a cookie cutter. If you'd like to bake just a few at a time, use a large piece of parchment paper to form the dough into a 12"-long roll and slice off as many half-inch-thick cookies as you'd like. (Store remainder, wrapped in parchment, in a plastic bag in a freezer.)

Bake cookies (biscuits, whatever) on an ungreased, unlined baking sheet in the middle of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

Recipe adapted from "Sedgemoor Easter Cake" in Good Things in England by Florence White.


I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to post today. The computer was acting up and refusing to start up. Thankfully, Paul came home and fixed it. It's aggravating that he basically tried the same things I did and the stupid thing worked for him. I am maintaining my uneasy peace with technology.


Books that I've read and liked recently:
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (I absolutely adore Flavia de Luce!)
  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  • Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  • Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (Much more subversive and sinister than the Disney version.)
  • The Country Wife by William Wycherley
  • Love for Love by William Congreve
  • The Confederacy by John Vanbrugh (really wish I had my own comedy troupe right about now)
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
  • The Importance of Being Earnest (Anthony Asquith, 1952)
  • Joseph Andrews (Tony Richardson, 1977)
  • I Know Where I'm Going! (Michael Powell, 1945) (This really is a rather silly movie, but it has Roger Livesey in it, way before he played the Duke of St. Bungay in The Pallisers.)
  • Terry Jones: Medieval Lives (TV, 2004) (Great fun. Not just for Monty Python fans.)
  • Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2004) (The first time I saw this was in the theatre and the sound was so low that no one could hear any of the dialogue. It is impossible to appreciate this film without being able to hear all the snide comments uttered by the various characters!)
  • The House of Eliott: Series 1 (TV, 1991)
  • Mad Men: Seasons 1-3 (TV, 2007-2009)
Until next time, dear readers!