The food: traditional English food, updated
While in England recently, I struggled to find simple, satisfying food experiences until, that is, I thought to go back to the basics.
For instance, I could eat a good savoury oat biscuit (my preferred brand at the moment being Rick Stein’s) with a chunk of mature cheddar and some spicy, fruity jelly (like Nuala’s Fiery Irish Gold from the Wychwood Barns Saturday market), all day long. Such a delicious combination.
Also classically English are pies, tarts and (French!) soufflés made with eggs and bitter greens. So when I flipped open an English food magazine and came across a recipe for a watercress and Gruyère soufflé from chef/author/TV personality Valentine Warner, I ripped it out and tried it at home, British measurements notwithstanding (my food scale came in handy). I used arugula AND watercress, to give it extra zing; did not make a paper collar as instructed; and managed to fold in the egg whites, though folding is not my strong suit.
The nicely puffed result was creamy comfort food that paired well with roasted root vegetables for a light supper.
Finally, while in Stratford-on-Avon, I encountered a new-to-me kind of crisp sugar cookie called a Shrewsbury Biscuit, made from a centuries-old recipe. After reading that dried fruit (i.e. raisins or currants) are sometimes added to the very simple cookie dough, I added dried blueberries and chopped roasted almonds in mine, to give them a fruit and nut feel that goes quite well with, yes, a cup of tea.
Here’s the recipe:
Shrewsbury Biscuits (adapted from AllBritishFood.com)
MAKES ABOUT 24
100 g (4 oz) butter
150 g (5 oz) caster sugar
2 egg yolks
225 g (8 oz) plain flour
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
1/2 c. dried blueberries
1/2 c. chopped roasted almonds
1. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat in well. Stir in the flour and lemon rind and mix to a fairly firm dough. Mix in blueberries and chopped almonds until evenly distributed.
2. Knead lightly on a lightly floured surface and roll out until about 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Cut out 6.5 cm (2 1/2 inch) rounds with a fluted cutter, and put on greased baking sheets.
3. Bake at 180°C (350°F) mark 4 for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned and firm to the touch. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container.
Also nutty, sweet and altogether wonderful was the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, The Musical that I saw in London’s West End in November. The show is inventively staged, beautifully performed, features some lovely music and wonderful dancing, and is not at all meant only for children. I can’t wait for someone (I’m talking to you, Mirvish Productions) to bring it across the Atlantic to wow audiences here.