< Fresh Approach: January 2006

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Branston Pickle (Ploughman's Lunch)

My juicy peach of a cousin, the indomitable Va-Voom, who is residing in London these days (oh what a glam life that chicky leads!) is constantly reminding me of the dramatic differences between their comfort foods and ours (ours meaning us kids residing in the US of A, theirs being England). And even going past comfort foods, just to every day staples, the variations can be astonishing culture by culture.

Which leads me to that British favorite (I tried to add the extra "u" in there, but I can't seem to figure out where it would go. My English teachers would be so proud), Branston Pickle. I've mentioned it before of course, and I would hardly say it's something the Brits claim as a national dish, or even particularly indicative of their culture, but I doubt any of them would deny that along with HP sauce (another ubiquitous brown condiment) it is so ingrained in the fabric of their lives, that they hardly know it's there, until they leave the comfort of their shores and end up someplace it is not...and that my friends, is where cravings originate. Wanting that foodstuff you may not be able to find. It can bring a tear to your eye.

When I was living deep in the heart of the West Midlands, (an area in the UK) this past summer (Why? Simple. I'm a silly girl) I had the great fortune to eat a lot of Branston Pickle and Cheddar Cheese sandwiches. I ate so many in fact, I had to start going to the gym twice a day just to combat any negative affects. (Well, that and the excessive drinking those Brits led me to, what with every night ending up in a pub and all) I came to love the combination of sharp, crumbly local cheddar, and the tangy-sweet-crunchy, thick taste of this combination of fruit and vegetables, vinegar and sugar.

In my quest to find this stuff, to make this sandwich, in ex-pat heavy Santa Monica, I still had to visit three stores (though, in fairness, it was sold out at the first spot) and plunk down $6.00 for a jar of this delight. And it is, in fact, a delight. I havent actually found any other things to do with it other than this, but as this is so sublime, I figure I'll stick with it. And of course, I strongly suggest you seek out a jar of it out in your town. It will be a pantry staple for sure. Try it, and enjoy.

1 small roll (I used cibatta)
Branston Pickle
Cheddar Cheese

Compose as you would any sandwich. Serve with gerkins (small pickles) and a beer. British delight will ensue.


Check out this excellently angry tirade and slew of responses regarding a Ploughmans Lunch recipe at Epicurious.

A ploughman's lunch is a midday meal often served in an English pub. The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary of this phrase dates from 1837. The OED's next citation is from 1970, indicating a long period of time when the meal was virtually unknown. It is this long disuse and recent rediscovery that has lead some people to portray the dish as being a recent invention dressed up as a traditional meal. A ploughman's lunch usually consists of a lump of cheese (usually Cheddar or Stilton), pickle (often Branston Pickle) and salad, accompanied by crusty bread and butter. - Wikipedia

900 new restaurants open each year in Los Angeles. 60% of them go out of business within 5 years. In the next five years, 60% of the remaining restaurants go under.

In Orange County, CA more than two dozen Japanese American farming families will be honored Sunday for their contributions to California's $1.3-billion strawberry industry. Japanese farmers started strawberry farming the early 1900s along the entire West Coast,
and came to dominate strawberry farming since. Now, Latinos have replaced Japanese Americans as the industry's dominant players. They now make up more than 56% of the state's 518 strawberry growers, compared with 14% for Japanese Americans. - Los Angeles Times

Monday, January 02, 2006


Devilish Cake

I'm on vacation but I wrote a recipe before I dashed off to this tropical paradise. I hear it's raining like crazy back home, so I am happy as a lark I'm not there. Until I return, enjoy!

This is a slice of chocolate cake. The give away I'd say is that it's brown. See? Brown. The only thing is, its not just a chocolate cake, it's a devil's food cake, and that means it's supposed to be red. Red? Yes kids, red. Or at least, reddish! I'm not all down with the science, but my basic (unresearched) understanding is that the chemical reaction between the buttermilk, cocoa and vinegar turns the cake red. Or, you know, it's supposed to.

So the question then becomes...is this still devil's food cake if it's not red? I don't know. I know that I went with a classic concept (minus using mayo as an ingredient. While it has a certain logic to it, I just couldn't go there) and came up with a very decadent, sophisticated, adult dessert without resorting to the use of food dye. Devilish indeed. Red? Not so much.

Try it, and enjoy. (Oh, and serve with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa. Mmmm.)

1 cup white flour
1/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs

Heat your oven to 350F

Butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan.

Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and vinegar.

With your mixer cream the butter and sugar for at least four minutes (as I always say, don't skip this. Take the time, it makes all the difference) then add the eggs one at a time, blending completely before adding the next.

Pour the batter into your cake pan and bake on the middle rack for 35 minutes. Check to see if it is done by inserting a cake tester or a toothpick. The cake tester should come out dry.

Add the flour mixture and alternate with the buttermilk, ending with the dry.

When the cake is baked, turn off the oven, open the door and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool another 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.

To serve, add whipped cream and a light dusting of cocoa powder.

Makes eight servings.


Drakes brand Devil Dogs snacks cakes (two oblong pieces of devils food cake with a cream filling) are available in stores in the Northeast of the United States, or for online purchase, here

"The reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to turn cocoa a reddish brown color. Furthermore, before more alkaline "Dutch Processed" cocoa was widely available, the red color in these cakes would have been more pronounced. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "Devil's Food" These days red dye is used to get the desired color. This was probably started after the introduction of the darker cocoa in order to reproduce the earlier color. It is also notable that while foods were rationed during World War II , some bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes." - Baking 911.com

In 1902, the recipe for Devil's Food Cake first appeared in an American cookbook called Mrs. Rorer's New Cook Book by Sarah Tyson Rorer.

One in six British children think that broccoli is a baby tree

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