The Olympics started this weekend; England's glorious capital is hosting the games — and we'll be glued to the telly, watching all those swimmers, runners and gymnasts going for the gold and silver, as we enjoy some suitable grub inspired by some of England's brightest culinary stars.
But first, it's time to stop with the old jokes about bad British cuisine. True, it's still possible to get some really terrible food in the U.K. — but you can do that here, too. And, OK, we have issues with some of their breakfast choices. Baked beans and kedgeree?
But Great Britain is home to some of our favorite chefs, including Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Chez Panisse alum Claire Ptak, the Marin County, Calif.-born pastry chef who fell in love with a Londoner and moved across the Pond. So we've called upon their cookbooks and treasure troves of recipes for inspiration.
We're also adding a dash of Beatles to this Olympics-watching menu, with a little help from a new vegetarian cookbook, "The Meat Free Monday Cookbook" (Kyle Books, $29.95, 240 pages), edited by Annie Rigg with recipes and prose by Paul McCartney and his family and friends. You can't be a vicarious Brit without tea sandwiches, old chap, so we've used their ideas for creative sandwiches to craft some new wave finger foods. Among them: balsamic onions, arugula and goat cheese nestled atop whole-wheat toast and garlicky carrots and cilantro on hummus-slathered sourdough.
The self-styled Naked Chef's anti-obesity and sustainable food awareness campaigns have made him a household name on both sides of the Atlantic, but Jamie Oliver is also known for some sensational, not-exactly-calorie-free culinary creations, including sizzling hot, tiny Yorkshire puddings — which he calls Yorkies or Baby Puds — served with a creamy pate made from smoked trout, horseradish and cream cheese. The dish is "dead quick," he says, and the pate boasts a "bolshie attitude."
Clearly, our grasp of British idioms is not up to snuff because we had to look that one up. It's a Bolshevik-inspired idiom for something that is angrily provocative or revolutionary or, in this case, "hot, smoky (and) salty," Oliver says.
Oliver says it's "sweet" to do individual servings, but you can also "just whack it right in the middle of the table" and let guests serve themselves. You'll find smoked trout in the deli case near the smoked salmon and lox, either of which would make a delicious substitute.
Gordon Ramsay may be known on this continent as the screaming savior of drowning restaurants on "Kitchen Nightmares" and fierce judge on "Hell's Kitchen" and "MasterChef," but his cookbooks include new twists on classic British pub fare, including a killer rendition of Scotch Eggs. The sausage mixture that encases the gently hard-boiled eggs is laced with fresh herbs and lemon zest, and the breadcrumbs adorning the outside are freshly made. The result is crisp, flavorful and addictive.
The result is worthy of a medal — maybe even gold.
AN OLYMPICS WATCHING MENU
Baby Yorkshire Puds with Smoked Trout Pate
Pint of Prawns with Mayo
New Wave Tea Sandwiches
BABY YORKSHIRE PUDS WITH CREAMY SMOKED TROUT PATE
Note: It's best to use the metric measurements on your scale and measuring cups, but nonmetric approximations are included below.
Creamy smoked fish:
125 grams cream cheese (about 4 1/2 ounces)
2-3 heaped teaspoons prepared horseradish
Small bunch fresh chives, finely chopped
Sea salt, ground pepper
125 grams hot-smoked trout, skin removed (about 4 1/2 ounces)
Rapeseed oil (or olive oil)
2 large free-range eggs
100 grams flour (about 3 1/2 ounces)
100 ml milk (between 1/3 and 1/2 cup)
1. Mix the cream cheese, horseradish, the zest of 1 lemon and juice from half a lemon. Mix in most of the chopped chives. Taste and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Add more horseradish or lemon juice, if needed.
2. Flake in the trout, removing any skin and bones. Use a spatula to fold the mixture gently so you have smaller bits and nice chunks. Decant into a nice serving dish or several little bowls. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with chopped chives. Cover and refrigerate until cold.
3. Just before serving, preheat oven to 475 degrees. Drizzle vegetable oil into the bottoms of 16 wells in a mini-muffin tin, so there's a thin layer covering the bottom of each. Pop the tray onto the top rack of the hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until smoking. Meanwhile, aggressively beat the eggs, flour, milk and a pinch of salt and pepper together, by hand or in a food processor, until light and smooth. Transfer the mixture into a jug with a spout.
4. Carefully take the tray from the oven. Quickly and confidently pour the batter into the hot tin so it nearly fills each well. Return to oven and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the Yorkies are puffed and golden. Serve sizzling hot with the potted fish and lemon wedges.
— Jamie Oliver, www.jamieoliver.com
8 medium eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 pounds good quality sausage meat
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Flour, for dredging
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Fine white breadcrumbs
Oil, for deep frying
1. Cook the eggs in boiling water for 8 minutes. Drain, cool and peel.
2. Mix the sausage meat, herbs, mustard, lemon, salt and pepper, then divide into 8 balls. Flatten each ball into a disc large enough to encase an egg. Place the egg in the center and wrap in sausage.
3. One at a time, roll the egg in the flour, dip in beaten egg, then roll in breadcrumbs.
4. Heat oil, about 3 inches deep, in a pan until hot enough that a breadcrumb sizzles when dropped in. Deep fry the eggs for 4-5 minutes, turning once or twice to ensure even browning. Drain on paper towels.
— Gordon Ramsay, "Gordon Ramsay's Great British Pub Food" (Harper Collins, 2009)
PINT OF PRAWNS WITH MAYO
1 ¼ pounds cooked prawns, shells on
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon English mustard
Sea salt, black pepper
1 ¼ cups groundnut oil or light olive oil
1 tablespoon water
For the mayonnaise, mix the yolks and white wine vinegar in a small food processor until very thick and creamy. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil. Drizzle in the water to stabilize the emulsion. Serve with prawns.
— Gordon Ramsay, "Gordon Ramsay's Great British Pub Food" (Harper Collins, 2009)
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 cups dried currants
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
Zest of 1 orange
13 ounces puff pastry, thawed if frozen
1 free-range egg
1 tablespoon light cream
1. Melt the butter with the sugar, currants, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Chill for at least 1 hour, then divide the mixture into 12 balls.
2. Roll out pastry and cut into 4-inch squares. Place a ball of filling on each one, then bring the edges together to encase the filling. Pinch to seal so the filling does not escape when cooking.
3. Place, seam side down, on a lined baking sheet and chill for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Whisk egg and cream to make an egg wash, then brush the cakes. Use kitchen shears to snip 3 small holes in the top of each cake. Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden and puffed. Transfer to a rack to cool.
— Claire Ptak and Henry Dimbleby, "Leon Baking and Desserts" (Octopus Books, $29.99, 304 pages)
NEW WAVE TEA SANDWICH IDEAS
Carrot and Hummus Crunch:
Fry 2 coarsely grated large carrots in a pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1/2 chopped red chile and 1 teaspoon caraway seeds over moderate heat for 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Cool. Spread sourdough bread slices with hummus, top with grated carrots, dollops of Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro.
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Toast 3 slices whole-grain bread. Spread 3 tablespoons hummus over one slice, top with half a sliced avocado, some arugula leaves, alfalfa sprouts and cracked pepper. Prepare another slice of toast the same way and place on top. Place the final slice of toast on top.
Cheese and Onion:
Mix ¼ cup soft goat cheese with 2 tablespoons cream cheese. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and add half a sliced red onion. Let sweat. When it starts to wilt, add ¼ teaspoon sugar, a pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Cook for another 3-4 minutes. Spread the goat cheese mixture over a slice of whole-wheat bread, top with red onion and a handful of arugula leaves, and a second slice of bread.
— adapted from "The Meat Free Monday Cookbook," edited by Annie Rigg (Kyle Books, $29.95, 240 pages)