Monthly Archives: December 2008

A royal beating?

The British press worked overtime this weekend, reporting on images of Prince Edward supposedly beating his dogs with a stick during a pheasant shoot. There aren’t any pictures of the prince’s stick making contact with the dogs — it looks as if he’s trying to break up a fight — but animal rights groups think his menacing behavior with the raised stick is indicative of the cruelty behind country sports.

There’s a deep schism in British society about country sports, a favorite pastime of the aristocracy in Britain. Fox hunting, for example, was banned in England and Wales in 2004, thanks to public uproar and lobbying from animal rights groups. Now with fox hunting banned, what’s a royal to do but take aim at game birds on the estate?

The royals do love their weekend hunts. The late Princess Diana, not a hunter, was reportedly dismayed by her sons’ love of the hunt; Prince William’s girlfriend, Kate Middleton, was roundly criticized by the press and animal rights groups for shooting with Prince Charles last year. Also last year, scandal-magnet Prince Harry was accused of shooting two birds that were of a protected species.

I’m not anti-hunting. I grew up in rural northern New England, where hunting’s not a rich man’s sport. It wasn’t uncommon to go to a relative’s home and be served a steaming bowl of venison stew or braised rabbit, the meat courtesy of an uncle’s hunting expedition. Responsible hunting kept animal populations in check and filled our freezers with food. (I’ll admit though, I’m not a huge fan of venison.) I assume that the royal estates, too, are filled with deer that reproduce like, well, rabbits, and stalking keeps their populations controlled.

But the royal family doesn’t need to fill their freezers with protein for the winter, and given the strong anti-monarchist sentiment in Britain coupled with an economy in the shitter, is it the wisest move for these folks to engage in a weekend sport that pisses off the public who are supporting them? Is this their brilliant alternative to stumbling out of Whisky Mist at 2:00 a.m.? What do you think? Add your comments below.

Royal predictions for 2009

The Telegraph is predicting an engagement — maybe two — more travel, a special visit from an American, and expensive household repairs for the British royal family in 2009.

I’m betting that Zara Phillips will be one of the royal engagements. (ETA: Rumor is they’re already engaged.) Prince Harry? Hmm. His girlfriend might be a little too WAGish for the Buckingham Palace crowd, although I’ve read Prince Charles adores her. (Of course he does, he who wished to live in his mistress’s knickers.) But I’d put my money on Prince William proposing to Kate Middleton in 2009. I didn’t believe for a minute they broke up in 2007 and thought it was a ploy to get the media to stop hounding Middleton. And if they did break up and get back together again, I hope Middleton exacted some kind of assurance from the prince that the relationship is for the long haul, even though he’s set to take a long-term assignment in the military. So yep, I’m calling it: Middleton’s gonna be a military wife.

I claim not to be interested in the Windsors, but damn, I know quite a bit about them. All hail Hello! If you’re a Royal watcher, what are your predictions? Add them to the comments section below.

Last Chance Harvey

Wow, the New York Times gave a grudgingly good review to the romantic comedy Last Chance Harvey, starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson as the unlikely lovers. From watching the trailers, I think this film will be an Anglophile’s dream with its UK setting and script, as evidenced in the clip above.

Last Chance Harvey wasn’t on my radar screen this movie season, but now it looks like there’s something at the theatre I might be able to get my husband to in the next couple weeks. He has yet to forgive me for The English Patient. My penance was agreeing for the rest of our married life to sit through every Star Trek sequel without complaint.

An alternative version of the Queen’s Christmas message

Jonathan at has an embedded link of Queen’s 2008 Christmas message. If you’d like to see some candids of Prince Harry and some old video of wee Prince Charles, do check it out.  But for those of you who like things short and sweet, I offer a shorter version, above.

The BBC has a good overview of the history of the Queen’s Christmas message. Wow, £100,000 to produce … in the words of Jeff Spicoli, “Righteous bucks!”

Top 10 most annoying Americanisms

Yesterday’s Telegraph ran a piece by its US editor, presumably a Brit living here in the U.S., listing his top 10 most annoying American phrases, phrases that “infuriate” him.

I realize this is a tongue-in-cheek piece in honor of the great holiday Festivus, but “You’re welcome?” Seriously? “Uh huh” is the usual response I receive when I say “Thank you” to a store clerk or anyone under the age of 21. I’d keel over to hear “You’re welcome.”

And in my many (we won’t say how many) years of living in the U.S., I’ve never ever heard someone say, “Let’s visit with each other.” Have you? What Americans tend to say when saying goodbye to a friend or family member whose company they’ve enjoyed, “We should get together soon” or “Let’s meet up again.” It’s shorthand for, “I’d like to do this again, but I’m too tired to dig into my purse for my planner.” Plus, you’d come across as too eager and desperate to reschedule another visit on the spot. If you don’t like someone’s company, you might say something like, “Nice seeing you again” and leave it at that.

As for “Happy Holidays” … Here in the northeastern part of the U.S., I live amongst many Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, so it would feel totally inappropriate for me to blindly wish folks, “Merry Christmas!” Maybe if I lived in a more homogeneous part of the country it would be okay, but for now I’ll stick with my p.c. “Happy holidays!” and risk pissing off a cranky Brit here or there.

Here’s my pet peeve Americanism, something I’ve only noticed here in America in the land of chain restaurants, establishments my unapologetic middlebrow husband likes to frequent. When a server comes over to take our order, he’ll *sit down in our booth* and then say, “My name is Mike and I’ll be your server. How are you guys today? Great! Have you been to Longhorn Steakhouse before? Terrific! Can I start you off with drinks?” This is always delivered with saddlebags filled with mock cheer. America and its damned democratic ideals at their worst! Everyone’s got to be equal. I’m sorry, but when I sit down at Longhorn Steakhouse, I want the waiter to take my orders and bring me my food, not plop down at my table and pretend he’s a friend who actually cares.

I’m always tempted to ask for a bucket in these circumstances, but to preserve marital accord, I zip it.

What Americanisms and Britishisms bug you? Add yours to the comments below.

The Mincemeat Chronicles, Pt. 2: Orange & Almond Mincemeat

homemade mincemeat

The suet is ready in the fridge. All the dried fruits and candied orange have been procured. A new bottle of brandy was purchased this morning for the event. Now it’s time to make the mincemeat.

Here’s my final ingredient list. I don’t cook with measuring cups (except for the brown sugar), instead relying on a more accurate digital scale, so if you want to do this at home, either buy a scale or eyeball everything. Mincemeat is forgiving, so go for it.

Ingredients for mincemeat

Everything except the suet, almond extract and brandy

8-oz. golden raisins
4-oz. currants
1.5-oz. black raisins (one of those small boxes you stick in lunchboxes)
2-oz. candied orange peel (I buy mine from King Arthur Flour)
2-oz. blanched almonds, chopped finely
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3-oz. suet
Zest and juice from 3 clementine oranges
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. almond extract
3 tbsp. brandy

Dump everything, except the almond extract and brandy, into a heavy 3-qt. or larger saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently. Eventually the brown sugar will melt into the suet, leaving the fruits all glossy and extremely fragrant.

homemade mincemeat

Once everything’s all melty and fragrant (about 7 minutes), turn off the heat and stir in the almond extract and brandy. Give the mincemeat a final stir, then pack it into glass jars before storing it in the fridge. I like to let my mincemeat sit for a couple weeks before using it; it gets even tastier. But if you can’t wait, feel free to use it immediately. It’s delicious over ice cream, stirred into yogurt, and of course, baked in a pie. The yield here is enough mincemeat for a 9″ pie.

homemade mincemeat

Now, the big question. How does my mincemeat compare to the orange almond mincemeat I had at Neal’s  Yard Dairy? It stacked up pretty well, thank you. The mincemeat I had in London didn’t have any dark raisins or currants that I remember (they may have stuck only with golden raisins and maybe apple), but my mincemeat has a distinct orange flavor, thanks to the excellent quality of candied peel I used and clementine zest, and the almond flavor was very subtle and nice. Oh, and my kitchen smelled heavenly while this was cooking on the stovetop.

Next week, I’ll bake this into mincemeat tartlets for Christmas Day dessert. Stay tuned.

A gift for the person who has everything: a calendar of England’s prisons

Kevin Beresford prison calendar

Giving new meaning to the phrase “doing time,” a calendar depicting some of England’s most notorious prisons is a surprise holiday bestseller, according to the Guardian. Developed by a courier named Kevin Beresford, the calendar includes color pictures of Wormword Scrubs, Long Lartin, and my personal favorite as a Smiths’ fan, Strangeways, although now its proper name is HMP Manchester.

Beresford created another calendar a few years ago: a pictorial of England’s famous roundabouts. I think this guy’s crazily brilliant. I’d love to find either one of these calendars under my tree next week.

The Mincemeat Chronicles, Pt. 1: Preparing the suet

When I was in London a few weeks ago, I fell madly, rapturously in love with an orange and almond mincemeat being sampled at Neal’s Yard Dairy in the Borough Market. I had planned to run back there after lunch, but after hours wandering the market and my brain dulled by a heavy meal, I completely forgot my errand. No worries: I’m a professional recipe developer, so I thought it would be fun to recreate this most delicious food memory.

When I was a kid, I have to admit I was seriously revolted by mincemeat. My great aunt always made a mincemeat pie for Christmas dinner, and it looked and smelled disgusting. Plus, the word mincemeat itself turned my stomach as I imagined chewy, gristly bits of meat chunked up with squishy raisins and doused with booze, all baked up in a pie crust. Back in the old days (like in the 1500s, smartasses, not the 1970s) cooks did include bits of meat in mincemeat because liquor, vinegar, and fermenting fruits helped preserve it — the technique was a great way to stretch the food dollar/pound, so to speak. These days, the only thing meaty in mincemeat is suet, which is the fat from around the cow’s kidneys. In the UK, you can purchase vegetarian suet; here in the U.S. I’ve never found it, and I’m not sure I want to because I’m positive it’s filled with all sorts of nasty, unpronounceable chemicals.

So if you want to make mincemeat here in the colonies, you’ll need to have some suet at the ready.

You can find suet in the meat aisle of most grocery stores. Grocers usually keep it near the chicken livers and ham hocks; it is also a seasonal ingredient, meaning it’s easier to find in the winter months. Not only do cooks use suet for mincemeat, animal lovers use suet to make bird food cakes for songbirds. Normally I buy organic suet from my butcher, but he didn’t have any — so it was off to Stop & Shop:

beef suet

(Vegetarians/Vegans may want to stop reading.) What recipes don’t tell you is suet has to be prepared before you use it. You can’t just chop it up and throw it into your dish. Once you get the plastic off, you’ll see that not only is suet fatty, but it contains blood, connective tissue, and other nasty little bits that I certainly don’t want to eat. Do you? No, I didn’t think so. What you have to do now is render the fat so these unpleasant bits can be removed. Here’s how I do it.

First I chop the suet up a bit so that it can fit through the shredder attachment on my KitchenAid stand mixer. You want to get the fat shredded as finely as possible so it melts quickly, and a shredder makes short work of this. (Tip: freeze your small pieces of suet for a few minutes so that they don’t gob up your attachments.)

chopped beef suet

Here’s the suet going through the shredder:

shredded beef suet

I had a little over 2 lbs of suet here and once shredded, it filled up a 5-qt. mixing bowl. I set a 7-qt. enamel cast iron pot over low heat, added 1/4 cup water to the bottom, then added the shredded fat:

rendered beef suet

rendered beef suet

I let this cook/render down for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When you’re working with fat and fire, it’s never a good idea to leave the kitchen, so keep a close eye on it. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat to make the fat melt faster — low and slow is the way to go. Eventually, the solid fat will render down completely and you’ll be left with clear liquid fat with bits of brown stuff in it. That brown stuff is the blood, connective tissue, and other grizzlies you don’t want to eat. Now it’s time to sieve it out. I line my conical fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth and set it over a clean soup pot:

rendered beef suet

Then I ladle the fat into the sieve. Be careful — that fat is hot!

rendered beef suet

rendered beef suet

Et voila, lovely pure suet. Um, not quite. You’ll see that this clear liquid is starting to firm up. What I do is let it cool down a bit, then melt it over a low flame and re-sieve with clean cheesecloth to make sure every impurity is removed.

beef suet

The purified suet gets poured into a container once cooled, labeled, then stored in the fridge. It looks like this when it’s done:

beef suet

It has no smell at all, at least none I can discern with my sensitive schnozz. It also becomes quite hard when refrigerated, but when it’s added to mincemeat, it’ll melt into the base, giving it a rich flavor and mouthfeel – no meaty flavor at all. If you want to make mincemeat at home, don’t be tempted to try Crisco — it’ll just turn your recipe into a greasy mess.

OK, next up — orange and almond mincemeat. At least my fair approximation of what I tasted at Neal’s Yard Dairy last week.