Thursday, 20 January 2011

What's Cookin'?

Christmas at Dalbeattie 2010
Well, folks, the Holiday Season came and went without a post. And do you know what? According to the stats section, it was the busiest time yet for traffic to this blog. I was amazed to find that we've had visitors from the following nations in addition to the US and the UK: Canada, China, Columbia, France, Netherlands, and Slovenia. Welcome one and all!

The reason I haven't posted is that I hit the pavement looking for work...and found it. I produced a little flyer advertising my kitchen services to local restaurants in the event they needed emergency or temporary help. A couple of local restaurants responded and I worked various shifts for them. One of the owners sang my praises to friends who own the Anchor Hotel in Kippford (four miles from our little village) and pretty soon, I had a regular job doing prep and starters. I have found it's very helpful to have a background in kitchen work, because you can almost always find a job. Given the economy and given the fact that my data management skill set needs updating, kitchen work seemed a good option.  Americans, I'm pleased to say, are seen as industrious, positive, and hard-working. So even if the average Brit is baffled by our politicians, they have a general fondness for the average American. And America is widely regarded for it's friendliness and customer service. The customer service is sadly lacking in many places in the UK, and I'm not sure why that should be as the people are generally polite, friendly and love to go out to eat and drink. You'd think it would be a customer service dream.

What is the food like, you ask? Not as grim as you've been led to believe. I have found that the UK is a 'foodie' culture. The old stereotype of totally overcooked meat and veg is outdated. With the mix of cultures in the UK, the average Brit probably has a better grasp of ethnic food than the average American. There are many amazing restaurants in the UK. But you want to know what's on the menu at a pub/hotel, don't you?

Standard menu items for starters include soup, pate, crab on toast, smoked salmon, fried brie, garlic mushrooms. Their sauce for prawn cocktail, what most Americans would refer to as shrimp cocktail, is a marie rose sauce (mayo, ketchup, worcestershire sauce) which is a bit creamier and less spicy than the cocktail sauce I'm used to. It's basically Thousand Island without the chunky bits. One of the more popular starters is nachos. As in America, it seems to be served in a variety of ways, but I think I can safely say, they don't  have the same sense of what standard salsa is like. For example, the freshly made salsa where I work is an absolutely gorgeous deep red with tomatoes, herbs, and red onions in it. It seems to get its color from a sweet chili sauce, which is definitely an asian touch. It tastes wonderful and it would be familiar to the British palate as they do have a love of Asian and Indian foods here. But it really isn't what an American would think of as salsa. It's more like a chutney. Aside from nachos as a starter, there is very little Mexican influence on the mainstream restaurants here and Mexican restaurants are few and far between.  I've daydreamed of opening a little Mexican food stand. I could call it Nacho Mama. I know. It's an old one, but a good one.

For mains there are the usual fish and chips (most often haddock), steaks, burgers, and salads; you will also find steak pie (often a dish of beef stew with a square of puff pastry on top), curry, pork medallions, lamb cutlets, sea bass, and a fair amount of duck, pheasant, and venison. And they don't hold back on serving sauces and gravy. Delicious. Comforting. And definitely not dreary. What's the difference between the English pub food and the Scottish pub food? In a word, haggis. If you come to the Anchor and order the smoked duck salad starter, your strips of gorgeous duck breast will come on a bed of greens lovingly tossed with walnuts and a light vinagrette and topped with artistically placed deep-fried haggis balls. Arranged with special care by yours truly. Or if you are very into haggis, you could order the haggis fritters: two slices of haggis, battered and fried topped with a lovely gravy. What kind of gravy? No idea. Or if you are not into haggis but you are into deep fried things, you could order a deep fried mars bar. Sadly, that does not come with gravy. Not even chocolate gravy. 

This is my home version of a starter from work: tower of smoked salmon, cucumber and prawn. Christmas Eve lunch.

Also this fall we said goodbye to an old friend, Lily (1994 - 2010)

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