Sunday, November 6, 2016

Holiday Soiree: Guy Fawkes Day


The Holiday: Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night (England)
So, who is Guy Fawkes, you may be asking yourself right now, and why does he get his own day over in England? Well, Guy Fawkes was what today we would call a domestic terrorist, in England. He was one of a religious extremist group who conspired to blow up Parliament(literally, like with gun powder and bombs and stuff). They were all set to follow through with their plans when they were caught on November 4, 1605. November 5th was declared a day of thanksgiving for the fact that Parliament was well and safe. Guy Fawkes and co. were summarily executed for their planned crimes, and ever since, England has celebrated in some shape or form. These days, it's celebrated with bonfires and fireworks.

You may not know it, but you know what Guy Fawkes looks like:
That's right, the V for Vendetta comic/movie guy and/or the Anonymous masks are both based on the likeness of Guy Fawkes. Today, some people look to him not as a domestic religious extremist terrorist, but as a folk hero or a freedom fighter. He has gone from historical figure, to mythical figure, which means that his story will change to fit the times. Me? I'm a fan of historical accuracy, so I will probably continue to look at him as an extremist domestic terrorist who was going to use violence instead of words to solve his problems, but you are welcome to think of him however you will! And if you're not in England, you most likely won't think of him at all...Oh, and if you're looking for something with a connection to Bonfire night, try out the Sherlock episode entitled, The Empty Hearse. One of the major plot points takes place then, so you can feel connected to this holiday!
Source: Guy Fawkes History

The Food: Tomato Soup, Bangers and Wedges, and Flapjacks
So, what does one make for Guy Fawkes Day? There isn't a specific dish, so it's sort of up to you. I have a British co-worker, so I asked him for advice. He told me about his family's tradition to eat tomato soup out in the backyard while watching the fireworks. I have always wanted to make homemade tomato soup, so I thought this was the perfect time to try that out. As for the rest, I just looked around for traditional British food that would work well for this time of year. Comforting, homey foods. Bangers and Mash is one of those quintessential British dishes and I've never had it before, so it was a perfect time to try it out. And among the desserts I found, Flapjacks was so intriguing. I mean, for us, "flapjacks" is another word for "pancakes," but for them it's an oat-based dessert. It was a lot of cooking for one blog meal, but I couldn't narrow it down, so it just had to be done. And I regret nothing because they were all awesome!

First up is the tomato soup. I am a purist when it comes to tomato soup. I don't want basil or onions or garlic mixed in with it. I was raised on Campbell soups, so I want mine to taste like theirs, but minus the corn syrup. There is one other brand out there I have found that tastes almost like Campbell's but is dairy-friendly, but making homemade is fun! It wasn't nearly as complex as you might imagine it would be. If you've never done it before, you should give it a try!

Tomato Soup (Source Unknown):
6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil(I used butter because I like the flavor better)
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup milk
Salt/Pepper/Butter(I didn't use this butter at the end as instructed, but you might want to)

Saute the tomatoes in the butter or oil until they are tender. Mix the tomatoes with the tomatoes with the chicken stock, and simmer for 20 minutes. Run the mixture through a blender or puree with a hand-held blender.
(My note: This ended up clogging my hand-held blender with pieces of tomato skins, and there were a lot of seeds, so I poured all of this through a sieve to take these out. It seemed less thick after that, but I didn't care because I didn't want to eat that stuff. But you don't have to do this if you don't want to.)
Put back on the heat, and add the milk and a pat of butter. Heat through. (Season with salt and pepper, to taste. If it tastes too acidic or one-note, regardless of how much salt or pepper you add, try adding a little bit of sugar. It really can help balance out the flavors with tomatoes. I remembered this when I was tasting my soup and couldn't figure out how to get it right, and I tasted it again after eating an orange Life-Saver and it made the flavors balance out! It's funny how you discover/rediscover stuff sometimes!)
Makes 4-6 servings.

Next up, is Bangers and Mash, or Sausages and Mashed Potatoes. Except I had some potato wedges left over from lunch and wanted to use them up so I used them instead. I have renamed it Bangers and Wedges, which I think is just as catchy as a name and I'm actually shocked that nobody makes it like this cuz it's really good this way too.

So, the Bangers are just a type of British sausage that aren't a breakfast sausage. They're rather mild-flavored. My store has them in the fresh meat section, and I would recommend looking around for some because any other sausages will have the wrong flavor profile for the dish. These are pretty good sausages, but as far as sausage goes, I have to give the prize to the Germans. Nobody does it better than them. Sorry, Englishfolk, but you're going to have to take second place on this one.

Since the recipe is from an online source, I will provide the link here: Bangers and Mash, but describe my process.

For the mashed potatoes, just make them the way you always do. There's nothing out of the ordinary about them. The recipe calls for you to cook the sausages by pan-frying them, but since they are fresh, I boiled them first. Just pan-frying never seems to fully cook fresh sausages and I am more comfortable boiling them first and then frying them.

I cut the gravy recipe down to 1/4th of the original and it turned out just fine. I also replaced the beef broth with chicken broth and was very pleased with how it turned out. It's a pretty simple gravy recipe, so don't feel nervous about it.
Here was the final result for my soup and main dish:
I tried to follow the advice of my coworker who says his family put slices of cheddar cheese on their soup and used pieces of bread to dip into the soup and cheese, but my cheese immediately sank to the bottom of the bowl. I spent a good chunk of money and bought the good cheese too, but it still sank. It was tasty though!

The meal is a bit monochromatic, I will admit, but the traditional vegetable side dish for Bangers and Mash is mushy peas and I don't eat peas. I think they're gross and I refused to have them on the plate. But, if you like peas, feel free to add them to your plate and I'm sure they'll add a lovely splash of color!

And now for dessert, or pudding. I don't know why these are called Flapjacks, but they are. And I was highly impressed with this recipe too. I found a really simple recipe online, here. And I'm going to be extra mean by not translating the amounts to whatever not-Metric is called. I happen to have an electronic scale that does grams, but they have online calculators too that you can use.
All the magic is done in the food processor. I honestly have no idea what you'd do for this if you don't have one. I would recommend buying one if you don't have one yet. It really is an invaluable kitchen tool. It was difficult to mix everything together because it was pretty full and the butter didn't want to move around. I had to shake the machine while it was running to get it to work and even then it didn't work entirely. I ended up pouring it into the prepared pan and mixed it with my hands before pressing it down.
I baked it for 20 minutes but it didn't seem done at the end of that time so I put it back in for a few more minutes. It was nice and golden by that time.
I scored it before baking, as instructed, by as you can see, they didn't hold up while baking and I had to cut them again. It hardens over time, but is still nice and chewy. Today I tried them but microwaved them for a few seconds first. That seemed to revive them perfectly.

These are awesome! They taste just like oatmeal cookies but without any flour. If there is no gluten in brown sugar or corn syrup, then these are actually gluten-free. If you love oatmeal cookies but can't have gluten, you will love these! You could even put raisins or chocolate chips in these too, if you wanted. In fact, the more I think about it, I think everything in this menu is actually gluten-free. There's no flour in anything, except maybe the sausages. You would have to look at the package, but I think mine had breadcrumbs. They might make gluten-free kinds, I'm not sure. At least the gravy is gluten-free.

I recommend all of these recipes. They are all spectacular! Eat them and then set something on fire!

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