English Scone History

Does the idea of the Brexit have you stone cold? No need to worry and be scone cold. Gather you wits about you and have a scone and a cup of tea.

Britain voted out of the EU which means who knows what. Many people are in shock about the decision as I, but we simply have to wait and see what happens. Brexit. Regregexit. What’s nexit? Many will go about as usual. Many people will simply have a scone and cup of tea which sounds like a brilliant idea!

English scones, jam, and clotted cream
English scones, jam, and clotted cream

What exactly are scones?

Scones are a Scottish quick bread which apparently got its name from the Stone of Destiny (or Scone), the place where Scottish kings were once crowned. Scones were originally made with oats and baked on a griddle (girdle, in Scots), but today’s version is made with flour and oven-baked.

The word “scone” according to the Oxford dictionary comes from Middle Dutch schoon(broot) which means beautiful bread. If you’ve ever had a bad scone it is not even close to beautiful, just hard, stone hard if not baked correctly or eaten while fresh.

A tab bit of scone history

Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788–1861) is credited with making scones a fashionable ritual. One late afternoon she ordered the servants to bring some tea and sweet bread including scones. It tickled her fancy so much that she ordered it every afternoon and the daily event became an English tradition known as “Afternoon Tea Time” (precisely at 4:00 p.m.).

Constructing a Scone

Cream before jam or jam before cream? There’s much debate about which goes first, a dispute which apparently divides Cornwall and Devon. The code of behavior according to some etiquette experts is to spread jam on your scone before adding a dollop of cream on top, so when in Cornwall does as the Cornish.

In Cornwall it’s jam first, then cream and in Devon they prefer cream first, then jam.  If you are using a thick cream which won’t easily slip off the jam surface, the Cornish method may work best for you. I’m going to try both methods and if I’ve upset any cream tea experts I wholeheartedly apologize to you in advance.

Update: I prefer the Cornish method of spreading jam and then cream!

Gotta for now, it’s almost tea time. Cheerio my friends and check out my scone recipe coming soon.

Five Reasons to Visit Dordogne France

There are hundreds of reasons to visit Dordogne France, but five that top our list.

Known by its older name, Perigord, Dordogne is France’s third largest region located in southwestern France about a 5 hour drive south of Paris between Lyon and Bordeaux. The Perigord region is full of medieval towns, gorgeous châteaux, prehistoric caves, elite gardens, awesome food and all in and around the spectacular countryside. So don’t delay, visit Dordogne France this year!

There are four major towns are Périgueux, Bergerac, and Sarlat, but don’t stop at visiting those towns and experiencing all that the Dordogne has to offer. When you visit Dordogne France, you’ll pass by many honey-colored stone houses and rich green meadows. Along the way you’ll be reminded why the Dordogne, the rural south-west of France is so loved by residents and tourists.

Here are five reasons to visit Dordogne, France.

  1. Le Châteaux – The Dordogne region has around 1000 castles and exquisite châteaux. Some of the most visited châteaux include the 15th century Chateau des Milandes which was restored by the legendary jazz and singer and actress Josephine Baker.

    Châteaux des Milandes in Dordogne, France.
    Châteaux des Milandes in Dordogne, France. Photo by Manfred Heyde.

    Also, worth a visit is the fortified 12th century Châteaux de Beynac. Set 200 meters high on a cliff that juts out onto the Dordogne River, it was temporarily occupied by Richard Lion Heart. The history alone is a reason to visit as well as the fantastic views of the countryside.

  2. Gorgeous Gardens – When you visit Dordogne France, you’ll see it has its share of châteaux as well as astonishing gardens to match.
    The most famous being Les Jardins de Marqueyssac with numerous perfectly manicured boxed hedges. The gardens overlook the chalky cliffs of the Dordogne offering an amazing panoramic view of Perigord.  Even more amazing than a day trip to the gardens is visiting the magically illuminated gardens during the summer evenings.

    The Gardens of Marqueyssac, Dordogne, France
    The Gardens of Marqueyssac, Dordogne, France. Photo by Lemoussu
  3. Quintessentially French towns – There are three major towns in Dordogne, Bergerac in the south-west, Perigueux further north, and Sarlat in the south-east, but don’t stop at those three. One never tires of visiting any of the towns especially those classified as ‘les Plux Beaux Detours‘ in France, so just look for the label Most beautiful detour in France and you’re on the right track. One city on the detour is Brantôme, also known as the known as the Venice of the Dordogne. A stop at the Benedictine Abbey on the river’s edge and the old stone bridge are well worth the visit. Each village has its own charm so make time to thoroughly enjoy as many as possible.

    Abbey of Brantôme and its bell tower, Dordogne, France
    Abbey of Brantôme, Dordogne, France, Photo by Monster1000
  4. Brilliant Caves – France is peppered with hundreds of caves full of prehistoric art and extraordinary rock formations hidden deep beneath a sea of caverns. At Grotte de Rouffignac, the electric train descends you to complete darkness where you’ll see nearly 100 line drawings and engravings of mammoths, horses, and bison as well as the ‘Great Ceiling’ decorated with 65 animal figures.When visiting Gouffre de Padirac you’ll see nature’s beauty in an underground gorge. After the 99 meter descent (elevator or stairs), you take to a gondola ride to enjoy the beauty of the limestone caves.

    Photo by cave painter
    Photo by cave painter
  5. A Gourmand Experience – I had to save the best for last as without a doubt, Dordogne is a foodie region. It’s the food and wine which draw many people to Dordogne. After all, the region is France’s capital of foie gras, duck, and truffle. Vegetarians, don’t fret, the daily markets in the towns and villages are full of seasonal produce such as walnuts, strawberries, mushrooms, goat cheese (cabécou), and French breads of course.And what better way to enjoy Dordogne’s bounty than with one of the region’s Bergerac wines. The region is one of the few in France that produce nearly as many white wines as red (around 48% versus 52%). The area contains 13 Appellations Contrôlées where Bergerac red wine, Côtes de Bergerac red wine, Bergerac dry white wine, Bergerac rosé wine and Côtes de Bergerac sweet white wines, are grown in the Bergerac vineyards.

    Bergerac white wine, Dordogne, France
    Photo by JPS68

Need another reason to visit Dordogne France? Stay-tuned as we update you on more great things to see and do in Dordogne France.

Frankfurt Street Food Festival

It’s summer, I’m hot, and this foodie is ready to ride up to the Frankfurt Street Food Festival.

Germany’s food truck scene was virtually non-existent until a short time ago. Basically all I could find was a brat and bun truck, a French crepe and Nutella truck, or the occasional vendor selling roasted chestnuts during the holidays. Jeez, what the truck!

I’m not sure why, but food trucks hadn’t quite hit the Germany scene except in large progressive cities like Berlin. The rest of the country’s food truck scene was basically sitting on the Autobahn in a Stau–it just wasn’t moving like in other countries like the U.S. and Thailand.

This weekend it’s a different story in Frankfurt, Germany the multi-cultural economic capital of Europe. The engines are revved up in Frankfurt as over 30 vendors will be rolling out their favorite foods as the city celebrates the first Frankfurt Street Food Festival.

Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival
Street food market during the Yasothon Rocket Festival. Wiki photo by Takeaway.

Head to the Hauptwache, the baroque building that was a former guard-house and the Zell or just follow your nose. The food trucks are lined up, have their coals burning, and are ready to tantalize your taste buds with some mind-blowing unique foods.

To capture the real essence of street food you have to go beyond the norm and offer the people something different and you’ll find it at the Frankfurt Street Food Festival.

Considering this is Frankfurt’s first street food festival, there’s quite a good assortment of trucks offering some savory mouth-watering treats. Black Calamari sandwiches, 24-hour cider marinated beef steak, Surf & Turf burger to name a few. Fancy an Arepa? Maria Maria Arepas makes delicious gluten-free flat bread pocket is filled with naturally raised meat or veggies.

For a global array of food and beverages from artisans head to the Frankfurt Street Food Festival. It runs Friday, July 31 (12:00 – 22:00), Saturday, August 1 (12:00 – 22:00), and Sunday, August 2 (9:00 – 20:00).

Bon appétit my foodie friends!

Let Them Eat Gateau au Chocolat

In an embarrassing moment of weakness, I pressed my nose against the display window in awe of the puffy, flaky, chocolaty, fruity-filled delights. Each individual petite grandiose calorie-laden perfection of sweet goodness had me awe-struck. The goods were delicately placed in a box and ribbon-wrapped awaiting to tantalize some lucky dinner guest. Suddenly I found myself saying “Qu’ils mangent de la Gâteau au Chocolat.”

Delightful French pastries
Delightful French pastries in Alsatian pâtisserie

Let them eat cake” is the traditional translation of the French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“, supposedly spoken by Marie Antoinette when she learned that the peasants had no bread. The history of cake dates back to ancient times and the first cakes were very different from today, they were more like bread or what we know today as Kugelhopf (a yeasty cake).

During those days, cake or Brioche as it was called, was sweetened with honey, nuts and dried fruits were often added. For those times those ingredients were scarce and very expensive which meant making brioche was even more out of the reach for peasants than bread. Thank goodness those days are gone and we can rejoice knowing that with a few simple ingredients, we can make Gateau au Chocolat.

Kugelhopf, a Raisin-filled yeast bread popular in the Alsace region of France.
Kugelhopf, a raisin-filled yeast bread popular in the Alsace region of France.

Ever since vacationing in and around the Alsace region of France, I have a new appreciation for the chocolaty gooey goodness. While walking around French towns and villages, one can’t help but gaze into the windows of a pâtisserie, confectioners or chocolatiers. The lovely little goodies are calling me in, so I hear the request and follow. Before you know it, I’m walking out of the shop with an array of hand-crafted drool-worthy French pastries. Lavish indeed, but so worth it.

I wonder how many years of intense training I’d need to partially master baking and decorating those sweet squares of perfection let alone a Gateau au Chocolat. Probably a lifetime, but au contraire (the opposite). There is something magical about what a little gourmet chocolate, French butter, and a few eggs can do.

I could attempt to make the treats myself, but then I’d have no reason to travel to Alsace. Therefore, I’ll let the experts carry on baking more ultimate French pastries.

French Gateau au Chocolat
French Gateau au Chocolat from Alsatian pâtisserie

A molten cake oozing with warm chocolate.  A rich Gateau au Chocolat that melts in your mouth. A chocolate layer cake smothered with icing. I have no shame. I’m going to spend the holidays baking, buying, and eating rich deserts.

I don’t feel guilty indulging in a slice or two of chocolate heaven, because, if chocolate comes from cocoa beans, and all beans are a vegetable, then eating Gateau au Chocolat is like eating a salad 🙂

Perfecting Paella

Perfecting Paella, pleez!  Is it all in the pan or is there more? If the dish is made correctly, it’s one of the most perfect comfort foods. If made incorrectly, it’s a disaster dish that just can’t be fixed. Maybe that’s why discussions about Paella recipes can go on until the wee hours of the morning, similar to the perfect New Orleans Gumbo recipea post I’ll get to one of these days.

Traditional preparation of paella

Historically, Paella the Spanish rice dish that includes different combinations of vegetables and meats, characteristically seasoned with saffron and good olive oil, originates from Valencia in Eastern Spain and requires the freshest ingredients and the best rice to make it truly wonderful.

Where does Paella come from?

The most common story of paella’s origins is that servants would take leftovers from Moorish royal banquets and cook them over open fires preparing delicious dishes to bring home to their families. Those must have been some seriously delicious leftovers!

The word “paella” may come from the Arab word ‘baqiyah’, which means ‘leftovers’. Some linguists though believe that the word ‘paella’ is derived from a Latin word ‘patella’, which was a flat plate used for religious offerings. So the dish name is actually for the cooking utensil.

What’s required to make an Authentic Spanish Paella?

For hundreds of years people not only argue over the origins, but on the ingredients and the perfect paella recipe since many different varieties of paella are passed on to the family cooks as best kept secrets. This includes for example, the Valencia version where fish and shellfish are an absolute ‘no go’ which makes sense because the laborers of the fields serving at the Moorish royal banquets were far from the coastline.

Therefore an authentic Valencia version never includes fish and seafood, but chicken and rabbit as well as snails and often beans and artichokes. Let’s not stop there, other varieties include Paella de Marisco (Seafood Paella), a vegetarian versions containing hearty white beans, artichokes, eggplant and peppers, or the mixed Valencian Catalonian version.

The Perfect Paella Pan

There are many different ways to prepare paella as there are little fishing villages in and around Spain, but first things first I need a Paella pan and I need it fast. I’m only in Barcelona for the weekend and want to make paella at home this winter.

Traditional Paella Pan
Traditional Paella Pan

I should go to a little Ferreteria (hardware store) to get my Paella pan, but I’ll head to El Corte Ingles, my favorite Spanish department store and ask for a ‘paellera’. I’ll opt for an enameled steel pans made of carbon steel and coated with a speckled black enamel finish. They won’t rust, are affordable, and make cleanup a breeze. It should also be a flat-bottomed pan, which is uniquely made for my modern burner.

If I don’t have luck finding a ‘paellera’ at El Corte Ingles, I’ll just buy a Gucci purse instead and head towards ‘La Boqueria’, Europe’s best food market which has been operating since the 13th century. No, I won’t buy a Gucci purse, that’s just the Diva in me is coming out. I’ll buy a Chanel.  Seriously, at La Boqueria I’m sure to find the pan, the rice, and a place to rest my legs while enjoying Tapas. I’m on vacation after all.

Perfect paella, it’s all in the Bomba

The perfect paella is not only in the pan but the rice they say and namely the Bomba rice, a short grain and pearl-colored round rice. Bomba is ‘the’ supreme rice in Spain, because it absorbs three times its volume in broth (rather than the normal two), yet the grains remain firm and delicious. Since Bomba can absorb much more liquid, it’s hard to overcook it an since I’m new to paella, this is the rice for me.

Bomba rice; Wiki photo by  J.P.Lon
Bomba rice; Wiki photo by J.P.Lon

Bomba rice grows leisurely in the village of Calasparra until it matures. This longer growing cycle produces dehydrated kernels which are ready to absorb the utmost flavors of paella broth. This is my absolute fear, the absorptions process which can be the difference between crunchy or mushy paella. I don’t know how to control the amount of liquid yet, but will soon learn.

Ay, yi, yi! I pray the primrose path to perfecting paella is a perpetual pleasure. 🙂

Just as paella historically melded unique ingredients, the dish is a union of Spain for the dish, the Romans, for the pan, and the Arabs, for the rice. Without the unity of these nations, we’d be living in a world without paella and that would be a pity.