Blueberry Cardamom Scones

I love using herbs and spices in cooking. To me, it is the difference between a good dish and a great one. Likewise, it’s amazing how the same food is completely transformed by the addition of a single fleck or sprinkle from another part of the world.

Bluberry Cardamom Scones

These Blueberry Cardamom Scones are the perfect example of the almost magical power of spices. Most of us will recognize cardamom from our favourite Indian curry or chai tea latte but it is also used in some Nordic baked goods, Middle Eastern spiced tea, and is becoming increasingly popular in fusion cooking. Cardamom is extremely aromatic and has subtle hints of citrus so it pairs really well with anything sweet or savoury that might ordinarily use lemon. Although, it is expensive (much like saffron and vanilla) its intense fragrance means a little goes a long way.

I recently had the honour of talking to a local coffee shop about providing baked goods for their new venue. In my meeting with one of the owners, she specified that they wanted their food to mirror their unique personality; each offering needed to be  different to the usual cafe fare. Unfortunately, I was not able to find the kitchen style necessary for such a commitment but I was left with a surge of crazy ideas that I wanted to test out; one of which was this unusual twist on the classic coffee house scone.

Blueberry Cardamom Scones

1 cup fresh washed blueberries (I don’t recommend frozen as these tend to bleed purple all over the dough)

2 cups of self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup butter

1 egg

1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup milk)

1/3 cup sugar (plus extra for dusting)

1/2 tsp cardamom

Zest from 1/2 lemon

(Note: my experienced baker friends might be confused as to why there is no salt in the recipe but the addition of cardamom makes this step unnecessary.)

Blueberry Cardamom Scones

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix flour, cardamom, sugar together. Rub butter into flour mix until it looks like breadcrumbs. In a separate bowl, whisk together lemon zest, eggs and milk. Add whole blueberries into wet mix. Make a well in the center of the dry mix, and add the egg mixture. Gradually combine all the ingredients with your hand until a dough is formed. (If it seems too dry, add a couple of drops of milk.) Turn out the dough onto a flat surface lightly dusted with flour, and gently form into a flat ball. This is the tricky part. You will need to roll out the dough into a circle about 3/4 inch thick without bursting the berries otherwise the whole thing will turn purple! Slice the dough across (like a pizza) to get 8 triangles. It is important to press and cut straight down with your knife (instead of sliding back and forth) or the scones will not rise during baking. Brush each scone with milk and sprinkle sugar liberally over the tops. Bake for 15-16 minutes until they are golden. Allow to cool completely before serving as the blueberries are full of boiling hot juice.

Blueberry Cardamom Scones

I loved the addition of cardamom and felt that it really elevated these scones from something simple to something spectacular.

Not your Mama’s Tacos!

Taco Mamacitas

My sister-in-law was the first to introduce me to Taco Mamacita in Chattanooga and I’m the kind of person that once I discover something as wonderful as this, I want to share it with everyone.  Three years consecutively I was able to persuade my staff to take them for team celebrations. (One staff member, went back the following three weekends in a row to introduce others to the Taco Mama glory!) We had many a ‘ladies nights out’ with some of my colleagues, several double dates, and numerous times where it was just the hubby and I escaping at the end of a stressful and tiring week. Not only did we want to visit Taco Mamacita this summer while in town because of the great food, but because it is now a place full of precious memories with friends and family.

Taco Mamacitas

Before you write this off as just another taco place, Taco Mamacita is NOT your average Tex Mex, lettuce-filled-soggy tortilla! Neither is it just the best version of the tastiest standard yummy taco out there (although it is that too). Mama is putting some of your favourite foods into taco form. Love Pulled Pork Sandwiches? Try The Memphis with dry rubbed slow braised pork, onions, pickles, jalapeno slaw and BBQ sauce. OR how about the Loaded Gyro with thinly sliced lamb gyro, baja white sauce, peppers and feta. My personal favourites are the California Club (exactly what you might think-a twist on the classic club sandwich) and the Vegetarian Jerk with sweet, fiery, jerk-seasoned plantains and Mango Salsa.

Taco Mamacitas

As well as offering a great regular menu, they have hidden items and chef’s specials on occasion. While we were visiting they were trying out a new taco with duck confit, goat cheese, and cherry pepper relish which was outstanding.

Taco Mamacitas

And then there’s the seasonal Mojitos (virgin available upon request) like blueberry, strawberry and my absolute favourite, blackberry. All made with fresh fruit and muddled mint leaves. Perfect for hot summer days on the patio.

I don’t know that we will find anywhere quite like Taco Mamacita round here in Texas so if you are reading this and get to pass through Chattanooga (or their Nashville, TN or Charleston, SC locations) stop by and order some Mango salsa on my behalf!

Chattanooga’s Julie Darling Donuts

To me, donuts are as quintessentially American as burgers and hot dogs. I know this is not particularly accurate as pastries made from fried dough covered in sugar are prevalent in many cultures but personally I think of the US when I think of donuts. I am sure that it has something to do with their presence in movies and TV shows that aired in England during the 80s and early 90s. (The classic donut-loving-overweight cop joke comes to mind.) And, donut shops were practically non-existent in the UK as opposed to the mass chains and local joints in every town and city in North America. When I arrived in 2003, all I had ever known of donuts were that they were filled with jam and came in packs of 10 at Tescos. Then I was introduced to Krispy Kreme and their hypnotic hot and ready light. (Ironically, a few months after leaving London, a store opened up in my old neighbourhood!) I was hooked for better and for worse; donuts would never be the same for me again and this love affair led me to seek out the best little sugary pillows at every turn.

I had the pleasure of visiting places like Gordoughs Donuts and Round Rock Donuts in Texas earlier this year, both of which were exceptional for different reasons. But for me there is only one donut shop that truly has my heart, and that is Julie Darling Donuts in Chattanooga, TN. Although they did not open until 2010 and were not a formative part of my first USA experiences as a Grad student, I cannot imagine downtown without their charming 50s throwback storefront. 

Chattanooga's Julie Darling Donuts

Not only do they offer the standard delicious flavours but my absolute favorite aspect of Chattanooga’s Julie Darling Donuts is their vast, creative and delicious specialty menu.

Chattanooga's Julie Darling Donuts

Donuts like Coconut Creme Pie, Pancakes and Bacon, Key Lime Pie, and Banana Split

Chattanooga's Julie Darling Donuts

To avoid eating several donuts in one sitting, and in order to be sure we enjoyed our much missed favourites, we had to figure out creative excuses to visit CJDD a couple of times this summer while on vacation in TN. And it was well worth the downtown detours.

Chattanooga's Julie Darling Donuts

Granny’s Apple Pie is exactly as you would imagine with warm spices, a hearty filling and even a little crusty crumb topping.

Chattanooga's Julie Darling Donuts

And the gourmet Oreo; soft, fluffy dough topped with rich chocolate fudge sauce and scattered crunchy creme-filled cookies.

If you ever find yourself in the North Shore/Coolidge Park neighbourhood, seek out Chattanooga’s Julie Darling Donuts on Frazier Avenue and don’t leave without trying their Pancake and Bacon Donuts. (Check their Facebook page before you go as they often have daily specials) You will not regret it!

Used Books and Rain

As soon as we crossed into our home state of Tennessee this summer for a little getaway, it seemed as though the mountains knew family had come to visit and they stood ready to welcome us in their flourishing green Sunday-best, looking more beautiful than ever.  I think both John and I experienced a sense of relief as the feeling of belonging and familiarity swept over us, unmarred by months under the scorching Texas sun.

Our first course of business (after a good night’s sleep) was to venture to our favourite used bookstore, McKay.

photo (1)

I say used bookstore but in truth McKay is an entire warehouse full of organized shelves, neatly overflowing with music, movies, video games and books of all genres at extremely reasonable prices. I remember the first time I walked into this discount treasure trove as a Londoner used to paying extortionate prices for everything! I was fresh off the boat and ran around filling up an increasingly heavy basket until I remembered that I was also a broke student and reluctantly placed each item back on its cozy shelf. Months later, John and I met and our joint obsession with McKay helped fuel our blossoming romance into wedded bliss!

McKay Chattanooga, TN

McKay Chattanooga, TN

Being English Lit, and Biblical Studies Majors, McKay was our weekly drug of choice when we lived in TN. (Which probably explains why we have 6 full bookcases at home!) And although this might be a tad unhealthy, John in particular has saved us a fortune by purchasing his necessary books and commentaries from this musty-paper smelling paradise. During our visit, we were able to sell some items for trade credit (which we immediately exchanged for more books to take home of course!) and left brainstorming how to convince the store owners to add Waco to their list of locations.

Just 5 minutes down the road from McKay is our all time favourite Thai restaurant, Rain Thai Bistro.  Another regular on our date-night circuit, we ordered our much missed dishes and it was as familiar as settling down to a home cooked meal at a family reunion.

Rain Thai Bistro, Chattanooga TN

Although Rain has a pretty extensive menu, sometimes its just the perfectly executed and well flavoured classics you crave like Basil Rolls, Panang Curry and Pad Thai.

Rain Thai Bistro, Chattanooga TN

Rain Thai Bistro, Chattanooga TN

 Rain is not only one of our favourites but everyone we have introduced it to has fallen in love. On a staff outing a few years ago, one of my students had just returned from Thailand and was immediately transported back across the world when our food arrived. As many Thai restaurants as I have tried, few compare to this one so humbly placed in a very unsuspecting strip mall. Needless to say, our first day back in TN was a home run! 

My 10th USAnniversary!

bilbo quote

August marked 10 years since my arrival in the USA and I have found myself reflecting and reminiscing a lot lately. As a result, today’s post is very different than normal as I set the scene for a week of some of my favourite eateries from our summer vacation.

It is still strange to me sometimes when I think about how this little wandering Greek- Cypriot Londoner finally found her home with a tall southern gentleman at the foot of the Smokey Mountains, in a little town just north of Chattanooga, TN. And, little did I know that I would have to leave that majestic view to graze in the flat lands of Texas, just a few years later, while my husband finishes his doctoral work. That is life my friends. You never know how it is going to unravel as each foot is placed in front of the other.  You just move, hoping, trusting, squinting into the distance and believing somehow that you will look back at the end of your life and feel peace with all you have learned and experienced. Even those who meticulously plan 10 years at a time can never truly know what is ahead. I think somewhere deep down that is my favourite thing about life; the mystery. It’s the peace we find when things aren’t as we imagined. The hope, and knowledge, that things can change means we can focus on present moments that are still positive and draw strength for the patience required as we wait for the up and coming. It is also the hope of all the adventure that is yet to come.

 

Ski Lift

In the summer of 2003, when I was still living in London and a month away from moving to the States, I had the pleasure of attending a conference at the ski resort of Pamporovo in Bulgaria. Being July, we were not there to ski but an afternoon outing had been arranged to ride the ski lifts across the beautiful mountains. I learnt something monumental that day as our journey unfolded. The first ski lift at which we arrived was pretty modern with large cushioned seats, a thick strong safety bar that locked into place, and a short little ride to the first mountain. Being slightly afraid of heights, I felt as safe as possible under the circumstances and decided to move with the flow of people making their way to the lift. It was rather quite pleasant as we smoothly sailed up to the tops of the trees, enjoying the crisp summer air, and landed safely on the other side of the valley.  

However, the next ski lift was not as sturdy-looking and a little older than the first. The view from the mountains was stunning and, despite my trembling knees and the strong desire to go back alone, I decided to hop on this next set of ski lifts and just grip the flimsy bar with all my might. As we bobbed along the line, I could not get enough of the natural beauty around me. I have always loved the mountains and these were stunning.

Once we reached the final ski lift, at the very height of the resort, I was pretty mortified at the sight of the contraption that would be carrying us down. The safety bar was a thin rope of metal that came half way across the body, the entire chair was paint pealed and somewhat rusty, and as each empty seat rolled around the top of that highest mountain, it swung wildly, squeaking and taunting its next victim. Even though I could hear my heart pounding in my head, I somehow managed to muster the courage and rode this lift of death to the bottom of the mountain. The view was silently breathtaking and completely distracting from the fear I had initially experienced. It is an experience I will never forget.

Every moment of the journey that day was only visible as I approached each leg and for that, I am so very thankful. If I had seen that final terrifying lift from the beginning, I would have turned around and mulled on back to the hotel with the few others who did not want to go into the mountains. Instead, each stage was revealed gradually and I managed to find just enough courage and strength to get to the next point and experience some of the most incredible scenery. One month later, I arrived in the States for what was to be two short years and here I am ten years later, with so many hill top moments behind me, and still enjoying the ride!

Why do I tell you all this? Because it seems fitting to celebrate my USAnniversary by highlighting the food in a city that became a very significant mountain top for me during the early years of my life in this country. I will be spending this week focusing on the wonderful eateries we love so much in Chattanooga and I truly hope to inspire you to visit this beloved city. Who knows, maybe one of life’s ski lifts will take you there someday too.

chattanooga

The Best Moment Award

best-moment-award

Here are the rules:

1. Display the award logo

2. Link back to the person who nominated you

I was so chuffed to be nominated for the Best Moment Award by Mimi’s Getting Fit. She is truly an inspirational woman who has lost almost 70 lbs in the past year and a half, and has become a tower of physical strength. Her honest look at life, weight loss, food and body image has been such a joy to follow. I highly recommend checking out her story.

3. State 7 things about yourself

1- Although I am not a big Christmas movie person, every year I have to watch Love Actually, and The Muppet’s Christmas Carol!

2- I am in the process of starting up my own baking side business. Lots to still do but I am excited about the journey ahead.

3-I think of London every day. Even though I love my life here in the States and would probably never want to move back permanently, I will always be a Londoner at heart.

4- I am just under 5ft and my husband is 6ft 5! Yes, it’s a big difference but it means I get the best bear hugs! Also people remember us wherever we go and this has lead to all kinds of special regular-customer treatment at various eateries.

5- I have now visited more States than I have countries in Europe.

6- I love Zumba! In fact, I just love dancing in general. Wish I could find a fun night club where people actually go for the music and dancing instead of all the other stuff.

7- I still love McVities Jaffa Cakes after all these years! Despite the fact that I turn my nose up at Little Debbie and Hostess Cakes (sorry US friends!) there is just something so familiar and sentimental attached to those little round chocolate-covered-spongecake buggers! All my baking snobbery melts into a shameful entire-pack-eating binge!

4. Nominate 15 (or however many you can) other bloggers for this award. I have been so blessed to share in the lives of these people as I read about their food, or their stories, creativity, musing, ponderings etc. I hope you will click on the links below and be inspired.

Dreamstate Reality

Mitts and Measures

The Foodies

The Paddington Foodie

Penny’s Food Blog

Life in Golden Light

Pliable

The Payton Periodicals

Ninja Munchies

Boomtown Sisters

Bees C’s and D’s

Tips on Purchasing a Stand Mixer

Purchasing a stand mixer

Earlier this summer, something I have been hoping to happen for a long time finally became a reality. I got a Kitchen Aid stand mixer! For the past 6 years I have been making all my cakes (including wedding cakes!) with my little $15 Black & Decker hand mixer and a variety of large bowls!

Old Faithful

Although this mixer served me well, when it came to large orders, I would inevitable suffer upper arm and neck cramps for several days, and almost always find a spot of frosting splattered up under cabinets or off in the far corners of the kitchen even after extensive cleaning!

Choosing a stand mixer was actually a lot more stressful than I was expecting mostly because I approached this like a lifetime purchase. It has taken me a long time to be able to save up/afford/justify spending the money on a stand mixer and I didn’t want to buy the ‘wrong’ one. So,  I did a lot of research and thought it might be helpful to share what I have discovered for those of you thinking of making such a purchase. Here are the main things you need to decide before you begin:

What do I need it for? yes I know mixing, but mixing what? cakes/cupcakes, cookies, bread, mashed veg? everything? And how much do you want to mix at a time? 1 loaf of bread, 5 batches of cookies, batter for 20 inch cakes? It really makes a difference for the kind of machine you need to focus on. 

How much am I willing/able to spend? yes we would all like to buy the most super-duper machine like the ones in industrial bakeries but how much can you realistically spend for the size of your kitchen in relation to your needs.

On what am I willing to compromise? Just like anything, there is no perfect machine out there so decide what your absolutes are and what you are willing to live without. Have realistic expectations. If you are wishing to start a bread making company, there may not realistically be a home kitchen style mixer that exists to meet your needs.

thinking

These seem like obvious questions but there is so much information out there on mixers that it’s important to be firm on your answers before you begin the process. It can be quite confusing if you don’t have some safe fixed perimeters

Brand names: There are other mixers not just Kitchen Aid and some of them even have slightly cooler features but if you know WHAT you need it for, then you can eliminate some of these options right off the bat. I found some really helpful Youtube video reviews were people did a side by side comparison with kitchen aids and other brands.  This also shed light on some of the  lofty product descriptions that don’t seem to really live up to their promises. Again, those answers will help you get to the right conclusion about which brand- i.e. if your budget is more limited and you just want a mixer for the occasional box cake packet, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t consider a less expensive smaller machine as long as it is good quality.

Which size: There is not a great deal of size variety of other brands so this section really only applies to those who are trying to chose a Kitchen Aid. (Cuisinart have two sizes – big and super large!- so some of this might apply but it’s a much easier choice than the Kitchen Aid machines). So how do you pick between the Classic, Artisan and the  Pro? There are some great YouTube videos and online reviews that helped me figure out which would best suit my needs. (I just searched for Kitchen Aid Mixer comparisons.) For me it came down to the Artisan and the Pro. Again, this goes back to the original questions I had established before researching. For the most part my little hand mixer has been fine for a small mix but what I needed most from a new mixer was the ability to knock out an order of 175 cupcakes for a wedding, or a large batch of royal icing or buttercream. Here are the major features outlined for each kitchen aid mixer size according to what I found:

Classic: Smallest bowl (4.5 qt), no handle on the bowl and doesn’t come with a pouring shield. However, it’s the cheapest at around $230-250 and again if you are only looking for basic mixing capability for single batch recipes, this is a great option. (I actually borrowed my friends Classic for making a large amount of royal icing a few months ago and was really happy with the results- it just wasn’t big enough for my ongoing needs)

Artsian: 5 qt bowl with handle and a pouring shield. Comes in a larger range of colours but is around $100 more than the classic. This seems to be the best kitchen aid deal between the two extremes of the Classic and the Pro. As it’s the most popular, many companies offer special deals at certain times of year.

Pro: 6 qt bowl with much more powerful motor. As a result it does not have a tilting head but a crank shaft handle to lift and lower the bowl itself. This also means it is quite a bit taller than the other two machines and does not fit under all kitchen cabinets. However, if you are into making several bathes of a recipe at one time, or larger tiered cakes, this does seems to be the most ideal machine. The colour options are constantly getting better but can drastically change the price so depending on which one you chose, there may not be as big of a difference with the Artisan. There is a lot of discussion however about how the flat beater doesn’t really scrape the bowl well. There is an additional flat beater you can purchase with little ‘wings’ that seems to solve this problem but it is extra and the reviews were very mixed.

ColoursColour: one of the key appeals for the kitchen aid mixers is the variety of colours and decorative options. Of course, which colour to purchase is entirely up to taste etc but I do have some words of advice- 1: Make sure you see a real life sample of the colour because they don’t all look exactly as they appear on-line. 2: The less obscure, the cheaper. My white pro was $50 cheaper than even the chrome and $100 less than some of the really snazzy ones. (Again this is where those key questions I mentioned at the beginning will be a great help.) 3: If money is an issue, think longevity- yes bright purpley-orange is lovely right now but will you love it for the next 10-15 years, and will it look good in another kitchen if you move?

Refurbished or New?: Refurbished Kitchen Aids are available everywhere and are typically a much cheaper option (up to $100 less) than a new one (although sometimes, you can catch a really good sale that can dramatically reduce the difference). There are a lot of mixed experiences and reviews of refurbished machines so it’s hard to say if this is a better option. Many people seem to have had great success with their’s whereas others have received a machine that is practically broken or unusable. Here is my one piece of advice on choosing to go the refurbished route- go with a reputable seller so if there are any problems you can get a refund easily. It seems that almost unanimously when people followed this guideline, even if their machine was no good, they raved about the customer service. How do you pick a reputable seller?-read lots of reviews!

MoneyWhere to Purchase? This will largely depend on the size, brand etc, there are so many options. Target, Bed Bath & Beyond seem to offer sales, coupons and rebates on Kitchen Aids at certain times of the year but nothing too amazing. (but still a sale is a sale!) Also, these offers tend to be tied mainly to the classic and the artisan. I couldn’t not find anything better than Amazon’s prices for the Pro, plus the seller offered a rebate for a free pasta roller and cutter at that particular time of year. However, with on-line offers, be sure to read exactly what the machine comes with and be careful to notice if the machine is new or refurbished. Sometimes, a particular colour does not come with a specific attachment or pouring shield. Bottom line- it’s not going to be cheap so do a little research but don’t expect to find massive differences between sellers especially with the higher end machines. If you are looking to get this as cheap as possible, be open about the colour- it is the one aspect that makes the biggest difference in price that I could see.

Bread: it seems that almost all the negative reviews I read for every machine was connected to their inability to mix bread either well or without burning out the motor. If you are looking for a machine to make multiple batches of bread, you may have to accept that without an industrial strength machine, this might not be possible. The occasional loaf seems to be fine as long as it’s kept at a lower speed and you are willing to be patient with stopping to scrape the bottom of the bowl.

Take Time and Plan Ahead. I first decided I wanted a mixer over a year ago and was finally willing to take the plunge. I excitedly searched kitchen aid mixer in my browser expecting to click ‘purchase’ within an hour. I was wrong! Like I said, there are so many machines to chose from you need to allow time to research properly and look for the best option and deal. I don’t recommend deciding on a whim or taking on a specific project with the view to have your machine beforehand unless there is plenty of time ahead. I abandoned my first attempts because we found out we were moving to Texas and needed all the extra cash we could find but I began again in April. It took me about a month of casually browsing, researching and window shopping before finally making a purchase and I could not be happier about my machine. It was completely the right one for me and my baking life has become so much easier (and cleaner!).  I mean… just look at how lovely it is sitting there all pretty on my kitchen counter!

My Beautiful Mixer

Good luck and please feel free to ask me any questions or share your stand mixer love below!