Saturday, 27 December 2008

Christmas Photos!

Here are some photos of my Christmas.

Our Christmas Cake



The smokies before being made into pate.



The pate!



Me cooking...





The meal - fallen upon and devoured in about 30 seconds flat...

Friday, 26 December 2008

Our Christmas

Well, we have had a fantastic Chrstmas - including dinner at the in-laws (my mum-in-law's parsnip gratin is a real favourite of mine - the sweetness of the parsnip and sharpness of the parmesan is a perfect partnership) and Christmas Day at my Mum and Dad's with my Mum's amazing cooking. My Mum is my main inspiration when it comes to cooking. The food itself is very important (and always really good) but also important is the idea that food is also about family and friendship and the social side of things. It is not often we are all together and sharing the traditions we have had for many years, including the food my Mum makes, is very special to me. And despite a house in turmoil due to work getting done on the heating, and my poor Mum having tendonitis, there was still the home made Christmas pudding and cake and all the elements that make up a McCall family Christmas dinner.

And that brings me to 'our Christmas'. Over the years Andy and I have created our own Christmas with a merging and molding of our two Christmas family heritages. So the food reflects both sets of parents and we have crackers and a tree. But we also have our own touches. We always have a Christmas walk once the turkey is in and we have the same wine each year.It's Faustina V Reserva and is around £10-15 and you can get in Tesco. I am sure that wine afficionados will have their view as to whether it is 'good' or 'bad' but we like it and enjoy it.



We also like to just let the day run as it develops, so we get up when we feel like it and laze through the day. And we always take a pic each year of us enjoying our meal.



This year we weren't having Christmas day at home, so we designated Monday 22nd December the Judson Christmas Day. And it is amazing that just by deciding that would be Christmas how Christmassy it felt - as we sat down to dinner I had forgotten it wasn't actually Christmas.

My favourite thing about Christmas is having time to cook dishes that have such a history and emotive effect on people and sharing a meal with the people who know and love you best. Certainly each Christmas dinner this year made me feel very lucky that, despite the no-doubt tricky year ahead, I have the best thing of all - an amazing husband and family who really know tha value of a meal shared and enjoyed!

Christmas!!!



I got 'Nigella Christmas' recipe book! Hooray for Santa!!!

Christmas Lunch



My wee sister Alice and I decided to treat ourselves to Christmas lunch in Dundee before we set off for the Christmas hols. We saw the menu at Chambers Coffee Shop in South Tay Street, a regular haunt, and it sounded really good and also good value for money in these credit crunch times.

We pitched up on Saturday lunchtime and it turned out we were the only ones having the Christmas menue. Having been in during the week when the place was packed with Christmas revellers I can only guess this is because all the work lunches were pretty much finished and didn't occur much on a Saturday! So we had a table for two that stood out with its fancy napkins and Christmas crackers which made us feel quite special!



We went for two courses, so that we could fit in pudding and not over indulge on the starter and also because with an afternoon of shopping planned three courses could have led to us falling asleep in a sated stupor.

Often Christmas lunches resemble school dinners and have little flair. Well, for a small coffee shop we were very impressed by our turkey lunch. It was a rolled turkey breast with stuffing and wrapped in bacon and the meat was very tender. The turkey certainly wasn't dry like you might suspect. The veggies were also good - cooked well and none of the soggy 'sitting in food warmers' effect I have often experienced.

The puddings were worth sacrificing the starters for.My profiteroles were a heady mix of cream, chocolate and light pastry and were much better quality than I have had in eateries professing themselves to be upmarket. Alice had an apple pie with ice cream and looked very happy with her choice.

The staff are also a strong point - being attentive but without you feeling rushed and you get the feeling they really do care that you have a good experience.

So our shopping was well fuelled and I don't think there will be any argument as to where we will be having next years Christmas lunch!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Iris - restaurant review!



Me and my pal Mac went to Iris in Thistle Street, Edinburgh and it was really good. He has already posted about it so I feel bad I haven't caught up yet. We sat on the table in the window on the left.

Iris is new and trendy and we had the whole place to ourselves to begin with - well, it was monday night at 6.30pm. The owner was very friendly though and attentive - and so it didn't feel like we were standing out like a sore thumb.



I had prawns in coriander and garlic and it was amazing. The only downside was that really a chunk of fresh bread would have been excellent to dip in the dressing as it was taste bud tingling good but prawns don't really soak it up. I then had the most succulent and meaty monkfish cooked in red wine. Monkfish to me is the lighter version of steak.It is meaty and requires use of the gnashers but it doesn't make you feel heavy in the stomach and you can be smug that you are eating healthy fish!

Mac had a goat's cheese bruchette to start followed by duck and, because being Scottish no meal no matter how smart is complete without some, chips! Well, posh garlic french fries that I have to say were the best I have ever tasted and I thought Mac was going to keel over with fried carb joy.

One tasty item not on the menu was the rather dashing owner/head waiter type who Mac certainly had his eye on for dessert...

So I would definitely go back to Iris - and really enjoyed my meal and catching up with Mac who is one of my favourite people to go to dinner with.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Turlu Turlu

One of my favourite recipe books is the Moro restaurant cook book. Sam and Sam Clark (yes, they are both Sam's!) restaurant in London produces the cuisine of Spain, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean following the saffron-cinnamon connection in our rather greyer and chillier climes. The robust style of Spanish cooking balances the lighter, more exotic dishes of the Muslim Mediterranean and creates a food experience that is exotic and charming to the palate.

Last weekend I was cooking for veggie friends, one of whom doesn't eat cheese or mushrooms or spinach - so out the window went my veggie mainstay of spinach and ricotta lasagne. Which was a good thing because veggie food is really interesting and just as flavoursome as the carnivorous variety - but for some reason it seems socially acceptable to be lazy about veggie food - and it inspired me to take a look through my Moro cookbook and dig out a new recipe to try.

I found an excellent dish called Turlu Turlu - great name - and the recipe is below with my variations from the original. I have substituted parsnips for turnip and extra peppers and potatoe for courgettes (I found the courgettes at this time of year to be just to insipid and Andy is not a fan of the turnip). The idea is that the veggies are large and chunky - not small wee bits - for both flavour and because you want them to retain their shape through the roasting and sauce process.

2 aubergines - halved then halved again, put in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Leave for 20 mins or while you are chopping rest of veggies then rinse under cold water (stops them getting to soggy)
3 parsnips - peeled, halved then halved again
3 carrots - as above
3 green peppers - de-seeded and cut into chunky slices
4 medium potatoes cut into 2cm cubes - I leave the skins on
Clove of garlic roughly chopped/crushed
1 medium white onion roughly chopped
A handful of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
A handful of roughly chopped coriander
A teaspoonful of coriander seeds
Can of chickpeas, cooked and drained
A bottle of passata
A teaspoon of allspice
Several glugs of olive oil
Rocket and cherry tomatoes

Take the aubergines, potatoes, parsnips, carrots and peppers and put in a large bowl. I sometimes need to use two bowls. Then sprinkle with the chopped garlic, onion and allspice. Glug in some olive oil, enough to coat the veggies. Mix it all up well.

Split between two or three roasting tins. You want an even one layer so they roast evenly and without steaming. Put in a hot oven and roast for 45 mins turning every 15 mins.

Cook the chickpeas then drain. Put chickpeas back in teh pan and add the passata. You want enough that it will coat the veggies but not to make it soupy. It is quite a dry stew you are going for.

When the veggies are done, add the chickpeas and passata and give it a good but gentle mix (don't want to mush up the veggies).

Serve with crusty bread and a light rocket and tomatoe salad.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Coffee and tea



Having just discovered how to post pics - I want to share these. I love coffee and tea and when my Gran died, who was a bit of a tea jenny, I used the money she left me to buy a really nice coffee pot, teapot and sugar bowl and milk jug. I love the shape and the metal pots accompanied with wooden handles. They make a great pot and look pretty too. I am in love with them! They are made by Freud and you can get them from Graham and Green. I got mine from the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre but that might be a bit of a trip!

Funky Carrots


Because of course you always have time to do crazy stuff like this. Mind you, might be good if you have picky kids who don't like eating veggies...check out how at thekitchn.com

cool website

Found this cool site which is just about cool design in every day products...

http://www.happymundane.com/

It's nearly December...

I love Christmas. Not the commercial Noddy Holder version - the mince pies in front of a fire version. I can be quite puritannical about Christmas - we put up the tree and decorations on Christmas Eve and come down on the 6th January. And Andy won't even talk about Christmas until it is December. No crazy and manic present buying - we take one day off during the week and blitz it. I use brown paper and string to wrap the pressies. But when it comes to teh food - I begin to secretly plan meals and lunches and cakes and all manner of luscious goodies in my head. I scour my recipe books and look out old favourites and seek out new taste bud teasers. for those of us who do the main bulk of cooking and baking, Christmas needs to be thought of with a bit of time to spare.

I love looking out the recipes used year on year (mincemeat, stuffing) and discovering new ones (Nigella's christmas ham looks like it will feature this year for the first time). For me Christmas is about spending time with family and friends, being warm and cosy and eating and drinking things that make you warm inside and taste oh-so-good. And that doesn't mean wolfing down several boxes of Quality Street. I mean proper old fashioned Christmas fayre. The things I am thinking about for this year include:

Home made mince pies
Home made Christmas cake with a wee glass of port and some Wensleydale cheese
Chipolatas wrapped in streaky bacon
Porridge with cream and honey (I have porridge for breakie most mornings but this is special for Christmas)
Black Bun
Big chunky broths made from proper stock made from the turkey bones and accompanied by bannocks or soda bread
Hot chocolate with ginger biscuits
And making all the food I usually don't have time to make when I am working

Traditions must be kept. My mum mentioned that she might buy a Christmas cake this year and she got her ear chewed off for it by my sisters and I. My mum's Christmas cake is the best cake ever. It is dark and moist and the fruit is distributed perfectly and you just can't buy what homemade Christmas cake doused in spirits every week tastes like. Anyway, no matter that my mum is a nurse and is busy and has wee brother Theo to look after and the house has the builders in - in the true spirit of Christmas we have ignored all of that and demanded our homemade Christmas cake. You have to understand, it is not that we are extremely selfish and cruel; if there is no Mum's cake then there is no Christmas!

And I love mulled wine. The smell, the warmth, the taste. The mince pie that accompanies it. The feeling of being snug and safe and cared for that you get tucked up in front of the fire after a long walk in the cold, crisp winter air. Sharing this with friends and family. That is what Christmas is to me. And when we have our Christmas dinner and Andy takes our annual 'about to eat teh dinner' picture (laugh if you like, I don't care) and tucks in like someone who hasn't seen food for weeks, I feel that Christmas is complete.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

foccacia

I made this tonight to go with the lasagne - it is in its final five minutes and smells won-der-ful.

3x7g packets of yeast
1oz sugar
1 pint tepid water
1lb strong flour
1lb plain flour
1oz salt
Flour for dusting

Dissolve yeast and sugar in half the tepid water
In a big, big bowl mix the flours and salt
Make a well in the middle and pour in yeast and sugar mixture
Pretend taht your hand is a food mixer and using a circular motion swirl your fingers into the bowl and mix everything up
Make another well and add the rest of the water and mix as above
Empty out onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes - I love kneading - good for stress and arm muscle work out! If teh dough sticks to your hands just rub together with some flour and it will come off. Trying to wash it off will just make it stickier.
Shape the dough into a round and flour the top and score with a knife - place on a floured baking tray and leave to rise for 45 minutes in a warm place. Dough doesn't like drafts so make sure any windows or doors are closed.

While the dough is rising, you can make your topping. This is my current favourite:

Handful of basil finely chopped
Olive oil
Half a head of garlic, crushed
Cherry tomatoes chopped into quarters

Mix the basil, garlic and oil together. You need about 3 times as much oil as basil. Let it steep while the dough rises for the flavours to develop.

After the dough has risen, you need to knock it back. I do this by punching it just cause it is fun! But you can just knead it if you are more ladylike. Do this for about a minute.
Shape into two rounds about 1.5 cms thick.
Smear across the top of the dough the basil, oil and garlic mixture. Then, with your fingers, poke the dough and make depressions in the dough - pop a cherry tomatoe quarter in them. This will help the flavours penetrate the dough and sook up the tomatoe juices.
Leave to rise for another 45 mintes or until the dough is about 3-4 cms high.
Once it has risen, bake for 15 minutes in a hot oven (I use the highest heat on mine) or until golden brown.
Leave to rest for 5 mins before serving.

Making cards

Although this blog is about cooking I like to do other stuff too. I love to make my own greetings cards - although never get enough time to do as much as I would like. So today I am designing samples with my sister Alice for my other sister Emma's wedding. It is lovely but also scary to be asked to do it and so I hope we do a good job.

I need to figure out how to post pics though to show people my cards and cooking creations.

Here are a couple of card craft websites I like to browse and buy stuff from.



Pasta sauce with spinach juice

Pasta sauce with spinach juice!

Spinach is good for you and pricey so I don't like to waste it. If you have reserved the juice the following sauce is tasty with pasta.

1 white onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic crushed or finely chopped
1 pepper - red is good for a cheery colour
2-3 slices of parma ham or salami (leave out if making for veggies)
Dessert spoon of creme fraiche

Saute the onion and garlic until onion is transulcent.
Add the pepper and cook for 4-5 minutes.
Chop up the meat and add in - stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add in the spinach juices, mix and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the creme fraiche, mix and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Cook your pasta as per the instructions until al dente. Remove from the heat, add in the sauce and stir. The sauce should be thin, not gloopy, and coat the pasta. I like to top it off with some parmesan and some cherry tomatoes.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

spinach & ricotta lasagne

I love lasagne - all that golden cheesey crusty top with an oozy filling inside. I love beef lasagne but for something a bit lighter - well, in taste if not in calories - I also like a veggie version. The spinach makes you feel like you are eating something healthy. This version is great for freezing and the quantities given here will make enough for about 10-12 portions. I buy tin foil dishes to make it in and freeze.

Olive oil
One head of garlic crushed
3 white onions finely chopped
Roughly 2lbs of spinach (this seems to be about four bags of supermarket wrapped spinach. It may seem like a lot but spinach reduces hugely when cooked)
Cereal bowl of parmesan
Cereal bowl of mozzarella
2 lbs ricotta
Cereal bowl of parsley
4 eggs
Either homemade or bought lasagne sauce (white sauce)
1-2 packs of lasagne noodles

Wilt the spinach in a pan at medium heat with a glug of oil. I do this in batches - the spinach seems huge to begin with but does reduce down. I then leave it in a bowl to cool a bit and so the juices collect at the bottom. You want to drain the juices or else the lasagne will be too wet. However, if you want to be good, keep the juices and make a pasta sauce with them for the next night (see next post).

Saute the onion and garlic until onion is translucent. Then add in the spinach and half the parsley and mix up well.

Mix in a bowl the ricotta, eggs, left over parsley and two thirds of the parmesan.

In your dish (or dishes) layer as follows:

Sauce
Noodles
Spinach mix
Mozzarella
Sauce
Noddles
Ricotta
Spinach mix
Sauce
Noodles
Sauce
Parmesan

Bake ina hot oven for 45 minutes covered with tin foil then a further 10-15 uncovered. The top should be golden brown and bubbling.

If you are freezing, make sure you let the lasagne cool completely.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Bonfire Night

I rushed back up to Dundee on Wednesday so I could see the fireworks with Andy and my sister as we have done for years now - working in Glasgow wasn't going to stop me! And, of course, a hot, comforting supper for us to come home to was top of the priority list. As I was on the train Andy grilled up some sausages and when I got in we put baking potates in the oven to cook while we were out.

The fireworks were great - although walking through the dark in the dark was quite a challenge! And the night was cold but not bone achingly cold - just enough to give us an appetite and appreciate central heating.

Once home, I cut up the sausages and stir fried them with red onion, red pepper and two large potobello mushrooms. For the last minute or so I threw in some cherry tomatoes - I love warmed tomatoes and they provided a juicy addition to the rest of the ingredients. I then served this as the filling to go with the potatoes and a tray of chutneys and relishes. It was a lovely warm dish to tuck into after the bonfire and fireworks.

It also reminded me how good baked potatoes are when they are done properly. One of the things that really annoy me is when cafes or pubs serve half cooked or microwaved baked potatoes. A baked potatoe needs to be fluffy on the inside with a lovely crisp skin on the outside. Don't serve me a baked potatoe that looks like it has been boiled! And I have nothing against blasting it in a microwave to cut down on the cooking time but at least finish it in the oven to give it that oven baked flavour. And if the cheese isn't melting as soon as it hits the tattie then it isn't cooked and shouldn't be served - I have been served it this way so many times I now very rarely order baked potatoes when I am out and about. Well, that is my rant over - viva la baked tattie!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Toad in the hole

Today has been really cold, rainy and blustery. I braved the weather to go the gym so feeling fairly saintly but now just want to curl up in front of the fire with some warming winter food. I haven't made toad in the hole for a long time and Andy suggested it. Sausages, gravy and yorkshire pudding - perfect for a wintery dinner. This is my way of doing it - the first time I made it I didn't have an actual recipe to hand so made it up - so it probably isn't the 'right' way to do it but it works for us.

Ingredients

Six good quality sausages
4oz strong plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 large egg
300ml/half a pint of semi skimmed milk

Grill the sausages
Put all of the other ingredients in a bowl and beat until bubbles appear. To see the bubbles pause every so often and watch to see if they rise
When the sausages are done, heat dripping in a roasting tin in the oven. Leave the sausages to cool slightly
When the dripping is piping hot, add the batter and then add the sausages
Cook for about 30-40 minutes or until the pudding has risen and is golden

Serve with any of the following:
Tatties roasted or baked
Green veggies like peas and broccoli
Mashed tatties
Green and red cabbage

Some folks put the sausages uncooked into the batter. I prefer to grill them first because it gives them a good crackling skin all round and also makes sure they are heated all the way through. If you like a lot of pudding around your sausages then the pudding can be cooked but not the sausage all the way through.

I usually use a roasting tin but tonight in Tesco I spotted a metal lasagne dish which I am going to try. It is a bit smaller than a roasting tin which should mean I will get a better 'bottom' to my pudding and high sides so the pudding can rise with some support. So keen to see how it will work out and if my theories will be proved right or not!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Jamie Oliver and his food crusade

You know, some people hate him and other love him - and today Jamie Oliver is in the Sunday Herald talking about his Ministry of Food project. Well, I like his recipes but at the same time can only take the chirpy chap for so long but one thing he said hit home. And that is that nowadays sitting down and eating dinner as a family at the table is seen as 'middle class'. I don't know how true that is but if there is any grain of truth in there it makes me worry. Along with everyone else there are times when flopping in front of the tele with a pizza is exactly what you need but since when did tables become middle class? I mean, I can see that owning microwaves and having a TV in every room could be seen as the trappings of the middle classes, where every kid has their own bedroom and box to sit in front of to have their tea.

If anything sitting round a table would be, to my mind, working class. Although I concede if the table is half the length of a football pitch and has more cutlery than John Lewis on show then it may be more upper class. But your basic kitchen table and eating your weekday meal - I don't get it. Then again, my family always had tea at the table, but we are a talkative lot and while we like our tele we are all so keen to tell everyone about our day that the tele is in a losing battle. Unless Corrie Street is on in which case my Mum demands silence.

In our house the kitchen was and still is the hub of the house. It's where all the action is. And, in these credit crunch times, doesn't it make sense to have your tea in teh warmest room in the house, toasty from eth oven and hob being on the go?

Well, whatever 'class' dinner round the table is now a part of my own thought is that sitting at the table for tea is, for me, definitley a good thing. Life is so busy that sometimes we forget to take some time to just sit and savour our food and find the time to catch up with one another. Some nights we sit down to dinner and are still yabbering on long after the meal itself has been devoured. We get to really talk with one another. And, of course, we are often talking about what we have eaten, gluttons that we are, but we are also talking about all the wee things that otherwise you wouldn't say because of time and other pressures.

Mind you, I love a night in front of the TV as much as anyone and I can remember my Mum making us our 'Saturday Night Tea' which would be something like egg and chips or macaroni cheese, and we would sit in front of the TV to have it. I stil like to do that too.

So a wee ramble from me and a plea for everyone to have their tea at the table once a week or so. It's amazing what good company your family can be and how much funnier and more interesting they are than whatever third rate soap is on (of course, I do not include River City, shining beacon of Scottish talent and all round modern Shakespeare, in that assessment!). And if that makes me middle class then for once maybe they are right!!

No time for cooking!

I have started a new job and it has all been so busy that I have had little time to cook and have left most of the cooking duties to Mr Judson recently. But now I have moved my weekday lodgings to coincide with my new job I am hoping to have more time.

I did cook some salmon last week for Sunday dinner as a way to treat Andy. I just baked the salmon with olive oil and seasoning and made some sauce using creme fraiche and pesto and served it on spinach stuffed pasta. Pretty simple but tasty and healthy (well, almost).

Today I made some rock buns to take down to the pool where dive training was taking place - and I made enough for Andy to have during the week to keep him happy. Andy and I both do scuba diving with Dundee University Sub Aqua Club (DUSAC). When diving food is very important so when I next go diving will post on that!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Lemon sole, red onion and baked potatoes

Last night I made a new dish - pan fried lemon sole, red onion gratin and garlic and lemon baked potatoes. I was really in the mood for some fish - I wanted a light but tasty Sunday dinner that gave me some vitamins and was fairly healthy. I started a new job this week and it threw me out food wise and instead of taking in food I was indulging in a lot of M&S lunches so felt I needed to make up for that!

Onion Gratin (based on Jamie Oliver recipe)

Take four red onions, quarter them and then flake out the layers into an oven proof dish
Slice up four cloves garlic and add to onion along with some olive oil, a glass of white wine and some salt and pepper
Mix together, cover with tinfoil and put in the oven to roast until soft (approx 45 mins)
Take off foil and allow to roast until they start to caramlise
Then add four tablespoons of creme fraiche, a small cupful of gruyere cheese and a small cupful of parmesan
Roast until all golden and yummy looking (very techy terminology here!)

Lemony, garlicky baked potatoes

As many potatoes as people pricked with a fork and wrapped in foil
Bake in oven until cooked through (medium ones will take 50-60 mins)
Remove foil and bake until skin is nice and crisp
Take potatoes out the oven and allow to cool for about 10 mins
Cut potatoes in half and scoop out the insides into a bowl
Add some olive oil, a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves and the juice of half a lemon
Mix up then add milk as needed to make lovely silky mashed potatoe
Spoon mashed potatoe back into the skins
You now have two choices:

1. Leave the halves apart and top with sliced tomatoe and cheese and bake until golden on top
2. With the cheese in the red onion you may feel more cheese is too heavy. In which case press together the halves of potatoe to make 'whole' potatoes again and bake for another 10 minutes. If the halves won't stik together knit them with a coktail stick!

I did the 2nd option and they were really light, fluffy and zesty.

Lemon sole

Take as many fillets as there are people
In a dish give a quick salt and pepper to the fillets then dust with flour
Gently shake off any excess flour
Heat oil in a frying pan
Fry skin side down until the skin is crisping then flip over to cook for another 1-2 minutes or until cooked

Serve with glasses of the white wine you opened earlier and enjoy!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Doric Tavern

On Wednesday I had dinner with my friend Mac at The Doric Tavern on Market Street, Edinburgh. It is just across from one of the entrances to Waverly Station which was great for me as I was going back to Dundee - it's a good place to meet up if train travel is involved. The Doric serves traditional Scottish food in paired back surroundings that reflect the history of the building and with none of the usual kitsch tartan-shortbread trappings you often get in restaurants that deliver traditional Scottish food.

I had the Cullen Skink for starters and Mac had a pear and wlanut salad that looked very tasty. I had never had Cullen Skink before and was a bit worried at the idea of a soup based on fish and dairy. But it was light and the fish was chunky and not too overpowering. Next, Mac had haggis, neeps and tatties which were served in the old fashioned trimuvirate of scoops - albeit almond shaped ones. But sometimes old Skool is what you want and certainly Mac seemed quite happy with his choice. I had a goats cheese and beetroot salad which was lovely - just the right balance of cheese, beetroot and salad leaves. Of course, I had to balance the salad by ordering a side of chips - chunky wedges that were perfect to satisfy the craving for carbs I had. I am sure many diners who consider themselves sophisticates in the arena of food would balk at my behaviour but what is food if not something to enjoy?

So - a good meal and fabulous company made for an excellent evening!

Friday, 22 August 2008

nick nairn cook school

When we are in Tesco we sometimes browse the recipe book selection and a week or so ago saw this book at a good price and decided to give it a shot. I haven't ever used a Nick Nairn recipe before and we both liked the look of the section on techniques. It doesn't just explain the techniques in text but has very good accompanying pictures for each step. I mean, unless you have been shown how do you know what egg whipped to a 'ribbon' state looks like?

So, with my birthday coming up Andy perused the recipe book and suggested he make the flourless chocolate cake. It involved whipping up egg whites and then egg yolks with sugar - using seven eggs no less - and folding in melted chocolate to make the cake. The cake is a strange one because it rises hugely and then when you cool it it collapses in on itself - usually you don't want a collapsing cake but for this one the idea is to make sure through all your whipping and gentle folding that it rises high with even air bubbles and then collapses gradually and evenly until you get a light, moist and rich sponge that is between a mousse and a dense choclate sponge.

Well, I have to say I would have been fairly daunted by this and, while there were a few exclamations at points during the baking, Andy turned out an amazing cake that was choc cake heaven! He served it with creme fraiche and ginger sauce which really complemented the Green & Blacks dark chocolate used in the cake. What more could you want - a husband that makes amazing chocolate!!

Mason and Cash mixing bowls

One particularly important piece of equipment for me is the mixing bowl. I like a traditional Mason and Cash mixing bowl - the ceramic ones with a cream inner and darker cream/mustard outer side. I like the weight they have so they don't go skiting off the surface and they are good for keeping your mixture cool. Plastic I don't mind for things like tossing veggies in olive oil before roasting but I don't like the idea of using them for other stuff. You can get them from John Lewis or from M&C direct. I think it is important to find what works for you and then you will be more inspired on those days when you woudl like to make a victoria sponge but aren't quite managing to move your body and do it. Knowing you have good, fail proof equipment that you enjoy using can make all the difference. But then, maybe it is just me who creates relationships with inanimate objects!!!

Utensils

Everyoen is different and so I don't really go in for those lists of utensils you must have if you are going to be a good cook. But I do like hearing about what others couldn't live without in case it gives me inspiration and I love browsing the Lakeland Limited catalouge for that tool you can't imagine you could now live without.

I am quite an intuitive cook - usually I judge whether the cake or roast is done just by looking at it and relying on my internal clock (I can't turn up on time for anything to save my life but for some reason the lack of time keeping skills doesn't stretch to the kitchen). But, I got this wee cake tester skewer from Lakeland that is in fact very useful in case you are making a recipe for the first time and just want that assurance it is baked/cooked all the way through. The tip turns red when your food is done which is handy if you are making a much bigger roast than usual and are not quite sure if your guesswork is going to prevent upset tummies later on.

I also got the Kenwood Flexible Spatula - I hadn't used a spatula since living at home and used wooden spoons instead and I had forgotten just how much more cake mix you can ensure ends up in the cake and not the sink with a spatula.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

A few days ago I attempted to make for the first time a lemon drizzle cake. I really like lemon cake, particularly after a heavy meal. It is cakey and dessert-like but the lemon gives it a freshness and zing that makes it seem light and almost healthy as a choice (even though I imagine it isn't!).

One of my favourite cookbooks is 'The Complete Farmhouse Kitchen Cook Book'. My mum gave me an old copy she had and it has been a regular source of good recipes and old favourites. So I used the recipe on page 322 which was really easy to do and produced a really good cake - the only thing I felt was that there was a bit too much syrup for my liking - it made the cake almost too lemony so next time I will probably half the quantity.

Tangy Lemon Cake
Ingredients

125g/4oz butter
175g/6oz caster sugar
Grated rind and juice 2 lemons
2 beaten eggs
175g/6oz self-raising flour
A little milk
50g/2oz granulated

Method

1. Cream butter, caster sugar and lemon rind until fluffy
2. Gradually beat in eggs
3. Mix in flour and add about 4 tbsp milk to soften mixture - should be soft enough to drop off end of spoon when shaken gently
4. Grease a 1kg/2ib loaf tin
5. Bake in a moderate oven, Gas 4, 350F, 180C, for 45-50 minutes until risen and golden, firm on top and shrinking from the sides of the tin
6. Just before cake is ready to come out of the oven, prepare the lemon syrup. Heat lemon juice and granulated sugar gently until sugar is dissolved
7. As soon as cake is out the oven, while still in the tin, pierce top all over with a skewer and pour over the syrup Leave in the tin until cold.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Boiled Egg Sandwiches

Yesterday I had out in a good session at the gym and was looking forward to some salad and fruit for lunch sitting in the sun. But instead the rain came down and rather than summer it felt like winter. So, instead of healthy but cold salad I made a favourite treat that was warming comfort food. I took an egg and boiled it and when it was done scooped it out into a cup and mashed it with salt, pepper and a knob of butter. I then slathered it on a toasted white roll and ate it with a hot cup of peppermint tea. It was delicious! Much better for curling up with a book and watching the rain come down than a salad!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Blue Bowl

I have lots of crockery and cooking equipment in my kitchen - bowls, jugs, plates etc. Some is cheapo 'when I was a student' stuff and some, like my royal doulton and midwinter dinner services, are very expensive. But there are some pieces I have that are special not because of their cost or what brand they are but because they have sentimental value or are perfect for a particular kitchen activity.

I have a small studio ceramic jug that is used for measuring rice because a jugful is exactly what we need for two. It is also great for measuring milk when making doughs and batters. It isn't a measuring jug, its just that it is the right size for what I need it to do. And I have a wooden spoon that is my 'porridge' spoon - it is the right size for my smallest saucepan and is the one I always use.

Well, today I broke one of my blue earthenware bowls. I got given two blue bowls wth matching squat chubby mugs by my Aunt Rose when Andy and I were first engaged made in Arran. I don't know which pottery although now I have broken one I wish I did. The bowls were used for our breakfast because they are just the right size for Andy's muesli and my porridge. I have a thing about bowls - it is really difficult to find a breakfast bowl that isn't either too shallow (so the milk etc splashes about) or too deep (and your food seems to disappear into a bottomless pit). And these bowls were perfect. Anyway, I broke one today and it made me feel quite upset. I have my breakfast in it every day I am in Dundee.

I don't know if other folk also feel this way about what are inanimate objects but when you have found a piece of kit that does exactly what you want it to do and then it breaks or is lost for me that is unsettling. I guess we will now fight over who gets to use the left-behind bowl.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Carrot Cake

And just as I have been thinking about carrot cake and polishing off the last slice today I saw this recipe on the Guardian website.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Special Tuna

I found this recipe today when I was looking for inspiration for healthy stuff I can take to work or eat in Ediburgh. The holidays have seen a slight tightening in the waistband so some healthy eating is in order (particularly if I make anotherc arrot cake next weekend). This recipe is from my friend Shona who finds it difficult to eat wheat and dairy and uses that storecupboard favourite - tinned tuna.

Ingredients

Tin of tuna drained (friendly to dolphins only!)
1 pepper chopped finely
1 red onion chopped finely
2-3 carrots shredded
2-3 tsp of tomatoe puree
2 tsp pesto (whatever type takes your fancy)
salt and pepper to taste
Cheese to top if you like - mozzarella or parmesan is good)

Method

Combine tuna and veggies in a bowl
Add pesto and puree, mix, then season to taste
Leave for 15-20 minutes to let flavours settle and infuse
Can be served hot or cold, with a baked potatoe, in a sandwich, with pasta (wheat free if you need it), rice and as a side. Great for lunches along with some bread/roll.

I sometimes double the quantities so I can have it for dinner and then for lunches for a couple of days.

Rock Buns

These are simple little cakes that can be made up really quickly if you have folk coming round at short notice for a cuppa and want to give them something homemade instead of out of a packet. Also, although they are past their best after 2-3 days, for those who can't see good food going to waste, if warmed up in the oven and spread with butter they make a good snack for supper. These are my husband Andy's favourites - he likes to take one in with his lunch to work!

Ingredients

8oz s/r flour
.5 tsp salt
4oz firm margerine
3oz caster sugar
3oz currants (or any dried fruit you like)
1 beaten egg
2 tbsp milk

Method

Put flour and salt in a bowl
Rub in margerine (or use food processor for ease)
Add sugar and fruit and mix
Mix to stiff consistency with milk and egg
Grease a baking tray and 'plop' the mixture on using two milk-dipped forks - the buns are meant to be all rough and pointy
Dredge with caster sugar (this 'fixes' the buns, otherwise they will spread out into one another across the tray)
Bake for about 12-15 mins, gas 7, 425f, 220c or until firm and golden
Cool on a wire rack for a couple of minutes - but they taste good warm out the oven so have a pot of coffee or tea ready so you can indulge!

Thursday, 31 July 2008

In my larder - wholegrain mustard

I love wholegrain mustard - it is a very versatile ingredient and it sprang to mind because I ran out a few weeks ago and realised what an essential it is. Some of the things I use it for are:

On roast beef or ham sandwiches - yum
To add to chilli con carne, my chicken tortilla recipe, beef stews, sausage casseroles, tomatoe pasta sauce (you don't taste teh mustard so much - more it deepens the tomatoe flavour)
With creme fraiche makes an excellent sauce for over steak or beef sausages
With olive oil and some balsamic vinegar makes a fab and quick basic salad dressing
Mixed with olive oil and then used to dress potatoe wedges before cooking - gives them a kick and bite

Perfect store cupboard ingredient!

Other blogs

More blogs!

My main cooking geographically speaking is either old fashioned Scottish/UK or Italian but I also like exploring what other cultures have to offer. One of my good friends, Kirsten, married a South African guy called Jason (their wee boy Jonas is my godson and he is a right wee cutie). Jason held braai's (BBQs) when they lived in Dundee and so we got to try out some SA style dishes. I have found a blog called Vanielje Kitchen and one called CookSister both of which are about women who come from South Africa and you will find SA recipes there. I will definitely be exploring for some good recipes on their blogs.

Other blogs

I have spotted two blogs recently that I liked. The first is one that focuses on three things particularly close to me heart - it is called 'The 3 R's - Reading, Ranting and Recipes'. Lelo's cold chicken pie looks particularly tasty.

The other blog is called 'Portobello Kitchen' and focuses on Tessa cooking from ingredients she gets from the Portobello market which is right on her doorstep. I can't imagine how wonderful it must be to have such a market right there and ready to be explored - I am very jealous! I like the trout and beetroot recipe on the front page at the moment - haven't tried it yet but it looks amazing.

The only thing better than making food yourself is reading about and blogs are a great way to find tips and hints as well as recipes developed by home based foodies that often throw up something new and tasty to try.

Carrot Cake

After trying the excellent carrot cake in Sherlock's in Whitby I thought I would give making it a shot. I have never made carrot cake and so I had a search on the UKTV food website and got a recipe from Roopa Gulati that looked easy enough for a beginner. The recipe is good and the cake itself was very tasty. However, I ran into the issues I often do when using recipes and following them to the letter - that they don't always adhere to the instructions! The recipe said 20-25 minutes for cooking and but in my fan oven it took 50 minutes and teh last ten minutes I put the temp up. So next time I will adjust the time. Also, the icing was 'gloopier' and ran quite fast when icing the cake and I think needs more icing sugar. But none of these things is a criticism in a negative way. The thing I like about cooking is discovering something new and then adapting it to your kitchen, oven and tastes. So, we will polish off this first attempt and then next weekend I will 'refine' the recipe with my own additions and then post about whether it improves it or not. This to me is teh exciting bit, going on a wee adventure with ingredients and the like and developing a recipe that is yours and suits your needs and tastes!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

A sandwich to try

I haven't tried this yet but intend to over the weekend - I got it from the Channel 4 website - it sounds great:

Makes 2
Ready in 20 minutes
Advertisement
Ingredients

* 4 slices white bread, freshly cut from a round country loaf
* 4 tbsp good-quality fresh pesto
* 150g Taleggio cheese, cut into slices
* 50g SunBlush tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
* Good handful wild rocket
* 4 slices Parma ham or pancetta
* 2 medium eggs, beaten
* 1 tbsp olive oil

Method: How to make the ultimate summer sarnie

1. Spread 2 slices of the bread on 1 side with the pesto. Top with the Taleggio cheese and scatter with the SunBlush tomatoes, followed by the wild rocket. Sandwich together with the remaining bread slices and squash down slightly. Wrap 2 slices of Parma ham or pancetta around each sandwich.

2. Soak each sandwich in the beaten egg for 3 minutes each side.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium-low heat, add the sandwiches to the hot pan and fry for 6 minutes, turning halfway, until the Taleggio is melting and the Parma ham or pancetta is golden. Transfer to kitchen paper to drain.

4. Cut each sandwich in half and serve with plenty of napkins.

It sounds mouthwatering and even if I don't get a chance to try it out this weekend wanted to keep a note of it and share it.

Holiday to Robin Hood's Bay

I have been on holiday the past week with my sisters and brother and the assorted partners. Seven folk in all made for a fun and busy holiday! Of course, for me one of the great pleasures of a holiday is the food - eating out, picnics, the excuse to eat bacon butties every morning all add up to make a holiday good fun.

We rented a self catering cottage called Hill Cliff which was a great place to stay. I like to self cater because it means you can use the local produce to cook with and makes a change from eating out the whole time. We got old yorkshire chutney from a shop called the Shepherd's Purse in Whitby which went on our picnic sandwiches and, a taste of home, found Fife strawberries in the Co-Op for pudding. We had fish and chips in RHB and in Whitby. But two highlights for me were discovering Sherlock's in Whitby and going to Betty's in York.

Sherlock's

There is nothing I like more than a good old fashioned cafe that does tea and coffee and excellent cakes. Unfortunately, our tyre had a puncture and we had to get it fixed so on the second day Andy and I left early to find a garage with the idea being we would meet up with the others in Whitby. Well, misfortune turned into good fortune. Having left the tyre to be fixed we headed into Whitby and because we were early decided to find a cafe to have a cuppa in. I bought one of those tourists maps and saw that the Flowergate and lots of cafes on it so we took a stroll and found Sherlock's.

As you can tell from the title, there is a strong link with Sherlock Holmes - but not in a plastic-themed way. This cafe is panelled in dark wood with shelves of leather bound volumes and tables and chairs that are olde worlde and mismatched in a quaint way. What really took our breath away were the cakes on display in the window - absolutely saliva inducing.

We popped in and I had toast and butter and tea (teapot was excellent) and Andy had a scone and a coffee. All were lovely with good prompt service. We were so taken with the place that we returned the following morning for breakfast where we sampled teh smoothies - fresh made and tasty - and the next day for cake. The lemon cake tasted like the lemons had been picked the day before and the carrot cake was moist and had a cinnamon flavour that complemented the carroty-ness wonderfully. Each time the service was consistent and all of our orders were perfect. It is not often I can 100% recommend somewhere but I can with Sherlock's.

Betty's

Anyone who has been to York or visited yorkshire will have heard of Betty's - and it is an institution well worth it's reputation. The cafe and tea rooms opened in 1919 and serve beuatiful cakes, small bites and afternoon teas. You usually have to queue for a table but it is well worth it. The tea room has kept its art deco style with elegantly mirrored walls and displays of teapots throughout the ages.

While everyone else had tea/coffee and a slice of cake, Damian and I opted to share an afternoon tea. It was exquisite. It came on a three tiered cake stand with ham and chicken sandwiches, scone, jame and cream and a selection of three cakes. The sandwiches were lovely - the ham was what I call 'real ham' - not your processed slices but proper ham, and the chicken was evidently actual roast chicken. The scone was light and fruity and delicious and teh cream was clotted and thick and silky. The wee cakes were a treat - a slice of fruit cake, a lemon Madeleine style cake and a profiterole. All were just perfect and we really enjoyed them.

And for the others, their cake portions were very generous - I hate a skimpy slim serving of cake. Alice had fruit cake and Wenslydale cheese - three lices of cake accompanied with three pieces of cheese. And Andy's ginger cake was two generous slices of a ginger loaf. The ginger was sticky and in good sized chunks. If you are in York I would definitely visit Betty's. It is a bit pricier than other cafes but it is absolutely worth it.

Sausages

I love sausages - with mash, in a roll, with breakfast or in pasta sauces and stews. This meal is one that is tasty and easy to do and also looks impressive.

Ingredients

Good quality sausages, 3 per person (from your butcher or when I am lazy from the Tesco Finest range. I particularly like pork and chilli ones and sometimes I try and get a variety of flavours to give the dish a bit more interest)
Red onions, peppers, portobello mushrooms, baked potatoes - 1 for every two people
Cloves of garlic
Wholegrain mustard

Putting it together

Grill the sausages and then keep them warm in the oven. I don't have a separate grill and oven so this is how I have to do them. I like the skins quite crispy and this also helps with the way it is served later on.

Slice the baked potatoes into wedges and toss in some olive oil and, if you want to add a bit of bite, some wholegrain mustard. Place on a baking tray in a hot oven and roast for 35-40 minutes or until tender on the inside and a bit crispy on the outside.

Slice the red onions into quarters, peppers into large strips and place them on a baking tray with the mushrooms. Drizzle with olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Add some garlic cloves to roast too. Place on a baking tray in a hot oven and roast for 20-25 mins or until cooked.

Now, you can just sling this all on a plate and it will taste wonderful and everyone will be happy but if you want to be a bit posh I do the following. Take the sausages and cut lengthways on the diagonal. Set aside. Take the roasted veg out of the oven. Place a mushroom in the middle of each plate and pile on the red peppers. Surround the mushroom with the potatoe wedges and then take the diagonal cut pieces of sausage and layer over the peppers. To finish, place the red onions like a garnish and drizzle over the juices from the baking tray. This makes a posh looking presentation of the food on the plate and despite it taking no time or skill at all will impress your guests!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Random thoughts on tea

I am what some call a 'tea jenny' - jenny being scots for 'a lot of something' and means I like to drink a lot of tea. I reckon I drink about 10 cups of tea a day. I used to drink only normal tea - with Yorkshire Tea or Twinings English Breakfast being my bags of choice. The past few years I have become addicted to peppermint tea after drinking it when I was ill with a bad stomach. Peppermint tea is really refreshing and can be drunk hot or cold. This means that when I am at work and forget about my cuppa, it is still good to drink when cold!

I can be quite particular about my tea. I prefer it made in a tea pot although when just making it for myself this seems a bit of a palaver so I make it in the cup (very bad practice). At work I have a one cup teapot that sits on top of a matching cup. It is white with brightly coloured spots on it. When making tea from a pot I warm the pot first - you have to take the chill off it else your tea will cool too quickly. And if I have time I also warm the cup.

Not everyone feels the need to eat something along with a cuppa but I come from a family who loves a wee biscuit or nibble with their tea. I love jaffa cakes although I prefer Tesco blue strip ones. Yes, the cheapest jaffa cakes you will ever find - but the cakey base is a bit crisper and I can get a bit of bite out of it. I love ginger and two nibbles I like are Anna's Ginger Thins, swedish style biscuits. They aren't always easy to get a hold of although deli's often do them, as does Ikea. My second ginger delight is Border's Dark Ginger biscuits - mmmm. They are pricey at £1.55 a box for ten but they are very much worth it. The dark choc and ginger combo works a treat and rather than the usual dry, dusty gibger effect you get from a lot of ginger biccies these ones are moist and chewy.

My favourite teapot is one that I bought with money left to me by my Gran - who was the tea jenny queen so it is quite fitting - made by Freud. It is metal with a wodden handle and is round with a spout that makes it look like a wee pig. It keeps the tea piping hot and it makes the best cuppa. It is hard to put your finger on it, but the right cuppa has a taste all of its own.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Guacamole

I love homemade guacamole - shop bought really isn't the same.

2 avacadoes
3 cloves of garlic
olive oil
lime juice

1. Cut the avacadoes in half and remove the stone and remove the skin. I don't know how the professionals do it but I slide my thumbs in and under the skin. Messy, but easiest way.
2. Peel and crush garlic. Put gralic and avacadoe into a sturdy bowl.
3. Add olive oil and lime juice. You want enough oil to make it more of dip and lime juice to taste - it cuts through the creaminess of the avacadoe nicely. It also delays the avacadoe browning.
4. Take a fork and break up and mash the ingredients together. If you like it smooth you can process but I like it rugged and chunky.
5. Add pepper and salt to taste and serve with the tortilla recipe orwith your favourite crisps to dip in front of the TV or a movie.

Chicken Tortillas

I don't know whether this is authentic or not cause I made it up but it is one of my husbands favourite meals. We had it last night for the first time in ages and I had forgotten how good it is.

tortilla wraps (I used Tesco organic ones - lovely and soft)
chicken breast - 1 per person
1 red pepper
2 large portobello mushrooms
1 onion (can be red or white)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chilli
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
tomatoe puree
water
oil

1. Slice the onion in half then chop - this gives you long strips of onion. Add to wokwith 2/3 slugs of oil. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
2. Slice pepper into strips, Slice mushrooms into long slices. Slice chicken into strips.
3. Add chicken to the wok and sprinkle with the spices and add the mustard. Cook for 10 minutes.
4. Add the peppers, mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Add a couple of squeezes of puree and enough water to make a sauce - not watery, just enough so that it isn't dry. Cook for 10 minutes.
5. While the filling is in its last ten minutes, wrap the tortillas in tinfoil and pop in the oven for 5 minutes to warm up.
6. Put the tortillas onto seving plates and spoon the mixture onto one half and fold the tortilla over.

I like to serve this with chips - home or out the freezer - with some homemade guacamole and some creme fraiche. The key lime pie makes a great dessert for afters.

Key Lime Pie

I fancied something refreshing that would be light and cleansing on the palate - the weather has been so muggy and this recipe is just right for a summer pudding.

Ingredients

175g/6oz ginger or digestive biscuits (I prefer using ginger)
2 tbsp caster sugar
half a tsp ground cinnamon
85g/3oz butter, melted
400ml/14 fl oz canned condensed milk
125ml/4 fl oz freshly squeezed lime juice (around 6-7 limes)
finely grated rind of 3 limes
4 large egg yolks
your preferred flavour of ice cream to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 160/325 and grease a pie plate. I have a loose bottomed 23cm/9inch flan one that I use and it is good for extracating thepie and serving it on a nice dish. Then grate and squeeze your limes.
2. Put the biscuits, sugar and cinnamon in the processer and whizz until crumbed - but now ground into a powder. Then add in the melted butter and whizz until it is moist.
3. Spread crumb mix ino pie dish and press down over the bottom and up the sides - I use a tbsp.
4. Put the pie dish on a baking sheet and pop into the oven for 5 minutes.
5. Beat together the milk, lime juice, lime rind and egg yolks ina bowl until well blended. I like to grate an extra lime and save it for decoration.
6. Remove the pie dish from the oven and pour in the filling. spread it out to the edges. Put back into the oven for 15 minutes. The filling should be set around the edges but a bit wobbly still in the middle.
7. Leave to cool completely and then chill in the fridge for 2 hours. Sprinkle with the lime rind and serve with ice cream/fresh fruit/cream.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Bad service and no orange juice

Going out for dinner still holds a bit of sparkle and magic for me. Some folks see going out for dinner as a normal everyday thing to do, but even though I now go out a lot for food, I have never shaken off that thrill you get when going out for a 'treat'. Not sure if it is the hangover of student days where going out for food was getting a potatoe fritter from the chippy or what - it still seems special to me.

So it really annoys me when I go somewhere and it is disappointing. I wrote about Rick's a while back and gave it a good review. Well, consistency is everything. I took my friend Mac and I had been raving about the wonderful cocktails etc and so had built up the experience a bit.

The first issue was that on ordering drinks the waiter informed me they no longer did the espresso cocktail. Disaster. I had been licking my lips in anticipation. And really, I wish bars didn't chop and change their drinks menus so frequently - how can you develop a regular drink in a particular bar when they do that?

The second was that Mac wanted an orange juice and lemonade but - no orange juice. I mean, it is a bar and a restaurant, isn't OJ one of the key ingredients you would have? And if you don't, what about nipping to the nearest shop and getting some? Rick's is smack bang in the middle of town - it's not out in the sticks.

We got cranberry and lemonade - so no urinary tract infections for us - and got on to the business of food.

Mac had risotto - I can't remember what he said about it which to be honest implies that it wasn't great. Mac loves food as much as I do. I ordered antipasti as a main. Olives, cured meats, tomatoes, peppers and garlic mayo I was ok with (although garlic mayo is a bit strange - what about houmous or an oil/balsamic dip?) but there was only one slice of baguette bread. I expect there to be more bread when that is the only carb and is the main vehicle by which to savour the veg and meats with. Of all the things you could cut back on I wouldn't have said bread was top of the list.

The puddings did not endear us either. My mango cheescake was plain cheescake filling drizzled with a commercial mango sauce - definitely not made on the premises - and the base was soggy. I like a crunchy base to contrast with the filling. Mac had creme brulee which came in a tiny portion and while he did eat it wasn't exactly lighting his fire.

The service was also very slow and we had about three different waiters serving us. All in all, a bad experience and unfortunately for Rick's, bad tends to stick in the memory longer than good. If this had been an anniversary dinner or special occasion I woudl have been very annoyed. As it was, it marred a very good evening with Mac - who is always a delight to dine with!

Canteen

I love food. I love it so much I have to go to the gym three times a week to maintain my weight. And I think that good, tasty food is not that hard. I mean, how much effort must you put in to ruin soup? Its water. stock, some veggies etc and that is it!

At my work we have a canteen run by a private firm that serves dishes such as baked potatoes with a filling of cauliflower cheese, seafood lasagne and a dish called beef en croute which is a burger wrapped in pastry like a danish. Weird. So mostly lunchtimes are a moaning session about the food. But today they pulled of a fantastic lunch. Today was 'barbeque menu' day - recently we have had theme days such as an American day that did not feature burgers and chips. I had a sausage, burger and breast of chicken (all succulent and garlicky) in a bun with salad and baked potatoe. It was soooo good. And I didn't care that I was eating a whole farmyard for lunch (I am usually a bowl of soup or a salad).

It got me thinking though about food that goes together and food that doesn't. I really don't understand sur 'n' turf but I do like a mixed grill. I think bananas in a curry is beyond strange but love a mango korma. Sometimes I think that food more than anything can express how different we all are, what an infinite variety of tastes and combinations there can be, and that what we eat is a visual and expressive way of communicating our personnalities. Mind you, I will try anything once. Except sweetmeats.

Fish to love (2)

I have discovered Monkfish - well, I discovered a few years ago but forgot how good it was an rediscovered it when my husband ordered it in Rogano's in Glasgow. So I decided to have a go myself.

Fish is low in fat and does something to your brain that makes you clever so it is a good way to eat protein and feel saintly. Monkfish is a meaty fish and is quite robust so it will stand up to strong flavours and a bit of knocking about while cooking. My own view is that it is the fish equivalent of chicken.

I have devised two recipes:

Recipe One

Make a paste with chilli, paprika and cumin - add whoelgrain mustard and a teaspoon of oil. Slather on monkfish fillets. Put monkish on tin foil and seal to make a tinfoil packet. Bake in an oven.

Make some rice and while that is cooking stir fry som peppers, mushrooms and stir fry type veggies like beansprouts and pak choi.

On a plate layer the rice, then the veggies, then place the succulent fish on top.

Recipe Two

Chop the monkfish up into 2cm wide cubes/pieces. Mix yoghurt and a curry paste of your choice (Patak's tandoori is good). Marinate the monkfish overnight or, if you are short on time, an hour or so.

Stir fry an oinion then add the marinated fish. Cook for a few minutes then add veggies as per recipe one and prepare rice or noodles. You can add the rice/noodles to teh stir fry and mix it all up and serve in bowls or serve traditional carb layer with well filled with the good stuff.

Fish to love (1)

I like fish but for some reason it seems to take a mental effort to remember that it is such a good thing to eat - despite the many admonishments to eat more of it to make your brain better from dietary advice columnists in the Sunday papers. Then I happened across shelled ready-to-eat prawns in Sainsbury's (Meadowbank, Edinburgh).

Because I live between two flats, managing a healthy diet isn't easy when you can't remember whether the salad you planned to eat on Tuesday night is in the fridge in in Dundee while you are in Edinburgh. So I need food that is quick and easy to assemble, doesn't use too many dishes (hate washing up mid week) and is healthy.

Enter the prawns.

I saw these juicy king prawns and my mouth watered. I popped them in my basket alongside one of those wonderful pre-prepared boxes of stir fry veg and a bottle of sweet thai chillie dip. Five mintes in the wok in soem hot oil, add the dip as a dressing and voila - a healthy stir fry made in one cooking receptical!!!

It may be more Delia-cheat's than Nigella but of you are in a rush and can't be bothered it is definitely better for you than a processes microwave meal. The best bit is mopping up the jiuces with a chunk of bread...mmmm...

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Good Glasgow Food experience Number Two - The Dhabba

While our Sloan's meal kept us going pretty much for the rest of the day, we were ready for our curry at the Dhabba by our 8pm booking. The Dhabba is what I would call a 'proper' indian restaurant in that the food is authentic (north indian) and not compromised in order to suit the sometime undereducated palate of the Brit on the lookout for a carb loaded meal to cushion the night's onslaught of beer.

I had teh Murg Malai Tikka with a Kadai sauce which was so tasty that even though I was full two thirds in I kept eating just to savour the tastebud reaction to chiken marinated in elachi, javitri,ground green chillies folded in a paste of grated Paneer and cream and then Tandoori roasted. Andy had the lamb Dhania Gosht - I am not that into lamb but this was excellent. The lamb was extremely tender and full of flavour. The coriander was perfect with it and not too overpowering. Yum.

We weren't in the mood for alcohol and opted instead for the Mango Lasse which was a great accompaniement. Would definitely recommend the Dhabba to anyone who wants a real north indian cooking experience.

Good Glasgow Food experience Number One - Sloan's

The day before my graduation Andy and I had the day off so we came through to Glasgow to spend a day browing the delights of Glasgow's shopping.

After an hour or so hitting the shops we were hungry for a spot of lunch and I took Andy to Sloan's in the Argyll Arcade. I had been before with my sisters and Mum - we had the soup and sandwich was very tasty and a good deal on the purse. Sloan's claims to be Glasgow's oldest pub and inside it feels like a proper pub - it doesn't feel like a chain pub, or a gastro pub, and it has a good mix of clientele - a couple of blokes at the bar, Glasgow ladies lunching, a couple of families and a couple of tables of couples. There was music on but it was thankfully at an appropriate sound level.

The menu is pretty good and caters for a variety of tastes but we wanted good old pub grub and plumped for the house burger and chips. It isn't easy to find a good burger and chips these days - a lot of pubs seem to have lost the art and serve up greasy luke warm beef patties. But Sloan's had it right and included gherkins and relish in your bun as well as a proper side salad - one you wanted to actually eat. They also did ginger and lime which to my mind is the mark of a good establishment!

The meal kept us going through an afternoon of energetic window shopping and through to our meal later that night. Definitely one to add to the list of good places to go.

Graduation Lunch

I graduated (MBA) on Saturday 24 May at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. While it was great to finally get that certificate the main point about the graduation was an excuse to get the family together and enjoy a cracking meal. I had heard about but never been to Rogano so I booked a table for lunchtime. There were nine of us, including my wee brother Theo who is 12 who was very impressed with the offer of vanilla and chocolate ice cream for his pudding.

The restaurant is fitted out as a replica of the restaurant on the Queen Mary Cunard liner and has a fantastic 1930's ambience. The bar serves oysters and in the afternoon you can have afternoon tea. We had the lunch menu - you can have two courses for £17.50 or three for £22.50 plus tea/coffee. A pretty good deal for a restaurant with Rogano's reputation. I had a duck pate starter that I shared with Theo as he wanted to try duck for the first time but was worried about ordering something and then not liking it. When I explained I wanted to share the starter the staff were great - I find a good test of customer service is how staff treat any kids in the party and also requests to share a dish/have a small portion. The duck was excellent and Theo enjoyed it.

I had pasta with cauliflower in a cheese sauce for my main and the pasta was cooked just right. Others had the pork and apricot stuffed chicken breast which was described in superlatives and a couple of the boys had the monkfish which I aim to reporoduce at home tonight. It was seared in paprika and other spices and served with baby new potatoes.

For pudding I had a lovely summer berry crumble that was sweet but still held a bite to it and the crumble had just the right amount of crunch to starting-to-soak-up-the-juices texture I like.

The service was impeccable - a further clue to a good restaurant is a) if they provide plenty of bread baskets and b) the ability of waiting staff to appear just as you start thinking you need a refill. On both counts the staff were great. You didn't feel rushed or pestered but when you needed them there was someone at your elbow. Perfect.

I would give them a 9/10!

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The Fife Diet

I have a longing to be one of those people who gets organic veggie boxes delivered to the house, visits farm shops at weekends to do the shopping and has a small allotment that produces wonderful salads, fruits and flowers. But I am not like that. I mainly shop at Tesco, making a detour to the local butcher when I have time and every so often popping into random shops that sell specific produce like the Valvona and Crolla deli in Edinburgh.

I do not live a lifestyle that lends itself to my little day dream. I live in Dundee, work in Edinburgh and stay three nights a week there courtesy of a fantastic friend-rental deal I have with my roomy Calum. So food shopping has to take into account living in two places, eating at random times, a nod to healthy eating in Edinburgh and in Dundee to the huge amounts of food my husband can consume without putting on any weight at all. This does not make food shopping easy. But, in hope that at some point I manage the daydream, my efforts will go into finding out about all of these things and hoping that those who get home from work at a normal time and don't have to co-ordinate the contents of two fridges in different cities can benefit from them.

The first I would like to highlight is the Fife Diet - now, this is maybe a phrase that conjours up visions of fried food and a glut of fatty meats and badly cooked root vegetables. But please do not be so narrow minded because in fact Fife produces amazing foodstuffs. The Fife Diet asks people to sign-up to eating food from Fife, for a year, monitor their progress and share their experience. This is a celebration of local goodness not an exercise in self-denial. Like most regions Fife has loads of fruit and vegetables, fantastic farm-reared lamb, beef, poultry, and amazing seafood. The project was inspired by Vancouver’s 100 Mile Diet and aims to bring people together who are into preparing for a low-carbon future. To be honest, although I care about the low carbon stuff and the environment etc I do think that the only argument you need is that when you have fantastic food right on your doorstep why not eat it? It has inspired me to re-prioritise. Yes, I have a busy lifestyle complicated by having two living places - but wouldn't it be better to spend Saturdays enjoying the beautiful Fife countryside and picking up something that is yummy and good in many different was - taste, environmental impact, fun to shop for - rather than the usual stuff from Tesco?

The second is a website dedicated to veggie boxes and what wonderful meals you can make out of them. I have to say the downside to veggie boxes may be that you don't know exactly what you are getting and it may be you end up with five turnips and an onion. So some inspiration on how to manage your veggie box contents I reckon would be an essential. It includes a function to find out the identity of vegetables you haven't seen before and one on 20 minute recipes - useful for days when time is precious.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

In my larder - Creme Fraiche

Creme fraiche is brilliant. It can be used for a lot of different recipes and makes an easy base for creamy sauces. It doesn't split like cream can, it can boil and it won't curdle and it is lower in fat than cream. Not that I don't like cream by CF also has a better shelf life. You can do half and half with CF and cream too.

Here are some of my favourite things to do with Creme Fraiche (in a clean way people!)

Macaroni Cheese

Tub of Creme Fraiche (small tub will do 2, large tub 6)
Pasta (100g per person)
Cheddar - grated
Tomatoes

You can make the cheese sauce by making up a roux but this is time consuming and also sometimes I get it wrong when I am tired and home from work. You also have to build the sauce up gradually so it takes more time.

Put the CF in a pot and heat up. As the CF is heating, add the cheese. With a roux you woudl have to do this gradually but with CF just bung it in. Take a taste of eth sauce and check it is cheesey enough. Give it a stir every now and then.

Cook pasta as per packet instructions, drain, and mix in the sauce. I like to serve it with some tomatoes shopped up.

To make it interesting you can add ham to the sauce, or like I sometimes do, left over chorizo or salami. And although I use cheddar here, macaroni chese is also a good way to use up any parmesan or mozzarella - so long as you have cheddar as a base. I have also added mustard on occasion.

My favourite thing though is to have plenty of HP sauce with it!

Pesto sauce

Tub of Creme Fraiche (small tub will do 2, large tub 6)
Pasta (100g per person)
Pesto
Parmesan

Heat the CF and add pesto to tase. You get a fantastic green sauce. Cook your pasta and mix in the sauce. Sprinkle some parmesan over the top.

Sauce for Steak

Tub of Creme Fraiche (small tub will do 2, large tub 6)
Wholegrain mustard

Heat the CF and add a couple of teaspoons of mustard. You need to let the sauce simmer away for 15-20 minutes so the flavour really gets drawn out and the whiteness of the creme fraiche looks more creamy. Taste and check if you need more mustard.

This is great poured over some nice steaks with some good bread to mop up the sauce and meat juices.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

In my larder - Tinned tomatoes

I think tinned tomatoes are amazing. Even Nigella thinks so. Who can be bothered with all of that blanching and peeling anyway? And there are so many things they can be used for. Here are two of my favourite 5 minute recipes.

Tomatoe and basil soup (good hot or cold)

Two tins of tomatoes
Red oinion
Garlic (I use half a bulb but one clove may be enough for others!)
Basil (a handful)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

In the pot you want to cook your soup in, add the oil and saute the finely chopped onion and garlic. Add the tomatoes and basil. Simmer for an hour. Add a squirt of vinegar - some might find this takes the tanginess too far. Serve with crusty bread and a dollopof creme fraiche on top if liked.

You can also make this more special by cutting some cherry tomatoes in half, tossing in olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper andn roasting them. Scatter over the top of the soup as you serve it.

Pasta sauce

Tin of tomatoes
Pesto
Parmesan
Tomatoe puree

Heat the tomatoes in a pot, add a tbsp of pesto, thicken if needed with puree. Serve over hot pasta with some parmesan.

This makes a great base and you can add bacon, chicken, vegetables like mushrooms, peppers etc and spices and herbs like chilli and basil to create a dozen different sauces.

In my larder

You often get a section in recipe books that tells you what the author thinks you should have in your kitchen to be a 'good cook'. Now, I don't really subscribe to that idea - and it would cost a fortune to keep all of the ingredients they suggest on the go all of the time - I mean, things go off, even dried spices etc can get a bit fusty musty.

But - I am intrigued by figuring out what the basics are to make interesting, healthy and easy meals. Are there items that I can't live without? Are there things that really I keep buying but hardly use and throw out more than actually makes it into a dish?

So I am going to start listing what I keep handy and are my mainstays. At the right hand side you will see a list 'In my larder' where I will list what I keep close to me in the kitchen and I will also blog about why these ingredients or tools are important and what I discover is not so important. And maybe I will clear out my utensils drawer at some point so it is easy to shut!

Eating out - Rick's

As well as cooking in my own kitchen, I like to go out for food. So I thought I would also record places I have been to eat, and any ideas for my own cooking they have given me.

Last week I went to Rick's on Frederick Street in Edinburgh with my friend Duncan. We hadn't seen each other since January so we indulged in some luscious espresso and rum cocktails.

Then we had sweet potatoe and chilli soup to start. The soup was really good, although they are not joking about the chilli. The interesting thing though is that most potatoe based soups are thick - this one wasn't - very liquid - but in a good way. And it meant we weren't too full for our mains. Duncan had salmon which he seemed to enjoy and I had the asparagus and garden pea risotto. It was very good - the peas actually tasted like they may come from a garden rather than a factory - but as always the risotto didn't quite make it to the high standards I get at home. I think Andy uses more parmesan and garlic - and he serves cherry tomatoes and salad leaves with some bread and and olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip with it which I find cuts through the creaminess really well.

But - all in all would give it a 6/10. The bill came to £56 which for two courses, cocktails and a glass of wine each isn't bad.

The decor and atmosphere are also good - I like places that are dark enough to feel intimate but not so much you can't se your food. In that sense Rick's does well. I also liked the leather booth seats. There was a good mix of age groups but it does veer towards the upwardly mobile set.

The bar staff are also easy on the eye!

Pizza

Andy is making this for me tonight. I make it a lot and taught Andy the recipe a couple of months ago. When I cook I am quite messy but have my little rituals and when I showed him how to do this recipe he laughed at the processes I go through - I like to set out all the toppings on a large plate so that when the dough is ready and rolled out they are all ready and I can add them in turn. This meticulous approach tickled Andy's funny bone it seems.

Anyway - this recipe is very easy and Andy sometimes makes teh dough and leaves it to rise while I am coming home on the train from Edinburgh. Then, when we get in from him picking me up from the station all we need to do is roll out teh dough,add the toppings and pop in the oven. Fresh, homemade pizza on a Friday night - perfect!

Pizza dough

225g/1lb plain flour
13g/.5oz yeast (or one pack dried)
half a teaspoon of salt
half a pint of hand hot water
(you can also half the water and make up with olive oil if you want to be fancy!)

Mix the flour, salt and dried yeast (if using fresh, dissolve in a little water then add).
Bit by bit add the water until you get a soft, pliable dough
Knead for 2-3 minutes until light and elastic
Roll into a ball and leave in a bowl covered with a clean, dry tea towel for an hour
Knead the dough for 30 - 60 seconds then roll out to desired shape. I like my pizza thin and crispy so use a large oven sized baking sheet)
Add toppings
Bake in oven 180-200c for 10-15 minutes

Cured meats pizza toppings

Take a tube of tomatoe purree and sqeeze it out in an ever decreasing circle on your pizza dough. Take a dessert spoon and spread the purree in half circle motions.
Thinly slice an onion and a pepper and a large portobello mushroom and sprinkle over the pizza
Add a selection of cured meats such as salami, chorizo and parma ham
Add finely slicedcherry tomatoes
Topwith grated mozzarella

Once cooked sprinkle with some parmesan grated using the biggest grate size on your grater

Rocket, parmesan and olives

In Pizza Express they do a pizza called the 'soho'. This is my version.

Take a tube of tomatoe purree and sqeeze it out in an ever decreasing circle on your pizza dough. Take a dessert spoon and spread the purree in half circle motions.
Add thinly sliced red ionion
Add black olives

Once baked top with shaves of parmesan, a handful of rocket and a generous drizzling of olive oil.

Calzone

This probably isn't the real Italian way to do it but I basically take the pizza dough but instead of topping it like a pizza cover half with the toppings, foldover and crimp the dough, then bake in the oven. This is a good way to cook if you have 'sloppy' toppings like chilli beef. It is basically an italian pastie.

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Homemade chips

I don't have a deep fat fryer but I do like to make my own chips. I have three recipes that are all good and easy to do.

Sweet potatoe chips

Chop the sweet potatoes into two inch cubes. Sweet potatoes are a funny shape so I find this is the easiest way. Toss in olive oil and then place skin side down in a baking tray. Cook at 200c for 20-25 minutes.

Baked potatoe chips (1)

Cut into wedges and toss in olive oil. Place skin side down in a baking tray and cook at 220c for 30 minutes.

Baked potatoe chips (2)

These might be too spicy for some folks.
Cut into wedges and toss in olive oil, chopped garlic, wholegrain mustard and paprika. Place skin side down in a baking tray and cook at 220c for 30 minutes.

Beef Burgers

There is a bit of a story to these burgers. About five years ago I tried making my own beef burgers as my friend Damian was coming round for dinner. I sourced a tasty sounding recipe and spent the day making ahdnmade chips and burgers. I set the table all fancy and made crumble for pudding. Now, I am not precious about my cooking in the sense that I quite like rustic looking dishes, they don't need to look perfect or as if Gordon Ramsay has cooked them. But I do worry about if they taste ok and pride myself on sending folks away with a full belly - satisfied in their tummy and their tastebuds.

Well, Damian and Andy ate the burgers but when I asked them what they thought their response was 'a bit bland - could have done with more seasoning or spicy-ness'. My confidence was dented and I was put off the idea of making my own burgers for ages. Then I found a really saliva-inducing recipe in my Nigella Express book and figured five years was long enough for the wounds to have healed. Again, Damian was coming round for tea, so I figured this was as good a time as any to exorcise the first unsuccessful attempt at burgers.

The basic recipe is (serves 3 if you have two burgers each - we are greedy!):

500g lean minced beef
3 teaspoons natural yoghurt
3 teaspoons soya sauce
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
pepper
2 tablespoons carmelized onions

Nigella says to use a jar of caramelized onions but I ouldn't find any and then Andy pointed out it couldn't be that hard to make them - surely its just butter, onions and brown sugar? - he was right - after a quick search on the BBC food website I got a recipe that gave me the basic theory. As I like red onions that is what I used although all the resipes I saw said white onions.

2 red onions
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 oz butter (roughly - i just chopped a big bit in that looked about right)

Hat teh oil and melt the butter. Cook onions - finely chopped - until soft. Add sugar and stur and melt until caramelized. Add red wine vinegar and cook for another few minutes.

For teh burgers - whack the mince in a big bowl and add all the ingredients and mash it up. You want to mix it until all the ingredients are combine and the mince isn't 'squiggly' anymore but is like pink mashed potatoe.

I drained the excess liquid from the onions out of the frying pan but didn't wash it, added some oil, and then fried the burgers. This meant the flavours all got used up. Yum! I make my burgers thick - about an inch - so fried on both sides for two minutes then put on a low heat for 8-10 minutes. If you like it rare I would half that.

I just used oven chips as I was feeling lazy but I often make sweet potatoe chips or baked potatoe wedges.

For toppings I mixed grated cheddar and mozarella and sliced up some tomatoe - it was finger licking good and the boys gave it the thumbs up!

A wee tip - I get wax discs from Lakeland Limited - they are great if you want to make the burgers up a few hours or the night before and leave them in the fridge. The discs mean the burgers don't settle and stick to your dish and makes them easy to handle when you are transferring them to the pan. I imagine they are also good if you want to freeze the burgers.

Blog you might want to read

I am so lax at keeping up with my blog that I hadn't realised I had a comment under my apple crumble from Carolyn who runs The Cooks Journal which is a forum that has lots of cooking related info - it's really good for a potter around and to pick up some hints and tips. A recipe I spotted which I think I will try is Leek and Prosicutto Pasta - based on a Jamie Oliver recipe - it sounds really tasty.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Cheat's dinner - Chicken Pesto Pasta

Making meals from scratch taste better and will be more healthy than processed food, but sometimes you are short on time and even just too tired to think about ingredients and cooking times. For such occasions I use what I call my 'cheat's dinner' recipes. These often combine ready prepared food with some home cooking - creating a meal that isn't as bad as a TV dinner but is quick and easy to pull together.

Every so often I visit my friend Mac at his flat in Edinburgh. We often go out for dinner but when we are feeling a bit skint, we take turns to bring round food and cook at his place. I stay a couple of nights a week in Edinburgh so it's fun to go round to someone's flat and cook a meal, have a glass of wine and have a good gossip.

This dinner came about when I was flailing about in the aisles of the Marks and Spencer outlet at Waverly Station - a place I spend too much time in - as it was my turn to cook and I was running late.

Bag of fresh pasta (I used tagliatelle but any would do)
Pot of green pesto
Packet of chicken breast pieces (I think they are meant for sandwiches but they are like bite sized pieces of chicken breast)
French loaf
Bag of salad leaves
Tomatoes

Cook the pasta as per the instructions. Drain and add back to the pot adding the pesto and stir over a low heat. Slice the tomatoes up and add to the pasta.

For the salad, put the leaves in a bowl, add some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. If you have it, I like to add some wholegrain mustard. Toss and serve with the french loaf and some butter.

Check the pasta is fully combined and serve (I like to serve it in a bowl).

This all takes about ten minutes but is very tasty and looks like it takes longer. For a proper full-on home cooked version you could make this on a Monday night using the roast chicken from a Sunday dinner and make your pwn pesto. But as a cheat's dinner it is pretty good.