Saturday, 2 November 2013

#ScotFood Chat on Twitter, 4 November 9pm

Love Scottish Food and Drink? Like chatting on Twitter about it? Want to know more about what's in season and what others are rustling up in their kitchen on a cold winter night? Well make sure you're there for the next #ScotFood chat on Twitter, 4 November 9pm.

Following previous #ScotFood chats covering regions across Scotland, November's chat will be all about Edinburgh and the Lothians. I'll be one of the four co-hosts tweeting the questions and finding out more about the food, restaurants and recipes to be found this side of the M8. Here's a little more about my fellow hosts, the #ScotFood format and how to get involved!

Susan @HulaJuiceBar - Juice bar, coffee house and gallery: Hula Juice Bar 103-105 West Bow, Edinburgh – near the Grassmarket and frequent venue for #EdinHour meetings (but that’s another story…).

Danya  @Pickled_ in_Scot – a new venture we’re keen to hear more about: “grow plant forage preserve eat enjoy – Scotland season by season”

Danielle @edinburghfoody – Discovering, enjoying, eating and writing about food and ingredients in Edinburgh, Scotland and beyond. You’ll find Danielle’s blog at:

Follow the hosts, invite your friends to join in and answer the questions by using A1…#ScotFood to ensure we scoop up your answers and save them for posterity (and so others can find you).

9:00 Q1 Introduce yourself to #ScotFood: first name, first part of postcode, your company and what it does?
9:05 Q2 As the nights get darker what Scottish comfort food have you been enjoying? #ScotFood
9:15 Q3 What Christmas baking/preserving have you been doing? Any family recipes/traditions you’d like to share? #ScotFood
9:25 Q4 What foraged ingredient has been your “wow” this autumn and why? #ScotFood
9:35 Q5 What new producers/suppliers/restaurants in Edinburgh & the Lothians are you excited about this year? #ScotFood
9:45 Q6 What Scottish street food would you like to eat at a street party? #ScotFood
9:55 Q7 What would be on your menu to celebrate St Andrews Day? #ScotFood

You’ll find tips for hosts here.
Hints for participants here.
Calendar for future #ScotFood chats here.
Read more from October's #ScotFood chat here

Look forward to seeing you there!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Review - Three Birds Restaurant Edinburgh

I first visited the Three Birds in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh shortly after it opened last year and I've been keen to return and see how their imaginative take on local dining is getting on. The sort of place oft referred to as 'a  neighbourhood gem', the Three Birds pickles and smokes many of its own ingredients, sources from local, seasonal, sustainable suppliers, and all with a deft hand of foraging thrown in.

They feature good value lunch menus, gregarious sharing platters and fab in-house touches such as the 3Bird dukkah to nibble on and bespoke artisan soap in the ladies (can't speak for the gents). The menu is a world   away from typical restaurant offerings, instead of chicken liver pâté there's venison or beef tongue to start and a range of mains and specials featuring what's good here at this point in the earth's journey round the sun.

3Bird dukkah
The restaurant has a neutral but cosy interior. Sitting there on a midsummer evening with the door open and watching a bit of Bruntsfield go by was a good start to the evening. Hearing the hubbub of fellow diners building around us we settled in for a promising night, the ambiance only slightly dented by the guilty pleasures/Elton John soundtrack in the background.

First up was the 3Bird Dukkah to share. A middle eastern mix of toasted spices, seeds and chopped nuts, it's served with extra virgin olive oil, syrupy shallot vinegar and bread for dipping into. It had an excellent, smoky flavour with hints of coriander, cumin, almond, pine nut and possibly cashew. I loved the shallot vinegar too but the bread was a bit thinly sliced for me, almost too refined for the rustic dukkah. Personal choice but I'd prefer chunkier pieces that would better accommodate the oil and spices.

For the first course were one of two halloumi dishes on the menu. I chose the special, fried Halloumi with pickled red cabbage, black garlic, spring onions and an orange dressing. I have never eaten black garlic before and it's produced by  fermenting the bulbs at a high temperature with balsamic vinegar for 24 hours. It's a different taste, with mild garlic undertones; it's almost sweet but bitter, a bit like dried fruit that's been baked in a Christmas cake. It does however go very well with small but juicy pieces of halloumi (not too waxy) and some joyous pink picked cabbage. The spring onions and a few leaves were great too. I didn't catch too much of the orange flavour but it was there to pull it all together at the back of my palate.

Halloumi (above) and the curious black garlic clove (right)

Smoked Mackerel

The second starter was Salad of Smoked Mackerel, Oyster Mushrooms with a Caper and Egg dressing. Another colourful, well presented dish; the mackerel was strong and punchy and stood up to the dressing. Again, the raw ingredients were of a high standard. Both starters were served on small wooden boards (possibly olive) and though they were starter sized in terms of portion control, the boards made them look slightly smaller than they actually were, my only criticism.

Main course and I chose another special, the Oven Baked Sea Bass, intrigued by the home-smoked treacle bacon in the dish. The fish was perfectly cooked, served with the bacon, crayfish, sea aster (a sort of flat samphire we were told) new potatoes and a sun dried tomato butter. I loved the flavours, the generous piece of fish, the slightly crispy, buttery potatoes and jewel-like crayfish hidden under the bass. The bacon though, while having a great, smoky, sweet flavour that didn't overpower the delicate fish, was just a bit too flabby and chewy in texture for me. I'd prefer it crispier and I loved the tiny bit of rind on it, more of that please! The sea aster was more like tarragon than samphire but I enjoyed the novelty of it, there was bite to the leaves with a hint of the sea air in them. A few of the yellow sea aster flowers had been added as a garnish but these were a bit too bitter, the only thing that threatened to overpower the fish.

Sea Bass

The Second second course was from the main menu, breaded pork schnitzel with a creamy leek sauce, potatoes and boiled eggs. An interesting dish to see on a menu these days, a slight retro feel but rich, comforting if not hugely summery. The pork wasn't too dry and the sauce was really tasty, the only thing missing was a bit of colour on the plate but we still enjoyed it immensely.

The dessert menu too is not short of imagination, I was torn between the Coconut and Cardamom  Sponge and Heather Honeycomb and Truffle Oil Vanilla Ice Cream. In the end the ice cream won, despite a warning from a waitress that the truffle oil flavour was very strong. Apparently this dish has divided customer opinion so far! It wasn't overpowering in terms of taste, which was slightly salty, savoury, but more the texture, which was quite oily but not off-puttingly so. However my dining companion picked up engine oil somewhere in the mix,  as have previous customers!

Old school wafers

Far more interesting was the honey rippled through the ice cream, it tasted like nectar, like wild flowers, like sun on a rocky hillside, I felt like a fat greedy bumblebee. We shared the ice cream, but for one person it was too big a serving. Because the whole combination is quite intense, half that amount would be enough. The restaurant buys its ice cream from Over Langshaw Farm who make it specially for them. They've several other interesting flavours including blue cheese and Guinness and Baileys. Although they prepare a lot of their other ingredients such as the bacon perhaps outsourcing this is a cannier move to take the pressure off the kitchen.

All this was being washed down with a carafe of gluggable Spanish white wine, 100% Macabeo grapes. Not too dry but not lacking personality it was good value, working out at £4 per large glass. There is a small, reasonable wine list with a nice Prosecco I tried last time I visited, and the usual teas and coffees, none of which we had on this occasion. Like the wine, The Three Birds can be summed up by good value; considering the imagination, sourcing and flair that goes into their menus it's hard to beat in terms of cost, with all this coming in at £65 (including wine). It's the kind of place where you spend half the evening excited to be there and be talking about the food itself which is no bad thing. We're lucky to have places like this on the doorstep in Edinburgh.

Three Birds Restaurant
3-5 Viewforth
EH10 4JD
0131 229 3252

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Crail Food Festival - 16 June

Tucked away in the furthest corner of the East Neuk of Fife is the seaside village of Crail. This part of the world is has more in common with Cornwall than other parts of the Scottish coastline. White washed cottages, cobbled streets rolling down to a picture perfect harbour, a rocky shoreline only smugglers would brave and of course some of the tastiest food that side of Edinburgh.

Now in its third year, the annual Crail Food Festival takes place in June and I headed up and over the bridge to Fife to enjoy some of the best of the region's produce. Organised by a loyal community of local volunteers, the festival takes place over a weekend. Because this is Scotland, the Saturday featured an indoor market with cookery and tasting area, followed by a fabulous dinner and music event in the evening, this year featuring a three course Fife menu with King Creosote and friends bringing the tunes (a sellout!) Then, on the Sunday, the festival takes its chances and sets up shop on the famous harbour, the most photographed in Scotland apparently!

2013 must have seen some sun dances taken place, or perhaps a pact with the foodie gods as Crail basked in some of the best temperatures this year. Sadly unable to make a weekend of it and drove up only for the Sunday, but were rewarded by the journey nonetheless; inland or taking the coast road, it's spectacular. A worrying band of cloud stayed over the hills and the sea sparkled as far as the eye could see.

Set up as a celebration of local food and drink and a showcase for some of Fife's finest produce, the festival aims to encourage visitors to make the journey and enjoy all this in a fabulous setting. It had done the trick as the place was packed but luckily the trusty Micra was small enough to find a parking space. We joined the throngs of people walking down the pretty streets to the harbour. Approaching the harbour from the east is one of the best views from Scotland on a day like that. Blue, blue, blue and East Lothian visible in the distance.

On arrival at the harbour it had been transformed with stalls selling a diverse range of goodies including Arbroath Smokies, sweet waffles and chocolaty crepes, fresh pizza from an oven in the back of a horsebox (really) and pigeon on the menu from Wild Rover Foods. All this against a backdrop of boats, lobster pots, rambling cottages and the tangy air of the sea. Priorities, after the drive we needed sustenance so we headed to the lobster shack after seeing people walking past with their plates filled high with local crustacean. Cooked lobster with a squeeze of lemon juice and dressed crab ready to go we sat on the harbour wall and picked every scrap of juicy sweet meat out of it in the sun.

As well as the stalls along the harbour there were foraging walks from professional forager Galloway Wild Foods and the Fife Diet team who also brought their carbon-neutral smoothie bike! Continuing the emphasis on local food were Food from Fife who had a prime spot at the edge of the harbour wall with info, recipes and chef demos from Christopher Trotter, Paul Wedgewood, and Scott Davies. They also had some shellfish demos from local seafood expert Jim Knox who put a lobster through its paces. More on him soon on this blog!

As part of the build up to the festival, myself and other food bloggers have been contributing to the Crail Food Festival blogging project with guest posts about the producers and people attending the festival. Mine was all about the Food from Fife initiative and the work they're doing in Fife. Read about that and the rest of the posts on the Crail Food Festival website here.

Back in the village, the shops and tearooms were open and we visited the butchers and the greengrocers, snapping up a punnet of the tiniest, sweetish local strawberries. Ostensibly for the week ahead, they barely made it back home! back at the harbour, there was just time to pick up a couple of goodies including incredible patisserie from Sucre Coeur, before we headed back up the road.

It was wonderful to see the harbour busy and buzzing, and to see so many people coming together to enjoy all this great food. It's also good to see a real community project come together and be a success; so many events now are corporate, sponsored and identikit, let's hope if the festival expands to meet demand it won't loose any of the charm and character that marks it out as a must see on the foodie calendar.

Friday, 14 June 2013

June Slow Food Supper at Edinburgh Larder Bistro - Nose to Tail with Gorgie City Farm

Monday night saw me attend a Slow Food Supper at the Edinburgh Larder Bistro, a restaurant committed to using the best local Scottish produce. Slow Food Suppers are an opportunity for like minded people to come together to chat and enjoy really good food. This element of conviviality, of the enjoyment of sharing good, clean and fair food together is central to the Slow Food movement. Edinburgh Larder Bistro have hosted a number of suppers and are keen supporters of Slow Food.

In recent months the Edinburgh events have welcomed special guests and suppliers such as Clyde Valley Tomatoes to talk about what they produce and why it's special in today's world of tasteless mass-produced food. This time, the speaker was Donna from Gorgie City Farm in Edinburgh who talked about the pigs they raise there. At the farm she does amazing work helping disadvantaged and troubled children and teenagers by getting them involved looking after the pigs and learning more about farming and animal husbandry. At the heart of its local community, the farm is a valuable place where the kids can find out about where their food comes from, but more importantly helps them feel engaged and included in their often troubled lives.


I was there supporting both Slow Food and the farm, where I have been volunteering with their 'Fork to Fork' gardening and cookery lessons. Our feast for the evening was some of Gorgie Farm's very own pork, raised less than a couple of miles from where we were sitting. These pigs have a happy life, something Donna is passionate about, having grown up on a farm and been around animals all her life. She draws the line at giving them names, only referring to the Gloucester Old Spot we were eating as 'Pig 006'. Using as much of the animal as possible is important to her, and this nose to tail ethos is shared at Edinburgh Larder Bistro. We started with some crackling, I'm not always a fan but this was wonderful, crisp, not too chewy and flecked with spices including sweet roasted fennel seeds.

Pig 006

From the choice of mains we had to try Pig 006, including different cuts cooked different ways. There were choice slices of pan fried loin and then slow cooked belly and cheek (I think), with a decedent layer of  fat. Also included was the oink, so I'm told, although I didn't spot it I ate it all up. The pork was served with braised peas and lettuce in a jus and garnished with wild rocket flowers. Our table played a game of 'guess the foraged wild flower' for a while!

Also on the menu was home smoked Pollock with cauliflower, heritage potatoes and bacon. This was a  generous slab of fish, highly seasoned and served with some perfectly cooked veg. A veggie option of spelt and barley risotto unsurprisingly didn't get a look in! I wasn't planning on having  a dessert (extra in the price), but the Espresso and Pecan tart with homemade ice cream changed my mind. I love coffee and pecans so I had to have it; the ice cream, though a small portion tasted had a pure, milky taste, worth ten yellow scoops from a carton. The tart was good, the pecans were excellent, however I didn't get a strong taste of espresso but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Though it was exciting to visit the restaurant, somewhere that's been on my list for a while, the supper wasn't all about the menu. It was a chance to meet some kindred spirits and share the evening talking about food, life and everything else (if there is anything else!). More so, it was about showing support for those that care about where food comes from and celebrating the work they do. That can go beyond producing and selling us the best in artisan produce, it can have a life changing effect. Gorgie Farm is a charity, so if you're in Edinburgh do visit, see the animals, buy some sausages and help them continue to make a difference.

Edinburgh Larder Bistro, 1a Alva Street, Edinburgh EH2 4PH

Slow Food Edinburgh

Gorgie City Farm, 51 Gorgie Road, Edinburgh EH1 2LA

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Recipe - Venison Sausages with Puy Lentils

Browsing the farmers' market at Castle Terrace this weekend, I picked up some venison sausages from Seriously Good Venison. One of many great producers from Fife, there's no fear of what's in their sausages, simply venison, pork fat, oatmeal and a little spice mix, all wrapped up in natural casings. This venison is lean, healthy and responsibly farmed, and not just at home in winter stews or sliced seared and rare at dinner parties. It's ideal for everyday cooking too.

I browned the sausages in a Le Creuset before cooking scraps of onion, carrot and celery found in the fridge. For this recipe I planned to use up a lot of vegetables and pulses I already had in, so I bought these sausages to meat-up the meal. After the first tranche of veg went chopped peppers, tomatoes, tomato puree and wine, then back in with the sausages. To this I added vegetable stock and a mix of green and Puy lentils, what I happened to have in the cupboard. You could use all of one kind, I prefer Puy, they are quicker, prettier and tastier.

Venison Sausages with Puy Lentils

The sausages, vegetables and lentils are simmered for 20-30 minutes, till cooked. The sausages, which I worried could be dry and overcooked, were perfect, cut through with a little juicy fat against the wholesome peppers and lentils. Even though summer approaches this is a brilliant casserole for drizzly Edinburgh days. The sausages, lentils and the basic method are all you need; the vegetables can be adapted according to what you have available. Of course, it is a lot tastier with the flavours and colours from the garlic, celery, tomatoes, and wine, but don't let that put you off! Sausages and lentils are a classic combination, so if you don't have venison on your doorstep get the best pork or beef ones you can find. The red-meatiness of the venison works well as an alternative to pork so beef should be great too.

Venison Sausages with Puy Lentils


Serves 2 with seconds and scraps/Serves 4 with bread 



one packet venison sausages
olive oil
one small white onion finely chopped
two cloves garlic sliced
one carrot diced
one celery stick chopped
bay leaf (fresh or dried)
sprig of thyme
one and a half diced peppers, any colour (I used a half of three)
two tomatoes, roughly chopped
small glass of white wine
one tbsp tomato puree
500ml vegetable stock
200g Puy or green lentils (also haricot beans would work well. a mix works if you are using up cupboard scraps but probably works better with one type of pulse)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

crusty bread
flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped


  • Heat a casserole dish medium high. Add a splash of olive oil, then brown the sausages for a few minutes in the oil. Transfer to a plate and keep safe.
  • Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and herbs. Season and cook at a low heat with the lid on to soften.
  • After about ten minutes your kitchen should be smelling great! Add the peppers and tomatoes. Give everything a good stir, turn up the heat and add the wine. Let it bubble for a moment, then add in the tomato puree, stir through and cook for another minute.
  • Put the sausages back in the casserole, pour over the stock and lentils. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes till the lentils are cooked. You may need to add a splash of stock or hot water, depending on how greedy your lentils are. Adjust seasoning to taste - this can take a good bit of pepper.
  • Sprinkle over the parsley and bring to the table. Serve a couple of generous ladles each on a trencher of crusty bread.


You can find Seriously Good Venison at several Scottish Farmers' Markets.They'll also be at this year's Crail Food Festival; discover more about them in this featured post on the Crail Food Festival website, including more recipes and some great pics!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Recipe - Yellow Cherry Tomatoes with Oregano

Look at these beauties!
 Clyde Valley Tomatoes were at Edinburgh Farmers' Market yesterday and I've been looking forward to getting my hands on some tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes from them for a while. My home grown fruits are still a way off being ready to eat, so the smell of the leaves on my hands after watering them is the closest I'm getting to any real flavour for the time being!

Clyde Valley Tomatoes live over in the west at Carluke and are bringing back the tradition of tomato growing to this part of the world. Thanks to the microclimate that exists there they are able to raise 10,000 plants in their greenhouses and are growing heritage varieties and fruits that taste of something other than pulpy water.

I bought the yellow cherry tomatoes, golden coloured, sweet and tender. As well as being juicy, compact fruits full of flavour, they have a delicate, thinner skin compared to supermarket ones. Because they're so delicious, this recipe is barely one at all!


Yellow Cherry Tomatoes with Oregano
One punnet cherry tomatoes
Sea salt (crushed or flakes)
Freshly ground black pepper
Small handful fresh oregano leaves
Extra virgin olive oil

  • Cut the tomatoes in half round the 'equator' and place cut side up on a serving platter (something that will show off the colours at their best!)
  • Sprinkle over a large pinch of salt and some black pepper, then the oregano leaves
  • Drizzle with olive oil
  • After a few minutes the juices will be drawing out of the tomatoes. Keep at room temperature and serve within half an hour. We ate this with some Morbier cheese and crusty bread!

Loving our lunch

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Wheatrig Farmhouse Supper Club - East Lothian Supper

I've been to a few supper clubs in Edinburgh and while they've all been a bit different, with their own quirks and personalities, they could all ultimately be summed up as "a nice dinner in a nice house". That's not to say the Edinburgh supper club is a boring or formulaic experience, far from it, I keep going to them because I love the sense of the unknown, the taste of adventure (once I got a bus!), the unforeseen alchemy of what happens when strangers get together in the intimacy of someone else's home. I've also had some great food, most of which was better value than a lot of restaurants I've visited. And I've had some great conversations, some awkward ones, and plenty of just plain weird. It's all been part of the experience and one I'm still eager to continue to try.

This time though I was leaving the city behind for the evening. We were attending East Lothian's first Supper Club, on a farm near Longniddry, a short journey outside of Edinburgh. Not far on a map, far enough to get utterly lost without said map and directions in the event - entirely my fault to forget these. As I drove around and around a dark landscape of flat fields and no sign posts we were getting embarrassingly late. Then it started to snow... adventure, I reminded myself, this is more exciting than catching the No.23 armed with only a wad of cash and a large bag from Oddbins.

Luckily we pieced together our memory of how to get there and eventually found our hosts' home. Outside of the city and you really notice the darkness, the cold, the quiet. As we parked up and struggled on the gravel we could have been 200 miles away not 20! Our hosts William and Anna live on their family farm, the farmhouse recently renovated and decorated with the potential to run a B&B, supper club and other projects including Scottish flour from their own fields. Their plan is to provide a farmhouse dinner experience of good home cooking and local ingredients, cooked honestly and without pretention.

Our table for the evening
On arrival we were shown into the drawing room (last ones there - the shame). Although supper clubs are about the food you can't escape the fact they are also about the host's home and that weird feeling of slightly intruding but still being invited in to do so. Like other supper clubs I've been to the farmhouse was exquisitely decorated with attention to detail throughout. On the food front there were still some canapes left for us thanks to our kind hosts and fellow diners, a duo of an excellent, well seasoned trout pate on homemade blinis and a meaty wild venison one, served on soda bread with onion chutney. The venison was quite crumbly, I dropped some on the cream carpet but we were assured the family labrador would finish it off. Our fellow diners were mostly local, from North Berwick or nearby. It was a friendly crowd and we chatted about home, work, food, then it was through to the dining room.

The table was laid out with crisp linen and slate place settings in the older part of the farmhouse with it's stone walls and old fire place. I had a swig of wine with the canapes then stayed on the sparkling grape juice because I was driving. I'd say that was one of the differences about hosting a supper club outside of a large town or city, it means more people have to drive. It doesn't necessarily put them off coming but might make for a different atmosphere if the drink isn't flowing as freely.

Blue cheese, pear and Ballencrieff tartlet
For our first course we were served a blue cheese, pear and Ballencrieff bacon tartlets. This made the most of excellent local produce, the cheese especially was delicious, the pastry crisp and it was fantastic to have some local free range bacon. The conversation around the table was in full swing and I never heard an awkward silence the whole night. Nor did I think I'd ended up at the 'quiet' end of the table, you know when you're convinced the people at the other end are having a much better time than you.

Our main course was pork again, Scottish Pork fillet en croute served with apple gravy, Dauphinoise potatoes and Chantenay carrots. I wouldn't normally eat a lot of pork at home, especially not loin so this was a treat. In fact I don't think I've ever had pork en croute anywhere and have never cooked it myself so relished every morsel. As a side a hefty wedge each of dauphinoise potatoes were served, and a rich apple gravy. The vegetables were tasty but the meat was the main event. It was a huge main course but well presented and everything had plenty of flavour and was cooked well.

Pork Fillet en croute
Two desserts beckoned, not some weird ladies/gents thing like you get at a wedding but a choice of what we fancied right there at the end of the meal. In the interests of research I chose the Plum Crumble made with their own plums harvested last year and preserved in the freezer, while my dining companion went for the Sticky Toffee Roulade with caramel sauce. In fact he went for it twice, snapping up seconds quicker than the labrador. The crumble was good, the plums sharp and the crumble mix included oats which I have never seen before. The roulade was more than delicious I'm informed but two portions were probably too much for my not-too sweet tooth.

Following the meal tea and coffee were served in some dainty china cups with thin shards of mint chocolate, made by our hosts. Despite the huge amounts we'd eaten these went down well. The cost was the usual 'donation', we gave £30 each, so with wine (one bottle!), pretend wine and petrol it was heading towards the £80 mark. Eventually taking our leave we and our fellow diners headed home, out into the cold, flat darkness. We'd been served and eaten a fine meal in a welcoming home, and while ye,s it was a nice dinner in a nice house, it was the friendliest, most talkative crowd of diners I've experienced at a supper club so far. I wonder if getting out of the city contributed to that. Who knows, it's that strange alchemical mix that makes me keep going back to these things.

We were welcomed to experience the first supper club in East Lothian and seeing our hosts go all out to make it a great experience for us, the attention to detail and stress on local produce made it an excellent night. Wheatrig Farmhouse Supper Club are hoping to host more suppers this year so it's well worth checking out. The scenery will be wonderful on the long summer nights and will really contribute to the whole experience, not to mention getting there on time! Book a taxi and enjoy some vino with all that lovely food!

There's a short article about William and Anna here
They are also on twitter @farmsupperclub

Plum Crumble with home grown plums

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Oeuf en Cocotte with Spinach, Mushrooms, Smoked Cheddar and Pancetta

Spring may be here in a calendar sense, but the Edinburgh weather says otherwise. Snow, a bitter wind chill and driving rain are keeping me wrapped up inside and the heating at full. But after months of winter I'm getting a bit tired of hearty rich stews, root vegetables and other seasonal fare. It's not quite time for a salad (though really, when is it ever) but for something a bit lighter, something that says "hi glass of crisp white wine" but still comes out of the oven.

Les Cocottes, all the way from France
I'm lucky enough to have received a gift of some individual oven dishes, baby casseroles if you will or cocotte as the French call them. They lend their name to the traditional French dish of Oeuf en Cocotte, where a whole egg is cracked into each dish, seasoned and baked to soft, creamy perfection in the oven using a bain marie. Sometimes butter, cream or cheese are added to make a luxe version, or maybe herbs or wilted spinach. You delve into the baked oeuf with a spoon or some posh sourdough soldiers and savour the rich yet delicate flavours inside.

I made this version with baby spinach, mushrooms and smoked cheddar. These flavours work really well together, the earthiness of the spinach and mushrooms, the richness of the cheese and the lightness of the egg. I fry up some salty pancetta to finish the oeufs off; it brings out the smokiness of the cheddar and adds texture but it's not essential.

Perfect for a cosy late supper or a starter. Double or triple the recipe for more or hungrier people

Serves 2

2 Very large free range eggs, the biggest and free-est you can find. I had some straight from a local farm where you buy them from an honesty box. They're usually double yolkers the colour of marigolds.
Couple of handfuls baby spinach
3 cubes of butter
70g white mushrooms, stalks discarded
2 tbsp creme fraiche
50g smoked chedder, grated
4 rashers of pancetta
Decent bread
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Ground paprika (to serve)

2 small individual baking dishes/cocottes/ramekins with lids (or use foil)
Roasting tin to cook them in, deep enough to be used as a bain marie

  1. Preheat the oven to Gasmark 3
  2. Wilt the spinach with seasoning and cube of butter in a saucepan. Drain and press out all of the liquid
  3. Discard the stalks of the mushrooms and slice them finely. Heat a frying pan, add the butter till sizzling then fry the mushrooms till browned. While they're cooking, boil the kettle.
  4. Grease each dish with butter, then add a layer of spinach, then the mushrooms. Pat them down quite firmly.
  5. Break an egg carefully into each dish over the mushrooms. You can break it into a cup or measuring jug first if that helps. Add a tiny pinch of seasoning. Pour over the creme fraiche and cover with the cheese.
  6. Put the lids or foil on and place in the roasting tin. Pour boiling water into the tin so it comes up to about two thirds of the sides of the little dishes. Bake for 15-20 minutes depending how set you like the eggs. I take the lids off for a few minutes at the end to get a bit of colour on the cheese.
  7. When they're nearly cooked fry the pancetta and drain on kitchen paper. Slice and butter some bread. Serve the eggs with a sprinkling of paprika and the pancetta on top.

Oeuf en Cocotte

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Slow Food Edinburgh AGM February 2013

Slow Food is an international movement that brings together producers, chefs and enthusiasts all with an interest in preserving and promoting the pleasure of good food. Started in Italy in the 1980s, it has grown worldwide to thousands of members all with an interest in sharing and enjoying the best local produce their region has to offer. In contrast to the industrialisation of food production, mass agribusiness, supermarkets and fast food, Slow Food seeks to encourage people to reconnect with their food and where it comes from. Sustainability and provenance are key and at Ballymaloe they are big supporters of the movement, with Darina Allen speaking at the biannual Terre Madre event, a gathering of producers from all over the world held in Turin.

Slow Food is organised regionally in local grassroots groups set up by their members called convivia (from the latin 'with life'. In Edinburgh the Slow Food convivium is one of the largest in the UK and I attended their Annual General Meeting in February to find out more about the work they're doing in Scotland. It was held at the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School so I got to have a look at their lovely demo kitchen complete with glossy black aga!

Delicious Cake from The Edinburgh Larder

Before the serious business of the AGM a supper was served of organic chicken soup, tasty chicken served in a broth with vegetables, herbs and potatoes and slices of freshly baked onion bread. There was also sharp crumbly cheese made by St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese using unpasturised milk.

For dessert we ate chocolate cake made with beer from The food was provided by a local business The Edinburgh Larder who are passionate about using the best of Scottish produce. We also had some delicious pies from Acanthus Hand Made Pies. They were quality raised pies filled with haggis, neeps and tatties and chicken curry.

Acanthus Pies
Jane Stewart

The AGM covered a review of 2012 and the visit to the afformentioned Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto. Running alongside Terra Madre, the Salone del Gusto is a a food market on a massive scale, where wonderful producers from all over the world have the chance to display and sell their wares. I would love to go in 2014! Jane Stewart from St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese told us about it and some of the wide range of fabulous foods that were on offer, the producers and the similarities and shared values they found in common despite coming from different corners of the world.


We also found out about some of the work Slow Food Edinburgh has been doing in the community, with schools, allotments and universities with Slow Food on Campus. There's lots going on and it was great to see so many people there and so many great producers so close to home. Hopefully that interest and enthusiasm can be maintained and built upon to encourage more people to think about where their food comes from. In the current climate of the horse meat scandal there was an interesting discussion about how Slow Food can do more to tackle the issues which have come out of that. It was no surprise to me and the people there that things like this happen when selling very cheap processed food at the end of a long supply chain, but what can be done next to convince others of the problems and risks inherent in such as system?



Sunday, 24 February 2013

Nonna's Kitchen Review - Edinburgh

Nonna's Kitchen is an Italian restaurant in Morningside, Edinburgh. Until this visit I'd never been but I'd heard good things about it from a few people. It's smaller than I expected inside, but with modern decor and bright flowers on the tables, still with an Italian feel. I'd booked at the last minute and got an early table for a couple of hours, but on arrival the place was packed with a mixture of friends, families and couples. It was cosy and convivial, with a small army of waiters watched over by the matriarch who seemed to be in charge.

The Arancini
In addition to the main menu I was extremely impressed by the waiter who reeled off from memory a long line of specials, exquisitely detailed and with great knowledge of each dish. A lot of these included fresh seafood dishes for both starters and mains. From the specials we chose the Arancini for a starter, one of my absolute favourites. Risotto rice shaped into balls, filled with cheese, breaded and deep fried, they were served with a tomato sauce. This was both rich and fresh in flavour and the Arancini were perfect. The crumb was crispy, the rice hot with a creamy but not claggy texture. Inside the cheese oozed out and everything was set off nicely by the slight fragrance of a touch of basil.

For mains we chose one of the specials and one dish from the a la carte menu. The special Pumpkin Ravioli was served in a cream sauce with hazelnuts, very rich but delicious. The pasta was cooked well and filled with slightly sweet pumpkin flesh. The hazelnuts added a good bit of contrast and texture to the smooth pasta, filling and sauce. We also had the Pizza Quattro Formaggi. The base was a good one, thin and not too much crust. The cheeses were a mix of mozzarella, gorgonzola, taleggio and pecorino. The gorgonzola gave it a strong, gutsy taste but was not too overpowering and you could taste all of the cheeses individually. It was one of the best four cheese pizzas I've had for a while.

Pumpkin Ravioli

We didn't order any extras, desserts or coffee but we did have a decent bottle of the house white, and a complimentary small plate of fresh bread with butter, oil and vinegar was served after ordering. Service was excellent. As well as our waiter with the incredible memory, the wine was brought to us unopened to ensure it was the right one. It's little touches like this which impress and rounded the whole thing off to a most enjoyable evening. The dishes and ingredients were authentic and you can tell that a lot of care, effort and time has gone into making the place a cut above your average Italian. Two courses for two plus one bottle of wine and service came to £55 but we thought it was worth it for the excellent food and service. They also offer a short but decent lunch and pre-theatre menu.

Pizza Quattro Formaggi

 More details Nonna's Kitchen 45 Morningside Rd Edinburgh EH10 4AZ

Sunday, 3 February 2013

A Burns Supper

25th January is Burns Night, the birthday of Rabbie Burns and celebrated not just in Scotland but by Scots or poetry lovers worldwide. A Burns Supper can vary from a formal dinner with all the trimmings such as poetry, piping, toasts and tartan, to a relaxed meal with friends and family. Haggis must be served, a Scottish dish of offal, oatmeal and spices traditionally encased and boiled in a sheep's stomach. At grand occasions the cooked haggis is piped in on a platter and Burns' poem 'Address to a Haggis' is recited. As part of the ceremony the haggis is sliced open with great drama during the poem to show the 'gushing entrails'. It's honestly tastier than it sounds. As well as the haggis there is plenty of whisky, toasts give to Burns, the laddies, the ladies and just about everyone else and sometimes ceilidh dancing.

In this Edinburgh household there are no Scots but we still enjoy the tradition of serving haggis for Burns' night, even if we eat it all year round. It's January and the days are dark and dreich. You really don't need much of an excuse to cook up a big celebratory meal, drink whisky and cosy in against the chill north winds that howl round the walls of the tenements.

Traditionally a Burns Supper starts with soup, however these days there's often a smoked salmon or seafood starter such as a tartlet or terrine. This was no different, I made a simple vol-au-vont of smoked salmon, eggs, capers and red onion. Starter sized vol-au-vonts are easy to make and are sturdier than you might think for holding the raw filling when you pour it in. It's important though that you can fit all the filling into the pastry; making this dish from memory instead of a proper recipe left me with extra. Instead of wasting it I cooked it up on the hob as scrambled egg when the vol-au-vents were nearly ready and put it on top.

Smoked Salmo Vol-Au-Vont

For the main course I bought the haggis from my local butcher, they sell them in all sizes from a small sausage to a chieftian-sized pudding. The haggi are made by a local producer, AJ Hornig in West Calder, that are also famous for their black pudding. The butchers here sells at least three types of black pudding as well as white pudding and haggis all year round. In Scotland it's commonly served in a fried breakfast.

Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Back to the dinner (or supper). My haggis was only small so I boiled it in it's casing for 30 minutes. I don't have a microwave at the moment but in the past they've been really good for cooking haggis in minutes with the same results. I recommend it especially if you've got a lot of people and/or cooking to do as it means one less pan on the stove. This haggis was hearty and spiced with lots of flavour but not too rich or gristly.

I served the haggis with the traditional accompaniments, mashed neeps (swede) and tatties (potatoes). The spicy haggis suits fairly simple vegetables to go with it. Neeps are called neeps or turnips in Scotland, swedes in England, and swede turnips in Ireland...I think. It's complicated. They're also called rutabaga in America. A bulbous root vegetable that needs a bit of effort when peeling, chopping and cooking, it's often grown for cattle feed. I mashed the neeps with carrots to make a coarse puree, then served them with a simple mashed potato and the haggis.A whisky sauce is often served here, I made a cream and peppercorn sauce enriched with a bit of butter at the end. It was probably a bit too thick, but very tasty.

Dessert is often cranachan, a dessert of raspberries, oats, whisky and crowdie, a scottish cheese. I made my blueberry cranachan, which contains none of the above so calling it cranachan is stretching it a bit. It is however a delicious mixture of stewed blueberries, crushed amaretti biscuits, yoghurt and honey. The blueberries bring a great colour to the dish. It's also reasonably light after a rich dinner of entrails, root veg, butter and cream!

Blueberry 'Cranachan'

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Coffee Cake Recipe - for Edinburgh Cake Ladies East West Cake event

Here is the recipe for the coffee cake I made for Edinburgh Cake Ladies East West Cake Event this January. It’s based on the coffee cake recipe from Ballymaloe’s 12 Week Professional Cookery Course. Unlike most Ballymaloe recipes where vanilla extract is used and never essence, this uses coffee essence, (really chicory). Camp is the most common brand in the UK. I love cooking with things like this, it's one of those ingredients that feels really nostalgic and old fashioned to use. I suppose it's the same as when people buy golden syrup in a tin instead of those practical plastic bottles. The cake itself is really intense and coffee-ish, even though the sponge on it's own has a quite delicate flavour. You can decorate it how you like, add chocolate curls and bitter cocoa or keep it simple.

My version

This is the recipe from Ballymaloe, I have multiplied the cake ingredients by 50% to make three thick layers from the original two, as I wanted to give the cake more height for the East West Cake theme, 'showstopper cakes'. I did the same for the coffee icing ingredients. The butter cream is increased by 100%. To decorate I added cocoa, chocolate curls and some gold sugar decorations.

Coffee Cake

12oz soft butter
12oz caster sugar
6 large eggs (preferably organic)
12oz plain white flour
11/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp Camp coffee essence

Coffee Butter Cream

4oz butter
8oz icing sugar
4 tsp Camp coffee essence

Coffee Icing

11/2 lb icing sugar
 3 tbsp Camp coffee essence
Boiling water

To decorate (all optional)

3 oz walnut halves
2 oz dark chocolate
2 tbsp cocoa powder
Gold cake decorations


2 or 3 x 8in round sandwich tins

A note on logistics - I only have two sandwich tins, so made this in two batches. I made two thirds of the cake mixture up first, poured it into the two tins and baked them. Once they were cooked and the cakes cooling, I made up the smaller second batch to fill one tin. I also have a gas oven, with only enough room on one shelf for two tins. If you have enough tins and enough shelf space, two ovens or a fan oven enabling you to cook on multiple shelves you can make the cake in one go.
You can't make it all in one go and then keep a third of the batter back while you wait for the first two to cook as the raising agent will have started to react and the cake won't rise when you eventually bake it. You will also get holes on the top of the cake as it will not  have been put into the heat of the oven quickly enough. You could just cook it with two layers, decreasing the ingredients as above, it will still look impressive as per Ballymaloe here:

Pam's coffee cake from Ballymaloe demo, how I would love to have an oven like theirs!

Right, on with the recipe!

The cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4
  2. Line the base of the tins with greaseproof or silicon paper. Brush the sides with melted butter and dust with flour
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar, by hand using a wooden spoon or in a food mixer (I use a Kenwood Chef, using the K beater). I recommend a mixer as you need to really beat the butter and sugar till it is pale and fluffy. If you think it's ready still beat it a bit more!
  4. Whisk the eggs and add to the mixture bit by bit, mixing well between each addition
  5. Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently in by hand. Don't over beat the mixture here, almost fold it in with your spoon.
  6. Finally add the coffee essence and mix in, again fold it in gently.
  7. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared tins, paddling it round with a metal spoon (you can use an electric scales if you're that way inclined for a perfect split)
  8. Bake for 30 minutes, till the cakes are firm and springy in the middle as well as the sides.
  9. Rest in the tin for a minute or two, then turn out onto a cooling rack.
  10. If you are making it in two batches, repeat steps 1-9 above from scratch.
  11. While it's in the oven melt the chocolate for the chocolate curls over simmering water. Pour over the back of a plate or baking tray and leave somewhere cool.
  12. Make the coffee butter cream. Sieve the icing sugar into a large mixing bowl - yes this takes a lot of time but really does give a better result.
  13. Whisk the icing sugar with the butter, by hand or machine, as it starts to come together add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk till light and fluffy. Cover with cling film till ready to use.
  14. When the cakes are cooled sandwich together the sponges with two layers of icing, evening them out with a bread knife if need be. Have enough cream to fill in the sides to give a straightish line for the icing.


  1. One the cake is assembled make the icing. Again sieve the icing sugar, add the coffee essence and then enough boiling water to make it the consistency of double cream. Add the water sparingly, not too much in one go or you will be back and forth adding more sugar and liquid all day to get it right!
  2. Pour icing over the top and paddle it out and down over the sides, smoothing it with a palate knife. Work quickly or do it in batches, patching it up where needed as the icing can slide down the cake before it dries.  
  3. Add walnut halves around the bottom of the cake to decorate, they will hold to the icing. You can also use hazelnuts as they do at Ballymaloe.
  4. Once the icing has started to set sieve the cocoa powder over the top. If it's set a bit you can dust off any that has stuck to the sides for a neater finish. You could also combine the cocoa with some fine espresso/instant coffee powder.
  5. Scrape the chocolate curls from the plate/tin, using a wide Parmesan slice. Try and take long confident sweeps. If the chocolate is too hard or too soft put it somewhere warmer/colder for a bit. It will soften quickly so you may need to wait and do two batches. I hold my hands under a freezing tap as long as possible to stop the chocolate melting, it helps but it hurts! The curls don't need to be perfect as they're all piled on the top, but a bit of practice and they can start to look surprisingly good.
  6. Pile the chocolate curls on the top with the gold cake decorations.