Thursday, 5 January 2012

Drum roll.......

It's midday, and this morning I have spent far too long chatting with my friend Kate over cups of tea and discussing the aspects of a perfect cinema (freshly baked cookies and blankets in case you are wondering). I do apologise because I know that you all have been waiting with bated breath to find out the answers of the Christmas Quiz - Food and Drink round as promised. The fact that I have inadvertently lost the piece of paper with the answers on shall not stop us, for it is in my brain - somewhere.

So here we go folks, 

1. What was number 1 in the Amazon cook-book bestseller list for 2011?
    River Cottage Veg Every Day

2. Which way do you stir the Christmas pudding mixture for good luck?

3. Translate these common food phrases into English...
a) Antipasto - Before the meal
b) A la carte - From the menu
c) Amuse Bouche - Mouth amuser or palate pleaser

4. How many bottles of champagne are there in a Jeroboam?

5. Apple or Tomato?
a. Honeycrisp - Apple
b. Mr Stripy - Tomato
c. Hank - Tomato
d. Rusty Coat - Apple

Mystery Rudolph Round 'Guess Who' - John Torode.  Jokes, it was of course the spoon gobbler himself - Mr Gregg Wallace.

So - did you get 10/10?  I'd be disappointed if you didn't. 

I am controversially going to announce Kavey as the overall winner. Controversially because she failed to answer any question and instead got everything mixed up.  It all ended with her explaining that it's not that odd that a tomato is called Hank because she has a friend, who had a friend, who kept a tomato as a pet. In a jar of water. For years. You literally couldn't make that stuff up. 

So for sheer amusement, I salute you Queen Kavey of Quiz Land. Here is your imaginary crown.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Let's get quizzical!

It has been tradition over the last three years that once the presents have been opened, the sitting room has been hoovered by Grumpy Dave (my dearest Dad) and we have gorged ourselves to oblivion, that Bo and I host The Christmas Quiz. It started the year that the two families joined forces at my parents house and because there was just too many people to agree on a film to watch after Christmas Dinner another activity was needed.  Being regulars at The Settle Inn Quiz most Sunday nights and continuing to go even though we have won twice in 8 years means that we are proper quizzers. This completely qualifies us to test the knowledge of our nearest and dearest, whether or not they want to is of no concern because they are too full to leave anyway.  It is also tradition that we start discussing the plans for the impending quiz in October, and then leave the writing of it until Christmas Eve.  Mild panic ensues, but this slightly shabby approach only adds to the charm.

The writing is split between our strengths, Bo is on Sport and The Mystery Rudolph Round and I am on Film and Television and of course, Food and Drink. Now I'm not saying that the questions on that round were dumbed down for the audience but lets just say with the amount that I read on the subject it could have been slightly trickier, though it's not festive to completely baffle the contestants and I like to give the gift of a few correct answers. This years competition between The Knocky Knees and The Bronze Boobies was the fiercest yet (quizzing just doesn't get tougher than this), and it was thinking caps on to win the coveted chocolate penny medals.

And now, dear readers, it's your turn. Below are the questions for the Food and Drink Round, and knowing you foodies I expect 10/10. Post your answers in the comments box and I will post the correct ones on Thursday morning. All of the chocolate penny medals have melted I afraid so you will just have to settle for a pat on the back and the knowledge that you could have beaten my family; who were rubbish. Good luck and no Google-ing!!

Food and Drink Round 2011

1. What was number 1 in the Amazon cook-book bestseller list for 2011?

2. Which way do you stir the Christmas pudding mixture for good luck?

3. Translate these common food phrases into English;
a. Antipasto
b. A la carte
c. Amuse Bouche

4. How many bottles of champagne are there in a Jeroboam?

5. Apple or Tomato?
a. Honeycrisp
b. Mr Stripy
c. Hank
d. Rusty Coat

Oh and for an bonus point I'll give you one of the Guess Who pictures from the Mystery Rudolph Round.

Happy New Year to you all, Emma xx

P.S If you love a good quiz, and are a bit of a food geek, I highly recommend the Radio 4 Food Programme Christmas and New Year Food Quiz. They do it properly (unlike me) with questions centered around Elvis's favorite recipes and rounds such as 'Ale or Racehorse'. Hosted by food writer Tim Hayward; whom I have so much love for after reading about him saving Fitzbillies, an adored Cambridge cake shop.

Monday, 28 November 2011


I could write all about this years Thanksgiving, but I think I'll show you instead...

The most American shopping basket a Scottish supermarket has ever seen. I am not responsible for the squirty cream.

Staci getting her bake on.

With a little help from Ms Crocker.

American splendor

My Pumpkin Pie. Too delicious and recipe here.

The feast. Basically a celebration of bacon, cream and cheese with some cranberries and a little turkey thrown in for good measure.

My cornbread that apparently was very close to Southern cornbread but I would have preferred something with more punch. Try this.

Well done Grahame!

Grahame's signature cheesecake with Staci's signature brownies.
The dish of the night.
Post stuffing feet up.

Staci's wheels and wee Harry's new love. Check out more of her work.

I gave in to the lure of cream in a can.

Jo's Sweet Potato and Marshmallow casserole. Looking forward to this much fabled American classic and was actually pleasantly surprised, but in no way does it go with turkey - sorry y'all.

Ran out of bricks but the sentiment was there...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Your Saturday night starts right here!

Or, how to pimp up your bought in curry.

For regular readers you will know about my inability to leave things alone. When I say I am going to have a bowl of pasta for supper, I mean I am going to have a bowl of papperdelle with courgette ribbons, garlic, crushed chilli, homegrown mint with rocket flowers and drizzled with local rape seed oil. I can revel in simple flavours but I have a tendency to get slightly carried away with the creativity of it all. Case in point from last Friday when Alison popped in for a cuppa and some baking banter. Hungry after spending the morning gossiping with the macrobert girls, a quick snack was in demand. Soft goats cheese toasted on wholemeal bread with baby plum tomatoes, homemade onion jam and a sprinkle of lemon thyme. 'You can't just make cheese on toast, can you?' remarked Alison, 'No, not really' was the only reply I could muster. Though having declared it to be the best non cheese on toast she'd ever had I feel this is one bad habit akin to being too tidy. Slightly irritating, but ultimately makes the world a better place. *Smug alert*

It's Saturday and now that we are officially too old to be frequenting Stirling's nightclubs (either of them) we have replaced dancing with eating. Coupled with a glass or two of vino, plus Saturday night telly and good banter = pure bliss. We are also as a nation able to enjoy the spoils of a war that dominates our television advertising. I am talking of course about the War of the Supermarket Titans and whether you revel in their convenience or despair in their crushing monopoly (I am of the latter opinion) it would be almost churlish not to take full advantage of the deals around. Two curries, two side dishes and a bottle of wine for £10 from Marks and Spencer trumps any takeaway for value and still means you can have a lazy Saturday night curry without any fuss. All that was needed now was friends, wine glasses and Dermot's dancing. But you know me right and, once again, I just couldn't keep out of the kitchen...

After a flick through my Indian cookbooks and discussions with significant others I came up with small but tasty starter menu - surely the king of courses?

Mint Yogurt

Easy, peasy. Include grated (and squeezed) cucumber to make Tzatziki, a perfect match for Lamb Koftas

250g natural yogurt
fresh mint, large handful
fresh coriander, small handful
1/2 small clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 lemon, juice
salt and pepper

Finely chop the mint and coriander, place in a small bowl and add the garlic, lemon juice. Stir in the yogurt and season to taste.

Mango Chutney

I made this chutney earlier this year and it has kept perfectly. Most mango chutneys seem to be overly sweet and thin, this has good big chunks of fruit and has great spicing. Great for Christmas presents too, and goes particularly well with cold meat leftovers. The recipe uses 4-6 mangoes depending on their size and ripeness, slightly firmer mangoes are best because they won't collapse completely. It will need about 6 weeks to mature properly so if your Saturday night curry can't wait I recommend Geeta's which has the pleasing addition of nigella seeds.

Makes 2-4 jars, depending on their size

You will need a 20cm square piece of muslin.

4 cloves
10 black peppercorns
1 dried red chilli
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
5 cardamon pods
350g finely chopped red onion
400ml white malt vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 tsp of cumin seeds
1 tsp of coriander seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
900g mangoes, peeled, stoned and sliced into wedges
350g Bramley apples, peeled and sliced
450g golden caster sugar
1/2 cayenne pepper

Bash the ginger until it's slightly broken up. Place it along with the cloves, black peppercorns, dried chilli, and cardamon pods in the center of the muslin square and tie up to make a pouch.

Toast the coriander seeds in a dry pan until fragrant and then crush with a pestle and mortar.  In a large saucepan sweat the onions on a medium heat for a couple of minutes and stir in the cumin seeds, crushed coriander and nigella seeds. After 30 seconds pour in the vinegar and add the bay leaves and spice pouch.  Simmer for 10 minutes before mixing in the mango and apples. Cook for around 15 minutes until the fruit is soft but not completely collapsed. Before adding the sugar make sure you are happy with the consistency of the fruit because it will stop breaking down once sugar is incorporated. Add the sugar and the cayenne pepper and simmer until the mixture is like a thick jam which should take about an hour. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking but be aware that this mixture is lava hot so be careful.

While the chutney is cooking, sterilise the jars and lids in boiling hot water. Spoon into the jars while the chutney is still hot and seal. Label when cool and leave in a dark, cool place to mature.

Spiced Cashews Nuts

Very quick to make and uses mostly store cupboard ingredients. They were the hit of the night and great snack to have with drinks.  Feel free to swap about the spices, the recipe is very adaptable and can be made spicier if, like me, you love fiery chilli.

200g cashew nuts
20g butter
1/2 tsp dried chilli
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
6 curry leaves, slightly broken up
salt and pepper

In a large frying pan melt the butter over a medium heat. Toast the cashew nuts until golden brown and then tip in the spices and stir together. Cook for another 30 seconds until the spices are fragrant, season and serve.

Sweet Potato Samosas

The inspiration for these delicious triangles of fun comes from an amazing night spent at the Earthy Foods Pop-Up Coconut Curry Club (read more about this event at my monkfish). Crispy pastry with a creamy, sweet, spicy filling satisfies all my nibbly needs. Again this is a recipe that can be experimented with, the filling could be the traditional potato and pea or you could combine the sweet potato with pumpkin or squash. This filling is inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Sweet Potato Cakes featured in Plenty which I made andevoured earlier last week. The decision to use filo pastry and bake them made the whole process easier, and slightly healthier if you completely ignore the melted butter.

Makes 10-15 samosas

For the filling:
500g peeled sweet potato, cut into large chunks
50g plain flour
6 spring onions, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
100g baby spinach
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp of ground cumin
1 tsp of coriander
2 tsp of garam masala
salt and pepper

1 packet of filo pastry
100g melted butter
nigella seeds for sprinkling

Steam the sweet potatoes until completely soft, it should take about 20 minutes. If you don't have a steamer (I don't) place the sweet potato in a colander on top of a large saucepan with 5cm of water. Cover the top of the colander and put on a medium heat, periodically checking that the pan hasn't ran dry. Once cooked cool in a colander and leave to drain for about an hour.

Wilt the washed baby spinach in a dry pan and once cooled squeeze all the water out, roughly chop. Once the sweet potatoes have lost most of their moisture place them in a large mixing bowl with the spinach and all the rest of the ingredients, apart from the spices. Toast the spices in a dry pan until the mustard seeds start to pop and then tip into the bowl. Mix together by hand, mushing the sweet potato, until the mix is a smooth, sticky paste. If it's too soft add a little more flour but do not over mix. This mixture will keep for a couple of days, well covered, in the fridge so can be made in advance.

Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 4. Now for the pastry - filo has a tendency to dry quickly so work fast and have the melted butter ready. Unroll the pastry and peel off one piece, keep the rest under a damp tea towel. Lay the sheet on a flat surface and brush the whole thing with melted butter. Fold into thirds lengthwise, brushing butter in-between each layer until you have a long strip. Brush again with butter and place one large teaspoon of the filling at the base of the strip.  Fold the bottom right hand corner over diagonally, enclosing the filling and forming a triangle. Keep folding this way up the strip until you reach the end. Trim any excess and brush the whole thing with butter. Place on a baking sheet and cover while the rest of the samosas are made. Sprinkle with nigella seeds before baking for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

The meal was perfectly rounded off by cuddles on the sofa and Alison's amazing raspberry, pear and Toblerone pavlova. Unable to share the recipe because she 'makes it up as she goes along'.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Melancholy Pie

Life is a strange beast and when times are hard there's only one thing to do. Make a pie.

Today marks one week since I left the macrobert arts centre, a company I have worked in for eight years. Initially meant to supplement my already dwindled student loan, at the age of 20 I applied to be an usher so I could hang out with my best friend Kirsty and ultimately get paid to go to the cinema. A brilliant plan, I'm sure you'll agree. Unfortunately my CV bulging with catering experience across the globe meant that I was plucked from a future snoozing in the back row to a life filled with lattes, kids parties and, the horrors, curly fries. Welcome to the macrobert cafe bar. 

Situated on campus and with a pretty decent program of films, live shows and youth workshops it is the perfect place to work post lectures and pre pub. Disastrously my first shift was crippled with a hacking, full bodied cough that was so horrific I couldn't even keep dry toast down. Coupled with the experience of being locked in the backstage toilets for half an hour and none of the boys behind the bar mumbling a word to me, it was not the most glittering of beginnings. But from humble beginnings come great things, and being part of the macrobert family for the last eight years is one of the greatest.

I managed to evolve from coffee monkey over the years and with every promotion I grew more and more passionate about making the cafe bar the best it could be. It wouldn't be far from the truth to say that breathed, slept and ate everything macrobert from noon to night, Monday to Sunday. I've laughed til I cried, cried til I laughed, had my heart broken, shouted a fair amount, collapsed with pure exhaustion and got very very drunk. Never before I have I been lucky enough to work with such brilliant people, so many people that are now friends for life and without which I couldn't have never got through the days. You know who you are.

But my days of Catering Manager for the macrobert cafe bar are now at an end. Like most places the purse strings are pinching and no matter how hard we've fought, that job is officially redundant, and with it so am I. It's ok, I'm ok - mostly. I hope that a restructure will breath new life and allow the whole company to flourish.  I also hope know that this change is a good thing. I'm getting really excited about new challenges, new ideas and a new life centered around what I am really passionate about - good food.

This week though, I'm allowing myself to be sad. Not morose or inconsolable, just a little glum.  So I ask myself - WWJB? Those unfamiliar with this acronym will have to look towards one of the most underrated films of all time, I'm talking of course about Waitress.  Written and directed by Adrienne Shelly our hero is Jenna, a pregnant and very unhappily married diner waitress who dreams of escape.  Jenna is a phenomenal baker of the most magical pies inspired by her dismal life.  Who really can resist an opening scene like this...

So What Would Jenna Bake? As mentioned she bakes pies that reflect her situation in life, Bad Baby Pie (after finding out she was pregnant with her horrible husbands baby), I Hate My Husband Pie (self explanatory) and Naughty Pumpkin Pie (after starting an affair with her very handsome doctor). The contents of these pies often reflect their titles, I Hate My Husband Pie is made with bittersweet chocolate, and each is put on special in Joe's Diner. So this week I baked a pie, I'm Glum About Leaving My Job Pie.  Made with plums because it rhymes with glum (slightly tenuous link) and spices for medicinal purposes

You don't have to be especially glum to make this pie because as would luck would have it, it also perfectly celebrates the last of Autumns bounty too. Plums were made for pudding and have been used in British cooking since the dawn of time. The second most cultivated fruit in the world (after apples) they have a place in almost every cuisine, from Chinese Crispy Duck with Plum Sauce to Italian Plum Cake. I tend to find golden and red plums sweeter than their purple counterparts but their dusty blue skins are almost too beautiful to resist, in photographs at least. For this recipe I used Victoria plums, probably the most well known but I refuse to knock them for being ubiquitous. I mixed them with apples for the pie to give another Autumnal dimension and cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg for warming spice. Please count the cloves before you put them in and make sure that you find them all before filling the pie. I could only find 3 out of 4 and pie eating in this household turned into clove Russian roulette.

Please don't judge but I used pre-made shortcrust pastry.  It shrunk so lesson learned and I promise never to be so lazy ever again. Probably. If you are diligent and want to make your own I recommend this recipe but triple the amounts for this pie. The pastry isn't blind baked, which might have added to the shrinkage, so make sure that the pie lid isn't too tightly fitted.

Melancholy Pie 

Serves 8

500g dessert apples - British please
400g plums
140g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 cloves
1 heaped tsp of cornflour
plain flour, for dusting
500g shortcrust pastry
1 egg, beaten to glaze

Heat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas 6 and put a large baking sheet on the middle shelf to heat up. Butter a 24cm pie dish and place in the fridge.

Place the plums, apples, sugar and spices in large saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved and the plums are juicy. Mix the cornflour with a small splash of water and add to the plum mixture, heat for a few minutes until the juices thicken. Leave to cool.

Dust the work surface with flour and divide the pastry into 2 parts. One for the pie base, which needs to be the largest piece, one for the lid which should be slightly smaller. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out the pie base until it is 1/2 cm thick. Line the pie dish by moving the rolled pasty carefully with the rolling pin, press into the side but leave the extra over hang.

Fill the pie with the cooled plum and apple mixture. Roll out the lid to the same thickness as the base and place on top of the fruit. Pinch around the pie with your fingers and then crimp together with the prongs of a fork. Using a knife cut the extra pastry away.

Use this extra pastry to make decorations for the pie top, I went for leaves but you could make plums, unicorns - what ever takes your fancy. Use the beaten egg to stick them to the pie lid and brush the rest over the top.  Sprinkle with golden caster sugar. Place on the hot baking sheet and bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until the pie is golden brown.

Serve with vanilla spiked custard or cold ice cream to contrast with the bubbling hot fruit.

P.S I thought I would show off my new pinny, courtesy of my lovely flatmate Stevie, bought on his recent trip to New York.  I now strut around the kitchen pretending I'm Rachel Green.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

My new crappy portrait

A few months ago, while wasting precious time on Twitter, I came across a tweet from the lovely A Thrifty Mrs (who also has an ace blog).  She was waxing lyrical about the wonders of a 'free crappy portrait' that she'd just been sent.  Now I'm never one to turn down a free experience so I immediately took a peek at their lovely website.  There is literally nothing better than people that accept photos and stories of strangers and then spend their spare time drawing rubbishy/hilarious pictures of them.  It makes me proud to be a human being. I submitted a photo of myself taken at the River Cottage Canteen and rambled on for a few hours about all my favorite things - dip and crisps, cider, my lovely ginger boyfriend, roast chicken, pumpkins, prawns, meringues and my fat goldfish Clementine.  

They do ask you to wait between one and one million days and I thought it would never arrive; but this morning instead of inbox stuffed only by Groupon - it was here!!

From this....

To this...

Oh, how I love it!  Much much better than I was expecting, plus the feast (minus the goldfish) looks really delicious.    I might also record the song, it will probably get to number one.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

What I did this summer

When we last spoke the summer was just getting in to full swing, and what a glorious two weeks it was.  

Most of the vitamin D that I soaked up was courtesy of a weeks holiday to Devon to see Bo.  A holiday where I ate a pasty every day until my loving boyfriend pointed out that I might not fit my behind on the plane seat home.  So up'd it to 2 a day in defiance.  

Devon has to be the world capital of gluttony.  Where else in the world do main food groups consist of carvery, clotted cream and scrumpy?   The air is heavy with the smell of buttery pastry and sweet caramelised sausages. Clotted cream ice-cream, jam and fudge are touted on every street corner until you can do nothing but scream YES!! Give me something delicious that will clog up all my arteries, right NOW! If there was no such thing as calories or regret then Devon is the place to happily fill your chops for all eternity.  Not that you would remember anything about this contented existence because the scrumpy is officially the fuel for most space missions. I (A SCOT!) could, on average, manage half a pint before falling off my summer wedges.

But here's why this place is special, here's why its not just some run-of-the-mill British seaside holiday that ticks all the tacky boxes but bores you to tears. It has some of the best produce and producers in the whole of the country and they seriously know how to show it off.  The seafood, the cheese, the butchery, the apple juice - everything about it screams the Land of Plenty.  Newton Abbot, where Bo was based, was a large-ish town a little smaller than Stirling.  Not big enough for a Topshop - which is the measurement I use for towns.  The farmers market was twice weekly and so vast that it spilled into a large indoor market too.  It took me three hours before I felt that I had explored enough and I would have happily gone back every single day.

That post farmers market lunch will go down in history.  It might even make the grade for one of the courses in the (ever expanding) menu for the 'last meal before I die'.  Creamy Ticklemore goats cheese and local onion chutney sandwiched in the freshest sour dough, washed down with Cox apple juice and followed by blackberries, picked on the way home, sprinkled over clotted cream ice-cream.  The King of lunches.

I also was treated to a mystery tour that ended in dinner at The River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, as all good mystery tours should.  Situated amongst the deli where you can oggle at all the best produce that Devon has to offer, and then wait, expectantly, for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's team to serve it up to you.  We started with a few glasses of local cider and huge bowl of mussels cooked in more cider, bacon and wholegrain mustard.  So sweet, so juicy, so fresh and with decent loaf to mop up every last drop.  For the main course I finally plucked up the courage to tick one of my New Years resolutions off the list. Mackerel.  I have to be totally honest, I'm not a fishy person.  White fish I can handle but oily fish have never been on the shopping list.  The thing is, I know I should like it.  It's good for me, it's sustainable and it can handle some serious flavour.  Plus it's Nigel Slater's favorite fish and he's my favorite cook.  So therefore on the 1st of January I wrote number 7 on the list - 'Learn to love mackerel'.  I have been slightly putting it off for 8 months, but I wanted my first mackerel to be the best mackerel ever plucked from the ocean and cooked to complete perfection.  Who could do this better than the River Cottage team?

So there they are, served whole with braised rainbow chard and roast peppers.  And (drum roll....) I cleaned my plate.  The freshness of the mackerel perfectly complemented the sweetness of the roast peppers and the earthy kale*.  I don't think you'll catch me cracking open a tin of sardines in the near future but for a first taste it was near perfection.

It was a sad, sad day leaving the delicious delights of Devon and if someone wants to give me a job there I'd be down like a shot.  Although I will have to learn how to take out my waist bands.

Devon was, unfortunately, a lone food highlight in a summer of just eating for energy's sake.  I've survived a long distance relationship, moved house, completed an NVQ, packed in three trips to the Edinburgh festival, put in a ridiculous amount of hours at work and waved goodbye to my little brother who moved to Australia. Thank goodness Autumn is here.

So dear readers get ready for an autumnal bounty.  I'm already planning great culinary adventures, tell me about yours...

*Kale is my new favorite vegetable.  Last week while on a 'thinking walk' I stumbled upon Stirling Council's new initiative to replace boring flower beds with mini allotments filled with kale, sweetcorn, tomatoes, peas and artichokes.  In celebration I took a quick snap of the kale leaves in the late summer sunlight, this photo now sits proud as the title of this blog.