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.