Thursday, 30 September 2010

OK its orzo, kale and bean stew today

When D peeked over my shoulder, stirring this stew his face dropped. I could see that he looked rather disappointed in the way his dinner looked. Despite the green and purple from the kale and orange from the carrots, it was the colour of the stewy stock that looked rather insipid and may be this did not appeal, but actually that was not it. He was thinking forward and said 'that the stew isn’t going to be photogenic'. I reminded him it was homely food for my blog, not for a Lifestyle Food magazine. He smiled.

This is a hearty and healthy stew with some bite. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with orzo, Orzo is Italian and means 'barley' from which it was once originally made. These days it is actually made from hard wheat semolina. For people like me, orzo often means rice-shaped pasta and is a wonderful addition to casseroles, soups and stews such as this one. I would happily take the left overs in for my working lunch tomorrow, but I don't think it would fit into my flask. I've made it just too chunky.
Orzo, kale and kidney bean stew
Serves 6
Ingredients
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried sage or 2 teaspoons fresh sage, minced
Salt to taste
2 pints vegetable stock
1 large potato, peeled and chopped into cubes
4-6 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 small bunch of kale, I used purple but any variety will do. Remove the stalks and chop the leaves roughly.
100g orzo
1 x 400g cooked kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra oil for drizzling
Method
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil medium heat and add the onion, Cook the onions until soft, stirring occasionally, then add garlic and sage. Add in the potatoes, cook for a few minutes before adding in the carrots, kale and vegetable stock. Let the stew simmer for 10 – 15 minutes or until the vegetables are al dente, then add in orzo and kidney beans and simmer for 10 minutes or until the pasta is cooked. Add more water or stock if the stew seems to dry. Check and adjust seasoning. Ladle stew into bowls, with a drizzling of olive oil over each bowl. Serve hot. Adapted from Vegetarian Planet by Didi Eammons

A review of sorts

I don’t often do reviews namely because I am quite up-front with my opinion and don’t want to fib by being coaxed with financial rewards, I see enough of that hypocrisy on TV with certain chefs promoting products and brands, that you know they don’t believe in. However, when I saw volunteers were being sought to review these cookies and the allure was free cookies. I admit I was tempted. I know how terrible of me to be tempted by some cookies – I’m easy that way, or am I greedy?!. Well, some of you will be rather surprised to learn that I am actually a poor biscuit and cookie baker. There has always been something wrong with my biscuits and cookies, and for me a cookie or a biscuit should have some bite and chew.

Off the topic a little, I was quite curious about two things about Byron Bay Cookie Company. First the cookies, although very popular in the U.K, cookies are not very British are they?!. However they are exceptionally good with a cup of tea, a mug of coffee and even milk; and secondly the name of the company, made me question whether these cookies were imported. In which case, I would think twice before purchasing them for personal consumption, as I do my utmost to buy and eat biscuits and cookies that primarily source some the ingredients from the U.K. A gander on the website confirmed that these cookies were originally being made by hand at a bakehouse in Byron Bay, Australia. They are now being baked in the UK: some of the ingredients are local such as free range eggs, others of course have to be imported, like chocolate and nuts. The whole range has been approved by the Vegetarian Society and the gluten-free range is approved by the Coeliac Society.

Another thing I noted and all this before even tasting one was the fact that the cookies are individually wrapped. Part of me likes this, I mean how many times have you opened a packets of cookies or biscuits and only managed to eat/share half the packet, later you discover the rest have all gone stale; but part of me what unhappy – the packaging did not appear to be recyclable.

The cookies themselves in size are rather substantial. In fact they reminded me of my schools shortbread, even Empire biscuits still found in some local bakeries. To the foodie in me the flavours on offering sounded rather appealing such as Reduced fat Fig and Pecan. On tasting, I have to admit I could not taste the pecan nuts but the figgy flavours and its seeds came through rather strong. I also liked the sound of the sticky date and ginger with walnut. It was everything it said on the packet ‘moist chewy cookie spiced with dates, walnuts and ginger’. The gingery flavour lingered in my mouth for awhile and it was not so crumbly or soft as the others. It would be the one I choose if given the choice. I found texture of the other cookies just too soft for my liking. As mentioned earlier, I like my cookies to have some bite. There were a couple of gluten free cookies that I found very crumbly too. I found the White chocolate and macadamia nut just too sweet for me. There is also ‘Dotty’ with smarties, these don’t appeal to me at all, but may appeal to other big and small kids. The question now is would I pick one of these up if at a cafe that sold them? Honestly - for those of you who have got to know me through my blog, will know that I am more of a muffin girl. So a muffin will always come first.

This review is based on my honest opinion of the cookies and the whole packaging.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Cumin spiced Barley with broccoli

I am happy to look at other grainy alternatives such as bulghur wheat, couscous, farro, oats and rye and expand my culinary repertoire, but not for barley. I don't make time for barley. I had horrible experience of it at school. Instead of a hearty bowl of soup it looked like a porridge of vomit (sorry I know thats too much information for a food blog), worse still I remember my spoon standing upright in the bowl, that is how thick it was. However, many years later I found myself at the University canteen, hungry with only a few pence on me. The affordable option was Barley soup. Due to my hunger pangs, I was willing to give barley another try and overcome my prejudices towards it, but as soon as I parted with my coins I instantly regretted wasting my pennies. Instead of being soft plump cushions of grains, it was like eating pellets.

So a few years on again, was I going to give barley another chance. Yes, but it just had to be cooked to my taste with flavours I like.
I was so concerned with my own taste buds, that I forgot to consider D's feelings towards barley. It was only upon serving hat I became a bit nervous on how D would receive this dish. I was waiting for him to say 'eek, barley should only be used for winter soups'. But I was pleasantly surprised as he got up and cleaned out the remaining barley grains in the pot.

Oh I nearly forgot, my verdict. I am not saying I am a convert of barley, but I actually enjoyed it cooked this way. The grain soft and chewy. It benefited from the additional spices too. In fact I am thinking of doing a bit more experimenting with the grain. I served the spiced barley with some grated carrot.
Cumin spiced Barley with shallots and broccoliServes 2 people
Ingredients
2 shallot, finely sliced
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
150g barley
1 generous teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon chilli or cayenne powder
Salt to taste
Broccoli for two
Method
Gently fry two shallots in the olive oil, then add the barley with the cumin and cook until the shallots are tender. Then cover the barley with water and simmer for 20 minutes. Then place the broccoli on top of the barley, do not stir. Cover ad cook for another 10 minutes, or until the barley and broccoli is tender. A little bit of the juice left in the pan is okay.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

'The Forest'

What there’s a forest in the middle of Edinburgh city?!

The Forest, often referred to as Forest Café is not an ordinary café. If you are expecting to walk into a uniformed café where they serve grande lattes with frothy topping, and monstrous cookies you may just have to do a U- turn and find a chain brand coffee shop for that, as this place is very different. If you do decide to stay, you may like it; or you may not – but it will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting places you’ll ever set foot in.
The Forest Café is namely run by volunteers as a charitable, not for profit social and art space. As you can see from the sign, many free events are held here including workshops, film screenings, poetry readings and band music. For those of you know Edinburgh a little, the Forest is not far from the National Museum of Scotland. Also because of its close proximity to the red doors of the Bedlam Theatre and Edinburgh University, it should not be a surprise to note that the characters that frequent here border on arty - hip-grungy - hippy -Bohemian - shabby chic - punk - Goth - Anarchic types. For some this will be a place of euphoric idealism; and for others it may be their idea of hell. As a person who has pretty much been an outsider (not fitting in) most of my life, I have always been open-minded and appreciated our worldly diversity. So if you are set in your ways and see things simply in black and white (no shades in between), then this place is probably not for you as you may see some things that may raise your eyebrow, upset or even offend you and I know this is not the intention of this space. It is supposed to be a safe place for some, to allow people to be themselves without fear of reprisals.
On entering, other than absorbing the colourful outfits of the characters who definitely want to be seen, you will also notice how shabby and dark the place is. The windows could do with little sprucing to let the natural light in. As you sit down, you take see the unusual, quirky murals and artworks on the walls and the ceilings.
Then you notice the recycled furniture. This particular table has been given a new lease of life with decoupage and a lick of vanish. There are also some sunken sofas in the corner occupied in true 'friend’s' style by some young studenty girls absorbed in deep conversation and drinking fair-trade coffee. Behind them some stacks of old books and games in dog eared boxes. In another corner, there was a lad in Buddy Holly style surfing the net, and sitting just behind us there was a Boho-grunge mama having tea with friends while her little one in a stroller played on - everyone seemed kind of chilled and lost in their own world.

The reason I came across the Forest Café is that I wanted to eat somewhere affordable and somewhere that caters for people who like their vegetables. Whenever we come into Edinburgh, we either end up eating on the hoof or going to the Kitchen Mosque. D likes the Kitchen Mosque for quantity, quality and value for money, but I wanted a change from it. Of course I know of more famous vegetarian establishments in Edinburgh, but wanted something different and simple, rather than elegant food.
If I’m honest, other than the salad, the Forest Café menu is not vegetable based really, no seasonal offerings. However, there was plenty of vegetarian choice with vegan options such as burrito, nacho’s, falafel, pitta bread and hummus, Mexican style beans, rice, soup, plate of salad and salsas. There was also a selection of sweet vegan nibbles too. You can't read it here, but at the top of the menu it reads 'Hey! all staff are volunteers so play nice, tip heavy and clear your own dishes away. Sometimes we don't speak English and sometimes we put peanuts in everything just because we can, so be careful, ok? We many not like you, but we don't want to kill you. We believe in slow food so take a deep yogic breath and go read a book. We'll call you when it’s ready'. By slow food, its not slow food in the Carlo Petrini tradition, but more in the order to table - service sense, but you have to forgive them and be patient, this is a voluntary and charitable establishment after all. They are not set up to make a profit and if you come here regularly, it’s not necessarily for the food but the vibe of the place.

For grub, I had the falafel burger aka the ‘balls of joy’ and D had the biggest mound of cheesy Nacho's (aka The Nicholas Cage) that I have ever seen. After eating my falafel, I greedily helped him make a dent in his nacho mountain. Its not restaurant style food, but it certainly is hearty and reasonably priced.
I highly praise the Forest Café for being alternative in the same vain as Tchai Ovna and the Pakistani Café in Glasgow. It is a great place to make people feel welcome, (especially if you are new to Edinburgh or a student away from home for the first time). I applaud the volunteers (past and present) for their time in making the place the success that it is. If I was part of this crowd, free spirited, in a certain age bracket; or an Edinburgh student, it would perhaps be a place I frequent more often. However, now being my own person, moving on in my life and enjoying my own space, places like this seem like a distant world to me. Still it is good to remember and support them.
Oh downstairs there are separate toilets for men and women, but these toilets are also unisex. This should not be that shocking to those of you who are well travelled. When I went to France, I noted many of the toilets there were unisex. That is the way it just was. But I should warn you there has been plenty of criticism regarding the conditions of the toilets being unclean, but I honestly can't comment as I did not use them. I just admired the artwork.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Vegan Mushroom and spinach roly-poly

That even my meat loving brothers will eat. This savoury roly-poly is made with suet pastry. Suet pastry is used to create savoury dishes like steak and kidney pudding and English puddings such as roly-poly and the renowned spotted dick.

Traditionally suet comes from beef cattle. It is the shredded deposit fat taken from around the internal organs of the animal. I know some people would rather not know this information and just be happy to eat what they are given without question, but I think it is important to know the source of some of our traditional ingredients. Suet remains a popular ingredient to this day. It is used quite a lot in making dumplings, especially during the autumnal and winter seasons. Suet dumplings are often added to warming casseroles or stews, where they are gently steamed and swell up double in size. Dumplings are often served in place of potatoes and bread.

Suet was not an ingredient my mother cooked with. I only began experimenting with it in my University years, when I discovered the vegetarian (also suitable for vegans) alternative made from: hydrogenated vegetable oil, wheat flour, sunflower oil and pectin. The suet itself looks like little white pellets dusted with the wheat flour to keep them apart. One of the first recipes I ever made with this suet was British celebrity chef Gary Rhodes mushroom and onion pudding; and early in the year I made Leek Savoury Puddings. I have to admit, I have never made a sweet jammy roly-poly. I know that will be remedied one of these days, but right now enjoy this savoury version.
This savoury roly-poly is filled with spinach and mushroom, and was served as part of a roast vegetarian dinner; and don't forget the compulsory gravy. For me this was a nice change from a vegetarian lentil loaf.

To end, some of you may know this, but for those of you who may not - Did you know that traditional beef suet was, and in some cases still remains one of the key ingredients of sweet mincemeat which is often made into Christmas Mincemeat Pies. So please do check the label this Christmas if making a purchase. Also, if you found it interesting to read about the traditional suet, you may also be interested in reading a little about the vegetarian 'black pudding'.
Mushroom and Spinach Roly- Poly
Serves 8 as part of a vegetarian roast dinner
Ingredients
For the Suet pastry
450g wholemeal plain flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoons salt
110g vegetable or vegan suet
300-350ml cold water
For the filling
3 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
400g chestnut mushrooms
150ml vegetable stock
350g fresh spinach, chopped
55g wholemeal flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Method
Mix together the dry ingredients for the suet pastry. Add the water a bit at a time to form a fairly firm dough.
Heat olive oil and sauté the garlic and mushrooms. Add stock and cook until mushrooms are tender. Stir in the flour and season with lemon juice and salt and pepper. Cook until the sauce thickens. Roll out the pastry into a large rectangle. Spread the filling on it, almost to the edges, leaving ½ inch spare pastry all the way round. Brush the edges with cold water and roll up length ways, squeezing in the ends to keep in the filling. Place the roly-poly on a large baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at gas mark 5 approximately 40 minutes. The pastry should begin to turn brown and be cooked thoroughly. Rest in a warm place for 10 minutes, then cut into slices. Adapted from The Stones Cookbook.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Greyfriars Kirk and Herbs

Yesterday, we decided to take the train into Edinburgh. We were only here a couple of months ago, when we explored Leith.
We took a slow stroll in Princes Street Gardens.

Then decided to wander towards the Grassmarket and Cowgate area of the city, before finding ourselves in the heart of Edinburgh and a street we walk down often near the Edinburgh University area. As well as passing a host of charities aka thrift shops, various eateries including the Mosque Kitchen, one of the best places to eat authentic Pakistani fare in my opinion, we always seem to see something different around here.
This time we noticed this building hidden on one of the side streets. It looks like it reads 'Cry Friars', but its actually Grey Friars. Greyfriars Kirk known today as Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk is a parish church of the Church of Scotland. It was founded in 1620. I've always been interested in looking at old historic buildings, but namely from the outside. However with the doors being open to the public, we decided to have a walk around the Kirk. It was rather spacious.
The only thing that was off-putting whilst wandering in the Kirkyard was the number of aged homeless drunkards hanging outside around with their bottles of cider. Most of these drunkards are harmless and lost in their world of intoxication; others can be abusive to tourists, locals - well anyone really as D and me witnessed. Thankfully, though no one around could understand what the drunken man was bleating, so no offence was taken, just bewildered and amused looks.
One of the main reasons, a number of people like myself will have heard of Greyfriars Kirk is the story a Skye Terrier dog called Bobby. It is claimed that one of the most visited graves in the kirkyard is that of John Gray. John Gray was an Edinburgh policeman who died of tuberculosis in 1858 and was buried there. For the following 14 years, Bobby remained devoted and faithful and kept watch over his owners grave, until its own death in 1872. Nearby the Kirk you will find signs of Bobby, for example there is a pub next door called Bobby's Bar. It also has a statue of Bobby.
Whilst still inside the Grey Friars Kirkyard, I was taken by the number of herb garden spots created there. I was furthermore impressed by the effort someone had made in writing and sharing the medicinal value of each herb on individual slates. Here are a couple of them. (Above) Ginger mint also known as Scotch mint.
Scot's oregano,
Because there were so many slates, I created a collage of them. Please click on the image to see in more detail. After scraping the soil of some of the slates and musing. We left and went on our merry way to explore other side streets. We also decided to stop for a coffee, but rather than stop at a coffee shop we supported MacMillan Coffee morning that was being hosted by a church not far from Greyfriars Kirk.
We stopped for a little while at the Edinburgh People Museum for two reasons, it was on route situated in the Canongate Tolbooth at the bottom of the Royal Mile and secondly, it was free to the public. The People’s Story explores the lives of Edinburgh’s ordinary people at work and play from the late 18th century to today. There are a number of displays showing such as original cell/jail and a wartime kitchen. I'm always interested to see old posters and objects from the past.
This is the entrance to Holyrood Palace which is most definitely not free entry to the public. If you want to go in, you need to tuck into your purse or wallet and part with some notes. So we didn't go any further and just took a peek from the gates, before deciding to call it a day and head back to home.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Slow Gin

Making sloe gin is slow and takes time, but it certainly is not laborious. All that is needed on your part is a little patience as the sloes steep in the gin; and who knows it could be ready to drink for the seasonal holidays.
These are the sloe berries I picked last weekend, all 250g of them. Below is what the jar looked like the following day. Such a beautiful deep red-magenta colour. Every time I open the cupboard, I find myself shaking the jar as if I was behind the bar shaking a cocktail mixer, something I have never done in my life.
Sloe Gin
Ingredients
250g sloe berries
115g caster sugar
1/2 litre gin
Method
Prick the tough skin of the sloes all over with a fork and put in a sterilised jar.
Pour in the sugar and the gin, seal tightly and shake well.
Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Then shake once a week. After a few months (the longer the better), strain out the sloes and bottle the sloe gin. Original Recipe can be found here.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Ginger Plum crumble

I just loved the colour of these plums. They reminded me of the kind of deep purple I was happy and more daring to wear on my lips in my younger years. Pretending to look all sultry and moody. I don't wear the colour on my lips these days, but I do on my fingernails and sometimes in the clothing I wear.

However these plums were not for admiring. I'd eaten some au naturale at work for lunch, but there were still many more, going soft at the touch. Not for long though....
Upon cooking the minced ginger infused the plums and the plums themselves became soft, sharp and syrupy releasing all its juices. The oaty crumbly topping was as delightful and chewy.
Ginger Plum Crumble
Serves 6
Ingredients
600g -700g plums, stones removed and sliced
2 pieces of stem ginger, minced
50g caster sugar
For the crumble topping
150g plain four
100g chilled, diced butter
75g, caster sugar
50g rolled oats
Method
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6. Place the plums in a 2 pint ovenproof dish and scatter over the ginger and sugar.
Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles unevenly sized breadcrumbs. Stir through the sugar and oats and scatter over the plums, do not be tempted to press it down. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes until the plums are soft and the crumble is golden brown. Serve warm with cream or custard. Adapted from Ainsley Harriott's Gourmet Express 2.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Ceylonese spiced runner beans

Even though he has not said it out loud, I can see it in D’s body language ‘ Oh, not runner beans again!’. But what can I do, they are still growing in the garden plot. Some are a little far gone, the skins tough to chew due to neglect, however others can still be picked and eaten. I have to admit the thought of eating plain runner beans coated in a little butter or olive oil did not thrill me either, so I have had to find another way of eating them. We’ve already eaten them in salads and 'spiced up' in various ways. This time it was Ceylonese spiced runner beans. I have to admit, I know very little about Ceylonese (now Sri Lanka) cuisine. My assumption like many is that it is similar to South Asian, namely Indian food, but as I delved more. I learned that there are also Arab, British, Dutch and Portuguese influences. Alongside these influences, the country has some of its own traditional Sri Lankan offerings such as the renowned 'hoppers' (crispy at the edge and gooey in the middle pancakes) that every tourist reminisces about when back on home turf. There is also kiri bath (milk rice served at ceremonies), pol sambol (fresh grated coconut combined with chilli, onions, lime salt and pepper) and kavum (dough cakes deep-fried in coconut oil).

But what I am making is not traditional at all, but the flavours are very definitely Ceylonese. I wasn’t sure if these would go well with the celery and pecan cakes, but I was willing to try. It was a good accompaniment. The flavours complimented the celery and pecan cakes very well indeed.
Ceylonese spiced runner beans
Serves 4
Ingredients
300g runner beans,
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon, grated root ginger
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of ½ lemon or more to taste
Method
If the runner beans are a little tough, string them, then top and tail. Slice diagonally into 1 ½ inch pieces. Cook the runner beans in a pan of boiling salted water until just tender, then drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the garlic for a minute. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook for another minute, then add the ground spices and cook for a further minute. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and simmer for a couple of minutes until softened and a little pulpy. Stir in the beans, ginger, salt and lemon and simmer for five minutes. Adapted from Ainsley Harriott’s Gourmet Express 2.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Celery and pecan cakes

The savoury kind of cake.

I was curious to try this combination. After all how often does long, green and crunchy celery play the starring role of a dish. It either serves as a base to a stew or as part of a crudite platter. I wanted to give the celery a little more respect and taste it as an vegetable in its own right.

However, when I began to read the recipe and saw that I had to ground a load of good pecan nuts, I began squirming. I’d rather eat the pecan nuts as is; or in a 'pecan and maple cake', but to crush them to dust, just seemed wrong. I did it anyway as I was curious and I would only have wondered about the combination.
As expected the pecan nuttiness flavour came through, however it was not alone. There was a light hint of celery in the background too. The texture was similar to that of a light nut loaf or an old fashion vegetarian nut-burger.

These celery and pecan cakes alone may not excite you, but stuff them in between a bun, with some rocket and smothered in home-made red tomato and celery chutney, these cakes became astounding. The original recipe suggests serving these with mashed potato and a celery and Stilton sauce. I am sure that will be good, but I already have plans on eating some with home-made potato wedges.
Celery and pecan cakes
Makes 8
Ingredients
200g pecans, ground
8 whole pecans
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 onion, finely processed
½ head of celery, finely processed
200g fresh brown breadcrumbs
200g potatoes, mashed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Method
Heat oil in a pan, add onions and celery and sauté gently until cooked. Take of the heat. Mix together the ground pecans, celery mix, breadcrumbs, potatoes and seasoning. Shape into 8 cakes. Use reserved pecans to decorate. Chill in fridge for 30 minutes to firm up. When ready to eat, bake on a lightly greased tray at gas mark 6 for 20 minutes. Adapted from The Stones Cookbook.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Mocking the 'meat'

I had to chuckle to myself a few days ago.

Although I don’t buy much convenience vegetarian food, I do like to have a peek from time to time for occasional offers (as there are days when we’ll come home and neither of us wants to cook). So on this one day at the supermarket, amongst the vegetable, tofu and mock ‘meat’ products, I noticed that some inconsiderate, selfish idiot had thrown a pork pie into the section. This is not the first time. I could easily get upset and angry, but what good is that. Instead I chuckled to myself. I am sure the idiot leads an unfulfilled life and this is one way s/he gets a kick. Very sad indeed

Monday, 20 September 2010

Autumnal Apple and Blackberry Scones

Last week, it was National Cupcake Week here in the UK. These fashionable cakes have started off a trend in some parts of England, most notably in parts of London, The cupcake has yet to make its mark in Scotland in the same way. It got me thinking, obviously they hail from the USA, but how on earth did they have become so popular here. Many food writers have pointed the finger to a scene in Sex and the City, others to the opening of numerous American bakeries, all specializing in cupcake galore with their windows draped with ribbons, lace and floral designs; and the cupcakes piled mountain high on glass stands or antiquey-style three layer stands giving your eyes an opportunity to feast and be dazzled by vivid shades of shocking pink, verdant green and sungold yellow. The frosting and garnishing delights the eys too: all glittery and glitzy teasing your taste buds into trying the indulgent creamy topping. Then you have the bookshops stacked with various cupcake books, so that you can flick through the pages and indulge even further. I remember reading somewhere that last year Google had revealed that 'cupcakes' was one of the fastest-rising recipe search in the UK. Despite its popularity though, there is still some debate on U.K shores whether the cupcake is really a fairy cake just larger in size and topping, but I don’t want to get into that now.

I think I ought to share that although I own this book I’m not really a cupcake girl. In fact, I don’t think my blog has ever featured a cupcake, plenty of its dumpier sister - the muffin (which I adore by the way), but no cupcakes. So with it being National Cupcake last week, did I decide to participate? No sorry to disappoint, I didn’t because I was not in the mood for something that sweet. However I was in the mood to do some baking. It occurred to me to make some scones, a staple found in most British bakeries. Unfortunately because scones are rather plain and humble compared to the fashionista diva cupcake, they are somewhat beginning to fall out of favour with the British public. But not with me, a scone is just what I fancied: delicate, crumbly and light.

For those of you who may not be familiar with scones, scones are a small round cake made of raised dough, which may be sweet or savoury. Originating in Scotland, it is generally soft and light inside with a light brown crust. Scones can be eaten at breakfast or for tea. Scones were traditionally cooked on a griddle, a thick flat iron with a handle, placed on a fire or on top of the stove, they are now more often cooked in the oven.
Once I started putting the ingredients together, my eyes fell on the small bowl of ripe blackberries I had picked from the garden and some of those windfall apples. Although my original intention was to make some plain scones, this is what I ended up with: Autumnal apple and blackberry scones. Of course me being me with my cookie cutters, I just had to cut them out in the shape of an 'apple' too. These scones turned out rather good, even if I don’t say so myself. In fact I am going to boast and say that I think that even Delia Smith and Mrs Beeton would be proud of me.
The best way to eat a scone is fresh from the oven, not immediately though, give it about 30 minutes to cool down, then cut open slather generously with good butter and enjoy with a cup of Tea. If you want to indulge further, how about adding some whipped cream, maybe some hedgerow jam too.  Updated: See fellow blogger The Ordinary Cooks variation of these scones.  They look delightful.
Apple and Blackberry Scones
Makes 6
Ingredients
225g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
55g butter
30g caster sugar
100ml - 150ml milk
1 apple, grated
50 - 60g blackberries (I used fresh, but would recommend frozen)
1 egg, beaten (optional)
Method
Sift the flour with the salt into a large bowl. Rub the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in sugar and grated apple. Make a deep well in the flour, pour in the milk slowly, you may not need to use it all and mix to a soft, spongy dough with a knife. Fold in the blackberries very gently as they will break and bleed. On a floured surface, knead the dough very lightly until it is just smooth. Roll out to about 1 inch thick and stamp into rounds with a small pastry cutter. Gather the scraps together and cut into more scones. Brush the scones with beaten egg if using for a glossy crust or brush with milk, then sprinkle with flour. Bake the scones at the top of the oven gas mark 5 for 15-20 minutes, or until well risen and brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack, or serve hot from the oven.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Mushroom Tofu loaf served with Chipotle runner bean ragout

Although meatloaf is of European origin, I have always associated it as part of American cuisine. So it will not be a surprise to some of you that I have never seen a meatloaf up close. But D having lived in the States for a couple of years vouched that visually this vegan 'Mushroom Tofu loaf' looked pretty close. It wasn't just about the way it looked though, it was about taste too.
I’ve mentioned before that D is not keen on tofu (or tempeh), so he was the perfect guinea pig. I asked him what he thought of the flavours and texture of the loaf. He actually said he could not detect the tofu, the texture and flavours were good and was very happy eating it. He added he was actually enjoying the accompaniment of the chipotle runner bean-mushroom more with its smoky and warming undertones.

I was still grinning at the way the loaf turned out to think about the ragout. Having never used tofu as a binding agent, I was very impressed with the way the loaf came out in tact. I was honestly actually expecting it to collapse somewhere in the middle. If you do decide to have a go at making the Mushroom Tofu loaf (and I strongly recommend that you do so) just bare in mind that it is rather substantial. It should really be made for a gathering of friends and family; not for two people, unless of course your planning to make it ahead for the working week, which of course we have. It will keep us fed and happy for at least another 3 evenings.
Now onto the ragout - I don’t know how often the Mexican chipotle chile has mingled with the quintessentially British runner bean, but here in this ragout they are just loving each other. I was rather pleased with this fusion dish too, and it was also a nice way to eat the runner beans still growing in the garden plot.
Mushroom Tofu Loaf
Serves 6 - 8
Ingredients3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
50g chopped walnut or Brazil nuts
50g rolled oats
150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
500ml vegetable stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
500g firm tofu, pressed of excess water and crumbled
3 tablespoons arrowroot or cornflour
140g stale brown bread crumbs
Method
In a large pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally until soft and golden brown. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside
In the same pan, heat the remaining oil. Add the nuts, oats and mushroom. Saute for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are tender. Stir in a small amount of stock, turn up the heat and loosen stuck on bits. Add the remaining stock and cook for 10 minutes . Add the soy sauce, mustard, tomato paste, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Continue to cook until the mixture is thick. Add to the bowl with the onions and set aside. Season to taste.
Add the tofu and arrowroot or cornflour to a food processor; puree until smooth. Add to the onion mixture and blend in enough breadcrumbs to make a thick paste; mix well/ tip gently into a non-stick or lightly oiled loaf pan measuring 9 by 5 by 3 inches. Press down firmly to pack in the mixture into the pan. Bake for 40 minutes. For optimal result, let the loaf cool for an hour or two before slicing; or make a day ahead and reheat. Adapted from Ken Charney’s The Bold Vegetarian Chef
Chipotle runner bean-mushroom ragoutServes 4
Ingredients
Handful of runner beans, topped and tailed, then sliced into 1 inch diamond shapes
2 chipotle chiles1 medium onion, finely sliced
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
200g chestnut mushrooms
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon mushroom sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Method
Cook the runner beans in salted boiling water, until tender. Drain and set aside.
Split open the chipotle chiles, remove the seeds and soak in hot water until soft (about 30 minutes). Mince the chiles and set aside.
In a large pan, cook the onion in the oil over medium heat until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, mushrooms and the minced chipotle chiles. Cook for 5 minutes, then add stir in tomato paste and mushroom sauce and 300ml water. Bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by about half mushrooms are tender. Stir in runner beans and cook for a minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and serve immediately. An idea inspired by a recipe from Ken Charneys The Bold Vegetarian Chef.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Eglinton Park

We took a drive along the West coast, our chosen destination was Saltcoats on the East coast of Scotland, but somewhere along the way we got distracted and saw a sign for Eglinton Country Park.
D was happy to play with the camera and me, I was happy to walk and explore. The amateur forager in me wanted see if there was any free wild food here to pick. Before we even got out of the car, we noted the number of people walking around with their dogs. In fact what surprised me was that there was a designated 'doggy loo' area. The park is listed as 'Friendly venue' for dogs by the Dog's Trust.

We looked at the noticeboard that informed us that between 2 - 4pm the countryside rangers were going to be opening the doors to the cottage and would be showcasing some hedgerow plants. I got a little bit excited and thought, maybe, just maybe they will have sloe berries here.
For those of you who have been reading my blog a while, will know that I've been on the hunt for sloe berries for a year. I was especially envious of Nic of Nip it in the Bud find last year. In fact my obsession was so bad, there were a number of nights when I found myself dreaming that I was picking sloe berries for a while. Why this sudden enthusiasm with sloes you may think? Well I blame my father-in-law for letting me taste some of his sloe gin two years ago and it was just so, so delicious. After learning that his friend had made it for him, I too just had to make my own.
On our walk, we passed Eglington Tournament Bridge.
If you click on the image, you'll be able to read 'Ye Maunna Tramp on the Scotch Thistle, Laddie'. This sculpture was commissioned for the Kelvingrove International Exhibition of 1888. The statue sat on the roof of a soap factory in Paisley until being moved to Irvine in 1971 when the factory was demolished. The statue was eventually moved to Eglinton Country Park, where vandals stole the heads. Something similar happened to the life sized sailors known as 'Cavorting Sailors' in Leith, Edinburgh, except some of them were stolen. Below Eglinton Castle surviving walls.
At one point, we passed a couple, perhaps in their mid 50s. At a glance I noted that they seemed to be foraging for chestnuts. I thought to myself I wonder if they know if there are any sloe berries around here. The eager bee in me approached them, first just saying 'hi', then asking directions as we were not familiar with the park and then, to the point 'do you know if there are any sloe berries around this park'. They were so lovely, and informed me that they came her often and unfortunately could not tell me of a spot where they were thriving, but there were plenty of elderberries. We thanked them and continued walking on.
Eglinton cattle. Funny they started walking towards us. Whilst D was going camera snappy, I observed a man in his late forties walking through the park with his active Guide dog puppy. As he approached me, he nodded 'afternoon'; I responded back 'Afternoon, have you been busy foraging' and the conversation evolved. He was really friendly: in that short while, we spoke about his Mrs making bramble jelly, him foraging at the park for the past few years, the Guide dog puppy under training and sloe berries. He said, the same as the other couple 'plenty of elderberries' but sloes. Nah. As he walked away with the dog merrily bouncing in all directions, he turned and called me over. He said 'I'm not too sure if they were sloe berries or damsons, but I did see something a little while ago that resembled sloes'. I listened very carefully to his directions and Thanked him. At this stage, I'd be happy with damsons too as I've never had them either. In the back of my head, I could remembered fellow blogger Kath of the Ordinary Cook encouraging me to try damsons as well.
As we approached this little corner, I saw some isolated purple berries hanging. Could it be, no, really - sloe berries. Not that there were that many there as the branches were pretty much stripped, but D still wouldn't let me collect many. I asserted, this is where that man said they were. Sadly he was not confident in me identifying these as sloe berries. So I said to him, 'these must be sloe berries, there are hardly any here, someones already picked the ones within reach. Listen, let me pick some, the countryside-rangers got that hedgerow plant identifying event on, I'll get confirmation from them'. We agreed.
Yes, hooray - it was confirmed that these berries were indeed sloe berries. The countryside ranger working in the cottage house had a vase full on display. Here you will also see Hawthorn, wild rose-hip, wild crab apples, Elderberries and Rowan Ash.
Whilst inside, we couldn't help have a closer look at the other kitchenalia.
Pretty happy with myself, it was time to head back home.
Oh one more thing, some of you may have seen these banners outside Christian places of worship. I just feel I have to share this. It warmed my little heart.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Spiced Tamarind (Imli) Corn Soup

Sweet corn always reminds me of my childhood. My mother would often slowly cook corn cobs under the grill or in the oven. When it came out slightly turned golden and black in some places, we would all take a cob each and slather it generously with lemon and chilli-salt. The kernels soaking up the citrus and spice and enhancing the flavour further making it even more juicy and sweet. Just the thought of it is making my mouth water.
But it wasn’t to be spiced corn on the cob. I remembered that Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen was hosting this months No Croutons Required Challenge. The challenge was to create either a vegetarian soup or salad using corn. For one moment I thought about being sneaky and submitting this Spicy Sweetcorn soup that I had made early in the year with frozen corn. Then I thought why on earth would I with all this fresh corn around me. So I decided to challenge myself further and create a dish with some other ingredients I had to hand, namely a couple of organic red Romano peppers which I picked up in the reduced section of the supermarket now beginning to look a little wrinkly; and tamarind paste/concentrate aka imli. This Spiced Tamarind Corn soup was the result. Check out the other NCR entries here and cast a vote for the one that tickles your tastebuds!
The rich tamarind not only flavours the soup by giving it a slight tanginess, it also gives it a deep brown, autumnal colour. The corn gives it a sweet crunch and a little texture and the fresh coriander enhances the flavour further. For me this was the perfect soup to welcome the Autumn, even if it has arrived with lashings of rain. The Tamarind Corn soup was accompanied with some Jalapeno and sweetcorn bread in the shape of both corn cobs and muffins. I’ve made these before. The only thing I did differently this time was use fresh red pepper. The recipe for the cornbread can be found on this link.
I was send this cast iron corn stick by my best friend in America (whom I met at University), who posted it to me in 2000 after I had returned from visiting her near San Fransisco. It must have cost her a fair bit to post. Its not exactly feather weight and for that I am grateful. I have barely used it, so in order to give it more wear and show her my appreciation. I dug it out from amongst the other baking pans and decided to make some corn stick muffins to accompany my corn soup. I just wish she was sitting at the table with me, enjoying them with me. As well as enjoying her company, which I miss so dearly. I would have had the honour of holding her first child: a baby girl, who from the e mailed photographs looks just like her - Beautiful. If your reading this my dear friend, I miss you.
Spiced Tamarind (Imli) Corn Soup
Serves 3 - 4
Ingredients
4 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely sliced
300g sweet corn, fresh or frozen
1 Romano or red pepper, diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin,
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon tamarind (Imli) concentrate
1 – 1 ¼ pint water or vegetable stock
Coriander, minced for garnish
Method
Heat oil over medium-low heat in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add onion and sweat until soft. Add cumin, coriander and chili powder, and sauté for 2-3 minutes more or until fragrant. Add corn, pepper and tamarind, and sauté for 5 minutes. Pour in water or stock. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until corn and pepper begins to soften. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Remove soup from heat. Let cool. Transfer half of soup to blender, puree, and return to pot. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish a sprinkle of minced coriander.