Monthly Archives: June 2017

Bon Voyage Cake

I made this cake at the weekend, by way of saying fare thee well to the Wunderkind as he goes off on his next adventure. There was no flour in the recipe; but dP1030229.JPGon’t be fooled into thinking it was in any way healthy …

250g each of butter, chocolate and walnuts, six large free range eggs … you get the picture. And a smidgeon of home-made strawberry jam, to make it stick; and a pile of crème fraiche and two punnets of beautifully firm yet juicy local raspberries, purchased from a butcher’s shop in St Andrews. I like cakes where nuts replace flour – you end up with a lovely squidgy texture. The sort you could fall into face-first.

It was an indulgent weekend in more ways than one. You know how it is when someone’s going away, and you have to cram in all those things you might miss too much? So we also had fish suppers in Anstruther, sitting on the harbourside on a sunny-but-not-exactly-balmy Saturday afternoon, with the seagulls squawking around hopefully. And then a few beers later on. As the Dundonians among us would say, ‘It’s rerr to be alive, izzit?’

Bon Voyage, son, looking forward to your safe return. Proud of you always.

Wagons Roll!

P1030225.JPGI met an ex-oilrig worker yesterday, clad not in greasy overalls, hard hat and life vest, but in leather apron with giant fork. Ross Lamb told me that he celebrated his 34th birthday recently by taking delivery of a very special piece of kit which haunted his dreams during the last three years of his offshore life. I asked him what was special about his kit and he gave me a pile of techy info which means absolutely nothing to me. However I know some of you love this sort of thing, so here it is.

P1030222.JPGRoss’s pride and joy is a Reverse Flow Offset Smoker, made by Barbecue Mates. It is mounted on its own wheels, as a commercial barbecue trailer, and Ross believes his big investment is the only one of its kind in Scotland at present. To tow it, he bought a massive truck, otherwise known as a Landrover Overland Prep Defender, which will soon be kitted out as a drinks bar. He plans to develop his business as an informal catering operation. Er, isn’t it a bit seasonal? I asked. Yes, it is – but that poses no problems, as Ross will be out in the Highlands, a-chasing the wild deer and following the roe … join in if you know the words.

This big beastie – a combined smoker and oven – was demonstrating its prowess yesterday at a Fathers’ Day Barbecue being held at the newly-opened Lindores Abbey Distillery. I’d taken the Troubadour along (I’m learning to be a roadie but I still fold the music stands up all wrong …) to croon to the crowds. Not often you get great BBQ, brilliant music, lovely surroundings AND Scottish sunshine all in the same place, at the same time – but yesterday it happened. And it isn’t even midsummer yet, so there’s hope for lots more.

Move Over, Nigella!

20170613_191351I was privileged to be present last night at the inaugural ten-course tasting dinner in Newburgh’s latest (and most exclusive) eatery, Le Petit Chapeau. Located in a bijou conservatory/lean-to just off the High Street, this is the brainchild of talented Stella Colleluori of Mad Hatters. Naturally my view of the event – from the kitchen – was the most exclusive of all! Except perhaps that of the Troubadour, who graced the launch of the proceedings with a rendition of ‘The Glory of Love’ (you’ve got to give a little, take a little…’ )

Stella served the following menu to her appreciative diners:


Smoked Mozzarella and Sundried Tomato Curls, and Caramelized Pear and Stilton Cups

Pea, Lemongrass and Ginger Soup

Scallops with Perthshire Black Pudding and a Whisky Sauce

Hot-smoked Trout Kedgeree with Quails Eggs

Slow-cooked Fife Venison with Pommes Dauphinoises

A trio of Desserts:

Peanut Hazelnut and Meringue Cheesecake


Triple Chocolate Brownie with a Salted Chocolate Fudge Sauce



Now I can reveal that as well as peeling spuds and washing up, I was appointed photographer for the evening. On my brand-new phone. Sadly, such extended multi-tasking was a bit of a challenge and my photos don’t reflect the true voluptuosity of the offering! Don’t let that put you off. Stella’s guests’ comments started at ‘Wow!’ and moved through ‘I had no idea she was so talented’, to ‘She is an artiste!’ and finally – surely the ultimate accolade – ‘Stella, you are a Goddess!’



Food for our Times

The other day, my friend Cath posted an old recipe she’d found for ‘Election Cake’ – a vast concoction designed to sustain an electoral campaign through days and weeks of canvassing.

Yesterday morning we awoke at 5.40am to the unnerving news of our own elections, punctuated by two terrorist atrocities; and spent yesterday listening to the speculations as to how it’s all to pan out. Muted calls for resignations, visits to the Queen, unexpected alliances, and a dodgy-sounding deal with a minority UK party with homophobic and anti-abortion policies. Plus the personal stories of the winners and losers in the governmental race. In our own constituency, there were four recounts because the margin was so slim – only two votes between the potential winners – and frankly, I wouldn’t be in their shoes for all the gravy on the Edinburgh-to-London Express.

So today, it’s a time for grounding ourselves again in the little certainties which sustain us. And a significant memory: fifty years ago today, the Troubadour went to the phone box down the road to find out whether his wife had given birth yet. ‘Yes,’ he was told, ‘visiting time is at 3pm. You can see them then.’ He went to work and at lunchtime the mechanics took him to wet the baby’s head. Eventually, still in his overalls, he got to see his first and only, that afternoon. Happy birthday, Jan.

This morning, before the birthday trip, I am going to set up my first ever batch of sourdough. It feels like it’s important to celebrate the thrifty skills which keep us all going; to put something away for tomorrow and the day after; to create something for sharing. Various traditional favourites recommend themselves but I want to find a bit of solidarity with our non-UK national neighbours, those who prop up our economy with their skills and knowledge and can-do-will-do attitude; and are still waiting to see whether they are welcome to stay, post-Brexit. Sourdough bread fits the bill.

Between paragraphs 3 and 4 above, I decided to get on with it instead of just talking about it – so here it is; 100g each of strong flour and tepid water, and a few sultanas. I have to leave it for 24 hours at room temperature, feed it and leave it again … by the time I can actually make some bread, the rawness of the election season will have soothed a bit and we’ll be plodding ever onwards. Those who have the stomach for it will engage directly with the political process; apart from casting my vote, that doesn’t include me. I’ll just mind the sourdough.2017-06-10 07.50.09.jpg

Honest, sonsy faces

2017-05-14 11.09.32Recently I was asked to join the judging panel for the Scottish Haggis and Pork Sausage Championships 2017; it was my first exposure to judging and I was keen to see how it was done. Would it be all scientific and serious? Or all foodie and nerdy? So when I entered Dewar’s Rinks in Perth on 14th May I was delighted by the buzz of activity and that lovely, fresh, light, sweetish scent that comes from being in close proximity to large quantities of top quality meat. The place was buzzing with butchers and meat industry suppliers demonstrating their wares and gearing up for a range of competitions.

2017-05-14 12.18.58.jpgI made my way to a large area cordoned off for the haggis and pork sausage judging. There was a circle of chairs with a package on each, containing an apron and baseball cap. Depending on which colour of apron you’d chosen, you were allocated to either pork sausages or haggis – mine was black and that was the haggis camp. We paired up to work in twos, and were shown to long tables with lines of haggises (haggi?) laid out in rows. Five pairs had a table each (and the sausage judges had the same at the far end of the space) – as it transpired, each table represented a specific region of Scotland. However I was unaware of that at the time, and have no idea which region of Scotland our particular haggises came from. There was complete anonymity; each haggis was placed on a paper plate with a raffle ticket to identify it. My friends have been asking me if I was taking bribes! But actually it would have been impossible to do so, even if I wanted to.

Our table had 24 haggises and we had to work through each, grading them with points from 1 to 10 on five different characteristics – appearance raw, appearance cooked, smell, flavour, and ‘mouth feel’. Microwave ovens were supplied, and we had to cut off a slice and zap it in the microwave. Nobody told us what the ideal haggis criteria might be – it was entirely up to judges’ own taste and experience. Water was available as a ‘palate cleanser’ between each tasting. The outer appearance of the whole haggis was not part of the scoring – the judging was all about what the eating experience would be like on your plate at home (or even at your Burns supper). In some ways this was a pity, as there were some real beauties; the type that would inspire a poet to wax lyrical about sonsie faces. However it wasn’t a beauty competition!2017-05-14 12.19.08

After all the pairs had worked their way through this process and totted up the scores, the top three haggises for each table were identified. Then the judging pairs all changed places, and using the same system, chose the best of the three. These would end up as the regional winners (although we didn’t know that at the time). And finally, the top five haggises were placed on a table with all ten judges tasting and choosing the best of the best.

You can imagine by this time that taste-bud inertia might have set in. I think certainly we were very focused, and consensus about the final winner was reached without much disagreement. But it was interesting how important the various criteria became. Obviously, the choosing of a ‘best’ haggis has a lot of subjectivity to it; how could my choice be the same as yours? Haggis making is as much art as science. But as it turned out, most judges were looking for a relatively open texture, both in the raw and cooked state; this usually translated to an appetising ‘mouth feel’; whereas the closer-textured ones could seem a bit gluey in the chewing. Smell wasn’t as easy to differentiate as flavour, which surprised me. And for flavour, the differences were marked mainly by a general meaty savouriness, and how liberally the salt and pepper had been shaken in. One had an obvious rosemary flavour, and this divided the judges’ opinion. A sprig of assertive rosemary is great with lamb, so you can see why a creative butcher would think of this as a way of adding individuality to a traditional haggis recipe. But for me it was a bit too off-beam; haggis is such a traditional meal, served in the most traditional of ways with little variation in the accompaniments, and it just didn’t seem right to bring in something quite so different. Top marks for innovation but no banana. What I personally was looking for was something that would have a different texture to the mashed tatties and neeps that it would inevitably share a plate with. When I used to cook for older people, they enjoyed a haggis, but weren’t so keen on the ones that were highly peppered. So – I’m sure it’s quite a challenge for a butcher, to produce a top quality product in a world where there isn’t much room for individuality, and I doff my baseball cap to all the entrants.

That was that; and the following day the organisers emailed the judges to thank them, and reveal the winners (listed below). It was a really interesting experience and I hope I get to repeat it. What would be really interesting now, would be to watch a craft butcher at work, to see the provenance of his/her ingredients, and see how the recipe is put together. Well done to all the competitors.


2017 SCOTTISH HAGGIS CHAMPIONSHIP sponsored by Grampian Oat Products Champion: JB Houston, Dumfries Reserve Champion: Findlays of Portobello Third Place: Mearns T McCaskie, Wemyss Bay North of Scotland Champion: Davidsons Specialist Butchers, Elgin  East of Scotland Champion: Minick of St Andrews  West of Scotland Champion: Mearns T McCaskie, Wemyss Bay South East Scotland Champion: Findlays of Portobello South West Scotland Champion: JB Houston, Dumfries


THE 2017 SCOTTISH PORK SAUSAGE CHAMPIONSHIP Competition sponsored by Lucas Ingredients Champion: The Buffalo Farm Reserve Champion: Hendersons of Hamilton  Third Place: Ewan Morrice, Stuartfield North of Scotland Champion: Ewan Morrice, Stuartfield South East of Scotland Champion: JC Douglas, St Boswell East of Scotland Champion: The Buffalo Farm, Kirkcaldy West of Scotland Champion: Hendersons of Hamilton South West Scotland Champion: Hendries of Girvan


More results for Meat Skills Scotland and the Craft Butcher Awards are at:-