Category Archives: Uncategorized

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:

Amuse-bouches:20170613_203020

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

Cranachan

Triple Chocolate Brownie with a Salted Chocolate Fudge Sauce

Coffee

~~o~~

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!’

20170613_20091820170613_210726

 

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:-

www.craftbutchers.co.uk

 

 

First, catch your lobster …

Shirley Spear wrote a great piece in yesterday’s Sunday Herald about Scotland’s National2014-12-26 14.55.41.jpg Dish – the mighty fish supper. Spear makes a great case for the provenance and general superiority of this most popular of cairry-oots, despite its frequent greasy tastelessness. Her alternative is a bit posh for most of us but sounds delicious – and I applaud her for giving explicit instructions on how to cook, i.e. kill, the beast. Not for the faint-hearted.

Meantime my friend Marian and I have been down to North Berwick to visit Scotland’s first and only lobster hatchery. It seems that most lobster fisheries are all but fished-out, with newly-hatched lobsters having a 1 in 20,000 chance of surviving to adulthood. In their microscopic state, they are simply hoovered up as fish food; and as they grow, they are aggressively cannibalistic, and eat each other. So Jane McMinn and her fishing colleagues developed the idea of a nursery where lobster eggs (or ‘berries’) would be hatched out and kept in relatively safe conditions, protected from predators including 2017-05-16 14.12.59.jpgeach other, till they were big enough to be re-released into the sea – usually at about 12 weeks old. The signs are positive that this will make a huge impact on the sustainability of the lobster population in the Firth of Forth; although it will be many years before this can be fully established. Meantime the hatchery is largely dependent on charity to stay in business.

Local fishermen are committed to the programme, and are paid a fair price for bringing in a ‘berried hen’. This one on the left was brought in while we were listening to the process from a local volunteer. Obviously this is in their interest, with lobsters currently costing about £30 per kilo, or £21.95 for a whole cooked lobster (the Highland version). Lobsters have never achieved great popularity with the Scottish public, and over 90% of the catch is generally exported to France, Spain and Portugal.

I wonder how far a lobster can swim? Back at Cupar Farmer’s Market last weekend I came across this beastie on a stall run by another Firt2017-05-20 10.08.26.jpgh of Forth crustacean-catcher, but this time on the opposite (northern) coast of the Forth. Clement Boucherit is based near Pittenweem and has been running his business here for the last three years. I bought some langoustines and they were packed freshly into a box of crushed ice, very convenient.

Any project that enhances sustainability is a great thing; but I’m wondering at the likelihood of funding continuing for something which benefits so few people. Unless of course we can all be persuaded to extend our culinary comfort zones next time we feel like cooking something very special (and expensive) for supper. This Friday (2nd June) has been designated National Fish and Chip Day – no lobster for me, but I’ll certainly make a point of celebrating in an appropriate manner. With mushy peas of course.

 

 

Ten real-life cooking challenges

Well done Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed on winning Masterchef 2017! Your cooking really inspired me, and I love the light, fresh, vibrant flavours you have brought to the table.

The winner of MasterChef 2017 has been announced

It must be daunting, as an untrained home cook, to be set loose in the professional kitchens of award-winning restaurants, and to produce exquisite platefuls for panels of exalted judges. Quite often, their accolade for a great plate of food was ‘I would be happy to pay for this in a top restaurant.’ This must be scary for other home cooks – it certainly is for me. The measure of your cooking likes in its suitability for fancy restaurants? Terrifying! And yet most home cooks rise to greater culinary challenges on a daily basis.

Which leads me to wonder – why doesn’t the BBC create a different kind of cookery competition? One in which home cooks are judged for extensive skills in all their normal tricky kitchen manoeuvres? In this kind of competition, we could have rounds on (disturbingly) real-life situations. Here are my ten top suggestions:

  1. A week’s worth of packed lunches for a family of five – creating and delivering the lunches, and responding to customer feedback
  2. Providing healthy post-match snacks for your son’s or daughter’s football team
  3. Laying on a celebration buffet for 20 people including your mother-in-law, three children, a vegan, and someone who is gluten-intolerant
  4. Three items for a fundraiser at the local school
  5. Menu for a street party
  6. Consolation supper for a failed driving test
  7. New resolution weekday suppers following a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes
  8. Birthday picnic for 12
  9. A meal which has to be prepared in advance and served within 30 minutes of arrival home, following a special event such as your stepdaughter’s first stage appearance
  10. Team challenge: a wedding breakfast for 50 people at a budget of £4 per head

2016-06-20 11.05.32.jpgWhy would this kind of approach make good viewing? Firstly, because everyone should have the enjoyment of good food as a regular part of life, and most of us can’t afford to pay for it outside the home. Secondly, because lots of people don’t know how to cook nowadays, and we need a bit of relevant inspiration. And thirdly, because it’s important to be in control of what we put into our bodies.

Finally though – because it’s a joy to get your sleeves up and lay on a bit of a spread, be it ever so modest; and it’s great to develop your skills and have them recognised.

Saliha, good luck with your ambition to combine your medical experience and training with the redesign of the British diet. It would be absolutely fantastic to breathe new vigour – drama, even – into the drive to reduce childhood (and other) obesity.

Ringing the Changes

The Cross Party Group on Food at the Scottish Parliament the other week was as usual very informative and particularly topical for me. The theme was ‘The Future of Reformulation’, with speakers from the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen. Dr Alan Rowe kicked off with a roundup of what’s been going on to date, and why we need to reach further. Everybody, he says, has been trying to reduce the fat, sugar and salt in their products (not sure I agree with that – there are extravagant claims for sugar reduction in the breakfast cereal sector which don’t bear much examination). However there are lots of challenges facing Scotland which need further reformulation efforts.He cited climate change, Brexit, ‘westernisation’ of diets in India and China which in turn have led to hugely increased incidences of diabetes and CVD in those countries; and ongoing famine in large tropical stretches of the world.

Dr Rowe’s colleague, Professor Baukje de Roos, continued with a range of possible developments, and gave brief accounts of three case studies for further discussion:

  • Farmed salmon have much less Omega 3 than theirImage result for images farmed salmon wild cousins. This is because they derive their Omega 3 from their own diet, which, in farms, has been largely based on rapeseed oil. There are other concerns about farmed salmon too; their Vitamin D content is lower; and they suffer from sea lice which are eaten by other fish. The Sunday Times last week ran a feature on the near-extinction of sea wrasse, which are being captured and put to work on the farmed salmon. According to a study at Stirling University’s Institute of Aquaculture, Omega 3 levels in farmed salmon have halved in five years; and as we all know, Omega 3 provides huge health benefits to humans. If something isn’t done, we might as well get our Omega 3 out of a bottle; and what a loss that would be.
  • Mussel farming has been described as the most sustainable form ofImage result for images mussel farming in Scotland meat production in the world – with no environmental impact at all, according to some sources. Mussels are extremely rich in Vitamin D, with a special metabolite that makes them as rich as Vitamin D supplements; and again, Vitamin D is a vital part of our diet in helping us absorb calcium. People who live in sunnier climes can get a lot of the Vitamin D requirement from sunshine; alas this is not the case in Scotland. Hence the desirability of increasing mussel production and consumption. However mussels are also very high in salt, which is a concern.
  • Plant-based protein sources, such as fava beans, hemp, buckwheat, lupin, and peas, are all grown in Scotland. They are high in protein, low in fat, high in fibre, rich in micronutrients and phytochemicals; anti-inflammatory; and high in satiety, giving you a great ‘fuller for longer’ result. Top 6 Plant Based ProteinsBut none of these foods enjoy much (if any) popularity, or have been developed by the food industry. And meantime Scotland has one of the worst records for obesity, diabetes and CVD in Europe. Could we develop a more popular food that increases protein and the above listed other benefits? Maybe a food that is currently perceived as unhealthy, such as a pie? Because of its satiating qualities, such a pie would be lower in calories and cheap to produce (just like the original Scotch pie!) I’m onto it! A good veggie pie? What’s not to like?

I mentioned that the theme for the meeting was very timely for me. That’s because, along with four colleagues on my Food Innovation Masters course, I was working up a presentation for examination via Dragon’s Den, based on our challenge to develop a reduced-sugar product for children (along with the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). Our group worked on a reduced-sugar granola which I may say was delicious and used completely natural ingredients, and achieved a 40% reduction in sugar over the industry standard. There were lots of very technical bits to the project which I may say were more the forte of the rest of the group. My best contribution came in the marketing recommendations … I don’t suppose Scott’s Porridge Oats will be knocking on our door anytime soon but here’s our product image, for your information/entertainment:

MUNGO’S MIGHTY GRANOLA is a reduced-sugar Scottish premium breakfast cereal, made with fantastic Scottish ingredients, including oats from Angus and raspberries from the Carse of Gowrie. Mungo’s granny was the one immortalised in Rabbie Burns’ famous poem ‘To a Mouse’ – there will be a free toy mouse in every package … well I don’t know if this is ever going to hit the supermarket Image result for images running miceshelves but let me tell you this – you can make it at home (I did, on Wednesday night) and it’s brilliant. The one thing that I know for certain went well at the Dragons’ Den presentation is that when we handed the bag round the Dragons for tasting, the whole lot was scoffed in minutes!

 

 

 

 

 

Maggie’s Munchies

On Wednesday I participated in the fourth of four nutrition workshops at Maggie’s in Dundee. Sue, the tutor, is a retired dietitian, and runs this group for people who live with Cancer, on a drop-in basis. The aim is to explore how various dietary choices can support your feeling of wellbeing on your Cancer journey.2016-09-04 15.15.54.jpg

I don’t have Cancer; but I’ve recently been studying the connections between the so-called Mediterranean Diet, and Cancer prevention. My friend Amanda works alongside Maggie’s, and when she heard about my interest, made the necessary introductions. This has been a brilliant opportunity for me, to see how theory gets translated into practice, and I’m very grateful to Amanda and Sue, and all the women and men with Cancer who allowed me to join in their conversations. It was a privilege.

Sue’s four sessions were based on the government’s Eatwell Guide. So we had two hours on each of Fruit and Veg; then Carbs; then Oils and Fats; and finally, Salt and Sugar. In each session, Sue prepared some recipes and talked us through the whys and wherefores of various foods and their provenance. There was plenty time for discussions. And then we ate all the food! What a brilliant learning opportunity – so much better than just reading a recipe book, or even watching a dish being made on television. I saw things being made that I’d read about – like Bircher Muesli – which I just didn’t fancy enough to try. (Oats soaked overnight in milk? Doesn’t sound promising …) Yet the results were delicious, and I’ll definitely make it again.

2016-12-10 20.41.11No surprises in the fact that there isn’t a magic dietary bullet for Cancer. The advice is the same as eating for general good health: lots of fruit and veg, high fibre unless it’s upsetting your system (sometimes affected by the condition or the treatment), oily fish a couple of times a week, and avoid processed foods because they are usually high in salt and sugar. Not too much red or processed meat, not too much dairy. Straightforward, really. But we all get into ruts, cooking the things we know; and Sue showed us some dishes which were easy and tasty and unknown to many of us.

For example, we had mung bean salad; red pepper soup; winter dried fruit salad, with yoghurt and toasted hazelnuts; lentils with red onions in a mustardy-horseradishy dressing; soda bread rolls; smoked mackerel, beetroot and potato salad; hummus; spicy red pepper dip; lemon-tossed popcorn; little oaty-cranberry bundles. And the Bircher Muesli as mentioned earlier. It was all beautiful to behold, and delightful to eat, and left you feeling nicely satisfied afterwards. There is no hardship at all in eating like this; it just takes a bit of planning. Sue’s approach to the recipes was very refreshing too – if you don’t like one ingredient, just substitute another. No major fuss about measuring – a handful will do. We were given recipes too. The links I’ve added here aren’t Sue’s but have the same kind of slant. Also, you can buy a recipe book from Maggie’s.

Maggie’s Centres are architecturally acclaimed, and provide a calm, warm, safe space where people can drop in, have a cup of tea, a chat, browse some great resources, get some specialist advice if they need it, share their experiences with other people with similar conditions, and attend a range of classes if they want to. The emphasis is on empowerment – nurturing people through some difficult times and helping them find the courage and confidence to carry on. People who go there praise the skills and dedication of the doctors and nurses and others who help them on the clinical side of their treatment. And then they say that Maggie’s gives them back a sense of themselves.

I hope none of you ever need Maggie’s – but if you do, I’d say this; you couldn’t find a better source of wisdom.

The birks, the birks …

Wonderful weekend in Aberfeldy – so wonderful it has taken me three days to write it up! Just an hour and a quarter’s drive away but it felt like continental Europe, what with the sunshine, the quirky shops, the local beer, the farmers’ market, the ar2017-04-01 11.06.48.jpgthouse cinema, the ukulele band, and oh! the Birks of Aberfeldy! A wild, dramatic gorge with tumbling streams and crashing waterfalls, acres of wild garlic scenting the birches, and even a statue of Rabbie Burns sitting obligingly on a bench, waiting for Five Women on an Adventure to pose beside him. Good soup and sandwich lunches including a creamy Cullen Skink and some pinky-fresh crayfish tails … and an impressive array of gins back in our swanky lodgings to keep us merry while preparing dinner. Oh yes it was a very good weekend.

By luck we were in town for the first Sunday of the month which is when the farmers’ market arrives. Delicious produce as always but one stall intrigued me more than most – the one giving away free cotton bags to encourage us shoppers to remember to take a bag with us when we go shopping.2017-04-02 09.54.04 ‘Never use a single-use bag again,’ was the smiling challenge from Fiona, who works for Zero Waste Scotland at Perth and Kinross. Now I hate waste but frequently forget the bag, so was very happy to air the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ logo. I had a conversation with Fiona which was really quite inspiring, and gave me some fresh ideas for a new project I have in mind. More of that after the exams!

Completing my joy of the weekend was a great bookshop at the Millhouse – cosy café downstairs, and the Troubadour informs me he once played a gig upstairs there, a couple of decades ago. After my cuppa I browsed the bookshop and found these two gems – 2017-04-05 17.54.07.jpgtiny troves of wisdom, and I’ve read them both cover to cover since coming home. Will be extending my marmalade and oatmeal repertoires over the next week or two.2017-04-05 17.54.35.jpg

Next time you’re in Aberfeldy, I recommend the Habitat café, the Millhouse as above, the cinema coffee shop, numerous quirky gift shops, and the Ailean Chraggan hotel/restaurant at Weem, a hamlet just a mile out of town with good local beer, a wonderfully helpful waitress, a fresh chef, a nice open terrace and the above-mentioned delightful Cullen Skink.