Monday, 12 September 2011

Recipe: Tinned Tomato Soup

I am a massive fan of tinned tomato soup. It is wonderful stuff with grated cheese on top, Worcestershire sauce dropped in, or straight from the tin on a camping trip. There's something really reminiscent of childhood lunches about it, probably due to the luminous colour and the fear that I'll drop it down my top and leave a lurid orange stain. Having spent half of my day staring out of my living room window at a very foggy and rainy park, and the storms brought on by Hurricane Katia, I need comfort. Preferably comfort that doesn't involve taking my slippers off or the use of an umbrella. Tinned tomato soup is the answer.

Tinned Tomato Soup
Serves 2

25g butter
1 garlic clove, sliced or diced
1 medium onion/small leek, chopped
1 tin of plum tomatoes (use posh ones if you can, but if you're feeling the need for frugality, smartprice ones can be topped up with an extra tablespoon of tomato puree)
1 tablespoon tomato puree
generous pinch of sugar
250ml low salt chicken or vegetable stock
50ml cream
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Cook gently until they begin to soften, and add the tomatoes. Stir through, and add in the stock and sugar.
Simmer through for 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and the leek or onion are translucent. Blend thoroughly, adding more hot stock if needed until smooth. At the desired consistency, add the cream, and return to the heat slowly until at serving temperature.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Review: Demijohn

I’m not a shopper, but I don’t half love shopping for food. Or drink. Or kitchenwares. This does mean two things – my nearest and dearest always expect some form of comestible as a presents, and I have a tendency to get a little over excited when purchasing.
My flatmate hit a ‘scary age’ last week, and therefore the purchase of alcohol was necessary on this occasion – luckily for her Edinburgh has some of the finest booze shops this side of the border.
One of my favourite shops in town is ‘Demijohn’. I discovered it while out shopping with my mum shortly after I moved to Edinburgh. We’d started at the bottom of the Grassmarket on Castle Terrace, where we’d got carried away at the Edinburgh Farmer’s market, and wound our way up the hill towards Victoria Street towards home. Victoria Street, despite its slightly random location, has some of the best independent shops in town. Demijohn is towards the top – past the knitting shop and the one with the exciting dresses, perched in a row along with Mellis’ Cheesemonger and Oink!, a shop I’m sorry to say I’ve never been in, but judging by the queues and amazing whole roasted pig in the window, I need to get my chops around one of their hog roast rolls.
The concept of Demijohn is simple, and I think that’s part of the reason why I love it so much. Even the name is pretty simple really. A demijohn is  the vessel used to brew wine, mead or beer, but it’s also the name given to the vessels that liquids are stored in. It also describes pretty succinctly what the shop contains – shelves full colourful globes of delicious liqueurs, golden oils and dark vinegars, each with a small rubber tube and valve to allow the liquid to flow out and a hand written description.

There are two things that make this shop so wonderful – the produce (all British, championing small producers, specialist products and unusual ideas) and the staff. The staff are knowledgeable, friendly and happy to advise. I once went in to buy a British version of Limoncello – they didn’t have any lemon liqueurs but they did have a lime vodka and a grapefruit gin, and I was provided with a slurp of each without even asking to help me decide. The same happened last week when I went in to buy my flatmate’s present. I’d had a gander on their website and was fairly sure that I was going to get her the chocolate orange crème liqueur, but they didn’t have any left on display. I was offered a taste of a caramel instead, while a member of staff went off to rummage and see if they had any remnants in the store room. He came back waving a container, saying rather apologetically there was only just enough left at the bottom for a 250ml serving “if that was ok”. Not just ok, but marvellous – there’s decent customer service for you.

The packaging of the gift was beautiful. I’d brought an old bottle, bought on a previous visit. They (reasonably enough) ask that you buy one of their containers, but when you have one you’re welcome to bring it back to be refilled whenever you want – all you pay then is for the contents. Nice way to encourage return visits and recycling. The contents of the bottle are written on the side using a white marker pen, stopped up with a cork and wrapped using white tissue and raffia. They look lovely– but nowhere near as good as they taste!

Demijohn, 32 Victoria Street, EH1
Also online, Glasgow and York

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Recipe: Lentil Daal

August should not be wet and rainy. It should not involve 'localised flooding', broken umbrellas and soggy socks. I should not be thinking of using my hot water bottle in the office. This August has been rubbish, weather-wise. It's never Edinburgh's finest month, which is a real shame, as it's when the tourists flood to town to enjoy the city and it's atmosphere during the festival.

This is my fourth festival - my third as a local, and like every year I do feel like I should probably take a bit more in. Alas though, like every year, I can't quite bring myself to spend £14 on watching a comedian who may (or most likely may not) be funny. It was at my second festival - my first as a local - that I first 'discovered' lentil daal, whilst chomping down some Mosque Kitchen with a friend. I'm sure my parents will say that I grew up eating lentil daal, and they're probably right, but for some reason I don't think I ate it for the entire 3 years of my undergraduate degree and therefore the first time I actively ate it as an adult classes as the 'discovery' moment. It's not the classiest or most aesthetically pleasing of foods, but it is cheap, nutritious and highly comforting.

Lentil daal.
Serves 2 generously as a main, or 4-6 as part of a thali

200g yellow split peas
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons ghee
1 garlic clove, diced
500ml low salt stock (vegetable or chicken)
500ml hot water
teaspoon mustard seeds
teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 medium hot red chilli, deseeded and diced
100g - or one bag - spinach, roughly shredded
100ml single cream (optional, but mighty tasty)

Rinse the lentils to remove any flour or grit. If possible, soak overnight, rinsing occasionally.
In a large heavy bottomed pan (one with a lid), melt 1 tbsp of the ghee and very gently fry the onion, chilli and garlic until soft.
Stir in the lentils and stock, and cover. Simmer slowly for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop the lentils sticking and burning. Continue until the liquid is absorbed. The lentils should begin to break down, becoming creamy and thick in consistency. If they still have a degree of hardness, continue to add water until they are cooked, and remove from the heat. They should remain a thick consistency - do not allow them to dry out or burn on the base, but be careful not to add so much water that they are soupy.
In a small frying pan, melt another tablespoon of ghee. Add the mustard and coriander seeds, and cook until they 'pop' - but be careful not to burn. Stir in the garam masala to toast slightly. Stir in the spices in to the daal, along with the spinach and cream - the spinach should wilt down and cook. Heat slightly - but do not boil - if necessary.
Ideal served with mini naan.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Review: The National Museum of Scotland Brasserie

I'm not a fan of generalising, but I've recently come to a slightly sad conclusion.
Most museum cafes are crap.
I've pondered the reasons for this on and off for a while, ever since I had some particularly bad experiences at the National Gallery of Scotland's cafe on three separate occasions. I know, more fool me for going back, but generally I believe in second chances.

There are a couple of reasons I've come up with, most involving franchising and tenders - areas I'll admit that I don't know a vast amount about. If the profits of the enterprise are not being put back in to funding the museum or gallery, but in to the pockets of the owners and shareholders then it is perhaps sad but not entirely surprising that cafes and restaurants are not often up to the standard of the museum itself. They're not so much income generators, but a service that museums provide because they are expected to. Of course, there are exceptions - hence my reluctance to generalise - but sadly in the big tourist spots of Edinburgh and London it increasingly seems to be the case.

The National Gallery of Scotland's cafe is, for example, run by the Contini family, who also own Centotre on George Street. Until recently, they also had Zanzero in Stockbridge, but perhaps tellingly that has vanished rather quietly and become something else instead. They've renamed their NGS venture "The Scottish Cafe and Restaurant" and have managed to fill the venue rather admirably with diners in the time they've owned it, but there have been problems - poor service, soup so salty it had to be returned, drinks orders that were taken but never delivered...

Anyway. I digress. I am not supposed to be reviewing The National Gallery's efforts, but those of the newly re-vamped National Museum of Scotland instead. I fear this has also fallen foul of the franchise.
Mr FS and I decided to take a wander up to the museum last Saturday to see what had been done since the revamp and, of course, decided to partake in a midafternoon snack. The cafe section is in an interesting spot - nicely nestled in the main hallway entrance of the old building, underneath archways and tucked away to the side behind glass panels. It's a nice spot for people watching, with comfy chairs and fairly well spaced tables (although I did notice that the slightly haphazard layout seemed to be causing space issues for a gentleman in a wheelchair). And - best of all - the food looks amazing. The museum has rather cannily placed the cafe at the bottom of a staircase, so as you walk down you are faced with a wall of enormous home made cakes and pastries.
Strong contender for the largest scone I've ever had. And yes, that is real clotted cream!
The entrance to the cafe is a little gap in the glass screens. When we arrived at about 3.30, we wandered over to find a crowd of people looking confused by the entrance - and were then told that we would have to wait 15 minutes until the lunch service was finished - even though the cafe was half empty and there were tables ready. We had a wander around the shop and went back when the crowd had vanished, whereby we were greeted by a girl in jeans and a cardigan who presented us with menus and pointed to a table. The waiting staff were also messily dressed - some in jeans, some in black trousers, some in white tshirts and some in smarter white shirts. Confusing. Nice blue butcher's apron's though. So, we sat down and began to inspect our menus - which were different. Mine had Cheese Scone's listed, Mr FS's didnt. Confusing. We told our waitress, who replied with a mumbled apology, and then put our menus back on to the pile with the rest anyway.
They don't even look the same!
After about 15 minutes, our order was taken - they'd run out of Cheese scones (unsurprising, considering we didn't know if they were being offered at all), so we went for two Fruits, a coffee and an Earl Grey. The tea was loose, served in an unbleached paper strainer - for once not too much tea for the pot, although slightly disappointing that I wasn't offered lemon. The scones themselves were fantastic - huge, quite dense and cinnamon-y, and served with liberal portions of jam and cream.When I asked for butter it was brought straight over in another generous portion, nicely served in little ceramic pots - no paper packets here! I'm sad to say, I couldn't finish mine. Always disappointing when that happens.
We then waited about 15 minutes to get someone's attention for the bill, and decided to leave a tip because we couldn't be bothered waiting for our change.

I don't really like being negative in a review. The cafe had only been open a few weeks, it's all quite new, the staff looked very young and inexperienced - but I have to say, the service was shockingly bad, especially considering it was rather pricey even for table service. It was disorganised, waits were lengthy, and the staff appeared seriously in need of some training in the basics. A real shame. I won't be rushing back to try their lunch menu.

Tea and scones for two (including small tip): £10.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Recipe: Green Pea Soup

Soup is marvellous. Pea soup is particularly so, it's fresh and clean, a gorgeous colour, and totally delicious.
Making soup is really easy too - so much easier than people often thick. I tend to follow the same pattern with mine - chop up veg, fry in butter, add stock, boil, blend, add a bit more stock. The secret is, in my humble opinion, to add slightly less stock that you think you'll need. You can always add more during the blending if it's too thick, but taking it away if it's too thin is nigh on impossible. However, if you do fancy making pea soup and would like a recipe to follow...

Pea Soup
Serves 2

250g frozen garden peas
1 medium onion, diced
25g butter
500ml of chicken stock
50ml cream (optional)

Sautee the onion in melted butter, until translucent, in a medium sized pan.
Stir through the frozen peas, and cover in 250ml of stock. Simmer gently with the pan lid on for about 10 minutes, or until the peas are slightly over cooked.
Blend until smooth, adding more hot stock if needed until it's the desired texture. If you fancy adding a bit of cream in, now's the time to do it. About 50ml is perfect - just a little - not too much, or it'll swamp the delicate pea flavour.
Serve right away with heavily buttered brown bread.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup

The last couple of weeks have been a bit crap, and therefore my meals have largely involved toast in various combinations- poached eggs on toast, beans on toast, cheese on toast, toast with honey... you get the idea.

I did decide, though, that in an attempt to rectify the nutritional imbalance of meals consisting mostly of carbohydrates with protein, I'd shove in a few of my five-a-day on the side.

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a lunch.

1kg (roughly one large) butternut squash
2 medium red chillis, deseeded and finely chopped
1 large leek, chopped into rings
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 litre chicken (or veg) stock
50g butter or margerine
100ml single cream (optional, but strongly recommended)
1 level teaspoon smoked paprika
cayenne pepper to taste

Peel your squash, using a potato peeler or super-sharp knife. Take out the stringy middle bit, the seeds, as well as any green veins down the outside, and chop into chunks.
Meanwhile, fry your leek, garlic and chillis off in the butter until the leeks soften. Make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan - if they start to, then chuck in a tbsp of stock to loosen it up.
Add in the butternut squash, cover with the stock, and simmer for 20 minutes until softened and slightly mushy.
Allow to cool slightly, add the paprika, and blend until smooth. Add more liquid if necessary, and cayenne pepper to taste if necessary. Remember that if you're adding cream, it'll dilute the chilli heat slightly.
Place the soup back onto the heat, and bring up to a gentle simmer. Take off the heat, add the cream, and stir through.

Serve immediately in warmed bowls, spooning a pretentious drizzle of cream on top for aesthetic value. Ideal with toast.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Recipe(s): Ghee and Paneer

There are a couple of occasions in life which are irrationally scary. I’m not talking starting a new job scary, or buying a new car scary – they’re both highly sensible things to be wary of, because they both involve the fear of the unknown. I mean the times like wearing new shoes out for the first time. Using your annual bus pass for the first time.  Having a dinner party and introducing your new bloke to your best mate and her chap. You know the type of things. Luckily though, unlike the really genuinely terrifying occasions, the irrational ones can be got through with the crutches of wine and food.
Seeing as one of my guests was veggie, I decided to go for the easy option, and make for a curry. Mine tend to be largely vegetable and pulse based, mainly because they’re cheap and cheerful, and because the spices hide a multitude of pre-payday back-of-the-fridge sins. And, lets face it, when you’re trying to impress people – you can’t go wrong with a curry.

It's fair to say that I’m a sucker for punishment, and therefore decided that rather than take the easy option and buy my ingredients for my curry, I’d make them. If anyone else fancies being daft enough to make their own Paneer and Ghee the morning of a dinner party, this is how…

(4 pints of milk makes about 350g)

Ingredients and equipment:
Full fat cows milk
Lemon juice, about 50ml - or - 250ml natural yoghurt. 
Muslin or cheesecloth (mine was £1.75/metre from John Lewis. You could use a sterilised pillow case cut up though, if you need to)
A colander
Clean tea towels 

In a pan you don’t mind scrubbing (in case of burn!) slowly heat the milk, until it begins to simmer. 
When it begins to bubble, quickly add a teaspoon of lemon juice (or several tablespoons of yoghurt), and remove from the heat. 
The milk should begin to separate – slowly at first, looking slightly like cottage cheese on the surface. Stir gently with a wooden spoon, until the solids are completely separated, and floating in a pale watery liquid. 
Strain the liquid through a sieve lined with cheesecloth (muslin), and allow the liquid to drain out.

If you have time, hanging the cheesecloth from a tap will allow extra liquid to drain off.
Place the parcel on a clean hard surface such as a wooden chopping board, and weigh down to flatten and drain any final liquid out, for approximately 2 hours. A large, heavy pan filled with water - the one you cooked the milk in - is ideal for this. Quite a bit of extra liquid will come out over time, so it's worth popping a tea towel under the chopping board to absorb any extra milk.
Rinse, and store under water until needed for use.

Ingredients and equipment:
500g unsalted butter
heatproof storage container
(makes about 350g - a jam jar full)

Take two blocks of unsalted, preferably organic, butter and melt slowly over a low flame. I’d use a steel pan, or one that you don’t mind scrubbing. 
When the butter has melted, keep it on the flame, but don’t stir it. It should slowly start to bubble away – this is a good thing. Allow it to bubble. It’ll make a ‘whooshing’ noise, as it gets really hot – a sign that the water from the butter has started to split away from the milk and fat and is evaporating off. 

It will continue to do this for about 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of your pan). Skim off any white scum that develops on the top as necessary while it is bubbling away. When the noise has subsided, and the water has evaporated, you should be left with a pale golden liquid, the colour of golden syrup. If the liquid is darker, towards a brown or caramel liquid, it has burnt, so keep an eye on it.
Pour the liquid, still without stirring, through a strainer. I used a tea strainer lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth. 

Decant into a heat-proof, clean, dry container (an old jam jar is perfect), and allow to cool slowly. It will solidify when cooled. 
Ghee keeps fairly indefinitely and doesn’t need to be refrigerated – some schools of thought say it’s better if it isn't as it prevents condensation which is bacteria's best friend.
I'll admit, after a morning of being rather productive, I was a little lazy in the afternoon and followed other people's recipes for my curry selections - a rather marvellous saag paneer, a surprisingly easy pea and tomato curry with paneer (although I chucked in a tin of tomatoes instead of the fresh ones), and a slightly dull chana dal (I didn't have tamarind. Who does?!). 
Easy, cheap, and fun - give it a bash.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Recipe: Pig's Cheeks and Chorizo casserole

When I first discovered the joy of pigs cheeks, I did a little googling to come up with some ideas as to how to cook them. Most of the recipes were casseroled in some way, allowing the meat to tenderise to perfection over time (excellent for our new stainless steel oven-proof pans, hurrah!), and most involved alcohol of some type - I presume to tenderise. Anyway, there was a bit of a recurring theme of red wine, and several mentions of chorizo, so taking inspiration from various internet sources, I came up with this...

500g pigs cheeks
2 carrotts
2 sticks celery
1 red onion
1 white onion
2 x 400g tins of tomatoes
250ml red wine
150g chorizo sausage for cooking, sliced
1 bouquet garni
1tsp sugar
50g butter

Firstly, dice the carrotts and onions into small pieces, de-string the celery, and slice.
In a large and oven-proof casserole dish, melt the butter and use to lightly fry the chorizo to melt the fat.
When the oil begins to coat the pan bottom, add the pigs cheeks, slowly stirring to prevent sticking. 
After 2-3 minutes, or when the cheeks are lightly browned, mix in the diced vegetables, coating in the oil and butter, and allow to soften slightly. 
When the onions begin to become translucent, add in the wine, stirring right to the bottom of the pan to scrape off any sticky bits. Allow to simmer slightly, before adding in the tomatoes, bouquet garni, and sugar.
Cook in the oven for an hour and a half to an hour, until the tomatoes are reduced down and the sauce is thickened.

Perfect served with crusty bread and butter, and the remainder of the red wine bottle.
Not the best picture in the world, apologies!