Monday, 20 February 2012

Edinburgh: A Valvona & Crolla picnic up on Calton Hill

Yesterday was one of those lovely crisp winter days where, despite a slightly fuzzy head, I was desperate to get out and enjoy some fresh air. It may have been bloody freezing and mighty windy, but there's something about Edinburgh in the sunshine that lifts my little heart. And so, a walk up Calton Hill was proposed.
On the way, we passed Valvona & Crolla. The Italian deli is an Edinburgh institution, having been owned by the Conti family since 1934 and expanding beyond their Elm Row location to include a rather tasty (and reasonably priced Ristorante and Coffee Bar on Multrees Walk, and a specialist Emporium in fellow institution Jenners.

I love Valvona & Crolla, although it bemuses me like no other food shop I've found. Think of a price, and double it. Or think of another one and add a tenner. No - really. We're talking £4 jars of jam, £10 balls of mozzarella, and £6 jars of olives. I'm unconvinced about whether the prices are worth it, I've bought the same pasta in Sainsburys for £1.50 which is on sale in V & C for £2.50, but the wonderful range of tasty treats is somewhat of a museum. Admittedly, the wine and bakery sections are reasonably priced, and the assistant working in the wine area at the back was friendly and helpful when I asked whether the restaurant wine list was available in store.

The service in V & C is not great. Mr FS and I had the misfortune of arriving at the meat counter just after another lady- one of those "we'll have a single slice of everything" types who takes forever. The lady on the meat counter spent a good 5 minutes serving her, while her colleague re-stocked on the cheese counter. Another couple wandered up to the cheese counter and she served them, before they carried over to the meat counter and bypassed us. Astonishingly for a busy deli, they only have one meat slicer. Annoyingly, this was only told to us after we'd been served (with no apology for the according wait). Their meat range is small - a couple of types of cured ham, Pastrami, Parma, and a rather tasty Mortadella which we decided would be marvellous in a sandwich with one of their fresh bread rolls.But it's the olives, roast vegetables and fritatta which are really delicious.

After spending a small fortune on a picnic (detailed below) we marched our way up the hill and perched on a bench to enjoy the views.
Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags
Leith and over to the Kingdom of Fife
The New Town
The National Monument
Nelson's Monument

We found a bench, looking over the city down towards the shore, and enjoyed a picnic...
 Mortadella ham roll...
 ...with crusty bread and one of the most beautiful views of the city
 Spinach and Ricotta Fritatta
 Chocolate brioche bun...
...never enough chocolate!

Gorgeous views and tasty food. A pretty good alternative to Sunday lunch.

We ate...
Spinach and ricotta fritatta - £1.50
Chocolate brioche - 99p
Rosetta bread roll - 99p
San Pellegrino Aranciata can - £1.15
2 slices of Mortadella £2.59
Total: £6.73

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Recipe: Butterbean Soup

I will be moving house shortly, and therefore am attempting to eat everything in my flat. It's something I half heartedly try every now and then, before the lure of Waitrose gets to me, but this time (because I don't want to have to lug even more stuff with me than is necessary), I mean it.

Dried beans and pulses are a pain, in that the majority of them require soaking for a long length of time (overnight usually) before being boiled for between 10 minutes and 2 hours. This process kills off the toxins, and therefore is definately worth doing, but aint half tedious if you're feeling the need for some pulsey protein in your life in a hurry. The end results of the process are, in my experience, mixed. Sometimes they stay rock hard, some times they turn into mush. Sometimes they taste ok, sometimes they taste of absolutely nothing. This is a bit of a bugger, because they're actually really cheap (we're talking about 99p for 1kg dried - that's roughly 99p for 1.5-2kg rehydrated), and incredibly nutritious.
Picture courtesy of Delia
I use tinned butterbeans a lot - they are amazing fried with chorizo and tomatoes, or mashed into a type of Hummus. They thicken sausage and tomato casseroles, and bulk up Chilli Non Carne. However, anyone who has read other recipe's I've done will know that I have a tendency to turn things which I'm not sure about into a) risotto, or b) soup. Unsurprisingly, rehydrated butterbeans are better in b) than a).

Butter bean Soup
(serves 4)

250g dehydrated Butter beans
1 large onion
20g butter
500ml hot stock (Ham stock is amazing in this, if you can get it. Alternatively, Chicken or Veggie will do)
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary.
upto 200ml hot water.

Prepare the butter beans as on the packet (I soaked overnight, then boiled for 10 minutes).
In a large pan, slowly fry the onion in the butter until soft and translucent.
Tip in the butter beans, rosemary and stock. Simmer for 5 minutes until the beans begin to soften and break.
Blend, adding more water as required to desired consistency.

This is a thick soup (think of the texture of Lentil), so smaller portions will be needed than most other vegetarian soups, especially if it's a starter. It is, however, deliciously creamy...
Surprisingly difficult to make soup look attractive in a photo
It's really easy, really cheap, and if you can't be bothered with the dried ones, you could easily substitute 2 tins of drained beans. If you fancy that bacon tang, but can't get hold of ham stock (I used Knorr stuff I had floating around), sprinkling with some crispy bacon bits, or crispy parma ham would be really tasty.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Review: Joseph Pearce

A lovely friend of mine had a baby a year or so ago, and has been struggling to find locations in town that are child-friendly. It's a tricky, and touchy, subject. I can't say that I especially enjoy having my lunch interrupted by screaming, yelling or crying children - that's to say nothing of the perils of waitressing with toddlers on the roam - but I do agree with my friend that having a child should not mean that the only place you can socialise with other adults is Wacky Warehouse.

Photo from their website

We'd both heard good things about Joseph Pearce's, part of the local Boda Bar chain, which is situated at the top of Leith Walk. The food got good recommendations from friends, who informed us it was a child friendly place, and therefore decided to have a trip for brunch. We were keen, being the first to arrive at opening time - 11am, where we were greeted cheerily by a waitress that helped us carry the buggy up the stairs to their back room. They've developed a child friendly zone, complete with microwave, plastic cups and sofas at the back of restaurant area, where we were made to feel instantly welcome. My friends daughter was excited about the range of toys, while we were excited about the menus in old childrens books. Nice touch.

The staff didn't mind the little one nibbling raisins that my friend had brought with her and helped us put up a high chair when our food arrived. We'd both plumped for the classic brunch - a toasted brioche, topped with mushrooms, tomatoes and eggs, with an addition of bacon. At £7.70, it was on the expensive side for a fairly small portion, so I was glad we'd also plumped for a portion of hassleback potatoes (£3.60).
By 12.30, the area was heaving with a mix of people, varying from ladies lunching, to young families catching up with friends. The atmosphere was nice, friendly, and the staff attentive, despite it being busy. It's a shame that the children's area is right at the back - attempting to leave with a buggy and a toddler by 1.30, when the bar was packed, wasn't an easy experience, but the staff were again there to give us a hand.

Would I go back to JP's? Yes, if I was meeting a friend with a child. It was nice to be able to take our time and enjoy the surroundings and company. No, if I was going 'child-less'. The portions, whilst tasty, were small for the price, it was incredibly noisy, and the crammed in furniture made me feel a little squashed.

Two breakfasts, two juices and a portion potatoes: £26

Friday, 3 February 2012

Recipe: Lazy Bruschetta

I have been off work for a few days this week with a stomach bug. It was grim. I won't go in to too much detail, but it was my first 'adult' experience of having any form of gastric horridness, and it happened to be whilst on a course. In Stirling. Not Edinburgh.
And so, I have been feeling sorry for myself, sorry for my stomach, and mostly sorry for my appetite. While I have consumed epic amounts of flat Coke and hot Ribena, the food element of my diet has been lacking this week - sad times (although on the plus side, I've lost the 3lbs I put on over Christmas. Pro's and Cons, eh?).

When I am tired, stressed, or under the weather, I think I want stodge. Macaroni cheese, pie, sausage and mash. What my stomach actually wants is 'clean' food with a decent nutritional value, what my brain and hands want is to do the minimum amount of cooking needed. This week, my body realised it was going to have to compromise - and so we arrived at Lazy Bruscetta.
The easiest, laziest bruschetta
Serves 2.

Small onion, very finely chopped (red ideally).
1 small garlic clove.
5 tomatoes (plum if you have them, but any will do, especially slightly over ripe. You could also use 10-15 cherry tomatoes, chopped in half).
10 olives (preferably a mix of green and black).
2 teaspoons of capers, drained.
Glug of decent quality olive oil.
4 pieces of bread (crusty is great, but any form of receptacle - including rice cakes - will do).
Salt and pepper.

Finely chop the onion and garlic - really finely - place in a microwavable dish with a lid, and add a glug of olive oil. Steam in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, until they begin to soften and become transluscent.
While they're cooking, roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them in to the onions, along with roughly chopped olives and the capers, and stick in the microwave again for a minute to soften the tomatoes, and warm up the rest of the ingredients.
Serve straight away on crusty bread (if you have it) or toast (if you don't). Or, shove it in a pitta bread for a vague attempt at recreating the marvellous Greek salads from holidays. However you have it, sprinkle liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Great for modifying - mix in an anchovy, drizzle with balsalmic reduction, add some fresh basil along with the tomatoes, sprinkle with leftover mozarella or parmesan, or place on top of parma ham. 
It'll also last a day in the fridge - perfect if you're tight for time, lazy, or feeling under the weather.