Thursday, 19 November 2009

Boozy Christmas Pudding Trifle

Now that it's getting dark by 4pm and the rain seems to take little respite from lashing against the windows, it would be easy to just grab the duvet and curl up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire watching re-runs of Friends for comfort. But I am resolute in my love for late autumn - a mug of hot chocolate awaiting my return from a rain-soaked walk, visits to cosy pubs with real fires, steaming cups of mulled wine - yes, I am a self-confessed lover of this time of year, not least because it can mean only one thing: it's only five weeks till Christmas.

For me, Christmas is about getting together with friends and family, cooking, eating and celebrating just being together. I love planning and cooking a big roast dinner for my family on Christmas day, or thinking about what nibbles to provide at our party for friends the week before. No Christmas cooking challenge is too daunting for me (she foolishly says) - which is why I leapt at the chance to take part in the Matthew Walker Pudding Challenge to create a delicious new dessert from their venerable 'Recipe 13' pudding. All sorts of festive goodies sprang instantly to mind - truffles, ice cream, creme brulee, spicy strudel - but in the end I plumped for a dessert that would take me straight back to my childhood: a good old-fashioned trifle. Christmas is all about home comforts, after all ...

Boozy Christmas Pudding Trifle
Serves 2

1 x 100g Matthew Walker ‘The Pudding’
1 orange, peeled and segmented
Half a pint of custard (3 egg yolks, 25g sugar, 300ml milk)
100ml double (or whipping) cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
Good quality dark chocolate, grated, for decoration

1. Soak the orange segments in brandy for a few hours, or overnight.
2. Remove the pudding from its packaging and slice into 4 pieces.
3. Make the custard sauce: whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy; heat the milk until almost boiled, then whisk half of it into the egg mix; return this back to the pan of milk and heat gently over a low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens.
4. Place a slice or two of Christmas pudding in a martini glass (or other decorative glass or bowl). Arrange some orange segments on top, along with some of the brandy-juice to soak the pudding. Pour the warm custard over to cover the fruit and place in the fridge to chill for a while.
5. Whisk the cream, icing sugar and brandy together until just firm - not like butter. Spoon the cream over the chilled trifles and sprinkle with grated chocolate.

This is a sure-fire festive favourite. Grab a spoon and dig in!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Curried Parsnip and Apple Soup

Autumn has well and truly set in round my way, with cloudless blue skies overhead and masses of alternately crisp and soggy leaves underfoot. Edinburgh certainly knows how to do autumn well.

This time of year brings both a glut of wonderful root veg in my weekly organic box, and the desire to really spice things up in an attempt to keep warm from the inside out. To me, parsnips are the king of the root veg, and I love them in any form - roasted, mashed, even in cakes from time to time - but there is something about their savoury sweetness that makes them ideal to transform into velvety smooth soups. And they happen to go particularly well with curry spices. So the other day I came up with this delicate soup, both to warm me up on a cold Wednesday afternoon and to serve as my entry for this month's No Croutons Required competition over at Lisa's Kitchen. It's a real winter warmer, sure to brighten even the dullest, wettest day.

Curried Parsnip & Apple Soup
Serves 4

3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp flour
800ml vegetable stock
1 large cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tbsp olive oil and 25g butter
salt & pepper
50ml milk (optional)

1. Heat the oil and butter in large saucepan. Saute onions until soft, add garlic and parsnips and cook gently for a few minutes.
2. Add curry powder and flour, stir to coat the veg and cook for no more than two minutes to prevent the spices from burning.
3. Add the stock and apples and stir well. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the parsnips and apples are tender but not mushy.
4. Blend the soup into a velvety puree. Add a splash of milk if desired and more stock/water if the soup is too thick.
5. Serve with crispy garlic croutons, toasted pumpkin seeds or a swirl of creme fraiche.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Granny Chisholm's Clootie Dumpling

There are some things, usually food related I find, that can transport you back to childhood in an instant. It might be the smell of your mum's chicken casserole, the memory of licking the spoon after a marathon cake-baking session, or the sight of a stack of pancakes for Sunday breakfast. For me, it is Clootie Dumpling. My granny was a wonderful, traditional Scottish cook - mince and tatties, tablet, raspberry jam were all staples - but her greatest recipe, and the one she is most fondly remembered for, was good old clootie dumpling. My family (particularly my uncle) still celebrates birthdays with a clootie instead of the more modern sponge confections, and New Year dinners wouldn't be the same without one.

It seems incredible that I had never attempted to make a clootie dumpling myself, considering how important the recipe has been in my life. Since my granny passed away, the clootie mantle has been passed to my aunt, who lovingly prepares a sumptuous, bulging clootie for my uncle's birthday each year. But recently I've been thinking it's time for me to have a go, to keep the clootie dumpling alive in my generation instead of allowing it to become a relic of the past. Yes it's traditional, yes it's old-fashioned, but I think that's to be celebrated rather than ignored.

So here it is, my granny's clootie dumpling, kept alive into the Noughties.

Serves a big hungry family.

1 cup shredded suet (vegetarian suet is available)
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup sultanas
1 cup currants
1 cup milk
1 grated carrot OR 1 grated apple
1 large teaspoon cinnamon
1 large teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.
2. Flour a large sheet of greaseproof paper and place the clootie mix upon it. Place in a large cloth and then double wrap inside another teatowel/muslin (or old pillowcase!) Secure firmly with string. The clootie should be taking shape now - it should look a bit like a curling stone.
3. Place on an upturned plate in a large heavy pan with about 5cm water and steam on a low heat for 4-5 hours, topping up the water when it gets too low.
4. Remove the clootie from the pan, carefully unwrap it and place on a baking tray in a medium overn (160 C / gas mark 3) for 15 minutes. This will allow the clootie to dry out and form its traditional 'skin'.
5. Remove from the oven, cut into generous slices and serve with either custard, cream or just a sprinkling of caster sugar. Or, for a more modern twist, try serving with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Smoked Garlic Risotto with King Scallops and Prosecco

I was inspired to create this combination of flavours after Niamh at Eat Like a Girl posted a competition on her blog recently. The aim: to find a dish that matches perfectly the fresh fruitiness of Prosecco - Bisol Jeio Prosecco, to be precise. Well, that got me thinking, as in my experience Prosecco has been served more as an aperitif than as an accompaniment to a meal. But I loved the idea of having a glass of chilled, sparkling Prosecco to sip along with a sumptuous treat of a supper dish - and once this seed of thought was planted, I could not get the idea of a rich, creamy risotto out of my mind, delicate in flavour and accompanied by a trio of the freshest king scallops, simply panfried. Why not go a step further and use the Prosecco in the cooking too? Ah yes, that seals the deal. To me, this is a match made in foodie heaven. I wonder if Niamh agrees . . .

Smoked Garlic Risotto with King Scallops and Prosecco
Serves 2

1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
3 cloves smoked garlic, finely chopped
1 mug of Arborio risotto rice
1 glass Prosecco
1 litre of warm vegetable or fish stock
chopped chives
juice of half a lemon
salt & pepper
6 king scallops (roes removed), seasoned on each side with salt & pepper

1. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-based pan and gently saute the onion and celery for a couple of minutes. Add the smoked garlic and fry for a minute or two until the flavours are aromatic, but take care not to let the garlic colour.
2. Add the rice to the pan and stir to mix the flavours thoroughly. Pour over a glass of Prosecco and enjoy the sizzle for a minute until all the wine is absorbed.
3. Add the warm stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until each has absorbed into the rice before adding the next. (The rice should end up just past al dente stage, but not so soft that it turns into a mush.)
4. When enough stock has been absorbed into the rice, add a generous knob of butter to the pan, a good squeeze of lemon juice, some chopped chives, and season to taste. Stir together to make the risotto gloriously shiny.
5. Meanwhile, cook the scallops. Heat some olive oil and a knob of butter in a frying pan, making sure the pan is good and hot before adding the seasoned scallops. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes on either side, depending on the size of the scallop, until they are golden brown. Set aside to rest while putting the finishing touches to the risotto.
6. Serve the golden scallops perched on top of a bowl of the shimmering risotto, along with a glass of chilled Prosecco, of course.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Hearty Tuscan Bean Soup

I found myself pottering around my kitchen on Saturday afternoon, feeling slightly fuzzy round the edges after one too many glasses of wine the night before, but blissfully happy in the knowledge that I had no plans, nowhere to be, and that it was just horrible enough outside to justify my staying indoors all day.

So instead of reaching for the frozen pizza - as I am wont to do on such occasions - I began flicking through a few of the blogs I like to follow, and I came upon this month's No Croutons Required competition, hosted by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes. In the spirit of our recession-hit times, the theme this time is frugality, and the aim is to create a vegetarian soup (or salad) using only storecupboard ingredients, plus whatever you can find in the fridge. That got me thinking - hey, I've got a tin of tomatoes in the cupboard, and a tin of butter beans, plus there's all that veg from our weekly organic box that needs using up ...

And so, with an added dash of inspiration after watching Nigel Slater's new programme the other day, I set about creating my competition entry. A kind of autumnal, warming bean soup with hints of our holiday in Italy earlier this year, I'm calling it my Hearty Tuscan Bean Soup. It's truly one of the most delicious things I've eaten in a long time - far better than that frozen pizza I'd had my eyes on...

Hearty Tuscan Bean Soup
Serves 4

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 stick celery, 1 carrot and 1 red pepper, all coarsely chopped
tin butter beans, drained and rinsed
tin chopped tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock
squeeze of tomato puree
the heel of a chunk of parmesan or pecorino, if desired/available (thanks to NS for this idea!)
pinch oregano
a few sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Saute the onion and garlic in some olive oil for a few minutes, until soft but not brown. Add the chopped veg and continue to saute, covered, for a further 5 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, stock and tomato puree, stir well and bring to a simmer. Throw in the end of a chunk of parmesan or pecorino, if you happen to have one hiding in the back of the fridge.
3. Add the herbs and seasoning, along with the butter beans, and simmer a few more minutes until the flavours have melded together and the cheese is meltingly soft but not broken up.
4. Remove the cheese from the pot, check the seasoning, and serve the soup with some rustic Italian bread and maybe a drizzle of olive oil.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Sigara Boregi

These cheese pastries are very common on Turkish mezze plates, and although not exactly friendly on the arteries, in small doses they are delcious, smile-inducing and just a little bit exotic. It can't hurt every now and again...

Cheese Pastries
Makes 30

8-10 sheets yufka pastry - or filo pastry would work just as well
4 eggs
450g Turkish cheese such as beyaz peynir - or feta
large bunch of fresh mint, parsley and dill, chopped
sunflower oil for frying

1. Mash the cheese, eggs and herbs into a paste in a large bowl.
2. Lay the pastry on a flat floured surface and cut into long strips, 8cm wide by 20cm long.
3. Take a strip at a time and place a teaspoon of the cheese mix onto the end nearest you. Fold the corners over the mixture to seal it, then roll away from you to create tight, cigar-like rolls. Seal the pastry shut with a dab of water.
4. Heat the oil in a shallow pan - enough for deep-frying. Fry the boregi in batches for approx 3 mins until they are golden brown and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm.

50 ways with an aubergine?

This was the first dish we made at the Istanbul cookery class, and I reckon it was the biggest hit. Apparently the Turkish have about 50 ways of cooking aubergine, and if you've ever eaten at a Turkish restaurant - at home or in Turkey - you can see that this is likely!

Aubergines with Onion & Tomato
Serves 2 as a side dish

2 aubergines
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large onion (or 3 shallots), finely sliced
3 large tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
Squeeze of tomato puree
6 cloves garlic, finelly chopped
bunch parsley, dill and basil, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
150ml olive/sunflower oil
60ml water
Slices of green pepper and tomato

1. Remove bottom inch of each aubergine, but leave stalk intact. Peel skin in strips, leaving some on to allow aubergine to retain shape.
2. Gently fry onion, garlic and peppers until cooked and soft. Add the tomatoes and puree and stir well.
3. In deepish (one inch) hot oil fry the aubergines gently until brown all over (about 5-8 mins). Drain on kitchen paper.
4. Add water and salt to the tomato mix to make a soup-like consistency. Simmer until this has cooked down.
5. Arrange aubergines in a tray or oven dish and pack the veg and tomato mixture all around. Arrange slices of pepper and tomato over the whole tray.
6. Cook in the oven (180C) for about 15-20 minutes and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and some warm, fresh pide bread.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Istanbul Cooking Class

On a recent trip to Istanbul, the Monkey and I happened on a leaflet advertising a cooking class at a hotel near where we were staying, tucked in behind the Blue Mosque. Well, it would be a shame to leave this wonderful, exciting, vibrant city without learning at least some of the secrets of the delicious food we'd been tasting. Lots of aubergines, pulses, vine leaves, haloumi cheese, all brought together with a vivid array of spices - not to mention the freshest of fish - make Istanbul a foodie's dream and a sheer delgiht to visit. You'd never go hungry, that's for sure!

And so we rocked up at the cooking class on the appointed day, and met our fellow classmates - a group of five friends from Iceland, and two American ladies who were family friends. We made a happy, lively bunch as we donned our aprons and washed our hands ready to get stuck in to a bit of learning.

First up was what, on paper, sounds like a very simple dish: Aubergines with Onion and Tomato. But once the aubergine has been fried and the tomatoes have been bubbling with plenty of herbs and seasoning for a while, it turns into a sumptuous, almost decadent dish that's just crying out to be mopped up with plenty pide bread.

Next was Sigara Boregi, or fried cheese pastries. Not exactly the arteries' best friend but what the heck, we're on holiday.

The final savoury dish were dolmas, vine leaves stuffed with meat instead of the usual rice. Lamb is a very popular meat in Turkey - as throughout the Middle East - and seasoned with mint, parsley, dill and lemon juice, it goes well with the vine leaves' distinctive flavour.

To finish it all we made a simple Turkish rice pudding, using only milk, sugar and rice, to be served cold with a sprinkling of cinnamon at the end of our feast.

Emerging from the hotel's sweaty, cramped kitchen into the dining room, we were greeted with the twin delights of a cold beer and the fruits of our labours, and enjoyed a happy hour sharing travel stories with our new friends.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Eating Naked

There's a new food delivery service round our way that I think deserves a plug - for its attitude to food, for its ingredient sourcing, for its customer service, and, most importantly, for the food it delivers.

The Naked menu is short and to the point, with options along the lines of ribeye steak and chips, curry goat, caesar salad and meatballs - plus they usually have some specials too, if you remember to ask. The food arrives in the cutest little boxes, tied with string and complete with handwritten labels - it sure beats your average Chinese or Indian takeaway service!

I wrote about Naked recently for The List, Edinburgh & Glasgow's fortnightly listings magazine, and you can read that here.

If you're based in Edinburgh and feel in need of some nutritious convenience food of an evening, give Naked a go. Maybe put some clothes on first though ...

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...

Ah, Whitby. The fresh sea air, the donkeys on the beach, the clinking and whistling of the beach-front amusement aracades - all are the makings of a fantastic weekend away with friends. And let's not forget a monstrous plate of fish 'n' chips at the world-famous Magpie Cafe. It's usually necessary to queue for a good half hour before getting a table, but the smell of vinegar and fry, not to mention the sense of anticipation, only add to the experience. And yes, the food is as good as they say . . .

Another treat my friend Kay and I discovered during our Whitby weekend was the now-legendary (in our world) curd tart. Traditionally made from bisling milk (the first milk produced by a cow having given birth to a calf), the same result can be achieved by using good whole milk. I've not yet tried my hand at the recipe yet, but I certainly intend to. They're so good!

So hats off to Whitby for its good old-fashioned seaside fun, complete with sticks of rock, fish 'n' chips, arcade games ... and a whole lotta goths.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Plov Plov Plov!!

Plov is Uzbekistan's national dish, and can be found in most restaurants across the country. The key ingredients of rice, meat (usually mutton), carrot and gallons of cotton oil are universal, but we found some regional varitions which added chickpeas and/or raisins to the mix. In Bukhara we were lucky enough to go to a family home to see how this evocative dish is made before feasting on a generous spread of soup, salad, bread, nuts and, of course, plov. So, here's how it's done...

Step One: simmer the meat, chopped carrot and onion in a lot of oil (cotton oil if possible) for about an hour, until very tender. This should ideally be done over a charcoal burner.

Step Two: gather the other key ingredients: washed rice (very like risotto or paella rice), cooked chickpeas and raisins, along with some salt. Mix the chickpeas and raisins with the cooked carrots and meat.

Step Three: spoon the rice on top of the rest of the mixture, but don't stir in - the rice should form a seal on top of the rest of the ingredients.

Step Four: cover with a tight lid and leave to cook for another 45-60 minutes, stirring towards the end to loosen up the rice and mix in the other ingredients.

Serve in generous portions, with bread and salad as accompaniments. Wash it all down with surprisingly decent Uzbek red wine (dry not sweet) and try not to think about what all that oil is doing to your waistline!

So, what's the food like in Uzbekistan?!?

Well, mostly it's about the meat. Lamb, mutton, chicken - probably some goat and horse thrown in there for good measure. Butchery isn't much of an art here, so there are no fillets, no lamb chops, and if you only like the breast of a chicken, you've come to the wrong place. Here the meat is chopped crudely with huge cleavers, and arrives on your plate complete with bone, skin and, most unappetisingly, unfathomable quantities of fat. Boy do they love their fat in Uzbekistan! It's all tasty enough, but not pretty to eat - and while the first five shish kebabs of a two-week holiday might taste deliciously exotic, upon realising that these compose the main part of the country's diet, the lack of variety soon becomes ... well, slightly dull to be truthful! But the smell of barbecuing lamb, smoky and savoury, is an intrinsic part of Uzbekistan life, and will forever take me back to Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and all the other beautiful places we visited on our trip.

Thankfully, it is also possible to find fruit and veg, especially in the lush and verdant Fergana Valley in the east of the country, where we spent the first three days of our trip. Produce markets abound in this fertile area, the beauty being that very little food is imported, so seasonality is everything. May is the time for luscious strawberries, juicy tomatoes, plump cherries and a baffling array of potato varieties. The traders put a huge amount of effort into displaying their produce carefully and beautifully - some of them producing real works of art - which makes wandering around these bustling markets a true pleasure.

The observant reader will have spotted that pescatarian Hippo may have struggled to find food in a double-landlocked country so clearly obsessed with animal flesh. Well, yes, that's true to a point. But by lowering expectations in terms of variety (and indulging in the occasional Snickers bar - OK, so they do import some food) I actually managed fine by grazing on handfuls of nuts, fruits and sweet treats picked up at various markets, and by sampling the various salad options that were presented to me along the way. The most baffling of these was referred to as "fresh salad" (as opposed to old, mouldy salad?!) which in all parts of the country consists of tomato and cucumber, sometimes with onion and always with dill. Dill is omnipresent in Uzbekistan. They have a multitude of herbs to choose from - we saw basil, coriander, parsley, thyme, you name it -but dill is certainly the herb du jour. Salad on its own might have made for a fortnight of meagre mealtimes, but happily there was always non. Non (bread) is the staple food of Uzbekistan, and the one foodstuff that actually varies from area to area. In the east it is fluffy inside and crisp on the outside; in central Samarkand it is more chewy, like a bagel; and in western Khiva the bread is flatter and altogether crisper. In all cases, however, non is cheap, tasty, comforting and, this pescatarian can confirm, makes wonderful tomato sandwiches.

Hungriest Hippo's back!

Yes, it's true. Although I've been slightly neglectful of the old blog as I a) became super-busy at work and then b) went gallivanting around Uzbekistan and Istanbul on holiday, I'm now back at home, cooking and eating like never before, and ready to write about it all. Stand by for tales of shashlick kebabs and plov, for mezze and Turkish cookery class, for chocolate cookies and anything else that takes my fancy in the coming days. It's good to be back. Cheers!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Risotto with Leeks and Spring Greens

The Monkey and I have recently joined a veg box scheme from the wonderfully groovy Phantassie Farm (what a fantastic name!) in East Lothian. With all sorts of options available to us, we plumped in the beginning for a small mixed fruit'n'veg box, excluding potatoes as we don't eat so many of them these days. In the first delivery was an abundance of seasonal produce - plump cauliflower, fat, dirty carrots, juicy leeks, green pepper and some small red onions - along with a large mystery bundle of greenery that I struggled to identify. Not a problem: a quick email to the farm and the mystery was solved. Turns out these were the first of the early spring greens, which I was told should be sliced thinly and cooked quickly - much as you would kale or cabbage, I suppose.

Inspired by this bounty I rustled up this tasty risotto for a quick midweek supper - a total experiment, but then often the best dishes are.

Leek & Spring Green Risotto
Serves 2

2 leeks, trimmed and sliced
half a red chilli, de-seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
120g risotto rice
glug (ablut 100 mls) of white wine
1.5 litres of vegetable stock
bundle of spring greens, stalks sliced and leaves shredded
butter, olive oil

1. Heat a little oil in a heavy based pan and add a handful of the chopped leeks along with the garlic and chilli. Saute for a few minutes.

2. Add the rice and stir round to mix with the other ingredients. Splash in the wine, savour the wonderful smell, and stir well. Turn the heat down and simmer until the wine has been absorbed.

3. Throw in the chopped spring green stalks as they will take a while to cook. Add the stock bit by bit, letting each addition absorb into the rice before adding the next.

4. Meanwhile, in a wok or frying pan, saute the remaining leeks until they are soft and golden. Add the green leaves and stir-fry quickly until they are just cooked but not mushy.

5. When the risotto has absorbed enough stock it will be rich and creamy, the rice still slightly al dente. Stir in a nob of butter and season with salt and pepper.

6. Mix the leeks and greens into the risotto and serve in large bowls with a few shavings of parmesan and a glass of chilled white wine on the side.

Buon appetito!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Larder

Allow me to introduce a new arrival, my baby, my little bundle of joy . . .

No, I haven't just given birth without telling anyone - don't panic! Rather this is the birth of a more literary being, the result of eight months of dedication, imagination and sheer hard graft from a small but extremely dedicated team at Edinburgh's List magazine.

The Larder is a celebration of Scottish food and drink - what it is, where to buy it and how to cook it - as well as a directory of the best shops, farms and chefs we have in this abundant country. In seven chapters the book guides you through the difference between bannocks and butteries, explains the science behind various cuts of beef, and gives guidance on cooking the many and varied fruits of our seas. And that's just for starters.

Nothing could be more relevant in these credit-crunching, carbon-monitoring times than a focus on local, seasonal and natural produce, and that is why The Larder deserves a place on all keen Scottish foodies' book shelves - and no, I'm not just saying that because I part-wrote, edited and project-managed the thing. Get hold of a copy and you'll see what I mean!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Perfect Sandwich?

As I was flicking through our local free arts'n'culture paper The Skinny a couple of weeks ago a competition caught my eye. The idea was to come up with the perfect sandwich combination for Coffee Angel, a new coffee shop just opened in the Canonmills area of Edinburgh. We all know I love to think about food, constantly, and so I just had to have a go at this. The temptation was to go completely off the wall, to try something outlandish (hummus, coleslaw and green olives, anyone?), but truthfully I think the simplest combinations make for the best sarnies. Quality ingredients, proper fresh bread and a whole lot of flavour are the key.

After coming across a pack of Rannoch Smnokery smoked venison in Valvona & Crolla, my decision was made for me. My competition entry is a sandwich of smoked venison, rocket and zingy chilli jam on the freshest of granary bread, with just a smear of butter. A delicious combination, for sure, and not at all outlandish ...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

In the Bag - March

Fellow food blogger Julia runs the wonderful and super-successful A Slice of Cherry Pie, on which every month she holds a competition to come up with the best recipe using seasonal ingredients in an appealing and tasty way. Since the ingredients in the bag for March are leeks, cheese and eggs, I thought I would face up to one of my culinary nemeses: the souffle.

Leeks, eggs and cheese are good friends, and I thought about going for a quiche or a pie or perhaps a Spanish omelette, but then I admitted to myself that it's time I got over the Collapsed Souffle Incident of 2005 and begin afresh with the deceptively tricksy egg dish. So here goes...

Blue Cheesy Leek Souffles
Makes 2 individual large ramekins (or 4 small ones)

1 large leek, finely chopped
25g butter + a bit more for the leeks
25g plain flour
200ml milk
2 eggs
25g blue cheese, crumbled
salt & pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease the ramekins with butter. Separate the eggs, keeping the yolks in reserve and placing the whites into a large mixing bowl.

2. Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan. Saute the leeks for a few minutes until golden and tender.

3. Melt the rest of the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute. Add the milk bit by bit and bring to the boil, stirring until the bechamel sauce is blended. Simmer for two minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.

4. Stir the cheese and leeks into the sauce, then beat in the egg yolks.

5. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Stir 1 tbsp whisked egg whites into the sauce to lighten it and then slowly fold in the rest.

6. Spoon the eggy mix into the prepared ramekins, place on a baking tray and bake until well risen and golden - about 20 minutes. Serve straight away with a big green well-dressed salad.

And it worked! Not scary at all. What on earth was I so worried about?

Bon appetit!

Top 5 Breakfasts on holiday

Spring is here, which means that summer is just around the corner, right? That got me thinking about my upcoming holiday plans (to Uzbekistan, of all places, but that's another story) and I started reminiscing about the glorious morning repasts I've encountered on my travels.

I'm a fan of the weekend breakfast - we've talked about this before - but there's something about being on holiday, with fewer cares and more time to spare, that makes that first meal of the day even more of a treat. Lingering over the local paper or reading a guide book to learn more about your destination; hanging out with your travelling companion discussing plans for the day ahead; making promises to yourself that you'll start eating healthily again the moment you arrive home - these morning moments are part of what makes travelling so special to me, and why I've come up with my Top 5 Holiday Breakfasts. Dig in!

1. American pancakes with strawberries and maple syrup
Bucks in Woodside, California is a legendary breakfast hangout of Silicon Valley's rich and famous technology entrepreneurs. The Monkey and I went there (twice) in a week-long holiday visiting our good friend Pete, and ate these beautiful fluffy pancakes stacked high and served with fresh strawberries, ladles of maple syrup and a bottomless mug of strong filter coffee.

2. Roti Chanai with super-sweet tea
The Monkey can often be found raiding the fridge in the early hours of a post-takeaway morning, mopping up curry sauce with leftover peshwari naan for breakfast. It's a less than endearing habit, but when in Malaysia, do as the Malaysians do ... Curry breakfasts may be hard to get your head round but once I tasted soft, flaky roti bread dipped in hot spicy curry sauce for the first time, I knew I was in love. Especially when it's washed down with mugs of tea made with super-sweet condensed milk, and all for the eqivalent of about 50p. What a treat.

3. Huevos Rancheros
Back to the Americas for another spicy start to the day. Many of my favourite things combine on one plate here: corn tortillas, fried eggs, tomato, refried beans, fried potatoes, maybe some avocado and of course, lashings of green Tabasco sauce for a bit of extra spicing. Not an everyday (or even an every-week) brekkie, for the arteries' sake but that's what holidays are for...

4. French baguette with Marmite
In theory this is so wrong - such a quintessentially British product spread on France's daily bread - but the proof is in the tasting. Trust me. The creaminess of French unsalted butter, the saltiness of love-it-or-hate-it Marmite, the crunch of the baguette - it's a match made in heaven. Or should I say paradis?

5. An Everything Bagel with butter, marmite and sliced tomato
Not strictly a holiday breakfast, this one, but it's an homage to the wonderful Wholly Bagels, Wellington, where I worked for six months in the cold and windy winter of 2005. Starting work at 6.45 every morning would have been a whole lot tougher without one of these beauties and my daily fix of three espressos to kickstart my customer-service smile.

Now, I wonder what they eat for brekkie in Uzbekistan...

Monday, 2 March 2009

Rhubarb and Ginger Baked Cheesecake

Spring is in the air, can you feel it? The days are getting longer, the daffodils and crocuses are blooming, and pink, gorgeous rhubarb is for sale in all the greengrocers. It's a glorious time of year - a time for regeneration, for looking forward, for long walks in the countryside and leisurely lunches with family and friends.

The Monkey and I had our siblings and mothers over for Sunday lunch yesterday, the first time this year we'd all been together round the kitchen table for chats and giggles. I decided a celebratory treat was in order, so tracked down (and adapted slightly) this gorgeous recipe for a baked rhubarb cheesecake with just a hint of gingery spice. The perfect way to follow up Monkey's chicken and leek pies, and a deliciously decadent Sunday afternoon dessert.

Makes 8 very generous portions

500g rhubarb
1 piece Chinese stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped, plus 2 tbsp syrup from the jar
175g caster sugar
175g pack ginger snaps
50g butter, melted
500g tubs mascarpone cheese
2 tbsp cornflour
3 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 180C and grease the base of a 22cm springform cake tin
2. Chop the rhubarb into 2cm pieces and place in a saucepan with the stem ginger, syrup, 100g of the caster sugar and 4 tablespoons cold water. Poach for about 10 mins, until the rhubarb is tender. Drain the rhubarb into a bowl, reserving the juices.
Coarsely crush the biscuits in a large plastic food bag with a rolling pin. Tip into a bowl, stir in the melted butter and mix well. Tip into the tin and press down firmly with back of a spoon. Put in the fridge to cool while making the filling.
Use an electric whisk to beat together the mascarpone, cornflour, eggs and remaining sugar for 1-2 minutes until smooth. Spoon the strained rhubarb into the mascarpone mixture, using a metal spoon to swirl gently so as not to over-mix. Pour into the cake tin and bake for about 45 mins, until golden and firm. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.
Dust with icing sugar and cut into wedges. Serve drizzled with the reserved rhubarb syrup.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Michelin Star #1 - Restaurant Martin Wishart

Late last year, in honour of my mum's 60th birthday, a cosy family group of seven trouped along to Edinburgh's first Michelin-starred restaurant, Martin Wishart for dinner. French in its style of food and Scottish in its choice of produce, Wisharts manages to be both conservative and daring at once. I can't imagine many restaurants at this level bother to offer a vegetarian tasting menu in parallel with the regular one.

A quiet, almost subdued atmosphere pervades the beige-and-cream room; a respectful hush descends as each new dish from the six-course tasting menu is delivered and explained by the slick but not obsequious waiting staff. Rarely, I think, do they cater to larger groups such as ours - the regular clientele more likely to be doe-eyed couples talking in excited whispers - and so our usually noisy banter must be tempered somewhat on this occasion. But we mind not a jot, as plate after plate of perfectly executed food appears in front of us, negating much need for conversation other than appreciative "mmmm" noises all round.

Vivaldi Potato Veloute with chestnut puree, autumn truffles and cepes
Emmental Souffle with soubise spinach
Ceviche of Halibut with mango and passion fruit
Fillet of John Dory with puree of jerusalem artichokes
Truffle Risotto with pan-fried king scallop
Selection of cheese from the groaning trolley
Chocolate and Praline Mousse

With champagne to start, a few bottles of NZ sauvignon blanc throughout and a special dessert wine to round things off - oh, and a small port with coffee - we were all gently sozzled by the time we rolled out the door some four hours later. Stuffed and happy, we made our bleary way home knowing that we had just sampled some of the finest food in the country. I can't wait to go back some day...

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Potato, Roast Garlic and Thyme Soup

Ah, the humble potato. So often overlooked, or treated as a mere side dish in relation to its glitzier meat, fish and veg counterparts. Pure carbs, it gets a bad rep in these low GI times, but isn't it time we put it in the spotlight and treated the lowly tattie with the respect it deserves?

I created this simple soup for a competition called No Croutons Required, held monthly by Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa's Kitchen. The theme for February was simply 'Potatoes', and in this recipe they are allowed to shine...

Potato, roast garlic and thyme soup
Serves 4-6

Knob of butter and splash of olive oil
Whole head of garlic
1 onion, sliced
4 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 pints vegetable stock
Handful fresh thyme, stripped from the stems and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Cut top off head of garlic. Wrap in foil and roast in oven (200c) for about 45 minutes until soft.
2. Fry onion in olive oil and butter for five minutes until soft. Add potatoes and stir around to coat thoroughly.
3. Add stock, cover pan and simmer for about 15 minutes until potatoes are soft. After ten minutes add the chopped thyme.
4. As potatoes are simmering, take roasted garlic and gently squeeze out the soft pulp from the cloves. Add to the soup pan and stir thoroughly.
5. Blend soup well using a hand blender or liquidizer. Add a knob of butter to make the soup glossy.
6. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of chopped thyme and some lovely fresh bread.

Delicious! Fingers crossed for the competition...

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Raspberry & White Chocolate Muffins

I made these for my friend Pete's 30th birthday the other day, and took them in a neatly packed bag to the pub where a crowd was gathered to celebrate. Very appreciative he was too - for a few minutes - but once the others got wind of the contents of the bag they were promptly devoured in about five minutes flat. I hope Pete managed to keep at least one for himself! Who can blame the others, though: these are quite probably one of the best things I've ever baked. (Well, it just so happened that a couple of the muffins broke as I was removing them from the tin, and it would have been a shame to waste them...)

Makes 12-14 large muffins for very appreciative friends

450g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
225g golden caster sugar (preferably Fair Trade)
1 large egg
1.5 tsp vanilla extraxt
330ml milk
75g butter, melted
about 150g raspberries (frozen ones will keep their shape better)
about 150g white chocolate, chopped into chunks

1. Preheat oven to 200 C/ gas mark 6
2. Sift flour and baking powder into large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar.
3. Crack the egg into a separate bowl, and whisk in the milk, vanilla and melted butter.
4. Stir the liquid into the flour mixture, mix well.
5. Carefully fold in the raspberries and chocolate, stirring as little as possible to avoid damaging the berries.
6. Spoon mixture into muffin tray (using muffin cases if you like) and bake for 30 minutes until firm and golden. Allow to cool slightly then remove from tin and indulge.

Best eaten warm - not that they'll last long once friends find out about them.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Hot and Sour Noodle Soup

Sometimes, when you're feeling under the weather - stressed, over-worked, hungover or just plain old tired - you need food that actively makes you feel healed with every mouthful. Something fresh, zesty and spicy enough to make your tongue burn just a little.

I found myself in such a position last night - a big weekend full of friends, gigs, pizzas, work and late nights had left me feeling a little jaded and it was only Monday. A whole week still to get through. Drastic food action was needed, and so this delicious bowl of health was called into play. It was mainly made up as I went along, using all the flavours and ingredients I craved - whatever I had in the house. It did the job: the warmth of the chilli defugged my brain, at least temporarily, and the fresh umami of the broth seemed to undo all the bad work of the pizza and chips from the weekend. That's what I'm telling myself anyway...

Try this next time you're feeling in need of a restorative lift.

Hot and Sour Noodle Soup with Tofu
Serves 2


For the broth:
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tbsp soy sauce (more to taste)
1 tsp chilli flakes
Juice of 1 lime
Dash fish sauce
Dash sweet chilli sauce
Dash sesame oil
Sprinkling dried ginger

For the stir-fry bit:
Mix of sunflower and sesame oil
1 sliced onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
A good mix of sliced veg - carrots, peppers, courgettes, mushrooms, baby corn - whatever you fancy really
1 pack marinated tofu chunks (the kind that doesn't need additional cooking)

3 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
4 tsp lightly toasted sesame seeds
1 block of dried noodles per person

1. Place all ingredients for the broth in a large saucepan, cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, until the flavours are good and mingled.
2. When the broth is almost ready, heat the oil in a wok and fry the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the vegetables and tofu; stir-fry for about 5 minutes until cooked but it still has bite.
3. Meanwhile, boil the noodles as per packed instructions. Place each serving in individual bowls. Place stir-fried veg on top, followed by generous ladles of the hot and spicy broth. Garnish with a sprinkle of spring onions and sesame seeds and serve immediately.

1. This could work equally well with stir-fried chicken or even pork instead of tofu.
2. If saving leftovers to trasnsport to work next day, store all components separately and construct and reheat at the last minute to avoid soggy noodles.

Friday, 30 January 2009

The Three Chimneys in Skye

A while back, in September, the Monkey and I went on a trip to the beautiful isle of Skye. We walked in the Fairy Glen, climbed the Old Man of Storr, had a peek at Dunvegan Castle, played Scrabble and generally just chilled out. It was utter bliss. And the weather even behaved for a few days, giving us glorious sunshine and only a tiny bit of rain and mist over the three days. We felt blessed indeed, not least because our mode of transport for the weekend was Hamish, a blue VW campervan hired for us by lovely friends as a wedding present.

As this trip ended up being a belated celebration of our first wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves with a dinner at The Three Chimneys, certainly the most famous restaurant in Skye, one of the most famous in Scotland and even the world. To my astonishment, it has never won a Michelin star - perhaps due to its remoter than remote location, who knows. But it's a wonderful place - cosy, welcoming, utterly lacking in pretension, and although undeniably pricey, for a special occasion it feels worth every penny.

We ate:

Warm Colbost crab tart with mixed cress and woodland sorrel butter
Seared breast of wood pigeon with celeriac remoulade, Ayrshire bacon and an Edinbane blaeberry jus
Pan-fried Mallaig hake, skate and Sconser scallop with Anna potatoes, braised Puy lentils, Glengarry chanterelles and Orbost parsley sauce
A quaich of dark chocolate with warm madeleines and vanilla ice cream
Marinated fresh pineapple with lime and chilli, passionfruit jelly, coconut ice cream, rosemary sorbet and cardamom biscuit
Coffee and Chimneys sweeties

And then we rolled down the hill back to our illicitly parked campervan to dream sweet, tipsy dreams and listen to the waves lap the shores of Loch Dunvegan just a pebble's skip away. Bliss.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Top 5 Breakfasts - home style

Ah, breakfast, the most important meal of the day. Funny to think that for years I rebelled against that notion, never wanting to eat in the morning, making do with a cup of tea and at best an oatcake on my way to work. No wonder I always felt sluggish in the mornings and starving by 11 o'clock! I can't remember the exact moment I fell in love with the breakfast concept, but it was definitely after I moved to London and started going out for breakfast more often. In our house of a weekend we would attempt to recreate the fantastic breakfast stacks from our beloved local Cafe Goya (now sadly no more), their onion-enhanced baked beans and English muffins being particular highlights. These days I'd be lying if I said I had time for much in the way of brekkie during the week (a piece of toast or some cereal does the trick) but the weekends would be so much duller if I didn't have one of these beauties to look forward to, complete with a pot of Earl Grey tea, maybe a Virgin Mary and the travel supplement of the paper. These then, very definitely in order, are my Top 5 home-style breakfasts:

1. Scrambled eggs & smoked salmon on Paul Rankin soda bread
Slightly sloppy eggs (never with milk added), strips of Scottish smoked salmon on buttered soda bread. Paul Rankin's is the absolute best. Serve with lots of green Tabasco sauce.

2. Fruit salad, yogurt, honey & Grape Nuts
A nod to our friend Rach for introducing us to this super-healthy start to the day. Only soft fruits in the salad - summer berries are best, but also kiwi, orange, maybe banana. Served with a dollop of plain yogurt, a squirt of honey and a sprinkle of Grape Nuts.

3. The full cooked veggie
Cauldron sausages, grilled tomato, scrambled or poached eggs, fried mushrooms, oniony baked beans, alongside toast and, of course, green Tabasco. The perfect Sunday brunch.

4. Porridge with jam
How bizarre to think that a good Scots girl like me should have her first encounter with porridge on Castaway Island in Fiji at the age of 27. Now I can't imagine living without the stuff, so versatile is it as a breakfast dish. I've cooked it at home, in campervans and over camp fires, all in the same half-water, half-milk method, with a pinch of salt and sugar, and served while still a bit sloppy with a big dollop of raspberry jam. Healthy, easy and yummy.

5. Birchermuesli
Slightly disingenuous, this one, as I've never actually made birchermuesli at home. But I plan to! In Switzerland it is eaten all the time, for lunch as well as breakfast, and it will forever remind me of the year I spent living in Lausanne. The muesli is soaked overnight in milk or apple juice, then grated apple and more milk are added, making it soft and smooth without cooking. Served with fresh fruit it becomes a wholesome breakfast treat.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Dal Makhani

When I first made this dish I declared it to be the best thing I'd ever cooked - an overstatement, perhaps, but certainly an indication of how deliciously moreish it was straight out of the pan. Creamy, comforting and with just enough spice to warm but not burn, it goes perfectly with some rice, poppadoms and mango chutney. It's another Ballymaloe creation, and so so easy to prepare (provided you have a supply of muslin on hand to construct a bouquet garni. My top-cheat tip: the foot of a pair of (clean) tights works just as well!)

Unlike a lot of Indian food, I found this doesn't stand up to second-day munching, so best to make just enough of to feed people on the night - plus a good bit extra for chef's tasting rights, of course...

Dal Makhani (Spiced Lentils and Kidney beans)
Serves 4

6 cardamom pods, 3 bay leaves, 2 cloves garlic, small piece of peeled fresh ginger, 2tsp coriander seeds, 1 cinnamon stick - all tied up in muslin to create a spice bag like a bouqet garni
175g Puy or green lentils
75g tinned kidney beans
1 onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp cream
25g butter

25g butter
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
1 green chilli, chopped

1. Put lentils, onion and spice bag in a deep saucepan with double their volume of water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about an hour until soft but not mushy, adding more water if necessary.
2. When the lentils are soft, stir in the butter, kidney beans and half the cream .
3. Make the dressing by melting the butter in a small frying pan and frying the cumin seeds and garlic until the spices start to colour. Add the onion and fry for a few more minutes, then add the tomatoes and chilli. Simmer for 1-2 minutes.
4. Combine the dressing with the pulses and the remaining cream. Season to taste.

I can't wait to make this again.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Ballymaloe's Spiced Chickpea Soup

Every time I visit my friend Kate in Dublin I spend a good portion of my time poring over her copy of the Ballymaloe Cookery Course. Not that she's boring or bad company, and not because I'm trying to avoid talking to her - quite the contrary - it's just such a beautiful and interesting book that I find it hard to tear myself away. It even makes great bedtime reading, fuelling my dreams with images of briny oysters, pretty salads and perfect biscuits. It's an inspiring read, and the cook school that bears its name is firmly on my list of foodie places to visit one day - along with El Bulli, The French Laundry, The Fat Duck ... the list, predictably, goes on and on.

It is probably one of my favourite cookery books of all time, which is why I was so delighted to be given a copy of it as a birthday gift by my lovely friend Kay, and why I was so impatient to get into the kitchen and get cooking. Here's what I decided upon first...

Spiced Chickpea Soup with Coriander Cream & Pitta Crisps
Serves 6

2 cans chickpeas, drained
800ml vegetable stock
3 tsps coriander seeds
3 tsps cumin seeds
50g butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 small red chillies, deseeded and chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
75ml cream
salt and ground pepper
freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Dry-roast cumin and coriander seeds over medium heat for 2-3 mins, then crush in pestle & mortar or spice grinder.
2. Melt butter in a saucepan, then fry the onion, chillies, garlic and spices gently for 4-5 mins. Add the turmeric and cook for another minute.
3. Remove from the heat, add the chickpeas and mix well. Season.
4. Add the stock and cream, and liquidise all together until smooth.
5. Gently heat the soup, then sharpen with lemon juice and serve with chopped coriander leaves, a swirl of cream and some toasted pitta pieces.

Smooth, creamy, warm with spices, this is like a pureed channa masala - a delight.

Friday, 16 January 2009

A Spanish-inspired Feast

The Monkey and I spent New Year in Barcelona this year, visiting friends, aimlessly wandering the backstreets, drinking in art, cava and, of course, eating a vast array of foods - tapas, pintxos, the freshest of seafood, and rustic feasts to soak up the excess booze. A particular highlight was strolling through the tightly packed alleys of La Boqueria, Barcelona's most famous food market. Pigs' heads, live lobsters, long strings of russet-coloured sausages, mounds of alluring cheeses - all the best of Spanish produce is on display here, and if we had more room in our suitcase (and, realistically, if the Euro hadn't been quite so strong) we would have bought an awful lot more. In the end we contented ourselves with a few circuits of the market before settling in for a couple of cervezas at a nearby tapas bar.

It was a glorious few days - somehow relaxing and adventurous at the same time, thanks in no small part to our great friends who welcomed us, introduced us to their friends and, perhaps most importantly, showed us some of their secret food spots. We came home laden with goodies purchased at La Boqueria and elsewhere, and decided to have a little fiesta at home in honour of my brother's 30th birthday, and to remind us of a wonderful holiday.


Frutos secos - roasted almonds, roasted salted broad beans
Jamon 'pata negra' (from black-footed pigs) - served just as it is
Pan con Tomate - DIY style
Gambas a la Plancha - grilled shell-on prawns in garlic
Pintxos of boquerones (anchovies) on rustic bread with tapenade
Tortilla - just plain, with potatoes, onion and garlic
Chorizo, roasted and garnished with chopped parsley
Patatas bravas with spicy mayo
Green salad with avocado
Cheese - Tetilla from Galicia, Manchego from Catalunya
A couple of bottles of good cava and some rough Spanish red wine

From Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares to Hippo's Birthday Dreams

I'd been itching to visit Abstract for a while, jealous of the fact that my husband, who we'll call The Monkey, had been without me ('for work') some years ago now. But wish hard enough and good things happen - and sure enough, this fantastically quirky restaurant was the chosen venue for my birthday dinner this year. With its mirrored columns, black snakeskin-effect tables and bold prints on the wall, the decor could be garish in other rooms but here they somehow get away with it. It's fun. The service is charming, high class without being stiff and obsequious. The 25-page wine list is a hefty tome, but some helpful sommelier's suggestions at the front make selecting a 2007 Pouilly Fume child's play. And the food? Simply delicious. I think the menu speaks for itself, so I'll just copy it here and let your imagination do the rest ...

canapes of gravalax on mini pastry puff and tuna sushi with a tiny hint of wasabi
amuse bouche of instense artichoke foam with shaved truffle
Yellow Fin Tuna Sashimi, Wasabi Ice Cream, Pickled Vegetables, shiso Cress & Cucumber Caviar
Wild Sea Bass, Pan Fried Fillet, Crab Cannelloni, Star Anise, Carrot Juice & Emulsion
pre-dessert of chocolate & mango tiramisu
Artisanal Farmhouse Cheeses with Crackers, Grapes, Celery, Chutney and Tawny Port

That Michelin star is surely on its way soon. What a wonderful birthday treat.

Welcome to the world, Hungriest Hippo!

Well, as my 32nd birthday celebrations wind down, it seems fitting that this day should also see the birth of my foodie blog, something I've been impatient to try for a while now. Since my whole life seems to be dominated by food – in a wholesome, not-at-all worrying way, of course – a blog seems like the most natural progression of a lifelong obsession. Not for nothing, it seems, were Baking and Cooking the only two badges I managed to acquire over two years in the Girl Guides. Years later, as a restaurant reviewer, food-and-drink editor and enthusiastic dinner-party hostess, I spend most of my waking hours thinking about food. And a lot of my sleeping ones too.

And so, even if I'm the only person who ever looks at this, I don't mind. It just seems like a fun idea to have my food creations (well, perhaps only the successful ones) recorded for me to look back on as the months - and hopefully years - slip by. Perhaps I'll throw in some restaurant reviews and photos too. Perhaps I'll meet some like-minded souls along the way. Perhaps I'll get very fat through the whole process – who knows. Let's just hope it's fun.

Bon appetit!