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.