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.