Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Cakes for Japan, Edinburgh - Saturday 26 March

It's impossible not to be moved by the recent events in Japan.  The news has been harrowing and the images nightmarish.  There are a number of ways in which people can help and donate, and fundraising events taking place, such as Authors for Japan.  In Edinburgh, Cakes for Japan will be taking place on Saturday 26 March from 11am at Quaker House, 7 Victoria Terrace.  Bakers from Edinburgh and beyond will be donating their baked goods, with all the profits going to the Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal.  Those taking part include Cuckoos Bakery and Cakes By Lyndsey, vegan treats will be available and Edinburgh University's Japanese Choir will be showing support in song.  I will be doing some Japanese inspired baking - chocolate wasabi fudge cake, cherry blossom cakes and perhaps some anime cupcakes. 

If you'd like to donate or help out, please email Donna McGrory on dee (@) or contact her on twitter @DeeItsy - it's an amazing thing to organise and I'm really pleased this is happening in Edinburgh along with other places in the UK.

Cakes for Japan Saturday 26 March
Quaker House
7 Victoria Terrace
11am - 3pm

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Port of Siam Thai restaurant

Port of Siam opened across from Newhaven Harbour last year and has a growing reputation as a truly authentic Thai place. Given it's location and size (seating about 30), it's very much a local restaurant but with it's emphasis on fresh seafood in both contemporary and traditional Thai dishes, it's worth travelling out for - especially in the upcoming summer when it's setting right by the harbour will come into it's own.

The menu has tapas style dishes for starters or to build your own meal, which for those who want to try a bit of everything works very well, alongside larger dishes of traditional Thai like red and green curries and tom yum soup and contemporary dishes such as Thai style duck in tamarind sauce and steak with a spicy whisky and ginger sauce. Their seafood specialties incorporate the best from the area and include oysters, curried lobster pie, and steamed salmon or seabass with Thai spices and grilled giant U5 prawns. There's such a variety on the menu that it can pretty much cater to everyone without seeming as though they're catering to Western tastes like other Thai places in town.

On our latest visit, I ordered four small dishes of prawn cakes, chicken satay, squid tempura and scallops which was the perfect amount for me. The prawn cakes and chicken satay are pretty standard choices but in Port of Siam's hands, they are made special. There were 3 small prawn cakes, juicy and bursting with fresh corianders and the marinated chicken was served with the tastiest spicy peanut dipping sauce I've had for a long time. Squid tempura had a gorgeously light batter that melted in the mouth and the scallops were delicately cooked and served on black pudding with crispy sweet basil. It was a classic combination of textures and flavours with a spicy Thai twist.

My dining companion decided on the traditional chicken pad thai, beautifully served on a banana leaf with sticky noodles, tender chicken, crushed peanuts, plenty of fresh garlic and chilli and the vegetables retaining their bite - expertly cooked with all the flavours sealed in. It was a great version of the classic sweet and spicy dish, the blend of textures and spices were perfect and left us craving more. 

They have recently become fully licensed and the wine list is of a reasonable price. Dessert options are pretty standard mango sorbet, banana fritters, rice pudding type - it would be great to see the same kind of imagination in their menu put to their dessert menu too as it could be a spectacular combination but no matter - it's not something that would put me off.  Port of Siam is the perfect local restaurant - chic but with a warm atmosphere, and meals served with style. There are lunch and tapas specials available so look at their facebook page until their website becomes live.

Port of Siam
3 Pier Place
Open Tuesday to Sunday 

Port Of Siam on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Weekend Brunch: Circle Cafe & Bakery

The Circle Cafe and Bakery has the feel of a local brunch joint but is something a bit more special. It's a small, warm and perfectly formed space, seating about 30, with exposed stones, wooden floors, plenty of light and a select menu all made with the freshest ingredients possible. Located right by the Water of Leith and near the Botanics, it joins a number of nearby coffee places to create a wee bit of cafe culture on Brandon Terrace.

Circle Cafe claim that all the food served is made on the premises from scratch daily, with everything sourced as locally as possible and I can certainly believe that. It has been running since 2004 and has good pedigree, being owned by Barry Bryson who opened the Fruitmarket Gallery Cafe. The menu is in the style of a gastro café with an emphasis on fresh produce.

Because of this, their menu is seasonal and they have recently released their spring menu. Highlights include charred halloumi, beetroot and green bean salad (£7.50), spiced chickpea, spinach and butternut squash stew (£6.95) and a king prawn pesto linguine (£9.50). They have a great looking selection of sandwiches too such as cajun spiced steak with jalapeno mayo and tomato salsa, or melted goats cheese, roast red pepper, rocket and homemade chilli jam (all £6.95). It’s a little bit more expensive than your every day café but it’s a nice place to treat yourself considering the quality of the dishes.

Breakfast is served every day from 8:30 (9:00 on Sunday) until 11:30 and so unfortunately due to my sloth like weekends, I have never actually had a breakfast there, although eggs benedict is served as a special all day on Sunday. No bother – the food, coffee and juices are all sufficiently brunch-like for my needs and I decide on one of the specials of the day, king prawn and avocado salad (£7.95) and my brunch companion chose the Thai fish cakes (£7.95) with a side order of fries.

The salad was large with warm pan fried king prawns and thin slices of avocado on a baby leaf salad. This was mixed with sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, green beans, spring onions and large chunks of beetroot. While prawn and avocado is one of my favourite combinations, sometimes less is more with salads and I'm not entirely sure that the mix worked as well as it could have with perhaps a few less ingredients. However it was all clearly of superb quality and the prawns were especially excellent – freshly cooked and juicy.

The fishcakes were a big flavoursome affair with distinctly fresh ginger and coriander and big chunks of salmon and prawn. Served with a chilli pickle sauce and a mango and spring onion salad, the mix of herbs and textures was delicious.

For afters, there is a selection of pastries and cakes available. The Bakery part of the deal is no small affair – there are artisan breads to buy which sell quickly and the cakes and pastries look amazing, particularly this dark rich chocolate and beetroot cake.  However sadly I was a bit too full for something that heavy and so finished off the meal with a carrot cupcake which had a spicy cinnamon kick and just the right amount of cream cheese icing.

The Circle Café does get quite busy on the weekends however it is worth the wait and can be booked if necessary. It’s a great place to have locally that's focussed on consistent quality and with such an inventive seasonal menu. 

Circle Cafe and Bakery
1 Brandon Terrace

Circle on Urbanspoon

Monday, 7 March 2011

Forever Nigella: Lemon Polenta Cake

I really wasn't sure what to make for the latest Forever Nigella Ciao Italia challenge. There were so many options! I considered making one of Nigella's many pasta dishes, hearty stews or risottos and on the baking side, the Venetian carrot cake or Rococo cake were terribly tempting. In the end, circumstances dictated what I should make - Tesco had brought too many lemons in the latest order and they needed using. Not a bad position to be in, particularly considering I'd probably still be agonising over what to make otherwise! I do love anything lemony flavoured and scented - growing up in a warmer climate than Scotland, we had a large lemon tree in our garden that was always fragrant and heavy with fruit every summer. Even lemon tree leaves smell beautiful - fold one over and you'll smell a woody citrus scent better than any perfume with that description. Even though spring is slowly starting to emerge and thaw the frozen north, it is still chilly and with more snow forecast this week, this cake was a much needed cheery burst of lemony sunshine. Nigella says that this cake is an Anglo-Italian amalgam with its mix of polenta, ground almonds and lemon zest. I tried thinking of ways to make it more Italian - I would have loved to have made this with blood oranges but instead decided to add some candied lemons and fresh rosemary to the syrup.

I've only been to Italy once - I visited Florence one summer and have amazing memories of riding on a Vespa in the Tuscan countryside, taking in the fresh air and sunshine. I was also blown away by the quality of the fresh and delicious food and, being a cake addict, I visited as many bakeries as possible. There were so many stunning cakes that I wish I could have tried them all but having to fit in all my pasta and gelati quota at the same time meant that despite my best efforts I couldn't sample every cake I wanted to.

I remember seeing a beauty of a cake covered in candied lemons (sadly unphotographed) and this is my inspiration for the topping. They provide an additional sweet sour tang to the cake, are incredibly easy to make and look very pretty too. I love the combination of lemon and rosemary together and the fresh herb is a subtle addition to the syrup and candied lemons.

The recipe for the cake is from Kitchen and can also be found here.

Candied Lemons in Lemon and Rosemary Syrup

4 thinly sliced lemons with no pips
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup water
1.5 cups of caster sugar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary

1) Blanch the lemon slices in boiling waters for 5 minutes (this takes away any bitterness from the pith).
2) Take the lemons out of the saucepan and put the water, lemon juice and sugar on a medium heat for a few minutes until the sugar dissolves.
3) Add the lemon slices and fresh rosemary and allow the mix to boil until thick and syrupy (about 15 minutes)
4) Use a toothpick to prick the top of the cake all over and use tongs to place the lemon slices onto the cake whilst still hot. Pour over any remaining syrup. Leave to cool before taking out of its tin.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Baking Sunday: Lamingtons

The lamington is another classic Australian cake. In it's traditional form it involves day old sponge covered in thin chocolate icing and covered in dessicated coconut. The main way to jazz this up would be to slice the cake and fill with jam and cream but the blog Delicious Delicious Delicious has taken re-inventing the lamington to a new art form, with the second annual competition for bloggers taking place just after Australia Day coming up with some truly inventive and decandent lamington options. They're very adaptable, you basically just have to enjoy sponge and coconut and whichever combination you come up with can work.  A friend on Twitter mentioned them which gave me a craving for the traditional chocolate coconut version, which in my humble opinon can't be beat.

Traditional Lamingtons
Ingredients for Cake:
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs
pinch salt
tsp vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups sr flour
1/2 cup milk
Chocolate Icing (recipe follows below)
3 cups dessicated coconut

1) Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and pale
2) Beat in the eggs, one at a time until well mixed and add vanilla.
3) Mix in a third of the flour until well mixed, and then half the milk. Repeat this until all the flour and milk is added.
4) Pour into a greased lamington/square cake tin and bake for approx 30 mins on 180 C.
5) When cool cut into squares. Lamingtons are best made with day-old sponge as they should not crumble. If you wish to make the lamingtons on the same day, wait until the sponge is cooled and then wrap into cling film and put into the freezer for at least 2 hours before use.
6) Optional step: Slice lamington sponge in half and spread with jam, curd, whipped cream or whichever filling you desire
7) Put coconut into a shallow dish. Dip sponges into chocolate icing until completely covered and then roll into the dessicated coconut.  Note: You can use two forks to do this, knitting needles are also used traditionally! I prefer to use a pair of tongs.
8) Place onto a wire rack with kitchen paper towel underneath to catch any drips until set.

Chocolate icing:

3 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon golden syrup
boiling water

Mix  all ingredients except boiling water into the top of a double boiler (or a metal bowl which can be balanced over a saucepan). Add the boiling water in very small quantities, a dash at a time, to mix to a running consistency, but not too runny.


Basics: Omit the cocoa and add a few drops of food colouring or flavouring
Lemon: Add light yellow food colouring flavoured with lemon juice to the icing. Use lemon curd to sandwich the sponge together
Rose: Add light pink food colouring flavoured with rosewater essence to the icing. Use rose petal jam to sandwich the sponge together
Coffee: Add a tablespoon of instant coffee to the icing. Use coffee buttercream to sandwich the sponge together

For more ideas for variations, visit the Delicious Delicious Delicious blog.