Sunday, 25 September 2011

Dinner at Kitchen Porter Supperclub

"How do you find out about a secret supper club?" This was the hot topic of conversation at my table at Kitchen Porter supper club. Being a food blogger and foody nerd, I 'fessed up that I usually find out about these type of events via Twitter and other food blogs. Everyone had a different story - some had been recommended by friends, some guests were friends of the hosts, others had read reviews online. This just goes to show how popular supper clubs are becoming in Edinburgh, particularly considering that a year ago there was just one, Charlie and Evelyn's Table. Now there is a small network of them with plenty to offer Edinburgh diners, such as My Home Supper who create a friendly dinner party atmosphere and new venture Chai Lounge, cooking Indian food. Kitchen Porter is run by married couple Mary and Mark Porter from their family home at a secret location in Costorphine, and began in March this year. Mark is an experienced professional chef and it was obvious from the sophisticated menu (emailed to us well in advance to allow for any particular dietary requirements) that this was going to be an exceptional culinary experience.

We were to arrive at 8pm and were greeted with a smile by Mary, who took our coats and guided us to the sitting room for Prosecco and canapes. The canapes were delicious and plentiful - a light Gruyere cheese puff and crisp bruschetta made with homemade bread. 

There were a handful of people already there and everyone was friendly and chatty. This is the beauty of supper clubs - everyone is happy to mingle and to enjoy the experience of dining together with a group of strangers. The room quickly filled up with other diners and Mark and Mary came in to hand over canapes and ensure glasses were topped up. We met up with our supper club buddies who we've dined with twice before (and are coincidentally starting their own Supper Club, Table for Ten) and some other friends. We were chatting and catching up until we were lead to the dining room, via a beautiful open plan kitchen. I've never viewed the working kitchen of a supper club, it smelled great and looked amazingly organised and clean considering the amount of work which had already taken place.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Super sweets! Homemade marshmallows from Burgh Bakes

Home made marshmallows...there's something special about them which sets them apart from the pink and white blobs from the supermarket. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on the supermarket version but once you try home made marshmallows, you'll definitely notice the difference and look at them in a completely different light. Burgh Bakes specialise in these gourmet treats and Nicole Roberts is Edinburgh's very own Marshmallow Lady.

What sets home made marshmallows apart is the texture and the flavour. They are supremely fluffy soft and more dense and moist whilst still retaining a delicate texture. This makes them more of a mouthful - not spongy chewy but billowy melt in the mouth. Burgh Bakes marshmallows have real definable flavours too and Nicole makes some amazing flavours from traditional vanilla and seasonal berries to more innovative varieties such as millionaire shortbread, caramel swirl and reverse rocky road. There's not the cloying super sweetness you associate with eating a few too many marshmallows. A lot of love goes into making sure these flavours are pronounced - the key lime pie has a zest you can really taste, the tangy kick for the lemon meringue comes from hand-squeezed lemons and Nicole makes fruit purées for any seasonal berry flavours herself. There's also a lot of attention to detail which makes these extra special. The reverse rocky road has everything you'd expect to find in a rocky road except that chocolate marshmallow is the main ingredient, with a deep dark chocolatey flavour. The millionaire shortbread and key lime pie have a yummy biscuity base.

Burgh Bakes have seasonal flavours too so check the Facebook page for any new updates. I'm looking forward to having some chocolate mint flavoured marshmallows for the winter to dip into my hot chocolate and maybe even some lemon meringue marshmallow melted into my tea. They'd be perfect for making rocky road and for toasting. By the way, Burgh Bakes marshmallows are all natural, gluten free and mostly fat free - obviously they're not a health food but you know, they're better for you than a Mars Bar! Nicole is working on a vegetarian version which should hopefully be available soon.

Burgh Bakes are available via mail order by emailing and you will receive cubes of soft gourmet marshmalllows, packaged in cute retro bags. I can imagine they'd make a lovely wedding favour or gift. Otherwise, they're stocked for £3.60 at Earthy Foods, Lickety Splits, Edinburgh Larder and Candy Cupcake or you can find them at Portobello market (first Saturday of the month) and Juniper Green Farmers market (third Saturday of the month) where you can pick up some marshmallow lollies too.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Coffee & Cake: Stag Espresso Dovecot Cafe

A wee post about the equally wee but gorgeous Stag Espresso Dovecot Cafe, which I stumbled across recently on a rare sunny weekend.  It's attached to the Dovecot Studio and Galleries, just off North Bridge which makes it wonderfully convenient to duck in for a coffee, sandwich or cake.  With some delicious sandwiches and homemade soups, Artisan Roast coffee and cakes, it's worth seeking out when you want a break from the bustle of the Old Town (particularly during Festival time).  It's a beautifully light and airy space thanks to full length windows where you can have a quiet moment, catch up on a book or just watch the world go by.  The sandwiches are made fresh to order and are of the solid standards with a twist variety, such as pastrami & brie with wholegrain mustard and lemon & coriander hummus on carrot, tomato & spinach (about £5.50).  The homemade soups are very popular and had sold out by the time we visited (around 3pm).  But let's face it, I was there for the cake and Dovecot Cafe have a small but perfectly formed selection of freshly baked cakes and pastries.

I tried their coffee, walnut and maple syrup cake, a three layered beauty.  The maple sweetness was perfectly balanced against the mild coffee sponge flavour and there were plenty of walnuts added to the mix, adding more delicious contrast. My coffee companion had the snickers caramel shortbread which was possibly even better, the slight salty peanuts with sweet caramel was an amazing combination - why have I never thought to make this?  Other cakey options included carrot and cinnamon, florentines, gluten free chocolate & coconut slice and a selection of  flaky croissants.  My latte was creamy, well textured, with a neat rosetta and served with a smile.  What more could we have asked for?  With delicious cakes, coffee and lovely staff, Stag Espresso is an unexpected gem of a place and given it's hidden location will surprise you with it's quality and prices.  There's always beautiful artwork to look at too - when we visited they were displaying Sophie Cullinan's frankly awesome art installation, 'Worn', which will either surprise and delight you or totally freak you out!

Stag Espresso
Dovecot Cafe/Studio/Galleries
10 Infirmary Street, EH1 1LT
Open weekdays 8am - 5pm, Saturday 10am - 5pm

Monday, 19 September 2011

Best Burger Quest - The Roseleaf

I've written of my love of the Roseleaf Bar before, in particular their excellent brunches and cocktails. They also have a really appealing teatime menu as well, plenty of fresh local produce and written in Leither chat. There's a lot of interesting flavour combinations in traditional dishes and so it's not the type of place I'd normally go to and order a hamburger, nor were they on my radar for burger excellence. But sometimes you just find awesome when you're least expecting it and this was one of the tastiest burgers I've had in absolutely ages. Their Royale with Cheese (£9) is made with their own blend of beef and pork belly and served in slices of homemade grilled onion bread with melted mature cheddar cheese - it was too tempting to resist. Additions to the burger fur a quid are smokey bacon and Stornoway black pudding and I decided to have some bacon as well. The resulting hamburger was a super tall burger, with a huge juicy burger, thick streak of bacon, melty cheese and tomato relish pinned together between toasted savoury slices. 

The real star is the meat patty which is tenderly delicious, with the mix of beef with the pork belly making it extra juicy and flavoursome. The bacon adds a smokey element and the simplicity of the burger really allowed all the tastes to shine through. It was a quite drippy burger but not greasy and you'll have to not mind getting your mush a bit grubby. The burger is served with a fresh salad and sautéed potatoes - no chips! Having said that the potatoes were fried crispy delicious on the outside and but still soft creamy inside and were a good substitute. The quality of the meat and other ingredients combined with homemade bread and tasty tatties really made this a wonderful burger and I was seriously impressed.

Now, what goes better with a hamburger than a milkshake? I opted for one of the Roseleaf's dessert cocktails instead of a pudding- a Sweet-Tail (all £6). The Roseberry is an adult strawberry milkshake with a waft of rose... and a very strong hit of rum, so like they say, nae pups for this milkshake! It was perhaps a tiny bit too alcoholic for my tastes but there were still definable flavours in there and I certainly enjoyed it plenty! My experience at the Roseleaf has shown me that the best burgers are out there even when you're not expecting to find them... so I shall just have to keep eating them.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

No-Bake Sunday: Nanaimo Bars from The Boy Who Bakes

A slightly different treat this Sunday, some Nanaimo Bars, a fridge set slice which requires no baking whatsoever. Nanaimo Bars were created in Canada in the 1950's by a lady from the town of Nanaimo and submitted to the Women's Institute Fundraising cookbook. They're still so popular they were recently voted 'Canada's Favourite Confection' and it's easy to see why. I'd never heard of these bars before but they looked amazing with their three layers of loveliness - full of butter, chocolate and custard sweetness. The bottom layer is a cocoa-rich rocky road-esque layer, the middle is a sweet custard buttercream and the topping is a dark chocolate ganache which tempers the toothsome layers below. Basically, they're delicious. The recipe would be easily adaptable as well, I can imagine adding mint, peanut butter or berry puree to the middle layer.

This recipe is from Edd Kimber, aka The Boy Who Bakes, who won the Great British Bake Off last year. I'm absolutely addicted to most cooking shows so obviously I have been glued to one that focused on baking! I really liked the two finalists last year, Ruth Clements (of The Pink Whisk, I tried making her Chocolate Lime Pie a while ago) and Edd, who was the worthy winner. He has just released a baking book which feature some classics (often with a twist) and his own creations, which really set this apart from other baking books. The classic twists are fun and surprising, such as pumpkin pie eclairs, raspberry ripple vanilla cake and brown sugar pannacotta. His own creations include interesting flavour combinations such as speculaas brownies, caramel and cinnamon cake and gianduja dacquoise cake (a meringue and chocolate hazelnut cake) - all very tempting to make.

The recipes are straightforward and there's a definite North American influence to his baking, mentioning visits to the US and his Canadian family in the book. There are decadent American-style desserts such as banana cream pie and chocolate and banana brioche bread pudding, and coconut cream cheese french toast certainly sounds like something you could order at an upscale hotel in New York for breakfast, along with bananas foster pancakes. His Northern roots still remain too and there's a delicious sounding cross between a Yorkshire curd tart and Eccles cake (Ceccles cake!) that I'm sure I'll be making soon. It's not an advanced baking books but there are lots of fun new flavours and modern ideas to try such as white chocolate and matcha mousse, ginger and chai pannacotta tarts and chocolate, pecan and salted caramel tart. Edd also teaches macaron baking classes and there are very thorough instructions for his rose and raspberry macarons and hazelnut and chocolate macarons. Each recipe features an introduction which shows a bit of his personality and a photograph of the finished product which I always appreciate in a cookbook! Another recommended baking book buy, particularly if you like experimenting with flavours.

Nanaimo Bars

(makes about 40 squares, I used 2 brownie pans)

For the base
300g digestive or rich tea biscuits
170g butter
75g caster sugar
45g cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g desiccated coconut
75g walnuts, coarsely chopped

For the middle layer
85g butter
345g icing sugar
3 tablespoons custard powder
100ml double cream

For the top layer
225g dark chocolate, finely chopped
200ml double cream
30g unsalted butter, softened

1. Press a piece of foil into the base and up the sides of a 23 x 33cm baking pan and set aside. Put the biscuits into a food processor and pulse until they resemble breadcrumbs. (Alternatively, put them in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.) Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a medium pan set over medium heat. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar and cocoa powder, then gradually beat in the eggs. Put back on the heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 1 minute.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, coconut, biscuit crumbs and walnuts. Press this mixture evenly into the prepared pan, making sure to press the mixture in firmly so that it isn't too crumbly when set. Chill until firm, about 1 hour.
4. To make the middle layer, beat the butter using an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the icing sugar until smooth. Add the custard powder and cream, and beat slowly until combined, then beat on high until light and fluffy. Spread in an even layer across the chilled base, then chill for a further 30 minutes.
5. To make the top layer, put the chocolate into a medium bowl and set aside. In a medium pan bring the cream just to the boil, then pour over the chocolate. Leave to stand for 2 minutes before gently stirring together until smooth.
6. Add the butter and stir until the ganache is smooth. Pour over the custard layer and spread in an even layer. Chill until set. Note: Try to pour and smooth the ganache really quickly to get a smooth surface for your topping.
7. To serve, use a sharp knife and cut into small squares. To get a clean cut run the knife under hot water, then wipe dry, before cutting.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Baking Sunday: Cheese and Apple Scones

My love of unusual flavour combinations can probably be traced back to childhood when my dad used to make me crazy sandwich combinations. I loved the ones which were a mix of sweet and savoury and apple and cheese was one of my favourites. I still love making apple and cheese toasties, with the apple going all soft under the gooey melted cheese. So when I first read Outsider Tart's new baking book, Baked in America, I was excited to see recipes for their brownies (some of the best I've ever tasted), pies and layer cakes but then saw their apple and cheese scone recipe and knew I had to make them as soon as possible, especially after eating Bake Nation's excellent cheese scones last week. 

These scones were really tasty with a tender crumb and good mix of sharp cheddar and sweet apple. They have a good crunch and have the added bite of polenta in the mix. It's a very simple recipe to make if you have an electric mixer, as it will do all the work for you. My only word of caution is that the dough is really sticky. There's an option to use either apple sauce or apple juice in the ingredients and this will affect how soupy the dough becomes. They suggest using more flour if you're making the scones with apple juice. I actually made my own apple sauce by making an apple stew and putting it through the blender (1 medium apple for 1/4 cup apple sauce) which worked well - the dough was manageable but still pretty wet. I used a lightly floured non-stick board to roll the dough and the mix was together enough to easily cut out the scones and move them to the baking tray. I've taken Georgia from Bake Nation's tip of wrapping some of the scones individually in cling film to enjoy them later warmed in the microwave - they keep their texture the next day and are still moist and firm.

Baked In America certainly adds something new to my cookbook collection and is definitely worth getting if you like American style baking. Even if you don't, it's worth getting anyway. They have put a lot of effort into explaining the difference between US and UK ingredients and measurements and have a number of British bakes such as rhubarb layer cake and lemon lavender scones. Their baking tour of the USA means there are a number of regional recipes which I've never heard of and would love to try. A 7 layer Doberge cake from New Orleans, Kentucky Apple Stack Cake, New York inspired Cannoli Cake - yes please! There's also a really good range of bars and cookies, along with a Buttermilk Biscuit recipe with vaguely mysterious notes which sounds like an intriguing challenge. My only minor quibble with the book would be that there are not always pictures for each recipe but I've found that's relatively common in American cookbooks. The pictures that are there are beautiful!

250-275g plain flour
70g cornmeal/polenta
2 tablespoons granulated or light brown sugar
1 generous tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
120ml buttermilk, cold
1 large egg, cold
60g or 1/4 cup applesauce or apple juice
115g unsalted butter, cold and diced
75g cheddar cheese, grated
1 medium apple, cored and chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degree Celsius. Line 2 baking trays with parchment. Note: You could probably do this at Step 9 when the dough goes back in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the flour, polenta, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Refrigerate until needed.
3. Measure the buttermilk into a large jug then add the egg and applesauce or juice. Stir to combine. Refrigerate this as well.
4. When you're ready to continue, prepare the butter, cheese and apple. Set aside.
5. Remove the mixing bowl from the fridge. On low speed, add the butter piece by piece and mix until you have a crumbly mess.
6. Take the bowl off the mixer, add the cheese and apple, stir with a large fork then add the buttermilk mixture. Return the bowl to the mixer and continue blending for 10-12 seconds on low speed.
7. Dump the mixture on to a floured surface and pat out until it is 1 inch/2.5 cm thick. Pat and fold over in thirds 2 or 3 times, but do not press down too firmly. This will not only finish an mixing, it will also help build layers and make the scones rise while baking. Pat or roll until the dough is 1 inch/2.5 cm thick again. Try to be quick and gentle. The more forceful you are, the tougher the scones will be.
8. Cut into whatever shape you want, and place the scones on the prepared baking sheets. Add an egg wash or brush with milk or cream if desired.
9. Refrigerate again for 15 minutes or so, to let the dough rest and the butter chill again.10. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until golden and firm. If you used rimmed baking sheets, prop the scones against the rim. This will help prevent them steaming and possibly becoming smushy. You want a crunchy exterior all around.

Makes 8-12 scones, depending on cutter size

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Savoury Baking: Turkey mince and mushroom stuffed aubergines

The idea for making this recipe was from a Twitter request a few months ago. I had bought some aubergines on a whim as I've never cooked with them that much and was eager to try a few different dishes. I wasn't quite sure what to where to start and what to make with them and asked for some suggestions from lovely Twitter folk. There were some great ideas - from standards like moussaka and ratatouille to layered tomato bakes, curries and even chocolate cake made with cooked aubergine. Out of all the dishes I tried this stuffed aubergine was my favourite and was suggested by lovely fellow Edinburgh food blogger, Chiara from e rucola. Chiara has a passion for Italian food and this was a wonderful suggestion - simple, tasty and easy peasy to make. It's also easily adaptable to your cupboards if say you don't have any mushrooms, you could use peppers or whatever you have handy instead. I looked at a few recipes on the internet and merged some of them into the below recipe. The only faffy thing with this recipe is a wee bit of waiting time for the aubergine to release any liquid, which is to ensure that there is no trace of bitterness left in them - I've tried doing it without but it does make a difference in taste. If anyone has a shortcut suggestion I'd be happy to hear it! I've come to really enjoy cooking with aubergine and this has become one of my standard recipes, along with a really nice pasta sauce which I'll write up soon as well. This recipe serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course.

2 large aubergines
olive oil
salt and pepper
200g turkey mince
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
150g chopped mushrooms
Half a tin of chopped tomatoes, or 4 or 5 dried chopped tomatoes
Handful of chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. 
2. Slice aubergines in half lengthways and using a small, sharp knife score a criss-cross pattern into the flesh of each aubergine half, neither cutting too deep nor rupturing the skin that surrounds the flesh. Sprinkle the surface of the latticed flesh with a pinch salt, place the aubergines into a colander to drain any liquid and allow the salt to soak in for 20 minutes. Adding the salt takes away the bitterness from the aubergines.
3. Discard any liquid from the aubergines and place onto a baking tray into the oven for 10 minutes. 
4. Meanwhile, prepare the filling by heating a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and add the mince until browned. Turn the heat on low and add the onions and garlic until they turn translucent. 
5. Once the aubergines have been baked, scoop out the chunks of inner flesh taking care not to pierce the "shell" of aubergine. 
6. Add the aubergine flesh, mushrooms and tomatoes to the mince mixture and cook through for about 5 minutes. Stir in the basil and pine nuts and then scoop into the hollowed out aubergine shells.
7. Cover the filled aubergine shells with a mix of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese and then put back into the oven for 20 minutes, until the tops are browned. 
8. Serve immediately, ideally with a green salad and balsamic vinegar.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Back to blogging: Trips away to London and Bruges

My poor blog has been neglected for a wee while now. Life has been getting in the way and I have certainly been busy! Since my last post I have travelled halfway across the world for sad reasons and then had a very lovely and relaxing holiday closer to home.  When I came back home I became suddenly ill and had to have an emergency operation, followed by a ten day stay in hospital which nearly broke me. I've started my recovery though so I guess it's the ideal time for blogging again, particularly now that I'm starting to get my appetite back!

My trip across the world was to Australia and to see my grandma before she passed away. We were super close and her passing has broken my heart more than I ever thought possible. She lived an amazing life and made green onion pancakes and gao ji's that would knock your socks off. She was very much loved and I miss her every day.

The holiday was a mini-break to London and Bruges and I must admit, I indulged in a bit of comfort eating and ate very well indeed. Whenever I go to London I spend most of my time catching up with friends and never seem to visit as many foodie places as I'd like to but I managed to go to two places which were worth the wait.

Gelupo is hidden away in a back street of Soho, across the road from fine Italian restaurant, Bocca di Lupo. They claim that they are the finest artisan gelato experience this side of the Alps and I'm sure they're not wrong. The flavours are exceptional and original - ricotta, chocolate and black pepper, saffron and vanilla, fresh mint stracciatella (as pictured above).  The fresh mint flavour really shone through and worked well with the flecks of dark chocolate. The minty flavour wasn't to my boyfriend's taste (too much like toothpaste) and it wasn't as creamy as our other pick, a smooth and tangy ricotta and sour cherry ripple. A definite must visit from me - I'm looking forward to trying their range of sorbets and granitas next time which are in fruity flavours like watermelon, blood orange, clementine and white peach.

Cox, Cookies and Cakes is also based in Soho, in a far more accessible location - indeed on one of the more 'interesting' streets. In keeping with the area, the shop is all shiny black surfaces, neon lighting and some very rude and outrageous cupcakes. The shop was founded by shoe designer Patrick Cox and Eric Lanlard and the cakes taste just as good as they look. The flavours range from traditional chocolate, strawberry, red velvet to the more exotic such as pineapple and coconut, hazelnut praline and raspberry filled chocolate. The cookies and squares are pretty tasty too but you might as well try something a bit more exciting whilst you're there!  I had a cola cupcake which came with some fizzy cola dip to sprinkle on and it was perfect - really fudgy with an actual cola flavour.  I'm considering buying their book just for that recipe alone.

I had never visited Bruges before but I knew I would love the food. Moules and frites, cherry beer, waffles and chocolate - what could go wrong?  It's an absolutely beautiful town and was perfect for a relaxing mini-break.  Our foodie experience was overwhelmingly positive and we thoroughly enjoyed every meal.  We were given a number of recommendations from friends and from bloggers but sadly, given the unfortunate state of the £ vs. € we really couldn't afford these options.  Meals aren't expensive relatively speaking, but expect to pay approximately €15-€25 for a main course.  In general, service was mostly polite but you had to work hard to get it, and there was no such thing as free water (I paid €2.50 for a small glass of what was clearly tap water).  However these small things didn't detract from my overall experience and to be honest, as long as the very obvious tourist traps were avoided you can eat very well at a relatively low cost.  Portion sizes in Bruges are big and the Flemish stews are particularly recommended (specialties are rabbit and eel).

One place we lucked upon was The Hobbit, a bar which frankly did not have many great reviews on TripAdvisor.  Having noted the reviews, I was prepared for the poor service (it was friendly but sparse) but still enjoyed the food a lot.  Their specialty is the Hobbit Ribs, beautifully seasoned and tender and all you can eat for €18.  Their chicken kebab was tasty too but I would recommend steering clear of their fixed price set menus, they didn't seem to represent great value as their portion sizes were so large - there really was no need of starter or dessert!  

But if you have room for dessert, well then Bruges has them in spectacular style.  You can't think of Belgium without the predictably excellent waffles and pancakes and these are all on offer most places, along with a local apple tart with a crumbly almond topping which is delicious.  One of the more interesting places I visited was De Medici Sorbetiere, who specialise in unusual ice cream flavours and combinations. They have a beautiful sunny upstairs tearoom with a bohemian feel to enjoy their ice cream sundaes and cakes, and their lunches were also good.  Pictured is an ice cream and meringue fruit specialty with a lot of berry sauce.  It's a really lovely and relaxed place and I wanted to try pretty much every ice cream combination they had - definitely recommended.