Sunday, 30 October 2011

Scandilicious Style: Gravlaks

One of the many excellent cookbooks released by blogger's this year has been Signe Johansen's Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking - Scandilicious.  Signe is a Norwegian based in London and her book is full of fantastic recipes, making sophisticated Scandinavian food accessible.  There are plenty of classic recipes you'd expect to find like classic herring and potato, daim cake, rice pudding and meatballs, and each recipe is warmly introduced by Signe.  There are "Secret to making..." sections which focus on how to make things like yoghurt, jelly and salted cod.  There's plenty of bakes too, such as Jarlsberg and fennel muffins, cinnamon and chestnut bread, spiced chocolate cake and Swedish anchovy and potato gratin.  The design and photography are also beautiful and it's Scandi-cool cannot be denied. 

Signe recently visited Edinburgh and held a night at Scandi cafe Peters Yard.  It turns out that their pastry chef went to the same school as Signe - small world sometimes!  It was a lovely evening, where we enjoyed glasses of wine or warm glögg and food from Signe's book.  Peters Yard is well known for it's excellent crispbread and these comprised the canapes, with toppings of Swedish caviar and dill, chicken liver pate and beetroot, and smoked goats cheese with a slice of raspberry vinegar marinated radish adorning them.  The flavour combinations were simple but intense and quickly gobbled up by everyone there. 

One of the highlights of the evening was Signe talking about gravlaks (or gravadlax as it's known in Sweden).  Apparently, a  good Scandinavian housewife would traditionally know fifty ways to cure fish and Signe was kind enough to demonstrate for us.  The basic process is to tie two large salmon fillets together with sugar, salt and any other spices you may care to add.  There should be more sugar added than salt and Signe recommends using smoked sea salt, such as Maldons.  She mentioned other popular flavourings for the gravlaks, such as beetroot, fennel, cardamom, chillies, juniper berries and caraway.  It actually made me think of the black treacle cured salmon I tried at Kitchen Porters, which was delicious.  

The optimum time for the gravlaks to be cured in the fridge is 48 hours but a day either side should be fine.  There will be quite a bit of liquid released so it's best stored in a bowl or something that can contain this.  The gravlaks can also be made ahead and frozen until the day required and is easier to carve up this way too.  It tastes better by far homemade than any you can get at the shops and is perfect dinner party food - it can just be laid out for people to enjoy with dill or mustard sauce, or just by itself with some crispbread and fresh dill.  The recipe for gravlaks from Scandilicious is below - enjoy!

1.5 kg salmon fillet, cut in half lengthwise
1 tbsp white peppercorns
2 tbsp coriander seeds
100g granulated sugar
75g sea salt
45g fresh dill, chopped

1. Dry the salmon, check for pinbones and then place both fillet pieces side by side, skin down. Crush the white pepper and coriander with a pestle and mortar and then mix in a small bowl with the sugar and salt.
2. Spread the dill over the skinless side of the fillet halves, then spread the spiced sugar and salt in a layer on top. Sandwich both fillet halves, then spread the spiced sugar and salt in a layer on top. Sandwich both fillets together so that the dill spice mixture is in the middle and the skin is outermost. Cover any exposed surface of salmon with any dill and spice mixture that tumbles out. Wrap very tightly in two layers of clingfilm and place in a small roasting tin to catch the brine that escapes the fish as it cures. 
3.  Refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours and up to 48 hours. 
4. When the gravlaks has had time to cure, simply take it out of the fridge, remove the clingfilm, wipe the fillet halves clean of the herby spiced salt with a paper towel, pat dry and put on a board, skin down. 
5.  Put a layer of chopped dill on the skinless side of each fillet and press down as much as you can without squashing the fish.
6.  Slice on the diagonal from the tail towards the middle of the fillet and serve with hot new potatoes, rye or sourdough bread and dill mustard sauce.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Finding Comfort: Mums Great Comfort Food

Comfort food is generally what we turn to as the weather starts to get colder.  It's just starting to reach that stage in Scotland - there are more scarves being worn, it's getting dark by 5pm and the clocks will be turning back this weekend.  The idea of warm and hearty food becomes exponentially more appealing and it's perfect timing for it to be the October theme for Edinburgh Food Geeks*.  Drawn to the place by name alone, we arrived at Mum's Great Comfort Food.  This diner specialises in uncomplicated, unashamedly retro British comfort food, the kind of food you'd imagine mums from the Good Old Days to make for your weekly visit home. 

When we arrive at about 6:30 it's clear that others have the same idea and the diner is nearly full.  The staff are super cheery though and a table is freshly wiped down for us to sit down straight away.  It's a cosy place with big leather booths and is big enough to seat about 40 (at a guess).    

Perusing the menu, it's clear this will be a carb-avoider's nightmare.  Serving comfort food classics such as macaroni cheese, bangers and mash, pies and roasted chicken, there is nary a salad to be seen - it's time to move a belt notch over and revel in the stodgy.  

In a previous life, Mum's Diner was Monster Mash and it remains true to its roots, serving a selection of sausages which change daily and a frankly huge selection of mash - 16 varieties to be exact.  I'm not sure how popular the black pudding and apple mash is with folk but other flavours such caramelised leek and bacon or chipotle and cheese sound far more appealing.  

There are a variety of pies, served with chips and vegetables (£7.50) and a decent range of 'gourmet' burgers, with specials of Kobe Beef burger (£12.95) and a venison cranberry burger (£9.95).  Other menu highlights include Melty Mushroom Wellington (with spinach and cheese, served with chips for £6.50) and roast chicken breast with skirlie and mash (£8.25).

I decided to order the steak and ale stew with dumplings, served with a pile of cheese and onion mash and vegetables (£7.75).  This promised to be slow braised beef with carrots, onions, mushrooms and turnip in St Giles Ale. There was a lovely deep flavour from the ale and generous chunks of steak, slow-cooked to softness and the herby dumplings were soaked in the stew, but were surprisingly light and fluffy.  It was a simple and hearty dish, with a very large portion of mash, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli.  The cheese and onion mash was a great flavour combination with the stew and was well-textured and fluffy. 

Sausage and mash is always going to be a popular choice and my dining companion ordered the pork and leek and the beef and horseradish along with a mountain of champ mash and caramelised onion gravy (2 sausages and mash for £6.95, 3 for £8.25).  All of Mums' sausages are from O'Hagans, apparently the first specialist sausage maker in the world.  There is always the Plain Porker type available and the daily specials, both meat and vegetarian, are displayed on their blackboard.  The dish was pretty close to their promotional photo used up top - a traditonal 'Beano' style nosh-up, with bangers artfully sticking out of a huge pile o' mash, and then covered in gravy.  Again, the mash was well flavoured and moist and the sausages were declared 'tasty' inbetween chomps; it's only a shame a local sausage supplier isn't used.

A good selection of wines and Scottish beers and cider is available (BrewDog, Black Isle, Thistly Cross and Stewart Brewing).  There are also a number of yummy sounding milkshakes (including both ice cream and alcoholic) and I was ever so tempted to order a cherry milkshake but decide to keep it retro with a ginger beer.

My dining companion was happy to desist from dessert, but even a mammoth main is no deterrent for me - no comfort eating meal would be complete without ending on something sweet. All puddings are decently priced at £3.95 and include Eton mess, caramelised banana split and a rather odd sounding fruit ripple ice cream served with fresh mini donuts (perhaps a little bit too far on the simplistic side?).  I decided to try their treacle and date pudding after reading Mums' description as possibly being the greatest dessert in the world.  Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream it was a lip-smackingly sticky sweet version of the traditional pudding, but best dessert in the world?  Not so much.  Considering the large sizes of the mains it was a relatively small wedge portion and there wasn't quite enough of the sauce.  Also the presentation was certainly lacking, as though it had just been hurriedly thrown onto the plate.  Obviously this is somewhat overly critical for a diner dessert, but, if they will claim it to be the best in the world, it should come under a certain level of scrutiny!  They did claim it would be 'yummy delicious' though and it was that - which was good enough for me.  

Mums is the perfect place to visit if you're in the mood for some hearty comfort food in a cute retro setting.  Their menu has some inventive touches to keep things interested, but on the whole it's wholesome uncomplicated nostalgia.

* We were inspired to visit by the Edinburgh Total Food Geeks theme of Finding Comfort.  What is this Edinburgh Total Food Geeks I speak of?  A group of Edinburgh-based bloggers who love food and geek out over pretty much all aspects of it.  We have a monthly theme where we try to write about our chosen subject in whichever way we choose.  It's fun and social and inspiring and hopefully it'll help to highlight Edinburgh businesses.  My post is linked here

4a Forrest Road
Tel: 0131 260 9806
No bookings taken during the Festival

Monday, 24 October 2011

Sunday Baking: Chocolate Pavlova and afternoon tea

On Sunday I hosted an afternoon tea at my house for the girls from my work. It was a pretty grey Edinburgh afternoon but my flat was toasty and smelling of freshly baked scones. There was plenty of tea and bubbly consumed and there was a lot of cake. I'd been totally in my element the past few days, baking up a storm and it was so much fun to plan out what to make and find recipes. As there were a few people coming, I wanted to make things that would appeal to everyone and not have anything too fussy to prepare on the day. This was the final lineup of treats that awaited my friends:
Chocolate pavlova, cupcakes - carrot, coffee and vanilla flavoured, Nanaimo bars, passion fruit melting moments, Portuguese custard tarts, mini quiches, toasted baguette slices with pesto & parmesan shavings and cheese & parma ham open sandwiches. Not pictured was a huge tin of scones with a choice of plain, fruity and cheese & apple.

I was really lucky to have enough freezer space to be able to freeze the scones, Nanaimo bars and cupcakes in advance. The cupcakes and bars freeze well after being made (I iced the cupcakes that morning) and the scones I froze as dough, after I'd cut them. The best way to do this is to lay the fresh dough onto a baking sheet to harden and then pop into a freezer bag until required. It was lovely just to be able to take them out an hour before people turned up so they were still warm.

I wanted an impressive centrepiece for the afternoon tea and I decided to make Nigella Lawson's chocolate pavlova, in three layers, as inspired by What Katie Ate's amazingly beautiful effort. It was certainly a labour of love with three layers of pavlova, which meant adapting the recipe slightly to 9 eggs. I also tried baking the pavlova layers in tins, as inspired by this recipe by Delicious magazine. I had images of perfectly formed I will definitely not be doing that again and will be m perfectly happy with the au naturale look next time. Getting pavs out was a bit of a nightmare and the cracking was far worse than baking them on sheets. But still, they looke fine - anyone that's made a cracked pavlova will know that whipped cream covers a multitude of sins. It tasted amazing and it's worth getting a good quality dark chocolate to add to the mix as these tiny flecks of chocolate combined with the raspberries made the cake extra special. 

I'll post up some of the other recipes from the afternoon tea later in the week - I spent a lot of time looking for the best afternoon tea recipes and there was some good stuff on the table!

Three Layer Chocolate Pavlova

9 egg whites
450g caster sugar
4 and half tablespoons cocoa powder, sieved
1 and half teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
75g dark chocolate, finely chopped

750ml double cream
1 punnet raspberries
2-3 tablespoons grated dark chocolate

Method: 1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.  Use a medium plate (around 9") to trace three round shapes onto baking paper and line a baking tray with this parchment (or if you're feeling brave, grease three 9" cake tins, line the bases with paper and then grease again.
2. Beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the cocoa and vinegar, and the chopped chocolate. Then gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. Mound on to a baking sheet in a fat circle using the drawn circles as a guide, smoothing the sides and top. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 120°C/gas mark 2 and cook for about one to one and a quarter hours. When it's ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but when you prod the centre you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, and let the chocolate meringue disc cool completely.
3. When you're ready to serve, invert on to a big, flat-bottomed plate. Whisk the cream till thick but still soft and pile a third on top of the meringue, then scatter over some raspberries. Allow some raspberries to poke out of the side and if desired, use a star tip to pipe some whipped cream right on the edges.  Place the next layer of pavlova on top and then repeat with another third of the whipped cream and raspberries.  Add the final layer on top and top with half the remaining whipped cream and then star pipe rounds of cream around the edges.  Coarsely grate the chocolate so that you get curls rather than rubble, as you don't want the raspberries' luscious colour and form to be obscured, and sprinkle haphazardly over the top, letting some fall, as it will, on the plate's rim.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Edinburgh Cake Ladies III - Feeling the Fear

Cake cake cake cake cake! Having attended the first Clandestine Cake meet-up, I knew what to expect – everyone brings along a home-baked cake and we all get to enjoy each others' creations and have some cakey chat. This was the third Edinburgh cake ladies event and, with nearly thirty bakers attending, there was so much cake.

The event was organised by Hilary from My Monkfish who decided on the theme 'Feel The Fear and bake it anyway'. The idea was to make something you were a bit scared would go wrong or use flavour combinations you’re not entirely sure would go together. There was a list of what everyone was baking on the Edinburgh Cake Ladies blog beforehand and there were some amazing choices: from complicated baking like Gateau St Honore and Diplomat cake, to interesting flavour combinations like spiced chilli chocolate cake and apple and walnut cake with treacle icing. My cake was slightly mysteriously (or pretentiously!?) named Walk the Line cake. This was just to make it sound slightly more exciting than what it was called in my Keiko Ishida baking book, simply titled Birthday Cake. The fear factor with this cake was two elements – firstly, there was the chocolate and lavender flavour pairing which I wasn’t sure if people would like. Secondly there was the composition – a soufflé swiss roll turned onto its side, sandwiched between two chocolate layers with white chocolate lavender ganache and covered in whipped cream icing. All the steps towards making it were pretty straightforward, but very time consuming – I didn’t quite have as much time to decorate the cake as I would have liked, but I love the stripy effect that the cake has once it’s been cut into, so I figured this would be decoration enough.  It seemed to be, I got some lovely comments and there was a sigh of relief – phew, people liked it!

I managed to try quite a few different cakes, thanks to a 'buddy' system I had with my pal Sarah where we'd share each others' pieces and I was also lucky enough to take quite a few home with me to enjoy.  My favourites I had on the night were the cinnamon and caramel cake with a gooey caramel sauce, the Diplomat cake which was made with potatoes and was delightfully fruity and refreshing, the Gateau St Honoure decorated with large raspberry-filled chocolate and the rich chocolate fruit cake. Oh, and the cinnamon cake with blackberries and the clementine cake, both autumnal hits. And I can't forget the Mysterious Orange cake - secret ingredient, Irn Bru!  I could go on, but instead of me just listing all the cakes I liked, go and visit the Edinburgh Cake Ladies facebook page and look at some beautiful photos.  Here are a few of mine (not many, as sadly my camera was not working very well) and the recipe for the souffle chocolate swiss roll after the jump.

Cinnamon and Caramel cake

Mondrian cake

Cinnamon cake with blackberries
The original recipe in Keiko Ishida Japanese baking book 'Okashi' is for a plain sponge but after doing a bit of research, I found this example of a striped cake by Gesine Bullock-Prado (who has an excellent book on cooking with sugar, Sugar Baby) and loved the visual effect of the chocolate cake version so have adapted the original recipe as per below. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Baking Sunday: Beetroot and Walnut Muffins by My Custard Pie

I absolutely love beetroot and I was thrilled to read Sally from My Custard Pie's latest blog about this humble but delicious veg.  Beetroot is still in season now and it's great to cook with.  There's an understated, earthy sweetness to beetroot which means it can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes and with it's beautiful vibrant colour can liven up most dishes.  In summer I'll often add chopped beetroot to salad and it's mild flavour works particularly well with anything tart or peppery, like oranges or horseradish. Beetroot coleslaw is another favourite.  Now that it's practically winter in Scotland, I'm thinking about roasting it in a red wine sauce as a side dish for roast pork and maybe making some beetroot and goats cheese tarts.  I'll definitely be making beetroot soup, flavoured with lime and ginger and I know I'll be making these beetroot and walnut muffins again.  

They're utterly delicious and have only a slightly sweet flavour which is tempered with the smoky thyme and walnuts.  I had some pomegranate molasses that I added a dash of as well - the molasses isn't sweet like you'd expect but has more of a tart flavour and is used in a lot of Middle Eastern cooking.  It was an interesting counterpoint to the beetroot and really brought out the flavour of the thyme.  I also didn't have enough walnuts so subbed in some pine nuts to make up the numbers which was a happy accident as I think I preferred the creamy crunch of the pine nuts over the walnuts.  Sally suggests adding in some feta or goats cheese for a creamy texture which also sounds lovely.  These muffins look amazing - they have a beautiful vivid pink colour.  If you love beetroot too you should go make these muffins and read about ten other beetroot suggestions on My Custard Pie. 

Beetroot and Walnut muffins
(Adapted from My Custard Pie)
Makes 12 muffins

300g beetroot, finely grated (about 4-5 small beetroot) Wear gloves to grate these or have bright red hands!
320g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
40 g chopped walnuts plus 12 whole ones or pine nuts
1/2 level teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon pomegranate molasses (optional)
2 large eggs
240 ml buttermilk or natural yoghurt
90 ml vegetable oil or melted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Grease a 12 cup muffin pan or line it with paper liners.

2. Lightly beat the eggs together in a small bowl, then beat in the buttermilk/yoghurt, vegetable oil and pomegranate molasses (if using). 
3. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir in the grated beetroot, thyme and chopped walnuts (keeping the whole walnuts in reserve).

4. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and add the liquid ingredients to the dry. Stir gently until just combined; don’t over-stir, a lumpy batter is best for muffins.

4. Spoon the batter into prepared muffin pan and place a walnut on the top of each one. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes. Cool in the pan before serving. Best eaten on the same day of baking or you can also freeze them. 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Noodles in the Old Town: Red Box Noodles, Yocoko and Wasa Noodle Bars

Noodles are something I crave every so often and there's something very satisfying about slurping down noodles in a spicy sauce or well-flavoured broth.  Noodle bars are tasty cheap eat places, and their appeal is that they're a quick way to get something healthy freshly cooked that hits the spot and a million miles away from a Greggs. They should have speedy service and are generally no-frills in both setting and approach, usually offering a range of well-known  Asian dishes.  There's a few noodle bars opened over the past year or so in the Old Town, unsurprisingly located near Festival venues. 

Red Box Noodle Bar in Southside have taken this no-frills approach to extremes. Instead of a conventional menu, they have a sort of sandwich shop approach, where you choose your selection of noodle type, the flavour of sauce, meat and vegetables you want included and any additional seasonings from a fresh range behind a counter. It's quite a fun way to order and all the usual stir fry suspects are available. There's a nice range of sauces available too - alongside more traditional black bean or satay they also have Singapore powder and Thai red curry. The noodles are then cooked in a wok straight away and brought to you in their signature noodle boxes where you have the option to eat in or take out. Because of this serving option, soup noodles are sadly not available. It also means that the noodles are kept warm - perfect for takeaway. 

Noodle boxes are £5.30 (a bit extra if you want prawns, duck or mixed meat) which is a great price for something you know is going to be freshly cooked and made up of exactly what you want. They also have a range of snack boxes, little side dishes of the Chinese takeaway variety (except for the slight strange inclusion of chicken and cheese spring rolls) all priced at £2.50. I did notice they didn't have much range for vegetarians as tofu wasn't an available alternative to meat, but extra vegetables are always an option (albeit not a particularly exciting one). I enjoyed the noodles, the stir fry's are well cooked and the spicy szechuan sauce was a great flavour as was my lunch companion's black bean ramen noodles. The service was friendly and speedy and it's a great place to go for lunch. 

Yocoko Noodle Bar is located in the middle of the South Bridge. It's biggest selling point is it's location, slap bang in the middle of festival venues and so super convenient for running into for a quick bite to eat before a show. They have a pan-Asian menu with noodle soups and stir fries, along with fried rice, meat grills and standard favourites such as sweet and sour, satay and dim sum; relatively extensive for a noodle bar. The average price for noodles was £5-6 and smaller dishes were £3-4. We ordered the barbeque ribs, Yocoko udon house noodles and chicken ramen noodles. The service was not exactly top notch but the food came very quickly. The ribs arrived first, covered in a smoky sweet sauce. They smelt amazing and were tasty too - the meat was moist and tender and you know that ribs are good when you're sucking at all the meat left on the bone. The sauce was very sticky though and a lemon wipe or a change of napkin would have been appreciated. I did request another napkin but it did take its sweet time getting to me.

The Yocoko special is udon noodles with char sui pork, chicken, king prawns, tofu and vegetables. The king prawns were juicy and plentiful and the dish was tasty but the noodles had a somewhat slimy feel to them. The tofu chunks lacked any firmness and had a wet sponge texture after absorbing the oil (and sadly none of the flavour) from the rest of the dish. The chicken ramen fared better and the soup had a deep flavour, highlighted by fresh herbs. Again, the service was lacking somewhat - there were no condiments on the table and we were given knives and forks and had to wait five minutes for chopsticks to arrive. Decent service isn't purely about the food arriving in good time and it's these little things that customers notice. Yocoko is okay but it's a pretty average noodle bar. On the positive side the portions are of a good size, the prices are low, the food comes out speedily. The noodles are decent but not outstanding. It's got nothing to especially recommend itself unless you happen to be in the area and are in a hurry and hungry for noodles. 

Rainbow Arch Chinese restaurant on Morrison Street have also opened a late night noodle bar next door, Wasa Noodles.  It's open between 5pm - 2am (closed Wednesday's) and is licenced until closing.  Most noodle bars are basic spaces but after walking up a bare white staircase, Wasa has a cute modern interior.    Its menu specialises in Chinese, Malay and Thai dishes and has the most interesting choices of the bunch.  Standard noodle soups have appealing combinations like fish dumplings and char siu pork & roast duck and there's also a good selection of rice dishes and specials, like pork in to ban (hot bean) sauce and wat dan (soft egg) fried ho fun.  There are some excellent vegetarian options too such as roti canai with curry sauce and salt & chilli beancurd, Malay style.  We had the roti canai to start, which was different to the Indian style, flaky and crispy and just a little bit chewy.  The curry sauce was spot on and it was great start to the meal.  We ordered the fish dumpling soup and it was very good indeed, the dumplings delicate and the soup well flavoured.  Our other main of morning glory (Chinese spinach) with preserved tofu and chilli was simply prepared and all the better for it, the texture of the morning glory is perfect for stir frying and the flavours worked perfectly together.  Most main dishes are priced at around £7.50 and starters are £3.50. 

Please note that I know it's hard to find good authentic Asian food in this city and you won't find this at any of these places - I'm more than aware that noodle bars cater for Western tastes but that doesn't mean they're not good either. Sometimes you just wanna eat some tasty noodles, quickly and cheaply.

Red Box Noodle Bar
51 West Nicolson Street
Tel: 0131 662 0828
Open Daily 12pm-10pm

Yocoko Noodle Bar
44-46 South Bridge
Tel: 0131 5583889

Wasa Noodle Bar
8-16a Morrison Street
Eh3 8BJ
Tel: 0131 221 1288
Opening hours 5pm-2am, closed Wednesday's