Monday, 21 December 2009


It’s snowing outside, Cranford’s on TV, the fire’s roaring and I’m eating Bendicks Bittermints. I’m in heaven. Yes, I've been absent for aaaages but we'll come to that in another post. What can I say? I've got no broadband at home. Annoying? Just a BIT.

Not actually six stone, but I suspect I’ve gained about half a stone in the past week. I’ve been inhaling mince pies by the dozen and every evening is punctuated by several glasses of red wine. I pulled out my running shoes this morning but one look at the ice on the pavements had me throwing them back in the cupboard. Fire on and mug of tea in hand I sunk into the sofa in front of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation instead. I can deal with my winter layer of fat another day.

Meanwhile anything remotely crisp, fresh and brightly coloured has been abandoned from my diet and evening meals consist of what I refer to as ‘brown food’: deep, rich burgundy stews, thick hearty soups, lots of meat, lots of starches and lots of red wine. Oh and puddings – and I use the term pudding deliberately rather than dessert – think molten chocolate, oozing treacle and dark sticky toffee.

And then of course once Christmas is out of the way thoughts turn to New Year. I can take or leave New Year’s Eve – all that palaver for a tick of the clock? Hello anti-climax. Maybe I’ve just never had a really great Hogmanay. There was the year I spent it in the St John’s Ambulance tent in town while my then flatmate passed the stroke of midnight by throwing up into a papier mache dish, or the millennium, when my I was driving up from Derbyshire to spend the turn of the century with friends but I ran out of petrol, so instead spent it cold, pissed off and sober at the side of a B road, waiting for the AA to turn up. There was also the year when Carrie and I lived together and I got plastered on home-measure Manhattans, so that when she was raring to go, I was collapsed, drunk and melancholy on the floor. The weather was so awful they cancelled the street party, so we resigned ourselves to watching Jools Holland instead. Then the TV broke. So we switched on the radio. And it broke too. We spent midnight Carrie and I, me drunk and incomprehensible and her staring longingly out of the window wondering what she’d done to deserve such a crap lot. It’s the crazy frenzied level of expectation which invariably results in a let down. I’m happy to admit that one of the best new years I’ve had was the one I spent alone in bed, with a huge box of chocolates, a bottle of Champagne and the Sex And The City box set.

New year’s day on the other hand, I’m fully on board with. I’d much rather welcome the first day of the year with open arms than say a tearful drink-fuelled goodbye to the old one while trying to desperately remember what comes after ‘we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet’. And then there’s the food. Black bun? Cake! And steak pie? Oh aye. Even the booze has an air of food about it - Bloody Mary’s are, after all, kinda like alcoholic cold soup. Without the pressure of the impending midnight, January 1st is a perfect day to relax with friends in a cosy pub before trudging home to feed alcohol-soaked bodies with brown food. A poke about in Nigella's Feast and this is one of my all-time favourite comfort food/hangover cure dishes: it’s rich, it’s warming and it’s filling. Puy lentils braised in red wine and eaten with sausages which have been cooked in the oven until brown and sticky. The beauty of this dish is that, save for a little initial chopping, it doesn’t require a huge amount of attention but rather can be left on the stove to putter away while you nurse your hangover with a hair of the dog. Oh, and please please don’t prick your sausages – you’ll lose all the lovely flavour. Incidentally, this dish is traditionally eaten at New Year in Italy, the lentils signifying coins and supposedly promising good fortune in the year ahead. Bonus!


good quality sausages, 2 per person or 3 for greedy folk
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
smoked pancetta cubes or streaky bacon finely chopped
olive oil
500g Puy lentils, rinsed
2 bay leaves
Dijon mustard
300ml red wine
750ml water or stock
fresh parsley

Put the sausages in the oven and let them do their thing.

Heat about three tablespoons of oil in a large heavy based pan and add the pancetta. Cook gently until it colours lightly.

Add the carrot, garlic, celery and onion, and cook until they’ve softened a little but don’t let them colour.

Tip in the lentils, stir until slicked with the oil and add a couple of teaspoons of Dijon mustard.

Pour in the wine and water or stock until the lentils are just covered in liquid, tuck in the bay leaves, bring to the boil then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until just tender.

Check the seasoning, stir in chopped parsley and serve with sticky sausages.

Friday, 24 July 2009


A few small things to remember should you ever find yourself offering to bake somewhere in the region of 150 cupcakes for your lovely friends' wedding:

- When only in the possession of one 12-cake muffin tray, don't keep meaning to buy another two or three, never quite get round to it and then think 'sod it, it'll be fine'. Anyone with a very basic grasp of maths will be able to work out that this means baking 150 cupcakes will take somewhere in the region of 9 hours.

- Do invest in an electric gadget for juicing the lemons if your cupcakes happen to be of the lemon variety. Enlist the help of anyone willing to zest said lemons or you'll grow to despise said lemons.

- Get someone else to calculate how much icing sugar you'll need or you may find yourself with a small surplus.

- When desperately prepping the decoration at midnight the night before the wedding due to the 9-hour baking stint during the day, don't use a dangerously sharp knife and talk on the phone at the same time. This is how people cut themselves.

- Don't settle for a piping bag with a smaller nozzle than you'd like in a bid to avoid spending £15 on a set of various really good over-sized nozzles. Your icing will resemble Primula.

- Try and avoid drinking Cava while baking, as this only leads to confusion and can result in not enough flour being added to the first batch of cake mix.

- Don't use the very nicest cake cases for the first batch of cake mix.


Tuesday, 9 June 2009


A few weeks ago I wrote about Alex and Rowan's impending wedding and the inordinate number of lemon cupcakes I'll be baking for the occasion. I settled on an incredibly moist and light lemon yoghurt cake recipe by the Barefoot Contessa but struggled to find an adequately concentrated rose extract to create the rose-scented icing.

However, fear not, because I was pointed in the direction of Lakeland Plastics and a rose syrup by a brand called Atkins and Potts. Even while I was handing over my hard earned cash I remained unconvinced that it would be strong enough to cope with being diluted in tonnes of butter and sugar but you'll be thrilled and relieved to hear that it did the job admirably.

And so on Sunday I baked a proper trial batch, using the actual cases, and the actual decoration I'll be using on the actual day. This was mainly so that I could calculate the quantities of ingredients I'll require for the actual event, and partly because it was Sunday, there was a bottle of pink champagne chilled in the fridge and frankly why not? We ordered the cases from here, and the crystalised rose petals are from here. They're all the way from the Grasse countryside in France, where the flowers are gathered in the morning, gently dried and then coated in sugar syrup. They taste the way roses used to smell when you were little. Heavenly.

It's fair to say I'm not normally a pink girlie girl, but for a properly girlie occasion such as the civilisation of two lovely girls, I think we can make an exception.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


So, I've just started my new job at The List and I'm really enjoying it. My brain feels as though it might explode with all the new information it's storing, and I have the strange feeling you get when you're learning something new and you feel like you're never going to get your head around it even though you know full well you will.

I've been coming home from work desperately hungry, and in search of food I can throw together in no time at all. I've been slowly building up a wee craving for this over the past few days and it perfectly fit the category of food that takes minutes to prepare but still tastes fresh and delicious.

In other news, I've been running lots recently and am currently reading Haruki Murakami's book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. He didn't really start running properly until he was in his early thirties so his writing resonates with me in a way that other pieces don't - all to often I find writing on this subject patronising and elitist, as though you can't possibly consider yourself a runner unless you've run a marathon every year since you were six and 10k every morning before breakfast.

He talks at the beginning of the book about the mantras we use to keep ourselves going when things get tough:

"'Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.' Say you're running and you start think, Man this hurts, I can't take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself. This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running."

This really struck a chord with me; in the main in relation to running of course, but I think this is something that can be applied to other parts of our life. I've resolved to make a conscious effort to rise above the annoying stuff and let it go over my head. It's easy to get bogged down with the inevitable crappy things life throws at us, but by opting not to, the crappy things feel less crappy and we feel happier and less bogged down as a result. It's really much easier to be happy and positive. It works.

I have confirmation that it works as a mantra for hideously painful races too - my friend (and now hero, incidentally) Kev completed The North Face 100 race through the Blue Mountains in Australia last weekend in 19 and a half hours. That's 100 KILOMETRES by the way, or the equivalent of over two marathons, running, over mountains, starting at 7am and finishing... well, you do the maths. This is an amazing achievement by anyone's standards and I'm completely in awe of what he's done. And I'm sure Murakami would be thrilled to know that this little mantra helped him through some tough points in the course.

Sunday, 26 April 2009


I live in an area in the East of Edinburgh called Leith which encompasses a working port, a (sometimes even sunny) shore lined with bars and restaurants (including no less than three Michelin star-winning establishments) and a very proud community. There circulates a small but nonetheless popular magazine called The Leither for which I have done various odd pieces of writing in the past, but with a new editorship has come an opportunity for me to settle into a more permanent slot as food writer of-sorts. I have been given a page on which to write freely, which is a brilliant opportunity in terms of being published on paper, but also a nice aside to this blog. I hope to give focus to produce which can be found in and around the Leith area which will be an easy enough feat as there are a plethora of food establishments and speciality shops opening left, right and centre.

My first piece will appear in the May issue, and so it was timed conveniently to coincide with the wild garlic season. You'll recall my fondness for wild garlic last year when a dinner of dolmades and pesto had me waxing lyrical about this amazing herb to anyone who'd listen. This year, inflicted with a common cold and a yearning for something non-medicinal to help shift it, I found myself hot-footing it to Valvona & Crolla once again in search of these leaves. Soup seemed like the best thing for the soul but frankly there was no way I was buying wild garlic without making another pesto, it was just too good. A dig around online gave me an idea for parsley and wild garlic soup - both ingredients abundant with nutrients and more to the point, flavour. Whilst we're approaching the end of the all-to-short wild garlic season, if you do come across some I'd urge you to give this a try. It may sound somewhat pungent, but the cooking softens the flavours and an aromatic bowl of delicate green soup is the result, and the pesto stirred into it gives it a fragrant kick. Trust me, if you like garlic, you’ll love this.

Serves 4

For the soup:
knob of butter
2 medium sized onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 litre vegetable stock (I like Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon)
50g - 60g parsley, roughly chopped
50g - 60g wild garlic, roughly chopped

For the pesto:
50g – 60g wild garlic leaves, washed, dried, stems cut off
pine nuts
olive oil

In a pot, melt the butter over a medium heat and gently sweat the onions and garlic with the lid on, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes or until softened. Do not allow to colour.

Add the potato and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for around 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a pestle and mortar (or food processor if you’re feeling lazy), pound the wild garlic leaves for the pesto until your olfactory senses are given a right old treat. Add pine nuts, Parmesan and olive oil, tasting as you go along until you are happy with the consistency and flavour.

Add the parsley and wild garlic to the soup pot, cook for a further minute or two until wilted.

Remove from heat and blend.

Season to taste and serve with the pesto drizzled over the top.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Is it wrong to celebrate your blog's one year birthday when you've been MIA for the last four (and some) months? Perhaps this small private acknowledgement is enough of a nod to it's actual birthday, and then in four months time it can have an official birthday, when the weather will be nicer and we can be giddy and self congratulatory. Look, if it's good enough for Nana Betty it's good enough for this blog.

In keeping with the celebratory theme, I have been doing a spot of baking. Two of my dearest friends are to be married in July and we are all beside ourselves with excitement. It is to be a small affair but nonetheless very special, with close friends, family and the sunshine in attendance. At least we hope so. Edinburgh can be a touch unpredictable when it comes to matters of climate but if the last week or two is anything to go by we might just be lucky.

Ever since Gemma created such a fabulous cake for Sylvie's wedding I've had a hankering to have a go myself, and so it is that I find myself in charge of the patisserie for this affair. To her credit, Gemma went down the traditional route and put together a very impressive three tier wonder of fruit sponges complete with marzipan and royal icing, while I will be going down the less challenging route of lots of oversized cupcakes. But there is some challenge in creating in the region of 150 cupcakes, all of which must look just right, then icing them on the morning of the big day, transporting them to the venue and positioning them just-so on their towering stand.

I want these wee cakes to be delicate and summery, and so when I saw Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa - an absolute marvel and what's more, living my fantasy life) make this lemon yoghurt cake the cupcakes suddenly became a bit of a no-brainer. Topped with rose scented icing, these are going to be perfect (she says, modestly).

So, I had to make some at the weekend - just to make sure they'd work as cupcakes you understand - and work they did. They're delicious. Using yoghurt and oil instead of butter ensures that the cakes have a light spongey texture, and the lemon rind gives them an extraordinary citrus flavour. Of course the original recipe is for a whole cake, which will be just as lovely.

As for the rose scented icing, I absentmindedly picked up rose essence instead of extract and as a result it didn't taste remotely like rose. This, along with a distinct lack of piping bag, meant that it was pretty much doomed from the outset. The search is now on for a good concentrated extract - any recommendations are most welcome, although I've been told Star Kay White are a good place to start. As soon as this is procured it will of course necessitate another trial batch of cupcakes... Well you have to sure don't you?

Monday, 6 April 2009


The main problem with having been away from my blog for soooooo long is knowing how to come back.

A lot has happened since I was last here, so perhaps I'll fill you in on some of that. Thanks to the fragile state of the world's economy, I've been made redundant and find myself languishing the land of the unemployment. Perhaps languishing isn't quite the right word but you get the picture. On the plus side, this has afforded me (another poor choice of words, given my subsequent bank balance) the time and opportunity to do quite a lot of writing - whilst clearly not here - but for other publications, namely The List Eating and Drinking Guide 2009 and another List-affiliated publication called The Larder, a guide to Scottish produce. I've also done a fair amount of writing for i-on, and have managed to secure a quarterly column for them called Everyone's Eating... which examines the food trends that are currently taking Edinburgh by storm (kinda). There's one or two other things in the pipeline too which I'll talk more about once they're confirmed but on the whole it's been a pretty productive time in terms of being published, which is great.

As far as cooking goes, I've got to be honest and say I haven't been doing much outside of the norm and I should even confess to having probably settled for more than my fair share of pizza instead of making something myself, such has been the state of affairs over the last couple few months. However things are settling down a bit now and I've been getting back to grips with the kitchen.

More to follow...

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