Wednesday, 27 August 2008


I wrote this review of a restaurant for an Edinburgh magazine the other day but I fear it will never see the light of day. I feel that it is my duty to share it in order to spare you the potential horror of eating at this establishment.

Och now I feel mean, it wasn't really that bad.... actually yes, yes it was.

Whether you loved or loathed Tinelli's on Easter Road, the fact remains it survived for almost 30 years until Giancarlo Tinelli retired earlier this year, no mean feat for an Edinburgh restaurant. My personal experience of this so-called institution was a dinner where the food was forgettable, but the smell of the restaurant has unfortunately lodged in my memory like the proverbial bad odour, what with that being exactly what it was.

So it was not without some trepidation that I ventured to its reincarnation 'Al Dente' to see if anything has changed. The exterior has been given a lick of paint and is now a proud regal purple and gold, the window displaying a menu with some regal prices to match. Pity the makeover didn't extend to the interior where there remains the general ambience - and smell - of an elderly man's living room. Notice I didn't say gentleman. Ok I concede, they've white washed the walls and tiled the floor.

After a friendly greeting, the owner seated us, gave us our menus and explained there were no scallops available as those at the fish market that morning weren't at all fresh enough. Good to know.

We chose Antipasti Italiano and Porcini Trifolati which promised to be porcini mushrooms tossed with garlic, parsley and white wine. In reality, it was a wobbling mass of gelatinous matter with no discernable taste of mushroom let alone garlic, white wine or parsley. A rhinotillexomaniac's dream. The Antipasti Italiano fared far better and was an impressive plateful of Neapolitan salami, Parma ham, Coppa and Bresaola complete with an enormous ball of soft milky mozzarella. This generous serving would be more suited as a sharing plate for 2-4 people but my dining partner did a valiant job of polishing it off all the same.

It is worth pointing out that I am deeply suspicious of restaurants which serve 'fresh' bread in a wicker basket alongside individual packets of mushy cheap butter. That is to say that I have yet to eat somewhere which does this and still serves good food. Say no more.

The main courses didn’t do much to disprove my theory. The owner assured me that my choice of Pescatrice allo Speck - Monkfish Fillet Wrapped in Italian Smoked Ham - was the piece de resistance at his wedding. The Speck ham surrounding the monkfish managed both to help and hinder this dish - while the fish itself was perfectly cooked and moist, it was far too salty. The accompanying vegetables were as bland as they were unimaginative - overcooked courgette and undercooked baby corn - and worst of all tasted of low fat spread. I'd have filed for divorce before the first dance.

A Grigliata Mista de Pesce - mixed grilled fish platter - was an assortment of the usual charred fishy suspects and shellfish. Most alarmingly, languishing amongst this was a great big scallop... Hmmmmm.

Insolata Mista was shredded baby gem, chopped industrial onion and potato flavoured tomatoes, all masquerading as 'Mixed Salad Leaves garnished with a Homemade Vinaigrette'. This chef appears to have confused homemade vinaigrette with shed loads of table salt.

A lesser person might have thrown in the towel but I am a 'to the death' sort. We decided to share a Tiramisu, partly because we were both quite full, and partly to halve the potential burden. Who knew it would actually be quite good? Perhaps because it's a fairly basic piece of Italian repertoire, or perhaps because there is no call for salt, but this Tiramisu was made well, with good ingredients and tasted exactly as it should – the Savoiardi biscuits soaked to just the right yielding consistency and enough coffee and amaretto to give it a tasty kick without overpowering. I could even almost excuse the random garnish of sliced peach which was promptly discarded after I discovered it tasted as though it had been rubbed with garlic. Almost.

Apparently if one exclaims 'Basta! at the end of a meal in Italy it means 'Enough!'. Never was a truer word said. At a grand total of £65.31 without drinks I can't say I'll be returning. If only they did Tiramisu to go.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


This video was recently brought to my attention and since watching it I have been consumed with the urge to eat American pancakes.

Then last night I dreamt about eating American pancakes. That was the final straw. No prizes for guessing what I had for breakfast. For the record - I am honestly a normal young woman who likes other stuff - shoes, clothes, music, all the usual things. I dream about them sometimes too. Honest.

AMERICAN BREAKFAST BLUEBERRY PANCAKES adapted from Nigella Lawson's pancake recipe in How to Eat
Makes enough for four people (I HALVED IT. I know, half of four is two. I was hungry...)

250g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
pinch of Maldon sea salt
2 eggs
300ml milk
30g butter, melted
2 good handfuls of fresh blueberries

Sieve the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a bowl. Make a crater in the middle of the mound of flour and break the eggs into it.

Using a wooden spoon, beat well, gradually incorporating all the flour from the sides and add the milk bit by bit, stirring to make a smooth batter.

Change to a whisk to get rid of any little lumps and whisk in the melted butter. Stir in the blueberries.

Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan or griddle, then pour it off.

Spoon a little batter into the pan - remember these are American pancakes and not thin crepes and you only need a little batter as these should be small - say about 8cm rounds - and thick.

Keep the pan over a moderate heat to ensure they are cooked through - flip to cook on the reverse.

Serve hot in a stack with a little nob of butter and a good pouring of maple syrup. Crispy shards of smoked bacon are delicious with this too.

Sunday, 17 August 2008


As yesterday was spent mostly baking and then consuming an inordinately sweet cake, it's no surprise that today I've been craving salty food. Add last night's Edinburgh Festival fun and subsequent lack of sleep to the equation and we find ourselves in a roast chicken situation.

One roast chicken, a watercress salad dressed simply with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette and one more thing: a great big dollop of freshly made aïoli. This is just a basic mayonnaise recipe with the addition of lots of fragrant garlic. If you follow the rule of only using the freshest of ingredients you are guaranteed a glossy and moreish sauce.

Makes enough for 2 - for more people double the quantities

1 large free range organic egg yolk - as fresh as possible
3 big fat juicy garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
150ml light olive oil, or a 100ml:50ml combination of a flavourless oil such as ground nut or sunflower oil and extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp (aprox) white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 large tsp of Dijon mustard (optional)
freshly ground pepper and Maldon sea salt to taste

Put the egg yolk and crushed garlic clove in a bowl. Whisk well until smooth - this is easiest done with an electric whisk but a hand whisk is fine if you've got strong wrists. My grandmother used to use a wooden spoon...

Gradually add the olive oil a few drops at a time, whisking all the time. After about half of the oil has been added you can start to add the rest of the oil in a slow, steady stream. Continue until the oil has benn added. You should have a smooth thick glossy mayonnaise which stands in peaks.

Add the white wine vinegar or lemon juice to taste and whisk to loosen and lighten the mayonnaise.

Add the Dijon mustard if using and season to taste.


Another Saturday, another birthday celebration, and this time Rowan's. With only three weeks until the next one I am thinking about sourcing a new group of friends with more conveniently spaced out dates of birth.

Of all my friends, I particularly enjoy cooking for Rowan. She's such a brilliant cook herself (this girl has a way with chicken which is unparalleled) that I feel especially flattered when she enjoys my wares - and there's nothing nicer than cooking for someone who truly loves food.

When it comes to cake, Rowan has a certain fondness for buttercream. And I mean a fondess which borders on 'hold the cake, just give me the buttercream and a spoon'. With this in mind, I set about concocting a birthday cake which would satisfy her particular er, fetish. The result was an old fashioned cake made with hazelnuts, strawberries and a lightly whipped vanilla buttercream - I think it did the trick.

Serves 8-10

175g butter, soft
175g unrefined golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
175g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
65g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
200g strawberries
1-2 tbsp strawberry jam

For the buttercream icing:
200g butter, soft
400g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For decoration:
200g strawberries
60g toasted hazelnuts, half roughly chopped, half left whole

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line two 20cm loose bottomed cake tins.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and caster sugar using an electric whisk until pale and fluffy.

Break the eggs into a small bowl and break up with a fork. Add to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time, whisking throughly after each addition.

Sieve the flour and baking powder together and carefully mix into the butter mixture using the whisk on it's lowest setting. Using a metal spoon, gently fold in the chopped hazelnuts.

Divide the cake mixture evenly between the two tins and lightly smooth out the top. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until risen and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely an a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter until pale using an electric whisk, then add the icing sugar and vanilla extract and beat until light, creamy and smooth. Add a tablespoon of just boiled water and whisk further to soften and loosen up a little.

Chop 200g of the strawberries into small pieces, place in small bowl and stir in the jam.

Once the cake has cooled, turn one half of it upside down and place on a serving plate or cake stand to ice. A good tip is to place strips of greasproof paper just under the edges which can be pulled away at the end, taking with them any buttercream debris.

Spread with a third of the buttercream. Spread the strawberry mixture thickly on top. Place second cake half on top to sandwich.

Spread the remaining buttercream on top and around the sides.

To decorate, pile up whole and halved strawberries on top and scatter with the toasted hazelnuts. The strawberries look pretty if the stalks are left in.


Tuesday, 12 August 2008


We bestowed the name Wolfie upon my friend Alex back when we were at Edinburgh University. This was mainly because of her cute mockney accent, her dreadlocks, a fine line in Che Guevara t-shirts and her general revolutionary stance. Those of you familiar with the cult BBC hit comedy series Citizen Smith will remember Wolfie the Tooting revolutionary and understand. Those of you not familiar with Wolfie Smith should look here. These days, and more years than I care to specify later, Alex's anarchic ways stretch more to popping down to Waitrose for a cupcake or checking out The Gap's fine merino wool in the January sales but she'll always be Wolfie to us, and we love her for it.

Saturday was this very special lady's birthday, and true to form we decided to celebrate by getting more innebriated than any of us have been since the days when Wolfie got her name. Indeed I had intended to write this post on Sunday but it is only now that I am recovered enough to do so.

At the risk of coming over all Martha Stewart, I decided as a birthday present to make Alex some decadent treats to satisfy the penchant she has for the finer things in life these days. Well that, and the fact that I felt it was high time someone got her something other than books. And so it was that I made limoncello, biscotti, florentines and chocolate truffles, and Wolfie can lay off Valvona and Crolla for a while.

Makes around 800ml

750ml bottle good vodka (I used Stolichnaya) or a good 40-80% proof fruit alcohol
200g unrefined caster sugar
8-12 unwaxed lemons, depending on size

Zest and juice the lemons, removing all the pips.

Pour a little of the vodka into a pan, add the sugar and heat gently until dissolved (tip: don't do what I did and inhale deeply or you will become extremely light headed...).

Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool slightly before adding the lemon zest and juice. Stir, add the rest of the alcohol and allow to cool completely.

Pour into a sterile bottle. You will have slightly more limoncello than the original 750ml bottle of vodka.

Ideally , this should be left for at least a week and shaken everyday before drinking to really allow the flavours to blend. However, I didn't have at least a week so I strained it off and it still tasted delicious the following day. Store in a cool dark place and serve very chilled.

FRUIT AND NUT BISCOTTI adapted from this recipe by James Martin
Makes around 25

250g plain flour
250g unrefined caster sugar
1/2 tbsp baking powder
50g plump sultanas
50g dried cherries
50g shelled pistachio nuts
50g pitted dates, chopped
50g whole blanched almonds
50g skinned hazelnuts
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
3 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

Mix the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl.

Add the fruit, nuts and lemon zest, mixing well.

Add the beaten eggs, a little at a time until the dough takes shape but is not too wet.

Divide the dough into two sausage shapes, 3-5cm thick. Lightly flatten the sausages, and place on the first baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly until not to hot to touch.

Reduce the oven temperature to 140°C.

While the biscotti 'sausages' are still just warm, cut them into slices about an inch thick and lay on the second baking sheet. Return to oven to dry out for about 12 minutes. Turn them over and leave to dry for 10-12 minutes more.

Allow to cool completely and store in air tight containers for about a week. These are delicious served with a shot of limoncello to dip into.

Makes 9-12

55g unsalted butter
45g soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons clear honey
25g flaked almonds, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped dried apricots
2 tablespoons chopped glace cherries
2 tablesspoons chopped mixed peel
40g plain flour, sifted
120g dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Melt the butter, brown sugar and honey in a pan until the butter is melted, the sugar has dissolved and all the ingredients are combined.

Remove from the heat and add the almonds, apricots, glace cherries, mixed peel and the flour. Mix well. Resist the urge to eat this out of the pan because it smells so heavenly.

Grease and line a large baking tray with baking paper (do not use greaseproof as the florentines will stick to this). Place level tablespoons of the mixture well apart on the trays. Reshape and flatten the biscuits into aproximate 5cm rounds.

Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly on the tray, then transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Break the chocolate up into small, even sized pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Bring a pan of water to a simmer, then turn off the heat. Place the heatproof bowl over the pan, ensuring it does not touch the water. Stir the chocolate until melted.

Spread the chocolate on the underside of the florentines and when almost set, make a wavy pattern using a fork. Allow the chocolate to set completely before serving.

Store in an airtight container in a cool dark place if you can resist the urge to eat them all in one sitting.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES adapted from Nigel Slaters recipe in Real Food
Makes around 500g

450g of the finest plain chocolate you can lay your hands on
275ml double cream
good quality cocoa powder for dusting, such as Green & Blacks

Chop the chocolate finely and into even sized pieces. The individual pieces should be no bigger than the size of a pea.

Warm a heatproof bowl with hot water and dry throughly. Place the chocolate in the bowl.

Bring the cream to the boil in a small pan. Just as it reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and pour carefully over the chocolate, stirring gently with a wooden spoon.

The chocolate should melt into a thick, glossy, dark brown cream. If there are still lumps of chocolate in the mixture, place the bowl over a pan of hot almost simmering water until they melt. Take great caution not to over heat the chocolate mixture at this stage or it will split.

Allow the melted mixture to cool, and place in the fridge for about an hour or so thicken. You do not want it to become solid.

Using teaspoons, scoop out lumps of the chocolate mixture and drop them into the cocoa powder. Roll in the cocoa powder until well coated. Continue until all of the chocolate mixture is left and you have a mound of chocolate truffles. Place them in the fridge to set.

NB: If once you have brought the mixture off the heat it splits - don't panic. Add some clear runny honey, about a tablespoon at a time and stir the mixture until it is smooth and glossy again. It will feel as though it's not going to come back but it will - keep adding the honey and keep stirring. You can use this method if you want to add alcohol to the chocolates (as more often than not adding liquid to the mixture will cause it split) - add a the liquid, say a tablespoon of Brandy, to the mixture and when it splits, stir in the honey. It works, honest.

Store in an air tight container in the fridge and keep for up to three days.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY WOLFIE! And er, up the revolution and all that.

Sunday, 3 August 2008


Yesterday I spent the day doing virtually nothing after an accidentally heavy night on Friday which culminated in my going to bed after sunrise. As a result, today I have had the kind of brain fog that descends upon me when I haven't left the house in over twenty four hours. My state of mind was such that the pinnacle of my day was a tearful phonecall to Carrie on the subject of something I really shouldn't care about but apparently I do.

Tempted just to opt for my easy-option-works-everytime comfort food: the proverbial free range organic chicken roasted with copius amounts of garlic and lemon, I pulled out Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries to search for some alternative inspiration. I find that reading his writing is comfort in itself, like wrapping yourself up in a big warm blanket. However, it obviously really was a bad day because nothing jumped out at me, except something must have lodged somewhere in my brain because I decided I wanted lamb instead. Today was not a day for complicated recipes so I decided just to seek out the lamb and let the store cupboard staples and fridge contents do the rest.

Unlike what they say about pastry, apparantly my state of mind didn't affect dinner because it was tasty enough to make me feel a bit better. Well, dinner and the Hendricks and tonic I had before it. Oh, and the bottle of Roija I had with it.

Serves 2

For the lamb:
1.5kg-1.75kg shoulder of lamb
good handful fresh mint
a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
4 cloves of garlic, crushed to a paste
3-4 anchovies, mashed to a paste
juice of 1-2 lemons
good slug olive oil
pinch ground black pepper
Maldon sea salt

For the crushed cannellini beans:
tin cannellini beans
1/2 clove garlic, crushed to a paste
1/2 teaspoon harissa paste
juice of half a lemon
good slug of olive oil
couple of tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
ground black pepper
Maldon sea salt

For the tomatoes:
cherry tomatoes on the vine
slug of olive oil
ground balck pepper
Maldon sea salt

Take the shoulder of lamb and with a sharp knife make several deep cuts through into the flesh. Lay in a roasting tray.

Using a pestle and morter, pound the fresh mint and rosemary until green and sludgy, add the cumin powder, garlic and anchovies and mix well. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and mix until you have a nice thick paste. Season with salt and pepper but remember that the anchovies are already very salty.

Smear this paste all over the lamb shoulder, pushing it well into the holes made with your knife. Ideally, leave this to marinate for an hour or so (though I didn't have time to do this and it still permeated the meat very well). Place in a 180-200 degree oven and roast for 20 minutes per 500g plus an extra 25 minutes if you like your lamb fairly well done - less if you like it juicier and rarer - mine was 1kg and I took it out after just under an hour and it was perfect.

While the lamb is cooking prepare the cannellini beans:

Rinse and drain the beans and place in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mash until you reach the desired consistency - you can do this in a food processor but I prefer the texture to be a bit rougher. Add a few drops of water to loosen it up if necessary.

Ten minutes before the lamb is ready, place the cherry tomatoes (still on their vine) in an oven proof dish, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, place in the oven and roast until soft.

When the lamb is cooked, allow to rest for a good ten minutes after you take it out of the oven before carving.

Serve the lamb on the spinach leaves, with the smashed cannellini beans and cherry tomatoes on the side.

Saturday, 2 August 2008


A few years ago I spent three weeks eating, drinking and merrying my way around Europe on a road trip taken with my very enthusiastic then boyfriend. The places which stood out for their sublime eateries were St Emillion; a somewhat random campsite in the middle of Turin owned by a big mad Italian Mama whose restaurant served the most delicious antipasti I have ever tasted; and Barcelona, where the tapas bars mercifully bear little resemblance to many of the lack lustre poor imitations we have over here.

Considering the plethora of such restaurants in the UK and our apparent fondness for this 'small plate' style of dining, it is surprising that the Italian concept of the enoteca has eluded us. Literally meaning 'wine library', enoteca is an Italian word describing a very specialist wine shop which often also offers a bite to eat - the idea being that there are small plates of food available to the serious wine connoisseur sampling said wines. The recently opened Italian Caffè Enoteca in Glasgow's Albion Street has taken this concept and tweaked it to place as much importance on the small plates of food as on the wine.

It was when working in Glasgow last week that I was initially seduced by the beautifully designed interior: sleek wood panelled walls compliment fern green upholstery of the booths, and a marble lamp-lit bar begging to be propped by hungry diners. It's clear to see there were no corners cut in the snagging.

It was Wednesday evening and every table was full - a good sign surely? We were seated at the bar which afforded us a clear view into the open kitchen where the three chefs - while clearly busy - worked calmly and without any visible dramas. As the enoteca name would suggest, the wine selection is vast, offering over fifty mostly Italian wines. When asked to recommend a dry white, the waitress suggested an Orvieto which was spot on. But do not let the excellent wine be a distraction from the food menu of piatti picolli. The selection of vegetarian plates is extensive enough to keep the most prolific of herbivors happy, and the finocchi gratinati was no exception: fennel baked with butter and parmesan until tender; and the artichokes marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon and parsley were some of the best I've eaten - including those from the Turin campsite restaurant.

Langoustines baked in their shell with garlic until sweet and buttery sat alongside the impressively named 'salsiccia piccante con fagioli e sugo di pomodoro' or 'spicy Italian sausage with fagioli beans in tomato sugo' and was equally impressive in taste. The ossobuco alla milanese was meltingly tender and came complete with marrow filled slice of bone.

Though my dining partner had to admit defeat, my dessert of choice was affogato: homemade vanilla ice cream literally 'drowned' in a freshly brewed espresso. The bill coming in at under £50 was an astounding end to such an excellent and memorable meal, the effect of which was to render me full and deliriously happy.

It is worth pointing out that during our meal no less than two diners approached the kitchen to offer their compliments to the chefs. By the time I left I was considering offering them my first born. It's fair to say this enoteca will be top of my to do list next time I'm in Glasgow.

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