Wednesday, 26 November 2008


I have decided that my blog seems to be all chicken chicken cake cake chicken cake chicken chicken cake. I love chicken, and I do love cake, but frankly I feel I need to give some more attention to the other food. I do eat other food. So I hereby announce that I shall be cooking, eating and writing about non-chicken and non-cake foods. However, I just need to get this out of my system first...

I made a chicken soup the other day which would be simply rude to ignore. I was flicking through my new cookbooks, or more specifically Leon, when I landed on 'Good Soup for a Bad Day'. If the title caught my eye initially, the subtitle had me pulling my soup pot out of the cupboard - 'Chicken, Pearl Barley, Mushroom and Tarragon' - or yes, yes, yes and yes if you're me. The plan was to make a couple of huge batches of soup to freeze in portions, the idea being that they would keep me going for a good couple of weeks. Needless to say this soup only lasted a couple of days before we had eaten it all.

(Incidentally, I also made another huge pot of black bean soup, but this time substituted a great big couple of dollops of harrisa for the chorizo - on Rowan's suggestion I must add - along with a few crushed cloves of garlic. I also bulked up the onion a little and doubled the amount of chilli to make up for the missing chorizo. Anyway, it was delicious, a good vegetarian dish and lower in fat than the original, so thank you Rowan for the idea).

Anyway, chicken soup. Yes, this is definitely a good soup for a bad day. It's aromatic and comforting and the pearl barley makes it quite substantial so it's perfect with a wee bit of nice bread for dinner on those evenings when you don't want anything too heavy. Obviously the best free range organic chicken you can find will give the best flavour. Actually, while we're on the topic of free range organic chicken, I'm going to pause to have a wee rant at this point if you don't mind.

I cannot help but notice when I'm at the supermarket that there are still a depressingly massive number of people buying the rank foul battery farmed uber cheap chicken. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE? The conditions these birds are kept in are deplorable. And to add insult to their pitiful lives and cruel deaths, these chickens taste like crap. Why don't people take an interest in where their food comes from? And some responsibility while they're at it. I cannot bear to listen to the ludicrous argument that free range organic chicken is too expensive to eat every week. Here's an idea: don't bloody buy it every week then. Eat something else instead, eat free range organic chicken less frequently but pay a premium for it when you do. And when you've paid your 15 quid for your free range organic chicken, get every little shred of meat off the carcass and you'll have enough for at least two meals. Then use the carcass to make stock. If you can't be bothered, chuck the carcass in a bag and freeze it until you can. Better still, freeze a few carcasses and make a more intense stock using all of them. Use the stock (and leftover chicken) to make soup or (and) risotto. This is not rocket science.

Ok, where were we? Yes, soup. I've typed up the recipe in full as it appears in the book because it's so nicely written. I used thighs and legs (and actually more than just 2 as is stated in the reciped), and I choped the onion rather than sliced it for the soup and used chestnut mushrooms instead of closed cup, but you're all big and bright enough to adapt it for your own ends.


This soup may not be the quickest of makes, but as long as you follow the method you're guaranteed to feel better at the end of the day.


2 free range chicken legs
2 large carrots - 1 left whole, 1 chopped into 1cm dice
2 sticks of celery
2 medium onions, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 bay leaves
a handful of parsley, with stalks
300g large closed-cup mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
160g pearl barley
1 heaped teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves, chopped
salt and pepper, plus a few whole peppercorns

Put the chicken legs into your favourite winter stock-making pot, with the whole carrot, celery, half the sliced onion, half the garlic, two of the bay leaves, the parsley and the peppercorns. Prise the stalks from the mushrooms and throw them in too.

Cover with 1.5 litres of water and bring to a simmer, then skim and turn the heat down until the stock is just steaming. Leave to cook like this until the chicken meat is coming away from the bone - about an hour.

Go and sit down for half an hour with a nice glass of wine and the papers, and put your feet up.

In a different saucepan when you're ready, fry the remaining onions in the oil with the rest of the garlic, chopped, and a bit of salt and pepper for a very gentle half hour or so until softened (meanwhile, do a bit more damage to your bottle while stirring your gently goldening onions, smelling the calming aromatherapy of simmering chicken stock and gazing into the middle distance).

Add the pearl barley, diced carrot and bay leaves to the onions, then pour in the stock through a strainer and bring to a simmer. Throw the veg away (or puree for another day's soup base) and put the chicken aside to cool down.

After an hour (i.e. your luxurious bath), get the butter to the edge of brown in a frying pan and fry the mushroom through golden until just coming up to crispy, chuck the tarragon in, give it a quick toss and then swirl it all into the soup. Anywhere around about now your barley should be tender.

Amuse yourself by picking the meat off the chicken bones, chopping it into little pieces and adding to the soup.

When you are comfortable with your barley, have a long, hard moment with the salt and pepper and if it seems a bit thick for a soup let it down with a bit of hot water.

Eat with crusty bread and a sense of well-being, then sleep the sleep you deserve.

*Plus leftovers for tomorrow, wihch will be a better day.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Yes, that is a half eaten cheese and onion hedgehog so beloved of 1970's housewives you see in the background. One of my oldest and dearest friends is Robert. He is a marvel and pain in the arse all rolled into one. This man has absolutely no regard for his own health, he smokes, drinks alcohol, consumes coffee and eats dairy like there's no tomorrow and yet he looks fabulous and is one of the happiest buggers I know. If ever there was someone who epitomised the phrase 'Joie de Vivre' it's him. He'll be laughing on the other side of his face when he's strapped up to an iron lung with a serious case of gout but not to worry. He certainly doesn't.

Simple pleasures for Robert: the text we get every Friday evening telling us it's 'beer o'clock', his insistance on going to the same bloody pub week in week out because it's like a goldfish bowl which allows him to point and laugh at unknowing passers by, a bit of a sing song to 'Celion Delion' (sic) after a few too many drinks at the aforementioned pub. Ok, I'm not doing a great job of selling him to you but all you need to know is that this man is as good as family to me and I love him like a brother. An annoying brother.

So anyway, it was his 38th birthday a couple of weeks ago. My friends and I never tire of reminding him that he's a whole six years or so older than the rest of us and we wait with glee for the huge occassion that will be his fortieth. We therefore use any excuse to remind him of said fact and every year his birthday carries pretty much the same theme: Bob Is Forty! Haha!

As self-appointed baker of birthday cakes I crafted for him a coffee and walnut cake. (As an aside - I always think of coffee and walnut as being quite a 'manly' cake. I'm not sure why. Is it just me or does anyone else think this?). As always when planning a cake, my first port of call is Nigel Slater. I have used his coffee and walnut cake recipe before and it's faultless. Follow it to the letter and you'll get a cake which is crumbling and moist and moreish and just perfect. And it seemed fitting for Robert, what with it being FULL of butter and coffee.

COFFEE AND WALNUT CAKE from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater (one of my all-time favourite cookbooks).
Serves 8-10

175g butter (room temperature)
175g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
175g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
65g walnut pieces

For the butter cream:
200g butter (room temperature)
400g icing sugar
2 teaspoins instant coffee granules
60g walnut pieces

You will need two 20cm loose-bottomed sponge tins. Set the oven at 180 degrees. Line the base of the sponge tins with baking parchment.

Beat the butter and caster sugar 'til light, pale and fluffy. You cuold do this by hand but it is far easier and, frankly, better with an electric mixer. Crack the eggs into a bowl, break them up with a fork, then add them a little at a time to the butter and sugar, beating well after each addition.

Mix the flour and baking powder together and gently mix into the butter and sugar, either with the mixer on a slow speed or by hand, with a large metal spoon. Dissolve the ocffee granules in a table spoon of boiling water, then stir into the mixture. Chop the walnuts and fold them in gently.

Divide the cake mixture between the two tins, smooth the top lightly and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes. I have noticed mine are pretty much consistently done after twenty-three minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

To make the butter cream, beat the butter with an electric beater 'til soft and pale, then add the icing sugar and beat 'til smooth and creamy. Stir a tablespoon of boiling water into the coffee granules, then mix it into the butter cream. Fold in the walnut pieces.

As soon as the cake is cool, turn one half of it upside down on plate or board, spread it with a good third of the butter cream, then place the second cake half on top. Spread the remaining butter cream on top and round the sides.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


I love cookbooks. I can't help myself. I love glossy pictures, I love matt pictures, I love pages and pages of words all dedicated to food. I love food styling. I love hard backs, I love paper backs, I love big heavy tomes. I love page-marker ribbons. I love to read them from cover to cover like a novel and I love to salivate over the photography. This is a habit I seem to have inherited from my mother who has the equivalent of a small library of literature dedicated to epicurian delights and I am managing to build up a fair collection of my own (though alas, mine is not yet as impressive as Gemma's whose shelves of cookbooks I lust after and envy in equal measure...).

The problem with cookbooks is that a) there are literally hundreds I want, b) there isn't a week goes by when there isn't a new one to add to the list I already want, and c) at an average price of around £25 each, if I were to buy them all I'd very quickly be declared bankrupt (and some). And so it is I have to be satisfied with buying them slowly and one by one, resigned to the fact that unless I suddenly come into a fortune of millions the probability is that I'll never own all the cookbooks I'd like to.

However, Sylvie recently referred me to a website called The Book People which offers 50%-75% discount - they don't carry thousands of titles but they do have a good selection (particularly children's books incidentally) and so it was that I found myself perusing their choice of cookbooks. The discounts are unbelievable - to give you an example, the RRP on the new Clarissa Dickson Wright book 'Clarissa's Comfort Food' is £19.99 but you can buy it at The Book People for £6.99. If that's not enough to convince you to have a look then you're a lost cause.

Anyway, a few days after my ponder through their titles I took delivery of a great big red box containing four fabulous new cookbooks and a box set of a further eight classics - The Best of Mrs Beeton. Updated for a modern audience but still charming, these books come presented in a wee kitchen cupboard and include titles such as Jams, Pickles and Preserves and Household Tips - so cute.

Gordon Ramsay's Cooking for Friends is beautifully styled and worth it for the black forest cake recipe on page 246 alone, My Favourite Ingredients by Skye Gyngell has gorgeous photography and more importantly THREE ribbons and Cook Yourself Thin sounds a bit wrong really but it takes some traditionally calhorrific dishes and suggests ways of making them less so, which is a useful resource.

However, I am particularly excited about Leon by Allegra McEvedy, inspired by the London-based restaurants of the same name. This book is bursting with energy, information and recipes for the most amazing and mouth watering food. The design is fabulous and the book features cute surprise bonuses like a pull out cheese map of Europe. It's great fun and has two ribbons - what more reason do you need to buy?

Like I said, I can't help myself. My only problem now is where to start...

Thursday, 6 November 2008


My friend Sara is one of those people who you meet and like instantly. She's lovely. She's so nice in fact that Carrie and I wait with baited breath for her to say something bad about someone, a moan, a groan, a sweary word - but they somehow never come. She's just an all round good egg.

She and her family run an estate in Cardross called Ardardan, which boasts a farm shop, a tea room and a garden centre as well as lovely grounds and animals such as highland cows, chickens and a bizarre breed of New Zealand pig which has fur - I know, it's weird but true. They have two which are named 'Ki' and 'Wi'. Marvellous.

Recently refurbished, the farm shop is thrise the shop it used to be. They have installed a huge cheese counter which bulges with Scottish and French cheeses, there's an olive bar where you can help yourself, organic fruit and vegetables and a vast array of biscuits, jams, pickles and teas as well as locally sourced fresh meat. The tearoom has fresh baking to die for and frankly the scone I had the last time I was there was the size of my head.

Everytime I visit I wonder why I don't go more often. Admittedly, when I lived in Glasgow it was slightly easier to get to - now it means a good hour in the car from Edinburgh but it's so worth it. Perhaps one of the nicest things about Ardardan is that it's an entirely family-run enterprise. Sara's Mum May, runs the shop, her Dad Grant and her fiance Jerry run the garden centre, Sara runs the tearoom and her sister Sue has recently joined the ranks as Marketeer. I don't think many of us could imagine working so closely with our families and yet the Montgomerys do it day in day out, and to brilliant effect. I continue to admire their efforts as their business grows and feel proud to tell people they're my friends.


As a child, visits to the dentist culminated in the nice lady at reception giving me a marvellous sticker as a reward for my immense bravery. I distinctly remember displaying a bright pink Penelope Pitstop number with pride one afternoon at school after a particularly courageous visit. Alas, as an adult I am no longer given anything nearly as exciting by the dentist but I am still stuck (tentatively) in the cycle of nervous-brave-reward, particularly as with the innocence of youth no longer on my side I have also developed an intense fear of my six monthly visits.

All that said, this week's visit ended with the dentist congratulating me on my nashers and proclaiming that there was no need for further treatment. All those nerves for nothing then. Time for a reward.

My dentist is just a hop skip and a jump away from Valvona and Crolla and so it was that I found myself there perusing the shelves for something suitable, and as they don't sell Penelope Pitstop stickers it was going to have to be something to eat. Now I suppose most people would make a beeline for the chocolate, maybe the cakes or even the cheese counter. Not me. I found myself in front of the fruit and vegetables. Ok, if I'm honest I was making a beeline for the chocolate when something else caught my eye. Raddichio Rosso di Treviso. I have a fondness for bitter salad leaves and so I promptly decided that was to be my treat. How boring is that?

Boring perhaps to a nine year old Carine looking for a treat but for my thirty one year old self, dressed with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette laced with the merest hint of garlic this was tastier than any brightly coloured sticker. Yum.

PS: For those of you who live in Edinburgh, December's i-on magazine features two pieces of my writing. If you don't live in Edinburgh you can see it online here. I am really excited about having had the opportunity to do this writing, i-on is a fantastic publication and I look forward to doing more for them in the future. Watch this space...

Sunday, 2 November 2008


Edinburgh is extraordinarily beautiful in Autumn. And bloody freezing. Wrapped in a scarf and gloves, I could happily walk for miles on a clear dry day but once at home I like to be snug and warm. Home is a big old flat complete with the obligitory high ceilings, Edinburgh press, laundry pulley and old sash windows with original glass. The windows may look the part but are unfortunately less effective at retaining heat. I have therefore taken to padding around in several layers of clothing, clutching a hot water bottle and all the while bemoaning the recent drop in temperature. Am I too young for an electric blanket?

One of the best things about the cold weather season is the food. Warming food, comfort food, hairs-on-your-chest food. This is the season for brown food. I do not mean a neurotic eating system for crazy people who will only eat food of a single colour, but a food genre, if you will. Brown food is the term I use to define certain rich, hearty dishes. Dishes which usually contain meat, more-often-than-not red wine and are generally some sort of stew affair. Beef bourguignon (the King of brown foods), coq au vin, a good intense bolognaise (not too tomato-ey), cottage pie, roasted leg of lamb served with the pan juices, a warming Chilli. These are the dishes I invariably crave when it's icy outside.

I came across a Thomasina Miers recipe in the November issue of the Sainsbury's Magazine with brown food written all over it - a thick black bean soup with chorizo and chipotle chilli. While I didn't try using it as a sealant on the windows its flavour did provide a perfect antidote to the cold outside: the smokey heat of the chipotle enhances the chorizo which along with velvety smooth black beans produces a deeply savoury and comforting soup.

OAXACAN BLACK BEAN SOUP adapted from Thomasina Miers' recipe in Sainsbury's Magazine November 2008
Serves 8

350g dried black beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
150g chorizo, chopped into small cubes
1/2 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh taragon
2 bay leaves
1 large dried chipotle chilli, rehydrated and finely chopped
pinch smoked paprika
1 tablespoon Nam Pla
juice of 1 lime

Soak the beans in cold water for at least four hours or overnight. Drain, and rinse in cold water.

Heat the oil in a large casserole and add the shallots and chorizo. Cook over a medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes until the onion is translucent and the chorizo has released some of it's oil. This will add flavour to the soup and give a silky texture to the beans.

Add the beans, fennel, herbs, chipotle chilli and paprika and cover with at least 5cm of cold water. The beans will be much more tender if they have planty of water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for about 2 hours until the beans are tender.

Blend until smooth and season with the fish sauce and lime juice to taste. Thin with water if necesary.

Serve topped with fried crisp chorizo and dried chilli flakes.

Saturday, 1 November 2008


It's that time of year when the air is crisp, foliage turns gently to autumnal shades of rich and earthy burnt sienna, before falling to be crunched beneath our feet. Suddenly we can see our breath in the cold and markets build seasonal displays of sweet golden honey, luscious red apples and cheery orange pumpkins.

Much like brussel sprouts, pumpkins seem only to appear in kitchens once a year - and more often than not for the sole purpose of creating ghoulish lanterns for Halloween mischievousness. But what to do with the discarded flesh? Soup or the proverbial pie spring to mind but this majestic fruit can be more versatile than that.

When selecting a pumpkin look for a rich, orange colour and firm flesh. A whole pumpkin will keep for a couple of months in a cool dry place, but because of its big size it is often sold in more manageable wedges. In this case store in the fridge and use within a couple of days.

Don't discard the seeds - they make a great snack when roasted and salted and also add a crunchy texture to salads, granola and baking. When cooked, pumpkin flesh has a soft creamy texture and sweet flavour which works well with warming spices like ginger and cinnamon - perfect for those cold autumn and winter evenings. It can be pureed into soups, breads and sweet pies flavoured with spices which are to American Thanksgiving what plum pudding is to British Christmas.

For something a bit different try adding chunks to meaty stews and curries. Add it to risotto or puree and use as a ravioli filling, or as an alternative to mashed potatoes crushed with butter, garlic and rosemary.

Perhaps the best way to highlight pumpkin's natural character is to roast it. Cut into large chunks, put into a baking tray, toss with olive oil and place in a 200 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Serve on it's own or with cous cous and a drizzle of harrisa. Or for a quirky dessert, serve roasted pumpkin with citris fruits and coconut or mayple syrup and toasted nuts.


seeds from your pumpkin
a good slug of olive oil
Maldon sea salt
spices of your choice - I used dried chilli flakes, cumin, cayenne and garlic pepper

Remove the pith and gunk from the seeds, wash and dry them. At this point you may feel you are losing the will to live but persevere - the rest is dead easy.

Put the seeds into a bowl, add the olive oil, salt, pepper and spices and mix together well so that all the seeds are evenly coated.

Spread the seeds out on a foil lined baking tray in a single layer.

Place in a preheated oven at 180 degrees and bake for around 20 minutes until plump and golden brown.

Allow to cool and serve.

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