03
Jul 14

Exploring Edinburgh

Edinburgh. Photo: VisitScotland

Edinburgh. Photo: VisitScotland

Edinburgh. The capital of Scotland. Named the ‘Athens of the North’ crediting its exquisite architecture and breathtaking surroundings, and famed for so many things. Fans of Harry Potter, Inspector Rebus, art, design, history, comedy, food and whisky will all find so much of interest in Edinburgh.

I recently spent the weekend discovering Edinburgh and had such a wonderful time. It is truly one of the great cities in the world and I urge anyone who hasn’t been to go.

What to do

Visitors to Edinburgh are spoilt with so many wonderful things to see and do. Edinburgh Castle is one of the most famous landmarks, and is really interesting. The views from the Castle are spectacular and wide-reaching, and you’ll be able to visit the Scottish crown jewels inside, too.

Calton Hill is a remarkable landmark. It’s a steep, but short walk to get up there, and absolutely worth the climb. With equally impressive views and interesting landmarks, such as the Nelson Monument (which you can climb to admire the city from an even greater altitude) and the dramatic half-built Athenian acropolis providing some wonderful photo opportunities.

Just walking around the compact city centre provides so much to see and enjoy. Take a camera, as every corner provides a new photo opportunity. A walk down the Royal Mile to Holyroodhouse Palace is recommended, and if you’re feeling energetic, carry on up to Arthur’s Seat for more sensational views. Pause to take it all in in the beautiful Princes Street Gardens in the very heart of the city.

If you can, head out to Leith, just a few miles outside of Edinburgh city centre to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia which is on permanent exhibition here. It is fascinating to look around, with all decks open to visitors, from the Queen’s former bedroom, to the engine room. Be sure to stop and take afternoon tea on board – a champagne cream tea is not to be missed.

Where to eat

You are spoilt for choice for excellent food in Edinburgh. VisitScotland operates a scheme called ‘Taste our Best’, a scheme awarding a badge to all establishments meeting their criteria of excellence, and ensuring that at least 40% of the produce that makes it onto your plate has come from Scotland.

Highlights from our visit include the amazing Contini restaurant on George Street. This is a modern and elegant family-owned Italian restaurant serving superb quality authentic food using the finest ingredients. You can really taste the quality of the produce used across their delicious menu. The service is top-notch and the owners were in on our Friday night visit looking after guests, which I think underlines their commitment to excellence.

The Witchery is an Edinburgh classic, a most atmospheric restaurant sat up on the hill near to the Castle. It is a popular choice both for lunch and dinner. The menu is fairly traditional with a strong Scottish influence. Book ahead if you plan to visit as this place is popular and often busy with tourists.

Where to stay

The luxury hotel of choice in Edinburgh is The Balmoral. Owned by the Rocco Forte group, it was actually the hotel of choice for J.K. Rowling to finish writing Harry Potter. There is even a plaque in the corridor to mark the achievement.

For a more affordable option, the Ten Place Hotel is very clean and comfortable and just a few minutes walk from the very heart of the city.

Getting here

Edinburgh is very well connected by rail to the whole country. Once you arrive, Edinburgh Waverley railway station is situated right in the very heart of the city, making it very easy to get around.

Edinburgh airport is also now connected to the city centre by tram, making it easier and quicker then ever to travel into the city.

For more information on things to do and places to see, please visit the Visit Scotland website. Taste Our Best is VisitScotland’s food and drink Quality Assurance scheme, designed to encourage more food service businesses to use and promote Scottish produce to give consumers choice.  Taste Our Best makes it easier for visitors to find places where they can be sure of a truly Scottish quality eating experience.  The award is made to hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, visitor attractions, restaurants, cafes and takeaways that meet both the quality and Scottish produce criteria. My visit was organized by VisitScotland.


01
Jul 14

A visit to East Lothian

North Berwick. Photo: VisitScotland

North Berwick. Photo: VisitScotland

East Lothian is one of the finest places to visit in Scotland. Officially the sunniest place in Scotland, and just half an hour outside of Edinburgh, you’ll find spectacular countryside, golden, sandy beaches with 40 miles of beautiful coastline to enjoy, and some seriously exceptional food. This is an absolutely glorious place to visit, and, if you happen to be in Edinburgh, then you really can’t miss out on a visit to East Lothian.

What to do here

Known as Scotland’s Golf Coast, this is a world-renowned area for all golf lovers to visit with a number of courses situated on the coast.

The beaches are stunning, with wide, golden sands, views across the Firth of Forth and interesting rockpools to enjoy. Gullane Bents beach is a delight to visit, as is North Berwick.

There are plenty of sites of historical interest and museums in the area. Dirleton Castle is highly recommended – a most interesting castle dating back to the 1100s. Much of the original castle remains and it is fascinating to explore. Children will love it, too. Be sure to allow time to walk around the gardens on a sunny day.

Where to eat

The food in East Lothian is very good indeed, partly due to the availability of superb ingredients grown an produced here, and also due to some really exciting things happening in food in the area. VisitScotland operates a scheme called ‘Taste our Best’, a scheme awarding a badge to all establishments meeting their criteria of excellence, and ensuring that at least 40% of the produce  that makes it onto your plate has come from Scotland.

Foodies visiting the area simply must pay a visit to Albert Roux’s restaurant at Greywalls Hotel. The legendary chef cooks up a feast of traditional French dishes with a modern twist. Exquisite cooking using sensational ingredients.

For a seriously delicious, lunch, morning coffee or afternoon tea, then Archerfield Walled Garden is not to be missed. In fact, it is a must if you’re in the area, as it has a fantastic shop selling a great selection of artisan food and gifts, too. There is a superb choice of food available on the menu which is served in generous portions. Good value and a very friendly atmosphere.

Where to stay

Lovers of luxury will instantly feel at home at the gorgeous Greywalls Hotel. Set on the Muirfield golf course, this is a gloriously comfortable Scottish country house type of hotel. Elegant surroundings and slick service mean you’ll be well looked after in a place that’s equally as delightful on a dreary wet evening, as a glorious summer’s day.

For a more budget-friendly option but lacking none of the glamour and comfort, Number 10 bed and breakfast in North Berwick has to be one of the very best in the country. Owner Mel opens up her picture perfect home to guests with a very warm welcome. Rooms are fabulously decorated, the beds are comfy and breakfast is really delicious, made by Cordon-Bleu trained Mel at a time of your goosing and served in her stylish dining room.

How to get here

Around 30 minutes drive from Edinburgh, East Lothian can be reached by car or by train. Edinburgh is well connected by rail to the rest of the country and you can change here for trains to North Berwick. Or, you can fly to Edinburgh and hire a car or catch a bus from there.

For more information on things to do and places to see, please visit the Visit Scotland website. Taste Our Best is VisitScotland’s food and drink Quality Assurance scheme, designed to encourage more food service businesses to use and promote Scottish produce to give consumers choice.  Taste Our Best makes it easier for visitors to find places where they can be sure of a truly Scottish quality eating experience.  The award is made to hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, visitor attractions, restaurants, cafes and takeaways that meet both the quality and Scottish produce criteria. My visit was organized by VisitScotland.


30
Jun 14

Love your Lunchbox

 

Photo: By Martin Poole, from Love your Lunchbox

Photo: By Martin Poole, from Love your Lunchbox

I am not alone in my belief in the importance of a good lunch. A good lunch can lift your spirits, perk up a bad day and provide you with the nourishment you need for a productive afternoon. That said, it can be difficult when you are busy or travelling to ensure you have something good to eat at lunchtime. Most takeaway lunch options are not  good in terms of flavour, quality and nutrition, or even if they are, they have often been chilled so harshly, they don’t taste of anything at all. Food writer James Ramsden has just brought out his third recipe book, entitled Love your Lunchbox, which aims to get us enthused about packed lunches again. I am a great fan of the packed lunch, but I strongly believe that the most difficult elements to overcome when trying to prepare a packed lunch, despite good intentions, are ideas and planning.

This is a book packed full of interesting ideas for lunches – all of which are easily achievable, and I think it is a valuable addition to any kitchen as it contains so many lovely recipes, I defy anyone not to immediately start bookmarking recipes to cook over the coming days whilst leafing through its beautifully designed pages.

James and his team at Pavillion books have very kindly sent me a copy with permission to share this delicious recipe and images from the book (taken by Martin Poole) with you. For more details, please see here.

Griddled courgette and halloumi salad with toasted quinoa

Serves 2

Toasted quinoa is an excellent thing to have kicking about. Scattered over salads, tossed through pasta, or whatever, it adds a great nutty crunch to food. This particular recipe makes more than you need – it seemed to me that if you’re going to toast quinoa, you may as well do more than a single tablespoon. Store it in a jar.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Freezable? No

50g/1¾oz/⅓ cup quinoa

2 courgettes (zucchini), sliced thinly on the diagonal

2 tbsp olive oil

100g/3½oz halloumi cheese, cut into chunks

2 tbsp vegetable oil

salt and pepper

a good handful of rocket (arugula)

a few mint leaves, shredded

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

juice of ½ lemon

AT HOME

Boil the quinoa for 12 minutes, until tender. Drain and dry on kitchen paper as thoroughly as you can.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle or frying pan over a high heat. Toss the courgettes in 1 tbsp of the olive oil and griddle for a couple of minutes on each side. Remove the courgettes, add a little more olive oil and the halloumi, and cook for a minute on each side.

Heat the vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan or sauté pan over a medium–high heat. Add the quinoa and a pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until golden, crisp and toasty, which should take 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Toss together the courgettes, halloumi, rocket, mint, chilli and lemon juice, and add a handful of toasted quinoa. Store in Tupperware in the fridge for up to 2 days.

IN EACH LUNCHBOX

A portion of courgette and halloumi salad.

TO FINISH

Eat

Photo: by Martin Poole

Photo: by Martin Poole


13
May 14

Cauliflower pizza with roasted tomato sauce

 Pizza

I’ve seen a lot of talk about cauliflower pizzas for some time now. As I cook a lot of gluten free food at home, I thought it would be a great thing to try. I had a brief glance at a couple of recipes online, and decided to make my own version.

Since my first attempt, I’ve made this a couple of times, refining the recipe each time. I have made the base using hand grated cauliflower, which works well, but the process is vastly sped up by using a food processor.  In fact, making the pizza base this way is much quicker than making a flour-based pizza base, be it gluten free or with wheat flour.

The resulting base mixture is soft and has to be shaped by hand into a pizza-like disc. Once baked, it’s crispy around the edges, and although it doesn’t look and taste quite like pizza as you know it, the flavour is actually delicious and flavour-wise blends well with the flavours you’re most likely to use to top a pizza.

I highly recommend making the roasted tomato sauce to top your base, too. It is very simple and quick to make and adds a wonderful depth of flavour to the pizza.

Ingredients 

Makes two large pizzas

For the base:

400g cauliflower, grated or blitzed in the food processor to fine chunks

75g parmesan cheese, grated

2 large eggs

Sea salt and pepper

For the sauce:

400g cherry tomatoes

3 cloves garlic, skin on

Olive oil

Sea salt and pepper

For the topping:

1 large ball good quality fresh mozzarella cheese, torn

2 large flat mushrooms

2 thick slices prosciutto

Method

To make the base, preheat the oven to 220C Fan. Cover two large baking trays with baking parchment and set aside.

Grate the cauliflower or blitz in the food processor. You want it to be in small slithers or chunks. Place the cauliflower into a heat-proof bowl and cook in the microwave on full-power for 6 minutes. This will tenderize the cauliflower. Once the cauliflower has been briefly cooked, place it into a colander and press down to remove any excess water.

Mix the parmesan and egg together in a large bowl and add the slightly cooled cauliflower. Stir until well combined. Divide the mixture between the two trays and shape into a pizza base shape by hand. Watch it is not too thick, particularly in the middle.

Bake the base on its own for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 200C and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Top with sauce and your toppings and bake for a further 10-12 minutes until the toppings are melted and bubbling. Serve immediately

To make the tomato sauce, place the tomatoes and garlic cloves, skin on, onto a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, season and bake at 200C for around 20 minutes until the tomatoes are tender. Remove from the oven. Squeeze the garlic out from the skins. Blitz the tomato and garlic together in a food processor or blender until smooth. Use to top a pizza base immediately. It also freezes well

I topped this pizza with mushrooms, prosciutto and mozzarella. I find that placing raw sliced mushrooms onto a pizza base can make it soggy, so I always cook them first. Simply slice the mushroom and cook in a little olive oil over a high heat for around 10 minutes. Then use to top the pizza.


19
Mar 14

Tabbouleh Salad

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients

25g bulgur wheat
2 large, ripe vine tomatoes

4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

4 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped

1 small red onion, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Black olives, chopped tomatoes and Cos lettuce leaves to serve

Method

1)   Place the bulgar wheat into a small bowl and cover with 50ml of boiling water. Stir, then set aside for 20 minutes, or until the bulgar wheat has absorbed all of the water.

2)   Peel and dice the tomatoes

3)   Add the parsley, mint and onion to the tomatoes and mix well until combined.

4)   When the bulgar wheat has absorbed all of the water, fluff it using a fork until the grains are separated. Add the bulgar wheat to the tomato mixture.

5)   Drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil and season, to taste, with salt. Mix well to coat the ingredients in the liquid.

6)   To serve, place the tabbouleh onto a nice large plate and garnish with olives, tomatoes and lettuce leaves


19
Mar 14

Ballymaloe Biscuits

Ballymaloe Biscuits

Ballymaloe Biscuits

These biscuits have been inspired by a trip to Ballymaloe country house hotel in Ireland. They are made using Macroom oatmeal, which is produced in the town of Macroom in County Cork in Southern Ireland. They are simple, crunchy biscuits but are delicious with a cup of tea or coffee. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that are best. These biscuits adapt well to food intolerances, too.

Ballymaloe Biscuits

Makes 48

Ingredients

300g Macroom oatmeal, or gluten free oats, blitzed in a food processor

300g plain white flour, or 250g gluten free plain flour

350g butter cut into small pieces, or dairy free-spread

150g caster sugar for sweet biscuits, or omit entirely for savoury biscuits

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Set aside three or four non-stick baking trays.

Mix together the oatmeal and flour, rub in the butter to a breadcrumb-like consistency and add the sugar if you’re using it.

Knead the mixture to a pliable dough (it will be a lit softer if you’re using spread) and roll out to about 3mm on a lightly floured table.

Stamp out discs and place on a non-stick baking sheet, or on baking parchment. You can re-roll the trimmings to get more biscuits.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, remove from the oven. Allow to cool on the tray for around 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin.


13
Mar 14

Sweet and Salty Popcorn

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I am currently totally obsessed by Sweet and Salty popcorn. It seems to be all the rage at present, and is completely addictive. Unable to fuel my cravings, I decided to give it a go at home. The results were completely delicious and so much easier and cheaper than shop bought. I urge you to try it!

Sweet and Salty Popcorn

Makes 1 medium bowlful

Ingredients

75g popping corn

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1-2 tsp crushed sea salt flakes (Maldon is lovely)

1-2 tsp caster sugar

Method

Pop the corn according to packet instructions. Sprinkle over the salt and sugar. Toss well and serve immediately  – it doesn’t keep well.


31
Dec 13

Chard, broccoli and mushroom bake

Bake

Sometimes some of the most surprisingly delicious meals happen quite unexpectedly. This is definitely one of them. I was wondering what to make having received my Abel & Cole Gourmet ingredient box the other week, and to be honest, I really wasn’t sure what to cook. Of course all the vegetables were lovely, but I really was at a loss as to what to do with them, aside from serve them as vegetables with other dishes, which I really didn’t want to do.

This bake really was made up as I went along. It’s a essentially an adaptation of cauliflower cheese. The addition of the herbs and mustard in the sauce gives it a real depth of flavour. You could serve it as a side, but I thought this was so good, I had it on its own for

lunch. And I’ll be having it again very soon. It’s utterly delicious.

Chard, broccoli and mushroom bake

Ingredients

For the bake

500g chard, cut into 4cm slices

250g broccoli, cut into small florets

20g butter

200g mushrooms, thinly sliced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce

20g unsalted butter

20g plain flour
(gluten free if needed)

300ml whole milk

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves only

½ tsp Dijon mustard

75g strong, mature cheddar, grated

For the topping

75g breadcrumbs

50g parmesan cheese, finely grated

Method

Preheat the oven to 190C. Set aside a large ovenproof dish.

Quickly steam the chard and broccoli until just al dente. This should take around 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter and cook the mushrooms in the butter for around 10 minutes until softened. Drain the broccoli and chard well, place into the ovenproof dish, add the mushrooms. Mix them together and spread them evenly over the base of the dish. Season well.

Now it’s time to make the sauce. Melt the butter for the sauce in a medium saucepan over a fairly low heat, then stir in the flour to form a smooth paste. Cook gently, stirring continuously for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and add a third of the milk. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or whisk until you have a thick, smooth paste. Add the rest of the milk in one or two lots, stirring it in until smooth. Return the sauce to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring. Let it bubble for two minutes, stirring every now and then, to “cook out” any raw flour, then turn the heat right down. Add the bay, thyme cheddar, and mustard, stir gently until the cheese melts into the sauce – don’t let the sauce boil, or it may curdle – and season.

When you’re ready to assemble the dish, fish the bay leaf out of the sauce and stir well. Pour the sauce evenly over the vegetables in the dish. Scatter with the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and bake for 20 minutes, until golden and bubbling.


28
Dec 13

Lisbon: A foodie’s guide

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Lisbon, Europe’s westernmost capital city is a brilliant destination for a city break. At just under three hours away from London by plane, it’s a beautiful, historic and characterful capital city, which is perhaps less well known for its food.

I recently paid a visit to discover the foodie delights of Lisbon, digging a bit deeper than salt cod and custard tarts, so here are my tried and tested top foodie picks from Lisbon.

 1Port

If you like fish, you are absolutely spoilt for choice in Lisbon. Can the Can in Praça do Comércio or Trade Square is a newly opened restaurant situated in the square, with plenty of outside seating with views across the square and of the river. Its menu, unusually, features a variety of canned fish, which is extremely popular in Portugal, as well as fresh fish, such as octopus and a rare find – Portuguese dry cured tuna, which is only made by one elderly gentleman in the country. A rare combination of great food served in a fantastic location.

La Tasca da Esquina is a small neighbourhood restaurant on Rua Domingos Sequeira. It has a great local feel, a warm, open kitchen and is a favourite of local residents.

5 Oceanos at the Doca de Santo Amaro is a particularly nice restaurant for lunch and dinner. The views from their outside seating area are stunning, and their fish is excellent. Try the seafood to start: the garlic prawns, fresh clams and crab in mayonnaise are all excellent. Try the whole baked sea bass for the main course. Simple but delicious.

If fine dining is more your thing, then Lisbon has some exceptional restaurants offering world-class dining. Portuguese celebrity chef José Avillez is one of the leading figures in food in Portugal. He owns four restaurants in Lisbon, with Belcanto his flagship venue. Situated in a very discreet building in upmarket Chiado, it is a must for any keen foodie, or if you are celebrating a special occasion.

Feitoria restaurant in the Altis Hotel is also exceptional. With one Michelin star, chef João Rodrigues cooks a blend of international and Portuguese flavours in his menus. The tasting menu is excellent and dining at Feitoria is a glamorous affair and feels like a really special occasion.

Visitors with a sweet tooth will be spoilt for choice in Lisbon. The Confeitaria Nacional is a famous Portuguese cake shop and tea room, founded in 1829 and is a fantastic centrally located spot to visit at any time of day. Popular choices are thick doorsteps of toast, or cinnamon French toast, served hot and buttered.

£Port

The Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, founded in 1837, it is the home of the famous Pasteis de Belém. These Portuguese custard tarts are made to a top-secret recipe, as they have been for nearly 200 years. These little tarts are exceptional – so much better than any you’ll try elsewhere.

If you enjoy wines, then Portugal has some really lovely regional wines to try. Viniportugal in Praça do Comércio is a must. Choose as many or as few wines as you want as you pay per sample.

If you are able to get out of Lisbon, José Maria Da Fonseca in Azeitão wine makers offers a tour of their premises and a tasting to visitors. Their Moscatel is particularly special and is just 5 Euros a bottle. Azeitão is around 45 minutes in the car from Lisbon and is a lovely, quaint town to visit. Stop off at Casa das Tortas, opposite for delicious, authentic cakes and good coffee.

Where to stay

Hotel da Estrela is a great independent hotel, which was recently a school. It is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and is a clean and comfortable base in a lovely part of the city.

How to get there

TAP Portugal operate a regular flight schedule from London Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.

For more information, please visit the Turismo de Lisboa site. www.visitlisboa.com


23
Dec 13

Festive entertaining – Christmas drinks

1drinks

As Christmas approaches, I wanted to share some of my favourite drinks and homeware with you for the season. Be it to enjoy at home, with friends or at a party, these lovely drinks will instantly have you feeling in the festive mood.

Sparkling wine is just lovely to enjoy at this time of year. Although Champagne may be the first thing you think of when it comes to sparkling wine, I am increasingly choosing English sparkling wine over Champagne as it turns out, we’re getting rather good at making it now. I recently tried Knightor Brut NV which was very good indeed. Made in small quantities with an emphasis on quality, it is light, floral and immensely enjoyable.

Try making a Christmas cocktail by juicing fresh clementines and adding the juice of half a clementine to each flute, and topping up with English sparking wine.

My favourite cocktail of the season has to be a festive Behind the Sheets. Mix equal parts of brandy with white rum and triple sec. Stir well and serve. I make my own festive brandy in advance, using a simple recipe like this one,and use it in my cocktails. The brandy is also very nice served with lemonade as a mixer.

I love to make a big jug and to serve it in lovely Italian glasses from Luigi Bormioli at Denby. Be sure to make plenty to serve to your guests with some nibbles on a lovely big tray, such as this fantastic handmade oak tray from Make The Most Of – essential for festive entertaining.

For a festive non- alcoholic drink, try making a Christmas coffee or chocolate by adding 1 tsp sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a cardamom pod to a cup of freshly brewed coffee or hot chocolate. Add double cream instead of milk, or top with whipped cream. I love to a good festive mug at this time of year, and these from Susie Watson Designs are totally gorgeous and by far the best I’ve found this year.

1Mug

Watch this space for top tips for your Christmas table.

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