Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Xmas and Boxing Day Dinners

Well, we did it. Survived the in-laws staying for Christmas and the mammoth logistical task of transporting the entire - mostly cooked - dinner to someone else’s house (don’t ask). 

On reflection our menu over the two days reads like a who's who of celebrity chefs but hey I'm not proud, it worked!  The starter was difficult to choose once I adamantly declared I wasn't doing more than one so we would all have to eat the same thing.  Jamie Oliver's pea and watercress soup recipe fitted the bill - okay so it says it's for summer, but who wants to eat a wintery stodgy old starter at Christmas!?  Topped with pea shoots and a parmesan crisp this kept everyone round the table more than happy - fresh, light and packed full of peppery watercress goodness.

Starters over with there really was only one option for Christmas dinner - vegetarians aside - Nigella Lawson’s spiced and super-juicy roast turkey.  This recipe has been a friend of ours for many years and has never let us down.  Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without having that plump turkey swimming happily for a day or two in a bucket of brine and spices.  And it was a triumph.  Ridiculously easy to cook yet succulent and delicious. 

Then it was on to Boxing Day.  Shaking off the fug of excess food and alcohol from the previous day, we cracked open the bubbly and excitedly turned to the recipe for Boxing Day.  We had searched high and low for the perfect Salmon en Croute recipe, before stumbling upon this one from Gordon Ramsay, which leans slightly towards a koulibiac.  With a few minor amendments to accommodate a whole side of salmon rather than individual portions, this turned out brilliantly.  Good old Gordon. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Mussels in Brussels

It was a work trip, I was on my own, and knew none of the people I was going to meet.  The only thing I could console myself with was that there should be juuuuust enough downtime to do the Brussels tourist thang - Christmas market, chocolate shops, mussels, Grand Place (have I missed anything?).

First some drooling through the windows of, and being tempted to part with a ridiculous amount of money in, various amazing infamous chocolate shops.  

Then a whistle-stop walk around the various sights. 

Finally it was time for food, or specifically, mussels. Admittedly Restaurant Vincent is absolutely in the touristy trap restaurant zone around the Grand Place, but there’s something that feels more individual about the place.  Entering through the kitchen and past the display of meat hanging in the window, there’s a buzz that hits you immediately.  I was squeezed in to the busy dining room beside another lone diner but had a perfect view of the restaurant and the fabulous 1920s tiled murals.   

The service in Restaurant Vincent is the perfect reminder you’re dining in the Continent - brusque, aloof, disdainful - thankfully the happy animated chatter of fellow diners is the perfect antidote.  Also, no need to take a book if you’re on your own; what the waiters lack in personality they more than make up for in performance.  A service station in the middle of the room means you can watch as they prepare the sauce for your steak or flamb√© your crepes.
I couldn’t, however, see past ordering the mussels.  Served a la marini√®re with lip-smackingly crisp frites (my obsession with chips will no doubt feature in a blog post another day).  These were plump and tender molluscs in a slurp-worthy wine, butter & garlic sauce - thankfully a pile of French bread helped to mop up the juices and save my fellow diners from my slurping.  Stuffed to the gills I unfortunately couldn’t manage dessert and only managed to waddle happily back to my hotel room.
A tad expensive - yes - but then I thought pretty much everything was in Brussels (not least with the abysmal exchange rate).  I’m sure there are less touristy and better value places further off the beaten track, but with limited time available this made for a great Brussels dining experience overall.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A seriously good chocolate cake

This really is a good cake.  Easy too.  It's rich and dense, and a little goes a long way - but in my opinion that's what chocolate cake should be all about.  The covering and decoration is optional - a chocolate buttercream would be a good alternative in place of the ganache - but the least I would do is slice and fill it.

For the cake:
250g butter
300g light brown sugar
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
5 eggs
300g dark chocolate

For the ganache:
125ml double cream
250g unsalted butter, diced
500g plan chocolate (50 - 70% cocoa solids)

Method for the cake

1.  Heat your oven to 160C/fan 140C.
2.  Line the sides and base of a 20cm round cake tin with baking parchment. 
3.  Using an electric whisk or mixer, beat together butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy. 
3.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, add 1 tbsp of the flour after each egg. 
4.  Melt the 300g chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Once melted, leave to cool slightly.
5.  Pour the chocolate into the cake mixture, beating as you do so. 
6.  Fold in the rest of the flour with a large spoon. 
7.  Pour in to your prepared tin and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes.
8.  Leave in the tin to cool completely and then take out of the tin. 
9.  Split the cake horizontally. 
10.Fill and cover with either chocolate buttercream or the ganache, below.

 Method for the ganache

1.  Heat the double cream in a saucepan until it just comes to the boil, then remove from the heat.
2.  Melt the butter and the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
3.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and butter, and stir to combine.
4.  Now beat the ganache well with a wooden spoon until it is rich and glossy.
5.  Use this ganache straight away for pouring over the cake - I'd advise you to 'crumb coat' the cake first with some chocolate buttercream.
6.  Leave the ganache to cool to room temperature for filling and piping.


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Bluerapa Thai

It's always the way.  The closer a restaurant is, the less inclined you are to go.  It's probably because you think you could go anytime you want, and so instead favour slightly more difficult to get to places.  Or because you think there's no way a local place can be as good as somewhere that takes more effort.

Anyway, probably both and more of those reasons are why we have only just now made it along to Bluerapa, which is literally spitting distance from where we live.  I mean seriously, we can actually see the place from the windows of our flat.

Before you get all judgmental on me, it's totally not because the place has variously hosted a greasy kebab shop and maybe even a brothel (no wait, that was a few doors along).  I absolutely wish more places in Edinburgh were like Bluerapa - small, authentic, byob.  So all I can say is that I'm glad I didn't pander to my drinking buddy's 'eating's cheating' approach on a night out.  I instead managed to drag him to a restaurant, but only as it was extremely close to the local hostelry.  I'm just rather glad that happened to be Bluerapa.

I should also at this point declare a slight bias against Thai food in Edinburgh (well, to be fair, anywhere outside of Thailand).  We spent a delicious week training under the fantastic Chef Sompon in Chiang Mai and quite frankly have never looked back.  This coupled with the superb Thai supermarket in Dalry means we are generally blissfully unaware of the Thai restaurant scene in Edinburgh.

I do though like to see local places doing well, and many an evening I've lamented that Bluerapa's few tables were sparse with customers.  I would gloomily have predicted that we would see yet another local business shut up shop. Happily though, we got the only table available late on a Friday night, and there was a really nice buzz about the place.

So once settled in with our carry-out of beers, to the menu.  Aaah salads.  The one dish that doesn't appear to make its way on to Edinburgh Thai restaurant menus as often as it should.  The salad for me is the quintessential Thai dish.  The ultimate salad dressing of nam pla, sugar and lime perfectly lubricating meat, vegetables & (lots of) chillies.  It was the salads at Blurapa that indicated to me we were on to something.  These salads were great. OK so they didn't have the 20 scud or 'rat shit' chillies per portion that would be usual, but still seriously delicious, refreshing and different - and still a good chilli hit.

Namtok Grilled Beef - tossed with powdered rice, spring onion, shallots, coriander, dried chillies, mint and a hint of lime juices.
Yum Thai style chicken - tossed with cucumber, tomatoes, shallots, mints, apples, coriander, spring onion and hot & sour dressing.

On the table, condiments of sugar, nam pla, dried chilli flakes and seasoned vinegar gave the option to balance the sweet, sour, salty ratio to taste, but I think they should have the confidence to assert the skill of the chef.  In reality I'm not sure many people would take the opportunity to tweak their dishes.  For me, extra dried chilli is always welcome, but we discovered that a quiet word with the staff should assure more authentic levels of spice anyway.

On to main courses.  Whether it's because I think I make a mean pad Thai and always feel the need to compare, or because I was in yet another comfort noodly mood, it had to be done.  Just delicious.  Thick rice noodles, silky, salty, spicy, sour, and with the obligatory accompaniments - crushed peanuts, lime & dried chilli - exactly as it should be.

Pad Thai stir fried with egg, beansprouts, spring onion and homemade sweet Pad Thai sauce.
The spicy seafood dish was executed really well.  All the seafood - mussels, squid & prawns - succulent and delicious.  While not as spicy as advertised, again a quiet word to the staff would guarantee more authenticity.

Spicy Seafood - mussels, squid and king prawns with red curry paste, peppers, bamboo shoots and basil.

Overall, what an absolute gem.  Lovely staff and service, and fantastic quality food.  Some may be put off by Bluerapa's size and basic decor, but quite frankly the food here doesn't need to be supplemented by decadent surroundings; it definitely speaks for itself.  Even my friend admitted it was worth breaking away from the pub to visit.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tiramisu cupcakes

2 young children, 2 babies, 6 adults.  All on 'that' side of the family.  All coming to our house on a Sunday afternoon.  Screams, tears and tantrums were predicted (and not just from the children).  There was nothing for it but to prepare ahead and try a recipe out of my newly gifted (luv ya Cat!) Hummingbird Bakery 'Cake Days' Cookbook. 

I've also been unfortunate enough to miss the @edincakeladies Back to Basics night, so I feel the need to console myself by writing up this post.

There are lots of very interesting and drool-worthy recipes in the book.  But it just had to be the Tiramisu recipe. Reasons:  I have had very many bad Tiramisus in my time; But my homemade Tiramisu is the dogs; Many members of 'that' side of the family love coffee flavoured things; Most members of 'that' side of the family love cake.  It had to be win win.

I realise that a number of people have had issues with hummingbird recipes, hence their release of baking tips.  However, this recipe turned out well - call it luck, call it skill (I will of course call it skill!).

The Sponge - Very easy to make.  Slightly alarmingly runny before baking, but I went with it.  Turns out a lovely light, moist, sponge.

The Filling:  GOD, how I LOVE cupcakes with a hollowed out centre & a filling.  Soooo much more interesting.  This one really rocks - a reduced coffee & Kahlua syrup soaked in to the sponge (there are other coffee based liqueurs available) - don't worry, the booze is boiled off.  With some of the mascarpone mix (see below) squished in before the hollowed out top goes back on.  The cake is now truly starting to look like the food of gods. 

The Topping:  Mascarpone, Cream, more Kahlua - what is there not to love?

Verdict:  Children - hard to tell but by the double handed shoving in-of-cake-to-mouth - good.  Adults - unanimous praise from the in-laws (result!).

Monday, 21 November 2011

No 1 Sushi Bar

Tollcross is an odd place (I'm allowed to say that as I stayed there for 5 years).  An eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and businesses, the area has never really achieved the transformative gentrification predicted for it a few years back. 

There's a lot going on however, and in particular the Cameo Cinema and the Kings Theatre still very much generate a significant amount of footfall for restaurants in the area.  And it was the Cameo, and the fantastic Sound It Out, that meant we found ourselves heading across the road to No.1 Sushi Bar - the HUGE shiny lettering like a beacon through the absurdly windy Thursday night. 

Sushi bars are popping up all over the place in Edinburgh, but a few have been long standing features, including No. 1.  The interior is basic, but I always find this reassuring, rather than off-putting, when you’re just after some quick tasty and good value food, as we were.  

We were in a bit of a rush to get back to the Cameo so unfortunately didn’t get to try any starters, which meant I could merely look longingly at the pot-sticker style Japanese dumplings.  We couldn’t however pass up the opportunity for some edamame.  God, how I LOVE these little pods of soyabean goodness; I could eat about a million of them so just as well we were brought an enormous steaming bowl-full.

Tasty bowls of miso continued the soya theme, and then came our main courses.  Given the weather, I just couldn’t see past something hot and noodle-based.  I’m also still pining for another Friday Brunch at Nobu in Dubai and have been a bit sniffy about Japanese food in this country ever since.  I’m pleased to say I am now over this irrational aversion, as I ended up wishing I had plumped for something more similar to my fellow diners’ options (though repeat trips to Nobu still very welcome).  

The deep fried chicken yakiudon were good, but you can’t really go wrong with thick gratifying udon, and crisp, succulent deep fried chicken is truly of the comfort food gods.

Deep-fried chicken breast yakiudon

More adventurous was the Japanese bbq eel with unagi sauce.  This was a taste sensation!  Snow white sushi rice the perfect vehicle for the intense little pieces of eel, basted in unagi sauce then barbequed and served with more of the eel broth, soy sauce, rice wine and sugar reduction.  Only downside was the surprisingly fishy after-burps (too much information?).

Bbq eel with unagi sauce

Fresh tuna on rice was served ‘scattered sushi’ style.  More of the steaming sushi rice, this time vinegared, was topped with spankingly fresh tuna, pickled radish, crab eggs and sesame.

Fresh tuna on rice

Given the number and quality of other sushi places now dotted around Edinburgh maybe it’s not worth a special trip, but No. 1 Sushi Bar is definitely somewhere you should consider popping in to if you’re in the area.  By the way, a good choice of Japanese beers, and nice service too.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Loving leftovers

No recipe required today, just a post in reverence of leftovers.  We eat leftovers for probably two or sometimes three of our weekly meals at home, and we've certainly never had any qualms about just whipping them out the fridge, slapping them on a plate, and bunging them in the microwave - hey presto - dinner ready in approximately 5 mins. Tastier than anything you'll ever buy in a supermarket box.  

Spend an eency bit more time however, and you can forget that slight groundhog day feeling - you'll have a scrummy taste sensation that will trick your tastebuds in to believing you're not eating yesterday's dinner.

Take this fine bubble & squeak specimen: 

1.  Mash up some leftovers - spuds, savoy (previously quick fried with some garlic, salt, & pepper).
2.  Shape in to rounds.  Dust with flour.
3.  Shallow fry on both sides in vegetable (or another tasteless frying oil) on a low to medium heat until golden (10-15 mins).
4.  Serve topped with a fried or poached egg.
5.  Scoff.

Check out for more ideas.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Laksa for the soul

After a truly hideous Monday (even more so than usual) there was nothing else I could think of at the end of the day than coming home for something filling, tasty, and blindingly spicy.

I adore Asia and its food.  This laksa reminds me of an amazing meal we had in the Sheraton in Kuala Lumpur.  Feeling slightly sad that we were about to fly home, our spirits were lifted by the spicy, creamy, noodly deliciousness.  What could be a more perfect antidote for a day like today.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


I'm going to be upfront about this.  I didn't want to go to 21212.  My first choice was the recently Michelin starred Castle Terrace, but our usual last minute (well, a couple of weeks in advance) approach to booking meant we couldn't get in.

It might be the garish retro signage or the wordy menu which has always put me off, yet here we were pitching up to the entrance of 21212, the aforementioned signage sticking out like a sore thumb on Edinburgh's majestic Royal Terrace.

The building that houses the restaurant and its 4 bedrooms is just gorgeous.  The sort of Georgian townhouse I would absolutely kill to own.  The decor is all about the tasteful muted tones, but with opulent if a bit overstuffed materials and furnishings. 

With our £13.50 glass of Henriot Brut Champagne came some decidedly average nibbles.  Fantastic goddess olives (but I eat these at home with a beer in hand), some crisps, and crunchy things that reminded me of snacks you buy in tubs at the supermarket around Christmas time.  Bread was just awful.  Only one choice, which was white and pappy textured.  Not a fantastic start.

On choosing from the menu, it was easy to try everything given there were two of us and the concept is a choice or 2 starters, mains and puds, interspersed by a soup and cheese course.  The captions beside the pictures below are exactly as written on the menu.

Despite its disconcerting Indian restaurant tandoori colour, 'Spicy Pisces' was delicious, the star being a large plump scallop acting as the bedrock for the plethora of other ingredients.  And here too was our first introduction to what would become the menu equivalent to the unwelcome friend that always turns up at the pub; foam.  Kinda pretty, kinda pointless.

Duck was a bit disappointing.  Cooked sous vide (you'll see a theme developing here) it was evenly pink throughout but still slightly tough and displaying none of the advertised caramelisation or crispiness.  There was no real hint of 'spicy' in the rice either but the omelette element was a creamy triumph.  More foam again, but aside from a cappuccino frother, another piece of kit the kitchen had clearly invested in was a food dehydrator.  This produced more interesting results - the basil leaf adorning the dish having an intensified mentholly flavour.

"Spicy Pisces" 4x Fishes, 4x Mushrooms, Crumpets - Hot & Spicy Jumbo Scallops, Giant Prawns, Barley, White Crabmeat Flakes & Smokes Salmon, Morels, Shitakes, Girolles & Shimeji Mushrooms, Best Truffle Oil, Chilli & Onions, Brown Crab, Ginger & Watercress Sauce, Marie Rose, Buttered Grilled Crumpets.
Crispy Cumbrian Duck Breast, Egg Fu Yung, Spicy Rice - Caramelised Breast of Cumbrian Duck, Baked Omelette, Red Onion Egg Fried Rice, Mange Tout & "Purple Sprouting", Breakfast Radish, Lightly Smoked Soy Sauce Mayonnaise, Wasabi (Oriental Horseradish), Broccoli & Basil Puree.

Soup was layers of veg puree, carrot, asparagus, topped with, you guessed it, a pumpkin foam.  Aside from the as ever pointless topping this was a real taste sensation, with amazing depth of flavour in the veg puree layer lurking underneath.
We had been advised that there was a third option for the main course, as the pork could be substituted for beef.  This was where we really started to have doubts about whether there was any intention for the dish to marry, or if the point was for each of the individual ingredients forever to be doomed to remain single forever.  Surely they wouldn't just be serving beef alonside all of the accompanying ingredients that you would think had been so carefully selected for the pork?? - Certainly as far as we could reasonably tell - apparently so.

Not only rather unattractively smothered in the orangey sauce, the other half complained that the presentation of the beef dish - piling each ingredient on top of the other - made it difficult to see what he was eating.  He was also by now rather sick of eating out of a bowl.  His beef though was delicious.  The meat this time beautifully cooked sous vide, flavourful and tender.  Lovely veg, but the toulose sausage (originally intended for the pork dish) didn't sit well.  The other half also found the wide two pronged fork provided rather difficult to eat with.  The waiter pointed out that's why they also provide a spoon.  What's wrong with just having a decent fork!!?
(This is the menu for the pork dish, which we chose to have with the beef option) Classical Pork Supper, Old Spot, Tomato & Sage Sauce - Slow Cooked Tender Fillet of "Old Spot" Pork, Sage & Onion, Apple 123, Smoked Bacon, Toulouse Sausage, Lentils & Hazelnuts, Scottish Grown Vegetables, Oatmeal & Black Peppercorns, Potato & Artichoke Puree.
Trout was nice.  That's just about all I can say about it.  I personally don't think cooking it sous vide improves the flavour and texture more than a skillful bit of pan frying.  Macaroni - why?  The accompanying caviar 'pour over' was wasted in my opinion.  The ozone-ness (and supposed smoke) of the caviar lost in the confusion of other textures and flavours.  I should have eaten it separately.

Pink Trout "Macaroni" Rosemary & Chickpea Puree - Slow Cooked Fillet of Young Pink Trout, Saffron Macaroni, Sweet Potato & Chickpea Puree, Duo of Asparagus White & Green, Dijon Mustard Mayonnaise, Crosnes, Fresh Sweetcorn, Pumpkin Seeds, Feta Cheese Cube.

Asparagus, Spinach & Chervil Sauce, Smoked Caviar.

Cheese next - lots of it.  So much so I wondered if the poor waiter who had to tell us what each one was would remember them all.  It was good, but the accompanying biscuits and the pitiful pieces of dried pear, were bad.

Next the bubbling undercurrent of kitch-ness came bursting to the surface when the cow teapot arrived (yes I did just say that).  The milky almondy drink served was very much like the mexican drink horchata.  They drink it as it's a good accompaniment to spicy food.  I've no idea what its purpose was in this context.

We were getting a bit bored by now, and pudding didn't much raise our interest.  If anything the hideous swan/duck dish the 'P's & C's' dish was served in was positively off-putting.

Extra Winter Layers - Winter Layers of Dates & Apricots, White Chocolate & Vanilla, Pecan Nuts, Oatmeal, Icky Sticky Sponge, Saffron, Turkish Delights, Early Grey Anglaise, Crispy Biscuits (A True Turkish Delight)

P, P, P, P, P, P, C, C, C - Glazed Lemon Bake With A Fruit Compote Of Dried Cherries, Golden Pears, Salted Peanuts, Pink Peppercorns, Marmalade & Saffron Poached Fresh Pineapple, Peanut Butter & Vanilla Egg Anglaise, Dried Fruit Crisp.

Finally coffee and some good but surprisingly unadventurous truffles and fudge.  I'm sure everyone mentions it, but the coffee served in paper cups is very good (though nothing to do with the paper cups, which simply keep the coffee hotter for longer).
The service is impeccable.  Professional and friendly.  Just a shame that a number of the waiting staff are made to wear what quite frankly can only be described as umpa lumpa overalls, which must be, well, embarrassing.

I do get it.  It's different (for Edinburgh).  It's adventurous.  It's quirky.  But quite frankly I'm not in to different for difference sake.  The ingredients have to work together and while the skill of the chef comes through in the cooking of the individual components, it's lacking in being able to present a coherent plate of food.  There are a number of Michelin starred (and other) restaurants in Edinburgh that I'm just dying to pay a return visit to, but 21212 isn't one of them.

Friday, 11 November 2011

9 Cellars

I was really quite excited about visiting 9 Cellars.  Not only because it's been a while since I've had a good curry, but also because the menu presents choices quite refreshingly different to the majority of other Indian restaurants in Edinburgh.

Let's get distracting first impressions out of the way - the underground entrance is not particularly inviting, but then that's not wholly unusual in Edinburgh.  Interior is... basic...and very orange, but I've eaten in worse.  We were seated at the front of the restaurant so didn't get a feel for the rabbit warren of cellars that, almost unbelievably, can seat around 100.  But with only a couple of other tables occupied on a Thursday night, lack of atmosphere was an issue; thankfully some music was put on at some point, helping to lift the mood from dreary to bearable.  We did have a bit of a gripe about the tiny tables for two.  Call me a glutton, but I prefer not to have to worry about whether all the food ordered can be squeezed on to the space, and we gave the interesting selection of sides a miss for just that reason.

With few 'classic' British curry dishes on the menu, we were delighted to have difficulty choosing from a diverse selection of authentic regional dishes.  Chicken Ka Chilla and Ajwani Jinga got us off to a blinding start.  The Ka Chilla was oustanding - a thin and tasty pancake (made from, I think, gram flour flavoured with chilli and cumin) enveloping succulent tikka'd chicken in a well spiced thick sauce.  The Jinga were good sized firm and meaty prawns in an anjwain flavoured batter - clearly skillfully deep fried to a light and crisy finish.
Chicken Ka Chilla
Ajwani Jinga
The sarters though raised expectations which sadly weren't lived up to by the mains.  To be fair, I went against my instinct to continue on the pancake theme with a Dosa, opting instead for the Lal Mass.  The other half, on his usual quest for a decent chilli hit, went for North Indian Garlic Chilli Chicken.

Lal Mass
North Indian Chilli Garlic Chicken
Both dishes suffered from the standard curry base treatment; looking and tasting almost identical with only minor tweaks in spicing.  I've nothing against a good curry base, but it needs more attention than this to turn it in to a special dish.  These, while completely edible, were no more than chunks of (admittedly good) lamb and chicken in a thick, slightly gloopy, sauce.  The Lal Mass in particular, which I had been really looking forward to, conveyed little of the intense dried chilli colour and flavour that typifies this traditional Rajasthani dish.

Rice, chapati, spinach & garlic parantha
Rice and chapati were average, but the spinach & garlic stuffed parantha was really rather good.  Pints of Cobra are good value at £3.30 in relation to city centre prices.

Overall we'll probably give 9 Cellars another go, mainly as the starters showed so much promise. Big disappointment this time that our choice of mains let the overall meal down.