Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Day 5: Jura/Islay - cat cuddles & chocolate puddles

Until the chocolate and whisky fondant arrived at the table last night, our dinner at the Jura Hotel, while pleasant enough, was not hitting any particular heights. And then - a boozy, oozy, glossy gush of chocolate heaven. Someone in that kitchen knows how to make a fondant.

Really, the Jura Hotel doesn't have to bother at all - it is the only place to stay on the island so its audience is pretty captive - but the elegant decor, the extremely comfortable room, the well stocked bar with the panoramic views AND the chef's way with desserts mean that it is a place to which I would happily return. There is even a friendly local cat, Elvis, who submitted quite amenably to crazy cat lady cuddles.

To be honest, I am sorry that we were not on Jura longer. It would have been nice to see the house in which George Orwell wrote "1984" and the whirlpool that sits just off the shore in the strait which separates the islands of Jura and Scarba. More than anything else, I like the fact that it feels like a little haven from the world, a place to be quiet and calm.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Day 4: Glasgow/Jura - road to nowhere

I am sitting outside of the only hotel on the Isle of Jura. To my left, the distillery and a scattering of houses. In front, a swathe of sea.  There might be a local shop hereabouts but I wouldn't bet good money on it, we are about as remote as it gets.

We primarily came to visit the distillery and, indeed, I am not sure what else would attract tourists to this tiny, beautiful, peaceful little corner of the Hebrides. Jura whisky is a thing of beauty - far lighter than is common in island single malts (which, we learned today, is because they have the second tallest stills in all of Scotland). But getting here is a labour of love, requiring a trip on the tiniest car ferry you ever did see (if you're fifth in the queue, you're waiting for the next one).

Food thus far today has been sporadic and uninspiring - a drab bacon roll on the ferry from Kennacraig to Islay and a Magnum (when did they get so sickly?) waiting for the crossing to Jura. I couldn't leave this post, therefore, without mentioning last night's dinner at Glasgow's Bread Meats Bread - a dirty burger joint par excellence. My pastrami melt was stunningly good and D did a lot of fervent nodding when asked about his burger.

We also ordered a side of poutine, out of 50% curiosity and 50% greed. If you've not come across this Canadian delicacy before, it consists of chips, a thick, meaty gravy and squeaky cheese curds. It is a rather odd thing - not in the least unpleasant but one of those food combinations that makes you wonder how anyone thought to invent such a thing.

We suspect that you have to be born Canadian to truly appreciate it.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Day 3: Glasgow - the most important meal

The forecast is gloomy for the rest of the fortnight but today, at least, we were blessed with clear skies and sunshine which made the walk down Sauchiehall Street to Kelvingrove a pleasant one. I like Kelvingrove, which in size and range of exhibits reminds me of the British Museum. It is a pleasant place to dip into for an hour or so. And the Dali painting, "Christ of St John of the Cross" is stunning enough to warrant the trip alone.

We've enjoyed two excellent breakfasts while we have been here, both of which venues I need to commend to your attention, although they are completely different.

I think that I wrote about Babu Bombay Street Kitchen when we were here last year but it merits a revisit. Set below street level, its unprepossessing appearance doesn't immediately catch the eye and the decor is quirky and functional rather than luxurious. But the breakfast there, consisting of a mere six items (up from last year's three) is fabulous. I enjoyed the bhurji pau, spicy scrambled eggs, for a second year running, D went for the bacon and omelette roti wrap, both dishes washed down with excellent coffee. If we were here another day, I'd be going back there for lunch.

But at the other end of the scale we have Cafe Gandolfi, a new one for us this visit. Judging from the number of people there when we turned up on Sunday morning, it appears to be a pretty popular destination and with good reason - the breakfast menu reads like a dream and the kitchen more than delivers. I could have ordered pretty much everything on there but decided to opt for pancakes with fruit, yoghurt and syrup. The pancakes were fluffy, the yoghurt was rich and ever so slightly sweetened and the fresh berries were ripe and luscious. Meanwhile, D went for Eggs Hebridean - which is Eggs Benedict with black pudding instead of ham. Judging by the speed at which the not inconsiderable plateful disappeared, I think it got the thumbs up from him.

I'll be sad to leave this wonderful city tomorrow but our next stop is the Isle of Jura - where whisky and venison surely await

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Day 2: Sterling/Glasgow - stepping out

According to my Fitbit, I have walked nearly 13,000 steps already today. Given that on a normal, deskbound day I might not even break the back of 3,000 this is one hell of an improvement. My feet are hot and dusty of sole and making their disapproval known through the medium of aching. But keeping vaguely active is hopefully the key to keeping any holiday weight gain to a minimum.

Last night we spent in Sterling where we enjoyed a decent curry followed by a wee dram in an adorable little pub that looked like it had been set up in someone's living room. Albeit someone who owned several hundred bottles of whisky.

And then this morning we skipped across to Glasgow. On the agenda: modern art and Mackintosh. Oh, and ticking off the new Glasgow Brewdog bar, Doghouse, which is situated in the Merchant City part of the, er, city. Yes, that is a second Brewdog in two days and there will be another one tomorrow. I would judge us too. The food here was lovely though - smoked meats and the kind of side dishes that you expect to see on Triple D. We shared a small portion of pulled pork, Mac and cheese and house pickles.

I continue to find new things to love about Glasgow; it's a fascinating, varied city jostling with amazing architecture. Edinburgh is more immediately beautiful but Glasgow, the scrappy younger* sibling is, I think, more endearing.

*(I actually don't know whether Glasgow is the younger city but I'm ignoring fact for the purposes of metaphor).

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Day 1: Stirling - tears & beers

Going on holiday is a wonderful thing, but before we can leave we have to drop the cat off and this is a Traumatic Moment.

I don't know what was more pathetic: the piteous mewing as we made the short drive, or the full grown woman actually in tears as she said goodbye to her furball. Luckily, despite having the unenviable task of manoeuvring her in to her travel box, D was more sanguine.

Anyway, that done and we were off to the first stop on our whistlestop tour: Stirling. We have actually visited before but were compelled to come back because Scottish beer company Brewdog have opened a bar here. D is an avid Brewdog fan and dreams of the day when he can say that he has visited all of their establishments. I am fond of their Punk IPA so am generally happy to accompany him. Although, since they have a bar in Brazil, a country to which I have no desire to travel, his dream may never be fulfilled.

Stirling has a castle - but I am afraid that sticky and grumpy from an extremely close four hours in the car - we baulked at the £30 entrance fee. Instead, we had a wander around the pretty cobbled streets which sit above the town centre, and visited a lovely church in which King James VI of Scotland, who later became King of England, was both christened and crowned.

The first meal of the holiday was, of course, lunch in Brewdog. £5 will get you a decent toastie with salad and sweet potato fries (I could have done without the fries to be honest) and I am still curious as to what part of my subconscious induced me to order veggie haggis - in general, veggie haggis is a concept of which I heartily disapprove. Nevertheless, this was actually quite tasty and provided good ballast for the inevitable glass of beer.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

There will be blogs

On Saturday we will be heading up the M something or other on our way to the town of Sterling.  Yes, it's that time of year where we up sticks and make for Scotland.  I can't wait.

While we are there, D has challenged me to try and blog every day.  I will certainly give it a go, although I can't promise that all the entries will be particularly interesting.  They'll contain plenty of pictures of food and whisky though.

In some ways, this trip will be a bit of a last hurrah before the D word re-rears its ugly head.  Yes, it's been too long since this blog dealt properly with the thorny issue of Diet and the restriction thereof and something needs to change.  Well, someone rather than something.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Recipe corner: Goats' cheese and red pepper bruschetta

This is my brother's thing. I need to make that very clear. He invented, developed and patented this particular bruschetta topping and I, his sister, am merely following in his footsteps. Thank you, D2.

Seriously, doesn't everyone love bruschetta - aka nice things on toast? I assume that they're an Italian thing, although I always use French bread to make them. Why is that? Also, what is the difference between a bruschetta and a crostini? Answers on a postcard.

If you are short on time, or lacking enthusiasm for being in the kitchen when the sun is shining, then use the ready roast peppers that come in jars. No one will tell.


1small baguette (you could make your own using my recipe here) cut into 12 slices
Tsp olive oil

1 large red pepper
75g soft goats' cheese
Tsp runny honey 
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and black pepper

Makes 12 bruschetta

Preheat the grill.

Cut the pepper in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and pithy bits. Place skin side up on a baking sheet and then put under the hot grill. Cook until the skin is black and blistered all over: 5-10 mins depending on the strength of your grill.

Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with cling film. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes or so after which time it should be a relatively easy job to slip off the blackened skins.

Place the goats' cheese in a bowl and give it a brisk stir to loosen.

Roughly mincethe slippery pepper flesh and add to the cheese along with the honey, oregano and seasoning to taste - personally, I think this calls for a lot of black pepper. This topping can be prepared well in advance.

To assemble the bruschetta - brush the slices of baguette with oil and toast under a hot grill for a couple of minutes on each side until golden. Top with the red pepper and cheese mixture and return briefly to the grill to blister the top.

Serve with a long, cool drink.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A summer barbecue

Oh, reader, I don't know whether it is the slightly oppressive heat or the fact that I am now on a mere nine day countdown to our holibobs but I am so TIRED. I am not one of nature's naturally energetic creatures. Long have my family suspected that my spirit animal is a sloth. But at the moment, I feel like I am crawling through my days.

Soon, we will be in Scotland and there will be bracing Scottish air and lie ins and seafood and whisky and, bestest of all, no work (apart from the studying that I need to take with me which I am choosing to ignore while in the midst of my bucolic daydreams). Only nine days, reader, only nine days. Surely it is doable, even for a full on human sloth?

In an effort to soothe our jaded selves, and also because we were promised sunshine, we decided to barbecue last weekend. Said sunshine didn't really materialise but, because we are British, we were undeterred.

We were potentially slightly ambitious, since I seemed to spend most of the day pottering about the kitchen but the results were all kind of lovely. And I do think that it's nice to think beyond burgers and sausages when it comes to barbecuing, much as I love burgers and sausages. Some of the dishes were inspired (or shamelessly stolen, depending on your point of view) by what we had eaten the week before at my brother's, including a lovely bruschetta recipe that I will post later this week.

So, all washed down by turbo Pimms, we start with king prawns, which had bathed all day in two teaspoons of oil (one of plain rapeseed, one of chilli infused) the juice and zest of half a lemon, a fat garlic clove, salt, pepper and a pinch of chilli flakes. A perfect match of zing and smoke.

Then lamb cutlets, again, marinaded all day. To make the marinade, D combined a tablespoon of olive oil with two tablespoons of runny honey, two tablespoons of pomegranate molasses and the juice and zest of a lemon, before adding a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, salt, oodles of black pepper and a decent handful of chopped fresh mint. The results were stunning - a really well balanced hit of sweet, sour and warming spice with the mint adding freshness right at the end. I would highly recommend giving these a go even if you end up cooking them indoors.

On the side we had humous drizzled with harissa, onions that had been caramelised for an age so that they were on the point of melting into a memory of sweetness. We also made flatbreads to this recipe and cooked them over the hot coals which was revelatory - who knew smoked bread could taste so good?

Have you been having any barbecue adventures this summer? Do share; you never know, I might rouse myself from my lethargy long enough to steal your ideas as well.

Monday, 15 August 2016

MPM: 15th August 2016

I have reached the conclusion that our freezer is actually bottomless. How else could we have managed to jam quite so much produce into its three shelves. We're desperate to defrost the bugger but we just keep unearthing stuff that needs eating - or should that be un-icing?

The meal plan this week, therefore, is brought to you courtesy of "Let's try and be creative with the random ingredients that we have discovered and get the bloody freezer empty in time to defrost it before we go on holiday in a fortnight." Some of the dishes are rather wintry considering that we are in the (admittedly less than dizzying) height of summer but what care we for seasonality in the circumstances?

Monday: peppered mackerel fish cakes, salad, minty yoghurt dressing

Tuesday: Osso bucco, saffron risotto

Wednesday: courgette (they're from the garden rather than the freezer), bacon and goats' cheese pasta

Thursday: mussel paella

Friday: Thai red curry

Saturday: oxtail braised in chorizo and red wine, fried potatoes

Sunday: fish pie

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

London foodie adventures

It already feels like a lifetime ago (two days back in the office will do that to you) but we headed down to London at the end of last week to catch up with friends and family and, of course, to do some eating.

We spend much of the year reading articles about all the wonderful places opening up in London and suffering serious food envy as a result. So when we're there we try and fit plenty in which is neither good for wallets nor waistlines but balm for the soul.

First stop on Friday morning was Borough Market which we both adore. Already, before 10am, the air was rich with smells and we must have looked like the Bisto kids as we wandered round led by our twitching little noses. But I was on a mission on this occasion and that was to try a Bread Ahead doughnut. The Standard included them in their round up of the best doughnuts in town with, I suspect, excellent reason. We both sampled the creme caramel flavour with salted honeycomb and it was so yummy that a) I had no compunction getting my face covered in sugar and custard while out in public and b) I didn't take a photo because I was too busy making inappropriate noises. Accompanied by a coffee from Monmouth (totally worth the queue) and a shaft of August sunshine, this was a very pleasing way to start the day.

D has been wanting to visit Bone Daddies, a hipster ramen joint in Soho, for ages and this time we finally made it. I am never particularly convinced by the idea of ramen - I like noodles and I like soup but not necessarily together. But I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. I went for kimchi ramen which came topped with fat prawns in a spicy-sour broth that was lurid with chilli.

Fortunately, they provide plastic bibs because this stuff went EVERYWHERE. We also shared a portion of Korean fried chicken wings - which in retrospect may have been a mistake given that we rolled rather than walked out of there. They were very tasty though - again, a real sour note in with the heat which is a flavour profile that I find very appealing.

Our final stop of the day (after plenty of walking around to work off those noodles) was actually a revisit - Burger and Lobster. This is one group who have tried to branch out further afield than London but with limited success which is a shame because we really like it. The menu is simple - lobster, burger, lobster and burger or lobster roll all with fries and salad and an amazingly addictive garlicky buttery creamy sauce that I would quite happily sup through a straw.

I am not a lobster roll expert, so maybe their version wouldn't hold up in the heartlands of New England, but I love it. The roll is sweet, buttery brioche, the lobster meat is blushing and juicy and then you have the sauce for dipping - sheer heaven. If they ever decide to try a branch in Leeds (assuming their experience in Manchester hasn't put them off) I promise to do my very best to keep them in business.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Recipe corner: Super quick, no yeast flatbreads

Happy Yorkshire Day! I should really be sharing some pictures of sheep strewn dales to mark the occasion, but instead, I am going to talk about one of West Yorkshire's most venerable food institutions.  Curry.

I love a good curry.  I'm not really fussy, although I tend to avoid anything so spicy that it will completely numb the palate - spice should enhance, not kill, flavour (I also do not think that eating should be some sort of endurance test). However, a nice, well flavoured curry with a kick of chilli heat is a thing of absolute beauty.

So let's talk sides, because, in general, I would quite happily forego rice completely if I've got some chapati or similar to use as an accompaniment.  And you know how sometimes you are having curry for dinner and it gets to about an hour beforehand and you realise that you've completely forgotten to provide said bread?  This, my friends, is the recipe for you.  It doesn't have any yeast in it so it doesn't require proving (and thus additional preparation time), it is easy and quick, uses ingredients that you'll probably have in anyway, and it produces a really tasty flatbread.  Perfect for scooping purposes.

NB: These also make excellent alternatives to a tortilla wrap, being quite robust.  This little beauty is stuffed with leftover tandoori chicken and coriander rice, with aubergine pickle, raita and shredded lettuce - almost like an Indian spiced burrito.


150g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
25g butter
90ml skimmed milk
Vegetable oil (for cooking)

Makes 2 largeish flatbreads

Melt the butter into the milk - you could do this in a pan but, to be honest, it;s probably easier to do it in a microwave proof jug.  Give it a few short blasts so that the butter is just melted and the liquid is not too hot.

Measure out the flour, add salt to taste and then bit by bit, pour the liquid in to the flour and combine.  The easiest way to do this is to make your hand into a claw shape and use it to gently bring everything together.  You may not need all the liquid to create the soft but not too sticky dough.

Sprinkle the worktop with flour, tip out the dough and knead lightly for a couple of minutes until smooth.  Then wrap in clingfilm and set aside for around 30 minutes.  I find that keeping it in the fridge at this stage makes it easier to handle when you are rolling it out.

When it is time to cook, get a large frying pan on the hob.  While it is heating, divide the dough in two and, on a floured work surface, roll out into a round flatbread shape, about half a centimetre thick.

Brush the surface of the pan with oil (I use a silicon pastry brush for this job) and then whack in the first of your flatbreads.  Cook for about a minute and a half on one side and then flip over and do the same on the other.  The dough will start to bubble slightly and acquire golden brown spots like so:

Repeat with the other piece of dough.

Serve with curry and a smug expression.