Showing posts with label Feature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Feature. Show all posts

Scrumptious Scran’s November 2017 Monthly Foodie Update

Vintage Vibes Cosy Cupcake
Delicious Vintage Vibes Cosy Cupcakes, raising funds for a good cause.
Late autumn is always a busy time of the year for food and drink-related activity, as we zip towards the festive season, and there's been a lot going on in Edinburgh of late.  So here's a wee monthly update of what's new and what's happening that might be of interest to foodies in and around Scotland's capital.

Edinburgh Craft Beer Revolution Festival returns

There is no denying that there has been a revolution - see what I did there?! - or some might even say an explosion in craft beer production and consumption in the UK over the past decade.  Reversing years of brewery consolidation, in 2016 alone some 300 new breweries opened, taking the total to over 2000.

Personally speaking, I think this is thing of wonder.  So if, like me, you are a lover of craft beer too you will certainly be delighted to hear that Edinburgh's celebration of artisan ales that is the Craft Beer Revolution festival is returning for another year.  Taking over the Assembly Roxy from 23 to 25 November, the festival features 60 beers on tap originating not only from Scotland - such as the lovely ales produced by the likes of Alchemy, Pilot, and Fierce Beer - but brews from Wales, Ireland and across Europe, such as the terrific, Berlin-based Stone Brewing.
 
For those not keen on beer - I mean, really! - there is also a range of ciders, wines and cocktails to sample, as well as scrumptious selection of street food to ensure the stomachs of those supping are thoroughly lined. What's not to like, frankly?

Loco Diablo’s new arrival and changing menus at La Favorita

Sometimes the changing seasons are mirrored by a revision in the culinary landscape.  This is certainly true of Edinburgh at present.  As the weather turns chilly, chilli also arrives on the menu in the capital's Southside.  For what used to be the real ale combined with BBQ - though not in the same glass, obviously - joint that was Clerk's Bar has metamorphosed into a tequileria that is now Diablo Loco.
 
Mexican food and drink seems to be very much in vogue at the moment, and according to the publicity it would seem that Diablo Loco doesn't disappoint in this respect, boasting a myriad of tequilas and mezcals.  These assumingly get incorporated into the intriguing selection of Margaritas on offer, ranging from those flavoured with smoked paprika to ones featuring pineapple and cardamom, which sounds delicious.  A concise menu of traditional classic Mexican dishes and street food is also on offer, to ensure all that tequila doesn't result in punters becoming too 'loco'.  I hope to visit soon!

All too often Friday nights in Scrumptious Scran Villas follow a familiar script.  Me: "I know I said I would cook tonight, but it's been a frenetic week at work, and all the ingredients will keep until tomorrow night."  JML: "You want a La Favorita, don't you?"  Me: "Am I that transparent?"  JML: "Yes… do you want your usual?"

Except, things have become a bit 'unusual' when it comes to our favourite purveyors of Italian scran - whether takeaway or dining at La Favortia's smashing sit in restaurant on Leith Walk. So I was gutted to have recently been invited to the launch of the restaurant's new menu, only to be unable to attend as a result of work commitments.  La Favorita’s new offering focuses on 'the best pizza in Scotland' as well as including a new range of pasta and vegan dishes.  Fear not if you want to learn more however, as even if I wasn't able to try the new menu in person, top notch Scottish food bloggers Boys Eat Scotland were, and you can read their excellent assessment of the new menu here.

Cupcakes supporting a festive Vintage Vibe

The festive season is nearly upon us once again. Yet did you know at this time of supposed coming together Edinburgh is the loneliest city in the UK for people over 60, with 11,000 being always alone and two in five only having their TV for company this Christmas period?

Vintage Vibes is a city-wide Edinburgh project that sets out to tackle such loneliness amongst senior members of our society by inviting folk to reconnect VIPs (lonely over 60s) who are isolated with their communities by sending them Vintage Vibes Christmas cards.  This smashing initiative is being supported by Cuckoo’s Bakery not only through stocking said cards in their Dundas Street and Bruntsfield Place branches, but through also producing a dedicated 'Vintage Vibes Cosy Cupcake', which will directly raise funds for the charity.  Scoff a cupcake, send a card, help re-connect our communities. Food, friendship, festivities. It’s good to share!

Let the festivities begin – Foodie frolics at Edinburgh’s festivals

Lobster ice cream and roasted cockroach.
Lobster ice cream and roasted cockroach, anyone? (edfoodfest).
The sound of torrential rain clattering off the roofs of Edinburgh in late July can only mean one thing.  Yes, it must nearly be Edinburgh’s festival season again…  Yet seriously, I hope we have a modicum of good weather during late July and August, because as well as the world’s greatest arts extravaganza making camp in Scotland’s capital there are also some very alluring food and drink-focused activities and events taking place during the festival period…

Culinary debates and celebrations at Edinburgh Food Festival (Assembly, George Square)

Located at the famed Edinburgh Fringe hub that is George Square, Assembly’s acclaimed (and free to enter) Edinburgh Food Festival makes a welcome return for a third year.  Unlike some other food festivals, this initiative isn’t just about tasting tempting morsels and drams, although there are plenty of those to be had too. It also features a range of engaging and thought provoking events that encourage visitors to devote some consideration to what they are consuming, and why/how they are doing this.  Highlights from amongst the varied programme include:
  • Eating insects: buzzy, buggy or grubby?  – Entomophagy - that’s the human use of insects as a food source, to you and me - has become very much in focus in recent years, as this animal group has been hailed as a cheap and readily available source of protein.  Millions of people across the globe regularly eat insects, but they barely make an appearance in western diets.  So can they really be the food of the future, or are they just too terrifying to be tasty? (Saturday the 29th of July in the Piccolo tent).
  • Hipsters and Hobos: Urban Foraging – Certain high end eateries such as Denmark’s – temporarily defunct – Noma, together with TV cooks such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, have shone a spotlight on how gathering ingredients from the wild – as opposed to the aisles – can result in some superb dishes.  Yet you don’t necessarily need to the trek to the countryside to forage interesting and nutritious additions to your cooking, as this event demonstrates. (Saturday 29 July).
  • Jannettas Gelateria – Back in the day ice cream was, well, a little bit predictable. Sure, it’s nice to nibble on a rum and raisin cone, or spoon up a tub of raspberry ripple. But maybe you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted parmesan and Vegemite gelato, as I find out on a recent trip to Australia.  So if you favour savoury over sweet why not join these leading ice cream makers as they demonstrate how umami-laden ingredients are pushing the boundaries of frozen foodstuffs. (Thursday 27 July).
  • The Great Gin Debate: Part II  – Over the last few years artisanal Scottish gin distilleries seem to have sprung up like thistles on a sunny brae.  However, are these iconic new Scottish gin brands all they appear, and indeed are some of them even really “Scottish” at all? Find out as gin experts, brand owners, and distillers debate what makes our gin truly Caledonian (Friday 28 July).
And if all that chatter about food and drink makes you hungry and thirsty the festival offers a super array of stalls, serving the likes of “raw soda” on draft, (as well as prosecco for the more mature consumers), spicy Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, and the best of Scottish seafood, to identify but a very few.

Checking out Checkpoint’s new cocktails (Bristo Place)


Draft prosecco van - Edinburgh Food Festival.
Draft prosecco on wheels - what's not to like?!
Here at Scrumptious Scran Villas we love a nice cocktail – innocent or alcoholic. Well, mostly alcoholic, to be quite frank.  So I was naturally intrigued to receive an email informing me that Checkpoint was putting together a special cocktail menu to mark this year’s festival happenings. Situated an ice cube’s throw from the Fringe nexus that is Bristo Square, this airy and laid back, yet trendy, restaurant and bar – think Berlin via Brooklyn – has a really nice vibe to it, which might explain why The Times has named it one of the '25 coolest restaurants in Britain'.

Whilst still featuring classics such as an Espresso Martini and Negroni (one of my personal favourites) their new menu also celebrates festival time with a batch of specially created offerings designed to provide something a bit surprising and unique in terms of flavour profile.  Notable amongst the 18 drinks featured on the list are:
  • Smoke In The Grass - Zubrowka Bison grass vodka, smoked chai syrup, yellow chartreuse, Peychaud’s bitters, lemon juice, soda
  • Red Eye - Absolut Vodka, tomato juice, beer and a whole egg
  • Grow A Pear - Tequila Blanco, pear & black pepper syrup & lemon
And if the 'Red Eye' sounds a bit too much like a hangover kill rather than cure, as part of their 'day break' menu Checkpoint also offers three inviting variations on the classic Bloody Mary, based on either vodka, gin or mescal. When hanging at the bar do say "Heavy on the smoked chai syrup in my Smoke In The Grass, thanks". Do not say "Hey, I’d love a Babycham"…

Toasted Radish – "'Come, Watson, come!' he cried. 'The game is afoot....'"

Festival time in Edinburgh is not merely about drama, music and comedy, oh no. As part of the season’s multifaceted artistic offering the city also host’s the world’s largest literary event in the form of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  Perhaps somewhat fitting then that Toasted Radish supper club is paying homage to one of Scotland’s literary legends that is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a Sherlock Holmes-inspired event taking place in Edinburgh New Town’s historic Arthur Conan Doyle Centre.

Hosted in such a grandiose setting, it isn’t only the architecture that seems set to impress, as the evening’s food is being billed as being "worthy of a crime fiction heavyweight".  And given Toasted Radish’s ethos of using, wherever possible, ingredients sourced within thirty miles of Edinburgh, as well as ensuring meat and vegetables are organic and fish responsibly sourced, all clues suggest this has the potential makings of a highly enjoyable culinary thriller. (Arthur Conan Doyle Centre, 12 August 2017).

If you have any other foodie or drinkie (is there even such a term?) highlights associated with the Edinburgh festival season let us know and we may let our readers know about them too.

Borough Market – Love food, feed love

Borough Market Bread
Borough Market bread.
When writing about food I don't tend to be overtly political, unless there is something directly important to say that's relevant to the politics of food itself. Sometimes though, food, drink, and the enjoyment of these can be overtaken by events that are ‘political’ in the very broadest sense. Events that simply cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

On Saturday 3 June 2017, My partner JML and I spent a blissful few hours wandering around Borough Market.  It’s a place we almost invariably make time for whenever we travel from Scotland to visit London. I even remember it from when I worked in the metropolis in the late 1980s, when it was still one of the capital's main wholesale fruit and veg markets, but experiencing decline and under threat of closure and demolition. It remains important as a wholesale venue even now. Yet it has transformed itself so that many people – and especially those of us considered to be ‘foodies’ – would now certainly equate Borough Market as being one of the best places in the UK to sample an almost incomprehensibly wide range of fine food and ingredients drawn and inspired from across the globe.

That Saturday morning and afternoon, wandering Borough Market we encountered Spanish and Croatian delicatessen delights, charcuterie and cheese from France and Italy, casseroles from Ethiopia, Pakistani spiced lamb, and mezze from Turkey.  There was the best range of dried Mexican chilies – all beautifully described – that you could hope to encounter, well, outside Mexico. There was coffee so good that people were prepared to queue for over 20 minutes, just for a flat white.  And possibly somewhat unusually for London, whilst they were waiting folk were chatting; not just to those they knew, but to other random, fleeting acquaintances with a similar and shared passion for food and drink.

And that’s what food and drink does. It’s a universal leveller, a shared language. We all have to eat. The gastronomic dialect might vary a bit, but that is what makes it so joyous. As a child, I remember encountering the exoticism of lasagne for the first time, the acid unfamiliarity of limes, the alluring alieness of fresh chill. Effectively all new terms in my gastronomic vocabulary. And I now realise that what I was experiencing was a sort of culinary conversation, an exchange of food driven-passion and ideas. I think it's something practically everyone experiences one way or another, and it's a dialogue that reaches beyond single cultures and nations. Why else would we Brits be lovingly referred to as “Le Roast Beef” in France if it wasn’t for an understanding of, and passion for, food?

Borough Market has grown from its ancient, wholesale, origins to become something that superbly nourishes and facilitates this wider culinary conversation. It brings together Londoners of all types and backgrounds, draws in people from across the rest of the UK - frequently including we two lads from Scotland, and also attracts umpteenth visitors from across the world. At every stall, shop, bar and restaurant that now resides there, each enjoyed by a superbly diverse clientele, you can hear the flavoursome chatter, both actual and metaphoric, that constitutes this gastronomic conversation.

On Saturday 3 June, just a few hours after our visit, people with a dreadfully warped sense of humanity purposely chose to try and silence this culinary conversation, with horrific consequences. Understandably the stalls, shops, bars and restaurants of Borough Market have been forced to pause for breath. Rightly, there is a need to contemplate what has happened in this usually exuberant part of South London, and the reasons why anyone would seek to so brutally curtail, even to try to temporarily destroy, what folk across the planet have and do in common - they come together to bond over shared food and drink. Yet it is a pause.

For this joyous cacophony of gastronomic voices that are harmonised by Borough Market, and a multitude of similar venues globally, will never fall silent. The people who run and frequent the place have a common, passionate language when it comes to food. It is a universal tongue. Wandering around the railway arches of Southwark that Saturday, it could be heard everywhere, yet I didn’t need a translator to work out what was being said. I only needed to look at what everyone’s faces so clearly exhibited. The message they conveyed was clear:

‘Love food, feed love.’

Savour - a new Edinburgh culinary festival worth - well - savouring...

[Other committments have meant posts on Scrumptious Scran have been a bit scant of late. Apologies, as normal service is about to be resumed.]


Busy Savour food festival Edinburgh.
Cullinary action-packed Savour festival.
I do like a good food festival, hence – as I mentioned in my last post – my excitement at attending the recent Savour festival in Edinburgh. So did the festival warrant my enthusiasm? Well, initial signs were promising, given that JML and I were issued with our own sets of cutlery and a wine glass each, as soon as we stepped through the entrance of Summerhall. Guided up the labyrinthine venue’s stairs, we emerged in to the bustling part of the venue that housed Savour's "Main Course" area.

It was immediately apparent that this wasn't going to be a bog-standard food event. Summerhall's Dissection Room (don't fear, this was once a veterinary school) resembled a cross between a continental market and a banquet, with a plethora of inviting stalls positioned around the periphery that were, quite literally, feeding the rows of tables occupying the centre of this cavernous space. The premise was straightforward: peruse a stall; select your food or drink of choice; find a seat, consume and contemplate. So what proved a hit with our collective palettes?

Belgian beer tasting - Supping heavenly Heverlee and other "devilishly" good brews at the Devil's Advocate

Bottles of Belgium beer for tasting.
Some brilliant Belgian beers.
Fancy tasting some top Belgian beers? Oh, and the tasting is guided by a highly accomplished Belgian brewer. A brewer who used to work in Scotland. And he's also the chap behind a new, and truly splendid, interpretation of a Belgian abbey-produced lager. To be honest, accepting such a proposition presents little in the way of cerebral challenge (the expression "it's a no brainer" is one I hate).

So last week I, together with a clutch of other food writers, assembled at Edinburgh's The Devil's Advocate bar to share the pleasure of supping some of the finest beers Belgium has to offer. We were guided in this venture by Joris Brams - a Belgian brewer who is the creative genius behind Heverlee, a fantastic lager available at selected venues across Scotland.

The story of how Heverlee came about is as engaging as the beer itself. Involving an ancient abbey, monastic advice, and brewing forensics, it could almost form the plot of a best seller. In brief, Brams has managed to recreate a "lost" beer that was once brewed during the Middle Ages by the monks who inhabited the Belgian town of Heverlee's Abbey of the Order of Premontre. I, for one, am very glad this once Scottish-based brew-meister has gone to so much trouble. But more on Heverlee in a wee while.

It is evident that Brams is a man who is passionate about brewing, and the beer of Belgium in particular. So it was a pleasure to hear him wax lyrical about the qualities of six of his favourite brews that hail from his homeland. Here is what we sampled, and what I learned.

Happy Birthday Scrumptious Scran, or what I have learned in my first year of food blogging

A birthday cake with candle
Happy foodie birthday.
Unbelievably, well for me at least, tomorrow will mark the first birthday of Scrumptious Scran. It is a cliché I know, but it simultaneously seems like five minutes since, and an age from when I decided to try my hand at food blogging. So, to mark this, personally sweet, anniversary I thought I would share a few things I have learned during my first year as a food blogger:

  • I am still learning. I’ve been reviewing restaurants, devising recipes (for print) and writing about food and drink stuff in general for 12 months. Yet I still feel like I am finding my feet – or my “voice” as it is often referred to. Being the columnist, sub, and editor combined can be tricky. But I think it’s going in the right direction. Blogging is brilliant, but sometimes it is challenging.
  • I’ve met some fantastic people; fellow food bloggers, writers, producers, chefs, campaigners, activists… It’s inspiring how many people share my passion for all things culinary, on every level. I simply didn’t have the confidence to interact with them in the same way, until I started writing about food on the blog.
  • Always be fair and honest in what you write. Enthusiasm and disappointment make for great copy in equal measure, but they are dishes that need to be served cold. Allow a couple of days of cooling off, or warming up, before you decide to publish that review or recipe. Oh, and if you have eaten somewhere for free – often at the behest of PR agencies – make sure you tell your audience. It should never influence opinion, of course, but always be up front about a freebie.
  • Food photography is hard work. Even with swish smart phones and digital SLRs, food pictures might not do justice to the dish. Food bloggers increasingly get sucked into what is described as “food porn”. I, too, like taking and sharing great pictures of what I eat. Sometimes in Scotland, in the middle of winter, these aren't always as pretty as I would wish… 
  • If you are passionate about food, use social media to find likeminded folk. Used properly, it is the best blether about food and drink you could wish for. By way of example, a tweet from a fellow foodie last week led me to the most amazing coffee I have had in an age. Ideas fly and news spreads. And – this might sound a bit trite – sometimes you even get to have a chat with some true food heroes and heroines.
  • Thanks to everyone I have met, compared foodie thoughts with, and who have taught me so much over the last year. But above all, thank you to everyone who has taken time to read Scrumptious Scran. I am genuinely honoured.
 (Thanks to Ardfern for allowing the use of the lovely birthday cake photo).

Feature article: Gastrofest – an intriguing recipe for mixing food and science

Growing plants in tubes
Seeds, science, food?
I’ve always thought that cooking is as much about science as it about art. Of course, there is an art to being a great cook or chef. But there is also a sort of alchemy in making seemingly diverse or divergent ingredients work together. And there is most definitely a lot of science involved in bringing those ingredients to market and our tables. We might not always recognise it but such science is – to be frank – everywhere. Those anchovies adorning your pizza, why does the tinned variety taste different to the ones from the deli counter, and how do they still remain edible even after months in the tin? Oh, and the tomatoes making up the pizza sauce. What variety is used, and how did it come about? I think you are getting the picture.

Given my interest in the science of food I’m delighted to learn that this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival – the world’s foremost annual celebration of all things scientific – features a fascinating strand billed as Gastrofest. This mini festival of the science of food and drink brings forth an innovative series of events that will explore the centrality of science to our culinary experience. Topics under consideration at Gastrofest include: why some food and drink combinations are delightful whilst others are disastrous; how molecular science is now influencing the world of cocktail making, to produce greater intensities and varieties of flavours; and a series of discussions examining subjects such as food security and whether eating healthy costs more.

Given how important 2014 is to Scotland, one event in the Gastrofest is particularly intriguing. Feast of the Commonwealth will mark 100 days until the Glasgow Commonwealth Games by celebrating the role that food can have in bringing nations together – and in particular the exchange of culinary cultures between Commonwealth Countries – as well as the innovative role played by Scottish scientists in global food research. Taking place at Our Dynamic Earth on Friday 11 April, not only will Feast of Commonwealth feature a globally-inspired gala dinner devised and prepared by the likes of Café St Honore’s award-winning Chef/patron, Neil Forbes, but it will also allow diners to learn the intriguing scientific facts about how some of the menu’s ingredients made it to onto their plates. There’s something pretty alluring about such scientifically-inspired scoffing.

I certainly think it is a case of [chefs’] hats off to Edinburgh International Science Festival for developing a strand of their programme that marries the world of science and food so inventively. And as a scientific foodie, I’d be delighted if Gastrofest became and annual fixture.

Feature Article: A life of brine… or how I made a great bird fantastic

brine in a bucket ready for the turkey
A fine brine, ready to work its magic.
I’ve become somewhat obsessed with salt. Now before the health police bang me to rights over daring to start a food blog article with such a provocative statement, I should point out that this is a positive thing as far as my cooking is concerned. You see, I haven’t become fixated with over seasoning my meals, far from it. However, I have discovered the age-old techniques of preserving food – and potentially enhancing the way it cooks – that are salting and brining.

A wee while ago on Scrumptious Scran I mentioned how – inspired by Tim Hayward’s excellent Food DIY – I decided to attempt producing my own salt fish – salted coley, to be precise. The process was both straight forward – merely involving parcelling the soft fillets in sea salt – and fascinating, as the liquid was sucked from the flesh turning it stiff and dry. And when ready to cook with the salt fish all that is to be done is to rehydrate them in a few changes of fresh water for 24 hours or so. I can testify that when incorporated in croquetas the salt fish was delicious, with deep seafood flavour that wasn’t salty at all.

home cured salt fish on a plate
Delicious, home-made salt fish.
And that delicate, yet significant, flavour change is something key. Certainly the primary function of salting food is to preserve it, which is why the process was so popular in the days before refrigeration. But the way salt interacts with meat, fish, and even vegetables can also enhance the taste and texture of the foodstuff. I shall spare you the detailed chemistry lesson, but basically salt reacts with the proteins in the foodstuff to subtly change their structure. This can ultimately transform the tenderness and succulence of your salted food of choice, in addition to how it tastes. Treating food with salt is certainly not a dry subject though, oh no. I am talking brine.

I first became properly aware of soaking food in salty liquid – which is basically what brining involves – when I got my hands on Jane Grigson’s inspiring book, Good Things (to Eat). Although originally published in the early 1970’s the passion for great British ingredients and culinary traditions expressed in this work are still current today. And it features a whole chapter on salting meat, including Grigson’s own recipe for brine, which basically consists of equal parts of sea salt and brown sugar dissolved in water. Yet interestingly, it also features the addition of aromatics – such as bay leaves, juniper berries, and peppercorns – which impart subtle notes of flavour to the meat that is soaked and preserved in the liquid.

Now we are in the depths of January the festive season might seem just a distant memory, but the Christmas just past provided an opportunity to dip my toe into the pond of brining. Turkey is the festive bird of choice at Scrumptious Scran Towers, primarily because my father-in-law is pretty traditional when it comes to Christmas dinner. I always try and get the best quality turkey available – bronze of feather, free-range, organic, probably called Horatio or something similar – to ensure two things: that the meat actually tastes of something; and that it isn’t dry. Choosing top quality usually delivers. But having witnessed a festive TV programme where Nigella waxed lyrical about brining one’s turkey for 24 hours before cooking, I wondered if this could make an already great fowl even more tender and flavoursome, as La Lawson claims.

Feature Article: A brilliant Berlin culinary odyssey


Brilliant Berlin beer.
Things have been a bit quiet on Scrumptious Scran of late, for which I must apologise. Don’t worry; I haven’t suddenly lost my enthusiasm for food and drink – quite the reverse. It’s just that recently I have had to prioritise starting a new job and celebrating my other half’s 40th birthday, over writing culinary copy. Fortunately though, part of JML’s birthday celebrations involved a trip to Berlin. This has provided an opportunity to compose the first Scrumptious Scran Odyssey article, giving an insight into some of our favourite dining and quaffing experiences in this wonderful city.

Not having visited Berlin before I must admit that we weren’t entirely certain what to expect, in culinary terms. Like any large city, Berlin has a diverse range of restaurant cultures – with Italian appearing to be a particular favourite – but for this visit I was keen to hone in on food that was typical of Berlin or Germany.

Our base was central Berlin’s “Mitte” district, a stone’s throw away from the former Checkpoint Charlie, one of few official crossing points between the former communist East and capitalist West sectors of the city. Our hotel – Gat Point Charlie – was great and very boutique-esque, even though the surrounding area was slightly underwhelming; it’s Berlin’s commercial and government hub being mostly populated by modern multi-stories. However, wander a little and it is possible to find a Germanic culinary gem, such as Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt – a cavernous eatery that serves traditional Bavarian fare and excellent beer. Be warned, however, so popular is this place that at peak times it is neigh on impossible to secure a dining table, meaning that we had to be content with sitting outside (it being a balmy October evening) whilst consuming a couple of glasses of “hell”.

And I should also point out that when strolling round Berlin's Mitte district, anyone with a sweet tooth should be sure to call into Fassbender & Rausch - reportedly the world's largest chocolaterie. Not only does its three floors offer 200 varieties of chocolate, it also features a chocolate volcano and a architecturally accurate model of the Bundestag - made from chocolate.



Cracking currywurst.
Checking out Berlin’s “Museum Island” and surrounding environs provided an opportunity to sample two things I love: sausages and micro-brewed beer. The former came courtesy of Oranium, located in the “Scheunenviertel” or “barn quarter”; an old neighbourhood that found itself on the eastern side of the infamous wall – here’s a hint, if you see a tram you are in former East Berlin… Having perused the menu, I just had to try the Würstchen Trilogie - Berliner Currywurst, Thüringer Rostbratwurst and Nürnberger sausages skewered with leek, onions, and capsicum, served with yellow and red curry dip. Each variety of porky morsel was delicious, even if some flavours were slightly unexpected. I’d heard that Berliners are mad for currywurst – a curry-infused banger. Maybe I was expecting a casein-coated balti, but the spice mix was more akin in its flavour to the sort of curry sauce served by Chinese takeaways – flavoursome yet unusual. For tip-top beer we ventured just south of Alexanderplatz to Brauhaus Georgbraeu. Located in the shadow of the city’s imposing Television Tower, not only are their superb pilsners brewed on the pub’s premises – try the dark lager with its great malty flavour – but these can be enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the River Spree.

Feature Article: Bakers, get fundraising! Supporting The Great Pink Bake Off

Neil Forbes and Mark Greenaway.
Chefs Mark Greenaway & Neil Forbes get baking.
It would appear the whole of the UK is baking mad – well those bits of the UK fixated by food, at least. It’s impossible to open a food magazine these days without finding their pages filled with drool-inducing photos of exquisite patisserie, and recipes that allow you to recreate this confectionary in your very own kitchen. But it’s not only cakes, oh no. Tips on starting a sourdough culture, or kneading bread until the gluten is perfectly stretched are all over popular food blogs, too.

Personally, I blame Mary Berry (no relation). Well not just her but that Paul Holywood, too. And whilst I am at it… j’accuse Mel Giedroyce and Sue Perkins! I speak, of course of the phenomenon that is The Great British Bake Off, which I’m actually pleased to admit has made a form of cooking that was falling out of fashion very much in vogue once again.

Now, as I have posted here previously, I’m not an intuitive baker. It scares me a bit, to be honest. But this month I shall be donning my pinnie and flouring my rolling pin for a very good cause. And I hope, dear reader, that you might join me in participating in The Great Pink Bake Off – a new fundraising initiative to help support the battle against breast cancer.

Feature Article: Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight – celebrating Scotland’s fabulous larder

Scottish Food Fortnight Logo.
I have a soft spot for September. It marks the start of autumn – surprisingly, my favourite season. The weather in Scotland at this time of year can be glorious – if a little chilly – with clear skies producing a beautiful quality of light. And September also signals an abundance of great food. Many fruit and vegetables - brambles, apples, squash, leeks etc. - become ripe for the harvest, and game – such as pheasant – comes into season.

It’s appropriate then that September is the month when two weeks are given over to celebrating all that is great in terms of Scotland’s culinary produce, in the form of Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight. First established in 2009, this year’s Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight runs until 22 September and features nearly 230 events across Scotland. It brings producers, retailers and the public together in a range of activities that explore some of our nation’s familiar – and less familiar – culinary traditions and success stories.

Although I’m writing about the fortnight as it draws to a close, there are still a plethora of events taking place between now and Sunday, and to find out what is happening near you there is a handy “Search for an Event” facility available on the initiative's website:

http://www.scottishfoodanddrinkfortnight.co.uk/events/events-2013.

I shall be doing my bit to support Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight by posting about the fantastic spicy chutney I made last week, using some amazingly tasty plums sourced from my friend’s garden (this should be on the blog before the weekend). I’m also planning to cook with some wonderful Scottish game over the weekend, and hopefully the results will good enough to warrant a write up here, too.

Scotland produces some brilliant food and drink. Our lamb and beef are world beating. We grow some incredible fruit and vegetables. Scottish produces superlative, award-winning cheeses. Our seas team with an abundance of wonderful seafood. And we are world renowned for our beer, whisky and gin, as well as some fine non-alcoholic beverages. With all this on offer, it’s only right to be celebrating Scotland’s bountiful larder.

Feature & Recipe - Frying delight: When the chips are down…

Really good looking chips (fries)
Golden, crispy & NO brown sauce!
I have a guilty secret. I’ve been coveting a piece of kitchen kit for a while, one that doesn't always have the best reputation as far as healthy eating is concerned. Last weekend, I finally transformed my latent desire into a tangible possession, with the purchase of my first deep fryer. A bargain in the sales, of course.

Please try not to judge me, being – as I am – someone who is (usually) an exponent of eating healthily and sustainably. I’m not about to recommend we all gorge ourselves on deep-fried Mars bars at every meal. Ideally, deep fried food shouldn't really be at the centre of anyone’s diet.

Yet there are certain recipes that simply cannot be realistically completed without resorting to immersing ingredients into boiling fat (or preferably oil). Not previously being the owner of a deep fryer has meant I have been missing out on cooking such delights as tempura, salt and pepper squid, croquetas, and “proper” chips (fries, to those of you who are west of the Atlantic).

Now before anyone butts in, I know it isn't always necessary to have a dedicated appliance to deep fry food. But heating up oil in a big saucepan on a stove, and trying to guess how hot it is – with potential disastrous consequences – is not for me. Knowing exactly at what temperature you are frying food is really important in ensuring proper cooking, and also limits the degree of oil that will be absorbed. That’s why I am the proud owner of a shiny new frying device that allows fantastic cooking control, thanks to its nice big variable thermostat. So, having removed the packaging and given the components a good wash, my next task was to decide what I was going to fry first.

Sustainable food news: A quick post about Slow Food

A great slow food barley risotto.
A demo of cooking great barley risotto.
A passion about good food that is responsibly produced and sourced.  This is what has inspired me to write about the quality ingredients I buy, cook and eat. I am not alone in this dedication, I know.  Yet sometimes it can be tricky to engage with others who share a similar passion. Accosting  fellow shoppers at a farmers' market to congratulate them on their purchases of organic rhubarb, or a sour dough bloomer risks offending middle-class sensibilities, after all. Of course, I'm parodying the image of those of us with an interest in sustainable food. However, there is definitely a need for a forum that easily allows people to exchange ideas and exuberance about the things they are growing, cooking and eating.

Yesterday I had the pleasure to participate in a great event marking the end of Slow Food Week 2013. For anyone not familiar with the slow food movement, please do have a look at their website. Fundamentally, their ethos is all about food being “good, clean and fair”. It’s an approach that encompasses care and, dare I say, passion – whether this comes from those producing the raw ingredients, or those serving the delicious dishes that are composed from these. What’s more, slow food is also about knowing the exact background of what is being served and eaten.

Let's be honest, anonymous shopping is so easy these days. Swipe, beep, swipe, beep, goes the routine. And off home we go with our bags full of Chilean asparagus, Kenyan beans, and New Zealand hoki (it’s a fish, the stocks of which look increasingly threatened). There is usually no discussion in the generic environment of the supermarket as to the provenance or sustainability of the food we buy – bar the marketing blurb that “reassures” us that produce is “Scottish”, or “English”, or “British” - apart, of course, from when it frequently isn’t any of these things. There’s no real explanation about what’s on offer, other than a passing indication of country of origin, and maybe – if we are lucky – a diminutive name check for the producer. There certainly seems to be little genuine passion from big retailers about the produce filling the supermarkets’ aisles.  But it doesn't have to be like this.

Mull cheese and smoked trout from Belhaven.
Cheese from Mull, smoked trout from Belhaven.
Yesterday, at Edinburgh's Summerhall, knowledge and passion were in abundance. The event featured producers, suppliers and restaurateurs from across Scotland, each with stalls packed with (mostly) locally sourced ingredients and produce. All supporters of the slow food ethos, everyone had a story to tell, and every stall was a bit different. To be honest, such was the enthusiasm of all those involved for what they were doing, there was a danger of being slightly overwhelming - but not in a bad way. To taste such quality produce and hear about the connection those serving it had with what they were offering was inspirational. It was great to experience so much of that genuine buzz in one place, at one time.

Sustainable food news: A brilliant "Pig Idea"

A happy pig.
Out-of-date carrot - nice piggy snack (photo: James Perrin).
It may have escaped your attention, but today is World Environment Day – the annual United Nations-initiated celebration of positive environmental action. Whether we like it or not, food production has a considerable global environmental impact, resulting from energy consumption, habitat destruction, pesticide use, and so on. It’s therefore somewhat disturbing that around one third of all the food produced annually for human consumption – a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes – is either wasted or lost. Cue a new campaign launched to coincide with World Environment Day which sets out to raise awareness of food waste and the role pigs – yes, pigs – can play in addressing this.

The Pig Idea is calling for the many tonnes of food we waste each year in the UK to be put to a more productive use, instead finding its way onto the menu for one of our favourite meat animals – the pig. Initiated by Thomasina Miers – former Masterchef winner, cookery writer and restaurateur – and food waste expert, Tristram Stuart, the campaign is calling for a change in European law to allow for a return to the traditional practice of feeding pigs with waste food. Other high-profile supporters of the initiative – brilliantly describes as “Hambassadors” – include River Cottage supremo Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and BBC Masterchef presenter, John Torode.

The team at The Pig Idea have today started the process of rearing eight pigs at Stepney City Farm, on a healthy menu of food waste collected from around London. From spent brewer’s grains, whey, unsold vegetables and bread, the food that would otherwise have been wasted will be collected and fed to the pigs. The Pig Idea campaign will culminate in a major food event in London's Trafalgar Square in November, when some of the UK's best known chefs will gather to offer thousands of members of the public their favourite pork dishes, using the pork reared by The Pig Idea team. This feast will highlight the current global food waste scandal, and illustrate that the solutions to this can be practical, economical and delicious.

Speaking at the launch of The Pig Idea Tristram Stuart, author and campaigner on food waste, commented:

“Humans have been recycling food waste by feeding it to pigs for thousands of years. Reviving this tradition will help to protect forests that are being chopped down to grow the millions of tonnes of soya we import from South America every year to feed our livestock.”

Thomasina Miers, Chef at Wahaca, the award winning sustainable restaurant, added:

"Cutting down rainforest in the Amazon to grow feed for pigs in Europe makes no sense. Let's save all our delicious food waste and feed it to the pigs. Not only will we be saving the rainforest (and slowing down climate change) but we'll be bringing down the cost of pig feed and pork. Let them eat waste!"

More information on The Pig Idea and how to support the campaign can be found at the initiative’s website – http://www.thepigidea.org.

Thomasina Miers with "Pig Idea" pigs.
Feeding time with Thomasina and Tristram (photo: James Perrin).

Supplier spotlight: Something good in da hood!

"Food in da Hood" food van.
From this van will come great scran.
Good food doesn’t have to cost the earth. Some of the best things I have eaten have been put together using simple, healthy and economic ingredients. When many of us in the UK continue to feel a significant pinch on our finances – thanks to the global economic crash – and the prices of many foodstuffs are rocketing, it’s more important than ever that people have access to nutritious food that is not expensive.

Unfortunately, for far too many people in Scotland there remains a direct link between poor health and a poor diet: three quarters of the population consumes more than the recommended daily level of salt; and less than 25% of Scots consume the recommend five portions of fruit and vegetables each day (more info here). Part of the problem with Scotland’s diet stems from the fact that, whether as a result of time poverty or financial poverty, a significant proportion of the food we consume is pre-prepared and contains high levels of fat, sugar and salt. But things might soon be set to change in the Scottish region of Renfrewshire, thanks to a novel food project.

Food in the Hood is a mobile food initiative that aims to prepare, cook and sell home-style meals at tea time, to communities throughout Renfrewshire, using a converted van. The not-just-for-profit company hopes to take a share of the traditional takeaway market, by offering the same convenient service, but with a better product. Food in the Hood will prepare a menu consisting of favourite dishes – such as steak pie, chilli and vegetable curry – but cooked in the best possible way and using as little salt, fat and sugar as taste allows.

The initiative also intends to do more than just sell great food; it also hopes to change the eating habits of the communities it will serve as well as delivering other benefits. Not only will any profits be invested back into community projects, Food in the Hood is also intending to source much of its produce locally – from individuals, allotments and Renfrewshire organisations – and encourage “people in the community to grow for the community”. And of key importance, the intention is to keep the prices of the meals that are served as affordable as possible in order to ensure everyone can have access to good, healthy food.

Foodie Thoughts: Flavour fiesta - How I fell for Spanish cuisine...

Mercat de La Boqueria.
Mercat de La Boqueria (Filip Maljkovic/Wikimedia)
Anyone reading my previous posts on the Scrumptious Scran blog will gather that I’m a big fan of Mediterranean food, and Spanish cuisine in particular. I can trace my interest in Spanish food back to my first 'proper' visit to Spain in the mid-1990s. The family holiday to the Costa Brava, ten years earlier, though enjoyable didn’t involve the teenage me eating much that could be considered ‘typically’ Spanish, as I recall.

In 1994, my long-time pal David and I visited Barcelona for a few days, staying in a friend of a friend’s delightfully shabby apartment in the city’s El Raval district. This was two years after the Olympics had put Spain’s second city firmly on the map as a tourist destination. Yet the neighbourhoods – 'barris' in Catalan – that constitute Barcelona’s old town – Ciutat Vella – were then nowhere near as gentrified or touristy as they are today. Despite the Olympic boost they remained slightly run down, stoically clinging on to their working-class communities, and even being a wee bit gritty in places.

My abiding memories of this first visit to Barcelona are liberally peppered with the smells and tastes of Spanish food and drink. Of course, I now realise that what I was predominantly sampling was the Catalan contribution to what is a 'national' cuisine that is a mosaic of regional variation and speciality. David and I would spend hours in the glorious October sunshine exploring the maze-like lanes off La Rambla, or the Parisian-esque boulevards of El Eixample, stopping to sample the fiesta of food and drink available round every corner, wherever it took our fancy.

Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia (Bgag/Wikimedia)
For breakfast we would partake of the deceptively simple, yet totally delicious, pan amb tomaquet - slices of freshly-baked baguette, drizzled with grassy-flavoured olive oil and liberally rubbed with garlic and sweet tomato. Lunch, often in a workers’ cantina or neighbourhood bar, might consist of a hearty stew of white beans, butifarra sausage and subtly cooked, fantastically tender tripe. Or maybe we would sample esqueixada - a salad of onions, tomatoes, peppers, red wine vinegar and shredded, rehydrated bacalao (salt cod). And if we were partaking of the ubiquitos ‘menu del dia’ (the amazingly reasonable lunch specials) these mains would be precursed with a starter such as sopa de gamba – shrimp soup – and followed with a dessert of luxurious crema catalana. Such a feast would, of course, be accompanied with a chilled bottle of Catalan red wine, or a glass or two of cerveza negra - a dark, nutty lager.

The culinary wonder of Barcelona wasn’t merely confined to its bars and cafes, however. For me, a visit to Mercat de La Boqueria - Barcelona's largest food market - was an utter revelation. Located half way down La Rambla, it is a cathedral to superb ingredients. Stall after stall was (and still is) piled to the rafters with the most amazing produce: gleamingly fresh arrays of fruit and vegetables; butchers selling a myriad of cuts which encompassed - quite literally - everything from nose to tail; an abundance of fish and shellfish, many of which I struggled to identify despite a background in marine biology; cheeses in all shapes, sizes and intensities, and floating forests of hanging hams; purveyors who entirely dedicated their pitch to wild mushrooms, olives and anchovies, nuts and dried fruits of all varieties, or simply sensational salt cod. And then there was the thrill of dining amongst traders and shoppers in the bustling bars adjacent to the market, sampling great tapas and chilled, dry cava.

Supplier spotlight – Clark Brothers: A delicious kettle of fish…


Clark Bros, Musselburgh.
Clark Bros, Musselburgh.
Of all the ingredients with which I love to both cook and to eat, fish and shellfish have to rate amongst my favourite. The different tastes and textures to be had from the bounty dwelling in our seas, lochs and rivers are immense. And if properly fished or farmed – and increasingly these days, that is a big “if” – fish and shellfish must count amongst the most sustainable and natural food products to be had.

I’m always a little surprised when some people seem to be a bit squeamish about buying and preparing seafood - but then I was a marine biologist in a previous incarnation. Maybe such trepidation has to do with the alien-like form it can exhibit; all tentacles, shells, antennae and/or bulging eyes. Or possibly it is because people struggle to differentiate between what is fresh and what has exceeded its “shelf life”.

For those nervous about preparing seafood there are some great guides available. In terms of ensuing that what you are buying is good, fresh fish and shellfish just turn detective and use your instincts. Do the eyes and skin of the fish look bright and moist as opposed to dull and dry? Lift the flaps around the neck of the fish and inspect the gills – they should be bright red and not greying. If you pick a fish up it should be stiff and not floppy. Does your fish have a sweet, salty “fresh out of the sea” smell as opposed to a strong ammoniacal odour? Similar rules apply to shellfish, and never buy any bivalves – clams, mussels, scallops – that don’t close their shells tightly when tapped.

And whilst not wishing to be dismissive of supermarkets entirely – some have reasonable fish counters – I would recommend buying your aquatic produce somewhere local, independent, and with staff that can hopefully inform you of exactly when and where that monkfish you have your eye on was caught, and that he’s called Burt… Seriously though, a good local fishmonger will be able to tell you which wholesale market each batch of fish or shellfish has originated from, and if the produce is locally derived, or has been sourced from further afield.

Residing in Scotland, I am fortunate to live in one of the best fish and shellfish-producing countries in the world. Scottish coastal waters are bountiful with a great range of seafood. However, in common with many other countries, not all our fisheries – of fish farms – can be considered sustainable, with certain stocks coming under pressure and some production methods resulting in environmental damage. If you want to ensure the fish or shellfish you are buying is sustainable, be sure to visit the Marine Conservation Society’s online Good Fish Guide

Dover sole & turbot.
Dover sole & turbot.
Being Edinburgh-based, I’m lucky to have some great independent fishmongers a beach pebble’s throw away from where I live. One of my favourites is Clark Brothers. Situated just outside Edinburgh’s city limits on the edge of Musselburgh’s harbour (220 New Street, EH21 6DJ), this fantastic fish merchant has been selling quality produce for nearly 100 years.

The shop is always packed with a fantastically good range of produce, and is constantly busy with customers eager to purchase it. Traditional fish varieties – such as Scottish cod and haddock – rub fins with more exotic specimens, including John Dory, organically farmed seat trout and monkfish cheeks.

Supplier spotlight - Edinburgh Farmers' Market

Busy Edinburgh Farmers' Market.
Busy Saturday at Edinburgh Farmers' Market.
No matter how skilled or inventive a cook is, unless they use quality ingredients it is very difficult to produce really great food. Wherever possible when cooking, I like to know exactly where the produce I use has come from, and ideally it should be as local as possible. That way, it’s much more likely that I can be sure they are consistently of great quality.

In my grandparents’ era meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, bread etc. would all have been purchased from specialist retailers, in the days when our high streets were home to butchers, bakers, fishmongers and greengrocers, instead of phone shops and bargain basement clothes emporiums. But times have changed, and now the vast majority of us get our food at the supermarket. And whilst not all supermarkets are totally villainous in terms of how and where they source their produce, their massive buying power means that some of their suppliers might not receive the fairest price for their produce.

I, for one, am not keen on purchasing 'fresh' food which has travelled many hundreds – if not thousands – of miles and is 'out of season' in the UK, just because supermarkets now have the ability to fill their vegetable aisles year round with Peruvian asparagus or Kenyan fine beans. The provenance of ingredients is also important to me. The recent scandal of horsemeat being passed off as beef provides a stark warning of the risks associated with a food supply chain where goods pass through multiple suppliers (and potentially a multitude of countries), with the result that big retailers cannot always be totally certain of where particular products have originated, nor indeed can they guarantee that they are as described.

All is not doom and gloom, however. Thankfully, the last decade has seen a resurgence in independent suppliers and retailers providing great quality produce and products, and Scotland is home to an impressive selection of these. I will be dedicating occasional blog posts to highlight some of those Scottish-based suppliers I often turn to when sourcing the ingredients I cook with, starting with Edinburgh’s Farmers’ Market.

Taking place every Saturday in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, on the aptly-named Castle Terrace, Edinburgh Farmers’ Market has been running since 2000. Regularly attracting over 50 specialist food producers, it has been voted the best farmers’ market in Britain. The majority of stallholders are “primary producers” growing what they bring to market. As you might expect from a Scottish market, there is an excellent range of stalls selling top quality meat, including pork, lamb, chicken and beef as well as venison and even locally-reared buffalo. Depending on the season, there is often a good range of locally-sourced game on offer.

Edinburgh Farmers’ Market isn’t only about meat, however. There are a number of stalls providing a terrific array of seasonal fruit and vegetables (including organic veg). Free range eggs and cheese are also to be had, as well as fresh fish from around the Scottish coast. And in addition to the primary producers, there are also stallholders who prepare their own products, including bread and cakes, honey, chutneys and jams, and drinks (of both the soft and alcoholic variety). Is anyone else’s mouth watering, yet?

A word about my review scoring…

Graphic saying "score".
Now that the first Scrumptious Scran restaurant review has appeared on the blog, I thought I would just put up a wee post to explain my own approach to scoring the venues I have dined in.  For each revue, I score them out of 10 in four areas:
  • Food – let’s be honest, it’s the primary reason that most of us dine out.
  • Atmosphere – The food itself could come from a kitchen with two Michelin Stars, but would you truly appreciate it when consumed in a freezing shipping container?
  • Service – Not just about bringing food and drink to the table, but also about providing essential information on what is being served, and providing a welcoming dining experience.
  • Value for money – Whether it’s simply a burger or an haute cuisine indulgence, if you pay over the odds for what is served, it is sure to take the shine off a meal when the bill finally comes.

I think that these categories are fairly sensible yardsticks by which to judge how good – or not – a dining experience is.  Yet I also think anticipation and ambience has a lot to do with how a dining experience is perceived.  After all, a casual pie and a pint after work with one’s mates is obviously going to be a different experience from that of going to a top end restaurant with one’s partner. 

 So I  have decided to add a category, but not a score, identifying the venue’s “ambience” or, if you work in marketing, its "segment".  This helps to contextualise how the revue is framed and what it’s comparable to.  Otherwise, I think it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges; or mangos and pomegranates…  Well what sort of analogy were you expecting from a food blogger!   

Scrumptious Scran is born...

So, after (what is probably) years of threatening to set up a blog as a means of sharing my passion about food and drink, I’ve finally got my metaphoric finger out and Scrumptious Scran is now live. But why establish a food blog?

Well, anyone who knows me will be aware that I love food and drink. It doesn’t necessarily have to be sophisticated fare. What, for example, can compare to an egg, bacon and mushroom sandwich on sourdough bread, accompanied by a decent cup of coffee, to kick off a Sunday morning? But it has to be flavoursome and put together with care, attention and – hopefully – some passion.

Ideally, I also like the food I cook and eat to be seasonal, and sourced as locally as possible. I’m realistic, however, and know that it isn’t always possible to do a complete weekly shop at the likes of the terrific Edinburgh Farmers’ Market (more about this Edinburgh foodie institution in a later post on the blog). But my ideas about food do share much in common with those of the Slow Food Movement.

So what can be expected from Scrumptious Scran over the coming weeks, months and (hopefully) years? Well, my intention is for the blog to be a mixture of updates on how I’ve been ‘engaging’ with food and drink, including:

  • What I have been buying, and where from.
  • The recipes I have tried at home.
  • The restaurants, cafés and bars I have enjoyed (or even, not enjoyed).
  • The books, magazines and other blogs that have influenced my culinary perspective.

And, given the fact that it is nigh on impossible for one person to keep abreast of all the latest gastronomic developments, I will certainly be welcoming suggestions of any restaurants or products that might be worthy of a feature in the blog, via [email protected].

And so my literary, culinary journey begins! I look forward to hearing from those of you who follow its progress.

Chris