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.