Wednesday, 31 October 2012

This is Halloween... This is Halloween...

As if I didn't have enough going on last week with my birthday adventures I was also invited to two fantastic Halloween parties. The first was the "Monster Mash Module Bash" held by BP to celebrate the module instalation on the Andrew north sea oil platform. The venue was The Forum and it had been spook-tacularly decked out for the occasion. Food was an informal hot buffet with lasagna, chilli, salad, garlic bread, nachos and soured cream.  Desert was by means of huge glass jars of trick and treat old style sweets. Great night out with fabulous entertainment from a Queen tribute band and plenty of freaky food, devilish drinks and amazing costumes.
The day after my 40th party my friend K hosted her annual Halloween Party. It was somewhat more of a subdued event that previous years due to the majority of the adult atendees suffering somewhat from the previous nights festivities. She really is the queen of Halloween decor and has amassed a host of ghoulish ideas over the years. The piece de resistance this year was the sight which met us in the bathroom.
Food wise we enjoyed fantastic butternut squash soup and crusty bread followed by a heaving table of spooky delights.  My favourite was the Vampire Snot Dip (Pampered Chef Hot Broccoli Dip) served with bat chips.  All you need for these are halloween cookie cutters, flour tortillas and oil.  Cut, brush with oil and grill.  Simple but very effective.
Shrunken Apple Heads (for decor not eating)
To avoid a mad panic on Halloween itself when boy and girl will be rushing to head out guising (none of this trick or treat nonsense) I did my spooky meal offering in advance. I'd picked up some Halloween pasta in the food hall at Formartines and decided to use it crouton style on top of pumpkin soup. I asked for recomendations on Twitter (@foodiequine) for soup recipes and went with a variation on one suggested as I didn't have everything required in the cupboard.
I can't even share the recipie I created as it was very much bucket chemistry but in general it contained the flesh from two large pumpkins, a couple of carrots and sweet potatoes, lots of shallots, garlic, fresh thyme, cumin and chicken stock.  I served it up with some witches fingers along the lines of those I made for the recent Pinnies and Peticoats Halloween meet.
Whilst I made the pumpkin soup I left the pumpkin carving to my husband.  I reckon he's made a pretty good job of it. We may well be sticking with the Scottish custom of Guising rather than Trick or Treating but have gone down the american route with the lanterns. Pumpkin is way easier to carve than neeps.

Monday, 29 October 2012

40th Part 1 - Boats, Castles and Treehouses

I had a birthday last week. Not just any old birthday but a special one starting with 4 and ending in 0. Tuesday 23rd October was my #OHNO40 or with a more positive spin my #OHYES40.  The celebrating went on for pretty much the whole week hence my lack of blogging as I was out partying.  I received lots of lovely treats and pressies from friends and family and on Monday spent the evening with parentals, husband, boy and girl with an overnight stay at Forth View Hotel in Aberdour. Unfortunately their own fantastic seafood restaurant Room with a View isn't open on a Monday but they recommended The Boat House Bistro just across the firth in South Queensferry.
Wow. What an amazing view from our table. Lovely food to match it. Obligatory champagne as an aperitif before we shared a variety of starters including bruschetta, calamari, haggis nuggets and a tapas sharing plate. For mains two of us opted for scallops, one ribeye steak and two the chef's fish of the day which was cod with coconut and cous cous. Girl was most happy with her chicken wrap which she requested sans salad.
Birthday breakfast at Forth View complete with candles in my poached eggs before we dumped the kids and parents and headed off to spend the night in The Treehouse Suite with dinner at  Fernie Castle Hotel.
I have always loved Treehouses although never had one as a child. Sob. Violins. The one at Alnwick Garden is amazing but you can't stay in it. When I discovered I could actually spend the night in one, in Scotland, and my 40th birthday was coming up I wasted no time in strongly suggesting that it would be wise of husband to take me there. I wasn't disappointed. Fernie Castle Treehouse was fabulous. 
There were plenty of nibbles in our treetop house and we got stuck straight away into the cheese plate and champagne. Dinner was served in the main castle. It was a wee bit disappointing as it was rather dated in style and the choice was somewhat limited. Pate to start, followed by Tomato and Herb Soup, Steak with Pepper Sauce and Caramelised Pineapple with Puff Candy Ice Cream. An American couple were our only fellow diners on a whistlestop tour of the UK to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. So we shared a double celebration (and some cake) with them.
A continental breakfast was available in our tree but there was also the option to head up to the Castle for the full Scottish.  As it was we opted to spend more time enjoying the treehouse space as we awoke to fantastic autumnal sunshine streaming in through the windows which made it even more magical.  All in all a fantastic experience and one more tick on my bucket list.
Part one over but still lots of birthday shenanigans to be blogged about including my cocktails and canapes party, birthday cheese cake and a host of fantastic foodie birthday pressies.  I've had a wonderful week and can highly recommend turning 40. Although my liver and waistline may disagree.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Gin, Belgium and Butter Beer.

Tattie holidays already?!  Girl kindly explained to me that they were so called as in the olden days children had to get time off school to help the farmers harvest potatoes. Less of the olden days if you please.  I may only have a few days left of my 30's but I've picked my fair share of spuds in my youth.  Alas no tattie picking for my two instead a trip south to the bright lights of London to visit my foodie sister, see Matilda the Musical and do the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour.  Beats back breaking tattie picking any day.
It was London Cocktail Week during our visit but unfortunately due to the presence of boy and girl we were unable to indulge.  We did however fortuitously stumble over a Hendricks Gin tasting on a street corner whilst en route to dinner.  I'm a big mulled wine fan but their Hot Gin Punch surpassed it by far.  Fair warmed the cockles of your heart.  Pretty potent too with nothing much in the way of mixers.  Can't be doing with wishy washy drinks
HOT GIN PUNCH
3 full teacups of Hendricks gin
3 full teacups of Maderia wine
3 cloves
pinch grated nutmeg
large tsp cinnamon
2 tsp brown sugar
6 large lemon and orange twists
small slice orange
1 fresh pineapple
4 large spoons honey
juice of 2 lemons

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and place on the heat.  Let the concoction simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Taste adding lemon or honey depending on whether you like it sweet or sour.  I'm definitely going to recreate this for an upcoming fireworks party although am somewhat confused about what I'm actually supposed to do with the 1 fresh pineapple...
After our Gin aperitif we headed to Belgo for our pre theatre meal. Really good Belgian restaurant which we have previously visited on trips to London.  Situated underground in Covent Garden there is a real quirky vibe to the place with the staff dressed in monks habits and an industrial feel to the decor. To start with we opted for a sharing plank of cured meats, chicken liver parfait, sour cherries, sourdough bread, giant croutons and fig and date chutney.  Amazingly good. I especially loved the sour cherries and will be seeking some out.
Houtenplank
For mains we all opted for moules.  
Thai - lemongrass, chilli, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, coconut and corriander.  
Snob - lobester, champagne and cream bisque. 
Espangole - tomato, chorizo, smpked paprika. 
Poppei - pancetta, creamed spinach, garlic and cheddar. 
All fantastic as were the accompanying double cooked frites. In the absence of her traditional chicken nuggets appearing on the menu girl had sausage and mash.  
Espangole
Poppei
The beer list is even more extensive than the menu.  Apparently one of the biggest selections in London and each served in its own unique glass.  We kicked off with some fairly standard Leffe and a couple of the on tap brews.  However on a trip to the toilets (well worth a visit for the sink alone) I noticed some pink elephants lurking in the beer cellar.  My mother being somewhat of an elephant fan we had to try it.  She has finally driven me to drink.  8.5% Delirium Tremens.
This one's for you Mum - Cheers!
And so to desert.  I was coerced into another sharing plank.  This time with Irish cream and dark chocolate pots, caramel waffle biscuits, two shots of schnapps and a cherry compote. Totally unnecessary and overindulgent. The mango schnapps was especially good.  Next time I might just opt for the 32 shot schnapps stick and be done with it.
Zoet Plank
A short walk along the street to the Cambridge Theatre and Matilda.  What an amazing Musical.  Fantastic set, cast, songs and lyrics.  Touches of sheer genius from Tim Minchin.  Go see it if you get the chance.  Next up was the Harry Potter Studio Tour and the chance to try Butter Beer.  This is only one of two places in the world you can get it. The other being Universal Studios in Florida.  Boy and Girl were giddy with excitement.
So the verdict. Sickly sweet. Toffee, caramel, syrup with a huge frothy sugary head reminiscent of a cream soda float. Needless to say the kids loved it. A sip was more than enough for me. Boy asked if they also sold Fire Whisky. Alas the answer is no. The tour itself was amazing. Secrets were indeed revealed. Highly recommended.
The Three Broomsticks?!
Before heading for home we squeezed in a trip to Bletchley Park, home of the Enigma codebreakers. A truly fascinating historic site. I especially loved all the Home Front parts of the exhibitions particularly in relation to wartime cookery and food rationing.  I've been avidly watching Wartime Farm and secretly would love to be Food Historian Ruth Goodman. I'm going to do a separate blog post on Bletchley and wartime cookery at some point but in the meantime I'll leave you with a postcard that I bought which is a reproduction of a wartime poster. Considering the recent fuss in the news about reusing jam jars I though it was somewhat judicious. Lets hope wartime common sense prevails once again.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Spook-tacular Pinnies and Petticoats

At our inaugural Pinnies and Petticoats Baking Club all the bakes were sweet so I decided that I'd definitely go down the savoury route this time round for my spooky offering.  I had a variety of potential ideas from scouring Pinterest for inspiration but settled on Hot Dog Mummies and Witchy Fingers both encompassing puff pastry.

But I really couldn't roll up at a baking club with creations made from JusRol.  Some weeks back at A Berry Good Night I had met Lisa the lovely pasty chef at Castleton Farm and when I confessed that I was a little bit scared of pastry she recommended that I purchase Pastry by Micheal Roux and give his Rough Puff a go. The book has been sat sitting on my coffee table gathering dust for weeks.  Now was time to take up the challenge.
flour and butter mountain
The ingredients list was simple.  Flour, butter, salt and water.  I made the mistake of assuming that the butter would need to be at room temp.  Cue half an hour in the freezer to rectify.  Likewise the water needs to be ice cold.  I have to say I found the instructions a bit vague but after working in what appeared to be the entire European butter mountain I managed to form a humongous ball of dough ready for 20 mins in the fridge.
Then the rolling and folding and quarter turning, then back in the fridge for a further 30 mins.  More rolling, folding and turning.  Further refrigeration and it was ready to use. Not as complicated as I'd feared but a bit messy in terms of flour and stickiness. The proof however would be in the baking.  
First up the cheese straw witches fingers.  Top the pastry with egg wash, a mixture of grated parmesan and emmenthal cheese and a sprinkling of cayenne and paprika. Twist and place on a baking tray.  Dip a whole almond in tomato ketchup and attach to the end.  10 mins or so in a hot oven and you have spooky fingers. I was really pleased with how these turned out.  Suitably revolting looking - but in a good way.
Next the mummies. These were much more fiddly  Long thin strips of rough puff required which you wrap round the sausage leaving space for a face.  Into a hot oven where the problems started. The hot dogs began to explode. The length of cooking required to bake the pastry was too much for them and they began to expel their dubious contents over my oven.  Enough were rescued to have mustard faces piped on them but the sausage skin had gone very chewy.  Great concept but I reckon it would be nicer with proper butchers sausages.
Pumpkin Pie Spice Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache
Armed with my spooky savouries I headed to cake club.  What a fantastic turnout of bakers.  Our initial 8 from the inaugural meeting had multiplied to over 20 with a fantastic array of bakes to match.  As Ms Pinnie herself commented it was like the best Halloween party ever. Amazing spread and variety of bakes, alas I've only captured some of them on camera.
Halloween Hoot Owl Cookies
Brownie Graveyard
The showstoppers in terms of looks had to be a three way tie between Lou from Please Do Not  Feed the Animal's Halloween Hoot Owl Cookies, Colene's Pumpkin Pie Spice Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache and Elaine's Chocolate Brownie Graveyard.  Star Baker split three ways.
Pumpkin Pie Number 1
Pumpkin Pie Number 2 & Pumpkin and Choc Chip Muffins
Unsurprisingly there was lots of pumpkin incorporated in the bakes.  Two variations on Pumpkin Pie.  Something I've never tasted before.  The recipe Tom used can be found here and he bought his tinned pumpkin from Wowzie. There were also Pumpkin and Chocolate Brownie Cakes, Pumpkin Bars, Pumpkin Cupcakes, Pumpkin Woopie Pies (another first for me) and to keep me company in the savoury corner Cheese and Pumpkin Tartlets.
Mint Choc Chip Meringues & Oreo Spiders
Spiders too featured strongly with super cute Oreo Chocolate Spider Cookies, two spider web topped Chocolate Olive Oil Cakes from Nigellissima, a webby Japanese Cheesecake and spooktastic Sticky Gingerbread.  I love bakes incorporating apples and really enjoyed the toffee apple cookies (I may have eaten more than my share)  Unfortunately I didn't manage to try Karen's Toffee Apple Cupcakes which looked amazing.  
Spooky Surprise (lemon curd in the center) Ghostly Cupcakes
Toffee Apple Cupcakes, Pumpkin Cupcakes, Chocolate Olive Oil Cake
In keeping with the Halloween theme the lovely Claire at Berry Scrumptious offered a sample of her limited edition Freaky Fudge to any food blogger willing enough to try it. Without even checking what the flavour was I offered the services of Pinnies and Petticoats bakers as being brave enough to try it.  A packet of Bloody Mary Fudge duly arrived.  Made with vodka, tomato puree, tabasco sauce and topped with celery salt. Now I'm a big Bloody Mary fan.  Its my aeroplane drink of choice but fudge just might be taking it a step too far. However it got the thumbs up from me and the assembled cake club.  Surprisingly sweet to start with but then the real kick of tabasco hits home.  So much so that one baker had to rush for her glass of red to quell the heat.  I dare you to try it.  If you like chilli chocolate and the likes you'll love this.
The next Pinnies and Petticoats meet has been scheduled for Friday 16th December, 7pm at Tiger Tiger for a Pre-Christmas Party with suitable themed bakes.  Fancy joining us?  Check out the Facebook page. It would be lovely to see you there.  Especially if you bring cake and wear a festive jumper.  We'll be getting into (and drinking) the Christmas spirit and I for one fully intend to be dancing round my Tupperware box by the end of the night.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Guinea Pig Bread

When the Gourmet Gossip email circular from Nick Nairn Cookschool pinged into my inbox last week the "Testing, Testing 1,2,3" headline caught my attention.  New 3 hour classes are being launched in Aberdeen and they were looking for testers to put them through their paces and provide feedback at a discounted price.  Too good an opportunity to miss for a thrifty Aberdonian foodie. I'm more than happy to be a guinea pig.  

The options on offer were Breads, Master Pasta and Express Dinner Party.  After years in the wilderness I reckon I've now pretty much mastered pasta and although the dinner party class looked tempting unfortunately the dates didn't work for me so Breads it was. The Cook School is a relatively new addition to Aberdeen having only opened in May but has been in existence at Port of Monteith since 2000.  I've previously been to three full day classes - Sushi, Easy Posh Dinner Party and most recently Thai but this was my first foray into a condensed offering.
Our Tutor for the day was the wonderful John Webber who has an absolute wealth of knowledge and passion for food.  He firstly introduced us to the science behind breadmaking and the different factors that can affect a successful or otherwise outcome.  Our first bit of hands on cooking was Wheaten Soda Bread.  The process was very similar to making scones and required a light touch so not to overwork the dough and loose the gasses which act as raising agents. Once shaped and scored we left it to rest for 5-10 minutes before baking and you could visibly see how much it rose in that time.
my soda bread ready for the oven
Next John demonstrated making the breadsticks.  This time the raising agent was yeast and John again shared his knowledge and anecdotes on this subject.  At one point I thought he had got us confused with the afternoons pasta making class but he actually used a pasta machine to kneed the dough and then to cut it into tagliatelle strands and thus make breadsticks.  Genius.  Really glad I didn't bin the redundant pasta machine now.  The breadsticks were left to rise for 10 minutes before being brushed with milk and sprinkled with Maldon salt and going in the oven.
Blowtorch action
Now it was our turn to make our flatbread pizzas for lunch.  We got to do some proper kneading this time and it was very therapeutic   Once rolled it was into the frying pan and time for some blowtorch action of our own.  Great fun.  Next we had a pick and mix tray of toppings to choose from not dissimilar to what I would have myself when making pizza but alas no anchovies. 
Ready for the toppings
Lunch is served
Less than 5 minutes in the oven as the flatbread base is already cooked so you are really just warming up the toppings and melting the mozzarella.  Very tasty with clean plates all round and washed down with a glass of red.  Alas on this occasion I was driving so couldn't take full advantage of the hospitality on offer.  Big mistake. 
Pasta machine salted breadsticks
The tagliatelle breadsticks came out of the oven just as we sat down to eat and they were fantastic.  Especially good served warm.  Lots of variations would be possible with the addition of the likes of chilli, Parmesan cheese and herbs.  I have plans for these.
Homemade Soda Bread with Homemade Goats Cheese
Somehow I managed to make it home without giving in to the temptation to rip off a hunk of soda bread.  It was quickly demolished with a range of toppings including butter, raspberry jam, Arran cheese and my own homemade goats cheese.  Will definitely be making it again.

I really enjoyed my taste of breadmaking and feel inspired to try some more at home. Unfortunately the 3 hour class just didn't give enough time to do any of the yeasty breads but armed with knowledge I'd be more confident in giving them a go. I still have an IOU for a quick cook 2 hour class to look forward to and I'm eagerly awaiting the release of new dates.  Watch this space.