Friday, 31 May 2013

May Fest with Nick Nairn

I've been a long time attender of various events at the University of Aberdeen's annual Word Festival so was disappointed when it folded in 2011. However like a phoenix from the flames it emerged again in 2013 as May Festival encompassing Science, Music, Literature, Film, Gaelic, and Food & Nutrition. Unfortunately we already had plans for the Saturday and Sunday (Gypsy Caravan Glamping) which precluded attendance but I snapped up a couple of tickets at £6 each for the Friday to see my chum Nick Nairn "In Conversation" and demonstrating "Science on a Plate".
The In Conversation session was really interesting and the Kings Conference Centre was a great venue for it. Felt like we were MSP's at the Scottish Parliament. No idea who the lady doing the questioning was as no mention was made and she never introduced herself which was rather odd. 
Nick gave us a run down of how he ended up where he is today going from Merchant Navy, Michelin Starred Chef, Ready Steady Cook TV star and owner of two successful Cookschools. His father believed that spices, herbs and garlic were the work of the devil so he only discovered exotic food and flavours when he left home and headed to Singapore and Japan. His self taught passion for food grew and he became the dinner party king but alas the guests were more interested in the wine. Aged 22 he opened his first restaurant honing his craft working for other chefs on his holidays. The coveted Michelin star was awarded, but in the pursuit of a second star things went a bit pear shaped when he forgot that the most important person in any restaurant is the customer not the chef.
TV success came in 1993 when he was approached to take part in "Wild Harvest". Ready, Steady, Cook soon followed and one of the first Celebrity TV Chefs was born. However conflict between serious chef and TV star lead some to question his integrity and he made the decision to embrace the new opportunities and leave the restaurant trade. The rest as they say is history. 
For the Science on a Plate demo Nick teamed up with Dr Alex Johnstone from Aberdeen’s Rowett Research Institute. The dishes of the day featured seasonal Asparagus in a Veloute and a Risotto. The key to both being a good stock. I'm really not much of a stock maker opting for a cube or a stock pot but was interested to learn more and I picked up lots of top tips for Chicken stock making.
Don't let your stock boil - it should barely tremble
Keep the skin on your onions
The veg should be in large chunks to act as a filter.
Let the veg float like a raft and skim off any scum
Pull pan half off the heat to encourage flow and filtration
Cook for 2 hours
For vegetable stock you need to cook it for 8 minutes and then let it sit for two days.

During the In Conversation Nick discussed his frustration with the Scottish attitude to food and the Deep Fried Mars bar culture. He is passionate about teaching kids about real food and where it comes from and feels he has a duty to try and influence where he can, hence his involvement with Martha Payne and School Dinner campaigning  He refuses to accept the current status quo of Scotland having the best ingredients but the worst diet in Europe. 
I was keen to try out the stock making techniques for myself and give an asparagus risotto a go. Following all the tips I made a really flavoursome stock that was surprisingly clear. Alas the supermarket only had Peru Asparagus so I failed on the food miles front but the taste was fantastic. Quality fresh stock, lots of butter and plenty Parmesan. Delicious.
In addition to stock tips I also gleaned some fascinating facts. Nick doesn't like desiccated coconut and never uses a wooden spoon. His current restaurant recommendation is Timberyard in Edinburgh and if he hadn't been a chef he would have liked to be a racing car driver or a rock star. Who knew?

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Eurovision Pinnies & Petticoats Cake Club

An inspired theme for the May Pinnies and Petticoats Aberdeen Cake Club. Eurovision. We had our biggest turn out yet with almost 30 in attendance and "entries" from 24 different countries. Very much doubt I've captured all the bakes and their correct names. Oslo calling with my own entry up first. Thanks to my Norwegian friend A for the loan of the props and being my taste tester.

Norway - Norske Rabarbrakake (Rhubarb Cake)

Our venue at Tiger Tiger looked pretty spectacular decked out with flags but it's pretty dark which is always a challenge for photography. What an amazing spread and great to see so many new bakers.
Lithuania - Rye bread with Sour Cream
Romania - Cozonac
Poland - Potica (sweet yeasted nut roll) 
Italy - Schicciatta with dipping oil and balsamic vinegar
 Azerbaijan - Zebra Cake
Israel - Honey Cake - from the land of Milk & Honey
Austria - Sachertorte
Ireland - Potato Cake
Finland - Tiger Cake & Spoon Cookies
Hungary - Cinnamon and Maple Monkey Cakes, Chimney Cake and Apricot Festival Donuts
France - Madeleines with Black Cherry and Chambord dipping sauce
San Marino - Black Forest Cake with Italian Cherries
Netherlands - ?? no idea - sorry!
Serbia - Tulumbe
Denmark - Danish Pastries
Malta - Stuffed Prunes and Kwarezimal (Lenten Sweet)
Germany - Peach & Pistachio Cheesecake
Estonia - Rhubarb Cake
Russia - Teacakes
Greece - Baklava
Sweden - Kottbullar (meatballs)

Medovik - Azerbaijan honey cake

Switzerland - Chocolate Swiss Roll
Iceland - Vinerterta

What a fantastic night. Douze points all round. Everyone's a winner at cake club. Breakfast the morning after Pinnies and Petticoats is always a treat. Tupperware overflowing with goodies. Our next meet in June is without a theme but a photographer is coming along to give us some tips on foodie photos so watch this space for possible dramatic improvement. If you are in Aberdeen or surrounds and fancy joining us please do "like" the Pinnies and Petticoats Facebook page. Always room for more bakers.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Meal Planning Monday - BBQ's and Snow Boots

What a scorcher of a weekend we've just had. Long may it continue. However we also had hailstones last week and the snow gates were closed so anything is possible. Last week's plan was followed until the sun came out. The meatball sub was a big hit especially with boy and girl. Simple to do and much tastier than the proprietary fast food brand.
The Gnocchi looks pretty grim and sludgy in the photo but it was really tasty and the kids really enjoyed making and eating it. Going to give it a go again this week with sweet potatoes. 
Friday night was posh chicken nuggets and chips at the request of girl as her BFF was coming for tea. These are really good so I'll share how we do them.

CRISPY CHICKEN FILLETS
500g pack of Chicken Mini Fillets
150ml Milk
1/2 tsp Sweet Smoked Paprika
1 tsp Soy Sauce
1 tsp Lemon Juice
Crushed garlic clove
S&P
8 packs crisps (chicken/bacon flavours are our favourites to use)
1 egg beaten
four
Mix together the milk, paprika, garlic, lemon juice, soy sauce and salt & pepper. Marinate the chicken fillets in the mixture ideally overnight but a couple of hours will suffice.
Put seasoned flour in bowl 1
Beaten egg plus the milky marinade drained off the chicken in bowl 2
Crush the crisps into small pieces and put into bowl 3
Dip each chicken piece into flour, then egg, then crisps. This does get messy so if you can commandeer willing children to set up a production line, with one doing each stage, all the better.
Bake the crispy fillets for 20 minutes at 200 degrees. 

We served them with paprika potato wedges and dips. Maple Mustard (mayonnaise, grainy mustard, maple syrup) Chilli Tomato (Tomato Ketchup and Sweet Chilli Sauce) and Garlic Mayo.
The weekend came and the sun shone so all else was abandoned in favour of BBQ two days on the trot. Got to make hay while the sun shines. Will do some BBQ blogging in due course but highlights included Wild Garlic Potato Salad, Blue Cheese Mushrooms, Turkey, Banana and Apricot Burgers and Pimms Salad.
Also managed to squeeze in some nibbly bits this week which I've already blogged about. Baileys Fudge, Crispy Chicken Skin Popcorn and Olive Penguins. I defy you not to love the penguins.

And so to this week's #mealplanningmonday

Monday - Beef Olives
I cooked these for Sunday Lunch but sunshine and BBQ intervened. Unless its another scorcher they'll get eaten tonight.

Tuesday - Sweet Potato Gnocchi & Garlic Bread
A variation on last weeks success, I'm out for lunch today so just a small portion at night for me.

Wednesday - Snacky fridge raiding tea
Out for lunch again and weather permitting might be doing something exciting in the evening so it will be a fridge rummage.

This was featured in Nigel Slaters column in yesterdays Guardian and instantly made it on to my meal plan.

Friday - Salmon 
Not quite sure what I'll do with it yet but got lots of it going cheap. I love a yellow stickied reduced to clear bargain.

Saturday - BBQ
Heading to the Taste of Grampian Food Festival and then to the annual BBQ of the Pipe Band that both Foodie Loon and Girl play in.

Sunday - Taste of Grampian purchases
Will definitely have some foodie goodies from yesterdays Food Festival to enjoy in some way, shape or form.
I've got a favour to ask of you this week. I'm currently in the running to win a years supply of Goats Cheese in a blogger competition run by Capricorn. I'm not in it for the glory - just for the cheese!  Promise to share the cheesy love with lots of goats cheese bloggage should I win. Just click on the badge below to go to their website and cast your vote for Foodie Quine before the end of May. Thanks so much and have a good week x

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Nibbly Bits - Baileys Fudge, Chicken Skin Popcorn & Olive Penguins

I was invited to a friends house for a Girls Night In on Friday night but with one condition. "Claire you have to bring me olive penguins! Deal??" Some people just aren't happy with a bottle of plonk. I've made quite a few batches of Pingu's over the last couple of years and they were a huge hit at my 40th Bithday Cocktail and Canapes party with one little chap stowing away in a friend's pocket so she could recreate them herself.
They are admittedly a wee bit fiddly to do but the cuteness makes it all worthwhile. Ideally you need jumbo black olives for the body and smaller ones for the heads. Slit the body and use a knife to stuff it with cream cheese and a damp piece of kitchen roll to remove any smears. The beaks are a wedge cut out of a slice of carrot which then forms the feet. A cocktail stick brings everything together.
I've not tried it, but if for some reason you don't like olives you might be able to do something similar with black grapes. I even wheeled them out in a festive version for our Pinnies and Petticoats Christmas Party. Tomberries and piped Philladelphia formed their Santa hats.
Toffee, Fudge, Tablet and the likes is just not something that is in my culinary repertoire. Its one of those scary things that I fear would just go horribly wrong. At an end of term soiree with Rock Choir one of the members made the most amazing Baileys Fudge. She assured me it was really very simple and was happy to share her recipe. I decided it would be perfect for the School Fair Cake and Candy Stall. Alas it all went a bit pete tong. Without a sugar thermometer I over boiled it and got Baileys Toffee. Just call me Willy Wonka.
Second attempt, with a borrowed sugar thermometer form F worked a treat. This is definitely the way to go. Going to have to get me one especially as it will also come in handy for preserve making.

BAILEYS FUDGE
120ml evaporated milk
200g white sugar
200g soft brown sugar 
170g butter 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
60ml Baileys (plus a couple of glasses for yourself...) 
200g icing sugar 

In a heavy bottomed pan put the evaporated milk, butter, both sugars and salt and heat to melt. Keep stirring as you increase heat to boiling point.
Stir constantly until your sugar thermometer reaches between 230-240F (soft ball)
Take off heat to cool for a minute or two before stirring in the Baileys and the vanilla extract. Then slowly sift in icing sugar in portions into the pan stirring thoroughly each time.
Once icing sugar all in stir thoroughly then transfer into a lined tin. Leave parchment over the side which makes it easier to lift out. Leave in the fridge for an hour to set. 
Cut into squares and eat (ideally with a cup of Baileys Coffee...)

Finally a recipe that I bookmarked a couple of months ago but never got round to making. Chicken Skin Popcorn by Nigel Slater. I am a big lover of popcorn and go for savoury every time. I also have a real guilty food pleasure in eating crispy chicken skin so for me this was a match made in heaven.
It was so good. Buttery, crispy, salty indulgence. Great to accompany an afternoon in the sunshine with G&T to wash it down. I tweeted my Popcorn a la Nigel Slater and got a reply from the man himself: Extraordinary. We were eating some chicken popcorn only yesterday. Such fun.
I'm linking the Popcorn up to the Nigel Slater Dish of the Month Challenge hosted by Farmersgirl Kitchen and A Little Bit of Heaven on a Plate. Plenty of inspiration over there if the chicken skin popcorn isn't quite your thing #DishoftheMonth  Do let me know if you give the Penguins or the Fudge a go. I do love a nice nibbly bit.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Chocolate Afternoon Tea and a Tea Party Crafternoon

I'm much more of a cheese person than a chocolate one but I am prepared to sacrifice myself in the pursuit of friendship. My lovey chum L is a confirmed Chocoaholic so what better treat for her birthday that a Chocolate Afternoon Tea. I had heard good things about a new cafe in Aberdeen Cup Tea Salon & Cafe and when I spotted their afternoon tea offering I just knew it had to be done.
The description on the menu for the Chocolate Afternoon Tea was a cocoa overload and the heaving cakestand which arrived on our table didn't disappoint. Delightfully topped off with a birthday candle.

Nutella Toasties
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
Cranberry & White Chocolate Scone
Chocolate Macaroon, 
Chocolate Truffles
Selection of Chocolate Tray Bakes

Despite any initial reservations I absolutely loved the Nutella toasties. Fresh crusty bread lifted them to a whole new level. Moving up a layer to the scones. Cranberry and White Chocolate was substituted for Apple and Cinnamon which suited me much better. Chocolate dipped strawberries contributed towards one of my five a day. To wash it all down with I opted for a Hot Chocolate topped with cream and malteasers (hold the marshmallows) In for a penny, in for a pound. L confessed that she doesn't like Hot Chocolate. Builders Tea for her. 
At this point in the proceedings I spotted a couple of amazing looking iced teas arriving at another table. I am so easily swayed and wasted no time in ordering myself one. I fancied the White Ginger Pear but it was sold out so opted instead for Pomegranate Blackberry. Time for the top layer of the cake stand. Chocolate Macaron to start made by Aberdeen family run patisserie Almondine. I'm going to have to make a return visit to try their Peanut Butter, Pistachio and Salter Caramel flavours.
The decor in Cup is just as fabulous as the menu and tea offerings with a quirky Mad Hatters Tea Party and Alice in Wonderland Theme. A trip to the toilets is an absolute must. Birds and Birdcages pop up everywhere and all the cruet sets are variations on that theme. 
We almost managed to clear the whole cakestand but I was defeated by the final slice of millionaires shortbread. My head was buzzing for the rest of the day with a sugar rush and I couldn't eat another bite. I have been considering what a Cheese Afternoon Tea might look like. Strange as it might sound I know at least one other person who would happily share a Cheesy Cakestand. Perhaps there is a gap in the market to be filled.
Thankfully my chocolate hangover soon subsided as a few days later I was booked on to a Tea Party Themed Crafternoon run by knittykittybangbang. Over the course of two hours we crafted three items accompanied by cake and mocktails.
The lovely Karen from Blow Your Own Crumpet brought along some amazing Pimms Cupcakes to celebrate World Baking Day. They. Were. Awesome. Pimms, mint, berries, cucumber and cream cheese frosting. Totally up my street. The Union Jack cases only added to their perfection.
Our first crafty effort was a Papel Picado Card. Much concentration required to ensure you cut out the right bits with your craft knife and avoided cutting off any fingers. Next up a felt flower booch or hairclip. After a rocky start I finally mastered blanket stitch but whether I could do it again is another matter. Girl loves her funky hair clip.
Final make of the afternoon was a vintage cakestand. The hard work of hole drilling had already been done so it was just a matter of assembly. I wonder how it would look adorned with a Cheesy Afternoon Tea. Lets hope L can track one down for me by the time my birthday rolls around.

Monday, 20 May 2013

My first Foray into Foraging - Wild Garlic

I've known of the existence of wild garlic for a long time. I even knew where it grew locally as I had smelt it when out running, but until my recent visit to the Celtic Food Festival at the Scottish Crannog Centre I had absolutely no idea what it looked like. Inspired by our amazing day of Iron Age Feasting and with knowledge gleaned of what to look for I returned home determined to go on a foraging trip and get me some.
With my friend C and our collective kids we headed out to the woods and followed our noses. We smelt it long before we saw it. Huge expanses growing close to a burn in the shade of the woods. Boy had his swiss army knife to chop it down and we soon filled our trug. It's certainly powerful stuff and my car stank for days after our foraging adventure.
Wild Garlic Pesto was my initial aim and I blitzed some up using bucket chemistry so no exact recipe to follow I'm afraid. Wild Garlic, Parmesan, Olive Oil, Toasted Pine Nuts, Salt and Pepper. Boy was it strong. I added a couple of bunches of parsley into the mix to tone it down a bit. The resulting Pesto will still stun a Vampire at 50 yards. Not sure how long it will keep in the fridge but I've got a large jarfull in there and also filled an ice cube tray for the freezer. First experiment - pesto pinwheels.
WILD GARLIC PESTO PINWHEELS

225g plain flour
1/2 tsp Bicarb of Soda
1/4 tsp salt
175ml Milk
1 tsp lemon juice

1Tbsp wild garlic pesto
25g parmesan grated

Sieve together the dry ingredients in one bowl and milk and lemon juice in another.
Bring together by pouring the wet into a well in the dry. 
Mix well and add a wee bit more flour or milk if needed to make a dough.
Knead lightly and roll out into a rectangle approx 1cm thick.
Spread over the pesto and sprinkle with the parmesan.
Roll up like a swiss roll and cut into slices.
Bake at 200 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
These were a huge hit and I've now made them three times. Beats shop bought garlic bread hands down. Aside from pinwheels, the pesto has been making an appearance in practically every meal over the last couple of weeks. Mixed through pasta either hot or cold. Mashed into potatoes. Flavouring the pasta and filling for ricotta ravioli and zinging up a quiche lorraine.
I've thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into foraging and still have a few ideas I want to experiment with before the short lived wild garlic season is over. Only yesterday I found out that its also known as Ramps and that the flowers are also edible so I'm planning making New Potatoes in Ramps and Lemon for the weekend. Have also seen wild garlic combined with nettles in various dishes so I'm going to have to don some sturdy gloves and go Wombling in the nettle beds.





I'm linking this post up to a couple of blogging challenges 

Herbs on Saturday run by Lavender & Lovage and hosted this month by Delicieux
and
Nature's Lunchbox run by Foodie Laura