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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.

Organised by Breakthrough Breast Cancer, the 18th October has been designated the day of the bake off, and will provide an opportunity for people to gather, bake and eat delicious fare and – most importantly – put their hands in their pockets. The last bit is vital, as Breakthrough Breast Cancer needs financial support to continue in its fight to stop women dying from the disease, through the development of new treatments, promoting early detection and ensuring the best possible care.

Like many people in the UK, I have direct experience of how breast cancer can impact lives. My mother was diagnosed with the disease a few years ago, and was successfully treated. But not everyone is so fortunate. So this October (which is officially Breast Cancer Awareness Month), why not bake a cake, raise some cash, and in doing so help save a life.

For more information on The Great Pink Bake Off and how you can become involved visit:
drink/ Feature/ food/ Scottish

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:

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.

chips/ deep fryer/ Feature/ frying/ healthy/ recipe

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.

Picture of a deep fryer
Silver dream machine…

Chips! Well, it might have been an obvious choice, but these would not be just any old chips, oh no. To accompany the oxtail braised in Rioja that was at the centre of Sunday dinner, I wanted the sort of fries that came with this dish when I sampled it in Spain. They had to be golden brown and perfectly crisp on the outside, with an interior that was soft, fluffy and moist.

Now there are endless opinions on how to produce the perfect fried chip. Each favours a particular preference in relation to potato variety, frying medium, and the temperature and number of cycles involved in the cooking. Christopher Hirst’s article in The Independent about his efforts to achieve the gastronomic paragon that is the perfect chip – thankfully, without the suggested use of horse fat – provides an excellent background in relation to these.

So, having considered the options, I choose to “do a Heston” and thrice cook my chips – once par boiled in salted water and then twice fried in oil. Blumenthal’s recipe (from In Search of Perfection) is a bit involved, but it truly does produce amazing chips. I shall maybe use a little less salt in the water the next time I try it, as the blanching meant that my chunky fries certainly didn’t need any further seasoning, but that’s all part of the alchemy.

Of course, I won’t be attempting to refine the recipe for a while – health, health, health!

This recipe (thanks to Heston Blumenthal and Christopher Hirst) will make sufficient chips for 2-3 people. It is best to fry in small batches, especially if using a small fryer.

Peel, then chunkily chip 400-500g potatoes, washing them thoroughly.

  1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the chips and return to boil, immediately reducing to gentle simmer (no bubbles) for 8-10 minutes. Strain and leave in the pan to encourage any remaining water to evaporate.
  2. Transfer to cool on a cake rack. When cool, chill in fridge.
  3. Heat your oil (I used sunflower oil, which is ideal for deep frying) to 130C. Using mesh basket, fry chips for nine minutes.
  4. Remove the basket, shake, and allow to drain. Cool the chips on a cake rack, then chill in the fridge.
  5. Just before you are ready to eat, heat oil to 190C. Use a mesh basket to fry chips for a maximum of 2-3 minutes until golden. Cooking times can vary depending on the fryer and potato varieties so keep a close eye on the colour of chips. Drain the chips, then spread on double layer of kitchen paper. Serve immediately.
Chefs' Alliance/ Feature/ food/ news/ Scottish/ slow food/ Sustainable

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.

I asked Neil Forbes – Chef/Proprietor of Edinburgh brasserie, Café St Honore – why he was at the event. “My gran’s soup”, he replied, somewhat enigmatically. He went on to explain that she used the best, freshest – and often home-grown – ingredients when she cooked it. That has influenced Neil’s take on food ever since. What’s not inspirational about those values?

Equally, chatting to Sascha Grierson about the organic meat company she, and her husband Hugh, run provided me with an interesting insight. “Sometimes, people ask about our marketing ‘department'” she laughingly said. “That would be me. And the accounts department, and I’m often the person on the stall at the farmers’ markets, too” Sascha explained. This emphasised that more often than not the organisations involved in the slow food movement are comparatively modest in size, and operate without the resources and infrastructure available to the large-scale food conglomerates. But speak to anyone involved in slow food and it’s apparent that they are people with a real devotion to what they produce and sell, and a genuine interest in the people they sell it to.  This is what drives their success.

Scottish Café & Restaurant produce & sustainability award.
Scottish Café & Restaurant produce & sustainability award.

I’d like to add how great it was to also speak to proprietors and staff from: Centotre, and the Scottish Café & Restaurant ; the Stockbridge Restaurant; the Cumberland Bar; the Edinburgh Larder; Mara Seaweed; 63 Tay Street Restaurant; The Monachyle Mhor Hotel; and the Roost; as well as representatives from Slow Food UK. Thank you all for putting on a truly inspirational event. It’s a pleasure to write about it and, in doing so, to try and inspire others to think about how and where the food they eat is produced and prepared. 

Feature/ food/ Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall/ John Torode/ news/ pork/ Sustainable/ The Pig Idea/ Thomasina Miers

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 –

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

I know I am biased, but this campaign makes great sense in terms of tackling food waste and making food production more sustainable. It’s a simple, logical approach that should be rolled out across Scotland and the rest of the UK. What do you think?

All photos by James Perrin

community/ Feature/ food/ healthy/ initiative/ Renfrew/ suppliers

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.

The driving force behind Food in the Hood is Annette Currie, who has used her own money and cash borrowed from relatives to purchase a van and most of the equipment the initiative needs to get up and running. However, Food in the Hood still requires £3000 to complete the fit out and to market the project, and has turned to Crowdfunder in order to raise the remaining start-up funds by 13 June 2013.

Speaking about what has driven her to establish Food in the Hood, Annette commented:

“I enjoy cooking and after a camping/festival trip last September, where I cooked for 25 people for the weekend, I realised how much cheaper it is to cook for many. A few weeks later, after a chat in the kitchen with friends about the poor quality of takeaway food in our area and how sometimes you just want a home cooked meal (but can’t be bothered cooking), I looked into the viability of opening a takeaway.”

“The initial outlay and running costs of this approach were too high and it just seemed too risky – especially since a home-style takeaway has never been done before. So, my sister-in-law suggested using a van – which has lower overheads, less risk and means we can go out and find business.”

“The ethical basis on which Food in the Hood is built comes from my belief that businesses can make a profit AND benefit the communities they serve – effectively Conscious Capitalism. I really hope we can spread this message and get others to set up similar initiatives that provide healthy food and benefit communities across Scotland and even further afield.”

More information on supporting Food in the Hood through and the benefits associated with this can be found at:

Barcelona/ cuisine/ Feature/ foodie thoughts/ Moro/ Spain/ Spanish

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.

During that visit to Barcelona, so enamoured with Spanish food had we become that upon our return to Edinburgh I remember David and I gave some serious thought to the potential of opening a tapas bar. Unfortunately, or possibly forutnately, our pipe dreams came to nothing. Yet my continuing, unwavering effusiveness for Spanish cuisine did eventually prove productive in another way. It resulted in another friend presenting me with a copy of Moro – The Cookbook.

Sam and Sam Clark – writers of the book and owners/chefs of the fantastic restaurant that shares its name – have a common passion for Spanish, North African, and Middle Eastern food. They have captured the absolute essence of what makes this cuisine so desirable and delightful, in the three volumes they have authored to date. I regularly refer to the Clarks’ recipes when entertaining. Further trips to sample, first hand, the cuisine of Barcelona – as well as Madrid and Seville – have provided me with an insight as to how spot on Moro‘s take on Spanish food actually is.

So, after having not caught up with my friend David for far too long, when he was able to join me, my other half and a mutual friend for lunch last Saturday, the temptation to cook a Spanish feast featuring my interpretations of some great Moro recipes was hard to resist. I do hope you enjoy the accompanying posts – billed as a ‘flavour fiesta’ – that detail the recipes that contributed to that particular lunch menu. These include:

  • Galician fish soup
  • Marinaded, slow cooked shoulder of lamb, with patatas bravas
  • Tarta de Santiago.

Cooking and eating these dishes certainly took me back to balmly days in Spain, as well as an excellent meal I once thoroughly enjoyed at Moro.

Feature/ fish/ Musselburgh/ shellfish/ suppliers

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.

John Dory, clams & prawns.
John Dory, clams & prawns.

There is also a great range of shellfish – mussels, langoustines, scallops and oysters of course, but also spoots (or razor shells, to non-Scots speakers) and surf clams. Shellfish commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking is also available, as well as both live and cooked Scottish crab and lobster.

And for anyone needing a little culinary inspiration, Clark Brothers also sell their own, pre-prepared dishes, such as smoked haddock and spring onion fishcakes, and rainbow trout fillets marinated in orange and dill.

Sea trout, oysters & squid.
Sea trout, oysters & squid.

The Clark Brothers staff are both knowledgeable and helpful, so don’t be afraid to quiz them if you need advice on buying or preparing your fish or shellfish. It’s also great to see the fishmongers at work processing and filleting produce as it arrives from the market – the prep area is visible through large windows behind the shop floor. And finally, if you like your fish smoked Clark Brothers cater for this with their own small, onsite smokery.

Watch out for my next blog post, where I shall be cooking with some great seafood purchased at Clark Brothers.

Edinburgh Farmers' Market/ Feature/ suppliers

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?

By way of an illustration of how great and diverse a range of products on offer, I’ll walk you through my shop last Saturday to obtain ingredients for cooking a crab and asparagus tart, (details of which will be posted in my next blog update).

Basket of garlic.

First port of call was Phantassie Food (organic fruit and veg) to pick up some wild garlic (just out of shot), with which to give the salad, accompanying the tart, a bit of a kick. Mushrooms looked tempting, too!

Basket of asparagus.

Onwards, to Tay Valley Fruits for the asparagus, and very nearly some rhubarb – maybe next time. Half a dozen lovely organic eggs were then purchased at Brewsters.

Fish on a market stall.

Picked up the dressed crab for the tart from Eyemouth-based fishmongers, A&D Patterson.

Beef on a market stall.

And finally, a smashing tray of Aberdeen Angus beef sausages from Well Hung and Tender – nothing to do with the crab and asparagus tart, but everything to do with Sunday breakfast!

Feature/ review/ scoring

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!   

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