Tuesday, 5 July 2011

End Of An Era

Hello everyone, and welcome to the last post from this iteration of Map of the Gastronomique.

But fear not, for I've put together a new site that's a wee bit more intuitive and easier to get around than this one. Expect the usual updates every so often with the odd extra that I've not been able to do so far.

The site is still evolving, so expect a few changes now and then - and the artwork and colouring is still to happen.

But bear with me, and in a few weeks all will (hopefully) be sorted.

It's a touch sparse at the moment, but give it time and it'll be flowing with gastronomic bounty...

Come and visit the new site...

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Food Travel: Aberfeldy, Scotland

With my day off I took a trip to Aberfeldy (would have been a nightmare by public transport, but thankfully Hugh was off as well, so he was able to give me a lift on his way through to do some climbing). Aberfeldy is one of the bigger towns in the near distance from Ardeonaig and its range of shops and culinary hotspots is proportionally higher as well. Time to explore...

* * *

I'd arrived in Aberfeldy fairly early, around ten to nine. Not much was open, but after two or three wanders up and down the high street I spotted a little bakeware and cookshop that was open - Dow's. Primarily, Dow's sells cookery ware like pie tins, mixing bowls and other assorted kitchen equipment (quite a lot of Joseph Joseph stuff actually) but at the back of the shop there is also a little kitchen where the owner makes up batches of scones and other baked goods to sell front of house.

He was just loading up the Dewar's Distillery van with their allocation of scones (more on the distillery later). After he'd finished, we had a wee chat about the local area and I enquired after a Tarte Tatin dish – he had none, but did have a range of pie dishes that can be used on the hob, so I may pick one up another time. I then bought myself a scone to keep me going until some of the other shops opened up to provide a real breakfast...

It has to be said though, there's nothing quite like a warm scone straight out the oven slathered in butter and jam. A delicious way to start a day's indulgences.

Right across the road from Dow's was another tantalising prospect – and one of the few shops that was also open so early! A specialist food shop going by the name of Fields of Perth. This was one of the highlights of the day. An establishment offering a wide variety of more unusual foods (raspberry balsamic vinegar anyone?) was a most welcome surprise in such a small town.

The owner (I'm saying the owner again – I really wish I'd asked people their names! Next time...) confided that when Fields had first opened around six weeks ago their stock had included some particularly unusual items, but that this had had to be curtailed a little due to customers not knowing what to do with some of the produce on offer! It was good to see harder to get items for sale though, and I helped myself to a bundle of samphire and a bottle of white wine vinegar.

The staff were kind enough to pose for a photo behind the charcuterie counter (there's also a fantastic cheese and fish selection) and were more than friendly and helpful. I'll definitely be back when I'm looking to cook to impress...

With ten o'clock fast approaching, it was time to get some proper breakfast. I popped into one of the many cafes in the town – the Breadalbane Bakery. A full Scottish breakfast later (and a pack of Aberfeldy Oaties for later – oaties are similar to oatcakes, but thicker and sweeter) and I was ready to wander the town again.

One particular incident in the tearoom caught my ear though. One customer had asked for a breakfast, only to be asked by the lady behind the counter whether he'd like an English or Scottish breakfast. He turned and winked at the room, asking aloud "An English breakfast? Naw, ah widnae eat that!". I love Scotland. It's good to be home...

A quick look through the cookery books in the thrift shop turned up an interesting find. A fifty year old hardback called 'Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking Around the World'. It's an absolute treasure trove of unusual recipes from all over the place. I'm sure some of these will be finding their way onto the blog at some point.

My next stop was at the local whisky distillery – the world renowned Dewar's. Having never tried whisky before I wasn't really sure quite what to expect. Dewar's is still a working distillery, but they've also built a museum in part of the building that's no longer operational and run a variety of tours.

I decided to go on the cask tour, which is a little more comprehensive than the basic one. I was the only one on the tour which meant I could take it at my own pace and take everything in – it was a particularly enjoyable experience.

Opening with a ten minute mini cinema screening of the history of Dewar's and the distilling process they use to create their whisky. This was followed by a self-guided tour of the little museum in the main building. It's a fascinating place, documenting the history of the brand, the exact processes they use in the creation of the drink, and every piece of trivia and information you could ever want to know about Dewar's and whisky in general.

The museum flows through into the dramming bar where you're offered a glass of Dewar's from one of three malts and blends. The whisky is a beautiful, fruity drink with honey notes that are just stunning.

After about twenty minutes of sipping, it was on to the next part of the tour. The tour guide, Jim (finally a name!) took me round the distillery explaining all the machinery and each part of the process. With only myself on the tour, it was very personal and excellently tailored. Jim was more than capable of fielding questions, and his insightful and interesting anecdotes really helped to bring across the family atmosphere that Dewar's tries to instil in its employees (indeed, many of the staff have taken over their roles in the distillery from their parents).

After a tour of the works, I was taken out to the warehouse where a few casks are kept (though most are shipped out to Glasgow for export). Jim explained the casking process and a few other details about the warehouses before tapping one of the casks for me to taste the casked whisky (complimentary glass!). This is the drink in it's highest volume state before distilled water is added during bottling.

While the alcohol level was around 60%, the drink still retained it's beautiful flavour and aromatic nose. In fact the smell of the whole place was just incredible. Very sweet and heady.

And finally it was back to the inevitable gift shop for a last wee mill round before leaving. I picked up a book on Tommy Dewar's globetrotting marketing strategies and of course a small bottle of whisky.

By this point, Hugh had finished his climb with Kris, and the two of them met me in Aberfeldy for a coffee at the Watermill. The Watermill is 'Feldy's answer to the pretentious art meets literature meets tea and coffee establishments that are so frustratingly fashionable at the moment.

I struggle with these places because while the quality of the food and drink is usually fine, it is always so very overpriced. The atmosphere in this sort of place I always find to be a bit tedious as well – all a bit overly quiet and austere. Not my thing.

Still, one more delight was yet to come – a visit to Cones in the centre of the town. A pokey wee ice cream shop that also sells local confectionary. The ice creams are beautiful and the range includes a few Scottish themed flavours like Cranachan and Tablet. Well worth a visit on a sunny day like it was (amazingly!).

And so that was Aberfeldy, and a very pleasant experience it was. I'm sure I'll be back soon to visit Fields of Perth and to pick up that pie dish from Dow's...

* * *

Coming up:
- Got to make something with that samphire...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Perfect Poached Eggs?

There's been a bit of discussion in the kitchen at work recently (admittedly, mostly because of me) about how to make a perfect poached egg.

You see, coking for so many means that we do things as easily and efficiently as possible in the kitchen. This is fair enough and I understand the reasoning. So we use little metal rings to hold the egg in place in a large pan full of water. Nice and simple.

But I think the look of the eggs is all wrong when it's done like this. The picture I have in my head is one of the fluffy looking, oval shaped eggs served up over an English muffin, Parma ham and covered in hollandaise sauce. Eggs Benedict of course.


To achieve that, I've had a good scour round the internet to see what peoples' methods are. There are a couple which are prevalent.

The first has been attributed widely to Delia Smith. She uses a technique similar to that we use in the kitchen - shallow frying the eggs in water. In Delia's case though, this is done without the aid of the metal ring. Results from this technique seem to be sketchy at best though, and as it's similar to what we already do I thought I'd look a little further.

The other method which I've seen a few times is most often referred to as the vortex method - and it's this one that I had a go at.

The idea is to crack your egg into a shallow bowl or cup while your water gets up to the boil.

Once your water is at a rolling boil, take a whisk and rapidly stir the water until you have a whirlpool in the middle of your pan. Drop the egg into the centre of the 'vortex' and the yolk should stay fairly steady while the white is pulled round it to form the poached egg.

The technique is difficult at best though. I had five goes before I managed to make an egg that I was vaguely pleased with. If the water is spinning too fast then fragments of the white start to spin off and the egg loses it's shape. Too slow and you end up with the egg sitting at the bottom of the pan and frying off in the water.

I think I'm getting closer though. Maybe a few more tries and I'll crack it - pardon the pun!

For now though, five goes is quite enough.


What I am wondering though, is whether or not anyone has any other methods for poaching eggs, or a little tweak to the 'vortex' method above that might help?

Any suggestions are welcome!


Coming up:
- Same as last time!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Pete Hardiman's Lemon Drizzle Cake

A wee update from the land of cookery for you to enjoy. This time I didn't do any of the cooking though, but I thought that to keep the blog ticking over I'd put up a piece on one of the other residents of Seon Na Glen, Pete, who baked a lemon drizzle cake today...


For the cake you will need:

- 225g self raising flour
- 225g caster sugar
- 225g butter
- 4 eggs
- 1 lemon
- 50g icing sugar

First beat the flour, sugar, butter and eggs together. The lovely Pete is demonstrating here.

Grate in the rind of the lemon (making sure to avoid the pith) before mixing the batter quite thoroughly again to distribute the zest throughout. While grating, it is always a good idea to wear pink Crocs.

Pour the finished batter into a greased cake tin.

Put the cake into an oven that has been preheated to 180°C and bake for around half an hour.

Once the cake has baked, remove it from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes. Once slightly cooled, prick it all over with a fork to allow you to pour over the lemon drizzle.

To make the drizzle, combine the juice from the lemon with the icing sugar. Mix it together well.

Pour on the drizzle before allowing the cake to cool completely. Slice and serve!


Coming up:
- Still working on that Christmas menu...
- Back down to England for a week in August and I have a couple of plans for some blogs that'll result from that week.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Drunken Pineapple And Strawberries

Hello folks. It's been a fair wee while since the last blog, and to be honest, I think it'll be this way from now until I finish with this job.

With a lack of mobility, and the fact that all my meals are provided, then the ability to get ingredients and the need to cook (other than at work) has been greatly reduced. But, like today, when I do occasionally put something together I'll let you know...


Unfortunately, the internet up here is still absolutely dire, so again I've only managed to get a couple of pictures up. Hope that's alright!

I made a few mistakes in putting together this dish - primarily not consulting a few recipes beforehand to get an idea of what I was doing - but it came out okay. And I'll put a couple of markers down as to how to do it better...

You will need (serves about six):

- 1 pineapple
- 20 to 30 strawberries
- 50g sugar
- 50g butter
- 1 glass white wine

I used a glass of wine, but really that was too much. A few tablespoons would have been more than adequate. You really just want to make a glaze for the fruit, but I ended up with something more akin to punch - though it still tasted pretty good.

Start by melting the butter and sugar together to form a little caramel. Then fry your fruit (I used pineapple and strawberry, but really anything works. Drunken plantain is popular, and for that you substitute the wine for rum) in it for around five minutes at a fairly high heat.

Bring down the heat after the fruit is cooked through and add the wine to the pan. Bring up to simmering point and slowly cook off the alcohol for around ten minutes until just the flavour of the wine comes through.

And that is that. Very simple, very quick, but very tasty too. Like I say, bringing down the amount of alcohol you use will mean that you get a glaze on the fruit rather than a very thin sauce, which would be much better. Also, strawberries don't hold their shape after a lot of cooking, but they do colour the sauce very well. Again, reducing the amount of wine in the dish would mean that cooking off the alcohol would take less time and the strawberries would have come out better. But you live and learn - experiment a little and enjoy!


Coming up:
- I'm going to try to get hold of some chicken livers from the butcher at some point.
- Also got my Christmas menu nearly sorted - will be starting the Christmas cake at the start of September!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Roast Chicken With Vegetable Risotto

Hello folks! You're long overdue an update, so here's a little one to keep the tastebuds tickled. Enjoy...


Sunday afternoon - post church, or work, or whatever you've got on - has long been associated in the UK with the roast dinner. And it's no exception here in Ardeonaig. A bunch of the folk from the centre came to Seon Na Glen for a roast that Cardo and I had put together for them. To be fair, Cardo made the roast (and it was good!) and I put together the risotto.

I'm not sure exactly what flavouring went into Cardo's chicken, but it was very well seasoned. He made sure to baste it regularly while it roasted. Bacon between the skin and breast of the chicken - a wonderful touch.

For the risotto you will need (serves 6):

300g rice (risotto rice is preferable, but we didn't have any - long grain came out okay)
1l vegetable stock
3 slices of bacon
100g baby sweetcorn
100g sugar snap peas

Get yourself a thick bottomed pan and put the rice into it. Crack up the heat and start to add your stock a bit at a time. Make sure to stir constantly as the rice absorbs the liquid. This will help the rice to release starch and give the creamy texture desired from a risotto.

Slice up the bacon into strips and fry it off in a little butter. Also boil the baby sweetcorn and peas - but only for a few minutes. Enough to cook the veg, but not enough to cause them to lose their texture.

When the risotto is almost done, stir through the veg and bacon until it's well mixed together. You now have the base for your chicken - just carve it up and place on top!

Here's some of the group enjoying dinner...

Cardo also finished off the meal with a pear crumble. Superb.


After everyone had gone, I took the chicken carcass, a few herbs and spices and boiled it up in a litre and a half of water for three hours to create some stock. The seasoning on the chicken helped to flavour the stock too. Sadly I didn't have any root vegetables around - maybe some carrot would have been good. But I now have some stock, maybe for some soup or some sauces... I'm sure I'll use it in an upcoming blog.


Coming up:
- Might get up to something on my days off. Eyes peeled...

Friday, 3 June 2011

Food Travel: Killin, Scotland

I've been working in the Ardeonaig kitchen now for about a week. I took advantage of a day off yesterday, taking a wee trip to the local village, Killin, to have a look around and see what culinary offerings my new surroundings have to offer...


Killin, like most rural Scottish villages, seems to rely heavily on tourism for its income. To this end there are a plethora of little B&Bs, hotels, and all of these have catering facilities or an attached restaurant (indeed one such establishment was proudly proclaiming that it sold Mackie's ice cream within. If you haven't tried it, do - second only to Nardini's in Largs or Soave's in Baillieston).

But I was looking for stand alone food places - just a restaurant, just a cafe. That type of thing.

The only restaurant worth mentioning (and it barely is...) is Shutters in the village centre.

The only reason I call it a restaurant is because that is what they have deemed to title the place, though it really is no more than a glorified (and expensive!) cafe. While I'm sure that the food is probably fine (though the prices were enough to keep me out), and the staff are more than likely wonderfully friendly (as are all the Killin folk I've spoken to), it really is going too far to label Shutters as a restaurant.

There are a couple of little cafes or bakeries, but the one that caught my eye was The Wee Bake Shop, a tin building near the top of the village. The place really was a testament to just what can be done with a pie.

From macaroni filling to the traditional Scotch pie and everything in between! I went for a thoroughly delicious steak and haggis pie and a can of Irn-Bru, naturally. The steak seemed to be decent quality meat and the haggis was fantastic.

They also had a range of other traditional baked goods like Bridies, as well as a few other wee bits and pieces. A great wee place - and cheap! - that I'm sure will become a fixture in my future visits to Killin.

There is also a little fishmonger and fruiterer which is a fantastic find, and I'm sure I'll be putting it to good use in the near future.

One other little gem I wanted to share was an interesting fish and chip vendor at the bottom end of the village. Make of it what you will...

Curious, eh? I've yet to see it open, but it doesn't look particularly disused. Maybe I'll try it out one day.

As I've mentioned already, Killin is a rural village and very tiny. And with most shops given over to tourism, the other 'real' shops all become general stores - selling a bit of everything! This can certainly be advantageous. I popped into the fine arts shop which doubles as a used book shop (of course) and managed to pick up a copy of Raymond Blanc's "Cooking For Friends" for fifty pence.

He looks rather younger on the cover here than he does today. What a purchase to end my trip to Killin on! Maybe it won't be so bad here...


Coming up:
- I'll keep you posted when I can...