Monday, 24 December 2007


This year, much as every year really, Christmas finds me staying with family in Lincolnshire. This raises certain issues with my eating British scheme, since it would be rather rude of me to insist on only eating British food. However, I have so far been pleasantly surprised that quite a lot of the food we've had so far has been British. The interesting thing is that this is not a consequence on some deliberate effort to buy British, it's just that the food that has been bought from the supermarket has been mostly British. Some of the vegetables even came in bags which had pictures of the farmer that had grown them printed on, which made it seem much more personal.

For example, yesterday we had vegetable soup followed by boiled beef with onion sauce. The soup was made from white cabbage, leek, carrot, swede and onion, all of which were British! Not only that, but there were all grown in Lincolnshire! This is a typical Norwegian dish and the beef is boiled in the soup before being fished out towards the end. It makes a great antidote to all the fried, grilled and roast meat that is normally consumed at this time of the year, since the boiling makes it really tender and all the 'goodness' is preserved in the soup.

On Saturday, we visited a farmers market which was being held in a town near to where my family live. It was very much like the farmers market in Edinburgh, although there weren't quite so many stalls selling really exciting things, such as cider and 'grow you own' mushroom kits. However, there were the typical assortment of stalls selling vegetables and meat and a few other bits and bobs, such as hand-made chocolate. I only recognised one local company, which was Pipers, who make my favourite crisps (I think I may have mentioned them before).

I brought back from Edinburgh some of the Cairn O'Mohr fruit wine that I bought at the farmers market up there a little while ago. After I got quite tipsy at the stall from trying so many of their products, I ended up buying two bottles of the 'Berry Christmas' fruit wine, made from raspberries, strawberries and a hint of spices. We opened one of the bottles yesterday and it was really very nice! It's a little bit like mulled wine in that it has a hint of spices to it, but we served it cold and it was really rather refreshing. I'm no wine expert by any means, but I would think that this would go best before or after food, rather then during. It certainly has enough character to be drunk on it's own, although it is quite strong!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Cheese cake

It turned out to be my turn for cake again last week! That's the third time since I started this eating British scheme back in August. Since I've been quite busy at work recently, I was tempted to go for a honey cake again, but this seemed far to boring. I'm an avid fan of Nigella Lawson's programme on BBC 2 and I had recently seen her making a cheese cake, which seemed very quick and easy. The challenge though, would be to make a version of it using British ingredients. I figured that the cheese would probably be the biggest problem. Cheese cake, and here I'm talking about the non-baked variety (I've never understood baked cheese cakes), is usually made using some form of extremely mild cream cheese, such as Marscapone. Clearly, this isn't a British cheese and although I briefly entertained the idea of making a cake using a large block of Stilton (the king of cheese, after all!), I thought that this might not be too popular with my colleagues at work. It was time to call in the professionals.

I called in at I J Mellis on Victoria Street, which is considered by many to be the best cheese shop in Edinburgh. I figured that if anyone was going to be able to help me, it would be them. It turned out that they didn't have anything suitable in stock, although the shop assistant assured me that they usually do and he was able to advise me that the cheese I was looking for was called "Crowdie", which is a famous Scottish cream cheese (you can learn more about it here: He suggested that I should try the Jenners food hall. Luckily, this isn't too far away from Victoria Street and they did have some, so that was the cheese problem solved.

It then occurred to me that the next critical part of any cheese cake recipe is the base. Nigella makes her base by blending up broken digestive biscuits with butter, sounds simple, but are digestive biscuits really British? I don't think they normally quote a country of origin on most packs of biscuits, so I searched high and low in the Jenners food hall, but they didn't have any digestives at all. I didn't really want to go hunting around Edinburgh for biscuits as it was getting late, to it was time to deploy my trusted problem solving technique. I went and had a cup of tea.

Feeling refreshed and inspired by the brew, I realised that oat cakes go well with cheese and so would probably make a reasonable base for a cheese cake. So, I purchased a couple of packs of plain, Scottish oatcakes. Once I got the ingredients home, it was a simple matter of following the standard cheese cake recipe. I broke up the oatcakes and blended them with some butter to form the base material, which I then pressed into the bottom of a round, spring-form cake tin. I think mixed the Crowdie cream cheese with caster sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, before gently folding in some whipped double cream. I then gently spooned this over the base and left it in the fridge over night to set.

I think it turned out rather well, although I have to say that the Crowdie cheese really does taste of cheese, which made for an interesting flavour when mixed with the cream, sugar and lemon juice. The key test was that several of my colleagues had second helpings, so it can't have been all that bad!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Farmers Markets (2)

I had a friend round for dinner last week, so I thought it would be the perfect chance to try out the Edinburgh farmers market. It was a very pleasant experience, although I did get there a bit late since a lot of stalls had sold out, but I was still able to get almost everything I wanted and a little bit more! This particular friend is a vegetarian, so it made for a slightly different challenge for my Eating British scheme.

In the end, I went to leek and potato soup to start, followed by Stilton, onion and potato pie, with baked apples and ice-cream to finish. I think it all turned out really well, although I might have over done the potato theme slightly... :-) I already had some leeks from the week before, but I was able to get the potatoes at the farmers market. I also bought some Scottish cider, called 'Peel Walls'. Despite the name hinting at possible applications as paint stripper, this was really very good and went well with the Stilton in the pie. I also picked up a couple of bottles of 'Berry Christmas' fruit wine from Cairn O'Mohr, which tasted very nice. Although, the lady at the Cairn O'Mohr stall let me taste so many of the products that I felt positively tipsy afterwards!

I also noticed a stall selling flour, including strong flour suitable for making bread. I went over and spoke to them, thinking of my previous entries on the subject of bread flour and how I've read that high gluten wheat doesn't grow to well in the British climate. It seems that this might be incorrect, since these people have certainly not had any trouble growing the high gluten wheat. This is something I'm clearly going to have to try to get to the bottom of - watch this space.

The leek and potato soup is a great dish for this time of the year and all the ingredients are in season at the moment. It is also very easy to make. Simply melt some butter in the bottom of a good, heavy bottom pan. Wash and slice a leek and fry the slices in the butter until they darken and go soft. Then, add peeled and sliced potato and stir around. Finally, add enough vegetable or chicken stock to cover (and maybe a wee bit more) and then put the lid on and let it simmer until the potatoes are cooked. That's it! Proper fast food.

For the baked apples, I managed to get British Bramley apples in my local supermarket. These are by far the best apples for this kind of thing, I've tried other apples and they don't work nearly so well. As the Bramley's are cooking apples, they are not too sweet to start with, where as eating apples just tend to get a bit sickly. To make these, I simply cored the apples using an apple coring tool. I'm not generally a fan of having loads of different, single use kitchen gadgets, mostly because I don't have space. But, if you need to core and apple and leave it whole, then one of these is essential! Once cored, I filled the whole brown sugar (unfortunately not British, but I'm working on that one) and wrapped them in tin foil. Then, simple bake in the over on gas mark 7, or about 200C (ish) for about 20 - 30 minutes until you can feel that they are soft. Then serve with cream, or ice-cream.

I am also now the proud owner of a bread machine! As I predicted, the novelty of making my own bread by hand soon wore off. I haven't had much time to try it out yet, but I'll keep you posted with how it goes.