Spring is in the air… well, almost…

Blimey, it is March 1 already! Hubby was home this weekend as he had meetings etc and is still enjoying his visiting prof-ship time… this week it is going to be my turn to go travelling… Boston MA, here I come, to give a paper at the EUSA conference and catch up with the translatlantic chat on EU related things!
The weather here in the fair capital of Scotland is suitably stormy still, though… gales are blowing but on the other hand, did I not just welcome the first daffs along with the crocuses in the shared garden?
This has also been the weekend of the underdog, with Italia beating Scotland in Murrayfield (and we were there, was a good match overall!) and England loosing to a superfast Sri Lanka at the ICC championships…
So, was I not pleased to see lovely hubby, if only for a few days… 🙂 on Friday night we enjoyed a couple of good beers in the Mash Tun on Easter Road, which is always a nice place to hang out. They have some nice ales on tap, like a couple of Hobgoblin offerings, so go check the place out! And of course… we treated ourselves to a lovely slap up dinner in Al Dente. Graziano was at the kitchen helm and the offerings were, as usual, really wholesome, tasty and thoroughly enjoyable! Bruschette, risotto for hubby and grilled veg for me, all accompanied by fresh bread and some good Inzolia wine, what more can a girl ask for??
Sadly, my poor back has seized up, so today I had to cut short my usual 12 miler as I was nearly crying… 😦 and am now in bed with good old pal paracetamol and heat patches to help my piriformis… fingers crossed for the transatlantic flight but I shall enjoy the rest!
So, expect US updates… but before I go… this is one I had on Thursday night. After a long day, a stew was the ticket!
for one or 2 people, depending on how hungry you are!
300g chopped parsnip, cabbage, swede and leeks, in the proportion you like
1 bell pepper
1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic
300g tomato passata
2 tsp each parsley and oregano, 1 tsp chilli pepper or paprika
2/3 tbsp veggie stock
120 g butter or cannellini beans or a combination

in a pan, heat the passata, then add onion and garlic; simmer for 10 min then add the veg along with the stock and seasonings. Cover and simmer for 20 min; add the beans, adjust seasonings and cook for another 10 min. Serve at once!


Sun is out and so the flowers… and I exhale!

Ach, don’t I just love February? Spring seems to be getting closer, at least in days like today, when the sun is out!, and both hubby and I have our birthdays!
Last weekend saw us going to Rome: he’s started as visiting prof now, and enjoying himself tremendously, lodging at my folks 🙂 and working away… yesterday as a gift my folks took Alistair for lunch at the Riserva in Canale Monterano, which is near our home in Oriolo and what a little jewel for the food they offer… the menu is not very vast but the produce is local and the offerings tasty! They also bake pizza in their woodfire oven at dinner, but lunch is all about ribollita, lasagne and fettuccine and the much prized local lamb!
Last weekend, my Dad took us all to lunch to one of our favourite Roman haunt, i.e. Trattoria Perilli al Testaccio! My Mum, hubby, sister and kids all gathered to celebrate my 36th birthday (yes, I am an old bag! official!): veggie soup, carciofi and spring greens were had, along with Shiraz from Casale del Giglio… Hubby enjoyed tagliolini ai carciofi and veal cacciatora, whereas the kids got stuck in lamb roast with potatoes. My Mamma, instead, enjoyed trippa and a portion of cacio e pepe, shared with big sister. Perilli is just the place for good, not pretentious Roman food. I recommend it to any pal wishing to sample my city’s cuisine… several friends went and were treated really well, so I never fail to thank Mr Perilli and his family and employees for having looked after my friends every time I go!
Now that hubby is away, well… I am not saying I am bored but don’t I miss him?? 😦 Last Tuesday I really appreciated going to Hush Hour at Lucky Liquor, where I had a nice catch up beer or two with my pal Blythe (of LunchQuest fame!) and lovely friend Rose!! Much fun for us Total Food Geeks Edinburgh will be had, so watch this space!
And now, late lunch beckons… mushroom broth, quick and easy, I think. So before I go, herewith my recipe!
for one
300g mushrooms, any type you like, washed and chopped
350ml veggie stock
1/2 tbsp olive oil
a handful pearl spelt or barley, soaked for at least 3 hours
mixed greens, shredded (anything you like, sorrel, spinach, kale… even frozen spinach will do! :))
salt, pepper, parsley and chilli to taste
1 clove garlic
1/2 onion, chopped

In a pan, heat the oil and sautee garlic and onion for a few minutes, then add the cereal. Mix well, then add the mushrooms and seasonings. Cover and let stew for 5/6 min. Pour over the stock, lower the hob and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve.

New month already! Happy days!

As you know, both hubby and I are February babies… hence we were kind of looking forward to getting out of tough-ish January! It is 1 February today, which is nice… the sun is shining and it feels less cold.
My visit tro the garden this morning was good–lots of clearing and pruning got done, which helps the soul. The snowdrops look good and the bulbs have started germinating, which is really promising.
However, before getting to today, I had to go through a couple of tough days… Friday afternoon was spent on the dentist’s chair. My good friend and Italian fellow national Manuela had to do some work on me, nothing serious, but enough to give me a sore cheek and mouth for about 36 hours. Friday night was pretty tough… and I was only too happy once in a while to outsource dinner! Hubby was coming back from London on a work trip, so I thought, ‘how about a surprise?’
Hey presto, some newly made friends (thanks to my TFGE involvement!) were to hand… Tom and Budge from Soul Sushi! This fab sushi firm has its kitchen in my area and kindly supported our endeavour at Restaurant Day. A quick look at their extensive menu, a couple of emails and here we go-sushi dinner for 2, and how good it was! We shared starters–edamame, seaweed salad and for hubby miso soup–and then I enjoyed my mixed veg inside out roll, while for hubby, well… only a California roll did it! 🙂
So, if you are on the look out for takeaway or delivery sushi, head no further than to: http://www.soulsushi.co.uk/
Drop these 2 lovely guys an email and you are sorted!
Yesterday was another quiet day–domestics and gardening dispensed with, I set out to make some soup, just what was required… using parsnips and pumpkin (the former from my trusted supplier Bellfield) and kale from the back garden, we enjoyed a steaming bowl of the stuff.
Those who care to follow my endeavours on twitter will have seen it pre-blending, but in case you haven’t…

This is another eventuous week… will update anon!
Have a good one, all!

January blues… who has them? Not here!

January has been a good and momentous month I must say! A good time to catch up with friends and get going again with my favourite passtimes…
My garden was in need of a tidy-up but I was glad to find some colour in it–look here, if you have not seen this pic already on Twitter!

I met with my good friend Blythe for lunch as well… it is always good to hear about adventures in the Lunchquest world… our venue of choice was Circus Cafe on St Mary’s Street which, in a good mezze style, treated us well… even this vegan was happy at this sight!

Yoga classes have also resume with my lovely teacher Lisa at Holyrood Yoga–and she’s already promised us a workshop in the next weeks, so watch this space…

Most of all, it felt really good to be back in our home… and for me to be in my kitchen! Lots of soupmaking happened, alrgely also as a reaction to the cold weather… high hits have been parsnip and Bramley apple soup and one of my favourites, tomato and pumpkin!
Hubby also enjoyed a big bowl of Cullen Skink last weekend–by all accounts, according to him I am becoming an expert… so, if you wish to try…
Tomato and pumpkin soup (for 2/3)
1 carton tomato passata
1 medium squash or pumpkin
1 onion
1 veg stock
350ml water
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 tsp basil
1 clove garlic.
Peel the pumpkin and cut in cubes. Wash thoroughly. Meanwhile, heat the oil and sweat the garlic and onion in it for 5/6 minutes. Toss in the pumpkin cubes, then cover with the passata and stir well. Dissolve the stock cube in the boiling water and then pour over the soupy mixture; cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover, add seasonings and herbs and let simmer til all is tender. Take off the heat and liquidise.
Cullen Skink (for 3)
1 piece of smoked haddock, about 400g in weight
4/5 medium potatoes, cut in cubes
about 400ml water
1 bay leaf
2/3 tbsp milk
In a pan, heat the water and dip the fish into it. Simmer gently til it is cooked through. Meanwhile, steam or boil the cubed potatoes til tender; once cooked tip in the bowl of a food processor about 3/4 of them and blend to almost creamy; mash roughly the others.
Take the haddock off the water but reserve the stock. Take our also the bay leaf and discard. Tear the haddock in piece, take the skin away and eliminate any scales.
Bring the stock back to a gentle simmer and then, with the help of a whisk or fork, blend in gently the mashed potatoes into it til creamy; add the haddock along with the roughly mashed spuds; add most of the milk and boil gently for another 5 to 10 minutes til all is nice and creamy and not runny.
My mother in law who is from Banff thoroughly approved… isn’t that unusual that such high praise should be awarded to the Cullen Skink made by an Italian?
🙂 🙂

New year new adventures…

It seems like yesterday that we were looking up to Christmas… and once again I am guilty as charged from not blogging for a long time! December turned out to be a tough month, with 2 bouts of various bugs which netted me half a stone and generally made me feel pretty dreary… so much so that I missed the fabulous TFGE Christmas do at Locanda dei Gusti… 😦 what a shame, but I was still under the influence of the dreaded norovirus!
Christmas was what was needed though… spending a bit less than a fortnight with family in Rome, enjoying walks and exhibition with lovely husband recharged my batteries.
As ever, we rekindled our family traditions for the Eve–our thin dinner!–and for the Day–our big dinner! 🙂
I made my fritto alla Romana and this year it came out very well, light and fluffy. Don’t ask me how, making the batter has no rime or reason for me, I use the same method and yet every time it is different. So, cauliflower florets and apples enjoyed the batter treatment whereas sliced artichokes were just dipped in egg and flour… ok, frying for an hour and half is a bit of a chore, but then the results are rather amazing! The Eve also saw my Mum back at the helm of pasta al tonno, roasted fish in the oven and a casserole of various seafood and crustaceans!
The Day was well, traditional… fettuccine al pomodoro were followed by roast lamb and roast veal loaf, potato roasties and steamed greens–broccoli from our kitchen garden and also steamed carrots and various salads!
Capodanno was spent with good friends–and I contributed la lenticchia, i.e. lentils stewed with garlic, celery and tomato, a traditional dish for New Year’s Eve, as it symbolises money and good luck. I enjoyed these on their own, but they are traditionally served with cotechino! Look here for an idea: http://www.academiabarilla.com/italian-recipes/second-courses/cotechino-with-lentils.aspx
We got back refreshed and ready for more adventures… see the next posts for what I have been up to. I promise more regular kitchen and garden updates but watch out for my pics on twitter too!

Out and about in the country… Dunblane and its surprises! :)

Those who know hubby and me know that October and November were tough months… ok, now hubby is well on his way to full recovery, exercising faithfully as often as he can and generally in good nick, but still, the end of November was a good time to take a couple of days off and visit the country! So, last Friday we headed to Dunblane, having booked a room at the Hydro Hotel. It is a small place, Dunblane… but the countryside where it is is so lovely–the river Allan flows across the town and the Cathedral, well, is really amazing!
The Hydro treated us well enough… I enjoyed the pool in the morning and Hubby used the gym a couple of times… but mostly we were walking around the town, reading papers and not doing very much!
On Friday night we treated ourselves to a very good Chinese dinner: China Gourmet looks really quiet in its sit-in area… but is really busy as takeaway, looking by all accounts like a local favourite. I enjoyed vegan spring rolls and lettuce wraps filled with vegetables, stir fried in soy sauce, and boiled rice. Hubby felt the need for a warming chicken and veg soup… followed by a very tasty curry. With good service and very reasonable prices, who can go wrong?
Saturday night, instead, I must say, was less successful… I had booked a table at the Riverside, whose website boasted an extensive vegetarian menu whose courses to my mind could be easily veganised… it turned out, sadly, not to be the case. The chef was simply unable to do so and I ended up with salad and bread… which was more expensive and less tasty than the one I had at lunchtime in another local favourite, Cafe’ Continental! In fairness the manageress knocked off our starters and drinks from the bill by way of apology and with hindsight I should have probably let them know that I was vegan on the ‘phone… however, when at least a couple of the veggie options do not show cheese or dairy as part of their description, I wonder whether it would have been possible to modify their delivery to vegan standards… In the end of the day I had no particular problem asking this in other establishments (firstly Timberyard, which given their love for meat and game would have been forgiven for not being particularly flexible, and instead deliver every time even without notice!)… let’s hope that the kitchen staff at Riverside gain in flexibility and creativity… On the upside, hubby enjoyed his sea bass… however, despite having offered and accepted the parsnip soup he ended up with something looking and tasting like mushroom soup–not a big problem, as he likes both, but still… I wish they had updated their boards and informed the staff!
Dunblane was a lovely find… a word is truly deserved for a couple of pubs we visited, the Village Inn and the Tappit Hen–the latter is a CAMRA Scotland establishment and the choice of ales was really good. The Village Inn is also pleasant and quiet–seems to have a strong following among the locals, which tells visitors all they need to know about how nice it is!
So on the whole, despite our dinner adventure on Saturday, we enjoyed our stay… who knows where we’ll go next year for another break? Meantime, we’re starting getting ready for Christmas: this Saturday my charity group will host our annual Christmas party and thereafter (on Tuesday 9 Dec) the EGP community will get together for mulled wine and mince pies and some good music at Hendersons’!
Before that though–tomorrow, Locanda dei Gusti, here we come: the Geeks will be out in town! 🙂 more later!

Restaurant Day! And what a day it was… with foodie pals and the help of the best chip shop in town!

Last weekend was a very busy and special one! On Sunday hubby and I enjoyed a really good opera performance and the Festival Theatre, thanks to Scottish Opera: Rossini’s La Cenerentola was on and it was really good. We were in the company of friends–my friend Annalisa and her Danish husband Jacques–and afterward we wound up in Nawroz on Potterrow for a good dinner of mezzes and some lively banter! Nawroz is a real find–good, genuine and fresh Turkish/Middle Eastern food served in pleasant and airy surroundings. The portions are rather generous but not overwhelming and there is a choice for everyone including this vegan… 🙂 My favourites are the Nawroz salad, the vegetable kebab on a bed of lettuce and of course their amazing Baba Gannouji!
However, Sunday was also a day of rest for me… because on Saturday I got to run a restaurant in the company of my fellow Geeks Blythe and Rose as part of Restaurant Day: this is a great find, a day which started in Denmark a few years ago and has since been steadily branching out across the world. It can be summed up in one sentence: Like to cook? Have a go at running a restaurant for one day! The all-knowing Chris Smith from Nordic Horizons brought this to the attention of Blythe and then, well, once I saw what it was about I was game for it too, and so was Rose!
hey presto, I approached my friend Mauro of Giovanni’s Fish and Chip shop on Northfield Broadway with a view to exploring whether this really great establishment could be our venue… they open in the evening, so Mauro and his brother were really happy to have us use their premises and equipment (minus the friers, it would have been far too dangerous for dilettantes like us! ;)) for a couple of hours. Lovely Ylva from Zero Waste Scotland inspired our menu and our theme… i.e., avoid wasting food, use leftovers creatively! Blythe’s soups of mushroom and broccoli were enriched with, respectively, leftover bread rolls and a bag of rocket that was nearing its use-by date. Rose used up a glut of carrots to make her famous spicy carrot cake (ask my husband, was it good! :D) and me, well… I thought about how much food is sometimes leftover at Christmas, especially the trimmings, i.e. broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and cheese… hence, I was all to happy to make some shortcrust pastry (easy as pie, and sorry for the pun… just rub in 80g margarine in 400g plain flour and then enough water to bind a pliable pastry, then wrap in clingfilm and chill til ready to use) and make pasties with a mix of these veg, some crumbled cheese and a couple of eggs to bind together. Needless to say, our customers were very pleased… for a donation they left with a nice goodie bag with one or two beakers of soup, some fresh bread (also baked chez moi in the morning!), a pastie and some very handy recipe cards from our campaign of choice, Love Food Hate Waste! We ended our work just after 2… Mauro and team arrived to find us having a good chat and tasted our wares, with much pleasure, which, by all means, is a great seal of approval. Donations for the day (we did not charge and everyone was so generous!) went to the Cyrenians, a great charity which does excellent work with the poor around Edinburgh! Ach well… what a weekend it was–and needless to say, we’re already thinking about the next Restaurant Day in February… our fellow foodie Danielle from Edinburgh Foody ran an evening event on the theme of risotto chez Union of Genius, so watch out, next time there may be more Geekery for Restaurant Day in the fair city of Edinburgh!