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:
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?
🙂 🙂

Lunch with the experts… and a good chat!

Tuesday 18 February–a rather grey and wet day but one I’d been looking forward to as I eventually managed to have lunch with a celebrity friend of mine… you know, us Total Food Geeks in Edinburgh–we’re really a creative bunch and some of us are truly amazing!  So, 1:15 pm saw me meeting up with my friend Blythe… yes, the man behind the fantastic website Lunchquest.  If you are in Edinburgh and need a steer to a place for lunch or dinner, look no further, it is a really amazing resource. 

We had arranged to visit Beirut, on Nicholson Street… after its makeover I was looking forward to this visit… however, its opening hours at lunchtime have been erratic… hence we retreated to the Olive Tree Bistrot, on Marshall Street, just across the way.  The place was quiet and the service good and attentive–it was especially nice to see the manager and one of his pal enjoying a Greek coffee–enough to set my tastebuds going! Blythe had a bowl of soup followed by borek–in true questing style! 🙂 I enjoyed a mixed salad which was great–olives, red cabbage, tomatoes and lettuce accompanied by a warm pitta, what can a girl ask for more than this??

The meal was good; the Olive Tree is a place that deserves being patronised as the food is fresh and hearty and the service attentive and kind… but more to the point, it was the conversation that made the difference: I had not seen Blythe for ages, so it was great to catch up and hatch plans for the next few months’ activities of TFGE! I think that we may have a chutney event soon–cue to me suggesting that we may invite a pal who’s chutney and jam queen (please Lucy, let’s organise another outing to Scotland soon!:D), look up ‘grab your spoon’ and you’ll find out more about her!–and well, we’ll see for the rest.

Now, I raise a mental toast to my pal Blythe–thanks again for the chat and please let’s not wait so long for a replica! 🙂

End to radio silence…

Oh well, so sorry… January turned into a very fast and furious month… hence my blog silence! Never mind… having turned 35 yesterday I thought I’d update these pages with the latest goings-on in the garden and the kitchen!

Gardenwise, we’ve been busy preparing the new growing season. the bed levels are now raised and the soil has been duly composted.  My lady Cornelia and I have had frequent confabs about plans, which is good! 🙂 so, the sweet peas are seeded and will be germinating under cellophane in the sun, and the cauliflower seedlings, also going in boxes on the warm windowsill of the shed, will be ready for transplanting at the end of April, which is just perfect timing.  The broad bean plants are now about 1/2 ft tall, and this is really promising… and yes, the alliums have indeed sprouted, hoorai!


The last 2 weekends we welcomed friends… first, our old neighbours, Annice and Ollie, who came for Saturday lunch–potato, tomato and pepper soup, onion tart and fresh bread and salad were the staples!  and then, the Italian club, i.e. Alessandra with American hubby Tony and dear pal Paolo came for spaghetti cacio e pepe e agnello al forno con patate last Sunday.  Just fab time to catch up! And finally, yes, yesterday hubby took me out to celebrate my becoming an old woman… we had drinks at the Mash Tun, who’s aleady featured on these pages (and even on a very busy night of footie and rugby did not disappoint! :)) and then dinner at Rivage… really good Indian food, good service and further evidence that to have a good night, for us sitting in the East of Edinburgh, Easter Road is the place!

So, recipe-wise…

Pepper, tomato and potato soup (for 4)

1 carton passata

3 red peppers, roasted and peeled (I do this on the griddle pan, about 8 min on each side, then wrap in a paper bag and leave to cool–the steam makes the peeling super-easy!)

4 medium spuds

1 clove garlic

1 red onion

1 pint veg stock

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp herbs–I use a mix of oregano, parsley, basil and a pinch of chilli powder

Soften the onion in the oil, then add the garlic; after a couple of minutes add the potatoes, sliced, and the passata. Stir well and leave to simmer for 4/5 min then add the stock. Simmer for another 15 min til the spuds are tender. Meanwhile, whiz the peppers in a food processor.  Add them to the soup, simmering for another 10 min.  Take the pan off the hob and using a hand-held blender cream it, then add the herbs and return to the hob for another couple minutes.

Onion tart (for 4)

500g onions, mixed (red, yellow and white, to your taste)

1 tbsp olive oil

for the pastry

350g plain flour

120g margarine

1 pinch salt

125ml water, warm

1 egg beaten.

Make the pastry by rubbing the marg in the flour, then add the egg and mix with a fork; add the water and salt and mix to a pliable dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 15 min.

For the onions: heat the oven to 190C; peel the onions and cut them in wedges; in a baking tray, slightly oiled, mix the wedges with the oil and, if liked, some garlic salt and cider vinegar; add a tsp sugar and then bake in the oven for about 12 min til softened.

Roll out the pastry and line a 22cm diam tin, oiled and floured with it; bake blind for 8 min, then take out and pour the onions in the case; return to the oven for another 15/18 min.

And for the Italian recipes… next up!


Under pressure… in cooking, that is!

I am not a terrible kit-mad person, but this was a very good addition, once I moved in the new house… i.e. a pressure cooker. 🙂 Mine is not fancy at all (just £24 in a high street retailer, the one with the catalogue!! ;)) but works a treat.  So, since coming back I said to myself, how about trying it? Well, I can tell you, it works a treat and for a fraction of the time. OK, not everything comes out nice (I still love my aubergines and peppers roasted more than I do stewed) but for soups and casseroles, especially those involving cereals and legumes, it is ace!

So, with the help of an Italian recipe book (but hey, my local library here has quite a few that are easy and reliable so take a look on your shelves before you buy!) herewith some good solutions for the question ‘what do I eat when it is late and I am tired?’…

Spelt and puy lentil stew

for 1: 30g dry spelt, 25g puy lentils, soaked for at least 6 hours; 1 can chopped tomatoes, 1 clove of garlic, 300g of mixed chopped veg to your liking (I used celeriac, courgettes and leeks) and a small bunch of kale, shredded; 1 tsp parsley, 1 pinch chilli pepper, 1/2 tsp sage; 500 ml boiling water, 1 tsp bouillon (veg).

Combine the ingredients in the pan of the pressure cooker, then pour in the boiling water; close the lid and put on a high heat til the cooker starts whistling (check the instructions of your pan though!); when it does, lower the heat and start timing (about 20min). Once the time is up, use the quick method to release the pressure and open. You may need some extra time for a less watery consistency–in which case make the stew boil on high without the lid for 3/4 min.

Barley, cannellini and cauliflower soup;

For one: 25g barley, 35g dried cannellini beans, both soaked for at least 6 hours; 1 small cauliflower, washed and cut in florets; 1 clove garlic, 1 tsp sage, 1/2 tsp thyme, 1/4 tsp garlic salt; 450ml boiling water and 1 tsp bouillon (veg).

Follow the method above; this time you will need 25 min from when the pan starts whistling.

And today, I charmed my hubby with the pressure cooker… by making spicy pumpkin and sweet potato soup.  It took only 12 min to cook and it was really delicious. The recipe was from the Metro (the free sheet you can get in most cities, you would be surprised at how good the recipes are sometimes! :)) and came from a famous company producing soup… I made it with a different type of squash but it worked alright all the same!

And now… back to the papers! 😀