An unexpected trip to the Edinburgh Farmers Market

We were really heading for the theater. Some friends and I had tickets to see Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” (which was utterly brilliant) at Edinburgh’s Lyceum.

What was exceptionally lucky is that the farmer’s market in Edinburgh is held just next to the theater every Saturday! I literally squeeled with excitement as we came upon it, I haven’t been to a farmers market of any kind since before Christmas and I do love to chat with producers and buy the best kinds of everything.

There were musicians playing and the sun was shining, there was an atmosphere of city hustle and bustle and I couldn’t help feeling that the world of food was smiling on me.

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Enjoying my hog roast roll

I was so excited to see that Oink Edinburgh were there. I met them a few years ago when I was working at a Chutney festival in Peebles, Running Tina’s Tea Room, (a fantastic weekend). One of my lasting memories was of how friendly they were and how good the hog roast was. I must admit in the intervening years there has certainly been no dip in quality. I opted for haggis with my hog yesterday and it was utterly sublime. Patrick and I have been toying with having a hog roast at our wedding and there are fewer and fewer arguments against…

After filling our faces with hog roast we took a more sedate pace around the rest of the market, choosing some beautiful blue cheese from “Stichill Jerseys” and some “Laprig Fruit” tomato juice. 

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We had much deliberation over the right balsamic, eventually opting for a roast garlic infused one, from “Gusto” which I think will add nicely to my collection! We had similar discussions when it came to buying jams. We tried a number of tasters at the “Claire Leslie Farms” stall but we literally couldn’t pick just one so we decided to go for bramble and black current as well as strawberry and gooseberry.

The farmers market in Edinburgh starts at 9am so by the time we got there at 1.30pm there were some stalls that didn’t have a great deal left. “Puddledub Buffalo” was one of these. I’ve never cooked with buffalo and, as with most things, I’d like to give it a go. We were left with the one remaining choice of minute steak which after a chat with the stall holder we bought to try out in a stir fry later in the week. Hopefully next time we can go a little earlier and really get stuck in to the specialty meats!

Time was ticking on and stalls were closing, but there was still time to snatch up some “Reiver’s food” bacon for breakfast the following day.

Walking away drinking “The Chocolate Tree” hot chocolate (beautiful) and eating a “Valvona & Crolla” doughnut I felt like a very trendy city type that spends her Saturdays mincing around the city looking in groovy shops and generally being very cool.

It’s back to reality now though… better get out and feed the chickens….

For more info: Edinburgh Farmers Market

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Venison Carbonara

After reading an interesting post from The Shotgun Chef about cooking carbonara with rabbit now that the game season is over I got to thinking about what I was going to do now my ready supply of wild meats has dried up.

There are some bits and bobs in the freezer, obviously, but it’s time to start concentrating on what I can still get until August when it all kicks off again.

Rabbit, of course, is one option. Sadly the little blighters haven’t done so well in the last few years around where we are, (the ferrets have been most disappointed), and aside from one fruitful trip to Cumbria, (after which the dog ate most of the bag while we were in the pub afterwards), it’s been a pretty dry season for rabbiting.

Pigeon is one of my favorite and luckily it’s available all year round, hoping to get some in the not too distant future!

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And then there is always venison. There is always some kind of deer in season; stags, bucks, does and hinds of various varieties come in and out so that you’re never left without some form of venison. I’m very lucky that my fiance has had a few lucky trips recently and our fridge has been groaning with it!

After roasting a leg, and being inspired by the aforementioned blog, I used up the leftovers by making carbonara. It was quick and easy! Here’s how I do my carbonara (feeds two);

  • one onion, finely chopped

    Terrible phone photo - but you get the idea

    Terrible phone photo – but you get the idea

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • handfull of mushrooms, chopped
  • oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • venison leftovers, diced (about 200g)
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 large egg
  • pasta to serve
  • Parmesan to garnish

Fry up the onions and garlic first, in a (small) splash of oil before adding the mushrooms and venison. (My venison had already been cooked so I was sure to fully reheat the meat), cook for a couple of minutes before adding the double cream, oregano and seasoning. make sure it all comes up to temperature before adding to cooked pasta. Combine the cooked pasta with the sauce and crack an egg over the whole lot. The heat from the pasta and sauce is intended to cook the egg but you might want to return it briefly to the hob just to be sure.

Then scatter with Parmesan before eating!

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My very own highlands holiday!

Driving up the A9 last week was a very exciting affair! I’m familiar with the road and as we drove higher up I began to point out the estates and lodges that I’d cooked at, telling anecdotes about each one and generally getting more excited! It’s always a great feeling to drive North, the scenery changes so dramatically and once you get past a certain point you start to see red deer stags grazing at the side of the road rather than rabbits. What made such a difference last week is that I was not on my way to a cooking job I was instead heading out on my very own highland adventure!

Dornoch

The first night away we spent in Dornoch. As it was also Valentine’s weekend and I was away with my fiance I thought it only fitting that we stay somewhere reasonably comfortable. I’d booked the Dornoch Castle Hotel, which from their website looked cosy, Scottish and, dare I say, slightly romantic! As part of our room tariff we had dinner included which after around 6 hours on the A9 I was ready for.

That said I was not expecting it to be so fantastic. It was like something out of a city restaurant not a highland hotel in February! It took the form of a set five course dinner with a couple of options for each course. We ordered differently for each which I

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think meant that we got to try pretty much everything that was going. I had a halibut main which was exceptional and a strawberries and cream pudding which was full of surprisingly different elements. It was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had for some time.

That said breakfast was appalling. The standard was set very high the night before and the breakfast chef rather let the side down. My eggs tasted as if they’d been done in the microwave and it was really rather disappointing after such a brilliant evening meal. Non the less I would defiantly recommend the Dornoch Castle hotel, even if you just go for dinner. It also seems to be a great bar to go to if you’re into whisky, (I’m afraid that was rather lost on me).

The next morning in Dornoch itself was beautiful.

We took “Scoop” for a walk on the beach, which she loved after the night in the car, charging up and down on the sand (between showers).

We spotted some long tailed duck bobbing about in the waves close to the shore, and heard the

very first skylarks of the year!

Long tailed duck

We had to get to Croick estate where we would be staying the following evening, but not before having chance to stop at the falls of Shin for a quick photo opportunity. They are pretty spectacular and we both agreed to com back later in the year when we might catch a chance to see salmon jumping.

Croick

We then set out to find the Creag Mohr bothy which lies somewhere in the middle of Croick estate. Patrick wanted to stay there as part of his work (Croick esate are very kindly donating a prize draw lot to the Heather Trust sale).

I’ll be honest, I’ve never stayed in a bothy before, when he suggested that we go and stay in one I thought it was a Scottish word for a holiday cottage. How very wrong I was. We’d stopped on the way up in Tiso, to which I am eternally grateful, and bought the heaviest duty sleeping bag that I could find, which probably saved my life. It was beautiful place but it was FREEZING.

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Temperature aside, staying at Creag Mohr was pretty spectacular. Inside the bothy was an open fire which meant that we were able to make tea and pasta (and not die of cold). and outside there was a blanket of stars unrivaled by anything I have ever seen.

There are plenty of deer on Croick and I saw species up close that I’ve never seen before. Although the most exciting spot of the trip for me was a golden eagle, I’ve never seen one before so watching one swoop over the bothy on a frosty morning was like nothing else. They really are huge!

It was cold, but it was worth it!

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Roe deer Venison Bolognese

I love spaghetti bolognese. it doesn’t matter how many times we have it, I adore it. There’s a number of variations that I go for, depending on mood, whats in the cupboard, what herbs are currently growing and who my audience is, but it’s usually something along the lines of mince, tinned tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, herbs. standard.

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This week I was very lucky, because I was presented with a roe deer and a mincer.

It wasn’t a very big deer, but it was enough to provide ample mince, at least for one portion of bolognese. So we cracked the mincer on and got to work. Due in part to the size of the deer and in part to the very poor butchery skills on display (I really want/need to do a butchery course), the mince ended up containing everything from brisket to fillet. To get it through the mincer there was also a little onion and some breadcrumbs added.

Once minced it was time to cook, and it really did turn out rather well. If I’m being totally objective I did go a little bit overboard with the oregano. I do love oregano, especially the smell of it when it’s cooking but as I only have the dried herb at the moment I need to remember how punchy it can be when it’s cooked into a dish like this. Served with pasta. Delicious.

 a fantastic picture of a Roe deer (I'm very proud of this picture)

A fantastic picture of a Roe deer (I’m very proud of this picture)

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Slow-cooked Goose and Wild Duck Pie

As I mentioned in an earlier post there has been a rather large delivery of game to our little spot in the Galloway hills. I’ve frozen a few bits and bobs (a great deal of venison) and have set about cooking the rest.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a goose to cook and from my very limited experience I was aware of how it can be rather chewy, due to the fact that geese can live for up 20 years and might be a little tough. I was assured by the shooter that this one was a young goose (the story of how it came to be in my kitchen can be read here) but I didn’t want to take any chances.

It was going to be slow cooked, then covered with puff pastry and served up with mash potato and some sort of veg. Amazing.

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There were also a few duck breasts, which I thought would add a little more wildfowl to the flavour so in they went also.

The basic recipe was as follows;

  • 2 goose breasts, diced
  • 2 duck breasts, diced
  • 2 red onions (sweated slightly)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed,
  • a (lengthy) slug of port
  • table spoon of plain flour
  • sprinkling of thyme
  • a vegetable stock cube
  • seasoning
  • then cover with water

And into the oven at not too hot (on my oven at 190 degrees, but it’s not fan assisted) for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. After the meat is tender, (it would probably depend on the age of your goose but mine only took 1 hour and 1/2) and then cover with puff pastry and return to the oven for about 20 mins. Giving you time to make your mash and whatever veg you fancy.

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I love my oven gloves

It’s worth mentioning that I had intended to fry up some button mushrooms in butter and add them before the pastry went on but I totally forgot, I think they would have made a nice addition but they weren’t badly missed.

I’ll be honest, I enjoyed this very much, the goose was delicious and really stood out, the port was its perfect companion. The puff was, perhaps, a little underdone but but the time I got to that stage the whole house smelt so good it was difficult to concentrate.

As you can see I made a fairly big pie. Which meant that the following day there was still some pie. Possibly the only thing better than goose pie is cold goose pie.

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Banana pancakes (easiest ever)!

I don’t know where this recipe comes from, a friend suggested it as something I could try out. So I did and it turned out superb!

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Everything you will need

It’s very simple. You take:

  • One banana
  • Two eggs

That’s its. You then blend them, really blend them until you just have liquid, no banana lumps.

And cook, like a regular pancake.

You won’t be able to flip it like a normal pancake, but if you wait until its cooked on the bottom it should them be solid enough to flip – if you’re careful.

I literally couldn’t believe how nice this was, there’s a definite bananeryness to it but it’s not overwhelming (and I do quite like bananas).

I attribute a great deal of my usual love of pancake to my love of sugar but these guys are totally sugar free. Sugar free, gluten free, dairy free, wheat free; free of all possible sources of badness!

They do come out slightly more yellow that usual, but if you can live with that then give them a go! So easy!Image

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The Last pheasants of the season! (and how they became pheasant curry)

My Finance went away to Norfolk to stay with some friends and shoot quantities of game. Although I do not enjoy having to chop my own wood for the fire, it’s very easy to forgive him when he comes back with a boot full of fantastic game. This trip was no different and as well as the usual pheasants and ducks he also produced an entire muntjack deer and some geese. I hope to blog a little in due course about all these things but today it’s pheasants.

I must admit I’m not a massive fan of pheasant, its always the thing we have most of and its so easy to get board of it. When I first started cooking I would always roast game, thinking that this was the easiest and simplest way to enjoy it, so that everyone would appreaciate the flavours of the meat in their purest form. Pheasant, however, likes to dry itself out when it’s being roasted and you end up laying it over with such bacon that it starts to taste a little porky.

ImageWith these chaps, the final offerings of what has been a pretty fruitful season (from my perspective at least) I decided that I would make some curry. I really like game curry, partly to do with the fact that I really like curry and partly to do with the fact that game really adds a deepness to the flavour. Pheasant is a particularly good meat to do like this, the usual issues of the meat drying out are just not relevant here and where chicken can be a little bland the pheasant retains its punch.

The other advantage of currying the pheasants is that you don’t have to pluck them, just breast them, which with these guys was very quick and easy.

I took the breasts and diced them then added a selection of spices from the cupboard and left them to marinade in the fridge for about 4 hours. It should probably have been longer but I was just too impatient. The marinade was made from:

  • finely chopped garlicImage
  • grated fresh ginger
  • garam masala
  • cumin
  • cardamon pods
  • turmeric
  • Cayenne pepper
  • paprika

Admittedly, I did sort of make this up as I went along it was based on things that have worked before and what I had to hand.

Once marinated the whole thing went into the pan for searing, then I added a few chopped tomatoes, half a tin of coconut milk and a good handful of ground almonds.

I must admit this turn out pretty delicious, the way that the marinade spices combine themselves with the pheasant is just brilliant.

Sadly we won’t be getting any more pheasants until October when the season kicks off again. Right now that feels like a very long time…

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The Secret stash

In the back garden we have a run full of hens. In the front garden we have another smaller hen run which houses “Monty”, the Millie Fleur Pekin and couple of ladies to keep him company. As it is wintertime and there are no vegetables or flowers for the hens to destroy they are all given free range and the doors are left open for them to come and go. Once I opened up Monty’s pen all his ladies, inevitably, ran off to be with “Vulcan” the silkie cockerel from the other pen. Sadtimes for Monty but he did have his private bachelor quarters in the front garden.

However…  last night I noticed that the door of the pen had blown shut (the weather has been pretty horrific here) and I thought, poor Monty, I hope he isn’t stuck inside. Dashing over to rescue my prized pekin I open up the door to discover something I really wasn’t expecting.

Busted.

Busted.

One of last year’s chicks sitting on a nest of no less that 9 eggs.

This has always been a particularly odd chick; she’s spent nights before perched on the kitchen roof rather than be in the hen run. Which is one of the reasons that I hadn’t noticed her absence, also because we have simply far too many chickens. She’s a dutch bantam silkie cross (I think) and although was bred to be a broody she’s only 8 months old herself and I hadn’t realised that she’d even started laying.

She had a rather interesting hatching, (if you think chickens are interesting) as she was hatched under a cream legbar. Unlike silkies and silkie crosses legbars and not known for their parenting skills and when “Veronica” went  broody anyone who knows anything about chickens told me not to be so stupid she’ll never actually hatch anything. I though it was worth a shot anyway and, lo and behold, she managed it.

"Veronica" and brood from last summer.  The current broody dutch cross is the all black one at the back.

“Veronica” and brood from last summer.
The current broody dutch cross is the all black one at the back.

Surprisingly she did a brilliant job, giving us all plenty of lessons about not judging a book by its cover. Cream legbars are bread for their eggs laying, not only do they lay a lot of large eggs, they also happen to be a pretty light blue colour. I like to think that Veronica is the hen that can do it all.

So what to do about the broody in the bachelor pad. It’s not really a good time for hatching, its a bit early and no one wants to have chicks out in the snow. Yet at the same time I couldn’t face aborting the eggs, I’d given Veronica a chance and she wasn’t meant to manage it so who’s to say these guys wouldn’t make it. And aside from that my fiance is shooting down south and wasn’t here to stop me. So I let her keep them

I took out the three that were cracked and gave the rest back to their mother, she busily arranged them under her and clucked angrily at me for bothering her babies.  I don’t know when, or if they will hatch, I’ll keep you posted. In between times any naming suggestions for the hen would be most welcome. I’m try to think of a famous person who had a secret child?

I was then suddenly worried about Monty, but it turns out that he’s bunked up with the other hens,  must just be staying out of Vulcan’s way. Poor Monty.

This is "Monty" isn't he stunning.

This is “Monty” the millie fleur pekin, isn’t he stunning?

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Gaiters grouse and the good dog Scoop.

I was very kindly given new gaiters for Christmas, bright red ones. They are made of what is basically wet-suit material and go on very easily; Velcro up the back. It was time to take them for a spin. The good dog Scoop was looking for an adventure and although we’ve lived here for two years there’s a hill facing the house that I haven’t ventured up. Today was the day!

Me in my new gaiters

Me in my new gaiters

Scoop, obviously, had no complaints, the hill is covered in rabbits and she enjoys nothing more than wild sniffing/chasing and generally gambolling in the heather.

Scoop goes for a gambol

Scoop goes for a gambol

To get to the hill there’s a bit of a boggy patch over which my gentleman companion refused to give me a piggyback (charming.) Inevitable emerging with wet feet I was first critical of the new gaiters, surely keeping my feet dry should be top of the addenda, yet as I continued on my merry way I realised that they were not very wet and the material was keeping them warm.

Once we got onto the hill Scoop wasted no time finding a rabbit warren and a few rogue bunnies to bother. The gradient of the hill meant that she was racing at full speed up a considerable incline and, as a result, tiring herself out admirably. By the time the hill plateaued at the top she was walking to heel like a good peg dog, just in time to see a covey of three grouse get up just in front of us and chuckle their way across the hill.

The clouds began to descend and within moments we were littered with hail stones. Scoop didn’t mind but I was wearing my hat with no top (another fantastic Christmas present) but alas, I don’t think these kind of hats are designed to keep out hail.

Overall I do really like my new gaiters, they are comfortable, warm and have the basic, but fantastic quality of being silent. So much outdoor gear is “rustley” and for someone who likes to see wildlife and birds it’s good not to scare everything away from a mile off.

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Lovely loin of pork stuffed with haggis and served with cumberland sauce.

What’s everyone cooking for burns night tonight? I think I might give this one another outing, cold pork sandwiches tomorrow? YES!

Letters From A Lodge Cook

This week I am in North Berwick. Home of sea birds and golf.

One of my clients is an American and having never had haggis before it was requested that haggis was in some way incorporated into the menu. Reluctant to have a straight “haggis neeps and tatties” night, which although may be enjoyed it may not be. Instead I suggested including it into the dinner for another night, perhaps with pork? They loved the idea, accepting that  if they didn’t like the haggis they could just eat the pork, perfect.

So here’s what I did.

  • One loin of pork
  • A red onion, finely chopped
  • A few springs of fresh sage, chopped
  • An egg
  • 2 slices of bread made into breadcrumbs
  • A haggis
  • Seasoning

First make the stuffing in a bowl, add the haggis, seasoning, breadcrumbs, sage and onion and mix until combined, last add the egg so that the…

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