Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Scones

Ah, the good old scone. Dolloped with clotted cream and some good old homemade strawberry jam. What a luxury.

I have NEVER had a good scone from a supermarket or bakery. They may look good but I was always disappointed by the hard, chewy textures. Even when I made my first scone in Home Ec, it was a big fat fail. In my mind, scones are supposed to be soft and fluffy inside so that when you bite in to it, there is the textural differences between that and the crumble exterior (maybe not crumble, but it isn't hard or crispy!).
I had pretty much given up on scones, until I went to Poole in the summer of 2011.
Poole is a coastal town at the southern coast of England and I was there for a couple of months on business. During the last month I was there, M and I had come across this tearoom and decided to go in as it looked very mysterious and very different to the rest of the town centre. 



As we entered the small archway,  we walked through this very narrow old stone alley and in to, what looked like someone's kitchen. There was very limited seating but then you go across the small beautiful courtyard and in to this other room (which looked like a converted shed) that was much more comfortable and roomy.
It was in this room that I tried the best scones I have ever tasted in my life. I had never tasted anything like it and to have it with clotted cream (that was a first for me too) and jam, was just heaven! I will never forget it and nor will I forget the lovely owner who took the time out to talk to me about her tearoom, how she sourced her teapots, even gave me the name of the company that supplied her teas to her and let me have a special blend of tea that I chose myself.




As soon as I returned to Scotland, I had this huge urge to look for a great scone recipe and perfect it. When I finally got the results I was after, I vowed I would never share my scone recipe.

Yeah, I caved.

This recipe is so easy to do and it will make you regret having ever bought those awful supermarket ones again.

Key pointers:
  1. Handle the dough as little as possible - working it too much will cause the gluten in the flour to start working, creating a tougher scone.
  2. It's okay to use a food processor to blend the flour and butter together - as long as you pulse it just enough to get to the "breadcrumb" stage then you will be fine. Saves you time and cramps in the fingers.
  3. Don't be tempted in to adding more flour! The dough is meant to be quite damp/sticky so lightly flouring your fingers and counter should be sufficient. If you add more flour you will end up with tough, dry scones.
  4. When you lift the cutter from the dough, don't twist to release - this will prevent the scone from rising properly.
  5. Make sure you egg wash doesn't run down the sides of the scones, this will prevent a good rise. 
  6. Preheat your baking sheet - the initial heat will start the cooking process as soon as the scones hit the sheet, which gives a more even bake and a better rise.
  7. Don't worry about making "perfect" shaped scones - there is no such thing. Rustic looks pretty perfect to me and as long as they taste great, who cares what they look like!

Good Luck! 

Scones (makes approx 8)

Ingredients
350g Self Raising Flour
pinch of Salt
1 tsp Baking Powder
3 tbsp Caster Sugar
85g Cold Butter, cubed
175ml Milk
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Squeeze of Lemon Juice
Beaten Egg for glazing

Method
  • Preheat oven to 220ºC.
  • Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder then stir in the sugar.
  • Place it in the food processor, along with the cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Put it all in a bowl afterwards.

  • Warm the milk in the microwave for approximately 30 secs. Ensure it is warm and not hot! 
  • Add the lemon juice and vanilla.
  • Make a well in the flour and pour the milk mixture in to the well.
  • Using a cutlery knife, combine the flour and milk until it just comes together. Try not to work it too much.
  • Tip the dough on to your floured worktop and using your floured fingertips, fold the dough 2-3times just to smooth the dough out. 
  • Pat the dough in to a disc, about 4cm thick.
  • Dip a 5cm cutter in to flour and plunge it in to the dough to cut out scones. Gently press the leftovers together and repeat the patting down and cutting until you have no dough left.


  • Brush the tops with the egg and then place them (carefully!) on the hot baking sheet.


  • Bake for 10mins until golden and well risen and cool on a wire rack.




Best eaten warm with a dollop of clotted cream and some homemade jam! (check out my previous post for the jam recipe)



If you can't finish it, freeze them once they have cooled. Defrost before refreshing them in a preheated oven (160ºC) for a few minutes.



ENJOY!!




Friday, 25 July 2014

Scottish Summer = Strawberry Jam!

Went to Cairnie Fruit Farm for the first time on Monday, with the brother and his family. I must admit, it was nice to be outdoors and see nature doing what it does best. 
The Farm has chickens, horses and a huge area for the children to run wild and play while parents can either join in or just laze about on the grass. I ended up taking Ella to run about and play on hay bales, climb up the "huge pillow" and go sliding down chutes and slides. She doesn't have very good balance so we like to keep a close eye on her, especially when in an area where there is a high volume of children running around, much faster than her. 
Ella had a blast though and what really surprised me was that although there were loads of children running about, they were very careful around her and even waited patiently for her to climb up the hay bales slowly to get to the chute herself. I could not have been more proud of these kids and of Ella for doing it all by herself! There were times where I just wanted to call her name to reassure her that I was there, to go up there and give her a hand, but she needed to do this all on her own. And that she did. 
To onlookers, it will seem like we make such a big deal about something that every 4 year old would know how to do without trying. Ella unfortunately has delays in her development so seeing her do these things for the 1st time, like climbing a bale of hay, slowly correcting her own balance on the uneven surface and then actually getting in to the chute without someone giving her a hand is something I will never ever forget. That moment of pure joy she had on her face when I met her at the bottom of that chute, will forever stay with me.




Okay, now to wipe up the tears and talk about strawberries! 

At Cairnie Fruit Farm they have Pick You Own: Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Gooseberries, Redcurrants and Black Currants. 
They provide boxes but I'm sure you could take your own (especially with Fife being zero wastage and all) and once you have picked them, you have them weighed, you then pay for them and then take them home with you to enjoy!

We went strawberry picking quite late on in the day and so many of the good ones were already picked by the enthusiasts who were there when the place opened their doors. I was still able to get a good box of them and they were scrumptious! So juicy and sweet. 




There is something about Scottish strawberries that make them taste so much better than the ones imported in.
My pick of raspberries was not as lucky but I still managed about 3/4 of a punnet.



All that cost me only £7.30. 
Whether you live in Scotland or are just visiting; if you have an afternoon spare (given that there is no rain) then why not go pick some berries at a farm and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
If you feel like foraging, you can but just be careful not to pick the wrong ones, and roadside ones are not advisable.

I shared some of the strawberries with my mum, but there was still a kilo left over for me to eat and my fridge still had grapes and mangosteens that needed devouring!

Solution?

Jam!

Jamming, preserving, canning, conserving, whatever you want to call it. When done right, it is totally yum! Nothing beats a good jam piece.

I have attempted (and failed) to make strawberry jam twice; 1st time, the jam was not set. 2nd time, jam turned in to candy!
This was about 5 years ago and apart from chilli jam, I have not tried attempting it again but you know what they say, "3rd time lucky". Right?



This time I was more prepared. 
I am a proud owner of a jam funnel and sugar thermometer. Yes, I rely on science and I rely on funnels in order to not spill jam everywhere (when you have shaky hands like me, it's necessary) but I don't care. As long as it helps me achieve what I need to achieve then happy days!

I was always told to make jam by adding strawberries to sugar on a 1:1 ratio. For me this would be exceptionally sweet so decided to see if there were other recipes that called for less sugar.

I decided to try out James Martin's strawberry jam recipe, but without the butter.
What enticed me to this recipe was the use of Jam Sugar and lemon juice. Many recipes use one or the other but I have always been worried that the jam wouldn't set properly. I like my jam set quite well so that it doesn't run down your hands when you eat it on scones or on a piece. Let's face it, no one likes sticky fingers.

The outcome of this was a nicely set jam but a couple of things I might do differently next time:

1. Cut the strawberries in to smaller pieces. I am not a fan of big chunks of strawberries in my jam, especially when eating it with peanut butter. It just spoils the harmony of the sweet and savoury. 
If you have never tried a peanut butter and jam (or jelly to the US readers) sandwich, you are totally missing out!
I grew up with mum teaching me how to make peanut butter and jam sandwiches for my lunch box and it is still my favourite to put on to toast...mm...I think I will go make some now...
Peanut Butter Jelly Time! Peanut Butter Jelly Time!....I wonder how many people will actually get this.

2. Reduce the jam sugar and maybe add some pectin. This ended up being slightly too sweet for my taste so hopefully if I use pectin it may still set okay. There will be an update of the recipe if it succeeds.

I have to admit, making this during one the hottest days of Scottish summer was not a wise choice - okay, 21ºC may not seem that hot to those living in the tropics but in Scotland, this is our heat wave! Seriously. No joke.
I was sweating so badly that M thought i had just washed my hair when he came down to the kitchen that morning. 

The smell in the kitchen was intoxicating. I love the smell of cooking jam. Maybe it's because it reminds me of when mum made jam for us every summer and the house would just be filled with this beautiful aroma. I even helped mum stir the jam and watched her as she poured them in to the tall glass jars.
I also remember being slightly disappointed that her jam was never set properly, unlike Nana's (a Scottish lady that had looked after me when I was very young). Now that I'm older, I realised that this was because she never hard boiled her jam properly and there was no jam sugar or lemon juice added to it. I don't blame her though because the jam still tasted damn good!

Special Materials you may find useful:
Wax discs
Sugar thermometer
Jam funnel
Large heavy based pan


STRAWBERRY JAM

INGREDIENTS

1KG Strawberries (hulled and large ones cut in half)
700g Jam Sugar
Juice of 1 lemon




METHOD

  • The night before: Gently toss the sugar and strawberries together in a large bowl. 

    Let's macerate baby!
  • Cover and leave to macerate at room temperature overnight.
  • Next day, transfer all the contents from the bowl (making sure you scrape out all the sugar and juices ) to a large heavy pan and add the lemon juice.
  • Cook the strawberries on a low heat until all the sugar is dissolved.
  • Once all the sugar is dissolved, turn up the heat.
  • Hard boil until the sugar thermometer reads 105ºC, then turn off the heat. I also did the saucer test right after turning off the heat just to reassure myself that it had set.
  • Skim off any scum that has come to the surface and leave to cool slightly for 15mins - stirring or swirling the pot every so often to avoid a skin forming. This ensures that the strawberries don't all float to the top when you put the jam in the jar.
  • Transfer the jam to hot sterilised jars, place a wax disc on the surface of the jam and seal tightly. 

The Jam can be stored, unopened, in a dark cupboard for up to a year (so make sure you date you jars!) and once opened, store in the fridge.


Some ruby goodness going on in there.
The staff at my work have been my guinea pigs for most new recipes  that I try out and this was no different. 2 of my colleagues, my sister-in-law and brother tried it today and said exactly the same as me about the sweetness and size of strawberry pieces but they loved the flavour of the strawberries and the colour is so vibrant when spread on bread.

My colleagues have decided to take a trip to Cairnie Farm next week to go berry picking now. Love that they are feeling so excited by this and hopefully they will be able to make their own jams too.


Best strawberry ice cream I have ever had. None of that artificial pink rubbish.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Wedding Cupcakes

I'm not married.
I have no desire to get married and have kids.
But that doesn't mean I won't be happy for those who do get married.

A friend of mine is getting married tomorrow and I feel very honoured to be baking cupcakes for her reception. 

I am not much of a cupcake person and I don't do fancy icing work, so when she asked me to do the same style of cupcakes as the ones I had made for my niece's 100 days party for her wedding, I was relieved!
The cupcakes are chocolate and topped with piped white chocolate ganache roses. I will be decorating them with red hearts and a flag (which I bought off Ebay) to add some colour and a personal touch.

Fondant icing is not my kind of thing and buttercream icing can also be very sweet but chocolate ganache? Now that's my kind of cake covering. Chocolate has a smoothness in the mouth that most people can't resist and let's not forget the smell! I am not much of a sweets person but as I make sweet things a lot I can't not try it right? I have grown to love working with chocolate, it's just a shame my hands are too warm to work with it for long. To tackle this, I fill a flat based pan in the freezer with water in it and once frozen, I would use it to regularly cool my hands on it when piping ganache.

When the day came though, it was one disaster after another. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Cases were coming away from the cakes, the ganache had split when I went to whip it (thank god I had split it in to 2 batches!) and it was a VERY warm day in my mum's kitchen (where I had set up my baking studio for 2 days). Why the hell does this have to happen on such an important day?!
I was on the verge of tears and could not think how the hell I was going to save the split ganache - Believe me, I tried saving it but it was a lost cause. So my mum, being the ever saviour, got in to her car and drove 10miles to the nearest supermarket to pick up more white chocolate and cream for me. Seriously, I wouldn't know what I would do without her at times. 

After that little mad run, I finally got the ganache perfect and was ready to continue piping - that was until the piping bag burst on me halfway through! Yup, my ganache was chilled too much so was a tad hard but I was in the mindset of, "let's get this s*** done". And I paid the price.

As I was piping the ganache, my 4 year old niece, Ella, decided she wanted to help. Yes. Help. 
I will give her credit though, she was actually very patient and she cheered every time I finished one cupcake but then she tried to count how many cupcakes there were on the table. One perfectly piped cupcake was ruined after her little arm squashed it as she dropped her arm after counting! 
Fear not, I had baked about an extra 10 "just in case".

In the middle of what seemed like an endless list of disasters, I was expecting the delivery of my cupcakes boxes that was being delivered by courier on express. I had emailed the company I ordered them from to confirm that they were going to get to me on time because I never got a dispatch e-mail, like they said I would. They gave me a tracking number, which I clicked on and it stated I would get it between 3pm and 4pm. 
That's okay, I didn't need to get the cupcakes to Forfar until 7.

3pm came. Nothing.

That's okay, DPD are very good with their schedules. Normally.

4pm came. Nothing.

Let's check the tracker again...."Delivered"...."signed by Adamson E"....WHAT?!

Seriously. 

WHAT?!

I could feel the tears coming on but that switched to anger and I was ready to kill someone. So I called DPD to ask why someone under the name of Adamson E was allowed to sign for a package that was meant for me and the advisor on the other end asked me, "how did you learn of this package?"
What the hell do you mean, "how"?! I was supposed to have received it! The company I ordered from gave it to me!
I'm guessing he realised the crazy woman on the other end of his line was freaking out at this point so he was typing as fast as his fingers would allow and bless him, he was very calm.
We finally got an answer.
I was given the wrong tracking number. That package wasn't meant for me. So....where is my package????
"You're package is on its way and will be with you between 7 and 8pm."
Oh thank goodness!!! 
I wanted to laugh and cry down the phone to this complete stranger but I think he wanted to get hang up as quickly as possible, so I let him go.

Once I hung up, I returned to finish the cupcakes off and then sat there staring out of the window until dinner was ready. 
The doorbell rang at about 7.40pm and I sprinted to the door. 
Okay, I didn't sprint. But there was running. 














Monday, 14 July 2014

Banana Chiffon

My day off and what happens? It rains. Typical!

So what do I do? Find a recipe and get testing.

I haven't been doing a whole lot of baking lately so my cupboards were a bit low on staples but I spotted a bunch of very ripe bananas sitting on the kitchen bench that M had not eaten. Now, we all know what comes to mind when we see ripe bananas. 

Normally I would just whip up some Muffins but I was in the mood for some Chiffon cake, so on the internet I go! I may have loads of baking books but most of the books don't have chiffon cake recipes so I rely on the trusty (ish) world wide web.

The Chiffon Cake recipe was originally invented by a Californian man who eventually sold it to a corporate company. This type of recipe, along with all the adapted ones, is the base recipe for most east asian style cakes because it is light, moist and not overly sweet. Also, butter is expensive in those countries so a cake recipe that doesn't use butter is a sure fire win and let's not forget the cholesterol thing that people keep harping on about. 

Light spongey cakey goodness!

I found this particular recipe by Kitchen Tigress and instantly took a liking to her blog page. The photos are clear and her instructions are concise and since she is based in Singapore, many of her bakes are right up my alley! Can't wait to try and bake her charcoal cake.

If you like the sound of baking Chiffon Cakes then invest in a good Chiffon Cake tube pan. It will be worth while, promise. Be sure NOT to buy a non-stick one because the chiffon relies on sticking to the side of the pan in order to keep its shape when out of the oven. 

This recipe calls for specific weights of egg whites and egg yolks to be used which I love because no egg is the same, so the exact weight of eggs will ensure consistent results. 

Any extra egg, just scramble it and stick it on a piece of toast. A quick and easy snack! 

Cake Flour is not available to purchase in the UK but you can improvise and make your own:
Take one level cup of Plain flour, spoon out 2 level tablespoons of it and put it back. Replace the lost 2 tablespoons of flour with cornflour or corn starch.
Sift the flours 3-4 times to ensure the 2 flours have combined evenly and there you have it, cake flour!
Any extra you don't use, just pop it in to a jar and keep it for future recipes that call for cake flour.

I made a couple of obvious errors with this recipe which probably contributed to not getting the rise I was looking for but the Cake itself was still extremely soft and light, just what a chiffon should be. 

First mistake: Not blending the banana in a processor or blender. It does tell readers to do this in the recipe but I was being lazy and thought, "just mash it like normal, it will be fine!" It was fine but if I had blended the banana more I think there wouldn't have been tiny banana bits in the sponge and it would have been more of a stable cake.

2nd Mistake: No bicarbonate of soda! This was one of the staples I ran out of after I used it for cleaning and forgot to replace it. I decided to just replace it with more baking powder even though I knew the result would be different. Bicarb gives rise to a mix when it comes in contact with moisture whereas Baking Powder rises during the baking process so I knew the rise would not be as effective.

Let's Bake!

Banana Chiffon

INGREDIENTS

(A)
175g Peeled Banana (about 2-3 bananas)
60g Egg Yolks
15g Caster Sugar
40g Corn Oil
70g Cake Flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
a pinch of salt

(B)
140g Egg Whites
a small pinch of Cream of Tartar
50g Caster Sugar

Oven Temp: 160ºC

METHOD
  • Blend the bananas, egg yolks, sugar and oil - from list (A) - in a blender or food processor.
  • Sift the rest of the dry ingredients from (A) and using a balloon whisk, mix the banana mix and flour together until just combined.

  • Whisk egg white in a clean glass or metal bowl until frothy.

  • Add Tartar and whisk until the white start to thicken.
  • Gradually add the sugar, from (B), while still whisking.
  • Whisk on high until it reaches stiff peaks.


  • Fold the whites in to the banana mixture in 3 batches with a whisk - I have always used this method to fold whites in to cake mixture so trust me, it will be fine! When almost completely incorporated, use a spatula to fold the rest and scrape down the sides.
  • Gently pour the batter evenly in to the cake tin.


  • Lift the tin up slightly and drop it back on the worktop, a couple of times. This gets rid of any large air pockets
  • Bake for 1 hour and check on it. When done, the cake should not be jiggly or give way when you gently press it. If it isn't ready, put it back in the oven and check every 5 minutes until you're satisfied.
  • When you take it out, invert the cake tin and balance it on something like a bottle.
  • Once cool, use a thin sharp knife to run between the cake and tin. 
  • Ease it out and enjoy!!

Yes, I need to improve on the cutting.
    
                               


Whiski Rooms - As good as everyone makes it out to be?

I have gotten in to the habit of looking online to see restaurant websites and reviews before visiting them just so I can have a scan of their menu and have some sort of expectation of the place.

The Website to the Whiski Rooms didn't wow me but the lunch menu looked decent with a good mix of meat and vegetarian dishes. The reviews (on TripAdvisor) seemed to make Whiski Rooms sound like an awesome place to have a nice meal, although I have learnt not to trust TripAdvisor too much as most of the time people reviewing on it are either there for a good moan or are there to promote their own businesses with bogus reviews. As this meal was for celebrating a good friend's birthday and it was his idea to pay the Whiski Rooms a visit, myself and M thought it would be a good opportunity to try somewhere new.

Whiski Rooms - an apt name for a place that boasts on its own whisky bar and shop, specialising in Scottish craft beers and of course, the whisky. They even have a restaurant, which one assumes would showcase fantastic Scottish produce. 

Date Visited: Monday 9th June 2014

The day we went to Whiski Rooms it was bucketing it down and by the time we had walked from the castle down to the restaurant we were drenched and ready to tuck in to some good grub. 
The place is not far from the castle but in a heavy downpour and with no umbrella, it seemed like it took us forever to get there.

We were greeted by a polite and well dressed waiter who led us in to the restaurant side and as we were sat down, a very friendly waitress took over and handed us the menus. The restaurant side was well lit, tables and chairs seemed to be clean with the full length window that looked out on to the street, it gave the illusion the restaurant was much bigger in size than it actually was.     
For drinks, the boys opted for craft beer and I had a non-alcoholic Mojito which was very flavourful, if a tad on the sweet side and they had added so much ice/garnish that there wasn't much liquid in the tall thin glass.
We weren't sure if we wanted to spoil our mains by having a starter each so we ordered the Artisan bread served with extra virgin olive oil, olive tapenade and butter. When it came, it looked pretty good with the thick slices of bread, already lightly drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and laid nicely on the board with the accompaniments in small dishes on the side. 
However, looks are deceiving. 

The bread reminded me slightly of supermarket "artisan" breads because they felt a little on the stale side and the crust wasn't very crisp, more chewy.
Maybe it's supposed to be that way and that it just wasn't to my liking, but when I asked M later on in the evening he said that the bread was a bit of a let down. Phew! It wasn't just me then. 

They may as well have just served us sliced white bread and butter like they did in the old canteens/cafes - remember those? No?
I'm showing my age now, let's move on.

Main Course - Things could only get better. Right?
My friend went for the haggis burger, M decided to go for the breaded and rolled haddock i.e. fish and chips, and then there was me being the ever indecisive one who couldn't decided if I wanted steak and ale pie or a classic burger. Steak and ale pie, most of the time, is a sure win but then I hadn't had a good burger in a very long time so burger it was. 
I must admit, I am getting much quicker at this decision making malarkey - although I am sure the decision came quickly due to the fact that the waitress had already come over twice to check if we were ready to order.

When the food came the portions seemed a decent size and it all looked quite nice but M wasn't chuffed with his haddock as he found it very small and in order for there not to be any tension I forced him to swap with me before he started tucking in to it.  The haddock did look a tad on the small side but I always agree with quality over quantity and in this case, it was neither. Don't get me wrong, it looked appetising and I was very much looking forward to it after the swap but as soon as I went to cut in to the fish the breadcrumb coating fell apart and it was all a bit dry from having been overcooked. 
Rolling the haddock makes the haddock seem like a much meatier fish than it actually is but once you overcook it the meat tends to crumble. I have had better breaded haddock from a fish and chip shop if I'm honest. The tartare sauce was nice and chunky but the mushy peas were...well, just mushy peas. 

M told me his burger bun was very dry and that his dish was very mediocre; now considering it is £9.95 for that dish I would be expecting it to be able to satisfy any burger craving. I don't expect anything fancy but a good burger needs a good bun and if you can't do that then I would rather it came with no bun at all. A good comparison would be to the Meat House in Dundee where you can have a burger and triple cooked chips for £9. Their bun is a beautifully toasted brioche bun and the triple cooked chips are very fluffy inside. The fries in Whiski Rooms were your usual frozen skinny fries that have been put through the fryer and I'm sure the chips from the Meat House were frozen too but they were pretty damn good. 
Now I know that they will probably have higher rates to pay (although rates in Dundee are atrocious now too ) but there are pubs in the same area that make better burgers than the one we had here in the Whiski Rooms. 


Yes, you are probably thinking, "why order a burger in such a nice looking establishment who are clearly aiming to serve customers that are maybe of a higher standard?" Because if they were really looking to serve people with higher standards, they wouldn't make their menu look like a pimped up pub menu.

Now since this was for a birthday, we decided to go ahead with desserts to finish off the meal but nothing on their dessert menu screamed, "EAT ME!" so I settled for the lemon possett and the other 2 went for sticky toffee pudding. They were hoping to get some chocolate cake but no chocolate cake featured on the menu, not even a chocolate fondant or a chocolate souffle. 

Dessert
As the possett was put down in front of me, I noticed straight away that the shortbread on the side was very small, but it tasted very buttery and moreish. I then noticed that there was a finger dent in the top of the smooth possett from where the chef went to garnish it with a sprig of mint. If I could see this, surely the chef or waiter would have noticed it before it got to me or was it that they did notice it but didn't care? There was also a trail of gloopy stuff which I gathered was the mango and lime salsa. 
The possett tasted quite nice, a slight sharpness followed by a smooth mellow creaminess but there was a lot of it and not enough shortbread to give the dish enough texture so once the shortbread was finished I could only manage a little more of the dessert and then I had had enough. It was like eating an extremely thick lemony yogurt that coated the inside of my mouth each time I took a spoonful of it. 
Possett with finger mark

Shame as I hate wasting food. 

The sticky toffee pudding had a slight chewy hardness to it, not from the toffee mind but from being in the microwave for too long. 

It wasn't so much that it was heated in a microwave that bothered us but that they had probably not kept an eye on the pudding once it was in the microwave.

We asked for a pot of tea to go with my dessert...yes nothing should go wrong with it and there was nothing wrong with the tea, but I did have a problem with my milk being served in a dusty metal jug.

Yes. A dusty jug!

Myself and M have worked/still work in the catering trade and the establishments we worked in have ranged from pub to buffet restaurant to 5 star hotel restaurant and never in any establishment would we dare to serve anything in dusty crockery. 

So why did we not send food back? Why did we not complain and pull them up on the dusty jug? Because this was our good friend's birthday and his choice of venue to have his birthday meal, I was not going to complain and make everything awkward for him or for us, so I bit the bullet and kept a mental note to not bother returning in the future.
Not saying that all the reviews are lying but I certainly had a very different experience to most others at this tourist trap. 
They are probably very good for a drink and chat with friends on the other side of the premises but for food? No Thanks. 

Note: I don't take any satisfaction in writing bad things about restaurants (because I know what it's like to run an eating establishment) but being honest is important and it wouldn't be fair to just post good reviews all the time. I went to Whiski rooms with the intention of writing positive things, this is why I took the food photos but it has taken me ages to write this post because I have been constantly going over my choice of words so as not to sound like such a horrible, crabby woman. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Fernie Castle - Afternoon Tea

I love a good Afternoon Tea - note that I am using Afternoon Tea NOT High Tea. High Tea comes with a meal and usually takes place between 5pm and 6pm.
Finger sandwiches, little desserts and tea (or coffee) in a pretty place makes for a great afternoon treat to catch up with a friend. Thank you Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, for starting the trend.

I love Fernie Castle.
Although I have never been there before, I have viewed their website on quite a few occasions (when I was looking for wedding venues) as I love the idea of their Treehouse Suite. It just sounds like such a magical place where there will be fairies all around...and it's a castle!

So imagine my delight when my good friend Genna at Blethering Boys and her family gifted me with an Itison voucher to have Afternoon Tea at Fernie Castle! The little girl inside me was squealing with joy and already looking for her tiara as I realised what I was being treated to.

 
Date Visited: 4th July 2014

Fernie Castle is situated just off the A92, between Dundee and Glenrothes. As you turn off the main road and in to the small and somewhat bumpy lane leading up to the castle you are surrounded by large fir trees making you feel like you are being led away from the busy road and in to another world. As you reach the car park you see the beautiful castle and the very handsome stag statue in the near distance, there are also a couple of highland cows in the field behind the car park.

We entered in to the reception and it felt eerily quiet as there was not a soul in sight so we waited until someone came through and greeted us. Thankfully we didn't have to wait long for that to happen and as they were still getting our table ready for us we sat on the gorgeous large sofa and flicked through their wedding albums that were laid out on the table at reception.

A lovely waitress led us in to the 2nd most elegant dining room I have ever been in (1st place belongs to Andrew Fairlie @ Gleneagles), with an elaborate Georgian chandelier hanging from the ceiling and pristine white table linen. 

The Carrot and Coriander soup, that was served with the 3 tiered afternoon tea, had a good sweetness to it and the coriander was not overpowering but Max, the friend I had asked to join me for the afternoon, added salt to her soup as did many others around me so it may be that the soup needed a touch more seasoning.

The Tiered cake stand
On the Bottom tier: the finger sandwiches selection was egg, smoked salmon and brie with pickle/onion marmalade. Good flavours from the fillings but not sure about tasting more butter than egg in the egg sandwich.

Middle tier: Scones. There was a selection of fruit or plain scones with butter, fresh cream and jams on the side. The scones were nothing to rave about but at least they weren't rock hard and what was missing was just a dollop of rich, smooth, creamy clotted cream.

Top tier: Chocolate and pistachio macarons, red velvet cupcake, carrot cupcake, chocolate éclair, and pineapple and coconut tray-bake sponge (I think). All the cakes were not too bad, the éclair is usually one of my favourites but this one didn't have enough cream inside so it was quite dry and I'm not a fan of sprinkles either. A little strange that they used pink and blue kiddies looking cupcake cases to line some of their cakes, after all we were in a posh dining room in a castle! If they had used plain white cases or just one large doily to line the tier plate then I probably wouldn't have noticed it so much. The sprinkles on the cakes and éclairs had me thinking if they had just stuck a child in their kitchen and just said "go!"
Another thing that had us thinking they let a child loose in the castle was the toilets. Both myself and Max had one word to describe it. 
"Weird". It really was quite surreal.
As you leave the elegant dining room, you go down the grand corridor with old paintings on the walls and outside a window, to your left, is a lovely walled mini garden with a statue in it. You then go through the doors and is welcomed in to toilets that have been wallpapered with what looks like leftover paper from a little girl's bedroom. With heart shaped mirrors and a heart shaped shelf, the sink area has pebble effect splash-back (that didn't quite match the wallpaper) and a very old hand dryer that was probably installed in the early 90's. I didn't mind the old dryer as there was hand towels on the shelf which I think everyone opted for but the bin for the paper was so small it was overflowing. The toilets seem clean enough although I was surprised to see that there was no holder for the toilet roll. 
I know this may seem like I'm picking out tiny things but this is all based on my own experience of the place, for me the small things matter and are all part of that experience.


Overall the food tasted lovely, the ambiance in the dining room was very elegant, the staff were efficient and lovely to talk to, the castle grounds look just magical but it was slightly let down by the restroom that had more of a pub feel to it than a gorgeous hotel/castle. I still enjoyed my time there and had a nice catch up with a friend.
We were even given a cute gingerbread castle to take away with us which was a lovely souvenir and I think M will be more than happy to devour it!
Fingers crossed I might be able to book a night in the Treehouse suite some time but I think I may need to save up for a while as the price is a little out of my budget.


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Pomegranate - A True Delight!

Date of visit: Monday 30th June

The first time I tried Middle Eastern Cuisine was last year in Glasgow; myself and my good friends were feeling hungry and stumbled upon a little gem of a place called "Persia". After that meal, I vowed to eat more Middle Eastern food but never had the chance to, because well, Fife isn't exactly diverse in the world food side of things so it would mean having to travel through to Edinburgh or Glasgow.

I came across Pomegranate when I was looking for Middle Eastern restaurants in Edinburgh on-line and after asking fellow food lover, Winses Wee Wok what she thought, I was set to go.



We arrived at around 2pm that day and we were the only people in, but that didn't put me off, in fact I prefer it to be quiet so that there is less chance for them to screw up my order. The waiter gave us a choice to sit by the window or to sit in the back room, warning us that window seats can get very hot with the gorgeous sun shining in so needless to say we chose the back room as I 'm not a fan of eating and sweating at the same time.
We were sat in the middle of the back room with the side doors open so that we got a lovely breeze coming in throughout the whole meal, which I'm sure they would have closed if we had asked them to but on a day like that, hell no! If you have a huge dislike for a couple of flies coming in and out while you dine then you may want to ask for it closed.

The restaurant is bright and clean, not very big so if you were to go on a weekend you might want to book.
They have a good selection of non-alcoholic drinks and being a lover of Kopperberg I decided to try out the non-alcoholic version. Yes, it is just fizzy pear juice but it was a damn good fizzy pear juice. The waiter asked us if we had brought in our own alcohol for him to open for us, which was lovely of him to ask and good of the restaurant to not have a corkage fee, but I would never bring my own bottle in to a restaurant as I find that just a little bit rude.
On to the food.
The Menu has a lovely selection and a good mixture of vegetarian and meat dishes. Since we were not familiar with their dishes, we opted to go for Mezzes so that we could try lots of different dishes. They have a lunch deal of 3 Mezzes (1meat) with naan for £11 so we both had that, but Mr. M likes being greedy so he added an extra mezze to our order. We ordered the following:

Kubba Halab
Minced lamb mixed with sultanas and encased in crushed rice. The rice had a lovely golden yellow hue to it (most likely from the saffron) and when I cut it open, the aroma of the spices they used was just beautiful.

Baly Marishke
Chicken wings - If you love chicken wings, order this because when you bite in to the crispy, char-grilled wing, you get this awesome chilli and lemon dance going on inside your mouth and it will have you wanting more. I was actually a bit gutted when I saw M reach over for the wings because for the past 7-8 years he had me believing that chicken wings were not good enough for him. He even had the audacity to eat 2 that day, the cheek!

Falafel
The best falafel I have ever had! So fluffy and full of flavour which is a good change to what most falafels tend to be, which is normally dry and pretty tasteless.

Cheese Borek
Cigar shaped filo pastries filled with mozzarella, feta and parsley. I love cheese, not a fan of parsley but this worked. It was the first thing I tried on the table and after that first bite, I knew we were in for a good meal!

Halloumi
Nothing to rave about as it is just fried Halloumi, but M ordered it and it accompanied the Tapenade nicely.

Baba Ganoush
Pureed Smokey aubergines with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. I never liked Aubergines until a few months ago and now I love it. I ordered this to go with my naan and my oh my, it was good! I don't know how to describe it but I could taste every element in it but it all came together very nicely, giving a smooth dip with a slight tang.

Tomato and ginger tapenade
My least favourite of the dishes. I knew that that would be the case before it came because I have never been a huge lover of tomato dishes anyway but the flavour was intense and M loved it so it's still a good dish.

Naan
If you have only ever had Naan bread from Indian restaurants then you will be in for a lovely suprise. This is a much lighter bread and more bubbly on the surface. Of all the naans I have had (which is a lot!) this type of naan is my favourite.
Look at that crisp bubbly goodness!

The 2 waiters were efficient, friendly (but not overly friendly), always smiled at us (not in the creepy way) and seemed to love the food they were serving which is nice to see. When they asked us if we wanted dessert it would have been a shame to say no as the dessert menu looks fantastic. I was so happy to see them have desserts with middle eastern twists as it would have been very anti-climatic to be finishing my meal with just vanilla ice cream! I had the Baklawa and M had the saffron and cardamom ice cream (plus half of my Baklawa). The Baklawa was very crispy on the outside and because it had been rolled after the layering process, this meant that the syrup soaked in to the central layers of filo to create this sweet chewy centre. I'm not sure if the nuts used were pistachios but it still had a good crunchy texture. Would I order it again? No. The dessert was just too sweet for me (although I expected this anyway). 
M loved the Baklawa and had offered to swap but I could see how much he was enjoying his ice cream so declined his offer. I tried the ice cream and although I could not taste anything (because my mouth was still in sugar overdrive) M said it was very very good. Nothing was too overpowering and the ice cream was very smooth. Win! 
The waitress was very honest with me when I asked her if the desserts were freshly made on premises, she told me no, but they are made to their specifications and delivered to them.
We also rounded off the meal with fresh mint tea and Arabic coffee. 
Coffee lovers will enjoy the Arabic coffee as it has a slight smokiness but do watch out for the sediment at the bottom of the cup. I made the mistake of not stirring mine before drinking so I ended up with a lot of sediment and it felt like I was downing medicine my Chinese doctor used to give me.

Overall, the experience was both exciting and relaxing, thanks to the Pomegranate team. I can't wait to take my food loving friends here for grub the next time we meet in the capital. 
It is just across the road from the Playhouse so why go to the chains in the Omni centre when you can just nip across the road for some excellently prepared food that is different to most other places in the city? If you have never tried Middle Eastern food, please do as it will open your palate to a whole different world of tasty cuisine. Their food is not only colourful and aromatic but it can be very healthy too. Ask the waiters for recommendations if you are scared to order the wrong thing, I'm sure they wouldn't let you order something you didn't like because at the end of the day they want you to return. I know I definitely will.