Monday, December 31, 2012

Hooray it's Hogmanay!

Hogmanay, the Scottish celebration of New Year. I think it's fair to say that no-one celebrates New Year quite like the Scots, but why?

Apparently, during the Protestant Reformation period Christmas was virtually banned in Scotland as it was viewed as a Roman Catholic celebration. Somewhere along the line New Year became the time for having the day off work and celebrating, but the festivities were frowned upon by the Church and often forced underground. In modern times, Hogmanay celebrations are seen as a huge part of Scottish culture and have spread throughout the world.

A traditional Hogmanay delicacy is the black bun, a rich fruit cake with a thick pasty crust. I have read somewhere that originally it was a lump of coal, good job times have changed. Traditionally, it was carried by the first person to enter the house after midnight and symbolised good luck and prosperity. Ideally the "first- footer" would be a tall, dark (and handsome maybe?!) man.

We are not in Scotland yet but with the move just a few short weeks away celebrations will involve a Scottish-themed dinner including haggis (lemon sole for me), rumpledethumps and Tipsy Laird (Scottish trifle).

Time to go and prepare, I have a haggis to handle, trifle sponges to soak and a tall, dark man on his way bringing a cake (chance would be a fine thing).

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Recipe - Dark Chocolate Chip Scones with Orange Mascarpone

As promised, the recipe for my Boxing Day hit.

Dark Chocolate Chip Scones with Orange Mascarpone Cream



Ingredients (makes approximately 6 scones)

Scones

250g of self-raising flour (gluten-free could be used if required)
55g of butter
30g of caster sugar
70g dark chocolate chips
125ml of milk
1 beaten egg for glazing

Orange Mascarpone Cream

1 small orange - freshly squeezed juice and rind
200g mascarpone cream
Approximately 1 tablespoon of icing sugar

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

In a large mixing bowl rub the softened butter into the flour and sugar using your fingertips until it has a fine breadcrumby texture.

Stir in the chocolate chips and gradually add the milk until it forms a soft dough.

On a lightly flour dusted surface turn out the dough and pat out until approximately 2.5cm or more in height.

Cut using a pastry cutter (be quick when cutting, do not twist).

Pop the scones on to a baking tray, with a few centimetres between each one as they will expand.

Glaze the top of the scones with a little of the beaten egg using a pastry brush (or in my case fingers).

Bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes until golden.

Whilst the scones are baking, make up the orange cream.

In a bowl mix together the mascarpone, icing sugar, orange juice and zest. Squeeze a little extra juice on top and a sprinkle of the rind to pretty it up.

Easy, peasy, orange squeezy! Delicious.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Favourite Festive Foods

Boxes of chocolates eaten, Christmas cake diminshed and Christmas pudding long gone, the transition back to the the usual, humdrum foods is well under way.

What have been your  favourite festive foods this year? These are some of mine...

Christmas Classics
Christmas cake with a slab of strong cheddar and Christmas pudding with brandy butter are two of my festive favourites.

Christmas Dinner
Mum's roasties (see "Mum's Christmas Kitchen Tips"), red cabbage and of course the lovely but often controversial brussell sprouts.



Christmas Baking
I was not organised enough to bake my own Christmas cake, but I think moving house ten days before Christmas Day is a viable excuse. However, I did rustle up dark chocolate scones with an orange mascarpone cream (recipe to follow), that went down a treat as part of the Boxing Day evening tea spread.


Christmas Gifts
The combination of sea salt and chocolate/caramel was popular with foodies gifts in our household this year. This included the tongue tingling Charbonnel & Walker Sea Salt Caramel Truffles and Rococo Sea Salt Wafers. Needless to say, they didn't last long.

 

The salt and chocolate/caramel combination seems to be on trend again or did it ever go out of fashion? Salted chocolate and caramel have always been a delicious pairing. Salted caramel was being produced by French pastry chef Henri Roux in the early 80's. During the 90's in Paris, Pierre Herme became known for his much beloved salted caramel macaroons. It is now a common combination that is featured on the mass market by the likes of Haagen-Dazs, Hotel Chocolat and Lindt. Salted Caramel Mocha and Salted Caramel Pecan Bar even feature at Starbucks.

Whatever your festive favourites may have been, here's hoping you have indulged and enjoyed.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mum's Christmas Kitchen Tips

During Christmas I have spent much time in the kitchen with Mum and consequently been privy to some kitchen cookery tips.

First up, how to re-create Mum's Roasties, which are quite simply the best roast potatoes ever.

Mum's Roasties
Pour some oil of choice (olive) and place some butter in a roasting tray in the oven at 200C.
Maris Piper potatoes are recommended as, "they go nice and fluffy inside". Scrub and cut to size.
Par boil in a large saucepan and drain.
Return them to the saucepan and whilst the pan is still hot (return it to the stove/hob turned off but still hot), "dry the potatoes, but careful not to burn them".
Roughen the potatoes with a fork to "fluff them up".
Coat the potatoes in sea salt and toss them around in the "spitting hot" oil and butter in the roasting tray.
Roast in the oven at 200C for approx 30-40mins, remembering to toss them around a couple of times during roasting.
The roasties should be "golden in colour and crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy inside".

Gravy
Add a couple of tablespoons of redcurrant jelly to the juices (stock) from the cooked meat and vegetables to thicken and sweeten the gravy.

Cake storage
Do not keep a moist cake in the same tin or storage container as biscuits as the cake will make the biscuits soft. Personally, I am a bit sceptical about this but have been informed with conviction that the moisture from the cake will soften the biscuits.

Christmas dinner side dish
Mashed carrots and swede with a sprinkle of nutmeg and baked with cheddar cheese topping.
According to Mum swedes and turnips are the same thing, I have been insistent that they are not and have done the obligatory Googling to explore further. Apparently in Scotland the swede is known as turnip or"neep" and turnips are known as "neeps" too (?) (the more I read on this the more confusing it gets). "In the north of England and Scotland the turnip is called neep; the word turnip often refers to the larger, yellow root vegetable which is also known as the "swede" (from "Swedish turnip")."
They are actually two different varieties of brassica, turnips are usually smaller than swedes and whiter in colour.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wishing you all a joyful Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year.


Evil Santa- our favourite family tree decoration so-called because wherever you are in the room he seems to be watching you- not sure what that says about our family!

Love and Peace to all x

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas - Stocking Up

Stocked up and ready for the big day following a trip to the local farm shop. We were planning on getting there for 7am but got caught up with cups of tea and chit chat, good job too as apparently it was heaving at opening.

Isn't it fascinating how much food we buy in preparation for two days? I was determined not to get caught up in the panic but found myself chucking allsorts into the trolley until it was full (luckily it was a mini trolley).



Mum was looking forward to buying their lovely big, chunky chocolate brazils. However, shock horror, the brazil nut tub was empty. I bought a sympathetic box from the local Spar, not quite the same.

Fruit and vegetables bought and lots of yummy extras, all set for tomorrow, I hope you are too.



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Scones, scones and more scones

If you have read my previous blogs on this subject, you will know I am a big fan of scones and planning on spending much of my life baking when we open our Tearoom in Scotland.
Fabulous old scales
As you may be aware I have just moved in with my folks as a temporary stop before our big move to Scotland, hence why my kitchen items are currently unavailable. I have had to adjust to a different kitchen, including the scales! (see picture above).

Plain scones and dark chocolate chip scones have been baked, ready to freeze for Boxing Day evening tea spread.

Rebecca's Scone Factory!
An orange mascarpone "cream" will accompany the dark chocolate chip scones and of course the classic plain with clotted cream and jam.

Unfortunately, no gluten-free version yet. After yesterday's quite painful shopping experience and the awful weather I whimped out of venturing to the shops to buy the necessary flour. They will have to follow.

Feels good to be back in the kitchen.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas - What's In Your Fridge?

I love it when the fridge is full, it doesnt come easy this time of year though does it? This mornings trip to Sainsbury's involved traffic jams, queues and trolley bashing, and that was all before 8am.

What's in your fridge this Christmas?

Christmas, an excuse for many of us of us to eat whatever the heck we fancy for at least one day. In our household, there will be turkey and after deliberating between a vegetarian wellington or fish, we have opted for fish. Monkfish tail was the plan, filled with sage and onion stuffing, but no luck so far. Nevermind, a nice cod loin will do the job.

Nosily peering into other people's shopping trolleys today made me think about what people are eating this Christmas. Speaking to family and friends it's interesting to hear how many people are not going down the usual roast goose of turkey route; vegetable tagines, turkey curry and roasted lamb to mention a few. Inspired, I decided to do a bit of reading about traditional Christmas meals around the world.

Australia
With enviably warm temperatures this time of year Australians may be inclined to turn away from the British tradition of a roast, and choose seafood instead and barbecues are a popular choice. This is a time when prawns, lobster, shellfish and a full of array of summer fruits are used to their best. A Christmas Day meal may involve a seafood barbecue followed by something tropical and fruity such as a mango and passionfruit pavlova.

Chile
After a meal of chicken, turkey or other Christmas favourites, Chileans are known to enjoy a sweet fruit and nut sponge cake known as 'pan de pascua’. This is accompanied by 'cola de mono’, literally the 'monkey’s tail’ is a drink made from milk, coffee, vanilla, cloves and liquor.

Czech Republic
The main Christmas meal is often eaten on Christmas Eve and often consists of a fish soup, a selection of salads, eggs and the most important dish – carp. Dinner is commonly finished with a sweet strudel type dessert.

Denmark
A traditional roast meal of pork, duck or goose may be served alongside baked potatoes, red cabbage and topped with gravy. For dessert, rice pudding, is traditionally served at midnight on Christmas Eve with a single almond hidden within. The lucky person whose dessert contains the almond is given a small gift and is thought to have good luck for the coming year.

Finland
A warming Christmas casserole of macaroni, swede, carrot and potato is a popular choice. Served alongside the traditional ham or turkey or even a whole cooked salmon. It is also common to have a number of meat and fish sides and a salad made of potatoes, carrot, beetroot, apples and cream.

Germany
Roast goose remains the favourite Christmas meal in Germany, and is usually served with potato dumplings, red cabbage, carrots, parsnip, pickles and a wine-flavoured sauce. Like a lot of Europe, the festive meal is usually eaten on Christmas Eve. Germany is also known for its range of Christmas sweets, from the marzipan filled stollen fruit cake (one of my favourites) to gingerbread.

Italy
Christmas lunch in Italy is often a multi-course affair, with many dinner's consisting of antipasto, pasta, roast meat, salads, pudding, cheese, fruit, topped off with brandy, chocolates and strong espresso. Many Christmas spreads will also include a Panettone, a traditional Italian cake.

Norway
The main festive meal is often enjoyed on Christmas Eve and this often involves tucking into cod, haddock or lutefisk. For those living inland pork chops or meatloaf are a more common choice.

Philippines
Filipinos enjoy a Christmas Eve feast on the stroke of midnight that can include 'queso de bola’ an edam cheese ball accompanied by jamon (Christmas ham) and 'tsokolate’ (hot chocolate). The main meal is usually finished with 'puto bumbong’, a purple rice dessert cooked in bamboo and smothered with butter, plenty of shredded coconut and sugar.

Poland
The traditional Christmas Eve dinner consists of either twelve or thirteen courses, one for each of the twelve apostles and an optional extra course for Jesus. No meat is eaten, instead carp or pike may be served with a sweet-and-sour sauce or a spicy horseradish sauce. Other courses may include mushroom soup, sauerkraut, pierogi (dumplings), biscuits and poppy-seed rolls.

Portugal
The Portuguese may traditionally celebrate Christmas Eve with a special meal of salted dry cod paired with boiled potatoes, all enjoyed right on the stroke of midnight.

Sweden
The Swedes are famous for their smorgasbords, and for Christmas some households create impressive spreads that may feature ham, meatballs, cheese, caviar, sausages and raw or pickled herring.

What will be served at your table this Christmas?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Differences between High Tea and Afternoon Tea

Thanks all for your feedback on Afternoon Tea favourites, unsurprisingly classic plain scones, jam and clotted cream came out tops.

During my "Tea" research the difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea has been questioned. Here are my findings...

Afternoon Tea (Low Tea)

An afternoon treat typically of tea, sandwiches, scones and cake often eaten between 3-5pm.

Legend has it that Afternoon Tea was started in the mid-1800s by the Duchess of Bedford. Around this time kerosene lamps were first introduced and in wealthier homes eating a late dinner by lamp light became fashionable. 

The story goes that the Duchess found herself with a "sinking feeling" (thought to be fatigue from hunger during the long wait between meals) and decided to have some friends over for assorted snacks and tea. This idea of an afternoon tea spread across high society and became a favourite past time of ladies of leisure.

It would usually be served on a lounge (low) table or coffee table, hence the name "Low Tea".

High Tea (Meat Tea)

A hearty tea and supper typically eaten between 5-7pm usually involving a hot, savoury dish followed by cakes, bread, butter and jam and often cold cuts of meat. High Tea features different traditional dishes depending on the region.

Regional favourites include:

England: Shepherds Pie, steak and kidney pie.
Ireland: Irish fruit cake, rarebit, bacon and egg pie and oatcakes.
Scotland: Haddock, kippers, shortbreads, Dundee cake and drop scones.
Wales: Welsh rarebit, poacher's pie and onion cake.

High Tea is associated with the working class traditionally eaten by labourers, miners and other workers after a hard day of manual labour.
This tea would be served at the high or main dinner table, hence the term "High Tea".

So there we go folks.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Operation Scotland - Phase One Completed

What a weekend, I would happily never see a cardboard box again! Shame there are about twenty big ones waiting for me in the garage. I'm now temporarily living at my folks until we complete on the Scotland house.

In my next life I'd like to be a dog
We treated ourselves to an Indian on Saturday night after the big move and boy did we deserve it, naughty but very nice. I resisted the peshwari naan that I used to love but guzzled down a couple of glasses of wine (medicinal purposes).

I can now actually find the headspace to think about Christmas. Vegetarian wellington with shiitake mushrooms and pearl barley (recipe courtesy of Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School),  gluten-free scones (chocolate and orange maybe?) and lemon and thyme torte are in my thoughts. Job done with presents, they are wrapped and under the tree. I did my Christmas shopping in a very focused two hour slot a couple of weeks back, good job I've got a small family.

Dinner for the folks tonight courtesy of moi, king prawn stir-fry with a big bundle of beautiful, fresh vegetables.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Getting ready for the off

Surrounded by boxes and binbags, I am just about ready for the off,  just need to bubble wrap the T.V and I'm pretty much good to go.
Arghhhh!
Tomorrow will be time to say goodbye to Taunton, I have been thinking about my time here. One of my favourite places in town is St Mary Magdalene church, it is a stunning building and I have a bit of a sad confession. In recent months with all this going on, I have been making what you might call "pilgrimages" to St Mary's during my morning run. I pause at the church, run on the spot and put my hands on the church brickwork for a few seconds whilst I say a few words. I have found myself begging, wishing, I guess you would call it praying, to some greater force for everything to work out. I guess someone was listening. I must have looked pretty blooming odd though, good job it's dark at that time.

Pounding the pavements early in the mornings I see the same people. There is a homeless chap I call "Army Bob", we always speak, well sort of, he usually shouts random comments, "Bingo", "yee-hah" and "go go" to name a few. I see the same window cleaners, commuters, dog walkers, I wonder if they will think "where's that runner?".

I have little to report on food, given that this week has been a case of using up what is left. What I would say is that if you ever get a chance to visit The Willow Tree restaurant then go, it's fabulous.  Run by a husband (chef) and wife (front of house) team this small, intimate restaurant uses the best local produce the region has to offer. I've not eaten there in about two years but have very fond memories of special evenings there.

A few nights back I had dinner with someone dear to me at the Mint and Mustard Indian restaurant. Delicious, fresh Indian food in a clean and funky setting, I recommend it.

The dogs have had a happy day eating up the remaining treats in their biscuit barrel. They know something is up though, I guess I would too if my bed had been thrown away.



Fear not, they do have big cosy blankets as temporary beds.

Right, back to the boxes...wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How do you like your Afternoon Tea?

I keep dreaming up ideas for the tearooms and would love to hear your thoughts on the following:

Afternoon Teas

What topping do you like best with a scone?

For me its got to be raspberry jam and clotted cream.

Favourite sandwich?

Personally, classic smoked salmon and cream cheese or cheese and chutney.

Are there any cakes, biscuits, pastries in particular that you like to have as part of an Afternoon Tea?

Strawberry tartlets.

Any feedback would be much appreciated by the usual means; Comment below, Facebook, Twitter or email (rebeccarenahan@googlemail.com).

Many thanks kind people, if you respond I'll throw in a free scone (at least) if you come to visit in Scotland!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Keep or Bin?

Keep or bin, keep or bin, keep or bin? My mantra of the last couple of days,  as I pack and get ready to move. The aim is to be ruthless and so far so good. I cleared out my shoe cupboard, resulting in two bin bags full of shoes to go, that's got to be at least 30 pairs. Now that's what I call ruthless! How many pairs of shoes does a girl need in rural Scotland?!

I have found a ridiculous amount of plastic tubs and jars, it's amazing how much stuff is hiding in the back of kitchen cupboards, they are like some kind of tardis. Most of my kitchen stuff has been boxed up now, just leaving essentials. I expect to be having some random meals this week using up what is left and no baking I'm afraid.

Argghhhh!
Some people may say I'm a bit of a neat freak, so being surrounded by piles of stuff and boxes is proving a little testing. Nevermind, I only have to survive until Saturday and you wont hear me grumbling, it will all be worth it. It has actually felt really good, very cleansing, ridding old ghosts ready to start anew.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Scotland - " Matters of the Heart"

It's official, I'm in love.

Let me explain...

My folks mentioned to me a few short months back that they were considering relocating to Scotland. I joined them on a trip to investigate and by the end of the weekend I decided that if they were going then I was going too. Since then we have been up for several weekends, viewing properties and investigating areas. On our trip last weekend we found the house, "I love it!!", I kept mouthing to Mum when the agent wasn't looking. I was hooked right away, the views, the location, the Victorian features and modern touches and then we were shown the garden with the most magical woodland area. It is beautiful, I love it.

The writer Gwen Raverat in her memoir "Period Piece" describes the feeling perfectly when she describes the country home of her grandfather, Charles Darwin.

"I adored those pebbles. I mean literally, adored; worshipped. This passion made me feel quite sick sometimes. And it was adoration that I felt for the foxgloves, and for the stiff red clay of the Sandwalk clay pit; and for the beautiful white paint on the nursery floor. This kind of feeling hits you in the stomach and in the ends of your fingers, and it is probably the most important thing in life. In the long run, it is this feeling that makes life worth living."

Love makes life worth living.

It has been quite a stressful couple of months, selling two houses between us and finding a new home and we are not done yet.

In the last week my house finally sold and I was able to hand in my notice at work. I have spent years doing a job to pay the bills; no love, no passion. It felt good.

The plan is to run a guest house, retreats and a vintage style tearoom specialising in afternoon tea. We are buzzing with ideas and excitement.

View from the driveway
I have just over a week to get packed and out of my house. Therefore, I may be a little quiet, I've got so much to do. Cooking and baking will be limited to using up what is left in my cupboards. If I come up with any ingenious creations I'll let you know!

Please keep fingers and toes crossed for us, I will keep you updated...


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Scotland - "Matters of the Tummy"

Where to start? That is the question. I have returned from Scotland (hopefully you read my, "To Scotland With Love", blog on Friday) and have a lot to report. I will start with the easiest subject first,"Matters of the Tummy", to be followed by,"Matters of the Heart".

Friday night was dinner at the fabulous Riverhill Deli in Helensburgh. The deli opened in 2010 and serves fresh, local produce and exotic goodies from further afield. Apparently the chef, Johnny, is a keen forager, picking up local homegrown produce to bring to the tiny kitchen. They have plenty of scrumptious baked delights, this time they had some very good looking macaroons and scones on the counter amongst many others.

I opted for "Scallops in chilli, coriander and lime butter" to start.


 Followed by comforting, warming "West Coast Fish Stew", packed full of delicious local seafood on saffron potatoes.
 

To finish, "Cinnamon Creme Brulee and homemade shortbread", delicious.

                                                                    

The next morning at the hotel I was slightly disappointed that there were no tattie scones on the breakfast menu and surprisingly no porridge either! However, they did good poached eggs so I was happy.

Despite passing many Fish & Chips shops over the weekend, I managed to resist the temptation. I did peer through their windows looking for the infamous deep fried Mars Bars but again they eluded me, but I did see deep fried pizza on the menu of one (eek!).

As you can tell, my tummy had a great weekend but what about my heart?