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Culinary travel – not exactly new

4 Jan

Imagine learning to cook, hot, spicy Indonesian food at 40 degrees centigrade. It happened to me in Manila, capital of the Philippines.

Alas, I’ve not been on an exotic vacation, just a trip down memory lane. I’ve just discovered a cutting from the “Daily Telegraph and Morning Post”, dated 25 July 1962. The author, Jacqueline Rose met up with television cook Pete Alfonso to learn how to make a genuine Indonesian dish. A television cook in 1962?

A little more delving leads me to more information about Mr Alfonso. He was a charismatic Dutch-Indonesian who ran Cafe Indonesia well known for jazz and good food.

Cooking Indonesian Style in 1962

Cooking Indonesian Style in 1962

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Spice up with saffron – Lussekatter

19 Dec

As regular readers know, we have a strong Swedish thread through the blog (not least due to co-author Caroline being Swedish). Back in October, I spent a few hours in the Peters’ Yard bakery – a wonderful experience. I was lucky enough to meet the man behind their fabulous recipes Jan Hedh was in Edinburgh to talk about his new book Swedish Breads and Pastries which I recommend for the serious baker.

Now, I know you are all frantically busy, but you might just want to try this recipe when you have some time. Easier still, pop into the bakery and try them.

You’ll need to set the raisins to soak a few hours in advance. Saffron is best used in moderation, you might just want to use a few strands the first time you make the recipe.

Jan Hedh’s Saffron Buns/Lussekatter

(makes 20 buns)

Saffron Buns (s-shaped buns on the right of the picture). Courtesy of Peters' Yard
Saffron Buns (on the right)

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What’s in season? November

19 Nov


Hand dived scallops

Hand dived scallops

We’re really into Winter mode now the clocks have gone back. The weather seems to have deteriorated too. All the more reason to cook hearty soups and stews and glory in the fruits still available. I was surprised to see blueberries on sale this last weekend, but they really were Scottish! The other delight was to see a pack of Scottish chilis from Scotherbs – these have proved to be delicious.


Fruit and Vegetables

Fennel; beetroot; Broccoli, Dirty carrots; butternut squash; Leeks, Onions, Spinach; Swiss chard, Parsnips, russet apples (and many more types), Wild Mushrooms, pears, ceps (last few). And from further afield, truffles, some amazing large juicy pineapples and cranberries

Meat and Fish

Crab, Scallops, plaice (very reasonably priced), Lobster,  Squid, Mallard, Chicken,  Beef, Pork , Turbot


Spiced berries

This is a really quick dessert. It can be made from any combination of berries you might have in the freezer or indeed a packet of frozen fruit is fine. It’s also worth freezing a bag of cranberries if you spot some.

Equal quantities of blackberries, redcurrants, cranberries, raspberries and blueberries – you’ll need about 100 grams per person.

1 stick of cinnamon (about 4 cm long)

4 cloves

4 green cardamoms (lightly squashed)

100 grams of sugar (brown or white) – you might need more depending on the fruit you used.


Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cook slowly until the juices run. If you are using cranberries, make sure they have softened, these usually take longest to cook. Remove the spices and add more sugar if very tart.

Edinburgh’s best kept secret: Matthew’s Foods

15 Nov

I’d like to share what I think is one of Edinburgh’s best kept secrets. Take a trip with me to the Far East, okay the West of Edinburgh.

Matthew‘s Foods is chock full of all sorts of superb ingredients at the most reasonable prices. It’s great fun to explore. Some things are familiar, others are frankly weird and wonderful.


Matthews Foods Supermarket

Matthew's Foods Supermarket


From the outside you’d probably think it stocks just Chinese ingredients. Not so. You’ll find just about any ingredient you could possibly wish for whether you are cooking Indian, Thai, Korean, Japanese, British and of course, Chinese.

Just inside the front door you’ll find the fresh produce – plenty of unfamiliar and more recognisable items.  Ahead you’ll find aisles of produce  – each aisle seems to gather ingredients from a different cuisine together – this can be a little confusing as you can find coconut for instance  in several different places.


Spices from Matthew's Foods

Spices from Matthew's Foods


The ingredients are ridiculously cheap, and are offered in small, medium, large and enormous bags. I look at huge bag of cumin seeds and wonder how many years it would take me to get through it and it’s less than £5. There are bags of nuts – a kilo of cashews at little more than you’d pay for 250 grams in a high street supermarket.

At the back there are frozen items – intriguing dumplings, dim sum, seafood, fish and meats – what fun to have a party to try them all out.

In another aisle, teas and dried mushrooms. You often catch yourself wondering exactly what such and such is.  Near the exit, you can find utensils, cleavers, steamers and other kitchen bits and pieces.

I’m a regular visitor and always astonished how little I spend when I’ve stocked up on  umpteen things. There, it’ll be a best kept secret no longer.

So take a little trip to the orient, it’s such fun and very easy on your purse.

Matthews Foods

36 Inglis Green Rd
Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH14 2ER
0131 443 8686

Mincepies – heaven or hell? Make your own mincemeat

1 Nov

I want you to make your own mincemeat

Make my own mincemeat?  What on earth for? I can hear you cry.


Freshly bottled mincemeat

Freshly bottled mincemeat


Well, to impress and show off, of course. And, once you’ve eaten a mince pie with homemade mincemeat, you’ll never eat another shop bought again. Guaranteed.

It’s getting on for that time of year when it’s difficult to avoid the mince pie – you know those utterly dry, weird tasting things that are supposed to sum up the Christmas spirit – I think they actually sum up the Scrooge sort of Christmas spirit – mean and grumpy. Continue reading

Christmas Cake – no excuses, you can make your own

24 Oct

A really good Christmas cake is within your grasp. This is a really easy recipe that is quite forgiving if you don’t have exactly the right ingredients. If you have to substitute anything, just ensure it weighs the same. First of all you gather all the ingredients and let them seep in alcohol for a week. You make an easy cake mix and combine the two and cook – simple. Do make this as soon as you can, to allow it to mature.

You’ll need a square cake tin about 20cm across and baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

For the soak

500 grams of raisins
200 grams of currants
100 grams of chopped dates
50 grams of dried cherries (not glace) if you can’t find these, use dried cranberries
3 tablespoons of each of the following: brandy, kirsch, whisky, port and water. You can use rum, Cointreau, grand marnier or sherry instead. Or, if use the 12 tablespoons of one alcohol and 3 of water)
1 teaspoon each of ground cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence (the pure sort)
1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar (or demerara)


In a saucepan, put all the ingredients and warm through until the sugar is dissolved. Take off the heat and let it cool.
Scrape all of the ingredients into a box with a lid and put into the fridge. Try to remember to shake the box each day.
A week later, you are ready to make the cake. You’ll notice that the dried fruit has plumped up and smells wonderful!

Cake ingredients

250 grams self-raising flour (or plain plus 2 tsp baking powder)
250 grams soft brown sugar (or Demerara)
250 grams of butter
5 large eggs beaten
50 grams of mixed nuts


Mixing the fruit and cake mixture together

Mixing the fruit and cake mixture together

Before you start making the cake, grease your tin and line it with greaseproof paper or parchment. Turn the over on to Gas mark 3, 170 degrees.

For ease, make the cake in a food processor or use a hand-held whisk.

Whisk the butter and sugar together until well mixed, Add a little flour. Add the eggs little by little until all used up. Spoon in the flour and mixed nuts. Put this mixture into a large mixing bowl with the fruit that’s been soaking and mix well.

The cake mixture in the lined tin

The cake mixture in the lined tin

Carefully spoon the mixture into the tin, making sure that your lining stays stuck to the edges of the tin.

Cook for approximately 2 1/2 hours. PLEASE CHECK REGULARLY. The cooking time seems to vary greatly – particularly if you have a fan oven. Use a skewer to test if it is ready – it should come out clean.

When it is done, leave it in the tin until cold. Turn out and store in silver foil until needed.

Store the cake in foil until needed

Store the cake in foil until needed

The best bakery in Edinburgh? Peter’s Yard

7 Oct
Peter's Yard Cafe and Bakery

Peter's Yard Cafe and Bakery

For those of you based in Edinburgh, you’ll have probably come across Peter’s Yard Cafe and Bakery when walking through the Meadows or coming through the new Quarter mile development. It’s a sleek glass building with a distinctly Swedish feel to it. Inside, there is plenty of wood, comfortable seating and a relaxed atmosphere. Peter’s Yard opened in 2007 and its reputation grows with every month. Just recently, master baker Dan Leppard writing in the Times, placed the bakery in the top 10 of small bakeries in Britain.  I was keen to find out more.

Preparing Baguettes at Peter's Yard

Preparing Baguettes at Peter's Yard

One morning recently, I arrived at 7 am to watch head baker Georgie Crisp at work. Georgie is passionate about what she does. She admits that getting in to work at 4 am does rather affect her social life, but being head baker more than makes up for it – it is simply her dream job. After completing a general catering course, she started to explore breadmaking. On a two-week stage with Mark Lazenby at Cinnamon Twist in Helmsley, she realised she had found her passion.

Much of bread making is in the preparation, you need to plan and make ahead. Georgie has several different sour dough “mothers” in unprepossessing buckets ready to add to the bread flour. Each need careful feeding each day to ensure it keeps alive.  Sour dough starters are used in all the rye-based recipes. For other breads including baguettes, fresh yeast is used. The baguette dough is made 12 hours before it is needed and placed into a special proving cabinet to gently grow over night.

There is a large French-made cooker with different ovens set at pre-programmed, tried and tested temperatures ready to accommodate a particular recipe. The bread is steamed as it cooks helping a good crust form – Georgie leaves the door of the oven open for a few minutes at the end of the baguettes’ cooking time to make it just that bit crisper. I was very taken with the special “roller blanket” which ensures you can deftly put your bread into the oven without using a peel.

Placing the baguettes on the roller blanket

Placing the baguettes on the roller blanket

In short time that I am in the kitchen, Georgie makes baguettes, foccacia, sweet buns with vanilla filling, cardamom buns and pizza dough and up until 2pm she will make an amazing range of items  including crispbreads (now those you can order online).

Georgie Crisp, Head Baker

Georgie Crisp, Head Baker

George and I agree that baking is magical.

Georgie is certainly a magician and Peter’s Yard probably the best bakery in Edinburgh. Visit soon won’t you? And please leave me at least one bun …

Making Cardamom Buns

The best seller, and my personal favourite, is the cardamom bun. For me, cardamom is the spice that really sums up Swedish cooking  and in this recipe it is the star ingredient. It’s a long, tricky process to make the bun. A basic dough is made and left to rest,  butter, sugar and spice is added and kneaded again. The dough is folded and  threaded through a machine (rather like a laundry press) to make it thinner and thinner, and is folded and thread through again. A filling of cinnamon, butter, treacle and syrup is spread over the dough. Then Georgie cuts it into strips each weighing 85 grammes and deftly twists the pieces before being rolled into a spiral. After another short rest period, they’re baked.

Adding the cardamom bun filling

Spreading the filling on the cardamom dough

Twisting the dough into shape

Twisting the dough into shape

Proving the Cardamom Buns

Proving the Cardamom Buns

The famous Peter's Yard Cardamom Bun

The famous Peter's Yard Cardamom Bun

Peter’s Yard Coffee House and Bakery
Quartermile, 27 Simpson Loan
Edinburgh EH3 9GG

0131-228 58 76

Photographs by Brendan MacNeill except exterior shot. A very big thank you for Peter’s Yard inviting me into the kitchen.