the Kitchen on the Kelvin

Recipes, news and reviews from my cubby-hole of a kitchen on banks of the River Kelvin, Glasgow


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Corfu, Part II: Corfu Town

Watching the people go by in Corfu Old Town

Watching the people go by in Corfu Old Town

Every so often, one of those rare days comes along that I know will linger fondly in the memory for some time. Free from worry, pressure and expectation, our impromptu visit to Corfu Town was just that.

As I explained in my previous post, our days in Ermones had revolved around unadulterated sun worship, gorging on beautiful Corfiot seafood and quaffing a liberal quantity of cocktails by the pool. While too much of that can only be a good thing in my eyes, we would have been wasting an opportunity if we hadn’t taken a foray into the island’s capital, Corfu Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and only a 30 minute bus ride away.

Just a few weeks before, I’d been drawn in by some striking pictures of the old town on the Instagram account of my Greek school friend, Dimitra, who had spent her summer holidays there. As a native, I knew she’d be able to share with us the insider knowledge we craved: where do the locals eat?

The bus, which eventually picked us up from our hotel after deviating quite significantly from the timetable, reached its final destination on a scruffy plot of land operating as a depot. So far, so unimpressed; I was anticipating a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets brimming with a potent sense of the past. But with the help of some 21st century technology, we discovered the old town a few minutes later and got the eyeful of culture we were looking for.

The rich history of the island, which can be read about here, is clearly demonstrated by the formidable old fort which dominates the bustling port. Further into the meandering passages, shuttered windows and flowering balconies are reminiscent of Paris or Venice which is a direct result of four centuries of Venetian rule before the British, French and Greek governments made their own marks.

Back home in Britain, we’re fed emotive images of the great turmoil caused by the crippled Greek economy but there’s no sign of that here. Glossy boutiques exude opulence and indulgence, chic cafes buzz dynamically with expressive conversation and polished ladies laden with the exploits of their spending strut confidently through the winding streets, chichi toy dogs in tow.

After finding our bearings and absorbing the charm of the place, we were certainly ready for refreshments. Settling on a couple of high stools poised outside an elegant little bar-cum-cafe, we would spend the next three hours supping zingy margaritas and enjoying one of the best pastimes there is: people watching. From the bionic blonde whose plastic surgery portfolio could give those of The Real Housewives a run for their money, to the stream of giggling schoolgirls ordering chain-gulped iced coffees from the pretty Greek version of a 20-something Joaquin Phoenix (swoon), this was one of the foremost people watching experiences of my life. Somehow, TV and film can’t compare to the entertainment that comes from surveying the curious actions and conversations of human beings unknowingly going about their everyday lives.

Now for food. Our dinner venue had come highly recommended by my Greek informant, Dimitra. Entered via an inconspicuous passageway off one of the main shopping streets, I reckon Bellissima has to be Corfu Town’s best kept secret. Despite its Italian name, Bellissima serves traditional Greek fare from its charming situation on a romantic little square. Sat outside at tables with red check tablecloths, we devoured saganaki (king prawns with feta in a tomato sauce), spetzofai (spicy sausage with peppers), more seafood pasta (Craig’s true vice) and the ultimate Greek classic of chicken souvlaki.

This was a feast capable of feeding a large family with Grecian appetites so eventually we had to admit defeat with a dull ache of disappointment. The family which runs this place delivered everything we had hoped for from an authentic meal; the warmest hospitality was lovingly combined with food which was unpretentious, homely and bursting with flavour. And just to top it all off, a group of traditional singers, musicians and dancers performed in the square as we ate to make this an all-encompassing experience of Corfiot culture.

This day trip represented one major life lesson learned: never underestimate the value of taking in some culture. We could have so easily have spent our entire week languishing in luxury by the pool at our hotel but this little sojourn enriched our holiday far more than we could’ve imagined.


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The most moist Easter chocolate fudge cake

Writing about food is something that I’ve thought about for too long, but somehow there was always something standing in my way – until now, that is. Just last week, the final hurdle between me writing and you reading this was overcome as a shiny, new, functioning oven was installed in the cubby-hole I call my kitchen.

From the moment I met my former oven, we didn’t get on. Droning and loud with a temperamental thermostat, I couldn’t bear the thought of posting photos of cremated cakes for the world to see; even the mighty powers of Instagram couldn’t hide the char. I am most definitely ashamed to admit that at my very lowest point I plunged to the murky depths of microwaving a Victoria sponge sandwich in order to cook the eggy ooze outpouring from a crusty, black shell. Knowing that I’d crossed a terrible, terrible line, I abandoned baking for months.

Now, however, I’m free to resign that sad saga to history. But what foodie marvel could justify my debut blog post from the Kitchen on the Kelvin? I quickly concluded that it had to be something season-appropriate and, as an agnostic Scot, Easter means only one thing – CHOCOLATE.

The manic expressions on the faces of these fuzzy chicks can't fail to bring a bit of springtime fun

The manic expressions on the faces of these fuzzy chicks can’t fail to bring a bit of springtime fun

The recipe for these chocolate fudge sponges and cupcakes was tweaked from the BBC Good Food’s highly rated Naughty Chocolate Fudge Cake – I felt compelled to drop the ‘naughty’ – although I’ve swapped their chocolate buttercream for a more intense, grown-up ganache.

The cake recipe itself is unrivalled, though. The use of oil instead of butter leaves it scrumptiously moist and the all-in-one method makes it almost foolproof.

Ideally, I’d have topped these with speckled Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, but after hopelessly searching the shelves of supermarkets and newsagents for more than 90 minutes, I was forced to accept that I should probably be spending my time attending to more pressing and important tasks like picking up my dry-cleaning and going to the Post Office. I settled for Cadbury’s Flake dust and some inedible fuzzy chicks to add a much-needed injection of colour.

The use of oil instead of butter makes this cake scrumptiously moist and light, too

The use of oil instead of butter makes this cake scrumptiously moist and light, too

INGREDIENTS

For the cake:

[This deeply filled two mini 11.5cm sandwich tins and six generously-sized cupcake cases but would equally suit two standard 18cm/7″ sandwich tins]

175g self-raising flour

2 tbsp good quality cocoa powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

150g caster sugar

2 medium eggs, beaten

150ml (1/4 pint) sunflower or vegetable oil

150ml (1/4 pint) semi-skimmed milk [I’d use whole milk if I had it handy]

2 tbsp golden syrup

For the ganache:

[These quantities left me with a ramekin-full left over – perfect heated up and poured over ice cream for a satisfying and instant mid-week dessert]

150ml double cream

150g good quality dark chocolate [or substitute half for milk chocolate to lessen the cocoa intensity for kids/adult wimps like my boyfriend]

PROCESS

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°c (160° fan) or gas mark 4 and grease and line your tins.
  2. Sieve the flour, cocoa and bicarb and add the caster sugar. Mix well.
  3. Make a well in the centre of the dry mix and add the wet ingredients. Beat until smooth with an electric freestanding or hand mixer – unless you’re looking to build biceps.
  4. Pour into your tins or cupcake cases – the batter will be quite wet – and place in the oven. Leave until risen and firm to the touch. The cupcakes should only take around 15 mins while the sandwich tins will be ready in 25 – 30 minutes.
  5. Leave to cool before turning out onto a wire rack.
  6. You can start on the ganache right away if you wish as it requires an hour or two to cool. Add the cream and broken up chocolate to a pan on a very low heat and stir gently until the chocolate is melted.
  7. Remove from the heat and beat until smooth and glossy. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
  8. I levelled off the rise on each sandwich with a sharp knife – allowing me the benefit of a sneaky taste test – before spreading on the ganache with a flat-edged pallet knife. Sprinkle with Flake dust created by venting your pent-up anger on a sealed Flake with a rolling pin. And if you’re lucky enough to source Mini Eggs – where did you get them!? – they’ll add an unmistakable Easter charm.