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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Home comforts: cheese scones

I can't think of a better way to describe these scones than 'scrummy'

I can’t think of a better word than ‘scrummy’ to describe these scones

There’s something so homely about cheese scones that I’m not sure anything can beat them on the comfort food front. I love making them on chilled out Saturday mornings, and my mum even makes them for us fresh on Christmas morning.

Her classic recipe from an old Bero cookbook is probably still my favourite, but a couple of years ago I came across an alternative, more substantial version by baking maestro Dan Lepard for the Guardian. This is what I’ve adapted below, exchanging the buttermilk for good old semi-skimmed (or whatever you have in the fridge) and the parsley for chives. With a hell of a lot of cheese in there, these certainly aren’t one for diet days but they make a perfect brunch dish when you’re not feeling quite so extravagant as pancakes and you don’t fancy eggs (as I never have and never will).

Ingredients:

75g jumbo rolled oats, plus a handful for sprinkling on top
150ml water
50ml milk (I use semi-skimmed but whatever you have in the fridge will do nicely)
1 large egg
50ml sunflower oil
A large handful of chopped chives
200g mature cheddar, coarsely grated
350g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

1. The first stage of this recipe sets it aside from any other scone recipe I’ve known; a porridge style mixture is made by combining the oats with the water in a saucepan and bringing to the boil. At this stage, pour the mixture into a large bowl, stir in the milk and leave to cool.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 220c/200c fan assisted/425F/gas mark 7.

3. Beat in the egg and oil until mixed well and stir through the cheese and chives. Next, add the flour, baking powder and salt, mixing until a soft dough forms.

3. Roll out the dough on a floured surface until around 4cm thick and use a round 6-8cm pastry cutter (I like the ribbed edge best) to form the scones before transferring them to a floured baking sheet. Place them a few centimetres apart to allow for a little spreading.

4. Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle over a little grated cheese and some more oats for a rustic, homely finish.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the kitchen smells divine and they are risen and golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack.

6. Enjoy! These are best straight out of the oven with a generous serving of real butter. Later on, a gentle toasting brings them back to life and they freeze pretty well too.

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Home: the Isle of Arran

The beautiful Brodick Bay, Isle of Arran

I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the most incredible places the world has to offer, but, no matter how I look at it, the Great Barrier Reef, New York City and Maya Bay just don’t quite compare to the humble Isle of Arran.

Situated off the west coast of Scotland, this island was the destination of almost every holiday I enjoyed during my childhood. Come rain or shine, I spent my days in and around ‘The Bungalow’ – my gran’s unique island abode – in Whiting Bay. Proudly elevated above Shore Road, the sandstone-fronted bungalow overlooking the beach had been extended several times over the years and became a residence of many elements: the front house (the luxury quarter where my gran lived); the back house (the self-contained, no-frills accommodation for family units on a fortnightly stay); the annexe (a small cupboard off the back house kitchen with a bed wedged in and no door – exclusively for the use of my unfortunate male cousins when beds were in short supply); and the penthouse (an unrenovated loft space with mattress for my even more unfortunate male cousins when the comparably opulent annexe was occupied). The bed policy was unashamedly sexist, but I wasn’t going to complain about it and risk spending a night in the penthouse with spiders the size of salad plates.

Unfortunately when my gran passed away some years ago, the house had to be sold and my heart was shattered into quite a few pieces. But thankfully I still get to spend a bit of time on Arran now that my family members have bought their own island boltholes.

Last December, however, I spent a couple of nights in a hotel on the island for the first time ever. I was enticed into this unprecedented move as a result of the no expense spared renovation of the iconic Douglas Hotel. Situated directly across from the pier in Brodick, this once-grand red sandstone pile had degenerated into an eyesore over the years but has been completely transformed into a luxury boutique hotel. Craig and I had a fantastic winter break and knew it wouldn’t be long until we returned.

A couple of weeks ago, thanks to a generous gift from Craig’s mum and dad, we spent another weekend at the wonderful Douglas and – once again – it did not disappoint. The decor, the atmosphere, the staff and the food make it the perfect balance of contemporary and traditional, of stylish yet relaxed.

After a wander during the day and a couple of G&Ts before dinner, we settled into the bistro for a delicious meal. To start, I opted for the beetroot, peppered goats cheese, cider poached pear and pumpkin seeds. I’m seldom able to pass over a goats cheese starter and this was one of the best I’ve had. Not only did it look stunning on the plate, but the goats cheese had the creamiest whipped texture which was cut through beautifully by the sweetness of the beetroot.

A work of art: beautiful goats cheese, beetroot, cider poached pear and pumpkin seed starter

Craig hit the foodie jackpot with his choice of Loch Fyne scallops, parma ham, confit duck and caper and lime sauce. The combination of scallops and duck struck me as a little unusual but it well and truly worked a treat. I only managed to snaffle a mouthful or two for myself but from that I can tell you it was excellently prepared and, should I get the chance to order this in future, I’ll be keeping every last mouthful for myself.

Sublime: Loch Fyne scallops, parma ham, confit duck and caper and lime dressing

Here I have to make a special mention to the hotel owner, Sean, who – by a series of bizarre coincidences – had met Craig in St Petersburg back in 2006 and showed him and a couple of his travelling companions a wild time over the space of a week. Sitting in the hotel bar mid-afternoon, Craig couldn’t quite believe his eyes when he recognised Sean and his wife as they passed our table, and it was even more to our surprise when we realised he also owns the place! After chatting before dinner and enjoying a couple of drinks with his family, Sean very generously sent us over a lovely bottle of champagne between our courses which we gratefully guzzled over the next couple of hours. He was a wonderful host and really has done a marvellous thing in bringing this decrepit hotel back to life with a resounding jolt, miles better than it ever was before.

A little too ‘distracted’ by the liquid offerings on the table, I didn’t manage to capture any more photos of our meal but I can tell you that the 28 day dry aged rib eye of beef, roast shitake mushrooms, white anchovy butter and chunky fries was a most satisfying feed. The beef was full of richness and the chips – served in kitsch mini frying basket – were top class and of the delicious crispy-on-the-outside, perfectly-fluffy-on-the-inside variety. Craig, meanwhile, had a hearty venison chasseur which I know he gobbled down gleefully. We couldn’t even manage a dessert to share, so full of delicious goats cheese, scallops, duck, steak, venison, chips and champagne we were. It was a veritable feast and one I wish I could relive right now.

I cannot recommend this place enough. Our room was beautifully decorated, very comfortable and not the slightest bit pretentious. The bar is relaxed, interesting and radiates a great, convivial atmosphere. The bistro, more formal as it should be, is stylish, spacious and bright. And finally, the entire staff is fantastic. Friendly, very happy to help and full of enthusiasm for the place, they make the Douglas Hotel what it is and ensure that we’ll be back time and time again. Check it out on Tripadvisor where you’ll read all you need to know.


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Sshhh! Don’t tell your dentist: Mum’s Muscovado Tablet

Muscovado tablet: a delicious twist on a Scottish favourite

Mum’s muscovado tablet: a most satisfying twist on a Scottish classic

I’ve been in turmoil over this particular blog post, unsure whether or not to share a very special family recipe with you. The fact is that my Mum’s Muscovado Tablet is so good that I reckon it could make me millions. But after much tossing and turning and procrastination, I’ve decided to put a stop to my selfish thoughts and share it with the masses.

For anyone who hasn’t had tablet before, it’s a traditional Scottish sweet consisting of sugar, sugar and more sugar. Tooth-meltingly sweet, with a much grainier texture than fudge, it’s widely served up as a complementary side when you order a tea or coffee in any half-decent restaurant, cafe or tearoom across the country.

Many years ago now, my mum decided to road test a Nigel Slater recipe for Muscovado Fudge which appeared in an antiquated issue of Sainsbury’s Magazine. The rich molasses flavour imparted by this sticky, unrefined sugar delivered a scrumptious twist to the standard fudge recipe and – in a stroke of genius – my very clever mother realised how to make it even better: adapt it for tablet!

Her recipe isn’t an exact science but requires a bit of sensory observation. It is, however, well worth the effort and if it ends up a little softer or a little harder than you intended, I can guarantee it will still taste incredible. What’s more, you’ll have a great excuse to keep practicing and get started on another batch! One instrument you will require to guide you, though, is a sugar thermometer.

Ingredients:

500g light muscovado sugar

500g golden caster sugar

300ml evaporated milk

150g unsalted butter, cubed

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Put all of the ingredients except the vanilla into a large, heavy-bottomed pan and heat gently. Keep stirring to ensure the melting ingredients don’t burn onto the bottom of the pan.
  2. Once dissolved, place the sugar thermometer in the pan. Continue to stir the mixture constantly – for up to 30 minutes – until the thermometer reaches the ‘soft ball‘ stage. You can test this by dropping a blob of the mixture into a bowl of cold water. Rolling it between your fingers, if it literally forms a soft ball it’s ready to come off the heat. Stir through the vanilla extract.

    Boiling sugar: treat with caution

    Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble: stir with caution!

  3. I’d recommend using an electric hand mixer if you don’t want your arm to turn to stone during this next stage. Begin beating the mixture evenly and watch as it expands in volume, turning from glossy and smooth to a more matt and grainy texture. It’s ready when the ripples created by the beaters hold their form for a few seconds.

    Beating will thicken the mixture and turn it from glossy to a silken, grainy appearance

    Beating will thicken the mixture and turn it from glossy to matt with a grainy appearance on close inspection

  4. Pour into a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. The surface will be uneven and swirly, giving it a rustic, rough-around-the-edges Scots charm. After ten minutes or so, cut into bite-size squares with a knife and leave to cool entirely before removing from the tray.

    After allowing the tablet to cool for 10 minutes in the tray, cut into bite-size pieces

    A sweet, crumbly and incredibly moreish treat; perfect with a cup of coffee

The last piece of advice I can offer you is to divide it up into cellophane bags tied with ribbon and distribute it to your friends and family ASAP! They’ll be over the moon when they taste it and you won’t be three stone heavier and toothless.


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Glasgow’s best restaurant: Ian Brown Food and Drink, Giffnock

This isn’t a review.

I couldn’t for a second pretend to be impartial, unbiased or remotely rational in telling you about this exceptional little eatery in the southern suburbs of Glasgow because it is – by a million miles – my favourite restaurant.

Just a few minutes’ drive from my boyfriend’s family home, this little bit of heaven in Giffnock is the Barclays’ first port of call whenever something calls for celebration. And luckily for me, I get to join them in savouring the beautiful, locally-sourced food that chef Ian Brown creates from his compact little kitchen in this family-run restaurant.

Ian was head chef at Ubiquitous Chip – long one of Glasgow’s most respected and well-known restaurants – for around 20 years before striding out on his own and, from where I’m standing, it’s going very well.

Booking in advance is crucial if you want to secure a table on a Friday or Saturday night: there are only a few covers and this place has nurtured an excellent reputation for quality food and service. The maître d’, Sheila, is as much responsible for the restaurant’s success as is her husband’s masterful cooking. You couldn’t ask for a more friendly, unpretentious and helpful host and we’ve gotten to know her pretty well over the past couple of years. When we went along one evening last year, Craig’s dad was disappointed to find that his favourite rice pudding was no longer on the menu, but Sheila told us to request it on booking next time and it would be prepared especially for him! Infallible personal service like this cannot be bought and it sets Ian Brown’s far apart from its closest competitors.

As it was Craig’s dad’s birthday last week, our next visit had been pencilled in for weeks and I was brimming with anticipation as the day edged closer.

Finally it was here. To start, I opted for the special of scallop and serrano ham thermidor. Served in the shell, it was clear that if looks were anything to go by, this was going to be a sensational dish. The decadent thermidor sauce mingled beautifully with the sweet, delicate scallop enveloped in deliciously salty serrano ham. While this was always going to be an incredibly luxurious dish, I was relieved to find that the ham ensured it wasn’t too rich to enjoy every last mouthful.

To start: scallop and serrano ham thermidor

To start: scallop and serrano ham thermidor

Next up, my main course was also from the evening’s specials: fillet of roe deer with wild garlic potato croquette, spinach, green beans and peas. As you may have gathered from my recent blogging history, I’m somewhat fixated with venison and my mind was made up from the moment my eyes met the word ‘deer’ on the specials menu. As I’d hoped, it provided a beautiful and welcome contrast to the creamy first course I’d just gleefully devoured. The roe deer, more delicately flavoured than its red cousin, was served beautifully pink in a rich gravy and I was left wanting more.

The main: fillet of roe deer with wild garlic and potato croquette, spinach, green beans and peas

The main: fillet of roe deer with wild garlic potato croquette, spinach, green beans and peas

Then came the dessert to rival all others. The dark chocolate fondant was a regular on the menu and I’d contemplated giving it a go at least two or three times previously, but always opted for something different in the end. I’m certainly a chocolate lover and I like to think I have a pretty good palate for the stuff having worked for Kshocolat, a Glasgow-based luxury chocolate brand which is now defunct, during my student days. ‘Chief Taster’ was not my official title, but I felt duty-bound to test each variety once or thrice in order to offer our customers the first-hand advice they sought . . . Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Anyway, there was no doubt in my mind that the chocolate fondant would be very good given that I was at Ian Brown’s. As I eagerly plunged my spoon into the delicate sponge pudding, the silken chocolate sauce oozed out sensually, just as it should. But I wasn’t prepared for just how divine it would be on the tongue: not too bitter; not too sweet; melt-in-the-mouth with a wonderfully intense chocolate hit. It was perfect. The raspberry sauce and ice cream were good too, but the fondant itself was so expertly balanced that these additions weren’t even necessary. Desserts don’t get any more decadent than this one, and if you happen to find yourself dining at Ian Brown’s anytime in future then I urge you to plump for the dark chocolate fondant.

To finish: dark chocolate fondant with raspberry sauce

To finish: dark chocolate fondant with raspberry sauce

Now I just need to come up with a new excuse for our next visit. I don’t think I can wait until Craig’s birthday in July! It’s the Queen’s birthday and summer solstice next month. Surely they require some celebrating . . . ?


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Ardnamurchan and the Isle of Mull, Scottish Highlands

A couple of years ago, my dad upped-sticks and moved from the bright lights of Glasgow to one of the most remote places in the whole of the UK: Ardnamurchan. This peninsula in the Scottish Highlands boasts the title of most westerly point of the British mainland and, as a result, it’s a place of genuine rugged beauty. Just getting there is no mean feat, taking around four and a half hours by car, but the scenery encountered along the way makes it well worth the journey. The route winds along the western banks of Loch Lomond before taking on the drama of Glencoe. A short sail on the Corran Ferry marks the halfway point before an unnerving couple of hours on the meandering single track road which connects Ardnamurchan to the rest of the world.

Glencoe

The majestic Glencoe on an exceptionally beautiful day – we hit the jackpot!

Whenever I visit my Dad, I know I’m in for a very good feed. He’s always been an excellent cook and now that his skill is paired up with the beautiful produce from the area, mealtimes are pretty special. Whether it’s venison fillet from the local estate or pork belly from his friend Angy’s farm, the quality of life of the animals grazing there is directly translated into the quality of the meat produced. With an unfettered freedom to roam an area untouched by pollution, the livestock are living a similar life to the one they would have done a hundred years ago, unaffected by industry or modern ‘cram-as-many-in-as-we-can’ farming techniques. It reinforces my belief that free range food – aside from being ethical, too – just tastes better.

The stunning view from my Dad's at Achosnich to Sanna Bay and the islands

The stunning view of Sanna Bay and the islands from my dad’s at Achosnich

I was smart enough to pick up some venison mince to take home with me from the local shop, but now I’m kicking myself that I wasn’t smart enough to buy more of it! Coming in at less costly than decent beef mince, it represents excellent value for money and is incredibly lean. I cooked it up with just a smidgen of oil, chopped onions and beef stock for about 30 minutes. I’ll admit that I expected it to be a little on the dry side, but I was willing to trade this in for a healthy alternative to beef. In fact, it had a beautiful texture and that intense, meaty flavour I can’t get enough of. If I had a regular supply of it at this great price, I would seriously consider using it as a tastier alternative to beef mince in my bolognese and chilli.

This dandy little gent pays my dad a visit for breakfast every morning

This dandy little gent pays my dad a visit for breakfast every morning

We also enjoyed a great little day trip to the quaint harbour village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull which – despite being on an island – is the nearest hub of action to Ardnamurchan. Just 35 minutes from Kilchoan on a cheery wee Calmac ferry and we arrived at the paintbox-hued seafront which must be one of the most commonly depicted views in Scottish art and photography.

Tobermory seafront, Isle of Mull

Iconic: the village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull

As the seafront comes to life with tourists during the summer season, it’s home to many gift shops punting locally produced arts and crafts as well as pub, after pub, after pub: our kind of place. Inevitably, our visit centred around the liquid offerings of Tobermory, but we did enjoy a decent haddock and chips for lunch at Macgochans where it was actually warm enough to sit outside in the beer garden and take in the chocolate box views. After spending a couple of hours sampling the Isle of Mull Brewery Island Pale Ale, we paid an impromptu visit to the Tobermory Distillery shop where Craig treated himself to a bottle of the 10 year old malt. As I’m not a big whisky drinker myself, I declined to taste it but now that I’ve read that it offers a hint of spicy gingerbread on the palate, I might just have to reconsider. We’ll see how Craig feels about that . . . Flavour aside, it’s housed in a beautiful green bottle which I plan to upcycle into a striking candle holder when the golden liquor’s long gone.

Craig enjoying a pint of Isle of Mull Brewery Island Pale Ale

Craig enjoying a tasty pint of Isle of Mull Brewery Island Pale Ale

An unusually pleasant Saturday afternoon was topped off when, emerging from the Co-operative having been instructed to pick up some custard doughnuts for my dad (his vice), our path was crossed by a curious, oil-slicked creature dashing only three or four feet in front of us. Incredibly, we had intersected an otter on its way from the sea to its nest somewhere nearby! I only wish I’d managed to capture this rare moment on film, but the sneaky little guy was too fast for me. What had already been a fantastic day became a truly memorable one thanks to our chance encounter with a ballsy little otter.