Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Lunch at Cafe Fish Stockbridge

This review previously appeared on Edinburgh Spotlight.

The recent run of glorious weekend weather inspired a new mission, one which unfortunately did not come into fruition. Apparently, getting a table outside Café Fish in Stockbridge on a Saturday afternoon is comparable to finding a needle in the proverbial hay stack. Since this was my second failed attempt to enjoy fish outdoors, I conceded, and accepted a table inside Café Fish so I could at least satisfy one of my two cravings.

As we perused the menu, I soon forgot about the glorious sunshine outside, as I became intoxicated by the smell of seafood. My decision was entirely straightforward. My love for mussels means that wherever they feature on a menu, you can be sure I will order them. However, my dining partners were unable to decide between numerous options, all of which implied an array of delectable flavours. Finally, a decision was made and we were ready to order. I opted for a large portion of Shetland Blueshell  mussels (£12), cooked with tomatoes, chilli and coriander, served with a side of homemade chips. The mussels were cooked perfectly, with a sauce that was a welcome change from the usual white wine and cream, which so commonly accompanies this type of fish. Although they were delicious, the absence of a finger bowl was noted, leaving me working through a rather large number of napkins. My sister opted for a deliciously fresh crab and mango tian, which at £7, was the perfect choice for those opting for a lighter lunch. Our fellow diner was pulled towards the traditional fish and chips, served with mushy peas and tartare sauce. His dedication to working through this hearty portion was admirable, as he commented on the freshness of the fish, and the crispness of the chips.

Shetland Blueshell mussels

Crab and mango tian

Fish and chips

The sociable nature of our lunch encouraged us to accompany our meal with a bottle of Sicilian white wine (Planeta Alastro Greganico, £23) which accompanied our fish perfectly. Unfortunately we were too full for desserts, and rounded off our meal with three espressos (£1.75 each), leaving us ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Other than the absence of a finger bowl, which is essential when eating something as ungraceful as mussels, we were all in agreement that our experience at Café Fish was a good one, and that we were willing to part with our hard earned cash to go back and eat there again.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Amarone Review

This review previously appeared on Edinburgh Spotlight.

Seeing Scotland bathed in sunshine is rare. When this happens, I always feel overcome by the urge to spend every waking moment enjoying it. Part of this experience always involves eating out at any establishment with outdoor seating. We couldn’t believe our luck when passing Amarone on George Street to find a couple leaving their table, just in time for us to swoop in, and take up residence for the evening.

Determined to make the most of our prime location, I started with a Campari and soda (£3.25), which I sipped slowly with a bowl of olives to keep me company (£2.45). The mixture of green and black olives were delicious, with stones still intact, indicating that they were at least more premium than the ready pitted variety. We moved onto devour Rigatoni with crumbled sausage and ricotta (£9.95) and Pennette with tomatoes and basil (£8.95). My dish featured robustly flavoured Italian sausage with a sauce that was lightly flavoured with fennel and ricotta, a delicious and filling meal, with pasta that was cooked perfectly. My dining partner’s meal was equally satisfying, with a mere hint of basil, rather than a more overbearing flavour. To quench our thirst, I enjoyed a large glass of Pinot Grigio (£5.45), whilst my dining partner opted for a can of Aranciata (£2.25).

Mixed Olives

Rigatoni with Italian sausage

Pennette with tomatoes and basil

My dining partner’s appetite regularly outdoes mine, and so he devoured a semifreddo cioccolato (£5.75), a rich chocolate based pudding, which resembled an ice cream that hasn’t fully set. I ended my meal with a glass of dessert wine (Muscato £3.45) and an espresso (£1.90).

Semifreddo Cioccolatto

Not only were we impressed by the quality of the food at Amarone, but also the service was excellent. We felt well looked after and valued throughout our dining experience, and not only will I be recommending Amarone to family and friends, I can say without hesitation that I will be eating there again soon.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Wanderer Returns

It has been a mighty busy few months, so by the time my holiday finally came around, it was fair to say I was ready for it. Having no preconceptions or expectations of a particular location always helps. In our case, we had no idea what we were going to, so it really was a case of displaying endless amounts of optimism, in the hope that this would have some sort of cosmic significance in relation to our destination.

As we hopped aboard the bus from Milan to Lugano, it was hard to anticipate anything as we were lost in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. As we drove through Lake Como, I kept my fingers and toes firmly crossed that Lugano would deliver some of what I had just witnessed by the banks of that beautiful lake. And as the bus came to a stop, I turned to my right, only to be confronted by a view that assured me that I had done good.

After we had dropped our bulging suitcases off at our new digs for the week, we ventured seaward in search of something equally as important as our location. With food being such a big part of my life, and so far today's airport exploits had far from satisfied, I was eager to get my teeth into some of what Lugano had to offer. With fabulous looking eateries sprawled across the water front, it was hard to choose from the endless menus, offering traditional stone baked pizzas, and fresh seafood. On the first night, I opted for my all time favourite dish, spaghetti with clams, garlic and chilli. It was so good, I'm convinced I can still taste it now. Rob opted to start off his holiday by chomping his way through his favourite dish, a Margherita pizza. Unfortunately, the camera was still hiding away in the corner of my suitcase, resulting in no photographic memories of this meal. In hindsight, this is possibly a good thing, as looking at that meal day in day out would be rather torturous.

The remainder of our time in Lugano was spent floating from bistro, to bar, to restaurant, where we thoroughly acquainted ourselves with the startling local cuisine. From a lunchtime eatery on the water, to a luxurious restaurant on a hilltop, here are just a few pictures of what Lugano had to offer.

Sundried Tomato Risotto

Brown Pasta with Prawns and Courgettes

A favourite deli with the locals

Delicious fresh sandwiches

Fresh fruit from a local market

Fresh Mortadella for sandwiches

Pasta with clams

Pizza Margherita

Leaving Lugano was hard, and I was surprised at how attached I had come to it over the space of six days. But as Milan beckoned, I became excited about other aspects of the world's fashion capital, for that reason and that reason alone. As our purses were now rather light, my assumption was that our eating habits across our 24 hour stint in Milan would be modest to say the least. Upon arriving at Piazza Duomo, I was kicking myself for forgetting the splendour that is Milanese cuisine, and having just come from Switzerland, the prices attached to any given menu were surprisingly refreshing.

Having visited Milan before on a number of occasions, I knew what I wanted to show my partner in crime, a Milanese novice, and how little time we had to cram everything in. As we wandered around the Duomo, taking in its splendour, I found myself in familiar territory once more, with my tummy rumbling, asking to be fed. As we moved onto the arcade, I remembered myself as a child, gazing longingly at the Louis Vuitton shops, and the restaurants that saddled either side. Eating in these restaurants was always unattainable, and I had assumed due to their surroundings that their prices would reflect the designer handbags being purchased next door. As I walked by, staring longingly at a plate of ravioli that a gentleman was devouring, alongside what I could only assume was a luxurious glass of Barolo, I decided eating there may well be the best meal of my life. As I examined the menu, I found my mouth had all of a sudden assumed its own identity and before I knew it we were sitting at a table adorned with fresh flowers and white linen table cloths, watching Milan's world of commerce walk by, enjoying their lunch hour. After we toasted our holiday with a glass of prosecco, I became overbearingly gleeful, I really could not believe where I was.

The problem with realising a dream is that it so often disappoints. It had always been a rather fantastic notion of mine to eat in Ristorante Biffi, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen. But as my ravioli arrived, I began to make peace with the fact that I was there, in the experience, eating the best ravioli I had ever had. With very little conversation, I savoured every moment of this delectable meal. Rob, was experiencing a very similar notion, with him opting for a modest spaghetti dish, flavoured solely with the Italian staples of tomatoes and basil.

Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil

Ravioli with Meat Sauce

After devouring such a beautiful meal, the afternoon was reserved for a meander round the shops and of course a little shopping. This spilled nicely onto a catch up with an old friend, who has thoroughly adopted the Milanese way of life. We met her for the very traditional Italian aperitivo at a bar in the fashionable Brera district of Milan. Here, we successfully sampled a range of fish, pasta and vegetables, alongside a drink for the incredibly reasonable fee of 8 euros. The notion of aperitivo in Italy, is comparable to that of the Spanish Tapas, accept with solely Italian culinary offerings.

As you would expect from a nation that is renowned for its food, our experience in both Lugano and Milan was incredible. Not only was the quality impressive and the food impossibly fresh, we enjoyed every mouthful, and has given me renewed vigour for my blog and food in general. I now can't wait for even more cooking and tasting!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sunshine on Crail

Months of planning and organising paid off last weekend, as the first annual Crail Food Festival was a roaring success. Even Saturday’s relentless rain couldn’t keep people away, as foodies from across Fife descended upon the town hall to sample Fife’s home grown specialities. With stalls selling out due to their array of delicious produce, it’s fair to say that the popularity of the event exceeded all expectations. I visited the festival on Sunday, where I left a very rainy Edinburgh to bask in the Crail sunshine, for a day of eating, drinking and my favourite subject, talking about food.

Sunday’s foodie delights took place down at the harbour, which was bathed in sunshine. As I made my way down the rocky path, I could see nothing but queues for every stall, and with the fresh local produce on offer it was easy to see why. Our first stop was a visit to the Fife Diet stall, where the challenge was to pedal your own smoothie. As Rob hopped onto the bike, which had a food processor attached, I watched as the strawberries and raspberries were painstakingly whizzed up with each rotation of the wheel. The end product was arguably the most delicious smoothie I have ever tasted.

With 20 minute long queues at every stand, I had a difficult decision to make, the choice between a hog roast roll from Lucklaw Farm, and a venison burger from Fletchers of Auchtermuchty. In the end, my hunger outweighed my desire to wait, and as the queue for venison was marginally shorter, I opted to sink my teeth into prime venison on a seeded bun. It was truly delicious, and the quality of the meat was undeniable.

Although I opted for the venison, there was no shortage in terms of choice, especially when delicious seafood had been freshly plucked from the shore. With fresh lobster, crab and the famous Arbroath Smokies, even the most discerning fish lover would have found something to curb their appetite.

Even if the sun hadn’t been shining on Crail, I have no doubt that the festival would have been a success regardless. With such an array of foods on offer, and producers on hand to answer consumers’ questions, the whole event was a resounding success. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Guid Cheese Shop

If you’ve been keeping up to date with all the recent postings in the run up to the Crail Food Festival, you’ll know that Fife produce is world class. Over the course of last weekend, these producers showcased their products, and allowed us to see, sample and buy the sort of food that only Fife can produce. Another member of this community is Svetlana Redpath from The Guid Cheese Shop in St Andrews. Her range of locally sourced artisan products proudly adorn cheese boards across the Kingdom of Fife. With my mouth watering, Svetlana shared a few secrets with me about the art of sourcing such a vast range of wonderful cheeses.

What made you decide to open your own cheese shop?

My passion for farmhouse and artisan cheese is unrivalled. Being a cheesemonger is a very interactive profession. Every day I get the opportunity to talk to people about cheese, and show them just how many cheeses there are available. When I recommend a cheese to a customer, I encourage them to taste a sample of the cheese before they buy it. This ensures that they leave with a cheese they are going to love.

Do you produce your own cheese, or do you source the products you sell?

The Guid Cheese Shop is a retailer and wholesaler. Cheese making is an entirely different profession, which requires a great deal of time and skill. It also involves a number of specialised processes, such as sourcing the highest quality milk, and allowing the optimum time for the product to mature. Knowing the products we sell have been treated to the best possible process, using premium products, makes us proud to be sellers of such wonderful cheeses.

What methods have you used to engage the local community in promoting your business?

St Andrews is an amazing town, with a number of residents who really enjoy their food and recognise high quality products. We enjoy being a part of the local community and support local organisations, charities and student societies by donating prizes for their raffles and fundraising events. Most recently we were a sponsor of the Royal Wedding Breakfast, an event that had a massive impact on the local community. We also regularly participate in regional festivals and food events, which is why we are so happy to support the first ever Crail Food Festival.

What makes you so passionate about cheese?

It’s a truly amazing product, and so versatile. The number of cheeses that can be produced from an ingredient as simple as milk is a marvel. I never get tired of trying new cheeses, but I do have my firm favourites. What a lot of people don’t realise about cheese is that it’s actually a very healthy food. When it’s made properly, either by a farmer or an artisan cheese maker, it’s full of vitamins and minerals, whilst being a fantastic source of protein and calcium.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?
The organisers of the festival approached us to see if we would be interested and we didn’t need so much as a second to think about it. It’s admirable to see someone invest so much of their precious time to organise such a worthwhile event. We believe it’s extremely important to celebrate artisan foods like this, otherwise we run the risk of being left with tasteless and unhealthy mass produced supermarket offerings.

What makes Fife produce so special?

Fife is a beautiful agricultural region that produces a lot of fresh food that we are lucky enough to enjoy. But what makes it even more special, is the passion of the people who both make and grow this exceptional produce.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Arbroath Smokies

As we all know, Fife is rich in culinary offerings. From fresh fruit and vegetables, to organically reared livestock, the landscape is ripe with opportunity. This wealth extends to the Fife coast, where Iain.R.Spink, founder of Original Smokies from Arbroath Ltd, does his magic. I spoke to Iain about the success of his business and how he came to be involved in the Crail Food Festival.

How long has Original Smokies from Arbroath Ltd been a fixture in the local community?

The business has been established for eight years and during that time I have been a regular supporter and attendee of all the Fife Farmers Markets.

How did you come to be involved in the Crail Food Festival?

I try to get involved in as many local events as possible, as you never know what opportunities might arise. This was the case with the Crail Food Festival. I met the organisers at several other local events, and following on from this I was invited to attend the festival.

What do you attribute to the success of your business?

I think it’s largely down to the fact that people can see the fish being smoked in front of them. By demonstrating how Arbroath Smokies are made, my customers not only get to see the process their food undergoes, but have the added bonus of eating the fish at its very best, hot, juicy and straight from the fire. As the saying goes you eat with your eyes, and the sight of all the fresh fish hanging on sticks ready to be smoked, combined with the smell of the burning hardwood logs provides an entirely sensory experience for customers at the many fares and markets I attend. Additionally, I only use the best quality raw materials available and usually do every stage of the lengthy process myself.

Why do you think so many people buy from supermarkets, rather than take advantage of local produce?

In the main, I think people are enticed by the convenience that comes with supermarkets. The ability to get everything under one roof is tempting, and can save a lot of time. I also think price has a part to play, and in these financially challenging times, consumers are forced to go with more economical options.

Your business is firmly established, what advice would you give someone thinking of opening a business in the food industry?

My advice would be to keep things small and manageable with an emphasis on producing the best quality products. With growing concern and unrest over mediocre food infiltrating our society, consumers are now looking to extend their knowledge of good food, and where to buy high quality, local produce. If producers can bear this in mind and create something unique, whilst keeping quality at the forefront of their aims, they should be able to establish a very worthwhile business.

In your opinion, what makes Fife produce stand out as one of the best?

The diversity of produce available all over the Kingdom of Fife is quite amazing. The rugged coastline produces fantastic seafood, whilst the fertile land allows fruit and vegetables to flourish. Teamed with more unique products, such as venison and water buffalo, it’s easy to see why Fife produce is considered one of the best in the world.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fife Farmers Market

With ever growing concerns about where our food comes from, having a reliable source where we can buy quality food and drink is essential. As people become more aware of the vast array of local produce they have on their doorstep, the greater opportunity there is for local businesses to thrive. A great way to showcase local produce is through the establishment of Farmers Markets. The frequency of these events have grown over the years, thus maintaining a loyal customer base. Barbara Wardlaw, Co-ordinator of the Fife Farmers Market took the time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about the project and its success with the local community.

What was the inspiration behind establishing a Fife Farmers Market?

Farmers in the region of Fife produce so many wonderful products. This was the impetus behind establishing the Fife Farmers Market, as the community was lacking a direct sales outlet for their produce. It also allowed farmers to liaise directly with customers, which really supported them in expanding their client base.

What do you attribute to the success of the Fife Farmers Market?

Consumers are more aware and more conscious about the things they eat. They want to know how their food is grown and where it comes from. Farmers markets facilitate this, as customers can ask the producers questions directly. In turn this allows consumers to make more informed choices about what they are eating. This level of service teamed with high quality produce keeps customers coming back time and time again.

How do local producers become involved in the Fife Farmers Market?

Any producers interested in participating in the Fife Farmers Market should contact us so we can talk them through the process. After the initial enquiry has been made, we send farmers a stall holders application to complete. If they comply with our market rules, the application is then forwarded onto the Fife Farmers Market Committee. The final stage, if necessary, is a visit to the producer’s premises to confirm our health and safety requirements are being met.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

We have several food links with a number of the participants in the festival, and being a local event, we were happy to help on the promotional side. It’s a wonderful event that’s helping to drive forward the notion of eating local, whilst serving as a platform to provide local residents with more information about the availability of high quality, local produce across Fife.

In your opinion, what more can be done to promote local produce?

By getting information into schools, we can start with the younger generation, encouraging them to adopt these values before any others can take hold. We also need to educate consumers on the value of buying local, and the positive effects it has on the local community.

A Thoroughly Modern Approach to Food

There’s no denying that modern technology has very firm roots in our society. As we have evolved over time, so has our machinery, with it becoming ever more sophisticated. With lines of communication now extended through the technologies we have at our fingertips, I spoke to Susan McNaughton, an enthusiastic advocate of social media. We chatted about her involvement in the Crail Food Festival, and how she has utilised her skills in this area to help them pilot this event.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

My husband and I run a small accommodation business, Sandcastle Holidays, which owns Sandcastle Cottage in Crail. Having owned the business for 20 years now, we’ve established a number of relationships with local residents. They were aware of my new business venture in social media management, and invited me to a Crail Business Group meeting, where I talked about how I was using social media to promote my business. It was at this meeting where Graham Anderson of the Honeypot Guesthouse and Tearoom talked about his vision for the Crail Food Festival, based on an idea he had been discussing with Finlay Kerr of the Caiplie Guest House in Crail.

What were your initial thoughts about the festival?

Hearing Graham and Finlay talk about the benefits of local produce were not in any way isolated, which made me think that this could really work. Just before they mentioned the prospect of a festival, I had attended the first AGM of the Fife Diet, whose ethos tied in directly with what Graham and Finlay were striving for. With such a wealth of local produce available in the Fife region, we are trying to encourage people to take advantage of this, rather than resorting to convenience.

What strategies have you used to help promote the festival?

Initially, I set up a Facebook page and Twitter account to start generating coverage. Using this strategy, I felt I could promote the festival, whilst helping local businesses by encouraging them to add comments about their participation. Not all of the businesses involved had been exposed to social media tools, so I was happy to assist in setting them up with Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. When using Twitter, we based our people search on those who listed food as one of their interests. We knew that people from Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow would be the most likely to embark on a day trip to Crail, so we further focussed on these groups as well as those based in Fife. This promotions approach was relatively unknown to the business people in Crail, who had used the more traditional advertising techniques of posters and press releases to promote previous events. This has still taken place, however I have focussed more on using on-line means, such as creating content for the Visit Crail blog, using short videos on YouTube, and linking photographs of the area back to the festival.

How successful do you feel the use of social media has been in promoting the festival?

Ask me on the 19th of June! We’ve done the right things, we’ve put the word out, we’ve engaged with new friends online, we’ve used social media to entice suppliers and participants, as well as generating new business for Crail. We’ve also managed to get some press coverage by engaging with freelance journalists on Twitter, and promoting the event at the Fife Tourism Conference. But the hard work involved here won’t just stop as soon as the festival is over. We’ve set up a Flickr page, so visitors can share their images from the festival, and we’ll be asking for feedback so that the festival can continue in future years. As a business owner in Crail, the ideal scenario for me would be to see local business owners engaging with their customers in a very 21st century way, by using the same tools as I have in promoting the Crail Food Festival. I'd welcome the opportunity to help more people in the area learn to take an active role in promoting Crail as a destination.

What can local businesses and producers do to tempt people to adopt a more 'local' attitude?

I think a better story needs to be told about our food. We need to make people more aware of where their food is grown and what’s in it to allow them to make more informed choices. With the use of intelligent labelling, we can give customers more information on what they’re actually eating. It’s also key to listen to customer feedback and react to this, to ensure you are giving customers what they want. A good example of this pro-active approach is Ardross Farm, who use Facebook to inform their contacts of specialities arriving in store, and to listen to requests from customers for items they’d like to see stocked. This can make all the difference in tempting people to shop at the farm shop rather than the supermarket.

What’s the best thing about local produce?

It's so delicious! By eating locally you're not only eating fresh food which is in peak condition, but you're helping to make local businesses successful. This in turn helps strengthen the local economy and makes it possible to continue to live in places as beautiful as the village of Crail.

Trotters Independent Condiments

This time next week the streets of Crail will be awash with all things food related. Stalls will be going up, music will be playing and all the hard work that has gone into preparing for this festival will be on display. Come rain, hail or shine, the festival promises something for everyone, and with Fife’s finest food producers on hand, I can be certain about one thing, nobody will leave feeling hungry. Another contender to keep our tummy’s from rumbling, is Byam Trotter of Trotters Independent Condiments, who talked me through why he was looking forward to the first Crail Food Festival.

What were your initial thoughts upon hearing about the Crail Food Festival?

I was really excited when I heard about it. Some people are passionate about music, and there are numerous festivals to celebrate that, so why not spend a little more time celebrating food? Food is amazing, and I can’t think of any better way to celebrate that fact.

Why did you decide to become involved in the festival?

Since I established Trotters Independent Condiments in November 2009, Fife has been very good to me. Trotters wouldn’t be the business it is now if it wasn’t for the support of the local community who share my passion for food. This reaction has also encouraged me to get involved in any food related events that take place in the Fife area. It’s nice to support the people who have supported me in the past, whilst meeting new customers and members of the community.

What tools have you used to promote your business?

In the main, I have used events, like the Crail Food Festival to promote the business. I have also regularly attended farmers markets, which has been a great way to meet customers, and get feedback on new and existing products. I also make sure the company website is up-to-date, so that customers can explore our full range of products.

What do you attribute to the success of Trotters Independent Condiments?

I have been very fortunate in the response from the local community. I’ve started my business in an area where support for local produce is incredibly strong. There are also numerous farm shops, who are always keen to stock local produce. After customers had tasted my products, order requests soon started coming in, which helped the business to continue strengthening.

In your opinion, what makes Fife produce so special?

Unfortunately, Scotland isn’t a country that’s renowned for its food. We have been tarred with the proverbial poor food stick, which is hard to shake. But what people don’t know is that Scotland has some of the best food in the world. From amazing salmon and wild venison, to mouth watering strawberries and raspberries, and wonderful artisan cheeses, Fife produces just about everything Scotland can offer. I would struggle to think of a Fife producer that I wouldn’t recommend, which really makes me proud to come from Fife.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The time for spice

There’s no denying it, our culinary horizons have broadened. With the streets of Scotland awash with international eateries, we’ve come a long way since the days when mince and tatties were the most exotic thing on offer. Nowadays, we take delight in offerings from further afield, with a tendency to use spice to curb those hunger pangs, so much so, that the humble curry is voted time and time again Britain’s favourite dish. It was this love for curry that encouraged Darren Mollan to set up Chilli Papas, a company that takes all the hard work out of making curry, by offering oil free, fresh spice blends, making it easier than ever before to make a delicious family meal. I had a chat with Darren about Chilli Papas and its success within the Kingdom of Fife.

How long has Chilli Papas been a fixture in the local community?

We started the business in February of this year. Considering we’ve only been established a short time, the response from retailers across Fife has been overwhelming.

What inspired you to start Chilli Papas?

Last Christmas, when things were at their most frantic, my sister-in-law wanted to cook a curry. As everybody knows, time really is not of the essence around Christmas and New Year, so my wife Lynn suggested blending the spices and including cooking instructions. It was a resounding success, and prompted us to start the business.

How have the Fife community reacted to Chilli Papas?

The support for the oil free curry mixes has been particularly impressive. The local community have really embraced our products, which has resulted in us building up a large bank of loyal customers. We have also been very well supported by regional retailers throughout Fife.

What were your initial thoughts upon hearing about the Crail Food Festival?

As a local resident, I don’t think there is enough of a celebration centred around Fife produce. The Crail Food Festival is exciting and very worthwhile. I really do look forward to it becoming a regular fixture in the foodie calendar.

Why did you decide to become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

It’s such a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of the Chilli Papas brand. We’re also very excited to be involved in something that will get Fife the coverage it deserves for its local produce. I really can see this festival being a key fixture for years to come.

What makes Fife produce so special?

Here in Fife, we have one of the most unspoiled landscapes in the world, which allows us to produce goods of the highest quality. From seafood, meat and poultry, to the freshest fruits and vegetables, Fife producers are renowned for their quality. With a landscape so rich in opportunity, it’s easy to see why Fife has upheld its reputation as a world class food producer.

Cochrane Cottage

How much do we really know about the foods we eat? This was something that troubled Carol-Anne Doyle, owner and co-founder of Cochrane Cottage, an artisan producer of flavoured balsamic dressings and fat free vinegars. This train of thought prompted her and her husband to establish Cochrane Cottage in November 2009. Since then, their commitment to using locally sourced produce in their range of delicious condiments has resulted in a business that has gone from strength to strength. I had a chat with Carol-Anne about Cochrane Cottage and how they have developed over the years.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

My husband Kevin met one of the organisers of the festival at another food event. They got chatting about the festival and its aims, and we were really excited to hear that someone was being proactive in their approach to promoting local produce. We knew that this was something that we wanted to become involved in, so we got in touch with the organisers and asked if we could be part of the festival.

Cochrane Cottage has gone from strength to strength since it launched in 2009. What do you attribute to the success of your business?

Our customers are definitely attracted to the fact that they recognise all of the ingredients on our labels. People want to know what they are eating and feeding their families, and with our products, they have the guarantee that they are produced locally using quality ingredients. Furthermore, we grasp every opportunity that comes our way. We try not to say no to even the smallest event, as everything should be considered a development opportunity. At the moment, our growth has far outweighed our initial expectations. We always had faith in the quality of our products, but to have the business grow to a point where we now have our own outlet shop in the Silverburn shopping centre in Glasgow is truly amazing.

What promotional tools did you use to raise awareness of the Cochrane Cottage venture?

We made good use of modern technology, ensuring that we had a media profile to offset our aims. We also participated in a number of tasting sessions, took our products to sell at events, and as I said before, we rarely missed a networking opportunity.

In your opinion, what more can be done to help support local businesses?

Good feedback is invaluable. Providing a quality product itself is not enough. You need to get people talking about it and recommending it to extend your customer base. This approach encourages people to buy local, which is what we are really striving for.

 What makes Fife produce so special?

Nothing is better than local produce. It’s fresh, doesn’t taste mass produced and you know where it comes from. This alone gives local produce the edge over anything you could buy in the supermarket.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Castle Garden Flowers

Over recent years, there have been general concerns over a lack of community spirit, with the media urging us to believe that this sense of community has now been shelved, and people are far more detached from their neighbours. In the Fife community, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and having been fortunate enough to work with the lovely people that are participating in the Crail Food Festival, I feel privileged to have seen how their passion for local produce has encouraged them to unite. This has very much been the case with the relationship that has developed between Castle Garden Flowers and Ardross Farm. A venture that has been in place since March of this year, Sue Rabjohns and Karen Wilkieson talked nicely to Fiona and Nikki Pollock of Ardross Farm, who kindly allowed them to grow salads, flowers and herbs in the Ardross Farm garden, which they then sell in the farm shop. I had a chat with Sue about Castle Garden Flowers and their involvement in the Crail Food Festival.

Castle Garden Flowers has been with us since March of this year, what made you undertake this venture?

The idea came to us around a year ago. Karen and I are both keen gardeners with a particular passion for herbaceous perennials. We were in the process of looking for a suitable site to establish a nursery, when Karen became aware of the possibility of setting this up within the beautiful walled garden at Ardross Farm. This encouraged us to have a chat with Fiona and Nikki at the farm and set up Castle Garden Flowers.

What sort of produce do you sell at the Ardross Farm Shop?

We sell flowers, herbs and salad leaves. Our pot grown herbs are proving popular, and we are looking to extend the range over the coming weeks. We have also really enjoyed the challenge of ensuring we grow enough salad leaves to supply the farm shop on a daily basis.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

We attended the Fife Diet East launch event at Kellie Castle earlier this year, where there was already a buzz around the festival. We knew that there would be many like minded locals and producers involved, which was an added incentive. Teamed with the fact that Karen and I are passionate about both eating and supporting locally grown produce, we were happy to give up our time and promote the cause in any way we could.

In your opinion, what makes Fife produce so special?

The East Neuk is blessed with a fantastic range of produce. This should be more readily acknowledged, and people should be encouraged to take greater advantage of it. With concerns over climate change and the rise in petrol prices, we have a greater responsibility than ever before to both think and shop local.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Ardross Farm

There are exciting times ahead in Crail as their first official food festival draws ever closer. With many local producers now confirmed to be taking part in the festival, I was fortunate enough to chat with Nikki from Ardross Farm, whose family firmly do their bit to promote local produce. Having farmed in the local community for over a century, the Ardross family saw the benefits in opening up the fruits of their labour to the hungry folk of Fife. Their venture has proved hugely successful, culminating in a broad customer base, which spans across Fife and beyond. The business has retained its family values, with Nikki now managing the farm shop. Despite the till constantly ringing, Nikki still found time to answer a few of my questions about Ardross Farm shop, and the part they are soon to play in the Crail Food Festival.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

I met Graham at a meeting, and at that point, the festival itself was in the early planning stages. We were asked to contribute to this, due to the positive relationship we have with a number of local food producers, and being passionate about local produce, we were more than happy to help.

What were your initial thoughts when you were asked to become involved?

From the outset, I was really excited about the festival. I was aware of how much work would be involved in piloting it, but with the wealth of produce that Fife has to offer, I knew with the right people on board it could be a success. At Ardross Farm, we are ready and willing to fly the flag for anything that helps to put the East Neuk of Fife on the map.

How much of the produce you sell is produced on Ardross Farm?

Around 40% of our sales can be attributed to home grown produce. The majority of the remaining 60% comes from the sale of local products.

Why do you think people are more inclined to shop in supermarkets, rather than make better use of local amenities?

Some people don’t have the option. There has been a decline in local shops recently, and the ones that do still exist don’t have the same buying power as supermarkets. They have the ability to bulk buy, which in turn drives down the price for the customer. For other people it’s a case of convenience. That’s why we were so keen to be involved in the Crail Food Festival, as it’s a great opportunity to show people how spectacular the local produce is, with the added benefit that it’s right on their doorstep.

Finally, what makes Fife produce so special?

We have a melting pot of local produce, the key being in the word local. Why opt for food that has travelled land and sea, when we have a landscape rich in opportunity. With spectacular sea food, fresh vegetables, some of the best barley the world has to offer, not to mention the lamb and venison. It’s the quality of this produce that’s igniting interest in Fife’s food. And when you need a break from your own kitchen, visit one of the many tearooms and restaurants in the local area that are proud users of the local bounty. Being surrounded by all of this should surely help to cement Fife as one of the true champions of fresh, local produce.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Speckled chocolate muffins

As a savoury fiend who turns to wine, cheese and olives in my hour of need, chocolate tends to fall off my foodie radar from time to time. However, I'm not completely inept to the charms of the brown gooey stuff, as the half eaten jar of Nutella in my kitchen cupboard will tell you. I do enjoy chocolate, but there's one thing I find just a little too rich on the chocolate front, and that's the double chocolate muffin. I always struggle to finish one, and as much as I enjoy the moist, chocolatey goodness, I felt that I had to look for an alternative that would result in just a trail of crumbs across the plate.

Speckled chocolate muffins were born of necessity, designed to give me enough of an energy kick to get me through the afternoon, without feeling like I needed forty winks afterwards. Their pale mochaesque colour denotes that of a wholemeal muffin, already relieving some of the guilt you may otherwise feel with the double chocolate variety. On the off chance you're beginning to think that this muffin's a bit wimpy, two tablespoons of Nutella thrown into the mix should fill you with faith that this chocolatey treat packs the proverbial punch. Enjoy!

Without this stuff, we wouldn't have any muffins:

2 tablespoons Nutella

50g chocolate chips

2½ teaspoons vanilla extract

100g caster sugar

60g rolled oats

275ml milk

280g plain flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon of salt

1 egg lightly beaten

100g melted butter

Now for the fun bit:

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease or line a muffin tray. This mixture should give you 10 muffins.

2. In large bowl, throw in the oats and cover them with the milk and vanilla extract. Stir the mixture, then leave the oats to soak up the flavour of the milk and vanilla.

3. Whilst the oats are soaking, mix the baking powder, flour, salt and sugar in a separate bowl. Now add the chocolate chips and give it a good stir.

4. Add your butter and egg to the oat mixture, followed by two tablespoons of Nutella. Stir the mixture well before combining it with the dry ingredients. Mix the two together until just combined.

5. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tray and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes. When you take them out the oven, they will smell delicious, but try and resist the urge to eat them, until they have cooled in the tin. Around ten minutes should do the trick. Then turn onto a wire rack and enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Whether or not the term 'Cakie' has been previously coined, it was the only suitable adjective I could think of to describe the happenings at Fredericks Coffee House yesterday evening. Comparatively, this event was reminiscent of a convention, perhaps not that far removed from what I'd imagine a Star Wars convention to comprise, lots of over excited people, tongues at the ready with nothing but praise for their favourite topic. Apply this principle to 30 cake lovers, and you should be able to get a feel for last night's event. If only you could actually have tasted the cake!

Upon hearing all us Edinburgh cakies calling, Lynn boarded the train from Leeds, bound to try and test the talents of us bakers that live north of the border. Having firmly established The Clandestine Cake Club, Lynn is a cake expert, who put all her expertise into organising this wonderful event. And weren't the cakes a thing to behold!

Not one for letting food defeat me, my approach to this evening was simple, everything in moderation. I failed to have a whole slice of anything, but a sliver goes a long way, meaning that I got to sample twice the number of cakes I originally anticipated. There were so many combinations, and since I didn't take any individual photos, I won't take you through them all, but I have to say I was bowled over by the quality. The cakes generally were outstanding, and each one more delicious than the next.

My contribution to the evening was my chocolate and hazelnut cake. A rich Italian cake, which unfortunately looked rather modest amongst the more grand baking gestures. But the lovely comments from my cake tasters were touching, and left me feeling proud of my more plain looking contribution.

Last night didn't happen all on its own. There were so many people involved in making it the event that it was, so firm hats off to LynnFredericks and of course the bakers. My mouth's watering and tummy rumbling for the next Edinburgh Clandestine Cake Club.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Treacle Review

This review previously appeared on Edinburgh Spotlight.

It seems that some people get everything right. In the case of the good folks that brought us Hamilton’s in Stockbridge, it comes in the form of Treacle. Situated at the top of Edinburgh’s fashionable Broughton Street, Treacle has become a firm favourite with locals, lured by their ample drinks list, good food, and an atmosphere other Edinburgh bars wish could be bottled and sold.

Upon entering Treacle, it’s hard not to feel trendy. With the exposed brick walls and pop art feature areas, the decor is reminiscent of Hamilton’s, but with a more intimate feel. The menu is varied and affordable, with starters, mains and desserts ranging from £6 to £10.  Incorporating food from the length and breadth of the globe, you would be hard pressed not to find something to satisfy your appetite. I opted for the organic steak and ale pie with home cut chips (£8.95), whilst my dining partner veered to the other side of the continent with his choice of crispy chilli beef noodles with honey and sesame (£8.95). The first thing that struck me as our plates arrived was the unique presentation of our food. The steak pie was served on a wooden board, with the chips oh so coolly presented in a stainless steel pail. They say you eat with your eyes, and this theme was to continue as my dining partners noodles were served in a quirky New York style box, looking just as good as they do on the TV.

As we dived in, our lack of conversation wasn’t the result of nothing to say, but rather due to sheer enjoyment of the wonderful food. My steak pie had a glorious crust, and oozed with sumptuous pieces of steak in a deliciously rich gravy. The chips were thick cut and crispy, the perfect accompaniment to the pie. I washed this down with a large glass of Pinot Grigio Rosé
wine (£4.90) which was sharp and refreshing.

My partner’s noodles were strewn with soft slices of battered beef, before being dressed with sesame seeds and soy sauce. The noodles were perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of chilli to accompany the dish. Add to this a pint of Staropramen (£3.80) and I had one very happy dining partner.

I unfortunately don’t have an ever expanding stomach and was too full for dessert. However, my dining partner’s pudding had me loosening off my trousers and asking for another spoon. Belgian waffles, lathered in nutella, served with ice cream and strawberries. This desert was truly a thing to behold and even by our greedy standards, it was polished off in record time.

After leaving a very happy, if not gluttonous customer, I couldn’t help but think that this establishment really has got everything right. Good food, a great selection of drinks and excellent customer service, I think there is very little more you could ask for.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The last person to visit London?

I know, it’s hard to believe that I hit the ripe old age of 26 before adorning my finest tourist getup and boarding the shuttle to London. My reasons for not having visited our capital city prior to last week were fairly unremarkable. Being the opportunist that I am, I tend to opt for more exotic climates, where my disposition generally becomes a little sunnier. The prospect of visiting a city where I could understand the native tongue was an alien one, but having returned with some of my preconceptions being both met and shattered in the same weekend, it was certainly time for me to give London a true and honest first hand evaluation.

Upon arrival, and after negotiating the Stansted Express, we piled into a taxi, where I was given an impromptu tour of the streets of London. As we made our way towards Mayfair, I was astounded by just how busy it was. Professional looking people charged through the streets, cappuccino in hand, ripe for any sort of networking opportunity. I however was more than ready to find my hotel, and more importantly seek out some lunch.

Our hotel, The Millennium Mayfair exceeded all expectations. Generally, hearing the words ‘free upgrade’ can only have positive connotations. In relation to our beautiful room this was certainly the case. A quick brush and spruce up later we hit the streets of London in search of some good honest lunch time fare. With the lack of Lebanese cuisine in Edinburgh, I decided this would be a trip of firsts, resulting in me opting for a selection of delicious mezze at the wonderful Messina. We opted to share stuffed vine leaves, bread and hummus and pitta breads stuffed with minced lamb. It was a delicious start to our trip.

Stuffed vine leaves

Lamb pittas

Known for our meandering along the streets of Edinburgh, we applied the same principles to London, walking all the way from Mayfair to Covent Garden for our evening meal at Carluccio's Italian restaurant. We shared a typical antipasto, with Parma ham, grilled vegetables and mozzarella, which didn’t disappoint. I followed with spaghetti and clams, whilst Rob opted for the risotto with chicken and asparagus. I loved my pasta dish, which was subtly flavoured with garlic and chilli. The risotto however was overloaded with cheese, detracting from the flavour of the current seasons asparagus. We ended the evening with a selection of homemade ice creams, which were authentic and beautifully flavoured, accompanied by a glass of Vin Santo and homemade biscotti. Overall the experience was good, and for £65, I was impressed in terms of value for money, considering we were in a city renowned for its expense.

Antipasto at Carluccio's

Risotto at Carluccio's

Spaghetti with clams

Not content with all we had just eaten, we could not avoid the entrancing window at Paul's Patisserie. The window was a veritable mix of every pastry imaginable, and with purse in hand, poised to make my selection, I realised that my status as a greedy guts had been firmly rooted. Consumed later on that evening, I would go as far as to say that it was the best cake I have ever eaten. This prompted a return the following day for a fresh baguette stuffed with ham, olives, cheese and salad. Again the freshness and quality were second to none, and I left one happy customer.

Paul's Patisserie window

Baguette from Paul's Patisserie

I had merely uttered the words, “London isn’t quite as expensive as I thought”, when we stumbled across the super trendy nightspot Sketch, where a French martini, albeit the best one I have ever drank, was just shy of £12. Needless to say my purse wasn’t quite heavy enough to last the pace, so I took my jealous self off to a more modest watering hole.

The high standard of the food in London set the tone for everything else, and as a girl who loves culture, interiors, fashion and of course food, I found myself in a city that offered this in abundance. My attachment to Edinburgh is so strong that I failed to see the appeal of living in the hustle and bustle of our capital city, however, I could see why so many people want to make it happen in ‘the big smoke’. I enjoyed London, and being able to finally say I have been there is a welcome alternative to the usual look of disbelief from seasoned London goers, who find it difficult to understand why I haven’t penetrated their bubble. I wait, in anticipation of a return to the red part of our united flag.