I get all sorts of enquiries for all sorts of different jobs, but one I had recently was just wonderful. As a member of the Guild of Food WritersGuild of Food writers the Covid pandemic has actually had its benefits. Being a London centric organisation most of the events are based in or near London so as a Scot it is not easy to attend, but the committee has organised lots of events on Zoom and whilst the talks and break out rooms are good to a point, you never actually have a proper contact. So when the guild offered a master class in cheese tasting with real cheese I jumped at the idea. Our experts had teamed up with the amazing Courtyard dairy who sent each attendee a little box of 6 cheeses all at perfect ripeness and with wine suggestions. Everyone on screen had the same cheese. The sounds of appreciation of really underlined the shared event, the actual act of sharing a physical entity and talking about it was brilliant. Some time later I had an e mail from Rotary International who were organising a meeting of their main representatives around the country and of course it had to be on Zoom. My contact had been told about me by a colleague on St Andrews business club Heather Stewart who heads up Fife Cultural TrustFife Cultural Trust, I had done a zoom food and wine tasting for the St Andrews Business ClubSTABC where I had sent out a recipe and people had either gone out and bought the materials and prepared the dish or bought something similar Heather had obviously enjoyed it and remembered the event. So the idea was out there. I suggested a cheese workshop in which I organised the Courtyard dairy to send a variety of cheese covering the UK and all in perfect condition . Again they came up trumps with Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish cheese. We had a great evening I had suggested wines and we went through them all with a bit of history and detail of the cheeses themselves. We are so fortunate that we do have some superb cheese makers and Cheese suppliers. The only near fly in the ointment was when Courtyard couldn’t send cheese to a member in Eire due to Brexit and the incompetent beaurocrats involved, so they suggested an Irish company and apart form a slight glitch, Sherridans came up trumps with an all Irish selection for our member in Dublin, what a lot of fun it was and I hope started them off on an enjoyable and productive evening.
Cheese is a living product. It has seasons and they mature at different times. Your cheesemonger will know what is good at any given time. So next time you shop for cheese don’t ask for a specific ask instead, what is good just now. You will put a smile on the cheese mongers face and you will get a superb cheese.
I am currently writing a new book which will augment my little vegetable series. It will be more than twice the size, but still a similar format with the superb photographs taken by my wife,photographer Caroline Trotter, whose great skill is making my quotidian recipes look delicious! This time it will be on Fish. The reasons for this are varied and I will pick up on the theme as the year progresses, but the reason for now is that this is the year of Coasts and Waters from Visit Scotland and I thought that with the fact that more people are cooking than ever before, now is the time to support our fishermen and use fresh fish from British waters. It is a sad fact that the top five fish eaten in the UK are Cod, Haddock, Tuna, Salmon and Prawns, The last quite possibly from pacific waters, tuna is not a native fish and salmon is farmed. Now I have no problem with farmed fish so long as it farmed well, and I am using the rest of this blog to talk about farmed Salmon. A colleague of mine told me about Native Hebridean salmon and they kindly sent me some samples of both the fresh fish and their smoked salmon. Now I know another colleague, well known food commentator Joanna Blythman has something to say about farmed fish but I believe that in the right hands it is acceptable, as much as anything, because getting wild salmon nowadays is almost impossible. Up until now I have only bought Shetland salmon which I believe is farmed sustainably and is good. The Hebridean product also looks very good, it has very little fat and had a firm texture which some fish do not have. I cooked it in various ways, not least as a sort of tartar, which is raw, and this too was superb, if it had been flabby and oily then the mouth feel would not have been satisfactory. In a curry, the flavour still shone through and simply grilled it was not at all oily. I made a gravlax with beetroot and this too worked very well, with a clean fresh taste. The smoked salmon was also very good, firm texture and a delicate smoke flavour which was not overpowering the fish. (smoking after all is simply a method of preserving) The fresh flavour means that lemon juice is not necessary but I like a squeeze on mine. So this month’s recipe is for .. salmon!
Ps the book will only be published if I can find a distributor!
This month’s recipe
SALMON AND SCALLOPS WITH LEEK AND GINGER
It is often hard to get fresh fish at this time of year although we are still in the main season for Haddock and Whiting, of the oily fish, Mackerel should still be available, and Mackerel also goes well with the ingredients in this dish, but I have chosen a safe option of farmed salmon as it’s available year round, but do make sure that it has been sourced from accredited sources such as MSC . The combination of colourful leeks and warmth of fresh ginger helps keep away the winter chills! I use salmon fillets which are cut from a whole side, but do make sure they have been scaled as I like to cook the salmon from the skin side only, it takes a little longer to cook but the skin becomes lovely and crunchy and the flesh is moist, but if there are still scales its horrible!
Scallops are great just now and this dish is really brings out their sweetness.
4 small fillets of salmon
4 King scallops (muscle removed)
2 cm piece of ginger
Cold pressed rapeseed oil and butter
Salt and pepper
1 Heat a heavy based pan and add a touch of oil. Dry the salmon fillets and sprinkle the skin side with a little salt and place skin side down in the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes until the skin has really browned. Reduce the heat and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, until just firm to the touch.
2 Meanwhile cut the leeks into 5 cm lengths and then cut in half lengthwise and slice thinly into thin sticks
3 Peel the ginger and cut into thin slices then cut into thin sticks as above
4 When the salmon has cooked remove from the pan and keep warm.
5 Raise the heat and dry the scallops with kitchen paper and add a touch more oil to the pan and a little butter, sear the scallops on both sides to colour a lovely brown. Set aside and add the leeks and ginger stir to colour lightly and soften, season
Serve the salmon skin side up with the scallop and leek mixture
What a great summer we have had, and even now in November it is still very mild,
FOOD TOURS AND COOKING WORKSHOPS
I have had a busy year developing my food tours and classes, with some wonderful trips across Scotland showing visitors this beautiful country that is Scotland. I have been lucky enough to have worked with some other businesses to provide these trips and cooking workshops and also with “Welcome to Fife” at Fife Council, a small but perfectly formed team that make up the tourism arm of the council, They work tirelessly to help those of us like me to promote this amazing region.
I have made a short video which is available on you tube to promote them please do share.
VEGETABLE COOK BOOKS
As most of my readers will know I have embarked on a project of writing small cook books to promote single vegetables, the idea for these came from the many people who, during my cooking demos and workshops asked for ideas on cooking vegetables as they only had three or four. I always publish them about now in time for the Christmas market, yes unashamed promotion. I suppose I should bring each one out in its season but as the books are available year round and in lots of book shops people can buy them when the vegetable is actually available, My latest one is called Tomato and like the the others has 30 recipes, I was about to add, “for the vegetable” but of course a tomato is a fruit! Suffice to say I have treated it as a vegetable in this book (as we do most of the time!) although there is one sweet dish with green tomatoes. There are now 6 books in the series Beetroot, Kale, Courgette, Carrot, and Cauliflower and I have decided to package them altogether to produce a boxed set which will make a very fine Christmas gift. The pack is sturdy and easy to wipe clean as it will live next to the cooker!
The books are on sale now on my website at Waterstones and at many good shops across Fife, Perthshire and Angus
I will also be selling them and The Hairy Bakers cook book at
Eden court fair Inverness November 16th 17th and 18th
Easterbrook Hall Dumfries November 19th 20th
Strathmiglo fair Saturday November 24th
Scone Palace Christmas fair
St Andrews Farmers market 1st December
Dumfermline Farmers market 8th December
And a book signing at Waterstones St. Andrews late opening November 29th
One aspect of my business is to provide consultancy for food related businesses and whilst this often is about looking at a small business from the staffing point of view or the positioning of the business in the market place and of course the financials, which are all core to a successful hospitality business, I also like to talk about two things, the story and the place. I recall at college being lectured to on the three most important elements of a hospitality business which were “Location Location and Location” but I think these themes today are no longer as important, as the world will beat a path to your door if you create a product that people want.
On the face of it the Newport is not a great location, it’s in a sleepy little Tayside town off the beaten track. But let us look at the positives, one such is of course the owner Jamie Scott, one time winner of Masterchef, which in itself is not necessarily a blank cheque, then there is the great setting, once you actually make the effort to get to The Newport in Newport ( one immediately thinks of the other great restaurant which has the same name as its location, also in Fife –The Peat Inn) the views over the “silvery Tay” really can be silvery and stunning, and Scott has created a focus on the outside in conjunction with his architect and designer. It’s a great place to be. Then look at his skills in the social media world, and his understanding of “putting himself about” He appears at food festivals and shows throughout the year talking about his passion and his food, spreading the word like an evangelist.
Ok, so as to the product, well here is the thing, which no amount of consulting can bring, only experience and skill. Jamie Scott has all the attributes of a great chef, he can cook, he can source good materials, he has a complete understanding of seasonality, how wonderful to see salsify on a menu, ( how many chefs know what it is let alone put this wonderful crunchy vegetable on a menu) there was pigeon and cauliflower and blood oranges! In season yes, maybe not grown here but this is when we get them. And then he has that rare skill of marrying flavours in a bold but successful way.
On paper “Peasemeal gnocchi, mussels, caramelised sprouts and chestnuts” is intriguing, but as a whole it works brilliantly. Bright green just cooked sprout leaves interspersed with comfortingly solid gnocchis and the odd splash of fresh mussel all bound up with that sweet tasting, reassuring chestnut. It is a brilliant dish and so cleverly conceived but simple in construction. Another successful dish was “Coley marinated in tequilla, avocado and blood orange” His use of Coley for a start is courageous, it is not a well known fish but available in Scottish waters year round and a perfect texture for eating raw. I am always fearful of raw fish in restaurants because I am afraid there will be that tell tale ammonia smell of the fish just past its best. This smelled simply of the sea and the marinade of tequila balanced nicely with the blood orange and the texture of avocado, another thoughtful but simple and delicious dish.
The Newports “small plates” way of serving is modern and works well you can have a simple “light lunch” or a full blown feast as and when you want! Go there! Jamie Scott has created a truly remarkable destination eaterie. Finally you cannot run a successful restaurant without good service and we were so well looked after by Leanne whose skill was her gently shared knowledge and obvious pride in what she represented,
Oh and the consultancy tip ? Tell a story and look after your people, and customers will beat a path to your door
The Newport by Jamie Scott
Buying fresh Fish
It may come as a surprise to many in the south but sourcing really good fresh fish can be problematic here in Scotland, yes we have very good fish vans but so often these only provide a very basic variety of fish, the average “housewife” is pretty conservative and most of what we have is either salmon, haddock or cod . There are the fish sheds at St. Monans, but again they are not always very inspiring and you have to bring your own bag as the packaging can often leak and leave a smelly car interior. We have a new business started up based at the Bowhouse near St. Monans who will box up and send you spanking fresh langoustines and believe me Clement Boucherit really knows his shellfish, he gets really good quality and sends it out straight away https://langoustinethebox.co.uk/how-it-works.html
What I really like about it is that the Langoustines or prawns are from the east coast and I really felt the best ones came from the west, but he has proved me wrong – give him a try.
Another business which I have noticed is a franchise and again selling very fresh fish. Prime Seafoods is based in the heart of fish landing country – Peterhead and Fraserburgh. In this instance the fish is packed into sealed trays so there are no leaks and no smells and delivered direct. They pride themselves on having 70 different varieties and again it can all be done on line. John Stephen is the local agent to me firstname.lastname@example.org 07771 776090 I had a selection recently and it was so fresh even after a couple of days in the fridge which is more than can be said of the fish van.
Lastly another exciting business has begun. You have of course heard of Veg boxes where you get delivered a selection of seasonal vegetables on a regular basis – weekly – fortnightly, ( it was these that gave me my idea of writing my vegetable books! Wails of “ I have had kale for the last 4 weeks now What do I do with it”)
So this is fish in a box you simply let them know your likes and dislikes , set a time – weekly fortnightly or monthly even ( no fish going off in the sea its all live!) and budget and leave it to them . You get superb fresh fish which makes sure that you have fish in your diet
So there is no excuse for not having fish on a regular basis its fresh wild and good for you and sustainable. Go on give it a go
If you value food and where it comes from and the people who make it, then this Christmas please set a little aside to help make sure that you can continue to be able to do this. We have a very serious battle on our hands and only we can sort it.
A number of years ago, 1995 in fact, many of you will remember the well known cheese Lanark Blue was implicated by Clydesdale District Council as being responsible for an outbreak of food poisoning, and only with the testimony of expert scientists and food safety consultants, and the intervention of a number people including the Prince of Wales were the makers of the cheese – the Errington family exonerated but only after an horrific experience of closure and a huge loss of business.
Lo and behold the same public health official has reappeared making a similar accusation of E.coli pathogens in the cheese, in an outbreak which this time has claimed the life of a young girl. Now I am the first to make sure that our food does not harm people but closures and destroying a business must only occur when real evidence is found. Sadly Public health officials acting at the behest of Lanark council backed by the Food Standards Scotland, a quango paid for by us, has not done its work properly. It appears to have acted on poor science and bias.
FSS has admitted that it had acted unlawfully in ordering Errington cheese to be destroyed.
FSS insists that their scientists have found the pathogenic E.coli strain in some Errington cheeses. This has been countered by independent scientists notably the most respected European lab based in Switzerland. Even the UK’s leading authority on E.coli Professor Sir Hugh Pennington, has accused the FSS of draconian action. It gets worse, The FSS had assumed, like so many small business might, the Erringtons would simply lie down and go away, The FSS you see, has long had a vendetta against raw milk products. I know this from personal experience, but they had not allowed for the determination of the Erringtons. If anyone thinks they are going to allow the same public official who made false allegations 20 years ago do it again, then the FSS has another think coming. The Errington family are now fighting a major legal battle against the FSS’s actions. In an admission of fault the FSS agreed to pay the Errington family’s costs for the initial court action -a judicial review. But it would appear that the FSS hoped that this might stop its own faulty evidence being tested in court. So further court action is absolutely necessary to expose the negligence and bias of the FSS. This is why Joanna Blythman the well know food writer and journalist has started a crowd funding campaign to raise £50 k to support the Erringtons legal battle.
Make no mistake this is not just about a small cheese company, this is about bias at the highest level of the FSS. It is a government body paid for by us to serve us and should not be run by people who are biased and do not consider food quality in what they do. The great irony is that Scotland rests its reputation on good quality food and here is a government body hell bent on destroying it!
Please support the crowd funding and write to your MSP. This government must look long and hard at the people who run the FSS and make some major changes
This Christmas put a Scottish Cheese on your board but please add at least £10 to the fund to make sure that you can continue to buy and enjoy quality Scottish food.
Stuart Minick of “Minick Butchers” is nothing if not an innovator, and in light of the theme for this year, and this quarter, I am starting with a blog post about him.
Our food elements for July, August and September are; cheese and pork or butchers in general, then sneaking in at the start of the season in September are apples, all of these foods of course go together so well. In Lancashire they have an expression “ apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze” or is it a hug? Anyway it links apples and cheese and of course pork with apple sauce… What more need I say.
Anyway back to Stuart Minick who fits in with all three categories – Innovation, Architecture and Design – his butchers shops are innovative and the design shows his brand. When I was a child growing up in St Andrews there were at least 4 butchers, but then suddenly, with the closure of Murray Mitchell’s shop, the last remaining butcher in St Andrews vanished. There were a combination of reasons at the time, two of which were the convenience of the supermarket and price.
But today, Stuart Minick has bucked that trend by just opening his fifth independent butchers shop in Anstruther in a premises which was formerly a deli “La petite epicerie” ( now opened in St. Andrews) and before that it was a butchers shop as well. When I was in there recently locals were coming in and reminiscing about Andersons as it was called. Stuart proudly showed me the original 1934 walk in chill from those days! Still going strong in all its wooden magnificence!
So why, when family owned butchers are closing, can Stuart open 5 shops in rural locations St. Andrews, Newport, Ladybank, Cupar and now Anstruther? His philosophy is simple. He give his butcher on site complete control of their shop, so that they can get to know their customers and can order accordingly and not just have to sell what a head office insists on. Then he also has close relationships with farmers so he can choose what he wants. Since the closure of the St. Andrews abattoir he has built a good relationship with the new small premises at Dowanfield farm, where farmer Bob Prentice can now slaughter sheep, and sends them to Stuart’s main shop in Ladybank all of three miles away for carcass preparation. Small scale, but large enough with 5 shops for purchasing economies. So he is supporting local skilled butchers providing a training for young apprentices and providing a local market for farmers and helping to make the Dowanfield premises viable.
So support your local butcher and if you are visiting Fife, Know that the man behind the counter is local, knows his meat and where it came from.
What a week end! from Crail To Ballantrae, some really lovely people and of course really great produce. Honoured to be asked again to work with Ardross Farm Shop at The Crail Food Festival First off was a chat about mutton and lamb with Claire from Ardross hosted by Rachel Gillon a full house and always good to share farming and cooking perspectives.
Then I hot footed it to the cookery theatre where the wonderful Chef Willie Balfour from Elmwood College was on hand to make sure everything went well. 3 lamb dishes one of which appears below. Lamb needless to say was from Ardross.Then jumped in the car for the 3 hour journey to Ballantrae, arriving just in time to be greeted by Robin of Cosses Country house with a glass of wine! so well looked after by him and his wife Susan who runs the Ballantrae Food festival I also met the lovely forager Lisa Cutcliffe and manic but wonderful Mark Devonshire who prepared supper!
Up early in the morning and off to the festival itself loads of great food businesses from the region such as Pieroni Fish where Clare and brother Jonathan had brought fabulous fresh sea trout, turbot prawns and lobster, I met Tricia Bey who makes Barwheys cheese delicious aged cheddar style cheese, fabulous new Ayrshire potatoes and Hendricks Gin! and many more.
I did one demo on my own and then Mark and I did a double act with Jonathan filleting fish, seemed to go down very well, and was great fun, always godo to work with another enthusiastic chef!
Very busy festival, lots to see and do great live music, in fact a perfect way to spend a day! what a week end!
450g 1lb ripe tomatoes
blanched, quartered seeded,and diced
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 chilli seeded and finely diced.
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1tbsp chopped flat parsley
1 tbsp wine vinegar
3 tbsp cold pressed rape seed oil
salt and pepper
combine the diced tomato, herbs garlic and chilli. Whisk together the oil and vinegar, combine all ingredients.
Ideal for a barbeque dip
simply grill the chops on both sides and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving with the salsa
These sprouts appear in the spring but you can also use purple sprouting. The name Dragon was given to me by Archie McDiarmid of Luvians Bottle shop who suggested a great wine to go with it- Leitz Dragonstone Riesling; brilliant wine and who could resist Dragon Sprouts with Dragonstone? Indeed!
255g Dragon (kale) sprouts, trimmed
2 tbsp cold-pressed rapeseed oil
1 jar of Chillilicious chilli “shot”
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic sliced
2 tbsp soy sauce
½ tsp honey
1 Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the chilli shot and allow to cook, stirring for a few minutes.
2 Carefully add the vinegar and immediately throw in the sprouts and garlic. Stir-fry for a few minutes and then add the soy and honey. Check seasoning and serve.
Delicious on its own or with a pork dish.