Le Serre Nuove – Thoughts from Glasshouses

Food Stories and Recollections

This Blog is Not Dead!

I am sorry for the lack of updates, I am really disappointed in not writing anything recently. Time has not been good for me recently. I do intend to continue with this blog, but it is taking a brief sabbatical.


Blueberry & Chocolate Ice Cream

The New Year begins with detox. The Christmas excess and the couple of extra pounds your girth is showing implies that the resolutions of the New Year should be of healthier eating and more exercise. The promises to eat more certain types of food and the promises to cut down on the things that are worse for you; I had made a similar resolution to do that, but I got a new toy for christmas, a new ice cream machine, and was itching to have a play with it. So I lasted three days.

Two of my favourite ingredients are Cacao and Blueberries. Cacao is basically raw chocolate – or more specifically cocoa solids without any cocoa butter, and has gained increasingly popularity in the UK not least as a result of the efforts by Willie Harcourt Cooze, who launched his own series of Cacao products and ‘delectable’ chocolate range. It is amazingly versatile and can be used in a variety of ways (see my earlier post for Venison Stew as an example). The thing I like about it the most is that you can determine how ‘chocolately’ you want to make it, by reducing or adding more sugar, cream or butter. I’ve made this previously by using very little sugar, it is very bitter and a little sour, but a fantastic flavour. Blueberries too, are a very sweet fruit, and very refreshing, and the sweetness of the blueberries compliments, and contrasts, the bitterness of the cacao.

I decided to make this as a chocolate ice cream with a blueberry purée through it. If you wish, you may prefer to simply make a chocolate ice cream, and serve with fresh blueberries.

Blueberry & Chocolate Ice Cream
For the Chocolate (for a Ganache)
100g Cacao
100g Cream
30g Sugar (or to taste)

Grate the cacao and melt over a ban-marie. Add the sugar and cream and mix together until the sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool and thicken.

For the Ice Cream
700 ml Milk (I used Jersey Cow’s Milk in this instance)
6 egg yolks
75g sugar

Separate the egg yolks and whisk together in a large bowl. In a pan hit the milk and sugar over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved (do not let it boil). Slowly, and ensuring you are whisking all the time, gradually add the milk and sugar mixture to the egg yolks. Whisk until the mixture has combined. Return to the heat to allow the mixture to thicken slightly, until it coats the back of a spoon. Mix the ice cream and ganache together and chill for about 6 hours.

Meanwhile, blend 400g of blueberries in a food processor. Pass through a sieve to form a purée.

Once the custard has chilled, churn in your ice cream machine (per your manufactures instructions), normally about 30 minutes. You can either add the purée five minutes before it has finished churning or simply mix together before hand. Serve immediately or freeze for up to a week.

Given how cold Scotland has been recently, and even though we have just had Christmas, this did not feel out-of-place in the depths of winter. It is was a welcome change to some of the food we’ve had recently, and certainly made me start thinking about the summer and not about VAT increase.

Golden Pint Awards

As I am a bit of a closet beer fan, and the growth and changing reputation in the UK of beer is simply fantastic,  I thought I would add my twopence worth to the Golden Pint Awards, an annual viewpoint of the state of the beer scene organised by the Beer Bloggers. This year has been very telling for me because I have dramatically changed the way I have drunk beer, not least by being a ‘Brewdog Punk’ and investing in the Equity for Punks scheme, and all the people I’ve meant, new places I have gone to, Brewery’s I have discovered, Beer I have drunk. I look forward to the continued developments of the UK beer scene next year, and trying some more fantastic beer!

Best UK Draught Beer Probably the hardest one for me, the most common beers I drink on draught are from Stewart Brewing and Cairngorm, but the most distinctive I’ve had was Marble Ginger. Simply extraordinary.
Best UK Bottled Beer Kernel Centennial IPA – IPA’s are my favourite style of beer and this one is exemplary.
Best Overseas Draught Beer Sweetwater IPA
Best Overseas Bottled Beer Odell St. Lupulin EPA
Best Overall Beer Great Divide Titan IPA
Best Pumpclip or Label Knop’s Musselburgh Broke
Best UK Brewery Dark Star
Best Overseas Brewery Odell
Pub/Bar of the Year The Rake or The Blind Tiger
Beer Festival of the Year Craig Garvie’s Beer Tastings
Supermarket of the Year Waitrose
Independent Retailer of the Year Cornelius Beer
Online Retailer of the Year MyBreweryTap
Best Beer Blog or Website http://drinkcraftbeer.com/
Best Beer Twitterer Cgarviereg
Best Brewery Online Brewdog
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year Foie Gras and Kernel London Porter
In 2011 I’d Most Like To… Drink more Marble Beers
Open Category: Most Depressing Thing of the YearThe Cask v Kegged debate. Keg beer is not the future just another way to enjoy beer.

Merry Christmas

Apologies for the distinct lack of new blogs recently, real life, unfortunately, has taken over. I would just like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas (or that you just enjoy your extra days off if you don’t celebrate it). I am going to be enjoying a rather untraditional vension loin for my Xmas dinner, and not forgetting the Breakfast Casserole (basically baked sauages, egg’s and bread) ! I hope it inspires you onto bigger and better things next year!

Tales from Wales and Speckled Bread

Some things I have always found hard to resist, and most of my food memories growing up involve my Nan in some way or another. It is not necessarily the variety of the food, most of it was very traditional – e.g. meat, potato and veg sort of affair – and even pasta would be considered exotic. The thing was it always felt homely and always properly cooked. My parents considered me a fussy eater as a kid, I tend to thing that I just do not like badly cooked food and that was the case when I was young too, but my nan got me eating things (basically green veg) without so much hassle. I think I’ve mentioned before that she used to send me Welsh Cakes to me in the post whilst I was a student; they were always a great treat and something that never used to last long with either me or my housemates.

Bara Brith

But my favourite thing I’ve always got from her, and she always makes me one whenever I come down and see her, is Bara Brith. It is supposedly translated to ‘Speckled Bread’ and is a type of tea cake. It could be said that it is a variation on a Selkirk Bannock cake but it doesn’t have butter or milk in it, and likewise the Bannock isn’t soaked in tea or use eggs. Bara Brith originated, or so the story goes, from adding fruit to the surplus bread dough when baking once a week. Some also say that there are South and North Wales variants, I slightly disagree with this, but it is certainly true that the adapted recipe that my nan uses does originate from South Wales as way to bake the cake without using yeast to make it easier for industrial (i.e. miners) families to bake it. I think I actually prefer it this way too because it makes it a lot more richer. I am not sure whether there is any sort of originality in this recipe, I certainly know it is old, but how old I am not sure. To quote my Nan (yes, she did say that): “I got it from Mrs Jones, who used to live on Llandaff Road, a long time ago.” I am probably certain it is from either the late forties or early fifties when my grandparents used to run a grocery shop, as this was typical of the stories she used to tell me from those days. It is a simple recipe, but simply delightful.

Bara Brith – Speckled Bread

SimplesSoak Overnight

1/2 lb Dried Fruit (traditionally sultanas / currants) in 1/4 pt + 2 tablespoons of hot tea (any will do but try Earl / Lady Grey)

Next Day

4 oz Brown (or Demerara) Sugar

1/2 teaspoon of mixed spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or cloves and ginger)

1 beaten Egg

8 oz of self rising flour

Mix all the above ingredients into the soaked tea and fruit. Grease a tin loaf (you may use parchment paper too) and preheat the over to 170°C. Add all the combined ingredients to the tin loaf and bake for one and half hours, ensuring that a knife can come out clean if inserted into the cake. Slice and serve with butter, with a pot of tea.

How to Warm Up: C&C Soup

Tonight I got cold. I have been quite lucky with the weather recently, because I am fortunate enough not to have to worry about getting to work, mainly because I walk and it takes about 25 minutes whatever the weather, or other daily banalities as I can do must things that way. Edinburgh is nothing more than an ice rink at the moment, this probably sums up the worst weather in 50 years the best, with temperatures averaging about -10 (14). Of course, there are worse places in the world to be but the bureaucratic efficiency of this country has shown its hand again. But the one thing I wasn’t expecting was the heating to break. That really got me today. And I really started to feel it. Even the dogs couldn’t keep me warm. The thing I turn to most when I am really cold is soup. I find there is nothing better than warming me up. I don’t really care what it is, be it tinned Tomato Soup, homemade pumpkin Soup or Beer and Cheese Soup, but it hearty soul food.

With that in mind I attempted to dissect the contents of my cupboards. There isn’t really a lot in there at the best of times, as my wife and I have a habit of getting every few days to try to keep things fresh and varied, and just what we are going to eat. I don’t often eat Celeriac, and I really enjoy it as an accompaniment to fish, The bitter flavour’s help give it a nice sharpness, and I love the combination of this with cider, it is common to see it with apples but I like the added sweetness of the cider.

Cider and Celeriac Soup

500g Celeriac
400 ml Cider (or more to taste)
35g Butter
400 ml vegetable stock
40g Onion (or 1 medium)
90 ml Double Cream

Melt the butter in a pan, and add the onions. Cook for a minute or so until translucent, and add the celeriac. Cook over a medium heat, ensuring the celeriac does not brown, for about 5 minutes. Add the cider and stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Blend. Stir in the cream just before serving to give it additional richness.

Perfect for when you get really quite cold.

Gascon Tales

France is a nation of mass contradictions. On one hand, you learn about the classical idea of the republic: liberty, fraternity, equality – but how does that idea transcend the image of French Identity? I wrote my post-graduate thesis on the emergence of French Identity during the period of the Third Republic leading up to the First World War, and one of key theories behind it, as per many French Historians (like Graham Robb or Eugene Weber), is that peasants became Frenchman: A nation of regions that during the 19th century developed one identity, based heavily on a perceived notion of what ‘Frenchness’ should be as it modernized and industrialized. There are quirks to this, and you see that in the distinction of the Bordelaise, but the overarching feeling is one of an imposed identity.

So what has all this got to do with food? Well, I ask the question in the context of whether we are going through a renaissance in French food. With the ever-increasing number of new french restaurants opening up, with a focus on classical rather than haute cuisine, they are starting to  dominate the scene again and not least with the reappearance of one of Britain’s greatest (French) chefs, Pierre Koffman. His restaurant is described as ‘hearty, robust, seasonal food, influenced by Pierre’s Gascon heritage’, but still French. Is it both? Can it be both?

The one thing that was the most abiding memory of my recent visit to Koffman’s was the  sense of satisfaction. I knew what I had just eaten had no intention of trying to dazzle me, it just wanted to satisfy me in a way only simple good cooking can. This is Gascon cooking. As PK is reported to have said, “It is done at its very best if its been done all your life”; the love of food and the appreciation and respect of the traditions and nature of the region.

Between my wife and I we had the foie gras, crab, roast partridge and rabbit. Each dish smacked of simplicity yet was truly delicious. It is hard to really describe the food more than that, because I was having far too much fun. Sorry. Mildly tipsy and just enjoying myself.  Gratification to a degree I rarely experience. The dishes were traditional and elegant, and did not possess the tricks and traits that you associate with Michelin star cooking, allowing them to speak for themselves.  Gascon’s like to consider Foie Gras a local specialty as their main produce is duck, chicken and geese. Indeed there is a website that claims “The method of pouring the grain down the necks of the birds is something that only the British have a problem with”! Whilst I think that is a little bit of a contentious point, the delicacy of the dish, along with the quality of the foie gras and the brioche toast, made it seem anything but pâté on bread.

Apple PieFor dessert, we had a Gascon Apple Pie, and a Caramelised floating island (‘Oeuf À La Neige Caramélisé’). There is a slightly blurry picture of the Apple Pie to the right. The story goes that every now and again PK works the pastry station. If its true, then it may explain why I enjoyed my pie so much. The Armagnec (a product of origin of Gascony) gave the apples such a little hit of spice, and the sugar of the pastry was so soft and something reminiscent of, actually, I cannot compare it to anything, because it was like nothing I have had before. Even in France. My wife’s carmaelised floating island, a giant macaroon with the most syrupy custard sauce, was exquisite, and they rounded off the evening in the best way.

I cannot remember the last time I had such a good time eating out, because the overriding memory was of a fun evening eating fantastic food. Can it be beaten? I don’t necessarily think that is the point. It is rustic, peasant food from Gascony. It will warm the cockles and give you immense satisfaction and let you simply enjoy yourself. Sometimes there is nothing better.

And I found nothing French about it.


Brief footnote: Pierre Koffman is famous for his pig trotters, which are still available at Koffman’s. Please check out this recipe if you want to have a go: Trotters

Stories from the City

To badly paraphrase a P.J. Harvey record, and whilst walking the dog one evening, I wondered about the food history of Edinburgh and the food that has been made famous here. There are a significant number of Scottish dishes that we all know and love, from haggis to deep-fried Mars bars, and the outstanding quality of the produce you can find is second to none but what is Auld Reckie famous for?

My mind almost instantly turned to a couple of things: chippie sauce on your fish supper and Cock-o-Leekie soup. Even then I only really know Cock-o-Leekie soup as an Edinburgh dish because it has local twist to it: adding whisky. There is also a variant on oatcakes, that get called ‘Midlothian Oatcakes’, which are not as heavy on the oats, and use flour in the recipe producing a crisper texture. Of course, lest we forget that you can get Edinburgh Rock, but for the most part that’s all I could find. Chippie Sauce doesn’t really count as a ‘recipe’, although it is a strange Edinburgh custom. It’s a mixture of Brown Sauce and Malt Vinegar, and a fish supper would be poorer without it. I once mistakenly asked for it in London and got Kebab sauce. You live and learn.

Even consulting the bible of Scottish Cooking – The Scots Kitchen: Its Traditions and Lore with Old-time Recipes – Florence Marian McNeill, first published in 1929 and probably the Scottish equivalent to the Silver Spoon, did not really yield any more results. There is also another book, Edinburgh ‘A La Carte’ – The history of food in Edinburgh – but I think I will need to root round the second-hand bookshops to have any luck in finding. I did eventually find one other dish, something which I have not heard of before and certainly not tried – Edinburgh Fog. It sounds like a play on cranachan, but I hope that it might be tasty with the almonds.

Edinburgh ‘Fog’

300ml double cream
30g castor (fine granulated) sugar
50g small almond ratafia biscuits (macaroon biscuits are a normally substituted for these)
Almond essence
Drambuie / Whisky to taste
30g flaked almonds

Whip the cream until it is stiff and fold in the sugar, almond essence and whisky.  Crush the macaroon biscuits,  and mix well with the cream.  Serve well chilled as a luxury dessert. Sprinkle the almonds over the desert before serving.

What other dishes do you know that originate in Edinburgh? What other dishes should I try? Do you like Edinburgh Fog? Do you have a copy of Edinburgh ‘A La Carte’?

Hefeweizen and Goats Cheese Soup continued…

Following on from my previous post about the Beer and Cheese soup, here is a pictorial guide to my efforts this afternoon. I changed a couple of things compared to the original recipe, as this was proving to be very sweet, so I had to find ways to cut through it, and jingle with the ingredients.
First off… Goats Cheese:

Lots of Goats Cheese

I am quite lucky really to have a great Cheesemonger, Ian Mellis, at the end of my street. They have a wide variety of Cheeses to choose from, highlighting the best you can get in the UK, and I spent an age tasting them. I plumped for the Golden Cross in the end, as it has a good richness to it, but was not too sweet.

Beer and Cheese

As I have mentioned in the original post I was going to make it with Stewart Brewing’s new version of the Hefewiezen. First time I sampled it in bottle, and the carbonation really cuts down the banana flavour. It works a lot better in the bottle, and will be something that I have to search out a bit more.

I decided to cut down the amount of flour and milk in the recipe as well, as I did not want to use as much cheese as if it was a hard cheese. The soup would tend to be a bit floury otherwise. I also decided to add a bit more mustard too (a further half tbs), and to season it at the very end, which helped cut down the sweetness significantly, and balance it a lot more. The key was to cook the soup relatively slowly which prevented it from spoiling. I also added the ingredients gradually to ensure they did not overpower each other – this was particularly important when adding the goats cheese. In order for this to avoid lumps too from the Goats Cheese I removed the wax, and grated it, breaking down the texture.

So here are some snaps:

Melting the butter: the start of it all

Stock, veg, flour

Adding the Beer

Let it simmer


Adding the Cheese

This turned out to be a very warming soup, the flavours of the beer and cheese worked well together, without being too sweet. My wife had a number of reservations that this would not work – Thankfully I managed to proved her wrong!


Beer, Cheese, Hefeweizen. Soup?

Is there nothing more satisfying than a decent pint of beer? It has been remarked recently the beer renaissance the UK is going through, and living in Scotland there are whole host of fabulous Brewery’s making different and intriguing beers. Being Edinburgh based you cannot escape the fabulous local brews from Stewart Brewing – who have recently branched out into bottles and I went to their launch night of their first Wheat beer, Hefeweizen, this week.

Intense banana flavour, but with the soft clove and wheat notes you would expect from this type of beer, and clean on the palate, it was a very complex beer that did justice to its name. It is the first time I have ever had that style of beer uncarbonated, which gave way to the stronger fruit flavours, it is refreshingly different and goes to show the versatility and innovation of the UK beer scene, and the plethora of styles and beers that are starting to immerge. Great brewery’s to sample? Anything from Marble, Lovibonds, Kernel, Highland, Dark Star, Thornbridge to name a few, and let’s not forgot Brewdog – who for all their shouting do actually know how to make decent beer. The increase in the availability of US ‘craft’ brews has diversified the market and we are not short of great beer; long may it continue.

In honour of all these great beers, here is a traditional American recipe that I have never seen in the UK. There are great ways to play around with this, mixing the styles of beer and cheese, finding things to add it, and the qualities you use in the recipe for each. Beer is perhaps the perfect combination with cheese. The malt and hops bring out so many different flavours; it brings a completely different slant to the cheese. Perhaps this is why it is the perfect accompaniment to Pizza. This is traditional in the Mid – west where they make some of the best beers about.

Beer Cheese Soup

40 g butter
100g minced celery
100g minced carrots
100g minced onion
100g flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
300 ml chicken broth
500 ml beer (or a pint)*
300 ml milk
400g cheese*
Popcorn to serve

In a soup pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add celery, carrots and onions, sauté until tender (about 6-8 minutes). Stir in flour and mustard and whisk constantly until smooth and bubbly. Add broth and beer. Cook until thickened. Put mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return mixture to pot. Gradually stir in milk, stirring to avoid scorching. Simmer for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Stir in cheese and continue to cook until cheese has melted, stirring frequently for about 15 minutes.

Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with popcorn and serve hot.

* Different Beer styles suit different cheeses … Brooklyn Brewery from NYC recommends the following…

– Sharp Cheddar – Pale Ale
– Feta – Wheat Beer
– Mascarpone – Fruit Beer
– American Cheese – Pilsner
– Colby – Brown Ale
– Gorgonzola – Barleywine
– Gruyere – Bock Beer
– Swiss cheese – Octoberfest Beer
– Parmesan – Amber Lager

For me, there is nothing better than the first one, Cheddar and Pale Ale, or more specifically a really hoppy India Pale Ale. I would also add:

Stilton (or strong blue cheese) – Stout
Caerphilly (or mild nutty cheeses) – Milds (i.e. dark malty beers) or Red Ales
Goats Cheese – Hefeweizen

I am going to pick up some of the aforementioned Stewart Brewing Hefeweizen this weekend, some fabulous Goat’s Cheese from Ian Mellis and try this again over the weekend…

Something warm and refreshing whilst freezing at Murrayfield!

Look out on Twitter for the results…

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