Vegemite on Oatcakes

Recipes and the occasional review from an Aussie in Edinburgh

Stuffed peppers with quinoa, feta, cherry tomatoes and peas

Stuffed peppers with quinoa, feta, cherry tomatoes and peas

This recipe for quinoa-stuffed peppers (capsicums) comes from Claire Berliner of the Arvon Foundation. Claire and husband Oliver Meek are the directors of Arvon’s Totleigh Barton centre in Devon, where I just spent a wonderful week on a short story writing course – the food being one of many highlights. I’ve tweaked the recipe Claire gave me, adding lemon zest to the quinoa and a mint-yoghurt sauce on the side.

As Claire says, the quinoa stuffing is also excellent on its own as a salad, in which case add some olive oil and lemon juice to taste. You could also try wrapping any leftover quinoa mix and yoghurt sauce in tortillas, for lunch the next day.

Serves 4 (or 6 as a starter, using 6 smaller peppers)

½ cup quinoa
¾ cup frozen peas
125g feta cheese, crumbled
250g cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
zest of half a lemon (use a zester, or grate finely)
¼ cup mint, shredded
1 cup basil leaves (loosely packed), torn
4 large or 6 small peppers (capsicums), red, orange or yellow
sea salt and black pepper
olive oil

For the mint-yoghurt sauce
¾ cup yoghurt
⅓ cup finely chopped mint
sea salt

You will also need a large baking dish, or roasting dish lined with foil.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Bring a small pan of water to the boil and cook the quinoa for 14 minutes. Drain in a sieve and run under cold water. Spread the quinoa around the sieve with a fork or spoon and sit over the hot cooking pan (off the heat) to steam away as much liquid as possible.

Meanwhile, cook the frozen peas in boiling water for a minute or so, until just tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water.

Place the quinoa, peas, feta, tomatoes, lemon zest and herbs in a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly and season. I like this with a lot of pepper and a bit of salt, too – keep tasting until you have the flavour you want.

Slice the peppers in two through the stalks, and carefully remove the seeds and membrane with a small sharp knife. Brush the baking or roasting dish with oil. Take each pepper half and pack it with quinoa mix, mounding it up, but ensuring it’s not so full it will spill out during the cooking.

Carefully place the peppers, stuffing side up, in the baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes, until the peppers are tender and golden brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, to make the mint-yoghurt sauce, mix together the yoghurt and mint and season with salt to taste.

Serve two or three pepper halves per person with the mint-yoghurt sauce on the side. As lunch, supper or a starter it doesn’t really need anything else. For dinner, I would serve it with dark green salad and bread – olive bread is especially good.

Do you like chocolate? Are you in Edinburgh on 28 November?

Come to Real Foods at Tollcross, 7.30-9pm, where my friend Sinéad Collins (real live chocolate-maker) is holding a chocolate tasting! Tickets are £7.50, either in person from Real Foods Tollcross, or by emailing ben@realfoods.co.uk.

Here’s the spiel for the evening, Chocolate: From Bean to Bar:

Yummy chocolate bars on shelves start out as pods growing on trees, and go through a fascinating transformation before making it to you. Sinéad Collins will share the chemistry and alchemy of making bean-to-bar chocolate, how your tastebuds let you enjoy it, and the ethics of loving and consuming a crop that only grows in the worlds poorest countries. The event will include tasters of the stages between bean and bar including from IQ chocolate & Raw Chocolate Co.

And the other important bit:

Sinéad Collins is a biologist, chocolate-maker and pop-science nerd with a passion for all things yummy. Her homemade Quicksilver Chocolate bars will be available to try on the night.

You can read more about Sinéad’s Quicksilver Chocolate on her awesome blog, kitchen dancing (which also has great vegan and raw-food recipes).

If you’re making new friends, I recommend chocolate-makers. Over the last few months, I’ve tried several different types of Sinéad’s chocolate, and they’ve all been fab. They have great names like Wild Rumpus and Black & Blue; they come niftily wrapped in parchment with hand-written labels; they’re very, very dark (a very, very good thing in my book); and most importantly, they taste great.

I’m no expert chocolate-taster. (The idea raises visions of a Wine Aroma Wheel for chocolate, in various shades of brown.) Nonetheless, here’s my tasting notes for Black & Blue (black for the chocolate; blue for blueberries):

Sinead blogs that she “do[es]n’t bother with making stuff that looks and tastes like something I could just go buy in a shop”. Black & Blue is a case in point. It’s a speckledy chocolate, for want of a better word, with tiny dark blue-black circles on the surface, and a slightly dry, crumbly texture. There’s a slightly sweet, fruity aroma first; an intense burst of dried-fruit flavour; and then a bitter aftertaste like dark-roasted coffee beans. It’s complex, fascinating and delicious, and the caffeine hit from the dark chocolate is enough to give you a nervous twitch – in a good way.

I ate the chocolate before I thought to take photos (food blogging hazard), but I hope to take some at the event. Come join me!

Courgette, pesto and mozzarella frittata

If Nigel Slater can base an entire TV series on the dregs left in his fridge, my Friday night dreg-supper can go on my blog.

Serves 2 for supper on its own, or 4 with salad and bread

1 ball buffalo mozzarella
1 courgette
2 salad onions, trimmed
scant tablespoon fresh pesto
6 large eggs, whisked
small bunch basil
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

You will also need a large non-stick frying pan, about 12 inches (30cm) diameter, with a heat-proof handle.

Tear or slice the mozzarella into about 6 fairly even pieces, and place between plenty of kitchen towel (or a clean tea towel) to soak up the excess moisture. (This is important – otherwise you’ll end up with mozzarella-water all over the top of your frittata.) Leave to absorb until needed.

Thinly slice the courgette and salad onions. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the courgettes, season with pepper and a tiny pinch of salt, and fry briskly until slightly browned on both sides. Add the onions and saute until slightly softened. At this point, preheat the grill to medium.

Reduce the heat under the frying pan to low. Stir in the pesto, and shake the pan to spread the vegetables out evenly. Season the beaten eggs and pour over the vegetables. As the frittata starts to cook, run a spatula round the edges, lifting and tilting the pan to allow the uncooked egg to run underneath. Repeat every minute or so, and cook for about 5 minutes altogether. The frittata should be golden underneath and nearly cooked through, but the top will still be a bit runny.

Remove from the heat and place under the grill for about 2 minutes, until the top is barely set. (Watch carefully to avoid overcooking.) Remove for a moment and place the pieces of mozzarella on top of the frittata, evenly spaced around. Return to the grill for another minute or so, until the cheese is just starting to melt.

Remove from the grill and carefully slide onto a serving plate. Scatter with torn basil leaves, sea salt and ground black pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Slice into wedges and serve immediately.

Note: If you do wind up with mozzarella-water on top of your frittata, it’s not the end of the world. Either carefully tip it away down the sink (I recommend holding onto your frittata as you do so!), or blot it up with some kitchen towel.

Blue cheese, butternut and red onion tart

Blue cheese, butternut and red onion puff pastry tart

An easy vegetarian supper for two after an autumn day’s hillwalking.

1/4 butternut squash
3 small red onions, thinly sliced
1 tbs dark brown sugar
3/4 tbs sherry vinegar
2 handfuls rocket
60g Stilton cheese
200g all-butter puff pastry
olive oil
butter
sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220C.

Wipe the skin of the butternut squash, leaving it on, then slice the butternut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. (Half-moon shapes are good, but it will depend on which part of the squash you’re using). Place on an oiled baking tray, brush with more olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until just tender. Remove from the oven and set aside, keeping the oven on.

Meanwhile, heat a large knob of butter and a lug of olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the onions and fry for about 5 minutes, until slightly softened but not coloured. Add the sugar, sherry vinegar and a pinch of salt, and cook for a further 30 minutes or so over low heat, stirring occasionally, until completely soft and sticky. Taste before removing from the heat, and adjust the flavour with more salt or sugar if required.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to a rectangle roughly 20×30 centimetres. Place on a piece of baking parchment on a baking tray. Trim the edges with a sharp knife to help the rise, and score a border 1 centimetre inside the edge all the way round.

Spread the onion on the pastry, leaving the border clear. Top with the slices of butternut squash. Brush the border of the pastry with water mixed with a few drops of olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until the border is a dark golden brown.

Remove from the oven and top with the rocket, then crumble over the Stilton. Drizzle with olive oil and grind over plenty of black pepper before serving.

Vegetarian sausage, white bean and leek stew with parsley dumplings

Vegetarian sausages suffer from two main failings: huge amounts of salt, and a texture reminiscent of one of those high-bounce balls from my 1980s childhood. If only they came in fluorescent pink, you’d know what you were getting. I’ve recently discovered Taifun-brand “tofu grill sausages” and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They cost the same per kilo as salmon fillet, which is ridiculous given that their main ingredients are tofu and oatmeal, but then they are imported from Germany. If you’re willing to take a deep breath and avert your eyes from the food miles and checkout tally, they are very, very good. The texture approaches that of a meat-based sausage – soft and ever-so-slightly chewy, but no hint of bounce. The only thing missing is a nice ooze of meat fat as you stick your fork in, but for many vegetarians that’s probably a good thing (not me, alas – I miss the ooze). The flavour is close to that of chicken, which is fine by me. They’ll never be the duck and veal sausages from Barossa Fine Foods, but then no ducks or calves were harmed in their production.

This stew is a vegetarian version of a traditional hearty, wintry dumpling stew. It’s still a work-in-progress; tweaks are forthcoming and will be posted here (likely to involve fresh herbs in the stew itself, but possibly more exotic additions). I prefer to make my dumplings with butter, but if you want a vegan stew, use vegetarian suet, and leave out the butter in the stew itself.

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Where to eat and drink in Edinburgh: My top restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars

This is my personal list of Edinburgh’s top 10, ish, places to eat and drink. When I say 10, ish, I mean 13. And when I say drink, I mostly mean hot chocolate. If you’re new to the city, or just visiting, this one’s for you. These are the places I go back to again and again – or have recently discovered, and want to. In no particular order:

Kanpai. Scotland has fantastic seafood, but Edinburgh has surprisingly few decent sushi restaurants. Kanpai opened last year and is far and away the best I’ve had here. You can blindfold yourself, poke a pin into the menu to choose, and be guaranteed an amazing meal.

Artisan Roast. The original one on Broughton St. I don’t drink coffee, but I’m assured it’s the best. More to the point, the hot chocolate is in my top 4 in town. Rose and pepper; cardamom and cinnamon; chilli and vanilla – choose your poison. Just make sure you have plenty of running around to do later, because you’re going to have ridiculous amounts of excess energy from the sugar and caffeine.

Chocolate Tree. More of the above, but with churros. Chocolate Tree does proper, thick, Spanish-style hot chocolate with homemade churros. They also do decadent chocolate gateaux (you may be ill – I recommend sharing), some of them vegan; intense berry sorbets and rich ice-creams; and of course their own hand-made chocolates.

Under the Stairs. Great pub food in a shabby chic setting. Great cocktails too. They’re not so good for big groups (service slows to snail’s pace), and they do seem to have stopped stocking Bundaberg Peachee (grumble). But they’re still in my top 2 pubs in town.

Peter’s Yard. Yes, it’s ridiculously expensive. Yes, their cheesecakes are below their usual standard. But you need to try their cardamom hot chocolate, cardamom buns, and chocolate mazarins. The original venue on Middle Meadow Walk is better than the new, smaller one at Stockbridge.

Rivage. Best Indian I’ve had in this city, and many other cities for that matter. Off the beaten track at the top of Easter Road. Order the Goan fish curry and the baby aubergines in peanut sauce. They do takeaway, too.

The Roseleaf. If you don’t like shabby chic, you and I probably won’t get along. And you probably won’t like the Roseleaf, or several other places on this list. If you like good pub food, cocktails in teacups, and an impressive fresh juice and herbal tea selection (also served in antique china), you will.

David Bann. Best vegetarian in the city. The flavour combos in the desserts are bizarre, but the starters and mains are better and more interesting than I can cook at home, which is my benchmark for eating out. Generous portions into the bargain.

The Gardener’s Cottage. Edinburgh doesn’t do brunch, but The Gardener’s Cottage does. If they still have the baked eggs with mushrooms on the menu, get that.

Centotre. Hot chocolate. The proper Italian kind. In booths. With jazz. In a posh Italian restaurant. I find their food occasionally underwhelming, but if you don’t fancy hot chocolate, branch out to the ice-cream, cocktails, mocktails or wine. Centotre is my guaranteed depression-buster on a dreich winter’s evening when I’ve had a rotten day at work.

Bramble. Cocktails and cool. If you want to cosy up in a hole in the wall on a sheepskin rug while drinking something strong enough to stop your knees from working, do it here.

Kitchin. Set lunch. It’s billed as 3 courses but in reality it’s more like 7, each one perfect. Crudités; amuse-bouche; starter; main; sorbet; dessert; petits-fours and coffee. Or is that 8? Add wine and you can still get away under £35 per person, Michelin-starred.

Lovecrumbs. They give great cake. Nuff said.

Disclaimer: These are my current personal favourites. They’ll have changed in a month or two, and there’s certainly many other fab venues to choose from. If you don’t like hot chocolate or cake, we may have to agree to disagree. But if you come to visit me, this is where I’ll be taking you.

Ricotta hotcakes with blueberry-star anise compote and mascarpone cream

Ricotta hotcakes with blueberry compote

This recipe is a reverse engineering exercise. Whenever I go home to Adelaide, my mum and I go for brunch at Urban Bistro on Fullarton Road. Bizarrely but appropriately, Urban is in the ground floor of an apartment block that used to be the maternity hospital where I was born (along with my sisters, and most other Adelaide children of my generation) – the Queen Victoria Hospital. IMHO, Urban serves the best brunch in Adelaide, which in a city very well supplied with delectable brunch options is saying something. Also IMHO, the ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote and rich cream are the highlight of their menu, though the stir-fried blue swimmer crab omelette comes a very close second. Much as I love Edinburgh, its cafes haven’t quite cottoned on to the brunch concept yet, and although you can get some very nice full Scottish breakfasts, and even a decent eggs Florentine or scrambled with smoked salmon, you won’t get anything to match the menus at Urban, East Terrace Continental, or The Big Table at Adelaide Central Market. Hence I tend to make it myself!

Since I first worked out how to make this, Urban has added the authentic recipe to its online collection – I’m not sure whether to be glad to be able to compare, or infuriated at all the reverse engineering work I put in! Regardless, I’m smug enough to think it’s still worth putting my version online (less sugar, more spice, and the addition of mascarpone). I can’t take credit for the hotcakes (nor can Urban) – Bill Granger’s are the best, and I’m not going to pretend I can do better. Unless your guests are especially greedy in the dairy department, you’ll wind up with a bit more mascarpone cream than you need, but I’ve suggested these quantities because they’re how mascarpone and cream are generally sold in the UK. If you prefer, reduce the quantities by about a third, keeping the proportions about the same.

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