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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Wisdom for Home Preservers and Spiced Blackberry Jam

When autumn (fall) starts to creep in, it's definitely time to start preserving the harvest from your garden or the hedgerows.  People have been preserving food since ancient times—evidence shows that Middle Eastern cultures were using the heat of the sun to dry their foods as early as 12,000 BC—for reasons of survival or culture or both. Fast forward to the present day, and preserving our food—perhaps home-grown, seasonal, local, organic, or free-range—is an essential and enjoyable part of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

Wisdom for Home Preservers by Robin Ripley is a comprehensive guide to preserving in all sorts of different ways including bottling, freezing, drying, fermenting, salt curing and smoking and cold storage/root cellaring. This isn't a cook book, there are no recipes, but it is full of really helpful tips which will help you get the most from your produce and answer any questions you might have.  Here are a few of the useful tips:

Tip 158: Pick the right bowls and pots for pickling
Avoid containers and utensils made of unlined copper, iron, zinc or brass when pickling.  These materials may react with acid and salt and can cloud or discolour your pickles.  For pots, pick such materials as stainless steel, heatproof glass or hard-anodised aluminium.

Tip 254: Set your freezer temperature to -18
Freezer temperatures settings should be set to -18 C (0 F) or lower.  Not all freezer settings are accurate, though, so get a freezer thermometer, available at supermarkets and kitchenware retailers, and regularly monitor the temperate and adjust the setting if needed.

Tip 279: Create your own herb meat rubs
With herbs rolling in from the garden by the basketful, don't forget you can mix the match them to make unique and delicious rubs for meat and poultry.  For poultry, try combining dried lemon thyme, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper. For beef, try a combination of dried thyme, sage, marjoram, garlic and onion powders, pepper and salt. 

Garden and food writer ROBIN RIPLEY has been growing, cooking and preserving fresh food from her garden since moving to a small farm in rural Maryland 15 years ago. She is an enthusiastic experimenter of all things related to food, including bread and pastry baking, wine and cheese making, canning and preserving. She is co-author of Grocery Gardening and blogs about her gardening, preserving and made-from-scratch cooking projects at She also raises pet chickens, which she blogs about at Robin writes and talks regularly with groups about gardening, potager design and the importance and joy of supporting locally-grown and fresh foods. 

Wisdom for Home Preservers
Author: Robin Ripley
Publisher: Apple Press
Published: 4th September
RRP: £12.99

I have one copy of Wisdom for Home Preservers to give away (scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget to enter)

As a bonus I thought I'd share this recipe for Spiced Blackberry Jam with you.  The blackberries in our lane have been particularly good this year and it's been so easy to collect  enough to make a few pots of jam. If you would like to make this jam, I found the recipe at 'Putting up with the Turnbulls' you can find it here: Spiced Blackberry Jam  it's absolutely delicious, the spices are very subtle but enhance the flavour of the fruit.

I'm adding this recipe to the The Great British Blackberry Recipe Round Up, a Linky party which Karen at Lavender and Lovage and I are running throughout Blackberry season 2015.  Click through to the GBBR post for full details.  You will see that I used the photo from this post for the Linky badge!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Friday, 29 August 2014

We're Jammin' - Slow Cooker Challenge Round Up, Aug 2014

The theme for the August Slow Cooker Challenge was 'Preserves' and my regular entrants didn't disappoint.  Sarah from 'Tales from the Garden Shed' brought a ray of French sunshine, and some inspiration,  with her recipe for Peach Jam.

Now this is a brilliant and unusual combination which I would never have though of.  Slow Cooker Carrot, Lemon and Almond Chutney is the entry from Strong as Soup and is reminiscent of middle eastern cuisine.

Baking Queen 74 has taken to jam making in the Slow Cooker with the enthusiasm of a convert!  In her entry for the challenge she brings us two jam recipes a zingy Blueberry and Ginger Jam AND Blackberry Jam  both look really delicious.

My own preserve created in the slow cooker was Lazy, Luscious Beetroot Relish.  The beets were baked in the slow cooker and then the chutney made in the usual way on the stove in only 20 minutes.

Thanks to all who joined me for the slow cooker challenge, look out for the new challenge which will be posted early in September. 

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Monday, 25 August 2014

Gourmet Burgers and Luscious, Spiced Beetroot Relish

Sometimes two recipes just come together in a perfectly delicious union, and so it was with the Beetroot Relish and the Beetroot Burger.

The Beetroot Burger comes from Burgers  the new book from Paul Gayler MBE, hailed by James Martin as "the book I have been waiting for", which was sent to me for review. Paul Gayler was Executive Chef at The Lanesborough Hotel London, the five-star hotel on the edge of London’s Hyde Park. He has 20 years’ experience in some of the most respected kitchens and restaurants in Europe. As well as having made many appearances on British TV, he is the author of over 20 cookery books. He has also won the Guild of Food Writers’ Cookery Book of the Year and has been nominated for a prestigious André Simon Award.

  It is a fun book, shaped like a burger layered with goodies.  In Burgers, Paul Gayler presents his favourite 25 burger recipes. As well as the expected Ultimate burger with ‘the works’, there’s a wealth of delicious and imaginative offerings. For carnivores, there’s an eclectic mix and not just beef: choose, for instance, from a Caribbean pork burger, Smoked chicken cobb burger, Tandoori lamb burger or Turkey BLT burger stack. Vegetarians and fish eaters can enjoy a Feta club burger, Southwest red bean 
burger, Lebanese kibbeh burger or Jumbo prawn burger, among others. There really is a burger for everyone. There is also a section for 'Sides' including Simple Tomato Ketchup, Oven Cheese Fries, Moroccan-style Caponata  and Calypso Mojo.   But back to the Beetroot Burger, which is made with minced (ground) beef, the beetroot adds a glorious sweet and sour flavour, but doesn't overpower the beef at all and provides only a slight pinkish tinge, I made the smaller burgers as I felt that four burgers from this quantity of mince would make to large a portion for us. The smaller ones fit nicely on the muffin too!

To order Burgers at the discounted price of £7.99 including p&p* (RRP: £9.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG198. 
*UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

Beetroot Burger
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
500g minced beef (ground chuck) chilled
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp pickled beetroot, finely chopped (or 3 tbsp Beetroot Relish)
1 tbsp pickled beetroot juice (omit if using relish)
vegetable oil, for brushing and frying.

To serve: 4 English Muffins, salad of tossed green leaves or wilted spinach, small boiled new potatoes.

1. Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan (skillet).  Cooke the onion slowly until pale and soft, then allow to cool
2. Combine the minced beef, egg yolks, capers, sea salt and pepper.
3. Add the onion and mix thoroughly together
4. Add the beetroot and juice (or relish), mix well.
5. With wet hands, shape the mixture into 4 large flat patties (the traditional shape, or 8 smaller taller patties.
6. Heat a char grill or pan grill, oil it and the patties lightly and cook them on a medium heat for about 5 minutes each side (alternately heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook them that way).
7. Split and toast the muffins, serve the burgers in the toasted muffins with a little salad of tossed green leave or with  a little wilted spinach and boiled new potatoes. I added an extra spoonful of Beetroot Relish on top of the burger, just because.

by Paul Gayler MBE
Published by Jacqui Small
Shaped hardback 
August 2014
RRP £9.99

The Beetroot Relish comes via Not Quite Nigella and is made to her recipe for Lazy, Luscious, Spiced Beetroot Relish.  I bought some beetroot at the Farmers Market and was planning to make the Beetroot Chutney I made last year.  That particular recipe has a chunky texture which isn't very good for spreading on sandwiches, so I was looking for more of a relish with a softer texture and found this super simple recipe.  I cooked my beetroot in the Slow Cooker which has to be the easiest and least messy way to bake beetroot.
Simply wash the beetroot, place a piece of foil in the base of the slow cooker and put the beets on top. Bake for 5-6 hours depending on the size of the beetroot.  Then, wearing a pair of rubber gloves, slip the skins off before preparing for the relish. 

I can't emphasise enough how good this relish is, sweet, spicy and just enough acid tang to counteract the sweetness, but no burn and no earthy taste, it's just delicious and I plan to make another batch very soon. Thanks to 'Not Quite Nigella' for allowing me to link to her recipe. 

The theme for the Slow Cooker Challenge this month is preserves, as I baked the beetroot in the slow cooker, I'm including the Beetroot Relish in my own challenge event.  Why not have a look and see the other entries or maybe try a slow cooker preserve recipe yourself.   

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Cheese and Chive Scones with Marjoram and Marigold Cream Cheese

I love to make scones.  It's so simple to rub together the ingredients and a few minutes in a hot oven produces a fresh, soft and wholesome quick bread, perfect with soup, with cheese or in this case with a fresh marjoram infused cream cheese sprinkled with marigold petals.

Cheese and Chive Scones with Marjoram Cream Cheese
225g wholemeal self-raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
50g butter or soft margarine
50g grated hard cheese (I used cheddar)
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
1/4 tsp chilli powder
a pinch of salt
1 egg

2 tbsp cream cheese
1 tsp finely chopped marjoram leaves

A few marigold petals to scatter

For the Scones
1. Heat the oven to 220C, Gas 7
2. Put the flour and baking powder in a bowl and rub in the butter or margarine until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.
3. Add the cheese, chives, chilli powder and salt.
4. Crack the egg into a measuring jug mix it with a fork and then make up the liquid to 150ml with milk.
5. Stir the milk into the flour and mix to a soft dough, add a little extra milk if required.
6. Turn onto a lightly floured table and gently roll out to about 1.25cm thick.
7. Cut into rounds, the size of the cutter will determine how many scones you make.
8. Place the scones on a greased baking tray, brush the tops with a little milk and bake for about 10 minutes or until pale golden brown.
9. Remove the scones from the tray and leave to cool on a wire rack.

For the Marjoram Cream Cheese
Mix the cream cheese with the marjoram, leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes.

Spread the cooled scones with the marjoram cream cheese and sprinkle with marigold petals.  Best served with a cup of tea.

I'm entering my Cheese and Chive Scones for Cooking with Herbs, the blog challenge run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, this month's theme is Summer Herbs and Flowers - well I've given you both, enjoy!

The Love Cake challenge run by Jibber JabberUK is looking for savoury bakes in August, so my cheese and chive scones, with a little pinch of chilli heat, are a perfect match.

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Peach and Bramble Meringue Slice

At the end of the summer, peaches, nectarines and foraged berries, like blackberries, are sweet and full of flavour.  I'm lucky living on the farm, that I can simply step out of my back door and down our lane to pick some 'brambles'.  Here in Scotland there are not quite enough ready to make jam or jelly, but there were just the right amount to add to a tray baked cake.

It all started with the two egg whites I had left over from another recipe.  I didn't want to make a pavlova or meringues, much though I love them.  I could have frozen the egg whites for another day, but there was no cake in the tin so my thought was to make a cake and top it with meringue.  This recipe is adapted from a plain vanilla tray bake sponge, but I didn't add any milk to the mix as I knew the fruit would add moisture.

Peach and Bramble Meringue Slice
For the cake
2 peaches or nectarines
approximately 75g of blackberries (brambles)
175g butter or soft margarine
225g self-raising flour
1 1/2 level teaspoons baking powder
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the meringue
2 egg whites
100g caster sugar

1. Heat the oven to 180 C, Gas 4.  Grease and line a roasting tin 30 x 22.5 cm.
2. Skin and chop the peaches or nectarines.
3. Place the butter or margarine, flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs and milk together in a large roomy bowl and beat well for about 2 minutes until well blended. Gently fold in the chopped peach or nectarine pieces.
4. Turn the mixture into the tin and smooth the top, press the brambles into the mixture, distributing them evenly across the mixture.
5. Bake for about 35 minutes until the cake has shrunk from the sides of the tin and springs back when pressed in the centre with you fingertips. Don't let it get too dark as you will be returning it to the oven.
6. Turn the oven down to 160C, Gas 3.
7. Place the egg whites in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks.  Add the sugar a spoon at a time whisking well until all the sugar has been used.
8. Spread the meringue over the cake and bake for 10 minutes until the meringue is firm to the touch and pale golden brown.
9. Leave to cool in the tin and when cold, cut into squares.

The cake is moist and delicious with the sweet fruit pieces adding a soft lusciousness and the meringue a light crispy texture.  You can make the cake without the meringue and it would be almost as good, but the meringue really enhances it. 

I submitted this recipe to The Guardian Cook - Reader's Recipe Swap and was thrilled when it was accepted and published.

I'm entering my Peach and Bramble Meringue Slice for this month's Alpha Bakes which is asking for bakes which include the letter P.  Alphabakes is a monthly challenge run by Caroline Makes and The More than Occasional Baker 

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Friday, 15 August 2014

Memories of Crab Cakes - recreating a Taste of Nova Scotia

In my journey through Nova Scotia in June this year, it seemed that Crab Cakes became my signature dish. On my first night in Halifax, I chose Crab Cakes (bottom left) as my starter at Stories at the Halliburton and enjoyed them very much.  The second time I had Crab Cakes was at Pictou Lodge Resort, chef chose the menu for me and it included Crab Cakes with Pineapple Carpaccio and Corn Salsa (top photo), then finally I made Northumberland Snow Crab Cakes with Dill Remoulade (bottom right) on a cooking day on the farm with the Kilted Chef.

I enjoyed all of these different Crab Cakes, although the Snow Crab Cakes were probably the best of all, simple and scrumptious.  Now back in Scotland and summer seems to have gone on it's holidays, it was 13C and pouring with rain the other day.  ​A new survey carried by International Currency Exchange (ICE) found that majority of people choose their holiday purely based on the food available at the destination. I hadn't really thought about that before, but it certainly is a factor when I'm planning my holidays.  In order to keep that holiday feeling going I decided to recreate a version of Nova Scotia Crab Cakes. I didn't have any Snow Crab, in fact I was struggling to find any crab at all in the small town where I shop as there is no fish shop and the supermarket didn't have any fresh crab.  I had the choice of tinned crab or or the not very appetising looking 'Seafood Sticks'.  In the end I decided to go with the Seafood Sticks and I'm pleased to say that they worked very well indeed, making this dish one much less expensive and still delicious.

'Crab' Cakes with Dill Remoulade
makes 24 small crab cakes

500g crab meat or seafood sticks (if you use the seafood sticks, blitz them in a food processor first)
1/2 yellow pepper, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
1/2 a large red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp  fresh dill, chopped
60g mayonnaise
1 egg white
15g breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

2 eggs beaten
2 tbsp flour
300g fresh white breadcrumbs made from day old bread

Dill Remoulade 
2 tsp fresh dill finely chopped
2tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
180g Mayonnaise

Mix all the ingredients together and divide into 24 small cakes.  Dip each cake in flour, then egg and then in the breadcrumbs, place on a baking tray lined with parchment and place in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm up.

Make the Dill Remoulade by mixing all the ingredients together and leave for at least 30 minutes for the flavours to blend.

Saute the crab cakes a few at a time, keeping them warm in the oven, then serve with the Dill Remoulade.

Nova Scotia 'Crab' Cakes with Dill Remoulade

Here are a few memories of my trip to Nova Scotia, I can certainly recommend it as a foodie holiday destination.

This post is my entry to the ICE competition, I received expenses for the ingredients I used but was not paid to write this post and all opinions are my own. 

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Heritage Tomatoes with Mixed Herb Dressing

It's salad time!  Gardens, markets and supermarkets are full of lovely salad vegetables and they all taste so much better with a simple herb dressing.  OXO Good Grips, have a couple of great new kitchen gadgets to help you along.  The new herb mincer in green features stainless steel blades and OXO’s trademark grip to keep hands safe when in use. Ideal for keen cooks who are not confident with their knife skills, the ergonomic handle allows for a smooth rocking action, mincing herbs with ease in all directions without bringing the blade away from your chopping board. The peaked lip cleverly gathers herbs into a neat pile ready to season food. Designed so that it can open partially to wipe the blades free of collected herbs when in use, the mincer also separates completely into two pieces for easy cleaning and is
dishwasher safe.  RRP £12 from John Lewis.

Making a quick dressing is easy with the OXO Good Grips Little Salad Dressing Shaker. The watertight Shaker offers a clean, neat and convenient way to mix, serve and store dressings, sauces and marinades. The top unscrews to reveal a wide opening ideal for adding a range of ingredients like oil, vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, garlic, onions and spices. The Shaker is made of a BPA-free, break-resistant and dishwasher safe material. Once ingredients are added, screw the top on and shake to quickly mix dressings with no spills.  I love how the top lever flips back for pouring and forward to seal. You can use the airtight Shaker to store leftover dressing and sauce right inside the fridge.  RRP £10 from Lakeland 

Mixed Herb Salad Dressing 
50ml Fillipo Berio Extra Virgin Olive Oil
25 ml Fillipo Berio Balsamic Vinegar
1 tbsp  mixed herbs, finely chopped with the Oxo Good Grips Herb Mincer (I used chives, thyme and rosemary)
1/2 tsp sugar
salt & freshly ground pepper

Place all the ingredients into the Oxo Good Grips Salad Shaker and shake until the the mixture emulsifies, then pour over sliced heritage tomatoes, or other salad.

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Monday, 11 August 2014

Knife Skills, Candied Bacon and Lobster 101 - The Kilted Chef Pt 2

Now to the exciting part of my day with The Kilted Chef!  It's time to cook,  there may have been wine involved, but not until we had  learned to use our large, sharp and scary knives. Alain taught us  how to hold the knife, avoid cutting our fingers off and then we moved on to our victims practice pieces which were carrots.  We learned to chop them into different shapes and sizes, a great way to practice using the knives.

Then we were ready for the first recipe: Curried Carrot Soup.  All the carrots we had chopped went into the pot!  I'll be posting the recipes separately when I have made them at home,  I've made some already but for now this is an overview of the fabulous time you can have at a Cooking Class with the Kilted Chef

The Soup is in the big pot that Licia is stirring, later it was blitzed in the Vitamix. Up a the top  Buttery Asiago Bread Sticks (butter soaked bread with a sprinkling of grated cheese then baked in the oven) are being prepared,  these were served with a lobster chowder.   In the pan is Candied Double Smoked Bacon, big chunks of smoked bacon sautéed and coated in maple syrup.

I don't seem to have any photos of the making of the Northumberland Snow Crab Cakes with Dill Remoulade, quite possibly because I had my hands in the crab mixture forming it into cakes and others were up to the elbows in egg or breadcrumbs!

The main course was Slow Roasted Beef Tenderloin  with Maple Ginger Sauce.  The beef is rubbed with mustard and seasoned before searing and then slow roasting.  In the top photograph we are all carefully watching the Maple Ginger Sauce, waiting for the right moment to add the sesame seeds, maple syrup, fish sauce and chilli sauce into the ginger and garlic.
Alain is known for cooking with seafood and so it was time for 'Lobster 101'.  We had already learned how to get the lobsters into the pot, removing the rubber bands from their claws and not getting nipped!  Now it was time for a demonstration of how to get the meat out of the lobster as simply as possible. You can watch a video of Alain doing just that on his website How to Break down a Lobster.

We had a few 'moments', top left is Alain demonstrating how lobsters have sex!  Then once the lobster was deconstructed, I was offered one of the thin 'legs' to suck out the the 'sweet goodness' - you can see I didn't believe it and I have to say it really didn't do it for me, my face said it all and we all ended up laughing, I laughed so much I cried.  We really had a ball.
Dessert was something I had never heard of, let alone tried.  Rhubarb and Wild Blueberry au Poivre,  this pan of gently stewed fruit gets 50 turns of freshly ground pepper into it!  It tastes fantastic and not peppery at all.  I chose to make this as my contribution to our blogger dinner later in the trip, so you will see more of it later.

We were each given responsibility for one course of the meal and served each other at the table. Here is the full menu:

Curry Carrot Soup with Candied Double Smoked Bacon
Northumberland Snow Crab Cakes with Dill Remoulade
Lobster Chowder iwth sweet Basil, corn and Brie
Buttery Asiago Bread Sticks
Ferguson fresh Slow Roasted Beef Ternderloin with a Maple Ginger Sauce
Sauted Beet Greens
Candied Roasted Potatoes
Rhubarb Wild Blueberry au Poivre

Served with an assortment of Nova Scotia Wine

I'd like to thank Alain Bosse, The Kilted Chef,  and his wife Joanne for their outstanding hospitality. I'd also like to thank Licia, Angela, Erin, Heather and Sarah for sharing the day with me and being such good fun. The day was relaxed and fun but at the same time I learned skills that I have brought home with me.  I'll never be able to work with a small knife again and I've managed to keep holding it as instructed which has vastly improved my knife skills.   I am not sure I will ever be prepping lobsters, but many of the other recipes have already graced my table and I'll be sharing them with you soon.

This is the sixth in a series of posts about my trip to Nova Scotia.  Read the other posts in my Nova Scotia adventure:

1. The Bridge, The Bison and the Four Poster Bed 
2. The Citadel, Halifax : Sporrans, Rifles and the School Room 

3. A Local Tasting Tour, South of Morris Street, Halifax
4. Crab Cakes by the Ocean at Pictou Lodge
5. Cooking on the Farm with the Kilted Chef Part 1

You can follow me on Twitter: @FarmersgirlCook, Facebook: Farmersgirl Kitchen Instagram: FarmersgirlCook and the Pinterest Board  Atlantic Canada Eats which I share with Lavender and Lovage.  You can also follow the hashtags #AtlanticCanadaEats  #VisitNovaScotia and #ExploreCanada to see photos and posts on all of these social media sites.

Disclaimer: I was the guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and  Nova Scotia Tourism and all my flights, car hire, accommodation and meals were included, as well as all trips, excursions and special cookery sessions with local chefs. I'd like to thank the host organisations and everyone who made this a truly memorable trip.

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Sunday, 10 August 2014

Dinner at the Elphinstone Restaurant, Biggar

The Ephinstone Hotel and Restaurant is a popular family run former coaching inn located  right in the centre of Biggar in Lanarkshire.  Biggar is a thriving small town located under an hour's drive from Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Elphinstone has been run by Robert and Janette Allan for over 25 years along with their son, Michael. Speaking to Robert, it is clear that he is passionate about the business and very customer focused.

The Elph has a thriving bar which has recently been refurbished to a high standard with a new terrace leading from the function suite at the rear of the hotel.  The hotel has a traditional inn frontage on the high street, although it has been added to over the years, and the dining rooms are a series of small rooms leading one from each other. A new wing of bedrooms was added a few years ago and the hotel has been fully booked during the Commonwealth Games.  They also expect heavy demand for the Edinburgh Festival.

The service in the restaurant was excellent, the waiting staff checked frequently, without intruding, to see if customers needed anything and removed finished plates promptly.  It struck me just how wide a range of customers there were.  Our fellow diners included older couples, families with young children, families with teenagers, young couples and those like ourselves - somewhere in between!  I asked Robert about this and he agreed that The Elphinstone is not aiming for a niche market,  part of their success is having something for everyone.

The menu at The Elphinstone reflects this eclectic customer base and includes traditional pub restaurant classics such as  Prawn Cocktail, Steak and Ale Pie, Lasagne, and Grilled Bacon Steak with double egg.  There is an extensive range of world dishes such as Chicken Pakora, Red Hot Jalapenos,  Beef Chow Mein, Chicken or Vegetable Curry and the fish dishes include Smoked Haddock and Puy Lentil Tart, Grilled Fillet of Salmon in Parma Ham and Grilled Fillet of Sea Bass.  Steaks are also available with various toppings and sauces.

I've probably been watching too much of the Restaurant Man on TV, but it did occur to me that it would have been helpful to have the menu divided into these different categories to help find your way around it.
Anyway, let's get on to what we ate. To start I ordered the Cullen Skink, a traditional Scottish Smoked Haddock, Potato, Leek and Cream Chowder.  It was full of pieces of fish, creamy and well seasoned, although I would have preferred it to be a little bit thickened.

Brian chose the Chilli and Mango King Prawns:  King Prawns coated in Chilli and Mango Jam in a Crispy Breadcrumb.  He really enjoyed them and I had a little taste, they had a nice level of spice and biting through the crispy coating to the sweet mango and chlli jam coated prawn was a good combination of textures and flavours.

For the main course Brian chose the Dunsyre Blue Chicken: grilled breast of chicken smothered in a leek, mushroom and blue cheese sauce.  Being a big fan of blue cheese, he really enjoyed this dish, the chicken was well cooked and the the sauce well seasoned.

I went for one of the Dishes of the Day, a Venison Stroganoff: pan-fried venison steak with a paprika, mushroom and brandy cream sauce.  The venison was beautifully cooked, still pink in the middle and very tender, although I did feel that the flavour was a little overwhelmed by the rich and delicious sauce.

You will have noticed that the vegetable accompaniments to both our meals were the same.   The sugar snap peas and the carrots were cooked well, not over done, and the new potatoes were also very good. However, I think I would have preferred the option of rice with the stroganoff and the mashed turnip really didn't work with either of the dishes.  A more formal presentation of the dishes and perhaps serving the vegetables separately would also have added to the overall appeal.   However, as I have already said, the food  tasted very good and  was cooked perfectly.

Biggar is famous for Taylor's ice cream and the dessert menu at The Elphinstone makes a feature of the range of ice cream and ice cream desserts as well as offering family favourites.

We were pretty full, but thought we should try the ice cream. I had two scoops, one of White Chocolate Chip and the other of Ginger, both were really good.  I loved the ginger which had pieces of preserved ginger through it, delicious.  Brian managed three scoops, Chocolate, Ginger and Coconut and he had no complaints, the chocolate and the ginger getting rave reviews.

Many thanks to the Allan family for their hospitality at 'The Elph'.  I would definitely return and if you are in the area,  passing through Biggar or looking to stay over for a Scottish market town experience, then I would certainly recommend you make a stop at the Elphinstone Hotel and Restaurant.

I was not paid to write this review although we were not required to pay for the meal. . There was no request to write a positive review and all opinions are my own. Apologies for the quality of the photographs.

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Friday, 8 August 2014

Holy Moly - Guacamole!

Sometimes you just want a simple lunch, not too much work but something delicious all the same.  Avocados are really good just now and even thought the one I used had been 'ripe and ready to use' a week ago, it was still perfect no bruising and it mashed down in a really pleasing manner. Combined with some pitta bread and salad, the simple lunch became a feast.  It would also work well as a DIY picnic, just put the guacamole in a plastic box and pack the bread and salad separately.

Perfect Picnic Guacamole
1 avocado, stone and skin removed
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1/2 a small chilli
2 tomatoes, de-seeded and finely chopped
1/2 lime
handful of coriander leaves, chopped

Place the avocado in a bowl and mash roughly with a fork.  Add the spring onion, chilli and tomatoes. Squeeze in the lime juice, add the coriander leaves and mix all the ingredients together.  Serve in a bowl or scoop into a plastic box to take on your picnic.

I'm entering the Perfect Picnic Guacamole for Tea Time Treats where the theme this month is 'Picnic food'.  Tea Time Treats is run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Janie at Hedgecombers.  Guacamole is also appropriate for The Spice Trail where are off on a 'Beach Barbeque', guacamole is a great accompaniment to a barbeque, imagine barbequed steak or chicken in a tortilla with salad and guacamole, delicious!  The Spice Trail is the challenge run by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash and there is a prize of a copy of Nigella Summer.

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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Cooking at the Farm with the Kilted Chef - Part 1

Alain and the 'pepperettes'

Let me take you back to Thursday, 29th May 2014 and the next part of my Nova Scotia adventure.  I was super excited about this part of the trip because, having done some research online, I knew that Alain Bosse, The Kilted Chef, was Canadian celebrity chef , president of Alain Bosse Consulting Ltd, food editor for Saltscapes Magazine, past president of Taste of Nova Scotia and ambassador of all things culinary in Atlantic Canada.

The Kilted Chef offers a culinary journey from the pasture, to the sea to your plate. Cooking on the Farm is a full-day, hands-on culinary experience you will never forget and this is what I was to experience.

I was delighted to be joined on my culinary journey by some of the staff from Nova Scotia Media, who were quite delightful and by the end of the day I felt like I had known them for years!

We started with a short tour of the farm with Alain telling us about how he came to buy it and what plans he has for the future.  The we headed out for our first stop at  The Pork ShopThe Pork Shop prides itself in using only the freshest products available on the market. All spices are 100% pure and contain no MSG, gluten or any other type of filler in them.  
All of the meat products are gluten free with no filler or by products, and are smoked with maple wood chips with no liquid smoke  used in any product. The smoked ham and pork loins are phosphate free; they are soaked in brine for flavour. 

We were able to see the products being smoked, in fact we all got a bit smoked when Alain opened the smoker!  There are a huge variety of pork products made at The Pork Shop and they are renowned for their bacon and sausages, we were able to taste a variety of sausages including the spicy pepperettes that you can see in the photo hanging on the stand. Alain picked up some products for us to use in our cooking later in the day.

We then headed to Harold Ferguson's Abattoir.  As a farmer with a grandfather who was an old fashioned butcher, the abattoir was not something which phased me, in fact it was a pleasure to visit a place which operated on a small scale with far less stress on the cattle than in a huge modern abattoir.  The abattoir is staffed by retired butchers and also rehabilitates ex offenders and they are all proud of their skill and the excellent meat they provide.  A quick trip into Pictou to Grohmann's Knives the knife supplier favoured by the Kilted Chef and as we all got a set of Grohmann's knives to keep as part of our day cooking on the farm, I can attest that they are extremely good knives.

It was early in the season for fresh produce at Lakenman's Farm, spring had come late to Nova Scotia the asparagus had just finished and there were only a few vegetables coming through in the polytunnel.  We did find plenty of beet tops and Sarah was presented with the 'bouquet' of beets!

Then we were off to check out the lobsters at North Nova Scotia SeafoodNorth Nova Seafoods Limited is a fish-processing plant locally owned and operated by Paul Logan. The Logan family has been involved in fishing and fish processing since the 1800s. Logan & Roberts were operating a factory and buying station on this same shore by 1903. Russell Logan, Paul’s father, bought and shipped fish until 1962.In 1987, Paul started North Nova Seafoods which buys and processes seafood including Lobster, Herring, Rock Crab, Mackerel and Snow Crab throughout the year.

North Nova Seafoods has it own wharf and buys Lobster from its own fleet, as well as from fishermen of other regions. This Lobster is either processed at North Nova or sold live to companies and processing plants in Nova Scotia, the United States and Europe.
As well, 125-150 fishermen from wharves at Cape John, Skinner’s Cove, Pictou Island East and West, Sinclair’s Island, Lismore and Cheticamp supply the plant with Herring, Mackerel, Lobster and Rock Crab.
Situated in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Canada, adjacent to the rich fishing grounds of the Northumberland Strait, North Nova Seafoods employs more than 100 people.

I will leave you with a little bit of lobster chat from The Kilted Chef himself, in the next Nova Scotia post we will take all the ingredients we have gathered and cook them into a delicious meal, I hope you will join me.  

This is the fifth in a series of posts about my trip to Nova Scotia.  Read the other posts in my Nova Scotia adventure:

1. The Bridge, The Bison and the Four Poster Bed 
2. The Citadel, Halifax : Sporrans, Rifles and the School Room 

3. A Local Tasting Tour, South of Morris Street, Halifax
4. Crab Cakes by the Ocean at Pictou Lodge

You can follow me on Twitter: @FarmersgirlCook, Facebook: Farmersgirl Kitchen Instagram: FarmersgirlCook and the Pinterest Board  Atlantic Canada Eats which I share with Lavender and Lovage.  You can also follow the hashtags #AtlanticCanadaEats  #VisitNovaScotia and #ExploreCanada to see photos and posts on all of these social media sites.

Disclaimer: I was the guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and  Nova Scotia Tourism and all my flights, car hire, accommodation and meals were included, as well as all trips, excursions and special cookery sessions with local chefs. I'd like to thank the host organisations and everyone who made this a truly memorable trip.

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Monday, 4 August 2014

Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwich

I am totally sold on the concept of the  Ice Cream Sandwich.  You can pick it up and lick the ice cream from the centre with the melting ice cream running down your fingers or eat it from a bowl breaking through the crisp cookie to reach the sweet, icy centre.  Add  some delicious Scottish strawberries and you have the perfect dessert.

If you don't have time to make your own shortbread, you could buy some shortbread cookies and make this a really speedy treat, but there is not doubt that home made butter shortbread is much better and it's simple to make.

Shortbread Biscuits/Cookies
300g (10oz) plain flour
100g ( 4oz) caster sugar
200g (8oz) butter
caster (superfine) sugar for dredging

1. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the sugar. Work in the butter with your fingertips - keep it in one piece and gradually work in the dry ingredients. Knead well until the dough has come together. 
2. Pat down on a work surface and use a rolling pin to roll the dough to about 1/2 cm (1/8 in) and cut out with a cookie cutter. You will probably have to keep pushing the dough back together again as it is very crumbly.
3. Slide the cut biscuits off the work surface with a knife and onto a baking sheet. 
4. Bake in the oven at 170C (325F) Mark 3 for about 8 minutes until firm and pale golden brown.
5. Lift onto a cooling tray with a spatula and dredge with caster (superfine) sugar.

To make the ice cream sandwich: Using the ice cream of your choice, I used  ready made Strawberry Shortcake Frozen Yogurt, let it soften slightly and press it into the cookie cutter that you used to cut the biscuits, remove the cookie cutter and refreeze the ice cream patties.  Once I'd made these I realised that they were too deep for the sandwich so, once frozen,  I cut them through the middle to make six.  Then all you need to do is assemble the sandwich: take a biscuit,  layer on some sliced strawberries, add the ice cream pattie, more sliced berries, top with another biscuit and decorate with a halved strawberry.

I used Graham's butter from Graham’s the Family Dairy to make the shortbread. In a sign of the growing demand for local produce, Graham's have beaten Danish rivals Lurpak to become the best selling butter brand in Scotland.  Made from milk supplied only by Scottish dairy farmers, Graham’s butter is then churned the traditional way north of the border.

The new research confirms the consumer trend to increasingly choose Scottish produce. When it comes to block butter, Graham’s have overtaken Lurpak and now have 10.9% market share with their Danish rival trailing with just 9.8%.
I found Graham's butter light, creamy and easy to work with when making shortbread, the shortbread was very good, with a nice snap to it then melting in your mouth, just as it should.  

I was supplied with butter by Graham's Family Dairy, I was not paid for this post and all opinions are my own. 

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