Sunday, 26 September 2010

Chef's Musings & Delicious Starter Recipe...

I'm going shopping this afternoon - taking a stroll along the East Neuk coastal path from St. Monans - Elie and stopping off at the Ardross Farmshop to see what goodies they have in store this week...

The pick of last week for me was some red chard leaves, which were lovely wilted in a hot pan with olive oil, salt and pepper to make a vibrant red and green pillow for a pink-roasted saddle of venison. I have a mind to buy some of our local Anster Cheese while I'm at the farm today! Also, this might be the time to feature another favourite cheese of ours, which we frequently use when we're in Ballater, as featured in last weeks post...

Strathdon Blue is a wonderfully creamy blue from that neck of the woods which for me surpasses any other; I'd wager it could convert doubters of the merits of blue cheese in one mouthful! I like to serve Strathdon Blue with pickled pears as a starter - a nice partner as the sweetness of the pear and sour hit of the pickling liquor (which doubles as a dressing) balances out the richness of the cheese. This is another 'recipe without a recipe'. I like to do things by eye, and more importantly, by taste. So just go with what you like - and I'm sure your guests will like it too, if it's made from the heart.....

Starter: Strathdon Blue with pickled pears

Make a sugar syrup by dissolving caster sugar in water and bringing to the boil in a high sided pan that will take the pears in one layer. Add some aromatics - perhaps a stick of cinnamon, two or three star anise, a couple of teaspoons of mustard seeds, a few cloves......then add some vinegar. I usually use white wine vinegar, you could use balsamic if you want a darker syrup. Add it to taste - until you can taste the vinegar but still have a nice sweet / sour flavour. Let it come to a simmer while you peel and core the pears (I use a melon baller to take out the core of the pear in two goes. As you peel them, drop the pears in the water so they don't discolour. When you've finished, cover with a circle of baking paper - to help keep the pears submerged while they cook. Gently simmer until a skewer goes through the flesh - the time it takes varies.....but at least 20 minutes is usual. We're not in a race, are we? Just check them until done, and when they are, switch off the heat and leave them to cool in the liquor.

That's all the cooking you need to do, I'm happy to report. From here on in, this dish is just about assembly. You can opt to complicate things if you wish - sometimes I'll take some of the warm poaching liquor, add some bloomed gelatine leaves and make a pickling jelly to serve alongside. I've also been known to reduce the liquor to a more syrupy consistency for drizzling. You could halve the pears and fan them out, or leave them whole, or crumble the cheese - even add some crunch with a few toasted pine nuts. The basics remain the same, however - when the pears are cold, they're ready to serve atop a nice slice of Strathdon Blue. Drizzle some poaching liquid around; dress with a few leaves and enjoy!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

In Season - This Week....

Butternut squash, garlic, artichokes and courgettes are just a few of the vegetables that are at their very best, this week! So, please rush down to your nearest farmshop and make the most of it! Find out which other delights are at their best, right now at one of our favourite websites, Eat The Seasons! Image via our local, Ardross Farmshop.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Beautiful Ballater...

Our latest assignment was another trip to the House of Glenmuick, near Ballater in Royal Deeside. So, when taking a break from hunting and fishing at Glenmuick, how does one make the most of this pretty riverside town? Here's our rough guide to Ballater....

Wander through the Glenmuick Gardens and down the drive towards town...


Sample Balmoral bread from Chalmers Bakery and her majesty's finest butcher...

We love the pork sausages...

and the black pudding!

Fine refreshments. Enjoy coffee at one of the laid back cafes - Brown Sugar and The Bothy are our favourites. Try fine whiskeys at The Balmoral Bar or take a bottle home from Gow's Deli

Take a break in the town square - & snack on Gillian's delicious Fish & Chips

Tour the area by bus

...and enjoy Scotland's beautiful national park

For more details on staying in the main lodge or cottages at Glenmuick, contact holiday agent, George Goldsmith

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Bottled Water - Big Deal?




Here at The Elemental Kitchen we're not big fans of bottled water. We encourage clients to choose tap water in reusable bottles - except in the unlikely event that tap water is certified undrinkable of course. We offer to purchase inexpensive, reusable drinks bottles on our client's behalf for day trips and excursions. A client recently asked me this question - what's the big deal? Water is... it's just water, right? Well, decide for yourself. Here are a few facts presented by the We Want Tap campaign from ethical communications agency, Provokateur....

Image via video - The Story of Bottled Water

Britons consume 3 billion litres of bottled water a year. What happens to our mountains of empties? Most are landfilled or incinerated, where only a tiny proportion of their energy value can be recovered. The rest become environmental pollution, a global menace - particularly in the ocean where, as the plastic slowly fragments, it poses a serious threat to wildlife. Every time you consume bottled water, you could be choking a penguin. Bottled water leaves a huge carbon footprint. Globally, nearly a quarter of all bottled water crosses national borders to reach consumers, journeys that typically include boat, train and truck transport, racking up considerable water miles and carbon emissions. Bottled water uses up natural resources.Worldwide, approximately 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year - unnecessarily using up valuable, limited and polluting oil resources.Bottled water ain't so clean anyway. When the NRDC in America tested 1,000 bottles of water, they discovered that a third of tested brands contained contaminants such as arsenic and carcinogenic compounds in at least some samples at levels exceeding state or industry standards. And a study by Syracuse University found that "one fourth of bottled water had ten times the bacterial count of tap water." Bottlers can adversely affect ground water levels if they bottle more water than is naturally replenished. Rivers are delicate ecosystems. Tapping springs and aquifers even on a small scale can alter the movement of sediment in nearby streams, which can in turn disrupt the local food supply. Bottled water makes safe water expensive in developing countries where clean sources can be difficult to find. As worldwide demand increases, the cost of bottled water is a significant burden for lower-income households in many developing countries.


But, what difference can any of us make? Well, recently just one Elemental Kitchen client, taking an annual holiday in one Scottish country lodge, for one week, with 20 friends, prevented the waste of around 120 single use plastic bottles, because they switched to reusable sports bottles for their group. That's just one person, one change. For more information - including an insight into the pitfalls of simply "recycling" your plastic - you can check out this cute little video - The Story of Bottled Water.