Monday, 28 December 2009

An Explanation

Despite my best intentions, I haven't been blogging nearly as frequently as I'd like in the past couple of months. Part of this is due to poor light for photos and lack of interesting dinners, but the main reason has been this:

I was made redundant in the summer, annoyingly at an early enough point in my contract to not qualify for any payoff. As Edinburgh is a financial centre, the labour market here is flooded with unemployed bank staff with a several years experience under their belt. No one wanted a recent graduate with only a year or so of temping, when they could get someone more experienced for the same price. At the other end of the scale, minimum wage jobs weren't interested as I was obviously overqualified. So, seeing as no one else would employ me, I decided to employ myself.

I've spent the last few months endlessly steaming Christmas Puddings, taking food hygiene exams (credit pass - check out my cleanliness!), testing recipes and buying wholesale packaging. The first market I signed up to do lost its street closure licence, and the second market didn't manage to get a food licence granted. I looked in to the Edinburgh Farmers' Market, but the waiting list is long, its not really a feasible option for someone just starting out.

Eventually I found a Christmas market in the Grassmarket, and booked a stall. 10 hour baking sessions were followed by an early morning taxi the next day. I had too much stuff to carry myself, so the journey to the market also had to be incorporated in to T's journey to work. So I got to sit in a freezing marquee for 3 hours waiting for the market to open. On the third day I let someone watch my stuff while I repaired to Peter's Yard for some serious carbs.

Carrot Cake - The best seller.

Anyway, despite the cold and lack of sleep, I really enjoyed it all! The first day, I just brought my favourite cakes. It was interesting to see which ones sold and which ones didn't. A version of Korova cookies went down well, as did a carrot cake with mascarpone and pecan icing, and salted caramel shortbread. Red velvet cake attracted a lot of attention, but didn't really sell. Cupcakes and Christmas puddings were Marmitey - people seemed to love them or hate them, but people who did love them were happy to buy them.

Chocolate cupcakes with ganache and vanilla buttercream.

The Sunday was quite busy, and I sold out with just a few minutes left before the doors closed. I'd had a lot of requests for gluten free items, so I made 2 banana breads, which sold so quickly. Peanut blondies went ok, but weren't as popular as I'd hoped.

Cardamom shortbread with Pistachios

On the final day, I mixed it up and took cardamom shortbread and gluten free lemon drizzle, as well as the past favourites of the salted caramel, carrot cake and banana bread. I almost sold out, so gave away the last few remaining bits to the other stall holders, rather than take them home.

The feedback was really positive, something I really needed as I haven't had much confidence in my cooking lately. I handed out lots of cards with my name and number, so hopefully I might get some commissions in the new year.

So that's my excuse for being a bad blogger...

Monday, 14 December 2009

21212 - 3 Royal Terrace

How did that happen? It's been 11 days since my last post!

I have had a busy couple of weeks. T was ill, I got up at 5am to fly to Birmingham for a job interview, my mum came up to visit, and I was offered the job! It's also my birthday soon, so we had decided to go to 21212 for dinner to celebrate.

We arrived a little early, and started off with Bellinis in the upstairs drawing room. The decor was reminiscent of a neo-gothic or regency interior, and the thick fog outside made it all feel very old fashioned. As well as our drinks, we had some fat olives and some crisps - bizarrely they were cheese & onion or barbecue flavour. It wasn't clear whether they were homemade or if they'd just got a good deal on Kettle Chips.

The Dining Room (from the 21212 website.)

Moving downstairs, we we seated in the middle of the dining room, and we had a great view of the kitchen. My only knowledge of professional kitchens is from the TV. Instead of the sweary chaos that usually seems to reign, here it was quiet and controlled, although as the evening wore on we noticed the chefs crowding round the central prep table, all desperate to add the finishing touch to each dish. We were intrigued by the equipment hanging from the ceiling, as alongside the serving spoons and whisks there was a large triangle. What was it for? Some elaborate mould for plating something? It turned out to be a trivet.

21212 is so named to reflect the menu. There are 2 starters, 1 soup, 2 main courses, 1 cheeseboard and 2 desserts. As there were three of us at dinner, it was perfectly possible that we could order everything on the menu. My mum and T decided they would go for the same starters and main courses, so I was sorely tempted to order the other options just to try everything, but instead I went for what sounded tastier. We were offered some bread to nibble on while waiting for the food. It was airy and spicy, and reminiscent of savoury pannatone. The combination of spices was quite old fashioned and medieval tasting.

The first course was Xmas Best - a version of an all day breakfast. It contained black pudding, mushroom, a giant cornflake, sausage, bacon, parma ham and a porridge and butter sauce. There was also some pureed tomato at the bottom, and a weird black piece of skin on top, which turned out to be mushroom parchment. While this was an interesting dish, it wasn't as exciting as I was expecting. None of the flavours really stood out, and I did slightly regret not ordering the smoked salmon with chestnuts, prunes, asparagus and confit banana...

Next up was billed as "Traditional Winter Scottish Vegetable Soup". This was actually a celeriac puree, with an onion foam on top. In the middle there was a chunk of fig and some mange tout pieces. While I don't think mange tout or figs can even grow in Scotland, this was an absolutely stunning dish. I would happily have eaten another portion, and I would go back to 21212 for this alone.

For our main course, we all ordered the slow-cooked beef fillet with "Classic Duos". The beef was still pink, and had the smooth, soft texture of rare meat. We couldn't decide if it had been slow baked or been done sous-vide and seared. We asked the waiter who said he thought it had been baked, but he wasn't sure. Anyway, it was a really good piece of meat, and my mum and T, neither of whom like rare meat, enjoyed it too. Accompanying the beef were some cheesy onions, a lemon pancake, brazil nuts and dates, and a horseradish and watercress sauce. I really liked the dates and the horseradish sauce, but I wasn't swept away by the nuts or the pancake. There was also the slightly random addition of a lump of feta and what tasted like uncooked dough. The feta was very creamy and firm, but the saltiness overwhelmed the other ingredients. The women on the table next to us also ordered the beef, and they sent it back for being undercooked - they should have been a bit more adventurous I think. The other main course option was halibut with neeps, rice, sultanas and walnuts, with yeast cream.

Next up was the cheese course. 3 of the cheeses were nice, but the 4th one was very pungent. I've only recently started eating cheese, so although I tried the pungent one, I wasn't really a fan. There were two soft brie like cheeses (one Scottish, one French) and a hard Scottish cheese from Mull that was similar to edam. The cheese was served with some thick oatcakes, and some spicy crispbreads. There was even a little bowl of grapes.

Before pudding, there was a surprise palette cleanser course of coconut porridge milk. This was served in a paper shot glass, and poured from a jug that looked like a cow. The liquid was smooth and thin, and had just a hint of an oat taste. This was very moreish, and I was pleased that the waitress left the jug for us to finish every drop.

At dessert, we did vary things a little. Mum and I had bread and butter pudding, with cinnamon creme Anglaise. This was again very medieval tasting, with heavy spicing and lots of dried fruit. The bread pudding was delicious, but the spices were not ground down, so the sauce was a little grainy. T went for a trifle with sponge, bananas and chocolate, but again it was a little too heavy on the spices, nuts and dried fruit.

We went back to the drawing room for chocolate truffles with tea and coffee. While the tea came in an enormous tea pot, the coffee came in paper cups, supposedly as they keep the coffee warmer than ceramics. I'm in two minds about this. Part of me thinks it is a bit petty, but on the other hand, the whole point of 21212 is that you submit to the chef's whims rather than vice versa.

Overall, I really enjoyed the evening. The food was generally very good, and the staff were very friendly, although they could have been a bit more knowledgeable about the food. However, the concept is king (Raymond Blanc would bloody love it), so it wasn't the most accommodating of experiences. Certainly I wouldn't attempt to go there with anyone fussy or with multiple food allergies. For that reason, I don't know if I'd go back in a hurry. It was an academic meal, one to be pondered, with every detail mattering. Even the cutlery had been specially chosen for each course. It was fun, but heavy going. You couldn't take people who aren't interested - it would be like making them sit through an OU documentary on particle physics.

Restaurant 21212 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Chestnut And Ricotta Pancakes

This post marks the first birthday of this blog! It's been a bit of an up and down year for me, and I guess this is reflected in the blog a bit. There was the bit in early 2009 where I barely posted at all, as I struggled to recover from a respiratory infection and rushed to complete my final year project. I did quite well on the posting in summer, where there were plenty of friends and flatmates around to eat what I made. Now I only have one flatmate, who doesn't like cake, and it's too dark to take proper photos. Perhaps that is why I haven't posted as frequently as I would have liked recently.


Last night there were chestnuts and ricotta in the fridge. I was planning to make something savoury, but they weren't inspiring me. Jess on Twitter suggested blending it with honey to make a spread. This sounded vaguely more promising.

Chestnut and Ricotta Pancakes

The first lesson I learned was that my 4 year old, £15-from-Argos-Blender is a bit crap. It utterly failed at blending, and instead created some watery chestnut honey paste surrounded by whole chestnuts and lumps of ricotta. It does rule at banana and peanut butter smoothies though.

The second lesson was that chestnuts are massively enhanced by honey. I still don't get ricotta though, I don't like the blandness nor the texture.

I made some pancakes for lunch today, and decided that chestnut ricotta honey mish mash would be the perfect filling.

Chestnut + Honey + Ricotta = Tasty

To make the pancakes, I whisked 120g plain flour with an egg and 100ml milk. Once this was a smooth paste, I added another 200ml milk and a small spoonful of sugar. It would have been a good idea to add some vanilla essence as well, but I couldn't be bothered to get it out of the cupboard. Oh well.

After I'd fried off a couple of successful pancakes (why does the first one always fail?), I filled them with the ricotta and chestnut mix, and dusted with icing sugar.