Saturday, 20 December 2008

Kale in the City

Yesterday was Christmas shopping for Ian, early and all at once, two days before we take the train away from the city to Stirling, where his family celebrates Christmas every year. The designated idea-person, I tagged along to give him pep talks every once in a while, and to remind him who else was on his list. 

His one stop shopping brought his to a large department store downtown which, luckily for me, is near the only organic store I have found in Edinburgh, Real Foods. I'd been in before, but it's really quite a hike from our tiny apartment. S
o when Ian dismissed me so he could secretly choose my gift, I ran down to this little oasis of whole grains and strange vegetable juices. I bought two bags of my favorite German muesli made with Amaranth (thank you Lena, my Berlin pal), some Dandelion and Burdock soda (so strange, so yummy), and a large bag of gorgeous green Kale. 

Recently I had stumbled on recipes from the The Zuni Café Cookbook, one of them being a recipe involving boiled Kale and fried eggs. So this morning, as the sun barely peaked out its nose from the thick, clouds blowing across the city, I introduced the Scots of the apartment to kale. The original recipe, called for lots of onions and chopping and time. I read through it quickly, and ended up making an abbreviated version t
hat was, nevertheless amazing. I chopped a handful of the dark green leaves into very thin ribbons, and sauteed them with a clove of chopped garlic, some chili flakes, and plenty of salt. I added some chicken broth, just enough to cover the leaves, then let it sit on the stove for about 15 minutes while I drank my morning tea with Emily, Ian, Elaine, and Shirley, a visitor from  Glasgow.

When the kale was getting very soft, slick with broth and swimming next to the little bits of garlic, I toasted two thick pieces of multigrain bread, then lined the sides of a big soup bowl with them. I fried two eggs in olive oil, poured the Kale and broth on top of the toast, followed by the two eggs. Grated Gruyère followed, along with some black pepper.

The kale had been grown in Scotland, but no one at the table had ever eaten it before. I passed the bowl around and everyone took a bite of the dark greens, smothered in creamy yolk and paired with the bread that was just the right amount of soggy to offer a bit of soft chew.

Everyone loved it, and were especially amazed for liking a green vegetable. (Potatoes are the staple "vegetable" here, not much green ever shows up on a dinner plate).

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Wonders of Cream

The wonders of cream do not cease to amaze me.
Last year it was in clotted form.
This year custard.
(The other day it was eggnog).

Now, the word clotted is very disgusting. It brings nasty images of things that should not be associated with food to mind. When I saw it on a menu in a tea house last year, I was horrified, until Ian explained that it was just like whipped cream, and not to worry, I would like it. 
Well, I did like it, and I quickly lapped up the skimpy spoonful that had been served to me with a spoonful of jam on my scone. But, it wasn't liked whipped cream. It was much better than whipped. It was thicker, and creamier, and well, less whipped and more clotted. 
A few days later in the cafe of one of the many museums we had been visiting, I discovered the motherload: scones pilled high on a platter, flanked by two giant bowls, one of cream, and one of jam. Self-service. As much as I wanted. Dangerous. I took a whole wheat scone, to balance the cream coma I knew was coming. And then I spooned and spooned that cream until it looked like I was just carrying a cloud to the till.
I haven't been able to look at clotted cream since, but at the time, it was a lovely meal. An overdose, but still lovely.
And then yesterday came the custard: vanilla-ey creamy cool amazingly for the insanely cheap price of 1.25 pounds for a big container. I had been to the Christmas German market, expecting to be wooed by apfelsaft or hot mulled wine or those German fritter things covered in powdered sugar that I can't remember the same of. What I found were bored booth people, half-heartedly stirring vats of sweet stinking wine that had probably been simmering for hours, watching dolefully as the strong wind blew all the powdered sugar off the rather sad, drooping pastries optimistically placed at the center of people's counters.
Quickly, I crossed the street to the underground mecca of Marks and Spencers, purveyors of fine foods, etc. Rather far from where I live, I have never gotten to wander around at my leisure. And let me tell you, the extent of their prepared food section is huge, and it all actually looks appealing, unlike the usual British fare you find in the supermarkets (like Scotch Eggs). I left with a fresh donut, a bunch of fairtrade organic bananas (totally horrible for my carbon footprint), and a big tub of the aforementioned custard.
Speedwalking back to the apartment, I was already salivating over my afternoon snack. The donut was quickly gone, but I barely noticed since my mind was taken with the image of sliced bananas sitting cooly in a pool of pale, creamy custard.
And it did not disapoint. Emily and Elaine looked on in amazement as I devoured most of the carton (meant to serve six I believe), moaning the entire time. In fact, I think they were rather worried about me. It's just custard, they kept saying.
If it was just custard, I love custard. And if it wasn't, I love this custard. Made with Scottish cream, flecked with vanilla bean, and with the same satisfying simple richness as the perfect Vanilla ice cream, the custard was ideal. It was wonderful. I finished the last three spoonfuls this morning at breakfast, laughing at tricking myself into thinking I hadn't actually eaten all of it in one afternoon. 
The best news: I didn't overdose. And apparently it's easy to make. Recipes will arrive shortly.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Today, it became Christmas.
Yes, it's been December for a while. And I'm not much of a Christmas person anyway. Mostly I just like the smell of pine trees in the house and all the extra yummies that get turned out of the kitchen. But this year I'm excited. Being in Edinburgh, I may actually have my first white Christmas. In fact, any kind of white floaty cold substance falling from the sky in the near future would be welcome, whether it's on Christmas or not. For me, snow is a novelty. And this city really is made for winter. It's grey and old and haunted feeling. On certain days, stepping out into the cold, a yeasty meaty smell assaults me. Ian claims it's the smell of brewery. To me, it smells more like a beef stew of sorts. Strangely addicting, I have come to expect the smell, and miss it when the cold wind washes it away.

Anyway - today became Christmas when the egg nog was born. After thinking about eggs in my recent post, I realized I hadn't made egg nog since my first foray with it two years ago, when I made several gallons for the family's Christmas Eve get together, and then proceded to doze off on a leather chair in front of the fireplace, my tummy filled with cream and bourbon, my toes and fingers roasting in front of the flames.
So it was time. I made turkey meatballs and pasta with arugula and a lemony cuminy yogurt sauce for dinner, and then we needed something else. Well, I needed something else, because all the recently baked goods of mine had disappeared. I remember the nog.

Emily did the dishes. Ian whisked the egg whites (no hand mixer in this house). I whisked the yolks and the sugar (we do, however, have two whisks). After a few minutes and two very sore wrists, we had little wine glasses full of nog, floating with clouds of whipped egg white. A touch of nutmeg and some Kentucky Bullet Bourbon out of Ian's collection rounded out the flavors nicely, making a delicious creamy beverage that really can't be compared to any other flavor I know, but went down quickly as we watched the obligatory weekday night installment of the British soap opera, Hollyoaks.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

eggs on grey days

Although Edinburgh may not be a haven for all the gorgeous fresh fruits and veggies that I'm used to getting in California, it still does some things inexplicably well.
For instance: Eggs.
We get our eggs from a tiny market down the street run by an Indian family, the eldest of whom can't really answer any of my questions when I go looking for oddities like apple sauce or rhubarb yogurt. Their eggs come from a farm just outside the city, and always come packed in half dozen cartons (no one ever buys a dozen eggs here, how American). Small, brown, and free range, the eggs are fantastic scrambled with tiny lumps of goat cheese. Throwing in the creamy cheese as the eggs cook makes a deliciously warm, soft, and French feeling breakfast; the goat cheese melts ever so slighlty, and warms through as it coats the yellow eggs. So simple, so yummy.

Also: Heather beer. 
Apparently Scotland is home to ten million acres of wild flowering heather, or so the bottle of fraoch (gaelic for Heather) tells me. And thank god they have put it to use. This light beer is just so slightly floral, with a refreshing tang to it that cuts anything that might be considered perfumy, which was my first thought when I picked the bottle up off the shelf. The ale is infused with heaps of heather flowers, and then fermented in big copper urns. Now I don't really know how to talk about beer, all I know is that one bottle fills a pint glass quite nicely, and makes lovely company for nights in when Ian and I watch reruns of The Office.
I must say that all Scottish beer is not amazing. Take for instance, Tennant's. Tennant's is basically the equivalent of Budweiser, or Coors, or any of those cheap, flavorless beers that adorn the fridges of frat boys. Tennant's is very much a staple, however, amongst those truly Scottish. It's usually the cheapest pint of beer available in a pub, and it's so light you can drink pints and pints of it without filling up, making it ideal for young college kids and a night in the clubs. But even Elaine, born and bred in Scotland, said it best when she said: "Tennant's. It tastes even better when you can't really taste."

And finally: Oat Cakes. 
So much a standard that most people forget them when talking about Scottish cuisine, oat cakes are thin biscuity crackers that make a lovely seat for cheese or jam or butter or bits of leftover roast chicken pulled from the fridge. They are just a little bit sweet, just a little bit salty, and hearty feeling enough to leave you full after a few chews of their oaty goodness. I first had them last Christmas (my first spent with Ian's family), where they were eaten for breakfast with eggs, for lunch with mayonnaise and tuna, and while watching films late in the night: plain, perfect.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Yesterday I decided to show some guts in the face of the freezing wind and do some Christmas shopping in Edinburgh city center. Although I found no gifts, my nose did draw me into the Cheesemonger shop on Victoria street. This place is amazing. The walls are lined with small jars of quince and plum jams, as well as impossibly huge rounds of cheese. The smell alone was enough to overwhelm me, and I followed it to the back of the tiny shop where the blue cheeses were sitting in a pool of soft light. After a few samples, I opted for a slightly less expensive cheese from Lyon, that came in a little brown crockery pot.

The cheese, incredibly drippy and stinky, was soaked up quite well with pieces of a crusty baguette that I also bought, but didn't really shine until I baked into a Savoy cabbage gratin that night. The Savoy cabbage is quite a creature, the leaves are so green and thick they sprout like curtains around the crinkly heart of the vegetable. Inspired by a recipe on Orangette, I sliced the cabbage into thin ribbons, which then were sauteed with plenty of butter and some shallots. I added some chicken broth and put the whole mess into the oven to bubble away. Finally, I added big blobs of the French cheese across the top, and put it back in the oven for a final browning. In the end, the cabbage was bright green and settling nicely into it's casserole dish, and the cheese had melted into all the little nooks.

It was delicious, with a broth swimming in the bottom of the dish that tasted earthy and fresh from the combination of the cheese and cabbage juices. Ian, who wasn't there that night, can not stand cabbage. So I let myself loose like a beast, finishing off the cabbage sandwhich style, wedging it between pieces of baguette. Then, I felt a bit ill, and realized I had gone into overdose mode. Too much of a good thing, and now, I probably wouldn't be able to eat it for another month. 

I will be back to the Cheesemonger for more cheese though, probably very soon.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Beginning with Cake

I am listening to the washing machine and its spaceship whir. It is very very cold outside, but I am still wearing these thin little green fisherman pants that Emily brought me back from Thailand. I am eating carrot cake, and am so excited about it just knocked my water glass over trying to sit down at the table with it. I also managed to wipe frosting through my freshly washed hair.
The cake is amazing. A little bit spicy, in a Christmas sort of way. So moist, and that lovely cream cheese frosting on top. I left out the nuts and the raisins, which, in my opinion usually ruin a perfectly good cake. This was my first time with carrots, in the sweet sense, and I must say that I have been pleasantly rewarded. And after having three slices last night with Ian, Emily, and Elaine, the cake will probably be gone after today since I have so far had it for breakfast, lunch, and a two o'clock snack with tea. I'm still not tired of it. It's still too cold outside, so I must stay here, sitting at the wobbly kitchen table, licking the last crusted bits of frosting from the plate.

Needless to say, I have started a blog. Not because I have anything relatively important or mind blowing to tell the world. Not because I'm an expert on well, anything.
But for these reasons:

• I like to write
• I love to cook, to eat, and to tell everyone about it.
• I have been neglecting my friends and family, since I have been temporarily sojourning in Edinburgh for the past few months.
• I have been neglecting the rest of the world, because Scottish accents are surprisingly hard to understand, and it is really really cold outside.

This afternoon I was sitting with Emily, my boyfriend Ian's sister. We were finishing off the carrot cake I made last night, talking about cake mishaps, and drinking tea. She claims she has problems reading recipes and proved this by describing a cake she tried to make with corn flour instead of white flour, forgetting the sugar, and then coming out with something akin to brown paste. "The cake went tits up," she said shrugging. Another Scottish expression I have yet to wrap my mind around.