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Sunday, 26 April 2009

So what's all the fuss about foraging?

It seems that everywhere I look right now, all the foodie experts are extoling the benefits of foraged food with the prime example, wild garlic, making an almost ubiquitous appearance in every sunday paper and on UKTV Food's Market Kitchen daily for the past fortnight.

Now, I have nothing aginst wild garlic, in fact I quite like it - it cropped up in the organic veg box I used to have delivered; but am I going to forage for it? Am I buggery.

I'm relatively aware of what foods look like, I grow my own herbs and don't expect veg to come in nice shiny bags, but the simple fact remains that I have no idea where all these foods grow or time to go looking for them on the off-chance. I only come across wild garlic when I'm taking my boys for a walk by the riverside (the garlic smells fantastic); no problem so far, but this is a walk popular with more than parents and toddlers, there's lots of dogs for one thing and I'm not keen on the thought of eating something that's been hosed down by half a dozen golden retrievers.

And have you considered mushrooms? Nice wild mushrooms are wonderful in principle but simply Russian Roulette in practice; I once went on a professional mushroom hunt and my wife and I were the only couple that managed to pick some mushroom which, in small quantities, Mongolian shaman use to travel to the spirit plane and which if ingested in larger amounts ensures a permanent place with departed spirits.

Now I do know what a cep looks like and a morel and even a chanterelle but am I brave enough to risk mis-identification? Not on your nelly. I also know what can happen if I get it wrong.

In his excellent cookery book, Essence, David Everitt-Matthais espouses the use of foraged ingredients and then mentions the forager he uses if he's unable to go out; I'm guessing that'll be most of the time. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of his restaurant but there's no way the head chef of a 2 Michelin star joint spends his mornings poking about a hedge looking for the odd sprig of Lemon Balm. No, he's in the kitchen letting the professionals do the work outdoors.

So, if you really want to show off with something foraged at home, do the smart thing and just buy it. Or do the smarter thing and serve some butter poached lobster tails a la Thomas Keller.

A quickie, in more ways than one?

Here's a quick thought - is McDonalds the culinary equivalent of a one night stand?

Think about it, they both tend to happen when judgement is affected (through alcohol or hunger), they both tend to be extremely satisfying at the time and they both frequently lead to feelings of remorse, guilt and a longing for a shower.

Obviously I'm speaking from memory here; I'm married so it's been a very long time since I've been involved in a one nighter and, as my wife considers McDonalds and one night stands with similar disdain, almost as long since I've had a quarter pounder with cheese.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The importance of being regular...

Thinking of my favourite suppliers reminded me of the importance of being a regular customer; apart from the obvious economic benefits of providing custom to keep these guys going (and therefore ensuring the supply of food that tastes good and not supermarket standard cardboard meat), being regular means you'll get the good stuff.

The trick's quite simple, talk to the guys in the farm shop or at the market, tell them what you did with that last joint you got, how it tasted and what you're going to do with the next one. They're proud of their product (they're in this business for love because they're not making much money out of it) and they like the feedback. And then, once you're a regular, you'll find yourself being pointed to the best of the best, maybe the odd freebie to try and certainly you'll be given priority if you need to order that joint for a special occasion (especially Christmas/New Year and Easter).

There is a downside however, you can aquire a reputation beyond your ability as happened to me at Eddie's Seafood Market; some time ago I went to collect an order of Red Snapper* when my girlfriend noticed some lovely dressed crab that she fancied for lunch, I asked for a crab and Eddie promptly went over to the tank in the corner and pulled out a massive, live, brown crab. I had never dealt with a live one but I was too stupidly macho to admit I didn't know what to do; on taking the crab home I consulted Rick Stein while the Katie the Crab (as it had been christened) went to sleep in the freezer. Rick recomends placing the crab into cold water and then bringing it to the boil to prevent auto-amputation of the legs, all this did was wake Katie up, who then started banging on the sides of the pan, unnerving my girlfriend, and trying to escape. Long story short there was an ensuing fight between Katie and myself which I remember as similar to the squid scene in 20,000 leagues under the sea, by the time it was over the kitchen was soaked and I'd lost my appetite. What a waste.

* That Red Snapper almost prevented that girlfriend becoming my wife, I'll tell that story some other time.

Some people I like...

Just back from the local Farmer's Market (Haddington) and I thought I'd share some of my favourite producers:

  • Ballencrieff Pedigree Pigs - Peter and Elma grow rare breed Berkshire, Saddleback and Gloucester Old Spot naturally and you can tell by the taste, they have won rakes of awards for their bacon (my favourite is the unsmoked middle) and sausages and also supply me with the raw ingredients for my attempts at ham and sausage making.

  • Well Hung and Tender - Donald and Sarah farm wonderful Aberdeen Angus in the Scottish Borders, it's all well aged and grass fed leading to lots of Omega-3 fatty acids in the beef, so basically this beef is as good for you as oily fish (and while I like salmon, give me a ribeye anyday). Also Donald won a Nuffield scholarship to study beef and while I don't know exactly what that is, my best mate was awarded a medical Nuff. Scholarship and told me they were very prestigeous.

  • J&M Craig, Briarneuk Nursery - Simply some lovely tomatos, many varieties with real flavour - try some and I doubt you'll ever want to have some of the tasteless, imported red pulp that you get in supermarkets. You can find the Craigs at Farmers Markets across Scotland.

  • Clark Bros. of Musselburgh and Eddie's Seafood Market of Marchmont - two brilliant fishmongers; both Clarks and Eddie's carry a wonderful range of fresh fish and seafood, live lobster and crab, frankly anything you want. They will also source specific orders if asked nicely. Whenever I go looking for something, I always leave laden with crab, oysters and lots of other goodies (hence myoysters followed by seabass with pea risotto last night). Clarks - 0131 665 6181 Eddies - 0131 229 4207

More to come as I think of them...

Friday, 24 April 2009

Good news for Edinburgh

Paul Kitching's long awaited restaurant has announced it's opening date, press release follows:

**save the date** save the date** save the date** save the date** save the date**

Paul Kitching – restaurant 21212, Edinburgh – to open 20 May 09

The official opening date of Michelin-starred chef Paul Kitching’s new restaurant 21212 has been confirmed as Wednesday 20 May 09.

For Paul it’s the culmination of his dream to set up 21212 and run it in his own imitable style. When it opens in the third week of May facilities will include three luxury bedrooms, a 38 seater restaurant, bar, reception area and private dining. In terms of contrasts it’s night and day in comparison to their eponymous restaurant Juniper. The listed Georgian townhouse over four floors is light, spacious and airy whereas Juniper was an onstreet property which was a former an estate agents. The couple and their business partners* have invested £4.5m into the project and have been heavily involved in restoring the elegant townhouse to its former glory since inception and although they have retained many period features they primarily wanted to transform the restaurant into a 21st century environmentally friendly restaurant.

A glance at the menu carefully constructed and considered by Paul shows that he is staying true to his modern French style of cookery which he championed at Juniper but with a more grown up approach to his menu combinations. For £60 per person the dinner menu consists of an exciting combination of dishes prepared by Paul and his team of eight chefs, which includes his sous chef from Juniper Kate Johnston. The five course gourmet menu consists of a choice of two dishes on the starter, main course and dessert courses, hence the restaurant’s name. The lunch menu priced from £20 per person offers diners the flexibility to choose from a 2, 3, 4 or 5 course menu. It’s also a marked departure from other restaurants as there won’t be a separate a la carte or taster menu – just a well thought out combination of exciting flavours for each course.

When asked about the vibe of his new establishment and his hopes for the future he advised. ‘When we left Juniper we were looking for a new challenge. Edinburgh where we had spent some considerable time in the past was the ideal place for us and Katie who is originally from Scotland has been a delightful tour guide and we have been enjoying exploring the city and the rest of Scotland together in what little spare time we have had over the past couple of months. To new diners coming to the restaurant that are unfamiliar with my style of food I don’t have a uniform style of presentation on the plate and my dishes are a composition of flavours that make the whole dining experience. In the past I have been called experimental but I would say that my dishes are intricate, feminine, interesting and vibrant in colour and they are delicately assembled with a build up of flavours. Each course is made up of a variety of components that could be represented in isolation but I think that new diners will find the food interesting and seasoned Juniper regulars will find our new venture a refreshing take on his original style and one that they will enjoy. For us as well as the food – it’s always been about the whole dining experience so from the d├ęcor to the added extras in terms of to the service it’s about our style and attention to detail and we think that will shine through’.

Bookings are now being taken on and from 27 April phone reservations can also be made for the restaurant and bedrooms – on 0845 22 21212**. Bedrooms, which are priced from £250 per night can also be booked. 21212 will open five days a week –Tuesday through to Saturday for lunch and dinner with meals served between 12.00 -1.45pm and 7.00-9.30pm.

It begins...

So, I'm not quite sure what this blog is going to be about yet, is it about cooking and my own attempts in the kitchen and with charcuterie or is it about the places I eat and the things that I (from time to time) discover?

I don't know, I guess only time will tell.

What I can tell you is the name relates to my changing appetites for wine and food; from rustic to premier cru, from McDonalds to Per Se and from French to Vietnamese, if I eat it, and I enjoy it, it's good!