Monday, 27 September 2010

Pitmedden Gardens Apple Harvest and Fresh Apple Cake With Brown Sugar Glaze.

Pitmedden Gardens, Pitmedden, Nr Ellon, Aberdeenshire
National Trust

Yesterday we went to the apple harvest at Pitmedden Gardens.  We went with some friends last year.  Both years it has been a lovely day.  You get to buy bags of apples from the harvest - ready to eat, keeping or cooking and other bits and pieces like apple jelly or cakes, etc..  There is also entertainment - some singing and some things for the kids to do.  And, of course, the gardens are beautiful - lovely to stroll round or run about like eejits playing tag and hide and seek.  We also had a lovely lunch - home-made soups with cheese or herb scones, baguettes, and mini apple pies or crumbles.  Mmmmmmm.

We bought 2Kg of eating apples.  Apparently they are Ellison's Orange dessert apples.  The blurb on the bag says, "First recorded 1904, named after Rev. Ellison who had a collection of 1500 fruit trees.  Crisp yet soft flesh, slight aniseed flavour."  They are quite tart but refreshing and zingy and I can almost convince myself of a very very slight hint of aniseed.

We also bought some apple and cinnamon jelly and an apple cake.  I have put the cake in the freezer as I was intent on making my own apple cake this weekend and I'll keep the jelly to have with some fresh scones warm from the oven.  I'll get round to making the scones sometime.

So, on to the apple cake I made with the apples.
I had seen this recipe on Apple & Spice - Katie's photos made me drool and I have been dying to try it.
Here is the recipe as seen on the above blog adapted from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott.

Ingredients - 

Fresh apple cake  -
360g plain flour
450g caster sugar (Katie used 300g; I used 400g because my apples were tart and it tastes lovely - would probably be fine with less sugar)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
330ml vegetable oil (I used Katie's recommendation of 250ml oil and 80ml water)
2tsp vanilla extract
450g peeled, cored and finely chopped apples (5-6 apples)
115g coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts (I used pecans as I had heaps in the house)

Brown sugar glaze -
225g light brown sugar
75g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp evaporated or regular milk

Method - 

Fresh apple cake - 
Heat oven to 180C/GM 4.  Grease 13X9 inch cake pan.
In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.  
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a mixer at low speed until pale yellow and foamy.  Add the oil and vanilla and beat well.  Stir in the flour mixture with a wooden spoon and continue stirring the batter just until the flour disappears.  
Add the apples and nuts, stir to mix them into the batter until evenly dispersed.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 45-50 mins until cake is golden brown, springs back when touched lightly near the centre and is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Place the cake (still in the pan) on a wire rack and spoon over the glaze while still hot.

Brown sugar glaze - 
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a gentle boil.  Cook for 3-5 minutes.  Spoon the hot glaze all over the still hot cake.  Let the glazed cake cool completely before serving straight from the pan.

As you can see, I didn't chop my apples finely - I like big chunks of juicy apple in my cake.

It is a lovely cake.  Nice cold with a cup of tea and equally good warmed up and served with vanilla ice cream as a pudding.  Kids like it too but they eat the glaze off the top and tend to leave some of the cake!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Restaurant Review 5 - Yatai, Skene Street, Aberdeen.

Skene Street
01224 635480

Steve and I managed to get to Yatai to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary.
As you may already know from a previous post, this is my favourite restaurant in Aberdeen.  We have been a few times - all when it has been in Skene Street.  We didn't manage to get to it when it had moved for a while to Langstane Place but it sounds as though that was for the best.
Quite astounded by some of the awful reviews on TripAdvisor.  I'm not sure if the quality really did go downhill when it was in Langstane Place or if some people just really can't get on with something a bit different.

Anyway, we loved our visit as usual.

Service is great - they will explain everything to you and really help you to understand the way it works here and give you more information about how the food is made, how they eat in Japan, what kind of sake to try, and so on.

The building is not great.  I have no idea how wheelchair users would get in.  The whole place seems a little run down.  However, the food is amazing!

Here is a photo (taken from Yatai's blog - link above) of a recent menu that is similar to the one we got to choose from last night.

Highlights for me were the selection of seasonal appetisers, duck breast in teriyaki sauce and the soft shelled crab.

In the selection of appetisers we got seared venison, a kind of pastry parcel filled with Shetland crab, raw pickles - radish and garlic, and cucumber with a miso paste.  All delicious.  The duck breast and belly pork skewers were both beautifully tender and tasty.  The soft shelled crab was delicious too and I can be a bit of a wimp about eating things that look too much like whole animals but I gave it a try and loved it.

We also had venison in a barley miso sauce which tasted fine but it was very reminiscent of any Scottish stew my Mum or Grandma would have made.  Nothing wrong with that but I come to Yatai for something a bit different so wouldn't choose that again (especially not as one of the most expensive dishes on the menu).

The waiter recommended about 6 dishes for the two of us.  We ended up having nine plus one dessert between us.  Steve also had sake.  The bill came to £72.  This is pricey for us but I am happy to pay it as you get a very different dining experience, everything is made fresh and from well-sourced good quality and, often, local produce and most of the dishes are incredibly moreish.

5 stars from me.  I think I'll have to go and do a Trip Advisor review to try to redress the balance a bit.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Rocky Road.

Here are the boys making Rocky Road.  And, yes, we definitely allow spoon licking.  They are beginning to get the idea not to lick the spoon until we are finished with it and not to put it back in the mixture after licking!

These are delicious and soooooo addictive.  I think I'll have to wait a long time before we make them again so that I can still fit into my clothes.

They are from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.  We have changed things a bit to suit ourselves.  The best thing we did was to add toffee popcorn - yum!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Nigel and Nigella.

I made Roast Tomato Soup With Basil and Olive Oil Toasts from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries.  It's an August recipe and he serves his chilled.  Given it is a bit colder here just now, we had ours hot but it still tasted very fresh and zingy.

Afterwards we had Nigella's Sweet And Salty Peanut Biscuits.  These were so easy to make and turned out addictively crumbly.

Nigel and Nigella are my Go-Tos.  For meals I almost always turn to one of my Nigel Slater books and for baking I love the Domestic Goddess book.  Both do very well laid out and beautifully presented recipe books and both do food I REALLY want to eat.  Just look at the simple effectiveness of the front of Nigella's book - gorgeous!

Anyway, here are a few pictures from earlier in the Summer when Adam helped me to make a courgette tart and a fruit jelly - just because I think he is such a cute little chef!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Bread From My Husband.

Well, yesterday was our 8 year anniversary.  One of the things I most appreciate about my husband is that he cooks wonderful things for us.
His favourite is to bake bread.  Lately he has been using this book.  

He loves this book and can be found sitting reading it at all times of day.
This morning I came down into the kitchen and found this waiting for me - 

It tastes great.  The kids and I have just had some as part of a ploughman's lunch.  I think I'll toast some later to have with scrambled eggs for tea.  Nice to have simple fare to go with freshly baked home-made bread.

At the weekend he made brioche.  He made the dough on the Saturday night and he baked half of it then.  We both devoured it completely straight out of the oven.  He then baked the rest of it in the morning for our breakfast.

And, as I mentioned in a previous post, he made pain au chocolate the weekend before.

He has been a little disappointed with the dried yeast recently so he ordered some fresh yeast from an online shop.  The bread we had today was the first batch he made with the fresh yeast and I think he's much happier with it.  

It's a shame that he doesn't have as much time as he would like to cook and bake for us.  I only work two days per week and the rest of the time I am the "housewife".  I'm sure if Steve were the "housewife" we would probably eat much better.  Certainly, our house would be tidier!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Cake Slice Group.

I am very pleased to say that I have been welcomed into The Cake Slice Bakers.  
They bake a different recipe every month form their current chosen baking book and all post their results on the 20th of the month.
I am really looking forward to joining them, broadening my baking horizons and developing my skills.
Can't wait.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Restaurant Review 4 - Hoodles, Old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire.

Hoodles Playbarn and Coffee Shop
01651 873813

Okay not really a restaurant but a cafe in a playbarn.  First let me warn you - you do not want to come here if you don't have kids.  It is FULL of children running around, screaming, etc..  Great for those of us who have kids as it means we don't need to worry if ours aren't perfectly behaved as no one will notice but I certainly wouldn't come here if I wanted a peaceful lunch or coffee.  The soft play area for the kids is great.  It is £4.75 per child at peak times ie weekends so it is expensive.  A good treat once in a while if it is raining and miserable outside and you need to let them burn off energy but at that price it really has to be a rare treat.

The cafe is excellent.  Lots of lovely paninis, soups, and home-baking!  Yum.  They have buckets that you can fill with 5 items for the kids for £3.50.  The thing I like about their buckets is that you can fill them with ANY 5 items you like.  There are no constraints.  You know how some places say you can have a sandwich, a drink, a yoghurt OR fruit, and sweeties Or crisps. I find that quite annoying whereas here I can actually choose what I know the kids will eat and can have a yoghurt AND fruit if I so decide.  When we were there on Saturday we got two buckets for the two kids but if I am skint I can actually get one bucket - I'll get two juices, one sandwich, one box of raisins and one crispy cake and split it all in two.  Anyway, I appreciate the fact they are flexible about what you put in the bucket.  Items come out at  70p per item which is not too bad.  They have sandwiches, crisps, fruit, cheese, yoghurts, crackers, milk, fruit juices, chocolate covered marshmallows, crispy cakes, boxes of raisins.  Good choice.  And they always have a great selection of cakes and traybakes for the Mummies and Daddies.  I also always have a brie and redcurrant jelly panini - yum.  So for lunch for the four of us we were about £15 but it was quite an extravagant lunch with lots of cakes.

We do love it here for a wee treat. 

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Restaurant Review 3 - Yo Sushi, Union Square, Aberdeen.

I love Yo Sushi just for the novelty.  I know the food is only average.  If you want great Japanese food in Aberdeen you have to go to Yatai, Skene Street, 01224 635480 ( but we tend to keep Yatai for special occasions.

Yo Sushi is good fun, though.  We have been a few times and really enjoy it.  We took the kids for the first time two nights ago.  Adam's face just lit up when he saw the conveyor belt and he was fascinated!  He immediately got into it, shelling edamame beans like a demon and trying to master the chopsticks.  Isn't it wonderful how kids just throw themselves into things?  I am rubbish with chopsticks but I think that is because I don't practice - I'm too worried about making a big mess and showing myself up.  I need to be more like my kids and just have fun trying.

Rufie was feeling a little under the weather, I think, so he didn't enjoy it so much but he did have a bash with the chopsticks and ate a few edamame beans.  Poor soul had a fever later that night so that explains why he wasn't so into the sushi experience.

So, you order drinks, miso soup and hot dishes from the waiting staff.  You attract their attention whenever you like by pressing a button on your table.  And you help yourself to the cold stuff and occasional hot dishes that go by on the conveyor belt.  The price of the dish is denoted by the colour of plate it is on.  At the end of the meal the waiter counts up the number of each colour of plate you have used and presents you with your bill.  Easy, relaxed, informal, fun.

Our bill came to £57.50 which is quite expensive for a quick weekday evening meal when the two kids ate very little.  I take the blame for that, though, as I insist on choosing the most expensive plates - I love the sashimi!  And we always stuff ourselves.  You could eat a much more sensible meal for much less here but only if you have better willpower than me.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Do the sheep go to a better farm, Mummy?

My three year old son asked me this while in the car the other day.  We saw a cattle lorry go past our track on its way to the farm and Adam said, "Oh there's a lorry for the sheep.  Where do the sheep go?  Do the sheep go to a better farm, Mummy?"

I paused for a second to choose between the easy route and give my normal reply of "aaha" or to go for the more truthful answer.  I'm surprised at myself for choosing the more difficult.

I said, "well, you know how we eat beef and lamb and chicken?  Well, the sheep go to get made into food for us to eat."

I looked in the rear view mirror and saw his big sad eyes watering slightly.  I immediately started the guilt-ridden thinking, "What have I just said?  He's only 3.  I'm such an idiot."  This then changed into, "Why am I not vegetarian?  I should be bringing him up as a vegetarian until he's old enough to choose for himself."

He then replied with, "But the sheep don't like that, do they Mummy?"

"No, they don't like it."

Another pause then he turned away and looked out the window.  A minute later he started chatting about something else.  Phew.

Today we saw another cattle lorry and he said, "Oh there's another lorry for the sheep.  The sheep get taken away to get made into food but they don't like it."

I agreed with him and, as before, he changed the subject and it was forgotten.

I don't know to what extent he has made the connection as he hasn't said anything when we have been eating meat.  At this stage, can he really relate his dinner to his favourite farm animals?  I'd be interested to know how other parents have handled this and at what ages children generally find out the facts about their food.

Cupcake Magic.

Best way to keep the wee ones entertained - get them decorating some cakes for their Mummy!


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Jam Roly-poly.

I love all the old-fashioned suet puddings so I got my son to help me make a jam rolypoly for the nostalgia of it.  Perfect timing too as it has recently turned very autumnal here and a bit chilly.  

Recipe from BBC GoodFood Oct 2010.

Serves 6
Prep 15 mins.
Cook 1 hr.

50g salted butter, cold and cut into chunks
250g SR flour
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
50g shredded suet
150ml milk
100g raspberry jam

1. Put a deep roasting tin onto bottom shelf of oven with another shelf directly above it.  Fill two thirds with boiling water.  Heat oven to 180C/gas 4.
2. Tear off a large sheet of foil and greaseproof paper (about 30X40cm).  Sit the greaseproof on top of the foil and butter it.
3. Tip flour, butter and vanilla into a food processor and pulse until butter has disappeared. (We don't have a processor so we just rubbed the butter into the flour.)  
4. Tip into a mixing bowl and stir through the suet.  Pour in the milk and work together with a cutlery knife to get a sticky dough.
5.  Tip out onto a floured surface.  Pat together to smooth then roll out to a square roughly 25X25cm.
6.  Spread the jam all over leaving a gap along one edge.  Roll up from the opposite edge.  Pinch the jam free edge into the dough where it meets and pinch the ends too.
7.  Carefully lift onto the greased paper, join-side down.  Loosely bring up the paper and foil around it and scrunch together along the edges and the ends.
8. Lift directly onto the rack above the tin and cook for one hour.