Monday, 25 February 2013

Highland Cattle - Food or Photo?


Before Christmas I was assisting my lovely wife while she was exhibiting at East Renfrewshire's Winter Fair. During one of the quiet periods I took a wander around some of the other stalls and had a chat with Alan Steel who runs Lochbyre Rare Breed Meat, on of my favourite local producers who I have also previously written about on the blog. The stall next to Lochbyre was taken up by Glasgow butcher, R.McDougall of Paisley Road West, who was keen to educate me on the advantages and benefits of Highland Beef. Until then I wasn't aware that you could actually eat Highland Cattle. I thought the cute long haired coos with the big horns were dotted around Scotland to provide handy photo opportunity for the visiting tourists!
Resident butcher Roddy kindly donated a pack of highland beef sirloins steak to help me understand why R.McDougall Butchers are proud to promote and stock Highland Beef.
The Highland breed of cattle has a long and distinguished ancestry, not only in its homeland of western Scotland, but also in many of the far-flung parts of the world. One of Britain's oldest, most distinctive, and best known breeds, with a long thick, flowing coat of rich hair and majestic sweeping horns, the Highlander has remained largely unchanged over the centuries.
Written records go back to the 18th century and the Highland Cattle Herd Book, first published in 1885, lists pedigrees since that time. New folds, as herds of the Highlanders are known, are founded every year both at home and abroad. In the British Isles folds are found from the furthest south to the extreme north on many different types of ground varying from the slopes of the Sussex Downs, the fenlands of East Anglian, to the windswept mac hears of the Outer Hebrides.
But it is on the vast areas of rugged mountain land with high annual rainfall and bitter winds, where no other cattle could exist, that Hghland cattle thrive and breed. The breed is exceptionally hardy with a natural unique ability to forage and convert poor grazing efficiently. Calving outside and seldom, if ever, needing to be housed, they make a real economic contribution to hill and upland areas. They are remarkable for their longevity, many Highland cows continue to breed to ages in excess of eighteen years having borne fifteen calves.
Highland Beef is slow maturing resulting in lean, well-marbled meat that ensures tenderness and succulence with a very distinctive flavour. Highland Beef is healthy and nutritious with lower levels of fat and cholesterol and a higher protein and iron content than some other beefs.
The steaks that we were given were delicious. I simply panfried the steaks for a few minutes on each side before resting for a further five minutes, before serving with thick hand cut potato wedges. The steaks were medium cooked, and very tender. In fact they were so tender that there was no need for a steak knife, our regular cutlery cut through the steaks like a hot knife through butter.
Highland Beef has a very distinctive flavour, tasting like what beef used to taste like. If there was one negative that I could write about is that the 9oz steaks that we had were too tender and too tasty and as a result Nicola somehow managed to finish her steak far too easily for my liking, leaving me disappointed as I had one eye on potential leftovers from the other side of the table.
Highland beef is served in some of the top restaurants across the country, being offered as a gourmet choice. As a result, Highland Beef does carry a premium price, however for a special occasion I can heartily recommend spending the extra money on this truly tasty beast.
For a complete list of where to buy Highland Beef, visit the Highland Cattle Society website.


Sunday, 17 February 2013

5 Questions - Clyde Valley Tomatoes

The humble tomato originated in the South American Andes where they grew wild before being cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 AD. The tomato did not arrive in Europe until the 16th century, (where it was known as the Peruvian Apple), with Spanish conquistadors, Jesuit priests and even Christopher Columbus being given credit for bringing them from the other side of the Atlantic. Back in the 1950's and 1960's, the Clyde Valley was producing enough tomatoes to feed Scotland with plenty left over to satisfy a healthy export market, keeping hundreds of growers in business, Unfortunately, an increase in cheaper imported tomatoes form across the EU seen all but three producers go out of business.
After the fall of the Clyde Valley, J&W Craig was the largest of the remaining growers left however after working for 40 years, for the business set up by his grandfather in 1910, owner Jim Craig called it a day and retired from the tomato growing game.
Thankfully, tomatoes are set to make a return to Clyde Valley thanks to a £100,000 plus rescue package funded by Clydesdale Bank, South Lanarkshire Council and Scotherbs, under the newly launched Clyde Valley Tomatoes brand. This new venture which is run by David Craig (no relation), under the tutelage of tomato growing expert Jim, who plans on growing up to 140 tonnes of tomatoes in his first year of production.
Here's their story;
How did you get started?
I always wanted to run my own business, but didn’t quite know what. In May 2012, I was introduced to Jim Craig (former owner of J&M Craig) through a mutual acquaintance, and I immediately thought “yip, I want to grow tomatoes”. 14 years experience in the food industry helped pull the business plan together.

What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?

Where there is a will, there is a way. Investigate every avenue, and talk to as many people as you can. Oh, and never burn your bridges behind you, you never know when you might want to lean on an former colleague, customer or contact.

Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
Growing lots more tomatoes, for an ever increasing customer base. We want to do our bit to solve the food security issue in the UK.
If you could only have one of your own products, what would it be & why?
We’ve still to crop it, but we hope it’s going to be the large plum vine tomatoes we’re growing – Savantas. I’m sure they will be one of our runaway success products.
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
It would be my partner Scott. We can talk about that day we had a crazy idea to go and grow tomatoes for a living! The menu would be simple, aged ribeye steaks, peppercorn sauce, roasted Clyde Valley tomatoes and a great bottle of red wine.

In the last few weeks, over 10,000 tomato seedlings have been planted with the first harvest expected in April and production carrying through until November. All going well, Clyde Valley Tomatoes have hopes to stock a host of suppliers including Whole Foods Market in Giffnock, and Dobbies Garden Centres, as well as being the preferred choice for some of Scotland's top chefs.
Only time will tell if this is a project heading for greatness, but with hard work, dedication and the careful mentoring from Jim Craig, lets hope that the Clyde Valley will once again be bursting with colour and flavour in the coming months.
Watch out for David and Clyde Valley Tomatoes at farmers markets in Lanarkshire and Glasgow, but in the meantime you can keep up to date on Facebook and Twitter.



Thursday, 14 February 2013

Review - Browns Bar & Brasserie, George Street, Edinburgh

One of Nicola's favourite restaurants is the Glasgow branch of Browns Bar & Brasserie, which despite being part of a national chain, manages to offer outstanding quality and service every time that she has dined there. In fact, I have previously written about one of my own experiences of eating at Browns, Glasgow.
On the back of these enjoyable times, we decided to eat at the Edinburgh Branch when we were staying through in the Capital after Christmas. After a quick tweet to the helpful staff in Glasgow, they contacted Edinburgh and booked a table on behalf of Gerry's Kitchen.
Or so we thought! After walking the length of George Street from our hotel to the restaurant, we were looking forward to relaxing over some wine and a tasty meal, however there was no booking in their diary. For some reason Edinburgh were not expecting us and more importantly, the restaurant was already very busy and I didn't fancy walking around the New Town trying to find somewhere else. The duty manager steered us to the bar whilst he looked into the situation, meanwhile I fired a quick tweet to Glasgow to let them know that the night wasn't starting well. I'm not sure what was happening behind the scenes but we ordered a bottle of white wine whilst we waited on the mix-up getting resolved. Things didn't get much better when the bartender presented me with two wine glasses that were just a degree or two below turning back into molten sand! We had only arrived five minutes ago and our night wasn't going to plan!
After receiving a tweet back from Glasgow to confirm that they had definitely booked a table for us, and a further ten minute wait, we were eventually seated and our waitress, Magda, left us to look through the menu. With the earlier derailment dealt with, maybe we were back on track for a great evening.
Earlier in the day we had enjoyed a very tasty and filling lunch at The Dogs, so we decided to share one of flat breads as a starter. Unfortunately, when Magda came back to take our order she informed us that they had sold out of flat breads. This is information that I feel should have been relayed to us when we were seated, as a result we had to look over the menu again before settling on Browns Bread Board instead. Shortly after, a selection of warm tasty bread arrived with a selection of flavoured butters. The menu doesn't say what the flavoured butters are, and with no input from our waitress, we managed to work out that we had unsalted butter, sundried tomato butter and anchovy butter. All of the breads were delicious, as we're the flavoured butters. I just wish that restaurants would stop serving unsalted butter as their default option! I know that other diners must look at me oddly when I start to salt my buttered bread, although I don't believe that it's just me?
Browns menu is a collection of good old fashioned dishes from steaks and burgers to pies and pasta dishes, but don't be fooled into thinking that this is simple pub grub, everything is classy with a capital C. Nicola opted for the crab & tiger prawn linguine tossed with lime, chilli and coriander pesto. This huge bowl of pasta was bursting with fresh flavour and crammed with flaky crab meat and prawns while the lime, coriander and chilli balanced the dish perfectly. As Nicola tucked into her pasta I looked on longingly, hoping that she would need a little help to clear her plate.
In a strange twist, I also ordered a pasta dish. My own bowl of lobster tagliatelle was a sumptuous dish of flaked lobster, cream and white wine sauce, topped with a grilled half lobster tail. I had asked for a little chilli to be added to my dish to give it a little kick. I'm glad that I did because I think for my own taste, the sauce would have been a little one dimensional without the extra heat.

With our plates almost empty and the wine finished, we decided to round off our meal with a cheeky wee 'aftertail' instead of a coffee. The Hazelnut Martini that Nicola ordered was a potent blend of Frangelico, Tuaca, Finlandia Vodka & Noilly Pratt, a proper dry martini with I chose the Apple Strudel which was a comforting mix of Sailor Jerry spiced rum, apple schnapps, Tia Maria, apple juice and a spiced cream float. This liquid version of the Austrian pastry tasted fantastic and was a great way to round off a tasty dinner.
After a ropey start to our evening, the food and drink help turn thing around. I settled up our bill whilst Nicola made a visit to the little girls room (which was in need of a little clean, no paper in one of the cubicles and paper strewn all over the bathroom floor). Whilst she was away, the duty manager came by our table to apologise for the mix up from earlier in the evening. Apparently, the restaurant manager had made the booking arrangements with Glasgow and was supposed to be on duty to look after us but due to illness he had not been able to work the shift. Unfortunately, he hadn't had a chance to pass on instructions for our arrival. By way of apology, the duty manager insisted on refunding the cost of our wine, which I happily accepted and we put to good use on more cocktails next door at Tigerlily.
In summary, Browns demonstrated to us that they can serve up delicious food and drink, however on the night there were a few issues where service could have been so much better. It may have been an off night but I'm sure that we will be back to Browns Edinburgh in the future to give them a second chance.
Keep up to date with Browns Edinburgh on Twitter.


Sunday, 10 February 2013

Recipe - Sticky Chilli Beef Stir Fry

Millions of people are celebrating the Lunar New Year, also know as Chinese New Year, the most important annual holiday in Asia. 2013 heralds the arrival of the year of the snake, taking over from the dragon. The snake has a mixed reputation in China. It is associated with wisdom, beauty and intelligence but also with pride and anger. All across China, fireworks were let off in the belief that evil spirits will be banished to the past, setting up a clean canvas for the year ahead.
Why not try this easy beef stir fry dish and help celebrate Chinese New Year?
Ingredients (serves 2)
  • 250g sirloin steak, sliced into thin ribbons
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped finely
  • 1" fresh ginger, sliced into thin sticks
  • 1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 50ml water
  • 1/2 red chilli, chopped finely
  • 100g broccoli florets, preferably small bite size chunks
  • 25g unsalted cashews, chopped
Method
  1. Heat some groundnut oil in a wok until it starts to smoke. Add the beef to the wok and stir fry until cooked through. Once the meat is cooked through, remove from the wok and set aside.
  2. Keep the heat in the wok and add the garlic, chilli and ginger. Stir fry for a minute taking care not to burn the garlic.
  3. Add the soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and ketchup to the wok before adding the chopped cashews and the water. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the broccoli and continue to cook for a further couple of minutes.
  4. Finally, put the beef back into the wok, stirring through the sauce until the meat is heated through.

Sticky Chilli Beef











To serve, divide the contents of the wok between two bowls and serve with soft egg noodles or fried rice before scattering a few slices of red chilli over the top.
Your rice or noodles will cook in the time it takes to prepare the rest of the dish, so with a little preparation this dish can be ready in under twenty minutes.
A truly delicious way to ring in the new year. Xin Nian Kuai Le!

5 Questions - Carmichael Estate Farm Meats

Over the last couple of weeks we have seen some alarming stories about horse meat being found in a growing number of processed 'beef' products. Perhaps this bad press will encourage people to think about how they shop and what they eat. All over the country there is a growing number of farmers markets popping up where you can buy a huge range of locally produced items including fruit and vegetables, cheeses, breads and home baking through to a wide array of poultry and meats. Of course by buying direct from the producers, you will have no concerns over the provenance of the goods on sale.
Carmichael Estate Farm Meats attend many farmers markets across the country, including my own local market in Clarkston, providing a range of award winning meats from Scotland's oldest farming family business.
Here's their story;

How did you get started?
Our family has been farming the lands at Carmichael in Lanarkshire since 1292 hence we claim to be one of Scotland’s oldest family farming businesses. We started deer farming in 1995 after seeing the successes and popularity of the venison industry in New Zealand. Almost immediately we made the move to put in a small on farm abattoir and butchery to sell meat straight from the farm gate. This avoided having to transport the animals to mass abattoirs hence reducing the stress caused to the animals during transit and improving the quality and traceability of our produce. We have always had farm shop on or near the farm selling Farm produce but when the Farmers’ Market movement began the markets seemed liked the ideal place for our niche market venison produce. We have been doing Farmers’ Markets for 12 years now and now attend 8-10 markets a month throughout the whole year. We also have a farm shop and tearoom on the A73 between Lanark and Biggar serving our top quality zero food miles meats and sell meats by mail order through our website.

What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
Consistency of product quality is key. Your products need to be great every time the customer comes into contact with them. Sticking to your business values and building relationships with your customers is also paramount.

Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
In 5 years time we would hope to have expanded our UK internet mail order meat business and be selling a wider range of meats wholesale to key UK customers. Eventually we would like to see Carmichael Estate Farm Meats on the menus of top restaurants and deli counters in every European city with an embassy. We would also like to see our brand further established as ‘the single malt of meats’ from Scotland’s oldest family farming business.

If you could only have one of your own products, what would it be & why?
Venison Rashers for sure! They are unique, delicious, versatile and multi award winning!

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
It would have to be my wife Terri as she is the best dinner company I have found. The menu would be smoked venison with parmesan shavings, on a scallop and rocket salad for starter. The main would have to be our own 21 day matured Lanarkshire Limousin Beef fillet steak with homemade home grown potato wedges and freshly dug garden veg. If we got to desert then a cheese cake from Brenda at Stichell Jersey who comes to Edinburgh Farmers’ Market would be ideal. This would all need to be washed down with a nice Rioja. That will do very nicely!

With a choice of venison, beef and lamb available to buy, in a choice of cuts, or delicious sausages and burgers, you'll be sure that they have a something that will put a smile on your face. The seasoned lamb burgers are my personal favourite, grilled on the barbecue and piled high with chunks of Feta before serving on toasted ciabatta to make the perfect burger.
Check out this link to see if Carmichael Estate Farm Meats are attending a farmers market near you. If they are, take time to pop by and say hello, you'll be glad that you did.
Keep up to date with Carmichael Estate Farm Meats on Facebook and Twitter.


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Review - Delizeque, Hyndland Street, Glasgow


Delizique, Hyndland Street

My gorgeous wife Nicola has been working away in London over the last week so we had made the decision that when she was back that we would enjoy a day out today, providing that the weather wasn't as horrible as it has been over the last few weeks.
With the sun splitting the skies, we made our way to the Riverside Museum, the new home for Scotland's Museum of Travel & Transport. This was our first trip to the transport museum since it moved from the Kelvin Hall to the £74 million modern site on the River Clyde and we spent almost four hours wandering around the 3000+ vehicles and other paraphernalia.
We hadn't expected to spend so long at the museum and when we left after a few hours, it was already past our normal lunchtime. We were in the West End, we knew that finding something to eat wouldn't be too difficult so jumped back in the car and made our way towards the Hyndland area where a little deli/cafe called Delizique is based.
We arrived just after 3pm to an already busy cafe, in fact had we arrived any later, I think we would have been eating takeaway sandwiches in the car!
The interior of Delizique is dominated by what looks like a replica of 'The Tree of Hippocrates', and a scattering of mishmash tables and chairs all with a view of the open kitchen pass. Delizique attracts a wide spectrum of diners all flocking to sample home baking, sandwiches and fresh salads. The speciality of the house is their famous 'Big Piece', a giant home baked focaccia sandwich, think of the biggest chopping board that you've seen then think of a sandwich that same size and you've got the starting point for the 'Big Piece'. The filling changes daily depending on the mood of the chef, today's filling was poached salmon with dill, tartare sauce, rocket and lemon. If you're happy with the sandwich filling of the day, they simply cut a big piece from the chopping board.

Chorizo, sun dried tomato & mozzarella pizza

Delicious as the 'Big Piece' sounded, we had come in from a cold winters day and wanted something that could warm us up. The menu consists of boards of meats, cheeses and salads, plus a wide choice of home cooked pizza. We opted to share a Chorizo, sun dried tomato and mozzarella pizza, and a Greek Salad between us.

Greek salad




















The 8" pizza (£7.50) was cooked to order with a crisp base topped with smoky slices of thick cut chorizo, succulent pieces of sweet sun dried tomato, and torn pieces of creamy mozzarella, all drizzled with peppery extra virgin olive oil. The Greek salad (£4) was a huge pile of rocket, tomato, red onion, cucumber, peppers, and olives, tossed with crumbled Feta and olive oil. All the dishes at Delizique are served on rustic wooden boards.
The boards that we were served were fantastic! The fresh flavours from the salad were a great counter to the rich chorizo from the pizza, and the portion sizes were generous for the price. To accompany our lunch, Nicola had a bottle (330ml) of Lorina French pink lemonade, whilst I had an espresso once we had finished our food. Delizique are guilty of one of the things that really annoy me about lots of cafes, they seriously mark up the cost on their bottled soft drinks! I appreciate that they have a business to run, but i think charging £3.50 for a bottle of lemonade is seriously over the top!
That said, our lunch cost £17 and we both left feeling well fed and watered. So much so that we didn't have room to squeeze in any of the delicious home baking that we passed on the way out. Next time I'm in the area I'll be swinging by for a coffee and cake, there's a rhubarb and custard tart with my name on it!
Keep up to date with Delizique on Facebook and Twitter.