Heading for the Scottish hills

Having patted the dog, waved goodbye to my folks and navigated the hills and winding lanes out of the West Country I have to admit I felt slight pangs of loss.  What could I do to buck up my spirits?  Find a new taste sensation of course. My journey to Edinburgh to cook for a bon voyage lunch just happened to be perfect timing to visit the Royal Highland Show and so discover a tasty delicacy.


For those of you who have not been to this great event and own a tweed suit or even a Barbour, you have completely missed the party.  The Royal Highland Show is a celebration of all things country, indeed it is regarded as the highlight of the Scottish Farming calendar.


Upon arrival, having first checked out the farriers, sheep shearers and country land owners tent I was heading off to find the gun dog demonstration when I became distracted by a queue of people calmly standing in billowing clouds of smoke.

Some Scots are known to thrifty , so it came as great surprise to witness a whole long line of them eagerly handing over their cash in exchange for a paper plate, a wooden spoon and a smoked fish. I joined the line, happily parted with three pounds and tucked into the flaky morsels of my first Arbroath Smokie. Wow, I had almost forgotten that smoked fish could be as good as this, no alarming orange flesh or acrid bite just a delightful creamy bronzed smokey fish.



Now with geographical statues – i.e. you have to be a haddock, hot smoked in an up turned whisky barrel within 5 miles of the town of Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland, to win the title of the Arbroath Smokie, this delicacy has protection from poor imitations.  The internet shows many suppliers that will send Arbroath Smokies to your door, I was eating ones produced by the renowned Iain R. Spink  – http://www.arbroathsmokies.net.



Having gobbled all mine I rejoined the queue and bought some for the lunch party the following day.


Setting out the table for guests to select from the groaning spread ( there was honey roast ham / new potatoes with basil mayonnaise, fried garden sage and toasted  almonds / celery, apple and fennel coleslaw / Lanark blue cheese, puy lentil and walnuts with crab apple jelly dressing / arbroath smokies and more..) the table looked like it needed just one more thing- a few bunches of flowers.  Heading outside, the garden had some magnificent lilacs which I knew would look great and then looking over the vegetable patch I had an idea.  The curly kale, now finished but bearing beautiful yellow flowers and about to go on the compost would make an excellent arrangement.

Feeling in an adventurous mood I nibbled  a few of the curly kale flowers on the way back to the kitchen, very edible I thought so sprinkled a few on the potato salad, decorative and edible; how useful.



The next Postcard;

Hopping on a plane I am heading for warmer climates, swapping my old worn out Barbour for my summer dresses, sunglasses and flip flops I am off to one of my favourite regions to work in, Provence…




A Wild Garlic Hunt

Well I have finished my job on the Emerald Isle and am off to Dorset to check in with the folks and see if I can catch the final days of one of my favourite foraged treats; wild garlic.


Truffle and I ( Truffle being my sister’s dog) both had our noses stuck out the car window as we beetled along the narrow country lanes.  You can smell it before you see it and although we have not yet taught her to alert us to its presence, I am ever the optimist. The month of June is a little late in the year to be picking wild garlic, usually the little white  flowers are out and the leaves are not quite so tender as they once were.   Determined at least to try and find some I yelled excitedly to “stop the car”! as I caught a waft of that sweet smelling delicacy.   There, beneath the ancient woodlands, Henry  VIII ‘s old hunting grounds no less, there lay a patch of edible green shoots and white flowers.  I leapt out the car and began my picking.  Truffle took one sniff at what I was paying my attentions to and darted off into the woods – she clearly did not share my enthusiasm.


A basketful later I called the dog so we could take this bounty back home and make a breakfast feast of wild garlic and scrambled eggs.  Before reluctantly jumping back into the car she reminded me of one of the rules of harvesting wild food by peeing on the patch I had just taken from – always wash thoroughly before use.

Dorset Wild Garlic with Scrambled Eggs



Ingredients (serves 4 hungry people)

A very well washed and drained bunch of wild garlic 

8 free range chicken eggs

Bread for toast

A good knob of butter.

A splash of olive oil


Roughly chop the wild garlic into 2 inch pieces and wilt in a frying pan with a splash of olive oil- it will only take about one minute, season with salt and pepper.    Scoop the leaves out onto a warm plate, pouring away any excess liquid (or better still reserve the liquid and add it to an appropriate soup or risotto )  while you scramble the eggs. To do this I always melt a little butter in the pan  then pour in the lightly beaten eggs and stir gently with a flat wooden spoon over a low to medium heat. Before the eggs look fully cooked take off the heat and fold in the wilted wild garlic. Serve on buttered toast.     



It is hard to leave the comforts of home but with my adieus said I am now heading north ( having packed my rain coat) to take a trip to the bonnie hills of Scotland..




The Emerald Isle

I am extremely fond of Irish Soda bread.  Firstly because it tastes so good with butter, and secondly because it saved my arms from looking like the incredible hulks.

Back in my restaurant days I had to make a lot of bread.  I would go to work earlier and earlier to keep up with the demand. I kept telling myself all that kneading was like a free Pilates class sculpting my arms but it is hard to describe the joy after one of my customers  (a retired Vicar) offered to bring his Irish wife in to teach me to make soda bread.   Ten minutes in from them arriving for my master class the loaf was already in the oven and we were sipping our second cup of tea.


Irish Soda Bread

In a bowl whisk together;

1 cup self raising flour,
1 cup wholemeal  flour,
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of Soda,
1/2 teaspoon of fine salt

then mix in with a wooden spoon 1 cup of buttermilk.

Use your hands to bring together into a loaf shape (  a round is traditional with a cross slashed into the top)

Bake for 30 minutes at 180 c in a fan assisted oven, its done when you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow. 


I frequently use this recipe and was not aware of any variations until I was on a recent job in Dublin. I was asked to make afternoon tea for some of the clients relatives who were to pop by later that day. In amongst the cheese scones, coffee eclairs and pots of Barry’s tea I decided to add the Irish Soda bread and serve it with horseradish butter, smoked salmon and lemon wedges, it was surely going to be a hit at this gathering….

Indeed the guests devoured it and as I was clearing away the empty platter and being complemented on the bread recipe the matriarch of the family chipped in that of course she always rolled her soda bread in oats before baking it. That sounds lovely, I thought, and then someone else said they always put caraway seeds in…again I thought that sounds delicious. My favorite idea however was had I tried making it with “the black stuff” …….Guinness, now you’re talking!

Guinness Soda Bread rolled in Oats with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Butter

Makes 1 small loaf

I use a measuring jug and do it all by volume.

1/2 pint self raising flour
1/2 pint wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoon brown sugar

Tip all these dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk to combine.


Pour in 1/4 pint of Guinness and 1/4 pint buttermilk.  Bring together into a round loaf, scatter some rolled oats onto a baking tray and roll the bread in them until it is coated all over.  Slash the top with a cross ( legends dictates this lets the evil spirits out  – I think it looks good) and bake for 35 minutes in a preheated 175 c fan assisted oven.


Cool on a rack then slice, slather it in horseradish butter ( I mix 3 tbsp soft butter with 2 tsp horseradish sauce)   and serve with smoked salmon and lemon wedges.




Job done! My bags are packed and next I am crossing the Irish Sea and am off to the west country …..



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