Tuesday, 21 October 2014

5 Questions - Spice Pots

I've been writing my '5 Questions' posts for the better part of two years now, giving independent producers the chance to have their story told and hopefully helping to raise a little awareness to their brand along the way. Most of the the posts have been written on the back of me meeting and introducing myself to producers at food shows or farmers markets, however sometimes forward thinking business owners grab the bull by the horns and approach me, which is what Melanie Auld of East Lothian based Spice Pots did when she got in touch with me through the contact form on the blog. As a relatively new business, Melanie was keen to send me some samples that I could try out in the kitchen and all going well provide a little feedback and maybe provide a little bit of publicity too. There's not many things that are I like more than a good homemade curry so I happily took Melanie up on her offer.
Here's Melanie's story;
How did you get started?
I was an event manager for many years before I had my 3 boys – this would have been a hard job to go back to with young kids due to the hours, so I did other bits and pieces that fitted around my family including a part time cooking job at a Glasgow TV post production house, which I loved. When we moved back to East Lothian, I could no longer do this job but my confidence had grown and I was now edging towards food related jobs.
The idea behind Spice Pots started when my children were tiny, in about 2008 / 2009. I loved to cook curries (I spent 6 months in India when I was 19) but found it increasingly difficult with 3 pre-school kids in the house. Before my husband went to work, he used to measure, roast and grind all the spices I needed to make my favourite curries and put them in a jar.
This took all the thinking out (even something as simple as counting out teaspoons of spices is taxing when constantly interrupted by small people)! However, it took a couple of nudges to launch it as a business in 2013; being turned down for two local jobs and a little money my lovely old Gran left me when she died.
What's the best piece of business advice that you could give?
Sleep on it and share it! I'm learning to take it slow and steady and to take advice from friends and family.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
I would like to have developed more Indian blends and possibly other ranges too. I am still a very new business but have a busy Autumn planned so I'm waiting to see how that goes before making too many grand plans. Ask me again in January!
If you could cook only one of your products, what would it be and why?
Spice Pots lamb bhuna served with brown rice and mint and coriander raita. This curry is so easy and so delicious. It has tons of flavour and is only medium heat so it's a good one for gatherings as not everyone can handle (or likes) too much chilli. And the mint and coriander raita just goes so well with the lamb. It's great for leftovers too – I think it tastes even better the next day- delicious in a pitta with the raita drizzled over!
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 more than one I'm afraid....
For the starter, I would invite my Dad (sadly no longer here), my mum and my 2 brothers. Joining us for the main course would be my husband and the wives of my brothers. For pudding, all of our kids , 6 of them, would join us.
My cooking roots are firmly in the traditional camp. I learnt (surreptitiously) from my Mum who would cook soups, stews and Sunday roasts and use loads of fresh produce from the garden. My Mum and Dad had an amazing vegetable garden and we had an abundance of soft fruits too. Mum designed, planted and cared for a beautiful herb garden in an old cattle court – I remember helping to pick out all the stones before the topsoil was delivered! The herbs were all beautifully laid out, and there was a greenhouse and a pond.
On the menu would be a simple starter of artichokes served with home-made, herby mayonnaise or garlic butter. For the main course, roast lamb with minted potatoes and one of the many green vegetables or salad leaves they used to grow.
For pudding, it would be my Dad's favourite – raspberries from the garden, with an abundance of sugar and cream.

Just before I went off on holiday, Melanie kindly sent me five separate Spice Pots to try out. Each jar of Spice Pots comes with their own easy to follow instruction card which walks you through the cooking process and also outlines any addition ingredients that you may need. When I received my goodies I was just about to go off on holiday so made the decision that I would wait until I came home before putting Spice Pots to the test.
With so many traditional curries at my fingertips I struggled to decide which one to cook first but the Goan Beef won in the end. By cooking beef and onions slowly with the contents of the Spice Pots jar before adding a tin of coconut milk, I had a wonderfully flavoured traditional curry. I also added some potato and lots of spinach which added a real depth of character. In fact, I sure that you could easily add any of your own favourite ingredients and be guaranteed a delicious and authentic dish.
I'm all for ways of getting more people back into the kitchen and I think that Spice Pots is a fantastic product that will be a huge help to those that want to know and understand more about Indian cooking.
I can't wait to crack the lid from my next Spice Pots jar.
You can order your favourite spice blends on the Spice Pots Spice Shop, or keep up to date on Facebook or Twitter.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Product Review - Kwan's Kitchen 123 Stir Fry Kits

A few months ago I attended the Speciality Food Show Scotland where I met Stephen Kwan from Kwan's Kitchen. Stephen took time out to answer '5 Questions' and allowed me to give a bit of a background to the Kwan's Kitchen story as well as raise a little awareness to their fantastic range of home cooking sauces and spices.
Last week I caught up with Stephen when Kwan's Kitchen were exhibiting at the recent BBC Good Food Show at Glasgow's SECC when he told me that he has been busy looking at ways to make cooking authentic Chinese food even easier for the home cook, resulting in the new Kwan's Kitchen 123 Stir Fry Kits.
I loved the rich aromatic flavours of the Kwan's Kitchen sauces and spices when I tasted them earlier in the year qnd was excited to try out the new 1-2-3 stir fry kits so picked up three of the four available flavours.
It's difficult to believe that this little box contains so much flavour!
Each kit contains a pack of seasoning, a pack of sauce, and a pack of seasoned oil. With my rice bubbling away, I simply marinated thin strips of chicken breast in the seasoning before stir frying for a few minutes, adding red pepper and courgette strips to the wok. Once the vegetable were cooked through, I added the sauce and a little water and cooked for a further couple of minutes then finally added the fragrant seasoned oil to the wok.
Talk about easy! Less than ten minutes actual cooking time had passed and I was serving up authentic Szechuan chicken dish that both myself and Nicola loved. Roll next week when I will be trying out the blackbean and garlic kit with some fillet of beef.
Check out the Kwan's Kitchen website to find your nearest stockist or keep up to date on Facebook & Twitter.

 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Section 33 Makes a Big Splash in Govanhill


A few weeks ago I wrote about Section 33, a guerilla dining event that was heading to Glasgow. The menu and location of the dining extravaganza was a closely kept secret but last weekend over 800 of Glasgow's movers and shakers descended on Govanhill Baths to see what all the fuss was about.
The story of Govanhill Baths has been much documented since Glasgow City Council decided to close the pool in 2001. The pool was built in 1914 at a cost then of £14000 and was used heavily in those early war years by mothers as a wash house as many of the tenement houses lacked proper cleaning facilities at the time. Over the years, the baths had been the hub of a growing multicultural community until it's closure.
After heavy protests with supporters chaining themselves to changing cubicles on the eve of the closure, dawn police raids, and lengthy and protracted negotiation between supporters and the council, Govanhill Baths Community Trust submit business plans in 2005 that would allow them to reopen the Edwardian swimming pool and wash house as a community Wellbeing Centre. Until that day comes, The Trust are making use of the building by hiring out space on an ad-hoc basis to local clubs and associations, and as of last weekend - Section 33!
We took a trip down to Govanhill on the Friday morning to get a look at the work ahead of the team. We arrived just in time to see the local brewery WEST make a important delivery of their fantastic St Mungo & West4.
The swimming pool area was transformed into a makeshift restaurant seating area with a stage at 'the deep end' for the live entertainment that would accompany the fine dining experience over the weekend.
It's hard to believe that the heart of this Edwardian building is very much as it was when the doors were closed back in 2001. It seemed crazy to think that in less than six hours that diners would be tucking into high end cooking.
Chef Chris and his team were busy trying to organise their cooking area. I did manage a quick word but I felt that I was just getting in the way so left them to it.
The inside of the old changing cubicles were adorned with various pieces of graffiti and poetry. I would love to know who penned these words.
We had purchased our tickets weeks earlier and were really looking forward to heading to Section 33 with friends Lisa and John last Saturday evening.
The menu was adventurous with each of the dishes promising big (and sometimes unusual) flavours whilst a huge element of chef skills would be needed to make sure that the menu didn't fall flat.
The dress code for the evening was casual, although you the guys at Section 33 did have to draw a line somewhere.
We were advised that the small plates were ideal for sharing and recommended that 2 or 3 plates per person would ensure that no one went hungry. The four diners at our table had fairly similar tastes in food which meant that we ended up duplicating some of the plates, with myself and Nicola sharing five dishes plus a couple of puddings too.
First to arrive was Buratta with Clyde Valley Tomatoes, and vincotto - the creamy mozzarella and juicy tomatoes were balanced wonderfully by the sticky sweet grape musk reduction.
Next up was my favourite dish of the night. Beef Cheek braised in West ale with onion purée and burnt onion. The beef was so tender, falling away at the slightest pressure from my fork, and balanced perfectly with a rich onion purée and the cutest little fondant potato. I love beef cheek and based on the quality of the cooking, I could easily have eaten another portion with little hesitate. This was my favourite dish on the night.
We had all given thought to the half roast Gressingham chicken but myself, Nicola and John didn't want the hassle of picking the meat from the bones, however this didn't stop Lisa as she happily tucked into the crispy skinned bird. The chicken was seasoned with lemon, sage and Espellete peppers before being roasted, such was the quality of the cooking that Lisa had no problem getting the juicy meat from the under the crispy, fragrant chicken skin. I have to admit to being a little jealous as I watched her strip ........ (the chicken down to the carcass).
A lot of the dishes were meat based but there were also few veggie option dotted through the menu. To balance our meal we decided to try the Beetroot, Fenugreek and cumin with toasted coconut and puffed rice. I have never been a huge fan of cooked beetroot but the blend of spice in the beetroot dish were great,
Next up was a creative dish of 36 hour slow cooked lamb with wasabi cucumber with roti canai. The lamb was deliciously tender and well flavoured with oriental spices then served on a flaky Malaysian flatbread. We both love lamb and this clever combination didn't last very long at our table.
The last dish to arrive at the table was the Venison Mole Empanadas. Mole is a Mexican sauce made from spices and bitter chocolate. The mole was blended with venison before being wrapped in rich butter pastry then deep fried. We had been advised that the Empanadas were one of the most popular dishes over the weekend and whilst the flaky pastry was very light and tasted fantastic, it was difficult to identify the strong venison flavours within the parcel. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the empanadas but without the menu, I would have struggled to to tell you what the filling was. Shame as I love venison!
Wth the mains all hitting the spot, it was time to order some pudding. Again the menu made sure to give enough options with four desserts to choose from. The first dessert that arrived was a fantastically light basil and olive oil cake with strawberry ice cream. I first tasted olive oil cake at Angels With Bagpipes in Edinburgh and loved it. The cake that came out of the Section 33 makeshift kitchen was every bit as good as the one I'd had from a professional kitchen. What made this dish stand out though was the creamy strawberry ice cream that was bursting with fresh berry flavour and could easily have managed a few more scoops.
The show stopper for the four of us was the lotus biscuit & chocolate ganache with smoked sea salt and honeycomb. Wow! I don't think that I've ever eaten a better chocolate dessert. The ganache was silky smooth and so rich but the scattering of crunchy honeycomb added texture whilst the smoked sea salt turned this dessert into a very delicious guilty pleasure.
The only slight negative was that an Edwardian public bath house with no water or heating can get get a little cold, especially in the first weekend of October, but there was no way that the chill in the air was going to take the shine off of what was a very good night. The food, drinks and service were all of a standard that was far higher than we expected considering the dilapidated venue, and great value for money with dinner for the four of us costing £120, including a bottle of wine and a few beers.
So to sum up the very first Section 33 guerilla dining event, we had a fantastic evening with every scrap of food being hungrily devoured, and we cannot wait to see where and when Section 33 pop up next. Rest assured, we will be at the front of the queue!
Make sure that you don't miss out on the next Section 33 event by checking out their Facebook or Twitter pages.


Monday, 13 October 2014

St. Enoch Searches For Glasgow's Hot Choc Hotties

St. Enoch Centre is celebrating National Chocolate Week by challenging sweet-toothed shoppers to create Glasgow’s best hot chocolate drink in a competition with prizes worth hundreds of pounds.

The Glasgow shopping destination wants shoppers to share their hot chocolate tips along with photos of their delicious hot chocolate drinks on Twitter using the hashtag #HotChocHotties.

Prizes will be awarded to the most inspirational posts, with luxury chocolate collections and gift vouchers with a value of £150 to spend at St. Enoch Centre all up for grabs.

To get shoppers started, St. Enoch Centre has created a short film that demonstrates its own recipe for the ultimate hot chocolate. Made with decadent real dark chocolate, rich hazelnut syrup, mini marshmallows and a sumptuous swirl of cream it’s a treat that is hard to beat.

The film, which can be viewed on St. Enoch Centre's social media channels, features Chris Kimble, manager of Kimbles Deli and Chocolate Shop, which is based in St. Enoch Centre.

St. Enoch Centre is home to a range of chocolatiers including Kimbles, Thorntons and Glasgow’s only branch of Hotel Chocolat. The stores will be staging a wide range of free events during Chocolate Week, including tasting sessions, chocolate decorating, cookie decorating and chocolate workshops.

Anne Ledgerwood, general manager of St. Enoch Centre, said: "We want to find the best hot chocolate in Glasgow, so if you think you’ve got the ultimate recipe we want to see what you can do.

"St. Enoch Centre offers a wide range of chocolate treats, from buttons for the kids to exclusive single estate chocolate that is as prized as fine wine.

"I’d urge shoppers to get involved in Chocolate Week at St. Enoch Centre, and enjoy our wide range of free events for all the family. Who doesn’t like chocolate, after all?"

Find St. Enoch Centre online at www.st-enoch.co.uk, https://www.facebook.com/stenochcentre and twitter.com/stenochcentre

 

 

 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

5 Questions - Berry Good

Earlier in the summer myself and Nicola attended The Royal Highland Show where we were lucky enough to meet some hugely talented food and drink producers who had brought their wares to market. We loved sampling the fantastic products that were on show, especially the flavoured gin and vodka at the Berry Good stand.
Multi-award winning, Berry Good was established by Jill Brown whilst she was a student. The Raspberry Gin, Really Raspberry Vodka, and the Straight Strawberry Vodka have all won Great Taste Gold Awards in recent years. We tasted them all and can understand why they are rated so highly. The fantastic Scottish fruit and fine Scottish spirits are infused in small batches to produce award winning flavours. Boasting the fact that the drinks are free from artificial colours or flavourings, the drinks are 'bursting with Berriness'!
Here's there story;
How did you get started?
It was a hobby, every year I attended the Royal Highland Show and would make a few bottles of home-made infusions to take with me, in 2007 I was in the food hall and noted the lack of Scottish producers. There were Irish and English but no Scottish. I had also started a degree in Agriculture and Rural Business Management at SRUC Craibstone so decided to use the idea of such a company for course work and it grew from there.
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
I think the best is to do what you love then you’ll never work another day! I’m getting there slowly and hindsight is a great thing but I would have rather have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
I hope it will have grown and covering more of the UK. The production process is very traditional so it takes time and no process change will speed this up. It would be nice to be working full time in the business.
If you could only cook one of your own products/recipes, what would it be & why?
Ha! I really can’t answer that! I put a lot of time and effort into each product to ensure that the taste is perfect! Sorry it’s a bit like asking to pick your favourite child!
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
Again rule breaking! Granny Brown and Grandad Waters – the starter would be a platter of Scottish seafood - crabs, salmon, whelks etc. Main course would be steak and trimmings of Caithness tatties and home grown veggies. The pudding would be Orkney Fudge Cheesecake.
I’d like to see what business advice they would give me. Granny ran a hotel that catered to the fishers on Loch Watten and the locals. Grandad had a good eye for stock and ran a mixed farm, he always had a twinkle in his eye and would never be scared to have a go at something different.
Berry Good will be exhibiting at the BBC Good Food Show Scotland at the SECC in Glasgow from the 17-19 October so why not visit them on stand F92 and say hello?
Keep up to date with Berry Good on Facebook and Twitter.

Written by Gerry HaughianWritten by Gerry Haughian