24 September 2013

Spice Up Your Life

FOR MOST OF us Brits, curry will feature on the dinner table at some point in the week, whether it be a take away or a homemade version.  Chilli Papas spice mixes aren’t only healthy, but create a far superior dinner than your normal take away or store bought curry paste.

Darren Mollan founded the company by accident in December 2010 when rushing around trying to rustle up something to feed his four hungry children.

As it happens, his sister-in-law came around to make a curry for New Year’s Day dinner and Darren’s wife Lynn suggested creating a pre-packaged spice mix with instructions on making a healthy curry.

I first met Darren a couple of years back while he was promoting Chilli Papas at a food festival.  He tells me what the venture has been like up to this point:

‘It’s been a rollercoaster of joy, elation and excitement against disappointment, frustration and stress!

‘What has really been amazing is looking back at what we started with: a £20 budget and one mix that we sent to friends on Facebook to sample.

‘Since then highlights have included our first food festival in Crail in 2011, having a celebrity chef like a sample and not believing it was cooked without oil.

‘We especially love meeting new and existing customers; that way you can engage, swap tips and really explain our company ethos.’

I’ve used Chilli Papas mixes a few times and always admire the balance of spices Darren has perfected in the blends.  It’s a real skill to be able to do something like that and I asked the man himself how he creates his mixes and about his passion for cooking:

‘I have been cooking curries for the past 16 years, initially using my Mum’s recipes and then adapting them to suit healthier eating. I have no professional cooking experience but just love to create food and experiment.

‘The original mix (Mandalay) was really created by accident and I perfected it over a six month period. I learnt from this and by guinea pigging the family.  We offer free samples to our Facebook fans to get more feedback and adjust accordingly.’

Recently, Chilli Papas launched a new Gurkha curry mix and Darren told me about the inspiration behind this new tangy and sour Nepalese blend:

‘This is a recipe from an old family friend who was a Gurkha soldier in the British Army. I found it in my Mum’s recipe book and adapted it to fit the Chilli Papas ethos.

‘I think family recipes like this offer a different taste experience for the whole family. In this case, it took a lot of experimenting to get it right, but we got there I think!’

Darren featured on BBC Radio Scotland’s Kitchen Café show a few months back and tells me what it was like cooking on the radio:

‘I was really nervous about cooking on the show as I'm a big fan, but when Penny Latin turned up she put me at ease straight away.

‘What made it very easy was that you end up chatting away about the cooking, the history and a little about Chilli Papas and time just flies. We even had a few laughs especially about a couple of unusual ingredients’

Whilst listening to the show, Darren finished off his curry by crushing some crisps and sprinkling them over the dish.  The presenters were a bit dubious about this at first but once they tasted the curry, really took to the idea:

‘It's all about adding crunch and an additional texture.  I wanted something neutral, that wouldn’t add another flavour like nuts would, so I tried crisps and it worked!’

I think it’s a great touch and often do it with my curries now and trust me - it works!

The great thing about Chilli Papas mixes are that they’re essentially one-pot dishes and really do suit, not just hectic family life, but everybody from busy working professionals to kids that like to cook.

The mixes come with an easy-to-use recipe printed on the card inside; perfect for even the most inexperienced cook.

One of the unique things about the curries is that they encourage oil free cooking, making them low fat and healthy; something that was very important to Darren when developing the product:

Darren is a regular at food festivals throughout Scotland
‘Being a child-friendly product was very important as we have four in our family.

‘As the product is so simple to cook, it’s very easy to get children involved with the preparation and mixing of the ingredients.

‘Our children often beg to be involved and, as well as teaching them where products come from, they'll learn about smell and textures too. This has led to many reviews stating how much they enjoyed using the mixes, from people who are good eaters to those who are fussy.’

Like Darren, encouraging children to cook and learn about food is something that I care passionately about.  Schools do very little these days and it is important to get kids started on the right foot when it comes to food.  What better way to do that than getting the kids cooking a healthy curry?

There are currently ten Chilli Papas mixes available. For a list of stockists and regular updates, check out the Chilli Papas Facebook at: www.facebook.com/redhotchillipapas

23 September 2013

Wines of Portugal Food and Wine Event with Tom Cannavan.

The Grain Store are hosting a special food and wine event in association with Wines of Portugal. The evening  features six of the country's finest wines along side a four-course dinner designed by the restaurant's chefs.

Wine expert and food writer Tom Cannavan will guide you through the wines as you enjoy the wonderful, modern Scottish-style food The Grain Store is renowned for.

Sommelier Kisha Gallagher explains how the event came about:

'Wines Of Portugal approached us regarding a consumer tasting back in June. They are keen to promote the regional differences and indigenous varietals of Portugal to a wider audience. 

'They hope to show the similarities of their indigenous varietals to that of the much better known "garden-variety" ones. Our menu was very much created with that in mind and obviously we have the knowledge of Tom Cannavan to help ease the night along.'

Having visited The Grain Store recently, this promises to be a great night in one of Edinburgh's most intimate and well-established restaurants.  The menu looks amazing and really showcases Scottish produce, as well as a superb array of Portuguese wines.  

The menus includes:

                                                               Ceviche of scallops

                                           Borders roe deer saddle with roasted beetroot,
                                                     red kale & autumn berry sauce



                                                             Lemon tart, lemon sorbet

Tickets: £60 (£10 deposit required).

For book, pop into The Grain Store on Victoria Street or call the restaurant on 0131 225 7635.


15 September 2013

A Day In The Life of... an Artisan Baker

FOR ME THERE’S nothing better than opening your oven and inhaling that wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread.  Jon Wood is one of few artisan bakers around these days and I was privileged enough to catch up with him and find out what a day in the life of a baker is like.

Bakery Andante opened in Morningside nearly three years ago and has grown steadily ever since.  The bakery employs nine people and prides itself on making bread the traditional way - using few ingredients, no additives and, most importantly, giving the dough time to do its job naturally.

Jon lets me in on a few baking secrets and tells me what he thinks sets Bakery Andante’s products apart from mass 
produced supermarket offerings:

‘Our secret is simple – we add time and care.

‘Bread made properly is naturally flavourful and fulfilling, as well as mould resistant and longer lasting. If we add time and care, we simply don’t need to add any more ingredients.

‘Our sourdoughs, for example, only have three ingredients: flour, water and salt. Our wholemeal bread has six ingredients, which when you compare it to an organic wholemeal bread from a neighbouring supermarket that uses 12 ingredients, tells a story in itself.

‘The modern Chorleywood Process or ‘no time’ doughs only use the yeast to give a bloom in the oven and it spends so little time in the dough that it doesn't have a chance to work its magic. 

‘All the additives make it worse, but a lack of time is the main culprit.  I’m always amazed at how sweet our wholemeal bread is given we add no sugar or sweetener.  I believe that it’s simply the slow process that releases the natural flavours and sugars.’

It’s hard graft being a baker, there is no doubting that.  I wondered what a typical day was like for Jon and his staff:

‘Generally, we start at 5:00 a.m. I was keen not to work night shifts on a regular basis, as it would be unhealthy for my family life, and I like that we have warm bread at 9:00 a.m. for customers, rather than bread that’s already been out for eight hours or so.

‘First job is to turn on the ovens and start the morning’s mixes.  We have croissants and some of the bread's ready to go immediately. As soon as the oven is up to temperature, we get them in to bake. 

‘The sourdoughs get turned to strengthen the dough and even out the air pockets, then we start to weigh and shape the breads.

‘We have doughs in three stages: those that have been mixed the day before, and made up; a larger set that have been left in bulk and either chilled to slowly ferment, like our sourdoughs; then those that we mix in the morning.

‘We try and start the sourdoughs for the next day at about 7.30, then move on to prepping the yeasted doughs for the next day.  

‘We mix our baguette dough and leave it overnight to prove slowly; that means that while we have a reduced volume, it doesn’t puff up as much in the oven and we get a much richer flavour. 

‘Home time beckons when we start to prepare our poolishes and feed the sourdough cultures so they are nice and active for the next day.  We clean the equipment, lay out the next day’s recipes and call it a day.’
That sounds like hard but rewarding graft, indeed; one that must require a great amount of passion and determination.  I wondered as to the source of Jon's committment:

‘It’s tempting to say that it’s in my blood as my maternal great great grandfather was a German baker who emigrated to London before WWI, and on my father’s side, my grandmother’s family owned a large bakery in England.  

‘More realistically, my mother used to bake wholemeal bricks, which as a teenage boy I used to devour. 

‘When I left home I missed real bread, finding what was available tasteless and unfulfilling.  After a while, I bought a bread machine and from there I experimented and played, and discovered how much I enjoyed the process as much as the end product. ‘

The Great British Bake Off has done a great deal to encourage people to give home baking a go.  Such shows are not only a great way to get people into the kitchen, but also remind us of the classic cakes and bakes that are engrained in British heritage.

What advice would the master baker himself give to the home cook?

‘Funnily enough I would not call myself a master baker – I’m a hobbyist who has taken it a bit far! I still have a huge amount to learn.  My experience came from reading in books, having a go, doing it again until I got it right.’ That in itself is great advice. 
Jon continues:

‘The best advice has to be “give it a go and don’t feel forced to ‘create’”.  I think that there is a tendency with things like Masterchef, GBBO and the plethora of celebrity chefs out there to think that to do it properly, It has to be fancy with hundreds of ingredients and flavours skilfully interwoven, cooked and presented with precision.

‘Some of the best meals are really very simple and start with great produce.  There is no better meal than a great baguette, some fine cheese or pate, a flavourful tomato and a glass of good red wine or beer.'

Jon’s bread flies off the shelves at my work and I’m amazed at how many people say it’s hard to find good bread in Edinburgh.  With supermarkets growing ever more powerful, it’s important that we remember our amazing baking history in the UK and support our artisan producers.

Once you’ve tried proper bread, you’ll grow increasingly disappointed at having to accept a supermarket alternative – trust me on that one!

‘We need to create opportunities for people to try it and be able to justify why it costs more, but is still good value.  Thankfully, consumers these days are aware that cheap is not best, and to eat good food you do need to pay a bit more. 

‘We also need to promote the benefits.  We know that much of the issues people have with bread is less to do with the product and more to do with the process of how it’s made. 

‘Research in Italy recently found that sufferers of coeliac disease could tolerate properly made breads.  I believe that giving the yeasts as much time to do the work as intended makes the wheat easier for us to digest and unlocks more nutrients.

‘Some legal support would be good too because when the likes of Sainsbury’s (next door to Bakery Andante)  can advertise itself as ‘Your Local Bakery’, when all that happens is that frozen bread, sometimes up to a year old, is merely put into an oven, and when other supermarkets can call themselves ‘Scratch bakeries’ when all they do is add water to a premix, it makes it difficult for consumers to see the differences.

Get along to Bakery Andante and sample the fantastic products Jon and his team have available.  As Jon himself says: ‘Once you’ve eaten proper bread, it’s hard to go back to eating cotton wool and air.’

You can find Bakery Andante at:
352 Morningside Rd, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH10 4QL