27 February 2015

The Big Dinner Cheeseboard

IT WAS AN honour to create a cheeseboard for The Big Dinner (Bigdinner.co.uk). Originally charged with providing cheese for the Lord Provost's charity dinner, founder, Olivia Giles, then organised a Google Hangouts session along with blogger Hilary Sturzaker (Mymonkfish.com) and wine expert Nikki Welsh (Winetubemap.co.uk) where we discussed the best practices for assembling a cheeseboard.

Olivia's aim is to raise £500,000 in a single night (March 7th) to aid people with mobility difficulties in Malawi and Zambia, helping them to lead independent lives, as she - a quadruple amputee - has done.  Olivia's work is truly inspiring and it was an honour to play this little part in helping The Big Dinner.

This cheeseboard was a true showcase of the outstanding cheeses we make here in Scotland. With all the grassy pastures and wonderful cattle we rear here, it's no wonder we can produce such great cheeses.

I began with Loch Arthur Cheddar, as not only is it a wonderful cheese in its own right, but a an truly amazing project, too.  Run by Barry Graham in Beeswing, Dumphries, Loch Arthur Creamery employs over 40 people with learning difficulties, giving these exceptional individuals a living and social space, as well as a skilled profession.  This Cheddar is grassy, rich and nutty and a multiple-award winner.

My second cheese was called Auld Reekie, which is from the Cambus O'May Creamery in Royal Deeside, where cheesemaker, Alex Reid, continues his Mother's recipe in the form of Cambus O'May cheese.  Auld Reekie - named after Edinburgh - takes the Cambus O'May and smokes it with whisky soaked oak chips to impart a true Scottish flavour.

It wouldn't be a Scottish cheeseboard without an Errington cheese, and Dunsyre Blue is a personal favourite of mine.  It's barnyard-y milky tastes linger around the palette long after it has melted away on your tongue.,

Bonnet is a superb hard goats' cheese made at the Dunlop dairy in Ayrshire. It has a slightly floral note to it and is just a really easy eating cheese.  Very popular in the shop and pairs notably well with Dunsyre Blue.

Finally, Clava Brie (well, Brie-style) is making a few waves in the cheese industry.  It's already collected several gongs at the British Cheese Awards and is a great Scottish take on this most famous French offering.  Buttery and chalky, Clava is made from organic cows' milk and brings a soft option to complete this cheeseboard.

Enjoy the video and please stop in for some cheeses.

I.J. Mellis was established in Edinburgh in 1993 with the original branch (come and see me!) on Victoria Street, just up from the Grassmarket.  We now have three shops in Edinburgh (Baker's Place in Stockbridge and Morningside Road in Morningside) and a further three branches in Glasgow, Aberdeen and St. Andrews.


19 February 2015

Easy ten minute breakfast: Baked eggs with ham and tomato

BREAKFAST IS SUCH a contentious issue:  Do you? Don't you? If not, why not?  I usually settle for a quick "bacon roll to go", but today, I was rather more inspired and whipped up this speedy dish with everyday bits and bobs from the fridge.

The beauty of this dish is that it requires virtually no prep. Just pop it in the oven while you grab a shower and by the time you're done, this tasty little dish will be ready to set you up for the day. I love how the mustard acts as a seasoning and brings it all together.


2x free-range eggs
Half of a tomato, sliced and seeds removed
1x slice of good quality ham (or you could cook bacon instead), chopped
50g of Gruyere or Cheddar cheese
Tsp English mustard


1) Pre-heat oven to 200C
2) Start by layering a ramekin with the tomato and bacon, then spread over a layer of mustard and cheese.
3) Next, break the eggs into the ramekin and gently swirl it around to ensure it's evenly distributed - try not to break the yolks!
4) Place in the oven for 6-8 mins while you grab a shower.
5) Breakfast is served! Just remember... the ramekin will be extremely hot!

15 February 2015

Home-made Gorgonzola, Parma ham, honey, seaweed and tomato pizza with rocket

EVERYONE LOVES PIZZA, don't they? It  makes me sad seeing people picking up one of the supermarket-made efforts.  The bases taste like cardboard and the fillings are really low quality, so why not give making your own a go? It's easier and quicker than you think...

INGREDIENTS (Makes one pizza)

For the dough

250g strong organic flour, sifted (plus extra for kneading)
14g Organic fast action yeast (I use Doves Farm)
Pinch of sea salt
Couple of glugs of olive oil
200ml warm water  (at blood temperature to active the yeast)

Tomato base

Three teaspoons tomato puree
One clove of garlic, finely grated
Splash of hot water
Teaspoon of dried oregano
Pinch of salt


You can design your own to suit, but here I went for...

200g Gorgonzola
3x slices of Parma ham, torn
Half an onion, finely sliced
1x Mozzarella ball, grated
1x ripe tomato, finely sliced
1x tablespoon honey
Handful of rocket
1 tsp Mara seaweed, Shony 
Freshly ground pepper


1) Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt and olive oil.  Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, create a well in the centre of the flour mix and gradually add the liquid.  Mix with a spatula or by hand until roughly combined.

2) Place dough mix onto a floured surface and lightly knead for three-four mins until a smooth dough is formed.  You'll know it's ready by pinching it - the dough should recoil slightly, but hold the pinch mark.

3) Shape into a smooth ball and place back in bowl, in a warm place and cover tightly with cling film.  Leave in a warm place for around 30-45 mins until doubled in size. "TIP: Make a  bigger batch and freeze.  That way you can just defrost and roll out.

4) While the dough proves, place a pan on a low heat and add oil.  Gently fly garlic for ten seconds, then add the tomato puree.  Quickly stir and add a good splash of hot water, stirring vigorously to combine.  Allow to cool slighty.

5) Pre-heat oven to hottest setting.  Roll out dough, it should have doubled in size by now.  I find this base suits a more deep-pan style of thickness, but feel free to roll as thing as possible for a thin crust. Prick the base with a fork, then spread tomato sauce evenly and add desired toppings.

6) Place on top shelf for around 15 mins.  Leave to stand for a couple of minutes before slicing and serve.

10 February 2015

Review: Al Dente, Edinburgh

It was a quiet Monday night as we rolled up to Al Dente on Easter Road, a tiny Italian restaurant that sits unassumingly half-way down Easter Road. You’re instantly drawn to the Ospitalia Italiana gold award proudly stamped into its façade; in my experience, these less glamourous eateries always turn out to be a winner.

There’s an open kitchen, and chef/owner Graziano is gabbing away in his native tongue to a friend. On entering, he is swiftly out to greet us, alongside our waitress for the evening. The Italian excitedly takes us through today’s specials and retreats back behind the stove. 

My starter tonight is warm-baked Apulian potato tart with cured meat and mozzarella (£5.30), with Sarah going for ‘Sautee de pesce’ priced at £6.80. The dining room is immediately awash with the wonderful aromas of garlic and white wine, and with one large breath drawn in, Sarah boldly states “Mmmm, it doesn’t get better than that”. She might be right. 

Her dish comes out first and I was glad to see just a simple plate of mussels, calamari, prawns, clams, and a decent chunk of good bread to soak us those juices.  The last time we ordered this in a restaurant the shellfish were full of grit; thankfully, this chef has given his produce the respect it deserves, and that respect extends to the cooking of it – simple, but effective, the way it should be. My dish was equally as good: quality ham, gooey cheese, crunchy top and potatoes with a slight bite to them – a dish most suited to this cold winter evening.

Another couple of Italian gentlemen entered the restaurant and the banter between chef and customer flowed.  It’s a definite indicator of authenticity when fellow countrymen dine in such restaurants, and a far cry from the more generic offerings that lie over on Leith Walk.
I opted for one of the specials in the form of pork loin with gorgonzola, honey, and roasted vegetables (£14.80). This plate is never going to win any awards for presentation, but its rusticity wasn’t without its charm.

Anyway, the pig was moist and tender and that gratinated gorgonzola was a real revelation.  Textbook cooking would suggest the potatoes needed a little more caramelisation, but they were well-cooked and very tasty, if lacking a pinch of salt. The aubergine was expertly chargrilled and not transformed into a pile of grey mush, as can often be the case. The syrupy, slight sweetness to balsamic vinegar suggests it was a quality one, and it just brought an acidic tinge that enhanced the dish.  My only quibble was that maybe a drizzle of olive oil was needed to tighten the dish up slightly. 

Sarah’s main was the old classic, lasagne al forno (£10.50). The sheets of pasta were perfectly executed to an ‘Al Dente’ texture and the béchamel was creamy. However, although she enjoyed the dish, Sarah would have liked a tad more of the ragu to cut through that white sauce. 
Al Dente serves up unpretentious, honest cooking at excellent prices.  The staff clearly put a great deal of pride into their work and that shines through in the food and the service.  It won’t be long before we visit again. Bellissimo!

Web: http://www.al-dente-restaurant.co.uk/
Phone: (0131) 6521 932
Twitter: @ALDENTERest
Address: 139 Easter Road, Edinburgh, EH7 5QA

Open:  Mon: 17:30 - 22:00
             Tues to Sat: 12:00 - 14:00, 17:30 - 22:00

Al Dente offers an Early Bird menu (until 18:30, Mon-Fri) with two courses on offer for £10.50 or three for £13.50, with BYOB on Wednesdays.

Al Dente on Urbanspoon