Frozen Firth

I like weather.

Today, the temperature remained firmly in the low teens (Celcius) and, both morning and evening, I had to remove layers whilst out walking with Marco.  Only a couple of weeks ago, though, we had to wrap up warmly to crunch through the ice that caked the shores of the Beauly Firth on a clear, icy Friday afternoon.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

When I was a kid and my parents suggested we went out for a family meal, I only ever wanted to go to one place: Beekie’s Nuek. A traditional Scottish pub in the Aberdeenshire village of Newmachar with a fairly generic pub-grub menu, it was (and, by the looks of things, still is) an unassuming, cosy venue for a plate of macaroni cheese or a battered haddock on a Sunday evening after having spent the afternoon being dragged around a castle or a wood or (the worst) a whiskey whisky distillery.

But why Beekie’s Nuek over other local pub restaurants such as Fintray’s The Northern Lights or Kirkton of Skene’s Red Star?  They too served the chunky chips and chicken goujons that my 9 year old palate craved.  Why?  Why?  I’ll tell you why and in just three short words:

Sticky. Toffee. Pudding.

Sticky toffee pudding.  Beekie’s Neuk’s sticky toffee pudding was to die for.  The sponge  was so moist and the sauce was so buttery, so sweet, so rich, so  mmmmwwwwaahhhhhhmmmyumyum.  Really, it was that good.

Though I’ve never quite found a sticky toffee pudding that quite lives up to my memory of the one served in Beekie’s Neuk, it is still the dessert that makes me break my standard starter- and-main-only pattern in restaurants.    Despite not having much of a sweet tooth, I just can’t resist sticky toffee pudding.

For years I deliberately avoided trying to make the dish at home for fear that I would embark on a sticky toffee pudding orgy and emerge months later 20 kilos heavier and toothless.  Then this weekend I caved and I made my first ever sticky toffee pudding for guests.  Horrified to tell you,  it was really very, very  good indeed.

So, see you some time in August when I’ll be wearing larger clothes and refusing to smile.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

(makes 8 )

For the sponges (sponges can be made in advance and just heated up in the microwave last minute)

150g pitted dates, roughly chopped and soaked in boiling water

75g unsalted butter

100g muscavado sugar

2 eggs

1 tspn vanilla extract

175g self raising flour

1 tspn mixed spice

½ tspn bicarbonate of soda

For the Sauce

200g  butter

400g  brown sugar

250ml double cream

  • Soak the dates in boiling water for 10 mins.  Drain then blend in a food processor.
  • Beat the butter and muscavado sugar together until creamed.  Gradually add the eggs then stir in the date puree and vanilla extract.
  • Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice into the wet ingredients and fold until combined.
  • Spoon mixture into eight greased and dusted muffin tray moulds.
  • Bake in a 180 oC oven for 20 minutes.
  • If you intend on serving these right away, make the sauce now.  Add the butter, sugar and cream to a pan and heat very gently, stirring occasionally.  (I made the sponges in advance and just heated them up in the microwave)
  • When the sponges are baked/heated through, tip them onto serving plates and serve drenched in the sticky toffee sauce.
  • Serve as is or with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Smokey Tomato & Rice Soup

The days are starting to stretch and we have snowdrops under our birch tree.  I bought a bunch of daffodils at the supermarket last weekend and there’s a cherry tree down our road that has a few blossoms on it.  I’m not saying Spring is here or even that it’s on its way, but I am  slowly starting to remember what spring is like and that’s really rather nice indeed.

All this said, it was -5 oC this morning and my fingers almost dropped off scraping frost off the car.   Soup season is most definitely still here.  This one’s a cracker.  🙂

Smokey Tomato & Rice Soup

Olive oil

2 sticks of celery, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

4 plump garlic cloves, finely chopped

25g rice

25g red lentils

1 tspn smoked paprika (you may need to increase this if your smoked paprika isn’t really smokey)

1 tspn paprika

1 tpsn cumin

½ tspn cayenne pepper or chilli powder (if your smoked paprika is hot you won’t need this  – taste the spices)

500g passata (sieved tomatoes – you could use normal tinned tomatoes but the consistency will be less velvety)

1.5 ltr chicken or vegetable stock (made from a cube is fine)

150g frozen sweetcorn

  • Heat a good splash of olive oil in a large pan.  Add the onion and celery and fry gently until softened (about 10 mins).  Add the garlic and spices to the pan and stir well.
  • Cook for another minute before adding the rice, lentils, passata and stock.  Simmer gently for 20 mins.  Add the sweetcorn and cook for a futher 10 mins until the rice and lentils are soft.
  • Season and serve.