They ran out of pumpkins and there was no way I was tackling a neep. A watermelon worked rather well, I thought. :)
Given the choice of having a meal anywhere in the Highlands, I’d chose The Mountain Cafe in Aviemore everytime. Light, bright and airy, it’s open for breakfasts and lunches every day (see the Facebook page to be sure) and is a wonderful place for a coffee and cake or a satisfying meal after a Cairngorms hillwalk or a Feshie cycle. It’s ridiculously popular. There’s rarely been a visit where I haven’t had to queue for a table for 10/20 minutes but it has never ever put me off. I know what’s waiting inside.
The Scottish breakfasts are perfectly cooked with high quality ingredients; the sandwiches have freshly baked breads and generous fillings; the soups are just beautiful; and I challenge any salad-hater to remain so after trying one at the Mountain Cafe.
My favourite dishes are the kiwi fritters. They used to only serve the Kiwi Sweetcorn fritters (which were excellent) but now do a Fritter of the Day. The below recipe (kindly shared by Kirsten, the owner and head chef) has been my favourite so far.
Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Fritters
(Serves 3 – Makes 6 fritters – Double the recipe to feed a crowd and adjust the amount of chilli to suit your preferences.)
1 cup roasted pumpkin or sweet potato, mashed
1 garlic clove, finely diced
2 free range eggs, lightly beaten
1 large handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup good quality crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut cream
zest of 1 lime
2/3 cup ground almonds
1 heaped tablespoon buckwheat flour (could also also use spelt flour or regular wheat flour)
Dried chilli flakes, sea salt and cracked pepper to season
coconut oil or ghee for fryingTo serve: shredded crunchy veg (e.g. courgette, pepper, carrot) lime wedges, greek yoghurt or sour cream, sweet chilli sauce, additional chopped spring onion and coriander
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and a generous dash of dried chilli flakes.
- Heat coconut oil or ghee in a sauté pan over a medium heat. Fry dessertspoons of batter for 2-3 minutes on each side, turning the heat down if the fritters are colouring too quickly.
- Fritters can be served immediately or enjoyed at room temperature.
- The Mountain Cafe (and I) serve two of these per person along with plenty of crunchy veg and a drizzle of sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.
Sundays are for long walks with Marco and baking bread. This morning there’s a distinct autumnal chill in the air. It’s not quite hat weather but it’s not far off. We’re heading to our favourite woods to chase pheasants (Marco) and pick mushrooms (me) and when we return, I’ll make my current favourite bread: Spelt, Fig and Walnut.
I’ve taken to kneading my bread by hand again. For a while there, I was using a mixer to do all the work and a fine job it did of it too. Missed the therapy of working the dough myself, though. It feels oddly right now that those 15 minutes have returned to my Sunday routine.
Fig and Walnut Bread (Got the idea for this bread from the back of the Doves’ spelt flour package. I’m not so keen on bread make entirely with spelt though. This ratio was more to my liking.)
300ml tepid water
1 tspn dried active yeast
1 tspn brown sugar
150g spelt flour
350g strong white flour
1 tspn salt
6 dried figs
A little oil
- Add the yeast and sugar to the water and set aside for 10 mins.
- Sift the flours and salt into a large bowl. Add the water and use your hand to mix to a rough dough.
- Turn out on to a clean surface and knead for 10 – 15 minutes until dough is silky and pliable. Place in a lightly oiled plastic bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for an hour or two until doubled in size.
- While dough is rising, briefly toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan then chop roughly. Soak the figs in hot tea for 30 mins, blot dry then chop roughly.
- When dough is risen, tip on to a lightly floured surface and knock the air out. Stretch dough out into a flat rectangle and sprinkly across the nuts and figs. Roll dough up then knead again for a couple of minutes until filling is evenly distributed and dough is holding together again (it’ll be a little tricky at first but it will happen).
- Shape into a ball and place on lightly floured baking sheet. Cover ( I put a big plastic bowl upside-down over the dough) and leave to rest in a warm place for another hour.
- Meanwhile, heat the over to 190oC. Make sure there is a baking tray heating on the shelf below the one you’ll put the bread on.
- When the dough is risen, sprinkle with a little white flour then slash diagonally three times. Place in the oven. Pour a cup of water into the hot baking tray then shut the door quickly. This will create lots of steam to give you a good crust.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes. Bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Let cool completely before slicing.
Very good with some salty butter and/or sharp cheddar.
At the beginning of the summer I took part in the Highland Cross with two friends. It’s a coast to coast event involving walking/running 20 miles then cycling 30 miles through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery. Armed with picnics and cameras, we weren’t your normal competitors. After a couple of miles, we couldn’t even see the other walkers ahead of us and we finished almost last! I know I’d like to run in the event in the future but this summer I had an absolutely lovely day walking in the hills, chatting with my friends, cheering on the runners and munching away on silly amount of food I had in my back pack.
The Jelly Babies were kindly shared by one of the marshals. My own snack of choice was a bag of Brazil nuts and dates. And it was this snack that inspired the below sweet nut butter. It’s very rich and very good. It’s terribly good for you and, once made, will keep in the fridge for at least four weeks. Highly recommend smearing it on toast in the mornings and topping with banana.
Brazil Nut and Date Butter
250g Brazil Nuts
Pinch of salt
- Simple add the nuts and dates to a food processor and blend until nuts begin to release their oils. Add a few splashes of water to loosen, a pinch of salt and continue blending until a buttery consistency is reached. This can take several minutes.
I fell out of love with dhal a few years ago. Before then I’d regularly make big batches for the freezer and it was a weekly staple when life got particularly hectic. One day I just couldn’t face it anymore. Like the macaroni cheese of my childhood, I’d eaten it too often and its uniform taste and texture was no longer comforting; dhal was just dull.
There’s a happy ending, though, as recently I discovered this dahl. It’s the same lentil stew but with a mix of spices and quickly fried ingredients mixed through at the end. It utterly delicious and each mouthful a little different than the one before. I an enamoured once more.
Tarka Dhal (adapted from an epsiode of Saturday Kitchen where a Goan chef cooked for Rick Stein)
For the lentil stew:
Oil (ground nut, coconut, sunflower – not olive)
1 large onion, sliced thinly
3 medium tomatoes, quartered
2 garlic cloves
1 tspn turmeric
For the “seasoning”:
Oil (as above)
1 tspn mustard seeds
1 tspn onion seeds (optional)
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 green chilli, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, chopped
4 medium tomatoes – skinned, deseeded and chopped
½ tspn astofoetida (optional)
Heat a good glug of the oil over a medium high heat. Once hot, add the onions and tomatoes and cook for approximately 6 minutes until onion is soft but not coloured and tomatoes are collapsing. Add the garlic and turmeric and cook for another minute. Stir in the lentils then add enough water to just cover. Add a pinch of salt then bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 mins until the lentils are softened and the water absorbed. You’ll probably need to add a little more water every now and again.
While the lentils are cooking, make the tarka. In a large frying pan, add the mustard and onion seeds to the oil. Place on a medium high heat and cook until the seeds start popping. Add the onion then cook for a minute. Add the garlic and chilli. Cook for a minute. Add the tomato and asafoetida and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and stir into the lentils. Finally, stir the coriander and a good grinding of pepper into the dhal.