The Mountain Café’s Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Fritters

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.

The Highland Cross (And a Sweet Nut Butter)

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

10 dates

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.  

Un-dull Dhal

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

200g lentils

Water

Salt

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.

Spring Greens Spanakopita

A really beautiful dish.  It makes everyone go “ooooohhhh” both when it’s brought to the table and when they try it.  Best served slightly warm rather than hot.

Spring Greens Spanakopita (adapted from A Modern Way to Eat)

1 large leek, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely

400g spring greens (stalks removed and roughly chopped)

200g spinach

Zest of ½ lemon

200g feta (crumbled)

3 large eggs

Small bunch of parsley, chopped

1 heaped tblspn chopped dill

6 sheets of filo pastry

Olive oil for brushing

  • In a large pan over a medium heat, sauté the leek in little olive oil until soft and silky. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.
  • Add the spring greens to the pan along with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook for two minutes until the greens have wilted then add the spinach.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes until all the greens are wilted and tender.  Remove from the heat and drain in colander lined with muslin or a large sieve.  Leave to cool then squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the greens.  Don’t skip this step.  Soggy spanakopita is not good.
  • Add the eggs, crumbled feta, lemon zest and some salt and pepper to a large bowl. Add the cooled greens and mix well to combine.
  • Lightly oil a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush each sheet of filo then place it in the tin, gently pushing it down (take care not to rip it!) The filo should rest in the bottom of the pan and hang over the sides.  Repeat with the remaining sheets of filo, changing the angle of the sheets so they don’t lie perfectly on top of one another.
  • Once all the filo is in the tin, add the greens mixture, again, using a wooden spoon to gently push the mixture down.
  • Use your fingers to pull the filo over the top of the mixture, scrunching it to create pretty layers on top. You shouldn’t be able to see any greens once you’re done.  If you can, tear up another filo sheet and block the holes.  Brush the top with a little more oil.
  • Bake in a 200oC oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and push the pie out of the cake tin.  Return to the oven and cook until the pie is golden all over (another 10 mins).
  • Leave to cool for 30 mins then serve warm.

A Simple Onion Tart

Let’s ignore the fact that I’ve been gone for three months, shall we?  Yes?  Super.  Accept this cute photo of Marco as an apology and we can just move on.

In fact, let’s just continue where we left off and pretend the following promised recipe isn’t terribly, terribly overdue.  It’s a recipe for an onion tart.  It’s very simple but it’s very, very good.  We’re having it tonight with a lentil and greens salad (will share that soon too) and some rosemary bread.  And I’ll undoubtedly polish off the leftovers for breakfast tomorrow morning – this is not a dish that lasts long in our house!

Onion Tart

330g plain flour

½ tsp salt

75g cold salted butter

75g lard

Cold water

5 medium onions

Knob  of butter

Glug of olive oil

½ tspn dried thyme

50g parmesan cheese

150ml milk

150 ml double cream

2 medium eggs

  • Sift the flour and salt into a bowl.  Cut the butter into cubes and throw in the bowl.  Quickly and vigorously rub the fats into the flour.  Lift your hands high above the bowl to make sure the mixture remains airy.  When the flour and fat are combined and resemble breadcrumbs, begin to add the cold water.  Start with 30ml and mix in with a knife.  Add water tablespoon by tablespoon and mix until the mixture starts to come together.  Use your hands to create a smooth ball of pastry.  Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for an hour.  (See Delia’s instructions for more detail.)  This makes more pastry than you’ll need.  I freeze the leftovers.
  • Meanwhile, slice the onions to 5mm thickness.  Melt the butter and oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the onions and cook slowly.  When the onions begin to go translucent, add the dried thyme and continue cooking.  I like my onions to be soft and just starting to go golden, for a sweeter tasting tart, cook the onions until golden and caramelised.
  • In a jug, briefly whisk together the milk, cream and eggs with a little salt and pepper.
  • Roll the pastry out to the thickness of a pound coin (3mm?) and line a 23cm fluted tart tin with it.  Line with baking paper, add baking beans or dried chickpeas and blind bake for 25 mins in a 180oC oven. Remove the beans and paper and bake for a futher 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven.  Add the onions to the base of the tin and half of the cheese.  Pour over the milky/eggy mixture and top with the remaining cheese.  Bake in the oven for 30 mins.
  • Remove from oven when golden and set and let cool for 20 mins.  This tart is much taster when warm rather than hot.

An Avocado & Goats Cheese Lunch

(Spot the ‘deliberate’ mistake.)

2014 was always going to be busy.  Wonderfully so.  My plans were to run the London Marathon in April (4 hours 11 minutes!), get married in July and go to America to teach a Scottish cookery course in September.  All fabulous but all requiring a lot of preparation.  It was do-able though.  Then I got a new job.   It’s also fabulous but the time and energy I’ve been devoting to it on top of the time and energy spent on the wedding etc has left me with little time or energy for my usual pastimes of experimenting in the kitchen, taking pictures and blogging.  I haven’t even been reading much!

Today I decided to have a wee holiday and do nothing.  By nothing, I mean I went for a long walk with Marco in the woods; I baked some bread and a lovely batch of shortbread; I read for a few hours in the sun and I took a picture of my lunch.   That’s it in the picture below.  It was a simple lunch but it was lovely.  Perfect for a sunny lazy day.

Avocado & Goats Cheese Spread

(enough to spread on two English muffins)

1 perfectly ripe avocado (don’t even bother with a hard fruit)

2 tblspns soft goats cheese

A squeeze of lemon juice

Dried chilli flakes

Sea salt flakes

  • Simply mash the avocado and goats cheese together along with the lemon juice.
  • Spread on crusty bread or crackers or (my favourites) a toasted English muffin and sprinkle with chilli flakes and sea salt.

Selkirk Bannock

Selkirk is a town somewhere in the Scottish Borders.  I’m not entirely sure where.  I’ve heard it’s lovely but I’ve never been there and I know only two things about it.  1.)  It’s the home-town of my friend and the artist who designed my banner, Faye Anderson.  She’s an extremely talented artist.  Animal lovers, you may want to check out her work here.  And 2.) I have this town to thank for my favourite tea loaf.

Selkirk Bannocks are enormous fruit loaves which were traditionally made with leftover bread dough.  In Scotland (and possibly the rest of the UK?) we call this type of enriched, sweet bread a “tea loaf”.   I’m guessing this is because a slice of this spread with butter or jam or both would typically be eaten with a cup of tea mid-morning or afternoon.   It makes a lovely breakfast too though.

I tend to make a smaller loaf than is traditional as there are only two of us in the house.  That said, it keeps well for a couple of days and can be eaten toasted for a good few days after that.

Selkirk Bannock

450g bread flour

Pinch of salt

1 tspn dried active yeast 

30g caster sugar

250ml luke warm milk

75g butter, cut into cubes and softened

200g sultanas

1 small egg, beaten

  • Add the yeast and sugar to the warm milk and stir.  Leave for 15 mins until yeast froths slightly.
  • Meanwhile, add flour and salt to a large bowl.
  • Stir the yeasty milk into the flour and stir to form a sticky dough.  Knead well for 10 mins adding a little more flour if necessary.
  • Place dough in an oiled bowl and leave to rise in a warm place for at least an hour or until dough has doubled in size.
  • Remove dough from the bowl and pull out into a flat shape.  Gradually add a little of the butter and some of the sultanas and knead through thoroughly.  Repeat until all the butter has been amalgamated and the sultanas and evenly spread through the dough. This is a sticky, greasy process.  It does amalgamate eventually, I promise!
  • Shape dough into a ball and place on a floured baking sheet.  Cover with a big bowl that won’t touch the dough and leave in a warm place to double in size again.
  • Meanwhile heat the oven to 180oC.
  • When dough is risen, brush generously with the egg glaze.  Place in the oven and bake for 45 mins or until golden all over and hollow sounding.
  • Cool and serve sliced and smeared with butter and/or jam.