Monday 31 December 2012

Edinburgh cafe: Jenners Department Store

When I first travelled in Edinburgh I was bemused by the advertisements claiming "London has Harrods, New York has Bloomingdales, Edinburgh has Jenners".  I had never heard of the upmarket Edinburgh department store before.  Having spent quite some time in Edinburgh I am now very fond of Jenners and pleased that it has retained its identify despite being sold to the House of Fraser in 2005.

After all, who could fail to be impressed by the magnificent woodwork in the grand hall.  It looked even more impressive with the huge Christmas tree and sparkly lighting.  The building is indeed the jewel of Princes Street with an elegant design both inside and out.

We didn't stop to browse in the store.  Our goal was lunch.  Whereas I was keen to eat at as many pubs in Edinburgh as possible, E thought we should be eating at department stores in Princes Street.  After all the views were spectacular.  We were lucky to find a window seat in Jenners restaurant.

(It is called a restaurant but it is more like an upmarket cafeteria so you will forgive me referring to it as a cafe.  I suspect it is called a restaurant to differentiate it from the more casual cafe in the food hall.)

E's mother loved Jenners so he was quite familiar with it.  The cafe has some lovely displays of food but the grey decor is another dull modern renovation that is a mystery.  Do people really love grey or is it just too bland for anyone to notice?  E remembers that this cafe used to be a grander dark wood panelling with green leather upholstery.

Fortunately with a great view of the Big Wheel and the Scott Monument, we weren't too bothered by the decor.  I was also pleased to be able to order some unadorned vegetables (peas and sprouts) to give Sylvia with her chips.  E had posh sausages with vegetables.  I was amused by the champagne bottles at the cash register.  An odd suggestive sell.  But what do you expect of a place that sells £75 tweed shopping bags.

For my lunch I chose the Christmas vegetarian lasagne.  It was presented with a festive flourish.  Full of cheese with a few unassuming cranberries, it was in desperate need of the vegetables that came on the side.  I have a strong dislike of the custom of serving lasagne in individual dishes that are impossible to reach into with a knife and fork, so I tipped mine out onto my plate to eat it.  And thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then we had a wander about the food hall.  It is now run by Valvona and Crona.  I heartily approve of this change.  Valvona and Crolla is a fine food shop down Leith Walk.  We rarely get down so far north on our trips in Edinburgh so I am quite pleased to see some of their wares at Jenners.

I highly recommend Jenners for anyone in search of Scottish food.  Above is the Walkers display.  More shortbread than you could poke a stick at.  (It even rivals the impressive stash in our own kitchen after Christmas.)

Saltire rock is just the thing for anyone wanting sweeties with the Scottish flag on them.  The Historic ales interested me more for the labels than the drink inside the bottles.  If you want to go posh then you could buy damson jelly with gin or prettily packaged Isle of Mull Truckles (barrells of cheese).  For unusual flavours there is the fiery worcerstershire sauce and sundried tomatoes popcorn, whisky tea or highland tea or Hope Kitchen's cranberry tablet.  I quite fancied the microwave vegetarian haggis slices and can recommend the Arran oat cakes.

The food hall is also a place for interesting (if sometimes junky) foreign foods.  I've never seen these jars of marshmallow fluff before but I have read enough blogs to know that they hail from America.

The Christmas goodies are a sight for sore eyes.  Puddings, mince pies, stollen, cakes.  This is where the posh matrons of Morningside will stock up for their Christmas Day feast.

Sylvia was most entranced by the chocolate lollipops.  (And any lollies she could find.)

If I had known that our Christmas tree would be stripped of a lot of decorations to load up Sylvia's little tree in her room, I might well have splashed out on some of the Scottish decorations from Jenners Christmas Shop.  And one day I will organise to buy some of their beautiful hand painted Scottish stoneware plates (ie organise a way to get them home without breaking and find room in my suitcase).

Finally we dragged ourselves out of Jenners, admired the Lego Santa Claus in the window and headed off to the German Markets for gluhwein and stollen.  By then it was quite dark and wet so we took the bus up to the Carlton Hotel on North Bridge where we had a very fine high tea with my friends, Anne and Anne.

And yes, you would be right if you thought that the last month has seen us eating our way through each day, what with our Edinburgh adventures, followed closely by Christmas.  The last few days have seen us feeling poorly.  It is probably just nature's way of telling us we need a break from all the fine food.  (Though surely nature could have done this without a visit to the Emergency Department for Sylvia's asthma!)  Tonight will be a quiet New Year's Eve.

I will write up my yearly reflections on 2012 post and then post a couple more Edinburgh posts to finish writing about our trip.  Meanwhile I hope you have a Happy Hogmanay and send you Warm Wishes for 2013.

Jenners Restaurant and Food Hall
House of Fraser (Jenners)
48 Princes Street, Edinburgh
Tel: 0844 800 3725 Website

Sunday 30 December 2012

Edinburgh pub: The Last Drop

Since leaving Edinburgh, E and I always find return visits busy catching up with people and visiting some of our favourite places.  No wonder the days fly by.  One of my favourite pubs when I lived in Edinburgh was the Last Drop in the Grassmarket. 

We went to the Grassmarket via Candlemaker Row.  At the top of this street is the statue of Greyfriars Bobby - the loyal wee dog who was buried in the graveyard of Greyfriar's Kirk.

His grave is quite humble but some of the other graves are more elaborate.  I am always amazed at now close the graves are to the houses.

At the bottom of Candlemaker Row is my favourite view of the castle.  If you look closely you will see a splash of red in the bottom left of the picture.  That is the front of the Last Drop.

It is a traditional pub with a welcoming bar and lots of nooks and crannies.  When I lived in Edinburgh I would often take visitors there.  Now I love it even more because it is one of the pubs that welcomes Sylvia.  Quite a few pubs would not let us bring her in or would only let us into the restaurant but not the bar.

Checking the url from our visit in 2009, it seems that the pub is now under new management.  It is run by Nicolson's pubs (the same chain as the Kenilworth).  The decor and menu seem mostly unchanged (though I think they might be different from when we lived in Edinburgh.)

The Last Drop can also be relied upon for warming drinks.  E had mulled wine and I had the hot port with honey.  I enjoyed my hot port but I think I would prefer a mulled wine which is less sweet.  There is also a drink called the Pooh Bear which is warm milk and honey.  It sounds great for young kids if they like such drinks.

Sylvia is more into sweet drinks than milk drinks.  It was at the Last Drop that we introduced her to Irn Bru, "Scotland's other national drink".  Irn Bru, like Coke, is less sweet than a lot of soft drinks and contains caffeine.  It is reputedly more popular than coca cola in Scotland.  Needless to say, Sylvia loved the stuff.

I was very pleased to be able to order the nachos with vegetarian haggis.  It was in the Last Drop on our last visit that I discovered this dish.  I loved it so much that I have made it at home quite a few times since then.  Here is a better photo of the nachos than the one I took in 2009.  It is a very satisfying way to eat haggis.  (After all it is quite like minced meat.)

E chose the traditional haggis neeps and tatties.  He loves eating lots of haggis when visiting Edinburgh.  (It is quite hard to find in Melbourne when eating out.)  The haggis in The Last Drop was so pleasing that he measured haggis at every other cafe or pub against it.  Very few were as good.

After lunch, we wandered down the Grassmarket, showed Sylvia where we used to live on the West Port and spent quite a bit of time in Helios Fountain.  It was a faovurite place for Sylvia because it has so many of the little and tiny things that she loves.

We had a look in at Avalanche records store which has moved from Cockburn Street to the Grassmarket, and we were interested to see that the pub on the corner of the West Port had changed from a modern Scottish (Bar Alba) to more traditional style (The Fiddler's Arms).  While shops and bars come and go, the Grassmarket remains a place I love to visit for both history and nostalgia.

The Last Drop
74-78 Grassmarket
Edinburgh, EH1 2JR

Tel: 0131 225 4851
Our last visit in 2009

Update 2016: On our visit to Edinburgh this year I found that the Last Drop don't have vegetarian haggis nachos on their menu at the moment.  So sad!  

Friday 28 December 2012

Christmas Day with mince pies

Christmas day!  Food!  Nut Roast!  Presents!  Cherries!  Mayhem!  Mince pies!  Our Christmas day started with an excited child, presents and a a quiet breakfast at our place.  I had prepared a batch of the cranberry nut rolls that I made last year.  Delicious with swiss cheese.  Most of the day was spent down at my parents' place.

We arrived in time for exchanging presents.  This is where the mayhem begins.  Once upon a time I was able to keep track of who got what.  No longer.  My dad hands out presents at some pace.  Wrapping paper flies about, thanks abound and little kids run around with new toys.  It is lots of fun.

My mum had Christmas lunch under control.  Below is her modern take on roast potatoes.  My brother cut the potatoes thinly with a mandoline.  Then my sister-in-law and myself helped him to arrange the thin slices into a baking dish.  Baked with some cream, garlic and butter.  They were a fun way to eat potatoes.   Quite labour intensive to make but impressive to look at and tasted even better the next day.

I made my usual Christmas nut roast.  (You can see it above next to the potatoes.)  Below is my Christmas lunch: nut roast, potatoes, roast pumpkin, roast carrot, peas, cauliflower puree and green beans.  Most delicious.  Though I must say that Christmas dinner was even more chaotic then usual.  My mum did some crackers, dip, fried cheese and prawns for a starter.  Even after a game of backyard cricket, I think a few kiddie appetites were lost to the main attraction.

Though isn't it funny how kids can be too full for the main event and still have room for dessert.  My mum made a pudding with custard (my favourite) but the majority went for the pavlova and chocolate ripple cake.

After lunch, some of my siblings headed off to the in-laws.  There were naps and baby cuddling and catching up on gossip.  Sylvia played shops.  Trivia questions were asked.  Energy levels were low.  Dinner was just leftovers.  My mum brought out the Christmas cake and mince pies. 

Mum has been making mince pies ever since I can remember.  She uses this pastry.  It is far more yellow and a bit more cakey than short compared to the one I made this year.  I tried Dom's Cream Cheese Pastry.  He claims it is his favourite sweet pastry.  It was far shorter than the yoghurt pastry I tried mid-year for mince pies. The yoghurt pastry was good but slightly chewy. I think I prefer this cream cheese pastry.  My mum wasn't so sure.

I made the mince tarts on Christmas eve.  It was chaotic.  I used my usual fruit mince and added some finely chopped dark chocolate.  An excellent addition.  It is quite subtle but there is just enough hint of chocolate to really make the fruit mince special.  For Sylvia, who is not at all into fruit mince, I added jam instead of fruit mince to a few pastry cases to make jam tarts.

Santa enjoyed his mince tart and I have enjoyed a few.  My panforte didn't come out until Boxing Day on the dessert buffet when my dad's family visited.  As well as panforte we had caramel tart, pineapple delicious, summer pudding and ginger roulade with toffee.  Then Christmas cake, mince pies and chocolates.  And cherries.  'Tis indeed the season for feasting. 

E and I also continued our Boxing Day movie tradition and saw Les Miserables.  It was indeed quite miserable but epic and beautiful to look at.  Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway were fantastic.  I particularly enjoyed it because not only did I see the musical on stage when it was first performed in Melbourne but I also spent a summer reading Victor Hugo's novel when I was a student with more time on my hands.  A grand tale of redemption and love.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Christmas day presents and pudding
Two years ago: Nut roast parcels and potato snowmen
Three years ago: Christmas Day panforte and more
Four years ago: Christmas, Leftovers and Vegan Mayonnaise
Five years ago: My Christmas Nutloaf

Cream cheese pastry (for mince pies)
From Belleau Kitchen
makes slightly more than 1 and 1/2 dozen mince pies

200g plain flour (I used 285g)
50g sugar
50g ground almonds (I used 30g)
150g butter
75g cream cheese
1 egg yolk

Place flour, sugar and ground almonds into food processor.  Add butter and process briefly until mostly combined.  Then add cream cheese and egg yolk.  Process briefly until it comes together into a ball (well mine sort of did but was still very very soft).  Knead briefly using a generous amount of flour.  Shape into a disc and wrap in clingwrap.  Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes.  Roll out on a well floured board with a well floured rolling pin until the dough is about 0.5cm.  Cut out circles to fit a patty cake tin, fill with fruit mince and top with stars.  Bake for 20 minutes at 170 C.  (I think I did slightly more but was too distracted to remember clearly.)

On the Stereo:
Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Novelty Records of All Time, Volume VI: Christmas

Thursday 27 December 2012

Christmas Eve and Festive Mushroom Pie

Goodness life has been busy!  We are finally catching our breath.  Christmas Eve was probably the busiest day.  After the heatwave, I got stuck into my Christmas cooking.  You can see most of it spread out on the table below (after I cleaned up in the evening).  Nut roast, cranberry nut rolls, panforte, coconut ice, festive mushroom pie, and mince tarts.  Plus a glass of Delia's festive punch to get me through.

We started the day slowly and got to the supermarket mid-morning, battling for a car park, filling the trolley, avoiding all the tempting festive treats, despairing at lack of hazelnuts, walking over the Fat Harry's for wrapping paper after finding that the supermarket only had horrid Disney giftwrap left.

We got home and ate lunch on the run as I started on the cranberry nut rolls.  They never rose as much as last year, despite letting them rise for about 2 and a half hours.  Yet they were still soft and delicious.  I substituted macadamias for hazelnuts in the panforte.  I covered myself with cocoa when opening a new packet.  My brother rang as I was assisting Sylvia to crack open an egg.

One way to cope with so much baking is to use tried and true recipes.  One of my favourite Christmas cookbooks is Rose Elliot's Vegetarian Christmas.  I made a flaky mushroom pie from it a couple of years before I was blogging.  It seemed a good easy recipe that would use up some of the puff pastry in the freezer.

I added a handful of chopped cashews to the creamy mushroom filing.  They were an unnecessary addition.  My pies looked less impressive than last time because I made two rather than one big one as I was using my biggest tray (though I now think I used a swiss roll tin last time).  It was still fun to make.

Dinner was a simple affair on the knee in front of the television.  I didn't have time or energy to clear up the kitchen.  It was just lovely to sit down.  I didn't care where.  We watched the film Nativity.  It was a bit silly but had was full of Christmas cheer.  Then we watched Outnumbered.  After wrapping presents with Sylvia and getting her to bed, I felt quite sympathetic to the parents in this sitcom.

Sylvia was just lovely in her excitment about Santa Claus.  Not that it helped her to settle into bed.  She did decide to leave out cherries as well as a mince pie and ginger beer for the jolly old man.  It is good to see she is making sure he eats well.  She also threw a carrot into the front yard for the reindeers.  Earlier in the day she had dictated her letter to Santa to make sure he brought her something little and tiny.

Once she was in bed, I cut up the coconut ice for gifts (having stumbled across the excellent idea of giving them in tubs that could be reused), wrapped the last of my gifts, cleaned up the kitchen and set the table for Christmas breakfast.  A busy day but by the time we went to bed, I felt well prepared for Christmas day.  I'll post about the day separately with the recipe I used for mince pies.  Hope your Christmas day went well.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Cranberry nut rolls for Christmas brunch
Two years ago: Cinnamon Stars for Christmas
Three years ago: Spiders, Banavacado and Tradition
Four years ago: Festive profiteroles with salad
Five years ago: Christmas dinner for two - roulade, salad and potato stars

Flaky Pastry Mushroom Christmas Tree
From Rose Elliot's Vegetarian Christmas (and posted here)
serves 4

25g / 1oz / 1 large knob of butter
1 onion, sliced (I chopped mine)
1 garlic clove, crushed
450g / 1 lb mushrooms, sliced
75g / 3 oz / 1/2 cup cooked rice
75g / 3 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp chopped parsley (I used more)
1 tsp grated lemon rind (I used less)
2-3 tsp lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 sheets of puffed pastry or 2 sheets 12 x 8 inches
egg yolk, for glazing (I used an egg white)

Melt butter in a large frypan.  Fry onion for about 5 minutes and then add garlic and mushrooms.  Fry over medium high heat until the liquid has gone.  This can take up to 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and add rice, cream cheese, parsley, lemon rind and juice.  Season to taste.  The recipe says to chill but I just left mine in the frypan while I prepared the pastry.

The recipe said to cut out a tree shape on a piece of card (approximately 12 x 8 inches).  I did this on the pastry.  I did find that the top should be slightly bigger than the bottom piece so it will fit over the filling.

Place the bottom tree shape of pastry on a greased or lined tray (I used two smaller trays to do two pies because my large tray was in use but in retrospect I think the first time I did this I used a swiss roll tin).  Spoon filling onto the pastry, leaving a little space around the edges.  Brush egg over the edges and place top piece of pastry over the bottom.  Use the scraps of pastry to cut out shapes to decorate the pie to make it look more like a Christmas tree.

Bake pie for about 30 minutes at 200 C or until pastry is golden brown.  Serve warm.  Keeps a few days in the fridge and can be reheated in the oven if you want to make it ahead.

On the stereo:
White Christmas: Bing Crosby

Monday 24 December 2012

Edinburgh Christmas, Big Wheel and German Markets

When we played to go to Edinburgh in late November/early December, one of our essential destinations was the German Market in the Princes Gardens by the Galleries (see our last visit).  We first attempted to visit on a weekend afternoon.  The crowds were huge and we wisely decided to return on a weekday.  The German Market is part of the Edinburgh Winter Wonderland. It also includes the Big Wheel.  Once Sylvia saw it, that was all she wanted to do.

As you can see the skies were blue and the sun shone on the morning we decided to go on the Big Wheel. (It is next to the Walter Scott Memorial, also known as the Gothic Spaceship.)

Santa's reindeer were ready to welcome us.

We hopped aboard and were rewarded by wonderful view of the Old Town.

It also afforded us detailed views of buildings far above the ground.  Above is the Walter Scott Memorial.

Even on ground the views were spectacular.

Once we were off the wheel, Sylvia wanted to go on the merry-go-round.  Of course we said yes.  It went rather fast.  She loved it.  (At least she didn't ask to go ice-skating.  I would have refused.  Ice rinks are not for me.)

Then it was time to wander around the Highland Village and purchase a new woolly hat for Sylvia.  Not the Christmas pudding hat.  Cute but too seasonal.  She chose a pink hat with cat ears.  I loved the dried fruit garlands but they were not made for suitcases.

There were lots of food stalls in the Highland Village.  Lots of chips and mulled wine and meaty stalls.  I loved this chip stall with all the chip options and the Gaelic.  We went more upmarket for lunch and ate at Jenners (a post on this soon).

Afternoon tea was at the German Market.  First we looked through the stalls.  Sylvia got a little and tiny babushka doll.  We brought decorations to give as gifts. 

The German Market offered a lot of food.  Chocolate covered lebkuchen, doughnuts, waffles and even deep fried cheese (I was tempted).  We had our gluhwein (mulled wine) and stollen in a little nook.  Sylvia had kinderpunsch.  She loved it even though she wore some.  It was wonderfully warming as the afternoon had turned cold, grey and wet.

And now it is Christmas Eve here.  Yesterday it was a sweltering 39 C.  Not good for Christmas baking.  Today there is a cool change and it a blissful 26 C.  We have lots to do - grocery shopping, baking, gift-wrapping and packing to go my mum and dad's place.  Wishing you a happy and healthy festive season full of fun and feasting.