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Friday, 12 July 2013

Book Launch - A Taste of The Cook School Scotland


Over the last year I have written two posts that have made reference to The Cook School Scotland in Kilmarnock. The first was a write up of the successful feastRen event last September where The Cook School were one of the main sponsors of the event, alongside Whole Foods Market Giffnock. The second was a post about the fantastic day that I had earlier this year under the tutelage of former Cook School head chef Phil Lewis and Jim Miller.
On the back of this, I was honoured to receive an invitation to the launch of The Cook School's new recipe book last week. The book, titled 'A Taste of The Cook School Scotland' brings a flavour of some of the delicious recipes by the in-house Chefs.
The book is packed full of their best loved recipes, from delicious classics to modern recipes from across the world, ensuring there's something for everyone.
Using their expert knowledge and experience, the Chefs have chosen 55 recipes which you can now use to produce delicious, fresh, home cooked food.
From every day meals for two to weekend feasts, the Cook School Scotland recipes will impress any guest.
Each starter and main course is packed full of flavours, from Cullen Skink and Hot Smoked Salmon Salad to Chicken Balmoral, Duck Wellington, Vegetable Tagine and Pesto Prawn Linguine. There are also spectacular desserts including Apple Tarte Tatin, Baked Alaska, Crème Brulée and melt in the mouth Dark Chocolate Fondant.
Each recipe comes with easy to follow instructions and is accompanied with a mouthwatering photograph to help you recreate each dish. Kilmarnock based photographer Guy Hinks is the man behind the stunning photographs that have the food almost jumping off of the pages.

As myself and Nicola mingled with the other guests, a mix of local Ayrshire business men & women and local politicians, highly skilled waiting staff were on hand to keep the champagne glasses topped up whilst serving up a wonderful array of freshly prepared canapés. Once gathered within the state of the art Miele kitchen, Operations Director of The Cook School - Aileen Stevenson, thanked us all for our attendance before explaining how the cook book project came about.
Earlier this year, with the support and guidance of their Patron, Duncan Bannatyne OBE, the Scottish Spina Bifida Association unleashed a new and creative fundraising platform where they invited organisations to accept The Dragon's Dare. Duncan Bannatyne had issued a challenge to an exclusive group of ten Scottish businesses to turn £500 of his own money into a minimum of £5000 in six months with all funds going towards Scottish Spina Bifida Association to help them continue to offer support and advice to those affected by Spina Bifida in Scotland, and their families.


The Cook School Scotland were more than happy to accept the challenge and with the help of outgoing head chef, Phil Lewis, the cook book soon became a reality, with all profits going to the Scottish Spina Bifida Association.
At this point Aileen introduced Marylyn Boyle who is the Corporate Fundraising Manager for SSBA who gave a very informative talk about Spina Bifida and how it affects those who suffer from the condition. We were also informed of how much money (one million pounds per year) is needed in order to provide the support network in place just now and that all of the money raised from the sale of the new cook book would be used to continue to offer the important support network to their clients and their families.
After Marilyn's presentation, myself and the other guests were able to crowd around the front of the kitchen as we were given a demonstration in how to put together some of the delicious canapés that had been served over the evening. The night was also a great opportunity for The Cook School to introduce their new head chef, Bernie Plaisted. Australian chef Bernie brings a wealth of cooking experience from years down under as well as working at the famous River Cafe, Jamie's Fifteen and Pizza East in London, making sure that pupils at the cook school will be in safe hands over the coming months.
With the demonstration over, the chefs began to tidy up the kitchen while the guests got back polishing off the last of the canapés whilst doing a little bit of networking. With night drawing to a close it was time for people to start heading home, but not before passing the stand that had been set up to allow us all the opportunity to buy our own copy of the fantastic recipe book.
I really like the book, the dishes that have been chosen range from simple yet easy to prepare starters through to mains that might take a little more effort. I'm looking forward to getting back in the kitchen to give some of the recipes a go and will be sure to keep you up to date with the results. With a bit of luck my finished dishes will look as good as the stunning photos in the book! Of course the best thing about the cook book is that every penny of profit from every one sold will go towards a hugely worthy cause.
Help The Cook School Scotland win Duncan Bannatyne's challenge by getting your hands on your own copy of 'A Taste of the Cook School Scotland'. You can buy online or at the gift shop at the school in Kilmarnock and for £15, definitely great value for money.
Both myself and Nicola would like to thank everyone at The Cook School Scotland for their kind invitation to their book launch and wish them every success in winning this challenge.
Keep in touch with The Cook School Scotland on Facebook or Twitter.
Keep in touch with the Scottish Spina Bifida Association on Facebook or Twitter.
Keep in touch with Guy Hinks on Facebook or Twitter.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Review - Ming's Express, East Kilbride Road, Busby

Nicola and myself had to make a trip to see our solicitor to start the process of finalising the mortgage on our new home. With the legal stuff taken care of, and our day running later than schedule, it was too late to start preparing and cooking dinner at home so we decided to get takeaway food. The drive back from the solicitors took us through the sleepy village of Busby where Ming's Express occupies what might have been an old railway stationmasters house right next to Busby Train station. The building has been home to a long list of Chinese takeaways for a long time and from what I can gather Ming's Express has been open for around four or five weeks. Having never eaten from any of the previous takeaways, I'm not sure if this is actually a brand new owner or simply a rebrand of a previous business. Either way, it was on the route home so that suited us!

When we arrived, there were already a good number of people waiting on food plus the phone was ringing non stop for takeaway orders, perhaps this was good sign of things to come.
The menu options were plentiful from the usual wide array of traditional Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese dishes thought to spicy Mongolian curries, Malaysian rice and noodle dishes and even Japanese udon noodle dishes. We both had fried rice in our head so decided to try the Nasi Goreng with a portion of pancake rolls to share between us.

I'm a great believer that you can tell a lot about a Chinese takeaway by the quality of their pancake rolls. The portion that Ming's Express serve up contains two huge crispy rolls stuffed to almost bursting with savoury bean sprouts, shredded chicken, prawns, and slices of char siu pork & ham in a tightly wrapped filo parcel. The flavours were well balanced although maybe needed just a little touch of seasoning or a little kick of chilli oil or flakes to really bring the flavours alive. If I had known that they were going to be the size they were, we might not have ordered a main course as these appetisers were satisfyingly filling. The portion of pancake rolls cost £2.80 which I think represents great value for money.

When we ordered our Nasi Goreng, the girl at the counter gave us the option of having the very traditional dry fried rice, or with more sauce used to create a wetter fried rice dish. As we are both in favour of a little sauciness, we opted for the latter option.
Nasi Goreng literally translates as 'fried rice' in Indonesian, although the term Nasi Goreng is also used to describe fried rice across other parts of Asia. Traditionally, Nasi Goreng is eaten at breakfast using left over rice and stir frying with shallots, chilli, peppers, and scraps of chicken or beef, and sweet soy sauce before finishing with either egg fried through the rice or with a fried egg on top.
Similar to our starter, the main dish was another huge portion of food. Ming's Express kept it simple with rice, beaten eggs, and loads of succulent strips of chicken all stir fried together with the sauce. I'm glad that we had been given the option of having more sauce used as without it, I think the dish would have been drier than we would have preferred. As it turned out, the resulting meal was delicious, well seasoned and so more-ish.
So to sum up, our first experience of Ming's Express will definitely not be our last. Tasty food at great value prices, friendly and chatty staff, and an extensive menu to choose from, means that I have plenty of reasons to go back again.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

5 Questions - Pammy's Pops

One of the great things about attending craft fairs as a helper for my gorgeous wife, is that I sometimes get to meet local food producers and chat to them about their products and what drives them to do what they do. Over the last year I have noticed a massive rise in the number of different people producing cupcakes, each of these budding bakers stretching the boundaries of cake decorating to the limits, in order to bring something different and memorable to the market. However another product that has caught my eye with an increase in table space at the fairs is the humble cake pop. These often beautifully decorated treats are a great way of enjoying a slice of cake without the need to dirty a plate, plus they can be eaten on the go using sophisticated 'cake on a stick' technology.
Cake Pops are simply mini cakes that have been shaped onto lollipop sticks. Cake Pops use many of the ingredients used in a traditional cake and can be made from cakes of any flavour. Once a cake has been baked, or when leftovers from an existing cake a collected, it is crumbled into pieces. The crumbs are then mixed in a bowl with frosting or melted chocolate before being balled or shaped. The ball is then attached to the lollipop stick and once solidified, are decorated with more frosting, chocolate or sprinkles. Most of the time making cake pops is spent shaping the cake to a desirable form before decorating them. Simple sphere shapes can be made by hand although silicone shapes and cookie cutters are often used for the more intricate 'pops'
Pammy's Pops is a company that we have seen on a number of occasions who has mastered the art of creating delicious tasting and wonderfully decorated cake pops. This fairly new business, run by Pamela and assisted by her sister, is just completing their first year of activity but are already a familiar face on the craft scene in and around Glasgow.
Here's Pammy's Pops story;
How did you get started?
Last year when I was planning my own wedding I was looking for something a bit different for my wedding favours’. We had planned to create the favours’ ourselves but after a crazy year with university exams we just ran out of time. We went to a wedding fair and saw a woman who was selling cake pops and I fell in love with them. We ordered them for our wedding and when she delivered them she told me that she was closing her company to go into business with her husband instead. I have always enjoyed baking and creating new cakes and meals so when she suggested that I make them myself I couldn't resist.
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
I think it is so important to love what you are doing. Making cake pops, experimenting with flavours and designs is something I find really enjoyable and I do it because I enjoy it so it does not feel like work to me at all.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
Pammy’s Pops just now is more of a hobby that I do in my spare time as I also hold down a full time job but I would love to see Pammy’s Pops grow to become more of a full time feature in my life! I feel the options of cakes on a stick are endless.
If you could only have one of your own products, what would it be & why?
I think I would need to go for the Chocolate Cake Pop. I have experimented with many different flavours but chocolate was my first and I think deep down will always be my favourite. Who doesn’t love a bit of chocolate cake?
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
I would have to be greedy (Sorry) and pick two, my Grandparents. My Gran passed away when I was 21 and at this point I very rarely cooked or baked. My Gran was a massive baker and she taught me so many things that I would love to show her how they have helped me with creating Pammy’s Pops. My Grandpa was the one who would follow behind us and clean up our mess and greatly appreciate all the stuff that I had been making (good or bad). Dinner would have to be a traditional meal of lentil soup then mince and potatoes finished off with Eve’s Pudding as it was meals like this that my Gran always made.

As well as exhibiting her little works of art at craft fairs across the Glasgow and surrounding areas, you can also place orders for your own cake pops in an assortment of flavours including including chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, coconut, chocolate fudge, toffee, and even an unusual peach schnapps flavoured pop. All of these can be made to order for birthdays or other special occasions, as well as for corporate events or even wedding favours, and are available for delivery in the Glasgow area.
Keep up to date with Pammy's Pops on Facebook to see where she'll be cake popping up next!