Tuesday, 31 July 2012

5 Questions - Crymbles Confectionery

A few weeks ago I was assisting LittleGems Jewellery at a craft event that was being held at The National Museum for Rural Life in East Kilbride. Whilst there I got chatting to one of the other stall holders, Kathleen Crymble, who runs a local confectionery manufacturing company called Crymbles Confectionery. I had mentioned to Kathleen that I planned on running little articles on local food businesses although I wasn't completely sure what the format would look like but that didn't stop Crymbles Confectionery being a willing guinea pig. Any feedback on this format would be greatly appreciated.

Crymbles Confectionery, based in East Kilbride, offer a wide range of quality chocolates, truffles and tablet which can be bought through the website or through a few select suppliers. If you're looking for something a little different for a corporate event or wedding, check out the website for more information. Myself and Kathleen somehow ended up talking about how social media sites can help raise brand awareness as well as share information on upcoming events or new products lines, helping to engage with both existing and new customers alike. Kathleen was already using Facebook but was unsure of how Twitter could fit in with the rest of the things she was doing. As my own background is advertising & marketing, I was able to give some pointers on how to make good use of Twitter and how to incorporate it alongside the other routes to market. Following our chat, Kathleen set up her Twitter account later that night and I was rewarded with some delicious dark chocolate gingers ,and the best lime fondant chocolates that I have ever tasted!

1 - How did you get started?

I did childminding when my son was born and rediscovered a love of baking when the children got a little older. We spent the rainy afternoons making things like fairy cakes and gingerbread men. This then brought back memories of my mums baking and how, around Halloween, she'd make tablet, macaroon, toffee apples, millionaires shortbread...... So I began experimenting with sweet and chocolate recipes and by the time my son had started school I was pretty much ready to set up my new business.

2 - What's the best piece of business advice you could give?

I remember being on a business start up course and the adviser telling us all "Don't let your dream become your nightmare." I think that's a sound piece of business/life advice - well worth sharing.

3 - Where would you like to see your business in 5 years?

In five years time I'd like to be supplying more independent retailers and delis - I also plan to expand my more "boutique" range - but that's for about 18 months from now, and five years from now I'd like that to have been developed into a separate entity.

4 - If you could only have one of your products, what would it be and why?

It's a hard choice, but I suppose it's the old favourite - vanilla tablet. I tried many, many tablet recipes until I managed to find and adapt the one I use now. I was trying to recreate the Strathaven Toffee I remember from childhood. My version is not the same, but it's just got that nice crunch and melt in the mouth........I can feel a batch coming on now!!

5 - If you could invite any person (living or dead) to your last meal, who would it be and why?, and what's on the menu?

I'd have to have my son to my last meal to give him all the last minute advice I can. On the menu no starter - to leave room for dessert. Main course - something simple like a nice steak, seasonal veg and mash. Dessert would have to be hot apple pie with a good quality vanilla ice cream.

I would like to thank Kathleen for taking part in Gerry's Kitchen - 5 Questions and look forward to covering more local food businesses over the coming months. To keep up to date with all the flavours of Crymbles or to find out where Crymbles Confectionery are exhibiting, either follow on their Twitter feed or you can like their Facebook page.


Monday, 30 July 2012

Recipe - Arroz Con Leche

Spanish Rice Pudding
 Saturday was a long day! I was helping LittleGems Jewellery with a craft market that she was attending in Glasgow's West End so it was an early start for us both. Coupled with the fact that we had been up much later than normal on the previous night thanks to the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics meant that our plans for Sunday were all about getting some rest & relaxation.

I tend to do most of my relaxing in the kitchen so after breakfast I locked myself away, turned on some jazz and started to put the wheels in motion for Sunday dinner. Comfort food was high on my agenda with a Guinness & steak pie, followed by an truly indulgent Spanish rice pudding dish.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 750ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 250ml single cream
  • 150g short grain rice, (arborrio or other risotto rice work well)
  • 1cinnamon stick
  • Rind of one lemon
  • 125g sugar
  • 50g raisins
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 1tbsp spiced rum

  1. Put the raisins, honey & rum into a microwaveable bowl. Add enough boiling water to cover the raisins then cook in the microwave for one minute. Set aside to allow the raisins to soak up the liquid.
  2. Pour the cream and milk into a heavy based saucepan, add the lemon rind and cinnamon stick then slowly bring to the boil.
  3. Add the rice, stirring constantly to avoid the rice clumping together, and bring back to the boil. Once boling again, reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Keep stirring the rice making sure that it's not sticking on the bottom.
  4. Add the sugar and cook for a further 15 minutes. At this stage the rice should be cooked through. If your rice has absorbed all of the milk and cream, feel free to add a splash more milk to avoid your rice becoming too dry.
  5. Remove the lemon rind and cinnamon stick before adding the raisins and the rum & honey liquid. Cook for a couple more minutes before serving.
To serve, generously spoon some rice into four ramekins, sprinkle with brown sugar and use a cooks blowtorch to burn the sugar, creating a crunchy top.

Rice with Raisins & Rum

This pudding takes a little bit of effort but is definitely worth it, and after our busy Saturday and lazy Sunday, my comfort cooking rounded the weekend of nicely.


Saturday, 28 July 2012

Recipe - Coconut Pannacotta with Pineapple & chili sauce

Thai Fishcakes
Thai green chicken curry

A couple of weeks ago, I had invited my Sister-in-law and her family over for dinner. I had decided to go with a Thai themed menu of Thai fishcakes to start, followed by spicy Thai green curry with coriander naan breads, before finishing with coconut rice pudding with pineapple & chili. However within minutes of releasing my proposed menu, my brother-in-law Phil informed me that he didn't do rice pudding. (something to do with the texture) After a quick rethink, the dessert was changed to a light Pannacotta instead.
I will try to get the recipe for the other courses posted over the next week or so, but in the meantime you can try this easy recipe for the Pannacotta.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 200ml double cream
  • 200ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 3 gelatin sheets
  • 2tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 8 large pineapple chunks
  • 1 red chili, seeded and finely chopped

  1. Pour the milk, cream, coconut milk and sugar into a saucepan. Slowly heat the mixture but be careful not to boil or the cream may split. Once the sugar has dissolved completely, remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  2. Soften the gelatin sheets in cold water for a few minutes, squeeze out any excess water then add the the cooling milk mixture. Stir continuously until the gelatin is well combined then stir in the desiccated coconut.
  3. Divide the mixture between 4 light greased ramekins before placing in the fridge to set. Give them at least 3 hours to set properly.
  4. To make the sauce, put the caster sugar into a pan to melt, taking care as the sugar will become very hot. Once the sugar has melted completely, add the chunks of pineapple. The syrupy mixture will likely bubble up as the juice from the pineapple is released . Heat through for a couple of minutes before adding the chopped chili and cook for a couple more minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and chill in the fridge.
Coconut Pannacotta 
To serve, run some hot water over the outside of the ramekins before turning out onto a plate. Spoon some of the pineapple and chili sauce over the top and around the side, finish with a mint leaf garnish.

The dinner was a huge success, and everyone had empty plates for every course. In fact, Phil even decided to do a review on Gerry's Kitchen, which was quite weird for me. You can see what Phil thought of the meal by heading through to his own blog.


Saturday, 21 July 2012

Home Catering - Pintxos

Pintxos by Gerry's Kitchen
As some of you may know, my wife Nicola makes beautiful handmade jewellery. Last night she was hosting one of her very popular jewellery parties for a great bunch of women in Kilmarnock. Nicola had asked if I would mind putting on some finger food that could be served up whilst the ladies deliberated over which sparkly jewellery items they would like to treat themselves to. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to show off a little, so I said Yes!

After a little thought, I decided that I would serve up a selection of pintxos. One of the great things about travelling to Spain and her islands is that you can snack all day & night on an almost endless array of deliciously topped slices of bread. I've prepared some mixed pintxos on a few occasions and they are always well received, last night I was hoping to add a few more fans to Gerry's Kitchen.

On the menu last night I served up a mixed pintxos selection of grilled paprika chicken with roasted peppers, Manchego with jamón Serrano, and a tortilla of sweet potato and spinach.

Paprika Chicken with Roasted Peppers

Manchego with Jamon Serrano

Sweet potato & spinach tortilla
After the girls had spent some time oohing and aahing over the shiny things, It was time for the buffet to be served, and the oohing and aahing continued.

I'm sure that I heard the girls whisper things like 'genius', 'he's amazing', 'OMG', and 'tastiest food ever', although by this time in the evening I was quite drunk! Regardless, the empty plates suggested that they were all impressed by the food that I had prepared. After they had finished snacking, it was back to the matter in hand as they all descended like magpies on the jewellery displays and proceeded to empty their purses.

All in all, it was a successful night for everyone. I got to impress people with my tasty food, LittleGems Jewellery had a successful night, and the party guests left with beautiful pieces of individual jewellery and the memories of a wonderful night.

If you live in and around the Southside of Glasgow and fancy having your own jewellery party, don't hesitate in getting in touch with Nicola through her Facebook page. If you'r lucky, I might tag along too with some tasty morsels!


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Review - The Living Room, Glasgow

Beautiful surroundings @ The Living Room, Glasgow

The Glasgow Fair Weekend is upon us and after the horrible weather that we have had recently, it was good to see a bit of sunshine on Friday afternoon. The dry weather was especially welcome as I was meeting Nicola in town for drinks, then dinner before heading to see Blood Brothers at The Kings Theatre.

After enjoying a few drinks at Grill on the Corner, we made our way to The Living Room where we had a table booked for dinner. We have eaten here on a number of occasions and always been impressed with the quality of food that they serve. (see my previous lunch review)

When we arrived we were quickly shown to our table. As well as the à la carte menu, The Living Room also have a well priced "Perfect Set" menu offering two course for just £11, or three courses for £14. Sometimes I feel that low cost set menus are often so restricted that I struggle to find two courses that I would like, however this wasn't the case here and we both managed to quickly decide on our dinner.

We sat enjoying our chilled bottle of Trebbiano as the restaurant quickly began to fill. A combination of it being Fair Friday and Willy Russells award winning musical coming to the end of its two week run in Glasgow likely reasons for the early evening rush.

Red & yellow tomato bruchetta

It wasn't long before our starters arrived. Nicola had ordered the red & yellow tomato bruchetta with pesto & mozzarella, what arrived was two huge chunks of ciabatta layered with marinated tomatoes, red onion, creamy mozzarella drizzled with pesto olive oil dressing. The bruschetta was served cold, this gave us time to look for the yellow tomatoes without the starter cooling down too much..... We didn't find any! That said, the flavours were all very fresh although maybe more crostini than bruschetta ,as well as the obvious absence of the garlic flavour that comes from the garlic clove when it is traditional rubbed over the freshly toasted bread.
Teriyaki chicken Skewers

My own starter of Teriyaki chicken skewers with satay sauce was very nice. Three marinated pieces of chicken breast, grilled and coated with toasted sesame seeds served on a bed of cucumber and spring onion. The chicken was well cooked and had a delicious, slightly spicy satay dipping sauce on the side. My only criticism about this starter is that I could have managed a little more chicken than the three skewers that I was served.
Our plates were cleared and we sat chatting as we waited on our mains to arrive. I had ordered the Seafood linguine while Nicola had ordered grilled sea bass on tomato, lime, chili and coriander dressed noodles. There were a few mains that caught Nicola's eye but the sea bass dish was the one that jumped out. As we sat waiting, one of the waitresses came to the table to check that she didn't want any side dishes to go with the "cold sea bass salad" because the portion was quite small. The fact that the portion size was small was less of an issue than the fact that the grilled sea bass was served cold. It was explained that this particular dish had been taken from the lunch menu in order to offer a light dinner choice, however that didn't explain why the menu (or waiter) didn't advise that the sea bass was a cold dish. Had we known this simple fact then Nicola would have ordered one of the other mains from the varied menu. Fortunately, she was able to change her order and decided to plump for the steak frites.

Grilled Sea bass with coriander noodles
Seafood Linguine
After the mix up, we expected to be kept waiting for our mains to turn up, however just a few short minutes passed before the restaurant manager, Kyle, brought our mains to the table. Dinner was accompanied by an apology about the aforementioned issue as well as the dish that had caused all the problems. Kyle explained that as the sea bass had already been prepared, we may as well have it to see what we thought of it.

In all fairness, I really enjoyed it. The sea bass was well cooked and served on a wonderful, zingy bed of egg noodles and fresh coriander & tomato salsa. Nicola also enjoyed the noodles but couldn't cope with the cold fish. Thank goodness we found 
out beforehand because if this had been served to Nicola as her actual main meal, then the Johnstone brothers wouldn't been the only ones to see blood!

The seafood linguine, packed with king prawns, squid, and huge mussels was a delight. The tomato base was well seasoned with just a little chili kick, the sweetness from the plum tomatoes was balanced well by the saltiness of the mixed seafood. I was surprised to see quite so many prawns in the dish, especially for a dish on a set menu. I would have paid the £11 for the linguine dish alone.

Steak Frites
Nicola was quiet across the table as she delved into her steak frites. A well cooked, slightly pink 5oz beaten steak covered with garlic butter and served with crispy hand cut frites. The steak had a wonderful smoky flavour from being cooked on grill, complimented by super sweet slow roasted tomatoes.

When we had finished or mains, Kyle reappeared to check that we were happy with our dinner, and to get feedback on the poorly worded sea bass. All of the food that was brought to our table was delicious, of course some of the food was presented in a way that was not exactly as we had expected. Putting aside the fact that the waiter could have advised us about the way that the sea bass is prepared and served, the overall customer service that was offered by the waitress initially, followed by the way that Kyle made us feel at ease after the issue had been resolved, shows why businesses need to invest in the manner in which they look after their clients.

The Living Room made sure that regardless of what had happened over the mix-up, we still left the restaurant feeling good about our overall dining experience. I can't fault the quality of the food that they serve, and I can only sing praise for their approach to customer service. Lunchtime treat or evening meal, either way, you should find something that puts a smile on your face.


Thursday, 12 July 2012

Review - The Olive Branch Bistro, Edinburgh

Back at the start of June, I posted a review on The Olive Branch Bistro in Edinburgh. You may remember me waxing lyrical about one of the best meals that I have eaten, the simple truth is that we were blown away by the quality of the food that was served up to us on our first visit.
As it turned out, we were back through to the Capital last weekend. My gorgeous wife has an important birthday coming up so a trip to Edinburgh was required in order to find a suitable birthday gift. I had read that the lunch menu at The Olive Branch Bistro always attracts a trendy crowd, so providing that I still had money left after hitting the designer boutiques, this would be a great opportunity to see if the quality we had experienced previously, was the norm.

Following my previous review, the staff at The Olive Branch Bistro had sent me a message through Facebook encouraging me to come back soon. In fact, they had suggested that there would be no problem in keeping a table for us. However that wasn't necessary because we turned up just before the lunch crowd arrived. Only just though! If we had been arrived ten minutes later, I don't think we would have been so lucky!

Despite the fact that we had only eaten there once, we were welcomed back like old friends before being seated by the window. After menus and a jug of ice water were delivered to the table we were advised of the specials. Nicola took a few minutes deciding what she wanted mainly due to the fact that everything on the lunch menu sounded fantastic. In the end she ordered an open sandwich of crayfish tails with a courgette salsa, whilst I plumped for the OB burger. Both of our dishes would come with hand cut chips, homemade coleslaw and a salad garnish.

When we ordered we were advised that my burger would take 20 minutes to prepare as it is cooked to order. As Nicola still hadn't decided which designer handbag she liked best, this gave her time to weight up the pros and cons of everything we had seen, whilst I enjoyed my wine and done a spot of people-watching through the large windows overlooking Broughton Street.

Open Crayfish Sandwich & Chips

Crayfish Tails with Courgette Salsa
We had been lucky with the weather in the morning but as our lunch was brought to the table, the heavens opened we had a quiet giggle to ourselves as the al fresco diners ran for cover indoors. We could have continued to watch the unfolding drama but the sight of the two plates of food in front of us made us sit up and pay attention.

Nicola's open sandwich was a lightly toasted ciabatta, layered with a delicious, fresh and zesty salsa of diced courgettes, red peppers, tomato, basil and lemon. On top of this was a generous covering of tender crayfish tails, possibly soaked in a lemony dressing prior to being served. The rest of the plate was occupied by dressed salad leaves and wonderful thick cut chips. The balance between the sweet crayfish and the slightly sharp salsa was fantastic, this coupled with the perfectly cooked chips left Nicola happy that she had made the correct choice from the varied menu.

The OB Homemade Burger
Isle of Mull Cheddar Cheeseburger

When we were in Cardiff a few weeks ago I had a very tasty burger in Mocka Lounge, the only drawback was that the burger had come in a toasted bun, not a floury bap which I prefer. Today I got what I was expecting, a chargrilled 8oz homemade burger covered with melted Isle of Mull cheddar, in a lightly toasted bap. The burger, made to a secret recipe was amazing! Deliciously tender and juicy, with a smoky taste from the grill. There are plenty of places that serve up "gourmet" burgers that can be topped with an almost endless list of flavourings. The Olive Branch Bistro show that if you start with good quality beef and add some simple seasoning to the mix, you can serve up a burger that delivers taste in abundance.

We had cleared our plates just as the bistro was coming to the end of the busy lunch service and after our table was cleared the head chef came out from the kitchen to have a chat with us and pass on the staffs thanks for my first review. He explained that they had taken control of the restaurant from the previous owners towards the end of last year, and were working hard to show the locals that whether it be for a relaxing lunch with friends or a romantic meal with a loved one, then The OB is the place to be.

Having eaten here twice in the last month, I have to agree! If I lived in Edinburgh then I'd very quickly become a regular. Keep up the great work?


Sunday, 8 July 2012

Recipe - Rhubarb Meringue Pie

Today my dad and stepmum Ann were supposed to be coming over for Sunday dinner, however mechanical problems with the old jalopy meant that they had to cancel.
I had prepared a fantastic menu of roasted tenderloin of pork with sweet potato mash and the usual suspects that grace the Sunday dinner plate. For dessert I planned on serving up rhubarb meringue pie, courtesy of a recipe that Nicola had found on Marks & Spencer's blog.

Despite the setback, the recipe for the pie looked fairly straightforward so I pressed ahead and made it anyway and I'm so glad that i did because today's pudding was delicious.


  • 800g Rhubarb
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • Zest of an orange
  • 1 pack ready rolled shortcrust pastry (unless you want to make your own)
For the meringue

  • 2 egg whites
  • 100g caster sugar

  1. Line an 8 inch flan dish with the pastry, prick with a fork, line with greaseproof and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 15mins in a preheated oven at 180C (fan assisted, slightly higher if not fan assisted) before removing the paper and beans. Bake for a further 5 minutes to lightly brown. Set aside. Turn the oven down to 160C.
  2. Put the rhubarb, sugar and orange zest in a saucepan. Cook for about ten minutes until the rhubarb starts to soften. Strain through a sieve to remove any excess juice.
  3. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the caster sugar, whisking well between additions.
  4. Add the rhubarb to the pastry case then top with the meringue mix. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the meringue is golden brown in colour. Serve with fresh custard or double cream.

The flavour of the orange zest works incredibly well with the sharpness of the rhubarb, while the sweet meringue helps gives a great balance of sweet and sharp. I always try to make as much use of rhubarb as I can when it's available and because this recipe is so easy to follow, I know that I'll be making it again soon. Of course, because I didn't have my expected dinner guests, I won't be baking again soon as I still have plenty of this pie left.


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Rise of Craft Beers

This post was inspired by an article that i read recently in Shortlist magazine about craft beers and their increase in popularity.

Back in 1840, Scotland boasted over 280 independent breweries. However after experiencing what can only be described as a "brewers droop", by 1910 that number had dropped to about 90 breweries and a continuous decline eventually reduced that figure to just 11 by 1970.
Over the last decade there has been an increase in both the number of start-up breweries, and a shift in consumer choice. Although a few micro-breweries were busy developing their own products and procedures, it was a change in legislation that was perhaps the catalyst in changing the domestic beer industry.
In 2002, the then Chancellor Gordon Brown introduces Progressive Beer Duty, alternatively known as Small Brewers Relief, a 50% reduction on beer duty for those brewers producing less than 5000 hectolitres of beer. The aim of the initiative was to provide start-up breweries with an opportunity to become sustainable business venture.

Over the last few years I have seen my own drinking habits change as I try to get away from buying the mass produced mainstream brands in favour of independently produced craft beers that are packed full of complex flavours. In recent times there are two beers that I have been enjoying after being introduced to them at a local farmers market. The first is West Highland Way, which is an easy drinking lager with a zesty finish, brewed by The Loch Lomond Brewery. The second is California Common, a dark golden malty yet slightly bitter beer, brewed by Edinburgh brewer Knops Beer Company.

Both of these beers were recommended to me by the good people at AleselA when I met them at Clarkston Farmers Market where they always have a wide range of Scottish ales and beers. Check out their website which has a much wider range than they are able bring to the farmers markets, plus a huge host of international offerings too.

Some of the supermarkets have also realised the need to offer the consumer a wider range of options and as such are often able to smorgasbord of choice. Don't be afraid to take home two or three different bottles instead of your usual generic four pack, you might just find a new best friend!

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