Tag Archive for: scotland

Parlour Café Cookbook spread

From parlour to table: what makes a great cookbook?

Parlour Café Cookbook spread

What is it which turns a cookbook from being something which we merely reference and use, to something which instead we cherish and revere?

Is it the look and feel of the book itself: how it feels in the hand or lies on the kitchen table? Is it the cadence and character of the author’s writing; the photographer’s eye for detail, or illustrations which bring the writing to life? Or is it perhaps the core attraction of the book: the recipes themselves. How good are they; how easy are they to follow; how confident do they make you in being able to achieve something new and exciting?

I love how we can build up close, loyal and loving relationships with some cookbooks: they draw us in, distracting and tantalising; beckoning and beguiling. They may act as good companions on lazy Sunday afternoons, keep us up reading at bedtime, shape our shopping habits, push us to try new techniques, and open new doors with attitudes and concepts. The relationship one builds up with a good cookbook is so personal, and almost intangible… we can all think of certain books which we really love.

Both Miss South and myself have an ever-growing selection of cookbooks which we consult, covet and collect. We grew up surrounded by cookbooks from luminaries and little-known authors alike, lucky enough to have bookish parents with a penchant for collecting recipes and expanding their repertoires. Both of us have carried that interest through to our adult lives, hence groaning kitchen shelves and well-thumbed tomes which’ve found a place in our hearts. Of course, we also have our own notebooks too; full of cuttings, tearings and recipes passed down from family and friends; but the cookbooks on the shelves are what we both go to first.

Recently I’ve been thinking more than ever about what makes a good cookbook truly great, looking from both a consumer and a producer’s perspective. Keen-eyed readers may recall that, during the summer, I highlighted a couple of great recipes from a cookbook which I’ve been involved with. That book, the Parlour Café Cookbook by Gillian Veal, was launched recently at the Dundee Literary Festival, and it’s been selling like hot cakes (or hot pithiviers) ever since.

Parlour Café Cookbook cover

My involvement started when I was contacted by a prospective client earlier this year, and asked whether I’d be interested in designing and typesetting the inaugural publication from a new publisher, Kitchen Press. The brief was quite loose, but it would involve working with the author and illustrator to convey the atmosphere and ethos of a small café in Dundee. I’d never visited the café or met the protagonists, so everything hung on my initial impressions of the writing itself.

However, after being sent an early draft of the manuscript, alongside some illustrations, I was hooked. I loved the Mediterranean-influenced recipes, the emphasis on homely and local ingredients; the calm, instructive tones; and a quiet confidence in demystifying the art of the kitchen wherever possible. It was fun, personal, down-to-earth… and perhaps most importantly, the recipes sounded truly delicious!

Like any creative, a good cookbook author should excite, educate and entertain their audience. Gillian’s writing is confident and straightforward; informed by her passion and experience, but capturing some of the quirky, personal features of this tiny little café on a steep Dundee hill. Striking a good balance between the wholesome (some super salads and healthy, hearty soups) and the utterly decadent (cake recipes which have been getting even me, the non-baker all hot under the collar).

Just as importantly, the book is visually brought to life by Jen Collins‘ enchanting illustrations. Her quirky line drawings are a delight, and I challenge you to suppress a smile when you see them accompanying the recipes in the book. Despite being a photographer, I was really pleased to work on a book where the decision had been made to focus on ingredients and stories using only illustrations.

This, incidentally, is not a book review. Yes, I wholeheartedly admit that I’m biased, having spent time and energy working on this book, so it’s not right for me to attempt to sound neutral and dispassionate. We’re always upfront here on North/South Food about any biases or influences, and my professional involvement in this project is happily admitted. I loved working on this debut book from a passionate, independent new publisher, trying to help make it the kind of cookbook you won’t just like, but will love and cherish.

The best measure of that is how often I’ve dipped into it since getting that initial manuscript… it’s not left the kitchen table in months. My favourite recipes? Well, I’ve not worked my way through the whole book yet, but honourable mentions must go to Parlour Panzanella; Chorizo & Chickpea Stew; Squash, Apple and Ginger Soup; Parma Baked Eggs (above, topped with a tiny homegrown tomato and finished with heavenly ham salt); those aforementioned Rosemary & Anchovy flatbreads and the amazing Puy Lentils and Goats Cheese Salad. I’ve not yet started on the Desserts section, but I’m making the Banana Bread with Coconut and Toasted Nuts soon; and the Parlour Baked Cheesecake is a definite. Along with most of the other recipes in the book…

You can check out a selection of the recipes on their Facebook page, or use Amazon’s Look Inside feature to peek inside the book. As a taster, you can also download a PDF with four of the Café’s most popular recipes on them. Just click on the image below.

Parlour Café postcards

So I hope this post has made you think a little more deeply about what cookbooks you love; and in the meantime, make a suggestion to add another to that favoured list. It might not be possible to go to Dundee for a wickedly good lunch, but now you can enjoy it in the comfort of your own home. Or you could just enjoy curling up in front of a fire on a cold night, feasting on the recipes and supporting more regional food talent…

Rosemary and anchovy flatbread

Going flat-out for flatbread …

Rosemary and anchovy flatbread

We’re both fans of fast, healthy and delicious Mediterranean-influenced food here at North/South Food. Miss South is definitely more confident and experienced when it comes to baking than I am, but a recent recipe I came across persuaded me to pander to my basest kneads and enjoy my daily bread.

I’m currently designing a cookbook for the wonderful Parlour Café on West Port in Dundee, run by Gillian Veal. Over the last few years her delicious and unfussy cooking styles have added some sunshine to the local food scene, and her recipes have become firm favourites with many Dundonians. So it’s perhaps only natural that Gillian’s sharing some of her favourites recipes with the wider world.*

One of the pleasures (or should that be perils) of receiving the manuscript for a cookbook is trying to resist the urge to try out all the recipes: in this case as soon as I saw the recipe for rosemary and anchovy flatbread I was powerless to resist the temptation to snip sprigs of rosemary and crack open a tin of anchovies. Rosemary oil and salty fish on warm bread? Instant win!

Having made these a couple of times now I’m a major fan. Incidentally they’re so moreable I challenge you to make them last more than one sitting. Perfect with some home-made smoky hummus or an edamame bean dip.

So without further ado let me share this recipe, in Gillian’s own words, alongside my photos. Enjoy!

Gillian’s Rosemary and Anchovy Flat-Bread
Makes 8 – 10 flat-breads

● 250 grams wholemeal flour
● 250 grams of plain white flour
● 250 ml warm water
● 1⁄2 a teaspoon of dried yeast
● 80mls olive oil
● 12 anchovy fillets
● 1 sprig of rosemary ● sea salt and pepper to season

“Mix both flours in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and gradually pour into the flour while mixing with the other hand. Pour in 60ml of the olive oil as well, and keep mixing until the ball of dough comes together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it becomes smooth and elastic – you will feel the dough changing and it will bounce back when you stick a finger into it (5 minutes should do it). Cover the bowl with cling-film and set aside somewhere warm for about one and a half hours.

Meanwhile prepare the topping. Tear the leaves off the sprig of rosemary, chop them roughly and bash them up in a mortar and pestle with the anchovies and a glug or two of olive oil until you have a rough paste.

When the dough has about doubled in size, punch it down, gather into a ball and divide into 8 – 10 pieces depending on how many people you’re feeding and how big you want your breads to be. Heat up the oven to 220C, and put in two lightly floured baking trays. Roll the dough pieces out into rough circles, about half a centimetre thick, and evenly spread with the anchovy and rosemary paste. Push it into the dough with your fingers and make sure they’re well covered.

Get the hot baking trays out of the oven, and place the waiting flat breads on them. Sprinkle with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and put back in the oven for around 6 minutes until they are golden and starting to puff up”


*If, as I suspect, this recipe whets your appetite then I urge you to buy the book when it’s published later this autumn by Kitchen Press. Wonderful recipes and delightful illustrations make this a perfect kitchen companion. We’ll have full details on here closer to the time…

Buckfast sorbet…

Alcohol, sugar, caffeine, ice… it’s Buckfast sorbet!

Buckfast may be made in the bucolic countryside of Devon, but its spiritual home is Scotland and Northern Ireland. A bottle or two of ‘Buckie‘ on a night out is a rite of passage for under-age drinkers when growing up either side of the Irish Sea. So it made perfect sense that since Mister North and Miss South are half Scottish, but raised in Belfast they would rise to the challenge of using up the leftover tonic wine from Burns’ NightRead more

Scotch pie, peas and Irn Bru

Peas and goodwill to all pies…

Scotch pie and mushy pies, washed down with Irn Bru

Mister North went to Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands recently for a weekend of mountaineering, photography and general craic with mates.

Trips like this are normally characterised by convenient, compact and high energy food, and cannot be considered the pinnacle of foodiness by any means. We actually started the weekend with a home-cooked Massaman curry which I’d taken to feed a few of us after the long drive north. Apart from that it was largely sandwiches (preferably the kind which is resistant to being squashed when stuffed in a rucksac) and dried fruit, chocolate & granola bars – all of which is fine to eat when halfway up a snowy mountain. Once off the hill some solid pub grub and a good celebratory pint or two is the normal order of the day. In this case it was Fraoch heather ale in the local, the glorious Clachaig Inn, somewhere I heartily recommend if a legendary selection of whiskies and real ale is your thing at the end of a long day of outdoors activity.

However the unabashed highlight of my calorific intake was undoubtedly a Scotch Pie from the rather good Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum: we stopped off for a quick bite to eat in this self-confident and well-appointed fish and chip shop on our way home. I was rewarded with a great Scotch Pie (when done properly this is a perfect combination of tender mutton, unctuous jelly and a healthy amount of seasoning, all bundled up in an uncompromisingly tasty pastry casing) and a portion of mushy peas, unceremoniously eaten off my lap in the car, and washed down with a bottle of Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru. There lies a post in it’s own right, but I’ll leave that for another time.

As you can tell, my sister and I like the odd pie: several have already featured here, suggesting an unnatural preponderance of pie passion, but they’re perfect for the winter months and I just found out it’s National Pie Month in the USA. We’re also half-Scots, so I suppose we’re possibly biased towards this very Caledonian snack. All hail the pie!