Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Southern style pumpkin cinnamon buttermilk 'biscuits' recipe

pumpkin cinnamon buttermilk 'biscuits'

These aren't your normal English biscuits, twice-cooked until crisp in an oven, rather, they are American style biscuits, something we'd call savoury scones (which don't really exist). In the south, they have biscuits with gravy for breakfast which I think sounds vile. But then again I'm not a big fan of the whole crispy/soggy food combo thing; I'd never touch chips with curry sauce either.
But I ate American biscuits in New York at Dirt Candy: light, flaky, fudgey, sweet, a little sour, with yellow pepper jam and pumpkin butter which was brilliant. This is my version, tweaked from this recipe. You could also add cheese to the recipe which I would do next time. I paired this with a tomatillo chutney but pumpkin butter is a great idea.

Southern style pumpkin cinnamon buttermilk biscuit recipe

pumpkin cinnamon buttermilk 'biscuits'

Makes 10

1 small squash, skinned, chopped, roasted
2tbsp olive oil
300g plain flour
1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tbsp baking powder
1tsp sea salt
1tbsp soft brown sugar
1tbsp cinnamon, ground
90g butter, cold, grated
150ml buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 220cº
Prepare your chosen squash by roasting it in a little olive oil in an oven at 220cº for 30 minutes or until soft when prodded with a skewer.
Combine the flour, bicarb, baking powder, sea salt, sugar and cinnamon. You can freeze the butter or use directly from the fridge, grating it into the dry ingredients and rubbing it together or pulsing it in the food processor. I used salted butter as I like salt but you can use unsalted butter if you like.
Add the buttermilk and the pumpkin, pull the mixture together for a few minutes without over-mixing.

Flour your clean work surface and press out your dough, folding it several times to get layers, then pat down until it is half an inch thick (1.5cms).
Using a round cutter dipped in flour, cut out as many circles as you can. Don't twist the cutter, you want them to bake upright not bent. Gather the scraps and cut out some more until the dough is finished.
Place them on a baking tray covered with parchment paper or a silpat (touching or not touching - touching gives you 'soft sides', not touching gives you 'crusty sides').
Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

More pumpkin recipes and what wine to drink with them in my column at winetrust100.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Swede wins the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Championships

Porridge with dried Moscatel grapes

October marks both 'World Porridge Day' and the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Championships, the latter in its 24th year. Virtually every culture has some kind of porridge: the Chinese have 'congee' rice porridge for breakfast, Russians eat buckwheat 'kasha' every day,  Indians have 'Daliya' a cracked wheat porridge, Persians have 'halim' a savoury wheat porridge. But this closely fought competition takes place in the small misty Brigadoon style village of Carrbridge, in Scotland, arguably the home of porridge. 
On Saturday morning, during a light drizzle, a bagpipe band in full kilted regalia, piped the 24 contestants into the village hall where the contest would take place. They hailed from all over the world: Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, England, Switzerland, Holland, and Russia. Last years winner Bob Moore of Bob's Red Mill, from Portland, USA, had returned to defend his crown. 
There are two categories to the competition:  classic porridge, which could use only three ingredients, oats, salt and water. Rolled oats are not allowed, only milled or pinhead oats. 
In the other 'speciality' category, entries included the 'full English breakfast' (with cheese, eggs, bacon, sausage and mushrooms) porridge, a porridge frittata, a porridge waffle, a porridge Cranachan, and a blueberry syrup porridge. In the past winners have included a curry porridge by Aberdeen surgeon Dr Khan who always brings his lucky spurtle.
What is a spurtle? Simply described, it's a thick wooden stick. The thinking is that a spurtle is preferable to a wooden spoon, for porridge does not get stuck in the crevice, although one regular competitor Neil Robertson, who is so proud of winning that he's had it tattooed on his arm, has invented a 'double backed' spoon called a 'spon'.  
"I sell thousands of these every year" he claims.
Nick Barnard is so obsessed with porridge that he started a company Rude Health, selling oats. His secret trick is to use a copper pan and whip the porridge rapidly with the spurtle. Virtually all the competitors soak the oats overnight:
 'An oat is a seed, it needs soaking, slight fermentation in order to access the nutrients'. 
Some competitors use a mixture of oats, coarse, medium and fine. 
'Fine milled for the creamy texture, coarse to give some al dente bite' said Nick 'it's very much like a risotto'. 
Porridge oats, Avena Sativa, tend to grow best in cold rainy northern hemisphere: places like Scotland, Scandinavia, Russia or Canada. Finland is the biggest producer of oats. Bob Moore explains:
 'You need a miserable climate to grow oats'. 

The Golden Spurtle has four different heats in which six contestants stand before a double burner: one for the traditional, the other for the speciality. 
The atmosphere was tense, an excitable buzz, in the village hall as the Mistress of ceremonies declared:
 'Light your burners' then
 'You now have 30 minutes to make your dishes'. 
The Swedish and the Irish had noisy supporters singing football chants. Watching the competitors I could see that Thorbjorn Kristensen from Norway had shaking hands and a sweaty brow. 
I sneaked backstage to listen in on the judges discussion of the first heat entries. 
A series of white bowls containing porridge, from pale to ivory, from stiff to loose, were lined up down the table.
 'This is a bit claggy.' said one judge with a look of distaste. 
I tasted all six bowls of porridge of the finals. It was incredible how different the same ingredients can turn out. 
The Golden Spurtle winner was Sweden's Ellinor Persson:
 'I don't have measurements I just go with the feeling' 
She bounced up to accept her gold plated trophy while wearing a blue and yellow Swedish traditional costume (mini skirt version). Her compatriot Per Carlsson, who practises every morning, won the Speciality category with his cloudberry porridge.
The celebration in the pub afterwards, with traditional Scottish music, was lengthy and joyous. The trophy was passed around while drunken participants swung each other around in a version of a Ceilidh dance. 
What did you think of the winner? I asked Nick Barnard.
'There are two ways of making porridge and I'm clearly on the wrong side of the divide' said Nick with a brave smile.
'Do you think the winners are picked for political reasons?' I probed.
'Oh no. No. '
Guorùn Kristjànsdottir from Iceland was more direct:
 'The Swedes win everything - the Eurovision and now the porridge championships' she said glumly.
Will you be back?
'Oh yes.' 

The Perfect Porridge recipe

Serves 1

40g pinhead or milled oats, soaked overnight
250ml water
pinch of sea salt

Bring the oats and water to the boil, then turn down to a simmer, adding the salt. Cook for around ten minutes.

To top you can either add one ingredient or several, to make a 'micro biome' healthy porridge.
In the version at the top of this post I added dried moscatel grapes to add sophisticated sweetness. 
In this version I added 14 ingredients including nuts, seeds, spirulina powder,  desiccated coconut, carob molasses, goji berries, bee pollen, baobab powder. 

I stayed at Squirrel apartment self catering in Carrbridge, a comfortable warm cottage near the porridge championships.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Veggie Thursdays in Ghent

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium

Ghent is like Bruges but without the Disneyfied atmosphere of a museum city. It's lefty, hippy and vibrant, partly thanks to the population of 75,000 students. It's also one of the most beautiful towns I've ever visited. This ancient city is built on a complex system of waterways and canals, weaving through half timbered medieval architecture, characteristic stepped gables which zigzag across the sky, while trams rattle along the cobbled streets as bicycle and church bells reverberate like glockenspiels. Ghent also has the world's largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita.
I met Maureen Vande Cappelle, part of a Belgian organisation called EVA 'Encouraging vegetarian alternatives', at Le Botaniste, a vegan restaurant housed in an old pharmacy in the centre of Ghent. 
Every Thursday, restaurants, schools, workplace canteens, government offices, are encouraged to provide a vegetarian or vegan meal as the main choice. This initiative started in 2009 and is now, eight years on, part and parcel of Ghent life. Why can't we do this in the UK? One of the founders of EVA is Tobias Leenaert who wrote 'How to create a Vegan World, a pragmatic approach'. (I agree with him that some vegan purists can be off-puttingly negative to flexitarians and this is not the way forward).
Maureen and I, we worked out, had come across each other before, at the Anti-G8 camp in Stirling. She, like me, coming from an activist background, was part of Rampenplan, a Dutch anarchist food truck, which made, I recollect, particularly delicious food. We reminisced about cooking for hundreds of activists while surrounded by riot police. 
The political situation is Belgium is also delicate. In Flemish towns like Ghent, I was told, they prefer you to speak English rather than French. There is a rivalry between the Flemish and French speaking parts of Belgium, in fact some maintain that there is no such thing as Belgium at all. The northern part is Flanders, next to Holland while the southern end, near the French border, is Wallonia. 
Strangely Lille is considered part of Flanders even though it's in France and they speak French. 
One thing I found strange in Ghent which after all has its fair share of tourists, is that most menus are not translated into English, however virtually everyone can speak very good English.

What to eat and drink in Ghent:

witloof, endives, Ghent, Belgium

Ghent 'noses'

cuberdon, Ghent noses, Ghent, Belgium
Cuberdons or Ghent 'noses' are cone shaped sweets, traditionally violet flavoured but now in liquorice, cherry, raspberry and other flavours. They should ideally be eaten fresh, as the liquid interior dries up after a couple of days. Five euros will buy you nine cuberdons.


Tierenteyn-Verlent,mustard, Ghent, Belgium
Tierenteyn-Verlent,mustard, Ghent, Belgium
Tierenteyn-Verlent,mustard, Ghent, Belgium
The mustard Tierenteyn is a good gift to take home, beautifully wrapped by the historic shop Tierenteyn-Verlent, opened in 1790, which still makes it fresh in the basement. A girl will scoop the mustard out of a large wooden barrel into a glass, plastic or ceramic container. Prices are from a couple of euros for a small jar.
They also sell jars of citrussy yellow piccalilli. 


I prefer Dutch and Belgian style 'Jenever' to English gin - it's smooth, needs no mixers and can be slowly sipped. A fantastic place to try them out is t' Dreupelkot, a historic, dimly lit bar which gives you the first gin shot on the house. The walls are lined with freckled brown ceramic bottles on creaky wooden shelves. There are dozens of different flavours such as chocolate or banana, my favourite is the unlikely sounding Green Apple, which tastes like alcoholic sour sweets.


The Belgians are famous for waffles, thick like doughy mattresses, squirted with feathery duck down cream and chocolate sauce. The inventor of the Belgian waffle was Max Consael of L'Etablissement Max, which was founded in 1839. You can visit his descendant Yves and try this speciality baked in one of the 12 original waffle irons at the new Etablissement Max.


Stoverij is usually a slow cooked beef stew cooked down with Belgian beer and mustard; I had a vegan version stoverij with seitan at Mosquito Coast restaurant opposite the Vegan BnB. It wasn't great to be honest, the seitan was rubbery and tasteless, but the potato croquettes served with it, were fantastic. 

Originally this was a fish stew but today is usually made with chicken. I don't know of any vegan/vegetarian restaurants that serve this as yet. Let me know in the comment if you know of any in Ghent.


'T Velootje, brown cafe, Ghent, Belgium
 'T Velootje, brown cafe, Ghent, Belgium
'T Velootje, brown cafe, Ghent, Belgium
Belgium is famous for its beer and Ghent is no exception. I drank at a really odd brown café, the ceiling cluttered with hanging rusty bicycles, called 'T Velootje, run by  eccentric landlord Lieven De Vos. When I visited he was wearing women's tights under some yellow shorts. 
'What do you want to drink?' he asked. 
'What have you got?' I replied 
'I'm going to give you beer' he said handing me a bottle of something delicious. .
He chooses. You drink it. The customers all talk to each other, just like in a good pub, which is perfect when you are travelling alone. 

Belgian Fries:

De Frietketel was voted as this years best 'frietkot' chip shop. Their fries are great, cooked in vegetable oil, and their veggie and vegan menu comes highly recommended, especially the walnut or pumpkin burger. Try the vegan tartar sauce, the bitterballen, the stoverijsaus.

Where to eat in Ghent:

Le Botaniste, Ghent, Belgium
Le Botaniste, Ghent, Belgium
Le Botaniste was started by Alain Coumont, who also started Le Pain Quotidien, which is not French but Belgian. (I have a little theory that all the best French people are actually Belgian: Jacques Brel, Tintin, Georges Simenon, Hercules Poirot, Smurfs, Charlemagne, Jean Claude Van Damme, Plastic Bertrand). Coumont believes that a plant based diet is the future, and his new project is Le Botaniste. There are two branches at present - Ghent and New York, but Coumont hopes that Le Botaniste will be as successful world-wide as Le Pain Quotidien.
Lepelblad  had only been open for 2 days when I visited. I had tacos and a cocktail, all sourced from local suppliers where possible and admired the old fashioned Aga, which wasn't working. 

I didn't manage to eat in many places, as I was only in Ghent for a day and a half, and you need at least 3 days, but I got some great recommendations from Maureen:
  • Madam Bakster The Guiltfree Bakerya selection of vegan cakes and bakes.
  • Full Circle Coffee:  All vegan new wave coffee bar, which serves pies and brioches. They serve coffee with oat milk (which is nicer then soy milk).
  • Lokaal: the name of this 'teabar' means 'local', they source everything from nearby while remaining organic, veggie and vegan. 
  • Food Storms at Nest: a pop-up cafe in the Old Library, until April 2018, maybe longer. Starting from mid-October Foodstorms  will feature a vegan tasting menu by Kevin Storms, a well known chef in Ghent.  
  • De Superette: This is not a veggie/vegan place, but is apparently worth a visit thanks to the wonderful fresh sourdough bread and pizza baked in the wood oven. Set up by chef Kobe Desmalaults, Ghent's rock and roll chef, they also do vegan and vegetarian options.

Around Dok, the new part of town they are developing. 
  • V-box: originally they provided vegan street food but are now new fast-food kid in town, according to Maureen.
  • Way: provide a vegan option every day.  
  • BeO: an organic shop with a lunch place attached. Cheap good organic produce in a nice setting.
  • Dochters van de jaegher: run by two sisters, this is an ironically named vegetarian or pescatarian canteen ( 'daughters of the hunter') based in the old Hinkelspel cheese factory. They also sell cheese and fresh produce. 


The Holy Food Market, Ghent, Belgium
The Holy Food Market is built in a converted 16th century church. To be honest I felt it was badly done, rather tacky and while I'm not religious, it felt like sacrilege. Gross. 
Groot Vleeshuis/ Great Butchers' Hall, Ghent, Belgium
Groot Vleeshuis/ Great Butchers' Hall is off the main square is a 15th century vaulted wooden trussed roof with cured hams hanging off the beams. Not exactly veggie-friendly but visually impressive nonetheless. This old Guild House sells local specialities.

Pakhuis: this is a former warehouse that has been renovated. Good restaurant and beer selection.

Belga Queen, Ghent: enormous 800 year old architect designed restaurant near the port.

Where to visit in Ghent:

This is a place you can do a lot of walking, but wear comfortable shoes, my knee hurts from turning it on the cobbles. There are plenty of interesting alleys, canal pathway walks, archways, architecture features to discover.
You can also hire bicycles or kayaks. I rather like the idea of roaming around the network of canals under your own steam. 
I recommend buying the CityCard Gent which allows access to all museums, historical sites, a guided boat tour, the hop on, hop off boat, and all public transport. 30 euros for 48 hours, 35 euros for 72 hours.

  • The 12th century Gravensteen Castle is atmospheric, with interesting exhibitions and great views over the city.
  • The Museum Dr Guislain, housed is an enormous sanitorium, is quirky and worth visiting. Dr Guilhas was one of the pioneers in mental health in Belgium, you can find out more about treatments, conditions, the history of psychiatry. There are also art exhibitions and a cafe.
  • The 'STAM' Ghent City Museum is vast and modern. In the first rooms, you are given overshoes so that you can walk over a map of the city; like treading over an up lit Google Earth. In other parts of the museum you explore the history of Ghent from 1200 to the present day. In 1400 Ghent was as big as Paris and equally important. 

I loved the shop Dille and Kamille, which while Dutch in origin, has many branches in Belgium. I bought enamel bowls, serving spoons, wooden moulds for butter (sheep) and speculoos biscuits, a red and white checked apron. I could have spent a great deal more. Great for food styling props. When are they going to open in the UK?

Where to stay in Ghent:

Aanaajaanaa off the main square is a charming BnB in a tall old 19th century house. There are only two rooms which are huge. Rates are around 100 euros a night with breakfast for one or two people.
It's owned by Markus and Carol who live downstairs with their children. Markus was very friendly and helpful, his children helped served a delicious vegan breakfast with a freshly made smoothie. The colour scheme, everything saffron, orange or red looks Buddhist.
Markus explained, as he carried my case up the steep dark wooden stairway:
 'We can't say we're vegan because of the wool rugs and blankets but we don't want to throw them out but the breakfast is completely vegan'.

How to get there:

Ghent Belgium

Eurostar from London takes less than three hours, change at Brussels and get a local train to Ghent- 30 minutes away.

I was hosted on this trip by VisitFlanders and VisitGent.