Tablet: A Scottish Sweetie

Tablet is a very rich, very sugar traditional Scottish sweet.  Made from butter, condensed milk and sugar, this crumbly fudge-like candy does not win any awards for it’s health inducing properties; it does, however, sweep the board when it comes to ecstatic groan inducing.

Before I go any further I must tell you that it should be D writing this.  He and he alone has spent the past few weeks perfecting his tablet making skills.  It hasn’t been easy journey, tablet is notoriously difficult to make and many baking trays lost their lives in this quest.  The sacrifices have most definitely been worth it though, for sitting next to me this very moment is a chunk of tablet, no bigger than a matchbox.  It’s creamy, it’s sweet, it’s slightly crumbly and, oh me oh my, it is absolutely divine.

An enormous thanks to Alice for sharing her recipe with D and for enduring all of his breaktime tablet-question sessions.  :)

Alice’s Tablet

2lbs caster sugar

1/4lb butter

1 cup of whole milk

400g tin of condensed milk

Teaspoon vanilla essence

  • Remove all children, pets and clumsy people from the room.  They tend not to mix well with vats of boiling sugar.
  • In a heavy based pan (and wearing rubber gloves) slowly melt sugar, milk and butter.
  • Once it comes to the boil add the condensed milk.
  • Slowly bring to the boil again, stirring constantly.
  • Still stirring carefully, boil for 15 minutes or until mixture darkens to a butterscotch colour.  (This can take much longer in some cases – no idea why)
  • To test if mixture has boiled for long enough drop a teaspoon full into a glass of cold water.  If it’s ready it will form a ball.
  • Remove from heat and add vanilla essence.
  • Beat until your arm nearly falls off and the mixture has thickened to a very thick custard-like state (approx. 15 mins).
  • Pour into a greased tin and cool.
  • Cut into squares.  Store in an airtight container.

D’s Trouble Shooting Tips

If your tablet is grainy, you melted the sugar too quickly.   Start again.

If your tablet didn’t set, you didn’t boil it for long enough.  Start again.

If your tablet still didn’t set, you didn’t beat it for long enough.  Yup.  Start again.

Brussels Sprouts: A Recipe and A Challenge

Short post.  Busy night.

Yesterday The Guardian published a recipe for Brussels Sprouts with Tofu.  I made the dish for dinner this evening and it was so exceptionally good I feel compelled to share it with you.  :)  You can find the recipe here.  I halved the amounts specified (it served four) and ate it without rice.  Also drastically reduced the amount of oil from 90ml to three tablespoons.

Before I sign off, here’s a wee competition for you.  Every Christmas day a good friend of mine embarks on The Great Brussel’s Sprout Challenge.  Quite simply (and totally unfathomably) he attempts to eat as many Brussel’s Sprouts in one sitting as he possibly can.  Here’s my challenge to you:

What’s his record?  How many sprouts do you think he managed to consume at one sitting?

A Slightly Superior Shepherd’s Pie

 My parents are visiting this weekend.  After a week of marking marathons and cooking mishaps I wanted tonight’s dinner to be stress-free and undoubtably delicious.  Though the following shepherd’s pie requires two nights preparation, neither part takes much effort and the results are amazing. 

If you don’t believe me ask Gen and Keith.  Two years ago I made this for a hogmany party.  There was plenty left after dinner but by the morning it had all vanished.  It seems Gen and Keith (the munchers) had got out of bed several times during the night to feast on the leftovers. 

So what makes this shepherd’s pie special?  Well, inspired by Jamie Oliver (yet again!) I use shredded lamb shoulder rather than mince.  The meat is cooked very slowly with plenty of chunky vegetables and red wine creating a wonderfully rich sauce.  Add a layer of mashed potato, perfectly crisp on top, and we have a rather spectacular shepherd’s pie.  I think.  :)

Shepherd’s Pie

(Serves 6 generously)

Day 1 – Slow Cooked Lamb

1.3-1.5 kg Lamb shoulder

Seasoning

Rosemary

Olive oil

Bulb of garlic

2 onions, roughly chopped

3 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

3 medium parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped

1 large leek, trimmed and roughly chopped

2 bay leaves

Palmful of thyme leaves

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

500ml red wine

  • Pre-heat oven to 200oC.
  • Rub the lamb with oil and seasoning.  Cut small slits into the fat and stuff sprigs of rosemary into them as far as they’ll go.
  • Lay out all of the vegetables (including the garlic cloves) and the herbs in a deep roasting tin. Place the lamb shoulder on top.
  • Pour over the tomatoes and the wine.
  • Cover the roasting tin tightly with a double layer of tinfoil.
  • Place in the oven and cook for 4 hours.
  • Remove tray from oven and leave to cool slightly before removing as much fat as possible from the lamb shoulder and shredding the meltingly tender meat. 
  • Add the meat to the vegetables (removing any twiggy bits of herb) .  Cool and refridgerate.

Day 2 – The Pie

8 big potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

Salt and pepper

Milk/creme fraiche and butter

200ml Tomato Juice

1 egg, beaten

Boil the potatoes in well salted water until tender.  Drain.  Mash.  Add milk/creme fraiche, butter and seasoning to taste. 

  • Add the meat/vegetable mixture to the bottom of a large heat proof dish or two smaller ones.  Pour over the tomato juice and stir.
  • Top with mashed potatoes.  Use a fork to smooth the potatoes and make ridges on the surface.  Brush with beaten egg.
  • Cook in a 180oC preheated oven for 45 mins or until heated through and bubbling at the edges.

Recent Disasters

 All has not been well in Wendy’s kitchen these last few weeks.  An unprecedented amount of culinary disasters have resulted in a cooking confidence crisis.  The major lows are as follows:

1.)     Venison Stew with Chilli and Chocolate – Ah, this one hurt.  D and I watched The Wild Gourmets a couple of weeks ago and this dish was cooked for a ceilidh.  I thought it sounded fabulous, D thought it sounded minging, argument ensued.  A couple of days ago (after spending some serious time finding a butcher with venison in stock) I made the stew.  In a moment of sheer genius I decided to add cocoa powder to the marinade ingredients.  The result was chunks of meat floating in hot chocolate.  I refuse to tell D what happened.

2)   Toad in the Hole -Never ever EVER again will I write a blog entry before making the dish.  So sure was I that my Toad in the Hole was going to be fabulous, I had a post all ready and waiting to be published once my masterpiece had been caught on camera.  What should have been juicy sausages encased in a crispy yet moist Yorkshire pudding batter ended up being soggy meat in some kind of custard.  It wasn’t nice.

3) Leek and Goat’s Cheese Risotto – With no white wine in the house I used Chinese cooking wine.  It’s very sweet.  It’s much like sherry.  It didn’t work at all.  Moral of the story: always have wine in the house. 

4) Tablet - A Scottish sweet made with butter and sugar and condensed milk.  This was D’s disaster.  He just can’t get it to set.  Luckily, Alice-the-tablet-master is tutoring him and he reckons he’ll be on top of the situation in the next few weeks.

5)   Exploding aubergine – Fun but not planned.

It doesn’t look like very much now it’s written down.  Still, my parents are coming to visit this weekend and to err on the side of caution I’m going to make them my shepherd’s pie.  Everyone always loves my shepherd’s pie.  I surely can’t mess this up?  Can I?

If all goes well I’ll post the recipe later this week.  :)

Cinnamon and Aubergine Curry

 It’s not easy to take nice pictures in winter, is it?  That said, I doubt very much that this dish would photograph terribly well in any light.  Perhaps I should have followed Sophie’s lead and just took a picture of the aubergine itself, though I’d be very aware of failing to live up to her example.  If you haven’t seen Sophie’s fabulous aubergine picture click here.  It won an award, you know. 

What this dish lacks in looks, it makes up for in taste.  The idea came from Jill Dupliex’s new book and the first time I made this dish I followed her recipe to the word.  It was excellent – very fresh and oddly meaty for a veggie dish – but I knew I wanted to play with the recipe.  The following is the result.  The spice mix was borrowed from a beef curry recipe that featured in Delicious magazine a couple of years ago.

N.B.:   For a quicker but, frankly, rather dangerous method of skinning the aubergine, don’t pierce the flesh before roasting it.  I forgot to do so a couple of weeks ago and when I opened the oven after 20 minutes my aubergine had expanded somewhat.  Not thinking, I took a sharp knife and prodded the swollen vegetable.  POP!  It burst like a balloon!  The skin flew off (miraculously missing my face) and I was left with a perfectly skinned aubergine.  :-D

Cinnamon and Aubergine Curry

(Serves 2)

1 large aubergine

2 tblspn ground nut oil

1 onion, chopped very finely

Knob of ginger, chopped very finely

4 cloves of garlic, chopped very finely

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 – 2 tsp dried chilli (to taste)

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

Coriander leaves

  • Preheat oven to 220oC.  Prick aubergine several times and roast for 20 mins.  Leave to cool and peel off skin.  Chop flesh roughly.
  • Meanwhile, heat oil over a med-high in a heavy based pan and add the onion, ginger and garlic.  Fry until just golden.
  • Add the spices to the pan and cook for another 2 mins.
  • Add the aubergine and tomatoes to the pan.  Season.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 mins.
  • Serve garnished with coriander.

Famous Four – Take Two

 When Deb left me a message on my last post saying I had been tagged for a meme I was rather pleased.  Not only because Deb had very kindly selected me to be tagged but also because this is a busy (and rather crap) week and I don’t have much time to cook or blog.  The tag was Four Things… and I’ve actually completed it before.  Rather than let my bubble be burst, I’ve made up my own categories and done another one!  :)

Four Films I Love

  • Independence Day – Mock me if you must but I love it!  The bit where the dog bounds over the parked cars and into the safety of the cupboard (???) as the alien explosion blasts through the tunnel cracks me up.  Cannot imagine better entertainment.
  • La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) – Funny but utterly heart-breaking.
  • Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo And Juliet – I use it in class every year yet am still floored by it each and every time I watch it.  Visually stunning.
  • Annie – Love the songs.  :) 

Four Things I Like About Winter

  • Lighting candles
  • Sparkling frost
  • Hearing the local DJ say my school is closed on a snowy morning.  Woo hoo!  Snow day!
  • Christmas Day – Drinking Baileys for breakfast with my Mum; opening presents with my nieces; twinkly lights; cooking my family an enormous roast meal; and screaming at the neighbours whilst we play board games in the evening (Pictionary brings out the violent side of me). 

Four Foods I Don’t Like

  • Mussels – They look weird and they taste weird.
  • Sea Urchin – It was a local speciality in the Japanese town I lived in.  Everyone continually wanted me to eat it and I was too polite to say no.  It was like eating fishy sand.
  • Tarragon – Yuck.  
  • Beetroot – Don’t hate it, just not wild about it.  Lovely colour, mind you.

Four of My Favourite Breeds of Dog

  • Cocker Spaniel – Great ears, great personality.  Rosie is a cocker, not to mention Sam, my family’s old dog. 
  • Pug – Never met one but think they’re hilarious.  D hates them and has threatened to leave me if I get one.  I’m weighing up my options… ;)
  • Newfoundland – It’d be like having a pet bear without the fear of being eaten.
  • Huskies – This is D’s favourite.  I get that.  He’s like a human huskie in some ways.

I’d like to tag Christina, Lucy, David and Truffle.  And, if you guys fancy taking up the offer, I’d like you to tell us four things about any four things you please. 

I Can’t Believe It Is Garlic Butter

 It feels a little cheeky to suggest a recipe for garlic butter.  In my defence, I would like to say:

  1. In the same way that Yogi is smarter than the average bear, this garlic butter is tastier than the average garlic butter.
  2. It’s fabulous stuff to have in the fridge.  Garlic bread, chicken kiev, sauteed greens etc can be made with no fuss whatsoever.
  3. I’m really tired.

Garlic Butter

150g unsalted butter, room temperature

2 tblspn fresh parsley, chopped finely

Salt and pepper

1 large bulb of garlic

1 extra clove of garlic, crushed

  • Heat an oven to 180oc.  Break up the garlic bulb and place in small baking tray.  Drizzle with olive oil, cover with foil and roast for 20 mins or until the cloves are soft to the touch.
  • Squeeze the roasted garlic out of their skins and chop roughly. 
  • Mix roasted garlic, crushed garlic and parsley with butter.  Season to taste.
  • Place garlic butter mixture on to a sheet of clingflim (what do you North Americans call this again?  Some kind of wrap? It’s the clear plasticky stuff).  Fold cling film and mould mixture into a sausage shape.  Wrap tightly and store in the fridge.

Rosemary, Lentil and Tomato Soup

Can winter have crept up on me already?  Suddenly I need to put on a bobble hat to pop round to the local shop.  Suddenly it’s dark enough to light candles at 4pm.  And this afternoon I was sleepy enough to have a wee nap on the sofa under an orange woolly blanket.  Sounds like winter to me.

My garden is also entering hibernation mode.  With only a few leeks remaining in the ground, I have covered most of my vegetable patch with a thick layer of horse poop and left the ground to recover from a busy summer.  Only my hardy herbs will see me through the coldest months.  Hardy herbs like the revitalizingly fragrant rosemary. 

Now, it’s easy to overpower a dish with rosemary but it’s also easy to be so scared of overdoing it that the flavour is lost completely.  Inspired by a dish eaten in The Falls of Dochart Inn in Killen, Perthshire, the following recipe does not shy away from its rosemary base.  A hearty, invigorating soup perfect for a dark November afternoon.

Rosemary, Lentil and Tomato Soup

1 tblspn olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1.5 tblspn fresh rosemary, chopped

150g red lentils

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

500ml vegetable stock

Seasoning

  • Gently fry the onion, rosemary and garlic until the onion is soft but not coloured.
  • Add the lentils and stir.  Add the tomatoes and stock.  Stir.
  • Bring to the boil then reduce the heat.  Simmer for 30 mins.
  • Season carefully, adding extra rosemary if you like.

Grains – Part 2

 

After an experiment with familiar and homely barley I wanted my next grain experience to be rather more exotic.  I had heard of neither farro nor amaranth nor wheatberries until this year and thus all three were tempting me with their mysterious allure.  Which would be next?  I considered researching each and making an informed choice but in the end I settled on the wheatberry because it has an exceptionally cute name.  :)

After hours (minutes) searching the shelves of my local health food store, I started to worry that wheatberries were so very exotic they weren’t available up here in the Highlands.  How wrong could I be?  After asking the shop assistant for some assistance, I discovered this grain has been with me my whole life.  It seems that wheatberry’s less adorable name is wheatgrain and it’s just wheat.   Refined, most folk consume it daily in breads and cakes and beers; unrefined, it is the same stuff that I chew on whilst walking through fields.  So much for exotica!

I’m not complaining though.  I adored this grain! Wheatberries are chewy, they’re nutty, they’re nutritious and they are ridiculously filling.  

I usually use the following spices in a couscous dish but found that the light, tangy flavours balanced the heaviness of the wheatgrain really well.

Spiced Wheatberry Salad

(serves 4 as a side)

250g wheatberries, soaked for at least four hours

2 tblpsn olive oil

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp paprika

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 lemon, zest and juice

1 green chilli, finely chopped

4 spring onions, chopped

Handful of coriander, chopped

  • Cook the wheatberries in plenty of salted, boiling water until they plump up (anywhere between 1 and 3 hours).
  • Heat oil gently in a pan.  Add cumin, coriander, paprika and garlic.  Cook gently for two minutes.
  • Add the cooked wheatberries and all other ingredients to the spices.  Combine well.
  • Serve at room temperature.

I did take a picture of the above salad but appear to have deleted it.  Will leave you instead with this picture of the flowers D brought me this week because I wasn’t feeling well.  Don’t you think the front-left one looks like a cabbage?  Well, I did and moments after being presented with the bouquet I bit a chunk out of it.  It wasn’t a cabbage and didn’t taste very nice.  Also, by the horrified look on D’s face, I shouldn’t expect flowers again any time soon.