Goodness, it’s dark. The winter solstice was yesterday so I really shouldn’t be surprised by this lack of light. And yet, I am. There’s something deeper to the darkness this year. The short December days have been covered by heavy, grey skies – no sparkling frosts or colourful sunsets to brighten the beginning and end of the daylight hours. And we’ve had much, much more rain than Inverness is used to. It’s all been a bit driech, really.
The upside of this crappy weather and lack of light is that I feel entirely justified in entering hibernation mode. And, after the wonderful insanity that has been this year (new job, marathon, wedding, travels to Asia and the USA…), hibernation mode is just what I need. I’ve spent most of today curled up on the sofa with my book and Marco snoozing by my side. There’s bread baking in the oven and the fairy lights are on. I might have a hot bath later and after that a glass or two of red wine. Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow is looking like more of the same. Bliss.
The following is a perfect meal for such days. It’s hearty and comforting and super simple to make. Just the thing for a dark December night.
Tomato & Rosemary Sausage Bake
6 herby pork sausages
500g cherry tomatoes
250g plum tomatoes, halved
2 sprigs of rosemary
1/2 tspn dried thyme
2 garlic clove, crushed
1 tblspn balsalmic vinegar
1 tblspn olive oil
Salt & pepper
- Heat oven to 180 oC.
- Prick the sausages and add them to a casserole dish along with the tomatoes, herbs and garlic. Drizzle over the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and a larger pinch of pepper then use your hands to mix all the ingredients together.
- Tuck the sausages underneath the tomatoes and bake for 30 minutes (this stops the sausages browning too soon). After 30 mins, use tongs to place the sausages on top of the tomatoes. Bake for another 30 mins.
- Remove from the oven and serve the beautifully browned sausages and rich tomato & herb sauce with mashed potatoes and green beans.
I didn’t used to be good at making shortbread. Sure, I could whip up a decent base for Strawberry Shortcake or Millionaire’s Shortbread but I had never produced a biscuit that I thought was good enough to eat unembellished with a strong cup of tea. This had to change once I had accepted the invitation to teach a Scottish cookery course in the USA, of course. Scotland = shortbread,
So I tried out some recipes. A LOT of recipes. Recipes from books, from blogs, from friends and from family and, though some of the latter ones were hugely successful in those individuals’ hands, they just didn’t work for me. And then I tried The Three Chimney’s recipe.
For those of you who don’t know, The Three Chimney’s is a restaurant on the west coast of Skye (pics of Skye here and here). I’ve only eaten there once and, having gone for the 9 course tasting menu plus matching wine flight, it almost bankrupt us. Totally worth it though! The food was amazing, the restaurant is beautiful, the service friendly and helpful, and after 5 hours of wining and dining, I left feeling like the large amount of money we had spent had been a bargain.
Now I don’t remember if I had the shortbread when I ate at the restaurant but my lovely Aunt Anne gifted me the cookbook last year and it was here I found the Three Chimney’s recipe. And it was perfect. Delicate, melting, buttery and not too sweet.
I can’t, in all good conscience, reproduce the recipe here as I didn’t alter a single thing. You can find it here, however.
Try it; you won’t regret it.
I am rather particular when it comes to stovies. Sometimes when we’re out for a walk on a chilly day, we’ll stop in at a pub for some lunch. If there are stovies on the menu (a hearty Scots dish of potatoes slowly cooked with dripping and onion), I’m always tempted to order them. They are perfect cold weather fodder. Problem is some folk have funny ideas about what makes stovies and, more often than not, I’m disappointed by what I’m served.
Now, these “folk” with their “funny ideas” do, admittedly, tend to simply be from areas of Scotland other than Aberdeen. Usually, I’m all for regional variations, variety being the spice of life and whatnot. But, really, who puts sausages in stovies??
Stovies should be moist but not runny. The potatoes should be sliced thickly and disintegrating, not chunky or mashed. And the meat, the meat should be shredded beef or lamb; it should not be chicken or corned beef or – splutter – sausages. Finally, stovies should be served with oatcakes and beetroot.
Do stovies this way and you’re doing them right. :)
Stovies (to be made the day after a roast dinner)
2 tblspn dripping or butter
3 onions, sliced thickly
800g floury potatoes, peeled and sliced 1cm thick
100-200g leftover meat, shredded (lamb or beef)
2 tblspn meat jelly
1/2 cup of lamb or beef stock
Salt and pepper
- In a heavy based pan, fry the onions in the fat until soft and just starting to turn golden. Remove pan from heat and pour onion and fat into a bowl.
- Build layers of potatoes, onion/fat and meat, adding a little sprinkle of salt and pepper each time. Once all the potato etc has been layered add the stock and meat jelly and place back on the heat.
- Heat until the liquid starts to boil then reduce heat to low, place lid on the pan and cook gently for an hour. Check occasionally to make sure they haven’t dried out and add a splash more stock if they look like they might.
- Serve with oatcakes and fresh or pickled beetroot.
The London Marathon is only 12 weeks away and I’m training hard. Up to 13 miles at the weekend now along with dark weeknight runs. Between this, wedding preparations and challenging times at work, life is pretty full on right now. Enjoying it all but it’s keeping me away from the kitchen, especially during the week. Hooray for Sundays! Sundays are for soup making, bread baking and stocking piling the freezer with food for quick weeknight meals. The following lentil bologese/ragu/pasta sauce/whatever you want to call it is one of my current favourites.
Lentil & Chorizo Bolognese
200g chorizo, skinned and chopped into 1cm cubes
A little olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tspn oregano
250g green lentils
1 tin of tomatoes
Chicken or vegetable stock
- Warm a little olive oil in a medium pan. Add the chorizo and fry gently until the paprika-y fat has been release and the sausage is crisp. Remove using a slotted spoon and put aside.
- Fry the onions, carrot and celery in the oil for 5 minutes or until softened slightly. Stir in the garlic and oregano and cook for a minute more.
- Add the chorizo back to the pan along with the lentils, bay leaves and tin of tomatoes. Stir well to combine then add enough stock to just cover the lentils.
- Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Add more stock during the first 30 mins to keep the lentils just covered in liquid. Once the lentils are almost cooked, stop adding stock and let the liquid reduce to a thick sauce.
- Serve tossed with tagliatelle and grated parmesan cheese.
My second piece of good news is that I got a place in the 2014 London Marathon. Delighted! I’ve ran this distance twice before in the Loch Ness Marathon, a great race with beautiful, peaceful route and a fantastic atmosphere amongst the runners. It’s one I’ll most definitely do again (and maybe again after that) but, for now, I am looking forward to next year where I’ll be running a route with far less climbs (man, I hate the Dores hill) and more shouts and cheers from crowds the whole way along. I’ll be fundraising nearer the time for the MS Society and Brain Tumour Research. If you’d like to sponsor me, keep an eye on this space in early spring for details.
Today’s recipe is a loaf. The basic bread recipe is one I’ve published on these pages. The addition of rosemary to the dough and the sprinkle of sea salt on top makes this a real treat of a snack. It needs nothing more than a smearing of good quality butter.
Salted Rosemary Bread
(Makes one big loaf)
300ml warm water
1 tspn dry active yeast
400g strong white flour
1 tspn salt
1 tspn chopped fresh rosemary
1 tspn sea salt crystals
- Add the yeast to the warm water and set aside until the yeast foams a little (around 10 mins).
- In a large bowl stir together the flour, salt, and rosemary. Add the yeasty water and stir to create a wet dough. Leave for 5 mins.
- Smear a little olive oil onto your work surface and plop the dough out onto it. Knead for a couple of minutes. (You might need to add a tiny bit more flour if the dough is really too sticky to do anything with but don’t add much. I just dip my hands in flour a couple of times if need be.)
- Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a teatowel. Leave in a warm (not too hot!) place for 30 mins until doubled in sized.
- Knead the dough for a couple of minutes again and place back in the bowl for another 30mins.
- Final stage. Line a baking tray with baking paper and dust with flour. Place dough onto work surface and pull into a flattish rectangular shape. Roll dough up lengthways and tuck the ends underneath. Place seam side down and cover with the tea towel again. Leave to double in size in the same warm place.
- Meanwhile, heat your oven to 210 oC (or 200 oC if fan assisted). When oven reaches the right temperature place a cake tin of hot water in the bottom of the oven. Leave for 10 mins to let the oven get steamy.
- Brush the risen dough lightly with water then sprinkle with the sea salt. Dust lightly with flour then use a serrated knife to make 3 slits across the top of the loaf. Place in the oven and bake for 40 mins until golden.
- Leave to cool on a rack before eating.
So let’s start with the exciting news. Next year, September to be precise, I am flying out to the United States of America to teach a week long Scottish cooking course! It’s taking place in North Carolina at the John C Campbell Folk School and I’m ridiculously excited about it all.
I reckon this is going to affect the blog in two ways. Firstly, there are going to be a lot of Scottish recipes appearing on these pages in the coming year. This is something that readers have requested in the past but I’ve never really acted on it. With 30-40 recipes to perfect before next September, you can expect a range of traditional Scottish recipes along with some modern favourites and dishes that make the most of Scottish produce. Secondly, I reckon I’ll be blogging more frequently. A demanding job and difficult personal situation has led me to neglect this space in the last few years. I like to think this project is going to revive my blogging efforts and that I’ll be around more often. That’s the plan, anyway!
So let’s start today with Finnan Haddie Tart. Finnan Haddie is cold smoked haddock. It can be poached in milk or grilled or roasted and served as is but most folks associate it with the rich soup, Cullen Skink (recipe here). The following recipe uses the smokey, creamy flavours of Cullen Skink but in the form of a tart rather than a soup. It’s really rather lovely served along side a big salad and some crusty bread.
Finnan Haddie Tart (adapted from Sue Lawrence’s Scots Cooking)
For the oatmeal pastry:
200g plain flour
25g fine oatmeal
125g cold salted butter, cut into chunks
1 tspn olive oil
For the filling:
1 onion, chopped finely
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes
350g finnan haddie (smoked haddock) or other smoked white fish, must be undyed
100ml crème fraîche or double cream
Salt and pepper
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
- First make the pastry. If you are lucky enough to have a mixer, simply pop everything into the bowl and process briefly until the ingredients come together in a ball. Otherwise, rub the butter into the flour and oatmeal until fine crumbs have formed. Stir in the egg and oil and form a dough. Chill the dough for an hour before rolling and using to line a 28cm flan tin (preferably loose bottomed). Chill again for 15 mins. Line the pastry case with foil and fill with baking beans (I use dried chickpeas). Bake in a 190 oC oven for 20 mins. Remove foil and beans and bake again for 10 mins. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
- While the pastry is cooling, fry the onions in oil over a medium heat until translucent. Add the potato and continue to fry, stirring frequently, until potatoes are almost tender (approx 15 mins). Set aside.
- Poach the fish in the milk for 5 mins. Remove the fish from the milk and flake, taking care to remove all bones. Mix the fish with the potatoes and onions.
- Add the crème fraîche and egg to the milk. Beat then season with salt and pepper. Stir through the parsley.
- Scatter the potato/fish mix evenly in the pastry case then pour in the liquid.
- Bake in a 190 oC oven for 40 mins.
- Best served warm rather than hot.
When we returned from Italy I had a list of three dishes I wanted to learn to make.
The first was Aubergine Parmigiana. Our hotel served a to-die-for version for lunch and I’ve been trying and failing for several weeks to recreate it.
The second was a dish I ate in the fantastic Leon di Oro in Riva: Tagliatelli with Black Truffles and Vezzana Cheese. I kid you not, the restaurant version is perhaps the nicest thing I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Looking forward to making that once truffles come into season later this year.
And the third was Taglierini al Limone, a delicate, fresh pasta dish that I ate in a little trattoria in the lovely town of Arco. It’s been very simple to recreate and, being so light and so simple to make, it has been my post-run lunch of choice this summer.
Sigh. I miss my lazy summer lunches.
Taglierini al Limone
200g taglierini (This is a slim, delicate tagliatelli type pasta that cooks very quickly. If you can’t find it, angel hair pasta would work well or linguine.)
Juice of one lemon and 1/2 tspn of the rind grated finely
3 tblspn extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tblspn finely chopped parsley
- Whisk together the lemon juice and oil until emulsified. Bash the garlic clove with a rolling pin and pop it in the liquid to infuse.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta. Drain reserving a little of the cooking water.
- Immediately after draining, add the pasta back to the pot. Remove the garlic from the lemony oil (you just want a hit) and add the oil and cheese to the pan. Use two forks to lift and toss the pasta, working the cheese and lemony oil evenly through it.
- Serve scattered with a grinding of pepper and a scattering of parsley.