Turnips Gratinée (aka Cheesy Neeps)

cheesy neeps turnips au gratin gratinée with cheese Gruyère French Burns Night Scottish

If you live in a northerly place, trying to eat seasonally in winter can sometimes feel like a chore. With the exception of expensive (and often impossible to find) greenhouse-grown fruits and veggies, most local produce is limited to roots, squash, and hardy “storage vegetables” (usually more roots and squash).

Now, I love beets and cabbage and sweet potatoes as much as the next person. But after awhile even the most dedicated locavore feels worn down by the endless line of hard, knobby root vegetables. How many times can you roast the same tray of cubed veg tossed in herbs before going crazy?

When I’m feeling particularly depressed about eating the same old-same old for what feels like the millionth week, I turn to the one food culture that can make anything, no matter how run-of-the-mill or tired, feel elegant and gourmet—the French. This recipe combines nearly all the best parts of French cooking: butter, cream, mustard, and cheese. The only thing missing is wine, and you can easily add that in by enjoying a glass while the dish bakes!

white turnips peeler peeled gratin gratinée neeps

I used a mandoline slicer to get my turnips to an even thinness, but don’t fret if all you have is a sharp kitchen knife—that’ll do fine. If you’re concerned about cholesterol or calories, well, this dish is probably not for you, but feel free to substitute light cream or half and half if you wish.

In French, one might call this dish navets au gratin or navets gratinés but in the spirit of Burns Night (tonight, January 25!), I’ve dubbed it “cheesy neeps” (turnips = neeps in Scots-speak). If at all possible, use white turnips rather than yellow turnips (also known as swede or rutabaga)—they slice easier and cook faster. If you are using yellow turnips, you may want to increase the cooking time under foil to a full hour.

Cheesy Neeps (Turnips Gratinée)

Ingredients:
5 small white turnips (~5 cups’ worth)
3/4 cup of heavy cream
2 Tbs. whole-grain Dijon mustard, such as Maille
1/2 – 3/4 cup coarsely-grated Gruyère cheese (if unavailable, substitute Emmenthaler or Swiss)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. butter

Directions: 
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Rub the butter around the bottom and inside edges of a glass pie plate or round casserole dish.
2. Peel turnips and slice 1/8″ thick using a mandoline or sharp knife.
3. Whisk cream, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Dredge turnip slices thoroughly, and layer in the round dish, scooping up plenty of liquid with each slice. Pour any remaining cream on the top layer.
4. Sprinkle generously with cheese, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake covered for 45 minutes; then uncover and bake a further 20 minutes until the cheese is brown and cream is bubbly.

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Cocktail Experiments with the Owl’s Brew

owl's brew tea-based cocktail mixer the classic coco-lada

As this blog makes evident, my drink of choice is whisky. It’s what I save up for, what I enjoy sharing with others, what I savor at the end of the day. But I like drinking other stuff too: beer while I’m cooking, a bottle of wine for lingering over a meal, and cocktails—glorious cocktails!—when a creative mood strikes or when I hit up a particularly great bar.

Sometimes I’m not in a creative mood and I still want a cocktail. In those situations, I usually turn to trusty stand-bys, like a Botanist gin and tonic or rum and pineapple juice. But even my tried-and-true favorites occasionally get old and, lacking the energy or some special ingredient needed to create a more exciting drink, I give up and regretfully settle for whatever’s closest at hand, mixed or not.

Now I have another option for staving off cocktail burnout: the Owl’s Brew, tea-based cocktail mixers that suit a variety of booze and just about any effort level. If you’re feeling lazy or uninspired, mix two parts of the Owl’s Brew to one part of your chosen hooch. If you’d rather play around, use the Brew as you would any non-alcoholic juice or flavored liquid and make it one component of a more complex recipe.

If you’re not normally a tea-drinker, don’t let that turn you off. The tea taste is pretty subtle and, besides that, the Owl’s Brew blends spices, herbs, and fruit with agave, making the end result a well-balanced mixer that doesn’t overwhelm with sweetness or fake flavors. Frankly, I’d drink this by itself at breakfast or for a post-workout energy boost, because it’s really tasty. And, unlike a lot of other pre-made mixers, it’s decidedly more wholesome with no high fructose corn syrup or scary dyes.

Brew and Basil cocktail gin the owl's brew the classic tea-based cocktail mixer

I tried two of the three current Owl’s Brew varieties: the Classic and the Coco-Lada. Earthy, slightly tart and delightfully easy to drink, the Classic worked well in every drink I concocted, and I was disappointed to blow through the bottle quickly. The Coco-Lada proved a little more challenging for me since coconut water features prominently as one ingredient. Despite the prevailing trend, I really can’t stand coconut water, so I struggled to come up with a recipe that complemented the Coco-Lada’s flavor profile but didn’t make my nose wrinkle. Fortunately, the other ingredients (pineapple, ginger, chai spices) balanced out the coconut water and supported vigorous experimentation.

As I tried various combinations, I found that—unsurprisingly—herbs and spices worked really well with these mixers. Even the first recipe, composed of only the Owl’s Brew and booze, features an herbal note in the vodka thanks to its delicate grass infusion. It would make sense to try this with Becherovka, Chartreuse, in a Pimm’s Cup, or in combination with any herbal liqueur you like.

If you enjoy a cocktail of an evening but don’t consider yourself much of a mixologist, keeping a bottle of the Owl’s Brew on hand is one way to ensure you never have to resort to desperate measures. And if you like more complicated beverages, blending a little here or there can provide depth and complexity without a lot of extraneous ingredients. I could see this featuring in a large-scale punch or as part of a brunch cocktail. You could even throw it in your green juice sans alcohol if you need a little extra sumpin-sumpin. Even if you’re dubious, grab a small bottle and give it a try, if for no other reason than it’s different, and tasty, and you might be surprised at how much you like it.

The Bison’s Brew
1.5 oz Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka
3 oz The Classic
Grapefruit twist

Shake or stir vodka and Owl’s Brew with ice. Serve in a rocks glass with a twist of grapefruit. 

Brew & Basil
1.5 oz London dry gin, such as Tanqueray
3 oz The Classic
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
2 sprigs sweet basil

Shake gin, Owl’s Brew, lime juice, and one sprig of basil vigorously with ice. Strain into a cocktail or rocks glass and garnish with the remaining sprig of basil.

Maple-Lada
1.5 oz white rum
3 oz Coco-Lada
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2-3/4 tsp maple syrup
2 pieces of star anise

Shake rum, Coco-Lada, lime juice, maple syrup, and one piece of star anise with ice; strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with remaining star anise.