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There are many things to love about Scotland but, people always point out, the cuisine is not one of them. These always tend to be people who have never actually traveled to Scotland and bothered to try anything that seemed scary and unfamiliar. I pity these people, not only because they end up missing out on an authentic and pleasurable cuisine, but because they likely suffer from their culinary close-mindedness in other ways, too. (Imagine how dreadful they must be to dine with!)
The truth is that Scottish cuisine might be simple and somewhat unadorned, but when it’s well-made, it can hold its own. It surprises me that in this era of trendy nose-to-tail restaurants, no one in the US seems to have discovered the beauty of haggis, a dish that combines multiple kinds of offal with humble oats, suet, and spices and truly does taste delicious. Perhaps because the haggis emerges from its pudding-bag (aka sheep’s stomach) an ugly, crumbly mess — but that certainly hasn’t stopped chefs in Scotland from plating it up in elegant towers or stuffed in bacon-wrapped chicken breasts.
I digress. Besides the haggis, Scottish cooking offers other dishes that incorporate the most basic ingredients into satisfying and tasty meals. Cullen skink, possibly the best name for anything ever, is a haddock and milk soup: sounds horrible, tastes divine. A good scotch broth is nothing more than barley, vegetables, and a few shreds of meat, and yet you’ve never tasted anything more suited to the wet, windy days of January in Edinburgh. And what about shortbread? It’s flour, butter, and sugar — three ingredients become one divine treat.
My absolute favorite Scottish dish also incorporates only a few basic items. Cranachan is basically trifle made with fresh berries (usually raspberries), whipped cream, and oats. (Oh, oats! The Scots can do about a thousand things with oats.) A little extra flavoring comes from heather honey and, naturally, whisky. It’s a simple, beautiful, wholly satisfying dessert and one upon which you can riff endlessly.
So, since it’s springtime and here in New York that means rhubarb, I decided to whip up a cranachan that’s a little more tart and syrupy than normal. You don’t have to include the whisky, although I obviously recommend it since it provides that little bit of depth the dessert would otherwise lack. I used Compass Box Great King Street, my go-to blend, but feel free to choose a whisky suited to your taste. (A cask strength Glenmorangie or even a sweet-and-salty Old Pulteney would really kick things up.)
– 1 heaping cup of rhubarb, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
– 1 heaping cup of strawberries, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
– 1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. brown sugar
– 1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. whisky
– 1 pint heavy cream
– 1 tsp. honey
– 2 Tbs. oats
1. Toss the rhubarb and strawberries with brown sugar and heat over low in a saucepan. Allow the mixture to gently simmer, stirring often, until the rhubarb breaks down and the liquid becomes syrupy. Remove from heat, and stir in 1 Tbs. whisky. Let cool and then move to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to one day.
2. In a skillet over low heat, dry-toast the oats until they’re brown and nutty. Sprinkle on the brown sugar right at the end of cooking and remove from heat, stirring thoroughly to incorporate. Let cool.
3. Using a whisk, stand mixer, or hand mixer, whip the cream until very stiff peaks form — nearly overwhipped. Fold in the whisky and honey.
4. In glasses, bowls, or ramekins, spoon the fruit mixture and layer the whipped cream over it. Top with the toasted oats and garnish with a sliced strawberry, if desired. Serve immediately.
When you dig in, you’ll want to mix up the layers — and you should! This syrupy fruit base mixes especially well with the whipped cream, and the toasted oats remain crunchy to the last bite.
I didn’t know I liked beets.
At least, not until this past winter. I didn’t have anything against them—I’d just never eaten them growing up and my only experience theretofore had been encountering those gelatinous maroon cubes in the dining hall salad bar. ICK. But when I joined a winter CSA, beets abounded, and I had to come up with something to do with them all because I sure hate wasting food (and money—CSA’s ain’t cheap!).
I probably would have roasted the whole winter’s share once I discovered how amazing warm, sweet beets taste, but my husband got a little tired of that format, so: onwards. My final share also included a boatload of daikon radishes which—although I pickled a solid pound—never seemed to diminish in volume.
How to use up these sturdy roots, especially at the end of a long, snowy winter when oven fatigue has set in? Optimistic and cheerful thanks to the first stirrings of spring (50 degree days, omg!), I banished the thought of cooking with heat and decided that a cool, crunchy salad was in order. Rounding out the daikon’s peppery sharpness and the beet’s earthy sweetness, I threw in mild orange carrots and concocted a tastebud-popping dressing. If you prefer more or less of one of the vegetables—or even something else altogether—go wild. Substitute mint and basil for cilantro, lime zest (or juice) for lemon, and use a fish sauce at your preferred pungency.
I used a food processor to grate all the vegetables, thank God. Doing this on a box grater would take forever and the beets would stain your hands Lady Macbeth style—not recommended. DO use a microplane for both your lemon zest and your ginger though, and don’t worry about peeling the ginger—I promise no one will notice the teeny bits of skin.
Cold Daikon, Beet, & Carrot Salad
– 2 cups beet, grated
– 2 cups daikon radish, grated
– 2 cups carrots, grated
– 1/3 cup vegetable, corn, or canola oil
– 1 Tbs sesame oil
– 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
– 1 Tbs fish sauce
– 1 tsp soy sauce
– 1″ knob of ginger, finely grated (use a microplane!)
– zest of 1/2 lemon
– 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
In a large bowl, whisk both oils, vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, ginger, and lemon zest until emulsified. Stir in grated vegetables and allow to macerate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes and up to two hours. Just before serving, stir once more and garnish with cilantro.
At long last, it’s March. The snow mountains have receded to mere hillocks, the days are growing longer, and spring is just around the corner. Someday in the not-too-distant future, we’ll break out the fresh fruit for sangria and cucumber slices for a Pimms Cup. I can almost feel the warm sunshine now.
But—it’s March. In like a lion, and all that. I’m still enjoying rich, wintery cocktails. And since it’s sugaring season here in the northeast, maple syrup has become a focal point for my experimentation. Truth be told, I could eat straight maple syrup with a spoon, but instead I decided to highlight its clean sweetness with a creamy eggnog. Sure, it’s not Christmas, but who says you have to confine yourself to one month a year to enjoy eggnog?
Here’s where it actually gets unorthodox. I created this recipe with bourbon and maple syrup in mind as the main flavor elements—but then I received a sample of Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky. I can hear the gasps—flavored whisky?! Can it be true? Sacré bleu!
Hear me out. This is not a spirit I would drink by itself. It’s quite sweet, and more of a liqueur than anything else. For that reason, it makes a great cocktail and an excellent mix-in for eggnog, particularly if you want to cut back on the added sugar. The maple flavor doesn’t overwhelm the palate and actually comes through cleanly without cloying or saccharine notes. In this eggnog, it’s bolstered by a rich undertone of molasses and some earthy allspice.
You can still make this recipe with bourbon or rye and maple syrup, but if you’re pressed for time, or want to save the real stuff for your pancakes, this makes for a very workable compromise. Bonus: it makes four to six servings, enough for a small gathering or a particularly thirsty evening.
Crown Royal Maple Eggnog
– 4 large eggs
– 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
– 2 cups whole milk
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 1/2 cup Crown Royal Maple Finished (alternatively, 1/2 cup bourbon or rye plus 1-2 Tbs. maple syrup)
– 2 Tbs. molasses
– 1/2 tsp. allspice, plus more for sprinkling
1. Separate eggs. (Try this method!) Using an electric mixer, beat the yolks thoroughly in a large bowl, then add in the brown sugar, beating until dissolved.
2. Stir in the milk, cream, alcohol and allspice and set aside.
3. Use the electric mixer to beat the egg whites just until soft peaks form; then, gently and quickly incorporate the molasses.
4. Whisk the egg white mixture thoroughly into the creamy base and chill for at least half an hour. The whites may separate and rise to the top, so stir well before serving. Sprinkle with allspice if desired.
Thanks to Christina at Taylor for the Crown Royal Maple Finished sample.
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!
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)
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
This Thursday, millions of Americans will spend hours peeling potatoes, whipping cream, basting turkeys, rolling dough, and whisking gravy to prepare and share a meal with loved ones. They’ll go to great lengths to over-feed guests, impress the in-laws, and relish copious leftovers. Thanksgiving has become for many the only day each year that we make a great effort to prepare an elaborate feast—and to enjoy it with gratitude.
But millions of other Americans—the 14.7 million households who at some point have struggled to put food on the table—will find their Thanksgiving spreads a little more sparse. And they won’t have enough leftovers to enjoy for days afterward—many won’t have enough food to see out the week. Even with government assistance and the generosity of soup kitchens and food pantries, some of our neighbors still worry about where their next meal will come from.
The non-profit organization WhyHunger aims to end poverty and hunger (not just in the US, but everywhere) “by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment.” Their multi-faceted work encompasses a variety of efforts to ensure all people have access to nutritious food. At the moment, they’re partnering with Captain Morgan (yes, of the spiced rum) and chef Hugh Acheson (you know him from Top Chef) to raise funds throughout the holiday season. Until February 2014, any tweet, Instagram, or Pinterest post with the hashtag #CaptainsTable garners a $1 donation to WhyHunger from Captain Morgan.
A recent press launch for the campaign featured seasonal Captain Morgan cocktails and boozy bites—perfect for getting into the Thanksgiving mood and the spirit of the campaign. As I enjoyed Acheson’s charcuterie and an excellent cranberry cocktail, I was fully aware of the privileged position I occupy—not just at a fun party, but every day. I have no worries about being able to eat, and eat well. Obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if that were the case.
But I have lived in so-called “food deserts” and neighborhoods where the majority of the residents need government assistance. I’ve shopped at the grocery stores where most food comes in cans or boxes and where junk food is far cheaper than fresh. Eating well with those limited resources is possible, sure, but it sucks. You eat the same things over and over because there’s never any variety at the store. Plus, preparing meals from whole foods takes a lot longer than reheating a frozen pizza, and when you work two jobs, time is short. And, frankly, junk food tastes better than what a lot of people—with limited cooking skills, resources, and time—are able to prepare.
So I fully support Chef Acheson and Captain Morgan in their campaign for WhyHunger. And even though I hope they’d donate the money whether or not people use the hashtag #CaptainsTable, I’ll set my usual cynicism aside and join in. It’s Thanksgiving time—and I have so much, and so much for which to be thankful.
To learn more about WhyHunger and issues of food insecurity, visit whyhunger.org. For every #CaptainsTable hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, Captain Morgan will donate $1 to the charity.
Recipe courtesy of Captain Morgan
12 fresh whole cranberries
1 inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
½ oz. simple syrup
2 dashes orange Bitters
1 ¼ oz. Captain Morgan® Black Spiced Rum
1 oz. cranberry juice
½ oz. lime juice
lime peel to garnish
In mixing glass, muddle the cranberries, ginger, and simple syrup. Add the bitters and Captain Morgan® Black Spiced Rum, cranberry and lime juices and shake with ice. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass, ice and all, smash style. Garnish with an expressed lime peel.