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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.
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.
Part of my aim in writing this blog is to bring good food and whisky together. When asked to review a new expression from Glen Grant, I took it as an opportunity to engage in one of my favorite kitchen pastimes: boozy baking. And since I had most of an unwanted loaf of Italian bread going stale, I decided to whip up a whisky bread pudding. With whisky sauce. To enjoy with more whisky.
Now, I did NOT use the lovely Glen Grant sample in this recipe. I never use “real” whisky (e.g. a nice single malt) in cooking, Brenne-infused mulled wine notwithstanding. I used what I had on hand, which was Grants, but you can use any cheap blended whisky or, heck, any dark spirit you want. Bourbon, brandy, rum—go wild! But please, please don’t use your good stuff. Save that to enjoy with the food.
Bread pudding is ridiculously easy to make. Bread, sugar, eggs, cream. Throw in some vanilla, baking spices, nuts, raisins or other fruit, chocolate chips, whatever—you can’t mess it up. It’s a great dessert for company, too, because you can make a whole pan (or portion into little ramekins) and feed a crowd. Plus, you get to serve it with hard sauce, which is butter, sugar, and booze, and tastes like the topping at Cinnabon only way better, because booze.
Glen Grant’s new Five Decades expression pairs nicely with bread pudding, complementing it with a light creaminess, notes of nutmeg, and sweet raisiny undertones. In fact, next time I might add raisins or currants to further draw out the dried fruit in the malt.
Glen Grant Five Decades
Nose: Sweet with strong vanilla and honey with icing sugar and an undertone of stone fruits, especially fresh cherries, and a hint of nutmeg.
Palate: Gentle at first, with a creamy sweetness that progressed to warm spiciness and finished with toasted, buttered nuts and lingering spice. As the dram opened up, I got notes of minerals, birch bark, and cherry syrup, plus some orange peel dipped in dark chocolate. It was very easy drinking, and more complex than the nose suggested.
Glen Grant just released this whisky as a celebration of their Master Distiller, Dennis Malcolm, who began his career at their cooperage in 1963. Malcolm selected casks from each of the last five decades to create the limited-edition expression priced around $250.
Whisky Bread Pudding
– 1 loaf Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes and allowed to go stale
– 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
– 4 large eggs
– 1 cup white sugar
– 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
– 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
– 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
– 2 tsp. vanilla extract
– 3 Tbs. whisky (e.g. Grants)
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 3 cups half and half
– 1/2 cup raisins or currants (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C). Grease a 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Melt the butter and toss with the bread, coating thoroughly.
2. Beat eggs and both sugars until well blended. Add spices, vanilla, and whisky. Blend in cream and half and half until thoroughly mixed. Gently mix in raisins, if using.
3. Toss bread chunks with cream mixture and pour into baking dish, ensuring each chunk is well saturated. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until liquid has set. (It will still be bubbling, though.) Serve warm with butterscotch or hard sauce.
Thanks to Nick at Exposure for the sample of Glen Grant Five Decades.
What is it about Sundays that makes me want to eat a big, Italian, family meal? I didn’t grow up around extended family and I don’t have a drop of Italian ancestry. Yet Sunday afternoon rolls around and I dream of a kitchen full of chatty relatives, chopping, stirring, drinking wine, and good-naturedly yelling at each other. (In my fantasy, I’m mostly drinking wine and yelling. Or is that in real life?)
I can’t claim Italian blood and thus neither can I claim authenticity for these meatballs, but mamma mia, are they good. Yet another recipe from the paternal grandmother, this one was always reserved for special occasions. In fact, up until her death, only my grandmother was allowed to make them, which meant we couldn’t eat them unless we endured an arduous car trip from North Carolina to New Jersey. Hours spent bickering on the gridlocked Garden State Parkway were rewarded with tender meatballs and chewy Italian sausage swimming in red sauce. I still salivate when I see Exit 82.
I always make a huge batch of meatballs so I can eat them for lunch later in the week. If you double the meat, you’ll probably only need to increase the bread, onion, and grated Parmesan by 50-75%. If you can’t find ground veal (or don’t want to use it), just use pork and beef or all beef. To stretch the meal (and make less work for yourself), brown some fresh Italian sausage and simmer it alongside the meatballs.
The sauce may or may not be the world’s most awesome invention. I’ve seen lots of variations around the interwebs so I can’t take credit, but I do think the red wine is crucial. You can add fresh or powdered garlic, double the onion, whatever. A lot of recipes call for using whole peeled tomatoes and crushing them after some cooking time, but if you’re adding meatballs this becomes rather difficult. Save yourself the trouble and just used the already-crushed tomatoes: taste-wise, it’s identical and although the texture is different it won’t be so obvious with the other stuff floating in it.
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/4-1/3 lb. ground pork
1/4-1/3 lb. ground veal
1 large egg
1 tsp. each salt, pepper, garlic powder
2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
4 slices of white bread or one large white roll, soaked in water
1 lb. sweet or hot Italian sausage, cut into 2-inch chunks (optional)
1. After soaking the bread, press out as much water as possible by squeezing, then tear into small pieces.
2. Combine all ingredients thoroughly: use your hands to really mix it all together. Form into 2-inch balls.
3. Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Brown meatballs in batches on all sides, turning gently. If you’re also cooking Italian sausage, brown it after the meatballs.
4. Add the meatballs and sausage to hot red sauce and simmer slowly for 1.5-2 hours. Serve over the pasta of your choice (I prefer rigatoni).
Awesome Sauce: World’s Easiest & Tastiest Pasta Sauce
Ingredients for ~1 lb. of meat and pasta; double for larger portions:
2 large (28 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes like Sclafani, Contadina or Cento
1 onion, peeled and cut in half but otherwise intact
4 Tbs. butter
4-6 Tbs. red wine
1. Empty the tomatoes into a heavy pot with lid. Add the onion, butter, and red wine and simmer 1.5-2 hours.
2. Just before serving, remove the onion and discard. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Last week in New York was bitterly cold, a genuine arctic chill descending on the city with scathing, raw cruelty. It gave new meaning to the familiar imagery of winter’s icy fingers stabbing through thick coats and beneath woolly hats. As dank and cold as Edinburgh was throughout last winter and well into spring and summer, its predictable and consistent chilliness felt like an unpleasant bruise. The teeth-chattering, breath-stealing freeze of lower Manhattan in January feels like a slap to the face—a series of them. Brrr.
When the weather forces me to hurry from place to place in an effort to lose as little body heat as possible, I like to use my time in the kitchen as a counterpoint and cook long, slow dishes full of flavor and warmth. I don’t mind standing over a hot stove when outside the wind is howling and the snow is swirling. In fact, the steam rising from a pot of boiling water creates a humidifier effect, killing two birds with one stone as my dry skin takes on much-needed moisture!
I’m not sure if this dish qualifies as a true goulash but it shares enough ingredients with more traditional versions that I think it’s okay to use the name. It is not a soup. It’s not even really a stew, as it uses very little liquid. It’s just a braised meat dish that goes perfectly with my homemade spätzle, which is why I came up with it. I need no excuse to make these noodle-dumplings because they’re chewy little addictions; however, they do taste best paired something rich and slightly stew-y. If you’re a vegetarian, they’d go great with spicy lentils or vinegary, warm red cabbage.
The spätzle (also spelled spaetzle) comes down from my grandmother, the progeny of a Bavarian mother and an Alsatian father. Her recipe has no exact proportions and each time I’ve made it, somehow the amounts of flour and water are always slightly different. The best guidance is to get the mixture to the consistency of waffle batter—thick but still pourable—knowing you can always adjust by adding more water or flour if the first couple rounds don’t turn out the way you like. I also recommend making the batter about 20 minutes before cooking, as it thickens slightly with the wait.
Beef Goulash with Mushrooms
1.5 lbs sirloin tip or other stewing beef, cubed
1 med. onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. sweet paprika
1 tsp. tomato paste
1/4 c. red wine
1. c. beef broth
1 lb. button or cremini mushrooms, thick sliced
4-6 Tbs. sour cream
1. In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil on med-high and brown beef in batches, setting aside after each batch.
2. Drain any excess fat, leaving 2 Tbs. Still on med-high, sauté onion and garlic for five minutes. When softened and onion is getting brown, add paprika and tomato paste and stir, 30 seconds.
3. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and cook down, 1 minute. Return the beef and stir to combine.
4. Add broth and mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, stirring all to combine. Cover and cook on low 45-90 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Just before serving, turn off heat and stir in sour cream to taste. Serve immediately over hot spätzle.
2 + cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. While it’s heating, make the batter and let it sit for a few minutes.
2. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Whisk in eggs.
3. Starting with 1 cup, whisk in water, adding more gradually until the mixture has the consistency of waffle batter.
4. When the water is boiling, hold the bowl in one hand, tilting it over the pot, and use a dull knife to “cut” the batter into the rolling water. (See photo.) Cut 3-4 noodles at a time. Allow them to rise to the surface and boil a further 2-4 minutes. (As the water gets low, the spätzle may stick and you may need to “help” them up by gently loosening them from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.)
5. Remove the noodles using a slotted spoon or spider. Place in a hot casserole dish and rub with butter to keep from sticking together. Keep the dish in the oven to stay warm while you cook the remaining spätzle.
Who doesn’t love the film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (English title, Amélie)? I think it typifies “feel good movie” for me—plus it’s full of gorgeous shots of French food. (The crème brulée cracking scene, oh!) One of my favorite bits (and I’m not the only one, apparently) is when Lucien, the grocer’s assistant, holds up an endive to his ear. “He handles each endive like a precious object, to be treated with care.” His boss might scorn such foolish behavior, but I’m with Lucien. Endives are beautiful, poetic vegetables whose shape and form make them an absolute dream to handle and prepare. I too cannot resist treating them with reverence and a bit of awe.
While I’ve found Belgian endives a bit bitter on their own (though a suitable vinaigrette usually solves that), I most enjoy cooking them with just two main ingredients: wine and lemon. The wine helps soften their crunchy texture and, together with the lemon, adds sugars which enable caramelization. As an accompaniment to a main dish like roast chicken or beef, this preparation adds a marriage of sweet and tart flavors with a toothy tenderness and the added bonus of being good for you (they are a green, after all). Feel free to adjust the amount of lemon juice to taste: I like very lemony endives so I use a whole lemon.
Note that this recipe is for Belgian endives, which are bullet-shaped and mostly white (look for ones whose tips are pale yellow rather than green, like those in the photo, which indicates light exposure and deterioration of flavor). Chicory or frisée is another type of endive for which this preparation is less suited.
Braised and Caramelized Belgian Endives
4-6 Belgian endives, ends trimmed, sliced lengthwise in half
1/4 c. white wine
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil, salt, pepper
1. In a braising pan or skillet with lid, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil on medium-high. Place endives cut-side down and cook for three minutes.
2. Add wine, salt and pepper to taste and reduce heat to low. (Optional: Add half the lemon juice here for extra-lemony endives.) Cover and cook 3 minutes.
3. Returning heat to medium, turn endives over. (The cut side should be caramelized.) Cook 3 minutes, then add half the lemon juice.
4. Continue to cook on medium 6-8 minutes until all moisture has evaporated and endives are well caramelized on both sides. (If the cut side did not caramelize by step 3, turn once more to ensure caramelization.) Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.
I have always wondered why Christmas has to come at the beginning of the long winter rather than somewhere later on. Wouldn’t it be better for us to have something to look forward to during the long dark nights and bitterly brief days? Why kick off such a depressing season with our biggest to-do of the year? I mostly ask these questions because all the Christmas goodies would be so much more appreciated on say, January 28, when the cold winds are howling and the snow is piling up, than now, when it’s barely gotten cold enough in New York City for me to break out my awesome new Betsey Johnson coat.
Then again, who says we can’t have holiday treats outside the holidays? I’ve had so little time for baking this month that I anticipate making some of my favorite seasonal delights long after the gifts have been unwrapped, simply because I can’t wait another year to have them. Likewise with this mulled wine: it’s too delicious and, frankly, too perfect for chasing away the chill of winter to limit to one month of this long season. So I plan to make it again and again until the trees start budding and I can move on to that warm-weather wine punch, sangria.
This recipe is great because you can play around with all of it. Don’t like Syrah? Use another red wine. Don’t like red wine? Use white. Adjust the spices, sweetness, and flavorings to your taste. Leave out the whisky if you prefer, or use brandy, rum, or schnapps. Try adding other fruits, like cherries or pears. In short, go wild! Experiment and taste often. Mulled wine is a crowd-pleaser and excellent for parties because a) it’s cheap and b) you can make a big batch all in one go. (Pro tip: Keep it hot throughout an event on the “warm” setting in a slow cooker.) You can also make it ahead of time and store in the fridge for up to a week. In fact, I recommend making extra so you can let it macerate for a day or two and come back to it after a busy workday—time improves the depth and complexity, for sure.
Be warned: the smell of this simmering will intoxicate your brain even before you take your first sip! Prepare for a languorous evening and have bon bons on hand to complete the feeling of indulgence.
Mulled Wine with Whisky
1 bottle of cheap Syrah (like Trader Joe’s Three Buck Chuck) or other red wine
2 Tbs. fresh ginger, peeled and thin sliced
1 orange or lemon, peeled and segmented (reserve half the peel)
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
3 Tbs. honey
1/4 cup whisky (I used Brenne, a beautiful new single malt whisky aged in French oak and finished in Cognac casks. Its light, fruity sweetness marries nicely with the wine.)
Combine all ingredients and heat just to a simmer. Barely simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes. Taste, adjust, enjoy.