Beautiful radishes, I must seek them out, working through seeds catalogues just now. Delightful ingredients and a lovely dish. I am encouraged to seek out this book on the basis of this recipe alone. Thanks and have a great New Year!
Teacakes, of the marshmallow and chocolate variety, may not appear to be the most obvious choice for a festive post. Pimped up appropriately however, they can become so, lending themselves quite obviously to the form of a Christmas pud.
I am attempting to redeem myself having almost entirely missed the opportunity for a festive post. Storms have resulted in no broadband for 6 days and hence an enforced break from blogging over the festive period, ironically, the first time in months I have had more time to prepare food and post than usual. So, belated Merry Christmas to all those who sent good wishes, sorry I have been slow to reciprocate.
The storms here, as elsewhere in the country have had considerable impacts. We were very fortunate not to lose power on Christmas day, and the Christmas Eve storm was not quite as fierce as it was forecast to be. We also had a turkey-cooking contingency plan. A friend kindly offered a gas oven should the power go off which thankfully it did not, other than for a couple of minutes. That said, it was windy enough to affect the radio signal. We spent Christmas day without broadband, our phone line still is not working and to top it all off, no radio signal. We felt disappointed not to be able to communicate with friends and family freely, or to listen to Radio 4, as we enjoy doing, on Christmas Day.
That said, our issues felt trivial compared with those unfortunates in the south of England with no power, properties and possessions ruined by flooding and no certainty of when normality may return, with further unsettled weather forecast and flood warnings in place. This really put our minor issues in perspective and our thoughts were with people who will have had a very unpleasant Christmas.
For us, Christmas, in all honesty is no biggie, although we do enjoy the relaxation, chance to catch up with friends and family (although many are dispersed and far away) and indulge. I know, it is a bit bah humbug, but I cannot help but reflect on the fact that for many people, Christmas is a very difficult time. This is especially the case for those who have suffered loss or whose loved ones are missing. Many people are not surrounded by family and friends but spend Christmas isolated and lonely. This must be amplified for many by the general media portrayal of the cliched scenario that Christmas Day is all about multiple generations of family coming together to harmoniously and joyously celebrate around a table groaning with food. I commend Radio 4 and Channel 4 for reflective coverage of the more difficult but realistic side of this time of year for many people. This year, I have lost my Uncle, a friend, a neighbour (another friend) and, sadly, last week, a work colleague. My thoughts are with those most affected by these losses. Much as I am not at all prone to nostalgia, I will certainly not be looking back on 2013 fondly, and look forward positively to what 2014 may bring. And so, back to food….
A seasonal food summary
While it may be a bit late now to recount in full those seasonally appropriate recipes here, I summarise. Christmas Day was straightforward and traditional. We enjoyed Eggs Benedict with parma ham on homemade muffins for brunch. Canapés included slices from a side of local peat smoke roasted salmon we purchased from the Hebridean smokehouse, conveniently only 2 miles from the house. A bit of luxury and well worth it. We also enjoyed goose rillettes, made from confit wild greylag goose legs, another local luxury which only cost me my time to prepare.
Dinner was traditional – local turkey and all the trimmings. We still enjoy an annual Christmas turkey, something we very much missed when we were vegetarians. Turkey seems to be a bit passé just now, with goose or capon trending, but we regularly eat wild goose, so a free range very local turkey from our neighbour was a much bigger treat. Literally. Dessert was a simple refreshing orange panna cotta with a sharp blackcurrant compote, made during the summer fruit glut and kept in reserve for mid winter.
Dinner was a relaxing affair, but for the point half way through the meal when we turned round to see the Christmas tree lights flicker and a cascade of smoke drifting upwards from a melting light housing on the tree! The Man Named Sous took quick action to unplug the tree and avert disaster. Phew! A new set of lights required for next year.
On the baking front, I made good old traditional mince pies, topped with almonds and frangipane, filled with homemade vegetarian mincemeat I made back in November. The frangipane topping idea is courtesy of Richard Bertinet, the recipe can be found here. The pastry was wonderfully crisp and thin. These mince pies were devoured hot from the oven by our ever eager visiting musician friends just before Christmas.
Stollen also featured, currently trending as the seasonal cake of choice this year. It was reassuringly solid, about the weight of a breeze block, an indication of its authenticity. It was also delicious with a swirl of marzipan, added non-traditional cranberries and a good hit of ground cloves and nutmeg. This was a gift for a friend and stollen aficionado, and was well received. This was Mr Hollywood’s Christmas GBBO stollen recipe. Darwin also assists as a prop in the photo, looking longingly at the stollen.
Tunnock’s Teacakes – legendary Scottish product
Finally, a more quirky offering as a tribute to Tunnock’s teacakes. For those not aware of these products of legendary significance for Scottish gastromony, a Tunnock’s teacake should not be confused with the traditional English teacake, an enriched dough sweet pastry roll with dried fruit and spices, usually served toasted and spread with butter.
The Tunnock’s Teacake is a dome of chocolate filled with marshmallow, similar to Italian meringue, sitting on a shortbread-like biscuit base (also encased in chocolate). The packaging is iconic and distinctive, each teacake encased in striped silver and red foil (milk chocolate) or silver and blue foil (dark chocolate, less common/popular than the milk version).
The Tunnock’s factory is in Uddingston in Lanarkshire and their products even inspired traditional fiddler John McCusker to pen a tune entitled ‘A Mile Down the Road’ in honour of Tunnock’s since he lived close to the factory at one time. Apparently, there is a 2 year long waiting list for tours of the factory, which churns out 10 million biscuits a week including another biscuit icon, the Caramel Wafer. However, the teacake is not my personal favourite, I always preferred Tunnock’s coconut and chocolate-coated Caramel Log. Controversial.
My attempt to make teacakes came about because of the affection others have for this enigmatic sweet treat (you know who you are!). Pressure came to bear when contestants were set a technical challenge of making them on the Great British Bake Off and a Paul Hollywood recipe was posted online. I was gifted a silicone teacake mould, the caveat being I had to, of course, make some. I was delighted with the gift and happy to oblige.
Home made teacake homage
I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe. I usually use very high quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, but stuck to his advice to use lower cocoa solid chocolate, to avoid discolouration / cracking. It worked very well. I made a second festive batch with milk chocolate, as a gift for a friend who is a Tunnock’s teacake lover, but prefers milk chocolate. I used 50% cocoa solid milk chocolate (Co-op Fairtrade), and was surprised how much more delicate and hard to work it was than the dark Bournville I used for the first batch. For the second festive batch, I also reduced the amount of salt to 1/4 teaspoon as I could detect too much salt flavour in the first batch.
The recipe also wisely advises the turned out teacakes should not be handled as the shiny exterior is easily marked with fingerprints. Also, they should not be put in the fridge as they will lose their shine. So, best eaten fresh.
Although time consuming and a bit fiddly, the recipe gave good results and they were great fun to make. Even better, they were very much appreciated and enjoyed by the teacake lovers. I don’t have a sweet tooth, and this became very apparent when I sat down to eat the teacakes with a few aficionados. The presentation of the teacakes had a sense of occasion and anticipation.
Firstly, these teacakes are massive compared with Tunnock’s. By the time I got half way through, everyone else was finished eating theirs, commenting on the delights of the teacakes and thinking of going for a second one. I however, was feeling slightly queasy at the thought of eating the second half of mine. It was simply too big and sweet for me. The others though there was clearly something wrong with my palate, or the wiring of my brain. One muncher commented with an air of disappointment that he was not able to get the whole thing in his mouth at once, as you could a Tunnock’s (!). There were also heroic tales of entire boxes of 6 being consumed in one sitting. Finally, they are extremely messy to eat, so prepare to roll your sleeves up and to wear meringue from ear to ear.
The milk chocolate versions were given a festive twist, a dollop of melted white chocolate and some marzipan coloured with natural food dyes transforming them into Christmas puds, giving them that bit more bling required for a gift. I stopped short of including a blob of mincemeat within each, although I was tempted. Maybe next year….
Hogmanay is almost here, so Happy New Year, all the best for 2014, see you on the other side!
Please fellow bloggers, spread the word about Jade who is missing. Appreciated.
This recipe uses one of the best cheap cuts from our stockpile of local venison – shanks, combining these with my favourite and infallible vegetable crop of this year, Swiss chard. The cooking marinade has a hefty glug of port and serves as a simple sauce, being further enriched with aromatic star anise, juniper berries and herbs. I say sauce. I’m not sure what it should technically be called – it is not a gravy (a thickened sauce), and probably not a jus (unthickened gravy type affair). Sauce. A thin one. That will suffice, for me at least.
As ever, posts and blogging interactions have been restricted by my commitments over the last few weeks. Hopefully, with Christmas only a week away, I can start to think less about work and building and more about a bit of festive cheer – maybe even produce a festive post? Well, that might be pushing it a bit. Bah humbug, we will see…
Swiss chard – a stoic vegetable
My Swiss chard crop has been the star of my veg bed greens this year. Despite perpetual harvesting and hacking, gales and pelting horizontal rain, it persisted, unblackened and magnificently upright compared with my very ragged and battered leeks.
I say persisted. A raging storm last week meant I had to be pragmatic and accept the blackening blast would be the end of the chard crop for the year. Now it can only be described as charred chard.
The storm was pretty fierce, there was a lot of flash, bang and wallop as the weather fronts rolled in from the Atlantic, gusts over 80 mph causing the occasional lurch and shudder of our old croft house. This peaked with a magnificent thunderstorm, the crescendo as it approached accompanied by hail stones battering against the back of the house (and bedroom window), the tumultuous auditory assault and accompanying spectacular lightning passing overhead about 0400 hrs, rattling the windows and leaving both of our telephone lines fried in its wake.
There was absolutely no chance of getting a wink of sleep, particularly with our baying hounds joining in with the racket to ‘enhance’ the cacophony. I couldn’t resist opening the curtains to stare at the spectacle as the storm approached. I was rewarded by a gargantuan flash that left me blinded for a few seconds. Although overhead, the thunder could barely be heard for the roar of the wind, hail, dogs, rattling downpipes, etc. We rushed around the house, switching off all the appliances – we have had circuits fried in phones, printers and the cooker in the last few years. Incredibly, though the power supply wavered, it stayed on, as did our broadband. Until later in the day when, just as I was approaching a critical work deadline, the broadband signal inexplicably disappeared, to be followed by the power an hour later. Power was restored within an hour, broadband the next day. It took a week to have one phone line fixed and we are still waiting on the fault on the other to be repaired – nearly 2 weeks later.
Ride the lightning
I have always been fascinated by storm watching, as a child I was transfixed by thunder and lightning, often only to be disappointed by the brevity and relative meekness of our UK storms (although we have discovered they are more frequent and sustained in the Hebrides). Not so when I moved to Portugal and I could enjoy the light show of autumn storms, fork lightning cracking the sky, illuminating the hills surrounding the village. I delighted in Equatorial storms in Ecuador, predictable weather patterns accompanied by biblical cloudbursts. Most recently, on the Slovakian border with Ukraine, I became completely mesmerised, watching an eerily quiet 3 hour luminescent display of heat lightning while sipping beer on my hotel terrace on a still, balmy evening. The frequent staccato lightning bolts branched and flickered, repeatedly incising the sky, like cracks running across a pane of glass.
Storms are, of course, to be respected and revered, and can only be enjoyed when you are not in danger. Sadly, the hurricane of 2005 that took 5 members of the same family on South Uist will remain a bleak reminder that one can never be complacent about forecasts. That night changed people’s perspective and sensitivity towards extreme weather across these exposed islands.
The wind speed during last week’s storm isn’t at all unusual for the Uists and such storms, indeed it is going to be the same again tonight. Occasionally some more ferocious storms occur, maybe only once each winter. Last week, the storm pulled tiles off 3 neighbouring properties and we were lucky not to sustain damage. We are relatively protected from storms by low-lying hills around the house on the side of the prevailing south-west wind, but northerlies like the storm last week have the potential to do most damage to our house.
There have been one or two occasions when the wind has reached hurricane speed that I did become slightly alarmed. One particular night comes to mind in winter 2009 when wind speeds exceeded 100 mph. Inevitably, the power went off, then we heard the alarming sound of creaking and a slumping sound. This was a down pipe shaking loose, pulling with it a clump of render 4 x 4 m off the back of our house. This storm lifted the roof off a building on St Kilda where wind speeds reached in excess on 120 mph.
While these storms can be alarming, the now infamous ‘Hurricane Bawbag’ was particularly memorable. This name coined on Twitter and was adopted thereafter, notably on the cover of one Red Top next morning, complete with the image of a wind turbine ablaze in Ayrshire.
It was quite an appropriate moniker for this scunner of a storm in Scotland, we couldn’t possibly have just called it Bob, Fred or Frieda in a regular Hurricane-naming way. I note the meaning of bawbag is not provided in reference to the event on Wikipedia but can be found here for the curious. During this hurricane on 8 December 2011, the rest of Scotland got the flavour of wind speeds we experience here during severe winter storms. Although we did lose power at home, plus 4 gates and a chimney cowl that night, unfortunately, I was not home but ironically in the eye of the storm for a meeting in Edinburgh.
Enduring a storm in a landscape devoid of trees and a few low, dispersed buildings in a rural landscape is an entirely different prospect to experiencing a hurricane in our capital city. Scaffolding poles, roof tiles, trees and even flying rubbish became a serious hazard while myself and my colleagues staggered through the city centre, trying to avoid getting hit by detritus and being blown into the path of traffic along the way. The proposed festive outing to drink gluhwein at the outdoor continental market in Princes Street was most definitely cancelled.
Here, in the grip of another, more moderate gale tonight, it is comforting to know it’s unlikely to be ‘Bawbag II’, although with gusts of 80 mph, power could again be disrupted. A good night then to remind myself of the chard and other veg growing in the garden in mid summer: It won’t be long before it comes around again…
Port-soaked venison shanks wrapped in Swiss chard
The venison shanks had to be decanted from one of our freezers to accommodate the surprise early arrival of our Christmas turkey from my crofting neighbour. It was also surprisingly large. We were offered a smaller bird, but the caveat was I would have to go round and dispatch it myself. I declined. Earlier in the year, I could see these free range birds wandering about casually on the croft from our house and hear their calls on still nights. Our bird is a completely different shape from commercially farmed birds, being naturally proportioned, without those implant-style breasts that farmed birds sport. I look forward to comparing it with last year’s bronze turkey.
The venison shanks were slow cooked in a stock-based marinade for about 5 hours by which time the meat is very tender and falls from the bone and can be flaked, removing the most gelatinous components of the tendons and ligaments in which these tough muscle fibres are enmeshed. It is then ready for rolling in chard leaves which are steamed. Lettuce leaves such as little gem can also be used as a substitute for chard, and lamb shanks for venison.
The venison-filled chard parcels were served simply, with a little of the rich and aromatic cooking sauce and some carrots and parsnips from the garden.
Pre-heat oven to 150C
2 venison shanks
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed.
1 onion, chopped
100 ml of port
1 star anise
8 juniper berries, crushed
bunch of thyme springs
1 bay leaf
1.5 litres of game or chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
- Brown the venison shanks in olive oil in a large casserole dish, then add the rest of the ingredients to cover the shanks, bring to a simmer.
- Put the lid on and place the casserole in the oven for 4-5 hours, checking occasionally to ensure there is enough stock marinade to cover the shanks. Top up with water/stock as necessary.
- Remove the shanks and allow to cool slightly before pulling the tender muscle meat away from the now gelatinous tendons, ligaments and sinews. The meat will have already fallen off the bone.
- Mix a small amount of the cooking sauce with the meat and roll a generous large spoonful in each chard leaf, securing with a cocktail stick, if required. Steam the parcels for 5 minutes and serve with some of the cooking sauce and vegetables of your choice. I suggest 2 parcels per person.