Biscuits with Bartok 3 – Spiced orange blossom and chocolate cookies

I’ve had a pretty hectic week, not least because I was away for work for half of it.  As a result, my indulgence in the blogosphere has been restricted to access on my phone on the go – and my backlog of draft posts is growing.  The opportunity to write posts relevant to Shrove Tuesday and Valentine’s Day passed me by.  We enjoyed a couple of very nice venison-based meals that I did not photograph so I let them slip by for our own personal indulgence only. I will make these again, so there will be other opportunities to write a post for these recipes in the future.

We also have the good fortune to be benefiting from the adaptive management programme initiated to reduce greylag goose numbers and limit the significant damage they are currently doing to crops here.  Geese are being shot under licence and we are very grateful to receive another 6 wild geese, all in excellent condition, to keep our freezer stocked. Of course, this means considerable time preparing the goose, so we also had to get this done on my return.

I arrived home on a morning flight a couple of hours before the musicians were due to play, so I didn’t have time to make my 3rd biscuit of the series for them.  I decided to go ahead anyway as I wanted to try a biscuit flavoured with orange blossom water, an itch I just had to scratch.

Signs of spring

Despite the inconvenience of the snow on the mainland, here spring is showing signs of progression.  On my return, I heard the first song thrush singing from the corner of our garden.  A chipping snipe in the marshy grassland around the house means I will most likely enjoy the sound of the first drumming snipe imminently. If I stood outside for long enough at dusk, I would probably hear one – usually around Valentine’s Day each year we hear the first.  I can see the lapwings beginning to assemble again on the croftland in pre-breeding readiness.

The lighter nights mean I have no excuse to get out for a run after work, or start getting more serious about the garden other than whimsically reviewing my seed collection and plans for 2013.

My last long run (12km) had the usual smattering of Uist-based incidents.  I spent about 2 miles running behind a sheep flock being herded by a land rover and a collie from fields and along the roads to a fank.  Nice waft of urine all the way along the road, followed by copious amount of fresh sheep droppings in my trainer treads.  I opted to turn back when I caught the sheep up at the fank as I didn’t want to scatter them and the scene looked chaotic enough with one sheepdog doing his best to filter a large, tired flock into the fank.

On the way back, I passed a croft and a collie ran out to greet me. Sometimes they nip your heels as if you are a sheep but this one was friendly, too friendly, in fact.  She followed me all the way back to my car, about 5 km.  She had no road sense and although not much traffic passed us on the single track road, I had to keep stopping and grabbing her and had to wait on the verge until cars passed.  They probably either thought I was an idiot for taking a dog with no traffic-sense out on the road for a run, or were possibly laughing, having recognised the dog as local and saw it had tagged along with me.  I had to put her in the car and drive back to the croft.  I did this just as the crofter was getting in his tractor to look for her.  Not the first time apparently.

Where Eagles Dare

I was glad to get back and into my usual routine of dog walking over the moor near our house. Friday was a beautiful clear day and there was some bird activity up there too.  The dogs flushed a couple of snipe and a woodcock and a pair of ravens passed noisily overhead.  As we were coming over a rise, I could see another bird in the distance.  The profile initially looked like a raven, but then it became apparent it was very much bigger and was in fact a golden eagle.

It is not uncommon for us to see golden eagles, or sea eagles around this area.  It is part of a local golden eagle territory and there is a regularly used nest not too far away.  The first job I had when I moved to Uist was a role for a certain well known NGO that involved checking golden and sea eagle nests.  Golden eagles are much shyer than sea eagles and tend to keep their distance.  I know this pair have a regular plucking spot overlooking a loch on the walk and I often see the silhouette of an eagle there.  The pair regularly fly together over the hills surrounding the loch prior to settling down to breed.

The eagle was unusually inquisitive and passed directly overhead before turning and circling.  Since it was directly above me and at a height of about 15 metres and began circling, I decided it would be pertinent to keep the dogs close.  Though there was only an outside chance that an eagle would come down so close to a person and attempt to take a dog, it’s not unheard of.  I had known of a falconer’s dog to be killed by a golden eagle they were working. The eagle stayed with us, circling close overhead continuously for about 3-4 minutes before heading back over its territory to the hill near the nest.  Certainly a new experience for me. I managed to capture a few shots on my iPhone as it circled.  It was certainly an unusually close and spectacular view of this beautiful raptor.

eagle 2eagle 1Spiced orange blossom biscuits with chocolate

I wanted to incorporate orange blossom water into a biscuit, as I plan to with other aromatic flavourings such as lavender and rose and I thought orange blossom was probably a safe place to start experimenting.  I had some ingredients I wanted to incorporate including some lovely spiced orange slices given to me as a gift, golden sultanas and I also wanted to add a decadent garnish of candied orange. I had just made some to incorporate into Turron ice cream, the recipe courtesy of David Leibovitz. Cointreau was added for additional oranginess and decadence.

I added chocolate because there’s no denying that the marriage of chocolate and orange is tried and tested.  I don’t often use milk chocolate, hence the inclusion.  The Co-op’s Fairtrade milk chocolate is reasonably good, with 30% cocoa solids. I based the quantities of the basics of the dry ingredients on Ottolenghi’s spiced cookies from ‘Jerusalem’, but there is significant variation from that recipe.  The biscuit-making stabilisers aren’t quite off, so wanted to use the basis of the recipe to ensure success.

Ingredients

125g golden sultanas

2 tbsp cointreau

240g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/4 tsp salt

75g golden caster sugar

75g light muscovado sugar

125g unsalted butter

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

1 tsp orange blossom water

zest of 1/2 lemon

zest of 1/2 orange

1/2 a medium egg

1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice

100g milk chocolate

3 slices of preserved spiced oranges (optional)

Method

  • Soak the sultanas in the cointreau for 10 minutes.
  • Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarb, spices and salt together in a bowl.
  • Put butter, sugar, vanilla and zests in a food mixer and beat for 1 minute.
  • Add the egg, slowly while the machine is running and mix for another minute.
  • Add the dry ingredients, then the soaked raisins.
  • Divide the dough into roughly 50g balls and place a couple of cm apart on a lined baking sheet.
  • Rest in the fridge for about an hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and drizzle over the cookies. Top with candied orange just before serving.

spiced biscuit 1

Candied orange

Making this is vaguely reminiscent to marmalade-making and the resulting candied orange will keep for a couple of months in the fridge and can be added to cakes, biscuits and ice cream.

Ingredients

Zest of 4 large oranges

500ml water

200g sugar

1 tbsp glucose syrup

Pinch of salt

Method

  • Using a veg. peeler, remove 3 cm strips of peel (no pith) from the oranges.
  • Slice length-ways into very fine strips, no wider than a toothpick.
  • Place the strips in a pan, cover with a few cm of water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle boil for 15 minutes.
  • Combine the water, sugar, glucose and salt in a pan. Bring to the boil, add the peel and cook at a low boil for 25 minutes. Add a sugar thermometer and when the mix is at 110C, take off the heat.  Store the peel in the syrup in the fridge.

spice biscuit 2

Mole Poblano with turkey – in the dark

Like most other people in our culture, the last week has been Über-indulgent, with the excuse of festivities being used to indulge in copious quantities of meat, cheese and fizz, in particular. I have enjoyed seeing friends and relaxing over good (and very rich) food, however,  I am now almost at The Grinch stage and I must admit that I have been eyeing up the tree with a view to taking it down and am looking forward to getting back to the normal routine that the New Year will bring.  I miss running, and haven’t been out for over 2 weeks, although this has been enforced due to flu before Christmas, and lingering symptoms.

We Scots are supposed to know how to really show the world how to bring in the New Year with our partying and hospitality on Hogmanay.  Hmmm.  My gasket is well and truly blown, so I think I’ll pull the chair up in front of the fire and stare wistfully into the flames for the rest of the evening.

Welcome back wind

It has been a very atypical and surreal weather year in the Outer Hebrides, with the notable absence of wind being, quite frankly, disconcertingly abnormal.  And so it was, a poor forecast and severe weather warning at the start of the weekend heralded the arrival of the Hebridean gales we know and love.  Sometimes.

Before the wind picked up, we walked round the garden and did a check that there was nothing lying around that would sail off as the wind speed increased.  Polytunnel door closed.  Check.  Cold frames latched down.  Check.  Ash pan for the fire empty.  Check.  This is particularly important because we have had many a ‘Big Lebowski moment’ as we end up wearing the ash, trying to empty the ash pan in the wind. We only burn peat, hence the bright orange ash can leave you looking like a belisha beacon, hair coated in fine orange ash, and sneezing.  A lot.

Despite the wind getting up to about 60 mph, gusting to about 80 mph, our intrepid friends arrived for dinner and it was a great relief that the power stayed on without a flicker. Due to the southerly direction of the wind, we also managed a record-breaking lounge temperature as the stove was totally out of control – an amazing 23C!

Damage limitation

The next day, the wind dropped a bit, we sustained no damage but we found our neighbour’s fence had blown down.  They were away and there were sheep in the garden.  Together with our other neighbour (we only have 2 neighbours remotely near us), sheep were herded from the garden and back onto the common grazing, we did what we could to the very exposed fence to brace it in place before the wind got up again as forecast. Our neighbours have a lovely garden, veg and ornamental and it would have been awful to see it trashed by sheep.

The sheep on the common grazings around the house are very tame hooligans and will take any opportunity to access gardens and tasty grass/plants/trees within.  They are also very quick and we cannot even leave our gate open for half an hour without finding a few have sneaked in. They are also completely unperturbed by the dogs and I frequently find Darwin standing at the gate, a flock of sheep on the other side, each staring steely eyed at the other in some kind of Mexican stand-off, usually just before Darwin gets frustrated, emits one sharp bark and the sheep momentarily scatter.

One of the most dangerous acts to partake in here is to wander onto the common grazing with a plastic bag that vaguely resembles a sheep feed bag.  All sheep within the vicinity spot you, do their sheepy thing, bleating and charging at you like a single amorphous, off-white entity and trample you in a bid to access what is in the bag, as it MUST be sheep nuts.

My neighbour swears that one of the local sheep looks like Margaret Rutherford.  The Man Named Sous agrees with this identified resemblance and can spot ‘Margaret’.  I’m not so sure myself…

Mole Poblano with turkey

Safely back in the kitchen and having escaped the vagaries of the gales and sheep, the turkey swan song took the form of mole poblano.  Mole poblano de guajolote, to give the dish its full title is the national dish of Mexico (although mole simply means sauce).  I had the Mexican food bug again after visiting Lupe Pintos deli and stocking up on ingredients, and also reading Mexigeek blog that I follow on Facebook, where there are a series of informative posts about this dish and which helped to inspire me to give it a try, as well as reading some variations in Thomasina Mier’s Wahaca cookbook – ‘Mexican Food at Home’.  So, with that I embarked on my own freeform mole recipe.

The dish appears to commonly contain upwards of 20 ingredients of varying quantities, and I am certain no two moles are the same, and it would be difficult to re-create exactly each time.  That is why I like it so much, as well as for the chilli and the fragrant and aromatic nature of the dish enhanced by nuts, spices, chocolate and sometimes fruit too. The seeds and ground almonds add texture and thicken the sauce, as does the bread.  Stale corn tortilla is also typically added, but I had none, so went with the bread.

Ingredients

2 tomatoes, roasted

2 onions, roasted

6 cloves garlic, roasted

1 dried ancho chilli, toasted and rehydrated

2 dried pasilla chillis, toasted and rehydrated

2 dried mulato chillis, toasted and rehydrated

30g pumpkin seeds

6 allspice berries

6 black peppercorns

15g sunflower seeds

40g chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

4 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp coriander seeds

1tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp aniseed seeds

50g ground almonds

1 slice of stale bread

sprig of oregano

turkey, Christmas day leftover bits

turkey stock, enough to get the right sauce consistency

pinch of salt

Mole ingredients

Method

Chillis – dried pasilla, ancho and mulato prep

  • First, prepare the three types of dried chillis, discard the stem, cut them in half,  keep the seeds.
  • Heat a dry, heavy based frying pan to a medium heat and add the chillis.  Toast briefly on each side, about 20 seconds until they begin to release their aromas, do not burn as this will taint the mole.
  • Soak in boiling water for 20 minutes (seeds too) to rehydrate

Rehydrating the dried pasilla, ancho and mulato chillis

Rehydrating the dried pasilla, ancho and mulato chillis

  • Next, dry fry the spices and grind them and put these with the chillis in a food processor.
  • Put the rest of the ingredients in except the chocolate and turkey.  Blitz to a fine paste, adding just enough turkey stock to create a thick paste.
  • Transfer to a saucepan and warm before adding the chocolate.  Be sure to add a little at a time to ensure the mole is balanced as too much chocolate will overpower and spoil the balance of flavours. Adjust the seasoning, add more stock, if required and stir in the turkey pieces. The mole was pretty hot when just made, but mellowed significantly by the next day when we ate it.

Mole before adding turkey

Mole before adding turkey

Finishing touches – accompaniments

I can’t resist turning any Mexican meal into a bit of a banquet.  I made some guacamole – mandatory with any Mexican meal, added some tortilla chips bought in Lupe Pintos, natural yoghurt, basmati rice and flour tortillas – and margaritas, of course.

As I was rolling the final flour tortilla, inexplicably and without so much as a flicker of a warning, the power went off, even though the wind speeds had dropped to about 30 mph. This brought an entirely new perspective to the description of a dark mole. Fortunately, the rice was cooked, but despite our best efforts with the frying pan on top of the stove, it just wasn’t hot enough for the flour tortillas to cook, so we resigned ourself to eating in the dark without them.  Presentation was perhaps not the finest, but what the hell, the atmosphere was just right.

Dark mole is served

Dark mole is served