Thank you, Kartika, for the flowers on my door step and for beers and curries and pizzas and cakes. You are always so generous and wonderful and this thanksgiving I am particularly thankful for you :-)
We're on bottle number two (or rather were because this happen a good week and a half ago...). Iain looked rather excited when he poured me this glass. So I lift it up to my nose and take a big sniff. Musty cellar and wet dog. I am so sorry Iain, but this wine didn't impress me in smell nor in taste. I had a cold, I know I know, that might have been it (at least I had not been eating jalapeño crisps this time!).
I think I went through every single grape variety that I know the name of before I guess this one. Given our location I simply wasn't expecting an old Sangiovese on the table. But that's what it is. And so old that maybe it used to be better...
It is only fair to also let Iain have his say (and he does appear to have a more... refined..? taste in comparison to me). And Iain is heavily disagreeing with me on this one. His opinion is that the nine year old Alta Peak Sangiovese is that although took a while to 'open up' (apparently the musty flavours faded away) it was a delicious old Italian-style bargain. Unfortunately the flavours were gone the next day. Oh well. It just wasn't here to stay.
Happy birthday to Iain! This year we combined St. Andrew's day and Iain's birthday celebrations to make a proper Scottish style dinner party with bagpipe music, steak and ale stew, cranachan and a selection of Scottish sweets. The only thing missing was our dear Scottish friends back home (we miss you!). Unfortunately most of the pictures that were taken that night are unreadable, but below follows some delicious recipes that will help you reconstruct all the deliciousness that was experienced (and a couple of pictures that were salvaged).
Steak & Ale Stew
served with roast potatoes, braised carrots and brussles sprouts
*I used one pint of Guinnes and one 0.33ml bottle of Black Butte Porter
Melt some butter in a frying pan and shallow fry the beef on high heat for a couple of minutes (do this in several batches). Transfer meat to a dish and leave on the side. Melt some butter in a large pot, add garlic and onions and fry until soft. Add carrots and mushrooms and season. Fry for about ten minutes, then add the beef followed by the tomato purée and mustard. Fry gently for a couple of minutes and stir to make sure all the meat and vegetables are covered. Add the ale and then stock and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for at least 2 hours stirring occasionally.
I wish I could make roast potatoes like Anna Auld... But, although I grew up in a potato-loving nation, we didn't have the habit of roasting potatoes, so I simply have very little experience doing that. Since I am not Anna, I followed this this recipe on BBC GoodFood that worked really well.
Ok. again I relied on someone else's recipe. You can access it here. It was all right.
20 brussles sprouts
salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
Iain loves brussle sprouts. I don't mind them, but I have been served too many overcooked and bitter ones to be a total lover of tiny cabbages. The ones that were served on Iain's birthday were, however, not bad at all (mild and nutty rather than sharp and bitter), probably because I made absolute sure that they wouldn't end up soggy. I did it this way:
First I parboiled the brussles sprouts (about 3 minutes). Then I drained them and put them in ice water (to preserve their green colour) while I continued preparing all the other foods. Just before serving time I halved the brussles sprouts and fried them in butter until tender (but not soft!). At the very end I added a squeeze of lemon juice. Surprisingly good.
Steak and ale stew is not to everybody's liking (particularly not vegetarians!) so the alternative dish of the night was Kartika's Chana Masala served with home made naan. You have to ask Kartika for the recipe for her wonderful Chana Masala, but I wouldn't ask her to make it for you. Although Kartika is the most willing dinner party host that I know of - she has recently cooked this dish for 100 people (in her own normal sized kitchen!) for a fundraiser at her work place and she cannot stand the look or smell of it right now! That is exactly how I feel about naans right now, as I helped out for the same fundraiser by making naan for the same 100 people (that's a lot of dough!). Recipe follows below...
1 pk active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (+ one tsp sugar) 1/4 cup white sugar 3 tablespoons natural yoghurt 1 egg, beaten 2tsp salt about 4 1/2 cups white flour
1tsp baking powder 2tsp minced garlic and 1/4 cup melted butter (optional - for garlic naan)
I found a recipe for naan breads on Allrecipes a good while ago that I've modified slightly. It works really well every time! First, dissolve the yeast in the water and wait for it to activate. Then stir in the sugar (I tend to use a little less than the recipe says), yoghurt and the beaten egg. Combine 2 cups of flor with salt and baking powder and add to the yeast mix. Stir until well mixed and keep adding flour until the dough is firm enough to be transferred to the kitchen surface. Knead until smooth and let rise for about one hour. Form the dough into ball shapes (size between golf and tennis ball) and let rise for a second time (half an hour should do). Add a dash of oil (or butter) to a frying pan (preferably with a lid). Roll out the dough to form circles the size of the frying pan and fry (with lid on) for a couple of minutes and shake the pan occasionally. The dough should form air bubbles. Turn and fry other side and transfer to a serving dish. Cover with foil and leave in oven (low heat) until all naans are ready to be served. If you want garlic naans you can brush the already fried side of the naan with garlic butter while the other side is finishing. Yummy.
I have never made cranachan before. In fact, I have never even tasted it. So again I relied on BBC GoodFood for a recipe. I made 1.5 portions, one big one that had alcohol in it (Highland Park) and one small one that didn't (I added a tiny bit of vanilla sugar to make it more interesting instead). The recipe on the web site are for individual cranachan, but I made big ones to share instead. I would have added more toasted oats if I were to make it again (but frankly I am not too sure that I will - although it was nice!).
I found a great recipe for Baileys and white chocolate fudge on BBC GoodFood last Christmas that I made for my Secret Santees. I used this recipe to make Whisky fudge by replacing the Baileys with Highland Park and omitting the chocolate altogether. It was fabulous. If you want to make fudge I would like to give you the following advice:
Once you reach the softball stage, remove the pan from the heat and stir vigorously until the fudge is no longer glossy but appears thicker and more porous (about five minutes..?). Do not stir for too long as the sugar can crystallize and the texture will be all wrong. If your fudge turns out too soft or too hard you can simply add 1.5 cups of water and put the pot back on the stove on low heat until the fudge has dissolved. Then increase the heat and start all over again!
Joanne in the PIL makes the best Millionaire Shortbreads I have ever tasted. When I moved from Scotland, she gave me her recipe as a parting gift. I have decided to keep it secret because it is sooo good ;-)
1 big potato (or two small/medium)
shredded coconut (about 2-3 cups)
icing sugar (maybe about 1lb? Anyway - lots of it!)
I also attempted to make Scottish Macaroons for the very first time. I love macaroons, but mine did come out a bit dull... I can't remember where on the world wide web that I came across this recipe, but it was pretty simple: first I boiled the potato until soft and puréed it (I didn't want any lumps in my bars!). While the purée was cooling I toasted the shredded coconut on a baking tray in the oven (watch it - it burns quickly!!) and put that aside to cool also. Then I added half the toasted coconut and a couple of cups of icing sugar and mixed it all together. I kept adding icing sugar until I ran out and the dough was starting to turn into something that I could shape into bars with my hands. I left the bars to cool in the freezer for half an hour or so before attempting to cover them with melted chocolate and roll in coconut. Now, this did not go too well and I think it was because my macaroons were too soft and lost their shapes. So I ended up making little balls instead (easier!). They were all eaten so can't have been that bad.
Green Tea Cake
I can take no credit for the green tea cake as it was made and brought over to my place by Alyssa and Mariam. It was scrumptious :-)
Having failed to spot any otters at West Pond (despite multiple visits) - we decided to go to Putah Creek and test our luck there. We didn't spot any otters this time either, but Iain is convinced that he heard one in the bushes and we found trails in the grass made from a medium sized animal (otter?). Who knows. We did spot another great animal on our walk though - a beautiful owl! But it was too fast (or we were too slow?) - so no pictures to prove it. We won't give up our otter spotting so keep an eye open for Part III :-)