Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties by Tom

Haggis and Neeps and Tatties by Tom

So this is the foods of England month.  Technically haggis is not an English food.  It is Scottish.  And Scotland is not part of England, but is a part of the United Kingdom.  Scotland even made an attempt at seceding from England last year in a failed referendum.  But I just spent a week playing golf in Scotland with seven other guys, and we saw haggis on the menu everywhere we went.  So that is what I am writing about in this post even if it is not technically an English food.

The weirdest, yet surprisingly good menu item I experienced, was haggis nachos.  Talk about crossing ethnic foods lines!  Fortunately a more traditional Scottish haggis dish was also on virtually every menu we saw:  haggis with neeps and tatties.  Neeps are turnips, and tatties are potatoes.  Haggis is mostly sheep lobes, and that is about all you want to know about haggis.  This is not a dish I would eat everyday, but it was pretty good for local fare. 
Our Scottish van driver, Billie, was disgusted when he saw the haggis nachos.  He said the best haggis is made by Grant's.  And a day or two later, he presented each of us with a can of Grant's Premium Haggis.  Not to be rude, we each took our can and "smuggled" them back into the States in our golf bags.  In truth, even the Customs inspectors were uninterested in our canned haggis.

As a "treat" for Barbara, I made her this very traditional Scottish meal.  It was actually pretty good, and we both finished our portions.  The savory beef gravy certainly did not detract from the taste.  A hint of sliced leeks in the tatties also added to the flavor.  And a wee dram is always good.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
(from the van driver Billie, and on menus throughout southwest Scotland)

Serves 2

can of haggis
leeks - about 1" of white part, cleaned and very finely chopped
potatoes - about 1 pound, cut into 1" pieces
turnips - about 1 pound, cut into 1" pieces
gravy - I used a jar of savory gravy...much easier to use
salt and pepper
4 ounces butter
Wee dram of single malt Scotch

Boil the turnips in salted water for about 20-25 minutes.  Do the same for the potatoes.  Add the leeks to the potatoes as well.
In a small sauce pan gently heat the haggis.  Just before serving, add the wee dram of single malt Scotch to the haggis and stir in.  If you would like, you can pour another wee dram for yourself.
Split the butter in half and add to both the turnips and the potatoes.  Thoroughly mash both the turnips and the potatoes in their cooking pans.
Heat some of the savory beef gravy so that it is warm.  Put a small amount on each plate.
Then mound over the gravy, first the haggis, then the turnips(neeps), and finally the potatoes(tatties).
Pour a little more gravy over the top.

Now you have an authentic Scottish meal.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hummingbird Cake by Tom

Hummingbird Cake by Tom
Made this cake today as a treat for David's birthday. 

This cake originated in the Caribbean and most probably in Jamaica as the story goes.  In fact the Jamaican Tourist Board sent recipes to the United States in the late 60s as a way to encourage more tourism.  Whether that worked is unclear.  But hummingbird cake did become a favorite throughout many of the southern states showing up at county fairs and other baking competitions.

I had the opportunity to taste it while we were visiting New Orleans last March.  I enjoyed it because it reminded me of a cross between the denseness of a carrot cake and the taste of a spice cake.  Bananas and pineapple are two of the main ingredients, which give this cake its characteristic taste.  Throw in pecans and coconut to add texture and additional taste.  A cream cheese icing tops the cake.

And contrary to its name, there are no hummingbirds in this cake.


Hummingbird Cake
(from King Arthur Flour catalogue who got it from Sunset Magazine)

Serves 12

for the cake:
4 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups (24 ounces) mashed ripe bananas, about 4-5 medium-large bananas
3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) unbleached self-rising flour
2 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice or cloves
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained and the juice reserved
1 1/2 cups (5 5/8 ounces) toasted chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups (4 1/2 ounces) sweetened coconut

for the frosting:
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons, 4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups (16 ounces) cream cheese at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon Xanthan Gum
3 cups (12 ounces) confectioners' sugar, sifted
Up to 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) pineapple juice, reserved from the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour three 9" round cake pans.  Believe it or not, at this step I had to make an audible.  Unfortunately our oven crashed a couple of days ago, so I had to resort to our toaster oven.  Fortunately it worked out just fine, but I had to bake the three layers separately.  Not ideal, but workable.

To make the cake:

Beat the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla until foamy.  Then mix in the bananas.

Whisk together in a separate bowl the flour, cinnamon and allspice.  Then add that to the mixture and make a smooth batter.  Stir in the pineapple juice, 1 cup of the pecans and all of the coconut.

Spoon the batter into the cake pans evenly.  Bake the cakes for 32-38 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cakes from the oven and cool in the pans for 15 minutes.  Run a spatula around the edges and then turn out the cakes onto cooling racks.  Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:  beat together the butter, cream cheese and salt until fluffy.

In a separate bowl combine the confectioners' sugar with the xanthan gum, and stir.  Now slowly add that to the cream cheese mixture, beating well.  Beat in the pineapple juice a little at a time until the frosting is of a spreadable consistency.

Frost each cake layer, then frost the top (and sides if you would like).  Decorate the top with the remaining pecans and a little leftover coconut.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Prince William Cake - Part 2

Colleen continues:

So the cake is very hard to slice if you take it directly from the fridge.  So last night I left it out about an hour or so, and then Charlotte had a slice with whipped cream.  She pronounced it very good.  Basically like cookies with chocolate ganache.  I will update you on consistency of cookies over time.  I assume they will get a bit softer, but I doubt that is the intended texture.  Several of the recipes say the cake will keep for two weeks, but it never lasts that long in a proper British household.

It did strike me that there was a connection of sorts between Eton Mess and this cake.  Both involve a very crisp cookie being crumbled and mixed into another concoction that is sweet.  And trifle is also similar with the layers of lady fingers and cream and fruit.  Perhaps these sort of contrasting textures are very appealing to the British palette, or perhaps these are "short cut" recipes to dessert.  If you buy the meringues or the biscuits or lady fingers, the rest of the dessert is just assembly.  Certainly much easier than making a torte or cake or pie.  

I will try to do a little research and see what the origins are of these things.  When I was making the cake, it reminded me of the Mock Apple Pie recipe that used to be on the back of the Ritz cracker box.  I never understood WHO WAS MAKING OR EATING that pie.  Now, of course, it makes sense in that fruit distribution was much different - you might not have access to apples year round - and of course, fruit was also very expensive and Mock Apple Pie would give you the flavors of pie (sweet, cinnamon) without having to source apples. 

Anyway, the cake was good, but it really seems like something you would develop a taste for as a child and desire in a Proustian, Remembrance of Things Past, sort of way.  I might make it again for fun or if I were to have a Wimbledon party or something, but otherwise it won't go into my favorite dessert rotation.

Later, Colleen sent in a link to a Washington Post article on the Prince William cake:  "A Must Read!" "

Rich Tea on the left.  Original Digestive on the right.

If you are wondering what McVities biscuits are, like I was, here is a photo of them.  They both taste like animal crackers.  But drier.  Very simple.  

Rich Tea is thinner and snaps.  The Original Digestive is made of whole wheat and is thicker. 

It took me two trips to the store.  The first time I came home with Digestive McVities which are not used in the recipe. I should have gotten Rich Tea biscuits.

When I asked Colleen, she said:
Yes, tea biscuits are very crisp, more cracker like.  The digestives are softer and thicker usually.  
I guess I was exposed to more of this because we went to Victoria every summer growing up and we would go to proper "teas" at hotels and you'd get served these sorts of things.  My mother is an anglophile and gets very excited about all of her teas and biscuits.  
Steve had some of the cake last night and said it was good.  It is quite tasty if you are not expecting actual "cake."  
If I made it again, I would melt a little white chocolate and drizzle it over the top of the glaze to dress it up a bit.  It needs a little something.

On the second trip I noticed they had Golden Syrup which is also called for in the recipe.  So I grabbed that, too.  Who knew Wegman's carry 4 different kinds of biscuits?  They had caramel ones.  And Cadbury Chocolate ones.  In addition to the Rich Tea and Original Digestive ones.

Not sure that I will actually make the cake, but it has been fun to try the biscuits and learn about their history.  

The Washington Post article is an enjoyable read.  Here is the link again:


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Prince William Cake by Colleen

Hey, I saw you are doing England.  I've never made this but I always think about it when I'm in the grocery story and see McVities biscuits.  It's the cake Prince William had at the wedding.

It is concerning that it calls for an uncooked egg, although I read some comments that said you could leave it out, and other versions of the cake do not include egg. 
Many call for golden syrup and some also call for nuts, and raisins.  (Which I personally would leave out - I do not care for raisins mixed in with other foods. )  
I'm off to google golden syrup now.  I assume it is a simple syrup or perhaps a simple syrup combined with honey.
The next day:
Well I am now in possession of McVities rich tea biscuits and golden syrup.  Our local Piazza's market had both in their tiny intl section.  
So I've been doing research and apparently there are as many ways to make the Prince William cake as there are ways to make meatloaf.  I've seen many many recipes and about all they have in common is using the biscuits and chocolate.   
Some require the golden syrup, and others just use sugar.  The ratios are really quite different as well.  So I will just wade into the pool and let you know how I do.  I suspect you can't go too far wrong, unless the cake won't set up.  
Later that night:
I made the cake. It's in the fridge now. I'll unmold it tomorrow. Some recipes call for glazing it which I think I'll do unless it doesn't come out of the mold. I wrote down what I did so if it works I'll type it up and send it to you. It's actually pretty easy if it does turn out. 
Golden syrup is a bit like corn syrup but with more Amber color and nicer flavor. 
Cake molds were specified which I don't have. So I used a cheesecake pan. I'll update you this afternoon. The excitement builds.

Okay, so I've finished the cake and here is the recipe I ended up with (see below).  It ended up being very easy to remove the ring from the cheesecake pan, although the cake seemed a little sad and flat.

You could easily fix this, by doubling the recipe and filling up the 9 inch spring form pan.  Or you could find a smaller pan.  I created a glaze that was similar to a glaze from a chocolate tart recipe, sans cream.  It worked fine.  

When I cut the cake, it looked basically like the photos I've seen of Prince William Cakes online.  So far so good. It tastes good as well, but really, this cake is simply a very dry biscuit coated with chocolate.  

You need to use top quality chocolate, as all the flavor is coming from the chocolate.  I refrigerated the cake overnight and put the coating on in the afternoon and returned it to the fridge for an hour before cutting.  Perhaps if it sits longer, the biscuit absorbs some of the moisture from the chocolate and the consistency changes.  But if served quickly, you have a very crunchy biscuit suspended in chocolate.  

It is good, but I'm not sure why it is so popular.  It is easy and no bake, but in many ways, it tastes like a Cadbury Finger or a Tam Tam (store bought cookie/chocolate products).  

There is a lot of chocolate in the cake (1 full pound) and I thought it might be too much, but it really did need that much chocolate to coat the biscuits.


Prince William Cake

1 package McVities Rich Tea Biscuits (8 oz)
¼ cup golden syrup
1 stick butter
8 oz milk chocolate
8 oz dark chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla

Break cookies into small pieces.  In a saucepan, melt butter with the golden syrup.  Add in chocolate, broken into pieces.  When melted, stir in vanilla until smooth and take off the heat.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the cookie pieces and toss to coat thoroughly.  Spray the inside of a spring form pan or cake mold with cooking spray.  Press the cookie mixture into the pan, trying to make sure there are no gaps.  You can cover the top of the mixture with Press and Seal or waxed paper and use it to press down the mixture so that it is even.

Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours.  When chilled, remove from cake mold/spring form pan.  Place the cake on a cooling rack to prepare to glaze.


8 oz dark chocolate
1 tablespoon corn syrup
2-3 tablespoons hot water

Break the chocolate into pieces  and put in microwaveable dish.  Microwave slowly until chocolate melts.  Stir in corn syrup and hot water.  Add more water as needed to make glaze thin enough to pour.  Pour over the top of the cake and use an offset spreader to spread out glaze and coat sides.  Once covered, you can refrigerate the cake again until set.  Decorate as desired and serve.

This recipe lives and dies on the quality of the chocolate.  So use a top quality bar.  You can use chocolate chips, but they will be more difficult to melt to a smooth consistency.  You can add almonds or hazelnuts and/or raisins to the cookie mixture if desired.


Friday, September 11, 2015

The Great British Baking Show on PBS and BBC

We discovered The Great British Baking Show earlier this year on PBS and thoroughly enjoyed it.

They make many desserts and pastries that I have never heard of, and then they are stumped by something as common (here) as angel food cake.

A dozen non-professional bakers ---ranging from college age to retirees ---including carpenters, scientists, teachers and all sorts of backgrounds---with one thing in common --- that they love to bake.  It is fun to watch.  They make lots of mistakes but some of the bakes are amazing!

Here in the U.S., the new season started just a few days ago on September 8.  It is easily viewed on the PBS app or via the various medium for streaming PBS these days.  But I still prefer to wait for each episode to air on traditional TV on Sunday evenings.

It is actually the 10th season of the highly successful show on BBC in the U.K.  It is called the The Great British Bake Off there.  Their season started in August.  The U.S. version is delayed by a few weeks.



Thought it would be appropriate to share the links, since this is England month, in case you haven't heard about the show.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Crunchy Asian Ramen Noodle Salad from Gretchen

Crunchy Asian Ramen Noodle Salad from Gretchen

Excellent salad for a picnic lunch or a pot-luck supper.

Crunchy Asian Ramen Noodle Salad
(various versions are online.  This one is Gretchen's)

Salad ingredients:
1 16-ounce bag coleslaw mix
2 3-ounce packages of ramen noodles, crumbled (you will not use the seasoning mix)
1 cup shelled and cooked edamame (look in the frozen food section)
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1 mango, peeled, pitted and julienned (or diced)
1/2 cup thinly-sliced almonds
1/2 cup thinly-sliced green onions (scallions)

Asian honey vinaigrette:
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey (or agave, to make this vegan)
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 t. soy sauce
1/4 t. sesame oil
pinch of salt and black pepper

Optional first step:  Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Spread the crumbled ramen noodles and sliced almonds out on a baking sheet, and stir a bit to combine.  Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the almonds and noodles are slightly toasted and golden.  Remove baking sheet, and give the mixture a good stir to toss.  Then return it to the oven and toast for an additional 3 minutes.  Keep a very close eye on the mixture so that it does not burn.  Remove and set aside to cool.

To make the vinaigrette:  whisk all the ingredients together  until combined.

In a large bowl, add ingredients, including the vinaigrette, and toss until combined.

Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. This salad is much better eaten the first day, as the noodles lose their crunch the longer it sits, and the avocado  may brown.  Still,  it is perfectly edible and enjoyable after a few days!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

September: England

September is England

Summer is now officially over and all of the kids are going back to school this week here where we live.  

We spent Labor Day weekend at the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence with Tom's sister and family.  We didn't cook much --- because it was so hot--- but Gretchen made a delicious crunchy salad to go with our hamburgers and hot dogs --- which I will post tomorrow.  

In the meantime, it is time for a new month of cuisine.  This month is England.  The tablescape is set for tea.  
  • battenberg cake -- see photo below
  • scones  
  • victoria sponge
  • jam
  • clotted cream
  • butter
  • builder's tea
  • milk
  • sugar
  • cucumber and egg sandwiches
Battenberg cake -- photo from Wikipedia