Archive for October, 2011

Street Food - Sausage with Peppers & Onions

Street Food – Sausage with Peppers & Onions

There is something about this blustery weather that is putting me in the mind of tailgates (will explain in a sec), outdoor continental markets and the boldness of the Autumn cook-out party.  In the more northerly of the US States cold, rainy or snowy weather is no reason why you should not stand outside (often around a keg of beer) to while away some spare time on a weekend or just for a get together.  There is even a great (but may be fading) tradition of Tailgate Parties.  These are usually before an American Football games or concerts where people gather hours before the event.  The primary purpose is to nibble, sip and blab in order to a.) secure a great parking space, and b.) build up a good head of steam for the event.  The back door of an estate car (station wagon) or a 4×4 (SUV) is called a “tailgate” and it is folded down to make an impromptu cooking or picnic area.  I have seen some pretty impressive feasts being cooked in this way, whether on teeny BBQs, crock pots plugged into the cigarette lighters or even from chafing dishes with the little candles underneath.  It is lovely to be all bundled up  against the cold and wind eating something warm and tasty.  And so enter my version of Sausage with Peppers & Onions.

The somewhat unusual cast of characters

Back in the days I was living in Boston, these would be served outside Fenway Park (home to Baseball’s Red Sox) but would be made with either a sweet or a hot Italian Sausage.  Since those babies are a bit hard to come by in my current location, I took a page from my fabulous friend Jess’s book (who also happens to be my sister-in-law,  lucky me) and go for the Bratwurst version instead.  Jess once served me this combo on her BBQ pizza and its yumminess has haunted me ever since. Since Brats are much easier for me to come by and they have the added bonus of being fully cooked (to reduce any raw meat problems if you opt for this out in the wild), it happily wins my vote for great camping or tailgating alternative.

To begin you will want to get the onions, peppers (and mushrooms if you so desire) going. I like to melt about one good blob of butter in a pan (please don’t laugh at my dented £11 Ikea non-stick fry pan – it works just fine thank you).

 Toss in some sliced onion, peppers and mushrooms…..

Sprinkle with some dried herbs (I think this was an Italian mix or maybe Herbs de Provence), and a very generous amount of salt & pepper.  Toss to coat and try to leave it alone for a few minutes. Don’t stir continually or the veg won’t get to develop any colour or caramelise, but don’t let it burn either.  Try for a good toss every few minutes but this will take about 20 minutes so try to be patient.

Now most sane people would remove the veggies from the heat at about this stage, but I was feeling wild…

so I continued until it cooked down to this pile of deliciousness!  Now, you can remove it from the heat of the hob/stovetop but keep it in the pan for warmth.  You can also pre-cook these and take along with you on your outdoor adventures and cook the Brats later.  If you are feeling snazzy you could even keep them in a wide mouth Thermos so they will be warm in the wild.

Now, with my onions and peppers ready I could turn my attention to the Brats. For this stage I opted for a bit of vegetable oil as it has a higher smoking point and won’t burn like butter can at high temperatures.

Place the Brats (plural Bratwursts that get their name from the German verb “braten” which means to pan fry or roast – huh), into a very hot pan and let them do their thing.

A few turns later and they will develop some lovely colour.

Just before serving toast up a hearty roll and top with cheese. I forgot the picture of melting some optional cheese – my apologies.

And finally, pop the Brats into the toasted cheesy roll to be liberally stuffed with your pepper and onion mix.  Now I am aware that this may not win any beauty contests but the flavour and the heartiness with counter that no problem.  In Germany, Bratwurst is almost always accompanied by mustard – which is great, but for this I opted for a generous swipe with horseradish sauce and was not sorry in the least.

So on this cold October Saturday why not try this for something different, whether you are brave enough to head outdoors or in the coziness of your kitchen?

Auf Wiedersehen ….

Farm Shop Survey - Hopetoun House

Farm Shop Survey – Hopetoun House

Prompted by the autumn newsletter from this next Farm Shop, I thought it was about time to introduce you to my secret mecca of Scottish gourmet treats.  And what, you may ask would that entail?  Well, come with me for a wee shopping trip to the newly opened Farm Shop of Hopetoun House.  Now, before we go any further, farm shops are by and large a venue for a single farm or a collective of farms to sell their goods directly to the customer.  The picture below is the modest and unassuming “shop” that is attached to the very rear end of the Hopetoun House lands which supply the vegetables, beef, lamb and game (grouse is in season – woo hoo) for said shop.

Hopetoun Farm Shop

 However, this is Hopetoun House, one of Scotland’s finest stately homes with over 6,500 acres at hand.  You can check it out a bit more at http://www.hopetoun.co.uk/ but it is really a post in and of itself (if not more than one), but for now let’s just say that it is massive and is quite a bit more than your average “farm”  supplying its own farm shop.

Hopetoun House in all its glory

The shop itself was not the easiest place to find and I was less than bowled over by the simple appearance.  My heart sank even lower upon entering the shop as I was hoping for a Balducci-type abundance but was greeted with a sparse “jam as art” decor.   However, the fates were shining on this venture as I happily sampled and bagged a serious haul of Scottish yumminess….check it out!

Hopetoun Farm Shop Interior 2011

There is a great comment in the oh, so Scottish crime drama “Taggart” (“There’s bin a muhr-duhrrrr…”), that decries someone being “as Scottish as salami”.  Well…..

How greedy am I? I couldn't even wait for the picture before sneaking a taste!

here you have it – venison salami!  Super yum but mild in taste, so don’t overdo it with a strongly flavoured accompaniment.  Best stick to a mild chutney or smoked cheese and oatcakes but ooooooooo it is good!

This was another treat that couldn’t help but illicit an involuntary moan of pleasure – a blue cheese and pear pate – phwarrrr!  Instead of serving a big ole cheese board at the end of your meal just bring out this baby, some biscuits/crackers and seal the deal with candied or spiced nuts and fresh fruit, mmmmmmmm.

Really, who doesn't need a reliable source of quail's eggs?!

If you are feeling terribly posh and simply must have a grilled asparagus starter with poached quails eggs topped with shavings of parmesan and cracked black pepper (which is quite yummy), look no further for a reliable source for your fouffy ingredients!

Said to have originated in Forfar in 1850, these are now a staple in every Scottish bakers.

And if it is something heartier that is calling to you, get your hands on one of these.  For the uninitiated, a Bridie is usually a parcel of sturdy but flaky pastry to be eaten with the hands,  filled with intensely flavoured beef stew at nuclear hot temperatures.  A slightly acquired taste for the average North American (well, for breakfast anyway) but an a cold rainy Sunday morning, a Steak Bridie with a strong cup of  sweet tea is nirvana.

And lest you think that Elderflower exists only in a Monty Python punchline, feast on this creamy if slightly bizarre concoction of local ice cream.

There is also a great selection of Scottish cookbooks with this one catching my eye…Christmas prezzie anyone?

This farm shop does not have a dining space as there is one next door in the Hopetoun Garden Centre.  This is a garden centre not for the faint of heart and should only be entered if one has been properly inoculated for floral cloth and Hunter wellies.   Below is a shot of the tea room there…

Tea room of the Hopetoun Garden Centre at closing time.

Tea room of the Hopetoun Garden Centre at closing time.

which I couldn’t appreciate in full as it was closing time and I had grumpy children with me but I simply had to include a bit about the Tea Room as,

in order to get there you have to wander around a quite lengthy, twisting trail to survey the various sculptures of nymphs and lion’s head that your estate may need.  I love the lion on the right as he looks like he is mid sneeze, surely not the most noble moment to be cast in stone!

View from South Queensferry back to Fife

Well, being very happy with our discoveries and with the Gooseberry ice cream in danger of melting, we hightailed it home back across the Firth of Forth to the safety of the Kingdom of Fife (say that ten times).  Another spot for local deliciousness on the map for future visits!

 

Happy Friday…

 

 

Tattie Howking

Tattie Howking

I had every intention of firing off a cheery piece to enhance my excitement of our upcoming two weeks break from school known as the October Holidays.  Whilst some folk (my husband) still refers to this time of year as the “Tattie Howking”, (‘Tattie’ being potato and ‘Howking’ being to dig up from the ground…i.e. Potato Harvest) and I can see on my daily commute fields of rich green leaves becoming acres of freshly turned soil over night, I nursed the mistaken notion of  a happy harvest bounty commemorated in this quaint idiom.  Yeah, not so much.  Apparently the history of potatoes is just not terribly fun any way you slice it – get it?!

Basic Anatomy of a Potato Plant

For a quick recap of how the potato come to Europe at all, we need to return to 1532 to the region of Peru/Bolivia  in South America with the not-so-welcome arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in search of gold.  There is evidence that the potato had been in cultivation in this region for about 3,000 – 7,000 years and may have grown wild for as long as 13,000 years ago.  In Jeff Chapman’s, “The Impact of the Potato: The Story of History’s Most Important Vegetable”, he cites Dr. Hector Flores for the extensive use of the potato in Pre-Inca cultures in the Peruvian Andes as well as its representation in Nazca and Chimu pottery.

Funeral of Atahualpa (who had been held captive by Pizarro and De Soto in 1533, who converted to Christianity but was executed anyway. Nice)

The Incas had developed a system of dehydrating and mashing the “batata”, (which is actually a sweet potato but the Spanish mis-pronounced it and attached the new word to what we now know as “potato”) into something called chunu.  This substance could be stored for up to 10 years and was a welcome insurance against crop failures.  The Spanish begrudgingly began to use potatoes as basic rations on their ships, and by 1570 a few Spanish farmers began to cultivate them on a small-scale.

Mature Potatoes in the Field

From Spain, the potato made a modest expansion throughout neighbouring European countries for the next two hundred years, but was considered fodder for animals and sustenance for the starving.  Even peasants refused this new addition that had arrived from a heathen civilization and suspected it to be linked with witchcraft.  This attitude changed for three reasons; by the end 18th century potatoes were often the only crop left after the marauding armies of the various wars had plundered the landscape for grain crops, vineyards and livestock, then there was the growing realisation that the tuber was not harmful but beneficial to health, and finally because of active public relation campaigns from the aristocracy of countries from the USA to Britain, France and even Russia.  Active PR efforts included Thomas Jefferson serving potatoes in the White House to Louis XVI sporting a potato flower in his buttonhole, to Marie Antoinette wearing the potato blossom in her hair, and even Catherine the Great and subsequently Tsar Nicolas I enforcing the cultivation of potatoes through edicts, all were trying to elevate the status of the very practical potato.

This top down adoption was motivated for the simple reason that the potato could produce more food using much less land than traditional grains, and was high in nutrients and could help protect against the routine famines that had plagued Europe for so long.  So at the dawn of the 19th century, after several centuries of faffing about, the humble potato was gaining in use and statue throughout Europe.  From there it help fuel huge population booms and even in part the Industrial Revolution by providing more people with food from a fraction of the land that was once needed to do the job.

In Ireland however, the potato was embraced more completely than by any culture since the Incas.  While in other European countries it was finally recognised as an important food, in Ireland it was often the only food.  A diet of milk and potatoes can (if need be) provide all the essential nutrients to maintain health, reproduction and decrease infant mortality.  By 1840 almost half of the population of Ireland was entirely dependent on the potato which had now narrowed to just one or two high-yielding varieties.

Potato with blight

 The same blight that caused the Great Famine in Ireland hit Scotland at the same time.  Scotland, particularly in the highlands, had begun growing potatoes in earnest after the chieftain of Clanranald returned from a trip to Ireland in 1743.  The region had already sustained other famines of the 1690s and 1780, but in what is now known in Scotland as the Highland Potato Famine,  saw the emigration of 1.7 million people leaving Scotland between 1846-52.  Although hit badly, the potato crops in Scotland did start to recover from 1857 onwards and whilst decimated the economies of Scotland rebounded more quickly than those of their Irish counterparts, in part because of the slightly cooler climes which helped keep the fungus that caused the blight at bay.

Potato Harvest in 1933 (Canada, but you get the idea.) Just look at the curve of that guy’s back…that’s gotta hurt)

Enter the “Tattie Howkers”, the name given to the Irish who would travel to Scotland to help bring in the potato harvest for cash in the wake of the Potato Famines.  For the next 90 or so years this would be how the majority of spuds made it from field to shop up until WWII.  This was back-breaking work and was often performed by children from the age of 8 years onwards.  In the fields from dawn to dusk in the October weather of Scotland – bbbbrrrrrr!

Two Row Potato Digger (Maine, USA 1935)

The digger would unearth the potatoes and the Tattie Howkers would walk behind to gather the harvest and load it into the barrels.  In addition to the hourly pay you could usually take home as much as you could carry from the fields.  Now this remained the general practice of essentially migrant labour up until the 1940s and the arrival of the war.  Since one of the most beneficial things about potatoes were that not only could children plant, harvest and even cook potatoes…maybe then it should be children whose job it fell to sustain the harvest.

Young girls picking potatoes - Scotland

Here are a few clips from that era to get the children of Britain out there to bring in the spuds, which apparently rot if left in the ground too long.  These came with all sorts of severe copyright threats, so I apologise that I can only provide the links to the videos.  Do check them out they are a hoot.  The first is an animation aimed at Scottish children (tam ‘o shanter, sporran and all) to get them motivated for the job.

http://scotlandonscreen.org.uk/database/record.php?usi=007-000-002-155-C

This next one seems to be for Glasgow in particular – Don’t worry if you can’t understand what they are saying, you get the basic idea.

http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=82453

This last one is aimed at the larger British population and is a bit easier to understand.

http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=51286

Another serious public relations campaign for the essential potato harvest.  This was the new status quo from the  war really up until the 1980s, when a combination of very hearty Scots teenagers and some new migrant labourers from Eastern European countries completed the task.  My husband still speaks enviously of some friends of his that took part in his youth. You could make enough cold hard cash in that two-week period to buy yourself your own TV for your bedroom – a luxury above all else at the time!  Of course all of this labour has now been replaced by machines that can do the work with a  fraction of the time and effort.

So, For the next two weeks as I lounge around in my dressing gown until noon, I will give my own quiet homage to not only the worldly and nutritious potato, but also to generations of workers, mainly children, who harvested the crops and to this day allow me a pre-scheduled fortnight off in October.  Many thanks!

SAMPHIRE

SAMPHIRE

As we most definitely turn to autumnal gales, I wanted to share this one last shining moment of summertime dining that I first discovered just a few weeks ago.  That is the delicious, crunchy, salty and all around weird delicacy –  SAMPHIRE!  According to Wikipedia this edible sea grass (pronounced sam-fyre), was originally known as “sampiere” in honour of St. Pierre patron saint of fisherman.  Also known as sea asparagus or sea pickle this vegetable is found on rocky coastal outcrops or their surrounding marshland, usually shrouded in a constant  battering of northerly oceanic spray.  Since those that gathered the samphire were in obvious need of a patron saint,  perhaps they thought naming it after him would increase their survival rate.

Samphire is even mentioned in King Lear (Act IV, Scene VI) “Half-way down Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!”.    Just ponder that for a moment – your trade gets mentioned as dreadful … in King Lear…that’s gotta be a bench-mark of some kind.  It was also used from the 14th century onwards in the production of both soap and glass making, giving rise to yet another of its names “glasswort”.  This versatile green wonder is even being explored as a potential bio-diesel that can utilise area of coasts unsuitable for conventional crops.  Huh, something new everyday.

My new favorite fish mongers, H.S. Murray in Inverkeithing, Fife

In my travels to locate a local source for Scotland’s bounty of shellfish, I was directed to a truly fabulous fish monger, H.S. Murray’s in Inverkeithing .  It is everything you want such a shop to be; it was bright and clean, the staff were friendly and very knowledgeable and they seemed genuinely happy to have you try something new or special order anything they didn’t currently have in stock – take that standard customer service.  H.S. Murray’s also supply the fish and shellfish to the highly regarded Room with View Restaurant  in the nearby town of Aberdour. (http://www.roomwithaviewrestaurant.co.uk/)  I have yet to dine there myself but I will let you know when I do!

Anyway, back at H.S. Murray’s, in the span of about five minutes I had secured fresh, live langoustines, was given a free taste and brief history lesson of this nobbly weird plant I had never heard of before AND they offered to special order Phillips of Baltimore (http://www.phillipsseafood.com/) lump crab meat in a pasteurised tub – superb!   (I even had to break up with my fish van man who came to my door every Thursday as a result of this discovery, it was tragic for all but we are all moving on as best we can.)

Detail of Samphire – Edible Tidal Marsh Grass

I brought my new culinary conquest home for closer inspection and to see what I could do to best showcase its texture, crunch and flavour.  For me there was something evocative of sushi in its raw brininess so I went to work experimenting.  I didn’t want to lose any colour or crunch, but coastal rocks and marshes can be home to fair amount of cooties so I thought some cooking was in order.

Quick plunge hot

I opted for a treatment similar to mange-tout/sugar snap peas and decided to get a pan up to a rolling boil and just dropped the samphire in for about 5-10 seconds.

Quick plunge cold

Working speedily, I tossed the lot into a strainer and then straight into a prepared ice bath to give it a good shock and stop the cooking process.  After a minute or two or until I was sure there was no heat left in the samphire I drained everything again and placed on a pile of kitchen roll/paper towel for a wee blot dry.

Asian Taste Tango

As I said there was something in the Asian/Oriental taste range that was calling to me, so after a quick rummage in my cupboard I chose these favourites; sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chilli flakes and ginger.  Please note that while I do always use fresh garlic in my cooking, I have long since given up keeping fresh, frozen or jarred ginger in my house.  I can not tell you the number of times I find I am either without this crucial ingredient, have an open jar of an undisclosed age or have over-purchased a supply only to find a withered voodoo doll on the door of my fridge.  I have proudly opted for the squeezy tube of  ‘fresh’ ginger which is on hand and at the ready at all times.

A Yummy and Versatile Soy Vinaigrette

I quick toss of the ingredients and I was happy with the taste.  I do like things quite strongly flavoured so please tinker until it is to your taste, but this would work well with a cold noodle and vegetable salad with maybe some chicken and fresh coriander/cilantro, mmm.  As always, the recipe for the dressing makes more than you need for this dish so use the extra to experiment.

Toasted Sesame Seeds

And of course just to gild the lily (which a criticism in the UK and a compliment in the States…I thought it might make a good name for a catering company one day…) I toasted a few raw sesame seed on the stove top for garnish.

A Briny Crunchy Delight!

Drizzle a few spoonfuls of the dressing over the samphire, toss to coast and garnish with the toasted sesame seed.  And go on, add a bit of fresh lemon or lime right before serving for that extra level of brightness.  This dish work very well as a side with salmon or maybe some lamb to cut the richness of the main dish.

If you happen to cross paths with the positively pre-cambrian looking samphire, be sure to give it a try and I am sure you will be the better for the experience!

Samphire with Asian Dressing

Ingredients

  • Blended Sesame Oil (1/2 toasted, 1/2 raw) - 4 Tablespoons
  • Soy Sauce - 1 Tablespoon
  • Rice Wine Vinegar - 2 Tablespoons
  • Ginger, minced - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Dried Red Chilli Flakes - 1/8 teaspoon
  • Toasted Sesame Seeds

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk to blend. Feel free to adjust to suit your own taste.
http://albaliving.com/2011/10/samphire/

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