Category Archives: British foods

Scotch Quail Eggs

One of the other dishes that we made for Burn’s Night was Scotch eggs. I’m not sure how they got the name Scotch eggs because everything I found online says that they were invented at Fortnum & Mason, a very up market grocery/department store in London in 1738. Scotch eggs are a popular picnic or snack food in England, served cold and are commonly found in supermarkets. The consist of an egg, wrapped in seasoned sausage meat, which is then coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

Because we were planning to serve them as an appetizer we decided to make miniature Scotch eggs using quails eggs. You can find quails eggs at North Market Poultry and Game (currently $3 for 10). Quail eggs are about an inch tall and I love the fact that their markings vary so much. They make adorable fried eggs and are perfect to use for hors d’oeuvres as they are bite size. They are however fiddly to peel so it’s better to buy more than you need. AD did most of the work for the Scotch eggs and I definitely heard some swearing during the peeling phase.

We followed Heston Blumenthall’s recipe, which had a lot of useful tips. The only thing it didn’t tell us was the cooking temperature. We found that the eggs took longer to hard boil than he said and also longer to fully cook at the end. The eggs are boiled and peeled and cooled, then encased in sausage meat. The sausage meat could/should have been thinner but it was hard to work with. Then they are dipped in flour, egg and bread crumbs. I made bread crumbs from a white sandwich loaf and then dried them in the oven.

We started with 30 quails eggs and 2 lbs of sausage meat and ended up with 22 scotch eggs. Here they are pre-frying.

And here they are having been deep fried and then baked in the oven to make sure that the sausage meat was cooked all the way through.

Other food at the Burns Night Supper was Cock-a-leekie soup, eel pie, Scottish salmon served with oat cakes, haggis, neeps and tatties (mashed potato and mashed rutabaga) and for dessert shortbread and whisky and honey ice cream.

The soup was topped with prunes, which are apparently traditional to cock-a-leekie soup. I was a little skeptical but they were a wonderful addition.


Filed under British foods, dinners with friends, North Market

Haggis – From Scratch – Step by Step

A couple of years ago, around this time of year, I went to my local butchers Blues Creek Farm Meats at the North Market and asked if they sold haggis or if they knew anywhere I could buy it. I didn’t realize that imports of haggis were banned. They didn’t and suggested that I make my own. I laughed and dismissed the idea. I then discovered the Barley’s annual Burns Night Supper and for two years I satisfied my haggis cravings there.  But, this year emboldened by the pig’s head project, I decided that if I could boil pig’s heads, I could damn well make my own haggis.

For the uninitiated, haggis is a Scottish delicacy. It is made of sheep’s offal, oatmeal, suet, onion and seasonings and is boiled and served with ‘neeps and tatties’ (mashed rutabaga and mashed potatoes) and liberal quantities of whisky. It is traditionally served at Burn’s Night Suppers on January 25th because Robert Burns, the bard of Scotland and a fan of the dish, wrote the poem ‘Address to a Haggis‘ calling it ‘great chieftan o’ the pudding-race!’ It is fairly similar to the Cincinnati speciality goetta but with more liver flavor.

Making your own haggis in the US is quite an endeavor. Traditional haggis recipes call for a sheep’s stomach and a sheep’s pluck (heart, lungs, windpipe and liver).  Unfortunately it is impossible to buy a sheep’s stomach or lungs. Blues Creek were happy to supply me with the liver and heart but that was all they could offer. I did a lot of research, comparing recipes and looking for substitutions. Alton Brown used a tongue instead of the lungs, others used lamb shoulder. There was nothing conclusive. I decided to use a mixture of lamb trimmings for flavor and beef tripe, which seemed like it might be the closest in texture and not too strong in flavor. I was able to get tripe from La Plaza Tapatia (a large Mexican grocery store) where they had three different types on display.

The casing was still a problem. Many recipes suggested using ox bung (cow intestine) instead of a sheep’s stomach (even in the UK it seems sheep’s stomaches are hard to find), but Blues Creek couldn’t provide that either and for a while I planned to use some sort of fabric bag. One blog I read debated using a t shirt and then settled on haggis tamales, but despite my love of taco trucks this seemed too non-traditional for me. Fabric didn’t seem ideal as it is much more porous than a traditional casing,  but the alternative, steaming it in a basin wasn’t great either. I heard rumors of pigs stomaches at an Asian grocery. But it was then that Albert from Thurn’s came to my rescue and supplied me with a beef bung cap to use as my casing. It’s amazing that one can get that excited about a cow intestine but really, I was.

The most useful resource I found was Tim Hayward’s step by step guide to making a haggis. I also used a BBC recipe and another step by step slideshow. In addition I consulted many other sources for advice on seasoning, cooking time and proportions. The main problem is that ‘plucks’ come in many different sizes and although recipes acknowledge this, they don’t give you any sense of proportion. Michael Ruhlman, where are you with a ratio when I really need you? For example, the BBC recipe told me to use between 1/2lb and 2lbs of oatmeal, without any guidance on how to decide how much. While I have eaten haggis many times, I have never seen the consistency of the mixture before it is stuffed.

With those caveats in mind here is my own step to step haggis making experience:

The day before you make the haggis, you need to boil the meat until all parts are tender and then leave them over night in their cooking liquid. Luckily there was room for my dutch oven in the fridge. Opinions seem to vary as to whether the water should be salted or not. I went with unsalted but next time would salt the water. The liver and heart were tender before the tripe, so I gave that extra time.

The next day you drain the meat and save the cooking liquid (which was quite gelatinous). I removed the hardened fat from the top of the pan as well. The tripe, trimmings and heart were minced along with 4 onions. We did a coarse grind to start and then put it all through again with the fine disc.

The liver and 1/2 lb suet (which also came from Blues Creek) are grated and then added to the rest of the meat.

The oats used are steel cut or pinhead oats and they are toasted in the oven until thoroughly dried out but not browned. I followed the BBC recipe 10 minutes at 350°F. I ended up using the whole bag which was 1 lb 8oz.

Then for the seasoning: Haggis is usually quite peppery in flavor so I added what seemed like a lot of salt and freshly ground pepper. Many of the recipes just called for a small quantity of dried herbs and traditional herbs seems to include marjoram, savory, sage, pennyroyal and thyme, but my research showed that spices are traditional as well and include mace, allspice and nutmeg. I also saw some recipes that called for cayenne and paprika, although I doubt that they are traditional. I didn’t have savory or pennyroyal but used everything else mentioned and a little rosemary.

The final step is adding some of the cooking liquid. Most recipes called for 1 pint even though they varied the amount of oats, so it was guesswork to decide whether to add more. I wasn’t sure what consistency I was aiming for. Despite my research and the number of recipes I had consulted the proportions of seasoning, oatmeal and liquid were still all guesswork.

Albert at Thurn’s had advised me to soak the cap in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes before I used it. The cap is sealed at one end with an opening at the other. It looks like a very large but slightly irregular condom, but with veins. When I looked at the stuffing it was hard to imagine that it would all fit inside but the casing wasn’t fragile and had a lot of give. Stuffing it was surprisingly easy and I have to admit to giggling to myself.

At this stage, I was pretty curious how much this monster haggis weighed. I tried it on the kitchen scales and they flashed the overload warning, so I placed the bowl on the bathroom scales. Approximately 10lbs! Everything I had read, said to fill the casing half full, so having established that all the stuffing would fit, I spread it out so that there was room for the oatmeal to expand. The recipes make you fearful of the casing bursting during cooking. I squeezed out as much air as I could and tied the open end up with kitchen string.

It was a good two feet long! Lucky I had borrowed a huge pig head sized pot to cook it in. I definitely could have made it into more than one haggis.

Albert had told me to keep the water at 170°F to help prevent bursting, so I heated up a few gallons of water and used my candy thermometer to keep a check on the temperature. I pierced the haggis twice with a skewer as advised, also I hoped to help prevent bursting. As soon as you put the haggis into the hot water the casing contracts and tightens around the filling. It’s quite amazing. I thought it would expand as the oatmeal cooked but that wasn’t really noticeable and I didn’t see any air bubbles. Phew, no burst haggis.

When one recipe tells you to cook it for 3 hours and the other an hour and a half, but neither tell you how to tell when it is cooked, there is a lot of head scratching involved. I used a thermometer to try and check the internal temperature but otherwise erred on the side of cooking it longer and then ended up keeping it warm for a while before we ate. I read that cooking time is based on diameter not mass, but without knowing how long for what diameter that didn’t really help.

And so the finished product: When you cut into the haggis the casing retracts, although not as dramatically as I had hoped.

So how was it? Overall, I was pleased with how it turned out. The filling wasn’t as dark in color as haggis’s I’ve had before and I can’t account for why, unless some people add blood, because I don’t think the lungs would make it a lot darker. It was tasty but a little under seasoned – I should have added more salt and pepper and also salted the water. I also think it was a little moister than some haggis I have had in the past and I’m not sure if this is because I added some extra liquid or because it was cooked for longer.

We made a pretty good dent in it, but there is plenty left over and so this morning I did some googling for leftover haggis recipes. There was a wealth of ideas ranging from deep fried haggis balls to tzatziki haggis wraps and haggis lasagne. It seems in Scotland they use it in burgers, macaroni and cheese and salads. It can also be used as a stuffing, in omelettes and something called Scottish tacos!

I added salt and pepper, formed some haggis into a patty and fried it up like goetta. Wow! It was so good – better than goetta. Crispy oatmeal popping in the pan, a crunchy crust and the still moist meaty center.

Maybe next year I’ll be able to buy my haggis, or maybe I’ll make it again with the lessons learned, but for now I’m enjoying the leftovers. Here’s to ‘Rabbie Burns’!


Filed under British foods

Christmas Trifle

When life gives you lemons make lemonade, when life gives you leftover eggnog and Christmas pudding make trifle. This decadent concoction of Christmas leftovers was inspired by my mother when I mentioned that we had a lot of leftover Christmas pudding. Not much was eaten on Christmas Day because everyone was too full to eat much, and it is incredibly rich. I couldn’t find a recipe I liked so I made my own.

Christmas pudding is the traditional dessert for many English families. Our family has a recipe that is generations old and this is the first year I have been entrusted with it. We made the Christmas pudding over Thanksgiving when my parents were visiting. It steamed for 8 hours then, and another 4 before we served it at Christmas. The end result is almost black and heavy with alcohol and spices.

Trifle is another English tradition, a dessert with layers of cake, fruit, custard and cream. This is an improvisation on the theme with Christmas pudding substituting for the booze soaked cake. The glass trifle bowl really shows off the layers which were  from bottom to top:

Crumbled leftover Christmas pudding mixed with candied orange and rum.

Crumbled amaretti biscuits (from Carfagna’s Market)

Custard made with eggnog, milk, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla and a little cornstarch.

Another layer of crumbled amaretti biscuits.

Whipped Snowville heavy cream with a touch of sugar and rum.

Toasted slivered almonds.

I am glad no one did a calorie analysis on it, I can’t imagine, especially as I made enough to feed 15 people – needless to say, it’s not something to be consumed on a regular basis. The custard layer really complimented the Christmas pudding, moderating the strong boozy flavor, the biscuit crumbs and toasted almonds added some texture and the hint of rum in the cream tied the dessert together.

Another use of leftover eggnog is to make a bread and butter pudding.


Filed under British foods, dinners with friends, recipes

Mince pies

Mince pies are an English Christmas tradition and if you visit anyone in England over Christmas, chances are you will be offered a mince pie. Often they are store bought, sometimes the pastry is homemade but the filling has been purchased. This year was the first time I have made my own mincemeat filling. I didn’t follow a recipe exactly because I was mainly using up ingredients from making christmas pudding.

My mincemeat contains:

Suet (available from Blues Creek at the North Market) grated
Golden raisins
Slivered almonds
Orange zest and juice
Candied orange peel
Apple – peeled, cored and finely chopped
Pumpkin pie spices

Mincemeat recipes vary and some suggest that you cook the mixture before you store it so that the apple does not ferment. I was only making a small amount and was happy to keep it in the fridge so I did not bake it. Here is Delia’s recipe. I haven’t checked whether you can get vegetarian suet in the US but if you wanted to make a vegetarian  mincemeat you could probably freeze some vegetable shortening and grate it frozen.

I mixed the pastry by hand, rubbing the fat into the flour as I was taught in school. The whole mince pie process made me think a lot about our home economics classes at school and what a good grounding our teacher Mrs Elliot gave us in basic techniques. We had a class where we were all assigned a different fat, or combination of fats to make pastry with and then had to evaluate all of the results. Pastry made with oil is horrible! The winner was half lard, half butter. For these mince pies I tried Michael Rulhman’s 3-2-1 pie dough (the sweet version). The first few months after I bought the Ratio book it sat unused on the shelf but recently I seem to be using it for everything from stock, to pancakes, to pastry. It is extremely useful and has clear instructions and explanations as to why you should do something in a certain way. I couldn’t resist the iphone app either – just incase I need a ratio away from home.

The pastry worked very well and I improvised cookie cutters with two different sized drinking glasses. The only problem was that my muffin tins were deeper than I would have liked and it made it hard to get them out of the pan without loosening the lids. I also did some on a flat baking sheet and they worked fine too.

Whatever your festive food traditions are, Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for 2010.

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Filed under British foods, recipes

Ham and Cheese Scones


I’m usually a purist about scones. My British upbringing is deeply ingrained and we learned how to make scones in our home economics class in school. I like English style scones – pronounced to rhyme with gone – and not too sweet. The only acceptable versions are plain or sultana (golden raisin), ideally served with clotted cream and jam, or occasionally cheese scones for picnics. These scones are small and circular. I cringe at the sugary frosted creations that pass as scones at Starbucks and copycat coffee shops. They aren’t even the right shape! Scones can be wonderfully light and flaky but badly made they can be leaden and heavy. They do not keep well and can therefore be a huge disappointment if you get one that is stale and dry . Unknown scones are risky.

I have been swayed from my purist notions by the ham and cheese scone at Northstar, which luckily, or dangerously depending on how you look at it, can be found only blocks from my house. Warm from the oven they have a siren’s call with the enticing and comforting smell of grilled cheese. My polling station is next door to Northstar which is an added incentive to vote and so this morning I exercised my right to vote and rewarded myself with a scone. I was in luck and scored the last of the batch. My scone (which came out of the oven at 8.45am) was crusty with caramelized cheese, buttery, moist and filled with chunks of ham that were particularly scrumptious where roasted at the edges. It is the crust that I love and I would be quite happy just to eat the crusts off and leave the rest, except that I would probably be tempted to pick out all the ham, and then there really wouldn’t be much left.

If you want a recipe for traditional English style scones you probably can’t go far wrong with Delia Smith. Less purist but even more British, how about some marmite and cheese scones?


Filed under Breakfast, British foods, Columbus