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Monday, January 29, 2007

All Hail the Bard of Caledonia

Saturday last, we hosted a Burns Supper. These are traditionally held as near as possible to his birthday on January 25, and are supposed to feature a menu of traditional Scottish fare, as well as songs, poems, and toasts. Our menu was mostly traditionalish, with some variance for the sake of convenience and some for the sake of American taste buds.

Menu and program:
Selection of Cheeses and sparkling beverages
Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Brief discourse on the life and times of Robert Burns
Address to a Haggis

"Haggis" warm reeking, wi' Bashed Neeps and Champit Tatties

Toast to the Lassies
Lassies' Response

Salad of Baby Spinach, Mache and Watercress with Shanagarry Cream Dressing

More songs and poems:
To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough
A Red, Red Rose
Comin' Thro the Rye

Trifle with homemade Tayberry Jam and Fresh Local Kiwi

The cheeses were purchased at my favorite local cheese purveyor, Pastaworks (in City Market). I initially asked for Scottish cheeses, but they had none! In fact, they said, they only even knew of one. So I got an aged English cheddar (Borough Market), and then two other tried-and-true-though-not-Scottish favorites (Formaggio Crucolo and Fromager d'Affinois). It was a pretty white cheese layout, but at least there were one soft, one semi-soft, and one hard cheese.

The Cock-a Leekie soup was adapted from The Joy of Cooking. Here's how I made it:
5 large leeks
2 T butter
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.5 lbs)
1 C frozen homemade concentrated chicken stock
whole black peppercorns
few sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 C heavy cream

Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil in a 3.5 quart pot, add 10-12 black peppercorns, thyme and chicken and simmer until chicken is done (you could add more flavor-y stuff here, like carrot or celery or bay leaves, but I was lazy and didn't have any bay leaves anyway). Put chicken on a plate and cover with plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out, and let cool. Reserve cooking liquid. When chicken is cool, remove fat and other nasty bits, and shred with your fingers.

Cut root end (at widest part of "bulb") and green tops (where leaves turn all green and start to fan out) of leeks off. Cut remainder in half lengthwise and immerse in cool water. Separate the layers so you get all the grit out, then drain. Cut crosswise into 1/8-inch pieces. Heat dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot, then add butter. When foaming subsides, add leeks. Stir to coat with butter and start to soften, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are thoroughly wilted and a lovely chartreuse. Add homemade chicken stock, about six cups of reserved poaching liquid, and shredded chicken, and bring to a simmer. Adjust seasonings, and, just before serving, remove from heat and stir in cream.

The "Haggis" was really a meatloaf in puff pastry:

2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground veal
1 C steel-cut oats
2 eggs
1/2 t mace
1/2 t allspice
1/4 t cardamom
1/8 t ground cloves
salt and pepper
2 onions
leaves from several sprigs fresh thyme

Slice the onions thin and saute slowly in a little olive oil over low heat (separating rings) until caramelized (I usually add a little salt since it helps draw out the juices and move the process along). Preheat oven to 400. Mix all ingredients except pastry in a large bowl (I used my hands, or rather, one hand, since the thumb on the other hand was a mandoline casualty of onion slicing). Unfold sheets of puff pastry and roll on pastry cloth so they're about 16 inches wide (rolling only one direction and not turning dough). Arrange dough so long edges on one side overlap by about an inch, brush cold water in the overlap, and press to stick together. Put the meat on the dough and squish into a nice log, leaving space at the ends for the pastry to fold up. Then fold up ends and then long sides, brushing water on all the overlaps and pressing gently to stick together. Carefully roll "haggis" over and place on some kind of rack over some kind of sided pan (I used a broiler pan grill on a jelly-roll pan; the haggis hung just over the ends of the broiler pan). Cut a few slits in the top for steam to escape, cover loosely with foil, and roast in oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue cooking until pastry is browned, and center of loaf has reached 160-165 degrees. Let rest for a while (30 minutes? We took a lot longer because of the Burns biographical sketch) before cutting and serving.

The Bashed Neeps recipe came from Traditional Irish Cooking by Darina Allen:
1 lb turnips
1/2 lb onions, sliced thin
1-2 T olive oil
2-4 T butter
salt and white pepper

Saute onions in olive oil over low heat until caramelized, 30-40 minutes (I did the onions for the "haggis" and the neeps at the same time, natch). Peel turnips (I used a paring knife--the peels are thick) and cut into 1.5-inch pieces. Cover with water, add salt, and boil until tender. Drain, mash with the butter, stir in the onions, adjust seasonings, and serve.

The "Champit Tatties" were prepared according to the custom of our house: "orange" mashed potatoes, with sauteed chopped onions and red kale stirred in at the end.
4-5 lbs russet potatoes (I started out with a 5-lb bag, but there were lots of rotten spots)
3 largish garnet "yams"
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bunch red kale, stems removed, roughly chopped (any green will work, just adjust cooking time as necessary)
1-2 T olive oil
1-2 t bacon grease (from another dinner--I keep the leftover grease in the freezer)
1/2 C unsalted butter
1 1/2 C half-and-half (give or take--just enough to reach the right consistency)

Peel the potatoes and "yams," cut into two-inch pieces (in half for most of the russets), cover or nearly so with water, salt appropriately, and boil until tender (when stabbing them with a fork meets no resistance). While they're cooking, saute onions and kale together in the bacon grease and olive oil over medium-low heat until onion is soft and starting to brown and kale is no longer crunchy, then set aside. When potatoes are done, drain, add butter, and mash to desired consistency (I variously use a masher, a hand mixer or a food mill, depending on mood). Add half and half to make them just a little soupier than you eventually want them to be, since they'll keep absorbing liquid as they sit. Stir in reserved onions and kale, adjust seasonings and serve.

The salad dressing also came from Darina Allen's book. The trifle recipe leaned heavily on The Dessert Bible by Christopher Kimball (though the cake I made following a recipe in Cook's Illustrated). I didn't significantly change these recipes, but I'd be happy to pass them along if you really want me to. Trifle is one of those things that's hard to do wrong, so long as you use delicious components. I made a chiffon cake and cut it into four layers, then made two big jam sandwiches. Then I cut the sandwiches into small fingers, and used those for the cake layer. Then sliced halved kiwis (I put a row around the side of the bowl for a scallop effect), then the richest most decadent pastry cream ever (a dozen egg yolks, a quart of half and half, a cup of sugar, and then a cup's-worth of stiffly whipped cream folded into the chilled custard). Divine.

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