Oh Yes I Did!

I  bought a haggis!

My Plaid Heart is so happy right now.

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Before you say ‘eww’, what I bought isn’t actually authentic haggis.  You can’t get it in the U.S. because the FDA has strict rules about consuming lungs (gross you say?). What I purchased is made with lamb breast and beef liver. And of course, the traditional oatmeal, onion, and spices that make haggis such a distinctive Scottish food.  In days of old, haggis was encased in the lining of a sheep’s stomach (also a little gross – I admit), but that has also been modernized, with most haggis today presented in either an artificial casing or a casing similar to sausage.  Regardless, I’m pretty excited.  (And just for the record, if given the opportunitiy, yes…I would eat haggis made the traditional way.)

So where did I find this haggis, you ask.  Yesterday I had a fun little excursion thanks to an advertisement I found in my “Scottish Life” magazine.  Turns out, there is a wonderful Scottish food company called Scottish Gourmet USA that is based out of Greensboro, NC.  What??  That’s just a stone’s throw away.  I HAD to go!

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Founded in 2005 by Anne Robinson (who is married to a Scottish chef and hotelier from Inverness), Scottish Gourmet USA has grown into a very profitable mail order company specializing in fine Scottish foods.  In fact, they are now the biggest seller of haggis in the U.S.  And according to the reviews I read, it’s easy to see why.

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Because Scottish Gourmet USA is primarily catalogue based, you won’t find a fancy storefront.  In fact, the business is located off the road, out of sight, in a very nondescript brick office building.  One small sign (which I almost missed) points the way to the entrance.  If you visit, I’d recommend navigating your way there with your GPS.  They do have a small retail space so yesterday I decided to journey over.  Anne herself and her sweet dog Flora were there to welcome me and after I finished looking out front, Anne kindly offered to lead me back to the stock room to peruse the shelves and coolers which were teeming with additional Scottish delights.

Here is a peek at all of the yummies that found their way into my basket.

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I am very excited about my new ceramic thistle-imprinted shortbread pan.  Now I can bake in real style.

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I was also delighted to learn that they sell Scottish style bacon (trust me, you haven’t had bacon until you have eaten bacon made from the loin) as well as Finnan Haddie.  Which means I won’t have to go all the way to Florida every time I want to make Cullen skink – haha!

What a terrific find and a fun experience.  A taste of Scotland so close to home.  Who knew?

Till next time, friends.

Cheers,

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Recipe: Scottish Shortbread With Ginger

Hi everyone.  Glad you stopped by!

Anyone have a sweet tooth today?  Because if you do and are looking for something tasty to satisfy it, then you’re in the right place.

From Lorna Doone’s to the Girl Scout’s trefoils to the distinctive red, plaid boxes of Walker’s, there are many pre-packaged shortbread options from which to choose.  My personal favorite happens to be made by Shortbread House of Edinburgh – particularly the biscuits (cookies) with warming stem ginger.  Mmm mmm good.  Today I’m going to attempt to make my own version of their yummy treats.

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If you live in the U.S., these biscuits (cookies) can be purchased from Amazon and sometimes can be found in local shops.  Recently, I was thrilled to find a display of them for sale at World Market.

 

Once a luxury to the every day people of Scotland, shortbread began with medieval “biscuit bread” – that is, bread made with leftover biscuit dough.  Over time, the yeast in the bread was replaced by butter and eventually evolved into shortbread as we know it today.

Shortbread is traditionally made in three shapes:  a large circle divided into segments called shortbread petticoat tails, a rectangle cut into strips or bars called shortbread fingers, and round biscuits (cookies) called shortbread rounds.  I’m going to be making the rounds today.

Let’s begin!


Recipe:  Scottish Shortbread With Ginger 

*Recipe adapted from several that I found.

Set oven to 375°.

Please note:  A good kitchen scale is invaluable when it comes to British baking, as measurements are listed in grams.  My apologies to the American bakers who may have a little more difficulty in measuring the flour.

Ingredients:

•2 sticks (225g) butter  (Butter should be at room temperature.  Leave it out overnight.  Trust me on this.)

•4 oz (112.5g) caster (super fine) sugar  (Alternatively, you can use regular sugar and pulverize it with a mortar and pestle –  a less expensive and just as effective option.)

•1/2 lb (225g) sifted plain, all-purpose flour

•4 oz (112.5g) rice flour (Rice flour helps give your shortbread that perfect sandy texture.)

•3+ Tbsp. chopped crystallized ginger (This amount depends on how gingery you want your biscuits to be – Mr. C says more ginger is better!)

*I found the crystallized ginger at The Fresh Market here in the States.

•pinch of salt if desired – if using unsalted butter  (I forgot to add the pinch of salt and honestly didn’t even notice.)

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Recipe yields: 30 biscuits (cookies)

The Process:

1) Cover an un-greased baking sheet with non-stick, oven-proof parchment paper.

2) Sieve together the all-purpose flour, rice flour, and salt.  Sieving 2-3 times is best.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t take as long as it sounds.

3) In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar together.  Your arm will become very tired, but hey…biceps!

4) Stir crystallized ginger into the butter/sugar mixture.

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5) Using cold hands, combine the sifted flours with the butter/sugar mixture until you      have a soft dough.  You WILL think you screwed something up because at first it’s all a crumbly mess.  But keep working the dough and eventually everything will combine nicely.  Be very careful NOT to overwork the dough, though, because your end result will not be as good.  The faster you can do this and the lighter your touch, the better the texture of your biscuits.

6)  Using your hands, press the dough flat.  Take a small cookie cutter or glass roughly  1.5″ in diameter and cut out circles.  Place circles on lined baking sheet.  In my case, I didn’t have a small cookie cutter, so I just grabbed the shot glass.  Hey, also came in handy for pouring myself a wee dram.

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7)  Bake at 375° for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 360° and continue baking for an additional 5 minutes.  You may have to experiment with this, depending on your oven and your elevation.  This is what seemed to work best for me.  

Your biscuits are done when they lightly golden – not brown.  Be careful not to burn your bottoms!

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You could pinch around the edges if you wanted to make them look prettier.  Mine aren’t very fancy but they sure tasted good.

8)  Cool completely on a wire rack and enjoy.

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A cup of tea is a nice complement, but may I suggest pairing your biscuits with a dram of your favorite single malt?  A Scotch from the Speyside region goes especially well!

All in all, Mr. C and I were very pleased with how these turned out.  Next time I would definitely add another tablespoon or two of ginger and I might experiment with pinching the edges to make them look pretty, but other than that, there isn’t anything I would change.  Well, except to make even more!

Let me know if you decide to give these a try and tell me what you think.  Anything you would change or do differently?

Have a great week, friends.

Cheers,

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Recipe: Cullen Skink

Hello Friends,

Today’s recipe comes to you all the way from the great state of Florida!  No, not really.  It actually comes from the village of Cullen in Moray, Scotland.  I just had to go all the way to Florida to find the haddock.

I had been wanting to make Cullen skink soup for you for awhile and so I searched for the required fish at every single local grocery store here in Virginia.  None to be found, I was delighted when while on vacation, I spotted frozen haddock at the Publix in Panama City Beach, Florida.  I immediately bought two bags, packed them frozen and on ice, and took them back home with me in the car.  Using packaged frozen fish is probably not quite as good as fresh, but hey, be grateful for what you have.

So I’m guessing by now that you have realized that Cullen skink soup is not really made of skink.

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That’s a relief, huh?  The name kind of turned me off too at first.

What Cullen skink actually is, is a thick, Scottish soup made with the basic ingredients of haddock (a saltwater fish found in the North Atlantic), fullsizeoutput_114potatoes, and onions.  There are many recipe variations to be found, but the one constant is that the fish should be smoked.  Technically your haddock should be cold-smoked (imagine the flat vacuum-sealed packs of fish you find at the grocery store like lox), which means smoking it at less than 80 degrees.  You can find instructions for how to do this on the internet.  Since what I purchased was unsmoked, I turned to Mr. C to perform his magic at our kamado style smoker.

*Note:  We opted not to brine our haddock and to ‘cool-smoke’ over hickory chips at 200 degrees for about an hour instead. The end result was delicious – lightly smoked and only slightly cooked.

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Authentic Cullen skink is made with finnan haddie, haddock that has been cold-smoked over green wood and peat.

Once you smoke your fish, the soup is incredibly easy.  And so delicious!  Here is My Plaid Heart’s version of Cullen skink.

Ingredients:

2 – 10 oz. smoked haddock filets (we very lightly smoked ours at 200 degrees for about an hour); medium chop when cooled

4 small white potatoes, medium diced

2 leeks, medium diced

1 small yellow onion, medium diced

8 Tbsp. butter (I used Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter)

a generous amount of pepper; salt to taste

heavy cream-to taste

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How to make Cullen skink:

Step 1:  In a pot over low heat, melt 8 Tbsp. butter.

Step 2:  When the butter begins to simmer, add the onion.  Cook until soft 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  *Be careful not to caramelize the onion.

Step 3:  Add the leeks.  Cover and cook until soft, 1-2 minutes.

Step 4:  Add the potatoes, salt, and pepper.  Stir ingredients together, cover, and simmer for about 2 minutes.

Step 5:  Cover mixture with water.  Increase heat to bring back to a simmer.  Once simmering, turn heat down to low and let simmer for about 45 minutes (or until the water has boiled down below the tops of the mixture and the potatoes are soft).

Step 6:  Add cream to desired consistency.

Step 7:  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Step 8:  Add fish.  Bring to a simmer.

Step 9:  Garnish with chives and serve.  Serves 2-3.

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There you go.  Simple, hearty, and delicious!  If you decide to try this recipe, I would love to know how it turned out and what you think.  And my Scottish friends, I would also love to know how you make yours.

Have a terrific week, everyone.

Cheers,

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Off the Beaten Path: Redhouse Castle

Hello Friends.  Guess what?  It’s almost Friday!

Today I would like to take you to another ‘off-the-beaten-path’ place.  You probably know by now that those spots are my favorite.  There is something fun about seeing things that the typical tourist doesn’t know about.  Mr. C and I discovered this one completely by accident.  Today I’m going to take you to see Redhouse Castle.

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Redhouse is a 16th century castle ruin located about a mile from Longniddry in East Lothian, Scotland.  Mr. C and I were on our way to Tantallon Castle that day and as we whizzed by on the B1377, I remember shouting, “Wait!  Go back!  I think we just passed a castle!”  We turned the car around and sure enough, it was.  We were delighted to find that although on private property, the ruin sits adjacent to a small garden center with a lovely little tearoom.  We made a note to stop back by on our way home later that day.

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Despite sitting abandoned since just after the Jacobite uprising in 1745, Redhouse Castle remains remarkably well-preserved. The four-story, red sandstone tower house is missing its roof but the shell is still very much in tact, giving the visitor a sense of what it must have been like in its day.  The castle, which has been extended and altered from its original form, sits on a rectangular courtyard which once housed a garden within its walls.

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It is quite likely that during medieval times, Redhouse served as a hospital.  The property belonged to the Douglas family, however, the Laing family acquired it in 1607 – John Laing was the Keeper of the Royal Signet.

From the Laings, the castle eventually passed through marriage to the Hamilton family. But because of George Hamilton’s involvement in the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the property was forfeited and Hamilton – the last of his family – was executed for his part in the rebellion.   Redhouse fell into ruin, despite being purchased by Lord Elibank and then going to the Earl of Wemyss.

Today Redhouse remains privately owned which means it is not maintained by Historic Environment Scotland.  However, there is nothing prohibiting you from taking a peek at this fascinating piece of history.  (*Just be sure you understand that this is at your own risk.)

When you stop to see Redhouse, be sure to see the pretty things growing in the greenhouse and have a nice cup of tea at the tearoom.

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Redhouse Castle and the nursery and tearoom were a terrific discovery.  So glad we found ourselves on the B1377 that day!

Cheers,

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Burns Night

Greetings Readers,

Today is a big day in Scotland and for those of Scots descent around the world.  For today is January 25, the birthday of Scotland’s beloved national poet, Robert Burns.

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Also known as Robbie Burns, Rabbie Burns (my personal favorite), The Ploughman Poet, and the Bard of Ayrshire, Burns is one of Scotland’s most celebrated sons.  You may know him best as the man who first penned the words to ‘Auld Lang Syne‘.  And I’m sure you have heard the poetic verse: “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June”.  Perhaps you are familiar with Burns’ narrative poem, ‘Tam O’ Shanter’.  Or, maybe you have a fondness for one of Rabbie’s other 713 works (possibly more?), which range in topic from death and war, anguish and greed, from religion and politics, to love and sex (and many other topics in between).  There is certainly no shortage to choose from.  *Although archived and no longer updated, I discovered a BBC page dedicated to Burns that lists 716 poems and songs.  It allows you to search for works by title, season, theme, and year written.  Well worth a look if you are at all interested in Rabbie’s poetry.

Every January 25, Robert Burns is celebrated with the annual Burns Night Supper.  I have never had the good fortune to take part, but oh how I would love to!

So, what does a Burns Supper involve? Fun, I would imagine!

In a traditional gathering, after the guests are welcomed, the evening’s festivities commence with ‘The Selkirk Grace’ (written by Burns).


The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it,

But we hae meat and we can eat,

And sae the Lord be thankit.


This short prayer is followed by the exciting ‘piping in of the haggis’, a procession that includes the bagpiper, the chef, the haggis itself -which is carried in on a silver tray, and the individual who will deliver a rousing reading of ‘To a Haggis‘ (also by Burns).  After this ‘address to the haggis’, a ‘toast to the haggis’ is given, followed by the meal – traditionally a soup (such as cock-a-leekie), haggis, neeps and tatties, and something sweet (such as cranachan or clootie dumpling).  And, of course, there is whisky!

The meal is followed by entertainment centered around Burns’ work, 20180125_101339recognition of his accomplishments and a toast to his memory, a ‘toast to the lassies’, and a ‘reply to the toast of the lassies’ (rather cheeky, I would guess).  Finally, the evening concludes with the joining of hands as guests sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

Truly, doesn’t this sound like fun?

To those of you who celebrate Burns Night, I would love to hear about some of your traditions.  How do you celebrate at home?  Do you gather with family and friends?  Or do you prefer to celebrate in a more public venue?  Do you make foods other than the ones I named?  I look forward to reading your comments!

I invite you all to join me next time, when I will look deeper into the life of this man -this extraordinary literary figure- who captured a nation and the world.

Happy Burns Night!

Cheers,

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Prestonfield House

Hello Readers,

Hope everyone is well.  Today we are going to hang out in my favorite city – Edinburgh.  I booked us a champagne afternoon tea at luxurious Prestonfield House.  So touch up your lip gloss, Ladies.  Men, grab your wallets.  A warm welcome, fine dining, and hospitality awaits!

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When Mr. C and I travel to Scotland (or anywhere where we stay more than two or three nights, for that matter), we always prefer to rent a private residence rather than stay in a hotel.  It not only allows us the experience of living like locals, but it’s so much more pleasant and economical. A rental provides all the amenities of home – a laundry facility, plenty of room to spread out, and perhaps best of all – a fully equipped kitchen.

Oh, now don’t give me that look.  What, you don’t like to cook when you’re on vacation?  Haha -that’s okay.  Me either, actually.  But, luckily for me, Mr. C does!  And on top of that, his culinary skills are sublime.  He’s definitely a keeper.

While we enjoy lunches out on days of sight-seeing, we eat every breakfast and usually every dinner in.  We save a good bit of money that way and it also gives us a chance to explore the local fresh food offerings, whether from Tesco or from one of the wonderful farm shops.

That said, we do make an exception for one or two extra special dining experiences.  It is part of what makes a vacation fun, after all.  On our trip to Scotland this past year – upon recommendation – we chose historic Prestonfield House for that experience, and booked a champagne afternoon tea.

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Prestonfield as viewed from Holyrood Park.

Called Priestfield until the late 17th century, the stately home sits on the former site of a wealthy Cistercian monastery that was founded in 1150.  Priestfield (as it was called) changed hands several times over the centuries.  Some of its former residents include:  The Earl of Carrick (the son of King Robert II); the powerful Wardlaw family; Walter Chepman (printer to King James IV);  the Hamilton family; and Sir Robert Murray.

Sir James Dick, a Lord Provost of Edinburgh, purchased the land and estate in 1677.  Sir James happened to be a Catholic during the ascendancy of Protestantism, and shortly after his acquisition, an anti-Catholic student protest resulted in the burning down of the original Priestfield house.  Following that event, Sir James enlisted the king’s architect, Sir William Bruce, to design a lavish replacement and he changed the estate’s name to Prestonfield.

Today, this beautiful home, which sits only about five minutes from Edinburgh’s city center, is a luxurious five-star hotel with just 23 rooms.  It boasts an opulent restaurant called Rhubarb and contains exquisitely decorated private meeting spaces.  Over the decades, Prestonfield has welcomed dignitaries, writers, artists, and celebrities alike.  Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Elton John, and Sean Connery are just a few of the folks who have visited.  And don’t forget me and Mr. C!

Though we did not spend the night or dine in the restaurant, we did thoroughly enjoy our splendid afternoon tea in the ornate Tapestry Room.  Our servers were very kind and attentive, the food, teas, and glass of Billecart-Salmon Champagne were delicious, and for a couple of hours I kind of felt like Lady Wendy.  I think that’s a feeling I could probably get used to…

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A variety of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet treats, and savory bites.

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Choosing our teas from their varied selection.

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The ladies’ room.  Seriously.

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Ladies’ room.

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A peek into the dining room.

I hope you guys have enjoyed our little excursion today.  I’ll close by sharing a poem about Prestonfield House, written by the one and only Benjamin Franklin.

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Cheers,

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