Robbie Burns night

Hey! It’s the 200th entry! Woot!

Today, January 25th, is a pretty big day for two reasons. As I type this, the State of the Union is being delivered to millions of TV sets and will outline public policy in the U.S. for the next year. The other reason is one that is centuries old, and while it may only meet the amount of drinking as the first, it certainly yields good food: Robbie Burns Day.

Robert Burns is Scotland’s national poet, despite the fact that he died 215 years ago. His friends celebrated him after he died, then all of Scotland did, and now pockets of people all over the world do. There’s a program of events that involves readings, toasts, and of course lots of scotch drinking. We prepared a night of Scottish food and helped three people celebrate their first Robbie Burns night, which is always fun.

We started the evening with Scotch eggs, which I just tasted two years ago. They always seem to please. Of course, deep-frying anything is a pretty good way to make it enjoyable. We made it with a mustard sauce which I found here that was easy to make and matched the eggs very nicely. The recipe for Scotch eggs themselves didn’t come from that site, but from a book from way back titled The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors with the entertaining subtitle “Recipes you should have gotten from your grandmother” and is reproduced below. A note on the recipe: if you buy spiced sausage meat as we did, you’re good – the meat can elevate this dish from good to fantastic quite easily. If you buy unseasoned, use the seasoning in the link above – it looks pretty tasty and would have pretty much the same effect. Either way, seasoning is the way to go.

The haggis was next, with full pomp and poetry (my terrible Scottish accent got complimented, but only because I was the only one willing to read Address to a Haggis), along with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes, mashed and roasted) and peas (not a Scottish tradition, but some colour was needed). We ended up making Pretend Haggis, as 1) it’s very difficult to get the real haggis ingredients without lots of planning, and 2) our plan for haggis with some organ meat got put off by a butcher who didn’t order a heart. Fake haggis it is! It was still quite tasty – the oats provide a pleasant, different texture, and the lamb and liver gave a very different taste to the entire project. No picture, as it just looked like a meatloaf – no sheep stomach or sausage links to put it in.

tablet

Finally, we finished with Scottish shortbread and tablet, two treasures I discovered when I was in Scotland. The shortbread turned out great, though it wasn’t as buttery as I remember it from Scotland. I think they used twice as much butter as I did, and I used a lot of butter – butter makes any dessert heavenly. The recipe also came from The Frugal Gourmet book.

I was quite nervous about the tablet, though, which I got from A Wee Bit of Cooking, which is a really good cooking blog. There were lots of warnings in the recipe about how you could screw up, but somehow I managed to evade the dire predictions and have it turn out. I think the key is patience, low heat, and arm strength (for stirring). You can’t ever stop stirring and you have to be able to stay there and do that for up to an hour before you can walk away. That’s hard, especially if you have something else on the go. I did the shortbread first and was going to start the tablet while it was baking, but wisely decided to separate the two activities.

All in all, a successful meal and a successful celebration of Robert Burns. And maybe we’ll take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne!

Scotch Eggs

8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, at room temperature
1/4 c all-purpose flour
1.5 lb bulk pork sausage
1 c dry bread crumbs
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
6-8 c peanut oil for deep-frying (I used vegetable oil)

Coat each hard-boiled egg with flour. Divide the sausage into 8 equal parts (or just grab a bunch as needed and smash it out, like I did).
Make a patty out of each bit of sausage and use it to to each egg completely. Mix the bread crumbs, sage, and salt. Dip the sausage-coated eggs into the beaten eggs; roll in bread-crumb mixture.
Heat the oil to 375* for deep-frying. Deep-fry the eggs, 4 at a time, 7 minutes’ minimum. Drain. Serve hot or cold.

Scottish Shortbread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 c sugar
1/2 lb butter, softened

Place all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend well. If you have a heavy-duty electric mixer, cut in the butter with the machine. If not, do it by hand with a pastry blender.
Knead the dough by hand for just a moment and form it into a circle 3/4″ thick on a nonstick baking sheet and flute the edges (I had to put some flour down and roll it with a rolling pin, then use a thin plastic sheet to pry it up and place it on a baking sheet. Then again, I wanted a nice, smooth top. Definitely flute the edges, though.) Prick the whole circle with a fork. Bake in a preheated 325*F oven for 30 minutes or until it just begins to turn a light golden brown. Allow it to cool for a few minutes, then remove it to a rack for final cooling. When cool, the cookie can be cut, but the Scots simply break it up into pieces and serve it with tea.

If you wish to form smaller cookies from this recipe, just remember to watch the baking time. Smaller cookies will cook more quickly.

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