Scottish baps.

flag-mini-Scotland If you need an excuse to eat bacon and eggs, the Scottish bap is it.
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This simple (very few ingredients) and easy (uncomplicated, even novice bread makers can make these) soft yeast-raised "morning roll" with the floury top was practically born to be lightly toasted, buttered, and filled with crispy bacon and a nice runny-yolked fried egg. Oh, be still my heart!
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Your heart just might stand still forever if you make a regular event of breaking your fast on cholesteriffic bacon-and-egg filled Scottish baps (also known as "Scots" baps). But while you are feasting, you probably won't care, nor should you. This is treat and I'm sure you've earned it.
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After all, there's nothing wrong with taking the time to enjoy really good hearty foods every so often. You can't spend every second worrying that your favorite culinary pleasures might send you to an early grave, can you? Live in the toasty, buttery moment! Carpe breakfast sandwich!
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It was nigh on impossible learning the origins of the fun and unusual word "bap" and only slightly less challenging finding some history on baps themselves. Some sources hold that baps are well-established in the Scottish culinary repertoire. They are traditionally unsweetened in Scotland (the better for bacon and eggs, my dear ...) while the Irish version, by some accounts, is sweeter and studded with currants. Naturally further research yielded all kinds of regional variations, so I disclaim all inaccuracies herewith. And be careful how you bandy the word about over there"bap" is, according to the Irish slang site slang.ie, a crude term for breasts. If you go asking that nice tea shop girl for a couple of her best baps ... well, you've been warned.
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Isn't yeast-raised bread sort of amazing? I mean, take the basic combination of flour, yeast, water/milk, salt and sometimes sugar or honey, play with the quantities and preparation methods, and the result can taste so different with each recipe. One combination might yield high honey-kissed loaves perfect for sandwiches or toast, another makes crusty hole-riddled batons ideal for sopping up sauces and olive oil dressings. This recipe rewards you with not only soft flat(ish) baps, but also their stouter be-dimpled cousins called “Kentish huffkins." (There's another fun word for you!)
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According to my favorite Ultimate Bread book, the recipe for baps and huffkins is the sameit’s only the shape that varies: baps are oblong while huffkins are round and have an irresistible dimple in the middle. I divided the dough in half and made them both at the same time.
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However, in snooping around the webs I see many huffkin recipes (and some baps recipes as well) include a quantity of butter or lard that the Artisan Breads recipe didn't call for. Darnit, are my baps and huffkins inauthentic?
Kentish huffkins
Adding to this muddle, some recipes also call for poking a dimple into the middle of each bap, which my research suggests is unique to huffkins (posing uncooked, with dimples, above). So, dimple or no dimple?
Scots baps Kentish huffkins
I made my huffkins with and my baps without. (That's a traditional dusting of flour on those baps, by the way, to keep them from developing a crust while they cook.) After baking, we sliced the soft, undimpled baps, toasted them very lightly, buttered them generously, and filled them with fried bacon and eggs. One source describes such rolls as an "envelope for filling," and a tastier envelope there never was.
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Somehow, this simple roll combined with crispy bacon and fried egg is just ... simply ... delicious! There's absolutely nothing fancy going on here, and the result is supremely tasty and satisfying. There's no arguing that really great breadhowever basiccan make everything (even just butter) taste better.
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Baps could stand up to a variety of cheeses, sandwich meats, grilled chicken, tomatoes, pickles, sliced apples, mustards, smoked salmon, cream cheeseanything. Going sweet? Try them with butter and jam, peanut butter and honey, fruit butterswhatever the occasion calls for. And for the ultimate sandwich, a warmed bap with a few squares of quality dark chocolate tucked inside would, I have no doubt, rival any French baguette performing the same duty.
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I know for an indisputable fact I could exist on warm homemade bread with lashings* of butter accompanied by cups of rich hot chocolate or (decaffeinated) mochas for the rest of my days on this earth, however few that might end up being on such a diet. Bread really is the stuff (oops! staff) of life.

Now I wonder if you could put
Scotch eggs on a Scots bap?

*That's the Brit term for "lots and lots."

Scottish Baps

From
Ultimate Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno

3/4 cup lukewarm milk
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tsp. dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3-3/4 cups bread flour
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. milk, to glaze

Combine milk and water together (ideally in a glass measuring cup). Pour 1/2 cup of the mixture into a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and sugar into it, and let stand for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve. Stir in 1/2 cup of the remaining milk/water mixture (there should be 1/2 cup of the mixture left).

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast. Mix the flour into the dissolved yeast mixture, then stir in the reserved milk/water mix, as needed, to form a sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Put the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turn once to coat all sides of the dough with oil, and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down, then let rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a flat oval, about 1/2 inch thick. Place on a floured baking sheet (a small fine sieve with flour in it makes dusting the baking sheet easy). With the remaining 1 tbsp. milk, brush each bap with milk and sift a heavy dusting of flour over each.

Let the baps rise again, uncovered, until doubled in size
30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400º Fahrenheit. Bake baps for 15-20 minutes, until risen and golden. Remove to a wire rack, cover with a dish towel and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

As always, feel free to leave a comment.

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Atholl Brose: nectar of the Scots.

flag-mini-Scotland Until recently, I knew "Athole-Brose" as a dreamy, soaring song by the Cocteau Twins, a Scottish alternative rock band "known for complex instrumentation and atmospheric, non-lyrical vocals." Yep, Wikipedia summed them up nicely. The Twins' mysterious lyrics and quirky song titles like "Ella Megalast Burls Forever" and "Spooning Good Singing Gum" make for a pretty unique musical experience.
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But this post is about liquor, not music. The original Atholl (or Athole) Brose is a sweet-ish libation stirred up from three traditional Scottish ingredients--honey, oats, and whisky--into a creamy heady broth, or "brose." Whiskipedia (the encyclopedia of whiskey!) explains that "... brose is a Scottish form of brewis or broth, deriving from the Middle English browes ... Brose is oatmeal with boiling water or milk poured over it, and Atholl Brose is a mixture of oatmeal, whisky and honey." NOTE: Whisky = Scotland ... WhiskEy = everyone else.
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Sound weird and unappetizing? You're right ... it DOES sound weird and unappetizing. However, if you like Irish cream type liqueurs, you'll probably like Atholl Brose. And remember that oats are a heart-healthy superfood, so you might actually live longer quaffing some Atholl Brose now and then. Or daily.
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Some Atholl Brose recipes call for just the oats, whisky and honey, resulting in a clear(ish) brew, and some add measures of heavy cream for a slightly more substantial liqueur. If the cream is whipped and mixed with toasted oats, the Brose becomes dessert. In the interest of truly thorough research, I made both.
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For lack of a better term, oatmeal gets sort of goopy while it's cooking, but it's the goop that helps create an oatmeal "liquor" which is the base for Atholl Brose. Soaking rolled oats in water for a short time, then straining and pressing out the liquid, yields an opaque, oaty essence that comes to life with honey and whisky (who wouldn't!).
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I found that rolled oats were best as they produce more of the essence (goop, if you will) than steel cut oats, which is my new favorite oatmeal.
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If this talk of oatmeal is giving you flashbacks to gluey gray globs served by your ever-lovin' mum on cold school mornings, wait! it gets better, honest. Once the oatmeal essence is extracted, stir in some honey (the clover variety is fine, but if you can get your mitts on Scottish heather honey all the better), a slug of whiskey (again, Scottish whisky would be swell but I used Irish Bushmills--highly recommended by my father-in-law for novice whiskey drinkers like us) and some heavy cream. Mix, chill, pour, sip ... ahhh. It might remind you of egg nog, although it's not nearly so thick and sweet, and it would be fine sprinkled with some cinnamon or nutmeg--like a drunken oatmeal cookie. But it's tasty all on its own.
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When you crave something fluffier and desserty, whip up the cream first, then beat in the honey-whisky mixture and stir in some toasted rolled or steel cut oats. Top with a few berries and a sprinkling of oats. You'll have a sweet whisky cream with some pleasant chewy substance to it.
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As for what put the Atholl into this brose ... back in the mid(ish) 1400s in or around Blair Atholl, Perthshire--smack in the middle of Scotland--the 1st Earl of Atholl was at the business end of a Highland rebellion being carried out by the 11th Earl of Ross. Knowing his Scottish kinsmen's taste for spirits--and oats, and honey--the Earl of Atholl poured all three down a well that the Earl of Ross liked to drink from, creating an irresistible and intoxicating nectar: Atholl's Brose! I can't help but think that was an awful waste of good pantry staples. But sure enough, No. 11 drank the heavenly mixture until he was sufficiently impaired and easily captured by No. 1. Hooray! What this means in the vast history of Scotland, I'm not sure, but since my mother discovered we are distantly connected to the lineage of Atholl and the Clan Murray, I'm siding with the 1st Earl on this one. A visit to Blair Castle will certainly be on our Scotland itinerary someday.
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When you're done here, scuttle over to YouTube and have a listen to "Athole-Brose." Then stir--or whip--up a batch of Atholl Brose, and feel your oats. You just might feel a bit friskier after a helping!
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I found this recipe for Atholl Brose via Kate Shea Kennon of BlogCritics.org. She says it is "attributed to the Royal Scots Fusiliers from André Simon's 1948 A Concise Encyclopædia of Gastronomy: Section VII, Wines and Spirits." The oats need to steep overnight, so start the recipe the day before you want to sip. How those fusiliers found the time to mix up Atholl Brose I don't know, but I imagine it kept them warm and satisfied during cold military marches.

Atholl Brose Liqueur
Makes one serving--can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or multiplied as needed to fill up a well

1/2 cup oatmeal, ideally "old fashioned" rolled oats (not instant)
1-1/2 cups cold water
3-1/2 oz. whiskey
2-1/2 oz. cream (heavy whipping or half-and-half)
1/2 oz. (1 tablespoon) honey

Mix oatmeal and cold water in a jar or measuring up; cover and let steep overnight. The next day, place a mesh strainer or two thicknesses of cheesecloth over a bowl. Pour the mixture into the strainer or cheesecloth, catching the liquid in the bowl. Press as much of the liquid from the oats into the bowl as well.

Give the resulting liquid a good stir, then pour 3-1/2 oz. of it into a large glass. Add the whiskey, cream and honey. Stir together well. Recipe can be doubled, because you want to share the brose with a friend, right?

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Whipped Atholl Brose
4 servings, more or less

The whipped version is equally tasty, with chewy nuggets of toasted oatmeal to keep your mouth busy and your tummy satisfied. It works beautifully as a dessert. Recipe adapted from
Foodness Gracious, a California food blogger. He's a Scottish ex-pat, so he must know what he's talking about. Hopefully the heart-healthy effects of oatmeal counter the heavy cream. Don't think about it! Just eat and enjoy.

1/3 cup rolled "old fashioned" (not instant) or steel cut oats
1-1/4 cups whipping cream
3 tbsp honey
2-3 tbsp whiskey


In a large non-stick skillet, carefully toast the oats over medium heat until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove pan from heat and pour toasted oats into a small bowl.

Pour whipping cream into a medium bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer on high speed until it forms soft peaks. Mix the honey and whiskey together until the honey dissolves; pour into the whipped cream and continue beating a few more minutes. The cream should still be soft, not stiff. Stir in the toasted oats. Chill for 30 minutes and serve in small bowls. Top with berries, a sprinkle of oats, thin cookies (Pepperidge Farm
Bordeaux cookies would be nice) or whatever inspires you.

Tha sin glè mhath! (Scottish Gaelic for "Excellent!" Or so I'm told.)
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Feel your (steel-cut) oats.

flag-mini-Scotland flag-mini-Ireland An Englishman and a Scotsman were discussing oats. The Englishman, with his nose in the air, said, "In England we feed oats to our horses, and in Scotland you feed oats to your men." To which the Scotsman replied "That's why in England you have such fine horses ... and in Scotland we have such fine men!"

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The weather is cooling off wonderfully here in the midwest. After yet another hot, humid summer, it’s bliss sleeping through the night under a warm flannel sheet with the window open, and waking up with an appetite for hot cereal, especially a bowl of my new favorite--steel cut oats.
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Remember those gooey, comforting globs of (by the time you got to the table cold) rolled oats you had for breakfast before school? Such memories! These are different and, in some ways, better and more grownup. Steel cut oats have a nice chewy texture with some of the familiar and comforting gooeyness, but much less glueyness, of regular oatmeal. They also take longer to cook--steel cut oats are whole oat groats chopped (well, cut) into little nubs rather than steamed (essentially pre-cooked) and flattened like rolled oats, so it takes a while for boiling water to plump them up: about 30 minutes, and well worth the wait.
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The long cook time for steel-cut oats means they’re not exactly a convenient work day breakfast. They require some patience and stirring (clockwise, according to tradition), better for a slow Sunday morning while sipping your coffee or tea. To enjoy them during the week, I make a batch before bedtime by boiling water and oats together for 10 minutes, then turning off the heat, covering the pan with a lid, and letting it sit overnight. By morning the oats have absorbed the remaining water and all that’s needed is a few minutes of re-heating. Leftovers are plopped into a plastic container and stored in the fridge--they heat up nicely on the stove or in the microwave.
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Oats like cool, wet weather so they thrive in the U.K. as well as countries like Russia, Canada, Finland, Poland and the American midwest. And although Scotland grows more barley than oats, oatmeal seems to strongly characterize Scotland’s culinary culture, alongside heather honey, whisky, and salmon. Scottish and Irish cookbooks are full of recipes calling for oats--pheasant, herring and fish cakes rolled in oats, leek soup thickened with oats, an oatmeal-onion stuffing called skirlie, fruit crumbles, boiled puddings, bannocks, cranachan, oatcakes, the hearty oats-whisky-honey liqueur known as atholl brose (blog post coming soon!), haggis, stout, and of course traditional oatmeal porridge.
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For an authentic Scottish oatmeal experience, use a wooden spurtle--an approximately foot-long stick with a rounded tip used to stir the oats while they cook (that rounded tip helps you keep cooked oats from hiding in the corners of the pan). Then only salt on your cooked oats, no brown sugar or milk, and each spoonful is dipped into a separate bowl of cream before eating.
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I hope the Scots forgive me for not following those serving rules--what is oatmeal without my splash of evaporated milk and drizzle of honey or some brown sugar? Sometimes a sprinkling of toasted walnuts, and when the price is right a handful of blueberries or blackberries. That would be three "superfoods" in one bowl! Oats, blueberries and walnuts are superfoods--that is, they are not only awesome because they taste so good, but they are extra awesome because they have been proven to do super things for your health. Oats, for example, help lower cholesterol and have minimal impact on your blood sugar, while blueberries and walnuts have antioxidant and anti-imflammatory benefits to help prevent cancer and other diseases. You could just about almost live forever eating superfoods. (NOTE: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. But it's true--forever. Almost.)
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We've been eating oatmeal throughout the summer (except when it was, like, 97 hot humid degrees out) and it is all the more satisfying now that fall is here. And this winter, when the weather turns truly frosty, I may even add a warming slug of whisky to each bowl. Although it's possible I might not wait until then.

P.S. You've seen those nice looking cans of McCann's Irish Oats on grocery store shelves, yes? The ones that go for oh, about $4.50 per pound? Well here's a secret: you can get bulk steel cut oats at Whole Foods for $1.39 a pound. Bargain! That won't take your whole paycheck. You'll live longer and have more money in the bank. Oatmeal is super, indeed.

Steel Cut Oats, Two Ways

Way 1 (30-minute method):
Serves 4, recipe can be halved

4 cups water
1 cup steel cut oats
dash of salt

Bring water to boil in medium to large saucepan. Add oats and bring to a boil again. Let mixture bubble and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally (with a spurtle, if you've got one!). Reduce heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 20 minutes. Serve hot with milk, cream, yogurt, honey, sugar, bananas, berries, etc.

Way 2 (overnight method):
Serves 4, recipe can be halved

4 cups water
1 cup steel cut oats
dash of salt

Bring water to boil in medium to large saucepan. Add oats and bring to a boil again. Let mixture bubble and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally--clockwise of course. Remove from heat, cover with lid, and allow to stand overnight on stove or in refrigerator. In the morning the oats should have fully absorbed the remaining water. Warm oats over medium heat (or in the microwave, if you must). Serve with the usual toppings.

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Pasta with smoked salmon cream.

flag-mini-Scotland Salmon is my favorite fish. It's so pretty and meaty and tasty, no splintery bones to deal with, and it goes with just about everything you can think to serve it with, except perhaps chocolate. Although ... hold it ... a quick Google search and ... anyone for salmon goat cheese wraps with chocolate ganache? salmon with white chocolate sauce? hot chocolate salmon pancakes? (I might actually try that one.) If those are all too weird how about a nice fish-free solid chocolate salmon.
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Smoked salmon, I have to say, is a bit of a different story. As a rule, I don't like smoked fish. I don't really like smoked anything, not even barbecued potato chips! They're too smoky, and on my tongue that smoke flavor obliterates the taste of the actual food. I do like cheddar potato chips and cheese just about everything ... even, surprisingly, smoked Gouda (I think) and Blarney (although I can never find it anywhere).
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Ah, but Einstein Bagels' smoked salmon cream cheese (or "shmear" as they call it) has nudged me ever so slightly in the direction of smoked salmon. I could eat bowlsful of that stuff! It's more than wonderful on toasted Everything bagels, with extra Everything sprinkled on top. (I make my own Everything -- poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried garlic and onion, kosher salt all lightly toasted in a skillet and stored in a jar.) We finally stopped ordering puny little sides of salmon cream cheese whenever we venture into Einstein's -- now we grab a full-on 8 oz. container of it and spread it with abandon.
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Despite the "smoked" part, this Pasta with Smoked Salmon, Cream, and Dill recipe has beckoned to me ever since I opened the May 2004 "A Taste of Scotland" issue of Bon Appetit. I have a weakness for pasta with some sort of creamy sauce (and a few twists of black pepper and grated parmesan cheese). Now that I've had a bit of exposure to smoked salmon, I'm finally ready to give this dish a try.
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Like Salmon with Watercress Sauce, this dish is reasonably quick and easy to make, and requires just a few ingredients, nothing fancy. The recipe calls for 12 ounces of smoked salmon -- that felt a bit much to me so I bought two of those skinny li'l 4-ounce packets from the fish department at the grocery store, and for this smokeless gal the dish would have been just fine with only one. Four ounces of smoked salmon pack a LOT of smoky flavor! For me, anyway.
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The smoked salmon is chopped or slivered, sauteed in butter (yum!) then further cooked in heavy cream (forget about fat and calories at this point), stirred into cooked penne pasta and topped with fresh dill. It's like fast food, and is quite tasty! Although I confess it was still too smoky for me, even after cutting down the salmon by half. I'm obviously very sensitive to smoked fish. My Sweet Husband, on the other hand, eats smoked salmon straight up (must be his Scottish heritage) -- it was not too smoky for him. When I make this dish again, I will either poach the smoked salmon first in a small amount of milk, then pour off that milk and skip straight to the cream and dill mixture in the skillet, bypassing the butter. Or combine maybe two ounces of smoked with slivers of fresh salmon, to allow some of the smoky salmon flavor into the dish but not too much.
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The recipe comes from Valvona and Crolla, a family-owned Italian grocery, cafe and wine bar in Edinburgh, Scotland that is well known throughout the U.K. I first heard of V&C from the 44 Scotland Street stories by Alexander McCall-Smith. As Sweet Husband and I both descend from Scottish ancestors, eventually we'd like to take an official honeymoon (it's been three years already!) to the motherland. Even if that honeymoon is a long way off, for now we can eat like we're on Elm Row in the heart of Edinburgh.
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Hopefully we'll get a chance to personally tell the V&C folks how much we enjoyed their salmon pasta back in the U.S. Slainte!

Feel free to leave a comment about smoked salmon, pasta, salmon and chocolate, Scotland, bagels and cream cheese, or whatever inspires you.


* * * * *

Pasta with Smoked Salmon, Cream, and Dill
Adapted from a Valvona & Crolla recipe appearing in
Bon Appetit "A Taste of Scotland" issue, May 2004

9 ounces dried penne, linguine, or your favorite pasta

1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces smoked salmon (or up to 12 ounces*, depending on your preference for smoked salmon),
chopped into bite sized pieces or cut into 1/3-inch-wide strips
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whipping cream
1 teaspoon tomato paste
3 teaspoons chopped fresh dill, divided
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.

While pasta is draining, melt butter in large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add salmon and cook until fish turns light pink, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Stir in cream and tomato paste. Cook until sauce is heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons dill and the cayenne pepper. Mix pasta into sauce (or pour sauce into pasta), adding pasta cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls as needed to moisten. Divide pasta among 4 plates or shallow bowls. Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon dill and serve.

*If using more than 4 ounces of salmon, increase butter to about 1 tablespoon per four ounces of fish.


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Salmon with watercress sauce.

flag-mini-Ireland It’s no surprise that countries surrounded by ocean and streaked with freshwater rivers and streams count seafood as a culinary staple. Through poems, fairy tales, history books and movies, I have come to associate fish like cod, mackerel, haddock, herring and flounder with Merrie Olde England.
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But the fish that shows up most commonly in my British cookbooks and magazines is rosy salmon, which looks and taste delicious no matter how it's prepared. And it’s almost always draped in sauce or dolloped with mayonnaise made beautifully green from rocket/arugula, parsley, watercress, sorrel, spinach or some other green leafyness.
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According to the
Scottish Salmon Producers' Organization, salmon is the U.K's most popular fish ordered in restaurants and purchased by consumers for preparing at home. The site also emphasizes how all those Omega 3's in salmon (up to 5 grams in an 8-oz. fillet) "help to develop and maintain our eyesight ... and conditions such as schizophrenia, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and even protect against sunburn, strokes and some types of cancers, as well as positive effects on the immune system and in mitigating the symptoms of arthritis." Protect against sunburn? Count me in! They do have some tempting salmon recipes, especially that Salmon Omelette. But wait -- don't leave yet ... there's more here.
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We
love salmon, so recently I picked a recipe with sauce made from watercress and cream out of my favorite "The Romance of Ireland" issue of Bon Appetit from May 1996. (It will take me a good long time to experiment with all the tasty recipes in that edition.) This recipe, like so many from this issue, is not available at the Bon Appetit site so I'm including it below.
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The recipe couldn't be simpler, with a whopping
five ingredients in all: butter (yum!), shallots, watercress, whipping cream, and salmon fillets. As usual, I did some skimping: in lieu of shallots I used up half an onion from the veggie drawer, and substituted a combo of evaporated milk and half-and-half for the whipping cream.
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Butter lover that I am, I'd rather have the butter called for in the recipe than the fat and calories from whipping cream. In some cases. The recipe is meant to serve 8, but I was able to easily halve the sauce recipe and cook up just two salmon steaks. Even for 8, this wouldn't take much time or effort and requires minimal prep -- mincing shallots (or onions), a small amount of watercress trimming, then sauteeing, blending, and poaching (or broiling, grilling, I opted for frying) the salmon.
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I was craving the golden color and crispiness that frying (in a combo of butter and olive oil) lends to the salmon, but in the future I might opt for the healthier method of poaching or grilling. Salmon doesn't take long to cook, even these fat fillets. You can cook them until just done, then let them finish cooking on a plate so they'll be perfectly moist and tender. Oh my mouth is watering just thinking about it!
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The sauce was bright and fresh, both in color and flavor, and complemented the salmon beautifully. We had lots of leftover turmeric-tinted rice with peas from the
Chicken Tikka Masala prepared earlier that week, which made for a colorful and dee-licious early summer dinner with chilled white wine. Lately we've taken to gulping down glasses of Three (formerly Two) Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's. We are always on the lookout for wine bargains, but we feel like we're stealing this stuff. Our wine rack is full! And we're happily wine buzzed. Now, Evanston, when the heck are you going to open a Trader Joe's here??
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Salmon is so pretty.


Salmon with Watercress Sauce
From Bon Appetit, May 1996 "The Romance of Ireland" issue
Serves 8 (but halves nicely)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
2 large bunches watercress, tough ends trimmed
1-1/2 cups whipping cream

8 8-ounce salmon fillets with skin

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallots and saute until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add watercress and stir until wilted and still bright green, about 3 minutes. Add cream. Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Remove from heat. Puree hot sauce in blender until almost smooth. Transfer to heavy small saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Refrigerate.)

Butter 2 steamer racks and place in 2 large saucepans over simmering water. Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Place salmon, skin side down, on steamer racks. Cover saucepans and steam until salmon is just opaque in center, about 10 minutes.

Whisk sauce over low heat to re-warm. Transfer salmon to platter. Spoon some of the sauce over salmon. Garnish with additional watercress. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately.

Enjoy!

And please please feel free to leave a comment below, whether you are friend or foe. Let's talk about food!

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Chicken Tikka Masala.

flag-mini-british flag-mini-Scotland Chicken Tikka Masala sits atop a culinary tree sprouting from a one simple word: tikka. In Hindi, it means "bits, pieces." From there, it grows to "chicken tikka" -- chicken marinated in seasoned yogurt and broiled in a clay tandoor (or a really hot oven). One can conclude that either pieces are marinated and broiled, or the cooked chicken is cut into pieces. And finally, Chicken Tikka Masala is those bits and pieces of broiled marinated chicken simmered in a tomato-based sauce seasoned with aromatic Indian spices such as coriander and garam masala. Sound good?

Behold!
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What, you ask, does this Indian dish have to do with that little British flag at the top of this blog post? Well, like Kedgeree, Chicken Tikka Masala (henceforth "CTM") comes together as a sort-of hybrid of British and Indian cuisines, and its exact origins are sketchy. Some say it was created in Punjab sometime in the past 50 years, while others believe it came about -- some say in Glasgow, some say in 1970's London -- when a Brit decided his chicken tikka was too dry and "demanded" some British-style gravy to go with it. The annoyed Indian chef, so the tale goes, mixed Campbell's tomato soup with spices and yogurt to create a creamy, fragrant tomato sauce that, when mixed with chicken tikka, would go on to become one of Britain's most popular restaurant dishes.
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I discovered CTM only recently and was curious to find out how easily makeable it was. My first attempts to make Indian food were inspired by my purchase of
The Vegetarian Table: India by Yamuna Devi. That was probably inspired by my then 8-year-old son's decision to become a vegetarian. He was earnest in his desire not to eat animals (it was a revelation to learn bacon was meat, let alone that it came from pigs), so I bought a few vegetarian cookbooks, including one specifically geared for kids.
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In truth, after a week or so his craving for meat revisited him, and although he hopped back on the veggie bandwagon a few times -- wrestling with the animal flesh issue -- he has made peace with being a carnivore. But it was fun going through the books and coming up with ways to keep meat out of our meals. I donated most of the veg cookbooks (but kept
Simple Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin -- it's a good one), and truly regret not hanging onto that Indian cookbook (although I see it for $1.90 at Amazon!).
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At the time I found Indian food UNBELIEVABLY TIME-CONSUMING. I made
one Indian meal for the two other single moms and their kids who lived in our building, and I swear it took me three days from start to finish, what with sauteeing spices, marinating things in yogurt, seeding jalapenos, chopping fresh fruit, toasting sesame seeds and so on. Indian women must be absolute masters at engineering the advanced prep that goes into cooking for their families. I salute them. The meal I made was delicious (if I say so myself), but I was utterly spent afterward and vowed I would thenceforth eat Indian food only in restaurants.
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Chicken Tikka Masala won't take you three days to cook, I promise. It's not exactly fast food, but if you
buy garam masala (yes I made mine, lo those many years ago -- pan-toasted the spices and ground them up in an old coffee maker--took some time but good golly it smelled amazing!) and don't aspire to anything so slow-food as slaughtering your own chickens and culturing yogurt from scratch, it shouldn't take more than a few hours on a weekend afternoon. If you're ambitious, you'll have time to slip a batch of naan in there too.
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The absolute best part of cooking CTM is frying the fragrant spices until your kitchen, nay your entire house, smells so heady and heavenly you'll think you died and went to Delhi. Then it only gets better when you add tomatoes, spicy peppers, tomato paste or sauce, and a bit of cream. You'll want to eat the air above your stove.

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The yogurt-marinated chicken breasts broiled quickly and very nicely in the oven. It's a poor substitute for an actual tandoor, 'tis true, but one makes do with the tools at hand. When the broiled chicken pieces cool, cut them into tikka cubes.
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There are so many versions of CTM, each just slightly different from the next, and it was hard choosing one. I finally combined a recipe from Pioneer Woman's site (actually a guest post from the VERY cool Pastor Ryan) with one from Mrs. Wheelbarrow (how fun is that name!). I do that. Sometimes I faithfully follow a recipe, especially when it involves the chemistry of successful baking. But with cooking, I tend to tinker a bit -- tweaking this, adding that, omitting this, increasing that to suit my tastes. Since there doesn't seem to be a definitive CTM recipe, I'm not worried about being authentic and did make some minor adjustments to the two combined recipes.
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The Pioneer Woman/Pastor Ryan recipe includes directions for gorgeous golden turmeric rice with a cup of frozen peas. I cut the amount of turmeric down to two teaspoons and feel I could have gone down even more. A subtle gold colored rice, instead of blazing yellow, would have been equally appetizing, I think.
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Add a plate of buttered (my favorite!) freshly pan-cooked naan -- the recipe I used doesn't require activating yeast or proofing the dough (well sort of -- you let it sit for two hours but it doesn't really rise), and you just might believe you're at your favorite Indian restaurant. Or somewhere in London or possibly Glasgow.
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Britain's Food Service Intelligence (like the CIA for food? ) reports that Chicken Tikka Masala is the most popular dish ordered in restaurants throughout the U.K. And the late Robin Cook, a British Member of Parliament, proclaimed in 2006 that "Chicken Tikka Masala is now a true British national dish ... it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy." I'm not clear on whether everyone agrees with Cook that CTM should usurp, say, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding as a national culinary treasure, but it sounds like a lot of people are eating it over there.

For hoots, check out the
Little People Project's whimsically weird "Chicken Tikka Disasta."

Chicken Tikka Masala
Serves a small crowd, or 2 for several days running

3-4 chicken breasts
Kosher or other sea salt
Ground coriander
Ground cumin
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 Tablespoons butter or canola oil
1/2 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2-3 teaspoons garam masala, or more to taste
2” piece of warm/hot (but not scorching) chile pepper, such as Anaheim, sliced thinly
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes OR for creamier sauce 1 14-oz. can finely diced tomatoes plus 1 14-oz. can tomato sauce
1-2 Tablespoons sugar

1-1/2 cups light cream, skim evaporated milk, or fat free half-and-half (use heavy cream if your doctor has advised you to get more fat in your diet)

2 cups basmati, jasmine rice or other rice
1-2 teaspoons ground turmeric
sprinkling of salt
1 cup frozen or thawed green peas (optional)

Chopped parsley or cilantro (otional)

Make chicken: Sprinkle chicken breasts with ground coriander, cumin, and small amount of kosher salt on both sides. Stir lemon juice into yogurt and mix thoroughly. Brush over both sides of chicken breasts and let sit snuggled together in a pie plate for 30-60 minutes. (Good time to start chopping veggies.) Transfer to foil-lined baking pan and set about 10-12 inches below broiler heat/flame. Cook completely on both sides, allowing them to char and bubble a little. Keep an eye on them! Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once cool, cut into bite-sized cubes.

Make sauce: While chicken is cooling, heat 2 tablespoons of butter or oil in a large skillet. Add onions and sautee until lightly browned. Add garlic, ginger, garam masala, and sliced chiles. Stir together for a minute or two. Pour in the can of chopped tomatoes, or tomatoes plus sauce, and 1 Tablespoon sugar. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then taste to see if it needs the other tablespoon of sugar. (You don’t want it sweet, but the sugar can balance the spices and heat of the chile.) Add cubed chicken to sauce and let simmer over low heat while you finish up everything else.

Make rice: in a large sauce pan add rice, a dash of salt ,1-2 teaspoons of turmeric (depending on how yellow you want the rice to be) and recommended amount of water (probably around 4 cups). Cook according to directions for the rice you are using. When rice is almost done, toss in a cup of frozen or thawed peas. This makes a lot of rice, but we found it to be just right for the amount of leftovers.

Serve hot Chicken Tikka Masala over or next to the lovely green-pea-studded golden rice along with warm naan. Cheers!

As always, feel free to leave a comment below.

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Kedgeree.

flag-mini-british Scottish flag Monarch of the Glen, a BBC series filmed in the dreamy Scottish Highlands, introduced me to a strange new word: “kedgeree.” It was a dish the show’s characters -- the once wealthy but nearly bankrupt MacDonald family -- occasionally enjoyed at their manorly breakfasts alongside tea, toast, jam and cream. But I couldn't figure out what they were spooning out of that silver chafing dish! Kedgeree was some weirdly named mystery.
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I finally took to the web and learned that kedgeree (kedge-er-ree), according to the British Food Trust (and many other sources), consists of poached fish -- traditionally, smoked Findon (a Scottish fishing village) haddock known as “Finnan haddie” -- mixed with rice, butter, chopped hardboiled eggs, curry powder and parsley. It is thought to have evolved from the Indian rice-and-lentil dish khichdi (pronounced kitch-ri), possibly during the period of British colonial rule in South Asia known as the British Raj. Its association with Scotland originates with the belief that a Scottish regiment brought a version of the dish with them to India, where it evolved under Asian influence and was returned to the U.K. with exotic additions such as curry, fresh ginger and hot green chile. I'll let those who know the truth duke it out over kedgeree's true origins, but its Anglo-Indian history cannot be disputed: curry is definitely not a native British flavoring.
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Until recently, you could not get me anywhere near smoked fish -- smoked anything -- let alone eating fish of any kind for breakfast. I’m a devoted high-fiber-breakfast-cereal-with-milk girl, willing to eat toast, eggs, fruit, french toast, pancakes or whathaveyou when mid-morning hunger sets in on the weekends.
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But episodes of Monarch -- featuring deep blue Scottish lochs, rolling green Highland hills, misty moors, rustic stone crofts, a few kilts, some Scottish burr, occasional bagpiping, and the opulent 19th-century Glen Bogle estate -- made me homesick for the motherland-I've-never-seen and sparked my willingness to try kedgeree. Plus, just looking at all that brisk Highland air makes me hungry! If my British ancestors ate haddock for breakfast, then so shall I.
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Alas, smoked haddock is not a standard grocery item in these parts, and mail ordering it is not for the thin of wallet -- a whopping $23 per pound, with shipping, for fillets imported from Scotland. Ach, cannae do it. So for my first kedgeree attempt I settled on a pound of more budget-friendly tilapia fillets, but for future versions I’ll try a combination of smoked ($$!) and fresh (not as $$) salmon, or whatever fresh fish looks good and is reasonably bone-free, until I can find those authentic Finnan haddies without having to peddle family heirlooms on eBay.
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Recipes for kedgeree range from mild to fancy (three kinds of salmon!) to fragrantly seasoned with cumin and heady garam masala. It calls for hardboiled eggs, but I cheated and whipped up two poached ones -- they're a bit faster.
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I started with Jamie Oliver’s recipe, because, well check out the photo at his site. It's so appetizing! He had me at those pretty slivers of spicy red pepper and flecks of mustard seed. But of course I had to make a few wee changes, so my modified recipe is below. For example, I halved the curry powder to keep it from overwhelming the dish, added green onions, used a spicy green Anaheim pepper (couldn't find a red one), and used butter in place of butterghee, which requires a trip across town (file under "laziness").
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And instead of including steps for cooking the eggs and rice, I’m including those as already prepared ingredients. Both can be easily boiled up while you are chopping, measuring and poaching, but the whole thing comes together pretty quickly if you’ve made them in advance. I also added a few tablespoons of the poaching milk at the very end, to moisten things up and give it just the slightest creaminess.
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If you’re hip to smoked salmon for brunch (with or without bagels, onions, cream cheese and capers) you’re already used to fish in the morning, and now I'm hooked, too. Kedgeree is lovely any time of day -- it's light enough for a summer morning yet satisfying on a cold, rainy afternoon. The recipe can be easily tinkered with so add more curry or garlic, less onions, a cup of peas, a dash of nutmeg, some garam masala, more eggs, no eggs, more heat, no heat -- whatever strikes your fancy.
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Isn't it pretty? I promise you it tastes as good as it looks. The final word(s) is that kedgeree is versatile, easy to make and delicious comfort food that is truly suitable for any meal of the day. I know this because we ate it for breakfast -- or, more accurately, “second breakfast” -- and dinner. On the same day. And would have had it for dessert if there had been any left.

Kedgeree
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Serves 6 (or in our case, 2, twice)

1 to 1-1/2 pounds smoked haddock (traditional)
OR your favorite fish (try salmon, trout, tilapia), smoked ... or not
2 bay leaves
Milk (skim or 2%)

3-4 tablespoons butter
1” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (or more, if desired)
1/2 bunch of green onions, sliced (white and light green parts only)
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tablespoon yellow curry powder (add more or less, to taste)
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 14-oz. can chopped tomatoes, drained
OR 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped and seeded
Juice of 1 lemon, about 1/4 cup
1/4-1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, or arugula
1 fresh red or green hot chile, half of it chopped and half slivered
(optional)
2-3 hard-boiled (or poached) eggs, cooled, peeled and chopped into
quarters or eighths
3 cups cooked long-grain, basmati or brown rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)

Place fish into a saucepan or sautee pan with the bay leaves, and pour in just enough milk to cover the fish. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 5 minutes or until cooked through. Remove fish from pan with spatula or slotted spoon and cool on a plate or pie pan. Once cool, remove skin (if necessary) and flake fish into chunks; set aside. Reserve poaching milk.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a sautee pan over low heat. Add ginger, white onion and garlic. Sautee until soft, about five minutes. Add green onions, curry powder and mustard seeds, and sautee a few minutes more. Add chopped tomatoes and lemon juice; stir until mixed. Add flaked fish and rice to the mixture and heat through, stirring gently but thoroughly. Mix in the eggs, parsley and the chopped hot chile to taste (omit if you don’t want a spicy dish). Add a few tablespoons of the reserved poaching milk to moisten the mixture and add some creaminess.

Serve on plates or in bowls; top with slivers of chile and sprinkles of parsley.


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Scotch eggs ... not for the faint of heart.

flag-mini-Scotland flag-mini-british Scotch eggs, the sausage-wrapped-breaded-fried-hardboiled-eggs that are a staple on English (and Scottish, if my casual online research serves me) pub menus, have nothing to do with Scotch and apparently do not hail from Scotland. Their invention is commonly attributed to Fortnum & Mason, the stalwart 300-year-old English grocer-to-the-royal-family famous for their wicker hampers filled with wines, teas, scones, olives, crackers, cookies, fruitcakes, teacups and chocolates. (I want one of those hampers! I'll take this one. Or this one. Or this ... EGADS. I just checked the pounds-to-dollars exchange rate! Fine, I'll settle for this one.)
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Anyway, Scotch eggs ... the story goes that back in 1738 (or by some accounts 1851), a clever foodie at F&M wrapped small hard-boiled pullet eggs with ground meat or sausage -- possibly Scotch beef (that would be beef from those big, furry, redhaired Scottish highland cows) -- fried it up, and declared it fit for a picnic in the country. Indeed, Scotch eggs would be ideal for picnicking -- they are good* warm, cold or room temperature, pack easily and travel well. *Understatement of the year.
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Scotch eggs may have been inspired by a North Indian dish called Nargisi Kofta, a similar meat-wrapped-egg (with meatless variations) floating in a sauce spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and garlic, although I'm sure the recipe varies widely from one Indian kitchen to the next. Considering how long England has been associated with India, some recipe borrowing was inevitable but Scotch eggs are simple, hearty fare and not exotic -- all the recipes I've seen call for the same combination of eggs, sausage, herbs and breadcrumbs, with no aromatic vestiges of their supposed Indian ancestry.
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This recipe comes from my other favorite Bon Appetit -- the May 2004 "A Taste of Scotland" issue. I think they grossly erred when placing it under the section called "Too Busy to Cook? Quick and easy favorites from Scottish readers." Quick? I don't think so! Easy? Well sure, but this is not a dish one throws together on a whim, unless you've already boiled/cooled/peeled the eggs, blitzed the breadcrumbs in a blender, chopped the herbs, squished them into the sausage, and set up your fryer.
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Yes, those are sausage links in that bowl because our favorite brand -- Johnsonville -- didn't come in one of those handy tubes, and yes I pulled each one out of its filmy little casing so it looked like I had a pile of miniature condoms on the counter. And I didn't bother taking a picture because no one wants to see that.
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Assembly is easy, but not exactly zippy: roll an egg lightly in flour, work a blob of herbed sausage around it to coat completely, brush with an egg/mustard mixture, roll in fresh breadcrumbs, and lower into hot oil.
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Tip: wrangling a camera with flour, sausage and breadcrumbs on your hands in order to get good pictures for your blog is tricky at best, so not photographing the process will save you lots of time and multiple handwashings.
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I rarely fry foods, but found it was quite painless and not even that messy, especially with the hood fan sucking up those hot oil vapors (although, oddly, the house still managed to smell like fried fish throughout the day). With a thermometer in the pan, I was able to keep the oil temperature just about right so each egg took the allotted 5-6 minutes to fizz to a nice deep brown. After a brief rest on some paper towels, they were sliced in half and served with mustard, ketchup and cold beer, alongside apple slices and carrot sticks to give the delusion illusion of a healthy, well-rounded pub snack.
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Oh my stars and garters, they were really REALLY good!** And hard to resist. Munching on them fresh(ish) out of the fryer, with a cold Smithwick's close by, I had to restrain myself after two. I'm pretty sure it was only two. **Extreme understatement of the year.
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I could have kept eating them with no regard for my waistline or the state of my arteries. I hope we had the good sense to have a big salad for dinner, but all I can remember about that entire day, foodwise, was these eggs.
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Look at that. Two left! I confess it took my entire supply of willpower to save them for others in the house.
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I don't give a hoot about the nutritional shortcomings of deep-fried-sausage-eggs. If I have anything to say about it, those things won't last past the weekend.

Their English pedigree notwithstanding, Scotch eggs are, I am confident, enjoyed by the Scottish, too. And possibly the Irish. Maybe even the Welsh! I found the "receipt" in several of my own cookbooks including Favourite Scottish Recipes and Celtic Folklore Cooking, as well as in the The Scottish-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook. But to get your tastebuds together with a Scotch egg sooner than later, I've included the Bon Appetit recipe below. You can thank me later -- when your personal trainer gets through with you.

Scotch Eggs with Fresh Herbs
From Bon Appetit -- May 2004 "A Taste of Scotland" issue
Makes 6 (note that doesn't say
serves 6)

1 pound bulk sausage meat
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 large egg
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (or your favorite mustard)
5 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
(this is way too much -- 2-1/2 cups is more than plenty)
1 cup all-purpose flour
(this is also more than necessary -- 1/2 cup is quite enough)
6 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled

Vegetable oil (for deep-frying)

Mix sausage, chives, and parsley in medium bowl to blend. Whisk egg and mustard in bowl to blend. Place breadcrumbs in large bowl (or pie plate). Place flour in another bowl. Roll 1 hard-boiled egg in flour. Using wet hands, press 1/3 cup sausage mixture around egg to coat. Brush egg with mustard mixture, then roll in breadcrumbs, covering completely and pressing to adhere. (Repeat egg/mustard mixture and breadcrumbs for extra breading.) Place coated eggs on plate. Repeat with remaining eggs.
(Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerated.)

Add enough oil to heavy large saucepan to reach depth of 1-1/2 inches. Attach deep-fry thermometer and heat oil to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Add 3 prepared eggs to oil; fry, turning occasionally, until sausage is cooked through and coating is deep brown, about 6 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer eggs to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining 3 eggs. Serve warm with mustard, ketchup, or other favorite condiments.

As always, feel free to leave a comment -- but preferably not a note from your physician advising you to stay away from this blog -- below.
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