After the over indulgent aftermath of the Christmas period, new year’s resolutions, crash diets  and penniless pockets, January takes on a cloak of austerity.  Our tastes become less extravagant and simple; we re-introduce the aspect of portion control in the hope that we will regain a waistline before the summer.

The temperature having finally dropped means that we want wholesome, hearty, comfort food.  Soup becomes a regular staple which not only caters for the cold weather but also our pockets (as soup is the epitome of thrift.)

For those of a superstitious disposition there would have been much lentil consumption as you hailed in the New Year – or perhaps on Blue Monday (Monday 19th January 2015) the most depressing day of the year – to help break the curse of the January blues.

But as January draws to a close, for those that chose to revel in it, there is one final celebration that you could choose to indulge in:  Robbie Burns Night.  Usually celebrated on the eve of the great Bard’s Birthday, 25th January or thereabouts, can be the perfect excuse to celebrate surviving the uphill struggle that can be the month of January.

Looking at the event from a culinary perspective you are required to follow certain practices.  Whiskey needs to be omnipresent throughout the meal, there has got to be a haggis served with ‘neeps and tatties’ and cock-a-leekie soup should be the ideal starter to warm you through before you continue with the evening’s proceedings.

Starter: Cock-a-leekie Soupcock-a-leekie soup

Ingredients
2 leeks washed and diced
4 rashers of streaky bacon
A whole chicken or
8 chicken pieces
Splosh of white wine
180g stoned prunes
1 bouquet garni (thyme, bay, parsely)
Water/stock to cover the chicken)
Oil/Butter for frying
Seasoning

Method
1./ Melt the butter and fry the chicken pieces until golden brown, then remove and set aside.

2./ Add the chopped bacon to the pan and fry until some of the fat is rendered out and fry one of the leeks in this until the whites are translucent.

3./ Splosh in the white wine and boil rapidly whilst scraping the bottom of the pan.  Return the chicken pieces (making sure to pour in any liquid it may have released) with the bouquet garni and add enough water/stock to cover.  Simmer for 45 mins or until the chicken is tender.

4./ Remove the chicken from the pot and allow to cool slightly.  Chop the second leek and add it to the pot.  Simmer until tender.  Remove the bouquet garni.

5./ Remove the chicken skin and bones and discard.  Shred the chicken or cut into coarse chunks and add this to the pot.  Add the prunes and simmer for another 20-30mins.

6./ Skim off any excess fat using a turkey-baster and season to taste.

Main Course: Haggis with ‘Neeps and Tatties’

Not so much a cheat but a necessity – BUY THE HAGGIS – don’t even attempt to recreate this at home.  Most supermarkets will stock a decent haggis that you can be proud to serve.  You can now even get vegetarian haggises (or is it haggi?) and to simplify matters you can microwave them if that would make matters simpler. 

“Great chieftain o’ the pudding race!”

To be honest you should spend more time thinking about your ‘neeps and tatties’ and how you’re going to serve these.

‘Neeps and Tatties’ cause annual controversy.  The ‘tatties’ are mashed potatoes and the world is in unanimous agreement over this, however, the ‘neeps’ cause such contention that no one is truly sure what these are anymore; even amongst the Scots there is disagreement.   Possible options are: turnips, swede, parsnips and I’ve even read about someone using celeriac.  Having researched around on the topic, I believe that traditionally turnips would have been used but I was unable to find decent turnips at the grocers so opted for parsnips instead.

My ‘Neeps and Tatties’ were treated the same way: peeled, boiled, mashed with butter, cream and nutmeg, salt and pepper.  I made a quick port and red wine reduced sauce to serve with.
Timbale of haggis neeps and tatties

After one of my guests performed the ‘Address to the Haggis’ and with alacrity sliced open the haggis with the finely honed edge of his ceremonial dirk (actually my kitchen knife!) we served ourselves from the centre of the table.   I made a quick port and red wine reduced sauce to serve with.  Experimenting with the leftovers the following evening I served this as a timbale as can be seen in the photograph.

cranachanDessert: Cranachan

Ingredients
5 tbsp porridge oats
2 punnets of raspberries
600ml double cream
3 tbsp heather honey
5 tbsp whiskey
Method
1./ Spread the porridge oats on a baking sheet and grill until it smells rich and nutty.  It will not darken quickly like almonds.  Set aside until cool.

2./ Crush some of the raspberries into a purée.  Whisk the double cream until set and stir in the honey and whiskey.  Stir in the toasted porridge oats.

3./ In glasses assemble layers of the cream mixture with the raspberry purée and the raspberries.  Serve with a sprig of mint.

Although not truly authentic, adding other berries might add to this dessert – blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries would enhance its creamy-fruity lusciousness.   Anyone who knows me well, knows that I cannot stomach whiskey but here the subtle ghost of whiskey, mist-like in this dessert was just right; I almost feel as if it needed more honey or sugar to just lift the taste.  Perhaps serving it with some shortbread biscuits.

The leftover cock-a-leekie soup became a quick chicken and leek pie for lunch the following day:

Food for thought for next year: cock-a-leekie starter worked very well but maybe some crusty bread to go with, turnips instead of parsnips, serve as a timbale, more port and red wine sauce, more berries and honey in the cranachan.

Generally more whiskey!

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