Monday, 23 January 2017

Cooking with booze: Burns Night – Highland stew – Recipe and cocktails

Photo by Jun

I may not have an ounce of Scottish blood in me, but I’m always up for a good knees up, especially one that involves whisky. While many people will be tucking into the haggis this Burns Night, you may want an alternative dish to devour while you’re mumbling your way through Auld Lang Syne after one dram too many. 

I won’t commit the mortal sin of calling this a pie when it’s a stew with a puff pastry top, that’s for the gastro pubs of this world to do. But it is a very tasty Highland stew with puff pastry top, and is the perfect dish to serve this Burns Night.

Highland stew with neeps and tatties
(Serves four)


900g stewing beef (two packets)
100g smoked lardons
500ml stout
200ml ruby port
2 large white onions
3 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp flatleaf parsley
5 pickled walnuts (and 2 tbsp pickled walnut vinegar)
60g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and pepper

Puff pastry top
Ready rolled puff pastry

Neeps and tatties
Half a swede
16 new potatoes

1. Marinate your beef in the stout, with the garlic and bay leaves for around five hours in the fridge, or overnight if possible.
2. Preheat the oven (fan) to 130°C.
3. In a large pan, heat the oil and butter.
4. On a medium-high heat, brown and seal the beef. Once browned, remove and set aside.
5. In the same pan, fry the bacon and onions until the onions are soft and translucent.
6. Stir in the flour and mix, then add the port, stout marinade, beef, and season.
7. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole dish, fit the lid, and cook for 2.5hours in the oven, stirring occasionally.
8. Remove from the oven and pop back on the hob, so you can cook your puff pastry tops. Halve the pickled walnuts and add to the stew, along with the pickling vinegar. Simmer for around 30minutes. 9. Add the chopped parsley just before serving.

Neep and tatties
1. Roughly chop the swede into large chunks and boil for 50minutes.
2. Parboil the potatoes for 10minutes in salted water.
3. Pop the potatoes into the oven with the stew for 15minutes, then turn the heat up to 200°C when the stew comes out and roast for 30-35minutes.
4. Drain the swede and roughly mash together with a decent amount of butter.

Puff pastry tops
1. Unroll the puff pastry and cut into shape
2. Pop in the oven for 10-15minutes until golden brown


If you don’t fancy a night on the drams, here are a couple of loosely-Scottish cocktails (they feature whisky), to get you in the mood.

Scotch Old Fashioned 

While rye or bourbon are the 'proper' choices for an Old Fashioned, it's Burns Night, so we're heading away from the whiskey and hitting the whisky. Granted, you're not going to want to use the Belvenie 50-year-old single malt that you've all got lying around, but a smooth, clean, not-too-peaty, scotch will work great.

50ml scotch whisky
3/4tsp light brown sugar
A few dashes of Angostura bitters
Orange peel
A little patience

1. Soak the sugar in the Angostura and begin to dissolve with a spoon.
2. Add a good handful of ice cubes and continue to stir.
4. Add around half the whisky and keep stirring.
5. Add the rest of the scotch and stir some more.
6. Stir for another couple of minutes.
7. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Haig Clubman

50ml Haig Club
35ml Appletiser
6 dashes ginger bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a highball or tumbler, with plenty of ice, and garnish with a very thin slice of root ginger.

How will you be celebrating this Burns Night? Hitting the haggis or using the night as an excuse to pull out that tasty scotch?

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The top 10 mega mocktails for January

If you’ve been doing ‘Dry January’ and have actually stuck to it, then firstly, pat yourself on the back. Secondly, scream and shout because it’s nearly over (ish)! To make things a bit easier, we’ve rounded up the 10 best mocktail recipes we could find.

The key to a mocktail’s success is down to intrigue; you can’t shove an average cordial in a glass, top it with soda, and garnish it with a slice of lemon, expecting to be wowed. Sure, we don’t need booze all the time, and there are plenty of top-notch soft drinks around to tantalise the taste buds, but cocktails work due to the balance of alcohol, sugar, acidity and bitterness - you’re not likely to get that with just an elderflower spritz, are you?

If you’re feeling like you’re missing out on all those lovely alcoholic delights that you keep seeing on Instagram, it’s time to get serious about mocktails. Fresh fruit, citrus and herbs are your heroes here, you want to be building your drink as you would a proper cocktail, and don’t be afraid to make your own syrups; they’re easy to do and will keep in the fridge for ages.

Just put in a teeny bit of effort before being able to smugly sip on something extra special... Your drunken pals will certainly be eyeing up your saintly glass!

We’ll start with something deliciously fruity and classically British – Strawberries!

  • This floral fresh Strawberry Rose Water Fizz from Kitchenette Blog is simple but effective. And if you love it, when it gets to February, try topping with prosecco instead of soda water.
  • The Pink Panther from Nosh My Way is smooth, creamy and kind of retro. Strawberries and cream will always be a winning combo, but add pineapple into the equation and hello!

Another British classic - though a slightly more sultry - fruit, with its deep purple colour, is the blackberry. 

Next we have some zingy mocktails...

Herbs are where it’s at with these next three.

Finally, the indulgent creamy mocktails for any time that you require some comfort.

  • Lavender Hot Chocolate from A La Mode is a fragrant hug in a mug. You can buy lavender in the supermarkets now (with all the herbs and spices), but don’t over-do it or you’ll be in soap territory.
  • Sweep Tight have come up with the awesome Coquito, with coconut milk, evaporated milk and condensed milk. Anything made with that dreamy milk is going to be frickin’ ace. FACT.

Now go and have some booze free fun!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Cooking With Booze: Kir Royale Macarons

There's nothing I like more than cake and cocktails: separately, together, any kind of combination, and I'm sold. A fancy afternoon tea is all well and good, but the addition of a chilled glass of champagne.. Now you're talking.

I know that macarons whatever you want to call them are not strictly cake, but those bite-sized beauties are so splendid that even the most stubborn "I'm not into sweets" person would find it hard to resist. If you're not acquainted with the macaron, they're light as a feather almond-y meringues that are so Parisian chic - delicate shiny shells, still chewy in the middle, sandwiched together with buttercream or something similar. They can be bloody tricky buggers to make though (they've brought me to tears once before), but get them right, and your friends will think they've come straight from a patisserie.
Anyway, my love of cake and cocktails led me to this idea; a macaron filled with a Crème de Cassis buttercream filling, paired with a glass of your favourite fizz, and you have yourself an interesting take on a Kir Royale! Its the perfect recipe for a late afternoon or night time soiree - one of those gatherings that doesn't require you to make a feast-for-all, just a few nibbles - but something a bit special nonetheless. I'd suggest your chosen fizz be dry - champagne, cava or even English sparkling wine - prosecco could be a bit too sweet when accompanied with the treats.
This recipe, adapted from Harry Eastwood's Skinny French Kitchen (available on Amazon for £18.95), is the easiest I've come across, and the one that's had the least failures. My tips are: to use food colouring that is in paste/gel form as they're the best for keeping their colour (natural food colourings don't tend to work well); red/pink/purple are most suited to this flavour. Go off piste if you like; a colourless shell with a vivid centre would look equally as fancy as what I've suggested.

Unfilled shells fare well in the freezer, so you can whip a batch up and freeze some for future use. You can also freeze the buttercream, but it will need a good mix, and possibly more icing sugar, to get back to the right consistency once defrosted. Oh, and you're definitely going to need an electric hand whisk; you might have guns like Popeye, but you'll struggle with this one.

Kir Royale Macarons
Makes approx. 40 macaron shells (20 whole macarons)

For the shells:
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 3 medium egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 40g caster sugar
  • food colouring (paste)
For the buttercream:
  •  75g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp Crème de Cassis (I used Tesco Finest priced at £8.50) 
  • food colouring (paste)
Champagne or equivalent.

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  2. Using a food processor, whizz up the icing sugar and ground almonds until you have a fine dust that resembles flour.
  3. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until you reach stiff peaks. Add the caster sugar in a steady stream, still whisking the whole time until the whites are stiff and glassy. Add the food colouring and whisk so that the colour is evenly distributed throughout the whites.
  4. Using a metal spoon, gently fold the almond and icing sugar mixture into the egg whites until the texture is uniform. Don't be heavy-handed here, you want to keep it as voluminous as possible.
  5. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium nozzle, or alternatively, use a disposable one. Standing the bag in a tumbler helps, as this can get a bit messy.
  6. Pipe circles of the mixture on to the baking sheet, roughly 3cm wide. Leave space in between each one, as they tend to spread out a little, and puff up during cooking.
  7. Bang your baking sheet on the kitchen work surface a couple of times to get rid of any large air bubbles, then set aside for 30 minutes to dry out the shells. They're ready when you can touch the surface without leaving a fingerprint.
  8. Cook for 12 minutes in the middle of the oven, and leave to cool on the tray.
  9. To make the filling, whisk the butter until soft and fluffy. Add half of the sifted icing sugar and beat until mixed.
  10. Add the remaining sugar, crème de cassis, and food colouring. Beat until smooth.
  11. Use the mixture to sandwich the macarons together - piping it is best.
  12. Pop the champagne and serve.
Good luck!
 Champagne image taken from Lachlan Hardy's photostream under the Creative Commons License.