New Year - or Hogmanay - as we call it in Scotland, came in with a sneeze this year. The family and I all had ‘flu and a very nasty version of it too. Thank goodness we had a plentiful supply of remedies in the medicine cabinet, soup in the freezer, and split logs in the woodshed. Unfortunately, family and friends scheduled to visit over the holiday season had to be put off for their own protection. We missed them dearly but hope to see them all soon for some serious catching up.
The snow on the hills and the short days of January don't seem to faze my hens, who to everyone’s delight, are all still laying! The ‘girls’ can be seen trooping off across the fields behind the cottage like arctic explorers, returning only for their corn at lunchtime and their cosy beds at sundown. Despite the bitterly cold weather, they seem very happy and carefree in their environment - as all hens should. If, like me, you care about how chickens live in the commercial meat and egg producing world, you might like to consider joining Hugh F-W’s Chicken Out Campaign, at www.chickenout.tv/sign-up
I don’t shoot, but January is still part of the shooting season for pheasant, partridge, woodcock, ducks and geese, and as we live on a shooting estate, I am often offered and gratefully receive a brace of birds for the family table. Last week, unusually, I was offered a goose which had been shot off the Solway Estuary. I have not prepared one before but I was up for the challenge. I must admit to having felt a little sad every time I saw this once graceful bird dead and hanging in my outbuilding, but we do eat meat, and therefore I must accept and respect where our food comes from. It was a Pinkfoot, an Icelandic migrant, and not a large goose compared to some breeds and so, after a couple of days, I plucked it and prepared it for the oven. The family are in for a treat!
The 25th of January heralds Burns Night. This year it is the 250th anniversary of The Bard’s birth. Burns Suppers are held all over Scotland and indeed the world. Traditionally, a cooked and steaming haggis is addressed in Burns style with the poem, ‘Fair fa' your honest sonsie face, Great Chieftan o' the Puddin-race,’ and then ripped open with a dirk or a dagger before being served up with mashed tatties (potato) and neeps (turnips). During the supper, Burns’ poetry is read out by tartan draped laddies, who comment on the lassies present, while lots of whisky is consumed to the tune of the bagpipes. The customary reply from the lassies, you’ll be pleased to hear, often takes the form of a retaliatory strike before the dancing commences. Oh, I do love a good Burns Supper!
With regard to the presentation of the humble haggis for our family table, I tried to be a little less traditional and a lot more adventurous this year. I have devised a haggis recipe based on the good old-fashioned cottage pie. The ingredients and method are listed below - and, just so you know my ‘Haggis Bake’ really has been tried and tested, I took a photograph (see below) of the finished result. I would urge you to try it. It’s an easy and substantial January dish and everyone in the family said it was absolutely delicious!
You will need:
One medium haggis (I’m using a traditional Macsween of Edinburgh haggis).
800 gms lean Scottish steak mince.
One large onion.
Two tbsp plain flour.
Tin of chopped tomatoes.
One and a half pints of beef stock ( I used OXO cubes x 3)
Brown the minced beef in a large pan with the chopped onion. Add the flour. Stir and cook until the flour is absorbed. Add the tinned chopped tomatoes and the beef stock. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cover.
Cook the haggis by following the instructions on the wrapper. For this recipe I used the microwave method. Chop up the cooked haggis and add to the minced beef and gravy. Stir and add boiling water if more liquid is required. The oats in the haggis will absorb a lot of the liquid and you should allow for this. You probably won’t want to season the mixture as the haggis is well seasoned.
In a separate pan, parboil the sliced potatoes for about 5 minutes. You want them half-cooked and still firm. Drain in a colander. Transfer the beef mince and haggis mixture to a large shallow oven dish and arrange the slices of potato on top.
Brush with melted butter and pop into a moderately hot oven. This would be the middle shelf of the roasting oven for an range cooker or 190 degrees/ gas mark 5 for a conventional oven. Bake until bubbling and golden brown for approx 30-40 minutes. Serves 6 generously. Enjoy with seasonal vegetables like ‘neeps’ and carrots.