Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas in Glasgow

Another year is coming to a close and it’s our second christmas in the UK. Our first, in London, we were hoping for a white christmas, but it was not to be. However, moving north to Scotland, we were confident of getting our wish of snow on christmas day. Sadly again it was not meant to be. But christmas is not all about snow, for us, it’s all about the food and drink.  I’ve always had the pleasure of having somebody else do all the hard work cooking on christmas day, so this year I decided to give it a crack myself.  I was excited about cooking my first christmas lunch. I had it all planned out in my mind, a three course meal consisting of a seafood starter, a traditional turkey main and ‘good old’ christmas pudding for dessert. 

This is not all that was on the menu. Since our travels to Italy, Cara and I have been lovers of antipasti. So, Cara was excited about making an antipasti selection, which would be nibbled on throughout the day between courses.  The meat selection began with slices of salami, smoked ham, prosciutto pepperoni and a smoked wild boar salami. To accompany this was a block of brie cheese and a ball of mozzarella, which I dressed with some finely chopped mint and chilli and drizzled olive oil over the top. I love mixing chilli and mint. The fresh flavours of the mint on the front of the palette mixed with a spicy chilli after taste is the perfect flavour combination. As if we didn’t need any more food, I decided to slice up some fresh focaccia which I drizzled with tiny bit of olive oil over the top then seasoned with salt, pepper and thyme and toasted for around 15 mins on a low heat. 

As we got stuck in to our appetisers, I began the seafood entree. As a kid I used to hate prawns, but as I’ve gotten older, I can’t get enough of them. So I decided to make Thai prawn skewers with a fresh crunchy veg. & pear salad. I pre-skewed my prawns early christmas morning and marinated them in fresh coriander, ground ginger, the juice of 2 limes and 1 lemon, fish sauce, brown sugar and once again some chilli and mint. By the time I got around to cooking these prawns, they’d been soaking in the marinate for around 2 - 3hrs. I simply pan fried the skewers for not even 5 minutes and they were ready to serve. My crunchy veg & pear salad consisted of carrot, celery, beetroot and slices of pear. I lightly dressed this in olive oil, dijon mustard, lemon juice and white wine vinegar.  

Next it was time for our turkey.  I was a little nervous about this. My fear was I'd start carving and it not be cooked all the way through. But I’d done my research, I knew the temperatures and the timings in relation to the size of the bird, so I was confident that it would turn out well.  I decided to stuff my turkey with a scottish inspired haggis stuffing. This haggis stuffing was made with sage, bacon, red onions, celery, breadcrumbs, haggis, lemon zest, garlic and ground nut-meg. So after stuffing my turkey, I placed it in the oven and planned to slow cook it for around 6 hours. When it came out of the oven it was golden brown and cooked all the way through just as I hoped. The stuffing was delicious too. The haggis stuffing added to the theme of christmas in Scotland. 

After all had been eaten, we were too full for christmas pudding. However we did have room for some Oreo Truffles. A extremely simple recipe which I’d picked up from my mum. You can find this recipe here...“ Oreo Truffles. These bite size sweets are amazing. Highly recommended. 

As we sat back, un-did the belt buckles and relaxed, I decided it was time for a Scottish malt whisky. Cara had got me the “Dalwhinnie 15 year old single highland malt whisky”. Dalwhinnie is a gaelic word which translates to “meeting-place”. That meeting place is the highest distillery in Scotland. It was founded in the Scottish Highlands in 1898. It’s gentle 15 years of ageing makes this scotch smooth and easy to drink. It has a slight honey flavour which therefore makes it a little sweeter than most malts. But this is counter balanced with a light smokey finish. 

So there ends our christmas in Scotland, and also our last christmas in the UK. Next year we’ll be back to the hot Aussie summer, sitting in the back yard and enjoying a BBQ. After my success cooking christmas lunch this time, I may have to give it a crack next year, back in Australia. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Wild Hibiscus Project: Part 2

A little while back I got asked to create a drink for the Wild Hibiscus company. I created a variation on the classic sidecar and I simply called the “Hibiscus Sidecar”.  Well the challenge has been set again by the people at Wild Hibiscus. This time the task was to create a beer cocktail.

When creating this drink, I decided to take some inspiration from living and working in Scotland. So I began playing around with mixing beer with scotch whisky.  Choosing your whisky to mix beer with can be tough as there are so many different varieties of malts around. I needed a scotch that would work well with the sweet hibiscus flavours. I decided to go with the Laphroiag 10 year old malt whisky. The Laphroiag has got strong bold smokey flavours, which is needed when mixing it with the sweet hibiscus syrup and strong flavours of the beer. This mix alone was not to bad, but I felt that there was something missing. The cocktail needed a slight spicy kick. But not chilli or pepper, something which would go well with the scotch and still not over power the other ingredients. The answer was ginger. A pinch of ground ginger mixed in with the hibiscus syrup was exactly what I needed to give this drink the a spicy after taste.

I named this concoction “A beautiful hollow by hibiscus bay”.  The name Laphroiag is a gaelic word meaning “A beautiful hollow by broad bay”. Laphroiag whisky is arguably one of the most well known of Scotland's whiskies world wide. So it seemed appropriate to base the name of this drink around the famous Laphroaig name.

So now we’ve gotten our ingredients, we’ve gotten a name for this drink, It’s time to make it. Start with your beer glass and add a pinch of ground ginger. Then add 25ml Wild Hibiscus syrup. Stir this mix together, making sure that all of the ginger has been dissolved in the syrup. Now add 25ml Laphroiag whisky. Give this a quick stir too. Now add your favourite Lager. I’ve left the choice of beer open, as certain beers can be hard to find depending on where you are from. I’ve chosen to use Tennents Lager, a local beer brewed in Glasgow. But any lager will do. The beer is not meant to take centre stage in this drink, it’s mainly about the combination of Hibiscus and whisky. The beer is just what binds it all together. Once you’ve topped your glass with your beer, the garnish (which is entirely optional) is a slice of ginger and a hibiscus flower (you’ll need tooth picks to hold them together on the rim of your glass).

If your not a big scotch whiskey drinker, then this drink is probably not for you. But I’ve made this cocktail without the scotch and beer with ginger and hibiscus syrup is quite sweet and refreshing.

“A Beautiful Hollow By Hibiscus Bay”

In a Beer Glass:
A Pinch of Ground Ginger
25ml Wild Hibiscus Syrup
Stir until ginger is dissolved
25ml Laphroiag 10 year old
Top with Beer
Garnish: Slice of Ginger and Wild Hibiscus flower