Scottish Oat Cakes

April 24, 2020

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So the Husband and I went on this amazing trip to Scotland back in January of 2018. I told you a bit about the Glasgow portion of our adventures in a post back on January 26th of last year. I meant to fill you in on the rest of the trip…the part that was actually the most exciting. You see, we went up to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands for Up Helly Aa – which is Europe’s largest Viking fire festival! Think of it like Mardi Gras if it took place on the same latitude as Greenland! Alas, you know that thing about the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Long story short…I just flaked and did not write the post. However, that is a wrong that I can easily right. It only took a little pandemic to get me writing. Anyway, I’m going to tell you all about it today along with travel tips and recommendations! And I will give you a great recipe for Scottish Oat Cakes. These cracker/cookies are great on their own and also lovely with a slice of cheese or some jam.

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So when last I left you, we were hanging out in Glasgow – taking in all the sights, seeing a bunch of live music at the Celtic Connections festival, tasting whisky and chocolate and sipping champagne in a spa. Before we knew it, it was time to get on up to the Shetland Islands to see those Vikings! The Husband doesn’t really get nervous about most things, but he was not looking forward to flying over the North Atlantic in a tiny plane with propellers. But when faced with the alternative of spending 12 hours on a ferry crossing the North Atlantic in January, he was sure he could tolerate an hour or so on a tiny propeller plane. So he took a shot or two of liquid encouragement and on the teeny plane we went!

Up Helly Aa (pronounced Up Hell ee Ah) is held the last Tuesday in January in Lerwick every year. It marks the end of the Yule season with a nod to the Shetlands Viking heritage. (Up is from uppi which means “end” Helly means “holy days” and Aa is “all” – hence “The end of all Holy days.”) The Shetlands were ruled by the Norse for some 500 years until they became part of Scotland in 1468. On this day, once night falls, the town lights are extinguished and a band of over 900 blazing torch bearing guizers (folks in various disguises – think Halloween) led by a modern day Jarl and his Squad who are kitted out as Vikings, go on a procession through the streets with a full size replica Viking longship, that they have lovingly built, in tow. Once they reach a designated spot, they throw their torches into the ship, turning it into the largest bonfire you’ve ever seen! Sounds absolutely amazing right?!! Let me tell you it absolutely was!!!

P1010945But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning. Our arrival in Lerwick after the scary mini propeller plane adventure. Once again on terra firma, we met up with out good friends and fellow Viking enthusiasts, Bill & Virginia and headed off to check into our lovely AirBnB and have a poke about the town. The town of Lerwick is charming.

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OMG! Remember these?!!

IMG_3362Another thing which made me very happy was that there were plenty of Shetland ponies around. I love horses and often carry sugar cubes or apples with me if I think there is a chance I might encounter any.

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We had been dreaming about going to this festival for some time, so we were all very excited! First thing we needed to do was get ahold of the Raven Banner which would fly over the town on Up Helly Aa, signifying the Guizer Jarl was in charge.

Version 2Up Helly Aa starts pretty early with the Jarl Squad marching to Market Cross. So who is the Jarl? Well a different man is chosen to be Jarl each year. This is a huge honor for the chosen one.

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Jarl Stewart Jamieson (portraying Viking Thorvald Thorvaldsson) Lewick 2018 Up Helly Aa

He then selects the men he wishes to be in his Viking squad. These men are the only ones you will see dressed as Vikings (besides the Junior Jarl and his Viking squad). There are no guizers  in the morning march, only Vikings. This is the first time anyone in the town gets to see the Jarls squads outfits as well as their replica longship, which have been designed with the utmost secrecy. So believe me, everyone is super curious. The modern day Vikings draw a big crowd as they march through the streets, the Guizer Jarl and his squad lead the way

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Followed by the Junior Jarl & his squad

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until they reach the Market Cross, where they stop and read The Proclamation (or Bill).

IMG_6947This document, which has also been kept secret until the big day, includes instructions for the day along peppered with a healthy dose of local jokes and satire. The Jarl Squad then departs to go pose for formal pictures with their galley at Alexandra Wharf.

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Post photo op, the Jarl Squads departs to visit various primary schools, hospitals and retirement homes. We took the opportunity to wander about the town and do some shopping. Many of the shop owners participate in a window decorating competition for the festival.

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The Jarl will later chose the winner later, but I had a definite favorite! The Viking in a bubble bath at the Shetland Soap Company was perfect.

Everyone in the town was in great Viking form! Lots of horned helmets (yes, we know the Vikings didn’t actually wear them, but wearing a horned helm is really fun!) Here are some wee Vikings we encountered along the way:

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Wee Vikings in training! Photo Credit for wee red haired Viking to Bill Watson.

The Husband had grown out his beard for months so I could get these braids in it. I think it’s a great look for him, though it took awhile for him to get used to the feeling of them!

After some shopping, we set off to see The Fiery Sessions which showcase some of Shetlands best traditional music. Then we somehow found ourselves in a pub for some more live music and perhaps a drink or two.

And finally it was time for the main event! The big burn! Now this event goes on no matter what the weather may be. “No postponement for the weather” is the boast often heard throughout the town. And you can imagine at that time of year in the North Atlantic – the weather can be remarkable – snow, sleet, rain, hail and gale force winds have been know to make an appearance. On our night, we considered ourselves pretty lucky, as it was only a bit wet and windy. As you can see, there might have been a few sparks flying about, so it’s a good thing that everything in town was thoroughly dampened!

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IMG_7025The procession starts at 7:30. All of the torches are lit and the Jarl, perched in his longship, is pulled through the streets by his Viking squad

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followed by hundreds of those guizers that I mentioned. Those are the other participants in the festival. Traditionally groups of townsmen, though recently that is changing as there are now some female guizers, form dozens of squads. Each squad has it’s own costume theme ranging from hula girls, to belly dancers to StormTroopers, to cats, cows or skeletons. Again the squads have kept their particular costume a secret from everyone until this procession.

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The torchlit procession, 900-ish folks strong, then winds through Lerwick’s streets

P1010819until the longship is pulled into a park where once the Jarl disembarks and gives the signal, all of the torches are pitched into the longship.

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Jarl getting ready to leave the longship before the big burn!

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And if you haven’t had your fill of fire, there was a bit more to be seen overhead.

But the party doesn’t end here. No, no no! It literally goes on all night long! At this point folks all retire to different halls around town for the after -parties. Now these halls are ticketed events and are usually by invitation only, though some tickets are made available to the public. Our AirBnB hosts were kind enough to score some tickets for us.

IMG_6821At the Halls you will find food, drink and dancing. The Guizers squads that I mentioned before then take turns visiting the different halls to perform an act – such as singing, dancing or doing a comedy sketch.

It is a tradition that every Guizer must dance with at least one of the ladies in each hall and take a dram. Considering there are around 11 or 12 halls each year, can you just imagine the state of the poor Guizers in the morning?!! Good thing that the day after Up Helly Aa is a public holiday! What an unforgettable experience!!! Watch the action packed day in the following video.

And I should mention that in addition to all of the excitement of the festival, the Shetland Islands are gorgeous. We visited a place called Jarlshof which is a prehistoric & Norse settlement archaeological site.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1993.JPGLocated in Sumburgh on the tip of the mainland Shetland it contains settlement sites which range over 4000 years of human history – from late Neolithic through Bronze and Iron Ages, the Norse settlement all the way up to a 16th Century Laird’s house.

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We absolutely loved exploring here, despite the fact that the weather was certainly not the best that day. High winds and torrential downpours. We were soaked to the skin, but couldn’t tear ourselves away. Definitely a must see if you are visiting Shetland!

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Now I guess I should get back to those oatcakes I mentioned at the outset. Oatcakes are a staple in most Scottish kitchens. Kind of a cross between a cookie and a cracker they have a lovely texture and a slightly sweet and salty taste.

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They are very easy to make and quite versatile. You can eat them plain, with a bit of butter, jam,

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smoked salmon or with cheese. They are a perfect addition to your cheeseboard!

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So if Up Helly Aa sounds right up your alley – get planning right away! Lots of folks are interested in going and there are only so many places to stay. And while your making your arrangements – you can pour yourself a wee dram and nibble on some of these tasty Scottish Oat Cakes!

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Scottish Oat Cakes

  • Servings: 16 - 25 pieces - depending on how you cut them
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking or instant)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cups butter – cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1/4 cup very hot water
  • Maldon flaky Sea Salt for finishing

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the oats, flour sugar, salt and baking soda in a food processor. Scatter the butter cubes over the dry ingredients.. Pulse until the mixture looks like coarse grains of sand. Add the hot water slowly, using only as much as you need to get the oat/flour/butter mixture to form into thick dough.

Dust the counter with some extra flour and turn the dough out onto the work surface. Roll the dough out to a 1/4″ thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the oatcakes.

Place the oat cakes on the prepared sheet. Sprinkle a small amount of Maldon sea salt over the cakes. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until lightly browned.

Remove cookies to a rack to cool.

Enjoy!

Scottish Oat Cakes brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Planning your vacation in The Shetland Islands, Scotland:

Car RentalWe rented our car from Star Rent a Car and were very pleased with both the car and the agency. I definitely would recommend that you do rent a car. Sumburgh Airport is about 20 -25 minutes away from Lerwick. There are taxis available, but if you would like to explore the island, outside of town, you pretty much need a car to do so. And if you are not used to driving on the left side of the road, you will likely want an automatic car, as to avoid shifting gears with your left hand. The number of automatics available are limited, so please remember to reserve your car well ahead of time!

Accommodation: Lerwick is a pretty small town and most of the accommodation available books well in advance (like a year prior) of the festival. I was ready to give up looking (I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get accommodation and had waited until May 2017 to try to book for January 2018) and just plan on going the following year when just by chance, someone cancelled an AirBnB reservation while I happened to be on the sight. I grabbed it immediately and it was absolutely perfect. Ramsay & Nikola’s stylish and cozy house is conveniently located, close to a large grocery store, a delicious restaurant Called Fjara, an Iron Age Broch as well as being a short walk into town. It was immaculatly clean, had all the amenities one could want and was well stocked with tea and coffe. Nikola & Ramsay were friendly and warm hosts. They thoughtfully provided us with milk, bread, the local paper as well as a couple bottles of wine and spot on recommendations for local restaurants. All of our communication with them were easy and their responses prompt. We were visiting Shetland for Up Helly Aa and Ramsay was able to get tickets to one of the Halls for us which we would not have likely been able to do on our own. Furthermore he gave us advice concerning where to stand for the best views during the procession. All of his assistance greatly enhanced our overall festival experience. Here is a link to Ramsay’s house – though I’m not sure if he is still offering it for rent: Refurbished & Modern House in Lerwick.

Before finding the Airbnb, I had emailed many other hotels and guesthouses. Most did not even bother to respond, however Anona Michael of Rockvilla Guesthouse did respond promptly. Sadly she was all booked up, but took the time to recommend other accommodations for me to check availability, as well as offer advice on the festival in general. Rockvilla Guesthouse is right on the procession route, so if you could score a room with them it make things much easier for you!

Restaurants:

Fjara Cafe Bar – Loved this restaurant! Friendly and welcoming, with simply amazing views, it is open for breakfast through dinner and even later for cocktails. Seasonal menu features Shetlands finest ingredients, homemade baked goods and local brews.

 

Peerie Shop Cafe – Cozy & bustling cafe located in the heart of Lerwick. Features delicious homemade breakfasts, baked goods, soups, sandwiches and coffee. Don’t miss out on their scones with clotted cream and jam!

 

Sumburgh Hotel Restaurant – This is a strange recommendation for me as our experience here was …. well…quite strange! I will let my trip advisor review entitled “We only met one rude person in the Shetland Islands…” do the talking here:

Let me start this by saying, I usually do not write bad reviews. And I hesitate to do so even now, however we experienced such poor hospitality, I don’t think I can let it go without saying something. At the end of January, friends and I visited Jarlshof which is located right near the Sumburgh Hotel. It was raining, cold and windy. After taking in the sights, we hoped to grab some lunch at the Sumburgh Hotel Lounge. Unfortunately, it was after two and lunch service had finished. This is when we encountered the only rude person we met during our entire visit to the Shetland Islands. The good news for the Shetland Island folks is this person was not a local. She had an accent, maybe Italian. She briskly told us lunch was over at 2 pm. Although it was only five after two, we said we understood this but asked if there wasn’t anything at all, maybe even some crisps or bar snacks we could have. She seemed very annoyed and said, “all we have it soup”. A warm bowl of soup sounded great to us. Then, rather than seating us in the warm lounge, she ushered us out to a sort of sun porch type of area, which was unheated and very drafty and cold. We asked if we could eat in the dining room and she said “no, lunch is over.” But other folks were still seated inside and more came in a took seats while we were shivering on the porch like unwanted step children! The barman, who was very friendly to us, seemed somewhat embarrassed by her behavior. I don’t know what had happened to that woman before we showed up to put her in such a mood, but she definitely took it all out on us. We ate our soup, which was very good by the way, and left. Otherwise the hotel seemed nice. As long as you don’t meet up with the rude woman, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Shopping:

Mirrie Dancers Chocolates – Mirrie Dancers is the name the locals on Shetland use for the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. These gorgeous, handmade chocolates take inspiration from this natural phenomenon as well as the beauty which abounds in Shetland and Orkney. You will find these little gems both beautiful and incredibly delicious! Lovely treat for yourself and a great souvenir to carry back home.

Ninian Gift Shop – Fantastic gift shop which has everything from lovely unique handmade Shetland knitwear to jewelry to stationary to home goods. Wonderfully curated, you will definitely find the perfect gift here for yourself and others as well!

Things to do:

Up Helly Aa: Um….have you read this blog? Yeah, you want to go to this festival!!!

Shetland Museum & Archives – Absolutely wonderful museum!

Shetland Arts & Craft Trail – If you are visiting during Up Helly Aa, these shops will likely have very limited opening, since it is off season, so call ahead to make sure they are open


Pigs in a Blanket Baked Brie

February 20, 2019

 

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So look-y here! Pigs in a Blanket Baked Brie is what’s on the menu today! I was absolutely amazed when I saw this gorgeous creation from Host the Toast (check it out! a beautiful blog full of great recipes) and could not wait to try my hand at it. I was sure it would end up as one of those situations where you see this gorgeous culinary creation, but your attempt to reproduce it ends up an unrecognizable epic fail. Not so with these little piggies. I would say Host the Toast’s presentation is still better than mine, but mine is not too shabby if I do say so myself.

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It is actually quite easy to do. I do recommend watching the video that Host the Toast did showing how it’s done before you try it for yourself.

Watch the video showing how to make it from Host the Toast! 

The one tip that I have is make sure that your pie crusts have warmed a bit before you try to fold the top one around the Brie wheel. You don’t want to have the pastry crack at all because it will allow that melted Brie to leak out a bit. You can see mine sprung a bit of a leak, but I think most of the Brie stayed within its pastry case.

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Perfect for any gathering from potluck to fancy cocktail party. And what a dream Super Bowl Snack! You’ll be the MVP on the refreshment front for sure! (Only second to whoever brought the beer). I’ve made it several times now and folks just can’t stop ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing over it. But sure you only hear that for a few seconds, because what’s even better than hearing all that admiration is that fact that this dish is really yummy. It will be scarfed down in no time flat! I mean come on – buttery, flaky pastry wrapped around a creamy gooey herbed Brie with smoky cocktail sausages – yeah….I bet that tastes just awful right?

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Pigs in a Blanket Baked Brie

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Host the Toast

Ingredients

  • 1 (8 ounce) wheel Brie Cheese
  • 2 pre-made (store-bought) circular pie crusts
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (optional – I did not use it)
  • 36 cocktail sausages
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • sesame seeds/poppy seeds for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Carefully cut the top from the Brie wheel and set aside. Place the Brie on one of the unrolled pie crusts. Sprinkle the exposed cheese with garlic, chives and rosemary if you are using it. Replace the top on the Brie Wheel.

Lay the second pie crust over the brie. Carefully press the edges of the pie dough up against the brie and smooth over the bottom crust.

Cut even-sized strips all around the brie, like a sun, making 18 total cuts. Place one cocktail sausage at the outer leftmost corner of one of the strips at a slight angle. Roll it inward to wrap in the pie dough and press the edges to seal. Continue all the way around the dough until all of the top layer of strips have a cocktail sausage nestles within them.

Move on to the bottom layer of strips and do just as you did above, wrapping until all of the cut strips contain sausages. You may have to gently lift the top layer to snuggle the bottom layer up under them.

Brush generously with egg yolk and sprinkle with any seed garnish that you may be using.

Carefully transfer the Brie to the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the pastry is deep golden-brown, about 30 – 40 minutes.

Allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes. Cut the top off the baked brie and serve warm.

Enjoy!

Pigs in a Blanket Baked Brie brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Useful links for Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Pigs in a Blanket Baked Brie:

Hillshire Farms Cocktail size Lit’l Smokies – this is for 3 packs of them, but hey they freeze well and you’ll be ready next time you need to whip this amazing snack together.

 

 

 

 


Paddy’s Day Corned Beef & Cabbage Potstickers

March 14, 2018

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Now here is a St. Patrick’s Day dish for you that is a bit unexpected I’ll bet – Paddy’s Day Corned Beef & Cabbage Potstickers. So I won’t try to pull the wool over your eyes and tell you that you’ll find this Asian fusion dish on every table in Ireland come St. Patrick’s Day. But I will say that if you’ve got some lovely corned beef left over from your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations here in the States, these potstickers are great for using up the leftovers in the most wonderfully tasty way.

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As I’ve mentioned in previous years, you won’t really find corned beef on the menu in Ireland come St. Patrick’s Day. Well, I’d say you might now, but know that they’re serving it up specifically for the tourists. It isn’t the traditional holiday meal there. To read all about the history of corned beef and how Americans became corned beef crazed see my blog on Corned Beef Hash from a couple of years ago, which by the way, is also a great dish for using up leftovers. But believe me when I say corned beef on St. Paddy’s Day is an Irish American tradition.

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I found this recipe on the Farmette blog. If you haven’t visited before, you should definitely take a peek. It is basically the diary of Imen McDonnell who moved from the US to an Irish dairy farm, where she now resides with her husband and son. You can find this recipe on her blog along with a story of how shocked she was on her first St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland when she discovered that she was actually in a corned beef free zone. This recipe can also be found in her cookbook: The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm. Imen uses bacon in her version, which I’m sure is also quite delicious!

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The Husband absolutely went wild for these potstickers, declaring them much better than any corned beef and cabbage he had ever eaten. Now I did change a couple of things from Imen’s recipe. I was feeling a bit lazy and didn’t actually make my potsticker wrappers myself. Nope. I went right out to the store and purchased some wonton wrappers, which worked very well. I also cooked them a bit differently and have included my method along with Imen’s. And although I am advocating this recipe as a way to use up leftovers, you really can’t use any leftover cabbage in these. Previously cooked cabbage will be too wet to work well in the filling. You’ll have to reserve a bit of fresh cabbage to use on the day you make these potstickers. Definitely give this recipe a whirl for a fun twist in your St. Patrick’s Day feast.

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Paddy's Day Corned Beef & Cabbage Potstickers

  • Servings: 20 medium-sized dumplings / if you use wonton wrappers @40 potstickers
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Farmette also featured in the cookbook: The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm by Imen McDonnell

Ingredients:

For the Wrappers:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup cold water

*** I actually used store-bought wonton wrappers here due to my extreme slothfulness…

For the filling:

  • 6 ounces cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/8 cup minced parsley
  • 1/3 pound shredded corned beef, smoked ham (or smoked Irish bacon)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper (or freshly ground black pepper)
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

For the slurry:

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water

***egg whites work great here as well

For the dipping sauce:

  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • ¼ cup brown rice vinegar
  • ½ cup scallions (spring onion)
  • ¼ cup soy sauce

Directions:

Make the wrappers: In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Gradually add the boiling water until the mixture becomes mealy. Switch to the cold water and stir until a dough is formed. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with a towel and let rest.

Make the filling: Put the cabbage in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let it rest for 10 minutes. While it is resting place the ginger, parsley, corned beef, pepper soy sauce, rice wind and sesame oil in a food processor and pulse until it is mixed well. Squeeze the water out of the cabbage and place the dry cabbage into a bowl. Add the pulsed ham mixture and combine.

Make the dumplings: Roll out the dumpling dough and cut our wrappers with a 4-inch round cookie cutter. Sed aside. Mix together the cornstarch and water for the slurry. Take one dumpling wrapper and spoon 1 tablespoon of the ham mixture into the center. (If you are using wonton wrappers, you will likely only be able to spoon 1/2 tablespoon onto the wrapper). Dip one finger (or a small pastry brush) into the slurry and paint the edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the wrapper over the filling and press the edges together, forming a half-moon shape. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and repeat with the rest of the dumplings. Do not allow the dumplings to touch each other on the sheet. Once the dumpling are all assembled, you can cook immediately or refrigerate for up to several hours. When ready to cook, fill a large pot half way with water and bring to a boil. Gently slide 1/3 of the dumplings into the water. Once the water returns to a gently boil simmer for 6 – 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and repeat with remaining dumplings. Coat a frying pan with oil and place over medium heat. Once hot, fry the dumplings until they are golden on each side.

*** I cooked my potstickers using a different technique. I place a bit of oil in a 10″ skillet and heated it just shy of smoking. I arranged my potstickers in the pan and cooked them until the bottom of them was a golden brown. The I poured 1/2 cup of water into the skillet and covered it with a tightly fitting top. I continued cooking until all of the liquid was gone. The bottoms of the potstickers should be sufficiently browned at that point, but if not, you could leave them in the pan a bit longer.

Make the dipping Sauce: Heat the sesame oil in a saucepan. Add the scallions and brown rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Mix well and then remove from heat.

Enjoy!

Paddy’s Day Corned Beef & Cabbage Potstickers brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Paddy’s Day Corned Beef & Cabbage Potsickers:

The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm by Imen McDonnell

 

 

 


Pasture’s Pimento Cheese

February 1, 2017

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Here it is…February already. And tomorrow, my favourite varmint, Punxsutawney Phil, will be stepping out of his burrow at Gobbler’s Knob and letting everyone know if there will be 6 more weeks of winter or if perhaps Spring is on the way. Groundhog Day is nigh! I gotta admit, I don’t feel like we’ve really had any winter yet. There has only been a few wee dustings of snow in the morning and the temperatures have only ventured into the real wintery territories a handful of times. So yeah, I hope that Punxsutawney critter sees his shadow tomorrow.

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One extraordinary rodent!

Phil & all the folks up in Punxsutawney aren’t the only ones celebrating now. February 1st, which falls half way between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, also marks the festivals of Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day and Candlemas, all of which are associated with fertility, fire, purification and weather divination. Quite an auspicious time of year! I’m very happy to be marking an event today as well. February 1st just happens to be the 6th year anniversary of  the my cooking blog! Yup… Six years ago today I posted my first recipe. It was for Cream Tea Scones with Currants.

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Last year I shared one of my favorite recipes: Model Bakery’s English Muffins:

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I’ve posted some other tasty “Anniversary Edition” recipes since then as well like Banana Rum Muffins:

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And who can forget when a genuine Crack Pie made an appearance:

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And this year I have really got a winner of a recipe for you. A definite favorite around here – Pimento Cheese!

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It is the perfect appetizer to bring along with you no matter what the festivity! This magical “caviar of the South” is so delicious and quite versatile. You can serve it with crackers (Ritz preferably) and veggies, it is delicious scooped up with a Frito, you can mix it into the yolks of deviled eggs, you can spread it on burgers, it makes one heck of a decadent grilled cheese or if you’re short on time it is pretty wonderful simply spread between two slices of bread! The husband and I have been spending a lot of time in Richmond Virginia and let me tell you…they love some pimento cheese in that town. This particular recipe I’m sharing today comes from Chef Jason Alley and is served in one of his restaurants, Pasture. If you are ever visiting Richmond, do yourself a favor and stop by for lunch or dinner. Pasture specializes in Southern Cooking, but with a modern twist. Instead of those huge plates of food you would get a grandma’s house, Pasture serves up small plates which are meant to be shared. Their seasonal menu is full of dishes made with fresh locally sourced ingredients. You will definitely find this Pimento Cheese on the menu (year round) along with many many more amazing offerings.

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Pimento Cheese is pretty easy to make, but I would like to give you a bit of advice that will make your Pimento Cheese completely over the top delicious. First of all, grate the cheese yourself, don’t buy bags of pre-shredded cheese. Why? Because the pre-shredded cheese is coated with a cellulose product to keep it from sticking together. This makes it a bit less creamy, so just take a few seconds and grate the cheese yourself. The second thing is the mayonnaise. You’ve gotta use Duke’s! Seriously. Not Hellman’s. Dukes. Dukes is actually the 3rd largest brand of mayonnaise sold in the United States. However, its popularity is largely limited to the South. But there it has a cult following. Using any other brand is out of the question. And truth be told, Duke’s tastes different. It has more egg yolks and has no added sugar giving it a much brighter, tangy flavor and a creamier texture. And lets face it, mayonnaise is a pretty important ingredient in Pimento Cheese, so if you can, go with the authentic Southern brand, Dukes. As far as the roasted red peppers. I actually roasted the peppers myself. It is pretty easy. You just put the peppers on a parchment lined baking tray and pop them into an oven which has been preheated to 400° F. You roast them for 20 minutes and then turn them over and roast them for 20 more minutes. Remove them from the oven and place them on a cutting board. Cover them with a bowl and allow them to steam for 15 minutes. Steaming them will make the skins very easy to remove. Then you peel them, seed them and there you have it. Easy peasy. Though perhaps an easier thing would be buying a jar in the grocery store. I’ll let you decide. That’s pretty much it. I will admit though that I have gilded this lily of a recipe once or twice by adding a bit of chopped bacon and some diced jalapeño peppers to up the heat. What can I say? Everything is better with bacon and we love our spice. But I’ll wager you’ll be very pleased with Pasture’s unadorned version. So what in the world are you waiting for?!! Might I remind you that the Super Bowl is happening this Sunday!

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Pimento Cheese

  • Servings: 4- 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Chef Jason Alley – Pasture Restaurant

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, roasted , peeled, seeded and finely diced*
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 sprigs tarragon, leaves removed, minced
  • 1 1/4 cup mayonnaise, Duke’s preferably
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 dash hot pepper sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • chives for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until well-blended.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to one day.

Serve with crackers (preferably Ritz), pickles and crudités.

Enjoy!

*You can buy roasted red peppers in the the grocery store. If you are interested in roasting your own: Place the peppers on a parchment lined baking tray and pop them into an oven which has been preheated to 400° F. Roast them for 20 minutes and then turn them over and roast them for 20 more minutes. Remove them from the oven and place them on a cutting board. Cover them with a bowl and allow them to steam for 15 minutes. Peel the skins and remove the seeds.

Pasture’s Pimento Cheese brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Useful links for Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Pasture’s Pimento Cheese:

Duke’s Mayonnaise

 


Zucchini Tots

October 11, 2016

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Wait….wait! I’ve got another delicious zucchini recipe to share before zucchini season is over. Zucchini Tots! Crispy on the outside and oh so tender on the inside, whether you serve them as a side, appetizer or the main event, these little nuggets are unbelievably addictive. The husband says he likes them better than regular Tater Tots. Now me…I don’t think I can go that far. Nothing against these zucchini tots, which are spectacular, but I love me some potatoes. Don’t really care how you make ’em…mashed, baked, scalloped – but fried can’t be beat. I think I’d categorize these little zucchini gems as a totally different thing. I probably should have called them zucchini bites. That being said, I certainly feel more virtuous having eaten Zucchini Tots rather than Tater Tots, so there is that.

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Another great thing about these tots is that they are really easy and pretty quick to make. Just be sure you squeeze as much water out of the zucchini as you can before mixing it in with the other ingredients so that you can achieve ultimate crispiness. You see I love the crispy bit, that’s why I rolled these tots in a bit more panko before baking them. But you can skip the panko roll step if you aren’t that into crispy or simply can’t be bothered. No matter what, these Zucchini Tots will still knock your socks off – guaranteed!

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Zucchini Tots

  • Servings: 20 tots
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly adapted from: The Wimpy Vegetarian

Ingredients:

  • 2 -3 small zucchini, shredded (you should have about 2 cups worth)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup small-diced yellow onion
  • ⅓ cup grated Asiago Cheese (feel free to use Parmesan, mozzarella, or even cheddar)
  • ¼ cup Panko (bread crumbs) plus 1 cup additional for coating tots
  • 8 oz. ricotta cheese
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Don’t use foil – the tots will stick to it like super-glue. Trust me. Place 1 cup of panko in shallow bowl and set aside.

Combine all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl using a large metal spoon.

Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop the zucchini mixture into mounds. Drop zucchini mixture into the middle of the panko bowl. Gently roll to cover will Panko and gently shape into a tater tot shape. Arrange on the parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 12 minutes, gently flip over, and bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Serve warm.

Enjoy!

Zucchini Tots brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links to Useful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Zucchini Tots:

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

OXO Good Grips Medium Cookie Scoop

 


Irish Potato Bites

March 16, 2016

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Goodness Gracious! Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day! How time does fly! Here is a great little St. Patrick’s Day appetizer, Irish Potato Bites! These are little, one bite sized, twice baked potatoes stuffed with Corned Beef and Irish Cheddar and then topped with a little dollop of sour cream. They are completely addictive. And another fantastic thing about this dish is that you can make these little gems ahead of time and freeze them. Just pop them into the oven straight from the freezer to bake. Once they’re done, all that is left to do is garnish with the sour cream, chives and flaky salt just before you are ready to pass around the appetizer tray.

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Truth be told, while it was great that these appetizers were small enough to just pop into your mouth, it did make them a bit difficult to work with. The smallest melon baller I owned was too big to scoop out the inside potato bit, so I had to resort to a teeny tiny dessert spoon. It was totally do able, but I also bet you could go with a slightly bigger potato and serve these as a side dish rather than an appetizer if you were a bit short on time…or patience…or both.

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But if you don’t mind a little prep work, these appetizers are ahh…mazing! When I served them up, folks were delighted. Potatoes, Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar…you just can’t go wrong!

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Irish Potato Bites

  • Servings: 6 - 8
  • Difficulty: easy - but a bit fiddly
  • Print

recipe from: White Lights on Wednesday

Ingredients:

  • 20 Baby Red Potatoes, small (golf ball size)
  • 1/2 Cup leftover Corned Beef, chopped finely
  • 1/4 Cup Irish Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter, melted
  • Salt & Maldon flaky sea salt for serving
  • Sour cream & chives for toppings

Directions:

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil.

Add potatoes and boil until they are fork tender.

Preheat oven to 400°F

Once potatoes are cooked and have cooled cut each one in half and cut a small slice off of the rounded end so the potato will not roll over. Place the potato halves on a parchment lined baking tray.

Carefully scoop out the flesh of each potato half into a medium sized bowl.

Mash the potatoes with butter until it is smooth Add the shredded cheese and corned beef to the potato and mix well.

Salt and pepper mixture to taste.

Sprinkle some salt over the reserved potato skin halves.

Scoop potato/corned beef/cheese mixture into potato halves and then place them on a baking sheet.

Pop baking sheet in oven for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven. Pipe a small dollop of sour cream onto each potato bite and garnish with fresh chives and few flakes of Maldon Sea Salt.

Enjoy!

Irish Potato Bites brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Helpful Links to Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Irish Potato Bites:

Oxo Good Grips Melon Baller

 

 


Zucchini, Spicy Grilled Corn & Cheese Pancakes

September 16, 2015

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Keep the zucchini recipes coming? No problem! I’ve got a great one for you here – Zucchini, Spicy Grilled Corn & Cheese Pancakes! The husband says this may well be his favourite recipe of 2015. I must admit, I can see why. Moist, light and bursting with fresh summer garden goodness these savory pancakes are not only delicious warm from the frying pan, but are also great at room temperature or even cold right out of the fridge.

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One of the things I love about these pancakes besides the fresh zucchini is the bit of spice factor. You know us and our penchant for hot and spicy by now. So I’ve added a bit of Spicy Grilled Corn to the mix. The zesty lime/chili combo of spices and the grilled flavour adds so much to this dish. And of course when I added the cheese in, I went with a Habanero Jack Cheese. The great thing here is that if you don’t want to turn up the heat like we do, just use fresh corn and maybe go with the parmesan or cheddar cheese option. It’s all up to you and your taste buds. We’ve eaten these pancakes as a main course with a fresh salad on the side, as a side dish paired with some grilled chicken, re-heated them for a quick savory breakfast and snacked on them between meals. They would be amazing as a summer appetizer as well. Just make them silver dollar sized and top them with a little dollop of sour cream and fresh chives. That versatility, along with ease of preparation makes them a winner in my book! So if your garden runneth over with zucchini, griddle up some of these mouthwatering pancakes. Folks will swoon!

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Zucchini, Spicy Grilled Corn & Cheese Pancakes

  • Servings: 20 pancakes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly adapted from: King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup chopped chives or scallions; about 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 4 cups coarsely grated zucchini; about one 10″ zucchini
  • 1 cup spicy grilled corn (recipe to follow, you can use regular corn if you can’t be bothered to grill corn – but I think the grilled corn option is the way to go!)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, Cheddar, Monterey Jack or Spicy Habanero Jack cheese.
  • sour cream & fresh chives for serving

Directions:

Preheat a griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat; if you have an electric griddle, set the heat to 400°F.

Beat the eggs with the oil, salt, and pepper until thoroughly combined.

Add the herbs, spices, scallions, zucchini, corn and cheese, stirring to combine.

Stir in the flour.

Grease the hot griddle lightly. Drop the batter in 1/4 cupfuls onto the griddle; a muffin scoop works well here. If necessary, spread the cakes to about 3 1/2″ to 4″ diameter.

Cook the cakes for 3 minutes, or until they’re brown on the bottom, and bubbles have appeared on their tops. The top surface will appear somewhat dry and set.

Flip the cakes, and cook them for about3 to 4 minutes on the second side, or until they’re as moist/cooked as you like when you break one open.

Repeat until you’ve used all of the batter.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold; with butter and grated cheese, or without. Store any leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator. Reheat in a toaster or toaster oven, if desired.

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Spicy Grilled Corn

This recipe will likely yield more than the 1 cup you need for the zucchini pancakes. But having extra Spicy Grilled Corn around is not a problem! You can eat it cold, straight from the fridge, sprinkle it over salads or warm it up for a side dish.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 ears of fresh corn in husk
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp chili powder

Directions:

Combine olive oil, lime juice, garlic, salt, brown sugar and chili powder in small bowl and whisk together.
Preheat grill.
Peel back the corn husks, discarding all but a couple inner layers. Remove corn silk, then baste with dressing, and recover corn with remaining husk.
Grill on med-high for 20-25 minutes, turning 3-4 times during cooking time.
Remove the corn from grill and allow to cool a few minutes. Once it has cooled enough to handle, cut off stem end, place the flat cut end on bottom of large bowl, and use a corn zipper to strip the kernels from the cob. Or if you don’t have a zipper, run a small sharp knife down the length of the cob, slicing off kernels.

Enjoy!

Zucchini, Spicy Grilled Corn & Cheese Pancakes brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

 

 


Zucchini Fritters with Feta & Dill

August 19, 2015

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Hooray! It’s zucchini time! Yup…that most delicious of summer squashes is here in abundance now. We love, love, love it around here. One zucchini feast after another. So hold onto your hats…I’m going to be sharing quite a few of the recipes we’ve been enjoying. I’m starting today off with a fantastic one for Zucchini Fritters with Feta & Dill.

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Now I just knew this one was going to be a winner. I already told you how we feel about zucchini and I’m pretty certain I  can also say I’ve never really met a fritter that I didn’t like. But I will admit, sometimes fritters can be a bit on the heavy side. Maybe not something you want to indulge in when your fairly wilted from all the hot and steamy summery temps. Well, that is why I’m so excited to share this with you. These Zucchini Fritters will not “weigh you down”. Far from it. They are wonderfully light a fresh. They will have you at the first bite – which is truly amazing. They have a crispy crunchy exterior which covers a delightfully creamy salty center. The scallion, dill, feta & zucchini combo is just the perfect summery taste sensation.

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They are great as appetizers, or as a side dish to some grilled meat or even as a light Meatless Monday meal. We enjoyed ours with a dollop of Tzatziki sauce, but they are also delicious all on their own. They come together pretty quickly (just make sure to get rid of as much of the liquid the zucchini releases as you can, otherwise you won’t get as much of that crispy factor as you want.) and are good hot off the griddle or even at room temperature. Believe me folks, you don’t want to miss out on this dish, so get out there, grab some of those zucchinis and make up a batch of these today!

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Zucchini Fritters with Feta & Dill

  • Servings: 12 Fritters
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Once Upon a Chef

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound zucchini (about 2 medium), trimmed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • scallions, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup corn starch or all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • Tzatziki Sauce, for serving

Directions:

Shred the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with the shredding disk. Transfer the zucchini to a fine mesh strainer and set over a bowl. Toss the zucchini with the salt and let it sit for 10 minutes. Wring all of the excess liquid out of the zucchini with your hands, or in a clean dish towel or even paper towels. Just make sure you get as much of that water out as possible, then set aside.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the dried zucchini, scallions, dill, feta, garlic and black pepper. Sprinkle the corn starch and baking powder over mixture and stir until uniformly incorporated.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Drop 2-tablespoon sized portions into the pan, then use the back of a spoon to gently press the batter into 2-inch-wide fritters. Pan-fry until golden brown on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer the fritters to a paper towel-lined plate. Wipe the skillet clean with paper towels. Return the skillet to medium heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, and repeat with remaining batter. Serve warm or room temperature with lemon wedges and tzatziki sauce if desired.

Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 cup English cucumber, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons dill, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together and chill until ready to serve.

Enjoy!

Zucchini Fritters with Feta & Dill brought to you by: Runcible Temps (www.leaandjay.com)

 

 

 


Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Nests with Spicy Horseradish Cream & Guinness Mustard

March 14, 2015

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Alright, alright, alright….I told you all about that Corned Beef Hash leftover recipe yesterday, as well as burst your “Corned Beef is an oh so Irish dish” balloon. Today I’d like to let you in on another recipe you can turn to after your big Corned Beef and Cabbage St. Patrick’s Day Feast or as a bit of a teaser appetizer before hand. Are you ready? Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Nests with Spicy Horseradish and Guinness Mustard.

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These little devils are delicious. Kind of like that big St. Patrick’s Day feast all compacted into a tiny little appetizer. The “potato nests” used here are amazing. I mean, who doesn’t love hash browns? And that is basically what you’ve got here except they’re better. Yup…I’m just going to go ahead and declare it…These nests are better than hash browns. Why you might ask. Well, let me tell you, these nest have the crisp factor over regular hash browns. Hash browns are really difficult to do well. Often they turn out way too soggy and greasy. But these little potato nests cooked in muffin tins have a lot of crispy crunchiness going for them. Literally all the edges are sporting it, yet they are still tender on the inside of the cup, which makes for a wonderfully satisfying bite. And once you’ve got those potato nests ready to go, it’s pretty easy to stuff them with some leftover corned beef, shredded Irish Cheddar, chives and the choice of two wonderful sauces; Spicy Horseradish or Guinness Mustard. I must say, these condiments steal the show. You probably should have them on hand for your big Corned Beef Feast as well, because they really enhance the flavor of that meat.

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This dish comes together pretty quickly, especially if you use the Simply Potatoes Shredded Hash browns which can be found in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store. If you are going old school and grating your own potatoes, make sure you wring them out well to get rid of that extra moisture so that they will cook up nice and crispy. But if you can take the shortcut of pre-made hash browns, you should definitely go there. Don’t feel guilty, it is so worth it. Your time is valuable. And if you take advantage of this timesaver, you’ll be tucking in to these adorable tasty Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Cups before you know it. And I think that is a great thing!

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Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Nests with Spicy Horseradish Cream & Guinness Mustard

  • Servings: 12 Potato Nests
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

For the potato nests:

  • 1 – 20 ounce bag of Simply Potatoes Shredded Hash Browns (if you can’t find these you can substitute in 3 1/2 cups shredded Russet potato which has been rinsed, and squeezed dry in a towel.)
  • 1 cup Irish cheddar, shredded
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you like a little kick!)

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups diced or sliced corn beef
  • 1 cup Irish Cheddar, shredded
  • chives, to sprinkle over the top

Serve with Horseradish Cream and Guinness Mustard (recipes listed below)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F and thoroughly spray a 12 cup cupcake tin with baking spray or grease with butter or oil.

Place shredded Hash Browns and cheddar cheese in medium-sized mixing bowl. Add spices and mix. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil and then toss until mixture is coated.

Using 1/4 cup ice cream scoop, fill each well of the cupcake tin with the hash brown mixture.

Using the back of a spoon and your fingers press the hash brown mixture into the sides and bottom of the pan. I actually used a 1/4 cup measuring cup with tapered sides to assist me in making the correct shape for these nests.

Bake potato nests in lower third of the oven for about 60 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. The inside of the potato cup will not appear as dark as the bottom, so actually check the bottoms from time to time.

Remove nests from the oven and let cool for a minute or two. At this point you will probably need to reshape your “nest” a bit. Gently do so with the back of a spoon and then let them cool for 20 minutes on a wire rack.

Once cool, run a knife around the edges of the nests and very carefully remove them from the cupcake tin.

Reheat the leftover diced corned beef  in the microwave. Spoon it into the waiting potato nests. Sprinkle with a bit more shredded cheddar and top with chives.

Serve the Corned Beef & Cheddar Potato Nests with Horseradish Cream and Guinness Mustard on the side.

Horseradish Cream Sauce

Recipe from: Bon Appetit

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 6 tablespoons prepared white horseradish (about 4 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped dill pickle
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or green onion tops

Directions:

Whisk all ingredients in small bowl to blend. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Guinness Mustard

Recipe from: Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup coarse-grained Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons regular Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Guinness stout or other stout or porter
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon golden brown sugar

Directions:

Whisk all ingredients in small bowl to blend. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Enjoy!

Corned Beef & Irish Cheddar Potato Nests with  Spicy Horseradish Cream Sauce & Guinness Mustard brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)


Pears with Pecorino, Pistachios & Honey

February 21, 2015

 

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Holy frozen tundra has it been COLD for the past week. I know, I know…it’s winter. It is supposed to be cold. And yes, I am the person who detests hot weather. And yes I will be complaining much more loudly and often once that sultry Virginia weather kicks in this summer. Still…it was been awful freaking, record-breakingly, bitter cold recently. Perhaps that is why I have found myself thinking fondly back on a trip that we took to Italy last October. That was where I had my first taste of Pears with Pecorino & Honey. I saw it served both as an appetizer and as a light dessert. The juicy ripe pears combined with the salty Pecorino cheese and the sweet honey was just sublime.

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Fresh, simple. locally sourced…seems to describe everything we ate on that holiday. And I can truly say, we didn’t have a bad meal the whole time we were there, whether we were dining in a fancy pants restaurant or a little local trattoria. Except for the bread that is…what a disappointment. In my visions of Italy I would always be sipping wine at a little table with some lovely cheese and a loaf of bread. Well, truth be told, I did have a few where I was zipping around on a Vespa with a bottle of wine and a fresh loaf of bread in tow (Ciao!) … but anyway, my expectation for the bread was way high and it tasted pretty abysmal. Well, in Tuscany proper anyway. Tuscan bread does not have any salt in it. Bleck! Apparently back in the day, their old enemy Pisa, set up a blockade of sorts which made it difficult to acquire salt. So the Tuscans started making bread without it and have kept up the daft practice even though salt is readily available. Talk about fearing change… But besides the bread, it was a fantastic trip. I have been dying to tell you all about, so I think I will take advantage of this weather which certainly brings hibernation to mind, to stay put (under a mound of blankets…) for a few moments and take the time to do just that over the next few posts.

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We arrived in Florence mid-October which meant the majority of the flood of summer tourists had subsided. The weather was absolutely fantastic, still warm during the day but a bit chilly in the evenings, though in light of recent weather around here, perhaps I will revise my opinion to say it was a bit “balmy” in the evenings. We rented a car and drove north to the Italian Riviera portion of the Ligurian region where we planned to spend 3 days visiting Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre, the “five lands”, is made up of the five towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare which seem to cling precariously to steep cliffs jutting up from the sea.

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The towns, along with the surrounding hillsides and coastline make up The Cinque Terre National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. No car traffic is allowed in the villages but no worries, it is easy to travel between them by train or boat taxi. We had booked a room in the lovely Luna di Marzo hotel which is located in Volastra, a really small village, still in the park, located just up the cliff from Manarola. The views from the room were simply breathtaking!

 

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The husband and I were really psyched because not only was Cinque Terre amazingly beautiful, but the park has hundreds of miles of hiking paths which shoot dramatically skyward, wind through the hillside vineyards and olive groves and descend steeply to twist along rugged coastal footpaths. We love hiking and couldn’t wait to hit the trails and take in all of that the area had to offer.

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Luckily I had heard about Pall Forloney, the Trekguyd and was able to hire him to take us on a trek of all five towns and I’ve got to tell you this was the highlight of our holiday! Originally from Rhode Island, Pall has been living in Riomaggiore for over 10 years. I would say that he has all the knowledge of a “local”, which he certainly does, but it is more than that. He is so enthusiastic about the area and has been traversing it for so long, he certainly knows more than the average local. He proved invaluable to us during our visit.  Not only did he expertly guide us (and yes there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to hike it…or perhaps I should say a “savvy” vs. a “clueless” way…) on a small, personal, day long trek through all five towns and the surrounding hillsides,

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but he was also a fount of information on everything from local history,

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Saw lots of churches in Italy. But when Pall took us to The Black Church in Monterossa al Mare, it definitely stood out.

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It is the chapel of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer and is filled with “momento mori”.

 

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The Brotherhood saw to the welfare of orphans, widows, shipwreck victims and the destitute.

 

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You could also have a burial mass said for folks who had been excommunicated here as well.

 

to Sciacchetrà wine production,

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on to general hiking tips and even recommendations for the best restaurants that the 5 towns had to offer. He took us to the best gelateria in all of the five towns! Not to mention he is a truly fascinating guy and great fun to hang around with. All park passes, train tickets and boat taxi fares were included in the price of his tour.

Relaxing on the boat taxi headed back to Riomaggiore after our trek.

Relaxing on the boat taxi headed back to Riomaggiore after our trek.

 

Having booked with Pall on our first day in Cinque Terre, we were able to benefit from all of his knowledge and make the most of our next two days there. Even after Pall’s tour was officially over, he was still trying to make sure we had a great visit. So, when the husband and I let him know we had never tried the local Sciacchetrà wine, he arranged to have us meet a friend of his, Roberto  who owns the Terra di Bargòn vineyard.

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For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Sciacchetrà wine, it is the white wine that has been cultivated and produced in Cinque Terre for many years. It is odd that there even is wine production in this area. Remember, the towns are situated on rather steep cliffs. Those industrious Cinque Terre dwellers from long ago literally carved out the terraces on which the vineyards grow and then undertook the backbreaking challenge of harvesting the grapes, carrying them on their backs down along the narrow, cliff’s-edge paths to town.

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But that wasn’t the end of the hard work for them. Then they had to dry the grapes. Sciacchetrà is a straw wine meaning that the grapes are dried to concentrate their juice. Though often thought of as a dessert wine, Sciacchetrà is considered a wine of meditation and is excellent paired with cheeses. We were very curious about it to say the least after hiking through the vineyards all day. With hardly any notice, just a quick phone call from Pall, Roberto was able to come meet us at his Cantina where the Terra di Bargòn Sciacchetrà is produced and cellared. What a treat! Roberto is quite a character. He told us all about the history of that rare wine, how his family came to produce it and gave us a first hand account of the labor intensive cycle of production.

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But better yet, he let us taste the Sciacchetrà of the year (there is a two-year fermentation) as well as a 2009 reserve and a 2003 reserve. It is difficult to describe the taste, but I would say sweet but not too sweet and silky smooth with hints of honey and apricot. All I can say is that it is unique, delicious and definitely something you should sample. (Sciacchetrà is not widely imported to the US. Terra di  Bargòn will ship to the US through their website if you are interested. Better yet….go visit them in Cinque Terre.) There are not a lot of folks in Cinque Terre today that are willing to do the kind of work that is required to make Sciacchetrà. Roberto is perhaps one of a dying breed. He offered us keen insight into a way of life which has been handed down for generations in Cinque Terre. Unfortunately this way of life and this special wine is in danger of being lost forever, but not if Roberto has anything to do with it. The authentic cultural experience of tasting the wine and meeting Roberto was essentially priceless!

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Cinque Terre was absolutely amazing. I am so glad that we decided to give it the time it deserved and did not try to do it as a “day trip” from Florence. It would not have done the slow-paced vibe of the place justice. Now, that being said, I do understand that in the Summer months, especially August, the place is over-run with tourists, so you might want to plan accordingly. What you must do is book a trek with Pall Forloney, the Trekguyd. While you are traversing the hills, he will have you up to speed and CT savvy in no time flat. And make sure you sample that Sciacchetrà wine while you still can. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy this simple, yet elegant dish of Pears with Pecorino, Pistachios & Honey.

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It will have you dreaming of long and lazy, sun drenched days. When you gaze out your window, you won’t see a frozen, barren, arctic waste land. No. You’ll see a beautiful green and rugged coastline framed by the turquoise sea. Just make sure you don’t shatter the illusion by sneaking a peek at your thermometer!

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Pears with Pecorino, Pistachios & Honey

  • Servings: 2 - 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 pears
  • 3 Tablespoons Honey
  • 1/4 cup shaved Pecorino Cheese
  • handful of roughly chopped pistachios
  • freshly ground pepper

Directions:

For a Fresh & Light Spring/Summer Dish:

Core and slice pears. Scattered shaved Pecorino over pear slices. Warm honey and drizzle over pears and cheese. Sprinkle pistachios over the top. Season with freshly ground pepper if desired.

For a Warm & Comforting Fall/Winter Dish:

Core and slice pears. Place on broiler rack. Scatter shaved Pecorino over pear slices. Broil until cheese is melted and slightly browned. Warm honey and drizzle over pears and cheese. Sprinkle pistachios over the top. Season with freshly ground pepper if desired.

Pears with Pecorino, Pistachios & Honey brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)


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