Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Only Real Scot’s Eat Haggis

If you were to ask most people ‘What is a classic Scottish dish?’, more often than not, the answer would be haggis. Now we’re living in Scotland, I was looking forward to finding some good haggis to sink my teeth into. Many people have said to be careful when you order this Scottish cuisine, as the quality of haggis can vary from place to place.  With Cara’s parents visiting from Australia at the moment, we decided to take a day trip to beautiful Edinburgh, and I decided to take the opportunity to seek out some good haggis for lunch.

The last time Cara and I were in Edinburgh, it was a gorgeous warm sunny day. This time we were not so lucky. But even in the wind and rain, Edinburgh is still very picturesque. As we walked toward the famous Edinburgh castle, the weather took a turn for the worse and we found a nice little Scottish pub to stop for lunch.  They were offering a traditional style haggis dish, served with mash potato and mashed pumpkin. Trying something new is always a gamble, but new foods don’t scare me anymore and I was looking forward to what would be presented before me.

It’s probably best not to speak about the contents of haggis, as it can sound quite off-putting, but i suppose it’s good to know what you are about to eat.  Haggis is a mixture of sheep’s offal (heart, liver and lungs), along with onion and oatmeal. It’s then well seasoned with spices and salt and pepper. Stock is then added to the mixture and It's left to simmer for 3 hours.

No one knows for sure where the idea for haggis came from. There is no definitive proof that it even comes from Scotland. However, the first recipe for haggis in print was around 1430, in a cookbook from the north west of the United Kingdom.  One of the theories is that haggis was offered to the workman in the slaughter houses. After all the prime cuts of meat had been cut and sold, the leftovers were minced and seasoned and given to the workers

When my meal arrived, It looked interesting, but quite nice. It tasted even better. The mixture of flavours worked well together. The use of herbs and seasoning is a huge part of the overall dish. Without it, it would be extremely bland. In this particular dish, I could also taste strong onion and garlic flavours. You could argue that the use of the garlic, onion, herbs and spices are there to disguise the taste to the offal, but what ever the reason, it works.  I washed it all down with a local beer brewed in Edinburgh, “Innes & Gunn”. This independent brewing company was established in 2003. It’s popularity in Scotland is largely due to it’s unique brewing style. It’s brewed and fermented in white oak whisky barrels which gives it an after-taste which is unlike any beer I’ve had before. Together with the haggis, I felt like I was having the full Scottish experience.

After an amazing lunch, the rain eased and we continued exploring Edinburgh. I thoroughly enjoyed my first haggis meal and I’m sure it won’t be my last.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Goodbye London... Hello Glasgow!!!

The Old Toll Booth of Glasgow
Glasgow’s bustling city centre
The time has come for Cara and I to start the next phase of our adventure. After our visit to Scotland earlier in the year, we’ve decided to move to Glasgow to live and work for the next 6 months.  To get into the new Scottish way of life, I’ve decided to pay tribute to one of the great scotch whisky cocktails, The ‘Hot Toddy’.

Like many of the classics, it’s history is rather vague. It has been said that the drink itself was created in India where the people used to mix fermented palm tree sap and hot water. The Scot’s claim that they created this drink in the 1700’s to make the strong taste of scotch whisky easier for women to drink. The locals also back up this story with a reference to the name “Toddy” in a poem by Allan Ramsey in 1721. Ramsey’s poem, “The Morning Interview” refers to the 'Todian Spring' (a.k.a Tod’s Well”) in Edinburgh which is the cities water supply. As water is one of the main ingredients in a hot toddy, the story seems to fit.

To make a basic hot toddy is very easy. Start with 2 - 3 slices of lemon. Add a tablespoon of honey. If you like your drinks quite sweet, you could also add a teaspoon of sugar along with the honey. Next, add 45ml of your favourite scotch whisky. I prefer a smokey, well aged whisky to give the drink the most flavour.  Lastly, top up your glass with hot water and stir the ingridients until it is blended together. If you are not a fan of scotch, rum or brandy are suitable substitute, but in Scotland making a hot toddy with anything else other than scotch whisky would be a crime.

I’m sure many hot toddy’s will be drunk over our time here in Scotland. We are both excited about exploring, living and working in Glasgow

“The Hot Toddy”
In a mug, or tall glass:
Add 2 - 3 lemon slices
Tablespoon of Honey
(Optional Teaspoon of Sugar)
45ml Scotch Whisky
Topped up with Hot Water

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Why Not Heat & Spice Your Wine?

As summer comes to a close in the UK, we look ahead to the chilly winter and all of the tasty hot beverages which seems to be a tradition in the UK. One hot drink which Cara and I had not heard of before our travels is “Mulled” wine. It’s a popular concoction served in all the pubs and at all the winter festivals. During our visit to the Tower of London, I managed to pick up a sachet of mulled wine spices to mix on a cold winters night. Although winter is not here yet, I couldn’t resist trying it out early.

The term ‘mulled’ means to simply heat and spice a liquid. Red wine is the most common beverage to mull, but other drinks such as cider and mead are common too. Originally mulled wine was served as a medicine to keep people heathy over the cold winters. But it is now a popular winter beverage, most commonly drunk around christmas. 

One simple way to make mulled wine is to start with a cup of water (measurements may vary depending on how much you’d like to make). Add spices such as cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Boil the spices until most of the flavour has been extracted. Next add a cup of red wine, with a tablespoon of sugar. Bring the mixture to the boiling-point. Once all the sugar and spices have been dissolved, take the mixture off the boil. If you prefer a stronger drink, add a dash of brandy to the mixture. If you are a sweet tooth, you could also add honey with you mulled wine. If you fancy more citrus flavours, you could boil the wine with lemons or oranges. The flavours you add is only limited by your imagination. When serving mulled wine, It’s usually finished of with a slice of orange, but as mentioned, you have no limitations. Overall, you get a warming drink, which is a well balanced blend of spices and citrus flavours together with the smooth tannins of the red wine. 

I look forward to testing out some new mulled wine recipes over the winter. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

London 2012 Olympic Games

It’s a time in London, which Cara and I have been excited about since we arrived in the UK, the London 2012 Olympic Games. Being in the host city for the games was the main reason for us staying in London as long as we have. We see it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the Olympics first hand.

It’s a special time for London. The nations capital has had a big year with the Queens Diamond Jubilee happening only a couple of months ago and now the Olympics, the city is sure to celebrate in style. It is also a milestone for the modern Olympics. It is the first time that a city has hosted the games 3 times. London played host in 1908, 1948 and now 2012.

Cara and I were excited to go and see as many events as we could. However, ticket availability and the high prices only allowed us to see some of the free events that London 2012 had to offer. What better way to start our games experience by going to watch the men’s road race. Fresh of my Tour De France trip, I was excited to see some more cycling. We had a great day getting into the Olympic spirit, which continued over the next 16 days. We were lucky enough to attend the triathlon, men’s walk, the cycling time trial and the men’s marathon on the final Sunday.

During this exciting time in London, I began to do some research on some Olympic themed cocktails. I didn’t have to look far. The Hyatt Hotel had created a Gold, Silver and Bronze collection of cocktails to mark the occasion.

The ‘Gold’ cocktail is a built drink made of Sailor Jerry gold rum; mango flavoured lemonade, ginger beer and Goslings gold rum floated on top.  The ‘Silver’ cocktail took a different approach. A simple and refreshing drink, consisting of Absolut vanilla vodka, coconut water and sugar syrup, topped with lemonade, then garnished with sage leafs. Lastly was the ‘bronze’ cocktail. Another built drink which consists of Makers Mark Bourbon, green chartreuse, ginger ale, topped with soda water, garnished with mint leafs. All three drinks are simple and easy to make and all offering unique flavours and combinations of spirits.

We’ll never forget our time in London during the Olympic games. It has so far been one of the highlights of being in the UK so far.

Build over Ice
45ml Sailor Jerry’s Gold Rum
Top half the glass with Mango lemonade
Top the other half with Ginger Beer
Float 15ml Goslings Gold Rum on top

Build over Ice
45ml Absolut Vanilla
15ml Coconut Water
15ml Sugar Syrup
Topped with Lemonade
Garnish with Sage Leafs

Built over Ice
30ml Makers Mark Bourbon
15ml Green Chartreuse
Topped with Ginger Ale & Soda Water
Garnish: Mint Leafs