Scottish fare can warm stomach, heart

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

We so enjoyed the cool weather in Scotland last summer that we went again this year. The scenery was great, so we drove all over. Driving on the left side of the road and shifting with the left hand is not so bad. What is scary is their narrow roads – no shoulder, none whatsoever, and here comes this big lorry barreling down the road. And I love the signs, “Oncoming traffic in the middle of the road.” Single tract roads, at least, usually means minimal traffic (sheep excepted), but still, if the curve is blind, just pray the oncoming vehicle is not going too fast to stop.

We visited a few castles and country homes and took another whiskey tour. I think the best tour was Balmoral, the Queen’s summer place. We heard she wasn’t staying at the castle this August, but in another cottage on the estate and let the tourists continue to pay to see the castle. We were there the weekend that the queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, got married in Edinburgh. Another castle we wanted to see was the Castle of Mey on the far north coast, the summer home of Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother. It was closed. Prince Charles was to be in residence after the wedding.

Where we stay and what we eat is as important as what we visit. Two places were the inspiration for the recipes below. We stayed at the Darroch Learg Hotel in Ballater after our visit to Balmoral. It turned out to be our best meal. The mushroom soup with puff pastry was just a lagniappe, not even on the menu. The chef had been at the hotel for 20 or so years. My husband loves the “full English breakfasts” that are usually offered at every stop. Here, we had our eggs scrambled with smoked salmon for breakfast.

Master recipe for the mushroom soup is from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook.

Velouté Soup Base

For about 2 quarts

4 Tbs butter

¾ cup to 1 ½ cups minced onion and or white of leek – the amount depending on your other ingredients

¼ cup flour

7 to 8 cups liquid: chicken or fish stock and/or milk or vegetable cooking liquid – of which at least 1 cup is hot

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Set a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over moderately low heat, add the butter, and, when melted, stir in the onions. Cover and cook slowly seven to eight minutes, or until the onions are tender and translucent. Blend in the flour. Stir slowly for three minutes, to cook the flour without letting it color. Remove from heat, and in a few seconds, when bubbling stops, pour in 1 cup of hot liquid all at once, whisking vigorously to blend smoothly. Whisk in 6 more cups. Bring to a simmer, stirring, and simmer 10 minutes –stirring frequently to be sure the soup is not scorching on the bottom of the pan. The soup base should be slightly thickened, enough to coat a spoon lightly. Add dollops of liquid if too thick. Correct seasoning, and continue as your recipe directs.

Cream of Mushroom Soup with Puff Pastry Dome

For about 2 ½ quarts, 6 servings

Ingredients for the preceding Velouté Soup base, made with 1 cup of hot chicken broth and 6 or more cups of milk

1 quart fresh mushrooms, trimmed, washed, and diced

¼ tsp dried tarragon leaves (I used 2 sprigs of fresh from the garden.)

½ cup or more sour cream, heavy cream or crème fraîche, optional

Salt, and freshly ground white pepper

Drops of lemon juice, if needed

Sheet of puff pastry for dome

Bring the soup base to simmer, and fold in the mushrooms and tarragon; simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Stir in the optional cream, simmer a moment more, and carefully correct seasoning, adding a few drops of lemon juice if you think they are needed.

Have the puff pastry de-thawed and roll out the amount needed to cover each soup bowl. Bowls should be ovenproof. The oven should be preheated to 400 degrees. Put the puff pastry over each bowl of soup and heat for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry if golden. Serve immediately. It is delicious.

From The Dower House: I have no real recipe so I came home and made my own. The Dower House is a repeat for us. It is just a couple who manage the whole affair. Mena officiates, and Robyn cooks. Drinks in the parlor before dinner. Scotch seems appropriate there. We had Talisker, a smoky single malt from Skye. Robyn did a risotto also last year using beets that I shared with you.

Risotto with Smoked Haddock and Squash

Serves 4

Cook risotto according to package directions. I use the classic risotto recipe that uses some onions, wine, chicken broth and parmesan cheese. You could use the basic recipe given on the package also. I used 1 cup risotto for this recipe for four.

When my risotto was almost finished cooking, I added one zucchini and one yellow squash that I had cut into small pieces, I also added about 6 ounces of diced smoked whitefish (could not find smoked haddock) to the risotto. This, too, was a delicious meal. You can do it as a starter as Robyn did or the main course if eating light.

We traveled on the western isles by several ferries. One stay was on the small isle of Gigha (pronounced gee-ah) where we stayed at a country house, Achamore. Its garden is the principal attraction of the island. This western part of Scotland is usually frost free because of the Gulf Stream and the plantings are tropical to subtropical. Here, we ate at a small café at the ferry landing where we had the local catch of scallops and lobster.

We tried to have the local seafood wherever we were, but Scotland has some good beef, lamb and venison, as well.

But we are now back in the heat. Even with air, our house is not as cool as Scotland. It was 40s to 70s there most days, and we didn’t have much rain. It was raining the afternoon in Gigha, and we spent the afternoon is the island’s only pub with a house full of locals.