2 cracker recipes

With sourdough and non sourdough options

These two cracker recipes were both attempts of mine to replicate commercially available products. In both cases I have backwards designed them to attempt to replicate the original. I think I may have improved on them.

In the first case, we got these as a gift, and my wife really liked them. The milk, oats and sugar in combination give it a very pleasing and gentle mouthfeel.

The second cracker comes from a Toronto baker who’s claim to fame is that they use spent beer grains for part of their mix in both breads and crackers. These spent grains are interesting. When one makes beer using whole grains, they are roughly milled and then immersed in a 68C bath for an hour or so. In this way the fermentable sugars are extracted from the grains and eaten by the yeasts to produce alcohol in beer. The grains add fibre to the product, and roughage too, though the starch, sugar and protein has long left them into the tea. (I personally don’t by the nutritional claims made!)

Understanding that not everyone has a sourdough starter in the fridge, each recipe has a sourdough and a non sourdough version. My sourdough starter is 166% hydration – or 60g flour to 100g water.

Effies oatcakes

Sourdough version

Oatcakes – 6 Pack


  • 100g 166% starter
  • 70g oats
  • 70g oat flour
  • 20g sugar
  • 100g milk
  • 48g melted unsalted butter
  • 16g salt
  • 8g baking soda
  • 100g flour


  1. Mix and knead all items except salt.
  2. Leave at room temp for several hours to get the yeast working, or refrigerate for a day
  3. Add salt and thoroughly knead
  4. Oven to 375 convection. If you do not have a convection option, check them after 15 minutes – some will be cooked while others won’t be. Remove the ones that are and keep the other ones in checking every 5 minutes or so until all are crisp
  5. using a roller and parchment paper, roll out the dough until they are about 1/4″ or 6mm. The final rolling should be done on parchment paper which is transferred to a baking sheet so that the entire baking sheet has a flat sheet of dough.
  6. Using a pizza cutter, cut the crackers into desired shapes
  7. oven for 15 minutes, or until stiff. Let cool then package in airtight containers. They must be completely dry!

non sourdough version


  • 165g flour
  • 70g oats
  • 70g oat flour
  • 20g sugar
  • 140 ml milk
  • 48g melted unsalted butter
  • 16g salt
  • 8g baking soda


  1. Mix and knead all items.
  2. Oven to 375 convection. If you do not have a convection option, check them after 15 minutes – some will be cooked while others won’t be. Remove the ones that are and keep the other ones in checking every 5 minutes or so until all are crisp
  3. using a roller and parchment paper, roll out the dough until they are about 1/4″ or 6mm. The final rolls should be done on parchment paper which is transferred to a baking sheet so that the entire baking sheet has a flat sheet of dough.
  4. Using a pizza cutter, cut the crackers into desired shapes
  5. oven for 15 minutes, or until stiff. Let cool then package in airtight containers. They must be completely dry!

Beer Crisps

non sourdough version


What’s cool is that they actually give their recipe on their website, calculating that few crazies are going to take the trouble to try to make them. My recipes below are not quite the same, and I prefer them.


  • Original has used beer mash about 20% (replace 40g flour with 40g mash)
  • 50g Kamut flour Other flours can be substituted: spelt, chickpea, rice, all purpose….
  • 375g red fife or some whole wheat flour
  • 60g butter melted unsalted
  • 190ml water (or this can be replaced with beer)
  • 7g sugar
  • 14 g salt
  • 70g sesame seed


  1. Mix and knead all items.
  2. Oven to 375 convection. If you do not have a convection option, check them after 15 minutes – some will be cooked while others won’t be. Remove the ones that are and keep the other ones in checking every 5 minutes or so until all are crisp
  3. using a roller and parchment paper, roll out the dough until very thin. The final rolls should be done on parchment paper which is transferred to a baking sheet so that the entire baking sheet has a flat sheet of dough.
  4. Using a pizza cutter, cut the crackers into desired shapes
  5. oven for 15 minutes, or until stiff. Let cool then package in airtight containers. They must be completely dry!

sourdough version


  • Original has used beer mash about 20% (replace 40g flour with 40g mash)
  • 250g 166% starter
  • Kamut flour 50g Other flours can be substituted: spelt, chickpea, rice, all purpose….
  • 220g red fife or some whole wheat flour
  • 60g butter melted unsalted
  • 44 g water (or can be replaced with beer)
  • 7g sugar
  • 14 g salt
  • 70g sesame seed


  1. Mix and knead all items except salt.
  2. Leave at room temp for several hours, or refrigerate for a day
  3. Add salt and thoroughly knead
  4. Oven to 375 convection. If you do not have a convection option, check them after 15 minutes – some will be cooked while others won’t be. Remove the ones that are and keep the other ones in checking every 5 minutes or so until all are crisp
  5. Using a roller and parchment paper, roll out the dough until very thin. The final rolls should be done on parchment paper which is transferred to a baking sheet so that the entire baking sheet has a flat sheet of dough.
  6. Using a pizza cutter, cut the crackers into desired shapes
  7. Bake in oven for 15 minutes, or until stiff. Let cool then package in airtight containers. They must be completely dry!

Here are some pics and more technique explanations.

The dough will initially be quite stiff and patience is needed. Flour it to prevent sticking. Notice It is being rolled out right on the parchment paper.

Your goal is to make it thin, even and the same shape as your cookie tray.

Folding it over helps get that rectangle.

Once they are even and nice and thin, gently slide the parchment paper onto a cookie tray.

Only cut them with a pizza wheel when they are on parchment paper and in the baking tray. You don’t have to cut all the way – they will break easily when done.

Yes, there will be tasty morsels.

Bon Appetit!

Cedar soda

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Summerfolk music festival in Owen Sound. One of the food booths was run by a group from a nearby Indigenous community, and there I tried a cedar soda. It was very pleasant and is my usual habit, I got curious and wondered, “How is this done?”

I went and asked “Are you basically making cedar tea, sweetening it with syrup and then injecting CO2?” He replied “Yep that’s basically about it.”

So I thought I would try to make my own. I started with boiling some cedar. I reasoned that it needed to be concentrated and thus would be quite bitter. If I added sweetener in the form of maple syrup then soda water over that, I should be there. I’m using soda water from a SodaStream.

My initial experiment #1:

Yields a litre of soda

  • 300g cedar tea – not terribly strong: pot was filled with cedar branches and boiled maybe 10 minutes.
  • 100 g maple syrup (mix these first 2 ingredients first)
  • 600 g soda water

Experiment 2

It was okay but it wasn’t very carbonated with those proportions.

Experiment 2

I still had lots of the original tea left so I boiled it down to about half. Now it was quite dark.

In this version I am doing one cup (approximately 250ml) at a time.

  • 3-4 tbs strong cedar tea
  • 1tbs maple syrup. Stir these together and add ice.
  • Add soda water to fill up the glass

It was better, quite decent. Its only going to be carbonated to the extent your soda water is.

Experiment 3

This got me thinking about other ways to get carbonation and here I am thinking of natural carbonation. I checked up on the internet but there were no hits on naturally carbonated cedar tea, though there was ( as I knew there would be) on fruit sodas. I had made these a couple of years ago – I just needed to be reminded of how. Essentially you take a fruit base, make sure it is sweet, and some kind of culture: natural yogurt or kombucha scoby. Put in a bottle with a narrow neck so that CO2 production happens and not alcohol.

  • Experiment 2 soda
  • Mini scoby from a kombucha on hand, ½ tsp yogurt

This one took a week to ferment. Since the fermentation ate up some sugar, I thought I might need to add more syrup – but no.

Experiment 3: Its been fermenting with a small (now bigger) coby and a little yogurt whey for about a week. Carbonation is coming along – it still has more to go.

1 week later taste note: it has more complexity than experiment 1: the flavors are more settled. Also there’s a little more carbonation – and I am sure this will intensify with time.

Experiment 3 poured, with ice. Yum.

Further possibility

I’m wondering about using the natural bacteria and yeast on cedar itself. For this I would ferment cedar branches, add syrop and bottle. That idea is a long way off – lets see how #3 sorts itself out.


  • The easiest way is to prepare a litre or so of really strong cedar tea and keep it in the fridge. When you want a cedar soda, follow experiment 2
  • Experiment 3 produces a more complex and sublime tea. For this I would scale up the process, let it do a bulk ferment for a week, add sugar primer (50g per litre – just like kombucha) and bottle it. In this one you want to taste test to get the right proportion of tea and syrup, scale it up so it is worth the effort. Of course you also need bottles too: flip tops, screw on wine bottles, beer bottles with a capper etc. I’d probably initially try a gallon, scaling it up to 2 gallons if you like the result.

Experiments 2 and 3 side by side. They taste as different as they look. Both cedar, but #3 is somehow more complex.

So how do you cook these wild greens?

Whenever I am in Owen Sound, I hit the market on Saturday morning. As most do, I have my favorite vendors. One of them, Bob and Ruth, have developed something of a precarious niche market for themselves. What they essentially do is cultivate edible wild plants that you simply aren’t going to see anywhere else. They also cultivate some familiar fare too – garlic, Rhubarb, asparagus…. But what I appreciate them for is their unusual greens: amaranth, nettle, roseroot, goosefoot, nettles, dandelion and others. Any little bit of research on any of them will reveal their wonderful rejuvenative powers – The question inevitably comes up though, “How do you cook it?”

Essentially what we are talking about are any leafy greens that have either a bland, or somewhat bitter taste. This blog describes several approaches to these dark healthy, leafy greens.

The Braise

The first method involves making a delicious braise that will provide a smooth, delicious, vegetable entre that allows the greens to provide a base for and absorb other delicious flavours around them.

The problem with these greens is that their inherent flavor is not much to write home about. One therefore needs to surround them with other sweeter and nuttier flavors and textures. While this recipe provides fairly specific details, it can be easily modified and substantially changed. There is a lot of flexibility built into the design- get as creative as you like. It should be noted that changes in the oil, cheese or nuts you use will make a huge difference.

This recipe takes about an hour with about 20 minutes of active preparation.

Ingredients (serves about 4)

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbs oil: butter, coconut oil, olive
  • Approximately 1-2 cups of loosely packed greens of your choice
  • Salt, pepper to taste
  • 1 tart apple
  • 150g cheese (unripened goat cheese, feta, sharp cheddar, haloumi, parmesan, brie are all possible)
  • 60g nuts – could be pine nuts, sunflower nuts, pecans, walnuts or slivered almonds
  • Nutmeg – approximately ½ tsp
  • Optional: herbs – basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary
  • Also optional: mushrooms, a few splashes of white wine


  1. Cut onion & garlic and sautee in a pan with 1 tsp salt and 2 tbs oil on a low heat, covered until translucent. Depending on how you want the onions to profile at the end, they can be cut big or diced small.
  2. While onion is cooking, prepare the other additions:
    • Wash and cut the greens
    • Core and dice the apple
    • Chop cheese into quite small pieces
    • Select and measure out nuts

      In this dish I’m using pigfoot and kale.

  3. Make sure your heat is low – just enough for a gentle simmer. When the onion is translucent, about 20 minutes- add the prepared ingredients in the following order, and time: DO NOT mix them in. Just layer them on top, and always cook covered.
    • Herbs if you are using them. If you are using mushrooms, this is a good time for them too.
    • Greens: Layer on top of the onions, and do not stir in. Wait 20 minutes or so.
    • Apple: Layer on top of greens, wait another 15 minutes
    • Cheese and nuts
  4. Cook until the cheese is melted, & the apples soft.
  5. Turn into a casserole dish, add nutmeg and mix all the layers together. Taste for salt and pepper, herbs, as well as nuts and cheese.

In this version, I used pine nuts and sunflower seeds. This one still has a way to go!

And that’s it! This general process works with any cooked green, including the ones you might usually get.

Nettle Curry

In this recipe its the herbs, spices and coconut oil that carry the flavor. Switch out the turmeric for a good blast of lime and chili powder, add in some red pepper, and voila  – a Mexican palette


  • 2 tsp salt – but taste as you go. 
  • 1 medium onion 
  • Nettle root 2 tablespoons coconut oil 
  • 1 tbsp of unsalted butter 
  • about 40 grams of ginger, diced
  • one medium to large grated potato 
  • 2c Loosely packed Nettles 
  • 1 tablespoon each  of cumin, ground coriander seeds, turmeric
  • hot sauce to taste
  • half a bunch of cilantro 
  • To taste – @ 120ml mango orange juice 
  • 100g chevre 
  • add salt as needed


  1. Sautee onions, ginger, garlic & salt  together in coconut oil and butter
  2. Add in spices
  3. Layer grated potato over and cover
  4. Add juice to prevent sticking
  5. Layer nettle leaves over and cover, cooking at a bare simmer
  6. Taste for salt, oil, spices and adjust accordingly.

The Roux

The idea in this recipe is to have the sweetness and complexity of the dark juices carry the flavor palette


  • 2 tsp salt – but taste as you go. 
  • 1 medium onion 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 80 g all purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 340ml cherry, blackcurrant, or cranberry juice or kombucha from these juices
  • 120 ml red wine
  • 2c Loosely packed cooking greens
  • Pepper to taste; nutmeg is optional
  • Other herbs at your discretion


  1. Sautee  chopped onions, garlic  together in the butter with salt
  2. Once translucent, add flour and stir to thoroughly combine
  3. With heat on medium  – medium high, add the juice and wine a little at a time until it thickens. Taste as you go and add more juice/wine  – it should be the consistency of a medium- thick sauce (which it is. 
  4. Wash and cut the greens, and add them to the roux.
  5. Mix in gently and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the greens are cooked. Taste as you go. You are looking for a complex, fruity, slightly sweet taste.

Our Robert Burns Dinner

This past weekend, my sister and I did our 2nd Burns dinner. The last one was 2 years ago, held on the 25th of January. This year its on the 19th – close enough, and means that my sister can do it in the course of the weekend – she is travelling from away.

For those of you who do not know, Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland. His ability to discern the true nature of both man and beast in a few powerful words is unsurpassed. A few years after his death his friends got together and held a commemorative dinner for him. Apparently little has changed in over 200 years. We still have a long way to go before we get anywhere close to making it truly traditional – this was the second time we have done this, and it will only get better. I’d say we have the food part down pretty well — next are the various toasts, poems and words of great and small wisdom to be shared.

My greatest pleasure in this is cooking with my sister. We’ve both developed into pretty decent cooks, and we rarely get a chance to play together in the kitchen sandbox. There’s so much shared and deep memory there, and we get along wonderfully well in the kitchen. Doing it over the day also means we aren’t scrambling around like we are in some kind of hell’s kitchen – its very relaxed with lots of time for catching up and looking ahead.

First of all, the whole menu

Hors d’oeuvres:

  • Homemade oatcakes
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Red pepper jelly
  • Cut vegs


  • Cock a Leekie soup
  • Homemade sourdough

Fish course

  • Salmon on a bed of warmed grain barley salad
  • Maple baked brussel sprouts
  • Braised carrot and cabbage

Haggis course

  • Haggis
  • Neeps (turnips – what North Americans call rutabaga)
  • Tatties (mashed potatoes)


  • Cranachan

ALL the recipes

Hors d’oeuvres:

Homemade oatcakes

For this I used my sourdough cracker recipe. I let the dough rise for a few hours, cut them thick, and got a little rise out of them. For the flour, I used 50g oats, 100g oat flour and 100g red fife flour. If following the recipe, I used 15% oil and 4% salt. They were baked at convection 375F//190C for 25 minutes. Its important that the oatcakes are crisp, otherwise mold will eventually set in.

Cheddar cheese

For this I sought out sharp cheeses from Britain – no Scottish ones available as well as an Ontario cheese, Bush Garden (near the cottage area my sister and I grew up with in our formative and not so formative years)

Red pepper jelly

Clearly I did not make this today. It was one of my preserving activities from the past year.


500 ml apple cider vinegar 500g
500 ml white vinegar 500g
1kg brown sugar this can be adjusted upwards according to your taste and daring
1 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp coriander (do SEEDS< not powder)
4 tsp chillies/hot pickled peppers/cayenne to taste for hotness
1kg BBQ’d red peppers (coated in oil with salt pepper, oregano. Thyme, basil, cumin when they are bbq’d) (need to verify what the dry weight of these would be. )
Your preferred thickening. I used 8 tbs agar agar (9g/litre) but pectin works well.


  1. Cut peppers into large chunks for bbq
  2. Coat peppers in olive oil, coat in herb mixture (Basil/thyme/oregano/salt/pepper) and bbq
  3. Once cooked, jullienne the bbq’d peppers to the desired size for the jelly
    boil 6 250 ml jars; put lids in colander to boil also.
  4. Combine cider, vinegar, sugar, spices (add hot ingredients to taste
    bring liquid mix to a boil. Adjust seasonings to taste
  5. remove jars from hot water (or oven if you use this method)
    distribute peppers into jars
  6. Add pectin and proceed as you normally do for a waterbathed preserve
  7. Boil jars for 10 minutes

Soup: Cock a Leekie

Observing my sis prepare this, I am considering that my approach to chicken may be too narrow. After all my usual MO is to strip the meat from the bone, and then soup what is left. K ‘s usual approach is to take a whole small chicken and boil it,peeling away the meat and skin after.


Chicken parts – bone in – or a small chicken
2 large leeks
1 large carrot
2 c barley
2 L or more chicken stock (Water will work if you do not have stock).

2-3 bay leaf
1/4 tsp peppercorns
salt to taste


  1. Boil the chicken with peppercorns and bay leaf at a bare simmer for about 2 hours, covered
  2. Prepare leeks: prepare, wash and cut them. Keep in mind that cutting across the grain will give a different ultimate texture than cutting long slices.
  3. Cut carrots – either diced, rounds or julienned. Again keep in mind the impact of on the final texture
  4. Strain the soup, and pull away all the meat, leaving bone and skin behind.
  5. Pour the broth in a large pot, add the chicken, leeks, carrots and barley
  6. Simmer for a further hour or until the barley is cooked.
  7. Taste for salt and pepper.

Homemade sourdough

This time I made an 800g batard of my usual sourdough, but in a nod to the occasion, used barley, rye, and oat flakes on the outside. It took approximately 40 minutes at 440F/226C. It used 50% all purpose flour and 50% red fife at 66% hydration. The starter and dough were begun the day before, and refrigerated. The final proofing was begun early in the morning it was baked, in the fridge.

Fish course: Salmon on a bed of warmed barley salad

For our dinner, I bought a ginormous salmon fillet. In retrospect, half of it would have been fine. (I have a feeling I’m going to be making some mayo and a salmon pate in the near future.) This way to do a baked fish is quite amazing in its simplicity, and works fabulously for a delicious fish that wants its true nature to shine through.



1 salmon (or trout, whitefish, what have you… ) filet
olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Optional – lemon slices


  1. heat oven to 400F/200C and put in a cookie tray sufficient to hold the salmon.
  2. liberally brush olive oil on both sides of salmon

  1. sprinkle salt and pepper over salmon – to your own judgement!
  2. When the oven has reached temperature, remove the cookie tray, and slide the salmon onto it. The immediate contact with the hot tray helps to cook and caramelize the skin. Optionally you may want to place lemon slices on top. You may also wish to insert a meat thermometer in it.
  3. Place the salmon in the oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 325F/165C.
  4. How long it takes will depend on the size of the salmon. For our huge one, it as 20 minutes. After that it was not quite done. I inserted a meat thermometer in the thickest part and took it out at 140F/60C – about 5 minutes more.
    Next time, I would grease the tray before putting the salmon on.

Warmed barley salad

This became the bed for the salmon to lie on. I love making these warmed grain dishes. There’s so much variety: different kinds and combinations of grains, different additions, and of course the wide variety of oils and vinegars to finish them off with. Since this was about Robbie Burns and Scotland, we went with barley. There was a slight straying from the Scottish land in the additions – notably the cranberries. I did resist the temptation to use pomegranate seeds.


1 cup whole barley
3 cups water
pinch of salt
1/2 granny smith apple
80g coarsely diced red onion
1/.2 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme


  1. Cook the barley – add a pinch of salt to the water, and cook until done – about 40 minutes
  2. While it is cooking, assemble the other ingredients. The apple and onions should be diced to about the same size as the cranberries
  3. When the barley is cooked, add the cranberries, onion apple, and herbs.
  4. Add a little olive oil to give it a hint of being a salad. Optionally you may want to add a few splashes of a fruit vinegar.
  5. Taste for salt, pepper, and general tweaks (more of this or that….)

Roasted maple brussel sprouts

This was one of the vegetable accompaniments to our 2019 Robbie Burns dinner, at one end of the salmon dish. This is one of these really easy, yet so wonderful dishes. I should say that the preparation is easy: the tricky part is cooking them just right. They can’t be burned, but a high heat is needed to develop the caremalization. Watch them carefully. The maple syrup is definitely a Canadian addition – perhaps next year I can try honey.


Brussel sprouts
maple syrup
olive or sunflower oil


  1. Turn oven to 400F/200C
  2. Weigh the brussel sprouts and add 1.5% of their weight in salt. Add pepper as you judge appropriate
  3. Drizzle with both olive oil and maple syrup until they are well coated
  4. Place in a covered dish and cook for about 20 minutes before checking them.
    The time will vary with a number of factors including the size of the sprouts, the shape of the container (a cookie tray will cook them faster than if they are in a glass bowl), and the quantity of sprouts. You want to have them cook until they are nicely browned, but not at all burnt. They should be very soft and sweet.

Braised cabbage and carrot

This dish or its variants is something I do a lot. Quantities and variants can easily vary, but not the process. Braising is not something the Scots have typically done back in the day. Boiling was the usual M.O. I find that a long slow braise – with just enough water to help the dish develop its own liquid – carmelizes root vegetables wonderfully, bringing out their own quite intense sweetness.


  • various root vegetables, including cabbage too.
  • 1 large onion
  • 1-2 heads of garlic
  • Herbs – your choice.


  1. Cut onions in thin slices
  2. Gently sautee onions in oil or butter with a little salt. You an play with the oil selection butter, olive, or coconut oil will all give a pleasing result.
  3. While the onions are cooking, peel and cut root vegetables into thin, but still chunky slices.
  4. The onions should be well on their way to being caramelized (but not burnt! – about 20-30 minutes), before adding the root vegetables, and garlic. Do not stir yet, but a little water can help at this point. There should be a few cm’s of liquid around the onions. White wine is also an interesting alternative.
  5. Taste and consider herbs and spices to use. Some possibilities include thyme, rosemary, nutmeg, sage, oregano, basil
  6. Gently simmer, covered for 45 – 60 minutes. They should come out well cooked, sweet and soft.

Haggis course

Last year I did a blog about how to make haggis, the centrepiece of a Burns dinner, and when I took a look at it this year, I felt it had worked out really well insofar as it gave clear directions as to what to do. I strongly encourage everyone to try your own DIY haggis. Even if you can only get liver and heart, this will give you something very close.

I’m convinced very few people make it these days, even in butcher shops. This year, I was able to use the pluck I had obtained last year from Dejong Farms. This was a good thing as a few weeks ago, I was informed she did not have any for this year. I said that next time a sheep goes in, could she please reserve the pluck (liver, heart, lungs) for me. Hopefully I’ll be good for next year. After all, all sheep have these organs.

One huge difference this year is my learning about how to cook it. Scott Rea did an excellent haggis tutorial in which he uses beef bung as the sleeve, and cooks it sous vide at 180F/82C for 4 hours or so. This is important because when you boil it, the beef or pig skin breaks apart. At sous vide temperatures, it stays together. Of course back in the day, there was no such thing as sous vide, or meat thermometers. There was however, sheep stomachs available, and people would heat their houses in the middle of the winter on a wood or coal stove, so it didn’t matter much.

It took a lot of patience and time to get the synthetic sausage skins seen here. Following the sous vide method, I’ve been trying to find beef bung – but no one seems to have it. This would be truly good to have, as when one stabs the haggis, it will open perfectly.

Serving the haggis

This is the part where I know I need to improve on. Typically the haggis is piped in – an ostentatious display of Scottishness- and presented on the table. At that point an appointed host must read the Toast to the Haggis, while holding a sharp knife at the ready to give it its first cut.

Our preparations this year

Here is the haggis once the oats, ground meat and fat have been added. Next is stuffing it in the skins, which were big enough to do manually. We only needed about half of it – which is fine. A haggis breakfast of fried haggis, eggs and potatoes is a most excellent start to a cold winter morning.

This is the haggis in the sous vide. The little balls act as a lid to help keep the temperature up. Notice the black wire – leading to the meat thermometer telling us that the water temperature was 20F lower than the Anova readout! After our dinner I made small sausages out of some of what remained above using a 7L pot and a collander. Our range held them perfectly at 180F/82C on its lowest setting – without burst skins. As for the Anova, I want to see what happens at lower sous vide temperatures.


Neeps (turnips – what North Americans call rutabaga – or yellow turnip is what is required here.

The turnips are braised in the same way as the braised root vegetables described above. Onions are optional, but leave out the garlic. The turnip should be cut into thin wedges to maximize the surface area being cooked. A little salt will go well, but otherwise don’t use any other spices. The oil used in the braise can vary – butter, sunflower or olive are all good choices. A little liquid may be needed – there needs to be a couple of cm’s on the bottom.

Tatties (mashed potatoes)

Mashed potatoes are the other compulsory vegetable to serve alongside haggis. I boil my potatoes whole in their jackets, because in this way the water tends to stay out of the flesh. This is important as one wants to hydrate them at the mashing stage with milk, not potato water.

Once you can stick a knife easily ot the middle they are ready. If the skin has begun to separate from the potato they are also definitely ready. Let them cool a little, and remove the skins. Add butter – about 100g depending on the quantity – and milk. Pour in the milk a little at a time, while mashing them until they have reached the desired consistency. Add salt to taste.


Dessert – Cranachan

This recipe comes from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/4298800/Burns-Night-Cranachan-recipe.html (This one is interesting too as it covers some other recipes in this blog)

Ingredients (6 servings)

  • 110g/4oz rolled oats or pinhead oatmeal
  • 280ml/ 10 oz double cream (whipping cream if you are in Canada)
  • 300g/11oz crowdie, or quark. We used creme fraiche. LIke crowdie, it is a fermented milk product. Unlike corwdie which is soured and slightly fermented curdled milk, creme fraiche is cultured cream. In our case it was 50:50 yogurt and whipping cream, left to culture at room temperature for about 8 hours.
  • 6 tbs honey
  • 5 tbs scotch
  • 1 bag (280 g) frozen raspberries, thawed
  • ½ pint fresh raspberries

Below is your mise en scene for 2 servings.


  1. Toast the oats in a large frying pan over a medium heat, stirring constantly until they turn brown and smell toasty. Near the end you may wish to throw on ½ tsp of sugar. Allow to cool.
  2. Lightly whip the cream and mix it with the creme fraiche.
  3. Stir in 4tbs honey and 5 tbs whisky
  4. Layer cream, oats, raspberries, in 6 glasses (we used champagne flutes), finishing with a dribble of honey and a few raspberries.

Eat immediately or refrigerate

A couple of notes:

There are a few other – predictably British versions of Cranachan




The most thorough one is here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/13/how-to-make-perfect-cranachan-scottish-dessert-recipe. It compares several of the cranachan recipes and shows the variability.

I’m interested in exploring the idea of toasted candied oats. What’s called for here are pinhead or steel cut oats – what you get when you pass row oats through a steel mill on a very course chop. I’d be interested to experiment with oat, barley or rye flakes. I’m also wondering about using malted beer flavoring grains and toasting them.

I felt the thawed frozen raspberries were too liquidy to work with, as was the champagne flute idea. I’m thinking they will present a lot better if we use raspberry jam (my slightly tart homemade kind, not the sickly sweet commercial stuff) in combination with the frozen raspberries.

To serve, I’m thinking small white wine glasses. Changing the glasses and frozen berries for jam should help the layering should go smoother.

creme fraiche
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sour cream
whisk cream and sour cream in a bowl. Cover loosely and let stand in a warm spot overnight or until thickened – 12-24 hours
cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. The tartness will continue to develop.

Enjoy your Robbie Burns Day dinner!

I hope you will have a chance to see this before your Robbie Burns dinner. I know I’m a little near the time for anyone who has been long planning this event, especially concerning the haggis cooking. But hopefully you will take away some ideas. I’d love to hear your ideas too!

What did you do for your Burns Supper?

Beer BBQ sauce

I’ve enjoyed making my own condiments, and many of these have been blogged about. I’ve tried my own BBQ sauces on a number of occasions, usually the result of playing with the braise a meat has been slowly cooking away in. One of my favorite vehicles for this is Gordon Ramsay’s BBQ Spare ribs recipe in his World Kitchen book (ISBN-10 55470-199-6) – page 243. It involves a LOT of sauce, and wonderfully complex flavors.

We (my son and I) decided to do ribs for dinner but we did have different approaches to it. He wanted to wrap them up in tin foil and bake them – more or less in their own juices – slowly for a number of hours, then finish them on the BBQ. I had more or less an opposite approach – the Ramsay big liquid braise. We did a combination of both. I pointed out that there was an oven conflict: I needed to bake bread and squash – and suggested using a crock pot.

We cut the ribs into portion sizes – 3-4 bones a serving. The ribs were also briefly cured: 1.5% salt (weigh the ribs, use 1.5% of the weight as your salt and sugar quantities), sugar, pepper, cloves. They went in the crock-pot at 250F/120C with a good amount of the braising liquid on the bottom and slathered on top. After 90 minutes, they were definitely done. Until they went on the BBQ they were kept warm in the braise at about 150F/65C.

But its all about the sauce as far as I was concerned. I wanted a supply of amazing home-made BBQ sauce, but I also wanted to play with it – notably I had a failed stout a while ago and am always looking for ways to use it in cooking. Off course when you add beer to something like this in significant proportions, it does tend to change everything. It definitely did so here – so much so that the Ramsay recipe became a launching point for a new recipe.

Here’s Ramsay’s recipe first:

2 litres water
2 tbsp tomato paste1½ medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
3/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
5 whole cloves
2 dried red chillis
6 racks (approx. 550g each) of pork spareribs (each 18-20cm long, 6 ribs per rack)
For the barbecue glaze
4 tbsp dark molasses
2 onion, finely chopped

4 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp English mustard
2 tbsp cider vinegar

A few dashes of tabasco

Juice of 1 lemon
1. In a large saucepan add the water, tomato paste, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and chilli. Bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 15 minutes.
2. Add the ribs making sure they are covered (if not add more water) and bring back up to a gentle simmer. Simmer for approx 45 minutes, adding more water if it reduces too much. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile place 300ml of the liquid from the ribs in a small saucepan. Boil the liquid until reduced by half. Add the molasses, chopped onion mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, lemon and salt. Stir over the heat to combine thoroughly. Brush this mixture liberally over the blanched ribs.
4. Cook the ribs on a barbecue or grill for approximately 1-2 minutes each side until well coloured.
©Gordon Ramsay 200[8]. All rights reserved

After considerable tasting and adding and generally having fun experimenting using his recipe as a base, here is what I came up with:

Home Cook Explorer’s Beer BBq Sauce


1st set – the braising liquid

  • 1L stout or ale (if you have a choice, use a less hoppy brew)
  • 500ml soup stock
  • 300ml tomato sauce
  • 200 ml tomato paste
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves, mashed
  • 3/4 tsp peppercorns
  • 1/8 tsp – a pinch – red chili flakes
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 100 ml maple syrup
  • 50-100ml honey, to taste – according to the hoppiness of the beer.
  • 1-2 tsp salt – but add to taste


2nd set

  • 60 ml molasses
  • 100g honey
  • 30 g English mustard
  • 1 lemon
  • Worcestershire sauce – to taste – about 100ml


  1. In a large saucepan add the beer, tomato sauce, soup stock, 100ml honey, 2 tbsp sugar, 100ml maple syrup, salt, tomato paste, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and chilli.
  2. Taste – particularly for salt and sweetness. The more hoppy your beer is the more it needs to be countered by sugar and salt. It should taste adequately salty, and slightly sweet.
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 15 minutes.
  4. At this point in the process this can be used as a braising liquid for your ribs or whatever you are BBQing.The meat should be held at 185F/85C for about 90 minutes. This could be in the oven (set to about 225F/107C), a crock pot with temperature control, stovetop (suggest using a pot in boiling water and a thermostat) or sous vide cooker
  5. Add all remaining ingredients (molasses, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, remaining honey, mustard.)
  6. Bring to a boil for several minutes, then using an immersion blender, thoroughly puree the sauce.
  7. Taste for saltiness, sweetness and acidity. Start with salt: it should not have a distinct salty taste – but the salt should enhance the inevitable complexity. There are 3 types of sugar in it already, so if it needs more, add whatever feels good in the moment – a little at a time. Finally, there should be sufficient acid tang from the tomatoes, beer, and lemon. If more is required, try a splash of balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar until it feels right.
  8. Return to a boil and reduce for about 10 minutes, stirring often to ensure it does not stick. It should become thick.
  9. Take off the boil and serve or can it.
  10. If canning, follow your usual water bath protocols. In 250ml containers it should be boiled (assuming sauce is already north of 150F/65C) for about 10-12 minutes. This quantity will make between 1-1.5L depending on the amount of reduction.

Some final thoughts….

Well that was fun. I hardly expected it would evolve this way. Previously I had thought that the braising process was absolutely integral to the making of the sauce. It arguably is, as in the braising, the fat is rendered into the sauce, and contributes its own fullness, complexity and wonderful flavour. Because of the boiling and pureeing, the fat is fully emulsified into the sauce, and so you won’t get a fat layer on top.

The pureeing process is different than what Ramsay describes. His instructions are to strain the braising liquid. I did try that with a cup of it, and thought to myself, “this looks like wonderfully tasty stuff in the strainer, and the liquid left over looks pretty thin.” So back into the sauce it went, and out came the immersion blender. It should be noted that his purpose in doing this was to get a smooth glaze, and not to make bbq sauce.

My son made an interesting comment when tasting it. He is a BBQ sauce aficionado, but relies on commercial stuff. He noted that it is much more complex, and also less sweet. He said that it really needs to go on the meat for its complexity to shine through. The commercial sauces are apparently so sweet they can be eaten on their own. I’ll have to take his word on that. The complexity is clear: the molasses, maple syrup, cloves, beer malts, hops and tomato are all strong tastes on their own.

The other interesting learning here is that there are multiple ways to prepare ribs. The keys to it are flavoring – the cure or braise the meat is in before and during cooking – and the temperature/how long. It needs to be beyond 180F/82C for the meat to soften and detach from the bone, but it can’t cook too long or else you have pulled pork. Please see Stefan’s excellent blogs covering these issues. And https://stefangourmet.com/2018/04/01/how-to-choose-time-and-temperature-to-cook-meat-sous-vide/

Next Steps

Since this was definitely experimental, the quantities here are more suggested than firm. Next time I feel the BBQ sauce urge, I’ll start by replicating this, and see what tweaks are needed, and record the results. I’m reasonably confident that it will work well and be replicable as is.  These quantities yielded about 2L of sauce. Perhaps if you try this you can comment on what modifications you made to it.


A little background on this

Full disclosure. I’m Scottish, and grew up there for most of my childhood. Consequently there are some foods that are part of who I am, even if I only eat them a couple of times a year. Shortbread is one of them. One of my favorite taste memories is dipping fresh shortbread into custard and letting it all melt slowly in my mouth.

But I’m not talking of your usual christmas shortbread cookies all bejewelled in frosting and seasonal decorations, sweet and buttery beyond imagination, and almost crumbly to the touch.

No. The shortbread I grew up with is almost peasant like. Hard, but breakable, it will melt in your mouth, gently releasing its essential yet understated buttery bomb.

Until a few years ago, I had not been successful at copying what I remember of my grandmother and father’s magical creations. Too hard, not the right texture – not the right taste. I was told it was all in the kneading. There was too little, too much. Somehow I was not nailing it.

The investigation

A decade ago when I visited my parents, I was shown a slim and decaying cookbook: Reliable Cookery by Mrs. Lawrie (I kid you not. We shall never know Mrs. Lawrie’s first name!) This cookbook according to my dad, was published in the early 1900’s and functioned as a home economic textbook for ALL Scottish girls. (Think of the implications: it defines Scottish cuisine of that generation.) It was extremely practical,providing essential kitchen directions for future scullery maids and housewives, and simple recipes intended to provide an essential baseline of cooking expertise. I’ve uploaded and am sharing it here. I wonder what she would have thought of her modest book being shared in this way.

A little after this, I purchased Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty – an amazing book that shows how far we have all come in both embracing tried and true classical culinary techniques with a bold and new imagination. Along with Ratio, it is an essential cookbook by one of America’s most influential culinary teachers.

I then set about to figure out the definitive shortbread recipe. My usual M.O. when I set out to figure out a recipe is to research. I usually start with the print resources I have at hand. In this case I decided to look at the pdf printout I had made of Reliable Cookery and my two versions of the Joy of Cooking- 1949 and 1997.

The JOC versions seemed to me to be fairly typical butter cookies: 100% wheat flour, and also baking soda and vanilla (1949 edition). The 1997 version was more back to basics, with butter, flour, and sugar. Cream the butter and sugar, add in flour, roll out, cut, bake. Reliable Cookery differed in one important element, one I remembered from childhood: it included rice flour. (Strange, isn’t it. Rice is not a Scottish staple. Why would there be rice flour? And no explanation either.) In this recipe, the dry ingredients (including the sugar) are mixed, the butter is creamed, then they are combined, kneaded, rolled out and cut.

I decided to go with this latter recipe as I reasoned it would be the closest to what my Gran had made eons ago. Here it is. The ratio is something to take note of: 1 part each sugar and rice flour, 2 parts butter, 4 parts flour.

6oz. flour (188g)

2oz rice flour (62g)

4 oz butter (125g)

2oz sugar (62g)

Pinch of salt

  1. Mix dry ingredients
  2. Add butter and work in
  3. Roll out
  4. Bake in a ‘moderate’ oven for 1 hour.

Here is how it appears in the book.

With these quantities and process, it did not ‘roll out’ – it was rather a ‘press into the pan’ job. No surprise. After all there is no water to get the gluten going – indeed there are gluten inhibitors. I took the moderate oven to mean 325-375F. In initial experiments I used 375F (175C) following the JOC and watched it carefully but ultimately I prefer 350F.

As it was cooking, I decided to thumb through Ruhlman’s Twenty – looking for new ideas and new things to try. Lo and behold, there it was, his take on Scottish Shortbread. This was definitely interesting- especially as he noted it was a recipe that had come down through the family of a Scottish friend. No doubt a shared ancestry leading back to Mrs. Lawrie’s tome. http://ruhlman.com/2010/03/scottish-shortbread/


This recipe has a considerably higher ratio of sugar and butter, and uses a lower gluten cake flour. I appreciated the explanation about the gluten: that the unique crumb is achieved through lower gluten. His solution is the cake flour. Mrs. Lawrie’s was to cut in the rice flour.

My final go-to shortbread recipe

There was however a missing element in all of these recipes. The problem with shortbread is how to keep it firm, and not crumble away. You also want it to easily break apart in neat rectangles, approximately ¾” (2cm) in height. The fork pricks are important to release water vapour. The thickness too is important for the integrity of the biscuit. The key is the thorough and even compacting of the dough. If it is at all loose, it will crumble. Here is the solution, and my current recipe, somewhat modified from Mrs. Lawrie but with metric weights and a lot more specificity that should assure success:


180g flour
60g rice flour
125g unsalted butter
65g sugar


  • Mixing bowl
  • Weigh scale
  • Parchment paper
  • Empty 500ml salsa or round mason jar
  • 6”x8”/15x20cm (@ 50”2 /125cm2 ) baking dish for this recipe amount. This will yield shortbread that is an ideal thickness – about ¾” (2cm) thick.
  • Knife and/or pizza wheel


  1. Let butter soften to room temperature
  2. Heat Oven to 350F/175C
  3. Weigh out and mix dry ingredients
  4. Add room temperature butter and knead until the dough is fully integrated
  5. Loosely press parchment paper into the baking dish
  6. Press shortbread dough into all corners of the pan – compact it as much as possible
  7. Lay another sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough and find a round jar that can fit into your pan (i.e. a 500ml mason jar or salsa jar) to use as a mini rolling pin.
  8. Roll out and compress the shortbread until it is even. You will also need to press in dough that creeps up the sides with your fingers.
  9. Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut it into desired sized pieces then poke holes with a fork all over. You can also sprinkle sugar on top.
  10. Bake 35-40 minutes. It should be a little brown on the edges. As soon as you begin to smell it, it’s probably ready.
  11. Allow to thoroughly cool before gently removing the parchment paper with shortbread from the pan. It will break cleaner if it is chilled.

It’s Raclette time!

A few weeks ago, we had our friends Sam and Jess over. We met them in their early 20’s watched them both go through difficult times in the middle 20’s only to come out in their 30’s happily partnered to two great guys, with young ones either here or on the way. They both deserved the best! We decided on raclette for our brunch.

Raclette has an extremely long history, going back hundreds of years. For many centuries, the shepherds in the French alps would carry with them on their travels following their herds with a huge block of cheese. In the evening they would make a fire, stick the cheese on a staff, and as it began to melt would scrape it off onto bread – and voila – Supper! The word itself comes from the French ‘racler’ – the verb for ‘scrape’.

Raclette has come a long way since then. Today it is this magical, social, gooey hit of cheese, carbs, veggies and meat you serve yourself that makes for an infinitely flexible gathering.

Raclette cheese’s origin is in the Swis/French alps, and while similar to Gruyere, it is stronger and somewhat creamier. For a raclette, any semi hard cheese from this area – Gruyere immediately comes to mind, Jarlsberg too. You can experiment as well – Canadian old cheddar, Fontina would also be interesting.

Planning a raclette party

Its helpful to know how many are coming, as usual. Being generous helps: about 150g of meat and about 150g of cheese per person will be more than enough. 6 generous baguette slices per person will leave you comfortably with extra.

What is critical is planning it out so everyone can reach the raclette easily. Depending on how many, and the size/shape of your raclette, you may need two.

Meats and veggies are cut ahead of time, as well as baguettes baked and sliced. Thin slice your cheese or cheeses of choice. A salad is always a wonderful accompaniment, as are various dips: cream cheese, bbq sauce – whatever seems to fit. The best veggies are those that like to be grilled: peppers, zuccini, eggplant, mushrooms. Serve with a mineral water, light white wine or a fruity pinot – or even a crisp pilsner.

Simple, huh? And what a crowd pleaser. Each can make as much or as little as you want for themselves; you wind up putting veggies and meat on the grill for yourself and others too.

Simple yes – but it still takes time to put together and make pretty.

Getting the right raclette set

Raclette has sure come a long way, and there are many raclette sets to be had. They all feature a similar setup: small individual pans to melt the cheese underneath a burner – usually electric – and a grilling surface above the burner.

I’ve found that although our raclette set comes with 6 paddles, its better to have two of them going for between 6-8 people – it just gets too crowded, especially with all the little dishes to be had.

Your favorite kitchen or hardware store will either have them, or be able to order one for you. Ask or check their website. So will (sigh) Amazon, though I prefer to give my business to my local brick and mortar store. Were I to trade mine in I would now prefer the ones with a flat grilling surface, a lip around the edge, and an adjustable heater as you can more easily multi purpose them – for example doing your bacon, eggs and pancakes for breakfast as well.

Here is what our Raclette table looked like (before I set up the 2nd raclette):

Here’s what’s on the table:

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Peameal bacon
  • Regular bacon
  • Veggie dip – yogurt based
  • Raw veggies to eat as is or cook: peppers, broccoli, zuccini, carrots
  • Thin sliced marinated steak
  • Sausage
  • Duck breast confit
  • BBQ sauce
  • Sliced Gruyere
  • Sliced Jarlsberg
  • Sliced baguette (whole wheat sourdough)
  • Cranberry vinaigrette
  • Spiced apple vinaigrette
  • Tossed spinach salad
  • Nachos and salsa
  • Fruit plate – hey – it was a brunch!
  • Yogurt
  • Various desserts

As usual I prepared way too much. The following day, my son and his girlfriend dropped by so out it all came again, and we enjoyed raclette a second day in a row.