Scottish Oatcakes

The damp, dark morning broke with barely enough light to see the squally bend in the trees. It was as if I'd been transported to Scotland's craggy, mossy seashore .. . the proper setting for the first time I made Scottish oatcakes.

My friend, Bob Hower, shared this recipe with me after telling about Scottish oatcakes on The Local Life, a weekly radio show I co-host with Phyllis Fitzgerald. The Local Life is a show about cooking with locally produced ingredients, and about sustainability. We invited Bob to the show because he is an avid farmers market shopper as well as an accomplished cook and maker of pies. His pies are the best I have ever eaten. Yes, it's true. The best ever .. . on to the story of the oatcakes.  

Scottish oatcakes are a revelation.

Bob brought a few oatcakes to The Local Life for us to taste, and I knew I wanted to make them as soon as I bit into one. It gave to the tooth with a snap and a crunch. A comforting, familiar flavor, but in a different form, made rich with just a hint of butter. The salt reminded me of the depth of the ocean. All of that is pulled together in a cracker that is satisfying if unadorned. Made richer with cheese. Or delightful with jam.

I texted Bob as I made my simple batch of oatcakes to ask a question about mixing them. We had a back and forth and then he sent me Johnson's Dictionary Of The English Language definition of OATS :  A grain that in England is generally used to feed horses, but in Scotland supports the people. Disdainful to say the least.

Oatcakes tell the history of Bob's ancestors who he envisions frying them in a pan using lamb fat. And while it is true that oatcakes are simple, I would not hesitate to serve them to a king and queen if they sat at my table.

To hear Bob Hower tell about his love for cooking and baking tune in here at 9:22
• 250 grams of rolled oats (about 2 1/3 Cups)
• 30 grams of melted butter (about 2 Tablespoons)
• 2 Tsp. sea salt plus extra for dusting
• Boiling water

1. Put a baking stone into the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
2. Blend/grind the oats and salt to a powder
3. Melt the butter in a large glass mixing bowl
4. Add the ground oats and salt to the butter and mix with a fork
5. Stir in boiling water a little at a time until the oats just pull together into a wet, sticky ball of dough
6. Spread the dough directly onto the granite counter top and press out with your hands
7. Use a rolling pin to roll the oat dough to cracker thinness and cut with a biscuit cutter or free form with a pastry cutter into triangles or squares
8. Gather the scraps together and form another ball, re-roll and cut more
9. Dust the tops with a few flakes of coarse sea salt
10. Load the oatcakes onto the heated baking stone and bake for 20 min. then flip them and continue baking for another 20 min.
11. Transfer to a cooling rack

I love the way the oatcakes neatly stack


pappardelle pasta with red bell pepper sauce

keep it simple + add cheese

noodle this  :  eggs+flour=pasta

simple isn't plain. simple is straightforward and not fussy. take for example this bowl of hand-cut pasta which is nothing but a few eggs, a little oregano, and flour.

add a sauce made with sauteed red bell peppers that are pureed with a little salt. add a few shaves of a good parmesan cheese. this is a dish that is complete, pure, approachable. it's uncomplicated, and if you buy fresh pasta it's almost effortless to make.

• find handmade pasta in the louisville metro area at lotsa pasta. or buy a good dried pasta. here's my pappardelle recipe

• the bell pepper sauce has just two ingredients and a sprinkle of salt-- here's my recipe

• and cheese. glorious parmesan.

here's how to sauce the pasta:
1. bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. add a big dash of sea salt.
2. boil the pasta just until al dente.
3. save some of the pasta water by straining it over a bowl or removing it with a ladle and then straining the pasta.
4. pour pasta water into a large skillet to measure about an inch deep. heat to a simmer and let it slightly reduce. add the cooked pasta and stir it around. stir in the red pepper sauce a laddle at a time until the noodles are well coated.
5. pour all of it onto a rimmed platter and top with shaved parmesan.

.. . eat with a big spoon

pumpkin, pecan biscuits

each year in september or early october i start testing new-to-me thanksgiving dishes and baked goods– i like to have plenty of time to make adjustments to recipes before the holidays roll in.

pumpkin and pecan biscuit
my new fall baking obsession is with these pumpkin, pecan biscuits– seems just right for thanksgiving, right? i've made them four times already because after the 1st round jim asked for more . . . and after that round again his request came for more. and so on. and all ya'll know i can't deny jim any requests from the kitchen.

the idea for these biscuits was given to me by my friend-in-food, phyllis fitzgerald (wow, what a baker she is). and about that same time, another friend gave me a golden nugget pumpkin . . . and well, in my kitchen that's more than just a sign they needed to be baked and mastered.
candied pecans add a slightly sweet element to these biscuits
these biscuits are not terribly sweet so they are good with ice-cream or bacon–or both. i've served them for dinner with grilled lamb chops, and crumbled over homemade vanilla ice-cream for dessert. they complimented each course equally well.

so onward toward thanksgiving . . . and i'm also thinking these biscuits will make a leftover turkey sandwich something special.

ingredients- 12 large biscuits
shred butter to reduce kneading & prevent tough biscuits
for the candied pecans:
• 1 & 1/2 tablespoons butter
• scant cup chopped pecans
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1/2 tsp. sea salt

for the pumpkin purée:
• small pie or other sweet pumpkin
• avocado or vegetable oil for coating
• sea salt for rubbing
• 1&1/4 cup buttermilk

for the biscuit dough:
• 4 cups all purpose flour
• 4 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 2 & 1/2 tsp. sea salt
• 12 tablespoons cold butter
• melted butter for brushing
• brown sugar for dusting

for the candied pecans:
1. melt the butter in a 10 inch skillet on med. low.
2. toss in the pecans to coat. add the brown sugar and salt and stir to coat.
3. cook 3-5 min. stirring until the butter and sugar caramelize. (careful not to let the sugar burn)
4. scatter the nuts on a plate to cool and then break up any clumps with your hands.

for the pumpkin purée:
1. cut off the stem and cut the pumpkin from the top-down into 4 or 6 pieces.
2. remove the seeds and rub the flesh with oil and sea salt
3. bake at 375 degrees for about 45 min. until the flesh is easily pierced with t fork. 
4. scoop out 1 cup of the flesh of the pumpkin once it has cooled and put it into a blender with the buttermilk. (use any extra pumpkin flesh for soup)
5. purée until smooth.

for the biscuits:
put a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees
1. stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. add the candied pecans and stir to combine.
2. shred the butter on the large side of a grater into the bowl.
3. combine with your hands just to spread the butter throughout the flour.
4. mix in 2 cups of the purée to form a wet, sticky dough. add more purée if needed to form a shaggy dough.
5. turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. lightly dust the top of the dough and press into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick.
cut pressed dough into 4 pieces and stack them to laminate
6. to laminate the dough: cut the pressed dough into 4 pieces and stack them.
7. press out again to 3/4 inch thick and cut with a 3" round dough cutter. 
8. set the cut biscuits onto a lightly dusted cookie sheet.
9. reform and press and cut the remainder of the dough.
10. brush the tops of the cut biscuits with the melted butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. (careful not to get sugar on the bottoms or it will burn)
11. carefully put the biscuits on the baking stone and set the timer to 15min. check for doneness and bake a few min. more if needed.
12. cool on a wire rack. 

note: these biscuits freeze well

tomatoes, peaches and chili pepper salad

this recipe from chef hugh acheson, vaulted off the page when i thumbed through an issue of food and wine . . . the colors, the flavor combinations, the fact that on my counter sat a bowl of the three main ingredients– just hauled in from a few local farms. and, out in my kitchen garden are basil plants with full canopies of their signature fragrant, arching leaves.

headliners of this salad are the tomatoes and peaches that ring out loud with acidic and sweet notes. second fiddle is carried by the jalapeños which add a conspicuous element of hotness that is quickly tamed by a pickling brine. the dressing is a synthesis of salt, citrus, piquancy, and smoothness from the avocado oil. the heady perfume of basil ends each bite with anise notes. in total, this dish is one of the best things i've eaten all summer . . . worth setting my spoon down to fork it over.

adapted recipe from chef hugh acheson. but remember, i don't actually measure–i taste and adjust to my own liking.

  • 3 jalapeños, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • about 1 tablespoon of honey
  • kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 3-5 tablespoons avocado oil
  • 2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 peaches, cut into wedges
  • garden fresh basil leaves
  1. in a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil with the vinegar, honey and salt, stirring to dissolve the honey. remove the pan from the heat.
  2. add the jalapeños to the brine, and let them stand until cooled to room temperature.
  3. meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, mustard and the avocado oil. taste to adjust for balance.
  4. arrange the basil leaves, tomato slices, and peaches on a platter.
  5. remove the jalapeños from the brine with a slotted spoon, and add to the platter.
  6. drizzle the salad with the soy-lime dressing.

simple, summer zucchini soup

simplicity resonates all through our house in the summertime. 

from effortless steps out to the porch and down into the herb garden with the kitchen scissors, to the whir of the ceiling fans, the easy pleasures of barefoot days bring in the way of zen.

cooking tends to be simple too . . . actually it's more like not-cooking / more just chopping or slicing and serving it up. greens, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, and peppers all put the garden right onto the plate.

this summer has sprouted baskets full of zucchini that came to me from my cousin's garden, where everything is cultivated from seed over the winter months–  and also from my sister-in-law's garden where the deer are fended off with twirling strands of tinseled fencing. we have yellow, green, and variegated types with soft, spongy flesh and a mild vegetable flavor. some of it readily yields to the mandolin blade for a bright salad tossed with chives. some of it makes a little sweet bite for breakfast baked into zucchini bread. and this silky zucchini soup recipe has added another simple dish to my zucchini repertoire.

chef grant achatz 
demonstrates here just how much more a dish can be with less. you'll guess you taste some cream and yet it contains nary a drop . . . where does that hint of sweetness come from? it's achieved with the caramelization of a little onion and garlic. be sure to use homemade vegetable stock made with plenty of carrots and celery to add to the depth of flavor that you'll taste in every balanced spoonful of this luscious summer soup.

  1. ingredients
  2. • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  3. • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  4. • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  5. • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  6. • kosher salt
  7. • freshly ground pepper
  8. • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  9. • 1 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetable stock or low-sodium broth
  10. julienned raw zucchini, for garnish
  11. directions
  12. 1. in a large saucepan, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until softened, 7 to 8 minutes. 
  13. 2. add the zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 minutes. 
  14. 3. add some of the stock and bring to a simmer; cook until the zucchini is very soft, about 10 minutes.
  15. 4. working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until it's silky-smooth / add more stock if necessary. 
  16. 5. return the soup to the saucepan and season with salt and pepper. serve it either hot or chilled, garnished with julienned zucchini.
  17. . . . . . . . . . . . . 
  18. chef grant achatz shared this recipe in Food and Wine Magazine, July 2014