Me and a big girl named Brenda.

Brenda has been by side for more years than I can remember. She has never let me down, she’s plain and honest and I would hate to be without ever trusty Brenda. I know that the day I got married my mum was doubly sad; not only had I left home, but I took Brenda with me.  Who actually is Brenda? What role does she play in our lives.

Let me begin in the beginning. I’m not sure how old dear Brenda is. One day I was looking through a book of facsimiles published by the Ministry of Food, circa 1941, and I spied a picture of Brenda. I was astounded. I knew she wasn’t exactly in her prime; my maths failed me. She can’t be that old, she is still working. I showed the photo to Joseph and Stephen, they were both as shocked as I had been. ‘She can’t be that old.’ Stephen sounded concerned.
Joseph was worried  ‘shouldn’t we… Is it safe to…?’ He was concerned for our safety. I had to think hard. Was it time to retire lovely Brenda? I just can’t. She is working as hard as ever. Just this weekend she proved to be invaluable, as always, when I made a huge batch of haggis ragu. More of that later.
Now I think it’s time to reveal the true identity of this marvellous workhorse we have lovingly named Brenda. She was given to my mum by an elderly friend. Now that her own family had grown up and flown the nest, she had no use for a pressure cooker, without the weights which had been lost years ago. Mum was delighted with the gift and we named this pan after its previous owner; so meet Brenda the ancient, Presto, pressure cooker. Yes her handles may be a little loose and I’ve no idea what she’s made of but every time I use her I smile when I think of the real Brenda, who was funny, unreliable, always in debt, generous, sometimes care worn like many who had lost their youth to a war. Once she saw how useful ‘Brenda’ had become I think she regretted ever giving her away. However, she went to a good home and the real Brenda shared many meals, days out and friendship with my cookery mad mother; have you ever tried making a cheese cake icing with cottage cheese? Just don’t go there. It was one of Mum’s hare brained ideas that just didn’t work on any level.

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'Brenda'. Joseph made the sourdough which is cooling in the background.

I digress. As we were buying the chicken for Sunday’s dinner, in Scalloway Meat Company, Stephen spied a haggis that took his fancy. In the car home I hatched up a “cunning plan” to turn this fine haggis into a Scottish style ragu this would mean that the humble haggis would probably form the basis for at least three meals for four adults. This is where beautiful, big Brenda fits in. Just what is a Scottish ragu? Basically it is a bolognese sauce using haggis instead of mince. At New Year, we always make a cottage pie using haggis. It all started when Joseph and Samuel were younger and the thought of eating offal didn’t inspire them  or appeal to them. Not being content to let prejudice overcome flavour I thought if I made up a ‘Scottish lasagne’ they would eat that. It worked! Now Joseph says he prefers cottage pie made with haggis. Result!!!

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Haggis pasta bake, with some planned leftovers for lunches.

Returning to work after a break is always difficult which is why I decided to do a batch cook at the weekend; making a haggis cottage pie, a haggis chilli with rice and a haggis and pasta bake. This was inspired by Nigella’s Venetian lasagne and a recipe I’d recently seen @ Elizabeth’s kitchen diary. I took the idea of layering a meat ragu with  pasta tossed in a cheese sauce, instead of the spiced lamb Elizabeth uses, which is delicious by the way, I made use of my haggis ragu. As well as being very economical this ragu is very flavoursome.
Once you have made up your batch of ragu it is a doddle to make up this pasta bake. This is a two part recipe :- the ragu and how to assemble the pasta bake. I used a 750g haggis but I’ll give the quantities for the more usual 450g one.

For the haggis ragu

2 medium onions, finely diced
2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2,  450g tins chopped tomatoes
450g haggis, casing removed and coarsely chopped
Salt to taste

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Haggis ragu not the most picturesque sight

Heat the oil, on a moderate heat, in a large pan add the onions, carrots and celery and cook for 5 mins, stirring from time to time.
Add the tinned tomatoes, stir and cook for a few more minutes until all the veg have softened. This could be up to fifteen minutes.
Add the chopped haggis, continue to break up the haggis in the pan. When you are happy with the texture of your sauce cover your pan and cook on a low heat for 45 minutes.
Test for salt and season to taste. You probably won’t need any peppers as haggises are usually well seasoned.
Now your ragu is ready to use.
It can be served with potatoes and vegetables, it makes a superb cottage pie base. I use it just as I would a beef ragu, with pasta, in a lasagne or in jacket potatoes or with polenta.

The haggis pasta bake
Half quantity of the above sauce
500ml cheese sauce- I make it in the microwave
120g ball mozzarella, ripped into small pieces
500g pasta shapes, fusili works well
100g freshly grated parmesan

Butter your shallow oven proof dish and preheat the oven 190°c (170°c for fan ovens)

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Greasing the smaller dishes for lunch time

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Tip the pasta in, when the water comes back to a rolling boil follow the timings on the pasta packet. 9- 12 mins

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Add the pasta to the boiling water.

Drain and run under cold water to stop the pasta cooking any further.

Make your cheese sauce
Mix 75g cornflour, in a microwave proof jug,  with a little milk until it is a smooth paste. Make up to 500ml with milk, or a milk and yogurt, or milk and single cream depending on how decadent you feel. Stir to combine.

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Sauce ready to be cooked.

Place in the microwave for a minute, stir and cook for another minute, stir. It should be starting to thicken now. Cook in blobs of 20-30 seconds until the sauce has thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add half the cheese.

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Combine the pasta with half the cheese sauce in a large bowl until the pasta is well coated.
Place half of the pasta in your dish and scatter half the mozzarella over it.

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The mozzarella draining

Cover this with your meat sauce, in this case haggis ragu.

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Smooth the sauce out over half the pasta

Cover this with the remaining cheese pasta. Pour the rest of the cheese sauce over. Scatter the mozzarella over it and the other half of the parmesan.

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Freshly grated parmesan.

Bake for 30 mins until golden.

Serve with a crisp green salad and some crusty bread.

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A nice sourdough to mop up your sauce and salad dressing.

Brenda is used on a regular basis and I hope when I’m the same age as big, beautiful Brenda I’m still cooking up a storm!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Me and a big girl named Brenda.

  1. I so enjoy your blog and am so sad to not see more posts. I too inherited a “Brenda” at one time in my life. A boyfriend’s mother (who hoarded every little thing in her life and if I hadn’t broke up with him in a huff at age 22 I’d be a wealthy seller on eBay today) gave us her old old girl. As poor and starving students we ate a lot of beans and rice. Hoping to expand our repertoire we decided to go all-out Mexican. Pinto beans needed to be turned into refried beans and the faster the better in our minds. Unfortunately, the old girl blew her top and we ended up cleaning beans off the ceilings in the house for what seemed like days.

    Please start blogging again! I attended Wool Week in 2014 and was so happy to have enjoyed the Peace Luncheon and your incredible skills still linger as one of the best gastronomic excesses of my life. Best regards, Deborah

    Like

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