Thursday, March 27, 2014

Recipes from The Isle of Man

It just so happens that our next nation follows the last one in proximity as well as alphabetically, though technically I suppose it's closer to England than it is to Ireland. Yes, it's The Isle of Man, as I'm sure you know if you are obsessed with geography and memorizing the location of every tiny, obscure place in the world. If that last sentence does not describe you and you have not in fact heard of the Isle of Man, don't worry, because it's pretty tiny and obscure. I only know about it because when I was a kid I had a penny from the Isle of Man--a tiny copper thing with a fish on it.

The Isle of Man is indeed a small place, roughly the size of Columbus, Ohio. Despite its diminutive size generations of kings and queens have delighted in attaching it to their titles, including the current Queen of England who calls herself "The Lord of Mann."

People have been living on this little island since 6500 BC, and since then it has been claimed by Northumbria, Norway, Scotland, then England, then Scotland, then England and so forth. Today it is a "self-governing British Crown Dependency."

Derbyhaven, Isle of Man. Photo by Mariusz Kluzniak.

Given its proximity to the UK and Ireland, I'm sure it will not surprise you to hear that Isle of Man cuisine is very similar to the cuisine of those close neighbors, in fact I was a bit miffed when I discovered that the Isle of Man's trademark food, "bonnag," is pretty much exactly the same thing as the Irish soda bread I made last week.

Fortunately I was able to find a dessert version of this famous foodstuff (or probably more of a "have-with-a-cuppa" version). And since I've been whining about it for the last two paragraphs I'll list that recipe first:

Fruit Bonnag
(from Isle of
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 tbsp margarine
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 heaping tsp mixed spice
  • 3 drops vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of buttermilk (more if needed)
This week I also made a simple roast beef, which wasn't a whole lot different from any other roast beef but was the culmination of a rather frustrating search for main courses:

Manx Roast Beef
(from I Love Manx)
  • 2 to 3 lb beef roast
  • 1 head garlic
  • 4 or 5 bay leaves
  • 2 cups sweet sherry
But the star of the show was this deceptively simple dish:

Fatherless pie
(also from Isle of

  • 2 lbs. potatoes, sliced
  • 6 oz butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Short pastry
And finally I made a cheese sauce to go with some steamed cauliflower:

Allison Ratcliffe's luxury Manx cheese sauce
(from Manx NFU)
  • 1 to 2 oz butter
  • 1 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 to 4 oz cheese (Gloucester is a good choice for this sauce)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Pinch ground mustard
Make the bonnag first. It's super-easy--first preheat your oven to 350 degrees, then rub the butter into the flour until you get a mixture like coarse breadcrumbs. Now mix in the rest of the dry ingredients and blend well. Now add the currants.

Finally, add the buttermilk and transfer to a cake pan.

Bake for one hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Now hide it from your family so you can eat it all yourself.

Meanwhile start making the beef. Just score the meat and stuff with garlic cloves and bay leaves to taste. Now pour a large glass if sherry into a covered roasting pan and set the beef on top.

Cover and roast at 350 degrees until the internal temperature reaches about 100 degrees, then take off the lid and pour another glass of sherry on top. Keep roasting until the internal temperature reaches about 125 degrees. If you don't like it that rare don't worry, the temperature will continue to rise until it gets to 140 or so, which is medium rare. Or, if you're dumb and you forget to take the lid off the roast for the last 30 minutes and then you leave the lid on after you take it out of the oven too, because you're extra-dumb, you will end up with super well-done, almost inedible beef. Not that I did that or anything.

No, I didn't overcook my beef. I got this photo from the ... um ... internet?

Now for the fatherless pie:

Butter a regular pie pan and and then add a layer of sliced potatoes. Top with pieces of butter and some salt and pepper. Repeat until you've used up all the potatoes and butter.

Mix the milk with the water and pour that over the pie. Now top with your pie crust (I just used refrigerated dough, I know, cheater) and make a couple of slits to let steam escape. I also painted mine with an egg wash so that it would turn a nice color, though the recipe didn't say to.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.

Finally, the cheese sauce.

In a medium pan, melt the butter. Add the flour, stirring to make a roux. Cook for 20 or 30 seconds, then add the milk a few splashes at a time, stirring continuously. Keep going until you've used all the milk.

Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.

When it has all melted, add the salt and pepper and mustard. Add a little more milk until you have a nice sauce that's the consistency you like (ideally not so thick that you can't pour it).

Meanwhile, of course, steam the cauliflower. Serve hot with the cheese sauce poured over.

What we thought: Well, first we had to come up with theories about the fatherless pie. Why fatherless? Clearly, it's because if you eat too much of it, you'll have a heart attack and die, thus leaving your children without a father. Or I suppose it could also be because it's a meatless dish, and therefore not very expensive--the kind of thing you would likely eat if you didn't have a father and you lived in those days when the family's income came entirely from the "man of the house."

Anyway, the meat did not come out well. Totally my fault, because I was actually dumb enough to leave the lid on the baking dish and I ended up with dried out, way overcooked meat. I did love the fatherless pie, though. The potatoes were tender and delicious with the pastry and all that butter, what's not to love? Simple and yummy, and oh so bad for you. As for the cheese sauce, well, it was cheese sauce and I therefore had to gush about it. It was so good in fact that I saved the leftovers and used them to make mac and cheese for lunch for the next two days.

Finally, the bonnag. We all loved this, but yes it seemed more like a teatime snack than a dessert. Which is probably how it was meant to be eaten, but nevermind. We gobbled it up. One thing this blog has really given me is an appreciation for sweets that are only mildly sweet. Guess what America, it doesn't have to be drowning in chocolate sauce to be delicious.

Next week: Israel


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