Thursday, March 15, 2012

Orkney Is Not Just For Westies...Scottish Beef Stew

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In the summer of 2009, shortly after I started Lindaraxa, I decided to explore this new thing called Twitter which, at the time, seemed to be gaining a lot of press.  In the beginning it was awkward, nobody knew exactly what they were supposed to do;  but pretty soon companies, celebrities and the press started to join in the bandwagon.  So why not try it out? Maybe it would give me an edge getting subscribers for my blog;  but I needed a pen name or something to conceal my real name. After all, what if this thing was a scam?  Enter @Lucywestie  (that's the sous chef on the right).  So I started to tweet, under her name, and soon found out there were other Westies on board... lots of them.  Instead of getting humans to follow my blog I was getting Westies!

@Lucywestie's first friend was a little Westie from Orkney named @Molliewestie.  Orkney? where the hell  in the world was that?  Now,  I pride myself on my knowledge of geography but I certainly had never heard of this place. I didn't even know where to look...the Indian Ocean?  Enter Google.   Pretty soon I knew everything there was to know about the islands, an archipelago in northern Scotland, 16 kilometres (10 mi) north of the coast of Caithness.

The name "Orkney" dates back to the 1st century BC or earlier, and the islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years.  They contain some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe, and the "Heart of Neolithic Orkney" is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Contrary to what you may think, it doesn't snow much in Orkney

Anyway, a wonderful friendship began with this adorable little dog named Mollie which lasted until about a year ago when she stopped tweeting.  I was sad and missed her, but it happens.  Interest is lost and all of a sudden, from one day to the next, you lose contact with someone or something which was a part of your life.

Her blog, MollieWestie, Diary Of A Little Dog From Orkney is still up and if you want to see photos of Mollie and Orkney pay her a visit.


Just when I thought I knew everything there was to know about Orkney today, quite by accident, I learned  something else.  Orkney produces some of the best beef in the world...good enough to be sold at Marks &  Spencer in London. Mon Dieu, did @molliewestie know this? Of course she did.  But  she never told me...she was always worried about skipping her bath.  Over 28,0000 head of the prized Aberdeen Angus cattle graze in the rocky hills. That's about 6,000 more cows than all the people that inhabit these islands.  That is incredible, do the math.

Farming there is tough, whatever the season. This summer Orkney basked in enough sun to let you sit about in a T-shirt for a day or two.  From October until March it is dark by 3.30 pm and first light arrives at 8.30am.  But I knew all this from  @Mollywestie.  She used to complain about the long nights and wanting morning to come soon so she could go off and chase the ducks in the nearby pond..

I am sorry I lost contact with this adorable friend .  Not only for the laughs and chuckles but for her insight into another world, far different from mine.  It's funny, we lead our lives thinking everything revolves around us.  Only when we travel do we realize how small we are in this life and how happy one can be in another little corner of the world.  No Guccis, no Pradas and definitely no $20 million townhouses.  Just a couple and their dogs,  happy with their lot.  That's all...but that's a lot. And, that's Twitter for you.

But this is a cooking blog and I almost forgot about the recipe.  Now, I'm well aware Saturday is St. Patricks Day and Scottish Beef Stew is not Irish.  But let's face it, Irish people, you are a lot of fun, have fine lace, great castles and Whisky and your men are lustful...BUT,  your cooking is not something we rave about,  except perhaps for the Chocolate Stout Cake I posted in your honor.  I know, I was married to an Irish American and my mother in law was lovely but her cooking...let's just say we ate chez elle once.  On the other hand, there is nothing like a good Reuben Sandwich,  my idea of what to eat on St. Paddy's Day or any day of the year.


This stew is intensely flavorful and deserves a full bodied wine.  Try a hearty Bordeaux. 


  1. 2 tablespoons pure olive oil
  2. All-purpose flour, for dredging
  3. 2 1/2 pounds well-marbled boneless beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  4. Salt and freshly ground pepper
  5. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  6. 2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  7. 2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  8. 2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  9. 4 ounces rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup) You can substitute parsnip
  10. 2 tablespoons red currant jelly
  11. 2 cups dry red wine
  12. 2 cups beef stock or low-sodium broth
  13. 2 thyme sprigs
  14. 1 garlic clove, smashed
  15. 1 bay leaf
  16. Skirlie Potato Cakes, for serving
  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Spread the flour in a shallow bowl. Season the beef with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour; shake off any excess flour. Add half of the meat to the casserole and cook over moderately high heat until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until browned on the other side, about 2 minutes longer. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and floured meat, browning the meat over moderate heat.
  2.  Melt the butter in the casserole. Add the onions, carrots, celery and rutabaga and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 7 minutes. Add the jelly and the wine and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the casserole. Add the beef stock and bring to a boil. Add the browned meat and any accumulated juices along with the thyme, garlic and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
  3. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl. Boil the sauce over high heat until reduced to 2 cups, about 10 minutes. Return the meat to the casserole and season with salt and pepper. Discard the thyme sprig and bay leaf. Serve the stew with the Skirlie Potato Cakes.
The stew can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.


  1. The currant jelly is what distinguishes this dish....makes it!

  2. A lovely story about Mollie how sweet that you are still a friend from a far...Lucy is a special girl to have so many great friends...Ah, Lucy...we need to have a party at the clubhouse and maybe you could make stew? Loving you both Missy and Mum

  3. I'll save this for a cooler spring day on the prairie -- IF that ever happens this spring! I loved your post today -- plus I learned something as well.

  4. Thia sounds yummy!! So miss Mollie Westie, too... Thanks to her, all Westies know the significance of Orkney! Cannot wait to have some stew. :-)

  5. I've got tears on my eyes...
    How beautiful!!! Our friendship is something so special that money cannot buy!
    We all miss Mollie... and Orkney, where everything started!!!

  6. I was all emotional writing it especially when I looked at her blog. Such a cutie and such nice people. So simple. Wish there were more like them in this world.

  7. This was a delightful and moving post, m'dear. Loved the education about Orkney and Miss Mollie. I've also been a-dreamin' about a good beef stew lately, so the timing of this recipe is serendipitous (or is it serendipidous?). Thanks for the read and the receipt, as they said in tymes gone bye...


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