22 January 2013

tartiflette :: a random recipe paradox on a plate

In Scotland, a staple of the national diet is called Irn Bru. It's pretty rare for the best-selling carbonated drink in a country to be anything other than Coca Cola, and even rarer in a country where you are actually allowed to sell Coca Cola. But we manage it, thanks to the national weakness for Irn Bru.

It tastes like nothing else, it looks like nothing else, and it smells like nothing else. It's truly... unique.

A particular speciality in the West of the country, babies are sometimes practically weaned on to the Bru, weepily slurping it from their sippy cups as they recover from the general anaesthetic required to pull their milk teeth out.* S'alright though, they were going to fall out anyway, right?

School kids, who know only too well the importance of keeping hydrated, frequently achieve their daily fluid intake in Irn Bru alone.* High Five! It does make it a wee bit harder to keep the complex orthodontic work clean (adult teeth grow in like a pile of tangled knitting if you've had a full clearance at the age of two) but hey, at least they're not thirsty.

In our late teens and twenties we discover that it makes a great mixer for vodka. And a few wee drinks helps take our minds off the raging toothache.* Thankfully, it's no biggie if the first set of wallies is fitted long before middle age, loads of people have them. Then we can forget all about tooth decay and erosion, supping the "ginger" for the rest of our days, while cursing those mysterious modern plagues of type II diabetes and morbid obesity.

Sadly, for once, I am not exaggerating. It was into this culture that, as an over-sensitive, naive seventeen year old, I started to train as a dental surgeon. I graduated six years later, and nine months after that I quit. It's not that it was a thankless task; after all, people in Scotland really need dentists. It was just incredibly demoralising. I'm in awe of my friends who continue to practice, successfully and sympathetically, a decade later - I was ready to throw myself under a bus by third year.

I couldn't imagine a more disheartening job, and then something made me think again...

I happened to be at my friend Louise's house the day that this month's Random Recipe challenge was set: to cook a recipe from someone else's kitchen. She produced a beautiful book for me called Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry, all about Winter cooking. I came home (after a lovely lunch!) and used a random number generator to pick a recipe. It chose page 16: tartiflette.

For the uninitiated, tartiflette is a dish from the French Alps, comprising sliced boiled potatoes, sauted in butter, with lardons, onion and garlic. Then the whole lot is chucked in an oven dish, covered in creme fraiche and reblochon, and baked. Butter, bacon, cream, cheese and carb-loading, what's not to like?

My primary reaction was "this is bloody delicious!"

My secondary reaction was "it could've been worse, I could've wasted my youth training to be an Alpine cardiologist."

But then the French have their pesky paradox. Lucky blighters. If only the Scots had one of those, maybe I'd be driving round in a sports car like all my old classmates...

I couldn't get reblochon, so I used a good stinky brie, for which all purists/French
people will now demand immediate beheading by guillotine, apparently.

The addition of some French beans, to stick with the Gallic theme, and
because I didn't want my arteries to clog before the kids went to bed.

Louise also cooked a recipe from my cook book shelf this month, and sticking with the seasonal theme, she chose something from the January section of Tessa Kiros' lovely book, Twelve. Head over to Please Do Not Feed the Animals at the end of the month to see how she got on. And to read all the other randomness, please visit Belleau Kitchen - Dom does a brilliant round up every month without fail, and the list of dishes submitted is always mouthwateringly inspirational.

* Just to be clear, I'm sure the manufacturers of Irn Bru are perfectly honourable and wouldn't condone using their product in any of these ways, but I can assure you, it happens.


  1. made from girders I believe?

    well look, i've had this book on my shelf for a year or so now and never cooked from it but this heart-attack inducing pot looks simply stunning...

    ... I nearly married a dentist (before my men-loving days) and she LOVED her job and was obsessed with teeth... which is probably why mine are so dreadfully crooked... shame...

    1. Crikey, sounds like a near miss! I'm still obsessed with teeth mind you, it's so funny when people find out what I used to do and they get all bashful and lift their hand to their mouth muttering "don't look too close at mine!". I almost always resist telling them not to be daft, I'd summed up their teeth within moments of meeting them so there's no point being coy now!

  2. oh and thank you for taking part this month honey-pie x

  3. It looks like you are eating very well in your home. I must see if my library has that cookbook, anything with 'food to warm the soul' in the title must be awesome!

    1. Do try to get your hands on a copy Tracey, it is wonderful and beautiful

  4. Wow- that is pretty neat that you were a dental surgeon- no small task there. Your dish looks delish! Love that stick to your ribs kinda food after a day of skiing. (Ps. Thank you so much for your sweet and inspiring words on my blog- means alot! xo)

  5. I love how you write.
    And...truly, you got through dental surgery schooling? That is just amazing.

  6. Sometimes someone at the European Market in Aberdeen sell tartiflette from a big pan. Soooo good on a cold and dreich day in the Granite City to have some of this warming nourishment!!

    Funnily enough, the boys came home from school today all excited that one of the classes at school got to try some Irn Bru so I let them have a wee bottle between them with their haggis, neeps and tatties. They were fairly indifferent to it so that should be the end of that. I enjoyed it, though, - had forgotten how yummy it is.

  7. "butter, bacon, cream, cheese and carb-loading, what's not to like?" <3


    I can't believe you were a dental surgeon! maybe thats why you have such nifty fingers then? :p

  8. I drank Irn Bru once, never again, eugh!

    This post made my mouth water :)

  9. you are so sweet little macaroon, and now you've made me very hungry!

  10. A lovely post - made me chuckle - in a slightly tragic sort of way. I have often witnessed toddlers in buggies on the bus into town being helped to drink from a bottle of Bru. I'm pretty sure that if you're too small to hold the bottle yourself, you most definitely shouldn't be drinking the contents! But that's Leith parenting for you...

  11. You crack me up! I've enjoyed reading your posts for a while now, quiet-like as am not much of a commenter. But I finally decided to step out of the shadows and tell you I really enjoy your blog. It's one of my favorites.

    1. Well thank you for stepping out of the shadows! It's lovely to hear from you (especially since you say such lovely things!) I'm not managing to post as frequently as I'd like right now, but please do keep coming back (I have this month's random recipe planned for wednesday - watch this space... :-)


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