Spring is in the air…

Aquilegia and hellebore foliage

I can’t believe it’s over a month since I last wrote – so much for my good intentions! What with pressures of work, a skiing holiday, decorators in painting the kitchen /utility room after having a new oak floor fitted at the end of last year, a wedding food tasting and lots of family visits, blog-writing has definitely taken a back seat of late. This weekend was Mother’s Day, with one son and his fiancée home, then a trip over to my parents’ to see all the family on Sunday – and beautiful spring weather for once too!

The recent springlike weather has tempted me out into the garden to mow my lawn (just the once!), cut back my buddleias and the giant lavatera, prune the roses, dead-head last year’s hydrangea flowers and chop back any remaining perennials that I’d left through the winter to provide shelter and food for birds and insects. There was still a cold wind when I ventured out on Saturday afternoon, but I was determined to pot up my new dahlia tubers from Sarah Raven and the overwintered monster begonias. I also sowed the first batch of seeds, always an exciting moment: sweet peas in pots on the conservatory windowsill (I’ve reverted to trying some inside this year after such a late crop last year, but I will plant more straight into the ground later too, when the soil warms up). Tomatoes (my favourite Sungold and the old-fashioned Ailsa Craig), chillis (Summer Heat and Padron), Romano sweet peppers, aubergine Bonica, lobelia Crystal Palace, and the three leek varieties Bandit, Pandora and Nipper for a succession of leeks all through the autumn/winter – all now tucked up in the propagator. Let the season commence!

Back side bed

I’ve still to distribute last year’s compost around the garden, but there’s always next weekend… In the meantime, let me finish with a springtime lemon & ricotta cake I adapted from a River Café recipe. I had some ricotta in the fridge and fancied a light, lemony and gluten-free cake. This was the result – exactly what I was looking for. The original quantities make a huge cake – I didn’t have a tin big enough and there were only five of us for dinner, so I cut the quantities back by a third – perfect. I found the original recipe here if you’re catering for a crowd!

River Café Lemon, Ricotta, Almond & Polenta Cake – serves 10

Lemon ricotta cake

150g butter, softened
170g ground almonds (you could also use almond flour)
65g fine polenta (whizz in the food processor if you can’t buy fine)
finely grated zest of 4 lemons
170g caster sugar
4 large eggs, separated
200g ricotta
juice of 2 lemons
icing sugar, for dusting

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C.  Grease a 24cm round springform cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.

Combine the almonds and polenta (whizzed in the food processor for extra fineness if necessary) and add the lemon zest. Beat the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer until pale and light.  Add the egg yolks one by one, then add the almond mixture and fold together. Put the ricotta into a bowl and beat lightly with a fork, then add the lemon juice. Stir the ricotta into the cake mixture. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they form soft peaks.  Finally fold the egg whites into the almond mixture.

Transfer the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40 – 50 minutes, until set.  Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean.  Leave in the tin to cool for at least 10 minutes before turning out. Dust liberally with sifted icing sugar before serving, and garnish with fine strips of lemon rind if desired.

I served it with a jostaberry purée from the freezer, but any red fruit coulis would be good – and it was delicious on its own too. Enjoy!

Standen March 2017
Beautiful Standen near East Grinstead – perfect Mother’s Day outing

 

Using your Loaf

In this age of healthy, “clean” eating, is it wrong of me to confess that I always like to have cake in the house?! As I’ve said many times before, my motto is everything in moderation and a piece of cake with your afternoon tea is good for the soul – well mine, at any rate. Now there’s just me at home, though, I do have to be careful to make things that don’t go off before I have time to eat them. Loaf cakes can be the perfect solution: I often make the mixture, then cook it in two loaf tins and freeze one, or even cook just one cake and freeze half. Such a luxury to know you have cake already in the freezer when you return from holiday or have a particularly steep workload. They’re usually very quick to make too, so you can knock them up in no time.

Two of my favourites are adapted ever so slightly from Nigel Slater’s first Kitchen Diaries, both in the winter months, which is precisely when I like to cook them. They just suit the grey days at the start of the year somehow: a spicy double ginger cake for the chilly days of January and a frosted marmalade cake to make the most of the peak citrus season. My final loaf offering is one I stumbled across by chance in Waitrose’s Weekend newspaper: a “healthy” date, walnut & banana loaf.

Frosted Marmalade Cake

frosted-marmalade-cake_slice

6oz butter, softened
6oz caster sugar
1 large orange, zest and juice
3 large eggs, beaten
3oz orange marmalade
6oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder

For the frosting:
4oz icing sugar

One 2lb loaf tin, greased and lined

Preheat the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4. Beat the butter, sugar, orange zest, beaten eggs, marmalade, flour and baking powder in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Finally, gently stir in the juice of half the orange. (Nigel uses the classic sponge method and mixes these separately, butter and sugar first, then eggs, then folding in the flour – I find my method works just as well!)

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until cooked. Leave the cake to cool in the tin – it may sink slightly – then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Sieve the icing sugar and mix in as much of the remaining orange juice as required to produce a smooth, slightly runny consistency, then drizzle icing over the cake, letting it run down the side, and leave to set.

Double Ginger Cake – makes 2 loaf cakes (or 1 large square cake)

ginger-cake-cooked_cropped

250g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
stem ginger in syrup (3 lumps, finely chopped)
2 tbsp syrup from the ginger jar
125g butter
2 heaped tbsp sultanas (optional)
125g dark Muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
240 ml milk

Grease and base-line either 2 loaf tins or one 8″ square deep cake tin. I usually make two loaves and freeze the second.

Set the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4. Sift the flour with the spices, bicarb and salt. Put the golden syrup, ginger syrup and butter in a small pan and warm gently. Add the chopped stem ginger, sugar and sultanas (if using – I find they ALWAYS sink to the bottom of the cake as the mixture is so wet, and they really don’t add anything to the cake, but if you like them, leave them in!). Bubble gently for a minute or so. Break the eggs into a bowl, then add the milk. Remove the syrup mixture from the heat and pour over the flour. Then add the eggs and milk, stirring gently until no traces of flour remain. The mixture will be very sloppy!

ginger-cake-pre-cooking

Pour into the prepared cake tins and bake for 35-40 minutes or until firm to the touch. Leave to cool before turning out, then serve in chunky slices with a good slathering of butter. Perfect teatime fare….

As I said, my final loaf recipe was adapted from a Waitrose recipe and is actually for a “sugar-free” cake, not that I was seeking to make any such thing. It is, of course, free from refined sugar, not sugar in any form, as it contains fruit and fruit nectar – but if you’re keen to cut down on refined sugar, do give it a go.  I happened to have a blackened banana in the fruit bowl, which was why it called out to me. The original recipe uses date nectar, which I didn’t have, so I used agave nectar instead, and two ripe bananas – there again, I only had one in the house, so I added an overripe pear – great way to use up the stragglers in your fruit bowl! I must admit, I was dubious before I made it, but it really is very light and delicious – well worth a try.

Date, Walnut & Banana Loaf

40g butter, softened
2 tbsp agave nectar (or date nectar if you have it)
1 egg, beaten
100ml semi-skimmed milk
150g wholemeal SR flour (or spelt flour if you prefer)
1 tsp baking powder (may need 2 if using spelt)
2 tsp mixed spice
2 ripe bananas, mashed (or 1 banana + 1 pear)
50g walnuts, chopped
60g chopped dates

Grease and base-line a loaf tin. Set the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4.

Cream the butter and agave nectar together in a bowl, then add the egg and milk and combine with a hand mixer. Sift in the flour, baking powder and mixed spice. Stir to combine – it will look very odd at this stage! Add the mashed bananas/pear, dates and walnuts and mix again. Transfer to the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes or until firm to the touch. Cool and serve in slices, with butter if preferred. This won’t keep for long because of the fruit content, especially in warm weather, so do freeze half if necessary.

date-walnut-banana-loaf

Putting the zest back into February

snowy-day-in-the-woods-feb-2017

Well, February hasn’t been much of an improvement on January so far. We even had a smattering of snow yesterday, not enough to transform everywhere into a magical winter wonderland, just leaden skies, bitter wind and uniform greyness. Yuk.

Needless to say, there’s still nothing doing in the garden, although this is the perfect time to get on with ordering/buying seeds, potatoes and dahlias for the summer and indulge in a little wistful poring over the catalogues, online or print, to while away the grey days. I’ve been buying my seeds as I see them on offer in local garden centres, often half-price at this time of year, but still had to order a few specials online, like the Ammi visnaga from Sarah Raven, and squashes Crown Prince and Squashkin (a butternut/ Crown Prince hybrid from Marshall’s that sounded too tempting to miss!). I haven’t been overly impressed with the potato selections on offer in my local gardening emporia this year, so ended up ordering those online too: Jazzy from Thompson & Morgan, and Anya, a lovely waxy, salad variety I’ve had before and enjoyed, again from Marshall’s. They came ultra-quickly and are now chitting away in eggboxes in the conservatory – so I suppose that’s some progress!

I couldn’t resist ordering new dahlias too; not sure where I’m going to put them, but I’m sure I’ll find room – and there’s my son’s wedding to grow flowers for this year, of course! This year’s additions are Indian Summer, a spiky scarlet cactus variety, Labyrinth, a fabulous pastel peach confection (I did try this one last year, but with no success; fingers crossed it comes up this year) and Mel’s Orange Marmalade, another extravagant cactus type, purely because I loved the name and couldn’t resist the marmalade colour and fringed, almost marine-like petals.

Despite the lack of action in the garden, miserable weather is always a good excuse to spend time messing about in the kitchen and what better ingredients to use to add some zing to a grey day than citrus fruit? It’s the peak season for citrus just now, so my morning ruby grapefruits are extra-delicious and lemons and limes are plentiful. A neighbour, who I cat-sit for when they’re on holiday, very kindly brought around a big pot of home-made Seville orange marmalade on Friday and I even managed to buy my absolute favourite citrus fruits, blood oranges, in Lidl yesterday – they only have a very short season, so all the more reason to snap them up when you find them!

blood-oranges

So what did I make on this cold winter Sunday? First, a carrot, orange & ginger soup to add a touch of sunshine to a chilly lunchtime. Then I finally got round to using up some egg yolks that have been sitting in the fridge since last weekend, when I used the whites in a pineapple & coconut meringue roulade for my younger son’s birthday celebrations. Five egg yolks is quite a lot to have hanging around, especially when you’re cooking for one. The usual contenders of custard, or pastry, only use one or two yolks and my standby gooseberry & crème fraiche tart is best made in summer with fresh, not frozen gooseberries (too much liquid) and for a party to boot! A colleague on Foodie Translators had posted a tempting-looking recipe for lemon bars, based on a recipe by the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network, which sounded interesting, but used whole eggs. Researching further found an article in the Guardian by Ruby Tandoh, in which she makes lemon curd with just the yolks – and thus an idea was born….

First, the soup though. I make several variations on carrot soup, including carrot & coriander and a carrot & lentil from an ancient M&S cookery book. Both excellent, but if you fancy something both citrussy and slightly spicy, this really hits the spot.

Carrot, Orange & Ginger Soup -serves 6-8

carrot-orange-ginger-soup

750g carrots, peeled & chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 orange, juice and grated zest
1 cooking apple, peeled and chopped
1 2.5cm piece root ginger, grated (I store in the freezer and grate from frozen)
50g butter
Salt and pepper
1.25 l chicken stock (or you can use vegetable stock if you prefer)
Few sprigs thyme, leaves only

Melt the butter in a large pan, then add the onions, garlic and celery. Sweat gently for 5 minutes or so while you prepare the carrots and apple, then add to the pan with the grated ginger and thyme leaves. Continue to cook for a few more minutes, then add the grated orange zest and juice. Pour in the stock, season and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and cook for 30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Leave to cool slightly, then purée in a liquidiser until smooth. You may need to add more stock at this stage, depending how thick you like your soup – or you could add cream or milk if you prefer. Garnish with coriander or parsley if you have any; otherwise eat as it is and enjoy your little bowl of sunshine!

Needless to say, I had to tweak the Barefoot Contessa’s lemon bar recipe to suit the five egg yolks I had lurking in the fridge, so I more or less halved the quantities, cut down the sugar content, and went from there, adjusting as I went. I was delighted with the results, tangy yet buttery at the same time, but you might wish to tweak further!

Lemon Bars – serves 12

lemon-bars

125g butter
50g caster sugar
150g plain flour
pinch salt
Grated rind of 1 lemon

5 egg yolks
200g caster sugar
Grated rind of 3 lemons
Juice of 3/4 lemons (110-120ml juice in total)
50g plain flour, sifted

Put the first five ingredients, for the shortbread base, into a food processor and blend together until mixed and starting to form a ball. Remove, knead together lightly and press into a greased 17.5cm (7″) square tin. Prick with a fork, then bake in the oven at 160°C, Gas 4 for 15-20 minutes until light golden.

Meanwhile, make the filling: blend the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and zest and flour with a hand whisk, then pour over the cooked shortbread base. Return to the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until set. Leave to cool, then dust with icing sugar and serve with a nice cup of tea. Amazingly good!

January greens

January is such a grey and dismal month: nothing doing in the garden, even less on the allotment, bar those stalwart crops that keep on growing come rain, frost, wind or snow, like leeks and parsnips. Where would we be without them? News of a UK courgette shortage this week made me laugh; I wouldn’t dream of eating courgettes at this time of year (apart from in frozen ratatouille from the heady days of summer courgette gluts), especially the tasteless and fleshy imported ones that are the only kind available. Apparently bad weather in Spain has reduced supplies, so the clean eaters of these isles, with their spiralisers and juicers, are having to forego their vegetable of the moment. Whatever happened to seasonal eating? With broccoli, kale and spinach in abundance now, I rarely buy vegetables at any time of year – and I’m convinced you get better taste and vitamins the sooner after picking you eat, to say nothing of the environmental benefits of those reduced food miles…

Still, man cannot live on veg alone, and I had three egg whites in the fridge recently, left over from the New Year bakeathon. I fancied a change from my usual macaroons, so decided to experiment with Nigella’s pistachio macaroons. She uses two egg whites, but I adapted the quantities to three, and rather than the pistachio buttercream, which rather struck me as nut overload, I thought I’d sandwich them together with lime curd – heaven! Next time, I think I’d be tempted to add some lime rind to the macaroons themselves, though they really were delicious as described.

Pistachio & Lime Macaroons

pistachio-macaroons

110g shelled pistachios
185g icing sugar
3 large egg whites
25g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 lime (optional)

Lime Curd

lime-curd

120g caster sugar
30g butter, cut into small pieces
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
juice and grated zest of 2 limes

Grind the pistachios in a food processor with the icing sugar (to stop the nuts turning into an oily paste) until very fine. Whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff, then whisk in the caster sugar until very stiff. Fold the pistachio mixture into the whites until combined. Pipe small rounds using an icing bag with a 1cm plain nozzle onto a silicone macaroon sheet if you have one or onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Should make 40-50 individual macaroons.

pistachio-macaroons-on-silicone-sheet

Leave to dry for 20-30 minutes, then place in an oven preheated to 160°C, Gas 4. Cook for 12-14 minutes or until set. If you gently peel one off the base, it should lift off without leaving any sticky residue. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets.

Meanwhile make the lime curd by placing the sugar, butter, eggs, lime juice and grated zest in a pan over a moderately low heat. Whisk frequently for 10-12 minutes, until it is thick enough to hold the marks of the whisk. Immediately remove from the heat and sieve into a bowl. Allow to cool, then use to sandwich the macaroons together. Any leftover curd can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Enjoy! Just the thing to brighten up a gloomy January day….

pistachio-macaroon-single

New Year Feasts II – Desserts!

desserts-new-year-2016

Apologies for posting in quick succession, but I wanted to note down the new desserts I tried for my New Year family party before I forget my adaptations. My sweet tooth will have become only too apparent by now, and a get-together is always an ideal opportunity to try new pudding recipes. Once again, one of my New Year desserts was adapted from a recipe in the Christmas BBC Good Food magazine, whilst the other was originally a Nigel Slater recipe from his first Kitchen Diaries book, one of the most well-thumbed books on my kitchen bookshelves, but with added blackcurrant compote.

The Good Food recipe is a variation on the ever-popular chocolate roulade theme. I already have a favourite chocolate roulade recipe I’ve cooked for years, but this recipe used more eggs, so served more, and sounded intriguing, so I thought I’d give it a go. Roulades are always useful when you have gluten-intolerant guests as they often don’t contain flour. My original recipe (to serve 8) simply uses 4 eggs, separated, 150g plain chocolate and 125g caster sugar – very much like a cooked chocolate mousse and delicious with it! I serve it filled with a mixture of whipped cream and natural yogurt, accompanied by a childishly simple apricot & ginger sauce made by whizzing the contents of a can of apricots in natural juice with a cube of fresh root ginger and the juice of a lemon. Yum! The new recipe (adapted from the Good Food recipe, but not identical – see here if you want to try the original) also incorporates ground almonds and was equally delicious, although the basic method is the same – see what you think:

Chocolate, Coconut & Passion Fruit Roulade – serves 10-12

chocolate-coconut-passion-fruit-roulade

150g dark chocolate
6 large eggs, separated
170g caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
25g ground almonds
350ml double cream
150ml natural yogurt2-3 tbsp Malibu
50g icing sugar
Caster sugar to sprinkle
3 ripe passion fruit, juice and seeds
50g coconut flakes, toasted

Heat oven to 160°C, Gas 4. Grease a 30cm x 20cm Swiss roll tin and line with baking parchment, then grease the baking parchment.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in the microwave in short bursts, or over a pan of simmering water if you prefer. Set aside to cool. Whisk the egg whites until they form peaks – I used the Kitchen Aid for this amount of egg whites, but you could also use a hand mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar until thick and pale. Gradually fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture until combined, then sift over the cocoa and fold in the ground almonds. Finally fold in the melted chocolate. Transfer to the prepared tin and spread to the edges. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the surface is firm and the cake feels springy to the touch.

Remove from the oven and immediately cover with a piece of baking parchment and a clean, damp tea towel. Leave overnight (or as long as you can).

The next day (or later, when the roulade is completely cool), whip the cream, sifted icing sugar and Malibu in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Whisk in the yogurt. Carefully turn out the roulade onto a fresh sheet of baking parchment on which you have sprinkled caster sugar. Remove the lining paper and spread 3/4 of the cream mixture over the surface. Distribute the passion fruit flesh evenly over the cream.

Starting from the short end farthest away from you, gently but firmly roll the roulade towards you, using the baking parchment to help. It may crack a little, but don’t worry – I think this adds to the effect. Carefully transfer the rolled roulade to a serving plate using a fish slice and palette knife and then remove the baking parchment from beneath. If you can find an extra pair of hands in the form of a willing kitchen helper for this stage, do! This is a large roulade!

Place the remaining cream into a piping bag and pipe a decorative rope of cream along the centre of the roulade, then sprinkle with the toasted coconut flakes. Serve to oohs and aahs of appreciation….

For my alternative dessert, I’d consulted with the rest of the family and they’d requested a fruit cheesecake. Plenty of blackcurrants from the allotment in the freezer, so no problem there. I fancied a change from the usual uncooked cheesecake that I tend to make in the summer, and glanced through a few recipe books before I came across this Nigel Slater recipe I hadn’t tried before. I have fond memories of the cheesecake we used to buy from Palm’s in Oxford’s covered market in our student days in the early 80’s and have often tried to recreate the unctuous, yet not too claggy delight that was their trademark – so far without success, although Delia’s baked cheesecakes with fromage frais and curd cheese are good. Nigel’s recipe promised to be “one of those perfect recipes that you have been after all your life; a really fudgy, creamy filling and crisp base” – how could I resist? (And how come I’d never seen this before, in one of my cooking bibles?!)

Baked Blackcurrant Cheesecake – serves 10-12

blackcurrant-baked-cheesecake

450g blackcurrants (defrosted if frozen)
4-5 tbsp caster sugar (or to taste – I like it quite tart)
Juice of 1 orange (grate the rind first for the cheesecake)
2 tsp arrowroot
150g Hobnob biscuits, crushed (or you could use digestives)
75g butter
500g Mascarpone cheese
200g cream cheese
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten1 egg yolk
Rind of 1 orange, grated
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
150ml double cream, whipped
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Cook the blackcurrants gently in a pan with the orange juice and 4-5 tbsp caster sugar until tender. Mix the arrowroot with some water in a small bowl, then mix in some of the hot blackcurrant liquid. Blend until smooth, then stir the arrowroot mixture into the blackcurrants and cook for a few minutes until the mixture thickens. Set to one side and leave to cool. You want the mixture to be quite thick so it stays on top of the finished cheesecake, but not as thick as jam – adjust by adding more orange juice when cool if necessary!

Prepare a greased 20cm loose-bottomed deep cake tin and wrap in a double thickness of foil using a single piece each time – this is to prevent water seeping into the cake when cooked in a water bath in the oven.

Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the crushed biscuits. Tip into the base of the prepared cake tin and spread out evenly. Refrigerate until set.

Put the Mascarpone, cream cheese, caster sugar, beaten eggs and the extra yolk into a large bowl, then add the grated orange and lemon rind. Beat thoroughly until well mixed, stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract, then finally fold in the whipped cream.

Transfer to the cake tin on top of the set biscuit base and place the tin in a large roasting pan, then fill with boiling water to halfway up the side of the tin. Carefully transfer to the pre-heated oven and cook for 50 minutes at 140°C/Gas 1. Then switch off the oven and leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven. Remove the outer tin to serve, topped with the blackcurrant compote.

Palm’s, eat your heart out….

New Year Feasts

christmas-walk-2016-bewl

As 2016 draws to a close, the last week of the year always seems to be a blur of festive food, shared with friends and family. A treat for those of us who live alone to cater for a larger number for a change and an excuse to cook those more extravagant recipes you can’t justify on a daily basis. I’ve had family to stay since the day before Christmas Eve, but yesterday was our largest family get-together; so hard to tie in everyone’s calendars as children grow older and different constraints come into play.

new-years-lunch-2016

One of my go-to dishes for gatherings is a venison casserole: partly because my kitchen isn’t huge, so cooking a roast for a larger number is rather a logistical challenge, and with only one oven, casseroles are often the easiest option. This time, I had the brainwave of marinading the venison, from my local farm shop, the day before, then cooking in the oven first thing in the morning, moving to my warming oven after two-and-a-half hours, thus freeing up my oven to be turned up to a higher temperature for jacket potatoes and a vegetarian squash, beetroot & lentil Wellington – perfect! In my 3/4 range (all that would fit in my kitchen), I’ve only ever used the narrow warming oven for warming plates before, but it kept the casserole on a very gentle simmer until we were ready to eat – well worth remembering for the future.

Venison Casserole – serves 8-10

1.5kg stewing venison, diced
600ml red wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 red onions, chopped
2-3 sticks celery, chopped
250g streaky bacon, diced
Olive oil
250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
250g pack peeled chestnuts
4-5 tbsp plain flour (or use rice flour for gluten-free guests)
450 ml hot venison stock (or any stock you have available)
2 tsp redcurrant jelly
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
Seasoning

Trim venison if necessary, then place in a large bowl with the wine, bay leaves, rosemary and garlic. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge or a cool place.

Heat the oil in a large casserole and gently fry the chopped onion, celery and bacon until softened – about 10 minutes. Set aside using a slotted spoon. Drain the venison from the marinade, reserving the marinade to add later. Add more oil to the casserole if necessary, then brown the venison in batches. Return all the venison to the pan when all the meat is browned and sprinkle over the flour, stirring well for 2 minutes or so. Add the reserved marinade and the stock and bring to the boil, stirring.

Return the bacon, onion and celery mix to the pan, add the quartered mushrooms and the chestnuts, thyme leaves and redcurrant jelly. Cover the casserole with a lid when simmering, then cook in a pre-heated oven at 150°C, Gas 3 for 2 1/2 hours, or until the venison is beautifully tender.

Serve with buttered jacket potatoes, braised red cabbage (see below) and/or a Christmas coleslaw of shredded red cabbage, fennel, apple, red onion, raisins and garlic with a lemony mayonnaise & yogurt dressing. A warming feast for a cold, bleak winter’s day.

To ring the changes, and despite the fact that there were no vegetarians amongst us, I accompanied the venison with a squash, beetroot & lentil Wellington that had caught my eye in the Christmas edition of the BBC Good Food magazine. I always buy this foodie magazine in December, mainly for the lovely calendar, but it often comes up trumps with novel and different-sounding recipes. This was intended to be a vegan recipe, but I adapted it to include cream cheese and milk. I have no doubt that it would have been delicious just as it was, however – and definitely worth remembering if you’re catering for vegan guests!

Squash, Beetroot & Lentil Wellington with Kale Pesto – serves 8

1 pack ready-rolled puff pastry
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into small chunks
250g raw beetroot, peeled and cut into small chunks – I used the stripey Chioggia variety, but any would do
2 red onions, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
Olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped leaves
250g pouch ready-to-eat Puy lentils (or soak and cook your  own if you have time)
250g pouch prepared chestnuts, chopped
100g kale, chopped, thick stems removed
1/2 lemon, rind and juice
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tbsp cream cheese or goat’s cheese (omit for vegan version)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Seasoning
Milk or egg to brush (use almond milk for vegan version)
Sesame seeds to sprinkle

Toss the prepared onion, squash, beetroot and garlic in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, add chopped rosemary and thyme, season, then roast at 180°C for 45 minutes until just tender. Stir in lentils and half the chestnuts, and set to one side.

Place the chopped kale into a pan of boiling water and blanch for i minute until wilted. Drain and run under cold water to cool. Squeeze out excess water, then blitz in a food processor with the lemon rind and juice,remaining 2 garlic cloves, the remaining chestnuts, seasoning and a glug of olive oil. Finally add the cream cheese or goat’s cheese if using.

Roll out the pastry to a larger rectangle on a floured surface. Spread the kale pesto down the central third of the pastry. Gently spoon the squash and lentil mixture onto the pesto. Brush the side thirds with milk or beaten egg and cut into inch-wide strips not quite reaching the middle third. Fold over the short ends or the rectangle, then gradually fold the outer thirds over the squash and lentil mound to overlap and form a long oblong. Brush with more milk or egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Can be left to chill overnight if you have time (and space in your fridge!). Otherwise cook at 180 – 200°C for 45 minutes to 1 hour until crisp and golden brown. Serve warm.

The Good Food recipe made individual Wellingtons (using two packs of pastry), but this worked well as one large pie – more filling per helping too! Even my very definitely non-vegetarian father (a confirmed meat-eater at 83!) loved this and came back for more – praise indeed…

My final recipe for the braised red cabbage is one of my winter stalwarts. Made entirely in the microwave, it lends itself well to preparing ahead and reheating, or even making in a lrge batch and freezing to bring out through the winter as required. Ideal for accompanying winter casseroles, hotpots and hearty winter meals.

Braised Red Cabbage – serves 8-10

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 sticks celery (or fennel), chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
450g red cabbage, shredded
50g raisins
3 tbsp red wine
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
6-8 juniper berries
1 cooking apple, diced
Seasoning

Put the oil in a large bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute 30. Stir in the celery, fennel seeds and 1 tbsp water. Cook for a further 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, cover with clingfilm, piercing several times to allow the steam to escape when cooking. Return to the microwave for 3 minutes, then stir. Repeat twice more. At this stage, the cabbage can be left to stand until required and then reheated in the microwave for a further 3-4 minutes. Freezes beautifully too.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

poppy-christmas-day-2016

‘Tis the season for… Mince Pies

Mince pie time again! I usually make my own mincemeat and these days one batch lasts me a couple of years, maturing beautifully from one year to the next. I’ve experimented with a few recipes over the years, but Delia’s original recipe from her Complete Cookery Course has always been my preferred option. Usually, however, I make it back in October and leave to mature nicely before using it for the first time. This year, October and November have passed in a flash and I’ve only now realised that I’m down to my last jar of the 2013 vintage (and very nice it is too!).

Fortunately, I’d heard discussion of a quick mincemeat recipe on breakfast radio and a swift hunt online brought up a Good Food recipe that sounded just the job. Here it is, adapted to reflect some elements of my old recipe, but I’m hoping it will do the trick. It certainly smells fantastic as it infuses overnight.

Quick Mincemeat

quick-mincemeat

450g currants
450g sultanas
450g raisins
100g candied mixed peel
50g flaked almonds
1 rounded tsp mixed spice
1 rounded tsp cinnamon
1/2 fresh nutmeg, grated
Juice and grated zest of 1 large lemon
Juice and grated zest of 1 large orange
450g dark muscovado sugar
100ml brandy (I used Metaxa) or 50 ml brandy + 50 ml Amaretto
2 large cooking apples, peeled and grated
200g vegetable suet

Mix all of the ingredients, apart from the suet, in a large mixing bowl, and leave to infuse, covered with a tea towel, overnight. Mix in the suet, then spoon into sterilised jars, cover with  cellophane circles and lids. Store in a cool place; should keep for at least a year.

My all-time favourite mince pie pastry is this very rich, buttery, sweet shortcrust recipe that makes featherlight, crumbly pies. I’ve also used the sweet tart pastry from the Tarte aux Pommes recipe to great effect, but this one is the best in my view. I have no idea where it came from originally; it’s scribbled down in one of my handwritten recipe notebooks as simply “yummy mince pies”. See what you think:

Sweet shortcrust pastry

6oz butter
8oz plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp water

Rub butter into flour (again, this can be grated in from a frozen block if you prefer). Stir in sugar and bind to a firm dough with the egg yolk mixed with water. You may not need all the liquid – add with care until the consistency feels just right, not too wet. Knead gently until smooth. Chill for 20-30 minutes, then roll out dough thinly on a floured surface and use as usual.

This quantity should make 24 mince pies. I use a 3″ round cutter to make the bases and then roll the trimmings again and cut out 24 tops using a star-shaped cutter, 2.5″ across. Line 2 x 12-hole patty tins with the bases, fill each with a generous teaspoon of mincemeat, then press the stars lightly on top. You can brush the edges lightly with water or milk, but the mixture is so buttery, they should hold anyway. Bake at 200°C, Gas 6 for 10-12 minutes until lightly coloured. Dust with icing sugar to serve. Serve warm.

mince-pies_cropped

Happy Christmas!

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