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. (I added wild garlic too when cooking again in April, blanching with the kale – an inspired addition!)

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

Advertisements

‘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!

A trio of apple puds to go…

It’s that time of year again, when I’ve little time for blogging, vast amounts of urgent work (why does everything suddenly need doing before Christmas?!) and actually there’s not much doing in the garden anyway – probably just as well! It’s also the time for networking get-togethers, along with the usual festive social gatherings and this year the emphasis has been on bring-your-own affairs – a refreshing change from the overpriced and noisy Christmas lunches if you go to restaurants in the run-up to Christmas.

My default option, when asked to bring something to a party, is always a dessert, for obvious sweet-toothed reasons – and apples are often my first choice as I invariably have lots hanging from the garage rafters, just crying out to be eaten. I haven’t many dessert apples left by this stage, just a few mellow Cox types, but still plenty of Bramleys. So what to take?

My first contribution was a Toffee Apple pie, based on a Sarah Raven recipe from her lovely “Food from Family & Friends”, a great book when cooking for the masses. I’ve tweaked here and there, as ever, but it’s basically an appley take on that old favourite, the banoffee pie – and who doesn’t like that?!

Toffee Apple Pie – serves 8-12

toffee-apple-pie

150g digestive biscuits, crushed in a plastic bag with a rolling pin
75g butter, melted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tin Caramel condensed milk
5-6 large Cox apples, peeled and sliced
75g butter
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
300ml double cream (or mix of cream and natural yogurt)
Grated zest of 1 orange
Toasted flaked almonds, to garnish

Stir the crushed biscuits into the melted butter, add the cinnamon, mix well, then press the crumbs into a greased 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin (mine is about 4cm deep). Chill in the fridge while you prepare the apples.

Melt the second batch of butter in a frying pan and add the sliced apples and 1 tbsp vanilla sugar. Cook until golden brown and tender. My apples are so mellow by this time of year that they fall, but if you can find apples that keep their shape, so much the better – it tastes delicious either way! Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Set to one side to cool.

Gently spread the Caramel condensed milk over the flan base, taking care not to disturb the crumbs – if you’ve left it to chill sufficiently, it should be fine. Arrange the pan-fried apples evenly over the top.

Whip the cream in a large bowl with the grated orange zest (you can use a combination of cream and yogurt for a lighter topping), then spread over the apples, covering completely. Sprinkle with the toasted flaked almonds and remove the outer ring of the tin to serve.

My second pudding choice was a trusty Tarte aux Pommes from one of my first ever cookery books, an M&S paperback by Jeni Wright called Just Desserts, dating back to the early 80s – and yes, it still comes out nearly 40 years down the line! It’s also the source of another family favourite, my profiteroles…. Forgive the Imperial measurements in this recipe – as I said, it goes back a long way (and I still think primarily in Imperial when baking!).

Tarte aux Pommes – serves 8

tarte-aux-pommes

10oz plain flour
pinch of salt
2oz vanilla sugar
1 beaten egg
3-4 tsp milk
5oz butter, diced

2-3 large cooking apples, peeled and sliced
2oz butter
4oz granulated sugar (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large dessert apples
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
6 tbsp light-coloured jam (I use gooseberry, but apricot or rhubarb would work well too)
1 tbsp icing sugar

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, beaten egg and milk, then rub in the diced butter (you can use grated frozen butter too if preferred). Knead to form a dough, then chill for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile peel and slice the apples, then place in a large pan with the butter, granulated sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Cook over a gentle heat until the apples are reduced to a thick purée, stirring every so often to prevent sticking. Beat with a wooden spoon to remove any lumps. Set aside to cool.

When the pastry has chilled, roll out carefully on a floured surface to make a big enough circle to line  a greased 24cm loose-bottomed flan tin (as above). (I find I only need 2/3 of the mixture for a tart of this size, so use the remaining pastry to make a batch of mince pies.) Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind in a pre-heated oven (180-200°C) for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and put it back in for another 3-4 minutes to set the base.

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C, then spread the apple purée over the baked tart case. Peel the dessert apples, and slice into thin, even slices, sprinkling with lemon juice as you go to stop browning. Arrange the sliced dessert apples in an overlapping ring around the edge of the tart case and then either another ring in the opposite direction or fill the gap with rows of overlapping apples if, like mine, your apples are too large to achieve two rings even in a tin of this size!

Warm the jam in a bowl in the microwave or in a small pan with the juice of a lemon and one tbsp of water. Press through a sieve into another pan, add the icing sugar and cook until reduced and a glossy glaze has formed. Gently pour the glaze over the apples, covering completely.

Return to the oven for 30-35 minutes, covering the pastry edges with foil if they show signs of burning. Remove the outer tin to serve with whipped cream or crème fraiche.

My final to-go dessert was for an impromptu meal with friends last week, so basically involved throwing together a pudding with very little time and storecupboard ingredients. Hence my tried-and-tested Apple & almond pudding, a Delia stalwart from over the years, but one which never fails to please, especially if you’re cooking for gluten-free guests.

Enjoy!

fireside