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.
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
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
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
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
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
3 tbsp red wine
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
6-8 juniper berries
1 cooking apple, diced
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!