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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

Some dregs of Christmas last a long, long time, but who wants a taste of the festive season while Spring’s in full swing? With all the sunshine bouncing about, it’s time for a tart.  Stilton: sufficiently patriotic for a royal wedding;  walnuts: perfect nibbling for a long, long weekend.  So  here’s my Stilton and celery tart in walnut pastry, made of yuletide leftovers dredged from the depths of the freezer, with a savoury spring in its step.  Talk about resurrection….

Walnut pastry

100 g walnuts
200 g plain flour
100 g cold unsalted butter, diced
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
1-2 tbsp cold water if needed to bind

Grind the walnuts finely on the pulse setting of your food processor; add the flour with a pinch of salt and pulse to combine.  Add the butter, pulse again until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, then add the egg incrementally through the funnel, pulsing gently all the while.  As soon as the mixture looks like it’s starting to come together, stop!  If it doesn’t, add a tablespoon of cold water, then check again: it will.

Turn out the mix onto a floured surface and roll out gently or press it together with your fingers, then use it to line a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin to about the thickness of a pound coin.  Cut away the excess but don’t trim the edges yet, place it on an oven tray (you don’t want the bottom falling out) then cover with a plastic bag (or cling film if you must) and refrigerate 30 minutes or so.  This will let the pastry “rest” as the flour absorbs the fat and moisture.  I think we all know by now that it will shrink dismally in the oven if you omit this step.

Bake blind at 190C/Gas 5 for 15-20 minutes until the edges are starting to colour, remove baking beans* and prick bottom all over with a fork then return to the oven for a further 5 – 10 minutes until that looks nicely cooked through. Remove from the oven and, once it has cooled enough just enough to handle, trim the pastry edge level with the top of the tin.  Reduce oven temperature to 180C /Gas 4.

Stilton & celery filling

25 g butter, unsalted as ever
1 leek, shredded
3-4 sticks celery with leaves, finely chopped
250 ml double cream or as I did, a mixture of DC and fromage frais
4 eggs, beaten
200 g-odd Stilton (frozen leftover Texford & Tebbutt is terrific – thaw before using!)

Melt the butter in a sauté pan and fry the leeks and celery with a good grinding of black pepper – and a whisper of freshly grated nutmeg if you like such things – gently until softened, but still with a bit of texture.  Cool slightly then sprinkle across the base of the tart case.  Crumble the Stilton evenly over the vegetables.  Stir the dairy liquid into the egg yolks to amalgamate, then pour over the Stilton and vegetables.

Gently transfer the tart into the oven – middle shelf – to bake 30 minutes approximately; the second the centre stops wobbling take it out to cool.  Serve a green salad with a sharp dressing on the side.

Incidentally, liquid legacies from last December, Sainsbury’s TTD Dry Amontillado and Oloroso sherries,  made an auspiciously deliciously happy marriage with these punchy flavours.

*my baking beans have gone awol so I substituted with glass nuggets (the kind used in floristry), which seemed to work just as well.

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Hugh Fearnley-Wittingshall’s article in the Observer had me all steamed up the other week.  An ice age having passed since I last made a savoury steamed pudding and the extended winter chill providing exactly the right context, it was a touch frustrating to not fancy Hugh’s suggestions. But with an imminent delivery from the Blackface Meat Co. forcing a bit of a clear-out, a little frozen package of mixed feathered game sprang before my gunsight.

Steamed game pudding assembled without suet pastry lid

During the long google-trawl for appealing alternatives I came across Claire MacDonald’s recipe in the Scotsman, which featured an irresistibly fragrant-sounding lemon and thyme suet crust:
lemon and thyme suet pastry lid which more than lived up to its promise after a 3-hour steaming
mixed feathered game pudding in a lemon and thyme suet crust

Delectable, golden suet pastry encased an aromatic cascade of tender morsels:
a great result partnered perfectly by this Pinot Noir from the Pfalz.

Steamed Game Pudding

lemon & thyme suet pastry
300g plain flour
1 TBS baking powder
150g shredded suet
1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
about 1 TBS fresh thyme leaves
a little cold water – approx 50ml

Butter a 1.5 litre pudding basin. Put the suet in a mixing bowl and sieve over the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add the lemon rind and thyme leaves then, initially stirring with a fork, add only just enough cold water to make the pastry come together in your hands.

Cut off about a quarter of the pastry and roll it to a circle of the same diameter as the top of your pudding basin. Roll out the rest of the pastry nice and thinly and use it to line the pudding basin.

game filling
500ml bold red wine – I used corked Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon
5 or so juniper berries, crushed, and a sprig of thyme
375g pack mixed feathered game pack from Waitrose
50g button mushrooms
1 TBS flour, seasoned with salt & pepper
2 shallots diced fine
a bayleaf
1 can game consommé

Boil the wine with the juniper berries and thyme to reduce by half, then leave to cool: strain. Check over the game pieces, removing any obvious sinews, and toss them with the shallots and mushrooms in the seasoned flour, making sure everything is lightly coated. Pack the lot loosely into the pastry-lined pudding bowl and carefully pour over the reduced wine.  Inveigle the bayleaf into the centre. Help the wine soak down by easing a knife or spoon handle between the chunks of filling, then top up with game consommé to almost cover; if there’s any left over heat it and serve as extra gravy.  Lightly dampen the edge of the pastry disc then place it on top of the pud and seal together the edges all around. Put a disc of baking parchment over the pastry then double wrap the whole in tin foil, leaving plenty of room for expansion by making a pleat over the top. Put this package on a trivet in a large saucepan and pour in boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the pudding basin.  Cover and steam gently for 3 hours.
Remove from pan, unwrap gingerly, then invert onto a deep-rimmed dish and serve with buttered kale, steamed carrots and a large serving of pride.

Disclaimer

Thrilled to bits with this magical dome I made it again last weekend with the Blackface equivalent: not such a good result by any stretch. Whereas Waitrose game packs consist solely of our feathered friends, Blackface’s Game Mix seemed much more of a four-footed mixture – frustratingly not identified on the pack. Cut larger, some bits were frankly gnarly and the whole better suited to quick searing followed by a long, slow braise than relatively rapid steaming-from-raw. Mr. T. liked it fine but he’s a carnivore’s carnivore and enjoys a good chew.  This showed up the one big disadvantage of a steamed pudding: it requires a leap of faith as there’s no way of checking how it’s coming along and you simply have to live with the consequences once it’s cut open; quite the Pandora’s box.  So, no more game pudding until next autumn but hey, we’ve got a mighty game stew to look forward to before this winter’s out…

Update:
I emailed Blackface to ask what was in their game mix and their very prompt reply stated:

You received your order on the 18th February therefore the seasonal game pie mix would have contained approx 70% venison and the remaining amount made up with woodpigeon, rabbit and hare.

so there you go!

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Once upon a time hill farmers would bring down a flock or two to Nice for a mini Christmas transhumance: the Journée du Haut-Pays Niçois, when the Jardin Albert 1er on the Promenade des Anglais would host a mini-festival of produce from the high hinterland behind Nice, the southwestern foothills of the Alps, indeed.   This mini-vid was taken in December 2007.  I really dig the feisty mini black and white goat.

We were lucky enough to be staying at our apartment – just a short stroll through Vieux Nice to the Promenade des Anglais where we found horses, donkeys, pigs, goats and sheep. It was a delight to see, hear and smell them all up close – and taste all the wonderful products on sale: sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses, charcuterie, honey, vin chaud; so much on offer I forget but we had a lovely time despite the chilly weather and bought half a kilo of aged farmhouse tomme (de savoie-type), which we nibbled all the following week.

baby donkey down from the hills to the big city
And who couldn’t fall in love with these little guys, just look at that beautiful coat!

Not much porchetta left on this one!

I’m sure Valentine had a good life but I haven’t yet taken the plunge into Nice-style porchetta so couldn’t tell you how well she tasted:  this is no dainty Tuscan arista shoulder stuffed with fragrant herbs but an entire pig stuffed with its meat, tripe and liver, and each slice weighs about 200g,  an awful lot to get through if I decide I don’t like it.   Maybe next time…

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spinny

Am I nuts? This short clip was taken over a year ago, and in the depths of winter, yet it still reminds me of sunnier climes. I’m just getting excited about getting back to Vieux Nice: next trip I’ll try to snap some sultry summertime footage.

Might be an idea to turn down the sound thanks to the blustery Mistral…or Tramontana…not sure which wind was blowing at the time but either way it made a horrible noise!

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Treat time at Waitrose: Tarocco “blush” oranges are on the shelves again, it’s Blood Orange season!tarocco

Much as I disapprove in theory, I do understand blood oranges’ rebranding to something a little less daunting; I remember as a child when presented with a carefully peeled and segmented Blood Orange I used to wonder if it really might be blood I was eating, and if so, whose, and how did it get there and how did they die – and then losing my appetite.  It’s a hard sell to the impressionable.

Blush might not be original nor evoke the sunshine blazing from the heart of each fruit, but if it means we can still get hold of these sparkling gems of the citrus world then I’m all for it, and as wrote Shakespeare for Juliet,

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

And the Tarocco is certainly sweet:   it’s one of the world’s most popular oranges, apparently, thanks to its sweetness, juciness AND glorious subtleties of flavour.    I’m told it also happens to contain the highest Vitamin C content of any orange variety grown in the world, PLUS a bucketful of anthocyanin antioxidants (thanks to the red bits).  As if that weren’t temptation enough the wonderful Tarocco is seedless and its thin skin is easy to peel – very little pith too.

It’s also pretty right-on, what with having its own AOC – or is that IGT – or DOP?  Not sure, but it’s EU protected, its production having been under threat from the ubiquitous and frankly dull in comparison Navel and Valencia oranges (of no fixed abode).  BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme about blood/blush orange growing in Sicily is excellent, full of information and an aural evocation of sunny Sicily, most welcome with our bleak British winter as yet unwilling to relinquish its icy grip: listen again and again…

I don’t advocate doing anything with a Tarocco during its short season of availability other than devouring it raw and alone (the orange, that is).  You could admire its rosy beauty in a salad with chicory or fennel with a strew of black olives, but don’t waste the exuberance of its flavour and fragrance by cooking a Tarocco – better buy a Seville for that.

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Hibernation

Criminy it’s been a long while.  I can barely remember what it is to celebrate been so busy shivering.  And as for getting up in the morning – grrr fuggedaboudit if you can.  All that’s left for a sensitive soul trapped inside a chilly body is to cook, and cook good, food to warm the cockles without spending a fortune: between Christmas and the Credit Crunch it’s a blessed relief to put on a decent lunch.  To that end, I dug out my ancient french semi-glazed earthenware bean pot from the darkest recess of the attic.  I was always too timid to place it over direct heat, but since crossing that Rubicon I’ve been simply bowled over by the fabulous job it does on dried pulses: it just can’t be beat, nothing else has ever come close in achieving the perfectly cooked, mealy yet tender texture, even and especially with the hitherto-notoriously-impossible-to-get-right butter beans and chick peas.   Here’s a small selection of what’s been emerging from my kitchen, no tinned pulses here:

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I’m particularly proud of the fishcake/fishbomb, inspired by the tasty depth-charge served at Fishworks on Swallow Street and coated with panko breadcrumbs – waiting patiently in the pantry wings since last summer’s Wing Yip spree – but what should these friable morsels adorn next?  Hmm…just before Christmas Mr T’s starter chez Brasserie Blanc was the most delectable pair of Gruyere croquettes so I might have a go at replicating those … I foresee a bit of enjoyable research on my horizon!

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bloodybrunchI won’t bore you with the details but something set me barking up the tree of making Bloody Marys with an Italian twist, my dilemma being how to add that sospetto d’Italiano without spending yet more money.

Unlikely inspiration strikes in the form of a Martini Rosso bottle, bought for a bout of Americano/Negroni mixing but left to languish on the shelf for many a month.  I mean, what do you really need Martini Rosso for, once you’re past legal drinking age?  I gave its neck a doubtful sniff while holding the taste of tomato in my mind and whaddyouknow – the herbal aromas which give vermouth its character conjured a pretty appetising spectre.  I’m not about to replace the vodka entirely mind – there’s a fine line between innovation and absurdity – but a dash or two of red vermouth could stand in quite nicely for the oft-suggested dose of dry sherry, surely?mariasanguina

You betcha it can.  It tastes so good that’s how I’ll be blending together this blessed brunch-time bevvy from now on …  until the bottle’s finished that is: waste not want not!

Maria Sanguinosa

  • 50cl vodka per person
  • 100 – 150cl tomato juice per person ( Big Tom spiced is brilliant)
  • 20cl Martini Rosso per person
  • 2 shakes each: Tabasco Green, Chipotle and Regular
  • 1 teaspoon grated horseradish
  • 2 smart shakes Worcestershire Sauce (couldn’t resist the Special Edition Extra Matured)

Combine vodka, tomato juice, Martini Rosso, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces and horseradish in a glass pitcher and stir (preferably with a glass swizzle stick) to mix.  Frost highball glasses using lime juice and celery salt and tumble a couple of cubes or so of ice in each, then top up with the vodka mixture.  Garnish with a leafy celery stick snapped from the inner heart.   Imbibe gently, not forgetting plenty of tasty brunch food to soak it up.

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