Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Rosemary Roast Pheasant & Chestnuts

This is properly entitled "big fat roast dinner for lazy, lardy layabouts". At the very least the trimmings deserve more of a mention: rosemary and pancetta wrapped pheasant with roast chestnuts, curly kale and roast potato cubes. That was a bit too long for the title though!

It sounds a bit complicated and lengthy to make but it really isn't, it didn't even take a full hour.

First of all take some pheasant breasts (1-2 per person depending on appetite; I had one, my husband had two) and pat clean with some kitchen roll. Lay a small sprig of rosemary on top of each one and wrap it in a couple of slices of pancetta. Place in a small roasting tray with some oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cover with foil and leave to one side while the oven preheats to 200 degrees C.

Boil up some small potatoes until mostly cooked but still firm in the middle. Drain and cut them into little cubes. Add to another small baking tray that has been lined with greaseproof paper. Drizzle some oil over and season with salt and pepper. If you like (and I do) sprinkle some finely chopped pancetta in as well. Mix until the potato cubes are coated with the oil.

When the oven is hot bung both trays in together and leave be for 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime you can decant your chestnuts * onto a third small baking tray and tear up your kale into a saucepan. If you find any little green caterpillars you could pop them into the garden with a complementary kale dinner of their own, as we did - that was a very narrow escape for a cabbage white butterfly-to-be. If your garden is full of brassicas though you might not - it depends on your take of these things!

After the 15-odd minute roast, remove the foil off the pheasant breasts and pop the chestnuts in on the shelf below. Cook for a further few minutes until the pancetta has crisped up. 

Turn the oven off, but leave the potatoes and chestnuts in there. Put the pheasant breasts onto a warm plate and re-cover with foil, leave to rest while you sort out the gravy and briefly cook the kale, with a sparing amount of hot water, until tender.

To make the gravy just pop the roasting tray the pheasants were in onto a medium heat with a slosh of red wine, a dollop of redcurrant jelly and a small amount of cornflour. Scrape and stir and let it bubble away until it tastes good and has the right consistency.

* You can get pre-cooked and peeled chestnuts from, as far as I'm aware, abel & cole, waitrose and sainsburys. The brands I know are Organico and Gourmet Merchant.

Monday, 21 November 2011

ScandItalian Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

These are a weird scanditalian fusion that I made up when I couldn't think what I was going to cook for dinner. These would work just as well with pasta as they did in a baguette. They're easy, cheap and really tasty.

You need about 250g of beef mince (half a pack) to feed two greedy adults. First finely dice a yellow onion, a couple of celery stalks and a carrot and fry them gently with a crushed clove of garlic until they are soft. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Split this mixture, removing half to a bowl and leaving the other half on the heat. Add the mince to the vegetables in the bowl and season with salt, pepper and a generous sprinkle of ground allspice. Mix up by hand and form into little balls, lay these on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and pop in the oven for about 20-30 minutes until cooked all the way through.

Add a tin of chopped tomatoes to the vegetables still in the frying pan, a squeeze of tomato puree, a capful of vodka, salt, sugar, pepper and a finely chopped, deseeded chilli. Let it come to a bubble and then leave to simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in a generous amount of finely chopped parsley and basil.

When the meatballs are done mix them into the tomato sauce and pop the baguettes, sliced lengthwise, under a hot grill to toast up. Butter the baguettes, fill them with the saucy meatballs and enjoy - eat them with your hands, it's much more fun than cutlery.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have a lovely neighbour who looks after my car ("Big Sil") as I am rather mechanically challenged. Last week he very kindly filled her up with coolant, checked the oil and tyres and things so I thought I'd make some cookies for him and his family.

The recipe comes from Kitchen by Nigella and worked out absolutely perfectly. Instead of a bag of chocolate chips, which I think sometimes taste a bit... funny, I just got a bar of organic cook's chocolate and cut it into chips.

First, melt 150g of butter in a pan and then set on one side to cool down. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

Measure out 125g of soft brown sugar and 100g of normal caster sugar into a large mixing bowl, then pour the warm butter over the top and stir together. Add 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence followed by a chilled egg and extra yolk. Beat them together until lovely and creamy and then slowly fold in 300g of plain flour and 1/2 a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.

When you have a beautiful, golden, sticky dough, chop up your chocolate to make chocolate chips - about two thirds of a large bar - and stir it through.

Lay out a baking tray and line it with greaseproof paper, oil it lightly to make sure your cookies won't stick. Use an ice cream scoop to place dollops of dough on top, cook them in two batches as they spread out quite a lot when they cook. The recipe said this would make 14 cookies and that's exactly what I got.

Bake for 17 minutes and leave to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack. They do need to be cool before you eat them for the texture to be just right.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Liver, Onion Gravy & Colcannon

I used to hate liver, really really hate it. I think a lot of people do. The taste and texture of overcooked liver, as often served in schools or by grandparents, is not dissimilar to that of soggy cardboard marinated in angostura bitters. 

Properly cooked liver is brilliant though. Even high-welfare organic offal is cheap as chips and, cooked with care, is tender, juicy and delicious.  It's also full of vitamin a, iron and vitamin c.

There are three different kinds of (non-poultry) liver that you can commonly get hold of: pig's, lamb's and calves'. I've had all three and they all cook up a treat, simply prepared as in this recipe.

However, a little note on buying liver... organic liver generally is fine in most cases but be cautious about where you get calves liver from. Make absolutely sure it hasn't come from veal calves whose treatment you wouldn't want to subsidise. Where possible, I'd look for liver from British raised pink or "rose" veal calves. I'll post more on this, rather touchy, subject in the future when I have time to do it justice.

Thickly slice a couple of onions, fry them up until really nice and soft and put them to one side. Make up your gravy using some stock thickened with cornflour and enhanced with a little red wine and redcurrant jelly.

Slice up the liver and fry for literally a minute or so on each side. Be really, really careful not to overcook it, you just want it tender and barely cooked through.

Basic colcannon is just mashed potato with cabbage in. I had leftovers from dinner the night before, so I just mashed them up, added a bit of seasoning and butter and heated them through.

The mash goes first on the plate, then the liver, onions and finally the gravy. Fabulous old-style food at its best.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Roast Venison Haunch & Jerusalem Artichoke Mash

Lovely, juicy, rich venison is the perfect roast dinner in late autumn. I had my first proper venison in Stockholm several years ago and have been a convert ever since. It's terribly sad that I had to travel so far from home before being properly introduced to this meat, especially as we've got fabulous and well-managed deer right here.

I'm not sure whether it went out of fashion while I was growing up, I don't remember seeing it very often though. Fortunately, these days, finding a nice bit of deer isn't difficult.

Pre-heat the oven to 220°C, and take the meat out of the fridge to come up to room temperature for at least half an hour.

First thing to do with a bit of venison haunch is to season it with salt, pepper and rub with a little oil. Lay a sprig of rosemary or thyme on top (dried is ok, but don't overdo it) and then wrap with thinly sliced pancetta or other cured meat. Tuck a couple of bay leaves in amongst the pancetta and grind a final bit of pepper over the top.

Pop the joint in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, before turning down to 160°C, for a further 13 minutes per 500g.

When ready, place the cooked joint to one side, covered in foil to rest. Put the roasting tray over a low heat and give it a good scraping (de-glazing). Pour in a glug of red wine and a nice big spoon of redcurrant jelly. Stir until the alcohol has cooked out and the jelly dissolved, reduce until the sauce tastes as intense as you like it.
Jerusalem artichokes are delicious, nutty little roots full of fibre, iron and vitamin c. They do have a reputation for inducing wind, however mixing them with a similar amount of normal potatoes (to make mash) goes some way towards allieviating that particular after effect!

Just give them a good scrubbing, the same as you would potatoes, you can eat the skin quite safely and it has plenty of flavour. Boil the two up together and steam some greens over the top.
When tender, mash the 'chokes and potatoes up together with some butter, salt and pepper.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Home made Gyoza (Fried Dumplings)

Gyoza are those wonderful pan-fried dumplings available in specialist restaurants, bars and some of the busier food courts at shopping centers, train stations and airports. If you aren't already familiar with them I'd urge you to give them a try - they've become one of the most popular Japanese imports to the UK, alongside sushi.

I believe they were originally Chinese and are served as part of the new year celebrations, however the style I'm most familiar with is Japanese.

This was my first attempt at making them but they turned out really well. The only thing I'd change next time is to be a bit more patient, cooking them in batches rather than overfilling the frying pan.

First things first - you need some gyoza pastry rounds. It's not the mythical ingredient it sounds, you can find them in the freezer at loads of Asian grocery shops. Just like anything, you should be able to make it yourself too, I found a recipe on that suggests 170ml water to 200g strong flour which I'm going to try next time.

I think the filling is pretty flexible, I made mine with a reasonably cheap cut of pork, the shoulder, cut into chunks and then minced in a food processor. You only need about 250g at the most to make loads of gyoza.

You definitely need alliums in this mixture, I didn't have enough spring onions so I also used a finely diced purple onion as well. 

To this, I added a couple of handfuls of mushrooms, some broccoli (any greens will do, particularly cabbage), a tablespoon of fresh ginger and a couple of small garlic cloves. I seasoned with salt, pepper, a dash of soy sauce and another of sesame oil.

A quick whizz in the processor and you should have a nice fine-grained filling ready to go.

Next, lay out a gyoza wrapper on a chopping board and lay a heaped teaspoon of filling slightly off-center on top. Using a finger, wet the edges of the wrapper and then fold the wrapper over and around the filling. Make sure you press the edges together firmly. Repeat until you've used up all the wrappers, run out of filling, or gotten bored.

Heat up a frying pan with a small amount of oil and lay the dumplings flat. Add just enough hot water to come up about a third of the height of the dumplings. Cover and cook on a high heat until all of the water has evaporated.

At this point, drizzle with sesame oil and continue to cook until the pastry is crisping up and going brown; almost, but not quite, to the point of burning.

Serve with a dipping sauce mixed to taste using soy sauce, rice vinegar, chilli oil and caster sugar.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

How to make Paneer

Mmm, who doesn't like paneer? Not many people I'm guessing! It's got to be in the top ten most ordered main courses in Anglo-Indian restaurants, just has to be. The mere thought of muttar paneer makes me salivate...

This is easy to make but, be warned, the saucepan you use will want a long soaking and an introduction to a brillo pad afterwards.

All you need to remember is the ratios: for every 2 litres (4 pints) of whole milk, you need 2 tbsps fresh lemon juice or 4 tbsps of diluted "squeezy" lemon juice. Each 2 litres will give you 250g, or enough for 2 people as a hearty main course.

So first bring the milk up to a boil. Once it starts to foam, turn down the heat and stir in your lemon juice. Keep stirring until the curds and whey have separated out.

Line a large seive with a peice of natural muslin and pour boiling water over it to sterilise the cloth. Pour the milk mixture into the seive, which should leave you with only the curds. Tie up the muslin and hang it off the tap over the sink, or a hook over a bowl, for 40 minutes or more.

Then pop it on the work surface with a heavy weight resting on it, such as a big saucepan filled with water. After a few hours it should be solid enough to cut into chunks and either cook with, or store in the fridge for 1-3 days.