Pheasant in cider

When I made the strange, but rather delicious, Tomatoey, from an old cookbook, it suggested serving it with roast meat.

I always have, in my freezer, some game. Usually despatched by my brother and given to me so I have something ready to roast quickly. On the morning of the day that I was going to make Tomatoey, I rummaged through the freezer and came up with a lovely little pheasant, which I could imagine would be truly delicious served with a rich and gorgeous tomato bread side dish.

Wild game is healthy and generally very low fat – there’s no idling around in a farm, eating processed feed pellets for a wild bird. They eat what is natural and they fly so there is no excess fat on them. That’s good for a full flavoured and low fat meat but it does mean you have to cook them carefully – and by that I mean a quick roast or braise so they don’t dry out… maybe covering their tender little breasts with bacon to protect them and serving them with something that enhances their rich meat.

Roasting a pheasant takes less than half an hour, if you sear the outsides,  so that would go well with the timings I was working on for Tomatoey. Things were coming together.

First of all, get your casserole dish hot and add a teaspoonful of oil or so then sear the outsides of the pheasant, turning it round so all of the bird browns.

If you are not using cast iron, then sear the bird in a frying pan… a ceramic casserole dish will break if you put it over a hot hob!

Take the bird out and start on the next step

First, some some lovely onion needs to be chopped and popped into the casserole dish to start cooking

Some dry cure bacon can be chopped into that to make a rich and delicious sauce – but save a couple of bits to cover the breast of the bird when it is in the oven…

And a small bottle of cider will make a lovely gravy… so add some now to help the onion and bacon start to cook.

You will see it makes a lovely golden gravy as everything bubbles away.

Pop the bronzed little pheasant on top of the onion and bacon and cider mix and pour in the rest of the cider.

The remaining bacon can be laid over the top of the bird and all you have to do now is pop it into the oven for half an hour – which was handy because that was where I had the Tomatoey!

You end up with a gloriously tender and fragrant little pheasant… just falling apart..

And the gravy that has been made is both sweet and savoury

Perfect to moisten the little pheasant and extremely delicious to go along with anything else you choose to serve with it.

It is a rather special dish considering it took less than an hour to start, prepare, cook and serve. And half an hour of that it was looking after itself in the oven.

Give it a go, eh?

Fantastic Focaccia

The weather over the past week had made us wonder if we could get home for Christmas. There were all these weather warnings telling us not to travel unless it was absolutely essential.

Essential? This is Christmas. Of course it is essential.

When I got up on Christmas Eve morning and looked out of the bedroom window there was thick, freezing fog and snow

We should be able to manage, we thought….. and after packing the car to the roof with food and general essentials (we were going back to my empty house… with its empty kitchen) we set off.

Christmas traffic wasn’t as bad as the motoring organisations and the police made out.

It was snowy and foggy but everyone else seemed to have paid attention to the warnings and stayed at home. It was probably the fastest time we had ever made it north

You really know you are getting somewhere when you see signs for Scotch Corner.

For a Northerner living in the Midlands (which seems like the Deep South to me) getting to Scotch Corner is the first part of the true north. It always makes me smile because I know I am nearly home.

We arrived back in the village to an empty kitchen… luckily I had packed boxes of food and essential ingredients.

I’d brought olive oil, garlic, eggs, flour, yeast, white truffle balsamic glaze, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, salt, tea bags, coffee, tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and chorizo.

A pork pie made by our butcher, some bacon, cream (single and double), butter, champagne, white, red and rose wine.

Vegetable juice, pomegranate juice, fig molasses, Marmite, Parma ham, leeks, cheeses and pickles. All essentials, as you can see.

I could make anything…. anything but a cup of tea. I’d forgotten  to bring the milk,  so I had to drive to the next village to buy some so we could make a cup of tea. And there was me thinking I had all the essentials covered…….

Thing is, I hadn’t really thought of what we would eat that night. I know we had some left over cold sausages that I had put in a plastic box but we really needed something more than that.

I decided that if I made some foccacia that would help the situation…..

Usual thing… 300g of strong bread flour

7 g of instant yeast, (that’s a teaspoon and a half, I suppose, if you aren’t using the sachets)

Maldon salt

150 ml of warm water

2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Now, I was in a kitchen that I had more or less stripped of equipment, so instead of leaving it to the Kitchen Aid to mix for me, I had to do it myself

Just goes to show how easy it is to make this. One large bowl, a wooden spoon and off you go.

It comes together quickly enough.

A quick squirt of garlic puree wouldn’t go amiss

And then knead it…. dust a board with flour and stretch it, pull it, roll it and fold it.

You will feel it changing in texture… there’s sort of lumps and bumps in the dough at first and then it becomes smoother and silkier.

It’s still not perfect though and you have to let it relax. Only then do you get really good smooth dough.

At this point you have to let it rest and rise. You need to stop it drying out so either cover it in cling film or, do as I do, and put the bowl over it. That keeps the dough moist and stops it forming a crusty outside which is certainly something you don’t want while it is loitering about

It will take maybe half an hour or so

You can feel the difference as well as see it… it is resilient and springy… the lumps have disappeared and it is smooth and silky to touch.

Wipe down the bench and spread some oil on it and then put the dough down.. stretching it into shape with your fingers if you haven’t a rolling pin at hand.

You can see how wonderfully puffy it is becoming.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

It needs to have fingers poked into it to get the dimpled foccacia look and some oil drizzled over it.

And this is when I had the idea…. add bacon!

I snipped two rashers of bacon and scattered the bits over the dough.

Now that is a way to stretch your ingredients. A bacon sandwich would have used those two rashers for one sandwich. This makes it stretch over a lovely big bit of bread….

Then just put the whole thing onto a baking sheet – the oil in the dough will prevent it sticking, so don’t worry if you don’t have one of the incredibly useful silicone sheets

Stretch it out to fit and then just put it in the oven for 15 minutes or so…See? Minimal ingredients, minimal work and the shortest time in the oven.

Waiting those 15 minutes gave me enough time to have a quick wipe down of the benches and open a bottle of wine and pour us both a glass

We sat there, eating garlicky bacon scattered bread, fresh from the oven and sipping a glass of wine.

It was Christmas Eve, the snow was whirling round outside and we had driven hundreds of miles to get back home. We sat on either side of the kitchen table and toasted each other.

Merry Christmas!

Sprouts, chestnuts and bacon

It’s Christmas. That means Brussels Sprouts. 

I went to our local  Farm Shop to get our eggs and there, propped against the door, were piles of sprouts sticks.

This is the best way to buy sprouts as you are certain that they are fresh. A stick like this had 43 sprouts on and cost £1.

Now sprouts can be delicious… or not.

It’s when people boil sprouts into mushy oblivion that the problems start. How can you possibly like a ball of green sludge that when you bite into it, dissolves into hot, watery, slightly smelly goo?

But if you treat a sprout carefully you can have a delicious, nutty-flavoured vegetable. If you combine that with a sweet tasting nut like a chestnut and some salty, crisply fried bacon shards… well then you have a dish that is worthy of having at a celebration.

Cut off the sprouts with a sharp knife and remove the outer layer of leaves so you are left with lovely, shiny green nuggets.

Steam them, or boil them lightly, so they are still firm. This will only take a few minutes, so no wandering off  and leaving them for ages!

Put some oil in a frying pan and, on a gentle heat, slowly fry some good streaky bacon.

If you fry it slowly the fat renders down, leaving you with a wonderfully crispy and tasty piece of bacon, which is perfect for crumbling over the finished dish.

Now chestnuts are the perfect thing to go with sprouts… they are available at the same time as sprouts and they are also much the same shape and size.  Makes sense then to put them together.

If you can get fresh chestnuts you need to roast them and peel them… that’s fine, I always think, if you want to eat them as you peel them. Somehow you don’t mind the burnt fingers and the mess and the bits everywhere when the next thing you do is put them in your mouth.

But when you know you are doing all that and you are only half way through a dish… well, that’s when you give thanks that someone else has already done that for you when you buy then vacuum packed!

I mean, how easy is this? All you have to do is open the packet! I always have a couple of boxes in the larder because I do use them in all sorts of recipes.

And then, the only thing you have to do is put everything together when it suits you.

When I’m ready I toss the sprouts in some hot butter

Add the chestnuts

And then  either crumble or snip into pieces with the kitchen scissors and scatter over the chestnuts and sprouts….

The chestnuts are sweet and nutty and the sprouts seem to take on some of the nuttiness. They are firm and are good to bite into – no mushiness there and no awful, overboiled cabbagey smell either. Just a good and slightly bitter tang to them…..and the bacon adds a lovely salty counterpoint to the sweetness of the nuts.

That would be welcomed on any Christmas table!

Christmas Pudding Stuffing

Last week I got two of Matthew Walker’s Christmas Puddings  sent through the post.

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The company have a competition  to win a camera and a photography course and asked  everyone  in the UK Food Blogger’s Association to have a go and invent something new using their Christmas puddings…

As the company says,

“the original Christmas pudding is based on a traditional recipe that includes 13 core ingredients, which represent Jesus and his 12 apostles.

I travel the globe to select the very finest spirits, vine fruits and seasonal spices, from a stout that is brewed right here in The Peak District to succulent sultanas and currents from Turkey and Greece.

The result is a beautifully moist and fruity Christmas pudding that truly captures the traditional taste of the festive season.”

And what exactly are the ingredients?

  • Sultanas
  • Raisins
  • Demerara Sugar
  • Currants
  • Glacé Cherries
  • Stout
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Sherry
  • Vegetarian Suet
  • Almonds
  • Orange & Lemon Peel
  • Cognac
  • Mixed Spices

Well then. With a list like that of ingredients,  I had better start thinking. I began with the little pudding. I was thinking of trying something savoury, something different….

And then I thought of stuffing. What about some lovely roast pork with crispy crackling? After all apple and apricot are perfectly normal stuffings for pork. When I talked about this at work there was a fifty-fifty split about whether this would work, probably just as there will be amongst those of you who read this.  I thought it would work… sweetly, spicy, savoury stuffing? What’s not to like about that?

The very first thing to do will be to get the oven as hot as possible to make the perfect crackling for that lovely pork… so put it on now to preheat

Then, open the pudding and smell it

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It was rich and dense and spicy and dark – as dark as the devil’s heart as we would say.

 So the next step was to make it into stuffing – first things first, start with the savoury aspect

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Bacon and onion would add a good savoury taste


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Gently fry the onion then chop the bacon (or do as I do and use scissors – much quicker)  and add that to the onion

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Make some breadcrumbs  – I have a Bamix and this makes breadcrumbs in seconds

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Cut up the pudding and add it to the breadcrumbs and mix it well. Adding a sprinkle of  some salt and pepper rounds things out

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Some suet.. real suet from the butcher….. just a sprinkle, but imagine how that will make it taste….

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Once the bacon and onion have cooled slightly, stir that in as well

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Then mix an egg lightly

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And add that – this will bind everything together and chill the mix in the fridge. Having it cool will make it easier to roll and it also means you have time to tidy the benches and give things a quick wipe down.

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On to the pork…. make sure the skin is properly scored – if it isn’t already, sharpen a knife and slash it. Remember, the thinner the slashes the thinner and crispier the crackling will be. Massage in some oil and then rub that rind with salt.

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Now, I spotted a problem… I had been going to stuff the pork with the stuffing but it wasn’t the best rolled joint…

Balls, I thought. 

Stuffing balls, I mean, obviously! Straightforward stuffing the joint wouldn’t work, but rolling it into balls and roasting separately might just do it….

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Look how pretty they look

So, put that pork in to sear and blister. Leave that in there on the highest heat till you can see the skin bubbling, then you can turn things down and relax for a while.

I decided some nice goose fat roasted potatoes and the benefit of that would be that I could put those stuffing balls in with them towards the end of the roasting time and they could roll around in the sizzling goose fat so they become crispy on the outside and stay moist and juicy in the middle….

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So, things were progressing well….once the potatoes were starting to turn golden, in went the stuffing balls

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The meat was taken out to rest… look at that crackling

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And then…. put everything together…

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In conclusion? I was right. As a festive stuffing it hits all the right buttons.

The stuffing balls, born from necessity, are probably the better way to go. The outside crisps up beautifully, while the inside stays juicy.

And… this might be noted as a guilty pleasure… I got in from work the following night and nibbled one… even cold it tasted gorgeous!

And the Bear’s verdict? He ate everything and then asked for pork and Christmas Pudding stuffing sandwiches for lunch. I guess that means he likes it too.

Make them, this is a recipe to remember and use.

Oh and thank you, Matthew Walker, that pudding is a real Christmas cracker     😉

Something for the weekend? Bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed chillies!

I do so love a Saturday – there’s the knowledge that you still have Sunday to come and that tonight you can treat yourself knowing that the weekend is still stretching ahead….

I have a really horrible cough (caught while in hospital) with no Bear about to look after me so I need something that will make me feel better and burn away all those germs… what better than bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed chillies? Actually, I don’t need a cough as an excuse to make these. They are the kind of delicious snacketty bits that you might want to make every weekend. I read about them in one of my favourite blogs “The Pioneer Woman” and tried them out. Ree, The Pioneer Woman, describes herself as a desperate housewife, living in the country- with a description like that, how can you NOT read her blog?  It really is one of the best on the web.

She’s right, however many you make, you will wish you made more.

You need chillies (obviously) bacon  and cream cheese…..

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Slice the chillies and scoop out the seeds. The first time I did this I scrupulously removed all the white membrane as well… but then when they were cooked there was no real chilli hit. Best leave a bit in, I think. I love it when my eyebrows start to sweat after I have been gobbling chillies… classy, eh?

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Then… shove in some cream cheese with a spoon… it isn’t neat and it won’t look tidy but that hardly matters, does it?

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Then, wrap those little tinkers in bacon! The Pioneer Woman stabs hers through with cocktail sticks, but mine seem to be OK like this. They have to be. I just can’t manage to do it.

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Put them on the grill pan (put some tin foil underneath to catch the drippings unless you positively enjoy scouring grill pans) and put them in a preheated oven at 200 degrees.

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Keep sneaking a peek and sniffing at that lovely bacony aroma… when they look good and crisped (maybe 15 to 20 minutes) get them out!

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Not as neat as Ree’s but pretty good for a person using one arm….

I’d like to think I have the kind of life where I would make these as appetisers, perhaps to be served with an aperitif or two, whilst looking ineffably elegant and making conversation with a variety of sophisticated guests at my regular cocktail party. The truth of the matter is I am just going to gobble these down whilst watching something on TV, or reading more of Ree’s blogs. Just as I imagine you will.

They are so gorgeous I don’t think I want to share them with anybody.

Actually, I am sure they are a health measure and will drive away any evil cough and cold germs. You’d better make them. You wouldn’t want to let your family down by succumbing to illness would you?