Celebrating in Le Puget

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“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow” W.B. Yeats”

Many months planning by my dearest brother-by-proxy in Sydney, Australia in advance of celebrating his 60th, resulted in an enormous treat for those of us that travelled to Le Domaine de Puget.  Hosted with ease, grace and endless generosity by John and Janie in their magnificent home and retreat in the Aude, 11 of us descended from London, Lymington and Australia for a long week-end and with only the glimmer of a clue as to what would ensue.  It was a triumph delivered in the most modest and understated way. One of those ‘spotlight on my life’ moments that will always be treasured. One of those week ends where there was a heady mixture of good conversation, challenging ideas, kindness, peace – along with magnificent wines.  And the setting was beyond perfection.

As you will know, I am known for my hyperbole. But believe me, it was perfection.

Imagine this……..  25 acres of rolling French countryside, a large farmhouse perched on top of the hill; ripe figs hanging from the trees, endless quiet places to sit and stare, a candle-lit courtyard, a kitchen large enough to cope with twice the number we had.  A dining room with half-trees burning in the grate. A sheltered pool that was still warm enough for frequent swims even though it was early October. Quince trees weighed down with bulbous fruit.  Soft autumnal light and long shadows.  Breakfast in the meadow looking back toward Fanjeaux. The last of the sunflowers drooping their heads in serried ranks, set in dusty green clay earth. And then there was the food………

John’s food is legendary (see Le Puget) and I was intrigued and mesmerised by the delights that emerged from the kitchen.  Charcuterie on well-worn wooden boards, little black olives sharp and juicy, buttery parmesan biscuits, stuffed guinea fowl, double-baked cheese souffle, lentil and vegetable melange, slow roast pork, fig and feta salad, local bread, artisanal cheeses made only a kilometre away, a secret recipe hazlenut cake, more croissants than you could shake a stick at, and cloudy creamy yellow butter. #heavenishere!

So here’s a selection of recipes, my take on those culinary memories.

Roast guinea fowl, boned and stuffed

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This guinea fowl recipe is on my list for Boxing Day.  I get a lot of my game and fowl from the Wild Meat Company and they do really high quality mail order too. They supplied the quail for our popup suppers earlier in the year, and venison, wild rabbit, pheasant and pigeon for my freezer.

Ask your butcher to bone out the guinea fowl but make sure you ask for the innards and the bones in a separate bag and the legs removed!  To serve 6 generously you will need one guinea fowl.  Pat it dry and leave uncovered for a few hours in a cool place.  To make the forcemeat first, roast the legs in a small pan with some onion then remove the flesh and chop it finely.  Gently fry an onion in rapeseed or olive oil with a couple of cloves of garlic and the tiniest smidgeon of crushed juniper berries and some fresh thyme. Then turn up the heat and add the chopped livers and heart from the bag of innards. Season with seasalt and black pepper. Add a wineglass full of red wine on a high heat then reduce the liquid to practically nothing. Allow the leg meat and the innards to cool completely – you could do all of this the night before.  Next day add all this to some herby coarse sausagemeat – probably about 500g, it depends on the size of your bird – and then add more salt (the best way to know how much you need is not to guess!!  Fry a dessert-spoon full in a little oil then taste it).  Then add a good scraping of nutmeg.  You get the idea don’t you – you are looking for a deep, well seasoned, warmly spiced and fragrant forcemeat, not a sharp salty one.

As you can see already. It will help to have prepared some things in advance of cooking this dish but believe me it will be worth it.  So the night before, do the stuff with the livers and the legs! And peel and poach some pears and/or quince in a light syrup, whilst roasting some shallot very gently so that the natural sugars start to caramelise but not burn.  Now you can start the consttuction!

Turn your oven on to 200C. Make sure your work surface is scrupulously clean. Not to mention your hands.  Have a long ball of butchers string and some sharp scissors to hand. Lay the bird  skin side down on a a large piece of greaseproof paper that has been rubbed with olive oil. Stretch out its various appendages. You will notice that some parts of the bird are thicker than others. You’ll soon see to that with your rolling pin! Lay another piece of greaseproof on top then beat the thicker pieces till the whole bird has stretched out and the thickness is relatively even. The only thing to avoid is making it too thin. about 2.5 cm thick will do it.  Then dry off your pears/quince and slice into even thickness then lay slices across the bird, leaving a good 3cm clear all around the edges. Then to the same with some of the roasted shallot. Finally, spread the forcemeat across the pears and onions – about 2.5cm thick.

Now you need to imagine an envelope.  You are going to fold both sides to the middle followed by the meat at the top and bottom edges.  Truss the bird up with the string, (you are aiming for a neat cylinder shape with all the ends tucked underneath). Give it a good olive oil or rapeseed oil massage and sprinkle with a little seasalt.

Place in a hot roasting tin on a bed of carrot, celery and leek. and rosemary stalks along with more olive oil and a litre of boiling water. Cover with foil and roast at 180C for an hour, then turn the heat up to 200C, remove the foil and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until lovely and brown. Test with a skewer, if the juices are clear, then it’s done.  Remove the bird from the pan and let it rest, boil up and thicken the gravy in the pan.

Dauphinoise potatoes

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This has to be the most forgiving potato dish in the world.  You can prepare it in advance and reheat it. You can freeze it. You can try an resist it but you won’t win. You can eat it in solitary confinement in the kitchen at 2am and no-one will know. Seriously. I’ve done it!

Peel and slice 8 large potatoes. Mix 500ml double cream (yes!) with 500ml full cream milk (yes, again!) a couple of peeled garlic cloves and half a teaspoon of salt.  Put the potatoes in a big pan with the milk/cream, bring slowly to just under the boil and let them cook for about 5 minutes.  Then remove potatoes with a slotted spoon and place in a shallow well buttered (oh God, the cholesterol!) dish then pour over the milk/cream and bake at 190C for about 50 minutes until the whole is creamy and thick and brown on top. Dare you to eat it!

Fig and salt cheese salad

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Sometimes with rich food, just a simple salad on the side is sufficient.  Try this.  Fresh, ripe figs are a must though.  Keep an eye out in Lidl, I have frequently purchased trays of fresh figs from there in late summer.  Slice and chop fresh ripe tomatoes and cucumber and remove most of the wet middle.   Sprinkle with gremolata (chopped rosemary, garlic, lemon zest and seasalt) to season.  Add chopped feta or salty goat’s cheese and quartered fresh figs. Mix together with a gentle vinaigrette warmed with a little dash of honey.

Charcuterie with olives and warm cheesy biscuits

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The easiest of appetisers.  Go get some great charcuterie from Marshpig or your nearest deli, or from the fantastic market in Mirepoix!  Slice it, pile it on a plate with hot, crisp radishes, some salt, some juicy olives, some of Janie’s warm cheesy biscuits and a glass of something cold and fizzy, such as a Blanquette de Limoux. Irresistible.

Mix 100g plain flour with a pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of mustard powder and a little salt.  Rub in 100g butter then gently mix in 50g hard cheese and 50g parmesan. Bind together with half the egg (beaten).  Cover and leave in the fridge to rest for half an hour, then roll out to about 1.5cm thick and use a cutter, placing each biscuit on the tray lined with greaseproof paper.  Brush lightly with the remaining egg and sprinkle with more parmesan. Bake at 80C for about 10 minutes. I challenge you to eat only one.

Twice-baked cheese souffle

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Never be frightened by a souffle – especially if you make individual ones.  You can make and bake, allow to cool, leave overnight, have a party, go out for the day – then come back and put them back in the oven and voila! A souffle resurrects itself as if by magic.

I bow to Delia Smith on this one.   Heat 225 full cream milk in a pan with half an onion, a few black peppercorns, a grating of fresh nutmeg and a bay leaf.  Bring to simmering point then pour into a jug through a sieve, thus removing the onion etc. Essentially you are flavouring the milk. Rinse out the pan then put back on a low heat and melt 25g butter, then add 25g plain flour to make a roux and cook very gently for a couple of minutes.  Gently pour in the milk, bit by bit, stirring all the time until you have a thick sauce. Beat two egg yolks.  Pour the sauce into a mixing bowl when it is cool then add the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.  Fold in 110g good quality goat’s cheese, cubed if hard and gently broken up if soft.  Mix thoroughly. Season with black pepper.

Whisk the two egg whites until stiff and almost ‘dry’ then gently fold into the sauce with a large metal spoon and a cutting and folding motion.

Generously butter the inside of 6 ramekin dishes and coat with a little coarse semolina flour.  Divide the mixture between the dishes.  Heat the oven to 200C with a baking tray already in the oven.  When up to heat, remove the baking tray, place the ramekins on the tray and fill the tray with about 2cm of boiling water.  Put back in the centre of the oven and cook until they are risen, firm and just a tiny bit wobbly in the middle (about 15 minutes).  Now you can take them out of the oven to cool and they will sink like a stone. Don’t worry.  Put in a cool place and when you are ready then slide a very sharp knife round the edge of the ramekin to release the souffle, invert it onto the palm of your hand then place on a buttered baking tray and sprinkle each one with a little parmesan. Later in the day, or tomorrow, crank up the oven again to 200C and put back in the oven for 30 minutes. Miraculously they will puff up again and are ready to eat.

The mysterious Hazelnut cakeimg_3324

Marie helps out John and Janie at Le Puget sometimes and makes the most amazing hazelnut cake using a recipe from when she lived in Switzerland.  A recipe that was never divulged to me.  I’ve experimented a bit this week whilst nursing the Le Puget chest infection.  This is the closest I can get to the exquisite cake made by Marie last week. somewhere on my various devices I have a photograph of her cake and I will post it when I find it.

Toast 100g hazelnuts in the oven then rub place them in a tea towel and rub them till the skins flake off.  Sieve 125g rice flour, 50g golden caster sugar, half a teaspoon of baking powder and a little salt into a bowl.  Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor or blender, until fine.  Add to the flour and mix thoroughly.Whisk together 75ml vegetable oil and 75ml agave syrup (or honey), 3 egg yolks , a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of cream of tartar. Then add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and beat till it is a thick (ish) batter.  Now whisk 5 egg whites till they are stiff.Fold into the hazelnut batter with a cut and fold motion.

Pour into one or two pre-prepared springform sponge tins that have been lined with greaseproof paper.  Bake in the centre of the oven at 180C for about 25 minutes.  Then remove from the oven and keep in the tin until cold.

This  version is not the exact cake made by Marie – but it is close enough. I suspect hers had little or no flour, which is why I used very fine rice flour.  I recommend eating on the terrace of Le Puget with good friends and pots of tea.

Au revoir!

Bon chance!

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Sausages

 

The first sausages through the sausage-maker
The first sausages through the sausage-maker

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Partial to a juicy, garlicky, well-seasoned sausage?  Destined to be forever disappointed by over-pink, over-salted, over-processed shop sausages?

Call me a late developer if you like, but it has taken me 40 years to get a sausage attachment for my Kenwood.  This week I have tested it out and it is a corker.

Life is an adventure waiting to be had I reckon, and I have always been a slacker when it comes to reading instruction manuals.  So I learned a few lessons along the way.  For example:

  • it generally helps to read the instructions
  • in fact it generally helps to keep the instructions and not throw them out with the packaging
  • the internet is a pretty darned wonderful thing when you find you threw away the instructions with the packaging
  • a little thought before you start can save a lot of heartache
  • etc etc etc

But why change the habits of a lifetime?  It was all a bit trial and error but turned out ok in the end (and if you are really interested in what lessons were learned, see the post on vegetarian sausages, below).

Assemble the following ingredients on the worktop. I have used cup sizes rather than weight measurements for most of the ingredients because in general I work by eye rather than weight – it is more a matter of getting the proportions right rather than exact measurements.  I knew roughly what flavour I was seeking , and that was a peppery pork sausage with a hint of garlic, a background of sage and the savouriness of caraway and fennel.  Line up 1kg pork shoulder; 1 garlic clove; 1 tsp salt; 1 tsp white pepper; 1.5 cups fine breadcrumbs; 0.5 cup of chopped fresh sage, parsley and thyme; 0.5 cup finely chopped Cox’s apple (cored but not peeled); 1 tsp whole caraway seed; 0.5 tsp roughly ground fennel seed.

Feed all the ingredients through the large bore die (that’s the bit with all the holes in it).  I did this twice and then I put half the mixture through the medium sized die and combined the two.  This gave the sausage a predominantly chunky texture but with a good proportion of paste to bind it together inside the casing.

IMG_2819 IMG_2820Fry a small portion first and check the seasoning, then feed the mixture through the sausage-maker with the sausage casing attached to the prongy bit.  After one or two false starts this worked out fine and the mixture made 12 fat sausages.  I was delighted and ate three straight off!

Lamb kofte with yogurt & flatbread

These little north African babies are in constant demand in our house – so easy to make and simply delicious.

This quantity should serve 8 people, with some left over… (often these are piled high on a large platter to feed 50 or more, so just ramp up the quantities as you need it but check seasoning more carefully)

Your best friend for this recipe is a food processor.

First turn on the oven to 180C.  Prepare one or two flat roasting trays, very lightly oiled. (By this I mean put some oil on a kitchen towel and wipe it over the tray. You don’t want oil sitting in the tray itself).

Put into the food processor the following ingredients:  two medium onions chopped in half, one little finger length red chilli (plus or minus seeds depending on how hot you like it), two fat cloves of garlic, 1.5 tablespoons of freshly roasted whole cumin seed (please don’t use old, stale ground cumin that’s been in the back of the cupboard for a year or five), one flat dessert spoon sea salt, 750g good quality minced lamb and a few grinds of black pepper.  Pulse the ingredients in the food processor first till they begin to blend – remember yours might not be as large as mine so you might need to do it in two batches – and then process for about 30 seconds till it looks like the consistency of sausage-meat.

Put all the ingredients in one bowl. Have another bowl beside it filled with hand-hot water, and have some kitchen towel handy

Take walnut sized pieces of the meat mixture and form into balls or torpedoes, wetting your hands frequently to prevent the meat sticking to them. Wipe your hands on the kitchen towel occasionally if you’re getting sticky.  Depending on what size you form the Koftas into, you will need one or two roasting trays.  Simply lay them out side by side with just  1cm clearance then put in the oven and roast for no more than 8 minutes.  They should be brown and sizzling, but soft.   So be careful not to overcook – remember they will carry on cooking for a couple of minutes after you take them out of the oven, so if anything take them out when they are just underdone.

Remove from roasting trays after 5 minutes and pile onto a platter or large bowl which has been generously covered with lots of  very thinly sliced tomato, very thinly sliced onion and chopped coriander, well seasoned and drizzled with olive oil.  Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the koftas.

Eat the koftas with the juicy piquant salad folded into rich warm flatbread or pitta, and have a bowl of creamy natural yogurt with bright green mint chopped into it to dollop on the top.

If you are very lucky there will be three or four left over when everyone has gone home and you can eat them while you are clearing up. If there are none left over you will know its a great recipe and make more next time!

Bon appetito!

Spiced roast little quail

You would not believe how easy this is – dinner for four. It is very easy, looks really impressive, and tastes divine.

6-8 quail depending on the size. I buy mine from Lidl in boxes of 4.

Turn on the oven to 180C.

Use the small bowl of your food processor, or in a pestle and mortar, pound a 2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, two whole cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt, ground pepper, two tsp of freshly ground cumin, one tsp ground cinnamon and one tsp of ground turmeric.  Then add 75ml vegetable oil.  put the quail in a deep roasting pan or dish and massage the marinade into the little aliens laying there in the pan.

Your spiced marinade will look like this

Giant couscous is also called Mougrabieh.  Take one 200g pack, empty into a shallow pan with one chopped deseeded chilli and 1tbsp vegetable oil.  Heat gently until it changes colour to a light brown then take off the heat.

Finely chop one red pepper and one green or yellow courgette and one small fresh red chilli -include as many seeds as you dare or reduce them if you dont like it hot.  Chop a small handful of mint and another of flatleaf parsley and fresh coriander.

Put the Mougrabieh into a saucepan and add about a litre of cold water. Bring to the boil and stir vigorously then simmer gently.You want to get to a stage where it is just cooked but not over cooked (no more than 15 minutes)

Meanwhile put the quail into the hot oven turn them after 7 minutes. They should be cooked in 10-12 – no more or they will be stringy. Remember they are little aliens without much fat so they cant take too much heat before they frazzle. Take them out of the oven before preparing the Mougrabieh so they rest a bit.

Now comes the juggling bit.  Drain the Mougabrieh and run cold water through it.  Turn it onto a flat dish, mix in the herbs, chilli, pepper and chopped spring onion tops.  Chop up some preserved lemon and drag this through the couscous, adding lemon juice to taste then drizzle olive oil over the top and lightly sprinkle with sumac powder (this has the hit of sherbert but is lemony and zingy).  Then put the quail on top and drizzle the cooking juices over the top.

Believe me you will love it.  Cupboard to plate in 30 minutes tops – serve with a herb laden salad, garlicky green beans and some sourdough for the juice mop-up operation.

To be honest I always feel a bit sorry for the skinny legged birds when they are ready to serve. Remember dont bother trying to eat the quail with a knife and fork – its definitely a just pick-it-up-and-eat-it and eat dish.  I first found it in Ottolenghi’s iconic Plenty but I’ve changed the seasoning.  Enjoy.

Sicilian rabbit

Poor little bunnies.  I love’em in the pot best. Especially the ones brought to me by the postman (no he doesn’t post them through the letterbox, but he does check whether I am up for a rabbit or two occasionally. Or a brace of pigeon. Or partridge).  Although Richard is pretty handy too, one evening we were having supper at his mum’s, he came in as we happened to be talking about rabbit.  Do you want a rabbit then Dawn? said he. Always up for a rabbit Richard, say’s me.  Next minute there’s a great ‘kabooof’ outside (Richard with his shooting thingy) and five minutes later he presents me with two skinned and gutted rabbits in a Tesco carrier bag.  Can’t say fairer than that.

Hey ho. This rabbit is adapted from an old recipe by one of my favourite cooks Claudia Roden.  Take just one rabbit.  Joint it into two front and two rear legs and split the saddle in half. So by my counting you should have six pieces of rabbit. Put in a large dish with four chopped garlic cloves, one chopped onion, 6-8 chopped sage leaves and a few sprigs of rosemary.  Grind 6 juniper berries with a pestle, add salt and black pepper and about 60ml olive oil and a good slug of red wine.  Use all these ingredients to marinate the rabbit overnight -. ie mix them in with the rabbit, cover with cling film and leave it a while.

Next day, remove the rabbit from the marinade and dry off on kitchen towel.  Put 3 tbs plain flour seasoned with salt into a clean dry bowl and flour each joint individually, knock off most of the flour and put back on the kitchen towel.

Take 30ml olive oil and put in a shallow pan, heat till smoking then fry each rabbit joint on both sides till browned. If you fat is hot enough, it should take no more than two minutes each side. Remove and drain (on same kitchen towel!)

Don’t clean the pan whatever you do and in the same pan, add another chopped onion and fry till soft, then add the remaining flour  from the bowl you used to flour the rabbit joints, stir round a bit, then add the  juices you used to marinate the rabbit plus 300ml red wine and 150ml water.  Nothing wasted. Pour all these into a saucepan big enough to take the rabbit joints and the sauce.  Add the rabbit. Add 6 prunes, 6 chopped black olives. Maybe a spicy Meguez sausage or six. (my favourites are from The Paddocks Butchery – who also do great rabbit and game by the way – they will have their own special page later in the year, so watch this space)  Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  At this stage the sauce will still be quite thin but don’t despair.  At the 20 minute point, add 30ml white wine vinegar and 1 tbsp sugar and about 20g pine nuts.  Bring to the boil again and boil vigorously for one minute, then stir again and continue to cook on a gentle heat for a further hour. By the end of the cooking period, the sauce will be dark and glossy, thick and intense with juniper, herbs and rabbit.

You could serve it with bread or tiny new potatoes roasted in butter and garlic shavings.

Tonight I served it with chard and chopped tomatoes and peas from the garden, generously flavoured with chopped mint, flatleaf parsley, mixed with mougrabieh (giant couscous).

Poor little bunnies.

Winter solstice and ham hocks

Tomorrow is the start of the winter solstice.  The shortest day. The longest night. The official start of winter. It might really have been the shortest day given the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world today. But the fact I am writing this is testimony to the fact that it didn’t.

I am way behind with my food planning for Christmas but it will all come together,a s it does every year.  Guests start arriving tomorrow and keep trickling in until Monday.  Sunday night there will be chicken and ham pie, Monday is a moveable feast as everyone has different plans – but will probably be fish. Christmas day will be goose stuffed with mashed potato and apple – far more scrummy than it sounds I can assure you; Boxing day is ham cooked with star anise and molasses (start cooking it on Monday, finish on Wednesday!), Thursday is a North African table. Vegetarians will be eating chestnut and cashew pie with red wine gravy, hazelnut and tomato roast, parsnip and stilton roulade and aubergines stuffed with tomato, quinoa and mushrooms. Puddings include lemon curd icecream, chocolate and prune parfait, roasted plums with soft almond crust, sloe gin jellies with pomegranate, raspberry sorbet with roasted raspberries and mint crisps, caramel pears with walnuts and gorgonzola.  Not a Christmas pudding in sight.

Remember those ham hocks I bought for a song a couple or months ago? One is currently defrosting – two remain in the freezer so watch this space.  Tomorrow I shall marinade it in stout with a cinnamon  stick and some cloves, then dry it thoroughly and roast it quickly in a small pan and leave it to cool completely in the pan when it’s done.  Then I’m going to shred the meat from the bone and mix some of it with poached chicken, and leeks which have been sautee’d in lots of butter and a bayleaf then helped on their way with black pepper, salt, a sprinkle of flour then more than a good splash of cream and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Mix it round in the pan and the juices will thicken. As soon as it starts to thicken take it off the pan before the cream splits.  When cool grate a little nutmeg onto.  Check the seasoning again and then pile onto a dinner-plate sized base of good puff pastry which you have already rolled out and placed on a heavy baking tray.  Level off the filling slightly and brush the edges of the pastry with egg, and top it off with a pastry hat, sealing and crimping the edges as you go.  Brush all over with beaten egg, snip two slits in the top and put into the pre-heated oven at 180C for 30 minutes.  When it is done it will be ‘singing’, the filling will be piping hot if you put a sharp knife into the centre and feel the heat of the blade.  My granny used to test the heat on her top lip.  She often looked as if she had a moustache for this reason!  The pastry will look golden brown. Just like your top lip if you’re not careful with that knife.

Don’t be tempted to try and remove it from the baking tray too soon.  Leave it to rest for five minutes and then ease a pallette knife underneath to loosen it and then slide off onto a serving plate.

Those hocks go a long way when they are bulked out with other meats and chicken and ham is a classic combination.  You could use some of the leftover hock to make little rillettes in ramekins and eat with hot toast.  Simply shred the hock and mix with chopped capers, season and pour some butter over it.  Instant supper with a glass of wine.  Or you could pile onto think slices of pumpernickel spread with hot hoseradish and garnish with radish – or if you don’t want the pumpernickel the sweet meat will taste gorgeous if you moisten it with a little fresh  tomato relish perked up with some chilli and put into chicory leaves – maybe alternating with cold salmon mixed with chopped tomato, chopped gherkin and some fresh coriander and serve as canapes. Oh there are 1001 things to do with a ham hock!!

Anyway, hope you enjoy the ham whatever way you choose to prepare it.  I shall be eating mine  as a pie, with a large green salad, watching Strictly Come Dancing and cheering on Danni Harmer and Vincent Simone.

Lamb koftes with yogurt and warm flatbread

These little north African babies are in constant demand in our house – so easy to make and simply delicious.

This quantity should serve 8 people, with some left over… (often these are piled high on a large platter to feed 50 or more, so just ramp up the quantities as you need it but check seasoning more carefully)

Your best friend for this recipe is a food processor.

First turn on the oven to 180C. Prepare one or two flat roasting trays, very lightly oiled. (By this I mean put some oil on a kitchen towel and wipe it over the tray. You don’t want oil sitting in the tray itself).

Put into the food processor the following ingredients: two medium onions chopped in half, one little finger length red chilli (plus or minus seeds depending on how hot you like it), two fat cloves of garlic, 1.5 tablespoons of freshly roasted whole cumin seed (please don’t use old, stale ground cumin that’s been in the back of the cupboard for a year or five), one flat dessert spoon sea salt, 750g good quality minced lamb and a few grinds of black pepper. Pulse the ingredients in the food processor first till they begin to blend – remember yours might not be as large as mine so you might need to do it in two batches – and then process for about 30 seconds till it looks like the consistency of sausage-meat.

Put all the ingredients in one bowl. Have another bowl beside it filled with hand-hot water, and have some kitchen towel handy

Take walnut sized pieces of the meat mixture and form into balls or torpedoes, wetting your hands frequently to prevent the meat sticking to them. Wipe your hands on the kitchen towel occasionally if you’re getting sticky. Depending on what size you form the Koftas into, you will need one or two roasting trays. Simply lay them out side by side with just 1cm clearance then put in the oven and roast for no more than 8 minutes. They should be brown and sizzling, but soft. So be careful not to overcook – remember they will carry on cooking for a couple of minutes after you take them out of the oven, so if anything take them out when they are just underdone.

Remove from roasting trays after 5 minutes and pile onto a platter or large bowl which has been generously covered with lots of very thinly sliced tomato, very thinly sliced onion and chopped coriander, well seasoned and drizzled with olive oil. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the koftas.

Eat the koftas with the juicy piquant salad folded into rich warm flatbread or pitta, and have a bowl of creamy natural yogurt with bright green mint chopped into it to dollop on the top.

If you are very lucky there will be three or four left over when everyone has gone home and you can eat them while you are clearing up. If there are none left over you will know its a great recipe and make more next time!

Bon appetito!

Quick Quail with Oloroso

 

Tasty little quails with a start to finish cooking time is 35 minutes.

The day before you want to cook them, take 8 quail out of the freezer. Sounds posh doesn’t it? It’s not! My 8 quail came in boxes of 4 from Lidl. £4.99 a box. Bargain.

The evening before you want to cook them, crush 2 cloves of garlic with 8 juniper berries, a teaspoon of fennel seed, some chilli flakes, sea salt, black pepper, a teaspoon of sugar and olive oil.

Take each quail and with the breastbone uppermost, use sharp scissors, clean secateurs or a pair of poultry scissors and snip down both sides of the breast bone and take it out. Lay each quail on the work surface and press down on the breast with the heel of the hand to snap the bones at the end. Now cover with the marinade and leave overnight.

When you are ready, prepare either a wide shallow pan which has a close fitting lid, or a small roasting pan – and add golden rape seed oil. Fry each quail, probably best to do it in pairs rather than the whole flock at once, so they are browned on all sides. Remove onto a plate until they are all finished.

Then add two chopped shallots and either some chopped pancetta, bacon or chorizo. Sweat these off gently then turn up the heat and return the quail to the pan and add about 100ml Oloroso Sherry (or you could use Vermouth) – but the sherry is the best really. Now let the liquid bubble for 3 minutes then put in a pre-heated oven for no more than 15 minutes. Then take out of the oven and remove the quail to a warm plate and cover loosely.

Return the pan to the heat and scrape up all the bits. Add about 100ml chicken stock and bring to the boil, check the seasoning, then transfer to a jug and serve the birds – one per person.

You could serve them on their own with good bread, or polenta, and a green vegetable or a salad. Or with roasted little potatoes and celeriac. Which is what we are having on Christmas Eve.

Roast loin of Roe Deer

Roe Deer is probably my favourite meat. Think you like venison? Wait till you’ve tasted wild Roe Deer. The loin – or fillet – will probably be about 25cm long, maybe a bit longer. This will feed six in our house. It’s not cheap but it is a real and rare treat. In fact rare is how you should eat it.

Pat the dear deer dry.

Roll in a mixture of crushed juniper berries, black pepper and sea salt.

Have a large heavy-based roasting pan on the hob and heat golden rapeseed oil till smoking.

Immediately sear the deer on all sides till a golden crust has formed. This will take about 10 minutes if you are doing it carefully. Don’t move the meat around in the pan. You need to be brave and leave it. And leave it again! Then turn it. When it’s brown all over, put it in a hot oven – 200C for no more than 20 minutes if you like it rare. 25 for medium. 30 for well done – but please don’t go there!

Remove from the pan onto a warm plate and tent with foil. Let it rest for 15-20 minutes. At this point you can return the roasties and the carrots that you part-cooked yesterday, to the oven..

Put the pan back on the hob. Add a scant scattering of flour. De-glaze the pan with deep red wine, and some meat stock, stirring all the time. Then add a tablespoon or two of redcurrant jelly. Bring to the boil. Taste and season. Pour into a hot jug.

Carve the deer on the diagonal, not too thin. Serve on a smear of parsnip puree with roasted potato and celeriac, roasted Chantenay carrots and dark greens. And the gravy.

Merry Christmas lunch in under an hour? Yup. It’s possible.photbackup march14 933.JPG

Spiced roast quail with giant couscous

You would not believe how easy this is – dinner for four. It is very easy, looks really impressive, and tastes divine.

6-8 quail depending on the size. I buy mine from Lidl in boxes of 4.

Turn on the oven to 180C.

Use the small bowl of your food processor, or in a pestle and mortar, pound a 2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, two whole cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt, ground pepper, two tsp of freshly ground cumin, one tsp ground cinnamon and one tsp of ground turmeric.  Then add 75ml vegetable oil.  put the quail in a deep roasting pan or dish and massage the marinade into the little aliens laying there in the pan.

Giant couscous is also called Mougrabieh.  Take one 200g pack, empty into a shallow pan with one chopped deseeded chilli and 1tbsp vegetable oil.  Heat gently until it changes colour to a light brown then take off the heat.

Finely chop one red pepper and one green or yellow courgette and one small fresh red chilli -include as many seeds as you dare or reduce them if you dont like it hot.  Chop a small handful of mint and another of flatleaf parsley and fresh coriander.

Put the Mougrabieh into a saucepan and add about a litre of cold water. Bring to the boil and stir vigorously then simmer gently.You want to get to a stage where it is just cooked but not over cooked (no more than 15 minutes)

Meanwhile put the quail into the hot oven turn them after 7 minutes. They should be cooked in 10-12 – no more or they will be stringy. Remember they are little aliens without much fat so they cant take too much heat before they frazzle. Take them out of the oven before preparing the Mougrabieh so they rest a bit.

Now comes the juggling bit.  Drain the Mougabrieh and run cold water through it.  Turn it onto a flat dish, mix in the herbs, chilli, pepper and chopped spring onion tops.  Chop up some preserved lemon and drag this through the couscous, adding lemon juice to taste then drizzle olive oil over the top and lightly sprinkle with sumac powder (this has the hit of sherbert but is lemony and zingy).  Then put the quail on top and drizzle the cooking juices over the top.

Believe me you will love it.  Cupboard to plate in 30 minutes tops – serve with a herb laden salad, garlicky green beans and some sourdough for the juice mop-up operation.

To be honest I always feel a bit sorry for the skinny legged birds when they are ready to serve. Remember dont bother trying to eat the quail with a knife and fork – its definitely a just pick-it-up-and-eat-it and eat dish.  I first found it in Ottolenghi’s iconic Plenty but I’ve changed the seasoning.  Enjoy.

Sicilian sweet and sour rabbit

Poor little bunnies.  I love’em in the pot best. Especially the ones brought to me by the postman (no he doesn’t post them through the letterbox, but he does check whether I am up for a rabbit or two occasionally. Or a brace of pigeon. Or partridge).  Although Richard is pretty handy too, one evening we were having supper at his mum’s, he came in as we happened to be talking about rabbit.  Do you want a rabbit then Dawn? said he. Always up for a rabbit Richard, say’s me.  Next minute there’s a great ‘kabooof’ outside (Richard with his shooting thingy) and five minutes later he presents me with two skinned and gutted rabbits in a Tesco carrier bag.  Can’t say fairer than that.

Hey ho. This rabbit is adapted from an old recipe by one of my favourite cooks Claudia Roden.  Take just one rabbit.  Joint it into two front and two rear legs and split the saddle in half. So by my counting you should have six pieces of rabbit. Put in a large dish with four chopped garlic cloves, one chopped onion, 6-8 chopped sage leaves and a few sprigs of rosemary.  Grind 6 juniper berries with a pestle, add salt and black pepper and about 60ml olive oil and a good slug of red wine.  Use all these ingredients to marinate the rabbit overnight -. ie mix them in with the rabbit, cover with cling film and leave it a while.

Next day, remove the rabbit from the marinade and dry off on kitchen towel.  Put 3 tbs plain flour seasoned with salt into a clean dry bowl and flour each joint individually, knock off most of the flour and put back on the kitchen towel.

Take 30ml olive oil and put in a shallow pan, heat till smoking then fry each rabbit joint on both sides till browned. If you fat is hot enough, it should take no more than two minutes each side. Remove and drain (on same kitchen towel!)

Don’t clean the pan whatever you do and in the same pan, add another chopped onion and fry till soft, then add the remaining flour  from the bowl you used to flour the rabbit joints, stir round a bit, then add the  juices you used to marinate the rabbit plus 300ml red wine and 150ml water.  Nothing wasted. Pour all these into a saucepan big enough to take the rabbit joints and the sauce.  Add the rabbit. Add 6 prunes, 6 chopped black olives. Maybe a spicy Meguez sausage or six. (my favourites are from The Paddocks Butchery – who also do great rabbit and game by the way – they will have their own special page later in the year, so watch this space)  Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  At this stage the sauce will still be quite thin but don’t despair.  At the 20 minute point, add 30ml white wine vinegar and 1 tbsp sugar and about 20g pine nuts.  Bring to the boil again and boil vigorously for one minute, then stir again and continue to cook on a gentle heat for a further hour. By the end of the cooking period, the sauce will be dark and glossy, thick and intense with juniper, herbs and rabbit.

You could serve it with bread or tiny new potatoes roasted in butter and garlic shavings.

Tonight I served it with chard and chopped tomatoes and peas from the garden, generously flavoured with chopped mint, flatleaf parsley, mixed with mougrabieh (giant couscous).

Poor little bunnies.

Lamb Koftas with flatbread and yogurt

LAMB KOFTAS with flatbread and yogurt

These little north African babies are in constant demand in our house – so easy to make and simply delicious.

This quantity should serve 8 people, with some left over… (often these are piled high on a large platter to feed 50 or more, so just ramp up the quantities as you need it but check seasoning more carefully)

Your best friend for this recipe is a food processor.

First turn on the oven to 180C.  Prepare one or two flat roasting trays, very lightly oiled. (By this I mean put some oil on a kitchen towel and wipe it over the tray. You don’t want oil sitting in the tray itself).

Put into the food processor the following ingredients:  two medium onions chopped in half, one little finger length red chilli (plus or minus seeds depending on how hot you like it), two fat cloves of garlic, 1.5 tablespoons of freshly roasted whole cumin seed (please don’t use old, stale ground cumin that’s been in the back of the cupboard for a year or five), one flat dessert spoon sea salt, 750g good quality minced lamb and a few grinds of black pepper.  Pulse the ingredients in the food processor first till they begin to blend – remember yours might not be as large as mine so you might need to do it in two batches – and then process for about 30 seconds till it looks like the consistency of sausage-meat.

Put all the ingredients in one bowl. Have another bowl beside it filled with hand-hot water, and have some kitchen towel handy

Take walnut sized pieces of the meat mixture and form into balls or torpedoes, wetting your hands frequently to prevent the meat sticking to them. Wipe your hands on the kitchen towel occasionally if you’re getting sticky.  Depending on what size you form the Koftas into, you will need one or two roasting trays.  Simply lay them out side by side with just  1cm clearance then put in the oven and roast for no more than 8 minutes.  They should be brown and sizzling, but soft.   So be careful not to overcook – remember they will carry on cooking for a couple of minutes after you take them out of the oven, so if anything take them out when they are just underdone.

Remove from roasting trays after 5 minutes and pile onto a platter or large bowl which has been generously covered with lots of  very thinly sliced tomato, very thinly sliced onion and chopped coriander, well seasoned and drizzled with olive oil.  Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the koftas.

Eat the koftas with the juicy piquant salad folded into rich warm flatbread or pitta, and have a bowl of creamy natural yogurt with bright green mint chopped into it to dollop on the top.

If you are very lucky there will be three or four left over when everyone has gone home and you can eat them while you are clearing up. If there are none left over you will know its a great recipe and make more next time!

Bon appetito!

Chicken with lemon

Just had conversation with a new follower on Facebook.  What to have for supper tonight?

Depends on how much time you have Norma.  But I know you have chicken and I know you have mince.  Have a look at the Lamb Kofta recipe on this site. You can make it with beef mince or lamb mince.

But tonight I’d do chicken simply because cold nights call for gravy!  Don’t know if you have a whole chicken, pieces or fillets.  This recipe works best if you have bone in the meat.  If you have a whole chicken, first sharpen your cleaver……………………..  then chop off the legs and the wings.  Carefully cleave down the backbone so you have two halves of chicken, then cut again into two or three pieces depending on the size of your chicken.  Essentially you are looking to have fairly even sized pieces of chicken.

Now.  Take a plastic carrier bag.  Yes that’s right.  Throw in a handful of flour or polenta, season well with salt, pepper, about a teaspoon of smoked paprika if you have it – if not cayenne or chilli powder. But  not too much – we are looking for flavour and layers of flavours here, not a big hit of chilli heat.  Throw in your chicken pieces and bounce then round a bit till they are coated in flour.  Then take out of the bag and put on a plate.

This recipe is easiest if you do the next stage in the same pan you will be using for the rest of the cooking (just saves the washing up). So use a double handed wide shallow saute pan with a lid for preference. If not use all the pans you want but end up putting in a shallow-ish pan not a deep casserole.

Put a good glug of olive oil into the pan, slice 2 large onions and a bulb of fennel and fry gently till very soft. Only then put in two squashed cloves of garlic. Cook for one more minute. Remove onions et from the pan but dont wipe the pan.  Add more oil then bit by bit add the chicken pieces  you are aiming to brown them so don’t put in too many at once or you will simply steam/stew them.  When all pieces are browned, put  the onions and fennel back into the pan, turn the heat up high and pour in a glass of dry white wine, or a good sglug (my word – its a cross between a splash and a glug) of Noilly Prat.  Let the alcohol evaporate by boiling madly for a couple of minutes, then add about 750ml chicken stock.  Now comes the first secret ingredient. ~Throw in some good  black olives (juicy ones, not the dried out apology for olives you get in tins).  Cook gently with the lid on for about an hour. Then remove the lid and check the seasoning.  You should have chicken pieces which are golden and scrummy spicy rich  juice which is beginning to thicken.  If it isn’t thickening, simply cook for another 10 minutes with the lid off.  The stock will evaporate a bit and become more intense.  Nearly finished!

If you have made my preserved lemons (see posting on this site), take out half a lemon, and wash under the tap.  Dry, then remove the fleshy part.  Then slice the rind thinly and add to the chicken, along with some chopped tarragon and flat leaf parsley.  Incorporate it all into the juice and cook for five more minutes.

Serve this with rice, or with flatbread, little roast potatoes or mash. Your choice.  Yummy.

Venison with beetroot and chestnuts

Pictures of meat on a plate are not that attractive are they? So these are some of the other ingredients!

It’s November. You’re driving home from the station. The rain is slashing down, the leaves are falling and it’s dark.  You fall in through the back door wondering what’s for supper. And miraculously, there on the stove before your very eyes, someone has placed a large vat of venison casserole.  All you need to do it heat it up and make some creamy  potato and celeriac mash with a bit of wasabi in it?  Are you with me?

So what you needed to do was, the night before, lightly season and flour 1kg venison in a plastic carrier bag. Bounce it around a bit and all the pieces will be covered in flour.  Gently fry a large onion in oil and butter with a cinnamon stick, a bay leaf and two teaspoons of caraway seed.  When the onions are soft, add one medium sized grated (raw) beetroot and cook for a couple more minutes.  Remove from the pan.  Then, in batches, brown the meat in the pan, adding a little more oil if necessary. Return the onion and beetroot to the pan and mix into the meat.  Add one bottle of red wine and 200ml good dark stock (a cube will do), add seasoning, one chopped apple and a packet of Merchant Gourmet or similar vacuum packed (whole) chestnuts).  Stir well.  Bring to a gentle simmer, put the cinnamon stick back in and cook with the lid on for at least two hours.  By then the meat should be tender and the sauce reduced by 25-30%.  Now you can either eat it or leave it in the pan, covered, until the following night. In my opinion the flavour is vastly improved for an overnight slump in a saucepan. If you are really organised you could prepare equal quantities of potato and celeriac and put them in a pan of cold water – anticipating that dash home from work in the dark and the wet.

Either way, when you are ready to eat, bring the meat back to the boil and gently bubble away for another 15 minutes with the lid off.  Then remove from the heat.  This little rest will mean the meat relaxes a bit and the gravy is a bearable temperature so you might stand a chance of actually tasking it!  Meanwhile boil the potato and celeriac till soft then drain them and return to the pan with 50g butter and a good shake of white pepper, a good sprinkling of salt, and mash, mash, mash till creamy.  A potato ricer is perfect for this job but I hate washing it up! So when mashed, then beat beat beat with a wooden spoon. Then add 100ml sour cream or natural yogurt and a good squirt of wasabi (or english mustard, or a handful of cheese – whatever is good for you) and beat again.

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I recommend serving in a bowl, with feet tucked up, on the sofa, woodburner blazing and maybe a glass of dark ale. Or a large glass of red.  Because you’re worth it!