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By Well Seasoned, Nov 2 2018 01:00AM

The word ‘venison’ used to refer to all wild, non-feathered meats (venatio being the Latin for ‘hunt’) and would have included animals such as wild boar and goat. But it’s now used almost exclusively to refer to deer meat. In days gone by, as a result of its aristocratic connections, deer was very much a rich man’s food. Only the offal was affordable to commoners (the ‘pluck’ or offal of the animal was also called the ‘umble’, the origin of ‘humble pie’). These days, however, venison is widely available and inexpensive. With six species of deer in Britain (Chinese water, fallow, muntjac, red, roe and sika) and different seasons for stags or bucks (males) and hinds or does (females), there isn’t a month of the year when you won’t find venison of some kind available from your local butcher. Even better, while, from an ethical perspective, wild venison ticks all the boxes, deer aren’t reared intensively in Britain so you can also eat farmed or park (from an enclosed estate) meat with a clean conscience. Hinds, especially of the smaller species, tend to have a slightly less gamey flavour than bigger stags, and November is the month when the females of our three most commonly eaten species (the red, fallow and roe) are in season. It means a plentiful supply of good value meat. In addition, venison partners particularly well with a number of other ingredients, savoury and sweet, that are in season this month (think rosemary, cobnuts, juniper and pears). So, while there’s no ‘bad’ month for venison, from November through to February is most certainly a very good time of year for this lean, iron-rich and well-flavoured meat.

Venison, celeriac and mushroom suet pudding

Baking suet pastry gives a very different feel to this pudding than steaming would. I like them either way but the crisp texture of baked suet pastry contrasts so nicely with the soft meat and tender celeriac in this dish. serves 4 hungry people or would make 6 puddings at a push!

For the filling

500g diced venison, 1½–2cm pieces

olive oil

200ml red wine

2 rashers smoked, streaky bacon, cut into lardons

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

100g chestnut mushrooms, trimmed and quartered

350ml beef or venison stock

muslin bouquet garni of 2 bay leaves, 6 sprigs of thyme and 6 juniper berries

1 small celeriac, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes (250g)

1 tsp cornflour, slaked in 1 tbsp cold water Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the suet pastry

250g plain flour

1½ tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

125g suet

cold water to mix (approximately 180ml)

1. Preheat the oven to 140˚C.

2. Season the venison with salt and pepper. Heat some oil in a heavy-based frying pan and seal the venison over a high heat, caramelizing well. Do this in a couple of batches. Tip the venison into a casserole dish and deglaze the pan with a little of the wine. Add this liquid to the venison. Wipe out the pan, add a little more oil and cook the lardons until the fat starts to render, then add the onion and garlic. Cook for around 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is soft. Add the mushrooms, raise the heat and cook until the mushrooms start to colour. Add this mix to the venison.

3. Pour the remaining wine into the pan and reduce to a syrup, then add the stock and bring to a simmer. Pour over the venison, mix well, add the bouquet garni and cover. Cook in the oven for 1 hour. Add the celeriac and cook for a further 20 minutes. Check that the meat and celeriac are tender.

4. Drain the majority of the cooking liquid into a clean saucepan and reduce to approximately 150ml. Thicken with the cornflour, adding gradually, to give a thick double-cream consistency. Remove the bouquet garni from the venison, squeezing out any liquid. Add the sauce and adjust the seasoning. Allow to cool.

5. For the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the suet. Gradually add cold water, mixing with a blunt knife until a soft dough is formed. Flour the work surface and knead the dough quickly into a ball. Cut threequarters of the dough and roll out to around 4mm thick. Cut out rough circles, 20cm in diameter. Roll the remaining pastry with the trim and cut out 12cm circles for the lids.

6. To assemble, butter four 10cm aluminium pudding basins and line with the larger pastry circles. Trim the excess, leaving around 1cm overhang. Fill the basins with the venison mix. Brush the lids with water and place over the filling. Squeeze the two layers of pastry together and trim off the excess. Brush around the rim of the pudding with water and roll the sealed edge inwards to create a double seal around the rim.

7. Turn the oven up to 180°C. Place the puddings on a heavy baking tray and bake for 20-30 minutes. The pastry should be crisp and golden and the filling hot right through. The puddings should tip out easily but may need the point of a knife run between the pastry and the basin.

8. Serve with seasonal greens, roasted carrots and mash.

By Well Seasoned, Nov 1 2018 01:00AM

November often catches us slightly by surprise, October can be pleasantly bright and mild, but a mere four weeks later it’s ten degrees colder outside and, with the clocks changing back, dark at five o’clock. Quite a contrast.

We’re in the final month of autumn now and, as we say goodbye to the very last of the warm days, we can start to look forward to the frosts and snow of winter. Regardless of the weather, there’s plenty to keep us entertained, both outside and in the kitchen.

For meat eaters, November should be all about game, with partridge, pheasant and venison abundant this month. Prices for the feathered game have usually come down from their early-season highs, making it affordable and increasingly accessible to all. You’ll need some vegetables to go with it, and thankfully November is one of the best months for hardy roots. Parsnips and celeriac in particular should be on your shopping list. And although not quite as generous as in October, the hedgerows are still worth plundering, as rosehips and chestnuts make welcome late additions to the wild larder.

If you’re outdoors at dusk this month, keep an eye out for murmurations of starlings which usually begin in November. From now until the spring our nonmigratory residents are joined by their relatives from colder climates, with up to 100,000 birds flocking together in these hypnotic aerial pre-roosting displays. They’re a truly spectacular phenomenon and a reminder that life definitely doesn’t stop just because it’s getting a bit chilly and dark out there. Indeed, we start the month with one of our biggest seasonal celebrations on 5 November, so let’s wrap up warm, get outside and get the sausages sizzling.

By Well Seasoned, Oct 3 2018 04:00AM

The sticky toffee pudding is, undeniably, a modern icon. Widely linked with Francis Coulson and the Sharrow Bay Hotel in the 1970s, its origins may go back further than that, possibly even to a different country. The British have, however, taken it to their hearts and it still graces many menus today.

This recipe takes some of the sticky toffee elements but brings in the freshness and acidity of new-season apple. I like the balance this gives, as well as the different texture, and a little salt in the sauce just adds to the taste sensations. Being rooted in the West Country, clotted cream is my accompaniment of choice, but custard, cream, crème fraîche or ice cream all work well.

serves 8–10

For the toffee sauce

225ml double cream plus 1½ tbsp milk

1 strip of lemon zest

½ tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

100g caster sugar

50g golden syrup

lemon juice to taste

For the apples

10g butter

3 sharp apples, peeled, cored and cut into

8 wedges

1½ tbsp caster sugar

For the sponge

200g unsalted butter, softened

150g golden caster sugar

50g light muscovado sugar

200g self-raising flour

½ tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

½ tsp mixed spice or cinnamon

3 large, free-range eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 160˚C.

2. To make the toffee sauce, warm the cream and milk in a small saucepan with the lemon zest and salt. Allow to infuse for 20 minutes and then bring just to a simmer. Turn off the heat.

3. In a heavy-based pan, combine the sugar and syrup. Cook to a medium to dark caramel (170˚C on a sugar thermometer). Carefully add the hot cream mix and cook over a low heat, stirring gently until the caramel has dissolved. Adjust the flavour with the lemon juice and pass through a sieve into a bowl. Press a sheet of cling film directly onto the surface and let cool.

4. For the apples, melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan, add the apple wedges and sprinkle with the sugar. Mix well to coat and fry until lightly caramelized. Transfer to a plate to cool.

5. To make the sponge, cream the butter and sugars together in the bowl of a mixer, beating until pale and fluffy. Sift together the flour, salt and spice. Gradually add the beaten egg to the butter mix, alternating with spoonfuls of the flour. Once all the egg is incorporated, mix in the remaining flour.

6. Grease and lightly flour a 2l ovenproof bowl. Lay two-thirds of the apple wedges in the bottom and pour half of the cold toffee sauce on top. Chill for 30 minutes and then cover with the sponge mix. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 150˚C for a further 40–50 minutes until risen, golden, and firm to the touch in the centre of the sponge. Allow to rest for 10 minutes and then very carefully invert onto a serving plate.

7. Serve with the remaining caramelized apple wedges and warmed toffee sauce.

By Well Seasoned, Oct 1 2018 04:20PM

If September was the curtain-raiser to autumn then October is definitely the main feature.

This month, our green and pleasant land puts on a show of brilliant oranges, browns, golds and reds in a visual and epicurean spectacular. The long, hot days of summer are definitely behind us now but they’ve left an embarrassment of edible riches. With winter just beyond the horizon, October is a month when preserving our bounty for the colder months is even more important. Chutneys, jams and pickles are all promoted to the top of our seasonal to-do list. On the vegetable patch, there’s more than enough to keep us busy, too: marrows, pumpkins and squashes all thrive at this time of year; while in the orchard, those delicate soft fruits have all now given way to hardier, but certainly no less delicious, apples and pears.

But perhaps the most exciting thing about October is that Mother Nature invariably flings opens the door of her wild larder and invites us to stuff ourselves silly. It’s one of the best months to be outdoors foraging, with hedgerows fit to burst with ripe berries and nuts, and the mild, damp conditions mean mushrooms abound on forest floors. We can literally take our pick from hundreds of wonderfully named fungi, including puffballs, penny buns and chicken of the woods. Scallops and mussels are plump and plentiful and there is game aplenty as pheasant joins duck, partridge and grouse on the autumnal menu.

October’s weather also helps make it a great month to be outdoors. Hopes of a seriously hot day have all but vanished, but it’s surprisingly common to have a sustained spell of sunshine towards the middle of the month (it’s known as ‘St Luke’s little summer’, named after the saint’s day which falls on the eighteenth). The days are getting noticeably shorter by now, but with all of this food around we can appreciate a little extra time in the kitchen.

So, with respectable weather and no shortage of produce to choose from, we can look forward to filling our boots in October.


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