January, 2012


31
Jan 12

Game to Eat?

It’s always good to try something different. I made a pact with myself over a year ago to try not to cook the same thing twice. Instead of sticking to a repertoire of dishes I know and love (which, let’s face it, can be practical and convenient, especially during the working week) I decided to try something different every time I cook. A new food, a new recipe, or a different interpretation of a familiar dish: it all counts towards trying something different.

For me, trying new recipes was fairly simple. With my bookshelves groaning under the weight of my cookery book collection, inspiration was never far away.  However, most recently, it has been meat that I have been most keen to experiment with.  I generally do not eat a great deal of meat. I can easily go for a couple of days without eating any meat at all. When I do eat meat, I want it to be good. I want to know where it has come from, and I want to know that it has been well reared and is sustainable. It really does have to be British. I do not want to eat imported meat. Taking these factors into account, the meat for me has to be game.

I’ve always enjoyed game. Mainly venison, pheasant, partridge and rabbit have appeared on my table recently. Game is very easy to source. A good quality local butcher should be able to help, and I’ve noticed my local Waitrose sells some game now, and Marks and Spencer sold game in their food halls for the first time this year, too. Part of the appeal of game is that I know it is local, sustainable, wild and free range. It’s also very healthy, lean meat. And one of the biggest perks of all; it’s cheap. My local butcher sells a brace of pheasant for £7. Compare that to the price of free-range chicken, and it’s roughly half the price.

Game is currently enjoying a renaissance of sorts. What was once meat reserved for special occasions, game is now firmly established as an economical and sustainable meat to be enjoyed every day and at special occasions alike. It’s not just me who enjoys game, too. I recently met up with a number of well-known chefs who love to cook with game; Valentine Warner, Mark Hix and Bryn Williams.

Valentine Warner

At a recent lunch hosted by Valentine Warner to celebrate British game, I was bowled over by his passion for British game. A strong supporter of British produce, Valentine believes that game is exactly that we should be eating more of. In fact, he introduced us to a fantastic array of game served for lunch at Mark Hix’s excellent restaurant, Hix Oyster and Chop House, in London.

We were treated to a delicious lunch of more unusual meats, including teal, deer, mallard and woodcock.  Although these are much more unusual meats, I have found them all available at my local farmers market in recent weeks.

Valentine and Mark both feature numerous recipes using game in their cookery books. One of my favourites is Valentine’s recipe for Venison curry from his fantastic new book, The Good Table, published by Mitchell Beazley, who have very kindly allowed me to share it with you here. It’s a totally delicious curry, which is gluten free and can easily be made dairy free, too.

Valentine's Venison Curry (thanks to Mitchell Beazley for the photo)

Venison curry

On a trip to Sri Lanka, I stopped for lunch at a lean-to with a couple of grubby plastic chairs and tables set before it. Behind a small gas stove were a scrawny man and his wife. I asked what I could have and the vendor immediately did a bizarre impression of some creature, which I took time to realise was a deer. I gave him a nod and a thumbs up. A little dish arrived with small pieces of the tenderest meat bathed in a sharp, rich red gravy covered with toasted shavings of coconut. It was delicious and unbelievably hot, by which I mean it tore off the lid of my head.

As I chased the last smear across the plate with a kind of sour pancake, the police arrived on the scene and immediately started poking around the couple’s field kitchen. One of the officers came up to me and, in English, asked: ‘What it is are you having?’ ‘Lunch’, I replied. ‘No’ he said pointing at the plate, and so I told him, as I had been, that it was ‘of the forest’, very good too, and he was welcome to join me for lunch.

It turned out that cheffy was also a poacher and I had just unwittingly enjoyed a very small and unfortunately endangered miniature deer. Cook and wife were taken away with a coolbox full of, no doubt, evidence and the policeman demanded I settle the bill with him. I felt a certain sympathy for the cook, as obviously hand-to-mouth applied to not just his job but his whole life, yet as a poacher, surely, it was a bit silly to reveal the true nature of his incriminating ingredients.

The meat was tender because it was cooked very briefly rather than the tenderness that results from a long, slow cook. Therefore, it is essential that you do not overcook the meat. Venison has next to no fat and fillet will seize up suddenly and go past the point of no return. Ghee is Indian clarified butter and is widely available from shops and supermarkets. Coconut water is not the same as the coconut milk found in a can but the water that is in the centre of a fresh coconut.

Recipe:

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  •  A large handful of shaved dried coconut or 3 tablespoons unsweetened desiccated coconut
  •  40g ghee, butter or olive oil
  •  2 small red onions, finely chopped
  •  1 cinnamon stick (about 4cm long)
  •  6 black peppercorns
  •  2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  •  1 large thumb-sized piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  •  1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
  •  4 cloves
  •  1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  •  2½ teaspoons hot chile powder
  •  1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  •  ¼ star anise
  •  ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  •  1 teaspoon garam masala
  •  3 tablespoons tomato purée
  •  500g venison fillet (be it red, fallow, sika, roe or muntjac), cut into medium cubes
  •  300ml coconut water or water
  •  juice of ½ lime
  •  shredded coriander leaves, to garnish
  •  rice, paratha or naan bread, to serve

Method:

In a dry frying pan, gently toast the coconut until you notice the first signs of it colouring. Allow to cool.

Melt the ghee or butter in a wok or pan (the lighter and thinner the metal, the better, as it is closer to using Indian cookware such as a balti). Throw in the onions and cook fairly briskly with the cinnamon and peppercorns until softened and deep golden, taking care not to burn them.

Using a pestle and mortar, or blender, crush the garlic, ginger, salt and all the remaining spices into a fine paste and combine with the tomato purée.

Add the curry paste to the onions and fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Do not let it burn. Add the meat and briskly sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the coconut water or water and lime juice and bring to a rapid simmer for 4 minutes, or until you have a thickish gravy. Remove from the heat and scatter with the coconut and coriander. Serve with rice, paratha or naan bread.

Game is more and more readily available nowadays. My local butchers are very knowledgeable and helpful, selling local game for reasonable prices and advising on how best to cook it. Game is not difficult to cook and is actually very safe to eat. It is also becoming a feature of more and more restaurant menus lately, too. I recently visited Bryn William’s restaurant, Odette’s in London, where I enjoyed a delicious lunch. Bryn regularly features British game on his menus, as a passionate supporter of British game. His motto, he told me, is to “use it or lose it”. This was a lunch I recently went to with a group of fantastic food bloggers. You can here us talking about game here.

Bryn Williams and me (thanks to Vanessa Kimbell for the photo)

I encourage you wholeheartedly to try and get hold of game when you can. Stock up now, freeze it, and you will have many fantastic meals at your fingertips over the coming weeks and months.

My personal blog features some every day recipes using game, which you can find here.

Thank you to Game to Eat for inviting me to this fantastic event, and to Mitchell Beazley for allowing me to publish Valentine’s recipe.

For further information take a look at these websites:

Game to Eat http://www.gametoeat.co.uk/

The Good Table http://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Table-Valentine-Warner/dp/1845335406/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327943941&sr=8-1

Rose Prince – Wild at Heart http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/8863187/Wild-at-heart-Game-recipes.html

Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary http://charlotteskitchendiary.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/quick-lunches-for-one-roasted-vegetable-pasta-with-venison-salami/

 


17
Jan 12

Celebrating the best in British food

It was a great thrill to receive tickets to attend this year’s BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards. It is, to my mind, of great importance that the BBC champion independent and artisanal food producers from farm to fork, so to speak, and I took great interest in finding out more about the nominees, spanning from cheese makers, to a micro brewery in Bristol. For a full list of nominees, take a look at the Food and Farming Awards website here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/ffa/2011/

The awards were recorded in Birmingham at the NEC, at the same time as the BBC Good Food Show, so it was an excellent opportunity to take a good look around the show at the same time. It’s always a great opportunity to spot many celebrity chefs and television presenters, and this trip was no exception. I always love to catch up with friends and see what new food producers are up to at these shows.

Each award was presented by a well known figure; with those presenting including Rick Stein, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Richard Corrigan and Adam Henson from Countryfile.

Rick Stein chatting to Sheila Dillon on stage

 

All of the awards were tremendously well-deserved and indeed so were those of the runners up. There are many genuinely exciting and innovative food producers, farmers, cooperative owners and artisans all over the British Isles, and it’s great to celebrate the valuable work they do.

I chatted to Richard Corrigan after the awards, who was just bubbling with excitement about the quality, skill and expertise which goes into the production of so many wonderful foods. We talked about just how far this has come on in recent years, and how the quality of so many foods being produced in the UK easily rival any being made abroad nowadays. Particularly so on the cheese front. You can here Richard talk about the Loch Arthur Creamery cheese makers on BBC iplayer, which won the Best Food Producer website.

Adam Henson chatting to me

 

Adam Henson and I discussed the changes in farming which have taken place in recent years, including the focus on sustainability and the positive impact this can have on farmers. I was also lucky enough to chat with Adrian Dolby, runner up in the Farmer of the Year Award, and his delightful wife. The work they do on the Barrington Park Estate is tremendously valuable.

I was so thrilled to have the chance to chat to some of the winners and runners up after the awards ceremony. The lovely ladies at Alder Tree Fruit Ices told me about their lovely products (which were absolutely delicious, my blackcurrant fruit ice disappeared in no time). They are predominantly a fruit farm, who use home grown seasonal fruits in all their ices. They, I think, are destined for great things.

I tried some sensational bread from Golspie Mill (runner up in the Best Food Producer category) whilst chatting to the lovely Wayne Wright, a passionate chef at Harper Adams Community College. An inspirational chef, with a great philosophy and winner of the Best Public Caterer Award.

Wayne Wright and his award

 

Next time we go on holiday to the Lake District, we will be stopping off in Bolton, that’s for certain. Their sensational market won the Best Food Market Award. All I can say is that I wish there were more food markets like this. A great community market, where people can actually go to do their weekly shop! I’m all for farmers markets and there are so many excellent ones around, but the issue I have is with the cost of some of the products on sale. It’s just not realistic for very many people to buy a significant proportion of their weekly shop there. Bolton Market is different, selling great value, local produce and is, as a result, really well supported by the local community. Below is Malcom Veigas from Bolton Council, who accepted the award.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was the deserving winner of the BBC Food Champion of the Year Award, for the Hugh’s Fish Fight campaign, working tirelessly to change the rules and regulations surrounding fishing quotas and fishing wastage. We were shown a clip from the television campaign which Hugh fronted to highlight the issue, and I was truly horrified by the practices which are in place, which have to be followed defying common sense or logic.

Valentine looking very jolly

Finally, I chatted to Valentine Warner, a great champion of British produce, who was really excited about the awards and what they mean, and is very keen to support the work of BBC Radio 4 in running the awards.

Please do take a look at the nominees and winners and remember…support local when you can!

Finally for this time, some more of my favourite soup recipes. They are both great ways to use up any unloved vegetables in your fridge.

Leek and Potato Soup

My leek and potato soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 spanish onion, diced
  • 225g/8oz potatoes, cubed (I like King Edward or Maris Piper)
  • 2 medium leeks, sliced thinly
  • 1.2 litres/2 pints vegetable or chicken stock
  • 150ml/5fl oz double cream or crème fraîche (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the onions, potatoes and leeks. Cook gently for around 15 minutes until the vegetables soften.
  • Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Season well with salt and pepper and simmer for another 20 minutes or so. I like the potato to be really soft.
  • Blitz a blender until smooth. I use my Cuisinart blender on the high function. If using cream or crème fraîche, stir this through now.

N.B. I made this soup dairy free and it worked very well for a vegan option.

Carrot and fresh coriander soup

Ingredients:

  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1 spanish onion, chopped
  • 450g carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1.2 litres vegetable stock
  • Chopped fresh coriander
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions, carrots and garlic, sauté until they are soft, but take care for them not to colour
  • Add the ground coriander and plenty of seasoning
  • Add the stock and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for around  20mins or until the carrots are really tender.
  • Stir in the fresh coriander.
  • Blend the soup, add the lemon juice and serve

9
Jan 12

New year, new start

Happy New Year! Sorry for the lack of blog posts recently. I have been working on some exciting new projects. For more information, you can see my personal blog, here.

I hope you all had a good Christmas. I certainly did, although having enjoyed so much good food over the last, well, month, I am turning my attention to some healthier recipes to start the year.

Although I don’t have any food allergies, I have plenty of experience at cooking for intolerances, as my boyfriend has been allergic to wheat, gluten and dairy for the last eight years. Yes, we eat freefrom when we are together, but I don’t always stick to it, so I am going to completely avoid gluten and dairy for the month of January. And sugar too, as running my own cake company, Go Free Foods, means that I eat more sweet things than I should. So, I will keep you updated on my progress. I want to see if I feel any different. Better? Worse? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I have been focusing on eating more vegetables. I always get at least my 5 a day as I just adore fruit. But I do think I need to cut back a bit and eat more vegetables instead. I’ve given up drinking fruit juice too. I learnt that fruit juice is processed as sugar by the body, which really surprised me. Buying fresh, natural juices, as I was, I thought they were doing me good, but in fact, your body needs the fibre as well, so as not to process the juice as sugar, so it is always best to stick to whole fruit where you can.

One of my favourite ways to eat vegetables is in soups. Although I am rather fussy about the soups that I like and dislike. I hate anything too watery as it just feels too insubstantial, but don’t like thick, creamy soups either. So below are two of my favourite soup recipes. They are simple, economical and seasonal to make. I use my Cuisinart blender to blitz the soup as it works so well. I often use the puree function, which I find gives and even smoother result.

My Cuisinart blender - hard to make soup making look glamourous

 

Starting out with some nice, fresh ingredients

 

Although these recipes are some of my favourites, I cannot claim any credit for the recipes, which come by way of my lovely neighbour, Nickie, from her charity cookery book entitled With love from our kitchens and Rose Prince’s excellent The New English Table.

The finished product, which I had for lunch

Tomato, apple and celery soup from Nickie’s kitchen

Ingredients:

100g onions, finely chopped

150g tomatoes, quartered

150g celery, cut into 2” lengths

150g apples, cored and quartered (I used Cox’s, unpeeled)

50g butter or 4 tbsp olive oil

1 pint chicken or vegetable stock

Method:

1)   Melt the butter in a large pan or add the olive oil to the pan

2)   Add the onions and cook gently

3)   Add all the fruit and vegetables to the pan and cover with a well-fitting lid

4)   Leave for 1 hour to simmer gently

5)   After an hour, the vegetables should be nice and soft.

6)   Add the stock

7)   Blitz until smooth in a food processor

8)   You can sieve the soup for a smoother finish, but I prefer not to, just blend really well.

Chestnut and Honey Soup, from The New English Table by Rose Prince

Chestnut and honey soup

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I used rapeseed today)

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

½ large swede, cut into chunks

1 large pinch dried thyme

200g chestnuts (I used frozen from Waitrose, but you could use vacuum packed)

2 pints chicken or vegetable stock

1 tablespoon honey (any kind)

Method:

1)   Heat the oil in a large pan

2)   Add all the vegetables and cook gently until they are tender. Do not let them brown

3)   Add the thyme and chestnuts, pour in the stock and leave to simmer until the vegetables are tender

4)   Blend until smooth and then stir in the honey.

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