Christmas – the Final Foodie Plan. . .

I said, previously, that I’d make a Game Cobbler for Christmas but, as my health is still dismal (though slowly improving), I think I need to go for something a little different which, as well as providing a seasonal treat, will feed me for longer.

The basic principle remains the same, but what I’ll make is perhaps half a dozen individual game pies, most destined  for the freezer, with the hope that the crisp and fluffy suet crust (crisp on top, fluffy beneath where it kisses the gravy), will survive freezing.

The recipe is yet to be finalised, but – naturally – will be based on a rich game stew (venison, partridge, pheasant – a mixed pack from Waitrose), which, harking back to past traditions, will be perked up with fruit (dates for sweetness and a zing from a mix of sweet and sour cherries). No idea if dates and cherries are traditional of themselves; I rather doubt it, but they’re what’s going in, along with black olives – a salt note to counter the sweetness – and some roasted butternut squash.There will be roasted sausage meat balls, too, from outdoor reared pigs, to add a little fat to the austere game, as well as help the game go further as, indeed, will all that fruit, plus shallots and carrots too (yep, I know game pie is supposed to be wall to wall meat, but this is my take on it, and, so far, I like how it feels).

There will be spicing, too – a blast of Harissa is tempting but it’ll more likely be the familiar, gentle, warmth of my favourite combination of sweet paprika and ground coriander, rather than the former’s more in-yer-face heat. Paprika will go well with the fruit content too, I think, and coriander certainly will.

I also have plenty of cheese – crumbly, white Cheshire, sleek Hawes Wensleydale, and pungent Long Clawson Stilton (lots), as well as some McLelland’s Seriously Strong Cheddar (which really isn’t, but it’s still a decent cheese), as well as half a dozen pots of Longley Farm cottage cheese.

When it comes to plain cottage cheese, this is as good as it gets and no, it is not low fat! They do have a low fat version, but the standard 6% fat is what I want – cottage cheese, like all cheese, should be about enjoyment, not punishment. If fat worries you, eat the good stuff, but less of it. You’ll enjoy it more.

I’ve also laid in a good variety of crackers to eat with the cheese, and hopefully I’ll be able to make some bread too – it’s far too long since I was able to do that – and to that end I’ve got a sourdough culture started. I’ve long since given up on conventional sourdough – life’s too short – but I find that incorporating the entire culture into a 70% organic white, 30% wholemeal organic rye loaf gives a very acceptable result.

I also got a small, unsmoked, gammon joint to roast. Being small, it’ll be prone to shrinkage, so I’m going to marinate it first, in white wine with a few aromatics and a little treacle, in an attempt to reduce that problem and also infuse it with a little more flavour.

All of that should take me comfortably through to the New Year.

***

Yesterday, I managed to get back in the kitchen for the first time since getting out of hospital (my last kitchen adventure put me IN hospital!), and this time I appear to have survived the experience, with a pot of very nice bean and veg soup to show for it – a vision in green (herbs and greens), and gold (lots of Sweet Spear carrots, it looks as good as it tastes. Well, OK – since I added the cannellini beans, more green and beige than green and gold, but what the hell, a little poetic licence never hurt anyone!

The recipe, if anyone’s interested  (quantities depend on how much you’re making – this makes 3 litres):-

2 hand-sized slices of  Celeriac, 4mm thick, finely diced

4 to 6 (depending on how thick they are), Sainsbury’s Sweet Spear carrots, sliced

3 good-sized Echalion shallots, roughly chopped

3 strong cooking onions (Sainsbury’s), ditto

4 to 6 Brussels sprouts, depending on size, trimmed, halved and shredded (or a couple of pak choi)

1 tablespoon ground coriander

Small handful of chopped coriander leaf added early

2 Kallo organic veg stock cubes

A generous knob of butter

A good splash of olive oil

2 cans Napolina Cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

A little Marigold stock powder, to taste

2 tablespoons plain flour. I use bread flour, because it lives on my worktop and is always available.  The purpose is simply to give the soup a little silky smoothness to improve the mouth feel, not to thicken it. You could use corn flour but many of us, including me, secrete an enzyme in our saliva that breaks down corn starch, causing anything thickened with it to revert to its original watery texture. This is why I always use wheat flour for adjusting the texture of stocks and sauces. If you’re a coeliac, try potato starch instead.

Maldon Sea Salt flakes (the best seasoning for veggie dishes) and black pepper, to taste.

A second, rather more generous, handful of chopped coriander leaf

***

Melt the butter in the oil and sweat off the veg, except for the sprouts, until the onions and shallots are soft but not coloured, then stir in the ground coriander and the flour, adding a little more oil if needed. Cook out for about 5 minutes, stirring several times so it doesn’t stick. Pour in a little boiling water, stirring constantly. When smooth, half-fill the pan with boiling water, add the dissolved stock cubes and the coriander leaf, stir well, cover, and simmer until the veggies are almost soft, then add the sprouts.

Bring back to the simmer, cook the sprouts for about 5 minutes then add the beans and gently heat through.

Check and adjust the seasoning, adding a little Marigold, too, if you think it needs it (remember Marigold is salty).

Stir in the second batch of coriander leaf, and set aside to cool, then refrigerate until the following day, to give the flavours time to snuggle up and get to know each other in the dark – all soups and stews benefit from this.

And we’re done…

Reheat and serve when ready.

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