Christmas Casserole/Pie filling…

A message for the idiot Baroness Jenkin – many of us poor people can cook, and bloody well, too. The wealthiest family I’ve known, though, lived on ready-meals because no-one wanted to be their cook and they’d never had to learn to cook for themselves. They also had their dinner parties catered, something of a cop-out, whereas I (along with everyone I knew), used to embrace the chance to show off our skills – it was a point of honour not to have a bin full of M&S empties!

Anyway…

I finally got this made two days ago, though it took most of the day and was a pretty damn scary experience, with the pain and the exhaustion.

When I’m cooking I expect a lot of the time to be taken up with rest breaks (one reason why cooking an evening meal is out of the question – it would just take too long), but yesterday stood my normal routine on its head – it was more a long rest interspersed with cooking breaks.

I went back to basics with this. Although I published a list of ingredients here a few days ago, the recipe didn’t – and right now still doesn’t – exist. I did what I do best – put it together on the fly. This used to annoy the hell out of my ex, who never really got the hang of cooking (that’s OK, I was more than happy to do it), and could never understand how I could pull a recipe out of my head, rather than out of a book. As I’ve said before, I don’t entirely understand the mechanism either – I just have a knack for it, for knowing what flavours and textures will work together, and this is an example of how well that works at its best.

There were a few diversions from the plan I outlined a few days ago but I more or less stuck to it. At one point auto-pilot kicked in and I stuck in a couple of organic veg stock cubes without thinking, even though I wanted to avoid that, so I then had to balance those with some Knorr Touch of Taste Beef, and Chicken, flavours. Mind you, the venison was of such poor quality and, ultimately, so little of it, boosting the stock would have been necessary anyway.

There was a lot of waste on the venison – this photo shows why:-

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This raggedly hacked-up crap is, according to Tesco, supposed to be 4 shoulder steaks – I’ve seen better roadkill. All that thick connective tissue had to be cut out. The very thin stuff will mostly disappear with long, slow, cooking, but not the thick stuff – that has to go. What looks like marbling is also connective tissue needing surgery – there is no fat marbling on venison. By the time the surgery was over, inevitably, good though I am with a knife, some meat was unavoidably lost. Total waste was around 20%.

To make it easier I decided against making meatballs. I cut up the pork liver into bite-sized pieces (it was a very good pack, with little plumbing to be removed, and nicely sliced too – a rare event), and washed it well to remove as much blood as possible (it gives the gravy a granular texture that I didn’t want in this dish).

The sausages – half a dozen Sainsbury’s Cumberland – I skinned and broke each into 4 pieces which were deep-fried (for speed), until well browned, and added to the pot. I left them rough rather than waste time forming them into balls (as they always revert to the shape of bits of sausage), so that they had a pleasingly gnarly look when fried.

To the meat-fest I added cherries, a pack of mixed, sour and sweet, and half a bag of sour, plus some Deglet Nour dates, and chestnuts. I decided against the dried apricots as I didn’t want it over-sweet, but later changed my mind.

The root veg were as advertised, as were the alliums with the exception of the dried leeks, which I forgot. No big deal.

As for the herbs, the rosemary was fine so I put in the finely chopped leaves from two bushy stalks, plus another stalk near the end to perk it up (I bought two packs – what’s left will be frozen with a little olive oil). The thyme I soaked and just used the infusion – a good decision as even after soaking for a couple of hours it remained remorselessly spiky. I don’t know what’s happening with Schwartz dried herbs – first their rosemary, and now their thyme refuse to soften. I also forgot the garlic, so I put in some garlic granules instead – not as good but better than none at all.

So, the recipe:-

Makes 4 litres, 9 single-portion foil trays.

2 packs (a notional 500g) Tesco Venison Shoulder Steaks, trimmed, diced, and browned in a little olive oil and butter

4 fat Sweet Spear carrots or 6 of the usual skinny type, peeled and sliced

Swede, diced, about the same amount

Celeriac, ditto

4 large Echalion shallots

7g Clementine peel, finely chopped (use a Rex peeler to avoid the bitter pith)

3 or 4 peeled garlic cloves (depending on how much you like garlic). Pop into the pot whole. At the end, remove, mash with a little of the liquid and return to the pot – stir in. This will give you a gentle garlic hit – it won’t bite.

2 bushy sprigs of rosemary – leaves only – finely chopped

1 bushy sprig of rosemary – leaves only – set aside (do not chop yet)

3 sprigs of fresh thyme left whole

1 tablespoon Sharwood’s rich soy sauce

1 tablespoon HP Sauce

2 Kallo organic vegetable cubes

4 tablespoons Knorr Touch of Taste Chicken

2 tablespoons Knorr Touch of Taste Beef

500g Pigs’ Liver, large veins/arteries removed, and cut in bite-sized pieces (this stuff is staggeringly cheap; if you need extra protein, like me, this is a very good, affordable source, about £2 a kilo or less)

1 pack Sainsbury’s Cumberland sausages, skinned and broken into 4 pieces each (if using proper Cumberland, 2 feet, formed into bite-sizes balls). Deep-fry until well browned.

1 rounded tablespoon Marigold Bouillon powder (add towards the end if needed)

(That might look like a lot for stock, but trust me, it works! You can also add more Touch of Taste, keeping the proportions similar, should you feel the need. Or use less, of course – your call.)

100g mixed organic sour and sweet cherries

50g organic sour cherries 

15 Deglet Nour dates, each cut into 3 (try Sainsbury’s or Tesco)

250g Merchant Gourmet whole chestnuts, each one halved

In my veggie days I’d have gone for Clement Faugier canned whole chestnuts – I think they’re rather better quality.

8 dried apricots, cut into slivers then finely chopped. I prefer the yellow ones as the natural, unsulphured, brown ones don’t keep well. The “sulphur” is sodium metabisulphite, which is destroyed by cooking so won’t cause any problems for asthmatics (like me).

Extra virgin olive oil and clarified butter, for frying

As ever, Maldon Sea Salt and Schwartz black pepper to taste

Beef stock works well with venison, and I had a bag of it in the freezer, so in it went. If you don’t have any, don’t worry about it, just tweak the Touch of Taste until it suits you. As I’ve said before, by combining stock-making ingredients (vegetable, beef, and chicken), from different manufacturers, you avoid the “Oh god, Oxo!” moments, and can come up with a blend to suit almost any main ingredient – the trick is not to overwhelm it, let it shine through. Stock should enhance, not obliterate.

NB: I said I was going to add a splash of sweet sherry – turned out I didn’t have any. Just as well, really – it might have been a tad overwhelming. It’s really not short on taste! I had a portion tonight (Monday) – it really is amazingly good, and the main, and many of the secondary, flavours stay quite distinct, which is what I was aiming for. The occasional intense hit of orange from the Clementine peel, for example, is quite spectacular.

The Method – can wait. It’s five past midnight and I’ve been up, much against my will, since 04.00, driven from my bed by a bout of Pulmonary Oedema. So, in the hope of not having a repeat performance, I’m off back to bed.

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Morning all!

It’s now Tuesday, 08.15, and somewhere between my bed and this computer I cut the tip of my left index finger to ribbons. How, or where, I have no idea – I didn’t even know until my hand was wet with blood. Anyway, on with the show…

Method:-

The first thing I did was prep the veg. A few weeks ago I bought four 2-litre stainless steel bowls in the Nisbets sale. These are perfect for prep, and much easier to keep clean than the plastic bowls they replace.

Anyway, prepping the veg first, followed by the meat, means you don’t have to clean up after the meat so that you can do the veg. Do the meat last and you only have to scrub and sterilise once, at the end.

So prep the veg as shown, set aside then trim up the and brown the venison in a little olive oil and clarified butter (you’ll need to do it in at least three batches. If it’s anything like mine (Sainsbury’s venison, in October, was much better quality and Waitrose, last year, had the edge on variety), you’ll have to cut out all but the most delicate of the connective tissue (the fine, silvery, membrane will cook out to a thin, gelatinous, layer which is barely noticeable.

Sweat off the shallots in a little olive oil until soft but not browned (ignore those tedious people who say you shouldn’t cook with extra virgin oil as you lose the flavour; you don’t lose all of it!), adding the prepped root veg towards the end just to heat it through.

Make a couple of hollows in the hot veg and pop in the Kallo stock cubes. Cover with the veg and wait for 5 or 10 minutes, then stir the softened cubes into the veg.

Add everything down to and including the Touch of Taste Beef, with enough boiling water to cover, and stir well. Bring up to boiling point, pop on the lid and reduce to a simmer.

While that’s cooking, skin** and break up the sausages, brown in the deep fryer (or in about half an inch of oil in a frying pan if you don’t have a fryer). Don’t worry about cooking them through, just as long as they’re browned and they won’t fall to pieces.

**Lay the sausage flat on your hand and run the edge of a very sharp knife along its length then peeling the skin off. Nigel Slater, among others, will tell you to squeeze the meat from the skins. Good luck doing that, (A) It’s messy, (B) it doesn’t work well.

Also, prep the liver. You only need to cut out the largest of the tubes and even that’s not vital. The veins and arteries go hard when liver is fried, but pigs’ liver is usually casseroled (well, it is in my kitchen, anyway), and the plumbing will soften nicely.

When the carrots are starting to soften, add the liver and sausages, plus the fruit (leave the cherries whole), and chestnuts.

Continue to simmer until the carrots are soft, by which time everything else will be cooked too. Leave to go cold.

At this point I usually say leave it in the fridge overnight for the flavours to snuggle up and get to know each other. I left this for a day and two nights, as I was wiped out the following day, and I’m sure it benefited from it.

So however long you leave it, warm it just a little so it flows easily, then strain off the liquid into a pan, and return the solids to the pot, Whisk 3 heaped tablespoons of plain flour into the stock, until smooth, then gently reheat, continuing to whisk, until it reaches boiling point, then pour it back into the pot through a sieve, to catch any lumps. Scrape the underside of the sieve, discard any lumps (there should be very few, if any at all), and stir the pot well, but gently so as not to break up the contents.

Bring up to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes to cook out the flour. Taste – carefully, it’s hot – and adjust the flavour with |Marigold and Touch of Taste if/as needed, and the seasoning too, with the sea salt and black pepper. One last stir, a few minutes to cook out the added stock ingredients, and you’re done.

Made as described, this yielded exactly 4 litres – 9 individual foil dishes for the freezer, one of which I ate immediately, and it was fantastic.

The bad news – there’s quite a bit of work involved, though nothing too challenging. Even so, it gets 5 Spoonie spoons.**

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**These are usually based on how making it affects me which, in this case, was pretty badly. I have to say, though, that I was far from at my best that day so you might fare better.

 

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