Hearty Venison Casserole with Star Anise, Nutmeg and Pink Peppercorns

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Our desire for comfort food begins to kick in around Autumn. For me this is a time to start cooking stews and casseroles – meals that are warming after a long walk in the fresh air. The game season is upon us so it is easy to pick up grouse, partridge, pheasant, snipe, rabbit and also venison. Game is extremely lean and surprising good value, so there tends not to be a week that goes by when my family do not eat some form of game over the Autumn/Winter months.  I’ll be putting up some more game recipes with a spiced twist over the coming weeks to give you some ideas on how to cook it.

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Unlike other game, venison doesn’t actually taste particularly ‘gamey’ and approximates beef. It is however far leaner and has more protein than any other red meat and is packed full of vitamin B’s.  So from a health perspective, it’s a great red meat to include in your diet. Now is the time to buy wild venison as they are are in good shape from their summer feeding, however, farmed venison is available year round.

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This recipe is a homegrown and has a delicious taste to it resonating from the star anise, nutmeg and pink peppercorns that work so well with the venison, mushrooms and red wine gravy. It’s different for sure but surprisingly works really well, so it has become a household staple recipe for us. Eaten warm,with crusty bread and a glass of red wine by a roaring fire, ok maybe I’m getting carried away but you get the picture, and you too will feel a warm happy glow as it nourishes your body. So try it and let me now what you think. If you have never tried venison before give it a go, you will be very pleasantly surprised by how good and lean it is. Just get those Bambi thoughts out of your head!

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Hearty Venison Casserole with Star Anise, Nutmeg and Pink Peppercorns

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

3 star anise

2 onions, finely chopped

1kg venison, diced

3 carrots, chopped into 1 inch pieces

3 turnips, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1tsp heaped pink peppercorns and a few extra to garnish

175ml red wine (1 small glass)

175ml vegetable stock

200g mushrooms, quartered

crusty loaf, to serve

1. Place the olive oil and butter in a casserole pot. When it is hot add the star anise and after 20 seconds add the onions and lower the heat slightly so they do not burn.

2. When the onions have softened add the venison, carrots, turnips* nutmeg and pink peppercorns and give a good stir. Leave to brown for a few 5 minutes, stirring and turning the meat over at intervals.

3. Add the red wine and vegetable stock and turn the heat up for 10 minutes, before reducing the heat to a simmer for a further 40 minutes or until the carrots have softened and the venison is cooked. In the last ten minutes add the mushrooms and stir into the casserole.

4. Serve warm in bowls with an extra scattering of pink peppercorns, crusty bread on the side and a glass of red wine.

-The reason for adding 1 tbsp of butter is to help keep the venison moist. As it is such a lean meat without a little help from fat it will dry out!

*I have added turnip since I have made this version and I find it works really well. 

-You can also add potatoes to the pot if you want to avoid crusty bread.

-Best to avoid eating the thistle!


Slow Cooked Lamb with Tomatoes, Dried Fruit and Spices

Winter time calls for hearty stews, casseroles and tagines to lift the spirits and bring joy, warmth and wonderful cooking smells into the home. You can cook them in advance and they are also perfect for leftovers the next day. Cooking with dried fruit divides opinion, but I for one am a huge fan and if someone really dislikes prunes, apricots or raisins I suppose they could easily pick them out so as to avoid eating them, but in many respects I feel they would kind of be missing the point. I think the fruit adds to the depth of flavour and gives it a touch of sweetness that makes this dish stand out from the crowd.

I don’t have a proper tagine dish so I cook mine initially in my Le creuset pot and then transfer it to two oven proof dishes. It works equally well with rice, which you can cook with a couple of cardamom pods, so as to make the dish more exotic, or couscous with a sprinkling of roasted almonds. I have added a chilli to the dish, naturally, but this is optional and tastes equally delicious without.

The amount I cooked was more than sufficient for a large group, so just divide by 2 for a family of 4/5.

Slow Cooked Lamb with Tomatoes, Dried Fruit and Spices

Adapted from a similar recipe by Tana Ramsay’s Family Kitchen

Serves 6

3 tbsp olive oil

1.6kg lamb cut into bite sized portions

2 inch ginger, grated

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red chilli, chopped

6 spring onions

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground cumin

1.5 pints chicken stock

32 vine cherry tomatoes

handful of fresh thyme

15 dried apricots

10 pitted prunes, cut in half

50g/4oz raisins

handful of fresh coriander, chopped

rock salt, sprinkling

1) Preheat the oven to 160 degrees

2) Add  2 tbsp olive oil to a deep cooking pot and gently fry the ginger, garlic, chilli and spring onions for a couple of minutes.

3) Place the lamb into the pot and stir gently so that all the lamb begins to cook and change colour from a deep red to a lighter brown. This will take around 6 minutes. Once the lamb has changed colour add the rest of the spices and really stir into the lamb. Add the stock and then transfer into one or two oven proof dishes and place in the oven for 1 hour.

4) Whilst the lamb is cooking place the vine tomatoes in a separate oven proof dish with a few sprigs of thyme, a little olive oil and a sprinkling of rock salt. Place into the oven for 30 minutes so as to intensify the flavour.

5) When the oven roasted tomatoes have finished cooking add these, along with the dried fruits, a small handful of chopped coriander to the main dish and cook for a further 30 minutes. Serve immediately with a little extra fresh coriander sprinkled on top and either rice or couscous on the side.