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!


Musakhan – Palestinian Roasted Chicken with Sumac

I wanted to introduce you to a wonderful bold spice that is probably unfamiliar to some of you.

Step forward, Sumac. 

This wonderfully flavoursome spice derives from the berry of a plant called ‘Rhus Coriaria’ that ranges from bright red to plum in colour and is grown wild throughout the Middle East and some parts of the Mediterranean. Whilst you can buy the berry whole, it is more often purchased dried coarsely or finely ground. The Romans used it as a souring agent as it has similarities to lemons in its tangy, tart taste.

Whilst ambling around the spice market in Turkey this summer, I purchased some to last me for quite some time.  However, like most things these days it is also available closer to home and can be purchased at most supermarkets or Middle Eastern food stores.

So as to appreciate fully the qualities of the spice I thought a straightforward version of the ubiquitous Palestinian dish,  Musakhan, would be a great place to start. The ingredients are simple and yet make a most appetising meal that can be enjoyed by all the family. It’s definitely a meal that you have to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in, so as to speak, and it requires you to eat it ideally with your fingers – far more satisfying. A number of the recipes for this dish talk about the  sumac chicken and onions (and sometimes also allspice and saffron!) on a flat bread that then gets toasted and scattered with toasted pine nuts, but I thought I would create the dish in a wrap form to make it easier to pick up and eat. I leave it to you to consume in either the flat or rolled form, both will be equally delicious I assure you.

Musakhan

Adapted from moodfoodblog.com

1 whole chicken

75g sumac

6 onions (mix of red and white ideally), thinly sliced

3 tbsp olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

100ml chicken stock

salt and pepper

10-12 Middle Eastern flat bread

1. Place the half the sumac, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper over the chicken and leave to marinade for a few hours or overnight

2. Preheat an oven to 180 degree and roast the chicken for 1 hour or until cooked

3. Meanwhile, place the rest of the olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onions along with the rest of the sumac until the onions are  soft

4. Add the chicken stock to the onions and stir in thoroughly for a couple of minutes

5. When the roast chicken is cooked leave to cool slightly and then shred the chicken, using a fork, from the carcass. There will be lots of juices from the chicken and sumac so place these into a dish with the shredded chicken.

If you want to keep the remains of the carcass you could make this chicken soup.

6. On the Middle Eastern flat breads place the shredded chicken, soft juicy onions and wrap tightly and place back into the oven for a couple of minutes to heat through. Then serve immediately with a quarter of lemon on the side.

As an alternative you could serve the shredded chicken hot and warm up the flat breads and let your guests serve themselves and create their own wraps, in the same way that you would make your own duck spring roll!

I served mine with a green salad which was full of olives, gherkins and tomatoes. A garlicky yoghurt or raita would also work exceptionally well.

Smother the uncooked chicken with the sumac, olive oil, lemon, pepper and salt and leave to marinade for a couple of hours or if you are really well planned, overnight! I love the bright redness of the spice.

Shred the roasted chicken and mix it with all the juices that have come from the roasting. The taste is divine.

Be careful not to overfill or you will find it hard to warp and then hold and eat.

The finished product. Roasted chicken with sumac, lemon and onion wrap. They are totally addictive and I assure you it is easy to polish off quite a few.


Embracing Autumn and Chutney Making

Autumn has definitely arrived here in England and I for one LOVE the season.

10 reasons to embrace autumn:

1) The dramatic burnt orange, golden and red leaves on the trees is breathtakingly beautiful and it always manages to impress me with its vibrant hue.

2) Kicking the crisp fallen leaves as you walk gives us all – old and young alike – that inner thrill.

3) Roaring fires to warm up by whilst drinking hot chocolate or warm apple cider.

4) Big warm jumpers to keep us roasty toasty. Everyone looks great in autumn fashion.

5) Harvest Festival, Bonfire Night, Halloween and everything that is associated with them.

6) Hearty comfort food such as casserole, stews and soups become regular staples.

7) The smell of woodsmoke – it has to be one of my all time favourite smells.

8) Foraging for blackberries, crab apples, rose hips, elderberries

9) Eating all the foods that are now in season: the above as well as, apples (cox, gala, spartan, egremont, russet), celery, endive, mussels, kale, fennel, spinach, beans, leeks, beetroot, swede, pumpkin, spring onions, carrots, turnips, cauliflower, squash cabbage (autumn, red, spring green, winter white and savoy), marrow, potatoes and parsnips

10) Making chutneys, pickles and preserves.

What do you like most about autumn? Don’t be shy, leave a message below.

Photo sourced by PicoCool 

Last year I cooked a huge batch of Kashmir chutney and sweet piccalill which made great little christmas gifts and recently I decided to make some pickled peach and chilli chutney. They were selling huge batches of peaches at the market so I thought that they would be perfect for this chutney. I tend to make double the portions of the amounts below as they last for up to 6 months so are easy to keep and store.

Pickled Peach and Chilli Chutney

Sourced from the Complete Book of Preserves & Pickles by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew

Makes about 450g/1lb

475ml cups cider vinegar

275g light brown muscovado sugar

225g dried pitted dates, finely chopped

1 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground mace

450g ripe peaches, stoned and cut into small pieces

3 onions, thinly sliced

4 fresh red chillies, seeded and finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

5cm/2inches fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 tsp salt

1.  In a large pan place the vinegar, dates, sugar, allspice and mace and gently heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved.

2. Bring to the boil and then add the peaches, sliced onion, chopped chillies, crushed garlic, grated ginger and salt continuing to stir occasionally.

3. Reduce the heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes – by which time the chutney should have thickened.

4. Spoon the hot chutney in steralised jars – either by boiling them in water first or putting them in the dishwasher. I place a waxed disc on top – waxed side down and then place the lid on top.

You need to store them in a cool, dark place where the chutney can mature for at least 2 weeks before eating. They will last up to 6 months.

Another great way to eat the chutney is with grilled chicken served in warm wraps or with ricotta or goats cheese and some crusty bread.

Taken just after point 2) above and before it has been cooking for 40-50 mins