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!


Broad beans, lemon zest ricotta, fresh mint oil, parma ham with pink peppercorns

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I have been meaning to a write blog post on this recipe for sometime now as I seem to be averaging eating it once a week in the last month or so. It’s one of those recipes that once you’ve prepared it you want to dive in and eat it so I needed to be speedy with the camera work, hence the lack of lots of photos.  It is absolutely perfect for a lunch either by yourself or if you have a few friends coming over. The bright greens and the complimenting flavours of lemon, broad beans, mint, olive oil, garlic, ricotta, parmesan, parma ham and pink peppercorns really appeal to me. The pink peppercorns I managed to source in Turkey last year and they have the most wonderful flavour. Whilst I imagine a quick trip to Turkey may not be realistic you’ll be glad to hear that you can find them at most supermarkets – they are definitely worth seeking out as they have a very distinct flavour – very different from the black variety.

I stumbled across this recipe years ago in Skye Gyngells book ‘A Year in My Kitchen’ and as far as I’m concerned it’s a winning recipe. The only slightly time consuming part is taking the skins off the broad beans – which to be fair does not really take that long, especially if you have a friend to chat to whilst you are sharing the podding together.

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Other than this time, I always prepare the dish with fresh broad beans but for some reason the two places that normally stock them this morning had run out, so I had to suffice with frozen. They tasted equally good, although they were a slightly smaller in size, which made peeling them take a little longer. I reckon if you have a glorious sunny day with friends coming over for lunch this is the perfect dish. To accompany it, a glass of Riesling or ginger cordial would always go down a treat. A great wine merchant called Symposium, based in the picturesque town of Lewes in East Sussex, I always find comes up trumps with recommending great drinkable wines. I’m based in London and they always seem happy to deliver a case or two to me when I am needing to stock up. If you are interested send Henry an email henry@symposium-finewine.co.uk and he’ll send you their wine list.

Broad beans, lemon zest ricotta, fresh mint oil, parma ham with pink peppercorns

Adapted from Skye Gyngell’s book ‘A year in my kitchen’

Serves 4

1kg of fresh broad beans in their pods (or 500g podded/frozen)

250g fresh ricotta

50g parmesan, finely grated

1 lemon, zest and juice

8 slices of parma ham

1 garlic clove

handful of fresh mint

75ml olive oil

pinch of pink peppercorns per serving

sour dough bread (or ciabatta)

1. If using fresh broad beans, take them out of their pods and place into a pan of boiling water for under 1 minute. If you are using frozen broad beans you need to leave them in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Strain and run under cold water immediately and then peel off  the outer shell of the broad beans and discard.

2. Take a large handful of fresh mint and finely chop up all of it bar a few leafs that you will sprinkle over the top at the end. Place the finely chopped mint leaves in a bowl with 75ml of olive oil and leave to infuse for 15 minutes or longer.

3. Place the ricotta into a bowl and add the finely grated parmesan. Stir together and then add most of the zest from one lemon – the remaining zest you will sprinkle on the dish at the end. Add the juice from half a lemon.  Stir in all together and leave to one side.

4. In a preheated oven – 180 degrees – place the parma ham on baking parchment with a drizzle of olive oil and black pepper. Leave to crisp up in the oven for 10 minutes.

5. Slice some sourdough bread and place in the toaster or under a grill for it to become golden. Once toasted cover with a little olive oil and fresh garlic.  Place on a serving plate.

6. Add a spoonful or two of the  lemony ricotta/parmesan to the toast. Add a scattering of broad beans followed by some mint drizzle and then lay two slices of parma ham over the creation followed by some of the remaining lemon zest, fresh mint leaves and a good pinch or two of pink peppercorns. I find that no salt is necessary as the parma ham and parmesan more than make up for the lack of salt.

Eat at room temperature.

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Turkish Delights and Coban Salatasi

I have just returned from two glorious weeks spent exploring Turkey’s ancient Lycian Peninsula, which is in the south west of the country, by the warm azure waters of the Mediterranean.

The area is steeped in history with numerous ruins and tombs dating back over 2000 years. I couldn’t help thinking when I was exploring  and clambering all over these ruins (no health and saftey in Turkey!) that our Stonehenge is well, how can I put this delicately, a little underwhelming, if you compare it to all the ancient Lycian ruins. In the cooler months (April and October) guided walks are on offer through Lycia taking in the ruins of lost civilizations, the flora and fauna of the mountain passes and ambling through the charming Turkish villages, many of which seemed to have stood still in time. Perhaps not an adventure to take on with small children but definitely on my to do list for the future.

Ruins of Patara 

We did however, get the chance to soak up the ruins of: Letoon, which was the main religious centre of Lycia, Xanthos – the captial city of Lycia in the late Hellenistic and Roman times, Patara – an ancient city party submerged (ready to be truly discovered) under 12km of sand dunes, Tlos with its spectacular rock tombs carved out of the rock face and Kekova – the sunken city from 2000 years ago. At Kekova you are forbidden to swim and snorkel as the treasures from the old town are there for you to see clearly from a glass bottom boat or canoe. It was quite easy to see the  pots as we sailed gently passed.

Patara’s impressive amphitheatre

Tlos amphitheatre beneath the Taurus mountains

In a bid to absorb ourselves in authentic Turkey as opposed to full on ‘tourist Turkey’, we based ourselves slightly in land, firstly in the Kaya valley and the following week high up in the Taurus mountains. Both locations where a stones thrown from the glorious beaches but far enough away so that we were able to sample another calmer, slower side to Turkey.

Cooler breezes gave us welcome respite from the coast and we enjoyed seeing how the locals pass their days.

our neighbour with her goat

On a couple of days we managed to hire a boat for the day (complete with on-board cook – result!) so that we could see the coast line from the waters and swim in sheltered bays only reachable by boat.

Pretty harbour at Ucagiz

I was amused to see a local selling ice cream from his boat, similar to the one I had seen a few weeks previously on the south coast in England. Clearly all the rage around the world!!

The absolute highlight of our time on the water was when Big A and Little Z both caught rather large fish at the same time. We were all so thrilled by this, even the Captain was impressed as I think he did not think they would catch anything using the hand held real as opposed to a rod. We took them to the local town where they gutted and grilled them for us so that we could have them for lunch. It was great for the girls to see the full cycle of catching a fish and then having it washed, cleaned and gutted before being grilled and then eaten, all within a couple of hours of being caught. Wonderfully fresh and we all agreed, very tasty. We weren’t too sure what the fish were exactly but they tasted delicious and the girls were delighted at being such able fisherwomen. Definitely a life long memory.

The morning’s catch!

When abroad I always enjoy discovering the different local foods and dishes on offer, as well as the spices and herbs that are commonplace.

At the spice market I bought: pink peppercorns, sumac, pul biber  (dried flaked pepper), dried mint tea, a marinade for fish

Turkey is bountiful with wonderful fruit trees bursting with offerings, some ready now – such as figs, grapes, peaches and cactus fruit (prickly pears) and others not quite ready for a month or two – namely pomegranate. I discovered the carob fruit that was completely new to me but I immediately took a liking to its sweet chewy undertones.

Carob fruit in centre of photo – they look like large vanilla pods.

I discovered that it has been cultivated for over 4000 years and that is also known as ‘St John’s bread’ or ‘locust bean’ as the pods were mistaking thought to be the ‘locusts’ eaten by John the Baptiste in the wilderness – although this was proved to be wrong as he ate migratory locusts. It has a honey taste to it and is in fact used as a substitute to sugar. I am certainly going to seek out the powder form and try baking with it this autumn – watch this space. Another interesting fact is that the beans are ground down to make a cocoa substitute, that although slightly different tasting, has a lot less calories and virtually fat free. It is also packed with vitamins (A, B, B2, B3, D). Check out this website which will tell you in more details about the carob fruit’s benefits. I also like John’s youtube summary of the fruit. I would love to grow a carob tree here in the UK, but I fear that our sporadic sun shine may not help it thrive like the ones in the Mediterranean and in California.

The girls discovered a new treat known as ‘gozleme’, which is basically Turkey’s answer to an Italian calzone. The dough is rolled out on a round surface and then half of it is stuffed with a contents of your choice – we liked spinach, feta and potatoes and then folded over to create a crescent. This is then put onto a hot circular surface that is heated underneath by an open fire. The whole process was mesmerizing to watch and the finished snack was polished off in no time at all.

Preparing our gozleme

As the weather was ridiculously hot, salads became a staple at meal times. The most popular salad in Lycia seemed to be ‘Coban Salasti’ otherwise known as ‘Shepherd’s Salad’. It appeared on every menu and is ridiculously easy to make and perfect in hot weather. The trick is to cut the vegetables up  really small – far smaller than I would normally when making a salad.

Coban Salatasi – Shepherd’s Salad

Serves 4

2 large tomatoes (or 3 small), finely chopped

3 Turkish green peppers (the long thin ones), finely chopped

2 small cucumbers, finely chopped

1/2 (half) a white onion

1 large handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

1. Finely chop all the ingredients into a large bowl and gently mix together.

2. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and season to taste and serve.

So what have you been up to this summer? Any food foraging or discoveries in foreign lands? Don’t be shy and leave a message below, I’d love to hear from you.