Midweek Musings – Nourishing the body and soul under lockdown living.

So, it has been over year since I last added to my blog. It’s been a difficult year, but now, more than ever, I see the need to use technology, not only to communicate with others but also to hold myself accountable. These past few weeks have been challenging for everybody. We have been forced to adapt to a new normal. Our basic needs have come to forefront and we now live in a world where nothing can be taken for granted.

I have embraced lockdown, established different routines and hope to come out the other side a more grounded person, grateful for all I have and knowing the importance of the roles involved in providing our basic essentials – from the farmers, who grow our food to the key workers packing and producing through to the retailers and delivery drivers. This chain is now very much clearer for many.

When I started writing about food, 15 years ago, one of my first jobs was to create recipes from store cupboard ingredients. For three years I produced monthly recipes championing tinned meat, pules, vegetables, pasta, rice…in fact all those things which have, in recent weeks become scarce and more in demand than ever. It became easier, and there are infinite options and, whilst market fresh ingredients are to be preferred, we can eat extremely well from our store cupboards.

With a handful of something delicious, the most simple ‘boring’ dishes can be elevated to something we can really enjoy eating…especially in a time when the next meal, for many, has become a focus of the day.

My Top Tips for Lockdown Living

  1. Use spices – they wonderfully transform basic ingredients and carry you off across the world. From the vibrant spices of the East, through the piquant paprikas and saffrons of Europe, to the chilies of South America –  you really can be anywhere you choose with the right spices, and, with spice, no dish is ever boring.
  2. Season well. Proper seasoning makes such a difference. A good sea salt, white pepper or a decent grinding of black pepper really is the key to turning an average dish into an amazing dish. Don’t be afraid of salt, we need it in our diets – just be cautious in which salt you choose.
  3. fullsizeoutput_419dFresh herbs – easy to grow on the window sill, they add colour and flavour. You can use them to garnish, to flavour a salad or lift meat or fish. Finely chop and add to butter before freezing in a log shape and slicing into disks…perfect for those frozen green beans or defrosted chicken fillet.

4. Consider charcuterie. With exceptionally long best before dates, charcuterie is a wonderful ingredient to stash in the fridge and use, in moderation, to flavour dishes. Wonderful for soups and stews, as toppings for pizzas or forming the protein element of a pasta dish – a little goes a long way and there are so many options to choose from.

And finally, nourish the soul – a little mindfulness, a walk barefoot in the garden, yoga or meditation. Turn preparing a meal into a ritual because rituals are very important to humankind. Our whole life is full of them, from brushing our teeth in the morning to sitting down for dinner, walking the dog or evening settling down to sleep. We are a series of rituals and when challenging come upon us, like Coronavirus, it’s many of these rituals which we miss, however we do have the excuse to make new ones and maybe, for some, these new ones may be here to stay, regardless.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: ‘Vegging’ out at Christmas

I personally find the Christmas standard veg offering rather boring, ‘boiled’ or ‘roasted’ (aside from potatoes) seems so unimaginative and it doesn’t take much more time to ‘pimp’ those everyday vegetables up to new heights. I enjoy all veg, I try and stick to seasonal choices, however, aside from the somewhat more exciting spiced red cabbage, which had been rather popular in recent years, how else can  carrots, sprouts, cauliflower, peas etc become an integral part of the meal, as opposed to a ‘side’?

Here are a few suggestions:

Carrots

Honey roasted carrots are delicious, roast baby carrots with olive oil and a good drizzle of hones, lots of black pepper and sea salt

Sprouts

Lightly boiled spouts, tossed with small dice of pancetta then placed in an oven proof dish and scattered with breadcrumbs, a little chopped sage and some crumbled blue cheese, baked until bubbling and brown, makes a lovely change. Casting aside the yellowing boiled offerings so many of us face, this is almost a dish in itself!

Peas

French style peas cooked with butter and shallots are terribly moorish. Gently sweat some finely sliced shallots in butter until translucent, add the frozen peas and heat through –  finally stir some finely sliced baby gem lettuce through and serve.

Cauliflower

One of 2018’s ‘superfoods’ cauliflower is an extremely versatile vegetable. I boil mine until soft and then mash with butter, double cream and seasoning – returning to the oven with a sprinkle of grated Swiss cheese for a super smooth cauliflower cheese (and a drizzle of truffle oil doesn’t go amiss either)

Red Cabbage

Every family has their own recipe for spiced red cabbage – we usually serve it on New Year’s Day with a gilded roast goose. I like to add apple, port, dried figs, mixed spice, shallots, garlic, red wine and honey. It makes such a medieval tasting dish, and also works very well cold alongside meats and cheeses after the big day.

Broccoli

Steamed and tossed with chestnuts and butter, adds a nuttiness which compliments this brassica admirably.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: a change from turkey…my partridge (or pheasant) in a pear tree

Many people are becoming much more experimental in the kitchen and, where once, turkey or goose took centre stage, now there are many different options for the Christmas table. Aside from a good joint of beef, leg of lamb or meltingly soft slow-cooked pork shoulder many people look to game – especially in smaller households,  where cooking a large bird is impractical and would encourage waste. A haunch of venison, of course, is certainly more suited to a large party but, for a simple and delicious alternative, for that more intimate celebration, why not consider game birds?

Pheasant can be braised whole, with pancetta and cider and apples,  then finished with a slug of cream

Partridge breasts make an excellent first course

Venison Carpaccio is seen on the menus of the country’s best restaurants

Wild boar is a great choice – we slow cook ours with lots of red wine and garlic; it’s richness allows it to take on some really bold flavours – you never have to be worried about what you throw in with wild boar, most things work!

One of my personal favourite recipes for pheasant, or partridge, is pan-fried with IMG_6782pancetta and pears on a celeriac puree, with Savoy cabbage and a blackberry port reduction. It’s an impressive looking dish which is really quite easy (and surprisingly) quick to put together.

Peel and boil your celeriac as you would potato, if you are preparing ahead make sure to keep the celeriac under water (ideally with a little squirt of lemon juice) to prevent browning.

Add a couple of teaspoons of oil to a frying pan and fry two rashers of thinly sliced pancetta per person until crisp and gently browned. Set aside and add a small knob of butter to the pan. Season one pheasant breast or two partridge breasts per person with salt and pepper, then quickly fry on a medium/high  heat until golden brown, place in an oven preheated to 180 degrees c for 5 mins (partridge) or 8 (pheasant). It’s very important not to let the meat dry out as game can be rather tough if overcooked. I check the oven every three minutes or so, the flesh should be firm when pressed but not rubbery – sadly, timing is something which rather depends on the size of the bird.

Finely slice the Savoy cabbage and fry with a little water and lots of butter until cooked, then allow the water to evaporate allowing the butter to turn into a an unctuous glaze. Season with black pepper

Meanwhile, quickly fry some fresh pear (It looks rather pretty if sliced top to bottom, although if you find this a little tricky, tinned pear quarters, sliced, also work rather well too), when caramelised, place them in the oven with the meat to keep warm.

Deglaze the pan with a small glass of port, add a tablespoon or two of blackberry jam and allow it to bubble a little, then set aside. This rich ‘jus’ will have taken on all the delicious flavours of the pan.

Mash the Celeriac with butter, salt and pepper. I use a 1/4 to 3/4, butter to veg, as it gives an incredibly smooth and rich puree which foils the rather more ‘plain’ game rather well.

Place a couple of spoonfuls of celeriac on each plate, top with a little cabbage, slice the breasts on an angle and place on top with the pears. Spoon the reduction around the plate (a little goes a long way) and finally finish with the crisp pancetta.

This will certainly impress guests and could be served as a starter or main.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Getting ahead with Christmas, a Duo of Sublime Stuffings

Things which are time consuming relating to the Christmas Lunch are far better done early and the advantage of a good sized freezer makes preparing for Lunch extremely simple indeed.

I like to serve two stuffings. One meat, and cooked separately from the bird, and one to stuff in the neck cavity, to take on the flavours of all those delicious juices. Over the years I have experimented with lots of different recipes but now use just two. Pork, Cranberry and Orange, and Pear with Chestnut and Honey. Both can be frozen and the second, also made with gluten-free bread if there are any allergies to be catered for. A few minutes spent prepping now, will make for an effortless Christmas Lunch. After all – no one really wants to be in the kitchen, too much, over the festive period.

Pork, Pancetta, Cranberry and Orange Stuffing

Serves 6-8

I like to cook this in a loaf tin,  it turns out very well but also looks good brought straight to the table. You can also replace the sausage meat with chicken, or duck sausage meat and leave the pancetta out, for those who don’t eat pork.

Ingredients

500g good sausage meat

100 gram slice of pancetta, finely diced

The juice and zest of 1 large orange

1 clementine, sliced into disks with the skin still on

100g cranberries, roughly chopped

20ml port

Method

Fry the diced pancetta until golden brown and set aside to cool thoroughly

Mix the sausage meat, orange, cooled pancetta, port and cranberries – smoosh (love that word) it all together and fry a little to test seasoning, season to taste. Press the mixture into a loaf tin, cover with foil and pop in the freezer.

Remove on Christmas Eve and allow to defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Decorate with a few slices of clementine and a few whole cranberries, recover with foil and bake for approximately 40 minutes at 175 degrees c, testing with a skewer to make sure it’s cooked thoroughly. Remove the foil for the last ten minutes of cooking and serve.

Pear, Chestnut, Sage and Honey Stuffing 

IMG_6709This should stuff a turkey large enough to feed at least 6-8 with leftovers

Ingredients 

700g slightly stale bread (sourdough also works very well), all the crusts removed, then diced into 1 cm cubes

1 large tin of pears in juice, drained and the pear cut into 1 cm dice ( I have also used fresh pears, but as these are already cooked there are no worries about the pears discolouring)

100g cooked chestnuts, peeled and roughly chopped

1 heaped tablespoon runny honey

1 heaped tablespoon finely shredded sage

Seasoning to taste

Method

Melt the honey until liquid and add the chopped sage, allow it to infuse for a minute.

Stir the chopped pear, bread and chestnuts together and pour over the sage honey, making sure all the ingredients are well coated, add a good sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

Place into a freezer bag, or Tupperware and freeze until Christmas Eve.

Remove and defrost thoroughly before stuffing into the neck cavity of the bird. This is quite a chunky, almost medieval style, stuffing and compliments the meat stuffing very well. Do make sure that you secure the neck skin well to stop the stuffing escaping during cooking – my great grandmother used to actually sew the neck up using a needle and string (although they more often had a chicken or capon for Christmas Lunch)


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Fuss Free Canapés with a Welsh Twist

Last year my sister published her first book and asked me to make some canapés for the launch. I didn’t have much time to prepare, so wracked my brains for something quick, easy and delicious.

I am extremely proud of my Welsh heritage and, as I have mentioned before, am a great believer in the old cooking methods, so I turned to one of my favourite recipes and IMG_6707adapted it to suit. Welsh Cakes. Made on cast iron griddles for centuries, most people know them as the current speckled, sugar-dredged teatime treat but with a little experimentation I was able to produce 3 different savoury canapés, to suit all tastes. I cook my Welsh Cakes on a large cast iron griddle but you can use a heavy based frying pan just as well, it’s also possible to bake them on sheets in the oven but the exterior texture won’t be quite the same.

These also freeze extremely well, before, and after cooking.

Savoury Welsh Cake Canapés – this recipe will easily make over 100 depending on the size of cutters

Ingredients 

750g self raising flour

150g butter

150g lard or vegetable fat

3 eggs, beaten

1 heaped tsp sea salt

good grinding of black pepper

75g mature cheddar cheese

1 heaped tsp wholegrain mustard

1 heaped tsp dried dill

the zest of half a lemon, finely grated

Method 

Rub the fat into the flour, salt and pepper until it resembles ‘breadcrumbs’. Divide the mixture between three bowls.

Into the first bowl, add the cheese and mustard

Into the second, add the dill and lemon zest

Leave the third plain

Add a beaten egg to each bowl and form into a ball, if it’s too moist, add a little more flour, too dry, add little milk or water

Wrap each ball in foil or cling film and place in the fridge until chilled. This allows the pastry to rest and makes it easier to roll out later

Once the pastry is chilled, roll each ball out on a floured board to a depth of 1 cm. Cut into any shape you like – at this time of year it’s quite nice to use festive shapes, small leaves, bells, holly etc.

Heat your Bakestone, Griddle or frying pan over a medium heat and cook the cakes in batches, they shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes a side, larger cakes will, of course take longer.

These can be kept in a lidded Tupperware until needed. If you would like to make a version suitable for vegans, use all vegetable fat instead of butter.

Toppings

Ideas for the Plain Welsh Cakes

Bacon, Brie and Cranberry (not the most imaginative but universally liked)

Hummous, Olives, Baba Ganoush, roasted peppers, mozzarella, smoked tofu

Pear, Gorgonzola and Walnuts

Chestnuts and Roasted Butternut Squash

Ideas for the Cheese Welsh Cake

Butter fried leeks and Caerphilly

Any cheese with chutney or relish

Sun dried tomatoes

Pastrami and Cornichons

Ideas for the Lemon and Dill Welsh Cakes 

Any sort of smoked fish: salmon, trout or Gravadlax with accompanying sauces

Fish Pâté – mackerel, trout, potted shrimps

Prawns in Cocktail Sauce (retro but good!)

Caviar with Sour Cream

Smoked Cod Roe


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: The Big Festive Breakfast

I have always been a great supporter of the ‘Full English Breakfast’. It is one of the few meals that can be almost entirely locally sourced, at any time of the year. A legacy of the great Country House breakfasts which were at their height in the 19th and early 20th century, these were full meals, sustaining enough to take family and guests though a full days hunting with only a picnic type luncheon. The emphasis on breakfast was hearty English food, whilst dinner followed the more fashionable French style of cuisine.

Breakfast was a buffet style meal, buffets laden with everything from Devilled Kidneys, Kippers and Kedgeree through to game, meat and of course breads and cheeses. It was served between 9 am and 11 am, sound familiar? The American Brunch follows this pattern quite neatly, more substantial food than mere toast and cereal, and served later in the morning. So, could you say that the Victorians invented Brunch? Perhaps, but with a little controversy.

The festive period is a great time to go all-out for Breakfast, many of us are out and about during the day, nibbling a mince pie or sausage roll here and there, not really having time for a sit-down lunch so a decent breakfast hits the spot perfectly, also there is a wonderful ritual to Breakfast, a time to chat, sit around the table, light some candles and enjoy the present. Many people are off work between Christmas and New Year and these precious holidays, unlike others in the year, are almost always spent at home, surrounded by friends and family –  and with time on your hands.

Breakfast is also a good meal to get the children to help with, laying the table, easy recipes…perhaps Christmas muffins or homemade bread. Aside from the usual ‘Bacon and Eggs’ there are thousands of recipes suitable for a substantial breakfast, how about waffles with lots of different toppings, pancakes or Spanish Tortilla, baked ham and egg cups, roasted avocado with a little chilli on toasted sourdough, Turkish Shakshouka (spicy baked eggs often served with Merguez sausages) or Mexican Huervos Rancheros  (ranch style eggs) served with soft tortillas?  Or what about designating a different country to each breakfast and tour the world?

I have written about the classic British breakfast before, I have extolled the virtues of locally produced bacon and sausages, decent bread and free-range eggs, personally this combination never bores me, but with a little baking and a few festive touches any breakfast can be made an extra special and memorable experience.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Kitchen Essentials

Over the past few years, I have accumulated a huge amount of kitchen equipment. Aside from all the pieces brought for styling shoots, there is a core of ten or so items which I couldn’t be without, items which are used every day and make working in the kitchen much more pleasurable. Christmas is always a good time to add a few solid basics to the kitchen cupboards, and although some of these items are quite pricy, you’ll have them years down the line and won’t, for a moment, regret buying them.

Kitchenaid Artisan Mixer

IMG_6666 2

One of the most decadent purchases, but also one of the most used pieces of equipment in my kitchen is the classic time-tested Artisan Mixer.  Perfect for cakes, meringues and bread, the Artisan is solid, and made to last. Mine is now twenty years old and still in tiptop condition. Aside from looking great, they make light work of so many jobs. I chose classic cream but they can be found in many colours – although do consider that if you are going to have it standing in the kitchen for several decades, choosing a neural colour might be preferable.

Le Creuset Casseroles and Saucepans 

I have several Le Creuset casseroles and two sets of their cast iron saucepans. Many of these were vintage finds in French flea markets, however, investing in new Le Creuset is still worthwhile – they do outlast many of of cheaper brands. I use a Le Creuset casserole almost daily, for soups, broths, stews, sauces….even baking bread, creating a ‘Dutch’ oven. The saucepans are extremely durable and all cast iron works on induction which is great for contemporary kitchens.

Global Knife

If there were one single knife to invest in, I would recommend a small Global Santuku – it’s amazingly sharp (so long as you look after it properly) not overly expensive, and can be used for most kitchen tasks. Beautifully weighted, its not intimidating, as some knives are – it’s also aesthetically pleasing.

Le Creuset Rectangular Roaster 

IMG_6668A decent sized cast iron roaster has so many uses, it can be used on the hob for gravy – for lasagne, roasts, Yorkshire puddings, drying herbs, roasted veggies or even making crumbles. It retains heat very well so keeps food warm before serving. Mine is vintage, with folding metal handles, but the new ones are just as good and also come in a variety of colours.

Tala Measure

The Original Cooks Dry Measure sitting on my shelf belonged to my grandmother who bought it in the 1950s – very little has changed in their design since. The new ones do have the advantage of grams as well as ounces but sentimentality prevents me from upgrading. These make baking a cinch, no more dragging out scales and separate bowls, they also measure rice, lentils and peas, are simple to clean and look pleasingly vintage.

Pyrex Measuring Jug

I have several of these, different sizes, the oldest was in our kitchen when I was born, the latest is wide and can be used for mixing, microwaving and baking, as well as measuring. I do try to avoid the dishwashers with these as the writing does become difficult to read after a while (at least on the newer ones). A Pyrex jug goes hand-in-hand with the Tala measure, completing the baking duo.

Cast Iron Griddle: These have been central to Welsh cookery for centuries

Coming from Wales I have been brought up with Welsh Cakes cooked on a Bakestone, and img_7866served hot, scattered with caster sugar. I have three, one contemporary (pictured) and two antique. Of the older two, the first is about  25 cm in diameter, cooks Bara Planc (bread) beautifully and isn’t too heavy…the second is 40 cm in diameter and is brought out for industrial Welsh Cake making, family gatherings etc. This one is extremely heavy, Victorian, and wonderfully pitted on one side by years of use. In Wales, these are heirloom items, hung by the fireplace and used frequently. Welsh Cakes or Pikelets are cooked on the hob now, but once, the griddle sat on top of an open fire or was balanced over the fire on a three-legged stand. I would highly recommend Netherton Foundry’s Shropshire made Griddles, they will certainly stand the test of time and make delightful heirlooms, beautifully handcrafted they are the current by-word in artisan British Kitchen equipment.

Mason Cash Mixing Bowls 

Everybody’s Grandparents had any least one iconic Mason Cash mixing bowl, established in 1901 these classic pieces can still be found in antique fairs and even car boot sales. Today, they are no longer made in the UK, sadly, however they are available in a range of pastel colours and still follow the original design. Mixing the Christmas Pudding in one of these is sure to ignite nostalgic feelings and they look good too.

A Traditionally made Frying Pan (spun steel)

My monster of a frying pan (40 cm in diameter) came from an antiques fair in south-west France, it had been neglected for a fair few years, but some wire wool and several ‘seasons’ later and it’s fabulous, we’ve made Spanish omelettes to serve 10, cooked breakfast for the whole family and even roasted chestnuts. It does take two hands to carry though, but it’s very pleasing to use. Finding exceptional frying pans can prove quite difficult in the UK so, returning to Netherton Foundry, I sincerely recommend their range of Spun Steel Frying Pans. With their wooden handles and vintage rivets, these pans are built to last and get better with each use. No non-stick coating to peel off, just Flax Oil seasoned, these really are a delight to use. Made by hand in Britain they are the legacy of centuries of metalworking tradition in Shropshire and have such integrity – used by all the top chefs, a set of these will be a pleasure for ever.

An End Grain Chopping Board 

IMG_6667 2If you’ve invested in a decent knife, you need to invest in decent chopping board. End grain boards are strong, durable and follow the same pattern as the large butcher’s blocks. I would recommend choosing one at least 8cm deep – a wooden board doesn’t blunt knives as others do. They are naturally hygienic and looks great on the worktop. They can also be used to present food, cheese boards, cold meat platters, bread etc,  so are pretty multi-functional.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: top tipples

    Stocking the drinks cabinet is a chore we must all undertake at this time of the year, whatever your personal preference, relatives and friends’ preferences must also be taken into account and that bottle of Creme de Menthe hidden at the back of the under-sink cupboard surely cannot last another year.

Interestingly, some of the drinks, traditionally more associated with Grand – ma thanIMG_4234 grand night out are making a bit of a come back – sherry anyone? Sherry and Mince Pies were once the height of sophistication and today we have such a wonderful choice that all palettes can be catered for. From the dry Manzanillas to the syrupy deliciousness of Pedro Jimenez, the world of Sherry is as diverse as any fortified wine. A dry, crisp Fino served with salted Marcona almonds is the stuff of dreams and even Bristol Cream has its place.  Port is also ‘on trend’ this year, there are ruby, tawny, white and rosé varieties and even some of the budget supermarkets are peddling out some pretty decent offerings in this department including vintage examples.

Gin is still ‘in’ and flavoured Gins are everywhere – I am a little suspicious of some of these brands – a ‘flavoured’ gin where the flavour is added after distillation is a IMG_4368completely different entity to those gins infused with unusual ingredients within the distillation process. Rose and Violet gins, distilled with real petal infusions are heavenly, Parma violet ‘flavoured’, not quite so delightful. The Negroni, last summer’s ‘it’ cocktail will still be on many menus, as will the more conventional choices.

Baileys is only bought at Christmas in this household, and the first bottle is usually gone within the first week – the uncool classification is lifted unanimously at this time of year, there is no disgrace in indulging – I suppose it’s the British equivalent of Egg Nog, and yes, I do know that it hails from Ireland. My local version of Baileys, Penderyn’s (Welsh Whiskey) Merlyn cream liqueur  is equally as delicious, and ultimately, probably offers a good deal more street cred.

A bottle of Madeira for gravy, a bottle of Southern Comfort for my Christmas Day trifle IMG_4170(recipe to follow), a bottle each of gin and vodka, two bottles of whisky; a decent single malt and one for ‘medicinal’ purposes, and a bottle of two of spontaneous purchases, these are often by Chase, in our household, and are usually added to Champagne to serve with canapés before lunch – the elderflower is particularly exquisite. Finally, a little bottle of vibrant Chambord  black raspberry liqueur makes the list, which is particularly excellent stirred into a fresh raspberry sauce for duck.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: the fruity side of Christmas.

IMG_6657Proudly displayed on my wall, above my desk, is a bill of sale dated November 3rd 1845. It relates to the sale of fruit, preserves and pickles and is signed by my great-great-great Grandfather, who, along with his wife were the proprietors of a ‘Foreign and British, fruit, oil, Italian and fish sauce warehouse’ in the elegant York Buildings in Bath. The gently sloping hand tells a tale of rare delights – hot house grapes, imported Oranges, Battle Pickles and bitter almonds…all of which apparently cost a small fortune – 5 shillings being spent on hot house grapes in one transaction (at a time when the average weekly wage for a woman was exactly 5 shillings). These were luxury items which were bought to impress guests, indulge the culinary senses and demonstrate a ‘knowledge of the world’ and it made my family’s fortune.

Today, our Festive cupboards, fruit bowls and fridges are filled with items not too far removed from these – although perhaps, nowadays, Battle Pickles have been replaced by Branston Pickle. I still enjoy oranges at Christmas, my childhood love of satsumas is something I’ve mentioned here before – the bowls filled with the easily peeled fruit which I was told were ‘better for me’ than sweets, the way I peeled them in one and the memory of the sweet citrusy juice. Although hothouses are no longer common in the UK, our imported grapes aren’t too bad at this time of year and although I would consider myself a seasonal eater, mostly enjoying local produce, Christmas is a time to branch out a little and treat myself to some imports. This year I will be buying Sable Grapes, perfect with a good cheese board; Medjool Dates, a million miles away from those horribly sweet sticky boxes which came with plastic twig-style poker, and of course, lots of citrus fruits. Cranberries have IMG_5326always fascinated me, I love watching videos of the cranberry harvests in America, the flooded fields – there are so many ideas for them besides the usual relish and ‘with Brie’ panini options – people often forget that they are a fruit, and can be used in puddings, ice-creams and baking. I also like adding cranberries to my stuffing and I’ll be including recipes for ‘all the trimmings’ closer to Christmas. Pears are also are firm favourite – poached pears with a rich chocolate sauce makes a delicious, and simple dinner party pudding, whilst served with Gorgonzola or a good, sharp British Blue cheese, like a Stickleton, it pulls both to an entirely new level, try a drizzle of honey and a handful of wallet on the side too – exceptional!


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Variations on the Mince Pie

Every year, I do my utmost to avoid Mince Pies until, at least, the second week of December.  The description ‘warm mince pie’ always sounds far better than the factory produced supermarket offerings which frequent gatherings, events and parties at Christmas.

I believe that making your own is simple, far more satisfying and, it will certainly impress guests. Taking a pretty box tied up with ribbon to a friend’s house always proves successful. Which brings me onto the subject of making time for baking. Christmas is one of the socially busiest times of the year, and there are hundreds of recipes out there for homemade pasties, tried and tested – however I’m going to suggest using shop bought pastry – it’s time saving and perfectly good. The ideas below are based on shop-bought shortcrust, puff and filo – all include little upgrades to insure a perfect pie anytime. Mincemeat is something else which can be made at home, but it needs maturing, and unless you’ve made a batch in the summer (which I always forget to do) you come a little unstuck at Christmas. I often buy a really good quality ready made mincemeat and add to it, a couple of ‘twists’ here and there and you’re good to go. I have put together four very simple, but effective ideas – ensuring that the house will be filled with delicious Christmas scents, and you’ll still have time for that last minute shopping!

Fruity Mince Meat Crackers

Using Filo Pastry makes a crisp, lighter pie. I mix a jar of mincemeat with some chopped pear and chopped apple, this firms the mincemeat up nicely and provides more substance per bite. Take six slices of filo pastry, brush each piece with melted butted and layer three together, repeat with the next three slices, then cut in four rectangles (making 8). Place a spoon of mincemeat horizontally across each one (allowing a couple of centimetres clear either end), then roll into a sausage shape. Pinch in the ends to make little cracker shapes. Brush with melted butter.  Bake until golden brown (on a non-stick baking sheet) and serve with a good sprinkle of icing sugar mixed with a little cinnamon.

Marzipan and Mincemeat Swirls

Take one ready rolled sheet of puff pastry (or shortcrust) and unroll onto a floured board. Spread 1 400g jar of good mincemeat over the pastry. Grate 80g of marzipan onto the mincemeat. Roll the pastry horizontally until you have a ‘Swiss roll’ then pop into the freezer until well chilled – it will keep very well in the freezer until needed – simply take out and slice into disks of 1cm, place on a greased, non-stick baking sheet, brush on some beaten egg yolk, then scatter with silvered almonds and a little shake of  icing sugar. Bake at 180 degrees c until golden brown and serve warm

Pimped Up Pies

I’ve taken a little Italian inspiration for my Pimped Up Pies. One of my bugbears, when it comes to Mince Pies is avoiding a ‘soggy bottom’ – I have tried several methods to help prevent this, this is one of the most successful. Line a patty tin with ready rolled shortcrust pastry. Scatter 1/2 tsp of polenta into each pie then follow with 1/2 tsp of ground almonds, this forms a ‘pillow’ for the mincemeat. Mix one 400g jar of mincemeat with 1 tablespoon of Limoncello, add three of four chopped dates, and finally, the zest of one medium lemon. Fill the pies and top with pastry lids brushed with beaten egg,  bake until golden brown and served scattered with icing sugar and grated lemon zest.

Little Bakers Pies

Making Mince Pies with children is one of the family friendly aspects of the festive season which makes memories – we all remember helping our parents or grandparents in the kitchen; very clean hands, far-too-big apron. So why not get out the pastry cutters and top your pies with festive cut-outs, they can be decorated afterwards with silver balls, coloured icing or other treats. All you need to do is line a patty tin with pastry, put in a little mincemeat and let the little ones create. These also make great presents for family members too!