Historic Bites: Butterly Delicious

“With enough butter, anything is good.” Julia Child

For decades, butter has been demonised, labelled an artery-clogger contributing to high cholesterol and obesity, and replaced with low fat spreads and margarines.

An ingredient at the very heart of western cuisine for centuries, butter is one of the purest fats available, tastes ambrosial and now, rather wonderfully, is making a rather a grand comeback.

My Grandmother is 109 years old and has lived on a diet primarily composed of meat, butter, a little bread and potatoes all her life. She is fit as a fiddle, her blood pressure’s that of an 18 year old and her outlook extremely youthful. She starts every day with one slice of toast spread, very thickly, with butter. In Norwegian there is a lovely word ‘Tandsmør’ meaning ‘Tooth Butter’ – it is the amount, when spread on bread which leaves a toothmarks.

Etymologically, the word butter comes from the Greek βούτυρον (bouturon) meaning ‘cow or ox cheese’ and during the Middle Ages butter was burned in lamps, just like oil. Butter was a very important commodity and, throughout the UK, you’ll find ‘butter markets’ a legacy from a time when cheese and butter production was essential to the economy. In Rouen, in the north of France, the cathedral’s Butter Tower was built in the 16th century as a tribute to the bishop who authorised the use of butter in lamps during lent when oil was scare.

There are several types of butter; sweet cream butter (pasteurised), salted butter, raw cream butter (unpasteurised), whey butter and cultured butter, all being made across Europe and North America, and of course, Ghee (which is a clarified butter) is used in Indian and eastern cooking, the removal of the milk solids, giving it the ability to keep in hot climates, and it’s more stable at higher cooking temperatures. Classic unsalted butter, or ‘sweet cream butter’, which was first made on a large scale, in the 19th century once pasteurisation allowed for extended longevity before fermentation, but there are some wonderful artisan producers making cultured and whey butters in this country, some of whom I’ll list below.

French butter is regarded as some of the world’s best, but it was also France which first gave us margarine, after a competition was launched by Napoleon III calling for somebody to invent a replacement for butter to feed the army and the poorer population . Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès created a product, in 1869, which he called Oleomargarine, made from beef tallow, salt, sodium sulphate and a small amount of cream, amongst others things – these were actually rather nutritious in their various parts…and from this monstrosity (vis the USA who had discovered that they could replace beef tallow with hydrogenated vegetable oil) eventually came the plasticised monstrosity we know today as margarine.

So, historically, the majority of butter would have been ‘cultured’ which is fermented to some degree and gives a delicious, individual flavour. This also allowed cream from several days’ milking to be used at once, by which time earlier milk would have fermented slightly. Also, butter would have been heavily salted to help preserve it in the days before refrigeration. Butter would also be regularly ‘washed’ and re-salted to keep it fresh. The British were well known in the medieval period for their love of butter on vegetables, something which I’m rather keen on today, or vegetables with their butter as is more often the case at my table.

Sourcing British Butter

Fenn Farm Dairy: Bungay Raw Cultured Butter from Suffolk. A real treat, certainly one to savour. Simply spread on fresh sourdough and enjoy.

Netherend Farm: Organic and Non-Organic butter, from Gloucestershire. As seen on many a celebrity table, made in the Severn Vale, salted and unsalted – the perfect cook’s butter.

Quicke’s : Whey Butter – a delicious and rare heritage recipe recognised by the Slow Food movement as one of the UK’s ‘Forgotten Foods’. Made in Devon. Melt over seasonal asparagus.

Hook and Son: Raw butter from East Sussex. Excellent all purpose butter, use to fry mushrooms with fresh parsley and black pepper for a classic English breakfast.

Cotswold Butter: Made in Worcestershire, a classic salted English butter with sea salt. Perfect for those toasted crumpets.


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: the cheesecake of cheesecakes.

Many of us will look to that extra cheese course after Christmas lunch, and then there has to  be enough cheese in the house to take you through to the new year. I have already covered the history of stilton in my diaries but now I’d like to share with you a few of my favourite regional cheese, all of which rather handily stack to form a rather impressive centrepiece.

Many of the major supermarkets have offered real ‘cheese’ cakes this year but it’s with a little curation you can impress guests and indulge in some of the best British produce available – and don’t forget the port, although a Pedro Ximénez sherry is also rather excellent with soft blues and little beats a whisky with a sharp farmhouse cheddar.

So, with Christmas fast approaching, what can be conjured up from the supermarket shelves? Actually,  there’s an excellent choice, so here’s my personal pick.

IMG_6783

Smarts Single Gloucester and Daylesford Blue

The base of my perfect cheesecake has to be a good stilton, a small truckle of traditional farmhouse cheddar would then follow – I really enjoy clothed cheese, I much prefer the texture – the wax matured cheeses seem to retain that waxiness, they are fine for grating but I think a good farmhouse cheddar brought to room temperature nestled in its cloth is one of the loveliest of foods. This year I have also discovered the small cylindrical truckles of Lancashire cheese, available from Waitrose. One of these would also make an admirable layer for the cheesecake, the lemony sweetness adding another dimension. I would then pick a whole small (200g) British Camembert  and there has to be a goats’ or sheeps’ cheese, so a small Sussex Slipcote or Moody’s Rosary Ash would top it all off nicely.  Do remember the crackers, for preference I use charcoal wafers and digestives, then oatcakes with cheddar.

And, as all these cheeses are available in UK supermarkets, there’s no need to worry about mail order deadlines.


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: Driving Home for Christmas.

Traditionally, the ‘Designated Driver’ has not been terribly well catered for, an orange juice and lemonade, glass of coke or coffee is the usual choice however, now there are dozens of alcohol free choices out there, waiting to be discovered – so, even as the driver you can enjoy some seriously festive drinks.

With almost 25% of 18-25 year olds turning teetotal, and with a general reduction in the consumption of alcohol across the country, drinks businesses are turning to exploring the work of non-alcoholic drinks, I don’t think that all these can be described as ‘soft drinks’ because they are geared primarily to the adult population, offering flavours which would appeal more to the mature palette. Perhaps there should be another term devised to describe these products, so, with our further ado, here’s my top 5 alcohol free Christmas Drinks.

Seedlip – the Gin alternative 

As I driver, I am very content to be sipping a Seedlip, it tastes enough like gin to satisfy, behaves like gin (i.e you can drink it with your choice of mixer) and tastes very grown up indeed. There are three varieties, my favourite being Garden 108 and all offers subtle flavour blends which can be savoured and enjoyed slowly – the only downside is the cost, the same as a decent gin but it’s also served in spirit measures, so drink for drink isn’t too bad. Also keep an eye out in future for their ‘whisky’ style alternative – long in the perfection, it could be a real game changer.

Lurvill’s Delight

From Wales comes this delightful Botanical Soda, inspired by a couple of brothers from the Welsh Valleys who made and sold this product in the late 19th century. Their profits were used to re-settle mining families in America. The Original, and Lavender Spice varieties are delicious, again very grown up – one of those drinks that you can sit for hours guessing the ingredients, also good as a mixer, but stand extremely well on their own. Their Botanical Cola is a world away from commercial brands, considerably less sweet and well worth seeking out.

Real Kombucha

Kombucha had been very ‘on-trend’ this year. A  beverage made from fermented tea it had a plethora of health giving attributes, is great for the gut and tastes pretty good too. Real Kombucha offer three choices, each with a discernibly different flavour profile. Drinking this actually makes you feel as if you’re doing your body some good and at Christmas, that’s never a bad thing. It really is an alcohol-alternative and with its quirky packaging, certainly ticks all the boxes.

Nosecco, bubbles without the hangover

Can’t cope without bubbles over the festive season? Try Nosecco a de-alcoholised wine made in France. Available from Ocado and other online retailers, it’s ideal to serve at parties or with Christmas Lunch and will leave your head perfectly clear to enjoy Boxing Day un-compromised. A bargain, too, at just £3.99.

Nonsuch Shrubs, Ancient Formula, Modern Elixir

A Shrub is a herb infused, vinegar based drink, again with excellent purported health benefits. Nonsuch make a variety of shrubs based on Apple Cider Vinegar and flavoured with fruits, herbs and botanicals. These are really good, and the vinegar flavour bends well into the background allowing the other flavours to come through. Lightly sparkling and jewel coloured, these Shrubs are perfect for the coming season.


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: The eternal quest for the best Hot Chocolate!

One of the annual traditions in our household is putting up the Christmas decorations on the first weekend in December – this is accompanied by lots of steaming hot chocolate and, of course, homemade gingerbread biscuits.

I fully admit that I am a bit of a Hot Chocolate perfectionist. So often, when I order the ‘Special Hot Chocolate’ on a menu I find myself disappointed – it’s always either not hot enough, not thick enough, not creamy enough or the worst crime, just not chocolaty enough!

This has led to a multitude of experiments at home, trying everything from Spanish recipes, to cocoa powder based recipes with cream and even butter, custard based recipes and, of course, all the brands available at both the supermarkets and delis.

I finally concluded that Jersey milk and real chocolate makes the best and simplest Hot Chocolate – perhaps with the addition of a glug of Baileys or rum for the grown-ups, and there are no end of small additions to make my basic Hot Chocolate extremely festive and child friendly. Winter without Hot Chocolate is like Christmas without Santa, and when the colder weather comes, there’s nothing more satisfying than making a real ritual out of its preparation.

Recipe:

Per Person:

50g of good chocolate (dark or milk or even white)

150ml jersey milk

I make mine in a Pyrex bowl over a pan of simmering water, combing the ingredients with a small whisk, never allowing the bowl to come into contact with the water. This creates the most indulgent drink, patience is the key here, slow and steady wins the chocolate race.

This is a very rich drink so serve in small cups with your choice from the following toppings and additions:

Family Friendly

Whipped cream and grated chocolate

A couple of drops of peppermint extract, whipped cream and a little crushed stripy candy cane

1/4 tsp cinnamon per serving

1/4 tsp ginger per serving

A couple of drops almond extract, cream and toasted almonds

Whipped cream and crushed smarties

marshmallows, drizzled with warm chocolate sauce

Whipped cream and drizzle of warmed salted caramel sauce

Vanilla extract and a grating of nutmeg

Adults Only

A tablespoon of your choice of liqueur per serving, some of my favourites include:

Tia Maria, whipped cream and crushed coffee beans is delicious

Cointreau, cream and grated Terry’s Chocolate Orange

Baileys, whipped cream and chocolate flake

Whisky and a sprinkle of ginger

Amaretto, cream and crushed Amaretti biscuits