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: Day 2, The Butcher’s Order

Today I’m turning my attention to planning my Christmas butchery order. Last year I chose one of Holt-Wilson’s Monmouthshire Turkeys and I was extremely impressed with the bird – it served far more mouths (with leftovers) than recommended, and was firm and img_1976flavoursome – not gamey, but rich and a real treat! I do feel that we so often over estimate the amount of turkey needed – after canapés, starters, fish courses etc you should really be looking at no more than 80g or so per person for the main course, and of course there’s only so many ways one can prepare leftovers.

img_1984Every year I also order a large gammon for Boxing Day, ideally rare breed and most certainly British, as is my bacon and my sausages. I prepare my stuffing separately, the sausage meat cooked with cranberries and orange, whilst the sage and onion goes into the Turkey neck. My sister, who always joins us for Christmas, doesn’t eat pork so a vegetarian stuffing is preferred, I usually add pears to the sage and onion, and roast a few to serve as a cranberry sauce alternative.

My Boxing Day gammon is studded with cloves and sliced clementines and glazed with a little maple syrup and eats well with hot with creamy mashed potato or cold in doorstop sandwiches with plenty of peppery mustard.

img_1983Another tradition in our household is the preparing of Duck Rillettes, this recipe comes from Gascony, where we spend the summer at our holiday home, and is great for those who find liver pâtés a little squeamish. I serve it with a good chutney on crisp toasts and it always goes down a treat – and there’s lots left over for cold plates. I will be sharing my recipe for Rillettes a little later December, and I also have a bit of cheaty method, for those who are really short of time.

One of the simple pleasures of Christmas Eve is queueing at the butchers, knowing that your order is taken care of, and enjoying the friendly banter and festive atmosphere and here in Monmouthshire we are spoilt for choice!

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Festive Goodies from The Wye Valley and The Forest of Dean

Every year, I do my very best to source my Christmas foods locally – and living in such a fabulously foodie area, it’s surprisingly easy to do. Restaurants place such an importance on food miles and rightly so, but it’s not just about the environmental impact, it’s about supporting those small businesses who a passionate about their products and who are relying on you for survival. So, here’s my guide to the best places to source delicious food and drink for your festive celebrations in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean.

Party Drinks and Nibbles

There’s no doubt that you’ll find yourself hosting at least one party over the coming

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©HannahFreeman

weeks, or at lasting bringing some goodies to a friends gathering. One of the most popular drinks at this time of year, and perfect for the colder weather is Mulled Cider and, being in the heart of the British cider country you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice. I think a medium cider is most suited to mulling, you are then in control of how much sugar or honey you add. I like Awre based Severn Cider, a family business dedicated to its art. I enjoyed a tour and tasting a few weeks ago with other members of The Guild of Food Writers and was extremely impressed by the quality and variety on offer – we were immediately furnished with mugs of mulled cider which was very welcome after a long, and rather, chilly day. I like to add honey, cinnamon, cardamon, apple slices, fullsizeoutput_1814grated nutmeg and a splash of cider brandy (Dymock’s Charles Martell’s is perfect) – but its all down to taste, and you can cheat with one the supermarket sachets, then add some cinnamon sticks and apple.  And what to serve alongside your mulled cider? How about a good old sausage roll – surely an essential part of Christmas! I love the  delicious Wild Boar sausage rolls from Cinderhill Farm in St Briavels, it’s hard to stop at one (and they are extremely generous portions). Served alongside one of Chepstow based, Claire’s Kitchen’s chutney they make a very simple addition to any drinks party or buffet.

Christmas Dinner

Many people look for a simple, no cook starter for their Christmas Dinner, I think that fullsizeoutput_1842really top quality smoked salmon fits the bill perfectly – my personal choice would be the smoked Var salmon from Chaxhill’s Severn and Wye Smokery. Having been lucky enough to tour the factory recently, I learned a lot about the different varieties and curing styles. Having tasted my way though their entire catalogue I settled on the Var which offers a good balance or smokey richness and full flavour. Served alongside some good local bread and a handful of organic leaves, it allows plenty of time to relax with your guests before the main event.

There are the traditionalists who favour a good free range turkey – I have ordered mine from Monmouthshire Turkeys near Raglan – and those who look for a different option so how about a Free Range Goose or Slow Cooked Confit Duck from Madgett’s Farm? Well IMG_1706known throughout the area they offer a really good selection of poultry and game, and make some rather excellent sausages and stuffings to serve alongside.

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Veg is from Organic grower Paul’s Organic Veg. For really fresh brassicas (including those essential sprouts) Paul is your man and he offers veg boxes of various sizes to take all the veg buying hassle away. Next you’ll need some really good sausages and bacon. I think its hard to beat the bacon from Trealy Farm, found in some of the most exclusive hotels and restaurants in the UK, the charcuterie is second to none. For sausages, the Cowshill Herd in Hewelsfield are my first choice, their rear breed pork sausages are perfect for wrapping and serving alongside the bronzed bird.

Pudding, or cheese and pudding?  Of course making your Christmas Pudding is preferable IMG_7705but where cheeses are concerned we are extremely fortunate. A good cheese board should comprise a hard cheese, creamy, goats and blue. A good start would be a wedge of Smart’s Double Gloucester, then a round of deliciously soft Angiddy, a Welsh cheese made from Jersey Milk at Brooke’s Dairy, a slice of the internally famous Stinking Bishop and for a blue…..well, you may have to nip out of the area, The Marches Deli in Monmouth has some excellent and well-kept artisan cheeses and they are always happy to guide you through them. If a heavy classic pud is a little too much why not try some extremely naughty adult ice-cream from Forest and Wye, this artisanal ice-cream comes in flavours such as Baileys and Kahlua, Islay Whiskey and Coffee and Speyside Whisky and Coffee – all remarkably individual and all packing a definite punch. They’re more conventional flavours are pretty fab too – or for those in the Monmouth area its hard to beat Green and Jenks Italian Gelato, take-home packs always available.

So to finish a good meal you need a good digestive and some choccie. Again, I would turn to Charles Martell and one of their devious perry, cider or plum spirits – these are a real treat. The Chocolate Bar in Lydney’s Taurus Crafts is one of the best local makers of fine chocolate, with a moreish selection knowing when to stop buying can be tricky but some good truffles on the table to serve with coffee are essential.

IMG_1852Whatever your foodie preference this Christmas, look about you and explore. Half the fun of the festive season id sourcing all those seasonal goodies that you restrict during the year – indulgence is Christmas and in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean, you can indulge to your heart’s content!