The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: just a little trifle, please!

Christmas is now the only time of the year I make trifle. Growing up it was a mainstay of my grandmother’s birthday and Christmas tables, but the tradition now firmly sits within the festive period.

There’s something wonderfully decadent about the layers of creamy comfort, the hit of booze and the digging down to the bottom for the jelly. Purists, of course don’t use jelly, just sponge, jam (or fruit), cream and custard. This historical favourite is familiar to many as the Birds Trifle…that little packet of magic which seemed such a treat.

Today, trifles have become rather fashionable again. There are so many flavour combinations which satisfy the sweetest tooth.

Every year I make a Southern Comfort and Mandarin Trifle, it’s  so simple and tastes amazing. I use trifle sponges and soak them in Southern comfort and the juice from tinned mandarins, then spoon over the fruit, a layer or orange jelly, custard and finally whipped  cream. I usually buy an edible gold spray for the cream as it catches the light beautifully and looks extremely christmassy.

For a taste of Eastern Promise why not try rose water or rose liqueur soaked sponge, fresh figs, lemon jelly and rosewater cream – a little cardamon in the custard lifts the flavour admirably too.

A delicious, more traditional trifle, is Madeira cake spread with raspberry jam, a few tablespoons of sherry or Amaretto, fresh raspberries, custard, whipped cream and a good scattering of toasted almonds.

Chocolate and Salt Caramel Trifles are very popular flavours these days too. Chocolate cake, Dulce de Leche, a gentle scattering of sea salt flakes, chocolate custard and cream topped with grated dark chocolate makes an extremely rich pudding (and a little dash of Tia Maria is always worth a thought)

One of the most decadent trifles is my Black Forest Trifle, again, no jelly here just good sponge, a good quality dark chocolate spread (or homemade ganache) lots of Kirsch, a jar of black cherries, chocolate custard and whipped cream finished with grated dark chocolate.


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: 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.