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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Bangers and Bonfires #UKsausageweek

Bonfire Night; the air is filled with woodsmoke, a hint of sulphur remains from the sausagesrecently released fireworks. The sparklers have sparkled and now, hunger strikes. What better warming winter dish to turn to than the humble British banger? A childhood favourite, steaming from the barbecue and tucked into a pappy white roll, maybe a few sweet and sticky onions and, of course,  an obscene amount of tomato ketchup, the Hot Dog, ‘English style’ is most synonymous with this time of year. In celebration of this humble foodstuff #nationalsausageweek has been held annually showcasing the best and most inventive sausages around, this year, however it’s #UKsausageweek

There has always been regional variation in sausages, spice blends and the addition of various herbs have been part of sausage culture for centuries however in the past couple of decades flavours have become far more interesting, varying from the sublime to the ridiculous. Personally, I don’t think you can beat a good old breakfast sausage however it depends on exactly what one is serving it with.

For the traditional mash and onion gravy combo I like a flavoursome banger; pork and leek or pork and apple. We are extremely lucky in my region as we have some really excellent butchers, farm-shops and small-holders selling directly to the public. In a previous post I expressed my enthusiasm for the wonderful pork from Monmouthshire’s Decent Company, but within ten miles of my house I can find everything from Gloucester Old Spot and Cider, to Lamb Merguez Style, Wild Boar and I’ve even seen Squirrel. There are those flavoured with chilli, truffle and cheese; one extremely delicious flavour is Black Pudding and Gloucester Old Spot.

There is nothing more depressing than staying in a B and B, or Hotel and being served a fine textured, slurry-esque breakfast sausage with your bacon. I want a decent banger and a good sausage often makes or breaks a weekend break! The supermarkets are coming closer to the mark, and British outdoor bred pork does have a higher welfare standard than the factory farms found in many parts of Europe. We do, of course, have such shameful secrets here, so I try to seek out butchers who provide free-range pork which is local and, in many cases, rare breed or heritage.

These I will pull into the sausage category even thought some are technically a ‘Pudding’ – all certainly deserve a mention. In Northern Ireland, Hugh Maguire’s fabulous Smoked Black Pudding was awarded supreme champion in the much coveted national Great Taste Awards 2017. In Cornwall and the South West Hog’s Pudding is a delicious and now rather rare treat – do seek it out if you’re in the area. Scotland’s famous Lorne Sausage is made with beef, the dense, seasoned,  meaty squares playing a leading role in the Scot’s Cooked Breakfast.

England is extremely famous for the ‘Cumberland sausage‘, coiled and highly flavoured, and often served with the redcurrant and orange based Cumberland Sauce. Each county has its own variety. Amongst others, there are Suffolk Sausages, Wiltshire Sausages and Glamorgan Sausages (a poor man’s recipe of the 19th century where Caerphilly cheese, leeks and breadcrumbs made a tasty, and a now fashionably vegetarian supper dish). One local charcuterie make a wonderfully decadent German-style wild boar black pudding sausage from the wild boar found in the Forest of Dean.

Of course, traditional British cookery and sausages often go hand-in-hand. We have Toad-in-the-Hole,  Bangers and Mash, Sausage Casserole – to name a few. These are real comfort foods and form the basic recipes for many winter suppers.

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Last week I used some fabulous spiced lamb sausages to make a pseudo-tagine with chick peas, preserved lemons and some sweet potatoes to bulk it out a little. The sausages were dense and meaty, no fillers or msg needed.

So, in celebration of #UKsausageweek , here is a little run down of my top five traditional sausage recipe ideas, tweaked for variety;

1) Wrap the sausages in streaky bacon and fry to colour, before adding a Yorkshire pudding batter into which a little sage has been infused.

2) How about trying a chilli flavoured sausage set into a batter of cornmeal and eggs; a Tex Mex twist on Toad-in-the-Hole which works really well with a good dollop of Salsa and Guacamole on the side.

3) Make a creamy root vegetable mash with seasonal parsnips and serve with a fruity banger, Pork and Pear, or Pork and Apple; or a plain well-seasoned sausage and a little apple puree beaten into the mash

4) Skin the sausages and make into tiny meatballs, adding a little crushed fennel seed, bake or fry and add to a traditional Italian tomato sauce. Serve with spaghetti for meatballs sausage style.

5) Skin four different complimentary flavours of sausage, layer into a terrine mould and bake until brown and sizzling for an easy meatloaf. This is also delicious served cold with salads and a good puddle of strong English mustard.

There is no doubt that sausages are a constant crowd pleaser, they weren’t rationed in the war (although were difficult to get hold of), and every country in Europe has their own variation; so this week why not expand your sausage horizon and think out of the box – the British Banger is here for the duration!


This little piggy went to market….then into the freezer…..and it was yum!

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This weekend I’ve gone a little bit pork mad. On Friday I took delivery of 1/2 a free-range, rare breed pig from Martha Roberts’ The Decent Company. I was very impressed by the obvious bond she has with her pigs and (so far) I am certainly not disappointed in the quality of the meat.  Rare Breed Pork is quite a bit darker than your usual ‘supermarket’ pork, the fat is creamy and generous and the skin crackles beautifully, the flavour is richer and more old fashioned from when meat tasted like meat.

Martha’s Monmouthshire based smallholding is enchantingly described on her lovely postcards as being high in the hills, and the pictures of her happy sounder (love that word) of swine are a testament to their very ‘decent’ upbringing. I chose 1/2 a pig which is a little over 20 kgs in weight, and costs £160, which when you consider the variety of cuts, is very reasonable. The Pork arrived packed in neat, insulated boxes with lovely little branded cards stashed neatly in a zip lock bag. Within minutes my son had set upon one of the ten packets of sausages and within twenty minutes were sampling some of the nicest sausages I’ve tasted in a long while. They were perfectly seasoned and my 106 year old grandmother, who is staying with us for the week, declared them to, “taste like sausages used to”, which is quite an accolade.

There was an excellent variety of joints, ribs, belly (more on that later), a lovely hock from which I am going to make a pressed parsley terrine, chops not much smaller than my son’s head….the list goes on. We stashed most of it in the freezer, admittedly it does take up most of the freezer….and it’s very likely that within a few weeks we’ll all have grown a curly tail!  Pork is such a versatile meat and you could easily cook a different dish every day for a month and still have dozens of options.

I  have always been a great supporter of the Welsh pig industry. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a day at Humble by Nature in Monmouthshire, in conjunction with Porc Wales and I learned a great deal about a meat which was very much used in Welsh kitchens. To read more about my experience, click here.

So, this morning, after panicking that I had no bread in the house I knocked up a quick Soda Hedgehog Bread and oven-roasted a few sausages. IMG_0131Served with Tracklement’s Sweet Mustard Ketchup and Proper Tomato Ketchup they went down a treat for Saturday Brunch.

My husband has also decided that now is the time to begin his foray into bacon making and having worked his way through the curing sections of my extensive cookery book library he finally decided to ‘wing it’ a little. The result, which is curing in the refrigerator, is a cider and honey cure with sea salt.

We elected not to use nitrates so we will probably slice and freeze the bacon soon after curing. It is a great ambition of mine to have a proper inglenook fire so that I can hang bacon and hams inside and let the sweet woodsmoke flavour the meat. One day…I keep telling myself. We also made a great slab of crackling with the discarded rind,  which I’ll probably serve alongside bowls of homemade brandied apple sauce with drinks before dinner.

Tomorrow we have guests for Sunday Lunch so I very much looking to sharing this lovely leg joint with them, with all the trimmings of course, and I’m quite sure they’ll all enjoy it as much as I will!

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Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness…A little taster of the project I’m currently working on…

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The Forest of Dean is at its best in the Autumn months, when the great oaks, once famed the country over for their strength and height, and used in shipbuilding, are burnished in the golden light of an Indian summer. The forest’s leaves encompass all shades from tawny yellow, to ruby-red and dark earthy brown. Coaches drive through these wild woods, their occupants’ cameras poised for the perfect shot, whilst those who live there barely notice the beauty as they drive, eyes front, through this, most ancient of royal forests. The law of the Freeminer and the word of the Verderer still hold here. Any person who works for a year and a day in one of the few mines still in existence is awarded the status of Freeminer allowing mining rights anywhere within the forest. The Verderer’s court, held in the Stately Speech House, a building with more than a hint of Judge Jeffries about it, talk of the free roaming sheep shepherded by the Badgers, or the wild boar.

Ancient legends speak of the Wild Hunt, a fairy army waiting in the forest’s depths to carry you off. Wise women were consulted as doctors were few and far between; tinctures from foraged plants cured all manners of ailments, even into the middle of the twentieth century. Public houses were prolific; breweries filled the village air with the scent of warm malt and hops. Here, rooting out fabulous local foods becomes a pleasure, from the game of the Lydney Park Estate to the fine meat, dairy and chaucuterie of Severnside. Many restaurants have taken up the flag of local and homemade seems to be ‘de rigour’. The Wye Valley, the gateway to the Forest for many, is aristocratically confident in its seasonal changes. Sheltered as it is, autumn arrives a little later and without the violence of the more exposed Forest. Here, the Kingstone Brewery’s experienced brewers produce exemplary real ale, the Tintern Parva vineyards, their vines elegantly placed overlooking the famous abbey and village, produce excellent wines and mead, a legacy of the Cistercian monks who once made this village with its breathtaking abbey a prime example of total self-sufficiency. To stop at one of the many inns between Chepstow and Monmouth, in the autumn is a great treat and, local drink in hand, whiles away many pleasant afternoons.

Early in autumn, as August comes to a close the air is heady with fruit. The lane, to the front of the farmhouse, is shaded by low hanging boughs of ripening orchard fruits, the tiny cherry plums, not seen in the supermarkets spill onto the cool tarmac. We pick these with relish, to be turned into crumbles and jams to fortify the larder throughout the winter. Some are deep red, some buttery yellow, yet none is bigger than a fifty pence piece. They pop satisfyingly in the heavy cast iron pan before cooling and sieving, the ruby juice is returned to the pan with an equal volume of preserving sugar. The ancient, roadside hedgerows are also home to glistening, bulbous blackberries, more of which make it to the stomach than the jam pot, especially if my son is with us. High above, the elderberries wait their turn, their tiny dark berries will be made into a cordial to ward off coughs and colds, also to provide a simple sauce for a rare grilled duck breast. IMG_7742
Apples of all varieties abound, the larger ‘cooking’ apples are peeled, cored, sliced and cooked until they yield their juice before being bagged, labelled and frozen for winter crumbles and pies. Some are made into chutney, enhanced with a dash of cider and left to mature in the deep dark cupboard alongside the fireplace. The desert apples are stored between straw in the old dairy; the darkness preventing their rotting. We bake these, stuffed with a medieval mixture of dried fruit, herbs, spices and honey. They are grated into cake mixtures; we have even experimented with apple and cinnamon Welsh Cakes.

Late autumn picnics make the most of the fine weather, simple fayre a Gloucestershire Squab Pie (Bacon, onions and apples in a short crust pastry) satisfies most appetites, whilst a Plum Upside-down cake provides a sweet finish, throw in some crusty bread, good cheese, chutney, ham and some hard-boiled free range eggs and you have a splendid banquet. As we drive across towards the Severn the Pheasant dash out in front of us providing sport for the distant guns. A brace of Pheasant is modestly priced and will provide an elegant dinner for four people. Drawn, plucked and halved, anointed liberally with goose fat or lard, as Pheasant has a tendency to dry, and roasted, it is simple and delicious. Cold roasted pheasant can be turned in the decadent old French dish Salmagundi; a combination of minced pheasant or other game, wine and rich spices. Roast Pheasant needs Game chips on the side, a spiced red cabbage, and perhaps a light jus flavoured with a little Hedgerow Jelly. We make Hedgerow Jelly as the fruit season is drawing to a close, following a final, desperate scramble to pick anything left. The fruit is boiled, strained through muslin and returned to the pan 500g of sugar to 600ml of juice. It keeps beautifully and adds a deeper, darker dimension to many savoury dishes.
In the Forest the wild boar are on the rampage, barely a week goes by without someone or other ‘cheating death’ when a Boar entered their garden. They leave furrows in the ground, there are official advice sheets on what to do when confronted by one. They are, however, extremely tasty as my Wild Boar Terrine will testify. In France wild boar is often cooked slowly with plenty of red wine, garlic and herbs; a Beef Bourguignon for those made of harder stuff. The flavour is dark; the texture takes you back to the halls of Medieval Europe. It is a perfect delight.

Some years we take a weekend away, most recently to Llantony Priory, a hamlet dominated by its once magnificent abbey in the heart of the Black Mountains. The car packed with the staples needed, children, dogs and kites included, we spend a couple of nights amongst friends, no television or wi-fi to disturb us here. The evenings are filled with good-humoured banter, discussions and confessions. We’ve made a thick, spiced apple cordial from the more weather-beaten of our fruit. It’s adds warmth and sweetness to rough local cider and alone proves a perfect alcohol-free tonic, diluted with warm water or apple juice for ‘I’m not tired’ children. In the morning we become a breakfast station. As a great believer in the traditional British breakfast there is no shortage of crispy dry cured bacon, sizzling chipolatas, stewed baked beans, eggs all ways, mushrooms, potato fritters and piles and piles of golden toast. The teapot is full, the mugs stand to attention. There is a strange formality about the British breakfast; without intention we are drawn to it at times when comfort is needed, curing the heavy head, setting oneself up for the day. Not for our Wild Welsh Weekends, the muesli and low-fat yoghurt brigade. We take tray bakes or slab cakes, robust enough to travel; scones ready to be decked with their thick clotted cream and homemade jam blankets. A walk works up an appetite; the communal meals of the evenings a showcase of hearty fayre. In the morning there will be jugs of cocoa for the children, who for a moment, put down their gadgets and communicate with each other.


Humbled by Pork!

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to a press day organised by porc.wales, a new, assembly backed initiative to promote small producers of proper pork in Wales.

Wales and Pork have a history which goes far back (although not too far, as the pig was sacred to the celts) but up until the early twentieth century, when it was finally outlawed, many Welsh families kept a pig which was sent for slaughter to keep the family in meat – no part of the pig was wasted – it was true nose to tail eating.

The porc.wales press event was held at Humble by Nature, the Monmouthshire farm championing sustainability and tradition. Owned by television presenter Kate Humble, Humble by Nature offers a wide variety of practical courses as well as being a good family day out – with an excellent cafe and regular supper clubs.

A study conducted into the Welsh pork industry found that in general the herds were substantially smaller than those in England – and often comprised native or heritage breeds.

At Humble by Nature we enjoyed a masterclass in faggot making from Gloucestershire charcutier Ruth Waddington who, alongside husband Graham, runs Lydney based Native Breeds www.nativebreeds.co.uk which make delectable products with the best possible pork (I can very much recommend their British Frankfurter) and very much enjoyed the accompanying talk about paring foraged ingredients with meats to create a storyboard for the recipe. Liz Knight, from borders based Forage Fine Foods www.foragefinefoods.com is obviously extremely passionate and introduced us to delightful flavour bombs such as acorns, giant hogweed and chamomile.


Having finally produced our faggots we had a guided tour of the farm from farmer Tim Stephens and met the pigs, of course! Humble by Nature’s dedication to sustainability is obvious – their animals are extremely well cared for and look extremely relaxed.


Lunch was splendid, as you can see, a few green beans and some creamy mash on the side, not forgetting my first ‘stock shot’ of cooking liquor which was packed with flavour – the sticky toffee Spotted Dick which was followed was equally yum! A glass of Humble by Nature branded cider finished off the day perfectly (along with a little bit of foodie debate)

For further info on foodie and countryside courses search www.humblebynature.com