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: Stir Up Sunday

Originating in the early 18th century, Stir Up Sunday is the day traditionally designated to undertake the making of the Christmas Pudding.

Always kept on the last Sunday before Advent, it is said that Stir Up Sunday originated from a passage in a sermon in ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ translated from the Roman Catholic ‘Excita Quarsumus’ and read on the last Sunday in November.

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”

However, whilst I consider myself spiritual, but not tied to one particular religion, I see it as a day to have fun with the family, make wishes whilst stirring, and generally set the scene for the beginning of the Christmas festivities. It also allows at least 4 weeks for the Pudding to mature in a dark cupboard before being brought flaming to the table on Christmas Day.

Traditionally made with 13 ingredients to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus, my Christmas Pudding recipe is adapted from the doyenne of English cookery Eliza Acton, whose recipe was first published in the 1840s. Under the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), with Prince Albert’s Germanic influences, Christmas became the spectacle it it today, with so many of our Christmas traditions filtering down from this, most famous of couples.

Although the roots of Christmas Pudding’s are deep set in The Middle Ages – where meat and fruit was combined with spices in many recipes – the sweet, sticky, boozy concoction we know and love today is very much a product of post-reformation Britain.

Packed full of moist vine fruits, suet, mixed peel, spices and, of course, booze – it is synonymous with Christmas Lunch and, love it or hate it, no Christmas meal is complete without it. Traditionally, every member of the household takes a turn to stir the pudding and make a wish. My Great Grandmother would take her industrial sized Christmas Pudding to the local brewery to be steamed in the great vessels used for brewing and my grandmother, who is now almost 108 still enjoys taking a turn stirring the pudding and making her wish.

Historically, a selection of silver tokens are stirred into the mix – most often a sixpence (silver is by nature anti-bacterial so no poisoning worries there, although it does make for somewhat of a choking hazard) and the finder of this would “enjoy wealth and good luck in the year to come”.

Christmas Pudding

Serves 6-8

75g plain flour (or gluten free)

75g breadcrumbs (I like to use wholemeal)

175g suet (beef or vegetable)

175g chopped figs

175g sultanas

50g diced mixed peel

1 large apple, grated

1 large orange, zest grated and juiced

150g dark brown sugar

1.5 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp sea salt

100ml Armagnac (or any spirit you prefer)

3 eggs lightly beaten

Method

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure that every member of the household gets to stir and make their wish!

Pour into a greased pudding bowl – I use a 21 cm Pyrex bowl – cover with a dampened new tea towel or muslin then tie securely with string.

Place on a trivet in a large lidded pan and pour water 3/4 of the way up the side

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 4 hours, topping up the water when necessary

Cool and store in a cool, dark and dry place – I keep my pudding in the bowl, in a large tin – you can ‘feed’ it with spirits but if you are planning on bringing it, flaming, to the table too much additional alcohol can prove dangerous.

On Christmas Day, repeat the steaming procedure for 1 and 1/2 hours then serve with your choice of Brandy Butter, Custard, Cream or Vanilla Sauce – not forgetting the obligatory sprig of decorative Holly!


Frontier Style Cherry Skillet Pie

It’s #NationalCherryDay so here’s my recipe for a very simple cherry skillet tart or pie.

Combining cinnamon with the flour gives a delicious crust which, when filled with the kirsch flavoured cherries, is really quite moreish. This pie is very juicy, almost self saucing, and the crisp outer crust can be ripped off and dunked into the cherry juices.

This recipe originated in the frontier days, when families travelled across America by wagon train, with very few personal possessions- perhaps only a griddle, a skillet and a cauldron which formed their kitchen, so, the frugality of the recipe is rather fitting. They would have cooked using communal ovens, Dutch ovens and most often over a wood fire.

Many Welsh mining families emigrated to the ‘wild west’ in the later 19th century – some of my ancestors included – so this is a little homage to them.

Ingredients

100g cold unsalted butter, grated

250g plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon

2 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar

2 eggs

Water to mix

Pinch of salt

250g stoned fresh cherries

1 tbsp kirsch

4 heaped tbls golden caster sugar

Method

Rub the flour into the butter until you have fine breadcrumbs

Stir in the cinnamon and sugar

Add a beaten egg and bring the pastry together, if it’s too dry add a little water or milk, if it’s too wet add a little more flour

Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees c

Roll out the pastry roughly and use it to line a greased skillet or tin. Make sure that the pastry goes over the edge a little as this will form your crust

Add the cherries, then sprinkle over 3 tbls of sugar and the kirsch

Fold the edges up and over to form a rustic pie crust, then glaze with beaten egg,

Sprinkle the crust with the remaining sugar and a dusting of cinnamon

Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden and the cherries bubbling

Serve warm with ice-cream, cream or custard – or all three!


Remember, remember the 5th of November….

  

Admittedly, I’ve been a little lax with this blog in the last week – if was of course half-term and the days were spent juggling outings, appointments and ‘I’m bored’ – however I did notice (and possibly for the first time) Vast quantities of Christmas products in shops alongside Halloween things.

 When I was a child in the 80’s Halloween was very much on its own, it followed back-to-school which rather depressingly always fell in July and preceded Bonfire Night which, aside from fireworks and sparklers wasn’t really the big event (and foodie push) that it is today. 

Bonfire Night was never heralded by large adverts of rosy-faced children in knitted hats clutching rare breed hotdogs in brioche rolls with a side of ‘lighter style’ slaw – there weren’t any glamorous articles advising how to entertain with enamel mugs of hot chocolate or mulled wine, wrapped in rough linen with a cinnamon stick tied to the side with rustic twine. But it was a special occasion in so much as I was allowed a ‘mad cow burger’ with a floppy, melted piece of ‘fake’ cheese and lashings of overly sweet  ketchup – with a can of Top Deck shandy on the side. 

Historically, there have always been dishes associated with Halloween and Bonfire Night – Halloween cakes made to ward of the devil were often part of country culture and were made until the middle of the twentieth century. Bonfire Night with its Guy and fireworks required something easily left unattended so jacket potatoes were often eaten, having been abandoned to the wood or coal fired oven whilst the family watched the fireworks and then served simply with good butter and salt – to be eaten with a spoon – sometimes a luxurious glug of cream was poured into a hole made in the top. 

Today we are encouraged to used these events as a foodie platform – inviting some friends over to have supper after the display – providing a simple, autumnal, locally produced meal which showcases the ‘Best of British’ in a slow-cooked form (in case the display runs over) and can be served in pretty bowls with a torn chunk of artisanal bread, warmed of course. 

Yet, sometimes the best recipes are the most simple and it’s hard to go wrong with a good stew with local meat – here in Wales we make Cawl, a Welsh lamb stew which was served with wedges of cheese (caws) and bread (bara). 

Cawl is a glorious dish which can be made with pretty much any seasons vegetable, the fattier the meat the better and if mutton is obtainable – go for it. It has so much depth of flavour and can be left happily for hours whilst you go about your business. The most simple Cawl comprises meat, potatoes, onion and carrot, maybe a bit of turnip or swede and lots of seasoning. This should please all meat eating guests. Follow with some warm gingerbread, very traditional on Bonfire Night (especially the heavier Parkin with its oatmeally solidity) and a glass of ginger wine.  For children, toasting marshmallows is a must – there is something wonderfully decadent about the hot, crisp and gooey mallow, so hot that it almost burns the lips as it passes through. 

Mulled cider is perfect to offer guests and paper cups are fine – handmade pottery cider beakers, although they look splendid, do not fare well with darkness and children. I combine 2 litres of good, still local cider with 1 litre of cloudy Apple juice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, a good grating of nutmeg, a couple of tablespoons of clear honey, a thumb of ginger bruised and, finally, I stud some small apples with a couple of cloves and float them in the pan. Warm without boiling and serve. 


Waste not, want not….

  

Two years ago, on Christmas Eve, a relative of mine was in Lidl and witnessed the staff throwing frozen Turkeys into black bags. Where were they going? she inquired. The bin, she was told. They weren’t allowed to give them away, they had to be destroyed. The staff were very upset but they were under orders. Last year was a little better but as we approach the season of overindulgence I think we should all think about what we buy and what we let rot.

We are all guilty of buying too much, advertising and the choice we are offered allows for a much more varied diet. In our parent’s and grandparent’time food was generally associated with a particular day, leftovers from the Sunday roast became bubble and squeak on Monday and soup on Tuesday. Friday was fish day, a ham was boiled on a Sunday for the week’s sandwiches. People didn’t mind ‘eating up’ the firmer slices of bread or ‘trimming up’ the cheese.

Today the most popular dish in Britain for a Monday night is Spaghetti Bolognese; fresh mince, pasta, nothing from the day before. Of course now we can’t just eat Spag Bol, we need garlic bread, coleslaw, salad….and more often than not the salad (bagged and prewashed in chemicals) is sitting in its own juice come Friday. Into the bin it goes.

  
 As a nation we have been encouraged to obey all sell by dates – when I was a child we used our noses – if something smelt ok, it probably was. Which leads me to wonder whether, now preservatives are used throughout the food industry, they mask the smell of ‘off’ food or preserve beyond the dates stamped…as humanity has survived for thousands of years without use-by dates why can we not trust our instincts now, even if companies are obliged to provide such dates. 

  
The amount of food wasted in this country is ridiculous. With celebrity chefs taking up the cause I think it’s about time to tackle this issue.  If we try and cook from scratch we are less lightly to waste, so dig out those recipes from granny, plan meals and perhaps use leftovers for packed lunches or as the basis for soups or pasta sauces; and enjoy the simple pleasure of cold cuts with chutneys and sauces. Bake your own cakes and you rely on their feel, a sponge gone a little hard? Warm it and serve with custard or make a trifle. Think outside the box – you may be surprised at what can be achieved.


Any other recipebookaphiles?

And so it begins….
  
I create recipes, some days they are harder to compile than others. My main problem is my addiction to random, unwanted cookery books. I cannot pass a secondhand bookshop without undertaking a thorough investigation. 

I can spend hours amongst the well thumbed, kitchen-stained volumes; it is almost a religious experience. My first choice are the ones with notes in the margin, a small neat hand which adds or removes ingredients, suggests accompaniments or rates a recipe out of ten. Sometimes, and it is rare, one discovers a handwritten sheet inserted between the pages, the title led by some long lost relative…Aunt Maisie’s Christmas Pudding, Jean’s Chicken Surprise or Mother’s Sponge. Occasionally a cutting from a yellowed newspaper or magazine falls from the book, marking the page with another culinary delight. For me, this is the gold at the end of the rainbow. The very smell of old books is magical, the rustle and dedications, ‘Christmas ’39’ or ‘For Lousia’s 18th’ or those ‘in’ quips involving newlyweds or students.

All these enhance my recipes and….unfortunately….divert me, and with a computer screen in front of me bearing the words ‘Burn’s Night Recipe’ and a blank space underneath, I am forced to delve into my library only to emerge hours later wondering what I was supposed to be doing. 

My ultimate dream would be to discover an old farmhouse notebook, handwritten in pencil and stained by years of use, full of tips and recipes handed down from generation to generation….but these are things of the past…another beautiful tradition destroyed by progress and technology.