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: 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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Moroccan Spiced Slow Roast Shoulder of Lamb

I adore the combination of flavours in North African cooking, the rich tagines, delicate sweet pastries, mounds of minted, olive oil rich couscous, bulgar wheat salads gleaming with jewel-like pomegranate seeds – and now, with autumn on the way i’d like to share one of my favourite, albeit possibly inauthentic, recipes combining local Welsh Lamb (which I firmly believe is some the best in the world) with those flavours synonymous with Morocco – garlic, lemon, honey, figs, ras-al-hanout – all melding together to create an extremely ‘moorish’ dish.

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This would make an excellent alternative Sunday lunch or supper party dish, served with a roasted vegetable couscous, or even simply jacket potatoes and salad. The lamb is also excellent tucked into warmed flatbreads with some hummus, spiced yoghurt and a dash of pomegranate molasses. The leftovers (including the bone) can be turned into a simple spiced lamb broth with a few chick peas, veggies and squeeze of Harissa – two meals for the price of one and no waste. I do recommend marinating the meat overnight as it allows the flavours to penetrate the meat.

Serves 4-6 with leftovers

IngredientsIMG_5404

2.5 kg shoulder of lamb (bone in)

2 preserved lemons, sliced

2 heaped tsp ras-al-hanout spice blend – I use Parva Spices

A good handful of fresh parsley

6 cloves of garlic, smashed with their skins

2 tbls of good olive oil

4 chopped, dried figs

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses – this can be found in specialty food shops, in some delis or online from The Belazu Ingredient Company, and gives a rich intensity without too much sweetness

1 heaped tablespoon runny honey

Method

(Day 1)

Place the lamb in a large casserole or in a roasting dish, slash the meat diagonally at 2 cm intervals to make little pockets in the meat.

Slice the lemons and figs, and roughly chop the parsley

In a small bowl mix the Ras-al-Hanout, olive oil, seasoning and pomegranate molasses

Rub this into the meat, making sure to cover the surface completely

Push the lemon, garlic, parsley and fig slices into the slashed pockets, then drizzle with the honey

Cover well and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge

(Day 2)

Remove the meat from the fridge and bring to room temperature

Heat the oven to 150 degrees C , gas mark 2, 300 degree f.

Place the meat in the oven, covered with foil or lidded (if using a casserole)

Cook for four hours, checking every hour or so

If you do find the meat looks as if it is a little dry, add some lamb stock (this can be from a stockpot or cube). Lamb shoulder is a relatively fatty cut, yielding delicious juices so this shouldn’t really be a problem.

Remove the lid, turn the oven up to 180 degrees C, Gas Mark 4, 350 degrees F and cook for a further 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender, browned and a little crisp on the outside

IMG_5457Rest the meat for at least 15 minutes before serving.

I like to serve my lamb with wholegrain couscous which I stir into the juices whilst the meat is resting, adding lemon, mint, stock and seasoning, bringing to the boil and then leaving  for few minutes to ‘fluff’ – this is a great way of using up all those lovely juices and means the couscous really packs a flavour punch.


The Pheasant Philosophises: Part 3 Sunday Morning Musings: Seasonality

fullsizeoutput_1600So, this week saw the end of National Cake Week, the beginning of National Seafood Week and tomorrow we look forward to the start of British Egg Week. Whilst I enjoy these specialised food and drink weeks it does make me wonder how on earth the British food industry survived for all those years without national annual promotion. Whilst these ‘weeks’ generally fall into place at the peak or opening of the season, some items are in season continually (and in the case of Cake week, it was initially established to share and enjoy a cake together), I look back and try to understand where the British food industry went wrong with seasonality. One hundred years ago, you knew that if it was December there were no strawberries and if it was August, Mussels were generally off the menu.

The only area within which we can categorically state that there is definite seasonality in the UK is through the various Game seasons.

IMG_7075The nostalgia and traditions which surround Game have managed to survive, unchallenged into the twenty first century, and so, today, many people still ‘look forward’ to the first Pheasant, Partridge or Grouse (the glorious 12th a testimony to this). Another example is the relatively new (1951), seasonal arrival of  Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday in November, but the general non-foodie populous are not privy to such seasonal excitements.

Perhaps this is where National Food Weeks come in? When my Grandmother was born in 1911 and yes, she’s still with us today, the seasons were heralded by the changing foods available in markets and shops. People waited almost a whole year for the first Scottish Raspberries or English grown lettuces, hot houses did exist but mostly for the rich. There has been a distinct reversal in the ensuing years. Those with money can seek out the very best of seasonal produce whilst those on budgets can buy ‘year round’ mediocre quality items from the local supermarket.

As a budget conscious nation, we have been told to buy seasonally to save money, even I have advocated this, however on closer inspection perhaps my encouragement is mis-worded. What I should say is, “when buying at specialist food shops, farm shops, farmers markets or similar try to buy seasonally because it proves far better value and generally you reduce your purchases’ food miles”.  This is where the quality issue comes in. In my earlier piece about Organic food  #feedyourhappy I recommended seasonal buying and I do stick by this. IMG_0044

I do, however, think it’s sad that we’ve lost the excitement of seasonality, those of us who produce our own foods know all too well the “No….I can’t manage another strawberry” and the  “We’ll just make jam, now” scenarios after a glut of fruit. We have eaten our fill are are quite happy to wait, in the most, another year for more fresh, sweet, glistening berries. That’s why opening a jar of summer Strawberry Jam in the middle of Winter is so evocative. It is the very fact that it is the preservation of summer which makes it ‘special’ – but that aside, it is not fresh produce like the little trays of overpriced out of season strawberries we see on our supermarket shelves at Christmas. Jam is a shadow of the memory of Summer, preserving gluts of fruit has been a ritual in world kitchens for thousands of years, whether it be drying, potting, jam-making or, more recently freezing (although again, I’m not so keen as you end with a pale example of what first went in). You cannot compare a decent jam to a bowl fresh fruit and it would be wrong to do so.

Therefore, perhaps the Britain’s Food Weeks have a place, not so much in promoting awareness and purchase of produce, but in highlighting what shouldn’t be around….it is all extremely confusing…but Happy National Seafood Week anyway!!!

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The Pheasant Philosophises Part 1

I spent last Saturday on a bit of a foodie mission. I tried to prove that my theory about city folk having better access to organic and artisanal producers than we country folk (who make and farm said produce), was wrong. I have to admit that I was, in many ways, right.

I think that inherently the produce is there, but the accessibility isn’t. I started by trying to find organic vegetables. I know that Monmouth itself has one organic grower, and there are market gardens throughout the county, but how was I to get the produce, and in decent quantities. Farmer’s markets are all very well, but buying once a week or once a month, in many cases, just doesn’t offer the freshness. When I am at my house in France I can go out every day to a market and buy fruit and vegetables harvested from the fields that morning; often these are organic; sometimes they are misshapen, pesticide free and just as delicious but without the certification. This is something Britain also needs to address. Where is the middle ground produce? I know how difficult it is to get organic certification in the UK but I also think that pesticide free, naturally farmed foods should be more available; striking a balance between health and pocket.

If I wanted to do a weekly shop I would need to travel somewhere in the region of 30 miles round-and-about to collect my local meat, bread, fruit, veg and dairy. You can see why supermarkets have become so dominant in our society; it’s convenience. I believe that we supporters of local produce should rise up and demand centralised cooperatives in smaller towns, where we can buy everything under one roof,  everything being local. It would encourage new food businesses, help boost older ones and offer a choice between regional and ‘big corporation’, and support our Farming industry which is being threatened by the darkening doors of Brexit. If we choose to eat seasonally and regionally it should be available to us. I find it so disappointing that if I lived in London I could nip out to one market, Borough, for example, buy great produce and know where it comes from, whereas here, in the centre of our rural, farming industries I struggle.

People complain that ‘out of town’ stores cause small businesses to close; even Monmouth is currently campaigning against the development of land near the A40 Dixon roundabout. I agree that we don’t need Monmouth branded with international money grabbing chains. So, why not throw away the plans for chain restaurants or pet’s supermarkets and build a glorious local food centre –  a tribute to Monmouthshire and its agriculture and fill it with all the great foods from around us; if our produce is good enough to be served in top British restaurants why can’t we share it easily? Somewhere where we can find all we need with great credentials under one roof – we are, after all known as Wales’ foodie capitol – so lets capitalise!