Archive for the ‘Autumn’ Category

There is something very British about pheasant. Images of men in tweed, wearing Barbour jackets, valets reloading rifles before handing them back to their masters and hounds with bird in mouth come to mind. Cooks and servants at the manor preparing a banquet in celebration of the glut of birds shot.

Thomas Becket famously dined on pheasant the night before his infamously violent death in 1170. Tudor kings and queens dined on elaborate pheasant dishes with colourful plumes adorning the roasted bird. And we often read about pheasant being cooked in Dickensian stories and Austen novels, so it surprises me, that all things considered, how infrequently we see it in restaurants and supermarkets.

Both chicken and pheasant were recorded as having been brought to Europe by Phoenician traders but chicken with its bland taste and texture has won universal acclaim; with people usually eating chicken more than twice a week in different reincarnations.

This Christmas, my nephew mentioned he’d never tried pheasant; actually, neither had the rest of us in the family. As Christmas Day traditions must be kept (turkey is a must) we tried cooking pheasant for the first time in the run up to Christmas.

Having read the butcher’s instructions on the label of the plucked, prepackaged, plastic wrapped pheasants and several internet searches later, it was clear that pheasant are in danger of drying out in the oven.

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On taking the bird out of its packaging to place on its roasting trivet, the smell was strong and putrid. Slightly worried about this we looked at each other quizzically and thought, let’s just give this a go, if we don’t like it we just won’t cook it again. Admittedly whilst it sat on the trivet the smell seemed to dissipate and our fears were allayed.

We were not inflicting food poisoning on ourselves a few days before Christmas!

We prepared a herb butter and squeezed this between skin and breast meat. And stuffed the cavity with dried prunes and figs – the pheasant can take bold flavours; having bold flavours (and smells) itself. Truss the bird up before putting it into the oven so that the stuffing remains in the cavity and if you have any streaky bacon (we didn’t) protect the breast meat by laying several rashers across it.

Roast the bird on its trivet of vegetables for anything from 1hr 10mins to 1hr 30mins at 180°C. Allow to rest whilst you tend to gravy and mashed potatoes and any other vegetable side dish you’re serving.

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In terms of flavour, the breast meat had a slight herby/gamey taste but otherwise was quite transient and could pretty much carry other flavours with it but the leg meat, especially the drumstick was very strong and bold in flavour. Texture-wise this again was different, the leg meat was juicy, however, the breast meat was very dry.

I dare say that with repeated practise you’d be able to hone in your pheasant roasting skills or maybe even prefer cooking it in a slow cooker or in other guises.

With gravy, stuffing and mash this makes for a delicious autumnal/wintery evening meal sat in the warmth of your homely kitchen. As with other birds, the key is not to dry it out – the herb butter and streaky bacon will go a long way in protecting the integrity of the breast meat but keep an eye on this. Depending on the size of the pheasant being served it may be pertinent to think of half a bird per person so that they can try the leg and breast meat as there are joys to be had in both.

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Pheasant season runs from 1st October to 1st February, so even if you’re not up to cooking pheasant during the Christmas season you can give it a go in the new year. If I can locate pheasant back home, I’d definitely be game to give it another go (pun intended).

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There is something very British about pheasant. Images of men in tweed, wearing Barbour jackets, valets reloading rifles before handing them back to their masters and hounds with bird in mouth come to mind. Cooks and servants at the manor preparing a banquet in celebration of the glut of birds shot.

Thomas Becket famously dined on pheasant the night before his infamously violent death in 1170. Tudor kings and queens dined on elaborate pheasant dishes with colourful plumes adorning the roasted bird. And we often read about pheasant being cooked in Dickensian stories and Austen novels, so it surprises me, that all things considered, how infrequently we see it in restaurants and supermarkets.

Both chicken and pheasant were recorded as having been brought to Europe by Phoenician traders but chicken with its bland taste and texture has won universal acclaim; with people usually eating chicken more than twice a week in different reincarnations.

Fast forward to the present day:

This Christmas, my nephew mentioned he’d never tried pheasant; actually, neither had the rest of us in the family. As Christmas Day traditions must be kept (turkey is a must) we tried cooking pheasant for the first time in the run up to Christmas.

Having read the butcher’s instructions on the label of the plucked, prepackaged, plastic wrapped pheasants and several internet searches later, it was clear that pheasant are in danger of drying out in the oven.

On taking the bird out of its packaging to place on its roasting trivet, the smell was strong and putrid. Slightly worried about this we looked at each other quizzically and thought, let’s just give this a go, if we don’t like it we just won’t cook it again. Admittedly whilst it sat on the trivet the smell seemed to dissipate and our fears were allayed.

We were not inflicting food poisoning on ourselves a few days before Christmas! Phew!!

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We prepared a herb butter and squeezed this between skin and breast meat. And stuffed the cavity with dried prunes and figs – the pheasant can take bold flavours; having bold flavours (and smells) itself. Truss the bird up before putting it into the oven so that the stuffing remains in the cavity and if you have any streaky bacon (we didn’t) protect the breast meat by laying several rashers across it.

Roast the bird on its trivet of vegetables for anything from 1hr 10mins to 1hr 30mins at 180°C. Allow to rest whilst you tend to gravy and mashed potatoes and any other vegetable side dish you’re serving.

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In terms of flavour, the breast meat had a slight herby/gamey taste but otherwise was quite transient and could pretty much carry other flavours with it but the leg meat, especially the drumstick was very strong and bold in flavour. Texture-wise this again was different, the leg meat was juicy, however, the breast meat was very dry.

I dare say that with repeated practise you’d be able to hone in your pheasant roasting skills or maybe even prefer cooking it in a slow cooker or in other guises.

With gravy, stuffing and mash this makes for a delicious autumnal/wintery evening meal sat in the warmth of your homely kitchen. As with other birds, the key is not to dry it out – the herb butter and streaky bacon will go a long way in protecting the integrity of the breast meat but keep an eye on this. Depending on the size of the pheasant being served it may be pertinent to think of half a bird per person so that they can try the leg and breast meat as there are joys to be had in both.

Pheasant season runs from 1st October to 1st February, so even if you’re not up to cooking pheasant during the Christmas season you can give it a go in the new year. If I can locate pheasant back home, I’d definitely be game to give it another go (pun intended).

Enjoy

Gastrorob

Sweet Potato Logo

I must admit, I came to the sweet potato party quite late in life. Considering I eat pretty much anything I don’t know why I’ve been so ambivalent towards the sweet potato / boniato.

Perhaps it’s the way I’ve always seen it prepared; baked jacket-potato style with its orange flesh collapsing in on itself and scooped straight out of its blistered skin. And what is it about the skin that takes on irregular shiny-caramel looking spots where the flesh is peeking through? And when mixed in with carrots and parsnips as part of the Sunday roast veggies drizzled in maple syrup, the sweet potato pretty much disintegrates into the buttery maple juices at the bottom of the pan.

I think I may have answered my own question!

At a party years ago, I remember there was a sweet potato and peanut butter filo parcel which all the veggies were enjoying but I couldn’t decide whether i liked it or wondered whether it should be dessert; all it needed was some vanilla ice cream and a dusting of icing sugar and I’d have been happy…I think.

But it was on a trip to LA that my love for the sweet potato was restored. After several food blow outs I fancied something light but not salad-light(!) and came across a plain chicken breast with fries dish on the menu, that as it arrived on the table I thought, wow these American potatoes are really orange! After the first bite I realised they were sweet potato fries, duh! However, they were sweet, salty and acidic all in one bite. My eyes lit up, they were coated in salt, and freshness of lime zest and juice screamed through.

Since sweet potatoes and boniatos (white fleshed Caribbean sweet potatoes) are currently in season what better way to celebrate them than to try and recreate these lime, salty, sweet potato fries which I have shamelessly decided to call, margarita sweet potato fries; the tequila is optional.

Note: cutting them thicker makes for lighter work but they take longer to cook.

Grill some chicken breasts and corn on the cob to make this a great mid-week family supper. But I warn you, the first time I made this I ate the entire tray of sweet potato fries and left everything else!

 

 

 

…sweet potato fries which I have shamelessly decided to call,
margarita sweet potato fries; the tequila is optional…

Margarita Sweet Potato Fries

1st: Preheat the oven to 210°C

2nd: Wash the sweet potatoes to remove any soil or grit they may still have and slice into fries or wedges should you wish. There is no need to peel them.

3rd: Drizzle with olive oil and season well with salt flakes, pepper and lime zest.

4th: Cook in the oven for anything from 25 to 40 mins depending on size. Try to turn them once and get good colour on them throughout the cooking process.

5th: Squeeze lime juice over them as they come out of the oven and sprinkle with fresh coriander.

These fries are great with chicken but make a tasty accompaniment to grilled pork loin and white fish; anything that will pair well with zesty lime juice.

Whether you eat them as a side dish or as the main I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Pumpkin

Posted: October 30, 2017 in Autumn, Comfort Food, Family, home cooking, Soups, Uncategorized

Whole Oven Baked Pumpkin

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Ingredients:

1 whole pumpkin

250g Grated cheese (Gruyére,cheddar, emmental, etc)

300ml Double cream

500ml Vegetable stock (or chicken stock should you prefer)

2 Bay leaves 

Rasp of Nutmeg

Salt & pepper

Method:

 

1st: Pre-heat your oven to 190°c. Place the pumpkin on a baking tray and cut the top quarter off the top of the pumpkin. Reserve to one side.

2nd: Scoop out the seeds from the interior and any fibrous bits.

3rd: Fill the pumpkin with the cheese.  Use any cheese you wish, I used a packet of pre-grated cheese which had a mix of Emmental, Gruyére, Cheddar and Red Leicester, but you are more than welcome to stick to one cheese or combinations of cheeses that you prefer.

4th: Pour in the pot of cream.

5th: Add the bay leaves, nutmeg and salt & pepper.  Top up the pumpkin with your choice of stock but make sure not to fill it to the brim.

6th: Put the lid back on the pumpkin and place it in the oven for approx 1hour (this can take any length of time from 45mins to 1hr 15mins), until the flesh comes away from the pumpkin’s skin or a knife can be pushed through (careful not to pierce the skin).

“At this point the pumpkin is in real danger of collapse.  The larger the pumpkin, the greater the danger!  Don’t panic, it will look deflated but will taste delicious.” HFW.

7th: Fish out the bay leaves and serve piping hot.

If there is any leftover, scoop the remaining flesh out and blitz with some extra cream, cheese & stock.

The perfect pumpkin recipe to celebrate this fantastic gourd and welcome in those longer autumnal evenings.

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If I could only use one herb or spice for the rest of my life, seasoning aside, I would have to (pun intended) stick with cinnamon.

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Spice prized for both flavour and medicinal properties; the brown coloured, woody spice is evocatively aromatic with warming sweet and savoury notes at the same time.

Ancient Romans used cinnamon to make their bitter wine palatable and Ancient Greeks used cinnamon to season meat and vegetable dishes.  The Arabic world used it to flavour tea and now include it in most sweet and savoury dishes.  The rest of the world add it to baked goods and continue to sprinkle it over sweet treats and desserts.

Cinnamon is high in antioxidants and contains anti-inflammatory properties; it helps protect cognitive function, the heart and fight diabetes.  Regular cinnamon use, such as sprinkled over your morning porridge, can help lower your glycemic load and even help you to lose weight.

In cooking, the sweet-spicy flavour and warmth of cinnamon enhances the taste of fruits and vegetables, is a perfect partner for chocolate and no apple pie would be worth eating without cinnamon.

When baking with cinnamon, the entire house smells comforting and feels safe, warm and homely.

As the temperature drops and autumn makes itself known to us it’s this feeling of comfort and warmth that I’m trying to evoke through my food but I’m not ready for hot custard over fruit crumbles sprinkled with cinnamon nor hearty stews infused with cinnamon stick; something sweet to accompany a morning coffee sounds just right and there is nothing better than a cinnamon roll in the morning (or at any other time of day!)

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Proper cinnamon rolls can be cumbersome to make as you need to make an enriched dough, allow time to prove etc. as can be seen above but they are seriously good to eat.  However, there are a couple of cheats that make this easy to do for breakfast without even having changed out of your PJ’s.

Cheat Cinnamon Rolls

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Ingredients:
1 Pack of Puff Pastry
Melted butter
Brown Sugar
Cinnamon powder
Icing Sugar and water for the glaze

Method:
1st: Spread the melted butter over the unrolled puff pastry
2nd:  Sprinkle over the brown sugar and cinnamon powder.
3rd: Roll the pastry back up and cut into slices.
Place in a preheated oven at 200˚C for 10-14mins or until puffed and golden.
4th: Allow to cool on a wire rack and once cool prepare your glaze.  Drizzle over your cinnamon rolls.

When day and night are of equal length and druids encircle Stonehenge; the moon grows fat and glows blood-red.  Summer turns to autumn.  Farmers and their families work hard to ensure their crop comes in before the first frost.  It’s harvest time.

The more delicate crops, beans and leafy greens, get picked first.

The pumpkin, large, round and orange, peaking out from under its deep green leaves, soaking up every last ounce of summer sunshine until eventually it too must be picked.  But whilst the rest of the crops are ready to be consumed, the pumpkin has another month to develop.  As it further ripens, its starches turn into sugars giving the pumpkin its sweet taste.  The pumpkin needs this time to mature and for its skin to harden.

Come late October, the pumpkin has reached perfection.  The excess of them meaning that they get churned out as Halloween pumpkins but for others, it is time to give thanks to the hare, the spirit of the land, for a bumper crop in this year and for the next.

And a whole pumpkin baked in the oven, a la river cottage, can’t be anything less than delicious!

Whole Oven Baked Pumkin

Ingredients:

1 whole pumpkin

250g Grated cheese (Gruyére,cheddar, emmental, etc)

300ml Double cream

500ml Vegetable stock (or chicken stock should you prefer)

2 Bay leaves 

Rasp of Nutmeg

Salt & pepper

Method:

1st: Pre-heat your oven to 190°c. Place the pumpkin on a baking tray and cut the top quarter off the top of the pumpkin. Reserve to one side.

2nd: Scoop out the seeds from the interior and any fibrous bits.

3rd: Fill the pumpkin with the cheese.  Use any cheese you wish, I used a packet of pre-grated cheese which had a mix of Emmental, Gruyére, Cheddar and Red Leicester, but you are more than welcome to stick to one cheese or combinations of cheeses that you prefer.

4th: Pour in the pot of cream.

5th: Add the bay leaves, nutmeg and salt & pepper.  Top up the pumpkin with your choice of stock but make sure not to fill it to the brim.

6th: Put the lid back on the pumpkin and place it in the oven for approx 1hour (this can take any length of time from 45mins to 1hr 15mins), until the flesh comes away from the pumpkin’s skin or a knife can be pushed through (careful not to pierce the skin).

“At this point the pumpkin is in real danger of collapse.  The larger the pumpkin, the greater the danger!  Don’t panic, it will look deflated but will taste delicious.” HFW.

7th: Fish out the bay leaves and serve piping hot.

If there is any leftover, scoop the remaining flesh out and blitz with some extra cream, cheese & stock.

The perfect pumpkin recipe to celebrate this fantastic gourd and welcome in those longer autumnal evenings.

Mushroom

Posted: October 14, 2016 in Autumn, Uncategorized

After Wednesday’s rain and already having had to reach for a pair of PJ trousers mid-night is proof that summer has waved goodbye and autumn has walked through the door.

During autumn, the fresh produce that becomes available to us is that of the forest.  Vivid greens having transformed themselves into the colours of the earth over the hot summer months.  And even though we all associate the gourd: pumpkins and squashes, as autumnal feasts, for me autumn is all about the mushroom – which incidentally celebrates National Mushroom Day (usa) on 15th October!

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Most fungi like to grow in moist areas and will therefore be most prominent after wet periods.  For optimal growing conditions the temperature needs to be quite mild, making mid-autumn and spring ideal mushroom growing seasons.

Some wild mushrooms, like morels, only make their prominence in springtime especially after the rain.  During the autumn months, trumpet shaped chanterelles and porcinis can be found in the countryside.

shroom1Mushrooms can be found in supermarkets all year round (button, shitake, portobello, oyster and other varieties) but these have probably been cultivated for supermarket sales.  Wild mushrooms (chanterelle, porcini, morels, truffles, cepes) will only be found in season but are increasingly sold at farmers’ markets.  Should you be unable to source wild mushroom varieties – which is a problem I’m struggling with at the moment – then reconstituted dried mushrooms will add great depth of flavour to any dish you are trying to create.

Butter, garlic and parsley – the holy trinity – in the life of a mushroom!

Woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme are also great with mushrooms.  I always sauté mushrooms in butter with garlic, thyme and rosemary for fragrant-flavour and a sprinkling of chopped parsley for its fresh grassy hit on the palate.

Below you will find some great mushroom recipes to help celebrate your perfect autumnal Mushroom Day:

Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients:

risotto

  • Dried mushrooms
  • Button/chestnut mushrooms
  • Risotto Rice
  • Chicken stock
  • Shallots or Spring onions
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • dry sherry/vermouth
  • parmesan
  • salt & pepper
  • parsley

 Method:

1st: Prepare a litre of stock and keep it warm on the hob. Use any stock you wish – I prefer chicken and not vegetable stock and generally use a stock pot. Both need to be mixed with hot water. I don’t make my own stock as have neither the inkling nor the need.

2nd: Place the dried Porcini mushrooms into a bowl and cover with hot water from a recently boiled kettle to reconstitute. Leave for 10mins.

3rd: In a saucepan add some butter and olive oil. Once foamy, add a couple of finely chopped shallots (shallots are more authentic in a risotto than spring onions). Sautée until the onions are soft and translucent.

4th: Add the risotto rice to the saucepan and slick with the oniony, buttery mixture. Keep stirring the mixture so that it won’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Once you hear the rice begin to fry in the pan, pour in a glass of dry sherry. Mix into the rice mixture and let the alcohol boil off.

 5th: Add ladlefuls of warm stock to the rice. As one ladleful of stock is absorbed add the next. Don’t let the rice become waterlogged as what you want is the rice to slowly cook whilst at the same time releasing its sweet, creamy starch. This stage will take approx 15mins until all the stock is absorbed.

If using fresh mushrooms, at some point chop them and add to the mixture to cook them with the risotto before moving onto the next stage.

6th: Drain most of the porcini mushroom liquor into the risotto, chop the rehydrated mushrooms and add to the risotto, make sure to retain the bottom of the liquor which will be full of grit. Take off the heat and mix in a decent knob of butter and a good handful of grated parmesan cheese. Check for seasoning. Clamp on a lid and let it sit for anything from 2-5mins.

Serve with a couple of drops of truffle oil and a green ribbon of extra virgin olive oil, a subtle grating of parmesan and a scattering of freshly chopped parsley. 

Mushroom Arancini Balls

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Mushrooms on toast

img_3167This needs no recipe but remember to use a medley of mushrooms; dried, wild and shop-bought, and serve on a decent slice of rustic bread.  No plastic bread here!  Don’t overcrowd the pan as you cook the mushrooms, otherwise the ‘shrooms will become waterlogged.  Season well with salt, pepper and garlic and add your medley of herbs.  At the very end of the cooking process, squeeze the tip of a lemon over the mushrooms – too much will ruin the dish.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle more chopped parsley over.

Cheesey Mushroom Melts

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Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 large mushrooms per person
  • Slice of blue cheese per mushroom
  • Thyme leaves
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning

Method:

1st: Put the grill on high.  Clean and trim the mushrooms removing any grit and gnarly parts.

2nd: Put a large knob of butter into an oven proof pan, place the mushrooms stem side up and drizzle olive oil and sprinkle thyme leaves over.  Season.  Cook on the hob until the mushrooms are soft all the way through.

3rd: Baste the mushrooms in the melted butter.  Once cooked, place a slice of blue cheese on each mushroom, drizzle in olive oil and place in the hot grill.

4th: Take out of the grill once the cheese has melted and serve.

Use your imagination on how to use these mushroom cheese melts: serve in a bap as an alternative to a veggie burger – the meatiness of the mushroom works well here.  Boil pasta and serve the mushroom melt over and grate parmesan cheese over the plate, steak and chips and cheesy mushrooms.  Or at its simplest, serve on slices of rustic sourdough toasted bread – which is just a great Sunday supper!

I’m currently working on a mushroom, pear and blue cheese tart with walnuts; mushroom works with blue cheese, blue cheese works with pear, walnuts work with all three.  Might be a great idea, could be a natural disaster– I’ll let you know how that turns out.

These are just a few of my favourite mushroom recipes to help you celebrate Mushroom Day 2016.

Remember there are plenty of other mushroom recipes that you can research online such as mushroom stroganoff, stir fry beef and mushrooms served with noodles, or sauté mushrooms, stir in some cream and parmesan cheese and pour over drained pasta – to name a few ideas.  If you want to be adventurous go for it – just stick to flavour combos that you know will work, tweak them and make it work with the flavours you like.

So whether you’re creating a mushroom duxelle for your beef wellington, rolling mushroom arancini or braving the weather to go out foraging for the best truffles money can buy, remember; autumn wouldn’t be autumn without the beige-white flesh of a fungi.

Regardless of the change in season, I am still refusing to bring out the duvet!