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Steak and Kidney Pudding

I love suet. I know it’s as unfashionable as lard these days, but I love the stuff. A fluffy suet dumpling on top of a rich stew is such a winter treat that I will bear a lot of cold grey days just to have the excuse to embrace this most British of dishes. I also love the rich stickiness of Christmas dishes filled with fruit and suet and welcome sweet suet dishes that are a stunning vehicle for custard. But despite this love, I have never made a proper steamed suet pudding before. The sticky soft texture that is so dinky as dumplings, scares me in larger quantities. I have visions of sheer stodge, something you could kill someone with if handled incorrectly. Add in the traditional filling of kidneys and I feel a moment of blind panic. So it makes perfect sense that I offered to cook one for several friends on Friday night… Read more

Stuffing rolls

I think I may have mentioned this before but I’m fond of Christmas. Presents are lovely, family time is great, but a holiday that exalts stuffing is my idea of heaven! If there’s one thing I like more than stuffing things, it’s actually making stuffing itself. So imagine my glee when I was invited to a seasonal soiree with lots of people who don’t eat pork and I got the chance to try out my idea of vegetarian ‘sausage rolls’ using stuffing as a filling instead…

Inspired by last week’s Christmas doughnuts, it was essential that the stuffing would be based on chestnuts for a festive feel. To compliment their slight sweetness, I decided to pick up a parsnip and a sharp-sweet Bramley, both of which are in season and useful to have round the house anyway at this time of year. The kitchen essentials of some rye breadcrumbs from the freezer, an onion and some kale would complete the recipe nicely and make a delicious and fast stuffing when seasoned with mace and nutmeg.

 

While the finely diced onion caramelized down and the chestnuts roasted in the oven, I turned my attention to the pastry for the rolls. I’m a relative newbie to pastry having only made it a couple of times and never having tried to make puff or flaky pastry so I turned to the recent thread on the perfect sausage roll over at the Word of Mouth blog on the Guardian from a few weeks ago for some pastry tips and decided to follow Felicity’s recipe as I realised how awkward puff pastry really is to make.

I had no mustard powder to add to the pastry, but otherwise this was to the letter and very straightforward to make. Five minutes later it was resting in the fridge and I was adding grated parsnip to the onion mix and letting it cook down a bit while I peeled and grated a large Bramley, finely chopped some kale and turned my attention to peeling the chestnuts. This isn’t difficult, but it a bit time consuming and must be done while the chestnuts are still a bit warm, otherwise it is a nightmare to do. I then blitzed them in the hand blender with the remains of the chestnut puree from the doughnuts and then combined everything together with a beaten egg and some seasoning. It would be an excellent idea to mix and season everything, taste it and then add the egg, otherwise it’s difficult to sample the stuffing. I, of course, didn’t do this so this was a bit of a risky recipe as I just made the quantities up as I went along!

I left the stuffing to cool and got cracking rolling out the pastry. It’s a stiff pastry so didn’t need too much flour and rolled nicely. I did end up with some oddly shaped sections so trimmed them down to proper strips and re-rolled the trimmings. I then wet the edges with egg wash and rolled the pastry round the stuffing, sealing the edges with some serious crimping. I then cut the giant stuffing roll into bite sized sections, egg washed the top and popped them in the oven. With a bit of practice, this would be extremely quick and easy and since the stuffing and the pastry can be prepared well in advance, you can make these fresh when needed.

They take about 15 minutes in the oven which is less than the meat version and stops the edge of the stuffing becoming unpleasantly crispy. I left them to cool on a rack in order to carry them more easily, but you could serve them oven fresh as they are much nicer warm. We reheated them at my friend’s house and they were pretty good. The stuffing was quite sweet, more than I usually go for and when making them again, I’ll probably swap the parsnip for some mushrooms instead, but it’s a minor quibble. The pastry was lovely and short and crumbly, but overall they were a little dry and would definitely be lifted from nice to brilliant with a dip on the side. I’d go for something with chilli and in fact ate my leftovers with some crabapple and chilli cheese!

Team these with a lovely sauce or selection of condiments and they make a great meat free canape that everyone will enjoy. You’ll also look very impressive having made them from scratch, but you could use pre-bought pastry as long as you roll them yourself for an authentically wonky look!

Hello deer… Venison Pasty

Hurray! It’s game season again… a chance to cook a broader range of foodstuffs. As the range of seasonal veg decreases, the blackboard at my local butcher’s is filling up with a wonderful selection of goodies. Recently venison and grouse caught my eye, so I snapped some up at Stansfields when I saw it.

I bought a few hundred grams of diced venison without a clear idea of what I wanted to make with it, but I started to entertain a growing desire to make a pasty. I love a well-made pasty, but where I live is pie country so it’s relatively rare to find a genuine, glorious example of the crust-encased pocket of goodness. I’ve made game pie before, but not pasties, so research and experimentation was called for…

Diligent homework threw up a lot of passionate and divisive opinion about pasties in general, and the Cornish pasty in particular. It was clear that under a strict interpretation of the rules this could not be seen as a true Cornish pasty: that requires beef, swede (turnip as we’d call it back home), and if you’re particularly strict, it needs to be made in Cornwall. It was becoming obvious I couldn’t label this as anything but a venison pasty. At least I was in good company: Shakespeare mentions venison pasties in the Merry Wives of Windsor.

So this was a posh imposter (with a heritage, admittedly), with a spread of ingredients which no traditionalist would entertain, but it sounded mouthwateringly good with the venison, and butternut squash as a substitute for turnip. In homage to ‘proper’ pasty making I followed the instructions on the Cornish Pasty Association website, and discounted my original idea of adding a shiitake mushroom and butter reduction over the top of the mix, as I’d read ‘proper’ pasties don’t have any pre-cooked ingredients in them.

As I was in the middle of making the shortcrust pastry for this I remember think I should’ve left baking to Miss South… it’s definitely her forté. I gave it a good go, but only after I’d mixed up the flour, egg (I used one double yolker duck egg), butter, baking soda and salt did I realise I’d have to hand-mix and rub the mix… I only have a hand-held food processor and it was starting to protest strongly at working the dough as vigourously as it needed. Still, I managed to manually get the pastry mix looking biscuity, as it was meant to, and then rolled it into a ball and bunged it into the fridge for an hour or so in some clingfilm to rise up.

To make 3 (rather large and overfilled) pasties I used around 330g venison, 200g of shallots and red onions in roughly equal measure, 300g of butternut squash, and slightly less potato. Ah well, I’ve never been a stickler for measurements anyway. I diced everything fairly small, mixed it all up with the seasoning, and a splash of oil so the flavours would mingle gently. Miss South suggested I supplement the normal seasoning with a pinch of mace: something which proved to be an inspired choice in adding warmth and old-fashioned flavour, redolent of big country house kitchens. It was only after putting the finished pasties in the oven I realised I should really’ve used up the flat-leaf parsley I’d meant to put in. Oh well…

I did over-fill the pasties (perhaps I should’ve made larger pastry circles, or doled 4 fillings out rather than the 3 I managed) so this made the distended pockets rather hard to seal (using a little egg to moisten the edges) and crimp (perhaps crimping should be left to the experts… the CPA, or The Mighty Boosh). I was amused that when I checked various references online crimping was described as a technique one couldn’t easily explain. My induction into this ancient art was somewhat therefore ignominious; and did allow more leakage than it probably should’ve, as the photos testify. I then baked the three of them at a medium heated oven for around 40 minutes, slowly being driven to distraction by the aroma filling the kitchen.

As mentioned my baking skills are not as fully honed as my sister, so in hindsight I wish I’d placed these on a better-greased tray, or even onto a wire shelf to cook. This did absolutely nothing to impact on the flavour though… these pasties were rich, warming and absolutely delicious. Autumnal heaven! Now I’ve lost my pasty cherry I’m going to make more of these with a variety of fillings… perfect for the lunchbox as a self-contained delight.

The Life of Pie

Monday night was a hotbed of excitement and nerves being slightly on edge for me because I made a pie from scratch for the very first time ever! I was inspired by Elly over at The Vintage Cookbook Trials and shamelessly stole her recipe for my chicken and leek number last night.

This recipe was a collection of firsts for me. I have never poached a chicken or made pastry before, so I decided it would be a good idea to invite a friend for dinner so I could have someone to laugh with if it all went horribly wrong (or enthuse if it went well!) Read more