What a wonderful summer we were blessed with. I have been out in the vegetable patch tending my bountiful harvest, which has enjoyed the sunshine as much as I but everything seems to have come at once, so is a glut now. What the slugs haven’t devoured or I’m not giving away ends up on the compost heap.
The summer weather has suited the rabbits too. Bolstered by lush, green grass and my tender plants, they seem to be doing very well indeed. I watch them from the house, bold as brass hopping about and multiplying right in front of my eyes. However, when I see those little bunnies frolicking around, I can’t help but lick my lips.
I’ve long been a fan of rabbit, especially in a pie with shortcrust pastry, served with fresh greens and creamy mashed potato with grain mustard. But killing and preparing rabbits is quite a skill not even tried by the majority I reckon, so they’re still the preserve of the hunter-gatherer, or bush craft fanatic and possibly not ‘Truly Scrumptious’ readers. Thankfully, supermarkets are starting to sell it (albeit beautifully prepared and packed in plastic), as do farm shops and Buttlings of course. I long to see rows of furry rabbits hanging in Buttlings shop window as I swear the bunnies on my land are trespassing from his! We continue to debate this pesky state of affairs.
To get the best from rabbit you must understand its make-up – it can be a dry meat as there isn’t much fat on a rabbit, so the fail-safe way to cook it is slowly and carefully – braised or casseroled seems best. The younger the bunny the better, as with all animals, as they are more tender. I guess the same must go for squirrel, and despite having seen it for sale locally, I haven’t had the courage to buy any. My head tells me that squirrels are closer to rats than rabbits, so will leave well alone. And eating hare is just plain wrong.
So slowly does it. Create a relaxed mood in your kitchen which will be reflected in your cooking, and as you go about your day, it will take care of itself in the oven – leave the kitchen door open and let the comforting scents waft about the house tempting those hungry down to the kitchen table for an autumnal supper to savour.
Now, if you have impressionable children in the house, please change the name of my recipe, even substitute the rabbit for chicken. When what you are eating for supper has an association with Beatrix Potter you may have trouble on your hands. Call it chicken either way, they will never know!
Anyone passing along the bridge at Ludwell – feel free to call out to the ever increasing bunnies boldly eating my grass, that I have plans for them!
Pot-roast Peter with Noilly Pratt
Approx. £10.50 when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell (costs are for chicken)
Rabbit is a treat, more sophisticated than chicken although you can substitute chicken very easily for this recipe. Leave out the Noilly Pratt if you like but maybe add some sliced fennel bulb to develop an aniseedy background to the flavour.
2 rabbits, jointed into 8 pieces, liver sliced if available (alternatively use a large jointed chicken, skin off and preferably include the liver – optional)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard (grain will be good too)
50g unsmoked bacon, diced or lardons
100g unsalted butter, diced and clarified (melted and solids removed)
450g trimmed leeks cut into 1cm slices
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
100ml Noilly Pratt or pastis if you can get it
½ lemon – juiced
100ml chicken stock
chopped dill to serve (fresh only please - use fennel leaves/fronds if you can’t get dill)
Preheat oven to 150°C / gas mark 2 (AGA simmering oven)
1. Brush the mustard over the rabbit joints.
2. Heat a large cast-iron casserole over a medium-high heat, add all but a tablespoon of the clarified butter and colour the rabbit in batches, transferring the joints to a plate as they are ready
3. Add the bacon lardons to the pan and fry until lightly coloured
4. Add the leeks to the pan with the herbs and continue to cook for about 7 minutes until glossy and lightly coloured, stirring occasionally
5. Return the rabbit to the pan, pour over the Noilly Pratt, lemon juice and stock. Lightly season (bearing in mind the bacon will be quite salty)
6. Give everything a good stir, cover and cook for 2 hours in the oven, turning the rabbit once.
7. Transfer the cooked rabbit to a dish and simmer the juices vigorously for a few minutes to concentrate the flavour.
8. Heat the reserved butter and fry the liver if using
9. Return the rabbit to the sauce and serve scattered with the liver and dill
Serve with mash or creamed celeriac, chard, greens or beans. Keep it simple. If you prefer a creamy sauce (which would be ideal if using this recipe for a pie filling) add 100ml of double cream at the end of the reduction (stage 7).
As always it’s ….truly, truly scrumptious
Two hundred and fifty-four miles north north-west of the Donheads, lies the Conwy valley in North Wales. I was there a couple of weeks ago with my sister, having been invited to ‘tea’ with my elderly aunt, Morffydd (pronounced with a rolled ‘r’ and a spit). My sister (more spit required) Gwenllian and I were born and brought up in North Wales. The Conwy valley is stunning, and the market town of Conwy itself, where we lived for many years, has been protected from all national chains, supermarkets and fast food restaurants. It is a great place to visit. Conwy has become a centre for good food, mussels in particular. I remember the quay and my mother buying fresh fish directly off the boats. But I don’t remember the mussels. We walked along the busy quay where stacks of large string bags of fresh mussels were being craned off the boats and piled high ready for sale. I had to go over and look carefully at them as I couldn’t understand why they weren’t in water, but by putting your ear close, you could hear them happily bubbling away inside their shells.
A 500 mile round trip is a long way to go for tea, however special the aunt in question, so we made a weekend of it and spent half a day at Bodnant gardens, a National Trust property and garden, well known for its laburnum arch walkway. The gardens with their spectacular views of Snowdonia, the streams, wooded areas and terraces were stunning. The drifts of daffodils, rhododendrons, azaleas, hellebores and magnolias were breathtaking and we vowed to return when the roses and wisteria will be at their best.
A few hours of walking through Bodnant Gardens’ 80 acres worked up quite an appetite, but luckily we were very close to the new Bodnant Welsh Food Centre. Opened by Prince Charles last year, the Centre promotes traditional Welsh food, and takes every opportunity to allow visitors to sample the delicious produce available both from their own estate and also from carefully selected local producers. There is a smart restaurant, a working dairy where they make their own cheese and ice cream, a bakery with a vast range of artisan breads, a farm shop and tea room where we enjoyed a delicious light lunch – a real ‘taste of Wales’ (Welsh Rarebit made with their cheese is the most popular dish on the menu). Despite our seven-hour drive home, both Gwenllian and I bought new season spring lamb, local beef, cheese and bread to take home, as we couldn’t bear to leave it. Oh how we long to return!
The early May bank holiday brought wonderful weather and so I had an impromptu lunch party. Twenty-nine people came – a few more than I had expected – but it all went well and everyone mucked in to make it a success. I served a spicy pulled pork dish with couscous, crisp coleslaw with apples and radishes with lime juice dressing. It was delicious and very simple, so let me share it with you here should you be as impulsive as I was, any long weekend soon.
Spicy Pulled Pork (Recipe influenced by Spice Trip by Stevie Parle and Emma Grazette)
Serves 6. Approx. £8.80 when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell.
2kg+ shoulder of pork, off the bone. Ask Buttlings to remove the skin for you too.
350ml dry cider or apple juice
For the spicy dry rub:
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
3 tsp chilli flakes
½ tbsp coriander seeds
½ tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp paprika (smoked paprika is very good if you like a smoky flavour)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 fresh chillies and 2 cloves of garlic
For the spicy sauce:
400ml tomato passata
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp brown sugar
60ml cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 220°C / gas mark 7 (AGA top oven, then simmering oven
1. Grind all the spicy rub ingredients with a mortar and pestle until quite coarse.
2. Remove the rind from the pork and prepare separately for crackling as a side dish if wanted, or discard.
3. Sprinkle the pork generously with salt and then in a heavy casserole (with lid), brown the pork on both sides in a large glug of olive oil.
4. Remove the pork from the casserole and cover the entire piece with the spicy dry mix. Rub in thoroughly. You could get very mucky, so wear an apron!
5. Return the pork to the casserole and cover with the cider or apple juice.
6. Bake in the oven uncovered for 20 minutes.
7. Reduce the oven temperature to 140°C / gas mark 1. Put the lid on your casserole and seal with foil, return to the oven for 4–5 hours.
8. When cooked, remove the pork from the casserole and place in a serving dish.
9. Place the casserole with its wonderful juices, on the heat and bring to the boil.
10. Add the spicy sauce ingredients and cook for 15 minutes until it has thickened and reduced a little. Adjust to taste.
11. In the meantime, ‘pull’ the pork using two forks. Shred into large pieces removing any fatty bits. You can keep this warm if well covered.
12. Serve by pouring the sauce over the pork or serve separately in a jug or directly from the casserole for a more rustic look.
Serve with couscous mixed with sugar snap peas, beans, pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander leaves, and a crunchy coleslaw with a lime juice dressing. Yummy.
Expect people to come back for seconds and thirds, so cook double quantities.
As always it’s ….truly, truly scrumptious
I have a new friend. His name is Trevor. Trevor has been in the village a few years now, dashingly handsome although a little plump. He has an eye for the girls (and there are lots of them strutting their stuff around Ludwell) but competition such as this has never phased me as I know I have something different to offer.
Trevor is a rather mature cock pheasant – glorious feathers of orange-brown, blue, green and red – although he recently lost a small piece of his tail which looks sore, but means I can recognise him some way off. Trevor walks down the field and over the bridge, jumps through the gap in the gate and up to my back door where he peers, making weird woofing noises calling for breakfast. I feed him daily on bird food – the corn and sunflower seeds being his favourite. He often supplements his diet on my herbs and bushes or scratches up my bulbs, which is a less endearing quality of his. I am waiting for him to bring his girlfriends to breakfast as I would have no qualms about bagging them and putting them in a pot with a few onions and what’s left of the herbs. I don’t think Trevor is ever likely to be shot, as I believe he is too fat to fly but is probably a ‘sitting’ target for a lazy gun (that’s not an invitation – lazy guns!).
A brace of pheasant turned up on my doorstep over Christmas, thanks to Peter my electrician. I was keen to remind myself about how to prepare a pheasant the least messy way. I turned to YouTube where I found a couple of methods within my squeamish grasp, one traditionally plucking the bird, the other skinning.
If you are ever faced with the dilemma of how to prepare a pheasant, I would strongly recommend opting for the skinning method as it means no feathers up your nose, or stuck like cement to the floor and on your clothes. You just skin the pheasant as you might a rabbit, presuming you have seen this done. I took the breast meat off in one go and boned out the legs although removing the tendons is strenuous work. I shan’t give you the details here, but this involves cracking bones and pulling bits apart. My passion for food and thrift didn’t stretch to saving the tastier parts of the innards, so that all went in the bin along with the neck and carcass. This would make a great stock, but as I was somewhat overwhelmed by food over the holiday period, I admit to being wasteful.
There is little fat on a pheasant (Trevor could be the exception here) so, if I was roasting the breasts, I would wrap them in bacon or add them to a game casserole, terrine or pie mix. A terrine can be made with a mixture of any bird, game or pork pieces and makes a wonderful centre piece for a lunch party – great for cold suppers, a starter, picnics. Serve the terrine with a crisp salad, a fruit chutney or jelly/sauce and some warm crusty bread or toast. You’ll enjoy this one.
Serves 8. Approx. £14.60 when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell
800g Selection of lean game meats (e.g. duck, pheasant, rabbit, venison, pigeon) plus chicken and gammon. (I used a mix of pheasant; chicken; venison and gammon)
300g streaky bacon, de-rind, stretch and flatten with the back of a knife
For the Forcemeat
500g sausage meat
Small amount of liver from the bird or chicken liver – chopped finely or minced (optional)
2 handfuls of fresh white breadcrumbs
4 tbsp finely chopped parsley and thyme (use tarragon if your meat is more poultry than game)
6 juniper berries – crushed
2 cloves of garlic – crushed
3 shallots – finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 160°C / Gas Mark 3 / AGA roasting oven with cold shelf on middle rack
1. Gently fry the shallots in a little oil, before combining with the sausage meat, liver, breadcrumbs, herbs, juniper berries and egg. Mix well (use your hands).
2. Add the splash of brandy and season. (Check the seasoning in the sausage meat by frying off a small piece before adding additional seasoning).
3. Cut the game/poultry into strips – fat finger size.
4. Brown the game pieces (not the chicken or gammon) by frying gently.
5. Line a terrine dish or loaf tin with the stretched rashers of bacon, ensuring there are no gaps. This is fiddly but therapeutically rewarding.
6. Add a layer of forcemeat, then the strips of game/chicken, forcemeat, game etc., until you have at least three layers of both, finishing with forcemeat.
7. Fold the exposed rashers over the top, cover well with kitchen foil or terrine lid.
8. Place the terrine in a roasting dish half filled with hot water.
9. Cook for 2 hours before testing with a meat thermometer or skewer (which must come out of the centre piping hot). Cook for a further 20–30 minutes if required.
10. Press your terrine as it cools by placing another tin on top with a can or weight of some kind – this is really important for easy slicing and a smarter finish.
11. Press and chill for several hours or overnight.
12. To serve, turn out, slice thickly with a very sharp knife and serve with a fruit chutney and crusty bread or toast. Alternatively, melt down some redcurrant jelly adding a little white wine or juice and serve as a warm sauce.
A truly, truly scrumptious light lunch or supper, anytime of the year.
I know a great number of people, many from the Donheads, have visited the Olympic venues and events around the country, or like me, sat in front of the telly these past weeks in disbelief, wonder and some green envy of the achievements and dramas being enacted in front of us all. I have been bursting with pride at our Olympians and Paralympians – and stunned what people can do irrespective of disability and in spite of discrimination. I don’t think I am alone in having become blind to our collective human potential.
So, I feel ashamed to tell you of my frustration of having to type this with one hand and that this time last week I sat in my kitchen for most of the day feeling disgracefully sorry for myself, having tripped over my laptop case and broken my wrist on landing hard on a cold stone floor. I have had a week to adapt my daily living – challenges like buttering a piece of toast, cutting up my dinner and getting dressed is complex, and without wanting to plug for a little more sympathy, painful. Driving of course is out as is tying shoelaces and emptying the kitchen bin! Anyone who uses a computer will probably laugh when I say I can’t perform CTRL; ALT; DELETE without using my nose! But life goes on – work too and, although my team bought me a beautiful Ted Baker scarf to ensure I wore a fashionable sling, it’s really brought home how fortunate most of us are.
I still have my wrist and it will return to a fully functioning limb joining my three others – yet still, I couldn’t have achieved anything like the paralympians. The games had a mission and that was to inspire a generation and to send a clear message about achievements of all. It’s boring for others hearing about my woes so I am just getting on with it without moaning.
Cooking isn’t only for the physically able either. One of my favourite and acclaimed chefs is Michael Caines. AA Chef's Chef of the Year in 2007, and awarded an MBE in 2006 for services to the hospitality industry, he gained his passion for food from his mother who he used to enjoy helping in the kitchen, where he learnt the importance of regionality – something I continue to plug here through Truly Scrumptious. Michael was appointed Head Chef at Gidleigh Park outside Exeter representing a massive challenge and opportunity for a young and ambitious chef. Yet, only two months into the job, Michael suffered a terrible car accident in which he lost his right arm. Remarkably, he was back in the kitchen part-time within two weeks, and full-time after just four. What an inspiration to the rest of us. He adapted. And that’s what I have done with this month’s recipe – adapted it for the one-handed, although the same method will produce a fantastic result however many hands contribute to its making. Best thing for me is it can be eaten with only a fork!
I know I say all my recipes are Truly Scrumptious, but “thank you” to the couple in Buttlings this morning – they tell me I have chosen a cracker of a dish for you this autumn.
Beef rendang (Indonesian spiced coconut beef curry)
Serves 4–5 Approx. £14.50 when all ingredients bought in Ludwell
3 large shallots
2 cloves garlic – peeled
2 cm piece of root ginger – peeled and roughly chopped or use 2 tsp of ‘lazy ginger’ in jars
2–3 long red chillies – deseeded
1 tsp galangal (if available, if not add more ginger)
1/2 stalk of lemongrass
1 tsp turmeric
2 x 400 ml cans of coconut milk
800 gm stewing beef (the team at Buttlings will cut this up for you)
1 Kaffir lime leaf
Thai rice and a salsa to serve.
1. Place the peeled shallots, garlic, ginger, chillies, galangal (if using), lemongrass,turmeric and 1 tsp of salt in a blender or food processor and add approx 50 ml of the coconut milk.
2. Blitz to a smooth paste.
3. Place blitzed paste into a large saucepan or wok.
4. Add the beef, the Kaffir lime leaf and the remaining coconut milk, adding water if the liquid doesn’t quite cover the meat.
5. Stir well and bring to a simmer.
6. Leave to gently bubble away for 2–2½ hours, stirring occasionally. By now the coconut milk will have reduced and the curry will be quite thick.
7. If you are making this ahead of time, stop at this stage and finish off later or freeze now. It’s great once frozen – actually improves in flavour.
8. If the curry isn’t already in a wok, transfer to one and continue to cook for a further 20–30 minutes or so stirring occasionally until the oil from the coconut milk starts to come to the surface.
9. Serve the beef rendang hot with plenty of Thai rice and a salsa.
To make your own salsa, choose from any of the combinations below, chop all finely and toss with olive oil, lemon or lime juice or Tabasco to taste.
Avocado lime salsa – avocado, red onion, lime juice, spring onions, olive oil
Spicy mango salsa – mango, red onion, fresh green chilli, coriander leaves and lime juice, olive oil
Tomato and coriander – firm sweet tomatoes; red onion; fresh lemon juice, garlic, Tabasco, coriander leaves, olive oil
Pineapple and green bean salsa – blanched beans (French or shredded runner), fresh pineapple; spring onions, chopped parsley, olive oil and lime juice – lots of salt and black pepper.
A truly, truly scrumptious dish this autumn
Comfort food, good friends and relaxed conversation must be one of the best ways to spend a wet, autumnal evening in the Donheads. And that’s how I spent last night with my foodie guinea pigs as I tried out a new recipe for the Donhead Digest. I don’t know why I always leave it until the last forty-eight hours before the copy deadline, however impromptu entertaining can often be the best kind. And although I say so myself, this month’s recipe is comfort food of the highest order, and comes highly recommended by Jo and Phil at Ludwell Stores. I have tweaked Barnaby Meredith’s gastro-pub recipe for Shepherd’s Pie to add a little sweetness and tang. Last night I served it with shredded cabbage and leeks, quickly cooked in a little butter, ground black pepper and a splash of water. I find a wok is the perfect size to cook vegetables like this in a couple of minutes. They retain their bite and their vibrant bright green colour.
Kitchen suppers with good wine to fuel the conversation, are the supreme place for debate, and last night did not disappoint. We explored the value of wood burners, solar panels, the beauty, in my opinion, of corrugated iron buildings and the measure of a stock, so thick and jellied it stands solid when cold and is thick and syrupy when warm. What is it about a jellied stock that makes it like a liquid gold, a glace or demi-glace? In my chefy days, we would start every morning with the arduous and expensive process of making a fresh demi-glace to add to the pan of cooked to order game or any red meat dish. Making a demi-glace is a long, long process. You rarely see it served now, fancy chefs preferring to use a jus or some buttery emulsion. Personally I am still in favour of a puddle of intense reduction as my sauce.
For all that reminiscing, our liveliest debate was about bay leaves. This recipe calls for them, so I obliged but have never seen the point of them. Dry or fresh, I just don’t get it. I follow tradition and add them to milk for bread sauce; fish dishes, chicken casseroles etc however they are lost on me. We need to put this laurel to better use, reserving it for crowning warriors and athletes in classical plays or train and clip it into a handsome bush for the garden. Thyme however is a different story and I have doubled the quantity in this recipe. Fresh thyme of course, not the dried, cardboard stuff. Thyme, of which there are many varieties may also be used for sweet dishes. Try roasting figs with thyme and honey or add it to ice cream or pancakes. I didn’t win the ‘bay’ debate so will no doubt continue to use it, being fooled by the masses.
I have just looked bay up in my Oxford Companion to Food - and stumbled upon ‘badger’. Yes, that’s culinary badger. Compared with pork or mutton in the eighteenth century with a peculiar smell. Well, if badger protection is lifted, that’s my next recipe sorted and I won’t leave it to the last moment. Not sure my guinea pigs will join in though. Have a great Christmas one and all. aif
Shepherd’s Shank Pie
Serves 6 Approx.
£14.80 when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell.
4 lamb shanks
2 large onions
2 large carrots, peeled, topped and tailed
2 celery sticks
6 cloves of garlic - roughly chopped
1 bay leaf - if you believe in its value!
6 thyme sprigs
2 tsp Tracklements onion marmalade
A few shakes of Lea & Perrins Worcester sauce
Chicken stock to cover
Small handful chopped fresh parsley
Vegetable oil for frying
For the mash topping
5 large red potatoes, peeled
150 ml double cream
100g unsalted butter
Preheat the oven - 180C / Gas Mark 4 / AGA simmering oven
1. Season the lamb shanks well. Heat the vegetable oil in a hot frying pan or deep casserole then brown the shanks all over
2. Transfer the shanks to a deep casserole with the whole vegetables, garlic, bay and thyme and cover with chicken stock.
3. Cover the casserole with a lid or double sheet of greaseproof paper, and place in the oven to braise for 2 ½ - 3 hours, until the meat is falling off the bones.
4. Remove the meat and the vegetables from the stock and pick out the sprigs of thyme. Either chill the stock and bones separately to allow for skimming of the stock when cold, (recommended) or move to the next stage immediately.
5. Pick the meat off the bones and flake. Squash the vegetables through your fingers and put the meat and vegetables into an ovenproof dish with the chopped parsley.
6. Bring the stock to the boil, adding the Worcester sauce, onion marmalade and the picked bones. Reduce by two thirds.
7. Check the stock for taste, adjust, sieve and then pour onto the meat and vegetables.
8. Cook the potatoes until tender, drain and let them rest for 3-4 minutes.
9. In a small pan, slowly bring the cream and butter to the boil.
10. Mash the potatoes, adding the cream and butter mix, and season.
11. Pipe or spread the mash on top of the meat, and cook in a preheated medium oven for 25 - 30 minutes until golden brown.
A truly, truly scrumptious dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.