Friday, 21 November 2014

Stir Up Sunday with Urban Fruit


Christmas pudding should never die. And by that, I mean a good festive plum pud, all dark, rich and fruity should never suffer from the rigors of time. Should you accidentally forget all about it that is. Oh, we've all done that before haven't we, eh? No? We've all made a batch of puds when full of excitable Christmas bonhomie and jazz, and found one stodgy bleeder hanging around the kitchen come New Year haven't we? Or even better, we've all scooped some up in the January sales, with the glowing frugal notion that we are saving money.

"Yes! 5 Duchy Original puds for two paaand fifty! We are sooo sorted for next year. Get in!"

*Fist pump"

*Star jump*

 Etc

And we've all gone to spring clean the kitchen a couple of years later, to tackle the cupboard of 'Doom, Plastic Bags And Other Unknown Detritus' and found stacks and stacks of Christmas puds at the back. Dusty, sad, and all alone.

But we shouldn't panic or feel guilt or grieve. Because Christmas puds never die.

Now, you might be wondering what the hell am I going on about. Well, this forthcoming Sunday is 'Stir Up Sunday'. Yes you know the one. To celebrate this tradition of making Christmas puds on the last Sunday before the Advent, the folks at Great British Chefs are holding a Twitter party in conjunction with Urban Fruit, the people who gently bake fruit; in an friendly, urbane sort of way. The main aim is to gather people online to discuss, exchange ideas and air frank views about Christmas baking. Given the upsurge in home baking, all thanks to Mary Berry's hair and Paul Hollywood's piercing blue eyes, it should be a riot

You may have a pet pieve about marzipan. You might want to know what mixes are best for mincemeat. Or perhaps you just want to find out the number of a good, reliable dentist (always handy as broken tooth cases soar around Christmas, what with all those coins secreted in figgy puddings).

Using a selection of fruits from Urban Fruit, I have a Christmas cake recipe that will be popping up here on the Great British Chefs website that sort of strays from the norm. A colourful Caribbean effort, that is filled with spice and bananas amongst other things. But the most important thing about this cake is that it is stacked with booze.

As you well know, Christmas cake, pudding or a chocolate log even, topped up with brandy, whiskey or sherry tastes magnificient (in my humble opinion anyway). Most importantly though, if you soak enough alcohol within that crusted frame, that sponge interior, you can be rest assured that that cake will never, ever, ever die. Which is very important indeed.

Join the party this Sunday, using the hashtag #stirupsunday






Monday, 10 November 2014

Potted Squirrel with sourdough, watercress and pickles


This post first appeared at Great British Chefs and yes, it's another squirrel post.

One well known trick that I have in my repertoire of culinary skills - of which there are many, I can peel a grape in under 2 seconds for instance - is the art of hiding food within food. Parents or partners of fussy eaters will know what I mean by this. Like adding a sprinkling of finely chopped carrot and celery here and there, into spaghetti Bolognese or lasagne. Coating steamed broccoli and cauliflower with cheese or masquerading fresh fruit with cream and chocolate. Essentially it’s a play-off and probably a bad one at that. But if I can pack those vitamins in without any sign discord at the table, then so be it.

This trick of hiding or disguising food is also useful in helping people overcome their prejudices. I have been tinkering around a lot just lately, with one ingredient in particular and a couple of the responses have been far from encouraging. “How could you?” “What? Like the ones we see in the park?” “So, you are eating rodents now are you Dan?” These are just a few of the comments that have come my way. Mostly from my Mum. But I think I have cracked it with this recipe. Well I know I have cracked it because I served her this potted dish last weekend and got some very enthusiastic feedback.

“Wow, this is good. Gamey but good. And I like the texture, bit like a rough pâté or um….like rillettes? Is that how you say it? What is it anyway? Pheasant? Rabbit maybe?”

“Squirrel Mother, you’re eating squirrel,” I told her. Like Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys.

She is still talking to me, but only just, which only goes to show how emotive we can be with our attitudes towards to certain types of meat. Cow, moo, beef, yes. Furry woodland creature, squeak, Disney, no. 

Whether I have convinced her that squirrel is the way forward remains to be seen. However I do urge people to try squirrel, as it really is a lovely, sweet, alternative source of protein to eat. I know Pascal Aussignac is a fan of this sustainable meat and they are becoming a lot easier to come by. I get mine from Brompton Food Market but most butchers should be able to find them for you these days.
So try this quirky starter and try to put saccharin images of squirrels washing up or gaily collecting nuts to the back your mind. Whilst you are at it, try and put images of that squirrel showing its nuts off on The Great British Bake Off towards the back of your mind too. 

Because that really will put you off your tea.


Potted Squirrel with sourdough, pickles and watercress – serves 4

Ingredients

2 squirrels, jointed into six pieces (and don’t worry, they usually come skinned and gutted!)
150gms smoked streaky bacon, cut into lardons
1 banana shallot, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 stick of celery, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
6 juniper berries
500mls dry cider
Salt and cracked black pepper
Unsalted butter
Sourdough bread
Watercress
Olive oil
Selection of pickles such as cornichons and silver skin onions

Method

Now I use a crock-pot for the first stage of braising the meat but you could also use a casserole and your oven on a very low setting, say 120C. The choice as they say, is yours. But yes, start by layering the bacon down first and then add the jointed squirrel and then scatter over the remaining vegetables, spices and herbs. Season generously and then pour over the cider. Set the crock-pot to low, cover and then leave for 6-8 hours. The principle point here is to melt the bacon into submission and cook the squirrel meat until very, very tender.


Leave to cool and then pour off through a sieve, reserving some of the cooking liquor. Take the squirrel out and as much of the bacon as possible and then, using your hands, pick the squirrel meat. This is a little bit fiddly and time consuming but you want to make sure that no tiny bones remain. So pick over a metal bowl and listen out for any pings.

When you have removed all the meat, combine with the bacon and mash together with a fork. You could stick this in a food processor if you wanted a smoother pâté but I prefer it rough (no giggling at the back). If the mixture is a little bit dry, add a spoonful of leftover liquor but not too much.

Spoon the mix into ramekins and put to one side. Take your block of unsalted butter and clarify by heating and melting in a saucepan on the hob, skimming any scum that rises to the top, whilst the chalky deposits fall to the bottom. The golden stuff in-between is what you are after. (To save on time and faff, you could also buy some Lurpak Clarified Butter)

Carefully pour the clarified butter over the top of the squirrel, leaving just a thin layer and place in the fridge to chill for an hour.

When ready to serve, toast your sourdough and dress your watercress lightly in olive oil and arrange on a plate with the potted squirrel and a scattering of pickles. 

NB - IMPORTANT! TAKE THE RAMEKINS OUT OF THE FRIDGE AND BRING TO ROOM TEMPERATURE BEFORE SERVING, OTHERWISE THE BUTTER WILL NOT MELT ON THE HOT TOAST. AND YOU KNOW HOW I HATE THAT.