Baked Eggs with Smoked Haddock and Grain Mustard, from ‘Eggs’ by Michel Roux – Cooking the Books, week 6

Our hens have got laying early and enthusiastically this year, despite the quite horrible weather, and we have more eggs than we know what to do with. I bought this little book fairly soon after we got our girls, anticipating the inevitable hen-keeper’s egg glut, but despite that it’s seen very little use.

This is a lovely little recipe for baked eggs (‘en cocotte’ as I’m sure M. Roux would actually have it), which makes a gorgeous starter or, serving two per person, a really decent supper dish. Now, I have to admit I have made this recipe, and variations on it, a couple of times already, so my version does vary a little bit from the original.

To make four (serves four for a starter, or two for a main course) –

  • Baked eggs - ingredientsSmall fillet of un-dyed smoked haddock (or other cold-smoked fish), about 120g
  • Half a pint of milk (approximately)
  • 6 tbsp of double cream
  • 1 tbsp grain mustard
  • 4 eggs
  • Butter, to grease the ramekins
  • A little sprinkle of parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper

Start preparing this dish about an hour before you intend to eat it, as there’s a certain amount of standing time involved. But this is a dish that you can prepare plenty of time in advance, and then just put in the oven when needed, which makes it a great choice for entertaining!

If you store your eggs in the fridge, get them out and let them come to room temperature.

Poach fish in milkPlace the fish in a small saucepan and just cover the fillet with milk (you might need a little more or a little less than half a pint, depending on the size of the pan and the thickness of the fillet). It’s fine to cut the fillet up into two or three pieces if this makes life easier. Bring the milk gently to the boil, and then take the pan off the heat and set to one side, and allow to cool. After 20 minutes to half an hour, it will have cooled to nearly room temperature, and the fish will have cooked through in the residual heat of the poaching liquid.

Flake your fishDrain the fish, discarding the milk. If your fish has skin on, this should now peel away really easily. Now break the cooked smoked fish up into flakes. Those observant souls amongst you may have noticed that there’s something unusual about my ‘haddock’. This is actually a home-smoked whole fillet of arctic char, made following the same technique as my home-smoked trout. I’ve made this dish with smoked trout in the past, and that’s quite lovely. To be honest, I think any cold-smoked fish would work here, so why not experiment?

Combine cream with fish and mustardIf you’re cooking your eggs straight away, pre-heat the oven to 170C. Give your pan a quick wash and dry, and heat the cream to nearly-boiling. Take it off the heat and incorporate the flaked fish, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste (I never feel the need to add extra salt, there’s plenty from the fish!). Allow to cool to room temperature – you can speed this process up by immersing the pan in cold water.

Ready to go in the ovenButter your ramekins. Now spoon the fish, cream and mustard mixture evenly between them. As you do, make a dip in the centre, this will encourage the egg yolks to settle in the centre, which makes it easier to cook them to a lovely soft texture later! Crack an egg into each ramekin. Finally sprinkle over a little bit of freshly ground pepper and a little bit of parmesan cheese.

If you’re not cooking these straight away, pop them in the fridge, but remember to get them out long enough before cooking that they come back up to room temperature before going in the oven.

Finished eggsPlace your ramekins in a flat-bottomed roasting dish, boil the kettle, and then carefully pour boiling water into the roasting dish to come about half way up the pots. Slide into your pre-heated oven. I find these take about 12 minutes to cook – you can judge how they’re getting along by the amount of ‘wobble’ on the contents of the pots when you move them gently. I try to cook mine so the yolks are still runny and silky-textured, but the white is fully set – your preferences may vary! – but it’s much easier to achieve this if you can get your yolks bedded neatly in the centre of the mixture.

When they’re ready, serve immediately and simply with the very best buttered bread – this is my sourdough – and enjoy!

Serve and enjoy!

**
Eggs - cover shot‘Eggs’ by Michel Roux
Quadrille Publishing Ltd, 2005. Paperback edition 2007. ISBN 978-1-84400-311-2.
304 pages, paperback, full colour. RRP £9.99.

[Full disclosure: This is my book, which I bought. I have received no payment or sponsorship for this post, nor have I accepted a review copy. I do not have an amazon affiliate account and do not profit from any links provided.]

This book is a little treasure trove of (unsurprisingly, given the author) predominantly French-influenced dishes, all featuring eggs, though not necessarily in a starring role.

All the stalwarts are here, of course – eggs scrambled and poached, fried, baked, and constructed into soufflés, omelettes, and so on. There are some less obvious choices too – some great traditional French deserts and sweet treats, ice creams, and even fresh pasta.

Inside page viewIf I had a criticism, it would be that this is actually a rather unhelpful book to pick up if, like me, you’re often in the position of having a lot of eggs that need eating and are in need of inspiration for what to do with them. These are, for the most part, quite sophisticated recipes and as a result tend to include ingredients which aren’t routinely in my fridge and store cupboards. That said, there a lot of wonderful-looking food here and I definitely need to make an effort to experiment further!

The book itself is a pretty medium-format paperback, the food photography (credited to Martin Brigdale) is mouthwatering, but bucks the recent trend to illustrate every dish, with some – like this little baked egg dish – not illustrated at all.

Each section of the book starts with a well illustrated guide to the essential techniques, and this is very helpful, particularly as some aspects of egg cookery – poaching, making custards, or emulsions like mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce – can sometimes seem a bit like dark culinary magic, even to the more experienced cook. This is a little book, then, which not only provides some great recipe inspiration, but could help sharpen up a few kitchen skills into the bargain!

‘Cooking the Books’ is my self-imposed blog challenge for 2014 – I’ll be trying to cook a new recipe from one of my (rather extensive!) collection of cookbooks once a week, write it up and review it. Wish me luck!

Read more from the Country Skills blog >>

Mac and Cheese, from Nadia G’s ‘Bitchin Kitchen Cookbook’ – Cooking the Books, week 5

Belatedly – since this post should have been written and posted last Thursday. By the time we got to supper time, I was equally short of energy and inspiration, and really didn’t fancy a trip to the shops or a complicated culinary endeavour. Comfort food was definitely the order of the day… So my thoughts turned to pasta bakes, and what could be more traditional than the absolute classic of the genre, the much-loved macaroni and cheese.

Bitchin Kitchen cover shotThis is one of those dishes which tends a bit towards ‘throw in what you’ve got’ rather than coming from a cookbook, but that would go against the spirit of this blog challenge, so I had a flick though a few of the more likely candidates and found a promising version in the ‘Bitchin Kitchen’ cookbook – of which, more later. It was particularly promising because with a few minor substitutions, I could avoid a trip out in the nasty weather to the Co-op.

To serve two (very generous portions) I used –

  • Ingredients220g of good quality pasta – I used penne, the original recipe calls for fusilli, but any bite-sized shapes will do just fine
  • One small onion, finely chopped
  • Two particularly small dried bay leaves (one decent bay leaf would be perfect)
  • 80ml single cream
  • Half a pint of milk
  • Grated cheeseAbout a cup of grated cheese. I used two handfuls of mature Cheddar and a handful each of Caerphilly and Lincolnshire Poacher. The original recipe calls for Cheddar, Fontina, and ‘Swiss cheese’ (whatever that is). This is definitely a recipe where using a combination of cheeses adds significantly, so use whatever mixture tickles your fancy!
  • Home-made breadcrumbs
  • Butter, salt and pepper

Get some well salted water up to a good rolling boil in a saucepan before adding the pasta and parboil it (about five or six minutes ought to do it). Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 180C. Drain the pasta in a colander, and toss with a splash of oil to prevent sticking.

Sauce at a simmerAfter giving your pan a quick clean, fry the onion in a little butter until soft and translucent. Add the milk and cream, and the bay leaves, and bring to a gentle simmer. I couldn’t resist adding a little freshly grated nutmeg. Give the mixture a couple of minutes to infuse and then add the grated cheese and stir gently while this melts into the sauce. Give a quick taste and add a good pinch of pepper and a little salt if you think it needs it – with the cheese, it probably won’t.

Incorporate pasta wellNow remove the bay leaves from the sauce, add back in the pasta, and mix fully ensuring all the pasta is fully coated. Butter a pie dish or other small baking dish (my trusty enamel pie dish was pressed into service once more) large enough to contain all the pasta.

Ready to go in the ovenTip in the pasta and sauce and sprinkle over a generous coating of breadcrumbs. Incidentally, if you’re buying breadcrumbs, for goodness sake stop it, they’re the simplest things ever to make at home and keep incredibly well, and if you’re baking your own bread and ever throwing any away, that’s a tragedy easily avoided!

I couldn’t resist adding a little sprinkle of parmesan to the breadcrumb topping. Dot with a couple of small pieces of butter, and throw it in the pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes.

Baked!

It should come out looking a little like this!

And serve...This is really decent warm comforting winter food, very little effort to make, store cupboard ingredients, but the little additions (the bay leaves, the nutmeg and the nice variety of cheeses) make it that little bit more special. I do like the onion, which I wouldn’t instinctively have added. The top layer of pasta comes out wonderfully crunchy with the breadcrumb topping and the texture of the dish avoids stodginess.

If I had one criticism it would be that the end result is a bit dry – there’s no really indulgent silky sauce to mop up, or extravagant strings of melted cheese.  I suspect incorporating a stringier cheese like a good mozzarella, cut into cubes and sprinkled into the pasta and sauce mixture, and increasing the sauce to pasta ratio, might just upgrade this from a really decent cold weather dish into comfort food heaven!

**
Nadia G’s Bitchin Kitchen Cookbook by Nadia Giosia
Publised by skirt!, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59921-441-2.
210 pages, paperback, full colour. RRP US $19.95.

[Full disclosure: This isn’t my book, it belongs to my husband, but I did buy it for him! I have received no payment or sponsorship for this post, nor have I accepted a review copy. I do not have an amazon affiliate account and do not profit from any links provided.]

Inside-page viewBitchin’ Kitchen came to TV screens in the UK about a year ago, after starting life as an internet comedy cooking show, and it certainly divides opinions! Personally I love it – it’s totally mad, no question, the sort of batshit-insane TV that only the Canadians seem to be able to make. Is it a serious cookery show? Who the heck knows. But at the end of the evening after a couple of glasses of wine, there’s nothing better on telly.

Now, this isn’t a TV review, really, so let’s turn our attention to the cookbook, which in its way is just as mad. The art design is quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen – I can put my hand on my heart and say that none of my other cookbooks feature images of decapitated dolls, bondage gear, animal prints or stilettos – but the recipes are *good*, and for the most part quite a bit more sophisticated than the mac and cheese featured here. As you would expect there are quite a few modern, Canadian-Italian dishes, but these complimented by a good variety of other influences from around the world. Be aware, this is a US-published book, and while there are weight / volume conversion tables in the back, a set of US cup measures and a willingness to creatively substitute ingredients will serve you well.

I bought this book as a bit of a joke for Hubby’s last birthday, truth be told, but it will definitely be coming out to be used again in the future. If you’ve seen the TV show and hated it, then probably give the book a miss – however good the food, the things that have annoyed you on telly will probably annoy you here too – but if that’s not the case, don’t dismiss this book as merely a novelty item – there’s plenty here to get your teeth into!

Ahem. I’ll get my coat.

‘Cooking the Books’ is my self-imposed blog challenge for 2014 – I’ll be trying to cook a new recipe from one of my (rather extensive!) collection of cookbooks once a week, write it up and review it. Wish me luck!

Read more from the Country Skills blog >>

Pain de Savoie, from Paul Hollywood’s ‘Bread’ – Cooking the Books, week 2

We seem to have ended the Christmas season with rather a lot of lovely cheese in the fridge! So today’s challenge was to find a recipe in my cookbook collection which would let me use some of it to make something absolutely scrummy. I haven’t baked any bread for a couple of weeks and remembered that Paul Hollywood might have something that would suit… So I dug out ‘Paul Hollywood’s Bread’, which accompanied last year’s popular BBC TV series.

Bread inner page view

And there it was – Pain de Savoie – a lovely looking loaf stuffed with cheese (yes!) and bacon (even better!). Savoie is an alpine region, and as everyone knows, mountain folk have all the best gorgeous stodgy winter comfort food. I had high hopes!

To make this loaf, I used –

  • White & rye flour400g of strong white bread flour
  • 100g of organic rye flour
  • 1 small tsp of sea salt (I can’t bring myself to put more than this into a loaf)
  • 7g pack of fast action dried yeast (oddly, the recipe wanted 8g)
  • 150g of home-cured smoked streaky bacon, rind removed, and cut into lardons
  • 200g of wonderful aged Gruyère
  • Olive oil
  • 330ml of tepid water

Start by weighing your flours and combining in a large mixing bowl, add the salt, yeast, a generous tablespoon of olive oil, and then mix in about two thirds of the water, using your fingers.

Roughly mixed ingredientsThis should roughly combine the dry ingredients but leave them a little dry, so add the remaining water progressively until all the dry ingredients come together as a ball, leaving the sides of the bowl reasonably clean. I found I had just over 50ml left over, but this will depend on the characteristics of your flours. The dough should look a little like this before kneading.

Now knead for 5-10 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. You’ll notice the difference – it may take longer than this if you’re not accustomed to kneading, but you’ll get there! I have wholeheartedly adopted Paul’s recommendation of kneading dough on an oiled surface, after a lifetime of using flour – I don’t think it makes very much difference to the dough, but it doesn’t half reduce the mess you make of your kitchen!

After kneadingOnce you’re done, the dough ball will look like this. [You’re supposed to add the fried & cooled lardons at this stage. I suffered an unfortunate spot of reading comprehension fail, and didn’t.] Oil the mixing bowl and put the dough ball back inside, cover with a piece of oiled PVC-free cling film, and set aside for a couple of hours until it’s doubled or more in size.

Ignore anything you might have heard about putting dough to rise somewhere warm like an airing cupboard, just sitting out on the kitchen counter should be fine, unless it’s very very cold, in which case I’ve done well with putting the bowl in the oven with just the oven light turned on. Letting bread rise in a warm environment certainly will speed the process up, but at the expense of the flavour that develops with a slower, lower temperature rise – and if you wanted tasteless bread, you’d just eat the junk from the supermarket.

Fried bacon lardonsIf like me you’ve forgotten to include your lardons, now is the time to fry them until golden. I used my home-cured black pepper bacon, which is lightly smoked. Incidentally, this is what really good dry-cured bacon should look like, when you’re frying it. See that lovely, clear bacon fat in the pan? That’s all that should ever leak out. And because it’s not wet, and doesn’t leach phosphate water, it fries to a beautiful golden caramelised surface. Fabulous. Once it’s cooked, set aside to cool. And try not to sample too many pieces in the name of ‘quality control, eh?

Combine with baconI turned the dough out onto the work surface, knocked it back into a rough rectangle, and sprinkled over the cooled bacon pieces before rolling it up into a rough sausage and cutting it into three (very roughly) equal sized pieces. Each of these pieces I kneaded a little to get the bacon well combined and formed into balls. [If you had already added the bacon before the dough proved for the first time, you could just cut the dough into thirds, knock them back gently and form into balls, and go straight ahead to assembling the loaf in the loaf tin. But I hadn’t, so…]

Dough balls and cheese cubesAfter kneading the little dough balls, they were a bit tight, so I gave them a little time to relax before moving on to the next stage. About half an hour did the trick. In the meantime, cut your cheese up into ~1cm cubes. The original recipe calls for Comté, which would be glorious. This Gruyère, which happened to be what I had in the fridge, and will be a pretty good match, but really any good firm well flavoured cheese will do very nicely – I think a decent mature cheddar would work a treat!

Assemble the breadOil your tin – the recipe calls for a 20cm ‘springform’ tin. I haven’t got one of those, but I do have an 8″ loose-bottomed cake tin I usually use for Christmas cake. Paul says to roll out the dough with a rolling pin into tin-sized rounds. I just pushed it out with my fingertips, which seemed to work fine. After putting the first circle of dough in the bottom of the oiled tin, spread out half the cheese cubes over the surface, repeat with the second ball of dough, and then finally press the third circle of dough over the top. Sprinkle the top with a little bit of rye flour, and cover with the clingfilm for another hour or so until it’s nicely risen.

Before rising  Nicely risen  Fresh from the oven

Once you’re happy, pre-heat your oven to 220 and, once it’s up to temperature, slide the tin into the oven and bake for half an hour. It should come out a lovely rich mid-brown colour on top.

Rest in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool for as long as you can bear it, before carving off a thick slice, adding a bit of lovely unsalted butter, and cramming it in your mouth.

Cooling

This is really really good bread. The rye flour gives it a lovely nutty flavour without making it heavy. The cheese has melted during baking to leave quite striking square holes in the dough. Hubby compared it to a really good cheese and bacon sandwich, and I suppose that’s it, really. It’s a thing of great simplicity, but simple things can be fabulous and this really is. But of course the simpler the dish, the more it depends on the quality of the ingredients. So, make it! But be sure to use really good cheese and bacon, m’kay?

Share and enjoy!

Technically, it’s not difficult, though having a ‘feel’ for bread dough will obviously be helpful. Not much equipment required and relatively minimal washing up – kitchen scales, a large mixing bowl, and a deep round cake tin are essential. A dough scraper is useful but not actually necessary. If you don’t have a wire cooling rack, it’s perfectly reasonable to use a (cold!) oven rack

**
Bread cover shot‘Paul Hollywood’s Bread’
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2013. ISBN 978-14088-4069-6
Hardcover, full colour, 224 pages. RRP £20.

[Full disclosure: This is my book, which I bought in the traditional way! I have received no payment or sponsorship for this post, nor have I accepted a review copy. I do not have an amazon affiliate account and do not profit from any links provided.]

This is a really great book for anyone interested in bread baking, whether you’ve never baked a loaf before and just want to know how to get started, or have a fair amount of baking experience, there’s something for you here. I would definitely recommend it to any keen but inexperienced home-bakers, as the techniques are well explained and the book is quite lavishly illustrated with step-by-step photography.

Sourdough baking is even covered a little, though after my experiences with getting a sourdough starter going a couple of years ago, I think the process given for this may be a tad on the optimistically simple side! (Incidentally, if you’re just taking up baking, and particularly if you’re interested in sourdough, I would also recommend ‘River Cottage Handbook No. 3 – Bread’ by Daniel Stevens)

There are some lovely unusual bread recipes, such as this one, and one or two ‘extras’ to accompany them, and there should be something new to try here even if you’re already a confident baker!

‘Cooking the Books’ is my self-imposed blog challenge for 2014 – I’ll be trying to cook a new recipe from one of my (rather extensive!) collection of cookbooks once a week, write it up and review it. Wish me luck!

Read more from the Country Skills blog >>

Venison Pie, from Darina Allen’s ‘Forgotten Skills of Cooking’ – Cooking the Books, week 1

“Hi, my name is Kate, and I have a cookbook problem…”

Some of my library

I just can’t resist them. A nice cookbook is such a marvellous object, it’s a thing of beauty, solidly bound and gloriously illustrated, as well as containing the promise – such promise! – of tasty food to come. So, I buy cookbooks (and people buy them for me, too, of course), and continue to buy them until they overflow our bookshelves and end up living in piles under coffee tables and stacked against the walls of our little cottage. As I said, it’s a problem. Last year sometime, I had a quick count up – and stopped counting when I got close to 100.

All those books – all those different recipes – and yet it’s relatively rare that I cook something completely new. For all the usual reasons – busy lives, habit, and having a really good set of family-staple recipes we come back to time after time. But it’s good to push out of your culinary comfort zone – for how else do we learn? – and with such a wonderful resource at my fingertips (and, sometimes, underfoot!) I really have no excuses!

So to welcome in 2014 – and in lieu of a New Year’s resolution – I’ve decided to set myself the challenge, once a week if I possibly can, to cook a brand new recipe form one of my cookbooks, and write it up for the blog, adding a little review of the book itself. Obviously such a silly endeavour needs a name, so I think we’ll call it ‘Cooking The Books’.

Inside-page viewToday’s recipe is Venison Pie, and was chosen because Hubby found some lovely wild venison at the Farmers’ Market. The recipe is from Darina Allen’s beautiful big hardback cookbook ‘Forgotten Skills of Cooking’, which came to me as a gift from my Dad last year.

I’ve scaled down the quantities because there are only two of us (the original recipe serves 8), and made a couple of minor modifications to account for ingredient availability. In general I’m trying to stay as close to the original recipes as I can – or what’s the point, really? This will, inevitably, affect my choice of recipes  – I really don’t want this challenge to end up filling my kitchen cupboards and fridge with half-used packs of ingredients that just go to waste! Actually, thinking about it, this is a big factor in why I don’t often cook from cookbooks. But enough housekeeping – let’s get on with the cooking!

Start by preparing your venison. Darina’s recipe calls for venison shoulder, cut into pieces, but I had a ~1lb pack of already-cut stewing venison. It’s worth taking a little time to trim out any particularly obvious gristly bits from your meat at this stage. Also try to pull out any deer hairs you discover in your meat (which isn’t a particularly unusual thing to find with wild venison, because of the way it’s shot, handled and butchered).

Now mix the meat into a marinade consisting of –

  • IngredientsA small glass of red wine (use something you’ll want to drink – not only is this always excellent advice for cooking with wine, but there’ll be another 5 glasses left in the bottle!)
  • A small onion (I used a red one, but a yellow one, or even a couple of shallots would be fine) halved and sliced.
  • A bouquet garni consisting of a bay leaf, sprig of thyme and some parsley stalks
  • A tablespoon each of brandy and olive oil
  • Salt and cracked black pepper to season (I used two big pinches of pepper and one of salt)

In the marinadeIdeally you might allow this to marinade overnight, but even a few hours will make a big difference. Cover the bowl and place it in the fridge. If, like me, you’re going to use frozen prepared puff pastry to finish the pie, now would be a good time to take it out of the freezer, and either place in the fridge to defrost overnight, or out on the side in the kitchen if it needs to defrost faster than that. Pastry is always better worked reasonably cold,so once it’s defrosted, put it in the fridge so it’s nice and firm.

Once your meat has marinaded to your satisfaction (I gave it three hours), drain the meat in a colander over a bowl, retaining the marinading liquid.  While it’s draining, get together the ingredients and equipment you’ll need for the next stage –

  • Home-cured bacon lardons80-100g of dry cured streaky bacon or pancetta, chopped into lardons or cubes. I used my home-cured ‘Christmas’ bacon (with bay, juniper, allspice and molasses in the cure, lightly smoked), which I happen to have around at the moment. It’s really worth seeking out good dry cured bacon if you’re not going to make your own!
  • A small onion, chopped reasonably finely
  • Half a carrot, diced reasonably small
  • A small clove of garlic
  • 200ml of beef stock (I used a stock cube – I know, I know…)

Venison coated in flourPat the pieces of meat dry with kitchen paper and coat them in seasoned flour (I needed about 2 tablespoons). I picked the meat out of the sliced onions, but this probably isn’t necessary. This bit of the process is pretty faffy, to be honest, and is something I tend not to bother with when making stews. Let me just say, though, it produces the most wonderful, silky, rich gravy, so I may be using this trick a lot more in the future!

Meanwhile, in a frying pan, fry off the bacon until it starts to brown and donates some of that lovely bacon fat. Once it’s done, transfer the bacon to a big saucepan.  Now brown the floured venison in the bacon fat. You may need to add a little extra olive oil. Transfer this to the pan once there’s some nice colour, and fry off the onions, carrot and garlic for a few minutes before adding them to the pan as well.

Ready to simmerI couldn’t see why I’d waste the nice sliced onion from the marinade (and the recipe doesn’t appear to specify what should be done with it), so into the frying that went until it softened nicely, and joined the rest of the ingredients in the saucepan.

Now we’re called to deglaze the pan with the wine marinade, and transfer this to the saucepan with all the meat and vegetables before topping up the pan with the beef stock (pre-heated, if it’s proper stock) until the meat and vegetables are just covered. I added a bit of extra water and a slosh more wine to make up the volume. Finally add back the bouquet garni from the marinade, cover the pan and simmer very gently on a low heat for about an hour and a half (or a bit longer if required), until the venison is beautifully tender. Keep a reasonably close eye on it, stirring occasionally, and make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

Once you’re happy the venison is perfectly cooked, you can take it off the heat. Time to add the last few bits, which are –

  • Saute sliced mushroomsA good handful of mushrooms. Darina wants wild ones if possible. I managed to get some oyster mushrooms and something a little bit cep-looking calling itself a ‘king oyster’ at our local supermarket, I added a couple of chestnut button mushrooms.
  • A handful of cooked chestnuts – these were the vaccuum-packed sort, left over from Christmas. The recipe says these should be omitted if you’re making a pie rather than a stew, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to use them up!
  • A few teaspoons of homemade apricot jam. The recipe wanted redcurrant jelly, but I didn’t have any. I have a feeling crab apple jelly would work very well here, too.
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper if required to season.
  • And not forgetting your block of defrosted puff pastry!

Wash out your frying pan and heat up a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil. Saute the mushrooms until colouring slightly, and once they’re done, add them to the pan with the chestnuts, cut in halves. Now taste to check your seasoning. The recipe suggests you might slike to add some redcurrant jelly, or a pinch of sugar, or possibly even some lemon juice at this stage depending on how things are coming together.

Filling in the dishI did find there was a slightly lacking sweet / acid note so substituted about three teaspoons of my homemade French apricot jam (avoiding the whole bits of fruit), one at a time and tasting carefully in between. It’s slightly miraculous, actually – makes such a huge difference to the final flavour. Add a bit more salt and pepper at this stage if required.

Edged with pastryYou could serve it now and call it a venison stew, and it would be wonderful with mashed potatoes on a cold winter’s night. But we’re going the whole hog and turning it into a pie, so transfer the filling into your chosen pie tin – I’ve used my gorgeous, very traditional, white and blue enamelware dish. Get your block of puff pastry out of the fridge and roll it out.

Finished pastry lidThe book suggests a way of attaching the pie crust in a two-stage process, fist attaching a strip of pastry all around the edge brushing with  water beneath and on top, before adding the pastry lid, trimming the excess, scalloping the edge with the handle of a spoon, and egg-wash the surface, adding some decoration if you wish.

Pierce the centre of the crust and put into a piping hot oven for 10-15 minutes before turning the heat down to about 190C until the crust is golden and the contents bubbling hot. If your oven has a hot-spot (most do) don’t forget to turn the pie around at some point to keep the colour even.

Hot from the oven

That’s it – isn’t it beautiful? Time to serve with your choice of accompaniments. Hubby requested roast potatoes, so we had those and steamed broccoli to go with it.

'Serving suggestion'What can I say? It looks pretty spanking, and tastes glorious. I love the way the late addition of the sauteed mushrooms means they retain their separate flavour, texture and identity in the dish. The venison is perfectly tender, the gravy is rich and thick and full of  beautifully balanced flavour. These quantities will feed four, I would say.

I heartily recommend you make this pie!

This is undoubtedly a time-consuming and relatively labour intensive recipe, with four separate preparation stages. Consequently it generates quite a bit of washing up, too – I counted a saucepan & lid, a frying pan, a pie dish, two mixing bowls, a colander, chopping board and knives, garlic crusher, pastry board (or your kitchen worktop), rolling pin, an assortment of spoons of different sizes, a spatula, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few bits. But nothing unusual and no gadgets or gizmos required. I started marinading the venison just after lunch, and we eventually ate around 7.

Serving timeIt’s a reasonably complex recipe, but no part of it is particularly technically demanding and no special skills are required – anyone who can follow a slightly complicated set of instructions should be able to cope! While there are a lot of ingredients, they’re quite ‘standard’ ones and pretty much all of them were already in my fridge and kitchen cupboards, which was a big bonus.

Perhaps something a bit quicker and simpler for next week..?

**
Cover shot‘Forgotten Skills of Cooking’ by Darina Allen.
Kyle Cathie Ltd, 2009. ISBN 978-1-85626-788-5.
Hardcover, full colour, 600 pages.

[Full disclosure: This is my book, which was a gift from my Dad. I have received no payment or sponsorship for this post, nor have I accepted a review copy. I do not have an amazon affiliate account and do not profit from any links provided.]

This is a fabulous book, full of unexpected surprises – I only realised after I’d written about the copper-cleaning power of salt and lemon juice the other day that this is one of the tips in the back of this wide-ranging tome! As well as a really good range of hearty traditional recipes, both sweet and savoury, with a focus on quality local seasonal ingredients, there are – amongst many other things! – instructions for buttermaking and producing your own clotted cream, curing and smoking techniques for meat and fish, yeasted and sourdough bread baking, and even advice on choosing livestock. It’s also a beautiful book, richly illustrated and nicely printed, which never hurts.

I would say that it deserves a place on any cookbook shelf, particularly so if, like me, you’re more interested in traditional farmhouse, country food and techniques  than in ‘cheffy’, restaurant-style cooking.

‘Cooking the Books’ is my self-imposed blog challenge for 2014 – I’ll be trying to cook a new recipe from one of my (rather extensive!) collection of cookbooks once a week, write it up and review it. Wish me luck!

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