Tag Archives: photography

Venison wellington served with a red wine gravy

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Last November I followed the local hunt when they were shooting deer so that I could take some photographs of the day.  It was a really interesting experience that started at 8 o’clock in the morning, as all the hunters gathered at the ‘hunting lodge’ to sign in.  ‘Petit cafés’ were drunk in abundance as hunting stories and local news was shared amongst the hunters whilst they waited to hear the plan for the day.

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At 9 o’clock the chaps who were shooting set off in their little white vans and 4×4’s dressed in a combination of camouflage and high visibility jackets and hats, to position their stools (an absolutely necessity for comfort purposes when out shooting) , thermos flasks and set up their guns.  Those who were walking with the dogs stayed behind to lock up the lodge before heading out about 30 minutes later.

The dogs were split into 2 packs to work on either side of the valley.  Every time a dog picked up the scent of a deer you knew about it as the braying started and the hounds set off at speed.  A hunting horn was used to summon back the dogs as well as to announce if there had been a kill indicated by a single blow of the horn.

3BW_0422 At 12 o’clock on the dot the hunters packed up their guns and headed back to the lodge where the mornings kill was displayed and a glass of wine was handed out.  After much discussion of the morning’s success (7 deer and 1 fox) everyone headed inside to sit down on long trestle tables for a 5 course meal (soup, pâté, grilled meat and bean stew, cheese and chocolate mousse).  During the course of the lunch I found out that out of our commune of 1,400 people there are 130 registered hunters.  It also quickly became apparent that women rarely attend the hunt, resulting in much banter and joking amongst the men as they speculated as to whether this was where I hoped to find a husband

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I parted company with the hunt after lunch and left them to carry on for a further 3 hours.  When I caught up with some of them later that evening, they were in great spirits as they informed me they had had a super day having got a further 4 deer – bringing tally up to 11 deer and 1 fox.  This meant that when the deer were later skinned and butchered, each of the 30-odd hunters received roughly a side of deer at the end of the day.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about Venison Pasties, we had been given a side of roe deer before Xmas by the hunt as a thank you for allowing them to shoot on our land – as a result, over the last couple of months I have been able to cook various recipes using the venison.  Last night’s supper was without doubt in my mind the best of the lot, Venison Wellington.  I mean who doesn’t like tender meat flavoured with juniper berries picked in our forest, surrounded with mushrooms slowly cooked in cream and brandy wrapped in pastry that is packed full of butter and just flakes in your mouth….

If you can afford to buy the venison fillet then this is absolutely worth cooking!  Be patient when you make it and let everything cool completely before wrapping everything up in the pastry, if necessary prepare everything in the morning and then put it together in the evening.  Preparation is the key to making this dish!

 

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Venison Wellington (serves 6)

Ingredients:

  • 1 quantity rough puff pastry (see recipe below)
  • 500g venison fillet
  • 1/2tsp juniper berries
  • seasoning
  • 1 egg (for glazing)

For the Mushroom Duxelles:

  • 50g butter
  • 300g chestnut mushrooms (diced)
  • 4 shallots (finely diced)
  • ½tsp thyme
  • 2-3tbsp brandy
  • 2-3tbsp cream
  • seasoning

Steps:

Stage 1 – Pastry

  • Prepare your rough puff pastry according to the recipe below.

Stage 2 – Prepare the meat

  • Remove any sinew or fat from the fillet.
  • Crush the juniper berries in a pestle and mortar then scatter them over the bottom of a roasting tray along with some salt and pepper.
  • Heat a frying pan so that it is ‘smoking hot’ – sear your fillet roughly 30 seconds on each side.  Remove from the pan and place in the roasting tray and roll in the juniper berry seasoning, then cover with tin foil and leave to cool completely.

Stage 3 – Prepare the Duxelles

  • Melt the butter in the frying pan you seared the meat in.
  • Add the thyme, mushrooms and shallots, cook on a low temperature very gently until the mushrooms are soft (this can take up to 1 ½hrs).
  • Add the brandy and cook for a further 10-15 minutes .
  • Finally add the cream and cook for a final 2-3 minutes before setting to one side and allowing to cool completely.

Stage 4 – Prepare your Wellington

  • Preheat your oven to 190C fan.
  • Roll out your pastry into a large rectangle on a piece of baking paper.
  • Spoon the Duxelles into the middle of the pastry and smooth out, leaving a slight border around the edges of the pastry.
  •  Place the fillet in the centre.

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  • Brush some egg wash around the edges of the pastry, then roll over the pastry to create a cylinder shape.  Seal the ends of the pastry by pinching it together gently.

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  • Finally roll the Wellington over so that the seal is on the bottom, score the top of the Wellington using the back of a knife, then brush with egg wash.
  • Bake in the oven for 30 minutes then allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

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Rough Puff Pastry

Ingredients:

  • 250g butter (cut into small cubes)
  • 250g plain flour
  • 100-150ml chilled water
  • 1tsp salt

Steps:

1.  Place the flour, salt and butter in bowl and roughly ‘crumb together’ using your fingers.

2.  Add some of the water and bring the mixture together, adding more water if it is needed.

3.  Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 20 minutes.

4.  Once chilled remove from the fridge and roll out into a rectangular shape.  Imagine that the rectangle is divided into thirds and fold, one side in to the middle and then fold the other side into the middle.  Turn it 90 degrees and then roll out and repeat again before wrapping up in cling film and chilling for 20 minutes.

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5.  Once chilled repeat step 4 again, chill for a final 20 minutes before rolling out for use.

[Note:  the quantities about makes about 600g of pastry.  The pastry can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days before using.]

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Red Wine Gravy

Ingredients:

  • 1 glass red wine
  • 2 tbsp brandy
  • ½ tsp allspice berries
  • 4 juniper berries
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 150ml beef stock
  • 1 heaped tsp cornflour (make into a paste using a little water)

Steps:

  1. Place the wine, brandy, allspice, juniper berries and bay leaf into a small saucepan and heat until it has reduced by half.
  2. Add the beef stock and heat for around 5 minutes.
  3. Finally add the cornflour and heat until the gravy has thickened.  Serve immediately.

 

Roast haunch of wild boar in a mustard crust with celeriac and potato mash

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We live in a region where wild boars are fairly common.  During the winter months our local hunt go after the boar in order to keep their numbers under control and to prevent them doing considerable damage to the farmers’ crops.  The French are very strict when it comes to shooting boar and they impose some hefty fines if for example the matriarch is killed.  The reason for this is that it can result in a ‘population explosion’ creating an even bigger problem in the surrounding area as the family splits and new matriarchs are created.

Up until last year I had never seen a boar in our region and then in fairly quick succession I came across three.  The first was a boar the size of an Alsatian that I ‘bumped’ into walking the dogs.  Fortunately for me I didn’t have to climb a tree as the boar turned and ran off as soon as it saw us and our dogs do not have the quickest of reactions so there was no risk of them coming to any harm!  The second was a young boar that ‘Biggles’ our springer spaniel put up in the woods.  The last was probably the most special as I came across him twice within 24 hours.  The first time, he confidently walked up to the small orchard one side of our house (not batting an eye at our neighbours dogs that were working themselves into a frenzy barking at him across the fields) to eat windfall plums under the trees (unfortunately I was not prepared to get too close to him to take a photo and my long lens was just not good enough…).  However, it seemed this guy wanted his picture taken and the following morning, when driving home from the village, I came across him rootling in a neighbouring field.  He was so engrossed in eating that I was able to go home, get my camera and take pictures from the safety of the car about 4-5 metres away.

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It isn’t every day that you have the opportunity to cook with wild boar, however, a few weeks ago a friend dropped by and gave us a large haunch.  Having never cooked with boar before I sought the advice of one of our neighbours, who informed me that it is best cooked coated in mustard at about 190C for an hour.  I decided to adopt the idea of the mustard coating, however, was somewhat concerned about the cooking times as the French are notorious for enjoying their meat cooked fairly rare.  Consequently I decided to cook the joint in a similar way to how I cook a leg of lamb and I was very pleased with the outcome.  I served it with potato and celeriac mash, which went well with the strong ‘gamey’ taste of the boar.

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Roast haunch of wild boar in a mustard crust (serves 6-8 people)

Ingredients:

  • 1 haunch of wild boar (1.5 – 2kg)DSC_0318
  • 4-5 carrots (halved lengthways)
  • 1 potato (cut into chunks)
  • 1 onion (halved)
  • 2 heaped tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 heaped tbsp wholegrain mustard)
  • 150ml water

Steps:

1.  Place the carrots, potato and onion on the base of a large roasting tray to form a ‘bed’ on which to place the wild boar.

2.  Mix together the wholegrain mustard and Dijon mustard together in a bowl.

3.  Cover the wild boar completely with the mustard mix and then place on top of the vegetables.

4.  Add the water to the pan, then roast in the oven at 220C fan for 20 minutes, before covering with tin foil and cooking at 170C fan for a further 90-120 minutes depending on how well cooked you like your meat.

5.  Make sure you rest your meat in a warm place covered in tin foil for 15-30 minutes whilst you make your gravy.  Do this by heating the juices in the bottom of the pan with some stock or vegetable water and adding little cornflour to thicken it (if needed add some honey or redcurrant jelly to lift the flavours a little).

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Celeriac and potato mash

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 6-8 medium potatoes (peeled, cut into quarters)
  • 1/3 of a celeriac (roughly 200g in weight peeled, cut into chunks)
  • knob of butter
  • 5-6tbsp milk
  • seasoning

Steps:

  • Place the potatoes and celeriac in a saucepan with some salt, cover with water and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer until a knife passes through both the potatoes and celeriac easily.
  • Once they are cooked, drain them and return them to the saucepan.
  • Add the milk, butter and seasoning then using a potato masher, mash the vegetables until they are smooth.  Serve.

Black diamonds of the kitchen – truffles…

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Our house is located roughly 30 minutes from one of the most renowned truffle markets in the France, if not the world – Lalbenque Truffle Market in the Lot.   If you look up ‘Truffle’ in Larousse Gastronomique it states, “The Black Truffle of Perigord and that of the Lot are the most highly esteemed.”  By all accounts the truffles were so highly rated that a railway spur was built specifically to connect Lalbenque to Paris so that the restaurateurs in the capital could enjoy this delicacy.

The truffle market is held every Tuesday from December to March and makes for very good ‘people watching’.  The few times I have been it has been easy to spot those who have travelled down from Paris as they wear smart clothes and have well-polished shoes in stark contrast to the locals who are dressed in weather-beaten clothes that are better suited for the cool winter days.

The market is divided up into individual and wholesale sellers.  Just outside the Mairie, two tables are set up where individual truffles are sold in small cellophane bags with the prices clearly marked. On the other side of the street the wholesale sellers line up on long wooden benches and present their bounty in wicker baskets lined with gingham material, normally a small piece of card is visible indicating the weight of the truffles inside.

At 2pm the sale commences for the individual truffles, you need very sharp elbow and a fierce determination to battle your way through the crowd in order to purchase your prize.  I have watched in admiration the old ladies who beat their way to the front to get a 20g truffle for a price in the region of €17-20.

 
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On the other side of the street it is a more serious affair.  There, the proud truffle hunters stand behind their baskets fielding questions about the weight and quality of their truffles.  A rope barrier separates the buyers from the sellers and creates a path for the council officials to pass ensuring that procedures run smoothly.  The all-important matter of price is not allowed to be discussed until 2.30pm once the whistle has been sounded.  Once this happens things turn somewhat frantic as the buyers rapidly negotiate a price to be paid in cash there and then.

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The last time I went to Lalbenque was just before Christmas.  At one end of the market there was a lot of excitement.  As I approached it soon became clear why – there was an enormous basket, filled to the brim with truffles, said to weigh 8kg.  It was estimated that the basket hamper would sell for around €7,500-8,000 – a little out of my price range…  I spoke with several people and they informed me that a bounty of this size is a real rarity and is unlikely to happen again.

Sadly, I was unable to buy any truffles at this market.  However, on Christmas Eve our local market at Caussade had a small truffle stand where I was able to buy 2 very small ones weighing 17g in total.  The first thing I have to say is the smell of the truffles was extraordinary – having left them in the car whilst I did the shopping when I returned the car was filled with the fragrant scent of truffles.

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On getting them home, I decided to use them as a garnish, firstly in an omelette (which I am pretty sure you’d all be able to make…) and then secondly on top of some smoked salmon bellinis.  Truth be told, the truffles lacked taste and were somewhat disappointing as they were very dry despite having been sliced into wafer thin slithers.  It is arguable that they would have benefitted from having been softened in a little melted butter, but I felt that this would have overwhelmed their flavour.  However, for me, I am pleased I bought them if only for the enjoyment I got from their smell as I drove home.

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Smoked Salmon Bellinis (makes – 15-20)

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 3 heaped tbsp plain flour (roughly 100g)
  • 1 heaped tsp butter (melted)
  • 40-50ml milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 200g smoked salmon (cut into 1” squares)
  • 2-3tbsp crème fraiche
  • ½tsp horseradish sauce (optional)
  • pepper (for seasoning)
  • 5-10g truffle (finely chopped, for garnish – optional)
  • 15-20 small parsley leaves
  • vegetable oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

1.  Firstly make your bellinis, by whisking the egg, milk, flour,salt and butter together in a bowl – add more milk as needed until you have a batter with the consistency of thick pouring cream.

2.  Heat a little vegetable oil in a non stick frying pan.  Drop a small spoonful of the batter into the frying pan (so that you have small bellinis roughly 1” – 1”½ in size).  Cook the bellinis on each side for 30 seconds to a minute, or until they are golden brown.  Continue cooking the bellinis in batches until you have used up all of the batter.

3.  In a small bowl mix the crème fraiche, horseradish sauce and pepper.

4.  Spoon a little of the mix onto each of the bellinis, top with a piece of smoked salmon and then garnish with either a pinch of truffle or a parsley leaf.

[Note:  You can vary the flavour of the bellinis by adding ½tsp if dill or ½tsp of finely chopped chives to the batter mix before cooking].

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My take on Panettone

 

This follows on from a blog that I wrote last week when I mentioned that I had asked our friends who live up on ‘the mountain’ if I could cook in their wood fired oven at the weekend after they had made their own bread.  Thankfully, their answer was positive but there was one condition – I had to help them prepare their own loaves on Sunday morning – which meant a 5.00am start.  In reality, it actually meant a 3.45am start as I had to make sure my loaves had sufficient time to rise before they went into the bread oven.  All I can say it thank goodness the clocks went back on Sunday!

I decided to make two loaves, one using my white loaf recipe and the other was my take on a Panettone (a Milanese Xmas cake).   It was interesting to see the difference between how my white loaf recipe turns out at home and how it turned out having been cooked in a wood fired oven.  The first thing I should say is normally I would have given the bread an extra 30 minutes to rise, but given the cold temperatures of the weekend I don’t think it would have risen much more.  After baking and cooling I was really interested to see what kind of texture it would have.  Compared to how it normally turns out, the texture was much denser, the crust was fairly soft, but overall it had a good flavour.

 

The Panettone is a new recipe that I have been playing around with over the last week. My first attempt produced a loaf that looked great and had the texture that I was looking for, but, the taste had a lot to be desired.  So after a bit of tweaking I have come up with a recipe with which I am really happy.  I decided that I wanted to bake my Panettone in an actual Panettone mould.  I chatted with a couple of the local bakers and they pointed me in the direction of a professional catering shop (my idea of heaven in a store).  It took A LOT of self-restraint to walk away from the shop having only bought 3 Panettone moulds…  Whilst this wasn’t strictly necessary (I have baked it previously in a loose bottomed deep cake tin and it turned out fine) it was interesting to see whether it would burn in this type of oven as a paper mould had never been tried before.  The mould worked brilliantly and withstood the very high temperature of the oven.

Between drinking copious amount of coffee, I learnt some really valuable skills on Sunday including how to knead and shape a flute and a baguette.  I learnt how to recognise when a bread oven is hot enough (the roof of the oven turns white).  I also came to appreciate how important it is to flour the bread moulds, as a correctly floured mould means the dough easier to get out and equally easier to get into the oven.

Below are some photos from my morning…  (Sadly my hands were so covered with flour I wasn’t able to take any of the kneading and shaping of the dough).

The oven being warmed with a combination of oak and popular logs

 

This photo was taken just after more wood was added to the fire to get the temperature right up.  The smoke was billowing out of the front of the fire and the heat that was being given off was impressive.

   

Once the wood had done its work the embers were scraped out of the oven and into a metal container which was then used to cook chestnuts for a breakfast treat.

   

The bread was then placed into the oven for cooking for anywhere between 35-75 minutes.  Before being taken out, brushed down, ready to be taken away for breakfast.

   

My take on Panettone

Ingredients:

  • 250g type 55 flour (plain flour)
  • 150g type 80 flour (Whole-wheat flour)
  • 50g butter (melted)
  • 200ml milk (warmed slightly)
  • 2 eggs
  • 25g fresh yeast
  • 3tbsp brown sugar
  • 1tsp salt
  • seeds from ½ a vanilla pod
  • 25g mixed peel
  • 100g sultanas
  • 20ml Cointreau
  • zest of ½ an orange
  • zest of a lemon
  • beaten egg (for glazing)

Steps:

1. Place the sultanas, mixed peel and zest of the lemon and orange in bowl, add the Cointreau, stir and then set aside.

2.  Place the flour, salt, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and mix together.

3.  Place the yeast in a bowl, add the milk, butter and eggs and mix together well.

4.  Add the wet mix into the dry mix and combine using your fingers.  The dough will be fairly wet.

5.  Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for a good 10 minutes (you will notice that the texture of the dough will change during this time, once you have finished kneading the dough should spring back after being pressed lightly).

6.  Place the dough into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for about 1 ½ – 2 hours (until it has doubled in size).

7.  Knock the air out of the dough and add the sultanas, mixed peel and zest of lemon and orange.

8.  Knead the dough until the fruit is evenly distributed. The shape the dough into a ball, place it in the Panettone mould, glaze with a beaten egg and then leave it to rise for the second time (1 ½ – 2 hours).

9.  Place the dough in an oven that you have preheated to 190C fan and cook for 20-25 minutes.  Turn the oven down slightly if you feel it is cooking too quickly and browning too much on the top.   (Note: It takes bread  longer to cook in a wood fired oven, as the temperature of the oven declines as the bread bakes.  It took my Panettone roughly 35-40 minutes to be done.)

10.  Once cooked, leave to cool completely, before serving.  (I think it is always best eaten in slices with a little bit of butter.)

Ratafia

It was an early start yesterday morning to ensure all the animals were fed and watered before we headed off to a nearby hamlet at the top of a steep hill (jokingly referred to locally as the mountain).  We went armed with secateurs ready to help with the grape harvest.  On arrival we were given a ‘petit café’ to steady us for the morning ahead and then it was into the cars for the short drive down a dirt track to the vines.

   

It was a gloriously cool autumnal morning with a low level mist and as the sun came up it turned into a lovely warm day, perfect for grape picking.  I think there were about 20 of us in total involved in the grape harvest, we were handed large plastic crates to fill as we gradually made our way down the vines.  An aged tractor narrow enough to fit between the vines accompanied us as we slowly worked our way down collecting the filled crates that were then transferred into a small lorry.  It was a slow process, but everyone was in good spirits, nattering as they went catching up on local gossip.

   

Everyone stopped around 10.30 for another ‘petit café’ and slice of cake.  It was a well-deserved break, allowing everyone the opportunity to stretch their backs and get the feeling back in their legs.  Then it was the last big push before everybody stopped for lunch.  You can set your watch to a Frenchman’s lunch – as soon as the clock strikes 12 everyone downs tools and heads either home or to a local restaurant.  Yesterday, lunch was provided by those who lived on the mountain in return for our help.  A five course meal comprising of: soup, egg salad, pork and bean stew, cheese and last but by no means least poached pear with a chocolate sauce, had been beautifully prepared ready for the arrival of the workers.  Needless to say there was a healthy amount of homebrewed ratafia and vin de peche as well as wine laid out to ‘refresh’ everyone.  Lunch lasted a good 2 hours, giving us all enough time to gear ourselves up for the next stage of the harvest – the crushing of the grapes.

       

An old manual grape crusher was brought out, dusted off and placed on the top of a huge container (that could hold roughly 100 litres) that had been filled with a layer of fresh juniper branches to act as a primary sieve.   Over the course of an hour, crate upon crate of the grapes were passed through the crusher until 3 containers were filled to the brim.  Then the juice of the grapes (known locally as ‘mout’ – meaning the juice from the first pressing of the grape) was drained off and taken away to be made into a regional drink – Ratafia.

   

   

We were lucky enough to be given some of the mout so that we could make some Ratafia ourselves.  It is a very simple drink to make requiring only two ingredients, eau de vie and mout.  Yesterday I watched and listened as a great debate arose about what is the perfect mix as it would seem that everyone has their own theory about this.  All I could deduced was too little eau de vie and you run the risk that the Ratafia ferments and becomes undrinkable, too much eau de vie the drink is too alcoholic and is like drinking paint stripper.  What I concluded as we drove home is that making Ratafia is more of an art than a science.  So with that in mind, the Old Man got out his 25l demijohn  and measured out what he felt was best and I guess we will find out the end result when we get to try it in mid-December.

Ratafia

Ingredients:

  • c. 6.5 litres eau de vie
  • c. 18.5 litres mout

(Working on the principal of 3 parts mout: 1 part eau de vie)

Steps:

  1. Combine ingredients in a large barrel.
  2. Allow the demijohn to breath for a week (so don’t seal it straight away).
  3. Turn the demijohn as often as you remember (if possible once a day).
  4. After about 2-3 months, transfer the liquid into bottles and store ready for drinking.