Thursday, 11 December 2014

Chilli venison casserole with chocolate

I made this Mexican 'mole' inspired casserole in the slow cooker at the weekend and, apart from having to deal with all the shallots, it was very easy indeed. What's more at this time of year it's so useful to literally throw several ingredients in the pot and a few hours later, as if by magic, have a delicious warming meal. My slow cooker was a Christmas gift from my parents last year and we use it constantly. As well as being an incredibly efficient bit of kit, there is something deeply reassuring about knowing that dinner is taken care of and you can get on with your day.

This is based on a recipe from Slow Cooking: Best New Recipes by Annette Yates and Norma Miller which doesn't look or sound terribly inspiring, but has become my slow cooking bible. It serves 6 people.

900g stewing venison, cut into cubes
3 rashers of streaky bacon
12 shallots, peeled and sliced into quarters
2 red chillies, seeds removed, finely sliced
150g cranberries
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
400ml stock (ideally venison or beef)
150ml port or red wine
freshly ground black pepper
55g dark chocolate

Firstly preheat the slow cooker to High. Place everything apart from the chocolate in the slow cooker, cover with the lid and cook on Low for 6 to 8 hours. Everything goes straight in without having to fry the meat or shallots/onions first. Just before serving stir through the chocolate and check the seasoning. You might need to thicken the sauce slightly if it's a bit thin with some cornflour mixed with water.

The ingredients cook down beautifully resulting in a warmly spicy dish and meltingly tender venison. As a crunchy garnish I made a gremolata with a handful of breadcrumbs fried until golden with butter and a crushed clove of garlic, combined with finely grated orange zest and chopped parsley.

Served with steamed cabbage and a bottle of Rioja Reserva, it was a perfect winter meal.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Home made candied peel

This is a real winter favourite and something I make most years as Christmas gifts – what's not to love about home made candied peel, especially dipped in chocolate. You often see recipes for it in the run up to Christmas as it's photogenic and sounds so luxurious, but they are rarely honest about how long it can take. The method hinges on the sugar syrup dried out fully and this depends on the atmosphere. Last year mine weren't ready in time for Christmas after leaving them for a week to dry out and I think all the damp weather was the problem. However, if you start now and use a warm airing cupboard (or low oven if it comes to it), you should be fine.

You can use any citrus fruit, but I prefer orange as it goes better with chocolate. Select unwaxed fruit or failing that, scrub the skins thoroughly. Divide 6 oranges into quarters and carefully cut away the flesh from the pith and peel. Slice this into strips or leave in larger pieces to use in cooking (cakes, buns, mincemeat etc). Place in a large saucepan or preserving pan and cover with water. Over a low heat simmer until soft. Drain away the water and repeat the process. Strain the fruit and reserve the cooking water for the syrup.

Make a syrup by dissolving 600g granulated sugar in 300ml water, bring it to the boil and let it bubble until slightly thickened. Add the cooked peel. Over a low heat allow it to simmer gently until the peel has absorbed all the syrup – this might take two hours or so and swirl the pan occasionally in case the peel is sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Once all the syrup has been absorbed, arrange the peel on drying racks spaced so the air can circulate. I put the racks on large trays lined with cling film or baking parchment as the sticky syrup drips off the fruit and makes a real mess (I learned this the hard way first time around). Rearrange them every couple of days.

Once fully dry, if you like, dip the peel in melted dark chocolate, alternatively, larger pieces can be snipped up to use in cooking. Store in airtight containers. To say it's better than shop bought candied peel is quite an understatement. It's fabulous with Vin Santo, but Tokaji and other well flavoured sweet wines also work beautifully.