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Fornightly Meal Challenge #4: Sloe Gin Venison Pie

I absolutely love the warm, comforting deliciousness of a decent meat pie on a cold, damp night. On a particularly blustery night, I put together a very special venison pie for one of our holiday dinners. The special ingredient? Sloe Gin! If you don’t know how to make it, check out my handy recipe, so you’re all prepared next year! If you don’t have sloe gin and are desperate for venison pie, never fear, this works very well with lashings of red wine instead.

I’ve found loads of venison pie recipes. I’ve also read that once your sloe gin is ready, the sloes left after decanting go well with venison pie. I’ve never managed to find a recipe for the two together, so decided to try making my own.

The only hot tip when making venison pie is that you must NOT under any circumstances braise/brown the venison. It can make the meat tough and even 12 hours of slow cooking won’t save it. You’ve been warned. To get super melt in the mouth meat, you slow cook this stuff slowly in the sauce. The best method I’ve found is 12 hours in the slow cooker, finished off with an hour in the oven to add some colour before adding that lovely puff pastry topping. My MIL does hers (with kudu and mushrooms) all day in a pressure cooker and it is gorgeous.

While we were away I didn’t have a slow cooker or a pressure cooker, so did mine for 8 hours in the oven before adding the pastry. The meat was just as tender, but slightly drier. Clearly slow cooking does keep meat tender and moist. 
I cheated and used ready rolled puff pastry because I’m absolutely rubbish at pastry. I blame my hot hands. You can use any veg but this works best with winter seasonal root veg like carrots, parsnips and Swede. Mushrooms will also work well, but you should probably cook them in butter before adding them.

For the venison, try to get hold of cheap diced meat. The lower legs are fantastic for flavour and the long, gentle cooking really breaks the meat down into meltingly tender and rich tasting pie. This is one of those dishes where it pays to be friendly with your local butcher.

Don’t like pastry? No problem, you can just serve this as a casserole with a root veg and potato mash, dumplings or rice.

Ingredients (for 8 hungry hunters):

800g diced venison off the bone

2 large white onions, chopped

A tablespoon of chopped fresh garlic

Olive oil

A small glass of sloe gin (roughly 125ml)

2 cups (tins/cartons) of chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

large sprig of fresh rosemary

large spring of fresh thyme

A good quality beef or vegetable stock cube

Assorted veg, just use what you have. I had six carrots, four parsnips and a couple of courgettes

250g ready rolled puff pastry, or make your own!

A beaten egg or a couple of tablespoons of milk to wash the pastry

Method:

Preheat your oven to 120 degrees C.

Coat the base of a large pan with olive oil and put onto a medium heat.

Saute the chopped onion then cover the pan and turn down the heat to let them sweat until translucent. It should take about 10 minutes. Give the pan a shake now and then so they don’t stick and burn.

Add the garlic and turn up the heat again for one minute. Add the sloe gin and sauté off the onions and garlic for a few more minutes until the sloe gin fumes stop giving off their alcohol fumes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and bring up to a simmer. Add all the other ingredients, top up with some boiling water if necessary (you want everything to be just covered with sauce) and transfer to a covered oven proof dish and pop in the oven. You may need to fiddle with the oven temperature, but you’re looking for this to have a gentle fizzle of bubbles at the edges so that it cooks really slowly. I did mine for eight hours, stirring once after four hours. Remove the lid for the last hour so that it can get some extra colour.

Roll open your ready rolled pastry, or roll out your own. Cut to fit your pie dish. I usually use a new dish so that I can measure the pastry nicely, and to ensure I dirty up some extra dishes for my long-suffering spouse to wash. Remove the venison and turn the oven up to 200 degrees C.

Transfer the venison filling to the pie dish. You shouldn’t need to thicken it up, but you could do with cornflour if you really want. Brush the rim of the dish with your egg/milk to glue the pastry lid down. Top with pastry, embellish as desired, poke in a few holes to let out the steam and brush all over with egg/milk. Pop it back in the oven at 200 for 40 minutes.

Serve and enjoy! You can serve it with boiled new potatoes tossed in butter and parsley with some fresh steamed beans or broccoli, but as you can see, we didn’t bother and enjoyed it just on its own.

What are your favourite meat pie fillings?

 

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Fortnightly Meal Challenge #3: Classic Roast Butternut Squash Risotto

Is risotto one of those dishes that absolutely terrifies you? It used to scare the bejeebers out of me, but after a few goes, I’ve discovered its actually REALLY easy. There are recipes where you can just pop your risotto rice straight into a pot of chicken casserole and leave it to do its thing and…gasp….it turns out JUST fine. I’ll post that another time though. Today, inspired by the monthly recipe challenge over at the Modern Home Kitchen, I’ve decided to make a classic autumnal risotto. An oozy risotto is the perfect comfort food for those chilly, misty days. It is also incredibly versatile. Try a fresh pea and mint combination for spring, beans in summer or chicken and mushroom for winter to ward off the sniffles.

For autumn though, and with the challenge ingredient of SQUASH requested by team over at the Modern Home Kitchen, I’ve plumped for a classic roast butternut squash risotto. The beauty of this dish is that you can adapt it to suit what ingredients you have at hand. I strongly recommend teaming it with fresh sage, which works beautifully with butternut. Roasting the butternut causes some caramalisation and you get a super sweet, smoky depth of flavour that you can’t achieve by steaming or baking your squash at a low temperature. I made this to serve two adults, a toddler and a baby so had to tone down the flavours somewhat for the youngsters. We added seasoning and some other extras once I’d dished up for the kids.

Ingredients:

1 litre of stock (chicken or veg stock is great). If you don’t have enough stock, you can always increase it with some hot water

Olive oil

1 butternut squash, skinned and diced into small bitesized cubes. You can also leave the skin on if you like it that way

Fresh rosemary (Sage is also a fantastic option)

A large white onion or 4 shallots, finely chopped

1 stalk of celery, finely chopped

a tablespoon of crushed/chopped garlic

pinch of cinnamon

3 heaped handfuls of risotto rice (I used arborio rice)

a small glass of white wine

A block of parmesan cheese

Method:

Toss your butternut chunks in olive oil with salt, pepper and chopped rosemary and roast for 30-45 at 200 degrees C. Keep an eye on them after the 30 minutes are up and take them out when the edges start to blacken and caramelise.

Put two large pots on your hob. Put your stock into the smaller pot and keep warm on a low simmer. In the largest pot, heat some olive oil, and gently cook the onion and celery. This should take about ten minutes. You want to do this on a low heat so the onion stays translucent and doesn’t crisp up. I like to sweat my onion for the last 5 minutes with the lid on, so it softens up really gently. Once its soft, turn up to a medium heat and add the garlic and stir to prevent burning. Add the cinnamon.

Turn up the heat a couple of notches and add the rice, it should sizzle. Stir until the sizzling dies down and the rice starts to turn translucent. Add in your small glass of wine, keep stirring. Inhale the heady alcohol fumes. Once the fumes start to die down and the wine has been sucked up by the rice, start adding the stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time. Keep stirring as it gets absorbed. Every risotto recipe I’ve ever read helpfully tells you not to cook your risotto too fast (cooked outside, raw inside) or too slowly (claggy, smooshy risotto) but they don’t tell you how to achieve that. What you want is a moderate temperature. If its bubbling rapidly, your temperature is too high. If it emits about one slow blub every second, then its probably about right. I keep turning mine down until its JUST not simmering around the edge. Keep on with adding a bit of stock and stirring while it gets absorbed. It should take about 20 minutes. The rice grains will suddenly turn big and puffy looking, give it another 5 minutes, then bite into one to check if they’re done right the way through. You don’t need to be a slave to the risotto. I changed Toddler clothes, folded a big pile of laundry and unloaded and reloaded my dishwasher between ladlefuls.

Once the rice is just cooked through, add in your roasted butternut chunks and a splash more stock. Stir stir stir. Some of the butternut will ooze off, and the caramelised bits will stay as they are. Add a good couple of tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese and stir through. Check your seasoning. I usually need to add salt, because my stock is salt free. You can add a squeeze of lemon juice to cut the flavour a little. Garnish with any of butter fried sage leaves (highly recommended), crisp bacon bits, torn parma ham, some fresh rosemary leaves.

Enjoy with a glass of wine in front of the fire.


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Fortnightly meal challenge #2: Apricot Glazed Chicken

 

I seem to be stuck on chicken dishes at the moment. Once I’ve resigned myself to properly cold and wintery weather I’ll start getting more into red meats.

For my second meal challenge, I decided to try something quick but delicious with my chicken pieces that my kids would also enjoy. Apricot and chicken is a match made in heaven and I remember eating loads of different combinations of the two as a child. Apricot casseroled in apricot juice, or with whole apricots was pretty typical. The glaze for this chicken includes mayonnaise, and usually onion soup mix, which I opted to forgo as it tends to be laden with salt. The sugar in the jam will cause the skin to blacken, just keep an eye on things to ensure it doesn’t actually burn, particularly if your oven runs quite hot, like mine.

The spouse demolished his, and had seconds. The toddler demolished his and had seconds too! The baby spent ages sucking away on her big strip of chicken and cried when it was finished! I didn’t have seconds, but would have if I’d had the space. That’s what you get for sneaking in a pre dinner cookie!

Ingredients:

Chicken pieces with skin on (I used drumsticks and thighs, but any will do. You could also do this with skinless chicken pieces)

Smooth apricot jam

Mayonnaise

To coat 6 drumsticks and 4 thighs I used 3 large tablespoons each of the jam and mayonnaise

Method:

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C

Mix your mayonnaise and jam together

Place your chicken pieces into an oven proof dish. I like to get them slightly spaced apart rather than tightly packed to ensure they get nice and sticky all the way around. Make sure they are placed yucky side up, then smear half the jam mix onto your chicken. Cover with foil and bake for roughly 30 minutes. Turn the pieces over so they’re nice (skin) side up and coat with the remaining jam mix before baking for a further 20 minutes uncovered.

I also removed the chicken from the roasting pan and deglazed it with some boiling water and reduced it for a sauce.

We served ours with brown rice, peas and steamed green beans. Not particularly exciting, but child friendly. They would also be lovely served with a warm lentil salad. Nom nom nom,

 


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Fortnightly meal challenge #1: Sage and Clementine Roast Chicken

So my first new meal challenge is done and dusted, hooray! Judging by the scraping of plates towards the end of the meal, it was a success. Baby K was so excited by her first taste of roast chicken that she nearly bounced out of her chair. And our toddler has morphed into Oliver, with not one, not two, but THREE requests for, “More please!” It was really tasty. The flavours weren’t phenomenally strong, but subtly different from an ordinary roast chicken. The sage and clementine work really well together. I would definitely make this again.

As with most roast chicken dishes, this one was fairly easy, going straight into the oven once prepared with no maintenance necessary allowing me to get on with other things.

Inspired by the original recipe made with chicken pieces here, this version, using a whole chicken was pretty easy.

You will need:

1 chicken. I can really recommend getting a good organic, corn fed, free range chook. Cheap chooks aren’t great except maybe as stock.

A couple of clementines

A bunch of fresh sage leaves

olive oil (or butter if you prefer), salt and pepper.

Gently pull the breast skin away from the meat. You should be able to form a pocket between the skin and the breast meat on either side by pushing a finger under the skin and gently breaking the connective tissue. Shove a sage leaf and a clementine slice into each pocket you’ve made. If you’re using butter you can wedge a good knob of it under the skin too.

Put some more sage leaves and a few clementine halves inside the chicken.

I made a dressing of around 6 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of one clementine, a tablespoon of chopped sage and salt and pepper to taste which I used to coat the chicken before it went into the oven.

Roast at 220 degrees Celsius (430F for the western hemisphere readers) for roughly an hour until the thigh juices run clear. The timing will vary wildly depending on the size of your bird.

Once done, cover will foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes while you plate up your veg.

We had this with roasted peppers, courgettes, onions and cherry tomatoes with a mash made from parsnip, sweet potato and swede. My favourite autumnal mash.


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Fortnightly meal challenge

So this weekend I’ll be trying out Sage and Clementine Roast Chicken, from the Appoggiatura blog. Roast chicken is dead easy but a definite favourite in this house. This is a bit of a cheat for my first challenge dinner, but I’ve had a bit of a rough week. Little K has a bad cold, The Terrible Two’s (phase2) have struck J again, I’ve had 2 fillings done (blush) and my entire head is aching. I can’t even take decent pain meds because I’m still feeding little K. Yes I know, excuses excuses. But at least I’m not procrastinating.

New flavours for roast chicken are always good to try. I suspect the sage and clementine combination will be out of this world, as well as being very seasonal now that we are starting to experience a definite nip in the air. And how yummy does this look?

I’ll be trying this with a lovely whole organic free range happy chicken (currently all plucked and ready to cook in my fridge) and be sliding Clementine slices, garlic slices and sage leaves under the skin as suggested in the original post. I’ll also be squeezing the juice from halved clementines inside and leaving the whole thing to brew in my fridge for a few hours before popping it into the oven. Can’t wait!