Archive for the 'autumn' Category

The first step

I’m lucky to live in a village that still has a butcher and fishmonger – fantastic ones at that. At a time where large supermarkets still dominate despite the growing desire to shop local, it is cheering to see a queue snaking out of the butcher every Saturday, at pretty much any time of day (although not in the photo below!).

Rawlings of Cranleigh is a family-run butcher that has fantastic meat, award-winning sausages, pies, and also a well-stocked cheese counter, with cheeses ranging from Stinking Bishop to the local Norbury Blue. The staff are very friendly, and (like good butchers should be) are always on hand with advice and cooking suggestions.

Although I won’t pretend that we do all our meat shopping there, we try to visit our butcher whenever we can; the meat is much better and more varied, which in turn helps up to discover and cook new things.

One of the things B. and I wanted to do once we had our house was to cook more of the things that we would simply buy – especially things we count as treats (or should do now we have a mortgage!). Making pâté is the first step, and hopefully you will see more posts on here of this nature in the coming months.

This weekend when we went to Rawlings, there was mixed game they had prepared displayed at the front of the shop. I had been intending to get a couple of rabbits to make pâté, but a pack of venison, pigeon, pheasant, duck, partridge and rabbit seemed too good to pass up.

I consulted a few recipes, and found that what goes into pâté seems to be pretty flexible. The constant is cooking it in a bain-marie, but in terms of what you put in there, you need some kind of fat, such as pork belly and bacon; livers add flavour but it isn’t essential. Egg or breadcrumbs are good binders. If you can, it’s good to marinate the raw meat for a few hours or more beforehand – I didn’t have the time, but found my pâté to still be full of flavour.

Pates can be cooked in a terrine/loaf tin or in preserving  jars – the cooking method remains the same; if you cook in a terrine, then you need to line it with bacon and then once cooked, weigh it down with weights in the fridge for 24 hours.

All in all, I was pleased with the results. It came out a cross between a spreadable pâté and a sliceable terrine – I am guessing if you increase the liver content it would become more spreadable. Nevertheless, this does spread – especially if you use some of the surrounding fat – not very healthy, but it tastes so good! It was gamey, but not overly so, and the flavours of the pork and chicken livers also came through to make a deliciously meaty pâté.

In B.’s words: “We’ll never buy pâté again when we can have home-made stuff like this.” I have to agree.

Mixed game and pork pâté

One word of warning: when the pate is cooked, it will be swimming in fat. I was worried as no recipe I had looked at had mentioned it. Luckily I then found a Delia recipe, where she notes that her coarse pork pâté “ will be swimming in fat, but ignore it – you are not going to eat it but its presence around the pâté keeps it moist.”

2 large knobs of butter
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Splash of vegetable or olive oil
600g mixed diced game
225g sliced pork belly, cut into chunks
240g chicken livers
300g streaky bacon, chopped
3 tsp redcurrant jelly
8 juniper berries, lightly crushed and then chopped
400g sausage meat
Glass of port
25g breadcrumbs

1) Heat a large knob of butter over a low heat and cook the onion for 5-10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic for 2 minutes to cook through. Set aside in a large bowl to cool.
2) Add more butter and a splash of oil and cook the game and pork belly for several minutes until browned. Pour the liquid that comes out into a separate bowl, then transfer the meat to the onion bowl.
3) Quickly fry off the livers and bacon, then pour the excess liquid into the reserved cooking juices bowl. Transfer the livers and bacon to the game and onion bowl. Add the redcurrant jelly, juniper berries and thyme to the cooked meat and stir well to combine.
4) Pour the reserved cooking liquid into the pan, along with a few glugs of port. Reduce until it forms a glaze, then pour into the meat bowl. Leave to cool for 45 minutes or so – this will also give a chance for the flavours to mingle.
5) Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. Pulse the meat mixture (including juices) in a food processor along with the sausagemeat and breadcrumbs until you have the texture you want – I went for quite a fine pâté.
6) Pack into sterilised preserving jars – we filled 2 x ½ litre jars and 1 x 250ml jar. Place in a deep roasting tin or casserole and fill with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides. Cook in the oven for 1¼ hours until the pâté is coming away from the sides at the top. There will be quite a bit of fat in the jar (see my note above) – it will keep the pâté moist. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
7)  Chill in the fridge once cooled. The pâté should keep for at least a week, but it should last longer as the jars have an airtight seal. It will taste better if left for a day or two for the flavours to develop. Serve with good bread or toast.

A rare treat

It’s easy to appreciate foods with a short season: asparagus, Vacherin Mont D’or, purple sprouting broccoli. But what about foods that hang around for longer, or that are so commonplace that you can get them throughout the year? Before I met B., the mushroom was an ingredient I loved – one of my favourites. Although mushrooms are very much autumnal produce, you can get a ready supply all year round and I did take them for granted.

B. sadly can’t eat mushrooms; let’s just say he sees them again fairly swiftly when he does. Even the smell of them cooking has made him feel ill in the past. So, I obviously avoid eating them at home.

However, I honestly don’t mind (most of the time). It means that I really savour these fleshy fungi when I do get to eat them, whether it’s at a restaurant or on the rare occasion when I cook them at home.

Mushrooms are stunning looking and another sign of autumn, just like winter squashes. From big, fat mushrooms with huge caps to tiny ones clustered together, these earthy beauties are a real treat.

I love the fact there are so many types that look so strange and varied and have such different flavours. It makes me sad that B. can’t enjoy them; I once had an amazing mushroom lasagne at work, and my first thought was that it was such a shame that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy it (and that I wouldn’t be able to recreate the dish at home).

It does work both ways though; B. loves rhubarb, and although some people think I’m crazy, I hate the stuff. I also really don’t like rice pudding (another favourite of B.’s), so that’s off the list, too.

This week, however, I came across some exotic mushrooms that looked so interesting I had to have them. The pack included shiitake, and  two varieties I had never eaten before – shimeji and enoki. I wanted to do something simple with them so I could really appreciate the different flavours.

So while B. had devilled kidneys, I recreated a favourite childhood Sunday supper of mine: mushrooms on toast. I can still remember the comforting smell of mushrooms frying in garlicky butter on a cold Sunday evening, dreading the start of school the next day. Today I updated it slightly from what I had back then: sourdough instead of plain white bread, and I also added a touch of cream.

The  garlic (and a squeeze of lemon juice) really complemented the mushrooms without overwhelming them, and the cream just held it all together. I cooked the shiitake mushrooms for longer than the shimeji and enoki, as the latter toughens up if cooked for too long; the different textures worked really well. I loved the flavours of the mushrooms; packed with umami, they were slightly nutty in flavour, and I found the shiitake (which, despite being relatively common now, I haven’t eaten many times before) were rich and earthy. When I tried the shiitake raw, I also, bizarrely, found their flavour to be very similar to blue cheese!

Altogether the exotic mushrooms worked really well with the creamy sauce and sourdough bread. It was the perfect treat: so simple, but a classic.

You hardly need a recipe for this but here goes:

Mushrooms on toast

Large knob of butter
1 garlic clove, minced
120g mushrooms
Squeeze of lemon juice
Splash of double cream
2 slices of sourdough or other bread
Handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, chopped

1. Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat and gently cook the garlic for a few minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft and coloured. (If using enoki mushrooms like I did, cook them for only a few minutes otherwise they will toughen up.) Add the lemon juice and a splash of cream and warm through.
2. Meanwhile, toast your bread.
3. Tip the creamy mushrooms onto the toasted bread, sprinkle over the parsley and enjoy!

Autumn treasures

The temperature has dropped, the wind is picking up and the leaves are beginning to turn – summer seems but a distant memory; autumn has well and truly arrived.
I have sadly neglected this blog over the summer, but with good reason; B. and I bought a house!
What with the buying process and wanting to decorate the house before we moved in, it took most of the summer to sort out. However, I am pleased to report that we are now all settled in and ready to get back to the serious business of cooking!
With the changing of the seasons comes a new exciting array of produce to cook with and help us get through winter: among them mushrooms, autumn berries and root vegetables.
My absolute favourite autumnal/winter vegetable has to be squash. For a start there are so many varieties: butternut, acorn, harlequin and yellow crookneck are just a few. They come in all different shapes, sizes and colours – true autumnal treasures.
Butternut is the most accessible and easy to find, and is very similar to pumpkin. It has a wonderful rich sweetness in its dark orangey flesh, and is extremely versatile. Butternut can be used in many dishes, from curries to soups and stews.
However, as I mentioned in my wild garlic post, I have a great love of risotto – and one with butternut squash is perfect for the cool (and often miserable) autumn weather. Many people I know who don’t like squash find it too sweet; here I have combined it with earthy sage, aromatic thyme and tangy Gorgonzola to offset the sweetness, and it is a stunning match.
Although you can boil squash, it does lose some of its sweetness; roasting it along with some sage and thyme in this dish intensifies the flavours and they all marry together nicely. The fried sage leaves may sound a little fancy, but they taste amazing and make a real difference.

For me, this dish signals that autumn is here, and goes a fair way for compensating for the terrible English weather. I hope it does the same for you too.

Butternut squash, gorgonzola and sage risotto

Serves 4

1 onion, diced
Splash of olive oil
Knob of butter
1 medium-sized butternut squash
6-8 sprigs of fresh sage (about 1 standard supermarket pack)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
400g risotto rice
1.5l vegetable stock (I used Marigold Vegetable Bouillon)
115g Gorgonzola


1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler (the skin can be tough to peel); scoop out the seeds and fibrous bits and discard. Cut the squash into small chunks and put  onto a baking tray. Reserve 6 of the largest sage leaves and finely chop the remaining leaves. Pick off the thyme leaves. Sprinkle the sage and thyme over the squash, season with sea salt and black pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Toss to combine and cook for 20 minutes or until cooked through and starting to caramelise.

2. Meanwhile, fry the onion in a splash of olive oil and a knob of butter over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the risotto rice, stir then gradually add the hot stock, stirring continuously between each addition until absorbed. Continue for 20 minutes or until the stock has been absorbed and the rice is al dente. Add more water if needs be.

3. In a small frying pan, fry the reserved sage leaves in a little olive oil over a medium-high heat for a few seconds each side until crisp. Set aside on a plate lined with kitchen paper.

4. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir through the gorgonzola and roasted squash. Top with the crisp sage leaves and serve immediately.

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© 2015 Sharon Lane

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