Another gorgeous weekend basking in incredible autumnal weather. We had my two nephews staying and took them to the local trout farm where we tried our hand at a spot of fishing. Imagine the excitement when my five-year-old nephew caught his first fish! Once he'd met his maker courtesy of a sharp tap to the head, we took the fish home to cook for the boys tea. Anticipating some resistance and cries of 'Yuk - don't like it', I picked up some oven chips on the way home so that I could 'sell' the meal as an exciting treat of 'fish and chips'.
I needn't have worried. Those brave boys were fascinated as they watched my husband gut the fish, stuff the cavity with herbs and place it in the fish kettle to steam. Served with chips and peas they declared their catch to be 'delicious' and ate absolutely masses. A great result all round and so good for them to catch their own food. Sadly I forgot to take the camera with me but I thought you might enjoy the story!
A few weeks ago I helped organise a hen party for one of my closest friends. She loves good food and we based the evening around a special dinner cooked by all of her girl friends. Each 'hen' prepared a part of the meal whether it be a pre-dinner nibble, a vegetable side dish, starter or post-meal chocolate. I was in charge of a main course for fifteen people. I quickly decided that a one-pot dish would be easiest and hauled out my biggest casserole dish. I'd noticed that the first of the season's venison had appeared in the window of the local butcher. I adore venison and we eat quite a bit of it - it is such a lean meat and lends itself to all kinds of dishes. Often we enjoy venison steaks with redcurrant jus and bubble and squeak. We often choose venison sausages if we want a night of comfort food - just a little lower in fat than regular sausages. Venison is also great with oriental flavours and we sometimes serve strips of steak on top of stir-fried vegetables and noodles dressed with plenty of soy sauce. But my favourite way to enjoy this full-flavoured meat is braised slowly in red wine until it falls apart.
The recipe I'm sharing is a real favourite - it is a Nick Nairn recipe from BBC Good Food. I rarely tweak it although I vary the vegetables according to what I have to hand. The trick is to cook it on a low heat for a long time. The redcurrant jelly is really important here so don't leave it out although you could substitute a different fruit jelly - bramble, rowan or quince might work well. The sweetness works beautifully with the earthy, gamey flavour of the meat. The recipe is very easily doubled or halved and freezes well too. As with all casseroles, flavour improves if made a day in advance.
Apologies for the photos - it is so hard to make a stew look enticing in a photograph. I also forgot to take any photos of the 'finished' dish which was a much deeper colour with the tender meat falling apart.
1 garlic clove
2 heaped tbsp redcurrant jelly
450ml red wine
450ml beef stock
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C (fan oven). Roughly chop all the vegetables in preparation.
2. Heat some oil and butter in a large casserole and add the onions, carrots, swede and celery. Fry for a few minutes until golden. Crush the garlic and add to the pan. Stir to combine and then set the vegetables to one side.
3. Sprinkle the meat with seasoned flour and mix to coat. Add a little more oil to the casserole and brown the meat in batches. Set aside with the vegetables.
4. Add the wine and jelly to the pan and bubble away, scraping up all the bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pour in the stock, thyme and bay leaf before adding the meat and vegetable back to the pan. Stir to combine and then bring to the boil. Cover and cook for minimum 2 hours (my preference would be to cook for longer at a slightly lower heat but it depends how much time I have!).
5. Remove the bayleaf and serve. Great with mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage or savoy cabbage flavoured with juniper.