Venison Volume II: Skinning up – sausages and stock

This is a post part of which has been sitting in my drafts for some time and for some reason, I only now get round to publication.  This is not least with encouragement of Phil at Food, Frankly and my promise to do so last week. Being a person of my word (most of the time), here is the second volume of the rather graphic venison butchery episode.  Be assured that this is somewhat more gentle than Volume 1: In the Flesh and covers making the most of the animal and preparing fine game stock and venison sausages.

Part of the reason I have not posted this so far is that I am not really a very good step-by-step recipe blogger, especially with images as I lack patience and photographic skills for this, and the processes involved very much need this approach.  However, if going off on random digressions are your thing, especially musical ones, I am adept at that. I will curb my enthusiasm in this respect and restrict myself only to the briefest mention of a musical soundtrack.  Venison butchery, stock and sausage making are culinary marathons that demand a soundtrack to provide the stamina and to drive one to the end (she said in a thinly veiled justification).

Food provenance – there are no surprises

As outlined in Volume 1, knowing the provenance of the meat and fish I eat is the essence of why I decided to do so again after a decade of strict vegetarianism. This is especially pertinent given the unfolding ‘My Lidl Pony’ horse meat scandal. It is becoming increasingly clear that a long, convoluted and global supply chain makes it almost impossible to be reassured about the identity, provenance and possibly even the safety of processed meat products for sale in the UK.

In fact, this comes as no surprise to me as it should not be to most consumers.  Our insatiable demand and expectation for cheap meat, coupled with and exacerbated by the dominance of supermarkets reacting to the markets on a gargantuan global scale brings with it this vicious circle of inevitability.  Meat is a luxury and should not be cheap and we have all but lost sight of the global environmental and welfare implications of eating meat. It should be a component of our diet, not the central focus, which it so often is. The middle classes have the luxury to fret about the food miles associated with eating the likes of asparagus out of season flown in from Peru (mea culpa).  The issue for unfortunates who do eat processed ‘beef’ is one of food miles squared – with bells on.

While I am not ready to revert to vegetarianism, I do my utmost not to feel smug or sanctimonious about my eating habits or those choices of others. The options I have are fairly luxurious and there are many people who are not fortunate enough to be in a position to source quality local meat and, more fundamentally, that can afford the meat choices I can readily make.

While that is true, I also have a finite budget and would rather forego the luxury of a new pair of shoes, or even curb my CD buying urges to make sure I eat the best quality produce that I can.   In truth, I don’t have a problem with eating horse meat per se, I no doubt did when I lived in Portugal (maybe even donkey too). The real issue is that with processed meat you can have no confidence in what you are eating and must have your eyes wide open to that reality.

The making of venison sausages

Sausages are a case in point and I am guilty of contradictions in this respect.  I turn my nose up at processed meat of supermarket breakfast sausages, but happily eat artisan cured salamis.  Let’s face it, I don’t really know what’s in these salamis and donkey is likely in some traditional Spanish variants. Similarly, how much do I know about the provenance of the smoked pork belly I use in this recipe? So, going back to my ethos, I do what I can.

Out of respect for the deer, we use over 95% of the carcass we collected to produce prime cuts, stock and sausages. Sausage making is a great use for all the bits from the belly, ribs, parts of the shoulder and neck that ends up piled up at the end of butchery of the prime muscle cuts.  That said, we remove all sinews, tendons and viscera, keeping only the prime meat for the sausages. Equally, it could be simply minced and frozen to make a fine low fat venison based lasagne.  This year we had a whopping 5 kg of potential sausage meat from our deer.

To make sausages, it is best to be prepared in advance.  That means getting breadcrumbs or rusk, skin, pork fat and seasoning ready for construction. To do this, we call upon the services of the indispensable Weschenfelder, specialists in butchery and charcuterie equipment, all with the benefits of an online shop. Their website is mesmerising, offering a cornucopia of delights for the professional and home sausage-maker alike.

Sausage making soundtrack: Julian Cope – Peggy Suicide; Lamb of God – Sacrament; Kate Bush – Hounds of Love and The White Stripes – Elephant

Ingredients

5 kg venison

2 kg Pork fat or belly (smoked in this case)

1.5 kg Pinhead Rusk

1.5 litres cold water

227g seasoning mix – 1 pack of Weschenfelder Royal Venison Seasoning

venison 1

Over the past few years we have used many different sausage recipes, largely of our own creations.  Some have been very successful, others, in trying to cut down the fat content, have been altogether too meaty and a bit strangely flavourless.  This year we opted to play it safe and turned to a Weschenfelder seasoning recipe – Royal Venison Seasoning and incorporated their rusk into the recipe too.

Choice of casing

We always buy casings (skins) from the online shop too.  We favour natural casings: hog casings and sheep casings (more info courtesy of Weschenfelder) and have also used collagen. Each has a plus and minus.  Collagen is synthetic and is what most supermarket sausages are encased in. It is easy and forgiving to use but gives quite an unnatural shape and texture.

Hog are good, robust and offers quite big diameter sausages – good for Cumberland or similar.  Sheep casings are much narrower and more delicate to work but make a really fine, elegant (if you can call a sausage elegant) breakfast sausage.  We used sheep this year, choosing traditional hanks but the delicate nature of the casings meant they frequently broke/burst when shirring onto the nozzle of the mincer.  This made the process even more time-consuming. I suspect we would benefit from a smaller nozzle for sheep casings, shown below soaking in water.

venison 2

Method

  • First, the meat and fat is minced.  We have a dedicated mincer with a sausage-making nozzle attachment.  If you have a KitchenAid, a sausage-making attachment can be purchased for it, but it is expensive.

Mincing the pork Bosek

Mincing the pork belly

Venison is minced - note the vibrant colour

Venison is minced – note the vibrant colour

We used smoked pork belly, because we simply couldn’t get a hold of pork fat here.  This made the sausages a bit more meaty and ‘bacony’ than they would be if fat alone had been added, but they were not dry.

  • The minced venison and pork are then mixed with the seasoning mixture then briefly with half of the cold water.
  • The remaining cold water is added to form a sticky, moist mixture before adding the rusk and mixing well.

venison 9

  • The whole batch of mixture is then minced again in readiness for being fed into casings. Casings are rinsed and soaked in water beforehand.

venison

  • The mincer attachment was changed for the nozzle and the wet sheep casings were carefully threaded onto it.
  • The mixture was fed back through the mincer, slowly feeding the mix through so as to not burst the casings or have sausages being produced at a high rate of knots that can’t be managed.

venison 7The reward is a huge pile of delicious venison sausages.  This batch provided 200 sausages and 40 chipolatas.  Most of the chipolatas were served with Christmas dinner.  Some of the mixture was also kept back and used to stuff our free-range bronze turkey. Any left over casings can be stored in salt in the fridge and re-hydrated for use.

Having done a back-of-an envelope calculation, I estimated the average cost of each sausage to be 20p. Although there is a lot of work in the butchery preparations and making the sausages, this is still a bargain for a premium quality sausage of good provenance.  The benefit for us is also the skills in butchery and food preparation we have developed which will stand us in good stead when we move on to make salamis, something we certainly plan to do in the future.

Stock making – post butchery therapy

The other essential component of the day that maximizes the value for money of a whole red deer carcass is to make stock with the bones.  Freezing the bones to do this another time takes up a ridiculous amount of freezer space and so I make stock and store it in 500 ml containers in the freezer for use throughout the year.  I call it game stock as I use it interchangeably as a stock for wildfowl as well as venison recipes. I take great care over making this stock as this will be the foundation of many game dishes over the winter and I find stock making very satisfying, even therapeutic.

The recipe I use is the classic Michel Roux game stock recipe. The recipe calls for veal stock, which is a bit of an ask out here.  This can be replaced with chicken or beef stock. I used chicken, which does lighten the stock a bit. I bring more intensity of flavour by reducing the strained stock at the end of the process. I made 2 batches over 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 220C (fan)

Ingredients

3 tbsp. groundnut oil

2kg game trimmings: venison bones in our case

150g carrots, sliced into rounds

150g onions, coarsely chopped

1/2 a garlic bulb, unpeeled and cut in half widthways

500ml Cotes du Rhone (preferably, other red wine is fine)

500ml veal stock (or beef/chicken)

8 juniper berries, crushed

8 coriander seeds, crushed

1 bouquet garni, including 2 sage leaves and a celery stalk

venison 3

Method

  • Put the oil in a large roasting tray together with the bones and trimmings and brown in a hot oven for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
  • Add the carrots, onions and garlic and return to the oven for another 5 minutes.

venison8

  • Transfer all the meat and veg to a large stock pan, pour off any fat from the roasting tray and deglaze with the red wine.
  • Reduce the wine by half then add to the stock pan.
  • Add 2 litres of water to the pan and bring to the boil on a high heat.  Just as it boils, turn down the heat until the liquid barely simmers.
  • Skim for 10 minutes then leave it barely simmering for 2 hours.
  • Strain through a chinois / sieve. At tis stage it can be reduced by a third to intensify the flavour.
  • Cool and pour into containers to freeze.  Done!

venison10

Chocolate, whisky and bramble tart with bramble ripple ice cream

As a dessert for Burns Night, I wanted to avoid the obvious traditional options. Much as I love cranachan made with raspberries, it is out of season. I enjoyed the local favourite of caragheen pudding at last year’s Burns supper but this year I was looking for something, well, a bit more luxurious.

I opted for a chocolate tart, incorporating the darkest of dark chocolate (81%), a dram and to my mind that definitively Scottish wild fruit that I have adored for all of my life – brambles. Some of my freezer stock of precious brambles from last autumn’s harvest was included in the tart and was also made into a coulis, swirled through vanilla ice cream to form a bramble ripple.

Brambles ready for collecting last autumn

Brambles ready for collecting last autumn

Although I nod to the traditional by including whisky in the tart, I must admit I am not a whisky lover. Even the finest malts, notably those from the islands (Islay in particular) have the whiff of TCP about them.  I am told if I persevere, I too will enjoy them one day.  Olives are often cited as an example.  During my PhD, my whisky connoisseur supervisor would arrive from Oxford and together with my other Edinburgh Uni supervisor,  we would head out with our research group of an evening to their favourite hostelry, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society members only premises in Queen Street, Edinburgh. There was much discussion about peatiness, tobacco, petrol and however else one choses to describe drinking TCP.  I was the Philistine at the bar requesting a gin and tonic.

Feeling the burn, post Burns

Yes, the duo of dyspepsia did as predicted and in truth, we could not face our lovely dessert after the haggis on Burns night – it containing yet more pastry (bit of an oversight there).

I was in danger of lethargy after haggis-eating and knowing I had proposed a 10km run, and despite the deteriorating weather, I decided to bite the bullet and get out there.  I had just walked the dogs and considered although there was a bit of a breeze, the weather window was good enough.  I elected to run around the picturesque island of Grimsay, a few miles south. The west end of the island acts as a stepping stone for the causeways that link North Uist and Benbecula. Circumnavigation of the island is a convenient 10 km.

View of Eaval from grimsay on a nice day

View of Eaval from Grimsay on a nice day

It was raining by the time I got out of the car and I could see, as is typical of these islands, that within a few minutes the situation would deteriorate quickly. Weather fronts were building to the south and banks of cloud were rolling towards me.  Nonetheless, I opted to run round the island south to north to take the worst of the weather along the exposed southern single track road first.  There were two observations that suddenly struck me about Grimsay.  I have driven but not ran around it before and it is a bit hillier than I recall.  Secondly, the south road is indeed very exposed to the elements.  I spent the next 6 km running into a pretty gusty headwind and needle-like rain with the occasional side gust that knocked me into the verge.

Once I got just over the half way mark, I got a tremendous tail wind as I turned north and the rain battered off my back, no longer in my face. Occasional gusts almost knocked me off my feet, but after feeling the burn initially, things got easier and I made it back to the car not too much over my predicted time.

Round the whole route, I only saw 2 people, both dressed in waterproofs, rushing out and hurriedly taking in washing, cowering in the squawl.  I was only passed by 5 or 6 cars, none which I recognised.  However, no doubt they had a good look and identified me as ‘That woman who is married to (we are not married) the violin-maker’ (as I have been referred to since my other half’s vocation is much more interesting than my own somewhat cryptic occupation) and questioned ‘What on earth is she doing running round here in this weather?’ Good to give people something to talk about other than the weather, at least!

Having recovered back at home, I could say that I unequivocally deserved a slice of chocolate tart with ice cream – and to watch a fun film – ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’, another gem from Aardman Animation. It is a silly sea-faring yarn, of not too competent pirates featuring a parrot that is in fact a dodo and a rather scheming Charles Darwin.  Plenty of pithy one-liners but it is easy to miss a lot of content first time round. I won’t need any encouragement to watch it again, very good fun and a change from our usual film choices.

Chocolate, whisky and bramble tart

A nod to the traditional, containing a dram, with added richness and silkiness. The ganache for this tart is sublimely super-smooth and rich.  Thank you to Michel Roux for the basis of this recipe. It is based on his chocolate and raspberry tart.

Pastry is pate sucree as used for passionfruit and orange tart.  I also elected to coat the base in melted chocolate again.  The brambles were moist from being soaked in whisky and also having been frozen, so I wanted to safeguard the pastry from sogginess.

The ice cream was vanilla, the same recipe used to accompany said passionfruit and orange tart, except this time, I made bramble coulis to swirl through it.

Chocolate tart with brambles

Ingredients

200g brambles

50 ml whisky of your choice

For the ganache:

200ml whipping cream

200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids

25g liquid glucose

50g butter, cubed into small pieces

Method

  • Soak the brambles in the whisky for a couple of hours.
  • Make pate sucree as per outlined in my previous post, coating the pastry case with melted chocolate to seal it.
  • Strain the brambles from the whisky and arrange on the tart base.
  • Prepare the ganache: bring the cream to the boil, take it off the heat, stir in the chocolate until smooth using a balloon whisk, add the liquid glucose, then the butter, a few cubes at a time.  The glucose adds to the smoothness, as does the butter and which also gives the tart sheen.
  • Pour the ganache into the tart case and over the fruit and allow to cool for a couple of hours.
  • Put in the fridge and take out half hour or so before serving.
  • Cut the pieces with a warmed knife to get a nice clean cut through the silky-smooth ganache.  Serve with the ice cream.

Chocolate tartChocolate tart whole

Bramble ripple ice cream

Using the previous recipe for vanilla ice cream, make a bramble coulis and swirl this through the ice cream once it is churned by your ice cream maker.  Fold it in at the end of churning if you are making the ice cream by hand.

Bramble coulis

  • Make a stock syrup by boiling 150g caster sugar and 120 ml water together for 3 minutes.
  • Take 50 ml of the stock syrup and blitz it in a food processor together with 150g of brambles.  Add any leftover whisky-flavoured juice from the brambles added to the coulis.
  • Sieve and stir through the ice cream.

Bramble ripple ice cream

And let again the final word go to Burns:

Let other poets raise a fracas
“Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus,
An’ crabbit names an’stories wrack us,
An’ grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.

O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro’ wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an’ wink,
To sing thy name!

Robert Burns – Scotch Drink, 1785

Chocolate tart and ice cream

Passionfruit and orange tart with homemade vanilla ice cream

Hidden gems

I have spent a couple of nights this week rummaging about in the fridge and the cupboards to make sure any of the festive residue that may be lurking in nooks and crannies is used.  I abhor food waste.  Although I keep a stealthy eye on perishables sometimes fridge contents get beyond ‘use by’ dates. I basically ignore these anyway and let my palate tell me if something is beyond the point of usefulness.

I managed to squeeze a good-sized pot of jam out of some leftover cranberries and made an array of dishes with some kilos of beetroot given to me by my parents (great stuff, versatile, delicious, can’t get enough of it). I poured all the remnants of the various cream cartons into a wonderful cream of celeriac soup. It is amazing how creative you can (try to) be with sprouts.

So, what did I do with the cream from which the remnants were derived?  Well, there had to be ice cream, of course, and a passion fruit and orange tart with a lovely crisp crust.

Passion without guilt

I really do try to make all my food predominantly from local, seasonal produce but as stated in Ethos, I maintain food integrity as much as I realistically can, but there comes a point where I cannot castigate myself to the stage where I end up restricting my diet to the detriment of my health, mental, not least.  Self flagellation for breaking ones strictly defined rules is a matter for others more committed than me.

Passion fruit and orange tart

This passion fruit tart is a ray of sunshine for the palate, and to behold on the greyest of dark winter days, not least served with homemade vanilla ice cream. The contents of the tart are courtesy of Gordon Ramsay (yes, I know – but he can cook), with a tweak – I processed the passion fruit pulp to maximise the flavour from the seeds.  Pastry is a classic Michel Roux pâte sucrée.  Ice cream is from the lovely Leibovitz bible ‘The Perfect Scoop’.

Pastry – Pâte sucrée

Pâte sucrée is a classic for fruit tarts. It is a forgiving sweet pastry, less delicate than pâte sablée and thus is perfectly capable of containing the wet tart mixture – with a bit of help (well, belt and braces) from some chocolate. It is easy to roll super-thin and remains very crisp in the tart base. I make the pastry the Roux way, all ingredients on the work surface, but you could easily combine the ingredients to form the pastry in a bowl.

Ingredients

250g plain flour

100g butter, cubed and slightly softened

100g icing sugar, sifted

Pinch of salt

2 eggs at room temperature

Preheat oven to 180C

Method

  • Put the flour on a work surface, make a well in the middle and add the butter, icing sugar and salt to the well and mix with your fingertips.
  • Gradually draw the flour into the centre and mix with your fingertips until the dough is slightly grainy.
  • Form a new well and add the eggs and work them into the mix until it begins to hold together.
  • Once amalgamated, knead a few times with the palm of your hand until it is smooth.
  • Roll it into a ball and rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  • Roll out to the desired thickness of  2 – 3 mm on a lightly floured surface.

I used a 24 cm flan tin (with a removable base) to make sure the tart is thin because I think this gives more elegant presentation than a deep slab (it will also cook more evenly).

  • Lightly butter the tin to help the pastry adhere to the sides.
  • Carefully transfer the pastry on a rolling pin and form the pastry to the shape of the tin.  Use a ball of extra pastry to push the lining pastry into the corners of the tin if it is not compliant.
  • Do not trim off the excess pastry because the edge of the case will shrink a bit in the oven – trim after the pastry is baked.
  • Prick the base gently with a fork, line with greaseproof paper and baking beans. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  • Blind bake for 15 minutes, remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes. Trim the overhanging pastry and leave to cool.

Chocolate pastry case lining

Tart case lined with quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate

Tart case lined with quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate

The inside of the case was lined with a thin layer of dark chocolate, which acts as the perfect foil to the sharpness of the fruit and gives an extra dimension of flavour. This also provides a nice surprise for your guests. You will need:

40g quality dark chocolate

Place in a bain marie and melt.  Let it cool slightly and brush onto the slightly warm case, filling in any holes and pores with the chocolate. Allow to cool and set.

Passion fruit and orange tart filling

Ingredients

6 ripe passion fruit, blitzed in a food processor and then sieved

350ml fresh orange juice

250g caster sugar

200ml double cream

6 medium eggs

Reduce the oven to 150C

Method

  • Put the pulped passion fruit and orange juice in a pan, bring to the boil, reduce by half and then sieve, allow to cool.  There should be about 250 ml.
  • Beat the fruit mixture, sugar, cream and eggs together until smooth, pass through a sieve into a jug.
  • Pour the filling into the case until it reaches the top.  I would sit the tin in the oven and pull the shelf out to do this – it is tricky to lift the full case and not spill the mixture otherwise.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes at 150C until the top forms a light crust and is set (it can be a bit soft in the centre), allow to cool and chill until ready to serve.

Additional option:  Dust with some sieved icing sugar and use a blowtorch to caramelise the top.

Vanilla ice cream – the real icing on the cake

The grand finale is an easy vanilla ice cream, so-called Philadelphia style, made without a traditional egg custard.  It is lighter tasting, cheaper and easier to make than the full-blown custard version, but doesn’t taste any less delicious.

Ingredients

500ml double cream

250ml whole milk

150g sugar (granulated is good)

Pinch of salt

1 vanilla pod, slit in half lengthways

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  • Pour 250 ml of the cream into a pan with the sugar and salt.
  • Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add both pod and contents to the pan.
  • Warm over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining cream and milk and the vanilla extract.
  • Chill thoroughly, remove the vanilla pod and churn using your ice cream maker or do so by hand.

tart

 

Baileys and Malteser Cheesecake – no bake, of course!

When it comes to cheesecake, the question of whether to bake or not to bake, and which is better, will always divide.  I come down firmly in the no bake, no gelatine camp, although I do admit to enjoying a baked key lime pie.

Perhaps my decision is particularly pertinent this week when I have had a couple of baking disasters in quick succession.  Firstly, a gingerbread misadventure. I didn’t think this was possible, but have now proved myself wrong.  Need to lay off the treacle a bit next time. The second was much more calamitous.  Croissants.  A twelve hour commitment to Michel Roux for nil return.  I know where I went wrong and I will re-visit the subject when I get them right (and when I have the time to try again!).

At the behest of The Man Named Sous, due to the occasion of his birthday, I gave him carte blanche for a menu.  Baileys and Malteser Cheesecake was chosen as dessert, to our unanimous delight.  His favourite cheesecake, and one of the easiest desserts to make – no baking!

Cheesecake has the unfortunate reputation as being something quite ordinary and often synthetic – or maybe that is more from my memory of the shop bought frozen gelatine-set purple topped things that were around in the 1980’s.  Also, despite their long history (reputedly a form of cheesecake was popular in ancient Greece) and varied styles from a diverse array of countries, they still predominate on dessert menus of pubs and chain restaurants much more so than in fine dining establishments.  There is some indication however, that this is changing of late. I noticed vanilla cheesecake has been on the menu at Le Champignon Sauvage in Chelmsford, albeit served with less ordinary salted chicory-root mousse.

The Man Named Sous has been quite literally tied to his workshop bench for the last month, with long days immersed in the world of cello – both making a new cello and restoring an old cello in tandem.  No small undertaking, especially to tight deadlines.

So, it seemed appropriate that the soundtrack for cheesecake-making should be centred around this most divine of all instruments of the violin family (I know, violinists and violists will argue otherwise).  I was reminded of a fantastic concert we attended a few years ago in Selkirk, a friend (and cellist) having invited us to watch Steven Isserlis play with the community orchestra.  We had front row seats, only a few metres from Isserlis who gave a mesmerising performance of the famous Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1. Isserlis has unfortunately not recorded this concerto, however, we are fortunate to have a recording of the great Rostropovich playing the piece, written for him by Shostakovich and which he premiered for his friend in 1959.  So accomplished and engaging is Slava’s playing of this wonderful concerto, I am listening to it again now.

Of course, that was my memory of what Isserlis played, and I wanted to confirm this with The Man Named Sous.  On asking him what Isserlis played that night he replied “A Strad”.  Typical cello maker!  I suppose it could have been his other cello, a beautiful Montagnana (1740). The Man Named Sous was at that time (as with his current cello) basing his design on this great Italian instrument, so he was very slightly disappointed not to hear the Montagnana played that night.

Ah, there’s few such wonderful memories as music can produce, I digress, so back to the cheesecake.

Baileys and Malteser Cheesecake

I vary the base for cheesecakes. I quite like oaty biscuits instead of digestives and often include a smattering of Grape Nuts for crunch. The ratio of cheese to sugar means this cake isn’t too sweet, so add 20g more icing sugar, if more sweetness is desired.

Ingredients

120g butter, melted

300g digestive biscuits, crushed

600g cream cheese

100g icing sugar

300ml double cream, whipped

A small box of Maltesers – about 3/4 of the contents, crushed lightly

25ml Baileys Irish Cream

Cocoa powder, to dust

Method

  • Melt the butter in a pan together with the crushed digestives, mixing well until the biscuits have absorbed the butter.
  • Press the biscuit mixture into a springform tin.  I used a 23cm diameter tin, which gives a relatively thin biscuit base, which I was looking for. Allow this to chill in the fridge for an hour or so.
  • Beat the cream cheese lightly, add the icing sugar and Baileys.  Whip the cream, although not too stiffly and fold into the cheese with the crushed Maltesers.  Spread across the biscuit base and allow a few hours to set.
  • Dust with cocoa powder and serve. Eat any leftover Maltesers. Simple as that.

Bailey's and Malteser cheesecake

Venison steak and pomme fondant (revisited) with bramble and juniper sauce

After my meal at Howie’s in Edinburgh last week involving venison leg steak and very disappointing faux pomme fondant (conglomerate) and bramble and juniper sauce,  the general dissatisfaction made me obliged to cook my own version of the meal at home at the weekend. The hardship!

I was irrationally upset about the denial of the pomme fondant and all week there was a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ missing from my life.  Good to get these things out of your system, so a culinary cure was called for.

I was determined to make this a ‘Uist meal’ as much as I could and to use what I had by the way of stored veg, or growing veg in the raised beds. Over the last month, the raised beds have been left almost  to manage themselves (with the exception of garlic planting and associated rodent management).

Sprout success – exploding buds pending…

This was telling when I saw to my horror that one variety of sprouts (Darkmar 21 – organic seeds), in their apparently exceptional happiness with the growing conditions were at risk of buds exploding forth from their stems.  Dense packing of the buds had kept a lid on the situation, but intervention was urgently needed. It is the first time I’ve grown a mid-season variety so don’t usually check sprouts until at least December. At least I had found one veg for my meal.

So, for stored veg, I recovered some carrots that were layered in sand in the shipping container.  To leave them outside is to risk sustaining the rat population, as I found out to my chagrin last winter.  I pulled up carrot tops, the root removed by stealth using mole-like tunnelling action below ground.  I suppose it could have been a Were-Rabbit. To keep them safe in the ground I would need “Anti-Pesto”, for that coveted Golden Carrot award to be mine….

I grew a mixture of 3 varieties of carrots this year: a standard Nantes orange variety I plant each year (in case other varieties under test fail me), Yellowstone and Purple Dragon (heritage), for colour contrasts. The dry, cold spring meant I had to work very hard to get them to germinate, but I got there in the end with tenacity and successional sowing.

Carrots stored in a fish box found while beach combing, sand left over from a building project. Recycling is part of life in the Hebrides.

I turned to my stored potatoes to select the best variety for the pomme fondant.  I needed a waxy variety that would retain its shape during cooking, so chose Edgecote purple, a heritage variety first listed in 1916. It has  yellow flesh and purple skin.

This was all a great excuse to use my new wooden vegetable trug, a present from my parents, given to me partly in jest.
Comparisons had frequently been drawn between the beautiful portrayal of the whimsical TV world of English gardening and Uist growing.  In dreamland, baskets and trugs feature large on the arms of presentable maidens donning Laura Ashley and Hunter wellies in leafy cottage gardens, heady with mellifluous scents of deep herbaceous borders. My parents decided a trug was what I needed to enhance my Uist gardening experience.  The real image is one of sporting ‘Uist hair’ in a gale, wearing waterproofs and trying to stop the veg flying out of the trug as you shield it from the gusts and run for the house.

Trug – a gardening icon in Uist. Rachel De Thame would be proud.

 

Venison with pomme fondant, sprouts and bramble and juniper sauce
Most of the ingredients are from Uist – North Uist venison and game stock and all veg, and herbs from the garden, brambles foraged locally in September.  Still working on the chicken stock.  Hard to get birds locally. Best start with the potatoes as they take longest. I didn’t measure anything out for this recipe, so quantities are approximations.  Sorry!  All recipes serve 2, so scale up for more people.
Pomme fondant
Not a dish for the health conscious, but a luxurious occasional treat. This can be a wasteful dish as the pieces are cut from the centre of potatoes. The smallest potato will dictate the size of the pieces, if you want them to be of a uniform size. A 4cm cutter will make a portion of 3 fondants per person, for a 6cm, 2 fondants are enough.  I used the leftover potato pieces to add to chicken, potato and leek soup next day. This also stretched the chicken carcass that provided the stock to make another meal.

Pomme fondant with butter, thyme and garlic.

Set the oven to 190oC
Ingredients:
4-6 largish waxy potatoes
60g of butter
250 ml of chicken stock
salt and pepper
sprig of thyme
garlic clove cut in half
Scone cutter (4-6 cm depending on potato size)
Ovenproof frying pan
Method
  • Cut out a cylinder of potato about 2.5 cm thick using the scone cutter.  I used 4 cm cutter, as I wanted a uniform size and my potatoes were quite small. Trim the edges to prevent them sticking in the pan – and to make them look neat.
  • Put the butter in the ovenproof frying pan on a medium heat with the garlic and thyme, salt and pepper.
  • Once it is melted and starts to hiss and bubble gently, add the potatoes. Turn after 3-5 minutes.  They should be golden and the butter will be turning slightly nutty, but take care that it does not burn.
  • When both sides are coloured, add the chicken stock.  Add enough to come about 3/4 way up the sides of the potato.
  • Bring to a simmer and place in the oven for 15 -20 minutes.  Most of the stock should by then be absorbed into the delectably soft and flavoursome tattie.
  • This leaves time to deal with the venison and sprouts.  I start the sauce at the same time with the potatoes as it needs this amount of time to develop depth of flavour.
Venison topside steak
Thick steaks (at least 1.5 cm) are recommended  for this quick cook method to ensure it is rare and remains so while being rested.
Set the oven to 100oC
Ingredients:
venison steaks, 1 per person
knob of butter
salt and pepper
Method
  • Heat a griddle pan until almost smoking and add some groundnut or olive oil.
  • Season the venison steaks, place in the hot pan and add a dollop of butter.
  • Turn after 3 minutes and cook on the other side for the same time. They should be nicely caramelised with lines across each from the griddle pan.
  • Remove from the pan (if the hot griddle pan is placed in the oven, the steak will continue to cook and will be overcooked) and place in a warmed roasting tray and into the oven to rest for about 5 minutes.
Bramble and juniper sauce
It can tricky to get the balance right between fruit acidity and infusion of just enough juniper.  Taste the sauce frequently throughout and adjust seasoning accordingly.  The recipe is a variation of a Michel Roux recipe for juniper sauce.
Ingredients:
2 shallots, finely chopped
200 ml red wine
300 ml game stock
60 g brambles/blackberries
30g butter, cold, diced
4 juniper berries, crushed
1 tsp rowan and apple or redcurrant jelly
salt and pepper
Method:
  • Put the red wine and shallots in a pan, bring to the boil at a medium heat and simmer until the wine has reduced by 1/3.
  • Add the stock, crushed juniper berries and brambles and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the rowan jelly and let it dissolve.
  • Strain the sauce through a chinois into a clean pan and whisk in the butter cubes a few at a time. Season and taste.  A bit more rowan jelly can be dissolved in at this stage, if required.
Brussel sprouts with bacon and juniper
This is a Nigel Slater recipe from Tender Volume 1. I use it a lot as it has converted me to the delights of sprout eating.  I have adjusted the volume by half and tweaked the sprout cooking from boiling to steaming and cut the number of berries. Serves 2.
Ingredients:
200g brussel sprouts
125g pancetta or smoked bacon
8 juniper berries, crushed
pepper
Method:
  • Remove outer leaves from sprouts and retain for garnish (see below).
  • Pierce the bottom of each sprout with a knife and place in a steamer.  This will speed up cooking of the harder base.  Steam for about 7 minutes, until just tender.
  • Fry the pancetta until crisp and golden and remove with a slotted spoon. Drain on kitchen paper.
  • Half the sprouts and add to the same pan, add the crushed juniper berries.
  • As the sprouts soften and colour after a few minutes,  add the bacon back into the pan and season.  They are ready to serve.
Carrots
Juliene then steam for 3-4 minutes and toss in butter and some orange juice, add salt and pepper.
Garnish
Deep fry shredded outer brussel sprout leaves in ground nut oil.  Minimise on waste and add a flavour and texture contrast.

Venison with pomme fondant, bramble and juniper sauce with sprouts. Sprouts married with bacon and juniper hit the spot.