Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Autumn Cooking


Source for this image here.

Although this isn't my own photograph, this is very much what the mulled "wine" that I make looks like.  There are many different ways to make this lovely seasonal drink, and many different recipes.  I'm going to share here how I make it, and also explain how to make pot roasted pheasant, and roasted chestnuts!  Delicious, easy autumn dishes to enjoy!

Mulled wine is a traditional spiced alcoholic drink which is normally served warm.  It's popular at Christmas, though we enjoy it pretty much throughout the autumn and winter months.  However as we don't drink alcohol, I prefer to substitute the red wine which is traditionally used, with cranberry juice.  You could of course also use apple juice, or even a no-alcohol wine, but the cranberry juice has the added bonus of being very nutritious, and as we also have the "lite" version, it's much lower in calories than the standard mulled wine as well, being naturally sweet so that sugar isn't needed in the recipe.

To make mulled "wine" as I do, you will need ...

1 litre carton of Ocean Spray "lite" cranberry juice
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
2 star anise (can be bought in most supermarkets, it will be where the other spices are)
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
(if you are not using cranberry juice, you may also want to sweeten to taste, I would suggest with brown (raw) sugar.  You'll need to add this during cooking).

Place all the ingredients into a large saucepan, and warm gently on the stove for about 10 minutes.   If you are entertaining, the best way to keep the drink warm is to put it in a slow cooker on low.  This amount will serve 4 people, so you may also wish to multiply it for the number of guests you will be serving.  Remember that the drink is warm, so do not serve in your best glasses!  Mugs are probably safer!  The spices should be discarded before serving.  You can buy little teabags of spices for making mulled wine in, but I find that I get a better flavour doing it this way, using the separate spices.  The lemon may not seem necessary, but I find it definitely adds an extra dimension to the flavour.

We enjoyed our mulled "wine" with some roasted chestnuts!  Of course, nothing tastes like chestnuts roasted in a bonfire, but since that probably isn't the most practical way to prepare them for most of us, this is an easy alternative.  I'm not sure how many chestnuts were in the pack we had, and of course if you gather them yourself, you won't have an exact amount, but the method is the same regardless of the quantity.

Assuming you've already removed the spiky green cases that cover chestnuts that you gather yourself, proceed as follows whether you've bought them or collected them from the countryside ...

  1. First of all, using a sharp knife, cut a slit on each of the thin sides of the chestnuts, leading up to the little "peak" at the top of the nut.  Don't cut too deeply.  This is easier if you soak the nuts first - but this step isn't strictly necessary, and fresh nuts will be quite easy to cut without soaking.
  2. Place the nuts in a single layer on a baking tray and put into the centre of a hot oven.  They will take about 30 minutes to roast.
  3. When done, remove the nuts from the oven and wrap them in a clean tea towel for about 5 - 10 minutes.  This will make them steam slightly, and therefore make the skins easier to remove.
  4. The skins should have peeled back a little as the nuts roasted, and they will be quite easy to peel off the nut.  Oh they are so delicious!  Eat them as they are or seasoned with a little sea salt - either way, they are so scrummy - toasted and crisp on the outside, and deliciously soft and fluffy within.  They definitely need to be served with something to drink, however - somehow those nuts do make you very thirsty as you eat them!
We were very spoiled yesterday - as well as these delicious treats we also enjoyed pot roast pheasant.  Sadly there was only one, which meant we each got just a taster of this delicious dish, but it was definitely worth it, and even 2 pheasants cost less than one chicken!

To pot roast a pheasant in the slow cooker you will need ...

2 cooking apples, peeled and diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 pint stock, apple juice or white wine - whatever you choose to use, this should be warm
1 pheasant, oven ready (if you buy from a butcher this should already be done for you)

Start by placing the apple and vegetables in the bottom of the slow cooker, spreading out to cover the whole of the base.  

Place the pheasant on top of this, and then pour in the stock, juice or wine - it should be warmed first.  It may seem as if this is not enough liquid - but it will be.

Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 - 8 hours.  Yesterday we didn't get our pheasant home until about midday, so I cooked it for 5 hours on high, and it was fine.  However to get it really meltingly tender and lovely, try to make enough time to slow cook it a nice long time.

When it is ready, there should be plenty of gravy and delicious juices in the cooker which you can serve with the vegetables, and perhaps some potatoes, parsnip and green vegetables.

Pheasant is a really delicious game bird, but it does have extremely small bones.  This should be taken into account if you are serving this dish to small children - and also be aware that if your bird was wild, it may also have some shot left in it - this is normal and nothing to worry about.

With the leftovers, you can make a delicious soup, which is easily done by simmering all the trimnings, bones etc in a saucepan with some more onion and carrot.  Contrary to popular belief, the best stock does not need to be cooked for hours and hours.  Just gently simmer for about 1 hour - no more!  If you do it for longer than this, the bones will start to make the stock taste bitter.  Also be careful to simmer, not boil.  Strain the stock after cooking (not down the sink, as I once did!) and then add barley, pasta shapes, whatever you like, to create a lovely rich nourishing soup.

Which is just what I am about to go off and do now!

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