Skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage – total comfort food

skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage-6

I’m on a bit of a veg kick at the moment, when I’ve got loads of work on I tend to cut out meat, pasta and potatoes as I find it gives me much more energy and focus. Every Sunday, if I’m home, I head to my local car boot sale to buy the week’s veg from Maureen and Bridget. I’ve spoken of these two wonderful ladies quite often on here, they live just over the border in Lincolnshire and Bridget grows the most impressive veg and Maureen is the queen of pies, fruit vinegars and lemon curd.

The weather is dreary and wet today which leaves me craving comfort food. Off I went as usual in the driving rain to get my veg and came back with a mountain for less than £10: purple cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, cavelo nero, green and purple kale, red cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, bunched carrots and tops (the tops make excellent pesto), green tomatoes and a net containing about 12 onions. You can also buy 15kg bags of local spuds for £3, these are vegetables of the highest quality picked just the day before and at a fraction of the cost from any supermarket/greengrocer/market trader.

Piles of incredible veg grown just a few miles away for less than £10

Piles of incredible veg grown just a few miles away for less than £10

My wonderful friend Ben Jackson told me about skirlie early this year when he was round recording Food Friday one morning. His grandmother would make it when roasting a chicken. It took me ages to track down the pinhead oatmeal, I finally stumbled across it in the butchers in Sturminster Newton in Dorset, huzzah! Never one not to make up my own recipe I turned it into a kind of rich oatmeal risotto using chicken fat and stock from the previous day’s roast chicken and instantly fell in love.

Skirlie purists look away now as this is my version and it’s the ultimate comfort food.

chicken fat skirlie

My chicken fat skirlie that made me fall in love with it

Ingredients:

For the skirlie:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 white onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 250g pinhead oatmeal (it HAS to be pinhead)
  • 50ml cream sherry
  • hot chicken stock (or veg if you want a veggie version)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp dried porcini powder (blitz dried porcini in a coffee grinder)

8 large savoy cabbage leaves

For the béchamel: (approx measures)

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 40g plain flour
  • 400ml milk
  • 1 tsp dried onion granules
  • 1 tsp dried garlic granules
  • 2 tsp dried porcini powder
  • few gratings fresh nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 handfuls finely grated strong cheddar cheese

skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to its hottest setting. Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water, a few at a time to soften them, if the stalk is very thick at the base cut this out. Leave them to cool.
  2. In a saucepan combine the butter, onion and garlic and cook gently just to soften, don’t colour. Add the pinhead oatmeal and stir well to make sure the butter coats everything.
  3. It’s basically like making a risotto now, add the sherry and some hot stock and stir,once that is absorbed add some more stock and repeat until you can drag a spoon through the mixture and it leaves a trail on the bottom. Add the thyme and seasoning and porcini powder, stir well. You want the oatmeal to still have a bit of bite to it rather than be completely soft. Once it reaches that point simply turn off the heat and leave it to cool a bit whilst you make the sauce.
  4. Make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter, add the flour and stir, cook for a couple of minutes then whisk in the milk, keep stirring and cooking until thickened then add the rest of the ingredients and cook for a further minute whilst stirring.
  5. To assemble take a cabbage leaf and a big dollop of skirlie and make a little parcel by folding over the top, then tuck in the sides and roll the whole thing up. Put in a roasting tray, repeat with the rest. Spoon over the sauce, grate over some extra cheese then roast until the sauce and cheese starts to turn golden.
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Wild hare and blackberry pie

Autumn's harvest in a pie

Autumn’s harvest in a pie

Well its’ been quite some time since I last posted anything, I’ve been really busy with my photography and doing bits with Radio Leicester (click to hear most recent recipe of chorizo sausage rolls and green tomato ketchup) and writing for Metro and then I acquired a stalker so this blog kind of took a back seat for a couple of months. But I’m back, and its Autumn so I’ve been busy foraging the hedgerows to make amazing blackberry and vanilla vodka and now this blackberry and hare pie.

We are very lucky here in Melton Mowbray to have a proper Farmer’s market, you can buy anything from a herd of sheep, a prize winning bull, a few ferrets, some shot game, foraged mushrooms, homemade butter and antiques and collectables. Its all there every Tuesday morning and costs very little indeed, except the prize winning bull that is.

I headed over on Tuesday morning with the intention of seeing what the game auction was like that day, its very hit and miss depending on what’s in season and what the weather was like for the shoots over the weekend. You can normally expect to see a couple of deer, plenty of pigeons, pheasants, partridge, rabbits, hares and wild boar plus mallards, geese, woodcocks and squirrels. This week though it was very quite, there were a lot of pigeon but they weren’t in top condition so I left those (they went at 20p/brace) and hung about for the mallard and hares. I was bidding against an old boy for the mallard but had set my max at £3.50/brace and it went on his bid at that so I came home with a couple of beautiful hares at just £5.

Skinning hares is very easy, if you fancy watching a brilliant video clip then I totally fell in love with this guy being all masterful with an axe in the woods:

You just need to be really careful whilst gutting them not to pierce anything as the smell is really pretty nasty. Go for hares with head shots so your meat is nice and clean and none of the internals have been punctured.

skinning hare

 

Two large hares left me with a great deal of meat that I butchered into legs and fillets and froze most of. I instantly fried off a bit of fillet nice and pink for a bit of a cook’s perk then got to work on this simple pie for tea.

Wild hare and blackberry mini pie  (makes 2 mini pies that each serve one person)

Ingredients:

  • about 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 hare fillets, sliced into bite sized pieces
  • a few tablespoons of seasoned flour
  • about 150g smoked pancetta cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • about 200ml of full bodied red wine
  • 2 handfuls fresh blackberries
  • a bit of sugar if the blackberries are not sweet
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • About 60ml hare blood (optional)
  • 175g puff pastry
  • 1 egg beaten
  • a few ladles of stock made from simmering the hare bones for a couple of hours

Method:

  1. Dredge the hare in the seasoned flour. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the hare, cook over a medium heat to brown and add the pancetta, cook for another 3 minutes then add the diced veg, garlic and herbs. Cook gently for about 5 minutes whist stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the red wine, bring to just boiling then reduce heat to a simmer,add the blackberries and some of the stock until everything is well covered, add the blood also if using and put a well fitting lid on, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hrs or until the hare has softened to meltingly tender.
  3. If the stew seems a little thick simply loosen with some more stock, season with salt and pepper and add a touch of sugar if it needs it, cook uncovered until you are happy with the thickness of the gravy then divide between two small pie trays.
  4. Preheat your oven to 200C. Roll out your puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut into two pieces big enough to cover your pies. Seal the sides and brush with the beaten egg. Make a little hole for steam to come out of then put in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is risen and golden.

 

 

Winter Veg and Seed Salad

 

Brighten up your Winter

Brighten up your Winter

Winter and salads shouldn’t be such ace buddies but they get along like a warm cosy house on fire. The fresh winter veg is crisp and refreshing with a nice winter earthiness that is kicked up a notch with bright citrus flavours from jewel-like ruby pomegranate seeds and a squeeze of clementine.

Yesterday morning was spent at a very cold and wet Melton Mowbray cattle market with the very lovely Rupal Rajani from BBC Radio Leicester. Rupal is vegetarian so was obviously delighted (not delighted one little bit – sorry Rupal) when I took her around the game auction. As we walked into the Fur & Feather shed we spotted a man with a huge fluffy grey rabbit sat on a bag of feed. The rabbit was beyond adorable, we both fell in love with it. Just as Rupal was getting her phone out to take a quick pic the man grabbed it, flipped it upside down by the neck, stuffed it in his coat and disappeared out into the rain. As we moved further into the shed people were busy stuffing shot birds from the game auction into carrier bags and holdalls, yeah this wasn’t the nicest place for a vegetarian (again…sorry Rupal).

I’m hoping I made up for all of this by making her a lovely winter salad, just to show that I can cook without the addition of dead animals really.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 red cabbage, shredded (I use a speed peeler for this)
  • 1/2 red onion, very finely sliced
  • 1 large jerusalem artichoke, pared into wafer thin strips using a speed peeler or box grater if you don’t have one.
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 clementine
  • 1 apple finely sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 pear finely sliced into matchsticks
  • handful pumpkin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon blue poppy seeds
  • chopped fresh parsley ( or mint/coriander/fennel fronds)
  • seeds from 1 pomegranate
  • drizzle of raspberry vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

Just combine everything in a big bowl and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes (I leave mine overnight).

 

Melton Mowbray Farmer’s Market Game Auction

Game, foraged mushrooms, veg, just a few of the things you can bid on at the auction

Tuesday mornings are my favourite because I head across the road to Melton Farmer’s Market, eat a bacon sandwich and head into the auction sheds to see what treats are on offer. One of the many things I love about this bustling weekly market is that you never know what you are going to find.

A couple of months ago I nominated Melton Farmer’s Market for the Best Food Market category in the BBC Food and Farming Awards. A couple of weeks ago I was stood in the kitchens prepping Sunday lunch and listening to BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme on the little radio, as I always do, when I heard Valentine Warner read out my nomination. I really like Valentine’s approach to food and cooking, in fact the only cookbook I have in the work kitchen is his “What to Eat Now – Autumn/Winter” book, which sits next to the radio. I recognised my words instantly, Melton Farmer’s market had made it to the final three from hundreds of nominations, I was ecstatic! I’m still ecstatic about it, Melton Farmer’s market is the heart and soul of countryside living and it really deserves to be celebrated.

Earlier in the year I took Radio Leicester’s Ben Jackson to the market. Ben is passionate about the county and it’s wonderful food and we had a blast, as we always do when we hang out together, and I promised that once game season kicks off we would do it again. Well game season is in full swing and yesterday morning off we went to see what was on offer in the Fur and Feather shed.

Melton Farmer’s market never disappoints, you can listen to me and Ben and find out just how easy it is to bid at the game auction by clicking on this link:

Melton Mowbray Game Auction – Radio Leicester (audio)

There were pheasants, partridges, pigeons, rabbits, hares, ducks, venison and grouse hanging on the racks and on the tables were boxes of huge turgid savoy cabbages, bags of onions, plenty of massive squashes, a giant pumpkin and lots of boxes of foraged mushrooms, marvellous!

What I love about the auction is that the people around you love to talk about the food that’s being sold. Recipe tips are exchanged and foraging spots shared. Unlike pretty much everyone else that attends the auction I’m not a huge fan of the blewitt mushrooms which are called Blue Legs here. I prefer the meaty parasol mushrooms and am always the solitary bidder (likewise when I buy squirrels!) so people are always happy to tell me where they’ve seen lots growing.

Whilst there on Tuesday morning we chatted to the bidders around us, swapping hanging and cooking techniques, discussing how the price for the venison was high this week and the price of live chickens so low (just £1 for 4 birds) and that you could pick up two big plump live turkeys for just £30 today. I wish I had more outdoor space I really do, I think my chickens would object to sharing their coop with a huge turkey or two.

Lots of people outside of such a community seem to view game as being something for the upper classes, for the toffs to shoot and eat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Game is cheap, healthy and plentiful. Game isn’t a “food trend” on people’s plates round here, it’s a seasonal feast that’s looked forward to each year and welcomed back into our kitchens with gleefully hungry, open arms.

Pheasants were going for £1.50/brace, Grouse went for a whopping £13 this week as there was just the one brace and the mallards just £1.50. That huge pumpkin was sold to me for a mere £1!

The veg is always top quality and we walked away with the most perfect savoy cabbages and a whopping pumpkin that weighted in at 7.4kg for just £1. So far that pumpkin has been turned into a huge pumpkin and porcini lasagne, 50 yes FIFTY rich and fudgy pumpkin, walnut and chocolate brownies and I STILL have 1/4 of it left to use up.

It’s not just the auctions that draw me to the market every week but in the food shed you will find the wonderful Maria and her homemade delights. Maria’s homemade butter is just incredible and this week her husband Tony, who makes wonderful chilli sauces and wooden chopping boards, had been out shooting and whipped up lots of venison pâte.

In the 3 years that I’ve been living in Melton Mowbray, and using the cattle market twice a week, it has become my main source of food and enjoyment in this town. It never fails to enrich my cupboards, larder and dining table and will hopefully continue to do so for many  years. If you ever get a chance to come over to Melton on a Tuesday morning then make sure you have a wander around all the different sheds; you’ll find antiques, collectables, firewood, building wood, clothes, kitchenalia, not to mention all the ferrets, pigs, sheep, cows, canaries, geese, well the list goes on and on. Come over, come early (auctions kick off about 9:30am), grab yourself a wild boar bacon sandwich from Paul (aka The Roosterman) and take it all in, you won’t be disappointed.