This is a collection of some of the household intake for the last two weeks (not shown: any of the 2012 Challenge Carlings, the hard liquor, obscene breakfasts, or tonight’s NYE/27th Anniversary fuels) [no particular order for the photos].
The cassoulet recipe which has generated interest in the past succeeded in being, like its predecessors, different from all others with half a roast duck, some leftover pieces of venison, roast beef, and pheasant, and some grilled lamb joining the standard root veg and bean contingents. The lot was baked with a Pinot Grigio.
The Christmas roast came out nicely, a three rib standing piece of meat…tender, juicy, and just so slightly bloody.
The sloe gin is nearly gone, the port is down to a half glass remaining, we have two bottles of Cava left, and I still haven’t made biscotti so the Vin Santo remains for a New Year treat.
As usual, we will try to tame the gluttons unleashed within us this December with a bit of dietary sanity in January (the 50 Kebabs in 50 Places in 2013 Challenge notwithstanding). As I said to one colleague over the break, if this year’s feasting doesn’t give us gout then we are probably indestructible.
christmas dinner served
bringing it to room temperature for a few hours
xmas snack because the roast was taking a while
for the xmas roast
christmas eve dinner
to go with some venison steaks
Sunday before holidays started
christmas drinking started with this one
chorizo, buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce, artichokes, mushrooms, and olives
duck glazed with sloe gin
saucing the cassouleet before first baking
gift wine from a mass spec company
shot from the pheasants, one crushed when I bit it
Holidays mean poor nutrition and hangovers. Bloody Mary’s are a perfect remedy for both.
This is a fantastic Bloody Mary mix if you aren’t vegetarian; the original was published by Paul Woodford (aka ‘Flying Booger,’ a hashing acquaintance from Tucson who is a wealth of nifty info on a number of topics). The original is at this link.
Requiring some beef broth, I started by roasting some bones acquired from a Halal butcher in Swindon (using them for no other reason than they do a good job on this particular product, as well as goat and lamb). The bones are about 70% by weight meat and some of it very good so I roast these to barely rare and trim half (the best half) for sandwiches then put the rest, about a pound and a half, just under water, top off with a glass of wine (plus one for the chef) a sprig of rosemary, a quartered onion, an unpeeled head of garlic, and the leafy bits from a bunch of celery. This simmers (never boils) for three hours and then after straining it is reduced from about a quart to a cup and a half (this will be enough for 3 batches).
Take a third of this thick broth and add one teaspoon salt, some good (and dangerously hot) chilli sauce to taste — go light because you have to add a shot glass of Worcestershire sauce and another of lumpy horseradish sauce (do wasabi if you are a yuppie, or have tried this at a yuppie’s house, a half shot is plenty). Whisk this with about three and a half cups of a good quality passata, and stir well. Even up the spices starting with a hefty dusting of black pepper then go through the other sauces in order — the chilli sauce should call for an obvious amount up front. Refrigerate (make up to 3 quarts like this and freeze the extra amount).
To serve, split a celery stalk and put half in each of two tall glasses with an ice cube. Put two shots of vodka in the bottom and pour in some of the mix. You might get two more bloodies out of one of these small batches if you like them strong. Squeeze a quarter lime over the top and dump the lime carcass in the glass. Drink deeply.
[This was my annual note to the folks in my email lists...if you weren't included, you are now. It isn't much, and if you read the blog anyway (as most of them don't) you will either already know or should recognise this as a 'spoiler alert.' Please, feel free to skip ahead.]
BCC’ed you all because of the fear of cross-pollination (for your sake, not mine).
I hope you are all having at least as good a holiday as we are. If not, my apologies (we’re not gloating but happy and nonetheless we are doing well). If you are doing better than us, please share your bounty in a story of your own; and, congratulations, but none of us really deserve such wealth.
I’ll return to my smarmy and smart-assed comments at the New Year, but at this time I’m off to start the cooking, drinking, and otherwise debauched activities, starting in earnest in a few minutes. I’ll be relatively incoherent for weeks, and so you should accept this late Friday evening note with the friendly intentions it was composed and not with any of the sociopathic and probably creepy undertones it inevitably contains…as Popeye says.
We are both healthy and happy and unlikely to have some catastrophic and sudden illness, nor do I have any enemies nearby with the sort of blood grudges I really need to worry about (despite the limitations I have on arming myself in this country): yes, mellowed might well describe it. Or, aged catastrophically…six of one, half a dozen, etc.
So, there we have it. Jackie (or the other name we use) is sick of Christmas music what with the whole retail temp job experience she’s suffered so all we will do Holiday Music-wise is play, quite badly, some things back and forth and with one another on the uke, the guitar, and the electric keys.
We have 6 bottles of Champagne, 20 reds and 4 whites and a case of port. I strained and tweaked a bottle of homemade sloe gin, and we have some apple dessert liqueur ready to strain. I hope to hit a few new pubs to add to the 1062 so far, and we will still have the annual frozen Jaegermeister and some single malt of good repute.
Christmas dinner is a standing rib roast. New Year’s (and a few days around it) marks our 27th anniversary and we will settle in to yet another enormous batch of cassoulet
. Between, we have some pheasants, some hare, and a bit of venison. We might do a curry takeaway on the odd day we overdo the party (as you do).
Once again, I hope this finds you at least as satisfied with your lot in life as we are with our almost laughably meagre existence. It is statistically likely someone on this distribution is financially worse off or socially more isolated than us (weird refugees from a third-world empire that we are…and we recognise the irony in that description of the States); if this is you, my thoughts and best wishes are with you.
For the rest of you, come visit. We’re moving into a new house in January and should be able to walk to music venues and bars (plural…currently it is a hike to my Working Man’s Club
[which is soon to be or already has closed] and only one pub–albeit a brilliant one
–is within a stumble of the front door).
Swindon is actually a hoot, and even if you don’t fancy it we are less than an hour from London, Oxford, Bath, Bristol and Gloucester and less than 2 hours from Salisbury, Exeter, Cambridge, Cardiff and Birmingham.
Love, or if that’s too much for you, ‘best,’
Cassoulet Step 1: Duck Confit
Cassoulet is my favourite winter dish, but it is supposed to be rustic, poor-people’s food and made from leftovers (which is why there are so many and widely varying recipes for it). A batch of cassoulet made from all the starting ingredients fresh from the grocer sets you back a few bob, but it is still well worth the effort.
My recipe, which is ever-evolving (here is last year’s batch, for comparison), uses either a roast duck or an ample amount of duck confit. Confit is a way of preserving meats under duck or goose fat and lends quite a bit of class to inferior cuts–a 15th-century peasant preparation that the lord of the manor would appropriate as the years progressed. The meat is salted heavily (more so than you might think is a good idea) then drowned in the fat and cooked at just over the boiling temperature for hours. Normally, you would just use leg quarters but this is for my extra special xmas and New Year’s cassoulet so I bought a whole Gressingham duck (4.5 kg) and cut it into pieces. The breasts are a bit of an extravagance, but we really don’t treat ourselves too often.
The fat rises above the liquified connective tissue...yum
Salting as I went along, the pieces were layered pretty tightly into a slow cooker set on low to get things started. I had a tangerine that had a nick in it and I put it in, quartered, and sprinkled a few fennel seeds around and crushed a rounded tablespoon of pepper corns coarsely and dumped them betwixt layers. I still needed to go pick up a couple of items at the store so the fat melting off the duck itself would have to do to start; I added another 500g later, along with some pork fat trimmings I found stored in the freezer from a roast last month.
Ready for storage, aging
Once some of the fat has melted into the dish, the temperature setting is turned to warm which will keep things at around 100-110 deg C. This goes on for about 10 hours, now, during which time the meat absorbs the flavours and the connective tissue melts and dissolves. Once cool, the meat is stripped and placed in tubs while the gelatin and fat separate and congeal. I don’t know a good use for the gel, so it gets tossed; the fat is remelted and poured over the meat to seal it from the air and airborne contaminants.
This is now ready to be stored. Put it in a cool, dark cabinet and let it sit for a week or so before use. Long-term, you should probably store it in the fridge (a month or so), or freezer (until you forget what it is). A bit of freezer duck confit is always a nice surprise during one of those damp, spring cold snaps. The guys at the Alcoholian do an admirable (and less actionable) job of describing the process and shelf life.
Biscotti and Vin Santo
Discussed in an earlier post, just do it at every holiday and most weekends.
Christmas Eve, A Lighter Bite
I’ve mentioned how wonderful the tomatoes are in the kebab shops with no correlation in the or market stalls, but in the fruit and veg merchants in central Swindon they are sublime. The little turkish market I walk past every evening has some of the best and at prices that boggle the mind (I would suggest they are involved in money laundering were they not my favourite stall on Manchester or Corporation). I loaded up on these and some chicken breasts at the halal butcher up the street and a bunch of fresh parsley and other autumn niceties leading into the holiday.
The drill this Xmas Eve was to brown some shallots and garlic (shitloads, some would say) in butter and goose fat then just as the golden tinge hit seal the flesh of bird breasts in this purifying inferno. Just barely, though, and then throw in many chunks of these heavenly tomatoes, some roughly split black olives, a spoon of crushed oregano, another of black peppercorns, likewise crushed, and a large handful of parsley. Cover and stew with a cup of dry white wine for an hour then stir, run up the heat and dry it out a bit. Serve it with a bit of fresh bread (a baguette, made here). Yum.
Christmas day, make the rest of the Cassoulet
But, while we wait, why not a bit of champagne, pâté, and brie?
Render the fats, cook the other meats
Some butchery is necessary on the meats and as I bought a large shoulder of pork to use some of the other cuttings in stir fries and other dishes earlier in the month but at this point it is down to about 700-900 grams and some of that must be cut away and other bits were meant by the butcher to be roasted to cracklings. No problem, in fact quite the opposite as I need some lard which I don’t generally keep and so used my butchery skills (duly earned in my earlier, youthful life) to trim this down for the purpose.
The lamb for the stew was also a shoulder and I couldn’t get anything but a rolled bit at this juncture (my farming connections being somewhat scattered since the move from Bicester). Again, no matter, but the trimming was a little more delicate, surgical, even. The butcher did a great job and I especially like the marbling for myself but I don’t want the lamb fat there in something I share, especially when Jackie (who normally despises lamb and mutton) is the prime recipient.
Once the fat is rendered, the skins are pulled and stripped while the heat is turned as high as I can get it–until there is smoke–then the cubed, defatted meats are browned with a crisp surface and nearly raw centre. I set these aside but collect the blood and other juices for the cassoulet.
Home made lard for the meats fry-up
Cook the beans
The beans are haricots blanches, 750g dry weight soaked in cold water overnight then rinsed. The reserved pork skins from the rendering are put in the bottom of a stock pot and covered with the beans, two onions studded with cloves, half a pound of finely diced pancetta, a couple of stalks of celery, three carrots cut lengthwise and then in half again, a handful of parsley, some bay leaves, and a tablespoon of salt. Instead of water, this confection is covered with duck broth and boiled for 1.5 hours before draining and throwing away the onions, parsley, pork skins, and celery.
Set the vegetables
Finally, a healthy dollop of duck fat is melted from the confit and heated hot but not smoking in the pan the meats were fried. This pan is then filled with scallion greens (some cups), a couple of chopped onions, two cups of shallots, some chopped celery with the greens, several coarsely chopped carrots, a shitload of garlic, and just a pinch (5 – 10) of cumin seeds and two or three fennel seeds (no more, dear god!). A parsnip or a few potatoes could be done, too, I hear but do not believe. Remove from heat after the onions are clear but not yet golden. Mix with the meats so they are all turned together, adding a pound of sliced, good quality garlic sausage or kielbasa.
Assemble and do the first baking
Ready to bake
Cut some tomatoes into large dice, say, quartered if they are really small. Put enough on the bottom of your casserole (or dutch oven or whatever-you-have that will hold all this and still fit in the oven) so that they WOULD cover the bottom if you mashed them–you should see most of the bottom of the pan, though. Add layers of beans, then meats and vegetables, then more tomatoes (being more generous after the first layer) in turn so the last layer is the meat and vegetable mixture. This batch got half a bottle of Orvieto poured over it, but any crisp, dry white wine would do…I’ve used red wine in the past with stunning results. Bake at 140-150 degrees C until bubbly and browning, about an hour.
First baking complete
You COULD buy bread...savages
This is one of the more contentious issues in cassoulet orthodoxy, and I’m told you really have to make a choice between the two ways but refuse to do so myself. If you are a No-Bread-Crumbs person, just leave the pot in the oven another 45 minutes.
Is it ready, yet?
This batch is a bit kinky, though, and was removed from the oven then covered by a 1/2 inch thick layer of bread crumbs made by putting three slices of dry toast, a cup of parmesan-reggiano, and a knob of ice-cold butter into a food processor and reducing to dust. This is then rebaked for an hour.
Merry Christmas and due to the copious leftovers, even with sharing, Happy New Year. Well, once the wine cabinet is restocked….
Christmas does a number on the wine stores...