Venison is lean and light of flavour. Cooked rare, so its flesh is barely warm, and rested for 10 minutes, the texture is almost jelly-like, a cross between rare fillet steak and lamb's liver. Seared on the outside, it will develop a light crust, but not one as succulent as beef. Venison lacks fat. I have yet to find a better way to present it than simply fried in a shallow pan in butter. That way you end up with a tender, lean piece of protein with a mild, gamey character.
Venison with sweet-sour chard
Enough for 2
For the sweet-sour chard
chard stalks 150g (weight minus leaves)
white wine vinegar 4 tbsp
venison haunch steaks 2, weighing about 180g each
butter 50g, plus a little extra for frying
balsamic vinegar 1 tbsp
caster sugar a very little to taste
Remove the leaves from the chard and reserve them for another dish. Slice the chard stalks thickly and put them into a bowl with the white wine vinegar. Set aside for at least 25 minutes.
Season the venison generously on both sides. Melt a little butter in a non-stick saucepan. Place the venison in the pan and leave, without moving, for a good 2 to 3 minutes, until a slight golden crust has appeared on the underside. Turn and continue cooking for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the venison from the pan and set aside to rest in a warm place, such as on a warm plate under an upturned mixing bowl.
Put the chard stalks and their vinegar into the pan and cook over a moderate heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until they are tender but still crisp. Remove the chard from the pan, leaving behind any juices, and place on warm serving plates. Melt the 50g butter in the pan and stir to dissolve any tasty pan-stickings. Add the balsamic vinegar and a little sugar – start with a good pinch, then add according to taste. You want the sauce to be nicely balanced between sweet and sharp.
Slice the venison thickly. Place on the warm serving plates with the chard and spoon over the pan juices.
Blackberry and hazelnut friands
Moist, nutty little cakes.
plain flour 50g
icing sugar 180g
ground hazelnuts 100g
lemon zest 1 tsp
egg whites 5
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Lightly butter 12 shallow bun tins or friand moulds.
Put the butter in a small pan and melt over a moderate heat, then watch it carefully until it becomes a dark, nutty gold. Take great care not to let it burn. Leave it to cool a little.
Sift the flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl and add most of the ground hazelnuts. Grate in the lemon zest. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to a soft, rather moist, sloppy foam – they shouldn't be able to stand up.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg whites, together with the melted butter. Mix lightly but thoroughly, then pour into the buttered tins. Roughly chop the blackberries and drop them into the tins. Scatter the remaining ground hazelnuts over the top.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until risen and pale gold. Remove from the oven and leave to settle before carefully removing from the tins.
There is a moment, round about the last week of November, when the garden appears to breathe a sigh of relief. The leaves, especially those of the fig tree outside the kitchen door, seem to fall off overnight, leaving the paths almost invisible. The greens, golds, red and ochres change to crisp brown and soggy black. The shrubs, trees, bulbs and even fruit canes give the impression that they are tired and ready for bed.
This morning I am out among the little vegetable beds with their squishy tangle of trailing nasturtiums, dried bean stems and the last of the wineberries, sweeping, raking, pruning. I am, I suppose, tucking the garden up before it goes to sleep.
There is something deeply satisfying about this moment, even though I don't quite get everything done (a few pots that should be put away before the frost are too heavy to lift and I am tired, hungry and scratched to bits). The one piece of advice I have about these sorts of days is to get something in the oven first. No matter how keen a cook you are, you won't feel like doing anything much when you get indoors. I know I certainly don't.
In my kitchen at least, there are "dinners" for such occasions that consist of little more than opening a bottle and hacking slices off a lump of cheese. They fly in the face of everything I want a meal to be, but when I'm exhausted they come all too easily. This evening I go one better and make a bowl of deep, savoury soup, adding a few vegetables. It's lazy but good.
I put a couple of cups of water, about 500ml if you are measuring, into a saucepan, then stirred in a couple of teaspoons of vegetable bouillon powder, 2 tablespoons of white miso paste (it is actually more of a pale yellow ochre) until it dissolved (it is best not to boil miso), then I added a few chopped spring onions, a shake or three of toasted sesame oil and a little soy sauce, and gave it all a minute on the stove at a bit of a simmer.
Eaten from a deep bowl, it not only warmed and soothed but, curiously, I felt totally replete. Had I had some tofu or some seaweed I could have added that instead, but you are unlikely to find either in my kitchen very often. OK, each spoonful was consumed in a "think more, eat less" kind of way. And then I attacked the cheese and wine.
A Swedish-inspired snack
There is some mashed potato left over. Not the sloppy, velvet-textured mash made almost liquid with olive oil and butter, but the stand-up sort, beaten first with an electric beater and then with a wooden spoon. It heats up well enough in a basin in a pan of simmering water. The microwave would probably work, too. (I am guessing. I don't have one.)
The hot mashed potato goes on a thin wrap that I have warmed under the grill, and on top of that a couple of sausages and a dollop of sharp sauce (I used some Swedish lingonberry jam with a few berries from the freezer, but a proprietary Cumberland sauce or even some warm redcurrant jelly would do).
The hot mash, sizzling sausage and sharp-sweet sauce are folded up in the warmed wrap. This is, and I will get told off for hinting at this, my version of the Swedish tunnbrödsrulle minus the prawns and tomato sauce.
It is carb corner, on a nippy night, tucking in like famished labradors.
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