22 December 2009

Bird of 2009

Well, once again it's close to the end of the year, with Christmas in a couple of days and time for Lundulph and I to have our private romantic Christmas Dinner. This year's bird is



A few weeks back, I started googling for ostrich meat. Our local butchers could only do steaks, but the internet revealed that there are more possibilities, one of them being a roast. And so I found a farm up in Lincolnshire called White House Farm. They do a variety of cuts and offer the possibility of paying via paypal which I found very appealing. On the day I placed my order, paypal had done something to their interface, which didn't accept my password and the lady at White House Farm very kindly called me and let me know that the purchase hadn't gone through. Not to mention that I had managed to generate two identical purchases. In fact, I ended up having to change the paypal password. Shame on you programmers and testers on not picking this one up!

But the next day my order went through. The ostrich was to be delivered on the 18th December. As many UK residents will know, it snowed on the 17th and I was worried that my order wouldn't be delivered, so I called them and again the very helpful lady I spoke with confirmed that my roast had gone out and should arrive on time. And it did, shortly after lunch, packed in a polystyrene box and taped to an ice pack. Very impressive. And I got a few tips on how to cook it too. It was pricey, though, £26 per kg. I bought their largest fillet roast which was 600 g and went for £15.60, but I think Christmas is only once a year and it's a festive occasion which is worth spending some extra money to make extra special. The fillet steak looked so tiny, once I put it in the fridge though.

Spices and meat

The recipe I'd chosen was the simplest possible - the fillet roast coated in a mixture of spices and I found it on recipezaar. I also made the suggested sauce, which sadly was missing the unit for the amount of water, so I made a guess it should have been a cup. To be on the safe side, I'm writing both up below.

To accompany this special piece of meat, I chose potatoes, Savoy cabbage and mushrooms.

Ready to go in the oven

Roast Ingredients
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp black pepper corns
2 tsp juniper berries
1 tsp cardamom seeds
3 cloves garlic
600 g ostrich fillet roast
3 tbsp grapeseed oil

Roast Method
  1. The spice seeds need to be ground. Recipezaar recommended mortar and pestle or blender. I decided to try the mortar and pestle and 30 minutes of work resulted in rather tired hands and squashed juniper berries, but nothing further. I transferred the mixture to my blender, which after about 5 minutes on high speed reached "cracked" stage, but I thought it should be finer still, so I ended up putting the whole lot through my coffee grinder (also manual!). I recommend doing this on the day before, while watching TV.

  2. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C (gas mark 5).

  3. About 2 h before roasting, pat the fillet roast dry, then rub in the spice mixture along with the pressed garlic. After rubbing, I placed it in a bag, tied securely and rubbed it several times during the 2 h of standing.

  4. When the 2 h are up, heat up the grapeseed oil and brown the ostrich roast on all sides. Be careful as this is extremely lean meat, about 30 - 45 seconds on each side on medium high is enough. Then transfer to an oven safe dish.

  5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, then take out and check the middle by cutting into it. If it seems too pink, give it another 5 minutes, the check again. For me it seemed still a bit too red, so I gave it another 15 minutes at gas mark 3 which corresponded to 150 degrees. It seems that ostrich meat can be eaten rare to medium rare, like beef. I went for medium rare and after it had baked, I let it rest for some 10 minutes. The roasting will vary with the size of the fillet - mine was long and fairly thin, but if it's thicker, it might need longer. Thus keep checking by cutting into it.


Cream Mushrooms Ingredients
250 g fresh chestnut mushrooms
salt to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 dl double cream

Medium rare

Cream Mushrooms Method
  1. Peel the mushrooms and cut off the edge of the stem if it looks dry, but keep intact for visual impact.

  2. After browning the ostrich meat, add a bit more grapeseed oil to it if needed, then fry the whole mushrooms for a few minutes, stirring so they pick up the flavours from the meat. Add the salt to help release the juices.

  3. Transfer to the oven safe dish with the ostrich and bake together. I recommend making sure the mushrooms are placed so that they stand on their stems, that way whatever juices they release, it'll run to the bottom of the dish, rather than stay contained in the mushroom cups.

  4. When the meat is ready and out of the oven. Heat up the butter in a frying pan on medium heat, then add the mushrooms and the cream and stir around for a few minutes so they take up the flavour. Transfer to a serving dish and keep warm until serving, if needed.


Gravy Ingredients
2.5 dl red Merlot wine
0.5 dl port wine
3 tbsp cranberry sauce
1.25 dl water
2 Oxo beef cubes
2 tbsp fine balsamic vinegar
the liquid from the ostrich roast and the mushrooms.
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp Bisto beef gravy granules

    Gravy Method
    1. Put together all ingredients except the juices from the meat/mushrooms, butter and gravy granules, into a sauce pan and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to about half the original size, then set aside until the meat is ready.

    2. When the ostrich and mushrooms have baked, pour the liquid into the gravy sauce pan and just before serving, bring it to the boil, then add the butter.

    3. Once the butter has melted, add the gravy granules and continue to simmer for a few more minutes until they have dissolved.

    Spicy Savoy Cabbage and Peas Ingredients

    350 g Savoy cabbage
    3 tbsp grapeseed oil
    3 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
    1 tsp hot chilli powder
    1 tsp turmeric
    2 dl frozen peas
    2 tbsp water if needed

    Spicy Cabbage

    Spicy Savoy Cabbage and Peas Method
    1. Shred the Savoy cabbage.

    2. Heat up the grapeseed oil in a deep-ish saucepan on medium and add the cabbage, stirring vigorously to prevent it from burning.

    3. Add the ginger, chilli and turmeric and keep stirring to get it well blended.

    4. After frying for a few minutes, add the peas and fry for 3 - 4 minutes more. If it seems too dry, add water and keep stirring.

    5. Transfer to a serving dish and keep warm until serving.

    The potatoes are my usual Hasselback style, but with goose fat, instead of grapeseed oil. Using a different oil didn't result in a big difference, like when doing regular roast potatoes, oddly enough. I only buy goose fat for the Christmas roast potatoes, so didn't want to drop this tradition.

    Hasselback potatoes

    Et voilĂ , le tout ensemble:

    Fully laden plate

    As a starter we had Veuve Clicquot But with a wild hibiscus flower to accompany our salad made of 500 g grated carrots, 500 g grated mooli and 1 dl sesame seeds. There was quite a bit left over. This is a fairly traditional Bulgarian Winter salad, no extremes in flavour, just juicy and crunchy. We dressed it with rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil, both of which were a bit overpowering, so will probably skip them next time.

    For dessert, I went for the lovely Margarita ice cream from Nigella Lawson. We had this a couple of weeks ago at our friends' Stephen and Kerry of Dinnerdiary. I don't really like Nigella, not sure why exactly and catching glimpses of her Nigella Express show, put me off food for some time, but this recipe is really good and very easy.

    Margarita ice cream

    I made an alteration of course, I added 150 g dessicated coconut and it worked a treat! For serving I used chocolate cups and I dusted the plate with coconut flavoured cocoa powder from Whittard of Chelsea. Regular drinking chocolate cocoa powder.

    Round up:

    It was wonderful. All of it, Possibly best Christmas dinner since we started these in 2002.

    Lundulph concurs by saying "It was right tasty!".

    Of course, spending about an hour before lunch watching the birds in our back garden helped - it had snowed overnight again, but it was sunny and we counted 27 different birds! The special treat being the bullfinches and blackcaps - both males and females!

    In particular the ostrich was great - no gritty bits, just pure muscle meat and I was lucky to get it just right. The texture was great, the pepperiness of the spices combined perfectly with the sweetness of the gravy and the heat of the cabbage meant the whole meal felt hot throughout. This is a thing with Lundulph, he likes his food piping hot and sadly even pre-warming our plates doesn't make much difference, they cool down pretty quickly. The chilli powder provided the spicy heat to give the impression of temperature heat. Brilliant!

    It was hard to resist having seconds, but I managed just. After all there was dessert coming.

    I'm definitely going to cook ostrich again, it may well be the perfect meat for me. I've always been fussy when it comes to meat and generally I need to see the meat in order to decide if I'll eat it or not and grisly and crunchy bits are a big no. I can't even force them down. But the ostrich fillet roast was completely free from these.

    Merry Christmas Everyone!

    18 December 2009

    Painted Bread

    A few weeks back, when I was catching up on Susan's Yeastspotting, I saw something amazing. A couple of loaves with an intricate pattern on top. What is this? How can you get such fine detail? And wow, can I do that too? So very quickly I followed the link so kindly provided.

    I've been dying to bake and finally today the opportunity came up. There's still over half a boule left from my sourdough experiments in the freezer, but tonight we're having our first family Christmas get-together and Lundulph and I were put in charge of the starters.

    So I thought easiest is dips with freshly baked bread and some royal pickle.

    I made a double batch of the Bertinet white bread and also got to try out my newly purchased banneton. That's an open basket from the local gardening centre, I think it's made of seaweed or husks from sweetcorn or something. I also had the benefit of spending some time watching dough shaping videos on youtube, so felt very professional.

    The breads proofed nicely and baked well, but I should not have had the temperature so high as for normal bread, as they went dark golden fairly quickly and I ended up turning the heat down substantially to stop them from burning. Must remember that next time I intend to paint bread.

    Chef Tess says she uses barley for the paint. I didn't have that and getting the concentrate would require some time, which I didn't feel I had, so instead, I improvised by using food colourings. I had one yolk which I stirred and then divided into three equal parts. One part was left au naturel, the second one had about half a tea spoon of green food colouring and the third one had about half a tea spoon of red food colouring. The colours came out very nice and bright. But when baking them, the pure egg yolk bubbled up a lot, I guess I need to whisk it more thoroughly to incorporate any trace of white that may have been left on it.

    I also discovered that I don't have a single small paint brush in the house and haven't had for many years. So, what to do? What to do? I used chop sticks to stir in the paints, maybe I could use them? A bit more difficult to control, but would be a bit more precise than finger painting...


    To my surprise it worked, but I must get hold of a few brushes before next time. This is definitely something I'd like to develop further. Oh, yes, and come up with a design beforehand, rather than just make it up on the spot. Besides, I have blue and yellow colours in the larder, waiting to be tried out.

    Many thanks to Chef Tess for posting the technique and to Susan for including the link in her blog.

    13 December 2009

    The Moose is loose

    In preparation of St Lucia, I did some baking in the past couple of days.


    First up were the ginger snaps. Now that I have the hang of the recipe, I stick to it. This time however, I've used non-traditional shapes, which I spotted in IKEA a few months ago. They represent Swedish wild animals and although my favourite the lynx is missing, I particularly like the moose and the hedgehog. I had to make a moose warning sign, which is now hanging in our front window and it looks quite nice in the evening, when the lights are on and shine through the curtains.


    I also made some gingerbread boys and girls to take as presents to Stephen and Kerri of Dinnerdiary, who made a lovely Mexican buffet with slow cooked pork, a very tasty bean stew and some wonderful ice cream for dessert. I've asked for the recipes and am looking forward to their blog post about this.

    Second I baked lussekatter, since today is the day of St Lucia. I increased the amount of sugar a bit, but it needs more than that even. And I struggled to measure the correct amount of saffron, so had to add some once the dough was ready. Again, I added too much flour and the dough went a bit hard. Dang! Lundulph suggested that I add saffron to the brioche recipe instead, because they are always very light and fluffy. I think that might work, even though the two recipes are so very different. I'd need to add more sugar to the brioche dough as well.

    This morning we had some for breakfast, re-heated in the microwave for a minute. Lundulph had his with strawberry jam and said that was a very successful combination.

    And also today is the third Advent Sunday, so we'll be having mulled wine later on tonight and have some gingersnaps with that.

    6 December 2009

    Countdown to Christmas

    Well, we're well into December and the countdown to Christmas has begun.

    Last Sunday was the first Advent and so we lit the first of the four candles. We also had some mulled wine with a nice set I got from Whittard of Chelsea. Sadly whoever pot the set together didn't think things through and recommended infusing a bottle of robust red wine with a stick of cinnamon and a pouch ("pouchette") with a spice mixture. This didn't taste very nice at all, some sugar is needed at the very least.

    We'll have another go today when we light the second candle and I'll add some sugar this time.

    I've also finally managed to get hold of what I wanted for Lundulph's Christmas calendar. I made the little red boots a few years ago and have been looking for a small Christmas tree like contraction made of metal to hang them. In the past I'd hang them on a gold string, which never really worked very well.

    I've also made some progress on my own Christmas calendar, which is a clock - I added the digits this year and will need to sort an arrow. I made one a couple of years ago, when I made the calendar, but with all our renovations it is lost. The board is a bit heavy and the lids of the little boxes don't close well when I've put a sweet inside, so I'll need to devise a way of hanging the whole contraption and still keeping it at an angle to stop the lids from falling off. Hmmmm.


    On the plus side, I remembered that the boots are a bit narrow, so I got oblong pieces of chocolate for them. Lidl is very good for this sort of thing.

    I've noticed that quite a few shops also sell Christmas calendars with little drawers or pockets to be filled with sweets, I guess it's not really a new idea, but is gaining in popularity.

    Tom the Tomato
    A few weeks back, I noticed that a tomato plant was growing out of the drain outside the kitchen. I pointed it out to Lundulph and he rescued it and put it in a pot. It must have sprouted from a tomato seed flushed down in the sink or something. Very curious and nice that whatever chemicals are in washing up liquid or dish washer tabs, they haven't killed it. This plant has grown tall and I re-potted it today and have started giving it tomato feed. After all, it's set fruit already and Lundulph is hoping for a Christmas tomato.


    It's about the size of a cherry tomato already and who knows what variety it is or if it'll ripen.

    Finally I also got hold of some halloumi cheese and fried it for lunch the other day. Texture-wise it seems fairly similar to mozzarella, I thought. I fried it in a bit of oil and it went soft and almost gooey in the pan, not at all what I expected. But once it had a nice golden colour, I let it drain off on some kitchen tissue. It went solid again and squeaked against my teeth and was very salty. And so tasty, I ate all of it. Must try grilling it next time.


    Yes indeed, sugar is the secret to the mulled wine. For one bottle (75 cl) I used 1 dl dark molasses and 0.5 dl granulated sugar, along with the cinnamon stick and the pouch of spices. Worked a treat and I think some dark rum won't go amiss if you want something stronger.