Monday, June 29, 2009

Portrait of a boy fishing

I was in Dorset this past weekend and saw this boy fishing off Swanage pier with a friend. They were really excited that they had just caught a fish and were taking photos of each other holding it with their camera-phones. I asked if he minded me taking a photograph and he just turned, held the fish up and stared through the camera. I like this photo. Click on it to make it bigger.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Vegetable protection and South London squirrel stew

I have recently been battling nature to keep my vegetable garden (which is coming along nicely) safe from a variety of predators. The birds ate a fair few seeds after I originally sowed them but this is somewhat expected. What I didn't count on were the squirrels and foxes digging up (and leaving!) many of the carrots, onions and lettuce.

Something had to be done. I looked into buying a fruit cage style cover for the whole plot but the prices seemed on the steep side, so, having a bit of time on my hands I took the opportunity to make one.

The whole structure can be assembled and disassembled since I used nuts and bolts for the vast majority of the joinery- which means it can come with me when I move house- whenever that may be. The netting I got from Harrod Horticultural, a company that initially seemed to be promising but turned out to be rather disorganised (I once spent 36 minutes on hold to their customer service dept. when I finally gave up and called their sales telephone they answered in under 5 seconds!). In short, I would recommend looking around for alternative suppliers if you are considering making one yourself, but if all else fails make sure you order the netting about 2 weeks in advance as it takes them a while to deliver it.

The wood was purchased from Travis Perkins, but while I was there I noticed that there was an amazing amount of wood they were throwing away because of faults that would not cause too much of a problem to a structure like this. Unfortunately, it was too late for us but in the future I would try my luck in their skip first. Just make sure you ask for their permission first.

The only problem with this is that the cage doesn't cover the cherry tree. For that I have been using the air rifle. Which brings me on to the second half of this post- South London squirrel stew.

I shot a squirrel that was helping himself to one too many cherries and decided that I would see how it tasted. After all, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is full of praise for the way the squirrel tastes a and couldn't understand why more people don't eat it.

Feeling confident after paunching the hare earlier in the month and after a quick refresher by HF-W's amazing River Cottage book, I set about gutting it. I warn you, some of the photos below might not be to everyone's taste so if you are eating I suggest giving this a read later.

After the success of the hare, I got Brownie and a somewhat hesitant Cowie around again and we essentially made a slow cooked "squirrel au vin" (or more technically ├ęcureuil au vin). Here are a few photos of the gutting and cooking process (the more squeamish of you may not want to scroll down):

an incision was made up the belly of the squirrel exposing its guts.

the guts were removed and carefully slicing with a sharp knife between the meat and the skin the legs were exposed.

the head and feet were chopped off leaving a rather neat carcass.

The squirrel was then boned.

... and fried briefly with butter in a hot pan.

some onions, bacon, mushrooms and garlic was also browned and then stewed for a few hours with the meat in red wine.

The meat was still a little tough but very enjoyable. If I am honest it's taste was rather overpowered by the other ingredients and the wine. Still, the result was one less squirrel eating my cherries and a very cheap enjoyable meal. Perhaps I will wait until Autumn before cooking squirrel again once they have had a chance to fatten up over the summer. I will keep you informed.

Hare- three ways

During my last visit to Rhoscolyn, Anglesey, I managed to bag a hare with my recently acquired air rifle. Nick kindly instructed me on how to skin, paunch (gut) and joint it but I knew immediately who would be up for cooking it- Browny, one half of the previously mentioned Around Britain with a Paunch (a rather appropriate name for this post).

the hare in question

the hare once jointed

Having spent the morning at Rosie's Deli Cafe's book launch, we picked up a few ingredients from Brixton market and headed back to work out what we were going to do with the animal. After many interesting suggestions from Brownie's twitter followers, we decided to cook it three ways- the front legs and lower back (I am sure there is a more technical term for this... anyone?) were used for some hare pate. The back legs (about 60% of the meat) were used to make a slow cooked ragout and the saddle (supposedly the most tender meat) was reserved for the BBQ.

The pate was a fairly simple recipe adapted from this recipe:

  • The front legs and rear saddle of the hare cut into pieces.
  • 50g butter
  • 1 parsley sprig
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 peppercorns
  • salt
  • stock or water
  • 2 oz (50 g) mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 thick slice of bread, soaked in milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 6 tablespoons brandy or Madeira
  • pepper

1. Melt some of the butter in a frying pan and fry the hare pieces until they are lightly browned on all sides.

2. Transfer them to a saucepan, packing them in closely. Add the parsley, thyme, 2 of the bay leaves, the peppercorns and salt and just cover with stock or water.

3. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 2 to 3 hours or until the hare is very tender.

4. Drain the hare, reserving the liquid, and take the meat from the bones. Chop the meat. Strain the liquid.

5. Melt the remaining butter in the frying pan and fry the mushrooms for 3 minutes. Add to the hare meat.

6. Squeeze the slice of bread to remove the excess milk and add to the mixture. Mince or blend to a smooth puree.

7. Moisten the puree with a little of the reserved liquid, then beat in the remaining butter, the egg yolks, the brandy or Madeira, salt and pepper.

8. Put the remaining bay leaf in the bottom of a pate dish and spoon in the hare mixture.

9. Smooth the top, then cover and steam for 3 hours.

The ragout recipe was adapted from Thomasina Miers recipe and involved:

  • Olive oil, for browning
  • 500g hare meat
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, cut into small cubes
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes
  • A couple of sprigs of thyme
  • A few bay leaves
  • A pinch of allspice
  • A pinch of sugar
  • 300ml red wine
  • A square or two of dark chocolate or 1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly (we used both)
  • Salt and pepper

1.Heat a little oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat and when it is smoking hot add a third of the meat.

2.Brown the meat on all sides and season with salt and pepper before removing and reserve.

3.Repeat with more batches until all the meat is browned.

4.Heat some more oil and add the onion and carrots. Cook for 5–10 minutes, stirring from time to time so that the vegetables don’t colour.

5.When the onion is translucent, add the garlic, and after a couple of minutes the tomatoes, herbs, allspice, sugar and wine.

6.Add the hare and simmer for a few hours. 10 minutes before serving add the chocolate and/or redcurrant jelly.

The final dish. Served on tagliatelle with pan-fried tomatoes on the side.

The BBQ'd saddle of the hare involved the following:
  • 1 saddle of hare
  • parsley
  • chives
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • 6 juniper berries
  • 1 garlic clove
Essentially all one has to do is create pockets either side of the spine with a sharp knife. Into those pockets go stuff the remaining ingredients, which marinate for a few hours. The joint is then tightly wrapped in tin foil and place on the BBQ until nearly cooked- the last few minutes are done without the foil. Ideally the BBQ should not be too hot as the longer this takes to cook the more tender the meat should be.

all the ingredients at the ready

It was generally accepted that the ragout was the best of the three. I think this was due to the slower cooking (4-5 hours) making the meat far more tender than the saddle (45 mins). However, the pate was a perfect starter, great to serve on lightly toasted home-made bread.