Reflections on food and cooking

Low fat Dark Venison and Chocolate Casserole

Wow I just cooked , and we all ate, a divine venison and chocolate casserole I adapted from Xanthe Clay’s recipe on the Telegraph website.
Because we avoid eating fats my adaptation meant taking out the oil, cream and cheese, and dry frying the meat prior to making the casserole.
I also substituted Port for Madiera, as we had that in the cupboard, and waste not want not. Taking Xanthe’s suggestion to avoid the ‘faff’ of making stock, I reduced red wine and juniper berries, to which I added ready made stock for the cooking liquid.
I used a slow cooker to cook the casserole over 6-7 hours. At the end I removed the liquid and reduced it down to a thicker sauce, returned that to the meat, and stirred in 1 tbs of Splenda (we avoid sugar to), and then  added 25g of 80% dark chocolate to melt and gently stirred it.
I served the dish with Boulanger Potatoes made with onions and stock instead of milk, to which I added a touch of nutmeg, home made cranberry sauce, and a sharp celeriac, apple and onions salad, courtesy of  Yotam Ottolenghi on the Guardian website.
Serves 6-8 people.

This recipe worked really well, and if you follow Slimming World, it’s a great dinner party recipe if you allow the syns for the wine, (I’m not sure what that would be after cooking and reducing), and the chocolate of course. You can make the cranberry sauce with Splenda to avoid syns there as well.

Tart celeriac and apple salad;

Stollen cake-loaf 


Stollen is my downfall at Christmas. I don’t mean the shop bought ones as I find they can taste synthetic and I’m not keen on the heavy cardamon taste, but my home-made ones that I smother in glace icing, flaked almonds and glace cherries. With a bread machine these are easy to make, and I roll a thick rope of marzipan in the middle as I double the dough over, so when you cut it the sweet almond paste oozes out and leaves its flavout infused through the loaf. Heaven. We have just finished this one, but I managed to only have three slices myself – thick ones of course.

There is nothing like a rich dark chocolate cake…

There is nothing like making a rich dark chocolate cake to celebrate a birthday brighten a cup of tea and sooth your soul in the process.
I made this darkly luscious one with layers of chocolate sponge and vanilla sponge cake, interspersed with chocolate fudge icing and cherry jam – subverting the idea of Black Forest Gateau – but not so sweet.
Making cakes is so rewarding, and although the produc is transitory, the effect goes on.
I suppose its like making anything, you don’t get the full effect of the experience until you slap on the last decoration. Meanwhile there is triumph when the cake cooks perfectly (or desperation and a quick revision of your plans when it doesn’t), then a moment of calm when the bare, undecorated cakes sit cooling.
Trawling my cake decorating books for icing recipes takes a pleasant ten minutes with a cup to tea. Then I realise I haven’t got the correct ingredients debate whether to dash to the shops, or whether more improvisation will make this unnecessary. Cutting into the soft, but slightly resistant sponge to make the layers can be nerve wracking, one is always uneven, and of course I always eat the crumbs as they fall off – (but of course there are no calories in food eaten when standing up). Sorting through my collection of cake plates and stands for the right one for the cake design that is forming in my head is fun, but I am ultimately a sucker for this white glazed cake stand. Its an old M&S one, and I find most cakes look far more glamorous than they are when presented on this.
Spreading the icing in between the layers with a wide palette knife is soothing, but coating the cake in runny ganache is hectic, then there is the delicate manouevre of choosing the right moment to add the decorations – just before the ganache sets so that they stick, but not when its too runny or they slide elegantly down the sides instead of staying put on the top!
Finally I really love piping rosettes/stars (whatever they are called), with the star nozzle and a satifyingly plump, squidgy and sticky bag full of icing. Yes its childish, but they looks so pretty… I’m never sure when enough is enough, so have to discipline myself or the whole cake would be hidden under rosettes and stars. Not forgetting the chocolate buttons which have, as the children got older, replaced the Smarties.
So there you are – a cake fit for a sixteen year old!