Thursday, September 01, 2005

Spring is Here!

Well, it’s the first day of Spring, and the weather is fab. And what do I make for lunch but an incredibly wintry menu? (In my defence, I started making the stew almost a week ago, and I live in Melbourne, where you can easily have four seasons in the one day...)

108. Venison in White Wine (Cooking in Advance)
109. Marsala Muscovado Custard (Dinner)
110. Muskily Spiced Prunes (Dinner)

As I said, this stew can be cooked seriously in advance. On Friday last week, I cubed the meat and let it steep in a mixture of white wine, diced vegetables, peppercorns and juniper berries. Then on Sunday, I drained the meat… we’ve never had venison before and I was surprised at how heavily gamey it was. It’s intense stuff, you can smell it from a mile away. And after two days of steeping, the previously white wine had turned a rich, deep brown.

Rejected marinade vegetables in the colander, now disturbingly dark marinade liquid in the saucepan

Anyway, after having drained the meat, I cooked some onions, porcini mushrooms and other spices, before adding the meat and putting it in the oven for two hours. After it cooled, I left it in the fridge. Finally, on Thursday, I heated the stew, cooked up some Swiss brown mushrooms, stirred them in, and we ate it.

Venison in White Wine

And, as per Nigella’s suggestion, I served it with mashed potatoes and green beans, which were the perfect complement.

Green beans


We all love mash! I daresay, after much practice and some of Nigella’s tips, I’ve become a mashed potato expert. Basically, you have to let the boiled potatoes steam dry before mashing, and warm the butter, milk and/or cream before beating them in. But whatever method you choose to use, the most important, vital factor in making great mash is to add far more butter and cream than you’d ever let anyone know.

One (big) plate

The stew tastes good, and being able to make it in stages certainly simplifies the whole process. But just to repeat, venison is very, very strong, very gamey, and not something to be eaten often, or in great quantities.

Nigella doesn’t actually recommend a dessert to go with this meal. However, I thought that the marsala custard would work because it’s suggested as one of two possible desserts for a roast venison fillet (in the Dinner chapter).

You have to make the prunes a couple of days in advance, to let them steep. They’re simmered in Earl Grey tea, some marsala, spices and light muscovado sugar, and they smell beautiful.

All the prunes and 1 portion of custard – once poured into a little china bowl, the prunes look like a compote, the type of thing that I’d ordinarily avoid at a hotel breakfast buffet. But I’m converted now, spiced prunes are the way forward.

The custard is a baked custard, so no stress-inducing stirring was involved. You just heat (separately) some marsala and some cream, and then mix them into some eggs, some yolks, some light muscovado and castor sugars. Then you bake it in a bain marie for an hour. The recipe serves eight, and is supposed to be made in a one-litre china bowl. As there are only four of us, I halved the recipe and did it in little ramekins. (And I know Nigella hates dinkiness and individual portions, but I love it. It’s cute, dammit!) They only took half an hour to cook this way.

This custard is absolutely amazing. I wasn’t sure about how my folks would react to it, but my brother took just one bite…

Daniel: This is fucking awesome. Yum… yum… YUM! (Repeated ad nauseum in a hyperactive manner - was it the alcohol or the sugar?)
Dad: See, I’m eating this slowly, to savour it. Is there any more? Can you make this next time I have friends over?

Over the course of lunch, Dad also made some funny quips about how his sisters used to refer to testicles as “Australian prunes”. Ah, classic Dad jokes.

Midway through - check out the layers of colour

This is a good dessert. Very good. On that insanely good level, like the same level of deliciousness as the Pig's Bum... Damn straight.

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