The Heart of AutumnNovember 5th, 2008
Autumn is in full swing now and the landscape is rich with colour; the remaining shades of green specked with gold, brown and red. It’s so beautiful and every year never fails to leave me with a sense of wonder at the pictures nature paints for us with its ever changing palette. I’m well positioned to appreciate it right now, as Rob and I have escaped for a few days to Suffolk, where we’ve hired a lodge overlooking a picturesque lake. It’s cold and as I type, sitting on the verandah under the cover of the lodge roof and the table umbrella, fine rain is gently falling, rippling the lake. But we have fleeces to keep us warm, and the concerns I had before we arrived about the lodge being cold were completely unfounded: it has very good central heating and a gas fire.
There are four lodges here, each well equipped, most notably with their own private hot tubs; somewhat of a novelty for a guest house here in Britain. This has been my first experience of a hot tub and what an experience it is! Braving the cold air in my swimming costume and stepping into the bubbling hot tub on the first evening had me giggling like a school girl. Once in I wasn’t at all cold though and the bubbles and steam rising up relaxed me within minutes. Bliss.
Rob and I love to take short breaks in retreats like this, where we can hibernate for a few days, forgetting the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I, as you might imagine, particularly enjoy stocking up on good food to cook and eat. Our hoard on this break includes (off the top of my head) duck and port pate; crusty bread; bacon (which in fact came in our welcome hamper along with other goodies such as Champagne and chocolates and essentials like eggs and butter); sausages; cheese; chestnuts; potatoes and a free-range chicken. Not to mention the mouth-wateringly rich chocolate fudge cake toped with shaved chocolate that jumped into our basket of its own accord.
Last night I cooked a brace of pheasants for a sublime Autumn dinner. As they can easily dry out when roasted I decided to pot roast them with lots of stock to keep them as succulent as possible. In keeping with the season I added mushrooms and roasted chestnuts. It was lovely and a dish I’d like to try again before the game season is out. As nice as the gamey broth was I think perhaps next time I may just add a tablespoon of flour before the stock in order to thicken it.
Pot Roast Pheasants with Chestnuts and Mushrooms
A brace of pheasants
2 large field mushrooms
300 ml Chicken stock
2 sprigs of thyme
A handful of flat leafed parsley
2 handfuls of cooked chestnuts (either pre-roasted, tinned or vacuum packed)
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 170c.
Ensure the pheasants are clean and their innards removed, then brown them all over in about a tablespoon of olive oil in a flame-proof casserole dish over a high heat. Remove from the pan and then turn the heat down to medium.
Peel and dice the onion and add it to the pan. Wipe any dirt from the mushrooms, cut them into eights and add them to the onions. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add the stock and herbs.
Season with salt and pepper, bring up to a simmer and then add the pheasants back to the dish.
Put on a lid and pop the dish into the oven for an hour, or until the pheasants are cooked through. To check, pull on the legs, which should have some give in them and be easy to pull away from the body, and skewer the thigh and check that the juices run clear.
Add the chestnuts about 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time to allow them.
Before serving spoon off any excess fat from the liquid and either serve it as it is with the pheasants or reduce it on the hob first.