Wednesday 1 January 2014

Mushroom Soup and Duxelle Stuffing

And so to 2014. Happy New Year. It has dawned for us a bit grey and gloomy but mild enough and windless. We were half of a mind to go to bed early and catch up with it this morning but in the event we ate a lovely meal and then stayed up watching some gentle TV stuff on DVD and we 'First Footed' before we went to bed.

The meal was a beautifully flavoursome, slow roasted shoulder of one of our own lambs (Dora the Explorer) served with sprouts and chestnuts, leeks and parmesan cheese with me doing roast parsnips and spuds, It was followed by some excellent home-made trifle (no 'sponge-fingers' and raspberry jelly for us - we went with some left over Dorset Apple Cake chunks and a purée of blackberries). The lamb had been smeared with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and anchovies for 24 hours and was then roasted at 130 degrees for 4 hours, then rested under its foil and a tea towel for an hour. Gently does it. We were delighted to realise that most of the main ingredients were our own produce - the lamb, veg, garlic, herbs, blackberries and all the tastier for that.

The TV was a couple of episode from our 1999 boxed set of the Alaska based series "Northern Exposure" which we find very gentle and relaxing, plus the DVD of 'The Blues Brothers' which I got for Christmas. There are very few films that just 'tickle' me - I find them so funny that I am famous for breaking down into a fit of giggles and fall off the furniture struggling to draw a breath like some kind of hysterical lunatic. John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd's musical masterpiece is one such - it works every time. In fact we slightly under estimated how long it would play for and the final chase sequence was in full flow as midnight clicked round, so we missed any Big Ben bonging or Radio folk shouted count-downs and caught up with things a few minutes after the hour.

We always 'First Foot' our houses; in fact we are probably slightly eccentric in the way we treat the house with as much respect as if it was an important relative; a living thing. When we were building we used to talk to the house, as if to check that relighting fires in the hearths after all those years was 'OK' with the house and might even cheer it up to feel warm again. At the end of each week of work, as we left for Silverwoods, we'd wish it goodbye and assure it that we weren't abandoning it, only leaving for a few days. Call us scatty if you like; it's just the way we roll. Anyway, First Footing to us is now part of New Year. The first person across the front threshold must be as close to 'tall dark and handsome' as you can get (No comment!) and must come armed with a coin to represent money, bread for 'food' whisky for 'drink', coal for 'warmth' and salt for 'savour'. You must open the back door to let the old year out before you open the front door to greet the First Footer who represents the new one. Here, I fulfill the role, so I nip out the back as the countdown starts, with all the goodies on a plate, leaving the door ajar (but not ajar enough to let the dogs out) and sprint round to the front and wait for Liz's beckoning which signifies that the midnight hour is rung round. The coal goes on the fire, the bread and salt gets nibbled upon, the money is just the money and you can probably guess the fate of the dram of Black Bush! And so to bed.

Every now and then we like to take a stroll round the 'estate' catching up on how all the parts are getting through the winter. Today we included the poly tunnel in our stroll and were delighted to find more chestnut mushrooms flourishing in the spent mushroom compost. First it seemed to be just a few which I could fit in my hand, but then there were more and more, too much for Liz's double hand-full, then overflowing the first pot we grabbed and ended up as just under the kilogram in a big garden tub - mushrooms are not very dense so a kilogram is a good volume. We suddenly had a glut.

Our first port of call in looking for ways to use up these 'local' ingredients out here in the 'Wesht' is Darina Allen, Queen of Ballymaloe Cookery School (and organic farm) in East Cork and she came up with a lovely mushroom soup into which went the bulk of the kilogram. She also describes a 'Duxelle' stuffing which we can use for the late Sussex Ponte chicken tonight. This is a mix of ham, mushrooms, thyme, parsley, onions and butter. I can vouch for the soup which is a lovely winter-warmer, but I will have to report back on the stuffing.

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