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January brings a much needed calm to the farmhouse.  The opportunity to slow down, recharge and prepare for the coming year.  Seed catalogues are strewn across the sofa as we try to realistically pare the order to a manageable number of packets.  A box of Seville oranges have just arrived in readiness for more marmalade making and a wander around the garden, checking the borders as we go, reminds us to replace the crocks over the rhubarb to encourage forcing.  There are snowdrops already peeking through the undergrowth in the old church yard but the clumps in the orchard are still to emerge.  Best of all, a casserole is gently simmering in the AGA.  Ready for supper tonight along with a couple of extra servings to pop in the freezer for a midweek treat.

To make six portions you will need:

900g Venison Haunch (off the bone and cut into dice, fat & sinew removed)

Olive oil

75g butter

50g plain flour

225g shallots peeled and trimmed

4 cm fresh ginger peeled and grated

2 cloves crushed garlic

1 cinnamon stick

Generous grinding of black pepper

Half of a whole nutmeg grated

1 tsp coriander seeds ground in a pestle and mortar

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Half a bottle of good red wine

1 tbsp dark soya sauce

450ml homemade venison or beef stock

110g pecans – toasted in a little oil in a hot pan, when you are ready to serve

24 mi-cuit plums or stoned dried prunes soaked in port overnight

Casserole with tight fitting lid

 Method

For conventional cookers preheat the oven 130 C or Mark 2

On the boiling plate or hob heat a heavy-based pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and knob of butter, once butter is foaming add shallots. Cook gently but do not brown.

Transfer pan to simmering plate or reduce heat, add crushed garlic and grated ginger. Continue to cook for a few minutes, then put everything into casserole.

Return pan to boiling plate or increase heat on your hob, add a little more oil.  Sprinkle dry spices over venison and sear in small batches, using extra oil if necessary. Add to shallots with cinnamon stick.

When all meat is seared keep pan on boiling plate or over a high heat, quickly add red wine to reduce by half, whilst you dislodge caramelised residue from bottom of pan using a wooden spoon.  Add stock, bring to boil then transfer to simmering plate or reduce heat.  Add a second pan to simmering plate, or over low heat to melt remaining butter, then add flour and combine to make a roux.  Cook for a couple of minutes stirring continuously.  Remove from heat.

Add third of hot stock to roux, stirring vigorously to avoid creating lumps, add next third and continue stirring.  Repeat with remaining stock then replace pan back on simmering plate or low heat, stir continuously until sauce thickens.

Strain if necessary.  Add soya sauce.  Season to taste. Pour sauce over venison into  casserole.  Cover and place in baking oven of 4-oven AGA.  Or start cooking in roasting oven for 30-40 minutes then transfer to slow cook overnight in simmering oven.

For conventional cookers place in preheated oven.  Cook for 2-3 hours or until meat is tender. Skim off any fat.

Check seasoning, add prunes.  Transfer to hot oven for ten minutes.  Serve with toasted pecans, creamy mash and braised red cabbage.

Slow cooks, braises and stews are ideal to prepare ahead of time, allow to cool then refrigerate for up to two days.  Reheat thoroughly and ensure piping hot before serving.

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