Roast parsnips and pears with thyme

I have made this first time for 2009 Christmas dinner and it worked wonderfully. The pears are lighter than other vegetables and add an extra dimension to the side dishes flavours.

Ingredients:
Serves 6-8

1kg (2lb 4 oz) parsnips
5 medium onions
6 conference pears unpeeled
juice of 1 lemon and rind of 1/2
4 tbsp olive oil
25g (1oz) butter melted

Wash the parsnips and peel if they are particularly dirty. Cutting lenghtways, halve or quarter them, depending on size. Halve the onions and cut each half into six wedges. Quarter the pears lengthways and remove the core from each piece. Toss the pears the lemon juice and rind. Parboil the parsnips for three minutes then toss them and the onions and pears in a large roasting tin (you want everything to be able to lie in a single layer) with the oil, butter, thyme and some seasoning. Turn everything over to make sure it is all coated in fat. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top and roast for 25-30 minutes in an oven preheated to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 (the roast should be out by now). You need to turn them over once or twice (once is fine if you are too busy with other dishes). Everything should be tender and slightly caramelised.

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Christmas goose

I found this recipe a couple of months before Christmas 2009, as I was deciding what to roast for Christmas dinner. It is Gordon Ramsey’s recipe and I followed it to the letter apart from the browning, which turned out to be unnecessary.

Ingredients:

4-5.5kg fresh goose
4 lemons
3 limes
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
small handful each of parsley sprigs, thyme and sage
3 tbsp clear honey
1 tbsp thyme leaves

Serves 6 Prep: 35 mins. Cook: 1 hr 20 mins – 3 hrs 30 mins

  1. Calculate the cooking time (see tips, below). If the goose is ready-trussed, then loosen the string and pull out the legs and wings a little – this helps the bird cook better. Check the inside of the bird and remove any giblets or pads of fat. Using the tip of a sharp knife, lightly score the breast and leg skin in a criss-cross. This helps the fat to render down more quickly during roasting.
  2. Grate the zest from the lemons and limes. Mix with 2 tsp fine sea salt, the five-spice powder and pepper to taste. Season the cavity of the goose generously with salt, then rub the citrus mix well into the skin and sprinkle some inside the cavity.
  3. Stuff the zested fruit and the herb sprigs inside the bird and set aside for at least 15 mins. Can be done a day ahead and kept refrigerated. I left the goose stuffed and rubbed like this overnight.
  4. Heat oven to 240C/fan 220C/gas 9. If you want to give the bird a nice golden skin, brown in a large frying pan (or a heavy-based roasting tin), using a couple of tbsp of oil. Holding the bird by the legs (you may like to use an oven glove), press it down on the breasts to brown.
  5. Once browned, place the bird in the roasting tin. Drizzle with the honey and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Roast for the calculated time, turning the heat down after 10 mins to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Cover the goose with foil if it is starting to brown too much.
  6. Every 30 mins or so, baste the bird with the pan juices, then pour off the fat through a sieve into a large heatproof bowl . You will end up with at least a litre of fat – save this for the potatoes and other veg. At the end of the cooking time, leave to rest for at least 30 mins, covered loosely with foil. The bird will not go cold, but will be moist and much easier to carve.

Whilst the goose was settling down out of the oven, I managed to roast potatoes, parsnips and brussels sprouts. For the full Christmas menu see here.

As for the goose, it came out perfectly, juicy and flavoursome – the citrus fruits worked their wonder and the five-spice some warm magic.

Duck legs in red wine & cranberries

This is my all time favourite dish, which I made more times I can count. It’s a reliable and delicious meal, which goes best with sweet potato mustard mash.

Cooking duck joints with liquid can result in a fatty dish, but here the skin of the duck stays just above the surface of the liquid where it browns, while a reduced souce is created around the meat. Dried sour cherries or prunes are good in this too.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 duck legs
1l (1 3/4 pints) red wine
500ml (18fl oz) chicken stock
2 bay leaves
5cm (2in) cinnamon stick
2 medium onions each cut into 8 wedges
1 head garlic, cloves separated but skin on
4 sprigs thyme
125g (4 1/2oz) dried cranberries (original recipe calls for dried sour cherries but I have never been able to find them or looked hard enough)

Reduce the wine and stock, separately, until each comes to 250ml (9fl oz) of liquid. This can take up to 20 mins so add that time to the actual cooking time. I also use a large saucepan for the wine and smaller for the stock – that way they end up reducing approximately at the same time.
Trim the duck of any raggedy bits of skin and season with salt and pepper. Set a frying-pan on the heat (I always use a non-stick square deep frying pan) and, when it’s so hot that the duck will sizzle when it hits the surface, add the duck, skin-side down. Immediately turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook for about five minutes until the skin is golden brown. The fat from under the skin will melt. Turn the duck over and cook until plae gold on the other side.
Remove the duck, pour the fat off and then deglaze the pan with the reduced wine.

Put the legs in a roomy oven dish, skin-side up, add the wine from the frying-pan, the stock, thyme, bay and cinnamon and tuck in the wedges of onion and the garlic. I use a Japanese earthen casserole pot but a large Le Creuset would work too.

Cover and put in an oven preheated to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Cook for an hour, then add the dried cranberries, making sure they are underneath the liquid. Cover, return to the oven and cook for a further 40 minutes, then remove the lid and turn the heat up to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cook for a further 15 minutes. The duck should be tender, with dark golden skin, and the liquid reduced. If you find you are slightly short of liquid add a little water and gently heat. Serve with mashed (sweet) potatoes as mentioned above or potatoes fried in duck fat (render the skin that you trimmed from the duck to get the fat for the potatoes).

And now for a ‘trick’ that I discovered by accident. My oven’s thermostat is shot and I made this dish a few times before I discovered that it overheats by 50-60C. I then made the dish again, adjusting for the difference and monitoring the temperaturely carefully. Strangely enough, the duck was preferred cooked at the higher temperature. So for those who trust my taste and that of my dinner companions, the ‘adjusted’ temperature is 200-220C for 40 minutes, then 10-15 minutes without the lid. The duck is browner, crispier and always find that there is enough sauce in the pot.

Great wine to accompany the meal is any medium to full-bodied red wine, French in particular. Especially nice is one of my favourites, Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône. Bon appetit!

Pot-roast pheasant with chestnuts

This one is a keeper, from The Sunday Times magazine. I made this recipe just once this year, in November, when chestnuts abound and butchers have pheasants on offer. The red current jelly served on the side is a must.

Serves 4
2 oven-ready pheasants
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
100g smoked pancetta, cubed or cut into strips (I often get bacon rashers from local butcher and cube them)
12-15 small round shallots, peeled (or 4 banana shallots, peeled and halved) – 250g in total
1 big stick of celery, halved lengthways and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g cooked, peeled chestnuts, quartered (an easy way to cook chestnuts is to put them in a microwave, covered, for about 3 minutes)
125ml red wine
250ml chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
10cm strip of orange zest
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Season the birds inside and out. Heat the oil in a casserole dish big enough to hold both pheasants. Add the birds and cook for a minute or so each side, to brown the skin. Remove from the pan and put to one side. Place the pancetta and shallots in the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until they start to brown. Throw in the celery and garlic and stir for a couple of minutes more. Add the chestnuts and the birds, breast down. Pour over the wine, bubble for a minute, then add all the remaining ingredients. Stir, bring to a simmer, then cover and put in the oven for 40 minutes.

Finally, turn the pheasants breast side up. Return the dish to the oven for 15-20 minutes without the lid, to brown the breast a little. The pheasants are done when the legs pull away easily from the carcass.