There are two dead birds in my shed. No, it's not the latest crime fiction on tele, these two were live and kicking until fairly recently and running around in their fine rust feathers.
I came home from the school run to find them tied by the necks to my garden gate. If this were a place where they celebrated witchcraft and the local vicar was seen helping the villagers create a wicker man with a slightly unhinged manic look on her face, my heart might be starting to race a little. As it was, the gamekeeper next door came round again to give me a lesson in quick pheasant plucking - don't bother, just take off the skin and cut out the crown. Having only ever been faced with a nicely plucked, dressed and sealed-in-cellophane bird from the farmers market i am feeling a bit dubious about my Christmas casserole.
I decide to shelve the problem temporarily and hang them in the shed until I'm feeling a little braver - after all, aren't they supposed to be hung for a good while? Eventually, i think, i will set to for the massacre with newspaper on a clean kitchen floor and a pair of scissors to get inside the skin. (Not many recipe books, i suppose, start their recipe with '...now first clean your kitchen floor', but the thought of rivers of blood streaming off my worktops rather puts me off.)
I turn to see what you have been up to lately and find that you have been considering the prune (page 487), a wonderful edition to so many recipes at this time of year. You like to use those half-dried prunes that require no soaking, adding them to casseroles and other slow-cooked dishes. I notice that you recommend them for Beef, pork, rabbit and game, so this might be a possibility for my brace of pheasants when i get round to it. They add a deep richness to the sauce, and, as you say 'any slow-cooked dish where prunes have been added will be better...for a night in the fridge.' You use them in a casserole of oxtail and prunes. I'm not a great fan of oxtail, and nor, by your admission are most of your friends. Your recipe is for two people as you 'can't imagine ever getting four oxtail-loving people around the table at the same time.' Nor me.
Your Mincemeat cheesecake (page 486) is much more to my liking, and it gives that welcome lift (which cheesecakes so often need) from their overbearing richness. I like your use of shortbread biscuits for the base and the addition of soured cream to the cream cheese mixture to help temper the sweetness. All-in-all, i think this could be the recipe i have been looking for - something a bit different yet festive and popular with all ages. Thank you for that.
We are definitely in agreement when it comes to canapes, however. I refuse to make them as they seem so pointless and time-consuming: if ever there was a time to nip into M&S now is definitely your moment. You declare that 'if there is a part of the festivities that depresses me, it is the thought of making bits to go with drinks.'
Let's the two of us declare war on canapes with a bowl of olives and a rich brown casserole.
With Best wishes and Seasons greetings,