I realise that you were not waiting with bated breath for this recipe. Not even my Dad will be doing that. But I did say on Wednesday that I would be back yesterday, Friday, and I hate not to be a woman of my word. I plead extenuating circumstances which I won’t go into but does involve me being an unexpected and unlicensed taxi on more than one occasion, dodging an almost certain migraine in a store with poor lighting, and meeting a hastily imposed deadline. All not on the cards when I wrote on Wednesday. The day did end well though with the best staff party I can remember (and I am usually a non-drinker, so I do actually remember): the men cooked; we played silly games, including guessing who belonged to what baby picture – hilarious; we danced to Miss R’s specially prepared playlist; and there was even some abbreviated parkour for the more reckless among us (ie, all the men). I left after removal of dining table and dignity segued into a space hopper race.
The letting down of hair was so complete that even I, one of the night’s non-imbibers, awoke frowsty and confused, my body trapped in that vague hangover-like feeling that visits those who sleep longer than is their habit (til 9!). And, although I arrived at the party with only a frog for a voice, on awakening even this pathetic croak had been replaced by a mouse’s squeak. But all is good: the house is warm and dry, which is more than can be said for a good number of people in England who have been flooded out of their homes in a kind of Mayan last-laugh. And I have the added special bonus of Miss R, music jolly and blaring, making a winter version of this for my and Mr A’s anniversary, with some delicate shui mai ready for the steamer. I hope where you are that you are surrounded by ones you love and that you are safe and content.
Christmas Produce Decoration
Before I get to the blurb about the recipe I just wanted to explain the above photos. These are some easy and nature-inspired Christmas centre pieces that I, stylistically challenged person that I am, have made. The first two show the one I made this year, with bought eucalyptus, white carnations and little haberdashery baubles I got in John Lewis, plus greenery I cut from the sodden, muddy marshland that used to be our garden. The proportions are wonky and it’s all a bit blowsy, but you get the idea. The last one, from 2011, although much more rustic is, I think, more refined. Basically I used a bunch of colourful produce that I could recycle into recipes: purple cabbage, pomegranates, chillies, sage, parsley, bay leaves, Brussels sprouts and clementines. I piled these ‘artfully’ onto my old wooden tray and popped in some pretty candles, and that is it. I hope these may inspire you to look around and see what you already have that could be rustled up into a festive centre piece or table decoration.
About the Recipe: No pretences to authenticity on the stroganoff front, but I hope you like it just the same. It’s certainly festive looking with its leek ribbon, and goes well with most anything. I will serve it on Christmas Eve with a sharp-sweet cranberry sauce (this recipe, but minus the star anise), this winter salad, and perhaps some roasted sweet potato wedges. Unless of course we do what we did last year and followed our annual trip to see “It’s A Wonderful Life” with a bowl of slurpy spicy noodles at a favourite Malaysian restaurant. Good-natured strudel that it is, if that is the case, I can just pop it in the freezer for baking another time.
In common with a lot of food bloggers, I dreamt this up one night: sat bolt upright – upsetting my feline heating pad, Mimi – and had to write it down on my little bedside notepad. I originally made it with chopped whole chestnuts and dried sour cherries, but I prefer this more consciously considered version.
I like these crispy little parcels without any real or pretend dairy in them (which is more stroganoffy), but you may prefer it with the suggested crème fraiche (yes, I do get through a lot of the stuff), or vegan sour cream. Mr A and Miss R like it with crème fraiche. You can of course use any cooked rice you like, but I think a wild and brown basmati-type mix is quite special and gives the filling a more definite texture than white rice, and is more nutritious too. And by all means use fresh wild mushrooms, or all chestnut mushrooms – I did a mix of these in the first go at this – but the token amount of dried porcini punch well above their weight and are a great way of adding luxury to this special occasion recipe.
Another of my dreamt concoctions that passed the cold-light-of-day test (quite a number don’t), this vegetarian strudel combines soft and crunchy, earthy and luxury, all in one little pastry package. Easily veganised and freezer friendly too, it is also quite straightforward to put together, despite my long-winded instructions. Serve it with a sharp cranberry or lingonberry sauce for balance – even a Madeira sauce or good old gravy might be go well, but we love cranberry too much to deviate and test this theory.
As for more textural and chewable accompaniments –although my gravy may sometimes qualify as chewable – crunchy red cabbage salad like this, or spiced cabbage like this from Karen at Lavender and Lovage, would be dream partners. But I can’t think of any seasonal veg that it would not be happy to share a plate with.
85g wild rice mix (I used one with wild, brown basmati and red Camargue rice)
1 young leek, white part finely chopped (about 80g after cutting) – keep back four outer leaves
1 fat garlic clove, finely minced
2 ½ tsp paprika (not the hot or smoked kind)
100g chestnut/brown mushrooms, wiped and diced
2 tsp caraway seeds (optional but we like them)
10g dried porcini mushroom or other wild flavourful mushroom, soaked in 150 ml just-boiled water (keep water)
75g pecans, lightly toasted in a pan, or in the oven for five minutes, then chopped
2 tsp cornflour
2 tbsp dry sherry OR white wine
2 ½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 heaped tbsp brown or red miso OR ½ tsp Marmite (optional but adds depth)
4 tbsp crème fraiche, sour cream or vegan sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
A squeeze of honey, to taste
Handful of chopped parsley
Eight sheets of phyllo pastry
75g butter or oil
To garnish: 3-4 leaves of leek, each sliced into three to four ribbons and placed in just boiled water for one minute to soften; run under cold water, drain and lay on paper towel. You can do this ahead.
1. Cook the rice in a pan of simmering stock or water for 15 minutes, or until the rice still has some bite and the liquid has absorbed. Set aside for now.
2. Add the butter or oil to a sauté pan or wok and sauté the leek and garlic over a low heat for five minutes. Add the paprika, chopped mushrooms and caraway seeds and cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain and chop the soaking porcini, but keep the mushroomy water. When the chestnut mushrooms have released their own moisture, add the porcini to the sauté pan along with the pecans and sauté for a further minute before stirring in the cornflour and cooking that in for one minute. Pour in the sherry or wine, as well as the porcini water and let that bubble up and thicken before adding in the mustard, miso , crème fraiche and cooked rice. Stir in the parsley and give it a taste, perhaps adding some honey, salt and pepper, as you like.
3. Now for the fun part, making the parcels. Melt the butter in a small pan. Now lay one sheet of phyllo on your work surface, and with a pastry brush slick a light amount of butter on the sheet, and lay on another sheet. Fold the sheets in half, with one of the long sides facing you. Take a quarter of the stroganoff mixture and mound it lightly about 5 cm from the bottom of the long side nearest you, taking it to within a few centimetres of the edges on either side. Butter the length these side edges and take the long side nearest you and pull it over the stroganoff. Now draw in pastry from the short sides and slick all visible pastry with a little more butter – see photo below. Roll the parcel away from you to make a rectangular parcel. Place the parcel on a lightly oiled baking tray and brush completely but lightly with butter. Continue with the remaining filling and pastry until you have four little strudels.
4. Bake at 200C/400F for 20 minutes, or until very golden and crisp. Remove from the oven to cool very briefly before wrapping each strudel with two or three of the leek ribbons. Serve immediately with cranberry sauce and seasonal vegetables.
Serve 4. Freezes well unbaked. If freezing, bake from frozen