Last year I made a plan to take August off and enjoy the sun in Dorset and just return to London for meetings – but in fact the weather was shocking: fog, wind, rain and not even any fishing... So this year I've once again booked the month of August off, but I have managed to fix up two little trips to Morocco and Ibiza, just in case the weather disappoints. So far, fortunately, the weather has been pretty good and once again the grouse season has crept up on us. British ceps have also made an early appearance which makes menu planning start to get really interesting again.
For me, August is the time to celebrate the beginning of the game bird season, delicious wild mushrooms and the succulent pleasures of late-summer fruits.
Grouse stuffed with haggis
I like to cook my grouse as simply as possible; at the very most I would add a stuffing such as haggis to keep with Scottish tradition. You could also add black pudding, if you wish, or a traditional chicken stuffing using the livers from the grouse with some wild mushrooms. I like to serve grouse with such classic accompaniments as a jelly (either made from rowan berries or redcurrants), game or parsnip chips and some bread sauce and gravy.
4 young grouse
40g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8.
Crumble up the haggis meat and mix it with the breadcrumbs. Remove any livers from the grouse, chop them and mix with the haggis stuffing. Fill the cavity of the grouse (not too tightly) with the stuffing and season the birds with salt and pepper and rub with butter. Any remaining stuffing can be wrapped in foil and cooked with the grouse in the tray. Roast the grouse for 15 minutes, rubbing with more butter.
To serve, halve the grouse or serve it whole.
4 pigeons, cut into 4
4tbsp olive oil
3 medium red onions, peeled and sliced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
30g root ginger, peeled and finely grated
tsp ground mace
2tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground cinnamon
tsp ground cardamom
A good pinch of saffron strands
2tsp tomato purée
1.5 litres chicken stock
30 green olives such as picholine, whole or stoned
2 preserved lemons, quartered
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Season and lightly flour the pigeon pieces. Heat half the olive oil in a heavy frying pan and fry the pigeon for a couple of minutes on each side until they are nicely brown. Put to one side.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan with a lid, gently cook the onions in the rest of the olive oil with all the spices for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often until they are soft and beginning to colour. You may need to add a little water if they are sticking to the bottom. Add the tomato purée and chicken stock, bring to the boil and season. Simmer for 20 minutes, then add the pieces of pigeon and olives and the preserved lemons. Transfer into a tagine or a covered cooking dish and finish in the oven for 1 hour, or until tender. You may need to add more stock during cooking, although a tagine shouldn't have too much liquid.
Taste the sauce and, if necessary, transfer just the sauce to a pan and simmer to thicken it. Return the pigeon pieces and lemons to the sauce, reheat for a few minutes and serve with steamed cous cous. Have a pot of harissa at hand to add some extra spice and heat.
I had this dish in a restaurant in Riga that served good honest local food; they are very keen on their mushrooms in Latvia and the local market was full of produce that had been foraged locally and was a fraction of the price we pay in the UK. This is a great veggie version of a shepherd's pie and you can vary the mushrooms according to what's around.
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
50g plain flour
750ml hot vegetable stock
400g ceps, cleaned and quartered or cut into 1cm slices
50ml double cream
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 servings of mashed potato, mixed with butter and seasoned
4tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
1tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
Gently cook the onions and garlic in 60g of the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft, stir in the flour then gradually stir in the vegetable stock a little at a time to avoid lumps forming. Season and simmer for about 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened; add a little more stock if it's too thick or continue simmering. The sauce should be thick enough to just bind the ceps once added.
Meanwhile, melt the rest of the butter in a frying pan and fry the ceps on a high heat for a couple of minutes until they are lightly coloured (you may need to do this in two or three batches depending on the size of your frying pan) then mix with the sauce, cream and parsley and season to taste.
Preheat oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
Spoon the mix into pie dishes and either pipe or spoon the potato on top. Bake for 20 minutes, then mix the breadcrumbs and Parmesan and scatter on top; return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until golden.
August fruit French toast
Making French toast is so easy, yet we don't often make the effort to do it for a quick, tasty, breakfast or brunch. This is a bit of a twist on the classic pain perdu, by making it into a sandwich with all of those lovely, dark, late-summer fruits.
4 slices of brioche (or bread)
2 medium eggs, beaten
2tbsp caster sugar
A few drops of vanilla essence
150-200g blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants etc
4tbsp crème fraîche
Whisk the eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla together. Mix the fruits and put the mixture between the brioche slices, pressing them firmly together so that they crush the fruit slightly.
Put the sandwiches in a tray, pour over the egg mixture and leave to stand for about 2-3 minutes. Heat the butter in a preferably non-stick frying pan until it is foaming, carefully remove the sandwiches from the tray with a fish slice and cook for about 2 minutes on each side until golden. Cut the sandwiches in half, transfer on to serving plates and serve with the crème fraîche.
Join Mark Hix and Valentine Warner for a special dinner at the HIX Oyster and Fish House on 27 September at 7pm. Valentine Warner will be hosting the evening, showcasing dishes from his new book 'The Good Table', which he will also be signing throughout the evening. Tickets are priced at £40 (includes three-course meal and drink on arrival). Please see the website for more details, hixoysterandfishhouse.co.uk, or to book your place contact Lianne on 020-7549 3586 or email@example.com