Britain, it would seem, is in the evil grasp of a new tradition this evening. Ever since I was a lad* Hallowe'en has meant dressing up and, with a suitable adult in tow, wandering around your neighbourhood collecting sweeties from the locals that you knew. I remember one such Trick or Treat outing, I was dressed up as Twiki, Buck Rogers' faithful tin friend. If you have no idea of who Buck Rogers or Twiki are then you are younger, and possibly less cynical than I am. Other than my costume I also remember bobbing for apples and helping my dad carve a lantern out of a turnip**.
All of that feels like a very long time ago. You never hear of bobbing for apples any more. The practice has probably been outlawed unless a full Health and Safety review has taken place to ensure that nobody drowns and that no teeth fall out as a result of biting close to frozen apples from ice water. The humble turnip has also been replaced by the huge and vulgar American pumpkin.
At least the carved turnip has a culinary use. The carving pumpkin however, has no place in the kitchen. A never ending barrage of soups, risottos and pies are being cooked this evening in an attempt to use up the pappy, mealy, bland scrapings from the legions of not really scary tea-light holders. I'm sure that when R gets a little bit older, we'll be carving pumpkins too, but until then we're staying clear of the Americanised and commercialised version of All Hallow's Eve.
Rather than having a jack-o-lantern to ward off the evil spirits of the Underworld, we decided to celebrate and rejoice with the spirits of our loved ones with a Day of the Dead*** inspired Mexican meal. Venison stews are often sweet affairs packed with root vegetables and finished with redcurrant jelly. We decided that the bitter sweetness of Mexican chocolate would be a marriage made in heaven.
As with most casseroles, I started by coating the meat in seasoned flour and frying it off in batches. I then fried two onions, three red romano peppers and some garlic until they had softened, scraping the meat residue off the bottom of the pan at the same time. I added the meat back into the pan along with five large tomatoes and a teaspoon each of ginger powder, ground cinnamon, ground cumin and some fresh chilli. Finally I added some chicken stock and let it bubble away for a couple of hours. After about an hour and a half I added my not so secret ingredient, half a jar of The Chilli Jam Man's Hot Chocolate Orange Chilli Jam.
I cooked the meal before I set of to work for the evening. Letting the casserole rest for the best part of eight hours let the flavour come together. When I had turned it off there was still a rawness to the chilli and the chocolate wasn't as pronounced as I would have liked it to be but by the time I had got back home, it had really come together. Z reheated the venison and cooked some rice, so that when I got in from work we could sit down together and have a meal for the first time this week.
We live on a quiet road where there aren't that many families with children old enough to go trick or treating. Our neighbours have decorated the front garden with cobwebs and ghoulish nick-nacks, but as one of them is a set designer I can forgive them. Perhaps it's our proximity to a cemetery that puts people off from knocking on our door looking for a tooth rotting hand out. Whatever the reasons, I'm glad that we were left alone tonight to enjoy this wonderfully spicy and not too sweet meal.
*the 70's do feel like a very long time ago don't they.
**that would be a swede for my English readers. How you could possibly carve what the English call a turnip is beyond me!
***technically November 1st but we couldn't wait another day.