Sausage Casserole on the Stove

Simple Sausage Casserole

Sometimes we can get really fed up with rice and potatoes and I do try to eat more pulses and beans for variety. This simple sausage casserole is fast, low cost, fills you up and is rather tasty. This is presented as if it is a “recipe” but this is simply making a meal stuff, no pretensions otherwise.

 

A Warming Sausage Casserole for Winter Week Nights

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 8 pork or beef link sausages (I like Lincolnshire and Cumberland ones, but any will do really)
  • 500g drained weight of canned, pre-cooked beans: kidney beans, borlotti, cannellini, pinto beans would all work, I usually mix two different cans. Drain and rinse with cold water
  • Large jar or 500ml pack of sieved/creamed tomatoes (passata)
  • 500ml water
  • Large pinch of dried mixed herbs or Herbes de Provence
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • tbspn light olive oil or your cooking oil of preference
  • A pinch of sugar, or a splash of milk if your tomatoes are particularly tart
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • If you would like to up the veg quotient, then add in small diced mushrooms and/or courgette, but avoid diced carrot as it takes too long to cook, I’ve added in some broccoli and green fresh beans for the version photographed, along with a few potatoes I boiled separately as I had a few left, not enough to feed us all, but a perfect quantity to drop in to a casserole. Either cook potatoes separately and add in towards the end, or chop small and let them cook through the sauce.

Directions

  1. Place the sausages under a medium-hot grill, they should take around 15-18 minutes but the pack will advise. Check and turn the sausages to ensure that they are browning evenly as you prepare the sauce.
  2. Warm a tablespoon of olive oil and saute the onion and garlic gently on a low-med heat in a larger sized pan. Cook until the onion is very soft.
  3. Add in the tomato passata, water, herbs and seasoning.
  4. Bring to a boil and then reduce the temperature, simmer the sauce for 10 minutes.
  5. Check the sauce seasoning and adjust, but do this from a cooled spoon of sauce, as you cannot really taste what is going on properly if it is scalding hot.
  6. Remove the sausages from the grill and add into the casserole, along with all of the drained beans.
  7. Heat through for a further 5-10 minutes, but leave for a couple of minutes to cool before serving. Sausages can be mouth-blisteringly hot straight from the pan.

Make it Healthier:

I make this sausage casserole with vegetarian sausages all the time. No-one complains, I think a flavourful sauce is the key. If you would like to reduce the amount of sausages, or stretch a smaller pack to go further, sometimes I chop them in half or thirds after grilling.

Oh No, Help Me Fix It…!

Q: My sauce is too runny? My sauce is far too thick? My sauce is exploding all over the kitchen?

A: Tomato based sauces can usually take turning up the heat for a short while to cook away some liquid if you find it is too thin or runny. If you dilute a tomato-based sauce that is too thick with just water close to serving the dish, it does tend to dilute the flavour, which is not ideal. There are three choices, use water but let the dish cook a little longer, use an appropriate stock or tomato puree+water to dilute, but puree in particular does need time to cook out as it can make a dish bitter if you add it in close to serving. An exploding sauce–turn down the heat straight away and add some liquid.

 


Baked Wild Salmon with a Lemon Butter Caper Sauce

I had to blog this as it is one of the tastiest dinners I have served up in a long time! Best of all, it’s easy, and baked salmon can be put together as a main meal in half an hour with a very few ingredients. So, hooray all round! Well, ticks my boxes.

In our family, we made a conscious choice a while ago to eat wild salmon, even if it meant we ate salmon less often due to the higher cost. I’m Scottish by origin, so I know the debates around wild salmon stocks, farmed salmon and pollution, creating and sustaining jobs in rural areas and the release of farmed fish into the ocean. But, for us it comes down to taste. Farmed salmon can be flabby, fatty and lacking in flavour. Wild salmon is firmer, arguably “healthier” and simply tastes better.

Tasty & Easy Baked Salmon

  • Servings: One Fillet Per Person
  • Difficulty: Easy
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I serve the salmon fillet on a bed of crushed new potatoes with a little sauce drizzled over the tatties and then over the top of the fish. Side dishes--perhaps flash pan-fried samphire, or a steamed veg medley. This dish goes particularly well with baby sweetcorn in the medley

Ingredients

  • One Boneless Salmon Fillet per person, Skin On (Wild salmon fillets may look thinner/smaller than farmed salmon, circa 100g-120g each in weight per fillet is the usual portion I serve as a main course.)
  • Two thin slices of Lemon per fillet
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Juice of 1-2 Lemons depending on number of portions. (The grated rind of half a Lemon is optional–I am not a fan of citrus rind as I find the flavour can be too harsh.)
  • 25g of Butter per person (I use unsalted butter as a matter of course in our house; leave out the salt if you are using salted butter.)
  • 1 fat Garlic Clove, minced
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of rinsed Capers per person
  • A couple of grinds of Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Equipment: A baking tray sufficient to lay out the fillets; tinfoil; a thin covering of a light oil for foil (vegetable or light olive oil will do), a small saucepan

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 210 degrees Celsius. This fish cooks quickly, so prepare any side dishes first so that they will time with serving up.
  2. Line a baking tray with enough foil to create a “tent” over the fish once it is removed from the oven.
  3. Lightly oil the foil base, and place the fillets skin side down, season and place on the lemon slices.
  4. Fold back the excess foil for now so the fish is fully exposed, and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the fish from the oven, unfold the foil and “tent” the fish–the foil may be hot at the edges. Leave aside for another 10 mins, the fish keeps cooking and will be done perfectly.
  6. Prepare the sauce–melt the butter gently in the saucepan, then add the rest of the sauce ingredients and heat again on low for a few minutes until the garlic is just cooked through but not browning, a couple of stirs and this is done.
  7. Unwrap the fish, remove the lemon slices.  The skin can be removed with a fish slice as you prefer, as you plate up.  Serve with the sauce spooned over.

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Baked Wild Salmon with Samphire and Crushed New Potatoes


Sometimes, it’s the Soul We Need to Feed

After the Rain

Back from a (rainy) break in Portugal and it has finally stopped raining in southern England.  The reservoirs have filled up and the drought that threatened a hosepipe ban and water rationing over the summer is over.  Hooray.

In our absence, our garden has gone dippy, doolally crazy.  Utterly insane numbers of plants have flowered, some of which in all honesty we did not even know we had.

We are renting a house with an old cottage-style garden while the new build house we want to live in remains a muddy hole in the ground.  The current rental was owned by an elderly lady, and I know from the landlord she loved her flowers but had not been able to tend the garden for a while. The house had lain empty for a long time but we took on the place realising that there was a work out there to clear, prune, trim, dig out and discard (that deadly nightshade just had to go) and plain cut down.  But, this is a rental and we are only here temporarily, and there is only so much you can do…

Savage Pruning

I did spend a few weekends last autumn/winter out there with long loppers, secateurs, hand forks and a hacksaw. Mostly I was being savage and brutal.  It was so overgrown and crowded that I had to take a very pragmatic view—the plant life (some bare shrubbery unidentifiable) just had to take their chances, even if they really would have preferred a spring spruce up or a light autumn prune, they were all wrestled and manhandled by me almost to the ground.  It really wasn’t pretty and left us with a bit of grey wasteland over winter.

And yet…the riches Spring has brought to our garden take my breath away.

First, the Apple Blossom.  We have 3 apple trees, old varieties and utterly sweet and delicious–they were fruiting when we moved in last autumn–the best apple you never remember eating.

Apple Blossom@Hampshirecook

The gigantic oversized snowdrops that appeared in early March drooped to the ground after a few days, and the daffodils and narcissi in April mostly came up “blind”, so I was not too hopeful for much of anything else really.  And then the rain stopped, the sun came out and our garden is filled with clouds of naturalised Columbine (Aquilegia)—the state flower of Colorado.  With great big clover like leaves and long delicate stems swaying their fairy-light bells in the breeze, there are whites, creams, pale and deep pinks, strong royal purples and pale blues, creating a haze of pastel magic. Over time I think the plants have all reverted and intermingled—they were maybe all the white or cream to begin with. These are sometimes called Granny’s Bonnet.

Columbine

More Columbine!

A lone golden poppy (the California state flower) unwrapped itself this morning:

Golden Poppy

Perennial cornflower:

Perennial Cornflower

Polygonatum multiflorum, or Soloman’s Seal is another cottage garden favourite that has turned up in ours, nestling under the pergola:

Solomons Seal

With a white Clematis rambling over the top:

While the bees buzz about at ground level, darting into the the pretty pink and blue flowers of the horribly named Lungwort (pulmonaria officinalis):

The Camellia is nearly done flowering, but just to capture its magic for this season:

Green Alkanet  (pentaglottis sempervirens) is muscling in to the borders too, the deep bank that runs along the fence is a fantastic splash of vivid blue. I am really not fond of this weed.  Its big ugly leaves shed irritating hairs when you pull it up—wear gloves and cover your mouth as it can irritate your throat too.  It also stinks when cut or pulled, and can regenerate from a tiny bit of root left.  In its favour apparently you can use the roots as a red dye but frankly, I would have to be desperate in some way to cultivate this.

And to Bluebells, there are all sorts of hybrids and natives in this spring garden, and I know enough not to touch them as the natives are highly protected in the UK.  There are even ones that are lilac coloured, which a brief internet search says is not so odd, but odd enough for people to be taking pix and talking about:

Bundles of Herb Robert abound in this garden with their pretty five-petal pink flowers and red stems:

And last but not forgotten, Forget-Me-Nots push up everywhere:

So, here is a spring garden.  Revives the soul, does it not?


Potato, Leek, Cheese and Sage Frittata

Recipe: Tortilla (or is it a Frittata?) with Potatoes, Cheese, Leek & Sage

Potato, Leek, Cheese and Sage Frittata

Potato, Leek, Cheese and Sage Frittata

Recipe: Frittata with Potatoes, Cheese, Leek & Sage

Please, please send me on a holiday to Barcelona! 

http://holidays.easyjet.com/spain/barcelona/barcelona-inner-city-breaks.htm

(Oh my, am I shamelessly advertising!  Yes! I really would love to go back to Barcelona…)

And now to cooking. I often find that tortilla Espagnola—the Spanish deep omelette with sliced potatoes and onion—can be rather dry and bland, but the Spanish version is often acting as a counterpoint to far spicier tapas dishes, so fair enough really.  Italian-inspired frittata tend to have more ingredients—incorporating leftovers and whatever is in season and available, any old thing can go in there, from artichoke to zucchini.  Another difference between the two is in the cooking method: a tortilla is usually flipped over using a plate or lid half way through, whereas a frittata is generally finished under the grill.  But, no hard and fast rules in Spain or Italy–almost every human culture breaks eggs to make omelettes.

This version of a sliced potato omelette (I’m calling it my tortatta) is not bland at all, and it majorly ticks my boxes in that it has few, simple ingredients in quantities that I would usually have to hand and it is an easy dish to make.  The recipe is an adaptation from a BBC Good Food Magazine original, where I was surprised to see several comments on it being not very tasty, but if you use good quality ingredients (leeks in summer= tasteless rubbish) and your dried sage has not been hanging around in a cupboard for two years, I really can’t see where those comments came from.  Dried sage is, of course, the worst herb for losing its pungency over time and turning into acrid green-brown dust so perhaps that is the reason for those remarks.

This amount would serve four as a lunch with a big salad and nice bread, or two to four as a warm winter supper with some extra bits of tapas e.g. Tomato & Mozzarella Salad, Calamaris, etc.  It takes around half an hour all in to make and could be a good lunch box/picnic dish.  You could of course add other ingredients as you fancy, but why bother when this dish is so nice?

Up Close, Mmmm

Ingredients:

  • 250g-275g Potatoes (this is a surprisingly small amount of potatoes, about four smallish or two medium sized ones and they need to be pre-cooked.)
  • 1 medium-sized Leek—I would substitute spring onions or fresh white onions in the summer months.
  • 6 medium Eggs, or 4 large Eggs
  • Large knob of Butter
  • 80g good, mature hard Cheese such as a strong, vintage Cheddar
  • Large Pinch of Dried Sage, rubbed in your palm before adding to release the oils, or use 3-4 leaves of fresh sage, very finely chopped.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste—you may not need much salt depending on the cheese used.

Method:

Peel and boil the potatoes and be careful not to overcook them, they need to be in decent shape to slice down without crumbling or going to mush.  As they are cooking, slice the leek as thinly as you can, I used a mandolin.  Over a low heat on the hob and in a reasonably deep non-stick skillet/frying pan gently soften the leek in butter until it melts down but is not browning, this can take up to 10 minutes depending on how thickly sliced. My skillet is 10” or 26cm diameter and it is probably on the outside size of making this whole dish work with these quantities. Cool the potatoes once cooked, then slice down—certainly not more than half a centimetre thickness.  The original recipe states to place potatoes over leeks, but I prefer to do it the other way around, as the potato layer at the bottom gives it more of a base for cutting and serving.  Beat the eggs, add the cheese, sage and seasoning and make sure the egg is settling evenly round the pan and moving around and under the leek and potatoes to encase everything.  Gently cook the mixture on the hob over a low heat until the eggs set—should take just a few minutes.  I tend to annoy it a little by moving a flexible spatula around the edges and under the frittata just to loosen things off and check the base is not browning too much (aka burning), but I think my skillet is not so non-stick as it once was. To finish, place the entire skillet under a medium hot grill to set the frittata top for a couple of minutes or so but too long under the grill equals rubber omelette.  The frittata/tortatta can be served hot or at room temp, it slices better when cooled, but I prefer eating it warm.


Zen Shrooms

Zen and the Art of Making Meatballs

Zen Shrooms

Zen Shrooms

You see, I had this whole breathy post written full of New Year re-evaluations and re-assessing and it was all about no waste and saving money, and wittering about coming back to my original proposition and blah, blah.  That piece didn’t get posted up due to general technical incompetence on my part, which is just as well because then I started making meatballs.  And I found something a lot more inspiring right there, in a humble white mushroom (no, not that type of mushroom, it was from Tesco, purleeze!)  I found what I think might be called “zen”. Or something not far off.

Weird huh?  I started watching myself slicing the mushroom, slowed down my chopping and focussed on what I was doing.  The way the knife moved in a subtle arc, the bounce of light from the window on the blade, the slight resistance of the ‘shroom, the texture of the blade against the scrunchy whiteness.  And then I started being mindful about every movement that was required in the dish that I was making.  And I subtly changed things, I minced the onion more finely, I made much smaller, daintier meatballs.  I looked more closely at the quantities and balance of seasoning and herbs and flavours.  I reached up to cupboards with thoughtfulness and deliberation and, dare I suggest, some grace in my movements? In the end, I used only half of the beef mince I had intended or would normally use and my sauce had a few more vegetables than normal.  None of this took longer than usual, nor was it more fiddly.  Somehow, though, it was more satisfying for me.  Oh, it did taste better too.

Maybe what I found was that if you are going to cook something, even if it is a boring weekly regular like bog-standard Bolognese, you might as well get into it rather than trying to do it on auto-pilot or throw it together in the big mad rush of “I know what I’m doing now get out of my way you pesky items in the fridge that are concealing the cheese I know is in there and thwarting me, you deliberate fridge conspiracy, in getting on with dinner“.  I’m exaggerating but I guess you all know what I am talking about–the sheer “grrr” of it all sometimes.

I don’t meant to suggest that my life or my blog now embraces banal domesticity, or that I willingly cede to a yoke I have spent much of my adult years avoiding, but for 2012, I want much less of that grrr and much more zen in my meatballs.  Happy New Year!


Mincemeat Ingredients

My AltPunk Christmas: The Vodka Mincemeat Recipe

Mincemeat Ingredients

Mincemeat Ingredients

Factoid: Mrs Beaton’s original mincemeat recipe did not contain cinnamon—it was all nutmeg.  However, the recipe below is less about being historically accurate than about avoiding anaphylactic shock.  I hope I don’t go on about it, but I do have serious food allergies—to cinnamon largely—and it is particularly hard on me at this time of year. Christmas can make me so resentful, which let’s face it, is not exactly the yuletide spirit. I adored tucking into Christmas Cake, the flaming Pud, Mince Pies and all the rest but each and every one of these dishes contains the deadly cinnamon.  I even had to run out of John Lewis one time as the aircon was pumping around some cinnamon-inspired chemical Chrimbo.

I decided this year to stop with the envy and make a spice mix that would make me some mince pies.  When trawling about looking for ideas and proportions I found this great link to the history of Mincedmeat from Mediaeval times to the modern day: http://historicalfoods.com/mincemeat-recipes-for-mince-pies

There is so much variation in ingredients and spices that it gave me a lot of confidence about doing my own thing.  After faffing about a bit, I have now come up with a mix that really works well for seasonal sweet dishes, and could be used as a general substitute for ground mixed spice that normally contains cinnamon.

Hampshirecook’s Spice Mix:

  • Equal quantities of ground dried Ginger, Nutmeg, Cloves, Coriander and Caraway–I grind these myself in a spice grinder as required.
  • Half a Vanilla Pod or a few drops of Vanilla Extract.

I may be talking absolute rubbish here, but the vanilla seems to smooth out the heat of the spice flavours, particularly taking out that top-note acid ginger bite—it makes the flavours altogether more mellow.  Cinnamon can have that quality too, so maybe the Vanilla is acting in a similar way.

So to the recipe. When I do substitutions, I try to avoid making a pastiche of something else.  Who really wants to “taste the difference”?  I would far rather a dish presents itself proudly in its own right.  Accordingly, I decided to do a different style of mincemeat with slightly different ingredients and that would marry up more with the nutmeg: so it was Pears instead of Apples, Crystallized Stem Ginger instead of Mixed Candied Peel, and Cranberries, Dates and Apricots in the Currant/Sultana mix.  I have to say this was an utter success. Hub was trying to eat it out of the preserving jar that I was trying to put it into.  It is a lovely, lovely combination, which I would never have stumbled on or bothered about if it wasn’t for that darned cinnamon thing. And my house smells very nice too, bonus!

And the finished mincemeat.

Ingredients:

(Makes just over a litre by volume, fills one medium Tesco storage clip jar)

  • 100g Unsalted Butter
  • 200g Dark Brown Soft Sugar
  • 200ml Cranberry Juice
  • 3 Tsp Ground Mix Spice
  • ½ a Vanilla Pod
  • 250g Pears, peeled and diced small
  • 200g Sultanas
  • 200g Currants
  • 100g Dried Cranberries
  • 50g Crystalised Stem Ginger
  • 100 g Chopped Dates
  • 100g Chopped Dried Apricots
  • 150 ml Vodka (or alcohol of your choice; Brandy is traditional but there is a cinnamon chemical in Brandy…yadah, yadah it just goes on, allergies are sooo BORING.)

Method:

(Takes about 30 minutes or so all in)

Combine the butter, sugar and all the spices in a large saucepan, heating gently while stirring until the butter is all melted and there are no big sugary lumps left. Add in the cranberry juice and stir, then add in the pears and the rest of the dry ingredients along with the vanilla pod.  Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the pear is softened (15 minutes or so).  Fish out the vanilla pod (it will be hot!), scrape out any remaining seeds and put the seeds back in the pan and stir round. Allow the mixture to cool a little before adding in the vodka as you do not want the alcohol to boil off.  Spoon into sterilised jars and seal when it is cooled enough to handle.  Do this out of sight of your family or there will be none left.  This should at least keep for at least one month in the fridge, and it is possible to extend the shelf life to about six months if you double-up the alcohol.

Am off to do the mince pies now.  I’m too late to do a cake, but Christmas pud could well be home-made this year!

[PS If you are interested in following the historic link above, I would be quick as all the amazing historic recipes on that site are transferring over to RecipeWISE in January and most will then be behind a paywall. Such a shame, but I dont blame them, historic recipes are not a natural draw for advertising-based business models!]