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
  • Print

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.

 

Advertisements

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 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!

I Shouldn’t Even Share This: Prawn / Shrimp Curry Recipe

This is a signature dish, right up there among the best dishes I know how to make.  Why am I publishing it?  No idea.

Being completely honest & upfront here, this recipe is NOT VINDALOO HOT unless you want it to be.  It contains no chili, as I am ‘llergic.  BUT, it is very, very tasty and seems to be none the worse for the lack of actual chili chemical.  The ginger, turmeric, black pepper and cumin gives it such a strong *heaty* kick that chili eaters don’t believe their own taste buds.  The recipe is adapted from a golden curry I used to make in Malaysia, a kind of hybrid Thai/Chinese/Indian affair.  I have indicated below where you would add chili in if you absolutely must…Pah!

Also, on the quick part, it really is quick once you get the hang of what it’s about.  The veg prep and the rice take longer than the cooking.  On rice, Uncle Ben’s 10 minute boil in the bag…I hate myself for loving that old guy.

Ingredients (for 4):

  • 100g / 4 oz small, peeled pre-cooked shrimp per person or 6-8 large king size prawns per person. Raw King Prawns take just a minute or so longer to cook.
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled
  • 3-4 small Shallots, peeled
  • 5 cm / 2 inch piece of Ginger, peeled
  • 1 Lemongrass stalk, the pinky-white/lightest part is the most flavoursome
  • 1 Star Anise
  • 4 Cardamom Pods
  • 2 Cloves
  • …There is a reason for carefully counting out the hard spices, you have to fish them out later…
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of a good Curry Mix Powder. I use a Sainsbury mild curry powder that does not contain chili but does have turmeric, fennel, coriander seed, cumin, black pepper and mustard powder.
  • Small handful per person of assorted Veg as available: I have used  Sugar Snap Peas & Baby Sweetcorns here, but Green Beans or Carrots cut into half moons are fine too, just lightly parboil carrots first.
  • Half a pint / 1/4 litre of coconut milk made up from whatever source: powdered, cream with added water, block coconut, etc…it is a matter of taste, I prefer a milkier sauce and we eat my curry with a spoon and fork, but you can make up a thicker paste of coconut if preferred.
  • Scant pinch of coarse Sea Salt to provide grist to the pestle 
  • Fresh Coriander (cilantro) to garnish, a small handful de-stalked
  • Tablespoon of cooking oil that can take a higher temperature e.g. Vegetable Oil or Groundnut Oil
  • 2 dried Chilis, if you absolutely insist…but seriously!

Method (this is quick cooking so be pre-prepped!):

Set the rice to cook. Prepare the veg if par-boiling or steaming anything for a few minutes.  I sometimes set a steamer over the rice.

Prepare garlic, shallots, lemongrass & ginger by chopping & mincing first and either pounding to a paste with a pinch of coarse sea salt in a pestle and mortar or whizzing in a blender (much easier but a faff to get the thing out the cupboard).  Make up coconut milk to taste and look out the spices and line up.  Heat a wok on a low heat with no oil, and then place the oil inside, swirling round as this stops food welding to the inside of the wok.   Chili-lovers?  Ramp up the heat and fry two large dried chilis in the oil and then remove before they burn and go bitter.  Turn down the heat to medium low and add in shallots, lemongrass, garlic and ginger paste and stir.  Once the paste aromas begin to waft around (two to three minutes), turn the heat down again and let the shallots soften for another couple of minutes.

Once cooked, raise the heat again and place in the cloves, star anise, cardamoms and curry powder and stir all the ingredients until the spice aromas are again released and wafting around your kitchen–two to three minutes or so is usually long enough.  Do not let the spices burn, and to cool things down if required, sprinkle in a little cold water–you might experience an alarming puff of turmeric-yellow steam like an old London fog, but it saves the day. Remove the hard spices–cloves, cardamoms and star anise–they have done their work now in flavouring the dish.  Add in the prawns and veg and stir around to cover in the brown-golden spicey mix and heat through, and then add in coconut milk.  Forgot to take out the cloves etc? They float to the top usually.  Bring the dish to a low simmer while stirring, adding in half of the coriander garnish just before serving.  It is pretty much ready.

Serve with white boiled rice, garnish with fresh coriander on top.  This dish does not really suit the usual curry add-ons like lime pickles and so on, but fresh sliced fruit as a dessert seems to bring together the taste experience.

Cupcakes are the “My Little Pony” of Baking…

First Cupcake

My First Cupcake

…Or so says my husband.  He thinks cupcakes are an utterly twee and girly obsession, much like the My Little Pony phenomena, and while I don’t bake, I had bought a tray of some very nice cupcakes a couple of weeks ago which the man and boy were sort of fighting over after dinner.  Tweeness not necessarily an obstruction to scoffing then…

So, baking in all probability would be rather well received round our house, and above is my very first home-baked cupcake.  But, more of the provenance of my lovely cake (and BTW my very first attempt at piping frosting) later since in all probability this is likely to be the pinnacle of my achievements in this competitive field.  There are much better blog sources to go to for cupcake inspiration/porn/sheer wonder.  And there sure are some weird and wacky innovations in the cupcake world; what women can achieve in their own domestic environments amazes me…and slightly horrifies at the same time.  All that creative energy poured into paper cake cases and sprinkled on butter cream icing.

Or, indeed, delicately spooned into actual egg shells.  Easter cupcakes baked inside a hollowed out egg shell?  Check out this amazing feat in not just one blog but two: Cupcake Project and Delicious Days.

Cupcake flowers are very popular. Heaven is a Cupcake have some stunning examples of bouquet baskets, and claim to have originated the concept.  Cupcake wedding cake tiers to me are a bit “yesterday” but an actual cupcake wedding bouquet?  See this super example over at Souperior.

Cupcakes can celebrate every life stage, from baby showers to birthdays, marriages, divorces and remarkably, cupcakes can even mark the final event.  Sympathy cupcake bouquets (wreaths?) are being made and blogged about, e.g.over at Cakecentral.com.  The baker used “devil’s food cake mix” for the sponge and I am not entirely sure the irony was intended.  If it was, then that is bloody hilarious. I am thinking about putting in an advance order for a couple of folks I know who are unfortunately still with us.

Celebrations aside, cupcakes can also accompany you through life’s traumas.  We could all do worse than check into Cupcakes on Bedrest with a few words of encouragement for the blogger recovering from serious illness and distracting herself with cupcake making.  Don’t mention though the site http://www.cupcaketherapy.com.au, a commercial venture with the incredible tagline: “They taste so good you won’t want to be cured“.  Only in Oz.  And for experiments in pink champagne cupcakes (now that’s my kind of therapy) checkout a WordPress blog also called Cupcake Therapy.  Yet another therapy site–www.cupcaketherapy.biz of Baltimore–could send you a carton of their rather frankly named “piglets” or perhaps half a dozen “southern comforts”.  Eat, drink and be merry…all in a cupcake.

An amazing resource and a great place for generally surfing the world of cupcakes is the self-proclaimed #1 Blog about cupcakes, “Cupcakes Take the Cake“.  Their blogroll is truly awesome, hundreds of sites listed either dedicated to or that include the art of making pretty wee sponges.  Random browsing through their roll, I love/hate the vegan blog “Post Punk Kitchen” and can’t decide whether it is too sickly to be postmodern, or the epitome of post-postmodernism.  All I can say is that I won’t be making a punk rock cookie jar.  Or buying one of their naff aprons.  But, enough folks must like such kit(sch) or they wouldn’t have an online shop. (I should say in fairness that if they did oven gloves I might be tempted into a purchase myself.)

And so to the provenance of my own (and in light of all of the above, rather pathetically feeble) efforts.  My blog is about making family cooking easier, not harder.  Et Voila 😉

Quick, Cheap and Delish Pate Recipe

chicken liver pate
chicken liver pate

Chicken Liver Pate

I don’t have a story to tell, just that this is a “save money” dish, costs far less to make than to buy and takes hardly any time at all.  And, if I say so myself, it is wonderful.  This is another “Billy the Chef” (my cousin) recipe, and very lovely it is too.  The quantities below would serve 4 for a starter.

Ingredients:

  • 500g / 18 ounces of Chicken Livers, chopped
  • 2 slices of Smoked Bacon, rinds removed and chopped into small pieces
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • 2 Tbsp Brandy (any old cheap rubbish will do, for Gawd’s sake don’t break out the good stuff for this)
  • Pinch of Herbs (I used Herbes de Provence, but Thyme works very well too)
  • Squeeze or Tablespoon of Tomato Puree (this adds depth of colour and helps keep its colour in the fridge, pate has a nasty habit of going grey…)
  • 125g Unsalted Butter
  • Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to Taste

Method:

Dry fry the chopped bacon, ie with no oil in a large frying pan.  Add in the shallots and butter and fry gently until the shallots are very soft (only 5-8 mins).  Add in the chicken livers, tomato puree, herbs, seasoning–be careful not to oversalt due to the saltiness of the bacon–along with the brandy and cook at a medium heat for about 15-20 minutes giving the odd stir.  There is real satisfaction to be had in breaking down the livers with the back of a wooden spoon, not sure why this might be…?   Leave, covered, to cool, check the seasoning before blending in a processor to a smooth but grainy texture.  Place in a dish and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours or so before serving.  It will keep, covered, for a few days.  Don’t bother faffing around with clarified butter seals, that only extends its natural fridge life for a few days and only if you do not break in there and eat it first!

My Meatloaf Recipe

Sliced Meatloaf

Sliced Meatloaf

Yes, the blogosphere is stuffed with meatloaf recipes….well, this is how I make mine, with absolutely no fuss or fancy stuff.

Ingredients (to serve 4):

  • 300g Minced Pork
  • 500g Minced Beef
  • 1 Onion, chopped very finely
  • Large pinch of Herbes de Provence
  • Tablespoon of Breadcrumbs
  • 1 Egg, Beaten
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Tablespoon of Tomato Sauce

Method:

Mix the pork, beef, breadcrumbs, egg and chopped onion together with the seasoning and herbs.  Mould into a loaf shape on a non-stick baking baking tray or place in a loaf tin.  Spread over the tomato sauce and cook in a medium hot (190 degrees Celsius) oven for about 50 minutes-1 hour, until the meatloaf is firmed up.  Allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a chopping board and slicing and serving.

Fresh Fruit Salad: Recipe for a Spiced Syrup Glaze

Fresh Fruit Berry Salad

This post is a recipe for a thick, spiced syrup glaze for fruit salad.  It comes from one of my great Oxfam second-hand cookery book purchases: The Prawn Cocktail Years.  The authors, Simon Hopkinson and Lyndsey Bareham, have been writing cookery columns and publishing recipe collections since the mid-90’s, racking up scores of books and a great library for the ordinary family cook.  This particular book deconstructs British bistro and restaurant fayre from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and then tells you how to make the dishes properly, so if you ever want to know how to make authentic spag bol/weiner schnitzel and a host of other favourites that many of us grew up with, then this is your resource.  Nostalgia, only much better than you remember…

Ingredients (makes more than enough for a large bowl of salad to serve 6):

  • 300g/1.5 US Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 200 ml (6.75 US fl oz) Water
  • 100 ml (3 1/3 US fl oz) of a fruity White Wine (I used a Muscat dessert wine, it was truly wonderful)
  • 3 Cardomom Pods
  • 2 small Bay Leaves, torn
  • 2 Cloves
  • Blade of Mace
  • The original recipe has 4-5 strips of pithless lemon peel, I did not use this but put in a squeeze of fresh lemon instead, again, it was fab.

Method:

Put all of the ingredients into a heavy-based teflon or similar coated pan on the stove (the mix can react with aluminium uncoated pans), whisk together and stir over a low heat until mixture comes to the boil (only five minutes or so) and then simmer for a further five minutes, keeping an eye on it and stirring as necessary.  Take off the heat and leave covered to cool, and then strain through a seive into a jug.  Serve over mixed fruits, which you can prepare in advance of the rest of dinner…

Any excess can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container for a very, very long time. I would be happy to store this for a couple of months or more.

Fruit Salad Combinations that Work:

The authors say “less is more” with fruit salad, and I tend to agree.  Balancing cost and taste, three fruits in combo seems just about right to me.  I also never use apples in fruit salads, but that is probably just my prejudice.  In truth, simple ripe pears with this syrup glaze would be just as lovely.

Very Berry Fruits: Strawberries, Cherries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Seedless Red Grapes, Pears, Sweet Plums

Tropical Fruits: Lychees, Pineapple, Melon, Kiwis, Grapes, Passionfruit, Watermelon, Peaches, Mango chunks, Papaya, Banana (cut and add slices at the last minute; if you expect leftovers, then don’t use banana at all as they dissolve into brown slimey mush)

Luxury Fruits: Figs, Melon, Seedless Green Grapes, Pipless Orange / Clementine Segments, Apricots

“The Prawn Cocktail Years” is still available from amazon in the paperback version for only a couple of pounds/dollars: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Prawn-Cocktail-Years-Simon-Hopkinson/dp/0333725948/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1310136023&sr=8-2

Hummus bi Tahina

Hummus bi Tahini

Hummus bi Tahina

What’s bi Tahina?  Basically, there are two hummus recipe methods (humus, hummous, pick your own spelling!) one with Tahini sesame paste and one without.  I do the “with” version.  Home-made hummus is usually softer and creamier than shop bought ones, but does firm up with some fridge chilling and frankly, like a lot of things, the flavour improves overnight in the fridge too.  Soaking and cooking your own chick peas?  Don’t be daft, use a tin unless you have oodles of time on your hands as the price saving is not so vast.

Ingredients (to Serve 4 as a starter):

  • 400g tin of cooked Chickpeas, check the label if they are in salted water, you may not need to add any additional salt later on, but not all are packed in brine (Waitrose own brand is salt-free).
  • Tablespoon of Tahini sesame paste (it keeps for ages, so don’t worry about not using it all up at once)
  • Good, extra virgin Olive Oil, at least a couple of tablespoons
  • Half a cup of water
  • Teaspoon, heaped, of ground Cumin
  • Couple of large cloves of fresh Garlic
  • Juice of a large Lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Drain and rinse the cooked chickpeas.  Place all ingredients (retaining one tablespoon of olive oil) in a blender and pulp away until you achieve a consistency you like, adding in more olive oil as you desire for a softer mix.  You will probably have to spatula it around and whizz it a few times to get a nice blend.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Turn out onto a large, flat soupbowl or similar and drizzle some more olive oil over the top.  At this point, you can sprinkle paprika over the top just to make it look nice if you like, but this is optional.

Variations:

  • Chop up some mi-cuit or sun-dried tomatoes and add into the blender, this is lovely as long as they are not too tart.
  • Fresh coriander chopped through works well 
  • Carmelised onion sounds nice but I have not tried this
  • Chili and red pepper, well, again sounds OK but not for me and my allergy

Serve with a warm baguette or quartered pitta breads.