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.

 

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Baked Wild Salmon with a Lemon Butter Caper Sauce

 

I had to blog this “recipe” as it is one of the tastiest dinners I have served up in a long time!

Best of all, the dish 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.

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

For the Sauce:

  • 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

Method
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.

Line a baking tray with enough foil to create a “tent” over the fish. Lightly oil the foil base, and place the fillets skin side down, season and place on the lemon slices. Fold back the excess foil for now so the fish is fully exposed, and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

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.

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.

Unwrap the fish, remove the lemon slices.  The skin can be removed with a fish slice as you plate up.  Serve with the sauce spooned over.

IMG_0057.JPG

Baked Wild Salmon with Samphire and Crushed New Potatoes

 

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.

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!]

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.

Green Beans & Cherry Tomatoes Recipe with Lemon

Green Beans & Cherry Tomatoes with Lemon

Green Beans & Cherry Tomatoes with Lemon

I massively over-ordered French green beans via Tesco online, not realising there was a buy one get one free thingy.  As there is only so much steaming a girl can do, something was required other than just blanching and freezing the excess. I (vaguely) remembered a recipe for green beans and cherry tomatoes in the Terence Stamp Collection cookbook.  That book is Lord knows where at my mum’s, I may have to actually order my own copy though I am a bit loathe as it is all wheat and dairy free *.  All I can recall is the recipe had the two ingredients above and that Terence used a lot of lemon juice as a salt substitute.

So, like the good researcher I am, I went looking for something like it online, and wouldn’t you know there are hundreds of recipes, but not that one.  So here is my half remembered homage, takes about 10 minutes start to finish:

Ingredients (to Serve 4 as a Side Dish)

  • 400g fresh Green Beans, cleaned, topped and tailed.  Cut in half if very long, but try to have them all roughly the same length
  • 200g of fresh Cherry Tomatoes, whole, with a tiny notch cut into the top.  Good quality tomatoes are required for this dish. The notch stops them bursting in uncontrollable ways, helping to keep them (almost) whole.
  • Tablespoon of Olive Oil
  • Juice of 1 large Lemon
  • Fresh ground Black Pepper to season (let the lemon be your salt substitute, it works weirdly well…)

Method:

Drop the trimmed green beans into plain boiling water, bring back to the boil, simmer vigorously for 4 minutes or so. Drain the beans very thoroughly, and pat dry’ish with kitchen towel or a napkin to remove any excess surface water.  Keep warm in the oven in a pyrex serving dish or similar, but not for so long they go flaccid. Flash fry the cherry tomatoes for about 30 seconds to a minute in olive oil in a hot skillet–beware, they spatter like crazy.  You want the tomatoes to singe, soften but stay in shape and open a little at the tops without de-skinning completely, but not remain raw and cold in the middle. Add in the lemon juice (again, it spatters) and black pepper and simmer to heat through again.  Spoon out the tomatoes onto your hot serving dish of green beans and drizzle the lemony juicy sauce over.  NB Green beans have a nasty habit of going cold and watery on your plate too quickly, hence all these keep warm instructions.  And cooked, pre-frozen green beans are the worst offenders for this.

I served this with breaded chicken escalopes and slow fried roast potatoes.  It is a nice dish when it is too cold for a salad but you want something very fresh-tasting as a side.  Variations could include adding in some basil and/or garlic though I find I want a rest from the old garlic/herb combo now and again.

*The Stamp Collection Cookbook (hardback 1997, paperback 2002) was a collaboration between actor Terence Stamp and cook Elizabeth Buxton on wheat and dairy free cooking.  Second-hand copies on Amazon are available for a penny + postage.

(BTW recent lack of activity–I have been moving house…we’re in now, and properly broadbanded, interneted, and phoned.  Thanks to goodness.)

John Kirby’s Recipe: Crabmeat Ravioli with Sage Butter

Well, a guest post!  I was contacted by John, who for 25 years has developed Hampshire company, “Dovetail Workers in Wood”.  They make the most beautiful bespoke kitchens and have a new blog to showcase their work:

I was drooling, really. I would adore a kitchen like this.  John Kirby is a bit of a foodie himself (as you might imagine) and offered a guest post recipe for a mention.  My pleasure.

–0O0–

John Kirby’s Crabmeat Ravioli with Sage Butter:
John Kirby 1 

This is enough for a starter for 4-6 people, depending on how dainty you want to be.

For the pasta…
200 Grams 00 flour (most supermarkets sell pasta flour nowadays)
2 Free-range eggs
1/2 Teaspoon salt

For the stuffing…
100 grams Crab Meat (pre-cooked)
250 grams Ricotta Cheese
A few chopped Chives
A smidge of finely chopped Chilli
Freshly milled Black Pepper to taste an a Pinch of Salt

For the sauce…
A large knob of Butter
A handful for freshly picked Sage from the garden

Method…

Mix together the flour, eggs and the salt and kneed into a ball. Wrap in a bit of cling film and rest in the fridge for 15 mins or so.

Whilst the pasta dough is resting…mix together the all the stuffing ingredients. Taste it to check the seasoning!

Kneed the pasta dough and whack it through a pasta machine (get the kids to help wind the handle. Loads of fun!). Roll the pasta really thin and lay it out in strips on the floured work top.  Place lumps of the stuffing about the size of an acorn on one sheet and cut another sheet into 3” squares. Place a square over the lump of filling and carefully work our the air and press it down with your fingers.

Cut the pasta with a scone cutter (about 2 ½ “ diameter) and place the newly formed little beauty onto a floured plate.  You can put the off cuts back through the pasta machine to make more sheets.  Repeat until you have used up all the stuffing.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Whilst it is coming up to heat, make the sage butte, chuck the butter into a small shallow pan, and get some heat under it till it bubbles. Chuck in the sage after you have shredded it into strips. Keep some little sprigs back for a fresh garnish. Take the pan off the heat after 30 seconds or so, we don’t want to over cook the sage.

Drop 3 or 4 of the raviolis into the boiling water for about 1 ½  mins, they will come up to the surface when they are ready. Lift them out of the water with a slotted spoon and slip them into the butter then onto a warm plate. Repeat for the other portions then pour the spare butter over the raviolis on the plates and garnish with the sprigs that you set aside earlier.

Yum!

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!