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Monday, 20 June 2011

Sausages for a not so summery solstice

The weather here is far more like November than June, the heating and the lights are on and I'm in the mood for comfort eating. Something like sausages and mash except...I'm not a big fan. While onion gravy definitely helps, my preference for a hearty, sausage based meal is one with big, fresh flavours which Italian cooks use simply and there's no way I'd be heading out to the shops in weather as horrid as this, so what can I do with what I have in the cupboards/freezer?

The starting point is George Bower's excellent pork sausages, store cupboard tinned tomatoes (I would have used homegrown if we had a greenhouse) and rosemary from the soggy garden. And, as I seem to be somewhat addicted to it, Bower's smoked streaky bacon.

As a replacement or alternative to mash, I also found several odd tins of beans lurking in the cupboard- this time canellini, red kidney and borlotti but I've also tried it with black eyed, so really whatever you have in the way of beans (maybe not baked). You can of course use dried as long as you soak them first.

I first made this on a similarly rainy evening and this seemed a fitting day to post.

Here's my how to:

Serves 6.

You will need:
10 pork sausages, pricked
5 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, chopped roughly (optional)
2 tins of plum tomatoes
1 (400g) tin borlotti beans, drained
1 (410g) tin red kidney beans, drained
1 (410g)tin canellini beans, drained
300ml vegetable or chicken stock
5 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 carrots (shredded savoy cabbage also works well if you have some lying around), chopped in chunks
2 sticks of celery, chopped roughly
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of dried chilli, finely chopped
Lashings of Italian olive oil

Gently fry the sauasges alone in a frying pan (this gives them a good chance for proper browning before adding them to the stew).

In the casserole pan, heat the garlic, chilli and a glug of oil.

Add the bacon, give it a few miniutes.

Add the celery and carrots, allow them to cook until softening.

Add the beans and tomatoes along with the stock and heat to simmering. Simmer for ten minutes then add the sausages and rosemary and allow the stew to thicken on a low heat.

This should take ten - 25 minutes or enough time to clear up and set the table or settle a good baby to sleep and write a quick blog post.

You don't need to be too precise with timings at the last stage as long as you keep an eye on it, the stew won't spoil, it'll just be thicker if you leave it a little longer.

When you're ready, serve up with some garlic bread and a large glass of red.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Tis the season for elderflower cordial

For the last week or so in Edinburgh, creamy white elderflowers are bursting into bloom in gardens, woodlands and wastelands alike. If you're feeling resourceful, not too bothered by bugs and fancy some easy foraging, go pick some and boil up this delicious sweet, summery cordial.

We followed Pam Corbin's recipe (originally from River Cottage) in her book Preserves.

Makes about 2 litres.

You will need:

About 25 elderflower heads (best when just blooming)
Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice
1kg sugar (more or less to taste)
1 heaped tsp citric acid (readily and cheaply available from pharmacies)

What to do:

Vigorously shake the elderflowers, outside, to get rid of most of the bugs (resist rinsing).
Place the heads in a bowl with the zest.

Boil 1.5 litres of water and pour over the flowers and zest.
Cover and leave overnight to infuse.
Strain the liquid through muslin (or a pair of tights if you don't have any) into a saucepan.
Add the sugar, fruit juices and citric acid (this is optional, it adds a slight bitterness and helps the cordial to last longer).

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then simmer for a couple of minutes.
Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles and seal.

Will keep for a couple of weeks as is.

Chris's top tips
  • Gather the flowers when dry.
  • Don't get too carried away (or there'll be no berries later in the year).
  • This is really easy and inexpensive to make.
  • Suitable for freezing.
  • Don't be too fastidious about the bugs, any that don't escape with shaking, will be boiled up and strained out! You really won't notice...
  • Don’t be put off by colour when soaking the elderflowers – once drained it looks better and tastes great!
  • Try serving with fruit salad, dilluted with water (still or sparkling) or even cava or champagne.
  • Apparently, you can also make delicious ice cubes, granita or ice lollies (if the sunshine ever returns). Here's hoping...

Please share your tips or serving suggestions too.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The one with no running water and some belly dancers

After food, and maybe babies, wedding are definitely my most favourite thing to daydream about.

Seeing the huge variety and individuality other people display as they celebrate a marriage is a wonderful source of inspiration.

It's also a pleasure to work with brides, grooms and in this instance bridesmaids to be to create a personal and apt feast for a gathering of sophicticated and fun hens. We do hen dos, don't you know.

Here the food needed to reflect the bride to be's food passion, she runs a bakery you see (no pressure). We knew in advance that a seated dinner for the hens was not going to be possible due to space but a help yourself buffet wasn't what the chief hen had in mind either. We also needed to accomodate hens travelling from far and wide and arriving at various times throughout the evening. Although we didn't know it in advance, we'd also be working with no running water (arrghh) and serving under and over veiled dancers!

We started with a canape and cocktail hour. Each hen got to keep their cosmo glass as a momento!

And moved on to starter, an anti pasti plank which included Manchego cheese and quince jelly, aged Parmesan with chestnut honey, bread sticks with rosemary hummus and Dolcelatte mousse, rosemary flatbread, roasted Mediterranean vegetables, lemon courgettes.

This was followed by bowl food, a duo of risottos - Squash, sage, Dolcelatte risotto and

Prosecco, asparagus risotto, parmesan crisps, simple green salads and homemade ciabatta.

And finished with affagoto (in line with the Italian theme)...

...and then, with full bellies, some dancing!

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