Sausages in cider

This post is dedicated to two different people who, in different ways, inspired this dish which I whipped up for Iris (and me!) last night.

First person: I used to play bass in rock bands (something I’d love to find the time to do again!). The first band I played in, Innocence (in a sense), featured a slightly mad drummer called Tom. He used to live a bit out in the sticks, so I’d head round there, we would jam and try and steal his dad’s collection of Belgian beers. His mum was a great cook, and would feed us while we were playing. I used to love a sausage casserole she made, probably helped by the fact that the name of the dish was amusing to y 15 year old brain (still is, if I am honest!) – this is my attempt at replicating it.

The other dedicatee (that word didn’t get spell-checked, which is a shame as I thought I had invented it) is a chap called Greg who lives over the road from me. We went round to his house for NYE and he had acquired 20 litres of Haymaker, a magnificent Welsh cider (Greg’s from Wales originally). For some strange reason, we didn’t finish it that night and (for some even stranger reason) Greg has decided not to drink for the rest of January, so I am currently the proud custodian of the remaining 5 litres or so.

Anyway, on with the recipe. Obviously you can make this meaty or otherwise depending on the sausages you use. Whichever you go with, make sure they are decent quality – and you want simple, pork sausages, not something crazy like wild boar and marmite flavour. Veggie ones – the Cauldron range would work well here I think. Serves fourish depending on how hungry you are; it doubles pretty easily if you need.

1 tablespoon or so of olive oil

6 sausages

3 large shallots

1 punnet mushrooms

2 tablespoon of flour

1 pint medium cider

half a pint of hot water

Brown the sausages in the oil first (leave them whole for this bit – for some reason they don’t seem to brown as well once chopped up). Then turn the heat down a bit, and cook the shallots and mushrooms in the same pan. Take the sausages out and cut then into chunks (NOTE THEY WILL BE HOT AND FULL OF HOT LQUID – BE CAREFUL!). Chuck them back in the pan, turn the hear right down and stir in the flour. It will probably all clump up a bit but don’t worry. Cook it gently for about 30 secs, then pour the cider in bit by bit (keep stirring) and increase the heat. Once it’s gently bubbling, add the hot water. Leave it gently bubbling away for about 30 mins or so, stirring every few minutes. It should all thicken up nicely. Serve it with some rice or mashed potato and some nice steamed veggies on the side.

If you want to jazz it up a bit, some thyme or a spoon or two of whole grain mustard works well. I left this stuff out for Iris’s sake but chucked some mustard into mine. Nice.

A fine winter warmer – and all the alcohol from the cider boils off so even if you are doing Dry January, you will suffer no cider-fects (sorry!).



Pissaladiere (ish)

Did you know Jus-Rol pastry doesn’t have any dairy in it? Useful to know. I cooked Beef Wellington for a Christmas meal with my family on the 30th, using all-butter pastry but made Salmon Wellington for Jo using Jus-Rol. I had some sheets of pastry left so I knocked up a quick canapé type thing with it for a NYE party we went to. It’s based very loosely on a recipe I saw ages ago for something called “pissaladiere’ and always fancied doing. This is as easy as making pizza from a base, and you can vary the toppings according to your audience (vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore!). I believe the ‘true’ pissaladiere is filled with very slowly cooked and caramelised onions and then criss-crossed with anchovies, hence the ‘ish’.

Take a sheet of puff pastry, place on some baking parchment on a baking tray. Score with a sharp knife all the way round about half an inch in from the edge – this will let the outside puff up while the middle is held down by the topping.

Brush the middle area with sun-dried tomato puree, and then arrange some asparagus spears, halved lengthways, in a criss-cross pattern over it. Add some roasted peppers or cherry tomatoes or both.

Bake in a preheated oven according to the pastry instructions or at 180 for about 15 minutes.

Some good variations are swapping the sun-dried tomato puree for pesto (vegan if necessary), or adding some sliced mozzarella or goats cheese (obviously no longer vegan!). I’m a fan of draping some anchovies over as well but that’s not to everyone’s taste!

Slice it into pieces – small for canapés or if you wanted you could serve larger pieces with a dressed salad for a starter or a light lunch.

I would have included a photo but it went too quickly! Sorry!

Finally nailed Victoria Sponge…

I’ve been trying for ages to make a decent Victoria Sponge. It’s a classic, and nothing (apart from maybe a scone with jam and clotted cream!) goes better with a cup of tea. Unfortunately, I’ve not managed up until now to get it to rise properly – it tasted great but was a bit dense. I made a couple of changes this time which made all the difference – I sifted the flour and the sugar to let a bit more air in, I blasted it with an electric whisk, and I cooked it a bit lower. Seemed to work, it’s the best yet!

200g self-raising flour
200g caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
A good splash of vanilla essence
4 eggs
200g Sainsbury’s free-from spread or equivalent, softened
2 tablespoons of milk (rice, almond, soya etc)
Strawberry jam (or another fruit if you prefer!)

Turn your oven on – 170 for a fan oven, about 180 for a normal one. Sift the flour, baking powder and sugar into a bowl. Beat the eggs separately and then add in. Add the softened spread, milk and vanilla and blast with an electric whisk (mix it in a bit first to make sure you don’t spray the kitchen with flour!).

Divide into two greased round cake tins and bake for about 20 minutes. I guess you could do one large one and slice it to jam it but you’d probably have to cook it longer. Get the cakes out of the tins as soon as you can, leave to cool, spread one with jam and stick them together. Slice and we’ve – and don’t forget your cup of tea!


‘Bacon’ brownies

OK, so these aren’t actually made with bacon. I’ve called them Bacon Brownies in  honour of Sarah from my team at work. When she interviewed with us, her ever so slightly northern accent led us to believe she loved ‘bacon’ rather than ‘baking’, which was what she actually said. Anyway, she got through the interview and joined us – and decided to bake us these brownies to prove she wasn’t lying on her CV. They were excellent, so in my attempt to learn to bake I asked for the recipe – so here we go! I’ve made a couple of amendments to the original recipe (in brackets) to render it dairy-free.

Makes about 16 brownies depending on how big you cut them:

75g plain flour

50g cocoa powder

125g caster sugar

50g low fat spread (I used Sainsbury’s FreeFrom which worked perfectly) (plus a smidgen for greasing)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I always go heavy on the vanilla extract so a bit more wouldn’t do any harm!)

50g pitted soft prunes (next time I will soak the prunes in hot water before adding for extra moistness. Or I might try cranberries instead. Or both!)

50g Maltesers (I used 70% dark chocolate – actually works really well and lends it an ‘adult’ richness)

2 eggs

1)            Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a square tin (19cm) with a smidgen of the spread

2)            Sift both the flour and cocoa powder into a bowl, adding the sugar and vanilla extract

3)            Crush the Malteasers (Sarah placed them in a sandwich bag and crushed with a rolling pin) and add these to the bowl – if using the chocolate chop it finely or if you can be bothered grate some of it

4)            Chop the prunes finely and add to the bowl

5)            Melt the spread in pan and add this to the bowl along with the beaten eggs

6)            Mix thoroughly and spoon mixture into tin

7)            Place in the oven for 15-20, letting them cool for 10 minutes once removed

8)            Cut into squares and enjoy!

Thanks for your contribution, Sarah!

(photo of my brownies first, Sarah’s second)

'Bacon' Brownies

Sarah's brownies

Daddy bread

I love bread… Who doesn’t? Wonderful stuff! There’s a lot of fuss at the minute about how wheat is not necessarily the best for us, as it is so refined. Not sure about that, but I know there are a lot of people who struggle with wheat – but really miss good bread (let’s face it, most of the gluten-free stuff is not great). A little while back, I started making bread with spelt flour instead of wheat. Spelt is related to wheat, but is apparently a much more primitive and less refined grain. While it does contain gluten and is therefore of no use to coeliacs (sorry guys!), it is apparently more easily digestible and therefore some people who struggle with wheat can cope with spelt. And you know what? I reckon it’s the best bread anyway – as does Iris, who refers to it as Daddy Bread (hence the title of this post). In fact, she’ll be having a sandwich made from it in her lunch tomorrow as I’ve just finished baking a loaf! One of the major benefits for me is that it is best baked on the ‘quick loaf’ setting on your bread maker – so with mine, it is cooked literally in an hour! Fantastic. Anyway, here’s the basic recipe with some variations underneath:

450g spelt flour

1 tablespoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of yeast (one of those sachets is a teaspoon but if you are going to do this regularly getting a tin of yeast is so much easier)

1 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 tablespoon of oil (olive works well, but sunflower/ rapeseed gives a better texture and it stays fresher longer)

400ml of warm water (try 100ml boiled to 300ml straight from the tap

Chuck it in your bread maker in that order and set it off on your shortest cycle (an hour or so ideally). Job done!


Obviously you can take it out before it bakes (about half-way through on my machine) and make rolls – or it makes a fabulous pizza base!

I normally use wholegrain spelt flour, but you can get white spelt, which makes a lighter loaf. Any ratio of the two mixed seems to work just fine – half and half is perfect…

One of my favourites is to add in two tablespoons of caraway seeds and two tablespoons of poppy seeds. I love the flavour of caraway, and the poppy seed gives an awesome crunch.

Daddy bread

Bread made with spelt flour instead of wheat

Give it a go – it is blooming awesome!

Jubilee coleslaw

In Greek and Roman times, the colour purple was associated with royalty, and only worn by emperors or senior members of the Senate, as it was so expensive to produce. It was made from milking sea-snails for a particular secretion which produced a purple dye – 12000 snails for one garment!

We had a few people round for a BBQ for the jubilee, so I decided our coleslaw should be purple in the Queen’s honour. You’ll be pleased to know I didn’t use sea snails to get the colour! It was really popular, so I promised to blog it – for those who came to the BBQ and demanded the recipe, here you go!

A kilo of carrots (you’re going for sweetness here, so fresh and preferably organic is good)
One red cabbage
Two onions. The onions are really important – you need to track down sweet onions. Tesco do some good ‘Finest’ ones which I used here. I can’t emphasise how much of a difference using sweet onions makes – this is really the secret ingredient!
An 800g jar of Hellmans mayonnaise – interestingly, the real version is diary-free (although does contain eggs) while the light version includes cream! Go figure…

Peel and grate the carrots, shred the cabbage, discarding the woodier sections near the base. A food processor is useful – Iris very much enjoyed watching the carrots get chopped! Then pulverise the onions. Yes, I do mean pulverise – even though they are sweet, you don’t want to get a surprise large chunk of onion. The finer you can get it, the more uniformly in is distributed. The grater attachment rather than the slicer on your food processor is ideal.

Chuck all the veg in a huge bowl (it will be mixing-bowl size), and stir in the mayo. You probably won’t use all of it, but just keep going until you are happy. I prefer mine reasonably dry. You’ll see that the purple colour of the cabbage leaches out and stains the mayo, making the whole thing purple. Fun, hey?

One of the kids, who, earlier, had been telling me she would rather never eat again than be vegetarian, just ate a whole bowl of it on its own. Must have been good, I guess! Serves about a million, so you might want to save this one for party time.

Happy Jubilee!


My new favourite thing…

We went to visit my little brother in London last weekend. He and his gf, the lovely Vic, live close to Borough Market, so after some lunch and a half of ‘Ale Fresco‘ (punderful!) at The George, we went for a wander round. Iris must have eaten her own body weight in free cheese samples… She loved a cheese from a stall called De Calabria – don’t know what it was called but it was a nice mild sheep’s cheese. I bought some smellier stuff with some impressive crust on the outside….

Anyway, the point of this rambling is to tell you about some wonderful stuff the De Calabria chap had on his stall. It’s a mix of extra virgin olive oil, sun dried tomatoes, wild oregano, wild fennel seeds and chilli. It’s just fabulous! The sweetness/saltiness of the tomatoes, the slight aniseed of the fennel and a hit of chilli is a winner! I served it stirred into some spaghetti with some pan-fried trout, steamed tender stem broccoli and carrots. Oh, and a smidgen of that strong cheese, of course! I reckon it would be amazing stirred into some chopped tomatoes and simmered with some red onion and a drop of wine…


If you are passing Borough Market, I thoroughly recommend it… Ian, you know what to get me for my birthday…

Paprika wedges

One of my all-time favourites, this. Another really easy one!

Oven: About 200C

Take about four baking size potatoes, or a larger number of smaller ones (obviously!). Cut them into wedges and chuck them in a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with about a tablespoon of paprika, half that of oregano, and a smattering of sea or rock salt. Mix it all up and bung it in the oven until crispy. Takes about 40 minutes – and you probably want to flip/ stir the wedges (use a flat metal spatula) a couple of times during the cooking. Much tastier, and way healthier than chips!

This should serve four – make more than you need though as they are great cold and dipped into houmous the next day.

Fruit sponge pudding

This is a great recipe, which my wife loves as it doesn’t ‘feel’ vegan. It’s actually pretty healthy – I have a spoonful of Total’s 2% greek yoghurt with it, and Jo has vanilla Swedish Glace – which is awesome and pretty indistinguishable from ice cream. The recipe is based loosely on one that used to be on Jamie Oliver’s website, but messed around with (as I tend to do!).

So, here we go. This is another 180C/ Gas Mark 4 one – and again it works really well on the bottom of the oven. I use a small casserole dish for this, but you could cook the apples in a saucepan and transfer to a baking dish if you rather.

60 grammes of self-raising flour

50 grammes of caster sugar

Two eggs

Zest of one lemon (or two teaspoons of vanilla extract if you prefer)

Six dessert apples (you can use Bramleys, but you will need to add extra sugar – nice to use dessert apples so you don’t have to)

(Optional) Punnet of blueberries

(Optional) Two tablespoons of raspberry jam (I use St Dalfour Rhapsodie de Fruit as it doesn’t have any added sugar but is still really tasty)

Peel and chop the apples, and pop them on the hob on a low heat until they are a bit mushy – about 15 mins. Add the blueberries and jam if you are using, and mix in well. The blueberries give it a great purple colour – well worth it!

Meanwhile, whizz the eggs and the sugar together – a hand-held electric whisk is ideal (don’t get it all over the kitchen!). When it’s fluffy, fold in the flour (a spatula is ideal as you can then use it to scrape out the mixture – saves washing up a spoon as well), and the lemon zest (or vanilla extract).

Spread the mixture over the top of the fruit – try and get it all covered, but don’t worry too much if there are any holes as it looks cool if some of the fruit bubbles up and caramelises.

Bake in the bottom of the oven for about 3o mins, and serve with ice cream, yoghurt or naked (the pudding, not you!).

Roasted roots with chilli jam

This is something I discovered today – pretty simple and the recipe is pretty much the title. This winter, I’ve been doing carrots and parsnips, slow roasted in the oven with olive oil, garlic and a bit of thyme – and adding a spoonful of honey for the last five or ten minutes, which makes them lovely and sweet and sticky.

Today, though, I decided to try something different – I left out the thyme, and at the end I added a bit of some chilli jam I was given for Christmas. It was AWESOME! So, here goes with the recipe:

Three parsnips

Four carrots

A tablespoon of olive oil

Two cloves of garlic

Two tablespoons of chilli jam (or to taste!)

Peel and chop the carrots and parsnips into chunks. Chuck them in a roasting dish (I like the LeCreuset dishes as you can serve straight to the table) with the olive oil and chopped garlic. Roast, slowly (180C or slightly less if you have time). I tend to leave them on the bottom of the oven for an hour while roasting something, seems to be the right sort of temperature. Worth checking and stirring occasionally of course! Towards the end, about ten minutes before you want to take them out, stir in a spoonful or two of chilli jam.