Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Help me, I'm a vegetarian

Artisan hand-reared pork sausages served in a red wine jus with creamy potatoes. AKA bangers & mash.

One of my favourite meals and the dish we've decided to serve every Christmas day from now on.

The decision came after yet another 25th December involving frantic sweaty hours in the kitchen dangerously festooned with ribbons and bows from the prezzies of generous gift giving rellies, followed by a table groaning with a collection of dishes that we never normally eat. Enough. No more sad dry Turkey (for me, sad dry nut something) undercooked roasts and overcooked brussells. Bangers & mash is the way forward.

I need to be honest here. This isn't me or my kitchen.
But the model is wearing a CG apron and using the
CG Chef's Cloth - both critical elements of this recipe!
But how to cook it? And what am I, 20-years a vegetarian, doing writing down a recipe for a dish involving dead animals? Well, I think it's ok as long as the pigs were happy.

If I hadn't been veggie for so long (and if we had enough acerage for a small holding, and someone else chose who was going for slaughter,  and I never actually had to look the little piggies in the eye knowing they were going to demise) then, maybe, I'd actually eat the stuff myself... Who am I kidding? That's never going to happen. But I'm not a fascist and I'm quite happy to share a dinner table with people who do. As long as you don't put your fork anywhere near anything that's going on my plate.

So, how to do it? I've created the following myself - I think. If I've inadvertently stolen the idea from another recipe I read many moons back then I can only apologise. But, it's so rough and ready that I'm pretty sure no self-respecting chef is going to try and claim it.

I've tried it out on numerous guests (as I said, it is one of our favourite meals) and it works equally well with veggie sausages - Quorn seem to work best. Not sure why as they're not my favourite veggie bangers but there you go.

You'll need...
  • Enough sausages - happy/organic/veggie - to feed your guests
  • Lots of potato for the mash + plenty of butter
  • A bottle of decent red wine - cheap stuff really doesn't work. We've tried.
  • Some sage - a couple of sprigs will do
  • Bouillon
  • Bisto gravy granuals (I said it was rough and ready)
  • Couple of decent sized onions - softened in butter and olive oil with half a spoonful of brown sugar
  • 1 large savoy cabbage - finely shredded and cooked in a big pan with olive oil, butter, a pinch of good chilli flakes, salt, pepper and a couple of cloves of garlic
What to do...

Brown the sausages in a large roasting pan on top of the hob. The pan should comfortably hold the sausages but not so they're looking lonely and forlorn. When they're nicely coloured (but not cooked through), pour in the red wine so they're more or less submerged. Add a sprinkling of bouillon and the sage - I sometimes throw in a couple of bay leaves too. Not sure if they add anything but I just like going to get them from the garden.

Bung the pan in the oven at about gas mark 5 for half-an-hour to 40 minutes. You'll know they're ready when the wine has reduced and thickened. The joy about this dish is that you can leave it for longer if your guests are late or you forget you're meant to be doing the lunch.

Meanwhile make the mash, the onions and the cabbage. I generally put the mash in an oven dish and stick it in the bottom of the oven. 

Remove the sausages from the now thickened jus and pop them back in the cooling oven with your plates to keep warm. Quickly heat through the cabbage and onions that you've already prepared and stir some gravy granuals (I know, I know, it's so low brow) into the red wine. Season to taste. And Bob, as they say, is your uncle.


You'll need to trust your instincts with this recipe - it's definitely not Delia's sure fire moment by moment approach but it does work and it will taste scrummy.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The soup kitchen

Every time my mother rings I seem to be making soup
When I left my job in the city I decided I was only going to make jam, grow my own vegetables and be the perfect mother. Foolish woman. I quickly realised that all those years working in an office had done something irreparable to my psyche. The urge to work, and not just in a lovely ‘creating the ideal home’ type of way, was just too strong.
Seduced by thoughts of yummy mummies cheerfully balancing the school run with a few happy hours making cup cakes to sell to an ever expanding public I decided soup was the way forward. I like it, I make a mean bowl of leek and potato, and I seem to spend a large amount of time doing it anyway.
Cue music… frothy coffees, radio 4 and generally having a lovely time with my friend Jo, coming up with recipes, trying other brands and creating the perfect company name – Soup Dragon (for kids) was the favourite.
Shortly after that, however, came the realisation that our plans for blitzing the soup market were a bit thin. Certainly when compared to a hearty winter warmer. The market is pretty much saturated and there really are an awful lot of very clever people out there already making delicious flavours. And, to be honest, in a taste test, I often preferred theirs.
BUT! We hadn’t chopped our way through a mountain of parsley and sage for nothing. Through all the blending and tasting came another realisation… most of the aprons, tea-towels and oven gloves we owned were, not to put too fine a point on it… RUBBISH!
And there was born the germ of an idea.
We decided to keep soup for lunch rather than business and create delicious kitchen textiles instead.
Grown-up designs, little innovations, aprons that fit and flatter, tea-towels that actually dry dishes, oven cloths that properly protect. Products that look, feel and behave like they should.
In other words, beautiful things that work.
The decision to make eveything in England was not taken lightly. We could save money and manufacture in China, but that’s not the point. We’re not on a mission but with cheap imports decimating our British textile market it just seemed wrong to make them anywhere else. And we do it really well here in Blighty. Plus, if it can help, in some small way, to support our floundering economy and reduce unecessary textile miles then that’s got to be a good thing too.
We started off testing out a few ideas on friends, foodies and focus groupers. Honest feedback can be hard to take. It was only when the third consecutive focus group gave our artful, witty washing line print the thumbs down that we decided perhaps we wouldn’t go ahead with it after all…
Our inspiration comes from simplicity. There’s a part of me that loves antique floral designs but they’re everywhere and we wanted to keep things clean and gorgeous. A timeless quality that’s not determined by fashion or fads. We want our products to spend their lifetime happily in the kitchen, doing what they’re meant to do and not being ousted because everything’s in mustard this year, dahling.
So… Fabrics are natural. Colours are rich but not overpowering. Aprons are cut generously to fit and flatter. Waist ties are longer than average (to tie in front or behind). Women's aprons are adjustable (to suit any décollotage). Men's pockets are tapered (a must for manly hands). And our little innovations help make kitchen life that little bit easier too. Things like our Toggle On – a handy kitchen cloth that hooks on your apron toggle, so it’s always where you need it.
We also feel, strongly, that the kitchen is a shared domain. There are no prints of naked Greek gods or amusing captions that just seem designed to offset an ill-perceived assumption that men don’t really belong in the kitchen.
So, one year on from making those first batches of soup, here I am with a small but gorgeous range of kitchen textiles, and new lines already in development. Jo, sadly, decided that the work/home juggle was too big a compromise. So it’s just me, a very supportive husband, an understanding 10-year old and a job that demands attention 24-hours a day. You could say that not a lot has changed since giving up corporate life… except for the location (and the pay packet).
But, actually, much has changed. I’m passionate about this new love of mine – it’s creative and demanding and rewarding. And I’ve come to realise that just because some of the things we do around the home might not be that glamorous, like washing up or peeling potatoes, wearing and using beautiful things that work make the whole experience that little bit better.
It’s now time for a spot of lunch. I’ll pop on a pinny and check the fridge… soup perhaps. Oh, that’ll be my mother.