Wednesday, 13 June 2012

My favourite weekday recipe - spicy sausage casserole

This recipe has done the rounds with my friends and family. Every person I've shared it with has told me that it's gone on to become a favourite.

I've used it for supper with guests, a restorative meals on wheels for a poorly friend and I've fed it to my Dad. He who was adamant that he didn't eat butter beans, but then I caught him having seconds!

It's nothing special, but it is super quick (half an hour tops), filling and very tasty.

The original recipe can be found here on the rather marvelous BBC GoodFood site.

Spicy sausage and butter bean casserole

  • Spicy sausages, about half a dozen or so (I like to use a mix of Gorno's Toulouse and Spicy Calabrian sausages)
  • Bacon - couple of rashers
  • Leek - one large, sliced
  • Chicken or vegetable stock - about 200ml
  • White wine - glass
  • Garlic - clove (or 2 to your taste)
  • Chilli flakes - half a teaspoon, again to taste
  • Butter beans - 2 tins
  • Parsley - chopped
  1. Brown the sausages and remove to a plate and when cool slice into chunks
  2. Fry the bacon then add the leek and garlic and soften
  3. Return the sausages and add the rest of the ingredients
  4. Simmer until the sausages are cooked through
  5. Add the parsley before serving
Super quick, super easy, super tasty and it needs nothing more than some leaves (spinach is good) and maybe some crusty bread.

When I haven't been able to get spicy sausages, which is always more difficult than you'd think it should be, I'll use the most interesting pork variety I can find, but then I'll vary the herbs and eat it with cheese and bread.

If you do get round to trying it I'd love to hear from you - similarly if you come up with another variation let me know by commenting below!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The One Mile Bakery - Week 3

So we are 3 weeks in and the weather has turned again. It is cold, it is grey it is wet. In other words it is Welsh. It is also post extra long bank holiday weekend during which I have consumed my fair share (and probably your share) of beer, wine and whisky. I need nourishment and comfort in a bowl and with that in mind I had a go at 'encouraging' Elisabeth to tell me what was for tea via Twitter but she was having absolutely none of it.

After last week's weather appropriate soup delivery I was hoping for something warming and Elisabeth didn't disappoint.

Le menu:
  • Harira with rose harissa, lemon and parsley
  • Rye, wheat and white sourdough
  • Fig and walnut sourdough

Before the deliveries started I was sent a few questions. What food don't you like? Are you vegetarian? What is your all time favourite soup? I was pathetically unable to limit myself to just one favourite soup but one of my comments was 'I love spice, the more the better!' and if there is such a thing as a food based spice gauntlet (that sounds kind of wrong) then this was it!

Before I start I have to warn you that I absolutely LOVED everything in the bag this week. I know I've been pretty positive about The One Mile Bakery so far, but this week has been the best yet.

We went to Marrakech for a long weekend last year and happened to be there during Ramadan. If you have been the you will know that Ramadan, in Marrakech, in August is no joke; fasting during the long summer days and heat take their tole on the locals. Harira is what most people eat to break the fast which should tell you everything you need to know. As soon as the sun dipped, flasks of harira appeared from under counters, customers were ignored and everything stopped for this soup. Warming, mildly spiced and filling with lentils, chickpeas and vermicelli, the addition of a wonderful, vibrant pink rose harissa took it to a whole new level. A squeeze of lemon and some fresh parsley finished the bowl nicely. Needless to say I had 2 helpings.

There were 2 loaves again this week and we had an exceptionally tasty rye, wheat and white sourdough with the soup. Packed full of flavour this is the kind of bread that works equally well on its own with nothing more than some of the quality salted butter I bought at Riverside Market a couple of weeks ago. I might have been unable to resist munching the crust end of the loaf with butter after my 2 helpings of soup.

The other loaf, a small walnut and fig sourdough I immediately had pegged for cheese and this is how I had it, topped with goats cheese and some fig chutney for tea on Friday and again for lunch on Saturday.

You should be, it was really, really good.

The One Mile Bakery single handedly ruined my diet last week. Thanks Betty.

On to week 4
Back to week 2

The Social Restaurant - review

I think we are all familiar with fate of The Crown Social by now, the naked ambition for a Michelin star for Cardiff that got us all very excited last year. I went (review here) and was underwhelmed. A flawed concept (shared poached egg anyone?) alongside inconsistent cooking and service wasn't destined for success and we were all left little deflated and not surprised at all when Martin Blunos and The Parc Thistle parted company after 5 months.

The Crown Social closed and a pared back verion, The Social, opened last autumn under executive chef Iain Inman. It has taken me some time to put to bed memories of my last experience there but when a tempting Travelzoo voucher was made available (£39 for 2 glasses of Prosecco, starters, mains, deserts) I decided it was worth another punt.

As we arrived the restaurant looked quiet through the window but the bar was not with a large group of fairly loud ladies gearing up for a night in town. Sitting in the bar sipping a glass of prosecco and reading the menu, entertainment was provided by the stream of people heading towards St Mary Street dressed in a variety of what I will generously call 'outfits'.

To start:
  • Cured sewin, laverbread puree, crab vinaigrette, shaved fennel, candied lemon and chilli (£8)
  • Red and white onion risotto (£6.50)
Before the starters were delivered a bread board with 3 different breads was brought out. I tried a decent irish soda bread first, followed by a horrid piece of heavy, chewy focaccia that i think may have been raw in places.

Cured Sewin at The Social CardiffRed and white onion risotto at The Social CardiffThe cured sewin was a pretty good start, not a bone in sight, and the candied lemon, chilli and fennel salad was a fresh counterpoint to the fish. The crab vinaigrette felt utterly pointless though and with 2 microscopic blobs on the plate came across as almost stingy.

The onion risotto was good, al dente and strong/sweet with onion. This can also be ordered as a large plate but I suspect it might have been a too one-dimensional to work as a main.

  • Fillet of Usk Valley beef (£25)
  • Rump of Welsh lamb, braised shoulder, smoked aubergine, Nicoise jus (£20)
The beef had a £5 surcharge and came only with mushrooms and red wine jus so we had to order chips on top. Call me crazy but if a main is twenty five quid I don't want to have to pay extra for a fried potato. The mushrooms too were disappointing and turned out to be boring old baby button mushrooms.

The lamb dish was a real disappointment. The rump was unevenly cooked with some parts pretty much raw and had quite a lot of indigestible fat. The braise hadn't been cooked long enough and was unpleasantly flabby too. The smoked aubergine just tasted burned and wasn't pleasant to my taste.

  • Pithvier [sic] of dark chocolate, milk chocolate mousse, white chocolate ice cream
  • Board of Welsh cheeses 
Pithivier of dark chocolate at The Social CardiffThings did improve with the desserts. We disagreed about the chocolate pithivier which I think had used salted butter in the pastry. I liked the saltiness but he was less sure. The white chocolate ice cream was very good.
Welsh Cheese Board at The Social Cardiff

I had the Welsh cheeses, Perl Las, Caerphilly and 2 others that I can't remember (sorry), a generous amount of good quality cheese, biscuits and chutneys.

The service was good and the front of house team know what they are doing. They were keen to make sure that their customers enjoyed and when I asked some questions about the aubergine on the lamb dish the Maitre d' was very happy to chat and even went so far as to take it upon himself to bring another  spoonful so I could taste it again - above and beyond the call of duty!

For the second time I left The Social feeling a little let down and here's the issue. If we had been paying full price the total bill would have come to somewhere around £120 for 2 people - a significant sum in anyone's book. As it was, with the voucher, we paid a more realistic £66 for the quality of the meal we had.

According to its own press releases, The Social is still ambitious which is laudable but with venues like The Park Plaza and The Parkhouse Club having recently launched new menus in the same space and within walking distance the competition's hotting up.

Crown Social (Parc Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The One Mile Bakery - week 2

Continuing my adventure of soup and sourdough from The One Mile Bakery this was the delivery for week 2, a rare week of glorious May sunshine, not the ideal weather for soup you may say but think again...

Le menu:
  • Spring minestrone with mint and almond pesto
  • Wild garlic loaf
  • Seeded rye sourdugh

Minestrone being the italian version of our Cawl, a whole meal in a bowl with as many varities as there are seasons, I was intrigued to lift the lid on the biodegradeable packaging and see what was in the pot. This spring version was beautifully fresh with green beans, artichoke and peas and pasta shells all bobbing about in a light stock.

As with week 1, the garnish added a whole new dimension, fresh mint freckling the stock and livening up the bowl.

We chose the (locally foraged) wild garlic loaf to go with the soup. This was a plain loaf marbled through with a wild garlic pesto, a subtle, almost sweet flavour that suited the delicate soup well.

The other of the 2 small loaves in the package was a seeded rye sourdough loaf that was as dense and heavy as a brick and made an excellently filling breakfast spread generously with last weeks jam. A thick slice of that kept me happily going until lunchtime and the loaf lasted me all week!

2 deliveries to go...

On to week 3
Back to week 1

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The One Mile Bakery - week 1

The humble loaf has been a contentious topic in recent years with many people claiming gluten and wheat intolerances and swearing off bread as the cause of bloating and weight gain. In a 'Newton's third law of motion' kind of way there is an equal and opposite reaction in the form of those who are advocates for real bread. That is to say bread not made using the vilified ‘Chorleywood bread process’.

These advocates include anyone from artisan bakers to households throwing a few ingredients into a breadmaking machine of a weekend. This bread is the stuff that we homosapien have been eating for 30'000 years and is very different to the 10+ ingredient  offerings available in most shops.

Into this space steps One Mile Bakery, a micro bakery selling and delivering breads, soups and jams and run by bread enthusiast Elisabeth Mahoney (who also does a nice side-line in radio and theatre reviews).

The business model is this: you buy a subscription in a bread/soup/jam configuration that works for you and if you live in Canton, Pontcanna or Llandaff you get a weekly delivery of fresh, seasonal produce. The delivery is a 'doorstep surprise'™ but it will be handmade and different each week.
The beautifully designed and photographed site launched 3 weeks ago and it’s fair to say that I was poised with my PayPal account as the site went live and was I think (?) the first person to order.
This should tell you which side of the bread divide I am on. I LOVE bread but find the supermarket stuff hard to digest and have avoided it for the last few years.
I went for a 1 month sourdough and soup package which contains 2 sourdough loaves, 2 other loaves and 4 soups across a 4 week period for £22. So that you get a good sense of what a month of products involves, I'll post a blog showing you the delivery each week.

Week 1
It’s fair to say that I was quite excited about my first delivery and more than a little curious about the contents. What I received was:
·        Cream of asparagus soup
·        Hazelnut pesto & asparagus spears garnish
·        Pain de Campagne
·        Kalamata olive, pecorino and herb breadsticks
·        Strawberry, rhubarb, French vanilla and lavender jam (the jam was an added first week bonus for being an early adopter)

All the packaging (bar the stickers) is compostable and can be put into the food recycling caddy which keeps the 'ethical credentials' high.

The soup portions were enormous, more than enough for 2, fresh and vibrant with asparagus and spinach. At first I thought it was a tiny bit under-seasoned but then I realised that the soup is seasoned taking the garnish into account and the addition of hazelnut pesto soon sorted that out!

The pain de campagne was reserved for the jam. Ooh, the jam! This for me was the best bit and I will definitely be adding jam to my next order. This was a super condensed strawberry flavour with a kick of rhubarb and mellow vanilla reminiscent of rhubarb and custard sweets. I couldn't really taste lavender but that didn't detract in the slightest. That jam with a piece of toasted bread is a fabulous way to start the day.
The bread itself with a light but firm crumb was tasty and filling, a good foil for both the soup and the jam (and the cheese and the humous that I had the following night!)

I am a week behind with my posts so the next 2 will follow quickly!

On to week 2
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