Have sausages, will casserole (Pork and pigeon with root veg)

Pork and pidgeon sausage and root veg casserole served with rice cooked with borlotti beans

I’ve been quite busy recently…. which is not something I can complain about, but being a musician, being busy means being out at night (or out on tour), either of which seriously curtails your activities in the kitchen.

Even though eating in nice (and sometimes not so nice) restaurants can be a very agreeable way of life, after a while, I do start to feel a deep seated craving to make a homecooked meal, prepared at leisure, with a glass of wine at my side, listening to something good on the radio (apart from when I turn on the extractor fan, which tends to put paid to my being able to hear anything else going on…), and enjoying the anticipation of what’s to come.

So last Friday, I was unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised to hear that the gig I was supposed to be doing that evening had been cancelled at short notice, but with full pay, which effectively awarded me a paid day off (always a cause for a minor celebration).

My thoughts, of course, immediately turned to what I would cook with my newly acquired evening of leisure.
Seeing as summer seems to be well and truly over here (not that we had much of one anyway) I thought I’d prepare a rustic and comforting casserole using some pork and pigeon sausages I had stashed in the freezer for just such an occasion, and a variety of root vegetables from the local market.

Here’s what I did:

First I gathered all my veg ready for preparation:
Onion, leek, garlic, carrot, celery, parsnip, small turnips,  and beetroot.

Root vegetables at the ready

When all had been suitably peeled and chopped, I sweated them down in a little butter and oil:

Sweating down the veg

Fresh beetroot turns everything red, including my hands and the chopping board:

Red stains

As you can see above, I also added some bayleaves.
While the veg was sweating down, I browned off the sausages:

Browning the sausages

Then added the sausaged into the pan with the veg:

Add the sausages to the veg when suitably browned

Added a glass of red wine (a robust Italian Merlot in this case):

Add the wine

Added some beef stock (sadly not fresh stock this time, but from a cube, albeit an organic one with no MSG):

…and added a good few glugs of Worcestershire Sauce:

Add a few glugs of Worcestershire Sauce

Then stir gently, cover and leave to simmer for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours

Stir this then cover this and leave to simmer

About 15 mins before serving, I added a bunch of fresh sage:

Fresh sage

Chopped it finely and added it to the casserole. It was quite a lot of sage. Too much could make a dish bitter, but in this case there was so much sweetness from the root veg that it balanced out very nicely:

Add the sage to the casserole...

I made a simple rice dish with borlotti beans and herbs to serve this with. The sausages were extremely good. I always think pidgeon has a similar texture to lambs liver and I could detect this in the sausages. I always feel slightly cheated if I don’t find at least one piece of lead shot in my food while eating game. Luckily I found a bit (but didn’t bit on it…phew..).
The root veg, as said before, lent a delicious sweetness to the sauce. Beetroot is always a treat, and the small turnips were a revelation. They had a smell when raw that was ever so slightly horseradishy, and they kept their texture in the final casserole.

All in all a successful start to the autumn I think….

Served out with rice cooked with borlotti beans...

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A Tale Of Two Risottos

Mushroom risotto and risotto with chorizo, paprika picante, peas, courgettes and sage

It’s true what they say. It really is all in the stock.
Well, I’m not sure whether they do say that, or indeed who “they” are meant to be be, but I recently made two risottos that turned out to be the finest I’ve ever cooked by a long way (indeed, it was some of the most flavoursome food I’ve ever cooked, of any variety), and I’m pretty convinced it was largely down to the quality and depth of the stock.
Obviously, every time I  roast a chicken, I endeavour to make stock the next day. But the last time, I think I was going to away for a few days following, so I froze the carcass instead.
Then, there were a couple of barbecues where I grilled a generous quantity of chicken wings over charcoal, and I elected to save and freeze the bones from these also.
I also had a few uncooked chicken wings in the freezer.
So the other week, after a visit to the Farmer’s Market the previous Sunday, and picking up a collection of delicious mushrooms, I decided to make the stock and a nice risotto.
First thing was to make the stock, using the above mentioned chicken lefovers, 2 onions, 2 carrots, 2 sticks of celery, a few bay leaves and a handful of peppercorns.

Stock ingredients, assembled and ready for a good gentle simmer.

I brought this up to the gentlest of simmers, and then vacated the kitchen for about 7 hours. (I went out to a rehearsal actually, and forgot I had some stock on. This turned out to be a fortuitous mistake).
When I returned, I remembered I had left the stock on, so strained it and was left with this delicious and concentrated golden chickeny nectar:

The stock ready for use.

I then assembled the main ingredients for the risotto, namely mushrooms, parmesan cheese, onion and garlic.

Parmesan cheese, onion, garlic and mushrooms

Now, I didn’t bother to look up the various types of mushrooms, I’m vaguely aware of what some of them are, but if anyone would like to identify them for me on the comments, that would be appreciated.

I roughly chopped up most of the mushrooms, but reserved the darker slender bunch for garnish at the end.

Chopped mushrooms

The next step, before the cooking of the risotto proper was to saute the mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil (in a separate pan), and set them aside. The key here is to saute them just enough that they are cooked, but not so they start losing their water and juice content.

Sauteing the mushrooms

Now for the fun bit. First of all, put the stock in a pot and bring to a very gentle simmer on the stove. Don’t let it boil, as not only will this impair the flavour, but you want to reserve as much as possible, while keeping it hot and ready to ladle into the rice. When you’ve done this soften some butter and oil in a pan and gently saute the onions and garlic until soft, but be careful not to let them brown to much or burn. Then add the rice and saute for a couple of minutes. This process cracks the surface of the rice grains, and enables them to absorb the flavoursome stock later in the cooking process.

Sauteing the rice

When the rice has been sauteing for a couple of minutes, add a glass of white wine, in this case it was a crisp Pinot Grigio:

Add a glass of white wine.

When the wine has been absorbed by the rice it’s time to start adding the stock, one ladle at a time. The important thing here is to keep the rice moving constantly, so the stock is absorbed evenly, without the rice sticking to the bottom.

Adding the stock

I tend to stir in a rough “figure of eight” type pattern, as you can see from the action shot below. I find this keeps everything moving in a satisfactory manner.

Stirring

When the rice acquires a nice plump appearance, it’s almost done and time to add the mushrooms. If you taste a grain, it should be al dente but not quite done.

Rice almost done

Add the previously sauteed mushrooms at this stage and stir through.

Add the mushrooms

This is now the time to saute the mushrooms reserved for the garnish. I used the pan just vacated by the previously sauteed mushrooms….

Saute the garnish mushrooms

While these are sauteing away happily, add the grated parmesan cheese to the risotto and stir through:

Add the cheese...

Only after adding the cheese did I test and adjust for salt, seeing as the cheese adds so much salt from itself.
By this time the garnish mushrooms should be nicely browned, so take them off the heat.

Garnish mushrooms

All that’s left now is to serve up with a glass of the aforementioned crisp Pinot Grigio.
The risotto was everything you would expect: rich, creamy, unctuous, satisfying, comforting (I’m trying not to sound too much like Nigella or Nigel here)….

Risotto served...

A couple of days later, I still had half of the chicken stock left. It had been in the fridge, so now had taken on a jellified form. I had to exercise a considerable amount of willpower to stop myself from just eating it with a spoon.

Jellified chicken stock

When I had mastered my desire, I decided a suitable course to take to use the stock would be another risotto, but of a completely different nature to the previous one. I settled on chorizo with smoked paprika picante, with fresh peas, courgettes and a fried sage garnish.
You could argue I suppose that a risotto with chorizo and especially paprika in it is more of a Spanish than Italian dish, but I’m afraid I’m no great respecter of tradition where food is concerned. If I can use what’s in my fridge and make it tasty, I’ll make any ingredient from anywhere into any dish of any description.
First thing I did was to place the chorizo sausages in a separate pan for an initial browning, to make them easier to slice up:

Chorizo

Cooked them until they were this brown:

Browned chorizo

The sausages were then chopped and fried in a pan with onion and garlic, and to this I added a teaspoon of the delicious smoked paprika picante.

Fry the sliced chorizo with chopped onion and garlic, and add the smoked paprika picante..

When the paprika was fried for a minute or two, I took the pan off the heat and set my stock on to simmer:
I then prepared my veg. First shelled some nice fresh peas:

Shelled fresh peas

…and chopped some organic courgettes from the Farmer’s Market:

Chopped courgettes

I then put the pan containing the sausages back on the heat and added the rice. When the rice had received it’s initial frying, I again added a nice  glug of Pinot Grigio.

Add the wine

When the wine had been completely absorbed by the rice, I added the peas and courgettes, and started to stir in the stock:

Adding the stock

This time I did take a break of a few seconds while stirring in order to chop some fresh sage.
I chopped most of the leaves and reserved a few to fry for the garnish.

Fresh sage

When the rice was pretty much done, I added in the fresh sage:

Adding the fresh sage...

While the sage was warming through the risotto, I fried the remaining leaves in a little olive oil for a garnish until crisp. This only takes a few seconds:

Frying the sage...

The Risotto was now ready to serve out, garnished with the sage and, again, a glass of the afore mentioned Pinot Grigio.
It was wholly delicious, the chorizo adding an earthy meaty flavour to the already rich chicken stock with the peas and courgettes retaining a freshness and the sage a very agreeable subtle crunch.

The risotto served out....

I can say one thing for sure at the end of all this. It’s worth freezing your chicken bones… 🙂

A bit of holiday cooking (and reading)

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

I do like to read.

So when the opportunity came up to visit my parents, brother, sister, brother in law and niece and nephew at a nice villa in the South of France (Languedoc) the other week I jumped at the chance.
The idea was that while not contributing to the holiday per se, I would cook for everyone, thus saving money overall on the inevitable meals out and takeaways which would have otherwise drained the financial resources.

The problem with reading for me is that, doing what I do, there are really no set hours for work and relaxation as such.
This last year and a half or so, I seem to have been touring rather a lot (Us3, Jim Mullen, Marlena Shaw, Mica Paris, Boy George – each different band presents a different dynamic as to convenient reading opportunities) and although, as you can imagine, there is sometimes a lot of sitting around, I tend not to get through too many books on the road, the main inhibiting factors being (not necessarily in this order):

  • Alcohol – although a couple of drinks sometimes enhance my enjoyment of a book, one too many and I can’t remember what I’ve read when sobered up.
  • Travel –  I can’t read in a car or a minibus, and although it is possible to read on the tourbus, there’s too often distracting activity like DVD watching, animated conversation or the aforementioned  alcohol in commencement at any one time.
  • Noise – A lot of sitting around can occur in soundchecks, but have you ever tried to read with a bass drum or tom tom being played repetitively at high volume through a large PA for the purposes of equalization?
  • Cabin fever – I tend to find it difficult to read for prolonged periods when confined to a small space like a hotel room.
  • Unsettlement – At airports waiting for the gate number to appear, one is always looking up at the screen in the waiting lounge, thus providing an unwelcome break in concentration.
  • Unsocial flight times – A fair amount of flights that we take are often very early in the morning, so while reading on the plane is an option, I’m more likely to want to sleep if possible.

And when at home I equate reading with not doing something constructive (not quite true I know), so I’m much more likely to get to work in the studio or at the piano.
I can get really into reading first thing in the morning (a couple of years ago I got through quite a few Iris Murdoch books just this way), but it does tend blunt my concentration for a couple of hours afterwards, as well as taking up half the day so I rarely do this anymore.

SO when the opportunity came up to go on the holiday, the first thing I did was get the books I wanted to read. Last year I did the same thing, but took the wrong book (I took Crime and Punishment – and while I enjoyed reading the book as a whole, I remember being aware that it didn’t necessarily equate to my idea of relaxing by the pool with a beer)

I took 3 books with me this time:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird – we read this at school I’m sure, but like a lot of things at school, I didn’t invest much attention or effort to it. Reading it again was a much more enjoyable experience.
  • The Life of Pi – couldn’t put this down. Very imaginative, humorous, informative, entertaining, and also lots of references to South Indian food – which is always a good thing.
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Am halfway through this at the moment. Thoroughly engrossing characterizations and fascinating historical perspective.

I also did a lot of cooking. The ingredients and produce available at even the most humble French supermarkets always has me fascinated and brimming with ideas (however, since most of the people I was cooking for were not nearly as wildly liberal or adventurous in taste as myself, I was unable to realize many of these ideas).

But I endeavored to make some nice grub anyhow.

Here’s what I cooked:

Sausage and cheese frittata

When I arrived on the Sunday, we discovered all the supermarkets were closed, so I had to rustle something up from what was in the villa already, and what we could acquire from a local service station shop. There was a box of 6 eggs in the villa along with some herbs, and olive oil, and not much else. The service station sold packs of luncheon meat style sausage, and some nice looking Cantal Juene cheese, which is a young cow’s milk cheese, firm in texture and fruity in flavour. I sliced and fried the sausage, drained the fat from the pan, put the sausage meat in once again and added the beaten eggs with some herbs and black pepper. My intention was to then add the grated cheese on top and brown under the grill to cook the top of the eggs and cheese. But… we then discovered that the grill would only operate with the oven door closed, and I didn’t want to commit the frying pan to this unrelenting heat, so I heated up the oven, then opened it and let the top of the frittata firm up in the residual heat. Not ideal, but did the job OK…. the result being a slightly guey cheese underside to the omelette, which was not at all unpleasant, though a bit messy to cut up…

The next day, we got to the supermarket and stocked up on supplies.

Chicken casserole cooked in white wine with green peppers, olives and bay

The meal that night was a simple but very tasty rustic chicken casserole cooked in white wine and stock, with sliced green peppers, olives, onions, garlic, bay and herbs. It was served with mash potatoes and steamed green beans:

Chicken casserole served with mash and beans

…and accompanied by bread with oil and balsemic vinegar (a constant companion to food that week):

Bread and oil with balsemic

The next morning I made another frittata, this time with sausage and sliced courgettes.
I put the courgettes on the bottom of the pan and the sausages on top, so it appeared like this in the pan:

Sausage and courgette frittata in the pan...

…and took on this lovely appearance when upended onto a plate:

Sausage and courgette frittata

Now before I go any further, I must admit that I did totally steal the idea for an upended courgette frittata from the wonderful blog “Lou Loves Food”  … which is packed with amazing photos and absorbing writing, and I can highly recommend it…. so thanks Lou.. 😉

That evening I decided on making some Indian food ….. yes I’m aware that may not be the most obvious option in the South of France, but my mind was made up as soon as I saw the beautiful mutton on offer in the supermarket. Mutton is a meat less than commonly available in the UK, and it rewards slow patient cooking with the most succulent and flavoursome dishes.

I bought some chopped shoulder (on the bone) pieces to make a curry with tomato and aubergine, and some ribs to make what is known as a “Bone Pepperwater”. This is a meat variation on the standard pepperwater (rasam) which is a soup consistency dish made with tomatoes, lemon, tamarind and spices.

The only problem with all this is that I was somewhat limited in the choice of spices available in the supermarket. I managed to get fresh garlic and ginger, and eventually found a premixed curry powder (not something I normally like to use) which seemed to have a good balance of coriander, cumin, tumeric, mustard and fenugreek in it.

The aubergine in the curry was cooked separately with onions, ginger and garlic (a trick I recently picked up off my mother) and added during the last 1/2 hour, which helps to preserve not only it’s texture, but flavour as well. The curry itself simmered slowly for 5 hours.

Mutton curry with aubergine and tomatoes

The bone pepperwater was made with some fresh vegetables (carrots and courgetttes), plenty of lemon and also some paprika, which I found in the villa. The mutton ribs do add the most amazing stocky earthy flavour to this dish, it must be said.

Mutton "Bone Pepperwater"

After the curry, I thought it would be a good idea to cook fish the next day both from a time and simplicity point of view.
The fish counter at the “Intermarche” was of course vastly superior to my local supermarket.
I eventually settled for some lovely fresh perch fillets, which I roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic  vinegar, bay and salt.
I gave the tomatoes a start of about 15-20 mins in an 180degC oven, then simply popped the perch fillets on top, cooked for a further 10 mins and it was done:

Perch fillets roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and bay..

There was not much need to serve this with anything else but that perennial king of juice mopper-uppers: fresh french bread:

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

The next day was to be barbecue day. However, here I failed in my duty as a blogger and recorder of events since due to the distractions of reading, swimming, table tennis and drinking, I didn’t start the fire in time and so even though I made lots of food, the only picture I managed to take before it went dark was of some balsamic chilli prawns. (I have an iPhone so am unfortunately at the mercy of the light).
Just for the record though, I did also make salmon and courgette kebabs, aubergine and red pepper kebabs, 2 types of sausages and chicken in a Mexican marinade.

Prawns in a balsamic and chilli marinade

One advantage of being in the centre of wine producing country was that there was an abundance of vineyards with completely quaffable red wine on tap at an amazing price. (€1-€1.50 a litre).
Had I the time or opportunity I would have loved to avail myself of some of the delicious looking lambs hearts in the supermarket and braise them in red wine for hours until tender… This meal unfortunately would not have been very popular with the others:

Red wine on tap.....

The final day of cooking was also the least intensive since there was a lot of packing, cleaning of the villa etc to be done before vacating, I opted to cook a simple sausage pasta with a tomato and red wine sauce. Despite appearing fairly ordinary, it was most enjoyable, due to the high quality of the sausagemeat:

Sausage and tomato pasta.....

All in all an enjoyable chance to read, cook, swim and relax…… now, back to the piano I think….

Goose egg!!! (and hens egg) Tortilla (Spanish style omelette)

1 Goose egg and 6 hens eggs

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I was unashamedly excited the other day when I walked into my butchers to find the last of a batch of freshly laid goose eggs lying on the counter.
Needless to say I snapped it up before you could say  Ovo Branta Canadensis.
The fact that I now had a goose egg in  possession only affirmed my notion that the perfect lunch for a rare British summer’s day such as the one we were experiencing, given the contents of my larder (and now my shopping bag) would in fact be a Spanish style omelette commonly known as Tortilla.
Traditionally the basic version of this is made with sliced potato and egg, but as ever, I decided to embellish (or desecrate, depending on whether you’re a purist or not…) the dish and use a few extra ingredients….

I started off with:

  • A small onion
  • A courgette (or zucchini for the Americans amongst you)
  • Asparagus (or asparagus for the Americans amongst you… about 8 stalks… I’d already started chopping by the way..)
  • 3 small potatoes
  • some cherry tomatoes (I only used about 3 or 4 of these)

Ingredients

And some smoked streaky bacon – about 6 rashers -which I sliced up as you can see below:

Bacon

I sliced the potatoes into 1/2 cm slices and par boiled them for 5-7 mins.
Meanwhile I chopped the rest of the ingredients as below……

Chopped ingredients

I also had at hand a few freshly plucked sage leaves from the garden….

Sage

I then fried the bacon in some olive oil for about 5 mins, until the fat started to crisp…

Fried bacon

When the bacon was cooked, I poured out as much of the fat as possible and drained the bacon on some kitchen towel.

Then I used 2-3 tsps of the rendered fat and olive oil from the bowl above to fry/soften/sweat down the vegetables for about 10 mins..

onion, courgette and asparagus in the pan

Meanwhile I prepared the eggs. I used the goose egg and 6 hen’s eggs. In the pic below, you can see the difference in the size of the yolks.

Goose egg and 4 of the hen's eggs

Beat them up….

Beaten eggs (some eggs were harmed in the making of this picture..)

Next I added the potatoes, tomatoes, chopped sage and bacon to the vegetables that had by now softened up nicely in the pan…

Tater's, 'matos and bacon in't pan

Poured in the eggs… and turned on the grill..

Eggs in

After about 10 minutes I could tell the egg had started to set underneath the top liquid layer. To test for this, gentle shake the pan from side to side, and although the top will wobble and slosh, just below it should look fairly solid…

Starting to set

I then put the pan under a medium grill for about 5 mins to set the top. It came out looking like this, ready to serve.

After being under the grill for 5 mins

Now came the most important maneuver of the whole process: getting the tortilla the right side up on a plate.
Having carefully removed the pan from the grill with a cloth due to the hot handle, I let it cool for a minute, since a clumsy accident at this stage would have resulted in the waste of the industrious efforts of the last 1/2 hour, and a precious goose egg…
Finding a plate which neatly matched the size of the pan, I held it over and upended the whole arrangement.

Luckily, it came out as pictured below:

The tortilla, ready to eat...

It had burnt a bit on the bottom as you can see, but in reality, although not to aesthetically pleasing, the onions and veg had caramelised nicely resulting in a sweet nutty flavour.

Although it’s probably best with a crisp green salad, on this occasion I chose to eat it with two generously buttered sliced of white toast. Any complaints about this can be left in the comments at the end of the post…. 🙂

Tortilla and toast...

A South Indian style pork and potato curry cooked with tomatoes and coconut

I was able to go home over Easter this year. Happily it fell conveniently between two tours. Marlena Shaw UK/Europe tour was the couple of weeks leading up and a few days after the Boy George UK tour started (just getting ready for that one now as I write this after the London dates).

I only made it home for 2 days, but was able to help my mother with the cooking a bit over that time. She normally makes a large chicken biryani, dhal and curry (this time it was a mince and cauliflower curry) for the Easter Sunday family meal. On the Saturday I insisted on cooking to give mum a break, so I just had a look what was in, and improvised. Here’s what I came up with. Was nice, although quite spicy. I like the different types of heat that dried red chillies and green chillies bring to the dish. More of a smokey flavour from the red, and a fresher one from the green.

You could easily adjust the amount of chillies for a milder version.

Ingredients:

  • 750g diced pork
  • 3 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 4-5 small dried red chillis
  • 15-20 curry leaves
  • 3 medium onions sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 inch pce ginger chopped
  • 4 green chillis chopped
  • 3 tsps ground coriander
  • 1tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp cinammon powder
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Salt
  • 2 tins tomatoes
  • 1/2 inch pce of creamed coconut dissolved in 1 cup of water
  • Juice of 1 lemon


Method:

Heat up some oil in a large pot.

When very hot throw in the mustard seeds and dried red chillis. Fry for 10-20 secs (the mustard seeds should pop and spit if the oil is hot enough. Also you may cough because of the chillis).

Throw in the curry leaves and fry for a further 10-20 secs.

Add the onions, garlic, ginger and green chillies.

Turn the heat down to medium and fry until onions and are soft.

Then add the pork and fry until it had lost it’s raw appearance as below.

Now is the time to add the masalas (ground coriander, cumin, tumeric, cinammon, mustard powder, black pepper).

Fry them round, keeping them moving so as not to burn, for about 2-3 mins until the dish appears as below:

Next add the tomatoes, potatoes and the coconut and bring to a simmer.

I left it simmering with the lid on for about 40 mins, then removed the lid and checked for and added salt.

If potatoes are cooked in a sauce after adding salt, they tend to have the effect of removing some of the saltiness, so I always add salt after the potatoes have had a chance to cook so as not to add to much.

I then added to frozen peas, and left it simmering with the lid off while I cooked the rice. Adding the peas towards the end of the cooking in this way means that they still retain a lot of flavour and juiciness of their own when served.

After the rice was cooked, I squeezed the juice of the whole lemon in, briefly brought back to a simmer, and served straight away.