Thumbs up for…

Thumbs Up March Collage

It’s high time I brought you another selection of thumbs ups – my regular round up of favourite food and drink products I’ve either discovered myself or been sent to try out. In case any PRs are reading this, it’s probably worth pointing out that only products I really like are featured here; simply sending free samples doesn’t lead to automatic inclusion.

Sally’s Sizzling Sausages

sallys sizzling sausagesWith my family’s love of bangers, you can imagine how excited we all were to be sent a large box of sausages and burgers from Sally’s Sizzling Sausage Co the other week. And even more excited on serving up the Cumberland sausages with lots of lovely mashed potato to discover they are as delicious and gorgeously meaty as I’d been promised. We tried their 100% beefburgers a few days later and were equally impressed.

All products from Sally’s Sizzling Sausages are ideal for those with food intolerances as they are free from wheat, soya, dairy, egg, yeast, gluten and lactose. The company is based at Smithfield Meat Market in London and was set up by Tim Hixson, who himself has food allergies.

“Over the years I have been dismayed at the quality of some foods to the point where I decided to do something about it,” Hixson explains.

Sally’s range includes a wide variety of pork and chicken sausages, meatballs, burgers, continental meats, and kebabs. Vegetarians will be pleased to hear that they plan to introduce a vegetarian range in June 2014. Find out more at www.sallyssizzlers.com.

Cornish Sea Salt

cornish sea saltThis Cornish Sea Salt is so tasty you could almost eat it on its own, although a much better idea would be to sprinkle it over a fresh tomato salad. I’m also rather taken by the idea of trying it in chocolate brownies or some salted chocolate pretzels.

Cornish Sea Salt began trading in 2008 and was set up by Tony Fraser who discovered there had once been an Iron Age salt works near Porthkerris on the Lizard Peninsula, and his idea for a new business took hold.

Sadly, Fraser passed away in 2012, but the company continues to go from strength to strength and their delicious salt appears on the tables of some top restaurants and hotels.

If you haven’t tried it already, I’d definitely recommend you get hold of some. It’s available in most supermarkets and you can also buy online at www.cornishseasalt.co.uk.

Laimon Fresh

laimon freshAvailable in most supermarkets, Laimon Fresh is a new lightly carbonated lemon, lime and mint flavoured drink which got the thumbs up in our house when we received samples the other week to try.

I did expect it to taste a little synthetic but it’s actually a very refreshing and natural-tasting drink.

Jessie drank hers as it came and wanted more, but alas the grown ups in the house had already turned the rest into super easy mojito cocktails by mixing with white rum and pouring over crushed ice. The mojitos could probably have benefited from a little more fresh mint, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

Oh, and Jennifer Lopez has been spotted drinking it too, so it’s clearly a hit with the uber cool set too.

La Rochelle Salad Croutons

rochelle salad croutonsThese Meditteranean style herb croutons from La Rochelle are so good you can enjoy them as a snack on their own, rather than tossing into a salad, although that’s how I like to use mine.

I adore croutons in a fresh green salad but generally can’t be bothered to make my own, so these are very handy to have in the cupboard on standby.

Flavoured with oregano, basil, parsley and thyme, these light and crunchy croutons are deliciously moreish and completely ungreasy as so many shop-bought croutons quite often are.

Dr Oetker Chocolate Hearts

dr oetker chocolate heartsWe received some sweet tiny chocolate hearts in milk and white chocolate from Dr Oetker. They were a big hit with my daughters, who chose to use them to decorate the banana, chocolate and ginger tray bake we made last weekend.

As well as looking ever so pretty, they also taste good and chocolatey, and I had to work quite hard to stop my girls from eating the remainder of the packet.

And if you like the look of the cake, I plan to post the recipe in the coming days. My aim is to get it up in time for this month’s Spice Trail challenge, as the theme is ginger. But I’ve got a mad week ahead, so I’m not promising anything.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Dr Oetker’s Chocolate Hearts, Laimon Fresh and Sally’s Sizzling Sausages for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

How I make bangers and mash

bangers and mash

It’s only taken me a couple of years, but finally bangers and mash makes an appearance on my blog. There’s been a sausage pasta, sausage chilli, sausage bake, sausage and noodle soup,  and even a Star Wars sausage stew, but this is the first time that classic pairing of the humble sausage with mashed spuds has been allowed to take centre stage.

bangers and mash

It’s not really a recipe though, is it? I guess that’s why I’ve never featured it before, despite it being the namesake for my blog and a dish we eat almost every week. (In case you’re interested, here’s a blog post from 2011 on why I chose to call this blog Bangers & Mash.)

This month’s Family Foodies challenge, hosted by Lou over at Eat Your Veg and me, is all about the food you cook to show your family how much you love them, and I simply couldn’t not enter my good old bangers and mash. If my children are feeling low or have had a demanding day, then bangers and mash is one of those tried-and-tested dinners that is sure to put a big, beaming smile back on their faces. It works for my husband too. It’s a hug on a plate, all covered in gorgeous gravy.

Here’s how I make mine…

bangers and mash

The bangers

I tend to buy my sausages (and indeed most of my meat) from the local butcher, and I always go for the best I can possibly afford. I would rather spend more on good, free range, locally reared meat and eat less of it, than buy cheap, lower welfare meat which never tastes as good. While pork sausages must have a minimum meat content of 42 per cent pork, I try to make sure my sausages contain at least 70% meat. Fried sausages are of course quite delicious but I usually grill mine as it’s ever so slightly better for you.

The mash

It’s important to choose a good floury potato for your mash, such as King Edwards or Desirée. Peel and boil them until just tender, drain and then add a generous knob of butter to the hot potatoes and allow to melt before mashing them with a dash of milk, a dollup of wholegrain mustard and some salt and pepper. I rather like my mash to be a little lumpy. It’s not an excuse honest; in fact I have a slight aversion to the super smooth ‘creamed’ potato you get in restaurants – but each to their own!

The gravy

I must hold my hands up here and admit to using gravy granules fairly often. It’s different when you’re cooking a roast; there are lots of lovely meat juices from which to make your gravy. When you’re cooking sausages, it’s not quite the same. But it is still possible to make a delicious gravy from scratch (well, using a stock cube or frozen stock) and if you’ve got the time, it’s well worth that little extra effort. I like to make my gravy with red onions and redcurrant jelly for some sticky sweetness, which goes so well with sausage, although you could swap for white onions and Balsamic vinegar instead. Here’s my recipe…

Red onion gravy with redcurrant jelly

1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large red onions, peeled, cut in half and sliced
1 tbsp corn flour
500ml hot beef stock
2 tsp redcurrant jelly
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the onions. Turn the heat down low, cover with a lid and leave the onions to cook gently for around half an hour or so, until soft and translucent. Give them a quick stir every now and again.

Stir in the corn flour and cook for a few minutes, before pouring in the hot stock and redcurrant jelly. Cook for another 15 minutes to thicken. Check for seasoning before pouring into your gravy boat and then smothering all over your bangers and mash. Delicious!

bangers and mash

As I mentioned before, I’m entering this dish into February’s Family Foodies challenge (hosted by Eat Your Veg and me) where the theme this month is LOVE.

family-foodies-valentine

Spicy sausage pasta

spicy sausage pasta

This is my go-to recipe when we have friends coming over for dinner but I just don’t have time to cook anything too elaborate. It’s such a simple pasta dish – it’s central ingredient is the humble sausage after all – but honestly, it tastes a million dollars and always impresses. It is full of deep, smokey flavours – rosemary, oregano, chilli and paprika – while the cream and Parmesan give it a wonderfully indulgent edge.

With a large glass of Chianti, this is my perfect dinner party dish. Just make sure you buy the best pork sausages your budget can stretch to.

The children love it too, but I generally ease back on the dried chillies when I cook it for them.

spicy sausage pasta

Spicy sausage pasta

Serves 6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
6 good quality pork and herb sausages, meat removed from skins and broken up
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 dried chillies, crumbled
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes
salt and pepper
250g dried fusilli
4 tbsp double cream
100g Parmesan, grated

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion until soft.

Add the sausage meat, rosemary, bay leaves, chillies, oregano, paprika and garlic, and fry together over a medium heat. Stir well to break up the sausages. Continue to fry for around 5 minutes until the sausage is browned.

Pour in the tinned tomatoes, give it all a good stir and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring every now and again to help break up the tomatoes.

Meanwhile cook the fusilli according to the packet instructions, and drain thoroughly.

Stir the double cream into the sausage sauce. Pour the pasta into the sauce, along with half the Parmesan, and mix well to make sure all the fusilli is well coated in the sauce.

Serve with the rest of the Parmesan sprinkled on top. And tuck in immediately. Or keep warm until your guests arrive.

spicy sausage pasta

Paprika is one of the key ingredients and so I am entering this spicy sausage pasta into this month’s Spice Trail challenge.

spice trail badge square

Cooking with apples

Apple Collage

Katie’s Sausage & Apple Toad in the Hole, Michelle’s Apple Cake and my Nana’s Eve’s Pudding

Our apple season here has been and gone, but for a good couple of months there was quite a frenzy of apple cooking and apple eating in the Bangers & Mash household.

We have a lovely Discovery apple tree in our garden, which gives us a good crop of pretty red apples fairly early in the season. We can normally start picking them from around mid August. Well, most years. Last year we only had six apples from the tree but it was a terrible year for apple growers all over the UK. This year we had a splendid harvest.

apples

Discovery is a wonderfully sweet and crisp apple. The skin is so red it leeches into the white flesh turning it pink. And when you juice them, the apple juice is the most gorgeous shade of pinky-red.

The only problem is Discovery apples don’t store well, so I do find that late summer and early autumn become our apple-obsessed months, with practically every meal or snack featuring apple in some form or another. We’ve been baking, chutneying, pureeing, drying, juicing, freezing and crumbling! But as soon as they’re gone, I miss them terribly.

So when an invitation came from Waitrose to try some of their English apples, it couldn’t have come at a our better time.

Waitrose runs a Grow & Sell campaign with schools, encouraging seven to eleven year olds across the UK to grow their own produce and sell it to Waitrose customers. They are now taking this a step further and encouraging families to grow their own apples at home. So along with my apples I was also delighted to receive a Scrumptious apple tree to plant out in the garden alongside our Discovery tree, which will extend our apple season next year considerably.

Scrumptious is perfect for smaller gardens as you don’t actually need another tree nearby as a pollinating partner to produce a bumper crop of apples. The sweet eating apples are ready to pick in September and the tree is also happy in a large pot so long as it is kept well fed and watered.

With my bumper bag of Coxes apples from Waitrose I decided to try out some recipes from their website, where I found some rather tempting dishes from top food bloggers.

toad in the hole

This Sausage and Apple Toad in the Hole from Katie at Feeding Boys caught my eye straightaway. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that toad in the hole is a bit of a favourite in our house. I’ve never thought to include apple before and it was a big hit with all my family. We made ours with Waitrose pork and herb chipolatas and it’s certainly a dish I’ll be making again.

apple cake

I also baked this yummy Apple Cake from Michelle at Utterly Scrummy. It’s a delicious cake to serve slightly warm with yoghurt or ice cream, or I think it would work equally well as a pudding with lashings of homemade custard. My daughters also appreciated it cold as an after-school snack.

eve's pudding

Eve’s Pudding is always very popular with my clan and so I used the rest of the apples to rustle one up. It’s a recipe my Nana Barbara gave me and it’s a proper, old-fashioned, comforting sort of a pud – what I call a ‘hug in a bowl’ – with sweet, juicy pieces of cooked apple enveloped in a soft, fluffy sponge. Just the kind of pudding I crave when the weather turns nippy. What’s even better is it’s so easy to make.

My Nana’s Eve’s Pudding

450g eating apples, peeled and cored
60g demerara sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
1 tbsp water
85g butter
85g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
115g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 170°C / gas mark 4.

Slice the apples thinly into a greased ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the demerara sugar, grated lemon rind and water.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition.

Fold in the flour with a metal spoon and carefully spread the mixture over the apples.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until the apples are tender and the sponge mixture cooked. If you’re using an Aga, bake in the bottom of the roasting oven with the cold plate in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, and then move to the bottom oven for 25-30 minutes.

Serve warm with cream or ice cream.

What are your favourite recipes to cook with apples?

Disclosure: Waitrose provided me with a complimentary apple tree and £10 shopping voucher for this post. All opinions are totally my own.

Random recipe: bacon kebabs

bacon kebabs

This was a truly random recipe choice. I counted along my cook books, from left to right, until I reached the magic number 30. The title I landed upon was a tiny little book crammed in between a couple of heavy weights, The Silver Spoon and How to be a Domestic Goddess.  My random book was GoodFood: 101 Cheap Eats; not the most exciting or inspiring perhaps of all the books on my shelf, but there you go. That’s the point I guess when it comes to picking a random recipe.

The next direction was to turn to page 30, which I dutifully did. And the recipe in question was for Bacon Kebabs on Mushroom Rice. Not bad, I thought, although my daughter Jessie won’t be thrilled. The face she pulls if you suggest she eats a mushroom couldn’t be worse if you’d suggested she eat something you’d discovered on the bottom of your shoe.

So why the random recipe choice? Many of you will no doubt already be familiar with Dom at Belleau Kitchen’s Random Recipe challenge, which this month celebrates the big three-oh.

randomrecipes2

I thought it was about time I entered a dish. I’ve meaning to so for about the last year. All too often I’ve got as far as selecting my random recipe and then completely forgetting to make it before I realise the deadline has already been and gone. The story of my life really! But this month I’ve done it. Only just mind – July’s challenge closes in just over an hour. If I type quickly, I think I’ll just make it!

While the Bacon Kebabs might not have been the classiest or most challenging of dishes, they did give us a good plate of decent grub which went down very well with all the family – with certain members avoiding coming into close proximity with anything remotely resembling a fungus, obviously. It’s not a recipe I’d necessarily have picked out myself to make, but it’s a simple one I can see myself doing time and time again, and one I might possibly prepare the night before for a lazy Sunday brunch when we’ve got people staying the weekend.

bacon kebabs

Bacon kebabs

Serves 4

2 medium leeks, washed, trimmed and each cut into 4
4 flat mushrooms (I used 3 flat mushrooms and half an aubergine)
14 rashers rindless streaky bacon, halved (I used 8 rashers smoked back bacon, cut into strips)
4 herby sausages, halved vertically and then again horizontally
300g long grain rice
50g melted butter
1 tsp dried thyme
squeeze of lemon juice
200ml creme fraiche

Blanch the leeks in boiling water for 4 minutes.

Finely chop one of the mushrooms and the stems of the others and keep to one side to add to the rice later. (As my oldest despises mushrooms, I chopped up half an aubergine instead.)

Cut the remaining mushrooms into quarters.

Stretch out the bacon with the back of a knife and wrap around each piece of leek, mushroom and sausage. Carefully thread onto skewers. I made sure, of course, that a few of the skewers were free of the “evil” mushroom.

Cook the rice according to the packet instructions.

Melt half the butter with half the dried thyme and lemon juice, and then brush over the kebabs. Grill under a high heat for around 15 to 20 minutes, turning regularly until cooked.

Melt the rest of the butter in a pan and cooked the chopped mushroom (or in my case, chopped aubergine) with the remaining thyme until softened. Add the creme fraiche, season and stir well.

Drain the rice and stir into the sauce.

Stir the kebab pan juices into the rice and serve immediately.

bacon kebabs

And as this is such a cheap and cheerful dish, I’m also entering these yummy Bacon Kebabs into July’s Credit Crunch Munch from Fuss Free Flavours and Fab Food 4 All, which is being brilliantly hosted this month by Sian at Fishfingers For Tea.

Credit-Crunch-Munch-Just-Pic

Sausage chilli

sausage chilli

I feel a bit of a fraudster posting this sausage chilli on my blog.

Firstly, it’s not actually my recipe. It comes from Sarah over at The Garden Deli, who is as talented in the kitchen as she is in the garden. Sarah really wanted to enter April’s Recipes for Life challenge – the three set ingredients this month are pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes. As a vegetarian, she obviously found the pork element a challenge too far. And so we agreed that Sarah would create a vegetarian dish and I’d then try out her recipe to see if it would also work with meat.

The second reason I’m feeling a little fraudulent is because I wasn’t even the one to try cooking Sarah’s dish. I handed that honour over to my husband Jason. This means Sarah’s recipe received a proper testing. Not that Jason’s a bad cook. He’s actually a very good cook indeed and is probably one of the main reasons I got into cooking in the first place. No, it’s not a case of him being useless in the kitchen and needing clear instructions. It’s just that he is very thorough and precise and when he’s following a recipe, rather than his own instincts, he’ll follow it to the absolute letter.

The verdict? We all loved Sarah’s sausage chilli and can wholeheartedly confirm it works just as well with pork sausages as it does with vegetarian ones. Jason found the recipe instructions absolutely faultless (although his hands are clearly much larger than Sarah’s when it comes to measuring coriander by the handful) and he had no problems on that score. It’s a feast of colours, flavours and textures, and perfect for little ones as it has just the right level of spice without being too hot. This is my kind of tasty, healthy, family food and a recipe I’m sure we’ll be coming back to again and again. Thank you Sarah!

You can find Sarah’s original Sausage Chilli recipe here. We hardly played with it – simply substituted the vegetarian sausages for pork ones, and used frozen sweetcorn instead of tinned.

sausage chilli

Round-up: February’s Recipes for Life Challenge

Thank you to everyone who took part in February’s Recipes for Life and got this new challenge off to such a brilliant start.

The idea behind the challenge is to come up with tasty, wholesome and easy-to-cook recipes that revolve around just three main ingredients and that can be cooked by members of SWALLOW’s cookery club. Each month we have a different set of ingredients and one winner will be named. The best of the recipes submitted will be included in a new charity cookbook  SWALLOW is planning to publish later this year.

The theme in February was sausage, onion and tomato, and we received a fantastic assortment of recipes. I knew you lot wouldn’t let us down.

So without further ado, here is the all-important round-up:

I kicked off the challenge with these incredibly easy Sausage Meatballs, based on a recipe from Nigellisima – a perfect meal to cook when the children have their friends home for tea. Because who doesn’t like meatballs?

Sausage-Pasta-Bake

Next up was this wonderfully versatile and frugal Sausage Meat Sauce for Pasta Bakes or Sloppy Joes from Fuss Free Flavours. Skinning your sausages helps make a little go a long way and this dish sees just two sausages feed four people, plus you can use whatever veggies you happen to have in. The end result is a scrummy sauce to serve with pasta or as the filling in a sandwich for a seriously good Sloppy Joe.

sausage-lasagne

Thankfully Under The Blue Gum Tree has broken her resolve of not taking part in any new blog challenges in 2013 and entered this delicious Sausage Lasagne into Recipes for Life. Admittedly making a lasagne takes a little time and there are quite a few steps, but for something so satisfyingly tasty, we reckon it’s well worth the effort.

Now don’t these Slow Cooker Turkey Sausages and Veg in the Red look good? This is what you could end up with if you use up what you happen to have in your fridge. Or at least if you live in On Top of Spaghetti’s house anyway! A fabulously warming dish featuring turkey sausages, aubergine (egg plant), peppers, herbs and spices.

I’m a big fan of pearl barley as a tasty, cheap and cheerful way to fill empty tummies on a wintry day. And they are absolutely perfect in stews, casseroles or hotpots, such as this Thrifty Sausage, Vegetable and Pearl Barley Hotpot from Utterly Scrummy Food for Families. Michelle from Utterly Scrummy says it’s also an ideal way to use up leftover cooked sausages or cooked chicken.

Lentils are another popular ingredient for the frugal cook, and don’t they look rather good in this Sausage Casserole from Matt and Corpy, the two foodie dads who comprise The Good Stuff? The perfect winter warmer served with lots of crusty bread to mop up all those lovely juices – waste not, want not!

There’s nothing like a hotpot to warm the cockles on a cold, winter’s day, and this Sausage, Bean and Veggie Hotpot from Chez Foti looks like it would take some beating in the cockle-warming stakes. Made with one pack of sausages and stuffed full of vegetables and beans, it’s hearty enough to feed a family of four, twice!

Puff pastry tarts are great, aren’t they? They’re superbly versatile and you can get all creative trying out different toppings. As with this Sausage & Onion Tart from Sarah at The Garden Deli, or rather Sarah’s son actually. He came up with this tart as their entry for Recipes for Life after making something similar in his food technology lesson at school. We never cooked anything half this tasty when I was at school! Can’t wait to see what Sarah’s son comes up with for March’s challenge…

pastyCheck out this Jumbo Mediterranean Sausage Pasty from The Crazy Kitchen – now doesn’t that look the business? Despite the list of ingredients, it’s ever so easy to make and creates hardly any washing up – a real bonus in my eyes! Filled with delicious tastes of the Mediterranean, such as feta cheese and olives, and of course some good meaty sausages, I know this would definitely keep my family happy.

Next we have this gorgeous Sausage Ragu from Annie at The Foodie Blog, who you might know better from Twitter as @mammasaurusblog. It’s another excellent family-friendly recipe that’s a doddle to rustle up when time is short, and that’s both tasty and wholesome to boot.

soba noodlesThese Quick and Easy Soba Noodles from Fun as a Gran make for such a colourful teatime dish and they also have the additional benefit of being gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free. If soba noodles aren’t your thing and you’re gluten-tolerant, then you can use regular spaghetti.

sausage and pepper pasta

Pasta is as much a family-favourite as sausage, which is probably why it’s made so many appearances this month in Recipes for Life. Vanessa at JibberJabberUK teams them up here in her yummy Sausage and Pepper Pasta, which she says is equally good made with vegetarian sausages. I know my kids would adore this for their tea.

And finally, Jacki managed to get her Sausage, Chorizo & Chickpea Stew in by the skin of her teeth, and I’m so glad she did as it sounds absolutely divine. Jacki isn’t a blogger so I can only share a PDF for her recipe but I’m planning on cooking up her stew myself and I promise to feature it on the blog together with photos very soon.

But, of course, there can only be one winner. And so I’m very pleased to announce that first prize in February’s Recipes for Life Challenge goes to… *drum roll* Chez Foti’s Sausage, Bean & Veggie Hotpot.  Tracey who runs SWALLOW’s cookery club said they chose Chez Foti’s dish “because it’s just perfect for the cold weather and they all thought it would be warming, filling, nutritious and it could be half-cooked at the cookery group and then finished off when they got home for dinner.”

So a huge congratulations to Louisa from Chez Foti on winning the first ever Recipes for Life – a small prize will be winging its way in the post to you very soon. And also a special mention to Helen at The Crazy Kitchen whose Jumbo Mediterranean Sausage Pasty came a very close second.

Thanks again to you all for taking part in the first month of Recipes for Life and we hope you all get involved again in March – the next three ingredients will be announced very soon so watch this space for details.