A selection of recipes from my blog…

It was suggested earlier that I write a cook book. I don’t have the spoons for that, but in response here’s a selection of recipes from the last 2 years (52 pages, 15,500-ish words). If you want to C&P the whole document, feel free. I hope downloading it from, and then uploading it to WP doesn’t screw up the formatting too much.

NB: Any apparently pointless asterisks in groups of three (or other stray symbols), are formatting marks – the only way I know to double-space in WordPress. In their original form they’re invisible, here, well, CBA 😉

Slightly Scary Soup…

Why scary? Well, not too long ago, most of the veg that went into it would have been binned as too old to use yet, clearly, it wasn’t. Looking back at all the wasted money over the years – that’s the scary bit. And tossing veg just because it’s superficially a bit manky is something of which, I suspect, we’re all guilty at times.

Yet another bottom-of-the-fridge soup recipe:-


Vegetable soup with beans.


From the fridge:-

2 good teaspoons home-made lard (use butter with a splash of olive oil if you don’t make your own or want a veggie version – don’t use refined lard!)

2 leeks. Some of the outer layers were slightly decayed but, once removed, what remained was perfectly sound if a little bendy. The dark green fibrous parts were discarded as they were a bit past it (and wouldn’t have been used anyway), the rest, halved lengthways, was checked for grit, and finely sliced. By “finely” I mean 1 or 2mm – no problem with a sharp knife. If making a veggie version, watch your fingers.

2 Sweet Spear carrots. These were perfectly sound (they keep very well), so were just topped and tailed, peeled, and cut into small dice.

1 long, pointed, red pepper, a tad soft, but perfectly sound, deseeded and finely diced.

4 King Edwards spuds, soft and a tad wrinkled. Three were sound, so were peeled and thinly sliced, the fourth had very dark flesh, so was binned.

A handful of coarsely shredded Savoy leaves (from the freezer), roughly chopped. If I ever – it’s rare these days – get a Savoy with its dark, leathery, outer leaves, I shred them and freeze them – they make a good addition to soups and stews. No – they don’t make it taste cabbagey!


From the store-cupboard:-

Some dried basil and thyme – sorry, don’t know how much – just what looks right – try a good teaspoon of basil, rather less of thyme. (NB: You can use fresh thyme, but not fresh basil, which is vastly different from the dried herb. Try dried marjoram instead if no basil.

¼ teaspoon home-made celery salt (or shop bought)

2 Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes

Good handful of dehydrated veg


Soften the leeks, along with the other veg (not the dried stuff), in the lard or whatever. This is a bit arbitrary, as they all soften at very different rates, so when the leeks are very soft, it’ll do.

Add the potatoes, the herbs, and celery salt, the stock cubes dissolved in a little hot water, then add the dried veg, enough boiling water to cover, stir well, bring back to the boil and leave to simmer, covered, until the carrots are soft.

At that point you have a choice to make. Do you want it as is, smooth, or somewhere in between? Personally I like soup with texture, so I’ll give it a seeing-to with a balloon whisk to break up the spuds, and call it done.

Add the beans at this point, leave to heat through, then remove from the heat, cool, and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, reheat gently, check/adjust the seasoning,** and serve.

**For my tastes, it’s quite salty enough (always taste after adding canned beans, as even rinsed, they’ll add some salt). Saltier than I would have expected, too, to be honest. Not entirely sure why, though a little lard made from rendering panceta got into the wrong jar. I poured it out again, but enough might have lingered to affect the soup. Lard made from panceta is very salty, and needs using with care. Tastes great, though.

Bugger! No, it’s not salty. The spoon I used to taste it was the one I’d used to dissolve the stock cubes! It could use salt, it could also, I think, use another stock cube (the flavour of Kallo cubes is quite light). You call. Other than that, it’s pretty good.

Vegetable Soup Recipe…

November 21, 2012 by Ron | Edit

 I published this a couple of days ago as part of a much longer post. I thought it couldn’t hurt to expand on it a little (and correct typos). It’s also vegetarian, by the way. Not always a given with veg soup.


Vegetable Soup

3 Sweetspear carrots, finely diced

3 Medium leeks, pale green and whites only, cleaned as needed, cut in half lengthways and shredded crossways

Half a swede, finely diced

2 Long, pointy, sweet red peppers, finely diced and added about half-way through

Cabbage – a good handful, shredded coarsely, then chopped

2 tablespoons Orzo pasta (the rice-grain-sized stuff, which swells nicely in soup).

Canned beans of some sort (got lots to choose from but probably pinto beans**)

2 500g packs of Napolina passata***

A scant teaspoon of sugar

2 Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes (I like these – they don’t dominate whatever you use them in, they just enhance it)

Olive oil

Black pepper to taste, ditto fine sea salt if needed

**What I wound up with was 2 cans of Napolina’s rather good Five Bean Salad, well rinsed

***This comes in cartons, and a surprising amount clings to the sides once you’ve poured it. So, pour it in and set the cartons aside. Half an hour later it will all have run to the bottom from where it can be rescued by adding a little hot water, giving it a swirl, and pouring it into the second carton, swirl, then into the pot.

The aim here is to get all the veggies, except the leeks, more or less the same size. No need to be obsessive about it, but the aim is to dip my spoon and get a bit of everything.

The bean salad is mostly suitably small beans, with just a few red kidney beans and a little sweetcorn. Unlike a lot of canned beans, Napolina are always perfectly cooked. In fact, it’s the only brand I buy these days. Not cheap, compared to supermarket own-brand, but worth every penny.

Spoonie note: Lightweight stainless steel casseroles are easier to handle than pans – two handles for a start – and for the clumsy among us (probably most of us as exhaustion bites), those handles don’t stick out to cause a hazard. And no idiotic glass lids to drop and break!

I used the 3litre one for this.


Pour a generous slick of olive oil in the bottom of the casserole (the pot, from now on), add the leeks, carrots and swede, stir, and sweat over a low heat for 15-20 minutes. Then add sufficient boiling water to cover, add the stock cubes, dissolved, stir well and simmer, covered, until carrots are soft.

NB: If you put the passata in at the start, the carrots and swede will take forever to cook. I noticed, also, that when I added the cabbage and peppers with the tomatoes, while both cooked, the peppers remained firm rather than mushy, and the cabbage was crisp, but fully cooked. Too many cheffy types seem to think that dunking cabbage in boiling water for 2 minutes is “cooked”; no, it’s not, it just hot and still raw. If, however, the chemical in tomatoes which prevents vegetables softening could be isolated, cabbage could be served crisp but cooked.

What it is in tomatoes that impedes the cooking/softening process I really have no idea, but cooking the veg as I did here meant that they were all perfectly cooked yet still retained their taste and texture.

Then add the passata, the peppers,** cabbage*** and orzo, stir well, return to the boil, and simmer until the orzo has swollen to at least twice its size, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick.

**Long, pointed, red peppers are far less fleshy than the watery bell peppers, but considerably tastier. They respond well to grilling and peeling before use, but I didn’t bother in this instance – they wouldn’t be cooked long enough for the flesh to separate from the skin.

***Pak choi works well too.

At this point you can drain and rinse the bean salad, and leave it in a colander for any water to run off. And if the pot looks too full already, remove the lid, increase the heat a little, and let it reduce for half an hour.

Add the beans, stir well, leave to simmer for 10 minutes, just to heat the beans through, check the seasoning  (I just seasoned mine with black pepper as I don’t doubt the beans will add a little salt overnight).

Leave to cool and, when cold, refrigerate overnight for the flavours to get to know each other and snuggle up.

I have had a taste and, frankly, it’s bloody wonderful!

That’s me being modest, that is…

Yesterday I had a big bowlful (it’s exactly the meal in a bowl I was aiming for), and it was just as good, the tomato flavour fresh and slightly sharp, and the veggies cooked perfectly, and tasting of themselves, which was my aim.

If the sharpness bothers you – tomatoes are naturally a little sharp, or they were, at least, before they had their flavour bred out of them – the only solution is to sweeten the soup to the level of the Heinz variety which, frankly, will ruin it.

There is nothing at all wrong with a tomato-based soup actually tasting as tomatoes should.

And it occurs to me that if I were still able to make pea soup – comments are starting to come in from others with the same problem with split peas; it seems to be widespread – I might never have made this, or the chicken soup a few weeks ago, and it would have been my loss.

Sadly, this gets 4 Spoonie spoons,** as it’s quite labour-intensive, as I found to my cost. Technically, though, it’s very easy.

** Spoonie spoons measure physical effort needed, not cooking ability needed, and range from 1 spoon = very easy (cheese sarnie level), to 5 spoons = just about doable but take it easy, maybe over 2 days. If it’s ever 6 spoons, get someone else to do it!

A venerable recipe, reborn – eat yer heart out, Heinz…

February 25, 2012 by Ron |

This is my take on a soup with a long history.

Way back in the mists of time, when politicians were honest and I was young, Heinz made Kidney Soup, of which I was inordinately fond. And then they didn’t. I don’t know why – perhaps people were getting squeamish, as many still are, about offal, which is a pity as some of the squishier parts of an animal are among the tastiest, as haggis fans know full well.

So, having a pack of ox kidney in the freezer, and not having a use for it (I’d planned to make a steak and kidney casserole, but forgot to buy the steak), I decided, yesterday, that it’s time for home-made kidney soup.

This is a soup that probably goes back centuries, as ox kidney needs long cooking (though not as long as some recipes suggest), making it unsuitable for frying. (I think some soups have the timing for steak and kidney pudding – I’ve seen 4 hours in some cases.)

I’ve several recipes for it, including one from Mrs. Beeton, which is too much faffing about, as well as being 50-50 shin beef and ox kidney, and takes 3 hours, and another by a Katharine Mellish, from 1901and closer to modern-day standards (cook until tender) but suggests including black peppercorns – not something you really want to bite – or choke – on.

In the end, as ever, I went with what I actually had, which was:-

500g ox kidney

3 Sweet Spear carrots (my favourites, seasonal, from Sainsbury’s)

1 medium parsnip

1 medium onion

2 biggish torpedo-shaped shallots

2 sprigs of thyme, bruised (just rub between your hands)

The leaves from ½ a sprig of rosemary, likewise

¼ teaspoon of celery salt – add more if it needs more salt when finished

1 beef Oxo cube

1 Kallo Organic Vegetable Stock cube

All the old recipes call for “brown stock” – fine if you have a stockpot on the go. Experience has shown that this combination gives an appropriate flavour for meat without it tasting of Oxo.

Ground black pepper to taste.

And that’s all you need – there is ample flavour in the kidneys and aromatics.


First wash the kidney in a colander under cold, running, water, then put it over a bowl to drain (you don’t want blood all over the kitchen).

Cut up the kidney, removing any obvious veins or remaining core – easy to see, they’re white – it’s a bit of a masterclass in micro surgery, so if your knife skills are iffy, try scissors. Don’t worry if you miss some, it’s going in the blender at the end anyway.

Be aware, if you’re at all squeamish, that you might find the texture of the kidney off-putting, it’s soft and squishy, like something that’s been dead a long time; it’s also quite bloody, naturally enough. If either worries you, try wearing disposable vinyl gloves. Closing your eyes while wielding a sharp nice isn’t normally recommended.

Do use a plastic chopping board though – my wooden one is used for nothing messier than bread and/or cheese.

Cut the kidney into smallish chunks, and set aside.

Top, tail and peel the veggies, and cut up quite small.

In a 20cm pan, melt a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil (or if, like me, you’re the sort of person that renders their own fat** at every opportunity, use that, lard, dripping, whatever), a decent teaspoon – I used DIY lard.

**Well, not their own obviously – that’d be icky. Sting a bit, too . . .

When the fat’s melted, toss in the chopped veggies, and sweat over a medium-low heat until the onions are soft but not browned.

While that’s going on, put the kidney in a suitably-sized plastic bag, add about 3 tablespoons of plain flour (I use bread flour), scrunch the top of the bag and toss the kidney around until well coated. Tip into a colander and shake off any excess. Tip: don’t do this too soon, or it’ll bind together into a solid, claggy, mass! Not the end of the world, but a pain in the neck.

In another pan – next size down (18cm, or the same size if that’s what you have), melt a scant teaspoon of fat or add a splash of olive oil. When hot, add about a third of the kidney, and stir around to separate the pieces. Cook until lightly browned but still bloody – this is important – you don’t want bits of leather, remove to a bowl (did I mention there’ll be lots of washing up?), and set aside, do the same with the rest in two portions, adding more fat with each. When the last batch is nearly done, put back the batches you’ve already fried, including the blood which has been given off, hence the bowl. Stir for a minute or two, until the blood stops sputtering (don’t overcook), and add to the veggies. Pour some boiling water into the pan you fried the kidneys in (you could use a frying pan, but a saucepan keeps the mess to a minimum), scraping up anything clinging to the pan. Add the stock cubes and, when dissolved, add to the pan. Top it up with water, until the contents are covered by about half an inch.

Season with celery salt and black pepper, add the herbs, stir well, cover and bring to the boil.** Remove to a smaller ring, reduce to a simmer, stir again and leave for 2.5 – 3 hours, stirring regularly (it tends to stick, for some reason).

**The sources I’ve read exhort you to skim the pan when it’s boiled, but I didn’t get anything to skim, so I left well alone.

Once the kidney is tender – check after 2 hours, it’ll depend on how small you cut it – remove from the heat, discard the thyme twigs, the leaves will have come off, and leave for an hour or so, to cool, longer if your blender has a plastic goblet.

While it’s cooling, wash and dry the 8-inch pan – that’s where your soup will finish.

Blitz the soup in the blender in three batches, pouring it into the smaller pan as you go – it’ll be very thick at this point, so have a kettle of hot water ready. After the last batch has been blitzed, and added to the pan, taste it – it should be rich and taste intensely of kidney.

Pour a little hot water into the blender goblet and, with a spatula, scrape down the sides. Give it a quick whizz at low speed, just to bring water and soup together, and pour it into the rest. Add hot water until you have the taste you want, then season with salt and black pepper is necessary. It will still probably be pretty thick – not a bad thin – and the pan will be almost full. The soup  – did you ever doubt it? – is absolutely fantastic. Well, it is if you love kidney soup!

Allow to cool and refrigerate until the following day. All soups, as well as stews and casseroles, benefit from time to allow the flavours to get to know and snuggle up to each other.

By the way, it’s possible, depending on your tastes, that you might get more soup out of this than me by thinning it more. Take care, though – you can easily add more water – you can’t take it out. No reason why, either, you can’t go with tradition and hold back the last third from the blender, to add texture. You’ll have less soup than the smooth version though. Your call…

Chicken Soup with Pak Choi, Noodles, and Oyster Mushrooms…

November 2, 2012 by Ron | Edit

This recipe marks my return to the kitchen after one of the blackest periods of my life, during which I’ve hardly eaten, and which, I hope, is now behind me. It was exhausting, and I’m sure there’ll be a price to pay tomorrow, but at least it will keep me going for a few days.

And yes, I still have plans for faggots at some point.


This is based on a Nigel Slater recipe for which the timings given are  deeply suspect (I know that because I used them to make my version –  the thighs weren’t cooked through by the time I had to strip the meat from the bones, not fun as the thighs stay hotter than the drumsticks). It’s also more intensely flavoured. (As it turned out, not nearly intensely flavoured enough – see comments near the end.)


800-900g free range chicken drumstick and thighs

160g Oyster mushrooms

250g Pak Choi

Bunch of large spring onions

2 Kallo Organic Chicken stock cubes

2 rafts Sharwood’s fine egg noodles, broken up roughly (do this in a bowl or basin, or bits will ricochet all over the kitchen)

3 tablespoon Sharwood’s Rich Soy Sauce

4-5 good shakes Nam Pla (fish sauce)

1 tablespoon Oyster sauce

A couple of splashes Sesame oil (light, not the dark, roasted kind)


The quantities for the three sauces are just suggestions, as people’s tastes vary so much. You can always add more, you can’t take it out. Bear in mind that it makes almost 3 litres of soup, so the amount per bowl is quite low. Sesame oil is an acquired taste, use as much or as little as you like. Or none.


In a three-litre steel casserole or pan, put about a quarter of an inch of oil, sunflower, rapeseed, something bland, and brown the chicken in batches to avoid chilling the oil. Remove to a deepish plate so no juices are lost. When they’re all browned, set aside.

While the chicken is browning, chop the mushrooms, checking that they’re clean and free of foreign bodies as you go, then brown lightly in the oil. Add the trimmed and thinly sliced onions to them for a couple of minutes.** Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the chicken.

**For a more oniony flavour add at the same time as the Pak Choi.

Pour a little boiling water into the pan/casserole and scrape up the caramelised chicken residue, toss in the stock cubes and stir until dissolved. Add the chicken thighs, and enough boiling water to cover if necessary, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the drumsticks and any remaining mushrooms/onion, cover well with boiling water, return to the boil, reduce and simmer for 25 minutes more.

Remove the chicken to the plate – the meat of both thighs and drumsticks should be falling from the bone – and unless you have asbestos fingers, put them in the fridge to cool, turning the temperature as low as it’ll go.

While the meat is cooling, separate the Pak Choi into leaves and the hearts, wiping clean with some damp kitchen towel as you go (it’s a bit prone to collecting dirt and flies between its layers), then roughly chop it into more or less spoon-sized pieces, and add to the stock along with the egg noodles. As before, bring to the boil, reduce and simmer.

Retrieve the chicken, which will still be hot, but should be bearable, strip the meat from the bones, discarding the bones, skin and any cartilage, and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Add to the pot. This will drop the temperature, so bring it back to the boil and – oh heel, you know how that goes by now.

Simmer until the chicken is tender, adding boiling water as needed so that the meat remains covered.

Check occasionally to see if the meat is tender, once it is, remove from the heat, stir in the oyster sauce, season well with black pepper – there should be no need for salt – and leave to cool, then refrigerate overnight. All stews and soups benefit from an overnight rest so the flavours can snuggle up and get to know each other.

New morning, there will be a slightly congealed layer of oil and fats on the top. Remove some of it carefully, and store it in the fridge – lots of flavour in that. Or do what I did and stir it in.

Reheat, season with sesame oil, and serve.

This is a brilliant soup, and even better with the following changes.

Changes I would make:-

Having just eaten a bowl, I’d make some changes to the basic recipe:-

Omit the spring onion, and start by sweating off a finely-sliced leek, before browning the chicken. If no leeks, use onion.

Omit the oyster mushrooms – they go leathery. Instead, cross-hatch the tops of  3 or 4 dried shiitake mushrooms with a sharp knife, and throw them in for flavour. Discard before serving.

Double the Pak Choi. Summer Pak Choi stays much firmer in soups, this batch almost disappeared. (Both British grown.)

Be more heavy-handed with the flavourings. Much more.

Oh, and be more careful with the sesame oil – it got away from me this time!

Making Faggots in Gravy.

October 11, 2012 by Ron | Edit

 **Note: This is a provisional recipe and subject to change.**

December 6, 2012, and it’s still not been made as I’ve been too ill. Soon, though, hopefully.


I love Mr. Brain’s Faggots in Gravy, but they have a design fault in that, despite being extremely tasty, they have little substance and the ingredients are pretty naff. Rehydrated pork rind predominates, followed by 15% pigs’ liver and 4% pork, with the consistency of foam – I can do a lot better. The gravy is, in fact, far tastier than the faggots themselves – no real surprise there, given the ingredients – something which I intend to change.

I don’t know, right now, when I’ll be making them, as I’m still out of action. Hopefully in a couple of weeks, to get some stock in the freezer before winter. As I keep saying, when I’m able to I tend to cook for the freezer; to be clear, DWP snoops, I cannot, if provided with the ingredients, cook on demand.

So far the process has been run only in my head, so it might well be subject to minor change once it hits the real world. I don’t foresee any major changes, more likely just changes in quantity, so what follows is, essentially, my starting point.

What I’m aiming for is tasty faggots, with a texture that says, Yep, real meat in here (not sodding pigskin), with an intensely flavourful gravy. Traditionally, faggots are wrapped in caul, the lacy, fatty, membrane that wraps a pig’s intestines. Not the faintest idea where I’d get that, so I’ll do without it. Anyway, in essence, a faggot is just a meatball with attitude.


Make the gravy first – you’ll be poaching the finished faggots in it.


Note: All spoons are measuring spoons.

For the gravy:-

2.5 litres hot water (this might be too much, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, putting up my own food for the freezer, it’s that too much gravy is preferable to not enough – any excess will freeze), to which add the following, up to and including the HP sauce:-

2 Kallo organic vegetable cubes, dissolved in a little of the water

4 tablespoons Knorr Touch of Taste Chicken

1 dessertspoon soy sauce

1 level teaspoon celery salt

1 tablespoon tomato purée

3 tablespoons Bisto Caramelised Red Onion Gravy mix**

1 dessertspoon HP sauce

**Put about half a pint of the water in a jug, stir in the gravy mix and, when smooth, return to the bulk.

You will also need:-

3 medium onions

4 tablespoons plain flour (I use bread flour, it gives very good results and rarely goes lumpy)

2 tablespoons of lard (see comment below)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

Fine sea salt (if needed), and black pepper.

I have a jar of powdered, dehydrated vegetables, mostly aromatics (I buy dried veg, and blitz them in a Krups F203 coffee mill kept for the purpose). It’s entirely possible some of that might find its way into the gravy.


Finely chop the onions and soften, without colouring, in the lard.** When soft, stir in 2 teaspoons of ground cumin and the same of sweet paprika. Cook out for a few minutes, stirring frequently, then add the flour. The roux should be fairly fluid, so add more lard/oil/butter as needed, and keep stirring for a few more minutes.


**I render my own lard, as shop-bought lard tastes of nothing (OK for baking, not for cooking), or a 50-50 mix of olive oil and butter is good.

Once the roux is smooth, apart from the onions, remove from the heat and add about a quarter of the hot – not boiling – flavoured water, stirring constantly. Once this is smooth and thick, add the rest of the water a little at a time, and don’t stint on the stirring. When all the water has been added, return to the heat and bring slowly up to the boil, stirring constantly, making sure it doesn’t stick or go lumpy. If, despite everything, it does go lumpy, blitz it with a stick blender. It’ll purée the onions, but it doesn’t matter.

Once you’ve added all the water and its freight of flavourings, simmer gently for half an hour. Remove from the heat, taste, season as required with the salt and pepper,  and set aside. It would be beneficial to make the gravy the day before the faggots, so the flavourings have time to snuggle up to each other.

The finished gravy should be smooth and glossy, but not too thick. It will also be quite light in colour, which matters not at all.


For the faggots:-

Equal quantities of belly pork and pigs’ liver finely minced – how much depends entirely on how many faggots you’re making.

500g of each, let’s say

100g rusk – occasionally I bake a loaf purely for rusk, which is stored in the fridge. Assuming you don’t, dry slices of whatever bread you have on a radiator, then reduce to crumbs in a blender (dried fresh bread tastes better than stale bread). Or buy Panko crumbs.

1 medium onion, minced

2 or 3 level teaspoons dried sage (depending on how much you like it)

3 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

3 teaspoons black pepper

1 egg and 1 egg yolk, to bind


Wash the belly pork in cold water if bloody. Drain in a colander then pat dry with kitchen towel. Skin it, if it’s not already skinned, remove any bone and wet, fibrous fat, cut up into smallish pieces and set aside.

Wash the liver, drain and dry as with the pork. Take out any obvious plumbing, cut into smallish pieces.

Mince both using the finest plate (depending on how fine that is, you might have to mince it twice).

Add all the dry ingredients to the rusk, then mix into the minced meat, along with the eggs. The best way of doing this is simply to get your hands in it – best to wear disposable vinyl gloves too.

If, like me, you have painful hands, and have a stand mixer, using that, with the dough hook, will get most of the grunt work done.

When you’ve finished mixing, cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge for an hour or so to chill. Or overnight.

Later, or next day, preheat the oven to 190C, gas 6, and shape the chilled mix into balls a little smaller than golf balls, and set in a lightly greased roasting tin, not touching each other.

Roast for 30-45 minutes, or until lightly browned and firm to the touch (use the back of a fork).

While the faggots are roasting, reheat the gravy, stirring frequently. It will be quite thick at first, but will thin out as it heats up. Once it’s warm, but not boiling,  transfer the gravy to a bigger pan, as you’ll be adding the faggots. Finish heating to boiling point.

Remove the faggots from the oven and sit the roasting tin on the hob next to the pan with the gravy. Using a fish slice, in case any have stuck, carefully remove the faggots, and transfer to the gravy. As long as it’s not swimming in fat (if it is, pour it off and keep it), deglaze the roasting tin with a little boiling water, scraping up any stuck bits, and add to the gravy.

Once they’re all in, simmer very gently for half an hour, then remove to a cold place – the kitchen floor is good, if it’s tiled or concrete – and allow to cool until barely warm.

At this point, fish out the faggots with a slotted spoon and transfer to foil freezer dishes, 3 or 4 to each one, depending on size, then cover with gravy, put on the lids, seal, and leave until cold.

Be sure to write the name and date on the lids, and freeze.


NOTE: You can use ground coriander instead of cumin if you wish, they both go well with pork as well as paprika. Don’t be tempted to add more sage – a little goes a long way. If you don’t like sage, try dried oregano or marjoram. Don’t be tempted to use dried thyme, it’s way too spiky.

Four spoonie spoons if all done on one day, three if spread over two days.

Home-made celery salt…

June 19, 2012 by Ron |

I wondered whether this was worth a blog post – after all, it’s hardly cutting edge – then I thought that I know, because I’ve been asked, that some things I find obvious, others don’t and, as sharing knowledge** is one of the principle reasons behind my blog, for better or worse, this is my celery salt.

**The value of knowledge is greatly diminished if it’s not shared.

I’ve been making this for some years, but never written it down before. Now, though, as I need to control my salt intake, I thought it would be a good idea to exercise a little more control over the process than my usual “if it looks right, it is right”. A philosophy, by the way, upon which much Spanish traditional cooking is based, and which has always served me very well, especially when cobbling up my own recipes.

Why celery salt and not simply crushed celery seed? I have no idea. Perhaps the salt preserves the crushed seed? I do know that using Maldon appears to extract more flavour from the crushed seed than, say, ordinary table or cooking  salt, which also makes the salt a vehicle for the flavour. If you wish I see no reason why you simply can’t crush a pinch of seed with a mortar and pestle at need, but there’s no denying that celery salt is much more convenient.

Anyway, this time, I have something I didn’t have last time, a coffee mill (Krups F203), used as a spice and dehydrated vegetable mill. This enabled me to blitz the celery seed very fine, releasing more of its scent and flavour than simply breaking the seeds open, which was all my blender could achieve previously (Kenwood make shit blenders).

This is the current version (use a measuring spoon –cutlery spoons vary wildly in their capacity – or a 5ml medicine spoon, 3 = 1 tablespoon):-


4 level tablespoons celery seed

5 level tablespoons Maldon Sea Salt

This actually gives you less salt than seed, as the Maldon crystals take up quite a lot of space. If you feel you need more, add another tablespoon – I wouldn’t add more than that, though.

Blitz the seed in the mill (in batches; just fill the polished bowl, don’t overfill it), until it’s as fine as flour, then tip into a small, screw-capped jar with a tight seal (you’ll have to poke the milled seed out of the mill’s bowl, as it sticks – it’s safe to use your finger, the blades are quite blunt and, until the lid’s fitted, it can’t be turned on). Blitz the salt until it’s the texture of coarse sand – take care, this happens faster than you might think. If you wind up with fine powder, put it aside for cooking, and try again. Doing the salt second has the advantage of cleaning the grinder Under normal circumstances, blitzing a tablespoon of uncooked Basmati rice does the job.

Add to the seed in the jar and shake well to mix.

And that’s all there is to it, except that I generally toss in a plastic medicine spoon (never metal – the salt will corrode it quickly, as I found out when I left a “stainless steel” measuring teaspoon in my Maldon salt jar took ages to fish out all the brown salt crystals.

Not only is the celery salt better than any commercially available, it also works out a hell of a lot cheaper, as celery seed stores very well, kept in a sealed jar in a dark cupboard as, indeed, does the celery salt. No reason you couldn’t cut costs a tad and use table salt, if that’s your thing, but even if you don’t normally buy Maldon, it’s worth it just for this.

I have, by the way, tried making this with a mortar and pestle, and not only does it take longer, the result isn’t as good – the mill gives it exactly the right texture (watch it like a hawk until you get used to it – it works faster than you might think), and, of course – important in spoonie-land – takes no effort at all.

However, if you can’t, or don’t want to, go to the expense of buying the Krups mill, a blender will give perfectly acceptable results. It’s a fact, though, that the mill is better and, in my case, gets used for far more things than I ever thought it would.

The company from which I bought my celery seed has since been taken over, and I have no idea if the quality has suffered. They’re here** and there’s an alternative, but much more expensive source, which I’ve not used, here. The nature of the celery plant means that, inevitably, some very fine plant material is inseparable from the seed, in that it’s impossible to remove all of it. How much remains, or if no attempt is made to clean the seed,  affects the quality considerably, and both the above sources are unknown quantities at present (though the pic on the former’s website isn’t encouraging – there seems to be a lot of debris there). The former site also has vegetable powders too, about the quality of which I know nothing. Those I do buy, here, are excellent quality. That link takes you to most vegetable and fruit powders; for some reason, onion powder is out on its own, here. I’m going to ask them to put it in with the others, so if you find that link doesn’t work, go to Onion in the left-hand menu. I’ve used onion, and tomato, powders so far (in addition to those I’ve made myself), and they’ve been very good.

**Do check delivery costs on that site. On any site, really – far too many use postage to boost their profits, and you don’t want to wind up paying a fixed-rate £6.00 for a few ounces of seed!

I’ve just used the last of my seed – in the dark, and a tightly-closed jar, it keeps very well – so I’ll be finding out for myself about quality. When I do, I’ll post the information.

These guys are worth checking out, I’ve not bought celery seed from them, but I have bought other seeds, like mustard, and the quality has been fine.

Make sure, too, that you always buy food-grade seed, as seed intended for garden use might have been treated with a fungicide or other chemicals. The links above are for food-grade seed.

As I said, even further above, I also use the mill to process dehydrated vegetables to powder to make a savoury spread (blitzed in the blender first, which gives a coarse powder ideal for adding to soups and stews, some of it is finished to a very fine powder in the Krups mill). I use Clover as a base, adding mixed dried veg powder plus tomato and onion powders. Used in sandwiches it obviates the need to season with salt (see this postfor details and links).

Trial and error will give you proportions that suit you, just remember the spread  should enhance the contents of the sandwich, not swamp it. It’s also good on toast.

I use standard Clover, though any other spread would do as well, even softened butter (there’s a long tradition of savoury butters, usually involving anchovies). I don’t know about low-fat spreads (I prefer to reduce my fat intake simply by eating less fat, as I think low-fat food is an abomination). I suspect the water content might make the powders a bit claggy, though mixing them with a little olive oil first might prevent that if it’s a problem.

One final note – because of its design, with a small, shallow, bowl and flat blades – the Krups F203 is perfectly designed for milling seeds and pretty much anything else to flour-fineness. I can’t vouch for any other make or design.

“…and a light stew of chickpeas and roasted peppers and a chilli kick.”

April 29, 2012 by Ron |

“…and a light stew of chickpeas and roasted peppers and a chilli kick.”

I read that line in a Jay Rayner restaurant review last week and, I thought, I can do that.

OK, it may require a little creativity, but hell, at the risk of being immodest, I can do that too.

Mind you, I was, last week, accused of being immodest “about everything” when I happened to say that, when it comes to writing, I don’t do false modesty, which is true. I know exactly how good I am; I know my weaknesses as well.

And I suppose it’s true that I don’t do false modesty about anything else either. There’s a reason for that – I have a character quirk that insists that I either do a thing well, or I don’t do it at all, for the good and sufficient reason that there is no pleasure to be had from doing something badly – there’s too much mediocrity in the world, and I’ve no desire to add to it.

I don’t boast about this, you understand, but nor do I denigrate myself. Why should I?

Of course, serious illness gets in the way of my doing many of the things I do well, cooking being just one of them. But I can still write most days, though even that suffers occasionally, too.

And I can still work up a recipe based on just 13 a word hint. It might not – it almost certainly won’t be – anything like the dish JR had, but it will be none the worse for that. The only question is, what’s a “chilli kick”? Because the guy is obsessed with heat, so I have a feeling this might have verged on the incandescent. Mine won’t, it’ll just have a modicum of heat, from Ñoras** peppers. These are the peppers used to make sweet paprika, and have just a little heat, which should be ideal, with the addition of a mild dried chilli, for what I have in mind.

** The only way to get that tilde over the N was to temporarily switch to US English. Seems not to have occurred to Microsoft geeks that people writing in British English might occasionally use Spanish or Portuguese words. Insular clowns.

I have a kilo of tiny dried chickpeas, a Spanish delicacy. Soaked, they are about the size of a garden pea, and lack the mealiness of their larger, gnarled, cousins. I used to be able to buy these locally, canned, but the numpty who runs the shop cares not the tiniest bit about what he stocks, and now sources his canned goods from Lidl, and jacks up the price, and the baby chickpeas are no more.

As for the peppers, I have no liking for bell peppers, finding them just a tad coarse, perfect in chilli con carne as long as they’re roasted and skinned, but otherwise best avoided. What I very much prefer are the long, red, pointed peppers, sweeter and tastier than bell peppers, though less fleshy.

I was minded to make this as a veggie dish (see recipe, below for veggie option), but the temptation to build it on a base of shallots sweated off with very finely sliced panceta is irresistible (I have a very fatty piece for the chickpeas, and a rather more lean one for the peppers), so that’s what it is going to be.

I favour the ovoid  Echalion shallots, deeply pungent and eye-watering in the preparation, but decently modest in the finished dish, plus, if sliced diagonally into rings, they tend to keep their shape as long as you remember not to stir too vigorously, especially as this would tend to break up the peppers too. In fact, I intend to cook the sauce (based on a light vegetable stock), with just one of the roasted peppers, to give it some depth, and add the rest towards the end just to heat through (roasted, they’re already cooked, of course).

It won’t be a one-pan dish, as chickpeas produce a very muddy, beige, stock, and I really want the colour of the peppers to shine through, so they’ll be cooked separately, with  a peeled and halved shallot, and the hunk of fatty panceta – like all dried pulses, chickpeas love fat, which improves the texture. Anyway, chickpeas are tasty enough, they don’t need bolstering with a chickpea-flavoured stock.

I’m wondering what herb would serve the peppers best, as the flavours should be quite delicate and I don’t want anything too assertive, maybe just the tiniest hint of basil, or maybe oregano, which is gentler, and I don’t think a touch of garlic will be out of place either – but just a touch, a flattened clove tossed in for a while, and removed later; it has to taste predominantly of chickpeas and peppers, lifted by a couple of peripheral flavours and a little heat.  A little saffron might not go amiss either, just a small pinch, say ten strands.


Ñoras peppers. Also for saffron

Panceta Serrano.

Baby chickpeas.

Everything else from Sainsbury’s.

So, on to the recipe. Note: For a veggie version, omit the panceta and replace with a splash of olive oil to cook the chickpeas (not convinced it makes a difference, but it’s very popular), and a little olive oil and butter to sweat off the shallots.



300g baby chickpeas

4 red peppers, the long, pointed variety

2 Ñoras peppers,** cut in half, seeds removed, and very thinly sliced

4 to 6 Echalion shallots, depending on size, or your preferred shallots

I dried, medium-hot chilli, left whole

A piece of Panceta, about 50g, skin removed and sliced wafer thin

1 Kallo organic vegetable stock cube

A little dried oregano, to taste

1 clove of garlic, peeled

Tiny pinch of saffron (optional)

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

As it turned out, I got the urge to omit the oregano, and stirred a tablespoon of sweet paprika into the softened shallots instead. Good choice.

**The peppers are dried, and can be quite hard. Poke a hole in them with a sharp knife, half fill a tumbler with cold water, drop in the peppers and put an empty tumbler on top to hold them down, otherwise they’ll just float on top of the water, and leave to soak and fill with water for a couple of hours (the soaking water will take on some colour, and doubtless flavour, from the Ñoras, so you might as well save it and add it to the pot in due course, sieving out any seeds first). When soft, cut in half, remove the  stalk, the copious seeds, and any pith, then slice the peppers into very thin strips. Set aside.

First, soak the chickpeas. With normal chickpeas, I’d give them at least 24 hours, sometimes longer, kept in the fridge if the weather, or the kitchen, is warm, so that there’s no risk they might ferment, which I’ve had happen in  hot weather. With these small ones, overnight is fine.

Drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas, cover with cold water add the fatty panceta (belly pork would do at a pinch), cut into a couple or three pieces, the shallot, bring to the boil, skim off the white froth, cover, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender. Remove shallot if it’s stayed together, if not, forget it, toss the panceta/belly pork,  drain and set aside.

Poke a hole in each of the red peppers – to stop them bursting, then either roast in a very hot oven until the skin is blackened and blistered, turning occasionally. Or grill them to achieve the same result. Either way, when suitably blackened – don’t get carried away, you’re not incinerating the things, just charring the skin – drop into a plastic bag, tie the top and leave until cool enough to handle.

The easiest way to get the charred skin off is to wash it under running water – no need to be too finicky, a few bits of black will add a smoky flavour, just get rid of as much as you can. Then remove the stalk and deseed, removing what little pith there is, and cut up the peppers into Christmas postage-stamp-sized pieces.

Take the thin slices of panceta (you can chop them up if you wish), and cook them gently, separating them so they don’t clump, until they’ve given up their fat and are just crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Top, tail, and peel the shallots, and slice/chop in whatever way you please, cut diagonally, in rings, as I said, would be my choice, purely for the aesthetics, they don’t taste any better, then add to the fat in the pot, and sweat gently until softened.

Add the stock cube, dissolved in a little water, the Ñoras and their soaking liquid, the garlic clove, squashed with the flat of  knife, and the whole chilli, the oregano, and saffron, if using, and just one of the chopped peppers plus the reserved panceta. Cover, just, with boiling water, stir, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.  Remove the garlic, or leave it if you like – your call.

Then add the rest of the peppers, the chickpeas,  and enough boiling water to barely cover – it’s a stew, not a soup. Stir gently to combine without breaking up the peppers too much and taste for heat – if it’s hot enough, remove the chilli, or leave it in for longer – I’m not aiming for extreme heat, just a slight but definite chilli heat, cover, bring to the boil and simmer for another 30-40 minutes to give the crisp panceta time to soften. Remove from the heat, remove the chilli and garlic if you haven’t already, and leave to cool. When cold, refrigerate until the following day.

When cold, there will be a thin layer of fat on the top – do not even think of removing it – if fat bothers you, why did you make this? Fat = flavour, and also mouth-feel, to a degree.

Serve as is, in a bowl, with a hunk of good bread, or with mash or, for a lighter meal, with buttered cabbage.

  Fabada Wirraliana…

April 11, 2012 by Ron | Edit

A dish inspired by the Spanish bean, chorizo, pork and morcilla dish, Fabada Asturiana which, like many dishes of peasant origin, comes to no harm for a bit of tweaking. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I have made the traditional version. It’s very simple, both to cook and in its finished form. Nothing wrong with simple, but I felt it could be better while still keeping to the same basic ingredients – and adding to them. It’s worth pointing out to would-be purists, that there is no one dish which is the definitive fabada – even within Asturias there are many variants.


As some of you will know, I was quite taken by the idea of Spanish food while watching Rick Stein’s TV show, Spain. I then bought the book of the  show, thought Hmm… put it away and bought Claudia Roden’s vastly superior The Food of Spain. Five years in the making, it covers in considerably more depth that of which Stein barely scratched the surface, the inextricably interlinked  food, history, and traditions, of Spain. Beware, though, if, like me, you’re disabled, and weak as a result – bugger weighs nearly 4lb.

Anyway, I’ve spent the past few weeks stocking up on Spanish ingredients – covered elsewhere – including the meats required to make Fabada Asturiana, with which, I have to confess, I was rather unimpressed. It may well be traditional, but it’s still food that has its roots deep in peasant traditions, among which is surely poverty – it’s meat and beans in a thin sauce spiked with paprika, and that’s about the best you can say for it.

My Fabada Wirraliana  clearly bears a family resemblance to the Asturian version, but damn, it’s just so much better, with multilayered flavours complemented by a textural complexity lacking in the original. At the end, a bag of left-over morcilla crumbs went in,** which, though I say it myself, was inspired. It really made the dish come alive, pulling it together into an harmonious whole, adding its own layers of texture and flavour without masking the others.

**The morcilla stuck to the loaf tin I made it in, but the residue was soft, not burned, so I scraped it off and froze it, knowing it would come in useful at some point.

The original is OK, but like most peasant dishes that have become adopted as  regional or national dishes, it’s still basically a dish born of poverty. Mine is richer, more voluptuous but, in common with the original, still costs little.

The big, Spanish, butter beans, Judion de la Granja, used instead of the normal  alubia blanca white beans, make a vast difference – they’re plump and taste positively buttery (except for the occasional one which is salty – curious, that). Expensive, at £7.65 a kilo**, over twice the price of ordinary butter beans but only a quid more than the alubia blanca, but so worth it. And let’s face it, it was the only real expense, everything else I already had.

**Brindisa have them for a rather ambitious £13.95/kg. OK, they might be better quality, but they’re beans, ffs, there’s a limit to how much better they can be!

I have to say that I have a deep loathing for chorizo, the damn stuff is as chewy as shoe leather , even the “soft” cooking chorizo (I gave some to a friend who likes chewy, and he found them too much). My intention, as it crops up rather a lot in Spanish cooking, is to make my own, with the dense, all-meat texture lightened with either rusk, from my own bread, or with cooked paella rice, which has a soft texture when used in my morcilla, so should be good in chorizo too. I didn’t have any for this dish, so I omitted them. I did have a flavoured sausage, pork and cider, so they went in – the Spanish are fond of cooking with cider, so why not? This is my take on it anyway – absolute authenticity doesn’t matter, and I have to say that the cider content, which I haven’t really thought worked very well, goes brilliantly with paprika. Oh yes, and on the subject of that, as I’ve mentioned before, if I use paprika, it’s always sweet and unsmoked, as I simply don’t like the smoked version which is ubiquitous in Spain.

So, this is my recipe. There also follows an ingredient list for those of you who don’t have your own sausages or morcilla.

Fabada Wirraliana.

Unlike most fabada recipes, I started with aromatics, but first I sliced some panceta very thinly, trimmed off the skin, cut each piece into 4, and rendered it over a low heat until it had released its fat and had crisped up nicely. Two reasons for this, the pork belly, bacon, or panceta (any are acceptable as recipes vary), cooked in the fabada are invariably fatty, and while I love fat on cold meat, I hate it hot and boiled, it’s disgusting.

So, the crisped panceta was removed with a slotted spoon and set aside, and the fat used to sweat off…

4 large oval shallots, peeled and finely chopped


1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced

to which were added, in their due time:-

2 tablespoons sweet, unsmoked, paprika

2 teaspoons ground coriander

300g Judion beans, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed**

4 Pork and cider sausages

Add the crisp panceta, which will soften in cooking; I’ve given no quantity for this – a little is OK, a lot is better – it depends on your patience as slicing it very finely and, equally importantly, evenly, is slow for most people, as is cutting it up while stopping it all sticking together.

a handful of dehydrated vegetables, the ones I have are primarily aromatics; dried leek, onion, parsnip, carrot, celery, celeriac and tomato

About 6 ounces of de Burgos-style morcilla crumbs

2 Kallo Organic vegetable stock cubes*** added once the beans are soft; these have become my go-to cube for all but beef dishes, as they enhance the flavours of a dish, without dominating it

1 scant tablespoon Knorr Taste of Chicken stock, added at the same time

Season well with black pepper, and a little sea salt – salt with care, always, you can always add more, you can’t take it out again.

**Given the size of the beans, and the time they took to cook, I recommend soaking for at least 24 hours, which should speed things up.

***Remove a little of the liquid from the casserole, avoiding the deep red fat on the surface (if you’re the sort of person who skims fat, this isn’t for you!), and thoroughly dissolve the stock cubes before adding to the dish. Stir gently, so as not to break up the sausages too much, though ultimately, they will get broken. It doesn’t matter.

This is the casserole I use

Click pic to go to Amazon.

3litres, stainless steel, with a stainless-steel-encapsulated aluminium base. The best thing I’ve ever cooked with, and that includes the ferociously expensive Le Creuset cast iron casserole I once had, with the advantage of being vastly lighter.

Rick Stein (he’s not alone), would have you believe that the Spanish always cook in terracotta  cazuelas of varying sizes (which the steel paella, the pan from which the dish takes its name, disproves), but from what I saw of his TV programme they cook in metal pots just like anybody else, though I did notice that dishes like fabada would be served in cazuelas in restaurants and bars.


As per the above, and when the shallots have softened (carrots take longer so use the shallots as a guide), stir in the spices and mix well. If they’re a little dry, add a splash of olive oil and stir again. Allow to cook out for a few minutes, add the beans and cover with boiling water by about an inch. Stir well, bring to the boil then move to the smallest burner/ring on your cooker, cover and reduce to a very gentle simmer.

Stir occasionally.

When the beans have plumped up and are beginning to soften, add the sausages, plus enough hot water, if necessary, to ensure the sausages are just covered, replace the lid and leave them more or less alone, until the beans are soft. If the heat is low enough, nothing should stick, but give the pot a shake occasionally to move things around. Stein says this is so you don’t break up the beans. No, Rick, it’s so you don’t break up the sausages (in a conventional fabada, the chorizo and morcilla, of course).

My sausages are in artificial casings, for reasons I’ve explained too often  for it to warrant repeating, as were the chorizo and morcilla that I tried a few weeks ago. The skins on the bought-in ones became slimy and vile, like something that had crawled up onto a beach, and died; on mine they simply dissolved.

After I’d added the sausages, I had the idea to add the morcilla crumbs. A slight problem, in that they were in a frozen lump. Rather than just drop them in the pot, I floated a measuring cup (half-cup size), on top, put the lump in it, used the lid to hold the handle in place and left it to defrost without dropping the temperature of the rest of the dish. Which it did, very successfully.

Once it was soft, I crumbled it and stirred it in, along with the stock cube, and chicken stock. It broke up the sausages a bit but, as I said, it was bound to happen. No biggie.

I let it cook a little longer (the morcilla was already cooked, it just needed the stock to cook out), removed it from the heat and left it to cool.

I checked the seasoning, seasoned it with pepper and a little salt, and once it was cold, stashed it in the fridge overnight.

Next day the beans had absorbed a lot more of the stock, and the morcilla crumbs had thickened the rest very nicely, leaving it more stew-like – while normal fabada is positively soupy.

The flavours and textures were absolutely wonderful, all there individually, but also working well as a whole. It was amazingly good. So good, in fact, that I polished off an extravagant plateful, far in excess of what I’d normally eat.

In future, it will be made with my own chorizo** (due to be made this weekend, all being well (if all is not well, I’ll be having roast pork!), and I might be tempted to serve it with a slice of my fried morcilla, which will be more traditional, just to see if I prefer it to having it crumbled in. I’ll be surprised if  I do.

**Though my pork and cider sausages will get a look-in too – too good not to.

Alternative version for those without my homemade goodies.

Although the standard version has smaller beans, I really would recommend sticking with the Judion beans, they’re just too good to pass up.

In lieu of my pork and cider sausages, you could revert to chorizo, but I warn you, they take “chewy” to a whole new level. Better, perhaps, and closer to my version, would be a really good pork sausage, not too thick, plus a tablespoon of a very good dry cider – what’s in my sausages is Aspall Organic Suffolk Cyder, and I strongly recommend going with that. Don’t be tempted to add more cider, it won’t improve it.

In lieu of morcilla crumbs, supermarkets sell sliced black pudding in the sausage section, Buy a pack (usually 2 slices), and chop it very finely. Use that instead.

Or you could buy Morcilla de Burgos. You can get Judion beans there too. They’re called, mysteriously, Dried Broad Beans, but they’re not (dried broad beans are brown).

Dried vegetables from here just don’t look for quick delivery, unless they’ve got their act together since I ordered.  I also have a jar of these blitzed to a powder in the blender – very good for adding flavour to all sorts of things.

Other than that, proceed as above.


Home-made pork sausages…

March 25, 2012 by Ron |

Finally, I’ve made a pork sausage that (a) I’ve resisted the temptation to tinker with (last batch got a splash of cider at the last minute, instead of water – didn’t improve them, though they’re good poached in a herby tomato-based sauce), and (b) didn’t leave me a total basket case afterwards (I wrote that last night – I was wrong, though the clock change didn’t help either). Still going to be in a lot of pain tomorrow but, for now, just tired. You’ll find out why below.

Normally I use Sainsbury’sBasics Pork Shoulder and their Streaky Rashers, to give me the right lean/fat balance (fat content of the finished sausages  is 20-25% but, before you phone the fat police, nobody in their right mind lives on sausages!), but Streaky Rashers are one of the products which Sainsbury’s load with water, about which I’ve written at length, so this time I went with Basics belly pork – good choice too.

The last batch I made, I went up-market with outdoor-reared pork from Cumbria. Nice but no better than Sainsbury’s Basics. Didn’t cost a lot more either. I’ve used the Basics and Sainsbury’s ordinary pork shoulder and, frankly, the Basics meat is better quality. Has more fat, too, which matters for sausages.

1.575gk of shoulder, and 0.543kg of belly, prepped and trimmed, yielded 1.596kg of useable meat. Yes, it’s a lot of waste, which is why so many commercial sausages are crap – what I take out, some less than scrupulous butchers put in, plus ears and snouts too, which give the sausage a characteristic granular texture, so no excuse for buying them twice!

Prepping pork is an exercise in surgery. You want the firm, white fat, you don’t want the wet, fibrous, white fat, or the skin (or anything which looks like firm white fat, but resists the knife – you’ll find one or two nuggets like that), so all have to be removed while wasting the absolute minimum of good fat and lean meat with which the fibrous crap is intermixed. As I said, surgery.

You need a razor-sharp chefs’ knife if you’re to do this and wind up with the same number of fingers you started with – blunt knives are dangerous, small knives worse than useless.

For prepping the meat I bought a large (18” x 12”), high-density polypropylene chopping board – bigger than my normal board, it made life much easier. Good price too. Red is the industry-standard colour for raw meat prep boards but I prefer white.

Once that’s done, it has to be minced, and it was this part of the process that always did for me, and left me with such a grudge against the sausages I really didn’t want to eat them! Yeah, I know it’s not logical – neither is extreme pain.

So, this time, I used an electric mincer. I’ve tried these before, and couldn’t deal with the noise. I also tried a mincer attachment for my Kenwood mixer, but the design was abysmal (covered elsewhere here – it mushed the meat rather than minced it), and I binned it. So, after spending all day looking at some staggeringly shit electric mincers (seriously, never buy one of these without reading the reviews – no reviews, walk away), and I was seriously considering going for a semi-commercial model at £120, when I lucked into this one, on Amazon, at exactly half the price.

The Orbit Electric Meat Mincer/Sausage Filler (now come down to £42.50). Yes, it’s noisy, especially in my tiny kitchen, and it doesn’t mince as fast as you might think from the racket (not necessarily a bad thing, as mincing too fast causes the meat to heat up, to its detriment), but the actual mincer is very well designed, and the fine plate produces very nice, fine-textured sausage meat for a breakfast-style sausage filled into 23mm Devro casings** (you get three plates, fine medium and coarse – the coarse will do nicely for my next project, chorizo). And a bread roll, fed through at the end, cleared out almost every trace of meat – little more than a teaspoon of waste left behind. Tip: Don’t press hard on the pusher – gentle pressure gets the job done faster, and when you’ve finished, the small amount of retained meat will flush out easily under the hot tap (for washing in hot, soapy water – meat is very greasy so you need to be scrupulous – you need a bottle brush to reach inside properly). Note: The minced meat emerging from the micer has the appearance of pure fat. Don’t panic – the finished sausages, as you can see, have the characteristic mottled pink appearance (avoid sausages that are uniformly pink – they’re hiding something which has been minced to mush).

**My ability to make sausages or do anything else in the kitchen is seriously compromised and unpredictable, which makes using natural casings impossible. Devro collagen casing keep for a couple of years, are exceptionally thin and, whether fried or used in a casserole, barely perceptible when cooked.

As the meat emerges from the mincer, catch it in a small bowl, then, about three times, tip into a larger bowl (sausage-making generates a hell of a lot of washing-up, but it’s worth it!), level it off and cover with a layer rusk mixed with the salt, pepper and sage), finishing with rusk, and at the end, get your hands in there (I wear disposable gloves), and mix it thoroughly until there is no rusk visible. You cannot do this any other way – don’t  even think of using a spoon!

My sausage filler I’ve covered in previous sausage posts, you put the casings on the spout, load the cylinder with meat, and turn the handle,

so I won’t go over that again in detail, but see/buy it here. It really is indispensible as, no matter what the ads say, sausage-making with just a mincer, unless there are two of you, or you have three hands, is a mug’s game, and you will never get nice, evenly-filled, taut-skinned, sausages. Oh, you’ll find people who claim to have made perfect sausages with a mincer – these are in the same league as chefs who claim to make bread for a restaurant with just a KitchenAid Artisan mixer capable of making one loaf at a time – they don’t want to admit having been suckered by advertising (called the Lemon Effect in the US – no-one likes admitting they bought one!).

If you’re serious about sausage-making, buy a proper stuffer. And if you think £130 is expensive, look around and you’ll find almost identical machines for over £500! This machine, apart from the piston seal and the rubber feet, is entirely stainless steel.

So, on to the recipe but, first, here’s the finished product ready for linking.

Despite appearances, they are actually all the same colour, which is as per the top right coil! The others are lighter, I think, because the flash reflected from my light-colored trousers and the white fridge out of shot on the right.

You need:-

1.576kg prepared pork shoulder and belly

200g rusk (in my case made from my own bread, dried, fresh, on the radiator – stale bread can develop off flavours)

10g dried sage

2 tsp fine sea salt

3 tsp white pepper

Cold water as required – you want it soft, not wet. Start with 100g and see how you go (always weigh both solid and liquid ingredients for complete accuracy – 1g of water = 1ml).

Start with your meat fridge-cold and, once you’ve prepped , minced** it and mixed it in a suitable bowl, cover with clingfilm and put it back in the fridge for an hour.

**I used the fine plate – I think the medium might have been better.

Load the stuffer’s cylinder with meat a handful at a time, taking care to eliminate air pockets (which will wind up in your sausage), and proceed according to your machine’s instructions.

I have two metal trays, one a Marmite commemorative tray, the other liberated from a pub. Either of these I use to coil my sausage as the stuffer pumps it out.

Once you’ve finished, you’ll find the stuffer retains about 200-250g of meat in the outlet spout. Make patties with it, don’t waste it. After all, these can be your first taste of the fruits of your labour. As I type this I’m having – or, rather, it’s going cold – two fried patties, a couple of fried slices of morcilla from which I forgot the paprika (but it still makes a nice form of black pudding), and two fried eggs – first fry-up I’ve had in decades!

Spray or brush your finished sausages with oil before linking (I have a spray loaded with olive oil which I use in bread-making, this is ideal), this makes the casings more pliable and easy to handle, coil neatly on the tray, as per pic, cover tightly with cling film and put back in the fridge until you’re ready to link them (in my case, that’s the next day).

Linking is my weak spot, I never get two sausages the same size! With a thicker sausage I’ll just treat it like Cumberland, and cut it into equal-sized lengths, but with a thinner sausage, like these, I’ll simply pinch it and knot a short piece of butchers’ string around it. This is a perfectly acceptable method, and eliminates the difficulty of handling a 3-foot length of sausage, with the inevitable risk of it bursting. I’m also considering just cutting them into 9″ lengths, enough for one portion, coiling them and wrapping them in clingfilm.

Once you’ve done that, re-chill the sausages as before, then cut into individual links, slip off the string – no need to mess about untying it – then portion and pack the sausages for the freezer. I tend to pack them in twos or threes, depending on size, wrap tightly in cling film and, at the end, bag them in as many bags as you need to fit in your freezer, suck out the air, seal and freeze.

Eat within three months, though I’ve found home-made sausage still good at six months. Defrost in the fridge before cooking.

I’m thinking about adding a solution of ascorbic acid (unflavoured vitamin C powder), to the next batch, in the hope of prolonging their shelf life. That or I should eat more sausages! The reason I don’t is that CHD runs in the family and I’ve been, at least notionally(!), on a low-fat diet since the eighties (at that time I was on a very low fat diet when I developed ME, and I’ve always suspected a link as the body actually needs some fats, especially cholesterol – the nervous system’s  myelin sheaths are mainly cholesterol). Now, though, since my life expectancy is, at best, not what it was a couple of years ago, there really is no point in fretting about my diet. See, there’s always an upside.  J

Bottom of the Fridge Soup…

March 3, 2012 by Ron |

This is the very first BotF Soup.

Well, sort of… It’s Tomato and Cannellini Bean Soup, flavoured with some really excellent dried basil – just a little – and spiked with sweet paprika (of which, as it turned out, I didn’t have enough – the recipe reflects what I should have had), and ground coriander.

Bottom of the fridge because it’s using up some onions, shallots and carrots that have been lurking there for a while, plus some canned cannellini beans I opened by mistake, and immediately bagged and froze (unlike Matthew Fort, I tend not to find overlooked whole salmon, or half a roast goose, in my fridge!). Not as bad as it sounds as my veg drawer is just a degree or two above freezing and, tightly wrapped to avoid dehydration, veg keeps extremely well. This is also good with canned flageolet beans, but I like cannellini as they break up a little when cooked, even the canned ones, allowing them to take up the flavours of the soup.

When it comes to canned tomatoes, I buy Sainsbury’s Basics (39p), or Tesco  Value (31p, which is what I have today, though I think Sainsbury’s are just that bit better**), peeled plum tomatoes in both cases. never chopped (quality is better). The toms might need a bit of a trim with a sharp knife, but the flavour is as good as anything you’ll pay 2 or 3 times the price for and, of course, they’re still cheap if you have to use two cans, which I would have done if I had no tomato powder.

** I’m going to experiment with more expensive tomatoes, see if they really are any better, as I started buying the cheap ones when money was really tight and the habit stuck. Given the acidity of today’s soup, perhaps, I should go upmarket.

After I’ve trimmed them, I push them through a large sieve into a bowl, using the bottom of a glass, which has a rounded shape that makes it perfect for the job. Takes 10 seconds to process one can – hardly onerous. Or you could buy passata. Also in my freezer is a bag of tomato purée (tip, when typing a word like that, deliberately misspell it – the correction will insert the accent for you). That’s frozen in desert-spoon sized lumps, and two of those will go in, along with some of my dehydrated vegetable powder and, towards the end, some tomato powder.

So, the recipe:-

Tomato and Cannellini Bean Soup

1 small to medium onion

2 or 3 torpedo-shaped shallots (or another onion, perhaps red, or even the white of a leek)

2 Sweet Spear carrots (these are a seasonal carrot – getting close to the end now –  available from Sainsbury’s, with an excellent flavour; if they’re gone there’s no equivalent, so any carrot will do)

1 400g  can Tomatoes

1 rounded tablespoon tomato purée

2 teaspoons sugar – any bland type, I use golden caster

1 400g can Napolina cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (Napolina are the best canned pulses that are easily available; not cheap, but little more than the cost of soaking and cooking your own, which isn’t as economical as many people think when the high cost of fuel is factored in)

4 teaspoons sweet paprika

3  teaspoons ground coriander  (using less coriander allows the paprika to come through)

Generous knob of butter

Splash of e-v olive oil (stops the butter burning)

1 Kallo organic vegetable cube

Hot water

1 fresh basil leaf, finely shredded – you just want a hint of basil, it shouldn’t dominate. If you have none, omit it****

Optional – not everyone will have them:-

2 teaspoons mixed dehydrated vegetable powder**

2 or 3 teaspoons tomato powder, mixed with a little of the soup and added near the end***

** These http://www.justingredients.co.uk/culinary-herbs-and-spices/dehydrated-vegetables/mixed-vegetables/prod_827.html ground to a powder in a coffee/spice mill kept just for this.

*** This http://www.healthysupplies.co.uk/tomato-powder-500g-sussex.html wonderful stuff!

**** I used this – just a pinch – http://www.justingredients.co.uk/culinary-herbs-and-spices/culinary-herbs/basil/prod_20.html it really is as good as they claim. Not as good as fresh, perhaps, but better than normal dried basil, which is just sort of generically, and usefully, herby.


Finely chop the carrots and alliums, melt the butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan, add the veg, stir well and leave over a low heat to soften without colouring (which means don’t bugger off to write a blog post!). Stir occasionally.

Don’t worry that the veg more than half fill the pan at first, they’ll cook right down when they soften.

When they’ve cooked down, and the carrots are getting soft, stir in the spices and cook through for a few minutes, before adding the tomatoes and the purée. Whisk the stock cube in a little hot water – use the bowl the tomatoes were in – and add to the pan, top up with hot water to about the ¾ mark, to leave room for the beans. Add the vegetable powder at this point, if using

Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour or until the carrots are fully soft (which in a tomato-based dish is longer than you might think). Top up the water to the original level and add the beans shortly before the end – they just need to heat through.

If using, add the tomato powder, whisked to a thin paste with a little of the soup liquid, and stir well.

If you want a slightly thicker soup, stir in a little Smash. This is also useful if the soup is a little overly-acidic, as mine is, as it acts as a buffering agent. Canned toms can be acid, not least because citric acid is added, for reasons which eternally elude me.

Adjust the seasoning with Maldon Sea Salt (it really is good with vegetable dishes), and freshly ground black pepper. Leave to cool, and refrigerate overnight to give the flavours a chance to snuggle up to each other. When the soup was almost cold – just about blood heat – I popped a whole, medium-hot dried chilli into it, to gently infuse it with a little heat overnight, in lieu of the missing paprika spiciness.

Remove the chilli, reheat gently, and serve with a swirl of decent olive oil, or cream, and good, home-made, bread.

Rabbit stew with seasonal veggies and traditional herbs…

February 12, 2012 by Ron |

I have a frozen  bunny, a big, muscular bugger, shot on the Lakeland fells (allegedly), and so very reluctant to defrost in the fridge it’s had to be exiled to the kitchen. This, along with some streaky bacon – rabbit being pretty much fat-free – will go into the slow cooker, accompanied by lots of seasonal root vegetables and rather untraditional sweet red peppers – the long, pointed kind, not watery bell peppers – cut into Christmas postage-stamp size chunks.

And in case you’re wondering, traditional herbs for rabbit, in my kitchen at least, are fresh thyme and rosemary. There may well be parsley stalks too, if I can find them in the freezer.

Very much not traditional or seasonal will be a couple of dried shiitake mushrooms, deeply slashed with a knife but left whole. They’re there to add depth and flavour, not to eat. Cooked shiitake, for me, are way too leathery. I prefer field mushrooms, from button to flat and any stage in between, and raw – even the humble cultivated button mushroom has more taste eaten raw than when cooked.

The cooking liquor will be a light vegetable stock, as rabbit, especially wild rabbit, has quite an intense flavour. Indeed, some cooks suggest bringing it to the boil in water, then discarding the water, to mute the flavour. Please, don’t do that – why bother buying rabbit if you’re frightened of the taste? Buy chicken instead, that scares no-one.

I’m hoping, when mine finally defrosts, it will prove to have its liver, kidneys, heart and lungs intact (many butchers filch these, especially the liver, for their own rabbit pies – knock it off guys!). These can either be left intact, after checking for shot (the whole beast needs to be checked for shot, before use), and fished out of the finished stew as cook’s treats, or chopped and added to the dish for extra flavour (it also hides them from the squeamish).

The rabbit needs to be washed before use, and this is best done after jointing. I cut them in to five pieces – forequarters, hindquarters, both split down the middle, and saddle – and rinse them under cold, running water, checking for little holes which might contain shot, which can be picked out with tweezers or teased out with a cocktail stick. Wash off any bone splinters too, from your own cutting and from the leg-ends and neck.

I might, if I’m in the mood, separate the rib cage, as it has little meat but still contributes to the flavour, so I tend to discard it after cooking. It’s usually easier to do once cooked, though.

If you lack a hefty, and very sharp, chef’s knife, for portioning the rabbit, then I suppose poultry shears, my second choice, are unlikely too. Secateurs, well-washed first, are good, but if all else fails, ask your butcher to joint it for you.


So, the recipe (some quantities are deliberately omitted – it depends on the size of your pot – I like loads of veg and have a big pot; it saves cooking them later):-

1 wild rabbit, washed and portioned as above

6 rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon, cut into roughly 2 inch pieces and fried in a dry pan until almost cooked and definitely not crisp, added to the stew with any fat they’ve given off – put them at the bottom of the pot, under the rabbit

Sweet Spear carrots (a really excellent, seasonal, British carrot, available from Sainsbury’s during the winter), peeled and sliced, diagonally, not too thick

Parsnips, ditto (halve and core them if they seem woody)

Half a smallish swede, peeled and cut into half-inch dice

2 sweet, pointed, red peppers, deseeded and cut into large postage-stamp pieces

6 or 8, depending on size, torpedo-shaped shallots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal, not too thin

2 sprigs of fresh thyme, the leaves stripped and chopped

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, likewise, but finely

Handful of parsley stalks if available (discard after cooking)

12 black peppercorns

A good pinch of salt

6 juniper berries (optional)

A splash of soy sauce

2 or 3, depending on size, dried shiitake mushrooms (optional), rinsed of grit, and slashed several times with a sharp knife – discard after cooking. If you like the things, slice first and leave in

1 litre of stock made from 2 Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes, dissolved in boiling water.

Note:  Slicing root veg on the diagonal is purely cosmetic – slice it how the hell you like as long as you’re consistent and remember that carrots take longer than parsnips, and swede is somewhere in between – half-inch dice of swede cooks in about the same time as sliced carrot a little thicker than a pound coin. The smaller slices of parsnip, which is starchier than carrot or swede, will likely disintegrate and thicken the sauce a little – I tend to deliberately cut a few very thin slices for this purpose.


Towards the end of cooking – this is something I did in my recent, abortive, return to vegetarianism – trim, remove manky outside leaves, and quarter some medium-sized Brussels sprouts (don’t trim the stalk too short, as this helps to stop them shedding leaves), as many as you like, add to a pan, cover with boiling water and boil for a minute or so (this helps prevent the entire stew tasting of Brussels sprouts) . Drain and add to the stew. Surprisingly, especially in the gentle environment of a slow cooker, they retain their shape very well.


Put the bacon in the bottom of the pot, put the rabbit portions on top, and add everything else to the pot. In a slow cooker, root veg go on the bottom, traditionally/officially. In practice this is pointless as convection currents carry them up to the top anyway.

Add the hot stock. A litre should be more than enough but, if not, make up any shortfall with hot water.

Turn up the slow cooker to High, and when it’s showing signs of simmering (little bubbles round the edges), reduce the heat to low and forget about it for 4-8 hours, depending on your cooker – modern ones run hotter than old ones. I tend to cover the top with a towel to reduce heat loss – the container is double-walled, the lid isn’t, and can lose significant amounts of heat left uncovered.

Check for doneness at 4 hours (the meat should just barely be falling off the bones and the veg tender), and hourly thereafter. Once cooked, adjust the salt if necessary, and leave to cool, When cold, stash in the fridge for 24 hours, as you should with any stew or soup, to give the flavours time to relax and snuggle up to each other. I tend to tip it into a pan, once it’s cool, as I don’t trust my glass shelves to the combined weight of the slow cooker’s crock-pot and its contents.

Of course, if you put it in the oven, or on the hob, your timings will be different.

Reheat, removing the fat from the top first if that sort of thing worries you (tip, you’re removing flavour!), and serve with boiled potatoes, or buttery, mustardy, mash (my choice). There should be sufficient veg cooked with the rabbit.

If you plan to freeze some or all of it, I’d remove the meat from the bones, lest any sharp fragments poke holes in the foil trays/plastic bags – whichever you use. I use foil trays, they’re tidier and stack nicely.

And we’re done – enjoy!

Home-made wholegrain mustard…

September 5, 2010 by Ron |

I’m told, by those to whom I gave jars, and who came back for seconds, and even thirds, that this is excellent. Personally, I don’t like it – I made it just because I like to learn new stuff .

For a while, now, I’ve had an urge to make my own mustard. Not Colman’s finest – any fool can do that – but decent, well-flavoured (as in not simply hot!), wholegrain mustard. So, today, I did.

If anyone’s interested, this is my recipe. It needs, for those like me, to whom it matters, almost no effort to make.

Normal wholegrain mustard is basically mustard seed, some lightly crushed, in a base of normal mustard, which has always struck me as a tad pointless. And I find the whole seeds annoying.

This is somewhat different, as the seeds are blitzed in a blender (though a blade coffee mill would probably be better), until most, if not all, are broken. I wanted it the texture of a coarse, wholemeal flour, with a relatively small proportion of whole seeds.


Wholegrain mustard

100g yellow mustard seed, crushed

50g brown mustard seed, crushed

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon honey

Equal parts apple juice and cider vinegar; mix seeds to desired texture.

The juice is Copella English apple juice (unfiltered), the vinegar Aspall Organic Cyder Vinegar


I tried blitzing the seeds a few at a time, but that didn’t work too well, as they just bounced around the blender goblet. Tossing them all in at once, the blades create a whirlpool effect, seeds being drawn down into the centre and chopped seeds ejected around the perimeter – run until you have the desired texture.

A warning – if the centre cap of the lid is vented, to vent the steam pressure from hot liquids blowing it out it out (as it might not be if you have an old blender), seeds will make a bid for freedom. I removed the centre cap and put my hand over the whole. This is more of a problem with just a small amount of seeds. Once processed, tip the seeds into a glass or similar non-metallic basin, and stir in the salt and pepper.

I started with 50ml each of juice and vinegar, into which I dissolved the honey, and mixed it into the processed, seasoned, seeds, then continued to add equal amounts of each until the desired consistency is reached (this is easiest if you combine the liquids – there might be a little waste, but what the hell?).

One you’ve attained the desired consistency – if you’re making this, you’re probably familiar with how it should be, if not, note that there should be no free liquid, but the consistency should be slightly loose – a spreadable consistency, if you like. Note: It thickens up while it’s maturing – quite quickly, too – so before transferring it to jars, adjust the consistency using the same proportions of juice and vinegar.

Once you’ve done that,  scrape down the sides of the basin and smooth out the mustard, then cover tightly with clingfilm and store at room temperature for a week. In my flat, that would mean storing it at around 30C (yep, seriously – my flat faces due south and gets the sun nearly all day at this time of year), which would be a bad idea, so I’ve put it in the bedroom, which is kept cool by having reflective Mylar film on the window (in both the living room and bedroom, one wall is almost entirely window – it’s lunacy and, being on the ground floor, like living in a goldfish bowl).

So, it can sit in there and mature quietly, while I wait for my jars to be delivered. It smells amazing and, even now, tastes pretty damn good.

I’ve ordered 10 55ml jars (55ml = 11 x 5ml teaspoons, which is about right for mustard). I ordered them from Head Cook & Bottlewasher, at a fiver for 10, plus postage.

And that’s where things went a bit arse ’uppards, as we said in my youth, in Manchester. Like Shipton Mill before them, the interface with the Sage Pay system is screwed up, as I found when it rejected my transaction, while whining about postcode inappropriateness. So, I had to go back, change my post code by removing the space and changing the letters to lower case – a format which exists nowhere else except here and Shipton Mill, unless others have done the same thing.

I’ve paid for dozens, possibly scores, of transactions using Sage Pay, and they’ve all been perfectly fine with post codes in the correct format. Anyway, bear that in mind if you order or, indeed, if you have problems with Sage Pay anywhere – it’s worth tweaking your post code.

And I think my transaction went belly-up. Although, once I’d fixed the problem, it apparently completed without a hitch, my bank asked me its routine security question, I took a copy of the order and then – nothing.

I emailed them, pointing out the problem and asking them to confirm my order – or otherwise – to which I probably won’t get a response until tomorrow. I tried to check my account, only to be told that my email address doesn’t exist on their system, which is just weird. (Now sorted.)

And there, for the moment, the matter rests. As, indeed, does my mustard.


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