A Small Casserole of Cumberland Sausage and Bacon…

… with Date Purée, Apricots, Peas, Carrots, and Onion Gravy spiced with Garlic, Ginger, and Chilli.

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This recipe is rather good. I’m leaving it as written, but I find that the Lingham’s sauce, while very tasty as a condiment doesn’t really work as an ingredient as it loses everything but the chilli heat. I suggest stirring in a little in the bowl when serving – that works well. There’s also a reminder footnote.

It’s small because my big pot still held some rather good, old-fashioned, vegetable soup (old fashioned in the sense that it’s based on beef stock, not the ubiquitous tomato a la Heinz).

Talking of soup, I haven’t eaten breakfast for about 25 years but, yesterday, I had a craving for Heinz tomato soup – so I indulged it and had a very good, productive, day (it produced the following recipe for a start). So, in the hope that it wasn’t just coincidence, I had another can this morning and, you know, I really enjoyed it. If I have another good day I might have to think about making my own** (I have loads of passata), and freezing it in mug-sized portions.

**Which I duly did. And it had the same effect, despite being very different to the Heinz version. In fact the only ingredient in common was tomato which must be where the benefit lies, though what aspect of the tomatoes causes it I have no idea.

I’m still offline (or was when I wrote this), so I’m passing the time cobbling up recipes, something I often do in hospital as a form of self-defence (the food there has gone from disgusting to a veritable crime against humanity on my recent stay).

I just don’t understand it. I know they have a relatively tiny budget, but dear god, that’s no excuse for an almost total lack of culinary skills. I could cook better than those clowns when I was 12.

They have, for example, not the slightest idea of how to use a steam cabinet to keep food hot – boiled spuds should NOT have a bloody crust and “creamed” spuds, apart from the colour, really shouldn’t look like Type 2 on the Bristol Stool Chart even before you eat them!

Luckily I had a small jar of my own-blend Harissa in my hospital kit, otherwise it would have been even worse (sea salt, white pepper and maybe a small bottle of HP will be added). The last meal, while I was awaiting discharge – “haddock” in lemon batter – went back untouched as it was stone cold. Nobody asked why I hadn’t eaten it.

So, at home at least I have food that’s actually enjoyable even if I still feel bloody awful, and this is my latest effort.

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Ingredients (using my 3-litre pot – see footnote) Makes 3 portions with some tasty gravy left over:-

400g pack Sainsbury’s TTD Cumberland Sausages, lightly fried, cooled, and cut into slices a little thicker than a pound coin

275g pack Sainsbury’s Sweetcure Unsmoked Back Bacon, lightly fried in a little oil and cut into 3 pieces per rasher***

3 cooking onions, cut in half, thickly sliced, and browned in the bacon fat with the addition of a little butter

30g butter

4 or 5 Sainsbury’s Sweet Spear carrots, cut into batons on the diagonal (the Tesco equivalent is Imperator)

Lingham’s Ginger, Garlic and Chilli Sauce to taste (optional – it’s good but potent – use with care, start with a tablespoon and work up) Hard to come by. Try Waitrose or Ocado. Amazon sell 6-packs – good if you can share or you use a lot. I love the stuff with cottage cheese.

12 or so sage leaves, depending on size, finely chopped

15 dried apricots, coarsely chopped; I use the yellow sulphured ones as the brown unsulphured kind have a very short shelf life, mine fermented even in the fridge. Cooking drives off the sulphur – there is NO risk and I say that as someone with severe respiratory problems

1 scant teaspoon celery salt (optional)

1/4  teaspoon Schwartz black pepper

250g frozen peas

2 tablespoons Date purée (or to taste), home-made and optional** If using Lingham’s, use this too, or a dessertspoon of sugar

A little slaked potato starch or corn flour to thicken if desired

2 Kallo organic vegetable cubes

1Knorr Chicken cube (I grate Knorr cubes with a ginger rasp – watch your fingers! – it saves dirtying a jug just to dissolve it)

For a final flavour tweak if needed, try Knorr Touch of Taste Vegetable or Marigold Vegetable Bouillon Powder – either or a bit of both, to taste.

And to adjust the seasoning Maldon Sea Salt Flakes **if needed** – taste the following day as the bacon might leach salt into the dish overnight (I tasted a piece and it seems fine – I’ll still try it tomorrow), and more Schwartz Black Pepper if needed

**I mentioned in my last post that sugar as a seasoning has a long history. So too does adding fruit for its flavour as well as sweetness. Dates, despite being high in sugar, are sweet but not overly so. The purée is simple to make – chop dates, put into a pan with a little water, simmer until they collapse then push through a sieve to remove the skins and other fibrous parts. Cool, bag, and freeze.

The purée won’t go hard in the freezer (no idea why), which makes it very easy to use, and as well as in dishes like this it makes a good substitute for jam (at room temperature), goes well with ice cream or chilled yoghurt, in smoothies, or just eaten as it is.

***Sausages mess up the pan, so fry the bacon first, then the onions, before adding oil and finishing with the sausages. In fact, for the sake of expediency, I gave the sausages a brief swim in the deep fryer as the oil already needed changing (140C for about 8 minutes – they’ll still be pink in the middle but as they’re going to be sliced and finished in the soup it doesn’t matter). Allow to cool before slicing – it’ll be much easier.

***

Method:-

Much of the method has been covered in the Ingredients, but to sum up – and save you flicking back and forth – here it is again. To keep things simple I’ll assume you didn’t use a deep fryer.

Fry the bacon and set aside. Add more oil and fry the sausages gently until browned more or less evenly (no need to obsess over it though).

Strain a couple of tablespoons of the hot oil through a fine wire sieve (not nylon – it’ll melt!), into the casserole pot, melt the butter and fry the onions over a moderate heat until soft nicely caramelised. They won’t all brown uniformly** – aim for about a third of them – any more is a bonus. Just avoid burning them, it makes them bitter.

**Because moisture content varies from onion to onion.

As is now standard, put the Kallo cubes in with the onions to melt for a few minutes. While waiting, toss in the carrots, sage, apricots, celery salt, black pepper and grate in the Knorr chicken cube. Stir it all together, scraping up the Kallo cubes, and add a litre of boiling water (rinse the grater into the pot). Stir well, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are almost tender.

Add the sausages and cut-up bacon, plus the date purée, the Lingham’s sauce, and the peas. Top up to within 2 cm of the top with boiling water, stir well, bring back to the boil and continue simmering until the carrots are fully tender by which time the sausages will also be fully cooked (the bacon already is).

Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cold, stash in the fridge overnight for the various flavours to snuggle up and do their thing while you’re not watching.

The next day you can reheat and check and adjust the seasoning and flavourings before serving.

Thickening:-

If you want to thicken the sauce, whisk 3 tablespoons of potato starch with enough cold water to give a thin cream. Bring the casserole just to the boil and stir in the slaked starch until it reaches the right consistency (stir gently, you don’t want to break up the bacon**).

**But you will anyway – such is life… Don’t worry about it.

I secrete an enzyme that breaks down corn flour (cornstarch for my US readers), on the plate, so I don’t use it. Follow the pack instructions if using.

Potato starch is weird stuff. It will vigorously resist being mixed with water, then suddenly relax and behave itself! No idea why.

In both cases, allow a few minutes for it to cook out over a low heat, stirring gently so it doesn’t stick.

Lingham’s:-

Important note: Lingham’s sauce and the date purée can safely be omitted as they are barely detectable in the finished dish (just a little chilli heat remains). I see no reason why, if you want to spice it up, you shouldn’t add the Lingham’s in the bowl, along with a little sugar. Works for me.

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Spoonie rating:-

Technically undemanding and not a lot of prep (pre-prepped carrot and onion can be used with little detriment to the finished dish – the onions are there as a vegetable, not just a background aromatic – you’d lose that with pre-prepped but it should taste the same), so I think 3 Spoons is about right.

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On a personal note I was unhappy to discover that, despite my Oramorph dose having been doubled, making this was still extremely painful. Oh well, at least eating it won’t be.

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Footnote re pots:- This is for new readers. I don’t use pans, I use stainless steel casseroles (I also use an induction hob, for which these pots, with their heavy steel bases are ideal). Unlike pans they don’t have long handles which can snag distracted/tired/hurting spoonies, and the small double handles make them easier to carry and to stash in the fridge. Stainless steel is as good, if not better, than Teflon when it comes to non-stick and, of course, you can use metal utensils without the worry of scratching, and Cif Stainless Steel spray will maintain the mirror finish inside and out with the minimum of effort.

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