Slow cooked Boston Baked Bean and Sausage stew

This is basically slightly posher baked beans with sausages in.  Which I used to like as a kid but now I can’t help but feel somewhat suspicious of what is in those teeny tiny frankfurter sausages.  If it was indeed pigs that died to make those sausages I really don’t think they were happy pigs snuffling round a farm being fed turnips lovingly by a ruddy faced farmer called Andrew.  I’m not saying that is exactly how the pigs which made my sausages grew up.  I’m not sure that they were particularly happy about a trip to the abbatoir to be turned into tasty sausagey goodness for my eating pleasure.  But hopefully they were reasonably OK up until that point.  I used organic sausages to make this.  But of course, any bangers will do.

Increasingly I’m getting more into buying organic fruit and veg.  Of course, I do have concerns about the environment and animal welfare but I have to be honest my main reason for buying it is the taste.  I’ve pretty much been consistently disappointed with supermarket meat and veg recently. I’m lucky in that I live near an excellent green grocer and a farm shop.  I’ve also started getting an Abel & Cole veg box delivered.

Last time I dabbled with getting an organic veg box was when I was weaning Corey, about 5 years ago.  I was determined that he would have the best most tasty baby food ever.  He enjoyed a varied diet of the cream of the veg box crop and we ended up eating a lot of kale.  And kale wasn’t even trendy then.  The only person who even pretended to like it then was Gwyneth Paltrow.  Nowadays the world and his healthy wife are scoffing kale and making smoothies from it and pretending they like it.  I have been really impressed with the Abel & Cole boxes though – in a month of getting them we have used every last thing each week without many extra trips to the supermarket or greengrocers and everything has been of the highest quality.  There seems to always be an offer on too so overall  I really don’t think it works out more expensive.  Obviously it does if you normally buy the more value ranges or shop in Lidl.  But for equivalent quality I think its not bad value at all.

Anyway, back to the sausage stew.  We actually ended up having this twice last week.  Once as a prototype version for just the two of us one night then at the weekend I made a huge vat of it for us and our friends who came round for dinner.  It was the perfect friends for supper dish – tasty, filling, not time critical and I served it with a crusty baguette sliced up and some runner beans from the garden.  I did make a kids version at the same time which was essentially the same but with less of the spices.

Like I say, this made a massive vat of the stuff – but we are all pretty greedy so it fed 4 adults and 4 kids with some leftovers.  Not many leftovers admittedly.  But if you want it to stretch further you could do some jacket spuds with it.  Or just be less greedy than us.

I think this would be a fab bonfire night meal.

 

Warming stew

Warming stew

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Recipe – Boston Baked Bean and Sausage Stew (FEEDS LOTS SO ADJUST QUANTITIES DOWN ACCORDINGLY)

As many sausages as you think you’ll need – I used about 16 (didn’t actually count them)

1 large onion roughly chopped

2 tins of baked beans

1 tin other beans (I used kidney beans)

Use the empty tin to fill up with cold water too

3 rashers of smoked bacon or a handful of smoked pancetta cubes

4 cloves of garlic

2 sticks of celery finely chopped

1 pepper chopped quite big

3 tbsp. tomato puree

3 tbsp. soft dark brown sugar

1 tbsp. Worcester sauce

3 tbsp. cider vinegar

1 tbsp. wholegrain mustard

1 bay leaf

bit of olive oil

 

I cooked all of this in my massive le creuset casserole dish.   I love it because you can brown things on the hob in it first – but if you don’t have one just use a frying pan then dump everything into a casserole dish.

Preheat oven to 165 mins.

Brown the sausages in the pan and set aside.  I had to do this in batches.

Fry the chopped onion and bacon for a couple of minutes.  Add the celery and pepper and fry for a minute.  Add all of the other ingredients (including the tin of water).

Give it a good old stir and then whack in the oven for around 90 minutes.  I then take the lid off and cook uncovered for about another 15 mins so that the sausages on the top get a good old colour on them.

The photos above are from when I made a smaller version for just us in the week – I stirred some spinach in just before serving.  I was going to do this when we had guests too but I had drunk Cava and so promptly forgot!

Enjoy

 

 

 

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Bonkers for conkers

Like so many things – there’s the Hollywood version of Autumn and the real life version of Autumn. In the Hollywood version there’s a lot of perfect weather where it is just cold enough for a jumper and scarf yet not quite cold enough for a coat, there’s a lot of kicking through perfectly crunchy leaves, pumpkins abound, there’s campfires, there’s hot chocolate with whipped cream on and wonderful Halloween Parties where the whole house is made to look like a scary castle.

I’m not entirely sure that we in England got that Autumn memo. Weather so far has been unseasonably warm and sandals have been lingering on for way longer than we expected. Which does mean that I can crow to my husband that actually I was right and my Saltwaters were an absolute BARGAIN and even though yes, technically, £55 is a lot for a pair of sandals I have worn them every minute of every day from May to September so actually they were virtually free and therefore I will need them in another colour next summer too. (I will have to figure out a way to phrase this argument so as not to dent my annual arguments about why it is NEVER POSSIBLE TO HAVE TOO MANY BOOTS and I will never ever throw a pair away again and no I don’t care that eventually the entire loft will be full of old boots. It is simply not possible to have either enough or too many boots. On this I will not be swayed). I have every confidence that the weather will shortly morph from this unseasonably warm straight into wet and cold. Not the kind of Hollywood rainy shower that is kind of unexpected and fun to run through, holding our coats over our heads and looking all flushed and winsome. No, we are talking the type of rain that is grey. Relentless. Miserable. There’s not much more soul destroying than rainy Manchester in November. No-one on the entire planet enjoys a wet school run.

Yesterday was a nice crispy Autumn day and we went out in the woods and the kids played in the falling leaves. It was pretty perfect. Of course, we spent much of the journey home sniffing suspiciously at a foul smell and then discovered that said leaves had concealed a dog turd Cujo would have been proud of and my husband spent a ‘merry’ half hour cleaning the shite off the tiny trainers in the garden upon our return.

The boys are mad on conkers. Must admit that not much in life makes me more excited than finding a perfect brown shiny conker. It’s up there with finding sea glass but without the added benefit of being at the beach. If you live in Manchester the very very best location for conker hunting is the Southern Cemetery in Chorlton. It is the very mecca of conker hunting, they’re everywhere. It’s also a surprisingly nice place to have a walk. In a gothic kind of a way. It did lead to some interesting theological discussions with Corey ‘mummy in those graves are skeletons aren’t there’ ‘yes’ ‘but not the people’ ‘no their person or soul is somewhere else’ ‘oh yes I already know that mummy, their skins are all floating round in space aren’t they’. Conkers are ace. They’re brown and shiny and lovely to hold. But what to do with them when you get them home? They don’t keep their shine very long and sit in boxes going slightly mouldy. Or in our case they get used as assault weapons between the boys and left where you least expect them just so I fall arse over tit when I get in the shower or try to walk out of the back door. Do kids actually string them on strings and play conkers anymore? Personally my kids seem to be having enough success throwing them at each others heads without encouraging any formal competitive warfare.

I’m not a complete Autumn killjoy. I’m liking the fact I can run outside without wanting to melt, I love me a pair or 500 of boots, I’m also liking the rediscovery of my jumpers and coats.

But it’s still sad to me that summer is gone. Summer is just a lot better than Autumn. People only really go on about Autumn because Winter is crap. No-one really likes winter. Being cold is crap. Christmas is expensive and fraught with family dispute. Dark and cold is crap. Sunny and light is good. Autumn is just somewhere in between. But as I posted last week, hopefully Autumn can be a time of new beginnings too.

From this Autumn, I am trying to actually stick to blogging and writing regularly and hopefully I shall bore entertain you on a Monday with a blog post each week. Banish those Monday blues maybe with a squizz at my waffle? Well, that’s the theory anyway. I also have a theory that I will spend the day on Thursday writing my book. Yes, the book which is currently 2 chapters long. I’m thinking it needs to be longer than that. Of course, this last Thursday I ended up moping around with PMT, working out at the gym and baking a massive chocolate cake. All therapeutic in their own way but none of them actually really getting me nearer my goals.

A few years ago I read the book ‘The Secret’ which basically says if you visualise/say out loud good things happening to you then they will happen. I’m not sure that I completely buy into the concept. For instance if I write ‘tomorrow morning the post man will bring me a cheque for £1,000 in the post’ I don’t actually believe it will happen. But according to the theory that’s why it won’t happen, because I don’t really believe it will and that by voicing my negativity I have already scuppered it.

I do believe that positivity generates good things. Whenever I’m having a meh phase things always get a bit more meh as a result. I suppose I do agree that voicing doubts, even to yourself, can influence the outcome. I was really upset last week at a falling out with a friend – but actually when I stop to think about it I had been talking about the friendship falling apart this year months and months ago, so whilst I was upset at the time I don’t know why as it was hardly unexpected.

So, the theory of writing more regularly isn’t just a theory. It’s GOING TO HAPPEN. I WILL FINISH MY BOOK. I WILL BLOG REGULARLY. I would love it if you’d read and give me feedback. As my book progresses I am going to need lots of input from you guys. Recipes that are tried and tested favourites with your children, anecdotes that will resonate with readers. Come on. I’m going to make this happen.

I’m visualising it now. My book. Finished. Being read and enjoyed by people. I will also have to break the news to my husband that in the visions I am wearing a kick-ass new pair of boots. Actually I have several – some casual ‘I’m an author don’t you know’ pair of desert boots and for the book launch some rather special high black patent ones. Just so he knows.

Indian Summer – Creamy curried sweet potato soup

I’m sure that the nature of holidays with children is well documented in the blogosphere.  Probably.  I’m a bit too lazy to actually go and look.  But as with all things online and parenting related I am finding that blogs fall into a few rather predictable patterns.  Many seem to be totally review focussed

* We went to [insert name of random resort] and it was all WONDERFUL (by that they mean free) and the kids had a FANTASTIC time because they had this SUPERB toy to play with that is loads better than ANY OTHER TOY EVER (because it was free) and although on the face of it you might assume that is just as pointless and plasticky as all other toys on the market and in fact that the kids didn’t like it as they hadn’t chosen it and it is not particularly pertinent to their interests, well if you assume that you’d be wrong.  No holiday is complete without one.  It kept the kids amused for at least 5 seconds.  And no, how very dare you suggest that I bribed the kids with haribo to get them to hold up the said (free) toy and smile as if all their teeny tiny Christmasses had come at once.  We all had a wonderful time with our free things and in fact life is wonderful [please PR folk give me more free stuff, more I tell you, I will never ever say a bad word about anything you care to send]*

Or the very very wholesome parenting blogs……..

*We spent the school holidays making spelt muffins and doing yoga together in fields during nature rambles*

Ideas for what to do in the school holidays abound.  Some of them great, some of them naff, some cheap, some stupidly expensive.  I started writing this on the very last day of the school holidays.  It was a strange limbo day as whilst it is officially the start of the school term the teachers feel the need for a day without children in school.  Personally I would have thought that children being there was a pre-requisite for the functionality of a school and that over 5 weeks of annual leave in one chunk would be more than enough to make sure that their classrooms were tidy and that they’d caught up with what they and their colleagues had done over the summer.  I can’t actually think of another job where you come back from holiday and then announce that you’ll come in to the office but won’t actually do the job you’re paid to for another couple of days thank you very much.  Sorry to my teacher friends…….. actually no, I’m not.  I know enough of you to know for a fact that inset days are a right old skive.

So, the school holidays are now officially over.  The teachers finally got their act together and let the kids go back to school and instagram and facebook have been full of shiny photos of children in shiny school uniforms holding up carefully written signs and pronouncing what they would like to be when they are older.  Status updates have veered between the tearful ‘oh I miss my baaaaaaabies, why have they grown up and left meeeeee’ and the ‘thank feck that ordeal of non-stop child entertainment is over and I can lie in a darkened room with a gin & tonic in a can and a family size bar of galaxy’.

Like I’ve said, I started writing a fortnight ago and it was meant to be a reflective piece about how we had spent the halcyon summer holidays.  Of course, real life intervened and husband got a stomach bug, both children got colds, I ran a 10k race (check me out!) and then I promptly got said cold.  So in between wiping snotty noses and using the entire Cheshire supply of dettol around the house there hasn’t been a whole lot of blogging (or indeed anything) time.  In fact the whole summer holiday thing seems like an entirely distant idea that may or may not have actually happened and may or may not have had, on the whole, more ups than downs.

Ups – we survived it, we saw lots of friends, the boys made a summer holiday plan of things they wanted to do and we ticked most things off it, we found lots of free activities to do, we had a lovely week in Norfolk and a wet week in Dorset and a visit to London, I went to Harrods, I drank wine or a suitable alcoholic equivalent every day for 6 weeks.

Downs – the boys learnt how to squabble and irritate each other big time, I was utterly exhausted for the majority of the holiday with what seemed like an inordinately large increase in shopping/cooking/ferrying around, I gave up even attempting to keep the house in any other state than terminally messy by the second week and it still looks like that now, my husband ate the cake I bought in Harrods, I drank wine or a suitable equivalent every day for 6 weeks and have continued this into September.

The dust is now settling, the boys are adjusting to new school routines, I am getting used to the varied schedule and whilst our livers are a little jaded our sniffles and coughs have abated to acceptable levels.  Autumn is as much of a time of new beginnings as Spring I guess.  I’m hoping that I will finally have the time to get cracking with writing my book, really carry on with getting fit and develop lots of healthy and yummy recipes. Who knows, I might even write coherent blog posts!

Naturally the same weather gods who think it’s hilarious to watch families shivering in cagoules and jeans in the drizzle on Bournemouth beach on bank holiday Monday think it’s pretty darn funny to crack open the sunshine once the kids are back in school.  So, although our heads say it’s Autumn and there’s things like conkers, apples and leaves on the ground – it’s also sunny and warm and not really Autumn food weather yet.

But in the interests of a halfway house I’ve cooked this soup for lunch.  It’s warming but still has that curry, exotic, sunny taste.  Hope you like it.  Well they do call this an Indian Summer, right????

Creamy curried sweet potato soup

Ingredients

 

1 onion chopped roughly

500g sweet potato peeled and chopped into medium size chunks

1 carrot peeled and chopped into similar size to sweet potato

100g red lentils

2tbsp of korma paste (I used waitrose own brand)

1.5 litres of hot water

50g creamed coconut (the dried kind that comes in a box) (or you could use a tin of coconut milk and reduce the water amount accordingly)

Salt and pepper to season

 

In a little oil fry off the onion for a few minutes then add the sweet potato and carrot and fry off for another couple of minutes.  Add the curry paste and cook for another minute or so.  Add the hot water, lentils and creamed coconut.  Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes (until the veg is cooked through)

 

I use a stick blender in the pan to whizz the soup smooth but you can use a food processor or any blender.

 

This makes loads of soup and it’s pretty filling so serves a lot of people.  Leftovers freeze well too.
I served it for the grown ups with a bit or sriracha drizzled on top.  My 3 year old liked it with bug hunks of bread dunked in.IMG_7845.JPG

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