East Wittering Sausage and Chicken Curry Casserole

Months ago my wife started talking about going for a summer holiday. As we now have a two year old and a 5 month old the idea of packing the whole family up and flying somewhere didn’t really appeal, especially since we’d have to spend so much time tending to a baby that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of being wherever we’d gone. So going somewhere within easy driving distance was definitely the plan. Claire did some research and we decided that we’d do a real family holiday with Claire’s parents, brother and his girlfriend and their 8 month old daughter. So it was going to be 6 adults and three small children in a house by the beach in East Wittering on the south coast of England for a week of sun and sand castles!
It was a really good idea, the only problem with it was that the weather hasn’t cooperated. We arrived Friday in gale force winds and rain, the next day was beautiful except for winds gusting up to 45mph which sandblasted us nicely. Then on Sunday nature in her infinite wisdom saw fit to dump an entire month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. Yesterday (Monday) we woke up to the sound of rain drumming on the roof, which was pretty familiar to us by then, it was the sheet volume of it which amazed. It was is a giant hose was spraying a constant stream of ocean onto our house. Not knowing that the local area was experiencing serious flooding I decided to take my son to a big store in Chichester in order to buy him a raincoat and umbrella which we hadn’t anticipated him needing. Swimsuit yes, bucket yes, sun cream yes, rain gear no, so I set about to rectify the situation so my little guy could at least leave the house once in the week.
Once we were in the car a few minutes the impact that the rain was having on the local area started to become apparent and I began to think that perhaps I would be better off getting my son a floatation device rather than a rain slicker. The fire department was out in force, busy pumping water out of the local homes and businesses. One of the roads out of town was closed and the other was passable with some massive ponds to cross. Nevertheless I soldiered on, determined to bring home the bacon (literally, as bacon was on the shopping list). I had successfully navigated the enormous lake that the road had become and I had an immense sense of satisfaction from it.
Two things stopped me. One, the A27 was backed up 12 miles and getting the last mile to the store would have taken hours. Second, the snoring from the back seat notified me that my son was fast asleep and he was having an early nap. Quitter! Still, we weren’t getting there anyway because of the massive traffic problems, it took me 20 minutes just to get into a position to turn around. Anyway, unable to get to a big store we fell back on the small local ones which were remarkably well stocked considering the natural disaster taking place around us and we were able to get enough for me to make the concoction I’m about to tell. This was completely ad-libbed, I ‘ve never seen any recipe like this, it was all completely improvised. I wanted to make a rich, hearty dish to warm the insides that can serve a bunch of big eaters and came up with this, my Sausage and Chicken Curry Casserole:
7 chicken thighs
14 sausages (meaty ones like italian or solid pork sausages)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 carrots, sliced
1 head of brocolli, florets separated from the stem. Chop the stem in the same size pieces as the carrots
2 cups peas, thawed
900ml chicken stock (about 4 cups)
2 tbsp sweet soy sauce (or 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce and 2 tsp sugar)
150ml low fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup corn meal (polenta)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp curry powder

Preheat the oven to 180c, 375f. First we want to get color on the meats, so grill or fry the sausages to brown them. Don’t worry about cooking them the whole way through, we want the color. Next heat oil in a frying pan to medium-hot and mix the flour, corn meal, and salt in a bowl. Coat the chicken thighs in the flour mixture and brown both sides in the frying pan. Again, don’t cook them through, just get the color on them. Make your chicken stock and let it cool to room temperature, then add the yogurt to it. If you add the yogurt to hot liquid it will probably split. Transfer some of the oil from the frying pan into another pan (don’t get all the burnt gritty bits through, they don’t taste good) on medium heat. Add the carrots and brocolli stem pieces and saute for 3-4 minutes. This is because the carrots and brocolli stems take much longer to cook, without this step they will be tough when the rest is done. Add the onion and saute another couple of minutes, add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the curry powder and one tablespoon of the flour mixture and fry a couple of minutes. The flour will thicken the sauce, and frying it will keep it from tasting uncooked. Frying the curry powder will help release its flavor and frying it will keep it from tasting powdery, especially in hard-water areas.
Next add your liquid mixture. If you didn’t add your yogurt to the cooled stock before then add the stock and take it off the heat, then add the yogurt a spoon at a time, then put it back on the heat. Add the sweet soy or soy and sugar, then taste. You want the sweetness of the sweet soy or sugar to balance out the sourness of the yogurt, with just enough salt to taste. You want it to be thickened a bit but not too much, don’t worry it will thicken more later. In a casserole dish (don’t ask me how big, this is cookware in a rented house, if you can fit it all in, then it’s just right 😉 put the chicken on the bottom, then the brocolli, then the sausage. Pour the liquid in, then put it in the oven uncovered. Make sure all the brocolli is submerged, don’t worry about the sausages. Bake for 20 minutes after the mixture starts to bubble. 5 minutes before the end put the peas on top. Once it is done let it cool for about 15 minutes before serving over rice.

This fed 6 but could stretch to 8 if you had some bread and/or salad on the side. Variation-wise you could add some ginger, or put in some fish, or try other vegetables, it’s very flexible.

Pasta with sausages, spinach, and beans

I often cook without a recipe, throwing something together for dinner using a new ingredient or something special I’ve found. Yesterday I picked up some really good sausages from this market that comes once a month to Wanstead. I’ve had them before and they’re outstanding just grilled on their own but I wanted to do something with them that was more interesting. I also found some good spinach as well. So much of the spinach you get in the supermarket is pre-bagged baby spinach and while it is convenient in that you can just open the bag and throw it into dishes or salads it doesn’t actually taste like anything, and if it doesn’t taste like much it probably isn’t that nutritious either. The spinach I got was real big leaf spinach with real flavor.

The reason I talk about the ingrediants so much is that this italian-style recipe is so simple that the quality of the ingredients hugely affects the end result. If you use flavorless sausages and spinach then the dish will be flavorless too. Whenever you make any italian style dishes, or any simple dish, that’s the most important thing to remember. The ingredients below are what I used, you can change the balance to whatever you like, use greens or kale instead of spinach, or put in brocolli or beans, it’s all up to you.
6-8 sausages, whole
1 medium onion chopped
3-4 cloves garlic chopped
2 big bunches spinach, washed and roughly chopped
600ml water
1 knorr chicken stockpot or chicken stock cube
2 tsp dry italian herbs
1 can cannelinni beans, washed
1 tbsp cornstarch or flour
2 tbsp cream (optional)
half a box pasta shells, penne, or whatever you’ve got.
olive oil
vegetable oil

in a large saute or casserole pan (with a lid ) on high heat add a few tbsp of vegetable oil, not olive oil as olive oil geta bitter and can burn on high heat. We are going to brown the sausages without cooking them through. You can skip this step if you like but the browning causes caramelization and adds great flavor, so brown 2 sides of the sausages and remove them to a plate to cool. Discard the oil in the pan and let it cool to medium heat. Start boiling your pasta now. Add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add your onion. Saute until soft, add your garlic and flour and saute another minute or two. The flour is going to thicken the sauce and you want to cook it a bit. Add the water, stockpot or cube, herbs, and bring to a simmer. Don’t add any extra salt, there’s salt in the sausages, stock cube, spinach, and on the outside of the pasta from the salt in the water, and that’s plenty! Add your spinach and cover. Stir your pasta, make sure it doesn’t stick together. Slice your sausages up. After 5 minutes of simmering add your beans and sliced sausages, stir in, and cover turning the heat down to low. Cook your pasta until it is just a bit underdone and then scoop it out or drain it and put the pasta into the pan. If you do drain it save some of the pasta water, you can use it to add extra moisture to the dish if it gets dry. I use a big strainer I got at a chinese supermarket, they are great for scooping pasta.

Put the heat back up to medium-high with the lid off and add your cream and stir. The pasta is going to finish cooking in pan and so will soak up the flavors of the dish. Here’s where you may need to add some of that pasta water. You want there to be enough sauce to coat all the ingredients but not too much. Taste and season if necessary. Once the pasta is done (should be 1-2 minutes maximum) turn off the heat and serve as it is.

This was a real crowd-pleaser, my son even ate some of the spinach and that’s an achievement!

across the pond – a cooks guide to the US-UK #1

I love to cook, so when I moved from the US to the UK I immediately set about getting used to the ingredients, measurements, etc. You can find just about everything in the UK as you can in the US although sometimes it has a different name. Measurements are a bit different as well, so it’s vital that you know where your recipes come from and have the right measuring equipment. I have a set of US cups and UK cups and I use whichever is appropriate. When baking especially if you use the wrong measurements things can go seriously wrong, so it’s worth double-checking. The metric system is supposedly the official standard in the UK but many recipes use the old imperial measurements. It’s confusing; road measurements are in miles but you buy fuel by the liter. weird.

everything below is UK first, then US second

measurements: the UK uses imperial measurements and the US US measurements. The thing is they both use ounces, cups, pints, etc but the systems are very different. In the UK a cup is 10 ounces and in the US it’s 8. The ounces are almost the same volume so a british cup is 1.2 times the volume of a US cup. In other words if you use a UK cup to measure for a US recipe or vice-versa it’s not going to work very well. teaspoons and tablespoons are US measurements but are used in the UK as well.
Weights are the same in the UK and US, so a pound is a pound. In the UK large weight measurements are sometimes in stone, a stone is 14 pounds. 10 stone 3 is (14 X 10) + 3, is 143 pounds, which is a pain in the ass. generally in cooking you’ll never use the term however

brown bread flour – whole wheat flour <- brown bread is whole wheat bread... kinda. There are so many varieties in both places strong flour - bread flour <- these flours have extra gluten added. Don't use them when not called for. The word "strong" is used in conjunction with the type, ie strong brown flour plain flour - flour <- the white stuff, comes in bleached and unbleached in both places bicarbonate of soda - baking soda <- they're both exactly the same - sodium bicarbonate baking powder <- same in both places sweeteners: caster sugar - superfine sugar icing sugar - powdered sugar or confectioners sugar <- this is finer than caster sugar demerra sugar - raw sugar <- less processed, I use this pretty often as it has a slightly syrupy flavor. The only thing is it doesn't dissolve as easily golden syrup - the closest thing I can think of is brown sugar syrup dark treacle - dark karo, maybe molasses, there's no direct equivalent light and dark muscovado - this is just a fancy name for light and dark brown sugar jam sugar - sugar with added pectin, I'm not sure if there's a US equivalent as most add it separately. general terms: jam - jam, preserves, or jelly <- in the UK jam is a catch-all term jelly - jello, ie fruit flavored gelatin desserts <- if you ask for jelly with your toast in the UK you will get strange looks. vegetables: courgette - zucchini aubegine - eggplant coriander - cilantro <- we're talking the leaves here. Coriander seed is the same thing in both places. temperature: You'll see both Centigrade and Fahrenheit on UK recipes, but on almost all ovens there's only C, and in the US the ovens use F, so know how to convert the two. On really old UK ovens you might see Gas marks, like gas mark 1-8. Gas mark 1 is about 275 F and each gas mark number is an increase of 25F, so 2 is 300F. In practice the thermostats in most old ovens in any scale (and many new ones as well) are wildly inaccurate so back it up with an over thermometer. equipment: pans, pots, spoons, blenders, mixers, etc all are pretty much the same makes and go by the same terms. there are some terms that can throw you though cooker - stove or range <- an integrated, free-standing combination of oven and gas or electric burners. In the UK ovens tend to be almost exclusively electric while in the US you can get either gas or electric. hob - cooktop ovens: in he UK most ovens are electric and have a circulating fan and so are called convection ovens. These fans cook things faster and tend to heat more evenly although the fan is not always what you want depending on what you're cooking. Better ovens have different modes where you can turn the fan off. In the US convection ovens are rare and gas is as prevalent as electric. US ovens tend to be much bigger than in europe and you can get all sorts of nice features like warming drawers. grill - broiler <- On UK electric ovens the grill tends to be on the top of the oven itself where in US gas ovens the broiler is a separate drawer at the bottom barbecue - grill <- OK, some people in the US call it a barbecue as well, but I was confused, or more often confused others over here when I talked about buying a grill baking sheets - cookie sheets hints and tricks: google has great tools for conversion. If you type in "100 c in f" it converts 100 centigrade to fahrenheit andd vice-versa. "8 uk oz in us oz" converts uk ounces into us ounces, whereas "8 uk oz in us cups" will convert to cups instead. you can do ounces to liters, cups to liters, weights, etc. Convection ovens heat more evenly and cook food quicker than non-convection ovens, so when using a recipe keep that in mind. If I'm using a convection oven and the recipe is meant for a non-convection I will generally turn it down by 40-50 C or 90-100F. things that are hard to find in the UK: buttermilk - you can sometimes find this in the dairy section but if you can't find it just make your own. Add 1 tbsp of acid (clear vinegar or lemon juice) to a US cup, then add milk up to the 1 cup mark. Stir and leave to sit for 5-10 minutes. There you go italian sausage - on the east coast of the US in any supermarket you can get packs of italian sausage and I used to use it in many dishes or just fry it up by itself as it has great flavor. Impossible to find except in italian stores things that are hard to find in the US: tea: lipton is nasty, weak, and horrible. Tetley is a watered-down version of the UK tetley tea. yech