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Saturday, 22 October 2011

McCartney's Chorizo, Chicken & Bean Stew

Messy but completely delish!
McCartneys of Moira are going a dinger at the moment! First of all their Corned Beef beat 7,500 other entries to become the Great Taste Awards 2011 Supreme Champion, then they were named best Neighbourhood Retailer Butcher of the Year! But we knew that anyway! Their sausages are just the best thing ever and so cheap when you consider how delicious they are. I'd rather have a plate of McCartney's sausages (especially their Italian ones) than a supermarket steak any time.

I made a fantastic (even if I do say so myself) casserole for the weekend from McCartney's chorizo sausages, some chicken fillets, a few tins of beans and a tub of tomato sauce. These sausages aren't as strong as proper chorizo (they are more accurately chorizo flavoured) but they are full of garlic & paprika and perfect for a winter casserole. Incredibly easy and quick to do, this will keep us going through a busy weekend where my husband and I are doing a very accurate impression of ships that pass in the night. You can eat a bowl of it on its own or have some crusty bread and cheese on the side. I make a pretty damn good tomato sauce in industrial quantities once a month and freeze 400g or so batches of it, so that's what I used here. Use your own recipe or a supermarket one if you must, though I can't recommend one cos I think they are all awful.....if you can recommend a good one please let me know!

Chorizo, Chicken & Bean Stew
450g McCartney's Chorizo sausages (If you are not lucky enough to have McCartneys, use a premium pork sausage with a lot of garlic, paprika and spice in the mix) cut into bitesize chunks
450g chicken breast fillets cut into bitesize chunks
1 punnet chestnut mushrooms sliced
1 medium aubergine diced into 1/2" chunks
100g Kabanossi sausage sliced
1 tin chickpeas drained and washed
1 tin flageolet beans drained and washed
3-400g or so of tomato sauce (see recipe below)
1 tsp paprika
Oil for frying

Fry the mushrooms on high until caramelised and golden. Transfer to a large casserole. Do the same thing with the aubergine. Turn the heat down slightly to medium high heat. Fry the chorizo until golden and add to the casserole. Then do the same with the chicken. Put everything else (beans, kabanossi, tomato sauce) into the casserole, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 mins.

My tomato sauce
2 x 500g cartons of passata (Tesco's 29p one is grand)
2-3 large onions
2-3 peppers (optional)
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 tsp sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme or a few sprigs of fresh.

Put the peppers, onions & garlic in a food processor and whizz till finely chopped. Fry on a medium high heat till cooked through (30 mins?). Throw everything else in, bring to the boil, simmer on low for an hour or so, remove whole herbs, cool & freeze in batches (this makes 3 batches for me). If you make it without peppers it's stupidly cheap and tastes much better than any dirty oul thing out of a jar.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A Lidl more than I intended

Didn't think it was actually possible to
break the £20 barrier in Lidl!
I really only nipped in to the Castlereagh Lidl because I saw it had a bakery and I know they do a cracking rye loaf. Of course I got hugely carried away and ended up with a mighty stash - I ended up spending more than £20 which I didn't think was possible!

Lidl is tremendously hit and miss - their yoghurts & chilled desserts are dire and I still can't bring myself to take a punt on the cleaning products but I'll update as I test:
  • Cheese parcels - lovely buttery pastry with a mixture of feta and mizritha cheese - I'll be buying these again!
  • Kabanossi - tasty enough Greek sausage, 300g for £1.99 is a good deal and I plan on putting it in a pie with some of the cheese I bought. (Update: I ended up putting it in a lovely Chicken & Chorizo Casserole)
  • Fin Carre plain chocolate is a good Bourneville substitute and at less than 30p for a 100g bar you couldn't complain at all. We'll be making truffles this weekend!
  • The Greek anchovies are delish - not strong at all, soft, melting texture in a lovely herb vinaigrette.
  • The sesame bagels were quite light and not desperately chewy but toasted well and were COVERED in sesame seeds which is very important for me! Eaten with the cream cheese and ham these sustained us midweek at exactly half the price I'd pay in Tesco. That's if you can find one. Tesco stock buyers, take note. There's a reason you always run out of the sesame bagels while heaps of plain and onion ones languish on the sidelines. Please address it.
  • Country loaf & rye loaf - I lived on these for two days and made no impression. They are as huge as they are delicious and they both make the most amazing toast. The Country Loaf was incredible value for 89p. It made a very memorable breakfast this morning, toasted, buttered and draped with fried eggs. I recently paid £4 for a similar loaf in St George's Farmers Market and I thought that was good value, so it's definitely worth a detour to a Lidl with a home bakery on a Friday - you'll have good bread all weekend for less than a pound. 
  • Gran Padano - as Parmesan substitutes go I'm afraid this was Not All That. 
I'd love to direct you to a list of Lidls with home bakeries, but I can't because their website is UNBELIEVABLY SHIT! Guys, I know it's a budget brand but Jesus H, you could've spent more than a tenner on it?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sheba speaks!

Sheba recently gave an interview to Sighthound Strolls, a group which aims to show what excellent pets greyhounds and lurchers make. Here's what she said:

Tell us how you ended up as a ‘Happily Homed Hound’?
My mum saw me on “A Dog’s Life” Facebook page. Michelle Griffin takes pictures of all the strays and surrenders in Dunboyne Pound near Dublin and then Martina writes a lovely description and puts them on the page. My mum made my dad come with her the whole way from Belfast to Dublin first thing on Saturday morning to get me, even though he had a stinking hangover and four hours sleep. I slept on my dad’s knee on the back seat the whole way home. When they got me home they had to cut tats out from between my toes and cut out a big lump of chewing gum from the fur on my side so I had a baldy spot there for a few months. I was very skinny when I arrived so I ate pilchards and hotdogs and porridge and cheese and pasta and eggs and after a few months my coat went shiny and I didn’t have a pointy bum any more. At the start I wouldn’t look anyone in the eye and I swore at my brother and sister when they came near me. Mum made me a camp bed in the hall and she slept downstairs in case there were fights. On the third night mum woke up with chest pains and pins and needles and she couldn’t move her legs. She thought she was having a heart attack but it was just me sleeping on top of her, haha! After that me and mum were inseparable, I go everywhere with her apart from work.

We’d love to hear about your new family, both human and canine...
I live with my brother Jasper and my sister Juneau. They are Siberian huskies and they are a lot older than me. Juneau glares at me a lot and won’t let me sleep in the bedroom at night. Jasper is good fun, he does a lot of silly stuff even though he’s old. Sometimes Jasper and I go for walks together but Juneau always has to walk on her own because she pulls even harder on the lead when there are other dogs around and mum says she’s sick of going to physio. If it’s cold I have to wear a coat but they never do. They have so much coat they leave it in big lumps round the house. I might get mum to knit me a coat out of their leftovers. Because Jasper & Juneau are huskies they don’t really listen to anything mum and dad say to them, unless it’s about food or walks. They like to howl sometimes, and I like to join in with them. For some reason everyone thinks this is hilarious. I get a bit offended to be honest as I have a beautiful singing voice. It’s been likened to Bjork crossed with Janis Joplin and I’m heavily influenced by Yoko Ono’s early work, particularly her “Screeching Period”. Mum and dad seem to mostly like feeding us and walking us and buying me new collars and coats. They seem to spend most of their day doing stuff for us. Between you and me if it wasn’t for us I think they’d be bored.

Tell us a little about what you get up to on an average day?
About 7am I like to go upstairs and stick my nose in dad’s ear. He likes that a lot, I always give him a big smile when he wakes up so he knows it was me. Then when he gets out of bed I hop in and snuggle up to mum till the tea arrives. When mum goes to work dad takes us all for separate walks and then we sleep till mum gets home. Then we all run around like loons for a bit because we’re so happy to see her, go for more walks, eat our dinner and sleep until bedtime. If mum or dad have to take the car anywhere I love to go with them. I like the car a lot, you can sit in the back and look out for seagulls and sometimes we go to the pet shop and the girls there make a fuss of me. They try to give me treats but what I really want is a pet rabbit. They have loads of them at the pet shop but they never let me anywhere near them.

Now for some quick fire questions!

Favourite food?
Chappie! It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever eaten! It comes in two flavours and it makes me jump around like a loon every time I see it! Tinned hotdogs are nice too and every Saturday mum gets us each a meaty bone from the butchers.

Favourite place to sleep?
Sofas are best, but at a pinch I’ll settle for bed. I like to lie about on the landing rug sometimes so I can watch out for dogs walking past outside and roar at them.

Favourite place to walk?
Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park is a massive sighthound theme park near Belfast. It has rabbits AND squirrels and a walled garden where mum sometimes lets me off the lead if there’s no one else about.

Favourite toy?
Mr Handiquack the squeaky duck.

Favourite pastimes?
Chewing bones, playing with my family, roaring at other dogs, following my mum everywhere and stealing things.

Which celebrity do you most resemble in looks?
Mum says Greta Garbo, Dad says Twiggy, my sister says I look like a gypsy. I think she means it nicely.

Which celebrity do you most resemble in personality?
I think it would be Kate Moss. Apparently she likes a laugh and she enjoys trying on new clothes and so do I. I’m not sure she likes Chappie as much as I do. But I read that her ex husband’s first words to her were “You smell of wee” and that was the first thing my mum said when she met me! Coincidence or what?

Most embarrassing moment since being a ‘Happily Homed Hound’?
When I went to Michelle’s studio to get my photo taken for “A Dog’s Life” I got confused and mistook her floor tiles for a pavement. I’m afraid I laid a massive egg in the middle of the studio floor. Michelle and my mum stared at it for a very long time without saying anything. I took a massive reddener.

Best moment so far since being a ‘Happily Homed Hound’?
Being chosen to appear on a Christmas card to raise funds for “A Dog’s Life”. You can buy them from their Facebook page you know! Only €5 for 8 and all the money goes to help other dogs like me who end up in Dunboyne Pound.

And finally, is there any advice you would give to someone who is considering adopting a sighthound from a pound/rescue?
Just that it really is normal for us to sleep that much!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Best butter

I remember being told years ago, no matter how bad things get, three things you cannot skimp on, no matter how bad your financial situation, are coffee, bread and toilet roll.

I agree with all the above, but would add butter to the list. We are entering the third year of penury Chez Funkyknuckles and while many, many cutbacks have been made, skimping on butter is not an option. I have a horror of margarine (we used to be forced to use Banquet on our toast towards the end of the month in the seventies, which was a peculiarly disgusting and utterly unforgettable experience) and there's a lot of butter out there at the moment that may as well be marge for all the flavour. Ballyrashane is the best mass market butter but I am addicted to Tesco Finest Jersey butter, it's by far the best value and taste I've tried.

Actually just had a very fine dinner of wheaten farl from the home bakery at the bottom of the street generously buttered with the above, accompanied by a bottle of Wairau Cove Sauvignon Blanc and some Emmental and Pave d'Affinois past its sell by date but much better for it. Total cost of meal excluding wine, less than £2 for two people. Of which the butter cost about 20p but added immeasurably to the experience. Bread, butter, cheese and wine will make an excellent meal if the participating ingredients are great, but equally if it's awful stuff you'll think "Is this what I'm reduced to?" which is no fun at all.

So all relative - £1.50 sounds like a lot for 250g butter but if it keeps you happy all week it's an investment, right?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Fasolakia ladera (Braised runner beans)

Sheba modelling her new woolly jumper.
It's getting cold, but I don't want to give up on summer foods just yet. There's a great collection of recipes at Symi Visitor and their Fasolakia recipe was just the ticket for using up 1lb of runner beans and feeling a bit more cheerful about having to button little Sheba into her winter woollies for the first time this year.

For those of you who have an interest in such things, Sheba's jumper was made by a lady called Valerie Charman at Greyhounds4me.

This recipe is a ladera, which is just a generic Greek term for vegetables braised in olive oil. You can do any wintery vegetables like carrots, peas, spuds and beans in a ladera and any herbs such as parsley, mint, thyme or dill. Your constants are sauteed onion, tomato, garlic, good olive oil and a looooooooong slow cook. Fasolakia ladera is the perfect dish to remind you of Greek summers but it will also insulate you against a Belfast autumn evening.

Fasolakia Ladera (inspired by Symi Visitor)

1lb runner beans, topped, tailed and cut into 1" chunks.
1 tin flageolet beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
3-4 ripe tomatoes, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
2-3 finely chopped onions,
1 ½ cups olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan and add the onions. Cook gently until soft, around 20 minutes. Add the runner beans and cook for 5 minutes. Finally add the flageolet beans, potatoes, tomato, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and a scant mug of water. Simmer over medium heat for 15 mins and then turn right down low until the beans are tender. I took the husband and the dog to the pub for two hours and that was perfect timing. It should all be velvety and unctuous, you are not looking for bite here. Traditionally served warm or at room temperature with feta cheese, bread and a squeeze of lemon to taste. I had mine with pork chops, wheaten bread and overripe brie and it was great.

PS I did this again without the flageolet beans and potatoes and it was extremely good with a cheesy mushroom, ham & tomato omelette!