Sausage Rolls

There are two things that almost always make me feel better–Neil Young and sausage rolls. Before I moved to the U.K., I rarely ate pork. I grew up in Los Angeles where turkey bacon and chicken sausage were the norm. It’s not that I never ate pork, I just rarely did. For me, it was something to be enjoyed but once a year, usually covered in a spicy vinegary Carolina barbecue sauce on the fourth of July.

My first year in London, I went pork crazy. A fact I attribute to our flat’s proximity to The Ginger Pig. I wanted bacon every weekend and pork chops most nights. Fish? Sure. Just cook it with some chorizo. Then I discovered sausage rolls. Which can be horrible, but when done right are divine.

For a long time I stayed away as my only reference was the pre-packaged kind I saw in the refrigerator aisles of supermarkets. The pastry looked sad. The meat inside seemed a better fit for house pet consumption than human.

Eventually, it was a sausage roll from a local cafe that changed my mind.

Sausage rolls are amazing because they are made with humble ingredients but yield a taste that is all luxury. They are the ultimate bar snack or perfect picnic food. Or in our house, my daughter’s favourite for weekend tea.

Below is my recipe. It doesn’t call for homemade puff pastry because at 35, I cannot be bothered. Father Time is robbing me blind and I have got to get on with other things. But if you have it on hand or like to make it, please do.

Ingredients:

1 sheet of puff pastry

700 grams of sausage (I use my favourite sausages instead of plain minced pork because I like the way they’re seasoned)

6 rashers of pancetta or bacon

1 small tart apple (I use a cox)

1 small bulb of fennel and its fronds, chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Tio Pepe sherry or dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds, ground

1 piece of toast put through a food processor and turned into breadcrumbs

2 eggs

salt/pepper

fennel pollen (optional)

nigella/sesame seeds

 

Method: 

Pre-heat the oven to Gas 4/350°F/177°C.

Fry the pancetta in a skillet. When it’s done, remove the rashers but keep the grease. Roughly chop the pancetta and place it in a large bowl.

Cook the onion and fennel in the bacon dripping. Add the sherry and cook a minute more with the thyme.

Put the onions, fennel, thyme, and fennel fronds in the bowl with the pancetta. Add the bread crumbs. Squeeze the meat out of the sausage casings and add this as well, along with 1 egg, the apple, some seasoning, and a pinch of fennel pollen if you have it. Mix well with your hands.

filling

Unroll the puff pastry. Fill the center of it with the sausage mixture. Roll it up.

Lightly beat the 2nd egg and brush it on top of the pastry. Don’t use all of it. Just enough to lightly coat it. Sprinkle with seeds and cut into pieces. Usually 8 -10.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until golden brown.

While you can eat these hot, I think they taste better at room temperature and dipped in brown sauce or your favourite relish.

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sausage-rolls

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Secrets (an apple plum sauce recipe)

Not many people know but once I tried being a vegetarian.  All I can say is I was young and impressionable and that it was during my competitive figure skating years.  Lots of the girls I skated with hid their anorexia behind their vegetarianism, but that’s not why I did it.  I did it because Alicia Silverstone, the star of “Clueless,” was a vegetarian.  I tried in earnest but after a few months of eating nothing but edamame and baked potatoes with salsa, I caved.  One Saturday after ballet and running Mulholland, I downed a quart of milk then asked my mother to make me a steak.

Since then I have employed an equal opportunities approach to eating.  I love eating. Everything.  Which is why if you asked me which food I could live without–Spanish peaches, French cherries, Hungarian peppers, Sicilian tuna, Black Angus beef, Maine lobster, or Cromer crab–I wouldn’t be able to answer you.  To me, they’re all necessary and if I could never have one of them again I would mourn the fact.

CUT TO: ME IN MOURNING

I’ve been taking anticoagulants for over a month now and going in for blood work most every week.  If you saw the bruises on my arms you’d think I was an extra on Vinyl. Friday I was told that on top of whatever pulmonary problems I have, I also have high cholesterol.  Not yet high enough to be put on statins, but high enough to be categorized as high.  Anyone who reads Chagrinnamon Toast knows I’m a woman who loves a piece of pie, but I’m also a woman who soaks her own beans, makes her own stock, and eats lots of vegetable dishes.  I have to admit, this news came as a shock and the fact that I’ve been advised to cut out animal products in an effort to lower my cholesterol has me disheartened.

I feel like I have to learn to cook again.  The thing is I do have several plant based cookbooks on my shelf though I seldom use them.  Not because I don’t like the way the recipes taste, but because there is too much prep work involved.  If a recipe requires me to grind spices and chop herbs for more than an hour, I’m not going to make it.  Part of why I love roast chicken so much (or roast of any kind) is that it’s easy to prepare.  I can walk away from it as the alchemy happens in the oven.  I have yet to experience the same freedom or satisfaction when cooking vegetables.  I’ll even admit that my ratatouille recipe I love is sometimes so tedious I can’t bother.

As for vegetables masquerading as meat. . . I don’t get it.  It’s like some sort of kitchen cosplay where seitan pretends to be sausage and tofu turns into counterfeit crab.  To each their own, but personally no thank you.  In December, I went to one of Los Angeles’ best vegan restaurants.  The signature dish I was told to try was the chicken and waffles. It was alright considering it was meat free but no one at Roscoe’s, not even if blind drunk, would have mistaken it for the real thing.

But enough of feeling sorry for myself.  The fact remains, I have high cholesterol and need to adjust my diet accordingly.  So if you have any recipe recommendations that don’t require tons of prep work or pretend soy is steak, then please share them.  I’m only one week in and already bored of the meals I’ve been making.  It’s not that they aren’t nice, it’s just that they smack of medieval asceticism.  I would love bring them into the modern age.

Below is a recipe for spiced apple plum sauce.  This weekend I ate it with steel cut oats and almonds.  Today my daughter had it with yoghurt and honey as an after school snack. Until I learn how to bake without butter or coconut oil, this will remain my treat of choice.

Ingredients:

6 apples

3 plums

1/2 inch of grated ginger

2 pieces cinnamon bark

1 clove

1 star anise

1 tsp agave syrup

 

Method:

Peel and dice your fruit.  Then place it in a saucepan with the spices and syrup.  Cook over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble.  Simmer until thick.  Pot in a sterilized jar and process for about 25 minutes in a water bath if you want to preserve it.  If not, put it in a container in the fridge to chill and eat it within the week.

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Every Feeling Has a Flavor (a winter pie recipe)

I’ve always said if you want to know what’s going on in my life, observe what’s going on in my kitchen.  My girlfriends used to say they knew how my love life was going just by tasting the pies I baked.  Dark chocolate and berries meant heartache while ginger apple or peach meant happiness.  For me, every feeling and life event has a flavor.  Some are happy like My Best Friend Got into Harvard Pie.  Some aren’t like He Stood Me up on the 4th of July Pie.  Some are more mundane like the recipe I’m about to share with you.

So of course I loved Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film, Waitress. The story centers around a woman named Jenna Hunterson who bakes whatever she’s feeling into a pie. Though the details of our lives are very different, I found it easy to identify with this character because of the way she expresses herself through baked goods.

Some of her creations include “Pregnant Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie, lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in.  Flambéed of course.”  “I Hate My Husband Pie, you make it with bittersweet chocolate and don’t sweeten it.”   “Earl Murders Me Because I’m Havin’ an Affair Pie, you smash blackberries and raspberries into a chocolate crust.”  “I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie, vanilla custard with banana.  Hold the banana. . . ” “Baby Screamin’ Its Head off in the Middle of the Night and Ruinin’ My Life Pie, New York-style cheesecake brandy brushed and topped with pecans and nutmeg.”

In the film, a friend of Jenna’s offers her words of encouragement about her career.  “You don’t even know what you are deep inside.  You’re not just some little waitress.  Make the right choice.  Start fresh.”  Replace the word waitress with actress or housewife and there I am.  Another woman baking her feelings into pie and working on recreating herself so she can emerge a different butterfly.  Or maybe a bat.

Recently it’s been so damn cold I’ve felt like Imma die if I don’t have some pie.  So that’s what this recipe is: It’s so Cold Imma Die if I Don’t Have Some Pie Pie.

3 bramleys, 2 cox apples, 4 bosc pears, and 6 Jerusalem figs.  It’s not a combination I’d usually put together but it’s what I had in my fruit bowl.  So it’s what I used as I really didn’t want to leave the flat.  Luckily, I also had some pâté brisée in the fridge because that’s just the sort woman I am.  I peeled and sliced the apples and pears, cut the figs into thin rounds, added 3/4 cup of sugar, some butter, and a squeeze of lemon juice before adding a palimpsest of pastry hearts for a top crust.  I brushed the pie with heavy cream and sprinkled it with demerara sugar before baking.  Halfway through, I poured the liquid out of my pie.  I put it in a pot and reduced it down to a syrup that I then poured over the pie.  I finished baking it until it was golden and the top slightly glazed with my caramel fruit syrup.  I ate it while it was still hot and washed it down with a strong cup of tea.  And guess what?  I lived.  But only because of this pie.

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*I feel the need to add this link to the Adrienne Shelly Foundation. She was the writer/director of Waitress and this NPO honors her memory by supporting women filmmakers. http://adrienneshellyfoundation.org/

 

Apple Custard Pie

My darling husband, Henry, eats like a Dickensian fat man.  Don’t get me wrong.  He likes and eats plenty of fruit and vegetables, but what he really loves is meat, game, offal, wine, port, sherry, and cheese.  My point is he’s just not that into sweets.  He eats them to indulge me, but for the most part, my baking endeavors are lost on him.  He’d rather have another helping of roast beast.  That said, there is one thing he never shies from–apple pie.  Below is my recipe for apple custard pie.  Is it good?  Well Henry asked for seconds so yeah.  It’s really good.

Ingredients:

1/2 the dough from Only the Best Brisée Ever

1/4 cup apricot jam

1 tablespoon dark rum

1/4 cup flour

1/3 cup sugar

the zest of 1 lemon and a wedge for squeezing some juice

4 large eggs (1 for brushing the edges of your pie crust and 3 for the custard)

3/4 cup heavy cream

4 large tart apples

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons demerara sugar

cinnamon

nutmeg

a tablespoon of cinnamon sugar (1 tbsp sugar + 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon)

powdered sugar

 

Method:

First, preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/Gas 6.  Now we’re going to prepare the pie shell.  Roll the cold brisée dough as thin as you can.  I roll mine on baking paper so I can easily flip it over into my tin.  It’s a really easy way of doing things.  Cut the edges and roll or crimp them however you like.  Prick the bottom of the pastry shell with a fork and brush the edges with egg.  Line the shell with foil or baking paper then pour in some pie weights.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Remove the weights and cool completely.

pie shell

While waiting for the pie shell to dry, heat the 1/4 cup of apricot jam and the tablespoon of dark rum in a saucepan over low heat.  Stir often and when it starts to look like a glaze, remove it from the heat.  Strain the mixture into a little bowl.  When the pie shell has cooled completely, brush this glaze along the bottom and sides of your shell.  Allow it to dry. Now onto the custard.

In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and the zest of a lemon.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in three large eggs.  Set this aside.

Heat the 3/4 cup heavy cream in a saucepan on medium heat.  Just as it begins to boil, turn it off, and allow it to cool for a minute.  Then quickly whisk it into the egg mixture.  Add 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste.

custard

Peel and slice the apples.  Sauté them in butter with a teaspoon or so of cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg.  Allow the apples to soften but do not let them get mushy.  Squeeze them with lemon juice and stir just before removing them from the heat.

spiced apples

Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles in the pie shell.  I use two forks to do this.

concentric

Now pour the custard over the apples and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

shell with applesBake at 350°F/180°C/Gas 4 for 25-30 minutes or until the custard has set.  Once it has, allow the pie to cool then dust with powdered sugar.  Put the pie under the broiler for a few minutes to let the sugar caramelize.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

finished

Cut into slices and serve.

slice

 

 

Apple, Pork, and Fennel Stew

I know it’s technically summer but the seasons are changing.  I mean sure our days are hot and sunny but there’s a crispness to the night air and a cool breeze that wasn’t a week ago.  This means only one thing.  Fall is falling.

Which is why I wanted something comforting for supper.  Like this stew.  It’s rich and fruity but with a deep aromatic savoriness that comes from the addition of vermouth, star anise, and mustard.  I promise the ingredients emulsify beautifully.

The only criticism I have of this recipe is that no matter how much I make, there are never any leftovers.  Really, it’s that good.

Ingredients:

1.2 lbs of pork shoulder steaks

2 onions, sliced

2 fennel bulbs thickly sliced (Save the fronds to chop and put atop the stew before eating)

2 large green cooking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

3 smashed garlic cloves

2 stars of anise

1 cup of Noilly Prat

1 cup of chicken stock

2 heaping tablespoons of Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons of salt

1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper

olive oil

Method:

First, season the meat.  Brown it in a large ovenproof casserole and set aside.

browned pork

Add a drop more oil to the pork grease. Then the star anise, the vegetables, and the apple slices.  Cook until soft.

star anise

vegetables, apples, star anise

Dice the pork and add it to the pot.  Stir for a minute just to make sure the meat is browned, not fully cooked but browned, then add all remaining ingredients.  Bring to a simmer.

simmering pork, vegetables and fruit

Cover the casserole and put it in the oven at 330F/150C/Gas2 for 3 hours.  After the first hour and a half, remove the casserole to give it a good stir.  Be sure to scrape the brown savory grease that coats the sides of your dish.

after 1.5 hrs

Continue cooking for another hour.  Then remove the lid for the final 30 minutes to thicken and reduce.  When you are ready to serve, be sure to remove the star anise and sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds.  Delicious on its own with a thick slice of your favorite bread, boiled potatoes, or rice.

finished product

Noilly Prat and Bacon Fat and Apple-Berry Crumble for Boys Who Are Humble

Oscar is my neighbor.  He is twelve and despite the ten and a half year age gap, Helena adores him.  Frankly, so do I.  More Dickon Sowerby from The Secret Garden than Glen Bishop from Mad Men, he has a sweetness about him (a quality I think he inherited from his mother) and an interest in me, the lonely foreign outsider, that’s really endearing.

When Helena and I are out back picking berries he comes to the balcony to chat.  Today, like last weekend, he came down with thick gloves and a pair of secateurs to help.  For an hour and a half he and I collected blackberries while Helena sat on a gently sloping hill eating them and trying to fish out her Thomas the Tank Engine as well as her wooden clown toy she had stuffed down a fox hole.

While in the communal garden Oscar refilled his bird feeders and introduced us to his friend, Mr. Greedy, a chirpy robin red breast he’s been feeding for years.  We talked flowers and fauna and woodland creatures and pest control–a trade he’s learning from his dad.  But they never kill the animals he wanted me to know.  They only trap them then release them into the wild.  Well, maybe except for rats.

After some time Helena was much too stained and sticky and grumpy to remain outdoors.  So we took her and her wooden toy inside.  Thomas, it seems, has gone missing.

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As a thank you for all his fruit picking help, I told Oscar and his mother that Helena and I would bring him a crumble of his own.  But first, I’d have to cook Kleine Maus some lunch.  So here is what we had–chicken legs cooked in bacon fat and Noilly Prat.  Below is the recipe.  And below that is the recipe for the apple-berry crumbles I baked.  I hope you enjoy them both.

Bacon Fat and Noilly Prat Chicken Legs:

Knowing that I had chicken legs for lunch, I purposefully left this morning’s bacon grease in a pan.  I reheated it over a medium-high flame then added the chicken pieces that I had rubbed down with Maldon salt and freshly cracked pepper.  I sautéed them and constantly shook them around, so as to avoid sticking, for about 10 minutes.  Then I added a quarter cup of Noilly Prat and allowed everything to sizzle.  I waited until the liquid evaporated and the chicken skin was crispy again.  The result was sweet, salty and aromatic.  It was also stupidly delicious and probably too good for a toddler.  But what can I say?  I love her.  I put truffle oil on her scrambled eggs and cook her nice things.

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Apple-Berry Crumble Ingredients:

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas5

For the fruit mixture:

blackberries (I used about 6 cups worth)

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced  (not too thin!  otherwise, they dissolve)

the zest of 1 lemon + half a teaspoon of its juice

1 3/4 cup sugar (a mix of Demerara and caster)

1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract

about a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger

Combine all ingredients except for the berries.  Those you gently stir in once everything else is mixed.  Take care not to bash them otherwise you’ll have soup.

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For the crumble topping:

1/4 cup flour

1 cup sugar (I use a combination of soft brown and Demerara)

1/2 cup dried coconut

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

6 tablespoons of cold cubed butter

Put all ingredients in a large bowl and use only your fingertips to combine it until it looks like fine meal.  Sprinkle liberally atop your crumble.

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Now bake for about 50 minutes or until the topping is crisp and golden brown and the fruit is viscous and bubbling.  Serve with Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or a nice vanilla bean ice cream.

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