Simple Sausage Casserole

A really simple sausage casserole that should satisfy every appetite in the house.

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With four small children I’ve found that organisation is key. I’m a pretty organised individual but sometimes even a small chink in my plan can see utter chaos ensue. I’m not sure how anyone with lots of small children and no organisational skills ever leaves the house. A typical morning is like a military operation – it probably doesn’t hurt I’m ex-military. I’m also a bit somewhat completely OCD, so being organised totally floats my boat.

An example of this is my weekly menu. We have a whiteboard on the back of the kitchen door. On it we write lists of things we need to do, important information, even what days I’ve changed the beds (there’s five beds in this house, if I didn’t make a note, I’d never remember who’s I’d changed when). There’s also the weekly menu. I tend to make it up near the end of the week (a job I absolutely hate) as I do the weekly shop at the start of the week. I try to keep it varied: a mince day; a veg day; a fish day etc. Like I said, this is one of those tasks that bores me to tears.

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See, I’m not kidding…

But it’s a really useful tool. I only buy what we need for the meals that week, so we never have a lot of wasted food (a huge pet hate of mine), and my weekly shopping bill is kept to a minimum. I’m not saying its foolproof. I also keep a stock of failsafe meals. Jacket potatoes. Quesadillas. Filled pasta. It varies. Just in case. But it makes my life easier, which is always good.

This sausage casserole falls into the ‘failsafe meal’ category. It’s unusual for there not to be sausages in my freezer (I’ve told you about my mansize freezer? Literally. You could keep a body in it). The other ingredients are all store cupboard essentials for me. So regardless of what chaos is ensuing around me, I know that I can knock up a reasonable meal if necessary.

Ingredients (Serves 4 adults)

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1 tbsp oil
8 sausages
1 onion, chopped or sliced
2 tsp garlic (frozen or paste)/garlic cloves, crushed
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tin of baked beans
splash of soy sauce
oxo cube
veg of choice
∼ 100ml water
salt & pepper

1. Warm the oil over a medium heat in a casserole dish that will go from stove to oven (I have a hefty pot that is perfect for this, but if you don’t, just cook everything initially in a pan then transfer into a casserole dish to put in the oven). Add your sausages and brown all over – they don’t need to be cooked through as they’re going in the oven.

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2. Remove the sausages and set aside for a minute. There should be some fat leftover from the sausages – if not, add a little more oil. Soften the onion in the fat until just starting to brown. Add in the garlic for the last couple of minutes, being careful not to let it start to burn.

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3. Chuck the sausages back into the pot, along with all of the other ingredients. Everything. Just chuck it all in there.

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I use carrots, sweetcorn and mushrooms in my sausage casserole as that’s what we like. But use whatever vegetables you want. Or none if you’d prefer.

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4. Give this a stir then bung it in the oven at about 170ºC (fan)/325ºF/Gas 3 for about an hour.

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I tend to serve this with lovely buttery mash and some green veg. The kids love it and it’s super simple to make.

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Happy cooking!

African Peanut Stew

The girls have been a bit unwell recently. It seems to be the way that one will fall ill, then the other two will follow, one after the other. They don’t all go down together. Upside: we don’t get three unwell, grouchy 3 year olds all at the same time. Downside: an illness that would last 2-3 days, takes over a week to get through. And they don’t suffer in silence. Oh boy, no they don’t. Three times the joy; three times the amount of times you’re gotten out of bed at night to a wail of “muuuummmmmyyyyy” (I have a love/hate relationship with that word). Many a 3am has seen us contemplating selling off one/all of our children (we figure triplets, especially identical, have got to be high value??). And the person who said, when you have more than one child, you have no favourite? Wrong. Very wrong. But luckily ours changes daily. Sometimes hourly.

Thus my patience levels are currently minimal, and my need for comfort food is high. The health kick hasn’t materialised, and ‘Dry January’? Ha ha ha ha ha. Bloody ha. So this dish, a mix between a stew and a satay, hit the spot perfectly. I only came across it recently (Pinterest. Obviously). Anything with peanut butter will catch my eye. I love it. Like, really love it. And this was good. It does taste a lot like a very saucy satay. If you like peanuts, I’d recommend giving this a go.

Ingredients

1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp oil
150g peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, it’s up to you)
300ml chicken stock
550g chicken thigh fillets (boneless & skinless)
3 tsp garlic puree / frozen garlic or 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp pureed ginger / frozen ginger
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes (or to taste)
1 large sweet potato (about 450g)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
salt & pepper
approx. 40g roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)

I did take a photo of the ingredients, but once I’d actually made the stew there were a few added ingredients, and some changed, so it became a bit null and void. So sorry, no pic. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but it didn’t seem too bad once I was cooking.

1. Throw the onion into a large pan with the oil over a medium heat and cook until softened.

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2. Whilst the onion is cooking, spoon the peanut butter into a bowl, and cover it with the chicken stock. Slowly stir this until the peanut butter has dissolved into the stock.

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Top Tip: Use a bigger bowl than I did for this!

3. Once the onion is soft, add the garlic and ginger, cook for a couple of minutes, then add the chicken.

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I used chicken thigh for this dish as it has more flavour than chicken breast. But you could happily use chicken breast, not a problem.

4. Cook the chicken for about 5 minutes, then add the cayenne, cumin, coriander and chillies. Add as much chilli as you like, this is totally to your taste. And you can use fresh chilli, or Lazy Chilli, whatever you have in the cupboard. Or leave it out completely (although the creaminess of the peanut butter lends itself really well to a bit of a kick). Cook this for a few minutes.

5. Add in the sweet potato, tomatoes and peanut butter/stock mix.

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When I do this again (which I most definitely will), I think I’ll add more veg here – courgette, aubergine, pepper, mushrooms. In fact, you could make this completely veggie if you liked, just omit the chicken.

6. Put the lid on the pan and leave to simmer until the sweet potato is soft and the chicken cooked. Give it a stir every so often to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan.

7. Once it was cooked I added in the chopped roasted peanuts to give it a bit of crunch. You could leave them out if you’d rather, or if you’ve used crunchy peanut butter. It just adds a bit of extra texture to the dish. Check the seasoning at this point. It probably won’t need much salt because of the peanut butter/roasted peanuts. But add a decent amount of pepper to give it some good pepperiness (an actual word).

I served the stew with rice and green veg, but it would also be lovely with cous cous, or flatbread/naan bread. We love curries/tagines in this house, and this fits into that mould perfectly. This served both of us, with two portions to freeze (it’s a pretty rich dish, so you don’t need masses).

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Funnily enough I didn’t attempt to feed this to the munchkins. If you can get your kids to eat food like this … wow. Just wow. The girls still eye rice with great suspicion.

Happy cooking!

Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegar Lamb Casserole

Major blogger fail this time. I forgot to take a photo of the dish before I served/ate it (unhappy face). What a plonker. In my defence, I was dealing with trying to get a meal out, whilst also making a pudding, whilst one child tried to eat a glow stick (those things do not taste good apparently, and stink! But are thankfully not toxic…). The Husband actually carted said child off to wash out her mouth and her hands, whilst trying not to retch at the smell – he’s not very good with bad smells (nappy changing was always entertaining). And that was in addition to the usual chaos going on around me. So I forgot. Sorry. But there were leftovers, so I’ve taken a photo of them, it’s just not as pretty (again, unhappy face).

So this was a slow cooker meal. Have I mentioned my love affair with my slow cooker? In fact, *whispers* I have two! A 3.5 litre and a 6 litre. I tend to use the 3.5 litre more, but the ‘big yin’ is great for whole chunks of meat. A slow cooker can make even the cheapest, toughest meat melt in the mouth. You do a bit of prep, chuck it all in, and then leave it, and your evening meal is made. Magic! And seemingly it only uses the same amount of electricity as a lightbulb, so economical too. Love it!

If you don’t have a slow cooker though, this can be done in the oven. It can either be cooked all day at a lower heat (about 6 hours at 130C), or for a couple of hours at 180C. This should serve about 4 adults.

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Ingredients

700-900g lamb
1 red onion, sliced
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp plain flour
100ml red wine
20ml balsamic vinegar
1 tin chopped tomatoes
300ml lamb or chicken stock
veg of your choice
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp garlic

When it comes to meat, I’m not particularly knowledgable. I tend to go by quantity and price. For this I bought a whole boneless shoulder of lamb. It meant I had to cut it up, and remove a reasonable amount of fat, but as it was a Sunday morning, I could allow the time. You could easily use cubed lamb for ease, and choose leaner lamb if you’re trying to be good (although a bit of fat gives more taste, typically). As it’s being slow cooked, the meat will become tender whatever cut you choose, so choosing a cheaper cut is the bonus of slow cooking.

Once you’ve prepped your meat (if necessary) pop it into a plastic bag with the flour and seasoning. Give it a good shake to coat (this is what will thicken the sauce).

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Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and throw in your meat to brown. I tend to do this in a couple of batches otherwise the pan gets too overcrowded. Once the meat is browned, pop it into your slow cooker (or your ovenproof dish).

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You’ll be left with a pan looking something like this. You want all that meaty goodness that’s stuck to the bottom of the pan, so add another tablespoon of oil, then the onion. Let it start to soften a bit (only a few minutes, the onion doesn’t need to fully soften at this point), then add the garlic for a minute. Add to that the tomatoes, vinegar and wine. For small measures like the vinegar, I have a handy little measuring jug:

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Let the mixture come to boil then simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring it often, until you can feel the bits stuck to the bottom start to loosen. Pour this into the slow cooker or dish, with the veg (chopped into large chunks) and the rosemary, and season. Cook in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours on low, or 4 hours on high – or in the oven as mentioned above.

I served this with lovely buttery mash and green veg. But this is the only photo I have of the finished product:

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It doesn’t look particularly pretty, but it was bloody lovely. Perfect for a wintery Sunday. If you like lamb, definitely give it a go.

Happy cooking!

Warming Winter Chicken Casserole

Our Sunday meal this week was a chicken casserole. I love casseroles because pretty much anything goes. Chuck together some meat, veggies, stock and flavouring, and it should result in a tasty casserole. My casseroles are often made up as I go along. Unless I’m following a recipe, chances are they’ll be different every time. Again, it usually depends what’s in my cupboard and what I need to use up.

This time I cooked it in the oven – I’d left it too late to slow cook, and with chicken it doesn’t really matter. But I love my slow cooker, and any other meat (e.g. beef, lamb) which you’d want really tender, I tend to slow cook. It’s a lot cheaper than running your oven for several hours – apparently running a slow cooker is like leaving a light bulb on?!

Ingredients

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450g chicken breast
450g chicken thighs
3 rashers of smoked back bacon
a chopped onion
whatever veg you like (I used carrot, mushroom and sweetcorn)
100g pearl barley
800ml chicken stock
1 tsp sage
1 tsp dried garlic / 2 garlic cloves
0.5 tsp rosemary
0.5 tsp thyme
salt & pepper

When cooking, it’s useful to think of what flavour combinations go together. In this instance, chicken and bacon is an obvious one. When it comes to adding flavour, think of what you’d normally associate with chicken. For example, I used sage – think of the sage and onion stuffing you’d have with your roast chicken. I also used rosemary and thyme (these go well together anyway) but not as much as the sage, because they’re quite strong flavours. I tend to smell herbs before I add them, to get an idea of how much I want to use. What do you want the overriding flavour to be? Does that makes sense??

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Add a tablespoon of oil to your pan and soften your onion (again I used frozen onion for this). Then add your chicken (chopped into bite size pieces) and cook it long enough to seal it (i.e. till it’s mostly turned white but not cooked through). I used both breast and thigh here because the kids prefer the texture of chicken breast, but thigh adds a lovely meatier flavour.  Add your bacon and let it cook for a few minutes.

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Add your veg (whatever you fancy really – I’m a big carrot and mushroom fan) and the pearl barley (this thickens the casserole without the need for any thickening agents (i.e. flour) so can be useful if you’re following certain diets!), then add your herbs, seasoning and stock. It’ll look like a lot of stock but you’ll need it because the barley will sook it right up. You can always add more stock if your casserole looks like it’s getting a bit dry. And don’t be scared of seasoning. Unseasoned food is flavourless food.

Chuck this in the oven at about 150C for about 2 hours. You’re really just waiting for the meat to cook, and the veg and barley to soften.  Take it out at least once halfway through to give it a right good stir. It’s maybe not the most glamourous looking of dishes, but it really is a lovely, warming winter meal.

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I served it with creamy mash, roasted veg and steamed cabbage. This was a pretty big casserole and did us two nights, so would normally serve at least 6 adults.

As a quick aside, do you know what possibly the single most important part of cooking is? Tasting your food. That might seem obvious, but a lot of folk don’t. And if you don’t taste your food, how do you know it’s even edible? Is it too salty? Not seasoned enough? Have you totally missed an ingredient? Before dishing up anything, make sure you taste it.

Right, my girls appear to be reverting to their early days and think it’s a good idea to get me out of bed several times a night. So I’m off for a sleep.

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Happy cooking.