dressing on spoon

Slow Cooker Thanksgiving Dressing

dressing on spoon There are many examples of Britain and America being divided by their common language. Some seem exotic like a short stack of pancakes. some seem amusing such as the confusion between suspenders and braces and some are just baffling. Why did Americans always talk about eating dressing at the Thanksgiving meal when there was no salad on the plate?

It turns out in this context dressing is another word for stuffing. Momentarily clearer until you realise most dressing is made from cornbread. I’ve tried repurposing cornbread crumbs by combining with them with liquid and the memory still haunts me. There is no word can do that level of stodge justice. I remained confused as to why anyone would eat it willingly even if they genuinely like green bean casserole.

Everything became much clearer last year when I went to my first ever Thanksgiving lunch, hosted by my co editor at the Brixton Blog, Lindsay. An ex pat American living in south London, she’s a food writer and fantastic cook. As well as turkey so moist and juicy we all had thirds, she served stuffing and I discovered that Americans make it totally differently to the British and Irish version.

Big squares of pillowy soft bread are mixed with flavourings such as sausagemeat, herbs and dried fruit and combined with beaten egg and stock before being baked. It has similar flavours to our traditional stuffing, but it’s much lighter yet crispier round the edges and I loved it so much I asked for the recipe when I emailed to thank Lindsay for her hospitality.

Sadly this year I haven’t found any Thanksgiving dinners to gatecrash so instead I’m just going to use the date as an excuse to eat stuffing til I’m, well, stuffed. I’ve made the Thanksgiving stuffing with pumpkin, kale and cranberries from Slow Cooked again (see page 127) and this time am trying a dressing style stuffing in the slow cooker as well with sausage, apple and sage. Any excuse…

Slow Cooked Dressing (serves 4-6 as a side dish)

  • 150g caramelised onions
  • 450g sausages, preferably something with sage
  • 100g bacon or pancetta
  • 600g stale white bread or 300g cornbread and 300g white bread, cubed
  • 1 apple, peeled and diced
  • 50g dried of fresh cranberries
  • 25g fresh sage, finely chopped or 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 25g melted butter
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 2 eggs, beaten

The onions are important. You’ve either already turned to page 122 of Slow Cooked and followed the recipe there (or at the linky above) and have some gorgeous caramelised onions about your person or you need to roughly dice one large onion and sweat it in butter until golden for about 40 minutes. Set aside until needed.

Slice your bread into decent doorstops and from there into 1 inch cubes. Mine were a bit too big and some pieces remained slightly soft rather than crisping up enough, giving a slight hint of savoury French Toast to it all. I used a white batch loaf from the supermarket which was going a bit stale and then left the cubes of bread to sit for a while to dry out further. As long as it isn’t soft and squidgy, it’ll work well here. Put the bread into a large bowl.

Put the bacon or pancetta into a hot pan and without moving it about too much, allow it to get a lovely sticky caramelised feel to it on one side. Mine took about 4 minutes but watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. Tip the bacon and any lovely bacon fat into the bowl of bread.

Skin the sausages and break the meat up into big lumps. Using the same the pan, cook the sausagemeat for 3-4 minutes on one side without moving it too much. Again you want caramelisation before it all goes in the slow cooker, but you don’t need to cook the sausages the whole way through.

Take them off the heat and mash the sausagemeat with a potato masher to get the right texture. You don’t need to do this if you are using sausagemeat rather than skinned bangers, but for some odd reason I can only get this in England around Christmas time. Add the sausagemeat to the bread and bacon.

Peel and chop the apple and add along with the cranberries, onions, sage, mustard and cayenne pepper. Mix it well so everything is evenly dispersed. Fresh cranberries are especially good here but I couldn’t get any. Melt the butter and pour it into the mix. Add the chicken stock and the beaten eggs. Stir well to coat the bread well. Leave to sit for 5 minutes to allow it to settle.

Grease your slow cooker crock well with more melted butter or a flavourless oil. Don’t use olive oil. I also don’t like the spray oils people seem to favour for the slow cooker. You need to use so much to grease the crock properly I can always taste it afterwards. I’ve never bought cake release spray because frankly I see no reason not to use butter but some people swear by it.

Check the bread. If any of it seems dry, add a splash or two more of chicken stock and then tip it all into the greased crock. Don’t press it down, but just leave it as it is. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 3.5 – 4 hours on high. The very edges of mine were burnt at 4 hours but everyone’s slow cooker cooks slightly differently so best to check after 3.5 hours.

raw dressing

Serve straight from the crock as part of a Thanksgiving meal or roast dinner or heap a bowl full of it with some gravy on the side for the ultimate comfort food. It reheats brilliantly and I had some of the leftovers next morning with a poached duck egg on top. This is one where the Americans are ahead of us. I’ll be trying it with leftover cornbread next time and hoping that this is the dish that takes from pulled pork as the UK’s Americana of choice!

Extra treat for you all today: you can win a spare copy of Slow Cooked and an utterly gorgeous cast iron slow cooker from Netherton Foundry here at The Happy Foodie (closing date 23/11/14.) I don’t mind telling you I am green with envy whoever gets this stunning slow cooker. I might just invite myself round for dinner in fact…

I’m entering this into this month’s Credit Crunch Munch hosted by Camilla and Helen and via My Little Italian Kitchen this month.

Credit-Crunch-Munch

 

boxty 2

Brixton Boxty

boxty 2I have to admit that boxty wasn’t something I ate as a child. Popular in Monaghan and Leitrim, it’s a type of potato pancake made from grated potato, but it was so alien to me as kid, I basically thought it was made up until I was older. I first saw it as a real thing in my beloved potato bible The Humble Spud and I’ve been meaning to make it for years, but I disappeared down the tangent of rosti instead and forgot to back up until recently.

Half of you are probably lost by now. Isn’t a potato pancake just a potato pancake I hear you cry? Well, no, rosti are made with semi cooked grated potato with a high starch content, mixed with onion and fried on each side in butter and is eaten as a savoury side dish. Boxty uses raw grated potato before being fried and can be sweet or savoury. Potato farls are made with mashed potato before being cooked on a griddle and then often fried until golden. And I’ve never yet made a latke, but I’ll bring you breaking news about them when I do…

Some recipes for boxty use mashed potato in with the grated spuds but I thought I’d some pureed fresh corn instead since I have tonnes left over from a recent Brixton Bugle recipe. Combining corn and potato gives a autumnal feel and a taste of Brixton which I thought I’d enhance by adding some chopped Scotch Bonnets, fresh coriander and lime. I then served it with some grilled tomatoes for a really good brunch. Read more

pork-fillet-plums-tweaked2

Pork, Plums and Fodmaps

pork-fillet-plums-tweaked2I have a notoriously delicate constitution. My innards tend to react like an angry toddler needing its bedtime over all kinds of things. Some of it is because I am an expert maker of gallstones (despite having my gallbladder removed when I was 18) leading to my digestive system reacting like angrily to say the least. I’ve done a lot of exclusion diets in my time.

There was the post cholecystectomy low fat diet that meant all I could safely eat without a trip to A&E was bread and jam which in turn meant having to do a candida exclusion diet. Not only am I prone to yeast issues in my gut but because it was the mid 90s and it was the current solve all your internal ills idea at the time. I also dabbled with wheat and dairy free for a while and didn’t achieve much effect apart from sending myself gently bonkers around food. I’m sure I’d have excluded gluten too if I’d heard of it then.

I thought I’d just have to put up with feeling terrible all the time and existing on a heavy routine of peppermint oil capsules and mint tea and then I saw a new and wonderful gastroenterologist about some other gallbladder related issues you don’t want to read about over breakfast. While not denying I had a problem, he mentioned that about 80% of his current caseload is down to three things: poor gut flora, Chorleywood bread and Fodmaps.

The first, I know well. The second makes sense since it relies on underproving yeasts and gluten and making bread much harder to digest. The third? I had no earthly idea what he was on about. But I trusted him (I should, he swears like a sailor on shore leave, keeps a sourdough starter in his office for patients and is Michael Mosley approved, all on the NHS no less) so I went off and looked these Fodmaps up.

Discovered by Monash University in Australia, it identifies that there are certain sugars and carbohydrates that the human body finds hard to digest leading to problems. These are the Fermentable, Oligo, Di and Mono Saccharides and Polyols the diet is named for. Often confusing for people because many healthy foods are an issue, it’s a complicated diet that should only ever be undertaken with the help of a trained medical professional, hopefully via the NHS these days,

However it’s worth looking into doing it if you find you have issues after eating wheat or rye, all dairy products not just lactose based ones, certain fruits and vegetables, especially onions and garlic or pulses beyond the normal response to large amounts. Meat substitutes like Quorn can only be a big Fodmap trigger. People are further confused by Fodmaps because everyone’s tolerance is different. I am absolutely fine with wheat (and other members of the galactan family) and have no issue with lactose.

Yet give me a fructan in the shape of an onion or garlic especially and I am utterly miserable. My problems are compounded by the fact I am also fructose intolerant so react terribly to high fructose fruit, any kind of fruit juice and anything like agave syrup that’s high in it. It’s best to only consume fructose when it comes with the natural fibre of the fruit to prevent overloading your system but for fructose malabsorbers like me, any amount is difficult. A glass of orange juice or a whole apple will be both cause my mouth to swell and break me out in a sweat and itchiness. I suspect many people have this issue these days but have simply never heard of it. Innocent times. Literally.

I have to be incredibly careful in what I eat so that I don’t end up lying down feeling faint and bloated at best or triggering off my more intense bowel issues. Fruit and pulses are occasional treats for me (which is why I become murderously annoyed when people tell me how great lentils are when you are poor) and alliums are to be eaten only when I can’t avoid them and can be alone soon after. I will never eat a Jerusalem artichoke or chicory root or take a prebiotic again as they contain inulin, a form of indigestable fibre that is problematic for everyone but triggers debilitating biliary pain for me. Read more

rbbit

Slow Cooker Rabbit Stew

rbbitFor ages, it was tradition for me to go and visit Mister North in the countryside over August Bank Holiday weekend. My dancing all day at Carnival days are over so it was very relaxing to head to West Yorkshire to breathe in the fresh air, frequent country pubs and eat well.

Unfortunately I also cooked one of the worst meals I’ve ever made on one Bank Holiday visit. It was a rabbit stew of such dryness that it was almost completely inedible and every single time Mister North or I so much as think about eating or cooking rabbit, we mention it in hushed (and horrified) tones.

Rabbit is a very lean meat with almost no fat and thus it’s easy to cook all the moisture out of it. It’s also a meat that most people in the UK don’t regularly eat or cook because of a combination of it being seen as poor wartime food, the myxamatosis scare of the 70s and the Watership Down/Beatrix Potter effect. This means we don’t grow up learning how it should be cooked or eaten and have anything to compare our efforts too.

Even I took a while to get into the swing of cooking things I used to keep as a childhood pet, so getting the hang of rabbit took me time. The terrible rabbit stew came from a frozen wild rabbit and was then soaked in vinegar water to tenderise it. I won’t be repeating either of these things again. It might work better if I’d brined it though.

I also irrationally despise the tactic of cooking drier meats with bacon to bard them. I’m not entirely sure why this practice enrages me so much, but it’s also fairly pointless with the kind of lean back bacon in vogue these days. I seemed destined to never exorcise the ghost of the terrible rabbit stew.

Then as my slow cooker chronicles progressed and I was making seriously succulent stews, I decided to risk doing bunny in it. And it was fantastic. It was one of the dishes I enjoyed the most while recipe testing and I was really disappointed when it didn’t fit into my chapter structures and had to be set aside (hopefully for next time.) When I saw a wild rabbit at Herne Hill Market this August Bank Holiday weekend, I knew the time had come to revisit the technique, adding a beautiful big Bramley apple, some fresh tarragon and white wine this time. Read more

pineapple sorbet

Pineapple Sorbet

pineapple sorbet Aside from friends and family, I think the thing I miss the most about Northern Ireland is its selection of ice lollies. Considering its such a chilly corner of the world, we love our frozen treats. Ice cream has its merits, but there’s something about ice lollies that we especially enjoy.

These lollies held a massive lure when I was a kid popping to the local shop with my pocket money. Sometimes you went for quantity over quality and got handfuls of those Mr Freeze freezepops in the long plastic containers, making sure there was at least one Blue Raspberry flavour per batch. A freezepop fest didn’t count unless you dyed your tongue an unnatural shade.

But more often, it was all about branded lollies on wooden sticks. I’m old enough to remember when they embossed jokes onto the sticks and this was worth the potential to set your teeth on edge with the wood. Walls offered us Mini Milks and Funny Feet, but I didn’t like either much. Lyons had the iconic Fab and the Mivvi, but they were cinema lollies not hot day ones. I adored Irish company HB‘s Fat Frogs which were apple flavoured and had a soft spot for a shark shaped one that was sharp and citrus flavoured and a blackcurrant Dracula lolly too, but my love lay (and still does) with Norn Irish classics from Dale Farm.

Leaning over the freezer trying to choose between a Rocky Rasper (raspberry, but not blue), the sugar free but lovely lemon-lime Supa Cool, a smooth vanilla Mr Frostie (in lieu of the toy lolly maker of the same name) or the crocodile branded Choc Pop was tricky. I never wanted a Joker with its orange outer and ice cream middle and I hated orangey Quenchers too.

My first choice was always the Pear Picking Porky, the undisputed classic ice lolly of all time. Not, as my Slovakian surrogate sister once asked, pig flavoured, but made of that artificial pear flavouring that is nothing like the fruit, these lollies the spot every time. I’ve even eaten them walking up Botanic Avenue on Boxing Day. The only problem with them is that they are so popular they sell out easily, meaning one needs a back up plan.

For me this comes in the shape of a Polly Pineapple. So when I found myself far from Belfast in the middle of a heatwave and craving frozen salvation, I knew I could muster a pineapple lolly in London rather than a pear one. Surely it would be pretty simple?

And it was, coming in with a whopping three ingredients. The tricky bit came when I could not for the life of me get the lollies out of the cheapo moulds I bought in the pound shop in one piece. The sticks slid out, there was swearing and then in a fit of frustration, I scooped the slightly slushy sorbet out with a spoon and refroze it in a Tupperware. Success…

Pineapple Sorbet (makes about 500ml)

  • 1 whole fresh pineapple or 425g tin of pineapple chunks
  • 100g sugar
  • 75ml water

I like tinned pineapple (blame my Mallory Towers habit as a kid) so that’s what I used but if you can get a super sweet and ripe fresh pineapple, it’d be perfect. Sniff the base of it, discreetly if in store, and if it smells strongly of pineapple, it is perfect. Peel it, remove the core and chop it up making sure you keep any juice.

If using the tinned, tip it, juice and all into a large bowl. Using a hand blender, blitz the pineapple of either kind and its juice together until smooth and lump free. It should like those nectar style juices you get that contain pulp. Set aside and chill.

Make a simple sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a pan and heating together until it forms a thick syrupy texture without changing colour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool down. You will have slightly more here than you probably need for the recipe but it keeps well in the fridge and is perfect for sweetening iced tea in hot weather.

Add about 50ml of the cooled sugar syrup to the pineapple pulp and stir. Pour into a Tupperware container and put the lid on. Put in the freezer and chill for 4 hours. Either give it a stir once an hour with a fork to break up the ice crystals and keep it smooth or leave it alone for 3 hours and then blitz it again with the handblender and freeze for another hour.

Take it out of the freezer about 10 minutes before you want to eat it. It will be smooth in texture and almost like a really really good Slush Puppie. In fact, you could add a tiny bit of dark rum and drink it as a frozen cocktail through a wide straw if you liked. It tasted enough of a Polly Pineapple to quench my craving, but better enough to be worth the effort. Plus it gave me a chance to get the fake parrot and pineapple ice bucket out…