Mix and match sausage & bean cassoulet

I’ve just got back from a 4 day work trip to the USA. Before I left I decided to make something new as a ‘last supper’ tea for Dave. When I’m gone he lives exclusively on a diet of pizza and chips and tuna cobs so I felt it was my duty as WTB (wife to be) to give him something homemade and vaguely nourishing before I left.

We nipped into our local Budgen’s supermarket in Mountsorrel earlier and bought some lovely Farmer Fear’s pork sausages which were on offer so I decided to make a cassoulet. With this in mind I started browsing my cook books and looking at various recipes online but couldn’t 100% decide on which recipe to go with. There were various online which looked appealing, in particular by Gino D’Campo, Nigel Slater and Jamie Oliver. But, as I said, none felt quite right so I created my own amalgamation of several different variations on the theme.

All the Farmer Fear products come from quality local farms meaning there is little impact on the environment and no carbon footprint. I am a BIG FAN and if you find yourself near Mountsorrel, would recommend a visit to stock up!

Al’s Sausage & Bean Cassoulet

Ingredients:

Excuse my ‘loose’ measurements, cooking in our family has never been too precise. Suck and See method!

  • 6 good quality pork sausages
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans
  • 1 tin of plum tomatoes
  • approx 4 rashers smoky bacon diced
  • 50g green beans (topped and tailed)
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 garlic clove crushed
  • pinch of sugar & seasoning
  • Glug of red wine
  • Sprinkle of fresh thyme
  • Glug of olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 100ml beef stock (I’m sure veg would work fine).

Method:

(This is where it gets a bit wooly!)

  1. You can either fry or grill the sausages until nicely browned, then set aside for later.
  2. Pan fry the bacon lardons for a few mins until beginning to crisp. Turn the heat down and add the onion and garlic. Cook for about 5 mins.
  3. At this point I added a glug of red wine and let it bubble for a few mins to cook off the alcohol.
  4. Add the tomatoes, green beans, a pinch of sugar, the stock and bay leaf. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for approx 10 mins, stirring regularly.
  5. Transfer to a casserole dish and add the beans and sausages.
  6. Put this into the over for approx 15 mins in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees (fan). This will cook through the sausages and soften the beans. The sauce will also thicken.
  7. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and serve with crusty bread or rice.

Here is how the finished thing should look!

By Alex of Gingey Bites

Review of Itihaas, Fleet Street, Birmingham

It’s quite amazing how many people haven’t heard of this place, the few people who know this fine dining establishment speak about it like it’s the best around and yet in all my years of searching for quality Indian cuisine I have never had the pleasure of visiting Itihaas. Thank goodness I did…

Itihaas is Indian fine dining at its very best. It is situated on Fleet Street, central Birmingham and is easily walkable from the summer row and Jewellery quarter pubs and bars. On the particular evening of my visit the country was enjoying a warm spell of weather which made the very cool air conditioned ambiance most welcoming on my entrance to the restaurant. I was also welcomed with warm smiles and shown swiftly to my table.

Upon first glance and to be fair second glance the menu was extensive, my dining partners were more aghast than flummoxed as we studied the array of dishes available. Much deliberation later we decided on starters:

Mirchi Lasooni Jhinga – butter coated prawns in a flaming wok, tossed with spring onions, green chillies, garlic, sweet plum chilli sauce and soy sauce

Tiranghi Murgh – marinated trio of chicken skewers displaying the colours of the Indian flag. Fiery orange chicken tikka, fenugreek, spinach and mint marinated Baabri Tikka and creamy mild yogurt and cheddar cheese marinated marai chicken.

First thing to note was the stunning presentation, candles with elegant trays to add a bit of style and more importantly warmth to keep your dish fresh. The prawns were tangy and sweet with the plum sauce and had just enough spice to make this dish a perfect mix of sweet and sour ingredients which is often evident in asian cooking. The food whilst a delicious mixture of flavours if anything was more substantial than I would normally expect of a starter and it made me wonder if I would be able to enjoy my main course as much.

My girlfriend’s dish was even more appealing; it mimicked a small tandoor in which a candlelight shone from the bottom highlighting the exquisite presentation. The chicken was 3 kebabs of 3 pieces of brilliantly succulent meat which fell deliciously off the skewer, the 3 colours showing the colours of the Indian flag, this displaying the attention to detail which Itihaas clearly goes to for it’s customers. For all its plusses this dish was very large by starter standards and again we wondered how big the main courses would then be.

Again we were pleasantly surprised; the main courses came and offered a more reasonably expected portion which had my taste buds tingling with anticipation. We selected:

Tandoori Trout – a fusion of east and west. British seafood with Indian cooking techniques and spices.

Maha Jingha – freshwater king prawns, in a tangy marinade roasted in the tandoor.

Being a seafood fan I was intrigued as to how this fusion would work. The fish was served on the bone and was a delight to look at. The fish came off the bone very nicely and the spices were just enough to highlight the beauty of the fish without overpowering. Also with enough lettuce greens to compliment.

The prawns also highlighted superb attention to flavouring, the prawns perfectly cooked, juicy with bags of flavour and spice, they were large but yet were so good to eat made you want more and more.

The side dishes of naan bread and rice were more traditionally cooked and also showed good texture which added to the overall experience. The wine list was expensive, but with a decent selection of wines of fruity and tangy red wines which would compliment spicy food. I was looking for a merlot wine which I find goes excellently with Indian food and found this reasonably priced on an expensive list.

There is no doubt this was a ‘very’ fine dining experience, possibly the best I have experienced, not the cheapest, but with quality comes expense and on this occasion that was most definitely worth it. By no means however was the bill excessive either, the main winner of the night was the food though, brilliant flavours and elegant presentation. Don’t be too keen to tell your friends about this one, you may want to keep it to yourself. I know I will be…

By Robert Wilson

Midlands Supper Clubs

When I told friends that I’ve been invited to attend two Supper Clubs, their responses ranged from intrigue at trying something new to trepidation of dining at a secret location. I’m torn between Italian cuisine in Warwickshire or a French menu in Birmingham to try, so I hope that writing this post helps me to decide which one to go to!

Historically born out of out of paladares of Cuba, London, New York and Amsterdam were quick to popularise the idea of Supper Clubs. As a pop-up dining experience that caters for individual tastes, Supper Clubs have evolved as an alternative to ordinary restaurants or stuffy dinner parties. With a recent survey by YouGov revealing that 40% of us now think that dinner parties are too expensive, time-consuming and stressful to bother with, Supper Clubs are most definitely here to stay.

Inspired by the idea of sharing good food, every month Alex and Sara Chambers throw open the doors of their Warwickshire home and invite strangers to dinner. As owners of Squisito Deli, the couple extend their love of Italian cuisine to foodies who join them at the Squisito Supper Club for a five course meal.

Squisito Supper Club menus make the most of fresh seasonal produce that are also prepared with the Slow Food ethos. Frolesworth free range chicken with green olives and Squisito preserved lemon, Sardinian pecorino with pink peppercorns and Warwickshire honey all featured on their last event.

Squisito is the only Supper Club that I am aware of in Warwickshire, but there are a few more running in Birmingham.

The Tan Rosie Caribbean Supper Club is a chance to sample Caribbean dishes from Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad and Cuba in the hosts’ living room in Erdington. Chef Monica says that their Supper Club is “a great way to eat fantastic home-cooked food, meet new people and broaden your knowledge of Caribbean food in a fun, friendly and safe environment.”

Over in Bearwood, baked scallops and prawns in saffron cream and duck in balsamic syrup with dauphinoise potatoes were main courses for the first Supper Club held at the end of May. Cake maker Rachel (one of the Crafty Muthas) and professional chef Richard have teamed up to run a new monthly Supper Club for up to 20 people. Rachel says that guests can expect “a five to six course meal served over a good three to four hours with background music, atmospheric surroundings and plenty of chat!”

Judging by the response on Twitter, Le Truc Cafe’s first event on Saturday 9th June could well be a sell-out.  Du pain, du vin and beaucoup de fromage are promised at La Soiree Popette in a secret location in Birmingham.

So what makes a successful Supper Club? Genial hosts who genuinely food and cooking, a popular cuisine and chance to try something new seem to be the winning combinations. With a bring your own drinks policy, £25 is the average price that you can expect to pay for a truly memorable Supper Club evening.

Whether you want to try out recipes on friends, be a chef patron of your own restaurant for the night or just entertain for less money, running your own Supper Club is the dining revolution you’ve been looking for.

If you’d like to run your own Supper Club, then there is only one site that I’d recommend. Kerstin Rodgers, also known as mrsmarmitelover, is a food blogger and pioneer of supper clubs in London –  launching one of the first in the UK back in 2009. Her blog is packed with recipes, photos and tips on running a great Supper Club that is stylish and individual.

Alternatively, enjoy the experience by being a guest and check   http://www.supperclubfangroup.ning.com to find your nearest Supper Club.

http://www.squisito-deli.co.uk

http://www.tanrosie.com/supperclub.html

http://welovebearwood.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/bearwoods-got-taste.html

http://www.letruc.co.uk

www.marmitelover.blogspot.co.uk

By Tracy of Midlands Gourmet Girl

Souffle of top chefs to serve gourmet delight for hospice guests

A soufflé of top chefs will be dishing up delights for diners at a special Diamond Jubilee Gourmet evening in aid of St Richard’s Hospice. The event in a marquee at the stunning Upper Court, Kemerton, near Tewkesbury will be held on Wednesday, 18th July.

Some of the UK’s leading chefs preparing the five course gourmet dinner will be :

Mark Streeter - Director of Ingreedients. Mark has worked in many top restaurants including St James’s Club, London; Pennyhill Park, Surrey; Savoy, London and Dart Marina, Dartmouth.

Lee Streeton - Executive Chef of Brown’s Hotel, London. Previous positions include Head Chef at Daphne’s, London and time spent at the Ivy; Le Caprice and J Sheekey.

Ian Boden - National Chef of the Year Finalist 2008. He has worked in numerous high-end restaurants including Lower Slaughter Manor, The Belfry, Newhall Hotel, Charlie Trotters.

Simon Attridge - Presently Executive Head Chef for Barclays in London. Previously he was Head Chef at the Shangri-la hotel, Shanghai; gained a Michelin star as Head Chef at Drakes on the Pond in Surrey and has worked for Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay.

The evening is coordinated by Mark Streeter of Ingreedients and tickets cost £75 a head. There will also be an auction and entertainment.

St Richard’s Hospice Corporate Fundraiser Rachel Jones said, “This is a fantastic opportunity to taste food from some of the UK’s top chefs. The venue is just perfect for a summer evening and we are hoping the event will have gourmands queuing up.”

This event is kindly sponsored by Peplow Jewellers and Silversmiths and Ingreedients.

For more information or to book a ticket please contact Rachel Jones, Fundraising Department, St Richard’s Hospice, Wildwood Drive, Worcester, WR5 2QT Tel: 01905 763963 ext 2031 or rjones@strichards.org.uk.

Lazy Sunday Brunch

I love going out for Sunday brunch, it is the perfect way to spend the morning and breeze your way into a lazy day. I’ve been a bit greedy lately and I have been out for Sunday brunches two weeks running and both times were at one of Peach Pubs in Warwickshire. My first trip was to The Almanack in Kenilworth and the second to The Rose and Crown in Warwick. I thought about writing two separate posts, but as I virtually had the same breakfast at both, it seemed better to have one joint post.

I have been to The Almanack a couple of times for brunch and have always enjoyed it. On this occasion I was visiting with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while, so there was much to catch up on. The Almanack is quite a large, light, open pub which has a modern retro interior. You can see the whole of the venue wherever you stand. We ordered our coffees at the bar and went to find a table. We hadn’t booked a table, but that wasn’t a problem as there was enough room. When I have had brunch here before my choice has been pancakes and maple syrup accompanied by crispy bacon, however on this occasion I felt I should have a more healthy and substantial choice. My friend suggested the salmon muffin, with egg on a bed of spinach and hollandaise sauce. I went with her recommendation. Whilst we waited for our food, we chatted and took in the atmosphere. There was a good mix of families, friends and couples, which created quite a buzz and a relaxed atmosphere. Our food didn’t take very long to arrive but we were both a bit underwhelmed by it. There was only one half of an English muffin, with a little salmon, although there were two eggs. My friend commented that the last time she had this, there was a whole muffin and more Salmon. On the whole this was a nice meal, the flavours worked well together and our eggs were just runny enough. However, I was disappointed by the quantity of food based on what I have had in other venues for the same price. The service was of an acceptable standard, the food arrived within a short time and our plates were cleared in a timely manner. Before we knew it, it was early afternoon and we were surrounded by people eating their Sunday lunch! So definitely time to get on with the rest of our day.

The next week I found myself in The Rose and Crown, where I have not eaten for many years and not at all for brunch. I was meeting a different friend and this was a social as well as a business brunch. Having rushed from the car to the pub due to the rain, it was lovely to get inside a warm pub which as soon as I walked in the door I felt the relaxed atmosphere. This has a more homely feel to it and is in an L shape, with a real fire. I had booked a table for us this time as I know it can get very busy, but if I hadn’t there would have been tables available. I chose to sit by the fire so that I could warm up and dry out. Whilst waiting for my friend I ordered a coffee and reviewed the menu. Again I felt I needed to choice something more substantial so I opted for the free range eggs royale and my friend had a sausage muffin. When our meals arrived I was amazed at how much was on my plate, this time there was one whole English muffin, an abundance of salmon, two eggs and hollandaise sauce. My friend’s was as you would expect, two sausages on an English muffin. I felt the service here was a slot slower, I had to wait quite a while for my coffee and it took quite a while then for someone to come back to us to take our breakfast order. Due to the awful weather we were offered a Rain Cheque, which gives us a free dessert next time we have a meal at the pub. We thought this was a great initiative.

Having experienced more or less the same brunch at two of the Peach Pubs, there was evidently a difference in the dishes, which I would have thought would have been consistent due to being part of the same independent chain. However, overall I would recommend either of the two places as they both provide a relaxed atmosphere and a good standard of food. The use of the golden syrup and black treacle tins for the sugar is quite quirky and I like the little saucer of smarties you got with your drink.

By Lula Belle from Glamour in the County

Banfi Wine Evening at Malmaison Birmingham

Stuart and I recently went out on our first night out together since Thomas was born. We were invited to a Tuscan Wine and Food Evening at the Birmingham Malmaison Hotel, located in the Mailbox. We were joined by fellow Midlands Food Bloggers members Jules of Butcher, Baker and Julia of A Wannabe Foodie and their partners. The event was to celebrate Banfi Wines and the event was hosted by Dante Cecchini, UK manager of Castello Banfi and David Manson from Bidendum. The menu was designed by Head Chef Brian Neath. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by friendly faces and lots of wine and food to taste.

The menu and the wine was as follows:

Pinot Gigio Toscana San Angelo

Canapés; Pecorine risotto balls

L’antipasto; Mediterranean vegetables & cured meats

Le Rime Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio

Il primo; Hand made pumpkin & sage tortellini

Rosso di Montalcino & Belnero Sangiovese/Merlot

Il secondo; Veal ‘osso busso’, puré de patate, olio d’olivia

Brunello di Montalcino

formaggio corso; Bra formaggio, Piemonte

Florus Moscadello di Montalcino Vendemmia Tardiva

Il dolce; classic tiramisu

The Pinot Gigio with the antipasti and starter was excellent. It was light and refreshing and complimented the cured meats and vegetables. It was my kind of wine – the sort I could (and did!) drink too much of! The risotto balls were amazing and something I will definitely have a go making at home.

The tortellini was expertly hand made. It was very thin and light. The filling was rich without being overpowering. I wish my pasta could look and taste this good. The Chardonnay was a lot smoother than the Pinot Gigio as you would expect. The Pinot Gigio was more crisp and light and although it was my favourite, Stuart preferred the Chardonnay.

The Veal ‘osso busso’ was our dish of the night. It was so tender you only had to look at and it fell off the bone. It was my first time of having this veal cooked this way and I certainly will be having it again. We had two red wines to try with this course and my favourite was Belnero Sangiovese as it was not as dry as the Merlot and had a more rounded flavour with the Veal.

The red served with the cheese course was a bit rich and intense for me. I still enjoyed it but not as much as the reds with the main course. The selection of cheese and crackers were fantastic but my favourite part of this dish was the onion chutney. Its sharpness cut through everything else and refreshed the palette.

For dessert, we had a classic tiramisu. I love coffee but dislike coffee flavoured desserts. I tried the tiramisu but found the coffee way too sharp, rich and overpowering. The regional manager Stephen very kindly asked the staff to bring out another dessert for me which was a lemon tart. This was much more up my street and the pastry was light and crisp and the filling tasted divine.

After a well needed cup of coffee and a final chat to Jules and Julia and their partners, we suddenly found ourselves as the last to leave. It was a wonderful night and one I would love to repeat again. The Malmaison run a few events like this a year.

Many thanks to Zara, Stephen, Brian and the rest of the team for a fantastic evening.

PS: You can read Jules account of the event here and Julia’s here :-)

Finest Beef For All

Image by James Day

A special event was recently hosted by Michelin Chef  Andreas Antona celebrating the World’s finest beef, and raising awareness for grading British Beef.

Andreas is passionate about beef, and in particular considers Scottish the finest in the World. However he stresses, “Beef is not all of equal quality and that makes it especially important for diners and chefs alike, to be able to identify the very best that is available.”

“British beef should be graded” the Midland’s leading entrepreneurial chef Andreas Antona told specially invited guests at Beef, his Kenilworth Steak House restaurant. “After all” he explained, “restaurants are graded by Michelin and the AA with stars and rosettes, so it only makes sense to do the same to the produce they serve.”

Guests were treated to a tour of the Master Butchers Aubrey Allen in Coventry, including their extensive ageing rooms, and a presentation on their unrivalled support from farmer to fork ensuring quality is paramount throughout the process.

Simon Smith of Aubrey Allen commented, “We are very proud of our relationships between some of the worlds’ finest Beef producers and the team at Beef who like us put animal welfare, consistency and quality first, our philosophy hasn’t changed since the company formed in 1933. Andreas has visited the wonderful producers up in the North East of Scotland with us to see first hand the natural environment that helps to produce the ‘champagne’ of beef for his customers to enjoy at Beef.”

At the lunch, hosted by Andreas, guests were able to sample and compare beef cuts from around the world, at the award-winning in Kenilworth restaurant, including USDA (US) Wagyu (Japan/Australia) and Scottish.

Andreas commented, “Everyone has a favourite cut, breed and method of cooking, but I like finest Scotch beef, aged for over 21 days, and cooked simply on our custom char-grill. There is a lot of misleading information in the public domain, and through events like this we aim to share our passion, knowledge and understanding with others, so we can support outstanding quality.

James Day of Midlands based Lifestyle Dining Club Gourmet-life.co.uk who helped organise the event added “to bring together such good quality ingredients, and experienced chefs who respect such ingredients, and who cook them to perfection is something that is worth celebrating. Andreas’ passion for quality beef is evident, and to share this with others was a real opportunity and a great success”

Louise and I were lucky enough to be invited to this event. It was so amazing and we learnt so much. We hope they do another one of these events soon! :-)

By Jo of Jo’s Kitchen

on behalf of MFB