Friday, 11 January 2013

Everything tastes better with bacon - sausage casserole, pasta bake and the promise of soup

So, we're well into Austerity January, and so far, so good. The freezer has lots of stock in it - good for soups, and also lots of left overs from pre-Christmas bulk cooking: I know there is a venison casserole in there waiting to liven up a Sunday sometime soon. There's some ham and turkey, and a whole load of lamb, but I'm also trying to use up as much as I have accumulated in the cupboards in my subconscious hibernation/'what if there's a nuclear winter' strategy that I seem to have inherited from my mum. Shelves are there to be filled, and while it's nearly all in date (bar a tin of pineapple slices that I can't bring myself to either open or throw away), the cupboards are groaning. There are lots of pulses and tinned tomatoes, and I have jars of olives that I forgot I'd bought - plenty of stuff to make good meals out of, and to keep the post-Christmas shopping bills down.  Even more exciting, this week things have been livened up by the last pack of streaky bacon which has been lurking in the back of the fridge since Christmas, and was just about to go over.

The thing about bacon is that it's just so tasty. The Husband is of the 'there are only 2 food groups: bacon and everything else' school of eating, and I have to say that he has a point: Bacon always comes at the top - or near the top - of things most likely to make a vegetarian falter. For me, it's not a camping trip without a bacon sandwich to wake up to - preferably with a cup of a coffee and a blinding view, but even without the coffee (packing fail) and when the rain's sheeting down (or, more soul destroying, when faced with persistent drizzle), there's nothing more likely to lift the spirits. I went to school with a lot of kids from the Jewish community in Leeds, and they were always off to Macdonalds for Bacon Double Cheeseburgers (ssssh! Don't tell anyone). There is just something about bacon.

We had a sausage, bacon and split pea casserole which I managed to get in the slow cooker one lunch time, and by bulking up a pack of sausages with some bacon, along with the pulses and veg, I made enough casserole to feed us for 2 meals. I can't now recall exactly what I did, and I didn't take any photos of it (to be honest it didn't look very interesting), but it was mighty tasty. I did have to plan ahead and soak the peas over night, but that used up the end of a bag that would otherwise have leaked all over the cupboard until the next time I want to make pea & ham soup. It was also dead easy, and you could cook it on the stove top - or in the oven - if you didn't have a slow cooker: I sweated some chopped onion, celery and carrots before adding them to the slow cooker, and tipping the split peas (these had been soaked over night then boiled rapidly for 10 minutes) on top. I cut the bacon into pieces and each sausage into 3 (I find they go further cut up - if you leave them whole, people know for sure how many sausages they've had, and one is never enough), then fried these off and drained off excess fat. Chucked all that into the slow cooker with a bunch of thyme, then deglazed the frying pan with a slosh of red wine, a can of chopped tomatoes and some stock - probably about 2 tsp of stock powder made up in the tomato can to swill out the last bits of tomato. Poured into the slow cooker, stirred around and cooked on high for 4 hours. Perfect with rice for tea.

Yesterday, we had bacon and leek pasta bake which is one of my regular meals. It is very quick to make, and by baking it at the end, it gives you the option to make it in advance - otherwise it's just cold pasta, isn't it, and frankly, who wants to eat that? This way, if you want, you can make it earlier in the day, then put in the oven with some cheese on the top at teatime and bingo - delicious and comforting. I should 'fess up and say that Blue is ambivalent about it, mainly because he doesn't like the 'crunchy bits' (strange child) but everyone else loves it and it's one of the few meals that Pink will ask for seconds of.  Last night it was extra specially good because there was some left over double cream in the fridge that needed using up. Marvellous. When I made it last night, I actually concentrated on what I was doing and how much I was using, so I can share a recipe with you.

Creamy Bacon & Leek Pasta Bake - serves 4

woops! nearly all gone before I took a pic!

300g pasta
15-20g butter
3 leeks, cleaned and sliced fairly finely
200g streaky bacon, derinded & chopped into fairly small pieces
2 tbsps plain flour
2tsp stock powder
approx 30ml double cream (optional but lovely)
salt & pepper
grated cheese (I failed to weigh out how much I used, sorry - but you  know, you just need enough)

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. While you are doing this, melt the butter in a pan, and add the leeks and bacon and cook for 5 minutes or so till the leeks have softened and the bacon is looking like it's on the way to being cooked. Chuck in the flour and stir in so that you can't see any left. Cook it out for a minute or so. If necessary remove from the heat till the pasta is cooked. When you drain the pasta, reserve the cooking water and mix approx 400ml with the stock powder. Put your leeks & bacon back in the heat and slowly stir in the pasta water/stock till you get a smooth, thickish sauce. 

Depending on how thick or thin you like sauces in these kinds of dishes, you may want to use less than the 400ml or more to make a thinner sauce. Pour in the cream if using, and grind in some salt and pepper, then allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Tip the pasta into an appropriately sized oven proof dish and stir the sauce through it.

Cover the top with grated cheese and bake at 180C for approx 20-30 minutes (depending whether you need to avoid 'crunchy bits' or not - in a rare display of patience, last night I actually left a corner of the dish un-cheesed to reduce crunchy bits, but I'm not often that tolerant of foodie foibles!) 

The last of the bacon then, will go into what I hope will be a particularly satisfying soup for this evening. I was on one of my rare forays to a supermarket the other day and walking down the soup aisle, noticed a pot proclaiming bacon, red pepper and lentil. Mmmmm. In an uncommon display of harmony, the kids both chose today for their school lunch this week. As I know they are both having a hot meal (fish and chips) I can be a bit more relaxed about what to give them for tea, although the Husband has only had sandwiches.... We have lots of red lentils knocking around, and there's most of a red pepper needing eating up, so bacon, red pepper and lentil soup it is.This soup (in my head at least) seems to be a good solution to how to feed everyone this evening. We'll see!

I'm linking this up to a new blog event 'Credit Crunch Munch' hosted by  Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla at Fab Food For All. This is all about creating delicious food for less, and I think both the casserole and the pasta bake fit in with that idea. And I'm liking the logo a lot!


  1. Oooooooh bacon!! I'm with Mr RJ on this one. Anything pig-based is always sooo good. Will defo be giving the pasta dish a go - looks delish :)

    1. oink. I was intrigued by your pig, cake and gin evening - do you eat bacon butties before cake & washed down with gin?

  2. Oink! Tonight, i'm cooking slow roast pork belly... but it's always some sort of pig-based meal. It won't taste the same without the gin :(

    1. Oh how I love slow roast pork belly. Don't worry, January will be over before you know it. May be you can persuade Table to celebrate her first Friday of Feb with a gin based Friday Lush in honour of your wagon sitting

    2. Ladies you can hold the swine but hello, did I hear gin mentioned? I've taken up the gauntlet RJ, there will be a commemorative post in honour of Barnes and her temperance!

  3. Mmmmmmm proper bacon - how I miss it! Your recipes sound scrummy - just this thing for a winter's evening.

    1. Yeah - we're eating the bake a lot at the moment.

  4. I agree! Everything is better with bacon, and this dish looks wonderful with it!

  5. Good for you, it's amazing what you can create for not that many pennies! this looks wonderful - I love your husband's food groups!
    Mary x


I LOVE comments - please leave one. Unfortunately, I have been getting hideous amounts of SPAM so please can you do the word verification thingy?