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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Post the Thirty-sixth (in which our heroine returns to education)

So, you know it is.  You're 16, you're filling out your college application forms and you don't really have a clue what you want to do with your life cause, y'know, you're 16.  So you apply for a B.Sc. in Biotechnology, thinking it sounds kind of cool, picturing Professor Weeto types teaching the course.  You go to college.  You correct the lecturer's spelling of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in your very first lecture.  You fail your first maths test miserably.  You realise you have absolutely no interest whatsoever in Biotechnology.  You drop out.  You decide to work for a year while you figure out what you *do* want to do in college.  Twelve years later, you're still working.

Or is that just me?

Anyway, the plan was always to go back to college eventually.  The problem was that, having bought houses and cars and whatnot in the intervening years, giving up work to go back full-time wasn't really an option.  And the kind of courses that are available in the evenings never appealed to me - all business-related.  Our heroine was despairing.  And then, lo!  Along came the Oscail programme at DCU - a distance-learning initiative that allows you to do your degree from home.  And lo!  They actually had a few Humanities degrees on it.  So our heroine now finds herself embarking on a B.A. in English and History and realising that she won't be able to coast through this on recall alone as she did with the Leaving Cert.  I'm actually going to have to - gasp! - study.  Something I have never done in my life.  Two hours a night, on weeknights, until my first two assignments are submitted.  It's all very alien to me, I have to admit.

Anyway, as my evening pottering-around-the-kitchen time is now severely curtailed, I'm tending to make big pots of stuff that will look after dinner for two or three nights in a row.  I'm sensing a lot of soup, stew and chili in my short to medium-term future.

Which brings us to the first (I think) soup recipe of the blog.  It's a Jamie Oliver one - English (as opposed to French) Onion Soup.  It's a really hearty, filling soup which, with a few sausage rolls on the side, makes a meal in itself.

English Onion Soup - makes 8 bowls

5 red onions, sliced                         3 large white onions, sliced
2 leeks, washed & sliced                3 shallots, diced
6 cloves garlic, crushed                   Large bunch fresh sage, chopped
2 litres beef stock                           8 slices crusty bread
200g grated cheddar                      Worcestershire sauce
Glug of olive oil                               Generous knob of butter
Salt & pepper

1)  You need a fairly massive pot for this, be warned.  Heat the olive oil & butter over a low heat.  Add the sage & garlic and allow the butter to melt.  Add the onions, leeks & shallots, season with salt & pepper, give everything a good stir to coat and then sweat gently with the lid on for 50 minutes.  Remove the lid for the last 20 minutes.  Stir occassionally to make sure nothing's sticking to the bottom.

2)  When your onions are lovely and silky and slightly golden, add the stock.  Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

3) Preheat your grill to full whack and toast the bread on both sides.  Taste the soup and correct the seasoning if needs be.  Ladle into 8 deep bowls and bung a slice of toast on top of each - tear it up to make it fit, if you have to, and feel free to dunk it into the soup a bit.  Top the bread with some grated cheese and a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce.  Place the bowls on a baking tray and flash them under the grill until the cheese is golden and bubbling.  Very carefully remove the tray and bring to the table, remembering to warn your guests that the bowls are absolutely hopping!  Serve with warm sausage rolls - see below.

 Ok, so these are more home-assembled than home made, but they're still excellent.  And, in my defence, I did make proper home-made ones last week, and these were actually nicer (not to mention a hell of a lot easier), so I'm sticking with them in future.  By the way, I'm aware that the quantities in this recipe are a bit vague, mostly because I'm terribly disorganised and never bothered to write down the weights on any of the packaging, but for what it's worth, the sausages and the puff pastry I use for these are both from Aldi.

Home "made" Sausage Rolls - makes about 30

Packet of good-quality cocktail sausages               Packet of puff pastry
50ml olive oil                                                        50ml Worcestershire sauce

1)  Place your puff-pastry sheet on a large chopping board.  I use the Aldi one, which is a bit thick, so I generally go over it with the rolling pin once or twice to flatten it out a bit.  The other advantage of this is that you get more sausage rolls out of one sheet :-)

2) Pour the oil & worcestershire sauce into a small bowl and give it a good whisk.  Brush the sheet of pastry with a good layer of this.

3)  Snip your sausages into singles and place a row of them across the top of the pastry, leaving a gap of about 5mm between each one.  Cut the pastry into strips lengthways, so you have several long strips of pastry with a sausage at the top of each.  (I really should have taken some photos of this process...)

4) Roll the pastry over the top of your sausage so that it's fully covered, but only just.  Cut the pastry, then repeat this process until you run out of either pastry or sausages.  To form each roll, press & pinch the edges of the pastry together to seal.  Don't worry about the gaps at the sides; when the pastry puffs up during cooking, these will close.

5)  Place the sausage rolls on a baking tray and brush again with the oil/worcestershire sauce mix.  Bake in the oven at 210C until lovely and golden-brown.  Allow to cool on wire rack for 5 minutes, then serve.  Try not to eat the entire batch in one sitting.

You can also freeze these before cooking - put them on the baking tray, brush with the oil mix, then put the whole tray into the freezer - this will stop them sticking together as they freeze.  Once they're frozen you can chuck 'em into a freezer bag to store.  Cook straight from frozen, but at 200C and for approx. 25 minutes.  Again, they're done once they've puffed up and turned golden-brown.  Enjoy!

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