Archive for the ‘Off Track – At Home’ Category


It is nearing the end of  my first full week over in the UK and it has rained nearly every day. I guess that I did wish for some rain when I came over as I do miss the English rain. But now to be honest I am bored of it and I could do with so nice cool Chicago spring weather. With the miserable weather I was in dire need of some comfort food, and what better to have than some sausage and mash. Last week we went off to the Gonalston Farm shop and so some of the sausages we captured there were about to meet their end sacrificed to the  greater good of my rumbling stomach.

For those about to be consumed we had some Lincolnshire sausages which is traditionally pork with thyme, sage, and parsley. We also had some Lamb and Mint flavoured ones as well. Once cooked the Lamb and Mint were much darker. To go with the sausages some standard fare of mashed potatoes, processed peas, and red onion gravy were the accompanying players.

The Lincolnshire sausages were very herby, slightly overpowering on the sage front, I am not sure if you can taste pungent but that would be the closest description to the sage flavour. The Lamb and Mint were really minty and since I like mint sauce on my Roast Lamb that was totally fine with me. We spent quite some time debating how these could be served at Frank ‘n’ Dawgs in Chicago, I would have probably served them with some sort of pea puree and soft slowed cooked red onions.

Either way they both succeeded in their roles as Comfort food and my body and brain were satiated.

Interestingly Lincoln sausages are a little like Champagne in that you can only call them Lincolnshire if they are made within the county of Lincolnshire . I am assuming that you can only call Lamb and Mint sausages “Lamb and Mint” if they do actually contain both ingredients.


So earlier today I had a disastrous lunch at Burrito House, but never mind, as promised (mostly to myself) tonight I have cooked one of my favorite meals, my version of Jamie Oliver’s Sausage Carbonara or ‘linguine alla carbonara di salsiccia’. Now I do take some liberties with the recipe which all good home cooks should do, I have made this at least 50 times, and have gradually worked out how I like to eat it, and more importantly through experimentation on my friends and family what gets the best response, usually measured in oohs and aahs!


Now this recipe comes from Jamie’s Book “Jamie’s Italy” which accompanied his TV series of the same name, I don’t know if it was shown in America. If you are lucky enough to be able to go to one of Jamie’s resturants in the UK, then he has this on the menu there, and for those of you who travel I have heard that he is about to open one of his resturants at Gatwick airport in the UK (just in case you are passing through). OK but back to the food.

This is the ‘official’ recipe, but as I already note I may have adjusted it slightly, and it really does not matter what type of pasta you use. I get the ingredients together and a glass of wine (of course).


So instead of ‘sausage’ meat I like to use meatballs and the ones from “Whole Foods” are pretty good if you break them in half. I like to get my pancetta from “Fox and Obel” as they cut it nice and thick so you can cube it, but today I did not want to trek over there so I roasted and then chopped up some Black Forest bacon from Whole Foods.


So now the easy bit is putting the bacon and the meat balls into the oven at about 400F to let them crisp up for about 20mins. I usually put the water for the pasta on to boil after about 10 mins while I get the carbonara sauce ready. All that needs is some cream, a couple of egg yolks, some lemon juice (Jamie uses the zest but I like it more lemony), and some good quality parmesan cheese.


Then once the pasta is cooked it is just a case of mixing it all together in a pan quickly over a light heat. Jamie says you have to be careful not to heat it too quickly or it will turn into scrambled eggs. In all the time I have done it that has never happened so either I am doing it wrong or I am just right 🙂


After all that just tip onto a plate, add the meatballs and bacon, and perhaps a little bit of parmesan to top it off.


Now we are talking, I was very happy after this and together with a ‘small’ glass of wine I just threw on a Jamie Video to make the food night complete.

So sometime back when I started this blog I went down to Ethyl’s Food Truck Night where Stephanie Izard was selling her new book “Girl in the Kitchen” and selling soup from the Lillie’s Q food truck.

Since then I have watched that season of  Top Chef and finally this week made the attempt to cook some soup out of her book. The closest description to the soup she was selling that night was the recipe for “The Never-Ending-Chicago-Winter Beef Stew”. I am not sure that it is exactly the same, but it got a bit colder at the start of the week and I really fancied something warming plus all these trips up and down the Elevated Railway looking for food are making me fat and I needed some good home cooked healthier food. The thing about Stephanies book is that although the recipes sound quite fancy and to be honest have so many ingredients that I would never have dreamt of putting togther, the overiding message and feeling I get from the book is that really the idea is to mix and match what you like and try some of the ideas not just follow the recipes blindly. Of course I just followed blindly as I didn’t read that bit until after I had cooked the soup. The other good thing and true as it happens is that you can cook these recipes (at least this one) in your own kitchen and that you can source the ingredients from a normal supermarket or grocery store.  I got all my stuff from the local Jewel Osco, so that was true as well.


I am not going to list the recipe in detail its in the book and not really that hard to follow, even with pictures,  there were just really three steps, well five if you include shopping and eating.

First steps was cutting up 1 pineapple, and apple and a pear, 3 garlic cloves and a small onion, then a couple of pounds of beef cubed and a whole load of freshly ground pepper.


First cooking step was just to brown off the beef with some pepper and salt

Then just a case of sweating down the onions and garlic, apparently until they are translucent, so bit gentler then than I usually do mine for my spaghetti bolognase


The next part of the soup was the bit that I was most doubtful about, adding pineapple, pear, and apple, plus some red wine. I was fine with the wine, and maybe one fruit but three? Ok I guess if a Top Chef thinks it works then I will run with it and give it a go. It certainly smelt nice as it was cooking and a nice sweet aroma filled the kitchen, a bit like a German Christamas market hanging around the Glühwein stall, kind of a savoury mulled wine mix. Although by now I had consumed a glass of the red wine I bought for cooking the soup so it was all going swimmingly well


About 10 minutes later everything had cooked down nicely, reduced I suppose if we want to be technical and even the camera lense was getting the full effects of the steamy aromas.

That just left the last cooking step which was to chuck the beef back in, plus some cider, tomatoes, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, and some sambal. The next bit is the longest part leaving it to simmer for about 4-5 hours until the meat was tender enough to eat.


I have to be honest and I got a bit impatient so the first bowl was eaten after 3 hours of cooking and the meat was almost tender, but still a bit chewy, I still was not convinced about the chunks of fruit either although the flavour of the broth was amazing, tart, spicy, fruity and savoury all at the same time, very warming. 

The next day after having spent a totally riduculous amount of time thinking about the soup and discussing whether or not it had been a success or if I even liked it, I decided that the only bit I personally did not enjoy was the fruit lumps, it wasn’t the flavour, just for me the texture was too much and overpowering a mouthful. So in the end I strained the soup, pulled out all of the chunks of meat, and then put all the fruit into a processor and blended it up and added it all back into the pot and cooked for another hour with some fingerling potatoes.

This was much more successful for me, all the flavours remained, probably even enhanced a little and I was just able to then tuck into some nice potato and falling apart beef chunks.

I was well worth the multiple hours of effort to make the soup, and I still have several portions left in the freezer, which I will enjoy more by not having to spend 5 hungry hours cooking and waiting.

Recipe can be found on page 90 in Stephanie Izard’s “Girl in Kitchen” cook book -‘ How a Top Chef cooks, thinks, shops, eats and drinks’