CHRISTMAS SHOPPING - Sausages with Cranberry Gravy and Bubble & Squeak / Poached Eggs on Tomato & Mushroom Toasts / Cranberry

Sausages with Cranberry Gravy and Bubble & SqueakChristmas shopping is an exhausting business by any standards so what's needed around this time of year is some sure-fire easy meals that are packed full of nourishment, please all age groups and suit any time of day. Depending how your body clock works, some people find it pays to invest half an hour in the kitchen beforehand (or maybe get into town early and stock up at one of the growing numbers of cafes and restaurants offering really good breakfasts) to be sure of starting off with a satisfying brunch, while others prefer to grab something quick in the morning and have a family meal later.

Simple dishes based on ingredients we all have in the fridge, like sausages and rashers, are ideal - always remembering that simple dishes depend on quality ingredients for success. Bearing in mind celebrity chef Richard Corrigan's recent remarks about Irish sausages (“like gobbling pure badness”), it's worth seeking out something a cut above the mass brands: the local butcher could be your best bet, as many independent butchers take pride in their own house sausages; some, like McCartney's of Moira (over 30 varieties), have made it their main speciality.

Tip-top artisan products include the renowned Hick's range (farmers' markets, selected specialist outlets); Olivia Goodwillie's pork sausages (Kilkenny area), and Jane Russell's range (specialist food shops like Caviston's and Nolans, some farmers' markets).

But there are good quality products that are more widely available too, including well-known brands such as Rudd's and Clonakilty, which are both stocked by good supermarkets.

Sausages with Cranberry Gravy and Bubble & Squeak

This seasonal version of bangers and mash can be on the table in half an hour, but don't skimp on the ingredients - like all simple dishes, you'll get the taste that you pay for. This recipe looks more complicated than it is, because several options are given for the accompanying potatoes; if you're really short of time and/or energy, forget about the mash and pop a few baking potatoes in the oven instead. Serves 4

8 large best quality pork sausages
2 red onions, cut into wedges
1 large red pepper, deseeded and thickly sliced (optional)
1tbsp olive oil
4tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
2tbsp cranberry sauce
A little leftover gravy, or a sachet of Kallo Gravy, or 1/2 stock cube
400 ml/14 fl oz boiling water
150g/6 oz fresh cranberries

To serve:
4 good potatoes, eg Roosters
(+ For Bubble & Squeak:
40g/ 11/2 oz butter
1tbsp olive oil
2 medium leeks, trimmed, washed & sliced
225g/ 8 oz Savoy cabbage or spring greens, finely shredded
freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper).

Preheat fan oven to 180'C (400F, Gas Mark 6).

Meanwhile, either scrub four baking potatoes (eg Roosters) and pop them straight into the oven; or alternatively, peel the potatoes, cut into large chunks and put into a large pan with cold water to cover; add a pinch of salt and boil for 5-10 minutes, until tender.

Heat the olive oil in a roasting tin, toss the sausages, onions and red pepper (if using) in it, then roast in the oven for 25 minutes, shaking once or twice, until the sausages are nicely browned. Meanwhile mix together the balsamic vinegar, cranberry sauce, the gravy or stock cube and the 400ml/14 fl oz boiling water and set to one side. Pour the gravy mixture over the sausages and stir in with the cranberries and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes or until bubbling hot.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain well and either mash with a generous knob of butter and a good seasoning of salt and pepper, or (if time permits), use to make bubble & squeak: for this, reserve half of the potatoes, then mash the remainder. In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the butter and oil and fry the leeks for 2 minutes, until beginning to brown; add the shredded cabbage and stir fry for 2-3 minutes; add 2 tbsp water and stir again until evaporated. Add in all the potatoes, season well with nutmeg (if using), salt and pepper. Fry over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until crispy underneath.

To serve, spoon some of the mash or bubble and squeak onto each warm serving plate, arrange 2 sausages on top or to the side and finish with the balsamic and cranberry gravy.

SHORT RECIPE: Poached Eggs on Tomato & Mushroom Toasts

Poached Eggs on Tomato & Mushroom ToastsThis makes a delicious 15 minute meal - brunch, lunch, tea, supper, it's a real anytime dish.

Serves 4:

Olive oil
2 large flat mushrooms, thinly sliced
Pinch of salt & black pepper
1 tablesp. white wine vinegar
4 eggs
4 thick slices of good bread, toasted on one side
4-6 cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced
4 slices cheese

Heat a little of the olive oil and saute the mushrooms for a minute or two and season. Set aside. Bring a shallow pan of water to simmer, add the vinegar and salt. Break one egg onto a saucer, stir the water to create a whirlpool, tip in the egg and leave to cook for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, lift on to a plate. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Keep the water hot.

Heat the grill to high, arrange the mushrooms on the untoasted side of the bread, cover with the tomatoes and then the cheese, grill for 5-6 minutess until the cheese has just melted. Place the toast on warmed plates. Slide all the eggs back into the hot water and leave for 30 seconds, lift out and drain on kitchen paper, then put one on top of toast. Season and serve, perhaps with a green salad on the side, if you wish.


Cranberry SauceWhat Are They?
Cranberries are the acidic red berries of Vaccinium oxycoccus, a wiry evergreen shrub related to the blueberry; the berries, which are borne in late summer and early autumn

Where Do They come From?
Cranberries thrive in peaty mountainous areas of the Northern Temperate Zone, and are an important commercial crop in North America.

Where Can I Get Them?
They keep very well and are widely available from supermarkets and green grocers, both fresh and frozen - especially, during the early winter / around Thanksgiving and Christmas, due to their festive colour and association with turkey.

What Can I do With Them?
Although especially popular with turkey, homemade cranberry sauce is excellent with other poultry, including guinea fowl, duck and goose, and with other meats including ham and robustly-flavoured artisan sausages. It's traditionally served cold, but cranberry sauce tastes better slightly warm; unless cooking gently in syrup, do not add sugar until the berries are bursting, to avoid toughening the skins, and don't over-sweeten, or the appealingly acidic quality of the fruit will be lost. For variety, a little white wine or orange juice can be used to replace some of the water, and flavourings such as finely grated orange zest or cinnamon can be added if you wish. As an ingredient, cranberries can be used in hot desserts and baking - add directly to bread doughs, muffins and scones, for example, or add to fruit crumbles and pies - and they make a good ingredient in savoury mixtures such as stuffings and pat?s.

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