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I am the person who avoids the sausage rolls at parties, at least the cold mass produced variety.  I have never been able to work up much enthusiasm for them.  However, a freshly home baked sausage roll – or plait, which is just a larger version of the same item – can be delicious.  There are some rules which I feel must be obeyed for the best results.  First, buy good quality sausagemeat.  If your butcher or supermarket sells the type that they put in their best quality sausages, all the better.   I never buy the value brand and skimp on meat products.  They usually contain a lesser quality product.  I would rather have a small amount of good quality meat than lots of a lesser grade.  Around Christmas, at least one supermarket makes a type which is a combination of pork sausagement with chestnut, which would be delicious, although I would be careful not to mask the flavour of the nuts with a strong flavoured chutney, in fact would probably leave it out altogether.  My second rule is simpler:  unless you really must make it yourself, please go ahead and cheat by buying a pack of ready made puff pastry from the supermarket.  It’s one little thing that makes life so much easier, especially if you are mass catering for an occasion.  Part packs of pastry can easily be frozen, but need to be fully defrosted before use.

Some time ago I was watching chef Peter Sidwell in a cooking programe based in the English Lake District: Lakes on a Plate.  One particular recipe, for Sausage Rolls, used home made Fennel & Apple Chutney which I made some time ago.  I opted for a sausage plait, as a quickly made weekday meal, but I like the idea of making larger individual portion rolls or even bite sized ones for a buffet, as in the original instructions.  Simply roll the pastry into long thin rectangles before filling and cutting into the size required.  I am sure that this plait – or the rolls – would be equally good made with other chutneys.  Try Tomato Relish, Beetroot Chutney or, for a spicy version, Indian Lime Pickle or around Christmas try spicy Christmas Chutney.  Leftover plait is delicious eaten cold the next day and ideal in a packed lunch, in place of the usual boring sandwich.  On New Year’s Day I am feeding the extended family (there will be ten of us) and I am planning to serve slices of Sausagemeat & Fennel Chutney Plait as an ‘extra’ alongside the Roast Pork we will be eating.  Any leftovers can be eaten at tea time on the cold buffet.

Readers might also be interested in the sausage roll ideas at The Evening Hérault. Fennel seeds are suggested there too as a flavouring plus using marmalade in place of chutney.  Another good use for that home made chunky Seville Marmalade: I expect Ginger Marmalade would be good too!

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Sausagemeat Plait
(Serves 4)

250g packet puff pastry
a little flour (plain or self-raising) for rolling out – just a few tbsp
500g good quality sausagemeat, Cumberland if possible (original recipe)
1 egg, cracked & lightly whisked
or
1tbsp milk
1 tbsp fennel seeds (choose another topping for a different chutney if you wish)
2tbsp Fennel & Apple Chutney (or another chutney/relish of your choice)

1.  Preheat oven to 190oC/370oF/Gas 5.

2.  Roll the puff pastry into a long rectangle on a floured surface.  Spoon the chutney evenly in a line lengthways along the centre third of the pastry, but do not take right to each end.

3.  The sausagement should be almost the same length as the pastry – about 2cm/1inch shorter lengthwise to allow for tucking in.  It will help to roll the sausagement into a sausage shape, if it has not been bought like this.  If it needs to be shaped or made longer use a little flour on the surface and on your hands to stop it from sticking, though try to keep this extra flour to a minimum.  Place on top of the chutney, lengthways along the central third of the pastry.

4. For a plait, score 2cm/1inch lines from the centre to the outside edges of the pastry at right angles to the sausagement, giving an equal number of strips on each side.

5.  Start the plait by folding one end of the pastry over the sausagemeat.  Lift the first pastry strip on the left side.  Gently place it slightly diagonally across the filling making sure it also overlaps the end fold.  Take a strip from the right side and cross the meat from the other direction, overlapping slightly the previous strip from the left.  Continue like this, alternating sides and making sure each strip slightly overlaps the one that has gone before, until all but the final two strips are folded over.  Either tuck up the end pastry before overlapping the final two strips or, if you prefer, when all the strips are folded tuck the end of the pastry neatly underneath.  There should be as few gaps in the pastry as possible but there will be some which will act as vents for the steam.   (If this all seems too complicated then fold up both ends of the pastry as a seal.  Then draw up the sides of the pastry and fold over, or pinch together to make a decorative finish along the length of the sausage.  Add few diagonal slits as vents if using this second method.)

6.  Flour a sufficiently long tin for the plait or roll and gently lift it on.  Carefully paint the entire roll with either beaten egg or milk.  Sprinkle generously with fennel seeds.  If fennel seeds are not available, or an alternative chutney is used then another seed could be substituted: for example sesame, linseed, black or white poppy.   The flavour of kalonji seed (nigella), available from ethnic grocery stores, whilst not spicy in itself, would complement a spicy or Indian style chutney.

7.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown.  A thicker shorter sausage plait will take longer to cook than a longer thinner one, and it is very important that pork sausagement is thoroughly cooked before eating.

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This delicious recipe looks back to summer, with the taste of cider bringing memories of warm evenings, but also looks forward to winter as, especially with the addition of butter beans, it is a warming and satisfying stew.  Pork and apples are, of course, a well known and delicious combination.  This is especially good when apples are plenteous: I first made it in October, but it can be eaten at any time of year.  I put in a small (250ml size) bottle of cider brought home from our holiday in Brittany, but any type can be used.  The original recipe called for 400ml cider, but I found the smaller amount to be adequate.  Increase it if you wish.  I love butter beans, but any similar bean could be added, although perhaps not a tin of baked beans.  

The original version of this recipe was found in the Morrisons supermarket website food pages and was called Sausage & Apple Cassoulet, but I have put in several additional ingredients and have simplified the method.  I have put in two ingredients for added flavour: Herbes de Provence and dried orange peel.  This last ingredient is something I have been using quite a lot in recent months and it gives a lovely warming orange-y flavour to food, supposedly reminiscent of the Mediterranean.  The tomato and courgette are additions as well, making this a simple one pot meal, ideal for a busy week day supper.

100_8344 Sausage & Apple Cassoulet

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Sausage & Apple Cassoulet
(Serves 4)

454g/1lb pack Best Quality Pork Sausages, with Leek or Herbs if available
1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1tsp Herbes de Provence
1tsp dried orange peel (see note)
4 tomatoes, quartered
1 courgette, cut lengthwise into 4 and then chunks
2 Cox’s Orange Pippin or similar eating apples
5g/½oz butter
2tbsp tomato purée
250ml/9fl ozs/½pint (just under) medium sweet cider
420g/14oz tin Butter Beans, drained
salt & black pepper

1.  Grill the sausages gently until cooked through and golden brown.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and gently cook the onion for 5 minutes.  Add the herbs and continue to cook until soft.  Remove the onion from the pan and set to one side leaving any juices in the pan.

3.  Quarter the apples, remove cores and cut into thin slices. Melt the butter in the pan used to cook the onion.  Add the apple slices and dried orange peel.  Cook gently until the apples begin to colour.

4.  Add the tomato and courgette pieces, the tomato purée and cider.  Stir well and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and cook for 5-10 minutes. 

5.  Combine the cooked onions, sausages and butter beans with the apple mixture.  Season to taste and cook gently for a further 5 minutes.  Do not cover the pan to allow the liquid to reduce but if the mixture starts to dry out then add a little boiling water.

6.  Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and black pepper.

7.  Serve with a jacket potato or with crusty bread.  A small side salad could be served if you wish, especially if cooking without the tomato and courgette I have added.

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On our visit to Amsterdam in October 2009 I was very keen to try Erwtensoep, or Dutch Pea Soup.  This is a traditional dish which I had read was widely available, especially in the colder months: in fact I was sure I remembered enjoying it on a previous visit.  One lunchtime we managed to find a restaurant with Pea Soup on the menu and we were not disappointed.  It was very warming and so filling we ended up having a snack rather than a main evening meal.  I decided I simply had to hunt down a good recipe once I was back in London so I could make it myself to keep out the British winter chill.

There was nothing in my recipe books or the library, but I found several versions online and this recipe is my own interpretation with ideas taken from three recipes.  The versions used for inspiration, along with some of the online comments, were: gourmettraveller, BBC Good Food & recipezaar.  The resulting soup was a substantial lunch style soup, but you could easily add more meat for a soup suitable for a evening meal (such as ham and/or smoked sausage and/or pieces of fried belly pork strip, all of which should be added after the soup is liquidised).  One recipe used leaves from the Lovage plant.  I had some seed, which I added as an experiment and I felt gave a distinctive flavour that I felt enhanced the soup. The potato is traditionally added, I understand, helping to thicken the soup and also reducing any scum from cooking the peas.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Erwtensoep – Dutch Pea Soup
(Serves 3-4 depending on thickness of soup)

250g/8ozs green split peas (soaked overnight)
125g/4ozs streaky bacon, diced
½oz/15g butter
1 stick celery, chopped
1 medium onion, peeled & chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled & chopped
1 medium leek, cleaned & finely sliced
½tsp lovage/ajwan seed (available in ethnic supermarkets) or chopped celery leaf
Large pinch each of ground spices: coriander, chilli, nutmeg, clove & ginger, more if you wish
1 medium potato, grated
2pints/40fl ozs/900ml stock, ham if possible but watch it is not too salty, or vegetable stock
2-3 frankfurter sausages, grilled and cut into 4-6 pieces each.
Salt & black pepper, to taste, if required

1.  Soak the peas overnight in cold water.  If there is not enough time for a long soak this can be speeded up by putting the peas into a saucepan, covering with boiling water and leaving  to soak for 1hour.  Bringing the peas back to the boil once or twice speeds up the softening process. Do not add salt until the peas are completely cooked as it toughens them and can slow down the cooking time.

2.  In a large saucepan, fry the diced bacon in the butter until it is cooked through but not crisped. Remove and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan.

3.  Use the fat remaining in the pan to fry the celery, onion, carrot and leek over a gentle heat until soft. Stir in the lovage/ajwan seed along with the ground coriander, chilli, nutmeg, clove & ginger (these can be adjusted more or less to personal taste). 

4. Drain the peas and stir into the cooked vegetable mixture. Stir the grated potato. Add the stock, bring to the boil, turn down heat and simmer until the peas have softened. Stir occasionally to make sure the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add a little water if necessary if the soup starts to get too thick. 

5.  Blend the mixture until smooth.  Adjust seasoning, if necessary.  Stir in most of the smoked cooked bacon and sausage, leaving a little to garnish the finished soup.  Return the soup to the pan to reheat.  (The reserved frankfurter and bacon can be reheated if necessary by a short burst of heat in the microwave or in a sieve placed over the steam of the reheating soup.)

6.  Serve soup garnished with reserved frankfurter sausage and bacon, plus parsley or celery leaf if you wish, along with crusty bread.

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Cassoulet is a hearty mixture of meat, beans and vegetables cooked for an extended period until the meat is meltingly tender, its home being the Languedoc region of France.  The town of Castelnaudary styles itself as the ‘Capital of Cassoulet’ with Toulouse and Carcassonne also having their own variations.  Every chef and restaurant in the region would claim to have the authentic recipe.  Depending on which recipe you read, the beans are either white haricot, also known as cannellini, or a mixture of haricot and butter beans.  It is usual to use more than one type of meat or meat product.  The original versions are usually based around a piece of duck, if possible confit of duck or even goose, cooked with some of the following: smoked bacon, smoked sausage and/or belly pork.  Occasionally lamb is included and in Toulouse the famous local Toulouse sausage is used. 

In the end I decided to invent my own version of Cassoulet, which I have named Cassoulet ‘Franglais’: my English version of the French dish. Consulting my recipe collection I found several versions from which I collectively took my list of basic ingredients and method. I found one recipe which substituted chicken for duck, which is a very good and less expensive substitute for day-to-day cooking. If I was making the dish for a special occasion I would be tempted to buy a duck leg or two depending on the number of diners. I found Toulouse style sausages in both Sainsburys ‘Taste the Difference’ and Morrison’s ‘The Best’ ranges, but one recipe suggested that Cumberland sausage could be substituted. Another recipe used a combination of both haricot and butter beans so either would be suitable: if the recipe is being doubled one can of each could be added. I understand that some French chefs would shudder at the breadcrumb topping whilst others include it. I put it in my version as it made a lovely crispy topping. The one instruction that all my books were in agreement over was the long cooking time. Ideally this should be cooked the day before to give the flavours a chance to mature before reheating and serving. It should certainly have at least two hours in the oven. If you have a slow cooker this would be an ideal dish to come home to at the end of a cold winter day: it could even be started the previous evening, I suppose.  Just add the breadcrumb topping towards the end and finish under the grill or scatter over a layer of freshly toasted breadcrumbs before serving.

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Cassoulet ‘Franglais’
(Serves 4)

1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 medium sized carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 large tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces
1 leek, washed thoroughly and sliced into rings
2tbsp tomato puree
1tsp herbes de Provence
1tsp dried orange peel (see My Kitchen>New & Unusual Ingredients>Dried Orange Peel)
1 bay leaf
4ozs/125g button mushrooms
4ozs/125g smoked streaky bacon or bacon pieces if available, diced
4ozs/125g rindless belly pork strip, diced
2 or 3 thick Toulouse sausages or thick Cumberland sausage
2 chicken thigh pieces or 1 chicken leg
1 small glass of white wine (optional, but very French!)
½pint/10fl ozs/225ml chicken stock or water & ½stock cube/½tsp stock powder
400ml/14oz can of white haricot/cannellini beans or butter beans
Black pepper to taste
4ozs/125g white breadcrumbs

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 350oF/180oC/170oC Fan oven/Gas 4

2.  Fry the diced onion, celery, carrot and garlic gently in the oil for about 5 minutes.  Stir in the diced bacon, leek and mushroom and cook for 5 minutes more. 

3.  Add the mixed herbs, orange peel and chopped belly pork.  Stir and cook for a further 5 minutes. 

4.  Skin the chicken.  Briefly brown the sausages under the grill.  It does not matter if they are not thoroughly cooked.  Put the whole sausages and the chicken into the pan.  Add the bay leaf, tomato puree and tomato pieces.

5.  Stir in the wine and then the chicken stock or water and chicken stock cube (a small amount of stock cube goes a long way so I use just half a cube or spoonful).

6.  Transfer the mixture to a deep lidded casserole dish and put in the oven. Cook for at least two hours. 

7.  At this stage the Cassoulet can be returned, uncovered, to the oven for the final 30 minutes cooking time or stored overnight ready for reheating the next day.   

8.  Thirty minutes before serving remove the chicken pieces and sausages from the casserole.  Strip the meat from the chicken bones and slice the sausages into about six pieces, depending on size.  Stir the meat into the casserole with the drained and rinsed white beans.  If you are reheating the dish, then this step can be done while the mixture is cold, but make sure that the Cassoulet is thoroughly heated through before serving.

9.  Ten minutes before serving the Cassoulet stir once more and cover with a thick layer of breadcrumbs, which will turn golden brown. 

10.  Serve with a jacket potato, if required.

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This recipe has made a welcome re-appearance in our house having not been made for several years.  It is relatively simple to make, with the very little extra work of cooking with fresh/frozen ginger, garlic and ground spices being well worth it: it beats a ready made sauce from a jar any day!  You know exactly what you are putting into your dinner so you can control and exclude any additives.   I stopped making this recipe when my children were smaller as I had to try to make two panfuls, one for those who liked it spicy and one with little or no spices and it all became too complicated.  I am so glad we can eat it again!

The recipe comes from my original copy of the excellent Madhur Jaffrey‘s Indian Cookery, which accompanied the BBC series in the early 1980’s. The title in the book is Pork Chiplotas cooked in an Indian Style: rather a  mouthful (albeit a delicious one) so I decided to shorten it!  (This book is still available, I believe, having been updated several times.) I have cooked entire Indian themed meals for friends from this and other books of Indian recipes, not always as much extra effort as it seemed.  This recipe is more ‘homely’ than ‘dinner party’, though it would be good to serve to a friend as a simple meal. I have just made a couple of changes and have used more onion than the original.  I tend to use best quality thick pork sausages as I usually have them in the freezer rather than the chipolatas originally suggested. The original recipe calls for 8ozs chipolatas, but I allow more per person.  The original recipe calls for courgettes, but I often substitute okra as in the picture – either are equally good. As it cooks okra exudes a thick liquid and as it does it becomes soft. It is extra important that you do not cook the okra for longer than suggested and that it still retains some of its crispness rather than becoming too soft and sticky. I always serve the meal with either Basmati rice (better than ordinary long grain if you can get it) and/or Naan bread. If you wish, the ginger & garlic mixture can be made in a larger quantity, frozen in ice cube trays and used as required. 

Alternatives: Vegetarian Variation or Side Dish
Grill the sausages instead of frying them so that no meat juices are cooked into the spicy onion/tomato mixture and cook non-meat sausages for the vegetarian diner. Separate a portion of the spicy mixture. Mix the hot chopped non-meat sausages into this, stirring the chopped pork sausages into the remainder.  Alternatively you could use cubed paneer/panir/ponir (a non melting Indian cheese) in place of the vegetarian sausage.  This cheese mixture would also make a alternative or side dish as part of a larger meal.

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'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Pork Sausages Indian Style
(Serves 4)

2.5cm/1 inch cube of fresh ginger, peeled & coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
4tbsp water
225g/8ozs small courgettes or okra, topped, tailed & in 1inch lengths
1tsp sunflower oil
6/8 thick pork sausages depending on size (10/12 chipolatas)
1 large onion peeled & chopped
1tsp ground cumin seeds
¼tsp cayenne pepper
225g/½lb tomatoes, peeled & finely chopped or 225g/½lb can plum tomatoes
½tsp salt

1. Put the ginger, garlic and 4tbsp water into the container of a food processor or blender and blend until you have a paste. (If you do not have a blender then chop them together as finely as possible and add the water separately.)

2. Courgettes: Wash, quarter lengthwise and cut strips into 4cm/1½inch lengths.
Okra: Wash, remove the stalk end and cut into aproximately 4cm/1½inch lengths.

3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and fry the sausages, turning as necessary until they are brown. Remove and put on a plate.

4. Put the onions in the same oil. Stir and fry gently until they turn translucent and begin to brown. Add the ginger/garlic paste. Stir and fry for a minute. Add the cumin and cayenne. Stir a few times, then add the tomatoes and stir for a further minute.

5. Add the courgettes or okra and salt. Bring the pan to a simmer, cover, then turn heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. (See note above about cooking time for okra.)

6. Cut the sausages into 3 or 4 pieces each, depending on size and add them to the pan. Cover and cook until reheated. This may take up to a further 5 minutes, but we like our courgettes and okra to remain a little crisp.

7. Serve with Basmati rice and/or Naan bread

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This is such a handy and simple recipe which can be put together in as long as it takes for the sausages and pasta to cook – shorter if you have some leftover pre-cooked sausages available. Choose a good quality sausage – pork and leek or pork and herb are both good choices.  The courgette ribbons are a pretty touch and are so thin that they cook through in a matter of minutes. They are quite fiddly to make – I used a potato peeler. If you choose to cut the courgette in another way then make sure you cut them equally as thinly, or cook for a little longer.

Rather than spoil a whole meal as I once did, be warned that occasionally courgettes are bitter and it is best to try a small piece of each one before adding to a recipe.

The original recipe was on a free instore card found at Sainsbury‘s supermarket in January 2009.  I have added an onion and Parmesan, but both are optional.

100_4026 Sausage & Courgette Pasta

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Sausage & Courgette Pasta
(Serves 4)

8 good quality thick pork sausages
1 clove garlic, crushed/finely chopped
1 finely chopped onion (optional)
1tbsp olive oil (if using onion)
1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped (I do this in the tin using scissors/knife)
½tsp sugar
2 courgettes, washed and cut into fine ribbons
12ozs/375g penne pasta
Thyme, to taste
Salt & pepper
Parmesan, grated (to taste – optional)

1.  Unless pre-cooked sausages are available, grill them until lightly browned and set aside. 

2.  If using onion, cook with the garlic in olive oil over a low heat until translucent but not browned.

3.  Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 10-12minutes.

4.  Place the chopped tomatoes, garlic (if not already used), chopped sausages and thyme to taste in a pan.  Cook over a low heat for 10-15minutes.

4.  Drain the pasta and stir into the tomato mixture along with the courgette ribbons.  Season as necessary.  Cook for about 5mins but do not overcook the courgette.

5.  Serve in bowls with grated parmesan and crusty bread, if wished.

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We love Toad in the Hole (the traditional British dish of sausages in batter) but we also love lots of fried onions (and I mean lots – often one medium onion each!) so I combine the two. This dish can be cooked at any time of the year, but is definitely a winter ‘comfort food’ favourite. 

This recipe is my own version, using our family Batter Pudding recipe.  I use the best quality sausages I can get and definitely not the poorer quality ones with a low meat content.  I would rather have one good quality sausage than several that are all filler and no meat. For this recipe you must choose thick sausages, not chipolatas, either plain pork, pork & herb or pork & leek.  (I am not sure that some of the fancy varieties would work so well.)  You can add herbs (fresh or dried) to the mixture to liven up plain sausages if you wish.  I often forego any potato when I eat this as I find the batter is enough.  Sometimes I put the sausages on a bed of mixed roast vegetables (peppers, courgette, mushroom, tomato, for example) which need less pre-cooking, so I add them to the pan as I increase the heat in advance of adding the batter mix.

100_2484 Toad in the Hole with fried onion

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This recipe uses my Toad in the Hole with Fried Onions
(Serves 4-6)

Best quality Thick Pork Sausages (usually 2 per person depending on appetite)
Basic Recipe: Batter Mixture (made with 2 eggs)
Onion, peeled & sliced into rings or semi circles – quantity according to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
Mixed Herbs or Herbes de Provence (optional) and/or
Balsamic Vinegar to taste (optional)

1.  It is best to use a metal dish as this conducts the heat well and helps the batter to rise well. (A cast iron Le Creuset ware as shown is ideal.)  However, I have used a pottery dish as well.

2.  Pre-heat oven to 180oC.

3.  Slice the onions and keep to one side. Place the sausages in the dish, on a rack if available, cover with a lid (or a baking tray) and cook in a moderate oven for 15minutes turning half way through cooking.

4.  Remove the sausages and set to one side, leaving the sausage fat in the pan.  If not much remains then add one or two tablespoons of sunflower oil.  Add the onions and herbs, plus a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar if you wish.  Replace the pan in the oven and cook for 10minutes, stirring once.

5.  Increase the oven heat to 220oC.  Make up the batter mixture according to the Basic Method: Batter Mixture instructions.

6.   Remove the pan from the oven.  Batter rises best when put into a hot pan, so quickly lay the sausages on top of the part cooked onions, arranged so you will be able to remove them in portions, and pour the batter mixture over the sausages.  Immediately return the pan to the oven. 

7.  Do not open the oven again until the batter is well risen or it could collapse. Cook for about a further 20minutes until the batter is well risen and golden and before the sausages are too dark in colour.

7.  Serve with a green vegetable and roasted tomatoes plus a jacket potato or new potatoes.  Tomato Relish is a delicious accompaniment.

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