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Monthly Archives: September 2013

A Tale of Two Pasta Bakes

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It might come as a surprise to some of you that up until very recently (and by recently, I mean this year) I’d never had macaroni cheese. I know, it came as a surprise to me too, I love pasta and I really love cheese. How did I get to the age of 27 without eating macaroni cheese? How could such a thing happen? I wish I could say. Despite my dad hating cheese, I still got a decent amount of cheese on toast and pizza as a child, yet mac and cheese evaded me. As a cookbook obsessed, blogging adult, macaroni cheese was always on my hit list, and with the not so keen on it Boyfriend away in Kenya, now seemed the perfect time to make one from scratch. Being such a classic recipe, there were many cookbooks that I could have got a recipe from but I chose Supper Club by Kerstin Rodgers which hasn’t really been used much at all since I brought it last year. It’s a straightforward recipe where you have to make a cheese sauce (a béchamel sauce with cheese melted into it), boil up some pasta and then combine before popping in the oven. This cheese sauce had the inclusion of whole grain mustard and pickled green peppercorns which I for one was most grateful for. They cut through the richness of the cheese, although not as much as I would have liked. It was a really rich pasta dish and while very tasty, was a bit much. That’s right, it was a bit much for me and I didn’t even have enough cheese as specified in the recipe.

When it comes to pasta, I’m very much on the side of tomato based dishes. I love cheese and cream but given the choice between a carbonara or an arrabiatta, the arrabiatta will win every time. Tastes better, is probably more nutritious and I can easily eat a whole lot more of it than a creamy pasta dish. Winning all round. This then was exactly the kind of dish I craved after waking up on Sunday with the hangover from hell, living room floorboards soaked in 50% vodka and cava, and eggcups coated in pink gunk after being used as makeshift shot glasses. Clearly a good night had been had. What can I say, after years of faithfully relying on cookbooks for culinary inspiration, alcohol gave me a eureka moment and this recipe just popped into my head. I just don’t do my own recipes normally so this really was a bolt out of the blue, any off the cuff recipes I make normally end in disaster. A future career as an alcoholic cookbook author await, naturally. The fact that this recipe also happened to taste delicious whilst using items that I already had in my fridge / cupboards only made me feel more smug that for this bad boy dinner, I had only to rely on myself. This then, is my macaroni mini meatball bake, and it’s perfect comfort food, with the spicy tomato sauce loaded with meatballs and covered in the melted, gooey cheese that’s turned gloriously crunchy around the edges. I don’t like to blow my own horn, but toot toot. Thank you, Smirnoff, for the inspiration.

Meatballs:
300g minced beef
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper

Combine all meatball ingredients together with your hands. Roll into little balls, line up on a baking tray and grill until cooked through (it took me about 10 mins). Cool on kitchen paper. This is just a basic meatball recipe, feel free to add chopped chilli, onion, spices, basil etc according to your own tastes.

Tomato Sauce:
1 onion, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 red chilli, chopped finely, seeds kept in
1x 400g tin tomatoes
200-300ml chicken stock
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Dried oregano
A few drops of tobasco
1-2tbsp tomato purée
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper

250g macaroni
Parmesan cheese
Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Cook the onion, garlic and chilli in a saucepan over a medium heat until soft. Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil. Add the tomato purée, balsamic vinegar, oregano, Tobasco, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar. Add a third of the stock, simmer for 10-15 minutes. If after this it looks too thick, add some more stock. You don’t want it too thick as the macaroni will need a small amount of moisture once in the oven, but you also don’t want a watery sauce, so add the stock little by little until you’re happy with the sauces thickness and consistency. Season.

Cook 250g macaroni for approx 4-5 minutes less than the packet cooking time. Drain, then stir into the tomato sauce. Add the meatballs, stir again and transfer to a square dish (something that you’d make a lasagna for two in). Cover liberally in your grated cheeses and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

Serves 2-3 people (leftovers taste great reheated the next day too).

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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Food, Italian

 

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Warning: This Post Is Bad For Your Health

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Now I like a sugar high as much as the next person, but this past weekend there’s a good chance I took it too far. Brownie cookies. Jam doughnut muffins. I don’t even need to write anything more for you to understand the levels of butter and sugar needed for such baked goods. Much like Road Dahl characters, everything you need to know is all in the name. Miss Honey was always going to be an absolute darling and Augustus Gloop only ever a greedy bastard. And so brownie cookies and jam doughnut muffins are inevitably naughty. In my defence (although it would never stand up in court) I did have friends over for coffee, visited family and took part in a recruitment day at work so the goodies were shared. Spreading not only the love, but also the calories.

Brownie cookies then come from Smitten Kitchen, one of the newest additions to the collection. I’ve not yet ventured into the savoury section of the book, despite the fact that every time I dive in to pick a recipe I go in with the best of intentions. But the significantly sized sweet section of the book always draws me in and I conveniently forget the existence of the salad section. There is nothing sweet in the book that I don’t instantly want to cook. These cookies are an absolute doddle to make, although not owning an electric mixer puts you at an advantage if you want to build those biceps up whilst also working on your domestic goddess skills. One day I will have one of those beautifully glossy KitchenAid mixers (pistachio green is my current favourite) and so until then nothing else will do. If I were to compromise on a lesser model I would then be stuck with it for life, so I’m more than happy to save and continue to bake the hard way. I’m such a martyr.

The best part about making these cookies is rolling them out and getting the cookie cutters out of the drawer. I just don’t feel like I use cookie cutters enough, it’s immensely satisfying to feel the soft dough yield to the cookie cutter and to see the devastation you’ve inflicted upon that poor, innocent cookie dough. It’s like being a war lord, only without the dodgy morality and inability to sleep at night. These brownie cookies deliver exactly what you expect: they have the exterior crispness of a biscuit, the softness of a brownie within and taste purely of chocolate. They’re at their best on the day they’re baked, but are still all too edible 24 hours on. I should *warn* you that this recipe makes a lot of bite-sized biscuits (approx 70 using a 4cm cookie cutter) and also *warn* that the raw dough is even more edible than the end product. I *definitely* didn’t eat spoonfuls of the stuff while it was cooling in the fridge. No siree.

As well as this I made jam doughnut muffins. All the taste of a fried doughnut without the hassle of deep frying, right? Well, almost. These are in essence a plain vanilla muffin with a dollop of jam in the middle, then rolled in melted butter and sugar once cooked. They come from the wonderful mind of Nigella Lawson and can be found in HTBADG, in the kids section. Move over kids, these treats are wasted on you. I served these to a friend and her two year old daughter while they were still a little warm from the oven, which is probably the best way to eat them if you want to emulate the deliciousness of a freshly fried doughnut from a van at the fair. I thought they were nice, nothing amazing but certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up if offered them. These went down pretty well with everyone who had them though out the day and I think if they were smaller they might be better. After the bite size brownie cookies I think there’s something to be said for mini versions of sweet treats. Although why I’m trying to perfect doughnuts I’ll never know, what with fairground doughnuts and Krispy Kreme already firm favourites on our fair isle, and Dunking’ Donuts on its way (The Boyfriend cannot get enough of DD coffee on holiday, so he is sure to be making regular trips once over here) making doughnuts at home seems completely pointless. Sure is fun trying though.

 

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Chocolate, Citrusy Goodness

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You can always tell when The Boyfriend’s gone on his travels again by the sugar content of whatever food I happen to be cooking and blogging about. If it isn’t putting you at risk of diabetes, I don’t want to know. Step forward brown butter, chocolate, orange and rosemary cookies from Gizzi Erskine’s Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts (no prizes which side this treat falls on). If chocolate cookies can’t lift the spirits, nothing can.

I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t in love with cookies. Whether it was going through the biscuit tin after getting in from school or buying giant, fresh, gooey cookies from the canteen to get me though GCSE Maths lessons, cookies have been there. As an adult, Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream has soothed after disastrous job interviews (during a maths test for an interview with a bank I panicked, writing out completely non-sensical sums and getting the answers totally wrong, wishing I was allowed to use a calculator. Upon finishing the interviewer gently reminded me of the calculator I’d been told I could use, which had been placed right next to the paper covered in maths gibberish. No, I didn’t get the job. Don’t even ask about the role play element of the interview), soul destroying hangovers and terrible days at work. Cookies are the best. The frustration with cookies is that it’s so difficult to bake a batch that aren’t dry and crumbly, dry being the enemy of a cookie lover. You want gooey cookies when fresh out of the oven which turn chewy once out of the oven for a few hours. I don’t think it’s possible to get a homemade cookie that stays gooey for longer than a couple of hours, although if anyone knows of a recipe for one please send me it!

These cookies totally deliver. Taken out of the oven while still pale in the middle, they cool to a perfect consistency and taste wonderful. Orange and rosemary go really well together, you can’t pick out the taste of the rosemary but get a subtle savoury hint on the tip of your tastebuds to complement the sweet chocolate and orange. At risk of sounding like I’m on the payroll of Rosemary PR, rosemary is super good in sweet foods and you should definitely try it. I brought these into work today without mentioning the rosemary and everyone loved them. Rosemary aside, the chunks of milk chocolate are divine and the texture of these cookies can only be described as fudgey. These cookies are practically good for you, after all, rosemary is believed to help improve memory, is antibacterial, can lift your mood and help detox your liver, whilst orange boosts the immune system, regulates blood pressure and can protect the skin. I haven’t researched the nutritional benefits of sugar and melted butter, but how bad can they be? Oh, turns out very. Never mind.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in American, Baking, Books, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

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The countdown to New York has well and truly begun. Not content with obsessively combing through my brand new yet already dog eared Lonely Planet guidebook, googling where to eat and watching any film that is set in the city (last night was the Woody Allen classic Annie Hall, most enjoyable), I’m also using it as an excuse to cook some classic American foods. Well, you might call it an excuse, I call it Very Important Research. Amongst iconic foods hailing from the US such as burgers, hot dogs and apple pie, buffalo chicken wings fit right in and absolutely deserve their place in this esteemed line up. So this is what I made, using a recipe from the February 2013 Delicious magazine issue, alongside Cajun spiced wedges and blue cheese dip, all from the same magazine.

Buffalo chicken wings hold a special place in my heart as it is, because they remind me of our last holiday in America, where after a long day out at the theme parks, we’d go back to our friends house far away from the Disney-fied Orlando and we’d all share a bucket of wings at the sports bar across the road. You don’t need fancy food to make happy foodie memories, sometimes all you need are chicken wings. Buffalo wings originate from Buffalo in New York state which made them even more perfect to cook in the build up. There are many different ways to make these wings apparently; for this version they were coated in oil, flour and cayenne, baked for 15 minutes then covered in a marinade and baked for another half hour. I burnt the 1st marinade horrendously after taking my eye off the ball (you cook it over the hob before covering the wings in it) so had to make it again from scratch, but apart from this oversight the recipe went without a hitch. The wedges are coated in a spicy, sweet mix and tumbled into a tray of hot oil, whilst the blue cheese dip is simply sour cream, Stilton, garlic and lemon juice mashed together.

The resulting dinner following this recipe was complete heaven. Delicious magazine totally nailed it yet again, reminding me why it is I have a big pile of them stacked in my bookcase. Their recipes deliver, time after time. The wedges were crispy with a crunch from the spicy coating, the skin on the wings had no trace of floppy sogginess to them and were crispy like the chips, and tasted marvellous. The blue cheese dip delivered with its intense cheesiness to counteract the spice in the wings, and the corn on the cob did a wonderful job of assuaging the guilt associated with eating wings covered in a marinade which consists largely of melted butter. Sticking with the American theme, I served this with glasses of cream soda and finished the meal off with slices of New York cheesecake (which I couldn’t be bothered to make myself). A real American experience and perfect wings to keep us going until we get the real deal. After all, ain’t no thing like a chicken wing.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in American, Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food

 

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