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All The P’s

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The type of food that each of us class as comfort food no doubt varies wildly between all of us, but I’m willing to bet there are a few classics that come up time and time again. Any form of fruit pie or crumble smothered in custard must pop up on millions of Brits comfort food wish list, as must cheese on toast and roast dinner. For me, comfort food needs to be carb packed, whether that’s a shepherds pie topped with fluffy mash, a crunchy baguette smothered with butter, or pasta sheets layered up in a lasagna. Or it must be sweet, but again there needs to be an element of stodge from pastry, sponge or crumble. Eton Mess is delicious, no doubt, but when I’ve had a shocker of a day the last thing I need is a light fruity dessert. I need something heavy that will then leave me feeling so full and tired that the only thing left to do is drift off to sleep and wake up in the morning to a more promising day. Nothing cures a bad day more effectively than comfort food induced sleep.

Being heavily pregnant and with The Boyfriend on a far away continent for another 11 days, comfort food has played a big part in recent weeks. Combine this with not having to concern myself with fitting into my normal wardrobe of skinny Topshop jeans and beloved tea dresses, and you’ve got one sure fire way to cheer me up. I’m lucky to have supportive family and lovely friends too of course to keep me busy and spend quality time with, whilst the great thing about pregnancy is that you find yourself no longer tolerating flaky or terminally ill friendships. If you ask someone if you’ve done something to offend them and they say no, then they continue to make thinly veiled comments on social media, create awkward atmospheres and ignore invitations, then I really can’t be bothered. I have to pee every 20 minutes and spend most of my free time either eating for two or being in bed by 8:30, I really don’t have the time, energy or the will to work out what’s going on. After my antenatal class yesterday, believe me there are bigger things to worry about!

It was after this antenatal class that I knew I was in need of something comforting. There’s nothing like a midwife doing a demonstration with a doll and a plastic pelvic skeleton to have you running for the nearest bowl of carbohydrates. Especially when the midwife’s exclaiming how ‘isn’t nature wonderful’ and all you can think is that no actually, nature is not all that right now. I’m down with nature when it involves penguins or sunsets or daffodils, but there are some things that nature really messed up. Thanks nature.

Luckily I have just the cook to turn to for a carby comfort meal – Miss Lawson of course. Her Nigellissima book is my least used of all of her books, I don’t like being constrained by one country’s recipes in a cookbook, but the recipes do look tasty, what with them being Nigella-fied. I went for the alliteratively pleasing pasta, petit poits and pancetta risotto which promised all the comfort and starchiness of a risotto without the 30 minutes of constant, mind numbing stirring which can be useful at times but not when in need of quick comfort. This is achieved by using orzo pasta which looks very similar to rice and absorbs the water quickly, leaving you with a dish not all that different to a rice risotto. It’s a very simple dish too, all you do is crisp up the pancetta in some hot oil, chuck in some frozen peas, pasta and water, then once all the water is absorbed stir in butter and Parmesan until melted and you’re good to go. It’s a one pan job too, there’s no chopping and most importantly no constant stirring, so for a mid week meal it’s simplicity itself.

Taste wise, it’s not up there with Nigella’s greatest hits. Her recipes usually pack in a lot of flavour but this one misses the mark a little. It’s still comforting, the pasta is starchy and silky and there’s a faint tang of salt from the pancetta and Parmesan, but it’s just a bit too subtle. Nigella warns not to over salt the dish because of the already salty main ingredients, but it still wasn’t enough to bring out a lot of flavour. The flavour would probably be improved with the addition of a stock cube to the water, it might take the sodium levels up a bit higher but I’d imagine the taste would be much better. In fact, just adding a little more of all the salty ingredients would improve this dish, and perhaps half a glass of white wine. Maybe the short cut of using pasta instead of arborio rice means that the intensity of flavour that normally accompanies a risotto is sacrificed, because you’re not investing the time to gradually build up flavours. Still, if you’re in the market for a quick, easy, comforting dinner that takes next to no effort and would probably keep the kids happy, you could definitely do worse. Certainly not comforting enough though to get the image of that plastic pelvis out of my mind.

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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in Books, Cooking, Food, Italian, Nigella Lawson

 

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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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Finally! Proper Pasta!

Aside from chocolate, there is only one other food on the planet above all others that comforts, satisfies and that I find incredibly hard to stop eating. Pasta. Spaghetti, tagliatelle, linguine, lasagna, fusilli, pappardelle (my favourite)…. I love it all and in practically all it’s formats. The one thing I don’t love about it is its inflexibility and refusal to be cooked in anything other than a saucepan full of hot boiling water. A problem when you have no hob. Stood in the pasta aisle the other week carefully studying every pasta packets cooking instructions willing them to be microwaveable, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. How was I going to have my regular fix of lasagna, bolognese, lamb ragu, chilli linguine, meatballs and pasta? In desperation and in need of pasta, I turned to Tesco’s ready meal section which at the time was risky and foolhardy being right in the middle of Horsegate. Pasta addicts will understand that when you need a carby Italian hit you’ll go to any length to get it. Suffice to say, it was an underwhelming experience and just cranked up my proper pasta craving to maximum. Sure, you can go out to a perfectly lovely Italian restaurant and have a delicious plate of cannelloni , but nothing beats a big, diet busting plate of your favourite lasagna in front of the TV on a chilly night. It’s the best kind of comfort food.

So thank Pasta God (I like to imagine Her as Sofia Loren who once said about her body “everything you see I owe to spaghetti”. My kind of woman) for Pinterest and its glorious search function which led me to a slow cooker pasta dish that sounded right up my street: slow cooker chipotle chicken tortellini. Not very Italian I know, but I jumped at the chance to cook it. All you have to do is poach the chicken in some stock (this takes about 3 hrs in the slow cooker), shred it once cooked then add cream cheese, chipotle paste, broccoli and cumin and cook for another couple of hours. Simple! Chipotle paste is now fairly easy to come across in the more exotic supermarket aisles and is made up of smoked chillies and some other stuff. Not sure what exactly, but it tastes spicy, smoky and makes me think of Mexico and the Deep South of America. I used the most Southern looking tortellini I could find in the, er, Italian aisle and that came to be sausage and ham. It worked damn fine actually. While I’d have preferred the sauce a little thicker, it was still creamy and smooth with a hot kick from the chipotle. The only problem I had was the broccoli was totally inedible from being in the slow cooker for two hours, next time I’d only put it in for about half hour as that’s really all it needs. But still, I’ve finally found a way to cook pasta at home. Now if anyone knows how I can cook spaghetti in a slow cooker please tell me, I’m desperate for a bolognese hit!

PS: Here’s the recipe if you’re interested: http://picky-palate.com/2013/03/04/slow-cooker-creamy-chipotle-chicken-tortellini/

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2013 in Chicken, Italian

 

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Confession Time

I have a confession to make. Despite the love for cookbooks, the passion for cooking and the fact that I have had a very lazy afternoon and evening, sometimes I just can’t be bothered to cook. Yes I’ve got a long list of recipes on the wall and too many cookbooks, but today I just could not bring myself to cook anything from them. Today I really didn’t know what I wanted to eat, everything on the list just looked too time consuming or pointless to cook for one. Tempted with the idea of a takeaway, I nearly caved but possibly for the first time in my life, my willpower came to the rescue. Miracles DO happen! Driving to the supermarket, I had a brainwave and knew exactly what I had to have. Now foodies, brace yourselves because this is a very unfoodie confession and Italians, all I can do in advance is apologise and beg you to forgive me. But when I want comfort and a filling dinner, it has to be spaghetti bolognese, and, gulp, it has to be Dolmio, There, I’ve said it. A whole paragraph to summon the courage to say those words! I can’t help it, the heart wants what the heart wants! Or the stomach anyway. Anyway, I’ve said before, I’m not a food snob and I know that a bottled tomato sauce advertised by creepy puppets that look like David Gest isn’t authentic Italian food. I don’t eat it to get an Italian hit. I eat it because it takes me back to being a little girl watching Gladiators and Generation Game on a Saturday night with the family eating spaghetti bolognese. What you ate with your family as a child definitely plays a big part in what your tastes are as an adult, and it doesn’t matter how sophisticated your eating habits are or how many confits, emulsions or quenelles you’ve had, you will still hanker for food that takes you back to your childhood. Admittedly, the spag bol I had as a child was homemade and tasted marvellous (and randomly had peas in it), but I no longer live at home and today was not a day I wanted to stand around chopping onions and garlic, so Dolmio it was. I ain’t ashamed, and neither should you be of your go-to comfort foods! The boyfriend can’t understand the love for spaghetti bolognese, to him its just a run of the mill meal his mum forced him to eat with big chunks of veg in. I pity him for not having the Gladiators/spag bol experience, he don’t know what he’s missing!

 

If you’ve seen Ratatouille (a Pixar film about a rat who can cook, and is definitely in my top 5 films of all time),  then you’ll probably remember the scene where Anton Ego, the mean food critic, takes a bite of the rats Ratatouille and is instantly transported back to his childhood and his mothers lovingly made ratatouille. Then he is transformed into a lovely lovely man and they all live happily ever after after. True. The power of good comfort food! A certain cheap nasty sausage brand has ripped off this scene for its adverts, and for that they should be thoroughly ashamed!

To make this Saturday night even more comforting, I had some shop bought vanilla ice cream and some toffee sauce. Sounds unexciting doesn’t it? Wrong! Good vanilla ice cream is so overlooked, and while cookie dough, strawberry cheesecake and the like are delicious, vanilla will always be my favourite, its just so good. I’m not talking about cheap fluffy aerated vanilla ice cream, good ice cream should never be fluffy, only smooth, and must have little flecks of vanilla seed contained within. Otherwise don’t bother. Homemade toffee sauce by the way, is amazing and you really should make it. I used to make it for toffee apple crumble, but every time I made it I would sneakily eat several spoonfuls at a time, leaving not a great deal for the crumble. I always had a sneaky feeling it would go great with ice cream, and my instincts have not failed me! There is no nutritional value whatsoever to this sauce (its made up of cream, brown sugar, butter and golden syrup) and will keep your dentist in business for quite some time, but if you make a batch it does keep in the fridge for about a month. I can guarantee though that it will not be around that long. I know that I’ve been pretty bad this week with the food I’ve eaten, but in my defence I am running three miles tomorrow for Sport Relief, and have been to the gym several times. I only exercise so that I don’t have to give up the food I love.

Anyway, to compensate for the lack of cookbook challenges this weekend, here are some of my favourite comfort foods:

  • Cheese and baked beans toastie. Sounds messy, is messy, but is also delicious and my favourite childhood food. Best part is the nearly burnt crispy bits of cheese stuck to the crusts.
  • Dairy Milk. I love ‘grown up’ chocolate, but while they may be tasty and sophisticated, they do not comfort in the way Dairy Milk does. Christmas Day as a child was not complete without a ginormous Dairy Milk present, tucked down the side of the bed and bit by bit devoured by the time we had to go back to school. Unbeatable.
  • Roast chicken. No explanation needed.
  • Steak and dauphinoise potatoes. The fail safe meal the boyfriend cooks for me on a Saturday night in when he’s home. Red meat, carbs, cheese, cream, and the boyfriend back home – perfection.
  • Apple and blackberry crumble and Birds custard. I love homemade custard, but childhood custard was always Birds. Blackberries handpicked with the parents from the fields in the village. Heaven.

What about your comfort foods???

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2012 in Cooking

 

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