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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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Hangover Breakfast

This week I seem to have turned into an all singing, all dancing version of myself. I spring out of bed in the morning, twirl the cat around and hum some delightful made up songs (“I don’t like tea, so I will make coffee” being just one of many examples) while boiling the kettle and pouring some fruit juice. My cameo in Glee is surely inevitable now, Hollywood- call me! You thought Gene Kelly could sing in the rain, well you ain’t seen nothing yet. Have I lost what little sanity I had left? Realised my true calling as a musical star? These could all very well be true, despite the fact my voice is a little rough around the edges, but in actual fact it’s because The Boyfriend is finally coming home and I only have 4 more sleeps to go until we are reunited! Very good reason to act like a cast member of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest without actually being sectioned. So yes, naturally I am very excited and impatient for Thursday to roll around. Being apart for so long is obviously very hard and not ideal, but it’s worth it to feel this happy and excited to see him in person and to act like a child in the week before Christmas. When your boyfriend coming home from work makes you this giddy, you know it’s meant to be. I’ve been telling everyone approximately every 20 minutes that he’ll be home soon, which must be very irritating, especially when I’ve had a few drinks and tell everyone every 5 minutes instead. So I’d like to apologise to the friends who had to put up with me acting like a lovesick puppy all night.
Speaking of last night, I decided I’d make myself a nice, filling breakfast to help recover from my hangover. Any normal person would have some bacon in the fridge and some fresh bread on the side to calm the hangover, but not me. Believe me, at times while making breakfast I was thinking why oh why hadn’t I just made a bacon sarnie like a normal, non cookbook obsessed person would? Apparently though, I don’t like to make my life any easier, but in the interests of new tastes and mixing things up a bit I persevered. Breakfast was haddock kedgeree from my cook book of the moment, Jamie’s Great Britain. It starts with boiling some rice and eggs, which is effortless, and chopping some garlic and onion, whose fragrance is a comforting way to clear the head of alcohol fuzziness. To be fair to the recipe, nothing in it is hard or taxing, but you need several pots and pans and the whole thing takes an hour to put together, which is a considerable nuisance when your tummies rumbling and your eyes are drooping with the lack of sleep. But ever the professional, I got it finished and impressively, cleaned some of the kitchen while waiting for the fish to poach. My favourite part of making the kedgeree involved peeling the shells off the hard boiled eggs, something about removing the crisp shell from the wobbly but firm eggs is very satisfying in a stress relieving way. I’m not sure what a psychiatrist would make of that, so let’s not ponder on that for too long, shall we? Although it was a faff to make first thing this morning, eating it really did the trick and was restorative and filling. Only the English would come up with a breakfast whose ingredients include curry spices, boiled eggs and smoked fish, but bless us for inventing it as its warming and tastes great. It also looks very pretty, with the bright yellow of the turmeric stained rice and near fluorescent orange from the egg yolks. In typical fashion, I made way too much so it looks like I’ll be having this for breakfast for the rest of the week. Life’s hard sometimes!

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Posted by on July 22, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Fish, Food

 

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Pancakes and Pears

Todays recipe could be described as perfect hangover food, were it not for the excessive amount of kitchen equipment needed to make them. The recipe is choc chip drop scones with caramelised pears, and to make them I needed: 2 saucepans, a frying pan, chopping board, 2 bowls, an electric whisk, a sieve and plenty of cutlery. A tad excessive for pancakes, but these recipes aren’t going to cook themselves and like I said, this  is the perfect hangover food so needs must! After finally getting out of bed at 3pm today and faffing around for several hours in a post-vodka inebriated state, I decided to scrap having a normal dinner and cook up these pancakes. I wouldn’t normally go to this much effort for just me, but I bought all the ingredients for this when I cooked hunters chicken pie last week for a friend, but she then brought along a lovely cheesecake and after the pie we had no room for any kind of dessert anyway. And the buttermilk needed for them goes out of date in a few days so not wanting to let anything go to waste I had these for dinner. Nigella would certainly approve, although these came from Delicious Magazines April 2010 edition, and not one of her books for once.

These choc chip drop scones (but lets call them pancakes as that is what they are), were very very delicious and brought me back to Earth. Fluffy, with gooey chips of melted chocolate drops and covered with sweet, sticky caramelised pears, heaven. If you ever decide to make caramel please do be careful. Molten hot melted sugar is an absolute bastard if you get any on your skin as it will burn, and on the pain scale is up there with touching your eye just after chopping chillies. I speak as someone who has had the misfortune of doing both so just take my word for it. I’m ashamed to say I’ve put my eyes through chilli pain at least twice. The first time I did it I’d put a ridiculous amount of eye make up on and while running my eye under the cold tap in the bath for 20 minutes to relieve the stinging I then got mascara gunk under my eyelid which only added to the pain. My cheek also swelled up and went bright red for the afternoon, so I looked ravishing! All for a bowl of chilli linguine that just tasted of foolish mistakes once I finally got round to eating it, and that the boyfriend didn’t really like. I’m fairly sure I’ve also done permanent damage to my right eye, it will randomly start tearing up at random moments, and it’s not hay fever or a scratched retina. Still, I do love cooking with chillies and they apparently boost your metabolism so it’s a risk worth taking if it helps burn more calories.

 

This recipe also calls for a chocolate sauce, but quite frankly there was no way I was going to get another saucepan out, and because of all the caramel I think the chocolate sauce would be overkill. And when I tell you the chocolate sauce would be overkill, you’d better believe it.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Puddings

 

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