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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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A Beautiful Box Of Goodies

Getting a parcel in the post is a surefire way to put a smile on my face. It’s great when its a present from me to me (cookbook, obviously), fabulous when from a friend or relative, but nothing can top the feeling of getting a parcel full of unfamiliar foodie goodies from a complete and utter stranger. Especially when it’s sent by someone who went above and beyond the call of duty and delivered unto me an amazing Foodie Penpal Parcel. Christine (or @Dashinista on Twitter) did a fantastic job and really hit the nail on the head from the guidelines I gave her.

Wrapped up beautifully in a pastel pink box, black tissue paper and pink ribbons, I felt like some spoilt spawn of a multi millionaire on their birthday, itching to get beneath the layers and find out what delights this pretty little package contained. When Christine had asked what foods I liked and my eating habits, I was pretty specific in describing my love for spice and chocolate but that I was also trying to lose a bit of weight at the moment, so I was delighted to see all these in my parcel:

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First up were some great spice mixes: You Must Be Jerking, Magnifico Meatballs and A Toast Sensation, from the online shop The Spicery. The jerk seasoning was delicious with a real depth of flavour, and I can’t wait to try the other mixes, especially as I love meatballs and am always looking for new ways of flavouring them. There was also a sample packet of ground star anise which I’m very much hoping to use in a cake once I get hold of an oven ( less than two weeks to go!). Having never heard of The Spicery before, I now have a feeling I’ll be a regular customer of theirs.
I also got a balsamic and oil salad dressing which will come in very handy to dress salads while I’m trying to lose weight, some chocolate coated rice cakes (strangely addictive, must be the chocolate!) for healthy snacking, some white chocolate and raspberry chocolate bites (really tasty and from a Turkish coffee shop near to Christine) and some jasmine tea pearls from Teapigs. I was really looking forward to drinking this tea despite the fact I betray my country by not enjoying tea at all (England I can only apologise) as it smelt so good when stewing in hot water. I guess my tastebuds just don’t fully get tea, as to me it tasted bland but to The Boyfriend it tasted like sherbet. I can’t tell you how gutted I was that I was missing on what he described as healthy liquid sugar, but I guess me and tea just don’t get each other, no matter what shape, form or flavour. Christine also included a voucher for Graze which I’ve now cashed in and received a little box of snacks at work – another lovely little present in the post – and 4 weight watchers recipes that she regularly uses. Combine all this thoughtfulness with ribbons, heart shaped post its, gorgeous ‘eat me’ labels and a pink box and you have Foodie Penpal utopia. Being so overjoyed at this parcel upon receiving it has insured me to up my game on sending out parcels so I can spread the joy. Christine – thank you, a delicious and inspiring parcel that I’m fairly certain I’ll never be able to match, but it will certainly be a lot of fun trying!

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Food

 

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Baking Up A Taste Of The Tropics

This weekend I finally got the opportunity to get in touch with my inner domestic goddess after a month of slumming it in the slow cooker and microwave. The urge to bake just got too strong so I was lucky to be able to pop out and borrow someone’s oven to scratch the itch and get something warm and comforting on the kitchen counter. There’s nothing like a bit of baking to counteract the stress of a busy week and to take your mind off of missing someone, which was the excuse I gave myself when I decided to bake two treats instead of one. Sometimes, you’ve just got to let yourself go. In truth, I have been working out hard most mornings and walked three miles yesterday while waiting for the car to be MOT’ed, so my greed has been well earned. Before I get to the joy of baking though I feel I must tell you about last nights dinner, mellow meatballs from Nigella Express. You’ve more than likely already got this book as it sold by the truckload when it was released a few years ago, and if you haven’t I strongly suggest you pick up a copy as it is quite simply indispensable. In my kitchen anyway. My copy is looking pretty sorry for itself, covered in food splats, its pages stuck together and spine close to falling apart – all signs of a much loved and reliable cookbook. Some of my favourite recipes from this include chicken schnitzel, flourless brownies, Mexican scrambled eggs, ragu and yesterday’s dinner. I adapted the recipe slightly to suit cooking in the slow cooker, so if you do the same then only put half the amount of stock specified so that you don’t end up with a watery dinner. The meatballs are cooked in a sauce made up of red curry paste, coconut milk, tomatoes and spices, alongside some chickpeas, sweet potatoes and butternut squash. It’s delicious. Spicy but not overly so, sweet, thick and with the goodness of sweet potato, squash and chickpeas. You needn’t make your own meatballs it you don’t have the time or inclination, but as I’ve said before (and it bears saying again what with the recent horse meat scandal) please buy the best meat you can afford so you know what you’re eating. I went for Tesco Finest Aberdeen Angus meatballs which might sound poncy but I only ate a quarter of the meatballs last night and the rest is in the freezer, so I’ve got 3 good quality dinners for the price of one pack of meat. So long as you are happy with the quality of what you’re eating, that’s all that matters. I know this photo doesn’t show the meatballs all that flatteringly, but take my word for it, they’re tasty.

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On to the baking! Flicking through Saved By Cake by Marian Keyes, my eyes were caught on the word ‘orgasmic’, as I’m sure yours would be too. Marian claims that her coconut milk cake elicited texts from friends raving about what an orgasmic tasting cake this is, so with such an appealing description what sort of woman would I be to not bake it? Word of advice for you though if you intend on making this cake or for that matter anything with coconut milk in it. Please do not buy coconut milk from the aisle in the supermarket where you’ll find all the big brand names for world foods, such as Blue Dragon, Old El Paso, Dolmio and the like. Buy it from this aisle and you’ll pay almost £2 for a 400ml can. Buy it from the aisle with all the Polish/Jamaican/Indian products that are typically covered in a foreign language and you’ll pay at the most 99p for the same size tin. There’s often an offer of two for £1 on these tins too. I don’t know what kinda swiz Blue Dragon and Amoy are trying to pull, the swines, but two quid for a tin of milky white liquid is excessive and if you need several tins for the week then its cheaper to get a Thai takeaway than it is to cook a simple curry. It might seem like a big rant over a saving of £1 but the big brands know most people don’t walk down the ‘ethnic’ aisle and charge double for the exact same product. And it really is the exact same product, there is no difference in quality or taste whatsoever. Don’t give them the satisfaction, go down the next aisle along and pick up a tin from a smaller producer that charges fairly. Look for Island Sun (green & white tins) or Dunns River (orange tin) and stick the middle finger up at the big brands. If you don’t shop at Tesco much then you’ll probably struggle finding these tins anywhere else other than Oriental supermarkets, but maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. Waitrose naturally don’t stock them at all you’ll be surprised to hear. Anyway, that’s the pain dealt with, lets move onto pleasure. The cake doesn’t look like anything special to be honest, its very modest looking with its plain vanilla appearance. But vanilla can be surprisingly decadent and naughty, plus we all know not to judge anything on its appearance. The cooked cake is poked several times then is covered with the warmed, sugary coconut milk and left to soak up the milk overnight. Upon eating, the cake is very heavy from all the liquid but exceptionally moist. I’ve a feeling if you squeezed it the cake would ooze syrup from being completely saturated. While not entirely orgasmic, it is a very very good cake, filled to the brim with coconut which reminded me of a holiday in Cuba, and in the end leaving the eater very satisfied. I tried very hard to avoid any sexual innuendo with the write up of this orgasmic cake but to be honest it was just too easy. Sorry.

I also made a rather large batch of cookies from a much neglected cookbook, The Golden Book Of Chocolate. The Boyfriend bought me this several years ago from a fabulous shop we found in Notting Hill called Books For Cooks. Well you know me, I wasn’t going to walk right past that shop! If you are ever in the area and in the market for a new cookbook, don’t log on to Amazon and go here instead, it’s a great shop. I only wish I lived a little nearer London, purely so I could hang out in this shop on a regular basis. The cookbook itself has not seen any kitchen action for a long time which probably comes as a shock considering my love for chocolate and baking, but there are a lot of typos and ingredients missing which is a big mistake to make when it comes to publishing a cookbook. It’s a massive book though and covers a wide spectrum of chocolate based foods, even covering savoury dishes which I’ve not been brave enough to tackle. And it’s pages are gold. What more could you possibly want from a cookbook aside from accuracy and the correct list of ingredients? I mock, but in actual fact the chocolate and banana chip cookies I made from this book were sublime and not a typo in sight on the page. They were a cinch to make, and the banana flavour came from a mashed up banana and some dried banana chips. I buy bananas every week and come the end of the week I’ve maybe eaten one and the rest are all black and mushy. I know this will be the case and yet every week I can’t help but put another bunch of bananas in my trolley, convinced that this week I will eat all of them. Never mind, there are plenty of recipes that begin with ‘take one overripe banana…’
I hadn’t realised when I started making them that I would be left with 36 cookies but that indeed was the case. Unfortunately for me these cookies are right up my street, with melted choc chips, the crunch of banana chips and a super soft, almost cake like texture that makes them very easy to eat. I hate really crunchy cookies and usually this is what I end up baking, so to have a perfect cookie emerge from the oven was a dream come true. It also takes me straight across the pond to my favourite holidays in Florida with each bite, making them even more desirable. Luckily, The Boyfriend and I have a new baby niece, and if there’s one thing new parents need its sugar, right? I will be handing these over to someone who surely needs them more than I do, before I give myself full on diabetes by the time the week is out. I’m not a fan of peanut butter myself, but I can imagine this could be incorporated into the recipe somewhere somehow if you are suitably nuts about the stuff. The raw cookie dough would also make for a perfect home made cookie dough ice cream, I can see this stuff going beautifully with either vanilla, chocolate or banana ice cream. But it really is just perfect as a cookie, and something I will be whipping up as soon as possible for The Boyfriend once he’s home.

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Southwestern Sunrise

I know that us Brits are very proud of our breakfast legacy what with the fry up known around the world as an English breakfast and most people being partial to a bacon sandwich at the weekend, but I’ve got to be controversial and say the Americans do breakfast better. You can get your fried goods there, sure, but on top of that they can also offer pancakes, waffles, muffins, hash, Florida orange juice, fruit platters, smoothies, proper coffee, granola, bagels, and a ridiculous amount of options for the humble egg. Even the cheap places to grab breakfast avoid instant coffee, such is the culture there for a decent, strong cup of Jo. They know what they’re doing when it comes to the most important meal of the day, that much is clear. I had planned on having today’s recipe for breakfast, but by the time I’d cleaned the house and gone to the gym it was early afternoon, so we’ll call it lunch. My lunch then was from USA by Sheila Lukins and is called Southwestern Sunrise and is one of the many options for eggs in the book. It’s definitely the tastiest thing I’ve eaten that only takes 2 mins to prepare and also packs a pretty healthy punch. You just chop up some red pepper and avocado, pop them into a ramekin, top with a raw egg and grated cheese then pop in the oven until the egg is cooked. Dollop with some sour cream, sprinkle on some coriander and you’re done. Totally delicious and extremely simple. The only tricky bit is getting the egg cooked to the point where the whites are cooked through but the yolk is still runny, a point that I missed and ended up with solid yolks. It still tasted good though, and I’d rather that than runny egg whites which have the same consistency as snot. The flavours of this make me summon up an image of New Mexico and the name of the dish really does have me thinking about a beautiful orange sunrise over the water starved landscape of the Southwest. I’ve never been mind, but I’ve seen enough movies and read enough books set in the USA to get those images. And Man vs Food has shown me that this is the sort of food you’d find in this part of America, although my portion was certainly a lot smaller than the ones Adam Richman gets served! The recipe called for Monterey Jack cheese but cheese is something the Brits really do do better, so I stuck with cheddar. All this recipe needs to make it perfection would be the addition of salsa to give it a spicy kick to really get your morning going with a bang.

The other night for dinner I delved into my new book The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo. If you saw her on TV a few months ago, then you’ll know that as well as being a cracking cook, she’s also adorable, has lovely shiny hair and knows how to pull off a pretty tea dress. Fine qualities in a woman! For my first attempt from this book, I made meatballs in spicy sauce with Alsatian pasta, which sounds much more like a French dish when you replace the word meatballs with boulettes de viande. According to adorable Rachel, the Alsace region of France is well known for its pasta, hence this suspiciously Italian looking recipe. Luckily, the spicy sauce is very French, what with it containing red wine and a bouquet garni, as well as cornichons, which are really just tiny pickled gherkins. The meal was really flavoursome with plenty of crunch from the gherkins, and the sauce had a deep wine flavour that went well with the meatballs which were made from beef mince and sausage meat. I think this book is going to quickly become a favourite of mine, the pictures of the food are beautiful and I love that she cooks these gorgeous looking creations in her teeny tiny kitchen in her teeny tiny Parisian flat. If she can create culinary delights in a kitchen the size of a broom cupboard, then what excuse do I have for not trying with my nice spacious kitchen? French food is looking to be the way forward for me.

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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Books, Breakfast, Cooking, Food, French, Lunch

 

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