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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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These are a few of my favourite (foodie) things

  • Vanilla. Some people (foolish ones) use the term vanilla as a reference to something dull, bland or unexciting, which I must say I find abhorrent! Lets put the record straight, vanilla is amazing. Cheap ice cream has done much damage to the reputation of vanilla, but real vanilla ice cream with vanilla seeds in is truly one of the nicest things anyone can eat. Chocolate ice cream just doesn’t compare. Plus when you have in your hands a vanilla pod, you will be welcomed with the sexiest smell on Earth. Seriously, vanilla smells hot. Don’t be fooled by cheap body sprays, no vanilla scent is as good as the humble, sexy pod. Plus, fresh custard without vanilla would just be bland and tasteless eggy cream, which isnt appealling to anyone. Treat the vanilla pod with some respect peeps!
  • Cheese. Regular readers may be aware that my love for melted cheese knows no bounds. Sit the UN and all the worlds evil dictators around a table together, serve them melted cheese toasties and I think we could have world peace on our hands! Just a thought Ban Ki Moon. Whether its cheese on toast, parmesan on pasta or mozzarella on pizza, I love its stringy oozeyness, strong taste and the fact that its like a hug on a plate. Lets not forget mascarpone either. Next time you have a fresh punnet of strawberries on you, forgo the usual cream (forgive me Britain) and replace with mascarpone that’s had a tablespoon of icing sugar whipped into it. Also good with peaches. Some might call it a bit decadent, but don’t feel constrained by norms and traditions, break out and try something a bit different.
  • Chilli. This could well be my favourite ingredient ever. If I suddenly developed a chilli intolerance I would probably have a nervous breakdown. There goes all that spicy Thai/Chinese/Indian/Mexican/Morrocan/Mediterannean food that I love. Look how many cultures food thrives with the help of the chilli, and I’ve barely scratched the surface there. Without chilli my taste buds would go into mourning and all food would taste bland and unexciting (except for vanilla of course). It’s not that I want everything to be so hot that I come out in a sweat, but a good level of spiciness makes a good dish taste amazing and makes your mouth tingle. I never used to like spicy foods, but over time I’ve gradually built up my heat tolerance to a fairly high level. So if you’re a chilli beginner, don’t dive in head first with a super hot Thai jungle curry, break yourself in gently. Plus, the health benefits of chillies are too numerous to mention here, but check out this website for more information: http://www.chilli-willy.com/chilli-health-benefits/
  • Chocolate. I’m fairly certain you all know where I’m coming from. I love chocolate in almost all forms, whether thats a Galaxy from the vending machine, an expensive bar from a specialist shop, a mug of hot chocolate or as chunks in a tub of Ben and Jerrys. My favourite ways to enjoy chocolate are either by eating huge amounts of Lindtor truffles (truly heaven) or as melt in the middle chocolate fondants with a dollop of clotted cream on the side. Beautiful.

I did cook a recipe today from my June 2011 Delicious magazine but it was so unremarkable that it barely warrants a mention. But it was herb roasted chicken with baby new potatoes and while it was fairly tasty, it was also forgettable. Healthy though. Not even close to any of the above foods, which aren’t included at all in this recipe. Coincidence? I don’t think so!

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Slacking…

I have to admit that I’ve been a bit lazy this week with the cooking and trying new recipes. The Boyfriend is only back for three weeks and then he’s off again so it’s been all about cooking him his favourite meals or going out. He was a bit miffed that once he goes away he’ll miss out on the British summer but a week of solid rain has made him think maybe it won’t be so bad to be in the sunnier climes of South Africa! So no experimenting with new recipes or dusting off old cookbooks I’m afraid, although I have been getting him to try some of the more successful recipes tried over the last couple of months. Today the broccoli cheese soup is simmering away on the hob as we speak and it smells deeeeeelicious. He isn’t yet convinced that this will be nice even though it’s main ingredient is melted cheese (which could make anything taste amazing) and doesn’t really taste of broccoli either, but there is an emergency chicken soup in the fridge in case. Prepared for all outcomes, that’s me, Bree van de Kamp needs to watch her back!

Anyway, aside from the soup, I’ve not cooked much except my chilli con carne and roast pork. The Boyfriend claims that he could happily eat my chilli 3 times a week so while he’s here I may as well spoil him with it. He never used to like chilli but mine won him round and beat him into submission. I say ‘my chilli’ but it’s something my dad cooked regularly when we were kids and then he taught me to cook it when I was about 18. I just ramped it up a bit by putting in a lot more spices and sweet chilli sauce than normal so it’s not subtle at all but that’s how I like it. I’ve had some really good feedback from others about my chilli so I guess it must be good, unless they were just being polite! But we love it so that’s really all that matters. The good thing about The Boyfriend is he’ll always be completely honest with me about my food so there’s no voice in my head going “he’s just being polite, he hated it really”. It’s like being on Masterchef and presenting the plate to John Torode.

We’ve also eaten out a few times as we’re making the most of our time off together and getting out and about. On a shopping trip to the Bullring yesterday we wangled a free lunch at Wagamama which only made the meal more delicious. Sadly the free meal was not down to any of our charm, beauty or charisma, but for waiting 45 minutes for a bill and then being told to just leave. Fine by me, if I’d known I’d have ordered more! I had mint and lemongrass soba noodles (so tasty and refreshing), he had chilli chicken ramen (always delicious) and we shared some duck gyoza dumplings which came with a hoi sin cherry sauce which are also delicious. And all for free, we definitely had the shopping gods on our side yesterday. I’m not normally a fan of chains but I do love Wagamama, the food is always fresh and tasty and is packed with flavour. If you like Thai or Vietnamese food then Wagamama should be right up your street.

I will be back soon with some more attempts at new recipes before he heads off again, this has probably been quite a boring post so I do apologise if it feels like a diary entry rather than a blog! I shall return!

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food

 

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