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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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Mamma Mia

The Sopranos has a lot to answer for. I’m down with the excessive use of the f and c words (after all who hasn’t got frustrated and used them?), nudity (after all, we’re all born naked), adultery (after all, we all have crushes) and gory,violent murder scenes (after all, who’s not found out their fiancés shopping them to the Feds and then had them ‘taken care of’… oh just me then). What I cannot abide is hearing about all of the amazing food Carmela is cooking and then not being able to eat it myself. Ziti, lasagna, meatballs and gravy…. Oh it’s enough to make me think I should be reborn as a Mafia bosses daughter. The risk would be so worth it. Luckily, I don’t have to resort to such desperate measures; as you may have heard there’s a new Nigella book out which I’ve already blogged about. If you’re in the UK you might have seen her on telly on Monday night looking absolutely amazing and cooking up delights such as Nutella cheesecake and tagliata with Tuscan fries. If eating food like that results in looking like she does at 52, then I need no more convincing that a macrobiotic diet belongs solely in the depths of hell. Away with you Gillian Mckeith! Tonight I got to grips with the delightful sounding lamb ragu from Nigellisima, which after describing to The Boyfriend over the phone while I was cooking it, was told he was glad I was making it while he was all the way in South Africa. It’s safe to say he’s not a big fan of Italian food, so while the cats away and all that. This is my version of playing away, eating truckloads of pasta, which is much better on the conscience, not so much on the hips. I first knew I loved Italian food shortly after I passed my driving test when me and a school friend would go into town during free afternoons and have lunch in this delightful Italian cafe tucked away in a side street. Enter into my life proper Italian lasagna, strong cappuccinos and ammeretti biscuits. Bliss. After learning to drive and then eating this food, I felt like a proper grown up for the first time ever. I’d only just met The Boyfriend around that time too, so even more grown up points for a silly, naive 18 year old!

I should get back to the lamb ragu. Unlike a traditional ragu which is cooked for a couple of hours, this is simple and takes no more than 30 mins from chopping your shallot to serving up. I should note now that if you want traditional,authentic Italian food then buy a different book as this one’s all about Nigella’s unique and tasty spin on the cuisine. After all, this ragu does contain Worcestershire sauce and red currant jelly, two items you’d be hard pushed to find in an Italian nonnas kitchen. Nonetheless, this ragu tastes lovely and was a satisfactory end to a busy and emotionally draining Friday at work. The recipe calls for dried mint and oregano and these herbs pack quite a punch, leaving a zingy, fresh feeling in the mouth which goes really well with the minced lamb (shocker, that, lamb and mint tasting good together). Add to that a sprinkling of fresh mint when serving and you’ve got some added zing. I used tripoline pasta which as The Lawson would describe it, is like tagliatelle with a ra-ra skirt on and the thick, minty sauce clings really well to the stuff. This dish just reaffirms my love for Italian food, and its good to see that it isn’t just us Brits that love the combination of lamb and mint. Now all I need is a good excuse to whip up a Nutella cheesecake….

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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Italian, Nigella Lawson

 

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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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What must people think of me?!

Well it turns out I have a reputation when it comes to food. And apparently it’s not good. Yes, someone at work dared to write down their opinions on fellow workmates and it wasn’t all flattering! I’ll mention no names but they know who they are. Luckily for her, we are a very good humoured bunch and found it hilarious. My reputation apparently is that I don’t share food, and don’t you dare criticise my cupcakes! Now, this could possibly have to do with the fact that on my 2nd week in the job many years ago (two), I may have gone out for a few drinks with my new workmates and while eating a kebab at the end of the night, shouted out in true Joey Tribiani style “Hayley doesn’t share food”. (That’s me in case you hadn’t twigged). And they have never forgotten it. Despite the fact I regularly bring in cupcakes for all to tuck into. I must confess, I have at times been a little overprotective with my food, even The Boyfriend couldn’t get a look in, but I’ve changed, I’m a new woman! But yeah, she’s spot on with one thing: don’t criticise my cupcakes biatch.

Let’s move on from questionable reputations and discuss dinner. Tonight I delved into my Delicious magazine from May 2010 which is an Italian special and full of pretty gorgeous looking recipes. I really love Italian food, but haven’t experimented much with the country’s cuisine, sticking to fairly safe and reliable dishes. And I’m sorry to say that I’ve done that again today. I needed a quick, easy dish after work and the gym, and this fitted the bill. It’s tagliatelle with prawns, chilli and courgette (catchy title), and takes 15 minutes from start to finish. While the dish was nice and easy, (and courgette free due to a lack of them in Sainsbury’s- I replaced them with a carrot) it was nothing special. Sauce was creamy and smooth, with a hint of garlic and a kick of chilli, while the actual tagliatelle may have been the best thing. I really love eating pasta, I don’t know what it is about it but I find the stuff so comforting even when it’s straight out of salted water, completely plain. Could be the many Saturdays in with the parents as a child watching Gladiators and eating homemade spaghetti bolognese. Food associated with comfort and happiness will always be our go to favourites after all. But I should definitely branch out and try more obscure or unusual pasta dishes, and not stick to the easy, comforting meals.

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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Italian

 

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30 Minute Meals… Hmmmm

If someone, say, oh I don’t know, a celebrity chef well known for food crusades, tells you that you, yes you can cook a 3 course meal in no more than 30 minutes, it is indeed too good to be true. Jamie Oliver I’m talking about you. In case you hadn’t guessed, todays recipe comes from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals book, and while there are many lovely looking recipes within its pages, they are quite frankly unachievable in such a short space of time. I’m not just saying this after trying one recipe that took ages, I’m saying this as someone who’s cooked many meals from here that have taken a lot longer than half hour. I’ve even teamed up with The Boyfriend in the past to lighten the load and speed things up, but this still took 90 minutes. Why the rush anyway to cook dinner? If I want a quick meal when in a rush I take some leftover chilli out the freezer or pop a pizza in the oven. If I’m not in a rush, that’s what all the cookbooks are for. At the end of the day, cooking should be enjoyable and if I rush around in the kitchen I get stressed, overheated and am likely to accidentally stab someone while flapping about in a panic. Just take your time.

Saying all this, all the recipes I’ve tried from this book have been delicious and if you can forget Jamie’s false promises and just cook at your own pace then you’ll have a lovely dinner. Today I cooked Pregnant Jools Pasta, which I’m guessing from the name means his wife ate this a lot while preggers. I am not pregnant, but agree with Jools that its a tasty pasta dish. Now, the whole meal plan in the book also includes a salad and then some little frangipane tarts but I just wanted the pasta, which meant for the first time ever a dish from this book really only did take half hour. The pasta sauce is made with veg, herbs, spices and sausages that have been de-cased and mashed up so you have something resembling a bolognese sauce. It has a nice aniseed flavour from the fennel seeds as well as some strong balsamic notes. I used low fat pork sausages with a high meat content from Waitrose which made me feel a little bit more virtuous until I grated tons of Parmesan cheese over it. I’m guessing the taste of the dish would vary depending on what sausage you use, but these went very well with all the other ingredients so I recommend.

Other great recipes in this book include Satay Chicken Skewers (very addictive), cheesy grilled mushrooms (part of the steak sandwich meal plan, but this is a very rare occasion where the vegetable is more desirable than the meat) and piri piri chicken. Despite my reservations over the time frame, it’s a decent cook book, but don’t put yourself under any pressure to get the whole meal done in 30 minutes. You’re human, not Superman/Jamie Oliver after all.

PS: if it looks like I had a lot of pasta on my plate, well that’s because I did. Hunger struck!

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food

 

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Chicken Fettucine

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Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Books, Cooking

 

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