Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Confessions of a cheese addict: Mac ‘n’ Cheese

“Life is great. Cheese makes it better.”

Confession time: I have a complete addiction and obsession with cheese. Forget chocolate, crisps, candy etc it’s all about the cheese for me and the stronger the better. It’s my vice and also my love. Therefore this love affair often leads to a ridiculous abundance of cheese in my fridge and just last night I counted no less then 9 different types of cheese – who needs that much cheese you may ask? And in theory I quite agree but in practice I just can’t stop feeding my addiction to the cheese. It’s all about the cheese. Although I have to insert a disclaimer here that I can’t stand goats cheese –urgh just the smell of it makes me queasy
Anyway enough of my love letter to cheese, what it boils down to is this: I had a vat of cheese in my fridge, it was a horrible cold, dark and rainy evening, and my belly was growling at me. Comfort food was needed to soothe my soul and tummy and what better way then the good ole classic Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Now sometimes you want a simple velvety soft almost bland version which is a real comfort but not me, oh no last night I wanted excitement as well as calmness (I know I’m a mass of contradictions) and so here is my very non traditional version of an old classic – go on give it a chance,  its worth it ….
I’m sorry the ingredient measurements are kindda vague; you have to use your instinct with this dish and just keep tasting it!

Mac n Cheese

Around 100g cubed pancetta
Some breadcrumbs (I used some of my beloved panko)
Around 250g macaroni, cooked for around 10 mins, or according to instructions, and drained
1 leek, halved and sliced (omit this if you are a traditionalist because it will give your dish a strong flavour although using leeks is milder then onions)
Around 25 – 30g butter plus little extra for leeks
2 dessert spoons of plain flour
Milk (I think in the end I used around 1- 1 ½ pints of semi skimmed)
2 ½ large handfuls extra mature cheddar, grated (yum)
1 ½ large handfuls mature red leister, grated
1 ½ large handful of Gruyere, grated
Mushroom ketchup (I use this because I have a total aversion to Lea and Perrins)
1 tsp English mustard (most people use powder as it’s milder, but I like a little kick)
Tomato, sliced and quartered (This is optional of course)

So start by putting the pancetta in a pan – you don’t need to have any oil or butter in the pan as it releases its own oil when cooking. Allow it to brown for a little and then add the breadcrumbs for a couple of minutes so that they are toasted light brown.

bacon and breadcrumbs

Set aside in a dish and use some kitchen paper to wipe the pan clean. In the same pan melt a little butter and some olive oil and add in your leeks. Cook them until soft (this took around 5mins). Now being a bit unorthodox and being a bit lazy when it comes to washing up I leave the leeks in the pan and build the cheese sauce around it, this is so easy and trust me the sauce tastes just as good…. So add the butter (around 25g) and let it melt, then add in your flour. Take it off the heat whilst you make sure that the flour and butter are combined to make a paste of sorts (albeit with leeks running through it). Replace the pan on the heat and add the milk bit by bit, combining each time and constantly stirring so that there are no lumps. When you have the white sauce at a thick consistency (think double cream) add in the cheese

Mounds of my favourite thing - cheese!!

Keep stirring and add mustard and the mushroom ketchup. TIP: I added the cheese bit by bit until I had the flavour and texture I wanted.

Cheese sauce with the leeks - lush
You then add your cooked macaroni and make sure it’s all coated with the delicious sauce. Spoon it into an oven proof dish and add the tomatoes round the edge and then cover with the breadcrumbs and pancetta

Ready for the oven
Bake in oven for around 30mins at a moderate heat. Here's the finished product...

Mac n Cheese: my perfect comfort food on a cold day

I served mine with some mange tout but lets be honest you’d be just as good eating it straight out of the dish. This recipe had enough for around 4-5 portions so I also put some in containers for the freezer, ready to pull out for dinner in a hurry. I didn’t put toppings on these as you can add these fresh once it’s defrosted.

NB: I put the bacon on top rather than through the sauce as I hate reheated bacon when it’s in a sauce (odd hey) and I know that with the amount this makes there will be leftovers! Feel free to go for it though. I love the crunch of the breadcrumbs and bacon, and by adding these and the leeks and the tomatoes it brings this dish into centre stage for a lovely, filling supper!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Warming Autumn Supper

This dinner is one of my favourites; its perfect for these dark, rainy, cold November evenings. The rich colours make this dish make you feel warm just looking at it and it tastes just splendid (plus uses up the glut of cherry tomatoes I received in my veg box this week)! Like a lot of my dishes it's pretty easy and even better its all in one tray - saves on washing up!
Credit to Jamie Oliver for the origins of the dish but I've always put my own spin on it, as I share with you now;

Sticky Autumn Sausages

6-8 sausages (I used Cumberland)
Around 1kg cherry tomatoes, halved
2 large carrots, halved then cut into chunks
1 large red onion, cut into sixths
2-3 cloves garlic (leave skins on just crush them a bit)
2 sprigs of thyme, 2 of rosemary
3 bay leaves
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
sweet potato

So very simply put the tomatoes, other veg, garlic and herbs in to a baking tray. Coat liberally in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Mix everything together (I use my hands for this its so much easier)

Prick each sausage a couple of times and then place them on the tomatoes.

Place in oven at 200oC for 30mins then take the tray out, give it a good shake and turn the sausages. Put back in the oven for another 30mins. In this time you can boil up some sweet potato, then mash it up with some butter and lots of black pepper (alternatively you could serve with normal mash, jacket potato, pasta or some crusty bread). Take the tray out of the oven, remove the sausages and then stir up all the tomatoes and veg so it is a nice thick, rich sauce. Serve this over the mashed sweet potato and feel yourself and your heart warm up....


My Monday Bargain

Check out these extremely cute mini cookware pots and pans I found on Monday, I had to share them;

Aren't they just adorable?! I think they look like mini Le Crueset pans and the colours are so funky! There are 3 different styles and I got 2 of each...

I cant wait to use them I think they will be great for side dishes, or to serve stews in, or mini fish pies or for pate's... the list is endless!
But here's the bestest thing about these.... They were only £1!!!!! Bargain! I went in to PoundLand because I wanted some cheap plastic boxes for my crafty bits and thought they'd probably have some and I suddenly saw these! I'm definitely going to be less of a snob and go in there again, who knows what other gems I may find!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Lush Baked Aubergines

I use the word lush far too much. Fact.
In my lovely veg box from my beloved Pete (he has his own Fruit n Veg stall don't you know?! My best friend picked good) there were a few lovely looking aubergines some small sweet red peppers and copious amounts of lovely red cherry tomatoes.

As I'm not precious about having meat at every meal, in fact i think its nice sometimes not to have it, i decided to bake the aubergines and use the tomatoes and red peppers to make a yummy sauce to bake with the aubergines along with some of my Easy Peasy Pesto and some Ricotta cheese - the result is Lush - no other word to describe it!
I cant be bothered to type out all the ingredients but I'll talk you through it step by step. Promise.
Sooooooooooo........ slice your aubergine in half and criss cross the flesh, put in baking tray and then splash lots of olive over them

Put in oven at a moderate to high.
A the same time halve the cherry tomatoes and red peppers, put in baking tray, cover in olive oil and then put in oven along with the aubergine

The tomatoes and peppers will take 20 mins or so and the aubergines around 40 mins
While they are cooking away, whizz up 1 onion and 2 cloves of garlic in food processor, whizz it up until it forms a paste and then transfer it into a pan with a bit of oil. On a low heat, gradually cook this mixture through - don't let it burn! take the cherry tomatoes and peppers out of oven, they should be lovely and roasted, put then in blender and blitz until they are a smooth paste. Add the paste to the onion and garlic along with a cartoon of passata

Let the sauce simmer for 15mins or so.
Take the aubergines out of the oven. In oven proof dish spread a layer of the tomato sauce. Place the aubergine on top and dot with ricotta cheese. Add a splash more tomato sauce and drizzle with pesto (I used my homemade pesto)

Doesn't look great just yet! Bare with me! Pop this in the oven for about 20 minutes and then it will look like this, You could serve this with a salad, crusty bread maybe but I like it just as it is ( although I did only manage 2 halves):


***I took the rest of the aubergine and tomato sauce, combined them and then added some wholemeal pasta - perfect for packed lunch tomorrow***

Easy Peasy Pesto

I made this Pesto fresh today as I wanted it for the next recipe that I'm going to blog but I thought that I would blog this recipe separately as Pesto deserves a post in it's own right. So versatile is the green stuff can be a salad dressing, its lovely on pasta, roasted vegetables, chicken.......the list could go on but I have other things to do with my Tuesday night! There are loads of ways to make pesto but this is my really simple version. Here goes;


Around 2 handfuls of Fresh Basil (though I think 3 would be better)
50g Pine nuts
30g grated Pecorino cheese (i think the slightly milder, nuttier taste makes this a better option than Parmesan)
1 clove garlic
Zest and juice of half a lemon
around 75ml olive oil

My directions are so unbelievable simple its embarrassing

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and whiz it up until its Pesto like. Taste, I could have done with a bit more basil but it still tasted yummy. You can then use it straight away or put in a jar in the fridge (usually keeps for about 3 days). Easy Peasy.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

French Onion Soup - or my take on it at least!

It’s taken me a couple of days to blog this recipe as on Sunday my sore head (thanks Charlotte and Pete for throwing such a great but messy party) made it such an effort to just make the soup that writing it up was just never going to happen – I’m bad enough with spelling and grammar, on a hangover I think it would be pretty horrendous. So hung-over on a Sunday my body was craving something calming to eat and remembering the rest of the chicken broth made a few days ago I decided to use it to make another soup – using the broth is great as it has even more flavour than stock so it really gives you something special.
This is by no means a traditional French Onion soup but I make no apologies for that, its lighter in both colour and flavour with the sweetness of the onions blending with the savoury of the broth. It’s as close to a cure for a hangover as I could find on Sunday and for that I forgive this soup for the onion breath left lingering in your mouth hours after you finished the last mouthful…..times like these I delight in being single

French Onion Soup

3 large Spanish onions or 6 average white onions
Olive Oil
1-2 tablespoons Plain flour
Around 2/3rd wine glass full of White Wine (dry is best)
4 tablespoons of port (yes port because I had no red wine, but it worked well so hey I’ll go with it)
Chicken broth / or stock - you can use veg stock if you want or even water
Splash Mushroom Ketchup (Gods gift to those of us who hate Lea & Perrins)
Bread – baguette is best but I had none so I just used a standard slice of white
Cheese, grated – use whichever type you prefer I went for Jarlsberg, its mild nuttiness worked well in this dish

Slice all your onions and throw them into a pan with melted butter and some olive oil, cook them on a low heat for around 20 mins until they are translucent and slightly browned – I so did not leave mine for long enough so they need to be a little more golden than this……

Taste then season and if you think it needs it add a little sugar. Stir in the spoonful or so of flour so it soaks up all the flavours of the onions and then add your liquid; Wine goes in first and then the port and then your broth / stock. Turn up the heat until it starts to boil then turn it down to a gentle simmer and add a splash of mushroom ketchup. Leave for 20 mins or so and then it should be ready. Serve with toasted cheesy croutons.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Le Petit Déjeuner - Œufs en Cocotte

So last night whilst making my Chicken Burritos I also decided to make one of my favourite breakfast dishes as I have a lot of smoked salmon in the fridge, and after partaking in my weekly French lesson it had to have an element of French Cuisine. The French know their breakfasts and they know their eggs -these baked eggs are so simple and I have been addicted to them ever since I saw recipes from both Nigella (ok not so French) and Rachel Khoo. Nigella suggests that you can make these with double cream but to be honest that’s a bit rich for a Friday morning breakfast, in fact it’s a bit rich any day and Rachel makes hers with Crème Fraiche – I go that one step further and make these with half fat crème fraiche. I added smoked salmon and spinach cos they were in my fridge but smoked ham or smoked mackerel also work well…. I add the extra ingredients into the crème fraiche as it seems to work better rather than layering them but how you put these pretty pots together is entirely your choice. Bon Appétit

Œufs en Cocotte

Crème Fraiche
Smoked Salmon
Salt and pepper
Little sprinkling of parmesan

Take you crème fraiche and put in to bowl (you need roughly 2 tablespoons per egg). Tear up some smoked salmon and spinach and add. Season (lots of black pepper here kids)

You then but a tablespoon of the mixture in a ramekin and pat it down. Crack an egg in over it and layer another tablespoon of mixture over the top. Simples! I then put these in the fridge ready for the morning but you can cook them straight away. When you are ready to cook them, sprinkle the tops with a bit of parmesan, place them into a roasting tray and fill the tray with boiling water until they come about halfway up the ramekin. Place in a medium to high heat oven and cook for around 15 minutes for a nice runny yolk (if you are cooking them from the fridge they may need around 5-8mins longer)

This could have done with a couple more minutes to brown off the top, but I’m a busy gal and I had to rush to work. However it tasted delicious with my toast and the joy of finding the golden orange yolk takes me right back to my childhood…..perfect breakfast any day of the week!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Spicing up my Life: Chicken Burritos with Sweet Potato Wedges

After a few days of bland bland food, today my taste buds were craving warmth of the chilli variety. That craving paired with the chicken that I removed from yesterday's chicken soup led me to decide on a recipe of the Mexican variety. This dish is so simple, tasty and has a great kick of heat - perfect warm and colourful food for these dark and dreary evenings! Please note - This recipe was originally from Mr Bill Granger but having made it so many times it's second nature, however credit where credit is due!!

Chicken Burritos with Sweet Potato Wedges

1 large sweet potato
1 red onion, sliced thinly
1 1/2 green chillis, chopped finely (use less or more depending on how hot you like it)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin kidney beans
chopped coriander
Iceberg lettuce shredded, i didn't have this so just used some yummy spinach
cooked chicken, shredded
tomatoes, cubed
Avocado, sliced
tortilla ( i used a wholewheat one)

So simply chop your sweet potato into large chunks (i don't bother removing the skin although you may want to), lightly drizzle with oil (i used my olive oil spray) to coat them, season and shake on some paprika. Put in oven on a relatively high heat and let them cook - they took around 30 minutes, turning a couple of times.
While these are cooking warm a bit of olive oil in a pan,  throw in your onion and chilli and cook until soft (around 5 mins). Add cumin and coriander and mix until the spice coats the ingredients. Add in the tomatoes and beans, a teaspoon of sugar at this point can help the sweetness of the tomatoes along. Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes
Yum Yum!
Now its time to get all your accompaniments ready: Shred up your cooked chicken (lovely and moist still from yesterdays soup), chop a bit of coriander (although to be fair i just pulled the leaves away from the stems), finely chop some red onion, dice up some fresh tomato and make sure you've got some lime wedges (I love limes so much).....
I leave the avocado until the last minute so it doesn't go brown
Warm your tortilla (30 secs in microwave does it), spread your spinach / lettuce along the middle and then layer on your tomato and bean mixture. add the shredded chicken and avocado slices on top and then sprinkle with coriander, tomato and onion. wrap it all up (if you can, which i couldn't as i was only having one so i made it big) and add the wedges on the side

And there you have it, one yummy, relatively healthy and filling Mexican stylee dinner!
You can of course add all sorts of things to your burrito - cheese, sour cream, salsa, jalapenos etc etc but I think mine are just perfect how they are. Another bonus is that the leftovers are packed up ready to be assembled for my lunch tomorrow - my office will be jealous!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Chicken Soup to soothe the soul (and the tummy)!

I have been poorly sick, and I am never sick. I managed to contract the horrible Norovirus, otherwise known as the Winter Vomiting Bug, which is about right let me tell you...... yesterday was a complete write off, I could barely move let alone eat, in fact the mere thought of food made me feel worse - I must have been bad. After a rather restless night I emerged this morning feeling a bit better and in desperate need of something comforting but very simple to eat and what better than some chicken soup, although this recipe is more like a broth. There's a reason why they call this Jewish penicillin; once I'd finally made it the bowl of golden nectar instantly nourished and soothed me without making my tummy angry! Now it takes time but when your stuck indoors ill that's not really an issue and at this time of year when colds, flu and bugs are everywhere a bowl of this is all you really need.....

Chicken Soup/ Broth

1 medium sized chicken, no giblets
some chicken wings (I used about 10)
1 onion unpeeled sliced in half
2 carrots unpeeled and snapped in two
1 stalk of celery snapped in two plus a few sprigs of celery leaves
couple of bay leaves
teaspoon of black peppercorns
dessert spoon of sea salt

So you basically put everything, bar the chicken wings, in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring this to the boil and then turn it down to a gentle simmer, really gentle you then can leave it alone for about and 1 - 1/2 hours or until it look's a bit like this:

You then gently remove the chicken from the pan making sure you don't loose too much of the liquid. I then took the opportunity remove some of the scummy bits that gather on the surface of the pan. Back to the chicken - remove as much meat as you can from the chicken and put the carcass back into the pan along with the chicken wings - this may seem odd and it wasn't something that i'd thought of doing before until I read that it really helps enhance the flavour - plus you will be left with some yummy chicken to use in other dishes:

I already have plans for this meat.....

Back to the soup you need to let it simmer some more - another hour I'd say, gently skimming it as you potter by. Now comes the slightly time consuming part but please stick with it, it is well worth it. so you drain it through a sieve for the first time, then a second time and then i drain it through a muslin. Seems like a lot of strain and hassle but when you see the unadulterated golden amber liquid it is well worth it. return it to the heat, skim of any remaining fat and serve:

The photo doesn't do it justice, it truly is a beautiful dish. You could add some rice noodles, some chilli, some ginger, soba noodles, some carrot sticks, some of the torn pieces of chicken etc etc.... I happen to believe that this dish is beautiful in it's most simple form.