The ultimate comfort food?

Macaroni cheese is one of my favourite meals and has been ever since I was a child. It’s one of the things I learnt how to cook from my family. We used to eat it at my grandfather’s house, with bread and butter to mop up the sauce. I’ve tried numerous recipes over the years, but generally fail to remember which version I like the best. This is the one I developed for myself, which is roughly the right quantity and has just enough cheese. Next time I might try adding a diced and cooked red pepper.

Macaroni Cheese (serves 2-3 people)

200g short pasta

1½ tbsp butter

1½ tbsp flour

300ml milk

200g mature or extra-mature cheddar

  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
  • Melt the butter in a small pan and add the flour. Stir well with a wooden spoon.
  • Switch to a silicone whisk (to avoid scratching the pan with a metal one) and gradually add the milk. Whisk well after each addition, ensuring that the milk is fully absorbed and there are no lumps before adding more milk.
  • Once all the milk is in the pan, allow to cook for approx. 5 mins, stirring constantly until thickened.
  • Gradually add the cheese until melted.
  • Stir into the pasta and serve in warm bowls.
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Stories from Orkney

Beside the Ocean of Time, George Mackay Brown

This is a book about Orkney and the layers of history present in Orkney’s culture. It took a while to get into but was well worth it. I read it slowly, a chapter a day. This was initially because it was difficult to get into, but it is such a beautifully crafted book that I wanted to take the time to read it thoroughly. Brown has a gift for writing prose that seems quite sparse but is actually full of meaning and really grabs the reader. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about the broch and the bittersweet-ness of the final chapters on Orkney’s experiences during the Second World War. Although this story is about Thorfinn Ragnorsen, the real focus of the book is Orkney itself. I love books like this, that have a real deep-seated sense of place. I’ve been to Orkney once and am otherwise fairly unfamiliar with it, but this book made me feel that I was there, in much the same way as Charlotte Brontë‘s Shirley makes me feel that I am back in West Yorkshire.

Cinnamon

In my kitchen, cinnamon is usually used in apple crumbles. There are one or two exceptions, such as dusted with sugar on top of something that Nigella Lawson refers to as chocodoodles (a chocolate version of snickerdoodles, as featured in How to Be a Domestic Goddess) and an intriguing use of it in bastichio, a savoury Greek dish from Hairy Bikers: Mums Know Best (Si King and Dave Myers). The cinnamon in the bastichio was fantastic, used in a bechamel-style sauce in much the same way as a British person might add a pinch of nutmeg to a white sauce. In any case, it’s fairly rare that cinnamon is actually the major star of something I cook. However, this weekend I made a delicious chocolate chip sour cream coffee cake (by Smitten Kitchen) and now all I can smell is cinnamon. I expected the cake to taste predominantly chocolate-y, and to have a really tender crumb because of the sour cream, all of which is the case, but I didn’t expect it to taste so much of cinnamon. The cake is currently sitting, half-eaten, beside my laptop as I work. Highly comforting, like a cake version of cinnamon toast, something which I have only eaten on trips to Betty’s in Ilkley for afternoon tea.

Other new recipes:

  • Sausage, potato and red pepper bake (from Waitrose magazine). Good weeknight dinner, more of an idea than a recipe, but a good use for the thyme that is languishing on the shelf.

  • Pörkölt (Gundel’s Hungarian Cookbook, Károly Gundel, trans. by Ágnes Kádár). Delicious. Probably largely because I fried the onion (the base of the stew) in dripping rather than the stipulated lard.

  • Shepherd’s pie (The Hairy Bikers Best-Loved Recipes: Mums still know best!, Si King and Dave Myers). I’ve made shepherd’s pie countless times and don’t usually use a recipe, but tried an idea from this book of bulking out the meat and thickening the sauce by adding a couple of tablespoons of oats, something I believe my great grandmother used to do when money was tight. It worked well, but was a little bland, possibly because I didn’t use canned tomatoes.

  • Mushroom soup (The Hairy Bikers Best-Loved Recipes: Mums still know best!). I tried this because a) it’s cold in my flat b) I like mushrooms and very rarely eat them because I live with someone who doesn’t like them c) I wanted to use up some garlic and herb seasoning. It’s a perfectly decent lunch, but it needs more garlic.