Macaroni Cheese

Cheese. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best foods ever invented. There are so many different varieties with so many different uses. From tiramisu to pizza to cutting out the middle man and going straight in for a fondue, a small amount of cheese can lift a dish from good to truly sublime.

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A mixture of grated cheeses

The methods of making cheese have been refined a lot over history with the earliest record of cheese being over 7500 years ago! Cheese evolved differently in different areas of world depending on the climate. Hotter climates gave rise to hard, salted cheeses as it prevented the cheese from turning however in Europe, the climate was much milder so cheeses could be aged for longer and with less salt resulting in cheese that could grow moulds leading to stronger flavours.

In terms of sweet dishes made from cheese, the most common is cheesecake however even this has changed dramatically over the years. 200 years ago – you couldn’t buy cream cheese to use and would have to make your own curds every time you made the cake. This lead to it having more of an eggy, ricotta-like flavour and texture rather than the luscious smoothness of today’s cheesecakes. Cream cheese frosting is another example of a savoury item being used for a sweet dish. The bizarre thing about this icing is that cream cheese varies massively by country. The standard recipes use American block cream cheese which is very thick however here in England, the most widely available brands are far softer and turn very runny when they are beaten making the icing turn to liquid!

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Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Macaroni cheese has been a family staple for as long as I can remember. It has been a tradition on Yom Kippur to break the fast on cauliflower cheese however my mum would make macaroni cheese for the children – me included. Hunger is definitely the best condiment because no matter how amazing this tastes normally, when you haven’t eaten for 25 hours, it is just that little bit better! Since then I have taken the recipe up to university and continued breaking the fast on in when Yom Kippur falls during the university term. The macaroni cheese keeps well and also freezes but it isn’t often that there is enough left for that to ever be an issue!

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Macaroni Cheese

Preparation time – 20 minutes        Cook time – 40 minutes

Serves – 4-6                                        Cost per portion: about 90p

 

Ingredients:

200g Cheddar – grated

200g Red Leicester – grated

40g plain flour

40g butter

1 pint milk (full fat gets the best flavour but I will use whatever I have around!)

500g dried macaroni

 

Optional:

Salt

Pepper

Cayenne Pepper (a pinch)

Nutmeg (a few grates)

One Bay Leaf

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C)

Boil a pan of salted water.

Place the flour, butter, milk, salt, cayenne pepper, bay leaf and a little grated nutmeg into a heavy based pan.

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Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about a minute less than the packet says

Heat the sauce mix whisking continuously until it has thickened and is almost boiling – this should take about as long as the pasta.

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The sauce is thick and has coated the sides of the saucepan

Drain the pasta and stir in a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent it sticking during the next stage.

Stir three quarters of the grated cheeses into the sauce (off the heat) and season with black pepper to taste.

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Stir the sauce into the pasta and make sure it is all evenly coated.

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Pour into an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese over the dish.

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Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is starting to brown and the macaroni cheese is bubbling.

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Spoon onto plates or into bowls and serve immediately!

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Let me know if you try this at yourselves and pop a photo across or tag me on Instagram at harryshomebakery! I love seeing what you guys create at home.

If you enjoy baking cakes, why not try my Orange and Chocolate Cake or for a different savoury treat, make yourself some delicious Spiced Turkey Burgers!

Have a good one and I’ll see you next Monday with a recipe for a multicoloured Battenberg cake!

H

Chicken and Mushroom Pasta Bake

Pasta bakes have been a staple of my lunches since going to university. They are relatively economical, can be made with pretty much anything you have (including leftovers) and are delicious. You can use them to make a small amount of meat go very far which I have found to be a life saver when you are living off a student loan. They tend to freeze well and are also quite sturdy so once cooked, portions can be cut and put either in boxes or just wrapped in Clingfilm before being put in the freezer as the pasta has enough structural integrity to hold its shape when cool. This meant taking a slice of it in my bag to lectures was a simple task and provided me will a filling lunch during the day.

One of the things I find really interesting about this dish in particular (and to be honest, any dish involving mushrooms) is how they cook. As the fruiting bodies of a fungus, mushrooms hide beneath the soil and once ready to produce spores, they absorb liquid – rain in the wild – and sprout. They can appear out of nowhere overnight but this property is also what leads to them being very easy to burn when cooking. When you first add the mushrooms to an oiled pan, they absorb all the oil up too resulting in basically dry frying them. This can cause them to burn if they aren’t stirred constantly which is a faff if you are trying to get on with another part of the meal. To avoid this, small amounts of water can also be added which again, will be absorbed but if you manage your proportions well, can leave just enough liquid in the pan to prevent burning. Once the mushrooms get to a certain temperature, the heat breaks down the cells holding in the liquid resulting in the mushrooms releasing any water, juice and oil which is contained in them also causing them to shrink which is why the reduce down so much in volume whilst cooking.

The other interesting part of this dish (from a science perspective) is the cornflour. When I was younger, I used to be allowed to play with cornflour as a treat if I was well behaved. Whilst this was a messy, messy endeavour for all involved it did have the benefit of being an introduction to quite a complicated bit of science, the non-Newtonian fluid. As a small child, few things were more exciting than this bizarre mixture that ran through my fingers and I could sink my hand into but if I tried to jerk it out again, the mixture would turn solid and shatter with enough force. Even now as a 21 year old, I find it fascinating! In this recipe, you can only have this fun before the cornflour is added to the sauce as the moment it is mixed in, it thickens up massively giving the sauce a smooth texture.

 

 

 

 

Mushroom Chicken Pasta Bake    –     about £1.90 per portion, makes 6 portions

2 Large Onions (or three medium/small)

500g mushrooms roughly chopped

2 chicken breasts – cubed

½ cup of milk (125ml)

Chicken/mushroom stock

4 tbsp of cornflour

Oil

400g pasta shapes – I use spirals normally

Cheese

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Optional

Garlic

Basil/parsley

Salt and pepper

 

Dice up the onions and sautee in a pan with a small amount of oil.

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Once the onions are translucent, add the mushrooms and a small amount of water (I would go for about two tablespoons). This helps prevent the mushrooms from sticking to the pan. Keep stirring until the mushrooms start to release their liquid. (Should you wish to add garlic, one or two cloves either diced or minced should be added at this point)

Add the chicken and stir until it is sealed (that is to say that the outside of all the chicken has gone white.21104359_1686135108084854_1141188406_o

Add the milk and bring to the boil

Add the stock – if powder, just sprinkle it in and if it is a cube, crumble it up into the mix and stir it through

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Mix the cornflour with a small amount of water to create a slurry and add it a bit at a time to the mixture making sure that you stir well after each addition and wait for the sauce to thicken up before you add more. If there is more liquid in the sauce, you will need more of the cornflour but you may not need it all!

Let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes until the chicken is just cooked and then remove from the heat.

Season with salt and pepper and add the basil or parsley at this point

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200oC) and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the bag.

Mix the pasta and the sauce and pour it all into an ovenproof dish pushing any exposed pieces of chicken down below the surface

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Add a layer or grated cheese over the top and place in the oven. Personally I use cheddar for this but you could use any cheese that you like (though I would avoid blue cheese in this scenario as I don’t think it would go with the chicken and mushrooms particularly well!)

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Bake for half an hour or until the cheese has melted and the top layer has gone crispy.

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For a vegetarian alternative, use more mushrooms instead of the chicken! It is still delicious and will reduce the price too.

This can be eaten cold and freezes well.

 

Whether batch cooking for yourself or making dinner for friends, this recipe is wonderful for many occations and is super versatile. You can add or take away ingredients or even change up the sauce completely to keep things fresh. Personally, chicken and mushroom is a favourite of mine so I tend to make this one quite a lot!

Let me know in the comments if you try this one yourself and pop a picture in if you can!

See here for the last recipe in the Cooking From Basics series – a delicious bolognaise sauce – or if you fancy trying your hand at some bread making, why not have a look at my recipe for Artisan Bread from last week.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a super chocolatey recipe that you do not want to miss!!!

H