Comfort Nosh

The weather has been truly abysmal the last few days. I’m a huge fan of Winter… when the weather behaves, and we have clear, crisp days (like today in sunny Portsmouth) or deep snow when we have nowhere to be. However, incessant rain, mud, gales and general horribleness that is driving me most of the way towards hibernation can go away, quite frankly. If Christmas wasn’t just around the bend, I’d be campaigning for spring already.

In the meantime, comfort food is the order of the day, and if you can sneak some green stuff into it, all the better. One wouldn’t wish to get scurvy in one’s bear den, would one?

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Macaroni and Cheese is my ultimate comfort food. It’s vegetarian, pescatarian, polloterian and omnivore friendly (sorry vegans and the lactose intolerant- I just really like cheese) so a mostly safefood if you have discerning guests, easy peasy to make, satisfying in that you can make the whole lot from scratch (and I do), and so tasty it’s easy to accent it with vegetables to pretend its healthy. I tend to go for peas and sweetcorn, because no prep of them is required and I’m inherently lazy, but broccoli, green beans and/or peppers fit the bill too… ok, now I’m hungry.

Everyone has a different recipe- some like it with a crust, some don’t; some prefer certain spices in their cheese sauce, some don’t; some are toffs when it comes to the cheese content, and some, such as myself, just grab what’s available.

Mac n’ Chee

  • 1 pint milk
  • 50g plain flour
  • 50 grams butter
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • Black pepper to taste
  • up to 200-250g cheese (Cheddar, parmesan, gouda… pick your poison)
  • 200g Macaroni
  • Frozen peas and sweetcorn (about a mug/cup of each)
  • Optional: Grated parmesan

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Pop your macaroni on to boil while you make your cheese sauce.

In a milk pan, create a roux with the flour and butter. To do that, add your butter and then your flour in quick succession, and stir as the butter melts into a paste.

Add your milk, little by little, whisking as you go to try and avoid lumps. I wouldn’t be too anal about it though, as they won’t be obvious in the final concoction.

Once all the milk is in, add your spices and keep stirring as the sauce thickens. This can take a little while depending on the shape of your pan, so be patient. As soon as the sauce is good and thick, take it off the heat.

Stir in your grated cheese- the ambient heat will melt it into the sauce. I like my sauce REALLY cheesy, so I usually use at least 180-200g of cheese, but depending on how flavoursome you like it, or the cheese you use, you can use less.

Strain your macaroni, and add it to your oven dish. Next combine it with your vegetables.

Add your cheesy sauce and mix through until all the ingredients are coated with gooey goodness. For extra cheesiness, you can now add any grated cheese you didn’t put in the sauce to the top of the mixture. Otherwise, you can top it with a generous crust of parmesan, or leave it simply as it is.

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Bake in a preheated over at 190 for 35 -45 minutes. Check after 30 minutes. When done, let stand for a couple of minutes, then serve generously, and duly scoff, ideally with at least ONE other person, as this serves four…

You can shake up this recipe in all sorts of ways. Add bacon to give it a carbonara twist, and tinned tuna and broccoli make a great combo with the cheesy sauce. Seriously, make this little beauty your own.

And tell me how you get on, yes?

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The hostess with the most-ess in minutes.

In an ideal world, all of us would have a good couple of days to prepare for a party. Cleaning,  sprucing and catering for even modest do’s can be time and energy consuming, not to mention getting yourself ready to fabulously and ferociously show your nearest and dearest a good time. Of course, we live in the real world whether we like it or not: the work days are long, nothing ever goes quite to plan and nobody is perfect. Being far shy of divinity in the domestic department myself, I generally greet my first guests in my pajamas, with wet hair, brandishing brooms for them to do the final spot cleaning.

When you are out of the house as much as I am, you want preparations for any event to be as easy as pie. I’m a messy creature, and don’t have much time in the week for tidying, so this has to be my priority when it comes to party prep. Unless I stayed up all night, I’d never get all the food I planned done… unless I lower my goals to quick but classy party food that no one can resist. Your guests are wowed and well fed, and you haven’t been slaving away preparing it when you could have been doing your nails or trying hoover up all the catfluff that has, somehow, become attached to the ceiling light.

Having just held a party, here are 5 easy ‘recipes’ to make your life, well, easier.

1) Pre-purchased snacks

Popcorns, crackers, chips, gourmet crisps… they’re fairly inexpensive, can be bought in a variety of great flavours and can be moved from kitchen to table in seconds. Even popcorn made from scratch at home is the work of minutes. Little bowls of salt and vinegar are the bomb at kiddy parties. For grown up do’s, a couple of pounds more spent can buy you some real gems, and it isn’t cheating- selecting the perfect snacks for your guests means almost as much as whipping something up at home. Buy things you know your guests like, and if in doubt… Japanese rice crackers and wasabi peas, flavoured popcorns, ‘posh’ crisps and chips help the cocktails go down.

2) Canapés

Grab some of the following:

  • smoked salmon
  • sliced roast beef
  • cream cheese
  • blinis and/or brown bread
  • black pepper
  • dill

Pop your blinis in the oven at 180 for about 4 minutes, or toast your bread as usual. Cut your bread slices into triangles or rounds, and slather them and/or the blinis with cream cheese.

Top with smoke salmon and a spring of dill, black pepper and beef or just black pepper and serve warm or cold. Yum.

3) Olives

Love them or hate them, olives are a classy addition to a nibbles bar. I like black olives, but pick up whatever you like, either chilled, jarred or canned. Drain them and serve with generous chunks of feta, and cocktail sticks. It’s like cheese and pinapple for grown ups- tactile and special. For extra drool-worthyness, dress them with a good quality extra virgin olive oil.

4) Super-quick baking

Palmiers sound posh, look clever, cost little and taste great. Buy pre-rolled sheets of puff pastry, slather them with a filling, roll up and cut into little rounds, and bake until puffed up and browned. Try these fillings:

  • Tomato(passata, puree or otherwise), basil and black pepper (also good with cheese)
  • Parmesan and Italian style herbs
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Tapenade
  • Pesto
  • Cinnamon (1 tsp cinnamon mixed with 50g each sugar and butter)
  • Sundried Tomato and Feta

5) Crudités, or presentation, presentation, presentation.

A few shards of carrot and cucumber in a tumbler, next to a tub of dip is, well, a bit sad IMHO. Even when you’re pressed for time, a healthy crunchy snack that looks voluptuous and lush is moments away.

Buy or make dips- whichever you like. Hummus, salsa, guacamole and cream dips are always good bets. Decant them into pretty bowls or dishes if you want your spread to look more home made, and set out.

Next on your shopping list, get your veg:

  • cucumber
  • tomatoes- piccolo and little cherry yellow and orange ones are perfect.
  • Peppers- any colour
  • Celery hearts
  • anything else you like to dip- bread sticks might not be veg, but I tend to grab some too!

Start with a large decorative plate. Trim the celery and cut each stem into three, and use to section out the plate like a clock. Build up waves of colour with piles of sliced peppers and cucumber, and in the centre and sprawling out organically, pile the tomatoes. I try to get some on the vine for extra prettiness and freshness.

It’s a simple concept, but easy to glam up with presentation, and it’s great for making people feel good with the fresh, healthy crunch of nice veg slathered in naughty dips.

 

I hope that’s given you some ideas for your next party. Some if not all of these, make excellent pick me up snacks in their own right!

Until next time, then…

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Monday Night Gnocchi

Every monday night I have a dinner date with the lovely Miss Jo. We catch up, watch our stories and nosh on some pretty good grub, seeing as Jo is quite a cook. A couple of weeks ago she made this delicious gnocchi dish that hit all my sweet spots, and I’ve been itching to have a go ever since. This is my version; a no fuss, super quick, super easy yet satisfying and wholesome after work meal.

Monday Night Gnocchi

Serves 2

Photoset can be found here

250g Gnocchi

½ white onion

1 small courgette

4-5 chestnut mushrooms

½ tsp chilli powder

a couple of handfuls of spinach

1 tub cream cheese (I used one with herbs)

lemon juice

Parmesan

  • Season your pan with olive oil, cracked black pepper and sea salt.
  • Chop your vegetables fairly finely and fry off.
  • Meanwhile, pop your gnocchi into a pan of boiling water. When they float to the surface, they’re done! Drain most of the cooking water and set aside.
  • Once the vegetables are fried, add your chilli powder and spinach to the pan. Stir gently until the spinach has wilted down. Turn off the heat.
  • Add the gnocchi to the pan and stir through, before pouring the whole lot into an overproof dish.
  • Thin the cheese in a bowl by beating with the lemon juice and reserved cooking water. Add to the ovenproof dish and stir through until mix is combined.
  • Grate Parmesan over the dish and pop under a hot grill for 10-20 minutes until golden.
  • Serve with a rocket salad, and gleefully stuff your chops.

Monday Night Gnocchi

Hubba hubba, I spy supper!