“But don’t you only really need one recipe for mac ‘n’ cheese?”
That’s the reaction I had from most of my friends when I told them I was reviewing a mac ‘n’ cheese cookbook. Normally as a Brit, I’d say macaroni cheese of course but since Anna Mae is all about spreading the Southern-food love (Southern States of America as opposed to the Southern Counties of England), really – only mac ‘n’ cheese will do…
I posted a recipe for my macaroni cheese a little while ago. It’s a firm family favourite in the Bangers & Mash household. But I also had to bring you this version. It’s not my recipe. It’s from the acclaimed Australian chef Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar & Grill; a beautiful tome of a cookbook, as much a coffee table book as a practical guide for the kitchen. If I actually had a coffee table, this would certainly take pride of place on it.
I received the cookbook courtesy of Qantas, who as well as offering flights to Australia are passionate about spreading the word about Australian food.In addition to running restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth , Neil Perry is the chief consulting chef for Qantas.
The recipes in Rockpool Bar & Grill are more aspirational than every day; the kind of dishes I’d probably only attempt if I were cooking for a special dinner party. Not surprising though as the aim of the book is to show you how to create restaurant-style dishes at home. It’s impossible to stop your mouth from watering as you turn the pages, which also provide a behind-the-scenes account of life in the Rockpool restaurants, as well as stories about the producers and suppliers who inspire Neil Perry’s menus.
So while I was rather taken with dishes like scampi ceviche, Wagyu beef bolognese, octopus braised in red wine and strawberry tart with balsamic vinegar ice cream, it might be a little while before I work up to trying these at home, particularly as they’d probably blow my weekly food budget in one meal. Instead it was the Rockpool’s take on good old macaroni cheese I felt would go down well with my family. This is what Neil Perry says:
Pasta and cheese is the best combo. My daughter Josephine can polish one of these off for dinner any night of the week. I first started making this years ago. I loved going to America and having mac ‘n’ cheese, more often than not at steakhouses. I began with a recipe from a great friend and truly one of the world’s great chefs, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se. If you start with that kind of pedigree, you’re going to end up with a great dish, and a great dish I did end up with. It’s a perfect marriage with a good steak but is equally at home with all of the other meats and poultry we serve at the restaurant. Use good cheese, really good quality hard Italian pasta and a smoky bacon. Your efforts will be well rewarded.
I was curious to see how different restaurant-style macaroni cheese would be from what we usually make. And I have to say it is very good. Very, very good actually. My husband and the girls wolfed it down greedily and it really does work well with a decent steak. We enjoyed ours with griddled sirloin and a simple salad instead of our usual Sunday roast, and it was a rather special meal indeed.
Oh, and there’s are some heavenly-looking lemon meringue cupcakes in there that I’m pretty sure I’ll be having a go at very soon too.
Cook the macaroni in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and refresh in iced water. Drain again and place in a large bowl.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until golden. Drain on paper towel, then add to the macaroni.
Return the pan to the heat, add the cream, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat and gradually add the Cheddar and Gruyère, stirring until melted.
Combine the garlic, paprika and mustard to form a paste, then stir into the cream mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add to the macaroni mixture and stir through.
Heat a grill to high. Divide the mixture between individual heatproof bowls or a 1.5 litre capacity baking dish. Sprinkle over the Parmesan, then the breadcrumbs. Grill until the top is golden.
Disclosure: Qantas provided me with a complimentary copy of Rockpool Bar & Grill for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.
When I put out a call a month or so ago for people to send in their favourite family recipes for the Care to Cook recipe challenge I had absolutely no idea what kind of response to expect. Care to Cook is a challenge I set up with a fostering and adoption charity I work with called TACT in order to promote their cookbook, which they’re selling to support adopted children and their families.
But I had nothing to worry about. You lot rose to the challenge splendidly, supplying a fantastic assortment of family favourites, both savoury and sweet. The task set was to suggest a dish you would cook to welcome someone into your family home. For many children in care, family meals are simply something they are not used to. Each and every dish submitted into the challenge is one I know would make a vulnerable child or young person feel special, valued and welcomed.
Before I announce the winner, here are each of those delicious entries in turn. Warning – this list is guaranteed to make you hungry!
First in was this tasty little number from Under The Blue Gum Tree, which looks far superior to its McDonald’s namesake: Homemade Fillet O’ Fish and “Chips”. The fillet is served in lovingly prepared carrot and cumin bread rolls, with potato skins covered in paprika and cayenne pepper, and some salsa and soured cream on the side. Now, who could resist that?
Next we have French Madeleinesfrom Crêpes Suzettes. These pretty little cakes look so tempting and perfect for goûter, the snack French kids have at around 4pm. I think my children must be a bit French as they are always starving when they come home from school too!
For Reluctant Housedad, what to cook for this challenge was a bit of a no-brainer. It had to be his Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake. Doesn’t it look incredible? I love puddings that combine sweet and salty and absolutely anything that contains peanut butter, so this is going straight to the top of my must-bake list.
My fabulous mother Cheryl suggested this next dish Hokkien Mee, which she remembers eating as a girl growing up on the Malaysian island of Penang. It’s a hot and spicy noodle dish, featuring both meat and seafood, common in many South East Asian dishes. It’s a little different to the Singapore version but, as my Mum would tell you, much more delicious!
Karen from Lavender & Lovage offers up these ‘frugal but comforting’ Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbs and Oats, which I think look incredibly tasty and very satisfying. It’s a real family-favourite in Karen’s house; her daughter loved eating this when she was little, and still does now she is all grown up!
My little sister Elly surprised me with her cooking skills with this next entry, her Nonya Chicken Curry from Malaysia. I just assumed she would submit a recipe for something sweet and sticky – she’s a great baker you see. But no, this is her curry dish that got a big thumbs up from her boyfriend’s dad. He’s from Malaysia himself and apparently not an easy man to impress!
Pasta and Pesto Sauce is our next entry which comes from A Trifle Rushed. Pesto is always a favourite in our house but I must admit it’s normally a meal-in-a-hurry using dried pasta and jarred sauce. Here Jude and her daughter lovingly make fresh pasta by hand and blend their own pesto in a pestle and mortar. I bet it tastes incredible; it certainly looks wonderful.
Louisa at Chez Foti now lives in the French Pyrenees and likes to cook classic French dishes whenever friends and family come to visit. This Boeuf en Daube is a particular favourite and I can see why; it looks so sumptuously satisfying! It’s one of those meals you can prepare in advance and leave to slow cook in the oven, so that your visitors arrive to the most glorious aromas emanating from the kitchen. Yum!
When I received this next entry from Lavender & Lovage for Yorkshire Season Pudding with Herbs I had to try it straight away. We had it for brunch one Sunday morning, and it was perfect with our bacon, eggs and beans. I like the fact this is a traditional family recipe, and one that Karen’s grandmother used to make. I think it might just become a tradition for our family too.
Spinach and Bacon Macaroni Cheesefrom Sian at Fishfingers for Tea is next up. Macaroni cheese is the ultimate in satisfying comfort food and I do love this version, beefed up with tasty bacon and spinach and finished with slices of tomato and crunchy cheesy breadcrumbs on top. Another great dish for preparing in advance and popping in the oven just before your visitors arrive.
My Nana Barbara sent in two dishes for her entry: Courgette Bake followed by Vanilla Cream Terrine. She says the courgette bake works well both as a starter and as main course served with large hunks of crusty bread. My Nana is fantastic in the kitchen and as a kid I would love staying with her and Grandad as it always meant getting to eat lots of lovely cakes and pies.
Chicken Basquaise is the delicious entry from Helene at French Foodie Baby. She warns that it might differ from traditional recipes but that’s what she likes so much about her mother’s cooking; she cooks from the gut. I love the way Helene relives her food memories through her blog and brings them into the present day as she cooks for her little boy Pablo.
ThisStrawberries and Cream Birthday Cakecomesfrom my step-mum Sue and is the cake she bakes every June to celebrate my twin sisters’ birthday. I’ve always been very jealous of them having a summer birthday when strawberries are in season! Now wouldn’t you like this for your birthday cake each year?
The final entry is one of mine: Hainanese Chicken Rice. It’s a dish I loved to eat when I was a little girl on trips to Penang with my mum and little sister. I had no idea how to make it so I turned to members of my Chinese-Malaysian family for a helping hand, and my Aunty Lorene and Cousin Sisi did the honours by providing this recipe. How would I ever survive without Facebook?!
There you have it – a fine collection of family recipes if ever I saw one! But there can only be one winner in the Care to Cook challenge, and the unenviable task of selecting a winner was given to 15-year-old Josh, who lives with one of TACT’s foster carers in the South West of England.
So a huge congratulations to Keith at the Reluctant Housedad for your fabulous entry, which Josh found he simply couldn’t resist! As winner of the Care to Cook family recipe challenge he will receive a copy of TACT’s Care to Cook recipe book, signed by the charity’s celebrity patron Lorraine Pascale.
And thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share their favourite family recipes, helping to raise awareness of this very worthwhile charity, which is working so hard to improve the lives of children and young people across the UK who haven’t had the best starts in life. More information of the work of TACT is available on their website.
Everyone has their own way of making macaroni cheese. It’s the kind of dish that lends itself to variation.
Here I offer up my version, which has smoked bacon in the Cheddar cheese sauce and is topped with sliced tomatoes, garlic breadcrumbs, rosemary and parmesan.
I use penne instead of macaroni because I prefer my pasta on the chunkier side. And I usually make extra and freeze a couple of portions for quick, midweek suppers.
Serves 4 – 6
350g penne pasta
80g plain flour
100g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper
5 rashers smoked back bacon, chopped
knob of butter
4 medium tomatoes
75g white breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
small bunch fresh rosemary, finely chopped
50g parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
Cook the penne in boiling, salted water according to the instructions on the packet.
Make up the cheese sauce by placing the butter, flour and milk in a saucepan and whisking over a medium heat until it thickens. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Fry the bacon pieces in a little butter and when crispy, stir into the sauce.
Mix the drained pasta with the cheese sauce and pour into a large ovenproof dish. Slice the tomatoes and lay over the pasta.
In a bowl combine the breadcrumbs, garlic, rosemary and parmesan and then sprinkle over the pasta and tomatoes.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumb topping is golden and crispy.