Recipe: Blue Cheese & Pear Salad

Hands up who is fed up of the weather we’ve been having lately? Humid, very wet days alternating with very sunny days. Coupled with my office air-con being set to Arctic mode (I genuinely took a scarf in last week!) it’s left me confused about what to wear and, more importantly, what to eat.

 photo Blue Cheese Pear Salad_zpsjeu2m2q4.jpgTypically in warmer weather I crave lighter food. Salads, zingy flavours. Less of the carb heavy meals I love in winter. But the grey skies together with coming home dripping wet (because BBC Weather told me I didn’t need an umbrella) have got me craving comfort food. I’ve been turning to warm salads recently – the perfect combination of comforting and lightness – and this one is one of my favourites.

The pear provides a subtle freshness to the dish that, as long as it’s no over-ripe, just avoids being too sweet. The toasted walnuts give crunch. Fresh peppery leaves (I like a combo of spinach, rocket and watercress but most generic bags of salad work well). A punchy balsamic dressing. And lots and lots of blue cheese. We went for dolcelatte – it’s both strong and creamy which just the right amount of smelliness for me. AKA it tastes good and strong, but doesn’t make my fridge stink to high heaven. I also have a major love for slightly softer cheese in my salads. All the ingredients come together to make a big bowlful that’s heavy, light and fresh, but with enough cheese to be comforting. If I’m being naughty I love this served with some really good bread, lightly toasted, and a glass of chilled white wine.

Oh, and it you’re not a veggie, I highly recommend a rasher of bacon, finely chopped, and fried until really crispy. Blue cheese and bacon is another of my favourite combos…

 photo Pear Blue Cheese amp Walnut Salad 9_zpstlok4l3x.jpg photo Pear Blue Cheese amp Walnut Salad 11_zps6aakhlb7.jpgIngredients (Enough for 1)

  • For the dressing – olive oil, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard
  • 1 large pear – I found blush pears to work best
  • A knob of butter – goat’s butter* works really well
  • A bowl of salad leaves
  • A good handful of crumbled blue cheese
  • Another good handful of walnuts

Pop the walnuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile throw the leaves in a bowl and season with a little black pepper. Mix up the dressing – add the ingredients to a small jar and beat. Taste and adjust as you go to make it to your liking. I’m a massive balsamic fan but W’s not so keen so I’ve deliberately not given any qualities. The only thing I will say is you really do only want a tiny, tiny bit of mustard. And don’t use English mustard here, I speak from experience when I say it really doesn’t go well!

Slice the pear (no need to peel). Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the pear. Fry for 30 seconds before adding the dressing and warming through – you want the pears to be in the pan for no longer than around 90 seconds or they will go too soft. Add the pears to the salad bowl, and scatter over the walnuts and cheese. Enjoy!

 photo Pear Blue Cheese amp Walnut Salad 12_zpsqnuup0kq.jpgAlthough I haven’t tried it, I’m also told that this works just as well with cold sliced pears as part of a lunch box. One I’ll be giving a go very soon…

What’s your favourite salad recipe?

Recipe: Ultimate Cheese Toastie

I know. I know exactly what you’re thinking.

You don’t need a recipe for a cheese toastie. You just make a cheese sandwich, butter the outside and fry. And you’d be right. And it’d be nice. Just nice. Fine. It’d do, it would fill a hole, it would go well with a bowl of soup.

cheese-toastieThis isn’t a cheese toastie you’d want to dip in your soup. This is the ultimate in cheese toasties. The cheese toastie that I wasn’t going to blog about, but it was so damn bloody good that I couldn’t resist. This is the kind of cheese toastie I was still talking about a good week later. The cheese toastie that makes you wonder why you ever ate a plain one in the first place.

First of all there’s the fact that it’s perfectly, perfectly cooked. A perfectly cooked toastie is golden and crisp, with molten gooey cheese that spills out. After far too many burnt toasties, toasties with rubbery cheese, toasties that were pale and flabby – I turned to Jamie. I slowed the process down. Even just doing this method with basic cheese isn’t a quick five minute snack. You have to cook the first side slowly on a low heat until crisp. Then flip and do the same to the other. Then pop in the oven. It’s worth the wait.

 photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 8_zpsahdwsuwl.jpg photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 5_zpsysupz1ml.jpgThen there’s the flavours. It’s packed with cheese. Sliced mature cheddar makes up the bulk, a grating of parmesan adds sharpness. There’s a whack of heat from the mustard. A creaminess from mayonnaise – which spread thinly is my must-have in any cheese toastie. It just adds that extra level of flavour, texture and richness that nothing else can. Then the best bit. My quick onion chutney. It’s my new favourite thing. (I have a lot of new favourites right now!) It’s sweet and sharp, soft in texture and ridiculously easy to make. It’s gorgeous stirred into pasta with goat’s cheese. Great with pate. And wonderful in a cheese toastie. The quantities here make enough for two toasties – but it keeps well in the fridge for a week or so, and I imagine you could pile it into sterilised jars too. Maybe. I’m not quite domesticated enough for that.

Now, a quick word about the cheese. The cheddar needs to be strong, it needs to be mature. It needs to be sliced (grated melts too quickly, then goes greasy). My favourite at the moment is the Wyke Farm one in the green packaging. So strong, quickly crumbly and just yum.

So my ultimate cheese toastie? Good bread (I only regret the plastic sandwich slide in these pictures!). Mayo. Mustard. Duo of cheeses. Lots of the cheese. A good helping of onion chutney. Fry gently. Bake. Serve.

 photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 3_zpsvo7x4hox.jpgIngredients

  • 2 slices of good bread
  • Mature cheddar, sliced – enough slices to cover a slice of bread
  • A small handful of grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • Plenty of butter
  • Onion chutney – knob of butter, 1 red onion,  1 garlic clove, pinch of thyme, salt, pepper 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp honey

Start by making the chutney – at least an hour in advance. Thinly slice the onion. Peel the garlic clove and cut in half. Pop both into a small pan with the butter, thyme, salt and pepper. Pop the lid on a sweat over a low heat for at least twenty minutes – you want the onions completely soft. Dig out and discard the garlic clove. Add the balsamic and honey, increase the temperature and bubble away for 5 or so minutes – until reduced and sticky. Make sure to stir and keep an eye out for burning!

Now it’s time to build your sandwich. Spread one side of bread with around half the mayo, then top with all the mustard. Lay over the slices of cheese, then spoon over the chutney. Sprinkle with parmesan. Spread the remaining mayonnaise over the over slice of bread and sandwich together (mayo on the inside). Butter the top outside of the sandwich and pop into a pan, butter-side down. Place over a low-medium heat for around five minutes.

Spread the top slice with more butter and, when the bottom is golden and crisp, flip over. Cook for around 3 minutes, then pop into the oven at 180C for around five minutes. Your toastie will be crisp, golden and oozing with cheesy goodness!

 photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 12_zpspid8zyjp.jpgIt’s a messy one, to the point I often use a knife and fork. But I can guarantee it’ll be one of the best toasties you’ll have ever eaten. It’s becoming a study day habit…

Are you a cheese fan? What would be in your ultimate cheese toastie?

Recipe: The Healthier Mac’n’Cheese

I loveeee Mac’nCheese. There’s just something so comforting about soft pasta, silky sauce, and an almost crunchy topping. Possibly mixed with bacon as per my boyfriend’s recipe, maybe with some spices added. I’m wanting to experiment with a fresh-chilli mac after the gorgeous side I scoffed from Mother Clucker. But it’s not the healthiest meal, and as a result it’s saved for a special treat.

 photo 4fb9dacd-00b9-4020-ab50-d1deb97658db_zpsb7644b64.jpgMy version of The Londoner’s one-pan mac is definitely good for saving a few calories, and is probably the healthiest one I’ve found. But it lacks for me what is the best bit, the baked top. I’ve tried baking it but the sauce just solidifies. A couple of tries later, all in the name of research, and now I present you this recipe. Creamy, tangy, cheesy sauce, lightly spiced. Perfectly coated macaroni pasta. And a cheesy top that goes delightfully gooey and crispy. YUM.

 photo 859778e8-1e38-421f-b244-8a332c9c7634_zps48ee24cb.jpgIngredients

  • Pasta – I went for 50g of macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat creme fraiche
  • 1/2 teaspoon of mustard
  • 1 small matchbox sized chunk of cheese (i.e. a ‘proper’ serving)
  • A sprinkle of polenta

 photo a91929f3-a68c-4487-a872-255507925aa3_zps1d300b67.jpgFirst off, cook your pasta. You want to slightly undercook it, so chop a minute off the cooking time. Drain, but leave a little water in the pan (just enough to cover the base).

 photo 7ff743b0-1d0c-4a19-af22-5205619048fe_zpse1176bae.jpg photo 25884205-d907-4291-b358-2b830388487d_zps26ac0f16.jpgReturn to a low heat, and add the creme fraiche, mustard, and lots of black pepper. Add 3/4 of the cheese to the sauce, and stir until melted, combined and creamy.

 photo 2b0fd4cb-2388-4c31-bef4-de94f26eff20_zps5ed8dc32.jpgPour into a baking dish, and top with the remaining cheese. Slice it very thinly so it covers the whole dish. Sprinkle lightly with polenta, then bake for 15 or so minutes, until bubbling and golden. Yep – silly me forgot the polenta when I made this to photograph. It tastes damn good without it, just slightly less crispy.

 photo 3bf1c5f6-6442-4dad-a4aa-fbd3b2a55952_zps2e1cf470.jpgServe with a big crunchy salad, and you’ve got a comforting meal without the guilt. And it’s quick, and the pan doesn’t take half as much elbow grease to wash up as a proper cheese sauce. I know what I’m having for dinner tonight…

What’s your favourite meal? Do you have any tricks to make it healthier?

Recipe: Boyfriend’s Cheesy Pasta Bake

CheesyPastaBake photo CheesyPastaBake_zps5b08a68c.jpgThere’s a running joke that my future children will all be fat, and there’s a very good reason for this. My boyfriend is an amazing cook, in fact our mutual love of baking and cooking was one of the things we bonded over nearly four years ago. He likes to think he is better than me, and whilst sometimes he probably is I’ll always deny it. Neither of us are particularly intrigued by the healthy craze that seems to be taking the food blogging world by storm at the moment (cashew vegan “cheese” anyone?) and so today I bring you one of the most unhealthiest things I eat. Comfort food at its finest, and a recipe we both plan to be sure to teach our children to make as soon as they are tall enough to use the hob. And no vegan fake cheese in sight…

This cheesy pasta bake is rich, it’s filling, it’s hearty. I can rarely finish my portion (no matter how good we try to be, we always make too much). Its so, so cheesy, a teeny bit spicy, with good texture coming from both the grill and the meat. Its just utter perfection, and I can still remember the first time my boyfriend made it for me early on in our relationship. And I am not ashamed to admit that, on more than one occasion, he has offered to cook me a romantic meal and I have requested this.

Ingredients – for two greedy people

  •  Meat – we usually go for bacon and frankfurters.
  • Cheese – lots of it. At least two big handfuls of a strong mature cheddar. You could get posh and mix up your cheeses, but we rarely do.
  • 80g of pasta each – cooked and ran under a cold tap to cool.
  • Around 50g butter.
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour.
  • 500ml-ish of milk.
  • Seasoning – salt, plenty of black pepper, and some spicy (Cajun is particularly good here).

How to make my boy’s signature dish…

CheesePastaBake3 photo 2014-04-16194826_zpsc41b5099.jpgCheesyPastaBake4 photo 2014-04-16195144_zpsdeaff155.jpgCheesyPastaBake10 photo 2014-04-16195607_zps1f38ac81.jpgPrepare the meat. Dice the bacon, slice the frankfurters and fry in a little oil/butter until crisp. Add the spices (Cajun, not salt and pepper) to the meat just before it’s done, then mix this with the cooked and cooled pasta, and put into a baking dish.

CheesyPastaBake1 photo 2014-04-16194630_zps10a5533d.jpgCheesyPastaBake7 photo 2014-04-16195500_zps8fbc19ce.jpgGrate the cheese. When you think you have grated enough, grate some more. You’ll nibble at it whilst you make the sauce!

CheesyPastaBake5 photo 2014-04-16195420_zpsaba020d3.jpgCheesyPastaBake6 photo 2014-04-16195451_zps45e102a7.jpgCheesyPastaBake8 photo 2014-04-16195555_zps79bcdda2.jpgCheesyPastaBake9 photo 2014-04-16195557_zpsd31e8b1b.jpgCheesyPastaBake11 photo 2014-04-16195639_zps1a16ad73.jpgNow it’s onto the sauce. So many people shy away from make a classic white sauce in favour of the all-in-one method, but I’ve found that never tastes quite as good…Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Once it starts to foam, tip in the flour and stir continuously until golden brown. Turn the heat as low as it will go, and gradually add the milk in stages, stirring continuously. When all the milk is added season with salt and pepper, turn the heat up and stir continuously until thickened. Add the cheese and continue stirring. Then pour over the pasta/meat mixture. Use a fork to make sure all of the pasta is covered, top with some extra cheese (slices work best here) and grill for around 5-10 minutes until bubbling and slightly crispy.

CheesyPastaBake photo CheesyPastaBake_zps5b08a68c.jpgLet cool slightly, then serve up. As a small concession to the health-police – eat this with a salad. Its especially good with fridge-cold red peppers and crunchy lettuce. This is my all-time favourite, the meal I would request as my ‘last meal’ if I could.

What’s your absolute favourite meal?

 

Love Your Leftovers: One Pan Mac’n’Cheeseboard with Gammon

Its a little bit late for Christmas leftovers I know, and I had originally planned to do a couple more posts (I made and devoured a fabulous goose stew, but it just wasn’t attractive to photograph so I didn’t dare post it!), but I couldn’t resist sharing this little recipe alteration to an existing recipe with you. It’s an adaption of my One Pan Mac’n’Cheese, which of course was based on The Londoner’s fantastic post.

My experiments for this post confirmed my suspicions – you could add a variety of things to the basic recipe. Its perfectly versatile, would take pretty much any cheese, as well as work with plenty of meats. I’m thinking of doing a lighter vegetable version in the summer, so watch this space!

Also – Don’t forget to vote for me in the National UK Blog Awards 2014, in the following three categories; Food; Lifestyle; and Young Persons (18-25) 

2014-01-02 13.46.04You will need:

  • 90g of pasta
  • 1/2 a mug of vegetable stock
  • 1/4 of a mug of milk/cream (I used soya cream – you could indeed use up scraps of ordinary cream here too)
  • Slice of leftover gammon (thrifty tip – the Aldi smoked gammon joint is one of the best I’ve ever bought/eaten, and a lot cheaper than anywhere else)
  • Any leftover cheeses, around a handful or so – here I used cheddar, red leicester, and some type of blue cheese that was stinking the fridge out

Now to turn these simple ingredients into a bowl of yumminess:

As in my original recipe, add the pasta to a saucepan with the milk/cream and stock, stir, cover with a lid, and put on the lowest heat possible. Remember to stir every now and then.

Meanwhile, cube/grate your cheeses, and chop the gammon into large-ish but bitesize chunks.

2014-01-02 13.49.20

Resist giving scraps of cheese to any waiting soulful eyes.

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After about 12-15 minutes or so (as I’ve said before, keep stirring every few minutes!) your pasta should be cooked to your liking, in a thick creamy sauce.

2014-01-02 14.03.17Add your cheese and your gammon. I would add that I’d like to try adding the gammon earlier, as I reckon it’d impart more of its flavour.

2014-01-02 14.04.29Allow the cheese to melt, stirring constantly, then tip into a bowl, curl up on the sofa, and enjoy.

2014-01-02 14.07.28

How did you use your Christmas leftovers?

Recipe: One-Pan Mac’n’Cheese

I made this only two hours ago, and I’m already writing a blog post about it. That says a lot about this recipe! It was just lovely, and so, so easy. I adapted The Londoner’s recipe, making it more student friendly (because to be honest, I really can’t afford loads of different cheeses – I stick to basic cheddar and the cheapest parmesan I can find!) and less irritating to my minor dairy intolerance.

2013-12-07 18.44.57

If you want the best photos, and the actual method, do check out Rosie’s blog. I love all of her recipes, my version of her Banana Nutella muffins are a huge favourite amongst my friends, and I can’t wait to try out these.

I will add a point about the one-pan-ness. I chose to top mine with extra cheese and shove it in the oven briefly, so used an extra pan. To be honest, I wouldn’t bother with this step next time as it was cheesy enough, so it really is one-pan. I mean, just look at this fabulous (fail) photo of the stringy cheese!

2013-12-07 19.31.33

What do you need to make this cheesy goodness? My amounts make one (BIG!) serving:

  • Bacon (1 rasher – 20p)
  • Some spices – I went with a Cajun mix, which I always find works great with cheese (prince negligible)
  • 100g of pasta, any tube-type shape is good (10p)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (7p) – made up to 1/2 mug of stock
  • 1/4 mug milk/soya cream (10p)
  • 75-100g cheddar cheese (75p)
  • A sprinkling of parmesan, though I didn’t find I needed it (10p)

Total cost per serving is £1.32 – with salad you would have a great meal for under £1.50. And hardly any washing up to – win win!

Let’s get cooking!

Chop up your bacon into cubes, and fry in the pan you will be using. You want one with a lid! Once the bacon is browned, sprinkle in the spices, fry for a couple more minutes, then tip into the bowl you will be serving in, or the dish that you will grill the pasta in.

2013-12-07 19.05.37Tip your stock and milk/cream into the pan, add your pasta, stir well and cover.

2013-12-07 19.04.53Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring every few, until the pasta is cooked to your liking, and the sauce has thickened. Grate your cheese whilst this is cooking, or read some of your reading list. Or bloglovin‘…You should have something like this in your saucepan by the end:

2013-12-07 19.19.05Add your bacon back in, and stir in your cheese. If you want to grill it, keep some back.

2013-12-07 19.22.15Now eat as it is (I personally will do next time), or transfer to a grill-proof dish, and top with more cheese.

2013-12-07 19.23.10Throw under the grill while you prepare a healthy accompaniment. I went with salad, but I think some cauliflower would work well.

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Mmm salad! I was lazy and just ate my pasta out of the grilling dish. I won’t judge if you do the same!

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Curl up in front of your favourite TV-show (I’m currently weeks behind watching Masterchef, but enjoying it immensely!) and enjoy this winter warmer, knowing you’ve hardly any washing up to do. Perfect for lazy days.

Have you tried any of the Londoner’s amazing recipes?