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?

 

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#9)

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I’m heading home this weekend (well to my hometown, but admittedly most of the weekend will be spend at my boyfriend’s and not my home!) so I don’t have many meals to plan, and I also haven’t been shopping this week. This meal plan is full of meals made up from store cupboard bits and pieces, and whatever I have left! Its also likely to change, as I’m sure some ingredients will start to get past their best so I’ll move things around to avoid waste. Anyway…

Wednesday – Steak Pie, Mash & Veg

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Bit of a comfort meal this one! I really love a good shop-bought steak pie, but I’m quite limited to the ones I can eat as a lot include tomato paste, so I’m looking forward to trying this.

Thursday – Thai Green Vegetable Curry

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This is just an excuse to play with a new toy – a much awaited Julienne peeler!

Friday – Leftover Curry/Soup

I’m not getting the train til relatively late, but I’ll still only have about 30 minutes to change and eat, so I watered down the leftovers from Thursday with stock, and ate with a Naan bread.

Saturday – Mum’s Meatballs, Spaghetti & Garlic Bread

Sunday – Beef Stew

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I put in a request for this at home, and am really looking forward to it. Yes I can make my own, but its nowhere near as good as mums!

Monday – Lentil Curry

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I experimented with a load of vegetables and curry – recipe to come soon. It  did NOT look good though!

Tuesday – Tomato-Free Beany Chilli

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A quick dinner from the freezer – a made-from-scratch tomato-free slow-cooker chilli, which I’ll serve with tortilla chips!

Do you make adjustable meal plans to avoid waste?

Ready Meal Review: Sainsbury’s Chicken & Bacon Pasta Bake

 

 

It’s pretty common knowledge that I’m not a fan of ready meals. Definitely not to live on by any means – I just don’t think they are particularly nutritious, and I also think they are a ridiculous waste of money. That said they do have their place. There are (very rare!) occasions where you don’t have any food in the house, don’t want a takeaway, and just want the comfort of something warm and stodgy. On those occasions I do see the point of ready meals. As long as they are good. To that end, I’m going to add very occasional reviews of any ready meals I eat to this blog. They will be rare because I probably eat one a term if that. But if I can’t persuade you to steer away from them all together, I can recommend ones that aren’t too offensive. And offer tips to make them better.

2014-01-08 19.16.49First up is this offering from Sainsbury’s – Chicken & Bacon Pasta Bake. Not that there was much of a ‘bake’ element with it…

I decided to buy a ready meal on this occasion because I headed back to university in the middle of my Christmas holidays for one night only. We’d also suffered a power cut in the “Storms of 2013” and so I couldn’t rely on any of my ready-frozen meals being safe, so my boyfriend and I opted for a ready meal. We bought two of these pasta dishes (at £2 each, I KNOW I could make something for the same price, if not less, that tastes far better!) along with a garlic bread and a salad. Cheaper than a takeaway, but definitely not inexpensive.

The instructions (we used the oven) were to cook for 15 minutes (lid on, but pierced), then take the lid off, stir and cook uncovered for a further 15 minutes.

The stirring part was when I encountered the first problem. It didn’t actually taste of anything except whatever herb that was in there! I panicked ever so slightly and turned to the spice rack;

2014-01-08 19.14.08I stirred in hell of a lot of black pepper, a good lot of garlic powder, and a little onion powder. This lifted the dish right up, but I’ve got to be honest, it still wasn’t great.

After it had finished cooking (including at extra 10 minutes at a higher temperature) it looked like this;

2014-01-08 19.16.32Definitely not what was advertised on the packets…where’s my crispy ‘baked’ top?! I’ve got to be really honest, I reckon this dish cried out for a cheesy topping. If I’d had some, I would have definitely added some!

Having said all that, adding all the additions definitely helped, and along with the salad and garlic bread it certainly made for a comforting dinner in front of a DVD. Would I have it again? Possibly if I was absolutely stuck. Would I rush out and get another one? No, I reckon it was overpriced for what it was, and I’d sooner try something else, just in case there’s something better. Moral of the ready meal story? Add salt, pepper, garlic and onion, and everything will taste a lot better.

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Do you have any ready-meal recommendations?

 

 

 

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.

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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!

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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?