Sunday, 27 December 2015

Cooking: baked mac and cheese

I admit it:  I think mac and cheese, and almost all its variations, is one of the best comfort foods there are in this world... So versatile, so inviting, so soothing - I can go on and on and on as to its qualities.  Still, I'm not content with just my regular mac and cheese:  I'm always on the lookout for something new that will surprise and excite me... This is the latest in my mac and cheese adventures:

Baked mac and cheese
(inspired by Verbatim)

1 tablespoon butter
600g grated cheese (I used a gratin mix)
400g pasta, cooked al dente (I used penne)
1 tsp smoked paprika
salt/pepper to taste
1 cup milk
4 tbsp panko 
100g grated mozzarella

Preheat oven at 180 degrees C fan.  Grease a baking sheet (I used a swiss-roll baking sheet - it turned out so well, with no spills) with butter.  In a pot, combine pasta with cheese and condiments.  Spread in baking sheet and start sprinkling:  milk, mozzarella, panko.  Cook until bubbly and crispy, about 15 minutes.

(btw, in this post, Karen also deals with the issue of language in the comments section, and how words and tenses evolve over time - fascinating!)

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Cooking: cheeseburger soup

When it's cold out in the world, there is nothing better than a hot, steamy soup.  Unless it's a hearty, hot, steamy soup with plenty of ingredients to provide warmth and comfort...

Cheeseburger soup
(adapted from The Recipe Critic)

500g minced meat

¾ cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup diced celery

1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley 
1 tsp smoked paprika

4 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 kg diced potatoes (I used frozen)

200g processed cheese (I used Maredsous double cream)

salt/pepper to taste

grated cheese, to taste

I start with the chicken broth, which I make with the carcass of one chicken, which I boil together with celery, carrots and peppercorns - and plenty of water.  I reckon I start with 1.5l-2l, ending up with about 1 litre of stock.  I also use the (boiled) carrots from the stock into the soup (waste not, want not...).  At the same time, I brown the minced meat.

On to the soup:  Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery in a blender so that they end up like a paste.  In a huge pot, melt a bit of butter over medium heat and slightly brown the paste so that the aroma starts working.  Add the condiments and the minced meat. Once everything is warmed up again,  slowly add the broth, making sure that the temperature is maintained at a medium.  Add the potatoes (which I take out of the freezer so that they thaw a bit) and continue steering.  Add the processed cheese, leave everything to bubble away (for about 45 minutes).  Add the milk.

I did not need to thicken the soup, which I actually prefer.  That way, I can reheat the portions I want and I just add some grated cheese on top.  Bliss...

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Elizabeth is missing, by Emma Healey

On my latest visit to my favourite book-store, Cook & Book, I stumbled upon a number of books that grabbed my attention.  One of them was this one, Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healy, primarily because of its back-cover: how would a person with Alzheimer's disease cope with the enormous task of finding a missing person?

It's the author's d├ębut novel, and I was impressed for two reasons: I was almost immediately immersed into the protagonist's world and could thus have read it in one go (but I didn't), and because I felt totally at ease wandering between the past and the present...

Maud - what a lovely little woman... She goes on living her life without a care in the world, oblivious to the fact that she's buying too many peaches, that she's making too many cups of tea.

(Helen, the daughter) won't listen, won't take me seriously...I know what she's thinking, that I've lost my marbles... but it's not true. I forget things - I know that - but I'm not mad...

There's only one worry - she can't find her best friend, Elizabeth.  And she knows Elizabeth is missing, because she keeps little notes on her, indicating when she last saw her, when she last passed by Elizabeth's house, who she talked to about Elizabeth.

Almost from the beginning, there is a sense of determination from Maud's side of things.  She's determined to prove everyone wrong about Elizabeth not missing, as she is determined to prove that there's nothing wrong with her.

And while the latter will bring her in clash with her daughter as well as Elizabeth's son, the former will trigger back memories from a crime committed when Maud was young, creating a double-layer crime plot.

Healy does a wonderful job in describing Maud's world from Maud's own perspective - there's nothing pretentious, nothing "fake" in how Maud lives her life.  She jumps from past to present, from a time when she was little and her sister Sukey disappeared and her encounter with her sister's husband Frank back to the present, when she has to move in with her daughter and her encounter with her granddaughter. One single item can trigger this constant travel back and forth and Healy writes about this effortlessly.

The description of Maud's present state of mind and the things she goes through get at some point repetitive - as would be expected in a person with Alzheimer's - but this alternation with the past crime on her sister provides a twist in the plot and saves the day... (sometimes the past is even more interesting than the present).  The book manages thus to remain compelling and enjoyable to read.

After frantically looking for Elizabeth, after moving in with her daughter and perhaps coming to terms with the lack of ability to do things on her own, the end of the story for Maud is somewhat expected - but nonetheless brings the whole story to a proper ending.  No major drama, but a nice little story to read...

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Cooking: Thanksgiving

no doubt...

I spend Thanksgiving with American friends living in Brussels.  The idea is not so much the "official" celebration, but more a friendly get-together, where we enjoy good food and drink, with a great bunch of friendly faces around us.

Given the recent events in Paris and around (including Brussels), I feel this year was indeed the year when I felt grateful for all my friends and family, both near and afar, both those I see on an everyday  basis but also the ones I see less often: I know they are there beside me, either physically or in spirit.  I'm never alone in the world.  And for that, I'm ever so grateful!

Onto the festivities:  also customary is the tradition of potluck: the burden does not have to fall all on the hosts - especially when a large group of people is gathered, every little contribution makes up for a festive table indeed!

My task for this year - a green bean casserole:

Green Bean Casserole
(adapted from ifoodreal)

800g green beans, trimmed and cut into 3cm pieces
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk

1 cup water
3 tbsp cream cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
250g thinly sliced onions (I used frozen)
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated 

3 tbsp water

Preheat oven at 180C (air).  Start with the beans:  Boil water in a huge pot, add beans, salt to taste.  Bring to boil again, then simmer for about 10 minutes.  Depending on how you like the beans, either increase or decrease time. (I like mine super cooked, hence the duration...). Drain and keep aside.

On to the topping: in a  large skillet, fry the onions over medium heat until golden (I had semi-thawed the onions in the meantime).  Set aside  in a bowl to allow them to cool down a bit.

Lastly, the sauce:  in that same skillet, over medium heat, add butter and flour and combine (like with any white sauce).  Add milk, water and cream cheese and whisk all together.  Add salt and pepper to taste and then add the green beans, stirring carefully.

Finish the topping: in the bowl with the onions, add breadcrumbs, cheese and water and mix until you get a steusel-type consistency.

In a baking dish (mine was 40*15cm), transfer the green beans and cover with the topping.  Cook for about 20 minutes. Try not to eat it all at once...



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