Experimental Sundays: the most indulgent macaroni cheese

Macaroni cheese with salad

It’s a new year and I have a few food-related new years resolutions. The ultimate outcome of all these resolutions is that I eat more, but hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

One of these ties in with wanting to cook more. I love being in the kitchen but don’t make time to cook as much as I’d like. This year I’m starting Experimental Sundays. It will be the one day of the week that I will try making something completely new to me, from scratch. On the shortlist I already have pasta, jam, a tarte Tatin, sausages, and beef rendang.

To ease myself into the year slowly, I made an easy but very rich and indulgent macaroni cheese. Mac and cheese is one of those things that might be a staple for some people, particularly if it’s the quick stuff out of a box. However, it’s one of those things that has never really appealed to me, despite my adoration of both pasta and cheese. It just always seemed a bit…simple.

So I thought I’d try making and eating it, combined into the one first time occasion. Be warned that this recipe is super rich, so go easy on it!

Macaroni cheese
Adapted from a recipe from Australian Good Taste magazine
Serves 6

280g (2 cups) dried straight macaroni
150g speck, diced, or prosciutto if preferred
60mls (1/4 cup) olive oil
2 large brown onions, finely chopped
2 tsp caster sugar
60g (3 tbs) butter
50g (1/3 cup) plain flour
625mls (2 1/2 cups) milk
300ml thickened cream
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt & ground white pepper, to taste
2 cups grated vintage cheddar
¼ cup grated parmesan
50g (1 cup) fresh breadcrumbs

Step 1
Cook macaroni in a large saucepan of salted boiling water, following packet directions, until al dente. Drain and set aside. It’s better to undercook the pasta since it will continue cooking in the oven.

Step 2
Over a medium heat, add 2 tbs of the olive oil to the frying pan along with the onions and sugar. Cook for a minute while stirring. Add the speck and cook until onions are soft and speck is golden. Remove and set aside.

speck and grated cheese

Step 3
Preheat oven to 200°C. Combine the milk and cream in a jug.

Step 4
Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes or until melted and foaming. Add the flour and stir with a whisk for 1 minute or until the mixture bubbles. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add 125mls (1/2 cup) of the milk mixture at a time, whisking constantly between additions to prevent lumps from forming.

Step 5
Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce comes to the boil and thickens. Remove from the heat, add the mustard and cheeses and stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese melts. Season to taste with salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Add the drained macaroni, speck and onions and stir to combine.

Step 6
Combine the breadcrumbs, parsley and remaining olive oil in a medium bowl.

Step 7
Spoon macaroni mixture into baking dish. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Place on a baking tray and bake in oven for 20 minutes or until the top is golden and edges are bubbling.

Macaroni cheese before and after baking

Buon appetito!

Baking bread

As part of my new year foodie resolutions, I decided that this was the year to try making a few new things from scratch.  One of those things would be bread.

I absolutely love bread.  It’s definitely in my top 3 favourite starchy carbohydrates behind noodles and rice.  I’ve thought about making bread for a while, since I absolutely adore the smell of fresh bread.  I’ve seen bread maker machines before and thought it was a bit of a cheat’s shortcut, but going straight to the other end of the spectrum and making my own starter culture was a bit too advanced for me right now.

A good middle ground, I thought, was to try one of the bread mixes from the supermarket.  I bought a box of Laucke Multigrain Soy & Linseed bread mix, which makes 4 loaves.  I don’t normally follow recipes well, since it tends to stress me out when I have to follow things to the letter and I much prefer to just use recipes as a “guide”. However I figure with baking that it’s a pretty precise exercise since it can mean the difference between a perfectly risen loaf and something that resembles a bread-shaped brick.

I put all the ingredients in the mixer as directed, watched as it was worked around a lot, and was fascinated when after leaving the dough to rest, it ballooned in size.

bread dough in mixerbread dough in tinbaking bread in ovenThe result was a slightly lopsided loaf, but still deliciously crusty on the outside and dense yet soft on the inside.  I cut big chunky slices while it was still warm and ate it with loads of butter.  It was so tasty that the buttery slices were gone before I could even take a photo!

loaf of freshly baked bread

freshly baked breadSo I think I can safely say that this first time baking bread was a success!! I still have three more loaves in the box to bake, at which time I think it will be time to stretch the skills some more!