Sunday, 7 December 2014

Gramma's Calico Macaroni and Cheese

1 500g (18 oz.) bag/box of macaroni
454g (16 oz.) grated Galtee (Velveeta) processed cheese
530ml (18 oz.) full fat milk
112 g (4 oz. or 1 stick) of real butter – split into 2 roughly equal portions
¼ cup of flour
¼ of a green bell pepper – diced
¼ of a red bell pepper – diced
½ an onion – diced
3 heaped Tbsp. of diced pimento (In Ireland, you can find these in large jars in Polish shops or the Polish aisle of Tesco.  They come as whole roasted and pickled red peppers and you have to dice them yourself.)
Dash of salt
Dash of black pepper
Dash of nutmeg
Handful of grated medium or mild cheddar

This is a family recipe with a long history.  It was made by my grandmother and then by my mother and was requested on almost a weekly basis by at least one person in our family.  It was always something that was made for gatherings, potlucks, parties, etc.  Traditionally, ‘Calico Macaroni’ is a cold pasta salad, but this baked mac and cheese version is really special.  I’ve always loved my veggies, but the one veggie I hated as a kid was green bell peppers.  This dish however; was the only dish in which I could tolerate them and I not only tolerated them – I loved them in it!  Because it uses processed cheese (something I almost never cook with), it’s quite rich and creamy and could almost be too much, but that’s where the magic of the peppers and onions come in.  They lift it and give it that special sautéed veg flavour that cuts through the richness.  I’ve never had any other mac and cheese like it and it’s a taste that evokes so many childhood memories.  It’s certainly not for anyone on a low fat diet, as it uses real butter, whole milk and both processed and cheddar cheese.  We use it as a side dish to chicken or fish, but it tastes so good, it’s a challenge not to eat more and more of it!  It ends up being the star of the meal. It’s also perfect if you have a toddler or child that’s finicky about eating vegetables.  If they love mac and cheese, they’ll love this.  The diced peppers, onions and pimentos also give it a pretty festive look on the plate.  I used to always think of it as ‘Christmas Macaroni.’


Pre-cook your macaroni, drain, rinse and set aside.  If you are doing it hours in advance, you may want to toss it in just a teaspoon or so of olive oil or grapeseed oil to keep it from starching up and clumping.  Start by using half of your butter in a large saucepan to cook your diced onions and peppers.  Cook on a medium heat until they are fully softened.  Add a dash of salt and pepper (you can always add more when you taste the finished sauce) and then add the other half of the butter and melt.  When fully melted, add the ¼ cup of flour to the butter and diced veg mixture and whisk for a minute or so to cook out the flour taste and thicken to the beginning of a roux.  To this, add the milk and stir for a few minutes to thicken slightly.  Add all of the grated processed cheese and stir until smooth.  If you feel it is too thick, you can always add another splash of milk at this point and stir again.  When the sauce is smooth and well mixed, add the pinch of nutmeg and the diced pimento and stir again.  Taste at this point to see if it needs any more salt or pepper.  Processed cheese is already quite salty, so it really doesn’t need more than a tiny dash.  Pour the sauce over your cooked macaroni in a large casserole dish and stir around until well coated.  Top with a small handful of grated mild or medium cheddar and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes on 180C (350 F).  If you find that the top is getting browner than you like, you can cover it with foil about 10 minutes before the end of cooking time.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Three Berry Pie

4 & 1/2 cups berries (even amounts blackberries, blueberries and sliced strawberries)
4 or 5 additional fresh strawberries for slicing on top
3/4 cup unrefined golden cane sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 ready rolled pie crusts (I use Jus-Rol)
several knobs of butter
milk for brushing
more sugar to sprinkle on crust

This is my off the cuff method for making a quick 3 berry pie.  It was created when my son and his friends picked wild blackberries and wanted me to make a pie, but there simply weren't enough berries to fill the pie.  I threw in some store-bought blueberries and strawberries that I'd washed and had in the freezer and used some fresh strawberries from my fridge on top.  I just used some basic fruit pie methods and ended up with this.  Apologies for the photos.  I've never been known for the aesthetic beauty of my pies and making food look pretty is not my forte, but I promise they do taste good!  If you had the time and didn't have 4 kids helping you in a tiny kitchen, you could of course make a from scratch crust to make it even fresher.  I also like to make Chantilly cream (whipped cream with vanilla and sugar added) to serve with my pies.

Take the ready rolled crusts and roll them both out a little more to allow for use in a 10 inch pie dish. Make sure that you make ventilation holes in the one that you want to use as a top crust.  You can do this in whatever shape you like and 3 or 4 holes should be enough.  I often use a small cookie cutter or apple corer to make the holes - anything with a pretty shape.  Line the dish with the first crust and make sure you have a little excess hanging over the edges to help seal it to the top crust.  Mix all of the berries (except the 4 or 5 strawberries) with the 1/2 cup of flour, the 3/4 cup of sugar, the cinnamon and the nutmeg.  Pour this filling into the bottom crust.  Slice 4 to 5 fresh strawberries and place on top of the filling.  On top of this, place several knobs of butter dotted around evenly.  Next, place the top crust on.  Pinch around the edges to join the overlapping bottom crust with the top crust.  When this is done, press around the edges with the back side of a fork to neaten it up and give it a better look and texture.  Brush the top with a little milk and sprinkle with a small amount of sugar.  Place into a 220 C (430F) oven for 15 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 190C (375F) and bake for a further 40 minutes or until it is golden brown, looks well cooked and the filling is bubbling out of the vents.
Serve hot with cold Chantilly whipped cream on top and enjoy!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Quick and Easy Slow Cooker Meatball Soup

Half a large bag of frozen Lidl or IKEA Swedish meatballs (about 30 meatballs)
Riso or Orzo pasta (I use De Cecco Riso or Tesco Orzo, but you could also use rice if you prefer.)
a 400g Jar or carton of good Italian passata (I use Mutti)
a half-sized tin (227g) of chopped Italian tomatoes
1 tin of Italian Borlotti beans with their juice (pinto beans can be used to substitute)
1 pint of water
1 Knorr rich beef gel stockpot (made into 1 full pint of stock)
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 large clove or 2 small cloves of garlic (pressed)
pink salt to taste
A large slow cooker (crockpot)
Cooking time:  3 hours

I came up with this recipe because I was sick with a sinus infection and had been laid up and unable to cook for a couple of days.  I didn't fancy any quick processed-type foods, but wanted something wholesome without having to stand in the kitchen for a long period.  This took me 8 minutes to throw together off the cuff, using things I almost always have in my press.  It turned out even nicer than anticipated and my son and husband were absolutely mad about it.  We served this with toasted bagels and tend to eat smaller portions than many people we know, but we found that this amount will feed the 3 of us for 2 nights, so you could certainly feed a family of 4 or 5 with it.  Just throw everything in, walk away and relax until it's cooked.  It's great for a wet and blustery evening or a day when you're not feeling well but want something good to eat.  It's so thick and filling - almost like having a bowl of chilli, but with lovely Italian flavours.

Put a small amount of grapeseed or olive oil into a pan and toss the meatballs in it on a medium heat for about 4 minutes, before turning over and cooking for a further 4 minutes.  This is simply to seal them off for better flavour and to prevent them turning mushy in the soup.  During the 8 minutes these are cooking, you will be able to prepare the entire rest of the dish.  Use the Knorr beef stockpot to make a full pint of stock.  Pour the stock into the slow cooker, along with an additional full pint of water, the passata, the tomatoes, the borlotti beans, the basil and oregano, the pressed garlic and a dash or two of pink salt.  Add the meatballs to the mixture, stir, set the slow cooker to high and leave for 2 hours.  After the 2 hours have passed, throw in about 165g to 170g of riso or orzo pasta and leave to cook for one more hour.  Serve with some grated cheddar on top and some bread or crackers on the side.  Enjoy!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Vegetable and Pancetta Lasagne

6 Florets of broccoli
1 small courgette (zucchini), small round courgette or half a large one
1 baby aubergine (eggplant) or half a large one
1 & 1/2 cups (12oz) of homemade pomodoro sauce or your favourite jar of pasta sauce
Approx. 175g (6oz) of grated hard mozzarella 
125g (4.5oz) cubed pancetta (or beechwood smoked bacon or Danish bacon if you can't get Pancetta)
1x 125g (4.5oz) ball of real buffalo mozzarella
Raw lasagne pasta
1 small tub (probably about 6oz) of whipped garlic & herb soft cheese (I use Crefeé from Lidl, but you could use Boursin, Garlí or whipped Philly.)
An approx. 18cm x 18cm (7inch x 7 inch) square pyrex or ceramic dish (I used the Pyrex one with the red plastic lid that you can use to seal it closed afterwards for leftovers - very handy)

I came up with this as an alternative to my usual meat lasagne when I found some lovely round and yellow courgettes in season a couple of years ago.  Since then, I haven't seen the yellow courgettes again, but have continued to make this with whatever type I can find - I use round ones, baby ones or just ordinary ones.  My 8 year old son absolutely loves this and loves helping to make it.  He insisted that I put it on my blog.  In fact, we love it so much that we make it more often than we make a meat one.  This will feed about 4 people when served with a nice side salad.

First wash the veg and set aside.  Place the cubed pancetta on a medium heat in a large non-stick pan and get to work on the veg. The broccoli florets can be roughly chopped into bite-sized chunks with only a small bit of stem included.  The courgette and aubergine should be diced into small cubes. When all the veg is chopped, add it to the pancetta, which will be mostly cooked by now.  Toss the whole lot around for a few minutes just to soften.  Add the tomato sauce and allow to simmer for a few minutes to marry the flavours and soften further.  Turn off the heat and set the veg, sauce and pancetta mixture aside.  Chop the buffalo mozzarella into small rough chunks and set aside.  Begin layering up:  start with a layer of the veg, pancetta and sauce mixture on the bottom of the dish.  Put a couple of pieces of raw lasagne on top of this (In this size dish, it usually only takes 2 pieces to cover each layer and they don't need to be pre-cooked as the liquid in the layers will cook them in the designated time).  Spread some of the soft garlic and herb cheese in a nice thick layer on top of the lasagne, add another layer of veg mixture and then top with grated hard mozzarella.  Repeat the process again and then a third time, finishing that third layer off with chunks of buffalo mozzarella as well as a handful grated hard mozzarella.  (Remember - no pasta goes on top of the final layer.) 
Next, put the lasagne uncovered in a preheated oven at around 200C (just over 390F) for about 35 to 40  minutes until the cheese is brown and bubbly and the pasta appears soft.  Serve with a side salad and enjoy!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Po'Boys - Ginger Style!


1600g (3.5 lbs.) pork loin roast or pork loin steak in 2 or 3 large pieces

½ a large onion – diced

1 large clove of garlic - pressed

1 cup ketchup

1/3 cup soft packed light brown sugar

¼ cup vinegar

2 heaped Tbsp. HP Classic Woodsmoke Barbecue sauce (or similar smokey bbq)

2 Tbsp. molasses

2 Tbsp. water

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce

1.5 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1.5 tsp. pink salt

1 tsp. French’s yellow mustard (or similar American style yellow hotdog mustard)

½ tsp. cracked black pepper

¼ tsp. ground cumin

¼ tsp. celery salt

7-8 shakes of Tabasco sauce or ½ tsp. of mild to medium chilli powder
A large slow cooker (crockpot)

I’ve always blagged my way through pulled pork.  I’ve never followed a recipe and have generally just thrown the meat in the slow cooker and thrown in some water, Worcestershire, barbecue sauce and maybe a few spices.  I’ve always kept it simple and it’s lovely – very popular in our house.  This time I wanted to make some pulled pork with a little more punch and zing, as mine was good, but I always felt it could do with just a tad more flavour.  I pulled out an old slow cooker barbecue beef recipe that I’ve had for years from one of my favourite Southern cookery magazines, but have never really looked at.  I used some of the same ingredients and ideas (the molasses being a major one that I kept the same), but as is usual with me and recipes, I left out a few ingredients that I didn’t have or didn’t want to use, added several more that I thought would be nice, changed the amounts on almost everything and used pork instead of beef.  By the time I was finished, I’d made so many changes that I’d made it my own and come up with a recipe to suit my family’s tastes.  This is a large amount and should make enough for a family of 3 or 4 to eat for a couple of nights and then freeze the rest for another couple of nights further down the road.  Here’s how I did it – enjoy!


Place the pork cuts whole into the slow cooker, throwing in a couple of tablespoons of water underneath to start the juices and prevent sticking.  Dice a whole small onion or half of a large onion and throw in with the meat.  In a medium bowl, mix all of the other ingredients well and then pour the mixture over the meat, making sure to spread it around so that the meat is fully covered all around.  Set the slow cooker to high and cook for anywhere from 7 to 8 hours total.  You will need to remove the meat an hour or 2 before cooking time finishes and shred it on a large plate with two forks.  If there are any thick layers of fat on the meat, they should come away easily with the forks after a few hours in the slow cooker.  Once shredded, place it back in the slow cooker and cook on low for the last hour or 2.  Serve in baguettes or split buns, soft rolls, etc. with pickles and crisps or some potato salad, fries or corn on the cob on the side!

Just in... 
 Shredded and almost ready...

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Slow Cooker Beef Goulash

550g (19oz.) of Diced Beef or Stewing Steak
2 cans of chopped tomatoes in juice
A few Tbsp. (roughly 1/2 cup) sour cream
1/2 cup diced sweet onion
2 stalks celery
2 medium carrots
2 cloves of garlic (pressed)
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. Smoked Spanish Paprika
1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 Bay leaf
Pink salt and cracked black pepper to taste
A large slow cooker (crockpot)

*Smoked Spanish paprika is definitely the star of this dish and gives it all of the signature flavour.  For the sake bold flavour, I normally insist on using only quality Italian chopped tomatoes, even if they're more expensive.  Cheaper tinned tomatoes can be watery and lacking in flavour, but if you need to skimp and save the money by using less expensive ones, this is one dish where you may just get away with it.  Since the smoked paprika is the most important ingredient, the exact type of tomatoes isn't as important, as long as they taste like tomatoes.  Ordinary sweet paprika doesn't give it the right punch, so be sure to use the good smoked stuff.  Schwartz makes one in addition to their normal paprika.  You can also get it in tins imported from Spain in farmers markets or in good fruit and veg/deli shops like 'Get Fresh.'

First, prepare your vegetables and mince the garlic cloves.  Split the celery stalks lengthwise and dice into small chunks.  Cut the carrots into small coins at the smaller end and half-coins at the larger end.  Dice the onion.  Place all the veg in the slow cooker, but not the garlic.  Next, prepare the meat.  Mix the 2 tablespoons of flour with the tablespoon of paprika and the raw minced garlic in a large bowl.  Add the meat to the bowl and mix thoroughly around by hand or with a spoon until the meat is coated.  Put the meat mixture into a non-stick pan on a medium heat and toss around for a few moments to seal the meat on all sides if possible.  Put the meat in the slow cooker with the veggies.  De-glaze the pan with a little water and scrape the juices into the slow cooker.  Next, pour in 2 cans of chopped tomatoes with juice, add a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and a few dashes of cracked black pepper and pink salt (Go light with it at this stage, as you can taste it when the meat is cooked and add more at that stage.) and a bay leaf.  Stir the mixture well and put the slow cooker on low for roughly 6 hours.  Taste towards the end to judge whether you need to add more salt and pepper.  About half an hour before the end of cooking time, remove the bay leaf, stir in sour cream and re-cover to finish cooking.  Serve over macaroni or rice.  

This amount serves 3 of us for 2 nights with some left over.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Ginger's Chili


700g (1.5 lbs.) minced beef

½ an onion - diced

1 Tbsp. Mild Chilli Powder

1 Tbsp. Ground Cumin

1 tsp. Onion Granules or Onion Salt

1 tsp. Dried Minced Garlic or 2 cloves of garlic – minced

1 tsp. Dried Oregano

½ tsp. Ground Coriander

1 x 142g (5 oz.) can of tomato puree/paste

1 can of Borlotti or Pinto Beans with juices

A few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce

A few dashes of Tabasco Sauce (original)

Several tablespoons of water
A large slow cooker (crockpot)

I’ve changed my chilli recipe many times over the years, doing it by taste and never really following a recipe.  I’ve often heard that original traditional Texas chilli doesn’t have beans in it and that beans are mainly added in the Northern part of the United States, but never in Texas.  I was born in 1972 and grew up in Texas, even living and spending time in different regions, and had chilli made by many different people and in many different restaurants, etc.  It always had beans in it, so perhaps the tradition of having it without beans is on the decline.  I like it with beans, but you can leave them out if you don’t.  People often use kidney beans, but we like the softer Borlotti or Pinto beans, which are also easier to digest.  My father’s chilli was heavy on the tomato and very very spicy, always leaving us wishing it was milder.  My grandmother’s chilli had no tomato, but lots of onion and was heavy on the Cumin – a spice I adore.  In years past, I tried to marry those two ideas and used to add canned diced tomatoes to my chilli, but between that and liking it mild, I felt it came off like a slightly spicy Bolognese with beans, so I started changing my method.  I came up with this recipe after years of experimentation.  I discovered that it tastes best out of a slow cooker and with plenty of Cumin, just a mild to medium kick of chilli, and with tomato paste, but no diced tomatoes.  I add my spices by taste and instinct, so these measurements are approximate.  Feel free to alter them to make it spicier or milder to your taste. 


Dice half an onion and put it in a large slow cooker.  Next, lightly brown the ground beef in non-stick pan for a few minutes and then put it into the slow cooker.  Keep the meat pan on a low heat and begin adding your dry spices into the pan for toasting.  Toast them for a minute or two until aromatic, stirring around with a wooden spoon.  Dump the toasted spices into the slow cooker with the meat and onions.  Then, de-glaze the pan with a couple of tablespoons of water and pour this liquid into the slow cooker.  Finally, add a few more tablespoons of water, a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and a dash of salt to the mixture and stir well.  Place the lid on the slow cooker and set to high.  After 1 hour, turn down to low and stir the mixture.  After another hour, add the tomato paste, a couple more dashes of salt, and a few tablespoons of water and stir.  Place the lid back on and wait a further hour.  Add the beans, stir and taste for spice.  At this point, add any additional spice you think it may need (I like a few dashes of Tabasco, a few more dashes of salt and a dash more of chilli powder and cumin at this stage) and leave to cook for a further 2 to 2 and ½ hours.  This is minimum time – you can cook for longer if it suits your schedule.  As with most meat or stew-type mixtures in a slow cooker, it only improves with time.  If you’re going to cook it for longer, you need not turn it to high for the first hour.  **Please note that this does come out fairly mild with these amounts and types of spice.  My young son likes just a tiny bit of spice, I like a little more and my husband likes a bit more than me.  I find it's easiest to make something relatively mild and then we adults can add Tabasco to our bowl to spice it up a little.  If you prefer, you can use a medium or hot chilli powder instead of mild.

I like to serve mine with scratch-made cornbread and grated cheddar and sour cream to garnish.  It really hits the spot on a cold, wet winter night.  We also carry on my family's tradition:  we cut our cornbread in half and eat half with the chili.  After we've finished our chili, we eat the other half with butter and honey for an after-dinner treat!  My son loves this as much as I did as a child.