January 28, 2009

101 ways to do Mac and cheese

Rich and creamy mac & cheese
Mac and Cheese- it would have to be one of the most talked about meals between kids on either sides of the world.  Alex was asked today by his dad what he thought would be his first meal at school. To this he said 'noodles.....NO wait, mac & cheese' and he just so happens to be right. I have a feeling he won't be getting the mac and cheese he is use to, though I can live in hope!
 What is it about Mac&cheese that sends kids to grin like monkeys when told it is the evening meal? Is is the creamy texture, the intense flavor of cheeses or the fact that it is comfort food?

 I was never brought up on mac&cheese, in fact I can't remember having it until we moved to the States over 6 years ago. Just like so many other parents all over the Western world, I have made my fair share of mac&cheese and will continue to do so seeing as it is so versatile, delicious and FAST! I have different stages of mac&cheese I make for us as a family.

1. Quick as you can- This is our favorite for the weekend lunch when we have been out all morning and are starving by the time we get home. 
While the water is boiling I grate 1 part aged cheddar cheese and 1 part parmesan. While the pasta is cooking, I chop up any herbs lying around like parsley and have it on the ready with the cheeses. Once the pasta is cooked I strain the water, add a dollop of butter to the cooked pasta along with a splash of cold milk then pour in the cheeses and herb. Give it all a good stir, check for seasoning then serve and watch it disappear.

2. Rich and creamy- This is one of my favorites. I will also add extra sauce to this and turn it into a mac and cheese bake if I need to make dinner a day ahead. 
While the water is coming to a boil, make a basic white sauce (you can find these in just about any cook book), I use regular milk no cream. I cook some fine diced onion and garlic in with the butter then continue to follow the recipe. Once the white sauce is made, remove it from the heat. When the water is boiling cook the pasta and chop up the veggies that you will add to the water 5 minutes before you strain the pasta. (Veggies I usually add are corn, carrot, beans, peas, grated zucchini and roasted squash. The squash and zucchini get added to the white sauce NOT the pasta water).
Now with the white sauce add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a good handful of grated cheeses (mozzarella, parmesan, asaigo, tasty cheddar etc) a mixture or one kind, what ever you have available. Stir the sauce well to combine- while the sauce is warm add an egg yolk for the richness and a good source of iron. You can leave it as is and add your sauce to the strained pasta noodles or add a can of tuna/salmon to the dish and really turn it up a bit.

When I turn it into a bake I sometimes add a little extra cold milk to the dish, depending on how wet the mix is. I then butter a oven proof dish, pour in my mix, sprinkle the top with bread crumbs, extra cheese and pop it in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes (if pasta is still warm) or 40 minutes if you are putting it in cold from the fridge.

3. Naughty but nice- With a name like that you know I go to town with the cream in this one! We don't often have it but when we do I go all the way and chop up bacon as well. Once the bacon has cooked I add crushed garlic (the kids don't mind if I only put in one clove) and cracked pepper, followed with a very good pour of thickened cream. Bring it to the boil then reduce heat until your sauce thickens a little. Remove from the heat, add your grated cheese and fold through pasta. Again I will toss beans or peas into the pasta water with this one, the color looks great and you need to have a bit of vegetable if it is a main meal. Once I have served the kids I tear up fresh basil leaves for Nic and I and sometimes chop up cherry tomatoes to fold through. A really yummy meal where nothing is ever left on the plate!

Although I have only stated three ways to cook mac and cheese, there are 100's of different flavour combinations you can use to change it around. So the next time Jake or Sienna ask for mac and cheese, why not show them another way to eat it.

Readers of Family of foodies

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I'm just going to make myself a quite bit to eat and then come back to blog about one of the boys favorite meals- 101 ways with mac and cheese........

January 24, 2009

Australia Day weekend

It is that time of year again when we get out the eskies (coolers), load them up with sausages, marinated meats and beer then head off down the coast for a camping expedition. We have been lucky enough to tag along on Claire & Johnny's regular camping extravaganza!  We were told to bring a tent, chairs, loads of food and beer and the rest will be looked after (considering we have a lot of C&J's camping gear as our daily kitchen equipment I thought we got off lightly).

  I have to admit I want a stress free weekend and because it has been so hot today I didn't want to do much cooking, the size of my chopping board doesn't get me into a creative fluffy either!
 I found a great butcher shop, (my American friends- I have to tell you it is just like the good old days where you can still shop at stand alone fruit/veggie and local butcher stores- love it!) anyway our 'local' had a great array of snags (sausages that are NOT pre-cooked) and I opted for the lamb and mint ones and then a good amount of chicken thighs to marinate so all I have to do is whip up a salad and cook the meat- just as I remember mum doing when I was a kid.

All this talk of no cooking isn't quite true- I did decide to make some pasties for the trip down. You really can't go wrong with a pastie. You have your vegetables (on this occasion I threw in 2 potatoes, 1/3 cup squash, 1 lge stick celery, 1 medium carrot and 1 medium onion- all veggies diced small) mixed with ground beef, finished with some fresh herbs (parsley & basil) and then an egg and salt & pepper to tie it all together. Once you have the mix, get you hands in there and give it a good mixing before you pop a handful of the mix onto puff pastry sheets you cut out with a small saucepan. Wrap it all up together, just like a massive won ton or 'pop over' then cook them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 odd minutes. As you can see from the finished result above, a delicious lunch that is pre-made and all-in-one. The kids throw these down like candy, little do they realize I always put more vegetables in than meat. With this batch I made 10 pasties from about just under a pound of ground beef.
So if your not in the sun having fun- sorry about that or if you have an hour to spare in the kitchen, whip up a batch and throw the leftovers ones in the freezer for another time. They are well worth the effort!

January 23, 2009

Limited pots and pans

The sun is shining, kookaburras laughing and cicadas humming outside. Seriously, I haven't seen this much Aussie wildlife around since I was a kid living in Darwin! 
West Ryde has a lot of bush areas and plenty of wildlife thriving much to our delight.
 One aspect of Sydney living that I am not to fond of however is the large presence of electric cooking ranges. We tried to get a house with gas but they were few and far between so I am now trying to wrap my head around electric....I am sure there are 'fans' out there but I am not one of them. 
  Here we are in our house with a big back yard (boys totally ecstatic about that!), electric cooking and our friends camping gear to survive on until god knows when. I have to start coming up with meals that are versatile, yummy and limited to a large fry pan and medium sized pot. Pasta is always a favorite in our family as is a good stir fry, (something I am trying to perfect on an electric top) but the other night I was in the mood for something a little more Mediterranean. There was some leftover rice in the fridge sitting right next a jar of olives and I thought I could make something starting with those ingredients.
 Because the rice was already cooked the whole meal only took about 30 minutes and really only about ten minutes of 'work' time, the rest was the simmering time. If you don't have pre-cooked rice you can use couscous, or cook some more rice and fold it through just before you serve the dish or keep it on side if you prefer it all separate.

Before I begin, I make sure all my ingredients are cut and ready to go. This speeds up the cooking process. Put your piles of vegetables onto a large dinner plate and then scrape them off into the pan as you need them.

Chicken bean and olive one pan wonder
5-6 Chicken thighs cut into medium strips
1 medium onion, roughly diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup green beans cut into 1 inch pieces
1Tbsp tomato paste
1 can whole tomatoes roughly chopped (keeping about half of the liquid for cooking)
1/3 cup calamarta olives (squash slightly to release flavour)
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 cups cooked rice

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper while fry pan is getting very hot, then brown off chicken strips.
2. Turn heat to medium hot and add onion, garlic and beans to chicken, saute for 3-4 minutes until onion is softened. Add tomato paste and stir through, cook for about 5 minutes.
3. Add chopped tomatoes about half the juice from the can, olives, vinegar and water. Reduce the heat to low so the pan is simmering, stirring occasionally. Once sauce thickens (about 7-8 minutes) add cooked rice to cover sauce. (this acts as a 'lid', the steam will help to heat the rice and also adds a starch to your meal).
4. After about 3-5 minutes fold the rice through your chicken and sauce. Remove from the heat, portion out the kids meal then for added flavour you can mix in chopped basil leaves or a hint of chili for the grown ups.

Max and Alex love this dish, it fills them up and they love finding the olives throughout the dish, they are like a 'bonus' treat- gotta love that!

January 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Photos as promised


 It has been a long time since I have been able to sit down at my computer to start blogging and down loading photos again. Since we packed up the house in November and jumped from one friends house to the next, life has been pretty bumpy. We had a brilliant time in the last months of our Evanston stay and have to say we are missing the hospitality and chilies America has to offer. However we are back in our native Australia and looking forward to visiting Sydney's food markets and eating/finding the best meat pies, sausage rolls while sipping on a Boags (for you non Aussies, I am happy to introduce you to James Boags when you arrive!)

 Now I have to back up a bit and show you the feasting from last November. As described to you in my last blog entry, we really did have a delicious Thanksgiving dinner and I think it only fair to show you the delicious feast.
It is with pleasure to tell you I will be back tomorrow with a blog about one pan meals considering we are still waiting for our things to arrive from the States...last heard they were floating around the Pacific, lets just hope it is on the back of a ship! It is fantastic to be back and I look forward in blending cultures with food and antics in 2009.