The ultimate autumn comfort food: really easy macaroni cheese express

Macaroni cheese is the ultimate comfort food, but I’m never in the right frame of mind to make it. This unconventional method is the answer – the pasta cooks in the milk, eliminating time and dirty pots. What’s not to love about that?

Once you’ve tried this method, you won’t look back. It’s best made with blue top or whole milk; but if you want to use trim, use 3 ½ cups of milk and omit the water. If you don’t drink cow’s milk, try this with goat milk. If you’re in Wellington, look out for Brooklyn Creamery goat milk, which comes from a farm up behind the wind turbine (I know, who knew?) It’s gorgeous milk, hyper-local and very fresh.

  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 220g dried small pasta (like elbows, macaroni or small penne)
  • A good grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 packed cups baby spinach
  • 1 ½ packed cups grated tasty cheese
  • 2 slices stale bread, crumbled or grated

Set the grill to medium-high and grease an ovenproof gratin dish (about 20 cm x 30 cm).

Put the milk, water, bay leaf, pasta and nutmeg in a large pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes until the pasta is al dente. It will seem at the start that the sauce will never thicken, but keep stirring, I promise it will happen all of a sudden.

Remove from the heat and add the mustard, baby spinach and most of the grated cheese. Stir well to combine and tip into the prepared dish. Scatter the grated bread and the rest of the cheese over the top.

Put the dish under the grill and cook for 5-10 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately. Serves 3-4.

How to make fridge pickles

If you’re an organised person, you’ve probably spent the last month pickling and bottling your summer harvest. (If reports of queues outside New Zealand supermarkets were anything to go by yesterday, then you probably spent yesterday panic-buying hand sanitiser and disinfectant.) Not me, on either count. As in most parts of my life, I’m the cricket who sang all summer and then realised they should have been storing stuff away for winter. I mean, you should see my Kiwisaver.

The good news is that you can have your fun – and your pickles – without all the hassle you might think is involved in such a task. Once you learn how to make fridge pickles, you’ll be every bit as smug as one of those people who does everything in advance.

How to make fridge pickles

To make a basic cold pickle brine, use a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar, plus salt, sugar and flavourings (whole spices, garlic, chillies) to taste. Use your favourite kind of vinegar – I think white wine vinegar from the under counter wine cooler or apple cider vinegar are best. Here’s a sample pickling brew to give you an idea:

  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture is hot and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the spices/flavourings of your choice – about 1 tsp whole seeds to a cup of brine. Taste it to make sure you like the flavour – adjust the salt and sugar accordingly.
Pack whatever washed (and/or peeled) vegetables you want to pickle in a sterilised jar (cleanliness is even better than godliness when it comes to pickling – wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and heat in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Soak lids in boiling water for 10 minutes, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel). I recommend the following, either separately or in a mixture:

  • Carrots – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Cucumbers – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Chillies – keep them whole
  • Radishes – slice them into discs or batons
  • Zucchini –  slice them into discs or batons

Make sure the vegetables take up all the room in the jar – but leave about a 2cm gap at the top. Pour over the brine to cover the vegetables, making sure there are no air bubbles (tap the jar on the bench to pop them, or poke around with a skewer). Seal tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. These pickles can be eaten after 48 hours – and you’re best to consume them within two months.

Thanks to Amber Sturtz (of Taco Addicts fame) for an excellent pickling tutorial at a recent Welly Hospo Wahine event.

Common Household Biscuits & Slices Of New Zealand

Are you a ‘lickalda jamoffit’ kind of person? Or do you prefer a ‘picquanacium fuchsia’ to brighten up your morning tea break? Either way, I wager that you’ll be delighted by the new tea towel and poster edition of Common Household Biscuits & Slices of New Zealand.

This brilliant concept, which mixes scientific accuracy with subversive humour, caused quite a storm in a biscuit jar when it was first released as part of the beautiful children’s compendium, Annual 2, in 2017. Biscuit eaters across the nation (and from further afield) were gratified and grumpy in equal parts when they discovered that some of their most detested biscuits and slices had made the cut while their favourites had missed out.

For me, the icing on the, err, biscuits and slices is the Latin names found under each one. Illustrator Giselle Clarkson has used her Latin knowledge to come up with names like ‘Lestwee forgetum’ (the noble Anzac biscuit), ‘Custurdis betwixtus’ (the melting moment) and ‘Disappointus minora’ (the much-maligned sultana pasty).

You might not have done enough for a chocolatum rotunda, but you definitely deserve one of these tea towels or posters. And just think what good presents they’ll make…

The Common Household Biscuits & Slices of New Zealand tea towel and poster are available here.

SALTED CARAMEL CHOCOLATE COOKIES

Some people see the end of the financial year as a time to reflect upon their achievements and set their goals for the next six months. I’m not one of them.

It’s not that I’ve been sitting around doing nothing (so far this year I’ve made a book, written a lot of stories, held down a day job and managed to maintain most of my obligations to society), but it’s gone by so fast that I’ve barely had time to blink, let alone plan.

However, there is something I’ve been doing that I have every intention of continuing and that’s eating chocolate in large amounts (especially late at night while doing all the things listed previously). Reader, I have become seriously addicted to Whittaker’s Dark Salted Caramel Chocolate. Seriously addicted. I have to forcibly stop buying the stuff because once the packet is in my hand I come over all Augustus Gloop-ish and can think of nothing else but ripping open the golden packet and shovelling it in. This chocolate, which the Whittaker’s Oompa Loompas spent THREE YEARS perfecting, came out in May and I reckon we’ve probably averaged a bar a week ever since. I felt a bit ashamed of this statistic at first but now I’m owning it proudly. If you’re going to comfort-eat, you may as well do it with the good stuff, right?

In between eating it out of the packet I’ve been experimenting with using this chocolate in baking (beyond chopping it up and sprinkling it over French toast). This recipe is the result.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cookies

If you can’t get Whittaker’s (another reason to love living in New Zealand at the moment), try these with another caramel-filled chocolate. If you like cookies to be thinner and crisper, reduce the amount of flour a tiny bit (say, by a couple of tablespoons). They’re good either way!

125g softened butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 Tbsp golden syrup

1 small (size 6) egg

1 3/4 cups self-raising flour

18 squares Whittaker’s Dark Salted Caramel Chocolate (or alternative)

Heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease or line two baking trays.

Cream the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy. Add the golden syrup and egg and beat again until well combined. Sift in the flour and stir to mix. Take generous tablespoons of the mixture and stick a square of chocolate in the middle of each one. Roll into a ball (to enclose the chocolate) and place on the prepared tray. Repeat until all the mixture is used up. Leave lots of space between them as they will spread while cooking. Press each ball lightly with a floured fork and sprinkle with flaky sea salt before putting the trays in the preheated oven.

Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight tin.

 

Burger Wellington – the book

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!