Ultimate Macaroni Cheese

Macaroni cheese is pure comfort on a plate. A few of my British friends were surprised when I told them that mac and cheese is also really popular in the Caribbean. It is often served as one of the side dishes at West Indian parties, and it is common to get a slice of macaroni cheese when you buy a Jamaican takeaway.

My mother-in-law was first to teach me how to make this dish, but I have adapted it over the years and this is now the most asked for dish by my toddler. The three main components of this dish are macaroni, cheese sauce and cheese topping. I boil the macaroni so that it is just a little softer than al dente. I make my cheese sauce using two types of cheese: parmesan and cheddar. I also add a little grated onion and ground black pepper to enhance the flavours even more.

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Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Serves: 4-8
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking/Baking Time: 40 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 270 g macaroni

Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 onion grated
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 200 ml milk
  • 60 g grated parmesan cheese
  • 120 g grated cheddar
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper

Topping:

  • 60 g grated cheese

METHOD

  1. Cook the macaroni. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Stir in the macaroni and cook for 15-16 minutes. Drain well.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C fan (200 °C conventional oven).
  3. Make the cheese sauce. Heat the butter in a pan. When it is melted and hot lower the heat to medium and add the flour. Mix well for two minutes.
  4. Add the milk a little at a time at first to thin out the paste and make it more liquid. Then add the remaining milk a quarter at a time stirring continuously.
  5. Add in the onion, parmesan and cheddar and mix well.
  6. Remove from the heat and stir in the macaroni.
  7. Pour into a medium sized baking tin.
  8. Top with the remaining cheddar and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the cheddar has melted and has started to golden.

NOTES

  • This can be made as a side dish.
  • It can also be served as a vegetarian main dish with a side salad and garlic bread.

Homemade Pizza

Saturday is pizza day in my household. Nothing beats freshly made pizza straight from the oven. With a crisp thin crust, tangy tomato sauce and stringy mozzarella, here’s pizza recipe to rival your favourite restaurant. Trust me, after this you’ll never want supermarket pizza again.

This recipe is simple, but requires a bit of forward planning in terms of leavening the dough. I normally make the dough in the morning and leave it to rise for at least two hours. The longer you leave it the bubblier and lighter the base will be. The sauce in this recipe is enough to cover 4 pizza bases, but I normally freeze half of it in a plastic food storage container, for the next pizza day. I simply take it out of the freezer and place it in the fridge the night before to defrost.

For a more authentic restaurant style pizza dust the base of the baking tray with a thin layer of semolina. This gives a base an extra crunch and also stops it from sticking to the tray. If you don’t have semolina, you can just dust the tray lightly with bread flour.

When it comes to forming the base never use a rolling pin as this removes that lovely bubbliness that forms due to the yeast which is what makes that nice light base. Instead, use your hands to gently stretch the dough out. Once the base starts to thin you can place it on the floured/semolina sprinkled baking tray and continue to stretch the edges out.


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Homemade Pizza Recipe


Serves: 4

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Leavening Time: 2-5 hours

Cooking Time: 32-35 minutes

INGREDIENTS

Pizza base (makes 2 pizza bases roughly 30cm in diameter):

  • 300 g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus extra 1 tsp for oiling the bowl)
  • 180 ml water (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp course semolina

Pizza sauce (enough sauce to cover 4 pizza bases):

  • 1 tbsp light olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Topping (enough for two pizza bases):

  • 250 g grated mozzarella cheese
  • your choice of toppings (see notes below for my family favourites)
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • cracked black pepper

METHOD

  1. To make the bases, start by placing the flour in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Make a well in the flour and add the yeast and the salt, followed by the olive oil.
  3. Slowly pour in the water, whilst mixing with one hand. A firm dough should be formed which leaves your fingers and the sides of the bowl clean-ish, but it should have a slight tackiness to it. If you feel the dough is too dry then add a little more water. Likewise if the dough is too sticky add a little more flour.
  4. Knead the dough for around 2 minutes.
  5. Remove the dough from the bowl and pour in around half a tsp of olive oil. Use a pastry brush to spread the oil so that the bowl is nicely oiled. Don’t worry if there are little remnants of dough left on the bowl, just oil over these.
  6.  Place the dough back in the bowl. Pour a tad more oil on top of the dough, and spread with the brush.
  7. Cover the bowl with cling film and then a tea towel and leave the dough to rise in a warm location for 2-5 hours.
  8. In the meantime make the pizza sauce. Heat one tablespoon of light olive oil in a deep frying pan. Finely chop the onion and fry in the oil for 5 minutes until the onions are soft. Crush the garlic and add it to the pan. Continue to fry for another 2 minutes.
  9. Stir in the chopped tomatoes.
  10. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.
  11. Pour the tomato sauce back into the pan and add the basil, salt and black pepper.
  12. Simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes.
  13.  Around 20-30 minutes before you are ready to cook the pizza preheat your oven to 220°C fan or 240°C conventional.
  14. Prepare two baking sheets by lightly sprinkling course semolina on both of them.
  15. Once the dough has risen remove the towel and cling film. Use a sharp kitchen knife to cut the dough in half.
  16. Remove one half of the dough from the bowl and, starting from a rough ball shape, stretch the dough with both hands. You can rotate the dough and use gravity to help you. The base should be thinnest at the centre and thicker at the edges to form a nice crust.
  17.  Place the base onto the baking sheet. You can continue to stretch the dough out on the baking sheet if the centre of the base has become too thin and delicate.
  18. Take a quarter of the sauce and spread it on the base using the back of a spoon.
  19. Sprinkle half the mozzarella on the base.
  20. Spread your pizza toppings over the mozzarella.
  21. Drizzle the pizza with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.
  22. Place the tray on the top shelf of the oven for 12-15 minutes.
  23. Repeat steps 16 to 22 for the remaining half of the dough.

NOTES

  • Preheating the oven for at least 20 minutes should ensure that the oven is hot enough to produce a crispy base.
  • Sprinkling the baking tray with semolina will stop the pizza base from sticking without leaving a floury taste.
  • You can freeze the remaining sauce for the next time you make pizza. Simply defrost in the fridge overnight. Or, you could stir the sauce to cooked pasta and add a sprinkling of cheese for another simple mid week meal.
  • My family’s favourite pizza toppings:
    • thick cut ham (especially from the deli counter)
    • pepperoni
    • tuna, red onion, olives and sweetcorn
    • sweet pepper and fresh cherry tomatoes
    • sliced smoked pork sausage
  • If you love spice then try adding a sprinkling of chilli flakes after taking the pizza out of the oven.