Comfort Food Week: Sloppy Joes

The idea for this dinner was borne out of the desire to cook a lasagne, which seems to be the only thing that I feel like I could eat when I have that ‘I don’t know what to have for dinner’ feeling. Unfortunately, though, I don’t think it’s worth making a lasagne unless you do it properly, which takes a long time and isn’t something I want to be doing when I get home from work. It’s definitely one of those things you need to cook up a big batch of on a rainy day and then freeze it for those desperate moments when only lasagne will do (there will be more on this another day). Every time I make any kind of mince-based meal though, I tend to make twice as much and freeze the rest, so I can have another dinner or two without any more effort than taking something out the freezer and reheating it.

This dinner is perfect for those days when you want to just put some stuff in a pan, let it sit there, and then eat it straight away without cooking anything else to go with it. Minimal washing up, minimal effort, total comfort. There is something incredibly comforting about eating a your dinner out of a soft white roll which is full of meat and cheese, whilst sat on the sofa in front of the tv.

I know that Sloppy Joes are generally cooked with some spices and peppers in, but I wanted to use the leftovers for bolognese so I just made the ragu the usual way. If you wanted to make these more authentic, some chilli, cumin, paprika and red peppers would do the trick. Obviously you could easily make these veggie by using Quorn mince and leaving out the bacon.

Sloppy Joes

Serves 2, with half leftover for freezing

500g minced beef/Quorn mince

4 rashers streaky bacon

Olive oil

1 onion

4 cloves garlic

1 carton passata

Glug of red wine

1 tablespoon oregano

Salt & pepper

Cheese and a bread roll, to serve

Method

Heat some olive oil in a pan and fry the bacon. Whilst the bacon is frying, chop the onion finely and add to the bacon once crisp. Cook gently until the onions are soft. Add the garlic, crushed, and the mince and cook until browned.

Once the mince is browned, season and add the oregano, tomatoes and red wine. Simmer for as long as you can, at least half an hour. Serve dolloped into soft bread rolls with a good grating of cheese. Eat with a salad if you feel the need to be healthy, but make sure you have napkins to hand!

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Comfort Food Week: Cauliflower Cheese

Despite the fact that, for me at least, all food brings comfort, comfort food is an entirely different way of eating. It often seems that the things that define comfort food are those things that evoke nostalgia, most often from childhood. Personally, the things I find most comforting are the things I’ve been eating for years, that were cooked for me by my Mum and Dad. It may well be that I cook them differently myself now and have adapted the recipes slightly as my tastes have changed, but the relationship I have with the food remains the same.

I think it’s almost implicit in the term ‘comfort food’ that the food isn’t going to be healthy. Think of comfort food and you think of stews with dumplings, steamed puddings, rice pudding, cakes… these things might not be good for your waistline but I definitely think they make you feel that bit better about the long winter ahead. And above all, comfort food needs to be soft, easy to eat, nothing that’s too hard to chew or too crispy; everything should just melt together and be embracing, as opposed to an effort. It’s not just comfort food but comfort eating. And this brings me round to the first recipe of Comfort Food Week: Cauliflower cheese.

One of my absolute favourite things that my Mum would cook for me is cauliflower cheese. Cauliflower is probably my favourite vegetable, and I remember eating it with Sunday roasts from a pretty young age. My Mum taught me how to make cauliflower cheese, and I still use the same recipe now. Every time we go to my parents’ house for a roast dinner, she always cooks a cauliflower cheese for me because she knows I love it so much. Isn’t that the best thing about Mums?

This cauliflower cheese has a little kick to the sauce and, when topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese, gets a nice crispy top under the grill which is perfect against the tender cauliflower and creamy sauce. Total comfort food. Obviously you could use a mixture of cauliflower and broccoli, or use all broccoli, but I just love the pale serenity of the white cauliflower with the pale yellow sauce. It feels less intrusive than a burst of vibrant green.

Cauliflower cheese

Serves 1

1 small cauliflower

25g butter (a large knob)

25g flour (a few tablespoons)

Pinch cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon mustard powder

200/250ml milk

Handful grated cheddar cheese

More cheese and breadcrumbs for the topping

Method

Steam or boil the cauliflower for around 10 minutes until tender. Drain in a colander but don’t shake it or you’ll break the florets up. Just leave them in the colander to dry in their own steam for a minute or two.

Meanwhile, you can make the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour, cayenne and mustard. Mix to a paste (this is the roux) and cook for a few minutes. Gradually add the milk and whisk into the roux until you’ve got a thick, silky sauce. You may need more or less milk, it depends how much butter and flour you use, the particular flour you used etc and I never weigh it! Once it’s the right consistency (and I really think it should be quite thick, otherwise you won’t be able to eat it very well!), season with salt and pepper and, with the pan off the heat, whisk in the grated cheese.

Put the cauliflower into a baking dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Top with breadcrumbs and some more grated cheese and place under a hot grill until bubbling, blistered and golden brown. Enjoy with a nice piece of crusty bread!

Baked mozzarella balls

I recently bought bucket of little mozzarella pearls, thinking that they would be really easy for pizza, pasta bakes, etc. Usually I’d buy the small tubs at the supermarket which hold probably 12-15 balls of mozzarella which is plenty for two pizzas. I soon realised, then, that having this BUCKET of mozzarella would take me a while to get through, most probably not before they’d gone off if I were using them at my usual speed. I was having evil thoughts about deep-frying the whole lot, which would almost certainly have induced some sort of dangerous arterial contraction, so I decided against it.

Instead, though, I thought about baking them, because there’s much less fat involved that way, and though you’re still eating loads of cheese there is just something that sounds so much worse about deep-frying cheese, right?

It’s a fairly tricky process but the result is worth it. I will put a disclaimer here that these are NOT as delicious as deep-fried mozzarella, as you can’t get the exterior quite so crispy and the interior quite so gooey without it all just oozing everywhere. But as a slightly healthier alternative, they’re really not bad. It took me a few goes to get the process right but I got there in the end. I decided to go with semolina instead of breadcrumbs for the coating, as semolina is crunchier and slightly sweet which I think goes really well. Also there is no fussing around with making the breadcrumbs or anything beforehand. The only thing I might try again is toasting the semolina before coating the mozzarella, so that it’s EVEN crunchier when the mozzarella is baked.

These would be really nice to serve as appetisers or as party nibbles (I was thinking that they would be great alongside some chorizo crisps made in the same way I made the crispy chorizo in my last post). There is a bit of faffing and watching them like a hawk, but I think it pays off!

 

Baked mozzarella balls

Below are the quantities for around 12 mozzarella balls, just increase as necessary.

12 mozzarella pearls

1/2 cup semolina

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon parmesan, grated

 

Basil leaves and tomato sauce to serve

 

Method

The first thing to do is drain the mozzarella balls and put them in the freezer for around 15 minutes. When you take them out you want them to be REALLY firm but not totally frozen.

Whilst they’re in the freezer, combine the semolina with some seasoning and the grated parmesan in a freezer bag. Line a baking tray with parchment and preheat the oven to 220C.

Working quickly, get the mozzarella pearls out of the freezer and tip them into the freezer bag. Give them a good shake until they’re coated in the semolina mixture and then tip everything onto the baking sheet. Put them into the oven for around 1 minute and then take them out and test their firmness. If they’re getting very soft, then slide the parchment onto a plate and refrigerate for a few minutes, before putting back into the oven. If after the first minute they’re not too squidgy (it really depends on your oven) then put them back in for another 30 secs-1min and test again. Once squidgy put on a plate in the fridge and repeat the process, until the semolina is crispy and the cheese is gooey but not oozing into a flat mess on the tray. I grated a bit more parmesan over them at this point actually; cheese-on-cheese, what could be better than that?!

Once they’re out of the oven, serve immediately. I like these speared on a cocktail stick with a baby basil leaf and dipped in tomato sauce. Yummmmm.

Return of the barbecue beans: cornbread topping

Remember when I made this post about barbecue beans, I said I was going to serve them with a barbecue pork tenderloin and cornbread muffins? Well, I had planned to cook this for our friends who came to stay this weekend.

I couldn’t remember which Nigella book the cornbread muffin recipe was from (I hadn’t made them for literally YEARS), so I took a guess at Feast. I looked in the index for cornbread, and there was no cornbread muffin recipe there, but there WAS a recipe for chilli with a cornbread topping. I thought this sounded much better than the muffins (and would be easier to eat as part of a finished dish) so I made sure I had all the ingredients.

When it came to making it, the recipe specified the amount of ingredients for a ‘very large pan’, as the chilli recipe was to serve around 30 people. I was making the beans in my Le Creuset 20cm casserole, so I decided to half the mixture after thinking that something double the size of my casserole would be pretty large.

So I made the batter and spread it on the top of the beans and grated the cheese on top. When I took it out of the oven it had risen to the top of the pan, which was slightly suspicious as the beans had barely half-filled it. When we cut into it I could instantly see my error – the cornbread was about 5 inches thick, and to top that it had absorbed a lot of the sauce from the beans (obviously this is why they say never try anything you’ve not made before when you have guests!). BUT, despite these setbacks, it was really tasty and the cheesy topping was particularly good. In future I could half the mixture again and probably still have some to spare. I grossly misunderestimated how much the polenta would swell on cooking.

So, below is the recipe as it appears in the book, in the correct quantities for a VERY LARGE pan. You can reduce accordingly.

Cornbread Topping

Serves A LOT OF PEOPLE

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

650g cornmeal

4 tablespoons plain flour

6 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

750ml buttermilk

4 eggs

2 teaspoons honey

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

150g Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

The method couldn’t be simpler – you just weigh out the dry ingredients and put them into a bowl. Whisk up the wet ingredients and then combine the two to make a thick batter.

Spoon (or dollop) this over the top of the beans and then grate over the cheese. Put into an oven heated to 220C for about 20-30 minutes until it’s risen and golden on top. Enjoy!

Little Bubbas

I have been craving a visit to Ed’s Easy Diner for ages now, and despite talking about it the other night, we decided against driving the 2 hours to London, having an Ed’s and then driving the 2 hours back (yes, if you haven’t been, it’s THAT GOOD). Also I saw this post on Niotillfem featuring meatball sliders which made me want a burger even more.

At Ed’s I always have a Big Bubba. A Big Bubba is a regular burger with American cheese (we call it plastic cheese in our house) and super-crispy sweetcure bacon. So I attempted to recreate this at home, IN MINIATURE. Oh yes.

I served mine with sweet potato fries (although I also did normal fries because my husband won’t eat sweet potato. I don’t know what’s wrong with him) and onion rings. I bought the onion rings though; one gadget I’m really trying to hold off buying is a deep fat fryer because I will gain 5 stone instantly by frying cheese EVERY DAY. One thing I will say before the recipe is that please, for the love of god, use SMOKED STREAKY BACON. There are far too many burgers out there that are being topped with limp, pale, chewy pieces of back bacon, which is an unforgivable crime. Crisp, streaky bacon is a winner every time, and it has to be smoked. ALWAYS.

Ok, now I’ve got that off my chest, the recipe…

Little Bubbas

Serves 2 (makes 4 Little Bubbas)

For the burgers:

250g pack of lean mince beef

Salt and Pepper

Splash of worcester sauce

Pinch of oregano

1 egg, beaten

Smoked streaky bacon (I used 1 rasher per burger)

1/2 slice plastic “American” cheese per burger

4 small round rolls

For the fries:

Sweet potato or regular potato, cut into thin batons, skin left on

Olive oil (or any oil, really)

Salt

To make the burgers, put the mince into a bowl and break it up a bit with a fork. Then just add in a pinch of salt, a LOT of pepper (I always think beef is better with lots of pepper), a splash of worcester sauce and a pinch of oregano. You could really use any herb – fresh chopped parsley would be good, but I would put in more than a pinch in that case. I only put in a little bit of oregano because I didn’t want them to taste too much like meatballs!

Beat the egg and add just a small amount to the beef mixture (if you add it all it will go slimy and won’t stick together!). Keep adding small amounts until you think there is enough to bind the mixture, and mash it all together with a fork.

To shape the burgers, I used a pastry cutter which is roughly 5/6cm in diameter. I just put the cutter on a plate, and mashed the beef into it, pressing it down as much as possible (especially round the edges) then lifted the cutter off and did the same for the rest. Once they’re all made, cover the plate with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes so that they firm up a bit.

Meanwhile, you can get on with slicing the potatoes. Cut them into matchstick sizes, and, if you’re using regular potatoes, boil them for about 3 minutes (this means that they get really nice and fluffy inside).  If you cook them longer they’ll probably disintegrate, so if you’ve cut them really thinly then boil them for less time. I didn’t bother to boil the sweet potatoes because they’re quite soft and cook quicker than normal potatoes anyway, but I just put them in the steamer pan above the normal potatoes for a minute or so.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and leave them there to steam dry for a few minutes. If they go in dry they will crisp up quicker in the oven. Once the fries are dry, put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment if your trays aren’t non stick (I find potatoes stick to trays REALLY badly and just end up as mush once you’ve scraped them off, so disappointing), and drizzle them with oil. Get involved with your hands to make sure they’re all coated and spread them out into one even layer. They all need to be in contact with the bottom of the tray to cook the best.

Put them in a hot oven (~200-220 depending on how impatient you are!) and leave them to cook for around 15-20 minutes. I like the ends of my sweet potato fries to be pretty burnished (read: burnt) so I put them all in at the same time. If you don’t, then I would cook the sweet potato fries for about 5 minutes less.

Put your griddle or pan or whatever you want to cook your burgers on to heat up, or if you want to grill them, put the grill on to heat up. Get the bacon ready to cook however you like (I put mine on a tray in the oven, it’s just easier!)

Once the pan/grill is hot, drizzle some oil onto the burgers if you’re using a pan (always oil the meat and not the pan, otherwise you’ll just smoke the house out) and cook them to your liking. Put the bacon on to cook. If you’ve compressed the burgers enough they should hold their shape well during cooking.

Once everything’s cooked it’s really just an assembly job with the cheese and the bacon – I just sprinkle the fries with some salt and enjoy!

If you’re a veggie, I think these would be awesome with falafels instead of the meat, and a huge dollop of hummus. Yummmm…