Py+Tips: Smoked Cheese

Do you get sick of being thwarted by bacon? You are checking out a recipe and all seems good, but a quick look down the list of ingredients suggests that bacon is a requirement. Bugger. Except that I have a brilliant solution. At least, that is, if there is also cheese in the recipe. If what you seek is indeed a cheesy treat (invariably, for me, it is), then why not try swapping the suggested bacon and cheese combo for a smoked cheese? This brings with it its own salty, smokey, barbecue-y flavour, perfectly mimicking the ousted bacon. For instance, when I fancy a carbonara (as I do tonight), I make my sauce by mixing cream, mascarpone, egg and smoked Applewood Cheddar (plus some pepper and nutmeg). To add some texture, I might mix through some sun-dried tomatoes or some mushrooms. Delicious.

Creamy, smokey carbonara. Don't mind if I do.

Creamy, smokey carbonara. Don’t mind if I do.

What are your go-to bacon replacements? Does smoked cheese rock your world too?

Py x

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Spag Bol and Spartan Training

Doesn’t the smell of bacon sandwiches tempt you? What do you have for Sunday dinner? Don’t you miss spag bol?

I hear these questions more often than any other food related queries. In answer to the first: no. In answer to the second: I have more of everything else – more potatoes, more Yorkshire puds, more veg – all doused in onion gravy. It really works for me. In answer to the third: how can I miss spaghetti bolognese when I can have this spaghetti bolognese?

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Quorn isn’t everyone’s favourite ingredient. It can be easy to sniff at; there is nothing natural about Quorn, and not everyone wants their food to taste of meat. But I quite like the stuff. Maybe not for your fancy foodie fests, but on a week night, post-gym, when a bit of protein would be welcome, I think it is fab. And anyway, it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it.

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INGREDIENTS (serves 3-4):

2 tsp olive oil
2 red onions, diced
1 carrot, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 stick celery, cut into small cubes
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 chilli (optional, I am just obsessed with spice)
3 rashers Quorn bacon (optional, I just had them in my fridge), chopped up
1 packet Quorn mince
1 small glass red wine
125ml vegetable stock
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp tomato purée
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 dried bay leaves

RECIPE:

Heat the oil in a pan, over a medium heat, then add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and chilli, if using, and cook until softened and slightly browned.

If using the bacon, add this to the pan and cook for five minutes more.

Add the mince to the pan and stir together for a few minutes.

Add the wine and cook off for a couple of minutes.

Add the stock, chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, balsamic vinegar and bay leaves.

Bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and leave to gently simmer for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cook and drain your chosen pasta (tagliatelle or spaghetti are the most common).

Remove the bay leaves from the sauce, then add the bolognese to the cooked and drained pasta.

Serve with salad, bread, and a large glass of red wine. Lovely.

MY EXPERIENCE:

I am on a health kick at the moment. Well, sort off. I’m on the only kind of health kick that I ever go on, which basically means hitting the gym hard (which I love doing) but making little to no change to my gluttonous eating habits. Oh, and no wine on school nights. Pretty tough.

On this kind of Spartan regime, it’s only a matter of time before I can join this man’s band:

Old Spice Muscle Music from Terry Crews on Vimeo.

Pasta or rice? Orzo it neither?

I’m a tomato pasta girl. My penchant for the kick of a chilli makes me necessarily so. However, my mushroom habit can tempt me down this creamy path…

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This recipe was borne from my Mum’s oft repeated compliment when chomping on a particularly good bowl of mushroom pasta: ‘It tastes like a posh version of Campbell’s Mushroom Soup. Delicious’. So, I set out to receive this compliment myself. And I got it. It has since become a regular in my kitchen.

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INGREDIENTS (serves 4):

30g dried porcini mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red onion, diced
300g chestnut mushrooms, chopped or sliced (according to preference)
2 tsp fresh thyme (or whatever herb you fancy; I also like tarragon with this)
Glass dry white wine
300ml creme friache
Salt and pepper

Pasta to serve, cooked how you like it.

RECIPE:

First, boil a kettle to rehydrate the dried mushrooms; pour around 250ml of water over the mushrooms in a bowl, cover, and leave for around 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry your diced onions in some oil until softened, then add the garlic, and continue to cook.

Add the fresh, chopped mushrooms to the pan (trying not to overcrowd the pan as this causes stewing rather than frying (if you have a small pan you may prefer to do this in 2 batches)), and cook until the juices have come out the mushrooms, then soaked back up.

Add the rehydrated porcini mushrooms, fishing them out of the water, but reserving the liquid.

Add the wine to the pan, and leave to cook off.

As the pan begins to dry up again, start adding some of the liquid reserved from the dried mushrooms; keep adding the liquid, until the mushrooms are saturated, and the pan stops drying out. (At this point you want your pan to be quite wet).

Add the creme friache to the pan.

Add the thyme (or herb of choice) and season well.

Cook until you get the consistency that you like.

MY EXPERIENCE:

Whilst pounding the ‘Essential’ pasta aisle of Waitrose I happened to stumble across this:

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Orzo isn’t a pasta usually available in your regular supermarket, let alone is the budget range, so obviously I jumped at the chance to buy it.

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Reminiscent of both pasta and risotto, this actually did little for me in that it was neither. A little too gloopy and a little too stodgy, I wasn’t much of a fan. That was until I had the leftovers the next day for lunch; straight out of the fridge as a pasta salad was when this carb really came into it’s own for me. If I were to buy orzo again, it would be that capacity, to make a lovely pasta salad for a picnic or packed lunch. Orzo would I? (Sorry. I can’t help myself.)

BCP

Right. Here we go. Where better to start than that meal. The one that first springs to mind in moments of joy, and equally in moments of sorrow. The one that hugs you in tight and makes everything ok. No, not ok. Bloody wonderful.

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Welcome to BLUE CHEESE PASTA. Or BCP as we affectionately call it. This is no culinary masterpiece, but it is something that you will want to make over and over again, with the spicy, rich heady sauce meeting the molten luxury of the blue cheese that oozes down the sides of the dish. Not one for the dieter, but certainly one for the soul.

INGREDIENTS (serves 4 (or 3 very greedy gluttons))

Sauce:
2 garlic cloves (chopped or crushed)
1 Birdseye chilli (chopped, with seeds)
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 glass red wine (save the fancy stuff for drinking)
Tin chopped tomatoes
100g passata (bought or homemade)
Splash balsamic vinegar
1tsp caster sugar
Pinch or so of dried chillies (to taste)
Pepper to season (no salt, as the cheese on top should provide all required saltiness)

500g Pasta
Cheese for the top – here I used a mix of Stilton and Gorgonzola, about 300g in total, but type (cheddar works nicely too) and amount is entirely up to you. This is about pleasure, so pick your own poison.

RECIPE:

Get a big pan of salted water on the boil ready for your pasta, and cook that according to the pack instructions as you make the sauce (you want the pasta beautifully al dente, ideally)
Heat a bit of (olive) oil in a large pan (I like to use a wide shallow pan, but whatever you have/prefer) on a low to moderate heat
Once the oil is a little hot add the garlic and chillies – you don’t want them sizzling when they go in as this is about flavouring the oil as it heats as much as cooking the garlic and chillies
Once the pan begins to sizzle, add the tomato purée and cook out for a minute or so – this is where the sweet richness of the sauce begins
Add in the wine and cook down
Add the tin of tomatoes, the passata, the sugar and the balsamic vinegar and stir together before leaving it simmer together
Taste and add dried chillies and pepper to taste (even if the sauce tastes hot enough, a pinch of dried chilli does add a slightly different layer, so maybe try it)
Simmer the sauce down until you’re happy with it – keep tasting!
Meanwhile heat your grill to medium-high (or heat the oven if you are without grill)
Combine sauce and drained, cooked pasta and tip the lot into a chosen dish (I use a traditional Italian serving dish, but this is also nice done in individual vessels – just make sure the dishes are grill-proof)
Pile your cheese up on top of the pasta, then place it under the grill for 5 minutes or so, until the cheese is oozing and bubbling

Serve with fresh salad and crusty fresh bread. With one bottle of plonk to drown the sorrows, with two bottles to celebrate the victories.

Enjoy!

MY EXPERIENCE:

Although a regular in my house, I last had BCP on the night I finished my final exams at Cambridge University. The pasta was perfect: luxurious, comforting and stress-free. It was all the sweeter followed by my boy doing the washing up …

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And then by these little beauties…chocolate, raspberry brownies…

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(Recipe here)