Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Oven Baked Mac n Cheese with Crispy Pancetta

Readers, along with obsession with chocolate, I have a similar obsession with cheese.  Hard cheese… soft cheese… cranberry inclusion cheese… white cheese… orange cheese… I’ll take any of them.  Apart from pungent and mouldy. I’m unable to get my head around that.

I know cheese is a little bit naughty and my post will probably have the Anti Fat Squad chasing me… but I love it.  Especially when it comes in sauce format, accompanied by delicious macaroni spirals and to top it off, crispy pancetta.

I have to confess, before meeting Mr WhatClaireBaked, I, 1. Very rarely ate macaroni.  2.  Had no idea about the impact of adding pancetta to my recipe.  Life changing.

See, the thing with pancetta is that it adds depth to the dish.  Those little crispy, salty, hammy squares add the crunch to the macaroni.  In essence, macaroni could be baby food.  But, throw in some pancetta, stick it under the grill and it’s almost entertaining-friends-worthy.

Also, my mum once told me that if you can make a white sauce, you can make anything.  I’m sure there’s an exact science to it, but so far, I’ve gone for the make a paste with butter and flour, chuck in some milk, keep whisking, boil, simmer and throw in the cheese method.  To date, it’s worked.

It’s a family friendly dish, can be adapted to suit everyone (grilled tomatoes on top, oh why not…)
Yes, it’s carb-tastic.  Yes, it’s a little fattening.  Yes, it’s falling into hangover food category.  But my gosh, it’s delicious.

Oven Baked Macaroni with Crispy Pancetta

Macaroni with Pancetta

Serves 2

100g cubed pancetta
25g butter
1½ dessert spoons plain flour
300ml milk 
150g grated cheddar
150g macaroni pasta

  1. In a small frying pan over a medium heat, fry your pancetta until the colour changes and it begins to crisp up.  Remove from heat and place in a bowl, with kitchen towel underneath to mop up excess grease.
  2. Grate the cheese onto a plate.
  3. In a separate pot, add the macaroni, cover with boiling water and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
  4. Cook as per the pack instructions, however, remove from heat 2 minutes before cooking time is out.  Drain pasta and set aside.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200c/180c Fan/Gas 4.
  6. In a separate non stick saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat.  Once melted, remove from heat and whisk in the flour until you form a paste.  Once paste is formed, return to heat, add around 100ml milk and whisk constantly to avoid any lumps forming.  Add the remaining milk.
  7. Turn up the heat to medium and continue constantly whisking the sauce to prevent lumps forming.  Bring sauce to the boil. Cook out for around 5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.  Add in 100g of grated cheese to the sauce and continue to whisk until you have a smooth cheese sauce.   Add in the pancetta and stir to mix.   Then, pour in the drained pasta and mix until fully covered.
  8. Pour your macaroni, sauce and pancetta into an oven proof dish and sprinkle with the remaining 50g grated cheese.  Then, bake in the oven for 20 minutes until bubbling.   If you’d like a really crispy topping, change the oven setting to grill and grill on high for 2-3 minutes.
  9. Serve immediately with crusty bread and salad.

Macaroni with Pancetta

Top Tips

  • Why not try a 3 cheese lasagne?  Add in parmesan to the sauce and try grilling mozzarella on the top.
  • Portions can easily be scaled up and cooked if you have a big enough dish – just freeze the leftovers when cooled and defrost before use.
  • Why not add in chopped leeks to the sauce?  Just soften in a pan with butter for 5 minutes, then stir into the sauce.  A great way to add hidden vegetables!
Looking for more easy midweek meals?  Why not try my Oven Baked Cod with Chorizo.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Baked White Fish with a Chilli Chorizo Crust, Salt and Pepper Asparagus and New Potatoes

Readers, it’s confession time.  I’m an addict.

There. Said. It.   Worst part over.

Yes, I’m addicted to asparagus.  I can’t get enough of it.  Favourite vegetable hands down.  Maybe because it’s perceived to be one of the more dignified vegetables?!  I’ve got no idea.  Whip out the asparagus at a dinner party and everyone thinks your home cooking has gone up a notch…

When the people at Rix Petroleum tweeted me this week with their new competition using seasonal vegetables in a recipe, I was keen to get involved.   When I saw March’s vegetable was asparagus, I was even keener to get involved.

This recipe has been adapted from the Hairy Dieters baked fish recipe, which has been a dream book to use – healthy food doesn’t always have to be boring!

This is an easy midweek supper and if you haven’t got the time to get fresh fish, frozen works just as well.  

Baked Fish with a Chilli Chorizo Crust

Ingredients (serves 2)

2 x 150g cod fillets (I used frozen)
Juice and zest of 1 unwaxed lime
Sunflower oil for cooking chorizo
100g chorizo sausage, cut into slices
2 thick slices wholemeal bread
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon paprika
20g grated Parmesan cheese
6 asparagus spears
20g butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g new potatoes


  1. Remove fish from freezer and sprinkle with freshly squeezed lime juice. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan/Gas 4.
  3. Cut up your chorizo into slices and add a drop of sunflower oil to a non stick frying pan. Fry the chorizo for several minutes until the oil is released.  Tear up the bread and add to the pan.  The bread should soak up all the oil.
  4. Remove the bread and chorizo from pan and add to a food processor. Add the garlic, chilli, thyme, salt, pepper, lime zest and juice and grated Parmesan and process for around 30 seconds.  Then add a teaspoon of oil and process again until all the ingredients are well combined.
    Ingredients all blended together
  5. Lightly oil a baking tray and place fish onto the tray.  Remove the crust mixture from the food processor and pat down on top of each fillet of fish, until the top is fully covered.
  6. Place into a preheated oven and bake for around 20-25 minutes.
    Fish fully baked
  7. Meanwhile, as the fish is baking, boil the potatoes for 20-25 minutes until cooked.
  8. Approximately 10 minutes before the fish is ready, melt 20g of butter in a griddle or frying pan, over a medium-low heat. Once melted, add the washed asparagus to the pan and coat in the butter.  After 2 minutes, grind in salt and black pepper to your liking and coat the asparagus.  Continue to turn the asparagus through cooking, to prevent burning.  The asparagus should soften up but retain a little bit of bite to add texture to the dish.  The asparagus will take around 10 minutes to cook.
    Cover asparagus with salt and pepper
  9. Remove the fish from the oven and rest for a moment.  Drain the potatoes and remove the asparagus from the pan.   Serve immediately.

This recipe has been submitted to Rix Petroleum’s Recipe of The Month contest.  Find out more at: http://www.rix.co.uk/aga-cooker-recipes/march/

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bark

Readers, last weekend I took a notion to make bark for the first time. I didn’t really know what it was. It’s a very American thing as I’ve now discovered.  Trying to find a UK recipe to work from was a little difficult. I was convinced Pinterest would come up with the goods but everything was in cup measurements.  It was more than my frazzled head could take.  So, I made up my own.

After the success of the Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies I decided to cash in on my award winning flavour combo with Mr WhatClaireBaked.

I took myself off down to the supermarket, bought a few random ingredients and went for it.

The bark didn’t last long.  Around 3 hours if we are being exact.  It’s a really simple recipe to make and one that kids could get involved with.   Obviously nut free families would have to adjust the recipe (a mint crème filling would work equally well) but it’s an easy one for families to make.

I’m hoping to experiment with more chocolate bark recipes in future, as I’m sure it would make a great gift, wrapped up in tissue for Christmas.

So here’s how it’s made…

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bark

Chocolate Bark

200g milk chocolate (100g for base and 100g for top)
40g peanut butter (chunky or smooth – to your liking)
1 tube Smarties
1 pinch ground sea salt
Splash of vegetable oil


  1. Cover a non stick baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  2. In a microwave proof cup break in 100g milk chocolate and melt in microwave for 30 seconds (at 850 watts).
  3. Remove cup, stir and microwave for another 30 seconds.
  4. Pour melted chocolate onto the greaseproof paper and using a pallet knife, spread into a flat, smooth rectangle.   Place in the fridge to set.
    First layer of chocolate on and ready for the fridge
  5. In a separate bowl, take 40g peanut butter and using a metal spoon, stir to loosen.
  6. Grind in a pinch of rock salt and stir to combine.
  7. Check to see if the chocolate layer has set.  If it’s solid, carefully spread the peanut butter over the chocolate. Be cautious as you don’t want to crack the chocolate.
    Peanut butter layer is on
  8. Put the chocolate and peanut butter layers in the freezer for 5 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, in a clean microwave proof cup, break in 100g milk chocolate and melt in microwave for 30 seconds (at 850 watts). Remove cup, stir and microwave for another 30 seconds.
  10. Add a tube of Smarties to a freezer bag and tie to close. Gently crush the Smarties using a rolling pin or other heavy object.
  11. Allow the chocolate to be cool to the touch and remove the baking tray from the  freezer.
  12. Pour the chocolate over the peanut butter. Using the pallet knife, spread to cover.  Make sure the edges of the bark are also covered, to seal in the peanut butter.
  13. Take your crushed smarties and sprinkle over the top of the bark.  Return to fridge.
    Ready for last round in the fridge
  14. Take around 20g of coloured Wilton Candy Melts, and place in a microwave proof cup.  Place in microwave for 30 seconds, remove and stir, then place back in the microwave for 30 seconds.  By now it should be melted. Candy Melts are fairly thick in consistency, so, to thin out, to be able to drizzle, add a splash of vegetable oil and stir.  You should be able to feel the melts thinning out.
  15. Using a small teaspoon, drizzle the melted candy over the bark (which should now be set in the fridge). 
    Drizzle melted candy on the top
  16. Once drizzled, return the bark to the freezer for 5 minutes to harden. Store in the fridge until ready to eat.  
Chocolate Bark
Ready to eat - delicious!

Chocolate Bark
Close up of the peanut butter filling

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Great York Foodie Adventure

York Minster
So folks, we've just returned from a girly weekend in York.  Thankfully the three friends I went with are all bakers (not butchers or candlestick makers) and are all big foodies. Our weekend ended up turning foodie, so I thought I’d share some highlights with you all.

We started off by visiting Jamie’s Italian on Friday night, before friend 4 arrived.  The restaurant was good – the pasta was delicious and made on the premises. I enjoyed the tagliatelle with truffle.  We event managed a cheeky Prosecco with dinner.

On Saturday afternoon, the four of us decided to take a trip to York’s Chocolate Story where, for £10, we were part of a group tour, got to enjoy chocolate tasting and learnt all about the history of chocolate in York.  The whole thing was fascinating – we even learnt that at one point, the Rowntree Factory employed over 14,000 people.  Unreal!

The tour took us back to the early days of chocolate – the history of the tribes who harvested cocoa beans and so forth.   One of the highlights of the tour was the interactive chocolate making circle, where we all learnt about the various types of chocolate, how the beans are dealt with, how cocoa butter is extracted and what components are required to make milk, white and dark chocolate.
Old advertising campaigns for chocolate

The highlight of the tour was making chocolate lollies – a fairly simple task in itself – involving acetate, melted chocolate, piping bags, and lolly sticks – but nonetheless great fun.  Whilst the rest of the group threw on their decorations, we were typically the ones who decorated our lollies with care and style!
My chocolate lolly!

At the end of the tour, we went along to a demo on artisan chocolate making, which was really useful (and something I’d like to try more of, for the blog). Then, you guessed it, we got to try the chocolates which had been made.  All in all, this was a great afternoon in York and we all felt the tour and incredibly enthusiastic girl who was our guide, made for a brilliant experience, which was value for money.
The history of the Kit Kat

Before we left on Sunday, we visited Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms - an institution in York.  I've always wanted to go to Bettys.  Not only do I love tea, I love everything quintessentially British about it.

Image source: http://www.bettys.co.uk/bettys_stonegate.aspx

We originally planned to go on Saturday, but as it was queued out the door, went back on Sunday for brunch, visiting the Stonegate branch, before taking the train back up to Scotland.  My friend is coeliac and sometimes, eating out can be a nightmare for her.  However, the incredibly attentive staff took a great deal of time in running through the menu with her so she could enjoy a gluten free brunch with the rest of us.
Bettys current menu

I opted for the Brioche French Toast with Bacon for my brunch. It was completely delicious and perfectly complimented my breakfast tea pot.  There’s something lovely about enjoying breakfast, rather than throwing it down your neck, as you do, on a rushed weekday morning.   Despite being busy, the staff didn't rush us, we had time to chat and enjoy our food.  Whilst not cheap, Bettys was worth every penny if you are a tea aficionado or a lover of proper home-made cakes and pastries.

Lovely tea service

Before departing, we visited the shop downstairs and all left with the obligatory brown paper bags.  The macarons, priced at only £1.00 each were a great investment to bring home for family and friends.  The shop had a selection of 6 flavours and I went for raspberry, passion fruit, salted caramel and chocolate macaroons.  I have to confess, most of them never actually made it to the family.

I also need to comment on Bettys amazing home made tomato chutney.  We enjoyed it with our brunch and my friend even left with a jar to take home.

If I’m back in York, I’d be sure to visit Bettys again and would highly recommend it for a special lunch, brunch or afternoon tea with the girls.

In a nutshell, we had a great weekend in York and enjoyed meandering down the winding cobbled streets, popping in and out the vast selection of sweet shops, gift stores and boutiques.  I've no doubt we will return again soon.