A popular classic reinvented: Mac and Cheese

In Recipes on October 22, 2017 at 4:11 am

The origins of macaroni cheese are not known but the Italians have been making casseroles that include pasta and cheese since the fourteenth century. The modern interpretation of macaroni cheese appears in the famous British cookbook of the Victorian era, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and the earliest recipes in Britain date back to the eighteenth century.

Of course, the Americans would beg to differ, claiming that macaroni cheese is an American invention in much the same way that Australia claims the invention of the pavlova over New Zealand. Apparently Thomas Jefferson was the first to serve a macaroni and cheese like dish at his home in the early nineteenth century. The dish quickly became popular and, by the mid nineteenth century it had become an American standard *. Certainly the bright orange version, made with the violently coloured ‘American’ cheese is the one that can be found on many American fast food menus today. It is not something I would voluntarily eat. The other version that we have known for many years here in Australia is the packet meal that is sold on supermarket shelves, this version is also pretty much inedible.

In recent times, with the popularity of so-called ‘dude’ food, macaroni cheese, made with various mixtures of cheeses from Comte to Gruyere (the types of cheese you can use are only limited by your imagination), has made a reappearance. It can be found not only on hipster American menus but it is also quite commonly found on the menus of trendy fried chicken and gourmet burger joints here in Australia.

Certainly nobody is saying that macaroni cheese is good for you, it is far too cheesy and delicious for that accolade. As an occasional food, however, on a cold night or when you want to make something that kids will eat, macaroni cheese is an excellent choice. If you wanted to make it a bit healthier you could serve it with a salad on the side but, for many people, this would mean spoiling the fun. The macaroni cheese I have made here uses a rather unusual combination of cheeses including Greek kefalograviera, a cheese I also use to make the Greek fried cheese dish saganaki (see Sometimes I hear a mermaid singing in August 2011), Italian parmesan and mozzarella and regular tasty cheddar. I also included fresh thyme and some crumbled crispy pastourma though, on reflection, this was probably a bit of overkill so I will leave it as an optional addition.

‘Greek’ Macaroni Cheese

Mac 'n cheese


400 g elbow macaroni

400 ml milk

3 tbs butter

3 tbs plain flour

1 egg

1 cup finely grated kefalograviera cheese

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated tasty cheese

1 tbs finely grated parmesan cheese

4 sprigs fresh thyme

a few thin slices of Greek pastourma (crisped in the oven and crumbled into small pieces)

freshly ground black pepper

sea salt

freshly grated nutmeg

panko breadcrumbs

2 extra tbs finely grated kefalograviera


Cook the elbow macaroni according to the packet directions, drain and set aside. Melt the butter in a small saucepan until just bubbling. Add the flour and stir through, reduce the heat and cook gently for one minute stirring constantly. Continue stirring as you add the milk gradually, making sure there are no lumps. Season with some freshly grated nutmeg, black pepper and a pinch of sea salt and cook gently, stirring, until the sauce is the consistency of thick pouring cream. In a large bowl, combine the hot pasta, the sauce, the cheeses, the leaves from two of the thyme sprigs and the crumbled pastourma (if using). Add the egg and mix through quickly. Tumble the mixture into a baking dish that has been brushed with olive oil. Mix the panko breadcrumbs with the extra kefalograviera cheese and the remaining thyme leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake in an oven preheated to 175 degrees C for 20-30 minutes or until the top is bubbling and golden brown. Serve with a salad if desired.

* Source: Wikipedia

Macaroni Cheese



Low and slow: stew your food to lock in the juices continued…

In Recipes on August 25, 2017 at 4:27 am

With such a cold winter this year I have been exploring the world of stewing and slow cooking in depth. Stews are the perfect winter fare as I find the pot burbling away on the stove gives and illusion of warmth and comfort that, combined with a good heater, makes me feel as if winter were merely a bad dream.

‘Stifado’ or ‘stifatho’ appears to mean a stew with onions in Greek. The traditional version is made with rabbit or beef but I have seen recipes for octopus and other meats. In my case I made it with cubed lamb shoulder but you could substitute beef or any other meat you have available.

Lamb Stifado

Lamb Stifatho


1kg diced lamb shoulder

1/4 cup olive oil

150g baby onions

3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

125 ml red wine

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

1 bay leaf

1-2 tbs red wine vinegar (to taste)

2 tbs tomato puree

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chopped flat leaf parsley to finish


Cut the meat into bite sized cubes. Heat the oil in a large, heavy based casserole dish. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until golden. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add the meat and stir over high heat until the meat is well browned. Add the garlic, wine, spices, bay leaf, vinegar, tomato paste and lightly season. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Return the onions to the pan and cook for a further 1/2 hour or until the meat is very tender. Discard the cinnamon and stir through the flat leaved parsley. You may also want to finish with a squeeze of lemon. Serve with rice or mashed potato.

Hint: For a richer flavour use 1 cup of beef stock and 1 cup of red wine instead of the wine and water listed in the recipe.


Lamb stifado

Low and slow: stew your food to lock in the juices

In Recipes on July 11, 2017 at 4:36 am

Dishes that incorporate all ingredients in the one pot for long, slow cooking have been popular almost since cooking began. Simmering ingredients slowly in a broth or a sauce retains the nutrients and extracts maximum flavour from the dish’s components. If using meat the cook can use the cheaper cuts that respond well to an extended cooking time making these kinds of dishes economical too. In the past, particularly in parts of Europe, flavourings and ingredients such as onions, garlic, spices, herbs and meats were often in short supply or prohibitively expensive to all but a small proportion of the population so, if poorer people had these ingredients, they wanted to extract the maximum flavour and nutrition. In other words, like many other of the world’s great dishes, stews, ragus and braises originated in the homes of peasant cooks.

I have been reading The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black. It is interesting to see that, contrary to modern perceptions, medieval cooks were endlessly inventive and that many of the dishes they made are not markedly different from the dishes we cook today. Here is part of a recipe for lamb or mutton stew: ‘Take veel or other[wise] motoun and smyte it into gobettes. Seeth it in good broth; cast thereto erbes-yhewe gode won, and a quantite of oynouns mynced, powdour fort and safroun …. seeth until they be tendre’ OR ‘Cut the meat into 5-cm/2-inch cubes. Put the stock into a stewpan and bring to the boil … then add the prepared onions, herbs, spices and wine. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook gently until the meat cubes are cooked through and tender.’ The method described here, apart from maybe browning the meat and onions prior to stewing, is pretty similar to modern techniques and I do love it when I get to ‘smyte my meat into gobettes’.

With the renewed popularity of slow cookers or crockpots stews and braises are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Boeuf bourgignonne, otherwise known as beef burgundy, is a peasant dish from the Burgundy region in France. Coming from this part of the country, an area that is famous for its wine, the dish naturally includes a good amount of red wine. Originally, the meat was marinated in red wine to tenderise it. The cook could then use cheaper cuts of meat and still achieve good results. Stews are often better the next day and boeuf bourgignonne is no exception. Leftovers can be made into a delicious pie with some puff pastry or topped with garlicky mashed potato to make a sort of gourmet cottage pie. I make mine from a recipe that I have carried in my head for many years but the one I have given you here, while very similar to mine, is based on a recipe by Gabriel Gate.

Boeuf Bourgignonne

Boeuf Bourgignonne


800g oyster blade or chuck steak

1 medium brown onion (thinly sliced)

2 French shallots (thinly sliced)

2 garlic cloves (crushed)

1 thyme sprig or 1 rosemary sprig

300ml red wine

3 tbs olive oil


freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons butter

1 tbs plain flour

125g bacon (finely chopped)

16 baby onions OR 3 brown onions cut into thin slices

25 small mushrooms OR 5 large flat or portobello mushrooms sliced into largish pieces

4 tbs chopped parsley

Onions, bacon,mushrooms


The day before you cook the dish, trim the beef of excess fat and sinew and cut it into 4-6 pieces. Place in a bowl with the onion, shallots, garlic and thyme or rosemary. Cover with wine and stir in 1 tbs of olive oil.

The following day lift the meat, onion, garlic and shallots from the wine and place on a cloth to dry. Reserve the wine and the herbs as well. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C (275 degrees F)

Heat 1 tbs of the oil in an ovenproof casserole dish and brown the meat on all sides. Add the butter to the pan, followed by the reserved onion, shallots and garlic, stir well. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to coat the meat. Add the reserved wine and the reserved herbs and stir well. Cover with a lid and cook for about two hours in the oven or on the stove top on a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan and saute the bacon over a medium heat for a few minutes. Remove the bacon and set aside. Add the baby onions and brown well all over. Remove the onions, set aside and cook the mushrooms in the same pan for 2 minutes.

Towards the end of the 2 hours, add the bacon, onions and mushrooms to the casserole and return to the oven or stove top for a further 20 – 30 minutes.

*I tend to let my boeuf bourgignonne simmer for a bit longer, about 2 and a half to 3 hours for the first stage and then a further half hour to 40 minutes after you have added the bacon, onions and mushrooms.

Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Serves 4

Note: If making this recipe in a slow cooker you may need to adjust the times accordingly. You could let the first stage go in the slow cooker while you are out and then add the bacon, onions and mushrooms when you get home.

If you do not have time to marinate the meat overnight in the wine, a couple of hours in the marinade will still yield good results.