Comfort…..

……is that old pair of jeans that has molded perfectly to every curve of your body.  The ones that used to be a bright azure denim but now, after a hundred washes and many more wears, is a murky blue-grey shade of its former self.  Comfort is slipping these on, feeling them conform to your skin obediently and diligently ignoring that thinning area over the backside that one day is bound to give up the ghost, taking your dignity with it.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (1 of 4)

Comfort is bare feet.  The liberation you feel when you open the front door, kick off the shoes, stretch the toes and feel plush carpet between them.  It is going to the cinemas in your sweatpants and no make-up.  Comfort watches movies on the couch on New Years’ Eve while the world packs picnics, braves the crowds and catches trains home after midnight, blinking under fluorescent lights.

Comfort is a hug with one who you have hugged for so long that both your shapes have long ago imprinted into one another.

And yet comfort may be something else, like talking on a friend’s couch for hours about nothing and everything all at once.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (4 of 4)

Comfort is edible.  It is dhal, hot and salty, gingery and lemony, popping with cumin.  It is a roast potato with plenty of butter, solid to slippery liquid as it hits the steaming flesh.  It is hot chocolate, cold beer or a well-earned glass of wine.

Comfort is cheese and pasta.  Mac ‘n’ cheese.  Waistline defying mouthfuls of perfectly yielding pasta in a melty yellow matrix.  Throwing nutrition and caution to the wind to embrace it, comfort on a plate.

This one is from a cookbook which is the latest offering in the delicious. series by Valli Little, titled Love to Eat (ABC Books, Harper Collins).  The book navigates the home cook through a global journey, with each section holding recipes that are Valli Little’s take on flavours of that part of the world.  Comfort from each of the world’s corners.  For lovers of this series, this latest addition doesn’t disappoint, with practical and mouth-watering recipes that any home cook can tackle.

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I have my eye on the Kashmiri Prawns from the Indian section and the Chilli Chocolate Puddings of Latin America.  But for now we have this Mac ‘n’ Cheese slice.  I used emmental instead of gruyere, rosemary instead of thyme based on what I could get my hands on at the time.  I unceremoniously dumped in a whole 500g boxful of pasta rather than the recommended 400g and found the recipe still worked well.  I also stopped short of pan frying the slices dusted with flour, mainly due to sheer laziness, but I’m sure this would add an extra layer of decadence.  The pasta I used was one from the Barilla gluten-free range, a shape that is cutely named ‘elbows’.  I wrapped the slices individually, refrigerating some to eat within three or four days, and freezing some.  They thawed very well and made a perfectly convenient lunch to look forward to.

What is your Comfort?

Disclosures: My copy of Love to Eat was sent to me by Harper Collins Australia, and pasta was provided by Barilla, but all opinions are my own.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (3 of 4)

Mac ‘n’ Cheese Slice

From delicious. Love to Eat, Valli Little

Makes 7-9 serves

Get:

400-500 g macaroni or similar shaped pasta
Olive oil, to drizzle
2 cups milk
1 onion, halved
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme or rosemary
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
80g unsalted butter
1/4 cup plain flour
1 1/4 cups strong cheddar, grated
1 1/4 cups gruyere or emmental cheese, grated
1 1/4 cups parmesan, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
Plain flour, to dust (optional)

Make:

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to packet instructions.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, toss to combine and set aside.

Combine milk, onion, bay leaves, nutmeg and herbs in a saucepan over medium heat adn bring to a simmer.  Set aside for 30 min to infuse.

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease and line a large baking dish with greaseproof paper.

Melt 40g butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 mins.  Strain the milk into the pan, discarding the solids. Whisk the mixture until smooth and thickened.  Add the cheeses and stir to melt and combine.  Add the egg and stir to combine.  Season with freshly ground pepper and salt if needed.

Take the pan off the heat and add the pasta, toss to coat.  Transfer the mixture to the lined oven dish and spread evenly.  Bake for 30 mins or until the top is golden. Allow to cool completely then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Optional:

Cut mac ‘n’ cheese into 7 to 9 slices and dust with flour.  Melt the remaining 40g butter in a frypan and cook each slice as needed for 2-3 mins on each side until golden and crisp.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (2 of 4)

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Crumbly Olive oil, Rosemary and Pear Cake

I don’t have many words for you today. What I do have though, is a cake.  A simple offering that is so thoroughly unattractive that you just know it’ll be divine.

Last weekend, this cake was my plus one to lunch at the home of my sparkly friend Julia.  Lunch was followed by a dessert buffet of sorts.  Some stunning cupcakes, a decadent chocolate mousse, giant scoops of ice cream and of course, this cake.

I intended to take more photos of my offering……some action shots of it being devoured perhaps.  Or more of it’s slices, so that you can gain a better visual appreciation of the robust exterior surrounding the moist crumb, studded generously with perfectly baked chunks of pear.

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Suffice it to say that when a dish disappears so fast that you don’t get a chance to photograph it as you intended, that can only really be a good thing.

The recipe is from Valli Little’s delicious. Love to Cook, and for once I followed the recipe fairly closely.  The only exception is the addition of cinnamon, which was politely requested by the pears themselves.

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Crumbly Olive Oil, Rosemary & Pear Cake

Modified slightly from delicious. Love to Cook, Valli Little (ABC Books, Harper Collins)

Get:

1 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour
3/4 cup (120g) wholemeal flour
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil (fruity or light variety)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups peeled and diced pears (about 3-4 pears)
2 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
1/4 cup dried cranberries, currants or sultanas
mascarpone, creme fraiche or whipped cream to serve

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease and flour a cake tin- mine was 18 cm, Valli Little uses a 26cm tin.

Sift together flours, baking powder and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl.  Add sugar and mix.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, olive oil and vanilla, then add to the flour mixture and stir to combine.  Gently fold through pear, rosemary and currants

Spoon mixture into cake tin and level out with a spatula.  Bake on the middle shelf for 45-55 mins or until a skewer that is inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Best served warm with a dollop of mascarpone or cream.

Olive Oil Pear Rosemary cake

Click the Month: October 2013

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This month I got my first taste of one of the many perks of being a food blogger.  I attended a lovely, intimate afternoon tea hosted by the good people of ABC Books at the kitchen of the Williams Sonoma store in Bondi.  The book in question was acclaimed food writer Valli Little’s Love to Cook (Harper Collins), the latest offering in the stunning ABC delicious series.

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Let me start by gushing a little about this kitchen.   That enormous, stylish, airy space was a dream come true and I half contemplated crawling into one of the pristine white cupboards and hiding out till everyone left so that I could, like maybe, live there.  I had almost convinced myself that no-one would notice, when the vivacious Valli started speaking and demonstrating a couple of the dishes from the book.  Realising that I  wouldn’t be able to enjoy the experience quite so well from inside a cupboard, I ditched my original idea and just soaked in the atmosphere.

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And Valli Little?  Warm, encouraging  and approachable, much like her writing and her recipes.  Her food is unpretentious and completely achievable for a home cook, while still being special enough to pamper your loved ones with like this dessert. Little makes it clear that there is no shame in using ingredients such as Nutella and condensed milk to put together a beautiful dish.  She has a unique style and sense of fun to her writing; think ‘Green Goddess Dressing’ and ‘Laura Ashley Soup’.

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Each of Little’s cookbooks is not only beautifully written, but enriched with stunning food photography which is the work of stylist David Morgan and photographer Jeremy Simons.  This gorgeous new addition to the delicious series is one that would snuggle in nicely on the bookshelf of anyone who loves to cook.

I was a guest of Harper Collins & ABC Books at this event hosted at Williams Sonoma.

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