This Easy Macaroni Cheese is the perfect make-ahead supper dish. If is rich, creamy and cheesy with a crispy top. If you are looking for vegetarian comfort food, which will be equally popular with non-veggies, look no further.
A traditional family recipe…
In my family, serving this Macaroni Cheese has become a Christmas Eve tradition. On the day before Christmas, when everyone is gathering, I have to feed a range of vegetarian and non-vegetarians of all ages and a spectrum of general food pickiness. This dish seems to hit the spot as it is warming and comforting and also has a simplicity that is welcome when we all know we are going to have a blow-out meal the next day. I serve it with a green salad dressed with a sharp vinaigrette to balance the cheesy richness of the pasta.
We also eat it on lots of other occasions, in both winter and summer, as it so popular and can be made ahead of time. If like me you are more of a “kitchen-supper” rather than dinner party style of host, it is a great dish to serve. Everything is done in advance – you just need to put it in the oven to warm through – so you can focus on talking to your guests rather than doing complicated things in the kitchen.
…but with a twist
There are many, many recipes for Macaroni Cheese. This one, which has developed over the years, has three elements that I think sets it apart from others. First off, it is topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese which means that it has a fantastic crispy top which sets off the soft, creamy pasta. Secondly, it is a bit spicy. We discovered that adding a lot of cayenne was a good thing when my daughter made this recipe when she was quite young and mistook a dessert spoon for a teaspoon. We ate the first mouthful with trepidation but discovered that actually having a bit of heat cuts through the richness of the cheese sauce and improves the flavour of the dish. The third and final element is that there is a delicious secret hidden within this traditional-looking Macaroni Cheese. In the middle of the dish is a layer of sweet, soft caramelised onions which work brilliantly to lift flavour of the cheesy pasta.
What would we do without pasta?
I love pasta so much that I sometimes wonder if I might have some unknown Italian ancestor! It is so easy, versatile and so universally liked – by adults, children, vegetarians and meat-eaters – that it appears on our table several times each week. If you are looking for other simple pasta supper recipes you might also like my quick and easy recipes for Creamy Mushroom Pasta and Smoked Salmon Pasta with Fennel.
This Easy Macaroni Cheese recipe combines rich, creamy pasta with a crunchy topping, a dash of cayenne heat and a secret layer of caramelised onions.
125 g butter (25 g plus 100 g)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions
1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
350 g macaroni
55 g plain flour
2 teaspoons cayenne
860 ml milk
350 g strong, hard cheese such as mature cheddar
salt and pepper
50 g fresh breadcrumbs
Put 25 g of the butter and the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan and place over a very low heat.
Peel and roughly chop the onions and add them to the pan. Cook the onions very gently for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The aim is to caramelise the onions so that they are a light golden colour and their natural sweetness is enhanced. When the onions are done, season with salt and stir in the soft brown sugar. Set aside until required.
While the onions are gently cooking, cook the macaroni in a pan of salted, boiling water according to the instructions on the packet. This would normally take around 10-15 minutes. When it is cooked, drain the hot water from the pasta and put it back in the saucepan covered with cold water to prevent it clumping together.
Make the cheese sauce by melting the remaining 100 g of butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the flour, mix it into the butter and cook gently for 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir the milk into the butter and flour mixture. Put the saucepan back onto the heat and stir until the sauce has thickened. Grate the cheese and add 300 g to the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Drain the cooked macaroni and add it to the cheese sauce.
Pour half of the mixture into a rectangular dish of approximately 40 cm x 25 cm. Spread the caramelised onions on top and then add the other half of the mixture.
Sprinkle the remaining 50 g of grated cheese on top together with the breadcrumbs.
Heat your oven to 200 C, 400 F or Gas Mark 6 and bake the macaroni cheese for 30 minutes. When it is done, it will be hot all through and the top will be crisp and golden.
It is very easy to make your own breadcrumbs by whizzing stale bread in a food processor for a few minutes. They can then be stored in the fridge for several days or frozen for several months.
You can make the macaroni cheese a day in advance up until step 7 and keep it in the fridge. Make sure that you allow it to come back up to room temperature before heating in the oven.
Keywords: macaroni, cheese, pasta bake, vegetarian
These Cheese Muffins with Chilli Jam are really quick and easy to make and combine a delicious, gooey cheesiness with the hot-sweet punch of the jam. I think cheese and chilli is a flavour combination made in heaven! You can use either shop-bought or home-made Chilli Jam for this recipe. If you want to make your own, have a look at my really easy Chilli Jam recipe.
I have always made quite a lot of sweet muffins as they lend themselves to seasonal flavours and adaptations – such as my Blackberry Muffins – but I had not made many savoury muffins until recently. Now I make a lot of plain Cheese Muffins – they are my school lunch box salvation on many occasions – but decided to try and make a more adult version. These Cheese Muffins with Chilli Jam are the result. However, if you are cooking for non-chilli lovers, you can use this recipe to make plain Cheese Muffins – just don’t add the Chilli Jam.
Gotta love a muffin..
Muffins are the perfect introduction to baking for anyone who lacks confidence in their baking skills. The method is really easy (just combine the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients) and also very quick (20 minutes to cook). This means you can pretty much whip up a batch of muffins whenever you are in the mood! This is good as the only issue with home-made muffins is that they must be eaten fresh. In my opinion, the best time to eat a muffin is when it is still warm from the oven. Otherwise, you need to eat them within a day or so as they will get stale pretty quickly.
Lovely Chilli Jam
I love Chilli Jam. It packs a chilli punch, tempered with sweetness, and is fantastic as a condiment as well as an ingredient. I use it a lot in sandwiches (particularly good with cheese and also hummus) but it is also great with roasted sweetcorn or drizzled onto baked potatoes with a dollop of sour cream.
I make my own Chilli Jam and will sometimes use it in these muffins. However, if I do not have any home-made chilli jam, I will use ready-made and this works really well too. I particularly like the Garlic Jame with Chilli produced by the Garlic Farm which has the additional benefit of garlic flavour too. The heat of these muffins will depend on the the strength of the chilli jam so choose one according to your chilli tolerance.
These Cheese Muffins with Chilli Jam are really quick and easy to make and combine a delicious, gooey cheesiness with the hot-sweet punch of the jam.
275 g self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
250 ml milk
100 g melted butter
1 large sprig of thyme
75 g of strongly flavoured cheese (I generally use cheddar or a mixture of 50g cheddar and 25g gruyere)
Chilli Jam – (I have a really easy recipe to make Chilli Jam but shop-bought is great too)
Set your oven to 200 C/180F/Gas Mark 6.
Line a 12-hole muffin tin.
Put the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Add the egg, milk and melted butter. Stir to combine.
Remove the leaves from the sprig of thyme, roughly chop them and add them to the mixture.
Finely grate the cheese and stir into the mixture.
Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of the muffin mixture into each of the lined holes in your muffin tray.
Make an indentation in each portion of muffin mixture and add a spoonful of chilli jam.
Put the muffin tray in the oven and bake the muffins for 20 minutes until they are risen and golden.
Remove the tray from the oven and allow the muffins to cool for five minutes before taking them out of the tin.
If you don’t have shop-bought liners, you can easily make your own by cutting baking parchment into squares and using a small jar or tin to mould each square into the hole in the tin before adding the mixture.
If you are cooking for non-chilli lovers, you can just leave out the Chilli Jam and then you have a straightforward gooey cheesy muffin.
These Cheese Biscuits with Chilli are a heated-up version of a basic cheese biscuit recipe. They are fantastic as a snack with drinks as they are deliciously cheesy and pack a big load of chilli heat. I think they go particularly well with a beer!
I have been making the basic biscuits for years and if you are not a lover of spicy food, you can leave out the chilli. If you are serving them with wine, the non-spicy version might be better. Or you could do a batch and put chilli in one half.
I have a taste for savoury, salty snacks, which I try to moderate generally and indulge occasionally. One of the good things about making your own snacks is that you are in control of the salt levels. Adding strong flavour elements, such as chilli, also helps with this as it means that the snacks have a powerful hit of flavour without being overly salty.
Whether you are looking for a plate of snacks ready for a box-set binge evening or for a drinks party, these Cheese Biscuits with Chilli are fantastic. They will keep in a sealed tin for several days once baked. Even better, you can keep the dough in the refridgerator for a week and slice and cook the biscuits when you want to eat them. You can also freeze the dough for several months. I always prepare a large batch of cheese biscuit dough in the run-up to Christmas and refridgerate or freeze which means that I can have freshly baked home-made biscuits within minutes.
If you are in a snacking mood, you might also like to try my recipes for Spiced Nuts and Marinated Feta. Both are really easy and are great at a party or if you are just watching television with a cold beer!
Whether you make these Cheese Biscuits with or without chilli, they are a fantastic snack with drinks or for a box-set binge. The dough can be kept in the fridge or freezer and baked whenever you feel like fresh home-made biscuits.
100 g butter (at room temperature)
100 g strong cheese (eg Cheddar)
100 g plain flour
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until combined to form a dough.
Roll the dough into a sausage shape, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge to chill for an hour.
Set your oven to 180 degrees C or Gas Mark 4.
Remove the dough from the fridge and cut across to form disks approximately 1 cm thick.
Place the disks on a greased baking tray and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until golden.
Remove from the oven and place the biscuits on a baking rack to cool.
If you don’t like chilli, you can leave it out. The plain, cheese biscuits are delicious too!
The baked biscuits will keep for several days in an air-tight tin.
The dough can be kept in the fridge for a week. So that you can cut it into discs and bake for home-made biscuits within minutes.