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Kraft Mac n’Cheese

I have long been a bit of an Americanophile with a particular penchant for American literature. Part of that fascination is to do with the descriptions of seemingly exotic sounding foods in these novels. To someone growing up in Ireland, corn dogs and crawdaddies held an almost magical fascination. So imagine my childlike glee when I espied a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in Brixton Market last weekend! I could finally try that most archetypal of American meals without the need for transatlantic travel…

Kraft Mac n’ Cheese or Kraft Dinner as it is also referred to, seems to be the thing that most of my American ex-pat friends crave the most outside the USA. They beg returning travellers to slip those familiar blue boxes in their luggage or pay ridiculous prices for it in Selfridges food hall. Their eyes glaze over with wistfulness when they mention it. How could I resist trying something so iconic?

So on a grey rainy Sunday evening, after a few cocktails the previous night, I decided it was time to try the ultimate comfort food and open that box of Kraft Dinner in time for Come Dine With Me. Firstly, I was alarmed to see that since the macaroni and cheese sauce are separately packed, you have to make the entire 3 serving box in its entirety. Even as a great lover of macaroni cheese that seemed excessive.

Secondly, the macaroni seemed to stick together the instant I added it to the boiling water and no amount of stirring seemed to help. Thirdly, while my pasta lump was cooking, I was horrified to see that the serving instruction was to use 4 tablespoons of margarine to make the cheese sauce. For a real butter lover those instructions felt like sacrilege. I was slightly relieved to see that the ‘Light Prep’ involved 2 teaspoons of butter and the same amount of fat free milk. Pondering why anyone would willingly add that much margarine to anything, I drained the macaroni.

Thanks to having to stir it to try and break up the unappealing lump it had formed, I haven’t seen macaroni this gluey since I last made art in kindergarten class. Obeying the express instruction not to rinse it took every ounce of my willpower. Instead it lay draining in the colander looking wan and quivering like a recently unearthed brain. I hoped the cheese sauce would salvage it…

I added a 1/4 cup of semi skimmed milk to the pan along with a lump of salted butter and opened the foil sachet of cheese sauce powder. Believe me when I say the last time I saw anything that unnaturally lurid in colour, it was being worn by a eager young thing en route to a Nu Rave night. Luckily stirring it into the milk and butter rendered it normal enough coloured to consider eating and it looked almost palatable by the time the macaroni was stirred in.

I was too shocked to take a good photo...

I put the whole mountain of mac n’ cheese in a bowl and added some black pepper for extra favour. I was slightly concerned to see that by the time I had sat down to eat, it had begun to congeal slightly in the bowl, adding an extra dimension of unappealingness to it all.

Undaunted, I dug into the dish, only to discover it looks better than it tastes. I’d say it tasted like sick, but at least sick has a definable flavour. This was offensive in its sheer blandness. It didn’t even taste of salt, let alone cheese. The macaroni was limp and wet with absolutely no texture or bite while the sauce was just tasteless with a unpleasant hint of oiliness. The whole thing was simply like milky semi digested pap. By the time the good folk of Come Dine With Me had reached their first starter, I had had enough.

Having tasted this dreck, I cannot imagine how miserable you must be feeling for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to classify as comfort food. Everything about it is an insult to the real thing. Any craving for processed cheese I had after reading this paean to it has been obliterated. After this crushing disappointment I doubt I will ever risk trying an egg cream or a funnel cake in the future. I’m not sure I could take the shattering of another childhood dream after this debacle!

Green wet garlic, red meat and blue cheese…

Sirloin with shallot and wet garlic, finished with Blacksticks Blue

As part of Miss South’s trip north at the end of March I wanted to ensure we could enjoy what is rapidly becoming a prerequisite for our family gatherings: excellent beef steak. As usual the wonderful Stansfield’s of Tod market was able to supply the required cuts, in this case two glorious Yorkshire sirloins. Once I’d bought these I picked up a brace of oh-so-fresh wet garlic bulbs from Alex Med – the first of the year – and decided that this, alongside a few rogue shallots which were crying out to be used, could provide the basis of a very pleasant main course. With a starter of Woodcock and a dessert of Buckfast sorbet this was shaping up to a helluva meal… Read more

Frittata? That’d be lovely, ta…

Onion, potato and tomato frittata

“Frittata, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Free-ta-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Free. Ta. Ta.”*

A long time ago I was deeply influenced by the writing of Marcella Hazan. She was, and remains, one of my favourite food writers; not just for her playful tone and homely style, but also for her authoritative standing on all things Italian-American. Our family used to holiday regularly in Italy when we were growing up, so the palates of Miss South and myself were honed through years of exposure to appreciate in simple yet perfect Mediterranean staples and delicacies. A Marcella cookbook or two always stood, well thumbed, on the kitchen bookshelf, and I’ve upheld this tradition since living here in England. I was given “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” many moons ago, and almost immediately alighted on the chapter on frittate. I fell in love and I’ve not looked back since.

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Morcilla and chocolate rabbit with a fluffy mash tail

Conejo En Salsa De Chocolate Con Morcilla

This is a recipe which perfectly chimes with the Easter theme for me –  a chocolate rabbit –  although I actually cooked this in November last year. I found the recipe online when I was trying to pair up rabbit and morcilla (Spanish black pudding) after I found I was in possession of both elements. I believe it originally featured in “The Art of South American Cooking,” by Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, and was republished by Jayne Benet writing in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1992. It’s absolutely fantastic! Read more

A taste of Eritrea in Brixton…

Mister North was London-bound again this week and I decided to introduce him to one of my favourite neighbourhood restaurants, Asmara on Coldharbour Lane. This is an Eritrean restaurant serving delicious food at extremely good prices. It’s also within walking distance of my house making it perfect for a casual Tuesday evening dinner.

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