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Candied Bacon ‘N’ Pumpkin Ice Cream

I think we’ve touched on me being a bit of an Americanophile before. I have a total weakness for the literature and food of the USA. And I’m prepared to struggle for my art. The Kraft Mac n’Cheese might have defeated me, but like my first time reading Moby Dick, I don’t give up easily. Pumpkin pie didn’t float my boat, but I was determined to find a Thanksgiving inspired dessert that did this year. Pumpkin ice cream sounded just the thing.

Shamelessly copying this David Lebovitz recipe, I dug out the spare can of Libby’s from last year and got going. A rich thick custard was created, laced with vanilla and a lot more rum than he suggested and anointed with some proper amounts of spice. Half a can of the pumpkin puree was added in and the whole thing was churned til a beautiful golden shade of orange. It was then served as the highpoint after a proper Amurrican meal of corndogs and macaroni cheese with a friend from Chicago. And it tasted like grass.

Oddly powdery in texture with a strong vegetable taste that took over the soft spices and vanilla, it was the strangest ice cream I’ve ever had. The extra water content in the pumpkin made it freeze as hard as a rock and taste of ice crystals rather than the usual velvety blanket of churned cream I make. The rum didn’t help and added no flavour. And unusually for an American recipe, it wasn’t sweet enough. It seemed sparse and utilitarian. Neither of us finished our bowls.

But I had around a litre of it in the freezer and was loath to throw it out. It needed something to lift it and make it sweeter, more dessert-like and less like a very peculiar starter. And it need to be properly American in style. Hershey syrup would have worked. Maybe some of those mini marshmallows you get in American cereals. Butterscotch chips embedded in would be great. I didn’t have any of those things to hand and I refuse to pay Selfridges’ Food Hall prices.

What I did have to hand was some lovely unsmoked bacon from the Porcus people. I realised the time had come to get on the candied bacon bandwagon. It’s been uber fashionable to bacon everything possible in the past few years from chocolate to Baconnaise. Apart from one disappointing dalliance with the chocolate, I’ve steered clear, haunted by memories of bacon bits in adolescence. But when bacon is this good, it cries out to be coated with sugar, baked til crisp and then crumbled over ice cream and swirled with toffee sauce…

It went into the oven on a lined tray, heaped with sugar and cooked at about 200℃ for about ten minutes, then turned over and dredged through the syrup and cooked a bit more, before being cooled to a crisp. Shred it up nice and small. And then turn your full attention to the toffee sauce. I used equal quantities (handily unmeasured) of golden caster sugar, golden syrup, double cream and butter and boiled it for about 5 minutes or until I got bored waiting.

The rock hard ice cream had loosened up nicely and it got a liberal swirl of sauce and a decent sprinkling of bacon. Some crushed pecans nuts and a rasher of best back cut lengthways would make an amazing (and very adult) sundae. But we kept it simple and got stuck in. And it really worked. The sauce sweetened the ice cream and toned down the powderiness while the sticky shards of bacon added much needed texture. We finished the bowls with gusto this time.

Next year I won’t be bothering with pumpkin desserts, keeping my slices from the deli for soups and stews, but I recommend you combine this ice cream and the accompanying candied bacon one to have something to experiment with this time next year. You’ll be be giving thanks for the bacon all year round!

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!