There is something very rewarding about cooking with kids, passing on knowledge and watching the wonder and pride on their faces when they produce something delicious from an oven. For me it is no exception, especially when I have such an enthusiastic Sous Chef as my great-niece, Reya, aged 6. One of her favourite meals is good old Mac n’ Cheese – heck, isn’t it right up there with one of everyone’s favourite dishes. So here’s a little recipe…..
There are Mac n’ Cheese recipes, and then there are MAC N’ CHEESE recipes. I like to think this one falls in the “shout it from the roof-top” category as it goes beyond the standard by using bacon lardons, three different cheeses and toasted croutons. But any recipe is only a guide, if you want to vary it then there is no problem with that. For my version you need:
- 350 gms Macaroni or Amori pasta (but any short or spiral pasta will do).
- 1 x 20 gms pack Smoked Bacon Lardons.
- 500 ml Semi-Skimmed Milk (some prefer full fat milk but I think there is enough fat in the cheese).
- 200 gms Mature Cheddar Cheese, grated.
- 50 gms Lincoln Poacher Cheese, grated (or another medium-hard cheese such as Comté).
- 50 gms Parmsean Cheese, grated (or Grand Padano or Pecorino as alternatives).
- 50 gms White Bread cut into small chunks (you can use a baguette or think slices of a loaf – I like the baguette approach as you can tear it into uneven chunks which adds a certain something to the finished dish).
- 3 Tablespoons Plain Flour
- 1 Garlic Clove – either finely chopped or pureed (See Tip)
- 1 Teaspoon English Mustard Powder (Optional – it really depends if you want a little bit of a bite to your cheese sauce)
- 4 Tablespoons Butter – 2 of which should be melted.
Spot what’s missing from the ingredients….. The Milk!!!
First step – get your oven on to 200º (or 180º if you have a fan oven). Place a piece of baking parchment on a baking tray and scatter the bread chunks on to it – drizzle with the melted butter and place in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes until the croutons are toasted. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Cook your pasta in accordance with the directions, but reduce the cooking time by a couple of minutes as it will finish cooking in the cheese sauce. Once cooked, drain it off and set aside.
While the Croutons are toasting in the oven put a dash of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the bacon lardons until they are crispy – see the photos.
Drain the lardons off on a piece of kitchen paper and set aside.
Next step is to make the cheese sauce.
In a saucepan melt the two tablespoons of butter and when bubbling, add the mustard powder and garlic and fry this for a couple of minutes.Then add the flour and fry for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time.
Start adding the milk, a little at a time and don’t stop stirring. Once all of the milk has been stirred in to the flour and butter, you should have a smooth roux.
Then add the Cheddar and Lincolnshire Poacher cheese – a little at a time until it has melted into the sauce – et voilà, you have your cheese sauce!
Tip all of your pasta and the bacon lardons into the cheese sauce and give it a good stir to ensure it is well mixed.
Always taste your sauce so you can adjust any seasoning. NOTE: you are unlikely to need any salt as the cheese is salty anyway – you might want a couple of twists of black pepper. Judging by the picture, ours was A-MA-ZING!!!!
Now pre-heat your grill. Pour the cheese and pasta mix into a serving dish, scatter over the croutons and finally the parmesan cheese.
Place the dish under your grill until the Parmesan Cheese has melted and the croutons have taken a bit more colour – be careful not to let them burn!
Your dish is ready to serve and you will have one very proud little chef! To serve, there is the Kid’s way and the Adult’s way…. judge for yourself which you’d prefer….
I hope you enjoy!
WORD OF CAUTION: Young chefs should be supervised at all times – teach them gently and you will be richly rewarded.
TIP: MAKING GARLIC PASTE
To make a garlic paste, chop your garlic clove, sprinkle with a little sea salt and then, using the blade of your knife, mash it down until you have a smooth paste. This will be absorbed into sauces much faster than either chopped garlic or garlic that has been passed through a garlic press.
Reya, my gorgeous little Sous Chef, aka Great Niece, is trying to raise money for the Little Princess Trust by donating 12 inches of her hair. The Little Princess Trust provides wigs to children with cancer to help them cope when they lose their hair. This is entirely Reya’s own idea and initiative. Should you wish to contribute towards her fund-raising, her Just Giving page may be found at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Charlotte-Clayton5