Sugarbird's Sweet Nothings

I am passionate about food. And cooking. And baking. And running. Come and find a new recipe, a funny story, some strong opinions and whatever else I feel like throwing in the mix today.
April 4th, 2011

Pistachio Petit Four Surprise Birthday Cake

Why not start my post with the pretty picture of the whole and beautiful cake? Because this is the best bit about making a cake. When its been hacked to pieces and everyone around you is munching it. Awesome. And it makes me happy looking at this picture. And right now, while injured and unable to run, with this annoying dull ache in my leg, I need pretty cake pictures to make me smile.

I was commissioned to make this birthday cake by my neighbour Kevin for a surprise birthday party for his wife Geri. This weekend was her 50th birthday, and after insisting that she did not want a 50th birthday party, he decided to throw her a 49.9th birthday party instead. And just to make sure that she could not object or get out of it at all, he made it a surprise party so she knew absolutely nothing about it. As Kevin is a frequent devourer of my cookies, cakes and other tempting treats, he knew I would be delighted to make the cake for the party, which I was, provided I could come along and see the surprise on Geri’s face for myself. And just for good measure we brought along my mom and sister who were visiting for the weekend. It worked out nicely as it was my mom’s birthday the very same day, so I took advantage of the fact that Kevin was barbecuing and putting on a good party and celebrated with her as well.
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February 10th, 2011

Macaroni Cheese & Tingle

I don’t make Macaroni cheese very often. Partly because vast amounts of rich, creamy cheese sauce is not condusive to maintaining one’s waistline, and partly because it just seems like a food that one should be making for one’s children. And as I don’t have any of those, I can’t use them as an excuse for simple, sumptuous, indulgent comfort food. Last weekend however, I just had a feeling that it was time. Time to break out the cheese grater and copious amounts of cheddar and gruyere, and make an unreasonably huge pot of Macaroni Cheese. 

I also have a slight issue with Britain’s take on macaroni.  There is something not quite right about it. It seems cut short in its growing process somehow (I know macaroni does not grow on trees by the way, I’m being figurative). Its stunted. And thin. And somewhat unsatisfying. I grew up in Johannesburg and good old South African macaroni is a good 3cm long, and plumps up beautifully when cooked. It is unfortunate that I did not appreciate South African macaroni when I was growing up – I always felt cheated when my mom handed us macaroni bolognaise instead of spaghetti – a lot more fun to eat and just much more appealing to a child than macaroni. And its SPAGHETTI bolognaise mom, not macaroni bologanise! Her argument that she could make a box of macaroni go a lot further than a box of spaghetti when feeding her hoard of 4 hungry children held absolutely no weight with me. Sorry Mom.

There is something quite theraputic about grating cheese. Maybe I’m just weird, but I’d rather grate by hand tan use the grater attachment for my food processor. A fact that baffles the man in my life. He just cannot comprehend why I would rather take 5 or 10 minutes to grate my blocks of cheese manually when I could do it in about 30 seconds if I used the machine. Maybe it has something to do with an ingrained need to feel like I am working for and earning my food in some way. Who knows.

A white sauce is like a blank canvas, just begging to be coloured with cayenne, cheddar and cardamom. And this one is rich, velvety and stunningly sinful, with a teriffic tingle left on the tongue by the Cayenne. Serve it with a pile of crispy green salad to break through the richness, and delight in simple tastes reminiscent of your childhood. Or, if your mom never exposed you to macaroni cheese, discover it and enjoy.

 Martha Stewart’s Creamy Mac-and-Cheese
From Smitten Kitchen

This is half the original recipe, and I can’t say I have ever had enough mouths to feed to make the full amount, but should you feel the need to double it, please do go ahead.

Serves 6

55g unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
3 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn/cut into small pieces
2¾ cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for pasta water
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2¼ cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Gruyère
500g bag macaroni

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 15g butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 40g butter in a thick bottom saucepan over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1½ cups cheddar cheese, and ¾ cup Gruyère. Set the cheese sauce aside.

5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 6 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining ¾ cup cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Gruyère, and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.