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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

January 16, 2006

Mac and Cheese Controversy

I was going to do a "your questions answered" today, but there didn't seem to be much point, as it was the usual round of "joanne lees b r e a s t s" and "how to pronounce epiphone" and the Renault Clio ad etc.

One person was searching for a recipe for haddock soup, so glad to oblige. And I want to relate that to the hilarious controversy over at Slate Magazine about a crappy recipe on the New York Times web site for macaroni cheese.

I wonder how many other recipes are regularly downloaded that are, in fact, pants?

There's always a clue, I think, when a recipe tries to help you avoid doing something that you might consider difficult. People who have trouble getting dough to rise will search for a recipe for scone-based pizza. Scone-based is how my mum used to make it, back in the day, and it was what we regularly had for Saturday tea when Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee) was on (my mum didn't have trouble getting bread to rise, but she was short of time). It can be quite nice, but I actually think it's harder to do well than the bread-based sort.

A personal bugbear is the soup recipe that either doesn't involve starting off with a bit of oil and garlic/onion/leek as a base or doesn't include stock. I had a terrible recipe book that had loads of soups in it where you just added water, and every single one I tried was awful. There are a couple of recipes that work without onion/leek/garlic, but they're few and far between. For example, a nice fish soup with fennel and potatoes can be overwhelmed by the onion, because the delicate flavour of the fennel - although I got away with an onion with the fennel in my smooth smoked haddock soup, which was more of a everything-from-the-fridge kind of recipe.

Anyway, making macaroni cheese without having to make a roux: give it up, or buy a ready meal, if you're that hopeless.

A roux requires patience, or wiles. Even the best cook can get it wrong occasionally. I've seen my sister whizz her b├ęchamel in a food processor to remove lumps. My personal trick is to pre-warm the milk in the microwave, so that I'm always adding warm milk - it binds with the roux quicker, and speeds up the process a lot. And I buy small packets of flour for sauces, which I think works better than plain old, er, plain, too.

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