Thursday, 10 November 2016

Loose recipe: Chili Pasta Bake

So, in recent years I've been aiming to expand my cooking capabilities. I come from a long line of good cooks, and I had wondered if I had the cooking genes hidden away. Well, so far, I've yet to kill anyone with my food, and I've advanced from switching on a microwave, to actual meals. Most of which seems to settle around what Sadie likes.

Now, it came about that in the midst of experimenting - potato pie didn't go down so well - with budget foods, I accidentally came up with a new thing. Well, I say new, I mean "new" for us. It's probably worked on a budget menu all over the world.

But we can blame Jon Arnold for suggesting I write about here. And for Shimy for going "why didn't I think of that?" when I told him about it.

And Sarah. Because she invented it, sort of.

One night, her slightly stressed and tired dad asked her what she would like for dinner. Chili Con Carne, or Pasta Bake? Don't worry, folks, my CCC is sans chilis, and distinctly mild, to deal with the palates of daughter and wife.

Now there's a chap in Ancient times who put his donkey between two identical barrels of hay, and left it to decide which to eat, and the donkey starved because it couldn't choose. Much like me when I try out Netflix.  Toddlers seem to be a bit like that, so Sarah's answer was "Both!".

And being Sarah's slightly mental dad, I gave it a try.

I present to you: Chili Con Carne...Pasta Bake!

Oh, incidentally, this can be made as a vegetarian dish or a meat based dish.

Chili Con Carne Pasta Bake

Main Ingredients (cost - £3 from Sainsbury's, but prices may vary in your area)

A bag of pasta. (the 35p one from Sainsbury will do, or cheaper if available)
Carrots (I used tinned because cheaper, but you can cut up a fresh one if you like)
One bottle of Chili Cooking Sauce

Suggested Ingredients

A two pound bag of fresh beef mince
Other veg
Tinned chopped tomato
A non-chili tomato sauce to mild the taste for young ones.
Assorted herbs, mustards
Worcester Sauce

You'll note the suggested ingredients increase the price. It ought to be slightly cheaper than your average non-budget microwave meal, however.

Now Delia would probably be all charming, so...consider that bit read.

Step by Step

1. Now, if you have onions to cut up, and fresh carrot, and lord knows what other veg, I would strongly cutting that to begin. Otherwise, you run about with water boiling everywhere in a kitchen which suddenly becomes too small for any sensible cooking and stress out!

So, use a knife to cut down the veg. It doesn't really matter how small you make it, but the thing with onion is that the smaller the slices, the more the taste merges into the dish, whereas the bigger they are, the more it clumps together.  You may get pre-chopped veg  and not have to deal with this, but it's a bit dearer.

2. There's two schools of thought on pasta. Some boil the water in the kettle first, and then pour it over the pasta and cook that way. Others put the water in the hob, let it boil and then put the pasta in. Others just put the pasta in cold water and let it slow cook as the water temperature rises. Your mileage may vary. Arguably the pasta tastes slightly different by which way, but I wouldn't profess a preferment.

However, I would state that pasta is a being made of Sod's Law. So the first thing we need to do is starting cooking the pasta. The sauce is going to take 20 minutes to cook, and you don't want to have the rest cooked only to find the pasta is still al dente. Perhaps you like your pasta chewy, but I like mine soft.

3. So, we have our non-pre chopped veg cut down to size, and the pasta's drowning away in the boiled water. Time to deal with the chili part of the meal.

Now, I use a Homepride Chili Cooking Sauce for that particular bit. There are other such sauces on the market, and you might even wish to create your own from scratch. Good luck to you. But let's assume you're on a low budget, so the sauce it is.

Now these sauces need twenty minutes to full cook.

Things are different if we're making the mince version of things, but vegetarians tend to have to wait, so we're covering the veggie version first. 

So we've poured the Chili Sauce into a pan, and it's cooking away. Now we pour the veg we chopped earlier into the mix, and stir frantically.

You might scoff at onion and carrot, but they're bloody healthy for you. Help your eyesight, clean out your blood system, strengthen your cardiovascular system, and, have lots of anti-oxident stuff in them. You might go "ewww" but really, who has their first beer and goes "that tastes delicious"? You grow a taste for it, you can grow a taste for stuff which might save your life too.

Ok, with the preaching, there's the Delia bit.

So the veg is in with the sauce, and here's where you add any other chopped tomato, or milder tomato sauces to soak up the veg and the sauce. Now, some sauces don't work as well here, as when the sauces meet, the chili one becomes the dominant one. Something to do with chemistry, don't ask me, I never paid attention in class. To the point that one day Mr Frazer saw me flunking an experiment test in front of the external examiner and in one small move leant over and "accidentally" toppled my test tube to the floor, before going "Damn, sorry, my fault, Michael will need to do it again later..."

Now, here's where I'd add Worcester sauce, and a bunch of herbs and mustards. Olive oil is good too. How much of a herb? Ack, just a flick of the wrist should suffice if they're in one of the shakers, but if there not, half a tablespoon should suffice!

Various herbs and spices are nice - I recommend tumeric (but not too much!), pepper, Italian seasoning herbs, parsley, the works. Just bung ones you like in, and stir them in. We're not on Masterchef here, after all.

4. This stew of sauce and veg needs 20 minutes. It'll need longer if you cook it on a low heat, and it has an extreme taste, but burnt cooking pans, if you cook the full twenty on Dial 5 or whatever you call the hottest dial on the cooking hob. So...I'd suggest Medium heat for 10-15 mins, then crank it up to the top one for the last five, and really give it a damn good stir.

5. By now you're pasta will be looking more edible. Keep stirring it too. This is the best when you get hungry, and also your sinuses are full of steam. Soon be all over now.

6. Bingo! The sauce has been cooked. Put it on a hob which wasn't being used. Taste test. It should be fine. If cool, keep it cooking till hot.

7. Now, taste test the pasta first, if nice and soft, drain it in the sink with the help of a collander. Then put the pasta bake in the pot you just cooked it in.

8. Now, take the veg and sauce pot, and pour it over the pasta.

9. Stir frantically, let the sauce mix right in with the pasta.

10. If you are going to use cheese now is a good time to pour it in. Stir it right in and you'll have it melt super quick.

11. Obviously, turn off all cooking appliances.

12. Dish up into servings for however many people need to eat.

13. Eat.

I wouldn't worry too much about ingredient measurements, it's the same bloody food in the end. Though, if you overdose on the tumeric you might have some interesting sinus issues.

Now, back to the non-veggie variety

Much of the steps are the same, only this time to start off,, we pre-emptively take a bag of mince out of the freezer to defrost over night. Sure you can microwave it, but it loses some of the taste. I get my mince from our local butcher, but you can get it from a shop, I guess. I had a bad experience with ASDA meat once which puts me off it, and no, it didn't nay if that's what you think I mean.

Mince takes overnight to properly defrost at room temperature.

Chop up the veg or prepare it as previously mentioned. Lots of onion. Mince and onion go together remarkably well.

We take a nice cooking pan, and pour in some cooking oil. Dump the meat in, and cook for...10-15 minutes until nicely browned. We don't want food poisoning now, do we?

Once the meat is browned (or "greyed" to be strictly accurate!), pour in the chili sauce, stir, then add your veg and other tomato sauces to soak in.

Then cook for 20 minutes much the same as above.

Obviously, this adds time to the cooking, so you are your best judge about when to start cooking the pasta. I'd just start it - what's wrong with super soft pasta, I say.

There is the third option of subbing the mince for beans, butterbeans do nicely in this regard, and for that, add them at the same time as the other veg.

And that's generally it.