Photo: Jane Barry
Like many, many people, I was forced to completely rethink my Christmas plans this year. In September, my boyfriend and I booked flights to visit my parents in the Highlands of Scotland for the holidays, with the full expectation that we would not be able to go. But our departure date drew nearer and nearer, we got COVID tests and checked in for our flight. Hours before we were due to leave, strict measures were implemented all over the UK. I felt breathlessly sad as I realised that we would not be getting on the plane, that we wouldn't be back with my parents after two years of being apart, that we wouldn't be waking up to the silence of the countryside and the expansive view out of my parents' kitchen window. But staying at home was the right thing to do. My mum is in a high risk category, and though I'm sure they won't thank me for saying it, neither of them is getting any younger. Not only that, but I don't want to be responsible for making anyone sick. I still feel very sad, but I'm thinking of this decision to stay put as an act of love and kindness, both for my family and for the communities I move through. It feels a bit better that way.
One thing that has always brought me great comfort is cooking for the people I love. It's what connects us, it's how we celebrate, and it's an easy expression of kindness. When so many of us are spending our holidays apart from those closest to us, we need to look for and create that comfort on a smaller scale. I'm deeply fortunate to spend this time with my boyfriend and our sweet dog; we are planning lots of comfort food and long walks. I'd like to extend some of that spirit to others who are feeling far away and disconnected, and so I'm sharing some of the recipes of what we are cooking here.
First up: mac & cheese with roasted cauliflower. We've been cooking this at home for a couple of years now. We've tinkered with it—different cheese mixes, with mustard, without mustard, with veg, without—but this version is our favourite. The kale is very optional (it's not always easy to find in Berlin, for example), but the cauliflower is essential. If you have a very leafy cauliflower you can also chop the leaves and roast them too. The recipe makes six very generous portions, so it's good for a family meal. For lazy people like us, there are plenty of leftovers. I hope you find as much comfort and joy in it as we do. Happy holidays!
Mac & cheese with roasted cauliflower
Makes enough for at least 6 people
Photo: Ruth Barry
70g plain flour
70g unsalted butter
1 litre whole milk
1-2 tsp of Dijon mustard
400g vintage cheddar coarsely grated
For the cauliflower
A whole cauliflower, chopped into bite-size pieces and roasted in olive oil and salt for about 20-25 mins at 220C
Some lightly blanched kale, cooked for 5 minutes in the same pot as the pasta
Preheat the oven to 220C and grease a large baking dish with butter (I use a glass one with the dimensions 20 x 32 cm).
In a medium sized saucepan (I use one that holds 2 litres), make a roux by melting the butter with the flour on a medium-low heat. Stir constantly with a whisk for 2-3 minutes so the flour cooks. Pour in all of the milk, stirring constantly with the whisk to incorporate the roux. Add a little salt, no more than a quarter teaspoon, as much pepper as you like and the mustard, then mix everything together. Increase the heat to medium and continue to stir occasionally as the sauce starts to thicken. Make sure to heat it slowly and scrape the bottom so there are no lumps in your sauce. When the sauce has thickened, remove it from the heat and stir in 50% of the grated cheese. Mix until it has totally melted. Taste the sauce and adjust the salt and pepper levels to your preference.
Place a large pot of generously salted water on the stove and bring to a vigorous boil. Add the macaroni and mix around to stop it sticking to the bottom. Cook for two minutes less than the time recommended on the package. Drain, and then add back into the pot along with the cauliflower and the kale (if you’re including it). Pour your cheese sauce over the pasta and veg, and mix until everything is evenly coated.
Transfer the whole mixture into your prepared baking dish and sprinkle the remaining cheddar over the top, getting right up to the edges. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until browned to your liking.
This can be kept for several days in the fridge and reheated at 220C for 15 mins, or until hot in the middle. You can also freeze any leftovers.