Food hacks

I don’t make much mention of it on here (see my other blog for somewhere that I do), but in my day job I’m a programmer. Counted amongst the weird and wonderful jargon that profession entails is the word hack.

There’s a particular sort of hack I’m particularly good at. Quick, and usually somewhat dirty, solutions that use what’s available in unexpected ways. Reactions to them can be anything from “Ooh, that’s neat” to “AIEEE! MY EYES!”, but they usually get the job done a lot faster than the alternatives. I don’t use them all the time, but I probably use them a bit more often than I should.

This post is basically an example of me transplanting that technique to my cooking. The results are… unusual.

Without further ado, some recipes.

Recipe 1: Macaroni and Cheese

I just got back from a trip to New York (well, technically Jersey City), to visit my girlfriend, Victoria. We both cooked while I was there, and one of the things she cooked was her macaroni and cheese recipe. It’s essentially the macaroni and cheese analogue of my brownies – do the simplest thing that can possibly work and the results are delicious.

  • Macaroni
  • Milk
  • Cheese (Victoria uses a Longhorn-style cheddar. “Lord knows what you call it on that side of the ocean” — Victoria. I used a mature english cheddar)
  • Something to serve it with. Victoria uses stewed whole tomatoes, I just used a hot sauce.

I don’t really know the proportions for this – I think it’s basically “make enough macaroni to serve the requisite number of people then add milk and cheese until it looks right”. Cooking is equally straightforward – cook the macaroni until it’s slightly underdone, cube the cheese, put the cheese, milk and cooked macaroni in a greased glass dish and bake until it looks cooked (at around 200C I think).

So, yesterday evening I thought “Hmm. What to make for dinner? Oh, why don’t I give Victoria’s macaroni and cheese recipe a go?”

I went to sainsburys to buy the ingredients only to discover, admittedly somewhat unsurprisingly, that they did not have any macaroni. This made me sad:

Oh well, macaroni is just pasta, right?

Hack 1: Penne and Cheese

Exactly the same as the macaroni and cheese, but with penne instead.

Result: Surprisingly nice. The macaroni is a bit better, but the penne is entirely acceptable here. It just has a slightly weird shape for it.

Anyway, I have a really evil recipe that I felt like making tonight:

Coney Island Fries

There seem to be approximately a million different distinct recipes each claiming to be coney island fries. Most of them involve some sort of meat. I call these coney island fries because the pub whose recipe I reverse engineered them from did. They’re evil because they’re really tasty but contain no redeeming nutritional or culinary value. I try to avoid making them too often, but occasionally I succumb.

  • Oven fries
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Guacamole
  • Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce

Recipe: Cook the oven fries as per normal. When they’re nearly done, add large quantities of grated cheddar. Serve with guacamole and way more sweet chilli sauce than can possibly be good for you.

Result: Mmmm.

So, having decided to make it I went to sainsburys for ingredients. Result: No oven fries.

At this point I was feeling like it was sainsburys’s mission to thwart me.

So, I wondered what I could substitute for the fries in order to get something resembling success.

At this point you would be right to have a sinking feeling…

“Ah ha”, I thought, “I have leftover penne and cheese at home, don’t I?”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Hack 2: Coney Island Penne

I hurried home to put my diabolical plan into action.

  • Leftover penne and cheese
  • A handful of frozen corn
  • Guacamole
  • Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce

Recipe: Heat up penne and cheese. Add frozen corn because I’m feeling guilty. Serve with guacamole and sweet chilli sauce.

Results: Well, hmm. Not exactly good per se. Interesting, certainly edible, and not nearly as bad as one might fear, but kinda inferior to its constituent recipes – I wouldn’t say no to eating this again, but I’d take the penne and cheese or the coney island fries over it any day.

Oh well. I did say it was a hack.

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