Monday, 25 August 2008

We Interrupt This Holiday to Bring You a Tropical Storm

Tropical storm Fay arrived in Florida and we decided that it would be prudent to leave while she blew herself out. Having been to Savannah many years ago, I suggested it might be a nice place for us to ride out the storm - far enough away from the wind and rain, but not too far to drive. In the end, for reasons of both weather and culinary delights, Savannah was a fantastic choice. We loved the architecture and the history too, but as always, Southern hospitality won the day and we ate like kings.

From easy meals at chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday, to fantastic lunches at the locally owned Shrimp Factory, to a dinner at the famous Lady and Sons, we enjoyed lots of wonderful southern delicacies while riding out the storm.

Two of the places that really do stand out for me are The Shrimp Factory, on East River Street, on the Savannah waterfront and Lady and Sons, owned by Paula Deen and her sons. We had lunch at The Shrimp Factory on afternoon and it was an absolute joy. The restaurant is cozy and offers a view of the port of Savannah, with friendly staff and super food. After we had ordered, a hot basket of baby blueberry muffins arrived with pots of pecan butter, all on the house. They were just delicious. Guy and I wanted sandwich and salad, but as we had been enjoying all that Southern hospitality, we didn't want a whole sandwich or a whole salad. Well, without any fuss, the waitress allowed me to order the sandwich - a beautiful shrimp salad sandwich on rye that was the most delicious I have ever had - and Guy to order the salad. She then brought enough plates so we could share. The salad was wonderful too, a Shrimp Factory take on Caesar Salad - really yummy. Alex had a turkey bacon club sandwich he just raved about. Wonderful!

As for Lady and Sons, what an experience! It's so popular they don't take reservations. You have to line up outside at 9.30am in the morning and book your table for lunch or dinner. We got the time slot we wanted - 7.30pm - and looked forward to our dinner all day. After we arrived, my only complaint was that there was no bar area to wait in - and we did have to wait despite our booking. They ask you to be there 15 minutes before your reservation (and we were) but we were not seated until nearly 8pm. But once we sat down, our friendly waiter soon made us forget that experience. You can either have the buffet (which includes many of Paula's famous dishes) or order a la carte. Guy and I had the buffet and Alex had the a la carte chicken pot pie. The buffet had such a super selection - from the expected southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes, red beans, rice and candied sweet potatoes, to the not so expected chicken in red wine sauce, beef stew and lasagne. I particularly enjoyed the red potatoes and green beans dish. And the fried chicken was just divine. There was a salad bar, but neither Guy nor I managed to get anywhere near it we were so full. The buffet includes dessert and we were offered tiny versions of peach cobbler, and other delicacies. Alex's chicken pot pie, which he allowed me to taste, was wonderful and had a biscuit crust that was clearly not for those counting calories! The serving was so generous he could not finish it. I gave him my mini dessert (in fact the waiter gave us three mini desserts) as I was desperate to try the key lime pie.

Now key lime pie had taken on epic proportions in my head. I had it once, when I was 13 and visited Florida with Mom and Dad. I just loved it - the tart flavour of the lime combined with the sweet graham crust and was one of the nicest things I had ever eaten. I had not had it since, and after me dreaming about it for well over 25 years, the pie had some pretty high expectations to meet! Well, Paula and sons key lime pie did not disappoint. It was just amazing. I had to take about two thirds of it back to the hotel in a box, and I enjoyed it the next day I was so full! I must say that a visit to Savannah really is not complete without a visit to the wonderful Southern institution that is Lady and Sons - but for heaven's sake eat lightly for several meals before you visit. I've never been so full in my life!! What a treat it was.

After four wonderful days in Savannah we headed on back to Florida through the tail end of Fay, and have enjoyed wonderful weather ever since. And even more food! Watch this space...

Monday, 18 August 2008

The Olive Garden, Orlando

I've heard so much about the Olive Garden over the years (my Mom in particular used to love it), but somehow I never managed to get to one of their branches.  So when I saw an Olive Garden just down the road from our hotel on International Drive in Orlando, I jumped at the chance to give it a try.  I was not disappointed.

They do not take reservations, but we only had to wait about twenty minutes after we gave our names to the hostess for a table, twenty minutes which were spent quite happily in the bar having a lovely glass of wine.  Our waitress was very friendly and explained the menu to us.  I was very pleased that unlimited garlic bread and salad were included with most meals.  We enjoyed some lovely entrees, and a beautiful bottle of Pinot Noir that cost a mere $22!  My shrimp pasta dish had an arabiatta sauce which was perfectly spiced.  Guy enjoyed a dish that included servings of various favourites including a delicious lasagne, chicken parmesan and some fettucine alfredo.  Alex loved his chicken and bacon carbonara dish.  It was definitely the nicest meal we have had so far.  And all for under $70 - again - what can I say?  It is such good value eating out here and the food is so delicious!

I really hope we can eat at the Olive Garden again before we leave.  It was wonderful.  

Friday, 15 August 2008

Dining out in Florida

I am staggered by the sheer choice of restaurants in Florida, and by the value for money they offer. 

Last night we ate at Ponderosa on International Drive in Orlando, which is considered a family steak house here, and I had a steak better than any I have ever eaten in England.  In addition to the steak, our meal also included a buffet that boasted soup, salad, pasta, vegetables, fruit, and desserts.  You could go back as many times as you wanted.  The service was fantastic, the food delicious, and the bill for 3 people was under $50.  This included a beer and a glass of wine, as well as a constantly refilling glass of Diet Coke for Alex.  Even just a steak in England for 3 would have cost more than double that, and it would not have tasted as good.  (Steak in England can be very hit and miss, and I've even paid as much as £25 ($50) for a steak that was tough and not cooked as I would like it to be.)

Tonight we ate at TGI Fridays, again on International Drive, and the bill was $80.  Again the service was fantastic, the meals wonderful and we had wine and beer as well as a constantly refilling soft drink for Alex.  The atmosphere was friendly and we had a lovely time.  

Meals in restaurants in England, even in pubs, are becoming prohibitively expensive at at least £10 per person ($20) even for something as simple as fish and chips.  You nearly always have to make a reservation, again even in pubs, and a lot of places are becoming very pretentious. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful restaurants in England, some of them very good value for money and very friendly, but they can be hard to find.  But many of the restaurants I love in England make for a very expensive night out.  

I appreciate people say portions in America are too big, but at the end of the day, you need only eat what you want to.  You are not expected to clean your plate.  Surely we all have enough self control to just eat what we want and not to stuff ourselves?

Here we can go out and spend less than half what we would spend at home, leave full (having not partaken only of tiny over-priced portions of nouvelle cuisine), and have a laugh both with each other and with the waiting staff.   How long is it going to take before we in England catch on to delicious, unpretentious dining with a bill at the end that does not make you wish you had not gone out in the first place? 

I dearly hope it isn't much longer, but I am concerned that we will remain stuck in the pretentious, over-priced vicious cycle that has been established for years for sometime yet to come.  It's partly because of our faltering economy, but also because we British hesitate to demand good service and we struggle so hard with change.  The more people travel and see how the other half lives, the sooner that day is likely to be.   In the meantime, I'll keep finding good British restaurants and putting them on this website!

Monday, 11 August 2008

Pre-Theatre Supper at Galileo's, The Haymarket, London

As Alex had his show at Her Majesty's Theatre last night, Guy and I headed to Galileo's for dinner beforehand.

We've been to Galileo's twice before, and both times I've always been vaguely disappointed, but I was hopeful this time would be different. To be fair, we got stuck in traffic, and they were very understanding about us being a half hour late.

The thing about Galileo's is that they are always so busy. The tables are so close together that it goes beyond the cosy and becomes a bit of a logistical nightmare. The food is quite good, but I think part of the reason for their brisk trade is their proximity to Her Majesty's Theatre. You can literally walk out of the restaurant, take a few steps across the street and find yourself in the lobby. I think they can attribute much of their success to that.

In my opinion they really fall down in two areas. Number one, their menu is almost unchanging; it's very structured and predictable. And the second thing is, the toilets are filthy and totally unacceptable. There was even a broken toilet seat in one of the ladies' loos this time. Guy said the gents was dire again as well.

Now having said that, Guy and I had a perfectly acceptable meal, starting with bruschetta which was very traditional and very good. Guy had a seafood risotto to follow, which he said was lovely. I tasted it and was not that thrilled, but I'm not really a mixed seafood kind of girl, so it wasn't really a fair trial. I asked for spaghetti with tomato sauce - which was not on the menu surprisingly, but was very willingly prepared. I was given a generous serving and it was delicious.

It's just that there is just nothing special about this restaurant, and the atmosphere, while convivial, has no soul. I don't think we'll be going back again - I'd take the trouble to go into London earlier and eat elsewhere before going to Her Majesty's Theatre next time. Not that I think this review will do Galileo's any harm at all, they get so much passing trade and their food is very acceptable. I just think that with a little extra care, and a touch of originality - plus some serious hygiene improvements downstairs in the loos - they could go from being "just an Italian restaurant" to being something absolutely wonderful.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Basic, But Always Delicious - and a Bit of Home Style Cooking Later On

When I first came to England, I remember being surprised at what a tuna sandwich meant here - simply tuna mixed with mayonnaise, spread on bread and served with some cucumber on top. Compared with my idea of a tuna sandwich (my Mom's recipe), these were pretty boring, and frankly I still find them disappointing. So just in case you are bored with your usual tuna sandwich, try this one instead. (As a bonus, it's also full of anti-oxidants and low fat.)

My Mom's Tuna Salad
Serves 2 - 3
1 tin (185 grams) tuna (preferably white albacore tuna or light tuna)
2 tablespoons chopped red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped yellow pepper
2 tablespoons celery
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 generous tablespoons Hellmann's Extra Light Mayonnaise
pinch of celery salt
pepper to taste

Drain the tuna and put it in a medium mixing bowl. Add the chopped vegetables and the mayonnaise and stir together, breaking the tuna up a bit if necessary. Add the lemon juice, celery salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. You can add a bit more lemon juice if it needs it.

Serve in sandwiches - try bread, toast, rolls or wraps - topped with a bit of lettuce or cucumber. They are all delicious. Yesterday we had tuna salad stuffed into toasted pittas with slices of cucumber - yum! This is also great served on savoury crackers as an easy and delicious hors d'oeuvre.

For dinner after a trip to the cinema (to see Mamma Mia - which was excellent), we went out to our local Bella Italia in Reading. It was good, but not spectacular. I find their menu has a lot of things on it I could make myself. I did find their fish special (Dory cooked in a tomato sauce with roast potatoes and courgettes) delicious and the Tiramisu Guy and I shared for dessert was definitely yummy. Guy enjoyed his chicken pasta bake, but it was definitely something I could make easily at home. Having said that, the service was wonderful and it's a very friendly atmosphere - and sometimes it is nice to have home style food you haven't had to cook yourself!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Friday Night Dinner A Deux

I just could not decide what to make Guy and I for dinner last night. I wanted a simple Friday night supper but I also wanted it to be special. After much thought and perusal of the freezer, I decided to throw this together. Actually, that is a fib - I had one of those "is that the time?" moments when Guy rang to say he was on his way home (I had been writing non stop) so I only minutes to peruse! This recipe really is that easy. It has only a few ingredients and takes less than half an hour to prepare - plus most of it is ingredients you probably already have on hand. I fell back on my favourite trick of dressing the pasta with butter and lemon (not very Italian really, it should be olive oil, but with fish I like butter) and I served it with a Brown Brothers Dry Muscat which went beautifully with the simple flavours of the dish.

Okay, so I'm not sure if the pasta bowl is really the right colour for this dish (it's all a bit of a festival of pastels), but it was what I had to hand! The dish tasted wonderful despite the bowl. This is, after all, my real life - not an artificially styled and edited version thereof!

The 21st Century Housewife's
Friday Night Seafood Pasta
Serves 2

180 grams of dried tagliatelli (a fistful) - you can use enough fresh pasta to serve 2 if you like, it's just that I had dried to hand
1 handful of frozen cooked prawns (shrimp!) thawed
(If you are deciding to do this last minute, pop the prawns in a Ziplock freezer bag and place them in a bowl under a trickling cold tap - they'll thaw in no time. Don't panic if they are not completely thawed either as they will finish thawing in the heat of the dish. Just make sure they are heated through.)
1 handful of frozen peas
4 tablespoons of good unsalted butter, melted
2 - 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
fresh herbs - about 1 tablespoon assorted chopped fresh Italian style herbs - like oregano, thyme, chives etc (or if you don't have fresh, try using 1 teaspoon dried Italian style herbs)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the dried or fresh tagliatelli in boiling water according to package directions. In the last two minutes of cooking, turn the heat right up and add the frozen peas. At the end of the cooking time, drain the whole lot and return it to the pan.

Add the butter, lemon juice, herbs and toss to mix. Now add the prawns and stir just to heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Bel and The Dragon

After my rather stressful evening in the kitchen on Wednesday, Guy suggested I might like to go out to dinner last night. I have to admit I was relieved as my ego is still a tad bruised by what I saw as a huge failure. Guy does not see it that way at all, and in fact has asked me to make the recipe again, but to bake the sausages first to see if it makes a difference to the appearance of the dish, as he liked the flavours so much. Watch this space.

We really have not eaten out much in Reading yet, only visiting a few of the restaurants on the Canal by the Oracle. I've heard so much about other restaurants in Reading I decided to do some research. Many years ago I subscribed to toptable, the online restaurant booking website, but I was always nervous about using it. I need not have been. I was able to research many of Reading's restaurants and book the one I wanted very easily. If you want to give it a try, just click here.

I have to admit, part of the reason I chose Bel and the Dragon was for its fabulous name! Located on Gasworks Road on to the river, Bel and the Dragon is in a wonderful setting. You can even eat outside when the weather is fine, but last night, it wasn't, and anyway, it looked really warm and welcoming inside. We were greeted very enthusiastically and made to feel welcome straight away. The host had saved a booth for us as well, and we were made very comfortable.

Warmly decorated in shades of red and green, complimented by dark wood, the restaurant is very cosy, despite being quite large. Charming drawings hang on the walls and our booth had beautiful throw cushions on the seats.

We decided to start with bread and olives. These were beautifully were presented. Several pieces of warm home-made breads (sun dried tomato, olive and cheese) surrounded a half a roasted head of garlic. The garlic was sweet and gorgeous spread on the delicious breads. The olives were nice too and I had them all to myself as olives are the one thing Guy absolutely loathes.

I was very impressed by the wine list, which had wines at all price points, listed in price order. Guy asked me to choose what I wanted and I fancied a Sauvignon Blanc. Interestingly, their Sauvignon Blanc was French, and was actually the cheapest wine on the list at just over £13, but it was a wonderful wine. It tasted nicer than many other Sauvignon Blancs I have ordered in other restaurants and paid a lot more for!

For main course, Guy had wild boar on a bed of savoy cabbage. I hesitated to accept when he offered me some, having never tasted wild boar and not being a great fan of game. To my amazement it was beautiful, curiously tasting more of beef, rather than of pork as I thought it would. I ordered roast cod on a bed of crushed peas with lemon and mint garnished with crispy Parma ham. It was lovely to look at as well as to eat, the whiteness of the cod set off by the gorgeous green of the peas. The delicious roast cod was complemented by the salty crispness of the fried Parma ham and the crushed peas were just wonderful.

Both our dinners came with "chef's choice of potato", which last night was roast new potatoes. These were brought to our table in a hot cast iron skillet and were simply delicious. I ordered a side salad and Guy ordered spinach, both of which were very good.

We really were replete at this point, but the desserts sounded so good we were not strong willed enough to dismiss them completely and so decided to share a lemon cheesecake. It was served with a fruit compote which perfectly complemented the sharpness of the lemon and was one of the nicest cheesecakes I have ever eaten.

We were both incredibly impressed with Bel and the Dragon and are planning a return visit very soon. The atmosphere is wonderful, the staff friendly and efficient, and the food is just wonderful. It was a brilliant evening.

(Our meal cost about £65 in total, including wine and sparkling water.)

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

It Doesn't Always Turn Out Quite As Expected...

One of the things about trying to cook creatively is that once in a while, things will go wrong. A dish won't turn out like you planned or you may even have a complete disaster in the kitchen. It can be very disappointing. Last night, that happened to me.

I had some pork and apple sausages in the freezer, and I also had some apples in the crisper. I started to think about what I could do with them. I had an idea to do a dish around couscous. (Remember I'm trying to clear out my fridge and store cupboard, so I didn't want to go out and buy potatoes.)

When the sausages were thawed I cut each of them in three pieces and fried them with some olive oil and chopped onion. This is where things started to go wrong. Instead of staying together like many sausages I've used, the meat began to fall apart. So suddenly I appeared to be cooking a sort of hash when that was the furthest thing from what I wanted to do. Adding my chopped apples didn't help. I carried on regardless though and flavoured the dish with a tablespoon of mustard and a dash of cider vinegar. Then I added some prepared couscous. By this time, I was getting pretty upset. My husband insisted I serve the dish though as it smelled absolutely gorgeous.

Well, the dish tasted lovely. But it looked awful. And as a result I felt an utter failure, despite the fact my husband raved about the combination of flavours. Even I had to admit it did taste good - actually really good. But as far as I'm concerned, you eat with your eyes, and I wasn't enjoying that part at all.

I was anorexic in my late teens and even all these years later I still occasionally (okay, often) obsess about food. I still count practically every calorie I put in my mouth, and I hate to "waste" calories eating something I do not think tastes "worth it". So when I have a disaster in the kitchen it's a double wammy, as not only do I feel like I've failed, but I also feel disappointed that I'm eating something I don't absolutely love. So even though my dish tasted good, I got really cross and discouraged.

However, the key to really cooking creatively is not to let one little disaster make you feel diminished in any way, and especially not to let it stop you from taking culinary chances. The kitchen is a place you can be really creative, and let's face it, being creative sometimes means making mistakes.

So the next time one of your dishes does not turn out as planned, learn from my mistake and don't beat yourself up about it. If it tastes good, eat it. If it doesn't, open a can of good old Heinz Baked Beans and have beans on toast and laugh about it. You can have a culinary post mortem the following day. (I'm thinking perhaps if I baked the sausages and then cut them up, adding them to the onion, apple and couscous mix at the end, it might create a much more aesthetically pleasing outcome.) But whatever you do, don't let it discourage you from taking chances in the kitchen and enjoying cooking creatively. If we don't make mistakes we never learn anything.

Clearing out the Freezer...

I've been trying to clear out the freezer, fridge and store cupboard in advance of our holiday next week. To be fair, I've been buying much more carefully to try and avoid waste, both for reasons of economy and to try and be as environmentally friendly as possible, yet somehow I have still ended up with rather a lot of ingredients left over. However, much to my surprise, this clearing exercise has actually been a much more pleasurable process than I remembered. Perhaps it is because I am becoming a more creative cook, or maybe it's just dumb luck, but I have to say, I'm enjoying it!

Last night I made a risotto, which is one of our favourite meals and is a great dish to help clear your store cupboard. I always use Riso Gallo for my risotto recipes - either their Arborio risotto rice or their Carnaroli risotto rice. The latter is my preferred ingredient, but it isn't always available. Any risotto rice will work for this recipe, but not instant risotto. I'm not a big fan of instant risotto - it seems somehow an insult to this wonderful dish that asks only about twenty minutes of stirring. I know we all have busy lives, but surely we can manage to give twenty minutes to the preparation of a meal? And I have to say, stirring is very therapeutic, and I'm not the only one who thinks so! If you don't believe me, just try making risotto one night when you are stressed after a hard day. Pour a glass of wine and gently stir your dinner together. By the time you sit down to eat you will definitely feel much more relaxed.

Risotto is a brilliant dish for using up left over ingredients. Indeed, this dish can be made with left over chicken or you can cook chicken breasts for it specially. If you are cooking the chicken specially, I recommend baking them. Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over the chicken breasts in the roasting pan before cooking, turning them to coat them with the oily mixture. This gives a wonderful flavour to the chicken. I often cook chicken this way and in fact made extra last night so we would have some left over for yummy sandwiches at lunchtime today. (Most chicken breasts will cook in about 30 to 40 minutes in a 375 F or 170 C oven. They should be turned once half way through the cooking time and cooked until no pink remains inside.)

Here is my recipe for a wonderfullly comforting meal.

The 21st Century Housewife's
Chicken, Pea and Artichoke Risotto
Serves 2
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
180 grams risotto rice
1 litre (approximately) chicken stock (made from cubes is fine)
2 cooked chicken breasts, cut in thin slices
1 cup of frozen peas
1/2 cup already prepared artichoke hearts, chopped
(I use Marinated and Grilled Artichoke Hearts but any prepared ones will do, even canned ones)
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium size saucepan. Add the onion and cook until it begins to become translucent. Add the risotto rice and stir for a few minutes, just to coat with the oil.
Now begin adding small amounts of the stock, stirring until it is absorbed. Take your time over this, there is no rush. You need to stir risotto pretty much constantly. Once the first amount of stock has absorbed, add some more. You will need at least 1 litre for this amount of rice. You want a risotto that is creamy but not runny, and you want the rice to have a good "bite" to it, but you don't want it to be tough. If the recipe needs it, don't be afraid to add more stock, but do it a bit at a time or else you could end up with soup!
When the risotto has reached a good consistency, taste a bit of the rice. It should be firm, but give as soon as you bite it. When that point is reached (and the risotto should look creamy and delicious), stir in the frozen peas, chicken and artichoke hearts. Continue to stir while the ingredients heat through. If the dish looks too thick at this point, add a tiny bit more stock and stir it in. Taste again, ensuring the rice is al dente ("to the tooth" as described in the first line of this paragraph).
Serve with crusty bread.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Necessity is the Mother of Delicious Invention

I was so busy yesterday that when Guy phoned to say he was on his way home, I had no idea what I was going to serve for dinner. Luckily, I found some cod in the freezer and took the opportunity to invented a new recipe. This healthy and delicious recipe is ready in about half an hour, and Guy said it was better than he had eaten in many restaurants. I thought it was rather nice as well!

I used my aluminium foil parcel method for cooking the fish again. It's so easy and the results so delicious and moist, I can't see a reason to cook fish any other way. (Number one - and only - son is away this week, hence the "serves 2" but you could easily increase the portions on this recipe.)

The 21st Century Housewife's
Mediterranean Cod
Serves 2
2 pieces of skinless and boneless sustainably fished cod, thawed if frozen
1 tablespoon of butter, cubed
2 tablespoons green pesto (I used Sacla Pesto Alla Genovese)
180 grams of couscous
Boiling water as per couscous package instructions
Mediterranean vegetables (red, yellow, orange peppers, courgettes, whatever you fancy) cut in medium size pieces - you want about 2 cups full or 2 really good handfuls (2 hands!)
1 tablespoon olive oil (extra virgin if you have it)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Put the mediterranean vegetables in a roasting dish. Pour over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss together. Roast at about 180C or 375 F for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring after about ten minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to soften and brown on the edges.

Meanwhile, tear off two fairly large pieces of aluminium foil. (You want to be able to wrap the foil round the fish and seal it.) Place a couple of cubes of butter on each piece of foil and lay one piece of cod on each piece of foil. Top each piece of cod with 1 tablespoon of pesto, spreading it over the fish. Top with the remaining cubes of butter. Wrap the fish in the foil and seal the packages up.
Place the packages on a baking sheet and put in the oven with the vegetables. The fish will take about 20 to 25 minutes to cook. Make sure it is fully cooked before serving - it should flake
easily with a fork.

About five minutes before the vegetables are ready, prepare the couscous according to package directions. When all the liquid has absorbed, stir in the roasted vegetables and cover to keep warm.

When the fish is cooked, remove it from the oven. Serve each piece of fish on a bed of vegetable couscous.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Making an old thing even better

I've been making macaroni and cheese for years and it is a real family favourite. The other day, I decided to "tweak" my recipe a bit, and was told by a reliable source that it was "the best macaroni and cheese ever". So here's the recipe!

The 21st Century Housewife's
New and Improved Macaroni Cheese
Serves 3 - 4
250 – 300 g dried penne
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
About 8 to 10 ounces milk
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, or to taste
2 handfuls of cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons half fat crème fraîche
¼ cup packaged marinated and grilled red and yellow peppers or mixed peppers in olive oil from a jar, sliced
1 cup frozen peas
2 handfuls of bread crumbs and 1 handful of cheddar cheese, mixed together in a small bowl

Cook the penne in boiling water as directed on the package.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and stir with a whisk. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes over low heat, stirring constantly. Add about a 4 ounces of the milk and whisk together. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Now, going very carefully, add the rest of the milk a bit at a time, stirring constantly, until a smooth, thick sauce is obtained. Add the mustard and stir. Now add the cheese and allow to melt, stirring constantly. You might want to switch to a wooden spoon at this point, instead of continuing to use the whisk.

Stir in the crème fraîche and check the consistency of the sauce. If it is too thick, add a bit of milk, but go carefully as you don’t want the sauce to be too thin. (If the worst happens and it does get too thin, try adding a bit more grated cheese.) When the desired consistency is reached, stir in the peas and the red and yellow peppers. Allow to heat together, stirring occasionally.

Drain the pasta when it is cooked and return to the pan. Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir to mix. Transfer to a casserole dish and sprinkle with the bread crumb and cheese mixture. Bake at about 350 F (or 170 C) for about 20 minutes, until the topping is brown.

Serve with a salad and/or crusty bread.