It's up there with the grates.
This week's recipe, although not strictly festive, is perfect for the Christmas period - if that makes any sense to you!
By that, I mean it's a recipe that makes enough for two meals, so you can make them both at the same time, with one you can eat straight away and the other you can stick in the freezer. Perfect for a day or night over the festive period, when you can't be bothered cooking or you have unexpected guests.
So today's recipe is a real winter warmer and combines two of the most homely and comforting foods around, cauliflower cheese and macaroni cheese. Throw some bacon in to this and you've got something really special, unless of course you're a vegetarian, in which case just leave the bacon out.
This recipe is especially for my daughter Eve's friend Alice, who's a huge fan of the column and was looking for a new pasta recipe - so here it is Alice.
The last time I made a macaroni cheese for the column, I made a lighter version using creme fraiche and cheese rather than the traditional way using a roux, made with butter, flour and milk. But for today's recipe I'm going back to the traditional way.
The reason for this is that it's more hearty and luxurious for the winter but also,importantly, doing it this way makes it much more stable for freezing and reheating.
So all you need are two large baking dishes and you're off - one to eat and one to keep and eat over cooked he festive season.
From next week, it's Christmas all the way, with our usual guide to help you steer your way through the minefield that can be Christmas Day, and then, of course, a recipe for something to help you and your friends and family bring the new year in at the end of the month.
top tip As I mentioned in the article, if you're a vegetarian or you simply don't like bacon then you simply leave it out. You don't need to amend the recipe or replace it with anything, however if you are a meat eater then you could replace it with some diced chorizo which is also fantastic in this recipe. In terms of putting different vegetables in, you don't need to go too exotic, peas and leeks are in my view perfect additions to macaroni cheese.
CAULIFLOWER AND BACON MAC 'N' CHEESE
INGREDIENTS SERVES 4-6
600g cauliflower florets 600g dried macaroni 12 slices bacon diced 2tbsp veg oil
120g butter, plus a bit extra 8 tbsp plain flour
2tsp English mustard powder
2tsp Dijon mustard 2tsp French mustard 1200ml blue milk
1/2tsp cayenne pepper 1/2tsp smoked paprika 1/2tsp nutmeg 1/2tsp white pepper Splash Worcestershire sauce Splash tabasco Salt to taste
250g mature Cheddar cheese, grated 250g gruyere cheese, grated
100g Parmeasn cheese, crumbled 6tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
METHOD Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the cauliflower and cook for four minutes until tender. Drain and allow to cool Cook the macaroni into the boiling salted water for two minutes less than the packet instructions. Drain, refresh under cold, running water and drain again. Mix the macaroni, cauliflower and the extra butter together in a large bowl.
Preheat the oven to 200C Fry the bacon in the oil until starting to go crispy then drain on kitchen paper.
Heat the butter in a pan, and stir in the flour and mustard powder to make a roux. Gradually add the milk, beating continuously with a whisk until the mixture is smooth. bring to the boil over a low heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture thickens. Add the Dijon mustard, French mustard, nutmeg, white pepper and paprika and season well with salt to taste.
Mix the three cheeses together and stir half into the white sauce. Mix well until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth again. Add the macaroni and cauliflower to the sauce and mix well to coat. Spread the mixture into two large wide gratin dishes.
Combine the remaining cheeses with the breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle over the top of the one macaroni and cauliflower mixture that you are going to cook now. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until the topping is golden and crisp. Serve immediately.
Allow the other one to cool then freeze.
When you want to eat, defrost thoroughly, add the cheese and breadcrumbs on top and bake for 40 minutes in the oven.