Now, before we get to the chilli beefy macaroni cheese, just a couple of opening thoughts before Christmas Day lands. A neighbour, albeit a distant one from the street next to ours, stopped me this morning as I was going to the car to find my wallet (in my “paint” splattered dressing gown, the shame) (at least I wasn’t wearing my Club World slippers that I nicked from BA mind). You know why he stopped me? Because he felt he had to tell me why we weren’t getting a Christmas card from him this year – because we hadn’t given him one last year. I’m glad he let me know, the evenings I’ve spent sighing dramatically into my pillow and turning my back towards the sun through the sheer anguish of not knowing. For fucks sake. I bet he’s been fizzing about it all year. I tried to hide my upset as he broke the news but I’m sure my face crumpling into my chest and my wailing as I shuffled back to the house gave the game away.
Along those lines, another big thank you for the Christmas cards which are still arriving – the fact that so many of you took the time to send a card with a wee note in it has warmed my heart and touched me in a way that hasn’t happened since I was in the school choir. It really has been lovely reading everyone’s stories and well wishes and I promise that we’ll continue on for a bit longer yet!
Finally, I just wanted to say to everyone: have an amazing Christmas. Eat, drink and be merry. You can slim in the New Year. Enjoy the day and remember, it’s the people around the tree rather than the gifts underneath that matter most of all. You’re all the best!
Of course, before we get to the chilli beefy macaroni cheese, we’ve got part three of our trip to Switzerland to discuss!
You know what I like best about that banner? I’m already planning the next banner for the next holiday and I’ve just had a do a search for an icon for diarrhoea. Hey, it’s non-stop glamour writing this blog, I don’t know how I don’t come each time the Mac start-up sound chimes.
When you last left us we were sleeping solidly in our warm, Geneva beds, ready for the day ahead. Rather than bore you with by-the-minute details of what we did, I’m just going to pick out the rough highlights and write about them instead. In the ‘missing gaps’ just assume we were either drinking tiny coffees or spending money, for that pretty much covers all bases.
We awoke then and decided to check Tripadvisor for ‘things to do in Geneva’. I’ll save you the effort of doing it yourself – there’s frightfully little. Clearly this was a city for business and not so much for pleasure – the first activity cited is Lake Geneva (the second is a small mountain outside the city), which, whilst undoubtedly beautiful, provides very little diversion on a cold, December morning. We could see the lake from our hotel room, anyway, if we squinted hard and the lady across the lane had taken in her bloomers from the washing line. I like lakes, I do, but we have such a bonny one nearby in the form of Kielder that perhaps I am spoilt. Nevertheless, we decided to walk down to the lake and then to totter about on our own steam, finding what interests us along the way.
There was, as is so often the case with empty days filled with no plans at all, plenty of things of interest. We walked along the lakeside around the many parks that litter the way, smiling cheerily at joggers as they ran past, pulling that odd cum-face that joggers do whilst they run. The parks were full of shuttered shops and stalls and buildings that looked welcoming from afar but firmly fermé when up close. My new walking shoes were busy turning the back of my feet into little more than hanging strips of skin so we found a nearby pharmacy to try and get a box of Compeed blister plasters – you know the ones that swell and then root right into the blister so when you take it off, you’ve got something gross to throw at your husband if he doesn’t make the tea? No? Just me?
Anyway, this box of plasters came with a price tag of over £14 and I was served by the most unsympathetic, rude bumhole I’ve met in a long time. For one, he didn’t look up from his Prendre une Pause (Oh non! C’est horrible! Mon mari serveur a des rapports sexuels avec ma soeur et mon Alsacien!) when we came in, nor when we approached the counter, nor when he scanned the item in. He could have put through a box of Lillets for all he knew. A brief, cursory glance at the till was followed by him spitting out the price and holding out his hand like I was going to high-five the twat. I would deposited my chewing gum in his hand and ran for it if my feet hadn’t resembled used Christmas crackers at this point. Instead, I paid with my contactless card, spun on my heel and left, saying ‘merci beaucoup, how do you say…chatte géante’ under my breath.
We spotted that the United Nations building was nearby and so hustled in that general direction. We were greeted by a couple of armed but very friendly men at the entrance who told us the museum was closed (but of course) and alas, we couldn’t come in even to take pictures of the flags. I tried to explain that, as a Geordie, I merely wanted to extend the pastry-flecked hand of solidarity to our Swiss brothers, but he was having none of it. He encouraged us to turn around and take some pictures of the giant broken chair that stands across the way, designed by the artist Daniel Berset to remind the politicians streaming in and out of the UN that land-mines were a very bad thing indeed (because one of the legs of the chair has been blown off, see? Give me an art degree right now!). I don’t know why they didn’t just put a picture of Princess Diana smiling wanly at them instead.
Paul attempted to pose in front of the chair for a photo but then realised we were selfishly in the way of the 12,000 Chinese tourists who were snapping at the chair from every single one of the 360 degrees available to us all. So much shrieking. The chair was quite something, admittedly, but it is difficult to be sombre and reflective when you’re being jostled and pushed by a high-pitched collection of cameras with limbs attached. We pressed on, electing to take the tram down into the centre of the city.
Oh, that’s something worth mentioning – all tourists to Geneva (and later, Bern) are given a free ticket to travel around on their public transportation system. It’s excellent, reliable and frequent and a perfect way to see the city. We’d paid lip-service to walking around and now it was time to let the train take the strain. Paul told me to sit next to him but I wanted to spread my legs a bit, only to immediately have a child plunked down in front of me who spent the rest of the journey staring at me with a slug of snot hanging out of his crusty nose, which he took great delight in sniffing back up his nose and letting it fall back out. I would have taken great delight in opening the window and flinging him into the Rhône but luckily, our stop came before I snapped. Brr.
At this point we both needed two things: some breakfast and a good poo. We wandered for a bit before finding somewhere with a board outside that promised a coffee and croissant for less than the owner’s mortgage payment. A miracle. However, once we’d sat down, I realised my mistake. Almond milk. Wan-faced, 90% there, slightly ethereal customers, shimmering in the half-light. Everyone talking with that affected, Pecksniffian air of the better-than-you set. We were in a…vegan cafe. We ordered a pastry and coffee and were curtly told to sit down. I wanted to cry out that my leather belt was actually pleather and all of my meat-box pushing on this blog was merely a front for Save The Soya Beans of Sudan or something but I didn’t get a chance. We ate our breakfast hurriedly, trying not to gag as the milk curdled on top of the coffee like the results of a particularly rumbustious sexually transmitted disease, paid up and left. I think I stepped on a beetle on the way out of the shop, leading to a plaintive cry from the owner. Either that or she had realised I’d accidentally spilled the sugar bowl on the floor.
I know, I’m a horror. Vegans, you know I’m joking, please don’t write to me. Save your strength, I don’t want your wrists shattering like a dropped piano from the weight of an HB pencil. We spotted that the Jet d’Eau, Geneva’s colossal landmark water fountain, was a twenty minute away. However, before we got to that, I had to go and relieve a high-pressure blockage of my own, and it was with a euphoric cry that I spotted one of those shiny automatic toilets near the Plainpalais tram stop. Phew! I’m a huge fan of these individual toilets because they’re always spotlessly clean and you can have a shite in the safe knowledge that you’re not going to have a man standing next to you wanking away whilst you strain.
I hurried in, assumed that the stupid thing had locked because there was no button to lock the door and sat down to say goodbye to yesterday, my jeans and boxers round my ankles. Sweet relief. No, sweet relief cut immediately short because no sooner had I opened the release valve than the door swooshed open, revealing me to Paul and the busy street like the worst episode of Blind Date you’ll have ever seen. I bellowed like a stabbed bull, jumped to my feet, tripped over my jeans and fell over hard, creating an impressively loud clang (imagine a church bell falling onto the top of a bus) and drawing even more attention to me. Thankfully my Scottish Widow cloak hid most of my shame but honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever gone from semi-nude to clothed and composed (and slightly pee-soaked) so quickly. I didn’t even get to finish my crap but actually, the shock of the stumble made everything tense and my urgent need to go had disappeared.
I exited that toilet coolly and confidently, meeting the gaze of anyone who had the temerity to look at me. Paul was doubled-over with laughter, the insensitive sod. I walked off, leaving him to breathlessly catch up with me a few minutes later, at which point he just promised that he hadn’t pressed the ‘open button’ on the door ‘to see what happened’. He was definitely lying – I’d have been more convinced if he’d ran up and told me he was turning straight – but I had to forgive him because, away from the staring eyes of the folk in the street, it was bloody hilarious.
We tottered down to the Jet D’Eau. What can I say about this? It is a giant fountain originally built to release the pressure from a hydroelectric plant – thank Christ it wasn’t a sewage processing facility, though I reckon my arse could do a fair impression after two bowls of “delicious” speed soup. Anyway, the Swiss thought this burst of water so delightful that they recreated it by the lakeside and indeed, it does look pretty spurting into the air. We walked up, took a few photos, I pretended like I was douching using the fountain and all of Geneva fell about laughing and slapping their knees. Honestly, how they laughed!
Now, I could go on, but let’s cut it short here and get to the recipe. It’s chilli beefy macaroni cheese – crunchy, spicy, cheesy – just bloody amazing. Yeah it’s a few more syns but fuck it. Spending your syns might scare you but remember – this is ooey-gooeyness that doesn’t skimp on flavour, AND it serves SIX! Plus, it’s Christmas for goodness sake. If that isn’t the time to let your gunt flap over your knees and fill yourself with calories then I don’t know when is.
to make chilli beefy macaroni cheese you will need:
- 500g pasta (we used spirali because we’re decadent bitches)
- 400g lean beef mince (you know, like the sort of stuff you might find in say, our fabulous Musclefood deal? See? Have a look!)
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 240g reduced-fat cheddar cheese (6x HeA)
- 200ml skimmed milk (4 syns)
- 1½ tins of chopped tomatoes
- handful of chopped jalapeños
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- ½ tsp mustard powder
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp oregano
- 2 tsp olive oil (4 syns)
- 1 tbsp flour (3½ syns)
- 75g panko (10½ syns)
Right: final time this year. Treat yourself to a microplane grater. It’ll do for ginger, it’ll do for garlic, it’ll do for getting those callouses off those trotters of yours. The one we use is lovely and cheap – see?
to make chilli beefy macaroni cheese you should:
- preheat the oven to 200 degrees
- heat a large pan over a medium high heat, add a slosh of oil and add the onions and garlic – cook until the onions have softened a bit
- add the mince to the pan and cook until no pink meat remains
- add the tomatoes, jalapeños, chili powder and chili flakes to the pan, stir and cook for another 4 minutes
- scoop the meat out of the pan and into a bowl and set aside
- quickly rinse out the pan, fill it with water, add some salt and bring to the boil
- cook the pasta according to the instructions, reserving half a mug of pasta water for later
- drain and set aside
- put the same pan back on the hob, add the oil and flour and mix into a paste using a whisk, and slowly pour in the milk a bit at a time, until the mixture has thickened
- chuck in the cheese, remove from the heat and stir until melted
- add the mustard powder, oregano and black pepper and stir
- mix the drained pasta into the cheese, using the reserved pasta water to loosen it if necessary
- stir in the mince, mix well and tip into a big baking dish
- sprinkle over the panko and bake in the oven for 15 minutes
Want more pasta, beef or just bloody amazing food? Here!
Have an amazing Christmas, all!