Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Basic Macaroni Cheese

This macaroni cheese has been requested twice in the past week. It is a very basic recipe, and there are many things that could liven it up, for example:
  1. Addition of crispy bacon or soft buttery leeks to the pasta mixture
  2. Use of other cheeses in your sauce
  3. Sprinkling breadcrumbs over the top of the macaroni cheese and baking till crisp
  4. A scrape of fresh nutmeg to the cheese sauce
  5. Infusing your milk by heating gently with chopped carrot, onion, celery, black peppercorns and bay leaf, then letting it cool for 30 minutes before straining
It's a current favourite of my children and their friends, and I keep it fairly simple, but tasty. I find that the vital piece of equipment for making the sauce smooth and glossy is a silicone balloon whisk. It gets right into the edges of the saucepan without scraping any of the surface off it! It can feel a bit daunting when making the roux for the first time, especially as you add the first amounts of milk. Make sure you give the flour enough time to cook in the butter and don't panic when the whole lot thickens as you begin to add the milk! Just keep whisking and it should loosen up again.

I love Colman's mustard powder on roasties and in a white sauce. You would think it would get up your nose like the English mustard paste, but used in sparing quantities, it lends a subtle interest to the sauce.

  • 500g dried macaroni
  • 1 pint of milk
  • 70g of butter
  • 4 heaped tbsp plain flour
  • 1 level teaspoon of Colman's mustard powder
  • A pinch of ground white pepper
  • A big handful (approx. 80g) of grated cheddar cheese, plus extra to sprinkle on top
Serves 5 - 6

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees fan. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil
  • In a separate pan, melt the butter over a gentle/medium heat. When it has melted, add the flour and whisk until completely combined (it's ok if the butter bubbles, but don't let it burn). Continue to whisk for a minute or two to let the starch cook

  • Add the milk a little at a time, continuing to whisk continuously. the mixture will thicken and solidify. Continue to whisk, only adding more milk when the previous amount has completely absorbed into the roux. If you add too much milk at this stage, the sauce will become lumpy

  • Eventually the sauce will loosen and become easier to handle. You can increase the heat a little at this stage, but be careful not to let the sauce boil.

  • Add the macaroni to the pan of boiling water and stir, to stop it from sticking. Cook the macaroni for half of the time indicated on the packet e.g. if cooking time is 12 minutes, cook the macaroni for 6 minutes (at this stage you will be working with two pans - stirring the pasta and adding/whisking the sauce)
If the sauce is too thick, continue to add milk until you reach the desired consistency.
If the sauce is too thin, combine a teaspoon of plain flour with a small quantity (say 25ml) of milk and add to the sauce, repeating until you reach the desired consistency. You will need to increase the heat to almost boiling point to activate the additional starch.

  • When all of the milk has been added to the sauce, add the grated cheese and whisk until fully melted into the sauce
  • Drain the macaroni and place in a baking tray. Pour over the sauce, ensuring all of the macaroni is covered and bake in the oven for 20 minutes

  • Remove the tray from the oven and add grated cheese on top. Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes

  • Remove the finished bake. Serve in warmed dishes with a simply-cooked green vegetable such as broccoli, green beans or spinach

Basic Macaroni Cheese

Monday, 22 August 2016

Linguine with Beef Rib in Red Wine Sauce

It's been 10 months since I last posted! During that time, I have completed my teaching induction year, gained a whole load of experience, not seen my family as much as I should have and reverted to same old, same old, boring meals. Mother's guilt - doing it all and feeling not particularly good at any of it. Still, my students have made progress, my family still love me and we've had a wonderful, chilled-out summer break.

Today I defrosted a pack of beef ribs which had been lurking in the freezer for a few months. In 2002 my then boyfriend booked a trip to Tuscany as a Valentine's gift. All of my friends were convinced he would propose (he didn't, even when we were on a bridge in Florence!). What sticks in my mind is the meal that our hosts cooked for us on the first night - pappardelle with hare. The sauce had been cooked in red wine for several hours and was just sublime.

I would have liked pappardelle with this dish, but one look at the queues into the shopping centre were enough to convince me that linguine would be fine. The beef rib is cooked in a slow-cooker and falls apart in a meltingly delicious way. I was worried that the chilli kick would be too much for the children, but on tasting the sauce they opted for it over yesterday's rather failed sweet and sour chicken. Even though the notoriously fussy little one had declared it his "favourite dish ever".

The beef is cooked in a slow-cooker but would be fine in a covered pan in an oven at around 120 degrees. If you aren't fond of heat, leave the chilli out.


  • 2 beef ribs, approx. 500g
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 shallots
  • 1-2 sticks of celery
  • 80ml red wine
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli
  • Ground black pepper to season
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • 350-400g linguine pasta (or use tagliatelle or pappardelle)
Serves 3-4

  • Dry the beef ribs on kitchen towels and season with black pepper
  • Peel the shallots, cut into half and then slice into semi-circles
  • Peel the carrot and dice finely and dice the celery. Using a sharp knife, perforate the skin of the chilli once or twice so that it doesn't inflate and explode during cooking
  • In a bowl, mix the red wine, tomato puree and dried mixed herbs
  • Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a pan until very hot. Add the beef ribs, browning well on all sides. Remove from the pan and place into the slow cooker
  • Add the wine/puree/herb mixture and the chilli to the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 1/2 hours
Browned ribs with wine mixture in the slow cooker

  • Heat the beef fat left in the pan gently and add the garlic. Bubble the garlic in the pan for a minute, taking care not to let it catch and burn
  • Add the shallots to the pan, increase the heat to medium and stir for 1 minute to coat and soften
  • Add the celery and carrots to the pan and stir for 2 minutes
  • Add the vegetable mixture to the slow-cooker, cover and continue to heat on slow for a further 1 1/2 hours
Adding the vegetables to the slow cooker

  • When the sauce is ready, remove the chilli and the ribs. Discard the chilli and the bones and shred the meat with a fork, removing any tough or sinewy bits
  • Return the meat to the slow-cooker and mix well
The finished sauce - just add the pasta and a bit of extra virgin olive oil!

  • Cook 75-100g per person of linguine, according to pack instructions. When al dente, drain the pasta in a colander. Return to the pan, add the sauce and 1 tsp of extra virgin olive oil and mix well
  • Serve immediately on warmed plates

Linguine with Beef Rib in Red Wine Sauce

Sunday, 18 October 2015

American Banana Loaf

Given that I have been making this with the kids every weekend for the past half term, I thought it was probably worth a mention - I have lifted it word for word from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book and really, there are no tweaks needed at all! The recipe is unbelievably easy, and has been going into the children's snack boxes every day (apart from the middle, who refers cheese and biscuits, like his mum). I use a loaf tin liner to make the whole process even easier.

You'll need a food processor - I've not tried it without so can't guarantee what the results might be like.


  • 225g (8oz) plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 100g (3 1/2 oz) butter, plus extra to grease
  • 175g (6oz) golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. milk
  • 2 bananas, about 300g (11 oz), peeled
  • Finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Golden granulated sugar, to dredge
Makes 10 slices (allegedly, we must be slicing them thick!)


  • Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar into a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and whizz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and whizz briefly
  • Mix the lemon juice and milk together in a jug and leave to stand for 1 minute. Grease and base-line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin
  • Mash the bananas in a bowl, then stir in the lemon zest, eggs, milk mixture and vanilla extract. Add to the food processor and whizz until combined
  • Pour the mixture into the loaf tin, dredge with granulated sugar and bake at 180 degrees C (160 degrees fan oven)  for 1 1/4 hours or until risen and golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean

  • Leave in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Cut into slices to serve
American Banana Loaf

Friday, 28 August 2015

Linguine with Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Sauce

Using fresh rather than cooked tomatoes brings a lightness to a pasta dish, which seems appropriate in these dying days of summer. The freshness of the tomatoes and torn basil, accompanied by some serious olive oil and generosity of seasoning, makes this a tasty lunch or light supper.


  • 5-6 ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 a clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 100g Mozzarella cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
  • (Optional) 100g bacon lardons
  • 300g dried linguine
Serves 3 - 4


  • Peel the tomatoes by scoring a cross in the bottom of each tomato, then covering with boiling water. After 5 minutes, drain the water and replace with cold water. Peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds and chop finely (try to avoid too much liquid in the mixture by scraping out the seeds as much as you can). Place the chopped tomatoes into a bowl
  • Add 2 - 3 good slugs of good quality extra virgin olive oil to the tomatoes, then add the garlic and season well with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then leave the flavours to mix for at least 30 minutes
  • Cook 300g of dried linguine in well-salted, boiling water according to the instructions on the packet.
  • (Optional) In the meantime, add a tablespoon of oil to a frying pan, heat until moderately hot and fry the bacon lardons until crispy and golden, then drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven
  • Drain the linguine when cooked and set to one side. Add the tomato mixture to the warm pan and heat through gently for 2-3 minutes. Add the linguine to the pan and mix well to combine
  • Transfer the linguine in warmed dishes. Top each dish with cubes of mozzarella, bacon lardons (optional) and torn basil leaves. Serve immediately

Linguine with Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Sauce

(including crispy bacon lardons)

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Jam Tarts

I wondered whether or not to write up a post for something as humble and simple as a jam tart but we made the jam and we made the pastry, so I thought it was worth sharing. Of course jam tarts can be made with ready-made pastry and jam and to be honest, I don't think my children would have noticed any difference! However, as an exercise in family harmony, this worked well.

The children loved picking the strawberries (we went to Bellis Brothers in Wrexham), so much so that I ended up spending many of the following evenings frantically washing, hulling, chopping and freezing (for smoothies) and making copious vats of jam. I was instructed to make "enough to last us until next summer, Mummy!". At the rate they hoover up jam, I'm not sure that's been possible!

The one batch of jam that my husband made didn't set properly, and I found that this was perfect for jam tarts, also for drizzling over yoghurts or adding to porridge or rice pudding.

I used the recipe for jam from the back of the Silver Spoon jam sugar packet, and adapted the recipe for the sweet tart pastry from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.


Strawberry Jam
  • 900g strawberries, washed
  • 1kg jam sugar (I used Silver Spoon and followed the recipe on the back of the packet)
  • A knob of butter
Makes approx. 1.5kg jam

  • 225g plain flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 150g fridge-cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tbsp cold water
Makes approx. 15 jam tarts


To make the jam:
  • Wash and sterilise 6 jam jars and their lids by placing them into an oven at Gas Mark 3 (170 degrees C) for 20 minutes. Leave for 10 minutes, then they are ready to be filled
  • Hull the strawberries, and blend to a puree (I used a stick blender), or mash with a potato masher
  • Place the strawberries into a heavy-based saucepan and add the entire packet of jam sugar
  • Begin to heat the mixture gently, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved completely
  • Add a knob of butter and increase the heat, continuing to stir the mixture, until the jam reaches a rolling boil, the bubbles rise and cannot be stirred down with a spoon
  • Start timing and boil for 4 minutes only, whilst continuing to stir (the steam gets very hot so be careful)
  • Remove from the heat, then pour or ladle into the sterilised jars. Screw the lids on tightly and leave overnight to cool completely.

To make the pastry:
  • Sift the flour and salt into a food processor, then add the cubed butter. Switch the food processor on, and run until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and pulse to mix
  • Tip the pastry mixture into a large bowl
  • Mix the egg yolk with 3 tbsp cold water, then add to the dry ingredients and mix with a round-bladed knife to a dough
  • Knead gently until just smooth. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm them leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • If you find that the pastry is a little crumbly when you come to roll it out, pour a little sunflower or vegetable oil into the palms of your hands and rub together. knead the pastry again gently, to incorporate the oil into the dough

To make the jam tarts:
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge. Break off around 1/3 of the dough and place the rest under a damp towel. Lightly oil the surfaces of a cupcake tin
  • Lightly flour a surface and rolling pin, and roll out the pastry to a thickness of approx. 3-4mm
  • Using a crinkle cutter, radius approx. 80mm, cut rounds of pastry and press into the cupcake tin
  • Add 1-2 tsp of jam to each tart - do not overfill as the jam will boil up during baking
  • Bake the tarts in a preheated oven at 180 degrees fan for approx. 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is golden
  • Remove from the oven and leave to rest in the tin for 5 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely
Jam Tarts