RECIPE: Ham and Cheese Macaroni

macaroni cheese

Whether you have some leftover ham from a gammon joint that you want to use up or you want a simple but tasty meal to make, ham and cheese macaroni is a fantastic choice. The addition of ham to a classic macaroni cheese dish completely transforms this meal. It is a great budget option and really easy to make. Furthermore, it will probably be a hit with all the family. Here is an easy recipe for ham and cheese macaroni.

Ingredients for Ham and Cheese Macaroni

  • 18 oz/ 500 g dried pasta (macaroni or a similar variety of pasta)
  • 3 slices of leftover ham
  • 1 oz/ 25 g butter
  • 1 oz/ 25 g plain flour
  • 3 oz/ 80 g cheese for the sauce
  • 2 oz/ 50g cheese for the topping
  • 600 ml/ 1-pint milk
  • 2 tsp English mustard (optional)
  • White pepper and salt

How to Make Ham and Cheese Macaroni 

  1. Measure your ingredients first and preheat the oven to 180C/ gas mark 4.
  2. Cook the pasta in a saucepan according to pack instructions. I would remove a few minutes from the cooking time so it is al dente as the pasta will continue to cook in the cheese sauce. 
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan over a low heat. 
  4. Sieve the flour into the melted butter and stir.
  5. Cook for two minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and add the milk a little at a time continuously stirring until you have created a smooth sauce.
  7. Season with the salt and white pepper, add the mustard (optional) and stir through.
  8. Simmer gently over a low heat for approximately eight minutes.
  9. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese.
  10. Drain the pasta when cooked and transfer to either a large ovenproof dish or individual ovenproof dishes.
  11. Using a ladle, spoon over the cheese sauce evenly.
  12. Shred your ham and stir into the mixture.
  13. Sprinkle your remaining cheese over the top of the dishes. 
  14. Transfer to the oven and cook for approximately 15 minutes or until the cheese on top is golden and bubbling.
  15. If you have cooked one large macaroni cheese, spoon onto plates. If you have cooked individual portions, transfer the individual bowls to plates. 
  16. Serve with salad, vegetables, or garlic bread. 
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RECIPE: Authentic Meat Kashmiri Rogan Josh

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Indian cuisine is one of my favourite types of food and I love to try new dishes all the time. I love rogan josh and usually make this with lots of onions and peppers. However, I recently came across this recipe for a Kashmiri rogan josh online and it is totally different. I adapted the original recipe to suit the spice-level preferences of my family, but the overall recipe is an authentic Indian dish. Here is a recipe for a meat Kashmiri rogan josh. 

Ingredients for Meat Kashmiri Rogan Josh

  • 800g diced lamb or beef
  • 300g full-fat natural yoghurt
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 2-inch chunk of peeled ginger, grated
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 3 chillies
  • 2 tsp cumin seed (or ground cumin)
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp ground almonds
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds or ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • Black pepper

 

 

How to Make Meat Kashmiri Rogan Josh

  1. Put the chillies, the garlic, the ginger and all the spices into a food processor with a little water and blitz into a paste.
  2. Add the oil to a large frying pan over a medium-high heat.
  3. When the oil is sizzling, add the meat and cook for six minutes until meat is browned.
  4. Add the paste to the pan and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally to coat the meat.
  5. Add half the yoghurt to the pan and cook for five minutes stirring constantly so the meat absorbs the yoghurt.
  6. Add the second half of the yoghurt and allow to come to the boil before reducing the heat.
  7. Add black pepper and the ground almonds and stir into the sauce.
  8. Simmer until the sauce has reduced by approximately a third.
  9. Cover the pan with a lid and leave to cook on a low heat for approximately an hour.
  10. Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve with pilau rice and naan bread.

 

Written in response to the Daily Prompt ‘Authentic’ on The Daily Post.

My New Weight Loss Plan

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Last year I was diagnosed as having a severe vitamin D deficiency. This is becoming an increasingly common issue for people in the UK as they are spending longer working indoors and not enough time outside. One of the steps I took to improve my vitamin D levels in addition to taking medication was to start walking. I walked miles each week and this resulted in me losing around 28 pounds and really toning up. Unfortunately, I have since put all this weight back on.

My car was stolen from outside my home last year. While you may assume that this resulted in me walking more, the opposite was true. I needed a car sooner than the insurance was going to pay out, so I worked lots of extra hours to pay for another car. This stopped me from walking back from the school run each day as I did not have the time. I had also intended to start swimming one morning a week once my youngest started at school. Again, I couldn’t do this because I didn’t have a car to get there.

One of the main reasons I have put on so much weight is that my partner moved in with me last year. He likes to treat me and is always bringing home boxes of chocolates and bottles of wine. This has contributed to me now being the largest I have ever been. Writing this food blog isn’t helping as I am making meals that I might not necessarily make so that I can add them to the blog. 

I am now taking action to lose the weight. First, I have told my partner to stop buying me treats. Second, I am going to add more healthy meals to the blog rather than ones that have rich and creamy sauces (although I do have a creamy and cheesy stuffed mushroom recipe that I am planning on adding later today!). 

The next thing is to get myself physically active again. The warmer months are arriving now, so walking home from the school run will be a pleasant start to my day. Now I have another car, I can also start going swimming once a week. I even bought myself a new swimming costume yesterday while I was visiting Southport for a spa day with my mum and sister. Hopefully, my new cozzie will inspire me to take the plunge and start swimming again. 

No doubt I will report in with my weight loss success or failure on The Fruity Tart at some point soon. I might even be brave enough to post some before and after pics!

REVIEW: Lunch at Portland Hall Spa

spa pic

Each year, I go away for one night with my mum and my sister. We usually look for a Groupon deal for a spa break and my sister and I pay for this as a treat to my mum for Mother’s Day. This year, we were all in need of more of a break than ever. Both my sister and I are busy with our own businesses and we have seven children between us. All three of us have been impacted by the death of my father earlier in the year. This year, we headed off to Southport to stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel and spend a day at the Portland Hall Spa Hotel. 

We had picked up a package for a Mother’s Day treat at Portland Hall Spa. This included a back and neck massage, a full facial and the option of either a head massage or a leg massage. The deal also included a two-course lunch. As this is a food website, it is the food that I will focus on in this post (although I have to say that the treatments were excellent!).

Starters at Portland Hall Spa

All three of us chose different starters which makes for a better review! My mum opted for the chicken skewers which came in a tasty coating and with a sauce that was similar to hoisin, but a bit sweeter. She said the chicken was tender and I had a taste of her sauce with some of her salad garnish and it was delicious. 

My sister opted for the vegetarian tart, which was described as being made with goats cheese and caramelised onion. I had expected this to come as a small, round pastry casing with caramelised onion on the bottom, topped with goats cheese. However, this was not the case. It was a slice cut from a larger tart and my sister passed me a taste across the table. It looked a bit like quiche and certainly had the same sort of eggy texture but had the consistency of a sponge cake. I wasn’t keen on the dish as it was not what I had expected but my sister enjoyed it.

My choice was the homemade pate served with wholemeal toast. It arrived with the pate served in a small pot and was one of the best pates I have ever eaten. It was rich and meaty with a nice consistency and texture. I was initially disappointed that there was no butter to go with the toast, but I really didn’t need it. I spread the caramelised onion that was served with this starter over the toast and then added the pate.

Main Courses at Portland Hall Spa

Again, we all ordered something different. For her main, my sister chose the tossed spaghetti. This was a less creamy version of carbonara as it had pancetta, mushrooms, and Parmesan. I didn’t taste this dish personally, but it looked nice and my sister enjoyed it. The spaghetti looked like it had been cooked perfectly. I have a thing about soggy spaghetti!

My mum decided to order the chicken stroganoff with rice. The rice was served in a separate bowl with the rice on the side. This was a dish she thoroughly enjoyed as the chicken was still moist and the sauce was thick and luscious. It was made with wholegrain mustard, so it was spotted with the seeds. 

After my enjoyment of the starter, I was thoroughly looking forward to my main. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. I chose the vegetable bake, which was described as layers of aubergines and tomatoes, topped with Mozzarella. First things first, there were slices of aubergine and it was topped with Mozzarella, so this part of the description was correct.

Unfortunately, there were no tomatoes in the dish. There were some courgettes at the bottom, which was a bonus as I love courgettes. However, I had been looking forward to the tang that tomatoes give a dish and this was missing. My other criticism was that this was a pasta dish and there was no mention of pasta on the menu. The aubergines were layered between sheets of pasta and topped with a bechamel sauce. It should really have been written as aubergine lasagne. However, I must add that it was perfectly well cooked, it was just not what I wanted or had expected. 

Drinks

There was some pretense that we were being healthy by attending a spa, so we ordered a jug of water. Unfortunately, we also ordered a jug of sangria to accompany our meal (well, we only do this once a year!). It was fruity, alcoholic, delicious and the perfect accompaniment to what was, for the most part, a good meal.

The menu has changed every year I have been, so no doubt I will have some different dishes to describe next year. Although I had a few minor issues, these related more to the descriptions of the food than the quality or flavour. 

 

 

RECIPE: Burgers and Sweet Potato Skinny Fries

burgers

I am not a big fan of frozen or prepackaged burgers or of those made by fast food chains. However, I do like a decent homemade burger. They are far tastier when you make them yourself and they are really quick and easy to make. I recently served them with sweet potato skinny fries and a generous serving of my homemade funky red cabbage slaw. Here is how to make six burgers with sweet potato skinny fries.

Ingredients for the Burgers

  • 600g minced beef
  • 6 brioche buns
  • 2 oz cheese
  • 1/2 onion finely chopped
  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • 1 beaten egg
  • t tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Ingredients for Sweet Potato Skinny Fries

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 200 ml vegetable oil
  • Salt

How to Make Homemade Burgers

  1. Add the minced meat, the beaten egg, the chopped onion, and the crushed garlic into a large mixing bowl and combine with your hands. 
  2. Add the oil to a large frying pan and put over a medium heat.
  3. Separate the meat mixture into six balls and press into flat patties. 
  4. Put three of the burgers into the pan and cook for five minutes on each side or until browned and cooked through.
  5. Repeat with the remaining three burgers.
  6. While the remaining burgers are in the pan, butter the brioche buns and melt the cheese in a microwave for one minute. 
  7. When the burgers are all cooked, add them to the brioche buns and top with a little of the melted cheese.
  8. Serve with skinny fries and funky red cabbage slaw.

How to Make Skinny Fries

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180C. 
  2. Cut the sweet potatoes horizontally to give yourself a flat surface to stand the sweet potatoes.
  3. While they are stood on their flat end, slice them vertically to approximately 0.5 centimetres thickness.
  4. Lie each slice flat and slice again to create skinny fries that are approximately 0.5 cm thickness. 
  5. Add the oil to a saucepan and put over a high heat on the hob. 
  6. In batches, fry the sweet potato fries for a few minutes until beginning to go crisp before putting on kitchen paper to drain the excess fat.
  7. Transfer all the part-cooked skinny fries to a baking tray and sprinkle generously with salt.
  8. Put the baking tray in the oven and cook for a further ten minutes until the fries are crisp. 
  9. Serve with the burgers and funky red cabbage slaw. 

If you want to serve this with my funky red cabbage slaw, then use this recipe here.

RECIPE: Braised Steak in Onion Gravy

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Braising steak is usually one of the cheaper cuts of beef, so it is a fantastic choice for those on a budget. It is also a good choice if you are a fan of slow-cooking techniques and like to prepare a meal in the morning before leaving for work so that serving dinner takes very little effort when returning home. I made this delicious braising steak with onion gravy for tea yesterday and served it with potato gratin (recipe here), fine green beans, and julienne potatoes. Below is a picture of how much the boys in my house were enjoying eating their braised steak, which was literally falling apart because it was so tender. Here is an easy recipe for braised steak with onion gravy to serve 4 people. 

boys at tea

Ingredients for Braised Steak with Onion Gravy

  • 4 braising steaks
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 heaped tbsp gravy granules
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper

How to Make Braised Steak with Onion Gravy

  • Preheat the oven to a low setting.
  • Put the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat on the hob. 
  • Season the braising steaks on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Put two of the steaks in the pan and cook for a few minutes on each side to brown.
  • Transfer the steaks to an ovenproof dish.
  • Repeat with the two remaining steaks.
  • Add the onions to the pan and fry for approximately 3 minutes or until turning brown
  • Transfer the onions to the ovenproof dish with the braising steaks. 
  • Boil a kettle of water and pour enough over the steaks and onions to cover plus an extra inch.
  • Add a lid to the dish or cover with kitchen foil. 
  • Put in the oven and cook on a low heat for 4-5 hours. (If you are out of the house for longer, it is fine)
  • Remove from the oven and sprinkle over the gravy granules. Stir into the water and juices.
  • Turn the oven up to 180C/ gas mark 4.
  • Recover the dish and return to the oven for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and serve with your choice of potatoes and vegetables. 

RECIPE: Potato Gratin

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If you want an interesting way of serving potatoes as a side dish or you want a filling vegetarian option, then potato gratin is a delicious choice. It is a quick and simple to make. Here is a recipe for potato gratin.

Ingredients for Potato Gratin

  • 8 medium white potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 100g soft cheese
  • 200g cheddar or similar cheese, grated
  • 50g butter
  • Salt and black pepper

How to Make Potato Gratin

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/ gas mark 4.
  2. Peel the potatoes and then slice them thinly- approximately 3mm thickness.
  3. Layer the enough of the potatoes in an ovenproof dish to completely cover the bottom.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Top and tail an onion and remove the skin. Cut in half lengthways.
  6. Lie the onion on the flat side and slice thinly.
  7. Spread the onion slices over the potatoes. 
  8. Use two teaspoons to create small ‘dollops’ of soft cheese and dot these across the potatoes and onions.
  9. Layer more potatoes over the top, overlapping slightly to create a pattern, as in the photos.
  10. Cut the butter into small cubes and dot over the top of the potatoes.
  11. Season with salt and pepper.
  12. Put the dish in the oven and cook for 20 minutes.
  13. Remove from the oven and add the grated cheese.
  14. Return to the oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.

Here is the finished result with braising steak in onion gravy, fine beans, and julienne carrots.

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