RECIPE: Macaroni Cheese

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The other day, my eldest son was supposed to make macaroni cheese in his food tech lesson. According to his version of events, the teacher told him to just throw all the ingredients together in a pan and the result was raw pasta and a coagulated burnt mixture at the bottom of the pan. I am sure that the teacher did not tell him to do this, but she had a class of 30+ teens to deal with in her class, so may not have had the time to spend teaching him how to do it properly.

I decided to teach him how to do it properly, making a rue for a cheese sauce and the order in which you add the ingredients. I think it is important to get children involved in cooking as it is an important life skill for them to learn. I suppose there are many variations on how to macaroni cheese, but this is how I have taught my son to make it using just pasta and a basic cheese sauce. Here is a simple recipe for macaroni cheese.

Ingredients for Macaroni Cheese

  • 18 oz/ 500 g dried pasta (macaroni or a similar variety of pasta)
  • 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 Macaroni Cheese

  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. Sprinkle your remaining cheese over the top of the dishes. 
  13. Transfer to the oven and cook for approximately 15 minutes or until the cheese on top is golden and bubbling.
  14. If you have cooked one large macaroni cheese, spoon onto plates. If you have cooked individual portions, transfer the individual bowls to plates. 
  15. Serve with salad, vegetables, or garlic bread. 
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A Glimmer of Hope for My Kitchen Garden

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Something that I have always dreamed of is a kitchen garden. I love cooking with fresh ingredients and what better way than growing your own food? I also think it is a fantastic way of teaching children about food, getting them involved in both gardening and cooking, and doing something outdoors as a family. I love the idea of walking out into the garden and selecting your ingredients to create a meal.

My back garden is more of a yard than a garden. It is mainly concrete with a few borders that for a long time were massively overgrown with shrubs and brambles. I was a single working parent for a lot of years and felt overwhelmed at the thought of transforming the garden into a more usable space. My efforts at growing food in the past have only extended to a few tomato plants and some potted herbs in the conservatory. The only other food picked from my garden is blackberries from an accidentally grown bramble. 

Now that my partner has moved in with us, I have a glimmer of hope for getting the kitchen garden I have always wanted. He is a passionate gardener and a master of making useful items out of scraps of wood. He has completely cleared the space and built wooden troughs around the borders and created large wooden planters. He has built a decking section for us to eat on and put up some handmade trellises and crossed canes for growing climbing plants. 

We have worked out a plan together for where we are going to plant different vegetables and herbs and to which sections we will add herbs. So far, we have only planted some peas and tomatoes, but we are keen to get going and excited about getting the children involved.

Over the next few months, there will probably be several posts about our gardening adventures and the meals I have created from our mini-harvests.

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

House Porn and Kitchen Envy

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in property and interior design. I watch various house programs on television and would sit up looking at property websites during my pregnancies when I couldn’t sleep. I call this house porn. For me, one of the most important rooms in the house is the kitchen. This is certainly where I spend the most of my time. 

Unfortunately, I am not mad keen on my kitchen. I liked it when I first moved into the house, but it is tired and dated now. The kitchen is an L-shape and is almost like two connected galley kitchens. One end of the kitchen was once an outhouse that was knocked through and had the floor raised. I had a new kitchen fitted when I first moved in and I was really proud of it at that time. It has plenty of workspace and storage, so it is completely functional.

Sadly, wear and tear has kicked in as a consequence of various kitchen accidents and living with four children. My other issue is the lack of natural light. Where there was once a large window, I had an extension built for a fourth bedroom when I was pregnant with my last child and I had to say goodbye to my window. Now, the only natural light comes from the kitchen door and a smaller internal window between the kitchen and the conservatory. 

This is now leading to a bad case of kitchen envy. I can’t watch the television without craving somebody else’s kitchen and I spent a whole afternoon in Housing Units in Manchester wandering around looking at the kitchens and dining sets. Unfortunately, financial constraints, minimal time available and a complete lack of capability to do the job myself mean that I will have to satisfy my desire for a new kitchen with house porn and kitchen envy for now.

The images are just some of the kitchens that I wish I had and are free to use and share commercially. 

Occasional Kitchen Disasters

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I think people assume because I write a food blog and because I have a past working in catering that everything always runs smoothly in my kitchen. However, that is not the case at all. 

My main problem is a lack of focus and concentration. I can cook restaurant standard food when I stand and concentrate on what I am doing. Unfortunately, there are many distractions around me. I work from home and I have four children. That usually means that I am making the evening meal while trying to help with homework, find missing items of uniform and answering work-related emails. I also live in a one-hundred-year-old house that needed a lot of work when I bought it and seem to have lived in a building site for most of the past ten years while jobs are completed. 

The result of all these distractions when I am cooking leads to many accidents. I wander off to deal with a situation and come back to a pan boiling over or mashed potatoes stuck to the bottom of the pan. I have also set countless things on fire over the years. fortunately, I am not phased as putting these out!

My biggest issue is toast. This may seem odd as I cook plenty of dishes that include lots of ingredients and can balance herbs and spices perfectly. I can make delicious sauces and cook meat to perfection. Yet, toast is beyond me. It is standard practice in my house for the first lot of toast I cook to get thrown in the bin after a bout of cremation. It usually happens because I think I have a few minutes spare to do something else and forget that I have put the toast under the grill in the first place. If you are reading this and wondering why I don’t just make toast in a toaster, it is because I set the toaster on fire!

Focusing is something I am working on in the kitchen! 

 

This Is Harder Than I Thought

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The whole food blogging business is a lot harder than I had anticipated. I started the blog as I have spent years writing for other people’s blog and decided to do it for myself for once. The reason I chose food is that cooking is something I enjoy and spend a lot of time doing every day. 

The first problem I have faced is the amount of time it takes to write for the blog and then promote it on social media. Fitting this around looking after the children and my full-time work as a copywriter is difficult; far trickier than I thought. Thinking of new ideas constantly is another aspect I have found challenging.

It has also involved me sorting out my social media pages. For example, I have been on Twitter for years but have gone through phases where I have hardly needed it for work. For that reason, I have made no attempt whatsoever to connect with people and had only a low following. I have gradually worked on increasing this over the last month.

I have also felt completely overwhelmed with the task I set myself when I first started the blog. My initial intention was to add every recipe I know and then create many more. I have started with the basics, such as sauces and pastry. I have suddenly realized how many recipes I know and just how long this will take me to write. 

Another of my intentions was to regularly write reviews of restaurants in which I have eaten. Time constrictions have prevented me from reviewing the places where I have eaten over the last few months and my financial situation at the moment is preventing me from eating out at new places. 

There have also been some issues along the way, such as when I needed to change the name of the blog for legal reasons and having problems with adding photographs to the blog. 

I am not saying I am giving in as I love a challenge and always see things through. However, I really anticipated what a huge task I had set for myself. Unfortunately, being overambitious has always been one of my worst traits. It is over a month since I started this blog and I intend to keep it running for at least a year before deciding whether to continue. I know full well that I will feel so attached to it after putting in a full year of work I will keep it going.

Nothing Like Egg and Chips

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As a home cook, I am enthusiastic about using lots ingredients, spending time on the preparation of food, trying new things, and experimenting in the kitchen. However, there is sometimes nothing like some good old comfort food that is quick and easy to make. While I usually try and make meals that incorporate vegetables and I am not a fan of fried foods in general, my favourite comfort food is egg and chips.

I spend hours every week deciding what to make, choosing ingredients, preparing family meals and then, quite often, writing about foo either for my own blog or the writing work I do for other people. 

Sometimes, though, I just can’t be bothered with the effort of it all and want to make something that is quick, greasy and comforting. Egg and chips is a favourite in my house, closely followed by sausage and mash. These meals may not be fine dining and they are certainly not for those on a diet, but there is something very satisfying about dipping a chip into a perfectly cooked egg yolk.

There are no complaints from the kids or my partner when I don’t spend hours slaving in the kitchen. They are just as happy to eat a quick and simple meal as a dish that includes lots of flavours and that requires a lot of preparation. My partner appreciates the fact that I work full-time and feels lucky to have a partner who enjoys cooking and produce a variety of meals.

Egg and chips is a very typical English meal, as is sausage and mash. What quick and easy meals do you make when you want something comforting? Feel free to comment below.

Why is Breakfast So Difficult?

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NOTE: This photograph is quite clearly not my kitchen as I cannot face the shame of putting up a picture of the scene of devastation left by my kids in the morning! This is a free pic from Google Images chosen simply to represent breakfast. 

With 20 years of parenting experience and plenty of practice making homemade meals every day, you would think I had the breakfast routine pretty much sorted. However, that is definitely not the case and it seems the most difficult meal of the day to organize.

In the evenings, we always sit down together as a family to a homemade meal I have prepared. This usually involves me cooking using a variety of ingredients for approximately an hour before sitting down at the table. To make the meal, I will often have both the hob and the oven on while using an array of pans, dishes, and utensils.

At the same time as cooking, I usually have the dog running around my ankles, my younger children racing through the house, my older son asking about going out with his mates and my daughter ringing me to ask all sorts of ridiculous questions (she has just moved into her own place and realized she needs to function like a normal person). 

Despite these complications and distractions, I am perfectly capable of serving a decent meal to the family, so why can I not function to serve breakfast?

Breakfast at my house is typically either cereal, porridge, toast or a yogurt for the children and a strong cup of coffee for me. To achieve these two ‘meals’, I simply need to chuck a couple of slices of bread into a toaster and pour some cereal and milk into a bowl. Simple enough?

It seems to verge on the impossible to do this some days. Nobody seems to make it to the dining table at breakfast and eats their breakfast wherever they are sitting, I serve the wrong food to the wrong child on a regular basis, I burn the toast and spill cereal all over the kitchen. The minute the food hits the bowls, the children change their mind about what they want and they refuse to eat what you serve. 

Yes, a food blogger and former catering professional is admitting she cannot cook toast and serving cereal is an impossibility. I guess I am just not a morning person! I am just thankful that my husband feeds himself in the morning.