Healthier 15 minute Mac and Cheese

My kids adore macaroni cheese and as a mother I love it- it’s a meal that’s done in the time it takes to cook the pasta. But it’s a bit stodgy and lacking in greenery isn’t it? I’ve used a Jamie Oliver variant of this recipe, but this one’s a lot easier and you can use most vegetables that are lying around. I find that the vegetables that work best with creamy, cheesy sauces are:

courgette/small squashes

Basically vegetables that cook quickly and according to the list above, don’t have strong flavours.
I use broccoli a lot as I’ve always got it in the fridge and everyone likes it. Here’s what you need for 4 big eaters with at least leftovers for the kids the next day.

500g pasta – (we use rigatoni, but macaroni, fusili etc would all work)
250g Veg
50g butter
a desert spoon of flour
300 ml milk
50-100g grated cheddar (maybe a bit more for the top?)

Get the kettle on and pour boiling water over the pasta (I usually need 2 kettlefuls for 500g- add a tsp salt and allow to boil gently.

Meanwhile chop the broccoli/cauliflower/spinach/courgette into small chunks so they cook quickly. Set aside.

When the pasta is a few minutes away from being ready- throw the veg- it will only take minutes to cook.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. You’re looking for a mixture that is not a liquid. but not a dough either- somewhere in between! Cook very gently, stirring constantly for a minute until the roux is lighter in colour and changes texture. Add the milk a third at a time and keep stirring- use a whisk if it gets lumpy (it always does!) Bring slowly to the boil- the sauce should be thicker now. Turn off heat and add grated cheese.

Drain the pasta and veg and pour over the cheese sauce. Serve straight from the pan or tip into a serving dish, scatter over more grated cheese and bung under the grill for a few minutes until bubbling and golden.

Always a winner.

Daily Bread

Breakfast Detail

A slight departure from the usual teatime ideas, I’ve come to worry a little about what I give the kids for breakfast. This is in no small part due to the fussier child admitting to eating nothing but “hot dogs, rice and bread” at school. I mean, you can only shoehorn so much green stuff into dinner, right? Bearing in mind the picky one will only eat apples (and lately only green ones at that) I’ve had to be creative (read sneaky) if she’s going to eat any other fruit for breakfast.

Whilst there are a few things on offer in the morning, 9 times out of 10, it’s “rice crispies please!” Now I’m not knocking the occasional bowl but I’d like to mix it up a bit.

I started mixing rice crispies with some oats, then added spelt flakes and continued to add different textures and flavours until their bowls contained 6 different unsweetened and wholegrain cereals. It’s going to give them far more slow-release energy throughout the day and help build their little bones and muscles.


Another winning idea I picked up from 5 o’clock apron is the notion of a fruit butter. Not really a butter at all, more of a jam but with a fraction of the sugar. I made a peach and vanilla version earlier in the Summer and I can tell you it was possibly the most delicious preserve I’ve ever tasted. Swirl it into greek yoghurt, spread on bread or dollop onto cereal for a fruitier breakfast. They don’t take long to make and will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks. Annoyingly we’re at the end of the soft fruit season now but plums, apples and anything that will reduce down to sweet, sticky compote will work.

Basically you need a kg of any fruit: apples, pears, peaches, bluberries, chopped but don’t bother peeling.
Throw in a pot with a little water to stop it catching and stew over a low heat until the fruit is broken down and soft.
Pass through a sieve and return to clean pan. Add 30-50g of sugar and maybe a split vanilla pod and cook slowly for another hour or so. This will keep in the fridge for around 3 weeks in a sterilised jar (just pour boiling water inside the jar and lid)

PS This post was supposed to go out on September 15th… last night I made a fruit butter with 2 very ripe pears, 2 tasteless peaches and an apple that had been hiding at the bottom of a weekend bag for a few weeks. Yum. Took 2 minutes to chop fruit and put in pot with water and sugar- no recipe and my son ate half the pot for breakfast this morning swirled in yoghurt…

Daily Bread

Daily Bread

These cold Autumn mornings are calling for a heartier breakfast- a boiled egg with the most robust of soldiers. Here’s an easy, foolproof failproof wholemeal bread recipe from Dan Lepard

400g strong wholemeal bread flour
50g strong white bread flour
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp salt
3 tsp brown sugar
400 ml of warm water
50g melted butter

Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the melted butter and 300ml of the water. Bring together with your hand- add more water if the dough is too dry- it should be sticky and fairly difficult to handle at this stage.
Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave for 10 minutes.
Tip onto an oiled board and knead for 10 seconds. Return dough to the bowl, cover and leave for 10 minutes- repeat this process twice and rest for 15 minutes (that means you and the bread).
Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle and roll into a swiss roll type shape. Place in an oiled 2lb loaf tin (with the seam at the bottom) and leave covered in a warm, dry place to prove for 1-1.5 hours or until doubled in size.
Get the oven nice and hot and bake the bread for 15 minutes at 225 degrees, then lower heat to 200 and bake for a further 15 minutes. Tip the bread out of the tin immediately and leave to cool on a wire rack before cutting.
Yum. Eat with lots of butter.


Braised Turkey Meatballs with Feta

I almost confused this recipe with the titillating sounding “My Big Juicy Meatballs” which can be found (like this one) in the ubiquitous Joe Quick’s “Lean in 15”. Sadly Mr. Quick’s book does not tell you how to shed 2 stones in 15 minutes but how to cook lean food in 15 minutes.. sounds like a man with a plan. In all honesty, it takes more like 30 minutes to rustle this up if you’re not that keen on your onions retaining a crunch, but is very simple and absolutely delicious. Obviously being lean, Joe Quick doesn’t serve these meatballs with anything, but we like a bit of cous cous or rice to soak up the sauce. Oh and don’t be tempted to leave out the feta- it really makes the dish. I crumble some into the kids’ dinner before they notice.

This little dish could serve up as much as 3 of your 5-a-day, and is incredibly low-fat and nutritious.

For 4 (but we can usually get two meals+ out of this recipe)

1 red onion, diced
2 red peppers, diced
1 courgette, chopped
2 x 400g cans tomatoes
40g feta, crumbled
500g turkey mince
salt and pepper, minced oregano or parsley to add flavour to meatballs

Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan and fry off the chopped vegetables for 10 minutes until softened. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes adding a little water to stop sticking if necessary.

Meanwhile, season the turkey mince and add the herbs: roll into small balls (wet hands help) you should be left with about 12-15 meatballs. Fry these off gently for a few minutes until golden all over then add to the tomato sauce- allow to braise in the simmering sauce for 10 minutes.

Just before serving, crumble in the feta and stir.

Serve with cous cous, rice or a salad.

sweet potato pancakes

Caramelised Sweet Potato Pancakes

The sweet potater hater five year old loved these and I have to say, they are AMAZING. You’ll find a much simplified version of a Yotam Ottolenghi breakfast idea below: the original sounds an altogether more adult affair with spring onions, chilli and coriander.

Have you ever baked a sweet potato? If not, I urge you to do so. The sugars in the potato caramelise and the skin is rendered sweetly edible- it’s what this recipe calls for and the only time consuming element. Next time you have the oven on, throw in a few sweet potatoes. Once you’ve scraped the flesh from the skin, it can be frozen and has a wide variety of applications, sweet and savoury.

In order to keep their shape while frying, I poured the batter into round pastry cutters which stuck a little but worked in terms of a uniform pancake!

They can be served as a dish on their own or with smoked salmon (which goes incredibly well with the sweetness of the pancakes) or a rasher or two of crispy bacon drizzled with maple syrup.

For four

450g sweet potatoes
85g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 eggs separated
70 ml whole milk
20g melted butter and
50g butter for frying
2 tsp maple syrup

To bake the sweet potatoes: Heat the oven to 220/425 degrees and put the whole unpeeled sweet potatoes on an oven tray and roast for an hour until soft and browned, remove and leave to cool. Peel the skin and using a muslin or j cloth, squeeze excess moisture from the flesh. You should be left with 180g.

Mix the flour, 3/4 tsp salt, and baking powder in a bowl. In another, whisk the egg yolks, milk, melted butter and maple syrup then stir into the dry ingredients. Whisk the egg whites separately until they form peaks and fold into the mixture.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and spoon 3 heaped tbsp of the batter to make each pancake- they should be 1.5cm thick and around 7cm wide. Cook for 2 minutes on each side until brown. You should end up with 8 pancakes.