Mac ‘N Cheese

Mac ‘N Cheese

If you mention you had Mac ‘n’ cheese for dinner amongst my work colleagues there would be gasps of horror! “oh my goodness, so much cheese”,” so many carbs”….”I just could not indulge like that”.  Any of those comments sound familiar?

So if you want to avoid those types of comments, just don’t mention it, or call it something else!

It was my birthday last month, and as we were not able to eat out, I figured I could treat myself to this family favourite – and somewhat classic dish!

Ingredients:

  • 250grams macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 500ml milk
  • 3 cups Tasty or Colby cheese, grated
  • 4 slices streaky bacon, chopped roughly
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs, Japanese breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot to the boil with a dash of salt, and add dry pasta. Cook until al dente – or cooked ‘firm to the bite’. Drain and add a little olive oil to the cooked pasta to ensure it does not stick to each other.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat then add the flour and cook for three minutes. Add the milk, stirring constantly until thick and smooth – I use a whisk for this. Add two cups of grated cheese, and your seasoning. Remove from the heat, and set to the side.

Add a little cooking oil and over a medium heat sauté the bacon and onions for 10 minutes or until they’re starting to colour. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for two more minutes.

At this stage, I combine the bacon and onion mix with the cheese sauce in the pot with the cooked pasta. Mix it well.

Transfer to an oven-proof dish. Top with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs and bake for 15 minutes – or until the cheese and breadcrumbs are golden.

Serves 4

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You can whip up a big dish of Mac ‘N Cheese very economically, which is also a great benefit for those of you with a tribe of teenagers to feed. A packet of dry pasta is less than $2, and this will go a long distance. Leave out the bacon, and add extra vegetables – you can chop up a broccoli, or grate a carrot and zucchini into this, and get away with it!

Don’t wait for a special occasion to treat yourself and the family to a delicious Mac ‘N Cheese dinner; add it to a family menu for a quick and easy week night meal the teenagers will devour in a flash. One word of warning however; make plenty as they will be back for seconds!

Happy teen – happy mum xx

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Leftovers again? What was I to do? Time to get a bit creative in the kitchen…..

I shared with you a recipe from a young friend who had lived in a student flat on a meagre income while he was studying. It was a delicious and heartwarming chicken stew made from the leftover roast chicken from Sunday night.

That 300 grams of leftover roast chicken made a really tasty dinner which we enjoyed very much – the chief tester declared it a keeper which is always a good sign. Great I thought – I’ll file the recipe away for another time. But what do you do when there is leftover chicken stew? This was becoming one of those ongoing dilemma’s for this household of just two.

I was lacking inspiration and very nearly resorted to making hot buttered toast and reheating the stew and calling that dinner. Nothing wrong with that as an option – but I’m one of those souls who prefers to eat something different every night. I’m not that enamoured of a meal repeated unless it is Lemon Croissant Pudding for two – Decadent Indulgence! of course and I could happily have this twice in a  row!

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I’m going to call this ‘Rustic Chicken Filo Pie’ – for the sake of my reputation within the family as a ‘not too bad cook’! Sounds fancy eh?

Seriously I took some store-bought filo pastry from the refrigerator, and that leftover chicken stew from the night before and voila!

Filo or phyllo is very thin sheets of pastry commonly used in Greek, eastern European and Middle Eastern cuisines. It can be used for sweet dishes and savoury, and is known to be a healthier alternative to a flaky pastry. The pastry is made from flour and water with fat in the form of melted butter, spread or oil brushed on the layers as they are assembled for your recipe.

Lay a sheet of filo on a clean bench and take a pastry brush and brush olive oil on the sheet – I find this easier than melted butter.

Fold a sheet in half and lay in the bottom of a pie dish – repeat with another sheet of filo pastry to ensure the bottom the pie dish is covered.

Spoon in your leftover chicken stew.

Oil another sheet of filo pastry and then ‘scrunch’ it up in your hand, and place it on top of the stew. Repeat s-3 times depending on the size of your pie dish.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and pop into a hot oven for 30 minutes or until hot through.

And thankfully this was the leftover roast chicken, transformed to that delicious chicken stew and then finally into the ‘Rustic Filo Pie’ finished!

Kidding aside, this is the sort of cooking our mum’s and nana’s did when we were younger. A Sunday roast chicken fed the family, and their was always something leftover for another meal. The carcass became stock for soup, and the leftover chicken meat made its way into a risotto or if we were really lucky into our school lunch box. A chicken sandwich was always so much nicer than jam or peanut butter one!

In this season of saving towards first homes, and one income while at home with the children, it’s not a bad thing to know how to save a few dollars. With a little thought it’s possible to do this with family meals if you get back to basics.

Happy leftovers xx

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What to do with leftover roast chicken – make a chicken stew of course!

The household numbers just the two of us these days with the children all grown and living away from home.   So the days of cooking a roast chicken and making sausage meat balls to make the chicken go further are long gone and replaced with the other end of the scale issue – leftovers!

I have made a chicken risotto, chicken soup – and chicken enchiladas with the leftovers before. Some time ago a young work colleague told me about his favourite thing to do with his leftover chicken and I thought I would give it a go. 

Ingredients

  • 1 leftover roast chicken, stripped of meat (approx 300 grams)
  • Olive oil
  • 4 rashers of bacon, finely sliced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 potatoes, diced into 2 cm pieces
  • Fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 200 grams button mushrooms, halved
  • 1 heaped tablespoon flour
  • Salt & pepper

Place the carcass in a large pot and break it up with a potato masher – cover with 1 litre of water, bring to the boil, then simmer for at least 30 minutes.

I used my Corning Ware casserole dish for the next stage of the cooking – I was given this as a wedding gift from my Uncle and Aunty in 1984 would you believe? It has been a great dish to own as you can cook with it on the stove top or in the oven – a super versatile dish which has been a well used over the years.  

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Splash some olive oil in your pan, and add the bacon to cook for a few minutes. Add the onion, carrots, potatoes along with the fresh thyme and bay leaves. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Stir in the mushrooms, and chicken, along with the heaped tablespoon of flour.

Pour the stock through a sieve straight into the pan, and let simmer for 40 minutes, or until thickened. Season with salt & pepper to taste. IMG_0222.png

I served the stew on a mash of sweet potato for a quick and simple dinner during the week – if I had more time I would have made old-fashioned dumplings and popped these on top of the stew in the last 20 minutes of cooking time for a change, with a side of green beans!

A glass of red wine and you are set for a heartwarming meal that really is delicious – and a lovely change from using the leftover roast chicken in a risotto 🙂

Happy winter meals xx

Stop – and Recalibrate Yourself

Stop and Recalibrate Yourself, August 2016
We live in such a fast-paced world where technology allows us to work day and night – my boss told me off gently earlier this week for sending him an email at 8.30pm. To which I replied equally as nicely – “and you answered it at 10.30pm!”
In my defence I was sitting on the sofa in my pyjama’s with my iPad – was I really working?  I certainly didn’t think of it as working.
Either way, pushing myself will not increase my life-span but may just decrease it?  A wise man said the other week to myself and others “You need to stop and recalibrate you!” He could not have spoken a truer word. It made me stop and think about what I could do differently with my 7-days.
Do you remember when the shopping malls were only open late one night a week, and closed all weekend? When you managed to get your shopping done after work, and your bills paid by posting a cheque? There was no fibre broadband, smart phones or iPads.
In our home Saturday’s were often filled with household chores; clean sheets on beds, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, mowing lawns and cleaning cars and those activities after an early morning football game with the our eldest son.
Sunday was reserved for ‘family time’ – perhaps a trip to the beach, or lunch with extended family. It was a day where no chores were done, where teenagers were encouraged to hang out with the whole family, and where busy working Mum’s and Dad’s could do something for themselves without feeling guilty for ‘doing nothing’.
I have fond memories of ‘topping and tailing’ with my oldest son, on his bed, in the sun, both of us with our noses in a book!
Back in 1840 Samuel Duncan Parnell, a carpenter in NZ, refused to work for more than eight hours a day when building a shop for a merchant. He was successful in negotiating this working condition – and New Zealand now has the reputation of being the first country in the world to have adopted the eight-hour working day.
It was reported that Parnell said “There are twenty-four hours per day given to us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which men to do what little things they want for themselves”.
Granted this is a little sexist but you get the point!
We travel 1-2 hours to work (if you live in Auckland that is ‘normal’) work 8-10 hour days, and then drive home the 1-2 hours travel time – for most working parents; there is dinner to cook, sports practice to get kids too, homework to check, washing to do and bills to pay!
When do we stop and recalibrate – or breathe in?
I love the idea of working 6-days and taking the 7th day as a day of rest – or recalibration. Whatever days of the week you work, you can fit in a day for you.
Call it what you like, it is so important to stop and breathe in so you can go again. We won’t survive this life if we don’t.
Here are my Four Fundamentals to help you ‘breathe in’.
1. Design personal replenishment
I had a wonderful opportunity some years ago to have some Life Coaching. I hunted out the material this weekend and read through what I had committed too. It made interesting reading for me and I realised how far I have strayed from that ‘Extreme Self-Care’ that is necessary to keep myself alive;  in body, mind and spirit.
Part of the exercise was to draw a circle and section out your life into the important areas for you – The balanced Whole Life. Here is a pic of that piece of paper and my thoughts at the time.
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The writing is small so this is what it says:
Relationships – children, friends, parents, lover, work colleagues, spouse
Spiritual well-being – inner security, sense of peace & centeredness
Emotional & Physical Health – exercise, eating regular meals, quiet time, solitude
Contributions to others – being of service & support to those in need, be that with knowledge or time
Work – my life is not my work?
Fun & Leisure – interestingly I had not made any comments on this section.

I wrote down the key things for me and what I was going to commit to doing or I had already working for me:

Relationships – I spend time with people who make me laugh, and I have relationships with people who stimulate me intellectually
Environment – I listen to my favourite music, and my home neat, & well-organised
Body, Mind & Spirit – I exercise regularly, and eat healthier. I set aside regular time for solitude & silence and find a safe & healthy outlet for my emotional wellbeing

Work – I have a mentor who guide and encourages me, I always take a lunch break, and I have colleagues who inspire and respect me. My ideas and talents are welcome at work.
Some of these things have changed for me, but many are the same.
Listening to my favourite music still feels me with joy, singing out loud makes me feel happy. I have new hobbies now; photography, baking, and cooking…and of course my blog – these things ‘replenish’ me.

Get a piece of paper out and write down what makes you feel good – it is a good exercise.

What the recharges you? Part of your life begins to die if you don’t look after it. Some of us feel guilty if we don’t stop and do something that replenish our soul. We all need to discover what replenishes us and then just do it.

2. Designate a day – pre-plan the day by setting it aside to do what you want for you.
prioritise the day  – the key is to empower the important over the urgent. I work Monday to Friday currently and have resorted back to the familiar – housework on a Saturday and my day on a Sunday!
Choose to spend the day on things that bring you joy – and make decisions for this day on what you want instead of what others want from you.
3. Disengage from work
It was not that long ago that there was no mobile phones, or email…and work survived! Turn that phone off !
4. Develop healthy relationships
Build friendships – talk to people, have conversations. It is imperative to have depth of relationship for you to make it all the way through life.
I hope that you get something out of reading this today – when I heard the words myself a few weeks ago, they really spoke to me. I felt compelled to share what really is a number of life lessons that I had learnt and forgotten.
I took my own advice this afternoon and went for a brisk walk – the dogs were delighted, and I was rewarded with a  beautiful sunset captured through my phone lens above!
Happy recalibrating xx

Blueberry, Apple & Coconut Crumble!

I have discovered the joy of a hot bowl of fruit crumble with a dollop of yoghurt for breakfast! To my tastebuds so much yummier than weetbix and cold milk – and even though I am starting to enjoy a bowl of porridge, fruit crumble is still my favourite!

With hubby and I living ‘childless’, (5 children living independently is quite nice by the way!) a hot pudding seemed extravagant to put together for just the two of us.

I used to make a fruit dessert often for the teenage boy who was rather averse to fruit with the exception of apples! Not only did it get some fruit into him, but let’s face it teenage boys have hollow legs don’t they? and a dessert would help fill him up more.

This recipe is very easy and delicious – pantry ingredients so you don’t have to shop especially for this. I always have a couple bags of frozen berries in the freezer, not just for desserts but for muffins too. They are quick to defrost, although with this recipe I don’t bother to defrost the blueberries – just let them cook through in the oven.

Give this recipe a go, and if you can…save some for breakfast!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split & seeds scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla paste)
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, peeled & chopped
  • 500g blueberries

Place all of the above ingredients into a bowl and mix well to combine. Spoon this mixture into a baking dish.

Coconut Crumble

  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 2/3 cup shredded  coconutBlueberry crumble
  • 120g melted butter
  • 1 cup plain sifted flour

Preheat the oven to 180°c.

Put the above 4 ingredients in a bowl and rub with your fingertips until them is like coarse breadcrumbs.

Sprinkle over the fruit mix and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden. Serves 6

Serve with custard or cream and/or ice-cream depending on your level of decadence!

Happy cooking xx