MTT: Mama’s Lasagne

I might be cheating a bit here with the title of this dish. This recipe has nothing to do with an Italian Mama, but rather it was the very first recipe my own Mum taught me about 12 years ago. I have memories of her cooking this at special occasions for my brother and I,  for dinner parties with her friends and she even made it for a faux dinner party I once held for my thirteen year old posse (the dress code was black tie, obviously). It was a staple of my childhood and is a recipe have modified and I come back to time and time again now I’m (barely) a grown-up.

I’m not convinced how authentic this version is. For one, I’m pretty sure the Italians don’t use mature cheddar cheese and I’m sure they use the more traditional combo of carrots and celery. But this is a recipe that I’ve honed over my 12 years of cooking it, from the vegetables and herbs I use to the amount of wine and the time I simmer the ragu. The quantity of cheese sauce has slightly increased over time and I now use less tomatoes. The result is a pasta dish that not only tastes sublime but has layers of flavour thanks to the beef stock, sugar (really!), mushrooms, wine and strong cheese. I would defy anyone not to do a bit of an Italian “MMMMMmmmmmm!” and maybe even that kissy finger pinch thing when they’re eating it.

The quantity below serves 4 hungry grown-ups and is great served with a herby salad and even some (homemade) garlic bread. I often double this otherwise I’m disappointed at the lack of leftovers which taste amazing heated up for lunch the next day. This may be a little more involved and time-consuming than most of my other recipes, but it’s bloody worth it.

In my recipe I’ve used Gourmet Garden basil and garlic, which are a great way to save time when you’re cooking without compromising on taste or flavour. Chopping herbs and garlic are one of my least favourite things to do in the kitchen, so I certainly noticed the difference! I’m entering my lasagne recipe in Gourmet Garden‘s blog off/cook off competition.

 

Mama’s Lasagne
 
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I find I get my best results from this recipe when I par-cook my lasagne sheets in boiling water for around three minutes each. I do this in 2 batches of 3 while the ragu sauce is bubbling away and then lay them out flat ready to assemble. Of course you won’t need to do this if you are using fresh pasta sheets .
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 3 teaspoons Gourmet Garden garlic
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 pepper (red or orange) chopped into cubes
  • Half punnet chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 100ml red wine
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • Half a beef stock cube
  • 3 teaspoons Gourmet Garden basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 50g Butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 60g Mature Cheddar Cheese
  • 175ml (approx) whole milk
  • 6 lasagne pasta sheets
Instructions
  1. Dice the onion and sweat in a large pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic, cooking slowly to ensure it doesn’t burn, about 10 minutes.
  2. Whilst the onion is cooking chop your other veg and add to the pan. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Add your mince and break up well. Mix in with veg and stir as it cooks.
  4. Once it’s brown all over add the 100ml of red wine and tomato puree and stir well.
  5. Crumble in the half a stock cube and stir again, then add the tin of chopped tomatoes.
  6. Bring the pan to a slight simmer and cook with a lid off, stirring every 5 minutes. Leave to cook for about 40 minutes before moving on to the cheese sauce.
  7. When the ragu is nearing the end of cooking add the sugar and salt and pepper to taste. I usually add a touch more than 4 teaspoons to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes.
  8. Melt your butter in a small saucepan and when it’s slightly bubbling add your flour; stir well and don’t let it burn. Cook for about 30 minutes before adding a splash of milk to cook the pan down.
  9. Add a handful of cheese and stir well to combine, followed by about half the milk. Wait for the cheese to melt then repeat, until you have a sauce about the consistency of cake batter. You might need a little less of the milk- use your judgement – but make sure you have a small sprinkling of cheddar left over for the top of the lasagne.
  10. When this is done it’s time to assemble! If there’s any liquid left on the top of your ragu sauce skim it off and discard.
  11. Place half of the ragu in a large rectangular dish and press down so it’s nice and level.
  12. Add three quarters of the cheese sauce and place three lasagne sheets on top.
  13. Spoon the remaining ragu over the cheese sauce and place the last three sheets on top of this. Add the last of the cheese sauce to the top of the lasagne and sprinkle with cheddar.
  14. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes, or until the top of the lasagne is golden brown and bubbling. Delicious!

 

MTT: Loaded Potato Skins

 

As much as I really don’t approve of using food as an emotional crutch there is nothing that will give you a hug from the inside quite like a jacket potato, preferably with cheese and baked beans. I went through a whole winter of being unhappy about my career on the strength of the jacket potato van at the front of the office; I put on a couple of pounds (double cheese, double butter, oh yeah) but I had a perpetual warm feeling in my stomach.

 

 

I can’t even put my finger on the best thing about the humble jacket potato. The crispy skin? The salty, oozy butter? The melting cheese? The sweet tomato sauce? There are SO MANY good bits, too many to choose from.

There does appear to be a limit to how many potatoes can be eaten in one week, however. My record is 4 (5 if you count one with a tuna topping but I’m a beans n’ cheese gal), but I’m guessing 1 is probably a much healthier option. Plus if you overdo them there’s always the risk of jacket potato burnout. So to save my health I like to come up with different ways to warm my cockles.

 

 

These loaded skins are one of those ways. It’s a recipe I came up with in the middle of our chilly and rainy summer when I’d had one too many jacket potatoes and couldn’t look another baked bean in the eye. It’s crispy, cheesy and salty yet a bit lighter than your more traditional baked potato. I serve them with a quick homemade guacamole (1 mashed avocado, salt, pepper, lime, olive oil) and pretend they’re healthy: just ignore the mountain of soured cream.

 

 

5.0 from 2 reviews

Loaded Potato Skins
 
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The quantities below will serve one: just double, triple etc it for more people.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1 Baking Potato
  • 2 Rashers Smoked bacon
  • Good handful of cheese (approx 25g), I like Double Gloucester
  • Dessert spoon full sour cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Guacamole and soured cream, to serve
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat your oven to hot, about 230 degrees C.
  2. Cook the potatoes whole in the microwave until just cooked, about 4 minutes on each side.
  3. Take them out and slice them in half. When cooled slightly scoop out the insides and pop in a large bowl. Add to this 2 rashers of chopped fried bacon, the cheese, a dessert spoon ful of sour cream and salt and pepper.
  4. Meanwhile, brush the potato skins with Olive Oil and salt and place them curved-side up on to a baking tray to crisp up. Cook for about 7 minutes.
  5. Take the skins out the oven and turn over. Fill with the topping.
  6. Pop in the oven for another 7-10 minutes, until heated through and the cheese is melted.
  7. Dip liberally in guacamole and soured cream.

 

 

MTT: Really Nice Burgers

One thing I struggle hugely with out here in the middle of nowhere is the lack of a decent burger. I’ve tried EVERYWHERE within a 10 mile radius, and none of them compare to the delights you get in London. Our local pub’s offering is passable, especially since they gave up doing those massive huge chips that were basically roast potatoes and went with slimmer chips. They also get points for a homemade tomato relish though it’s a little too spicy for me. Man, I’m difficult to please.

We do at least have a local GBK 7 miles away which is where I turn to for my burger fix, especially as they now do those awesome shoestring fries, but the best local chips I’ve found are thrice cooked and at The Bell and Bear (I’M A CHIP CONNOISSEUR, OK?!)

 

But I like to have a burger on a whim, and whims are fairly hard to come by when you have two children in nappies. So I’ve learned to make my own delicious burger at home with a healthy accompaniment of vegetable fries. And best of all, you’ll find every ingredient for this in the Co-Op.

These burgers are made extra special thanks to the addition of caramelised onions (see here for a quick recipe) and I buy mature cheddar cheese slices and iceburg lettuce to give them a bit of crunch.

 

I found the idea for these chips on Pinterest a while ago: vegetable sticks coated in a marinade and oven-baked at a high heat. Sainsbury’s sent me some samples from their new specialty ingredients range a couple of weeks ago so I decided to use their Harissa to give the carrots and courgettes a bit of a kick. My parents-in-law spent a while living in Tunisia and we used to bring home jars of Harissa when we visited but I was pleased to find that Sainsbury’s version is more smokey and less spicy (I’m a wimp when it comes to chilli); I added a dessertspoon full of this to an equal portion of olive oil and honey, tossed the veg and baked for about half an hour. Yummy. And healthy!

 

 

MTT: Really Nice Burgers
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 400g minced beef
  • 1 onion, caramelised (optional)
  • Breadcrumbs made with 2 slices of white bread
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Bread rolls
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Ketchup
Instructions
  1. Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well.
  2. Form mixture into balls and squash into patties.
  3. Heat a frying pan to medium-high and cook for approx 4 minutes either side.
  4. Serve in buns with iceberg lettuce and ketchup.

PS: thanks to Sainsbury’s for kindly sending me samples of their new ingredients… read more about them here!

MTT: A Pizza Party

 

Living in London our weekends were mostly spent eating, drinking or hungover. I dread to think how many days I wasted sleeping away my fuzzy head, but at the time we had no other pressures or worries and the biggest decision to be made was which pub we’d eat lunch in that day. I could take as much time relaxing as needed, as long as my brain was half way engaged on Monday mornings.

These days we like to fill our weekends up. They feel like they last longer for Will if we do, and for me they detract from the occasional monotony of childrearing and housework. But finding activities to suit all four of us is becoming harder and harder and inevitably leads us to the shops, which is not good because a) it’s busy,  b) I end up spending money and c) Elfie doesn’t particularly like it. Our other favourite past time is eating out but again this activity doesn’t exactly thrill the younger members of our family.

 

 

We really haven’t got out much as a family this summer, thanks in part to the crappy weather and the fact I’m rubbish at making decisions about what the hell to do but also because of Will’s hectic weekend schedules, so our time together is always really precious.

I had a bit of a brainwave for the last miserable Bank Holiday Monday: as it was tipping it down outside I put together a pizza party. Food + stuff you can roll out = fun for everyone.

 

 

I really struggle for family activities sometimes, especially on a budget, and get so bored with walking round the park countless times. I’d love to hear of any of your lifesaving child-and-parent entertaining activities.

Back to the Pizza. Elfie did end up eating most of her ham off her pizza before it was cooked, but it’s games like this that have helped her understand that food is made, it goes in the oven and then comes out cooked. Voila!

 

 

This is the simplest activity. All you need is the ingredients for pizza dough/bread (the ready packs of this are great, though I just made mine in my bread maker), a couple of cloves of garlic, a tin of chopped tomatoes, mozzarella and toppings of your choice. Finely chop the garlic and cook in some oil for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Simmer for about 20 minutes with some dried herbs (I use thyme and oregano).

I like to roll out the pizza dough on Polenta to give it a bit of somethin somethin, and I use polenta to stop the bases sticking to the baking trays. Cover in the tomato sauce then add your toppings. My favourites include:
- Anchovies, capers and red onion
- Ham, pineapple and mushroom
- Garlic mushroom and cheddar
- Anything with a bit of added pesto

You can literally stick anything on top of these pizzas, bake for 30 mins at 190 degrees C and BOOM. Dinner and an afternoon entertainment activity, all in one.

MTT: A Really Easy BBQ

 

It’s somewhat of a tradition in our house that Friday is a bit of a fun day. Being a stay-and-work-at-home mum means the days can get rather repetitive and all blend into one if there is no weekend fun to look forward to (especially because my husband works lots of weekends) so it’s great to plan mini parties to get excited about. Everyone loves a party!

 

 

If I’m lucky on a Friday afternoon I get to drop Elfie with my lovely Mother-in-Law for a few hours and whilst they’re having fun at the library or PlayDoh-ing I take a bottle of wine round to Kaisa‘s shop for a gossip and a drink. Elfie usually comes home at about 6pm and my parents arrive shortly after (sometimes pit-stopping at the pub on the way home for a play on the big slide – Elfie, not my parents) and if Will isn’t working from home he gets back at 8. We order an Indian from our local, which is so great that Snoop Dogg once ordered from there, and drink one too many glasses of red wine. It’s an open invitation so we’re often joined by sister-in-laws or aunties and it’s always lots of fun.

 

 

A couple of weeks ago we’d had such delightful weather that I decided to throw the rule book out the window and have a BBQ instead of a takeaway. I know, I know… we’re wild, right? It was while I was putting together that particular BBQ that I realised how finely honed my menu is; we always cook exactly the same things, and they always taste brilliant (if I may say so myself). I have a pretty failsafe BBQ formula that never fails to satisfy.

 

 

It comprises of: 2 salads, corn on the cob, chicken and sausages or burgers. It’s enough for 4 or 5 and can be put together in under an hour (including a homemade marinade). It’s even more perfect for me because I prepare it during afternoon naptime and then hand the food over to Will to cook at dinner, as in our house the BBQ is strictly man territory only. I enjoy a sit down and a drink while the food cooks. Blissful!

 

 

Here’s how to throw a really really easy BBQ:

The basics:
Pack of sausages or burgers with bread rolls
Optional: one batch of caramelised onions for burgers/hotdogs
Pack of chicken thighs/drumsticks
Pack of 4 corn on the cobs
2 peppers
1 onion
Half a punnet of mushrooms
Kebab sticks, soaked in water

2 types of salad – I like to use one ready-bought bag as well as a beetroot and orange salad (see here for more salad ideas).

Pimms, Prosecco and/or wine (essential)

Marinade:
4 tbsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp ketchup
Salt and pepper
Any more of the above ingredients to suit your taste (it’s a bit of a slapdash recipe)
1. At least 2 hours before you want to eat, mix all ingredients of the marinade together well.
2. Put all the chicken in a tuppaware container and pour the marinade over, reserving a little bit to paint on the corn and veggies. Put the chicken in the fridge.
3. Chop the peppers, onion and mushrooms into large pieces and thread on the pre-soaked kebab sticks.
4. Make up the salads and caramelised onions.
5. Right before you are ready to eat pre-cook the chicken in the oven for 15-20 mins at about 180 degrees.
6. Bang everything on the pre-heated BBQ, painting marinade on the veggies before they go on. Cook until lovely and blackened.
7. Enjoy and marvel at the easiest BBQ ever.

MTT: Authentic Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara

A couple of weeks ago I had one of those days. I took a trip to Nottingham, my first solo trip with two babies, for an appointment Elfie had with her specialists in the Genetics department at The Queens Medical Centre. The appointment was at 11am so I left our house in plenty of time at 8.30 but managed to be ten minutes late thanks to a detour back home to pick up my forgotten phone. It turned out that didn’t matter though as I had arrived at hospital a record-breaking 5 hours early; our appointment was at 4pm. OOPS. Initially I blamed this on putting the wrong appointment time in my diary, but no, it was there in black and white: 4pm. I guess this is where I blame my inbuilt fear of being late, otherwise I’d just have to blame plain old stupidity.

And so I had five hours to kill with two children in Nottingham. In the pouring rain. I sat by the front door of the hospital waiting for the rain to stop and feeding Elfie cucumber. In a flash of brilliance (a text suggestion from my mum) I called the appointment office to see if they could squeeze me in earlier. They could – 1.30pm! So I only had a couple of hours to kill, which I could do with lunch. Brilliant.

 

Pasta cooking

Thinking the rain wasn’t going to let up any time soon I decided to make a dash for the car park, which was a 4 minute stroll away. I reckoned if I put Elfie in the pram and Hux in the Baby Bjorn I could make it in 2. So we set off, and 30 seconds into our journey the rain turned from heavy to biblical. It was insane, like being in a shower. By the time I got to the car I was soaked through to my bra and my breast pads were so saturated that little gel crystals were falling out. Both kids were wringing wet and sobbing. I could have cried myself (OK, I did).

Frying off bacon

Back in the car I turned on the ignition, stripped us all and started hanging clothes strategically over warm blowers. After 15 minutes i realised that I wasn’t doing anything but steam up the car windows so I decided I’d have to put our damp clothes back on and buy some dry ones.

Having wasted so much time with my useless drying efforts there wasn’t time to head over to Outfit where I could have bought some things from TopShop, so I had to stop at Sainsburys instead, purchasing new outfits for all three of us (including the afore mentioned cringey babygros). Elfie got a fairly cute leopard print dress and I bought some blue linen shorts and a top in the sale as well as a new bra as mine was soaked. We got changed in the disabled toilet of the supermarket. Classy.

Eggs in a mug

We drove back to the hospital, Elfie eating a pack of Twiglets for her lunch. The appointment went really well, the consultants were delighted with Elfie’s progress and we found out she didn’t need an operation that was on the horizon, so we headed out to the car park happy. It was raining again  and yes, the same thing happened as we headed out to the car: the rain turned biblical as we were almost there. Luckily this time we were rescued by a kind woman with an umbrella who sheltered the children whilst I heaved all our crap into the car, they escaped unscathed but I was so wet I had to strip again and drove the 80 miles home in my underwear.

It’s these sorts of days that neccessitate stodge. Really good tasting stodge: I’m talking carbs, eggs, cheese. The type of food that will give you a big hug from the inside out and will warm you up when you’re cold to the core. This Cabonara is perfect for these days – it tastes amazing, is authentic (bar my choice of pasta) so you can pretend to be cultured with it and can be whipped up in 15 minutes. This recipe will make you forget about your crappy day and will leave you feeling happy, content and rubbing your belly. For me, it’s happiness in a saucepan.

Carbonara in progress

Spaghetti Carbonara

5.0 from 2 reviews

MTT: Authentic Spaghetti Cabonara
 
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All ingredients listed below are per person, making this recipe really easy to scale up or down.
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • Small handfull of spaghetti (I like to use linguine which is slightly flatter)
  • 25g finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 rashers smoked bacon
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Fill a pan with boiled salted water and cook your spaghetti as per packet instructions.
  2. Chop your bacon into small pieces and cook with a little olive oil in a large frying pan – I like to use my Garlic Oil for this.
  3. Beat your eggs and season in a separate bowl or mug.
  4. As soon as your pasta is cooked strain it, reserving a little bit of the cooking water.
  5. Turn the heat off the bacon and add the pasta to the frying pan.
  6. Add the egg and parmesan to the pan and mix together well. Add a tablespoon or so of the cooking water to the pan to create a bit of a sauce and serve.