Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Macaroni Cheese Recipe.. at last!

Here at last is my recipe for Macaroni Cheese - and I hope you'll forgive the mixture of measures. Somehow I can't seem to get them constant - I'm useless with metric, but as things like packs of macaroni come in kilos these days, I don't have a lot of choice. If you can't make sense of this, just ask me to clarify it and I'll do my best. Here goes:
This makes four really good-sized portions
Ingredients: 1 third of a pack of macaroni (approx 333gms)
100gms good strong Cheddar cheese (use more if you like it really strong)
Approx: 1 pint liquid (I use half full-cream milk, and half vegetable stock because
I think it gives a better flavour)
1 oz. or 1 old-fashioned heaped tablespoon of flour
1 good oz. of hard butter (no substitutes)
1 good pinch Colman's Mustard powder
Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt to taste.
Approx. 1 oz grated Parmesan cheese for topping (again use more if you wish).
Method: First I put a large, buttered, dish into a warm oven (approx 150) to warm (I use old butter papers to give the dish a non-stick finish). Then I start by cooking the macaroni in a large saucepan covered with plenty of boiling, salted water. It takes about 10 - 13 minutes to cook it thoroughly, and as the macaroni swells you may need to add more water. (Tip: add boiling water so that the cooking time isn't slowed down and stir the macaroni fairly frequently to stop it sticking together). While the macaroni is cooking, make the Roux: put the butter into a smaller saucepan on a low heat to melt. Do not burn the butter - if you do you will have to start again. When the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour and the pinch of mustard powder, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. It will get thick very quickly. Put the pan back on a low heat and gradually add the milk and vegetable stock a little at a time, stirring all the time with your wooden spoon to avoid lumps. This is labour intensive I know, but the object is to achieve a smooth creamy sauce which is approximately the thickness of pouring cream. If the sauce gets lumpy take it off the heat and whisk with a small whisk until it is smooth before continuing. If your macaroni is cooked before the sauce is finished, simply take the sauce off the heat and put it to one side while you drain the macaroni. I have found that cooked macaroni is very lively indeed! It seems to leap about when you least want it to, so be careful as you drain it into a large colander, otherwise it will all jump out into the sink! When you have drained it, run the cold tap through the colander to wash all the excess starch out of the macaroni. This is very important, because it takes away the "clagginess" of most cooked pasta. (In fact I do this with all my pasta.) Next, put the cooked macaroni (carefully) back into the saucepan and add a drizzle of good olive oil which you mix into the pasta with a wooden spoon. This stops it sticking together. Next continue with the sauce (back on a low heat) by stirring in the grated Cheddar cheese until it is all smoothly combined. At this point I also add salt and pepper to taste. You will find that the sauce thickens as you stir in the cheese, and it should be both creamy and delicious. Now remove your warmed dish from the oven (carefully), pour in the cooked macaroni and add the cheese sauce, slowly, stirring it in well. Then sprinkle the grated Parmesan over the top and return the dish to the oven, turning up the grill to brown the top. This only takes a couple of minutes. The result should be (I hope) a deliciously creamy Macaroni Cheese. This whole process takes me about 30 minutes and makes enough to feed four really greedy people.

Now if I were anything like as clever as my good friend Donna , I would have a mouth-watering photo to show you at this point, but as I'm not, you will just have to imagine it. Despite this, I hope you will try it and enjoy it! Happy cooking..

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Swine 'Flu, My Family and other animals..

Oh Bugger, Grandson has Swine'Flu - it struck him yesterday evening, and Daughter phoned me to say he had a high temperature and was feeling pretty awful. It was the last day of his first year at School yesterday, and of course she now wishes she hadn't sent him back this week after last week's scare - me too! Ah well, we just have to deal with it now. His temperature went up and down last night, and then was decidedly up at 39-point-something this morning. He was also sick, and said he had a sore throat, and Daughter said his glands were obviously swollen and he couldn't swallow. She now has some Tamiflu for him, which she got from her GP, and of course Grandson can't really go anywhere for five days - so neither can she! They were due to come here today for a couple of days holiday, and then go on to a wedding at the weekend - one of her oldest School friends is getting married on Saturday. This is really sad, because her friend has been planning her wedding for two years, and is devastated that one of her oldest friends can't be there. So of course they can't come here either until next week (Daughter said they have to stay away from both children and old people.."And I'm afraid 'old people' means you Mum" - thanks a bunch). Thankfully, my darling Grandson seems to be feeling better this evening, and has gone to bed quite cheerfully. He has had his second dose of Tamiflu and some Calpol to help keep his temperature down - plus he has a fan in his room to keep him cool.

Today's bad news rather overshadowed Daughter's really Good News, which is that her latest Cervical Smear test result came back Negative.. Three Cheers. She opened the letter this morning, in the middle of all the panic about Grandson, and was pretty tearful with relief. Me too. It's her first normal Smear result in two years, and though she will have to have another test in six months, it really is something to celebrate. However, as they're all confined to the house, going out wasn't on the cards. Instead, Daughter went to get a take-away curry and a bottle of wine while the Boyfriend read Grandson a bedtime story. Small pleasures maybe, but it's pretty important to celebrate the good news.

Today is also my 2nd Blogging Anniversary - a small event that's been completely overshadowed by all the Big Stuff above - but that's just how it should be, I think. After all, a Blog is quite simply an on-line Diary; a way of sharing our day to day lives, thoughts, dramas and delights, with our on-line friends. I'm pleased to be still Blogging - even if I'm not writing this Diary as often as I did at the start. I really love all my Blogging Buddies, and I love sharing all your lives and thoughts too. Long may we Blog - and here's to many more anniversaries.

PS. I have promised to put my Macaroni Cheese recipe on my Blog, and will do so soon - I just have to work out the exact proportions etc. Back soon...

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Week in the Life of...

Well, it's the end of another week during which I've prepared a splendid Sunday Lunch, made and delivered two Macaroni cheeses, spent another day gardening, looked after Grandson for a couple of days, enjoyed a visit from a LondonBF and another dinner at L'Eglise, washed and ironed all the bedlinen and changed all the beds, painted a chest of drawers for the Student's room (and carried it from the car and up three flights of stairs) and also had a little panic about Swine 'Flu. I'm beginning to sound a bit like Superwoman aren't I - except for the last item of course.

To begin with last weekend, I was so looking forward to seeing Son and his Girlfriend and I had planned a super lunch for Sunday. I decided to pinch some of Jamie Oliver's ideas, and bought a gorgeous selection of cold meats (from M & S actually) plus an assortment of tasty foccacias, two cheeses, some olives and a dish of organic beetroot. I prepared it all a la Jamie, laying out the cold meats on a large wooden board. I warmed the breads and whisked up a large bowl of potato salad made with potatoes from ABF's garden, organic mayo and a bunch of lovely chives, fresh from Roz's garden. I also washed and dressed some of her fabulous homegrown rocket which has a really mustardy flavour. Oh, and I boiled some organic "Happy Eggs" to go with it. Altogether the lunch was almost totally organic - which is great because Son's Girlfriend is very keen on most things Organic, with a capital "O". And for dessert I made a Summer Pudding, from my Grandmother's recipe, using redcurrants, blackcurrants and raspberries from the Farm, and organic white sliced bread (I didn't know you could get organic white bread, especially not sliced!). I had also bought some single Jersey Cream and some Organic double cream to go with it, so we were amazingly well provisioned. To go with all that yummy food we had a jug of Pimm's, which I asked Son to make - and I must say that the whole thing was a great success. We all ate so much that we couldn't manage the pudding straight away, so we went for a blue and windy walk down by the sea to refresh our appetites. Daughter, Grandson and the Boyfriend turned up at teatime, so we all enjoyed Summer Pudding and cream, plus a lovely family time, before they all had to go. Son and his Girlfriend also went off bearing the old oak chest of drawers from the small bedroom. This was always in Son's bedroom in Cambridge, and as he needed something to tidy up the stuff in his flat, it was the obvious solution.

So, on Monday (after delivering my Macaroni Cheese to the Deli), I whizzed off to collect Grandson from School - only to be on the receiving end of an official School Newsletter telling everyone that there had been a case of Swine 'Flu in the School. This did scare me, I must admit, especially since there was no way of knowing who actually had the virus, how old they were, which class they were in, and how bad a case it was. Nevertheless, we had our picnic tea and our game of football and frisbee on the field, as usual, and I had to wait to tell Daughter until she arrived home from work. We both felt worried, but somehow couldn't decide on the best course of action. The letter advised parents not to keep their children away from school, but what would you do? Most people are saying that most of the cases are mild - but the exception seems to be in younger children, between the ages of 5 and 12, who haven't had the chance to build up any immunity to 'flu viruses. Anyway, I left Daughter to wrestle with that tricky decision, and brought back the small chest of drawers which she has been storing, unused, in the garage. At first I felt rather feeble about carrying it out of the car and into my house, but then I decided that all I needed was a bit of creative thinking. I carried all the drawers out separately, and managed to manoeuvre the carcass by turning it over and over (rather like a square cartwheel) and even got it up the stairs that way. Result!

On Tuesday, which was 14th July, I was expecting one of my London BFs as we had planned to go the the special dinner at L'Eglise, for Bastille Day. She arrived with wine, and I also made a jug of Pimm's (it seemed a shame not to finish the bottle), so we were very jolly company by the time we met her friends in the Restaurant at 7.30. We had a typically delicious meal, laughed a lot, and staggered home rather late. Next day she left after breakfast, and I spent the rest of the day painting the chest of drawers in readiness for my next Student, who arrives on Sunday. Then Daughter phoned to say that she would like to bring Grandson to me for a couple of days - no real surprise there - so they turned up at supper time, and I had the unexpected pleasure of cuddling up to Grandson, who is, of course, in the best of health!

I had a day of gardening planned for Thursday, so I magicked up a picnic for Grandson and me, threw it all in the car, and off we tootled to East Grinstead for the day. Luckily it was a perfect and sunny day, and Grandson had a great time playing with C's children and helping me in the garden. I worked like fury and managed to get quite a lot done. All the planting I had done over the previous two weeks is looking lovely. We've had quite a bit of rain, so everything is growing well. Grandson and I had our picnic sitting on a rug in the garden, and I worked until I could hardly move. By 5 o'clock I was just about done - and completely done in. Actually, we were both really tired; Grandson hadn't stopped running about and I had weeded, watered and planted until every muscle in my body was aching. We laughed about that all the the way home in the car and just about collapsed when we got indoors (though Grandson managed to eat sausages, waffles and peas, followed by ice cream and a big glass of milk). I sat down after getting him into bed and was so tired I just crept up to bed at 9.30!

Today I could move without pain - it's obviously good for my muscles to get so much exercise.
Grey, wet and windy weather meant that Grandson and I were pretty much confined to the house - except that when the sun came out briefly this afternoon we went to the park for a bit of fresh air! And what happened? Grandson insisted on going into the paddling pool with all his clothes on, and tripped over, falling flat on his face. Oh Joy - he was soaked to the skin and then it started raining again. By the time I had stripped off his wet clothes and put his coat on (luckily it covered his willy, but not his bum) it was chucking it down, and I was soaked to the skin. My second shower of the day. We ran back to the car - what a sight we must have been - and arrived home just before Daughter, who was coming to take Grandson back for the weekend. Now all I have to do is make another Macaroni Cheese to deliver tomorrow morning - and as I'm also looking after Hon. Grandaughter tomorrow, I can pick her up when I deliver the dish to KT at the Deli. That's Saturday, and then the new Student arrives on Sunday...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Promises, promises..

I know, as I was reminded by the lovely Lulu at Family Affairs, I'm hopeless at getting back to you all on time. It's an Aquarian characteristic, you know, to be always running late, so I have some sort of excuse, if only a pathetic astrological one!

Anyway, here I am to explain what else has been happening to delay my Blogging. Actually, I seem to be turning into a sort of One-Woman Cottage Industry - a couple of weeks ago I haplessly volunteered to make a Macaroni Cheese for KT at the Delicatessen where she works in Hove. I was in there one day when they were complaining about the quality, or lack of it, in the macaroni cheese they were currently selling. "I can do that." I piped up, and was promptly asked to prove it! So I did, and I have been making them ever since. I'm even up on the board as "Margot's Macaroni Cheese - New Recipe", which pleases me terrifically. I started making one a week, and now it's two, as it seems to be pretty popular. What Larks!

A couple of weeks ago I also volunteered myself to garden for my lovely Therapist, as she has such a busy life and just can't do the garden as well as manage three children, a busy husband and her therapy career. We were walking round her garden, after my last session, and she was telling me what she would like to do, but couldn't get around to. So, as you do, I found myself saying "Would you like me to do some gardening for you?" The answer was yes, so I've been planning, designing, buying plants and gardening at her house since then. Last week I tackled the Courtyard Garden, which was a mess, and transformed it with a gorgeous planting scheme of white, silver, blue, purple and lavender. I used trailing lobelias in blue and white, some tall lavenders with silvery leaves set around with white stones, and osteospermums (white with purple eyes) plus more white and blue lobelia and the odd bit of ivy, all in lovely old grey stone planters. I had this all planned and the plants bought and ready, when the news came that poor C. (my Therapist) had fallen and broken her shoulder at the airport on her way home from holiday. Thinking that it would cheer her up, I carried on regardless, with the help of her children who cleaned pots, washed the terrace very enthusiastically, and generally enjoyed themselves learning about gardening. It was a boiling hot day (last Thursday) and I worked from 10.30am to 4.30pm, but by golly it was worth it. I could hardly move afterwards, but the courtyard looked just lovely when we had finished, and I was delighted that C. now has somewhere pretty and restful to sit on warm days - she certainly won't be able to do anything more physical for a couple of months! And the gardening continues; today I have been out choosing and buying more plants for the rest of the garden (we have to do it in stages, because they have 5 acres!), and tomorrow I'm off to implement the design and do the planting - it's such a delight seeing the schemes come to life. I was just sitting down to do a plan for the next border, when I had to break off and make an extra Macaroni Cheese this evening, because they phoned to say they had run out at the Deli and needed one for tomorrow!

Oh, and yesterday I took Hon Grandaughter to visit Aristocratic BF who had her two grandaughters staying. We were hoping to swim at a neighbour's pool, but sadly the weather didn't like that plan. We ate lunch in a thunderstorm (indoors, luckily) and then took the neighbour's dog for a very wet and drippy walk by the lake at Sissinghurst Castle. It continued to pour, on and off, so the girls played indoors (very happily) and ABF and I sat and nattered over a cup of tea. When we drove back, after supper, it was torrential rain, so much so that even double wipers couldn't cope with it, and we had to sit and wait for a let-up so that Hon. G. could get out of the car. Oh, the joys of an English Summer.

This evening I had intended to do my nails (what nails?), and a bit of long-0verdue shredding of old paperwork. Instead, I've been sitting here chatting away with you for the last hour. And now there's a film I want to watch, Sunday's Times to read (is it really Wednesday already?), and stuff to get ready for tomorrow. That border design will have to wait, and I'll drop off the Macaroni Cheese on my way out in the morning, after I've loaded all the plants and tools into the car. Busy, busy...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lazy Bones, lyin' in the Sun.

That's me, under the parasol, on the beach, not taking my Blogging responsibilities seriously at all. Trouble is, in this country we just don't get enough sunshine to ignore it when it comes along. My Aristocratic BF had invited herself for a long weekend last week (a "Friday to Monday" as it's called, or in this case a "Saturday to Tuesday") because the weather was so wonderful, and she wanted to get on the beach. This suited me perfectly too, so I happily agreed and cleaned the house from top to bottom on Friday in preparation for her arrival. (Somehow I can't help doing this - any visit is the motivation for me to Spring-Clean.) Afterwards, it feels so good - I always look around, admire the spotlessness and shining surfaces, and think "Great, no more cleaning for a week or two." My reward for all this activity was going to see Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames " 50 Years of Fame", at The Dome in Brighton on Friday night. By complete coincidence, as it turned out, it was Georgie Fame's Birthday - his 66th, believe it or not. We all had a wonderful evening, and so did he! He still sounds the same, and he has his two sons, Tristan (how can Georgie Fame have a son called Tristan?) and James in his band. Tristan plays the guitar and James is the drummer, and they were both very good indeed, having obviously inherited the family talent. Georgie sang and played all the old favourites, and some very good new music too. He still wears the white suit, and talked to the audience as if he had known them for years (well, I suppose he has, actually). He made us laugh when he told us that he had been offered a State Pension of £82 a week last year - obviously on his 65th Birthday - and he thought "Well, if that's all there is, I might as well go on playing for a bit while I can." And he certainly can. He had a surprise guest in the form of Zoot Money (My God, we said, is he still alive?), and even allowed him to play his famous Hammond Organ. The House was delighted, and roared its applause. And there was another guest, whom I didn't know, Ian Shaw, who is also a hugely talented and witty pianist and singer. It was a great evening, and ended with us all singing Happy Birthday to Georgie as his grandchildren came onstage bearing a Birthday cake with candles. Lovely. It felt like a family occasion. And then Georgie, Zoot and Ian Shaw all hopped gleefully offstage, like a little group of garden gnomes, arms around each other and obviously as happy as could be. It was just about the perfect evening.

Next day ABF arrived, bearing half her garden in the form of fresh produce, plus some gorgeous cherries and strawberries and a marvellous bunch of roses and sweet peas. I had already stocked up with Pimm's, so after a stroll by the sea, we settled down to watch a bit of the tennis at Wimbledon while sipping Pimm's. My Student was in London with friends, so I didn't have to feed him, and we enjoyed organic salmon with ABF's new potatoes and some lovely fresh veg. Next day we shopped at Primark and the Pound Shop (well ABF did) and then turned up at Jamie Oliver's new restaurant in The Lanes, hoping for some lunch. Luckily it wasn't too crowded and we sat up on the Roof Terrace and had some of his "pukka" Italian food; we ate homemade breads - a great selection - dipped in olive oil, and then a board of continental meats with olives and chillies, and a salad. Everything tasted divine, and then we shared an ice-cream dessert: hazelnut and vanilla ice-cream, with smashed honeycomb and chocolate sauce on top. Yum. On Monday it was just glorious again, so we decamped to the beach, with swimsuits, towels and my parasol, plus a picnic and plenty of sun cream and water. It was very warm indeed, and I swam in the sea a couple of times - absolutely necessary for cooling down. We had ice-creams from Marocco's, and then came back for a simple supper, the Tennis highlights, and bed! What an idle life. And did I give a thought to my faithfull Blogging friends - well, er, not really. And though I've caught up a bit, I still haven't told you everything that's been happening in my busy life (needless to say, I haven't done the photos either). I'll have to come back tomorrow (I promise) for the next instalment...