Thursday, 21 January 2016

Macaroni cheese with vegetables ~ with an option to include grilled nutolene

Macaroni cheese can be made with infinite variations.  The one I describe here is charcteristically simple and can be served as a complete and nutritious meal with or without the addition of a simple salad.  

I have set out the recipe so that you can see how to make it with or without the inclusion of steamed vegetables and grilled Nutolene.  The essential thing to get right is the quantity and consistency of sauce, in relation to the quantity of cooked macaroni.  Once you've got that bit right you can make it any way you like.  I've found that the quanities given below are about right for the way I like it. 

BASIC MACARONI CHEESE sufficient for 3 - 4 servings, depending on appetite and whatever else you serve with it:
  • Macaroni, dry - 1 cup.  I use the Diamond brand, which is made from Durum wheat, the type of flour traditionally used for making pasta, which has a high protein content. 
  • Water - plenty of it to boil the macaroni in a largish pot 
  • Salt - 1 tsp
The packet says to boil it for 7 minutes only, but I found it very partially cooked at that time, and about double it to 12 - 14 minutes.  When I say 'boil' I mean a good brisk rolling boil from before the dry pasta is added to the water.  Stir it as you tip the macaroni into the water so that it doesn't go into a heap at the bottom of the pot and stick together.  Once the pasta is in and the water fully boiling again you won't need to keep stiring it.  

For the sauce you will need:
  • Butter, melted: 1 Tbsp 
  • Milk: 1 and 1/2 cups 
  • Flour, plain: 2 Tbsp 
  • Mustard powder: 1/2 tsp  Before adding this to the sauce mix it into a smooth paste with a small amount of water 
  • Salt to taste
The very easiest way to make this sauce is to place the milk into a watertight container of which it fills about two thirds, sprinkle the flour on top, put the lid on tightly and then shake vigorously until the flour and water have combined.  In a saucepan or flying pan melt the butter, then cook gently, first adding the mustard paste and then gradually adding the flour and water liquid, stiring with a wooden spoon.  The sauce will thicken easily and without lumps.  
  • Cheese, grated: 125-175 grams / between 4 - 6 oz / approximately 2 cups.  Half of this is for the sauce and half for the topping.  The half for the sauce I add directly to the cooked and drained macaroni after the sauce has been combined with it.  This may sound contrary but it saves the bother of wondering how hot the sauce is as it will already have cooled slightly after being added to the macaroni.  If adding it directly to the sauce make sure that it is no longer boiling as this would spoil the texture of the cheese.
The macaroni cheese can be eaten just as it, without adding a topping or baking it in the oven.
If you don't want a cheese topping, stir in the remainder of the cheese.
If you do want to make a topping and to bake your macaroni cheese, place the mixture in one or more casserole dishes depending on size, crumble sufficient weet-bix to cover the surface, and then cover this with the extra cheese.   Place your dish(es) in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. 

I like mine a bit more fancy so, in addition to the above I add more ingredients and use a slightly longer process:

  • Nutolene: about 4 slices, sliced to a thickness of about 8mm - 3/8 of an inch and grilled lightly on both sides, then chopped into squares about half an inch - 1 cm wide.
Nutolene is a slightly obscure vegetarian food product but deserves mention as it can be very tasty if prepared properly, and is easy to eat and digest.  Its producer, Sanitarium, describes as a nut loaf product.  It is not like anything else that I know of of, so a description of how I handle and prepare it may be useful.  Uncooked it's fairly bland, and although it can be eaten just as is out of the tin it is much nicer grilled on both sides. 
But how to get Nutolene out of the tin?  With a tin opener completely cut around both ends of the tin, then, leaving one tin lid in place firmly push the Nutolene through the tin and out the other end.  If you do this by degrees you will be able to slice it evenly into the desired rounds, almost to the end of the tin. 
Once the tin has been opened the Nutolene that you are not going to use straight away will need to be put into another container and kept in the fridge. 
For the purpose of this recipe, cut the slices and place them into a pie tin or onto a baking sheet and grill them.  Although Nutolene can be used just as it is it has a greatly enhanced flavour when grilled.  You want it to brown very slightly but not much.  Do be careful not to burn it.  Everyone I know who uses this product is familiar with the smell of burnt nutolene as it is extremely easy to forget that it is in the oven under the grill!  Frying does not work as it will stick.
  • Vegetables, chopped and steamed: about 2 cupfuls.  The last time I made this I used pumpkin and  minted baby peas.  In addition, chunks of raw tomato mixed in are a delicious addition.
  • Weet-bix, dry - or fresh breadcrumbs: if using weet-bix, crumble enough to fill about a cup, or use an equivalent amount of breadcrumbs.  I would use fresh breadcrumbs, but imagine that dry breadcrumbs would also do.

  • Line up all the ingredients
  • Slice the Nutolene and put it in the oven to grill.  Once grilled cut it into smallish squares of about 1cm / half an inch 
  • Set the oven to bake at 150 degrees Celsius 
  • Grate the cheese and put it to one side
  • Prepare the vegetables and put them on to steam  
  • Boil a kettle full of water, and pour it into a large-ish pot in which the macaroni can circulate freely while cooking, and get the heat going.  
  • Once the water in the pot is boiling add the salt, and then, while stirring, add the dry macaroni.  Keep it at a rolling boil.
  • Cook for about 12 - 15 minutes
  • Drain it while leaving it in the pot.  If it is ready before other ingredients you might like to stir a tablespoon of vegetable oil through it to prevent if from sticking together.  
  • Leaving the macaroni in the pot, pour the sauce over it and mix it in
  • Add half the cheese and mix some more
  • Add the Nutolene and vegetables and combine
  • Pour into a large casserole dish, or two smallish ones
  • Spread the crumbled Weet-bix over the top
  • Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top
  • Place into your oven which has been preheated to 150 degrees Celsius and bake for about twenty minutes.  This will give it time to properly heat through and for the cheese topping to melt and crisp up a bit. 

If, after your enjoyable meal, you have some left over, portions can go into the fridge or freezer.  

Macaroni, like any form of pasta, goes on taking up moisture when stored, so when reheating it can be helpful to pour a little milk over it.  This helps re-hydrate it.  If, after reheating, you find you have a bit of milk sitting in the bottom of your dish and it can't be stirred in it can easily be poured off. 


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

What's for dinner? ~ a menu of vegetarian choices

The sense of strength and energy, and indeed confidence, that comes from having eaten well is unmistakable, and yet the question of "what's for dinner?" can often be a source of worry and tension, especially when we are tired and hungry.

A good substantial and sustaining meal is of central importance to all of us, regardless of what sort of food we eat, whether we are vegetarian or meat eaters, or adhering to any other kind of diet.

I've found that having a list of all the meals I can prepare, grouped according to the protein part, has been a great help.  When I am in need of ideas and / or looking for inspiration casting my eyes over a list of my own recipes immediately increases my sense of choice many times over.  

I share my list here in hope of providing encouragement and ideas for others.  it's an incomplete list of course, but a bood base.  

Grouping them according to protein helps me keep a broad range in mind.  I think that probably many people are like me in having a tendency to make a fairly limited range of meals, simply because that's what we've become used to, or it's the easiest thing we can think of.  Glancing over my comprehensive list I can see there are plenty of easy choices!

A balanced diet includes the food we eat throughout the day so in this list I've included some choices that are not mains dishes, but which none the less contribute to a good range of protein-based nourishment throughout the day.  

I've added a list of vegetables and fruit at the foot of my list to remind me to shop for a reasonably wide range.  I find shopping arduous, and so generally have my head down and eyes on my shopping list, rather than taking a good look at what's on offer.  My list reminds me to include more than the usual fruit and veg.

With few exceptions the choises listed below are those I am accustomed to making - and enjoying.  Most of them include dairy products and eggs, but some are vegan.  

Vegetarian food suitable for the frail and or elderly is really a sub-group of its own which I may write about at a later stage.  During my mother's last years I did my best to discover exactly what vegetarian recipes and foods worked well for her.  That was a complex situation and there were plenty of surprises.  Loss of appetite in the elderly and frail is common, so this is no small challenge, and one of the most important factors was getting sufficient nourishment into her to keep her weight stable and at an adequate level. 

In the list below I've have included links to those of my articles which include the recipes.  As I publish more recipes I'll add those links.     

Vegetarian menu choices - strating with the main protein ingredients:

Eggs, cheese and milk:


Chick peas


Snack on these (vegan obviously!)

Cashew nuts

  • Peanut loaf
  • Rissolnut coated fritters

Seeds - sunflower and pumpkin

Baked beans
  • Beans on toast (vegan) 
  • Shepherds pie (vegan, if you skip the cheese in the mashed potato)

Chilli beans
  • Nachos

Tofu and soy beans


Kidney beans

Nutolene: this food is described in the article about macaroni cheese


Accompanying veggies

Aubergine / eggplant
Capsicum / bell peppers

Berry fruit

I've hardly mentioned baking and desserts...

A full list of my recipes which include baking, desserts, preserves and food that can be frozen, can be found via the following link:
Articles about housekeeping and shopping can be found viat the link below:
My articles in the Elderly and Dependent series can be found via the link below: