Thursday, 17 September 2015

Easy Slow Cooker Macaroni Cheese

This is another really easy recipe. I adapted it from an American 'crockpot' recipe and made it lower in fat. It doesn't look exactly like ordinary mac and cheese, and it isn't quite the same texture as one made with a traditional flour and fat cheese sauce, but it tastes delicious. 

This is the original recipe - 

Easy Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

This Easy Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese Recipe is actually SUPER easy like the picture says. It’s basically just dump everything in the crockpot and end up with oozy, cheesy goodness! I recommend stirring it a couple of times while cooking if possible (but not necessary) and start checking it every 15 minutes or so starting at the two hour mark so you can stop cooking when it is to the consistency that you like.

3 cups milk 12 oz can of evaporated milk
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz brick of cream cheese
16 oz box of elbow macaroni
Place all in crockpot and set heat to low. Cook for 2-3 hours or until noodles are soft and sauce is the consistency you like.

And this is how I adapted it - 

1.5  pints of semi-skimmed milk (30p, from a 4 pint bottle at 2 x 4 pints for £1.50 in FarmFoods)
300ml tub Reduced Fat Creme Fraiche (Aldi 59p)
200ml tub Lighter Soft Cheese (Aldi 49p)
250 g grated Mature Cheddar  (Aldi -250g ready grated cheese for £1.49, I use the full fat as I don't find the reduced fat melts properly)
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard (approx 5p)
Black pepper
500g pack macaroni (not sure of price as I bought mine ages ago from Approved Foods)

Instructions as per the original recipe, just dump everything in and set on low, except I kept back 50g of the cheddar to sprinkle on top. 

I found the pint and a half of milk had been absorbed after about an hour so I added extra milk every 15 minutes. Not sure exactly how much more milk as I just splashed some more in, but probably about another 1/2 to 3/4 pint.  It was done after 2 hours when the pasta was nice and soft and the milk mostly absorbed.

Once cooked I tipped the mac and cheese into a casserole dish, topped it with the remaining cheddar and browned it in my halogen oven, although it could be done in a regular oven or under the grill. 

As you can see I substituted creme fraiche for the evap milk and I also added some chopped cooked bacon and finely diced onion. 

It made a great big pot full and would easily serve 6 people. Four of us had it for dinner with spinach leaves, cucumber and cherry tomatoes and there's enough remaining for a couple of lunches tomorrow.

Slimming World Friendly Apple Dessert

Rachel requested I post the Apple Dessert recipe I mentioned yesterday.

It's really easy to make and I'll also say where I buy my ingredients.

So, you need:-

2 medium to large cooking apples (Aldi - 99p for 4 so 50p for 2)
250g tub of Quark (Asda - 90p in the soft cheese section)
250g Fat Free Fromage Frais (Asda - £1 for a 500g tub in the cream section, so only 50p's worth used in the recipe)
Sachet of orange/tangerine/mandarin sugar free jelly (Aldi - 23p)
2 Tablespoons sweetner (optional)

Simply peel, core and chop the apples into a heat proof bowl. Add 2 Tablespoons water and then microwave, stirring a couple of times, until reduced to mush (takes about 3 - 4 minutes depending on your microwave, or you could simmer them in a saucepan). They need to be as smooth as you can make them. Mix the jelly crystals into the hot apple just as they come from the packet, and stir well until dissolved. Add the sweetner if using (either sugar, honey or artificial). I don't always add sweetner as I prefer a tart flavour. Then stir in the Quark and Fromage Frais and mix well until the mixture is smooth. A few small lumps of apple is okay but the idea is to make a sort of cheesecakey/firm mousse texture. Pour into your desired container, either a large bowl or individual pots (I save yogurt pots for the purpose), and leave to set in the fridge.

This dessert is lovely and creamy without the fat and calories. If doing Slimming World then you'd need to count the cooked apple as a B choice healthy extra and 2 syns for the sugar-free jelly (that's for the whole recipe, so only 1/2 syn per quarter of the dessert). Cost wise, this generally makes 6 individual yogurt-pot sized portions at around 34p per portion. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Health Update on Me and The Car

I had to venture out in the rain to go to the doctor's for my x ray results and I did the 10 minute walk to the surgery in a heavy drizzle. It's been raining most of the day and is set to do the same nearly all week. 

My hips are apparently clear of any problem but I have some arthritis in my lower back and a slight curvature of the spine. According to the doctor I could have had the curvature my whole life without knowing it, although I suspect it might be the result of being overweight for much of my life, bearing 5 large babies (my 3 girls were all over 8.5 lbs and my 2 boys nearly 10 lbs each), and years of carrying bulging backpacks of shopping home. 

I don't quite understand why pain in my hip just below the butt cheek might be linked to arthritis in the back, but the doctor seemed to think it is. For now I have to take painkillers when it hurts, try to adjust my posture and walk more upright, (I do catch myself bending slightly as if compensating for extra weight that's no longer there) and maybe do some yoga or tai chi to strengthen the lower back muscles. Apart from walking I have never done exercise and don't quite know where to start so will have to consult DD3 who used to be a fitness instructor at a gym. If the problem worsens I may need physiotherapy at a later date.

Our car, Minty, is in better shape. It cost us nearly £400 but she's now running smoothly with a new exhaust system, catalytic convertor and other bits and pieces, and she has also passed her MOT for this year. We're hoping to drive to Margate on least that's the plan as we were on our way there when she broke down last time. Fingers crossed she'll get us there and back without incident this time.

I did a bit more freezer-filling yesterday morning, baking 2 meat pies and 2 quiches before I went off to my slimming club. The pies were made with pastry from the freezer and 2 tins of stewed steak from Approved Foods mixed with cooked, diced carrots, onion and peas. The quiches were pastry base, cooked onion, bacon and grated cheddar and the custard made with half fat creme fraiche, milk and eggs. Leftover cooked bacon will go in a macaroni cheese for tomorrow's dinner. 

We had one of the pies for dinner last night with mashed potato and broccoli, and one of the quiches tonight with new potatoes and salad. The other pie and quiche are in the freezer for another day. I do eat pastry (which I love) but I only have a small piece of pie and fill the plate with lots of veg. I also tend to roll my pastry out fairly thinly to make it go further.

I also made a healthy carrot, swede, butternut squash, chilli and ginger soup for my lunches this week, and an apple dessert using cooking apples, sugar-free jelly, quark and fromage frais. I'd lost 1lb at my weigh-in this week, but had gained 2lb last week so need to have some really good days to get that other one off. However, I should really be celebrating a whole year at my target weight. I have never maintained a weight loss for this length of time before. It hasn't been easy, constantly being careful or making up for small gains when I've given in to temptation, but in the long run it really is worth it. As Rachel pointed out in a comment, just think how much worse my hip/back problem would be if I was still nearly 5 stone heavier. 

I think that's about it for tonight. Here's hoping there are at least a few dry spells tomorrow so I can get my washing on the line for a while. Take care all, love Helen xx


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Cooking for the Freezer

DH is settling in fine at the school in Deal and has the contract for 12 weeks, so up until the Xmas holidays. At least we'll be okay for a few weeks. He's still receiving calls and turning down offers from agencies asking if he's free so I don't think it will be a problem for him to find work once this contract ends. In the meantime he's still looking for a permanent position if possible. 

Our car, Minty (she's a metallic green VW Polo so what else would we call her?) is still at the garage and we have no idea when she will be fixed or how much it will cost. As a 1999 model parts aren't so easy to come by. She needs a new exhaust (we already knew that and it has nothing to do with her breaking down the other day), but at present we still don't know what else will need doing. She's due her MOT at the beginning of October so we might as well have anything that needs fixing fixed so she'll stand a good chance of passing. According to the Green Flag guy, despite her age she only has 70,000 miles on the clock and should be good for another 100,000, but that's if her bodywork etc holds up. Fingers crossed the bill won't be too exhorbitant. 

I had a fill-the-freezer cooking day yesterday...also fill-the-oven while I had it on. In the freezer I had  2 x 750g bags of mixed pork and beef mince, 2 trays of 20 beef meatballs I got reduced to £1 a tray in Asda, and a pot of tomato-based sauce I'd made a while a go. Using one pack of mince I made 2 x 1lb meatloafs by adding a pack of sage and onion stuffing mix (4 for £1 from Approved Foods), 2 beef stock cubes, a tablespoon of tomato puree, a diced onion and and a large beaten egg.  While the oven was on for the meatloafs I made the most of the space and heat by spreading the other mince and the meatballs in baking tins to brown, and I also tucked in a tray of quorn sausages for my lunches (love a crispbread sausage sandwich).

Once they were browned, I drained the excess fat from the mince and meatballs and transferred them to my two slowcookers and left the sausages to cool. The meatballs got cooked with the tomato sauce I'd already had in the freezer and were served with pasta for last night's dinner (they were very small meatballs once cooked so I had 6 and my 2 adult sons and DH shared the remainder). 

To the mince I added a bag of frozen 'vegetables for bolognaise' on offer for 50p at Tesco, 2 tins of chopped tomatoes (4 for £1 in Poundstretcher), tomato puree, 2 beef stock cubes, frozen crushed garlic (89p for a box of frozen cubes in Tesco, each cube is equal to 4 cloves of garlic), and approx 200ml cheap red wine and made a big pot of spaghetti sauce. I now have 2 meatloafs and 3 tubs of meat spaghetti sauce in the freezer, each making a meal for 4 people. And I have enough quorn sausages cooked for 4 lunches for me. 

There isn't much else in the freezer at the moment, a tub of Hoppin' John (blackeye beans and rice), 2 bags of homemade chilli cheese cornbread, 3 large chicken breasts, 16 chicken drumsticks, a pack of smoked bacon, and another tub of spaghetti sauce plus various frozen veg, sliced bread, milk, frozen fruit and odds and ends. I do have quite a few tins of various types of beans on the shelf and I also have lentils, split peas and scotch broth mix. I have vege sausage mix and vege chilli mix and other oddments in cupboards or on shelves. And I have 2 tins of stewed steak, and there's ready rolled pastry in the freezer and a sachet of pastry mix from AF on the shelf, so that will make 2 pies. Oh, and I have at least 8 tins of tuna in brine. 

The more I think about it the longer the list grows. It's easy to forget what I already have in the house so every now and then I do a stocktake and write down what's in all my various hidey holes. I can say that there's no chance of us starving, I just need to be inventive sometimes with what I do have. Unfortunately, I just love a bargain so it's hard to resist when I see something on offer or vastly reduced and it gets added to my stockpile or gets used first when I should be using what I already have. The trouble is, I spent so many years catering for a family of 7 (plus friends) that I still find it difficult not to bulk buy.

But...I swear I am going to use up as much of what I have in as I can and not panic when my supplies start to dwindle. In the meantime I will put a little money aside each week/month and then when things get really low (or I can't stand the empty shelves any longer) I will be able to go out and restock. We''l see just how long my resolve lasts...when I tried it a few months back the demon Tesco tempted me with an amazing money-off code. 

That's enough of my rambling for today. I need to go out and make the most of some increasingly rare sunshine and warmth.  

Wishing you all a good day. Love Helen xx

Monday, 7 September 2015

Good News and Bad

The good news is that DH has work this week as a maths supply teacher at a secondary school in Deal. If he gets on okay there's the possibility of the contract being extended for the remainder of the term. At least we will now have some income this month. We've also received his redundancy payment from the college, but if possible we would like to hang on to that to pay off the mortgage rather than use it for the usual household expenses.

The bad news is our ancient VW Polo conked out at a busy junction on Friday. The engine simply cut out and we lost all power. Luckily we managed to coast around the corner and park reasonably out of the way. Green Flag were excellent and someone was with us within 20 minutes. As we hadn't gone far I walked home while DH went to the garage. Rob, the Green Flag guy gave him a lift home. It's fortunate that DH can get to work by bus this week, and also that we now have funds to finance the repairs. 

In other news I have to praise the NHS. I've been having trouble with pain and discomfort in my left hip for about a year now but it has worsened over the past few months so I finally went to see the doctor last Wednesday. Not only did I get seen on time by a lovely lady doctor who was very easy to talk to, but she sent me to the local hospital for an x-ray, I walked there in 10 minutes, was x-rayed within 15 minutes and back home 10 minutes later. I couldn't ask for more. Of course, now I have to be patient and wait the 7-10 days for the results, but I have already booked a return appointment online for a week this Wednesday. The doctor mentioned the dreaded arthritis and also a hip operation if things got bad, but for now I'll wait for the results and put up with the pain because I'm not just going to sit in a chair and vegetate. I'm used to walking just about everywhere and today I've been out blackberrying on my way into town. Hopefully whatever is wrong can be managed with some sort of medication rather than needing an op.

As we're not sure exactly how much income we'll have this month I'm trying to stretch the pennies. Yesterday I padded out some leftover vegetable chilli by adding a tin of Heinz meat chilli I got from Approved Foods and an extra tin of kidney beans, and I made a sort of cornbread topping using leftover couscous instead of cornmeal. I served it with half a bag of chantenay carrots that are on offer at Aldi for 39p and some frozen broccoli. It was delicious. I love being able to use up leftovers so they don't end up in the bin, and it's amazing what a bit of ingenuity and substitution of ingredients can produce.

I think that's about it for today. Tomorrow is my slimming club and I think I may have gained a little this week. I've eaten too much rubbish with the stress of not knowing if DH would have work. Anyway, we'll see in the morning.

I hope everyone else is well and you're enjoying the lovely weather we've had down here today.


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Wonderful Whitby

As I said in my last post, I broke my phone on the first day of our holiday so there aren't many photos of our time in Whitby but I thought I'd bore treat you to a few of the ones we did manage to take.

We stayed in a typical Shearings hotel (a bit shabby, food passable, staff absolutely wonderful) up on the cliff across the bay from the abbey ruins, and had a truly amazing view. 

We climbed the hundred plus steps up to the abbey, had trips out to a rural life museum, the lovely town of Helmsley and to Eden Camp, a former prisoner of war camp that is now an excellent museum. DH has a tank and armoured vehicle fetish and I'm fascinated by the wartime home front so we both found it fascinating despite the rain. We also had a steam train ride to Pickering, another of DH's dreams, although the train was packed full which spoiled the experience a little.

Whitby Abbey (featured in Bram Stoker's Dracula)

Our hotel (the long white building at the top of the picture), viewed from the abbey ruins on the opposite cliff across the harbour

DH in the churchyard by the abbey
My best Dracula impression

Smiling despite the drizzle

DH posing in front of our new transport (he wishes) at Eden Camp Museum
Just a little snack in Helmsley

We had a few showers, but mostly the weather was okay, and its definitely a place I would happily visit again and again. Just the coach trips over the heather-clad moors were incredible, that sense of space and the ruggedness of it. Not so sure I'd like it so much mid winter (not a great snow-lover) although we were up that way in February a couple of years ago and it did snow a little and we still loved it. 

We've had thunderstorms and driving rain here again today. Fortunately the weather was dry when I went to the docs this morning. I've been having trouble with my left hip for about a year. It's steadily grown worse and is now starting to limit the amount of walking I can do so I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get it looked at. I was seen on time at the docs, sent up the hospital (a 15 minute walk) for an x-ray and seen there within 15 minutes of arriving. So, within less than an hour I'd seen the doc and had my x-ray I just have to be patient and wait the 7-10 days for the results. The doc thinks arthritis which is what I'd already thought. Let's hope it can be helped with medication and/or physio rather than an op. I'll keep you posted.

Hope all is well with you all...oh, and last bit of news, DH is registering with a supply agency tomorrow morning and has an interview for a long-term supply position at a local school in the afternoon. Fingers crossed for him please. 

All the best everyone, love Helen xx

Monday, 31 August 2015

So much has happened...

...since I last posted. Sorry for the absence but I really haven't felt like posting and I'm also trying to spend less time online in general.

I thought I'd let you all know I am still here, though, and quite a lot has happened in the last month and a half.

Firstly, as you may recall  DH returned to working at the college at Easter, well, he's now been made redundant. They closed down the whole department. He was offered the chance of redeployment in another department or redundancy. They did offer him another job but it really wasn't suitable and as the redundancy package was good considering he'd only been back there for 3 months he opted for that. As a maths and IT teacher he's already had a lot of interest from supply teaching agencies and will do that until he can find something more permanent. If he finds work quickly we plan of using the redundancy towards paying off the last of our mortgage. We may live in a dump but at least if will finally be our dump.

Secondly, having married off DD2 at the end of May, my youngest daughter got enagaged 3 weeks ago to BF who she's been with for 9 years. She was 15 and he was 16 when they first met and BF ended up living with us for nearly 6 years until they finally moved into their own place 18 months ago. He was so romantic proposing to her at the top of Mount Vesuvius while they were on holiday in Italy for a friend's wedding. They are hoping to marry in a year's time at his grandmother's house in France. Unfortunately DD3 has torn a muscle in her thigh and may need an operation to repair it which will mean weeks off work on statutory sick pay so they may need to put the wedding back further if they haven't enough saved, although of course we will help them out some.

Thirdly, we had a wonderful week's holiday in Whitby at the end of July, celebrating our 31st wedding anniversary with a cream tea in a lovely little village called Thornton-le-Dale. Whitby is lovely with lots of little side streets full of quaint shops, and not so many of the chain stores you find in most high streets these days. We managed to climb the 100 and so steps up to the abbey ruins but didn't bother paying the £7.50 to go in as it was mostly quite visible from the road. We also had trips out to the rural life museum at Hutton-le-Hole and to Helmsley, and a whole day in Durham. We loved Durham Cathedral (free to get in unlike Canterbury which costs a bomb and which I haven't visited for years) but the shops were disappointing, all the same as anywhere else and we could just as well have been in Canterbury. We did enjoy a walk along by the river and discovered a wonderful tea shop where we had massive lemon scones, homemade lemon curd and clotted cream. I gained 3lbs while on holiday thanks to 2 visits to the pie and mash shop in Whitby, 3 cream teas, wonderful beef sandwiches and a caramel shortbread sundae in Helmsley and 2 meals a day at the hotel (catering wasn't brilliant but I had a cooked breakfast most days which I wouldn't do at home). Unfortunately I broke my mobile phone the day after we arrived and DH's phone isn't good for taking photos so I don't really have any pics.

Fourthly, DD2 and her new husband are moving across the country to Cheltenham in about 6 weeks time. It's for a one year work placement and they are getting a great relocation package with their rent paid on a house/flat for the whole year. I'll really miss her as we see a lot of each other and have gotten exta close since DD1 moved away a couple of years ago.

I think that's the main news. Funnily enough, despite the ups and downs, I'm generally feeling a lot more positive than I was a few months ago. I've started reading again, and crafting, although only knitting blanket squares, but at least its something. I do feel a bit more positive on a day to day basis although I still have days when I wonder if its worth getting out of bed. My weight is a bit of an issue. I've managed to just keep it within the SW limits but nearer the top end and my eating is very much binge or starve. 2 or 3 days a week I tend to eat everything under the sun and the rest of the week eat as little as possible to compensate. It is kind of working though, although I've so far only lost 2lbs of that holiday gain. Mind you, the middle of Sept will mark a whole year since I reached my SW target and that's a record in itself. Never before have a I managed to maintain a weight loss for longer than 3-4 months.

I'm still considering the fors and againsts of getting a dog. For is the companionship (especially now with DD2 moving), the exercise and having someone to look after. (Mid-life crisis - missing having my kids to care for and no grandchildren as yet). Against...well, the main one is how will a dog integrate with our 2 house cats who think they own the place and have only ever seen a dog on a couple of occasions (and reacted by either hiding or fur on end, hissing etc.)? Also we're just starting to enjoy a bit of freedom to go where we want when we want now the kids are all grown. There's also the cost of insurance, food etc. especially at the moment when we don't know whether DH will get another permanent teaching position. But then again the idea has been bugging me for months so its not exactly spur of the moment. I keep checking ads and nearly phoning up and then chickening out. We have had a dog before, our Yorkie was 13 when we had to have him put to sleep, and when I lived with my parents we had 2 cats and 2 dogs but then the cats went out of the house so could escape. Does anyone else have experience of integrating dogs into a home with cats?

Right, I think I've wittered on quite enough and won't bore you any more. Horrible bank holiday weather here (rain, thunderstorms, power cut), but we had a lovely couple of days over the weekend so can't complain too much.

Hope you all have an enjoyable day despite the rain. Love, Helen xx