Macaroni Cheese with Bacon

In Winter, there's nothing better than comfort food. All those delicious, stodgy foods that make you feel cosy and warm. Pie and mash, sausage and mash, pasta bakes all do the trick. For me though, the ultimate comfort food is macaroni cheese. The cheese sauce on its own is enough to win me over! Ultimately though it is pasta and cheese, and that can get a bit much without some other flavours to break it up, so I tend to throw in some other ingredients.

Macaroni cheese isn't really the friend of a healthy diet if you eat it regularly, so squeeze it in now before your January health kick! Perfect dinner to have before going out for New Year's Eve celebrations.

The Improving Cook- Macaroni Cheese with Bacon

Beginner's Spaghetti Bolognese

Christmas is over for another year and there's no excuse for eating lovely treaty things every day anymore, unfortunately. Back to normal dinners!

Spaghetti Bolognese was something I made a fair bit before I started trying to learn more about cooking. It was only when I discovered several years ago that,  as with most mince dishes, the key is cooking it in stock and reducing it down that I really made a good one. That's what gives you the best flavour. Obvious, I guess, but then nothing's obvious to a beginner. That's the point!

So here is a beginner's recipe. One to get you started if you've never made it before.

If you're doing Slimming World, and you swap the oil for cooking spray, this recipe is 3.5 "syns". Leave out the wine and it's syn free.

Brussell Sprout Hash with Garlic and Bacon

Like many, I'm no fan of the Brussell Sprout. My husband loves them but I follow the 'one sprout when it's Christmas' rule! I think I have been put off by a few soggy, watery sprout encounters...

When you search around for alternative Brussell Sprouts recipes for your Christmas dinner, there are lots to choose from. A lot of them are different variations on the Brussell Sprout hash idea. So I gave  my own version a go and... I ate it all! Well, not the whole thing, but my portion of it! I'm a total convert.  Won't ever eat a plain boiled sprout again.

We had it as part of our pre-Christmas dinner. We always have the real Christmas dinner with family, but this year we thought we have an extra day, just us, and it was lovely! The bacon and garlic add lots of flavour and really lift the sprouts out of the ordinary.

Roasted Short Saddle of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary Butter

I am a massive fan of turkey for Christmas. I love it with bread sauce, love it with cranberry  (the jammy chutney kind, not the runny sauce kind), love it with gravy, love it cold in sandwiches. It gets a big thumbs up from me! It might be different if it was just me and my husband for Christmas lunch though. 

I know you can get turkey crowns and those sorts of alternatives, but I might be tempted to try something different, if not on Christmas day, then on Christmas eve. One possibility is saddle of lamb. You can buy it, bone in or bone out from most butchers, some online sellers and some supermarkets. It's one of the more expensive cuts of lamb, so it's definitely worth keeping it for a treat! I used a boneless short saddle, which had been rolled and tied for me, for this recipe. I got it from Donald Russell when it was on special offer: Donald Russell. It cooks for a total of 35 mins plus 10 mins resting, so it times well with making roast potatoes etc.

If you fancy something different this Christmas, give this a try.

Christmas Biscuits for icing

Now is the time of year that I always look with envy at all the beautifully decorated biscuits that you see on the internet. I think to myself that I don't have the time or the patience (and definitely not the skill!) to do that. In the past, I have made attempts, but the biscuit dough spreads, so you can't tell what shape it was supposed to be, and I realise that I don't have the first clue how to ice them!

However, I started looking into it a bit more and there is an art to it all, and there are tips and tricks that can make it a lot easier. Anyone can make the biscuits and they won't spread if you follow the tips I have outlined in the recipe below. You can also can make a decent attempt with icing them. there are ways to make it much easier. If you're really creative, you can make them look amazing!

This 'sugar cookie' recipe works well if you are using cutters and you want them to hold their shape, and it works every time. I used glace icing for some of them and royal icing for others. Tips and tricks included below in the recipe! Good luck!

Mexican Spicy Rice

More Mexican style food today. I can't get enough of it! We love fajitas in those brilliant Stand 'n'Stuff tortillas.  Saves loads of mess for one thing, lets you put more filling in for another! I never knew quite what to put with them though, as a side dish. Salad is great in the summer, but I can't get into the mood for it when the weather's cold and windy like this. I got the idea for spicy rice from a Mexican restaurant, who put a little terracotta dish of it on the side of the fajitas. I have made a simple version of it here, in risotto style.

If you're doing Slimming World, this recipe is "syn" free if you swap the oil for low fat cooking spray.

Microwave Syrup and Ginger Sponge Pudding

Microwave syrup and ginger sponge pudding in a dish

Today's recipe harks back to my school days- Microwave Syrup and Ginger Sponge Pudding. When I think back to my childhood and school dinners, I remember them reasonably fondly,  especially the ones we had when we lived in Scotland. I was faintly horrified by the change when we moved to England. What was the obsession with using salad cream in everything? Why was the yoghurt so lumpy? (Answers- salad cream is much cheaper than mayonnaise. The yoghurt was made in gigantic buckets from a powder mix, and stirred with what looked like a stick...) 

Before this disappointing change, the meals had been pretty good, the desserts especially. All those traditional puddings- syrup sponge, spotted dick, jam sponge, jammy rice pudding and so on. All good. It was a bit of a gamble having the custard though, as you wanted to avoid the skin at all costs! 

Those school puddings were probably all steamed in the traditional way, a bit of tricky business. It also takes some time. So, I was very interested when my mum showed me that you can get similar results using the microwave! 

Microwave Syrup and Ginger sponge brings back all those school dinner memories. Warm comforting sponge with the sweetness of golden syrup and ginger for added kick, but only minutes to make in the microwave. Mix it up like you would a normal cake batter and zap it. Easy. Quickest hot dessert you can get. Hope you enjoy!

Microwave Syrup and Ginger Sponge Pudding pinnable image with text

Mini Cinnamon Doughnut Muffin Bites (Duffins)

Three mini cinnamon duffins on a white plate

One of the recipes that I bake most often, because it's quick, easy and always has good results is Strawberry Doughnut Muffins, or duffins (Strawberry Duffins). This week I decided to make an alternative using the same batter,  but sprinkled in cinnamon sugar instead- Mini Cinnamon Doughnut Muffin Bites (Duffins). 

They are bite-sized duffin yumminess, covered in cinnamon sugar, that are too little to be that naughty, unless of course you end up eating 4 or 5 of them in one go, which I would never do, obviously...

I made mini versions  of these cinnamon duffins because, with no filling in the middle, the full-size might be a bit too much. They are ridiculously moreish. You've been warned! They are moist and remarkably like eating a doughnut, but without the grease. 

Mini Cinnamon Doughnut Muffin Bites make a good afternoon treat for the kids or a treat for their lunchbox, because they are just the right size to pop inside.

3 cinnamon  duffins on a white plate viewed from above

Pesto Crusted Salmon with garlic potatoes

I love pesto. I started eating it in my first few years as a teacher when I realised how quick it was to boil up some pasta and stir the pesto through. Ta da! Dinner in 15 minutes. The reason I love it now is the fact that you can use it in so many ways plus there are so many different varieties. Recently, we used pesto instead of the tomato sauce on pizza (because we had run out of tomato puree and I was thinking on my feet!)  It was delicious. Even if you only ever have it pasta, you can switch it up all the time- classic pesto, chilli pesto, rocket pesto, black olive pesto and so on and so on. My absolute favourite is sun-dried tomato pesto, and that's what I used today.