Jazzed up Macaroni

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We’re all officially irritable, thanks largely to this foul weather that seems to be sweeping the South West. My own personal grump is due to the fact that every time I leave the house, the skies above seem to take it as their cue to hail down all sorts of bad weather on my head. Seriously, I’ve been dowsed in water three times today.

Anyway, comfort food is the order of the day. So here it is, some super comforting macaroni!

Jazzed up Macaroni

You will need:

1) Roughly 250g Macaroni pasta (I’m falling at the first hurdle here, I’m having to use wholewheat penne, as I don’t have any macaroni!)

2) 200g of Quorn chicken pieces (normal chicken is fine if you prefer)

3) 200ml cream.

4) 200ml milk.

5) 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg.

6) 100g grated cheddar.

7) 30g grated Parmesan.

8) 1tbsp olive oil.

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How to make it:

1) Preheat the oven to 200c, and get some water on the boil to cook the pasta. Cook according to packet instructions, but dont let them cook right through, take them off the heat about three minutes before cooking time, then set to one side.

2) Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan, and cook the Quorn chicken pieces until browned.

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3) Add the cream, bring it to the boil (to thicken) then add milk and nutmeg and lower the heat to a gentle level! Cook gently for a minute or so, then take off the heat.

4) Add the drained pasta and cheddar to the creamy mix and stir in well. Pour into an oven proof dish, and sprinkle the grated Parmesan over the top. Pop in the oven for around 30 mins, or until browned on top.

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5) Serve with…well, with whatever you want! We’re going simple here, but the boys have requested crusty bread to accompany (those carb fiends..obviously growing!) so who am I to refuse?

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Total Cost? Roughly £2.00. So 50p a person.

The Verdict? DB1 did well with it, and ate most of what was on his plate. DB2, once again, not keen (its an age thing, I think…if it ain’t bread, it ain’t going in!). I revelled in the gluttonous comfortyness of it..! The chicken pieces bulk it out nicely, and the Parmesan gives it a little sharpness, which gets rid of any blandness perfectly.

Pepper, olive and feta frittata

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Just a quick post today, as we’re all running around like mad things!

Pepper, Olive and Feta Frittata

You will need:

1) 3 large eggs, beaten.

2) 2 peppers, deseeded and thinly sliced.

3) 1 large red onion, peeled and sliced thinly.

4) 1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped finely.

5) 10 olives, chopped in half.

6) 100g feta, chopped into small cubes.

7) 2 tbsp olive oil.

How to make it:

1) PreHeat the oven to 190c, then heat the oil in a large saucepan, and fry the onions and garlic until soft.

2) Add the peppers and fry for another five minutes or so.

3) Take the pan off the heat, and add the olives, cheese and eggs. Mix thoroughly, then pour into a small lined tin (no more than 20cm diameter)

4) Cook in the oven for around 25-30 minutes.

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Simmering away nicely…

5) Serve immediately, with a nice side salad!

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Total Cost? £2.50 roughly. Between the three of us, roughly 85p?

The Verdict? Delicious! Or so myself and DB1 thought, as we wolfed down all of ours. The nice tartness of the olives set off the milder egg flavour beautifully! DB2 wasn’t so keen, but still ate about half.

Fruity Chicken and Rice

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As is standard on a Monday, I am fasting. So it’s that chance of the week for the men of the household to get back in touch with their cave dwelling ancestral roots and eat some MEAT.

Today, I am merging two of DB1s favourite foods into one dish. Chicken, and fruit. Lets see if it goes down well!

Fruity Chicken and Rice

You will need:

1) 2 chicken breasts (if serving 2 adults, or 1 adult plus two kids, like me!)

2) 1 small can of pineapples in juice.

3) 2 bananas, ripened.

4) 2 tbsp olive oil.

5) 200 ml vegetable stock.

6) 150g rice (I’m having to use flavoured, as I got it for cheap, but I’d advise you don’t!)

7) 1 tbsp butter.

8) 3 tbsp single cream.

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How to make it:

1) Start by pre-cooking the chicken. Pop it in a roasting dish, drizzle with half the oil and roast for around 30 minutes.

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2) Meanwhile, get the rice cooking. Drain the pineapple, save the juice, and add about 3 tbsp to the rice.

3) Meanwhile, meanwhile…make your stock in a saucepan, bring to the boil and allow to simmer for a few minutes, to reduce it down. Add two tbsp of pineapple juice, cook on a gentle heat for a little longer, then put to one side.

4) Meanwhile, meanwhile meanwhile, chop the bananas into lengths, dividing them lengthways once, then once more. (So you get four lengths from one banana). In a frying pan, sauté the bananas in the butter for a few minutes, until golden, then add the pineapple and cook gently for a minute or so.

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5) Bring the stock back to the boil, then take the heat right down and add the cream.

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6) Take everything off the heat, then arrange on your plate; rice first, then chicken, then bananas and pineapple. Pour the sauce over.

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Total Cost: About £3.50, so £1.17 roughly per person.

The Verdict? The other half…approval was given. He really liked it and said it was very tasty. The boys, however, did not approve. It would seem that chicken on its own is ok. Pineapple on its own is ok. Bananas on their own, ok. All put together, offensive in the extreme. Sigh! There’s no logic to these creatures, honestly! (Maybe one for the grown ups next time…)

Sweet Potato, butternut squash and Feta Tart

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I’m into making tarts at the moment. Dunno why. Call it a fad. I think I rather like the fact that, if you use pre made pastry, like lazybones here, it ends up being rather a simple meal, which is always good when you’ve come in from a tiring day with the kids!

Sweet Potato, butternut squash and Feta Tart

You will need:

1) One butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into half inch cubes.

2) 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped as above.

3) 1 red onion, peeled and cut into chunks.

4) 275g ready roll puff pastry. (If you choose to make your own, I salute you!)

5) 150g feta, crumbled.

6) olive oil.

7) 1 tsp ground cumin.

8) 1 tsp ground cinammon.

9) 1 tsp mild chilli powder.

10) splash of milk.

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How to make it:

1) Preheat the oven to 180c and chop those vegetables, if you haven’t already. Pop them in a roasting tin, add the oil and spices and mix well. Roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until the vegetables have gone soft.

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2) Whilst the vegetables are roasting, on a lined baking tray, lay out your pastry. Roll up the sides to form an edge (about 2-3 cm in total). Brush some milk on the edging.

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3) When the vegetables are done, spread them in the pastry. Sprinkle the feta over it, then pop it all in the oven, to bake for around 15-20 minutes.

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4) Serve while hot, with side salad. Again, I am rueing the fact that I forgot the salad with last week’s shop…!

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Total Cost? £3.80, so 95p per person.

The Verdict? A very firm nod of approval for the boys, especially DB1, who scoffed a large amount. I thought it was very tasty…the sharp taste of the feta worked really nicely as a contrast to the mild flavours of the squash and the sweet potato. I perhaps would add a little more red onion next time.

Mexi-Talian Pasta Bake!

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If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you may already be aware that I like to do odd food combinations. I have no idea why…I just like mucking around with different types of foods and seeing what works and what doesn’t!

Ok, so I have had a few culinary catastrophes by adopting this approach…ask OH all about the dish with peppermint creams melted into it (and no…it wasn’t a pudding) which he declared as ‘toothpaste flavoured/ one of the worst things he’d ever tasted’. Hmm.

Hopefully, this particular fusion will work out better! This is a Mexican, Italian mash-up!

Mexi-Talian Pasta Bake!

You will need:

1) Enough pasta to feed four!

2) About 200g mince (I’m using Quorn)

3) 1 can of chopped tomatoes

4) 1 can of kidney beans, drained

5) 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped.

6) 1 tsp chilli powder (more if you like it feisty!)

7) 75g breadcrumbs

8) 100g grated cheddar for the top. (I mix this up with a bit of Parmesan for additional zip!)

9) olive oil

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How to make it:

1) Preheat the oven to 180c and get the pasta cooking in a large saucepan of boiling water.

2) In another saucepan, pour a little oil into it and gently fry the garlic until soft. Add the mince and cook until browned.

3) Add the tomatoes and chilli powder, then simmer it for around 10 minutes or so.

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4) Add the beans, then add the cooked pasta. Stir together well and pour into a suitable oven proof dish.

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5) Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and cheese, then pop in the oven for 20 minutes.

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6) Serve up with a suitably Mexican-Italian gesture and perhaps also with a side salad. (None for us, forgot to buy any last week…again!)

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Total Cost? About £2.50, so 62p each (plus there are leftovers for lunch tomorrow!)

The Verdict? DB2, enthusiastic. DB1 (surprisingly) less so. My verdict- tasty! As I was eating it, I was thinking how it might work super dooper well to use broken nachos instead of breadcrumbs…

Feisty bean enchiladas

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I was going to do something a little lighter tonight, but poor old DB1 is looking wan and tired after his afternoon at pre-school, so it’s an impromptu change of plan! Bring in the carbohydrates to re-energise poor old flagging Db1!

This recipe is a doozy, because you can play around with the flavours according to your taste. If you like it spicy, add some more chilli powder, or some oregano to bring it over to the Med a little. Your choice!

Feisty Bean Enchiladas

You will need:

1) 8 flour tortillas. (I’m using some garlic ones, as they were cheap in Aldi…I’ll let you know how they work!)

2) 2 cans of beans; whatever you fancy. I’m using kidney beans and butter beans (it’s what I’ve got in my cupboard)

3) 1 onion, peeled and chopped.

4) 1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped.

5) 2 tins of chopped tomatoes.

6) 1 tbsp tomato purée.

7) A bowl of grated cheddar cheese.

8) 1 tsp mild chilli powder.

9) A good dollop of plain yoghurt to finish.

10) olive oil, to grease oven dish and to fry onion.

I’m also using some tinned sweetcorn and a courgette, merely because it needs using up! I’ve not tried it with these before…I’ll let you know if it works!

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How to make it:

1) preheat the oven to 200c and prepare your onions etc if you haven’t already. Also, grease a suitably large oven proof dish.

2) Heat some oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion and garlic.

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3) Add the tomatoes, beans, purée, chilli powder (and sweetcorn and courgettes, if you’re using any like me!) Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened up. You may need to stir more towards the end, in case it starts to stick.

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4) When the sauce is thickened, get your first tortilla and dollop some of the tomato mix in the middle. Spread it all over, then add a sprinkle of cheese. Roll up and place in the oven dish. (Basically, you want half the cheese in the tortillas and half reserved for the topping.)

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5) Pop it in the oven for around 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese has turned golden. Serve with a dollop of plain yoghurt and enjoy!

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Check this out for presentation…HA HA! It…ahem…fell apart during the transportation from dish to plate…

Total Cost: Around £3.20. So I believe that is 80p or something like that, per person.

The Verdict? I was fully expecting that to be completely rejected…how wrong I was! Both boys were packing it away (though as expected, the beans and courgette were met with a rather lukewarm response). I really enjoyed mine…though be warned, this is hugely filling! I was completely stuffed after just one and a half tortillas!

Fun Mini Pizzas

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I like doing pizzas…it’s one of those fail safe dishes that the kids tend to eat, and they quite enjoy lending a hand. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to use up all those old ingredients in the fridge! We’re using half a red pepper (which was looking really sorry for itself), some ham that is getting a bit curly at the edges, and an old tin of sweetcorn!

Fun Mini Pizzas

You Will Need:

1) 350g plain flour

2) 1 tsp easy cook yeast

3) 1 tsp salt

4) 1tbsp oil

5) 200ml warm water

6) 2-3 tomatoes

7) mozzarella, grated or shredded.

8) other cheeses, eg cheddar (if you like it cheesy!)

9) toppings of your choice!

How to make it:

1) About an hour and a half before you want to eat, prepare the pizza dough. Pour the flour into a large bowl, add the yeast, oil and salt, stir together then gradually add the warm water and stir into a dough. Get the kids to do it! Knead the dough for around five minutes, then drape a damp tea towel over the bowl and leave until its doubled in size (around 45 mins?)

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2) In the mean time, preheat the oven to 220c, then prepare your other ingredients, chop the tomatoes, drain the sweetcorn etc. if cooking with kids, pop the ingredients into handy little bowls!

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3) Separate the dough (after its risen!) into four balls and roll them flat, into pizza base shapes.

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4) Pop on the ingredients, tomato first, then cheese, then toppings. The kids enjoy this bit, unsurprisingly…though mine have just both bellowed at me from upstairs that they are ‘too busy’…hmmm.

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5) Pop them in the oven and cook for around 15-20 minutes.

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Total Cost? As everything that I used (bar the dough ingredients) was leftovers, pretty cheap! As an estimate…around £1.40? So 37p roughly per pizza.

The Verdict? DB1 enjoyed it (he always likes things he’s helped to cook!) though DB2 was less keen and basically, just ate all the bread and none of the topping. Seriously, someone tell this kid there is more to life than bread!! I thought it was a pleasant lunch, wish I’d remembered to add a little basil, but there you go. Still a good, filling lunch. OH took his off to the attic, so I can’t comment on his reaction!

Veggie Chicken and Rice Hotpot

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We’re veering away from pasta tonight. Two pasta laden nights on the trot have led me to believe that we need a night off!

DB1 has a mortal terror of rice, so we don’t tend to do it much…but every so often, I think to myself, ‘I’ll try it again, and see how we get on’. Last time, he actually managed to eat a few mouthfuls, which was a big step forward, believe me! Lets see how he handles it tonight…

Veggie Chicken and Rice Hotpot

You Will Need:

1) 1 bag of Quorn chicken pieces.

2) 2 onions, peeled and chopped.

3) 1 pepper, deseeded and sliced.

4) 300g whole grain rice ( white is fine, of course, I just like torturing my kids, ha ha)

5) 1.5- 2 litres of vegetable stock. (Start with 1.5 litre, then add more if it dries up!)

6) Roughly 300g carrots, sliced thinly.

7) 1 tsp paprika.

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How to make it:

1) In the largest saucepan you have, heat about 4tbsp olive oil and fry the onions gently, until soft.

2) Add the Quorn and fry until browned. Just before it’s nearly cooked, add the pepper and fry for a minute or so.

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3) Add the rice, and allow to cook briefly, stirring to get the rice coated in the oil, then add the stock.

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Ps…when cooking, do you find yourself surrounded by things like this?

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4) Add the carrots, and allow the whole thing to simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the rice is cooked. Add the paprika just before the end.

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Total Cost: Around £2.50. So, about 65p per person.

The Verdict? Ha. Poor DB1. The horror was palpable on his face as I placed it in front of him. He eventually manfully chewed his way through a few morsels, before declaring he was ‘tired’ and officially making his mouth closed for business. DB2 did better. I myself found it slightly on the bland side, but a dash of pepper sauce pepped it up a treat!

Lasagne with a Mushroom, Spinach and PepperTwist!

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Yikes. It has been a full on day today, busy busy busy! I am very much feeling the need to pile some carbs into my exhausted little system, so I’m going for a big hit of pasta and cheese with a lasagne.

This one is a bit of a variation on a theme though…rather than meat, we’re going with mushrooms! Well. Why not, eh? Mushrooms are generally meaty in texture (sort of) and are pretty satisfying!

Lasagne with a Mushroom, Spinach and Pepper Twist!

You will need:

1) 250g mushrooms, chopped.

2) 200g fresh lasagne sheets. If you only have dried, or want to save a packet, simply blanch the dried sheets in boiling water until soft.

3) Red and green peppers, sliced.

4) Half a bag of baby spinach, chopped.

5) Cheese sauce (to make from scratch, use 25g butter, 25g plain flour, 300ml semi skimmed milk and 100g cheddar, grated. It’s cheaper making from scratch, and far better for you!)

6) 1 onion, chopped.

7) 2 garlic cloves, chopped.

8) 2 tbsp mascarpone (or cream cheese, for a budget option)

9) a pinch of ground nutmeg.

10) Parmesan to top.

(I’m also using two tomatoes, chopped, though this is simply to use them up!)

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How to make it:

1) Preheat the oven to 200c and blanch the lasagne sheets, if you are using dried. Get busy preparing the veg whilst the pasta is softening.

2) In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil and fry the onion and garlic until soft.

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3) Add the mushrooms, peppers and tomato (if using) and fry for another five minutes or so.

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4) Lastly, add the spinach leaves and fry briefly until the leaves have wilted. Set aside for later.

5) Now make a cheese sauce. Firstly, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and whisk briskly into a paste. Then add the milk gradually,whisking all the time. Raise to a boil if the sauce won’t thicken, and then drop to a simmer, before finally adding your grated cheddar. Simple!

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6) Mix the mascarpone/ cream cheese into the mushroom mix and stir well, before starting to layer up your lasagne. Pour half the mushroom mix into the bottom, layer with half the lasagne sheets, then pour over half the cheese sauce. Repeat, then top with a sprinkle of Parmesan and nutmeg.

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7) Pop in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until it looks golden and bubbly!

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Total Cost: At a rough guess, I’d estimate between £2.20 and £2.60? So at a maximum, I’d estimate 65p per person. Which suits my purse! With fresh lasagne and mascarpone, this would obviously be more.

The Verdict? DB1, once again, excelled himself and wolfed it all down. DB2, sadly, only picked at it. But again, teething may be a contributing factor! I thought it was YUM, a really nice take on a traditional lasagne, but a lot lighter, a lot fresher. Big thumbs up.

Spinach and mozzarella pasta bake

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I am officially acting on request tonight, as the boys have both simultaneously bellowed ‘PASTA’ at me, before running off into the lounge. Hence, I shall deliver on that request…am I good, or what?!?

This one is a bit of an ‘invent it entirely from scratch’ recipe, with a few bits and bobs from other recipes I’ve used in the past thrown in… but sod it, lets have a go and see where it gets us (check my verdict at the bottom first before attempting your own, he heh!)

Spinach and Mozarella Pasta Bake

You will need:

1) A quantity of pasta, enough for four people (if feeding four!)

2) baby leaf spinach, about three good handfuls, roughly chopped.

3) 2 eggs

4) A tin of tomatoes.

5) Some fresh tomatoes (not entirely necessary, but I’ve got WAY too many tomatoes at the mo, so am using them up!)

6) A tbsp of tomato purée.

7) olive oil

8) A splash of red wine (optional. I’m leaving it out as we don’t have any!)

9) A small bowl of breadcrumbs.

10) a bag of grated Mozarella.

11) 100g grated cheddar.

12) A tsp dried basil.

13) Parmesan to top.

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How to make it:

1) Preheat the oven to 180c, and get some water on to boil the pasta in. Cook the pasta then drain.

2) Meanwhile, start preparing your tomato sauce. Chop the fresh tomatoes (if using) and roughly chop the spinach (putting the spinach to one side for later).

3) Pour the tinned tomatoes in a saucepan, bring to a high heat, then lower to a simmer. Add the fresh tomatoes and tomato purée (and wine, if using) and simmer until reduced to a tasty thick sauce. Add the basil towards the end.

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4) In the biggest bowl you have, break the eggs, add around 4 tbsp olive oil and whisk together.

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5) Add the spinach and breadcrumbs to the egg mix and stir well.

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6) When the pasta is cooked, drain well and add to the spinach and egg mix. Again, stir well.

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7) Take the sauce off the hob and pour roughly a third into the bottom of an oven proof dish. Then layer over with half the pasta mix.

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8) Pour over another third of the sauce, then add half the Mozarella and half the cheddar.

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9) Then, pop the rest of the pasta on top, pour over the remaining sauce and add the remaining cheese. Top off with a little bit of Parmesan.

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10) Finally, pop in the oven for around 30minutes, or until golden on top!

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Total Cost? By far and away the most expensive thing was the grated Mozarella, which was a pound for the bag. The rest of the ingredients were pretty cheap. In total, this cost around £2.20. Which works out as 55p per person.

The Verdict? Wowzers…I don’t think I’ve ever seen DB1 eat so much! It was a very firm thumbs up from him. DB2 took more persuading, but eventually he ate a fairly sizeable portion too. I myself really liked it…hoorah, the recipe worked! It was a little bit ‘pizza-y’ and yet still quite pasta bakey. Yum yum!