How Much is a Handful?
+ Stir Through Mac & Cheese Recipe

Stir-Through Mac & Cheese-2

Are you a precise, measure-every-single-ingredient cook? Or more someone who likes to just add ‘a little bit of this and that’?


I’m somewhere in the middle…

Now ‘fence sitting’ isn’t normally my style. But in this case, there’s a very good reason…

Sometimes (actually more often than not), especially in savoury cooking, the exact amount of an ingredient doesn’t matter.

Sure more cheese in the recipe below will give you a richer, more cheesey pasta, but it’s not going to ruin it. And if you love cheese, will probably be the best outcome.

Then there are times when precision means the difference between ‘delicious’ and ‘disaster’…

This tends to happen more often when you’re baking but it can happen in savoury dishes too.

What does all this mean?

Essentially, if a recipe writer calls for a ‘handful’ or a ‘pinch’ of something, they’re really telling you it doesn’t matter so much exactly how much you add.

You’re free to use your own judgement. Really.

But if there’s an exact measurement, generally this should be read as ‘please use this amount so everything works out and you like my recipe and keep coming back for more‘.

Got it?

I’m so glad we had this chat.

So back to my earlier question?

What type of cook are you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below…


Stir-Through Mac & Cheese

‘Stir-Through’ Mac & Cheese

We normally don’t eat a lot of pasta but I must admit, I love having this simple stir-through dish in my repertoire as a treat for Fergal or when I have a hoard of hungry toddlers to feed. For some healthier ideas see the variations below.

enough for: 2
takes: 15 minutes

200g (7oz) pasta
4 tablespoons cream
2 handfuls grated cheese (see below for options)
salad leaves, to serve

1 Bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil. Add pasta and set your timer for the time indicated on the packet. Simmer, stirring every few minutes until the pasta is no longer crunchy.

2. Drain and return the hot pasta to the pot. Stir in the cream and cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed (the cheese may be salty enough).

3. Serve hot with salad leaves on the side.

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different cheese – my fave combo is parmesan and emmental for flavour and ooziness. But any good melting cheese will work like gruyere, cheddar or even mozzarella. Or if you want to use processed sliced cheese, knock yourself out!

more veg – add a few handfuls peas frozen peas or snow peas to the pasta cooking water a minute before the timer is due to go off. Or toss in roast or grilled veg in with the cheese.

gluten-free – use GF pasta (I like ones based on quinoa flour) or replace pasta with cooked or canned chickpeas or white beans. Just warm the drained legumes in a little oil in a pan before adding cream and cheese.

dairy-free – replace cheese and cream with a few handfuls of a dairy-free pesto like this Sicilian Nut Pesto (it’s really good and I often prefer it to traditional pesto). Or replace cream with a peppery extra virgin olive oil and replace cheese with sliced grilled veg like eggplant, zucchini and / or red bell peppers (capsicum).

paleo – replace pasta with diced roast veg like sweet potato, parsnip and carrot. And use one of the dairy-free options instead of the cheese and cream.

carnivore – toss in some cooked bacon or sausage or finely sliced prosciutto.

Video version of the recipe.

Prepare Ahead?

Cook the pasta in advance if you like. Toss in a little olive oil after you drain to stop it sticking together. Will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer indefinitely. To serve warm in a pan with a little butter then finish as per the recipe.

Have fun in the kitchen!

Big love,
Jules x

ps. I know you might still be thinking…

But come on Jules, how big are YOUR handfuls?

So for the record I have quite long fingers. I’ve often had people tell my I have ‘piano playing’ hands. Also for the record, I’m crap at piano.

But I did just measure out a ‘Jules handful’ of almonds and they were a generous 1/4 cup. Now what am I going to do with all these almonds?

pps. Tired of deciding what to cook?

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  • I love the simplicity of your Mac and cheese recipe. As for my cooking style? I love the precision required by baking, but most evenings I tend towards ‘a handful of this and a pinch of that’. So I guess I’m up there on the fence with you.

  • We use a similar recipe for quick-meal meh days, only we add a package (about 10oz) of mixed frozen veggies in with the pasta (120-140g/4-5oz for 2 hungry grown-ups) and maybe a knob of herbed butter. ^^

  • I love cooking by feel! I often add dashes of this and that to my savoury dishes and just taste as I go. I’m a big fan of adding a little at a time as you can always add more – but you can’t take any out if you’ve added too much! When I bake I’m very precise though as I know getting your ratios wrong can lead to very disappointing results.

  • I’m a reluctant exact measure cook. My “eye-meter” doesn’t work too well and when I don’t measure ingredients, things go awry. I just can’t trust myself to judge correctly how it’s coming along…

  • I’m on the fence also. If it’s the first time I’m making a dish I tend to follow the measurements. But once I’ve practiced, I’m not as nervous about not being so exact.

  • Hi Jules,
    I just checked and I DO own a set of measuring cups and TWO sets of measuring spoons. I use some of them on various occasions.
    Nine times out of ten, I just eyeball it. Then it’s a taste test to verify.
    Baking is the exception. You pretty much need to follow the recipe. I even follow the recipes I’ve created to the letter.
    Salt is something that requires some precision. I know about the ‘salt removal’ tricks … but they really don’t work if you have properly screwed-up a soup or stew. Serve more water, or make reservations.

  • Very provocative question about how we cook. I think that I, too, am somewhere in the middle. I generally try to follow recipes, but sometimes I decide that more of something is better (often that something is cinnamon) or less of something is better (I’m not going to go with huge quantities of cumin, for example). I’m generally pretty casual about measuring spices. It really depends on what I’m doing, and most of the time I’ll try a recipe as written before getting casual with it.

  • I view recipes as suggestions on how to make a dish! That said, I do own a complete set of measuring cups & spoons and a digital scale that I have been known to use, mostly for baking. I suppose there’s a lot of us up on this fence.

  • Hi! I noticed that the cream you use is quite thick, more like a sour cream than like the milk thickness we have here in Canada. Our 33% cream is just a bit thicker than milk, and is as thick as I have seen any cream here. What % is your cream there?

    • Well spotted Denis!
      Normal cream in Australia is the same – about 35% fat
      In the video I used Double Cream which is 50% fat (and divine!) but regular cream will be fine too.

  • My grandmother was someone who never measured anything according to my mom. She was from Italy and she died when I was 8. I never got to cook with her but I remember some of her dishes. She was an amazing cook. I think my mom has some of her recipes, at least I hope she does.
    Me, I love recipes. I do what my mom has always told me. She says when you are first making a recipe follow the directions exactly. If it comes out wrong or you don’t like it, you will never know if it was because you didn’t follow the directions. Then once you make it, you can add or subtract what you’d like.
    Sometimes I cook with a pinch of this or that and sometimes I don’t. It depends on my mood or how long I have to make a recipe, like if I have to be quick about getting supper on the table. I saw in a catalog I get in the mail that they have measuring spoons for a pinch and other things that are not in most measuring spoons.
    You say you have long “piano” playing hands. I am just the opposite. I have child sized hands. Whenever I use gloves for doing the dishes my hands get wet and I can’t use them. The wrist part is so big water gets in there and the fingers are longer then mine. Woman’s small gardening gloves have bigger fingers then mine. So Rachael Rays and your palm full will be more then mine so how can the measurements be the same for both of us and be correct? By the way I’m 61 and I am child sized. The Little People Society of America considers me one of them. They say if you are under 4’10” tall (I’m 4’6″) you are one of them even though I do not look like any of them, my limbs are normal sized, so how can my palm full be the same as yours? I am going to try your recipe as I love Mac & Cheese. I want to try putting the peas in it like you did. I will let you know how it comes out.

    • Thanks for sharing Gail!
      The thing is your handful WONT be the same but it doesn’t matter here… you’ll just end up with less cheese… which of course you can always adjust :)

  • I’m similar to Sherri above – the first or second time I make a new dish, I stick to the plan. Once I’m comfy, I tend to go off-book and trust my instincts, dashes and handfuls a bit more. Learning to taste as I go has been huge for me!

  • This is such a great post! I’m a dump cook, no question about it. On my blog’s bio I even talk about how the hardest part of being a food blogger is giving a list of precisely measured ingredients for those people who need them; because I assure you, NOTHING in my life is precise. I think it’s awesome that you’re encouraging people to “play with their food” and enjoy the process of cooking vs. wanting a dish to taste the same every time. Kudos! Oh and as for the almonds; can you make Roca with 5 ingredients?

  • In the stir through mac and cheese, you say to use cream. In the video, your cream is thick, and you pull it out of the container with a spoon. In America, our cream is liquid, like milk. What exactly are you using for cream?

  • I’m on the fence with cooking, too. I’ve had some wonderful successes which I can’t duplicate because I’m not sure how much of what I’ve added. And I’ve had some awful disasters which were so awful I might have been able to use it to scare away rats not that I ever had any rats.
    I have 3 sets of measuring cups for dry ingrediets. 3 measureing cups for liquid ingredients, 4 sets or parts thereof measuring spoons and a set of mini measuring spoons for 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64 tsp. I wrote the manufacturer and asked. I use my minimeasures everyday to measure pure stevia powder for my pot of tea.
    My handful of almonds is a little less than 1/4 c.

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