Can’t cook? Or too tired to cook? Try this.

Now where is this year going? And how did this term slip by so quickly! I don’t know about you, but for us this last week or two of term is a bit fraught. Possibly the cupboards are empty, the kids are tired and motivation is low. But there’s no need to hang up the healthy food towel. Before you dial a takeaway, make the most of your pantry stash. This shakshouska, is way cool and is more compiling than cooking. Served with a bit of bread, it keeps everyone in my house pretty happy.

A nice alternative to toasties or baked beans.

A nice alternative to toasties or baked beans – and just as easy.

Pantry tuna shakshouka

Younger kids might like a version of this with just a few spoonfuls of tomato, an egg and scattered ham.

800g crushed tomatoes
180g tuna in oil (with chilli, too, if your family like it)
4 spring onions (I’ve usually got some hiding in the bottom of the crisper drawer)
1/3 cup roasted capsicums (also tip in a bit of the flavoured oil)
Sprinkling of capers (if you like them)
4 eggs

To serve: parsley (from the garden), salt, pepper, sourdough (for dipping).

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Place your individual dishes or ramekins on a baking tray (to make handling easier).

Divide the ingredients between your dishes, in quantities that will suit each diner. Finally, scoop a bit of a dent in the mix and quickly crack in an egg.

Bake for 15-25 minutes until the eggs are cooked to your liking.

Serves 4

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Win a Kambrook food prep system

This nifty gadget could be yours.

This nifty gadget could be yours.

It’s been a long wait between giveaways! In fact I don’t think I’ve run one all year (I’ve been too lazy to organise and administer them, sorry!) But this week I break the drought with a very awesome prize from Kambrook.

I actually got in touch with them looking for a new mini-food processor. Mine is making all kinds of weird noises after 5 years of being flogged to death, so time for an upgrade. Very kindly, Kambrook thought they could do something even better and sent me their X Blade Pro Food Prep System. At first glance I was aghast at the larger size of this thing. It’s some kind of mini-food processor on steroids, in fact it’s really a neater doesn’t-need-all-the-bench-space version of the more traditional food processors, but after mucking around with it for a couple of weeks, I’m IN THE GROOVE with this appliance. The motor purrs like a kitten and the stick blender function has some serious grunt.

When do I use it? The stick blender is perfect for blitzing soups. Just stick it into the pot or slow cooker and away you go. So insanely easy. Try it on this pumpkin, corn & lentil soup.

vegie smugglers pumpkin and lentil soup recipe

Pumpkin, corn & lentil soup.

But wait, there’s more – there’s also a mashing attachment which makes light of that little job. Try this vegie mash

Stockpile portions of mash in the freezer.

Stockpile portions of mash in the freezer.

And then there’s all the functionality of a regular mini processor but at the larger size – which is perfect for those of you with more than 2 kids. PLUS it also comes with all the attachments for slicing and dicing which saves you a heap of prep time.

It’s a good piece of kit and if you’re cooking for a larger family then this is kitchen gold.

I’ve got one to give away, too (worth $149.95). To win, you must be a Vegie Smugglers subscriber (sign up if you’re not) and you must be living in Australia (so that Kambrook can ship your prize to you). I’d recommend that you go and like the Kambrook Facebook page. Then pop back here and let me know in 25 words or less why you REALLY need one of these and what you’d make with it. As always, I can be swayed by a bit of humour and tales of how many children you’re trying to feed.

Entries close 9pm Thursday September 18, AEST. Winner will be notified by email. ****THANKS EVERYONE FOR ENTERING! COMPETITION NOW CLOSED – WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY…..

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Coconut, coconut, coconut, coconut & banana cake

Vegie Smugglers banana and coconut cake

And sprinkle a bit of coconut on top, too.

Ain’t life grand when you discover that all of life’s woes can be solved by one little ingredient. No more will I battle with dementia, mouth sores, irregular periods, bloating, stubbed toes or mismatched socks, because I have discovered COCONUT.

Only a blind sheep could have possible missed the whole coconut-thing. Actually, not even a blind sheep, since every sheeple I know (including me) is well and truly caught up in the craze and is trading all their coin for a trolley full of 44-gallon drums of the stuff. But is it worth it? And is it actually healthy? Rather than paraphrasing the entire internet, if you’re interested to know more, then go and read this, or this, or this, or this. They are all good articles that seem pretty balanced.

If you can’t be bothered clicking around then here’s my summary…. coconut oil should be bought ‘virgin’. It’s expensive and full of saturated fat. But it’s thought some of this fat is beneficial. But the science isn’t conclusive and keep in mind that nutrition information is currently changing more often than Kimye’s outfits.

Seems like it’s a great ingredient to have in your cupboard, but one to use in moderation (I know, back to that ol’ boring mantra). For lactose-intolerant me, it makes a great butter substitute in baking and treats, when I’m after a coconut flavour. It works well with some Asian stir-fry dishes, but generally I’m happier with olive oil.

This recipe though, is a complete homage to coconut. It uses coconut oil in just the way I like it – dairy-free cake that last well for several days and can also be sliced and frozen, ready for lunchboxes. Even better, the evocative coconut taste is so divine that it inspires me to don my grass skirt and coconut-bra, and hula the day-away.

Coconut & banana cake

So there’s not much that’s healthful in this cake (it IS cake), but it is a fantastic way to use coconut and all of your overripe bananas (and it’s dairy-free)

2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup dessicated coconut
3/4 cup sugar (I’ll leave it up to you – raw sugar will give you an amazingly white cake, coconut sugar gives is a more molassas-y flavour)
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
165ml can coconut milk
1 egg, lightly whisked
3 overripe bananas, peeled, mashed
Sprinkle of shredded coconut.

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a 14x20cm loaf tin with baking paper.

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, coconut and sugar.

Combine the melted oil and vanilla extract. Stir in the coconut milk and also your egg (add the egg last so that the warm oil doesn’t start to cook it). Pour this wet mix into the dry one. Combine well then also mix through the banana (this mix is more a dough than a batter).

Plop the dough into your tin. Push it out to fill the corners and even the surface. Sprinkle over the shredded coconut.

Bake for a total of 55-60 minutes. Cover with foil around the 40 minutes mark to avoid burning.

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Sounds fancy, actually easy. And yum.

By Thursday nights I am tired. The last commitment of the day is picking up big girl from Junior Guides at 7pm. And then we all pop on our jammies and flop together on the lounge for some quality food TV.

Possibly the kids don’t give a toss about world cuisine, but the chance to stay up until 8.30 means they’ve got a new-found love of SBS travel/cooking shows. Over the past couple of years we’ve watched Adam Liaw tour Japan (I’m hoping to retrace his steps some day), Rachel Khoo relishing France and at the moment we’re enjoying Shane Delia travelling Turkey, which takes me back to my own travels there in the 1990s. I remember how new and exotic the flavours and smells were.

As much as it pains me to contemplate them leaving, I hope my kids grow to be curious about the world and want to head off on their own adventures. To encourage them along, I’ve been enjoying making these burek, which sound fancy, but are actually super-simple family food. Just a savoury mince wrapped in filo pastry, coiled up and baked in the oven. The kids just call them ‘fancy meatpies’, which isn’t so culturally sensitive but is pretty accurate.

meat & vegetable burek

Schmancy meat pies. Sauce optional.


Beef & vegie burek

You can make the mince ahead, to wrap and bake later in the day, or make these up and store in the fridge until it’s time to brush them with butter and bake for dinner.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
500g beef mince
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 finger eggplant, finely diced (peel it first if your kids will fuss about the skin)
1 green capsicum, finely diced
Handful spinach leaves, this stalks removed, leaves finely shredded
2 tbsp parsley (optional)
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp Allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Filo pastry
2 tbsp melted butter
1 egg, combined with a splash of milk for glazing.

The key to success with filo is to make sure it is completely thawed (if frozen) and at room temperature. Then it’s pretty easy to work with.

Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat. Add the oil and pop in the onion. Cook, stirring often for 4-5 minutes until golden. Carefully place the mince in the pan. Use your spoon to break up lumps and totally brown all the meat (this take about 5 minutes). Add in the garlic and all the vegies for 2-3 minutes before scattering over the spices. Stir well and continue to move everything around regularly for 5 minutes or so. Move the pan off the heat and leave everything to cool for a bit (so that you can handle it easily).

Preheat the oven to 200C. Find whatever round dishes you have – make several small bureks or one large one – totally up to you.

Lay out your block of filo. Brush melted butter over the top sheet. Flip it over and lay it on top of the sheet below. Spoon a line of mince mixture along the length of the filo, about 3-4 cm in from one edge. Lift the top two layers of filo and carefully roll your pastry up into a long snake. Coil it around and squeeze into your round dish. (To make a large burek, just keep adding snakes onto the end until you’ve filled your dish.)

Brush with the combined egg/milk and bake for 25 minutes until golden.

If the filo bit sounds too hard (I promise it’s not), just scoop the mix into a dish, scrunch of some filo sheets and add them to the top, pie-style).

Serves 2 adults & 3 kids

Make a line of mixture along to whole length of pastry.

Make a line of mixture along to whole length of pastry.

Roll into a long cigar.

Roll into a long cigar.

Coil and squeeze into whatever oven-proof dishes you have.

Coil and squeeze into whatever oven-proof dishes you have.

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What are you eating this week? Maybe one of these?

As always, click the pics to link through to the recipes. And happy eating to you and your family this week….

MONDAY

Meat-free monday and I’m loving the simplicity of these chickpea fritters.

vegie-smugglers-corn-chickpea-fritters

TUESDAY

At least once during the week I turn to my slow cooker. Cooking with it is so simple that I find it a great way to get ahead. So you can make this lamb chop casserole on Monday and let it brew away in the fridge for 24 hours before reheating it for Tuesday dinner, which makes flying in the door at the end of the day with cranky post-oosh kids a whole lot more pleasant.

Saucy! Great for dipping into with bread.

Saucy! Great for dipping into with crusty bread.

WEDNESDAY

This potato/kumura bake can cook away over the afternoon. Serve it with sausage, fish or whatever protein gives you a thrill. A few carrots and peas on the side and my kids will be happy campers.

vegie-smugglers-pasta-bake

THURSDAY

I’m at home working on Vegie Smugglers on Thursdays, so early in the day I can get these Kulebyaka prepped and into the fridge ready for cooking later once we get home after the post-school activities run.

Crunch, yum. Crunch, YUM. Feet still cold though.

Crunch, yum. Crunch, YUM. My version of a Russian favourite.

FRIDAY

It’s ‘can’t be bothered’ day, so click through to the post for these easy egg tarts. The competition on this post is long over, but the joy of this super-simple dinner is still worth a million.

Bread tart cases.

Bread tart cases.

SATURDAY
If you’re in on Saturday night, how about a simple chicken curry? It’s comfort food that is gentle enough for the whole family. Adults can add some chopped fresh chilli and coriander to give it a bit of punch. Chuck on a movie and you’re in relaxation heaven.

Parents can add chilli & coriander.

Super-gentle chicken curry & rice.

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‘Yes!’ excited children, ‘you CAN have ice-cream for breakfast!’

My kids love that Optus ad on the TV – the one where Josh Thomas is saying ‘yes’ all the time. I’ve got to assume it’s because it’s so lovely to consider a land where you get a ‘yes’ answer to everything you want.

A few years ago in parenting land, it was emphasised often how important is was to always say ‘yes’ to your children. It was NEVER ok to say ‘no’. I can’t even remember why it is now, I think something to do with exploration and self-esteem and creative play. When they said, “I want lollies.” I’d say, “yes, great idea, but right now we’re going to have some fruit.” And in the shop they’d say, “give me the toy,” and I’d say, “yes, I agree that this toy is lovely, what a great choice you’ve made, but right now we’re going to pop it back on the shelf so that it’s ready for some other child.”

I’m exhausted just remembering it.

Fair to say that my kids are pretty familiar with the word ‘no’ these days and I genuinely can’t remember at what stage that shift occurred. Now they only ask if they think there’s a reasonable chance that I’d say yes, which is what makes this breakfast dish so fab. They’d never ever ask for ice-cream at breakfast time (they only really eat it at Nanna’s house), so imagine their excitement when I offer them a bowl of it.

This breakfast has been a bit of a lifesaver over winter as it’s a power punch of vitamins first thing in the day. It’s kept the sniffles at bay and lifted their spirit and energy levels on quite a few mornings. And eating ice-cream on a cold winter’s morning? Well, they’re so damn excited by this recipe that it’s never been an issue. Although I have been waiting for almost-Spring to share it, figuring that other children might be more sensible than mine.

vegie smugglers breakfast ice cream

‘Yes!’ to a breakfast treat that also packs in nutrition.

Breakfast Ice-cream

To get an ‘ice-cream’ consistency, either the berries or banana (or both) need to be frozen – this winter I’ve just been using regular bananas and frozen berries – play around and see what consistency your kids prefer.

1 banana
1 cup frozen berries
1 tbsp chia seeds
1/4 cup spinach leaves (I grow silverbeet and English spinach in my Vegepod and use whichever is available)
1/4 cup milk (soy or rice also both work)
1 tbsp C Berry Blast powder – This is an organic vitamin C powder by NutraOrganics. I love their products and am happy to support my friend Vanessa’s small family business.

Pop everything into a blender or mini-food processor and blitz until it’s a consistency to suit your family.

Serves 2-3 kids.

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From no-cake, to cake, in 5 minutes.

There are times when my tea looks at me, sitting on the bench and I can’t help but think that it seems very lonely. On Gourmet Farmer I heard the lovely quote, “A cup of tea without a biscuit is a wasted opportunity” and I can’t help but agree. But the problem is that I keep my cupboard lean and free from too many sweet temptations. To avoid additives and mucky weird processed food, I also have a general rule that I only eat baked goods that I’ve made myself.

Thankfully then, I’ve discovered this lifesaver of a recipe. It’s a cake that is prepared with a tablespoon measure and one jug then cooked in a large mug in the microwave. All in under 5 minutes.

So if you don’t use gluten, sugar or the microwave, please don’t email me or comment with a tonne of nasty abuse, just look away and come back next week – I promise you a healthier recipe then (or click here for my cocoa bliss balls). The rest of you, keep this on file for the next time your cup of tea needs a friend.

A few berries on top will make you feel more virtuous.

A few berries on top will make you feel more virtuous.

2-minute chocolate & coconut cake

1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp milk (or soy milk also works)
2 tbsp vegetable oil (melted butter would also work, but cool it a little)
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp raw sugar (or golden caster sugar or coconut sugar both also work)
3 tbsp self-raising flour

(I mix this together in a 2-cup glass jug, which makes it super easy to pour into the cup and then goes straight into the dishwasher).

Use a fork to whisk your egg in a jug or bowl. You don’t need the entire egg; especially if it’s a large one, so tip out about a quarter of it (don’t worry about being too precise!).

Whisk in the vanilla, milk and oil. Once combined, continue to whisk in the coconut, cocoa, sugar and lastly the flour.

Pour into a large mug and microwave on high for 2- 2 1/2 minutes (you might have to try a couple of times to find the timing that is perfect in your microwave).

Serves 2 kids, or 1 greedy adult.

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