The dinner that looks pants but taste great

Food styling has never been my forte. When I photograph my recipes it’s always with the general urge to show a dish as it is, in all its everyday yumminess. Usually there are kids hovering and pestering, wanting to just get on with eating their dinner. Late in the day the light is often fading and quite often I end up snapping a not-great-shot and think, bugger it, IT WILL DO. The readers will get the idea and they’ll just have to trust me that if I’m bothering to post a recipe, then it is definitely worth trying.

Wraps, however, are my particular food styling nemesis. And it’s a shame that I can’t figure out how to make them look good, since they are kid-feeding-gold. I roll all sorts of combinations of healthy yum into them and they get scoffed nice and quickly. They can be messy, especially for younger kids, so take the time to secure them with a bit of foil. It’ll catch the drips from the end and add some fun – my kids enjoy peeling it away as they continue eating.

AND, they end up a bit like swords, which always keeps my son extremely happy.

 

vegie-smugglers-beef-wraps

Our latest hit dinner (that also doubles as a sword)

Extremely tasty and good for you wraps

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely diced
500g beef mince
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp Mexican spice mix (or 1 tsp each cumin, paprika, oregano)
400g can kidney beans, rinsed, drained
2 large tomatoes, finely diced
1 large carrot, peeled, grated or finely chopped
1 zucchini, grated or finely chopped
1/2 green capsicum, finely diced
1 tbsp brown sugar (optional, but recommended)

Serve in wraps with your choice of grated cheese, avocado, lettuce, jalapeños and sour cream.

Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat.

Add the oil then pop in the onion, and cook, stirring often for 5-6 minutes. Place the mince carefully into the pan and use your spoon to break up all the lumps and brown it all over. This usually takes another 6-8 minutes.

Chuck in the garlic for a minutes before adding the spices. Combine them through the mince before adding in all of the veggies and sugar (if using).

MIx everything together well, reduce the heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes uncovered (you want liquid to evaporate and for this to be a pretty dry mix). If you have time, just let this simmer away for 45 minutes or so, while you repack lunches, solve homework problems or plow through the day’s family admin. Do give it all a stir every now and again to avoid sticking.

Serve on wraps. Sprinkle over cheese, then any extras that take your fancy.

Makes enough to feed 2 adults & 4 kids. Leftover mince freezes well and is also great on baked potatoes.

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EVERYONE LIKED THIS? Other wrap dinners to try (and more dodgy food styling to check out)…..

Spicy chicken wraps.

Middle Eastern-style lamb

Beef & lentils

Fish & vegies

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Pea pea balls

Shhhhhhh. Can you hear that? That’s right…… Listen again……… Got it? Yep. The glorious sound of silence as the kids head back to school.

Just quietly, I might be missing them a teeny bit.

The stretch of free time does allow me some uninterrupted cooking before the end of the day though. These ‘pea pea balls’ are the latest hit snack around here. The fun name has the kids laughing enough that they’ve scoffed a few down before they even think to ask what’s inside.

vegie-smugglers-pea-balls

Pea pea balls. Not poo poo balls.

Pea Pea Balls

2 slices wholemeal bread
1 1/4 cups peas (thawed if frozen)
400g can chickpeas. Rinsed, drained.
1-2 tbsp mint
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sumac (buy from good greengrocers – so delicious and worth getting your hands on – if you can’t find it replace with lemon zest)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
Pepper (optional)

Olive oil spray

Serve with yoghurt & sweet chilli sauce

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with non-stick paper.

In a mini or full-sized food processor (or a thermy) blitz the bread into breadcrumbs. Add in the rest of the ingredients and process until you’ve got a thick paste.

I’d say ‘roll’ balls of mixture, except it’s a sloppier mix than that, really you’re just going to use spoons to shape dollops into bite-sized pieces on the oven tray. Spray with oil. Bake for 20 minutes. Flip then over and spray again and bake for another 10-15 until golden and firm. Serve warm with yoghurt & sweet chilli sauce.

Makes enough to feed 4-6 people as a snack.

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If you’re dreading getting back into the school lunchbox routine, pick up a copy of my Complete Lunchbox Planner. It has 40 weeks of easy menus & seasonal recipes. Visit the shop for more info.

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All my silliest and most sublime Christmas craft projects…

So it’s the end of November and time to wipe off our cynicism and let ourselves get swept up into Christmas fun. My poor deprived kids have to wait until next weekend to get the tree underway (really, I think you have to wait until December for that one), but there’s no reason that we can’t start ripping through a few of our favourite festive season projects.

These are all silly and fun ideas – good ways to fill an impatient hour here and there over the next month. And best yet – they all recycle come January.

To keep the happy Christmas vibe happening, make sure you get your 10% discount in my shop – it’s valid until midnight Monday November 30. Just use ‘xmas2015’ at the checkout. See all my fabulous products here in my shop.

 

a christmas fairy made from a toilet roll

Silly and fun – a Christmas fairy made from a loo roll.

jesus4

Baby Jesus gets a loo-roll makeover, too!

vegie-smugglers-joseph-and-mary2

Add to your scene with Mary and Joseph!

vegiesmugglers-xmastree2

This tree will keep kids busy colouring for a bit.

xmas3

An give & take advent calendar (make them work for their treats!)

10%off-text

 

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Rock your BBQ with these bowls of magic…

So we’re about to smack straight into the celebration season. Possibly you’re like me, with a list of weekends ahead that hold the promise of bubbles, nurofen and oodles of food.

Whether you’re hosting or being a guest, there’s no better way to get into the party vibe than with food that looks a bit more fancy and special than usual. So why serve a boring run-of-the-mill green salad when you can shift to colourful and fun dishes like this one.

Fregola is a cute little Sardinian pasta, similar looking to cous cous but more of a hot-cousin version that has been down the gym for a serious work out. Usually it’s toasted and has a slight nutty flavour. If your local shop doesn’t stock it, substitute with wimpy, regular cous cous.

This dish gets more pink as it gets tossed about, which is PERFECT, because, you know… PARTY.

Colourful, festive, impressive AND super tasty.

Colourful, festive, impressive AND super tasty.

Roast vegie & fregola salad

Serve this dish warm or cold. It’s fancy enough to be great with roast meats or a nice change from your usual array of BBQ sides. Crumbled feta is also delicious on top.

1 1/4 cups dried fregola (toasted if you can find it – I get mine at the local posh greengrocer)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp orange juice (about half an orange)

5-6 baby beetroot
4 carrots, peeled, cut into 4-5 cylinders
Olive oil (to drizzle)
1 red onion, cut into thick wedges
1 baby fennel, cut into thick wedges
1/2 punnet small tomatoes (any type will do)
1 red capsicum, cut into large squares
salt & pepper
Juice & zest 1/2 lemon
Parsley

Cook the fregola according to packet directions. Drain, pop into a salad bowl and toss through the combined oil, vinegar & orange juice. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Wrap the beets in foil. Pop them in the oven for about 45-50 minutes until you can easily pierce them with a skewer. Set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile (use a second shelf in the oven), chuck the carrots in a small roasting tray. Pour over some olive oil and salt & pepper and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and mix in the onion wedges and fennel (add oil if looking dry). Return for 20 minutes then add in the tomatoes and capsicum and bake for another 20 minutes.

Peel the beetroot (kitchen gloves are a good idea). Cut into easy-to eat size pieces and add to the fregola. Also tip in the veggies and mix everything through including the parsley and lemon juice.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

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Other salads that will do the schmancy party trick….

Asian noodle salad

Asian noodle salad

Pumpkin & haloumi salad.

Pumpkin & haloumi salad.

vegie smugglers panzanella

So delicious, the kids might just join in for this one.

There’s a bunch more salad & side recipes in the ‘Entertaining’ section of Vegie Smuggler’s Kitchen Collection. And if you use code ‘xmas2015’ you can buy it right now for 10% off. Valid until Nov 31, 2015.

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This dinner WINS nutrition (and the kids love it)

Walnuts are generally considered to be a pretty fantastic nutritional addition to the modern diet (unless, you know, you’re like anaphylactically allergic to them, in which case they’re a deady-bones type addition and worth avoiding). They’re full of awesome quantities of most stuff that’s good for you including omega 3 fatty acids and a range of minerals.

General consensus seems to be that introducing nuts to non-allergic kids is safe from 12 months. Serving kid-friendly pasta like this recipe is a good way to reap the health benefits without choking your little loves on whole kernels.

Also, this dish is like ‘Where’s Wally?’, except in a ‘Where’s zucchini?’ kind of way. If you have one of those fancy contraptions that will turn vegies into pasta twists then feel free to swap out all the pasta in this recipe. However my kids do love the tooth feel of a bit of traditional pasta and I find the zucchini just melts through effortlessly.

As is, this recipe is a total win-win-win at my place, but as always, I won’t take offence if you change it up to suit your household.

Herbs and capers 'adult' this dish up to schmancy levels.

Herbs and capers ‘adult’ this dish up to schmancy levels.

Broccoli & zucchini pasta with walnut sauce

This is adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe.

1 1/4 cups whole walnuts (toast them in a dry frying pan if you have a few minutes, but don’t fret if you can’t be bothered)
1-2 cloves garlic (depending on how stinky you like to be)
1 slice bread (no crusts) – soaked in 1 cup milk
1/3 cup olive oil
250g dry linguine or spaghetti
1 head broccoli – cut into dainty florets
2 zucchinis – use a peeler or mandolin to slice them thinly lengthwise then use a knife to cut them into long strips that are a similar size to your pasta.
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Add the walnuts, garlic, soggy bread, milk and oil into a food processor (my little mini one just manages to fit everything). Season well and blitz to form a smooth sauce. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, cook the pasta according to packet instructions. BUT – add in the broccoli 4 minutes before the end of cooking and then add the zucchini 2 minutes before the end of cooking.

Drain the pasta & veggies. Return to the cooking pot and tip over the walnut sauce. Mix through well. Season super well (this dish really does need tonnes of salt & pepper).

Mix through the parmesan. Serve the kids as is – adults might like to add some torn basil, parsley, anchovies or capers.

Serves 2 adults & 2-3 kids (this portion size is dainty as the dish is rich – serve with a side salad).
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Needing a helpful & unique Christmas gift? How about a copy of my latest gorgeous cookbook? It has 125+ recipes that cover all aspects of the family food year including lunchbox solutions, basics, dinners, recipes to feed a crowd and special event cooking! Buy it soon so you can use the Christmas recipes! As an added bonus, use code xmas2015 and receive 10% off, storewide, until November 30. CLICK TO VISIT THE SHOP & SEE ALL MY PRODUCTS…

Happy shopping!

Ohh! It's called "Kitchen Collection"

Ohh! It’s called “Kitchen Collection”

There's a section on basics, then a chapter for snacks and lunchbox items...

There’s a section on basics, then a chapter for snacks and lunchbox items…

Then it's the serious business of DINNER, since that happens tediously often...

Then it’s the serious business of DINNER, since that happens tediously often…

I've converted a bunch of recipes so that there's oven, slow cooker or pressure cooker instructions...

I’ve converted a bunch of recipes so that there’s oven, slow cooker or pressure cooker instructions…

Next chapter is full of ways to feed friends and family....

Next chapter is full of ways to feed friends and family….

And I finish off with celebrations with recipes for all kinds of dietary needs.

And I finish off with celebrations with recipes for all kinds of dietary needs.

CLICK TO VISIT THE SHOP

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What Jason Derulo, the Old El Paso family and my kitchen have in common…

Sometimes you have to give advertising agencies a little golf clap. While they devote their days to making content that leaves us half-demented, they do get their job done, achieving their goal of successfully branding a product to the point where we can’t walk past an item on the supermarket shelves without humming its jingle or having the tagline drift through our brains.

So it is with Old El Paso, whose little cute cheering families and mariachi tunes play around in my mind every time I walk past their products. Which is pretty crazy, since I don’t even buy them. I think other brands do better tortillas and even my jalapeños are now bought from a brand at the greengrocer. Still, I couldn’t help but imagine the little Mexican family gathered together, giving me a cheer as I presented this dinner the other night.

My kids weren’t quite as jubilant as their TV counterparts, but they devoured these completely simple-to-make wraps. And as Jason Derulo will testify is possible, the trumpets of celebration played in my head, which is close enough.

Pop foil around the kid's ones to avoid too much mess.

Adults can pop in jalapenos and fresh herbs.

One dish, one bowl, Mexican chicken wraps

Marinade
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp mild paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp BBQ sauce (optional, but recommended!)

800g chicken thigh fillets
1 red onion, cut into wedges
1/2 red capsicum, cut into thick slices

Salsa
310g can corn kernels, drained
1 roma tomato, finely diced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 red capsicum, finely diced
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Coriander (optional – my kids hate it, so I just add it to mine after I’ve served them)

To serve (you choose what will suit your household): wraps, avocado, jalapeños, sour cream, parsley or coriander

If you remember, pop the chicken in the marinade in the morning and let it spend all day in the fridge getting extra tasty.

Combine the oil and spices in a glass dish or ceramic bowl. Remove the excess fat from the chicken, cut into a couple of pieces and smother it in the spice rub.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Place the chicken into your oven tray (line with foil or baking paper to help with the clean up). Toss over the onion wedges.

Bake for 20 minutes. Use tongs to turn the pieces over. Mix through the capsicum. Return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through (thigh meat stays a bit pink, but also doesn’t dry out, so if you’re not entirely sure if it’s cooked, just chuck it back in for another 5-10 minutes).

Meanwhile make your salsa: Combine everything in a bowl. Done. It’s a tough recipe. See how you go.

The big reveal:
Serve the chicken sliced up on wraps, topped with the roasted onions, capsicum, salsa and your choice of avocado, jalapeños & sour cream.

Serves 2 adults and 3-4 kids

Like this recipe? Check out my cookbooks to find a bunch more meals that your family will love.

Like this recipe? Check out my cookbooks to find a bunch more meals that your family will love.

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Healthy desserts! Genius!

And you pop fruit on the top which makes them DOUBLY healthy.

And you pop fruit and yoghurt on the top which makes them DOUBLY healthy.

There’s a trend doing the rounds for nutritious and healthy desserts. Have you caught it? Hard not too – Instagram thrives on luscious pictures of gluten-free and refined-sugar-free treats. The key to them is omitting the current health-scare foods and ignoring the fact that what’s left is nearly-as-bad for us. Then, of course, there’s all those nutrients in nuts etc, so using them is entirely justified. And of course, the cacao powder is ORGANIC, which is a double tick and the virgin coconut oil is ‘healthy fats’, so that’s fine too.

Isn’t life great!

Of course some might argue that rather than waste our more-precious-than-gold spare time whipping up treats, our time might be better spent cooking up a healthy dinner from scratch, but hey, we can’t have it all. And you know, DESSERT.

Am I sounding too cynical? I am, aren’t I?! Actually the wave of new desserts are pretty great. I’m all for exploring ingredients and getting as much variety into your diet as possible, so I’m a big fan. Don’t fool yourself though, this isn’t ‘slimming’ food. This isn’t for every day.

It’s for happy days, when you want to make your family ooooohhhhh and aaaaahhhh and give them a bit of a thrill.

Mondo Organics Chocolate Tart (modified slightly from their gorgeous cookbook)

This recipe is incredibly simple to whip up in a thermomix.

1/2 cup dates (medjool if possible) – soaked in hot water for 20 minutes.
1 cup combined walnuts and almonds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup cacao powder (or cocoa powder is also fine)
2 tbsp maple syrup (use the real stuff)
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted or quite soft.

250g good quality dark chocolate
300g silken tofu
1/4 tsp cinnamon (I use cassia, just because that’s what’s in my cupboard right now)
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey.

Blitz together the drained dates, nuts, seeds, cacao, syrup and oil. Add in a bit of the date water if you need to loosen it a bit.

Line a 22cm tart tin with cling wrap. Wear kitchen gloves and use your hands to press the mixture evenly into the base and sides. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Melt the chocolate either in a bain marie (a metal bowl placed over a saucepan of boiling water – don’t let it touch the water) or the microwave. (This is the bit of the recipe where the thermomix comes into it’s own). Leave the chocolate to cool slightly then blitz in the tofu, cinnamon and sweetener. Pour the mixture into the tart base and return to the fridge to set. (needs a good hour, several hours is better).

Serve with berries and a nice tart yoghurt (these healthy desserts tend to be insanely rich, so the yoghurt cuts through nicely).

**This recipe also works in a 20cm flan tin – double the tofu, cinnamon & syrup.

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Liked this?
Try making my Cacao bliss balls, or my Dairy-free coconut muffins, or this coconut, coconut, coconut, coconut and banana cake.

real-healthy-families

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