The one meal that my kids would love to eat every day….

Generally a vegie-smuggling theory of mine has been that too much repetition in a kitchen or on a weekly menu is a bad thing. Dealing with fussy kids is hard enough without adding an extra layer of “but it’s Tuesday – we always eat bolognaise on Tuesdays”. Too much predictability will make conquering bad food habits particularly tricky. So I like to mix it up and keep the kids used to coming to the dinner table with an open mind. “What’s this?” they’ll ask. I’ll tell them and they’ll shrug an “ok”, all the while giving it a sniff and checking out the colours.

Which is why our recent trip to Fiji was even more exciting – I completely let the rule book go. Repetition was inevitable since the kids only ate free if they ate from the kid’s menu (I’ve discussed dismal kid’s menus before here). So for lunch, every. single. day, my boy chose to eat ‘Fun in a Bun’. A mini burger of such magnificence that it was entirely satisfying for 5 days in a row. It came with chips (of course) and there was some token lettuce which was quickly tossed aside.

But looking at his blissed out face every day I pledged that mummy would tackle fun-in-a-bun. Which I have to admit has been quite fun. Of course my burgers are meanly sneaking in stuff, but not too much. And there is a certain lazy thrill is serving up a minimal kind of bun, without too much salad or fuss.

And the kids love it.

vegie smugglers basic hamburger for kids

The funnest bun in town

Fun in a bun

125g can 4-bean mix, rinsed, drained
2 big cloves garlic, peeled
4 spring onions, chopped into 4cm lengths
1 medium carrot, peeled, roughly chopped
1 egg
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
500g beef mince

Spray oil

To serve: burger buns, salad, sauces.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with foil and place a wire rack on top. Spray the rack with oil. Set aside.

In a mini food processor, pulse the beans, garlic, spring onions, carrots, egg and sauce until everything is roughly chopped and well combined.

Place the mince into a large mixing bowl. Pour the vegie mix over the top and use your hands (wear kitchen gloves if you’re squeamish) to combine it all together really well. Shape the mix into about 14 mini-patties and place them onto the oven rack. Spray with oil and bake for 15 minutes. Carefully turn them over, spray with more oil and bake for another 15 minutes until cooked through.

Serve on small bread rolls with your choice of classic burger toppings – choose from lettuce, tomato, avocado, beetroot, gherkins and cheese. Top with your choice of sauce – we like classic tomato with American mustard.

Makes 14ish patties – serves 2 adults & 3-4 kids.

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Five mix & bake dinners, that will make this week a doddle…

I love nothing better than a dinner that cooks itself. So much so I’ve got a whole e-book dedicated to them (check it out here). I particularly love those mix and bake dinners, you know, where you do a bit of chopping and mixing then everything is popped into one dish and baked.

The baking time gives you a chance to bath kids, help with homework or pack tomorrow’s lunchboxes, which means by the time you sit down for dinner you’re feeling in-control and ultra-efficient, two notions that are as deluded as they are fleeting.

Have a great week!

Easy to make. Easy to eat. Chicken pasta bake.

Easy to make. Easy to eat. Chicken pasta bake.

Zucchini slice (vegetarian & gluten free)

Zucchini slice (vegetarian & gluten free)

Gluten-free chicken pesto bake

Gluten-free chicken pesto bake

Tuna rice bake - so easy and a total hit with the kids.

Tuna rice bake – so easy and a total hit with the kids.

Mix, shape & bake these felafel patties

Mix, shape & bake these felafel patties

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These baked treats will pull you out of your parenting slump…

Inevitably, years of parenting do not pass by without periods of slump. Like any job, enthusiasm for certain tasks ebbs and flows. Of course the suckish part of parenting is that you’re in your job 24/7, so unlike regular employment, the hard times are not just an aspect of life that isn’t working, it’s more a feeling like YOUR WHOLE LIFE ISN’T WORKING.

Of course, it’s never that bad, but there’s something about the inability to get breathing space that does make perspective and negotiating your way out of a parenting lull quite tricky.

Usually the fixes are pretty easy to find. Maybe the kids will move out of their current frustrating stage, or you’ll just wake up one day with a fresh bit of perspective. Or they might do something particularly loveable, like give you lots of cuddles or manage to wee IN the toilet for a day or two (sometimes it’s the little things).

And sometimes you have to just suck it up and jolly yourself out of it. A bit of attitude adjustment and tackling things in a new way can make a massive difference.

In my job (as a graphic designer) I tackle tricky clients by pouring love onto them. You know, if a client is complaining I totally take their side, shower them in attention and find that pretty much any situation is instantly diffused. I take the same tactic with my parenting – I find the core issue, and pour some love on it. Whether it’s just a conscious bit of mental reassessing of a situation or a more physical manifestation like cooking my way out of it. Which is why I say these muffins will pull you out of a parenting-hole, particularly if it is lunchbox-shaped and demanding attention five days a week.

Make a double batch of these and freeze them. Then instead of groaning at the thought of packing lunch on yet another day, you’ll have a bit of instant relief. And it’s home-made too, which is positive for you AND the kids.

chocolate seed muffins lunchbox

Just the sight of that cute damn dog cheers me up!

Chocolate seed muffins

1/2 cup seeds (any combo of black chia, sunflower, pepitas, flax)
1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oats
1 egg
Juice 1 orange (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tbsp maple syrup (optional but recommended)
1 small ripe avocado

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease or line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases.

Give the seeds a blitz in a blender, food processor or mortar & pestle – you need to break them down a bit. Tip them into a large mixing bowl and toss in the flour, cocoa, sugar and oats.

In a separate bowl or large jug, whisk the egg, then combine in the orange juice, milk, butter & maple syrup.

Tip the wet ingredients into the dry and stir gently until just combined.

Use a fork to mash the avocado in a small bowl, then add that the the muffin mixture and combine in.

Divide evenly between the cases and bake for 25-30 minutes until the tops spring back with touched and a skewer comes out clean.

Makes 12

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Need more ideas? Check out my 40-week lunchbox planner, full of super simple and seasonal ideas!

 

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It’s both the end and the start of my cookbooks! Did you grab one?

It’s pretty exciting to announce that after 5 years and 3 sold out print runs, the original Vegie Smugglers cookbook has sold out. (well, actually, there are about 10 copies left for sale at this special sell out store). After that it is kaput/nada/gone. I’m laying it to rest alongside Vegie Smugglers 2, which sold out mid last year.

Why have I decided to not print a 4th run when it’s proven so popular? Well, life moves on, and while I love to cook and blog, my urge to conquer the fussiness of small kids has faded at the equivalent rate that my own children have grown out of their own difficult food stages. So while I’m still here posting away, I can’t really be bothered with the logistics of selling hard copy books any longer. So I’m down to the final pallet of my Kitchen Collection cookbook and after that my entire shop will be e-books only.

But don’t panic if you never got around to buying the original book. If you are still interested, head over to my newly redone shop, where you can pick up a shiny new digital version. Better yet, I’ve created a couple of new titles – a ‘best of’ VS1 & 2. There are now gluten-free and vegetarian editions – each with 30 recipes that will feed fussy kids AND adhere to differing dietary needs.

Enjoy & thanks to everyone who has bought copies of my books so far!

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Beef & Chorizo Empanadas

Every now and again I do love to draw upon my past life as a Nicaraguan coffee farmer’s wife and whip up some tasty Latin American morsels. My kids go mad for them. As soon as I chuck the chorizo into the pan they’ll come running with a hopeful, “Are we having empanada’s for dinner?” The chorizo is the cheat ingredient that gives a tonne of flavour really simply. Traditionally you can shove pretty much any ingredients into them, including beans and eggs, but I find this recipe is the right mix of yum/simple/popular.

Best yet, you can make this in several stages to suit your day. If you’re free in the morning then make the mince mix and even get the empanadas made up. Just cover them with cling wrap or pop them in a sealed container in the fridge until you need them. Then just preheat your oven, brush them with egg and you’re away.

Besterest yeterest, this recipe makes a good amount so I’ve always got a ready-to-go bit of something for the lunchbox for the following day. Doesn’t matter that they’re cold – they’re apparently still completely yum.

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Beef & Chorizo Empanadas

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 chorizo sausage, finely diced
500g beef mince
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 red capsicum, finely diced
1 cup grated pumpkin
2 tbsp tomato paste (or leftover pizza sauce is also good)
1 cup frozen peas
6 sheets shortcrust pastry

1 egg, whisked for glazing

Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat. Add the oil then the onions. Cook, stirring often for 5-6 minutes until starting to turn golden. Add in the chorizo for a minute or two then also carefully pop in the mince. Use the spoon to break up the lumps and keep it moving around for several minutes until it is all browned.

Chuck in the garlic, capsicum, pumpkin & tomato paste. Stir everything through well. Simmer the mixture for about 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it – there’s not much liquid so make sure it doesn’t burn.

Tip in the peas – mix them through and take the mixture off the heat to cool slightly.

Remove the pastry sheets from the freezer & separate them out onto your bench (a bit of bench space or a large kitchen table makes this easier!)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a couple of oven trays with baking paper.

Once the pastry sheets have thawed, use a small bowl or saucer as a guide and use a small sharp knife to cut four circles from each sheet (this gives a nice traditional shape but I’m not gonna fuss if this is all a bit hard & you instead use squares to fold into triangles). Brush half the edge of each circle with egg. Dollop about 2tbsp or so of mix into the middle of each circle. Fold over and seal the edges. Give them a crimp or just squish the edge shut with a fork.

Place on the baking trays, brush with egg and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.

Makes 24.

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PS. After 5 years and 3 print runs, it looks like I’m about to sell out of the last hard copies of the original Vegie Smugglers cookbook. The good news? There’s still a handful left if you want to grab one quickly. The better news? There’ll be a digital version hitting your i-shelves soon.

Visit the shop here.
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The messiest child wins a prize!

A while back it came to my mother’s attention that my children did not necessarily have the world’s best table manners. And possibly, I have to admit that she was right – training them up on the finer points of silver service mealtime hadn’t been my priority. While my kids could use a knife and fork correctly, they were a long way from being sophisticated cutlery-champions. And when I stopped to think about it, basic table manners are pretty nice and worth pursuing (surely one day they’ll want to have the skills to impress potential partners in restaurants).

Since it is just a skill to learn, we did deliberately start off on a bit of a utensil-mastery-mission. We began with pancakes on Sunday mornings. Unlike dinnertime, we were all fresh and could handle the mess with humour. Pancakes proved to be the perfect practice food, too. Once we mastered them, we moved onto sausages and chips and worked our way to the point where they can use a steak knife and manage their way through most meals.

But it’s taken time and in our defence, most of the dinners we eat are fork or spoon affairs – we’re not much of a meat-and-three-veg family.

Graceful-soup-eating however is still a bit elusive. We have soup spoons and we’ve tried to teach the kids the whole dipping-at-the-back-of-the-bowl trick, but to no avail. Especially if they’re hungry and the soup is yummy, like this one.

In a moment that made me feel like I was living “The Castle”, my husband had one sip of this and declared, “Darl, I’d be bloody happy if I was served this in a restaurant.” Because it’s THAT good apparently.

It’s perfect too, for kids who only like white food.

Dairy-free creamy cauliflower soup

Dairy-free creamy cauliflower soup

Lactose-free, cream of cauliflower & potato soup

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garam masala
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp garlic, crushed
1 tsp grated ginger
1 potato, peeled, roughly diced
1 litre vegetable stock
270ml coconut milk
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Pop the cauliflower onto a baking tray. Scatter over 2 tbsp of the olive oil and garam masala. Toss well then bake for 20-25 minutes until tender (you can push a fork through).

Meanwhile, heat the last tbsp of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add in the onion, and cook, stirring frequently for 6-8 minutes until golden. Tip in the garlic, ginger and potato. Fry this off for a minute or two before adding in the cooked cauliflower and veggie stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so until the potato and cauliflower is all really soft.

Remove from the heat. Use a stick blender to blitz everything up until smooth. Pour in the coconut milk and blitz further to combine. Season well, to taste (I like a lot).

Serve with coriander, a slurp of coconut milk on top and bread.

Serve 2 adults and 2-3 kids

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****** WIN! ********

Got a kid who eats by osmosis? Then you’ll be after one of these dinner smocks from Bree at Little Chomps. I’ve got four to give away (each valued at $24.95). To win, show us the pic of your kid, in all of their messy post-dinner glory! Either post it over on Facebook or email it to vegiesmugglers@gmail.com. Entries close Friday 7th at 6pm). Congrats to our winners: Claire Maree, Emma Brear, Kate Douglas & Kylye Rowe. Email me if you’ve not got my message yet ladies – vegiesmugglers@gmail.com.

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Where to shove a bunch of silverbeet

I’m always on the look out for healthy snacks for the kids. Since silverbeet is currently in season ($3 or less for a good bunch), it seemed like a good idea to see what I could whip up with it.

As with all my recipes, I’m keen to incorporate the vegetables with as little manipulating as possible, so rather than blanching the leaves, I chop them finely instead, give them a light saute with oil and soy sauce, then I mix through the eggs and it’s ready for a quick bake. The result is like a crustless quiche – gluten free and vegetarian.

The first time I made this recipe it seemed entirely UNLIKELY that the kids would have anything to do with this ugly, green thing. BUT I was wrong. Feeding it to them as a starter (cashing in on their pre-dinner hunger), they gave this a happy thumbs up and came back for more.

Just goes to show that it’s always worth giving things a go – you never can 100% predict what the kids will & won’t like.

vegie-smugglers-spinach-bites

Silverbeet eggy bites (gluten free)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch silver beet. Washed well.
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 tbsp soy sauce (use a GF soy sauce if you need)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 eggs
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
8-10 baby bocconcini

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a loaf tin with baking paper. Set aside.

Use a large knife to trim the silver beet leaves off the stalks. Discard the stalks, stack the leaves and start hacking away until it is all finely shredded/chopped.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil then carefully place in the silver beet. It will sizzle and shrink. Use tongs to gently turn it over it so that it wilts evenly for a few minutes before sprinkling over the soy sauce. Stir through for another minute then set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk the mustard and eggs. Stir through the grated cheese and mix in the cooked spinach. Transfer contents into your tin. Spread evenly and push the bocconcinis into the mixture so the tops are just poking out.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.

Serves 2 adults & 2 kids as lunch or part of a larger meal (it’s nice with salad & bread – although that kind of kills the GF vibe, doesn’t it!).

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Other ways to cook with spinach or silver beet?

Try out my vegetarian lasagne, or these cute little filo cheese & spinach sticks.

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