Archive for Vegie smuggling techniques

The sauce of all knowledge….

Every now and then I post a perfect recipe… I know, I’m blowing smoke up my own arse (a favourite phrase of mine that I’ve just discovered derives from the 1700s when doctors did actually blow smoke up people’s arses)… but if there’s one recipe that should really be in your repertoire then I’m pretty sure it’s this tomato sauce. It’s so simple to make, using all fresh ingredients. You can prepare it as you need it, have it in the fridge ready to go or make a triple batch and freeze some for a night that’s not going so well. It’s a prime example of how easy it is to choose fabulousness over supermarket blah. It suits babies, toddlers right up to oldies and even the most annoying food snobs. The secret is all in the presentation.

Whip up the base sauce. Serve it mixed through pasta for the kids – top it with just cheese or add some ham. A bit of grated carrot is good, and also some chopped grape tomatoes are a nice addition. Adults can add in a bunch of basil and parsley, extra pepper, olives, capers and some posh-as-you-like prosciutto.

Really, how good is a basic dish that will please everyone. It’s a rare and completely wonderful thing.


Summer pasta sauce

2 red capsicums
3 large tomatoes, halved horizontally
3 cloves garlic – leave whole and in their skins
3 tbsp olive oil (the better, the better)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (use white wine vinegar if that’s all you have)
Pepper & salt to taste

Preheat oven to 200C

Slice the cheeks off the capsicums and place under the grill. Leave them to completely blacken (this lifts the skin off so it’s super easy to remove the skin). Leave to cool, remove the skin.

Place the tomatoes and garlic in an oven tray. Pop into the oven for 20-25 minutes or so until the garlic is squishy and the tomatoes have softened considerably.

Tear the capsicum up and pop it into a mini food processor or blender. Squeeze in the centre of the garlic and the tomatoes (peel off the skins as you tip them in).

Add everything else and blitz. Done.

Serve mixed through pasta of your choice with whatever toppings suit your family. My suggestions are parmesan, fresh herbs, prosciutto (yes, I’m one of them annoying food snobs), olives and capers.

Recipe makes enough to top a meal for 2 adults and 2 kids – it also makes a great pizza sauce.


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Living in a cheese-lover’s paradise

For some reason I’ve had ‘Gangsta’s Paradise‘ stuck in my head all week. And boy, doesn’t accidentally singing that out loud in Woolies make you look cool! Especially when you’re a white Australian woman on the elegant side of 40. SO authentic – I mean, the things I know about livin’ in da hood!

Possibly in another 15 years I’ll be up-to-date enough to be humming a bit of Kanye on my way into hospital when I’m arriving for my hip replacement.

All I do know is that even the toughest gansta would love a bite of this ultimate macaroni cheese, since it contains not one, but FOUR types of cheese. It’d be good for them too, since it’s packed full of white vegies, making it the most versatile colour-gang food, especially designed for particularly fussy eaters.

Word to your mother. Homies.

vegie smugglers four cheese macaroni cheese pasta bake

Macaroni cheese times four!

4 cheese pasta bake

250-350g macaroni (depending on how many you’re feeding)
50g butter
1/4 cup plain flour
2 1/2 cups milk (warm the milk up in the microwave for a bit)
1 small head cauliflower
1 zucchini, grated
1 parsnip, peeled, grated
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (not the powdered stuff!)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
Baby bocconcinis

Cook the pasta according to packet directions. Drain & set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a lasagne dish with spray oil and set aside.

Chop the cauliflower into small florets. Par cook, by steaming or microwave for a couple of minutes. I then pop it onto a large chopping board and hack away at it with my kitchen knife until it’s all in tiny pieces (you can also grate it).

Pop a large saucepan onto medium heat. Melt the butter then tip in the flour. Use a wooden spoon to stir it for a minute or so until it turns fragrant (it will start to smell like cooking biscuits). Gradually tip in the milk – really slowly at first and stir well the entire time. Initially it will form into a paste, but keep adding milk and stirring and it will loosen back out into a lovely thick sauce. For the best result, take your time and give your tuck-shop-lady arm muscles a bit of a work out. :)

Turn the heat off. Add the cheddar and parmesan. Use the residual heat to melt it through. Mix in the vegies and ricotta. Combine well and tip into your oven dish.
Smooth the surface. Press bocconcinis into the top.

Bake for 30 minutes or so until bubbling and the top is golden.

Serves 2 adults & 4 kids


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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.


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Vegie-filled dinners that your toddlers can feed to themselves

As fun as it is to try and force a spoon into the firmly shut gob of a child aged between 18 months and 3, sometimes it’s entirely GREAT to be able to serve them dinner and walk away in the hope that they will manage to get something into their own mouth. Particularly if your child is going through a “ME DO IT” phase, then these dinners might bring you a little bit of relief. (Click on the photos to link through to the recipe).

Vegie Smugglers cheese puffs recipe

Cheesy puffs – serve with a side of poached chicken, beans and carrot.

thai chicken meatballs

Chicken meatballs. Noodles optional.

vegie smugglers beef triangles with vegetables and puff pastry

Beef triangles

Perfect for independent toddlers

Lentil, sweet potato & rice balls


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Taking the spice challenge with this lamb pilaf

Along with a strong dislike of most vegetables, my delightful daughter has always been vehemently anti-spice. And while I’ve now gotten her to a point where she will eat a wide variety of vegies and a whole range of flavour profiles, she will still FREAK OUT if there’s anything in her dinner that makes her tongue HOT.

My workaround has always been to create mild versions of dishes that use small amounts of all the flavour spices but omit any ‘hot’ ingredients like cayenne pepper or chilli. Generally this has worked well. But following my theory that you should continually push kids just slightly out of their food comfort zone, I’ve continued to push her heat boundaries.

Finally a couple of years back I found a breakthrough dish – this nachos recipe which has a decent slug of sweet chilli sauce. She adores it to the point where she actually begs me to make it. That felt like a major achievement. But never one to rest on my laurels, I’ve continued to push with the amount and type of heat I can use. There’s been a few misses and a few hits, the latest being this lamb pilaf, which actually has a half teaspoon of chilli powder. I use a mild mexican one which adds a hint of oomph, but is still insanely child-friendly.

So the days of a vindaloo may still be far off, but on nights when the rest of the household is seeking a bit of flavour, I’m finding this dish is working well.

lamb pilaf vegie smugglers

Extra milk for Miss F who needs several glasses to sooth her burning tongue.

Lamb pilaf

1/4 cup pinenuts

2 tbsp oil of your choice (or use ghee)
400g lamb rump steaks, finely diced
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 – 1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1 finger eggplant, finely diced
1 cup basmati rice
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 small zucchini, grated
1 cup pumpkin, grated
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups beef stock (hot)
1 cup peas

Mint & parsley (optional)

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the pinenuts and stir and toast until golden (keep an eye on them, they go from raw to burnt in a jiffy). Remove & set aside.

Place a large saucepan over a medium/high heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and when hot toss in the lamb. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly until brown all over. Remove and set aside.

Add the rest of the oil and reheat the pot. Toss in the onion and cook, stirring often for 4-5 minutes until turning golden. Add the garlic, spices and eggplant. Stir for another minute then pour in the rice. Combine everything really well before adding in all of the grated vegies. Carefully pour over the hot stock and add the paste. Return the meat to the pan, mix everything together and pop on the lid. Simmer on medium heat for 12 minutes until the rice is 95% cooked.

Quickly toss through the peas and recover for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for another 5 minutes to allow the last of the liquid to absorb. (This dish does tread a fine line between uncooked rice and mush – you’ll need to use these times as a guide only and adjust to suit your kitchen’s cooking conditions).

Toss through the pinenuts and the herbs (if using).

Serves 2 adults and 3-4 kids.


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Sneaky goodness at breakfast time

Year 4 has arrived and with it the joy of times tables.

Like the daggiest of mums singing along to top 40 songs I’ve no clue about, my rendition of the times tables is pretty patchy.

I’m good for the 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s. Even my 6s aren’t too bad, but once I hit the 7s I’m in trouble. Regardless, I sing along with Miss F with conviction… “seven times five is 35, seven times six is foooorrrrrrrrrrtttyyyyy… (I stretch it out so I can do some silent addition onto the previous answer) TWO! Seven times seven is 49, seven times eight isssssssssssssssssssss (pausing until she answers first and I just join in)sssssssssssss… 56!

Even more proof that my kids are smarter than me. Must be all the morning goodness that I’m shoving onto their porridge at the moment. Last year we enjoyed our magic morning powder throughout the winter. This year I’ve stepped it up a notch, cramming in even more nutrients via walnuts and cutting out the sugar. Adding in a few sultanas and currants sweetens it to acceptable levels. Although dad’s version tends to have a bit of brown sugar added in, too.

Blitz the mix until it's a texture that suits your household.

Blitz the mix until it’s a texture that suits your household.

Sugar-free porridge topping

1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pecans
1 tsp cinnamon

Pop everything into a blender and blitz until a texture you find appealing. I like mine quite gritty, but others might prefer a finer powder.


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Is that something green in your teeth (and thumb)? PLUS a discount offer on a great product

Part of the ongoing challenge of feeding kids well is getting the balance right between educating them about food but not making nutrition into such a big issue that they’ll grow into teenagers who rebel and reject us and our quaint “here, have a carrot stick” ways. I think I sometimes do tip into the food-nazi zone. Like when my 6-year-old pushed his spoon through his noodle soup and questioned, “Where’s the protein?” it seemed obvious that we’d had one healthy food lecture, too many.

Luckily, there are more subtle ways of making food education part of the every day. Growing stuff is a perfect way to educate kids quietly. A nice way to practice what you preach.

Problem is though, that some of us have green thumbs and others don’t. I don’t. I’m too sporadic with watering, too forgetful. I’ve got possums and snails and caterpillars that love to party, gorging their green little asses on my outdoor sweat & tears.

All of which adds up to making me a perfect guinea pig for Matt, who offered me a bit of Vegepod salvation.

Generally I avoid PR posts and I’m proud to say that I don’t get paid to talk about anything on this blog (I make a coin by selling my products, instead). So if I do, it’s because it’s a product I like, generally from a small, local business that is working hard with minimal budget to promote big ideas.

Rather than blabber about the Vegepod itself (you can visit the website and find out all about it, instead), I’ll just show you this pic of what I’ve managed to grow in just over 5 weeks. With my little microclimate under the hood, I’ve even got late season basil underway, long after my other stuff in pots has all gone to seed.

Hand clap!

Hand clap!

Best yet, is that the kids are totally excited about the more exotic stuff that we’re now managing to grow. I’m always astonished at how much more enthusiastic they are about eating something that they’ve picked themselves. This silverbeet is a perfect example.

And if you’re interested in a Vegepod, Matt has offered VS readers a 10% discount by entering “smugglers” into the coupon field. Offer expires April 6.

Thanks Matt & hope you sell heaps of Vegepods!

You don't have to hide vegies, so long as they're delicious!

You don’t have to hide vegies, so long as they’re delicious!

Creamed spinach

1 bunch silverbeet, washed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
150ml pouring cream
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
pinch of ground nutmeg

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Drop in the silverbeet, a few leaves at a time. Use tongs to remove them after about 30 seconds. Transfer to a colander. Continue until the whole bunch is cooked. Set aside to cool slightly.
Squeeze out the excess water from the silverbeet, slice the leaves off the stems (discard stems) and roughly chop the leaves.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion for 6-8 minutes or until golden and soft. Toss in the spinach leaves and cream. Stir until hot, mix through the cheddar and sprinkle over the nutmeg. Season with pepper.

SERVES 2 ADULTS & 2 KIDS as a side dish

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