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The best way to smuggle… fruit

home made ice blocks to smuggle fruit

Yay! Summer on a stick.

We went swimming twice on the weekend, which means that Summer must be close. For the next few months I will constantly be picking up randomly dumped, sodden cossies and towels, I will struggle to get anyone into bed before 8.30pm and any half decent TV show will disappear for the ‘non-ratings’ period – which is a dinosaur concept that the networks should seriously rethink (note to ‘traditional’ media – Youtube has no such hiatus).

Apart from the crap TV, humidity, sticky sunscreen and mosquitos, Summer is so packed full of so many reasons to be happy. Christmas. Sitting on strange men’s knees. Beaches. Swimming. Holidays. Nectarines. Fireworks. Mangos. Peaches. Cherries. Apricots. Plums.

There are however, some strange little children who are not fond of fruit. Do you have one of them? You’re in luck over the next little while – you can hide virtually any fruit if you blitz it and freeze it into an iceblock. Choose whatever is in season and you won’t need any extra sweeteners. Try out a bunch of combinations until your kids are munching away happily.

And to make it irresistable, invest in fun iceblock moulds. Try this swirly one, or here’s a rocket inspired one.

And what’s in the iceblocks pictured above? The yellow one is mango and peach chunks with freshly squeezed orange juice. The white one is blitzed up rockmelon and vanilla yoghurt. For the other two combinations, you’ll have to buy the cookbook – I do have to make a living somehow!

Off to the pool…

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The best way to smuggle… potatoes

What do you do if your little lovely is one of those few who refuses to munch on mash or chomp on chips? That’s the challenge set for me by Christina in Mildura. A child who doesn’t eat potato!!! Yes, more common than you might think. So I’ve had a look through my recipe stash and brushed off this delicious potato gnocci recipe.

Before you all grimace and turn away, gnocci is actually easy to make. It IS a little messy while you’re rolling them out, so put the answering machine on, pop on something you can sing along with and relax for a bit of mummy play-doh time. Once the prep work is all done though, the actual cooking only takes about 3 minutes. Watch them while they’re cooking – they sink to the bottom initially then rise up to the top of the water. Give them another minute from this point and scoop them out to drain. Whack over this amazingly easy no-cook sauce, a few olives and some parsley for the grown-ups and you have a happy potato-eating family.

Both the sauce and the gnoccis can be made several hours ahead and left in the fridge until you need them – just coat the gnoccis in enough flour that they don’t all stick together.

potato gnocci

Potatoes, spinach, capsicum and tomatoes all lurking here.

Super simple pasta sauce with potato & spinach gnocci

This sauce is so tasty and easy to make, and really cheap in the summer when everything is in season.

4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 tsp salt
2 cubes frozen spinach (about 50g), thawed and excess water squeezed out
1 1/2 -2 cups plain flour

1 red capsicum
2 roma tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper

For the gnocci: Steam, microwave or boil the potatoes until tender. Mash roughly. Add the salt and spinach then mix through the flour in 1/4 cup amounts until you have a dough that isn’t too sticky. Divide into softball sized pieces and roll out into sausages. Cut bite size pieces. Roll them into a round shape and press down with a fork. Toss in a little more flour and set aside.

For the sauce: slice the capsicum into large flat pieces (remove seeds) that will fit under your grill. Grill on high until they are totally blackened (don’t worry about a burning smell, in this case burnt is good). Remove and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Pull the skin off the capsicum pieces, chop into smaller chunks and place into the bowl of a mini food processor or blender. Blitz. Chop the tomatoes into large chunks and add them to the machine. Blitz more. Add the oil, vinegar and seasoning and blitz to combine.

Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil. Drop in the gnoccis (separate as you go so they don’t stick together). They are cooked about a minute after they have risen to the top of the pan. Drain. Place in your serving bowls. Pour over the sauce mixture. Stir through and add parsley and parmesan to taste.


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The best way to smuggle… brown lentils

Unless I told you (which of course, now, I have) you’d never know that lentils lurk in this delicious meal. They meld seemlessly in with the vegies, mince and mexican flavourings.

Wraps like tortillas are endlessly awesome at hiding stuff from kids. I always roll a short length of foil around the lower half of them (a great tip from Mel, my book editor). It minimises the mess and turns them into a more exciting space-stick dinner.

Remember that kids always take their cues from YOU. So don’t pull faces and make jokes about hippies. Lentils are incredibly good for you, and these fajitas are REALLY tasty. Let me know how you go!

Beef & lentil fajita recipe

Don't ask, don't tell.

Beef & lentil fajitas

1 tbsp canola oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
4 spring onions, finely sliced
500g beef mince
½ red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
½ green capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
400g can brown lentils, rinsed, drained
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp BBQ sauce
½ sachet taco seasoning mix
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano

To serve
10 ready-made tortillas
Lettuce, shredded
1 cucumber, diced
1 tomato, diced
Avocado, sliced
1 cup grated cheese
Coriander leaves

Heat the canola oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the onion and spring onion until golden and softened, 5 minutes or so. Add the mince and cook until totally brown, breaking up lumps as you go.

Add all the capsicum, carrot, lentils, sauces and taco mix (go easy, taste then add more if needed. The sachets tend to be very salty). Or, if you are making your own flavour mix, add all the ingredients now. Stir well. Simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Prepare tortillas according to packet directions.

Tip mince mixture into a large bowl and serve surrounded by the accompaniments all in their own dishes. It’s a fantastic, colourful spread. Let kids build their own fajitas by wrapping a little of everything in a tortilla and they’ll be devoured in no time.


This can all be made ahead, stored in the fridge and put together at the end of the day.

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The best way to smuggle… tomatoes

Over on the Vegie Smugglers facebook page (yes, that’s a blatant, go and ‘like’ it advert), I’ve had a request for solutions to an ongoing tomato battle.

Raw tomatoes can be tricky and I’ll tackle them later. Let’s start with cooked tomatoes, which are a little friendlier to kid’s tastebuds. A recipe that works well is The best-ever vegetarian lasagne. But really, if you think of cooked tomatoes, bolognaise is the dish that springs to mind. The classic Italian dish is SO popular, that people make fun of it. But let’s remember that it’s a cliché for a reason. A million families across Australia wouldn’t cook it every Tuesday night if it wasn’t a ‘bums on seats till the bowl is empty’ winner.

Alas, Claire on Facebook admitted to supermarket-jar-dependence. Easy to understand. But not nearly as tasty (or healthy) as home-made.

My suggestion is to get the menfolk onto it. There’s something about being king of the kitchen and brewing a big pot of meat that seems to appeal to them. Get them cooking up a double batch this weekend and freeze lovely kid-sized portions. Then you’ll have a quick and healthy meal ready to rock whenever you need it. Most households have a bolognaise recipe that they swear by – this is my husband’s fine work. There are a lot of ingredients, but please don’t be deterred, give it a try and marvel at how good bolognaise can be.

Adam's bolognaise

Me Tarzan! This my meat (with red stuff).

Adam’s bolognaise sauce

3 tbsp olive oil
500g veal mince
500g pork mince
1 large brown onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
½ red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
1 large zucchini, grated
1 tbsp chopped basil
¼ cup chopped parsley
400g can chopped tomatoes
700ml passata (bottled tomato puree found in the supermarket near the Italian pasta sauces)
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp tomato sauce
½ cup red wine (optional, but recommended)
1 cup mushrooms, finely diced
1 bay leaf
Salt & black pepper

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the veal mince and brown, breaking up lumps as you go. Remove from pan and set aside. Do the same with the pork mince using another tbsp of olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining olive oil and cook the onion gently over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and carrot and stir for 1 minute. Add the capsicum and zucchini and stir constantly for 3 minutes. Throw in the herbs for 30 seconds then add the canned tomatoes. Stir that through then add half the passata and cook until the sauce bubbles.

Add the veal mince, then the rest of the passata and the pork mince. Stir well then add the tomato paste, tomato sauce and red wine. Stir through the mushrooms, add the bay leaf and season to taste. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (simmer for up to an hour if you have time).

Serve sauce with fettuccine topped with parmesan and herbs.


KIDS ALSO LOVE IT when you serve this sauce scooped into cooked large pasta shells. No effort or fuss, they just pop them straight in – vegies and all.

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The best way to smuggle… spinach

In just the same way that a vegie, is a veggie, is a vege – you can get chard, silverbeet and the true English spinach and they can generally be interchangeable in most recipes. All are in season during the winter months and contain huge amounts of vitamins C, K, iron and nearly every mineral known to man.

So which spinach to use? Generally any of them can be used in recipes (except for salads, where the light English or baby spinach leaves are best), they’ll just need different preparations.

Frozen spinach just needs to be thawed (the microwave works ok for this) and the excess moisture squeezed out. The thick leaves of fresh chard and silverbeet need to be dunked in boiling water for a minute or two then drained and chopped. English spinach can just be chopped and chucked in.

For this recipe, I like to buy a bunch of fresh silverbeet and do the blanching thing. It does add 10 minutes to your prep time, but gives a really fantastic flavour that the kids will love. If the green flecks are going to cause grief for you, use a blender and pulp the spinach and it will hide in the recipe more easily.

I find though, that the amount of cheese in this bechamel-free lasagne overcomes any vegetable obstacles.

The best-ever vegetarian lasagna

This meal hides spinach, carrot, mushrooms and broccoli and I'm not exaggerating when I say that it IS the best ever!

The best-ever vegetarian lasagne

Cooking spray

Tomato sauce
800g can chopped tomatoes
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup sliced black olives (optional)
2 cups finely diced vegies (try broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms and carrot)
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
Salt & black pepper

Spinach layer
250g grated mozzarella
300g cottage cheese
150g other cheese of your choice (crumbled feta, grated cheddar, grated parmesan)
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 egg, lightly whisked
1 bunch silverbeet, blanched and chopped or a frozen 200g box of spinach, thawed, with the excess liquid squeezed out

500g box instant lasagne sheets
Handful grated cheese, for topping

Preheat oven to 180C. Spray a 5-litre lasagne dish with cooking spray.
For the tomato sauce, place all the ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the initial crunch is taken out of the vegies and onion. Everything gets baked later, so avoid overcooking at this stage.

For the spinach layer, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Use your hands to get everything mixed through well.

Now you’re ready to begin layering. This is the order: enough tomato sauce to cover the bottom of the dish, then pasta (break sheets to cover entire layer), half the spinach, pasta, half the remaining tomato sauce, pasta, rest of the spinach, pasta, rest of the tomato sauce. Did you keep up?

Top with a little more grated cheese and bake for 45 minutes or until golden and YUM.


Wrap slices of lasagne in two layers of plastic wrap. Freeze on oven trays to maintain its shape and then transfer to freezer bags. Stores well for 3 months. Reheat by thawing in the fridge for 24-36 hours before microwaving until steaming hot throughout.

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The best way to smuggle… mushrooms (is with a bit of bacon)

So you’ve got a bag of soggy things in the crisper that used to be mushrooms…and you’re keen to get them into the kids because you know that they’re full of anti-oxidants and minerals including selenium (which fights free radicals and is being studied for its anti-cancer properties), but strangely enough, the kids won’t have a bar of them raw or even fried in a tonne of butter. Hmmm, try this magic vegetable slice, which is actually a fantastic ruse to hide pretty much ANY vegie that is clogging up the fridge.

Vegetable slice

Mushrooms?? What mushrooms!!!

Vegetable slice

Canola oil cooking spray
250g bacon, diced
1½ cups diced mushrooms
4 spring onions, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 zucchini, chopped into chunks
1 carrot, peeled, chopped into chunks
½ cup deseeded, chopped red capsicum
Handful of green beans, sliced finely
½ cup self-raising flour
4 eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup grated cheese
Salt & black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C. Spray a lamington tray with cooking spray and line with baking paper.

Heat a small non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes until partly cooked. Add the spring onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Don’t overcook the bacon (it bakes later). Place mixture in a large mixing bowl.

Use a stick blender to blitz the zucchini, carrot, capsicum and beans. As always, don’t blitz to a pulp. If you prefer, chop or grate to have control over the texture. Add to the bacon mixture.

Sift the flour over the top and mix through. Add the eggs and cheese and combine. Season. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until set and golden.

Cut into squares. This is delicious with salad and crusty bread.


THE NEXT DAY Serve cold strips of this wrapped in flatbread. Add any leftover meat and extra salad ingredients. Secure the rolled-up wrap with foil.

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