Posts tagged dinner

3 words that make me horny?

Sifting through my inbox lately, I’ve noticed that the spam has phased back into the traditional style from the start-of-the-internet, all concerned with penis size, orgasms and my libido. For a few years there, I was inundated with lovely Russian women who were looking for my friendship and then all the ‘banks’ were sending me .exe files that contained critical financial information. All I had to do was open and enter my pin. But now, we’re back to sex basics.

However, without even opening the “3 words that make her horny” message, I’ve got a feeling that the email creator is giving the male population a bum steer with poorly researched advice. Unless the spammer is an overwhelmed and under appreciated wife & mother, who does actually know that the three words that make us horniest are when our partner yells from the kitchen, “dishes are done”. Or when he’s got other helpful things to say, like “dishwasher is unpacked”, “kids are clean” or “you keep sleeping”. With Christmas looming the phrase list expands exponentially. Now it includes, “presents are wrapped”, “turkey is cooked” and “it’s from Tiffany’s”. THOSE little 3-word-phrases do get my knickers all twisted, indeed.

In the spirit of international spice, and three-word phrases, here’s this week’s recipe…

Egyptian Baked Chicken

vegie smugglers egyptian chicken

Just an instagram snap, I’m afraid, no time for fancy photos this week.

Feeds: 2 adults & 2 small kids, when served on rice or cous cous
Timings: 10-15 minutes prep. Marindate all day, 5 minutes to chop veg & 40 minutes baking.
Allergies: this is gluten, egg & sugar free, there are sesame seeds in zatar.
Substitutions: Spring onions, shallots, green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini would all work. Use whichever your kids like.
Freeze: No.
Prep ahead: Yes. You can marinade everything all together in the morning and just chuck it in the oven when you need to cook.
Why I like i
t: Marinade is quick to prepare and I can get it ready in the morning before work. Suits the days when I’m just getting home later in the afternoon. And the kids love to munch on a bit of crispy chicken skin.
Smuggling rating: 2/10 – the vegetables are mostly on show.

1 onion
1/2 fennel
1/2 lemon (juice & zest)
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp za’atar (a MIddle Eastern spice mix that contains sesame seeds, thyme, oregano, salt & sumac) – OR if you don’t have any premixed, just add whatever combination of these spices you do have in the cupboard)

700g chicken wing nibbles (these are chicken wings with the point end taken off).
2 large carrots, peeled, cut into sticks
1 red capsicum, cut into 2-3cm squares
1/2 cup frozen peas

To serve: cous cous or rice, coriander, parsley, lemon wedges

Use a mini food processor to blitz together all the marinade ingredients.

Add the chicken to a glass baking dish, pour the marinade over the make sure everything is nicely coated. Cover and refrigerate for as long as you’ve got (an hour is ok, all day long is better).

Preheat the oven to 200C. Uncover the chicken, mix through the carrots and capsicum. Bake for a total of about 40 minutes, turning once about 25-30 minutes into cooking.

Remove from the oven and scatter over the peas (the heat will thaw them).


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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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Your kids love milk & cheese? This dinner is for them!

Considering Miss F’s love of dairy food, it seems likely that my family must be able to trace our heritage back to Egyptian times, when Cleopatra is said to have bathed in milk. Given the choice, I’m sure my daughter would do the same. Milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream. It’s all good to her and any meal that uses it liberally is down the hatch in a jiffy. Like this cheesy chicken pie, that languishes in white sauce all soaked up by a cheesy bread topping that makes those lactose intolerant amongst us shudder.

Although, on closer inspection the whole Cleopatra story is less glamorous when you realise that she actually bathed in sour donkey’s milk (supplied by 700 asses). Apparently the fermented lactose is great for skin, if not for your personal smell. Wikipedia quotes well-known Ancient Roman beauty editor, Pliny, “It is generally believed that ass milk effaces wrinkles in the face, renders the skin more delicate, and preserves its whiteness.”

Botox suddenly isn’t looking so bad.

Relax in this cheesy chicken bake.

Relax in this cheesy chicken bake.

Cheesy chicken pie

And yes, you can substitute lactose free dairy products in here, but I wouldn’t recommend soy, rice or almond substitutes.

4 slices of bread (to make 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs)
1 cup grated cheese (about 125g)

1 tbsp olive oil
500g chicken breast, diced
1 leek, white part only, diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 cup very finely chopped cauliflower
4 medium mushrooms, very finely chopped
Large handful green beans, ends removed, finely sliced
2 tbsp fresh herbs (parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme) optional
Salt & pepper

50g butter
3 tbsp plain flour
2 cups milk

You will need a small-medium sized oven dish for this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Use a small or large food processor to chop up your bread into breadcrumbs. Tip them into a mixing bowl and combine in the cheese. Set aside.

Add olive oil to a large saucepan over medium/high heat. When hot, add in the chicken and stir for several minutes until there are no more pink sides and the chicken is mostly cooked through (it does cook more later in the oven). Remove and set aside.

Reheat the pan, add a bit more oil if need be and tip in the leek, onion and cauliflower. Cook for 6-7 minutes, stirring often until everything is softening down. Add in the mushrooms, beans & herbs (if using). Season and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring just enough that nothing burns. Remove and set this mixture aside also.

Tip your milk into a jug. The milk needs to be quite warm, so I microwave the milk in my glass jug for about 1 1/2 minutes on high. Pop it next to the stove.

Return the pan to the heat. Melt the butter. Scatter in the flour and use a wooden spoon to stir for a minute until the flour has cooked off and smells nice. Patience is worthwhile now – take a minute or so to slowly drizzle in the whole amount of milk, stirring constantly. The mix with thicken up into a paste, then loosen back up into a luscious sauce. Stir briskly the entire time (it’s good exercise for your tuck shop lady arms.)

Tip your chicken and vegies back into the pot and mix everything through. Cook for another minute or so. Pour the entire lot into your oven proof dish. Evenly scatter over your breadcrumb/cheese mix and pop into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or so until it is bubbling and golden.

Serves 2 adults and 2-3 small kids.

Adults might like this served with a crisp garden salad and some sourdough bread.


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50 shades of appliances (and a July giveaway)

Last winter I had a short and intense love affair with my slow cooker. At first I was a novice and a bit nervous, but I overcame my slight hesitation once I experienced some food thrills. I swooned as I discovered that I could make beef stews, fabulous dumpling topped casseroles and even chicken satay and it ONLY TOOK 8 HOURS. Sigh.

Perhaps it’s flighty, but this winter, slightly bolder, I was looking for something new. After a taste of appliance life I was wanting more and I find now that I’ve been seduced away by something much more hardcore. Like a red room of pain that holds such threat and the promise of such pleasure I’ve been lured into the world of PRESSURE COOKING, where I can make all the same stuff BUT IN 20 MINUTES.

Admittedly there’s a time and place and both. Each has nuances to offer. I can’t imagine dumplings being so great in the pressure cooker and I can’t get my slow cooker to simmer away thickening a sauce in the way my pressure cooker does.

But why limit yourself to just one when you can swing and have the best of both worlds, right? Which is why this month’s giveaway prize is so totally exciting. It’s the Kambrook Pressure Express Digital Pressure Cooker, valued at $120 and it has all the joys of a pressure cooker PLUS a slow cook function. YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL.

I have the exact same model and it’s awesome. To get you inspired, here’s a recipe that originates in the Woman’s Weekly slow cooker book. It’s a great combination of flavours and works really well tweaked as a pressure cooker recipe.

Joy in 8 hours, or 20 minutes? Whatever takes your fancy.

8 hours, or 20 minutes? Whatever you can handle.

Pressure cooker Italian Beef Stew

1 cup red wine
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Italian herbs
2 tbsp olive oil
8 pickling onions, peeled but left whole
250g bacon
12 button mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 kg chuck steak, cubed
1 bulb fennel, diced
2 large carrots, peeled, thickly sliced
1/2 cup grated pumpkin

Combine the wine, paste, vinegar and herbs in a bowl or jug and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over a medium/high heat. Add the oil then brown the onions and bacon. Toss in the mushrooms and cook for several minutes, turning often-ish. You want to get nice browned spots on your onions and the bacon to be cooked through.

Toss over the garlic and stir for 30 seconds before adding in the tomato mixture. Bring it all to a strong simmer, then tip it into the pressure cooker along with the bay leaf, meat, fennel, carrots and pumpkin.

Following the safety instructions, seal the lid, bring to pressure and cook for 20 minutes.

Release the pressure. Serve over mash or pasta, topped with parsley.

Serves 2 adults and 6 kids.


I’m thinking you need a challenge in order to win this fabulous prize. How about comment below with a rhyme or limerick or some clever sentence about how much you like to COOK. (see, it’ll be very easy for you to get the sponsor’s name in there – which might just make them happy enough to donate more prizes in the future). Other conditions? You must be living in Australia – you must be a Vegie Smugglers subscriber and I would strongly urge you to check out the Kambrook Facebook page and also check out their Perfect Pantry blog – which is no hardship considering it’s packed with great recipes.


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Mmmmmmm mince

It’s just a fact, isn’t it, that once you have kids, you start filling your trolley with all sorts of new things. Actually, even the fact that you have a trolley and not just a nifty, easy basket is a dead-set giveaway that times have changed. No more baskets with pate, marinated feta and Brie for dinner. No, now it’s nappy boxes, huge bunches of bananas (no matter what the price) and MINCE.

Generally it is the easiest way to get meat into kiddies. You can make patties, meatballs, stir-fries and fajitas. And these days you’ve got a choice of flavours to rev things up a bit.

While I try my hardest to keep my recipes as appealing to adults as possible, I do admit that this savoury mince is more of a ‘kid’ dish. Adults might be uninspired by a lack of sophistication here, but doubts will be eased by the flexible nature of this dinner. It’s easy to make and can be made ahead and popped into the fridge, ready to be served with pasta, on potatoes, in toasties or over rice (my favourite choice). It also freezes really well in little containers that can be defrosted quickly on tricky days when You. Are. Only. Just. Holding. It. All. Together.

Best yet, you can switch vegies to suit your family. And while you won’t find it on the menu at any restaurant anytime soon, with enough coriander and fresh chilli on top, it’s yum enough for an adult mid-week meal too.

Yes, i know, a watermark. Hope this doesn’t bother anyone too much.

Savoury mince

500g beef mince
1 onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 zucchini, grated
1 carrot, peeled, grated
¾ cup mushrooms, finely diced
½ green capsicum, finely diced (red capsicum is also yum and makes a more colourful dish)
1 cup beef stock
2 tbsp Worcester sauce
1 tbsp BBQ sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp corn flour
½ cup peas

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Brown the mince, stirring and breaking up lumps as you go. Remove and set aside.

(If you pan is now dry, add a bit of oil) Add the onion and celery to the pan and cook, stirring for a couple of minutes until starting to soften. Throw in the garlic for a minute before adding in all the rest of the vegies.

Once they’re all mixed through and starting to cook a bit, return the mince. Once that’s all mixed through, pour in the stock and sauces. Combine really well.

Put your corn flour in a cup or small dish. Spoon some of the cooking liquid into the cup and stir until you have a nice, runny, lump-free paste. Pour that back into the mince mixture and combine well.

Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until everything is cooked through. Remove from the heat and mix in your peas.

Serve with rice or pasta. Use to top baked potatoes or fill toasties.

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Divide and conquer with minestrone

Imagine if Australia was as fiercely food-parochial as Italy. Or maybe we are? In the same way that you’ll never get a risotto alla Milanese in Naples, you’ll be hard pressed to find a souvlaki in Sydney and you’d NEVER find a chiko roll in Bondi. Unless you were being cool retro, in which case you’d be having to eat it whilst wearing Le specs, your favourite pair of Okanuis and it would probably we served on a bed of shrimp foam. Hmmmm, ok, it might happen.

Anyway, regional food division is FIERCE in Italy, never more apparent than in their minestrone recipes. For me, being a bit of a bogan Australian, I like a classic winter-time thick soup – a cuddle in a bowl that warms my toes.

Controversy surrounded this soup in my house – both husband and daughter were unimpressed by the addition of cabbage. She thought it ‘gross’, he thought it ‘farty’. Mr M&P loved it all and so did I. So I’m leaving it as an optional ingredient and you can make the judgement call for whatever will suit your household.

Buon appetito!

Minestrone Soup

Olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
150g pancetta, diced
1 large carrot, peeled, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp tomato paste
400g can crushed tomatoes
1 ½ litres vegetable stock
1 zucchini (optional – they’re not great at this time of year)
Handful green beans (again optional, due to seasonality)
¼ small cabbage, sliced thinly (optional – see above)
½ cup peas
400g tin borlotti beans, rinsed, drained
¾ cup soup pasta (like rissoni)

Heat a large pot on medium heat. Add the oil and the onion, fry, stirring regularly for a couple of minutes. Add the pancetta, carrot and celery and continue to soften for 5-6 minutes.

Toss in the garlic for another minute, before adding the paste, tomatoes and stock. Stir well, bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes or so.

Add in the zucchini (if using), cabbage (if using), peas, beans and pasta and cook for another 8-10 minutes until everything is tender and delicious.

Season well with salt & pepper. Scatter over parsley and parmesan and serve with breadrolls.

With all the vegies, this makes enough for 2 adults and 4 kids.

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Do you cook with tubular herbs?

I don’t often do PR-type posts. It’s not my thing to run a food/parenting blog then suddenly start posting about the awesomeness of a chainsaw – how easy it is to use, the sexy ear muffs etc etc. It makes for boring reading.

But I was sent a bunch of herbs in tubes from Garden Gourmet, on the proviso that I use them in some recipes and post about it. I’m happy to join in a ‘blog off’ if the products are relevant.

Now I’m sorry Garden Gourmet, but generally I like my herbs fresh – you’ll never convince me that anything from the supermarket is better than something freshly picked from my garden. HOWEVER, I can see two definite benefits to the tubular stuff… 1. when you want to use a herb that’s out of season and 2. convenience. So I’ve tested them out on two recipes that fit these categories.


Basil is the perfect example of a herb that really disappears during winter and seeing as the dried stuff is a waste of everyone’s time and money, I’m happy to have a go and see if I can get a bit of summer-loving into my cold nights.

All summery tasting, even though its winter…

I’ve tweaked my vegie lasagne recipe, using the tube garlic and tube basil. It worked out great…

The best-ever vegetarian lasagne

Tomato sauce
800g can chopped tomatoes
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp tube garlic paste
¼ cup sliced black olives (optional)
2 cups finely diced vegies (try broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms and carrot)
3 tbsp tube basil
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.



I was intrigued by the tube of Thai seasoning. With one squeeze I’ve got lemongrass, ginger, coriander & chilli. I can dig that. Here’s what I did with it…

thai chicken meatballs

Four herbs in one squeeze was pretty handy…

Asian chicken meatballs with udon noodles & vegies

2 slices wholemeal bread
1 zucchini
5 spring onions
1 egg
500g chicken mince
2-3 tbsp tube Thai seasoning (start with 2 if your kids are fussy)

1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp tube garlic
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce

Serve with…
Udon noodles, beans & carrots. A sliced up spring onion for a garnish would be great.

For the sauce: Add all of the ingredients to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer for about 10 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

For the meatballs: Use a mini food processor (or stick blender, whatever you want to call them), to make breadcrumbs with the bread. Add it to a large bowl. Use the gadget to also quickly blitz up your spring onions and zucchini. Add them to the bowl, then add in the rest of the meatball ingredients and mix well. I use kitchen gloves to finish mixing by hand then roll out the meatballs.

Heat 2 tbsp peanut oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning until golden all over and cooked through (takes about 10 minutes). Do this in batches rather than overcrowding the pan.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to packet directions. Leave the carrots & beans raw, or steam or microwave them slightly.

Pop everything in a bowl and you’re done. Somehow a splurt of coriander from a tube just doesn’t make a good garnish – next time I’ll make sure I have an extra spring onion to slice and scatter over to make it look pretty.


So yes, fresh herbs in plastic tubes are handy, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with them a bit more – at least until I can get my basil plant going again next summer.

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I give you permission to stop (why there’s a difference between being busy and having purpose)

A deck worth stopping on.

There’s nothing but sunshine and autumn brilliance in Sydney this morning. It’s a heart lifting respite after a miserable summer and to celebrate I drank a cup of tea out on my glorious and rarely-used-during-the-week deck. Why rarely used? Because, of course, I am usually too busy to stop and enjoy it. Too busy packing lunches, filling book orders, ironing shirts, getting sucked into the internet, marketing my business, hanging washing, trialing recipes, filling in forms, listening to readers, finding new freelance design clients, worrying about finances, volunteering at reading groups, reading my emails, making cookbooks, texting, organizing play dates, being a taxi, doing hair, correcting manners, blogging, chasing bargains, checking my email, viewing blog stats, baking cakes, fixing toys, paying bills, removing stains, networking… STOP! STOP! STOP! STOOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPP! And I complain that my children are fidgets.

I’m a big fan of social researcher Rebecca Huntley. She usually has interesting points to make and she expresses them in such blunt, accessible terms. On the radio talking with Richard Glover on International Women’s Day, she discussed recent qualitative research done with young mothers. Pervading all aspects of parenting was a self-imposed guilt (about everything) and our compulsive need to make ourselves busy. As if busy-ness equals purpose, we never give ourselves a moment’s rest.

I am a prime example of this, but with the recent departure of Mr M&P off to school, I am now confronted with the gap between being busy and having purpose. With a full 5 hours of totally self-directed time in my day I find myself at a bit of a loss. There’s too much thinking time in it. Too much time to contemplate my life, my (increasing) age, my foibles.

In typical modern-day style, I’ve been contemplating a return to the more structured workforce, so that life can return to the maniacal pace that seems more psychologically comfortable. So I can be like all of the other overstressed parents who are so important that they’re never in the playground but have more crucial places to be.

Yes, I know, overscheduling simply postpones the existential contemplation of life, but doesn’t solve it.

When’s the last time you had a true moment of reflection? What did you discover in the process? If you haven’t stopped for a while, today, I’m giving you permission to just sit and think. I’d like to hear how you go – is it easy or difficult is it for you to do?

I know of course, that you’ll struggle to do it when you have SO MUCH TO DO. Therefore, today’s recipe is one to make ahead and pop in the fridge; ready to reheat when you need it. With dinner done, you’ll have a moment to stop and look within and see what’s there.

Anyway, my thinking time is up. Just heard the washing machine beeping… life calls and continues on.

Turn off the TV, just sit and eat in silence tonight. Can you do it?

Vegie & chicken tagine

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
1 leek, finely chopped
500–600g chicken thigh fillets, trimmed
1 zucchini, finely chopped (peel if your kids won’t eat green)
½ eggplant, finely diced (peel if you prefer)
4 tomatoes, diced
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp turmeric (for colour)
1 tbsp honey
Large handful of sultanas

To serve:
Steamed couscous
Flaked almonds
Chopped parsley
Steamed peas

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (with a lid) over medium heat. Fry the onion and leek for 4–5 minutes until softening. Add the whole chicken pieces and cook on both sides until golden (it takes a few minutes each side).

Cook the zucchini, eggplant, tomato and spices. Stir well, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes until everything is cooked through. Stir every 10 minutes or so to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom.

Add the honey and sultanas. Taste and season with salt and black pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Serve over couscous, topped with almonds and parsley and accompanied by peas.


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The parenting F word – frustration

The new VSHQ. A spot for everyone, even the papertoy monsters.

Recently I spent two days up a ladder turning my spare little gimp room into a family office. I lovingly tended every square centimetre with 3 coats of white paint to turn the dark dump into a THING OF BEAUTY that the whole family could share. Each of us had a spot. A desk. A pencil holder. One of those cool, Smiggle 6-colour pens. We all belonged.

The result was so gorgeous that I was quite in love with myself. I wanted to just go into this room and lay on the floor and lick it. It was deliciously schmick and we all moved in.

One week later I discovered that Miss Fruitarian had decided to show Mr Meat & Potatoes the joy of splatter painting. In the new office. She had procured a toothbrush from god-knows-where, dug out her full palette of watercolours and GONE FOR IT on her desk. And since it is HER desk, she didn’t feel the need for any kind of time-wasting preparation materials such as protective newspaper.

I am of course, piecing events together in a CSI fashion, but it seems apparent to me that mid-way through her masterpiece she had second thoughts. So the blood paint trail changed from a fine spray to dollops across the carpet as she made a quick getaway to the back deck. And across the back deck, to the table, where the splatter-fest continued. But at some point, clean up was required, so the large water container was emptied over the railing. Which was possibly a good idea, except that below at that point, was the path, so the now browny-green water was splattered over the railing, down the side of the house and all over the stone pathway.

Now I wouldn’t have discovered this so soon if we hadn’t decided to eat outside that night. Which of course we had to do because all of the dining table chairs were being used to hold up the lounge room cubby, which was full of every single stuffed toy from the two bedrooms upstairs. Plus most of the plastics from my kitchen. Apparently the toys were whipping up dinner.

And did I mention that later that same day, Miss F went on to ‘create’ a kangaroo made from tissues, wading and reused bits of fluff from her end-of-year ‘Cats’ dance costume? Again, in the newly refurbished office.

By the end of the day I was ready to kill. My best friend and I did paper, scissors, rock to work out who got the enviable task of dishes and cleaning the entire kitchen and who was going to be in charge of getting the kids washed, teeth brushed and into bed. I won and spent a delightfully quiet half hour cleaning up all of the breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes….ahhhhhh bliss…

Did you read the Huffington post article about parenting recently? Summed it up nicely, the dichotomy between overwhelming parental love and the tedium and hell of the every day. There is SO much work and slavery and boredom in being a mum that it really does grind you down. I can totally see how various pressure points compete and healthy food gets shoved further down the list in favour of sleep, silence and compliance.

The trick is though, to realise when food is actually the answer to the other problem areas as well. Well fed children, full of nutrients tend to behave better. They have full tummies, steady sugar levels and enough (but not too much) energy. They will play without crashing but sleep well at night. They get sick less often too. So perhaps it’s the times when you’re in your parenting lows that you need to stop, focus and rethink things, find the motivation to take on the food battles and get some healthy food into your little lovelies and see what difference it makes.

But trust me, they still make mess, regardless. It appears no amount of vitamins can stop that – sorry.

Here’s a nutritious dinner that is quick to cook and sneaks in heaps of vegies – even cannellini beans.

Get through to the end of the day, no worries.

Quick pasta bake

250g pasta (shell or penne is good)
1 cup broccoli florets
400g can chopped tomatoes
400ml bottle tomato pasta sauce
400g can cannellini beans, rinsed, drained
½ red capsicum, seeded, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled, grated
125g can corn kernels, drained
Handful of basil or parsley, finely chopped
2 cups grated cheese (cheddar/mozzarella mix is good)

Preheat oven to 200°C. Cook the pasta according to packet directions. Drain and set aside.

Place the broccoli in a microwave-proof dish with a drizzle of water, cover and zap on high for 1 minute or until just tender. Feel free to blitz the broccoli with a stick blender if your kids will pick out bits.

In a large bowl, mix together the pasta and all of the vegies, sauce, beans and herbs. Season with black pepper to taste. Mix through half the cheese. Spoon the pasta mixture into an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake for 20–25 minutes or until golden.


You might also like to try….
Baked tuna and tomato rice
Lulu’s favourite Tuna pasta bake


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My top five ‘go-to’ dinners

The other day on talkback radio the topic of discussion was how few dishes you could actually cook. The winner was some dad, who could cook 1 dish. And he’d been cooking it for 30 years without variation.

Apparently there was some study that the average person is able to cook only five dinners. Although I’ve just done some web searching and haven’t managed to find details of the study. Do you think it’s a myth?

A while back I remember reading on Lymes and Lycopene a post about this topic, and it linked to this interesting 2009 study which listed the nine most eaten meals in British households. All the regulars are there – spag bol, roasts, pasta etc etc. I suspect the Australian list would be pretty similar. Probably with a chicken stir-fry and Thai green curry to reflect our geography.

Sounds dull, but it’s no surprise that busy parents go back to the same meals each week.
1. You know you can cook them quickly.
2. You know the kids will eat them.
3. You’ve probably got all of the pantry items you need.

I wouldn’t dare interfere and say that this is wrong, but will point out that if you can manage to mix in a couple of ‘new’ recipes each week, your kids will be much more comfortable about leaving their food comfort zones and you’ll avoid a lot of the ‘I don’t eat that’ food battles.

So for inspiration, here’s a list of my five meals that I resort to often. I promise you that they are quick, easy to make and after a quick shop, you’ll have all of these ingredients in your pantry too, meaning that your ‘go-to’ list of easy dinners is now, instantly, 10.

sausage fried rice from vegie smugglers

Use up whatever is in your fridge or pantry in an easy fried rice

Even if you don’t have the ingredients for this exact recipe, a bit of egg omelette (just a whisked egg, fried), leftover rice and whatever canned or fresh vegies you have can be a delicious fried rice. Keep your flavourings simple – my kids are always happy with just a splash of soy sauce and mirin.

Beef & lentil fajita recipe

A light summer meal that comes (mostly) from the freezer

I’ve usually got a packet of tortillas in the cupboard, and some (slightly soggy) cucumber and tomato. And I always have a small container of this beef & lentil fajita mix in the freezer. It’s a great recipe for summer when you want to convenience of freezer meals, but are looking for a lighter option.


Tuna quesadillas

Leave out whatever ingredients you don't have on hand

And on the nights that are going so badly that even the freezer is bare, grab a tin of tuna and corn and you’ll have these quesadillas ready in a jiffy.


Lamb and feta meatballs

Another flexible freezer winner


These oven-baked meatballs are easy to make ahead and taste great (to key to them is to make them with crumbly, not mushy feta). They are yum on pasta as the recipe suggests, but we ate them last week in tortillas (I’m seeing a theme here) with tomato chutney, diced fresh tomato, avocado and capsicum. Yum.


And lastly? Here’a new recipe from Vegie Smugglers 2 – (have you bought your copy yet?) – that I just keep making and making. I find that I can drain off a fair bit of liquid and chop the meat up well (I cook up the kid’s portions then hack into them with kitchen scissors) and they happily slurp it all up. Then I can add chilli to the soup, leave it to brew for an hour or two until my best friend gets home and then he and I can chuck in our pre-prepared ingredients and enjoy a delicious adult, style dinner within minutes.

vegie smugglers beef pho

Prepare all this ahead, for days when your afternoon is going to be frantic


6 cups beef stock
2 tbsp fish sauce
4cm piece fresh ginger, peeled, cut into slices
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp sugar
1 carrot, peeled, sliced into thin rounds
4 spring onions,
thinly sliced
400g lean beef (sirloin or rump), very thinly sliced – easily done with meat from the freezer
16 sugar snap peas
200g rice noodles
Bean sprouts

To serve:
Lime wedges
Sliced spring onion
Fresh or dried chilli (optional)

In a large saucepan, combine the stock, fish sauce, ginger, star anise, cinnamon and sugar. Bring to the boil then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes (or up to an hour if you have time).

Add the carrot and cook for 2 minutes, then add the spring onion and beef for 2 minutes more. Finally, add the sugar snap peas and remove from the heat.

Prepare the noodles according to packet directions and divide between your bowls. Place the bean sprouts on top.

Ladle over the soup mixture. Top with lime, coriander, spring onion and chilli (if using).



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