Posts tagged freezer

Movin’ right along (ba da bum ba da bum)

How does your family go on road trips? The VS family loves a trip to the country and after years of travelling a couple of hours to visit grandparents, the kids are pretty awesome in the car. No screens, they each pack a bag of things to do, and good tunes are essential to make the trip more interesting (and distract them from whatever argument they’re having).

As a child, my family never left home with out the Muppet Movie soundtrack. But we’re not such nice parents and actually, after a couple of years, kids songs were making me a bit stabby. We went on a music offensive, determined to get them onto stuff we liked too. If you’re still stuck on non-stop rotation of Wiggles, here’s a list of songs that saved my sanity and got the kids onto more palatable music.

These days, the kids’ tastes are awesome and we can chuck on anything. Which leads to the new interesting dilemma of swearing in songs. We usually just let them slide by and mostly they don’t even notice. In fact, after several intense weeks of Icona Pop, Miss F only realised there was naughty words in it when she was in a friend’s car and they heard the bleeped radio edit. And of course, my kids mostly sing along to most songs with their own mondegreens, which makes the whole swearing thing much easier. Like this Yacht track, which we belt out with “When the ship hits the sand” (awesome video but maybe watch first and decide if it’s ok for your kids). Also on our playlist, this Unknown Mortal Orchestra song is apparently all about Ninjagos and Miss F is positive that Florence Welsh is singing, “long live salami” in What the water gave me.

Which segues us nicely into pizza territory. Finally I’ve done up a Vegie Smuggling pizza sauce, which I dollop generously onto small pita breads (conveniently bowl shaped to hold more sauce), and top with salami or ham and cheese for the kids and more elaborate with roasted eggplant, olives and rocket for the adults.

vegie-smugglers-pizza-sauce

Six-vegie pizza sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 tsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 zucchini, grated
1 large potato, peeled, grated
4 button mushrooms, grated
1 tsp Italian herbs
2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp tomato paste
400g can crushed tomatoes

The onions cook slowly for a while – get them going, then do the rest of your prep while they’re cooking.

Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan over low-medium heat. Add the onion, and cook slowly for 10-15 minutes. Keep the pan covered, and just stir every couple of minutes. When the onions are translucent, remove the lid, sprinkle over the sugar and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown.

Add in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so before tossing in all of the vegies. Again, you want to sweat them down, so give the mix a good stir, cover and give them about 10 minutes cooking time (lift the lid and stir every few minutes).

Remove the lid, add in the herbs, vinegar and tomato paste. Pour over the can of tomatoes and mix really well before recovering and simmering on the low heat for 10 minutes more.

Blitz the sauce up and use on pizza or mix through pasta.

Makes about 4 cups & freezes really well.

Make mini pizza & customise toppings to suit.

Make mini pizzas & customise toppings to suit each person.

Like this recipe? It’s from my latest cookbook, ‘Kitchen Collection’. You can check out a copy here.

Comments (16) »

I’d like to thank the world

I’d like to thank the academy for giving me this EVERYDAY LIFE award. Of course, I’m the one standing here receiving the award, but really it wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of a wonderful team of behind-the-scenes people.

I’d like to begin by saying thank you Japanese people for giving me sushi. And thanks to Italian people for pizza. I love you Korean people for bibimbap and the entire Indian subcontinent – I’d like to thank you all for every curry ever invented. Then there are the Thai folks – a heartfelt thanks to you for showing me the joys of tom yum goong and the Danish peeps, thank you for gravalax. Thanks to the Caribbean natives for jerking that chicken, and to the Mexicans, a huge thanks for all the things you do with beans and avocado. And a huge thanks to you all for making the effort to travel and meet me in Australia, making this such a fabulous, delicious place.

Apologies if I’ve forgetten anyone, but lastly, I’d like to thank our Middle Eastern friends, whose spice combination is the star of my favourite lamb kebabs.

A hint of the Middle East, to make your top-Aussie dinner, delicious.

A hint of the Middle East, to make your top-Aussie dinner, delicious.

Lamb mince kebabs

This is a great recipe to make now, before the good eggplants disappear and as promised, it’s another recipe that uses Allspice.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, finely diced
500g lamb mince
2 cloves garlic
1 eggplant, finely diced (peeled first if your kids will object to the skin)
1 red capsicum, finely diced
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp mild chilli powder (I use a mild Mexican one)

Extras

Flat bread or tortillas
cucumber
tomato
parsley

Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat. Heat the oil then add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes until browning. Toss in the mince, stirring constantly, breaking up lumps as you go. Continue until it is all well browned.

Don’t worry about excess fat, because you’re now going to chuck all of the eggplant into it (YUM). Mix it through really well, then also toss in the capsicum.

Finally, scatter over your spices. Keep mixing until it all gets deliciously fragrant. Lower the heat and let everything simmer for 10-15 minutes until the eggplant has melded into the mince and your kids will be none the wiser.

This is a supposed to be fairly dry mince mix so that your wraps aren’t soggy. Spoon some into a flat bread or tortilla. Top with cucumber, tomato and parsley. I won’t tell if you want to also pop on some cheese or a drizzle of yoghurt.

MIX SHOULD FILL ABOUT 10 TORTILLAS

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If this looks good to you, try out my beef & lentil fajitas, or these beef & peanut rice paper rolls.

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Is your kid a fussy eater? Here’s where to start…

Start simple. Here.

Start simple. Here.

Today’s recipe is for all the parents whose toddlers get pleasure from winding their mummies and daddies up as much as possible during each meal.

Look! They think. Daddy’s face goes so red when I refuse to eat that! Look! Mummy’s head is about to explode each time I shriek! How about I drop the rest of my dinner ON THE FLOOR – won’t THAT reaction be hilarious.

Ah yes. Lovely mealtimes like that with Miss F are the reason why Vegie Smugglers exists. We had SO MANY unhappy dinners together. So much scraping of uneaten food into the bin. So often I was SO CLOSE TO LOSING IT. We were locked in an ongoing food battle.

I was determined to win the war, because I love to eat and I hated that dinnertime had become so miserable. And last Friday night when I watched a now 8-year-old Miss F crunch happily through a salad of corn/snow peas/broccolini & cos, I realised that I HAD WON.

But how did I start to turn things around? Well Miss F liked cheese, so I started there. I made her cheesy pots. And she liked bread, so I gave her salmon pikelets (at first without the green bits). I started with what she DID eat and expanded out from there.

So if your little food fascist likes tinned spaghetti, then this recipe might be your starting point. Do whatever you need to do to have some dinnertime wins and if that means sneakily replacing a junk favourite with a healthy home-made version then DO IT.

If they eat this happily then next time you could make it with wholemeal pasta. Or put in some grated carrot. Then, in a while, try little chunks of carrot instead. If they like these flavours, migrate them to a lasagna, cannelloni or a lentil pasta sauce that has more smuggling potential. As time goes by, you’ll have to do less and less to hide anything, until they happily just eat a raw carrot or snack on grape tomatoes.

Watching Miss F munch through her raw greens, I was so glad that I’ve put all the effort in. Most toddlers are fussy eaters and without intervention many will grow to be fussy tweens/teens & adults. Teaching them how to love healthy food is a gift they will carry for life.

Couldn't help myself.

Couldn’t help myself.

Home-made tinned spaghetti

I don’t usually stipulate organic products, but think in this simple recipe they’re essential.

2 cups pumpkin, diced
250g organic spaghetti (half a standard pack) – broken into short lengths
125g can 4-bean mix, drained, rinsed
700ml jar organic passata (find it near the pasta)
1 tsp brown sugar

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the pumpkin and cook until soft (about 7-10 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces). Use a slotted spoon to remove the pumpkin and pop it into a drainer (keep the water boiling).

Pop the spaghetti into the same boiling water and cook according to packet directions.

Put the beans, cooked pumpkin, passata and sugar into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to the simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Use a stick blender to blitz everything up into a smooth sauce.

Drain the spaghetti then add into your tomato sauce.

Serve topped with Parmesan. For a more substantial meal, top with crumbled crispy bacon or pop in some meatballs (try this lamb meatball recipe).

MAKES ABOUT 8 TODDLER PORTIONS (freeze some for easy dinners in a flash).

This recipe appears in my new "Kitchen Collection" cookbook, with a toddler-feeding tips and family-friendly recipes.

This recipe appears in my new “Kitchen Collection” cookbook, with toddler-feeding tips and 125 family-friendly recipes.

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Need more help with fussy eaters? Try these posts…

Please help Vegie Smugglers, my child only eats…
How to get fussy kids to try new foods.
My top 10 tips to smuggle vegies into children.

Comments (14) »

Every day ice-cream (fruit smuggling at its finest)

Nothing bad, the all-fruit ice-cream

Nothing bad, the all-fruit ice-cream

When I put this dessert down in front of my kids last night, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Post-dinner treats at VSHQ consist of fruit and yoghurt (they get ice-cream at nanny & pa’s house) so they didn’t know WHAT they had done to deserve this magnificent creation.

Little did they know that there was some serious fruit smuggling taking place and there wasn’t a single unhealthy thing before them.

You see if you blitz up a frozen banana, you magically get the consistency of ice-cream. You can leave it as a magic one-ingredient dessert if you like, or you can add in some honey or other fruit. In this case I’ve used a couple of mango cheeks, then drizzled over some pomegranate seeds and ‘sprinkles’ of toasted coconut.

Best thing about this recipe is that it’s totally flexible to suit your family. You could replace the mango with berries and experiment with other toppings like pistachios and toasted almonds. I suspect frozen kiwifruit would work too, although I’ve not tried it. Maybe you can all do some experimenting and let me know what variation works at your place.


Magic fruit ice cream

1 mango
2 bananas (ripe but not over-ripe)
Pomegranate & toasted coconut to serve (optional).

Cut the flesh away from the mango skin (if you’re not sure how, watch this video). Pop into a plastic bag and freeze along with the whole bananas. When solid, peel the bananas (totally do-able – the skin comes away in chunks).

Place the bananas into the bowl of a food processor (a mini one will be fine for this quantity) and blitz until smooth.

Add in the mango and again, blitz until smooth. Pop this back into the freezer to harden up again (blitzing may have softened it all a little). Spoon into pretty bowls and serve to your astonished and amazed children.

Serves 4 kids, or 2 kids and 2 non-greedy adults

Comments (23) »

So hot back then – nachos from the nineties

I don’t know about you, but back in 1991, nothing said ‘mature’ quite as much as popping out to the new Belaroma Café for a ‘cup of chino’ and a bagel. It was a 15-minute drive away, but cafes were a bit few and far between back then. Sure, there was the Grace Brothers cafeteria, where you pushed your tray along the metal shelf and ogled cling wrapped bits of black forest gateau but nothing competed with the Belaroma in terms of sophistication.

I seem to recall being there ALL THE TIME once I got my drivers license and could meet up with friends at the shocking hour of 9pm on a Tuesday! The freedom was delicious.

But perhaps we overdid it a little. I don’t think I’ve eaten a piece of carrot cake since 1993 and I can’t even say the word ‘nachos’ without a touch of scorn, so cemented is it to 1992 in my memories. But determined to be open minded in my quest for new family food, last week I whipped up a version of the tex-mex classic. Lo and behold, it was a MASSIVE hit, with the light-eating Miss F getting through two whole plates of it. I guess there was a reason why it became so popular, after all.

And it’s another recipe that can be made ahead and then assembled whenever you need.

Enjoy it; I’m off to dig through carrot cake recipes…

Corn chip lures, with all the healthy bits melted on top.



Nachos

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
500g lean beef mince
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp oregano
3-4 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1×2 tbsp tomato paste sachet
1 carrot, peeled, grated
½ green capsicum, finely diced
400g borlotti beans, rinsed, drained
400g can chopped tomatoes
½ cup water

To serve
Corn chips (buy the ones from the health food isle)
Avocado
Tomato
Grated cheese

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Saute the onion until golden, stirring frequently. Add in the mince and use the spoon to break up any lumps until it is all browned.

Add in the garlic, cumin, oregano, sweet chilli and tomato paste. Mix in the carrot, capsicum and beans and combine well.

Pour over the tomatoes and use the half-cup of water to swish out the remnants of the can. Bring to a simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Taste and season if need be.

Set aside, ready to use whenever you need it.

To compile the nachos, either…

Add a few chips to a plate (don’t give them too many!). Spread over a layer of mince, scatter the tomato and avocado, sprinkle with cheese and microwave until it is hot and the cheese just melted.

OR

Make one big family serve on an oven tray (lined with foil) and bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden.

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You’re vegetarian, but the kids aren’t

So you’ve been a vegetarian for years, happily sitting on the bacon sidelines and letting the world of steaks, mince and roasts pass you by. But then you have a baby, who after a delightful vegetarian life reaches the 8-9 month mark and is ready for a bit more protein. What do you do?

Perhaps your reasons are ethical, environmental or just plain taste-based, you now have a bit of a dilemma about how to feed your family and do the best thing for your kids’ health.

There is no reason why you can’t raise vegetarian children. It does mean that you need to pay special attention to their diet to keep it nutritionally balanced. There’s a good article here and resource here to help guide you.

Kids need much less protein than we often think. Here’s a link to just how much they require. Often you can fill their need for animal protein with milk, cheese and eggs. Ideally though, you should take a visit to a nutritionist or dietician to ensure there is no deficiencies anywhere in your eating plan.

Possibly the biggest battle you’ll face is the opinions of concerned grandparents and friends who really can’t fathom that your little lovelies can survive without the occasional chop. And perhaps they have a point. Unless you’re being really vigilant, then it might be a good idea for the kids to get a little dose of animal protein and iron a couple of times a week. If you’re ok with this, then here are a couple of ways to do it without you having to handle meat too often.

Big batch and freeze it

Make double batches of bolognaise, fajita mince or chilli and freeze them in small portions. These lamb sausage rolls are also good. That night the kids can have their meat fix and you can enjoy your Indian-style tempeh all by yourself.

Versatile dinners

Heaps of dinners can be made to a point, and then modified to suit the meat and non/meat-eating members of your household. Cheesy pots can be customised easily, as can rice paper rolls (cookbook 2) and pasta bake (just make individual ones).

This recipe for Chinese meatballs is perfect too. Make a double batch and freeze them. Then next time you whip up a stir-fry, add a few reheated meatballs on top of the kid’s serve.

Remember, if handling meat is a problem for you, maybe ask the concerned grandparent if they wouldn’t mind whipping up a meatball care parcel for you from time to time. I reckon they’ll be so relieved that they’ll be happy to help.

vegie smugglers plum sauce chinese-style meatballs

Serve meatballs on whatever vegies and noodles you like. Top with another dollop of plum sauce and some coriander.

Chinese-style plum sauce meatballs

Canola oil spray
1 slice bread (any flavour)
1 large clove garlic
½ tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
1 zucchini
500g veal/pork mince
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp plum sauce
Sprinkle white pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line an oven tray with foil and spray with the oil spray.

Use a food processor (I like my mini-one) to blitz the bread up into breadcrumbs. Add in the garlic and 5-spice and blitz so that all the crumbs are a garlicky-aromatic source of yum. Add to a mixing bowl.

Pulse or grate the zucchini and add the bowl. Also add in the mince and all the flavourings.

Wear kitchen gloves and mix this all together well (or you can do all this in a large food processor if excessive handling of meat makes you queasy). Roll into bite-sized balls and place on the oven tray.

Spray meatballs with oil spray and bake for 15 minutes. Remove, use tongs to carefully turn over, spray again and bake for another 10 minutes until cooked through.

Makes 30ish.

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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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The best way to smuggle… fennel (is in sausage rolls, of course!)

egg glaze for sausage rolls

Hide the sausage (roll).

So perhaps spring isn’t this vegie’s best time of year, but due to the supermarket’s supernatural powers, there were some good specimens staring at me the other day and I was inspired. Fennel is a divisive and often little loved vegie that even many adults baulk at. Not everyone loves the aniseed flavour. Which is a shame. When used well, it adds the best little dash of ‘noice & unuuuusssssual’ to a range of dishes.

After some thought, I decided the best way to entice you all to use it is to combine it with my most popular recipe of all time – sausage rolls. Consistently a winner with even the fussiest kids, a bit of puff pastry can hide a multitude of things – in this case it’s fennel, combined gorgeously with pork (which I don’t cook with often), apple, onion and carrot.

My kids were licking the plate at the end of this dinner, which is a rare and joyous occasion (last time it happened was this spaghetti carbonara). Anytime such a miraculous event occurs, I thank the gods and quickly dash to the computer to jot the recipe down. Et voila, a new family favourite to add to your repertoire.

Since the recipe only needs a cup of fennel, you’ll have leftovers. While the kids might not be so keen on it raw, I’m happy enough to eat it up sliced in green salads. And it’s also delish in this beef cannelloni.

vegie smugglers pork fennel apple sausage rolls

Smells fantastic and are seriously delicious.

Pork, apple & fennel sausage rolls

5 sheets puff pastry
500g pork mince
2 slices wholemeal (or white) bread
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 carrot, peeled, roughly chopped
1 small Granny Smith apple, quartered & cored
1 cup fennel, roughly chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped
1 red onion, peeled, roughly chopped
Pepper
1 egg, whisked, for sticking and glazing
Sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line an oven tray with baking paper.

Remove the puff pastry from the freezer. Separate out 5 sheets. Score down the middle with a sharp knife and snap into two long rectangles. Set aside to thaw while you mix the filling.

Add the mince to a large mixing bowl. Use a food processor (I use my mini one) to make this prep really quick. Add the torn up bread and garlic to the processor and blitz to make lovely garlic breadcrumbs. Add to the mince. Blitz the carrot and add to the bowl. Repeat with all the vegies. (I do them all separately as they need different amounts of chopping time – eg, the carrots can handle a good blast, but just pulse the apple, to avoid everything turning into pulp).

Sprinkle everything with a stack of pepper, then use your hands (wear kitchen gloves) to combine the mixture really well. Roughly divide into 10, to give you a idea of quantities, then shape into sausages and place down the centre (lengthwise) of your pastry rectangles. Make sure the filling goes right to the edges so that no-one gets ripped off!

Brush egg down one side then use the plastic backing to help you ease over the pastry. Peel back the backing sheet and seal edges together firmly.

At this stage, I cut the backing plastic down the middle and wrap it around the rolls to protect the pastry from drying out while I finish off. Work quickly on the rest. Set aside what you need for dinner tonight, then roll each of the remaining ones in a layer of cling wrap and pop into the freezer. (I freeze them on a tray, then transfer to a zip lock bag for even more protection against freezer burn).

Cut tonight’s up into whatever lengths you like, place on the oven tray, brush with egg and sprinkle over sesame seeds (if using). Bake for 25-30 minutes until cooked through. Serve with salad and these chips.

Makes 10 sticks (about 40 pieces).

DEFROST THESE: for 24 hours in the fridge, then once totally thawed, cook as usual.

NO FOOD PROCESSOR? Then buy breadcrumbs from the shops, grate the apple, carrot and onion and super finely dice the fennel and celery.

If you LOVE sausage rolls, check out this lamb sausage roll recipe too.

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The easiest cupcake recipe ever

It’s true that I own an embarrassing amount of cookbooks. It’s a compulsion that lures me into every second hand bookstore I pass. There are cookbooks for baking with yeast, Danish sandwich making and Pritikin diets. Most are curiosities, mostly unused. But amid the novelties are essentials and the Sally Wise cookbooks are ones I refer to over and over again. Possibly because her food is a perfect fit for me and how I cook. Family food. Flavour over fancy. No smears, no complicated reductions, just page after page of family winners. Her gluten free book should be a first port of call for those of you needing help in that area. Her slow cooker book is fantastic and her preserves books are the only ones you will need (should that be your thing).

So I was keen to get her new book, ‘Sweet’. It’s perfect for those of us heading towards a spring season of cake stalls and fete days.

Our school fundraiser was last weekend and I’d pledged 24 cupcakes. Thinking I’d be making my life easier, I went to buy a packet mix. Looking on the back I saw I’d need to add my own eggs, oil and milk. Soooo…. ummmmm…. what exactly is in the packet then? Just flour, sugar-like substances and a stack of preservatives, thickeners and colourings. I popped it back, pretty sure I could do better.

So straight to Sally and she came to my rescue. This cake mix is SO incredibly easy and the cakes were really good.

sally-wise-chocolate-cupcakes

A tiny teddy never goes astray.

Sally Wise’s Chocolate Cupcakes (from Sweet!) My comments are in italics.

Makes 10 (although I made a triple batch and ended up with about 3 dozen).

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
1 cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
90 g butter, melted

Heat oven to 160C. Line a muffin tray with paper cases.

Place all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for two minutes until thick & creamy. (YES, TRULY, THIS IS ALL YOU DO!!!!)

Fill cases to 2/3 full and bake for 12-15 minutes or so until the middle of the cake is springy (IN MY CRAP OVEN, THE COOKING TIME WAS ACTUALLY JUST OVER 20 MINS)

Cool completely, then ice.

Icing
180g icing sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp softened butter
boiling water.

Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, mix in the butter and enough boiling water to make a smooth consistency.

I dipped my iced cakes in sprinkles and topped with a tiny teddy. I noticed during my time of the cupcake stall that lollies and really colourful toppings were MUCH more popular than the more measly, spartan looking ones.

vs-promo-1

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Dad is fun. Mum is mad.

I’ve become the ‘writing lady’ at my kindy reading groups. Each week, armed with white boards, markers and plenty of patience (I stay firmly focused on getting home afterwards to a cup of tea and a sit down) I teach rotating groups of 5 year olds (the groups rotate, not the children) how to write beautiful sentences. Unlike my verbose writing style, I’m finding at this stage that their sentences are much more statement-like. Stating truths and myths from life as a kindy kid. It’s pretty interesting. Fact.

Today they had laminated sentence starters that they had to copy down and then they got to finish off with whatever words they liked. Conversation starters like, “I can…”, “I went…”, “My family…”. And of course “Dad is…”, and “Mum is…”.

Without fail, Dad was fun. Every time. Sometimes fun. One was funy. Another funne. One other funee. But always upbeat, jovial, joking, FUN.

Generally, Mum was mad. One mum was nortee (naughty). One mum was sad.

Now, I’ve noted in my own life, that dad is fun and mum is mad. So perhaps it is a universal truth. What do you think, is this the case at your house? Or maybe the genders aren’t important and actually it’s the primary caregiver that has the shits most of the time and whichever parent arrives home in time to read a book and have a cuddle at bedtime finds it much easier to remain AWESOME.

Or perhaps it was just a morning for clichés. Even without overhearing each other, the same word patterns got repeated again and again. Pretty much all the kids had also apparently been shopping or to the zoo on the weekend (“I went…sopig”), and they all like treats (“I like… pinc cak”).

Which seems like a perfect segue into food clichés, except we don’t cast such a negative connotation on them if we call them ‘classics’, which is what this beef stew is. It’s a slow-cooker classic, bubbling away for 8 hours in its glorious simplicity. I’ve been trialing a bunch of fairly similar ‘casseroles’ and this is my current favourite. This version (based on a Women’s Weekly recipe) is gluten free, but if you prefer to toss the meat in flour before you brown it, feel free – you’ll end up with a thicker gravy. If you don’t, make sure you pat the meat with paper towel to dry it off before you chuck it in the pan.

slow cooker beef stew casserole

Before I could photograph it, it was eaten or frozen…

Beef & vegie slow cooker casserole.

1.5kg chuck steak, cut into large chunks
Olive oil for frying
2 large brown onions, cut roughly
2 large (or 3 smaller) carrots, peeled, chopped into thick rounds
3 stalks celery, chopped thickly
2 medium parsnips, peeled, chopped into chunks
1 swede, peeled, chopped into chunks
4 cloves garlic, crushed (use fresh garlic)
¼ cup tomato paste
400g can diced or crushed tomatoes
1½ cups beef stock (Massel brand is gluten free)
2 Bay leaves
Half a bunch of thyme
1 zucchini, sliced into rounds (optional)
8-10 button mushrooms, sliced (optional)

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium/high heat. Once hot, brown your meat in batches, turning to seal all sides (yes, this may take 20 minutes or so to get through all of the meat, but the flavour will be AWESOME, and you can chop up the vegies while you’re doing it). Tip each batch into a 5.5ish litre slow cooker after it’s done.

Add more oil then fry off the onions, carrot and celery for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic for another minute (add it later so it doesn’t burn). Tip into the cooker.

Add more oil and fry off the parsnips & swede for 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, splash in a bit of stock to loosen all the yummy stuff stuck on the pan and and also tip this into the cooker, along with the rest of the stock, tomato paste & tin of tomatoes plus the herbs. Mix everything in, set the cooker to ‘low’ and leave for 8 hours.

If you’re out all day, then don’t worry about adding in the zucchini & mushrooms, but if you’re home after 6 hours, add these in, give everything a mix and leave it for another 2 ¼ hours (this extra cooking time makes up for you lifting the lid).

MAKES ENOUGH FOR 4 ADULTS & 6 KIDS

Have you got a link to a slow cooker recipe? Add it below – I’m going crazy with mine at the moment and am on the lookout for some tried and tested awesomeness.

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