Posts tagged mealtime

Weekly menu plan 3 – a ‘thank you’ plan

Knowing how you love to be organised, here’s my third-ever plan, and as always, there’s a shopping list to download at the end. This one includes two recipes that you can prepare ahead and whip up quickly and two that come out of the freezer. And there’s a breakfast biscuit thrown in too, made from whatever cereal your kids like to eat. They’re perfect for these cold mornings when getting everyone out of bed is trickier and you may have to eat on the run.

Perhaps you’ll think I’m being mean because this plan uses recipes that you can only find in my books, not online. But actually I’m just saying thanks to all of you fabulous folk who have purchased the books. This plan is JUST for you guys…

SUNDAY (make fresh)

Warm up and get the house smelling great with this Easy chicken pilaf (VS2, page 126).

A bit of gentle spice to start the week.

While that’s cooking, whip up these Breakfast (on the go) biscuits (VS2, page 130) and pop them in once the oven is free (don’t forget to set the timer!)

The week will start off easily with a batch of these ready to go.

MONDAY (freezer friendly)

I do like a bit of vegetarian to start the week, so tuck into this Tomato & Vegetable soup (VS2, page 86). Crusty bread is essential to mop up the thick ‘tomato sauce’.

TUESDAY (prepare ahead)

Stir-fried pork with rice noodles (VS2, page 44) are really quick to make, especially if the ingredients are all chopped and sitting in the fridge waiting for you to get home from piano/ballet/soccer/swimming/badminton/chess club.

Yes truly, a stir fry with mince – yum!

WEDNESDAY (freezer friendly)

Sounds a bit bogan, but this Sausage & tomato hotpot (VS1, page 101) will go down a treat and if you make a double batch and freeze half then you’ve got a dinner ready for next week too. You’ll possibly want to serve this with mash or pasta shells.

Always a crowd pleaser – fancy sausages!

THURSDAY (prepare ahead)

Salmon pies (VS1, page 42). Another delicious wintry dish, that uses tinned salmon (which still contains Omega 3s).

And a bit of pastry will keep them happy.

FRIDAY (quick!)

I don’t cook on Fridays, remember? But if you must, then what about these Tuna & corn pizza muffins (VS2, page 46).

Cooking, without really cooking.

So thanks to all of you who’ve bought the books – I hope you enjoy this plan. You can download the shopping list here.

And of course, if these recipes look yummy to you, you can buy the fabulous Vegie Smugglers books here

And there are more of my recipes available this month in Practical Parenting Magazine. Don’t miss it!

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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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My second ever weekly meal plan – with an even prettier shopping list!

Ask and ye shall receive.

It appears you all like it when I’m bossy. Weird. But I hear that some people also like whips and to dress in odd leather outfits. Not my thing, but you all go for it.

Anyway, I am an eager-to-please personality type, so against my better judgement, I’m answering the requests for dominance and here I offer you another weekly meal plan. If you missed the first one, you can revisit it here.

Knowing that I’m a bit lucky and at home more than most mums, I put out a call for a guinea pig to share their schedule so that I can create a plan that will be achievable in real-life situations.

It was interesting to get two identical pleas for help from mums who both have the problem of working evening shifts. One works Wed/Fri/Sat nights and the other Thurs/Fri/Sat. Now, not saying that men are crap (since there’s been a huge shift in the numbers of them now being the primary carer), but in the majority of households, it seems that the menfolk need to keep things simple. If they’re looking after the kids, then quite likely, rustling up a complicated meal at the same time is too tricky. So with this plan, I’m answering the question of “what can I cook ahead and have ready for my hubby to heat up and feed my starving darlings?”. So let’s go…


A chance for family time, and one time in the week where you can cook and eat sequentially (how quaint)…

If you’re having breakfast or brunch, let’s have these oven-baked hash browns

Oven-baked, healthy hashbrowns.

Perfect on Sunday mornings – home-made hashbrowns.

For dinner that night, roast a chook and have this cous cous salad. Of course, if your kids are too fussy to face that, they might prefer the vegie mash instead – which you can cook and freeze in suitable portions. The good thing of course, if that both the chicken and cous cous leftovers are great for lunchboxes on Monday.

Roast chicken is always a winner.


Let’s enjoy Autumnal flavours and take part in meat-free Monday with this Corn & Lentil soup.

vegie smugglers pumpkin and lentil soup recipe

Food alchemy.


At the opposite end of the scale, swing back to meat with this pink meatloaf.

vegie smugglers beetroot meatloaf

Pink enough to interest meat-phobic girls.

WEDNESDAY (Make ahead/freeze)

Leftover meatloaf can be used up in toasties or in baked potatoes. If you don’t have quite enough leftover, make a batch of these individual meatloaves. Use what you need and freeze the rest – then next week you’ll already have a dinner ready to go.

My kids love these so much, they don't care about what's inside.

THURSDAY (Make ahead)
An easy dinner to make is this Chicken & tarragon one-pot. If you do a double batch, then you can freeze half and you’ve got ANOTHER meal ready for next week (you go girlfriend!).

chicken and tarragon one pot winter warmer by vegie smuggers

Chicken, tick; pasta, tick; one pot, tick.

FRIDAY (Make ahead)

If you’ve got beetroot leftover from the meatloaf, why not whip up a weekend treat – these beetroot brownies.

Chocolate & beetroot brownie

I just can't help myself, I've even got a fresh root in here.

For dinner, you might want something end-of-the-week simple to eat. These tuna, rice & zucchini puffs are perfect. All dad has to do is reheat them. Microwave is ok, but under the grill or in the oven is best.

Tuna, rice & zucchini puffs

Remind dad - no metal cases in the microwave.


By Saturday night, I think you can have a rest. Everyone has eaten well this week and surely dad can cobble up a toastie, noodles or boiled eggs. Perhaps he might want to whip up some okonomiyake. Super easy, and he can sound tres internationale as he expertly pronounces the Japanese name (remember, equal emphasis on all syllables).

Okonomiyaki recipe

Sneak cabbage and carrot in with this super-quick dish.

If you’ve got leftover cabbage, then tomorrow, whip up the crispy noodle salad and put hubbie to work on the BBQ. And there you have it – not just a week but 8 days of meals!

Here’s the shopping list for this week to download. As always, there’s a useful key, to help simplify your life.

So get to it [insert whip crack here].

People's Choice Award

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Vegetable subterfuge (and when to tell the kids the truth)

Admittedly, the placement is poorly thought through.

Turns out that Mr Meat & Potatoes has been in the habit of overshooting the toilet and weeing in the plastic bathroom bin. Doing its job well, the swing-lid has been closing post-stream and I’ve been none the wiser. Now, without revealing too much about my lax home-making abilities, I had noticed a smell but thought I’d just give it a few more days before investigating. You know, in case it was going to fade away all by itself and my intervention was unnecessary.

It didn’t though. The smell got stronger, almost to the point of rancid and then I realised I was going to have to do something about it.

So I sniffed about and there in the bottom of the bin was a puddle of urine that dated back several days.

I wondered if this was my little boy’s subconscious way of getting back at me for all of the vegetables that I’ve hidden in his food over the years. Perhaps his angelic little face is hiding a brain that is secretly ranting, “and this hidden piss mum, THIS is what I really think of all of your hidden zucchini”. Or perhaps I’m just reading a bit too much into it?

Often I get asked about how much subterfuge goes into my meals. Do I TELL my kids what they’re really eating?

The answer is yes and no. When they first sit down and see something pleasing and smell something delicious, I’m not going to kill the mood by blurting, “hope you enjoy the mushrooms”. But once they’re finished, or if they ask mid-meal, I happily let them know what ingredients they’re gobbling up. Since I’m past the emergency, early days of absolute food rejection, I’ve now moved onto food education, which is a really important second stage. I need my kids to know now, that a meal is more than a single ingredient. That even an ingredient that they don’t THINK they like, can be combined with other ingredients in truly tasty ways that they DO like.

So yes, I DO tell my kids what they’re eating. It’s a vital part of teaching them that healthy food is part of the every day and something to be celebrated and enjoyed. And once your kids are eating a wider range of meals, it’s a good time to start with the wider education at your place. Get them talking ingredients, teach them how to choose good produce, encourage them to help out with little tasks in the kitchen.

And perhaps one day soon, they’ll even be big enough to start cleaning the bathroom.

Wee little meatloaves (boom tish!!).

Individual meat loaves

These are an easy to make vegie-smuggling basic. They store in the fridge for several days, can be cut up for sandwiches or wraps and crumbled into baked potatoes. And they freeze really well too.

Canola oil cooking spray
2 slices multigrain bread
1 carrot, peeled, roughly chopped
1 zucchini, roughly chopped
Handful of green beans, ends removed, halved
3 spring onions, roughly chopped
2 frozen chopped spinach cubes (about 50g), thawed, OR a big handful of English spinach, finely chopped
500g beef mince
2 tbsp tomato chutney
1 tsp soy sauce
1 egg
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C. Spray a 12-hole muffin pan with cooking spray and line with paper cases.

Use a stick blender to do the chopping for you. Start with the bread. Make your breadcrumbs and add to your mixing bowl. Then chop the carrots then zucchini, then the beans and spring onions, adding to a mixing bowl each time.

Use your hands to combine the remaining ingredients. Divide the mix into 12 portions and press firmly into your muffin tray.

Bake for 20 minutes or until browned on top and cooked through. Serve with salad, steamed corn cobs and tomato sauce.


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Rice v. pasta

My first job was waitressing in an Italian restaurant.

The things I remember most about it were never remembering which way the coffee machine dial turned off (no-one ever told me ‘righty-tighty’), the embarrassment of returning to a table where I’d just been to admit that I’d just forgotten what they’d just ordered and one really busy night, after a quick loo break, running through the kitchen back into the restaurant with the back of my skirt tucked into my stockings.

Generally then, it’s safe to say that I was a crap waitress and the whole experience was vaguely traumatising.

For years afterward I didn’t touch pasta. And if I was held at knifepoint and ordered, “you must choose only one main meal carbohydrate for the rest of your life” I would happily marry rice and leave pasta, cous cous and potatoes behind forever.

Perhaps it’s karma then, for all the incorrect orders that I took, that my kids love pasta. I think nearly every kid in the whole wide world does. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if your kid hates the stuff, they are weird. WEIRD.

Nutritionally, there’s nothing in pasta to get excited about. I’ve even seen it called BAD CARBS. Well said. Mind you, white rice falls into that category too so I guess my argument for rice is baseless and quite prejudiced. Did I mention that my kids don’t care about any of that and that they still LOVE PASTA? They do.

And so it’s been sneaking back into the house over the last few years. It’s still only once a fortnight or so, but now even I am a bit partial to a bolognaise or smoked salmon, dill & lemon or this spaghetti carbonara. On the scale of smuggling success, it’s fairly low, there’s little room to hide anything, but I still cram in spring onions and long strips of zucchini which just meld in(to the bacon fat).

It’s worth sharing, as it’s pretty much the only dish I’ve trialed this year that resulted in TWO EMPTY BOWLS, which is my version of THREE HATS, only better, cause there’s nothing to scrape before stacking the dishwasher.

vegie smugglers spaghetti carbonara

The pasta will win tonight.

Spaghetti Carbonara

3 eggs
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
400g spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
250g bacon, rind removed, large areas of fat removed, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
6 spring onions, sliced
2 zucchinis – use a peeler to slice into thin pieces, then cut vertically so that you have long spaghetti-like strands (whether you leave the skin in or discard it is up to you and what you need to do to get your kids to eat it).

Whisk the eggs in a small jug, mix through the cheese. Set aside.

Now do two things at once…
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and cook spaghetti according to packet directions. Drain, drizzle over half the olive oil and mix through (tongs makes this easier).

2. Heat the rest of the oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the spring onions, garlic and zucchini and stir until the zucchini starts to wilt (about 2 minutes).

Return the drained pasta to the saucepan, pour over the vegies and use the tongs to mix a bit, then pour over the egg & cheese mixture. Combine quickly, season and serve, topped with optional parsley, pepper and extra parmesan.

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First ever VS weekly menu plan (with a pretty shopping list)

At the risk of sounding very ‘organised housewife’, this post is a menu plan for next week. Despite urging emails, I’ve always avoided posts like this because they sound… so… well… bossy, really. You know, it’s YOUR house and eat whatever the hell you like, I say. But nonetheless, I’ve had enough requests now that I’m GONNA DO IT. And knowing how much I love a free printable, I’m even including a complete shopping list (complete with a key so you know what to buy for which meal).

Main problem devising a meal plan for strangers is that I don’t know your schedule. But I’m assuming that you’ve got a couple of days a week at home, and a few afternoons a week that are crazy busy and I’m suggesting dinners that you can move to whichever day fits best.

So here goes…


Family dinner, or friends coming over? What about this Sang Choy Bao? It’s a messy, fun, communal dinner. Don’t know about you, but my mess tolerance is better on weekends, when I’m not trying to combine dinner with homework and tired children. And it’s a quick cook too, because you’ve probably spent the day at birthday parties or sport or (god forbid) Bunnings.

Vegie Smugglers Sang choy bow recipe

Lettuce delights for your munching pleasure


Nice healthy Fish Pie tonight.

Mmmmmm, cauliflower

And while you’re hanging about the house in cooking mode, also make up a batch of Spag bol. It makes heaps so you can divide it up and pop some in the freezer for next week, and some in the fridge for Monday night.

Adam's bolognaise

I freeze this, pasta and all, in kid-sized serves


Spag bol.


Another crazy day ahead? In the morning make up the mix for these Vegie & bean quesadillas.

Onions, carrot, capsicum, tomatoes, kidney beans, avocado. YUM.

Then they’re easy to whip up once you get home from swimming or tennis or dance or whatever other activity you’ve just sat through (as if you have nothing better to do with your time than sit on an uncomfortable bench or wait in the car for the afternoon). Of course, if you meat-free Monday, then you really should have cooked these yesterday.


Got a moment to cook today? What about this chicken & vegie pasta soup?

vegie smugglers chicken pasta and vegetable soup

Pasta, chicken and bacon amongst the vegies...

Maybe you’ve been feeling excessive love for your little gorgeouses today and have indulged them with these berry and oat muffins… awwwwww mum… you’re the best!

Ready for this arvo & tomorrow (if there are any left).


Use up all the soggy vegies in this Vegetable Slice. Leftover are good in wraps for lunch on Friday.

Vegetable slice

Working the soggy contents of the crisper drawer.


Zzzzzzzz…. What! Sorry! You want dinner AGAIN? See I’ve lost interest tonight, which is just what I discussed last week in ON THE SEVENTH DAY. Toast, pizza muffins, something else will do.

And here’s the shopping list to download. Best thing about the list is that it shows you just how many vegies your kids are going to eat this week! Hope this helps.


Don’t forget that you can buy an e-book of meal plans at the shop.

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Foolproof roast chicken & cous cous salad

On the fridge all year - Miss Fruitarian's 'to do' list for 2011

Each year I have a ‘to do’ list. You know, a list of things that I’d like to master in the coming year. Important stuff like “make choux pastry” and “be thankful every day”. Miss Fruitarian jumped on the bandwagon this year and has done well on her list, which included ‘get a kitten’ and ‘skip to 100’.

My list was blown out of the water by a house purchase, house sale, house move and job change (husband). I’m still catching my breath, and actually can’t even remember what was on my list for this year, let alone WHERE the piece of paper might actually be.

So with the year hurtling to a close, it’s lucky that my list in 2007 included ‘cook a perfect roast chicken’ – you know, where the vegies and meat are all cooked perfectly and AT THE SAME TIME. It’s a skill that comes in handy during the festive season.

Just in case you’ve got the chicken cooking thing on the list for next year, here’s a recipe that will cut you a bit of slack – a roast chook with a cous cous salad that is SO delicious and suited to hot Australian nights.

This cous cous salad is the best I’ve tried – it’s based on a recipe from Ainsley Harriott’s Barbeque Bible. It’s his spice combination and cooking method, which seems to produce perfectly fluffy cous cous. I’ve just added in a stack of vegies (of course).

Do my kids eat this salad with all the green flecks and pumpkin (their least favourite) bits? Surprisingly yes. The first time I made it, I thought they wouldn’t, which really vouches for how yummy it is. I do have to cut up Mr M&P’s chicken and mix it through as a lure, and Miss F does gag if she hits a chunk of coriander, but apart from that it disappears.

Now, if only I could get my kids to eat with their cutlery properly and have some vague semblance of table manners, I’d be feeling pretty accomplished. I guess I better put it on the ‘to do’ list for next year.

Fancy enough for the festive season, methinks.

Roast chicken with a delicious cous cous salad

1×1.8kg chicken
1 lemon, halved
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

¼ cup pinenuts

2 cups pumpkin (Jap is good), peeled and cut into a 1cm dice.
2 tsps honey
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp coriander powder
½ tsp cumin powder
½ tsp sweet paprika
¾ cup cous cous
¾ cup chicken stock
Pinch saffron (optional)
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled, grated
½ red capsicum, finely diced
Handful fresh herbs (any combination of mint, parsley & coriander)
Juice ½ lemon (plus the zest if you can be bothered)

Preheat the oven to 170C fan-forced. Have a rack down low (for the chook) and one up high (for the pumpkin).

Don’t be squeamish and don’t think about how a wee chicken carcass feels vaguely like holding a baby… Wash the whole chook well. Use paper towel to dry it both inside and out. Place a rack in a roasting tray then pop the chicken on top (breast side down). Pour about ¼ cup of water and the juice of half a lemon in the tray. Shove the squeezed half and the full half of lemon inside the birdie. Close up the legs (a girl’s gotta have some dignity), drizzle over olive oil & salt & pepper.

Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile…

Pour your dry cous cous into a heat-proof bowl.

In a small non-stick pan, toast your pinenuts and set aside. Add about one tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then fry off the garlic, coriander, cumin & paprika for a minute or so. Pour in the chicken stock. Add the saffron (if using) and the spring onions (this takes the onion tang out of them). Pour into the cous cous bowl. Use a fork to quickly combine, then cover with plastic wrap.

Spread the pumpkin out on an oven tray (lined with baking paper), drizzle over olive oil and honey. Toss lightly.

Pull out your chicken. Turn over (carefully), baste or drizzle a touch more oil. Season. Pop back into the oven & also put in the pumpkin (on the top tray).

Bake everything for about 40-45 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft and the juices of the chicken run clear. (There’s a demo of how about 1:40 into this video – or push a skewer in behind the drumstick then press to see the colour of the juice)

Cover the chicken with foil for a bit while you fork through the cous cous then toss in the rest of the ingredients in. Then carve the chicken (good ‘how to’ video about carving chickens, turkeys etc here), serve and EAT. Yum.

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