Posts tagged pasta

Meat-lover’s pasta bake

If you’re vegetarian, skip this post and just click here for a vegetarian pasta bake recipe. Everyone else can stick around to enjoy this carnivorous dinner which feeds an army and keeps pasta-loving kids extremely happy.

The secret ingredient in this dish is… pate…. yes that’s right, chicken livers. I kid you not, a dollop of the stuff mixes through the sauce and after simmering and baking gives the most delish-but-can’t-quite-pinpoint-what-it-is flavour. If you’re unsure how your family will take to it, start with just a tablespoon and see how they go.

And the reason for including a random bit of offal? Iron deficiency can be a major problem for kids, often undiagnosed, causing lethargy and a range of other issues. The best way to avoid it is by eating iron-rich foods. A fantastic source of iron is liver, but there is almost zero chance that anyone born after 1965 will cook with it. Reflecting this, even buying it can be tricky, with it being phased out of supermarkets over the past few years. (Specialty chicken shops will usually stock them).

Even for me, an occasional pate is the only time I cook with livers. So as a challenge, I originally worked up this recipe using them, tossed in with the mince. It’s tasty and really economical and if your family enjoys the flavour then you might want to give that variation a try.

But I figured the number of liver-lovers was minimal and I hate posting recipes that no one will try, which is why I’ve substituted the pate instead. It’s a good way to introduce the flavour to see if it’s an ingredient you might be able to incorporate more of in the future.

One for the carbivore/carnivores

One for the carbivore/carnivores

Meat-lover’s pasta bake

500g pasta
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
500g veal/pork mince mix
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 cup mushrooms, very finely diced
1/2 green capsicum, finely diced
50-100g chicken liver pate (remove any jelly topping. Or make your own basic pate from the recipe in my latest cookbook)
800g can chopped tomatoes
Bay leaf
1 1/2 cups grated cheese (pizza mix is good)

Cook the pasta according to packet directions, set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease an extra large lasagne dish – the one I use is 28x32x6cm (or use two smaller ones)

Heat the oil in a frying pan over med/high heat. Fry the onion for 3-4 minutes until starting to soften. Add the garlic for 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Tip in mince. Use your spoon to break up all the lumps in the mix and keep everything moving well.

Once the meat is all browned, add in the carrot, mushies and capsicum. Stir through the pate and add the can of tomatoes. Combine really well, add the bayleaf and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat, cover and leave it cooking for 15-20 minutes.

Pour the sauce through the cooked pasta. Season well, mix in 1 cup of cheese. Tip it into your lasagne dish, top with the rest of the cheese and bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Serves 2 adults and 6-8 kids (leftovers make great lunches)


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You’re not a cheapskate, you’re just ‘penny wise’.

Ah euphemism – how I love you. I’ve always loved the way you can put a spin on nearly anything to make it sound nicer. Like rather than admitting that I’m stuck in routines now that I’m edging closer to middle-age, I much prefer the idea that I’ve got certain ‘traditions’ that I like to follow. Like having a cup of tea and a biscuit at 8.30 most nights. That’s not boring at all, is it; it’s just a lovely tradition, right?

With my love of talking things up, perhaps I should embark on a future in politics. After last weekend’s Senate debacle I’m contemplating starting up the Vegie Smugglers party. I only need one policy. I think it’ll be fresh vegies for all and a weekly-easy-to-cook recipe. Once I’ve got my politician hat on, the euphemisms can continue – in these times of economic uncertainty, we’d all never be broke, just fiscally challenged.

So to help bring us back into surplus I’m not offering you a budget or cheap dinner this week. Nope, I’m stealing the label from the cover of one of the ritzier interior decorating magazines and calling this a ‘penny wise’ recipe.

Using sausages as an ingredient is ‘fiscally responsible’ and if you use Peppercorn sausages then you’ll be at the deadset posh end of the pennywise scale.



Sausage pasta

350g spiral pasta (just cook the whole 500g bag, use about 2/3 in this recipe and then you’ve got handy leftovers for lunchboxes or maybe make these frittatas later in the week)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely diced
375g Peppercorn Food Company Italian sausages, sliced
1 small eggplant, peeled, finely diced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp Italian herbs
800g can chopped tomatoes
1 cup baby spinach
Olives (optional)
Parmesan (optional)

Cook pasta according to packet directions, set aside.

Heat half the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sausages and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add in the onion for several minutes, stirring often until golden. Pour in the rest of the oil then pop in the eggplant and continue cooking the mixture, stirring often. After another 3-4 minutes, the eggplant should have softened, and the sausages should be thoroughly cooked. Pour over the vinegar and stir through.

Tip in the carrot, garlic and herbs. After a minute pour in the tomatoes. Swish out the tin with 1/4 cup water and add that to the mix, too. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Mix in the spinach for another minute until wilted. Add the cooked pasta in and heat through.

Serves topped with olives and Parmesan. Adults might also like a splash of Tabasco sauce, anchovies and a good whack of pepper.

Serves 2 adults and 4 kids

*Peppercorn Food Company supplied these sausages, and I’m happy to recommend them. Go and like up their Facebook page.

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My kiddult’s favourite chicken pasta

Pokemon cards still reign at VSHQ.

Pokemon cards still reign at VSHQ.

It’s mid-year toy sale time again and the house has been flooded with catalogues full of crap that the kids had never heard of yesterday but are now DESPERATE to own. Things have been circled and bookmarked. Much discussion is taking place during every spare minute about how the toys will integrate seamlessly into our home.

The thing is though, my kids don’t actually spend much time playing with toys. Lego is still popular, and Pokemon cards have been all the rage but apart from that it’s all drawing and craft. Between netball practice, swimming lessons and homework there isn’t much down time. Fridays they get to play unlimited PS3 and then on weekends they’re having play-dates and family adventures.

At a school dinner last night, there was interesting chat about how childhood and adulthood are crashing together. Kids seem to believe in Santa for longer (thanks to all the technology making him so real), they’re under close supervision for years longer than we were and Government guidelines promote the mollycoddling culture (did you know that they aren’t even supposed to cross a road alone until they’re 10?). But then it’s just a few months before they’re off to buy bras, join Facebook and start getting down with the opposite sex (48.4% of boys and 46.3% of girls aged 15-19 have had oral sex. – US source here.)

No wonder teens are so stressed out – we’ve got them wrapped in cotton wool for so long and then we unleash them (mostly unsupervised) into such a complicated digital world. As I read on facebook the other day, “the best thing about being over 40 is that we did all our dumb stuff before Facebook”.

With worlds colliding and them growing up so fast, let’s take the time to enjoy them now. While I generally aim for meals that please the whole family, this recipe is much more popular with my kids than myself. But sometimes that’s ok – especially when I’m greeted with the simple joy of an empty bowl at the end of dinnertime.

My kids both adore this dinner.

I add parsley, rocket and olives to mine.

My kids’ favourite chicken pasta

250g pasta (I use the large spirals for this)
1 1/2 cups small cauliflower florets
500g chicken thigh fillets, sliced (you can use breast meat – but it will end up drier)
175g bacon, diced
1 onion, diced
3 clove garlic, crushed
1 zucchini, grated
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley and/or chives
1 tbsp plain flour
2 cups good quality chicken stock, with 1 tbsp Dijon mustard mixed in
1 cup peas
Parmesan (or cheddar) cheese

Cook the pasta according to packet instructions and set aside.

Place the cauliflower in a microwave-proof bowl, add in a splash of water, cover and microwave on high for a minute until mostly cooked. Set aside.

Heat a large saucepan over medium/high heat. Add the oil and when hot, toss in the chicken and saute it, stirring often until just cooked through (this takes about 5-7 minutes for thigh meat, less for breast meat). Remove and set aside.

Reheat the pan and add in the bacon and onion. Cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes until the onion is soft and the bacon cooked. Add in the garlic for 30 seconds before tossing in all the vegies (except the peas) and the herbs. Stir really well for 2-3 minutes.

Scatter over the flour, and quickly combine it in (you don’t want any lumps, obviously). Cook that off for a minute, then gradually add in the hot, combined stock/mustard, stirring constantly.

Return the chicken to the pan, bring it to a good strong simmer and keep it simmering until it’s a nice glossy thick mix (about 4-5 minutes). Taste and add salt & pepper (I think this dish needs a lot of both).

Stir in the peas and pasta. Heat them through then serve topped with grated cheese and even more pepper and parsley for the adults.

Serves 2 adults and 4 kids.


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Pasta. Cheese. Chicken. Baked.

Gotta love a straight to the point post.

So here’s a yummy dinner. Hope you like it.

Easy to make. Easy to eat.

Easy to make. Easy to eat.

Smoked chicken pasta bake

1 cup broccoli florets
3 cups cooked macaroni (or other small pasta) – this recipe is great for using up leftover pasta
1 zucchini, grated
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1/2 red capsicum, finely diced
1 cup peas
2 cups diced smoked chicken, skin removed (or you can use regular poached chicken, but I HIGHLY recommend the smoked stuff)
1 tbsp chives or basil or parsley (optional, but nice)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (plus extra for sprinkling on top)
250g ricotta cheese (use full fat)
125g can creamed corn

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Steam or microwave your broccoli until just tender. (I just throw mine in the microwave for a minute or so). Drain off any liquid, chop into quite small pieces and throw into a large mixing bowl.

Add all the rest of the ingredients into the bowl and mix until really well combined. Season with pepper.

Scoop the lot into a medium baking dish. Press it down firmly and scatter extra cheese over the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the rest is bubbling.

Serves 2 adults & 2 kids.


Like this style dish?

Try Lulu’s favourite pasta bake
Or this Baked tuna & tomato rice

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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.


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.

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The toys look as tired as I feel

Looking around at the constant mess that is my house during the school holidays, I keep seeing signs that the toys are feeling my pain. I suspect that ‘Toy Story’ is real after all.


Frazzled (with my body on backwards).

Askew (and just slightly stabby).

Askew (and just slightly stabby).

Confused (don't know my up from down).

Confused (don’t know up from down).

Queasy (although the holiday hangover is passing).

Queasy (although the holiday hangover is passing).

In need of a good lay down (when does school go back?).

In need of a good lay down (when does school go back?).

Funny how I was looking forward to these school holidays so much. Now after almost three weeks of it, I can’t actually discern any difference between the school and non-school parts of the year in terms of my workload. Actually during the holidays I have more interruptions and there isn’t a half hour where the house stays in order.

So the exhaustion levels are the same but the tasks have changed. Instead of packing lunchboxes and endlessly turning socks inside out and matching them, I’m now constantly washing the sand out of beach towels and applying sunscreen (my most hated job, but I can’t trust them to do a good job on their own).

The calendar tells me that the New Year is underway and many people’s holidays are over. Once more I’m reminded that mums don’t ever really get a holiday, do we? Yesterday, I did sneak an hour and a half on the deck with my kindle and a gin & tonic. I guess that’ll have to do.

Am I the only one feeling a little ripped off? What are your best ways to find some relaxation amongst the holiday chaos? Let me know QUICK! The kids don’t have to get off the PS3 for another 45 minutes – that’s my downtime slot for today!

In return, I’m offering you an easy dinner to ease your workload. It’ll use up all that basil which is probably going to seed in this heat. It’s from the Complete Lunchboxes Planner e-book.

Vegie Smugglers pesto pasta salad

Easy to make and yum either warm for dinner or cold on picnics.

Pesto Pasta Salad

1 large clove garlic
¼ cup pine nuts
1 bunch basil leaves
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup grated parmesan (please don’t use the powdered stuff)
250g pasta spirals
½ punnet cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

In a food processor (mini one is best), blitz together the garlic and pine nuts. Add the basil and blitz well. Combine in the oil (a little at a time). Stir in the cheese. Set aside (all day if you like).

Cook the pasta according to packet directions. Scoop out 1⁄2 cup of the water and set aside, then drain pasta and return to saucepan. Pour over pesto and mix through. Use more oil or reserved cooking water if too dry. Stir through the tomatoes.



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Just because

Miss F and Mr M&P were outside on the weekend, setting the ground rules for an imaginative play game. Being a Virgo, Miss F likes to have the back-story fully told, with characters thoroughly fleshed out before the playing begins. Usually she will transform herself and her brother into animals, so the species, colour, familial relationships, full names, colour preferences and purpose of journey/adventure will all be established before she get into character (and the dirt) ready to play.

Mr M&P is a less complicated fellow but happily goes along with it all. He was nodding away, agreeing to all the details and finally added his own, “and all their last names will be ‘Doodle’”. Smirk smirk snigger.
“Why?” demanded Miss F, more than a bit annoyed by his flippancy.
“Just because” said Mr M&P with such a sense of finality that I was impressed.

I loved evesdropping on perfect a moment of childhood. Just because. There is no reason. Just because doodle is a funny word and it makes him (and me) laugh.

I realised that I don’t do much ‘just because’. There doesn’t seem to be much room for ‘just because’ when you’re an adult. Everything seems to need a reason, a justification for why I’m spending energy on it. Things can be fun, but they are usually with purpose.

Perhaps this is why I love summer so much. There’s a whole lot more opportunity for ‘just because’. Sure you have a swim for the valid reason that you need to cool down, but while you’re under water it’s nice to have a glide about and pretend you’re a mermaid (if only for a few seconds). Just because it’s good for your soul to have a bit of silly fun from time to time. And I’m thinking that the pursuit of ‘just because’ might be one of my new goals for 2013.

Before that though, we’ve got the Christmas season to get through. The barrage of upcoming events is likely to cause havoc to your usual routines, which is why I’m proposing a pasta salad this week. Make a batch of it and you’ll have instant dinners and lunches ready to go whenever you need them. Should give you more ‘just because’ time.

Basic balsamic salad dressing
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
¾ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

Combine all of these ingredients and mix well. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

pasta salad

Ready, delicious and waiting (in the fridge)

Tuna pasta salad

500g pasta (I like orecchiette)
½ quantity basic balsamic dressing (if you like really glossy salads, you may want to use more)
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
5 spring onions, finely sliced
400g can tuna in spring water (drained) – Omit this ingredient for a vegetarian salad!
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
½ red capsicum, finely diced
400g can corn kernels, drained

(other yum ingredients include fennel, cannelini beans, red onion, artichoke hearts, green beans and banana chillis)

Cook the pasta according to packet directions. Drain quickly and return to the hot pan. Pour over the salad dressing and toss through the tomatoes and spring onions (the residual heat of the pasta cooks them slightly).

Mix through the rest of the ingredients. Season well with pepper. Serve warm or pop straight into the fridge and enjoy later on, cold.

Serves a family of four for dinner, then enough for lunches the next day too.

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