Posts tagged pasta

Dinner for you two, dinner for me too

vegie smugglers lentil tomato pasta

One dinner, two ways.

Pretty much any parent I chat to starts the food conversation with “my kids are pretty good eaters”. I nod in admiration of their parenting prowess. But I wait (not smugly, I promise). Invariably a BUT is inserted next.

“But devil child won’t eat meat and Lucinda only eats greens if you let her hold a pink jelly bean and I sing ‘rock-a-bye-your-bear’. But apart from that, they eat everything”.

Battle weary parents tend to confuse ‘good’ with ‘normal’. Jumping through hoops every mealtime becomes just what you do and you forget that actually you might be able to tweak things and get away with doing much less. Like cooking one meal a night. Which would leave you more wine time and lower stress levels.

Which is something I aim for with my recipes. I’m too lazy (actually no, just too busy) to cook multiple meals, so I like to cook one basic dinner for everyone. Being a realist though, I understand that the same presentation won’t suit all members of the family, which is why in my books I often have tips for ways to convert a pretty basic dinner into something more gourmet for the adults.

This tomato & lentil pasta sauce recipe is the perfect example.

Mr VS & I like it with olives, tonnes of herbs, pepper and parmesan. It’s a healthy and yummy grown up meal. My kids will skip the accompaniments and have the sauce mixed through their current pasta of preference (spirals at the moment) with grated cheddar cheese on top.

If you have toddlers, take the time to spoon mouthfuls into large pasta shells and scatter cheese on top. Just serve them a few and watch greedy little hands shoving the mouthfuls straight in. No spoon middle-man to overcomplicate matters. Even if your fussy eater only eats a few, you’ve probably got some scraps of veg and a couple of lentils in, which should tide them over until next week.

I know it’s only Tuesday, but cheers. Here’s to you for being awesome.

Tomato & lentil pasta sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried Italian herbs
1 large fresh tomato, diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1/2 red capsicum, finely diced
800g can diced tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato paste (or 1x2tbsp concentrate sachet)
400g can lentils, rinsed, drained

Optional extras: Fresh parsley or basil, olives, parmesan, crumbled feta.

Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and fry the onion for several minutes until softening. Add the garlic for a minute then scatter over the brown sugar. Keep stirring until well combined before splashing in the vinegar.

Mix in the dried herbs, fresh tomato, carrot and capsicum. Stir through really well before adding the tinned tomatoes, paste and lentils.

Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season to taste. Serve however suits your family.



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Remembering to press pause

A while back I woke up with a headache, slightly hungover and it was January 1.

Then I blinked, cried as Mr M&P started school and then sneezed and it was April. After a shower and another hangover it was June and two report cards later the year is half way done and I’ve still not hung up my 2012 calendar.

It’s frightening to watch life accelerating away.

Yesterday, we pulled the reigns on the year and packed up the family for a day of adventure. Off early, we were breakfasting by the water by 9.30 and then on a ferry over to Scotland Island for a bush walk. We were back home by 2, energized and happy to have spent some fun time outdoors, together, creating a memory.

There was a waterway, bacon, eggs, coffee and a happy family.

Without meaning to we’ve been too busy and just let the year slip by. Yesterday was a good reminder about how important it is to force life to stop from time to time, to find some quality family moments. It’s true, the kids grow up too fast and it won’t be long until they don’t want to be with us at all, let alone walking along, holding our hands, being so incredibly gorgeous.

So back we go to term 3. Back to routine (sigh) and lunchboxes (sigh sigh). This lunchbox pasta salad recipe is from my Complete Lunchbox Planner – it has a little dose of vitamin C to help you through the rest of winter and it’s also a nice way to break out of the sandwich rut.

Something different for the lunchbox

Citrus pasta salad

375g pasta spirals
½ punnet cherry tomatoes, quartered
200g mild feta, diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
2-3 tbsp pinenuts, toasted
½ tsp zest of each a lemon & orange
400g tuna in springwater, drained

6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp minced garlic

Cook the pasta according to packet directions.

Place all the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Toss cooked pasta with other ingredients and the dressing.

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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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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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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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What the kids eat in… Italy

On the surface my kids are coping with moving quite well. They’re saying goodbyes and being philosophical, but I can tell from the way that their behaviour has skewed that the stress of it is taking its toll. They are both quite moody and irritable. Miss F is channelling Veruca Salt with “I want an oompa-loompa” quality turns over the colour of paint for her new bedroom. Mr M&P, who has a tendency to grumpiness, is using moving as a bit of an explain-all over his continuing outbursts.

I’m breathing deeply and understanding that they’re coping with quite a lot of loss.

High on the list of ‘Things we will miss’, are our amazingly fantastic upstairs neighbours. A retired Italian couple, when not flitting overseas they are hosting exuberant lunch parties. As the afternoons wear on and the wine and spirits flow, the Italian gets louder and more jovial and laughter booms out.

What’s not to love about a culture that rains chocolate on children? My kids have quickly learned that if they stand out in the courtyard and smile and wave endearingly, all sorts of goodies get dropped over the balcony. One time I even caught a tissue full of homemade biscuits being lowered down on string.

Italian food is such a seductive cuisine. It’s an easy-fix meal that is quick to cook and usually appeals to everyone. I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like pasta and you can use it to hide all sorts of good stuff in sauces, layered in lasagnes and tucked into tubes.

And then at the end, you can scoff a cannolli, sip amaretti and then best if you potter off for a bit of a lie down.

Cheese, pasta (and tomatoes, onions, fennel, spinach & carrot). Shhhhh.

Beef cannelloni

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves
500g lean beef mince
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 cup finely diced fennel
1 cup spinach leaves (silverbeet or English), finely chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
1 cup beef stock
1 tsp sugar
700g bottle tomato passata
250g cannelloni tubes (buy the instant ones that don’t need to be boiled)
125g ricotta cheese
Grated pizza cheese
Salad and garlic bread, to serve

Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic then the mince, breaking up lumps as you go. When the beef is just browned, add the carrot, fennel and spinach and stir well.

Mix through the tomatoes, herbs and sugar. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for
15 minutes. Taste and add salt and black pepper. (I LOVE heaps of pepper.)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Choose either individual gratin dishes or one 12–cup lasagne dish.
Pour a thin layer of tomato passata over the bottom of the dish. Use a small spoon to fill the cannelloni tubes with your meat mixture and line them up in the dish. Evenly pour over remaining passata and any leftover meat mixture. Dollop the ricotta about and sprinkle over as much pizza cheese as you like.

Individual portions will need to bake about 20 minutes – a larger dish for 30–35 – until the pasta is soft and the cheese is golden.

Serve with salad and garlic bread.


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Meat-free Monday

Paranoid about protein, I eat a lot more meat now that I’m a parent than I ever did in my dink-chardonnay-socialist-vegetarian-exept-for-bacon-and-a-really-good-bit-of-sirloin days.

Luckily my vegetarian phase didn’t last long and mainly coincided with living in the UK where meat is not only expensive but vaguely tainted with the whole mad-cow thing. I was swayed too by a stint at an ashram where I attended endless lectures about the wholeness of everything and that when we kill creatures we are actually killing ourselves. Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Besides, the astonishingly creative and good vegetarian food there was quite a revelation.

But being a pragmatist, the main things that really convince me to be meat free more often are the environmental arguments and the hideous statistics about the wastage that occurs in order to raise animals for us to slaughter and eat. There’s a quick rundown here on “10 reasons why it’s green to go veggie”.

Which is all good, but raising vegetarian kids who are already fussy eaters can be a tricky business. Getting the nutritional balance right for them is tough (there’s a Vic health article here) and I think most of us who are toying with the whole thing give it a miss as soon as our tantruming-toddlers are silenced by a cutlet.

So perhaps now is a nice chance to join the meat-free Monday movement and help our health, the environment, and the universe… man. Peace.

Vegie Smugglers vegetarian bolognaise

This is a simple one-pot pasta sauce that not only hides veg but IS all veg.

Vegetarian bolognaise

A stick blender is entirely useful to get a convincing consistency for this dish.

800g can chopped tomatoes
1 red onion, finely diced
4 mushrooms, diced
1 cup broccoli florets
½ red capsicum, seeded, diced
310g can chickpeas, rinsed, drained
½ cup red wine (optional, but recommended)
2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes in oil, sliced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp finely chopped herbs (try basil or parsley)
1 bay leaf
Cooked fettuccine, to serve

Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Add all of the ingredients except the pasta. Bring to the boil, then lower to a simmer and leave it bubbling away for 30–40 minutes or until everything is tender.

Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf. Use a stick blender to whizz the sauce it until you have a texture to suit your family. I keep small chunks in mine so that it looks like regular bolognaise.

Taste and season with salt and oodles of black pepper. Serve with fettuccine (or pasta of your choice).


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