Posts tagged Quick dinners

The end of parenting? It feels like it here.

Last year I looked at my kids and realised that they were growing up. Quickly.

All those hours of blood (theirs), sweat (mine) and tears (all of ours), spent on my parenting quest were reaching a crescendo. While I know that parenting never ends (just ask my mum, who still parents me brilliantly at 76), it was apparent that the first phase of raising kids was almost done. Miss F catches two buses to get to school. Mr M&P walks himself home. Both wash their own hair, wipe their own bums and can unpack the dishwasher without breaking stuff. There’s no more cuddling at the school gate or overt PDAs.  Especially in front of tween friends. I mean, like, muuuuuuummmm, like, you are, like, WAY embarrassing.

And I reached that curious point where I realised it’s time to take charge of my own life and try to negotiate my way back into my career. To update my qualifications I’ve headed back to uni for a bit of postgrad study. It’s a big culture shock considering the last time I studied I didn’t even have an email address, but so far the challenge is stressful awesome.

But I was kidding myself that I’d have to time to do it all. The kids, while increasingly independent still need constant care. There’s the domestics, a part-time graphic design job and this business to tend.

Which leaves bugger-all time for blogging. Especially about cooking, which I’m doing less of. So over the next few months my posts may dry up. Do keep popping by – as I find favourite new recipes I’ll be sure to share (like this insanely good stirfry, below).  They’ll probably be healthy, tasty  & quick meals that suit my older kids. If that appeals to you, you might want to subscribe so you don’t miss any.

And of course if your focus is still toddlers and fussy eaters, there’s always all the lovely cookbooks that you can buy here at my shop.

For me, this Vegie Smuggling journey has been entirely worth all the effort. Watching my kids happily tuck into a huge range of healthy food is one of my proudest parenting achievements.

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Super easy stirfry

2 tbsp peanut oil (or olive oil is fine)
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp oyster sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp freshly grated ginger (use the jar stuff if you prefer)
1 red onion, diced
500g pork mince
1/2 eggplant, peeled, finely diced (I mean it – about a 5mm dice)
1 red capsicum, diced
1 small head of broccoli, cut into little florets or use a bunch of broccolini, slicing all the stalks thinly.
Snow peas

To serve: rice, coriander, basil, chives, chilli

Mix the oil, sauces, garlic and ginger in a ceramic or glass bowl. Add the mince and use a spoon (or your hand) to combine everything well. If you have time, leave this mix to marinate (you can leave it all day if you like).

Heat a wok or large frying pan over your highest heat. Add a splash of oil and stir fry the onion for a couple of minutes until turning translucent and golden. Pop in the mince and use the spoon to break up lumps and brown it well. Chuck the eggplant into the pan. It will suck up any pork fat and after 3-4 minutes will be soft and yum. Don’t rush this stage – the eggplant just gets gorgeously gooey and takes up all the flavour, so make sure you cook it well now (uncooked eggplant is gross).

Finish by adding in the capsicum and broccoli for a couple of minutes, before mixing through the snow peas.

Serve over rice and top with plenty of fresh herbs & chilli (kids might like to skip this bit).

Serves 2 adults and 2 bigger kids.

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Like this recipe? Check out my cookbooks to find a bunch more meals that your family will love.

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Pea, potato & haloumi frittatas

It’s a deadset crappy day outside today – which seems to happen a lot during school holidays! So we’re making the most of it by doing bugger-all. Miss F is reading on the couch. Mr M&P is fluffing about – a bit of reading, a bit of drawing evils guys with crossbows and a little bit of doing a lovely portrait of mummy.

My boobs aren't looking so great, but at least I'm smiling.

My boobs aren’t looking so great, but at least I’m smiling.

Thankfully my kids are pretty calm little people. They can handle a day of doing nothing – they relish it as much as I do. I’ve always thought that a bit of nothing time is essential for the spirit. Creative juices get to flow about, minds can wander over and around all sorts of random topics. Often we end these times recharged and ready for life. But I guess it is a chicken or egg thing – are my kids calm because I give them lots of calm times, or are we able to have calm times because they’re calm people? I can’t decide.

I can decide that these little frittatas have been a massive hit around VSHQ lately. Peas (my favourite vegie of ALL TIME) with haloumi flavour bombs, all padded out with potato making them almost Spanish omelette-like.

Back to my book.

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Pea, potato & haloumi frittatas

These gluten-free little tasties are great hot, but also delicious cold, making them a great lunchbox item, too.

2 large potatoes, peeled, cubed into 1cm cubes
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
225g block haloumi cheese, in 5mm cubes
1 small carrot, peeled, grated
7 eggs, lightly whisked
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (not the powdered stuff)
3 tbsp fresh herbs (any combo of chives, mint, parsley is good), finely chopped
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease a 12 hole muffin tin or line with paper cases.

Par cook the potato cubes by either steaming or microwaving them until barely tender. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine everything (complicated recipe, I know).

Divide between your muffin holes. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and puffy.

Serves with salad.

Makes 12.

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This dinner is a bit fancy, a bit good with a noice secret ingredient!

How great is it when you rediscover a ‘classic’ flavour combination that has been lost in the mists of time. In food land that usually means that it’s an ingredient or two that has gone out of fashion or doesn’t fit the current food trends.

But always being a bit rebellious in my tastes, I can’t help but flirt with these flavours a little, finding all that is good in them. And good this soy/tomato sauce/honey combo is. Sure, it’s a flash straight out of the 80s, but who cares when it shrouds a bunch of healthy ingredients and gets gobbled up in moments.

Vegie Smugglers Chinese Chicken tray bake

Chuck it all in and bake for 40 minutes. Too easy!

Chinese chicken tray-bake

700g chicken wing nibbles
2 red onions, peeled, cut into wedges
3 potatoes, chopped into largish bite-sized pieces (leave the skin on)
1-2 cups pumpkin in pieces slightly larger than the potato
4 carrots, peeled, cut into 4cm chunks
1 red capsicum, cored, cut into large squares
1/4 fennel, sliced
8 button mushrooms, halved
8 cloves garlic, peeled, left whole

1/3 cup oil of your choice (I like olive)
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato sauce
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder

Broccoli (to serve)
1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Add the chicken, all the veggies and the garlic into a large baking dish. Use your hands to toss it all together.

Whisk together the oil, sauces, honey and 5-spice. Pour over the chicken & veggies. Toss well.

Bake for 40 minutes or so, until the chicken is golden and cooked through and the veggies are tender.

Cut the broccoli and lightly cook by steaming or microwaving. Scatter over the tray. Squeeze the lemon juice over the whole dish.

Serves 2 adults and 3-4 kids.

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Five mix & bake dinners, that will make this week a doddle…

I love nothing better than a dinner that cooks itself. So much so I’ve got a whole e-book dedicated to them (check it out here). I particularly love those mix and bake dinners, you know, where you do a bit of chopping and mixing then everything is popped into one dish and baked.

The baking time gives you a chance to bath kids, help with homework or pack tomorrow’s lunchboxes, which means by the time you sit down for dinner you’re feeling in-control and ultra-efficient, two notions that are as deluded as they are fleeting.

Have a great week!

Easy to make. Easy to eat. Chicken pasta bake.

Easy to make. Easy to eat. Chicken pasta bake.

Zucchini slice (vegetarian & gluten free)

Zucchini slice (vegetarian & gluten free)

Gluten-free chicken pesto bake

Gluten-free chicken pesto bake

Tuna rice bake - so easy and a total hit with the kids.

Tuna rice bake – so easy and a total hit with the kids.

Mix, shape & bake these felafel patties

Mix, shape & bake these felafel patties

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Easy pumpkin soup (only 4 ingredients!)

Easy pumpkin soup (only 4 ingredients)

Isn’t it lucky that we’re never too old to learn stuff.

Important stuff, too, like the fact that Youtube videos on how to cut your own hair make it look deceptively simple. I learned that this week. And that a new mirrored splash back will cause your cat to MELT DOWN as they fight a territorial war with the new cat who has moved into their kitchen (don’t even ask why he’s on the benchtop). And that the end of term is a tiring time for everyone (mummies included).

Thankfully there are salves for all these issues. Luckily my ‘haircut’ looks ok once blowdried in it’s new daringly short style. A squirt bottle of water can keep cats off bench tops. And veggie-filled recipes DO exist that are incredibly easy to make and soothing to eat. Like this one. Perfect for tired kids. Perfect for tired mums.

Easy Pumpkin soup

1 litre chicken stock (salt-reduced)
8 cups (about 1.1 kg) of evenly cubed vegies (you can use all pumpkin, but I like about 800g pumpkin & a couple of big carrots)
1 tbsp Italian herbs
425g can baked beans in tomato sauce (salt-reduced)

Pour the stock into a large pot and bring it to the boil. Add the vegies and herbs and reduce to a strong simmer.

After 10-15 minutes the vegies should be tender (you can easily pierce the pumpkin with a skewer). Tip in the beans and sauce. Stir them through to heat up then remove the pot from the heat.

Use a stick blender to whizzy it all up (or transfer to a traditional blender when cool).

Serve with bread, pumpkin seeds, or last week’s cheese & sweet potato rock cakes.

Serves 2 adults & 2-3 kids.

And if you struggle to get your little kids to eat soup, click over to the Mother & Baby blog where I’m discussing how to make this genre a success with small kids.

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If you like this recipe, why not try…
Roasted carrot & parsnip soup
Pumpkin & red lentil soup
Green split pea soup

 

If you love slow cooking, you'll love my latest e-book!

If you love slow cooking, you’ll love my latest e-book!

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Those elusive, healthy & yummy 10-minute dinners….

Almost there!

Almost there!

It is not lost on me that the reward for completing my kitchen renovation is a return to the everyday drudgery of feeding the family. Don’t get me wrong, I’m entirely grateful for my lovely new surroundings – and they make my daily tasks easier – but I’ve quite enjoyed having 5 weeks off from the kitchen.

Lunchboxes were whatever we could find, dinners were strange, cobbled together affairs, with whatever gadgets were available. And somehow this slackening of standards seeped through to the rest of my domestic life. Suddenly the urge to keep us stocked with groceries disappeared (well, where was I going to put them, anyway?) and even my determination to keep my home vaguely clean dissipated too – as if there was any point dusting the piles of junk that covered every surface.

So while I still might be waiting for the splash back & new lights, everything in the kitchen is back to operational. There’s a lovely new oven and stove to master. Drawers that close themselves (which is lucky, since I keep opening the wrong ones all the time) and enough bench space to have both my slow cooker running AND a spot to pack lunch boxes. And it’s all a relief really, to be returning to normal. While the first couple of weeks of the reno were a glorious guilty pleasure of packaged food and takeaway, the shine tarnished somewhat by the fourth week as my battered taste buds longed for simple, fresh flavours.

So… to my promise to deliver a bunch of 10 minute meal ideas, making the most of supermarket convenience in a healthy way… and how I wish I could deliver. But I can’t really. The challenge of cooking well with a microwave, thermomix, no bench space or wash up space and a fridge down a flight of stairs and out in the garage, defeated me.

There were some winners here and there.

• Pre-mixed, pre-washed salad and BBQed meat is always a winner. But that wouldn’t have worked for my kids until a year or so ago once salad became popular.

• BBQ chicken meat, shredded in wraps (or tinned tuna) with salad was eaten often. A bit of tzatziki helps.

• The frozen salmon portions that can be microwaved were good. Expensive though, but broken up through microwave rice and frozen vegies and you’ve got a good quick dinner. Although you are cooking stuff in plastic, which always feels weird.

None of the soups I tried compared to home made. Regardless of whether they were tinned, in sachets or gourmet, their salt contents were all extreme and left me thirsty.

Of all the takeaway we ate, the clear winner was sushi, but there’s only so much cold fish I want to eat on cold nights. The kids’ first prize would be awarded to McDonalds. We had it twice and they got good toys, both times.

None of us enjoyed Pizza Hut. What’s happened there? It used to be ok, but has dumbed down to be in the running for worst takeaway around. Price wars, I guess. $4.95 for a pizza is hardly going to buy you anything good.

And the thermy? Well, I like Quirky Jo’s creamy rice & chicken soup. It’s a clear one-pot winner. And really the only yummy TM meal that I made (dinner porridge featured too often – I know, I could have cooked my own recipes, but I was wanting to just try new things). Possibly there are a bunch of good one-pot meals on the recipe community that I missed (let me know if you have any favourites).

So as much as I’d love to continue on as a mum-who-doesn’t-cook, seems I’m being forced back to work by my own damn standards. Curse you tastebuds.

What do you think? Did I miss the world’s easiest supermarket compilation meals? What are your 10-minute wonder recipes that keep you going on the more hectic days?

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And while I’ve been slack with blogging here, I did post over at Mother & Baby the other day, explaining the story behind this craft masterpiece.

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You can read all about it here.

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How I’m surviving after 3 weeks of convenience foods…

There’s an interesting experiment happening at Vegie Smugglers HQ at the moment, as we enter week 3 of kitchen renovations, and I face the challenge of feeding the family whilst kitchenless. With some glee, I spent way-more-time-than-any-person-with-a-life-would in some of the supermarket aisles negotiating my way around the convenience products that stack the shelves.

I’ve got no ethical problem doing this you see, since healthy eating is not an extreme sport for me (hell, I still have a teaspoon of sugar in my tea). And I like to be a bit more of-the-people in my approach, so it seems totally fine to spend a few weeks sampling what is on offer in all those packets and tins that I never normally bother with. And let’s face it – the kids are excited. Mum’s constant healthy cooking is a pain in the arse and cramps their love-of-a-shiny-packet style.

WEEK 1

We started out ok. There was a bunch of freezer options that taste quite good. There’s cous cous and quinoa and vegies and I was pretty happy with it all, except of course for the cost. Like, MAN, it’s expensive to eat this way. I’ve whipped up a wee piccy to prove my point….

vegie-smugglers-vegetables-cut-up

I am a bit of a tightarse (I am trying to fund my reno), so eating this stuff definitely isn’t sustainable. Especially since the only benefit is saving about a minute of knife time. If you don’t have a good knife at your place YOU NEED TO BUY ONE. Judging by the money you save, you can pay off full set of Globals within a couple of months.

WEEK 2

The second week dawned and we stretched into some of the weirder convenience food territory. Strange packets where you add water and microwave for 15 minutes and return to find fried rice all ready for the eating. Some of these options are quite tasty and the kids in particular were wetting their pants over them.

Me, not so much since the flavour comes from weird sources, additives, sugar & salt. Oh my god, so much salt. I have spent the past week desperately thirsty and unable to quench it. I guess I’m supposed to have a Coke to reset my tastebuds.

And this is where I’m actually shocked that people can eat these regularly. My mouth is actually HURTING after a week of them. I understand in a busy household that it’s easy to slip into eating these foods (especially if you hate cooking), but they are bordering on dangerous when eaten regularly.

Consider the current guidelines that recommend daily maximum sodium intakes of:
1 to 3 years: 1,000mg
4 to 8 years: 1,400mg
9 to 13 years: 2,000mg
14 years and over: 2,300mg

To put that in perspective here’s some sodium content info for you….

1x420g Heinz salt reduced tin of baked beans = 1000mg
1x420g Heinz regular tomato baked beans = 1510mg
1x420g Heinz spaghetti = 1210mg
1x420g Heinz salt-reduced spaghetti = 740mg
1x535g Heinz chunky beef soup = 1720mg
1x70g Fantastic noodles pot = 1577mg

But it’s not ALL bad news, on those nights when you really can’t summons up the will to live the energy to cook, choose a no-added-salt baked beans tin with only 40mg per tin. You are of course, still dealing with additives and other nasties – but that’s a whole other post.

I guess the moral of the story is to take a bit of time to find the products that suit you and to rethink just how convenient these foods are in the long term.

For now, with another 3 weeks of renovations to go, I’m on the hunt for healthier quick options. I promise to report back with how I go.

FREE-SHIPPING2

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