Posts tagged Quick dinners

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.

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Sometimes the simplest things truly are the best

A few weeks back, while chowing down on a very tasty bibimbap, Miss F turned and said, “when I have kids, I’m not going to feed them all this fancy pantsy schmansy stuff. I’m just going to cook them simple stuff. Cause that’s what we like.”

And she may have a point. In my quest for new and interesting ways to get vegies into my kids, I sometimes lose sight of the fact that dinner doesn’t have to be gourmet, or exotic, every night.

To fulfill her minimalist dreams, I made the kids this super-simple beef mince & macaroni dinner and it was hoovered up. I made it again the next week and in the rarest of rare moments, both kids asked for SECONDS.

They love it. It’s one of those deadset simple, family dinners that ticks ALL THE BOXES. It’s easy, tasty, nutritious (five vegies), can be gluten-free (use rice pasta), it’s perfect for toddlers, stores well in the fridge or freezer, is full of affordable ingredients AND it gets gobbled up. Every. Single. Time.

Self-effacing food.

Self-effacing food.

Pasta & mince basic bolognaise

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic
1 zucchini, grated
1 small eggplant, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 tsp Italian herbs
500g beef mince
400g can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp tomato chutney
1/2 cup water
Salt & Pepper

To serve: Cooked macaroni, cheese, parsley

You need a large pot or frying pan with a lid.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and stir often for 6-8 minutes until golden. Place the mince into the pan. Use the spoon to break up lumps and brown it all over (takes 5-6 minutes).

Pop in the garlic for a minute until fragrant then add the vegies and dried herbs. After a couple of minutes, the vegies will be starting to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes, puree and chutney. Cover and bring to a strong simmer. Then lower the heat let it bubble away for 10-15 minutes.

Season & serve with pasta of your choice (I like macaroni). Adults can add olives, dried chilli flakes & capers!

Serves 2 adults and 2-3 kids.

This recipe is from my Kitchen Collection cookbook!

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My dirty-little-secret pantry dinner…

Generally I’m ALL FOR cooking with lovely fresh produce in creative and interesting ways that promote vibrant good health, happy bowels and an I-never-eat-processed-food glow. At other times, say later in the term (mainly on a Thursday night) when all I’m really looking for is wine and a bit of silence, I’m happy to bend my rules to create a healthy dinner with the minimal amount of effort.

So here it is, my dirty-little-secret dinner that is perfect for those nights, later in the term when everyone has their grumpy heads on. All the ingredients can be stored long-term in the pantry or fridge (most of you can crisper-dive to find a squishy carrot & soggy spring onions, I’m sure). All you do is mix it up and bake, then serve to kids who adore this easy-to-eat, comfort-food dinner.

So easy and a total hit with the kids.

So easy and a total hit with the kids.

Thursday night tuna & rice bake

1 microwave bag of rice, cooked (about 1 1/4 cups cooked rice)
180g tuna in water, drained
440g can cream of mushroom soup (YES, TRULY!!!!!)
125g corn kernels, drained
1 carrot, peeled, grated
4 spring onions, finely sliced
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grated cheese

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a pie dish with spray oil.

In a large bowl, combine everything, except 1/4 cup of the cheese. Season. Add in parsley or chives if you’re feeling fancy. Tip into the oven dish, spread it evenly and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Serves 2 adults & 2-3 kids.

 

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

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My latest (gluten-free) can’t-be-bothered dinner

I’ve had a couple of weeks of working four days a week and it’s always a good reminder about the challenges that working parents face. Finding the time to whip up a healthy dinner when you’re struggling in late with wretched kids, lunchboxes to clean and repack, clothes to wash and life to organise is hard.

By later in the week I’m grateful for a dinner of wine and a carrot, but surprisingly enough the kids aren’t as keen on this combination. They want, you know, like food that tastes nice and fills up their tired bones after a few days of racing about. So this dinner has been making a few appearances. It’s my latest favourite-thing-to-do-with-a-BBQ-chicken (see my previous favourite here). Mix up a super easy salad and wrap it and some chicken in a rice paper roll and you’re done. Once you get the knack they’re easy to do. Watch this video if you don’t know how.

Another advantage of this dish is you can make them and store them in the fridge, perfect for those nights when people are coming and going and need to eat on the run. AND they are still ok the next day, which makes them a pretty great gluten-free lunchbox addition.

vegie smugglers BBQ chicken rice paper rolls

A bit of dipping sauce and you’re away!

BBQ chicken rice paper rolls

1/2 BBQ chicken – bones removed & discarded
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1/2 cup fennel, finely shredded
125g corn kernels, drained
1/3 cup mayonnaise
Juice 1/2 lemon
Pepper

Rice papers

In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, carrot, fennet, corn, mayo and lemon juice.

Soak a rice paper in warm water for 10-20 seconds until pliable. Place on your chopping board. Pile about a 1/4 cup of salad onto the paper. Top with chicken (adults might like coriander & vietnamese mint). Roll up (watch the video link above if you don’t know how). Eat.

Makes 12.

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Can’t cook? Or too tired to cook? Try this.

Now where is this year going? And how did this term slip by so quickly! I don’t know about you, but for us this last week or two of term is a bit fraught. Possibly the cupboards are empty, the kids are tired and motivation is low. But there’s no need to hang up the healthy food towel. Before you dial a takeaway, make the most of your pantry stash. This shakshouska, is way cool and is more compiling than cooking. Served with a bit of bread, it keeps everyone in my house pretty happy.

A nice alternative to toasties or baked beans.

A nice alternative to toasties or baked beans – and just as easy.

Pantry tuna shakshouka

Younger kids might like a version of this with just a few spoonfuls of tomato, an egg and scattered ham.

800g crushed tomatoes
180g tuna in oil (with chilli, too, if your family like it)
4 spring onions (I’ve usually got some hiding in the bottom of the crisper drawer)
1/3 cup roasted capsicums (also tip in a bit of the flavoured oil)
Sprinkling of capers (if you like them)
4 eggs

To serve: parsley (from the garden), salt, pepper, sourdough (for dipping).

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Place your individual dishes or ramekins on a baking tray (to make handling easier).

Divide the ingredients between your dishes, in quantities that will suit each diner. Finally, scoop a bit of a dent in the mix and quickly crack in an egg.

Bake for 15-25 minutes until the eggs are cooked to your liking.

Serves 4

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A simple (gluten-free) mix and bake

Is there anything better than a dinner that gets mixed up in one bowl, then pressed into one tin and cooks in one oven? Perhaps only the addition of Bono, sitting up on the benchtop in his onesie, belting out a little acapella version of ‘One’ while I sip one wee glass of vino while I’m wearing my onesie. That’d be nice, if a little weird.

If you’re free Bono, pop over tonight and we’ll whip this zucchini slice up together.

One piece.

Just one piece.

Zucchini & rice slice (Gluten free)

There’s no smuggling going on here really, since pretty much the whole dish IS vegies. Smuggling vegies within vegies…

2 zucchinis, grated
1 carrot, peeled, grated
4 spring onions, finely sliced
125g can corn kernels, drained
1 cup cooked rice (white or brown) – I always make extra rice whenever I’m cooking a stir-fry, so I can make stuff like this the next day
2-3 tbsp fresh chives and/or parsley, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (plus extra for the top)
1/2 cup mild feta, crumbled
4 eggs, lightly whisked

Preheat the oven to 190C. Line a 20x30cm slice tin with baking paper.

In a large bowl, combine everything well. Press the mixture into the tin, top with a handful of grated cheese and bake for 30 minutes until set.

Serves 2 adults and 2 kids

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Like this recipe? Why not try out my Baked tuna & tomato rice.

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