Posts tagged Quick dinners

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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Chunky vegetable & bean soup

So how am I going with the pressure cooker that Kambrook sent me? Well, it took a bit of courage to tackle but after some experimentation, I’m happy to report that I’m digging it.

The poor old slow cooker is gathering dust while I romance with its whizzy, fast cousin. They’re perfect for the same kind of dishes, but something that would cook for 8 hours in the slow cooker, is done in 20 minutes. Seriously. So while you do still have to do all the prep work (chopping, browning, sautéing etc), you’re not doing it at 8am when the smell of browning meat can be a little nauseating.

I rate it.

Here’s my first win – a vegetable and bean soup that borders on a stew. Always a sucker for a really chunky soup, I’ve kept the liquid minimal, but if you want it wetter, add an extra cup of stock.

Also, if you want to make this in the slow cooker, go ahead. I’ve not tested it myself, but think it would work using HIGH for 3-4 hours. (**If anyone wants to play recipe tester and let me know accurate timings, I’ll send you a free e-book of your choice.)

Soup + winter = cosy.

Soup + winter = cosy.



Chunky vegetable & bean soup (in the pressure cooker)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups sweet potato, peeled, cubed
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 zucchini, diced
400g can chopped tomatoes
400g can four-bean mix, rinsed, drained
1/4 cup fresh herbs (any or all of – parsley, chives, basil, thyme)
2 cups beef stock
1 cup frozen peas

Baguette & grated cheese (optional)

Set the pressure cooker to ‘sauté’. Add the oil and heat before dropping in the onion, carrot and celery. Stir regularly for several minutes until all are starting to soften and onion is starting to turn golden.

Pop in the garlic and cook for a minute until everything is fragrant. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (except the peas). Combine well. Lock on the lid, bring to pressure and cook for 20 minutes.

Carefully release pressure, remove lid and toss in the peas.

As an optional extra, top with slices of baguette with the cheese melted on top.

Optional: Make dippers with baguette slices topped with melted cheese.

Serves 2 adults and 4 kids.

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