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Tummy fillers for the summer holidays

Sunday 31 July 2011
Quick and easy lunch/snack ideas for hungry children, grown ups, and the inevitable unexpected visitors this time of year.  The Courgette and Rosemary Bread is fab for a picnic lunch and makes sandwiches much more flavoursome.  I love the Basic Muffin Recipe as you can use what ever you have available to whip up a batch in no time.  The Vegetable Parcels are so versatile and can be a quick lunch or light dinner with a side salad or you can take them on a picnic for a tasty snack.

Courgette and Rosemary Bread

500g (3 1/2 cups) self-raising flour

200ml luke warm water

2 sachets (2 x 7g) instant yeast

1 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp salt

2 courgettes, grated

2 Tbsp fresh finely chopped rosemary leaves, plus extra to sprinkle on top

80g Feta, crumbled

Preheat oven to 200C. Grease a large loaf tin.

Sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the water in to the well and then add the yeast, sugar, salt, grated courgettes and finely chopped fresh rosemary.

Gradually add flour to the wet ingredients in the centre.  Mix together very gently, until all the flour has been incorporated.  Coat your hands with flour and then knead the dough on a smooth floured surface for 5 -10 minutes, until smooth.  Or you can cheat like I do and bung it all in my stand mixer and knead the dough for 5 - 7 minutes. 

Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl to rise.  Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Knock back the dough with your hands for about 1 minute.  Knead the goat’s cheese into the dough, until it's well combined.

Put the dough into a greased loaf tin, cover with cling film and leave for another 30 minutes, until the dough has risen again.

Either stick some rosemary springs into the top of the bread, or just sprinkle some on top and bake for 30 minutes, or until bread is cooked and golden on top.

Basic Muffin Mix

2 cups self-raising flour

80g butter, melted

1 egg

250ml (1 cup) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 200C. Grease a 12-hole, 1/3 cup capacity, muffin tin.

Sift the flour into a bowl.  Combine the melted butter, egg and buttermilk then add to the flour.  You can add any filling you like to the basic mix.  If adding berries or dried fruit for sweet muffins you may want to add 1/3 cup of sugar.  We felt like some savoury muffins so we made Pizza Muffins.  Here's the recipe:

Pizza Muffins

4 bacon rashers with rind removed, chopped finely (optional) Could use ham instead or leave it out.

1 onion, finely chopped

1 capsicum, finely chopped

3/4 cup grated cheese (roughly 1 handful)

1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)

1/2 tsp dried oregano

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

Cook bacon in a frypan on a medium heat, stirring it around until it's lightly browned. Add the finely chopped onion and pepper, then  cook, stirring until onion and pepper softens. Leave to cool whilst you make the basic muffin mix.

Once you've made the basic muffin mix, add the cheese, chilli flakes, dried oregano and bacon, onion and pepper mixture to the basic muffin mix.  Mix everything gently to combine. Do not overmix, the  mixture should be lumpy.

Divide the mixture amongst the cases in the muffin tin. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Stand the muffins for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool. Serve the muffins warm if you can but they are also just fine at room temperature, if they aren't all eaten by the time they've cooled.

Vegetable Parcels

This recipe is easily doubled or halved and can be made quickly using whatever you have available.  I'm a fan of sundried tomato, spinach and ricotta but we've used some tinned chilli beans and frozen corn in these parcels which was rather tasty too.  You can use any vegetables you have available - tinned or frozen sweetcorn, frozen peas, grated carrot, chopped leftover cooked potato or pumpkin, etc

2 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry

3 Tblsp tomato paste or chutney

1 pepper, diced (any clour will do)

4 mushrooms, sliced

1 courgette, diced

2 fresh tomatoes, sliced

1/2 cup grated mature cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 200°C.

Cut each pastry sheet into eight triangles. Put the pastry triangles onto baking trays.  Spread the tomato paste or chutney over the pastry.  Top with the diced pepper, courgette, mushrooms and tomatoes.

Fold the corners of the pastry inward and pinch to seal the parcel.  Sprinkle a little cheese on  top before you bake them for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Easy No Cook Fish, Mango and Rocket Salad

Friday 29 July 2011
This is a no cook and fuss free salad that can be served for lunch or dinner, depending on how many hungry mouths you are feeding.  The recipe is easily doubled or halved and can be whipped up in a jiffy, the only bit of faff is some chopping and squeezing the lime. Perfect for lazy summer dining or a low maintenance Friday night fish dish. 

4 large firm white fish fillets (about 600g)

1 red onion or 2 shallots, very finely chopped

1/2 - 1 long red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)

125 ml (1/2 cup) freshly squeezed lime juice

2 ripe mangoes, peeled and roughly diced

250ml coconut milk (can use a low fat/lighter version if you want)

3 large handfuls of rocket leaves or salad leaves (about 100g)

Cut the fish fillets into 1/2 inch thick slices, each about an inch long, then peel the shallots and chop them very finely.  If you're using the chilli, cut it in half then deseed and and chop the chilli finely.  Put the fish, shallots, chilli and lime juice in a non-metallic dish to marinate.  Cover the dish with clingfilm  and refrigerate it for about an hour.

Peel the mangoes and chop the flesh fairly roughly to a 1/2 inch dice.  Take the fish and marinade out of the fridge and gently but thoroughly mix in the diced mango and coconut milk.  Put the salad leaves or rocket onto a serving platter, or individual plates, then put the fish mixture over the top to serve.

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Thursday 28 July 2011
I make these often for my daughters as they are much healthier than the store bought ones and make a chicken breast, or some chicken mince, go a long way.  They make a fab weekend lunch or weeknight dinner.  We make our own dipping sauces too.  I sometimes make the nuggets the night before and keep them in the fridge covered in cling film so I can put them in the oven when I need a quick dinner the girls will happily eat.

For the crumb coating:

1 3/4 cups cornflakes

1 slice whole grain bread, made into breadcrumbs (or use store bought breadcrumbs)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup natural unsweetened yoghurt

For the nuggets:

1 boneless chicken breast, minced (or approx 250g chicken mince)

1 onion, finely chopped

2 slices wholemeal bread

1 Tblsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger or one crushed garlic clove
1 tsp chicken stock powder, dissolved in 1 tsp of boiling water

1 lightly beaten egg

pinch salt

freshly ground black pepper

cooking oil spray, for greasing

Put the cornflakes in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin to make fine crumbs.  I find this is a great stress reliever.  Combine cornflake crumbs with breadcrumbs and black pepper in a bowl.

Put the yoghurt into a separate bowl and set aside.

Combine the minced chicken, onion, garlic/ginger and breadcrumbs, then add the lightly beaten egg. Mix well until totally combined. Using wet hands, form into 16 balls.  The mixture is quite soft at this stage so don't be too rough. Flatten each ball slightly to form a nugget, then use a fork to dip each nugget into the yoghurt. When it's coated on both sides, gently shake off any excess and then put the nugget into the crumbs. Use a separate fork for coating the nugget with the crumbs.  When the nugget is coated, place on tray greased with cooking oil spray.

Continue until all nuggets are coated and then refrigerate the nuggets for at least 30 minutes.

To cook the prepared nuggets, spray them lightly with cooking oil spray and cook under a moderate grill for around 20 minutes.  Turn them twice during cooking to avoid them getting burnt. Serve hot with plenty of  homemade tomato/BBQ sauce for dunking and a large side salad, vegetable sticks or cooked vegetables.

Ham and Vegetable Pasta Bake

This is what we'll be having for lunch today.  I'll have an extra 4 children in the house so there'll be 7 children altogether.  This recipe is cheap, filling and tasty. Just what you need when feeding a crowd.  I usually serve it with a side salad or some steamed greens.  You could leave the ham out for a vegetarian dish, or swap the ham for a well drained tin of salmon.  I add a drained tin of sweetcorn and a handful of frozen peas to up the amount of vegetables, you could add some wilted spinach if you wanted to.

500g bag fusilli or farfalle pasta

50g butter , plus a little extra

200g small mushrooms , halved or larger mushrooms, diced

small bunch spring onions , finely sliced

50g plain flour

500ml milk

1 small tin sweetcorn, well drained

1 large handful of frozen peas
150g thickly cut ham , chopped

150g mature cheddar , grated

Cook the pasta according to pack instructions, or al dente to your liking.  Drain the pasta well.  Heat up your oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6, then melt a little butter in a large saucepan.  Fry the mushrooms for a couple of minutes, then scoop out and set aside. Use some paper towel to wipe out the pan.

Melt the remaining butter in the pan, stir in the flour for a minute or two, then gradually stir in the milk until you have a lump-free sauce. Increase the heat and bubble the sauce, stirring for a few minutes to thicken. Turn off the heat, stir in the sweetcorn, peas, chopped ham and most of the cheese, then season to taste.

Tip the pasta and mushrooms into a large ovenproof dish, then pour over the sauce and mix well in the dish. Scatter over the remaining cheese and spring onions, then bake for 10 - 15 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown on top.

Meatree Monday -Ricotta and Pesto Pasta Salad

Monday 25 July 2011
This is a delicious lunchbox treat, picnic lunch or easy lunch/dinner at home.  It's filling and relatively cheap to make at the moment with everything in season.  You can eat it on it's own or as a side salad, great for a bring-a-plate BBQ dish too.

250g dried pasta (fusilli works well)

250g asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

200g thin green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

250g cherry tomatoes, halved

200g ricotta

75g spinach leaves

60g (1/4 cup) green pesto (homemade or store bought)

1 Tblsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 Tblsp hot water

Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of lightly salted boiling water according to the packet intructions or as al dente as you prefer it to be.  Add the asparagus and beans to the boiling pasta water in the last couple of minutes of pasta cooking time. 

Whilst the pasta is cooking, combine the pesto, ricotta, lemon juice and water to make a dressing. 

Drain the pasta and vegetable.  Pick out the vegetables and ut them under some cold running water.  This stops them cooking and keeps their vibrant green colour.  Drain the vegetables well and then set aside wiht the pasta to cool completely.

Put the pasta, vegetables, tomatoes and spinach into a large bowl.  Add the pesto dressing to the pasta, vegetables and spinach leaves.  Toss well to combine everything and then serve.


I use this recipe when we have a glut of courgettes and tomatoes from our garden.  I sometimes add a tin of chickpeas or haricot beans to make it in to a more substantial meal.  We always serve it with some homemade crusty bread rolls to soak up all the lovely juices.  You can sprinkle over some chopped fresh herbs just before serving, instead of using the dried herbs, if you want.

1 tbs olive oil

4 (about 500g) courgettes, halved lengthways, cut crossways into 2cm-thick slices

2 peppers (any colour), deseeded and cut into 2cm pieces

1 large (about 500g) aubergine, cut into 2cm pieces

2 onions, halved, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

500g skinned fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped OR 1 x 400g cans diced tomatoes

2tsp dried mixed herbs (optional)

160ml (2/3 cup) water

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tin of chickpeas or haricot beans, well drained and rinsed

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the courgettes, aubergine, onion and garlic then cook, stirring it occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the onion has softened.

Add the tinned tomatoes, dried herbs (if you're using them) and water to the pan and cover with a well fitting lid.  Stir it occasionally and cook it for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.  If you're adding tins of chickpeas or haricot beans, add them now with the tomato paste and cook, stirring well, for around 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens.  Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with fresh herbs. Serve with bread or rolls to soak up the juices.

Cakes Using Wholemeal Flour

Sunday 24 July 2011
Here are a couple of my favourite cakes that remind me of tea parties with my Mum and Nan.  I hope you like them.  My girls love helping me make them and the wholemeal flour adds extra flavour as well as a little more texture to the cakes.

Carrot Cake

1 cup flour

2 tsp cinnamon

2 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup wholemeal flour

1 cup sugar

¾ cup bran (or extra wholemeal flour)

160g butter

¾ cup oil

4 eggs

1 tin (450g) crushed pineapple, drained

3 cups grated carrot (3 large carrots)

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1 lemon

Grate carrot and cover with water in a bowl with brown sugar and lemon juice. Leave to stand for two hours. When ready to make the cake, drain any water off.  This process softens the carrot and improves the flavour.

Preheat oven to 160ºC. Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the wholemeal flour, sugar and bran.

Melt the butter, and stir the melted butter and oil into the dry ingredients.  Beat the eggs, then add the eggs, pineapple, and carrot to the cake mixture. Don't overmix it, just make sure everything is combined.  Bake in a 23cm cake tin for 50-65 minutes.


250g cream cheese

110g butter, softened

500g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract
Lemon juice to taste

(optional) walnuts to decorate

Cream butter, then beat together all ingredients until creamy and smooth. Spread on cooled cake, and top with walnuts if desired.

Apricot and Coconut Loaf

225 g sugar

110 g desiccated coconut

200 g dried apricots

150 g plain flour

70 g wholemeal flour

1½ tsp baking powder

110 g pumpkin seeds

375 ml milk

1½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325º F/160ºC fan forced. 

Grease and line a medium to large loaf tin.

Chop the dried apricots into smallish chunks – about the same size as the pumpkin seeds.

Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and combine well.

Pour in the milk and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. It is quite a wet mixture.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, put it on in the centre rack of the oven and bake for about 1½ hours.

Rotate the tin after 40 minutes and keep checking the loaf towards the end of the baking time. The top should be an even golden brown and will probably have a long crack along the centre; it should feel firm and springy to the touch, and the edges should be pulling away from the sides of the tin.

Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing it from the tin to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container.


Broadbean, Chickpea and Pepper Salad

Saturday 23 July 2011
My 11yo daughter bought some fresh broad beans home from gardening club and wanted to have them for lunch today.  Here's a simple and filling salad that we use for a light lunch, BBQ dinner side salad or weekday lunchbox feast.  It goes rather well with BBQ salmon steaks or grilled haloumi for a super quick dinner.

300g freshly podded broad beans (you can also use frozen broad beans)

pinch salt

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 red capsicum, finely chopped

1 yellow capsicum, finely chopped

2 spring onions, finely chopped

2 Tblsp olive oil

1 Tblsp lemon juice

1 tsp lemon zest

2 Tblsp chopped fresh dill

1 Tblsp finely chopped fresh coriander

Defrost the broad beans, if you're using frozen ones and carefully remove the skins.  Alternatively, simmer the fresh broad beans until tender but not over-cooked (add to boiling water and cook for about 2 minutes, or microwave them on high for 1 minute with 1Tbsp water).  Drain the broadbeans and remove the tough outer pods, if you can be bothered.  Otherwise just leave them to cool.

Mix all of the remaining ingredients together very well in a large bowl before adding the broad beans and mixing well once again. Either serve straight away or wait 15 - 20 minutes for all the flavours to develop.

Stuffed Kumara (Sweet Potatoes)

This is an easy lunch or dinner, and the recipe can be easily adjusted depending on how many you're cooking for.  You can use whatever you have available as fillings for the sweet potatoes so they are economical too.

4 large kumara (sweet potatoes) washed

1 onion or spring onion, finely chopped

1 handful grated carrot

1 handful grated courgette

1 small tin of sweetcorn, drained

1 handful grated cheese

1 handful of ham, chopped cold meat or tinned tuna

4 tbsp sweet chilli sauce, or alternatively tomato or BBQ sauce (to taste)

1 handful of chopped fresh  parsley (optional)
Wash the sweet potatoes well, prick the skin in several places and bake them at 180˚C for 45-60 minutes, or until soft inside (prick with a fork to check).  A quicker method is to microwave the sweet potatoes for 5 - 7 minutes and then bake them in the oven for another 15 minutes.

Once they're cooked, let the sweet potatoes cool.  Cut along the middle and scoop out most of the soft flesh and put it into a bowl.  Leave enough sweet potato inside the skin to help keep the shape and hold the sides up.  Add whichever fillings you are using to the scooped out flesh along with half of the cheese and mix together well in a bowl.

Carefully Put the mixture back inside the sweet potato and add some extra grated cheese to the top.  Bake in an oven preheated to 150˚C for further 30 minutes so that the filling is piping hot and the cheese melted.

Easy End Of The Week Flat Breads

Friday 22 July 2011
You can either use this recipe to make your own flatbreads or use pita breads from the supermarket if you're too knackered or in a hurry, just bake them for a shorter time.  You can use any toppings you like, whatever you have in the cupboards or fridge that needs using up and is to your taste. 

These are great for a quick dinner when the cupboards are mostly bare or an easy weekend lunch. I normally make these if we have an influx of my daughters friends wanting dinner or lunch. They can help make the dough and choose whatever toppings they like (within reason) from what we have available.

6 cups plain flour, no need to buy proper bread flour if you haven't got any

2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1 sachet instant dried yeast (7g instant yeast)

2 tsp dried mixed herbs (optional)

2 Tblsp olive oil, cooking oil or melted butter

(625ml) 2 1/2 cups of luke warm water

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, salt, flour, yeast and oil.  Make a well in the centre and pour in  most of the warm water then mix it thoroughly to form a soft dough, adding the rest of the water if needed.  Turn it on to a lightly floured benchtop, adding more flour if necessary, then knead until smooth and springy.  This takes approximately 5-8 minutes by hand, or if you cheat like I do, then it's 5 minutes in a stand mixer with the dough hook doing all the work for me.

Once the dough has been well kneaded, put it in a lightly greased bowl to rise.  Cover the bowl with cling film and microwave on low power for 1 minute.  Rest the dough for 10 minutes then repeat heating it on low power for 1 minute and then let it rest for another 10 minutes.  After the second rest the dough should have doubled in size. If you don't have a microwave, or aren't in a hurry, just set aside the bowl of dough in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen enough, punch the dough down then knead lightly and divide into 2 or 4 pieces. Roll and stretch dough into rectangles and transfer to them to baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper. Add whichever toppings you like and then bake the flatbreads in a preheated oven at 210°C for 20-30 minutes. The flatbreads should be golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Toppings/Flavour Suggestions

Vegetable Feast

Spread some tomato paste, ricotta, or cream cheese over the bread and then add some finely chopped onions, peppers, tinned sweetcorn (well drained) and finely chopped mushrooms. Sprinkle with some grated cheese or a drizzle of olive oil.

Ham and Cheddar

Spread some  tomato paste over the bread and then sprinkle over chopped ham and grated cheddar cheese.

Ricotta, basil, tomato and parmesan/hard cheese

Spread the ricotta over the bread as a base flavour,  then put some slices of fresh tomato, basil leaves and grated parmesan cheese on top.  Drizzle with a little olive oil (optional).

Thyme, bacon and feta cheese

Spread the dough with tomato paste, scatter with finely chopped bacon (rind removed), crumble over some feta and sprinkle with fresh or dried thyme.

Garlic and parmesan/hard cheese

Brush the dough with olive oil, sprinkle with 3 chopped cloves of garlic, grated parmesan/hard cheese and a little salt.

Minced Beef Burritos or Chilli Mince

Thursday 21 July 2011
This is one of my favourite quick meals, if we don't have tortillas I serve the mince over some rice instead and we have a side salad or steamed vegetables.  I sometimes cook the mince mixture the day before and then reheat when needed, making sure it's piping hot before serving.  The flavours seem to develop much more if we have it that following night. 

You can freeze the cooked mince mixture for up to a month, just take it out of the freezer the night before you need it and defrost it overnight and the next day in the fridge.  If you're making the mince ahead of time, don't add the fresh herbs until you are ready to reheat it and eat it.  You can add a dollop of sour cream to the burritos as well or spread some cream cheese over the tortilla before adding the mince and salad. 

1 Tblsp olive oil

2 onions, chopped

2 peppers, finely diced - any colour is fine

2 garlic cloves, crushed

500g beef mince

1/2 - 1 tsp chilli powder, depending on how hot you want it

2 tsp ground coriander

1 Tblsp plain flour

2 Tblsp tomato paste

250ml beef stock, using 1 stock cube

1 or 2 cans red kidney beans, drained and well rinsed - I've used 3 bean mix before too

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves or flatleaf parsley leaves

8 flour tortillas, warmed

Grated cheese, sour cream, shredded lettuce, grated carrot and chopped/sliced tomato to serve.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions, finely diced peppers and crushed garlic cloves. Cook the chopped onions, peppers and garlic, stirring it around for 3 minutes or until the onion and peppers have softened.  Add the mince and cook for 8 - 10 minutes breaking up the mince as it cooks.  Make sure the mince is well cooked through and there are no pink bits left.

Add the chilli powder and ground coriander to the mince mixture.  I normally only add 1/2 tsp of chilli powder as my girls don't like it too hot.  Cook the herbs for about a minute, stirring the mince mixture until the spices are fragrant.  Add the plain flour and tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute stirring it well.  Add the stocka and mix it through thoroughly.  Bring the mince to the boil.  Once it's boiling reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for around 10 minutes or until sauce thickens.

Stir in the kidney beans. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until well heated through.  Just before serving, stir in the chopped coriander leaves or flatleaf parsley leaves.  Serve the chilli mince mixture with tortillas, grated cheese, shredded lettuce, grated carrot and sliced/chopped tomato.

Gluten Free Sweet Potato Scones

Wednesday 20 July 2011
These scones are fab for a weekend snack or for "bring a plate" events.  They're really easy to make, just make sure the cold mashed sweet potato doesn't have butter or salt added and that you sieve it well to remove any lumps.  You could add 1 tsp of dried mixed herbs or 1 Tblsp of chopped fresh chives or fresh thyme if you wanted to add more flavour.

225g (approx 1 2/3 cups) gluten free self raising flour (I use Dove Farm)

1 tsp caster sugar

pinch of salt (¼ tsp)

20g butter or Trex shortening

½ cup cold cooked and mashed sweet potato, sieved to make it smooth

½ cup (125ml) buttermilk

2 Tblsp water

1 Tblsp milk or soy milk

2 tsp gluten-free flour, for dusting

Preheat oven to 220°C or 200°C fan-forced.  Lightly oil an oven tray or line it with non-stick baking paper.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Rub in the butter so that the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the sweet potato, buttermilk and enough of the water to mix to a soft, sticky dough.  Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface until it's smooth.  Don't overwork the dough.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a round shape and place it on an oven tray lined with non-stick baking paper.  Cut a cross through the top of each dough round, about 5mm deep.  Brush the tops of the rounds with milk, then dust them with a little extra sifted flour.  Bake the scone rolls for about 35 minutes.

Straight from the freezer bread rolls

These rolls are frozen unbaked.  It means you can take them out of the freezer, defrost them, and bake them in a few minutes.  How easy is that!  You add an extra sachet of yeast when you make the dough so that enough yeast survives the freezing process to make sure the rolls rise properly when you bake them.

5½ cups plain flour

2 tsp salt

50g melted butter

2 sachets instant yeast

1½ cups luke warm milk

¼ cup honey

½ cup warm water – use more or less as necessary

In a large bowl combine the flour, salt and instant yeast.  Make a well in the middle ready for the wet ingredients.

Combine the honey, milk and water in a small pan and heat it until it's luke warm but not hot.  If you are not sure about the temperature, hold your (perfectly clean) little finger in it and count to 10. If it’s uncomfortably hot by the time you get to 10, allow it to cool a little, if it doesn’t feel warm at all, heat it up some more.

Once you think it's the right temperature, add the melted butter to the liquid and pour it all into the dry ingredients. Mix with a large metal spoon until well combined then turn out onto a floured bench and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. I cheat and use my stand mixer to knead the dough for about 5 - 7 minutes.  You may need to dust your bench with flour every so often if you are kneading by hand to prevent the dough sticking.

Once the dough has been kneaded, put the dough into a greased bowl, cover with plastic film or slip the bowl into a plastic bag and allow to rise until doubled.  In a warm place this will take around an hour.  You can of course cheat  and use the microwave method to speed up the rising process.

Microwave method for raising dough:  Put the dough into a clean greased microwave  safe bowl, cover with cling film and microwave on low power for 1 minute, rest the dough for 10 minutes then repeat the process once more.  After the second rest the dough should have doubled in size.

Knead the risen dough lightly and divide it into rolls.  I usually make 12 but you can make 18 smaller rolls if you want.

Once the rolls are shaped to your liking, place them onto a sheet of non stick baking paper and use a serrated knife cut a diagonal slash along the top of each roll.  Allow them to rise again until nearly double their original size then freeze them.  When they're frozen they can be stored in an airtight plastic bag in the freezer until you need them.   They freeze well for up to one month, any longer and they don't rise very well when you bake them.

To bake the rolls, remove them from the freezer and allow them to defrost for roughly an hour. Don’t panic if they look a little deflated at this stage.  When the heat of the oven gets to them they'll spring up nicely.  Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put the rolls on a greased or floured tray – you can glaze them with milk if you can be bothered and want a crisper crust.  Bake them for 15 - 20 minutes until they're well risen and lightly golden.

Quick Cheese and Herb Bread

You can make this in a food processor or by hand, either way it's really quick and tastes fab.  You can leave the chives out if you like or use other fresh herbs like fresh oregano or 1 tsp of dried mixed herbs.  Great to have as a tummy filler with casserole dinners and makes a tasty alternative to plain white bread when making sandwiches.

4 cups plain flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 Tblsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

125g butter cut into small pieces

4 cups grated cheddar or tasty cheese

1 Tblsp finely chopped chives

2 cups milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Well grease 2 medium loaf tins. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the food processor bowl then add the chopped butter.  Mix until the mixture looks like resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the cheese and chives then pulse to mix in the eggs and milk - don't over mix.

Divide the dough into the 2 tins and bake for approximately 40-45 minutes until the bread is well risen and golden brown on top and feels hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Remove the bread from oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before tipping out and leaving on a cooling rack to cool completely.

Our Family's Tips To Help Reduce Your Food Bills

Tuesday 19 July 2011
***Warning: This is a loooong post, you might want to grab a cuppa***

We always try and stick to a budget.  However, our three daughters grow at an alarming rate and they all seem to need clothing and shoes at the same time, that combined with a few unexpected bills and meagre savings account funds makes for a big budgeting wake up call.

Like most people we get a bit complacent and let the budget slide now and then.  Out of necessity, I decided to take action and get us back on track with our budget.  Some things are fixed costs that we have little influence over like rent, council tax, TV license, etc.  But one of our main expenses that we do have control over is our food bill.  To reign in our spending I added up the total amount we spend on food in a month.  Not just our main weekly shops but all food, including takeaways, cafe lunches and coffees, school dinners, etc.  I looked  at our bank statements for the past month and totaled up exactly how much was spent on food.  If you do the same you'll probably be as shocked as I was, and not in a good way! LOL 

I've detailed some of the strategies our household uses to help reduce our spending on food/groceries without compromising nutrition, taste or quality. 

Firstly, make a meal plan.  This is so you know exactly what you'll need to make seven dinners and any lunches you need to make for the week.  Don't forget to include some options for snacks too, not necessarily crisps or convenience foods, you're after cheap and healthy options for snacks.  Once you know what meals you need to make you can then work out what you already have, what you can use up that's been lurking in cupboards, and then what you NEED to buy for the week.

Keep a Basic Essentials List on the outside of a kitchen cupboard or on the fridge door.  Our list is a laminated sheet of A4 with the items and tick boxes next to each item so we can just tick the ones we need to buy and erase the ticks once the online weekly shop has been done.  I like to have a reusable list as it saves money on paper.  Start with seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables and then list everything the household needs to survive.  Not what they would like if you had loads of spare cash, only what they need.  Use this list when planning meals and doing your shopping.  Make sure you include pet food/supplies, cleaning products, sanitary items and toiletries.

Update the Basic Essentials List and write things down, or put a tick next to them, as soon as you run out of something.  Don't try and rely on your memory or put it off until later on.  Normally I'm sleep deprived or just too busy dealing with the kids to remember that we need Weetabix 3 hours after breakfast so I need to write it down then and there.  If you have a properly updated grocery list you'll hopefully cut out the "just one or two items" trip to the supermarket.  If you use your car for those trips it wastes petrol, and even if you walk or cycle, you'll almost inevitably buy more than the one or two items that you needed.  You'll probably spend at least 30 minutes in the supermarket and get sucked in to buying half a dozen unnecessary items, especially if you shop when you're hungry or have your husband and kids with you. 

If you plan ahead, make a weekly menu of all meals (including snacks, as much as possible) and shop with a list, you should drastically reduce the number of shopping trips you make for a small number of items.  However, you might still find yourself running out of a few items before your next weekly shop, in that case, figure out the reason.  Are you not making a good thorough list, are you forgetting to buy items on your list, do you need to buy more of things that are used up before the end of the week?

Shop online if you can.  Using websites like MySupermarket.com can help find the cheapest supermarket for your weekly shop.  Online shopping can be much easier than dragging children around the supermarket, and I find the running total useful for keeping our grocery spending to a set amount.  One of our local supermarkets offers free delivery if you spend over a certain amount and get your groceries delivered on certain days, be on the lookout for deals like this.  Sometimes the delivery charge is cheaper than the cost of driving to the supermarket, both in terms of petrol and stress.

Making and taking leftovers for lunch is also a great way to save money.  Plan to cook a bit extra for dinner so that you'll have leftovers for your lunch and/or for the kids' lunches.  Pack it up straight after dinner and put it in the fridge so you don't have to worry about it in the morning.  Be creative and make pasties from leftover stews and mince or take leftover pasta bake to work and heat it up in the microwave for a filling lunch that should also help cut down on the afternoon munchies. 

Cooking in bulk, then freezing meals is also a great money saver.  If you have meals in the freezer for those nights when you can't be bothered cooking from scratch you won't fall in to the potentially expensive convenience food and takeaway trap.  Alternatively, you can cook a whole pot of bolognese (for example) and freeze it for multiple dinners. A great idea is to use one Sunday and cook a few dinners. Plan 2 or 3 freezable dinners and cook them all at once.  Slow cookers are fab for doing this, put a big batch of simmered mince in a slow cooker on a Sunday morning and by early evening it's ready eat.  You can then cool some and pack away in the freezer or make other meals from it.  A huge pot of mince can become bolognese, chilli con carne or goulash depending on what other ingredients you add to it. 

Use up everything fresh, if possible, before the next shop.  If you have some leftover fresh ingredients (half an onion, a slightly wrinkly tomato, a few small quantities of different shaped dried pasta or some eggs, maybe a few other veges) combine them all for a quick meal so that they don't go to waste before your next grocery shop.  The more you can stretch the food, the less you waste, and the less you'll spend.

It at all possible don't buy anything you can realistically make yourself, especially if you are a SAHM or have spare time on the weekends.  Get your children involved too.  Bread, pizza bases, pasta sauces, cereal bars, biscuits, muffins, smoothies, etc can all be made easily and cheaply at home.  You also know what's in them so can vary the ingredients according to your tastes, dietary needs and what needs using up.  It's a lot less faff than you think and if you do it often you'll be able to whip up a loaf of bread, batch of muffins or large pot of pasta sauce in no time.

Find a good local source of fresh produce and meat that is cheap and also good quality.  Supermarkets may not always offer the best value.  A good local greengrocer is a brilliant find. Ours gives me large bags of over-ripe bananas (which I freeze to use in baking and smoothies) free in exchange for the occasional banana cake.

Also, ethnic food shops often sell items like spices, noodles, rice, legumes, pulses and tofu much cheaper than the larger supermarkets.  They can also give you recipe hints and tips to make your meals much more interesting with a few cheap ingredients.

If you eat fruit and vegetables that are in season they should be at their cheapest, freshest and tastiest.  It can be hard to tell what's in season as supermarkets try to stock everything all year round.  Do your research and find out what's in season when.  Be very sure the source is unsprayed and safe if you forage for wild berries, wild garlic, elderflower for cordial, etc. 

If possible grow some of your own fruit and vegetables.  You can grow in pots if you have a tiny backyard like we do.  

A bowl of soup before dinner, or a homemade wholemeal bread roll with dinner is an inexpensive way to take the edge off the hungry hordes appetite.  Soup is an easy way to get more vegetables into a meal and a much cheaper option than serving second helpings of the main course.

Add extra vegetables to recipes when you can, or add a topping to casseroles and  stews.  An extra potato, carrot, some pumpkin or sweet potato in a casserole will give you at least one extra serving from the recipe and a bigger vegetable to meat ratio.  If you make a cobbler topping or some dumplings and add them to a stew or casserole it will help bulk out the meal for little added cost.

Add cooked pulses or legumes (beans, chickpeas and lentils) to your meals to easily get more servings out of the one meal.  They are really cheap, even if you buy the canned ones, and are also low fat, high in fibre, and a good source of  protein.  You can add a handful or two of rolled oats to a bolognese sauce before simmering to bulk it out.  The oats take on the flavour and soften so you can't tell they're in there. 

Choose good quality meat (even if it is more expensive) over poor quality, cheaper meat.  This especially applies to sausages, the cheaper the sausage the more fillers and less meat there is in them.  Check the labels so you know what you are buying.  For example, 4 to 6 good quality sausages will flavour a whole risotto, casserole or pasta sauce far better than 8 - 10 cheap and poor quality sausages ever could.  Make the meat you use go much further and try out some cheaper cuts of meat, even if they need slower cooking.  You can put a breast of lamb or beef brisket on to slow roast whilst you do loads of other things around the house, the oven does most of the work for you.

Remember living on a budget doesn’t necessarily mean deprivation and misery.  It’s about living as well as you can, using a few smart tips and tricks to make the best use of what you have, whilst living within your means.

Brown Rice and Vegetable Bake - Our Favourite Frugal Dinner

Monday 18 July 2011
This recipe is really quick to prepare, you can even cook the rice in advance or use leftover rice.  Just make sure that the rice has been stored correctly and has not been in the fridge too long.  I make this dinner usually once a fortnight.  It's filling, tasty and inexpensive.  You can add more rice and an extra egg to bulk it out if there are hungry teenagers about too.  I sometimes add grated vegetables (carrots, pumpkin or sweet potato) or a finely diced pepper at the same time as the onion so they all soften together.  It just depends what's in the fridge and how far our budget will stretch.

1 cup brown rice

2 onions, finely sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil

10 big chard leaves or 2 handfuls of spinach

5 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 Tblsp grated Parmesan cheese (or vegetarian equivalent)

2 large tomatoes, sliced

3/4 cup grated cheese

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Lightly oil a large baking dish with cooking oil spray. Cook the rice according to packet instructions.

Cook finely chopped onions in the oil until soft and slightly caramelised. Remove the stalks from the chard and cook on high in microwave for 2 minutes. If you are using spinach leave the stalks on and cook in the same way. Squeeze out excess moisture then chop it up.

Combine all the ingredients except for the sliced tomatoes and a handful of cheese.  Spoon everything into the prepared dish and flatten down lightly so the top is even. Arrange the tomato slices on top and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes or until firm in the middle and lightly browned. We usually serve this with a large side salad of homegrown greens.

Easy and Versatile Fridge Biscuits

Saturday 16 July 2011
This is a recipe I use often when I have quite a bit of baking to do.  I can flavour the dough how I like, sometimes adding some cinnamon or lemon zest depending on the occasion.  I've also tried adding 2 tsp of ground ginger for a spicy treat to accompany a cuppa.  I ice them too, if I have time, and have also sandwiched them together with icing for a decadent treat. 

250g butter, softened not melted

1 cup icing sugar, sifted

2 1/2 cups (375g) plain flour, sifted

1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the softened butter, sifted icing sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. 

Sift the flour and add it in two batches to the butter mixture, making sure it's incorporated well each time. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until its smooth.  Divide dough in half.  Roll each half into a 25cm log and wrap in clingfilm.  Refrigerate the dough for about 1 hour or until firm.  You can leave the dough in the fridge for a couple of days, just make sure it's well wrapped in clingfilm so it doesn't dry out.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to moderate 180C.

Cut rolls into 1 cm slices.  Place the dough slices, approximately 2cm apart on oven trays lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn onto wire racks to cool.

Store biscuits in an airtight container.  You can add chocolate chips, nuts or raisins to the dough either before or after you divide it in half if you want to vary the flavour. 

Honey Rice Crispie Slice

This recipe is a Kiwi classic.  It's very sweet though so I don't make it often, however I usually make some for kids parties and cake stalls. It keeps well in an airtight container. 

125g butter

½ cup sugar

3 dessert spoons of honey (thick is good, so is manuka)

4 cups rice crispies cereal (or cornflakes)

In a pot big enough to hold all the ingredients, boil butter, sugar and honey for 5 mins. Add the rice crispies and mix well. Press into a slice tin, refrigerate and slice when set.

Alternatively you can mix boiled ingredients with rice crispies in a mixing bowl and pour into little cupcake cases then refrigerate till set.

Alternative ingredients: 1cup coco pops + 3cup rice crispies or ½ c nuts or ½ c mixed dried fruit, just stir in when adding boiled mix to rice crispies.

Savoury Mince and Baked Bean Pasta Bake - Fridge Pack Heinz Baked Beans Review

Friday 15 July 2011
I was sent a Fridge Pack of Heinz Baked Beans to review.  The Fridge Packs are fab because the baked beans stay lovely and fresh in the fridge and you use only what you need each time.  The Fridge Packs now include the low salt and sugar version of Heinz Baked Beans which is the one we usually buy anyway. 

My daughters love baked beans and they are really versatile.  You can use them for much more than just beans on toast or putting on baked potatoes.  Here's one of my staple dinners for when there are hoards of kids over for dinner and I need an easy, tasty tummy filler recipe.

Savoury Mince and Baked Bean Pasta Bake

500g lean beef mince

1 large onion, finely chopped

3/4 Fridge Pack Heinz Baked Beans (approx 2 tins)

½ Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 beef stock cube

½ tsp cumin

pinch mild chilli powder

½ tsp dried oregano

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 cup pasta, cooked as al dente as you like it then drained (I use macaroni)

1 cup grated cheese (mild or tasty cheddar is fine)

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Put a large saucepan onto a medium heat.  Add the mince and stir it well, breaking it up as you go, until it's browned.  Turn the heat down a little and add the onion.  Cook the onion stirring until around until it softens.  Mix in 3/4 of a fridge pack of baked beans along with the spices, Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste.  Crumble in the stock cube and mix everything together really well and bring it to the boil.  Add the cooked pasta and mix everything together until well combined.  

Pour the whole lot into an ovenproof casserole dish and sprinkle the grated cheese over the top so that everything is covered.  Heat the dish in the oven until the cheese has melted and is bubbling well.  Serve with a large salad or lots of vegetables.

Lunchbox or Picnic Calzone - Love Your Leftover Mince

7g sachet fast action yeast

1 Tbsp sugar

½ cup lukewarm water

3 cups plain flour or bread flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp each dried basil and oregano (optional)

Make the dough, if you have a breadmaker then use that on the dough setting and the process is really quick and easy.  If you are making the dough by hand it's still really straight forward.  Mix the yeast, sugar and lukewarm water with the flour, salt, a pinch of pepper and the dried herbs (if you are using them).  Mix well, adding a little more warm water, if necessary to the flour.  Stir with your fingers (or a bread knife) until the dough mixture forms a large ball.

Knead the dough gently until it is elastic, this usually takes about 7 - 10 minutes.  Drizzle a little oil into the bottom of a large bowl.  Turn the dough over in the oil so that it's lightly covered, this stops the dough sticking to the bowl.  Cover the bowl with a tea towel or clingfilm and set aside in a warm place to rise for at least 30 minutes.

To make up the calzone, take a small piece of dough and flatten it out into a small circle shape with your hands. Spoon some leftover mince mixture onto one side of the dough circle, leaving an edge around the filling.  Fold the empty side over and pinch the edges together to seal them.  You should have a half moon pasty type shape.  Repeat this process until all the dough has been used.

Place the calzone on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper.  Brush the calzone with a little olive oil and bake for 10 minutes or until they are golden and crispy.  Serve warm with a side salad or cool, wrap, then pack into lunchboxes.

Easy Chocolate Brownies

Wednesday 13 July 2011
This is a really easy brownie recipe that always goes down well at coffee mornings, cake stalls or just a nice treat to have with a cuppa at home.  My girls love these as a pudding with icecream or custard as an occasional treat. 

125g unsalted butter, chopped into cubes

200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

3/4 cup light soft brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup self raising flour

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup dark choc chunks (I just cut up a small chocolate bar in to chunks)

1/2 cup chopped pecan nuts or walnuts

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a 20cm square cake tin with non-stick baking paper, make sure there's a decent overhang of baking paper.

Put a saucepan halful of water on a low heat.  Put a heatproof bowl over the water and put the butter and chocolate in it.  Stir it until the butter and chocolate have melted and are well mixted together.  As soon as they are melted and mixed together add the brown sugar and vanilla extract.  Mix well to combine everything before you add the sifted self raising flour and the lightly beaten eggs.  Beat well to thoroughly combine everything and then stir in choc chunks and whichever nuts (if any) you are using.

Gently pour the mixture into the lined cake tin and smooth the surface.  Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes until set.  Remove the brownies from the oven.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack.  Cut into squares and dust with icing sugar when ready to serve.

If the brownies are not devoured that day, you can store them in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Recipes using Plum Baby Sauces

A while ago I was sent some delicious Plum Baby Sauces to try and was also asked to develop some recipes using them.  Here are the three recipes I came up with, enjoy!

Toddlers Fish Pie

Serves 4 (2 adults and two children)

250g skinless cod fillet (or similar white fish), cubed


500g potatoes, peeled and cubed

15g butter

3 tablespoons milk


2 sachets Plum Baby Spinach & Basil Pesto Sauce

55g Cheddar cheese, grated

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Divide the cubed fish among four to six ovenproof dishes or ramekins.

Cook the potatoes in plenty of boiling water for about 15 minutes until just tender. Drain the potatoes, then mash well. Beat in the butter and milk, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Watch salt levels in children’s food!

While the potatoes are cooking, mix together the Plum Baby Spinach & Basil Pesto Sauce and cheese. Spoon over the fish in the ramekins.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (180° fan), gas 6. Spoon the mashed potatoes over the fish and sauce, and mark the surface with ridges using a fork.

Set the dishes on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes until hot in the centre and golden on top.

Falafels and Mild Vegetable Masala Sauce

Serves 4 (2 adults and two children)

400 g tin chickpeas, drained

1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 garlic clove, peeled

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons plain flour, plus extra for shaping

1 tablespoon fresh parsley

salt and pepper

200ml sunflower oil

Put the chick peas, onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, flour, parsley and seasoning into a food processor and blend together until smooth.

Lightly flour the work surface and tip out the mixture. Divide into 12 equal portions and shape each one into a flat, round patty.

Pour the oil into the frying pan and heat over a medium-high heat. Shallow-fry the falafel for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden and crisp.

Take the cooked falafel out of the frying pan and place on a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain the excess oil.

Pour over gently warmed Plum Baby Mild Vegetable Masala Sauce. Can be served with couscous, quinoa or rice.

Italian Tuna Balls

Serves 4 (2 adults and two children)

2 x 160g cans of tuna in sunflower or olive oil, drained (reserve a little oil)

freshly grated zest 1 lemon

small handful of flat leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

50g fresh breadcrumbs

1 egg , lightly beaten

400g spaghetti

3 sachets of Plum Baby tomato & ratatouille sauce

Flake the tuna into a bowl, lemon zest, parsley, breadcrumbs and egg.  Season and mix together with your hands until completely combined.  Roll the mix into 12 walnut-size balls. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil, then cook the spaghetti according to pack instructions or until al dente to your liking.

Heat a little of the tuna oil in a large non-stick frying pan, then fry the tuna balls for 5 minutes, turning every once in a while until completely golden.  Drain the tuna balls well on kitchen paper to remove excess oil.  Heat the tomato sauce, then toss together with the pasta and tuna patties.

Mini Meatloaf Savouries

Tuesday 12 July 2011
This is a great luncbox filler or picnic snack.  I sometimes serve them with salad if I have my daughters friends over for lunch in the holidays or for midweek dinners.  You can use 6 slices of bread and store bought breadcrumbs if you like.  They freeze well too, great to keep in the freezer for when you run out of bread for sandwiches or just want something more substantial in lunchboxes. 

8 slices bread (I usually use wholemeal/multigrain)

1 Tblsp olive oil

1 onion, very finely chopped

1 pepper, very finely chopped

150g bacon, rind removed and finely chopped

250g beef mince

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

2 Tblsp barbecue sauce

3 cherry or plum tomatoes, cut in half

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease six 3/4-cup capacity (180ml) large muffin tin holes.  Use a rolling pin to roll 6 slices of bread flat.  Use the rolled flat bread slices to line the base and sides of the greased muffin tin holes.  The sides will probably not be completely covered.  Bake these bread cases for 5 to 10 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Put the remaining 2 slices of bread in food processor.  Process to fine breadcrumbs.  Heat the oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the very finely chopped onion, pepper and prepared bacon.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes or until the onion and papper are soft.  Set aside for it to cool slightly.

Put the mince, egg, parsley, BBQ sauce, breadcrumbs and cooked onion, pepper and bacon mixture in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Use about 1/3 cup of mixture per meatloaf.  Gently spoon the mince mixture into the bread cases.  Press 1 tomato half, cut side up, into the top of each mince filled bread case.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until completely cooked through.  Allow the mini meatloaves to cool in the muffin tin.  You can leave them to cool for about 10 minutes then serve with salad if you're having them for lunch or dinner.

If you want to freeze them: Put the mini meatloaves in an airtight container.  You can freeze them  for up to 2 months.  To defrost them, take them out of the freezer the night before you will need them and defrost them in the fridge.  Wrap meatloaf cups in clingfilm and put in lunchboxes the next morning.

Vegetable Spring Rolls (Baked) - Meatfree Monday

Monday 11 July 2011
This is a fab weekend lunch or midweek dinner treat. I love the fact that they are baked as the fried spring rolls can be a bit greasy at times.  If I'm making them specifically for my daughters and their friends I tend to use a mild mango chutney rather than a really hot one.  Give them a go!

For the spring rolls

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 carrot, finely grated

1 yellow pepper, deseeded and finely sliced

2 Tbsp mango chutney (as hot as you like it)

2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder

150ml passata (pureed tomatoes)

1 egg

3 Tbsp skimmed milk

3 sheets filo pastry



150ml passata (pureed tomatoes)

1 Tbsp mango chutney (as hot as you like it)

1 small red chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped

1 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

Salt and pepper to season

Pre-heat your oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium-low heat and sweat off the onion and garlic until they're soft.  Increase the heat to high and then add the carrot and pepper, continue cooking until they soften too.

Add the mango chutney, stock powder and passata.  Simmer gently for 5 mins until the liquid has reduced to leave a thick paste. Allow to cool.

Beat together the egg and milk.  Use the egg and milk mixture to brush over the filo sheets.  Take one sheet of filo pastry and brush with the egg mixture. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry into 13cm (5in) strips.

Place 2-3tsp of the mixture at one end, fold in 1cm (1/2in) on both sides of the strip, then roll up all the way to the end.  Brush the roll again with the egg and milk mixture, put them on a baking tray and dust lightly with paprika. Repeat this process until all the mixture and pastey have been used.

Bake the rolls in the oven for 20-25 mins until golden brown.

Combine all the sauce ingredients, seasoning with salt and black pepper to taste, and put in a small bowl.  Serve with mixed salad leaves and the dipping sauce on the side.

Easy Microwave Pavlova Roll

Sunday 10 July 2011
I love this pav although the purists will probably be horrified.  It's super quick and tastes fab.  This microwave recipe gives you a sweet marshmallow type of flat round pav that you can cover in cream and fruit and then roll up.  My family love it as an occasional weeknight pudding treat. 

¼ cup cinnamon sugar or crushed nuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon white vinegar

4 egg whites

¾ cup of caster sugar

Firstly you need to take some baking paper and shape it to fit in your microwave. Take the glass tray out of your microwave and use it as a template. You don’t have to, it just makes it easier to ensure the baking paper is going to fit.

Cover the baking paper with a layer of crushed nuts or cinnamon sugar.  Put this aside whilst you make the pav.  Using an electric beater, whip the egg whites until light and fluffy.

Now add the caster sugar, vinegar and vanilla extract.  Whip until it forms stiff peaks. This will take a few minutes and when you mix it, it should retain it’s shape.  Once it's firm you can spoon the mixture onto the cinnamon sugar or crushed nut covered baking paper.

Plop the mixture into blobs linked up all over the baking paper and then with the back of your spoon, smooth it out as best you can. Be gentle so as to not disturb the sugar/nuts too much. I does not have to be perfect, just roughly smooth.

Now put in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes on high.  It should look light and fluffy and feel like soft marshmallow.

Cool the pavlova in the microwave with the door open to stop condensation forming that will spoil your pav.

When you're ready to serve up whip some cream.  Spread this all over the pav and then lightly cover with the fruit of your choice. We use a mix of berries or strawberries and passionfruit.

Gently roll it up into a roll.  We always serve it with extra fruit and cream or ice cream.  Cut into about 8 slices, this is enough for 4 or 5 greedy people.

Sticky Glazed Salmon WIth Stirfry Vegetables

Wednesday 6 July 2011
This is a really quick, healthy dinner that we have at least once a fortnight.  I usually serve one salmon fillet as a portion for each of the adults and older children then serve a half fillet portion to younger children.  I also normally use more than 500g vegetables as we like lots of vegetables with dinner, and try to have at least 3 different vegetables for variety.  I've used normal cabbage instead of bok choi, broccoli works well too as does very finely sliced/grated carrot for something different.

4 skinless salmon fillets

3 Tbsp Nam Pla fish sauce

2 Tbsp teriyaki sauce

1 Tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp oil

1 Tbsp finely grated fresh root ginger

1 garlic clove , peeled and crushed

1 red chilli , deseeded and very finely chopped (optional)

500g mixed green vegetables, sliced - I used bok choi, mangetout and thin green beans

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Place the salmon on a baking tray. Mix together the fish sauce, teriyaki sauce and honey until well combined.  Brush some over the salmon, reserving the rest as a sauce for the vegetables, and then cook the salmon in the preheated oven for 8-10 mins until just cooked through.  Set aside the salmon to rest whilst you cook the vegetables.

Put the oil in a wok and heat over a medium-high heat.  Stirfry the grated ginger, crushed garlic and finely chopped chilli for 1-2 minutes.  Add any larger or harder vegetables and stirfry for about 3 minutes, then add the leafy vegetables and cook for 1-2 minutess.  Stir in the rest of the sticky sauce, make sure everything is well heated through and serve with the fish.  I usually serve this with steamed rice, although you could add some strifght to wok noodles when you add the leafy vegetable to the wok and cook everything together before adding the sauce.

Spicy beef kebabs with couscous and chickpea salad

Tuesday 5 July 2011
200g (1 cup) couscous

250ml (1 cup) boiling water

2 tsp olive oil

500g stir fry beef

2 tsp each ground cumin and coriander

1 lemon

1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and well rinsed

3 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 spring onions, trimmed and sliced thinly

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, roughy chopped

Plain yoghurt to serve, if necessary

Put the couscous boiling water and oil in to a heat proof bowl.  Mix it together really well before covering it and setting it aside until all the liquid is absorbed.  This usually takes around 5 minutes.  Once all the liquid has been absorbed fluff up the couscous with a fork so it isn't clumpy.  

Carefully thread the beef onto skewers, I usually get about 10 from that amount of stir fry beef.  Mix the cumin and ground coriander together and sprinkle over both sides of the kebabs.  Leave them to marinade for a few minutes whilst you sort out the couscous.

Zest the lemon and put the zest and juice, chopped tomatoes, finely sliced spring onion, roughly chopped fresh herbs and rinsed chickpeas into the bowl with the fluffed up couscous. Mix together until everything is combined to your liking.

Heat a frying pan over medium to high heat (you can also cook the kebabs on a BBQ).  Cook for 1-3 minutes each side or until cooked how you like them.  They do cook really quickly so keep a close eye on them otherwise they may end up overdone.  Plate up the skewers and couscous then enjoy.  You might want to have some yoghurt on hand to drizzle over the kebabs if you need to calm down the spice a little.

Creamy Vegetable Pasta in a Flash - Inspired By The New Ice Age

Monday 4 July 2011
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a delicious lunch cooked by Aldo Zilli at his fish restaurant in Soho and attend a presentation about a campaign by the British Frozen Food Federation called The New Ice Age.  They showed us just how convenient, beneficial and healthy frozen food options can be.  Now before you start with the ifs and buts, we're not talking nasty pumped full of fat and additives frozen food, we're talking frozen fruits and vegetables and sauces that are natural and additive free.

I was shocked to learn that a study by WRAP (the Waste Resources Action Programme) found that, here in the UK, we throw away one third of the food we buy.  This is an outrageous waste of both resources and money.  It was very interesting to find out the ways that using frozen food can help us avoid this waste.  With frozen, it is easy to manage portion control and return what is not eaten to the freezer and also freeze leftovers so that food is not wasted.   

Our lunch was prepared using some frozen foods and it was almost impossible to tell which ingredients had been previously frozen.  We also took home some delicious samples from The Sauce Kitchen.  These convenient and versatile sauces are based on tried and tested family recipes, they're full of flavour and conveniently packed in individual servings to avoid any waste.  Each of the home cooking sauces also has at least three recipes on the back of the pack; a really quick, a quick and a slow cooking suggestion to help make home cooking easier.

There are loads of fabulous recipes on the The New Ice Age website.  Here is one of my standby suppers when I'm in a hurry, have hardly any food in the house or just can't be bothered cooking anything fancy. It's one of those really quick weeknight dinners that can be whipped up in no time and contains enough vegetables to satisfy the demanding tastebuds of my family.  You could add some frozen fish if you wanted to, just simmer some frozen prawns in the sauce for a few minutes or cook fish fillets quickly in the oven whilst the pasta and sauce are cooking on the hob. 

Creamy Vegetable Pasta in a Flash

400g dried spaghetti (you can use fettuccine or tagliatelle instead)

2 handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables (any vegetables are fine)

1 bunch (250g) asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths

40g butter

1 leek, washed and sliced (or onion, if you don't have leek)

2 large garlic cloves, crushed (or 2 cubes frozen crushed garlic)

125ml white wine

300ml pot of double cream
2 Tbsp finely shredded fresh mint or 1Tbsp fresh finely chopped oregano

25g (1/4 cup) freshly grated parmesan (or vegetarian equivalent)

You'll need to prepare the sauce whilst the pasta cooks so the pasta isn't sitting around waiting and getting stuck together.  To cook the pasta, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet or until it's al dente.  I always take some out of the pan, let it cool slightly and taste it to see if it's cooked how I like it.  When the pasta has a few minutes left to cook, put the frozen mixed vegetables and asparagus into the boiling water with the pasta.  Once the pasta and vegetables are cooked, drain them well and add the sauce.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a deep frying pan and sweat off the leek and garlic for around 3-4 minutes until they've softened. Pour in the wine and cook it down until it's almost totally evaporated.  At this point add the double cream and cook on a low hear for  a few minutes until the sauce has warmed through and thickened slightly, season the sauce to taste.  Toss the sauce through the pasta, adding the fresh mint/oregano and parmesan.  Serve sprinkled with more parmesan.

The Whatever You've Got Fritter

Sunday 3 July 2011
This is one of my favourite basic recipes for lunch, after school snacks or a super quick dinner served with salad.  You can make the fritters either sweet or savoury using "whatever" is available.

1 cup “whatever” filling you like (banana, diced apple, sweetcorn, grated vegetables, leftover ham - not all together)

1 cup plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg, lightly beaten

about 200ml milk

Sift the dry ingredients in to a bowl then add egg and enough milk to make a smooth batter.  Stir in 'whatever' filling you like.

Brown in a pan with sizzling butter. Banana or apple fritters are great for a breakfast treat.  Savoury fritters can be served a salad for lunch or dinner. 

ABC Muffins

1 cup (2-3) mashed ripe bananas

 ½ cup brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup canola oil

1 large egg

½ cup milk

¼-½ cup chocolate chips

1 apple, grated

2 cups self-raising flour

Heat oven to 210°C or 200°C fan-bake.

Mash the ripe bananas on a board, using a fork. In a large bowl, mix together the mashed banana, sugar, salt, oil, egg and milk until well mixed.  Stir in the chocolate chips and the coarsely grated unpeeled apple.

Stir the flour in its container, then spoon it into the cup measure without packing it or banging it down. Sprinkle it over the top of the other ingredients then fold it in without over-mixing, stopping when there are no streaks or pockets of flour visible.

Spoon into the muffin pans lined with cases. Bake for 10 -12 minutes or until golden brown.  Leave to stand 2-3 minutes in their pans, then remove carefully and cool on a rack.  Store in airtight container when cold, freezing muffins which will not be eaten within 2 days.

Cheddar, Chive and Vegemite Muffins

Saturday 2 July 2011
These are one of my family's favourite savoury muffins.  They're a real hit with our neighbours, at cake stalls or taken to the park as a picnic snack.  I usually make a double batch and freeze half of them.  They freeze well in an airtight container for up to a month.

250g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp caster sugar

100g grated mature Cheddar cheese

1 large carrot, peeled and grated

1 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives

2 tsp Vegemite

240ml milk

1 egg

60ml vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5.  Put 8 paper muffin cases into a muffin tin, or line them with squares of greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.  Gently stir in the sugar, about two-thirds of the cheese, the grated carrot and chives.

Mix the Vegemite with 2-3 tbsp milk in a large jug until well combined and then beat in the egg, remaining milk and vegetable oil.  Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients.  Stir together until just combined.  Do not beat this mixture too much - it should be quite lumpy, but there should be no traces of dry flour.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases.  Sprinkle the remaining Cheddar cheese on the top of each muffin.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until well risen and golden.  You can serve the muffins warm, just cut in half and spread on a little butter and perhaps some more vegemite.  They're also fab left to cool and put into lunchboxes or taken on a picinc.  

Roast Chicken and Leftovers Recipes - Inspired by Knorr

Friday 1 July 2011
As I previously posted here, I was sent a large hamper of seasonal produce and organic meats by Knorr.  There was a sneak peak at a delicious chicken recipe that will be on the Knorr website very soon.  I must confess that I didn't try it as I was not keen to spatchcock a chicken on a fairly busy weeknight when I was knackered and dealing with hungry, tired and bordering on completely nreasonable children.  Therefore I decided to have roast chicken and roast vegetables so the oven could do most of the work and all I had to do was prepare the chicken and vegetables whilst trying to deal with spend time nurturing my increasingly feral delightful children.

I used the tip that Marco had given us and mixed a couple of Knorr chicken stock cubes with some olive oil and smothered this all over the chicken.  I cut a lemon in to quarters and put 2 of the quarters in to the cavity of the chicken with a sprig of fresh thyme and one unpeeled bashed garlic clove.

I roasted the chicken in one roasting dish and the chopped potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and onions in another.  The the result was a delicous moist roast chicken with lovely crispy, flavoursome skin and some very tasty roast vegetables.  All that was left to do was steam some greens and dinner was done. 

Once again thanks to Knorr for a fabulous hamper of seasonal produce and organic meat.  It was a real treat.

We had a decent amout of leftover roast chicken so the next day I used some of the leftovers for chicken and salad wraps to put in lunches and the rest to make the risotto for dinner that night.

Leftover Roast Chicken and Vegetable Risotto

This is one of my favourite recipes for using up leftover roast chicken.  The vegetables are grated which means they cook quickly and kids can help grate them, mind little fingers aren't grated along with the vegetables though. 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 large carrot, peeled and grated

1 large courgette, grated

1 large (150g) sweet potato, diced

1 1/4 cups arborio rice

2 cups salt-reduced chicken stock

leftover shredded roast chicken meat (skin and bones removed, obviously)

handful of frozen peas

grated parmasean, to serve

Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan-forced. Heat half the oil in a heavy-based, flameproof casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the thinly sliced onion, crushed garlic, grated carrot and courgette and diced sweet potato.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.

Once the vegetables have softened add the rice and stir well.  Cook it for a couple of minutes then add the stock and 1 cup of cold water. Give it a good stir to combine everything. Bring the pot to the boil then cover with foil or a lid.  Transfer to the preheated oven.  Bake for  around 15 minutes or until all the liquid has almost been absorbed. Remove from oven. 

Stir through the shredded leftover chicken and frozen peas.  Bake once again, covered, for 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove from the oven and leave to stand covered with the lid/foil for 5 minutes.  Uncover and serve topped with a generous sprinkle of grated parmesan.

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