One-pot tuna pasta recipe

I’m all about the quick, 20-minute meal to feed the hungry crowd, and this version of classic tuna pasta is dead easy. I really like the sweetness added by frying off a few onions in butter before adding the tuna. Usually, tinned tuna is simply stirred into the dish, but I fry it a bit with the onions as I break up the meat, and it just adds a depth of flavour without being labour intensive.

You can use gluten-free pasta if you prefer – any shape will do – but I like standard macaroni for this dish. I know it’s tempting to use a tin of condensed cream of mushroom or chicken soup, but I promise this is just as easy and less gloppy. I only want one pot to clean, so I boil the pasta and peas together, make the sauce while they drain, and then toss it all together again. Easy peasy.

tuna-pasta-in-the-bowl

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups dry pasta
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 4-6 cups water

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1 tin of tuna
  • 1 tsp dried garlic
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 cup single cream or half and half
  • 1 cup shredded cheese of choice (I use mild cheddar for the kids)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional splash of milk to loosen the sauce as preferred

The Method:

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add your pasta. Adjust the quantities for a larger pot, but this should easily feed a family of four to five people.

After half the cooking time for your pasta, add the frozen peas and bring back to the boil.

Once the pasta is tender, drain the pasta and peas and allow to rest while you use the pot.

pasta-and-peas

Add butter and onions over a med-high heat and allow the onions to go translucent.

Add the tinned tuna and break it up, coating it with the butter and onions, and allow the mixture to fry slightly.

Add the dried garlic and oregano, and mix well before pouring in the cream. Stir well, continuing to break up the tuna and allowing the cream to warm.

Add the cheese a bit at a time, stirring well into the creamy tuna in about three batches. Feel free to add more cheese than stated if you love it!

tuna-pasta-sauce-with-cheese

Allow the sauce to begin to bubble slightly before returning the pasta and peas. Mix well and give it a taste to add salt and pepper as you see fit.

This couldn’t be faster for a midweek meal; most ingredients are staples! Hope you enjoy this no-fuss version of a classic tuna pasta. If you just can’t live without the cheesy-baked top, go ahead and throw it into a baking dish and cover with shredded cheese. I didn’t have the time to oven bake, and this was on the table in 20 minutes! It left me time to play some Uno with the kids.

Sparkly Mummy

Layered enchilada casserole recipe

I grew up in Los Angeles, and Mexican and Latin foods are comfort foods for me. For over a decade, I lived in the UK, outside of London (where there would have been wider choice of ingredients), and I struggled to find the ingredients for most of my favourite dishes. I even imported things like roasted, diced chillies, and chipotle spice via home visits or care packages from my mum. These days, however, even a local Tesco has a good chance of having most of the ingredients for this recipe – the times, they are a’changing.

I am a big fan of enchiladas. They’re especially nice for my husband’s wheat/gluten allergy, as they’re a corn tortilla dish instead of flour. The enchilada sauce (basically watery chili powder) can be bought in a tin or jar, and it saves a step and a pan. You can buy enchilada packs in the supermarket, and it should have corn tortillas and the red enchilada sauce. If you prefer to use Quorn over beef, it’s also vegetarian, and you can also substitute refried beans for meat for the same result.

Most of the time, if you order an enchilada plate in a restaurant, it’s dripping with cheese and sauce, and can be a little overwhelming. This recipe misses none of the flavour, but includes the all-important hidden veg and goes a little easier on the cheese. Casserole presentation allows for several more servings in the baking dish, and is so much easier to put together than trying to roll up each enchilada. I even let the kids help me layering the tortillas, meat, cheese and sauce in assembly line fashion. It’s delicious fun, topped off with a bit of soured cream and salsa or a side salad – the whole family will be coming back for more.

Plated enchilada vertical.jpg

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 tsp veg oil of choice
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp fresh or dried garlic minced
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp chipotle pepper powder
  • 1lb lean minced beef
  • ½ cup shredded carrot
  • 1 cup chopped coriander/cilantro (frozen or fresh)
  • I packet of small corn tortillas (approximately 10-15 used)
  • 1 8oz jar or tin of enchilada sauce (if you can’t find ready-made, it’s pretty easy to make)
  • 3-4 cups shredded mild cheese (Double Gloucestershire and Red Leicester are lovely for this)

The method:

To begin, I add the onions and dry spices to a hot pan with a bit of oil. Once the onions are coated, I add the beef and mix it all together in the pan.

Fry off the mixture, browning the beef and onions together. This will keep the spices from burning and allows the meat to absorb all of those flavours.

Enchilada casserole ingredients

Once the beef is mostly browned, add the carrots and coriander with about 1/3 cup of water and reduce heat to simmer.

While the beef simmers and reduces, you can begin to layer the casserole in a baking tray.

Add a couple of tablespoons of the sauce to the bottom of the baking dish before adding a layer of tortillas. I usually cut some of the tortillas in half to fit nicely against the sides.

Add a layer of shredded cheese onto the tortillas, and then a layer of meat, before covering with another layer of tortillas. Top the tortillas with another couple tablespoons of the sauce before the cheese the next time to wet them.

kids helping assemble enchilada casserole

Repeat once or twice, depending the depth of your baking dish. The last layer should be just sauce and cheese, for a nice crispy, gooey cheese top.

Bake uncovered at 180C/350F in the top 1/3 of the oven for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden. Allow to rest for 5 minutes or more to cool before serving.

enchilada-casserole-in-the-oven

I usually add a dollop of soured cream and some hot sauce to mine, but the kids like it just the way it is!

Sparkly Mummy
Link up your recipe of the week

Midweek Moussaka recipe

Autumn is a great time to try harvest foods like aubergine and make casserole bakes that warm the house. Greek food is something I rarely make at home, preferring to indulge at a restaurant or friend’s home, but this moussaka recipe is hard to resist. Moussaka is a bit like Greek lasagne: usually layered, meaty and loaded with cheese. The béchamel sauce may be daunting, but I’ve made this recipe a mid-week version that will hopefully calm your aversion. Something magical happens in the oven when the sauce thickens and browns across the top – it’s absolutely worth a try.

My family enjoy this dinner so much. I don’t think there’s anything better than sweet and savoury to get kids interested. The meat is browned with cinnamon and balsamic vinegar, and the béchamel is creamy with milk and parmesan cheese. The aubergine, or eggplant, is lightly fried in olive oil, but I use cubes rather than taking the time to thinly slice for layering. The final product is worth every ounce of effort, and I guarantee this moussaka recipe takes less than most. Even if you think you don’t like aubergine, I think you’ll be surprised at how flavourful, hearty and delicate this dish really is.

Midweek Moussaka Recipe

You’ll need:

  • 2-3 aubergines/eggplants peeled and cubed
  • 2-4 TB olive oil
  • 1 lb minced beef (the leaner the better so you don’t have to drain)
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 8oz tin of tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cups warm milk
  • ½ cup salted butter
  • 6 TB all-purpose flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1-2 cups grated parmesan cheese

The method:

To begin, peel the aubergines and cube them into 3 cm/1 inch cubes. Some say you should salt the aubergine to absorb water … I usually can’t be bothered, but give it a try if your eggplant seems particularly wet.

cooking-the-aubergines

In a large pan, warm a tablespoon or two of olive oil before adding about half of the aubergine cubes. Be sure to leave space between pieces and fry off in two or three batches. Allow the slightly golden-edged aubergine to rest on kitchen roll while you finish batches and the meat.

Once you’ve spent ten minutes or so lightly frying the cubes, you can reuse the pan for the beef.

Add the chopped onion, minced beef and dry spices to the pan with what remains of the oil and any aubergine bits.

Cooking mince for moussaka.jpg

Allow the meat to brown nicely before adding the tomato sauce and balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil before reducing the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Now is a good time to preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

While the meat simmers and reduces, it’s time for the béchamel sauce.

I begin with using a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl to warm the milk. Microwaving 3-5 minutes on high should do the trick, but you want to be sure the milk is nearly boiling.

In a non-stick pan, melt the butter and add the flour. I use gluten free, and may use a bit less than stated above, but the roux you create will be thick. Mix well with a rubber spatula until smooth.

Gradually add the hot milk, stirring quickly to smooth into the roux. This sounds intimidating, but it’s really going to come through for you.

Once the milk is fully incorporated into the butter and flour, allow it to lightly boil over a low heat and thicken slightly. Remove from the heat and mix in ½ cup of the parmesan.

Cooking bechamel and tomato sauce for moussaka.jpg

Now for the assembly: pour the partially-fried aubergine cubes into the bottom of a large baking dish. Sprinkle about ½ cup of the parmesan cheese over the top of the cubes.

Moussaka ready to bake.jpgPour the meat mixture over the aubergine and add another layer of parmesan sprinkle before pouring the beaten egg over the top.

Pour the slightly cooled béchamel sauce over the top and give it a little wiggle to settle the casserole before popping it in the oven.

Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the top is golden and solid. Allow the dish to cool before serving to preserve the layers, or dish up straight away if you’re not fussed about presentation.

Enjoy!

plated-moussaka

Sparkly Mummy

What to do with those roast dinner leftovers?

I love soup, especially in autumn, and I’m always so excited to have steamy bowls of slurpy goodness. My kids, not as keen, and certainly not as clean, on soup. My go-to solution since they were tiny is to serve soup over rice, like in my albondigas recipe.

Add a little, add a lot – it depends on the consistency and flavor your kid enjoys most. If the soup is liquidy, a couple of teaspoon of cooked rice soaks it up. If it’s a cheesy or creamy soup, just a small amount will add texture and thicken, allowing young diners to use their own spoon. We love encouraging our little ones to feed themselves, freeing our hands for food of our own.

This little tip comes in handy for all sorts. I’ve been known to make an enormous roast dinner with too many leftovers (haven’t we all?).

Warming autumn dishes using whatever ingredients you have in

The method:

  • Cube up some gammon/chicken/beef (or forget the meat!)
  • Warm it in a small shallow pan with a splash of water
  • Take some leftover cauliflower cheese, put it in a deep bowl, add some milk and warm it covered in the microwave for a minute or two
  • Give it a good smash up and it basically becomes soup.
  • You can add a bit more milk if you want to loosen it.
  • Once it’s nice and warm, and considerably smashed, add a little rice, the meat, and any spare veg you have from the roast

It’s a bit like bubble and squeak, but with rice instead of potatoes. Enjoy!

Sparkly Mummy

The Harry Potter Studios are even better than I thought

I shall announce with shameless pride that I recently visited the Harry Potter Studios completely sans child. Nobody paid me to go (I paid to go), and another completely adult friend joined me. I know some people who just don’t “get” why adults like Harry Potter. Well, the adults who do like Harry Potter don’t “get” why there are any who don’t! At the studios, there were actually more grownup visitors than there were kids.

Harry Potter tour entrance.jpgThese are the actual studios where all the films were filmed. They are a piece of filmmaking history. However you might feel about the films themselves, it is wonderful to see all of the work, imagination and pure craftsmanship that went into the making of them.

The practical stuff

The question I always ask when it comes to stuff like this is, “Is it worth the ticket price?” Tickets for this attraction cost £35 for an adult and £27 for children aged 5-15. Children 4 and under go free. These prices sounded very expensive to me, but now that I’ve gone, I can say that you definitely get enough entertainment to make the price worthwhile. It is also useful to know that the attraction is very buggy-friendly so you could easily bring an under-4 along without it being too much of a mission.

It’s worth noting that you need to purchase tickets in advance – you can’t just rock up there on a whim and buy at the door.

It’s pretty easy to get to as well. I took a train to Watford Junction and caught their shuttle bus up to the studios. The bus costs £2.50 return. If you prefer to drive, there is loads of parking on-site and right next to the entrance. You could always fly there in your Ford Anglia.

Flying Ford Anglia from Harry Potter

What you get to see

I took a hundred photos but I won’t share them all with you for the sake of surprise. But for the sake of proving it’s worth the ticket price, here are a few highlights.

They tell you at the beginning that the tour lasts about 3 hours. My friend and I went through a little faster than that, but you could easily spend longer than us. We didn’t queue up for the green screen room, where you can get a photo of yourself riding a broomstick (among other things), nor did we get a video of ourselves riding the Hogwarts Express.

Just about all of the iconic sets and props that you could wish to see are there. All of the costumes on display are the ones that the actors actually wore. I’ve been to Universal and Hollywood Studios in Orlando, but this tour is more real movie history than I’ve ever seen.

You start the tour with a stroll through the Great Hall at Hogwart’s, which has real York flagstones on the floor. I rather liked the fetching mannequins of Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall standing at the front.

hogwarts-great-hall

After the Great Hall, you move on to a massive room which has various sets from the movies along with hundreds of props, costumes and models of fanciful creatures. Some highlights for me were the potions classroom and the painting of the Fat Lady who guarded the entrance to Gryffindor House.

Potions classroomFat Lady portrait from Harry Potter

I was also amazed to see the set of the kitchen at The Burrow (The Weasley family’s house). I’d always assumed that the knife that chopped by itself and the brush that washed dishes on its own were powered by some sort of digital trickery. But actually, they were mechanical, and you can watch them chopping and washing away completely independent of human intervention.

I also enjoyed laughing at the profusion of Kitten plates in Umbridge’s office.

Dolores Umbridge's Office from Harry Potter

When we finally left the massive room full of sets and props (and we could easily have spent much longer in there), we emerged into a room that was much more exciting. It contained…

Hogwarts Express

THE HOGWART’S EXPRESS!

I had no idea before going that they would have the whole train there, waiting there on Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, giving off steam. You can walk on actual train carriages which are dressed to match the various scenes that happened on the train throughout all of the movies. I was very surprised to learn that there was so much realism in these scenes.

After the train, you have a chance to get some refreshments at a little cafe and sample some Butterbeer. I’m not sure if I can recommend it, but there are only a few places in the world where you can try it, so you might as well have a go.

You then proceed outside to a backlot where you can see the actual Knight Bus, the Dursley’s house on Privet Drive, and the crooked bridge from Hogwarts. I was always rather enamoured of the look of this bridge and was very excited to be able to walk on it.

Hogwart's Bridge

After the backlot, you can see a creature shop that shows how they made lots of the fantastic beasts from the films. Then, finally, the piece de resistance: Diagon Alley. I’m not even going to put a picture of it because it can’t do it justice. The detail of this set is absolutely staggering. You will feel as though you’ve been whisked away into the Harry Potter world, a muggle no longer!

And just when you think it doesn’t get any better, you emerge to an aerial view of a huge scale model of Hogwarts itself. We spent ages looking at the incredible details and craftsmanship that went into this model, and enjoying the unique atmosphere provided by the lighting and the music in the background.

Finally, of course, you emerge into the gift shop. There are so many fun things in here so as to completely bankrupt you. I managed to restrain myself to purchasing only a chocolate frog.

I was interested to find that you can buy an illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I might buy that for my son’s 5th birthday to introduce him to the series!

I’ve only touched briefly on all of the astounding details of this attraction. It is probably one of the most interesting places I have ever visited. These films were clearly produced by a team of people who were both incredibly talented and who cared deeply about their work. I know that it’s a money-making venture, but I still think it is unusual and generous to make all of this behind-the-scenes film history available to the public.

hogwarts-pinterest
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Potatoes ‘Bravas’ with chicken recipe

My husband is Portuguese South-African, and I’ve grown to love paprika in an unusual way. Chorizo is something special; if you’ve never tried cooking with this sausage, I encourage you to try this recipe and discover the joy. I try to find a good quality, hard chorizo, simply because most ‘cooking’ chorizo is incredibly fatty. If you can’t find any, don’t worry, the recipe calls for it optionally for depth of flavour.

potatoes-bravas-pinterest

This is a take on the Spanish patatas bravas: crispy cubed potatoes heavily spiced and fried. I try to keep midweek meals to one pot, and this is a good one if you add chicken strips/chunks to the pan. My kids are big fans of sweetcorn, so I always keep a tin on hand. With this dish, it adds a crunchy sweet freshness that curbs some of the spice. I usually drain the corn, but keep it room temperature and sprinkle on like a sort of veggie crouton.

If I don’t have a lot of time to stand at the stove, this is also a fabulous tray bake for about 40 minutes in a 180C/375F oven. I try not to use too much oil and salt, but you can use your judgement and taste buds for this quick, flavourful meal. It usually only takes twenty minutes to cook, if the potatoes are in small cubes, and it’s something I fall back on if I’m short on ingredients. Most are staples I have on hand, and it takes very little prep.

chopping potatoesYou’ll need:

  • 1 or 2 white potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/3 cup chopped red or white onion
  • 1/3 cup roughly cubed chorizo sausage (optional)
  • 2 tsp veg oil of choice
  • 1 or 2 chicken breasts sliced into strips
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 2 TB chopped tomato
  • Approximately 1 cup sweet corn

The method:

If you’re lucky enough to have found a lovely chorizo, start with slicing and quartering about a 1/3 of a cup and add it to the warming pan. I use a cast iron pan, but you can also use a wide-based pan that’s good for browning.  I keep the temperature around a medium-high while the chorizo warms and begins to run paprika juices – it smells amazing!

Add the onion and potato to the oil produced and stir until they are coated with the colourful paprika oil from the chorizo. Then add the veg oil and dry spices, coating the potatoes evenly before leaving them to brown.

spices and potatoes in the frying pan

If you aren’t using chorizo, add the oil, potatoes and onions all together with the dry spices and give it a good mix before leaving to fry over a medium high heat.

Stir infrequently to allow colour to form on all sides of the potatoes. If the spices begin to stick to the bottom, rather than adding more oil, try adding a splash of water from the kettle and gently scraping the bottom of the pan with a spatula. This will also help soften the potatoes in the steam produced.

While the potatoes are softening, I slice up the chicken into small, even strips that will cook quickly. If you’re going for the tray bake, try to keep the chicken pieces a little larger so you can put everything in at the same time and they won’t be overdone.

Add the chicken to the potatoes before your next scheduled stir, and toss everything together to coat the chicken with the contents of the pot. Again, refrain from too much stirring so you’re sure to get good colour on most sides of the potato cubes and chicken.

raw chicken added to potatoesAdd the chopped tomato and give it another good mix-in. The chicken should be cooked after 10-15 minutes, and the tomato adds a bit of tenderising acidity.

You should be able to break a piece of chicken apart easily with your spoon, and the same again with a potato cube, after 20-25 minutes.  Drain your sweet corn, or slice from a fresh cob if it’s the right season.

Potatoes bravas in the pan

Plate up with a sprinkle of corn over the bravas, and enjoy! My kids don’t even ask for ketchup with this, because the tomato and spices in the dish keep it moist. The chicken stays tender and flavourful for the quick cooking, and I’m in and out of the kitchen in no time.  If I’m really pressed for time, I toss everything together into an oven tray and check on it for a stir every 15 minutes until it’s done. Either way, it’s a winner, winner chicken dinner in my house!

dinner-plates-with-food

Sparkly Mummy

Recipe for Albondigas (Mexican Soup)

This is a recipe that’s been handed down in my family and adapted for family life. My grandfather, the chef of the house, would take the time to make meatballs, as the standard Albondigas is a meatball soup, but over the years I’ve fallen out of using that method. It is a different experience to have moist meatballs with broth, but this recipe maintains all the flavour without all of the fuss.

This recipe is my version of a traditional family chicken soup: perfect for a cold! It’s also a celebration soup; it’s on the back burner at most family gatherings or parties, ready for anyone to scoop up a bowl with a few corn chips and some guacamole on top. It’s truly a delicious, healthy dish that emits amazing aromas all day.

I serve this soup over rice for my kids, draining a fair bit of broth, but loading meat and veg onto the top. They love guacamole, and the promise of a few corn chips for dipping. My son especially likes shredded cheese on top, and my daughter likes soured cream. My husband and I prefer a nice deep bowl with a handful of corn chips crushed on top, a handful of shredded cheese and dollop of guac. The cheese gets gooey and gorgeous, and the corn chips soften, adding an almost enchilada flavour that’s divine.

This post includes my coveted guacamole recipe as well, so make sure you have a couple of ripe avocados on hand (or more), and a bag of salted corn chips for dipping. You can make this soup as thick or as brothy as you like, and it gets better as it simmers. It freezes well, if you make a big batch, and can be stored for quick dinners another day. If you’re only making this for a grown-up crowd, add plenty of chilli to kick up the heat – it won’t disappoint.

Mexican albondigas soup.jpg

You’ll need:

  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1-1.5lb ground/minced beef
  • 1 TB minced garlic
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dry oregano
  • ½ tsp (or more) chilli powder or chilli flake (optional)
  • 1 tsp or 1 cube beef stock concentrate
  • 1 cup shredded/grated carrot (about one medium carrot)
  • 1 can chic peas/garbanzo beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 can chopped tomato (optional, but don’t use crushed – you want chunks of tomato)
  • 1-2 cups topped, tailed and halved green beans (I use frozen in a pinch)
  • 1-2 cups chopped coriander/cilantro with stalks (usually one good sized bunch)
  • ½-1 cup chopped red pepper
  • 2 med ripe avocados
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) garlic powder or fresh garlic
  • ½ teaspoon cumin or smoked paprika or both
  • Salt to taste
  • Corn chips, rice or tortillas for dipping (optional)

The method:

This recipe begins, like all great dishes, with garlic, onion and beef mingling in the pot, browning together with a bit of oil. The best method is stirring infrequently, allowing the beef to brown while the onions soften. I’m usually a “full-wack” cook, so I start out on a high heat and break up the beef with a wooden spoon.

After a couple of minutes, there should be a liquid forming from the beef and onion. Add your dry spices and mix into the beef as you continue to break the beef into small pieces for browning. Once it’s pretty well broken up, leave it sit on that high heat to give great colour and flavour. Don’t worry if the spices start to stick a little to the bottom, it’s all flavour that will come off with the addition of water.

Once your dry spices are in and the beef is browned nicely, add the beef stock concentrate and a splash of water, and mix in the beef.

Add drained, rinsed chick peas, shredded carrot, red peppers and tomato. I usually chop as I’m cooking, so the chick peas and tomato are easy to throw in first, then chopped carrots and peppers once they’re finished. If these go in after the water, it’s not going to change the flavour.

Add enough water to thoroughly cover the mixture and bring to a boil. I usually add the water after the chick peas and tomato have had a chance to fry off a bit. If the mixture is getting too dry, reduce the heat or add a splash of water at any time.

Add chopped coriander, reduce heat to med-low and allow to lightly boil for at least twenty minutes. This soup can simmer away for hours, but it’ll be ready in thirty minutes if you keep the lid on. Be sure to save some of the coriander leaf for your guacamole.

This may sound odd, but a dollop of fresh guacamole is delicious with this soup. If you’ve never added a cool topping to stew, you’re missing out. I love guacamole, and keep it pretty simple to let the avocado speak for itself, but some swear by adding a little Greek yogurt or soured cream and salsa to theirs, and it’s still delicious. This is my method, and I only add yogurt or soured cream if the avocado isn’t quite ripe, because it adds creaminess.

Mash 2 medium avocados in a bowl with a fork with lime juice, dry or fresh garlic and cumin and/or smoked paprika. Once the avocado is mostly smooth, add salt and give it a taste. You may find another sprinkle of any of these flavours as needed to taste, but try not to overdo it and mask the avocado. Sparingly add more lime juice, because it can overpower with citrus.

homemade guacamole

I rip up a small handful of coriander leaves left from the soup, avoiding stalks for this fresh side dish, and mix the leaves into the guacamole for a final smashy stir. I like my guac with bits of avocado, but you can smash until it’s completely smooth if you prefer. Best to taste test with a corn chip so you don’t go overboard with the salt.

If you’re feeding a crowd, amp up the quantities and I guarantee the guacamole will be gone by the end of the night. I usually put a tower of bowls, pile of spoons, a bowl of shredded cheese with the chips and guacamole beside the pot of soup at a party and let folks serve themselves. My kids will happily eat the soup over rice (drain the broth a bit), and my son likes smashing the chick peas in his bowl. It’s another fabulous, veggie-packed meal they scoff without hesitation. And if you’re sick of chicken soup, give this one a go … it’s sure to clear your head!

Mummy in a Tutu

Walk-away Alfredo Chicken and Broccoli recipe

Slow cookers are a fabulous timesaver, and one I use more and more as school runs and schedules get into full swing. This is a great back-to-school recipe that can be modified to suit your needs.

We’re a gluten-free household (when my husband’s home), so this recipe features an easy, homemade alfredo sauce that’s gluten free, and gluten-free pasta. You’re more than welcome to use your favourite pasta, and a jar of alfredo sauce, but this easy white sauce may make you think twice about all the other ingredients thrown in with jar sauces.

My kids are both in morning classes, so I use this recipe to start just after lunch time for dinner later (2.5 hours). If your schedule means you need to start it in the morning, go for LOW to allow 5 hours. If you find the pasta gets too mushy (GF pasta can usually handle it), cook the pasta separately 20 minutes before serving, and skip the chicken stock at the end.

You’ll need:

  • 3 boneless chicken breasts
  • ¼ cup chopped white onion (frozen is fine)
  • 1.5 cup frozen broccoli florets (about 6-8 big pieces, hard to measure)
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 2 cups double cream
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 TB cream cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp basil pesto
  • 1 cube or 1 tsp concentrated chicken stock (GF)
  • 1.5-2 cups water
  • 340g/12oz penne pasta (GF)
  • salt and pepper to taste

The method:

First things first, give the slow cooker a bit of cooking spray, if you like, and spread the onions across the bottom of the pot.

Dice the chicken breasts into large cubes, trying to keep a similar size for uniform cooking. Spread the chicken cubes on the chopping board and shake on the oregano, black pepper and garlic powder before adding the spiced chicken to the pot.

Slow cooker alfredo prep
Layer in your broccoli, turn the cooker onto HIGH and cover
.

Next, I make the alfredo sauce, it takes about ten minutes total. You can opt for a jar, but this is really very simple.

Using a saucepan on a medium heat, I add the butter, cream cheese and cream.

Stir the butter and a cream cheese until smooth within the cream using a rubber spatula to clean the edges and bottom of the pan.

Add the pesto and mix into the cream before adding the grated cheese.

If you wanted to stop now, you could use this sauce over pasta any time, but for this recipe, we’re going to add the chicken stock for cooking the pasta.

Add the chicken stock with water to the alfredo sauce (I know – what? But trust me). You can mix the stock in a mug first, but I just mix in the concentrate and then top it off with the kettle, right there in the pan.

Turn off the heat once the mixture is smooth (a little oil displacement is fine).

Layer the uncooked pasta onto the broccoli, pour your sauce with stock into the cooker, covering the contents. If the pasta isn’t covered, stir the layers to bring the broccoli to the top, as it doesn’t need to be submerged. Add a little more water if you need to cover the pasta, but tread lightly.

If you prefer the jar option, I suggest mixing the alfredo with the chicken stock before adding it to the slow cooker.

Slow cooker alfredo just before turning it on

Top tip: For added flavour, add bacon bits to the recipe. I keep leftover bacon  (if there ever is any) after I’ve oven baked a tray full at 180C/375F for cooked breakfast.

Cover the cooker, and walk away. This will slowly grow over the next hour. If you happen to be home and walk by, feel free to push any stray noodles down, but by and large, this dish is happy to tick along in the background. It’ll be ready to serve after two hours if the chicken is smaller, 2.5 if larger chunks. Please be sure to check the chicken is cooked through; pressing it against the side of the pot with a spoon should break the chicken easily.

Turn off or onto warm after 2 hours (5 hours if LOW temperature setting) and enjoy! It’s an all in one, so scoop onto a plate or bowl whenever your family are ready to eat.

Slow cooker doing some slow cooking

This dish can be done in the oven as well, at 180C/375F in a deep dish with a cover, or tightly wrapped with foil. You’ll want to spray a non-stick or grease the pan, and may need to check and stir it after half an hour. Cut the chicken a bit smaller and it should be done in 45 min to an hour.
Sparkly Mummy

Easy Cheesy Chilli con Carne

I’m a sucker for a good chilli, not too beany, full of flavour and options for serving. You can serve this in a bowl with toppings, in a wrap, over corn chips, in a taco salad or just over a bit of white rice. I’ve adapted this recipe as a quick, midweek, family meal that can be used in different ways over a couple of days.

I tend to make my own chilli powder (little dash of this, little dash of that, into the pot), but you can use your favourite pre-mix from a packet.You can save your family from anti-caking agents and colours by using your own spice mix, so I’ve provided my mix below. Please feel free to stick to your own methods though, if you prefer to use a little veg oil when browning and a packet of chilli spice mix – no judgement here!Spices for chilli

I use frozen veg (F) and tins, even squeezy tubes of coriander if I don’t have time to chop. There are a couple of ingredients that are optional, mostly because they may not be readily available in the UK. That being said, before I left, places like Tesco and Sainsbury’s were offering decent Mexican food selections, so you may luck out!

As with most of my recipes, I like to be in control of oil, salt, sugar and additives, so I’ll offer tips to avoid packet mixes and too much of the yuck that comes with ready meals. If you can get your hands on a nice, deep, non-stick pot, you won’t need oil for browning the beef.

My kids love this dish in a tortilla wrap with cheese; my husband and I prefer to dash some hot sauce in our bowl of chilli and top it with cheese and crème fraîche, or soured cream, and a handful of corn chips. It’s also awesome on a jacket potato, and who doesn’t love a homemade chilli dog?

You’ll need:

  • 1lb minced beef (half a kilo or so). Vegetarians could use Quorn or just extra beans.
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (F)
  • 1 TB chopped/minced garlic (I buy massive jars to keep in the fridge)
  • 1 small tin (7oz/198g) diced green chilies, mild and fire roasted if you can find them (OPTIONAL) (I used to just hand chop long green chilies that I found at my local high street market)
  • 1-2 TB chilli spice mix (I use dry cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, garlic, chipotle chilli – you may find peri peri easier to find – and cinnamon)
  • 1.5 tins of crushed tomato (A tin is usually 400g. In the US, I use 3 8oz tins)
  • 1 cube dry beef stock or 1 TB concentrated beef stock (Knorr have fab little jelly pots of beef stock that work well)
  • 1 cup shredded/grated carrot
  • 1 small tin cannellini beans (That’s about 200g or 8oz. You could use a large 400g tin if you like lots of beans. If you prefer kidney beans, go for it, but I’m not a fan of the skins on them)
  • 2 heaped tsp cane sugar
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh coriander/cilantro (seems like a lot, but really it’s just two handfuls. Alternatively, use 1 TB of squeezy tube or a large chunk of frozen chopped)
  • 1-2 TB refried beans from a tin
  • Dash of Worcestershire Sauce (OPTIONAL at the end)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (or more!). I prefer non-greasy cheeses like double Gloucester or Red Leicestershire as a topping.
  • A few TB crème fraîche or soured cream (OPTIONAL topping, but so delicious, it’s worth a try)
  • Salted corn tortilla chips (Optional, but yummy)
  • 2-4 flour tortillas (Optional, if your kids like a wrap, like mine. You can use white rice if you prefer, and you can make a pot while the chilli is cooking)

The method:

I use a deep, non-stick pot for this dish, and keep the lid handy. It’s like a camel – it will spit!

Spread the chopped onion across the bottom of the pot over a high heat. If using frozen, add the onions before turning on the heat, and then go about gathering your other ingredients so they thaw a bit.

Add the minced beef and garlic, and give it all a good mix to combine. You won’t need oil if you’re using a non-stick base.

If you’ve managed to find some mild green chilies, now is the time to add these beauties – for depth of flavour, not heat.

Chilli mince cooking
There’s something really satisfying about browning meat.

If you want to make your own spice mix, put them all together is a little dish as follows, in order of quantity (but adjust to your own taste): Almost 1 tsp cumin, then slightly less paprika, oregano, garlic, a tiny dash of chipotle chille (or peri-peri if you like) and an even tinier dash of cinnamon. The cinnamon really goes a long way, so tread lightly.

As everything starts heating up and producing liquid (try to go for low-fat content beef), add the spice mix you’ve just made or your packet mix.

As the onions, beef and minced garlic brown up, and the dry spices dry up the liquid, stir pretty continuously (especially if you haven’t used oil). Have your tins of tomato at the ready to dump in, and reduce the temp before burning.

Add the tomato and reduce the heat to medium. Give the mixture a good stir and cover it. Mind the spitting!

Add the dry, crushed stock cube or concentrated stock (no water added), drained can of cannellini beans and the shredded carrot.

Sprinkle in the sugar (to taste, but man that’s a lot of tomato, so be generous, it’s still less than ready made), a splash of water (only about a ¼ cup), give the mixture a good last stir, reduce the heat to med-low and cover.

If you have fresh coriander, give it a good rinse, remove the lower stalks, but don’t worry about the upper stalks between leaves. I roll up the coriander in a little sausage before finely chopping along the tube for a rough chop in seconds. The upper stalks will add flavour without being stringy, so don’t worry about separating leaves from the stalk.

chopping coriander
You don’t need to take the leaves off the stalks when preparing coriander.

Add the coriander/cilantro and mix in well before re-covering.

The carrots will soften, the tomato will mellow and the beans will virtually disappear over the next ten minutes. Keep the kettle handy in case you feel like another drop of water will help soften the carrots or prevent bottom sticking, but try not add too much.

After about 15 minutes, the chilli will have reduced a bit, but it’s still likely to be a bit more liquid than we’d like. This is where the refried beans come in. Stir in the refried beans a little at a time to help thicken the mixture, mellow the tomato and spices, and add fibre.

Give it a little taste and add salt and pepper if you like. Again, it’s a lot of tomato, so salt is likely necessary, but remember, it’s also in the beef stock and refried beans. I add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, as well as salt at this point, and give it good stir. There’s something about the Worcester that brings out the beef!

This chilli can carry on cooking, unattended, on very low heat, until you’re ready to eat, but it’ll be ready in half an hour, no problem.

In a cereal/salad sized bowl, mix the following:

  • 2 scoops (about 1 cup) of the chilli from the pot
  • A generous handful (about ½ cup) shredded cheese
  • 1 tsp crème fresh or soured cream

This instantlyHand holding tortilla chip with dip cools the chilli, mellows any spices they may be adverse to, and makes a handy all-in-one burrito filler that avoids the cheese falling out! Spread the mixture onto a tortilla, wrap it up and cut (or don’t) depending on your kid’s fondness for forks. If there’s a little left over, it’s perfect for dipping tortilla chips for mom bites.

My hubby and I have a bowl of chilli with a handful of cheese, dab of crème fraîche and some crunched up tortilla chips on top. Great for next day lunches over a jacket potato or with a salad. We’ve even made nachos with tortilla chips and cheese for a heavenly snack. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Sparkly Mummy

A day of easy meals for busy days with the kids

Ok, these aren’t recipes, so much as assembly instructions, so I’ve decided to do a whole days worth of meal ideas. My husband travels a lot for work, so I’m a part-time lone parent, and therefore the only chef. Some days I need quick, but healthy meals that require little-to-no brain power. Here’s what a day after my husband has been gone for a week or two looks like in my house.

Breakfast: porridge (Americans call it oatmeal)

You’ll need:

  • 1 or 2 packets of plain/original/no flavour instant microwave porridge/oatmeal
  • 1 banana
  • 1 level tsp brown sugar or maple syrup
  • 6-10 fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 to 2 cups milk

Method:

Some people are against microwaves; I’m not one of them. Instant oats are awesome and can be made so many ways. I go for original so I can control the sugar. You can also use apple sauce instead of the banana, cinnamon apple sauce if the kids like it, and even jam or raisins. I don’t use the blueberries if I don’t have them on hand, but the banana is omnipresent.

Use a microwave-safe bowl that’s nice and deep, and depending on if you’re using 1 or 2 packets of oatmeal, use half or the whole banana.

Smash the banana with a fork until mostly smooth. Sprinkle or pour in the sugar or syrup and give it a quick stir.

Add in the dry oats and cover with cold milk.

Drop in fresh or frozen blueberries (or raisins), but a few will go far.

Give it all a final stir and cover with kitchen roll/paper towel in the microwave.

Cook on high for 1.5 min and then stir the mixture. If it’s already getting dry, add another splash of milk or water. Stick it back in the microwave for 1-2 minutes more, depending on whether you’ve used fresh or frozen berries.

oatmeal
Ok, so this isn’t exactly a food porn pic. It’s just oatmeal – but I promise it’s tasty.

Give the mixture a stir and try to squish a berry on the side of the bowl. It should explode easily and mix in pretty purple swirls. Let it rest for about 5 minutes.

Check the temperature; if it’s still too hot, feel free to add another slash of cold milk to cool it if the kids can’t wait.

If I use 2 packets, this will feed all three of us, easily. It’s an easy way to add fibre and potassium, vitamins and calcium to a one-bowl breakfast. And it’s something you can experiment with – use fruit you love!

Lunch: quesadilla and grapes

You’ll need:

  • 4 or 6 flour tortillas
  • 4 cups Red Leicester or Double Gloucester cheese, grated
  • Two handfuls of seedless grapes

Method:

Some people go for grilled/toasted cheese and soup as a lunchtime comfort meal. I grew up with quesadilla and grapes. The tortillas are lighter than bread, and you don’t need butter to toast it up. I lived in England long enough to know that Red Leicester and Double Gloucester cheeses are the creamier, less oil-producing cheeses perfect for this job. Trust me: ditch the cheddar just this once. And who doesn’t like cheese and grapes? The red seedless are my kids absolute favourite.

First things first, you can buy pre-shredded cheese, or grate your own, but be sure to grate straight from the fridge so it doesn’t smudge all over the grater.

Put a griddle or wide pan on to warm on a medium-low heat. No butter or oil necessary.

Put one tortilla onto the flat surface and pile shredded cheese onto the center.

Lightly spread the cheese towards the edges but don’t worry too much, it’ll spread as it melts.

cooking quesadillaTop it with a second tortilla and let it be for about a minute. Squish the top onto the bottom by pressing with your hand or a spatula, and then bravely flip the lot. It sounds scary, but using your hands isn’t crazy, because you can pinch the edges together and quickly flip the whole thing before it’s too hot. I pull it up, slide it towards me and then over backwards, reaching to the far side of the pan in a sort of wrist motion.

The cheese will start to melt nicely and the top tortilla can be pushed a bit to spread it, if you like. All in all, it shouldn’t take more than 3 or 4 minutes to have crispy outside and gooey inside.

Remove the quesadilla onto a cutting board and start again at the griddle for 1 or 2 more. Once slightly cooled, cut like a pizza into triangles and serve.

Give your grapes a wash and pat dry and serve along with the quesadilla. Serve with pressed juice watered down, and guacamole (if I can be bothered). I’ve also been known to spread a thin layer of refried beans onto the bottom tortilla; it adds protein and fibre, and helps the cheese stick for the first flip. I tend to keep a tin in the cupboard, and literally pop it open, stir a bit with a butter knife, and spread on like peanut butter. It may not look appetising, but it’ll add flavour and a bit of veg. You can use the rest of the tin to make chilli or burritos (watch this space for those recipes)! Quesadillas

Dinner: fish fillets, beans and mash

You’ll need:

  • 3-6 frozen fish fillets (fish fingers just don’t have enough fish for my liking – these still have crunch but more of the good stuff)
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • Knob of butter
  • Heaping tsp of soured cream
  • Tin of baked beans
  • Salt and pepper

Method

My kids routinely eat every morsel of sweet potato mash, but leave white mash on the plate. This ‘recipe’ is a great introduction to how naturally sweet these beauties can be.

Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended on the packet of fish (usually around 200c/390f).

Rinse your sweet potato and poke it in a few places, then put it in the microwave for about 3 minutes. You don’t want to cook it through – just get it started.

Spread your fish fillets onto the baking tray and into the oven once heated to temp.

Place a piece of aluminium foil onto the oven rack and the potato onto that. This will finish the sweet potato in time with the fish, and allows natural sugars to caramelise.

While the fish and potato bake, get your baked beans going on the stove (or microwave with a cover), to warm through. I used to add a tiny bit of brown sugar or maple syrup to baked beans in the UK, because I’m used to southern style beans, but use whatever tastes good to you.

Once you’ve removed the fish as per their instructions, check if the sweet potato is leaking juices – good stuff! The foil now comes in handy to save your oven from juices, and to help your oven mitt as you grab it out.

Let the fish cool and slice open the potato. Scoop it out of the skin and into a deep cereal bowl.

Add the butter and stir to smooth big lumps out of the potato.

Add the soured cream and stir well. You can add a splash of milk if you want a creamier mash; it usually depends on the potato itself.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Plate up the baked beans, cut the fish into bite-size pieces, add a scoop of mash, and Bob’s your uncle!

Mash is great ‘glue’ for beginner eaters. And the virtuous sweet potato has more vitamins and fewer carbs than white potato. Something we can all enjoy!

fish dinner

I’m not saying it’s the most creative menu, but it’s full of little cheats that keep me away from fast food. There’s a way to moderate the sugar and salt, get some nutrients into them, and it’s food I know they’ll eat. Sometimes that enough! 

Sparkly Mummy