Easy Pesto Pasta recipe

When I was growing up, my dad was in charge of dinner once in a while, and his go-to was pesto. I have a special place on my palate for this style of pesto, and when I have a bit of fresh basil to use, I make a batch of pesto to keep in the fridge. I use the pesto in my spag bol, or as a spread on a cold chicken sandwich, but most especially for the fastest midweek dinner.

The pesto I make has walnuts, which may turn off a few due to taste or allergy, but you can substitute a nice hard, Italian cheese for the nuts if you prefer. Pine nuts are more traditional, but I find them expensive and less versatile than the walnuts, which also find their way into baked goods in my house. You can also add more olive oil than the recipe calls for to taste, but I usually add olive oil to the dish I’m using the pesto to flavour, so I use just enough to blend and preserve.

If you don’t fancy making the pesto from scratch, you can always tear in basil leaves and crush fresh garlic for the pasta recipe, and it’s still flavorful and quick. My kids aren’t the biggest fans of this pasta if it isn’t angel hair and the garlic is overpowering, but they never notice when it’s in the spag bol!  This dish takes all of 15 minutes, the longest step really is waiting for the water to boil. You can even make the pesto in the food processor while you wait for the water and then pasta. So quick, and so tasty!

You’ll need:

Pesto (food processor to a paste)

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons (or two cloves) fresh peeled garlic
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pasta

  • Angel Hair pasta (or spaghetti) to serve four (one handful usually does the trick)
  • ½ cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup sweet peas (again, frozen)
  • ½ cup rough chopped walnuts
  • 1-2 tablespoons pesto from above batch (or a handful of basil leaves and a bit of garlic)
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan or preferred hard cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The method:

Using a food processor, blend the basil leaves, garlic cloves and olive oil until smooth.

Add the walnuts and salt, and any more olive oil to keep the mixture smooth up to an additional tablespoon. The pesto paste should not clump up, but remain semi-liquid.

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Using a medium saucepan, bring 6+ cups of water to a boil for the pasta.

Break the pasta in half and add to the boiling water. Add salt and oil if you choose, but I usually don’t bother.

While the pasta cooks, scrape the pesto into an airtight container; this will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks!

Drain the pasta in the sink and return the pan to the cook top with a medium heat.

Add the onions, peas and oil and thaw/lightly fry the onions and peas.

Add the pesto you’ve created and the additional walnut pieces and stir into the onions and peas. This allows the garlic to fry off lightly before adding the pasta.

Return the pasta to the pan and toss lightly. You can also pour the pasta and sauce into a large serving bowl for tossing, it may provide more space for evenly coating the pesto.

Remove from the heat and either in the pot or bowl, add the cheese and toss again.

Salt and pepper to taste before serving. Enjoy!

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Tired of deciding what to cook?

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“I’m just buying loads of food and hoping it might arrange itself into a meal like monkeys writing Shakespeare.”

That’s my creative caption for the featured photo. Are you tired of deciding what to cook for your family week after week? Are you stuck in a rut, cooking the same things every week? Are you tired of buying expensive ingredients to try something new, only to have your kids reject it?

I know I am. In my house, I’m responsible for cooking 3 days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My husband does the other days, and he is a much more creative and resourceful cook. Moreover, he doesn’t get quite so cross about the soul-destroying experience of slaving over a hot stove to produce something the kids won’t even eat.

So from a combination of being busy with work and a general sense of ennui, I rely on the same old failsafes every week. And even I’m getting tired of it.

I do “Freezer Food Monday”, which is fish fingers or previously frozen Richmond sausages, accompanied by potato waffles and frozen peas (I do cook the peas; I don’t serve them frozen. I’m not that bad). Come on, don’t judge me … it’s Monday and I can’t be bothered. If we’re all very lucky, we had a roast chicken on Sunday and instead of freezer food I mix the leftover chicken with a jar of Korma curry sauce.

We then have “Mince Wednesday”. My kids are mad for mince, so I might as well be the one to cook it for them. I usually do a mild chilli con carne (the Hairy Bikers one is best) or a spag bol. But I get so bored and think there must be some more ways to serve the mince.

The week is rounded off by Pizza Friday. Usually it’s one of those ones they make for you in Morrisons. Sometimes we get one delivered or even occasionally go out for one. When the day is very special, I buy the pizza bases and other ingredients and we build our own. I’m quite happy with Pizza Friday, actually. I’m sure I read somewhere that a pizza each week keeps you on fleek. Although I am over the age of 30 so I don’t actually know what that means.

In any case, I really would like – for my own sanity if not for the sake of expanding my children’s tastebud horizons – to try some other stuff. But the problem for me is that the stakes (and the price of the steaks) are too high. I don’t want to make things that require a lot of effort and expensive ingredients, only to have my kids reject it.

This very website actually has some great family-friendly recipes to try out if you’re in a rut (written by a mate of mine, not me, in case you didn’t realise I had a reclusive guest poster). But another cool idea is to try out new recipe subscription service, Mum’s Meal Planner. This is a small business venture by a normal mum named Becky, who felt just the same about the difficulty of getting meal inspiration.

The way her service works is you pay £2.50 per month, and she sends you a weekly email with a whole week worth of meals (and 2 substitutes on the list if you really don’t like some of the main options). This is accompanied by a full shopping list that will cover everything for the week and use all of the ingredients without excess waste.

I’ve been getting her emails for a while now and I’m really impressed by the variety of easy recipes that keep things a bit fresh, along with the convenient shopping list. As I don’t cook every day of the week, I don’t use all of the recipes, but I enjoy getting some options each week to choose from. It’s fantastic that they’re all easy to follow even for those among us (like me) who have the bare minimum of culinary skills.

For this “Mince Wednesday”, I tried doing her cottage pie and beans recipe. There is minimal chopping and throwing the can of beans in adds loads of flavour and bulk with a minimum of effort. It tasted just as good as the much more labour-intensive cottage pie we usually make. It had a bit less depth of flavour (because our usual one has wine and worcestershire sauce in it), but that’s all well and good when you’re feeding children (the culinary cretins). My husband and I both really enjoyed it.

Sadly, my kids basically still didn’t eat it. But I didn’t mind so much because the expense and effort was low. Normally, when I worked so hard on a meal and my kids don’t eat it, I’m all like:

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But I didn’t feel that way today because the meal was low effort. I just shrugged and cracked open a beer. I’m looking forward to trying more of Becky’s meals. I’m sure my kids will find one or two they might deign to eat.

Becky subscribed me to her service for free for a short time so I could evaluate the service, but this is my honest opinion. I just like helping out small businesses. 

Mission Mindfulness

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Quickest Quiche Lorraine

Quiche is a brilliant breakfast. The savoury protein kick is just what the busy mom ordered. My husband is gluten intolerant – not just fad-style – but genuinely cannot indulge in a white flour crust. I am actually adverse to pie crust; I’ve never found it necessary and prefer to scoop out any filling I encounter. I understand many enjoy this mythical flaky, buttery crust that isn’t soggy or tasteless, so you’re welcome to use this filling recipe with a ready-made crust if you like. I prefer to go crustless. It’s faster, healthier and so much easier to serve!

For this recipe, I use greased ramekins to create easy portions and cut down on the baking time. You can fill a pie dish instead, but you’ll need to double the baking time and possibly cover with foil for the last 15 minutes to prevent it burning on top. I use Canadian bacon, pre-cooked rounds of back bacon that are easy to chop into pieces and fry off to add some flavour. You could easily use turkey bacon or ham to keep it lean, or back or streaky bacon if you have the time to cook it first. By using pre-cooked bacon, I only need a minute to give it some colour and it’s ready for the quiche.

In the spirit of super fast, I also use frozen chopped broccoli. I let it thaw for a minute before adding it to the bacon pan to help the remaining water evaporate and keep the quiche getting too soggy. Trust me, this added step will add flavour and firmness to your tart, so don’t skip this for the sake of one frying pan.

This is the perfect weekend morning dish to go along with some fresh fruit and toast, or you can make some extras for a quick midweek warm up. My kids love this, and my husband appreciates the lack of crust as much as I do. Give it a try and you’ll see why!

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You’ll need:

  • 4 ramekins greased with a tab of butter each
  • 8–10 eggs
  • ¼-–½  cup chopped broccoli (I use frozen)
  • ½ cup chopped, cooked bacon (I use Canadian bacon rounds)
  • ½ cup shredded cheese of choice (I prefer a sharp cheddar)
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder (I use a garlic and herb blend)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

The method:

Pre-heat your oven to 190C/375F.

Measure out your broccoli and set it aside to begin to thaw.

Quiche Lorraine ingredients.jpg

Chop your bacon into small pieces and add to a warmed pan over medium heat. Allow the bits to lightly fry for about a minute.

Add the slightly-thawed broccoli and allow to thaw further with the bacon. Allow any moisture from the broccoli a chance to steam off. This usually only takes two or three minutes.

Place your ramekins onto a baking tray and add a tab of butter to each before putting them into the oven.

Butter to grease ramekins

Break your eggs into a nice large bowl and scramble them well before adding the splash of milk. Beat in the dry spices and set aside.

Remove the ramekins from the oven and give them a little swirl to spread the butter around the edges.

Layer a bit of bacon and broccoli into the bottom of each ramekin before pouring the egg mixture to cover the bits.

Add a pinch of shredded cheese to the top of each quiche and use a fork to gently push down slightly below the egg.

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Slide your baking tray of quiches into the oven for about 20 minutes. Depending on the size of the individual ramekins, it may take slightly longer. Once the quiches are puffing up, they’re only a few minutes from finished.

Allow the quiche to cool for about 5 minutes after removing from the oven, they may sink slightly, but no worries. The individual quiche can be served with or without accompaniments – sometimes they never make it to a plate! Enjoy!

Forkful of Quiche Lorraine.jpg

Sparkly Mummy

Tortilla Soup recipe

Pretty much any restaurant that serves Mexican food serves a version of Tortilla Soup. It’s brothy, fragrant and delicately spiced. Most recipes ask you to have a bit of shredded chicken on hand to pour the broth over when serving. I don’t usually have baked or boiled chicken laying around, unless I have a leftover roast that hasn’t been picked bare, so my recipe includes cooking the chicken in the broth. As per the name, tortillas are usually grilled and sliced to top the soup, but I’ve found a handful or corn or flour tortilla chips add the texture, flavour and namesake without the fuss of grilling my own.

If you haven’t tried Mexican soups, you haven’t truly embraced the winter warmer. This is a simple dish, but the depth of flavour may surprise you. Many recipes for tortilla soup have as little as four spices, keeping a clear broth to pour over shredded chicken. I like to incorporate as many vegetables as possible when cooking for my family, so I load this one up with onion, carrot, white beans and tomato. I also thinly slice chicken breast whilst still slightly frozen, and then boil it in the soup to keep it moist and tender, and add natural chicken flavour to the soup. This allows the chicken to begin to shred after boiling away for just twenty minutes or so. It’s an all in one pot, midweek meal that smells and tastes amazing.

tortilla-soup-in-the-bowl

You’ll need:

  • 1 teaspoon oil of choice
  • 1 cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (fresh or dried)
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1 8oz tin diced tomato
  • 1 tin 8oz white/cannellini beans
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano flakes
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (optional depending on kids’ heat threshold)
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4-6 cups of water
  • 2 cups chopped coriander/cilantro (fresh is best)
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 small bag of corn or flour tortilla chips the break up on top when serving
  • Optional shredded cheese for serving

The method:

It’s easiest to prepare your chicken first, so that you have clean hands for stirring and adding spices. I like to slice chicken breast when it’s slightly frozen, so this dish is perfect for a packet I’ve had out thawing for dinner. Fresh chicken (or no chicken for the vegetarians) is still perfectly wonderful – I just tend to keep small freezer bags with meal-size portions of chicken and minced beef on hand for meal planning. Slice the chicken against the grain in thin strips. I find this works best for the shredding you want to achieve in a short amount of time.

I like to do this in one pot, so I begin with heating the oil, onions and garlic together over a medium high heat in a large soup pot. After a minute or two, the onions should be translucent and the garlic lightly frying.

Add the grated carrot, tomato and salt, and stir into the mixture. Drain and rinse the beans before adding to the pot.

Once the beans are mixed in, add the dry spices and give it a good stir before allowing it to bubble.

Once the tomato and carrots have softened slightly – 5 minutes or so should do the trick – add the chicken slices and just coat with the mixture.

Add the water straight away to avoid frying the chicken, you want the chicken to be submerged to boil.  

Allow the water to come to the boil before adding your chopped coriander.

Once the pot is bubbling nicely, the chicken will go white quickly and the beans will begin to break down. I have been known to add only half of the tin of beans to begin with, and save the second half for later to retain texture, but it’s up to you if you want to add this step.

I allow this soup to boil with the cover on for about 15 minutes before reducing the temperature to a simmer and removing the lid. This helps the chicken to soften and absorb the flavours of the soup.

You can let this simmer for ages, but it’ll be ready after 30 minutes if you’re hungry – even sooner if you just make the broth and pour it over leftover chicken or no chicken at all.

To serve, my kids like this ladled over rice, with a few corn chips broken on top. I love a big, steamy bowl as it is, a couple of corn chips and a small handful of shredded cheese on top. My husband just wants a bowl of soup with a few drops of hot sauce and he’s happy. However you take it, this is a family favourite that offers a Mexican flare and isn’t heavy with refried beans and cheese. It’s veggie packed, bursting with flavour and aroma, and is sure to make your family think you slaved for hours to get such succulent chicken. Buen apetito!

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Sparkly Mummy
A Mum Track Mind

Caramelised Onion and Mushroom Stew with Pumpkin Pie Pudding recipe

Autumn has entered full steam, and with all the blustering leaves and windy rains outside, I like to fill the home with warm smells and full bellies. When I have a hankering for French onion soup, but I know I need to feed the kids, I go for this all in one stew that can be made with what I have on hand. You can easily caramelise the onions and mushrooms and then use them as a burger topper, base for a bolognese, marinade for chicken or just a chutney for sandwiches. Yesterday, I wanted to add some rump steak and baby potatoes I had on hand, rather than just adding beef stock to the sweet onions and mushrooms to make soup. The result was a sweet, savoury blend of creamy, tender potatoes and beef.

This is a one pot version that can be done with cubed chicken breast and broccoli with chicken stock in place of the beef, potato and beef stock for this recipe and it’s divine. As I mentioned, the caramelised onions can be used in any number of ways if you want to stop there: allow them to cool and store for up to two weeks in a sealed container in the fridge.

The pumpkin pudding is a crustless version that’s gluten free and baked in ramekins. It’s a five minute mix and into the oven; one of the easiest desserts ever. This time of year, I like to decorate the little pies with dark chocolate chips to make jack-o-lantern faces for the kids.

You’ll need:

  • 2 medium onions (I use one red and onion white)
  • 1 TB vegetable oil of choice
  • 1 TB salted butter
  • 1-2 TB balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 cups sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 lb cubed beef
  • 10-12 Maris Piper/baby potatoes (I had some leftover from Sunday roast)
  • 1 tsp beef stock concentrate
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried garlic
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1-2 cups water
  • 1 cup single cream or half and half
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tin 425g pumpkin puree (available from American sections in larger supermarkets, or you can puree your own pumpkin)
  • 1 tin 396g sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 heaped tsp pumpkin pie spice (nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, salt)

The method:

Begin with slicing the onion into long strips and adding them with the oil to a wide pot over a medium heat. The onions will sweat and begin to brown after a few minutes of little stirring. Once they begin to brown slightly, try to stir more often so they don’t fry instead of sweetening.Chopped onion.jpg

After 10 to 15 minutes, you should begin to see them all browning, shrivelling and producing a lovely sweet aroma. You won’t need to add any sugar, these release their own natural sweetness that’s impressive.

Once the onions have produced a nice glaze, add the mushrooms and coat them with it. Add in the balsamic vinegar and tab of butter. Keep stirring until the mushrooms and onions are well blended.  onions-and-mushooms-cooking-down

The mushrooms stay nice and firm with this treatment, and make an excellent base for bolognese, marinade for creamy chicken, so a lovely burger topper if you stop here. I don’t blame you if the smells drive you to using this right now.

To finish the stew, add cubed beef and coat with the onion and mushroom mixture before allowing to sit and lightly brown. Depending on the quality of beef, I may reduce the temperature significantly at this point and add more water with the beef stock to tenderise.onion-mushroom-stew-ingredients-raw

Before the meat cooks through, add the beef stock, warm water to cover the meat and dry spices.

Next, add the potatoes to the watery pot. I used already cooked Maris Pipers I had on hand, but you can use raw potato if you quarter them and they cook quickly.  If you don’t want to fuss with chopping, you can add more water to accommodate the time to cook them through, no problem.  Allow the cooked potatoes to boil for at least fifteen minutes to warm through.

Allow the water to reduce by half, exposing the beef and potatoes, before adding the cream. Reduce the heat to avoid scorching, but allow the stew to bubble a bit before giving it a taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This shouldn’t take more than an hour from start to finish, with a prolonged simmer in the middle. I love meals that allow me to run after toddlers, maybe even get their bath in while it’s bubbling.  This was served with a dollop of soured cream, my daughter’s favourite.

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For the pumpkin pudding, preheat the oven to 350F/180C and pull out a medium sized mixing bowl.

Add the pumpkin puree, condensed milk, eggs and dry spice, and whisk together until smooth. I usually use a rubber spatula or fork, but you can use a hand mixer for about a minute if you prefer.

Ladle or spoon the mixture into 6-8 ramekins, about ¾ full. No preparation/grease required.

Bake the pumpkin custard for 20-25 minutes, or until it begins to come away from the edges.

Remove the ramekins from the oven and allow to cool. If you’d like to decorate, use a handful of chocolate chips to fashion a jack-o-lantern while they’re still slightly warm. You can even let the kids help with this super easy dessert!

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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.

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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

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