Not Your Average Tuna Salad

In the early days of summer, I haven’t got a lot of salad materials on hand, but the warm days call for cool dinners. This is a recipe I can whip up with cupboard and fridge staples, but adds a fresh, crunchy salad feel to a tuna pasta dish. I start out with veggie spiral pasta, tinned tuna and mayo, but this recipe might surprise with a sweet note of balsamic vinegar and the crunch of raw broccoli.

This is a super-fast midweek gem that satisfies a busy summer afternoon’s time constraints. With twenty minutes to boil the water and cook the pasta, you can prepare the tuna and broccoli in the meantime and throw it all into the fridge before football practice or a trip to the park. My kids surprised me by barely noticing the raw florets when they were first served this dish, and I think it adds lovely texture along with the numerous health benefits of eating raw. If you prefer to avoid mayo, feel free to use your favourite Italian dressing or even yogurt-based Caesar dressing for a tailored taste. Make it your own!

Not Your Average Tuna Salad Recipe.png

You’ll need:

  • 8oz/220g tinned tuna, drained
  • 12oz/340g veggie spiral pasta (or your favourite pasta for cold salad)
  • 3 tablespoons light mayonnaise (or more to your taste – I don’t like too much mayo)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (I use a garlic and herb mix with parsley)
  • ½ cup fresh broccoli florets (gently cut the fine top layer of a head of broccoli, keep the rest for soup)
  • 1 cup grated cheddar (finely grated more evenly distributes)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped gherkins or American style pickle relish (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pasta salad ingredients.jpg

The method:

Start a medium-sized pot for boiling water. No need for a giant pot – the pasta cooks as long as it’s covered. Add the dry pasta once you have a rolling boil and reduce the heat.

Drain your tuna well and scoop it into a large bowl that will accommodate the pasta as well.

Add the balsamic vinegar to the tuna and break it up very well before incorporating the mayonnaise.

Add the garlic powder, salt and pepper and mix well.

Slice the top layer of the broccoli to get just the tiniest bits for your salad and save the stalks for another recipe (soup is a favourite).

chopped brocolli.jpg

Drain your pasta once it’s al dente and rinse it with cold water to cool it quickly. Toss the pasta a fair bit to drain as much of the water from the spirals as possible.

Add the pasta to the tuna mixture and mix it well before adding the broccoli and shredded cheese. You can stir in your gherkins/relish at the end if you are adding that.

Give the salad a good toss to distribute the broccoli and cheese, but don’t overdo it or it might start to break down the pasta. Add more salt or pepper to taste before covering the bowl and putting it in the fridge until serving. It can be eaten straight away, but tastes refreshing for a hot summer dinner after about 30 minutes. Spice it up with some chili flake, or add more crunch with some bacon crumbles to make this an amazing party salad, too! Hope you like it … simple but surprising!

Spoonful of pasta salad

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Lazy lasagna recipe with midweek meatballs

My children motivate most of my meal planning; it needs to be fast, full of nutrition and tasty! Not much to go on, I know, but I find a way. This recipe blog catalogues some of my favourite solutions for the midweek freak out that can become the answer to “what’s for dinner?” As much as I love to cook, I’m an essentially lazy chef, so I need cheats like the “meatballs” my kids love. They don’t realise that traditional meatballs are huge, hand-shaped and time consuming, but they squeal with delight when they see my pasta with meatballs all the same.

I call this a lazy lasagna because using linguine instead of lasagne sheets saves so much time! I also use sausages for the meatballs; mild Italian pork is not spicy but flavourful. In the UK, I used to buy gluten-free sausages for their high meat content – I don’t need all of the bread fillers. I’ve been known to de-case the sausages for lovely ground pork, but in this recipe, I’ve left the sausages in their casing and slice them towards the end. I can usually have this meal on the table in about 45 minutes, but it can be even quicker if you’re super talented and have three pots on the stove going at once. It may create more dishes, but that’s not always a bad thing if it calms the starving hordes a bit sooner.

Don’t get me wrong, nothing can replace a true restaurant-style al forno lasagne, but this recipe has so much of the flavour without the fuss, it’s got to be tried. I don’t like the meal to be too rich or the kids won’t like it, so the addition of vegetables and ricotta help to keep it fresh and light. Most American-style lasagna is layered with ricotta and spinach, and egg even for the oven baking, and takes ages to layer and then bake. This method takes half the time but packs a powerful lasagna punch.

ways tocook.png

You’ll need:

  • 1lb (6 large) sausages (I use mild Italian or gluten-free)
  • 1 tablespoon veg oil of choice for searing the sausages
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 cup shredded carrot (I use pre-shredded/julienned)
  • 2 x 8oz/400ml tins of chopped tomato (or 1 chopped and 1 sauce if you need less chunks)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced or dried garlic
  • ½ teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Italian spice mix of choice (mine has thyme, rosemary, basil and parsley)
  • 1 cup of chopped spinach (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon chicken stock concentrate
  • 2 cups of water for the sauce
  • Linguine pasta (one handful dried pasta made enough for 4 people)
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup grated or shredded parmesan
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

The method:

I try to have as many things going at once as possible to cut down on the time, but you can use the same pot for your sauce after searing the sausage if you have time and want fewer dishes.

If I know I’m going to sear meat for colour and flavour, I usually take it out of the fridge to allow it to come closer to room temperature before frying. This is usually about an hour before I get started – I just leave the packet on the sink.

Warm a pan and the veg oil to a medium-high heat before adding the sausages. Try not to move them for about 3 minutes before turning. The longer you can leave them sitting, the better colour they’ll get. Don’t worry about cooking them all the way, they’ll finish in the sauce.

While the sausages are browning, bring another pot to a medium-high temperature with the olive oil and onions. Once the onions begin to sizzle, add the carrot and dry spices and mix in well.

Once the onions and carrots have been coated with the spices and fried for a minute or two, add the tins of tomatoes.

Be sure to turn your sausages to get colour on as much of the casing as possible. I use a cast iron pan for this job.

You can get a medium-sized sauce pan started with boiling water for your pasta. I almost never use a huge pot of water as it seems a waste and takes ages. I break my handful of pasta in half before adding it to the boiling water with a splash of oil. As long as you stir once in a while, there’s plenty of space for the pasta to cook.

Add the chicken concentrate and water to your tomato sauce, then add the water and spinach and bring it all to the boil. I usually cover the sauce and only slightly reduce the heat to keep a rolling boil going without the splattering. This will help the sauce break down quickly.

Once the sausages have lovely colour on most sides, go ahead and add them to the sauce and the re-cover the pan. The sausages will finish cooking in the sauce after another 10 minutes or so, and their juices will flavour the sauce.

Once the pasta is cooked to your preferred texture – we go slightly softer than al dente – drain and lightly rinse your noodles.

Add the ricotta, parmesan, salt and pepper to a small bowl and mix well.

Toss it together to coat the pasta with the cheese and set aside.

Cheese on pasta.jpg

Check your sauce is reducing and the carrots and tomatoes have softened. Go ahead and remove the sausages from the sauce, onto a plate for slicing.

Slice the sausages into equal pieces so they’re, you know, meatballs! Return the sausage and any juices from the plate back into the sauce and allow it to simmer for another 5 minutes uncovered.

Chopped sausages.jpg

When you’re ready to serve, add the pasta to the sauce and toss it all together. You don’t want to overdo it, or it’ll start to turn to mush, so a few quick turns to pull the sauce from the bottom should be fine. You can also serve the sauce ladled over the pasta if you prefer.

Once you’re happy with the temperature for serving, pile onto plates and enjoy! My kids are temperature adverse, so the cooled pasta with the hot sauce meets their requirements without really needing to reheat. It’s not the most beautiful meal in the world, but it’s got everything you need for a lazy lasagna experience. Hope you enjoy it!

Sparkly Mummy

Tarragon Chicken with Mushroom and Spinach recipe

I don’t always have it in me to eat kid-type foods, so I make my kids eat grownup food once in a while. This is a recipe that can easily be used for a dinner party, but my kids really like it too! As with most of my meals, I try to hide vegetables and use mild spices. You can opt out of the splash of white wine if your kids are just not having it, but it really does add an acidity that cuts the cream nicely.

I like the fragrance of fresh tarragon, but dried works really well, and I even use a bit of the dry flake to top up the tarragon flavour at the end if necessary. I prefer to use my cast iron pan, to get good colour on the chicken, but your favourite browning pan will still work a treat. Try not to shift the chicken once you’ve placed it so that a nice rich colour develops, even if it’s only on one side. It’ll add to the flavour of the dish once you deglaze with the wine or water.

My house was smelling so good once I got started on this, and it only took 45 minutes from start to finish. A midweek feast, really, and easy with plain white rice to serve. I use my rice cooker with just a tab of butter and dash of salt to cook with the rice. The sauce from this recipe requires no additional flavour from the rice as it’s so rich and creamy.

Tarragon chicken with mushroom and spinach recipe.jpg

You’ll need:

  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 2-3 chicken breasts
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh tarragon (2 tablespoons dried)
  • 1 cup sliced leek
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black or white pepper
  • 1 tsp dried garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • ¼ cup white wine (optional)
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 2 cups single cream or half and half
  • 1 cup finely chopped white mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped spinach (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon white granulated sugar
  • Serve with white or brown rice for four adult meals, 2 cups dry rice should do the trick

The method:

Warm your oil in a pan over a medium heat before adding the sliced leeks and a handful of tarragon leaves (no stems). Allow the leeks and leaves to lightly fry for about 1-2 minute.

Saute leeks and onions.jpg

Press the leeks to the side of the pan to clear the oil; you’ve now flavoured it for cooking the chicken.Tilted pan.jpg

Add the chicken breast, room temperature is best for getting good colour, and put the leeks on top of the breast so the chicken gets good contact with the pan and the leeks don’t burn.

Chicken in the pan.jpg

Allow the chicken to brown, try not to shift it, for about 3 minutes on each side.

Add a tab of butter and allow it to melt before adding the mushrooms.

Add the mushrooms in around the chicken to allow a light fry in the oil with the leeks and tarragon mostly on top of the chicken.

Remove the chicken to a plate and cover with aluminium foil.

Add the white wine or a bit of water to deglaze the pan; basically scrape everything off the bottom to save that flavour for your sauce.

Add the cream and combine, allowing it to come up to a light bubble.

Adding cream to the pan.jpg

Add the chopped spinach and incorporate into the sauce.

tarragon-sauce-in-the-pan

Add the garlic, sugar, salt and pepper, and any dry tarragon you feel you need to taste.

Add the chicken back to the pan with any juices from resting and allow to lightly simmer for about 15-20 minutes over a low heat. You can cover the pan if you feel like it’s reducing too quickly.

I use a rice cooker to make 2 cups of white rice to serve, so this is the perfect time to get that started. The chicken and rice should finish at just about the same time.

Check the largest/thickest piece of chicken after 15 minutes simmering to see if the juices are running clear. Once you’re satisfied the chicken is cooked through, turn off the heat and serve over the rice.

Depending on how much sauce you want, you can allow this reduce further, or add a bit more cream to mellow the flavours for younger diners.

The mushrooms and spinach disappear into the leeks and tarragon, and the sauce is just lovely over the rice. It’s a pretty healthy meal, really, and gluten free! Enjoy!

Sparkly Mummy

Warming Beef Stroganoff Stew recipe

This is a recipe that I love to make if I’m craving soft, tender beef and a warm bowl of dinner. I like one pot, one utensil meals. Am I lazy? You bet.

My family are homebodies. I love an afternoon indoors with the children playing and a pot of stew stewing. I found some lovely beef steaks the other day on sale in my local grocery. I had thought of surprising my husband with a grilled steak dinner, but a rain and wind storm threw that plan right out of the window. Instead, I decided to stew up the beef with potatoes, carrots, peas and mushrooms. It’s the kind of stew that can be done midweek; if you only have an hour before dinner and can manage fifteen minutes to get it started, you’ll easily be able to walk away from it until you plate up.

If you’re not a fan of soured cream or crème fraiche to stroganoff the stew, you’ll still have a hearty, flavourful soup, but I think the creaminess and light tang accompany the potatoes perfectly. Traditionally, you’ll find pasta in a stroganoff recipe, but this is my one-pot, gluten-free, family-friendly version.

Warming beef stroganoff stew recipe

You’ll need:

  • 1-1.5lb beef steak (approximately two medium-sized steaks) cubed
  • 1 tsp veg or olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic granules or fresh crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp beef stock concentrate
  • 1 cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 cup chopped/julienned carrot (approximately one medium carrot)
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms of choice (I finely chop so they disappear and the kids don’t know)
  • 1 cup petit peas (I use frozen)
  • 15-20 baby potatoes (small Maris Pipers)
  • 4 cups of water
  • ½ cup (or more to taste) soured cream or crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The method:

Using a nice deep pot over a medium-high heat, add the cubed beef, oil and dry spices. Coat the beef with the spices with a quick toss in the pot, and then allow the beef to brown deeply on at least two sides. If the bottom of the pot starts to stick a bit, don’t worry, that’s flavour that will come up with the water.

Once the beef is browned, but not cooked through, add the beef stock concentrate and a splash of water to dissolve. I do this right in the pot and add just enough water to allow me to loosen the concentrate.

Add the onion, carrots and mushroom to the beef and stock mixture and allow the onions to just go translucent; you don’t want the beef to cook completely.

Add the potatoes and peas, then cover with water.  Bring the water to the boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low, just enough to maintain a simmer. You can walk away from this for up to 45 minutes, checking occasionally to be sure it’s not sticking to the bottom or needs a top-up of water. I don’t bother peeling my potatoes, and only halve the largest, so I like to give this a while to bubble. If you are pressed for time, you can peel and cube the potatoes and halve the cooking time, but be careful they don’t turn to mash.

Slightly less close up of stew.jpg

Once the potatoes are soft and the broth has reduced by about half, add the soured cream/crème fraiche and turn off the heat. I probably use a little more than ½ cup, but my family all love soured cream on potatoes. The beef is so tender by now, it won’t even need a knife. I’ve shown the kids plate version and my warmer bowl of succulent stroganoff stew to tempt you. This is a simple recipe that absolutely oozes flavor, give it a go!

Sparkly Mummy