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.

Pesto.jpg

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!

Plated pesto pasta.jpg

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Creamy mushroom & green bean pork steaks recipe

It’s hard to get kids to eat more mature meals – grown-up dinners that appeal to the adults – so I wasn’t sure how to serve my children some gorgeous pork loin steaks that were making my mouth water. I decided to go for a tried and true recipe I grew up with, pork chops with cream of mushroom soup. Of course, not content to just dump the contents of the tin onto some fried chops, I created this recipe, which went down a treat. Using my cast iron pans makes colouring the meat really easily, but if you don’t have one, just leave the meat alone for several minutes to sear the colour onto it in any deep frying pan. I was really surprised at how keen the kids were once the chops were in bite-sized pieces and swirled into the mash.

You can choose to make your mash anyway that suits, but this recipe offers a microwave shortcut that shaves time and clean up in half. Peeling the skins once the whole potatoes have been cooked is much easier, and you don’t have to worry about a pot adding to the steam in your kitchen in the summer.

I used a teaspoon of bacon fat I had saved in my fridge to fry off the steaks, but a bit of veg oil will do the trick if you don’t have lard on hand. I happened to have it after a bacon-heavy brunch, but I must admit it adds a lovely depth of flavor to the pork and onions. You can keep it basic, or add more of your own flare to this dish, so I hope you’ll find inspiration in this ramped-up old standard that takes less than 30 minutes.

Creamy mushroom & green bean pork steaks recipe

You’ll need:

  • 4–6 pork loin steaks or pork chops (depending on the thickness of the steak)
  • 2–3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon garlic granules/powder
  • 1 teaspoon bacon fat or veg oil
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 2 cups chopped green beans (again, frozen is so easy)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 8oz (small) tin cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon (optional)
  • ¼ cup single cream or half & half (optional)
  • 4 large baking potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • ½–1 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The method:

At least one hour prior, but preferably the night before, place your steaks or chops into a plastic bag to marinate in the Worcestershire and garlic.

 

Pork steaks marinating

Bring a nice deep frying pan to a medium-high heat with either the lard or oil to fry off the steaks. Try not to move them so you get a lovely, deep colour on both sides.

Pork steaks browning

Add the frozen onions after both sides have some colour, and allow them to create a bit of liquid for clearing the fried bits off of the bottom of the pan.

Pork and onions.jpg

Add the green beans and mix into the onions. You can add up to one cup of water to help if needed.

Stir the liquid created with the dried oregano before adding the tin of soup.

Stack the steaks to one side whilst you incorporate the soup and the onion and green bean sauce.

Add another splash of water if you want a thinner sauce, but it will reduce as you decrease the heat to medium-low.

Allow the sauce to come to a slight bubble over the steaks, for about ten minutes to keep the steaks tender.

While the pork is finishing and the sauce is reducing, scrub a few good-sized potatoes and poke them each in several places before placing on a microwave safe plate.

Microwave on high (or use the “baked potato” setting) for 8–12 minutes, or until they’re all soft to the touch.

Once the potatoes are all cooked through, roll them in your hands with an oven glove to loosen the potato inside. Allow the potato to cool slightly before peeling away the skins by hand.

Add the butter and milk, salt and pepper, and mash together with a fork. Reheat if necessary before serving.

As the sauce for the pork reduces, add salt and pepper to taste. Optional additions are a bit of cream and dried tarragon right at the end, which I find add a richness and aromatic quality. I mix them in right before I turn off the heat.

Serve the steaks with the mash, and drench them both in the gorgeous sauce and beans. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Forkful of pork and mash

Grilled Salmon and Sweet Corn recipe

Summer is upon us, and in full on heatwave mode! The sunshiny days are glorious, but they don’t inspire a love for slaving over an even hotter stove. In protest, I take to the grill and opt to BBQ nearly everything that requires cooking. Fresh ears of half-husked sweet corn are plentiful in the grocery, and I keep my eye open for the sales of fresh fish and grillables. I recently saw a stellar deal on salmon fillets, so decided to grill the fish in a bid to tempt my children. They aren’t the most adventurous eaters, so when my 6yo proclaimed he loves salmon and wants it every night, I figured I had better share the recipe!

summer deals!.jpg

You’ll need:

  • Approximately 2.2kg/1lb fresh, skin-on salmon fillet
  • 2–3 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh is best, but I tend to use the plastic squeezy type for ease)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh pressed garlic (I keep a jar in the fridge)
  • 1 cup fresh chopped coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1+ teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3–4 ears half-husked sweet corn on the cob
  • Optional bag of mixed greens for a quick bed of salad
  • Optional 1 cup of white rice for a bed of rice (I tend to have leftover rice in my fridge, but you can make it while the fish is grilling if you like)

The method:

Using a large sheet of aluminium foil, lay your salmon fillet skin down onto the centre of the foil.

Using a small bowl, combine the lemon, coriander, garlic, cumin and salt before spreading the mixture on top of the salmon.

Salmon ready for the grill.jpg

Loosely cover the fish with the foil and seal the strip with a bit of crimping at the top and sides. Your salmon parcel is ready to marinate for about 15 minutes, while you get the grill ready (you can also use the oven at 200C/400F).

Salmon parcel.jpg

Using another sheet of foil, cover the grill and place the corn cobs husk up so the kernels are against the foil. This helps to steam the corn in the radiant heat and lessens the risk of burning.

Corn ready for the grill.jpg

After the corn has been on the grill for about 10 minutes, add the salmon parcel and reduce the heat to a medium flame/setting. Be sure to place the fish skin down, the top/opening of your foil parcel up and ready to open.

After 10–15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet, you should open the parcel and allow the steam to escape. Check the centre to ensure the fish is fully cooked before removing from the grill. You shouldn’t need to have the fish on the grill for more than 20 minutes total.

If you’ve put the corn on before the fish, these should finish at the same time. Pierce a kernel beneath the husk to be sure it’s cooked through; it should squirt a bit of corn juice at you if it’s finished.

Corn and salmon on the grill.jpg

Clear off the husks once the corn is cooked and cooled slightly. Serve on the cob or sliced off into kernels.

The skin of the salmon may well be stuck to the foil, so if you’re a fan of the skin, I suggest oiling the foil and fish on the skin side when preparing. I love that the skin stays in place while I serve the flesh, but it’s my preference.

With the salmon and corn slightly cooled, you can enjoy these over a salad, with some steamed rice, or with a bit of mashed potato to your tastes. I serve the kids with flaked salmon and sliced corn mixed into rice, but my husband and I prefer to have a big salad. The flavor of the salmon with the coriander is so fresh and earthy, it’s just about my favourite summer treat.  Enjoy!

Kids plate salmon and corn.jpg

Slow-cooked Mexican shredded beef recipe

When we get into the early parts of summer, I start to get really lazy and fall out of love with being in the kitchen. It’s hot. I don’t want to be hotter. I haven’t built up my tolerance for warm weather and so I abandon the cooker. I usually end up with lots of grilled food and salads, fresh fruit desserts and sweet corn on the cob. But there’s always the allure of roasted, stewed and baked foods that require a modicum of sweat equity, as it were, if you want to cook for yourself and avoid breaking the budget with takeaways. Enter the crock pot: a delightful convenience that also works magic on meats with the low and slow method.

I used to think it couldn’t be that important to sear meats before putting them in the crock, but for the sake of one dish dirtied, it’s completely worth the additional flavor. The secret to searing is to just leave it alone; place a steak or piece of poultry onto the pan and don’t even think about wiggling it for a couple of minutes at least. It really does make all the difference to the depth of flavor, even after all of the spices added. I use a jar of salsa verde to cover the meat, but if you can’t find green salsa, you can use any tomato-based salsa that you love to the same effect. I add dry spices towards the end of the recipe to taste, based on the flavor of the beef and salsa, after a few hours. Each salsa is unique, so it will flavour the beef in its own right; however, it’s mostly used for the acidity in the tomatoes, which help to break down the beef and keep it super tender.

This is a favorite when steak is on sale. I know I can make it last for many more meals than 6 steak dinners, and the kids will eat it once it’s wrapped in a burrito. I’ll usually make my refried beans to go with this (early in the morning if it’s a scorcher), but you can have a lovely meal with just this beef in a wrap, over a salad, or topping nachos. I used a healthy portion of the shredded beef to make enchilada casserole when my parents came over for dinner: an easy layering of corn tortillas, beef, refried beans, cheese and enchilada sauce. My husband routinely puts the cold beef on a sandwich for lunch, and I’ve been known to toss some into my scrambled eggs. The versatility is endless, and it’s just incredibly delicious. Hope you love it!

Slow-cooked Mexican shredded beef

You’ll need:

  • 4 to 6 good-sized lean steaks, your favourite cut (or whatever is on sale)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 24oz jar of salsa verde (or salsa of choice)
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, to taste
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder, to taste (I like chipotle powder)
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder, to taste
  • Up to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
  • Up to 1 teaspoon granulated/caster sugar, to taste
  • ½ cup rough cut, fresh coriander/cilantro, to taste

The method:

Allow your steaks to come to room temperature and dust (dry rub) with the dry spices listed on the first half of the list.

Warm your pan and the oil before adding the steaks for searing. Avoid moving the steaks to allow a good colour to develop, usually 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

steaks in pan

Layer the seared steaks into the crock pot with the salsa, coating the bottom of the crock pot with about 1/3 of the jar of salsa and the remainder over the top of the steaks.

salsa verde

Seal the lid and allow the steaks to stew on high for 4–6 hours. You’ll barely have to look at this until a couple of hours in, when you might want to stir the steaks a bit to make sure everything’s covered.

beef in crock pot

After 3–4 hours, when you get the chance, take two forks and try to pull some of the steaks into smaller pieces. Don’t worry if it still seems a bit tough – just cover it up again and try after another hour. Once it’s easy to pull the meat apart with two forks, go ahead and shred up as much as you like, leaving larger pieces for texture according to your preference.

There should be plenty of beef stock and salsa remaining after 4–5 hours, so that it’s covering the meat in a runny sauce. Taste the sauce to see what you’ve created with your chosen salsa. If you love it as is, leave the sauce to reduce a bit and you’re done. If you want to vamp it up a bit, now’s your chance. I add the second half of the list of dry spices while there’s still a fair bit of liquid, to ensure it’s incorporated. I enjoy the smokiness of chipotle powder and smoked paprika added at the end, and sugar to taste to enhance the spice.

It couldn’t be easier, but you can make this your own by try different salsas, adding shredded carrots and onions, or upping the heat index with fresh chili. Any way you shred it, it’s gonna be a winner.

Veggie Curry with Lentils recipe

This is a curry recipe with cabbage, and before you x out of this page, let me just say it’s neither smelly nor stringy. I must admit I was slightly scared of cooking cabbage; coleslaw is great, but I’m not a big bubble and squeak fan, so my main experience with cooked cabbage has been bland, smelly and limp. That being said, cabbage is really good for you, and I’m always trying to find new ways of forcing veg ingestion upon my children, so when they turned their noses up at coleslaw, I thought I’d trick them into the rest of the slaw. I bought a big bag of pre-shredded cabbage and carrot that you’re meant to add dressing to for coleslaw, but it ended up helping create to most delicious curry.

My daughter is my biggest food critic, but she’s also my biggest fan if I make lentils for dinner. At 4 years old, she’s determined to polish off any vegetarian meal I make, convincing me she’s going to refuse meat any day now. As long as I have a half an hour to allow the lentils to soften, I’ll make this type of dish for lunch or dinner. This particular recipe took about 45 minutes from start to finish, but I was faffing a bit. The depth of flavour that the spices and cabbage add are gorgeous – sweet and savoury, and a little bit creamy. I hope you’ll give it a try, even if you don’t think you like cabbage, because I was surprised by how sweet and tender it was in this curry.

lessons.png

 You’ll need:

  • 1 tablespoon veg oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup crushed or diced tomato (tinned is easiest)
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup dried red lentils (rinsed well)
  • 2–3 cups shredded cabbage (I used a coleslaw pre-shred with a bit of carrot)
  • 1 cup chopped coriander/cilantro (I use my scissors and just snip into the pot)
  • ½ teaspoon chicken (or veg) stock concentrate, or 1 dried cube
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 4–6 cups of water to cover and periodically top up until the lentils are softened
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt

Veg curry ingredients

The method:

First things first: find a wide, deep pan and add the butter and oil over a medium-high heat.

Melting the butter.jpg

 

Once the butter is melted and the oil is warm, add your dry spices and give them a quick stir before adding the tomato and incorporating into the oil and spices. This will allow the spices to lightly fry without burning, and the tomato to reduce.

Add the chicken stock concentrate or cube and mix it into the tomato and spices; you’ll add water later, so don’t worry if it’s not fully mixed in.

Ensuring you’ve thoroughly rinsed the dried lentils, add these to the tomato mix and stir well.

Lentils cooking.jpg

Cover the lentil mixture with the shredded cabbage and add about 1 cup of your water. I find keeping a full kettle on hand the easiest for eyeballing the water additions. Reduce the heat to a medium-low while covered to save scorching the bottom.

Keep the cabbage on top without stirring it in and just cover it for about five minutes. This gives you the perfect chance to start your rice, or pull out the pita or naan for serving. I usually cook jasmine rice with chicken stock and a little garlic and herb spice, but that’s just because I like my rice to have flavour of its own.

Cabbage in the pan.jpg

Once the cabbage has wilted, and created some of its own water, give it a good stir to incorporate the lentils and check the water level.

Sprinkle in the brown sugar and add the coriander, and mix into the curry before adding about 2–3 cups of water, or enough to cover the mixture.

Incorporate the water before covering and allowing to simmer on medium-low heat for another 10–15 minutes. The cabbage will continue to reduce as the lentils soften, so you shouldn’t need more water, but keep an eye on your creation.

Once you’re satisfied with the tenderness of your lentils, reduce to low (or switch off the heat if you’re serving straight away) and add the Greek yogurt. This will mellow the spices and add creaminess to the curry.

Serve this over rice, or with toasted pita or naan bread.  Add a splash of lemon juice to your serving for a citrus burst and enjoy!

Closeup plated veg curry

Porky Pie recipe

Comfort food is delightful in the winter, when jumpers and jackets cover their calorific side effects. As we enter Spring, however, I try to lighten our meals a little, in anticipation of shorts and vest tops. This recipe is a mid-week crowd pleaser; not cottage, not shepherd’s, but porky pie. It’s a quick, healthy meal that doesn’t take more than 30 minutes from fridge to table.

Ground pork is lovely and lean, but still has fabulous flavour if you give it a chance to brown. I add chopped mushroom to the meat to add volume, texture and flavour, but the kids would never know it! This is a gluten-free recipe that could be vegetarian if you use Quorn instead of meat. The usual carrots and peas add even more veg, texture and freshness to this delicious favourite.

My kids aren’t fond of white potato mash – they prefer sweet potato, so I’ve made this with sweet potato mash many times and it’s wonderful. This recipe is more traditional, with white or yellow potato mash on top, but if you’re really pressed for time midweek, you can use instant mash potatoes to top the meat. This saves peeling, boiling and mashing yourself, and only involves the kettle and a bowl. For families with less pernickety children, the instant mash is a real timesaver, and adding a little dollop of crème fraiche or soured cream makes all the difference for the taste. The pork gravy tastes amazing no matter how you top it!

Porky Pie recipe.png

You’ll need:

  • 1lb ground pork
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup chopped brown mushroom
  • 1 cup chopped or grated carrot
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon chicken stock concentrate, or ½ cube dried chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup frozen sweet peas
  • Optional 1 additional tablespoon Worcestershire sauce near the end
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups of white potato mash (if not using instant)
  • 3-5 medium russet potatoes
  • 1 cup low fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional ½ cup shredded cheese

The method:

If you’re making your own mash, get a pot of water on the cooker to bring to the boil, and wash and quarter your potatoes so they’re ready to add to the water straight away.

Choose a nice wide pan for browning your meat and bring it to a medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions, ground pork and Worcestershire sauce and mix together, breaking up the meat and distributing the onions and sauce.

Leave the meat for a good 2 minutes to allow one side to brown deeply. Resist the temptation to stir as you want the flavour to stick. This is a great time to chop mushrooms and carrots.

Add the dry spices to the meat before your next stir and coat the meat before leaving it for another 2 minutes.

Add your chopped mushroom and carrot once the meat is mostly browned and mix into the mixture well.

Next, add the chicken stock and tomato paste, and perhaps a splash of water to help dissolve, but the meat and veg will have produced a bit of liquid to help stir into the gravy.

Porky Pie filling

Add the frozen peas and distribute into the mixture, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Allow the mixture to simmer covered for about 10 minutes.

While the meat is simmering, whip up your mash with either the kettle water and packet, or the boiled potatoes you’ve drained in the sink. If making from-scratch mash, I add the boiled potatoes back to the pan with the butter and use a fork to smash. I add 1% milk, and salt and pepper to taste. The handful of shredded cheese is optional, but adds colour and creaminess.

After about 10 minutes, taste the pork and add one more splash of Worcestershire to taste. I love the flavour, so add that last minute splash before it goes into the oven. You’re fine to use salt and pepper to taste if you prefer.

Pour the meat mixture into the bottom of a baking dish (I use a square non-stick) and cover with your mash.

Spreading potatoes on porky pie.jpg

Slide the pie into a preheated oven at 200C/400F for about 15 minutes. It doesn’t take long for bubbles, so an additional baking tray underneath is advised. Allow the pie to cool slightly before serving and enjoy!

Porky Pie close-up.jpg

Sparkly Mummy

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

Restaurant-worthy refried beans for tacos & more

I am a true Mexican food fanatic. I grew up in Los Angeles, so it’s part and parcel of my childhood. I usually rate a restaurant based on their refried beans; maybe it’s silly, but if they can’t get these right, I’m usually less than impressed with the more complex dishes. As the mum of two small children, I don’t have a lot of time to soak beans from scratch, but this recipe using tinned pinto and black beans is so tasty, you’ll hardly know the difference.

Refried beans can be pretty calorific if you use traditional methods, like including pork fat or lard as your “fat”. For sure it tastes amazing to use drippings, but I can’t handle that much grease, and I don’t keep lard on hand. For this recipe, I use 50/50 butter and veg oil for frying the onions and spices, and the flavour is just as rich. My daughter loves these beans so well, she asked for a bowl to herself. I like them in tacos and burritos, or with a handful of tortilla chips for dipping.  This may be a side dish or the star of the show, but it’s easy and fresh. I doubt you’ll go for tinned refried beans again.

mexican

You’ll need:

  • 425g/15oz tin pinto beans
  • 425g/15oz tin black beans
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon veg oil
  • ¼ cup chopped white onion
  • 1 heaped teaspoon mild diced chilies (I use a small tin of fire roasted diced chilies for flavour, not heat)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chicken stock concentrate, or 1 stock cube
  • 3-4 cups of water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The method:

Open and drain your beans, but don’t rinse them so that you keep some of their own liquid.

draining-beans

In a wide pan, bring the oil and butter to heat together over a medium-high heat before adding your onions.

Coat the onions in the oil/butter and begin to lightly fry before adding your diced chilies and dry spices.

stirring

Allow the spices and chilies to fry lightly for about a minute before adding the drained beans.

adding-the-spices

Coat the beans with the onion mixture and bring to temperature, allowing the bean liquid to begin to evaporate/reduce. This offers a little frying to some of the beans, before we cover the lot with stock.

Add your chicken stock concentrate and enough water to just cover the beans. Give it all a good stir, cover the pot and reduce to a medium-low heat.

Once the beans are boiling away, covered in a pressure cooker environment, they’ll soften even more, and take on the spices and chicken flavour. I usually allow them to boil for about 20 minutes, topping up the water if it begins to stick on the bottom.

Cooking beans.jpg

After 20 minutes or so, uncover and bring out the potato masher, if you want to crush the beans. You don’t need to do this, but the smooth consistency of restaurant beans won’t be matched without some smashing.

Beans in the pot.jpg

Once I’ve mashed the beans, I add another ¼ or ½ cup of water to loosen the beans and help them cool down. I go another step and use my food processor to blitz the beans once they’ve cooled a little, especially when using black beans. If you’re only using pinto beans, they’ll likely smash easily enough with the masher.

Blended beans.jpg

Once I’ve whizzed the beans, I add salt and pepper to taste, but the chicken stock and butter add sodium, so be sure to taste before piling on the salt.

These refried beans are ready to eat as is, or you can roll them up in a tortilla, serve with rice or chips, or put them into tacos like we did last night. I also made a quick batch of taco meat using ground turkey, and the kids gobbled it up. I hope you’ll enjoy these as well as we do, and have fun making your own restaurant-style beans.

Bean tacos.jpg

Sparkly Mummy

Gorgonzola Potatoes recipe

As a parent of two young children, I am mindful of the foods they eat, and the types of processed foods and chemicals that come into their diet. I try my best to cook from scratch, so I know how to pronounce the ingredients, and so my kids can see their mum using ingredients instead of packets. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not nearly perfect, and of course there are days that require a fast food emergency or a frozen pizza hail Mary. I try to minimise the chances by cooking baking trays of food that can be used and reused and frozen and reused later. This dish is a great example.

Served with a roast for a large crowd, or served with Polish sausage for a quick midweek meal, this is an easy dish that tastes extravagant. Using baby potatoes cuts the cooking and prep time, and my flourless cream sauce is gluten-free and fail proof. I strive to incorporate grown up flavours into my recipes. Even though they’re geared towards my 4- and 6-year-old, my husband and I still have to eat dinner! I find introducing the kids to more complex flavours, like stinky cheese, is best done in stages. With this in mind, please feel free to up the stinky ante and go for all gorgonzola in the recipe, but I’ve done a 50/50 with a sharp cheddar to mellow the blue cheese.

This recipe takes just over an hour, but it’s broken up with waiting for the potatoes to boil, and later the oven takes over. As a busy mum, I manage this midweek around washing up, potty breaks and sibling rivalries. The cheese sauce is so simple, and I can walk away from it if I have to without fear of burning. I cook gluten-free meals for my husband, but I’ll never go back to a flour-based sauce again after adopting this method. We like this with kielbasa and steamed broccoli, but it can be served with any number of meat/less varieties. I usually pop the sausage into the oven below the potatoes so they finish together, and it’s scrumdiddlyumptious. Hope you like it!

Gorgonzola Potatoes.png

You’ll need:

  • Large pot 1/3 full of water (approx. 1 ltr)
  • 15-20 baby (new) white and/or red skin potatoes (I half-filled a 9×13 glass baking dish)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • 1 ½ cup chicken stock (I used a teaspoon of concentrate dissolved into water)
  • 1 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups single cream (or half & half)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Large baking dish to single-layer the potatoes in the sauce

The method:

Bring to the boil a large pot full of the potatoes and water. Allow to boil for 10-15 minutes until just soft, slightly beyond parboil.

Boiling the potatoes.jpg

If you’d like to use a second pot, you can start the cheese sauce now, but I usually get something done while I’m waiting and then reuse the pot while the potatoes drain and cool.

Drain the potatoes and allow to cool slightly for minor handling. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

I use the same pot to now melt the butter and onions and allow to lightly fry on a medium-low heat for 3-5 minutes.

Onions in the pan.jpg

Add the dry spices and fry with the onions for about 1 minute before adding the chicken stock.

Allow the chicken stock to reduce by a third for about 5 minutes over a medium high heat. 

Add the gorgonzola and cheddar and stir into the stock until it’s melted and incorporated, about 1-2 minutes.  

Add the cream and stir into the sauce, reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer for 3-5 minutes. Have a taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Don’t worry if it looks like a little oily – as it reduces it will thicken up. Once the sauce covers only the mostly boiled potatoes, they will soak up the sauce so nicely (I promise).

While the sauce is reducing, the potatoes will have cooled and you can either use a cutting board, or my lazy method of toss and slice in the colander.

Cutting potatoes.jpg

Once you’ve halved (most of) the potatoes, gently transfer them into the cheese sauce to coat them well.

Pour the potatoes and sauce into a baking dish (greased if metal). If you’ve missed a couple of potatoes in the toss and slice, this is your chance to slice away before putting the dish into the oven. The baby potatoes are so creamy themselves, it’s nice to keep larger chunks, so I don’t go crazy. 

Gorgonzola potatoes going in the oven.jpg

Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until golden on top.

My family love this dish, and it’s lovely to see them embracing stinky cheese. We had it this week with sausage and broccoli, then again with fish and peas. I’ll freeze a portion for easy midweek reheat, or it will go perfectly with a Sunday roast. I hope you find your favourite combination!

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