Day Seventy-Eight, March 20 2016

Lasagna Three Ways

I have mentioned before that we are a household with multiple allergies, not to mention some different eating styles. With severe allergies to nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, coconut, chickpeas, and mango, as well as two people who are vegetarian, it can be challenging. If one of the vegetarians chooses a vegan lifestyle, I might have to take my bat and ball and go home.

We also have other people we love to cook for in our lives who have intolerances and allergies. We have coeliacs, people who don’t eat sugar, diabetics, and people with allergies or intolerances to onion, garlic, gelatine, dairy, and vinegar, to name a few. It is not a concern for me to cook for different food requirements, as I was taught to cook by my mother, who is an expert in cooking for people with allergies and intolerances.

Recently we had an impromptu get together with some friends, one of whom was a vegetarian, and one of whom has some intolerances to wheat, garlic, and onions. The meal plan said pumpkin and white bean lasagna. The change of plans made it into pumpkin and white bean lasagna, three ways:

  • Version 1 – Gluten free, pumpkin and white bean lasagna (with bacon, no onions, no garlic)
  • Version 2 – Vegetarian pumpkin and white bean lasagna, not gluten free
  • Version 3 – Pumpkin and white bean lasagna, with bacon, not gluten free

Pumpkin is in season right now, and I am cooking with it at least once a week. I buy whatever is on sale for less than a dollar a kilo, and at the moment I am seeing it for less than 80 cents per kilo. Considering the wonderful things we can make with it (pasta, soup, curries, baked oatmeal, scones, muffins) it is a great and healthy vegetable to have on hand while it is in season and a good price.


1 kg jap pumpkin, diced – $1

2 onions, diced – 50 cents (for Versions 2 and 3)

2 cloves garlic, minced – 4 cents (for Versions 2 and 3)

3 lugs olive oil – one for each pot – 36 cents

2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed – $2

2 rashers gluten free middle bacon, finely chopped – $1*

1 packet wholemeal instant lasagna – $2.50

1/4 packet gluten free instant lasagna – $1

1 can chopped tomatoes – $1.40

3 cups vegetable stock – 70 cents

1 tub light ricotta – $3

1/2 tub sour light cream – 70 cents

200 grams Greek yoghurt – $1.20

1/4 packet grated cheese – $1.40

3 sprigs fresh thyme – free

2 sprigs fresh oregano – free

In three pots, heat a tablespoon olive oil.

Version 1: Gently fry the bacon until golden, and add the pumpkin. Strip the leaves from the fresh thyme and add it to the pot. Stir and continue to cook for a few minutes.

Version 2: Gently fry the onions and garlic until fragrant. Add the pumpkin and leaves from the fresh thyme and continue to cook for a few minutes.

Version 3: Gently fry the onions and garlic until fragrant. Add the bacon and leaves from the fresh thyme, and cook until the bacon is golden. Add the pumpkin and cook for about five minutes.

To all three pots, add the cannellini beans, and stir. Add a cup of stock to each pot, followed by a third of a can of tomatoes to each pot. Stir and let simmer until the pumpkin is tender and the liquid has reduced. If you need to add some more liquid while it is cooking, add some water. The sauce should be thick but not too liquid. The pumpkin pieces should not be mushy. Season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, combine the oregano leaves, ricotta, yoghurt, and sour cream.

To assemble the lasagna, making sure to use the correct lasagna for the right sauce, in three baking dishes (mine were all different sizes), layer the lasagna as follows:

  1. Pumpkin sauce
  2. Lasagna
  3. Ricotta and cream sauce
  4. Sprinkling of cheese
  5. Repeat in the order above, finishing with a layer of ricotta sauce and cheese.

Bake in a hot oven (190 degrees) for about thirty minutes.

The ricotta sauce is not like a traditional bechamel lasagna sauce. It will be less ‘drippy’ and the top of the lasagna may looked cracked in appearance. I prefer a ricotta sauce because a) it takes no time at all to make, and b) it is less heavy than the traditional white sauce.

We served with a tomato and basil focaccia.



Above: LH corner, Wholewheat Pumpkin White Bean Lasagna (with Bacon); top RH corner, Gluten Free Pumpkin White Bean Lasagna (with Bacon, no onions, no garlic); Front, Vegetarian Wholewheat Pumpkin White Bean Lasagna

Total cost: $16.80

Per lasagna: $5.60

We ended up with another whole mini-lasagna in the freezer for a vego meal one night, as well as many of the wholewheat with bacon in serving sizes in the freezer, for work lunches. So per serving, this would have been $1.20.

*Most commercial bacon nowadays is gluten-free, but still check the ingredients to ensure it is GF.



Meal Plan Week Thirteen 2016

I love Easter. Four glorious days off. Fun with friends and family. Doing a few jobs around the house that we don’t normally have the time to fit in on a normal two day weekend. Chocolate.

And of course, cooking. I have done so much cooking this weekend. The long weekend offers extra time to spend in the kitchen, listening to music and cooking. This weekend I have made Hot Cross Buns, Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam, fresh pasta filled with pumpkin and ricotta, curried pumpkin and sweet potato soup, chicken noodle soup, bolognese sauce, spiced hedgehog, and Ukrainian dumplings.

On Harmony Day the other week (March 21, FYI), we had a staff lunch wherein we all had to bring something from our culture to share. One of my colleagues brought his trademark Ukrainian dumplings, and since then I have been obsessing about them. My husband, daughter and I made cottage cheese pierogi on Saturday night, and served with sour cream and mustard, they were wonderful.

The trick, which I nabbed from my colleague and which is not in the recipe linked here, is to add a fresh bayleaf and a couple of peppercorns to the water when cooking; the flavour permeates through the dumplings and when you eat them with the mustard and sour cream, you will feel like you are floating to heaven. I am normally pretty generous with the food I make, and enjoy watching others eat it. However, with these dumplings, the kids had to pry the dish out of my hands.

Meal Plan

Saturday: Cottage cheese pierogi (vegetarian), with salad

Sunday: Pumpkin soup (vegetarian), Chicken noodle soup, baked fish

Monday: Soup

Tuesday: Zucchini and ricotta pasta (vegetarian)

Wednesday Worst Day: ELTs/BLTs

Thursday: Chicken curry, zucchini curry, rice

Friday: Monthly takeaway night




Day Seventy-Seven, March 19 2016

Pasta e Fagioli

Back when we were first married in the *cough* nineties, we were given a little cookbook called The Goodness of Beans, Peas and Lentils. It is out of print, but we still have our now very food-stained copy. It is an adorable book. The first half is devoted to a history of the legume, and the health benefits of a diet rich in beans, peas and lentils. The second half is recipes, each with a little watercolour illustration, not of the recipe itself, but of a key ingredient or a pot. For example, there is a watercolour painting of a packet of Casa Di Fiesta tortillas. I don’t know why it was illustrated this way, but the book has always appealed to me because of these quirky little paintings. The recipes are also wonderful. It has one of the few hommous recipes I have ever found without tahini in it (I’m allergic), and a recipe for a dish called Tuscan Beans, basically just white beans, tomatoes, chilli and sage, which we lived on back when we were broke students. We were broke students for a long time in the nineties, so we ate a lot of Tuscan Beans. It was a lot nicer than the baked beans all our mates were eating, for sure, and cost the same.

Another recipe that we cooked a lot from this book is an Italian dish called Pasta e Fagioli, which translates to ‘Pasta and Beans.’ Unbeknownst to me at the time, it is actually a very famous Italian dish, with as many variations as there are fights in Italian parliament. There are recipes online by Nigella, Antonio, Jamie – all the big names. But I will just content myself with the recipe in my little book, because it is delicious and reminds me of all the nights we made it back in the days before any of us had broadband internet and iPads to find recipes by Nigella, and we were bones-of-our-arse-broke and sharing the house with grotty Philosophy students so we could afford to pay the rent.

Awwww, those were the days!

The original version has bacon, but this is vegetarian so my fella could eat it. The original also has half a cup of white wine, but we don’t drink, so we omitted it. You can add both of these things if you like – but I have to say it was great and we did not notice the omission of these two things. If you are using bacon, add it after cooking the onions.

If you want to use the wine, add it with the beans, and let it boil away before continuing. The wine will add some extra flavour.

Pasta e Fagioli


1 onion, finely diced – 25 cents

1 carrot, diced – 10 cents

2 sticks celery, finely diced – 20 cents

3 cloves garlic, minced – 6 cents

2 tablespoons olive oil – 24 cents

1 can borlotti beans, drained and rinsed – 80 cents

1 can diced tomatoes – $1.40

3 double handsful pasta shapes – we used farfalle – about 80 cents

2 cups vegetable stock – 7 cents

1 sprig fresh thyme – free

1 teaspoon oregano leaves – 10 cents

salt and pepper to taste

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on top

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and fry the onions, carrots and celery until soft and fragrant. This should be on a low heat, stirring for at least ten minutes so that the flavour is allowed to mature. Stir so that the vegetables do not burn.

Add the garlic, the thyme and the beans. Stir and fry for another minute. If you are using wine, add now and let boil away. Add the tomatoes and the stock and bring to the boil. When the stock has come to the boil, pour in your pasta shapes. The original recipe called for only 75 grams of pasta, but I use more than this – I find that about three double handsful (I have little hands) is a good amount. Reduce the heat and allow to gently cook until the sauce is reduced and the pasta is cooked. Stir frequently to ensure that the pasta does not stick on the bottom.

When it is cooked, it should look like a soupy pasta dish, but it should not look too wet – that is, the stock and tomatoes should have reduced to a lovely sauce around the pasta.

Season, and then serve in bowls. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Do not serve with cheese. The olive oil combines with the stock to turn the sauce into a decadent, silky sauce that you will want to spread all over your face. But don’t do that – it deserves to be in your mouth.


Pasta e fagioli

This makes a large potful, but I must confess that my husband, my daugher, and I polished the lot off in one sitting, like greedy little piglets.

Total cost: $4.02

Per person (really feeds six, but this time only fed 3!!): $1.34

Banana Bread

With the unseasonably warm weather we have been having of late, the fruit I buy has either had to be refrigerated, or has quickly overripened on the benchtop. This means an abundance of overripe bananas. While I do freeze them (the best thing to do is just throw them in the freezer whole with the skin on, and then microwave them for a minute to use them in muffins or cakes, or just peel the skin off with a knife and use them frozen for smoothies), the freezer was getting full of frozen bananas.

Banana muffins are a good standby, but I wanted to find a good banana bread recipe. I’ll be the first to admit that my past attempts have not been great. In my attempts to make it as healthy as possible, the breads have turned out too dense, too soggy, or too dry. I decided to just give up the healthy effort, and go for something that everyone actually enjoyed eating. The other criteria was that it had to be something that was fast to make on a weeknight, and used what I already had on hand.

Enter this recipe, from the All Recipes AU/NZ website. If you have not tried All Recipes, I recommend it as a useful clearing house of recipes from home cooks around the world. They have an app as well, although it predominantly features recipes from the US, which can limit its usefulness for Australian cooks.

I essentially followed this recipe, with a couple of tweaks. Firstly, I used five mashed bananas instead of four. Secondly, I decided to add 2/3 cup of dark chocolate chips. This proved to be the phoenix feather in the wand as far as my kids were concerned, and it elevated the banana bread from muggle to magical.

Follow the recipe, but use an extra banana and fold in the chocolate chips just at the end before baking. About half of them will melt into the bread and the rest will stay solid. While it bakes, you will go mad as the smell permeates your house.

banana bread

Banana and chocolate chip bread, straight from the oven

Your kids will think you’re a wizard, Harry!


Meal Plan Week 12 2016

Don’t ya just love long weekends? As I get older, I look at them as these little jewel-like days, like gifts handed down by a benevolent Government. “Here, hard worker,” says the Man, “Have this little gift of a paid public holiday, to reward you for all your work on the other days.” I know that for other workers who are not paid on public holidays, and for small business owners, they are a pestilence, but for me they are an opportunity to spend time with my kids, catch up with beloved family and friends, and maybe even read a book. This month we have three of them – calloo callay!!

Meal Plan

Saturday: Pasta e fagioli (vegetarian)

Sunday: Lasagna three ways (vego and non-vego)

Monday: Dinner at my parents’ (bless’ em)

Tuesday: Tuscan beans and salad (vegetarian)

Wednesday Worst Day: ELTs/BLTs

Thursday: Burrito Bowls (vego and non-vego)

Good Friday: Pumpkin and sage pasta (vegetarian)


Day Seventy-Six, March 16 2016

Nacho Nacho Man

nacho man.jpg

Every time I make nachos I wish I had that Nacho Hat. And without fail, every single time I make nachos, I sing the Nacho Nacho Man song. My poor children just suffer through it.

Happily, they don’t have to suffer through the nachos, which are easy and tasty. This is a fast and easy dinner that we make occasionally when it is Wednesday Worst Day or on a weekend night when we are in a hurry and tempted to order takeaway. It is probably not the healthiest of meals, but it is certainly healthier than any takeaway meal I can think of (and much cheaper).

I use Mission Tortilla Strips, but I also use other corn chips if I don’t have the Mission chips. I like the Mission Tortilla Strips because they are made of white corn and are better quality, holding the sauce and toppings more robustly. I buy them when they are on sale for $2.50 a pack.

To make my nachos, I use the following toppings:

  • Beef and White Bean Chilli (for non-vegetarians)
  • Refried beans, Mexe-Beans or black beans (for the vegetarians)
  • Salsa (I either make it if I have time, or use the CostCo brand)
  • Cheese
  • Sour Cream
  • Guacamole
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Diced cucumber and tomatoes
  • Extra hot sauce and jalapenos

Heat the chilli and the beans separately. It is best to do the next step in the oven if you have the time, but if you have hungry kidlets, which I often do, you can use the microwave. On a tray (oven) or a plate (microwave), spread some tortilla chips (enough for the serving size you require) and top with the chilli and/or beans. Sprinkle with cheese and either bake at 180 degrees celcius until bubbling or heat in the microwave for about 2.5 minutes until bubbling.

Top with salsa, sour cream, guac, salad, jalapenos and hot sauce. Sing the Nacho Man song.

Day Seventy-four, March 14 2016


So there I was, doing the ironing on a public holiday Monday afternoon, watching a Jamie Oliver cooking DVD, like the most boring person on the planet, and thinking about how Jamie Oliver is king of the kitchen the vegetarian lasagna I was intending to make for dinner, when Mr Oliver presented a paella recipe. I have never made a paella, because I am not a fan of shellfish, but I thought to myself, “Self, I bet that would be pretty good in a vegetarian version. And damn if I don’t need some more vegetarian meals in my repertoire, now that half my family has decided to become all ethical on me.”

So, abandoning my ironing, I began a search online for vegetarian paella recipes. I found a few, but what I came up with in the end was an adaptation of all of them.

For this recipe, I used eggplant, red capsicum, onion, peas, zucchini, and a bunch of bok choy that I needed to use up, but you could use really any combination of vegetables. I think pumpkin and kale would be wonderful in this. I would normally use homemade stock, but I don’t have any vego stock at them moment, so I used vegetarian cubes. You could also add some beans for extra protein. This was also a great gluten free meal.

Vegetarian Paella

300 grams brown rice – 40 cents

1/2 large eggplant, salted and rinsed, and then diced – $1

2 small red capsicums, cut into chunks – 50 cents

1 onion, diced – 25 cents

2 cloves garlic, minced – 4 cents

1 small zucchini, diced – 25 cents

2 chicken-style Massell stock cubes – 14 cents

2 medium tomatoes, diced – 80 cents

1.5 teaspoons sweet paprika – 15 cents

1/4 teaspoon turmeric – 2.5 cents

1 teaspoon dried oregano – 10 cents

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes – 5 cents

1 cup frozen green peas – 49 cents

1 bunch bok choy – $1.99

2 litres boiling water

2 tablespoons rice bran oil – 12 cents

In a large jug, dissolve the Massell cubes in a litre of boiling water. Set aside.

Wash the bok choy well, ensuring any dirt and grit is removed. Separate the white parts from the green, and chop up the white parts. Set aside. Finely shred the green leaves so it resembles spinach and set aside.

In a large heavy fry pan with high sides or in a stock pot, heat the oil. Gently fry the onion for ten minutes or until golden, stirring so that it doesn’t burn. Add the garlic and the eggplant, capsicum, the white parts of the bok choy, and zucchini, and saute for another five minutes, stirring.

Add the rice and stir until the rice and vegetables are well mixed. Stir in the paprika and turmeric, and oregano, and stir until the rice and vegetables are well coated in the spices and herbs. Pour in the 1 litre water/stock and let the rice and the vegetables simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water is almost absorbed.

Add the tomatoes, and begin gradually adding more boiling water in one cup increments, stirring after each addition. Because the rice is brown, it will take more time to cook and will require the addition of more water. However, if you add all two litres at once, it may become mushy.


Paella still cooking – I added the peas and bok choy too early, and they lost that brilliant green

Keep adding the water and stirring until the rice becomes tender.You may need to add more water than specified.

Five minutes before you want to serve, stir in the peas and green leaves of the bok choy, and continue cooking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

We served ours with shredded cheese and salad, but I think it would be better with a drizzling of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a squeeze of lemon.

paella with cheese.jpg

Total cost: $6.08

Per serving (6 serves): $1.01



Day Seventy-Three, March 13 2016

New and improved veggie burgers

To accompany fresh King George Whiting (caught by my father in law), we made some veggie burgers for the vegos. My attempts at veggie burgers are hit-and-miss at best, but these were a winner. They taste a bit like felafel.

We served these with chips, salad, and hot sauce. Because we serve most things with hot sauce.

1.5 cups cooked borlotti beans – 81 cents

1 medium zucchini – 30 cents

1 medium carrot – 10 cents

1 onion, peeled – 25 cents

2 cloves garlic, peeled – 4 cents

Small bunch herbs – we used basil, parsley, and a few sprigs of mint – free

1 egg and 1 egg yolk – free

Four pieces wholemeal bread – 90 cents

Six Weetbix – 80 cents

Salt and pepper

In a food processor, whizz up the bread until it is coarse breadcrumbs. While the motor is running, add the beans and the other vegetables to the processor so that they are finely chopped. Keep the motor running and add the garlic, herbs, and eggs. The mixture will be sloppy. Crush the weetbix and add to the mix and whizz up again. The weetbix will add extra body to the mix – you could use another binder such as rolled oats, or flour. However we tried weetbix because I had some no-one was eating, and they worked well.

The texture will look like a stiff brown paste – it is not attractive.

Heat some rice bran oil in a heavy fry pan, and fry large spoons of the mix in the pan, flattening to form burgers. Cook on both sides until golden. Serve in a bun or as we did, with chips and salad.

These tasted great, with a fresh herby flavour and great texture.

The recipe made fifteen burgers. We ate a couple and then froze the rest individually on a lined tray. Once frozen we placed in a sealed bag for a later meal.

Total cost: $3.20

Per burger: 21 cents

Meal Plan Week 11 2016

Wowzers. Week 11. I am going to repeat, like everyone over 40 around me, “I can’t believe we are in March already!” Insert shake of the head and sigh. Repeat next month.

I’ve been a bit remiss in posting meal plans lately, due to work and life commitments, but I am sure y’all have survived not knowing what we ate last week.

This week we have a long weekend in our State, thank goodness, so I was home to cook some extra things. I did a BDOB (big day of baking) on both Sunday and Monday, which included cookies, ham and cheese rolls for my daughter’s lunchbox, a tomato and basil focaccia, bread, and another attempt at Hot Cross Buns, after I was not really happy with the recipe I tried last weekend. This time around I tried a Jamie Oliver recipe, and of course his recipe was much better, because he is king of all things dough-related. His pizza dough recipe is unbeatable, as is his pastry and his pasta dough. There is nothing that man cannot do with flour. But I digress. These are the buns:


Sticky Hot Cross Buns, fresh from the oven

Give them a crack – the recipe is linked above. Although some people are intimidated by making yeast dough, it is easy to work with. And although these take more time than buying a pack of six buns, a batch of twelve homemade buns costs about what one pack of six Woollies buns will cost (about $3.50) – and taste about a thousand times better. Plus, funsies.

Not that I am above buying a pack of the Woollies buns – I like them too, and I am just as tempted as anyone else by that bakery smell the supermarket lures us with. But when I have the time, I love making them, and I also think it is great for kids to see how the food they see in the shops is made.

We usually eat one each fresh out of the oven, chuck a few in the freezer for lunchboxes, and keep four aside for breakfast the next morning.

Meal Plan Week Eleven

Now that we have two vegetarians to cater for, our meals are allocated as vego or non-vego. Some nights we will have vegetarian for all of us, or we will make a meal that is easily vego or non-vego. Date night will be vego.

Saturday: Dinner out (we went to our local hipster burger joint – it was good. They have about forty different kinds of hot sauce, including one called “Temporary Insanity”, and some nice veggie burgers. I went for a still pink-in-the-middle cheeseburger and lurved it.)

Sunday: Baked King George Whiting and Salad (non-vego), Veggie Burgers and Salad (vego)

Monday: Vegetarian paella and Salad (vego)

Tuesday: Homemade pizzas (vego and non-vego) – we use the above-mentioned never fail JO pizza dough recipe

Wednesday Worst Day: ELTs and BLTs (vego and non-vego)

Thursday: Nachos with salad (vego and non-vego)

Friday: Date night: Pasta e fagioli (vego)

Day Sixty-Three, March 3 2016

The all-round meatball mix

This meatball mix is handy for burgers, meatballs, sausage rolls, meatloaf – anything for which you need to squish minced meat into a shape and have it stay put. That sounds pretty gross, really, and so it is – but it is also handy for make ahead dinners and lunchboxes.

My eldest is a dyed-in-the-wool meat eater. My husband has recently announced his intention to return to vegetarianism (we were once vegetarian for many years), joining our youngest child, which leaves us having to prepare two sets of meals for two eating styles. Not only that, we have allergies to nuts, peanuts, coconut, and chick peas (garbanzo beans), making a simple shift to vegetarianism a bit tricky. I am not really fussed either way and would happily eat vegetarian food at home, but with the big one refusing that all out switch (which is fair enough – it is a choice, after all), we need to come up with ideas that we can make ahead and freeze to feed half the family easily.

This meatball mix is a good option, because while I am making it I can also use some of it to make quick sausage rolls for her school lunchbox.

The all-round meatball mix

500 grams premium beef mince – $6

1 onion, finely chopped – 25 cents

1 carrot, finely chopped – 10 cents

1/2 grated zucchini – 10 cents

1 clove garlic, minced – 2 cents

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard – ten cents (ish)

1 egg, lightly beaten – free (from my Mother’s hens)

1 teaspoon dried or fresh herbs (I used oregano) – ten cents

Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.

If making meatballs – form into walnut sized balls and set aside in a lined tray. You can either freeze them ready for use in a tomato based sauce, or use them immediately in a sauce of your choosing. Alternatively, you can drizzle them with olive oil and bake them at 180 degrees celcius and serve them topped with a sauce of your choosing and mashed potato and vegetables on the side.


Meatballs, waiting to be cooked

If making a meatloaf – pack the mix into a greased loaf tin. In a cup mix two tablespoons of tomato sauce (ketchup) with a tablespoon of brown sugar and a teaspoon of mustard. Spoon over the meatloaf and bake at 190 degrees celcius for 1 hour or until cooked through.

If making burgers, form into flat burgers and cook on a hot grill or pan until cooked through. Serve in frog’s head rolls, to freak out and entertain your kids 🙂

This time around, I made pasta and meatballs. Drop the fresh meatballs into a tomato-based sauce and cook for about twenty minutes. Serve over fresh pasta, with cheese. These should really be served with a strand pasta, like spaghetti, but the kids chose orecchiette. And who am I to tell them no?


Homemade meatballs on pasta, with cheese.

I also set aside about a third of the meatball mix to make sausage rolls, using store bought puff pastry:


Line up the filling along the edge of the puff pastry

This makes for a healthier sausage roll than the kind you buy from the shop as it used minced beef instead of sausage meat. Roll up from the filling edge and cut into the size you prefer:


Brush with milk and sprinkle with poppyseeds

Once cooked, these vanished like Homer at a safety inspection.

Total cost of the meatball mix: $6.67

Per person: $3.33 – includes enough to make 8 sausage rolls and pasta with meatballs.