Roast Pumpkin, Pesto and Bocconcini Pasta Bake

Every now and then when I get completely uninspired with what to cook, I end up making a pasta bake of some sort with whatever we have in the fridge. This unplanned meal actually turned out to be quite delicious, hence while I’m sharing it. I have made this pasta bake using the remaining pasta we had in the pantry, however, my recommended pasta type to use would be spirals as they will ‘mop up’ more of the pesto.

A pasta bake is a great meal that can be prepared in advance and the baking completed when ready to eat, or even fully cooked and then reheated when needed. The bonus nutritional benefit with a pasta bake is the higher level of resistant starch, compared with a usual pasta meal. Resistant starch is a type of fibre that resists digestion, passing to the large bowel, largely digested, and feeds the ‘good’ bacteria, or probiotics, that reside in the large bowel. These probiotics, which are trillions of bacteria, make up the microbiome. When fed well, these bacteria thrive and produce short chain fatty acids, acetate, butyrate and propionate, which regulate the permeability of the intestinal wall, preventing molecules, such as endotoxins, passing this barrier to where they should not be. This process plays a role in helping to control inflammation within the body.

Pasta bake prior to cooking

You may ask why I have bothered pre-cooking the pumpkin in this dish when a pasta bake needs to cook for long enough to cook the pasta? Well, pumpkin, when roasted, gives a delicious caramelised flavour, which disperses throughout the whole dish. If you are short on time, you can omit the roasting of the pumpkin, but trust me, it’s better when roasted.

If you wish, this could be made into a simple pasta dish by skipping the baking step and cooking the pasta until al dente during the boiling process. If you choose to cook this dish in this way, I would recommend serving with a good handful of fresh rocket leaves.

Most meals that contain pasta are a hit in our household, and considering the kids often turn their noses up at pumpkin, the fact that they enjoyed this meal made me happy.

Enjoy xx

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pumpkin, chopped into 1-2cm cubes
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups of pasta – spirals will work well
  • 3/4 cup of pesto
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 150g baby bocconcini
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water

Pesto:

  • 1 bunch basil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 tbs grated parmesan cheese
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a tray with baking paper.
  2. Place pumpkin cubes into a bowl and add olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place onto baking tray and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. Make pesto by placing all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until combined. Set aside.
  4. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than what the packet says – the pasta will cook more in the oven and you don’t want the pasta overcooked. Add the broccoli florets for the final 2 minutes of pasta cooking.
  5. Once cooked, drain the pasta and broccoli, making sure you reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
  6. Place the cooked pasta and broccoli into a large bowl, and add the roast pumpkin.
  7. Mix the reserved pasta water and pesto together and pour over the pasta mixture. Gently toss to combine.
  8. Place pasta mixture into baking dish and top with baby bocconcini and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese, if you with and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and the cheese is nicely melted.

Apricot, Almond and Chocolate Millet Cups

Today the girls and I decided to do some baking and I was thinking about making some sort of slice, something apricot and almond, but not certain what. As we were looking through Claire’s bag of kinder activities for lockdown 2.0, we came across some Gruffalo inspired recipes, one of them was ‘Knobbly Knees’, essentially a honey joy with some nuts, dried fruit and chocolate. This was the exact inspiration I needed.

The main ingredient for Knobbly Knees was cornflakes, which we didn’t have, so instead we used puffed millet and didn’t really follow the recipe at all, but created these little Apricot, Almond and Chocolate Millet Cups. These little cups are the perfect snack for both kids and adults, they are versatile in that they can be made using whatever puffs, dried fruit and nuts that you have on hand.

These cups when made using millet are a gluten free snack, making them suitable for anyone who has coeliac disease or follows a gluten free diet. If you are making these for kids that need a nut-free snack for school, the nuts can be substituted for seeds and peanut butter can be swapped for tahini or more butter. The chocolate chips can be added before adding the butter mixture, however this will result in them melting and the whole mixture being a darker colour.

I hope you enjoy these quick and easy snacks xx.

Ingredients:

(Makes ~20-24)

  • 60g puffed millet
  • 40g almonds, roughly chopped
  • 40g dried apricots, diced into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup flaked coconut
  • 100g butter
  • 3 tbs honey
  • 1 tbs peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease muffin tins or patty pans.
  2. Place millet, almonds, apricots and coconut into a large bowl and mix to combine.
  3. Place the butter, honey and peanut butter into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until melted and allow to bubble for ~1 minute. Cool slightly.
  4. Pour butter mixture over the millet mixture and mix well to coat. Add the chocolate chips and fold through.
  5. Place mixture into muffin tins or patty pans (I used silicone muffin trays) and press down slightly, sprinkle with a few choc chips and bake for ~ 10 minutes.
  6. Allow to cool completely before removing from the tray and store in an airtight container.

Apple and Blueberry Baked Oats

One of my new favourite breakfasts, when time allows, is baked oats. With some very fresh mornings this Winter, a nice warm breakfast really hits the spot. Porridge is a breakfast that always goes down a treat in our house, but it’s nice to have something a bit different, yet still have the same, if not more, nutritional properties as a hearty bowl of porridge.

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It took me quite a while to be completely happy with this recipe as I was really wanting something that has a creaminess, almost like custard, which meant playing around with the ratio of oats to eggs/milk, but we got there. I would describe this dish as a mixture between porridge and bread and butter pudding, with a generous spice profile.

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As far as a breakfast goes, this is a very nutritious option. Obviously, being made from rolled oats, it has all the nutritional benefits of a bowl of porridge – low GI carbohydrate and a good source of soluble fibre, providing a sustained energy release, increased satiety and improved digestive health. The addition of eggs and seeds provides a quality source of protein and essential amino acids as well as a dose of healthy fats and a range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, choline and B vitamins. The apple and blueberries also provide a good source of fibre, especially when the skin is left on the apple, antioxidants and vitamins and minerals.

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Baked oats can be prepared the night before to allow the oats to further soak up some of the liquid and save some time in the morning, or it can all be made in the morning. I prefer to do it the night before, which allows the flavours of the spice and zest to infuse well and 30 minutes of soaking time is taken care of while you sleep! This is also a breakfast that could be made in advance and then portions reheat when ready to eat.

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The kids LOVE this brekky and, after being slightly hesitant initially, they now have generous serves and second helpings most times I’ve made it. We serve it with some thick Greek style yoghurt and if you wanted some additional sweetness, you could serve with a drizzle of maple syrup.

Enjoy xx

Ingredients:

Serves 4-6

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 tbs linseeds
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups milk
  • 3-4 tbs maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large apple, sliced
  • 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • Thick Greek style yoghurt, to serve

Method:

The night before:

  1. Place oats, linseeds, spices and zest into a medium sized bowl and mix to combine.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, maple syrup and vanilla to combine. Pour into the bowl with the oats and mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to infuse. Note: this can be done in the morning, but I recommend leaving the oats to sit soaking for at least 20-30 minutes.
  3. In the morning, preheat the oven to 180°C. While the oven is heating, line a large baking dish with baking paper or grease with butter or coconut oil.
  4. Remove the oats from the fridge and pour into the prepared dish. Add the blueberries and gently fold them into the oat mixture. Scatter the apple over the top, pressing some pieces further down into the mixture.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the oats are golden on top and the mixture is firm when pressed lightly on top.
  6. Serve portions with a dollop of thick yoghurt.
  7. Store leftovers, if there are any, in an airtight container in the fridge and reheat when needed or enjoy cold.

 

Lemon, Blueberry and White Chocolate Muffins

It’s been awhile since I have shared a muffin recipe and I seem to be baking a new batch a few times a fortnight, so I thought I’d come up with something new.

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Lemon and Blueberry are always a great flavour combination, and the addition of any form of chocolate to a muffin makes most people happy. These are a light, fresh and flavoursome muffin. All of the kids have enjoyed the 2 batches of these that I have made, even when I forgot the milk in one of the batches….ooops!

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These are a simple one bowl muffin and freeze really well. They are also great for the kids lunchboxes, now that the restrictions are starting to lift and schools have returned…for us in Australia, at least.

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Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb soda
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 90g butter, melted
  • 3 tbs maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2/3 cup white chocolate chips or roughly chopped white chocolate

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven top 200°C and prepare an 18 hole muffin tray(s) for medium sized muffins or a 12-15 hole muffin tray for larger muffins.
  2. Place flours, baking powder, bicarb soda and lemon zest into a large bowl and mix to combine.
  3. Add the lemon juice, milk, eggs, butter, maple syrup and vanilla and stir to combine.
  4. Add the blueberries and white chocolate and fold through the mixture, being careful not to over mix.
  5. Divide the mixture between the muffin holes and place into the oven and bake for ~15 minutes or until the muffins bounce back when pressed on top.

Peach and Blackberry Muffins

We love muffins in this household, and with an array of amazing Summer fruits currently available, it makes the flavours of our muffins new and exciting!

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I bought a whole heap of peaches this week, as they are cheap as chips, with the intention of stewing them. Aaron then took Brian for a walk the other night, and came home with a bucket full of blackberries, from the wild blackberry bushes that we have growing in the reserve not too far from our house, and so these muffins were born.

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Elise, who is now one, is an absolute animal when it comes to eating. She will often eat more that Claire in a day, so I wanted to make these muffins suitable for her, yet still delicious for the rest of the family, so I have kept the sugar to a minimum, but added more blackberries than I might have otherwise.

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The first batch of these I made with the intention of sending the to school with Mark during his first week, but they disappeared within a few days. Luckily, we still had peaches and Aaron picked some more blackberries so I could make some more and perfect the recipe. I have kept this second batch in the freezer and they freeze/defrost really well.

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If blackberries weren’t readily available, fresh or frozen raspberries would work really well. The original muffins I was planning were peach and raspberry until the blackberries appeared on my kitchen bench.

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Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

Makes 15 muffins

  • 1 3/4 cups wholemeal flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut, toasted
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb soda
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 60g butter, melted
  • 75g coconut oil, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup natural yoghurt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 2 peaches, 1 diced, 1 sliced for on top of the muffins

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180° and prepare muffin tin.
  2. Place flour, oats, baking powder, bicarb soda, brown sugar and salt into a large bowl and mix to combine.
  3. Melt the butter and coconut oil in the microwave or in a saucepan and allow to cool slightly.
  4. Place the eggs, yoghurt, vanilla, milk and lemon juice into a medium sized bowl and mix to combine.
  5. Add the egg mix to the dry ingredients and mix, then add the melted butter and oil and mix well.
  6. Gently fold in the diced peach and blackberries.
  7. Spoon into prepared muffin tin, top each muffin with a slice of peach, and bake for 15 minutes or until inserted skewer comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing muffins from the tin.

Making the perfect lunch box

The perfect lunch box! Does such a thing exist? Of course it does!

The perfect lunchbox is the one that any parent puts together to send with their child to school or kinder. It doesn’t have to be packed full of homemade, raw, organic treats that you have spent the whole weekend trying to prepare even though you hate cooking. All the perfect lunchbox needs to be is food that nourishes your child’s body, provides their brain with enough glucose to concentrate, and adequate fuel to get them through the day.

Yes, I love cooking and I love baking and we always have several home made options on offer at any given time, but I appreciate that not everyone is lucky enough to have the time to prepare such foods, nor do most people enjoy it as much as I do. Plenty of families have 2 working parents, leaving time for dinner and lunch preparation and not a lot else, so I am not suggesting that you spend every spare second in the kitchen, but if you do have a spare half an hour, start by making a batch of picklets or muffins. These all freeze exceptionally well and if you make a double batch, you’ll have a good supply that will last a good 1-2 weeks. If you’re choosing to make some of my muffins or pikelets, choose the ones with berries rather than grated apple or carrot as they are less time consuming.

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What do kids really need at school?

A morning tea for most kids should consist of some form of fruit or vegetable. Whether that’s a whole piece of fruit, cut up fruit or even a fruit cup (in natural juice not syrup), it doesn’t matter. If you kids like veggie sticks by themselves, it’s a great way to get some extra veggies into them. Next, a source of protein to help to keep them going until lunchtime. This can be some hummus, or other, dip, with some wholegrain crackers, some yoghurt or cheese or some roasted chickpeas or fava beans. You can roast your own, or the supermarkets and whole food shops sell them – my kids LOVE them! If your child is at high school, and nuts are allowed, nuts are also a great option. A home baked pikelet, muffin, muesli bar, bliss ball or slice is a great option here as well.

Lunch should consist of 3 main things: Carbohydrates, Protein and Vegetables. A ham, cheese and tomato or cheese and vegemite sandwich on wholegrain bread is a perfectly nutritious option for a quick throw together sandwich. Add in a container of veggie sticks to add in the extra nutrients. If you have a bit more time to prepare and freeze some lunch options, things like fritters, zucchini slice, savoury muffins or sushi are excellent options. If you have some time to prepare lunch fresh, a protein and salad sandwich or wrap is a great option. As long as there is some form of protein (meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese or bean/legume), carbohydrate (bread, rice, pasta, other wholegrain or potato) and some vegetables, your child will be set!

Most (primary) schools don’t like nuts being brought to school, which is quite disappointing as so many awesome snack recipes have nuts. However, if I had a child with an anaphylactic reaction to nuts, I would be pleased that such policies exist. As a result of this, I have been trying to adapt some of my nut filled snacks, such as muesli bars and bliss balls, so that they use seeds in place of the nuts. For the most part, they work quite well without the nuts. I will just have to save these nut filled snacks for afternoon tea.

If you’ve made it through this first week or so of school and have been scrounging the back of the pantry for things to fill lunchboxes, then set aside some time this weekend to do some lunchbox preparation. Make a batch of zucchini slice and fritters and pop them in the freezer and lunches will be sorted for the week! Add to this a batch of muffins or nut free muesli bars and snacks are sorted too. All you’ll need to do of a morning is grab some of each of these and a piece of fruit and/or some veggies and you’re set for next week, or longer.

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Hope this provides some inspiration xx.

 

Chicken, Lemon and Parmesan Rissoles

Rissoles are a versatile food that have stood the test of time. They make a great dinner or a BBQ lunch and can be put between 2 slices of bread with some salad and you have yourself a burger. These chicken burgers have all the flavours of a classic gremolata – garlic, parsley and lemon.

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As far as rissoles go, anything that is meat and shaped like a patty seem to be a hit with the kids, especially if sauce can be involved (I try to resist it for these ones). If you have vegetable adverse children and wanted to hide veggies into these rissoles, you could easily grate some carrot or zucchini and kids would be none the wiser.

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Any form of rissole can be made and frozen prior to cooking, so if you’re looking to save time, make a double batch and freeze half to save you the prep work next time. Any leftovers can be kept and easily reheated the following day. The rissoles themselves can be made earlier on in the day and kept in the fridge until needed.

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I have served these rissoles with a fennel slaw and oven baked chips, but any sort of salad will work really well. Aim to keep it to 2-3 rissoles per person and if you’re still hungry, have some more salad.

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Enjoy xx

Ingredients:

Serves 4

  • 400g chicken mince
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbs flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1 tbs olive oil

Method:

  1. Place chicken mince, onion, egg, garlic, parmesan, breadcrumbs, lemon zest and parsley into a medium sized bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Using your hands, mix until all ingredients are well combined.
  3. Form into 10-12 balls and refrigerate until needed.
  4. Heat a medium sized frypan over medium heat. Add olive oil and place rissoles into pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes. Using an egg flip, turn the rissoles over and cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
  5. Serve with salad or vegetables.