Family means everything to me, and some of my best childhood memories are of my family sitting around the dinner table. Mum was a factory worker and she'd be home by 3.30pm and usually spend an hour or two preparing dinner. Fast forward to the next generation. My wife and I both work full-time and we have struggled to find the time to recreate that special bonding time of our childhood dinners. So I worked out shortcuts and other ways to take inspiration from my mum's cooking to make it work in the context of our busy modern lives.
Here are my top ideas to help ease the burden of the daily dinner grind. All it takes is a bit of planning and dinners will become a breeze!
My family used to be shocking at deciding what to eat for dinner. When someone suggested a meal there was always an objection. I realised that I needed to change tack, so I reached for my favourite cookbook and some sticky notes, handed them to Kiki, Anela and Marina and asked them to pick two dinners each. I made a list of all the ingredients, along with any modifications, such as removing walnuts for Anela's nut allergy. When I went to the supermarket I only bought the ingredients on the list instead of randomly buying produce to fill the fridge. The results? Bang! Dinner for the week was sorted.
Being a parent is taxing and you don't want to spend every evening in the kitchen, so cook a double batch of a meal that you know the whole family loves and that keeps well (I'm not talking fresh salads here!). You can have it again later in a few days' time or freeze half for next week.
Most cooked foods can be frozen for at least a month, and I love taking out a frozen curry before I leave for work in the morning, knowing that all I need to do is zap it in the microwave when I get home. Lots of the pies and pastries freeze well. I also love making big batches of my favourite sauces and then freezing them in portions for a later date.
You don't always have to create meals from scratch. I can think of 10 incredible meals with a supermarket roast chook. Making your own marinades can be fun and if you've got the time, go for it, but don't be afraid to buy store-bought marinades and sauces. Shortcuts can actually be a cool way to discover new flavours.
Make life easier by prepping your veg when you get home from the shops. I give all my produce a wash and store it in plastic containers in the fridge so that it's ready to use throughout the week. You can also make many of the dressings and sauces in this book a few days ahead and store them in sealed jars in the fridge until you're ready to use them.
I have to admit that I am a supermarket addict (I often go three times a week), but if you're short on time, why not shop online? Ordering online saves time, especially if you get it delivered, which means your weekends will be free to hang with family and friends.
I love it when the supermarket catalogue drops in my letterbox. The most expensive items on my shopping list are meat, chicken and fish, so when I see premium beef mince on sale, I'll buy loads, divide it into portions and freeze. Just remember to take it out the night before to defrost!
Sausage rolls are an Aussie favourite but supermarket varieties aren't always the healthiest option, so I decided it was time to take control. This simple recipe is super fast, fun to make and the results are epic. Most sausage roll recipes show you a 45-minute step-by-step method on how to make a tomato sauce or relish. That ain't going to happen here - just grab a sauce bottle and squeeze. On weeknights I want my girls fed and showered, with their uniforms and bags ready for school the next day.
1. You can cook the sausage rolls in an air fryer or the oven. If cooking in the oven, preheat it to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
2. Cut the puff pastry sheets in half. Now grab your favourite sausages and snip the tops off. Squeeze the contents out along the middle of each pastry sheet - it should run the length of the pastry; if it doesn't, add a little extra filling from another sausage.
3. Grab your veggie peeler and peel long strips of carrot and zucchini. Place a couple of strips of each vegetable over the sausage meat, then add a pinch of salt and pepper. Here is the fun part. Working with one pastry sheet at a time, flip the pastry over the filling, then use a fork or your fingers to seal the pastry edges together.
4. Place the sausage rolls on the prepared tray, seam-side down, and brush with the egg. Sprinkle over the sesame and poppy seeds; you can even score the pastry if you want to get fancy.
5. Cook the sausage rolls in the oven for 20 minutes. If using an air fryer, cook at 180C for 10 minutes.
6. Serve with a side of tomato sauce and a leafy salad. Nailed it!
Notes: You can also use vegan sausages for a meat-free alternative, but don't squeeze the "meat" out! Simply place the sausages on the pastry and top with the veggies. Feel free to hide as many veggies as you like, just don't tell any of your little peeps. Make several batches of these sausage rolls and pop the uncooked rolls in an airtight container in the freezer for up to three months. Just remember to let them thaw out first before cooking.
What?! Garlic bread in a salad? Yep! Because we can. I love garlic bread - it's one of my guilty pleasures, so I had to figure out a way to enjoy it without the guilt. So I dropped it into a pasta salad already filled with delicious carbs, lol. I initially made this as a bit of a joke because my wife said I didn't eat enough salads. A couple of years later, this pasta salad is now on regular rotation in our household, and it's time to share it with you.
1. Cook the garlic bread and spiral pasta according to the packet instructions. Drain the pasta and set aside to cool. Cut the garlic bread into cubes.
2. Heat a dry frying pan over medium heat and add the chorizo (you don't need any oil as the chorizo will release enough on its own). Cook for five minutes, until crisp, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the chorizo to a plate lined with paper towel to drain. Leave the oil in the pan over medium heat and add the garlic bread cubes. Toast for three to four minutes, until they absorb the delicious chorizo oil. Transfer to the plate with the chorizo.
3. Transfer the cooled pasta to a large serving bowl and add the tomato, bocconcini, basil leaves and onion. Toss through enough of the Italian dressing until the pasta is glistening, then add the chorizo and garlic bread croutons and toss again. Serve immediately.
Notes: If you can't find chorizo, feel free to use pancetta or bacon, cooked until crisp. You can also use whatever short-cut pasta you have in the pantry, or even try fresh egg pasta. This is perfect for work or school the next day, as the pasta continues to soak up the delicious flavours.
There's only one thing better than eating this Thai beef salad, and that's having someone make it for you in Thailand. The first time I ate this I knew that the hero was the dressing. If you're not into beef you can easily swap it out for your favourite protein. Although there are a lot of ingredients, don't freak out. These flavours will be stage diving on your taste buds like Eddie Vedder during the Ten tour, early-90s style!
1. Heat a large frying pan or chargrill pan over medium-high heat. Rub the vegetable oil over both sides of the steaks and season them with the salt and pepper. Place the steaks in the pan and cook for three minutes each side for medium-rare or until cooked to your liking.
2. While the steaks are grilling, grab a small bowl and place all the Thai dressing ingredients in it. Whisk until well combined, then set aside in the fridge for the flavours to infuse.
3. Place the lettuce, cucumber, tomato and onion on a large platter and toss well.
4. Remove the steaks from the pan and set aside to rest for about five minutes. Cut the steaks into 5mm wide strips, then add them to the platter and toss together. Drizzle the Thai dressing over the salad and mix until the ingredients are well coated.
5. Scatter over the crushed peanuts and serve.
Notes: As I mentioned in the intro, you can use any protein you like, but if you use chicken you'll have to call it Thai chicken salad, lol. If you want more carbs, spoon one cup of cooked microwave rice of your choice on the platter and top with the salad. The rice will absorb the dressing, making it a double win.
Sweet potato is the coolest veg. It provides healthy carbohydrates, and dressing it up with other delicious veggies is a win-win. I love coming home from work and dropping four sweet potatoes into the air fryer while I chill out and argue with the kids. This is another go-to lazy dinner that the family will absolutely love.
1. You can cook the sweet potatoes in the oven or an air fryer. If cooking in the oven, preheat it to 180C.
2. Wash the sweet potatoes really well as we are going to leave the skin on. Rub the oil over the potatoes and season with the salt and garlic powder. If cooking in the oven, transfer the potatoes to a baking tray and cook for 40-50 minutes, until tender. If using an air fryer, cook at 180C for 20 minutes.
3. Once the sweet spuds are ready, grab two forks and gently open them up along the middle to let all the steam out. Divide the butter among the potatoes and wait for it to melt, then top with the grated cheddar.
4. Place the mixed beans in a bowl and microwave on high for three minutes. Spoon the beans over the cheesy spuds and top with the yoghurt, beetroot and spring onion. Dinner's ready.
Notes: You can swap out the sweet potatoes for normal potatoes if you like. This recipe is all about encouraging kids to eat their veggies. As far as toppings go, you can add to or subtract any of the ingredients I've included - as long as you have butter and cheese everything will be fine.
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