Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Back to school dinners

It's the time of new pencil sets, endless labelling and in my house a sense of dread about returning to the punishing routine of school and after school activities.  No more lazy brunches or car picnics.  No more fish and chips (gluten free of course) on the beach.

My kids go back tomorrow and in an ideal world I would have a freezer full of food by now but instead this week is going to involve a bit of winging it.  I will be relying on a few family favourites to get us through this week!  

It is also an expensive time of the year in our house as we have just come back from holiday and everyone has had new coats, shoes, bags etc so lots of these dishes can be made at reasonable cost.  Obviously if you can afford organic great, if not then home-made is still miles better than having to pull out a Tesco's pizza.

Here are some of my favourite week night dinners:

Old skool sausage pasta  This is one of my reader's favourites.  It can be made in bulk and frozen and although I advise buying high quality sausages which are more expensive, you can always bulk this out with extra vegetables such as chopped carrot and celery. 

Meatballs (with hidden liver)  The liver is optional so this can just be a simple but tasty meatball recipe. 

Beef casserole  It's only four months to Christmas my kids have told me so although its sunny outside I feel it's okay to put casseroles back on the menu.  They do require some cooking time but can be shoved in the oven or the slow cooker in the morning or made in advance, frozen and just warmed through.  If you are really rushed for time you could add potatoes or other root vegetables to the casserole to minimise cooking on the day.

Spaghetti bolognese (with added veg)  Everyone has a spag bol recipe I'm sure - this is a useful one because the extra vegetables makes one feel virtuous after a summer holiday of sorbets and pub dinners.  It also makes the meat go further.

Shepherds pie (but with a variation on the mash!)  This is made on the stove so can be ready in as little as half an hour and is a world away from the  grey mince nastiness that you get with ready made shepherd's pie which would take just as long in an oven!

Fabulous fish bites  These home-made fish-fingers use almond flour as we are gluten free but if you are ok with wheat you can exchange this for normal breadcrumbs.   

Lamb lollipops (kofta for kids)  I love these because they take no time to prep and can be served with anything - rice, salad, baked beans!  They are also great to make in bulk and then use in packed lunch boxes.  

Cheeky chicken wings  Wings are inexpensive but so tasty with all the goodness of the chicken skin as well!  These can be served as an evening meal with home-made chips, rice, or pasta and are delicious cold for lunch the next day

The 'no it's not soup kids' noodle bowl  This noodle bowl is great as you can use leftover meat from a roast and as there is very little cooking its a very quick meal.  You could also use similar seasoning for a stirfry if you don't have any stock. 

And if you are looking for something that is good for a Saturday when there is a bit more time for slow cooking:

Chicken tagine.  This requires a few more ingredients than the other dishes but after a week of school dinners it feels like a more sophisticated dish that goes well with a bottle of white wine.   

Slow cooked flat ribs  You will only get these ribs from a butcher but this inexpensive cut of meat is worth seeking out.  A great dish to prep and leave in the oven whilst you are out at football / ballet / general taxying of children whilst you wonder where your social life went!

Coming up next on my blog - super sugar free snacks and sweets and ideas for lunch boxes. 

Shepherds pie (but with a variation on the mash!)

I am not quite sure when it became folklore that kids like mash. When my daughter gagged at the sight of mash I thought it was unusual but have since spoken to many parents whose children are the same. Even if you like it, sometimes you feel like a less starchy option or just want a change. 

So this recipe is essentially the meat part of shepherds pie and I freeze it like this to give me the option to choose the topping on the day.   My kids like it with rice, My husband likes it with celeriac gratin. Just because we can never agree on anything in our house my favourite is swede or potato mash (heavily buttered and with tons of pepper).  Cauliflower mash would also work well.   If you are going for some sort of mash you could always add this to the dish before freezing so you have less to do on the day you eat it. 

High quality full fat lamb mince is essential. A glass of red wine adds depth but is not essential. The recipe specifies passata but the resulting dish is not overly tomato tasting. However the passata could swapped either partially or fully for lamb stock if you prefer.  

I am not generally a fan on mushed vegetables but in this recipe using a food processor to get a very finely chopped vegetables does work well. It also makes it easy to disguise the vegetables from picky eaters (I am not just talking about kids here, I know if wives who hide vegetables in their husband's dinners too!) You could even add more carrots or other vegetables such as mushroom or red carrot if you need to up the vegetsble quota. 

(I don't bother getting the special grater attachment out for magimix) I just use normal large blade).

I make at least triple the amounts below in one go and fill the freezer.   


500g lamb mince 
1 large onion
1 large carrot 
2 sticks celery 
2 cloves of garlic 
1/3 bottle of passata (approximately 250ml)
1/2 tsp dried or fresh chopped rosemary 
Ghee or olive oil for cooking 


-Peel the carrots, garlic and onion and wash the celery 
-Chop the vegetables in half then process until finely chopped. 
-Add enough ghee or olive oil to cover the base of the pan and on a medium heat cook the vegetables for about ten minutes until softened 
-Add in the mince and stir round, till all the meat is browned 
-Add the rosemary, passata and seasoning 
-Turn down and simmer for half an hour (this develops the taste but you can miss this step out if in a rush and it will still be good)