My twins demand more and more time and, unfortunately, it means less and less time for everything else, including blogging. So, my next posts I'd like to dedicate to all the busy moms handling family budgets, varied family tastes and limited time on their hands. In particular, I'd like to discuss what's cooking in our kitchen on day to day basis to entertain the most precious guests of all - our family members!
Of course, we all have some really simple day-to-day staples which might not require particular coverage or recipe details like fried eggs, potatoes or morning cereals. But there are times when we just want to step our game up and treat our family to something a bit more elaborate than above, but at the same time still simple, on the budget and with limited time available. In my opinion, the perfect family recipe should be:
- Flexible and forgiving all sorts of modifications. We don't have time on our hands to run to the supermarket if some of the ingredients are missing. And, usually, we have plenty of leftovers in our fridge or cupboards which we would like to use too, not to waste precious family resources
- Allowing to use my favorite short cuts: frozen vegetable mixes, spice kits etc
- Easy to freeze and store for a week ahead
- Not containing expensive or difficult to find ingredients, only few are lucky to have unlimited family budgets
- Not taking much time and requiring handling too many dirty bowls and pans to prepare
Considering all the above, I would say that these dishes are broadly falling into the categories of stews, bakes, curries and pasta in my kitchen :) And, of course, you can always make pizza with anything really! Depending on the combination of foods available in your home at one particular moment, I would say you can definitely prepare one or another with those! To be 100% sure, I tend to always stock some favorite veggie mixes in my freezer, have a box of cannelloni and a bag of rice in my cupboard, and just replenish my fridge with fresh cheap meat cuts, fish fillets and cheese through my weekly shopping orders. When it comes to meat selection, I prefer skinless chicken thighs fillets, pork and lamb hearts. In my opinion, those meats satisfy most important conditions: they are cheap, easy to prepare and versatile enough to go into any of the four dishes I mentioned.
Ok, I think, we covered all the theory. So, let me share some of my favorite recipes with you now. How, about some pasta for a start?!
Cannelloni with chicken and kale or spinach
It might seem to be a bit fiddly due to the need to fill in the tubes, but it really takes 5 minutes to stuff the cannelloni and this additional effort is definitely worth it - both in terms of the taste and looks of the dish. The tubes can be stuffed with anything really and the ingredients can be finetuned as per your family tastes and the choice available in your fridge. Though it might be a bit trickier when the tastes differ :) - I like those crispy and spicy, my husband likes those gooey and bland. It's really a very versatile and forgiving dish. Stuffed cannelloni can be frozen and prepared on the day needed too. So, I am going to share just one of the many versions of this dish. The end result might look different depending on the cheeses, sauce and crumbly mixture you choose. To the right are two versions of essentially almost the same cannelloni with chicken, kale and ricotta! The more traditional version is usually done with beef mince, but there is something about it lately that it is not exactly to my taste, so I prefer lighter chicken. I've also done a more complicated version of these with two sauces - one tomato and another bechamel, but, really, didn't find it that special not to simplify and prepare with one sauce only going forward.
- 250g cannelloni pasta (I prefer those which doesn't require precooking)
- 500g of skinless chicken thigh fillets finely chopped
- 300-400g of frozen chopped kale or spinach
- 1 large onion finely chopped (I use frozen alternative too)
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped (I use frozen alternative too)
- filling condiments: frozen, dry or fresh basil to your taste (I also use basil infused oil for meat browning at times to enhance the flavor), salt and black pepper (well, any herb combi your heart desire), chopped walnuts (optional)
- 250g of ricotta cheese (can be replaced with cream cheese)
- 2 Tbsp of butter + olive oil for meat browning (butter is optional but I do believe it's better)
- 400-500g tomato based sauce or passata (any version will do even a can of chopped tomatoes, I usually prefer the ones with slight hint of chilli and herbs, in my opinion, the mild heat of chilli compliments the blandness of pasta perfectly, but my spice averse husband disagrees :))
- 200ml of double cream
- 100g of hot boiled water or stock
- 1Tbsp of plain flour (optional)
- 100-200g shredded hard cheese(the amount depends on how cheesy you like the dish and budget, I like a combination of mozzarella and cheddar, but any will do)
- Crust topping (simple breadcrumbs will do, but for a more elaborate version, mix breadcrumbs with garlic powder, Parmesan, paprika and herbs of your choice)
- Heat the butter and the olive oil in a large frying pan, add onion and garlic, then cook until soft. Add chicken meat and brown the mixture a bit.
- Add spinach (kale), ricotta and filling condiments, then cook for further 2-3 minutes. Put aside and let it cool down.
- Preheat oven to 180C. Fill in dry cannelloni with the prepared mixture. I usually do that with hands, I found it to be the quickest and easiest method, but you can do that with piping bag too, assuming it has wide enough cut for chicken pieces. At this stage you can freeze some of your cannelloni to prepare later during the week.
- If you are using prepared tomato sauce, spoon in about half of it at the bottom of your oven proof dish evenly (if you are using plain chopped tomatoes, I suggest you salt and spice it to your taste first). Place filled in cannelloni on top evenly and tightly.
- In a separate bowl mix together half of the remaining tomato sauce, cream and half of the shredded cheese. Depending on how gooey you like your pasta, measure and add boiling water/stock and flour. I provided the measurements which kinda average my family tastes. Spread the mixture evenly on top of the cannelloni.
- Sprinkle the pasta with your remaining shredded cheese and crust topping. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for about 40 min, then remove the foil and cook for 10 more minutes until golden brown.
Next time I will cover one of my favorite stews - Lamb Heart Stew with Prunes and Mediterranean Veggies!