Lasagne is one of those meals that is loved the whole family. Let’s face it, if you don’t love lasagne then you are very usual! Often seen as hard to make, time consuming and more comfort food than “healthy” I want to share my top tips for making it a standard weeknight family meal.
Pack in the veggies. Lasagne does not have to include meat! I rarely use mince to make lasagne these days. Instead I use lasagne as a way to pack in the veg. You can use lentils, beans or tofu or quorn to get protein in. There is nothing wrong with using the normal beef mince but if you are looking for more variety with meals or like us, are wanting to eat a greater range of plant based protein sources then it’s time to expand your lasagne repertoire.
Making your own sauce doesn’t have to be complicated. As much as I love a white sauce, if I’m in a rush it always goes lumpy or I burn the bottom of the pan. One of my hacks is to use cottage cheese. Add a little natural yoghurt to thin it down and pour it on the top of the lasagne, top with grated cheese and the jobs done. I wasn’t convinced this sauce would pass the lasagne police in my house but it did. Phew. The other easy alternative is to use a half fat creme fraiche, simple.
Embrace your freezer. I totally love my freezer, it saves me on a regular basis. Oh, and it needs defrosting, in case anyone fancies helping me with that. You can either make a double batch of the main filling and freeze it for another meal, or I like to make a whole lasagne and freeze it, makes me feel like a proper domestic goddess. Minus the tidy kitchen, mine is never tidy.
Make ahead. I often make lasagne in stages. so I will either get the main filling out of the freezer and leave to defrost, or make the filling up and leave it. Then later I get a child to help me put it together, layering the filling, pasta and sauce.
Use pre-bought lasagne sheets. I know most people don’t make their own fresh lasagne sheets, but I sometimes do, it makes the lasagne SO good, literally the best lasagne. But it takes more time that I just don’t have that often.
So why not transform your lasagne into sometime more inventive. It’s a forgiving dish. Here is a recipe for a wheat free, dairy free version I made this week:
250ml stock (I used homemade chicken stock but you could use a stock cube and water)
1 bay leaf
Dried mixed herbs
1 small glug of balsamic vinegar
Lasagne sheets (wheat free if required)
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tbsp wheat free flour
Soya milk as needed, approx 250ml
250ml water (you may not need it)
Soya cheese or normal cheese
Chop all the vegetables in a food processor (this saves time!) or chop finely by hand.
Saute in the oil for a few minutes, then add the lentils, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, bay leaf, dried herbs, balsamic, stock and simmer for 20 minutes. This is your basic lasagne filling, You can now freeze this, keep it in the fridge for making up later, or use straight away.
Make up the lasagne with 1 layer of lentil mix, lasagne sheets, lentil mix and lasagne sheets.
Pour the oil into a sauce pan and mix in the flour with a wooden spoon, it will make a thick paste. Mix in a little milk and stir to make a batter, now add in the rest of the milk place on a gentle heat and keep stirring to incorporate it all. The sauce will thicken, if it is too thick add some water. Keep stirring! Let it gently bubble but not too much. I like to let it cool a little and then pour on top of the lasagne.
Top with cheese and bake at gas mark 5 for 45 minutes.
Each year my love of growing vegetables, well grows. I had a dad who had very green fingers and grew a lot of the vegetables for the small hotel my parents ran. In the summer months our bath water was often emptied by buckets into the vegetable patch! My Sri-lankan grandmother has the greenest fingers in the family. Her windowsills were often covered in seedlings and she would disappear into the garden at mealtime to pick “greens” to make into a family favourite dish. A meal of rice and curry is not right without “greens”.
One of my first successes was courgettes. Most years I get a good crop, apart from last hear but I blame the baby for that 😉
This year however I have 2 plants that are exploding with monster courgettes and a bountiful supply is on its way. Follow my instagram stories for pics of the garden and how I cook them.
Personally I love courgettes. Roasted, in a stir fry, ratatouille, on pizza…. only issue is that Miss K and the J boy are not so keen. So it’s been a season of finding ways to encourage them to eat them. I don’t like to hide vegetables so I do tell them it’s in there, once they have tried some. Here are my top ways that they like and eat:
Courgette cake. This has gone down so well. I’ve been making it and freezing it. Recipe below.
Courgetti. Not because we want to be on trend but because it works. Spiralising courgette, cooking with garlic and lemon juice is a winner.
Grated courgette in bolognaise, risotto or pretty much any dish!
Roasted and blended with tinned tomatoes for a pasta sauce.
Hubby and I love a courgette curry so that’s also on the menu but I have to make the children something different on those nights!
So here is a lovely courgette cake recipe. You really won’t taste the courgette and I’ve lowered the sugar content for you too, it works out at 3g sugar per slice but some of this is the yoghurt and courgette. Per 100g it is 3.6g sugar so a much healthier alternative to many other cakes.
I made this for a family party recently and it went down really well!
Courgette and Sultana Cake (Wheat and Lactose Free)
Easy to make, reduced sugar recipe and includes plenty of yummy courgette.
300g plain wheat free flour (I used Aldi's own brand)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Grate the courgette.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4. Grease and line a loaf tin.
Mix together all the wet ingredients.
Add the flour and carefully mix in.
Now add the remaining dry ingredients and mix.
Pour into the loaf tin and put in the oven.
Bake for 20 minutes uncovered and then cover the top with foil to prevent it burning.
This cake takes 30-40 minutes in my oven, I recommend checking it by inserting a skewer and seeing if the bottom is cooked. You don't want to have the bottom too soft (I've made that mistake for you!).
This week we went Vegetarian for National Vegetarian Week. As a family we always have at least 3 meat free meals a week, so this was a good chance to unleash some new recipe ideas. To be honest I don’t think the family really noticed the lack of meat, though they would do if carried this on for a few weeks. I love vegetarian meals and would probably be one if I wasn’t cooking for the whole family. Eating more plant based meals is better for the environment, a more sustainable way of eating and has some fabulous health benefits too.
Our week of vegetarian meals:
Vegetarian Moussaka, Leek and Stilton Risotto, Courgette and Lentil Lasagne, Vegetable egg Stir fry rice, Quorn Bolognaise and Roasted Veggie Pasta.
The moussaka is something I’d seen a variation on in a gluten free recipe book that I’ve had hanging around for ages. I used soya milk to make it lactose free for my boy – omit the cheese to make it dairy free. A few adaptations made this a super simple meal that is going to stay on our meal list.
Granola is one of those foods that I could easily eat quite a lot of, though I tend to not eat it as a cereal but add it to dishes. I love the crunchiness and the variety it gives to transform your simple fruit and yoghurt into something more exciting. However granola is usually high in sugars and the amount of fruit, nuts and seeds is surprisingly low. If you have the time you could of course make your own, but you have to watch it carefully when it bakes. With my current tribe of small people I would be sure to burn it!
So I was most delighted to be sent a pack of granola to try out, especially when it was chocolate granola. Such a hard life.
Lizi’s granola is something I’ve recommended to some clients in the past due to it’s low sugar content and low glycaemic load (GL). The GL is a measure of how much a portion of a food affects your blood sugars. The GL for this granola is 6.6 for a 50g serving. Generally a low GL foods is one under 10 and you want to keep your GL to under 100 per day. So this granola is definitely a good option if you want a not too sweet, crunchy hit with a chocolately taste. It uses dark chocolate (which I love), some may say there is the added benefit of polyphenols and antioxidants but at only 5% dark belgium chocolate you won’t be getting much per 50g serving.
Here is how we enjoyed the granola – baked apples with chocolate granola. Instantly renamed big gruffalo crumble by the toddler boy. He calls any fruit crumble a gruffalo crumble, completely my fault for starting that one.
“Now my tummy’s beginning to rumble, my favourite food is gruffalo crumble”
Chocolate Granola Baked Apples
A quick, simple dessert that is great to perk up your midweek meals.
I’ve had a hankering for carrot cake for a few weeks after a conversation on social media about a bumper crop of carrots leading to recipes for carrot cake being posted. So when carrots were on offer and hubby came back with 3 bags of them plus 2 bags of parsnips it was suddenly my opportunity. Seriously, there are only so many things you can do with parsnips, so I thought why not try them in a cake. In that moment it felt like probable madness, however actually, you know what? The parsnips add a real kick to this cake. A warm earthiness and nuttiness that really adds to the sweetness of the carrots.
My main critic will always be my husband. He isn’t fobbed off as easily as the children, he has a sweet tooth and isn’t pulled in by any of the latest health trends or superfoods. So I tried him on one. He gave me the “what is it” quizzical expression which I interpret as “What the heck is the crazy woman now trying to give me”. To be fair, you can’t blame him, I am experimental in my approach and a fair few of these experiments just don’t work out. Upon trying it his response was “Actually that’s not bad”. Now for hubby that is a compliment. He isn’t overflowing with expression and excitement like me, thankfully or our house would be even more crazy! So this “Not bad” really meant “I wasn’t expecting it to taste nice but it is pretty good and I like it”. He agreed it was actually the parsnip that made it.
This cake is moist, light and a little to easy to eat. With 250g vegetables in it, it may feel pretty nutritious but you would have to eat a lot of cake to get a portion of veggie in! Having said that these will contain some vitamin A, some calcium and iron, so as cake goes, it is a good option.
I’m always after ways to get more veggies into the children and myself. Hubby likes to do his own thing at lunch, so I made these as a preparation for the toddler, baby and my lunches. They were fast to make and went well warmed up with a salad for lunch. Make a batch, freeze a batch and feel smug all week.
The snack market is huge and every expanding, but often snacks can be laded in calories, saturated fat and less than nutritious. I am always on the look out for new, nutritious snacks that I can eat and recommend to others.
Wellaby’s Simple Bakes are gluten, dairy and nut free. This of course does not make them any healthier in my eyes, but it does mean they could be a worthwhile addition to the free-from snack market. Many snacks in the free-from aisle have one food group removed and replaced with fat/sugar in order to help boost the taste.
These baked snacks are less than 100kcals per serving – however this is for a 24g serving and they come in a 120g packet. So I doubt that many people would stick to this serving size. As well as being low in calories per portion they are low in saturated fat and sugars.
They are marketed as being a wholegrain snack. Looking at the nutrition label they contain 4.2 g fibre per 100g, equivalent to a medium apple, this comes from the wholegrain rice flour and oats. A high fibre food is 6g/100g so I would put these as a mid-range fibre food.
I found these snacks really tasty. I sometimes find the flavouring in snack foods can be overpowering or too artificial tasting, but these were a good balance. I also enjoyed the crunch.
It would be great to see these in smaller, portion controlled packets, I particularly like the fibre content and the fact they are gluten, dairy and nut free.
Disclaimer: All views are my own, I was sent these 3 packets to review.
It’s been a week of pretty awful sleep. That saying about “They saved the best till last” is not true when it comes to sleeping babies. The third baby is the worse sleeper! However she also gives the best cuddles and is super cute with it, so I can’t be cross with her.
When I don’t sleep well I tend to :
Walk around in a bit of a brain fog, yet still be functional for work – how does that happen?
Want to poke out the eyes of anyone who has a baby that sleeps through the night.
Loose some of my words. My 6 year old is good at finding them for me. “I’m just making…..ummm, ummm” “Breakfast Mummy?” “Yes, that’s the one”.
Get creating in the kitchen. I’ve no idea how but cooking and baking helps restore my sanity.
So on a cold, fuzzy headed Sunday afternoon I was flicking through my recipe notebook and stumbled upon rockcakes. Rockcakes seem to be one of those recipes that people make in school or when they are learning to bake. I think they need a come-back. Super easy to make, which means the children can help, there is little that you can go wrong with and you are left with a mountain of tasty snacks for your week.
I’ve adapted the usual rock cake recipe by adding in fruit and upon tasty the mix I decided it was sweet enough for our palates. Try a bit of it before you add in the eggs and see what you think as you can always add in a little sugar to taste. Doing it this way will hopefully mean you don’t go OTT on the sugar content.
My kids were happy bunnies and rewarded me by playing nicely with minimal arguments all afternoon. I love the subtle pear hint in these. Perfect for tbe after school munchies, which happens to co-incide with my cuppa and snack time 🙂
I’ve had a hankering to make fresh pasta again for a while. There is something completely different about fresh pasta that I love, seeing as I can’t eat the shop bought versions as they contain wheat, I have to make my own. Which takes a bit more time and mine never looks as beautiful as it should, but you end up with a meal made with love.
This meal is inspired by Mediterranean flavours. There has been a lot of chatter about the Med diet lately. The scientific research shows us that eating his style diet hold benefits for heart health, type 2 diabetes, Parkinsons disease, Alzhiemers, high blood pressure, some cancers and obesity. The Med diet has an emphasis plant based foods -so plenty of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. Including olive oil instead of butter, eating less red meat, processed foods and saturated fats. Plus moderate amounts of red wine. I like that bit.
Fish is eaten regularly in he Med, including oily fish and this is something I’m always looking to include more often in my families mealtimes. So thinking Italy and salmon led to me Salmon Ravioli. How hard could it be? It turns out my pasta skills need a little improving, wheat free flour is an art form to work with at time! I could so do with going on a pasta course.
I completely enjoyed making these and my children loved the fresh pasta. They joined in and made their own pasta creations with some left over dough too. Another Mediterranean touch – get the whole family involved in creating the meal and make it an event!
Being half Sri-Lankan I love curry, it is in my genes to like curry. I’ve made alot of curry over my years of cooking, but never a fish curry. Not because I don’t like fish, it’s just it has always seemed like quite a delicate balance to get the flavours right. For some reason I’m a bit cautious about cooking fish/shellfish as I’ve also never cooked spaghetti mariana, another fav of mine). However I’m now a convert. This is one of my favourite ways to eat fish, added bonus being the kids lapped it up (the boy literally, we must work on table manners!). I also love that this is SO easy to cook. It is completely not how I would normally cook a curry (curry powder is not my norm) but it made for a quick, midweek meal that was tasty and healthy.
I used salmon as I aim to get 1 portion of oily fish into the family dinners a week, but a white fish would work just as well.
Miss K “Mummy this is the best fish curry ever”
(Bless her, it’s the only one she probably remembers eating)
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, salute the onions and add the mustard seeds. Cook for a few minutes over a low heat with a lid on. The seeds will pop.
Now add the garlic, ginger, curry powder and cook out for a couple of minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, grated coconut and some black pepper along with the chopped peppers. Stir and simmer for 10 minutes to get a nice sauce.
Chop the fish into bite sized chunks and add to the pan, simmer for 6-8 minutes.
Add the lemon juice, season and serve with rice and a scattering of coriander if you have any.
By Priya Tew, Dietitian UK
Dietitian UK http://www.dietitianuk.co.uk/
Freelance Dietitian specialising in helping those with Eating Disorders and a Media Spokesperson for the profession.