Having a (sausage) roll of a time

Life’s been so hectic since July that I’ve been just been cooking by rote and not thinking so much about it. But things are starting to settle down so I will try to post more!
Here’s our current fave to get back into the swing of things
party party party sausage rolls

You will need:
250 g beef mince
250 g pork or sausage mince
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 small zucchini, grated
Breadcrumbs made from two pieces of stale bread
1 egg
1/4 c tomato sauce
1 tbsp BBQ sauce
3 sheets puff pastry, slightly thawed
1 egg, extra, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 190C. Grease a baking tray
2. In a bowl, mix together all ingredients except the pastry and extra egg. It works best if you use your hands!
3. Cut each piece of pastry in half long ways so you have 6 pieces of pastry
4. In the middle, parallel to the long side of the pastry, place your mince mixture, shaped as a log.
5. Roll pastry up. The edges must overlap, so you get a long thin sausage roll. Cut into 6 or 8 pieces and place on baking tray. Repeat til everything is used up.
6. Brush the tops of your mini sausage rolls with the beaten egg. Place in oven for 20-25 mins or until golden.

Nb. Low fat pastry doesn’t cook as nicely as regular pastry, and also falls apart a bit, as my photo shows!



When your world’s a-crazed, try spaghetti bolognese

Things have been a bit silent here at Imprecision Kitchen as we have been in Spain! Italy! England! which has been great fun but not so productive in the kitchen. While we were away however, I got some really great ideas about things to try – and which I will share here in the next few weeks. But first, I thought I would go back to basics here and share with you my first ‘returning home’ recipe – spaghetti bolognese. Everyone has their own comfort food, and this is one of my boys’ favourites, especially after three weeks of trying new things. We have this sauce with spaghetti, spirals, gnocchi, ravioli, baked potatoes… it’s pretty versatile. It’s also perfect to adapt to meet your own tastes!

Rel’s spaghetti bolognese

You will need:

500 g minced beef (although it also works pretty well with other meats, or a combination)

1 small onion, diced finely

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 stick celery, chopped finely

1/2 (or 1 small) zucchini, chopped finely or grated

1 carrot, chopped finely or grated

a few mushrooms (optional), chopped

1x 440g can tomato soup (you can instead choose to use crushed tomatoes, but I find that this makes it a bit richer – mum style!)

1 x 700g jar of tomato passata

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp mixed dried herbs


olive oil

1. In a pan with a little olive oil, add garlic, onion and celery. Cook over medium heat until brown. Add the mince and stir until brown.

2. Add all other ingredients; if it looks a bit dry, add some water. Let it simmer together for 30 minutes or more (the longer the better).

3. Serve over pasta, rice, potato or whatever.

Pretty simple, hey? Enjoy!


Fussy is as fussy does: hedgehog meatballs

Last night, my 4 year old (H) told me two things: 1. He hates tomatoes, which is such a pity as we planted about 15 tomato seedlings last year, mostly cherry and baby Roma, and have picked at least a bowlful each day for the past month or so; and 2. Tomato sauce, one of his favourite things, does not have tomatoes in it, despite the name. So I thought it was time to remind him that he does, actually, like tomatoes, just not fresh ones.

I guess, like lots of other kids, he is a fussy eater, but not always. There are a wide range of things he does eat, but equally there are things he ‘doesn’t’ – the reason for the inverted commas is that he generally does eat them, they are just hidden when he does. I aim to always put at least six vegetables in everything I make (before kids, this was ten types of vegies, but I’ve since reduced the self-pressure) – so when he eats the same foods elsewhere, he thinks they taste funny if there isn’t the same veg quotient… So ‘fussy’ is contextual. It’s also semantic: fussy might be the same as particular, dogmatic, demanding… but sometimes it’s just downright annoying.

A few years back, I came across a recipe that promised to be adored by children. It was in a slow cooking book by Sally Wise; I’ve adapted it a bit (to incorporate my magic 6) and usually do it on the stove. But, after days of fussiness (ie demanding), H ate a huge bowl of the meatballs and the bubaloo had two small serves.

She aims, she kicks, she scores!!!

Unfortunately, I didn’t score on the photos – apologies. They may not look so pretty but they taste good 🙂

Hedgehog meatballs

You will need:
For the meatballs:
1 kg minced beef
1/2 cup uncooked rice
2 small or 1 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 small zucchini, finely chopped
1 tbsp mixed herbs
2 tbsp tomato paste + 1/4 cup of condensed tomato soup (just open a 420g tin, I use salt reduced) OR equivalent tomato sauce
2 tbsp barbecue sauce
Salt and pepper

1. Combine all together in a bowl and mix well. Your hands are the best way to do this. Make into balls around 3 cm round.
2. Heat a splash of olive oil in a fry pan. Add 1 crushed clove of garlic (optional). Add the meatballs and brown.
3. Blend together (nb. new ingredients) the rest of the can of soup, 400ml water, and 1.5 cups (ish) tomato passata. Pour over the meatballs.
4. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the rice is cooked. Stir occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn but do this carefully! The meatballs can fall apart if you are too rough.
5. Serve with steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, or just plain. This makes enough for a few dinners.

As an aside, my partner told me that his mum used to make this when they were kids. So it’s not a new recipe idea, but it’s clearly a resurgent one 🙂



A bit of comfort (food): meatloaf for the masses!

Occasionally a week comes along that doesn’t rock my world. They’re the weeks when silly things go wrong, when you receive not-great news, or, like this week just gone, when an instantaneous and thoughtless bad decision leads to a bit of grief. You know the weeks I mean… Everyone has them. They’re the times when you just need a hug, or something like a hug. Which brings me to the point of this post: comfort food, the sort of thing that hugs you from the inside out. Or which feels like it is. Meatloaf is one of those foods.

Growing up in a very small, remote town, comfort food was mum’s version of spaghetti bolognese, chow mein, or just chops or sausages with vegetables (usually mashed potatoes, peas and carrots). I never heard of meatloaf until I read Judy Blume’s books, and it was certainly not something that I had eaten. As an adult, the idea of meatloaf was less than appealing. This was partly about the aesthetics of it – admittedly, meatloaf won’t win any beauty contests – but it was more about my prejudices about what constituted ‘proper’ food.

The first time I tried meatloaf, I was in my mid-thirties and had made it after a) H had tried it at childcare and gobbled it all up (anyone who has had a non-eater will know that this means you need to make that dish for every meal from now on) – including the vegies on the side, and b) a recipe for meatloaf had just appeared in the ‘Good Weekend’ magazine, written by Matthew Evans, the Gourmet Farmer (http://www.matthewevans.net.au/). At the time, he wrote a weekly recipe column, unadorned by photographs and with a pithy little story about the provenance of the recipe: meatloaf, he wrote, was just like a terrine and therefore, not just kids’ food.

Since then, I’ve made this countless times and each time, regardless of the variations I make, it still tastes awesome – and everyone loves it. This past weekend, I made one batch and from this got 2 mini meatloaves and one bigger loaf. With vegetables and/or salad, it feeds our family of four for two dinners and one lunch…

My recipe below varies from the original Matthew Evans version, but I love his name for it, and so have kept it here. My additions are indicated in the ingredient list in italics, below.

Not your ordinary meat loaf

2 tbsp olive oil or butter

1 large onion, peeled and finely diced

1 stick celery, finely diced

5 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped if stems are woody

50g bacon, finely diced (or 1 rasher)

600g beef mince

400g pork mince (for ease, I generally just use 50:50 of the two mince types)

1/4 c tomato sauce

3 tbsp barbeque sauce

1 carrot, grated

1 zucchini, grated

2 eggs

fresh breadcrumbs from 2 slices of bread – sometimes I use about 3/4 c cornflake crumbs

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp freshly milled black pepper

50g grated Italian parmesan

I find it works fine without the Dijon or parmesan; I often forget the parmesan until it’s in the oven!
1. Preheat oven to 200C. Heat the oil in a large wide frying pan over a modest flame and cook the onion, celery, bacon and thyme, with a lid on but stirring often, for about 10 mins or until the onion is very soft.

2. Let this cool slightly, then mix it into the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. You will need to use your hands to combine it, or it will take ages to mix.

3. Press this mixture into a lined 1.5 litre loaf tin or similar.

4. Bake for 50-60 mins or until a roasting fork inserted in the centre comes out warm, and there are no more pink juices (it won’t hurt if it’s slightly underdone). It’s a pretty moist recipe, and the cooked juices are nice spooned over your slice of the meatloaf.

5. Serve the meat loaf hot with baked or mashed potatoes and plenty of tomato sauce. Any leftovers are best served at room temperature.

As I’m not a food stylist, I couldn’t take a nice photo of my meatloaf – so forgive the aesthetics and don’t let this poor photo put you off!


Winning points with a Chinese-style eggplant dish

In Melbourne at the moment, the Australian Open (tennis) is in full swing and, as it nears the finals, is on television lots. At the same time, it’s pretty hot; today was 37C, so its difficult to find motivation to do much, plus there’s the sunburn factor (i.e. too hot not to get burnt). By the time we got home from work/childcare, it had really heated up and all I wanted to do was watch the tennis with the kids (my 4 year old now tells me he wants to be a tennis player when he grows up!).

But, you know, I had to feed them something. It had to be quick, easy and nutritious. What to do? I toyed with the idea of making a Cambodian-esque dish, given that we were there in November and it was almost as hot as Phnom Penh, but decided that was beyond me today. In the end, I settled for a Chinese eggplant and mince dish that my friend Teresa taught me a few years ago; before then, I’d always imagined that it was hugely complex and would take all day to prepare. Fortunately that’s not the case. I like to think of it as interchangeable with spaghetti bolognese – one of those fail-safe dishes that everyone in the family will eat. As long as you have stuff in the cupboard (once you’ve made it once, you will have enough for many incarnations), it’s really pretty basic. The kids really love it and so does my partner, so its a winner with everyone. While its a pork dish, any mince meat (although not sure about lamb) can be substituted; we had chicken today. Tempeh might also work well too, but I haven’t tried it.

Szechuan-style eggplant and minced pork

You’ll need:

oil (most recipes call for peanut oil, but I use olive or vegetable oil with no problems)

1 medium eggplant (aubergine)

2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped finely

2 tsp ginger, grated finely

a good handful of mushrooms (shitake if you like them, I just use button or swiss brown)

500g minced pork (or chicken or beef)

a handful of green or snake beans, cut into 3 cm lengths (optional)

1 tsp chilli bean paste or chilli flakes (optional – I don’t generally include this)

250ml chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp Shao Xing Chinese cooking wine (or dry sherry)

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp sugar

pepper and salt, to taste

4-6 spring onions, chopped into 3 cm lengths (depends how much you like them!)

1. Chop eggplant into thin strips, about the size of your little finger and ~3cm long. Place in a colander and salt them liberally. Leave for about 15 minutes.

2. Wash salt from eggplant then pat dry. In a frypan, heat a few tablespoons of oil (you may need to add more, as eggplants are pretty thirsty). When it’s hot, add your eggplant; you may need to do this in two batches in order to cook the eggplant well. Cook it until it’s soft and transparent. Set aside to drain on some paper towel. Discard any oil left in your frypan.

3. Return your frypan to the heat and add a tablespoon or two of oil. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until they are soft, for a minute or two. Next add the mince and, if you are using them, beans and chilli bean paste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mince changes colour and is cooked through.

4. Stir in the stock, soy sauce, Shao Xing wine, sesame oil and eggplants and cook for about 5 minutes or until the flavours have been absorbed by the meat and vegetables. It might still have a watery sauce, which you can thicken by adding 1 tsp cornflour mixed with 2 tbsp water (optional; I never bother to do this). Stir through your spring onions and cook for a further minute or so.

5. Serve with steamed rice.

If you like this sort of thing, don’t hesitate to buy that big bottle of Shao Xing – it lasts for ages and is not expensive. You can get it at most Asian grocers.

I hope you and yours like this dish – if you have a better recipe, I’d love to hear it! Thanks for reading.