I have 11 people living in my house at the moment ranging from aged 2 to… well… aged "me". So when I'm planning my dinners I need to consider three things:

  1. They need to be nutritious;
  2. They need to fill up lots of hungry tummys;
  3. They have to be inexpensive!!!

They say necessity is the mother of invention, so here are some cheeky tips I've learned while I've been trying to achieve all three of my family food goals.

 

Post-roast pie

Have you ever wondered what to do with roast leftovers? A few years back I made a family roast and found myself with a little meat and a heap of vegetables left over. I can't bear wasting food and thought – what can I do with this??? So I chopped everything up and mixed it all in one large dish (meat, veggies, gravy, cauliflower and white sauce etc) and then the following night I used it as a pie filling.

Well it was such a hit that my family now expects it, and is disappointed when there aren't enough leftovers for me to make one. Just serve with a salad, or even on it's own because it's packed with veggies already.

 

 

 

Spaghetti Bolognese

When my "guests" all moved in, I remember standing in front of the supermarket meat section for ages trying to decide what mince to buy to make spaghetti bolognese. On the one hand, I

naturally wanted to use the lean meat, but on the other hand the regular mince was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more affordable given the quantities I needed. 

I quickly learned how to "bulk" up my bolognese sauce without anyone (especially the kids) even knowing. I now use half the amount of lean mince, and then throw every vegetable at my disposal in the food processor – zucchini, mushroom, carrot, capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach leaves… And here's the real trick – red kidney beans! Once they've been mashed or put through the processor, they have the consistency of mince!! I just add it all to the traditional sauce and it's delicious. 

The kids wolf it down and ask for more, totally oblivious to the fact they've had 7 serves of vegetables and a serve of legumes. Not to mention I've saved a tonne on meat. 

 

The power of macaroni

For a long time I found it hard to convince my family that soup was a meal. For me, it's a great dinner because it's quick, inexpensive, and again, I can get loads of sneaky veggies into it. 

So what I started doing was throwing a handful of macaroni into all my soups (ok, maybe not all of them – but most) and hey presto, it's now considered a satisfying meal in the Moschendrie household.

 

Take it slow

For $65 I bought a massive slow cooker a while back (check Kmart, Target, Coles, Woolworths, online…) and it's been fabulous. Not only is it the perfect working mum's kitchen aide, but when it comes to saving money, it can be amazing. 

But you don't need a separate appliance, you can slow cook in the oven, or even on the stove top as you'll see below.

With slow cooking you can use all the cheaper cuts of meat because they won't dry out. Remember "chuck steak", this is ideal in the slow cooker and you have the family reacting as if they're eating expensive meat. 

My favourite is a Beef & Chorizo Ragout that I based on a recipe I found in a Good Taste magazine from 2011:

  • 2kg chuck steak (excess fat removed) and cut into 4cm pieces
  • 60ml (¼ cup olive oil)
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 300g mushrooms chopped
  • 1 chorizo sausage sliced diagonally (would still be yummy without the chorizo or with a little bacon instead):
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed (from the jar is fine)
  • 2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 800g tin of diced tomatoes
  • 375ml (1½ cups) beef stock
  • 125ml (½ cup) red wine
  • 90g (1/3 cup) tomato paste
  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs of thyme (would work with dried thyme leaves)
  • 6 spring onions trimmed and sliced

 

Step 1. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large heavy based saucepan over a medium-high heat. Brown the beef in batches and place in a bowl.

Step 2. Heat the remaining oil and cook chorizo for 2-3 minutes until golden. Add the garlic and paprika and cook, stirring, for one minute or until aromatic. Stir in the beef, tomato, stock, wine, tomato paste, bay leaves and thyme.

Step 3. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook (stirring occasionally) for 2 hours. 

Step 4. Add spring onion, uncover and cook (stirring occasionally) for 30-45 minutes until beef is tender and liquid thickens. Serve with potatoes (the way you like them) and greens, or with a garden salad.

 

Caren