Ahhh, an oldie but a goodie. Show me a child who doesn’t like lasagne and come, let them sit by me. That’s right. Despite making a lasagne every raves about, it really doesn’t do it for me. I prefer Nigella’s take on it – to make the bolognaise, the bechamel and to them smooch them through penne and bake – if I have to eat something of this ilk. I don’t know, it’s just not my thing.

It’s on the weekly rotation at the moment as Felix loves it and Jasper eats it. I also get two nights out of it and sometimes enough bolognaise sauce left over to get a dinner out of that as well. That my friend is called a win win win.

The Bolognaise sauce

  • 2-4 onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, smooshed
  • 1kg beef mince
  • 500g pork mince
  • 1 cup of red wine (optional, I only add if I’ve got a bottle open)
  • 2-4 tbls tomato paste
  • 500ml sugo
  • 2x400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • stock or water
  • flat leaf parsley and basil
  1. Heat a little oil in a big saucepan and saute the onions, carrots and celery slowly. I’m talking 30 minutes at least. Add the garlic about half way through. Keep it quite wet, if it dries out add some water.
  2. Add the meat and cook until browned through
  3. Add the wine and cook out until alcohol smell has dissipated
  4. Add tomato paste and cook it out for a minute or so
  5. Add the sugo and tinned tomatoes and enough stock that it gets good boiling/simmering movement.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 2 hours
  7. Near the end of cooking I added a big handful of fresh herbs and check seasoning.

Bechamel sauce

  • 4 tbs butter
  • 6 tbs plain flour
  • 1 litre milk (I use skim)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan
  2. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes or so
  3. Add milk gradually at first to ensure you don’t have any lumps, then pour it all in
  4. Stir fairly constantly over medium heat until it thickens
  5. Turn off the heat and add the parmesan
  6. Season with salt and pepper

Lasagne sheets
I know some of you will just go ‘pfff’ at this, as I did when Joke told me he cures his own bacon (or something like that) but I can taste the difference, so this is what I do.
I use ones which you have to cook first. They’re thicker and this brand is fantastic. I figure when Antoinette who runs the best (dare I say only really decent one) Italian deli on the Northern Beaches will only stock this one it has to be good. I also occasionally use the Latina fresh variety when the thought of getting the pack into the car and out of the car and into a deli and out of a deli and back in the car and home makes my head explode.

Building your lasagne
My beautiful friend Linda who also happens to be Italian told me once that lasagne is all about the layers and that there has to be lots of them. She doesn’t even make it with bechamel. Just lasagne sheets and bolognaise. And mine never gets close to hers in flavour. She made it once, for Chef’s 30th when a few of us went to the farm where we were married. That dinner, where copious amounts of alcohol were consumed with almost equally massive amounts of food is one of my most favourite memories of all time.

Start with a layer of the meat sauce, then pasta, then bechamel and so on
Sometimes I throw in a layer of ricotta – if I have it in the fridge.
Sprinkle some cheese over the top and bake at 180C for 40minutes to an hour.
Sometimes I make smaller ones in tin containers that I then freeze, because this level of effort for one dinner is just madness. But the above recipe makes a lot of bolognaise and you should have some left over to make spag bol the next night or freeze for another day at least.

Beef stir-fry with hokkien noodles

I think I’ve referred to my weird relationship with stir-fries. I don’t like them, then I make them and think I should do them more often. The kids love them, so really, the answer is right there. This is a WW-inspired number so is low fat and full of greens.

Beef stir-fry with hokkien noodles

  • 2tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1tbs finely grated ginger
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
  • 450g beef, sliced thinly
  • 1 bunch Chinese broccoli
  • 1 bunch broccolini, chopped
  • 1/3 cup stock
  • 1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 300g fresh hokkien noodles
  • 2-4 shallots, sliced
  1. Heat 1 tsp of oil in a wok and brown the beef in batches. Do this quickly, it doesn’t need to be cooked through, just seared. Set aside
  2. Heat remaining oil and stir fry the onion, ginger and chilli for a minute or so
  3. Add the vegetables, the stock and sauce
  4. Cover the hokkien noodles in boiling water and set aside for 2-3 minutes (or what packet instructions recommend), drain and separate with a fork
  5. Add to the wok and toss all together
  6. Sprinkle with shallots and serve.

Beef casserole with tomato and chive dumplings

I love casseroles. Meltingly tender meat, soft and tasty vegetables, thick gravy. YUM. This is based on a Weight Watchers recipe^.

Beef casserole with tomato and chive dumplings

  • 800g gravy beef, cubed
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 250g button mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on their size
  • a good handful of fresh herbs of your choice, finely chopped (I used flat leaf parsley but I think rosemary would work well)
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 tbs plain flour
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 1/2 cups self raising flour
  • 40g butter
  • 20g sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil), soaked in boiling water, drained and finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1-2 tbs chives, finely chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C
  2. Heat a non-stick pan* over high heat and spray with some oil
  3. Brown the beef in batches and set aside
  4. Add the vegetables to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes
  5. Add the tomato paste and the flour and cook for a minute, stirring constantly
  6. Add the stock and scrape the pan to get anything that has stuck**
  7. Transfer to the casserole dish
  8. Bake, tightly covered, for an hour and a half
  9. Rub the butter through the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs
  10. Mix through the sun-dried tomatoes and chives
  11. Mix in the milk with a round-bladed knife – like you would a scone mixture
  12. Spoon tablespoons of the batter onto the casserole and then cook for a further 20-30 minutes or until the dumplings are cooked through and the meat is falling apart.

Great with: some green salad leaves, steamed broccoli, lightly pan-fried zucchinis

^ Their recipe uses slightly less meat, more celery, no carrots or garlic, dried thyme in the casserole, parsley and reduced fat spread in the dumplings
* You could use a Le Creuset or other enamel casserole pot with lid that can go from stove to oven
** I realise I said a non -stick pan, but you know, work with me

Corned beef

Serious comfort food and a firm family favourite. Today I cooked the beef and made the white sauce in the afternoon. I left the beef sitting in the water it was cooked in as I took four boys and two dogs on a walk to the beach/park and around the lake. When we got back I put the potatoes and carrots on, bathed to two youngest kids and had dinner on the table by 5.30. Too good. No pictures I’m afraid.

Corned beef

  • 2kg corned beef
  • 1 onion, chopped roughly
  • 1 carrot, chopped roughly
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped roughly
  • handful whole black peppercorns
  • few sprigs flat leaf parsley
  • a couple of bay leaves
  1. put everything in a pot and cover with cold water
  2. bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer
  3. cook for 2 hours (if you’re doing a smaller piece of beef allow 30 minutes per 500g)
  4. leave in cooking water until ready to serve

Parsley sauce

  • 2 tblsp butter
  • 3 tblsp plain flour
  • 2 cups milk (I use skim and occasionally use half milk half water the beef has cooked in)
  • 1 heaped tsp horseradish cream
  • handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  1. melt the butter then add the flour and cook out over a low heat for 2-3 minutes
  2. add the milk gradually, stirring constantly to avoid lumps
  3. add the horseradish cream and parsley, taste and season if necessary (remembering the corned beef can be quite salty)

Serve with cauliflower, mashed potato, green veggies or whatever takes your fancy. I often add some wedges of cabbage right at the end of the cooking time for the beef – it gives the cabbage a great flavour.