Faster Pasta #1: The One With The Smoked Salmon Tomato Cream Sauce

Whenever I am cooking pasta, as I was last night, I ponder why people who say they can’t cook don’t embrace pasta. I know these days it is possible to eat quite well and at reasonable cost without ever entering your kitchen. Fast, cheap food is no longer just the domain of Maccas and the Colonel; so many options are now freely available.

I suspect if I was single and kidlet free I would do little, if any, cooking. For me cooking and eating is pleasurable as a social and nurturing activity and these days it’s part of the fabric of my life and of how I view my own identity. But I can remember how the other side of the coin looks.

Getting back to last night… as I was cooking I was thinking that pasta is virtually indistructible and can be used as a base for just about anything you have lurking in your pantry and fridge. A 99 cent packet of pasta plus 3 or 4 other ingredients can make a meal; once you get your head around the basic flavour principles you are away. A family of four or five can eat for under $10 easily; or a single person make enough for four work lunches for the same cost.

The good thing is, while your pot of pasta is boiling you can gather and prepare your other ingredients, drain the pasta and throw together as quickly as your chosen ingredients will allow.

A drizzle of olive oil, some gently fried garlic, a handful of sliced mushrooms and ham or bacon. Tomatoes going soft in the fridge? Peel and chop, soften in the pot with oil, onion and garlic, some fresh or dried herbs. Finish with some crumbled feta or ricotta or a splash of cream and some parmesan. Go a little fancier with some sliced chicken thigh fillets or green prawns, some grated zucchini, a little chili and some olive oil or cream to finish off.

From the simplest bowl of freshly cooked pasta with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan (as my kids love it) to a dinner party dish of home made pasta (try it, if you have a gadget to help with the kneading it’s easier than you would think, and very satisfying) with a delicately constructed sauce… pasta is something everyone should know how to make and experiment with.

Last night’s half hour wonder was:


Pasta with Smoked Salmon Tomato Cream Sauce

500g dried pasta shapes or spaghetti
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced or crushed
1 small onion, finely sliced or chopped
olive oil
1 teaspoon vegetable stock powder (chicken would be fine)
dried herbs (as available or to taste, or use fresh parsley, thyme… whatever you have/like)
8 small or 4 large tomatoes (I used Roma tomatoes because that’s what I had), peeled, chopped chunky style
Large handful of baby spinach leaves, torn or sliced
200 ml cream
8 slices smoked salmon, chopped as you like
Salt, pepper, chili (if you like) – all optional and all to taste
2-3 Tablespoons of parmesan, grated or shaved

1) Cook pasta as instructed, drain, set aside.
2) In the same pot heat olive oil on low heat, add onion and garlic. Cook for a 3-5 minutes until starting to soften.
3) Add tomatoe pieces and a splash of water or white wine and your herbs and stock powder. Cook on low heat, stirring regularly.
4) When tomatoes are breaking down (up to you how chunky or mushy you like them) add the cream and baby spinach and stir through for one minute or so.
5) Add pasta and smoked salmon slices and seasoning (if using) and heat through while stirring. Turn off heat straight away, you want the salmon warm but not cooked and mushy.
6) Stir through parmesan or add to individual plates (I stir through).

Seriously quick and easy (and Marianna had three serves).

The important thing to remember is don’t worry too much about the recipe. Don’t like smoked salmon? Leave it out or add ham or some leftover chicken instead. Don’t have fresh tomatoes? Throw in a can of them. Add frozen peas or zucchini instead of spinach. Go hard on the chili if kidlets are not partaking. Use your imagination and let your vegie crisper dictate what goes in. The best thing about a pasta dish like this is nothing is really “wrong” – unless it tastes bloody awful of course, then it’s your own silly fault. Go back to the drawing board.

Love/Hate: Kidlet Birthday Parties

I have a on-going, complicated love/hate relationship with the kidlets’ birthday parties. I find them stressful and exhausting; probably because I don’t like children very much… they are unpredictable and overly energetic and have minds of their own from an unreasonably young age. But I have very fond memories of the childhood parties I attended so I have kept up with annual parties for both kids from the beginning.

The parties always end up bigger and more expensive and more stressful than even I can predict and experience would dictate but nevertheless we plug on.

We have only ever attempted one joint party previously. The last one was five years ago and I am still seeking therapy. Let’s not revisit that particular horror story.

Instead let me tell you a happier story. The story of our Luna Park party held last Sunday. I am not exaggerating, but I am possibly being lazily forgetful, when I say it was the best party ever.

Let’s start with the food.

Inspired by my new friend Suze of ChocolateSuze fame I decided to make a Chocolate Box Cake – cake, chocolate, lollies… what’s not to like.






It’s a really easy cake and, apart from the Rainbow Cake from last year, the cake the kids got most excited about. I used Julie Goodwin’s Neverfail Cake recipe with some added lemon zest which results in a really lovely dense, tangy cake. I would suggest even a novice cook can make this cake without too much heartache. The decorating is a no-brainer: cover with buttercream icing (I made my own but store bought would be just fine), make a “fence” with KitKats (I used White Chocolate KitKats because I love them and white chocolate doesn’t make kids go quite so nuts, apparently) and then fill it in with lollies of choice.

In hindsight I would say don’t use jelly type lollies, or at least not the lolly snakes. They are really hard to cut through and cause some grief at cake cutting time. However the kids (big and small do love them) so maybe have a stash nearby for when it’s time to serve.

Another new favourite for kids parties is No-Brainer Sausage Rolls.


These require almost no effort for a great result. You need a packet (1 kg) of baby frankfurts, 4 sheets of puff pastry, 1 beaten egg thinned out with a little milk and a couple of teaspoons of sesame seeds. Pre-heat oven to 200C fan forced and line two or three large trays with baking paper.

I cut the puff pastry into rectangles about 8cm x 9cm which is just big enough to roll a frankfurt in with a little sticking room. I used the pastry offcuts to make more rectangles.

Once you’ve neatly rolled your sausages into your pastry blankets (and made sure the pastry ends are sealed nicely) place them on the baking trays, brush with egg/milk mixture, sprinkle with seeds and bake until golden brown and puffy. Time will depend on the ferocity of your oven I guess.

The good thing with these is they are good hot or cold so ideal for picnics.

Now onto the party. For kids this age (Miss M is turning 8 and Monkey Boy turned 14) Luna Park is a great venue. OK, it is expensive-ish but on the positive side it’s not at home, it doesn’t cost anything for parents who just want to hang out and supervise or enjoy the glorious Sydney Harbour location and there is plenty to keep the kids very happy. Our gang literally ran themselves ragged and had an absolute ball.





Happy birthday to my sweet, exasperating little people.

Golden Brown[ies]

What better way to end a lazy Anzac Day catch up BBQ with friends than a decadent, delicious square of Pecan Sour Cream Brownie and a coffee. Literally too easy with the help of my dear Thermi.

A good brownie is a joy. Moist and rich, the simple ingredients add up to more than the sum of their parts.

I’m not a fan of the Anzac biscuit so these are my little salute to the Diggers who have served, and continue to serve, our country. Gracias amigos.

(As this is a Thermomix recipe I’ll only post it if anyone is keen to see it – it’s a variation to the recipe found in “Devil of a Cookbook”…a lovely cookbook fundraising for Tasmanian Devils.)


Pulled Pork

All roads seem to lead to Pulled Pork in recent weeks. I seem to have lived a full and interesting life with only an inkling of its existence and suddenly I can’t escape the stuff. Not that I’m complaining.

A couple of weeks ago, while doing one of our regular forensic-style inspections of Costco (well, they do tend to stock new items almost every week so it’s important to carefully peruse each aisle in order not to miss anything interesting and/or delicious) we discovered they were stocking Tony Roma’s Pulled Pork in the freezer section. Big Jay has long been a fan of Mr Roma’s eating establishments after spending many a boozy lunch hour (or three) there during his previous-previous employment.

So of course a box of this mysterious substance was purchased and reheated in Casa DKG. Big Jay loved it. I thought it was OK. Porky goodness in a very rich BBQ sauce. More sauce than meat in this particular instance but what can you expect for nine bucks.

Last Friday night at a particularly enjoyable pre-AFL match (which was not so enjoyable) dinner at the always wonderful Micky’s in Paddington, Big Jay spied, and ordered, the Pulled Pork Burger from their comprehensive burger menu. It looked good and there were many “oohs” and “aahs” both from BJ [do you know I have only just twigged to the deep significance of my beloved’s initials… oh, nevermind] and my boss/friend Mr G who had ordered same.

 If you are keeping track that is two instances of pork of the pulled variety in my orbit within a two week period, whereas previously I had managed to live my entire life without having tasted this gastronomic delight.

Sunday morning I wake up with preparations for Sunday lunch swirling through my addled brain. We were expecting guests for lunch and despite Big Jay’s request for BBQ food stuffs I was not in a BBQ-y mood. Inexplicably my mind turned to Pork. Pulled Pork. I realised that I could not survive another day on this planet without having cooked this dish in my very own kitchen on that very day. It seemed very do-able and after reading through a couple of recipes and recalculating them for a quicker process using my uber userful Fast Slow Cooker my little rancid heart was set on a mile-high Pulled Pork Burger for lunch. I could picture the crusty/fluffy roll, the thick layer of saucy pork, the salad leaves, the pickles and the big dollop of sour cream to soothe the richness.

And the dream became reality. Behold.



1.5 – 2 kg piece of Pork Scotch Fillet (the piece I bought in Costco was called Collar Butt which is probably an Americanism for what we call Scotch Fillet)
2-3 large brown onions, finely sliced
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 small tub of tomato paste or 3-4 Tablespoons
1 400g can of chopped tomatoes
3 bay leaves
3 teaspoons ground corriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 Tablespoons BBQ sauce of choice
3/4 cup of water


(I used an electric Pressure Cooker with searing ability. If you don’t have such a magical device you could use a fry pan or a stove top pressure cooker to sear the meat and cook the sauce prior to pressure cooking. Alternatively you can slow cook the entire dish on Low heat for 8 hours.)

Sear the meat on all sides on medium-high heat in a little oil. My piece of scotch fillet was too long to fit in the cooker so I cut it into two large pieces. Remove the meat and set aside. In the remaining oil cook onions and garlic, stirring often so they don’t burn. Add tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Add all the other ingredients. Bring to the boil.

Add the meat and turn in the sauce to coat on all sides. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and set to Medium Pressure for 1 hour. If you are going to use your pressure cooker for this dish you may need to set it for 45 minutes and test the “pulling-ness” of the meat. If not quite there you will need to cook for another 20 minutes or so. Pressure cooking is a bit of an art and each pressure cooker has their own quirkiness.

Once the pressure is released you can take out the meat and shred it using two forks, thus the Pulled Pork. Behold.

While I was shredding I heated the sauce and simmered for about 10 minutes to reduce and thicken.

I placed the meat in a bowl and added a few ladel-fulls of the rich sauce and mixed through. I didn’t want it too saucy. I served the leftover sauce in a bowl with a bowl of salad greens, sliced pickles and sour cream.

Sunday afternoon heaven. Praise Porky Pig.