Katrina Meynink raids the supermarket freezer aisle and transforms mozzarella sticks, spring rolls, fish fillets and chips into something magnificent.
When motivation is low and the need for speed is high, often the freezer aisle is our dinnertime holy grail. From fish fillets to beer-battered chips, frozen foods can provide a very necessary shortcut during the weekly grind. Here they have been elevated with the odd extra ingredient and some saucy goodness to make your next frozen dinner sing.
Baked mozzarella sticks with vodka sauce
Confession: until this feature was thrown my way, I had never eaten a mozzarella stick. I was curious, enthralled and appalled. Not because I am appalled by the freezer aisle, far from it, more that I really love to cook, so prefer the manual labour. But I was also pleasantly surprised. These are an excellent shortcut.
The bite of vodka sauce, as well as being a seriously luxurious dipping agent, is a great contrast to the crisp crunch of the crumb and a beautiful marriage of creamy sauce and creamy, oozing mozzarella.
- 10 frozen mozzarella sticks
- basil leaves to scatter
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 shallots, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
- ½ tbsp dried oregano
- 125ml tomato paste
- 60ml vodka
- 1 cup cream
- Preheat oven to 190C fan-forced (210C conventional).
- Place mozzarella sticks on an oven tray lined with baking paper and bakefor 25 minutes or until golden. You might have some mozzarella explosions out the sides – don't panic, this is part of the appeal.
- While the sticks are baking, start the vodka sauce. Add the olive oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the shallot and garlic. Turn the heat to low and cook until pale, soft and translucent – about 15 minutes.
- Add the oregano and tomato paste, stirring until the paste comes away from the sides of the pan and darkens in colour. Add the vodka and stir thoroughly then add the cream. Simmer gently until the mozzarella sticks are ready. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Scoop the sauce into serving dishes. Top with mozzarella sticks and a few basil leaves. Season again with salt and pepper and serve.
Serves 4 as a snack
Fish sandwiches, but make them fancier. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Fish finger sangas with minty peas, harissa mayo and chips
The key to a good fish sanga is hands-down the crispy fish contrasting with the soft white bread. This is not the time for artful sourdoughs. It's the soft, crusts-trimmed variety that makes the fish sanga shine. A trip to the supermarket freezer aisle uncovered some pretty darn good at-home fish options. I've attempted to levitate them to pub level by adding harissa mayo, crisps and minty peas. The best bit is mixing up the fillings, adding different elements so people can help themselves – it's the club sandwich of the COVID age.
- 16 white bread slices, crusts removed
- 8 frozen fish fillets in light batter (or regular fish fingers)
- ¼ cup Kewpie mayo, plus extra to serve
- 1 heaped tbsp harissa
- 2 tbsp finely sliced mint leaves
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 cups potato crisps
- 1 avocado, sliced
- Preheat the oven according to cooking instructions on the fish packet. Line a baking tray with baking paper, spread the fish fillets evenly across, and pop in the oven to cook until crisp.
- While the fish is cooking, prepare the condiments. Add the Kewpie mayo and harissa to a bowl and mix with a fork. Set aside until ready to construct the sandwiches.
- Add the peas to a pot of boiling water for about 1½ minutes. Strain then add to a bowl with the chopped mint and use a fork to roughly mash – you still want some pea texture. Season with salt and pepper while still hot.
- Lay the bread slices on a flat surface and smear half of them with the harissa mayo. Top with some minty mushy peas.
- Once cooked, cut the fish fillets in half. Place two halves on each prepared sandwich base. Repeat with remaining fish fillets. Top with avocado slices and potato crisps then finish with another bread slice (mayo optional). Serve with additional harissa mayo and an icy cold beer and dream you are at the beach or at the pub.
Makes about 8
Spring roll bowls
This recipe is very loosely based on the traditional Vietnamese noodle bowl, bun thit nuong cha gio, a vermicelli bowl with all manner of veg, spring rolls and nuoc cham. I went for a creamier lemongrass and hoisin dressing and also a hit of chilli oil, and I think you are going to love it. It's quick to prepare and if you go heavy on the vegetable quotient, mostly healthy. The key is getting that balance of sweet and sour, crunchy and chewy.
- 16-20 frozen cocktail spring rolls
- 200g rice noodles, softened in a large bowl of boiling water and strained
- 1 small carrot, shredded using a mandolin or julienned
- ½ small red onion, finely sliced
- 1 handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 handful Thai basil leaves, coarsely torn
- 1 handful green beans, halved lengthways and chopped into bite-sized pieces
- a few lettuce leaves per bowl
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 4 tbsp Kewpie mayo
- 1 tbsp finely grated lemongrass, white part only
- juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- crunchy chilli oil
- 4 tbsp peanuts, roughly crushed
- 2 tbsp fried shallots
- lime cheeks
- Preheat the oven to 200C fan-forced (220C conventional). Spread the spring rolls on a large baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 20 minutes, or according to packet instructions, until golden and crisp.
- While the spring rolls are cooking, toss together the salad ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
- Combine the dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
- Divide the noodles between serving bowls. Add some salad elements to the side, then add 4-5 spring rolls per bowl. Drizzle over a little of the dressing. Add a spoonful of chilli oil, scatter with the peanuts and fried shallots and serve with extra lime cheeks. This is best eaten while the spring rolls are still piping hot and the salad has plenty of life and crunch.
Poutine with chicken, cheese and gravy. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Chicken, chips and gravy meets poutine
I tried to buy cheese curds in an attempt to recreate the authentic poutine dream. Not easy. They do exist, so if you like the chase and have the time without the (immediate) need, seek them out. In the interests of supermarket ease, here the curds have been replaced with mozzarella, and there is stretch and there is squeak. I only used half a barbecue chook, it's an added surprise rather than the main event (use the remainder in these recipes). I also added a few dried porcini mushrooms to the gravy to "beef" up the flavour in record time. Omit them if you don't have any, it's a bonus rather than a must have.
- 500g beer battered shoestring fries
- meat from ½ a barbecue chicken, coarsely torn into chunks
- 125g buffalo mozzarella ball, sliced
- 4 tbsp butter
- ½ red onion, very finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- ¼ cup plain flour
- 500ml beef bone broth or stock*
- 2 tbsp tomato sauce
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp green peppercorns
- 3 dried porcini mushrooms, finely diced
- Preheat the oven to 200C fan-forced (220C conventional).
- For the gravy, add the butter to a frying pan and place over low-medium heat. Once melted and the pan is hot, add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent.
- Add the flour and stir constantly until it comes away from the sides of the pan. It will be gloopy and stick to your spoon, but don't panic. Add the bone broth or stock and using a whisk, whisk any flour clumps until smooth. The gravy will immediately begin to thicken.
- Add the tomato sauce and apple cider vinegar and whisk to combine. Add the peppercorns and porcini, if using, and turn heat down to low. Simmer for 15 minutes while you cook the chips (*if using regular beef stock, cook for an additional 5-10 minutes to allow the flavour to intensify).
- Spread the fries in a large non-stick ovenproof fying pan and pop in the oven for 15-18 minutes until golden – some should be quite crisp on the ends.
- Remove pan from oven and, working quickly, spoon over some of the gravy – you don't want to drown the fries in gravy. Add the chicken pieces and slices of mozzarella to the pan. Return to oven for another 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
- Remove from the oven, season with salt and pepper, drizzle over a little extra gravy and serve piping hot with extra gravy on the side for people to help themselves.
- Chorizo and potato gem bravas
- Chips, pastrami rolls and green peppercorn sauce
- Potato gem and cheese frittata with speedy spicy tomato salsa