There's a heavy feeling that comes over a person who has worked all day, only to remember that dinner still has to be made.
It doesn't matter whether you live alone or with a family of five, at the very least, there is one stomach to fill before tomorrow. We've all been there – but so too have Australia's best home cooks, chefs and food celebrities. The last thing on their minds is whipping up another fine-dining meal or taking the time to slow cook after a 12-hour shift.
Just like us, they have go-to dishes that can be prepared on the fly. Some are a reflection of culture and heritage; others are inspired by the desire to lead a healthy life. In many cases, they're just doing it for the kids – whether that's tricking them into eating vegetables or turning dinner into an interactive activity for the whole family. Here are eight recipes that the pros have on high rotation at home.
Jerry Mai's long-life noodles
(Pho Nom & Annam, Melbourne)
Noodle stir-fry is always my go-to meal. It's so tasty and easy to put together, so if I come home hungry it's quick to make. When friends come over I make a big bowl to share around – it's like making pasta but Asian style.
- 200g dry long life noodles, cooked and drained
- 200g bunch cai lan, cut into 4cm lengths
- 100g bean shoots
- 600g sliced beef
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 spring onions, sliced diagonally
- For the sauce
- 2 tbsp Sichuan chilli bean sauce
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp shao hsing wine
- 1 tsp kecap manis
1. To make the sauce, mix sauce ingredients together and set aside.
2. Heat a wok on high heat. When the wok is smoking, add half the garlic and beef and stir fry. When the beef is just cooked, add two tablespoons of the sauce mixture. Remove the beef and place in a bowl.
3. Clean the wok and place back on high heat. When the wok is smoking, add the cai lan and stir fry. When it has softened, add the noodles and stir fry quickly, then add the bean shoots, sauce and beef back to the wok and mix vigorously. When the noodles have been mixed through well, remove and serve on a plate. Top with spring onions.
Joshua Niland's pear and parsnip upside-down cake
(Saint Peter, Sydney)
This is a really versatile recipe that lends itself well to a lot of options, whether you change the flavour of the cake, fruit or custard, it will always be one you go back to.
It's also a great way to sneak vegetables into something sweet for the kids! Grated parsnip is in this version, but carrots, celeriac and jerusalem artichoke are all favourites of mine.
- 350g unsalted butter
- 300g white castor sugar
- 6 whole eggs
- 170g plain flour
- 170g self-raising flour
- 2 tsp bicarbonate soda, sifted
- 10 beurre bosc pears
- 300g white castor sugar
- 6 parsnips, grated
1. In a kitchen mixer fitted with a paddle, add room temperature butter and castor sugar. Cream with the paddle until very pale, making sure to scrape down the sides every minute or so, about eight to nine minutes.
2. Crack eggs into a small bowl.
3. On a medium speed setting, start adding the eggs one at a time, being sure that each egg is fully emulsified into the mix before adding the next. Once all eggs are added the mix may look a little curdled but this is not a problem, as you will add the dry ingredients.
4. At this point you can add in any flavours you like, such as vanilla, lemon or clove.
5. On a low speed setting, add sifted flours and bicarbonate soda and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Don't overwork at this stage.
6. In a wide-based frying pan, add 300 grams of sugar and wet with water. Place on a medium heat and caramelise until dark amber caramel forms. Too pale and the caramel will be too sweet, too dark and it will be too bitter. So entirely up to you!
7. While caramel is on, prepare pears. Remove caramel when ready and assemble pears in the base. Cool slightly then spoon batter over the top of the pears and smooth over. Don't overfill as the cake will rise and possibly overflow while cooking.
8. Place in a preheated oven at 185C for 30 to 35 minutes, depending on your oven and fry pan. Remove when cake springs back and allow to rest.
9. When a little cooler, place a plate on top and tip out. Cut a wedge of the cake and place in a warm bowl, serve with warm vanilla custard.
Lola Berry's salted macadamia slice
(Nutritionist, cookbook author and co-founder Happy Place, Melbourne)
Lola's salted macadamia nut slice.
Makes 12 to 16 bars
I love this recipe because it's a healthy sweet treat and it hits the spot when I need that 3pm pick-me-up – plus it's all made from whole foods so I know my body will thrive off this creation. It's from my cookbook, Food to Make You Glow.
For the base
- ½ cup desiccated coconut
- ½ cup macadamia nuts, soaked for two to three hours (or overnight), then rinsed
- 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
- 2 tbsp almond butter
For the salted caramel filling
- 1 cup pitted medjool dates
- 1 tbsp macadamia nut oil
- 2 tbsp macadamia nut butter
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 large pinches of salt flakes, plus extra to sprinkle
- For the toppings
- 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- 3 tbsp cacao powder
1. Line a 21-centimetre by 18-centimetre baking tin with baking paper.
2. Place the base ingredients in a food processor and blend until the mixture is nice and biscuity and starts to stick together. With damp hands, press the mixture over the base of the lined tin and transfer to the freezer while you make the filling.
3. For the filling, put the dates, maca nut oil, maca nut butter, maple syrup and salt in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and sticky. Spoon the salted caramel over the base and spread evenly with a knife, then sprinkle a few more salt flakes over the caramel layer and place in the freezer for 30 minutes, or until set.
4. To make the topping, mix the melted coconut oil, maple syrup and cacao powder together in a bowl. Pour this over the caramel layer and then put it back in the freezer to set.
5. To serve, slice while frozen and enjoy straight away, or leave it to reach room temperature before tucking in.
Victor Leong's ochazuke
(Lee Ho Fook, Melbourne)
Ochazuke is a Japanese dish of rice with many or a few seasoned and textural toppings in which a seasoned broth or tea is poured over and is eaten like a soupy, comforting, warm and nourishing breakfast or brunch. I love it late at night as it's filling and light. With winter in full swing, this is an easy go-to home recipe. It may seem a bit detailed but these pantry items are a staple, plus it's a really flexible dish – you can make it as fancy or as simple as you like. Eating freshly cooked rice will always have steadying properties for me.
For the rice
- 200g koshihikari (sushi) rice (or substitute for jasmine rice)
- 240ml cold water
- For the tea
- 2 tbsp genmaicha
- 1 tbsp kombu extract
- 1 tbsp white soy sauce
- 300ml water
- 2 tsp sliced spring onions
- 2 tsp julienned young ginger
- 2 tsp shio kombu
- 2 tsp julienned nori seaweed
- 2 tbsp ocean trout roe
- 2 tsp puffed rice
- 2 tsp dried prawns, chopped
- 2 tsp white sesame seeds
1. Wash rice in cold water, changing the water three times. Drain well via a sieve, place into a pot and add the cold water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and place on the stove to cook on medium-low heat. Allow to simmer on the stove for seven minutes, then turn it down to the lowest heat setting for seven minutes and then turn off the heat and allow to rest with the lid on to steam for another seven minutes. Once the rice has rested, remove the lid and there should be no water left and the rice grains should be fully cooked. Alternatively, you can use a rice cooker.
2. Bring a kettle of water to the boil. Place genmaicha in a teapot large enough for four cups of tea. Add the kombu and the white soy sauce, pour over the boiling water into the teapot and allow to steep for four minutes.
3. While the tea is steeping, divide the rice into two deep bowls and add your choice of toppings.
4. Once the tea is brewed, pour over the rice bowl and eat immediately.
Mike McEnearney's lazy sushi
(No.1 Bent St and Kitchen by Mike, Sydney)
Mike's Lazy sushi.
One of my family's favourite dishes is my lazy sushi. We all get involved with this dish. We start by cleaning our two-metre-long kitchen bench at home, we then cover it with slices of assorted raw fish, rice, ponzu, tempura, seaweed and assorted Asian herbs and crowd around the table with chopsticks. It's lazy sushi to the extreme! Being a father of three, it's always important to balance family time and work time, so this dish is a great way to do this and involve the whole family in the process. For the ginger vinegar, buy Japanese picked ginger from the supermarket and strain it use the liquid in the dressing.This recipe is an old favourite, which was also in my first cookbook, Kitchen by Mike.
- 400g sashimi-grade kingfish fillet, skin removed (or any type of oily fish such as tuna, salmon or ocean trout)
- 1 sheet nori
- ½ tsp harissa or chilli paste
- ½ bunch chives, snipped
- 1 punnet purple shiso cress, picked
- Handful of coriander leaves
- 1 pomelo or pink grapefruit, segmented
- 2 spring onions, sliced into rings
- 1 tbsp ocean trout roe
- 12 slices pickled ginger
- ¼ tsp white sesame seeds, toasted
- ¼ tsp black sesame seeds
- finely grated fresh wasabi or horseradish, to taste
- Sushi Rice
- 200g (1 cup) sushi rice
- 30ml Japanese rice vinegar
- 15g castor sugar
- Ginger & Lime Dressing
- 2 tbsp ginger vinegar
- 1 tsp lime juice
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. For the sushi rice, rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then drain well. If you have a rice cooker, place the rice in the cooker with 310 millilitres (1¼ cups) cold water and cook for 15 minutes, then leave on the warm setting for 10 minutes (don't lift the lid!). If you don't have a rice cooker, combine the rice and water in a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce the heat to its lowest setting, then cook very gently for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave with the lid on to steam for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer for three minutes. Gently fold this into the warm rice, then cover and keep warm until needed.
3. To the make the ponzu dressing, strain the ginger vinegar through a fine-meshed sieve into a small bowl, then whisk in the lime juice, soy sauce and olive oil.
4. Toast the nori sheet by waving it gently over a gas burner or other open flame, keeping it about 20 centimetres away from the flame – it will shrink slightly when it is ready. If it starts to colour, it means it is burning and will taste bitter, so take your time and toast it very slowly. Allow to cool and tear into two-centimetre pieces.
5. To serve, scatter your rice over a kitchen bench (or a large platter). Cut the kingfish into five-millimetre thick slices and arrange on the rice, then pour the ponzu dressing evenly over the fish. Smear the harissa or chilli paste on the side of the platter, so people can adjust the heat level of the dressing to their taste. Scatter the remaining ingredients over the top and serve.
Magdalena Roze's go-to spanakopita
(Television presenter, meteorologist, journalist and cookbook author)
Magdalena Roze. Photo: Nikki To
Spanakopita is one of the first dishes I taught myself to cook but I forgot how much I love it until we recorded an episode of The Pass and one of our guests, Sarah Wilson, recommended I try the wild weed and cheese pie at Apollo in Potts Point. Oh my, so simple and so good! My home-style version is now on high rotation because the family loves it, especially my Mum and Archie. I like to mix it up with whatever greens I have that day and you can just as easily use this filling to make triangles if you wish. It makes great leftovers, but you probably won't have any!
- 1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
- 375g filo pastry, fresh or thawed
- 500g spinach, chopped
- 6 kale leaves, chopped
- 1 brown onion, finely diced
- 250g feta
- 150g ricotta
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 shallots, finely sliced
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
- zest of ½ lemon
- ¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
- ¼ cup parsley leaves, chopped
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 100g butter, melted
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 20-centimetre by 30-centimetre tray or dish with olive oil. Don't worry if your tray is smaller, it just means that your filling will be a bit thicker.
2. Place the filo sheets on a work surface and cover with a damp tea towel to prevent them from drying out.
3. Steam the kale and spinach leaves in bunches until they wilt and set aside in a colander to drain. Once cool, squeeze any excess water and chop into smaller pieces. This prevents the crust from getting soggy.
4. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the onion until soft and lightly golden. Set aside to cool.
5. Place the feta in a large bowl and rub it between your fingers to create a coarse crumb. Add the cooled onion, ricotta, garlic, shallots, nutmeg, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, mint and parsley and mix well. I like to do this with my hands to get a nice even texture without over mixing. Add the spinach and kale, followed by the eggs and mix again until well combined.
6. Using a sharp knife, halve the sheets of filo pastry. Place two sheets on a work surface and brush the top one with melted butter. Top with another two sheets of filo and brush again with butter, continuing until about half of the filo pastry has been used. Don't worry if some tear as this won't matter once it's cooked, crispy and golden.
7. Place the buttered sheets of filo in the tray, gently pressing them into the corners. Spoon the spinach and cheese mixture over the filo, spreading it out evenly. Butter the remaining filo sheets two sheets at a time and place them on top. Tuck in any over hanging pastry, brush the top with butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
8. Bake the pie in the oven for about 45 minutes until golden brown. If the pastry is browning too quickly, turn the heat down to 160C and continue cooking for the remaining time.
9. Allow the pie to cool for 10 minutes before serving with freshly cut wedges of lemon for squeezing over. The pie makes the most satisfying crunchy sound when it's cut, so it's worth doing this in front of your guests!
Peter Gunn's veggie stew with brown rice and quinoa
Serves 2 to 4 with enough left over for pasta sauce
This is a super easy vegetable stew that is a regular for us. Nirvalla, my wife, started cooking it but put about 15 vegetables in there and it all got a bit too healthy for me, so I started to play around a bit. This is our favourite version. It's really easy and is a meal in itself, but it doubles up as a great pasta sauce, too.
- 2 medium carrots (200g), roughly chopped
- 2 medium sweet potatoes (400g), roughly chopped
- Half a butternut pumpkin (500g), roughly chopped
- 3 sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped
- 3 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped chopped
- 2 brown onions, roughly chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 100g tomato paste
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 2½ litres chicken stock
- 1 tbsp gluten-free flour
- 1 punnet cherry tomatoes
- Worcestershire sauce, to taste
1. Combine and toss the vegetables with salt, pepper, herbs and olive oil. Roast in oven at 200C until just cooked.
2. Sweat onion and garlic in a pot until soft, add gluten-free flour and stir. Add tomato paste, diced tomatoes and one litre of the chicken stock, then bring to boil and leave to simmer for about five minutes.
3. Add vegies and bring back up to boil. Add cherry tomatoes and season with salt and pepper and Worcestershire sauce.
4. For the rice and quinoa mix, place one cup of short grain brown rice and half cup red quinoa in a pot with 1½ litres chicken stock, and salt. Bring to boil and simmer for 25 minutes with lid on. Add chilli oil to taste (make your own by adding a heaped tablespoon of chilli flakes, one chopped red chilli and one chopped green chilli to 200 millilitres olive oil).
5. Dish out vegies on top of rice and quinoa mix and serve hot.
Dani Valent's emergency lentil soup
(Food writer, cookbook author and founder danivalentcooking.com)
Dani's emergency lentil soup.
I came up with this easy 20-minute soup in a panicky "OMG, I forgot I had children!" moment. I was standing in the kitchen when I heard a hungry voice behind me, "Mum, what are we having for dinner?" Gah! I stood at the pantry, umming and ahhing, then said more or less confidently, "lentil and tomato soup". We've had it countless times since – even by plan because it's so good, easily variable and I've always got the ingredients in the pantry.
- 200g red lentils
- 1 tin crushed tomatoes (400g)
- 2½ tins water (1000g)
- 1 tbsp Thermomix vegetable stock concentrate
- 2 tsp Madras curry powder (I tend to use homemade Vadouvan curry powder)
1. Place all ingredients into Thermomix mixing bowl. Cook for 20 minutes/100C/speed 2.
2. Garnish with herbs if desired.
Variations: Replace water and stock paste with one litrevegetable or chicken stock.
Replace the tinned tomatoes with passata if desired.
Replace curry powder with sweet paprika if desired.