Recipes: delicious and sustainable meal ideas with TV cook Aisling Larkin
Wondering how best to feed your family without breaking the bank? As parents battle with back-to-school costs, dairy products are the hard-working heroes the whole household will love. Partner Content with the National Dairy Council
This year, the National Dairy Council is working with Waterford-based broadcaster, cook and consultant Aisling Larkin to create a range of delicious and sustainable meal ideas for this back-to-school season. Aisling has spent the last 15 years teaching, creating, learning, consulting, and delivering on all things food and wellness and shares her knowledge on weekly slots on the Six O’Clock Show and the Hard Shoulder on Newstalk. A busy mum of three, Aisling offers us her top tips for eating well whilst watching those purse strings
“Feeding a family well is achievable but it takes a little planning,” Aisling says. “As parents we need to be conscious consumers making considered choices that support our children's well-being but also fit into our busy lives. For me, making a weekly meal plan, eating seasonally, ‘cooking once, but eating twice’ and eating more flexibly can really help the back-to-school routine. I love putting a modern take on some classic dishes, while including wholegrain, dairy and fruit and vegetables in each meal is non-negotiable for me.”
Parents want to provide a healthy lunchbox that won’t cost the earth. Dairy is an affordable addition to the lunch box - three servings of dairy per day costs on average 65 cents while providing a range of nutrients to contribute to daily needs.
The Department of Health’s recommendations for healthy eating includes three servings from the “milk, yogurt and cheese” food group for those aged five years and up; with five servings recommended for 9-18-year-olds due to the importance of calcium during this life stage. Calcium is needed for normal growth and development of bones in children.
Aisling Larkin’s top tips for feeding the family well on a budget
1. Eat with the seasons. Not only will your fruit and vegetables taste better and be cheaper, but they are also more nutrient dense. The supermarkets usually have special, super-saver deals on the seasonal fruit each week, so keep an eye out for these.
2. Meal planning & batch cooking. Some of my favourite recipes to include in my meal planning and weekend preparation include hummus, pesto, creamy vegetable soup, a batch of roast Mediterranean vegetables, brown bread, and some smoothie bags in the freezer.
3. Cook once, eat twice. Batch cook and get creative with leftovers.
4. Embrace a flexitarian way of eating. Stretch your food and enjoy more fruit, vegetables, dairy, and whole-grain carbohydrates. Why not give Meatless Mondays or Flexitarian Fridays a go to start? Enjoy meals without meat by using more dairy, more lean plant-based proteins.
3. Put modern twists on classic dishes. To a mac-and-cheese, add a little chorizo and cheddar breadcrumb. Add a tin of drained butterbeans to a creamy chicken pesto pasta dish.
4. Sign up for supermarket apps and get notifications of upcoming super-saver deals and special offers before hitting the supermarket. This way, you can plan your meals based on seasonality, what you have in the pantry and the specific special offers depending on where you shop.
Why not try these specially created recipes by Aisling Larkin?
Creamy Cheesy Seafood Pie
Ingredients, serves 4
800g/1kg fish (a mix of smoked and unsmoked are my favourites, I use pollock, cod, hake, fresh & smoked haddock, sea trout and some prawns )
100g frozen peas
1 fish stock pot
Bay leaf (optional)
For the creamy sauce
350ml milk - use the leftover poaching milk for this
2 tsp Dijon mustard
200g sour cream
75g cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
For the cheesy creamy mash
50g Irish cheddar cheese
Salt and white pepper
1. Preheat your oven to 180C, fan 200C or gas mark 6. Peel the potatoes and put a large pan of water on the boil. Add a small sprinkle of sea salt. Gently put the potatoes in and boil until tender. Drain and allow to steam and dry out for a moment. Mash in the butter and milk, seasoning and cheese and stir in. Set aside.
2. Ask your fishmonger to pin bone and skin your fish. You can poach it in whole fillets or large bitesize chunks.
3. Place the milk in a large saucepan. Gently sit the fish in, spoon the milk over. Pop in the fish stock pot and a little dill or parsley, if using. Turn on a low to medium heat and allow to poach for 5-6 minutes.
4. When cooked, remove the fish and set aside. Save the milk, this will be used for the creamy sauce.
5. For the creamy sauce, melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour, and cook over a low heat for 1 minute until it goes dry and sandy. At this stage, gradually start to whisk in 350ml of the reserved poaching milk, little by little until it is fully combined and it forms a thick sauce. Take it off the heat, stir in the mustard and sour cream, then sprinkle in the grated cheddar. Set aside.
6. To assemble, place the fish in the bottom of an oven proof dish. Mix all the varieties around. Sprinkle in the frozen peas. Pour the sauce over and combine. Spoon on the mashed potatoes. Spread and smooth it out with a spoon, then sprinkle on the grated cheddar.
7. Bake in the oven for 35 - 40 minutes until golden, bubbly and hot all the way through.
8. Serve with some in-season green vegetables, like leeks, wilted spinach or kale and some peas. Enjoy.
Dukkah Spiced Chicken with Tzatziki and Flatbreads
Ingredients, serves 4/6
For the dukkah spiced chicken
50g dukkah seasoning
3-4 chicken fillets or 6-8 chicken thighs
2 tbsp oil/spray oil
Sea salt, lemon and herb if possible
Rocket leaves, to serve
For the tzatziki
100g sour cream
100g Greek yoghurt
Big handful mint
1 red onion (optional)
4 baby cucumbers
For the pomegranate tabbouleh
100g bulgur wheat
1 red onion
1 sweet red pepper
4 baby cucumbers
7g fresh mint, finely chopped
7g fresh parsley, finely chopped
7g basil, finely chopped
7g dill, finely chopped
80g pomegranate seeds
2 tbsp Irish rapeseed oil
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
For the flatbreads
300g plain flour
½ tsp salt
50g butter, melted
1. For the dukkah chicken, preheat the oven to 180C. Spoon the yogurt into a bowl. Sprinkle the dukkah and flour onto a plate and stir together.
2. Butterfly the chicken fillets by cutting a slit lengthways and flattening them out. If using thighs, trim up the chicken thighs and flatten out. Drizzle oil on the oven tray. Place the oven tray in the oven to get hot for about 3 minutes before you cook the chicken.
3. Dip the chicken in the yoghurt first, then into the flour and dukkah spice mix.
4. Carefully remove the hot tray from the oven and gently place the crusted chicken on the tray. Place in the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes or until fully cooked on the inside and crispy on the outside. Remove and sprinkle with sea salt, then allow to rest for a few moments. When ready to serve, slice on the diagonal.
5. To make the flatbreads, weigh out the flour, and add the salt. Warm the milk and melt the butter. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and form into a dough. Knead for 2 minutes, then divide into 8 balls. Roll out into circles. Brush a griddle pan with a little oil (a normal pan works fine, too) and cook for about 1 ½ - 2 minutes on each side. Watch as the bubbles form, then flip. Keep warm and soft by wrapping them in a warm tea towel until the full batch is cooked. I love to brush them with a little melted butter to keep them extra soft.
6. To make the pomegranate tabbouleh, cook the bulgur as per the instructions on the packet. Dice up the red onion, red pepper and cucumber. Shred all the fresh herbs. Remove the pomegranate seeds from the fruit and stir these into the bulgur with the vegetables and herbs. Season and drizzle with oil, then set aside until needed.
7. To make the tzatziki, grate the cucumber and leave in a colander to allow the water to drain out - discard the water. Dice the onion (if using) and shred the mint. Combine the Greek yogurt and the sour cream together, then season and add in the cucumber and mint.
8. To serve, place a flatbread on a plate, spoon over plenty of tzatziki, spoon on the bulgur, top with rocket, and add on the crispy dukkah chicken. Garnish with fresh herbs if desired and serve.
Blackberry and Apple Muffins with Pecan Crumble
Ingredients, makes 12 muffins
For the crumble topping
30g wholewheat flour
30g pecans, chopped
30g brown sugar
½ tsp mixed spice
50g melted butter
For the muffins
45ml maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
70g plain flour
70g wholewheat flour
100g butter, melted
100g brown sugar
75g apple, grated - leave the skin on
75g blackberries, halved
½ tsp spice
1. To make the crumble topping, mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Pour in the melted butter and stir really well until all combined to form a buttery crumb. Set aside
2. To make the muffins, first preheat the oven to 180C fan, 200, gas 6. Line a muffin tin with muffin cases or grease with some oil.
3. Combine the wet ingredients in a jug - measure in the buttermilk, splash in the vanilla, drizzle in the maple syrup and melted butter, then whisk until all combined. Crack in the eggs and stir to combine. Stir in the apple and blackberries.
4. Combine the oats, wholewheat and plain flours together with the brown sugar, baking powder and spice. Pour in the wet mixture and stir well until combined, do not over mix.
5. Using 2 spoons, pour one heaped tablespoon into each muffin case until three-quarters full - divide any remaining mixture between the cases. Top with the spiced crumble.
6. Bake for 20-22 minutes. Serve warm for a break with a cuppa or a breakfast on the go.
Note: the pecan nuts can be omitted from this recipe or substituted with seeds.
Banana Bread with a Creamy Chai Spice Topping
Ingredients, serves 10
3 large ripe bananas
2 tsp vanilla
100g butter, softened
250g brown sugar
2 tsp chai spice
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
For the chai spice
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
For the cream cheese icing
200g cream cheese
50g butter, soft
½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp chai spice
400g icing sugar
For the cinnamon and sel de fleur butter
100g butter, softened
1 tsp sel de fleur sea salt (or any sea salt is fine)
1 tsp cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease or spray a 2lb loaf tin. Mix together the spices for the chai spice and set aside.
2. Mash the bananas in a bowl, pour in the vanilla and combine. Set aside.
3. For the cake, cream together the brown sugar and butter in a mixing bowl. Crack in the eggs and whisk through to form a smooth batter. Sieve in the flour and chai spice, then stir through the salt and baking powder. Stir in the mashed banana mix.
4. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin. I love to sprinkle a little brown sugar and spice over the top here too.
5. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a cake skewer comes out clean, and you see the cake moving away from the edges of the tin.
6. To make the icing, dollop the cream cheese and butter into a bowl, stir with a spoon, then sprinkle in the spice and vanilla, and stir again. Then slowly add in the icing sugar, stirring until you reach a thick, spreadable, dolloping texture.
7. When the cake cools, spread the icing on top and then garnish with a delicate sprinkle of chai spice. To ensure there is no food waste, after a few days, if there is any left, toast a slice of the banana bread and spread on a little cinnamon and sel de fleur butter - simply beat the butter, cinnamon and salt together until well combined and reserve until required.