Are you feeling tired – struggling to juggle work, household tasks and family commitments?
Then my story “Pasta Bake” and accompanying recipe is especially for you. It’s a follow-up story to The Ubiquitous Carrot Cake (November 1, 2015), in which I shared some of our family traditions and explained why I think these traditions are important.
With busy time-poor couples and families in mind, “Pasta Bake” reveals two more family traditions: (1) sharing household tasks and (2) home cooking and meal preparation.
Before you read “Pasta Bake”, let me offer the following words of encouragement.
Family traditions like these can begin at any time – it’s not just about what happened in the past, as important as that may be. You (or your partner) can be the one who establishes your family traditions, which will help strengthen and cement your relationship and/or family ties.
♥ ♥ ♥
Meal preparation in a busy household
When our children were in late primary school, I returned to full-time employment. My husband Tony also worked full-time and our children were involved in lots of activities outside of school, so ours was a typical busy, time-constrained family.
One of the ways our household functioned well during those years was by sharing the household tasks.
One of these tasks was meal preparation.
At the time I had a small collection of well-used recipe books, a source of inspiration, but I was always on the lookout for new ideas for nutritious meals that were quick and easy to prepare. I also wanted meals that the whole family would all eat and enjoy. There was no internet, so I used to source recipes from library books, friends and magazines.
In a previous post, Tony’s mango chutney (January 18, 2016), I made it known that my husband doesn’t like to cook. While he happily performs many household tasks, sharing the workload around the home, cooking is not one of them. Growing up, he wasn’t encouraged to cook or help with meal preparation. In his family, that was considered “women’s work”.
I resolved to teach our children to cook.
Their being able (and willing) to cook would serve two purposes. In the short term, it would help our household function more effectively and efficiently. In the long term, it would help our children appreciate food and meal preparation and become competent cooks as adults.
I encouraged our children from an early age to “have a go” at cooking.
During their primary school years, I borrowed wonderful illustrated children’s cookbooks from the local library, and helped them try the simple recipes in these books. (Today, recipes such as these are easily accessed on the internet.) In their first year of secondary school, one of their school subjects included cookery, which helped expand their repertoire. By the time our children were in their mid-teens, they were able to prepare several meals independently.
Clearly, the fact that our teenage children could “cook” was the result of a deliberate strategy on my part.
What I did with our children replicated what my mother had done with my brother and me.
My mother, like her mother before her, was an excellent cook. She learnt and practised these skills at home, as a child and as a young woman. She loved cooking: It was obvious.
As a child, I recall the activity in our kitchen on Saturday mornings, when my mother would do the week’s baking: apple pie (using her own homemade sweet shortcrust pastry), jam drops, Kentish cake or pumpkin scones. The cake and biscuit tins were replenished with homemade goodies. Sundays were equally busy. Every Sunday, without fail, she prepared roast chicken or roast beef with baked vegetables, followed by a wonderful dessert such as lemon meringue pie.
These food traditions are indelible and cherished memories from my childhood.
Mum encouraged me (and my brother) to help with meal preparation and cooking. From an early age (I would have been five or six), she allowed me to perform simple tasks such as sifting, stirring, grating or peeling, as she worked in the kitchen.
When I was in late primary school, she gave me the responsibility of preparing at least part of the family’s evening meal – cooking the vegetables, for example. By the time I was in secondary school, I was cooking an entire meal. One easy meal I remember preparing was baked fish, which was cooked in a shallow casserole dish in the oven, served with boiled and mashed potatoes. (An aside: Today I would probably serve Zeje with baked fish. Read Zeje: A Healthy Choice.)
Letting me prepare the family meal involved a lot of trust on my mother’s part.
By that time, my mother worked full-time in the family business and she and my dad often came home late. On many an occasion, I had the meal ready, at least in part. Even when I prepared an entire meal, she had organised everything – suggested what I should make, ensured the ingredients were available, listed the steps to follow, and gave me words of advice. I always took note – I didn’t want to fail or disappoint her.
It’s funny how circumstances in life have a way of repeating themselves.
Mum was 87 years old when she came to live with Tony and me when we moved to Brisbane. She lived with us for the last eight years of her life.
For four of those eight years I worked full-time in the city. Each day I left for work at 7.00 am and returned home around 5.30 pm. At work I was under quite a lot of pressure, so I was tired when I returned home each evening. Mum, who was home alone during the day, was happy to help me by doing little household tasks.
My mother’s household tasks included meal preparation.
To organise this, I used a calendar diary each working day to list what she needed to do in preparation for the evening meal.
When I came home, everything was ready, chopped, sliced or grated to perfection, each item placed in its own little bowl. It was amazing! I felt like a TV celebrity chef, all the ingredients prepared and on hand. I simply combined the ingredients and cooked them!
If you look closely at the entries in the 2006 diary (shown), you will note that, on Wednesday 15 February, I asked my mum to “chop finely 1 onion” for “Macaroni Bake” (or “Pasta Bake”) and “cut up 1/2 pawpaw” (for dessert). She did both, so meticulously and lovingly.
My mother always tried so hard to please me.
I was aware of this, and I told her often how much I appreciated her help in this way. How the tables had turned (in 40 years)!
Note also that Tony was responsible for the evening meal on Thursday 16 February (in my absence). He planned to buy pies from the local bakery and serve them with steamed vegetables. In the diary, he wrote his instruction for Mum: “Do veges – potato, pumpkin, carrot, for us“. Even Tony got into the act!
Well, you may be thinking, “Did your children become competent cooks?”
Yes, by the grace of God, they did. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” [A quote from the Bible – Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)]
Our children are adults now and they manage their own households. They both love food and cooking, a pleasure they share with their respective spouses. More than this, they are both competent and creative in their culinary endeavours.
Our daughter, like me (and my mum before me) at a similar stage of life, is a busy working mum.
Ever practical and well-organised, she chooses food for her family that is healthy, cost-effective and quick and easy to prepare. She is also following in my footsteps and encouraging her children to “have a go” at cooking and simple meal preparation. They are still young, so this is a “work in progress”.
Her husband, our son-in-law, is equally adept in the kitchen: He tries his hand at all manner of culinary tasks, including meal preparation. His latest passion is bread-making. In order to learn the art, he attended a bread-making course!
Our son, like his dad, loves food. However, unlike his dad, he is an excellent cook and a real innovator in the kitchen.
He makes luscious desserts, such as baked cheesecakes and crème caramel, and he makes his own sour dough bread. He has a pasta making machine and makes his own pasta. One time when we visited, he prepared home-made gnocchi. It was delicious!
I’m not as adventurous as our son. I use the dried pasta one can buy at the supermarket. I’m keen on “easy to prepare” meals, hence my recipe for Pasta Bake.
So, why am I recommending Pasta Bake to you?
I love it, our daughter loves it, and her children love it. It is inexpensive, super quick and easy to prepare, and it keeps well if not all used in one sitting. The leftovers are suitable for including in a lunch pack the next day. It will still taste great.
I hope you try Pasta Bake and it becomes one of your family favourites.
500 g packet spirals (I prefer small spirals, but you could use large spirals, penne or macaroni)
2 medium brown onions (chopped finely)
3 rashers bacon (fat removed and chopped roughly)
2 x 440 g cans baked beans
2 tablespoons soy sauce (1 tablespoon for each can of baked beans)
440 g can corn kernels
salt and pepper
2 cups grated tasty cheese
- Add the pasta to a large saucepan of rapidly boiling water, to which has been added 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 teaspoons salt. Leave uncovered. When cooked al dente, strain and set aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, gently sauté the chopped onion until it just softens. Add the chopped bacon and continue to sauté until the bacon and onion is cooked through.
- Add one tablespoon soy sauce to each can of baked beans, stirring through. Strain the corn. Grate the cheese and set aside.
- Grease a large flat casserole dish. Add about 2/3 pasta. On top of the pasta, evenly spread the bacon and onion, baked beans and corn. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Mix gently. Place the remainder of the pasta on top, and again mix gently to spread the ingredients throughout.
- Spread the grated cheese evenly on top of the pasta mix.
- Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees Celcius classic bake or 160 degrees Celcius fan forced) for 40-45 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned, the pasta mix is dried out and the top crunchy.
- Pasta Bake is just as delicious the next day if there are any leftovers.