Simple delights

Nicole Maguire’s favourite meals are those that are fast, achievable, made with simple and inexpensive ingredients and require minimal preparation.

"If they’re great for smothering with chilli oil and I can eat them in my pyjamas and slippers, they get extra points."

The home cook who has a successful online hub Simple Home Edit has always loved food and describes her past self as being an expert dreaming up family meals in the supermarket aisles.

"I would impulsively add ingredients to my shopping cart only to get home and find myself throwing out wilted vegetables at the back of the fridge that I’d fully intended on using, but just didn’t get to.

"I’d unpack the fourth bag of plain flour next to the two already unopened bags in my pantry and then end up ordering takeaway more often than I would like because meal planning for my family, plus cooking and washing up was a mission."

Sound familiar?

Maguire thought there had to be a better way so she worked hard to come up with new systems in her kitchen that would help her save money and time and also her own sanity.

"I found it is absolutely possible to eat delicious meals, just like those from many of your favourite cafes and restaurants, but you can do it all in the comfort of your own home, for a fraction of the price, all better quality and fresher, while spending as little time in the kitchen as possible."

THE BOOK: The Simple Dinner Edit, Nicole Maguire, Macmillan, RRP $44.99
THE BOOK: The Simple Dinner Edit, Nicole Maguire, Macmillan, RRP $44.99
She is sharing some of these tips along with recipes in her first book The Simple Dinner Edit such as meals you cook once but can feed the family twice, recipes suitable for batch cooking and ideas for food prepping and storage.

"Plus all the recipes include tips on what to do with leftovers. Amazing food doesn’t need to be complicated, or expensive and the recipes in this book will help you answer the inevitable daily question "What’s for dinner" — all while doing it in a way that is affordable, helping you spend less time in the kitchen and giving you more time to enjoy with your family."

The key tip to saving money and stress of wondering what to cook each day she says, is meal planning. Suddenly there was no waste, the impulse purchases stopped and so did the regular takeaways.

"Meal planning does not need to be complicated. In fact the simpler it is, the more achievable and realistic it will be to maintain."

The idea is to be prepared, know what you will be eating that week and shopping specifically for those meals. So to start with a "shop" in your own pantry, fridge and freezer before you go to the supermarket and use any finds as the basis for the meals that week.

"You may surprise yourself with how much you can make with whatever you already have on hand. Make it a priority to use what you have first, to avoid waste and save money."

Caramelised spiced pumpkin

This dish makes it seem as though you have spent hours in the kitchen, yet it only takes you minutes to prepare and uses just a handful of ingredients. 

I make this for most special occasions, particularly if I’m feeding a crowd. The oven does all the hard work and you’re left with a vegetarian dish that can hold up on its own (served with salad and canned lentils dressed in lemon juice and olive oil) or as an amazing side to a roast or barbecued meat.

There is beauty in being able to scoop the soft, sweet, caramelised pumpkin directly from the skin and the leftovers never go unused – they are delicious in salads and perfect for quick lunches.

Serves 4

Prep time 5mins

Cook time 1.5hrs


1 butternut pumpkin, halved lengthways, seeds removed

1½ tsp sea salt flakes

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp sweet paprika

1 tsp brown sugar

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp olive oil

150g crumbled Persian feta

1 handful coriander or flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 Tbsp pomegranate seeds (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180°C fan-forced.

Prepare the pumpkin by scoring a diamond-shaped pattern into the cut side.

Remove the seeds and pulp.

Arrange the pumpkin on a deep baking tray and sprinkle it with the salt, cumin, paprika, brown sugar and pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil and use your hands to coat the cut side of the pumpkin. Roast for 1½ hours, adding 125ml (½ cup) water to the baking dish halfway through cooking.

Sprinkle the pumpkin with the feta and coriander or parsley, and pomegranate seeds (if using). Serve whole, family-style, with a spoon for everyone to scoop directly from the pumpkin.


Refrigerate the freshly cooked pumpkin leftovers for up to 3 days. Not suitable to freeze.

Cook once, eat twice

Use leftovers mashed into arancini or add to salads

Make ahead

Roast the butternut pumpkin as per the recipe and refrigerate it for up to 3 days prior to eating. 

Reheat in a 180°C fan-forced oven for 15 minutes or until warmed through.

Crispy chicken bao buns

Ahh, I really love bao buns! If I ever spotted them on a restaurant menu, I would always order them not realising how easy they are to assemble at home.

You can buy fluffy bao buns in the freezer section of the supermarket and pile them high with crispy chicken and a whole heap of fresh veggies.

Trust me when I say these are EASY. The veg can be prepared in advance and the ingredients used in the chicken are simple and impossible to get wrong.

It’s meals like this that make me feel like I’m never missing out and make me happy to eat in, every night of the week.

Serve 6

Prep time 15 mins

Cook time 12mins


2 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce, plus extra to serve

1 tsp freshly grated garlic

2 eggs, whisked

50 g chicken thigh fillets, cut into strips across the grain

225g (1½ cups) plain flour (see Note 1)

1 tsp sea salt flakes

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

oil, for frying (see Note 2)

16 bao buns, steamed as per the packet instructions (see Note 3)

2 carrots, julienned or shredded

2 cucumbers, cut into thin batons

½ bunch coriander, leaves picked

125g (½ cup) sriracha mayonnaise (or regular whole-egg mayonnaise)

2 bird’s eye chillies, sliced, to serve (optional


Place the tamari or soy sauce, garlic, egg and chicken in a bowl, then toss to coat.

Place the flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Drain the excess marinade from the chicken, then add the chicken to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Ensure it is fully coated on all sides.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook the chicken in batches for 6–8 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain.

Serve the bao buns topped with the crispy chicken, carrot, cucumber, coriander, sriracha mayo, a drizzle of tamari or soy sauce, and chilli (if using).

Note 1

This recipe calls for a generous amount of flour as it makes it easier to coat the chicken pieces.

You will have some flour left over.

Note 2

Good-quality olive oil can be used for frying, but it does produce a denser, heavier crumb.

Vegetable oil and canola oil are best for a light, even crumb. Use a deep, heavy-based frying pan.

It needs to be filled at least 3cm deep with oil.

Note 3

Bao buns can be found in the supermarket freezer section. They are regularly half price so look out for specials! They are traditionally steamed in a basket over boiling water for 7–8 minutes. If you don’t have a steamer basket, place three bao buns at a time on a large dinner plate with a mug or small bowl filled with 125 ml (½ cup) water beside them (on the same plate). Cook in the microwave on High in 2-minute intervals until soft and fluffy. Steaming on the stovetop is my preferred method. I use a three-tier steamer basket as I find the buns cook more quickly this way (they are also more fluffy).

Glazed barbecue brisket with mac and cheese

Each week I make a conscious effort to get the family involved in meal planning. Nine times out of ten, my husband will quickly suggest: "Your brisket".

Brisket has become pretty popular in the last few years, and there aren’t many pub menus that don’t include some sort of brisket in a smoky barbecue sauce.

What’s exciting is that this amazing, inexpensive cut of beef is now easy to find at the supermarket. It transforms into tender, delicious slices in the slow cooker that can be served with coleslaw heaped on brioche buns or with mac and cheese. 

I compared the cost of this meal at my local pub and one serving was almost the same price as all the ingredients for this recipe that serves six.

This brisket is definitely worth the effort, and I use the term ‘effort’ lightly because it’s a simple recipe to prepare, much of which can be made ahead of time.


800g-1kg beef brisket

2 tsp sea salt flakes

1 Tbsp olive oil

Coleslaw, to serve

Barbecue sauce

250g (1 cup) tomato sauce

3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

60g (½ cup) brown sugar

1 Tbsp dijon mustard

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp ground cumin

1 Tbsp sweet paprika

1 Tbsp onion powder

1 Tbsp garlic powder

1 tsp sea salt flakes

250ml (1 cup) beef stock

Mac and cheese

250g elbow pasta

60g unsalted butter

35g (¼ cup) plain flour

750ml (3 cups) full-cream milk

250g (2 cups) freshly grated tasty cheese

1 tsp chicken stock powder

1 tsp sea salt flakes

20g (⅓ cup) panko breadcrumbs

olive oil spray


Sprinkle the brisket with salt on all sides. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over medium–high heat, add the brisket and cook for 3-4 minutes or until it is browned all over. Set aside.

Combine all the barbecue sauce ingredients in a jug and stir well.

Transfer the beef to a slow cooker (squish it in if you need to) and pour the sauce over the top so that the beef is covered. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours until the beef is tender.

Remove the beef from the slow cooker and slice.

Transfer the sauce to a large saucepan (the wider the surface area, the more quickly the sauce will thicken!) and simmer over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes until thickened. Drizzle the sauce over the cooked brisket.

Meanwhile, for the mac and cheese, cook the pasta as per the packet instructions minus one minute. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven grill.

Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and, once melted, add the flour. Cook, stirring, for one minute to form a paste. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly for five minutes until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the cheese, chicken stock powder, salt and cooked pasta and stir them through. Top with the breadcrumbs and spray with the olive oil.

Grill for two minutes until the top is golden and crispy.

Serve the brisket with the mac and cheese and coleslaw


Refrigerate the brisket for up to 3 days. Refrigerate the mac and cheese for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 2 months – thaw completely overnight before reheating.

Make ahead

Brisket: Once the brisket is cooked in the slow cooker, transfer it along with the (unreduced) liquid to a roasting tin. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Bake, covered with foil, in a 180°C fan-forced oven for 30 minutes until warmed through. Uncover and grill for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. 

Although some recipes state otherwise, brisket isn’t my favourite to freeze, as I find it a little dry when reheated. But if you choose to freeze it (up to 2 months, covered in as much sauce as possible), make sure you thaw it completely in the fridge overnight before reheating.