Lemon Couscous Salad – Here it is!

My last blog post promised the recipe for this salad, which is a new addition to my make-ahead dishes this summer.  As you read in the last blog post, my summer salads have included, rice, various types of pasta and potato salads.  These are the basis of being able to make delicious, complete weekday meals with little prep and clean up.

On Father’s Day, we attended an extended family party at R & E’s house.  They had a delicious couscous salad with a lemony dressing.  I immediately fell in love with it and thought I should make my own version of this.  I normally use vinegars in my dressings, so using lemon is a nice change of flavour.  Athough I have used lemon as part of a salad dressing before, it’s not a go-to for me, so having the salad at R & E’s house, was a good reminder for me of this alternative. 

When it comes to salads, there is no right and wrong…you can add any vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds or herbs that you enjoy and it will taste great.  There is not much need for a recipe for making salads, so I offer mine only as a guide for you to start out and create your own dish.  I usually just peek in the fridge to see what I have on hand and start there.  On the day I created this couscous salad for the first time, we had carrots, peppers, and green onions on hand, so I thought that would make a lovely taste and colour combination with the lemony couscous.  I have also been experimenting with making my own roasted chickpeas and I had some on hand, so I tossed them in.  They provided a nutty flavour, and crunchy texture.

I did use fresh lemon juice for this since it was one of the main ingredients.  If you are in a rush, give it a try with bottled lemon juice and let me know how it goes!  I also used a lemon zester to get lovely thin ribbons of lemon rind.  It added great flavour and colour, and it didn’t feel as though you were biting into lemon rind.

Although I believe that a salad is just a combination of wonderfully balanced fresh ingriedients that should not require a recipe, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way when creating these grain/starch based salads that may be helpful tips for you:

  • dress the rice, potato, couscous, pasta, quinoa, salad while it’s still warm to hot.  The dressing will be absorbed and you won’t have to adjust the dressing before serving.  (This is a tip I learned from Tim, a local chef and friend who has catered a number of large events for us.  It has made a world of difference for me!  Thanks Tim!)
  • let the dressed grains, pasta cool before adding the vegetables and fresh herbs.  This will prevent the vegetables from cooking and the herbs from wilting and browning
  • never, ever use a bottled dressing…there is way too much of things you don’t need…salt, sugar, multisyllabic things you don’t understand!  Just use two parts quality oil and one part acidity, such as vinegars, lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, tomato juice, salt, pepper and herbs.  You can even make this ahead in a jar or bottle and have your own ready to go dressing.  In a pich, just dress your salad with a sprinkle of good quality olive oil and a squirt of lemon….It’s miles ahead of any bottled dressing you can find on any level…take the few minutes i takes to make a homemade dressing rather than opting for a ready-made product that has all kinds of things you don’t need – or want!  These are things I learned from my Mom growing up and still prove to be true today!

Happy cooking, fellow ‘everydayhomegourmet’ friends…please share your comments and tips!

Lemon Couscous Salad

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print

IMG-2226

Ingredients

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 ¾ cup water
  • Juice of one lemon, plus approx 1 tbsp lemon rind (very thinly sliced)
  • ¼ cup olive oil (use extra virgin for more robust flavour)
  • ⅓ cup carrots, chopped
  • ½ large green pepper, diced
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • ⅓ to ½ cup roasted chickpeas (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I use just a sprinkle of salt and about ½ tsp pepper)
  • 4 large basil leaves, sliced thinly
  • Approx. 2 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley (sometimes called ‘flat parsley’)

Directions

  1. Place water in saucepan.  Cover and bring to a boil.
  2. Remove pot from heat, stir in couscous.  Cover and let stand about 3 minutes.
  3. Once water is absorbed, couscous is cooked.  Fluff couscous with fork and let cool for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. While the couscous is still hot, transfer to your serving bowl and dress with olive oil, lemon juice, lemon rind, salt and pepper.  Fluff with fork to combine.
  5. Once couscous is completely cool, add chickpeas, vegetables and herbs.  Stir to combine and fluff with a fork before serving.

Variations:  Use any vegetables or herbs you like!

Tips:  Using a lemon zester will give you lovely thin ribbons of lemon rind.  Also, if you have leftovers, the roasted chickpeas will soften overnight for the next serving and will still taste delicious.  

recipe by: everydayhomegourmet.blog/ 

Keep it Easy in the Summer Kitchen…Cook ahead!

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I am a big fan of spending some time on advance preparation to make healthy and delicious weekday meals and to make clean up easier.  Usually, when we think of cooking ahead, soups, stews, and casseroles come to mind, but typically that is not food most of us would want to eat on hot summer days. Now that we are well into the summer heat, many people want to spend as much time outdoors and as little time in the kitchen as possible.  Of course, we still need to eat healthy balanced meals, so how can we put all that together?

Once again, for me the key is choosing cook ahead options, but with a summer flair!  When I was growing up, our house did not have air conditioning and on those hottest summer days our Mom would announce in the morning, “Tonight we are having ‘cold supper’!”  These meals were not less work for my Mom, but it was time spent chopping rather than time spent using a hot stove or oven that would heat up the house even more. I always loved “cold supper” because we got some great salads that Mom made like tomato and cucumber salad, homemade coleslaw, marinated green and yellow beans, potato salad and our favourite Italian cold cuts or cold roasted chicken from the grocery store.  The store-bought chicken was a rare occurrence because our Mom usually made everything from scratch. It was all delicious and there was lots of variety in those meals!

In my own kitchen, I’ve used the memory of those dinners to keep cooking easy in the summer and always have cold salads and fresh marinated veggies on hand to make quick and easy meals.  Planning ahead also takes the guesswork out of what you are going to make and also ensures that you have a healthy meal on hand. Each week, I spend an hour or two making either a rice, pasta, couscous or potato salad and then prepare some fresh beans to marinate, or Mom’s tomato and cucumber salad, or some grilled asparagus or zucchini.  Then, throw a quick marinade on your favourite protein and grill away! I usually make enough of the salads and side dishes for four days worth of meals and we usually add a fresh green salad too.

As an example, here is how my 4 nights of summer cook ahead options looked when I made a rice salad, coleslaw, and marinated green beans a couple of weeks ago:

Day 1:  Make the Rice Salad, coleslaw and green beans and have it with a burger

Day 2:  Grilled chicken, rice salad, coleslaw, green beans (and a green salad, if you like)

Day 3:  Grilled fish, rice salad, coleslaw, green beans (and a green salad)

Day 4:  Grilled steak, rice salad, coleslaw, green beans (and I always add sauteed mushrooms with steak!  It’s worth the extra few minutes of effort…)

 

Some skeptics might think this is a bit repetitive, but when you vary the protein, everything tastes different – and you’ll be so happy with the ease of not having to build an entire meal from scratch, while still getting to eat a great meal.  Once you have all the sides decided on and prepared, it takes very little thinking or time to add the meat, chicken, or fish to complete the meal, which reduces the stress of the question…”What are we having tonight?”

At the end of day 1, put all of your pre-prepared salads and side dishes in containers and you’ll be so happy on day 2, 3, and 4 when all you have to do is pull out those containers from the fridge and grill your favourite protein!  (Maybe it’s tofu for vegetarians or vegans!).IMG-2411 (2)

 

If you follow this plan, your prep and clean up will be a breeze.  You can also follow this plan when entertaining large groups. Get as much done ahead of time as you can and all that will be left to do is the grilling and socializing!

 

In summary, here are my tips for easy summer cooking and eating:

  • Fill your freezer with a variety of meats – buy what’s on sale in large quantities and bag them in freezer bags in smaller portions for easy use
  • Marinate your beef, poultry, fish, pork, or lamb ahead of time with your favourite flavours and put the portions and marinade in a freezer bag for later use.  (This saves time and clean up on the night you cook)
  • Choose either a rice, pasta, couscous, or potato salad and make enough for about 4 nights to keep your weekday prep and clean up simple
  • Decide on a vegetable side dish that can also be made ahead to complete the meal (my favourites are steamed marinated green beans, grilled asparagus, grilled zucchini and tomato/cucumber salad)
  • Add a green salad to any meal for some variety, leafy greens and extra veggies
  • For desserts:  keep ice-cream, frozen yogurt and individual sponge cakes on hand.  Top them with seasonal fruit, caramel or chocolate sauce and/or whipped cream.  These are minimal prep, delicious and fresh tasting options

I’ll be featuring my make-ahead salad and side dish recipes for the next few weeks, so be sure to check back to get the recipes…Lemon couscous salad will be the next recipe!  It’s yummy! Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave a comment with your tips for summer cooking, eating and entertaining! I’d love to hear your ideas.

Happy cooking!

 

Tomato Stuffed Grilled Peppers – great for summer BBQ’s!

In my last post, I talked about our five couple dinner group that’s been together for many years.  Part of the reason that the group has been so successful in maintaining the five times per year joint dinner parties is that the dates are set one year in advance.  Typically, we get together in September, December, February, April, and June. If you’ve caught the subtlety of where I started the year of get-togethers, you might guess that a number of people in the group are involved in education.  September is the start of the new year for educators!! And that means that June is year end!

Our June party happened around the middle of the month, and this is typically the most casual of the get-togethers since it’s a backyard / pool party, and the start of easy, breezy times with family and friends.  As a host, it’s probably the least complicated in terms of food prep. One couple brings appetizers. The hosts barbeque the main course, other couples bring salads and dessert. We hosted the June party and did Greek flavoured chicken and beef brochettes for the main meal, using this awesome marinade my brother made for us last summer.  We also served Greek flavoured lemon potatoes and an interesting side dish that I’d been wanting to try for a while.

About 5 years ago, I cut a recipe out of the Boston Globe Magazine on a trip to Cape Cod for Roasted Peppers Stuffed with Grape Tomatoes that I knew I would love to try.  So, five years later, I finally tried it!!  It was so pretty and elevated the simple, healthy ingredients to something special, and it’s definitely doable for all home cooks!  These are ingredients that I always have on hand and are presented in a way that makes everyone think you did something fancy. To me, that’s the essence of being an ‘Everyday Home Gourmet’….use simple ingredients, make them tasty, and present them in a visually interesting way!  No need for fancy or complicated ingredients or cooking methods! Simple is beautiful…it’s the essence of Mediterranean cooking.

This was the first time I made this beautiful and tasty side dish, and I’ll definitely do it again!  The original recipe involved roasted peppers stuffed with the uncooked tomato salad and served at room temperature.  In our version, we grilled the peppers slightly, then stuffed them with the marinated tomato salad and roasted them in the oven until the tomatoes were warm and slightly blistered.  

They were delicious and would be amazing as intended in the original recipe or warmed as we did. The key is to roast the peppers enough to get grill marks and the amazing roasted pepper flavour, but still keep the peppers firm enough to stuff.  Also, the original recipe called for sardines, but I’m not a big fan of sardines, so I used sliced Kalamata olives instead to get the salty flavour and contrast in texture as compared to the tomatoes. This can be made ahead and is such a pretty and tasty dish that will satisfy and impress your guests!  I love healthy everyday ingredients that are elevated into something special! It’s what makes the ‘everyday turn into home gourmet’….Happy cooking everyone!  Experiment and be well.

 

Dinner with Friends! (…there’s bacon in this one!)

…a Rotating Dinner Party….

Sharing a meal with family and friends is one of my favourite things to do!  My husband and I are part of a group of five couples who have been friends since university days (and a few of them are friends from high school).  Through all the changes life brings, the core of this group has remained friends for over 40 years. Many years ago, this group set up regular dinner parties every few months where one couple hosts, and the others bring contributions to the dinner.  The hosting couple provides the main meal and the other couples bring either, appetizers, salad, soup or dessert. Since everyone is focusing only on one dish, each course is usually a gastronomic event, and there is always tons of food…and, of course, laughter.

At the last dinner party, my husband and I signed up to bring salad.  One of my favourite salads to make is Caesar salad with dressing made from scratch.  The recipe I use is one that I received from one of my aunts many, many years ago. It is yummy and always gets tons of compliments from everyone.  And, unlike my two previous posts, this is a time for bacon!  I can eat tons of this salad at one sitting! What I love about it is the freshness of the ingredients and how they combine together. It is simple to make because there is not a lot of chopping and you can make the dressing the day before, or the morning before you need it.  Romaine lettuce, cooked bacon, croutons and dressing are all you need. Sometimes I make my own bread croutons and I love when I have time to do that! If not, I purchase a good quality crouton with no additives and simple ingredients. I don’t flavour the croutons very much because the Caesar dressing has all the flavour you need.  IMG-1915

Another option for croutons is to make chickpea croutons.  This is a great substitution if you have diners that need a gluten-free option.  I first tasted chickpea croutons a few years ago in a Caesar salad at a local restaurant and was surprised at how they crumbled just like a bread crouton.  

I’ve made a few attempts to make my own and they are getting better, but I still need to experiment and refine the recipe. My niece, A, who I’ve written about on this blog, sent me a few ideas to try, so you may see this recipe posted in a future entry once it’s perfected!

Try out this delicious Caesar recipe, you won’t be disappointed!  Everyone at our dinner party enjoyed it very much. As I mentioned, these dinner parties are full of great food and because the dates are set once a year a few months apart, they are a great way to ensure that the group gets connected regularly.  Everyone enjoys the parties very much. Although hosting a dinner party for 10 might seem onerous, this one is definitely manageable because the hosts only need to focus on the main dish, and all the other courses are provided by the other couples.

It’s always fun to see what people make and the food is always delicious.  Our hosts for this dinner were C and G. They are wonderful hosts and enjoy cooking and eating very much. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that I’ve asked some of my friends and family to let me know if they have a favourite cookbook and why they like it. Our host, G, provided this information about his favourite cookbook, Just Add Shoyu  – A Culinary Journey of Japanese Canadian Cooking:  “This hardcover cookbook takes me home to cooking my mother and grandmother made.  Food for the eyes, our body and soul. The true umami taste of food is in every recipe.  There are beautiful colour photos on every recipe.  This book was written by members of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre”. 

Please feel free to leave a reply to share your ideas on stress free group get togethers or your favourite cookbook.  Try out the Caesar recipe!  Happy cooking and be well!

Guilt Free Weekend Eggs!

If you’ve read my previous post, you know I’ve been enjoying the healthy goodness of eggs without the trappings of fatty, salted meats.  (I still do enjoy bacon in some cases, but that’s a post for another day!). I love my Sunday morning eggs and this weekend, I was in the mood to try cooking them a little differently than usual.  Typically, I’ll scramble them and add whatever veggies I have on hand. Yesterday, I was in the mood for a runny yolk and wondered what would happen if I left the eggs whole, put the sliced veggies in the bowl and slide the whole thing into the pan to cook sunny side up. IMG-2192

I let the contents cook for a bit, then decided to turn it over once to reveal a lightly browned under side.IMG-2193

Next, I decided to quickly flip it back over to reveal a lovely over-easy yolk, with slightly blistered tomatoes and wilted spinach…I added two slices of spelt toast and I had a visually pleasing, tasty, nutritious, healthy breakfast, with just a few cracks of black pepper – nothing else.  

Clean up was quick and easy – one bowl, one pan, one plate and cutlery, and my tummy and taste buds were satisfied for hours! I’ll bet you can do this in a larger pan with 6 to 8 eggs and then use a plate to flip it like a fritatta! The presentation would be beautiful!

Try it out – eggs without bacon – add whatever vegetables you have – be creative!  And, if you can, please share your idea for your favourite egg dish in the comments below.  I’m always looking for different ideas! Happy cooking, friends! Be well.

Egg’s Anytime? Yes, Please!

What to make?…Where’s the recipe??…Cooking can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be…In today’s world, recipes for anything and everything are at your fingertips and it’s never been easier for home cooks to elevate their dishes to near gourmet levels.  But don’t stress about it! You don’t have to make things complicated to create delicious, healthy and visually pleasing meals in a relatively short amount of time. If you’ve done some thoughtful food shopping, just have a look in the fridge…

To balance your meal, you need:

  • Protein
  • a grain
  • veggies and maybe a fruit…

If you want it to look appetizing, think;

  • colour
  • texture…
  • and flavour, of course!

I’m not a dietician or a chef or a scientist…this is just what our Moms taught us and even with all the micro-information of today, balancing food groups is still a good rule of thumb to get a healthy and nutritious diet.  And, it can also be fun and visually pleasing if you take a minute to think about it!  

Anytime Egg Plate
Anytime Egg Plate

 

One of the easiest, fastest cooking, star ingredients to a meal is eggs.  They can be the jewel of the dish if you make it so. In today’s world eggs are a simple and complicated food.  The simple part is that eggs are quick to cook, versatile and tasty. When I was growing up, eggs and bacon was a common weekend breakfast.  Next came the complicated part…we started to hear about cholesterol being a health issue and the comfort of that eggs and bacon breakfast was disrupted.  Eggs were identified as being potentially harmful because they were high in cholesterol. As time went on, egg whites came on the scene as a readily available food.  I have been using egg whites for my weekend omelettes for over a dozen years. I have learned to love their light flavour and I do not miss the whole eggs at all when I make omelettes.  I have yet to eat scrambled eggs whites, although I know those who do. For me, the colour and texture is all wrong. But, I do find egg whites are great for omelettes. In fact, I now prefer egg white omelettes to whole egg omelettes.  But, for those of you who still prefer the over easy, sunny side up or poached eggs to dip your toast into the creamy yolk, there is good news. There is some recent research to suggest that the problem cholesterol may not be from the eggs after all, but from the fatty bacon and sausages that were typically eaten with the eggs….again, I am not a dietician, so therefore not an expert on this…I am merely offering commentary on things I have read and observed.

Although I did love bacon as a teen and young adult, I found it messy to cook once I was responsible for my own cooking, and once I heard it wasn’t super healthy, I didn’t mind finding ways to leave it out of the weekend breakfast.  I know that eggs have some very healthy benefits, so I didn’t want to give those up completely. In the last 10 years, I have found ways to enjoy eggs for breakfast and lunch without the salty, fatty meat that was the traditional accompaniment.  And, when eggs are on the menu, you don’t need a fancy recipe…just have a look in the fridge and think food groups, colours, and textures and you’ll come up with an eye-pleasing, tasty, balanced meal!

One of my lunches from last week was what I called the Anytime Egg Plate.  I chose that title because as I was eating it, I thought that is would be a lovely meal for any time of the day.  This dish was created when I scanned my fridge and found eggs, veggies and bread and leftover rice. Toast is an easy accompaniment to eggs, but I was making lunch and thought that toast felt more like breakfast.  I haven’t typically served eggs with rice, but then I remembered that my niece, “A”, who is a wonderful cook has made plates with eggs and rice and has eaten rice for breakfast…why not? Brown rice is a delicious and healthy food, that can have a mild flavour or be dressed up with herbs and spices for interest at dinner…So, I opted for the leftover brown Basmati rice instead of the toast.  Here is what I did:   Continue reading “Egg’s Anytime? Yes, Please!”

Friday Night Favourites

For many of us Friday night signals the end of the weekly routine and a chance to do things differently than you’ve been doing all week. Maybe you’re going out for dinner, getting takeout and meeting friends for drinks, or ordering pizza for the family and watching movies. It’s all good, as you lessen the work responsibilities and focus a little on time for being with family and friends more intensely for a few days.

My husband and I both had very busy jobs and often worked long hours, so we looked forward to ordering pizza Friday nights and having a glass of wine as we tried to let go of the busy week and think about what we might do on the weekend. This routine worked really well for us for many years. A couple of years ago my work location changed and I was only 10 minutes from home. This shortened my commute considerably, so I was home earlier in the evening and found myself with more energy on Friday nights. This enabled me to return to thinking about planning favourite Friday night meals that my Mom used to make that were simple, delicious, quick, and different from what we were eating during the week. In a future blog post, I’ll feature a bunch of my Mom’s kid friendly Friday night favourites.

One of the things my Mom and Dad loved to eat on Friday nights was Vermicelli all ’aglio e olio often with anchovies. I would never eat it as a kid, but as an adult I have come to enjoy a similar dish – Linguine Vongole (Pasta with Clam sauce).  It’s a quick and easy recipe and tastes and looks fancy, so you can serve it for company too.  This is a great example of what I mean when I say simple at-home dishes can have a gourmet taste and feel.  You can use fresh clams for this too, but the canned baby clams are very good and easy to keep on hand to satisfy your craving for this classic Italian dish.

linguine with clams
Linguine con Vongole in Bianco

The recipe I use is from my favourite cookbook –  Recipes from Pasquale’s Kitchen, published in 1984 by Doubleday Canada.  I have a number of cookbooks that I enjoy very much, but this one got me into cooking in my early 20’s. Pasquale Carpino was a chef we used to watch on Tele Domenica on CFCF-TV in Montreal in the 80’s and 90’s. He was entertaining and seemed to really enjoy cooking, and was one of Canada’s first celebrity chefs.  He sang Italian Opera songs while he cooked, and his food looked delicious! I’m a big believer in the idea that when you cook with love and happiness the meal will always turn out well (or you’ll think of a way to recover it!). Here’s a picture of the book… … Continue reading