A slow cooker is a fantastic tool for anyone interested in creating time-saving healthy dishes. My Mom first bought one in the late 70’s when she went back to work part-time after being home with three kids for many years. She made a great beef pot roast with this tool and I’m sure she appreciated coming home to a fully cooked, warm, nutritious meal after a busy workday. As an adult, I did not own a slow cooker until about 12 years ago when I inherited one. Since this appliance takes up valuable kitchen real estate, I thought I’d better figure out more recipes than Mom’s pot roast if it was going to be worth it to keep the slow cooker in my house.
I did figure out a number of recipes to make in the slow cooker and it has become an important tool in our house to help with weekday meal planning. Many of the published slow cooker recipes call for searing the meat ahead of time and I never did that because I didn’t want to have another pan to clean…it seemed to defeat the purpose of the ease of using a slow cooker. So, when my slow cooker broke a little more than a year ago, I investigated slow cookers with a sear option…I found this one with a stovetop-safe cooking pot that is very easy to clean…..I totally recommend this unit and would never again buy one without this option. When I made Mom’s pot roast recipe with the new cooker, the increase in the depth and intensity of the flavour was amazing!
So, this fall in my quest to create a new recipe for my slow cooker, I came up with this pork chop recipe that was cooked with apples, potatoes, carrots, onions, and kale. Whenever I use the slow cooker, I always want to make sure that the dish is a balanced meal in itself so that there is nothing else you need to do for that meal. (Of course, adding a salad is always a good plan!) We loved the flavours in this dish! It was slightly sweet because of the apples, which was a nice departure from my usual savoury cooking. There were four servings in this dish, with leftover veggies and broth. After the four servings were enjoyed, I didn’t want to throw away the remaining broth and veggies, so I pureed them with my hand blender and now had a lovely soup to enjoy for a few lunches! You have to love it when your efforts limit waste and also provide easy extra meals! The picture on the left is the pork chop dinner and the picture on the right is the leftover veggies, apples and broth blended into soup. (If you are not into soup, use 6 pork chops and that would use up all the veggies).
Here’s what it looked like in progress:
Try this recipe out and let me know how you liked it! Also, I’d love to hear about your favourite slow cooker recipes. Happy cooking friends!
As a person growing up in an Italian / Irish family, pasta was definitely part of our weekly meals once or twice a week. Although I loved the sauces and ingredients, as a kid, I did not enjoy pasta itself very much…I know – odd for a kid, and definitely odd for a kid with an Italian-Canadian Mom! I think it was a texture thing for me…I didn’t like soft foods much. (Rice and mashed potatoes were also in that category for me). Interestingly, my Mom still doesn’t like pasta…she said they ate it so much as kids because money was scarce and they were a very, very large family. Pasta went a long way towards feeding 12 hungry mouths every night! My Dad became a passionate pasta lover when he joined my Mom’s family, always telling us that he never ate real Italian pasta until my Italian grandmother made it for him.
As I got older, I did learn to enjoy pasta (and rice and mashed potatoes too!). When I make pasta for myself and my family and friends, I like to include a number of ingredients and make it colourful. This light tasting chicken piccata spaghettini is full of flavour and fast and easy to make. I have labeled the recipe as medium difficulty only because if you haven’t made pasta without just pouring tomato or meat sauce over it, this takes a few steps to learn. Once you’ve done it, you will think it’s quick and easy to make. It’s a dish that will make people think you spent more time in the kitchen than you actually did. Serve it for family or for company. If you have gluten-free diners, use gluten-free pasta and dredge the chicken in seasoned cornstarch instead of flour. Here’s the recipe…Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Chicken Piccata Spaghettini with Sundried Tomatoes and Capers
This is a fast, light tasting and hearty dish for all seasons! It’s not hard to make, just takes a few steps and some confidence if you haven’t made pasta without the tomato sauce. Make it gluten-free by dredging chicken in cornstarch instead of flour and use gluten-free pasta)
Canadian Thanksgiving is coming up this weekend and many of us have turkey at this time. Lots of people think that cooking a turkey is complicated and stressful, and I get that. But, if you’ve ever roasted a chicken, you can roast a turkey! It’s just a lot bigger!! To be honest, I get why people are stressed about it. It takes time and there’s a lot of mess that goes along with it. The only way to avoid the time and the mess is to find a restaurant that serves turkey dinner, or order the pre-cooked turkey and sides from your local grocery store. Those may be perfectly good options for many families at times, so don’t hesitate to go for it if that’s what you need. Being together is what’s important! Chances are if you are reading a food blog, you are not going to choose those options, but you are looking for ways to make a great dinner and to simplify it where you can. One way to do that is to opt for a potluck. If you are hosting, perhaps you’ll do the turkey, stuffing, and gravy and ask the rest of the friends and family to bring the appetizers, side dishes, and dessert. This is perfectly acceptable and I’ve found that friends and family are always happy to contribute in this way.
If you choose to do it all yourself, you’ll need some stress saving tips! The biggest suggestion I have is to make your turkey a day ahead. Yes, you read that correctly. If you’ve read my post What does cooking ahead at Christmas look like at our house?you’ll recognize some of the information below and you’ll know that we’ve been doing this in our family for many years. It’s been a great success and a stress reliever. To be honest, we thought it was a terrible idea when my Mom suggested it way back then, but it works like a charm. The turkey is tender and delicious every time. (Keep reading to find out how we keep it from drying out). My husband and I even do all the side dishes (except for one) and gravy the day ahead and reheat them before the dinner. It’s not actually a time saver because it takes the same amount of time to do it ahead, but it’s definitely a stress reliever!
Here are the benefits:
You can prepare everything at your own pace without worrying when the guests will arrive
You can be free to chat with your friends and family because you don’t need to spend all afternoon in the kitchen getting things ready
You’ll have more energy on the day you are hosting because you haven’t been cooking since the early morning
The very messy parts of dealing with the carving of the turkey and cleaning all the greasy pans gets done the day before your guests arrive. You simply warm up all the dishes in your oven and pull them out when it’s time to serve!
If you haven’t heard of making your turkey a day ahead, you should really give it a go the next time you are roasting a turkey. Here’s how you do it:
Stuff and roast the turkey as you normally would
Once the turkey is fully cooked, as indicated by the meat thermometer, take it out of the oven and let it rest for about 15 minutes
Remove the skin from the breasts and underside of the turkey and set aside
Carve the turkey into slices, remove legs and wings
Place your turkey slices into an oven safe dish and cover completely with the skin of the turkey. (The skin is what will keep the turkey moist when you reheat it). Place the legs and wings on the sides of the dish.
Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight
The next day, bring the dish to room temperature before placing in the oven at 275 degrees for about a half hour to 40 minutes. Keep the dish covered. (Time will vary depending on the amount of turkey you have as well as your oven temperature)
Our turkey always comes out moist and tasty when we do it this way. The biggest tip I have for making this a success is to use a meat thermometer. It is virtually foolproof and takes the guesswork out of wondering if your roast is done. I have used that same meat thermometer for almost 30 years now and it works like a charm on roasts of all kinds. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, get one today! It’s a great way to be sure your meat is done properly and an efficient way to monitor the cooking progress.
I don’t eat a lot of things with gravy anymore, but I do love gravy with my turkey! I find it very stressful to make gravy once the roast is done and you’re trying to get everything to the table while it’s still hot. So, one day a few years ago, I searched the internet to see if there was a way to make gravy without drippings and I found a great recipe that I have been using ever since for any kind of roast. I follow the directions and just add my own drippings to it at the end. It’s not quite as good as Mom’s, but it is very tasty and cuts down on the last-minute stress. Here’s the link:
My husband and I also like to do all the side dishes ahead of time and reheat them too. I never thought that reheated mashed potatoes would be good, but they have worked for us when we reheated them in the microwave. I like to make sure I have vegetables of different colours. It’s nutritious, tasty, interesting and looks great on the plate. So, we have done a combination of potatoes (mashed or roasted), squash, glazed carrots, green beans (steamed or roasted), mashed cauliflower, and brussel sprouts with prosciutto over the years. (We do the brussel sprouts and prociutto only about an hour before serving to keep the bright green colour…I’ll post that recipe in a future blog post).
We always choose one white, one orange and one green vegetable. We put all of the cooked side dishes in separate oven-safe dishes and then reheat them in the oven along with the turkey, or microwave if we need more space than we have in the oven. Of course, doing it this way means you use most of the oven-safe dishes you own! But it’s still easier and less stressful clean up compared to doing everything from scratch on the day you are hosting. So, give it all a try and reduce your stress…If you’ve got any questions or suggestions, drop me a note in the comment section or at email@example.com
Happy cooking, happy hosting, and Happy Thanksgiving!
One of the things I like to do best is look in the fridge to see what’s available and try to combine ingredients in a way I haven’t done before. About a year ago, I had a ton of broccoli on hand and we’d already eaten it a few different ways that week, so I was looking for some way to use up the broccoli and create something new for us. That was the birth of the Broccoli Apple Salad with red onions and pine nuts. I love the colours together and the flavours work well too. Typically, I use red or white wine vinegar in my salad dressings, but I thought the slightly milder, sweet flavour of rice wine would work here and I really like how it comes out. I’ve done this salad with broccoli that was already steamed and also with raw broccoli. I prefer the raw version, but I know that some diners would prefer more tender broccoli…so, as always, choose what’s best for you! I also like leaving the skin on the apple…it adds fibre and nutrients, it looks nice – and, it saves time!
*Drop me a note to let me know about dishes you created with ingredients on hand…I’m always looking for new ideas! Happy Cooking, Friends!
I came up with this recipe when I had lots of broccoli and wanted to use it in a different way. I checked the fridge to see what was there and this is what I created…try it with grilled or roasted meats of any kind, as well as burgers. It could also be a great accompaniment to a traditional quiche or frittata.
6 to 8 cups chopped broccoli
1 apple, skin on, cut into about one-inch pieces
about ⅛ cup thinly sliced red onion (the thinner, the better!)
about ⅛ cup toasted pine nuts (optional)
a little less than ¼ cup olive oil
about ½ cup rice vinegar
about ½ tsp salt
about ¼ tsp ground pepper
Toast pine nuts until golden brown, about 4 minutes in pan on the stove on medium. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. Set aside to cool
Combine broccoli, apples, onions and nuts in a serving bowl
Add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and combine well
Let sit for at least 15 minutes to allow dressing to absorb into broccoli, especially if using raw broccoli
Variations: Use raw or lightly steamed broccoli. Use walnuts or pecans instead of pine nuts, or make it nut-free. Keeps nicely in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 days
Happy New Year! Yes, my calendar does say September…but since I spent 31 years as a teacher and school principal, I have always considered ‘back to school’ time the start of a new year. It’s always been the time when I’ve made resolutions and have looked to create improved habits and routines. Even now that I am beginning my second year of retirement from this rewarding work, I still look at September as the start of renewed plans and improved organization. If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I am a big fan of spending the time to cook ahead and meal plan on the weekends so that weekdays run more smoothly and predictably. My summer posts have been devoted to talking about summer cook ahead options, and while I’m still on that plan because the warm weather isn’t over yet, I know that many people are into fall cooking and meal planning. You can find tons of information on meal planning on blogs, websites, Instagram and home / lifestyle shows. Sometimes the plans are so involved and try to impress with the variety and gourmet nature of the food that it can overwhelm anyone who wants to start into meal planning. Meal planning is not rocket science, but you do have to spend some time thinking and preparing. But keeping it simple is the key to success. So, I thought I would write a post with some tips for those who want to begin delving into planning simple, nutritious meals for the busy work week. It’s important to reiterate that I am not a chef or a home economist, or a trained food expert. Preparing food for myself, my family and friends has always been a passion for me and I have learned from many people and also by trial and error. So, please remember that what you read on this blog are things from my own experiences in cooking and eating, and not the claim of a trained expert!
If you do want to begin some weekly meal planning, pick a starting point that you think you can manage. Don’t expect to have a detailed plan for three meals a day, five days a week when you start out. Try planning ahead for two or three dinners in the week and see how you do with that. Like all new habits we want to create, we have to be realistic about what we can manage and maintain so that we feel successful. Make it do-able for you and you’ll be able to build on your success!
Here are 5 tips that have worked for me:
Keep a running list in a prominent spot in your kitchen where you and others can add items that you use up and need to buy again. If you do this throughout the week, it will take much less time to make up a grocery list and you won’t risk forgetting important items
Take inventory of your refrigerator before you go to the grocery store. Get rid of any spoiled or expired food, and make a list of the things you need. Your list will help you only buy the things you need and will speed up the time it takes for you to complete the task of buying groceries. Some grocery stores also allow you to order online and have your groceries bagged and ready for you to pick up in the store. We tried it out this summer and found the food to be excellent quality and it was definitely a time saver. Your order can also be delivered to your house if you are really short on time
Keep your lists varied, but predictable. We eat a variety of fresh foods throughout the week, and mostly buy the same twenty or thirty items each week. This helps us to be organized in our meal planning, minimize waste and eat healthy on most days
Choose a bunch of fresh foods you and your family enjoy and make sure you have them on hand each week. If you know what you have in your fridge all the time, you will find it easier to come up with meal plans. Of course, you can always have a unique ingredient or two if you are making a special dish, but as long as you have a large, predictable variety of fresh foods, you will make better use of your food and your time. Decide which type of food and flavours you enjoy most and stock your fridge and pantry accordingly. My go-to meals are almost always Mediterranean based because it’s what I am used to and prefer and this type of eating offers great variety. So my fridge and pantry items reflect that
Spend a few hours on Sunday making one dinner that will generate another night of leftovers and cook another one-pot meal that you cook at the same time to eat later in the week (Stews, chili, chicken cacciatore or pasta casseroles are great choices for this). A slow cooker is a helpful tool for this
Here are the things we almost always have on hand and purchase weekly:
Milk, bread, Greek yogurt, eggs, butter
Lettuce or spinach for salads and sandwiches (we vary the kind of lettuce we buy each week)
Grape tomatoes and one or two beefsteak tomatoes
Red pepper (or orange or yellow)
Here are some things we buy every couple of weeks and alternate in with our regular stock:
Corn on the cob (in season)
Asparagus (in season)
Other in-season fruits (plums, peaches, pomegranate, etc.)
Various fresh herbs (mostly basil, Italian parsley, cilantro)
Lemons / limes
These are some common items we always have in the pantry to add to our meals:
Various types of pasta
High quality, low salt boxed chicken broth and beef broth (avoid the cubes or powder broth at all costs…read the ingredient list and you’ll find out why!)
Quality canned tomatoes without salt
Can tomato juice
Plain breadcrumbs (I add in seasonings later)
Sliced sun dried tomatoes in oil
Artichoke quarters packed in water
White tuna packed in water
Wine Vinegar (red and white)
Regular and Dijon mustard
Lemon and lime juice
As far as the freezer is concerned, we buy a variety of meat, fish, chicken when it’s on sale and package it manageable servings for later use. Another time saver for us is to marinate some of the items before we freeze them. It’s amazing how that saves time during the week. It’s great to take out those pieces of salmon that already have our favourite Maple BBQ marinade on them. That, along with rice or potatoes you may have made a day ahead makes for a delicious home-cooked meal in a jiffy. We also keep frozen corn, and peas to add to our meals. I like adding the corn to my chili and the peas are great for adding to some plain cooked rice or pasta.
So, if you’d like to get started on planning weekday meals ahead, start with something you can manage…perhaps you make a plan for two dinners in the week…or perhaps you divide up fruits and vegetables in individual packages for everyone to take for lunch for a few days. Whatever it is, be sure it’s something you can manage and build on your feelings of success to increase the plan when you can. Putting in a few hours on the weekend for food prep will make your weeks run more smoothly, you’ll be eating healthier, and you may even have gained some time on those busy nights!
Hopefully, you find these tips to be helpful…and, if you are already full on into weekday meal prep, please leave a comment to share your favourite tips!
Are you tired of burgers for your summer get-togethers? Why not try a BBQ Clam Bake on your BBQ this Labour Day Weekend? We tried this a few years ago after seeing the recipe in anLCBO magazineand it was absolutely fabulous! I added scallops and used cooked lobster meat that I added at the end of the cooking time and it was unbelievably tasty and delicious! We did this in a disposable foil pan on the BBQ…and it worked out great!
Since this is not my recipe, I’ll just include the link to the recipe and a photo below of my finished product. If you have seafood lovers this Labour Day, try it out…it’s easy and looks super fancy! It’s a one-pot BBQ dish! Use mussels, littleneck clams, cooked lobster meat, corn on the cob, and chorizo sausage if you have it…I didn’t have all the herbs suggested, so I just used what I had and it was great! Serve with fresh crusty bread and your favourite wine! It’s a lovely alternative after a season of BBQ’d burgers, steaks, and ribs!
Happy Cooking friends! Enjoy this fabulous dish and send a comment to let me know how you modified it to your liking!
Submitted by the everydayhomegourmet…send a note to let me know how you liked it, or modified it!
Food and Friday nights are always tricky…You’ve worked hard all week and just want to order takeout, but you know the weekend is coming and you may not be able to predict healthy eating…so, you want something quick yet healthy, but you are tired and don’t want to spend tons of time in the kitchen, and you might not want to resort to take-out. Here’s a quick and lovely meal to serve for your seafood lovers. Mussels cooked in a quick tomato sauce, with fresh crusty bread and a green salad is an inviting, and perhaps exotic meal that looks like it took way more time to cook than it did.
All you have to do is quickly sautee the garlic, onions, tomatoes, and oregano in a little olive oil until the tomatoes break down. Next, add the fresh mussels and cook with the lid on until the shells open fully. That’s less than 5 minutes. Serve in a bowl with chopped fresh parsley, sliced crusty bread, and a little green salad and you’ll look like a star (or you’ll have a delicious gourmet meal for yourself!!). If you are in a rush, pick up a prepared salad and use your own oil and vinegar dressing.
Mussels and tomatoes are served in many Italian restaurants. My Mom and grandmother did not make these dishes at home, but when we started to go to restaurants later in our family life, we often ate these in Italian restaurants. Courtesy of my favourite Italian chef, Pasquale Carpino, I started to make this mussel dish at home in the mid 80’s. The recipe below is Pasquale’s recipe with minor changes. Refer to my post from April 20, 2018 for more info on Chef Pasquale. With the availability of cultivated mussels in the local grocery store, this dish has become very accessible and economical as a quick dinner.
Using cultivated mussels means that you don’t have to scrape the beards off the mussels, which saves time. In the eastern part of our country mussels are cultivated and sustainably maintained, so they are a great option for this dish. Typically, our grocery store sells a two pound bag which would serve a two and possibly three diners very inexpensively by adding a salad and some bread. Use Roma tomatoes as they are meatier and have less water and seeds. If you are in a hurry, use good quality tomatoe puree. Here’s the recipe:
Mussels with tomatoes
Servings: 3 for dinner - more if serving as appetizer
Here’s a lovely dish for seafood lovers that is economical, quick and full of flavour! Serve it as an appetizer or a full dinner with crusty bread and a green salad. Use Roma or San Marzano tomatoes since they are meatier and do well as a sauce
2 lbs of cultivated mussels (this saves scraping and cleaning of beards)
About 4 tbsp olive oil
2 to 4 green onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 to 8 Roma tomatoes, chopped, seed removed
4 oz white wine
½ tsp dried oregano
Pinch of salt and pepper
2 tbsp Fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Heat oil in large pot and cook onion and garlic for 2 minutes or less
Stir in tomatoes, wine and seasoning and simmer until tomatoes are soft and broken down (about 8 minutes)
Add the mussle and cook, covered, until shells are opened. Serve in bowl sprinkled with chopped parsley.