Chicken Piccata Pasta anyone?  Fast and easy…looks fancy!

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.

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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

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: medium
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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)

Ingredients

  • about 450 grams of spaghettini
  • 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter (for cooking chicken)
  • About ¾ cup chicken broth
  • Splash of white wine (about ⅛ cup)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • About a half cup of sliced sun-dried tomatoes packed in seasoned oil
  • About ¼ cup capers
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions

  1. Boil salted water for pasta in large pot
  2. Slice chicken breasts lengthwise and then in half or thirds if the breast is very large
  3. Place flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper.  Dredge chicken in seasoned flour
  4. Heat butter and olive oil in frying pan until hot
  5. Place chicken in pan and cook until golden brown, then turn over and do the same on the other side.  (Butter and oil together will prevent the chicken from getting too brown)
  6. Remove chicken to a plate and cover
  7. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook until ‘al dente’ (about 5 or 6 minutes)
  8. Add sundried tomatoes and capers to the pan juices and sautee for about 3 minutes while stirring
  9. Add wine, lemon juice, chicken broth and about a tablespoon of the seasoned oil from the sundried tomatoes to the pan.  Stir to combine.
  10. Return the chicken to the pan.  Cover and cook until pasta is done.
  11. Remove pasta from pot.  Reserve about ½ to 1 cup of pasta water
  12. Add pasta and pasta water to pan.  Stir to combine. Cover and cook for another minute or two to combine flavours
  13. Serve in heated bowls sprinkled with parmesan cheese and Italian parsley
  14. Enjoy!  (I didn’t want to end on 13 steps!!)

Tip:  Using pasta water and heated bowls will allow your light sauce to stick to the pasta

recipe by: everydayhomegourmet.blog/  

 

Labour Day Clam Bake on the BBQ…Alternative to Burgers!

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 an LCBO magazine and 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!

Clam bake

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!

 

Summer Cook ahead Option Number 2!

Here’s another great option for a healthy and satisfying side dish, that will complement any summer meal. It’s my Mom’s Famous Rice Salad!  

My Mom is a wonderful cook and she has been my major inspiration for learning how to be a great home cook. From the time I was very young, I have memories of family and friends constantly complimenting my Mom on her cooking and baking. I knew that when I grew up I wanted to be a great cook just like her because it seemed to make people so happy.  And I wanted my home to be a place where family and friends could come and feel welcome and enjoy great experiences and memories of being together, just like our family home was. Growing up, our house was the center of family gatherings for both sides of our large family. It was so much fun for my siblings and me as kids, and as I reflect as an adult, I now realize it was lots of work for my parents. But I do know that they both enjoyed that their home was a welcoming, happy place to be for their kids, family, and friends.

In the 70’s, a number of my Mom’s brothers and sisters got married within a short time of each other and started their families.  My Mom and Dad hosted all the wedding showers, stags, and baby showers in our house. My Mom made all the food, with some help from one of her sisters.  No consideration was ever given to buying food or getting the event catered because money was tight in those days. As a result, most everything was always homemade.  The food was set up as a buffet table with a combination of hot and cold dishes. Rice salad was always a part of these events. As a kid, I was always happy to see that because I didn’t like potato salad or pasta (macaroni!) salad in those days, which also were standard at those gatherings.

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Mom’s baby shower hosting – 1973

I always wondered why we only seemed to have rice salad at these events.  Years ago when my husband and I started this cook ahead plan, we found it easy to do in the fall and winter because you could do casseroles, soups, stews, roasts…When we got to spring and summer, we wanted lighter food and less use of the oven.  We BBQ’d just about every day, so I came up with the idea that I would make a larger batch of those famous salads from our family events that would last 4 or 5 days and then we’d just throw something different on the BBQ each day. It has made a huge difference for us.  Because making a rice, potato or pasta side dish is usually the longest part of cooking a meal, having it done ahead of time means you can have a balanced meal on the table in no time. With the strategy of making one of these salads every 4 or 5 days, we have delicious, summery meals every night and without much prep and cleaning.  (Read my previous posts for more tips on summer cook ahead dishes).

Mom’s original rice salad recipe used white rice, carrots, celery, green onion, oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and parsley.  I have adapted the recipe slightly over the years by using brown and wild rice instead of white rice and also adding chives, just because I have lots of them in my garden!  I prefer brown rice because it’s more filling, which means you eat less volume and it keeps you satisfied longer than white rice. As I’ve said before, there is no right or wrong with salads, and you definitely don’t need to follow a recipe to make a delicious salad.  Just use whatever you have on hand. One of my other relatives has made this salad using tomatoes, black olives, basil and onion and it was delicious also! So, go ahead and change up the veggies and seasoning here to suit your preferred flavours. And, as always leave me a comment to share the version you created.  Don’t forget to dress the rice when it is still very warm to hot so it will absorb the dressing. (Thanks again to Tim, our caterer friend for that tip!)

A number of my friends and family have asked for this recipe, which is always a compliment to the cook.  But, the greatest compliments I have received were when my Mom said, “This rice salad tastes better than usual.  What did you do?” – and when I heard my Mom tell her friends that I am a very good cook. There’s nothing like getting a compliment from someone you admire so much.

Thanks Mom!  You are my inspiration!

Mom’s Famous Rice Salad

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Difficulty: very easy
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Rice Salad 2018 (2)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • ¼ cup of wild rice (optional)
  • 1 ¾ cup cold water
  • Diced carrots, approx ½ to ⅔ cup
  • Diced celery, approx ½ to ⅔ cup
  • Sliced green onions, 1 or 2
  • Chopped fresh Italian Parsley
  • Olive Oil (2 parts, about 1/4 cup)
  • White Wine Vinegar (1 part, about ⅛ cup)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Put rice and water in a pot  – cover and bring to a boil
  2. Reduce heat and simmer on low until almost all water is absorbed (about 15 minutes), then turn off heat, keep covered, and allow rest of water to absorb into rice – (this prevents rice from sticking to the pot)
  3. While rice is cooking, chop the vegetables and parsley and set aside
  4. While rice is still warm to hot, add approximately 2 parts olive oil to one part white wine vinegar and salt and pepper.
  5. Mix well.  Taste and adjust seasonings as desired
  6. Once rice is cool, add vegetables and parsley
  7. Mix well together and serve

Variations:  Change the vegetables and seasonings as desired (tomatoes, black olives, onion, feta cheese, different herbs, etc.)

Tips:  Adding oil, vinegar, salt and pepper while rice is still warm to hot will allow dressing to absorb into rice and you’ll have no need to re-adjust seasoning before serving

recipe by: everydayhomegourmet.blog/

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
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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!