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

The Daffodils Should be in Bloom…but We’re Still Warming up with Soup in my Corner of the World!

Normally on April 15th in my corner of the world, we are looking at daffodils in bloom and looking forward to the rest of the spring to come.  Instead, here’s was the view outside my door today!

Snow in April 2018
Notice the unhappy spring planter in the bottom right of the photo!

 

 

We’ve had two days of freezing rain and snow here, which is unusual for this time of year.  If you saw my Instagram post from three days ago, you would have read that Mother Nature has not yet turned her calendar to spring in my city.  It’s been cold, but for the last two days, Mother Nature has sent us some unrelenting and unwelcome winter weather.  So, for me, that means it’s still time for comfort food and so soup is once again on the stove!

 

I have this great recipe for low-fat cream of broccoli soup that I have been making for more than 20 years.  It calls for skim milk, chicken broth and flour as the thickening agent instead of cream.  It is delicious, but about 3 years ago I wanted to reduce the number of steps in the recipe, and eliminate the dairy and flour to make it more friendly for one of my family members who follows a gluten-free and lactose-free diet.  Continue reading “The Daffodils Should be in Bloom…but We’re Still Warming up with Soup in my Corner of the World!”

Tasty ‘Bookends’ to our Fun Family Easter Dinner…good food never goes out of style!

Easter is one of my favourite family holidays.  I enjoy it because it has close to the same festive atmosphere as Christmas, and allows you to focus on just being together and sharing good times and a good meal.  That’s probably because the Easter ‘season’ is much shorter than the Christmas season and it’s without work parties, neighbourhood parties, presents, baking, decorating, etc.  I do enjoy the Christmas prep and Christmas season, but I have to say, I love the simplicity of Easter and the fact that it takes place mostly in Spring weather. Everyone is cheerful and looking forward to brighter days, and there is a short window to get the family together for a festive time, but minus the big lead up…it’s a slower pace to a similar end goal.

When I was a kid, my very large extended family lived in close proximity and we were a party of over 20 people every Sunday, as well as Easter Sunday.  As kids, my siblings and I loved these fun family times with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. As individual families grew and everyone’s life got more complicated maintaining these large gatherings that often was not possible, but the big family still connects for major events.  And, our smaller family of parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and grandchildren on both my side and my husband’s side of the family make our best efforts to connect for the holidays and regularly throughout the year. My husband and I love to host both our families whenever we can. For this year’s Easter dinner we hosted my husband’s family.  The question at this time for hosting is usually “Do we serve turkey or ham?”. We did go with turkey this time and tried to lighten up the side dishes with lighter, spring flavours such as grilled asparagus and roasted cauliflower. (In a future blog post, I’ll feature my Mom’s classic Italian Easter dinner, which is based on foods her Mom used to make at Easter…lots of eggs are involved in that!!)

As you may have read in my January 5, 2018 post, I always cook the turkey a day ahead, so we followed that plan for this dinner too.  It’s a lot of work no matter when you cook the turkey, but doing it a day ahead means you have time and energy to socialize with your guests on the day of your dinner.  And, if you follow the tips on my post, your turkey will be moist and tasty even when cooked a day ahead.

If you are reading this blog, you are likely a person who is interested in food and cooking, so like me, you probably have lots of food at every dinner you host and are just looking for a few tips and ideas to prompt your own creativity for meal preparation.  Even though we did a mostly traditional turkey dinner (turkey, stuffing, gravy), we lightened up the side dishes for spring with grilled asparagus, roasted cauliflower and baked mashed sweet potato with a drop of maple syrup to signal spring flavours.

The ‘bookends’ to our meal were our appetizer plate and a moist, delicious chocolate cake made by my sister-in-law, L.  Dessert is one course of the meal that I can always skip, but I can never resist L’s chocolate cakes! This time she decorated it with gourmet chocolate Easter eggs.  It was a big hit as usual!

Our appetizer plate was fresh with prosciutto, a delicious Chianti salami, sheep and goat’s milk firm cheese, asiago cheese, simple crackers along with multi-grain breadsticks, olives, grapes and dried apricots.  Often, we will roll the prosciutto around the breadsticks, but this time we left them on their own and un-fussy. Whenever we had family get-togethers in the 70’s and 80’s my parents would serve plates like this…they were always tasty and it’s quite amusing to see them being trendy again.  Call it a cold cut platter, call it a charcuterie board….no matter what you call it, good food never goes out of style! I hope you are enjoying some time with your family this spring. Leave a note and share details of your family’s spring festivities! Happy cooking…eat well and be well…