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.
When I was young, I was not a pasta fan, which is not typical for kids, and certainly not for kids of Italian backgrounds! I think it was the soft texture that didn’t agree with me at that time. There were lots of soft foods I did not like. I loved all the sauces my Mom and grandmother made and would enjoy them with crusty bread and their wonderful salads. When I started to do some of my own cooking in my late teens, I knew very well that most people loved pasta and I wanted to like it too, so I began adding lots of crunchy veggies to my dishes to help me overcome my texture issues. After all, pasta is available in many shapes and colours and is a versatile and affordable food, so I knew I needed to like it! Thepasta salad recipeI developed became a very popular dish at my parties, and a number of my family members now make that salad regularly too. My Mom and grandmother used to call it Macaroni Salad…in fact, I think we referred to most pasta as macaroni in those days. I remember my grandmother asking, “What kind of macaroni do you want?”.
I started making my pasta salad recipe for parties and get-togethers, but for many years now, I‘ve been including pasta salad in my rotation of summer cook ahead salads. (Check out previous posts for other summer cook ahead dishes and tips). This Tri-Colour Pasta Salad a great side dish with lots of crunchy vegetables in it and if you top it with grilled chicken or other grilled meat or fish, it can be a complete meal too. For vegetarians or vegans, you can use chickpeas or other beans and legumes as the protein. I like to use 3 coloured fusilli for this dish, but you can use any pasta you like. For those who require gluten-free dishes, there are many good gluten-free pasta options available as well.
My dressing uses olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Cook the pasta according to directions for ‘al dente’. When the pasta is still quite hot add the dressing. This will allow the pasta to fully absorb the dressing, increasing the flavour of the dish and you won’t have to adjust the seasonings before serving. Thanks again to our local chef friend, Tim C. for that tip years ago! It has improved all my summer side salads immensely! I used to find it so frustrating to make the potato, rice or pasta salad that tasted great when I first made it, only to find when I went to serve it a few hours later, it tasted like it didn’t have enough dressing, so I’d add more. Thanks to Tim’s direction, I never have to adjust the seasonings before serving. I love that!
As far as vegetables go, I steam broccoli for 2 minutes leaving it a bright green. I used to include those miniature canned corn cobs too, which people liked, but I haven’t included those for a few years now, mostly because it’s something that I only used in this dish and I didn’t regularly stock it in my pantry. (As time has passed, I prefer to keep my pantry stocked with a wide variety of ingredients that I use for multiple dishes. It makes things so much easier! Hmmm…sounds like an idea for another blog post!). I also like to use green onions, red and green peppers, artichoke hearts, and sliced olives. Of course, you can use whatever vegetables you like to make this your own. But finishing with fresh basil is a must! I hope you enjoy this versatile dish as much as my family and I do. Head on over to the recipetab for full instructions. If you create another version, I’d love to hear about it! Happy cooking, friends!
For most of us summer brings the feeling of a more relaxed pace, probably because everything is a little easier – getting out the door with less clothing, getting around our towns and cities with less traffic and dramatic weather, perhaps less routine since kids are out of school and those around us take vacations or staycations at this time of year. Many people are more visibly relaxed in the summer. I know I am! It’s always been my favourite time of year. Maybe it’s the ease of getting outdoors daily and the calming effect that nature brings whether you are at a park, cottage, an ocean, or in your own backyard oasis. Our get-togethers and entertaining are usually more relaxed in the summer, and more frequent!
Although many of us entertain more in the summer months, I know we don’t want to spend more hours in the kitchen! So, my last few posts have contained side dish ideas to help stay ahead of the game in summer. You might notice that I do not post about desserts very often. The main reason is that I am not a dessert lover, so it’s not really a focus for me. But of course, I always provide dessert when I am entertaining. I used to make lovely cakes, tarts, and pies when I had people over, which of course meant spending lots of time in the kitchen! So, for many years now, I have opted for satisfying and beautiful no-bake options…(I guess that can be another series of blog posts at some point!!).
I received this wonderful recipe for a very easy ice cream cake from ‘H’, one of my former colleagues. The first time she made it for our staff, everyone raved about it. And when she shared how easy it was to make, we all begged for the recipe. I have now been making this cake a few times every summer, and it’s a hit with all ages – every time! The cake is made with store-bought ice cream sandwiches, Cool Whip, and caramel sauce. Only 3 ingredients! The hardest thing about this cake is unwrapping the ice cream sandwiches! :>))
You can make this cake in any size you like. I have done a small version in an 8” x 8” pan and a large one in a 10” x 15” pan. When making the small cake, I’ve used about 18 mini ice cream sandwiches, and the large one took about 20 regular size sandwiches. Of course, you could do the small one with regular sized sandwiches too and would simply need to cut them to fit.
After you’ve unwrapped the sandwiches, cover the pan with one layer of sandwiches. You may need to cut some to fit your pan. Next, pour caramel ice cream sundae sauce over the sandwiches:
Spread half a large tub of Cool Whip over top of the caramel sauce. (If you are making a smaller version, you’ll use less). Repeat another layer with the sandwiches, caramel sauce, and Cool Whip. I finish off with vertical streams of caramel sauce and then use my knife to create a cross pattern similar to the pattern of a Mille Feuille pastry. As you’ll see mine is not perfect, but the overall effect is quite nice. I try to make it prettier each time! My good friend, S, shared that you can do this with a toothpick also. I will try that next time, as I’ve found I go a little too deep with the knife, at times.
I try to use natural ingredients whenever I can in my recipes, so this year I used real whipped cream instead of Cool Whip. Upon eating the cake, I noticed that the whipped cream tasted a little icier than the Cool Whip, but it still worked and I felt better about having something less processed in there. Of course, whipping the cream adds another step also, so you’d need some extra time for that.
There are many variations you can try with this cake:
Make it one layer if your pan is shallow
Use chocolate sauce instead of caramel sauce
Use caramel on one layer, and chocolate on the other
Add sliced bananas to the middle layer
Use blended mixed berries instead of the sundae sauce – they can be fresh or frozen
All in all, this is a definite crowd pleaser that I make again and again. You can make this anytime and then just pull it out of the freezer ten minutes before you need it. You can even use small foil takeout containers to make individual servings! The possibilities are endless for this cake and I’m so grateful to ‘H’ for sharing this recipe! Take this to your next BBQ and listen for the rave reviews! I’d love to hear which version you choose…Go to the recipe page to get instructions for Easy Ice Cream Cake.
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.
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.
Put rice and water in a pot – cover and bring to a boil
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)
While rice is cooking, chop the vegetables and parsley and set aside
While rice is still warm to hot, add approximately 2 parts olive oil to one part white wine vinegar and salt and pepper.
Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired
Once rice is cool, add vegetables and parsley
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