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!

 

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!”

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!”

Soup for Cold Days – Part 2

In last week’s blog, I talked about the glories of soup on a cold day.  February is a great month to focus on soup!  Maybe you’ve already tried the Hearty Tomato and Grain Soup recipe I posted.  I hope you enjoyed it!  One of my favourite soups was always my Mom’s homemade Chicken or Turkey soup.  She always made her own broth and it was so delicious.  I always try to make some time to make a broth with the carcass of a chicken or turkey I’ve roasted.  It’s not hard to do, but you do need to have about an hour to monitor the simmering pot.  For me, this is also one of those aromas that creates the comfort of home.  Even if I don’t have a plan for the broth right away, I make it and freeze it to use at a later date.  I find it interesting that ‘bone broth’ is such a trending phrase now because my Mom’s generation and many of us have been doing this for decades!  Goodness is always in fashion and doesn’t need to be a trend!

As I said last week, prepared and condensed soups you buy in grocery stores can be tasty, but read the labels.  There are many things listed on those labels that should make you think before using this food as a regular part of your weekly meals.  Focus on eliminating salt and additives in your diet little by little and your palate will adjust to healthy food that is tasty too!

This week’s soup, pictured below, was made using the broth I made from the turkey we roasted at Christmas.  There are no big secrets to making delicious, healthy broth from chicken, turkey or beef bones that you have collected after a lovely roast.  Here is the recipe for delicious, healthy broth that will turn into a lovely soup or stew: Continue reading “Soup for Cold Days – Part 2”

Cold days call for soup!

I love soups, especially in this cold, wintery weather.  I love how they warm my tummy on cold days and give a sense of comfort when we are feeling unwell.  There are many options for prepared soups, from simple, old-fashioned condensed canned soup to the more gourmet fully prepared type in today’s grocery stores.  These products can be tasty, but read the labels!  Most are quite high in salt, and other things that are best not to put into your body on a regular basis.  I love making soups at home.  These healthy alternatives fill your body with the goodness of a number of food groups and nutrients at once, and if you keep the recipe fairly simple, it doesn’t take much time at all.  If you make a big pot, you can have it for more than a few meals.  Soups are also something you can involve kids in making by having them collect all the ingredients for you and add to the pot, or by chopping the vegetables if they are old enough to handle a knife.  While the soup cooks, your house will be filled with that great aroma that brings a sense of home to everyone.  If you have been in the habit of eating prepared or store-bought soups for a while, your palate might take a little adjusting to enjoying your food with less salt, but in no time, you will prefer the taste of your own creations!  Stick with it, and you will do yourself a lot of good by reducing your intake of salt and additives, no matter what your age!  

I have been making soups for many years and really love them.  Today’s recipe is one I found last winter and it couldn’t be easier!  It’s also hearty enough to be a full meal, if you like.  And, it’s gluten-free and can be vegetarian if you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and cooked chicken.  So it can be a meatless crowd pleaser for a skating party, Grey Cup party, Super Bowl party, your staff soup day at work, or the differing dietary needs of your family and friends.

Hearty Tomato and Grain Soup

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: very easy
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Hearty Tomato Grain Soup

I found this recipe on the package of PC Blue Menu Soup Mix in the winter of 2017 and I could not believe how easy and tasty it was!  I also add chopped carrots and celery in the last 15 minutes of cooking, and if I have some cooked chicken bits in the freezer that I saved from my last roast chicken, I add that too.  But the recipe is very delicious on it’s own, so go ahead and enjoy this easy, hearty dish!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mixed grains/legumes (brown rice, barley, split peas, lentils)
  • 1 – 20 ounce can diced tomatoes  (I prefer the no salt version)
  • 1 litre (4 cups) low salt chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • Half to one tbsp Olive Oil
  • ¾ cup chopped carrots (optional)
  • ¾ cup chopped celery (optional)
  • ¼ cup cooked chicken shredded or finely chopped (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in pot; add chopped onion and cook until fragrant and translucent
  2. Add the mixed grains/legumes
  3. Add the can tomatoes
  4. Add chicken broth
  5. Add water
  6. Bring to a boil
  7. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 60 to 80 minutes.  Grains should be tender, but not too soft
  8. Optional:  In the last 15 minutes of cooking add chopped carrots, celery chicken, or whatever vegetables you prefer!                

posted by: everydayhomegourmet.blog/