Summer cook ahead #3 – Tri-colour Pasta Salad

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!  The pasta salad recipe I 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.

Pasta Salad (2)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 recipe tab for full instructions. If you create another version, I’d love to hear about it! Happy cooking, friends!

 

Easy No-bake Ice Cream Cake…a Summer Favourite

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.  

Happy ‘baking’….Happy Summer!

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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.

 

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/