No Reservation for Mother’s Day?  No Problem! Use 5 ingredients to Make this Fancy and Easy Dish in a Flash!

It’s certainly nice to go out to restaurants to celebrate special occasions, but when those special occasions are observed by many people at the same time like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc., perhaps a restaurant is not the best choice.  On those special days, restaurants can be overly busy and sometimes restrict your time there and often have reduced menus, and even increased prices. And, maybe you are on a bit of a tight budget at this time of year and still want to do something special for Mother’s Day.  So, why not try making a special brunch at home for your Mom or your spouse? If it sounds daunting, please don’t stop reading because I have a simple idea for you that you can put together very quickly with ingredients you probably already have on hand.

Also, this is a very attractive, tasty and healthy dish.  And, although the Moms in your life might appreciate a special meal and some extra attention, they may also be concerned with health and calories and the large portions you often get in restaurants.  So, these Mediterranean Scrambled Eggs are a great alternative. They are fancy enough for special occasions and quick and easy enough for any weekend meal. (I often make these for myself!!)

In just a few minutes, you can turn this…..Scrambled eggs with ham, tomato, greens, kalmata olives ingredients Aug 13, 2017

 

 

Into this….Scrambled eggs with ham, tomato, greens, kalmata olives end product Aug 13, 2017

 

And you will have made the ‘everyday’ into ‘gourmet’.  The “oohs and aahs” are likely to follow!

Here is what you need:

  • Eggs
  • Ham
  • Olives
  • Fresh greens or spinach
  • Grape or Cherry tomatoes

 

Here’s what to do:

  • Melt about 1 tbsp butter in a medium frying pan
  • Scramble 2 eggs per person in a bowl
  • Add chopped ham, olives (whole or sliced lengthwise), coarsely chopped spinach or greens, grape tomatoes (sliced lengthwise) to scrambled eggs, along with a little salt and pepper
  • Gently turn and pull the egg mixture across the pan until soft curds form and eggs are cooked to your liking

 

Serve with:

  • Buttered toast, jam or marmalade on the side
  • Sliced fruit, or a simple yogurt parfait in a small clear dish or glass. (See picture)

    IMG-4341
    Plain yogurt, cinnamon, honey and berries in a simple glass make a lovely parfait
  • Mimosa or mix orange juice and sparkling water for a non-alcoholic version
  • Coffee or tea in her favourite mug or pretty teacup

 

 

Options for Extras:

  • Set a special table using a table cloth, pretty napkin, and a simple flower arrangement or single flower in a bud vase
  • Serve on a tray for breakfast in bed with a pretty napkin and single flower in a bud vase
  • Have her favourite music playing in the background

 

Unlike many fancy dishes you might find when searching for Mother’s Day treats, this one is low prep, quick to make, quick to clean-up, as well as nutritious, filling, and beautiful!  Give it a try and turn the everyday into gourmet. Your Mom or spouse is sure to enjoy it your delicious food and the quiet time at home! Let me know how it goes…Happy Cooking, friends!

Baked Ham – A Low-Fuss Dinner Roast That Gives Busy Home Cooks Delicious Leftovers Throughout The Week!

Baked Ham was a meal we frequently had on Sundays at my Irish grandparents’ house.  It was always delicious and served with Nanny’s tasty creamy coleslaw. (Although I typically prefer coleslaw with oil and vinegar, my Nanny’s creamy coleslaw was a delicious treat!)  My Mom also made baked ham for us from time to time and she baked it with a mustard / brown sugar glaze and pineapple slices attached. As kids, we all sure loved those pineapple slices!!

For me, (and probably for lots of people), food definitely generates memories, feelings and notions of family history.  As I wrote in a previous post, when I started to do my own cooking, I concentrated on making dishes that my mother and grandmothers did not make.  So baked ham was not something I made. However, as my grandmothers left this world and I later moved hours away from the family, I was not close enough to benefit from Mom’s home cooking on a regular basis, so I’d try a few of Mom’s classics.  Cooking them for only two people was not always satisfying, so I left the baked ham out for many years – and it was certainly not a dish that was ‘en vogue’ for young home cooks at the time.

This past New Year’s Day, I was looking for a less fussy option for an intimate family dinner that would be hearty, comforting and would not keep me tied to the kitchen.  So, I decided to resurrect the baked ham idea. Friends had talked about spiral ham for years. I had never done one, so I thought it was a good time to try it. The spiral ham made me fall in love with baked ham all over again!  I did the ham with Mom’s signature pineapple slices and served it with parboiled potatoes that I finished up by roasting in the oven, along with sauteed Brussels sprouts and carrots. It was a big hit and we had tons of leftovers, which made it an economical meal.  And, it was certainly a time saver because it gave us other dinners through the week, and was added to breakfasts and also generated a delicious pea soup! Baked ham is a low-fuss dinner to make because it’s already cooked and just needs to be reheated – no need for a meat thermometer and no concerns about cooking it to the correct doneness!

You can cook and prepare the Brussels Sprouts ahead of time and simply reheat them a few minutes before dinner is served.  Prepare the potatoes and ham following the instructions below and place both dishes in the oven about 45 minutes before you plan to serve dinner.

Here’s what I did to create this delicious and low-fuss dinner:

 

 

 

Potatoes:

 

  1. Peel potatoes and parboil them for about 10 minutes until slightly fork tender.  You can leave the skin on if you prefer
  2. Drain and place them in a baking dish.  Coat with ⅛ to ¼ cup pineapple juice, a splash of olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper
  3. Place in oven with the ham for 30 to 40 minutes.  (I like doing this to crisp up the outside of the potatoes, as opposed to simply boiled potatoes)

 

fullsizeoutput_4b5Ham:

  1. Make a paste of Dijon mustard and brown sugar and coat the top and sides of the ham with it
  2. Attach canned pineapple slices all over the ham with toothpicks
  3. Pour the pineapple juice from the can into the bottom of the roasting pan
  4. Place the ham on a rack in the roaster and heat at 325 degrees until hot (likely 30 to 45 minutes depending on size) 
  5. Reserve the sauce at the bottom of the roaster and serve in a gravy boat

 

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts and Carrots

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  1. Wash Brussels sprouts and remove ends with a knife.  Slice Brussels sprouts lengthwise. Wash and scrub large carrots and slice into 1-inch pieces.
  2. Heat about 3 tbsp olive oil in a pan.  Toss in Brussels sprouts and carrots and stir to coat
  3. Add a little salt and pepper
  4. Cook on medium heat until Brussels sprouts are bright green and fork tender (usually not more than 8 minutes).  If the pan is drying up, add a splash of water rather than olive oil to continue cooking. You can also cover with a lid in the last few minutes to speed up cooking time.  **Suggestion: If you are not eating them right away, undercook them slightly and they will finish cooking as you reheat them.
  5. Reheat when ready to serve

 

Ideas for Leftover Ham

You can always have the same meal again in a few nights, but here are a few other things you can do with the ham:

  • Sandwiches for lunch (of course!) – the spiral ham is already nicely sliced so just bag up those slices and freeze in individual portions for easy sandwiches throughout the week
  • Chop the ham and any leftover potatoes, Brussels sprouts and carrots.  Create a frittata by adding 6 eggs, scrambled to the chopped ham and cook in a medium heat pan on both sides.  You may also transfer to the oven to evenly cook the middle. Serve with a salad for a quick and delicious weeknight meal
  • Add the chopped ham to your scrambled eggs for what is known in our family as a “ham quickie”….a blast from our past!
  • Add the chopped ham to your weekend omelette
  • Make a ham, onion and vegetable quiche.  (Asparagus would be a great addition at this time of year!).  Maybe try a cauliflower crust to make it gluten-free.  Serve with a salad and enjoy it for lunch or dinner
  • Save the hambone and make delicious pea soup.  Look for that recipe in an upcoming blog!

So, if you want a homey dinner without a big fuss, give this all a try and you may fall in love again with baked ham as I have recently!

Enjoy, and feel free to drop me a note to share your tips or let me know how you liked mine!

Happy Cooking friends, and Happy Easter!

Veggie and Meat Fondue delivers a low prep and delicious dinner!

The last weekend of the holiday season is here.  Kids will be back to school on Monday and pretty much all operations return to regular schedules.  Perhaps you have one last weekend of hosting a dinner and are looking for something a little lighter than you have been eating over these past two weeks.  Why not try a fondue? I don’t do fondues often, but when I do, I’m reminded of how easy they are to prepare and how different and fun they are to enjoy. Guests can cook their own food at their own pace and enjoy the feeling of controlling how much they eat.  It’s naturally gluten-free for those guests who require that type of meal.  And, after this season of eating, you and your guests might find this a refreshing change.

Our parents introduced us to fondue in the 70’s.  It was quite a trend then (especially in Montreal where my family grew up) and I think my Mom was interested in it because it seemed like easier prep and she was always looking for fresh ideas to get us to eat a variety of foods.  She did chunks of chicken and beef cooked in peanut oil, served with rice and salad. We always had some dipping sauce for the meat. We liked it a lot, although my Dad was a bit impatient with it and always wanted multiple forks to use so he didn’t have to wait as long to eat!!  We used to tease him about that!

In the 80’s, our parents introduced us to Chinese Fondue.  This is one where you have paper thin slices of beef that you roll onto your fondue fork and cook in a delicious broth.  You also cook vegetables in this broth. We grew to love this version because it seemed less stressful than cooking with the hot oil and also you got to incorporate lots of veggies in the dinner.  We still served it with rice and salad and dipping sauces. Cooked shrimp that are warmed up in the broth can also be added. Once you are done with all the cooking, the broth will have great flavour.  So, crack a fresh egg in it and whisk it up and then you can serve little bowls of egg drop soup at the end of the meal. It’s so tasty, but don’t forget to let everyone know you are doing this so they save some room to enjoy it!

When I was in university, friends were also into this dinner.  It was a great dinner to serve because it wasn’t all that expensive and you didn’t need any cooking skills!  One of the things that can happen is that the items fall off your fork and into the broth. No worries, there’s a tool for that!  Keep one of these small basket tools handy and you’ll rescue the items quickly and easily. Most kitchen stores would have them.unnamed

 

(Or if you are like one of my university friends, turn it into a game and if you lose what’s on your fork, you have to drink the contents of your glass!!  He thought that was funny back in the 80’s, but of course, only a handful of people were that adventurous!!)

 

 

Truthfully, I’ve always wondered whether this fondue is really Chinese, or was just a marketing thing back then.  So, when my husband and I decided that’s what we’d do for New Year’s Eve this year, I took to the internet to see if Chinese Fondue was a real thing…I looked it up and found that it is also referred to as Chinese Hot Pot cooking.  In Montreal, this meat is readily available in grocery stores in the frozen section and at the butcher counter. We try to bring some home when we visit family because it’s not readily available at our grocery stores where we live. You can get it, but need to ask the butcher to pre-order it.  That’s because they freeze it slightly to get it sliced very thinly. And, because it’s a specialty item, it’s more expensive than I’m used to paying in Montreal. So, for our New Year’s Eve fondue this year, we substituted stir-fry strips and it worked well too.

Here’s what you need to do to put together the fondue dinner:

  1. Heat up about 2 litres of good quality chicken broth on the stove.  Transfer to your fondue pot and light the flame beneath your pot. (You can make your own broth or use best quality low salt broth available at your grocery store).  Follow directions and cautions on your fondue pot for using fuel correctly
  2. Cut vegetables in large enough pieces to stay on the fondue fork.  I use mushrooms, peppers, and broccoli. (Cauliflower and Brussel sprouts would also work)
  3. Arrange meat and vegetables on a platter.  (I also add large cooked shrimp that can be heated up in the pot). Budget about a half pound of meat per person and 3 or 4 shrimp each, depending on the size of shrimp.  (Some will eat less, and some more but these amounts will ensure you don’t run short!)
  4. Serve with dipping sauces:  Two favourites are two parts steak or BBQ sauce with 1 part mayonnaise and a teaspoon of honey, and cocktail sauce if you are having shrimp.  Be creative with your sauces and make up your own recipe…we also like Asian sesame, ginger or peanut sauces…use spicy sauces if you like it hot
  5. Prepare your favourite rice and salad to serve with the meal, and perhaps some fresh bread (regular or gluten-free)
  6. At the end of the meal, crack an egg in the pot.  Whisk for 1 minute and serve small bowls of deliciously flavoured soup, thanks to all the meat and veggie cooking!

 

And for dessert???  Chocolate fondue, of course!  (That may be a future post!)

Preparation and clean-up are a breeze for this meal, so relax and enjoy!  And, if you’ve got leftovers, just turn it into a stir-fry for the next day!  Drop me a note to let me know how you enjoyed it!

 

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.

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…