Slow Cooker to the Rescue! Pork Chops with Apple, Potato, and Kale (Gluten Free!)

A slow cooker is a fantastic tool for anyone interested in creating time-saving healthy dishes.  My Mom first bought one in the late 70’s when she went back to work part-time after being home with three kids for many years.  She made a great beef pot roast with this tool and I’m sure she appreciated coming home to a fully cooked, warm, nutritious meal after a busy workday.  As an adult, I did not own a slow cooker until about 12 years ago when I inherited one. Since this appliance takes up valuable kitchen real estate, I thought I’d better figure out more recipes than Mom’s pot roast if it was going to be worth it to keep the slow cooker in my house.

I did figure out a number of recipes to make in the slow cooker and it has become an important tool in our house to help with weekday meal planning.  Many of the published slow cooker recipes call for searing the meat ahead of time and I never did that because I didn’t want to have another pan to clean…it seemed to defeat the purpose of the ease of using a slow cooker.  So, when my slow cooker broke a little more than a year ago, I investigated slow cookers with a sear option…I found this one with a stovetop-safe cooking pot that is very easy to clean…..I totally recommend this unit and would never again buy one without this option.  When I made Mom’s pot roast recipe with the new cooker, the increase in the depth and intensity of the flavour was amazing! 

So, this fall in my quest to create a new recipe for my slow cooker, I came up with this pork chop recipe that was cooked with apples, potatoes, carrots, onions, and kale.  Whenever I use the slow cooker, I always want to make sure that the dish is a balanced meal in itself so that there is nothing else you need to do for that meal. (Of course, adding a salad is always a good plan!)  We loved the flavours in this dish! It was slightly sweet because of the apples, which was a nice departure from my usual savoury cooking. There were four servings in this dish, with leftover veggies and broth. After the four servings were enjoyed, I didn’t want to throw away the remaining broth and veggies, so I pureed them with my hand blender and now had a lovely soup to enjoy for a few lunches!  You have to love it when your efforts limit waste and also provide easy extra meals!  The picture on the left is the pork chop dinner and the picture on the right is the leftover veggies, apples and broth blended into soup.  (If you are not into soup, use 6 pork chops and that would use up all the veggies).

Here’s what it looked like in progress:

Try this recipe out and let me know how you liked it!  Also, I’d love to hear about your favourite slow cooker recipes. Happy cooking friends!

Chicken Piccata Pasta anyone?  Fast and easy…looks fancy!

As a person growing up in an Italian / Irish family, pasta was definitely part of our weekly meals once or twice a week.  Although I loved the sauces and ingredients, as a kid, I did not enjoy pasta itself very much…I know – odd for a kid, and definitely odd for a kid with an Italian-Canadian Mom!  I think it was a texture thing for me…I didn’t like soft foods much. (Rice and mashed potatoes were also in that category for me). Interestingly, my Mom still doesn’t like pasta…she said they ate it so much as kids because money was scarce and they were a very, very large family.  Pasta went a long way towards feeding 12 hungry mouths every night! My Dad became a passionate pasta lover when he joined my Mom’s family, always telling us that he never ate real Italian pasta until my Italian grandmother made it for him.

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As I got older, I did learn to enjoy pasta (and rice and mashed potatoes too!).  When I make pasta for myself and my family and friends, I like to include a number of ingredients and make it colourful.  This light tasting chicken piccata spaghettini is full of flavour and fast and easy to make. I have labeled the recipe as medium difficulty only because if you haven’t made pasta without just pouring tomato or meat sauce over it, this takes a few steps to learn.  Once you’ve done it, you will think it’s quick and easy to make. It’s a dish that will make people think you spent more time in the kitchen than you actually did. Serve it for family or for company. If you have gluten-free diners, use gluten-free pasta and dredge the chicken in seasoned cornstarch instead of flour.  Here’s the recipe…Give it a try and let me know what you think.  

Chicken Piccata Spaghettini with Sundried Tomatoes and Capers

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

This is a fast, light tasting and hearty dish for all seasons!  It’s not hard to make, just takes a few steps and some confidence if you haven’t made pasta without the tomato sauce.  Make it gluten-free by dredging chicken in cornstarch instead of flour and use gluten-free pasta)

Ingredients

  • about 450 grams of spaghettini
  • 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter (for cooking chicken)
  • About ¾ cup chicken broth
  • Splash of white wine (about ⅛ cup)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • About a half cup of sliced sun-dried tomatoes packed in seasoned oil
  • About ¼ cup capers
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions

  1. Boil salted water for pasta in large pot
  2. Slice chicken breasts lengthwise and then in half or thirds if the breast is very large
  3. Place flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper.  Dredge chicken in seasoned flour
  4. Heat butter and olive oil in frying pan until hot
  5. Place chicken in pan and cook until golden brown, then turn over and do the same on the other side.  (Butter and oil together will prevent the chicken from getting too brown)
  6. Remove chicken to a plate and cover
  7. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook until ‘al dente’ (about 5 or 6 minutes)
  8. Add sundried tomatoes and capers to the pan juices and sautee for about 3 minutes while stirring
  9. Add wine, lemon juice, chicken broth and about a tablespoon of the seasoned oil from the sundried tomatoes to the pan.  Stir to combine.
  10. Return the chicken to the pan.  Cover and cook until pasta is done.
  11. Remove pasta from pot.  Reserve about ½ to 1 cup of pasta water
  12. Add pasta and pasta water to pan.  Stir to combine. Cover and cook for another minute or two to combine flavours
  13. Serve in heated bowls sprinkled with parmesan cheese and Italian parsley
  14. Enjoy!  (I didn’t want to end on 13 steps!!)

Tip:  Using pasta water and heated bowls will allow your light sauce to stick to the pasta

recipe by: everydayhomegourmet.blog/  

 

Friday Night Favourite -Quick and Impressive!

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.  

Mussels in tomato sauceAll 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
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print

Mussels in tomato sauce

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  1. Heat oil in large pot and cook onion and garlic for 2 minutes or less
  2. Stir in tomatoes, wine and seasoning and simmer until tomatoes are soft and broken down (about 8 minutes)
  3. Add the mussle and cook, covered, until shells are opened.  Serve in bowl sprinkled with chopped parsley.

 

posted by: everydayhomegourmet.blog/  

 

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!

 

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.

 

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!”