Company’s Coming! 10 No-Bake Dessert Ideas for Busy Home Cooks

When I first started having dinner parties for friends as a young adult, I really wanted everything to be homemade.  After all, that’s what my Mom always did, so why wouldn’t I do that too?  I always made a plan for the dinner ahead of time, writing down what I was going to make and always starting the prep with dishes that took the longest to make.  That was usually the dessert.  So, I would take a few hours early in the morning or the night before the dinner to make one of Mom’s famous desserts or to make a new recipe I found.  Once the dessert was done, I’d start on the rest of the meal prep.  It was many hours of cooking and preparing and it was always well received, so I enjoyed doing it.

As years went on and life got more complicated, there was a need to make some changes.  I still wanted to be a great host and offer my guests an excellent meal, but I needed to streamline things to make it sustainable.  All these years and hundreds of dinners later, I have developed systems that are different from those early years, and certainly just as good!  (It helps that my husband is an eager and capable sous chef!) . I should mention that I’d rather eat savory food than sweets, but I know that most people like to end the meal with something sweet, so I am happy to provide that!

I know that there are many wonderful store-bought cakes and desserts available for us these days and I do use those occasionally and try to add my own spin when serving them.  As a diner myself, I get a bit overwhelmed when I’m served a giant piece of cake on a plate.  I much prefer smaller bites of things to choose from, which makes me think that there are probably other people who feel this way too.  So here are a few suggestions I have for no-bake desserts that can satisfy the sweet tooth and avoid overwhelming the meal.

  1. Always have some gourmet chocolates on hand (preferably individually wrapped so you can put them in a lovely bowl on the table)
  2. Have some small, gourmet cookies on hand.  Served on a plate beside the bowl of chocolates, they can be a satisfying, last minute dessert when people pop inIMG-1951
  3. Keep some frozen mini eclairs or cream puffs on hand.  Serve them on a plate with berries and drizzle them with caramel or chocolate sauce for a visually pleasing and satisfyingly sweet end to the meal
  4. Hollow the core out of apples (one per person).  Fill and drizzle them with a mixture of raisins, nuts, brown sugar, and melted butter.  (Add a little rum, if you like!)  Bake for about an hour and serve warm, with or without whipped cream on the side.  (Yes, I realize I said this post was “no bake” – however, I consider this no-bake because there is no measuring of ingredients and cleaning of extra bowls – just throw it in the oven).
  5. Remember, yogurt and berries can be a dessert.  I put this one together on a day when we were in a vacation rental and had limited availability of ingredients and kitchenware.   So, I used what was on hand… non-fat Greek yogurt, honey, cinnamon, and berries.  I used the nicest glasses that were in the kitchen and used them to serve individual portions.  As a bonus, this is also a gluten-free dessert! Next time, I would add a fancy cookie to this (gluten-free if needed!)
  6. If you have a favourite cake recipe, bake it in a small loaf pan baking tin and then you can ice and freeze the individual loaves to slice later.  Serve the slices on a beautiful platter and have guests help themselves to as much or as little as they like.  I did this with my Mom’s carrot cake recipe and it was a big hit.  You can also serve a fruit and nut platter with this.  In these times, so many people are trying to eat healthier and limit sugar, so giving them an option to have just a few bites of something sweet can satisfy the craving and be very much appreciated.
  7. Sliced bananas with brown sugar and orange liqueur sauce on pound cake.  Make the sauce ahead by melting butter and brown sugar, then add a few slices of your favourite liqueur.  Set aside to heat up just before serving.  Add sliced bananas and serve on a slice of pound cake or scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt. (Gluten free without the cake)
  8. Canned (or fresh) peach halves, served with yogurt flavoured with honey and cinnamon, nuts and caramel drizzle in the space where the pit would be.  (I got this idea from The Canadian Living Rush Hour Cookbook many years ago).  It’s a light and fresh tasting sweet treat – also gluten-free
  9. No Bake Ice Cream Cake is a summer favourite in my house.  Only 3 ingredients and it looks so fancy.  You can make it ahead – big or small – and keep it in the freezer for whenever you need it.  Go to recipes and scroll down to get the instructions
  10. Grilled peaches served with frozen yogurt are great in the summer.  You can grill the peaches before the guests arrive and set aside for later.  Serve at room temperature or heat them in the oven for a few minutes.  Add some frozen vanilla yogurt, and a few mint leaves and you have a sweet, fancy plate that didn’t require hours of baking and clean up.  If you’ve got some chocolate or caramel sauce, give it a little drizzle.  This is another gluten-free treat.

I hope these ideas help you create a delicious treat at the end of your meal with little fuss and preparation.  As always, drop me a note to let me know how you like these ideas and please share any that you have that work for you.

Happy cooking, friends!

As Promised…Mom’s Pea Soup Recipe

If you’ve read the last post, I promised to share my Mom’s recipe for pea soup.  It takes a little time, but is well worth the effort!  Here it is:

Pea Soup

  • Servings: 8 to 10
  • Difficulty: easy
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Don’t be put off by the cooking time…this is passive cooking time so you won’t be working the whole time, just monitoring the pot!  You can make the ham broth one day and finish the soup the next day if time is an issue. This soup is a delicious way to make use of your leftover ham and get all the goodness and nutrients out of that ham bone from your baked ham family dinner.

Ingredients

  • 450 to 600 grams of whole yellow peas or split yellow peas
  • Ham bone
  • Diced ham (pulled from the bone of your baked ham)
  • 6 to 8 litres cold water
  • 1 cooking onion (optional)
  • 2 large carrots (optional)
  • 1 large celery stalk with leaves (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 10 whole peppercorns (optional)

Directions

  1. Soak peas overnight in cold water
  2. Place ham bone in a large stock pot and fill with cold water (about 6 to 8 litres)
  3. Optional:  add cooking onion, one carrot, celery stalk, bay leaf, peppercorns to pot
  4. Simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours
  5. Remove ham bone (and all items from step 3, if using).  Let broth cool and place in fridge overnight
  6. Remove broth from fridge and skim off and discard any fat that has formed on the top
  7. Heat broth.  Drain peas and add to the hot broth.  Cook for about 1 hour or until peas have softened and broken down slightly
  8. Dice one large carrot in small pieces and add to soup in the last 15 minutes of cooking, along with diced ham

 

Tips:  This should be a fairly thick soup, (like a potage) but if you find the soup is too thick for your liking, add a little water or broth to reach your desired consistency

 

recipe by: everydayhomegourmet.blog/  

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!

 

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
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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!