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!

 

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.

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!”

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/