Monday, June 30, 2008

A Quick Picnic

Summer is picnic season and we had our first family picnic last night (at It's Your Festival, a weekend-long Canada Day celebration).

Many of our picnics are spur-of-the-moment affairs, so I like to be able to pull some inexpensive yet tasty treats on short notice.

Here's what was in our cooler yesterday:

Lime and Garlic Chicken

Potato Salad with Bacon and Garlic Scapes (recipe below)

Tossed Green Salad (veggies from our CSA share)

We didn't pack any dessert, since we planned to enjoy our traditional festival chocolate-soft-serve cones. Otherwise, I would have packed some quick homemade bars or cookies. I'm planning to try these Lemon-Cornmeal Cookies from Cooking Light magazine soon; Gingersnaps are another picnic-perfect family favourite (no chocolate chips to melt all over the place on a hot day!)

We usually bring a family-sized thermos jug of lemonade along, but yesterday we just had ice water as the kids had already polished off our lemonade (which reminds me, I need to stock up on lemonade again when it's on sale).

Potato Salad with Bacon and Garlic Scapes
I decided to toss the garlic scapes from this week's CSA share into my potato salad, with delicious results. You could substitute fresh green beans for a similar texture and flavour.
[Sorry no photo - still no digital camera!]

Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6 as a side dish

6-8 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
4 strips regular or turkey bacon
1 bunch garlic scapes, chopped into 1" pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, sliced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp honey mustard
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper


1. Cook potatoes and onion together in boiling water until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes; refill pot with cold water and set aside to let potatoes cool.

2. While potatoes are cooking, cook bacon until crisp; cool and crumble.

3. In same pan used to cook bacon, saute garlic scapes in olive oil until tender-crisp (if you used regular bacon, you may have enough bacon drippings to skip the olive oil).

4. In large mixing bowl, combine bacon, garlic scapes, garlic, green onions, mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper.

5. Drain potatoes thoroughly and add to dressing mixture; stir well to combine. Serve warm or chilled.

Image courtesy of

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

RECIPE: Hummus & Veggie Wraps

These wraps appear regularly on our warm-weather menus. They are much heartier tasting than you might expect. My favourite vegetable combination is included in the recipe, but you can use any seasonal veggies you have on hand. A hearty tossed salad rounds out this meal very nicely!

Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas ( or a19 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained)
2 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced (optional)
2-4 tbsp olive oil

1 medium sized zucchini, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Four 10" flour tortillas (we like whole wheat)


1. In food processor, combine chickpeas, garlic, peanut butter, cumin, lemon juice and parsley. Process until mixture is semi-smooth. With food processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until hummus is desired consistency.

2. In medium frying pan, saute vegetables in olive oil until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. While vegetables are cooking, warm flour tortillas in oven or microwave.

To assemble:
For each wrap, spread 1/3 - 1/2 cup hummus on flour tortilla, then top with sauteed vegetables. Fold in ends and roll together tightly. Slice in half and serve.

I shared this recipe at Tasty Tuesday.

Friday, June 20, 2008

An Early Summer Feast

This week's share of the harvest included asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, lettuce, salad mix, radishes and potatoes.

We had quite the early summer feast for dinner last night:

Turkey Burgers
Baked Potatoes
Sauteed *mushrooms and onions
Moroccan-Inspired *Carrot and *Parsnip Salad (recipe below)

*from our CSA share

Local strawberries with vanilla ice cream
(I was dismayed to see that the local strawberries were priced $1.00 higher than the U.S. imports!! Please buy them anyway!)

I will use the spinach to making more Lemony Chicken and Spinach Pasta - for which my husband will thank me profusely! I think the zucchini may become zucchini bread - or possibly chocolate zucchini cake, depending on how ambitious I feel on the weekend.

Moroccan-Inspired Carrot and Parsnip Salad
This is mildly spiced - if you like it hot, add more paprika and cumin. I used green onions in this dish because I still had plenty on hand from last week's CSA share, but you could use 1/4 of chopped fresh parsley instead.

Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4-6 as a side dish

5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into coins
3 green onions (scallions), chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp orange juice
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tsp honey mustard
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper


1. Cook carrots and parsnips in boiling water until carrots are tender-crisp (don't overcook the carrots - they should still have a bit of "crunch" to them; the parsnips will be a bit softer). Drain.

2. While carrots and parsnips are cooking, combine remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over cooked vegetables and mix well.

3. Chill before serving (tastes best if refrigerated overnight to allow flavours to blend).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

RECIPE: Rhubarb Muffins

Judging by how quickly these are disappearing from my kitchen, this one is a winner! The rhubarb is from our CSA share.

Time: 20 minutes prep
20 minutes baking

Makes 12 muffins


1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups finely chopped rhubarb

1 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon


1. In a medium bowl, combine flours, brown sugar, soda, powder and salt. Mix well.

2. In a separate small bowl, combine egg, vanilla, oil, buttermilk and rhubarb.

3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add rhubarb mixture and gently stir until just moistened.

4. Spoon mixture into greased muffin cups.

5. Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over muffin tops, pressing topping lightly into muffin batter.

6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched.

"Use What You've Got" Tip:
-If you don't have buttermilk on hand, put 1/2 tbsp vinegar in the bottom of your measuring cup, then add regular milk to make 3/4 cup
-I've also used half milk/half plain yogurt or half milk/half sour cream in place of buttermilk with good success (in baked goods)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

RECIPE: Freeform Supper Salad

We had this for dinner last night. This is the perfect summer meal for times when you want to pull together a quick dish that's cool and refreshing (yet still satisfying). There are endless variations on this - use whatever you have on hand!

Time: 20 minutes (quicker if you're using leftover meat)
Serves: variable

Lime and garlic chicken, sliced (or use any cubed/sliced leftover meat)
Salad greens (lettuce, spinach, salad mix)
chopped/sliced vegetables (cucumbers, sweet peppers, carrots, broccoli, etc)
crumbled bacon (about 1 slice per person)
cubed cheese
parmesan cheese
salad dressing of choice

For each serving, arrange salad greens on plate. Sprinkle chopped vegetables, bacon, and cheese cubes over greens. Arrange chicken slices on top. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Drizzle with dressing of choice.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Value of Cooking Creatively

Cooking from scratch is almost always cheaper than eating out (unless you're cooking lobster and filet mignon at home!) But I think the skill that sets the really frugal cook apart from the rest is knowing how to "cook on the fly" and use what they've got on hand. This skill is the difference between always having to run out for one or two missing ingredients and easily substituting with what you've already got. It's also the difference between using up all those little bits and pieces hanging around in the fridge, or letting them all go to waste. Meredith at Like Merchant Ships recently commented on this when she was faced with astronomically priced celery and a desire to make chicken salad. What to do? Get creative!

In order to be really creative in the kitchen, a cook needs to be experienced enough to know what flavours and textures will work together well, and which will yield a less-than-edible result. Starting out with small substitutions and working towards more major ones will allow you to gradually test the waters and learn as you go without wasting too much food in the process.

Last night I was rooting around in the fridge and realized I still had quite a bit of my CSA veggies left from last week (and it was time to pick up more!) So my goal for dinner was to use up the most-likely-to-spoil-soon candidates and still produce something tasty. I had half a bag of spinach and 1/3 bunch fresh basil, as well as a bit of whipping cream lurking in the back of the fridge about to expire. I also had about half a dozen boneless, skinless chicken drumsticks I had bought on sale that I wanted to use up.

A plan started to develop as I surveyed my ingredients. I recalled a dish I had made several years ago from Anne Lindsay's Lighthearted Everyday Cooking that had similar flavours, but used scallops instead of chicken. Quickly rummaging through my cookbook pile, I located the recipe. Yes, it used spinach. I could sub chicken for scallops. The basil would work well with this combination. The original called for cream cheese and chicken broth, neither of which I had on hand (yes, they're both on my Pantry List, but I'm overdue for a grocery shop!) I combined the whipping cream with a bit of coffee cream, and figured that would be a reasonable substitution taste and texture wise since heavy cream will cling to pasta nicely. I decided to add some garlic (if you haven't noticed yet, I can't really live without it!) and more parmesan cheese than originally called for (only 2 tbsp!)

Here's what I came up with:

[My apologies for the rather ghastly photo - I found out my camera batteries were dead when I went to snap a pic. This was the best I could do with my hubby's cell phone camera!]

Lemony Chicken and Spinach Pasta

This ended up being a phenomenal hit with my husband - he gives it his highest rating! In case you're wondering (since there are 4 of us here) I made spaghetti with plain tomato sauce for my older son who is vegetarian (and doesn't like spinach, lol!)
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 3 (could easily be doubled)


1/2 lb spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
6 boneless, skinless chicken drumsticks, chopped into approx. 1/2" pieces
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream (if you don't have quite enough, you can add milk to get the right volume)
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
2 cups shredded spinach
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


1. Cook spaghetti in boiling water until al dente, drain.

2. While spaghetti is cooking, saute onions and garlic in olive oil for 1-2 minutes. Add chicken and cook until no trace of pink remains. Add basil and cook 1 minute longer, then add cream, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes until hot and bubbly.

3. Add spinach and Parmesan. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until spinach begins to wilt. Remove from heat.

4. Toss sauce and pasta together and serve immediately.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cooking to Beat the Summer Heat!

An early heat wave has me shifted right into summer cooking mode (40-degrees-Celsius-with-the-Humidex will do that!)

We cook and eat much differently in the hot summer months than we do the rest of the year, for a few reasons:
-we plan our meals based on locally available produce like our CSA share
-we generally prefer to eat much "lighter" meals in warm weather
-we're too busy enjoying the great weather to come inside and cook
-we desperately want to avoid heating up the kitchen!

The result of all of the above is that we don't eat as many cooked/hot foods as we do the rest of the year. Obviously, barbecuing is a favourite summer cooking method, but tossing steaks (or even burgers) on the BBQ a few nights a week can increase your food bill in a hurry!

My basic strategy is to keep a variety of different salads on hand in the refrigerator, which when served together with a small portion of meat from the BBQ and some homemade bread, will make a satisfying summer meal.

I try to keep the fridge stocked with at least one of each of the following:

-starchy salad (potato, pasta, or rice based)
-green salad (self explanatory I hope!)
-high protein salad (bean, tuna, tofu, egg - although no one likes egg salad around here!)

Many salads fall into more than one category - pasta salad with a peanut sauce dressing or bean and rice salad are both high protein and starchy. There are no hard and fast rules (of course - you know I have no rules, right?) but thinking in these terms helps keep a balanced variety of salads on hand so that it's easy to create a quick meal with a variety of textures and flavours.

Since most of these foods are served cold, it also allows me to do the food preparation during the cooler parts of the day (early morning or late evening) and avoid cooking during the intense afternoon heat.

This basic strategy has worked very well for our family for several years. I will be sharing all my favourite summer salad recipes over the next few weeks!

Friday, June 6, 2008

A New CSA Season Kicks Off!

Picking up the first share of the season always feels like a momentous occasion to me! Every week is a new surprise as I'm never exactly sure what will be waiting in our bin when I arrive.

This is our vegetable booty for the week:

Boston lettuce, spinach, basil, rhubarb, cucumber, green onions, parsnips, bok choi, asparagus and arugula!

The greens and cucumber will all get used up in salads. I will make either muffins or a cake with the rhubarb. I had planned on roasting the parsnips with some other vegetables, but after being unseasonably cool for the past few days it's shot up to 30 degrees Celsius today ("feels like" 38!) Luckily the parsnips will keep just fine until this little heat wave passes by. We had the asparagus stir-fried last night to accompany baked fish and vegetable pilaf.

Garlic - Sesame Asparagus

Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4 (as a side dish)


1 bundle of asparagus
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper


Trim asparagus ends and cut into 1" pieces. In a small frying pan, saute the garlic and sesame oil for 20-30 seconds, then add the asparagus, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender-crisp (5-10 minutes). Serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Good Old-Fashioned Recipe Organization

"Now what the heck did I do with that recipe for Great Aunt Martha's favourite chicken salad?"

If you're anything like me, you probably have tons of recipes stashed away in drawers, folders, books, computer files and assorted random piles. And when the moment of truth comes, you can't quite remember where to find the recipe you so desperately need.

These days, there are a myriad of options for organizing our recipes, both on- and off-line. I've tried a variety of approaches over the years (and as a result, gotten into the mess of having more than one system in place at the same time, leading to even more chaos!)

I've found online options really don't work all that well for me. If I had a laptop on my kitchen counter, maybe this would be a better solution. I don't own a laptop, and even if I did, I don't think I'd feel comfortable having it on the kitchen counter while I was in the middle of cooking up a storm (too much potential for spilling stuff on the computer!)

In the end, I have developed a very simple system that works well for me. I refer to it affectionately as the Big Blue Binder Recipe Management System. The system is divided into two basic components:
1. a large 2" binder full of plastic page protectors that I have divided up into categories (main dishes, salads, desserts, etc)
2. a file folder for each category in my filing cabinet.

As I acquire new recipes I want to try, I add them to the appropriate file folder. Then, when I'm inspired to try out a new main dish or dessert recipe, I rifle through the folder until I find something I want to cook.

Every time I try a new recipe and it's a hit, it goes right into the binder. If it's not worth making again, it gets tossed into the recycling bin.

This works well because every time I find a new recipe I want to try online, I print it off onto a full-size sheet of paper (in a nice large font so it's easy to read when I'm cooking!) If a recipe happens to be on an index card or newspaper clipping, once it's gained "make it again" status, I take a couple of minutes to type it up and print it out.

Having one recipe per page makes it really easy to group similar recipes together (like different types of cheesecake in your dessert section), even when you're constantly adding new material to your binder. It also makes it easy to remove recipes that are no longer of interest! You can also find the recipe you're looking for easily with a quick flip through the appropriate section, since all the titles are at the top of the page.

I've been using this system for a few years now, and it has worked far better than anything else I've ever tried.

So, if you're still struggling to maintain an organized recipe collection, why not give it a shot? It only takes a few minutes to set it up, and once you've got it going, it maintains itself!

Monday, June 2, 2008

RECIPE: Zesty Turkey Burgers

It's barbecue season and that means lots of burgers! If you buy a lot of pre-made patties, it can eat into your food budget in a hurry. This recipe uses only 1/2 lb of ground turkey to make six good-sized, flavourful burgers. You can substitute chicken or beef for the turkey if you want to shake things up.

Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 6


1/2 lb ground turkey
1/3 cup salsa
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 egg
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1/2 - 3/4 cup quick cooking oats

6 hamburger buns (I prefer whole grain ones!)

Condiments as desired


In a medium bowl, combine the turkey, salsa, onion, egg, cumin, salt and pepper. Gradually add oats until the mixture holds together well. Shape into 6 burger patties.

Grill or pan-fry patties until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. Serve on warm buns with your choice of condiments.

These burgers are great served with baked potatoes or oven fries and creamy cucumber salad.
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