I love summer!
I love the blue skies, the sunshine, the warm breezes, and the bird song. I love the lazy days, the play outside, the lack of routines. I don't love heating up the house with cooking, however, so now is the time I start cooking ahead to make summer easier for us at meal times.
I realized today that we're well into summer weather already, and I'm fortunate to have had a jump start in freezer stocking, but it's never too late to start planning and executing some of these tips and tricks for yourself. Here's a short list on ways to get started planning for your own hot-weather meal ideas.
1. Make a list, brainstorming all the foods you like to eat in the summer
2. Separate that list into its cooking needs- grill, slow cooker, stovetop, oven, no cooking, etc.
3. Note what requires cooking, and research if (and how) it can be done ahead of time.
As a family we like to eat a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables, and sandwiches in the summer, but we also enjoy "bowl foods", such as chili and meat sauce and pasta.
Having lean proteins cooked and sliced in our freezer means sandwiches are easy to pull together, and by consciously doubling our chili, meat sauce, casseroles, and meatballs now means there's a supply of meals ready to pull out and reheat. I plan on roasting chicken this week as well as cooking a pork loin in the next week or so in order to put away extra cooked meat for summer. It also makes sense to batch cook rice and quinoa to keep in your freezer so your side dish is ready to serve or turn into something else, such as fried rice, filler for meatloaf, or a salad ingredient.
Recognizing that sometimes summer isn't hot in Alberta, there are also frozen portions of cooked soup ready to reheat on those dreary days or for quick lunches or dinners to serve with salad and sandwiches.
Did this jump start your ideas? I hope you have found some inspiration to keep summer happy and carefree. Cooking doesn't have to stress you out, and I'm happy to offer you custom-built solutions for your situation. Email me here to learn more about my pre-summer cooking mini session.
All the best today, friends!
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Fish Taco Recipe
Cool Summer Meals
Planning Meals in the Heat
A few weeks ago I posted about why I like to use romaine lettuce in a different way than just a salad- and this is true of swiss chard, too. I really enjoy my weekly test kitchen because it challenges me to think about food in a different way than I usually do.
This summer I’ve used swiss chard as a topping for my burgers, in a salad, sliced up and cooked into a Vietnamese Noodle Soup, and now as a rolled appetizer, stuffed with strawberries and fresh cheese, and served with a balsamic reduction for dipping.
I know it may sound complicated to try new things. It can be scary, and maybe (like I used to be) you’re a little bit worried it won’t turn out and you’ll be wasting food by throwing it away.
While that IS a possibility, I would like to pose another perspective: trying something new is never a waste, even if you have to throw it away (and that’s a rare occasion!)
Most of the time the finished outcome will not be so bad it has to be tossed, and consider the alternate outcome- you may discover something new you love!
When testing my swiss chard appetizers, I started small, making just 2- one for my husband to try, and one for me. Both of us enjoyed them, so I plated a few and brought them to a family event so I could test them on other people too.
The overwhelming consensus was “these are really good”. And if they weren’t good? I would have known before I made a bunch and brought them to the party because I started with just 2. A few ingredients and a little time means it's not a big deal if it doesn't work out.
Here are a couple of ways to introduce something new to your cooking repertoire:
Hopefully you’ve got some interesting ideas cooking up in your head now! Enjoy your day, friends.
To know them is to love them.
Not convinced? Let me try.
Aside from the rhyme we learn as children, beans and other legumes are not as well loved in North America as they are in other parts of the world. Legumes make up a large part of diets around the world, from Africa to Israel, and are especially useful in regions where religion or poverty play a role in the kinds of food people eat, such as India.
If you do a quick google search you will find out many reasons why you should or should not eat legumes. I leave the final decision up to you.
In my role as a nutrition coach I stand firmly behind “common sense nutrition”. I think any food in excess is detrimental to your health and well being.
Pulses are part of the legume family. Pulses refer to beans and lentils (the seed part of the plant). Common legumes are alfalfa, soy, and peanuts.
I use both pulses and legumes as a whole often in our cooking. As a family we enjoy meals that are made strictly vegetarian but also enjoy meals where legumes complement traditional meat-based meals. For example, chana masala was my latest test-kitchen dinner for a client, and that’s a vegetarian dinner. My oldest son loved it in spite of it being a new recipe for all of us, and even went for seconds. We also eat chili a couple of times a month that incorporates both beans and meat.
Lentils can be pureed and added as filler to meatballs, meatloaf, or burgers. They add bulk with nutrition so the meat goes further, and they also give an extra boost of fibre and iron. Beans can be added to salads and soups. Roasted beans are a fantastic snack to keep with you to enjoy when you’re on the run and you know you’ll be hungry. They’re packable, require no special care, and a small amount is very satisfying. My roasted bean recipe will be posted on my Facebook page this week on #foodiefriday. Come check it out!
It's almost summer. Eating meals based on legumes and pulses makes sense in the summer because they can require no real effort beyond opening a can, rinsing them, and eating them cold. When cooking a hot meal with them they really only need to be cooked long enough to heat all the way through- much less cooking time than meat.
*Important Note: Beans and legumes usually require soaking, draining, and boiling. Always follow the package instructions or they can be toxic.
One of my final reasons to eat and enjoy this variety in our diet is a financial one. You get amazing nutrition from pulses and legumes at a fraction of the cost of meat. As someone who is the grocery shopper and meal planner for the family, I know I can attest to the cost of meat on the rise. It makes sense to branch out to seek our nutrition from a variety of sources if nothing else then to stretch the grocery budget further.
Fortunately for us, it’s not a hardship to enjoy this branch of the meat and alternates food group. Do you eat legumes and pulses on a regular basis? If not, I encourage you to schedule a few meals this summer that incorporate beans or other pulses into your regular meal.
Stuck for ideas? I’m only a message away.
It's a sandwich for dinner tonight! This weather, while gorgeous, has taken me by surprise this early in the year. Today's high is almost 30*C (close to 85*F), and it's a beautiful night to sit on the soccer field.
I don't know if this kind of sandwich has a different name in another place, but in our house we call it the grilled wrap. It's a large whole grain/whole wheat wrap, stuffed with sweet peppers, leftover cooked meat (tonight we're using some beef or turkey from the freezer), sauteed onions, peppers, and garlic and a bit of sauce and cheese. We're using BBQ sauce with cheddar tonight, but you could also use tzatziki or hummus with feta, caesar salad dressing with parmesan, or hot sauce and monterey jack cheese with jalapenos.
The advantage to this kind of dinner is the speed it's cooked at. Sauteeing takes, at most, 5 minutes. We use the George Foreman Grill to grill it, though the BBQ or a smaller sandwich press works well too. At most, again, 5 minutes. And I can set it up on the deck to cut down on how much heat sets up in the house.
This is a pretty basic recipe, but there will be a printable pdf available tomorrow on my Wednesday giveaway, with all the options listed here, including the exact way I made the sandwich pictured above. Check back on Facebook tomorrow for the like, comment, and share post.
We just passed Victoria Day, the Canadian long weekend in May that typically delineates when it's safe to feel like winter is gone and we can scoot ahead to summer. Spring usually gets lost in the shuffle, here, because it's such a fleeting season for us...most years.
Most years, spring is marked by more winter interspersed with almost summer. Temperatures can drop well below the freezing mark one day, and shoot up to high teens/low twenties (degrees Celsius) the next. Most springs we receive at least one heavy snow fall, and I have had many blisters over the years from cracking and clearing ice on the sidewalk that resulted from repeated snow melt and refreezing.
Most years, a few people succumb to the gardening itch and plant early, only to have their hearts broken by overnight frost. Most years, spring (outdoor) soccer means cheering on my sons through rain/snow/biting wind, battling fierce clouds of mosquitoes, or getting sunburned.
Spring in the Edmonton, Alberta area is like every season rolled into one.
This year, spring started really, really early. I took a walk through the river valley on March 5, and our river was almost completely free of ice and snow. I have never seen that before. We waited for the usual snow storm or blizzard, but it didn't happen.
Combined with a very low snowfall from the previous winter, a significant lack of rain in the region, and significantly above average temperatures, in early May our relative humidity was sitting at just 10%- the same level as the city of Fort McMurray, which has been battling an out-of-control wildfire of epic proportions for the last 4 weeks.
The forecast calls for more rain and thunderstorms today and tomorrow, (the louder and more violent the better, in my books!) and then later in the week a return to sunny summer weather. You'll find me out on the deck reading or in the river valley walking, enjoying every moment of the sunshine and birdsong as possible. It's time to start thinking about foods that scream "spring" or "summer", so we don't have to heat up the house. Here's my shortlist. What's on yours?
Enjoy the rest of your weekend, friends!
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I got to spend the majority of my afternoon yesterday in a parking lot, waiting. Waiting for the police, waiting for the other guy's company to come take pictures, waiting for the tow truck. As you can probably tell, my bumper got torn off the car when the big white truck tried to turn left to exit the parking lot...but my car was in the way.
It could have been worse, so much worse. No one was hurt, the kids and I weren't even in the parking lot at the time, we had a witness who stayed until I got everyone's information, and the other driver called me out after it happened (good thing I have The Meals Maven advertising on my car!). It looks pretty cut and dried. I'm hoping I get my car back by the time yoga starts up in September.
That being said, it threw a loop into my dinner plans. Hooray for leftovers! I was way to sun-stunned to even contemplate cooking when I got home, and it was easy to heat up a bowl of soup for everyone. The leftover soup was destined to become a freezer meal for a future need, but it served a present need instead.
So let's talk about why it's important to cook ahead and keep freezer meals. I'm not exactly a pessimist, but I am a realist. As Robbie Burns said, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" (paraphrased). I love planning, and am not a big fan of surprises, but for all the planning I do, life happens, as it happens for everyone.
Without further ado, here are a few good reasons why it's a great idea to cook ahead and use your leftovers.
Here are a few pointers about stocking your freezer. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, or perhaps hard to start, but if I lived for 12 years without a deep freezer and still managed, so can you.
I hope these ideas will inspire you to get started on making the most of your resources, and enable you to eat more at home, eat less fast food, save more of your food budget, and organize your freezer in a way that suits your needs.
I've got a post coming up pretty soon on healthy lunch box ideas. With the kids heading back to school shortly, and the restrictions placed on what we can pack for them, I think it's a timely post- keep watching for it!
Enjoy the last couple of weeks of summer!
Until next time,
I have a confession to make: I haven't kept up with my meal plan for the week.
It's just too hot! In spite of having central a/c, it feels like our house is taking more and more time to cool off. We ran out of propane, so we couldn't bbq, and that night we ordered dinner out instead. I didn't want to even turn on the stove to play #testkitchen, so my meatless meal went away and we ate cereal and fruit. We finished off our leftover lamb and ate it with fresh vegetables another night, and tonight I'm going to make gyros instead of charcuterie, because I want the cool fresh flavours of tzatziki and fresh tomatoes more than I want meat/cheese/crackers/pickles.
It was really tasty. I guess it wasn't technically a gyro, because I didn't have the meat cooking on a rotating spit for the day, but leftover roast beef worked really well, and everything else tasted delicious too. Best of all, I had the stove top on for maybe 10 minutes- just long enough to soften the peppers, onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Then I turned off the heat and tossed in the meat to warm up a bit, showed my family how delicious tzatziki is.
Well, my first son and husband enjoyed the experience, though my second son wasn't a fan.
But really, I can't take it personally. He almost never is.
I've posted my recipes tonight as well, so you can start making up your own simple meals on these super hot days.
Enjoy the rest of your summer, friends!
Before I tell you how good this feast was, let me link you to the song that won't let me keep me still no matter what state my head is in, and you can listen to it while you read.
To celebrate my mom's birthday last week, I cooked her fish tacos. We also enjoyed fresh watermelon, corn on the cob, and roasted sweet potatoes. Fish tacos are great to eat when it's hot outside. The fish takes very little time to cook on the stove, and the other ingredients are so cool and fresh.
My original recipe calls for fish seasoning. I actually ran out of that, so here's my updated version for you. To assemble the taco, I had the cooked tilapia, canned pineapple (though fresh would be amazing), fresh cilantro, fresh tomatoes, and fresh avocado. We had the choice of coleslaw blend or baby spinach, and included a fresh and slightly spicy yogurt sauce.
The fish was completely thawed and cut into chunks. I mixed everything in with the fish, and then cooked it on the stove in a frying pan, with no extra oil. I used a very large package of fish- the left bowl at the very back of the table is heaped with the cooked fish.
half lime zest and juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp savoury
a shake of chili powder
1 tbsp of olive oil
Greek Yogurt Sauce:
half lime zest and juice
3/4 c. plain greek yogurt (I like kirkland brand- it's not sour)
1/4 tsp chipotle
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 garlic powder
1/4 tsp savoury
1/4 black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Let me know what you think of this! I hope you enjoy the rest of your week.
I can't believe that school starts up again for us in 3 weeks. We've got a pretty spectacular fall planned. This is the first year in the last 12 that I will have no kids underfoot for the whole school day. I hope I take advantage of the alone time to get a lot of stuff done- it's been piling up for 12 years! The challenge will be balance, I just know it.
This week is the beginning of a slightly busier summer than we've had up till now. Both sons have a week for their respective sports camps, and my second son has 2 weeks of swimming lessons. There's haircuts, vision care, and doctors appointments to take care of before the bell rings too. And 40 pencils to sharpen! Seriously, who needs 20 pencils in a school year? I sure didn't think junior high would go through that many. And what is with sharpening pencils, anyway? They are the worst. Am I the only person who can't seem to sharpen them to a nice point without the leads breaking off?
This week's forecast calls for hot and sunny. I can't complain about the weather, though it has been challenging in figuring out how not to heat up the house. I'm waiting for a few cooler days to get my freezer stocked with baking for the fall. As great a shortcut as my baking jars were, when it's time to bake I still have to actually turn on the oven, and I don't want to do that with day after day of heat.
So for your inspiration, here's my meal plan for the week:
Sunday: Slow Cooker Greek Seasoned Lamb with "Roasted" Potatoes (Actifry) and Steamed Broccoli
Monday: Meatless Spaghetti Pie (stovetop)
Tuesday: BBQ'd salmon and asparagus
Wednesday: Sweet Thai Chili Pork Wraps
Friday: Seafood Chowder (the high this day is 23*C, as opposed to 29/30)
What does the end of your summer look like? Are you still in high gear and living the dream, or are you winding things up too?
All the best to you today, friends,
We just got home and settled from our camping trip. We had a great time, though we got rained out before we really got tired of being gone. My second son was so devastated when we decided to leave, "But mom, we were just getting started!". Luckily we had a few really nice days with a couple of beach trips, and I really enjoyed everyone being unplugged from everything. Both boys happily read books, drew pictures, went for walks, played in playgrounds, and went swimming in Buffalo Lake. Even better, my first son was exhausted and fell asleep instantly every night. My second son was way too excited to be away from home and was up later than I wanted to be!
I loved my camp kitchen set up. It's amazing how such simple things can be so useful and work just as well. Everything eaten outdoors tastes better!
Tonight was a seriously quick meal. From stove to table in about 25 minutes, and it tasted amazing. Even my picky second son was happy to eat his dinner, though he's decided that rice isn't something he likes anymore. I played with a #testkitchen idea I had when camping. I mixed up a small bowl of glaze that I spooned directly on the salmon when it went in my pan. It carmelized beautifully and kept the salmon moist and flavourful.
To make this as quick as possible, start your rice cooking while you mix up your marinade. Once it comes to a boil, start your salmon cooking. Towards the end of the salmon's time, cook your frozen vegetables- I used the microwave- and get out your fresh vegetables.
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1.5 tsp molasses
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
a couple of shakes of Worcestershire sauce
Mix up this glaze. Cook your salmon portion on medium heat, starting with skin side down. Spoon glaze on salmon as it begins to cook. Flip over after about 10 minutes, and cook on the other side for about another 10 minutes. As with all fish, cook until it flakes easily and falls apart when you try to flip it. My rice was done cooking not long before the salmon, so I turned off the heat and it stayed hot until dinner. I sprinkled a bit of salt across the top of the salmon just before serving.
I hope you enjoy this as much as we did! I'm sad there weren't any leftovers.