Prepare fast and fresh meals, just in time for spring

May long weekend marks the unofficial beginning of cottage season. We are moving from spring into summer. It’s OK to plant the garden, put out our bedding plants and open the pool.

The May long weekend is recognized as a celebration of the Queen’s birthday. Although our reigning queen’s birthday is in June, it is the celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday that brought about this holiday.

In 1845, only eight years after Queen Victoria acceded to the throne, Canada officially recognized May 24, her birthday, as a holiday. After her death in 1901, the Parliament of Canada made it a legal holiday.

Governor General Vincent Massey gave royal assent in 1957 to celebrating the Queen’s birthday on the first Monday immediately preceding May 25 regardless of the actual birth date of the reigning monarch.

Today, it is more of an unofficial start to summer than a birthday celebration.

My spring into summer ritual is a thorough cleaning of my kitchen. I go through every cupboard and drawer. I check expiry dates on canned goods and jars in the refrigerator. I discard old spices and dried peas and beans (they don’t break down as well in cooking).

Wild foraged morels and fiddleheads are in season now. The earliest garden veggies, rhubarb, asparagus and lettuces, will be ready soon, if not already.

This time of year, I start looking for ways to spend less time in the kitchen. Here are a few ideas for easy summer meals.

Sheet pan lemon butter salmon dinner

A sheet pan meal uses a sheet pan. That’s it. No other pots and pans. The clean-up is easy.

One of my Facebook readers shares her favourite sheet pan dinner: skin-on chicken pieces and giant chunks of bread, a little broth and melted butter to keep the bread from drying out before the chicken juices start to release. Of course, add onions and garlic and herbs, fennel, celery or whatever. The bread soaks up all the drippings and turns into these amazing croutons that are crunchy in spots and soaked with pan juices in other spots. I think I know what I’m making for supper tonight.<

  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted 125 mL
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp. parsley, finely chopped 30 mL
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 side salmon or steelhead trout
  • 1 lb. asparagus 500 g
  • 1 c. baby tomatoes 250 mL
  • 1 lb. baby potatoes 500 g
  • cooking oil

Toss potatoes with enough cooking oil to coat all of them and put them on a baking sheet in a 350 F (180 C) oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make a simple lemon butter dressing to brush on the salmon and vegetables. Combine melted butter, lemon juice, garlic and parsley. Season to your taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the asparagus by washing and snapping off the woody ends. Cut the salmon into serving size pieces.

After 20 minutes remove the sheet pan from the oven. Brush the salmon on both sides with the lemon butter mixture and place pieces on the sheet pan skin side down. Toss the remaining lemon butter with the asparagus and tomatoes and place them on the sheet pan.

Return to the oven for about 10 minutes or until the salmon is fully cooked and the tomatoes are blistering.

Serve immediately with crusty bread to sop up the juices.

Lemon asparagus chicken pasta

  • kosher salt
  • 1 lb. linguine or spaghetti 500 g
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 15 mL
  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts 500 g
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning 10 mL
  • 2 tbsp. butter 30 mL
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 lb. asparagus, stalks trimmed and cut into thirds or quartered if large 500 g
  • 3/4 c. heavy cream 175 mL
  • 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken stock 125 mL
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 c. cream cheese 175 mL
  • 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan, plus morefor garnish 125 mL
  • 1 lemon, sliced into half moons
  • freshly chopped parsley, for garnish

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions until al denté.

Drain and return to pot. Save a cup (250 mL) of the cooking water in case you need to moisten later.

In a skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning and add it to the hot pan. Cook until golden and no longer pink, eight minutes per side. Transfer to a plate to let rest, then thinly slice.

In the same skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add red onion and asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, five minutes, then add heavy cream, chicken stock, lemon juice and garlic and simmer five minutes.

Stir in cheeses and cook until melted, then add lemon slices and cooked linguine. Toss to coat the pasta.

Add pasta water, if necessary.

Top with sliced chicken and garnish with more Parmesan and parsley. Serve immediately.

Five-spice shrimp and vegetable packets

Five-spice powder is made from fennel, cloves, peppercorns, star anise and cinnamon. Find five-spice powder in the spice section or in the Asian section of your supermarket.

  • 3 tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce 45 mL
  • 3 tbsp. toasted sesame oil 15 mL
  • 3 tbsp. rice wine or cooking sherry 15 mL
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. honey 7 mL
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh ginger 15 mL
  • 1 tbsp. sesame seeds 15 mL
  • 1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, optional
  • 1 lb. raw shrimp, 26-30 per pound, peeled and de-veined 500 g
  • 1 c. fresh corn kernels 50 mL
  • 2 c. sugar snap peas, trimmed 500 mL
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into one-inch (2.5 cm) pieces

Combine soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, honey, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, five-spice powder and crushed red pepper in a large bowl. Add shrimp and mix well. Marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.

Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).

To prepare packets, start with four 20- to 24-inch-long (50-60 centimetre) pieces of parchment paper. Fold in half crosswise. With the parchment folded, draw half a heart shape on one side as you would if you were making a valentine. Use scissors to cut out the heart shape. Open up the heart.

Combine corn with snap peas and bell pepper in a medium bowl.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer a quarter of the shrimp to one side of each open heart fairly close to the crease and leaving at least a one-inch (2.5 cm) border around the edges for folding. Reserve the marinade. Place a quarter of the vegetable mixture on top of each portion of shrimp.

Close the packet to cover the ingredients. Starting at the top, seal the packet by folding the edges together in a series of small, tight folds. Twist the tip of the packet and tuck it underneath to help keep the packet closed.

Place the packets on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the shrimp are just cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Carefully open one package to check for doneness — be cautious of the steam.

Meanwhile, place the reserved marinade in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high and boil until reduced slightly, three to five minutes.

Let the packets rest unopened for five minutes.

Serve the shrimp and vegetables drizzled with the reduced marinade.

This can be made on the grill in foil, rather than with parchment. To prepare packets for grilling, start with eight 20- to 24-inch-long (50-60 cm) pieces of foil. Layer two sheets for each of four packets.

Arrange the ingredients on one half of each double layer. Fold the foil over the ingredients and tightly seal the packets by crimping and folding the edges together.

Grill over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the packets to another spot on the grill about halfway through to ensure even cooking.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at allourfingersinthepie.blogspot.ca. Contact: team@producer.com.

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