It’s almost my favourite time of year – back to school! Although the kids would love a few more weeks tacked onto summer, I’ve been looking forward to getting our family back into a routine.
I take the time, at this time of year, to regroup with the family and discuss lunch and dinner ideas. I aim to introduce new ingredients to the kids while I’m at it. I’ve developed five recipes here that speak to those picky eaters while still including great ingredients that we can all feel good about feeding our family.
Maple Leaf has undergone a complete renovation of all of their products so now they only include real and natural ingredients (they have removed all artificial preservatives, colours and flavours). I have created recipes that include many of their proteins that are great for dinner and lunch time and that your family will absolutely love.
Time is one of our most valuable assets and there are plenty of make-ahead options included as well. Specifically, try out my recipes Zucchini Boats with new Maple Leaf Sausage Meat, Make-ahead Cheesy Ham Baked Ziti, and my Top Dog Tex-Mex Calzones if you are a weekend meal prepper and want to get a head start on your weekday meals.
Let me start with the product I am most excited about of the bunch, Maple Leaf Pure Pork Sausage Meat . Use this delicious, seasoned pure pork sausage meat as a base for tons of recipes, such as my Zucchini Boats. The addition of a few simple ingredients and you have a flavor-packed dish. You can easily use the stuffing created here as a Bolognese pasta sauce as well. The zucchini flesh hides very well in the stuffing so little picky eaters will never be suspicious! Whenever I know I have a few busy weeks ahead of me, I make a batch of these Zucchini Boats and store them in my freezer. They have saved the day on so many occasions!
- 5 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces each)
- 1 pound Maple Leaf Natural sausage meat
- 2 Tablespoon Extra-virgin Olive Oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1 cup panko (Japanese) bread crumbs or regular Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil, optional
- Salt & Pepper, to taste
- ¾ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- Garnish: Fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Carefully cut each zucchini in half lengthwise. Using a paring knife, score the flesh of the zucchini with deep diagonal cuts, about half inch apart, being careful not to cut through the skin of the zucchini. Place the zucchini halves, flesh-side up, on a parchment–lined baking sheet and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the zucchini halves in preheated oven and roast for about 25-30 minutes, until the flesh no longer looks spongy and you can easily scoop it out (you can use a fork to check). Leave your oven on, you will need it for the next step.
- Let the zucchini cool for 10 minutes (until cool to the touch) and then use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, being sure to leave the skin of the zucchini in-tact (the zucchini shells will hold the filling). Put the flesh into a sieve set over a bowl to drain any excess water. Set the zucchini skin aside on the parchment-lined baking sheet while you make your filling.
- Heat a large, deep skillet to medium-high heat and add olive oil to the skillet. Add onions and garlic to the skillet and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the sausage meat and the zucchini flesh and break apart with a wooden spoon. Cook the filling until the sausage meat is cooked through and no longer pink, about 6-8 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and herbs; stir to combine. Taste your filling and add salt and pepper, if needed.
- Carefully spoon the filling into the zucchini skins until all of the filling is used up. Distribute the grated mozzarella evenly over the stuffed zucchini and bake in a 400 degree Fahrenheit preheated oven until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 6 minutes. Serve hot garnished with freshly torn basil leaves, if desired.
- Make-ahead and/or to freeze:
- Prepare the recipe as directed up to above but do not do the final bake. Cover the dish tightly in plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil. Refrigerate for 24 hours or freeze for up to a month. To bake, thaw the zucchini boats overnight in the refrigerator. Unwrap the casserole dish (both the plastic wrap and the foil) and re-cover with lightly-greased aluminum foil. Bake as directed above: at 400 degrees until heated through, about 6 minutes, removing the foil in the last 10 minutes so that the cheese gets golden brown on top.
Make-ahead Cheesy Ham Baked Ziti
Next up, another make-ahead favourite of ours, my Cheesy Ham Baked Ziti. I use Maple Leaf Natural Smoked Ham for this dish to add protein and great flavour. It is reasonable to prepare on the same day you’re going to eat it but I think something magical happens when you make this dish ahead of time and then take it out and bake it when you are ready to eat it. The flavours have a lot more time to intermingle and this makes for an even tastier pasta dish!
- Cheese Mixture:
- 1½ cups (12 ounces) ricotta cheese
- 3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 cups Maple Leaf Natural Smoked Ham, chopped small
- ¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Optional (for spice lovers): ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more to taste, if desired)
Ziti and sauce:
- 900g uncooked ziti noodles
- 2 (1 Litre) Jars Cooked Tomato Sauce
- Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- For the cheese mixture, in a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan cheeses, ham, garlic, basil, 2 tablespoons, red pepper flakes (if using), salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil and minced garlic. Pour the olive oil and garlic mixture over the cheese mixture and using clean hands or a large spoon, mix until evenly combined. Set aside while you make the pasta and sauce.
- For the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the pot and cook until the noodles just begin to soften, about 5-6 minutes. Before draining, reserve 2 cups of the cooking water in a bowl; drain the pasta. Add the noodles back to the pot (no need to wash it), and add the tomato sauce and reserved pasta water to the pot. Stir until the pasta is coated evenly with sauce.
- Ladle half of the pasta into a 9X13-inch deep casserole dish. Dollop half the cheese mixture, in large spoonful’s, over the pasta. Sprinkle evenly a layer of ham over the cheese mixture. Prepare the final layer, ladle the remaining pasta, then the ham and top with the remaining cheese mixture.
- Cover the Casserole dish with lightly greased aluminum foil. Place the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any bubbling over) and bake until hot throughout and bubbling, 25-35 minutes (remove the foil paper cover for the last 10 minutes to let the cheese get golden brown). Let the pasta cool for 15 minutes and then serve.
- Make-ahead and/or to freeze:
- Prepare the recipe as directed above but do not bake. Cover the dish tightly in plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil. Refrigerate for 24 hours or freeze for up to a month. To bake, thaw the pasta overnight in the refrigerator. Unwrap the casserole dish (both the plastic wrap and the foil) and re-cover with lightly-greased aluminum foil. Bake as directed above: at 400 degrees until heated through, 25-35 minutes, removing the foil in the last 10 minutes so that the cheese gets golden brown on top.
Top Dog Bow Tie Pasta Salad with Peas & Carrots
This Pasta Salad with Peas, Carrots and Maple Leaf Original Top Dogs does triple duty. Not only is it balanced with vegetables and protein but, it also can be your dinner side dish and double as a take-along lunch the next day. I store the leftovers in a mason jar or a small container — the boys love taking these for their school lunch.
- 1 450g package uncooked bow tie pasta
- 8 Original or chicken Maple Leaf Top Dogs, chopped into ¼ inch cubes
- 2 large carrots, thickly shredded (about 2 cups)
- 2 cups frozen peas, thawed
- 2 ribs celery, chopped small (about 1 ½ cups)
- 2 cups black olives, sliced (optional)
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 6 Tbsp Buttermilk
- 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Cook pasta, al dente and according to package directions; drain and cool to room temperature.
- In a large bowl, combine pasta, hot dogs, carrots, peas, celery and black olives (if using).
- Combine the dressing ingredients in a small mason jar, screw on the lid tightly and shake it until the ingredients are nicely mixed together. Pour the dressing into bowl with the pasta mixture and stir until everything is evenly coated with the dressing. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold.
- *Store any leftovers in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- *If you find that the next day the pasta is a bit on the dry side, you can stir in some additional mayonnaise or even olive oil to re-hydrate.
Green Eggs and Maple Leaf Natural Selections Ham Scramble in a Thermos
I am no stranger to hectic mornings. We have had plenty of mornings where we weren’t prepared with lunches and/or we slept through our alarm clocks. It happens! Whip up these Green Eggs and Ham Scramble in a thermos using Natural Selections Shaved Smoked Black Forest Ham and see how fast you have a nutritious and delicious lunch for your kids! Yes, there is green in there, but spinach is mild in flavour making it palatable for picky eaters. Egg, ham and cheese is always a winner in our house and this fun recipe gives their favourite ingredients new life!
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 slices Natural Selections Shaved Smoked Black Forest Ham, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp shredded cheese
- 2 tbsp spinach, finely chopped
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Grease a medium-sized microwave safe bowl or deep dish with olive oil or butter. In a separate bowl add all ingredients and beat until well blended. Pour the ingredients into the microwave safe bowl.
- Cook by microwaving in 30 second bursts, gently and carefully folding the eggs with a small spatula between each burst.
- Cook until eggs are almost set, about 2-3 minutes (microwaves may vary).
- Add scramble to a thermos, top with more shredded cheese (if desired) and tighten the lid.
- Enjoy within 5-6 hours.
The kids love these but, I have to admit, I am obsessed with them as well. Pizza and sandwiches, a lunchtime staple, could get boring for kids. Try these Top Dogs Tex-Mex Calzones using Maple Leaf Original Top Dogs and see how much your family loves them! They are a bit of prep work to make so I have added make-ahead options, too. Make a double-batch on the weekend when you have more time, enjoy one batch that day and freeze the second batch. They will keep in your freezer for up to three months (if wrapped very tightly, as instructed in the recipe below.)
- 1 (700g) fresh store-bought pizza dough
- 8 Original Top Dogs, diced small
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 bell pepper (any colour), diced small
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp chili powder
- Salt & Pepper, to taste
- 1 cup Tex-mex shredded cheese
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour for dusting your work surface and pans
- Egg wash: one egg white and drop of water, whisked together
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
- Prepare two sheet pans with parchment paper and dust with all-purpose flour. On a clean-floured work surface, cut pizza dough into 8 equal pieces. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out dough pieces into circles to ¼ inch thick. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet pan and set aside while making your filling.
- Add chopped hot dogs, onion, bell pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper into a large bowl. Combine everything together by mixing with a spoon.
- Heat a large skillet with olive oil to medium-high heat. Add the hot dog mixture and sauté until the vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes. If there is excess water, drain the mixture using a sieve.
- Prepare egg wash. Add ¼ cup of the hot dog filling to the centre of each dough round. Top mixture with a tablespoon of shredded tex-mex cheese. Brush edge of half the dough round with egg wash (this will help the calzone stick together). Fold dough over filling and use a fork to close and secure the filling into the calzone. Add more shredded cheese to the top of the calzone and then using a knife, cut a few steam vents in the top of each calzone to prevent them from bursting and also to prevent them from getting soggy. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the dough is cooked, filling is hot and cheese is melted. Let them cool slightly and then serve.
- Make-ahead: These are great to make ahead of time for lunch or for a quick weeknight dinner, I even make a double batch! Bake the calzones according to instructions above and then let them cool to room-temperature. Wrap each individual calzone tightly with plastic wrap. Transfer to a plastic freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- To reheat from frozen, remove the plastic wrap and discard. Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the calzones in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet until heated through, about 8-10 minutes. Another option is to thaw the calzone overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, you can reheat them in a toaster oven for a few minutes or a microwave before serving.
To see all the recipes I’ve created in partnership with Maple Leaf, please visit Julie Miguel’s Recipes page on the Maple Leaf website.
*This post and recipes has been created as part of a paid partnership with Maple Leaf. However, and as always, all opinions are my own.