Dinner Ideas

Easy Pasta with Lentils, Spinach & Leeks

A few pantry ingredients combine to make a quick & healthful meatless dinner. Vegan if you wish.

8 Great Time-Saving Ingredients That'll Perk Up Your Meals

8 great, creative, time-saving ingredients to have on-hand for home cooking.

Thinking . . . Spring? Honey-Mustard Chicken, Barley Pilaf and Fruity Baby Spinach Salad With Oranges

Welcome to March! Better weather, lighter food, and the promise of true spring are around the corner . . . .

Ginger Spiced Chicken & Rice

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Happy Tuesday, friends!  I hope your week is off to a good start.  Today's recipe highlights the flavors of North Africa - and because it involves a marinade, it's got great depth of flavor.  But best ever, once you're ready to cook, it's 30 minutes from counter to table.  Hooray!

Ginger Spiced Chicken And Rice

1 1/4-1 1/2 lbs. Chicken cutlets
4 Green onions, finely chopped
1/2 c. Freshly-squeezed orange juice (approximately 1 orange)
1 T. Brown sugar
1 T. Bottled minced ginger
1 T. Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t. Bottled crushed garlic
1 t. Ground corriander
1/2 t. Paprika
1/2 t. Kosher salt
1/4 t. Ground cinnamon
1/4 t. Freshly ground black pepper
2 c. Hot cooked brown rice (I use Whole Foods frozen brown rice often, because all you need to do is heat it up - super quick)

 

Put the chicken in a gallon sized zip-top bag.  For the marinade, combine green onions, orange juice, brown sugar, ginger, oil, garlic, corriander, paprika, salt, cinnamon and pepper in a small bowl.  Pour over the chicken, seal the bag, and mix the contents all around so the marinade covers the chicken.  Marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to 6 hours, turning the bag occasionally. 

Drain the chicken, reserving the marinade.  Lightly coat a baking dish with cooking spray.  Arrange the chicken in the dish and pour the remaining marinade over the chicken.

Bake, uncovered, in a 375 oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink.  Spoon the rice onto 4 dinner plates, and place the chicken atop the rice.  Spoon the remaining pan juices over the chicken and rice.  Serves 4.

Add some steamed green beans on the side, or try these:

Ginger and Honey-Glazed Carrots

3 c. Water
1 t. Kosher salt
1 1/2 lbs. Baby carrots
1 T. Unsalted butter
1 T. Honey
2 t. Bottled minced ginger

 

Line a baking sheet with paper towels.  In a large skillet, combine water and salt.  Bring to a boil and add carrots.  Return to boiling and then reduce heat, cover and simmer about 12 minutes or until carrots are just tender.  Drain carrots.  Turn the carrots out on to the baking sheet and pat them dry.

To make the glaze - in the same skillet combine butter, honey and ginger.  Stir constantly over medium heat until the butter is melted. 

Add the carrots to the glaze and toss gently until the carrots are throrughly coated with the glaze and are heated through.  To serve, divide carrots among the dinner plates and drizzle with the remaining glaze from the pan.  Serves 4-6.

Both recipes adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens New Dieter's Cookbook.

Healthy In A Hurry

HHK.logo.indd 

We all have those nights - they happen more now that school's in, I think.  The day gets away from you and you're sitting at your desk (or in your car, mid-schlep) at 4:30 and you're suddenly caught up short.  "What are we going to have for dinner?"  The easy choice is takeout or fast food, but the angel on your right shoulder says "You should be feeding your family something healthier."  And face it, are you really going to be able to get to the market before you have to sling hash?  Probably not.

Enter Healthy Habits Kitchen of Wellesley.  I discovered Healthy Habits Kitchen last spring - I was Googling meal assembly places (a la Dream Dinners) nearby, and the HHK site showed up.  I put them on my to-try list and never got around to it.  Then the Foodie Mommy favorably reviewed HHK in early September.  Her review incentivized me to finally check it out. 

HHK offers "meal assembly" services - you step into their kitchen and HHK's staff has everything you need to prepare multiple meals for multiple mouths: ready-to-assemble, homemade food that can be popped into the oven or heated on the stovetop when you need it.  You schedule an assembly session, pick meals from the rotating menu, stop in and the HHK kitchen becomes your kitchen. HHK does the shopping, chopping and measuring . . . . and even better, they do the clean-up. Another option is to raid HHK's refrigerator and freezer - for $1 more per meal, you can pick and choose from meals that are already prepared.

So what makes HHK different from all the other meal assembly places?  Susan Schochet, the owner of HHK, is committed to quality, whole, healthful ingredients.  HHK recipes include only natural seasonings, juices, extracts and herbs, and HHK strives to offer fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible. And here's what got me:  All HHK meals are 400 calories or less, 30% fat or less, and 800mg of sodium or less.  For most of us, this is as close as we'll ever get to having a health-conscious personal chef in our kitchen.

I visited HHK in September and bought a half portion (serves 2-3) of the Chicken Marbella for $19.99 and popped in my freezer.  I whipped it up for dinner last Tuesday night - D. was pretty much gone for the month of September, and I wanted him to try this out, too. 

We were wowed. 

First off, the preparation couldn't have been easier.  All the meal components come packaged in a small box that fits easily into your freezer (or fridge, if you're going to cook the meal within a day).  I took it out the night before, and put it in the fridge to defrost.  The next night, I took it out, followed the easy-to-follow instructions to the letter, and 40 minutes later I put a meal on the table that I'd even serve to company.  All I added on my own were steamed green beans.  The chicken breast pieces were tasty and moist, and a glaze of brown sugar made them pretty to boot.  The sauce had a wonderful sweet-savory thing going on with big dried plums, giant capers, green olives, lots of garlic and oregano - even white wine (included in the kit in a cute little plastic container) to bring it all together.  You serve this over some ziti that's also included with the half portion, and you have yourself a super-tasty AND healthful meal in practically no time.

The HHK menu changes monthly - you can check out the current options on their site.  Nutritional and ingredient information is listed with each entree.  HHK also offers an assortment of side dishes and desserts, if you're interested.

You can also arrange private parties at HHK - get a group of friends together to catch up and assemble meals . . . HHK will provide the munchies.  Or, do what I did and for only $1 more per meal, take the lazy-woman's route (hey, it's supposed to be convenience food, right?) and go pick and choose out of Sue's refrigerator and freezer.

Bon appetit!

P.S. Please note well that I am no one's paid rep here - I visited HHK of my own accord, and while I chatted up Sue a bit (ask L. about my "chatting habit"), I paid for my meal and am under no obligation to give a favorable review.

This Week: Give Lengthy Dinner Prep The Boot!

maxtrax boot

Some of you who know me know that I'm currently sporting this crazy brace - I have terrible tendinitis in my left leg/ankle and this thing is supposed to give my leg a rest and help decrease the inflammation.  The jury's still out on whether it's making any difference in the tendon, but the verdict otherwise is that it's a huge pain in the a** to wear around.  It weighs over 5 lbs. on its own, and comes up to just below my knee.

For some, takeout would be the way to go, but now, more than ever, I want a healthy meal at dinnertime.  I can hardly exercise at all, and, well, I'm "of a certain age" such that exercising is pretty much a necessity - unless I want to show off everything I eat on my lower-half.  So I'm trying to find more convenient dinners that minimize prep but which also emphasize healthy components.  And where do I go for inspiration?  Trader Joe's, of course. 

Here's what I do - I go into the store and hit the protein section first.  I check out the meat/sausage/tofu selection and see what strikes my fancy.  Note:  this is exactly the opposite of the way I usually shop: I usually have a detailed list made up, based on my menu plan for the week.  I am naturally incredibly anal. 

Anyway, I choose however many proteins I need, then double-back to cheese and pick up whatever might go with a particular protein - goat cheese is one I often buy . . . goes well with chicken, also on salads or in a quiche.  Then on to produce (for those of you who're wondering, this is the Memorial Drive, Cambridge TJ's).  Prepared green beans make life easy, as do broccoli florets.  Bagged and pre-prepared mustard/kale/spinach are super handy (although they never have this as an organic option - I buy it anyway).  And bagged mixed baby greens are a good thing to have on hand at all times.  TJ's often has bags of sweet potatoes that contain fairly small potatoes - I love these because it keeps portion sizes sane.  Also in the produce section are the packages of pre-prepped lentils and baby beets - these make great sides. 

Frozen food - there are a plethora of options here, but many have high calorie and/or sodium counts, so I steer clear of many of these things.  The one thing I get fairly regularly is frozen chicken quesadillas - they come two to a package, and one paired with a big salad makes a decent dinner.  I don't really care for their flash-frozen fish or their individually wrapped frozen chicken breasts - for me, the texture is off in both of these.  I have enjoyed some of the Asian frozen stuff in the past, but I don't buy those items regularly, either. 

Not a frozen item, but located above the frozen cases, are lots of yummy cookies and crackers, along with the genius 100 calorie chocolate bars . . . seriously, these are super.  They come in milk and dark varieties, and they might save you from devouring something huge - like a jar of that dark chocolate peanut butter madness I told you about last month.

There's nothing particularly exciting for me in the dairy section - but decent prices on yogurts, eggs, milk, etc.  I often stock up on Fage here.

TJ's has great prices on nuts.  If you stock up, store what you're not using immediately in the fridge - they won't go rancid as quickly.  And also in grocery are my favorite (yet admittedly hardcore) bran muffins - depending on flavor, either 80 or 100 calories per muffin and 12 grams of fiber.  Little fiber bombs, really.  I keep these in the freezer at all times and stick one in the micro for 1 minute to thaw.  Pair this with a bowl of Fage in the a.m. - you'll be rockin' 'til lunchtime.

So . . . what did I make the last few days?  I told you last Friday about how much I was loving the pumpkin butter - still haven't had that on anything but 0% Fage w/the toasted pecans, but it's still lighting my fire.

Wednesdays are soccer practice days for us, and we don't get home until 6:20.  That's super late when your kid needs to hit the rack by 7:30 in order to be a pleasant human the next day, so I nuked two of those chicken quesadillas for me and D and whipped out a bag of mixed baby greens, divided it between two big salad bowls, topped it with halved cherry tomatoes, sliced yellow bell pepper, some cukes on mine (D is a cuke-phobe) and topped it with a tablespoon of light ranch dressing that'd been mixed with 2 tablespoons of hot salsa.  Ole!  (L ate leftover pasta and some cubed baked tofu).  Dinner on the table in 15 minutes flat.

Thursday I topped another ginormous salad with TJ's pre-cooked balsamic chicken breasts - cold and sliced.  More halved cherry tomatoes, more cukes for me and bell pepper andcrumbled bleu cheese for D.  Used Newman's Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette on this - not sold at TJ's but a staple in our fridge.

Friday I salt & peppered organic chicken breasts from TJ's  and then basted them with a mixture of the juice of 1/2 lemon, a couple dollops of Dijon mustard, and approximately 1 1/2 teaspoons of EVOO.  I threw these in a lightly oiled baking dish and baked them in a 425 oven for about 25 minutes.  Prior to that, I washed and pricked a few of those sweet potatoes and threw them into the oven for about 40 minutes (your time will vary depending on the size of the potato).  I topped those with a little light butter (TJ's sells Balade brand, pretty good), a few shakes of pumpkin pie spice and a drizzle of agave nectar.  I teamed all this up with some steamed pre-prepped green beans topped with a drizzle of garlic EVOO (Annie's brand, from Whole Foods (formerly Conzorio)), a squeeze of lemon juice and salt & pepper.

Other side dish ideas - I've done these in the past but not this week - pair the lentils with some steamed greens and a little drizzle of melted butter and Dijon mustard and you've got a tasty little side.  Or use the beets:  quarter each one and heat them slightly in the microwave.  Then salt & pepper them and crumble a little goat cheese over the top - just delicious and so so easy.

I'll let you know what else I come up with in the coming weeks!

Menu Idea: Steamed Cod With Ginger & Scallions, Asian Slaw & Simple Chinese Noodles

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I know some of you are afraid to cook fish at home.  I'm not really sure where this comes from, because aside from the fact that you need to buy it day-of cooking (in most cases), I find fish to be a quick and easy answer to the "what's for dinner?" question.

In our house, we eat a lot of cod.  I know, I know, cod has historically been  over fished, but it's the only fish that we all consistently agree on.  My daughter won't eat any of the greens associated with a fish recipe, but she'll often eat some of the cod itself, along with her ever-present noodles.

Here's a staple recipe from our house, along with ideas for sides.  It's a very fast menu to pull together - about 30 minutes from counter to table.

Steamed Cod With Ginger & Scallions

In a large skillet, combine 3 T. rice vinegar, 2 T. low-sodium soy sauce (or lower sodium Tamari if you are gluten-free) and 2 T. bottled minced ginger.  Season both sides of 4 skinless cod fillets (6-8 oz. each) with Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper.  Place the fillets in the skillet with the vinegar mixture, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook until fish is almost opaque, approximately 6 minutes.  Meanwhile, cut the green parts of 4-6 scallions into 3-inch lengths, then thinly slice them length-wise.  Scatter over the fish, and cook, covered, until the fish flakes easily and the scallions are just wilted, approximately 3 minutes more.

Serves 4.

Asian Slaw

Combine 4 t. rice vinegar, 1 t. bottled minced ginger, 2 T. toasted sesame oil, 2 T. vegetable oil and 2 t. low-sodium soy sauce and toss it with pre-bagged coleslaw mix.  Use as much slaw as you think you'll need to make generous side-servings (we love this stuff, and so I use about 3/4 lb.!).  Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Simple Noodles

These are my daughter's #1 favorite comfort food.  Prepare a package of wide Chinese wheat-flour noodles (the ones made without egg) according to package directions and toss them with a bit of toasted sesame oil and some low-sodium soy sauce.

Another Summer Menu Idea

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It's not over 'til it's over, right guys?  There is still more time to grill, enjoy eating alfresco and to savor some summery weather.  This menu has been top-of-mind lately because I made it for a family celebration of my daughter's August birthday last year.  My husband, in particular, found it mind-blowing - in fact, the salad here is what turned him into a fresh fig lover.  Serve it up to people you love, and treat them to a last, fresh taste of summer.

For a main course, this Rosemary Chicken Skewers With Berry Sauce recipe from Simply Recipes is simple to prepare, but looks and tastes like it took much more effort.  The sauce is very delicious.

For starch, this Couscous Salad with Dates and Almonds, from Bon Appetit has a nice sweet/savory thing going on.   I use whole wheat couscous to amp up the nutrition and protein and I also make double the dressing - I find I need more than the amount called for in the recipe (but not the entire doubled amount) to dress the salad.

For greens, this Late Summer Salad is an adaptation of a recipe from the Fields Of Greens Cookbook by Annie Somerville.  It is a beautiful composed salad that makes a striking presentation for your guests.

Late Summer Salad 

2 handfuls of baby spinach
Orange Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 small cantaloupe
8-10 ripe fresh organic Black Mission figs
1 T. pine nuts, toasted

 

Wash the spinach and dry it in a salad spinner.  Arrange it on a serving platter.  Make the vinaigrette. 

Cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeeds, then thinly slice and peel, following the contour of the rind.  Rinse the figs and pat dry.  Cut them into halves or quarters.

Arrange the melon and figs atop the spinach.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the fruit and sprinkle with pine nuts.

Serves 4 - this can easily be doubled - just use a medium cantaloupe.

Orange Vinaigrette

1/4 t. minced orange zest
2 T. fresh orange juice
1/2 T. Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar
1/4 t. salt
3 T. olive oil

 

Combine everything but the oil in a small bowl, then whisk in the oil.  Makes 1/3 cup, but again, can be easily doubled.

Weekend Entertaining Menu

It's August, and here in the Northeast U.S., we all know that our beautiful weekends are numbered.  I don't know about you, but we're trying to squeeze in as many backyard BBQs as possible . . . evenings on the patio are precious.  Soon we'll be shoveling again.

This is a menu I've made many times, always to raves from the crowd.  It's virutally all do-ahead, so you can take some time with your guests instead of running around crazy before dinner.

Grilled Lemon Chicken recipe from Gourmet Magazine - FYI, I use ~3 lbs. of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and it works out well.  Also note that you must marinate this chicken overnight, so plan accordingly!

Pair this with the Orzo With Tomatoes, Feta & Green Onions recipe from Bon Appetit.  FYI, if you can get fresh, multicolored cherry tomatoes, they'll look really pretty in this.  And a note:  I am usually a hater of pasta salads, but this one has so much flavor, it's worth the chopping.  Trust me - I've never had a party where this was served and people didn't request the recipe.  Never!

Serve this Fig Salad With Greens & Walnuts on the side - be sure to scale up the recipe to however many servings you need - as written, it only serves 3 people.

Farmers' Market + Costco = Simple Summer Dinner

Farmers' market and Costco?  The two don't immediately seem to go together.  When most people think of Costco, they think giant-sized boxes of diapers, frozen processed food, etc.  But I would argue that the rotisserie chicken from Costco is the unsung hero of any busy mother.  No, it's not organic.  Yes, it's salty.   But it's also relatively cheap and delicious, and hey, you don't eat it every day. 

When people think "farmers' market," they think fresh produce, locally grown . . . but often they think of ingredients that have to be massaged into something bigger in terms of making a meal of them.  In other words, food that is inconvenient to prepare.  But with some choice ingredients from the market, coupled with the Costco wonder-chicken (or any rotisserie chicken from any vendor), you can whip up an easy no-cook hot-summer-day supper.

After the gym today, I needed to make a return at Costco, so while there, I swung around to the back to grab a chicken.  It's in the fridge waiting for me.  This afternoon at the Belmont Farmer's Market, I scored some beautiful sweet corn, gorgeous tomatoes (all different varieties, sizes and colors), a ball of fresh mozzarella that was made this morning and a nice bunch of basil. 

Here's my plan:

1/2 hour before dinner time, I will remove the chicken from the fridge and let it warm up a bit to room temperature, then I'll carve it and put it on a platter.

Then I'll slice the tomatoes and arrange them on a plate so that they don't overlap, or so that they overlap only slightly.  I'll salt them lightly with some Kosher salt, then scatter some slivered basil over the top.  I'll then drop some slices of the mozzarella on top, and then drizzle some nice olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the whole lot.  Tomato salad - done.

Boil up the corn and serve that alongside the chicken and tomato salad with  butter and salt (or brush it with more good olive oil).

Oh, and in the meantime, I'll make some pasta for my pasta-loving, veggie-hating kid to eat with her chicken. 

Voila.  A simple, no-heat in the kitchen, fresh and tasty summer dinner for everyone to enjoy.