Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Veggie Night Dinners

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Eating less meat and more grains, beans, fruits and vegetables means you’ll be consuming fewer calories and less saturated fat. People who eat less meat are healthier, less prone to cancer, especially colorectal cancer, and suffer from fewer heart problems. Another benefit is that you’ll save money. Meat costs more per pound than most foods and it can be challenging to serve healthy meals on a budget.

Committing to a 100% vegetarian diet isn’t necessary to achieve the health benefits that vegetarians enjoy. There aren’t specific guidelines to exactly how much meat to cut out to achieve these benefits, but cutting back even slightly is a positive change. A national health campaign known as “Meatless Monday” promotes cutting out meat one day each week, but you could try meatless lunches during the week for the same effect. Going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable diseases and it can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like freshwater and fossil fuel.

How to make veggies taste good:

Go big when it comes to seasoning your veggie-friendly food. Fresh herbs are great but try something besides rosemary and thyme. Hearty roasted root vegetables are the perfect blank canvas for experiments using dried spices. A blend made with shallot, onion and garlic, adds lots of flavor to vegetables. Like things hot? Try Aleppo pepper, a spicy-sweet pepper. Don’t be shy with the sauces, either. Harissa is a spicy and aromatic chile paste that’s a widely used staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. Harissa added to yogurt brings the heat and then the yogurt calms it down. This sauce is delicious drizzled over roasted carrots. Or, use a herb-packed vinaigrette made from parsley, tahini, lemon and garlic. Choosing in-season produce at the peak of ripeness ensures that the color will be rich the taste will be fresh and flavorful.

Dinner One: Lentil Chili and Corn Muffins with Cheddar Cheese

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Lentil Chili

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 (16-ounce) package brown lentils (about 2 1/4 cups lentils)
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to brown, about 6 minutes.

Stir in garlic and chili powder and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add lentils, tomatoes and broth.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes or until lentils are almost tender.

Uncover and cook 10 minutes longer. Stir in parsley, salt and pepper and serve.

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Corn Muffins with Cheddar Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups grated aged cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter 12 standard muffin cups or use cupcake liners.

Combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cayenne pepper in a bowl.

Whisk together buttermilk, egg and butter in a separate bowl.

Add buttermilk mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir just until combined. Gently fold in 1 cup of cheese and the corn kernels.

Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups. Sprinkle tops with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Bake 15 to 17 minutes, until golden and a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove muffins from the tins and cool at least 5 minutes before serving.

Dinner Two: Penne Pasta with Eggplant Sauce and Garden Salad

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Penne Pasta with Eggplant Sauce

4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 medium to large eggplant, trimmed and diced (about 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • One 28 – ounce can Italian-style tomatoes, undrained
  • One 6 – ounce can Italian tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine or beef or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
  • 4 cups hot cooked penne pasta (about 8 oz. uncooked)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped

Directions

Peel eggplant and cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes.

Heat the oil a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the eggplant and a generous pinch of salt and allow to cook, shaking and tossing occasionally, until the eggplant is brown and softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon, cover with foil, and set aside.

Add the onions and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, salt and red chili flakes.

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and bring to a simmer. Once the tomatoes have softened, gently break them apart with a potato masher. Then add the wine and water and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes.

Add the cooked pasta, parsley and eggplant, cover, and heat over medium until hot. Stir in basil and olives, season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with pignoli and Parmesan cheese.

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Garden Salad

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup torn romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • 3/4 cup torn curly endive
  • 3/4 cup baby arugula
  • 1 small red, green and/or yellow bell peppers, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup red or yellow grape, pear or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small carrot or half of a large carrot, thinly shaved
  • 1 ounce cheddar cheese, finely shredded (1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup Homemade Salad Dressing (recipe below)

Directions

In a large bowl, combine romaine, spinach, curly endive, arugula, bell pepper strips, red onion, and cherry tomatoes. Top with carrot and cheddar cheese. Toss with the dressing and serve.

Homemade Salad Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Directions

In a blender, combine broth, vinegar, honey, paprika, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and salt.

With the blender running, slowly add the olive oil through the hole in the lid and continue blending until mixture is emulsified.

Cover and chill for up to 1 week. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Dinner Three: Oven Baked Asparagus and Pepper Frittata; Sautéed Garlic Spinach and Braised Baby Potatoes

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Oven Baked Asparagus and Pepper Frittata

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut asparagus at an angle into two-inch pieces and blanch in boiling hot water to cover about two minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat olive oil in an ovenproof skillet with a cover. Add bell peppers and cook until soft, but not browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in onion and  asparagus pieces; sauté for 1 minute. With a slotted spoon remove the vegetables to a large mixing bowl.

Whisk chopped parsley, salt and pepper with the beaten eggs. Stir in cheese and mix with the sautéed vegetables in the mixing bowl.

Coat the inside of the skillet with the softened butter. Pour the egg mixture into pan. Bake, covered, until the eggs are just firm, about 35 minutes. Remove cover; bake until top is lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Divide into six wedges and serve.

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Sautéed Garlic Spinach

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, thickly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • Thick strips of zest from 1 lemon
  • 2 pounds spinach, cleaned, thick stems discarded
  • Freshly ground pepper

Directions

In a small saucepan, stir together the olive oil, garlic, chili pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir in the lemon zest. Bring the oil to a gentle simmer over low heat and cook until the garlic begins to brown slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the oil infuse for 1 hour. Remove the lemon zest with tongs and discard.

In a large skillet a large heat the infused oil and add some of the spinach and cook over moderately high heat until wilted. Add the remaining spinach until it is all wilted..Season with additional salt, if needed and serve.

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Braised Baby Potatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 16 small red or new potatoes, halved
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions

Place the potatoes, chicken stock, olive oil, salt and black pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and place in a serving bowl. (I save this broth for soup or cooking other vegetables at a later time.)

Add the lemon zest and basil. Toss well and serve

Dinner Four: Mediterranean Salad with Hummus and Pita

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Easy Hummus

Ingredients

  • One 15-ounce can of no salt added chickpeas, drained, 1 tablespoon of the liquid reserved
  • 1 small garlic clove, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for top
  • Pinch of sweet smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

In a food processor, combine the chickpeas with the liquid, garlic, lemon juice and tahini and puree to a chunky paste. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the paprika and puree until smooth. Season the hummus with salt and drizzle the top with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with Pita bread.

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Mediterranean Salad

Ingredients

4 servings

  • 1/2 cup bulgur (not quick-cooking)
  • 1/4 of a medium head green cabbage, cut into 1”-thick wedges, then very thinly sliced crosswise (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 sweet onion (such as Vidalia), finely chopped
  • 2 cups assorted small tomatoes, halved, quartered if large
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped flat leafed parsley
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt

Directions

Place bulgur in a large bowl and add 3/4 cups boiling water. Let soak until softened and water is absorbed, 40–45 minutes.

Mix bulgur, cabbage, onion, tomatoes, mint, oil, lemon juice and Aleppo pepper in a large bowl to combine; season to taste with salt.

Do Ahead: The salad (without oil and lemon juice) can be made 4 hours ahead. Toss with oil and lemon juice just before serving.

One Dish Dinners

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Making  one dish meals can be a very economical way of preparing delicious and healthy meals. This type of dinner is especially desirable for busy people. It is really very easy and doesn’t take a great deal of time. The term one-pot meal is almost synonymous with crock-pot dinners, hearty stews and pot roasts coming to mind; however there are plenty of lighter and faster variations to this concept. A one dish meal need not require hours and hours of cooking, but may be as simple as a stir-fry or a summer pasta with vegetables and seafood.

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Tortellini with Broccoli, Olives and Beans

2-3 servings

Ingredients

  • 9 ounces refrigerated or frozen cheese-filled tortellini
  • 2 cups small broccoli florets
  • One 15 ounce can cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup slivered pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
  • 1 cup quartered cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh basil

Directions

In a deep large skillet bring 2 inches of water to boiling. Add tortellini; cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in broccoli; cook for 2 minutes or until the broccoli is crisp-tender. Drain in colander. Return tortellini and broccoli to the skillet.

Stir in beans, olives, oil, vinegar and red pepper. Heat through. Sprinkle with tomatoes, feta and basil. Serve in pasta bowls.

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Salmon and Swiss Chard in Mustard Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 ¼ pounds fresh skinless salmon fillets
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion (1 small)
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 pounds Swiss chard, stems removed and the leaves cut into 1-inch pieces

Directions

Brush the oil over the bottom of a large deep skillet with a cover.

Rinse and pat the salmon dry with paper towels. Place salmon in the skillet, tucking under any thin edges. Sprinkle the salmon with the garlic.

In a small bowl stir together mustard, honey, vinegar and dill and transfer 2 tablespoons of the mixture to another small bowl to serve later.

Stir the onion, broth and mustard mixture together and pour over the salmon.

Cover and bring to a slow boil, reduce heat to medium and poach until the salmon flesh is firm, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Carefully transfer salmon with a slotted spoon to a serving platter.Add the chard to the skillet and cook until tender, about

Stir the reserved 2 tablespoons of mustard mixture into the chard mixture. Spoon the chard onto the platter with the salmon.

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Turkey Cutlets with Barley Saute

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 6 –  1/2-inch-thick turkey breast slices (cutlets) (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 3 cups sliced fresh cremini mushrooms (8 ounces)
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped carrot
  • ½ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup quick-cooking barley
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Snipped fresh oregano
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

In a large skillet with a cover, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle turkey cutlets lightly with salt and pepper and place in the skillet. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes or until browned and no longer pink, turning once. Remove turkey from the skillet; set aside on a platter and cover with foil..

Add the mushrooms, onion, carrot and bell pepper to the skillet and stir for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender. Stir in broth, barley and oregano. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until barley is tender and liquid is nearly absorbed.

Stir in lemon peel and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper. Return turkey cutlets with any accumulated juices to the skillet. Cover and cook for 1 to 3 minutes or until heated through. Adjust salt and pepper seasoning to taste. Garnish with additional fresh oregano and serve with lemon wedges.

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Pork Tenderloin with Carrots, Parsnips and Chickpeas

6 servings

Ingredients

  • Two 1 pound pork tenderloins (455 g), trimmed of fat and silverskin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup drained canned chickpeas (85 g), rinsed and blotted dry
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice (120 ml)
  • ½ cup dry white wine or low sodium chicken broth (120 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon pimenton ( smoked paprika)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano

Directions

Place rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Season pork generously on all sides with salt and pepper. In a 12-inch ovenproof skillet heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pork. Sear on all sides until browned, about 6 minutes total. Transfer the pork to a large plate; set aside

Add carrots to the pan. Cook and stir until browned at the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the chickpeas and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for 1 minute more. Using a spatula, make two wide spaces through the vegetables. Place pork tenderloins in the spaces so they rest directly on the pan surrounded by the carrots and chickpeas.

Transfer the pan to the oven. Roast 10 to 15 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of a tenderloin registers 145 degrees F. The center should be rosy when cut into with a knife. Transfer the pork to a carving board; tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Carefully place the pan with the vegetables over medium heat on top of the stove. Add orange juice, wine or broth, brown sugar, fennel and paprika; mix well. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Stir in butter, parsley and oregano. Season to taste with salt.

To serve, cut the pork on a slight diagonal into slices 1-inch-thick. Serve with roasted vegetables.

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Chicken and Vegetable Saute

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. pancetta, diced
  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs or breasts or a combination
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 pound asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into two-inch pieces
  • 1 small yellow summer squash, halved crosswise and cut in 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 green onions, sliced

Directions

 

In a 12-inch skillet brown chicken and pancetta in olive oil over medium-high heat, turning chicken to brown evenly. Add garlic, asparagus and squash. Sprinkle chicken and vegetables with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Saute for 5 minutes.

Carefully add broth; cover and cook 10 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink (165 degrees F) and vegetables are tender. Transfer mixture to a serving platter and top with sliced green onions.

How To Make An Umbrian Inspired Dinner For 6

Umbrian Olive Orchards

Umbrian Olive Orchards

The only landlocked region in Italy, Umbria is located in the center of the country. Wheat and spelt, pearl barley, grapes, olives, lentils, red potatoes, sunflowers and fruits and vegetables of all kinds grow well in the fertile lands of Umbria and provide the basis for hearty Umbrian cooking. Abundant, as well, are forest animals like deer, wild pigs and venison that provide hearty proteins for the Umbrian table.

Some of the best lentils come from Umbria, in particular from Castelluccio, therefore a hearty lentil soup is a typical regional dish served as a first course or for lunch. With such a strong meaty tradition where meats are often cooked whole on a spit, Umbrian second courses appeal to meat lovers.  Late summer is fig season in Umbria and they are often baked into sweet breads and pastries.

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The wines of Umbria include: Sagrantino di Montefalco (DOCG) and Montefalco Rosso (DOC), but the most prestigious Umbrian wine is Torgiano Rosso “riserva” (DOCG). Orvieto produces one of Italy’s best-selling DOC whites.

The dinner menu below is inspired by the cuisine and regional foods of Umbria, Italy

First Course

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Umbrian Vegetable and Sausage Lentil Soup

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Italian sausage links, sliced thin and each slice cut in half
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large red potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 28 oz. container finely chopped Italian tomatoes
  • Half of a 16 oz. package of frozen broccoli florets
  • 6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water

Directions

Heat the oil in a large Dutch Oven or soup pot. Add the sausage and brown; remove to a plate.

Add all the vegetables and garlic to the pot and saute until softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the broth, water, tomato and seasonings. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook the vegetables for 15 minutes.

Stir in the lentils and bring back to a boil, lower the heat to medium low and simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. Serve with crusty Italian bread

Second Course

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Pork Scaloppine with Peppers and Onions

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless pork loin chops, about 1 lb.
  • 1/2 cup refrigerated egg substitute or 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced
  • 3-4 Italian frying peppers, depending on their size
  • 1/2 cup pureed Italian tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Trim and cut the pork chops in half lengthwise to make 6 pieces. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the countertop. Put one pork piece on top of the plastic and cover with a second piece of plastic wrap.

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With a meat mallet (or heavy skillet), pound the meat into 1/4-inch thick scaloppine.

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Repeat with the other 5 pieces.

Dip the scaloppini in the egg and then coat in the bread crumbs. Place breaded meat on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.

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Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add the 3 scaloppini slices and brown on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining oil and breaded cutlets.

Add the garlic, peppers and onions to the skillet and cook until tender. Stir in the tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until heated through.

Serve the scaloppini with the pepper and onion sauce.

Contorno

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Roasted Cauliflower Parmesan

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 whole cauliflower, broken into large florets
  • 3 eggs or 3/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour mixed with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Grease a large baking sheet with olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the flour and seasonings in a large plastic bag. add the cauliflower florets, close the bag and shake until the cauliflower pieces are covered in flour.

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In a deep bowl beat the eggs with a fork and add the Parmesan cheese.

Dip each piece of floured cauliflower into the egg and cheese mixture, making sure they are coated evenly on all sides.

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Put them on the greased baking pan and bake for 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve.

Dessert Course

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Fresh Fig and Almond Tart

Ingredients

  • 1 refrigerated single 9 inch pie crust dough, at room temperature
  • 15 Mission figs, tips cut off and halved
  • 1/2 cup fig jam (or another jam)
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla granulated sugar or regular granulated sugar

Directions.

Unroll pastry and place in a buttered 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Flute edges.

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Spread the fig jam over the bottom of the crust. Arrange the figs in a decorative pattern on top.

Sprinkle with sliced almonds and sugar.

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Place the tart pan on a foil lined cookie sheet and bake at 375°F for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack until serving time.

Easy Homemade Pizza

 

 

IMG_0189In 2007 Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, authored, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking” and it does just that!

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You simply mix the recipe ingredients in a large bucket, cover and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 hours; then refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. You will have enough dough to make 3-4 loaves of bread or 3-4 pizzas with very little work. Once I discovered the Artisan Bread method, I have been making most of my breads following their process.

If you would like to know more about this method visit their website: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/.  The authors have recently written a book on how to make gluten-free bread with this method.

I like to use Italian “00” flour for making pizza. Italian “00” flour is lower in protein and makes a supple, smooth and easy dough to shape.The “00” refers to the grind of the flour and this flour is fine-textured. The resulting baked goods are light, airy and have a crisp snap to the crust. It’s ideal for pizza, flatbread, focaccia and crackers.

I purchase the flour from King Arthur. Of course, you can use other types of flour but the ingredient amounts will vary slightly.

Homemade Pizza with Oven Dried Tomatoes and Pesto

No Knead Pizza Dough

I use the method and recipe for the dough from “Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. The bucket should not be airtight, so leave the lid ajar or, do what I did, drill a tiny hole in the top center of the lid.

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Ingredients for the dough

  • 3 cups warm water (about 100 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 7 ½  cups 00 Italian Style flour

Ingredients for Oven Dried Tomatoes:

  • 2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Ingredients for the topping:

  • 1 lb sliced mozzarella cheese
  • 1 recipe oven dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup homemade or store-bought basil pesto
  • Crushed black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions for making the oven dried tomatoes:

Heat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Pour the oil into a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle the minced garlic over the oil in the pan. Place the tomatoes in an even layer on the baking pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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Bake for about 90 minutes until the juices have stopped running, the tomato edges are shriveled and the tomato pieces have shrunken slightly. Make ahead and store in the refrigerator.

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Directions for making the pizza dough:

Pour the water into a 5 quart bowl or lidded food container. Add yeast and salt to the water.

Measure the flour with the “scoop and sweep” method. (Dip cup into flour and scoop it up. Level the cup with the back of a knife.)

Add all the flour and mix with a wooden spoon. You only need to mix it until all ingredients are combined. No kneading is necessary. (The dough will be very moist and will actually conform to the shape of the container you put it in.)

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How the dough looks after it is mixed.

Cover, but don’t seal the lid tightly, and let the dough rise at room temperature until it begins to flatten on the top (about 2 hours).

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DO NOT PUNCH DOWN THE DOUGH! This method is designed to retain as much gas in the dough as possible. After rising, refrigerate the dough in the container and use the dough over the next 14 days. Once it’s refrigerated the dough will collapse and it will not rise again in the container — that’s normal. Extra dough may also be frozen with equally excellent results.

Directions for making the pizza:

Pull up and cut off a 1 1/3 pound piece of dough from the container of refrigerated pizza dough. My pizza pans are large, so I usually get 3 pizzas from a batch of dough.

Hold the dough in your hands and dust your hands with flour, as needed, to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers. Form a ball, by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides and rotating the dough a quarter-turn as you go.

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Place the ball in an oiled pizza pan and press and stretch the dough to the edges of the pan. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

After the dough has rested, add the toppings.

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Place the sliced mozzarella on top of the dough. Spread the pesto sauce over the cheese layer.

Distribute the tomatoes evenly over the pizza and grind some fresh black pepper over the top.

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Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Place the pizza on the bottom rack in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before cutting.

This will be one of the best pizzas you have ever had.

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Healthy Summer Seafood Salads

 

My favorite seafood market on the Gulf Coast.

My favorite seafood market on the Gulf Coast.

It’s a great time of year to enjoy some fresh seafood. Whether you buy it fresh from the counter at your favorite market, catch your own or buy it frozen, seafood is a great addition to your summer menu. Make salad your main course by adding some grilled fish to it. Include lots of leafy greens (choose from spinach, arugula, romaine or mixed baby greens) and add tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber and diced onion. Top your salad with a tasty homemade dressing.

seafoodsalad5

Italian Marinated Seafood Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound sea scallops
  • 1/2 pound medium unpeeled shrimp
  • 1/2 pound fresh mussels
  • 1/4 pound calamari rings
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 cups mixed salad greens
  • Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to boiling. Add scallops, shrimp, mussels and calamari to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain.

Peel the shrimp and remove the mussels from their shells.

Place cooked seafood and olives in a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, parsley, chives and red pepper flakes. Chill for 1 hour.

Divide salad greens onto 6 plates or salad bowls. Spoon seafood over greens. Garnish with slices of lemon and red onions. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

seafoodsalad1

Lentil Salad with Grilled Salmon

You can use canned salmon but for really good flavor, grill extra salmon one night so that you have leftovers for this salad.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup cucumber,seeds removed and diced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • Two 15-ounce cans lentils, rinsed, or 3 cups cooked brown or green lentils (see cooking note below)
  • 12 oz leftover grilled salmon fillet or 1 ½ cups flaked canned salmon

Directions

Whisk lemon juice, dill, mustard, salt and pepper in a large serving bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil. Add bell pepper, cucumber, onion, lentils  toss to coat. Let marinate for at least one hour or chill until ready to serve. Place leftover chilled salmon on top of the salad or flake and mix in with the lentils just before serving.

Cooking Note:

To cook the lentils: Place in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until just tender, about 20 minutes for green lentils and 30 minutes for brown. Drain and rinse under cold water.

seafoodsalad2

Mediterranean Salad with Sardines

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 1 large cucumber, cut into large chunks
  • One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons sliced Kalamata olives
  • Two 4-ounce cans sardines with bones, packed in olive oil and drained (see cooking note below)

Directions

Whisk lemon juice, oil, garlic, oregano and pepper in a large serving bowl until well combined. Add tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, feta, onion and olives; gently toss to combine. Let marinate for at least an hour.

At serving time, divide the salad among 4 plates and top with sardines.

Cooking Note:

Look for sardines with skin and bones (which are edible) as they have more than four times the amount of calcium as skinless, boneless sardines. If you’re lucky enough to have fresh sardines available in your market, try them in place of the canned sardines. Lightly dredge them in salt-and-pepper-seasoned flour and sauté them in a little olive oil.

seafoodsalad3

Grilled Fish Fillet Salad

6 servings

Ingredients

Vinaigrette

  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salad

  • 1 1/2 pounds red potatoes (5-6 medium), scrubbed and halved
  • 1 1/4 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound halibut or striped bass or your favorite fish fillet (see cooking note below)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 1 large head tender lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1/4 cup sliced pitted  Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Directions

To prepare the vinaigrette:

Using a fork, mash the garlic with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl to form a coarse paste. Whisk in 5 tablespoons oil. Add 6 tablespoons orange juice, vinegar and mustard; whisk until well blended. Taste and season with more salt, if desired. Set aside at room temperature.

To prepare the salad:

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander. When cool enough to handle, slice and place in a shallow bowl. Drizzle with 1/3 cup vinaigrette; set aside.

Add beans to the saucepan and  bring to a boil; cook until the beans are bright green and just tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain well. Place in a medium bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette.

Combine lemon juice, 2 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper in a sturdy ziplock plastic bag; shake until the salt dissolves. Add fish and marinate for up to 20 minutes.

Heat a grill to medium-high and preheat for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to medium. (For a charcoal grill, wait until the flames subside and only coals and some ash remain—flames will cause the oil on the fish to burn.) Oil grill rack.

Grill the fish, turning once, until browned and just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes per side for halibut; 3 to 4 minutes per side for bass.

Arrange lettuce leaves on a large serving platter. Arrange the fish (whole or flaked into large chunks), potatoes, green beans and tomatoes on top. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette. Garnish with eggs, olives, parsley and pepper to taste.

Cooking Note:

Fish that flakes easily requires a delicate touch to flip on the grill. If you want to skip turning it over when grilling, measure a piece of foil large enough to hold the fish and coat it with cooking spray. Grill the fish on the foil (without turning) until it flakes easily and reaches an internal temperature of 145°F.

seafoodsalad4

Shrimp & Arugula Salad

Grill extra corn to use in this salad.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 cups loosely packed arugula leaves
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn if large
  • 1 1/2 cups leftover grilled fresh corn kernels, (from about 2 ears)
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons grainy mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, (21-25 per pound), peeled and deveined, tails removed if desired
  • Homemade croutons made ahead and cooled, (see recipe below)
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup Asiago or Parmesan cheese, shaved

Directions

Sprinkle shrimp with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook, turning from time to time, just until they turn pink and are opaque in the center, about 3 minutes. chill in the refrigerator.

Combine arugula, basil, corn and tomatoes in a large salad bowl.

Whisk 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.

Add to the arugula mixture along with the croutons.

Whisk the dressing again and drizzle over the salad; toss to coat. Divide the salad among 4 plates. Grind black pepper over the salads and sprinkle with cheese.

Homemade Croutons

Ingredients

  • 3 pieces of good quality Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

On a large baking sheet, spread out the bread cubes in one layer.

Evenly sprinkle the Italian seasoning, garlic powder and salt over the bread cubes.

Then drizzle the olive oil over the top.

Using your hands, toss to combine thoroughly and then spread back into one even layer.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden brown. The croutons will harden as they cool.

 

Quick Fix Dinners For Busy Nights

quickfixcover2quickfixcover1quickfixcover3

The lazy days of summer have disappeared. Those days have gone by so quickly and here we are back into the busy after school activities routine!  Soccer, tee ball, baseball, dance, gymnastics, violin…no matter what we or our children are involved in, the usual time for these activities seems to fall right in the middle of dinner time.

Dinner doesn’t have to be eaten between 5-6 p.m., though. An early dinner, right after school, can work better on busy nights. Instead of eating an after school snack, serve dinner.  Or make smoothies which are quick to drink and easy to digest and have dinner after the activity. Bottom line, eat when it makes sense and don’t be ruled by tradition.

Many recipes can be doubled and freeze well. Making dinner for one night with a spare to freeze will save you time not only because you won’t have to cook on a busy night, but you also won’t have many dishes to wash late in the evening.

Slow Cookers can not only be used for cooking but also for keeping foods warm, so when you walk in the door, dinner is ready.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for quick and healthy meals for busy evenings.

quickfix1

Shrimp and Tomato Piccata

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen medium shrimp
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces fresh thin string beans, trimmed
  • 3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 4 oz. dried linguine

Directions

Cook the pasta al dente. Drain.

Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Peel shrimp if they have shells and devein, leaving tails intact, if desired. Rinse shrimp; pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and green beans to the skillet; cook and stir for 3 minutes.

Add shrimp; cook and stir about 3 minutes or until shrimp are opaque. Add tomatoes; cook for 1 minute more.

For the sauce:

In a small bowl whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon peel, lemon juice and capers. Pour shrimp mixture over the hot cooked pasta. Drizzle sauce over the shrimp and vegetables. Serve.

quickfix2

Beef Sirloin Tips with Pepper Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds beef sirloin tip steak
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika or regular paprika
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • One 12 ounce jar red and yellow sweet peppers and onions
  • 1/2 cup homemade or store-bought spaghetti sauce
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • Quick cooking polenta or couscous

Directions

Trim meat and cut into 1- to 1-1/2-inch chunks; sprinkle with paprika.

In a 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add meat and brown on all sides. Remove from skillet; keep warm.

Add the jar of peppers and onions with the liquid and the tomato sauce to the skillet. Cook, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently until sauce is slightly thickened.

Return meat to the skillet; heat through. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with quick cooking polenta or couscous or mashed potatoes.

quickfix4

Greens, Cannellini Beans and Italian Sausage

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 12 ounces Italian sausage links, cut lengthwise into long slices
  • 1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges (1/2 cup)
  • One 15 ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • One 14 1/2 ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 12 cups chopped kale or your favorite greens
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Directions

In a very large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add sausage and  cook and until browned. Add onion and cook for 6-8 minutes until the onions are tender.

Remove mixture from the skillet to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.

Add beans, thyme and garlic to the skillet. Stir and heat through. Add broth. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, 3 to 4 minutes.

Gradually add kale, stirring until wilted before adding more. Cook and stir for 8 to 10 minutes or until all of the greens are slightly wilted and tender.

Add sausage mixture and vinegar to the skillet; heat through. Serve with crusty Italian bread.

quickfix3

Crispy Fish Fillets with Apple-Celery Slaw

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1 pound of your favorite fish fillets
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions

Cut one lemon half into 4 wedges; set aside. Juice the remaining lemon half into a large bowl. Add the mayonnaise and honey and mix well. Remove 2 tablespoons of the mixture and set aside.

For the slaw:

Stir celery, apple and cabbage into the remaining mayonnaise mixture in the bowl and refrigerate while you prepare the fish.

For the fish:

Sprinkle fish fillets with salt and brush with the reserved 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise mixture. In a shallow dish combine cornmeal and chili powder; coat fish in the cornmeal mixture.

In a 12-inch skillet heat oil over medium heat. Cook fish in hot oil 3 to 4 minutes per side or until golden and fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Serve fish with slaw and the lemon wedges.

quickfix5

Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Simple Wine Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, (about 1 lb total)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
  • Sautéed Seasonal Vegetables

Directions

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish; dip chicken in flour, turning and pressing to coat all sides of the chicken.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the skillet; swirl to lightly coat the skillet. Add chicken breasts, smooth sides down and cook about 5 minutes or until the chicken is golden brown.

Turn chicken over; cook for 4 to 5 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink (165 degrees F). Transfer chicken to a warm serving platter; set aside.

For the sauce:

Add the shallots to the hot skillet; cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add wine; cook about 1 minute stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of skillet.

Add chicken broth to the skillet; bring to a boil and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in chives. Return chicken to the skillet; heat through.

Serve the chicken and wine sauce with the veggies on the side.

For the veggies:

In a second skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 minced garlic clove. Add about 2 cups of sliced seasonal vegetables (zucchini, peppers, asparagus, etc.). Saute just until barely tender and sprinkle with your favorite herb, salt and pepper to taste.

Getting Ready For School

backtoschoolcover

Packing lunches can be a rushed chore for parents and unhealthy items might get mixed in. Children have particular tastes and often balk at new, healthy foods, so the key is to keep the foods interesting and not too different from what they usually get. If your child returns home with half of their lunch uneaten because they don’t like something then use a few ”tricks” in creating their lunches.

Chips are crunchy and a fun snack, but lack nutritional value. The beginning of the school year is also the start of apple season, so substitute apple chips.

Use Greek yogurt that is full of protein and sweeten it lightly with honey to make a parfait. Layer fruit and granola with the yogurt to make something delicious that your children will love.

Unless your child is training for the Olympics, chances are they don’t need a sports drink every day. Curb their cravings for this sugary beverage with colorful flavored water.

Chocolate treats are very tempting for lunches. They’re individually wrapped and easy to throw in a backpack. Instead of the high sugar option, try healthy chocolate cookies. They pack the same great chocolate taste, but also have fiber and fewer calories.

Stop older kids from wanting to eat out by packing them a delicious wrap. They hold up well without refrigeration and you can tuck in some vegetables without them knowing. Drizzle Caesar dressing (or your child’s favorite dressing) over chicken inside a wrap for a tasty lunch that won’t have your children heading off for fast food.

If kids help pack their lunch, they’re more likely to eat it! On nights you have a bit more time, have them choose which piece of fruit or what type of bread they want and let them assemble their lunch.

Here are some ideas for healthy lunchbox snacks that most children like:

  • Single portion-sized cups of unsweetened applesauce or fruit without added sugar.
  • Trail mix made with cereals, nuts, pretzels, dried fruit or raisins, and a few chocolate chips.
  • Reduced-fat cream cheese spread on whole wheat crackers.
  • Individual serving-sized packages of low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or yogurt smoothies.
  • Carrots and celery sticks with dips made from yogurt or low-fat sour cream.
  • Whole grain bagels topped with cream cheese-vegetable spread.
  • Air-popped popcorn flavored with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
  • Cheese cubes or sticks and seedless grapes make a delicious side dish for sandwiches or wraps.
  • Cold strips of grilled chicken with a honey mustard dip.
  • Dried cranberries or cherries are a sweet alternative for kids bored with raisins.

backtoschool2

Baked Apple Chips

Makes about 50 chips

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large apples or 3 small ones (such as gala, braeburn or fuji)
  • Cinnamon, optional

You will also need:

baking sheets lined with parchment paper

a saucepan to make the simple syrup in

a mandoline or a sharp knife and a cutting board

tongs

the oven set to 250 degrees F

Directions

Make the simple syrup:

Pour the two cups of water and sugar into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Stir it once it comes to a boil to make sure there’s no sugar stuck to the bottom of the pan and it’s all dissolved.

Once the liquid is clear, turn off the heat and let it sit.

Set the oven to 250 degrees F.

Use a mandoline or a sharp knife. Start from the side of the apple and slice off the rounded side of the apple. Then cut the apples into 1/16 inch slices.

Keep going right through the center of the apple. At this stage don’t worry about coring them or the seeds.

backtoschool3

Use a paring knife or your fingernails to remove any seed fragments, stems or fuzzy bits from the apple. The core will soften in the warm syrup.

Place the apples in the simple syrup and soak for 10 minutes. Stir a few times during the soaking period.

Using tongs, lift the apples, one by one from the syrup, shake off the excess and place them on the parchment lined baking sheets.

Don’t overlap them, but try to get as many on the baking sheets as you can. Flatten them as you go  Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon is using.

Place one baking sheet in the middle of the oven and the other right below that.

Cook them for a half hour and then rotate the trays so the top one is on bottom. Cook for another half hour and check. Depending on your oven, both sheets might be done. If they’re done, they should be golden brown and crisp.

If they’re not, give them 10 or 15 more minutes and check again, continuing to do so until they’re done. Keep in mind that they will harden up a bit once you take them out of the oven.

Apple chips will last a few months, it they are around that long.

backtoschool1

Italian Focaccia Sandwiches

4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 5 slices bacon
  • 1 (8-ounce) round loaf of focaccia bread (6-8-inches in diameter)
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced turkey
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced provolone cheese
  • Thinly sliced tomato

Directions

Cook the bacon in a heavy large frying pan until crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.

Cut the focaccia bread in half and spread the pesto over both sides of the bread.

Cover the bottom halves of the focaccia with turkey, provolone, tomatoes and bacon, spreading equally.

Cover with the top half of the focaccia, pesto side down.

Cut the sandwich into 3-4 inch squares. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

backtoschool5

Chicken-Broccoli Cups

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup light ranch salad dressing
  • 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh broccoli
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Directions

In a small bowl combine yogurt and salad dressing.

In a medium bowl combine chicken, broccoli, carrot and, if desired, nuts. Pour yogurt mixture over the chicken mixture; toss to coat.

For individual lunches, divide chicken mixture among four plastic cups. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.

backtoschool6

Caprese Salad Pita Pockets

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped cucumber
  • 3/4 cup mixed tender salad greens
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 large whole wheat pita bread rounds, halved crosswise

Directions

In a medium bowl toss together tomatoes, cheese cubes, cucumber, salad greens, basil, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.

Spoon tomato mixture into pitas. Wrap each pita half in plastic wrap and chill.

backtoschool4

Chocolate Cookie Thins

Makes about 48 cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (about 6 ounces)
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, American-style or Dutch-process
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped slivered almonds

Directions

Line 3 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Grind chocolate in a food processor using on/off pulses until coarsely ground. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer and add cocoa, ½ cup granulated sugar, baking powder and salt; stir until blended on a low setting.

Add eggs, honey, oil and vanilla and beat on medium speed until combined.

Beat in all-purpose and whole-wheat flours; then fold in cranberries and nuts until thoroughly incorporated. The dough will be stiff.

Divide the dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into a 9-inch-long “log.” Divide the log into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.

Place on prepared cookie sheets and refrigerate until very cold, about 1 hour.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

Place remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar on a small plate. One at a time, dip the top of each ball of dough into the sugar; place, sugar-side up, about 2 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Coat the bottom of a wide glass with cooking spray, then dip it into the sugar. Flatten the balls with the glass to make cookies about 2 1/4 inches in diameter, dipping the glass into the sugar between each cookie and spraying it as needed.

Bake the cookies on the center rack, one pan at a time, until just firm to the touch, 8 to 13 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool. Repeat with remaining pans.

These cookies store well in the freezer.


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