Friday, December 31, 2010

Collard Greens-Black-Eyed Peas-Country Ham-Cornbread

HAPPY 2011!

Our family traditions spill directly into the New Year. I'm just now realizing how comforting a lifetime of traditions can be. They are the glue for our widespread family. Even when circumstances keep us apart geographically, we know the drill. Some traditions are our own, some we share because of our Southern Heritage, and some we have picked up from new family and friends. No matter whether they're old or new, our traditions, along with lots of love, hold our family together.

For many, the New Year signals a rededication to healthy eating and living. We don't restrict our health consciousness to January. You can do that anytime of year—any day is good.

But we do begin the New Year with a traditional meal of collard greens, black eyes peas and ham, signifying money, luck and good health. I personally can't imagine not having this meal on January 1st. I've changed it up a little, with Collard Greens and Ham Soup garnished by my version of Hoppin' John: black eyed peas combined with chow-chow. Add cornbread, cooked in my grandmother's old black cast iron skillet, and you have our traditional New Year's Day meal. It's OK if you don't eat it on January 1st. As long as you consume during the month of January, you're giving yourself the chance for a year filled with prosperity, luck and good health.

Happy 2011!

New Year's Collard Greens and Country Ham Soup with Black Eyed Pea Chowchow

Having the 'pot likker (vitamin rich broth from cooking greens)' in the soup is a little like 'having your cake and eating it, too'. The pot likker was my grandmother's favorite part of a pot of greens.

1 T canola oil

1 sweet onion, diced

~10 oz. Country Ham trimmings (more lean than fat)

1 lb. Trimmed Winter Collard Greens (center stem removed, rolled and cut into strips)

One teaspoon tabasco, or more to taste

6 cups water

Salt to taste

1 tsp. Black pepper

pinch of Sugar

2 cups cooked white rice

2 cups cooked black eyed pea chowchow* for garnish

Add canola oil to large soup pot over medium heat. Saute onions with ham until onions are soft and translucent. Add collards, stirring to coat and wilt down. Add tabasco, water, salt, pepper and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, cover pot with lid slightly ajar, and cook for about 2 hours.

Check seasoning, add cooked rice and serve with Black Eyed Pea Chowchow and cornbread.

*Black Eyed Pea Chowchow

1 tsp. Canola oil

2 strips bacon, diced

One-half sweet onion, diced

2 cups frozen black eyed peas

One and one-half cups water

1 tsp. Salt

One-half cup chowchow

Add canola oil to medium sized pot over medium heat. Add diced pieces of bacon and cook until beginning to brown, stirring occasionally. Add diced onion, and continue to cook until onions are soft and translucent. Now, add the black eyed peas and stir to coat with bacon drippings, then add water and salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover with lid ajar to simmer and cook until peas are tender, about 40 minutes.

Drain peas, onion and bacon (you can add the remaining cooking liquid to your Collard and Ham Soup.)

Combine pea mixture with chowchow and serve as a garnish to soup.


(The buttermilk makes this a nice, moist cornbread.)

3 cups self-rising stone ground corn meal (ie House Autry Self-Rising Cornmeal)

1 T sugar

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

2 T canola oil

2 cups buttermilk

3 T butter for pan

Preheat oven to 425º. Add butter to 10 inch iron skillet and preheat in oven.

Stir cornmeal, sugar and salt together. Beat eggs and oil and add to cornmeal. Add buttermilk, stirring with a fork to mix well. Pour into hot skillet and bake for about 25 minutes, until top is beginning to brown.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Only a few days left 'til Christmas—but don't panic. I have good tips for all things 'Christmas' including gifts!

I've learned that the world won't stop turning if I don't finish everything on my Holiday To Do List. No one even notices. It seems that we're all trying to do too much, so I'm asking myself more often, 'what really matters today?'. That's Tip #1. Ask yourself, and then listen quietly for the answer.

I remember the year we made all our tree ornaments. That's all we could afford, and they mattered. The homemade ornament year was followed by several years of homemade gifts. When I spot one of those hand crafted treasures, and some are still hanging around, it takes me back to a much simpler time. Then came a string of Santa Claus years when the absolute thrill of believing was most important, even if it meant driving half way across the state to make it happen. I loved those years, and I'm told they'll come around again.

A bunch of years have passed since the Santa Clause era, and I'm ashamed to admit I can't really say what mattered from one year to the next. We were busy. We did it all, but I don't remember much about what 'it all' was. Here's Tip #2: Try not to let that happen to you. Whatever you're doing this year, whatever matters most to you, take the time to acknowledge it, and really enjoy the moment!

Tip #3: a Pecan Bar from Martha Stewart that can replace pecan pie in a snap, or be wrapped for a lovely gift.

Tip #4: David Libovitz Spiced Glazed Nuts and Pretzel Mix—quick, easy and delicious as a party snack or for a gift that will be appreciated by everyone.

Tip #5: Artichoke Spread—again, serve it yourself, or put it in jelly jars and share with your friends and neighbors (must be refrigerated).

Have a very Merry Christmas, and enjoy each precious moment!

Pecan Bars

Adapted from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, December 2004

Prep: 15 minutes
Total: 1 hour


Makes 24


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten


3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 ounces (about 2 cups) pecans

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil. In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, and salt to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg; pulse just until a dough forms.

Transfer dough to prepared pan; with floured fingers and an offset spatula, press firmly into bottom and 3/4 inch up sides. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.

Prick bottom of dough; bake until lightly golden, 22 to 25 minutes. Let cool while preparing filling.

Make the filling: In a large saucepan, bring butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over high heat, whisking constantly, until smooth; continue boiling, without stirring, until slightly darkened, about 2 minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Whisk in cream and salt; mix in pecans.

Assemble and bake: Spoon hot filling evenly over crust, using spoon to arrange and press in nuts so they fit snugly (create as flat a surface as possible).

Bake until bubbling and amber-colored, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool completely in pan.

Using foil, lift cake from pan; peel off foil. With a sharp knife, trim edges (if desired). Cut into 6 even strips; cut each strip crosswise into 4 even strips to make 24 bars.

Spiced Glazed Nuts and Pretzel Mix

Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

2 cups (200 gr) mixed raw nuts (untoasted); any combination of cashews, whole almonds, peanuts, pecan halves, and hazelnuts

1 tablespoon (15 gr) unsalted butter, melted

3 tablespoons (45 gr) dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or another red pepper)

1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt

2 cups (100 gr) small pretzel twists

1. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and roast in a 350F (180C) oven for 10 minutes, stirring once for even toasting.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and maple syrup.

3. Add the warm nuts, stirring until coated. Then mix in the salt and pretzels, and stir until the nuts and pretzels are completely coated.

4. Spread the mixture back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for 12-18 minutes, stirring twice during cooking. Remove from oven and cool completely, separating the nuts and pretzels as they cool. (12 min. was plenty for mine)

Once cool, this mixture can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

Artichoke Spread

2 cups packed artichoke hearts, drained

zest of half a lemon

1 T fresh lemon juice

1 small garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoons sea salt

2 generous tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (or curly if that's all you can find)

1 cup toasted pecan pieces (you can substitute almonds or pinenuts)

One and one-half cups shredded parmesan cheese

4 oz. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a food processor, pulse artichokes, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic clove, salt and parsley until combined and artichokes are coarsely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spoon. Add pecans, and pulse just until chopped. Scrape down again. Add parmesan cheese and olive oil, and pulse several more times to combine. Add more olive oil if needed.

Store in refrigerator for two weeks, or freeze in freezer containers.

Use as spread with crackers or crostini, or you can add to hot pasta as a sauce.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm posting this a day early because this afternoon we really are going over the river and through the woods to no internet, and no cell phone coverage; no tv and no double oven; no Thermador cooktop, and no huge Samsung frig with ice and water dispenser.
But we will have two wood stoves, and a whole house full of people who are very thankful for each other (and that includes those we're carrying in our hearts!).
My Daddy's best saying: it's not what's on the table, but who's around it (again, including 'in heart'). So Happy Thanksgiving to All, and know that if I'm not looking at you, you're still with



Chocolate Pecan Tart

Your favorite double pie crust

3 eggs, beaten

1 cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

three-fourths cup brown sugar, packed

1 cup chopped pecans

One-third cup butter

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces

1 egg, beaten, to brush top crust and sugar to sprinkle over crust

Place pie crust on floured surface and roll to 12 inch circle. Place pie crust in buttered 10 inch spring form pan (should have about 1 inch edge on sides). Spread chocolate pieces evenly over crust.

Add pecans to small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir for 3-4 minutes, then add butter and continue stirring until melted and bubbling. Remove from heat and cool.

Combine remaining ingredients and beat until well mixed. Add cooled pecans and butter and stir to combine. Pour into crust. Roll out second crust and cut decorative leaves and lattice. Place on top of pie. Brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 350º for 45-50 minutes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Turkey--More than the main event!

The Main Ingredient that Keeps on Giving!

With the Thanksgiving Feast fast approaching, I cook with left-overs in mind, especially when there's lots of company and many more meals to come. Extra turkey for later is almost more important to me than the warm slices that will nestle against the dressing and cranberry sauce.

I cook an extra turkey breast to assure that everyone gets a turkey sandwich or two. That's one time I highly recommend white bread (specifically Pepperidge Farm House White): turkey, mayo (Dukes of course), lettuce and plenty of salt and pepper on really fresh white bread. I'm already there!

I'm a big turkey fan. I learned to do the carving long before I was actually doing the cooking. I can admit now that it was a selfish gesture. No one seemed very interested. We didn't do the dramatic carving at the table, so while Mama whipped the potatoes and kept the rolls from getting too brown on top, I sliced my way through the bird, which meant that I could also steal the very best bites of crispy skin that dislodged from the meat and would never make it to the table anyway! My very favorite part of the turkey!

I learned a lesson from those carving days. Now I want everyone to enjoy their favorite bite, so while the turkey rests, waiting to make its way to the table via carving board, I encourage those who are so inclined to snitch a little bite. It's our Thanksgiving 'amuse-bouche'!

I also take care of the entire bird while carving, right down to cleaning the bones. The tiny little pieces that fall apart or cling to a bone get stored in a ziplock bag and refrigerated. When the feast is over, I store the sandwich pieces in a separate ziplock, and all the extra little pieces left on the platter join their friends in the scrap bag. These little scraps are going to turn into two of my favorite post-feast turkey meals: Curried Holiday Turkey Salad and Turkey and Corn Chowder. Both of these recipes have such nice flavors, and are distinctly different from their origin. You don't really notice that you're eating leftovers.

There's no better place to count our blessings than around the Thanksgiving table. May yours be especially thankful and delicious this year.

Turkey and Corn Chowder

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

4 slices of lean bacon, diced

1 sweet onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, diced

1 T butter

2-3 cups cooked turkey, diced (or chicken)

1 small can green chilies

1 teaspoon cumin (or more, to taste)

1 T hot sauce

One-half tsp. Salt

2 (~15oz.) cans white and yellow corn, drained (or fresh or frozen corn)

32 oz. chicken broth

2 cups half and half

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or your choice of a flavorful melting cheese)

Chopped fresh cilantro to garnish

Lime slices to garnish

Extra shredded cheese to garnish

Extra hot sauce to garnish

Pour olive oil into soup pot over medium heat. Add diced bacon and cook for a couple of minutes, then add diced onion and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring. Add garlic and cook for one more minute. Now add butter, and when melted add diced turkey and stir to combine. Next add green chilies, cumin, hot sauce and salt, along with corn and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and add half and half. Next, add cheese, and stir until melted and combined. Taste and adjust for salt and hotness.

Serve with chopped cilantro, lime slices, extra cheese and hot sauce as garnish.

The garnishes add great 'kicks' of flavor!

Curried Holiday Turkey Salad

Tip: for a really pretty presentation, cut the ends from croissants and fill with turkey salad. They look like little cornucopias.

1 cup dried cranberries

One-third cup orange juice (or wine, or apple juice)

7-8 cups chopped cooked turkey (light and dark meat)

1 cup quartered seedless grapes

1 cup toasted pecan halves, roughly chopped (want big pieces)--

2 stalks of celery, chopped

2 T cider vinegar

2 T sugar

1 tsp. Salt

2 tsp. Curry powder

1 cup mayonnaise

Add dried cranberries and orange juice to small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stir, remove from heat and let the cranberries plump while making the rest of the salad.

Add chopped turkey, grapes, pecans and celery to large mixing bowl. Gently toss to combine.

Whisk together vinegar, sugar, salt and curry powder. Then add to mayonnaise and thoroughly combine. Add more salt or curry to taste.

Pour dressing over turkey mixture.

Drain cranberries and add to mixture. Gently fold together until everything is well combined.

Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fantastic Weeknight Lasagna: Back to Italy!

Lasagna--So Easy You HAVE to Try It!

This sounded so good, and looked so easy, I had to try it. I found the recipe in a recent Rachel Ray magazine, but instead of being an original 30 Minute Rachel Ray special, it was emailed by a reader in New York. Here are the original recipe ingredients, followed by my changes. They are both delicious, fast and easy! I'm definitely going to make this during the holidays for a non-turkey company dinner.

Original Ingredients:

1 lb. Spicy Italian Sausage

1 head of escarole, chopped

1 (24 oz.) jar tomato sauce

1 (9oz.) package fresh cheese ravioli

16oz. Shredded mozzarella

My Changed-Up Recipe

1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 large sweet onion, chopped

1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage

4 slices thick, meaty bacon, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 (12 oz.) package large mushroom slices

1 (9 oz.) bag fresh spinach

Salt to taste

1 (24 oz.) jar pasta sauce (I used Emeril's Tomato Basil)

1 (24 oz.) package fresh three cheese Ravioli

5 cups shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350°.

Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat. Add Sausage and cook until browned. Drain excess oil from sausage and onion and set aside.

Add chopped bacon to pan, and saute until browning. Add garlic, stir around for about 30 seconds and then add mushrooms. Cook just until mushrooms begin giving off liquid. Don't cook all the way. Add spinach and toss with tongs until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat.

In greased 9 x 13 inch casserole, begin layering. Add half the tomato sauce, cover with half the raviolis in a single layer, then half sausage, spinach and cheese. Repeat layers.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling all the way through. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tricks for Your Treats...

Tricky Ingredients Make Healthy Treats

If you like peanut butter as much as I do, you're going to love these recipes! I came by my peanut butter addiction honestly. There's always a jar of peanut butter mixed with honey on the counter at home. In my mind, peanut butter falls under the 'kids meal' category, but my heart knows better. Peanut butter is a food mildly tolerated by kids and only sometimes enjoyed. My peanut butter palate didn't fully mature until I was also enjoying other more adult foods. Maybe that's because there was nothing smooth about peanut butter when I was growing up. It was a challenge to spread it without tearing the bread—but no more!

Good peanut butter has a satisfying depth of flavor, and there are so many delicious pairings. Remember your first Reese Cup? Chocolate and peanut butter: a memory worth savoring. And how about jelly? I've experimented with some interesting flavors, but grape jelly continues to be my first choice. Many love the peanut butter/honey combination. I can't deny that it does have its own special appeal. If you're really hungry, with only time for a bite, nothing is more lasting or satisfying than a big bite of peanut butter.

I first published this recipe in 2007 as a healthy lunch box choice for kids as they were going back to school. When I saw the cover of Cooking Light this month sporting banana bread with peanut butter, I decided to dig this out of my recipe archives and compare. By combining the two recipes, I was able to add some yogurt, remove some butter, losing a little fat, and produce some pretty darn good cupcakes. Truthfully, they're more like muffins, and don't need the frosting, but don't tell the kids.

The second recipe is a homemade health bar with lots of protein, fiber, and antioxidants, but if you don't tell, no one will know they're eating something that's really good for them.

So, take a little time and make healthy treats for the goblins this year.

Banana Cupcakes with PB & J

One and one-half to one and three-fourths cups mashed, very ripe bananas

Tip: if your bananas aren't very soft, cut them up and microwave for one minute on high. If you have a 'muddler' it's a good tool to use to mash your bananas.

2 large eggs

One-fourth cup vanilla yogurt

One-fourth cup creamy peanut butter

2 T canola oil

3 T melted butter

One-half cup white sugar

One-half cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1 tsp. Cinnamon

1 tsp. Salt

One and one-half teaspoon baking soda

One and one-half cup plain flour


One-fourth cup creamy peanut butter

One-fourth cup grape jelly

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix bananas, eggs, yogurt peanut butter canola oil and melted butter until well blended. Add white and brown sugar and mix to thoroughly combine.

Stir the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together, and then mix it into banana mixture.

Swirl peanut butter and jelly together gently, without thoroughly combining.

Put cupcake liners into muffin tins.

Fill each liner about two-thirds full. When batter settles into liner, add a heaping teaspoon of the peanut butter/jelly mixture. Then cover with a little more batter, smoothing with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely before frosting.


4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

1 T butter, room temperature

1 heaping T grape jelly

One and one-half cup confectioners' sugar

Cream cheese, butter and jelly. Add confectioners' sugar a little at a time until all incorporated.

Store in refrigerator.

Peanut Butter Granola Bars
Tip: I used my nonstick wok to mix this, and it worked nicely. Also, you can substitute or add extra nuts and dried fruit as you desire.

One cup honey

One-half cup white sugar

One-half cup brown sugar

One and one-half cups smooth peanut butter

1 (15oz.) box of your favorite granola-like cereal (shouldn't be sweet)

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup dried cherries

One and one-half cups 60% chocolate cacao chips

Preheat oven to 325°.

Heat honey, and both sugars in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring.

Remove from heat, add peanut butter, and stir until completely combined. Immediately add cereal, pecans and dried cherries and stir to combine.

Pour into parchment lined 9 x 13 inch pan, and spread evenly.

Pour chocolate chips evenly over top.

Place in oven just for a minute to let chocolate melt. Remove and smooth chocolate over top with an offset spatula.

Set aside and cool completely.

When cool, slice into bars and store in zip lock bags.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Weeknights Around the Table--Cubano Tenderloin

Cubano Tenderloin (or Pork Chop) and Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salsa with Lime Slaw
It's another weeknight-winner! In a little more than 30 minutes you can have this on the table, and your family enjoying a healthy meal. Planning is key. Begin with doable recipes and make a specific grocery list, noting the items you already have in your pantry. It really speeds things along if you have a time line, even if it's only a 30-40 minute one. I always check my recipes, and then make a list:
1)preheat oven and make sauce;
2)make ham/cheese/pickle packets;
3)slice tenderloin or chops, coat with seasoned flour and brown meat;
4)place ham packets into pockets, put in baking dish, drizzle with sauce and bake;
5)drain beans and corn;
6)slice tomatoes, chop cilantro and mix with beans, corn and sauce;
7)toss slaw with remaining sauce;
8)remove meat from oven, mix mustard with pan juices; and
One last tip: make 2 tenderloins and you'll have some outstanding sandwiches the next day!

Cubano Pork with Black Bean Corn Salsa and Lime Slaw

(4 servings)


One-half cup orange juice

Juice from two limes (or ~ one-half cup lime juice)

Zest from limes, optional

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon salt

Mix all sauce ingredients together and set aside.

1 pork tenderloin (~ l lb.) or 4-6 center cut chops

1/2 cup seasoned flour (salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, chili powder)

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon hot sauce

8 thin slices of deli ham

4 slices of swiss cheese, halved

8 thin pieces of dill pickle

2 tablespoons mustard

1 can black beans drained

1 can sweet corn drained

8 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 package (10oz.) angel hair cabbage

2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 400°

Make 8 slices into the tenderloin on a slight angle without slicing all the way through (or make pockets in chops).

Add olive oil to pan over medium high heat. Dredge meat in seasoned flour and sear on all sides.

Place one-half slice of cheese on each piece of deli ham. Fold in half, then fold again. Set aside.

Place seared meat into oven proof pan or casserole dish.

Put a ham and cheese packet and a piece of pickle between each slice of pork. Drizzle hot sauce mixed with 2 oz. of citrus sauce over top of meat, and place in oven for about 20 minutes, until desired doneness. When meat is done, pour pan drippings into a small bowl, add the mustard and whisk. Serve meat slices with mustard sauce.

While meat is cooking, mix beans, corn, tomatoes and cilantro together. Add half the remaining sauce (should be about one-fourth cup). Stir to combine and set aside.

Mix remaining sauce (another one-fourth cup) with the mayonnaise. Combine this dressing with the cabbage, and toss to combine.

Serve pork slices with bean salsa and slaw.

The leftovers make a fabulous sandwich—so good I made two tenderloins to assure the second meal!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Weeknights Around the Table

First Stop, Italy!

As much as I hate to see it go, the freedom of summer is nearly gone. Even though I aged out of the 'back to school' blahs quite awhile ago, my subconscious still remembers. We went from sleeping in, not worrying about clean clothes, staying up late and eating lots of casually grilled meals, to the regimented routine of fall: school, sports practice, music lessons, homework, baths every night, clean clothes every morning—and dinner. No more dawdling. A 'meat and two' on the table every night. How many ways can you really serve chicken?

Well, let me tell you: Hundreds!

My favorite is and always will be old fashioned fried chicken. Not your 'oven fried' or Kentucky Fried (even though their extra crispy isn't bad!). No, I'm talking about iron skillet, crisco, buttermilk, double dipped in seasoned flour fried. But that's a Saturday or Sunday labor of love.

And my second favorite is Chicken with Slick Dumplings, again a time consumer. When I make Chicken and Dumplings, I always make a big pot, so the leftovers morph into a wonderful week night meal.

The 'meat and two' chicken kind of meals I'm talking about usually involve skinned, deboned chicken breasts or thighs. They can be split open and pounded into thinner versions that cook quickly. You can take a spin around the culinary world with a change of sauce and seasonings. When paired with the appropriate starch and vegetable you can turn week night meals into geography lessons with a culinary twist!

My first suggestion is of the Italian persuasion. The chicken is stuffed with basil pesto, tomato slices and a little parmesan cheese, browned in a skillet, and then finished in the oven. While the chicken is cooking, saute some asparagus with a little balsamic vinegar in the same skillet you used to brown your chicken. Transfer the asparagus into the oven on top of the chicken with a little added parmesan cheese.

To round out the meal, one of my favorites: spaghetti squash. The hardest thing about this squash is cutting the thing open, so be very careful. Scrape out the seeds, put cut side down in a pyrex plate and cover with saran wrap, and into the microwave for about ten minutes. That's it! With a fork, scrape the insides into a serving bowl with butter, salt, and pepper (more cheese if you like). That's it—it comes out sort of like spaghetti strands.

The full meal is done in about thirty minutes. The trick, of course is to have everything you need on hand, so a little weekly preplanning is required.

Italian Chicken, Asparagus and Spaghetti Squash Dinner

(recipe/grocery list)

(4 servings)

4 Skinless, deboned chicken breasts

8 teaspoons Pre-made basil pesto

3 Italian tomatoes, slices

1 cup Shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

1 cup Seasoned flour (you can make you own—I use House Autry)

1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 bunch of Fresh Asparagus (several spears per person)

2 tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar

1 Spaghetti Squash (one squash makes 4 servings)

Salt/Pepper to taste

2 tablespoons Butter

1 quart of your favorite Ice Cream for dessert

Preheat oven to 325°.

Slice chicken breast open (like a book) without cutting all the way through. With the edge of a saucer, pound the meat across, then up and down. This tenderizes and thins. Spread about two teaspoons of pesto on one of the cut sides, top with a couple of tomato slices and a good sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Close chicken and dredge both top and bottom with seasoned flour. Repeat with all breasts.

Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place floured chicken breasts into heated pan. Do this in batches if you're making more that 3 or 4 pieces. Don't overcrowd your pan. May need to add a little more oil. Brown for about 4 minutes on each side, turning carefully.

Move browned chicken to a casserole dish and place in the preheated oven. Cook for about twenty minutes.

Add asparagus to nonstick skillet and shake the pan to coat the asparagus with drippings. Then top with a little balsamic vinegar, and shake the pan again, to get everything coated. Turn heat to low and cook for a couple of minutes, then place asparagus on top of chicken in oven and sprinkle with a little shredded parmesan cheese. Leave in oven until chicken is done.

Cut spaghetti squash in half longways. They have a very hard outer skin, so be careful. When halved, scrape out the seeds, and place cut side down in a pyrex dish that fits in your microwave. Add a couple of tablespoons of water and cover with saran wrap. Cook on high for about ten minutes a half. The outside will 'give' a little when they're done.

With a fork, scrape the insides of the squash into a serving dish, and season with salt, pepper and some butter.

Serve and enjoy!

(Dessert? Ben and Jerry's Pistachio Ice Cream)