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On Fridays, my husband can come home for lunch (he works 15 minutes away), so I like to make a hot meal to give him some variety from his regular cold sandwiches. He never knows what he’ll come home to – sometimes it’s a tuna melt, sometimes it’s a stew, sometimes it’s soup. Today, it was curried lentils in tomato sauce over brown rice.

I’m on a avoid-sugar-and-white-flour kick right now, and I’m trying to stay away from bread altogether.  I’ve found that cutting bread from my diet makes lunchtime tricky, so I’ve been sifting through the healthy vegetarian recipes on MarthaStewart.com searching for easy, interesting dishes that would work well for lunch – and that’s where I found this.

Granted, eating a super healthy lunch may take a bit more planning than slapping together my beloved peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but it is rewarding. Tucking into this bowl of hearty, flavorful and nutritious lentils was pretty great. It’s spicy and delicious, with just the right amount of kick. It’s very filling, and it’s loaded with good-for-you nutrients like folate, potassium and iron. Lentils are also a good source of fiber and protein. A meal that’s both incredibly healthy and incredibly delicious?  I don’t want to brag, but there were some high fives after lunch.

Curried Lentils in Tomato Sauce

Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart Everyday Food, March 2007

  • 2 cups dried lentils, rinsed and picked over*
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 piece fresh ginger (2 inches long), peeled and finely grated (my piece was big and fat so there was a lot of ginger)
  • Coarse salt
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (optional – I used it)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 jar (26 ounces) best-quality store-bought tomato sauce (I used Prego Chunky Garden Combo)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish (optional)
  • Cooked brown rice, for serving
  1. In a medium pot, combine lentils with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes, topping off water as needed. Lentils are done when easily mashed with a fork.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onion and ginger; season with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Add spices; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds.
  4. Add tomato sauce, lentils, and 1 cup water. Simmer until slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Test lentils – if they are still a bit gritty as mine were, add another half cup of water and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. When the lentils are ready, stir in lime juice and cilantro; season with salt.

*The original recipe called for 2 cans of lentils, rinsed and drained.

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Happy New Year! Have you made any resolutions? I’m not the resolution-making type myself, but I do want to continue making good, healthy wholesome food and keep up my routine of working out regularly. After all the indulgence of Christmas week, I feel compelled to focus especially on eating well for the immediate future. I can’t stay away from pasta and cheese forever, but I’m going to be kicking up the healthiness around here for a while.

In that spirit, I bring you roasted chicken and vegetables. Back when I started cooking for myself, I always thought of roast chicken as something I’d have when I was visiting my parents, not something I’d make myself. “Roasted chicken is something mom makes, but it’s too much bother for me,” I’d think, which is kind of sad because roasted chicken is one of my favorite meals and I was avoiding it because I thought it was tricky, or too much work. Guess what? NOT TRUE. It’s actually very easy, worry free, and the results of course are delicious. And with a recipe like this one, also very healthy.

You chop up some veggies and toss them in a pan, then nestle the chicken breasts on top, so the majority of the meal is done in one pan. If you roast some potatoes along side the roasting pan, you’ve got dinner without much fuss. The veggies roast in the drippings from the chicken, which makes them taste divine. The chicken is bone in and skin on, so it cooks up moist and flavorful, and then you just peel off the skin to avoid the excess calories. We really enjoyed this meal, and it was so easy to throw together. There’s really no need to save roasted chicken for special occasions when you have this simple recipe in your arsenal, and it’s so so good and wholesome.

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

From Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

Yield: Serves 4 Prep: 10 minutes Total time: 1 hour

1 acorn squash, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and halved

1 large red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges

8 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

4 bone-in chicken breast halves (10 ounces each)

1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crumbled

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the squash, mushrooms, onion, garlic, and oil in a roasting pan; season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast until the squash is beginning to soften and all the vegetables are heated through, about 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, lift up the skin from the chicken breasts; rub the flesh with rosemary and some salt and pepper. Replace the skin; season the chicken all over with more salt.
  3. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, and place the chicken, skin side up, on top of the vegetables. Return to the oven; continue roasting until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 35 minutes.

Okay, I know this isn’t very pretty, but that doesn’t stop it from being all sorts of delicious. I don’t cook a lot of beef dishes, but this one caught my eye and I knew James would love it. The brisket is braised for four hours until it simply falls apart in tender, savory amazingness. This dish is packed full of fantastic flavors, bright and slightly tart from the cranberries, rich and complex from the wine, this is the definition of umami. I love that it’s very saucy, it basically creates its own gravy. This dish begs to be served with buttermilk mashed potatoes, so that’s what I did – it was awesome.

This is a true Sunday dinner – yes, it does take a lot of time, so it pretty much necessitates weekend cooking. But more than that, this is the kind of meal that you’d have at home with your whole family. This is home cooking comfort. It would be a great dish for company, but I don’t see why I should have to save it just for that, you know? We live about 7 hours away from our nearest family, so we don’t have many occasions for big family meals and it would be easy to just cook fast dishes that are sized more appropriately for our two-person household. But sometimes I just crave those Big Deal Sunday Dinners that my mom makes – this dish fit the bill perfectly, and yes there was a ton of leftovers but they were awesome leftovers.

And while it may seem big and fancy and time-comsuming, the majority of the time is hands off, in the oven. There was probably 15 minutes of work involved in making this, it’s actually remarkably simple after you brown the beef – you just toss a bunch of stuff in the pot and then throw the thing in the oven! And what comes out is magic.

Braised Brisket with Cranberries

From Everyday Food, November 2008

Prep Time: 15 minutes Total Time: 4 1/4 hours Yield: Serves 8

3 pounds beef brisket, fat trimmed to a 1/4-inch layer
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
1 bag (12 ounces) cranberries
1 bag (1 pound) frozen pearl onions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in lowest position. Season brisket with salt and pepper. Heat a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high. Add brisket, fat side down. Cook until browned, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating once. Transfer brisket to a plate (reserve pot).
  2. Add flour to pot and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add broth, wine, bay leaf, molasses, half the cranberries, and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Return brisket to pot, and cover. Transfer to oven; bake 3 hours.
  3. Stir in onions; cover, and return pot to oven. Cook 30 minutes more. Stir in remaining cranberries; return pot to oven. Cook, uncovered, until brisket is fork-tender, 30 minutes more. Discard bay leaf before serving.

I recently discovered the wonder that is bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. I never used to cook with them because the boneless, skinless variety is easier and I guess marginally healthier for you. Now I’m cooking with them all the time because cooking the chicken on the bone results in a moister, more flavorful meat. And I’d argue that if you don’t actually eat the skin, the chicken on the bone isn’t much different in terms of fat and calories than the boneless variety.

Plus, the bone-in variety is cheaper than boneless chicken breasts, so what’s not to love?

This recipe comes from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, and like every recipe I’ve ever tried from that magazine, it’s a good one. The magicians chefs at Everyday Food always surprise me with the deliciousness they can whip up with so few ingredients. This is one of those “that’s all there is??” recipes: breadcrumbs + parmesan cheese + fresh parsley + lemon = magic. This is an extremely tasty and simple way to have chicken – so simple that if you make it a few times you probably wouldn’t even need to look at the recipe again – but it’s nice enough to serve to company.

Parmesan-stuffed Chicken Breasts

From Everyday Food

Serves 4 (if you can tell by my photos, the breasts I used were massive and James and I split them to get 8 servings)

1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (use fresh for best results!)

Grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)

Coarse salt and ground pepper

4 bone-in chicken breast halves (about 3 lbs)

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, mix parsley, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and zest. Season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  2. Divide parsley mixture into 4 mounds. Carefully loosen chicken skin with fingers; tuck parsley mixture under skin. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place in a 9×13-inch roasting pan.
  3. Bake until skin is crispy, chicken is cooked through, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 165 degrees, about 30 minutes.

Suzi

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