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Spicing up the everyday meal

If you are like most people, time is one of the biggest enemies for any cook, seasoned or novice.  People assume countless hours are needed to make a great meal but that is not always the case!  In today’s world, many of us need to cook healthy meals but do it quickly.  Forget going through the drive-thru after work, just get home and spend 30 minutes to create a meal that tastes good and will benefit you more than that disgusting mystery meat burger. To educate your kid about how to properly eat  and cook since he or she is young, buy them this kids aprons.

It’s so simple to jazz up your weekday dinners. All you need are some spices, creativity and my tricks!

Let’s start with the sides. One of my constant companions to any meal is veggies. I try to incorporate at LEAST one with every meal. An easy and fast way to prepare vegetables are to roast them in the oven at a high temperature, around 375 to 400 degrees F. This will retain vitamins and minerals while caramelizing the sugars in the veggies, resulting in exquisitely scrumptious sidekicks. Simply add EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) to the veggies along with salt and pepper and any dried spice.  When using fresh herbs, first roast and about 5 minutes before they are done toss them in and finish roasting. High temperatures will burn the delicate fresh herbs. Some herbs are hardier than others, for example rosemary, which can cook for a while and not burn.

TIP:  Don’t know when it’s done?  Just take a santoku knife and pierce the veggie.  If it’s hard to go in, it might need some more time.  If it goes in easy, it’s done.  (‘aint that the truth!)

Forget about boiling broccoli in water.  All the vitamins and minerals are leached into the water and thrown into the sink.  You are left with bland and boringness!  Try this recipe instead and you will be amazing on how much broccoli you can eat!

Balsamic Roasted Broccoli
Preheat oven to 400 F
Serves 2
2 heads of broccoli, cut into florets
3 tbsp of EVOO
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

2 tbps of Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp ground garlic, dried

Mix all ingredients in a medium sized bowl and mix well. Spread out on a baking sheet and throw it in the oven. 15 min later you are done!  Now that is easy!!

Variations: add chopped parsley once finished or sprinkle with cheese and cook for additional 5 min.  Also, lemon zest and juice adds a tangy twist.

You can do this with almost every veggie.  Also try these: carrots, fennel, hard squash, asparagus, beets (my favorite), tomatoes or onions.

Gratins are a typical French classic bistro dish and may take a while to make since most are made with a béchamel sauces and many time consuming steps but I have a couple time saving secrets for making it easier. I do take the time to make them properly when I can but here are some short cuts when time is scarce.

Quick Eggplant Gratin
Preheat oven to 350 F
2 medium sized eggplants
4 tbsp EVOO
¾ cup ricotta cheese; reduced fat

1 egg

½ cup grated parmesan

2 tbsp of fresh parsley

Salt and Pepper to taste

Cut the eggplant lengthwise into large slices about ¼ to ½ inch slices.

In a large sauté pan, add a tbsp of olive oil and when the pan is hot, sauté the eggplant until tender.  Repeat until all the eggplant is cooked.  Let sit on a plate lined with paper towel.

In a medium sized bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well.

Take a loaf pan or glass dish that can be put into the oven. Add a drizzle of EVOO on the bottom.

Put a layer of the eggplant in the bottom on the dish.

Put a couple spoon full’s of the ricotta mixture over eggplant and spread around.

Add a couple spoon full’s of parmesan and then layer more eggplant.

Repeat this process until all ingredients are finished.

Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese and add a drizzle of EVOO and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the top is slightly brown.

Accompaniments of many meals usually consist of a starch.  Although I rarely have any white starch, opting more for brown rice or sweet potatoes, it’s so easy to jazz up this category as well.  Instead of making white rice (how boring!!), make fiber-rich brown rice and when it’s almost done, add a hand-full of almonds, cranberries and fresh parsley.  Mix them together and you have an amazingly easy side dish!  This will easily remove the “not-so-great” simple carbs and replace it with energy packed carbs and vitamins and minerals from the almonds, cranberries and parsley.

Ok, now it’s time to tackle the main dish; chicken!  Most of us eat chicken a couple times a week but how many times can you have a plain sautéed chicken breast?  I have a list about a mile long of all the things I can do with a chicken, all moral and decent of course!

Instead of simply sautéing the chicken breast, slice the chicken breast lengthwise but leave one side connected (butterflying the breast.)   Then on one side, add a slice of cheese (mozzarella, asiago, pepper jack) some fresh basil, salt and pepper.  Fold the chicken over and take some toothpicks and securely close the opening.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Sautee in pan until brown.  If you suspect the chicken is not fully cooked you can always pop it in the oven for 10 min at 300 F until it’s thoroughly cooked.

So there you go, an easy dinner and you didn’t even break a sweat!!!

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