3/4 pound broccoli crown, cut into bite-size pieces, any tough stems discarded
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, or more to taste
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, or more to taste
1/4 cup chilled dry white wine or cold water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a nonstick wok or large, shallow skillet over medium-high heat until the oil starts to shimmer.
Meanwhile, season the chicken with salt to taste. When the oil is hot, add half of the chicken strips; stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, until the chicken loses its raw look. Transfer the strips to a clean plate and repeat with the remaining chicken, adding oil as needed.
Add the onion to the (empty) wok, sauté pan or skillet and cook 30 seconds, stirring. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the broth and broccoli; once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a low boil. Cover and cook 5 to 6 minutes, until the broccoli pieces are tender.
Add the sesame oil and soy sauce; stir to thoroughly combine. Return the chicken to the pan.
Combine the wine with the cornstarch in a small bowl; stir it into the chicken and broccoli mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Stir to evenly distribute the sauce, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve warm. Makes 5 servings
Per serving: 250 calories, 24 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 65 mg cholesterol, 550 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar.
Mexican Chicken Tenders and Rice
In this take on arroz con pollo, the tenders get a double dose of flavor: Spices, lime juice and oil are used to season them, and they’re served atop a flavorful rice pilaf. You can use brown rice; adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Make ahead: The onion and bell pepper can be diced up to 24 hours in advance.
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon mild chili powder, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenderloins
2 large limes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste or 2 tablespoons regular
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
3 1/4 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, for serving
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Lay a large piece of parchment or wax paper on the counter. Combine the salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder and oregano in a small bowl.
Arrange the chicken on the parchment in a single layer. Use half the seasoning mixture to sprinkle the tenderloins evenly on both sides.
Cut one of the limes in half, squeezing all of its juice evenly over the chicken. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Rub the chicken on both sides to evenly distribute the spices, juice and oil. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a 4-quart shallow nonstick braising pan, ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken; cook, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer to a plate; repeat with the remaining chicken.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, bell pepper and a pinch of salt to the pan, plus more oil if needed. Cook, stirring, 4 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the tomato paste and the remaining spice mixture; cook, stirring to combine, 1 minute. Add the rice and stir to incorporate. Add the broth; increase the heat to medium-high and stir to combine; cook until the broth begins to boil.
Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and arrange the cooked chicken over the rice. Cover and bake 8 minutes, then check to see whether the rice has cooked through and all of the broth has been absorbed. If not, bake 5 minutes more or until rice has cooked through. Remove from the oven, uncover and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve from the cooking pot. Cut the remaining lime into wedges to serve on the side. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 370 calories, 32 g protein, 41 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 80 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 3 g sugar.
Swiss Mac and Cheese With Ham and Peas
This old-fashioned dish has perennial appeal. With the components precooked, it can be on the table in about 50 minutes.
Here’s how to prep for a busy weeknight meal: Make the sauce, cut the ham and cook and cool the pasta in the morning. All of the ingredients, including the peas, can be refrigerated in separate containers. At dinnertime, turn on the oven, mix everything together and pour into a baking pan. Bake while homework is being done, the salad is made and the table is set.
The cheese is a central flavor component, so stick with a good-quality Swiss, such as Emmental or Gruyere.
Make ahead: The components of this dish can be prepared up to 12 hours in advance, covered and refrigerated.
8 ounces dried elbow or cellantani (corkscrew) pasta
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups low-fat milk, warmed, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper
8-ounce block Swiss cheese, such as Emmental or Gruyere, grated (2 cups)
8 ounces ham, preferably reduced-sodium, cut into cubes no bigger than 1/2-inch (2 cups)
8 ounces frozen peas, defrosted (a generous 1 1/2 cups)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking oil spray.
Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook according to the package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. (If preparing in advance, rinse under cool running water, drain, transfer it to a bowl and refrigerate, covered.)
Meanwhile, prepare the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat; whisk in the flour and cook 1 minute. Add the warm milk and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper to taste, whisking to incorporate. Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low. Slowly add 1 2/3 cups of the cheese, stirring to form a smooth sauce. If it is too thick, stir in a few tablespoons of warm milk. (If preparing in advance, transfer the sauce to a bowl, let it cool, cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta, and stir in the ham and peas. Transfer to the baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup cheese. Bake on the lowest rack 25 to 30 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling at the edges and the top is starting to brown. (For a browner top, transfer to the top rack and broil for 3 to 4 minutes.)
Allow the mac and cheese to rest for 10 minutes before serving. (If using pre-prepped, chilled components, bake, covered with foil, for 30 minutes; remove foil and bake 15 to 20 minutes.) Makes 8 servings.
Per serving: 380 calories, 22 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat (10 g saturated fat), 60 mg cholesterol, 420 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugar.
Sweet Sausage Spaghetti Sauce
Jarred sauces are a convenience, but if you’re looking for great, fresh flavors, try making your own. I use Pomi brand strained tomatoes. Homemade or canned pureed tomatoes are a good substitute. Serve this sauce over spaghetti or polenta or a baked potato, or with grilled vegetables.
Make ahead: The onions, carrots and celery can be diced up to 24 hours in advance. The completed sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound fresh sweet Italian sausage links, casings discarded
2 medium onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
2 medium ribs celery (leaves removed), cut into 1/4-inch dice
Line a large plate with several layers of paper towels. Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add half of the sausage, breaking it into small pieces. Cook, stirring every minute or so, 3 to 4 minutes, until the sausage loses its raw look and starts to brown. Transfer it to the paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining sausage.
Pour off and discard all but a film of fat from the saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots, celery and a pinch of salt. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so and adjusting the heat so the vegetables soften but do not brown.
Return all of the sausage to the saucepan. Stir in the wine. Cook 2 minutes; add the strained tomatoes. Rinse any puree clinging to the inside of the box or can with about 1 cup water, and add to the saucepan. Add dried herbs and sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low so it is barely bubbling at the edges. Partially cover with a lid and cook 25 minutes, stirring a few times and adding a little water if it becomes too thick. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Makes 14 (1/2-cup) servings.
Per serving: 90 calories, 6 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 4 g sugar.
Beer-Braised Pork and Carrot Stew
This stew is one of my family’s favorites. The carrots fully develop their natural sweetness during the slow cooking as the pork becomes tender and the broth flavorful. Choose a beer with a little more flavor than a pale ale. If you’d rather not include beer in a dish to be shared with children, substitute chicken broth.
Make ahead: The onions, carrots and meat can be cut up the night before, wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated. The stew can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds boneless, trimmed pork shoulder or country-style pork chops, cut into roughly 1-inch cubes
3 medium onions, finely chopped (about 2 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into chunks no bigger than 3/4 inch at their thickest point (about 4 1/2 cups)
Position an oven rack in the bottom third of the oven; heat to 325 degrees.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the pork, taking care not to crowd the pieces. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, turning once or twice, until pieces brown and lose their raw look. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining cubes, adding oil if needed. When all the pork has browned, increase the heat to high under the empty pan and add 1/2 cup water. Use a wooden spatula or spoon to dislodge any browned bits, then remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt; reduce the heat to medium. Cook 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft but not browned. Stir in the tomato paste and cook 1 minute, then add the flour and stir to incorporate; cook 1 minute. Stir in the reserved liquid from the pan, the beer, broth, mustard, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the carrots and the browned pork. As soon as the liquid begins to bubble slowly, cover the pan and transfer it to the oven. Bake 2 1/2 hours.
Remove the pan from the oven, uncover it and let it sit for 10 minutes. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Makes 9 (1-cup) servings.
Per serving: 360 calories, 32 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 10 g sugar.
By Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
Washington Post Service
It took an extended power outage to teach me a lesson in dinner planning.
I always thought I was spontaneously whipping up dinner every night. We would walk in the door at 6:45 p.m., and somehow within an hour, sometimes less, I’d produce a meal. Planning was for other people. I didn’t plan. I just made it happen. I was so impressed with myself.
So that power outage brought a rude awakening. When the lights finally came back on, the food in my refrigerator was smelly and my freezer was full of mush. It all went straight into the garbage.
With my carefully stocked fridge and freezer empty, I was a mess. I started rebuilding, but I had months of preparation to make up for. It took me weeks to get back up to speed. It turned out I had been planning my dinners all along.
True, I didn’t have lists. I didn’t make menus, and Thursday wasn’t always burger night, but I had been planning nonetheless. And it was all that preparation, shopping and stocking that let me “throw together” dinner at a moment’s notice.
So I started over, and now, three months later, I’m ready for the new school year. Practices, games, tutoring sessions and music lessons may mess with the calendar and make dinner preparation a race, but with my bag of tricks, I’ll manage.
With the refrigerator stocked with vegetables, I can manage a stir-fry as long I stock a bottle of soy sauce and have chicken, pork or beef on hand. Or I can roast the vegetables for a quick and easy side dish. And if I need to stretch that into a main course, I add rice, pasta or couscous, and maybe some diced pancetta that has a relatively long shelf life.
I make two of anything that can be frozen. A pork-and-carrot stew can be eaten now, with half stowed in the freezer for a night when I need something ready to go. Ditto homemade spaghetti sauces, which can do triple duty as a filling for lasagna and a hearty sauce for the pizza I make on the fly with nan, which I keep frozen, and a package of grated mozzarella.
I prep early. I’m more likely to make a one-pot chicken-and-rice dish if I spent 20 minutes in the morning chopping the onions and peppers. I use the time between the kids’ buses to cut up everything I need for my stir-fry so it takes only 20 minutes once I walk in the door.
I also make sauces ahead of time. The cheese sauce for mac and cheese is easily cooked in the morning and stashed in the fridge so it’s ready to go as soon as I get home. Even pasta can be cooked earlier in the day, as long as I cool it fast and refrigerate it.
I stock the freezer with quick-defrosting chicken breasts, thin steaks, pork chops, fish fillets and hamburgers I’ve formed ahead of time. As I’m running out the door in the morning, I throw them into the fridge to defrost slowly. If they’re still frozen when I get home, I slip them into a resealable plastic bag and place them in a sink of cold water to finish thawing while I get everything else ready.
Finally, I remember that no matter how tired I am, almost anything I make at home will be quicker, better and less expensive than takeout food. I helped myself out by filling the freezer and stocking the fridge. I just need to take a minute, look at what I’ve got and start cooking or defrosting. The plan works.
In this tough world of ours, try a little tenderness. Try kale. It’s the leafy green everyone’s talking about but no one seems to eat. Often dismissed as fibrous and bitter, kale turns supple and sweet with a little hands-on participation.
At heart, a quesadilla is pretty much a Mexican grilled cheese. Take a tortilla, stuff it with something savory, add some cheese, fold it in half and toast it. It’s also pretty delicious.
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