Menu planner takes you from meatless Monday to Sunday family meal

Brunswick Stew: A hearty, comforting, slow-cooker dish — perfect for when the weather actually cools down.
Brunswick Stew: A hearty, comforting, slow-cooker dish — perfect for when the weather actually cools down.

Monday: Meatless

A Mediterranean appetizer platter is a fine way to start the week.

Hummus and pita chips, baba ghanouj and stuffed grape leaves are arranged artfully with an assortment of olives and whole almonds. Make the call for takeout in the late afternoon if you don’t feel like cooking it all yourself.

For dessert? Some Greek cookies or rice pudding. Maybe both.

Tuesday: Slow it Down

We love to come home after a long day and smell dinner almost done thanks to the slow cooker and Brunswick Stew (see recipe) bubbling away. This version from Southern Living is so simple. Everything goes into the slow cooker at once. Perfect. Now, if it would only get chilly.

Wednesday: Chicken penne

Parmesan penne with rosemary chicken is a tasty way to use store-bought rotisserie chicken.

Cook a pound of penne, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water. Toss the pasta with chopped fresh spinach and the heat will wilt the greens. Shred the meat from a rotisserie chicken and set aside.

Toss drained pasta and spinach with chicken, cooking water, grated parmesan and a couple of tablespoons of minced rosemary. Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers on the side.

Thursday: Supreme salad

Serve them your upscale Cobb salad, and they’ll never go back to the old, tossed green version again. Make the bed a soft butter lettuce and then pile with poached chicken slices, cooked bacon pieces and creamy hunks of Gorgonzola.

Snip in fresh chives and add halved red grapes and walnuts. Dress with a simple vinaigrette and you’ve got dinner liftoff.

Friday: Sliding home

Slip into the weekend with hot sausage sliders and potato salad.

Brown fresh hot sausage links and then finish off in the oven with a can of diced tomatoes kicked up with garlic.

When done, drain off most of the liquid, cut sausage in 2-inch lengths and tuck into rolls. I like Chicago hard rolls to sop up some of the juice. A scoop of creamy potato salad is a tasty foil.

SATURDAY: Easy Entertaining

For your guests, prepare grilled lamb chops with tomato and onion. Heat a grill pan or heavy skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high. Combine 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/4 teaspoon dried basil and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle half of mixture on 4 (1/4-inch thick) slices tomato and 4 (1/8-inch thick) slices onion. Rub 8 (3- to 4-ounce) well-trimmed lamb loin chops with other half of dry mixture. Add tomato, onion and lamb to pan.

Cook vegetables 2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned; remove from skillet and keep warm. Cook lamb 8 minutes on each side or until desired doneness. Serve immediately.

On the side, add packaged herbed couscous, sugar snap peas and sourdough bread. For some crunch, add sliced cucumbers in plain yogurt. For dessert, spoon warmed caramel sauce over ice cream.

Sunday: Family Day

Your family will lap up spicy chicken with rice (see recipe) just like mine did.

Add a mixed-greens salad and whole-grain rolls on the side.

Try blueberry cobbler for dessert. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a round, 1 1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. In the dish, combine 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons cornstarch; add 4 cups fresh or frozen (thawed) blueberries. Separate and arrange 1 (12.4-ounce) package refrigerated cinnamon buns (cinnamon-side down) on berries.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until the rolls are golden and blueberries bubble. (If rolls brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil.) Remove from oven; drizzle with prepared frosting from package and serve warm.

Janet Keeler, Tampa Bay Times, and Susan Nicholson, Universal UClick.

Main dish

Spicy Chicken with Rice

6 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds)

6 skinless, bone-in chicken legs (about 1 pound)

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes with jalapeño peppers, divided

1/2 cup reduced-fat creamy peanut butter at room temperature, divided

4 cups rice, cooked

Place 6 thighs in 4-quart or larger slow cooker; top with 1 can tomatoes and half the peanut butter. Repeat with remaining chicken, tomatoes and peanut butter. Cover and cook 6 to 7 hours on low or 3 1/2 to 4 hours on high. Spoon rice into pasta bowls. Top with chicken and sauce. Serves 6.

Per serving: 468 calories, 17 g fat (3.8 g saturated), 36 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 140 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 777 mg sodium.

Main dish

Slow-Cooker Brunswick Stew

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast (Boston butt)

3 medium-size new potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (18-ounce) bottle barbecue sauce

1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth

1 (9-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans, thawed

1 (9-ounce) package frozen corn, thawed

6 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Trim roast and cut into 2-inch pieces. Stir together all ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low 10 to 12 hours or until potatoes are fork-tender. Remove pork with a slotted spoon, and shred. Return shredded pork to slow cooker and stir well. Ladle stew into bowls. Serves 8.

Source: Southern Living.