In the Advent Kitchen -- December 6
Tonight let’s forego a standby dinner of takeout or frozen pizza and trade it for something much better. To start, try a simple tomato and cucumber salad. You will be surprised at how good a few simple ingredients mixed together can be. Then follow with Pomegranate Chicken. The sweet-tangy sauce glistening on the economical but tender chicken thighs will awaken taste buds long rendered dormant by the standby pizza dinner. With onions, dates, and walnuts, the chicken dish needs only a sprinkling of fresh, jewel-like pomegranate seeds atop to dress it up. To accompany the chicken, some nutritious, quick to fix bulgur and roasted zucchini would go well. The zucchini can bake in the same oven as the shell for the Strawberry-Avocado Torte. You don’t have to tell your family what’s in the torte until after they’ve had some; it may sound weird, but the torte is delightfully decadent without the bad fats! Low guilt! Isn’t that a wonderful way to move through Advent?
Tomato-Cucumber Salad – Serves 4-6
This salad includes the colors of the season—red and green—and gets a lovely, fresh taste from the lemony dressing and mint. The salad is great, “as is” or served atop lettuce or similar mild greens.
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, or about 4 plum tomatoes
1 medium cucumber, peeled and cut into smallish chunks
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
¼ cup of chopped red onion
¼ teaspoon of lemon pepper seasoning
1 tablespoon of chopped mint
2 cups of lettuce (or other salad greens)
Mix all the ingredients except the greens and refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour to blend all the flavors. Divide the lettuce among the plates and top with the tomato-cucumber mixture.
Pomegranate Chicken – Serves 4
Pomegranate chicken is a little unusual, but it’s appropriate for the season, coming from the East. The tangy pomegranate molasses and sweet dates add incredible taste to the dish, which is quick and easy to make. You certainly can use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, if you prefer. Nonetheless, the thighs are usually more tender and often less expensive. I think the depth of flavor from the thighs also better complements the other flavors in the dish. You often can find pomegranate molasses in grocery or international markets, but, if you can’t, don’t let that deter you. I’ve provided a simple recipe for the pomegranate molasses below. And if you have any leftover (which you should), consider drizzling the pomegranate molasses over some low fat vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream. The pomegranate molasses also is great for breakfast, drizzled on waffles, French toast, pancakes, you get the idea…
16-24 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
1 large onion, sliced
1-2 teaspoons of olive oil
½ teaspoon of lemon pepper seasoning
¼ cup of walnuts
½ cup of reduced sodium chicken broth
¼ cup of pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon of dried parsley flakes
8 whole dried dates, split in half
2 cups of cooked bulgur (see below)
2 tablespoons of fresh, chopped parsley (optional)
¼ cup of pomegranate arils (optional)
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and the onion. Sauté the onion for 5-10 minutes to soften and brown it. Add the chicken to the pan and sprinkle it with the lemon pepper. Brown the chicken for a few minutes, then flip it and brown the other side for another few minutes. Add the chicken broth, stir, cover the pan, and let the chicken and onions cook 5-10 minutes until both are tender. Pour the pomegranate molasses over the chicken mixture and add the parsley flakes and dates. Stir to combine all the ingredients, cover the pan again and let cook a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture sit a few minutes to make sure the chicken is cooked through and meld the flavors. Serve the chicken on top of the bulgur with the sauce spooned over top. Sprinkle the chicken with fresh parsley and pomegranate arils, if you’d like.
1 cup of bulgur
1½ cups of reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon of dried parsley flakes
Stir all the ingredients together in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and let cook 10-15 minutes until the bulgur absorbs most of the liquid.
2 cups of pomegranate juice
¼ cup of sugar
2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice
Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring them to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture cook for an hour, uncovered, until syrupy and reduced by about half.
Baked Zucchini – Serves 8
This is a simple way to cook squash but the end result looks and tastes impressive. Even my son, who has never been a zucchini lover (no, they are not nasty, green snakey things!), likes the squash this way.
4 medium/large zucchini, washed, trimmed, and halved, lengthwise
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of lemon-pepper seasoning
2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese (from the round green canister is
2 tablespoons of seasoned dry breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with non-stick spray and arrange the 8 zucchini halves, cut side up, on it. Brush or mist the cut side halves with olive oil and sprinkle them with lemon-pepper. Divide the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs evenly among the halves. Bake for about 20 minutes until the squash are crisp-tender and the topping is brown.
Strawberry-Avocado Torte -- Serves 8-12
Don’t tell your family or guests what’s in this torte. Let them guess. The filling is only faintly green, and it’s cool, creamy, and delicious. The not-too-sweet strawberry topping makes a nice color and taste contrast to the filling. This is a great dessert for a busy season, because it can be made ahead and refrigerated until serving time. Serve the torte plain or with a little non-fat whipped topping to decorate it.
1 egg 1 medium/large ripe avocado, mashed well
1 15-ounce can of low fat sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup of lemon juice
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of almond meal
2 tablespoons of canola oil
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 cup of sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
½ cup of water
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and coat a 9- or 10-inch spring form pan with nonstick cooking spray. In a bowl, combine the almond meal, canola oil, and cinnamon and mix them well. Pat the mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan and bake the crust for 5-10 minutes or until browned. Set the crust aside.
For the filling, In a large bowl, beat the egg. Add the mashed avocado, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, salt, and vanilla extract and beat until very smooth. Pour the filling over the crust and bake the torte for 20-30 minutes or until barely set in the center. Let the torte cool to room temperature and then refrigerate it.
For the topping, mix the strawberries and sugar and let them stand a few minutes. Mix the cornstarch and water. Add them to the berries and heat the mixture in the microwave in 30-second increments until the mixture thickens. Cool the berry mixture and pour it on top of the chilled torte. Refrigerate the torte for at least a couple of hours before serving. To serve the torte, run a knife along the inside edge of the pan and remove the outer rim carefully. Put the torte on a nice plate, if you like.