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In the Advent Kitchen -- Third Sunday

In the Advent Kitchen--Fourth Sunday, Caprese Salad Parmesan Popovers Meatballs in Florentine Sauce Fettuccine Steamed Green Beans Tiramisu or Minty Brownies

Caprese Salad

Parmesan Popovers

Meatballs in Florentine Sauce


Steamed Green Beans

Tiramisu or Minty Brownies

Celebrate the third Sunday of Advent with a dinner that incorporates the colors of the season. Start with a caprese salad, bursting with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil. Some Parmesan popovers would go nicely with the salad as well as the main dish, meatballs in Florentine sauce. The low-fat meatballs simmer in a simple tomato sauce, and you add thawed frozen spinach near the end of the cooking time for bright color, flavor, and vitamins in your dinner. Boil some fettuccine, preferably whole grain, or other noodles to go with the meatballs. Green beans, fresh or frozen and steamed in the microwave, would round out the Sunday dinner. Do you think anyone will have room for dessert? How about Tiramisu? The coffee-flavored treat is best made ahead. Or, if you’d prefer, you could opt for simple, seasonal minty brownies. The brownies are rich and chocolaty. If you’d like to continue the green theme, you could serve the warm brownies topped with low-fat mint chocolate chip ice cream or frozen yogurt. Oh, wow!

Caprese Salad – Serves 4-6

Gourmet chefs will turn up their noses at this salad because it’s made with low-fat string cheese. But the salad tastes great, and the string cheese cuts costs, calories, and provides some relatively cheap protein. Best of all it’s easy. If you’d like to use fresh tiny mozzarella balls instead of the string cheese, please do. They’ll upgrade the salad. But be aware, you’ll also add to the fat and calories (not to mention the cost!). The caprese salad is beautiful “as is,” but you can always serve it on a bed of lettuce greens if you’d like.

1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

3 low-fat mozzarella string cheese sticks cut into half-inch chunks

2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

¼ teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of pepper

1 teaspoon of grainy Dijon mustard

Combine everything in a salad bowl and mix gently but well to distribute the oil, vinegar, and seasonings. Stir again before serving.

Cold Oven Parmesan Popovers – Makes 12

Forget temperamental, fussy popover recipes. This one is simple, quick, and inexpensive. The popovers will puff, but they won’t be huge—just nicely sized to accompany your dinner (or breakfast). The cheesy little puffs are crisp on the outside and slightly pudding-like in the center, and they get extra flavor from the cheese. If you aren’t serving them immediately, don’t forget to prick them with a toothpick or knife tip (just a little, you don’t have to slay them!) so that the steam inside them can escape. It’s best, though to serve the popovers hot out of the oven, puffed and brown, so people can say “ooh! ahh!” before devouring them. Also try the popovers for breakfast, perhaps using the cheddar cheese and chives variation (see below).

3 eggs

1 cup of low fat milk

1 cup of flour

½ teaspoon of salt

1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese

Coat 12 muffin wells with nonstick cooking spray and set the pan aside. Whisk the eggs and milk together well. Whisk the flour and salt into the egg/milk mixture until everything is well combined, but don’t whisk until everything is smooth (if you whisk too much, the popovers won’t “pop” much). Divide the batter among the 12 muffin wells, filling them about half full, then sprinkle a little of the cheese on top of each of the batter-filled cups. Put the muffin pan in a cold oven and turn the oven on to 450 degrees. Bake the popovers for about 30 minutes or until they are puffy and golden brown. Remove them from the oven and pierce them with a knife or toothpick to prevent their quick collapse.

Variation: Cheddar-Chive Popovers

Instead of the Parmesan cheese, sprinkle on ½ cup of shredded cheddar cheese and a tablespoon of dried minced chives (or fresh, if you have them).

Meatballs in Florentine Sauce – Serves 4-6

This is a fancy name for meatballs in red gravy (i.e., sauce) with spinach mixed into it. The recipe is simple to prepare, but it does taste quite good—hence the “frou frou” name. The meatballs are soft and flavored with herbs and Parmesan cheese, and the simple sauce is far better tasting and more nutritious than the jarred variety. The saucy meatballs are good with polenta as well as pasta.

16-20 ounces of lean ground beef (93 percent lean)

1 egg

¼ teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of pepper

1 tablespoon of dried parsley flakes

½ cup of stale bread crumbs (about 2 slices, crumbled, preferably whole


2 tablespoons of low-fat milk

½ teaspoon of garlic powder

1 tablespoon of dried Italian herbs

2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese (from the round green canister is


Mix all the ingredients well and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. Stir the mixture again and form into little meatballs, slightly smaller than golf balls. Drop the meatballs into the simmering sauce (recipe below), bring the sauce back to a boil, partially cover the pan, and let everything cook at least 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are done. Stir in the frozen spinach and bring the mixture back to a simmer. Cook just until the spinach is cooked and is still bright green (about 5 minutes).

Florentine (Red Spinach) Sauce

1 teaspoon of olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

½ teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of pepper

1 tablespoon of sugar

1 tablespoon of vinegar

8 ounces of frozen spinach (1/2 of a 16-ounce package)

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large chef’s pan. Add the onion and sauté it until it softens a bit, about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat, add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar and let the mixture simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Tiramisu – Serves 8+

This is a favorite dessert in my family when we go out to Italian restaurants. Unfortunately, the version the restaurants serve is loaded with fat and calories—a real artery and “butt” buster. At home, I prefer a “lightened” version. It’s certainly good, even though it doesn’t have all the bad things in the restaurant dessert. Ladyfingers are traditionally used to soak up the coffee and liqueur, but I’ve found that vanilla wafers work quite well, too. Plus, you’ll probably have left over cookies for crumb crusts (or just eating with peanut butter).

½ cup of low-fat sour cream

1 package (8 ounces) of low-fat cream cheese

½ cup of sugar

¼ cup of low fat milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

½ cup of strong brewed coffee

2 tablespoons of coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua)

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

1 3-ounce package of ladyfingers, split or 1-2 cups of vanilla extract wafers

1 tablespoon of cocoa powder

3 tablespoons of mini chocolate chips

In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, cream cheese, sugar, milk, and vanilla extract and beat the ingredients until you have a smooth mixture. Combine the coffee, liqueur, and cinnamon in a cup. Layer half of the ladyfingers, cut side up (or use the vanilla extract wafers, turning them bottom side up) in an 8 or 9-inch glass baking dish. Dribble half of the coffee mixture on top of the ladyfingers. Spread half of the cream cheese mixture on top. Repeat the layers—ladyfingers, coffee mixture, and cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle the top of the cream cheese layer with cocoa powder and chocolate chips. Refrigerate the tiramisu for at least 4 hours. To serve, cut the tiramisu into squares and serve it cold. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Minty Brownies – Makes 16+

These peppermint-topped brownies are a special holiday dessert and make wonderful gifts. You may have to make a double batch if you plan to give the brownies away. After tasting them, you’ll want some for yourself. The brownies are dense and studded with mint chocolate chips. Crushed peppermint candies decorate the tops and add a sweet, minty crunch. What if you don’t like peppermint in your brownies or want something different? No problem. Leave out the mint extract and crushed peppermint candies and substitute peanut butter chips for the mint chocolate chips. Or make two batches—one minty and one with peanut butter chips. YUM! YUM!

½ cup of canola oil

½ cup of cocoa powder

1 cup of sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon of peppermint extract

½ cup of flour

¼ teaspoon of salt

½ cup of mint chocolate chips

2-3 tablespoons of crushed peppermint candy (or candy canes)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a 9-inch-square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or line the 9-inch pan with aluminum foil and coat the foil with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the canola oil and cocoa powder. Whisk in the sugar. Add the eggs, one-at-a-time, whisking well after adding each one. Whisk in the extracts. Stir in the flour and salt. Stir in the mint chocolate chips. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top of the batter with the crushed peppermint candy. Bake the brownies for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs but no batter clinging to it. Don’t over bake the brownies—they should be fudgy. Let the brownies cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before trying to cut them.

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