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In the Advent Kitchen -- December 20

In the Advent Kitchen -- December 20, Romaine Salad Turkey Pastitsio Zucchini Whole-wheat Walnut Bread Lemon Bars or Nut Crescents

Romaine Salad

Turkey Pastitsio


Whole-wheat Walnut Bread

Lemon Bars or Nut Crescents

By God’s amazing grace, we do indeed have many good things to eat. Tonight’s menu easily can be shared with others. The romaine salad is simple and can be made ahead and tossed when you’re ready. The turkey pastitsio, like lasagna, has several steps, but it’s easy to do. You can, if you like, assemble it a day ahead or early in the morning and then bake it before dinner. The pastitsio will need about an hour to cook. Some zucchini, drizzled with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled with lemon pepper, can bake alongside the pastitsio. If you’d like bread with your dinner, you could certainly opt for garlic bread, but why not try something a bit different? Whole-wheat walnut bread can be made ahead and served cold or slightly warmed. Dessert can be simple lemon bars. The sweet bars are bright with lemon flavor and intensely sweet. Serve them alongside some coffee or tea. Don’t care for lemon? How about some Nut Crescents instead? Try them with some refreshing fruit sherbet (or sorbet) alongside, if you like.

Romaine Salad – Serves 6+

This is a simple, good salad. You can make and serve it immediately, but I like to whisk the dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl, add the other ingredients, and then refrigerate the salad until I’m ready to serve it. The lettuce, which will be on the top, won’t get soggy, and all I have to do is toss the salad when the rest of the dinner is ready.

2 heads of romaine, washed, trimmed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces

1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 small red onion, chopped

¼ cup of lemon juice

2 tablespoon of olive oil

¼ - ½ teaspoon of lemon-pepper seasoning

¼ teaspoon of dried oregano

¼ cup of feta cheese

¼ cup of sliced black olives (optional)

In a salad bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, lemon pepper seasoning, and oregano. On top of the dressing add the olives (if you’re using them), onion, tomatoes, feta, and lettuce but don’t mix the salad. Place the salad, covered, in the refrigerator. When you’re ready for dinner, toss the salad to mix everything and coat the lettuce with the dressing.

Turkey Pastitsio – Serves 8+

This is a streamlined version of pastitsio that uses low-fat turkey in the sauce rather than the traditional ground beef or lamb. It’s a satisfying meal in a dish, and you won’t notice the low-fat ingredients. The aroma of the baking casserole—full of spices, tomatoes, garlic, and baking cheeses—will scent your kitchen with incredible smells. If you don’t have the ziti or penne pasta, don’t worry. Use any medium-smallish pasta you have on hand—elbow macaroni or shells, for example.

16-24 ounces of ground turkey (93 percent lean)

1 teaspoon of olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

½ teaspoon of dried thyme

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

¼ teaspoon of allspice

½ teaspoon of garlic powder

½ teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of pepper

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

½ cup of red wine or water

12 ounces of ziti or penne pasta

24 ounces of fat-free ricotta cheese

2 eggs

½ cup of fat-free yogurt

½ teaspoon of nutmeg

1 cup of Parmesan and Romano cheese blend (divided)

In a large skillet over medium high heat, sauté the ground turkey and onion in the olive oil until the turkey is brown and the onion is softened—about 10 minutes. Add the oregano, thyme, cinnamon, allspice, and garlic powder and stir to combine everything. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and wine or water and let the mixture simmer for 20-30 minutes. While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta as directed on the package but until just barely soft, and then drain it. Also preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl or the food processor, blend the ricotta cheese, eggs, yogurt, nutmeg, and half the cheese until smooth. Add the cooked pasta to the meat sauce and stir to combine everything. Pour the pasta/sauce mixture into the prepared baking dish. Spread the ricotta mixture on top of the pasta mixture and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the ricotta mixture. Bake the casserole for 45-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbly. Let the pastitsio cool for 10-15 minutes before serving it.

Whole-Wheat Walnut Bread – Makes 1 Loaf

This whole-wheat bread is simple to mix up, flush with warm spices, and mildly sweet from a little sugar and molasses. It lacks oil, butter, and eggs, and is fairly economical, even though it tastes quite rich. The bread goes nicely with dinner or breakfast. A slice, smeared with peanut butter or topped with a slice of cheese, also makes a substantial snack with tea, coffee, or a glass of milk.

2 cups of white whole-wheat flour

1 cup of flour

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

½ teaspoon of nutmeg

½ teaspoon of allspice

¼ teaspoon of cloves

1 cup of chopped walnuts

½ cup of sugar

½ teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1½ cups of low-fat milk

½ cup of molasses

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and coat a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk the flours, spices, walnuts, sugar, salt, and baking powder together. In another bowl, combine the baking soda, milk, and molasses. Stir the milk mixture into the dry ingredients just until moistened. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the bread for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before trying to remove it.

Lemon Bars – Makes 18+

This easy recipe is for my Dad, who really enjoys these bars at Christmas time (or whenever he can get them). The bars are light, dusted with confectioner’s sugar “snow,” and have an intense lemon flavor to them. Don’t skip adding the lemon zest. It really gives the bars extra zing. The bars do have a fair amount of sugar in them, so cut them into smallish squares. Savor one or two with a cup of hot coffee or tea or perhaps as a fancy treat alongside fresh fruit.


1 cup of flour

1/3 cup of Smart or Earth Balance (or butter)

¼ cup of confectioner’s sugar


2 eggs

1 cup of sugar

2 tablespoons of flour

½ teaspoon of baking powder

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Zest of a lemon

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat an 8 or 9-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray or line the pan with aluminum foil and coat the foil with nonstick cooking spray. For the base, in a bowl, combine the flour, Smart Balance, and confectioner’s sugar until crumbly. Pat the mixture into the pan evenly and bake it for about 15 minutes or until it’s set and just starting to brown. While the base is baking, in the same bowl you used for the base, whisk the eggs. Whisk in the sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, lemon juice, and lemon zest and whisk until frothy. Pour the mixture over the baked base and bake it for about 25 minutes or until the top is barely light brown. Let the bars cool in the pan and dust them with confectioner’s sugar before cutting them.

Nut Crescents – Makes 36

This is a very old, simple recipe. Your grandmother may have made something similar, though she probably used butter (or lard) rather than Smart Balance. Either way, the little crescents are crispy and sweet. The finely chopped nuts and cinnamon sugar combine to make a filling that is special for the season and not too sticky. Try the crescents with different types of nuts and see which kind you like best. Pecans are traditional in my home and many parts of the American South. Nonetheless, the crescents are especially good with hazelnuts, walnuts, or almost any other type of nut. I find that the cookies are easier to roll out if you first refrigerate the dough, but it’s not strictly necessary.

2½ cups of flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 cup of Smart or Earth Balance (or butter)

½ cup of low fat milk

1 egg, beaten

1 cup of sugar

4 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 cup of finely chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts)

Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or coat them with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and Smart Balance until crumbly. Stir in the egg and milk. Divide the dough into three portions, shaping each into a ball. Combine the sugar, cinnamon, and nuts and sprinkle 1/3 of the mixture on a sheet of waxed paper. Roll one ball at a time into a 12-inch circle on top of the sugar-dusted waxed paper. Cut the circle into 12 wedges and roll each wedge up, starting from a wide edge. Place the cookies point-side down on the prepared cookies sheets and curve them a little into crescents. Repeat the process with the remaining dough balls. Bake the crescents for 15-20 minutes or until just lightly browned (don’t bake them too long). Let the crescents cool a few minutes and then remove them from the pan to continue cooling. Dust the crescents with confectioners’ sugar if you like, or serve them “as is.”

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