Spicing up the everyday meal

If you are like most people, time is one of the biggest enemies for any cook, seasoned or novice.  People assume countless hours are needed to make a great meal but that is not always the case!  In today’s world, many of us need to cook healthy meals but do it quickly.  Forget going through the drive-thru after work, just get home and spend 30 minutes to create a meal that tastes good and will benefit you more than that disgusting mystery meat burger!

It’s so simple to jazz up your weekday dinners. All you need are some spices, creativity and my tricks!

Let’s start with the sides. One of my constant companions to any meal is veggies. I try to incorporate at LEAST one with every meal. An easy and fast way to prepare vegetables are to roast them in the oven at a high temperature, around 375 to 400 degrees F. This will retain vitamins and minerals while caramelizing the sugars in the veggies, resulting in exquisitely scrumptious sidekicks. Simply add EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) to the veggies along with salt and pepper and any dried spice.  When using fresh herbs, first roast and about 5 minutes before they are done toss them in and finish roasting. High temperatures will burn the delicate fresh herbs. Some herbs are hardier than others, for example rosemary, which can cook for a while and not burn.

TIP:  Don’t know when it’s done?  Just take a knife and pierce the veggie.  If it’s hard to go in, it might need some more time.  If it goes in easy, it’s done.  (‘aint that the truth!)

Forget about boiling broccoli in water.  All the vitamins and minerals are leached into the water and thrown into the sink.  You are left with bland and boringness!  Try this recipe instead and you will be amazing on how much broccoli you can eat!

Balsamic Roasted Broccoli
Preheat oven to 400 F
Serves 2
2 heads of broccoli, cut into florets
3 tbsp of EVOO
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

2 tbps of Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp ground garlic, dried

Mix all ingredients in a medium sized bowl and mix well. Spread out on a baking sheet and throw it in the oven. 15 min later you are done!  Now that is easy!!

Variations: add chopped parsley once finished or sprinkle with cheese and cook for additional 5 min.  Also, lemon zest and juice adds a tangy twist.

You can do this with almost every veggie.  Also try these: carrots, fennel, hard squash, asparagus, beets (my favorite), tomatoes or onions.

Gratins are a typical French classic bistro dish and may take a while to make since most are made with a béchamel sauces and many time consuming steps but I have a couple time saving secrets for making it easier. I do take the time to make them properly when I can but here are some short cuts when time is scarce.

Quick Eggplant Gratin
Preheat oven to 350 F
2 medium sized eggplants
4 tbsp EVOO
¾ cup ricotta cheese; reduced fat

1 egg

½ cup grated parmesan

2 tbsp of fresh parsley

Salt and Pepper to taste

Cut the eggplant lengthwise into large slices about ¼ to ½ inch slices.

In a large sauté pan, add a tbsp of olive oil and when the pan is hot, sauté the eggplant until tender.  Repeat until all the eggplant is cooked.  Let sit on a plate lined with paper towel.

In a medium sized bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well.

Take a loaf pan or glass dish that can be put into the oven. Add a drizzle of EVOO on the bottom.

Put a layer of the eggplant in the bottom on the dish.

Put a couple spoon full’s of the ricotta mixture over eggplant and spread around.

Add a couple spoon full’s of parmesan and then layer more eggplant.

Repeat this process until all ingredients are finished.

Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese and add a drizzle of EVOO and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the top is slightly brown.

Accompaniments of many meals usually consist of a starch.  Although I rarely have any white starch, opting more for brown rice or sweet potatoes, it’s so easy to jazz up this category as well.  Instead of making white rice (how boring!!), make fiber-rich brown rice and when it’s almost done, add a hand-full of almonds, cranberries and fresh parsley.  Mix them together and you have an amazingly easy side dish!  This will easily remove the “not-so-great” simple carbs and replace it with energy packed carbs and vitamins and minerals from the almonds, cranberries and parsley.

Ok, now it’s time to tackle the main dish; chicken!  Most of us eat chicken a couple times a week but how many times can you have a plain sautéed chicken breast?  I have a list about a mile long of all the things I can do with a chicken, all moral and decent of course!

Instead of simply sautéing the chicken breast, slice the chicken breast lengthwise but leave one side connected (butterflying the breast.)   Then on one side, add a slice of cheese (mozzarella, asiago, pepper jack) some fresh basil, salt and pepper.  Fold the chicken over and take some toothpicks and securely close the opening.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Sautee in pan until brown.  If you suspect the chicken is not fully cooked you can always pop it in the oven for 10 min at 300 F until it’s thoroughly cooked.

So there you go, an easy dinner and you didn’t even break a sweat!!!

Roasted Balsamic Broccoli

Eggplant Gratin

Brown Rice with Almonds and Cranberries

Stuffed Chicken Breast

Your boyfriend, girlfriend, baby daddy or trick will think it’s your anniversary and maybe you’ll get a gift out of it!!

The incredible, edible egg!

Eggs are one of those foods that are so versatile, so vital to have in your repertoire but many people have issues when cooking a proper egg.  There are many misconceptions when it comes to eggs.  One of the biggest is that the yolk is bad for you.  Yes, the yolk does contain the cholesterol and fat but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Hear me out!

In healthy individuals (which does not include people who have a problem with high cholesterol or are diabetic), new studies have found that by consuming 2 eggs a day had no negative impact on cholesterol levels.  In fact, the lipid profile was actually improved.

There are a myriad of other health benefits.  They supply all essential amino acids for humans, and provide several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid (vitamin B9),vitamin B6,vitamin B12, cholin, iron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium.   BUT, most of the vitamins and minerals are located in the sunny center!

Eggs are also great for your eyes.  The lutein and zeaxanthin has been shown to prevent cataracts as we age.  A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health has shown no significant link between eggs and heart disease.  One study actually says it helps prevent blood clots, strokes and heart attacks.

For people who work out, eggs are great because they contain 6 grams of high-quality protein and 9 essential amino acids.  So, instead of making that all egg white omelet, leave 2 yolks in the omelet.  I would recommend using one yolk to every 2 egg whites.

So, I say grab those eggs and start experimenting.  You can do so many things with eggs.  Here are a few of my favorites:

This is my typical (and favorite) breakfast; I have grown up eating this.  Soft boiled eggs!  Americans don’t really eat them but it’s so simple, you will love it.

Soft Boiled Eggs (Solid white with a runny yolk)

  1. Put eggs into small or medium pot and fill with just enough water to cover the eggs.
  2. Place on stove with a high heat.
  3. As soon as you see the water boil, set a timer to 1:30 (that is one minute, thirty seconds).
  4. When done, empty water and take a knife and give it a good crack.  You will create a clean cut.  You can either scoop out the insides or eat right in the shell.
  5. Sprinkle with fleur de sel (French Sea Salt) and pepper.  You can also use asparagus to dip into the yolk.  Yummy!
  6. Serve with crusty French bread and it is pure bliss!  I’m hungry just thinking about it!!!

Herb and Goat Cheese Scrambled Eggs; serves 3 people

6 eggs (any combinations of whites and yolk) I recommend 3 yolks and all the whites

2 tbsp parsley

2 tbsp scallions or green onions

1 tbsp dill

2 tbsp milk

3 tbsp goat cheese or about 1 ½ inches of the log, crumbled

Kosher or Sea Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Combine eggs, parsley, scallions, dill, milk, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Whisk to combine all ingredients and break up the eggs.
  2. Add a small amount of olive oil to a pan and place over medium-low heat.  The key to good scrambled eggs is not cooking them too fast.  If the heat is too high, the protein in the eggs becomes tough.
  3. While the eggs cook, stir the mixture at all times.  This creates a silky and light mixture.
  4. Once they are almost done, add the goat cheese and mix to combine.  Don’t overcook the eggs!
  5. Serve with fresh bread and a mimosa!  What more do you need?!?

Meringue with homemade raspberry sauce and dark chocolate

This recipe is so easy and will totally impress your guests!!  They will think you ran off to Paris to study pastry!

4 egg whites

1 ½ cup sugar

1 container of raspberries

1 bar of good quality dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 300 F

  1. Separate the egg whites while they are cold (it’s easier to separate while they are cold) and allow to come to room temperature.
  2. Whisk for about 2 minutes, until the mixture becomes white and fluffy.
  3. Slowly add 1 ¼ cups of sugar and then continue to whisk for about 6 minutes.  The mixture should be smooth, form stiff peaks and if you rub your fingers with the mixture, you should feel no granules of sugar.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and dump the mixture onto the paper.  Form a semi-rectangular shape.  You can really do any shape you like.  I also do a circle.  It should be about 1 ½ to 2 inches high.  Swirl the top to create peaks and valleys.
  5. In a small sauce pan, put raspberries, ¼ cup sugar and a tbsp of water.  Cook over medium heat until a red syrupy mixtures forms.  Mix and set aside to cool.
  6. Bake mixture for 1 hour, until the edges are crisp and the inside is slightly gooey.
  7. Let cool slightly and pour the raspberry mixture over the top.
  8. Chop up chocolate into small pieces or melt it and add to the top.

Serve with a little Grand Marnier and you have a dessert that no one will forget.