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Lamb it up for Easter, with bunny cakes for dessert

> Family Sunday

Gather the family for an Easter celebration with roast leg of lamb on the menu. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix together 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon each pepper and dry mustard. Rub all over 1 (4- to 5-pound) well-trimmed, bone-in leg of lamb. Place in a shallow roasting pan on a rack. Bake 45 minutes; reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake 20 minutes or until thermometer inserted in thickest part registers 155 degrees. Remove from oven; let stand 20 minutes before slicing.

Serve the lamb with rosemary roasted potatoes, onions and baby carrots, a romaine salad and dinner rolls. For dessert, bunny cupcakes (see recipe) couldn't be more fun. Add a scoop of fat-free vanilla ice cream for an ice cream-and-cake kind of day.

Tip: For the vegetables, heat oven to 425 degrees; spread cut-up vegetables on a baking sheet covered with nonstick foil. Sprinkle with fresh chopped rosemary, salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Plan ahead: Save enough lamb and cupcakes and prepare extra vegetables for Monday. Save enough ice cream for Wednesday.

Shopping list: White vinegar, salt, pepper, dry mustard, bone-in leg of lamb, fresh rosemary, potatoes, onions and baby carrots to roast, olive oil, romaine, dinner rolls, white or yellow cake mix, eggs, canola oil, pink food color, whipped fluffy white frosting, pink sugar, candy decorations and sprinkles as desired, fat-free vanilla ice cream.

> Heat and eat Monday

Make lamb sandwiches with Sunday's leftovers. Spread goat cheese on whole-grain bread and layer lamb slices and drained roasted red peppers on it. Alongside, heat the leftover vegetables. Leftover cupcakes make an easy dessert.

Shopping list: Goat cheese, whole-grain bread, roasted red peppers.

> Express Tuesday

Have tortellini soup on the table in no time. Bring 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth to boil. Add 2 teaspoons canola oil to broth and about 1 pound frozen cheese tortellini; cook 10 to 12 minutes. Add 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked chopped chicken breast (or canned chicken breast) and 10 ounces fresh baby spinach. Heat through and serve.

Add a packaged green salad and bread sticks. Try kiwifruit for dessert.

Shopping list: Low-sodium chicken broth, canola oil, frozen cheese tortellini, cooked chopped or canned chicken breast, fresh baby spinach, packaged green salad, bread sticks, kiwifruit.

> Kids Wednesday

Watch the kids go for grilled chicken "pizza." Coat both sides of 10 (8-inch) fat-free flour tortillas with cooking spray; place on a baking sheet. Broil until slightly toasted; turn and toast other side. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine 1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chilies (mild) and 1 (16-ounce) can fat-free refried beans. For each pizza, spread 1/4 cup tomato-bean mixture over a tortilla. Top with 2 tablespoons (1 cup total) cooked chopped chicken breast and 1/4 cup (2 1/2 cups total) shredded 50 percent reduced-fat cheddar cheese, then another tortilla. Repeat layering, ending with cheese. Bake 20 minutes or until heated though. Top with lettuce and chopped red bell pepper.

For dessert, top leftover ice cream with butterscotch sauce.

Shopping list: Fat-free flour tortillas, cooking spray, canned diced tomatoes and green chilies (mild), canned fat-free refried beans, cooked chicken breast, 50 percent reduced-fat cheddar cheese, lettuce, red bell pepper, butterscotch sauce.

> Budget Thursday

We all love low-cost and delicious food, and brown rice with ham and apples is a good example. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup apple juice, 1 1/4 cups water, 1 peeled, diced Golden Delicious apple, 1/4 cup raisins, 1 tablespoon butter or margarine and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Bring to boil; add 1 cup uncooked brown rice and white part (sliced) of 4 green onions. Return to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 to 45 minutes, or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; stir in 6 ounces chopped Canadian bacon and sliced green part of scallions. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. (Adapted from Woman's Day magazine.)

Add a spinach salad and rye bread. Plums are dessert.

Tip: Soak and cook beans for Friday, if time permits.

Shopping list: Apple juice, Golden Delicious apple, raisins, butter or margarine, salt, pepper, brown rice, green onions, Canadian bacon, fresh spinach, rye bread, plums.

> Meatless Friday

How about slow-cooker black bean and corn soup (see recipe) for a no-meat dinner. Serve it with a lettuce and tomato salad and whole-wheat rolls. For dessert, chunky applesauce is easy.

Shopping list: Dry black beans, frozen corn, onion, garlic, cumin, salt, ground coriander, hot pepper sauce, canned stewed tomatoes, medium salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, whole-wheat rolls, chunky applesauce.

> Easy entertaining Saturday

A friend gave me this recipe for Provencal chicken (see recipe), and it's a keeper. Serve it with baked mashed potatoes. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare mashed potatoes using skim milk and reduced-fat sour cream for the liquid. Spoon into a baking dish and top with shredded 50 percent reduced-fat cheddar cheese. Bake 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Serve with tiny green peas (frozen) with fresh sliced mushrooms. Add a mixed green salad. For dessert, serve orange sections with Grand Marnier. Toss peeled, sectioned oranges with a little orange-flavored liqueur. Serve topped with shaved semisweet chocolate.

Tips: Make the potatoes a day ahead and reheat in the microwave on high (100 percent power), 1 minute per cup of potatoes. Add the cheese and broil until cheese melts. Make the chicken a day ahead for flavors to blend.

Shopping list: Olive oil, coarse salt, whole black peppercorns, dry red wine, fresh rosemary, bone-in skinless chicken legs and thighs, garlic, light brown sugar, tomato paste, potatoes to mash, skim milk, reduced-fat sour cream, 50 percent reduced-fat cheddar cheese, frozen tiny green peas, fresh sliced mushrooms, salad greens, oranges, orange-flavored liqueur, semisweet chocolate.

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THE RECIPES

BUNNY CUPCAKES (Sunday)

Makes 24 cupcakes

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: According to package directions

1 (18.25-ounce) package white or yellow cake mix

3 eggs

1/3 cup canola oil

1 1/4 cups water

Pink food color

2 (12-ounce) containers whipped fluffy white frosting

5 large marshmallows

Pink sugar

Candy decorations and sprinkles as desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Make cupcakes as directed on box for 24 cupcakes using the eggs, canola oil and water. Stir a few drops of pink food color into 1 container of frosting. Frost cupcakes with pink frosting. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoonful white frosting on center of each cupcake. To make ears, cut each marshmallow crosswise into 5 pieces using kitchen scissors. Using the scissors, cut through center of each marshmallow piece to within 1/4 inch of edge. Separate to look like bunny ears; press 1 side of cut edges into pink sugar, flattening slightly. Arrange ears on each of the white frosting mounds. Use candy decorations and sprinkles to make eyes, nose and whiskers. Store loosely covered.

Per cupcake: 257 calories, 2g protein, 11g fat (40 percent calories from fat), 2.7g saturated fat, 37g carbohydrate, 26mg cholesterol, 180mg sodium, no fiber.

BLACK BEAN AND CORN SOUP (Friday)

Makes 8 servings

Preparation time: 10 minutes (plus standing time for beans)

Cooking time: Beans: 10 minutes; standing time: 1 hour

Cooking time: soup: 8 to 10 hours on low; 4 to 5 hours on high

1 pound dry black beans

1 (10-ounce) package frozen whole-kernel corn

1 large chopped onion

4 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

4 cups boiling water

1 (14 1/2 -ounce) can undrained stewed tomatoes

2 cups medium salsa

Rinse beans; place in large saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover; let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans.

In a 4-quart or larger slow cooker, combine the beans, corn, onion, garlic, cumin, salt, coriander and hot pepper sauce. Pour boiling water over all. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high 4 to 5 hours. To serve, mash beans slightly to thicken. Stir in undrained tomatoes. Serve with salsa on the side. (Adapted from "Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, 12th edition," Jennifer Darling, Editor; Meredith Books, $29.95.)

Per serving: 270 calories, 13g protein, 1g fat (2 percent calories from fat), no saturated fat, 51g carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 738mg sodium, 7g fiber.

PROVENCAL CHICKEN (Saturday)

Makes 8 servings

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 1 hour; standing time: 30 minutes

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon coarse salt

2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

1 (25-ounce) bottle dry red wine, divided

6 sprigs fresh rosemary

6 bone-in skinless chicken legs

6 bone-in skinless chicken thighs

8 to 10 whole cloves garlic

2 to 3 tablespoons light brown sugar

3 tablespoons tomato paste

Heat oil in Dutch oven on low for 2 minutes or until warm. Sprinkle with salt, peppercorns, 1 cup wine and the rosemary. Place chicken in pan; increase heat to medium and cook 5 minutes. Turn and cook 5 more minutes. Add garlic and remaining wine. Bring to simmer and cook 45 to 50 minutes, partially covered.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine brown sugar and tomato paste; mix well. Stir into pan and bring to boil; remove from heat and cover. Let stand 30 minutes to develop flavors. Serve immediately (with pan sauce) or refrigerate until the next day.

Per serving: 307 calories, 30g protein, 15g fat (46 percent calories from fat), 3.5g saturated fat, 5g carbohydrate, 104mg cholesterol, 358mg sodium, no fiber.

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