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A Southwestern strata is perfect for holiday brunch

> Family Sunday (Christmas)

Start the big day with Southwestern brunch strata (see recipe). (Prepare the strata the day before.) To round out the meal, add deli broccoli salad. For a sweet treat, Christmas cookies and ambrosia are traditional.

Plan ahead: Save enough strata and cookies for Tuesday.

Shopping list: cooking spray, shredded hash-browned potatoes (such as Simply Potatoes), canned low-sodium black beans, frozen whole-kernel corn, cooked chicken, frozen stir-fry bell peppers and onions, 50 percent reduced-fat jalapeno or cheddar cheese, cilantro, eggs, skim milk, coarse salt, cayenne pepper, deli broccoli salad, Christmas cookies, ambrosia.

> Budget Monday

Save some money and serve frozen veggie burgers with avocado topping tonight. For the topping, in a small bowl, mash 1 ripe avocado until creamy. Mix in 1/2 cup diced seeded cucumber, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon chopped green onion and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt. Arrange a lettuce leaf on each of 4 whole-grain hamburger buns. Place a cooked burger on each leaf; top with sliced tomatoes, additional cucumber slices and the avocado mixture. Serve with baked chips. Pears are your dessert.

Shopping list: avocado, cucumber, lemon, green onions, coarse salt, lettuce, whole-grain hamburger buns, frozen veggie burgers, tomatoes, baked chips, pears.

> Heat and eat Tuesday

Heat the leftover strata and serve it with steamed sliced zucchini, a lettuce wedge and whole-grain rolls. Enjoy strawberries and leftover cookies for dessert.

Shopping list: zucchini, lettuce, whole-grain rolls, strawberries.

> Express Wednesday

Make a quick meal of vegetable chowder tonight. In a 2- or 3-quart microwavable dish, combine 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 cup each chopped onion and green bell pepper, and 1 cup chopped carrots. Microwave on high (100 percent power) 5 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Stir in 1 (10 3/4 -ounce) can condensed cream of potato soup, 1 cup skim milk and 1 (16-ounce) can cream-style corn. Cover and microwave on high 8 to 10 minutes or until hot. Let stand covered 2 minutes and serve. Add grilled cheese sandwiches with sweet pickles and cherry tomatoes on the side. For dessert, try peaches.

Shopping list: butter, onion, green bell pepper, carrots, canned condensed cream of potato soup, skim milk, canned cream-style corn, cheese and bread for sandwiches, sweet pickles, cherry tomatoes, peaches.

> Meatless Thursday

Garam masala lentils and potatoes is a hearty no-meat dinner. In a Dutch oven, combine 4 cups water, 1 pound brown lentils (picked over and rinsed), 1 1/2 pounds all-purpose potatoes (peeled and cut into 3/4 -inch pieces), 2 medium chopped onions, 1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Cover and bring to boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 red or yellow (or combo) bell peppers cut into 1-inch pieces and simmer 5 more minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves. Sprinkle 3/4 cup toasted slivered almonds over top.

Serve with mixed greens and flatbread. Apricots are an easy dessert.

Shopping list: Brown lentils, all-purpose potatoes, onions, canned no-salt-added diced tomatoes, coarse salt, garam masala seasoning, cumin, black pepper, red or yellow bell peppers, fresh cilantro, slivered almonds, salad greens, flatbread, apricots.

> Kids Friday

Kids and grown-ups alike will go for crispy baked drumsticks with honey mustard sauce (see recipe). Serve with oven fries (frozen), green beans and soft rolls. Red and green grapes are dessert.

Shopping list: Dry Italian bread crumbs, paprika, onion powder, coarse salt, canola oil, egg, skinless chicken drumsticks, cooking spray, nonfat Greek yogurt, Dijon mustard, honey, pepper, frozen oven fries, green beans, soft rolls, red and green grapes.

> Easy entertaining Saturday

Celebrate the end of the year with friends and serve them filet mignon. Make the filets extra-special with herb butter sauce and mushrooms. Heat 1 tablespoon butter on medium in a large nonstick skillet until melted. Add 1 1/2 cups assorted mushrooms (whole or cut in half if large) and 1/4 cup minced shallots; cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and browned. Add 1 1/2 cups lower-sodium beef broth and 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme; bring to boil. Combine 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl; stir into mushroom mixture. Cook 2 minutes or until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. Serve steaks with sauce.

Alongside, add Low Country risotto (see recipe), asparagus and baguettes. For dessert, chocolate meringue cookies and fat-free strawberry ice cream end the meal on a high note.

Shopping list: filet mignon, butter, assorted mushrooms, shallots, lower-sodium beef broth, dried thyme, cornstarch, fat-free chicken broth, unsalted butter, sweet onion (such as Vidalia), leek, celery, long-grain rice, coarse salt, white pepper, dry white wine, baby spinach or watercress, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, fresh herbs (such as flatleaf parsley, chives and tarragon), sesame seeds, asparagus, baguettes, chocolate meringue cookies, fat-free strawberry ice cream.





Makes 8 servings

Preparation time: 15 minutes; refrigeration time: 2 to 24 hours

Cooking time: About 1 hour; standing time: 5 minutes

1 (20-ounce) package shredded hash-browned potatoes (such as Simply Potatoes)

1 (15-ounce) can rinsed low-sodium black beans

1/2 cup frozen whole-kernel corn

1 cup diced cooked chicken

1 cup frozen stir-fry bell peppers and onions (from 1 pound bag)

2 cups shredded 50 percent reduced-fat jalapeno or cheddar cheese (8 ounces)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

4 whole eggs

8 egg whites

1 1/4 cups skim milk

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Coat a 7-by-11-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In same dish, mix potatoes, beans, corn, chicken and peppers. Sprinkle with cheese and cilantro. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, egg whites, milk, salt and cayenne pepper until well-blended. Pour evenly over potato mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours but no more than 24. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake, uncovered, 55 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.

Per serving: 289 calories, 27g protein, 8g fat (24 percent calories from fat), 4g saturated fat, 29g carbohydrate, 124mg cholesterol, 481mg sodium, 3g fiber.

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Makes 4 servings

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25 to 30 minutes

2/3 cup dry Italian bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

5 teaspoons canola oil

1 egg

8 skinless chicken drumsticks (about 2 pounds)

1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons honey

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a shallow dish, combine bread crumbs, paprika, onion powder and salt. Drizzle with oil and mash with fork until oil is thoroughly incorporated. Lightly beat egg with fork in another shallow dish. Dip drumsticks into egg, then press into breading mixture until evenly coated on both sides. Discard any remaining mixture and egg. Place chicken on rack coated with cooking spray on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until chicken is 165 degrees.

For the sauce: Combine yogurt, mustard, honey and pepper in a small bowl. Serve sauce with the drumsticks. (Adapted from Eating Well magazine.)

Per serving: 385 calories, 38g protein, 15g fat (35 percent calories from fat), 2.7g saturated fat, 24g carbohydrate, 151mg cholesterol, 656mg sodium, 1g fiber.

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Makes 6 servings

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: About 25 to 35 minutes

4 cups fat-free chicken broth

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 sweet onion (such as Vidalia)

1 medium finely chopped leek

2 finely chopped celery ribs

1 cup long-grain rice

Coarse salt and white pepper

3/4 cup dry white wine

2 cups lightly packed baby spinach or watercress (tough stems removed)

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup fresh herbs (such as flatleaf parsley, chives and tarragon)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Heat broth in saucepan on medium and keep warm. Melt butter in a large, shallow saucepan on medium. Add onion, leek and celery to butter; cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often, or until soft and tender. Add rice; season with salt and white pepper. Stir to coat 2 minutes or until rice absorbs butter and looks almost transparent. Add wine; simmer until it is almost all evaporated. Add broth 1/2 cup at a time; allow broth to be absorbed before adding more. Stir frequently, until the rice is creamy and tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat; add the spinach, cheese and herbs. Taste; adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper. Garnish with sesame seeds. (Adapted from "Basic to Brilliant, Y'All," Virginia Willis; Ten Speed Press, $35.)

Per serving: 221 calories, 6g protein, 7g fat (28 percent calories from fat), 3.1g saturated fat, 33g carbohydrate, 12mg cholesterol, 311mg sodium, 3g fiber.

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