Livin' Easy

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I am a devoted procrastinator. That admission not withstanding, I have come upon the best weekly habit to make my life so much easier: prepping in advance for the week's meals.

Running a Pilates business requires focus on workshop curriculum and individual client issues. I have discovered over the years that organizing the business week ahead of time produces sleep-filled nights and ease-filled hours during the days. The same is true for mealtime.

I have developed a weekend regime. For me, flipping through cookbooks and padding around the kitchen, chopping, sautéing and creating on weekends are enjoyable and comforting. I put on some music and enjoy the process.

First on the list is planning at least five days of meals. I consider my family's likes, but also sneak in healthy additions on the side—small side salads with meat dishes, a veggie plate or bean-based meal for one evening. I put fish on the menu at least one night a week as well. This takes forethought and a well-planned grocery list, but is less expensive and healthier in the end.

My two weekly mainstays are stock and salad toppings: the two important stars for the entire week.

I'm including a recipe for chicken stock, but feel free to substitute vegetable or a protein of your choice. Be sure to make a hearty, flavorful stock because it can always be thinned down with additional water. You will use the stock all week for soup; as a broth for cooking tasty pasta, rice or quinoa; as a bath to let beans simmer away in a crockpot all day (an added bonus with crock-pot cooking is coming home to a fragrant and delicious-smelling home); or to make flavor-filled bowls of grits to greet sleepy and hungry morning mouths.

To make chicken stock, boil a whole chicken in water to cover. Add onions, garlic, carrots, celery and whatever other vegetables you have on hand, and season liberally with poultry seasoning, sea salt and herbs. Rosemary is nice if you have it growing in your yard, which you should. (If you don't, plant it. It is wonderfully tolerant of non-gardeners and of Jackson's climate.)

A chicken around five pounds should take about 40 minutes to cook fully—let it come to a boil before you begin your timer. Remove and cool. Continue to simmer the stock for a few hours to enhance the flavor. When the chicken cools, remove meat from bones and toss bones back in to the simmering stock. Place the chicken meat in a container in the fridge to be used with salads, soups or main courses—depending on the choices that week. Refrigerate cooled stock overnight, and skim the fat off of the surface in the morning.

Next, salad toppings. You'll be surprised how many more salads you'll throw together if you have a variety of chopped toppings to sprinkle on. Favorite dressings can also help win over the salad-shirking contingent in your household.

My family loves chopped scallions, sliced cherry tomatoes, tiny broccoli pieces, mushrooms and avocados as mainstays, but beets (my husband), artichokes or asparagus spears (me) are fun extras.

The following recipe is a tiny tribute to the many chicken recipes that can be made with your cooked chicken. While it calls for breast meat, it works well with white or dark meat; eggplant is a lovely substitute. Other choices for your cooked chicken could be chicken potpie, chicken and dumplings, chicken with rice, potatoes or quinoa and vegetables, chicken and vegetable soup, chicken salad and curried chicken. Always include a salad with your dish.

Chicken Parmesan

3 whole chicken breasts, split, skinned and boned
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup Italian-flavored bread crumbs
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I use fresh garlic.)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces Mozzarella cheese, sliced and cut into triangles

Pound chicken until about a quarter-inch thick. Combine eggs, salt and pepper. Dip chicken into egg mixture and then into the crumbs.

Heat oil until very hot in large skillet. Quickly brown chicken on both sides. Place in a shallow two-quart baking dish.

Pour excess oil from skillet. Stir tomato sauce, basil and garlic powder into skillet; heat to boiling. Simmer 10 minutes or until thickened. Stir in butter and pour over chicken; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Place mozzarella over chicken, and bake 10 minutes longer.

Serves six.


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