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Before you begin: Know the basics

Pollo con pesto
Pollo con pesto

Fresh vegetables blend with pungent pesto and tomatoes to create this hearty chicken dish. Serve with cooked pasta or bread to sop up the flavorful juices.

Makes 4 servings
1/4 cup purchased pesto
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 pound thin asparagus spears, trimmed and cut in half
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 small red onion, cut into eight wedges
Salt and pepper to taste
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets
1 large tomato, cut into eight slices

Preheat oven to 425° F. In a small bowl, stir together the pesto and vinegar and set aside. Evenly divide the asparagus, yellow pepper and onion wedges and place in the centers of four coated packets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top each with one chicken breast. Spread 1 tablespoon of the pesto-vinegar mixture over each breast. Top each with two tomato slices. Seal and place the packets on a large baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until the chicken reaches 180° F.

Nutritional information per serving: 290 calories, 34 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 13 g fiber, 197 mg sodium

Gingered salmon
Gingered salmon

Fish and vegetables are laced in a soy-ginger mixture for a classic Asian flavor. To round out the meal, serve with cooked soba noodles or angel hair pasta. When purchasing the fish, you may buy either one whole piece of fish or four portions. Be sure that each piece is similar in thickness to ensure even cooking.

Makes 4 servings
4 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. minced ginger or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 miniature bok choy, quartered
2 carrots, cut into julienne strips
8 shiitake or button mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 pounds salmon, snapper or cod, skinned and cut into four pieces

Preheat oven to 425° F. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger and set aside. Evenly divide the bok choy, carrots and mushrooms and place in the centers of four coated packets. Top each with a piece of fish. Sprinkle the soy mixture over the fish. Seal the packets, place on a large baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes or until the fish is opaque.

Nutritional information per serving: 216 calories, 29 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 62 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 543 mg sodium

Scallops Maroc
Scallops Maroc

This Moroccan dish is delicious accompanied with rice. To ensure even cooking, choose scallops that are similar in size; if they vary greatly, cut the largest ones in half. Always remove the tough muscle from the side of the scallops before preparing.

Makes 4 servings
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 pounds large sea scallops
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 small onion, sliced
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces

Preheat oven to 400° F. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, curry powder, salt and pepper. Add the scallops and toss to lightly coat. Evenly divide the tomatoes, onion, carrots and beans and place in the centers of four coated packets. Top each with 1/4 of the scallops. Seal the packets, place on a large baking sheet and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the scallops are opaque.

Nutritional information per serving: 228 calories, 32 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 1 g fat, 57 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 584 mg sodium

Like most busy women, you’re probably looking for an easy, innovative way to prepare healthful meals for you and your family. And one more thing—they have to taste good, too. Here’s an idea: packet cooking. When food is tightly wrapped and baked in parchment paper or foil, it steams and cooks in its own juices without the need for added fat. Chicken and fish, with the addition of flavor-intense ingredients such as herbs, spices, olives, capers, onions or tomatoes, are best suited to this classic French method.

To add packet cooking to your repertoire, start with the following recipes. Feel free to vary the vegetables, herbs and spices according to your mood and the season—and most of all, enjoy!

Before you begin: Know the basics

Parchment paper is the traditional packet material used for cooking en papillote. But here’s a secret: Aluminum foil is an easier alternative, and the results are equally palate pleasing. Some supermarkets even carry specially made foil packets, but a regular roll of foil will do. Tear off a 12” sheet of foil per packet. Coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Place filling on half the sheet, leaving a 1 1/2” margin for sealing. Fold over the other half and crumple foil shut. Place filled packets on a baking sheet and bake. To test for doneness, unseal and, if necessary, reseal packets.