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Products To Have On Hand To Create Easy Meals


Copyright 1994 The Chicago Tribune

From Knight-Ridder Newspapers/Tribune Information Services

Selected and Prepared by Tribune Media Services

By JeanMarie Brownson

Chicago Tribune

	Here's a guide to some prepared products and condiments to keep on hand to make
assembly cooking simple and creative. If the higher prices of some of the items, such as
cut vegetables and cooked chicken, are discouraging, remember the adage ``time is
money.''

IN THE CUPBOARD:

	Small pasta, such as rice-shaped orzo, tiny bows, fine angel hair and couscous
(granular semolina) cook quickly and can be the base of a main-dish salad. Additions
could include chopped vegetables and onions from the supermarket salad bar, chopped
fresh herbs (such as dill) and smoked fish or chicken from the deli case.

	Instant rice generally gets poor marks for texture, but several new quick-cooking rices
rate well in our book. For example, a brown rice that cooks in 10 minutes retains much
of the chewy texture of traditional brown rice (which requires 40 minutes to cook) and
all of the nutty flavor. For added taste, cook the rice in broth or bouillon, or substitute
spicy tomato juice or salsa for part of the cooking liquid. Stir chopped, cooked meats,
vegetables and beans and shredded cheese into the cooked rice for a substantial main
dish.

	Likewise, seasoned rice and sauce blends cook quickly -- about 12 minutes in a
microwave oven -- and are natural bases for additional ingredients such as chopped
herbs, diced tomato, frozen vegetables and canned beans.

	No-boil or instant lasagna noodles make assembling a pan of lasagna a snap and they
save dirtying another pot.

	Canned beans, such as garbanzo, black, pinto and white beans, add variety and texture
to all sorts of fast meals, including soups, salads, chili, stews, pastas and rice dishes. Bean
flakes rehydrate in 5 minutes with boiling water and form the base for refried beans,
soups and dips. Canned refried beans can be served as is for a side dish or used inside a
burrito or enchilada. Or stir in a few tablespoons of salsa and a couple of dashes of hot
pepper sauce for a quick bean dip.

	Bottled sauces, such as salsa, pesto, remoulade sauce, Thai peanut sauces, Asian
teriyaki and hoisin sauce brushed over fish, chicken and pork chops while they grill or
broil add interest, flavor and color. If time allows, marinate the chicken or pork in the
sauce 1 or 2 hours before cooking.

	The ethnic aisles of large supermarkets hold many canned or bottled foods that can
turn ordinary cooked pasta, rice, meats and vegetables into new dinner ideas. Canned or
bottled caponata, for example, an eggplant, tomato, celery and olive mixture, is great
over pasta or pan-fried meats and grilled fish. Likewise, roasted red peppers, marinated
artichokes, instant polenta, olive paste, chili paste with garlic and Thai seasoning mixes
often offer quick flavor solutions.

	Vinegar, such as seasoned rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar and sherry wine vinegar,
add lots of flavor to fresh salads, slaws, cooked vegetables and stir-fries. They also can be
used as a marinade for fish fillets and chicken breasts destined for the grill or broiler.

	Dessert sauces, such as bottled caramel sauce and lemon curd, can be used for more
than just ice cream toppings. Caramel sauce can top brownies, cakes and fried bananas.
Lemon curd makes a fine filling for a fruit tart when spread over a cooked tart shell or
spooned into shortcake cups. Canned fruit packed in juice, such as apricots and peaches,
puree nicely in a blender or food processor for an instant dessert sauce or ice cream
topping.

IN THE REFRIGERATOR/FREEZER:

	Cooking fresh produce has never been easier thanks to items such as peeled baby
carrots, cut broccoli and cauliflower florets, cleaned salad greens and spinach leaves.
Shredded coleslaw mixes and broccoli slaw (julienned broccoli stalks, carrots and red
cabbage) adequately form the base of a fast side dish or main-dish salad or stir-fry.

	While rotisserie chicken has its place in our grocery carts, sometimes it's just more
convenient to stock up on chilled cooked chicken or chicken pieces. They keep
(unopened) for more than a week in the refrigerator and can be eaten as is, reheated or
shredded for adding to salads, stir-fries, soups and casseroles.

	Fresh pasta cooks faster than dried. Frozen filled pastas, such as tortellini and ravioli,
can be cooked and eaten hot with a bottled pesto or marinara sauce or chilled and tossed
with bottled salad dressing, frozen peas and diced green pepper for a hearty pasta salad.
Whichever pasta you choose, always start the water to boil before assembling the rest of
the ingredients.

	Prepared pizza crusts come in all shapes and sizes these days. Keep a couple on hand
for doctoring up for a quick meal even the children will eat.

	Keep quick-cooking meats, such as turkey cutlets, fully cooked sausage, boneless
chicken breasts, pork tenderloin and steaks, in the freezer. Most can be cooked frozen
(allow a little extra time) or thawed carefully in the microwave oven.

	The freezer case offers more choices than ever before for fast vegetable fixes. Today,
mixed vegetables could be anything from broccoli, corn and red peppers to a
Western-style combo of potatoes, green beans, onions and red peppers. Add the
mixtures to cooked pasta and beans or soups, or fry with leftover potatoes for a quick
hash.

	Likewise, frozen fruit sports new combinations, such as a blend of kiwi, pineapple,
mango, papaya and red grapes. Use the fruit for salads, compotes and as layers in a
parfait. Or puree frozen fruit into an easy sorbet or thaw it and puree it to serve over
pound cake, angel food cake or ice cream or for a refreshing fruit soup base.

X X X

Here are a few quick-cooking recipes, using some of the products mentioned above.

WESTERN SKILLET SUPPER

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

	Leftover rotisserie chicken and cooked roast or ground beef work well in this casual
supper entree. Serve warm store-bought biscuits or cornbread and a salad from the salad
bar to round out the meal.

	1/2 cup chicken broth
	1 package (16 ounces) Western-style frozen vegetable mix 
	(a combination of potatoes, green beans, onions and red peppers)
	2 tablespoons vegetable oil
	1 to 2 cups shredded cooked chicken or beef
	1/3 cup salsa or chunky tomato sauce
	2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
	Salt, pepper to taste

1. Heat chicken broth to boil in large skillet. Add vegetable mix, cover and cook until
vegetables are almost tender, about 6 minutes. Uncover and boil hard to evaporate any
remaining liquid, about 2 minutes.

2. Move vegetables to side of pan. Add oil to center of pan and heat. Then add chicken
and cook and stir all the ingredients until potatoes are slightly golden and chicken is
heated through, about 3 minutes. Stir in salsa, cilantro, salt and pepper. Serve
immediately.

X X X

CAPONATA-TOPPED PASTA

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

	Bottled or canned caponata, an Italian dish of eggplant cooked with tomatoes, celery
and olives, makes a speedy pasta topping for a meatless entree. It also is good over
pan-fried turkey, chicken or veal cutlets.

	1 can (7&1/2 ounces) caponata, such as Progresso eggplant appetizer
	1/4 pound pasta, such as mostaccioli, cooked
	1/4 cup shredded six-cheese Italian blend
	2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

	Put caponata into a 2-quart microwave-safe serving bowl. Microwave on high (100
percent) power until hot, about 2 minutes. Stir in pasta to coat well. Microwave on high
until hot, about 2 minutes. Top with cheese and basil.

X X X

SMOKY BARBECUED PIZZA

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Yield: 2 to 3 servings

	Use any prepared, baked pizza crust or toasted pita rounds for this simple pizza.

	1 large red onion, sliced
	1 large green bell or poblano chili pepper, halved, seeded
	1/2 cup smoky barbecue sauce
	1 large Boboli bread or 3 pita rounds
	1 cooked chicken breast, shredded or 1 cup cooked ground beef (drained)
	1/2 cup shredded four-cheese Mexican blend
	Crushed red pepper flakes

1. Heat broiler. Put onion slices and pepper halves onto broiler pan. Broil, 4 inches from
heat source, turning once, until lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Chop pepper.

2. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread barbecue sauce over Boboli crust. Top with cooked
onion slices (separated into rings), pepper pieces and chicken. Top with cheese. Cook
directly on oven rack until heated through and cheese is golden, about 10 minutes.
Sprinkle with pepper flakes to taste.

X X X

SPICY HOMINY RICE

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

	Serve this hearty mixture as a side dish for a Tex-Mex-style meal or as a meatless
main dish with a crisp salad or slaw and bread sticks.

	1 package (4.4 ounces) Spanish-style rice and sauce
	3 green onions, chopped
	1/2 of a 15-ounce can hominy, drained
	2 tablespoons hot salsa (or hot pepper sauce to taste)
	Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

	Prepare rice according to package directions either in the microwave oven or on the
stovetop. When cooked, stir in remaining ingredients.





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