(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
It's uncanny how economical, flavorful and fast preparing dishes with canned proteins can be. For just pennies on the pound compared to fresh, choices like salmon, shrimp, tuna, chicken and ham, when mixed with other ingredients, taste virtually identical to their fresh counterparts, and, in fact, can be the foundation of truly gourmet fare. There's good reason for that. Generally, high quality is the name of the game with chicken breast, pink or wild salmon and lean pork being selected. Vegetarian? Consider keeping a few cans of beans, Portobello mushrooms or yams in the pantry for quick dishes that you can decide upon just a split second prior to enjoying them. Family or friends will probably never be able to detect the difference when you serve scrumptious specialties, like large pasta shells stuffed with a salmon-ricotta-Parmesan mixture before baking in a low-fat, but creamily indulgent sauce, or warm just-baked mini wonton cups filled with a ham and spicy mustard melange.
Food preparation can be delicious, yet simple, nutritious and inexpensive, too, as the following sensations prove. They take just 10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare. The dishes are tasty proof everyone has time for good home cooking and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness - including cooking with your kidtlets - that goes along with it! Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since there are no right or wrong amounts. These are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations, so whatever you choose to use can't help but draw "wows."
This Pasta's in the Pink
Gently mix drained canned pink salmon you've flaked with low-fat ricotta cheese, garlic powder, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Fill cooked jumbo pasta shells with mixture and bake according to package instructions in a glass pan that's been lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, top with store-bought or homemade marinara sauce that's been well blended with nonfat cream cheese. Cook until heated through and bubbling.
"Cheat Sheet" Chicken
To individual microwave-safe ramekins or single-serving bowls, add a small layer of store-bought or homemade artichoke or spinach dip, a layer of drained canned chicken breast you've flaked, freshly grated Pepperjack cheese, minced fresh cilantro and a small amount of cayenne. Cook in microwave oven until heated through. Top with finely chopped toasted pecans before serving.
Ham it Up
Gently mix cooked drained canned ham you've flaked (the kind in small containers, such as 5-ounce size, often used for ham salad, rather than large uncooked hams) with spicy brown mustard, finely diced sweet pickles and bleu cheese dressing. Press wonton skins in mini-muffin containers you've lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray so skins hang slightly over tops and then lightly spray the wonton skins, too. Cook until wonton skins are browned and do not burn. After carefully removing from oven, fill with ham mixture while wonton skin "cups" are still hot so it heats the mixture a bit. Serve while still warm.
Popcorn Shrimp with a Twist
Place popped popcorn in a blender until it grinds to a powder and mix in cayenne pepper, dried basil, oregano and rosemary. Grind in tortilla chips and press mixture, along with a tiny amount of tomato juice to slightly moisten it into bottom and up sides of microwave-safe pie pan that's been sprayed slightly with nonstick cooking spray. Fill with a mixture of drained canned small shrimp, ricotta cheese, diced jalapenos (wear latex gloves while cutting and don't touch eyes during or afterward), diced black olives, salt substitute and freshly ground black pepper. Heat in microwave until heated through and drizzle low-fat Cheddar cheese or soy cheese on top for last minute of cooking.
Mushrooms Worth Getting Mushy Over
Mix drained canned Portobello or other mushrooms with drained canned garbanzo beans, feta cheese or crumbles of bleu cheese, sunflower seeds and low-fat vinaigrette. Make into a paste in blender and spread on mini toast squares and heat slightly in microwave oven. Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: When adding fresh berries to a batter - whether blueberries to muffins or strawberries to pancakes - they can fall apart. It's best to freeze them slightly first to stiffen them up a bit.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.