(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
Taking a deep breath after the busyness of the winter holidays doesn't necessarily mean you need to rely on weeks of (and the expense of) take-out food to restore your culinary energy. The following three-course economic weeknight menus (appetizers, entrees, and healthy desserts) are filled with gourmet touches that take just seconds each. Sometimes, for instance, it's just a key flavor that superbly anchors an entire dish, like the heated marinara sauce in a raw stuffed mushroom healthful appetizer or the warmed apple cider in an innovative soup also featuring grilled cheddar cheese croutons.
Everyone can use a little help planning weeknight meals, especially as an entire new year looms ahead - and if that only takes seconds, that's even better. The three nights of menus that follow offer a lifeline during a busy week and prove cooking can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast - as these menus of family-friendly sensations prove. They take just 10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare. The meals are delicious proof everyone has time for tasty home cooking and, more importantly, the healthy family time around the kitchen table 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 - or your kidlet helpers - choose to use can't help but draw "wows" at the family dinner table.
QUICK MENU 1
Excitement Boils with Apple Cider Soup
Heat apple cider, minced peeled apple, vanilla extract and ground: cinnamon, cumin, turmeric and coriander. Just before serving, top with "croutons" made from bite-sized squares of whole-wheat well-done grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches.
Sandwiches Aren't Just for Lunch
Prepare mini healthful sub sandwiches in whole-wheat buns with thinly sliced honey ham and various thinly sliced vegetables (or only vegetables for a vegetarian version) and pepperjack cheese (which has the antioxidant plus of fresh peppers). Make a dipping sauce of peach fruit-only spread (usually available in the jam aisle of many supermarkets), spicy brown mustard, chopped pecans, curry powder and freshly ground black pepper.
Pairing Pears and Prickly Pears
For a taste treat that's an easy addition, consider finding cactus prickly pear syrup or juice at your supermarket or ordering from large multi-source online retailers, like amazon.com or shopzilla.com, which offers wares from 300 retailers. Heat syrup or juice lightly (substitute heated sugar-free butterscotch or caramel sundae sauce if necessary) and pour atop fresh unpeeled diced pears that have been sprinkled on sugar-free vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet.
QUICK MENU 2
Sophisticated Stuffed Mushrooms are Easy
Heat your favorite (extremely flavorful) leftover homemade or store-bought marinara sauce. Meanwhile, wash, stem and dry large store-bought white mushrooms. Spoon in a dash of sauce, add a thin slice of Parmesan cheese (this has more protein and less fat than most cheeses) and a thin slice of fresh unpeeled zucchini. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning mix and serve at room temperature.
A Big Broccoli Idea
Place cooked penne pasta in bottom of casserole dish. Top with fresh or frozen broccoli that's been lightly steamed, walnut pieces, drained garbanzo beans, cooked shredded chicken, an amount of bottled Italian dressing that's 2-to-1 to bottled ranch dressing you will also add and mix well. Heat at 300 F until hot.
These Dates Have a Date with Spicy Dessert Sauce
Blend sugar-free chocolate syrup with creamy peanut butter and a dash of curry powder. Use as a dipping sauce for dried figs, dates and sugar-free sandwich cookies.
QUICK MENU 3
Salad in a Smoothie
Add a dab of water, some spinach leaves, small carrot pieces, fresh lime and lemon juices, orange juice, pineapple juice and a small amount of sugar-free natural sweetener (like stevia) to a blender. Blend until smooth and serve over ice.
Adding Love to Meatloaf
To deliciously "super fruit-ize" your meal, whirl a dab of water and fresh or frozen blackberries and flesh of kiwi in a blender until liquefied. Stir into bottled barbecue sauce, heat and spoon over meatloaf made from lean meats. Serve with whole-wheat rolls topped with a dab of blackberry jam.
Creative Couscous Begins Great End to Meal
Prepare couscous according to package directions (it's easy to make, like rice). While hot, carefully add raisins, diced dried apricots and almond slivers. Stir in vanilla-flavored low-fat or fat-free refrigerated yogurt and a few drops of vanilla extract.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: If you are in a time pinch and notice a recipe calls for cake flour, but you don't have any on hand, baking experts like Robert L. Blakeslee, author of "Your Time to Bake: A First Cookbook for the Novice Baker," advise, that for every cup called for you easily and economically can substitute 1 cup less 2 tablespoons of sifted all-purpose flour.
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.