(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
(first published April 23, 2012)
Spring ingredients usually save you money just by being fresh and plentiful. Employing strategies that help them cook in a snap is an additional step toward success. That's another benefit of freshness, it doesn't take much prep - if any at all - to make the flavor pop. Bite-sized pieces of asparagus, shelled peas, corn and spinach leaves just get a quick toss into store-bought antioxidant-filled tomato soup that's been flavored by curry powder. Pureed olives are a nutritious spread atop ground turkey breast or ground chicken breast burgers that also get a dab of peach chutney and a sprinkling of cilantro before being served on toasted whole-grain buns. Healthful high-protein Greek yogurt, which recently has had an economical surge in the dairy aisles of many major supermarkets, when stirred with unsweetened cocoa powder and no-calorie natural sweetener makes a dynamic - and super speedy - creamy-without-the-cream filling for a freshly ground quick almond crust.
Everyone can use a little help planning weeknight meals - 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 that 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
Celery Makes for an Easy Sell
Mix nonfat cream cheese with finely diced economical mock crab or drained, flaked canned salmon, finely diced red bell pepper and finely diced green olives and lemon-pepper seasoning blend (or freshly ground black pepper and a few drops of lemon juice) and stuff into celery stalks. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
Cereal for Dinner
Economically - and healthfully - extend your meat dishes further by strategically and tastily using cereal. Toss a combination of ground oats and barley into meatloaf or meatballs. Make oven-baked chicken pieces more filling by first dipping them in beaten eggs and coating in crushed whole-grain corn flakes or bran flakes that have been topped with a touch of honey.
Drain and chop canned apricots, peaches and pineapple (the kind of fruits that have been packed with juice only and not syrup), combine with unsweetened flaked coconut, chopped pecans and mini marshmallows and add back in a little of each of the fruit juices. Heat in microwave or in saucepan until marshmallows begin melting. Stir well and spread atop slices of store-bought angel food cake (which is a soft, fat-free, fairly low-calorie option).
QUICK MENU 2
Spring Garden in a Soup Pot
You don't have to become an expert at individual cooking methods of seasonal vegetables; just toss them into a convenient soup and let the heating do the work. To store-bought tomato soup (which becomes an even more excellent antioxidant due to the lycopene that emerges from the tomatoes during the canning process), add bite-sized pieces of asparagus, shelled peas, fresh corn, spinach and curry powder. Shred pepperjack or Monterey Jack cheese on top to begin melting just before serving.
Making Room for Portobello Mushrooms
Slice strips of large portobello mushrooms, red onions and green bell peppers and marinate, covered and refrigerated, in store-bought low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Remove from marinade and serve in baguettes topped with jarred toasted sesame seeds and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, placing under broiler just until bread begins to toast and cheese melts.
Creamy Chocolate Cream-Free Pie
In a blender or food processor turn almonds into crumbs, remove, add slight amounts of both almond extract and grapeseed oil. Push into and up sides of pie tin. Toast in oven until crispy. In a bowl, combine nonfat Greek yogurt (a high-protein healthful option recently sold economically under multiple brands in yogurt aisles of major supermarkets), unsweetened cocoa powder and a natural no-calorie sweetener, like stevia. Spoon into crust and optionally, if desired, top with mini marshmallows and shavings of dark chocolate.
QUICK MENU 3
Spice Rack Spontaneity
Into nonfat sour cream, mix ground cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger, as well as small amounts of freshly ground black pepper and cayenne pepper. Mix well and serve with a combination of fresh vegetables and whole-grain crackers for dipping.
All in for Olive-Topped Poultry Burgers
Puree black and green pitted olives with curry powder. Grill ground turkey breast or ground chicken breast burgers. Spread olive puree on top of burgers before further topping with a dab of store-bought peach or mango chutney, fresh spinach leaves and chopped fresh cilantro on toasted whole-grain burger rolls.
Nutty Idea in - and on - a Snap
Melt sugar-free caramels until just soft and stir in ground cinnamon and unsweetened flaked coconut. While still malleable, with a wide knife carefully spread on top of (the bottom flat, smooth side of) sugar-free gingersnaps and top the caramel spread with chopped pecans.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: If you are planning on performing the quick - yet elegant - trick of baking a dish wrapped inside thawed sheets of flaky phyllo dough or puff pastry, be sure to first brown any poultry, fish or meat that you will be using. When you do this, there is a better chance that the meat's juices will be sealed in and the dough will have a lesser chance of becoming soggy as it cooks. Along those same lines, if using fresh vegetables that you've just washed, beforehand be sure to let them fully air dry or pat dry with a paper towel.
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.