Facing up to the challenge of creating dishes that please our palates and our pocketbooks


November 07, 1990|By Charlyne Varkonyi

What a difference a year makes. Not too long ago many of us were of the "It's my tummy and I'll buy what I want to" school of grocery shopping. Price mattered least of all. Quality and saving time were the things we were willing and able to pay for.

But during the last few months, economic uncertainty has hit us right in the stomach. And, now, even those who filled their grocery carts with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, raspberry vinegar and gourmet take-out are beginning to look at their pocketbooks as well as their cravings. The economic news is grim. The dollar is shrinking. War in the Middle East is a threat. And economical meals are making a comeback. We want our meals fast, but we also want at least some of them cheap.

The following Fastlane Feast was inspired by a relatively empty refrigerator and some pecan rice that was leftover from dinner the night before. Consider it a game. Give yourself a creative challenge. You can stick with this basic recipe or improvise with anything you happen to find in the kitchen -- from carrots and peppers to mushroom soup.

Serve this simple one-dish meal with a salad topped with a fat-free ranch dressing and treat yourself to a sliver of apple pie for dessert.

Items you should have in your pantry include: dry mushrooms (optional), butter or margarine, 1 can (6 1/8 ounces) albacore tuna in spring water, salt and freshly ground pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, dill weed, soy sauce, grated Parmesan cheese, lettuce greens.

Your 10-items-or-less shopping list should include:

* 1 package pecan rice mix

* 1 small package (8 ounces) fresh mushrooms (optional)

* 1 shallot

* 1 bunch fresh broccoli

* 1 bottle fat-free ranch dressing

* 1 apple pie

One-dish rice riot

Makes 4 servings

1 package pecan rice mix or leftover rice

1/2 cup sliced fresh or dry mushrooms

3/4 cup hot water for reconstituting mushrooms

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

1 shallot, minced

2 tablespoons nuts, such as pine nuts or almond slivers

1/2 bunch broccoli flowerettes

1 can (6 1/8 ounces) albacore tuna in spring water, including liquid

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dill weed

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Make rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, if using dried mushrooms, heat water in the microwave on HIGH for 1.5 minutes. Add mushrooms and reconstitute for about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid.

Melt butter or margarine in a large non-stick frying pan. Add shallot, nuts, broccoli and mushrooms and saute until shallots are translucent and mushrooms are soft. Add tuna, including liquid and stir. Add reserved liquid from dried mushrooms or hot water if using fresh mushrooms and rice. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and dill weed. Stir. Add soy sauce and bring to boil. Finish with Parmesan cheese and stir. Turn heat down to low and cook for 5 minutes.

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