Sometimes, food has to be fast, not fancy

October 14, 1992|By Newport News Daily Press

If you can't imagine preparing food for the sole purpose of filling a hole in your child's or your spouse's stomach, lay this section down. But if you're the sort who is constantly running from one ballet practice, swim meet or football game to the next, then read on.

Many families keep these harried schedules. For some it's not one night but two, maybe three a week. That's not counting the evenings when mom or dad have choir, cello practice, a meeting or their own softball game.

Let's admit it. Some nights, by the time we get around to dinner time, we're desperate. We need to get food on the table. We don't care if it's not gourmet. We don't much care what it is as long as it's fast and slightly more nutritious than what could be had at the nearest fast food restaurant.

We need to fill stomachs so we can quickly get to the next stage of the evening -- homework!

Call these the micromeals. They're basic microwave stuff -- slightly short on looks, very short on ingredients and super quick to prepare. You won't dirty a ton of pots and pans, either. Serve a quick tossed salad or some microwaved frozen vegetables alongside, if you have time, but each of the recipes may be considered as a whole meal.

The Sloppy Muffins that follow, for instance, incorporate vegetables into an otherwise traditional Sloppy Joe mixture. Using whole wheat muffins as opposed to the usual white hamburger buns further boosts the nutritional content of the dish. Extra-lean ground beef and low-fat cheese make for a lower-fat version.

The Chicken Breast Cacciatore recipe calls for serving boneless chicken breasts with tomato sauce atop cooked vermicelli noodles, so put a big pot of water on the stove to boil before you start the recipe. That way, the noodles can be cooking as you prepare the chicken. This is a very simple dish that won't break your diet. It's low in calories and fat.

The Taco Salad recipe can be adapted any way you choose. Add chopped green pepper, onion or salsa to the layers of chips, cheese and meat. Leave out the cream-style corn if you don't care for it, or replace the kidney beans with refried or pinto beans.

Sloppy muffins

Serves six.

1 pound extra-lean ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup grated carrot

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1 cup water

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 whole wheat English muffins, split and toasted

3 ounces ( 3/4 cup) grated low-fat mozzarella cheese

Place a plastic colander in large microwave-safe bowl. Crumble beef into colander, then add onion and carrot. Stir mixture together with wooden spoon.

Microwave on high 3 minutes. Stir well to break up any chunks. Microwave on high 3 more minutes, or until meat is no longer pink. Remove bowl and colander from microwave and stir again. Remove colander from bowl and throw away fat and juices that accumulated in bowl. Wipe out the bowl with paper towels.

Pour meat mixture into the bowl. Stir tomato paste, water, chili powder, dry mustard and salt into the cooked meat.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Microwave the ground beef on high 4 minutes, then stir well. Replace plastic wrap and microwave 4 minutes on high. Let mixture stand an additional 4 minutes. Place toasted English muffin halves on serving plates, then top with ground beef. Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve.

(Adapted from "Young Chef's Nutrition Guide and Coookbook," by Carolyn Moore, Mimi Kerr and Robert Shulman.)

Spudweisers

Serves four.

4 medium baking potatoes

TOPPING SUGGESTIONS:

shredded low-fat cheese

low-fat sour cream

grated carrots

alfalfa sprouts

raw broccoli florets

green peas

bacon bits

freshly ground black pepper

squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Wash and scrub potatoes. Pierce skins several times with fork so steam can escape as potato cooks. Place potatoes in microwave. Microwave on high for 10-12 minutes. Potatoes should feel firm but not hard at the end of this time. Wrap in clean kitchen towel and let stand at least 5 minutes. Cut open the top and fill with toppings of your choice.

(Adapted from "Kids' Simply Scrumptious Microwaving," by Rosemary Stancil and Lorela Wilkins.)

Chicken breast cacciatore

1 can (16 ounces) whole tomatoes, cut up

1 medium onion, sliced and separated into rings

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1 package (7 ounces) vermicelli, cooked

2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

In 2-quart casserole combine tomatoes, onion, wine and seasonings; cover. Microwave at high 5-7 minutes, or until vegetables are tender, stirring once.

Arrange chicken in 12- by 8-inch baking dish with meatiest portions to outside of dish. Pour sauce and vegetables over chicken. Cover with waxed paper. Microwave at high 12-14 minutes, or until chicken is tender. Rearrange and spoon sauce over chicken once during cooking time. Serve chicken over cooked noodles and sprinkle with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

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