Putting everything in just one pot is a saving grace Dinner in one dish TTC

March 02, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

Thinking about dinner? If you're the diner, you may be dreaming of fried chicken or duck a l'orange. If you're the meal preparer, however, you're probably thinking, "How can I get a nutritious meal on the table in nothing flat and not have to clean up much afterward?"

Despite the dichotomy, diner and cook can meet quite happily -- in one dish.

One-dish meals may be the best dinner bet of the '90s. Time is short, both on the preparation and the clean-up ends of the meal. Dishes that go from stove to table save time and trouble. And they can be both nutritious and anything but bland. In fact, some one-dish dinners are real prize-winners.

A hearty meatball soup, perfect for dinner on a nippy evening, won first prize in the ethnic specialties category at the Pillsbury Bake-Off last week in San Diego for Debra Freeman of Jefferson, in Frederick County.

While she likes preparing elaborate dishes for entertaining or for some family occasions, Ms. Freeman says there are times when she just wants something quick and easy.

"What I like to do with things like this is throw it in the crock-pot and program the bread machine -- and when you come home, you have dinner," she says.

Reducing dinner to one dish doesn't have to mean a move to blandness. It may just mean thinking differently about what makes such a simple meal: Pizza, for instance, is a one-dish meal, and by controlling the toppings, you can control the nutritional value somewhat. Soup, like Ms. Freeman's Mexican-inspired creation, is another one-dish meal. Stir-fry is quick and basically one-dish; try serving it over noodles or couscous -- both quick and perfectly simple to prepare -- for a variation. And eggs can be stirred up in moments into a quiche or frittata, perfect for a quick and not-too-heavy supper.

"My favorite way of doing things is to throw everything into a pot," says Ruth Glick of Columbia, author of the new cookbook "Skinny One-Pot Meals" (Surrey Books, $12.95). "That's the way I cook."

When she appeared at a book signing recently in Columbia, Ms. Glick says, she had a number of cookbooks along, but the one that got the most attention was the new one. People are catching on to the idea that a good meal can be health-promoting and great tasting at the same time. And, of course, most people are pretty busy when it comes time to fix dinner.

"They want it to taste good, and they want it to be quick and easy," Ms. Glick says. "It occurred to me when I was in graduate school that the easiest thing was to cook everything in one pot."

The 'whole pyramid thing'

Not only is the one-pot method easy, she says, it is also economical, because it usually means combining a little bit of meat with a lot of other things -- the grains and vegetables that the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines urge us to eat more of. "The whole pyramid thing" -- with grains forming the foundation and meat and dairy products near the top in the "not-so-often" category -- "should lower people's food costs," Ms. Glick says.

Another finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off last week was Susan Wittan of Rockville, who prepared her Western frittata. Her mother and her sister also entered, with desserts. Some of Ms. Wittan's earliest memories are of cooking, and she says her specialty is "ad-libbing." She likes low-fat, healthful dishes that are also easy to make and easy to clean up. "I often make a one-pan or one dish meal," she says.

She's also devised some techniques to make meal preparation easier. "I'll make a whole pack of chicken breasts and use one combined with pasta and vegetables, and I'll freeze the rest." Then she can simply pull them out, and vary the combinations. "I've experimented with orzo and other pastas, and with risotto -- I also do a lot with brown rice."

Convenience foods help

Ms. Wittan says she likes to use convenience items, like a frozen vegetable mixture in the frittata, which is perfect for a time-short cook: "It's very short in preparation time and very easy."

One-dish meals are "definitely the general trend," Ms. Wittan says. "It's faster, it's easier -- it's the way to cook in the '90s."

*

OC Here is Debra Freeman's prize-winning recipe for a hearty soup.

Spicy meatball soup

Serves 6

FOR THE MEATBALLS:

1 pound extra-lean ground beef

1 11-ounce can yellow sweet corn, drained, divided use

1/3 cup hot salsa

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions with tops

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 egg white

FOR THE SOUP:

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, undrained, cut up

1 15 1/2 -ounce can dark or light red kidney beans, drained

1 cup beef broth

2/3 cup hot salsa

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

TOPPINGS, OPTIONAL:

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup chopped green onions with tops

1/4 cup dairy sour cream

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