Forgoing fast food to create classic dishes with your own personal touch


March 18, 1998|By Kristin Eddy | Kristin Eddy,Chicago Tribune

We are tired of frozen food, dinner out of a box, meals from a package. No matter how many ways food companies devise to sell us home-style food, nothing beats the real McCoy. Think of hot macaroni and cheese, the noodles tender and the cheese sauce bubbling and yellow, not freakishly orange and powdery. Visualize a potpie that comes out of the oven with your own creative stamp on it, not Swanson's. Or a heavy pot of baked beans that has spent time sweetening up the whole kitchen, not just the microwave.

This is the best time of year to spend quality time in the kitchen, so here are some good reasons to stay there.

We've picked classic dishes that, yes, can be zapped quickly in their store-bought forms, but that really deserve some loving attention once in a while.

That doesn't mean making a chore out of everything. When shortcuts help speed up the recipe without cheapening the result, we say, go for it.

In the bean recipe, it's not necessary to start with dried beans set to soak for hours. Buy good-quality canned white beans, such as imported Italian cannellini beans, and the whole dish can be made in an hour.

The potpie is great with its homemade crust, but the interior of the pie is what really needs to shine. Get a jump on things with a prepared pie crust dough or biscuit mix to pop on top of the pie. Or freeze your own pie pastry dough ahead of time.

The cinnamon rolls have the most involved directions, but they come together fast if you use quick-rise yeast. The plus side of doing this from scratch is having control over the sweetness in the filling and the amount of frosting that goes on top. Some prepared white icing will do in a pinch, if thinned with a little milk.

The macaroni and cheese, brownies and chocolate pudding are simple enough that you don't need shortcuts -- until you crave them another time.

Before you get started, a few notes on the individual recipes:

* The macaroni and cheese recipe can be made the day before serving. Prepare the recipe up to the baking step, but do not add cracker crumbs. Refrigerate, covered. Remove from refrigerator and allow the macaroni and cheese to sit 15 minutes before baking as directed.

* The chocolate-pecan brownies go together almost as quickly as a box mix and freeze beautifully. If you like brownies with a more cakelike texture, decrease the butter to 1/2 cup (1 stick).

* The old-fashioned chicken potpie recipe makes fine use of leftover cooked chicken or turkey. Or buy cooked rotisserie chicken at the supermarket for an even easier preparation. If you have prepared pastry dough in your freezer, the preparation is a snap.

* Back-of-the-stove baked beans can be made up to 2 days in advance; refrigerate, covered. Reheat before serving.

All of these recipes can be prepared ahead of time, divided into individual containers, and frozen for later, when the mood

strikes. Meanwhile, take it slow and enjoy yourself in the kitchen. Then, how fast everything gets eaten is up to you.

Giant Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 16 rolls


8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 packages quick-rising dry active yeast, see note

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted, cooled


1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon


1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon milk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine 2 cups of the flour, milk, sugar, salt and yeast in large bowl; mix well. Add eggs and butter. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as needed to form soft dough. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough, adding flour as needed, until smooth and elastic, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to large greased bowl; turn to coat both sides. Cover with towel, place in draft-free area and allow to rise until double in volume, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down with fist. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead 10 to 15 times. Cover with towel and let rest 10 minutes.

Roll out dough to 24- by 15-inch rectangle. For filling, combine brown sugar, butter and cinnamon in small bowl; stir well. Spread onto dough to within 1 inch of edges. Roll up tightly lengthwise, pinching edges together to seal. Cut into 16 slices with serrated bread knife. Place rolls into two greased 13- by 9-inch baking pans. Cover with towel; let rise until doubled, about 15 minutes.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool slightly. For frosting, stir together confectioners' sugar, milk and vanilla in small bowl. Mix until smooth. Drizzle frosting over rolls.

Note: If using regular dry active yeast, double rising times. Also, you can freeze baked rolls up to 1 month in freezer bags, without frosting. Thaw rolls and reheat. Frost as instructed above.

Per roll: 550 calories, 20 grams fat, 90 milligrams cholesterol, 360 milligrams sodium, 86 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams protein

-- Developed in the Chicago Tribune test kitchen

Real McCoy Macaroni and Cheese

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