Finally, our days are longer courtesy of Daylight Savings Time. Right on its heels, spring rolls in next Monday. As a result, we have more time to browse supermarket aisles, plan menus, and prepare meals…right? Wrong. Spring means it’s time to enjoy the great outdoors before summer’s heat sends us scurrying back indoors to the comforts of air-conditioning. As a result, I decided to share some of my time-saving food shopping and preparation tips.
First, forget gourmet meals; we’ve got better things to do this time of year. Instead, check out a few of my favorite time-saving supermarket products that, with a little ingenuity, can be transformed into actual meals. The remainder will come your way next week.
I’ve included my shortcut recipes, but feel free to experiment.
1. I like to pinch pennies as well as the next cheapskate, but when I want to treat myself, one of my favorite supermarket products is fresh pasta. Typically found in the refrigerated deli section, it takes about half the time of dried pasta to cook. Add a few ingredients and you have an impressive meal.
To take fresh pasta to the next level, I combine a couple of teaspoons of water with an egg and beat it lightly to make a light egg wash. In another bowl, I mix together a cup of panko breadcrumbs with about a quarter cup of grated cheese. I prefer mozzarella; use your favorite. Large ravioli hold up well to pan-frying, so I dip each piece in the egg mixture, then dredge them in the panko-cheese mixture.
Next, I add a little olive oil to a medium-hot skillet and add half of a package of fresh ravioli, sautéing a couple of minutes on each side before removing from pan and browning the remainder in a little more oil. Topped with fresh or jarred tomato sauce, it’s a pasta dish fit for the gods.
2. Frozen pie dough is another supermarket product with no boundaries. I can make it from scratch, but we’re talking about convenience. Instead of a large pie, I regularly make small ones in the form of sweet or savory turnovers.
Sauté a chopped bell pepper and yellow onion in olive oil until wilted, then move to the side of the pan and brown a pound of ground chuck or sausage until done. Add a handful of baby spinach (another go-to supermarket product) and cook with the other vegetables and meat until wilted.
Roll out one of the pie dough sheets and cut it into four pieces, then roll each piece with a floured rolling pin into 5-inch rounds. If necessary, use an upside-down bowl to cut a perfect round with a serrated knife.
Fill each round with a half-cup of the mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Pinch edges together with your finger or a fork to get a good seal. Brush with a little egg wash (see #1) and bake on a lightly-greased cookie sheet for 18 minutes in a 400-degree oven.
To create an easy sweet treat, fill a similarly-prepared round of pie dough with your favorite flavor of fruit pie filling, jam or jelly, then seal and bake.
3. Some bakers turn up their noses at packaged cookie mix. I’m not one of them. Most of the name brands have improved their products to the point that, with the addition of a few key ingredients, they can’t be distinguished from homemade cookies.
One of my most requested recipes of all time is Spring Break Sugar Cookies. A generous dose of cream cheese (more on that all-purpose product next week) and a liberal dose of vanilla extract makes this recipe one that’ll put a little spring in your step.
17.5-ounce package dry sugar cookie mix (I use Betty Crocker)
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the cookie mix with cream cheese until crumbly. Mix in eggs and flavoring until combined. Add enough flour to make firm dough that can be rolled out. Roll dough out on lightly floured board to 1/4-inch thickness. Use cookie cutter to create flowers or other desired shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes.
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