First, there was the pressure cooker. Then, the slow cooker, or “Crockpot,” as we label all brands, came along, followed by the Ninja 3-in-1. Now the Instant Pot, which converts claim can transform the toughest piece of shoe-leather beef to fork-ready tenderness in less than 30 minutes, is making waves. Besides appliance shortcuts, each week, supermarkets, especially the freezer case, are filled with more ready-to-eat dishes than the week before. Never mind than many of these items are filled with unpronounceable ingredients.
It’s no wonder almost that every recipe has the word “quick,” “easy,” and less grammatically correct, but definitely mass appealing, “fast ‘n easy,” attached to it. In our instant gratification world, a recipe that requires more than 15 minutes of prep time belongs in a culinary museum.
A quick search of the internet, food magazines and cookbooks revealed more than 100 recipes for “quick” ways to prepare ground beef and chicken. I enjoy cooking shortcuts as much as the next person, but some of the “miracle” recipes making the rounds with claims of “only three ingredients for a gourmet meal!” are wildly exaggerated.
For example, coating chicken breasts with powdery ranch dressing mix and topping with grated cheese doesn’t constitute a healthy meal. Likewise, dousing ground beef with a jar of salsa and, again, reaching for a bag of cheese as the grand finale would likely horrify a true Mexican chef.
But, there are some “quick” recipes that actually deserve a second look. For example, placing a couple of pounds of round steak in a slow cooker with two cans of French onion soup and a little water; two large onions sliced into thin rings; a can of sliced mushrooms and a packet of onion soup mix makes the most delightful dinner. Almost as good as the tantalizing aroma and taste, it sounds quick elegant when announce to guests or even just regular ol’ family members you’re able to serve “French Onion Beef and Mushroom Gravy.”
Another category in which shortcuts can and often do work wonders is baked goods. I enjoy a homemade layer cake filled with rich made-from-scratch frosting as much as the next person. And taking the time to painstakingly roll out homemade crust for a fruit cobbler is well worth the effort. But sometimes a craving for cake or cobbler hits at an opportune time. That’s when a “quick and easy” recipe is more than acceptable. And yes, sometimes life-saving.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a recipe called, “I Need Cobbler Quickly!” To get your fruity fix in a matter of minutes, spread a can of mostly-drained crushed pineapple over the bottom of a 13-by-9 inch baking pan. Sprinkle a half cup of light brown sugar over the top, followed by a can of your favorite flavor of pie filling. I’ve mixed pineapple with peach, apple, and cherry fillings. You won’t go wrong with any of them. In a separate bowl, pour a box of yellow cake mix – I recommend the moist supreme variety – into a bowl and cut in a stick of room temperature butter with a fork. When the mixture has a dry, crumbly look, sprinkle on top of the fruit filling, followed by a sprinkle of granulated sugar. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.
The aroma from the melded fruit and fragrant crust as you serve it with a scoop of ice cream compares quick favorably to the most elegant dessert.
Chicken Cacciatore is one of my favorite Italian dishes, but a busy work week doesn’t always allow time to chop vegetables and stir sauce. My shortcut version doesn’t quite live up to the Italian name, so I came up with a new one. However, it’s so delicious that if a true Italian made his or her way to my table, I doubt they’d complain.
Love, Italian-Style, Chicken and Linguine
1 jar garlic-onion flavored spaghetti sauce
2 (16 ounce) packages frozen mixed vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots and cauliflower, or your favorite stir-fry variety, defrosted
10-ounce package frozen bell peppers and onions, defrosted
1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
12-ounce package dry linguine
Spread spaghetti sauce over bottom of lightly-greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish and add thawed vegetables; sprinkle them with half of Parmesan cheese. Place chicken strips over top and sprinkle with remaining cheese and salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake in 375-degree F oven for 45 minutes or until chicken is tender and cooked through.
Cook linguine according to package directions, drain, and place on serving platter. Top with chicken and vegetables