The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

February 29, 2012

Easy can be delicious

Karen Freeman

TARBORO — Just because a recipe is quick, easy or inexpensive, doesn’t mean that it can’t be delicious. With the use of spices and presentation you can make even the most inexpensive meal into a work of culinary art! I am not very good at presentation, I tend to cook really good food but then just slap it on the plate. I’m working on that and so should you. A pretty plate, a colorful mix of foods and a little garnish changes a ho-hum meal into a wow meal.

Our first dish is 30 minute chili. This came because my granddaughter called me this week asking about chili recipes. She wanted chili for dinner but didn’t have time to let it cook overnight in the crockpot. This recipe only has 4 ingredients. You can certainly add more. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I do usually add an onion and sometimes bell pepper.

The second dish is a roasted red pepper and tomato soup. You will love this one. It takes a few minutes to roast the peppers but it’s easy and well worth the effort. It uses red bell peppers but you can use hot peppers or a mix of peppers if you wish.

The third recipe is chicken and bacon in puff pastry. I always have puff pastry in my freezer. You never know when you may need it. The recipe calls for cooking the bacon in a skillet, which is fine; however, I cook my bacon in the oven. I put it on a baking pan that I covered with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. It takes about 15 minutes to cook it but I don’t get burned and I don’t have splatters all over the stove top.

Our last recipe goes in the crockpot. That makes it so easy. You can dinner waiting when you get home from work. You cook it low for 7-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours. It’s a great tasting dish that your family will love.

30 Minute Chili

1 pound ground beef

1 can canned diced tomatoes

1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained

1 (1.25 oz) package chili seasoning mix

Crumble the beef into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir until evenly browned. Drain off grease, and mix in the tomatoes, kidney beans and chili seasoning mix. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 red bell peppers

4 large tomatoes - peeled, seeded and chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons paprika

1/8 teaspoon white sugar

6 cups chicken broth

salt and pepper to taste

1 pinch ground cayenne pepper

1 dash hot pepper sauce

2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons sour cream

Roast peppers: rub oil on peppers and put them under the broiler until blackened, turn to get all sides. Put into paper bag and seal. Let rest for 15 minutes, then peel will come right off and core and seeds will fall out. Chop peppers. Reserve one chopped pepper; set aside.

Heat olive oil over moderate heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato, bell peppers (except reserved), thyme, paprika, and sugar. Cook over medium-low heat until all the tomato juices have evaporated, about 25 minutes.

Stir in chicken stock, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce (if using). Bring to boiling, lower heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Strain soup, reserving broth. Place solids in food processor or blender, and process until fairly smooth. Add puree back into broth.

Melt butter and stir in the flour, cook for 1 minute. Stirring slowly, add the broth/vegetable mixture. Add reserved chopped pepper and bring to boiling. Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and add 1 tablespoon of sour cream to each bowl. For a lighter soup, this is also delicious without the sour cream.

Chicken and Bacon in Puff Pastry

4 slices bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium skillet, cook bacon until crisp; remove, drain on paper towels, crumble, and set aside. Drain pan; do not wipe out.

Add olive oil to pan and add chicken and onion. Cook together until onion is tender and chicken is no longer pink, about 7-8 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon to medium bowl.

Add cream cheese and bacon to chicken mixture and mix well; if you're adding fresh herbs, add them at this point. Roll out puff pastry to 12" square. Cut into four 6" squares. Divide chicken mixture among the squares and fold in half. Seal edges and press with fork. Place on cookie sheet and brush with beaten egg.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until deep golden brown. Remove to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes before serving. The filling is very hot

Crockpot Lemon Chicken

1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1" pieces

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

1 bag baby carrots

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup water

Mix flour with salt and pepper in shallow dish. Coat chicken pieces in this mixture. Shake off excess and brown in olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Remove chicken and place on top of onion, carrots, and garlic in a 3-4 quart crockpot.

Add the lemon juice, brown sugar, and chicken broth to the skillet that you browned the chicken in. Cook and stir, scraping to remove browned bits, until mixture comes to a boil. Pour sauce over chicken in crockpot.

Cover and cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or on HIGH for 3-4 hours. When ready to serve, combine cornstarch and water in small bowl, mix well and stir into the sauce. Cook on HIGH for 20-30 minutes until thickened. Serve with hot rice or noodles.

Did You Know?

Easy Meal Tips

Pack the Pantry: Stock up in advance so you can have ingredients ready and available for meals at any time.  Canned food is "pantry perfect"!  With its long shelf life, it keeps its peak quality and nutritional value for at least two years.

Hurry up Hummus: For an easy, low-fat and flavorful dip, make your own hummus.  Drain, rinse and purée a can of chickpeas in a food processor with 3 tablespoons each of olive oil and freshly-squeezed lemon juice.  Add crushed garlic to taste.  Serve with fresh vegetables or bite-sized slices of pita bread. 

Ole! Salsa: Spice up a menu with your own homemade salsa.  Rinse and drain canned black beans; gently toss with 1/2 cup each of chopped, fresh tomato and chopped green pepper, and 1 tablespoon each of minced red onion, fresh cilantro and lime juice. 

Get Fruity: Make a colorful and classic fruit compote.  Combine canned, drained pineapple chunks, fresh seedless red and green grapes and slivers of dried apricots.  Lightly douse the fruits with the pineapple juice that is drained from the can.  For a grown-up twist, add 2 tablespoons of orange liqueur to the pineapple juice.

Refreshing Sorbet: Top off a great meal with a refreshing homemade sorbet.  Freeze one can of pears (or any other canned fruit in heavy syrup) until firm and then purée in a food processor.  Serve immediately.

Twice as Nice Potatoes: Add zing to mashed potatoes by puréeing drained, canned white potatoes with drained, canned yams (or sweet potatoes).  Season by mixing in butter, salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg to taste.

Pasta Pesto: Create an easy pesto sauce.  Coarsely chop well-drained canned spinach in a food processor with garlic, walnuts or almonds and a drizzle of olive oil.  Toss with hot pasta and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Smashing Smoothies: Have a nutritious refresher by blending a can of your favorite fruit in its juice with low-fat yogurt in a blender or food processor.  Blend in banana chunks or crushed ice for a thicker consistency.

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