Meals made simple

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Andrew Gilliard, 18, left, and Amanda Sandoval, 17, chop cabbage and cucumbers for a tossed green salad during a cooking class at Clovis High School.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

According to one research company, 2007 was the first year on record most people spent more money “eating out” vs. “eating in.”

Parade Magazine’s annual What America Eats survey found that Americans are leaning more heavily on convenience foods. Fifty-one percent now consider “homemade” to include frozen veggies and bagged salad.

Caryl Johnson, associate professor of family sciences at Eastern New Mexico University, contributes the survey results to today’s on-the-go lifestyle.

“So many of us are busy, going to school or work, or both, and having kids,” said Johnson, who teaches classes such as meal management and diet analysis at ENMU. “Many don’t have time to cook.”

Johnson said she makes sure to cook a meal for her family almost every day.

“A lot of people are too busy to cook so they just grab McDonald’s or something out of the snack machine,” she said, based on observing the eating habits of her students.

Johnson said she’s in the same boat as far as time management goes. She works, is married, has children. She said sometimes she hurries home, makes a meal, and hurries back out to go work out or to teach a night class. Her secret is to plan ahead.

“Make meals up in quantity on the weekend, and package them in smaller packages,” Johnson suggests. “You can precook meat, have it cut up and ready to go.”

Clovis High School culinary arts instructor Judy Uerling said preparing for meals has never been easier.

“There are so many convenience items out there, without preservatives and additives, that make cooking faster,” Uerling said, such as pre-chopped onions and bagged, cleaned lettuce.

Uerling also believes that a major change in the family unit affects people’s inclination to cook. Many families are now single-parent, and even if they aren’t, both parents often have jobs, she said.

But, both women agree that healthy eating is the emphasis.

“We need to get away from eating out, and fast food and huge beverages. Obesity is a huge problem in the U.S. and people need to be educated on why.”

Quick meals and snack suggestions:
Creamy Spinach Dip
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Servings: 2 cups

• 1 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
• 1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
• 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
• 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
• 2 green onions, finely chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 4 oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves, finely chopped

1. In large mixing bowl, combine mayo and sour cream until smooth.
2. Stir in spinach, parmesan, green onion, garlic powder and salt.
3. Gently stir in sun-dried tomatoes last so dip does not change color, reserving a few tomato pieces to garnish top.
Serve with carrots, celery, breadsticks, pita or bagel chips.

Over-stuffed bread pizza
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 29 minutes
Servings: 4

• 2 hoagie rolls (about 8” long)
• 1/2 pound sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casing removed
• 1 teaspoon olive oil
• 1 small onion, sliced
• 1/2 small red pepper, sliced
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
• 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
• 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
• 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Split rolls lengthwise. Form a hollow in roll by pulling or scraping out half of bread from cut side. Place rolls crust-side down onto rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
2. In large skillet, heat olive oil over high heat; add onions and sausage. Cook breaking up sausage with spoon until sausage is browned and onion translucent: About 5 minutes. Add red pepper, oregano and black pepper. Cook, stirring until peppers are softened: About 2 minutes.
3. Stir in ricotta and parmesan. Evenly divide and spread sausage mixture on rolls, filling hollow. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake until cheese is melted and bottom is crisp: About 10 minutes.

Oven-crisp potato wedges
Prep time: 6 minutes
Total time: 28 minutes
Servings: 4

• 1 1/2 pound small red potatoes
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 4 teaspoons finely minced garlic
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon paprika
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Preheat oven to 525 degrees. Quarter potatoes and place in large bowl. Drizzle olive oil over potatoes and toss.
2. Sprinkle garlic, salt, paprika and pepper over potatoes. Toss to coat well.
3. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray. Arrange potatoes on prepared cooking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice during cooking.
4. Raise heat to broil. Broil potatoes until crisp, watching closely not to over-brown: About 1-2 minutes.

Bacon, mushroom and spinach salad
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4

• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 tablespoon water
• 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
• 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 5-ounce package baby spinach
• 1 1/2 cup marinated mushrooms, drained well
• 2 small tomatoes
• 5 pieces bacon
• 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (optional)
1. Cook bacon until crisp. Blot any remaining grease with paper towels, set aside.
2. Place spinach in large bowl. Cut tomatoes into large chunks. Add to bowl. Slice mushrooms in half lengthwise; add to bowl. Crumble bacon into bowl; add goat cheese.
3. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine oil, vinegar, water, mustard, salt and pepper. Shake well to blend.
4. Pour over moisture in bowl. Toss salad; serve immediately.

Tropical chicken with pineapple salsa
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 29 minutes
Servings: 4

• 1 orange
• 3/4 teaspoon garlic salt, divided
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
• 4 small chicken breast halves (on the bone, about 2 pounds.)
• 2 green onions, thinly sliced
• 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
• dried red pepper flakes to taste
• 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
• 20-ounce can crushed pineapple
• 1/4 cup light brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Line shallow baking pan with foil; spray with cooking oil.
2. Zest orange; and in a small bowl combine zest with 1/2 tablespoon garlic salt and pepper. Squeeze juice from 1/2 orange and stir in 2 tablespoons. Loosen skin from chicken; rub orange moisture under skin. Place chicken on prepared baking pan skin-side down. Bake 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, peel and section remaining orange half. In medium bowl, combine orange, remaining garlic salt, green onion, red bell pepper, dried red pepper flakes and vinegar. Drain pineapple, reserving 1/4 cup liquid. Add pineapple to bowl, set aside.
4. Combine pineapple liquid and brown sugar, stirring until dissolved. Turn chicken skin-side up and brush with brown sugar mixture. Continue baking chicken until tender, about an additional 15 minutes, pasting occasionally with brown sugar mixture.
5. Place chicken under broiler and broil 3-5 minutes to crisp skin, if desired. Drizzle chicken with any pan juices and serve with pineapple salsa.

Superquick tiramisu
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 29 minutes
Servings: 4

• 2 teaspoon instant espresso coffee
• 1/2 cup hot water
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 6 crisp cookies or crisp lady fingers
• 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
• 1 3/4 cup milk
• 1 3.4 ounces package instant vanilla pudding mix
• 2 teaspoon grated semisweet chocolate or 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
• 1/2 cup whipped cream or thawed whipped topping

1. In small bowl, combine espresso coffee powder, water and sugar, stir to dissolve. Break cookies into 1/2 inch pieces. Add cookies to mixture, stirring gently so cookies absorb liquid.
2. Spoon moistened cookies into 4 individual dessert dishes, pressing down slightly.
3. In bowl with electric mixer, beat cream cheese and 1/4 cup milk until smooth, scraping bowl occasionally. Gradually stir in remaining milk, boating until smooth. With a wire whisk, stir in pudding mix, whisking for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened.
4. Spoon into glasses. Sprinkle with chocolate and top with whipped cream. Place in refrigerator, chill for 14 minutes or until ready to serve.

Source: Judy Uerling, Culinary Arts Instructor at Clovis High School