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|September 4-10, 2008
• Southern hospitality
The heart of Dixie lives at Leenie’s
by Clay Fong
• Vilified vittles reconsidered
Some foods with a bad rap not as bad as we thought
by Janet Helm
Back to the meal-making grind as school starts again
by Kathy Martin
School is back in session at last — time for the annual spotlight on quick, weeknight dinners. This year, though, it’s not just less-flexible schedules and fuller calendars that stand between the family cook and the evening meal. It’s the economy.
With double-digit price increases for some staples and vastly higher prices at the gas pump, most of us are feeling a financial pinch as well as a time squeeze. And that limits our options. Frequent trips to the drive-through or phone orders for takeout food that might have been routine a year ago may not seem justifiable any longer. Neither may high-end frozen or store-prepped entrées.
That set me to thinking about one of the all-time great budget stretchers: ground meat. From picadillo to chili-mac, sloppy joes to stuffed cabbage, cooks around the world have long known how to turn a pound of ground meat into a tasty main dish. And by its quick-cooking nature, ground meat is a time-pressed cook’s friend.
But even a “pound of ground” isn’t super-cheap anymore, especially if you choose more healthful low-fat varieties. Ninety-percent lean ground beef (12 fat grams, 200 calories per 4-ounce serving) is $4.49 a pound at my supermarket. Ground chicken breast is $4.89.
Lean ground turkey (8 fat grams, 170 calories) — especially good with Asian flavors — is a relative bargain at $3.35. (Ground pork is versatile, and the price was right at $2.59, but there was no package information about fat content so I passed.)
It’s always a good idea to stock up and freeze extra when your favorite ground meats go on sale. And here’s another winning strategy: stretch a half-pound into a four-serving entrée.
It’s easier than you might think, as evidenced by the half-dozen family-pleasing recipes we’ve rounded up. In each case, vegetables, beans or grains make up the difference. It’s an approach you can apply to your own ground-meat favorites. Figure 1⁄2 cup filler to replace 1⁄2 pound cooked, crumbled meat. Lentils — quick-cooking and small enough to blend in — are one great choice. So is cooked bulgar or cracked wheat.
The bonus, of course, is that the substitutions make the dishes more nutritious. Most important at my house, the resident carnivores ate them up.
No recipes required
Bow-Tie Bolognese: Saute 8 ounces lean ground beef or pork with 1 cup finely chopped carrot, 1 cup finely chopped zucchini, 1⁄2 cup finely chopped onion and 1 minced garlic clove until carrots are soft, about 10 minutes. Combine with 8 ounces cooked bow-tie pasta (or another shape) and 1 (26- to 30-ounce) jar marinara sauce. Heat through, and serve with grated Parmesan on the side. Makes 4 servings. (Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens’ Healthy Family Cookbook.)
Mexican Pizzas: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 12 (6-inch) corn tortillas in a single layer on 2 baking sheets. Brown 8 ounces lean ground beef or pork, stirring to crumble. Add 1 drained (15-ounce) can red or black beans; mash slightly with a fork. Stir in 1 (16-ounce) jar salsa. Spread the mixture over the tortillas, and sprinkle each with a little Cheddar and/or Monterey Jack cheese. Bake until cheese is melted and pizzas are hot, about 10 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
Taco Mountain: Brown and crumble 8 ounces lean ground turkey or beef; stir in 1⁄2 to 1 (1-ounce) packet reduced-sodium taco seasoning and 1 drained (15-ounce) can red or black beans. Spread 1 (9-ounce) bag tortilla chips on a large serving platter. Spoon meat mixture evenly over chips. Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup shredded Mexican-style cheese. Pour on 1 (16-ounce) jar salsa. Top with several cups shredded lettuce. Makes 4 to 6 servings. (Adapted from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)
Playing the grocery game
I was intrigued by an online resource, TheGroceryGame.com, mentioned in a story about saving money at the supermarket. The writer was enthused, so I signed up. Two months later, I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth ($1 for a four-week trial, then $10 every eight weeks).
Here’s how it works: The site tracks sale items — advertised and not — at your supermarket.
It also tracks coupons in the Sunday newspaper, and generates a weekly shopping list of the best buys — a two-for-one deal on paper towels, for example, on which you can save another $1 by using the coupon that ran three weeks ago. (You quickly learn to save and date those sheafs of coupons.)
There are seldom more than a dozen things I want on the 50- to 75-item list, but the savings have been substantial: More than $80 on my best week and never less than $30.
Here’s the caveat: That’s the amount I saved over the regular price of the items purchased. For the first several weeks, my total bill stayed around the usual $200.
That’s because the list pushes you to stock up on staples when the price is right. Now that I’m using those pantry purchases, my weekly bill is averaging $170 to $180 — a 10 to 15 percent savings at a time when grocery prices are going up.
And though it takes an extra 30 minutes or so to plan my shopping, I get a kick out of seeing how much I can save each week. No wonder they call it The Grocery Game.
No-bake tamale pie
Cutting back on meat usually means cutting calories, and diet cookbooks proved a great recipe source. This one-dish dinner is adapted from Good Housekeeping’s excellent Supermarket Diet Cookbook, which is full of healthful, creative and fairly easy dishes. Here, a quick saute gives bland, precooked polenta a lovely toasted corn flavor. You can have this on the table in 30 minutes — 15 if you cook and refrigerate the meat mixture in the morning.
4 teaspoons canola oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces lean ground pork or beef
1 (15-ounce) can red or black beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (16-ounce) jar medium-hot salsa (preferably low-sodium)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 (16-ounce) log cooked polenta, cut crosswise into 8 slices
1⁄4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high. Saute the onion a few minutes, until soft. Stir in the garlic and cook half a minute. Stir in the ground meat and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, chili powder and cumin, and turn down the heat a bit.
Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in another skillet over medium-high. When hot, add the polenta. Saute until golden and heated through, turning once, about 5 minutes per side.
Meanwhile, stir the salsa and corn into the meat mixture, and simmer about 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro. Serve in the pan or a deep-dish pie plate with the polenta slices arranged on top. Makes 4 servings.
Source: Adapted from The Supermarket Diet Cookbook by Janis Jibrin and Susan Westmoreland (Hearst, 2006).
Per serving: 611 calories (24 percent from fat), 16 g fat (4.5 g saturated, 7 g monounsaturated), 39 mg cholesterol, 28 g protein, 88 g carbohydrates, 16 g fiber, 381 mg sodium.
Hopped up Hoppin’ John
You could use another ground meat, but sausage (and cayenne) add zing to this variation on a Southern standard, another winner adapted from Better Homes and Gardens’ Healthy Family Cookbook (Meredith, 1995). Long-grain or parboiled white rice works, too; adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Cooking oil spray
8 ounces lean, ground, Italian-style turkey sausage (preferably hot)
2 (10-ounce) bags frozen seasoning blend (chopped onion, bell pepper and celery)
2 medium carrots, chopped (1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 (14- to 16-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained
1/8 to 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup quick-cooking brown rice
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
Spray a 4-quart pan with oil and heat over medium. Add the sausage, seasoning blend and carrots. Cook, stirring often, 5 to 10 minutes, until sausage is crumbled and no longer pink, vegetables have softened and liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle on the garlic, rosemary and thyme and cook, stirring, about a minute, until fragrant.
Stir in the black-eyed peas, cayenne, rice and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, about 10 minutes, until rice is done. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 453 calories (14 percent from fat), 7 g fat (2 g saturated, 2 g monounsaturated), 45 mg cholesterol, 25 g protein, 74 g carbohydrates, 12 g fiber, 119 mg sodium.
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