Stir Crazy: You still have to feed the family during the holidays

News-DemocratDecember 23, 2013 

Merry Christmas Eve. I hope you are not frantic, overworked, overwrought or behind schedule. Take a breath. Take several. It will be over in 24 hours and then, well maybe you'll wish you'd relaxed a little sooner.

Dinner still has to be made and I've decided that Janet Keeler of the Tampa Bay Times would be welcome in my kitchen anytime. Weekly, she comes up with dinner inspirations that can be put together easily, mostly using what cooks have in their cabinets and some deli pickups like rotisserie chicken. Here are two great examples:

Her Tuesday night goes like this: Turkey Sausage and Gnocchi Soup is a comforting weeknight meal. To make the soup, brown 6 ounces bulk turkey sausage. Add 2 cups water, 16 ounces frozen gnocchi, a 14-ounce can of beef broth and a 14-ounce can of Italian-style chopped, stewed tomatoes with juice. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Try the Friday pizza night, too: A tube of refrigerated pizza dough is your friend and Chicken and Artichoke Pizza will become your BFF. Press the dough into a pizza pan. Spread it with 1/4 cup of creamy Caesar dressing that has been mixed with a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan. Top with cooked chicken cubes, marinated artichoke hearts (drained and coarsely chopped), chopped Roma tomatoes and a heaping handful of shredded Fontina or Jack cheese. Bake 15 to 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

Here's another option, adapted from Lisa Abraham of the Akron Beacon Journal. It's gluten-free as well as light and healthy if you omit the chow mein noodles.

GRILLED CHICKEN MANDARIN SALAD WITH SWEET AND SOUR DRESSING

For the dressing:

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons white vinegar

2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch freshly ground pepper 2 to 3 drops hot pepper sauce

For the salad:

6 ounces baby spinach or dark leafy green lettuce

1 cup halved red grapes

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

1 can (10 ounces) mandarin orange segments, drained

4 chicken breasts, grilled and cut into 1/4-inch strips

Caramelized almonds (recipe follows), optional

Crispy chow mein noodles, optional

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, vinegar, parsley, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Set aside for at least 1 hour. Refrigerate for up to three weeks.

In a salad bowl, toss together the spinach, celery, green onions and mandarin orange segments.

Pour dressing over the salad and toss lightly. Top with grilled chicken strips and sprinkle with caramelized almonds and noodles. Makes four servings.

Caramelized Almonds: In a small frying pan, cook 1/2 cup slivered almonds and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is melted and almonds are coated and lightly browned.

Set aside to cool, then separate. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Makes 1/2 cup.

Ths recipe is from Better Homes & Gardens. Time to put some vegetables back on your plate.

Tortellini-Vegetable Bake

2 (9-ounce) packages refrigerated cheese tortellini

1 1/2 cups fresh sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved crosswise

1/2 cup thinly sliced carrot (1 medium)

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/3 cup vegetable broth

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup milk

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cubed and softened

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup coarsely chopped red or green sweet pepper (1 small)

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook tortellini according to package directions, adding sugar snap peas and carrot for the last 1 minute of cooking; drain.

2. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms; cook about 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from skillet.

3. In a screw-top jar combine broth, flour, oregano, garlic salt and black pepper. Cover and shake until smooth. Add to the same skillet; add milk. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add cream cheese; cook and stir until smooth. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice.

4. Stir tortellini mixture, mushrooms, tomatoes, and sweet pepper into cream cheese mixture. Spoon into an ungreased 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Bake, covered, about 30 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Makes 8 servings, each with 353 calories, 17 grams fat, 69 mg cholesterol, 37 grams carbohydrates, 15 gram protein, 1 gram protein, 468 mg sodium.

Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, sboyle@bnd.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

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