Keep on hand Making Assembly Cooking Simple and Creative

By: Balvinder

Here's a guide to some prepared products and condiments to keep on hand to make
assembly cooking simple and creative. If the higher prices of some of the items, such as
cut vegetables and cooked chicken, are discouraging, remember the adage ``time is


Small pasta, such as rice-shaped orzo, tiny bows, fine angel hair and couscous
(granular semolina) cook quickly and can be the base of a main-dish salad for help visit Additions could include chopped vegetables and onions from the supermarket salad bar, chopped fresh herbs (such as dill) and smoked fish or chicken from the deli case.

Instant rice generally gets poor marks for texture, but several new quick-cooking rices
rate well in our book. For example, a brown rice that cooks in 10 minutes retains much
of the chewy texture of traditional brown rice (which requires 40 minutes to cook) and
all of the nutty flavor. For added taste, cook the rice in broth or bouillon, or substitute
spicy tomato juice or salsa for part of the cooking liquid. Stir chopped, cooked meats,
vegetables and beans and shredded cheese into the cooked rice for a substantial main

Likewise, seasoned rice and sauce blends cook quickly -- about 12 minutes in a
microwave oven -- and are natural bases for additional ingredients such as chopped
herbs, diced tomato, frozen vegetables and canned beans.

No-boil or instant lasagna noodles make assembling a pan of lasagna a snap and they
save dirtying another pot.

Canned beans, such as garbanzo, black, pinto and white beans, add variety and texture
to all sorts of fast meals, including soups, salads, chili, stews, pastas and rice dishes. Bean
flakes rehydrate in 5 minutes with boiling water and form the base for refried beans,
soups and dips. Canned refried beans can be served as is for a side dish or used inside a
burrito or enchilada. Or stir in a few tablespoons of salsa and a couple of dashes of hot
pepper sauce for a quick bean dip.

Bottled sauces, such as salsa, pesto, remoulade sauce, Thai peanut sauces, Asian
teriyaki and hoisin sauce brushed over fish, chicken and pork chops while they grill or
broil add interest, flavor and color for help visit If time allows, marinate the chicken or pork in the
sauce 1 or 2 hours before cooking.

The ethnic aisles of large supermarkets hold many canned or bottled foods that can
turn ordinary cooked pasta, rice, meats and vegetables into new dinner ideas. Canned or
bottled caponata, for example, an eggplant, tomato, celery and olive mixture, is great
over pasta or pan-fried meats and grilled fish. Likewise, roasted red peppers, marinated
artichokes, instant polenta, olive paste, chili paste with garlic and Thai seasoning mixes
often offer quick flavor solutions.

Vinegar, such as seasoned rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar and sherry wine vinegar,
add lots of flavor to fresh salads, slaws, cooked vegetables and stir-fries. They also can be
used as a marinade for fish fillets and chicken breasts destined for the grill or broiler.

Dessert sauces, such as bottled caramel sauce and lemon curd, can be used for more
than just ice cream toppings. Caramel sauce can top brownies, cakes and fried bananas.
Lemon curd makes a fine filling for a fruit tart when spread over a cooked tart shell or
spooned into shortcake cups. Canned fruit packed in juice, such as apricots and peaches,
puree nicely in a blender or food processor for an instant dessert sauce or ice cream


Cooking fresh produce has never been easier thanks to items such as peeled baby
carrots, cut broccoli and cauliflower florets, cleaned salad greens and spinach leaves.
Shredded coleslaw mixes and broccoli slaw (julienned broccoli stalks, carrots and red
cabbage) adequately form the base of a fast side dish or main-dish salad or stir-fry.

While rotisserie chicken has its place in our grocery carts, sometimes it's just more
convenient to stock up on chilled cooked chicken or chicken pieces. They keep
(unopened) for more than a week in the refrigerator and can be eaten as is, reheated or
shredded for adding to salads, stir-fries, soups and casseroles.

Fresh pasta cooks faster than dried. Frozen filled pastas, such as tortellini and ravioli,
can be cooked and eaten hot with a bottled pesto or marinara sauce or chilled and tossed
with bottled salad dressing, frozen peas and diced green pepper for a hearty pasta salad.
Whichever pasta you choose, always start the water to boil before assembling the rest of
the ingredients.

Prepared pizza crusts come in all shapes and sizes these days. Keep a couple on hand
for doctoring up for a quick meal even the children will eat.

Keep quick-cooking meats, such as turkey cutlets, fully cooked sausage, boneless
chicken breasts, pork tenderloin and steaks, in the freezer. Most can be cooked frozen
(allow a little extra time) or thawed carefully in the microwave oven.

The freezer case offers more choices than ever before for fast vegetable fixes. Today,
mixed vegetables could be anything from broccoli, corn and red peppers to a
Western-style combo of potatoes, green beans, onions and red peppers. Add the
mixtures to cooked pasta and beans or soups, or fry with leftover potatoes for a quick

Likewise, frozen fruit sports new combinations, such as a blend of kiwi, pineapple,
mango, papaya and red grapes. Use the fruit for salads, compotes and as layers in a
parfait. Or puree frozen fruit into an easy sorbet or thaw it and puree it to serve over
pound cake, angel food cake or ice cream or for a refreshing fruit soup base

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