The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 25, 2012

Cheryle Finley: Planning meals means better eating

By Cheryle Finley
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I used to write a Thursday Globe column that featured a week’s worth of meal planning, including the menus and the shopping lists. Planning meals is something I need to do more often rather than going by the seat of my pants and ending up hurriedly buying something.

My first rule in planning a meal is it needs to be something everyone will eat that tastes good, and I usually start the planning around the main dish. The grocery ads can come in very handy here, giving you ideas for dinner.

I recently watched an episode of “The Pioneer Woman” on television and she was preparing food for her mother, sister and small nephew. She made some sort of a seafood salad with lobster and shrimp, then set about toasting the top of some creme brulee for dessert. The women guests went on and on about the meal but I never heard a word from the little boy.

He probably has a more sophisticated pallet than I, for which I give him credit, so hopefully that was a good choice for all her guests. My friends Kelly Damm and Christina Arwood recently traveled to Oklahoma to spend an evening with the host of “The Pioneer Woman,” and they assure me she is wonderful at what she does so I will give her show another look.

I just know not to try to put a seafood salad in front of my grandson, Atlas, because he would prefer a plate of spaghetti and some red raspberry sherbet in an ice cream cone. We try to offer tasty options for him, and I hope he expands his choices as he gets older. We have found if he will just try something new, he sometimes likes it. Not always, but sometimes.

The second thing I look for when planning dinner is how quickly I can get the food on the table, especially in the evening. I’ve never kept it a secret that I like to cook, but I love to eat. When I retire, I will be all over the early bird specials because I can eat dinner anytime from 4 p.m. on, preferring to not wait too long. With the slow cooker, lots of make-ahead recipes and ready-to-eat food are there to help, and a nice dinner can be ready in 30 minutes or less. Planning ahead is key to having everything handy, especially if you are filling the slow cooking in the morning.

I try to plan colorful, healthy meals, but this is the area I unfortunately give less attention to than it deserves. Getting out a carton of cottage cheese and calling it a salad instead of offering a green crunchy lettuce concoction is what I do sometimes, just because it’s so darn easy, and I don’t have to worry about having the salad dressing everyone prefers. But it’s worth it when I do get the ingredients for a nice salad because it brightens the meal and is always a favorite Ñ especially if it’s just my husband, Chris, and I, considering we pretty much like the same salad mixture and dressings. Carrots and green beans are a good way to add color and nutrition to a meal, too, so don’t forget the veggies.  My go-to carrot dish is steamed carrots tossed with butter and brown sugar. Just about everyone likes these, even Atlas. A little planning ahead can make mealtime fast, tasty and healthy. Once that habit is formed, it will be one you will really use all the time.

Today’s recipes are from the new “Taste of Home” cookbook, just one of the great cookbooks that will be on sale Friday and Saturday at the Taste of Home cooking school at the Holiday Inn Convention Center. I hope to see each and everyone of you there.

This is a wonderful book, the third in a series, with over 600 pages. The vegetable beef ragout, or main dish stew, is made super easy by using the packaged beef tips. I have used these ready-to-heat beef tips many times, usually heating them for a few minutes in the microwave, then mixing them into a pan of hot cooked noodles. It’s beef and noodles in the blink of an eye, and it’s so delicious I would be hard pressed to duplicate it, no matter how long I gave myself to accomplish it. This recipe is a dressed-up version of the beef and noodles, and it certainly lives up to its ragout name.

The cranberry Waldorf salad adds dried cranberries and omits the nuts usually found in classic Waldorf salads. It works perfectly for me because I’m not a big nut fan to begin with, but I love, love, love the dried cranberries. My current favorite McAlister’s salad is the Savannah chopped salad, which contains, among other yummy ingredients, dried cranberries. I was happy to share this find last week with my friend Cindy Harding during her visit to Joplin. She, too, loved the salad, so I’m thinking we would both be happy with this Waldorf salad.

When I was a little girl, I regularly told my Grandpa Christensen that I needed a Milky Way. I never wanted one, I always needed one. To me, it was the perfect blend of chocolate, nougat and caramel, and it still is. Just using your microwave gives you a big pan of the chocolate-covered crispy bars. Forget the 24 servings Ñ I say just cut them twice, once down the middle in each direction, making four good-sized bars, then enjoy every bite. Have a great Taste of Home week and happy eating!

 

Vegetable beef ragout

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 (17-ounce) package refrigerated beef tips with gravy

1 (14-ounce) package frozen sugar snap peas, thawed

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Hot cooked pasta

In a large skillet, saute mushrooms and onion in oil until tender. Add the beef tips with gravy, peas and tomatoes, heat through. Serve over pasta. Yields 4 servings.

 

Cranberry Waldorf salad

1 large apple, chopped

2/3 cup dried cranberries

1 celery rib, diced

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon honey

In a small bowl, combine the apple, cranberries and celery. Combine mayonnaise and honey; pour over apple mixture and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until serving. Yields 2 servings.

 

Chocolate covered crispies

4 (2.05 ounce) Milky Way candy bars, cut up

3/4 cup butter, cubed, divided

3 cups crisp rice cereal

1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

In a microwave, melt candy bars and 1/2 cup butter; stir until blended. Stir in cereal. Pat into greased 11-by-7-inch pan. Melt chocolate chips and remaining butter; stir until smooth. Spread over cereal mixture. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into bars. Yields 24 bars.