Most critics of “fast food” object to the “food” component of the term: it’s too fatty, caloric, salty, processed, and the list goes on.
I agree a diet built on a foundation of assorted McMorsels will lead to ill health, but I’m no extremist; it seems silly to bemoan an occasional hamburger & fries indulgence, particularly if healthy choices are made the majority of the time.
Instead, my objection to “fast food” is the adjective “fast.” If hunger strikes in the midst of scaling Mount Laundry, for example, the least efficient thing I can imagine doing is leaving the comfort of my AC (no small thing in East Texas), loading Nick and myself into the car, only to drive to a line of 15+ cars all waiting for the same “quick” fix.
But fast food is available, in healthy, delicious form, from my own kitchen. It doesn’t come with a plastic toy for Nick, or a vanilla milkshake for me (shhh), but for speedy dinners—the meal I am most often pooped for—I have a few tricks up my sleeve.
Consider my interpretations of antipasto pasta and arroz con pollo. These two recipes have little in common save for their speed and convenience (and jars of roasted red bell peppers—why are these so well-priced when fresh red peppers are exorbitant?). Each is ready in minutes, a cinch to prepare, and made from pantry ingredients.
The pasta was supper last night; I've been nibbling on a bowl of re-warmed leftovers in between typing. You could add some cooked chicken (that's a direct quote from Kevin), but I like it without--it's hearty with the whole grain pasta, and the Barilla brand has added protein, too. Besides, adding chicken is one more step, and one I'm willing to nix.
I made the arroz con pollo about a month ago, when I was in the blogging doldrums. I photographed it, but it's been waiting for a spot on the blog since. It shoehorned easily into today's topic. Sofrito, a sautéed mixture of onion, bell pepper, and garlic, is the typical base of arroz con pollo. It's missing, technically, in my speedy version, but makes a stealth entrance by way of the chunky salsa, which delivers the aromatic trio, along with tomatoes, in one fell swoop. It's such a good weeknight meal; you barely need to blink to bring it together, but you'll be wide awake once you dig in.
I think just about anything is better with goat cheese, and if I were a single woman, I would top this pasta with goat cheese every time. But Kevin holds that goat cheese should have boundaries, and is best on a baguette. Whether Parmesan or goat cheese, you'll love this.
1 16-ounce package multigrain penne pasta (e.g., Barilla Plus)
1 28-ounce jar good quality chunky marinara sauce
1 4-ounce jar marinated artichokes, drained, halved
1 10 to 12-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained, cut into strips
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves, sliced or chopped
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese OR 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
Cook pasta in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, following package directions, until tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.
Meanwhile, place the marinara sauce, artichokes, peppers, and olives in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens.
Add sauce to pasta. Stir to combine. If desired, add some of the cooking water if too thick. Top with basil and cheese. Serve. Makes 6 servings.
Rápido Arroz Con Pollo (I've been watching a lot of Dora the Explorer, lately...)
I'm not sure when garlic powder went out of fashion, but I still keep a jar on hand when the thought of peeling a few garlic cloves is enough to send me over the edge. There's nothing artifical about it: it's pure garlic, dried and pulverized to a powder. I find it works best in stews, soups and casseroles, including this stovetop "casserole," where it can blend in and develop its flavor with other herbs and spices.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Hungarian (sweet) paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 cups (1 16-ounce jar) thicky and chunky-style salsa
1 and 1/3 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
1 10 to 12-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped ham
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add paprika, cumin, garlic powder, and turmeric and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds until aromatic.
Add the rice, salsa, and broth. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 18 minutes or until rice is tender.
Add the chicken, peppers, ham, lime juice and cilantro, and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until heated through. Remove from heat. Divide the arroz con pollo among serving bowls and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/4 of recipe):
Calories 331; Fat 3.1g (poly 0.4g, mono 1.4g, sat 1.0g); Protein 7.7g; Cholesterol 3.1mg; Carbohydrate 47.3g; Fiber 5.1; Sodium 793mg)
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)