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DESIGN QUICK FARE WITH A PALETTE OF CONVENIENT INGREDIENTS.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

When time is tight and you don't feel like cooking, turn yourself into a quick kitchen artist - and create cool masterpieces that beat the heat.

With a palette of convenient ingredients on hand - like canned tuna, canned beans, frozen corn and green beans, refrigerator pastas, cooked rotisserie chickens, frozen, cooked shrimp, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, assorted pre-rinsed bagged lettuces, grated carrots or cabbages, a variety of salad dressings (or some good olive oil and vinegar), spreads, salsas, assorted breads and more - you can turn out some good eats with minimal muss and fuss. Mix and match them to suit personal tastes and time schedules.

To streamline cooking chores and keep the kitchen cool, make the oven off-limits, relying instead on your cooktop, microwave and out-door grill, if necessary.

When you can indulge in rapid summer fare like a caprese sandwich, a Tuscan tuna bean salad, no-cook pasta sauces, Southwest, cobb and Nicoise salads, Greek pitas, chilled gazpacho or cucumber soup, chicken or shellfish stir-fries, wraps, tacos, quesadillas, nachos, assorted dips, smoothies or a candy bar ice cream pie, who is going to complain about what's on the menu?

With markets brimming with fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, it's a good time to play around in the kitchen and put your artistic food talents to the test. You'll be amazed at the speedy dishes you can create. The recipes that follow should help paint the picture.

Whatever you fix, make it pretty to look at as well as delicious to eat. And remember the simpler the better for summer dining with flair and style.

MEDITERRANEAN PITA POCKETS 1 (8-ounce) container plain yogurt 1/2 whole cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped 1/4 teaspoon dried leaf oregano 2 whole pita pockets, each cut in half 4 romaine lettuce leaves, center rib removed, washed and thinly sliced crosswise 1/2 pound deli roast pork OR ham, thinly sliced 10 ounces jarred roasted red pepper strips, rinsed and drained 1/2 cup pitted, quartered kalamata olives

For dressing, in small bowl, combine yogurt, cucumber and oregano; set aside. Gently open pita pockets. Place some lettuce in bottom of each pocket. Top each with 1/4 of the pork or ham, pepper strips and olives. Drizzle each pita with 2 to 3 tablespoons dressing .and serve. Makes 4 pita sandwiches.

FIESTA SHRIMP TACOS 1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined OR 1/2 pound swordfish steaks, cut up 2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 tablespoon cooking oil 8 corn tortillas, warmed in microwave oven 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce Cotija Salsa Lime wedges OR small green chiles

Toss shrimp with cumin in a small bowl. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat; add shrimp and cook until opaque throughout, about 3 minutes.

To serve, place equal amounts shrimp on each tortilla, then top with lettuce and Cotija salsa, dividing equally. Accompany with lime wedges. Makes 8 tacos, 4 servings.

COTIJA SALSA: Combine 1 cup crumbled cotija cheese, 1/2 cup chopped English cucumber, 1/4 cup chopped red onion, 1/4 cup chopped tomato, 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.

CHICKEN STIR-FRY 1 (16-ounce) bag shredded cabbage 1/2 of an 8-ounce bag shredded carrots 1 tablespoon canola oil OR roasted sesame oil 1/3 cup sesame salad dressing 1 (16-ounce) package cooked and diced chicken 1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Toss cabbage and carrots in oil in a large skillet. Place over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are limp but still crunchy, about 3 minutes. Stir in dressing and chicken. Heat through. Spoon onto a platter and sprinkle with the peanuts. Serve with hot cooked rice. Makes 4 servings.

From Real Simple magazine.

MEDITERRANEAN PASTA SALAD (On the cover) 1 pound fusili (corkscrew) OR penne pasta, cooked until tender but firm and cooled to room temperature. 3/4 to 1 cup Italian dressing OR other favorite dressing OR vinaigrette 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes (about 40 tomatoes), halved 1 English cucumber, quartered lengthwise and then sliced crosswise 1/4- inch thick 1 cup pitted and halved kalamata olives 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (optional) 1/2 red onion, finely chopped 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil OR dill 1 1/3 cups crumbled feta cheese Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine pasta and dressing in a large bowl; mix well. Add all remaining ingredients, except 1/3 cup feta cheese. Let stand 1/2 hour. Top with reserved feta cheese. Makes 6 servings. NOTE: Stir in 2 to 3 cups diced, cooked chicken breast or cooked shrimp, if desired.

RED AND GREEN GAZPACHO 3 cups chopped red and/or partially green tomatoes (3 large) 1/2 cup chopped tomatillo (2 medium) 1 (16-ounce) can tomato juice (2 cups) 1/2 cup chopped cucumber 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional) 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions 1 clove garlic, minced 1/4 teaspoon bottled green pepper sauce 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tablespoon lime juice 1/4 cup finely snipped cilantro 6 ounces peeled, cooked medium shrimp (12 to 15) Sour cream (optional) Green onion curl (optional)

In a bowl combine tomatoes, tomatillos, tomato juice, cucumber, jalapeno pepper, green onions, garlic, pepper sauce, oil, lime juice and cilantro. Cover; chill at least 1 hour.

To serve, reserve 6 shrimp. Coarsely chop remaining shrimp. Stir chopped shrimp into gazpacho. Spoon gazpacho into chilled bowls. Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream, one whole shrimp and a green onion curl. Makes 6 side-dish servings.

From Better Homes and Gardens, July issue.

TURKEY CASHEW SALAD WRAPS 1/4 cup ranch dressing OR mayonnaise 1 tablespoon lemon juice 2 cups chopped romaine lettuce 1/4 cup diced onion 2 celery stalks, diced 1/3 cup chopped cashews 1/2 red bell pepper, diced 6 ounces turkey breast, chopped 4 burrito-size flour tortillas, warmed in microwave oven

Combine dressing and lemon juice well; add remaining ingredients, except tortillas, and toss together. Divide mixture evenly among warm tortillas. Tuck in sides and roll up. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

SPEEDY SOUTHWEST SALAD 1 (10-ounce) package ready-to-serve salad greens 1 (15-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained 1/2 cup ranch salad dressing 1/2 cup picante sauce 1 cup broken tortilla chips 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese 1/2 cup diced tomatoes

Place greens in a large salad bowl. Top with corn and beans. In a small bowl, combine salad dressing and picante sauce; spoon over vegetables. Sprinkle with tortilla chips, cheese and tomatoes. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: Add 2 to 3 cups diced cooked chicken breast, if desired, for a main dish salad to serve 4.

From Quick Cooking magazine, July/August issue.

BABY RUTH PIE 18 chocolate creme-filled sandwich cookies, crushed (about 1 1/2 cups total) 3 tablespoons butter OR margarine, melted 2 pints chocolate ice cream, slightly softened 3 (2.1-ounce) Baby Ruth candy bars (OR other favorite candy bars), finely chopped 1 cup miniature marshmallows Hot fudge OR chocolate topping, in a jar OR homemade, heated sightly in microwave, if necessary, for drizzling

In a small bowl, mix together crushed cookies and butter. Press onto bottom of 9-inch pie plate; freeze 5 minutes.

Combine ice cream, chopped candy and marshmallows in large bowl; spoon into prepared crust. Freeze about 1 hour or until firm. Drizzle with fudge sauce before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

EASY SKILLET RAVIOLI 1 (about 1-pound 10-ounce) package frozen cheese ravioli 2 1/4 cups water 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 (26-ounce) jar pasta sauce 1/4 cup whipping cream OR half-and-half

In 12-inch nonstick skillet or 4-quart nonstick saucepot, bring ravioli, water and salt to a boil over high heat. Continue boiling, stirring gently to separate ravioli, 5 minutes. Do not drain water. Stir in pasta sauce. Cover and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until ravioli is tender. Stir in cream and heat through. Makes 4 servings.

Fast fixes

When there's no time to spare, turn to these fast-fix inspirations. You can probably whip up these ideas or a variation faster than you can drive to the nearest take-out place - and no doubt they'll taste better - and be better for you.

--Chicken pea pod salad - Toss lots of diced cooked chicken breast with chopped green onions and thawed frozen Chinese pea pods with a dressing with Oriental overtones. Serve over greens and top with toasted pecans halves.

--Tuna salad with fruit - Although you may have doubts about this one, give it a whirl. It was a summer standby at our house when I was growing up. Toss lots of canned chunk white tuna, rinsed and drained, with chopped celery, drained canned pineapple chunks, sliced bananas and Miracle Whip or plain yogurt. Serve on lettuce leaves, garnished with pineapple and a sprinkling of walnuts. For a change of pace, stir in a little curry powder.

--Fruit salad - Combine a medley of cut up fresh fruits, mix with a little orange juice and serve in large individual bowls topped with cottage cheese. Accompany with garlic or other favorite bread - and a refreshing dinner's on.

--Microwave nachos - Arrange a couple of layers of tortilla chips sprinkled with shredded Cheddar or Jack cheese inbetween on a microwave-safe dinner size plate or platter. Sprinkle with canned diced green chiles or jalapenos, diced green onions and diced cooked chicken breast (optional). Top randomly with spoonfuls of chunky salsa. Microwave a minute or two or longer on 50 percent power, watching carefully, just until cheese is melted. Top with guacamole and sour cream. Serve immediately.

--Fast pasta sauce - Lightly cook chopped fresh tomatoes in a little olive oil with minced garlic, sliced black olives, capers, chopped fresh basil and cracked red pepper. Served over cooked pasta topped with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. An uncooked fresh tomato sauce with lots of chopped fresh basil is another option - process some of the tomatoes in a food processor,if desired. Of course doctored up jar sauces work well too with a little protein or fresh veggies tossed in, if desired.

--Sausages are easy to grill or pan-grill and make into sandwiches or fajitas with lots of stir-fried red and green peppers and onion slices. Wrap the works in warm tortillas (heat in microwave) with salsa or chopped tomatoes for a quick fix entree.

--Cook potatoes in the microwave oven (OK we realize some of you don't like them cooked this way), then top with cheese and cooked veggies or a Greek salad mixture (without lettuce) dressed with vinaigrette.

--Arrange halibut, sole or other fish fillets atop rinsed spinach in a rectangular or round glass baking dish. Top with chunky salsa; cover with plastic wrap and microwave until fish is cooked through. You can also pan grill salmon steaks with sliced onions, then add a splash of balsamic vinegar and salt and garlic or lemon pepper to taste.

--Quesadillas - You can turn these out in short order in a skillet or on the grill. Fill with assorted cheeses, cooked shrimp, beef or chicken, green chiles, salsas, etc. Try brie cheese with diced cooked chicken and serve with a mango or pineapple salsa.

--Microwave zucchini or other squash slices from the garden until tender, then top with heated jarred spaghetti sauce zipped up with chopped fresh or dried basil and some red or white wine. Top with shredded Cheddar or Jack cheese.

--Sup on dips - For a change of pace from usual dinner fare, whip up a few different dips like red pepper; spinach and artichoke; or bean and cheese and serve with assorted fresh vegetables and artisan bread slices - even a couple of slices of meat or chicken (or indulgent pates) - for a light supper repast.

--Microwave hot fudge sauce - To make a terrific hot fudge or chocolate sauce in a jiffy (tastes so much better than store-bought in a jar), combine 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips and 1/4 cup milk or whipping cream in a 1 or 2-cup glass measure and heat in microwave on high power 45 to 60 seconds; stir until smooth, returning to microwave 15 more seconds, if necessary. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and spoon warm over ice cream or use to make banana splits, brownie sundaes, etc. Makes about 3/4 cup sauce.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, box, drawing

Photo:

(1 -- color) MEDITERRANEAN PITA POCKETS

(2 -- color) FIESTA SHRIMP TACOS

(3 -- color) BABY RUTH PIE

(4 -- color) TURKEY CASHEW SALAD WRAPS

Box:

Fast fixes (see text)

Drawing:

(cover -- color) Become a culinary artist: Create speedy fare for summer dining

Jorge Irribarren/Staff Artist
COPYRIGHT 2002 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Jul 31, 2002
Words:2137
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