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DESPERATE TO DINE IN? COOKBOOK SHARES SECRETS OF EASY, HOME-COOKED MEALS FOR LESS.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are known as the ``Desperation Dinners Duo,'' and for more than a decade have concentrated on saving time in the kitchen. The twosome has authored two cookbooks on the subject - ``Desperation Dinners! '' and ``Desperation Entertaining!'' - and writes a syndicated newspaper column.

Now, in their latest volume, ``Cheap. Fast. Good! (Workman Publishing; $13.95), Mills of Minneapolis and Ross of Raleigh, N.C., share loads of ways to eat well for less. Packed with 275 recipes and a wealth of practical advice, the duo is out to show consumers how to save money in the kitchen along with time.

Cook, they advocate, noting that they were shocked when they examined a couple of months' worth of their restaurant and fast-food bills. ``The average U.S. family of four spends nearly $240 a month eating out,'' the cookbook notes. ``In a typical year, Americans eat 70 billion meals at 870,000 restaurants.''

It wasn't difficult to figure out that they could save money by eating at home more often. ``For us, saving money in the kitchen is about good stewardship - making wise buying decisions and then making the most of the ingredients once we get them home. We were startled to discover that the average American household throws away 470 pounds of food every year and that as much as 12 percent of purchased grocery items are never used.''

With their help, consumers can change their wasteful ways. But thrifty budget food doesn't have to be dull and routine. There are plenty of wonderful creations possible without spending a lot of money. ``Timing is a key ingredient,'' too. The mothers, who each have two teenagers, opt for easy-to-do, realistic recipes in the book (most take 25 minutes or less to prepare and are less than $2 per serving, and some, with a ``super cheap'' penny stamp, are $1 or less a serving) so consumers don't have to be eating out or buying expensive prepared foods when they are tired or rushed.

Shop carefully (with a list); use coupons (but be selective); buy items on sale; eat less expensive food items; don't shop when you're hungry, tired or during rush hour; set a realistic grocery budget; opt for using less prepped foods and doing more cooking steps yourself (like slicing mushrooms, chopping onions, shredding cheese or red or green cabbage, etc.), and you'll enhance your budget's bottom line, they advise. Experiment, make choices and find out what works for you.

Here's a sampling of recipes from ``Cheap. Fast. Good!''

MINI RAVIOLI SOUP

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 large onion (about 1 cup chopped)

8 ounces fresh button mushrooms

1 clove fresh garlic, minced, OR 1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic

2 (14-ounce) cans fat-free chicken broth OR 4 cups homemade

1 (14 1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes seasoned with garlic and onions

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

2 cups refrigerated fresh mini cheese ravioli (a 7-ounce refrigerated package)

Shredded OR grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat oil in a 4 1/2-quart Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. While oil is heating, peel and coarsely chop onion, adding to pot as you chop. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 minutes.

Rinse, pat dry and slice mushrooms, discarding any tough stems. Add mushrooms to pot and cook until they begin to release their liquid, about 2 minutes.

Add garlic, broth, undrained tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and basil. Increase heat to high, cover pot, and bring to a boil.

When soup is at a rolling boil, add ravioli. When it returns to a boil, cook until ravioli are just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve at once, passing Parmesan cheese around table to sprinkle on top. Makes 4 servings.

MARY'S GREEK-INSPIRED PASTA

Salt for cooking pasta

Water

8 ounces short pasta, such as penne

2 ounces (about 25 slices) pepperoni

3 medium plum tomatoes (about 1 cup chopped)

2 cloves fresh garlic

1 (2 1/4-ounce) can sliced black olives

1 (13 3/4-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, packed in water

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Black pepper to taste

Bring 2 1/2 quarts lightly salted water to a boil in a covered 4 1/2-quart or larger pot. When water reaches a rapid boil, add pasta and cook, uncovered, until just tender, following package directions.

Meanwhile, line a microwave-safe plate with paper towels and place pepperoni in a single layer on plate. Cover plate with another paper towel and microwave pepperoni on high power until slices release some of their oil but are still tender, about 45 seconds. Set aside.

Core and chop tomatoes into bite-size pieces and place in a 3-quart or larger serving bowl. Peel and finely mince garlic and add to bowl. Drain olives and add to bowl. Drain artichokes, coarsely chop, and add to bowl. Chop pepperoni slices roughly into quarters and add to bowl. Stir in onion powder.

When pasta is done, drain well and add to bowl. Add feta cheese. Drizzle oil over ingredients and toss to mix well. Season with black pepper and serve at once. Makes 4 servings.

ORANGE MARMALADE-GLAZED CHICKEN OVER RICE

3 chicken bouillon cubes

Water

1 1/3 cups uncooked long-grain rice

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, fresh OR frozen

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 large onion (about 1 cup chopped)

1/3 cup all-fruit orange marmalade

2 tablespoons smooth OR grainy Dijon mustard

3/4 cup dry white wine, such as chardonnay, OR orange juice OR chicken broth

Place bouillon cubes in 2 2/3 cups water in a covered medium saucepan and bring to a boil. When water boils, add rice, stir and reduce the heat to low. Cover pan and simmer until rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, if chicken is frozen, run it under hot water so you can remove packaging. Place chicken on a microwave-safe plate and microwave, uncovered, on high power 3 minutes to partially defrost. While chicken defrosts, heat oil in an extra-deep 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Peel and coarsely chop onion, adding to skillet as you chop. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes.

Cut chicken (fresh or partially defrosted) into bite-size pieces, adding to the skillet as you cut. Cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is no longer pink in center, 5 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir the marmalade and mustard together in a small bowl and set aside.

As soon as chicken is done, add wine to skillet and increase heat to medium-high. Boil, stirring to loosen any brown bits from bottom of pan, until wine evaporates slightly, about 2 minutes. Then reduce heat to medium and add marmalade-mustard mixture. Stir until ingredients are well mixed and chicken is coated with sauce. Serve chicken over hot rice. Makes 4 servings.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Mar 7, 2006
Words:1161
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