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QUICK APPEAL : A collection of delicious, fast and easy menus is an invaluable asset for today's time-conscious home cook.

November 06, 1986|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

Inventions may come and inventions may go, but the first person who invents a way to walk into the house, snap his or her fingers and have dinner ready in nothing flat will make a fortune. Spending an hour or so in the kitchen after a long day at the office or doing other chores is no fun. When it comes to meal preparation, this is definitely an era of the faster the better.

Or so the surveys say.

Certainly one thing today's family cook needs is a repertoire of quick menus--meals that will go together in minutes, look as though they had taken hours and, of course, be suitable to serve any guest who happens to drop by at a strategic moment.

The only problem with such a collection of recipes is that one tends to rely on them more and more--thus removing them from the category of emergency or special meals and turning them into frequently served old reliables. And dependable meals . . . those with no surprises . . . tend to turn the dinner hour into something to be endured, not something to be enjoyed.

If you are in that state, let us come to the rescue. The recipes that follow are basically quick and easy to prepare. They require little else but a salad and dessert or, in some cases, perhaps soup and dessert to round out a simple but satisfying menu. And even these extra dishes need not be complicated. A tossed green salad is never out of place, and dessert can be nothing fancier than some good fresh fruit and cheese and even ice cream.

One definite requirement when serving a menu of this type is to make the most of the presentation. If the main dish is a casserole such as our Easy Ham-Celery Casserole, be sure to serve it in an attractive baking dish. Or if you use a plain glass casserole, nestle it in a napkin-lined basket or fit it into a pretty silver casserole holder. In other words, add a little visual glitz and everyone will think you've slaved away for hours preparing dinner.

Some of the recipes offered today use convenience foods to speed things up. Others will fit in well when you have leftovers such as chicken or steak.

Whichever of the recipes you choose to try, don't forget that one essential requirement of successful fast and easy meals is planning. Know what you're going to serve far enough in advance to have the ingredients on hand. And have your table setting plotted out so you don't waste time searching for this or that at the last moment.

Many good cooks who like to entertain but know they will have little last-minute preparation time rely heavily on their freezers and microwaves. Certainly that's one way to beat the clock. But cooks who are not prone to making menu decisions well ahead of time can still produce a glamorous quick meal on occasion if they are willing to make the most of some of the good convenience foods available today.

The following recipes are meant to suggest ideas as well as specific dishes. If you're out of an ingredient, try replacing it with a compatible substitute. No ham on hand for the Easy Ham-Celery Casserole? Chicken will work as well. No onion crackers for the topping? Mince some onion and saute it with bread crumbs as a substitute. See how easy it is when you are willing to be a bit flexible about following a recipe?

Here are some recipes that will make mealtime a pleasure for the cook as well as the diner.BEEF BURRITOS IN A HURRY

2 (12-ounce) cans roast beef with gravy

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 canned long green chiles, cut julienne

1/2 cup green chile salsa

1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

6 flour tortillas, heated just until warmed

Leaf lettuce

Fresh Tomato Salsa

Drain gravy from roast beef and reserve for other use. Shred meat, then set aside.

Scramble eggs in butter in small skillet. Stir in shredded beef, chiles, green chile salsa and cilantro leaves.

Line each flour tortilla with lettuce leaf, with tip of each leaf extending out of tortilla. Fill with beef mixture and roll up, tucking in 1 end, leaving other end exposed. Spoon small amount of Fresh Tomato Salsa on top of each and serve additional salsa on side. Makes 6 servings.

Fresh Tomato Salsa

1 large tomato, diced

1 small onion, chopped

Salt, pepper

Dash cumin, optional

Combine tomato and onion. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cumin.

LOU RAMOS' ORIENTAL DUCK

1 (3- to 3 1/2-pound) Chinese roast duck

1 star anise

2 strips ginger

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chicken broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons water

1 (1-ounce) package dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated

1 (8-ounce) can whole baby corn, drained

1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained

1 cup frozen peas, broccoli florets or Chinese pea pods

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

Salt

2 teaspoons sesame oil or to taste

Cilantro sprigs

Steamed rice

Cut duck in half, quarters or portions. Combine anise, ginger, chicken broth, soy sauce, sugar and 1 cup water. Heat to boiling. Add duck and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes.

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