For some, desperation dinners are what go on the table every night. For others, these are the meals served when one is out of time, energy or inspiration. Just about every cook has a small repertoire of "DD" recipes--tried, true and, typically, overused.
The beginning of a new year is a good time to retire a few of those oldies and replace them with some fresh ideas. Most of the recipes featured were inspired by classics, ones that take practically no time to prepare. The results are entrees that look impressive enough to serve guests, but are actually quick and easy.
For instance, remember chicken divan? Substitute jumbo shrimp for the poultry and this old favorite takes on new appeal. Use frozen broccoli spears for speed, or if you prefer, substitute fresh vegetables that have been steamed or microwaved. The remaining preparation is done in one skillet to limit cleanup.
Anyone who's lived in that belt of land that extends from southern Illinois south through Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas knows about chicken-fried steak. There it's served with cream gravy; but try it California-style instead, with fresh salsa. The steak is still prepared in the traditional manner--dredged in flour and fried in hot oil until golden brown.
If inclement weather limits use of the outdoor grill, try pan-frying a flank steak and serving it with a simple mushroom sauce made from the drippings. This quick method sears the meat on the outside, while the center remains pink and juicy. Team the meat with oven-fried potatoes and a green salad.
Chinese New Year, celebrated next Thursday, would be a fun time to try one of our fried rice variations--Shrimp-Spinach, Beef or Vegetable-Bacon. Each makes a meal in itself, but might also be accompanied by other favorites from a nearby Chinese take-out.
Fettuccine Gorgonzola is a variation on the classic Alfredo. Gorgonzola cheese gives this dish a buttery, yet distinctively pungent flavor. (We don't recommend substituting other blue cheeses; they typically are too overpowering.) A salad of fresh winter pears and walnuts makes a good accompaniment.
Still another classic take-off, Turkey Piccata, substitutes turkey breast steaks for the traditional veal. Pounding the meat achieves the desired thinness, then the steaks are quickly browned in lemon-butter. We also deviated from the original recipe by adding sliced mushrooms.
CALIFORNIA CHICKEN-FRIED STEAK
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons milk
4 beef cubed steaks
Combine eggs and milk in shallow dish. Heat 1/2-inch oil in deep skillet to 350 degrees. Season cubed steaks to taste with salt and pepper.
Dredge steaks in flour. Dip in egg mixture and dredge again, lightly shaking off excess. Fry steaks 1 or 2 at time about 4 minutes per side or until golden brown, turning with tongs. Drain briefly on paper towels, then keep warm until all steaks are fried.
Serve with Salsa and garnish with avocado slices. Makes 4 servings.
3 cups diced tomatoes
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 serrano chile, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Combine tomatoes, onions, chile, garlic and cilantro. Stir in lime juice, oil and oregano. Season to taste with salt. Makes about 3 cups.
12 large shrimp
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whipping cream or half and half
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 (10-ounce) package frozen broccoli spears, thawed
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
Clean and devein shrimp. Melt 1/4 cup butter in large skillet. Saute garlic 2 to 3 minutes. Add shrimp and saute just until pink. Remove shrimp and set aside.
Whisk in flour and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in cream, then wine. Add mustard. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Set sauce aside.
Place 1/4 broccoli in each of 4 buttered ramekins. Add 3 shrimp, then spoon 1/2 cup sauce over each serving. Combine bread crumbs with 2 to 3 teaspoons melted butter and sprinkle 1 tablespoon over each ramekin.
Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes or until heated through and bubbly. Makes 4 servings.
PAN-FRIED FLANK STEAK WITH MUSHROOM SAUCE
1 (1 1/2-pound) flank steak
1 clove garlic, halved
Garlic salt or powder
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup dry red wine
Trim any excess fat from flank steak. Pat surfaces of meat dry with paper towels, then rub with cut side of garlic. Season to taste with salt, pepper and garlic salt. Melt 1 tablespoon butter with oil in skillet large enough to hold flank steak. Add meat and cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat until meat is browned on both sides, but still pink in center.
Transfer meat to carving board and cover loosely with foil. Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in pan drippings. Saute shallots and mushrooms 2 to 3 minutes. Add wine and cook until reduced by about 1/2.