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If It Moves, Skillet

September 24, 1997|BEV BENNETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Bennett is the author of "Dinner for Two" (Barron's, 1994)

What casseroles were to the '50s, skillet dinners are to the '90s. The casserole's appeal was that it combined the meal's starch, vegetables and protein in one dish; cooks could pop it in the oven and have a convenient-to-serve dinner an hour later.

That's great, but there are some nights when there's not time to let dinner cook for an hour. This is where the skillet dinner comes in; it offers the same starch, vegetables and protein cooked in a fraction of the time.

Choose naturally tender foods like chicken, fish, shrimp, liver or flank steak and add quicker-cooking vegetables like tomatoes, green beans, peas, corn and bell peppers--not potatoes or rutabagas. Because you want everything to cook in one pot, rice is your best bet for a starch, but lentils and barley also work well.

The classic paella--a Spanish seafood, sausage, poultry and rice combination--is essentially a skillet dinner, and it's a good way to learn the method of putting one together. Saute vegetables, add seasonings and meat, then a broth and rice and simmer. Add seafood toward the end of cooking so it doesn't get tough. This variation of Southwestern Paella uses the basic recipe but adds chiles and spicy chorizo for a tongue-tingling flavor.

To end the meal with a bang, make Margarita Sorbet. It has all the punch of a margarita in a soft-frozen delight. Use the best tequila you can afford and Grand Marnier, which is drier than many other orange liqueurs. If you can't slow down for dessert, make the fast version of a frozen margarita. For each serving, slightly soften 1/2 cup lime sorbet. Stir in 1 tablespoon each tequila and Grand Marnier for each 1/2-cup serving. Serve immediately.

SOUTHWESTERN PAELLA

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 jalapen~o, seeded and minced

1/4 pound chorizo sausage, cut into pieces

2 chicken drumsticks

2 tablespoons tequila or dry white wine

2 ears corn

3/4 cup converted rice

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon hot paprika

2 to 2 1/2 cups chicken broth

1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 large tomato, cored and diced

Heat oil in large oven-proof skillet. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper and jalapen~o and saute over medium-high heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add chorizo and chicken and brown, about 4 minutes per side. Pour off any fat. Pour in tequila and scrape up any browned bits from skillet.

Scrape corn kernels from cobs by holding corn at 45-degree angle and running paring knife down each ear. Add corn, rice, cumin and paprika to skillet. Stir 30 seconds over medium heat. Stir in 2 cups chicken broth. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until rice is almost done, about 15 minutes. If rice mixture gets too dry, heat remaining 1/2 cup broth and stir in.

Stir in shrimp and tomato. Cover and simmer until shrimp are cooked through and rice is tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Mixture should be saucy, not dry. Serve immediately.

2 servings. Each serving:

687 calories; 1,459 mg sodium; 179 mg cholesterol; 35 grams fat; 47 grams carbohydrates; 42 grams protein; 1.77 grams fiber.

MARGARITA SORBET

6 tablespoons silver tequila

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

2 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons lime juice

Grated zest of 2 large limes

1/4 cup water

Combine tequila and Grand Marnier in cup. Set aside.

Stir together sugar and lime juice in another cup until sugar dissolves. Stir in zest and water. Add to tequila mixture. Chill in refrigerator 1 hour, then process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Mixture will be slushy because of alcohol content.

2 servings. Each serving:

187 calories; 1 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0 fiber.

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