• Stir it up: Take five for dinner
    By
     | April 06,2012
     
    Ben Pieper Photo

    Buttermilk “fried” chicken relieves you of the mess of deep-frying and is more nutritious than the kind that comes in a fast-food bucket.

    We are heading into the time of year when push comes to shove for family dinners.

    As any parent of school-age children knows, the last few months of school are a whirlwind of class trips, recitals, sports playoffs, awards ceremonies, theater productions, team banquets, yearbook meetings, graduation preparations and — lest we forget — homework, assessments and exams. Aside from the winter holidays, the end-of-school season might be the hardest time of year to get a decent dinner on the table. And by “decent” we mean, of course, real food (not “fast” or overly processed) that includes servings of vegetables and whole grains.

    The simplest meal — and one that counts as decent — is melted cheddar cheese on whole-wheat toast, served with baby carrots, grape tomatoes and applesauce for dessert. Kids like it. Adults can get behind it — for a night or two. After that, the palate wants a little change.

    There are a host of “quick and easy,”“family-friendly” cookbooks and websites out there, but, as you are doubtless aware, not all of them deliver.

    “Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes” (Hyperion, 2011) is one that does, giving entire menus (e.g., Indian-style steak, spinach salad, naan bread and mango dessert), along with strategies to actually get them on the table in 30 minutes.

    “Robin Takes 5” by “Quick Fix Meals” TV host Robin Miller (Andrews McMeel, 2011) is another. The “Take 5” refers to the fact that each of the 500 recipes in the book can be made with five ingredients or fewer (not counting salt, pepper, water, etc.), and each has 500 calories or less. Cute, yes, but the book actually works.

    Years ago, I encountered my first recipe for “oven-fried” chicken in a book called “Home-Cooking Sampler” by Peggy Glass (Prentice Hall, 1989). Over the years, it became a hit with my kids, their friends and, if we’re honest, my husband and me.

    In Miller’s version, the addition of walnuts makes the chicken especially crunchy and delicious, and a sure-fire (sure-fried?) winner. You can cut the chicken into nuggets before baking and serve them with honey-mustard or barbecue sauce for dipping. Or, try making this with strips of firm, white fish for homemade fish sticks.

    Tacos are another easy, family-pleasing dish, and Miller’s are a tasty pork variation. Consider adding more veggies — sliced bell peppers or raw zucchini, summer squash or carrot “matchsticks”— for added crunch and color.

    You still have a couple of weeks before the end-of-school tsunami hits. Get ready. Take five.



    Buttermilk “fried” chicken

    Yield: 4 servings

    4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 5 ounces each)

    1 cup buttermilk

    2 tablespoons dry ranch dip or ranch dressing mix

    1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

    1 cup walnut pieces

    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste



    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

    Place chicken in a large freezer bag or between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound (with a meat mallet or rolling pin) to a ½-inch thickness.

    Whisk together buttermilk and ranch dip mix in a shallow dish. Add chicken and turn to coat. (See note.)

    Pulse panko and walnuts in a food processor until fine. Transfer panko mixture to a shallow dish.

    Remove chicken from the buttermilk mixture and shake off excess buttermilk. Transfer chicken to the panko mixture and turn to coat both sides. Transfer chicken to the prepared baking sheet and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the crust is crisp and golden.

    Season chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper before serving.

    Note: For super-moist chicken, marinate it in the buttermilk mixture up to 24 hours.

    Per serving: 398 calories, 18 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 84 milligrams cholesterol, 12 grams carbohydrate, 38 grams protein, 1 gram fiber, 211 milligrams sodium

    Recipe from “Robin Takes 5” by Robin Miller (Andrews McMeel, 2011)



    Pork street tacos

    Yield: 4 servings

    1 tablespoon olive oil

    1 ¼ pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes

    1 tablespoon taco seasoning

    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    4 taco-size (8-inch) whole-wheat flour tortillas

    1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, mild or sharp

    1 cup shredded romaine lettuce



    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add pork, taco seasoning and pepper, and stir to coat. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until pork is tender. Heat tortillas according to package directions, if desired. Spoon pork into tortillas and top with grated cheese and lettuce.

    Per serving: 450 calories, 21 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 122 milligrams cholesterol, 23 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams protein, 3 grams fiber, 695 milligrams sodium

    Recipe from “Robin Takes 5” by Robin Miller (Andrews McMeel, 2011)

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer living in Calais.

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