Healthy Fast Food Options

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Healthy fast food options can include ramen soup and skillet chicken. Editor Claire Conway takes charge of her soup while the chicken awaits.
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For dessert, a plate of glazed apples and ice cream.

Around midafternoon most any day at the school where I
work, my female coworkers ask one another, “What are you
making for dinner tonight?” There will be a variety of
responses ranging from chicken tetrazzini to, “Does anyone
have the phone number of Tony’s Pizzeria?” Panic has set in
and the daily dilemma must be resolved before departing for
home just in case one needs to stop by the grocery. I
seriously doubt that the male employees ponder this topic
while power lunching. “So, Stan what do you think about the
merger?” “Sorry, I wasn’t listening, Fred. I was trying to
remember if I took the chicken out of the freezer this
morning.”

The truth is, women are still preparing most of the family
meals while juggling a job and raising children. This is a
far cry from the life we imagined, growing up watching mom
baste a roast in her shirtwaist dress and heels on “Leave
It to Beaver.”

Sure, who wouldn’t like to have dinner prepared and on the
table in 20 minutes? But TV dinners remind us of airline
food. Tuna noodle, macaroni and cheese, and Hamburger
Helper are not the healthy fast food options that we had in mind.
And take-out can’t be anything more than a very occasional
luxury in my house. Since we’re living in the low-fat ’90s,
we need to get our hands on some ideas for healthy fast
foods. Maybe these meals won’t be what we’ll serve when the
boss comes to dinner, but they’ll be fast, affordable, and
nourishing to our hungry masses.

Ramen Soup

Ramen instant Asian-style noodles are sold in packages that
include a seasoning packet for soup. Most supermarkets
carry them in the Asian section or the soups can be found
in many varieties in health food stores. We like the
Westbrae Natural Curry or 5-Spice Ramen.

1 package Ramen soup
1 teaspoon oil (sesame oil is good, but any oil is fine)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5-6 thin slices fresh ginger root, peeled
2 cups unsalted chicken broth (1 can)
1-2 cups water
1 tablespoon soy tamari
few drops chili oil (optional), to taste
1/2 package firm or extra firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2″ cubes
2 cups broccoli or snow peas, cut into bite-size pieces
3-4 green onions, chopped fine

1-2 cups mung bean (Asian-style) sprouts
cilantro leaves, chopped (optional)

Saute the garlic and ginger for a few seconds. Add the
broth, seasonings, and seasoning packet. Simmer 10 minutes.
Bring to a boil, add the noodles and vegetables, and reduce
heat. Add more water if needed. Simmer about 5 minutes
until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Serve topped with
green onion, sprouts, and cilantro, if you so desire.

Skillet Chicken with Peppers

6 chicken thighs, skinned and cut in half (have the butcher do the cutting–he’s faster)
2 teaspoons olive oil
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large red pepper, cut into strips
1 large yellow pepper, cut into strips cup white wine
1 ripe tomato, cut into eighths
1 teaspoon dried thyme–or 2 teaspoons fresh
1/2 teaspoon salt
few dashes cayenne pepper
parsley, chopped (optional)
12 ounces egg noodles or rice (optional) 

In a large skillet (I use a nonstick), heat the olive oil
over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces,
sautéing them 4-5 minutes on each side until brown.
Stir in the garlic and peppers. Sauté a few minutes
until the peppers start to brown. Add the wine, then lower
the heat to medium and add the tomato, rosemary, salt, and
pepper.

Simmer uncovered for about 8 minutes or until the liquid is
reduced and the chicken is done. Top with chopped parsley.
Serve with noodles or rice.

Tortilla Casserole

1 teaspoon mild oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and then thinly sliced
1 medium red pepper, diced
1 15-ounce can small red beans or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup corn (fresh or frozen), uncooked
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup (8 ounces) mild or medium green taco sauce or salsa

6 corn tortillas (1 use stone-ground yellow cornmeal tortillas), cut in half
2 cups low fat cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a 2 1/2-quart casserole,
sauté in the microwave or on the stove the garlic,
onion, zucchini, and red pepper in the oil for a few
minutes until limp. Stir in the corn, beans, and cumin, and
remove from heat. Remove the vegetables and set aside.

Pour the salsa into a shallow bowl. Dip the tortilla halves
one at a time into the salsa. Place a layer of tortillas in
the bottom of the casserole. Next spread some of the
vegetable mixture, then some of the cheese. Repeat this
procedure two more times. 

Bake, uncovered for about 30 minutes until the cheese on
top is slightly browned. Cool a few minutes and cut like a
pie to serve.

Turkey-Noodle Casserole

This is my answer to tuna-noodle casserole. I buy a chunk
of cooked roast turkey in the deli section of the
supermarket. The casserole can be prepared the day before
and popped into the oven when you walk in the door.

1 teaspoon butter
1 small onion, minced.
1 package cream of chicken soup from health food store (I use “Mayacamas”)
skim milk (look at soup package for amount)
1 teaspoon cooking sherry
1 teaspoon dried dill
cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste
2 cups broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces
1 small red pepper, cut into thin strips, then in half
8 ounces cooked turkey or chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
10-12 ounce package noodles (I use whole grain noodles)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (low fat is fine)
1/2 cup toasted whole wheat bread crumbs (optional)

Put large pot of water to boil for noodles. In saucepan
sauté the onion in butter for about a minute, then
stir in dry soup mix and liquid, according to the
directions, using half the amount of liquid called for. (If
you want, you can use part skim milk, part water if you
want a lower fat content.) Stir in the sherry, dill, and
seasonings and simmer the sauce until thickened.

Add the turkey, broccoli, red pepper. Boil the noodles
until done and drain. Combine the soup mixture and the
noodles in a 1 1/2-quart casserole. Top with cheese.
Sprinkle bread crumbs on top if desired. Bake uncovered at
350° F for about 25-30 minutes. Serves 3-4.

Glazed Apples and Ice Cream

a dab of butter–about 1/2 teaspoon
1 firm apple such as a pippin or Granny Smith, cored,
seeded, and cut into thin slices
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon apple juice or cider
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Over medium-high heat, stir fry the apples in hot butter
until they start to soften. Reduce heat, stir in the
cinnamon, cider, and maple syrup. When the maple syrup has
thickened and formed a glaze, remove from heat. Let them
cool for a minute or so before spooning over vanilla ice
cream or frozen yogurt (or try different flavors).

Carob Mousse

Aseptic-packaged Nori-Nu brand “silken” tofu works the
best. Unopened, it has a long shelf life, so keep some on
hand for pudding.

1 package firm “silken” tofu
3 tablespoons real maple syrup (or honey)
1/2 cup carob chips (barley malt sweetened)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash cinnamon

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)

Melt the carob chips and maple syrup in a glass measuring
cup in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove on low
heat. Stir mixture until just melted; be sure not
to overheat.

Put in blender with the rest of the ingredients and puree
until smooth. Make a point of letting the mousse chill at
least 2 hours before serving.

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