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Convenience foods that are!

Many so-called convenience foods have too many preservatives or too much salt and chemicals, complicated instructions and have little nutritional value. But most moms who cook don't have the time to make every single meal straight from scratch. The trick is to find the right kind of ready-made, prepared and convenience food.

Easy is good!
When shopping always read the ingredients, nutrition information and the preparation instructions. And remember to always check the best before date. Here's a list of foods that I find convenient. There are probably more in your local grocery store.

Instant cous cous -- Ready in minutes, just read the instructions on the back of the box. Cous Cous is tiny pasta and because it's small, it's faster than regular pasta. You can experiment and use it as part of a stir-fry or put chicken or beef or vegetable broth in it and then add your chopped vegetables, parsley, nuts or raisins. If you don't have time to make rice or potatoes, this is a fast alternative.

Oven-ready lasagna -- This is my favorite convenience food. Now, any child older than nine can make lasagna! It saves time boiling all that lasagna pasta up. Lasagna is a wonderful meal to make with your children. They love making it and it's now so simple. It takes about half the time to make one of our family's favorite meals, especially when I use the already grated cheese. I soak the top strands in hot water before I assemble the lasagna. That way, all the pasta cooks evenly and the top comes out soft. (See recipe below).

Bags of shredded cheese -- Great for anything with cheese in it! It makes pizza, lasagna, spaghetti, cheese puffs, samosas, filo dough and many other dishes faster and easier to prepare. No more spending time grating cheese. I look for the bags of cheese that have the same ingredients as regular cheese. I like the mixed bags of cheddar and mozzarella. (See lasagna recipe below).

Filo dough -- My mom used to make this from scratch and it took all day. Filo dough is wonderful for parties or special occasions. Almost any recipe that calls for a crust or a wrapping you can use filo dough. It adds a sense of occasion and festive mood to a meal. Remember to thaw out dough before use -- don't defrost in microwave. (See recipe below).

Pie crust -- Why spend all that time making piecrust when you can buy it? Many otherwise good cooks and bakers have never mastered the piecrust and have stopped making pies altogether. It's a shame because their families are missing out. Remember, you don't have to tell people you bought the crust. Throw some flour on your hands and let them think you made it from scratch.

Pizza crust -- I buy the pizza crust, make my own sauce with the tomato paste, put on the meat, lunch meat, soya meat, olives, red peppers etc. and then the already shredded cheese on top. Cheaper than take out and better than frozen.

Spray can oil -- Love them! They are a baker's delight! No more messing around with oil out of a bottle. Great for anyone counting those calories and concerned about their fat intake. With spray cans, you use less oil. I also spray the water I boil my pasta in. I spray my chicken and steak with olive oil spray before cooking.

Already cut up Chinese vegetables and other vegetables in a package -- I buy them at my green grocers. I believe most places sell them now. It's great for stir-fry. There's usually more variety than if I bought all the vegetable separately. Make sure you buy them from a green grocer who puts them out daily and use that day or the next at the latest.

Canned tomatoes -- These are especially welcomed in the winter. I buy canned, stewed and paste tomatoes. It's usually a good idea to add a pinch of sugar to counteract the tartness. For tomato sauce, I mix stewed tomatoes with tomato paste and add garlic, basil, thyme and oregano. (See lasagna recipe below).

Ground lamb -- You may not think of this as a convenience food but it is. It's so simple and fast to prepare. It's healthier and leaner than ground beef and doesn't need sauces, just a bit of spice. Add a bit of marjoram or/and a pinch of curry and a bit of garlic, stir fry with onions and there you have it! Serve with new potatoes or rice or cous cous. (See recipe).

Lasagna
Ingredients:
1 package of oven baked lasagna
2 bunches of spinach
1 cup shredded mixed cheddar and mozzarella cheese.
1 16 oz cottage cheese
Onion finely chopped
1 diced red pepper
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp garlic or 1 finely chopped clove
Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions:
Soak the top four lasagna strands. Stir-fry finely chopped onion. Add spinach and diced red pepper. Mix together stewed tomatoes and tomato paste in a saucepan on medium heat and then add spices. Now you and your children can assemble the lasagna. Start with a layer of 1/3 of the tomato sauce, then 1/3 cup cheese and a layer of lasagna.

For the second layer evenly spread the spinach, onions and red pepper, spread 1/2 cup of cottage cheese over it and top with 1/3 of the tomato sauce and 1/3 cheese. The third layer of lasagna, the rest of the cottage cheese and the tomato sauce. Place the soaked lasagna over the tomato sauce and top with the rest of the shredded cheese.

Lamb in Filo
One person can make the ground lamb mixture while the other prepares the filo or you can coordinate your efforts together. Always thaw out filo dough a few hours before, don't defrost in microwave. It's wonderful for an intimate dinner for two or a special occasion treat for the whole family.

Ingredients:
1/2 package of filo dough sheets
1/3 cup melted butter
1 lb ground lamb
Pepper and salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
1 large white onion
2 green onions
1 large garlic clove, crushed (or 2 teaspoons powder garlic)
1/3 cup peas (fresh or frozen and thawed)
1/4 pound or 1/2 cup cubed cheddar or havarti cheese.
1/4 cup Parmesan
1 medium tomato (vine is best)
Oregano to taste

Lamb filling
Sprinkle salt and pepper on lamb. Chop up white and trim green onions. Brown meat in a heavy skillet on high heat using 1 tablespoon olive oil. (If you're using powder garlic, add it while browning the lamb.) Add white onions, green onions, crushed garlic and the other tablespoon of olive oil. Fry until onions are soft and limp but just before they turn brown. Add peas and cook for five minutes. Preheat oven to 350.

Filo dough
Gently (two hands are better for this) lift one sheet of filo onto a board. With a pastry brush, paint the edges and corners of the sheet. Place a second filo sheet on top of the first. Take 1/3 cup of the lamb mixture and place it in the middle of the filo sheets. Place two slices of tomatoes, 2 cubes of cheddar or havarti cheese on top. Sprinkle tomatoes with parmesan cheese and oregano. Gently fold up the filo to cover and enclose the lamb mixture. Paint more butter on the edges and brush the top with butter. Spray a pan and place the filo packets on top. Bake until filo is golden brown, around 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot with rice or cous cous.

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