At least one of this year's cookbooks has established that there's more to efficiency in the kitchen than meets the microwave or food processor. Its secret? Old-fashioned common sense.
"No Time To Cook," published by McCall's, won't write your holiday greetings or help with the gift shopping, but it will provide you with suggestions on how to organize your kitchen and your shipping list, and in general make the most of the time in the kitchen. And it includes a multitude of time-saving recipes for every conceivable affair, from a dinner a deux to a holiday extravaganza for a crowd.
Here are a few suggestions from the book:
*To peel tomatoes quickly, spear them with a fork and place over a gas flame until the skin cracks. Alternately, place tomatoes in a bowl, cover with boiling water, allow to sit for a minute, then peel with a paring knife.
*Potatoes bake in half the usual time when boiled first for 10 minutes in the skins.
*To extract the most juice from a citrus fruit, first roll the fruit on a hard surface, pressing with your hand, or submerge the fruit in hot water for 10-15 minutes. (You can also heat the fruit on high for 30 seconds in the microwave.)
*To get rid of onion, garlic or fish odor on a cutting board, rub the board with a lemon or lime half, then wash in soapy water.
*For throw-together dinners, keep a supply of onion, green pepper and parsley in the freezer, in recloseable plastic bags or freezer containers, to pull out quickly when a recipe calls for them. Other foods that freeze well: chopped nuts, grated cheese, bread crumbs.
*Steaks, chicken, chops and seafood marinated in salad dressing several hours will have a wonderful taste when broiled or grilled -- and take less time to cook.
*When a recipe calls for browning foods in oil, let your broiler save you time and calories: brush the slices lightly with oil and let brown in the broiler. You'll use less fat than if you pan-broiled.
*Keep your hands clean by shaping meatballs with an ice cream scoop.
*When slicing or trimming vegetables, such as carrots, celery or beans, line them up and do three or four pieces at once.
*Rinse your glass measuring cup in cold water before adding corn syrup or any other sticky substances. The syrup will pour out quickly and the cup will be easier to wash.
A complete meal in well under an hour is today's Express Lane entree of Chicken Thighs Parmigiana from "No Time To Cook." After a quick stop at the market, with butter and salt on hand at home, you'll have plenty of time to devote to nonculinary Yuletide pursuits.
Express Lane list: chicken thighs, onion, garlic, spinach, basil, spaghetti, parmesan cheese CHICKEN THIGHS PARMIGIANA IN 35 MINUTES (4 to 6 servings)
8 chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in thin slices
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach
Approximately 2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
8-ounce package spaghetti
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Rinse chicken thighs under cold running water. Pat dry and set aside. Melt butter in a large skillet over moderate high heat. Cook chicken a few pieces at a time, skin side down, for 5 minutes until golden brown. Return all chicken to skillet, add onion and garlic; cover skillet and cook chicken 5 minutes.
Uncover skillet and push chicken to one side. Add frozen block of spinach to skillet. Sprinkle with salt to taste and basil. Cover skillet and simmer 15 minutes longer, separating the spinach with a fork as it cooks.
Cook spaghetti. Bring 4 quarts water and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Add spaghetti all at once, stirring to separate the strands, and return to a boil. Cook for 7 minutes or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain thoroughly.
Uncover skillet and stir spinach together with onion and butter to mix thoroughly. Turn chicken skin side up and sprinkle with parmesan. Cover skillet and simmer 10 minutes longer, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
Remove skillet from heat. Arrange drained spaghetti on a large platter and top with cooked spinach mixture. Arrange cheese-topped thighs on top and serve immediately.