Saturday, July 7, 2007

Beef, Vegetable and Shells Skillet

This recipe comes from a quarterly magazine sent out by Kraft, ostensibly to help busy family cooks (read “moms”) make quick and tasty meals that the family will enjoy, but self-evidently to sell lots and lots of Kraft products. So recipes tend to call for ingredients like Kraft salad dressings, Kraft cheeses, Philadelphia cream cheese, Taco Bell salsa, Bull’s-Eye barbecue sauce, Oreo cookies, and so forth, even to the furthest ends of the supermarket.

This means you get a lot of recipes that direct you to cut corners in ways that are extremely convenient for the corporate overlords, but that can tend to shortchange flavor or nutrition. For example, a pizza-stick appetizer recipe directs you to take a frozen pizza, add some more cheese, cook it, and cut it into strips. For about 10 minutes’ additional effort (plus some waiting and cleanup time), you could make your own pizza crust instead, for far better flavor and texture and less sodium. Or you’re directed to marinate chicken in bottled salad dressing, when you could probably mix a better-tasting marinade from less expensive ingredients.

To be fair, not every recipe in the magazine is bad. Many sound pretty tasty, such as one for a dessert ice cream cake that involves stacking ice-cream sandwiches, Oreos and Cool Whip. (Though I would substitute actual whipped cream for the Cool Whip and probably a homemade chocolate cookie for the Oreos. Maybe not. I like Oreos. But the Cool Whip’s gotta go.)

Not every processed food is bad. But convenience foods should make it convenient to get good food and good flavor, not just to get something into your mouth for God’s sake no matter how much it tastes like cardboard.

The recipe below commits several offenses, in my view. It directs you to use a Velveeta product. I am anti-Velveeta. I want my cheese to really be cheese, not cheese-product more or less equivalent. Further, it directs you to combine this Velveeta with meat that has been browned in bottled Italian dressing. Because goodness knows the meat needs additional fat along with the spices. (Yes, it’s reduced-fat dressing, but seriously, even extra-lean hamburger renders up sufficient fat for browning.) It directs you to add more cheese at the end (I thought the Velveeta might not deliver all that was hoped for!). And in the unlikely event that you restrict your serving size to the recommended 1-1/3 cups, it’ll give you nearly a quarter of your recommended maximum daily saturated fat, nearly half your day’s sodium, and half your day’s protein, but a measly 3 grams of fiber (far below the 25 to 35 grams you should get in a day).

Now you’re saying, “Amy, be reasonable. Of course I’ll control my portion size, and eat this with a side salad, and eat mostly vegetables and fiber-rich grains the rest of the day.” Sure you will. You’re too smart to take the expedient route and make a “skillet supper” serve as the entire meal. Of course, if you’re that smart you can brown your ground beef without salad dressing, drain off the fat (you’re not wrong: that instruction does not appear in the recipe) before you add half again the vegetables, and serve it over whole-wheat noodles or brown rice with a light grating of real sharp cheddar cheese to add lots of flavor with less volume. Damn, you are smart.

Beef, Vegetable and Shells Skillet
This easy cheesy skillet dish is a smart dish option that’s a breeze to make.
Prep: 15 min | Total: 35 min.

1 pkg. (12 oz.) Velveeta Shells & Cheese Dinner Made With 2% Milk Cheese
1 lb. extra lean ground beef
½ cup Kraft Light Zesty Italian Reduced Fat Dressing
1 bag (16 oz.) frozen vegetable blend (red peppers, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower), thawed
1 tsp dried basil leaves
½ cup Kraft 2% Milk Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese

PREPARE Dinner as directed on package.
MEANWHILE, brown meat with dressing in large skillet on medium heat. Add vegetables and basil; cook 5 min. or until heated through, stirring occasionally.
STIR in Dinner; sprinkle with Cheddar cheese. Cover; cook 5 min. or until Cheddar cheese is melted.
Makes 6 servings, 1-1/3 cups each.
CAL 330, FAT 10g (sat 4.5g), CHOL 60 mg, SODIUM 1030mg, CARB 33g, FIBER 3g, SUGARS 6g, PROTEIN 26g, VIT A 35%DV, VIT C 50%DV, CALCIUM 30%DV, IRON 20%DV
SUBSTITUTE: Any frozen vegetable blend will work in this easy skillet meal, so use your family’s favorite.
From Kraft Food & Family, Summer 2007, Kraft Foods.


sally said...

The frightening bit is that it looks like it could be a nutritious meal. Reduced fat this, 2% milk cheese that, veggies, lean beef. And if you're too tired from work and child raising to think about what you're actually putting into the dish (if you follow the recipe exactly), I can totally see putting this on the table in big bowlsful with a loaf of french bread and thinking you've done a good thing.

Coffee Grlz said...

MMMMM. Velveeta. Perhaps this explains why our parents have all had coronary bypass surgery.

CheriBlue said...

I despise the word zesty in food descriptions so this recipe is a big no for me.