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For easy recipes, just read the back of the box

Who needs a shopping list, or a cookbook for that matter, when you've got a box, bag or can of food to provide the blueprint for a delicious meal? • Flip around that cardboard container of bow-tie pasta and you'll find directions for a simple chicken dish. A nifty quesadilla recipe comes with a can of diced tomatoes. Can't think of a use for whole cranberry sauce other than as a side for Thanksgiving dinner? Twirl the can around and find a sweet-savory bruschetta appetizer recipe. • On the back of thousands of grocery store products are recipes that are easy, convenient and often inexpensive. The recipes also give you one more reason to buy a particular brand of canned beans, pasta sauce or frozen vegetables. That's called user-friendly marketing.

Over the years, many readers have written to the Taste section's You Asked For It column seeking favorite recipes that they originally found on "the back of a box." They have learned a harsh reality about manufacturer recipes: here today, gone tomorrow. That successful recipe for oatmeal cookies you found last month on a cereal box is now a meatloaf recipe. Between the Web and helpful readers, we have been able to locate a lot of recipes, but not all.

To stave off future panic attacks, Barbara Greenman has collected 500 store-found recipes in Back of the Box Cooking (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishing, $19.95). The handy binder-book is a repository for the "best of the best" recipes Greenman could find from manufacturers and the Internet. People looking for decades-old favorites will not likely find them here. Most of the recipes have come from manufacturers' test kitchens fairly recently.

The book reflects America's growing interest in organics, including recipes from several established natural food manufacturers such as Annie's and Organic Prairie. That's not to say Eagle Brand, Campbell's and McCormick aren't well represented. Plus, a wide variety of cuisines are included, among them Mexican, Italian, Greek, Asian and Middle Eastern.

We tested three recipes from the book, all of which we'd make again and one, in fact, we already have. As written, the Fruit Cobbler calls for canned pears and peaches mixed with fresh blueberries. For the second go-round, we used fresh strawberries and blueberries. Both were quick and tasty, though you'll see from the accompanying photo that the fresh blueberries turned the canned fruit an Easter egg lavender.

We were drawn to the Hot Italian Burgers With Red Pepper Relish because of the quirky addition of grape jam in both the meat mix and relish. No surprise, the recipe is from Smucker's. This is a way to use jam languishing in your fridge. The sweetness tangled nicely with the savory sausage and ground turkey of the burgers. The relish is quite juicy, so you'll need to drain before spooning over grilled burgers.

Florida Harvest Salad was the greatest success, easy for a quick meal and fancy enough for company. It makes good use of our local strawberries, in season now. The recipe calls for mesclun mix, but you could use any tender greens, even baby spinach. The warm penne wilts the greens slightly.

Clip the recipe now, buy the book or keep an eagle eye out for the Mueller's box with the salad recipe on the flip side.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

Easy

Florida Harvest Salad

12 ounces penne rigate

4 cups mesclun salad mix

3/4 cup red onion or Vidalia onion, sliced thinly

2 cups strawberries, quartered

Salt and pepper to taste

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Cook and drain pasta according to package instructions. Put greens into large bowl; pour cooked pasta over salad mix. Sprinkle onions and strawberries on top of pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan. Toss all ingredients well. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Note: This recipe was originally called California Harvest Salad. We changed the name because we used Plant City strawberries.

Source: American Italian Pasta Co., maker of Mueller's Pasta

Moderate

Hot Italian Burgers With Red Pepper Relish

Red pepper relish:

2 tablespoons Concord grape jam

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

2 large fresh basil leaves, chopped, or 1/4 teaspoon dried basil

1 (12-ounce) jar sweet roasted red peppers, drained and sliced into strips

Burgers:

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

3 large fresh basil leaves, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 cup Concord grape jam

1 pound mild or hot bulk Italian sausage

1 pound fresh ground turkey

Nonstick cooking spray

6 mozzarella slices

6 rolls, sliced

For the relish: Combine grape jam, vinegar, basil and red peppers in a small bowl. Set aside.

For the burger patties: Combine salt, parsley, basil and jam in a medium bowl. Remove sausage from casings and crumble with turkey over mixture; gently combine the ingredients well. Shape meat into 6 patties; refrigerate until ready to cook. Coat unheated grill grate with non-stick spray. Heat grill to medium-high. Grill patties 4 to 6 minutes per side or until juices run clear. Top each burger with a slice of cheese during the last 2 minutes of grilling. Toast the buns on the grill. Place a burger on each roll bottom; top with red pepper relish and bun top.

Serves 6.

Note: The relish will be quite runny. Drain peppers before putting on burgers.

Source: The J.M. Smucker Co.

Easy

Fruit Cobbler

1 can sliced peaches, drained

1 can sliced pears, drained

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

3 cups applesauce, divided into 2 cups and 1 cup

2 cups pancake/biscuit mix such as Bisquick

2 tablespoons sugar

Whipped cream, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a deep 9-inch square baking pan, place the peaches, pears, blueberries and 2 cups of the applesauce. In a separate bowl, mix baking mix and remaining cup of applesauce. Spread this mixture over the fruit. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until the top is brown and sides are bubbling. Serve warm or cold with a dollop of whipped cream or fat-free topping.

Times testing notes: The blueberries turned the canned fruit into the most interesting Smurf color. We tested this recipe again using fresh strawberries and blueberries and the results weren't so purple. Good use of fresh, local strawberries.

Serves 6.

Source: Mott's

For easy recipes, just read the back of the box 02/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 12:12pm]

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