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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.