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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Countdown to Dinner: Quick Spanish Rice cuts time in the kitchen

Thursday, August 03, 2000

Tested by Karen Carlin

Beth LaRotonda of White Oak jokes she wasn't much of a cook when she married her husband, Joe, almost 25 years ago. The first time she tried to make him scrambled eggs, she used too much oil. When Joe asked her what she was making and she said, "Scrambled eggs," he asked, "Are you deep-frying them?"

"My mom didn't teach me to cook. She was a single mother raising three of us, and on Sundays she'd make four or five things and put them in the refrigerator. When we'd come home from school, we'd heat them up," says LaRotonda, 46.

"She was a really good cook. I never cared about it, so I didn't really take to it."

One of her mother's recipes she did learn to make is Quick Spanish Rice, this week's Countdown to Dinner dish.

"My mother always baked it in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, but my kids loved it so much they were never patient enough to wait that long. They wanted to eat it as soon as I mixed it, so I had to try the microwave version."

LaRotonda, the mother of three grown children and grandmother of two boys, says the quick meal of ground beef, tomato soup, peppers and rice was one of her and her sister's favorites while growing up. "We would always say, 'Don't give us lobster or steak; give us Spanish rice.' We're a simple bunch."

And it is a simple dish, easily prepared within the required half-hour. The taste brings to mind stuffed peppers or stuffed cabbage, without the bother of stuffing.

Another dish from her mother that LaRotonda made for her own family is something called "Mother's Slop." The children named it that because it was "slopped" on the plate. It consists of thin egg noodles, a can of tomatoes, mushrooms and ground meat. It's another quick and easy meal that can be put together with little fuss.

Between her job as a secretary at the University of Pittsburgh, where her husband also works, and spending time with the grandchildren, LaRotonda prefers the quick and easy route to mealtime. "When I get home from work, I'm too tired to get into major cooking. I get home at 6; I don't want to be eating at 9. ... We're eating by 7 at the latest."

Joe does a large share of the cooking, but his style is a bit different from his wife's. "He likes to do the cooking, but I don't. He doesn't mind spending all day doing it, while I come up with stuff like Mother's Slop," LaRotonda says with a laugh.

"When I asked [Joe] if he thought I was a good cook, he said I can open cans and boxes as good as anyone else can."

After trying Quick Spanish Rice, we think she's being a little modest about her skills.

Quick Spanish Rice

1 pound ground meat
1 chopped green or red pepper (we used green)
1 large diced onion
2 cans tomato soup
2 cups cooked Minute Rice

Brown ground beef with onion and pepper while cooking rice. Drain meat.

When beef and rice are done, combine with tomato soup in large microwave-safe casserole dish and microwave for 10 minutes on high.

Do you have an entree, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com. Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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