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Table Talk: Cook cheap at college

Lawrence Pierce
Students can take a short break from their studies, or perhaps video games, for dinner to quickly assemble Chicken Tortilla Stack, which calls for only five ingredients.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's that time of year when vans and pickup trucks overloaded with household goods and laundry baskets heaped with clothes replace carrier-topped vehicles of vacationing families on the highways.

College kids are headed to campus. If they aren't living in the dormitories where the cafeteria staff provides three squares, they might be venturing into an apartment and their first shot at truly independent living.

That's right. They'll have to feed themselves. If their only cooking efforts to date have involved the microwave and toaster, they're soon going to be hungry. Eventually, take out pizza and burgers, frozen dinners, cereal and that old college staple, ramen noodles, get old.

So here are a few quick and easy meals that require minimal preparation and use relatively inexpensive ingredients. The Spinach Ravioli Lasagna would work just as well with healthier marina sauce in place of the Alfredo sauce. Several recipes include spinach in an attempt to slip a few vitamins into the meals.

A couple of tips:

* Check the grocery store fliers and plan menus around what's on sale. Especially meat, usually a high ticket item.

* Give store brands a try. Choosy mothers might chose JIF, but it can be twice the price of off-brand peanut butter.

* Buy bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts or thighs when they're on sale, and roast in the oven until done. Remove meat from bones, chop meat and seal in freezer plastic bags. Freeze for use later to toss into recipes calling for chopped, cooked chicken, like Chicken Tortilla Stack, Barbecue Chicken Pizza or Caesar Chicken Salad recipes listed below

* Use low-fat and whole-wheat ingredients whenever possible to avoid packing on the pounds.

* Visit the websites and for other good inexpensive meal suggestions.

Reach Julie Robinson at or 304-348-1230.

Chicken-Tortilla Stack

2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast

1/4 cup salsa

1 cup spicy black bean dip

4 8-inch multigrain flour tortillas

1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Cooking spray

HEAT oven to 450 degrees

MIX chicken and salsa in a medium bowl.

SPREAD 1/4 cup black bean dip over each tortilla. Top each evenly with about 1/4 of the chicken mixture and 2 tablespoons cheese. Stack tortillas in bottom of a 9-inch pan coated with cooking spray.

BAKE at 450° for 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated and cheese melts.

CUT pie into 4 wedges. Serve immediately.

Tuna Spinach Linguine

1/2 16-ounce box linguine

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/4 medium onion, diced

1 12-ounce can chunk tuna, drained

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 6-ounce bag spinach, coarsely chopped

Parmesan cheese, grated

PREPARE linguine according to package directions

HEAT  oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Saute onions until translucent. Stir in tuna and seasonings and cook several minutes.

ADD  undrained tomatoes, salt and pepper and simmer five minutes. Just before serving, fold spinach into tuna mixture.

SERVE  over cooked linguine and sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

Sausage Pepper Pasta

1 pound bowtie pasta

1 20-ounce package Italian turkey sausage links

1 red pepper, diced in 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup jarred pesto sauce

1 cup low-salt chicken broth

Pepper to taste

Crushed red pepper, if desired

Parmesan cheese

COOK pasta in large pot according to directions on box. Drain and return pasta to pot.

REMOVE casings from sausage. Cook over medium heat in skillet, breaking the sausage into pieces, until no pink remains.

ADD diced red pepper to skillet and cook 3 minutes.

ADD cooked sausage and red pepper mixture to pasta. Mix in pesto sauce and toss with a cup of chicken broth. Add pepper and crushed red pepper if desired.

PLATE and sprinkle with cheese.

Easy Chicken Salad

2 cups chopped cooked chicken

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons lemon pepper, or 1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper 

Diced celery, nuts, pickles, halved grapes or dried cranberries, as desired.

MIX mayonnaise and seasonings. Fold in chicken and other desired ingredients.

SERVE over mixed greens to make a meal.


1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound ground beef, browned and drained

2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes

2 cups water

8 ounces elbow macaroni, uncooked

Salt and pepper, to taste

Shredded cheddar cheese

SAUTE onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent.

BROWN ground beef and drain. Add ground beef, tomatoes, water, raw macaroni, salt and pepper to the onion and garlic mixture.

COOK for 15 to 20 minutes or until macaroni is tender.

TOP with cheese.

Barbeque Chicken Pizza

1 14-ounce refrigerated pizza crust dough

11/2 cups barbecue sauce

1  1/2 cups chopped chicken

1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced

2 jalapeno peppers, sliced

2 cups shredded part-skim milk Mozzarella cheese

HEAT the oven according to package directions.

LIGHTLY spray a cookie sheet or 12-inch pizza pan with cooking spray.

UNROLL the pizza crust dough press into the pan.

SPREAD sauce over dough. Sprinkle chicken, onion and peppers over sauce. Top with cheese.

PLACE the pizza on a lower rack in the oven and bake as directed until the crust is firm and lightly browned.

CUT into 8 servings.

SERVE with a tossed green salad with light salad dressing.

Chicken Caesar Salad

2 cups cooked, shredded chicken 

Caesar salad dressing

1 10-ounce package romaine salad

2 tomatoes, cut into wedges

1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

COMBINE chicken, 1/2 cup Caesar dressing, lettuce and tomato in a large bowl; toss gently to coat.

DIVIDE salad evenly among each of 4 bowls. Sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.

Spinach Ravioli Lasagna

1 6-ounce package fresh baby spinach, thoroughly washed

1/3 cup jarred pesto sauce

1 15-ounce jar Alfredo sauce

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 25-ounce package frozen cheese-filled ravioli (do not thaw)

1 cup shredded Italian six-cheese blend

HEAT oven to 375 degrees.

CHOP spinach, and toss with pesto in a medium bowl.

COMBINE Alfredo sauce and broth. Spoon one-third of Alfredo sauce mixture (about 1/2 cup) into a lightly greased 2.2-quart or 11- x 7-inch baking dish.

TOP with half of spinach mixture. Arrange half of ravioli in a single layer over spinach mixture. Repeat layers once. Top with remaining Alfredo sauce.

BAKE at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Bake 5 minutes more or until hot and bubbly.


Tortellini Tomato Spinach Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup minced onions

1 garlic clove, minced

4-6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 20-ounce package frozen tortellini

Kosher salt

Cracked black pepper

1 6-ounce fresh spinach or 1 package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

HEAT olive oil over medium high heat in a soup pan.

SAUTE onion and garlic, stirring often until onions are translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.

ADD broth and tomatoes, turn heat up to high, and bring to a slow boil.

ADD the tortellini and cook according to package instructions. When tortellini is almost done, add spinach and taste, adjusting seasonings with salt and pepper.

GARNISH each serving with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.



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