TV Dinners

Special to SunSpot

Every autumn, amidst a hodgepodge of reruns and dreary pilots, a handful of award-winning shows break out to remind us that there are still a few good reasons to turn on the TV.

Beyond the few examples of stellar programming, however, there is an even better reason to enjoy television -- it gives us the opportunity to eat. For decades, we have combined a hankering for pop culture with our natural instinct to nosh. In the 1950s, families pulled their brand new black-and-white sets up to the kitchen table to watch half-hour blocks of physical comedy and domestic humor. Then, the collapsible "TV tray" put us -- and our meals -- in front of the console TV. Today, we congregate around a big screen TV with friends, appetizers and cocktails for weekly trysts with backstabbing and scandalous twentysomethings.

Television has evolved while our appetite has increased. Gear up for the annual Emmy Award celebration with a few recipes to put you in the viewing mood.

Tray Toppers

We all remember those frozen meals in little aluminum trays. If we were lucky, we got one with the miniature brownie or cherry cobbler in the center. Either way, we had a legitimate reason to eat in front of the tube. Today, TV dinners include low-fat, low-sodium and low-quantity offerings.

Relive those prefabricated dining experiences by taking a stab at these updated and more flavorful variations.

Easy Meatloaf with Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4

What you'll need:
For meatloaf:

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef or turkey
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup ketchup or chili sauce
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste

    For potatoes:

  • 1 1/2 pounds unpeeled potatoes cut into small pieces
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

    What to do

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • In a large bowl, combine ground meat, bread crumbs, ketchup, onion, egg, oregano, salt and pepper. Knead with hands until ingredients are mixed thoroughly.
  • Shape mixture into a loaf and place into a loaf pan.
  • Bake for 40 minutes.
  • Place potatoes and garlic in a pot with enough water to cover the ingredients; cover.
  • Bring to a boil and reduce heat.
  • Cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
  • Drain mixture.
  • Remove the garlic, chop it, and set aside.
  • Mash the potatoes in a large mixing bowl.
  • Stir in the garlic.
  • Add sour cream, milk, salt and pepper to potatoes and mix well.
  • Spread this mixture over the top of the baked meatloaf.
  • Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until light brown.

    Baked Fried Chicken and Gravy
    Serves 4

    What you'll need:
    For chicken:

  • 1 whole thawed chicken, cut into parts
  • milk
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

    For gravy:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Drippings from chicken baking dish, combined with scraped up crispy bits from chicken
  • 2 tablespoons of the seasoned flour for coating chicken
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube (optional)

    What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Soak chicken in bowl of milk for 20 to 30 minutes (make sure chicken is completely covered by milk).
  • Spray a large baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Put the butter in the baking dish and heat it in the oven until the butter melts.
  • Mix flour and seasonings together in paper sack or large freezer bag.
  • Set aside 2 tablespoons of the seasoned flour for gravy.
  • Shake each piece of chicken in the bag, one at a time.
  • Place chicken pieces, skin-side down, in single layer on baking dish.
  • Bake for 20 minutes.
  • Turn chicken over and bake an additional 20 minutes or until crispy.
  • Remove chicken and set aside in a warm place.
  • Make gravy:
  • Remove drippings from baking dish and sauté over medium heat in butter with the scallions and mushrooms.
  • In separate bowl, mix the remaining seasoned flour with milk until there are no lumps.
  • Whisk milk mixture into the onions and mushrooms.
  • Taste and add bouillon cube, if desired.
  • Boil until thickened to preferred consistency.
  • Pour over chicken or serve on the side, depending on preference.

    Note: This recipe is good served with the garlic mashed potatoes from the previous recipe.

    Series-Inspired Fare

    Mobster Meatballs
    Serves 4

    For those of us who really get into our shows, these recipes can make us feel like we're part of the action. Make like Artie and Charmaine Bucco, proprietors of the Nuovo Vesuvio restaurant on "The Sopranos," and try your hand at these Italian dishes.

    What you'll need:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 3/4 cup of Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • dash garlic salt
  • dash pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 rounded tablespoon Miracle Whip salad dressing
  • 2 26-ounce jars of your favorite pasta sauce
  • 1 16-ounce package of thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta

    What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Pour sauce into crock pot and simmer on low.
  • Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Combine remaining ingredients (except pasta) in mixing bowl.
  • Knead with hands until it is mixed thoroughly.
  • Form meat into balls about 2 inches in diameter (should make 8 to 9 balls).
  • Place a few inches apart on cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, turning once during cooking.
  • Remove meatballs from pan, patting with paper towels to remove grease.
  • Place into sauce.
  • Let simmer for one hour.
  • Serve with cooked angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti.

    In-Law Pot Roast Surprise
    Serves 4

    If you're like Ray and Debra Barone, the Long Island couple who rarely get a minute to themselves on the CBS sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," no scheme is good enough to keep prying parents away from the house for very long. As Ray and Debra have discovered, the path of least resistance is often the best course of action.

    So, the next time the in-laws, or the parents for that matter, drop by, make them feel welcome with this simple variation of a traditional pot roast. Not only will you get to spend quality time with the family while it's cooking, you can really impress them with your seemingly effortless talent in the kitchen.

    What you'll need:

  • 1 1/2 pound sirloin steak or London broil
  • Packet of dry onion soup mix
  • 1 large can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 16-ounce bag of baby carrots, or 8 to 10 carrots peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 8 to 10 red bliss potatoes, cut into quarters

    What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Place the meat in an ungreased glass casserole dish.
  • Pour the onion soup mix on top of the meat.
  • Place the potatoes and carrots around the meat.
  • Pour the mushroom soup over the top, covering the meat.
  • Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 40 minutes (sauce will soften and melt to cover carrots and potatoes).
  • Remove from oven and serve.

    Politically Correct Power Lunch

    Cheese Tortellini Salad
    Serves 2-3

    What is a power lunch, exactly? Is it a meal chock-full of vitamins and nutrients to keep you going for the rest of your 16-hour day? Is it free of offensive ingredients like garlic that could drive wealthy donors away? Or is it something that involves minimal chewing, leaving you free to make decisions and shoot down ideas while your colleague is encumbered with a greasy cheesesteak sub?

    If you're one of President Josiah Bartlet's loyal White House staffers on NBC's "The West Wing," it's probably all three. In Washington, as on the drama series, food is just another tool in the game of political manipulation. Want to get in on the action? You'll feel like a powerful partisan with this recipe. It has enough nutrients to keep you plugging along until the State of the Union Address, and it will leave your lips free to make plenty of promises you don't intend to keep.

    What you'll need:
    For dressing:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • Pinch salt

    For salad:

  • 1 9-ounce package refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups cut green beans (frozen or fresh)
  • 2 tablespoons sliced green onions

    What to do:

  • In jar with tight-fitting lid, combine all dressing ingredients.
  • Shake well and set aside.
  • Cook tortellini, carrots and green beans until tortellini is tender and vegetables are crisp-tender.
  • Drain and return to saucepan.
  • Cover with cold water and let stand 5 minutes.
  • Drain well.
  • In bowl, combine tortellini, carrots and green beans; add onions.
  • Pour dressing over salad; toss gently to coat.
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