By BARBARA ALBRIGHT
WILTON, Conn. - Food writer Jean Anderson has the culinary good sense to know exactly when to use ingredients or equipment for best results, and the wisdom to create food that tastes delicious.
For instance, she knows that the microwave oven, as a culinary tool, can't do everything but does some things very well. She's found that frozen pepper mixes don't have the crisp-tender texture desirable for stir-fries, but are the perfect addition to soups and stews where they cook for a longer time.
She doesn't like coleslaw available in the produce section of the grocery store - she believes it is too coarse. But she does like to use this shredded cabbage in soups, stews and quiches.
Anderson often uses salsa "as a great way to jump-start a meal." And, she says, "puff pastry is a great way to dress up a pot pie."
These insights and many more can be found in her latest book, "Dinners in a Dish or a Dash: 275 Easy One-Dish Meals Plus Tons of Time-Saving Tips" (Morrow, $25).
Anderson, who was inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame in 1999, has written many award-winning cookbooks including "The Doubleday Cookbook," written with Elaine Hanna.
She is also the former food editor of Ladies' Home Journal. During her time as editor, one of the magazine's best-loved features was a monthly column called "Shelf Magic." The point of the column was to help busy mothers get dinner on the table.
At that time, Anderson recalls, many of the recipes "ran heavily to creamed-soup casseroles, beefed-up macaronis, and eggy skillet scrambles. We used a lot of hot dogs and processed cheese, stuffing mixes and bottled dressings, not to mention a ton of canned goods."
Anderson decided it was time to take a look at the convenience foods available today in the supermarket.
She found many of the new products in produce sections. She's well aware that the prospect of chopping onions and other vegetables can be the step that will prevent many busy home cooks from making a from-scratch meal. So, in her new book, Anderson tells readers when she thinks it's perfectly acceptable to use packaged, frozen, chopped onions and other vegetables.
In addition, there's a section on how to stock the pantry and refrigerator, and storage tips for fresh produce.
Among other time-saving tips, Anderson advises preparing quantities of chopped onion ahead of time to store in the refrigerator (double-bagged "to keep the onions from smelling up the fridge and /or absorbing refrigerator odors").
She also tells readers how to cook rice ahead, to store in the freezer or refrigerator. For some of this advice on preparing food in advance, she consulted professional chefs.
From her home in Chapel Hill, N.C., Anderson said that her goal was "to use all the new convenience foods to their best advantage and take them to the hilt."