Tag Archives: Pasta

Weekly Eating – 4/16/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

The weekend was as expected, Saturday was gorgeous and sunny, and we had a fun time grilling and sitting around the bonfire in the back yard. Sunday was wetter, with increasing chance of rain until it hit 100% by the evening. Nonetheless, we decided to get out and explore a little before the storm hit.

Umstead state park

I also meal prepped a little bit, by making a big batch of these Cauliflower Cashew Barley Bowls for lunches. I also made a batch of chocolate chip cookies with my friends’ super secret recipe! We sort of messed it up a little, but they were still really tasty. Some of the best cookie dough I’ve ever eaten haha

This week is also a grand experiment: The boy will be in charge of dinner all week! Yup, I’ve talked him into it (meaning, kept asking until he finally agreed) and every dinner will be made by him. I even offered to go grocery shopping for whatever he wanted, but he said we had enough ingredients in the freezer and pantry, so we didn’t spend any money on groceries this week. Of course that means I’ve agreed to do all dishes this week, so… I may or may not have won?

Mostly I just want to see what will happen. I have a method to my madness, and I want to see how dinner in the boy’s mind works. He might give me some new, great ideas.

Monday:

Breakfast – Leftover crepes

Lunch – Cauliflower Barley bowl & a salad

Dinner – Chicken breasts with salad and couscous

Snack – chocolate chip cookie

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Waffles with blueberries

Lunch – Cauliflower Barley bowl

Dinner – Pasta and meatballs, with green chilie sauce. The boy said he wanted a ‘different’ flavor, and we had cans of green chilies in the pantry, so that’s what happened. It was better than I expected.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – last of the crepes with strawberry jam

Lunch – Cauliflower Barley bowl

Dinner – Bacon wrapped pork chops! With rolls and a side salad

Tonight I also put together a couple freezer meals for a friend having a baby soon. They scheduled a c-section for Friday, so they know the due date in advance, which is nice. I figured 5 nights of meals they don’t have to think about would be a helpful gift.

Thursday:

Breakfast – Toast with PB & a pear

Lunch – Last of the cauliflower barley bowl, and some grilled veggies and beans leftover from the weekend grill out

Snack – Seriously STOP with the Reese eggs already! I Cannot help myself… Last one, I swear…

Dinner – Out to the Durham Co-op $3 Thursday dinner! A friend lives near there and I’ve been meaning to go. Every Thursday they host a $3 community dinner; tonight was pasta & meatballs with an option for vegan sausage.

I of course tried one of each. The meatball was delish, but the vegan sausage … I was a little let down tbh. It was like chewy salty bread. But the side salad was impressive, it was actual fancy lettuce, not just like a head of iceberg. So even though I carbo-loaded I felt like I got at least some veggies in too.

Friday:

Breakfast – Hashbrowns with bacon & eggs. We have bacon soooo rarely now, and when you haven’t had bacon in months, and then you have it… it’s salty crunchy bliss. I’m sorry.

Lunch – Chickpea salad sandwich & leftover vegan chili. Pro tip: use chickpeas you cook yourself from dried, or simmer the ones from the can a bit. I cheated and used canned for this one, and they were still very firm. It was extra hard to get them to mash.

chickpea salad sandwich and chili

Dinner – Pork roast with potato wedges and canned green beans. The boy had a ridiculously stressful day, so I took over for the last night’s dinner. He had already pulled the roast from the freezer to defrost, so I just seasoned it and put it in the oven. I adore canned green beans, but he hates them, so I legit ended up eating a whole can on my own. No regrets.

I also made a batch of pretzel bites. We were having a game night Sat and the next Food Swap is next week, so I wanted to try out a new recipe. They are SO GOOD I ate nearly the whole first batch immediately… oops. Still no regrets.

The Weekend

The weekend will be chilly but sunny, into the 60s. I may try to get a second planting of peas and beans into the ground. It is still a bit too cold to get nightshades planted, that will have to wait until mid-May.

Also we are hosting board game night on Saturday! I am suuuuuuper excited! I love hosting parties and games and making food for people so this is right up my alley. I’m hoping for a nice day too, so we can pull out corn hole and have a fire as well.

Food Total: $0!

Lessons Learned

Having the boy be in charge of dinner was a great way to use up some of the meat still in our freezers. Since trying to be mostly vegetarian this year, I’ve bought very little meat to replace what we use up, but there are still a few roasts, chicken quarters, meatballs, and various things in the freezer. It’s good to use those up. And as hard as it was, I did not go to the grocery store. And we survived! So I consider this week a great win, even if I did have far more meat than usual.

Uh, also, I really need to call our server for this site… I can no longer upload any photos. Ran out of folder space, or something? So that’s a huge problem…

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Weekly Eating – 3/5/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Well, we picked a great weekend for a dinner party! Harris Teeter was having a 10% off all wine sale, and I also got a coupon for $20 off an order of $100 or more. Without the booze for the party, I would not have hit that $100. Yes, I know, it is justifying spending I didn’t necessarily have to make. But between the sale and the coupon, the alcohol was basically half price!

the Budget Epicurean weekly eating

The party was on March 3rd, so I had a “3” theme. I made three dips: buffalo chicken, beet hummus, and vegan spinach artichoke dip, along with a nice antipasto platter. I had homemade pickles, bacon jam, olives, nuts, figs, dates, and prunes.

antipasto platter

Then I had three different types of pasta (one of which was tri-color) and three sauces: marinara, pesto, and alfredo. That way people could mix and match with whatever they wanted; alfredo plus pesto was a popular combo.

three types of pasta

And for dessert, triple chocolate brownies with chunks of dark chocolate, cocoa powder, and chocolate sauce drizzle, and a Tres Leches cake! It was totally awesome and delicious. We had a great time chatting, and playing games late into the night.

tres leches cake

I paid for it on Sunday though! Good thing it’s supposed to be a day of rest, because I didn’t leave bed all day.

Monday:

Breakfast – Oatmeal with golden raisins & craisins. I don’t know if this is a different type of oatmeal, but the individual oats keep their shape and don’t stick together well. Even after multiple rounds of microwaving. I like my oatmeal to be more mashed-together like, so I was pretty unhappy with it. But I ate it anyways. I’ll have to try it as overnight oats and see if that goes better.

raisin oatmeal

Lunch – Leftover pasta, made new by adding some veggies and shrimp from the freezer, with a lemon garlic sauce.

veggie pasta with lemon butter

Dinner – Spinach Artichoke Melts + Tomato Soup. I had a ton of spinach artichoke dip left from the weekend, and read that one way to use it is to put it into a grilled cheese… well, hell yeah!

spinach artichoke grilled cheese

It turns out whoever wrote that is a flipping genius, and these sammies were hands down AHmazing. Not sure I can have a “plain” grilled cheese ever again…

spinach artichoke grilled cheese

Snack – a chocolate peanut butter granola bar in the car on the way home. Good thing I put one in the pocket of every coat…

choc peanut butter granola bar

*Soaked beans overnight in the crock pot for tomorrow’s chili

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Uh, so, I’m usually pretty behind the times with food trends. I’ve heard of “sweet potato toast” for years, where you thinly slice a sweet potato and just toast it like in a toaster. So I decided to try that. One of the slices ended up kind of charred on the end, and the other was evidently so thick that even putting it through the toaster four times, it was still crunchy… so I microwaved it for 2 minutes and that did the trick.

sweet potato "toast"

Once softened, it was pretty dang tasty. I spread a smashed avocado with lemon on one for the bougie-est toast ever, and then I had some more cooked white beans, so I figured, what the hell why not. DUDE. Why did no one ever tell me that white beans and sweet potato is a DELICIOUS combo?? With a squirt of lemon, sprinkle of salt, I was in heaven. New favorite.

sweet potato "toast"

Lunch – I had bits of random veggies all over the fridge, and a batch of cooked rice, so naturally I whipped up a super quick stir fry. The boy was funny, he goes “awww I got all excited because it smelled really good, but then I look and it’s just vegetables”  😛

veggie stir fry

Dinner – Slow Cooker 5 Bean Chili. We stirred in a few spoonfuls of spinach artichoke dip too, just for funzies, and it was pretty ok. Not a thing I’d be sad about not having, but it used up more dip, so, win.

5 bean chili with spin artichoke dip

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Pineapple Kiwi Green Smoothie! with a pear tossed in because it was bordering on spoiled.

kiwi pineapple smoothie

Lunch – Leftover white bean soup and a big salad. I also used the lemon tahini yogurt dip from last week’s Turkish koftes as dressing

white bean soup and salad

Snack – Beet hummus with cut veggies

beet hummus n veg

Dinner – Bowtie pasta with meatballs, of course. We had a LOT of pasta in the fridge…

bowties and turkey meatballs

Evening snack – herbal tea and a Stroopwaffel!

Thursday:

Breakfast – Peaches & Cream Smoothie

peaches and cream smoothie

Lunch – Pasta with meatballs, a salad, with roasted sweet and hot Brussels sprouts

pasta and brussels sprouts

Dinner – Roasted beet & sweet potato veggie burgers. I used cooked brown rice and breadcrumbs as the binders, and tossed in the little bit of cooked white beans left along with the roasted beets and sweet potato. These were softer than the last batch but I liked the flavor better. Still working on the exact right blend.

beet veggie burgers

Friday:

Breakfast – Banana walnut bread

banana bread

Lunch – Vurgers on rice cakes w hot sauce and lettuce

beet veggie burgers on rice cakes

Snack – Beet hummus & veggies

beet hummus n veg

Dinner – Pizzas! Pork and pineapple for the boy and a veggie for me using the last of the artichoke dip and some peppers and olives

spinach artichoke pizza and hawaiian pizza

The Weekend

Saturday is a lazy day for me, but the poor boy has to work the weekend. A big project launched this week, and he is ”on call” for fixing all the things. So I’ll be cleaning the house, lots of grocery shopping, and prepping for Sunday.

Sunday I’m having a tea party!! If you know me on Twitter you’re probably already aware, I am simply bursting with excitement! I adore parties, and tea, and tiny sweet and savory snacks. I’m super pumped to have a half dozen lovely ladies over in our Sunday best to sip oodles of tea, use terrible fake British accents, and talk about life. Hopefully it will be an absolute blast and become a regular thing.

mountain of tea
Uh, yea, that is all actually tea or tea related items. Bags, loose leaf, herbal, matcha… a French press, honey of different flavors, cups with built in spoons, and more…

And guys, I realized, I have a serious tea problem… I’ve always loved tea and everyone knows it, so between being unable to stop myself around new flavors and gifts from family and friends, I have amassed a formidable collection. The newest addition, of which I am most proud, is this gorgeous porcelain cup and saucer:

yellow gold rose tea cup

I was at the thrift store, and sifting through the housewares section (honestly, in search of a tiered serving tray for this party, which I sadly did not find). The cup jumped out at me with its’ royal pattern and those big yellow roses just immediately made me think of Beauty and the Beast. I had to have it.

I carried the cup around the store another 2 aisles, hoping to find a saucer that looked at least okay with it, but it was coming home with me regardless.

And then, when I was about ready to give up and leave with my few gems, I saw on a lower shelf THE MATCHING SAUCER! It was clearly meant to be. The universe wanted me to have this set. And for only $1.48 total, how could I say no?!?

yellow gold rose tea cup

Food Total: $75.52

Man I’m excited about this week, pretty much nailed it! Even with the impulse purchases and tons of produce we came in at our $75 goal. I’ve also decided that alcohol gets its own category now, so the booze we got for our dinner party was not included here.

Dairy $21.72 Staples $28.38 Fruit/Veg $22.63
Greek yogurts 10 8 Pretzel crisps 2 bags 5 Fresh beets 3 2.99
2lb sharp cheddar cheese 7.99 Canned tomatoes 12 5.64 Bag spinach 2.49
Dozen lg eggs 0.77 Canned garbanzo beans 2 1.54 Fresh stir fry veggies 1.5
Cream cheese 2 2.38 Brownie mix 1.69 Stir fry veggies frozen 1.98
Evaporated milk 0.59 Yellow cake mix 1.49 3lb clementines 2.99
Sweet condensed milk 1.99 Crackers 2 kinds 5 Bananas 8 2.12
Northern beans 2 cans 1.54 Frozen spinach big bag 2.99
Stroopwaffel 8 3.49 Bag spring mix 1.99
Pasta sauce 2 2.5 Cucumber 0.59
3color bowtie pasta 0.49 Basil plant 2.99

Lessons Learned

I did totally give in to temptation at the store when I saw a whole shelf full of Stroopwaffles! I held a box in my hand, then put it back, almost walked away… picked it back up… and then put it in the cart. At least I checked the “per unit” prices, and though the bag full of tiny waffles was close, the not-individually-packaged box of 8 was the best deal, so that is the one I chose.

shelf full of stroopwaffels

Part of me wants to add breakfasts into the meal plan. But then the other part of me knows it is currently the least predictable part of my day. Some mornings a smoothie sounds amazing, other mornings toast is the only acceptable answer. And more and more frequently lately nothing at all sounds good, so I just open the fridge and force something in my face because I can’t in good conscience not eat breakfast at all… c’est la vie, we all go through seasons of eating.

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Easy Spinach & Mushroom Pasta Sauce

Sometimes, when you just need a quick dinner and don’t feel adventurous, it is easy to discount pasta as “too easy”, or feel guilty about all those carbs. But the good news is, pasta is a great blank canvas on which you can paint all sorts of tasty, healthy flavors.

You can use generous amounts of pesto, which can be made in a blender and contains easily 2 servings of vegetables per plate. You could also whip up a white bean alfredo sauce, which is essentially watered down hummus, and is super healthy and filling.

Or you could make my favorite veggie-packed sneaky healthy red sauce of all time: spinach and mushroom sauce.

mushrooms and spinach

The beauty of this is its simplicity. You only need spinach, mushrooms, some spices, and a giant can of crushed tomatoes.

You can easily substitute in a jar of pre-made sauce, and add the veggies; or use diced or even whole tomatoes, just whir them in a blender before simmering. Canned or dried mushrooms would work just fine as well. You can also use frozen or canned spinach, but it will make the sauce much waterier and it would be best to simmer the sauce for an hour or more to thicken.

homemade pasta sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pint of any type of mushrooms
  • 2 heaping cups fresh spinach
  • 1 tbsp dried onion/onion powder
  • 2 tbsp Italian spice mix
  • Garlic salt, pepper, to taste

spinach and mushroom pasta sauce ingredients

Step 1: In a pan, add the mushrooms and a bit of water, wine, or stock. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Cook 5-7 minutes, and then add the spinach. Cook another 3-5 minutes until wilted.

simmer tomato sauce for pasta

Step 2: Add in all the spices, and the tomato. Bring to a gentle simmer, and place the lid on, slightly askew so that the steam can escape and your stovetop isn’t covered in sauce bubbles. Simmer until thickened to your liking, usually about 15 minutes for me.

spinach mushroom pasta sauce

Serve with or without meatballs, sausage, or any other sauce additions you like. The flavors all work together beautifully, and most people won’t even notice there are extra veggies! If you want to really fool them, you can puree the sauce with a blender or immersion blender before serving.

 

What’s your favorite way(s) to sneak more vegetables into your diet?

Weekly Eating – Jan 8

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

So remember the part where we are eating 80% vegetarian this year? I’d say we have totally nailed it so far! We had some great successes this week, and a few fails too. The week did include an impromptu cross country trip, for a family emergency situation, so that sort of threw the meal plan off the rails a bit. However, it was for good reason, and didn’t damage the budget too badly.

Monday:

Breakfast – Banana berry smoothie

Lunch – Beet & Sweet Potato veggie burger wrap with sprouts, red sauerkraut, tomatoes, spinach, & Green Goddess.

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Patties

I just adore the bright pink colors going on here! Imagine all those lovely flavonoids running around my bloodstream detoxing and getting rid of free radicals… no, just me? #sciencenerd

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Wrap

Dinner –Homemade pizzas. I whipped up overnight refrigerator pizza dough on Sunday so these were easy breezy. The boy had pineapple, ham and mozzarella on his, while I added handfuls of veggies to mine.

Homemade Veggie Pizza With Pork

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Banana & Cardamom Pancakes

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Dudes, I had never had cardamom before (I think) but it’s one of the highest antioxidant spices so I’m trying to incorporate it into my cooking more. This pancake recipe was so simple, I whipped up the batter in a blender and poured it right onto the griddle. Easy peasy, and they came out fluffy and perfect. #winning

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Lunch – Big salad with sprouts, walnuts, cranberries, quinoa, and my amazing Green Goddess dressing.

quinoa and greens sprout salad

Dinner –Tempeh Teriyaki Stir Fry.

Teriyaki Tempeh Stir Fry

Guys. Guys, I made a vegan meal that the boy said he loved and would eat again! That’s a huge win! TBH it was super tasty, I would eat it again, and also I nailed the plating. (Pats self on the back)

Wednesday:

Breakfast – mixed berry smoothie

Lunch – leftover mushroom risotto from last week. There was a lot left and we were leaving town, so I wanted to eat it up. However, after sitting for a few days, it became thicker and… blah. I forced down a few forkfulls, but couldn’t come close to eating it all. That led to a starving afternoon of snacking…

Mushroom Risotto

Snacks – first up was a handful of dark chocolate with almond kisses that someone at work brought in. I figured, dark chocolate has good flavonoid & antioxidants, and you can’t go wrong with almonds right?

dark chocolate with almond kisses

Well apparently 3 almonds isn’t enough protein to satisfy, so I was rooting through my desk drawers about a half hour later. I did bring this vegan banana bread that I swapped at last month’s Bull City Food Swap… sad to say, it also was “meh”. But when I found a tiny peanut butter packet, and was also getting hangry, it was like sweet mana from heaven, and I ate half the loaf.

vegan banana bread

Dinner – Lemon Garlic Parmesan Pasta with a salad. I needed to use up several lemons, so I whipped up a super simple pasta dish.

Lemon Garlic Pasta with Kale and Sausage

Thursday:

Breakfast – stressful morning getting to the airport and literally making our flight by ONE minute… so, breakfast was coffee and airplane snacks.

Lunch – stopped by a BBQ place, and they had a Thursday Special: $2 pulled pork sandwich! We were totally in, and they were delicious. The pork was so moist, and the BBQ sauce flavorful.

Stubb's BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

Dinner – a local pizza joint is a favorite here, so we had to indulge when in town. I got the Brussels sprouts one, which had sweet hot pepper jelly on it and was super tasty, while the boy got a meaty spicy one and compromised with a bacon jam covered in arugula as well. They were all amazing, and we ate nearly the whole thing!

Three whole Pieous pizzas

Friday:

Breakfast – Pineapple jalapeno smoothie and toast.

green smoothie and toast

Mom in law is obsessed with this smoothie which includes pineapple, spinach, coconut water, and jalapeno. It is fruity with a hint of spice, which is strange but definitely tasty.

Pineapple Jalapeno Smoothie

Lunch – Leftover pizza, which I threw a handful of salad greens on top of to make myself feel better about eating pizza for at least 4 meals this week…

leftover pizza with greens on top

Dinner – Korean tacos. It is super simple, a crock-pot beef roast with sweet sauce, a fresh crunchy slaw, and a peanutty dressing. They were really tasty, and I need to get the recipe.

Korean beef tacos

Snack – Chips & salsa. I cut up half an avocado, and mixed it with a half cup of salsa for a satisfying snack.

blue chips and avocado salsa

The Weekend

This weekend will be spent relaxing and spending time with family. We may get to go out and explore a little, and perhaps see some of hubby’s friends. The in-laws are great and are covering most of the groceries, so for food we will only spend on anything we go out for.

Food Total: $72.86

This week was just stocking up on frozen berries because we were out, and some other staples like soymilk, produce, and boxed wine. Don’t judge me, tons of people love boxed wine, even frugal folks and hard core wine lovers!

Thanks to last week’s big stock up, and tons of food still hanging out in the freezer and pantry, we should be set for at least another week (with the exception of a produce run). Maybe I need to do another of my own January Pantry Clean-Out challenges.

 

How was your week? Are you flexible with meal plans, or how do you deal with surprise travel?

Seafood Linguini Bonanza

 

If you are already a lover of seafood, oh boy do you need this recipe in your life!  If you are unsure, trying to incorporate more seafood into your diet, or have someone who does not like seafood and you want to convince them, you also need this recipe in your life!

Seafood is super for your health, mussels & clams provide some of the highest sources of zinc and certain other minerals of all protein sources, is quite high in protein yet low in calories, and a source of omega-3 fatty acids.  You should of course educate yourself as to the source of your seafood, and you can read more on the nutrition facts here or here.

IMG_2950

Well, isn’t seafood expensive? you may ask.   I can’t afford to eat that stuff.  you may think.

False.

Let me explain.

The components of this recipe include: mussels, shrimp, and white fish (in this case, catfish).  All of these ingredients came out of my freezer (since I am doing my January restricted budget/eat from the pantry challenge), and all together cost about $6.  Here’s the secret: always shop sales!

The catfish nuggets I grabbed when they were manager’s special, meaning they had to be sold that day, or else, for less than $2.  Just pop it in the freezer, now you have fresh fish whenever you want it.  The mussels were on sale, close to $6 for a 2 pound bag, and I used one pound.  The other pound is in the freezer waiting for the next recipe.  And the shrimp?  Also on sale, under $2 for a 12 oz bag.

Herbs and Alliums

The other ingredients include fresh onions & garlic & dill, all to be had for a buck or two.  Whole wheat pasta, 0.88 on sale.  Olive oil, salt, these I always have on hand.  And a secret ingredient, stuffed cherry peppers!  These were left in the refrigerator and I didn’t want them to spoil, so into the pasta they went!  And I must say, it was a wonderful addition, the peppers added just a touch of bite.

IMG_2953

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound linguine pasta
  • 1 pound mussels
  • 12 oz shrimp
  • 1.5 pound white fish, such as catfish or tilapia
  • 5-6 hot peppers
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 green onions
  • 2-3 stems of dill (optional)
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 small white onion
  • Salt & Pepper

IMG_2954

Step 1: Either steam the mussels by heating, covered, until they all open, or freeze them and then thaw in the frying pan, this causes them to open.  Cook mussels for 7-10 minutes.  Add 2 tbsp olive oil and the shrimp, cook another 2-3 minutes.  Add the white fish, cook until easily flaked with a fork.

IMG_2957

Step 2: Remove the seafood to a plate and keep warm.  Add peppers, garlic, and onion, and cook until softened.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and simmer the pasta 8-10 minutes, until al dente.

IMG_2958

Step 3: Add the cooked, drained pasta to the pan, along with the rest of the olive oil, vinegar, and the seafood.  Mix well to coat the pasta in the seafood juice and oil.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Dice up the fresh dill (or other herbs)  & sprinkle on top.

IMG_2962

You could also use parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, or rosemary.  Feel free to substitute other types of shellfish or seafood such as cooked lobster meat, crab, clams, or scallops.  Whatever is on sale! 😉

IMG_2963

 

 

Dried Tomato and Artichoke Pasta

 

Those of you who have been cooking for a long time probably know the feeling of making a dish which to you seems quite simple, yet to someone else who enjoyed the meal with you, it is fancy and magical.  I’d like to share a secret: sometimes all it takes is one to two little touches, that don’t take much time or work, to elevate a dish from plain to pizazz!

Oven-dried tomatoes in olive oil and jarred artichokes are examples of such a touch.

Simple things that only cost a few dollars can really jazz up a weeknight meal or make an occasion special.  Using pre-canned dried tomatoes and artichokes adds almost literally no prep time (ok, you have to open it…) but makes the final plate look and taste restaurant quality.  Other such items are kalamata or pimiento olives, infused oils or vinegars, capers, pine nuts, brined pepper rings, citrus zest, shaved fresh cheeses, or finishing salts.

This dish takes less than 20 minutes start to finish, with no slicing and dicing of mountains of produce or complex kitchen skills besides boiling, straining, and mixing.  If you don’t like spinach, use whatever other vegetables you have on hand, or just stick with tomatoes and artichokes alone.  I had some broccoli on hand, so I added it in for extra fiber and nutrition, plus it went with the already-there colors.

Whip this meal up to impress dinner guests, say I love you, or just to enjoy a magical moment to yourself any time.

Dried tomato and artichoke pasta ingredients on counter

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 1/2 jar artichoke hearts
  • 2 cups dried tomatoes in olive oil, chopped
  • 1 cup spinach, optional
  • 1 cup broccoli, optional
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, diced

Dried tomato and artichoke pasta ingredients

Step 1: In a large pot, bring 4-6 cups of water to a boil.  Add the pound of pasta.  You can use any shape here, but plain straight spaghetti is the classic choice.

Dried tomato and artichoke pasta cooked

Step 2: Boil the pasta for 5-7 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a large pan, add the garlic, chopped tomatoes in oil, and artichokes (and any other vegetables you are using, like the broccoli) and saute for 5-7 minutes, until fragrant and the vegetables soften.

Dried tomato and artichoke pasta in pot

Step 3: Strain the pasta, do not rinse, and add the hot noodles into the frying pan.  Stir it all together to coat the noodles with the oil from the tomatoes and the juice from artichoke hearts.

Dried tomato and artichoke pasta on plate

If desired, sprinkle with garlic salt or whatever herbs you enjoy, or grate some fresh hard cheese on top (like Parmesan or white cheddar).

Dried tomato and artichoke pasta ready to eat

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

 

With the Fourth of July weekend coming up, I’m sure many readers will be hosting or attending picnics, barbeques, and other backyard get-togethers.  A huge fan of casual parties myself, I am always on the lookout for fast, easy to put together side dishes that aren’t too expensive to feed a crowd. A good example is my prior post on BBQ Baked Beans.

Enter the pasta salad.

Pasta salads are insanely versatile. They adapt well to just about any type of veggie, meat, or cheese, with tons of creative dressing/sauce options as well. You could try a Greek mix of feta, banana peppers, onions, and kalamata olives, or a club mix of ham chunks, cheddar cheese, and crumbled bacon, or how about an Italian combo with salami, pepperoni, pepperocini, and swiss.

For this recipe, I had a pre-mix box ranch & bacon pasta salad, and decided to jazz it up a bit with some canned chunk chicken and fresh diced veggies. You can also use a pound of any type of pasta (the small shapes work best here, like shells, elbows, or penne), spices you like, and some crumbled bacon.

Ingredients:

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Step 1: Dice your zucchini and tomatoes, and drain the chicken. Get the water boiling for the pasta, and boil 8-10 minutes.

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Step 2: In a pan, cook the zucchini for 5-7 minutes, until beginning to brown. Add the tomato and chicken, and cook until heated through.

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Step 3: Drain the pasta, and mix in the veggies. Add the toppings included (or spices & cooked crumbled bacon) and the Ranch dressing. Stir well. Add more or less as needed.

This cooks up a nice big batch, and can feed a hungry crowd. The Ranch flavor works great with the bacon, pasta, and chicken. You can also use dried Ranch seasonings and milk or sour cream to achieve a similar yet different taste. As a bonus, you’ve snuck in a serving of veggies per cup!

Happy partying & God bless the USA!

 

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Creative leftovers: Cottage cheese & broccoli pasta

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We all know the feeling: it’s time for dinner or you need to pack a lunch, but you don’t know what to make and have little to no time. Rather than caving and just buying a pizza or going through the drive-through, try this simple recipe. With less than 5 ingredients (3, in fact) and requiring little time (as long as it takes for pasta to boil) it is a tasty time-saver.
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The ingredients are also something you are likely to have. Especially if you make pasta, make just a little more than you need for that meal, and keep the rest in the refrigerator. Pasta is very versatile in terms of just adding in a few other ingredients for a different, complete meal later.
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Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked pasta
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup frozen broccoli
Step 1: Boil 3/4 cup pasta in 1 1/2 cups water, lightly salted if you want. Add the broccoli after 5 minutes, and let boil another 5 minutes. Drain.
Step 2: Mix the drained pasta and broccoli in with the cottage cheese. And that’s it!
This shows you how very simple eating vegetarian can be. It is extremely frugal as well. Frozen broccoli often is on sale for $1 per bag or less, and you only need 1 cup. Pasta is a cheap staple, and the cottage cheese is an affordable protein. This meal is all-around healthy, frugal, and tasty.
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You can of course add to it, such as cooked shredded chicken, ham cubes, shredded cheddar cheese, or drained and rinsed canned beans. Make it your own and save a few bucks a day by not going out for lunches or save hassle with this quick dinner.

Spaghetti squash ‘pasta’ with Turkey Meatballs and Tomato-Chickpea Sauce

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I had bought a spaghetti squash a few days ago, and finally got around to making it. I was not sure what to make with it, so I went with the “spaghetti” theme and made turkey meatballs and a tomato-chickpea sauce. Like real pasta only tons more fiber and quite delicious!

Ingredients:
Spaghetti squash

Sauce:
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 can diced tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, diced
Italian seasonings
1 1/2 cups water/chicken stock

Meatballs:
1 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 onion, grated
1/4 cup ketchup
1 egg
1/4 cup blue cheese/parmesan cheese

Step 1: Bake the spaghetti squash face-down for 1 hour at 375 or microwave 10 minutes then bake for 30.

Step 2: Mix all meatball ingredients in a bowl.

Step 3: Cook the chickpeas in a sauce pot for ~5 minutes. Then add the diced tomatoes, water, and seasonings and simmer.

 Step 4: Roll the meatball mix into 1-inch balls and bake on a sprayed cookie sheet for ~10 minutes at 350, or until brown and cooked through. Then add to the simmering sauce.

 

Step 5: When the squash cools, use a fork to pull the strands out.

In a bowl, add the squash, a meatball or two, and pour on some sauce. Enjoy!

Butternut squash mac-n-cheese (Bonus snack)

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So I came across a recipe for butternut squash macaroni and cheese, and since it is getting into the fall season (and sounded delicious) I decided to try it. I had most of the ingredients, I just needed to buy the squash and some cheese. Of course, I made it my own as I always do. You can find the full nutrition info here.
 
Ingredients:
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes (Save the seeds for a bonus snack!)
1 1/2 cup skim milk
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp brown sugar
Sprinkle black pepper & salt
1/2 pound macaroni of choice (I used elbow)
2/3 pound fresh Cheddar
1/2 cup skim cottage cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
 

Step 1: Get water for pasta boiling. Meanwhile, peel and dice squash. Put squash, stock and milk in a pan, simmer 10-15 minutes until squash is fork-tender. Boil the pasta ~ 8 minutes and drain.

 Step 2: Put squash into blender (or mash) to make it smooth. Add salt, pepper, sugar.

 Step 3: Put macaroni into a greased pan, pour squash over top. Add cheeses and mix well. Cover with foil & bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Step 4: Uncover, sprinkle bread crumbs and parmesan on top. Bake uncovered for another 20-30 minutes, until golden and crispy on top.

 Step 5: Let cool, scoop out a helping and enjoy!


Bonus snack!
While peeling and dicing the squash, save the seeds. Rinse thoroughly to get rid of slimy part. Sprinkle sea salt over top. Toast the seeds in the oven at 350 for ~20 minutes, stirring at least once. The seeds are light and smoky, and taste like fall! I could eat bushels of these things!