Tag Archives: Pasta

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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! 😉

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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!



Shrimp & Bell Pepper Linguini Alfredo. Bonus dessert: Peach Soup

This is a recipe I invented last year. I was in my apartment and starving. Red bell peppers had recently gone on sale, so I had about a dozen. Plus some pasta like most college kids, a jar of alfredo sauce, and half a bag of shrimp in the freezer. That’s how this came about, and it was so good, it remains one of my favorites.
It’s easy to customize too, you can use any kind of fresh veggies, and if you don’t want meat then you don’t need to add shrimp. Also you can flavor the shrimp with whatever you want. This recipe makes about 4-6 servings.
Ingredients:
1/2 lb linguini
1/2 lb shrimp, thawed
2/3 jar alfredo sauce
1/2 red, yellow and orange bell pepper
1 tbsp butter
pinch Thai spices
garlic powder

Step 1: Boil the noodles in salted water with a tbsp oil to keep the noodles from sticking.

Step 2: Add the butter to a frying pan, begin cooking the shrimp. Add whatever spices you like, and stir occasionally.

Step 3: Once boiled, drain the noodles and return to the pot. Add the alfredo sauce and mix. Set aside.

Step 4: Once the shrimp are pink, with a slight brown crust on both sides, add the diced peppers. Mix and put the lid on, cook for ~5 minutes or until tender.

Step 5: Once cooked, add to the noodles and mix everything well. Enjoy!

 

 

Bonus dessert: Peach Soup
From: Cooking for 2, summer 2008, pg. 25.
1 1/2 cups fresh peaches
1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp almond extract

Blend all ingredients together until smooth, and refrigerate until serving. Add a dash of cinnamon on top. Makes 2 servings.

Peach soup: cold, sweet and refreshing!

Cheap and easy comfort food for a crazy week

Between fighting a persistent cough all week, taking the GRE, two jobs, a birthday party and a baby shower, this week and weekend were bound to be hectic. I knew I wanted to make chicken soup to boost my immune system and as comfort food. But for the times when I was not home, I also needed something which traveled and reheated well with minimum expense and fuss.

With the holidays just around the corner, the belt-tightening has intensified in anticipation of gift buying (as well as graduate school application fees!). Therefore, the most logical choice seemed to be pasta. As cheap, tasty and comforting as it gets. So midweek I prepared one large batch of each.

Chicken soup for one: to ward off a cold in a week or less.
2 medium potatoes
2-3 carrots
2-3 stalks celery
1 medium onion
6-10 cups chicken stock or water plus bouillon cubes
1-3 pieces chicken (I used 1 leg quarter)
If you have them or desire them, add sliced fresh mushrooms as well
Optional seasonings: salt, pepper, italian seasons, bay leaf

Dice up the potato and carrot, leave the celery and onion whole. Throw all the ingredients into a crock pot on high for at least 5 hours (to ensure chicken is thoroughly cooked). Spoon solids into a colander. Remove the onion, celery, and any bay leaves if added and throw away.

Separate the chicken from the skin, fat and bones and add meat back to the pot. Add carrots and potatoes back to pot. Boil pasta noodles of your choice to serve with the soup. Enjoy the warm, homey taste and smell.

 

The next day I made a large batch of pasta so that I can pack it in tupperware to take to work. This will last quite a while for me, and may allow a frozen meal or two.
Wheat linguini noodles
1 bag frozen Italian style veggies
1 large can sauce (I used mushroom, which I bought on sale a few weeks ago for 50 cents a can!)

Boil a huge pot of water with a bit of oil and salt added. Toss in the pasta once it is at a rolling boil. Cook the pasta for 8-12 minutes (because wheat needs cooked longer than non-wheat) or until al dente. Add the veggies during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Drain the pasta and veggies and return to the pot. Open the sauce and pour over, mix well. Enjoy!

These both were made with things I had lying about in my cupboards and the freezer. Total, it cost me approximately $2.50 for the pasta, and maybe $2.50 for the soup. So for around $5, I have a full crock pot of healthy homemade chicken soup and a fridge full of about 10 pasta lunches. Not too bad.