Vegetables & Tender Mercies

For the past 3 weeks I have woken up every morning with a hankering for fresh vegetables. Or in other words, there’s a distinct possibility that aliens have taken over my body.

Pre-baby I spent most mornings trying to figure out a way to make dessert resemble a healthy breakfast (i.e. oatmeal with chocolate chips and coconut flakes–try it, seriously). Lately, I’ve started the day with sugar snap peas and carrots dipped in hummus. If there are any cooked vegetables or leftover salads I go for those too.

I call this new trend a Tender Mercy.

There are many Tender Mercies in my life right now. For example, my hair has decided that shampooing every third day is enough. I also haven’t washed my makeup off at night since Little Man Sam was born and have not broken out like I normally would. And two days ago I tried on my pre-baby jeans and they zipped up. Yes, they zipped up to form a scary little muffin top, but still. Another tender mercy? Leggings. And sweat pants. I cannot fathom a day when I’ll want to move on from them. It may be the start of a long and unhealthy relationship.

But back to vegetables.

My sister-in-law brought over the most heavenly dinner the week after Mustache Man Sam was born (let’s see how many nicknames I can divulge here), including this salad dressing. I am over-the-moon about it:

Tender Mercy Salad Dressing (aka El Torito Salad Dressing):

In a blender combine:

  • 1 TBSP dry ranch salad dressing mix (like Hidden Valley)
  • 1 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
  • 1/2-1/3 cup fresh cilantro, long stems cut off
  • 2 TBSP roasted and salted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 TBSP finely grated parmesan (optional)

Once blended, slowly add 1/3 cup vegetable oil through the top cover of the blender jar. Blend until smooth and refrigerate. I’ve been eating this over a salad that includes avocado, shredded chicken, and extra pepitas.Eat and repeat until pre-pregnancy jeans fit.

 

Lemon Bar Mania.

Last night I went to bed on an empty stomach.

No, that’s not really true. I went to bed on a stomach full of perfectly good things like three-cheese tortellini tossed with roasted vegetables. I guess what I mean is that I went to bed with an empty heart. A heart that yearned–nay burned–for something more. And what was missing? What could I possibly desire with such an otherworldly intensity? A lemon bar. A silky, tangy, gooey ray of light to soothe my pregnant soul.

But it was not to be.

For one thing, when the craving hit it was past 10 PM and any conceivable lemon bar vendor was closed. So I looked to my own kitchen. Yes, it was true I had plenty of butter, sugar and even a glowing orb of hope sitting in my fruit basket. But I was exhausted. David had a test the next morning, which meant no demanding he put on my red-checked apron and learn how to make me some lemon bars. And as talented as our canine roommate means to be, he had worn himself out trying to interest our new handyman (who spent the evening hauling away a third of our storm-damaged tree) in playing with his squeaky penguin.

Shoot. I just realized I should have asked the handyman if he had any experience with baking. Next time, handyman. Next time.

So I did what any pregnant desperado would do–I tried to substitute what I really wanted (nirvana through butter) with something I had on hand, which happened to be a gorgeous bowl of pomegranate seeds. It almost did the trick. But I had to promise myself a silky smooth breakfast of what my heart desired.

So guess what I did first thing this morning? (Hint, it was not brushing my teeth.)

As I prepared to bake I congratulated myself on my excellent decision. But then the mania started. Here is an incomplete list of things that went wrong in the Welch Kitchen this morning:

  • My original recipe vanished from the internet. Vanished.
  • I realized I was missing my 8×8 pan
  • Butter exploded in the microwave and dripped like a summer rainstorm when I opened the door
  • Had the wrong size of eggs. This seems to matter
  • Wiped a handful of caramelized red onions through my hair

And finally, as I lovingly pulverized an entire lemon to create the filling (try this!):

  • My food processor sprang a leak and drowned my kitchen in a custardy river of disappointment.

And yet I carried on. I cobbled together extra ingredients. I fashioned a pan out of tin foil. I scraped filling off my counter. And somehow, somehow, they turned out. Gloriously. Hopefully. Tartly. I promptly served myself 1/3 of the pan and am now bathing in the afterglow of certain sugary bliss.

Here’s the recipe–best of luck to you. It was absolutely, one-hundred percent worth the effort.

 

Almond Joy Oatmeal


Dead giveaways that I am hormonal:

  1. Crying during United Way commercials.
  2. Attempts to make an otherwise healthy breakfast resemble a chocolate bar.

Let’s skip over the whole United Way thing. I tried to explain it to someone and ended up sounding crazy. Story. Of. My. Life. Anyway, oatmeal.

I wanted to make Chocolate Covered Katie’s recipe but had only about 28% of the ingredients plus some Ritz Crackers. So I made up my own. And let me tell you–its going to be a staple around here.

ALMOND JOY OATMEAL

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 packet of Stevia
  • 1 T unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • A few chocolate chips
  • 1 cup unsweetened chocolate almond milk

Cook your oatmeal and add the rest of the ingredients, then stir it up until it is melty and chocolately and makes you feel inspired and weepy. Just like a United Way commercial about creating jobs. (It was sad, okay?)

(Calories=270. Joy Factor=97.)

My Oatmeal Problem & A Recipe for Oatmeal Pancakes

I just pulled 4 different boxes of oatmeal from my pantry. I may have a problem. An oaty one.

But really, people, is there anything better than a hot bowl of oatmeal, sweetened with brown sugar and topped with milk? Only if you add walnuts. And maybe throw in a gift certificate to a spa.

I am a firm believer that anyone who doesn’t like oatmeal was 1) forced to eat something masquerading as oatmeal in their youth (think porridge) or 2) has given up on life.

As I write about this I am realizing my passion. Or is it a problem? I guess I don’t know the difference.

I’m just encouraging you to give oatmeal a try. Particularly if you’ve been eating that gross instant stuff that comes in little envelopes with dried up bits of fruit in it. (Okay, that stuff is pretty good too, but now I’m a purist.) This stuff is so good for your blood sugar. It’s good for your digestive system. And it sticks to your ribs on a cold October morning when you are leaving the house to fulfill your duties as a lumberjack. Or whatever it is you may do.

And there are so many different kinds! Instant, old fashioned, steel cut…

This is my current favorite:
I discovered this one at my favorite place for breakfast in SLC–Millcreek Cafe. Their oatmeal is legendary. The last time I was there I badgered our server until she’d given me all the info she could on my particularly delicious bowl. It is Quaker Steel Cut Oats (these take longer to cook) cooked in a sauce pan, and topped with candied walnuts, milk, and brown sugar.

I think a tear just dripped down my face.

Or maybe I’m crying because of how bad I smell after my (very) hard Bodypump class this morning.

This morning I wanted to get creative with my oatmeal. I was also starving from my very hard workout. (Did I mention that already? Did I just hear someone ask for a photo of my now impressive biceps? Maybe later.) I made some pancakes from a recipe in my new favorite cookbook: The Best of Clean Eating.

Oatmeal Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 & 1/4 cups Old-fashioned oats
  • 1 & 1/4 cups 1% milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 TBSP canola oil

Directions:

Mix oats and milk together and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in oil and egg. Add flour and baking powder. Spoon out 1/4 cup sized pancakes onto hot pan. Let sit until browned on bottom, then flip. Serve with butter.

This made 9 very filling and delicious pancakes. (I could only eat 2.) Just the kind of fuel I needed. Please have one in honor of me.

Twenty Meals / Thirty Days: Salmon with Gingery Asparagus & Bok Choy (#1)

“Have sneaking suspicion am also something of a genius in the kitchen.”

   —The Diary of Bridget Jones.

I need you to appreciate the will power it requires to avoid quoting Bridget Jones in every post. One day I’ll give you 1000 words on why I found The Diary of Bridget Jones to be completely inspirational. But today I am going to tell you about my latest endeavor, the idea of which came from Real Simple Magazine: Life Made Easier.

I love magazines. They promise all kinds of things that I simply can’t resist: a ripped bod, a better sex life, an organized house, and the secrets behind Brad Womack’s crazy temper. In other words, for $4.99 my life is about to get a whole lot better.

This month’s Real Simple “Month of Easy Dinners” got me. I’d been on the road for about 8 days and the promise of easy, homemade meals that didn’t require thought made me swoon. (I swoon a lot—thank heavens for smelling salts and a husband who is rather good at catching me.) Basically the article consisted of some gorgeous food photos accompanied by simple(ish) recipes and a grocery list that lets you shop for the whole week. The meals are organized so you use the most perishable items first, thereby negating the need for another trip to the store. All the info is on Real Simple’s website.

My plan is to show you how I make all of these meals. I rarely cook exactly the way a recipe describes, but it usually works out. That is why I love cooking. It doesn’t require me to color in the lines.

This is the plan for this week:

  • Monday – Salmon with Gingery Green Beans & Bok Choy
  • Tuesday – Tomato Soup with Roast Beef, Cheddar and Horseradish Panini
  • Wednesday – Pork Chops with Roasted Beets and Oranges
  • Thursday – Chicken with Potatoes, Bacon and Cabbage
  • Friday – Tortellini with Butternut Squash, Mushrooms, and Fontina

I did the week’s grocery shopping Monday afternoon and spent about $75. I think the money was well spent, because each meal serves 4, which means David will have plenty of leftovers to taunt his coworkers with. (Sorry, coworkers.)

Meal #1: Salmon with Gingery Asparagus & Bok Choy (serves 4)

Bok choy was confusing. Shopping for it consisted of me holding up several large leafy green items to the guy stocking the produce section and asking “Is this a bok choy?” “Is this?” He kept looking over my head when he answered me which was very misleading–was he talking to me? Then I had to YouTube which part to eat and how to cut it up. Doesn’t it look  lovely and healthy? All right, let’s get on in with it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 T + 1 t canola oil
  • 1 & 1/3 lbs skinless salmon fillet, cut into several pieces
  • 4 scallions, sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 1 T chopped ginger
  • 1 large bunch asparagus (I used this instead of green beans and it was a  good choice)
  • 3 carrots, cut into long, skinny strips
  • 1 bunch of bok choy, (or whatever the produce guy sent me home with) washed within an inch of its life and chopped into small pieces
  • Sriracha (or other Asian chili-garlic sauce)

Directions:

Heat 1 tsp olive oil in large skillet over medium high. Season salmon with salt and cook 4-5 minutes per side, until cooked through.

Heat 2 T canola oil in large skillet over medium high. Add scallions, garlic and ginger and cook until things smell really good, about 30 seconds. Add the asparagus, bok choy, carrots plus 1/4 c water and some salt. Cook until all veggies are tender. Season vegetables with sirachara.

Yes, we have a spare bedroom.

And with all these veggies I felt perfectly justified in making brownies using a whole bar of Ghiradelli 60% cocoa chocolate. As usual, I ate my brownie in batter form.

 

 

 

Sunday Morning Frittata

I know it’s Monday morning in Corporate America. Believe me when I say I’m not trying to be cruel. But can we take a moment to talk about why we love the weekend?

Breakfast. Lazy mornings. Farmer’s market. Cooking.

Put them together and you get my Sunday morning frittata. Yesterday I was assembling my ingredients and realized how dreamy, (yes, dreamy) they looked. So I snapped a photo.

Yes, I would have laid out my ingredients this way even if I weren’t taking a picture. I’m 17.6% Italian and generally pretend to be at least twice that, so please indulge my food craziness.

Anyway.

My favorite thing about frittatas is their versatility. You can use almost anything in any combination and they turn out great. (I once incorporated a piece of string cheese with a mysteriously absent expiration date, so trust me, I know what I’m talking about.) I could give you a step by step recipe, but that really isn’t necessary. Here is a loose recipe that you can play with to your heart’s content.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp oil
  • eggs (3-4, egg whites are good too)
  • Splash of milk
  • Vegetables (bell peppers, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini, pepperoncini)
  • Onions (Green onions, red onion, white or yellow)
  • Meat (totally optional, but I like a couple of thin slices of prosciutto or ham, and occasionally when I’m feeling fancy, diced up chicken sausage)
  • 1/4 cup of cheese (mozarella, parmesan, swiss, feta, cheddar)
  • Salt & Pepper (dried or fresh herbs are great too)

Get creative. If you’re a cheesy kind of person use more. If you have 1/3 of a red onion and 2 green onions then use that. If you have leftover cooked spinach throw it in. If you want a large frittata use more eggs. Just don’t come crying to me when its suddenly all you ever want to eat. Now here’s what you do.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dice up your vegetables and meat. Shred your cheese. Whisk your eggs with a splash of milk and season them.

Heat your oil over medium heat in a small oven-safe skillet. (My pan says “convection safe.” Just make sure it can handle high temperatures without the handle melting.) Sautee your “tough” veggies (like onions, asparagus, peppers and zucchini) for about 3 minutes. Add the rest of your veggies (spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes) and sautee for another few minutes.

Add meat and cheese to the skillet then pour the eggs over everything, mixing lightly to distribute everything. Let the frittata cook for a several minutes until the edges can be pulled from the side of the pan.

Put the whole thing in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes or until it the frittata is set and the eggs are cooked. Remove from oven, cut into wedges and serve.

(*BE SO CAREFUL WITH THE HANDLE: I have burned myself approximately 3,678 times. *)

This is your finished product (pictured here on my rather scrappy coffee table).

Have mercy.

If you’d like a video demonstration watch this Food Network YouTube demonstration by Giada. I just have to warn you about the way she says “frittata.” It may give you the desire to imitate her voice for 10-14 days, thereby causing marital stress.

Low GI Jane: Tales from the Blood Sugar Battlefield

A few days ago I was told I couldn’t return a shirt because the store didn’t allow returns on sales items. The effect on me was stunning. My face started getting red and the following curse sprang to my mind (and unfortunately I’m not kidding): “May the burning fires of hell rain curses upon you!” It was a bit excessive. Then I looked down at my phone and realized it was 2:00 and I hadn’t had lunch yet and it all made sense. My blood sugar was low. And apparently I get very angry (and curse in my head like a warlock) when that happens.

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally made the connection between my mood and my blood sugar. Like realized I am a completely different person when it’s off. My worst blood sugar days always start with a simple carbohydrate breakfast. For about 20 minutes I feel energized, peppy, then I crash and am left feeling low, sluggish and very mean. Could one little bagel really be the cause of this? Without trying to, I have just entered the Blood Sugar Battlefield.

So what’s going on here? I’m going to get a bit technical here, and explain what happens when we eat foods high in sugar and why we crash afterwards.

A Very Clever Explanation

Every carbohydrate we eat, whether it be a donut, cornflakes, or a handful of almonds, gets converted into glucose, a very simple type of molecule that our muscles and tissues know how to work with. The G.I. (Glycemic Index) is a tool used to measure the rate at which carbohydrates break down into glucose in the bloodstream. Each food is giving a rating (1-100), and this number refers to how quickly the food we eat gets broken down into glucose, 1 being the slowest, 100 being the fastest. (You still with me?)

Whenever you ingest a high G.I. food, such as a doughnut ( which has a GI rating of about 76), the donut is broken  down into glucose very quickly, giving you a “sugar rush.” This completely panics your pancreas because it can be very dangerous to have extremely high levels of sugar in your blood (this is what is going on when diabetics go into a diabetic coma). So your pancreas reacts the best way it can, by releasing a ton of the hormone insulin, which acts as a kind of “hall pass” for glucose, escorting it out of your blood stream and into your tissues for immediate use, or to be stored as fat. (Wasn’t that a clever analogy? I know, I’m patting myself on the back right now.)

With an army of insulin removing all traces of glucose from your bloodstream you are suddenly left feeling very crummy. You’re hungry, maybe shaky and might start to feel a little bit panicky, moody or low energy. “I know how to fix this!” Your brain says. “You’re feeling crappy because there’s no more sugar in your system. Eat more sugar!” Insane cravings come over you and BAM. You’re right back where you started. Only this time you’re waiting at the Costco food court for a giant frozen yogurt. Poor body, it just keeps trying to overcompensate in some kind of twisted balancing act.

To some degree this process happens with everything we eat-but it’s the “simple foods” that are sugary, highly processed or just very starchy that send you on the sadistic rollercoaster ride.

Long Term Effects of Constant Sugar Crashes

100 years ago low G.I. foods were the norm. That’s all that was available because it didn’t occur to pioneer lady to pick some apples, smash them up with sugar and other additives and add things like Yellow 6.  Well, that’s what makes us so magical. Now that we have so much junk food available for every single meal and snack (think of the superhuman effort it takes not to eat these types of food) we are putting our bodies through all kinds of trauma. Over time this constant crash and burn takes a toll on our bodies, leading to a decreased sensitivity to glucose (diabetes), weight gain, difficult mood swing, Charlie Sheen-like behavior(trolls!), and PMS (think, insulin is a hormone—it makes sense that too much of it screws with your other hormones).

And if you’re trying to lose weight, listen up—this little fact really changed how I think about a few bites of cake. Not only is insulin good at removing glucose from the blood stream, but it has another job too. Insulin stops us from converting body fat into glucose for use by our muscles. So if you are constantly in the midst of a sugar rush—regardless of how few calories/fat etc you are eating, your body still can’t use up any fat you’re trying to get rid of. No wonder all these freaky low cal/low fat high G.I. food items aren’t helping us lose weight. All they’re doing is putting our bodies in a panic and leaving us strung out on sugar.

How to Keep Blood Sugar Steady

Enter low GI foods. Low GI foods (usually with a rating of 50 or below) enter our systems and break down much slower. For example, take a bowl of old-fashioned (not instant) which has a rating of 42. You eat the oatmeal and the body starts breaking it down, but it takes a while longer to turn to glucose because it’s got fiber and other important things that make your body work to turn it into glucose. As the oatmeal gets broken down its slow going. The pancreas gets messages every so often that insulin is needed, but just a little bit. Little by little your oatmeal is turned to glucose and your pancreas doles out insulin in a nice, calm relaxed way. Before you know it, your oatmeal has been absorbed and the morning is over—it’s time for lunch.

Where can I learn more?

I’m glad you asked, sonny. Of course I’ve read about 20 books on this. My favorites are by Rick Gallop, but I’ve listed some others that have also been helpful.

Living the G.I. by Rick Gallop (please not an excellent review posted by “Avid Reader” aka me)

The Low G.I. Diet Revolution by Miller, Foster-Powell, and Price

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Glycemic Index Weight Loss by Beale and Clark

 

 

P.S. Check by Thursday for “11 Classic Novels You Might Actually Like”

The Absolute Best Pink Sugar Cookies (guaranteed to make you feel like you’re celebrating your 6th birthday)

I found these recipes on allrecipes.com (cookie recipe by Jill Saunders and frosting by Kathy Brandt) and have become quite passionate about these cookies. While the recipe belongs to those 2 ladies, I have added a few details that I think are crucial to the overall effect. These are great holiday, birthday and baby shower cookies, as well as I’m-Sorry-I-Was-Such-A-Jerk-When-You-Got-Home-Last-Night cookies. I even sent some to work with David and they turned into currency for the computer software engineers black market.

COOKIES:

1 1/2 cups butter, softened

2 cups white sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients. Cover the dough and chill for at least 1 hour (overnight is great too.)

Preheat oven for 400 degrees and roll out dough on floured surface about ¼-1/2” thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutter. Bake 6-8 min on ungreased cookie sheet and cool completely before frosting.

FROSTING:

4 cups powdered sugar

½ cup butter (room temperature)

5 TBSP milk

1 tsp vanilla

Food coloring and colorful sprinkles—I like pink, green and yellow.

Cream together sugar and butter and gradually mix in the milk and vanilla with electric mixer until frosting becomes smooth and stiff (about 5 minutes). Divide frosting in a few different bowls and color with a few drops of food coloring to create pastel colors. Frost cooled cookies and top with sprinkles.

How to Create a Fool-Proof Master Grocery List

David and I had some serious growing pains surrounding grocery shopping.

When I lived alone I shopped at Trader Joe’s several times a week so I could get plenty of fresh, delicious hippy foods. While he lived alone he ate a few boxes of pasta a day, supplemented with weekly trips to a sushi bar. Our eating habits were not a match made in heaven, and we soon had a consistent issue—having spent tons of money grocery shopping for the week, but neither of us being happy with what food was in the house.

I remember once spending about $70 on food, I was in a raw food phase (I go through a lot of phases) and bought a bunch of ridiculous things like coconut oil, bushels of romaine lettuce, and raw goat milk cheese. $70 was a lot of money, and David kept going through the fridge asking “where all the food was.”

So then David had a turn. He went to Costco and came back with 6 restaurant sized jugs of César salad dressing (that we both hated as soon as we tasted it) and a package of steaks. Clearly we needed some sort of plan.

While it took us almost 3 years we do in fact have a plan, which saves us money, allows for “throw together” meals, and rarely has us slamming cupboard doors complaining about having no food in the house.

After being inspired by the Fly Lady (I will definitely need to post about Fly Lady one day) I came up with a master grocery list of things we should always have in our kitchen.

So how do you make a master grocery list? Basically you come up with list of things you always want in your house (your staples), plan for you meals, and allow some extra space for once-in-awhile items. This is how I made and use my list (and you can see my list using the link at the bottom of this post):

1. Came up with grocery shopping categories.

Mine corresponds with how the grocery store is laid out, for easy shopping. They are:
• Produce
• Deli & Meat
• Bread
• Canned Goods
• Cupboard Items
• Freezer
• Dairy
• Snacks
• Drinks
• Condiments and Spices
• Baking Supplies
• Cleaning Supplies
• Toiletries
• Kitchen Paper Products
• Other

2. Decided what constitutes as staples.

This might take a while. These are the items that you always want in your house and mine include everything from vegetables and fruit to snack on, to aluminum foil and ground pepper. These might be things you buy once a week or things you’ll buy once a year. Go through your cupboards, your cookbooks, and think about what you use often, and things you don’t want to be stuck without if you recipe calls for it.

3. Have a weekly grocery shopping team meeting.

Just kidding. What I really do is sit down for 15 minutes every week to go over my list and plan for my upcoming shopping trip. Here’s what I do:

(A.) Decide what meals you’re making for the week.
I generally focus on dinner, but if you make breakfast or fancy lunches on a regular basis then include this in the meal planning portion. Write down the meals you want to make (and stick with a doable number, I only plan for 3 dinners a week) as well as the ingredients you will need. Then check off the items you already have.
(B. ) Check up on your staples.
Look through your cupboards and refrigerator, noting which items you’re getting low on. I like to get new items before the old ones run out so I don’t have to run to the store in the middle of making something.
(C.) Mark which items you need.
I print out a fresh list every week. Items I’m getting low on I keep on the list, things I have plenty of I cross off.
(D.) Write down anything else you need in the “Other” category
For me this week that included nails, light bulbs, and a step stool.

4. Keep an eye out for staple items on sale.
One of the best parts of this method is saving money. If I don’t need to buy TP this week but I see it on sale I buy it. That way I’m prepared for next week, and I saved a little moola.

*Click here for: THE GREEN LEMON MASTER GROCERY LIST

Four Easy, Speedy Spaghetti Dishes

I love making spaghetti dishes because oftentimes you have all the ingredients you need even when your kitchen seems bare (spaghetti, olive oil, salt, canned tomatoes, dried herbs, garlic, parmesan cheese!).  I’m calling these recipes Sunday Afternoon dishes because that always seems to be the time of the week when David and I are in no mood to cook but need a good meal.

Here are 4 recipes that are quick, delicious, and easy to change up based on what’s in your kitchen:

#1. Spaghetti with Speedy Cherry Tomato Sauce

This one is spectacular. It comes from my Nonno’s (Italian for “grandpa”) personal recipe collection…

  • 2-3 TBSP sea salt
  • ½ lb spaghetti
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. Dried red pepper flakes (I never measure, a quick shake does the trick)
  • 2-3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ lb cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quarters (I usually just buy a small container of them at the grocery store. Grape tomatoes or even regular tomatoes would also work)
  • 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water
  • 1-2 TBSP of your favorite dried or fresh herb – like basil, parsley, or oregano. (Choose ONE)

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, then add the salt and spaghetti. Cook until spaghetti is quite al dente (still hard) and about ¾ of the way done. (If you’re confused about how long to cook, check the box, if your spaghetti says it takes 9-10 minutes to cook, cook for about 7 minutes, etc.)

While pasta is cooking, place garlic and chili pepper in a large skillet and drizzle with the oil. Place over medium heat and cook until the garlic barely begins to brown. Then add the cherry tomatoes, raise the heat to high, and cook until the tomatoes are wilted, about 4-5 minutes.

When the pasta is cooked to quite al dente, drain, reserving 1 cup of the starchy pasta water. Add the drained pasta to the sauce in the skillet. Pour in ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water and cook over the highest heat, stirring with a wooden fork to mix the pasta and sauce very well. Add more pasta cooking water if the sauce dries out and the pasta still isn’t cooked all the way.

Before serving sprinkle pasta with herbs and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

This dish would also be good with a handful of crumbled feta cheese or sliced kalamata olives.

(I made this dish this afternoon! Mmmm.)

#2. Quicky Marinara Sauce

This recipe can be played around with like crazy and still always be good. I’m going to give you the basic ingredients and ballpark measurements then let you experiment from that point.

I created this recipe with the help of my Nonno and a fabulous Food Network cookbook called How to Boil Water.

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 can of whole, peeled tomatoes in juice (28 oz can.) or equivalent amount of crushed tomatoes in juice
  • 1 TBSP dried basil
  • Milled Black Pepper – the kind you grind (my grandpa claimed that Black Indian Tellicherry Peppercorn is the world’s best pepper)
  • Spaghetti or Pasta, any shape

Optional Add-Ins:

  • Grated Carrot
  • Diced Onion – any kind, about ½ of one
  • Other herbs besides basil, like thyme or oregano

Chop your vegetables (garlic, carrots, onion, etc.) and heat oil in saucepan over medium-high, adding the vegetables along with 1 tsp of salt. Cook for several minutes until lightly browned (4-5 minutes). Then, add canned tomatoes to the pan, squeezing the whole tomatoes through your hands to crush them (or use crushed tomatoes, but I think whole tomatoes taste best). Sprinkle in herbs then cover pan and simmer over low heat for 12-15 minutes. Season with remaining salt and some pepper. Serve over any type of pasta or spaghetti.

#3. Heavenly Browned Sage Butter

Another of Nonno’s classics. He recommended serving this over ravioli (you could pick up a frozen package from the grocery store), but I also like it over spaghetti.

  • 8 oz. butter
  • 24 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tsp salt

Place all ingredients in a skillet and heat until the butter is golden in color and nutty in flavor, and the sage leaves are slightly crispy. The butter is done when frothy.

#4. Pasta with Garlic & Olive Oil

I love this recipe because I love olive oil. Give it a try, I have a feeling you will too. This recipe is also adapted from Food Network’s How to Boil Water and is the perfect “we have no food in the house” meal. I made this recently when I needed an impromptu dinner for some friends and they loved it.

  • Salt & ground pepper
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Dried parsley (could also add some basil or oregano)
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted water (a few quick dashes of salt should be enough).

While spaghetti is cooking, peel and chop the garlic. Then combine the garlic, olive oil and some salt and pepper in a large skillet, cooking over low heat until garlic is golden. (Garlic is so easy to burn and so yucky when you do, so watch it closely, it will probably brown faster than you think.) Remove from heat.

When the pasta is done, remove it from the pot with tongs (rather than draining it) and add to skillet with garlic and oil. Stir the mixture until pasta is coated with oil then allow to cook for a few more minutes until pasta reaches al dente. If your pasta looks dry, add a little of the starchy pasta water to moisten it.

Sprinkle some dried parsley and fresh parmesan over the pasta before serving.

Buon Appetito! You’re going to be something of a super hero when you create an impromptu feast with one of these dishes.