A new spaghetti sauce

Some weeks just require something quick, easy and tasty. Those are generally the weeks I make spaghetti. I am always hunting for new sauces to try; ones from scratch and ones, like the one I’m about to share, that use a jarred sauce as its base. This trial, two weeks ago now, was good but I actually think I would leave out the meat next time (shocker for me; I do love meat) and add in more vegetables. I’m thinking some mushrooms and fresh tomatoes would make this sing. I’ll let you know how it goes next time I try it!

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Added bonus: big portions!

Spaghetti with Vegetable and Meat Sauce
Originally from Budget Bytes

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil
½ lb. lean ground beef (I used ground sirloin as that was the leanest I could find)
1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 zucchini (about ½ lb.)
2 carrots
½ tsp basil
½ tsp oregano
¼ tsp salt
Freshly cracked pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional – I was out but I think this would make the sauce zing a bit more so I’ll try it next time!)
24 oz. jar pasta sauce (I used Prego Classic)
12 oz. whole wheat thin spaghetti

Directions

  1. Add the olive oil and ground beef to a large skillet. Brown the ground sirloin over medium heat until cooked through.
  2. While the beef is browning, finely dice the onion and mince the garlic. Once the beef has cooked through, add the onion and garlic to the skillet and continue to sauté until the onion is soft and transparent.
  3. While the onion and garlic are sautéing, shred the zucchini and carrots using a large-holed cheese grater [Note: I like my spaghetti sauce chunky so I diced these rather than shred.]. You should have about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of each once prepared.
  4. Add the zucchini and carrots to the skillet along with the basil, oregano, some freshly cracked pepper, salt, and a pinch of red pepper. Continue to sauté until the vegetables are tender (about 7-10 minutes).
  5. Add the pasta sauce and heat through. Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions, then drain. Return the drained spaghetti to the pot with the heat turned off. Add one cup of the prepared sauce to the pasta and stir to coat. Divide the pasta into serving bowls and top with additional sauce. [Note: I missed this final instruction and so added the whole jar to the mixture and then heated through. I’m not sure if there is a big difference but I did find that much sauce in the mixture made it a trifle runny so I would divide it out next time to see if that would help.]
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Orzo with Chicken and Asiago Cheese

I really started to cook well for myself after my summer in DC. My cousin Kathy and her husband were nice enough to let me stay with them that summer while I completed an internship at the Smithsonian Institute Archives. Kathy and Scott are both doctors who have busy lives (even busier now with their son Jackson) so Kathy was very good about meal planning. It was Kath who taught me some of my favorite recipes – recipes that can last me a week if I double them or dishes that freeze well for nights when I don’t feel like cooking. This recipe is one of my all time favorites.

Orzo with Chicken and Asiago is quick and easy to make and only requires one pot to make so an easy clean-up. I also like the nice zing the spices add to this dish, making it something different from my normal fare. Also, handily, this is not a picky recipe. I haven’t been able to find straight asiago cheese where I live but a shredded Italian blend from Walmart that includes asiago does the trick. I also find this is a great summer dish as it cooks fast and doesn’t need the oven so the kitchen doesn’t have time to get hot.

Orzo with Chicken and Asiago Cheese

Ingredients:
1 cup water
1 can (16 oz.) of chicken broth
12 oz. skinned chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 1/4 cups uncooked orzo
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/2 cup (2 oz.) grated asiago cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, basil or oregano (I prefer oregano)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:
1) combine water and broth in a pan over heat; bring to boil
2) Add chicken and pasta; bring to boil
3) Reduce heat; simmer 12 minutes, stirring occassionally
4) Remove from heat; stir in peas, 1/4 cheese cheese, salt, herbs and pepper
5) Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of cheese

Shells with Tomato and Basil

I am a fan of mixes. It should come as no surprise to you that one of my favorite cookbooks is Fast Fixes with Mixes. I like the convenience of mixes as a base to a recipe. It allows me to come home from work and create a meal that looks like it took me a lot longer than it actually did. So I am always on the lookout for new recipes that start from a mix.

This particular recipe is not new. In fact, I’ve had it for a long time; I think before graduate school even. My grandmother was getting rid of tons of cooking magazines so I stole them all and went through and cut out lots of recipes from them. You will not be surprised that I have rarely made any of them. But on my year long (some what stalled but getting back into it) trek through my own recipes, I decided it was time to make a few. Shells with Tomato and Basil was, I think, pilfered from a Kraft cooking magazine. I guess this only because its base mix is Velveeta Shells and Cheese – the brand is even included in the recipe.

I kind of adored this recipe actually for two reasons. One, it makes a ton of food so I had it for leftovers for three days after I originally made it. Two, it works as a main course or a side dish. The first night I had it with salad and fresh French bread. The second night I had it with baked chicken and peas. The third on its own again. A dish that I can have as leftovers but still add and subtract other dishes to keep it fresh and not repetitive is always a good thing in my book. Bonus? This dish is just…pretty. I do like it when my food is not only tasty but appetizing to look at as well!

See? Pretty and tasty!

Shells with Tomato and Basil
Serves: 6

Ingredients:
1 package Velveeta Shells and Cheese
1 medium tomato, chopped (I also took out the seed parts)
2 Tbsp thinly sliced basil leaves
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Directions:

1) Prepared shells and cheese as package instructs
2) Add remaining ingredients; cook until heated through thoroughly, stirring occasionally

Chicken Cacciatore

So, I’m not big on New Years’ resolutions but I do like to set some goals for myself that are usually reading orientated with a new year. Since I wasn’t able to come up with concrete ones in reading (I have a few vague ideas but I’m still working on them), I decided maybe I should branch out and challenge myself elsewhere. The kitchen seemed an obvious place for me to go.

The running family gag is that I can’t cook. I did have some unfortunate misadventures when I was younger and for awhile there it was just easier to be on kitchen duty than attempt to make a dish of some sort. Then of course I left the comfort of college dining halls and had to fend for myself. So, I learned to cook in a sense. I rarely make something that isn’t edible so I always assumed that was a step in the right direction for me. The idea of cooking is so charming though that I became a recipe collector with more cooking blogs than I could keep up with. Over the years, I’ve learned my talent level better and said goodbye to some of the blogs that just made me hungry while producing gourmet worthy meals that I had no inclination or reason to make. However, the recipe collecting has continued until I think, it may, just be a little out of hand. I have an email folder full along with clippings, print outs and magazine articles overflowing my recipe binder and box. My problem with that is…I’ve made maybe a handful of the recipes I have. So, goal for the year? Make them and decide whether they are keepers or whether I’m never making them again.

I generally make my most complicated meal on Sundays; just the day of the week I have the most time to devote to chopping, cooking, baking, dishes and clean up of the kitchen. It has the bonus that anything I make tends to make me enough leftovers that I don’t need to do more than reheat until Thursday – one of the bonuses to being single and recipes almost always assuming you’re cooking for a family of four. So today I finally got around to starting on this goal. I’ve been set back a few times as grocery shopping where I currently live can be challenging to find what you need sometimes. Other times, I improvise.

My first dish of the year? Chicken Cacciatore from Bread and Putter with a few changes due to grocery availability. Overall, I loved this dish – it tasted delicious and was super easy to make. It also didn’t require hours of chopping things which is always good in my book. I recommend this dish actually for the weeknight. You could get everything chopped beforehand, get it cooking in the skillet and then you have 40 minutes to get things done before it’s ready which I like on a weeknight – makes me get some chores done before I settle in for a night of reading and/or TV watching.

The final product!

Recipe:

Ingredients: 1 lb. chicken (thighs or breasts I think work fine), 2 medium green bell peppers, 1 package (6 or 8 oz.) button mushrooms and 1 jar of marinara sauce

Directions:
1) Coat large, deep skillet with cooking spray
2) Chop chicken into cubes and then brown on skillet
3) Add chopped peppers and mushrooms; cook 2-3 minutes on skillet
4) Pour in marinara sauce, cover and let simmer for 40 minutes until chicken is tender

I served the dish with spaghetti but I think it would be just as good over rice.