What’s Your Quick Meal? Contest + Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

Spaghetti SauceQuick meals – meals on the table in a flash – can save dinner when life gets hectic.  Our family’s go-to quick meal is pasta with homemade spaghetti sauce that we always keep stocked in the freezer, but I want to know, what is your family’s quick meal?  I’m looking for the best and the worst quick meals – those that your family loves and those that you are maybe a little embarrassed to admit that you actually eat.  Check out our family’s recipe then scroll to the bottom to find out how you can win one of 5 one week meal planning coaching sessions!

Spaghetti Sauce

Needs Met: Quick Meal, Prep Ahead, Allergy Friendly, Vegetarian/Vegan
Makes 12 cups

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 – 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 12 oz tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 4 tsp basil
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp oregano

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a stock pot. Partly cover, heat over medium low heat (avoid the urge to turn the heat higher, just let it be), and simmer for 2 hours, stirring regularly (if not, it will stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
  2. Freeze in 1½ cup portions for 3 servings of spaghetti or 1 cup portions for 1 pizza.I use freezer-safe Mason jars (some people say you can use the regular Mason jars for freezing, but they are prone to breaking), but you can also use freezer zip-top bags.  Try it with the quick cooking pasta recipe.
So now it’s your turn!  What is your family’s quick meal?  Share your family’s favorite (or most embarrassing) quick meal by sending me an e-mail at ameredith(at)sparkmeals(dot)com or by sharing on Facebook or Twitter.  I will choose 2 of the best sounding recipes to share and 3 of the worst quick meal disasters – each winner will get a free one week meal planning coaching session for themselves or a friend or family member.  Entries must be received by May 1, 2017.  Don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list to get the winning recipes!

Matzo Ball Soup for the Gentile Soul – A Good Friday Meal

Matzo Ball SoupIn our family, we commemorate Good Friday with Matzo Ball Soup – a traditional Passover dish – and homemade pretzels – a symbol for the Trinity.  Join us in remembering the Passion of the Lord in preparation for Easter through food!  This meal would also be appropriate for Holy Saturday.
The homemade pretzels are based off of the recipe in The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  If you do not have this book, you need it!  It will change the way that you cook in your home, not to mention save you a TON of money on bread and rolls.  Speaking of rolls, we will definitely be having some with our Lamb Stew on Easter, so be sure to check out that recipe as well!

Matzo Ball Soup

Needs Fulfilled: Prep Ahead, Holiday
Serve With: Pretzels (see below)
Prep: 15 minutes   Inactive: 2 hours   Cook: 30 minutes   Time to Table: 30 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan with lid
Serves: 6
You need to make the matzo ball mixture up ahead of time and let it sit in the refrigerator, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time.  Please note, this is not a kosher version of this recipe; if you need a kosher version, try this one here.  You can find matzo meal in the kosher food or seasonal (with the Easter candy) sections of most grocery stores.  If you can only find matzo crackers, you can process 1-2 sheets in a food processor until fine crumbs to make the matzo meal.  If you cannot find either, I am pretty sure that you can substitute saltine crackers.

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup matzo meal
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp fresh dill, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a bowl, combine the eggs, matzo meal, oil, water, and salt (it should be like wet sand).  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 2-24 hours.
  2. Bring the chicken stock to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to simmer.  While that is heating, form your matzo balls: With damp hands, gently roll 2 Tbsp of matzo mixture into balls (being carefully not to squash it down too much) and put on a plate.  Once the stock is simmering, add all the balls at once, cover and cook for 20-30 minutes until the balls are cooked through (if you cut one open, it will be the same color throughout when they are done).
  3. Serve the soup garnished with the dill and season with salt and pepper as desired.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Add 1 cup cooked diced chicken when cooking the matzo balls
  • Add 4 sliced carrots or 3 sliced parsnips

Pretzels

Prep: 10 minutes   Inactive: 2 hours   Cook: 30 minutes   Bake: 15 minutes
Time to Table: 45 minutes
Needed Equipment: Large saucepan, baking sheet
Serves: 6

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Mix up dough as described below

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 ¼ cups (1 lb) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ Tbsp salt
  • ½ Tbsp yeast
  • 1 ½ cups lukewarm water
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp sugar

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add in the water and stir together – do not knead, but you may need to use your hands to get all the flour mixed in (you can also apparently use a dough hook on a mixer, but I have not tried that).  Cover with plastic wrap (not a towel – it will stick) and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
  2. After the dough has risen, fill the large saucepan about ¾ of the way full of water and add the baking soda and sugar.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Preheat the oven to 450F.
  3. While that is heating, shape your pretzels: Cut your dough into about 10 equal pieces.  Dust each piece with flour, then form it into a ball by pulling down and under (check out this video for a better description).  On a floured surface, roll the dough into a long thin snake – the longer and more consistently thick the better.  Form into a traditional pretzel shape (don’t worry if they don’t turn out quite right – they will still taste delicious!).
  4. Let the pretzels rest for about 20 minutes (it is going to take some time to form the pretzels, so your first batch will probably be ready to go into the pot when you are done).  Place a towel on the counter near the stove and dust with a little flour.  Add about half of the pretzels to the water.  After about 10 seconds flip them; let them go another 10 seconds then remove (if you leave them in too long, they get all poofy and waterlogged, but will still taste all right).  Place the pretzels on the towel.Repeat with the second batch (after they have rested).
  5. Place the pretzels on baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes (20-25 minutes for crispy pretzels).  Enjoy while still warm (if possible).  Save any leftovers in the freezer and reheat in the oven to keep the crispy crust!
This recipe is adapted from The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.

For the Love of: Asparagus

Asparagus has arrived at our grocery store, which means it’s spring!  Here are some tips and recipes to help you get the most out of your asparagus!
The thing that is so wonderful about asparagus is that it is one of those vegetables that truly is seasonal still.  While you can get canned asparagus (or perhaps frozen), it just is not the same as those crisp bright green stalks that are so delightfully fleeting.  So, to start off with, here are some basic tips for cooking your asparagus:
  • Keep the cooking time short to keep the crispness (cook it too long and it will get soggy)
  • If the bottom of the asparagus is woody (the bottom of it will look like wood), snap it off – where it snaps off will be at the top of the woody part
  • Keep your asparagus fresh longer by standing it up in a glass with a little water; cover with a sandwich bag, tie on with a rubber band, and put it in the refrigerator!
  • Boil your asparagus for about 4 minutes or steam for 6-8 minutes on the stove until crisp-tender.
  • Microwave your asparagus with about 1 Tbsp of water in a microwave safe container covered in plastic wrap for about 4 minutes.  Let stand covered for 2 more minutes and drain before serving.
  • Keep your asparagus bright green by putting the cooked stalks in cold water before serving.
  • Serve asparagus cold on salads or warm in sautes, soups, or side dishes.

Spring Vegetable Soup Spring Vegetable Soup

Needs Fulfilled: Prep Ahead, Allergy Friendly (with sub), Vegetarian/Vegan
Serve With: Saltine or oyster crackers
Prep: 15 minutes   Cook: 20 minutes   Time to Table: 35 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 4
Because spring vegetables (like peas and asparagus) don’t take long to cook, this soup is ready relatively quickly – you can get the meal on the table even more quickly by doing the prep ahead of time!  This soup also made surprisingly good leftovers – even the potatoes and the asparagus stayed flavorful and crisp (I don’t recommend trying to freeze this one, though!).

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut carrots, onion, and celery according to directions (you can do this ahead of time and store together in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 lb new (or fingerling) potatoes, in 1” chunks (some I left whole, some I cut in half, and some I cut into quarters depending on the size – I bought mine at the grocery store but they were like these)
  • ½ bunch asparagus, cut into 1 ½” pieces
  • 1 cup frozen peas (or fresh if you can find them!)
  • 15 oz Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat.Add the carrots, onion, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.While that is cooking, prepare the potatoes.
  2. Add the salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, and basil and cook for another minute.Add the bay leaf, water, and potatoes.Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes until the potatoes start to soften.
  3. Add the asparagus, peas, and beans, return to a simmer, and cook for about 4 minutes until the asparagus is crisp-tender.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Substitute 1 lb browned ground meat for the beans
  • Substitute cannellini or small red beans for the Great Northern beans
  • Add 2 cups fresh spinach or kale with the asparagus

Asparagus-Artichoke Vegetable Sauté

Needs Fulfilled: Quick Meal, Allergy Friendly (with sub), Vegetarian/Vegan, Grain-Free (with sub)
Serve With: Quinoa and a side salad
Prep: 5 minutes  Cook: 15 minutes   Time to Table: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet
Serves: 3
This is an Italian-spiced version of a vegetable sauté – one of the first recipes that I ever invented when I was first cooking for myself, so it holds a dear place in my heart.  If you prefer a meat option, check out the “Make It Your Own” section below.

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut up asparagus and artichokes (you can leave the artichokes in fairly large pieces, but remove any harder outside pieces – they stay hard even after you finish the saute).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 12 spears asparagus, cut into 1” pieces
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 6 oz artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 ½ cup frozen okra
  • 15 oz diced tomatoes, undrained
  • ¾ tsp dried minced onion
  • ½ tsp basil
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat.Add the garlic and asparagus and cook for about 1 minute.Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes until the asparagus is crisp-tender and everything else is heated through.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Brown ¾ lb chicken, diced, first in the oil in the skillet (cook, stirring occasionally until it appears brown – about 5-8 minutes).Drain most of the excess fat and continue with adding the garlic and asparagus.
  • Add in 15 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or kidney beans for a vegetarian protein option
  • Substitute in ½ lb of other vegetables, such as diced carrots, peas, kale, spinach, zucchini, broccoli, or cauliflower.
  • Boost the vegetables by about a 1/3 each and serve without the quinoa for a grain-free, low carb meal!