Tomato and Garlic Pasta Sauce

If you like pasta as much as we do, you’ll love this super quick pasta sauce!  Get dinner ready as quickly as spaghetti, with a fancy twist and a ton of flavor.  Enjoy!
Tomato and Garlic Pasta Sauce

  Tomato and Garlic Pasta Sauce

Needs Fulfilled: Quick Meal, Gluten Free, Allergy Friendly, Low Carb, Vegetarian/Vegan
Serve With: Salad and Garlic Bread
Prep: 0 minutes  Cook: 20 minutes
Time to Table: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • None!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • 2 Tbsp basil (I tried this basil stir-in paste, which worked really well, but you could also use chopped fresh leaves or even pesto).
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Dash pepper
  • 15 oz diced tomatoes

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Start cooking your pasta (see below).  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and let cook about 1 minute.  Add in the remaining seasonings and let cook until fragrant (until it starts to smell very basil-y).  Add in the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low.  Let simmer while the pasta cooks and the sauce thickens a little.  Toss the pasta with the sauce.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • You can use just about any kind of pasta that you choose – for a heartier meal, choose a penne or ziti noodle; for a more typical pasta night, go with spaghetti noodles!
  • Choose gluten-free noodles or use zoodles for a gluten-free or low-carb option.
  • Sprinkle with some shredded Parmesan or mozzarella, if desired
  • Add onions or switch the basil for oregano or marjoram for another flavor twist.
  • As always, adjust the basil, garlic, salt, and pepper for your family’s tastes!

MDHF #4: Success! Edition with Muthokoi Recipe

Make Dinner Happen Frida #4 Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
This week finally feels like a return to normalcy around here!  We have followed our meal plan almost to a T (I’ll be honest, I am always changing things up, that is just how we roll)!
I can totally attribute this to my new use of a bullet journal.  If you are feeling disorganized and in need of help, I highly recommend checking it out.  Mine is totally boring and plain, but it has helped me to finally get organized, which was definitely something that I needed.  If you are really artsy (which I am not – mine is currently in an old notebook), you can also jazz up your bullet journal.  I know that I am like 3 years late to this party, but it is seriously cool and very useful if you haven’t heard about it.

Recap from Last Week

There really isn’t too much to recap from last week because I mostly stuck to family favorites – one of my strategies for making meal planning work during hectic seasons.  The only new dish is the Muthokoi, which you can get the recipe for down at the bottom.  It turned out super delicious, and made even better leftovers (they were even good cold)!  Even better, it cost about $0.50 per serving and was super simple to make!
I know I have been giving you mostly vegetarian/vegan recipes, so if you are wanting other recipes from any of the weeks, just shoot me an e-mail (ameredith(at)sparkmeals(dot)com) or send me a message on Facebook and I’ll post it!

Friday

Cheese Pizza and Salad
We had homemade cheese pizza made with a sourdough crust for supper tonight.  It turned out super well!  I made two pizzas – one on a cookie sheet and one on a pizza pan.  The one made on the pizza pan had a crispier crust (more like what you get with delivery pizza), so I highly recommend using that if you are going to be making pizza.  This is like the one that I have.

Saturday

Tuna Casserole and Salad with Rolls
I am going to be making my tuna casserole, which is made with an easy homemade white sauce (what I call “cream of something soup”) and rice.  I am going to be making extra rice and bread to have for meals on Sunday.
Saturday Meal Prep: Make rice (for casserole + 1 cup for Sunday), make bread (rolls + loaf for Sunday)
Saturday Prep for Sunday: Prep the French Toast Casserole for the morning

Sunday

Brunch: Apple French Toast
We are having that fabulous Apple French Toast (which made WONDERFUL leftovers again).  I am going to prep this on Saturday, so that all I will have to do on Sunday is put it in the oven.
Dinner: Chicken and Rice Skillet with Green Beans
I am going to be making a simple Chicken and Rice skillet (think hamburger helper, but without the MSG) with a side of green beans.  I am going to be making extra chicken to have for the meal on Tuesday.  This is a new recipe, so I will let you know how it turns out!
Sunday Meal Prep: Cut up the chicken – Remember to make extra chicken (3/4 lb for 3 servings)!

Monday

Leftovers
You know I love my leftovers days!  I am making extra of the Tuna Casserole to have that night.
Monday Meal Prep: None (don’t you love leftovers days?)

Tuesday

Savory Chicken and Peppers Crepes with Bearnaise Sauce
Ok, I might be going a little off the deep end with this new recipe.  I have made crepes once before (and it was slightly traumatic), but I have this monster sourdough starter that is threatening to take over the world, so I was trying to cothis bearnaise sauceme up with ways to use it up.  I found this tip from phickle to make crepes with it, so that is what I am going to try.  For the filling, I am just going to saute the peppers and leftover chicken.  I am going to be trying to make this bearnaise sauce (like I said, I am probably going overboard here – there is a really good chance this sauce will actually get nixed from the recipe and replaced with…cheddar cheese?).
Tuesday Meal Prep: Make crepe batter (you have to let it sit an hour before making), cut up peppers (I am actually using peppers that I cut up and froze, so I will be skipping this step).

Wednesday

Black Bean and Lime Rice with Quesadillas
We love quesadillas!  You just heat a little bit of oil in a skillet, put the tortilla in, sprinkle cheese on half of it, fold it over, and flip when brown on the bottom – no pricey equipment required!
The problem is that quesadillas are lonely as a dinner – they definitely need something to go with them – preferably light and fresh to balance out the slight greasiness of the quesadillas.  So, I am trying out this Black Bean and Lime Rice recipe.
Wednesday Meal Prep: None (unless like me you will be using dehydrated corn for the rice, then you will need to soak the corn).
Thursday Meal Prep: Pull down the pork from the freezer in the morning and put it in the marinade in the evening

Thursday

Garlic Roast Pork with Beets and Rolls
I have some more pork roast from last week and got beets on sale last week as well, so I will be cooking them in the slow cooker.  I will be making a simple marinade for the pork with olive oil, white wine vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar (btw, it is super simple to make your own marinades: mix 1 part acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc) with 3 parts oil, add in seasonings, taste and add more seasonings or acid if needed).  I am going to cook all of the beets together and put any extras in the freezer for later!
Thursday Meal Prep: Start the slow cooker!  Make rolls (as needed – I usually make big batches throughout the week to have for breakfasts, so we might have some already).
There is our meal plan for next week!  How has your planning been going?  Did you have a win or more of a loss this week?  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!

 Muthokoi (Akamba Corn and Beans)

Needs Fulfilled: Vegan/Vegetarian, Gluten Free, Slow Cooker
Serve With: Chapati or Pita Bread
Prep: 10 minutes  Inactive Cook: 3-8 hours   Active Cook: 0 minutes
Time to Table: 0 minutes
Needed Equipment: Slow cooker
Serves: 8

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • None!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 50 oz hominy, drained (2 large cans – you can find this in the Hispanic foods section)
  • 30 oz pinto beans, drained and rinsed (2 cans)
  • 15 oz diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 2 tsp garlic
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried minced onion (if you like a stronger flavor, you can increase this to 1 Tbsp)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup water

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Put everything in the slow cooker (I used a medium-sized one).  Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.  Enjoy your easy and nutritious meal!

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Add root vegetables like chunks of carrots or potatoes if you prefer
  • Add some chopped fresh cilantro right before serving
  • As with all recipes, adjust the seasonings to fit your family!

Make Dinner Happen Friday #3: What Meal Plan? Edition with Chipotle Corn and Pinto Bean Tacos Recipe

Make Dinner Happen Friday #3Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
Y’all, let me tell you, this week has been rough.  I got a bad cold on top of starting homeschooling a few weeks ago.  My meal plan has been really rough and rocky this week, I am not afraid to admit; ok, it was more like I didn’t even have a meal plan!  We’re talking, going to kitchen at 5 o’clock to figure out what is for supper kind of deal because I forgot to put the food in the slow cooker again!
I am trying out some new organization strategies to help our how overall run better (starting with a bullet journal).  Tomorrow, I’m also going to share more in depth about how I adjust my meal planning when times are crazy busy (spoiler: I am gentle with myself during busy seasons, plus I use freezer cooking with my leftovers!).
On the plus side of all that crazy, I came up with a delicious Chipotle Corn and Pinto Bean Taco recipe on the fly for dinner tonight, so I am sharing the recipe with you at the bottom!
Before we get into that though, I wanted to let you all know that we are extending our Back to School Sale until Saturday!  So if, like me, you have had a crazy week and missed it, you can still get a one-on-one coaching session to get all the skills you need to take on the school year, including your first week all ready to go for just $10!  Head on over to the Meal Planning Coaching to sign up!  Offer ends at 11:59pm, Saturday, August 12!

Recap from Last Week

First of all, let me start by saying, I didn’t actually even touch my slow cooker this week!  I know, shameful (I mean everyone should use their slow cooker all the time anyway – because it’s awesome – but it’s so much worse that I planned to use it a lot!).  I did make the the Camembert Macaroni and Cheese, which turned out quite tasty, although we didn’t care for the bread crumbs on the top (I would skip the whole broiling step to keep it more moist as well).
We also had the Lentil Barley Stew on Monday as planned (although I made it on the stove rather than in the slow cooker – this is usually how we make it).
The rest of the week went haywire!  I had a ton of cucumbers from the garden, so I made a pineapple gazpacho with apple curry one night.  I pulled down some leftover Lamb Stew from the freezer.  We finally made the lasagna last night, but we made it in the oven (I decided I wasn’t brave enough to try the slow cooker since I had only made it once before – and that was with zucchini!); I used the recipe in my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook.  It turned out great – a new family favorite, I think!

Friday

Chipotle Corn and Pinto Bean Tacos with Tortilla Chips
We had a long, hard day with school work, and I still hadn’t gotten dinner on the table.  I was going to pull some of the leftover Lentil Barley Stew out of the freezer, but I saw some tortilla chips on top of the fridge and decided Mexican was in order tonight.  I threw together this delicious taco filling which was also very tasty as a topping for nachos!  Check out the recipe below!

Saturday

Muthokoi (Akamba Corn and Beans) and Chapati
I have this meal on plan again this week because I still really want to see if I can make it!  I am making a double batch of the muthokoi (but just a single batch of the chapati because they are better fresh) so that I have leftovers for Wednesday.

Sunday

Brunch: Cinnamon Rolls and Meat and Potato Quiche
We have been really enjoying having some variety in our breakfasts, so I will be making extra of both of these to use as leftovers!  The cinnamon rolls I make using an adaptation of the Soft American-Style White Bread (pg 324) recipe in Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  The quiche recipe comes from the More with Less Cookbook (a great older cookbook – it looks like there is a newer edition that, according to the index, does not include this recipe but is probably still fabulous) – I love this recipe because I don’t have to make a pie crust!
Dinner: Lasagna Leftovers and Salad
The lasagna was a huge hit with the family, so I am glad that I made extra!

Monday

Pork Roast with Slow Cooker Rice and Carrots
I’m having another go at this recipe as well.  I am going to do the prep for it the night before – getting the carrots ready, making sure the roast is thawed.  To make sure that I had plenty of time, I put this meal on Monday so that I could do the prep on Sunday evening.  I am again making extra meat and carrots to have later in the week and to freeze (I am not making extra rice because it doesn’t keep as long without going bad).

Tuesday

Chicken Tetrazzini with Garlic Knots
To celebrate the feast of the Assumption, I wanted to choose some white foods, so I went with this family favorite from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, served with garlic knots (Seeing a pattern here?  Lots of family favorites and old stand-bys are one of the ways that I meal plan for when things are hectic!).

Wednesday

Leftover Muthokoi and Fresh Chapati
Making my mid-week easier with leftovers – just add fresh chapati!

Thursday

Leftover Pork Roast and Carrots with Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Keeping it nice and easy again with more leftovers and some Dairy Free Garlic Mashed Potatoes (You don’t have to have a dairy allergy to like these!  They are some of the best that I have ever made).
So there is what will hopefully be our meal plan for the next week!  So come on guys, do you have any tips to share for getting the hang of a homeschool schedule?  Anyone else in a crazy time of life?  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!
P.S. Don’t forget about our Back to School Meal Planning Coaching for just $10!  You can get equipped with all the skills you need to take on meal planning plus have your first weeks meal plan ready to go in about an hour all for just $10.  Don’t wait – sale ends August 12!

 Chipotle Corn and Pinto Beans Tacos

Needs Fulfilled: Vegan/Vegetarian, Gluten Free, Quick Meal, Allergy Friendly (with modification)
Serve With: Tortilla Chips
Prep: 0 minutes   Cook: 20 minutes   Time to Table: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan or large skillet
Serves: 3
Chipotle Corn and Pinto Beans Tacos

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • None!

INGREDIENTS:

  • Oil
  • 2 tsp garlic
  • 1 can (~15 oz) corn, drained
  • 1 can (~15 oz) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1/2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp chipotle powder (adjust to taste – you can find this in the spices)
Possible toppings:
  • 9 tortillas
  • 1 1/2 oz lettuce, shredded
  • 1 1/2 oz cheddar or Monterrey jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 Roma tomato, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp sour cream
  • 3 Tbsp ranch dressing
  • 1 avocado, sliced or chopped
  • 1 1/2 oz black olives, sliced
  • 3 Tbsp onion, diced (1/4-1/2 onion)
  • 3 Tbsp salsa or pico de gallo

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the saucepan (or skillet) over medium heat.  Add the garlic and saute (cook, stirring occasionally) for 1-2 minutes until golden.  Add the rest of the ingredients except the toppings.
  2. Let it heat up, stirring occasionally, until it starts to bubble a little (there won’t be much moisture, so it won’t bubble a lot), then reduce your heat to low while you get the rest of the stuff ready for dinner.  Serve on the tortillas with any other toppings as desired.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • You can serve this as a topping on nachos instead – super good!
  • You could substitute 3/4 lb chicken breast, chopped for the pinto beans for an allergy friendly version – just brown the chicken in the skillet with the garlic and drain off any excess fat.

Make Dinner Happen Friday #2: Slow Cooker Edition PLUS Lentil Barley Stew Recipe

Make Dinner Happen Friday #2 Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
This week, I wanted to start incorporating more slow cooker (aka crockpot) recipes into our meal plan.  As I mentioned earlier, we started homeschooling a few weeks ago, but we haven’t gotten into a good groove yet.  I thought slow cooker meals might be the ticket to getting it all together.

Recap from Last Week

Last week did not go according to plan at all!  I got to the farmer’s market late, so there was no lettuce or figs to be found!  So, I pulled out some frozen green beans to replace the salad and decided to pair with the Camembert Macaroni and Cheese with hamburgers as a side dish (also, we haven’t had this yet – see the menu for Saturday J).
The Black Bean Jalapeno Griddle Cakes were…interesting.  My 2 year old loved them, but they were just so odd that we probably won’t have them again soon (and when we do, we will try one of the other flavor combinations).
The Garlic Parmesan Cheese Scalloped Potatoes were very good (the best recipe of its type that I have found), as was the Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast (bonus: it made way more than I thought it would but also made fabulous leftovers) – I highly recommend both.
The Buffalo Tacos were really good, but I heavily modified the recipe – let me know if anyone wants it posted!  I never actually made the corn casserole.  I don’t even want to talk about the Pad Thai…  Now on to next week!

Friday

Dinner at Church
We went to a fundraiser dinner at church tonight – I got the night off!

Saturday

Camembert Macaroni and Cheese and Hamburgers
I have this macaroni and cheese on the menu again this week (it got shifted there from last week), pairing it with hamburgers this time.

Sunday

Brunch: Sausage and Egg Casserole and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Both of these are family favorites, based off of recipes found in The Betty Crocker Cookbook.
Dinner: Leftovers
That’s right, I plan leftovers right into my meal plan.  We have some of the Buffalo Tacos, and we will almost certainly have leftovers from the other meals as well.

Monday

Lentil Barley Soup with Rolls
Slow cooker vegetarian soup with rolls from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  I have no idea where this soup originally came from, but I am including our recipe below for you to enjoy!

Tuesday

Slow Cooker Lasagna with Salad
I don’t usually like lasagna because I think that people put too many onions in it, but I am going to give it a try with my homemade spaghetti sauce.  I also have never made pasta of any kind in the slow cooker, so this should be interesting!  I am basing it off of this recipe from Betty Crocker and making my own ricotta (We did this once before – it is super easy and tastes AMAZING.  It does take a bit of time, though, so I will do it the night before).

Wednesday

Pork Roast with Slow Cooker Rice and Carrots
Did you know that you can cook brown rice in a slow cooker right along with a roast and vegetables?!  I am going to get some kind of pork to roast at the farmer’s market tomorrow (and will lightly season it), then cook it in the slow cooker on top of carrots and rice (using a recipe from an old church ladies cookbook).

Thursday

Muthokoi (Akamba Corn and Beans) and Chapati
When I was in college, I studied abroad in Kenya for a semester and stayed for a few weeks with a Kamba family.  While I was there, I had this wonderful dish – my favorite of the whole time I was there (except perhaps the samosas, yum!).  I have always wanted to try to recreate it, so I am giving it a go this week!  I am basing it off of this recipe and using hominy (the corn that you can find with the Mexican food in the grocery store), canned red beans, tomatoes, salt, and onion and cooking it in the slow cooker.  Wish me luck!  I am also making chapati (a kind of flat bread found in India and Kenya) – I made it once before and it turned out super delicious!
So there you have it – our meal plan for next week!  So I want to know – what is your favorite slow cooker meal?  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!

Lentil Barley Stew

Needs Fulfilled: Vegan/Vegetarian, Gluten Free (with variation), Slow Cooker, Freezer Cooking (with variation), Cook Once/Eat Twice
Serve With: Rolls or pretzels from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
Prep: 30 minutes   Inactive Cook: 3-8 hours   Active Cook: 0 minutes
Time to Table: 0 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet, slow cooker (optional with variation)
Serves: 6

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut vegetables according to directions (you can do this ahead of time and store in separate sealed containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days; you can also complete step 1 the night before and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator to go straight into the slow cooker in the morning).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 4 cups water
  • ¾ cup lentils
  • ¾ cup barley
  • 32 oz diced tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp rosemary
  • ¼ tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat.Add the celery, carrot, and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes until they start to soften.
  2. Add the celery mixture and all the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker.Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours until the barley and lentils are cooked.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • This makes great leftovers, so you can make extra and put some in the freezer for later
  • For freezer cooking, do step 1; combine all the ingredients (except the water) in a freezer bag and store.Thaw out the mixture and cook as usual.
  • You can cook this on the stove instead by adding an extra 2 cups of water (6 cups total); bring to a boil in a saucepan (instead of putting into the slow cooker), reduce heat, and simmer for 45-60 minutes until the barley and lentils are cooked.
  • For a gluten-free version, use brown rice instead of the barley

Make Dinner Happen Friday #1: Use It Up Edition

Make Dinner Happen Friday #1Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
This week is all about “using it up.”  We are blessed this week with a full pantry and freezer, so I built my meal plan this week around what we already have.  I start my meal plans on Friday because that is the day that I go to the grocery store (although that might be changing soon as we are getting into the school year).
Friday
Black Bean Jalapeno Griddle Cakes with Salsa, Chipotle Mashed Potato Cakes, and Salad
I am trying out a couple of new recipes here with the griddle cakes and mashed potato cakes based off of recipes from How to Cook Everything – I’ll let you know how they turned out!  I will be using my favorite salsa recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  I already have these ingredients from the meal plan last week (we ended up with more leftovers than I was planning, so we had an extra “leftovers day”).
Saturday
Rosemary Roasted Pork Loin with Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Scalloped PotatoesRosemary Roasted Pork Loin with Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
This will be a basic rosemary marinated pork loin (which I already have in the freezer) that is oven roasted (do be honest, I don’t have something specific in mind – I’ll just throw some marinade together that day), served with these delicious-looking scalloped potatoes (I will just be using red potatoes and cheddar and Parmesan cheeses because that is what I already have).
Sunday
Brunch: Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast with Cheesy Hash Brown Cups
On Sunday, brunch is our big meal, and I have been on a kick of trying new recipes lately.  This Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast looked tasty, plus I already have apples!  I have made these really tasty Baked Hash Brown Cups (with cheese!), though!  I’ll be using the red potatoes that I already have and grating them myself.
Dinner: Spaghetti with Garlic Knots and Salad
Basic spaghetti with our homemade spaghetti sauce served with homemade garlic knots using the olive oil dough from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  This sounds really elaborate, but really this is so easy and delicious!
Monday
Camembert Macaroni and Cheese and Camembert Stuffed Figs
I have some camembert cheese left over from last week (we had a French-inspired meal that, of course, had to include some “fancy” cheese), so we are going to try this macaroni and cheese and these cheese stuffed figs to use it up.  Figs are in-season here now, so I will be able to pick some up at the farmer’s market on Saturday.
Tuesday
Spaghetti Squash Chicken Pad Thai with Bean Sprouts and Peppers
Spaghetti squash and peppers are also in season, so I am going to attempt this Pad Thai recipe using chicken thighs that I have in the freezer.  I have never made homemade Pad Thai, so this is going to be an adventure.  Since I try to make most of my food from scratch, I am going to use this pad Thai sauce recipe.  This is going to be tricky since I am not sure if I can find tamarind paste here in central Arkansas.  I am adding bean sprouts and bell peppers because I am apparently incapable of making any recipe exactly as written :).
Wednesday
Buffalo Tacos with Chipotle Corn Casserole
We will be having these tacos seasoned with buffalo sauce (I will be using my homemade buffalo sauce).  I thought this corn casserole would go with this well with a little bit of chipotle seasoning added to it.
Thursday
Sausage and Potatoes with Salad
Pan fried kielbasa and red potatoes (which – you guessed it – I already have) with a side salad (btw, a “salad” in our house mostly means lettuce with sunflower seeds, but we will also add any kind of extra vegetables that we have around).
So there you have it – our meal plan for next week!  So I challenge you – what are you going to put on your meal plan this week to “use it up?”  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!

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!

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!

Cook Once – Eat Twice: Ratatouille and Rice and Middle Eastern Vegetable Soup

Ratatouille and RiceThis easy slow cooker ratatouille pairs with a simple garlic risotto for one dinner, and easily transforms into a delicious, spiced soup the second night.  These two recipes work well together by easily creating different flavors and textures in the second meal for a whole new dish!  You will be making a double batch of the ratatouille (stewed eggplant, squash, and tomatoes) and risotto (a creamy, but dairy-free rice dish) and using half of it for the Middle Eastern Vegetable Soup.  It is important that you have the second meal the next day, as rice that has been kept longer than one day can make you sick even after being thoroughly reheated.

Ratatouille and RiceRatatouille and Rice

Needs Fulfilled: Slow Cooker, Prep Ahead, Cook Once-Eat Twice, Allergy Friendly, Vegetarian/Vegan
Serve With: Fruit Salad
Prep: 10 minutes   Inactive Cook: 3-8   hours   Active Cook: 40 minutes
Time to Table: 40 minutes
Needed Equipment: Slow cooker, 2 saucepans
Serves: 3
Arborio rice is a particular kind of short grain rice that you can find with the grains and beans at the grocery store.  It is essential for making the risotto that you use this type of rice as long grain rice does not form the right kind of starch when it cooks to give the risotto is creamy texture.  Eggplant is a very tricky vegetable to get right.  You can tell it is done when it starts to taste good – if it is chewy and bitter, it is not done yet.  If you would prefer to avoid this finicky food, you can substitute 2 yellow squash.

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut eggplant and zucchini 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 – the eggplant will turn brown but it doesn’t affect the taste or texture and you cannot tell once it is cooked).

INGREDIENTS:

Ratatouille:
  • 1 small eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes (peeled if preferred)
  • 3 zucchini, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 3 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • 30 oz canned diced tomatoes (I prefer the petite diced tomatoes with no salt added)
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 ½ tsp basil
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds and stems removed and cut into ½-inch pieces
Garlic Risotto:
  • 5 cups broth
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • ¾ tsp oregano
  • 1 ½ cup Arborio rice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place all the ingredients for the ratatouille except the pepper into the slow cooker.Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.
  2. Place the broth for the risotto in the smaller saucepan (if you have two sizes) on a back burner of the stove on medium-low heat (you are just going to warm it – you don’t want it to be boiling).Place the second saucepan on a front burner, add the oil and heat over medium heat.Add the peppers for the ratatouille to the slow cooker, cover, and place on high to continue cooking while you make the risotto.
  3. Add the garlic and oregano to the oil in the larger saucepan (front burner) and saute 1-2 minutes.Add the rice and saute another minute until the edge of the rice starts to be translucent.
  4. Add about a quarter of the broth to the rice.All the rice to cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently but gently (this helps to develop the texture). As the liquid is absorbed, add in another quarter of the broth, again allowing it to be absorbed while stirring frequently but gently. Once all of the broth has been absorbed, taste the rice and add the salt and pepper as desired. (If you need to, you can cover and let the risotto sit off of a burner until you are ready to serve.)
  5. Serve the ratatouille over the rice, remembering to save half for the soup the next day, storing them covered in the refrigerator in separate containers.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • You could add 15 oz Great Northern beans (drained and rinsed) or 1 lb ground meat, browned to the ratatouille with the peppers for a punch of protein.
Credits: The ratatouille and rice recipe is adapted from the “Provencal Vegetables and Rice” recipe in One-Dish Vegetarian Meals by Robin Robertson.

 Middle Eastern Vegetable SoupMiddle Eastern Vegetable Soup

Needs Fulfilled: Quick Meal, Cook Once-Eat Twice, Allergy Friendly, Vegetarian/Vegan
Serve With: Bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (there are also gluten-free breads in there!)
Prep: 0 minutes  Cook: 15 minutes   Time to Table: 15 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 3

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • Leftover Ratatouille
  • Leftover Garlic Risotto
  • 1/2-1 cup water
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine the leftover ratatouille and risotto with the water, coriander, and cinnamon in the saucepan over medium high heat.Heat through, stirring occasionally.Taste and add additional seasonings (salt, pepper, or more coriander or cinnamon) and serve!

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • You could use other seasonings such as ½ tsp ginger for the coriander for a slightly sweeter flavor or ½ tsp rosemary with 1 stalk celery, chopped for both for a more Italian flavor.

Meat-Free St. Patrick’s Day Meals

As St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday in Lent this year, here are some delicious meat-free options so that you can celebrate the day when we are all Irish (not to mention a great saint)!
St. Patrick's Day Cabbage and Potato Soup

St. Patrick’s Day Cabbage and Potato Soup

Needs Fulfilled: Holiday, Allergy Friendly (with modification), Vegetarian (Vegan with modification)
Serve With: Saltine or Oyster Crackers
Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 30 minutes Time to Table: 40 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut potatoes according to directions (you can do this up to 1 day ahead of time and store in a bowl covered with water in the refrigerator – drain before using)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (1 clove)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1 ½ lb potatoes, chopped (peeled if desired)
  • ½ small head cabbage (about ¼ large head), chopped
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano
  • Dash salt and pepper (more to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp feta cheese, crumbled

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium high heat.Add the garlic and saute (cook, stirring occasionally) for about 1 minute.Add in the broth, onion, and potatoes.Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.
  2. Add in the cabbage, oregano, salt, and pepper.Cover and cook for 5 minutes.Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, cover and let sit about 10 minutes until the cabbage is soft but not overcooked.Serve topped with the feta cheese.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Add 15 oz Great Northern beans or 1 cup cooked chicken for a boost of protein
  • Omit the cheese or use a dairy-free version
Shepherd's Pie

 Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Needs Fulfilled: Holiday, Vegetarian/Vegan, Allergy Friendly (with substitution)
Serve With: Side Salad
Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 50 minutes Time to Table: 60 minutes
Needed Equipment: 2 saucepans, casserole dish
Serves: 4
You can make this casserole up ahead of time and store covered in the refrigerator for a day – just bake and serve to have the meal on the table in 30 minutes!

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut celery, carrots, and potatoes according to directions (you can store the celery and carrots in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and the potatoes in a bowl of water in the refrigerator for up to 1 day – drain before using)

INGREDIENTS:

Mashed Potatoes (Topping):
  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 6 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
Filling:
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 ½ cups lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 30 oz diced tomatoes (I prefer petite diced with no salt added)
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 2 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cover the potatoes with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and boil for 20-30 minutes until very tender. Drain the potatoes.
  2. While that is cooking, heat the oil in the saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, and garlic and cook until the vegetables are soft and golden. Add the remaining filling ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the lentils are soft.
  3. Return the potatoes to the dry saucepan and put back on medium heat. Cook the potatoes, stirring often to dry them out a bit (2-3 minutes). Add the remaining ingredients and continuing stirring until the potatoes are mashed. You may need to add additional oil if it is not turning out creamy enough. If they are not mashing enough, use a potato masher or ricer to finish mashing them.
  4. Place the filling in the casserole dish. Top with the mashed potatoes. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes until topping is golden.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • You can substitute 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks for the potatoes if desired
  • You can omit the celery or carrots if needed and substitute or add other vegetables as desired such as ½ cup corn, 2 small turnips, or ½ cup peas.
  • For an option without legumes, you can use 1 ½ lb browned ground meat (omit the water)
Need more help getting started with meal planning?  Our meal planning coaches would be happy to help!
Credits: The cabbage and potato soup recipe is adapted from the “Lemon Potato Soup with Feta” recipe in the October 2015 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.

The Story of the Falafel Phoenix: A 3 Step Troubleshooting Guide for any Recipe

Falafel PhoenixIt is not uncommon for a recipe to go terribly awry, so here are 3 simple troubleshooting steps to get dinner on the table that I used with this falafel recipe.  This is the meal that I used for the post about why to meal plan, and my good friend Emily said it looked really good, so I wanted to share it with you!
Falafel failWhile the final product turned out lovely, my first attempt at the recipe totally fell apart and was a mess.  I didn’t panic, though!  I just followed these 3 steps to save the meal!

3 Step Troubleshooting Guide for any Recipe

1. Stop and Think
 When you are cooking, it can feel like everything is an emergency that needs to be addressed THAT SECOND.  In reality, unless there is a fire, you can take a second to consider (and if there is a fire, use these fire safety steps!).  If something is cooking on a burner, take it off the heat to buy yourself some time to think – only very rarely would this ruin the dish.  In this case, I was able to stop and think between cooking batches of falafel.The first batch never turned out falafel-shaped, but still tasted good in a pita!
2. Determine the Problem and Think of Possible Solutions
Look at what you have and compare with what it should be.  Is the flavor off?  Is it too thick?  Or too thin?  Does it need to cook longer?  In this case, the falafels were falling apart, which means that it needed a binder – something that holds it all together. If you aren’t sure what you could use, you do a Google search or check a trusted website (Chowhound is usually a good place to get information).  The most common binders are a slightly beaten egg, mashed potatoes, crushed saltine or oyster crackers, puffed rice cereal, or more unconventional things like ground flax seed meal mixed in water (this makes a great egg substitute!).
3. Try a Solution (Repeat as Needed)
Once you have thought of some possible solutions, you choose the one that seems most likely to work (and/or that you have the ingredients for :)) and try it out.  If it works, great!You can now finish getting dinner on the table.  If it doesn’t work, go back to Step 2 and choose a different solution.In this case, I choose hummus as a binder, as falafels and hummus are both made of chickpeas, which worked great.

Falafels

Needs Fulfilled: Vegan/Vegetarian, Gluten Free (salad variation)
Serve With: Quinoa
Prep: 15 minutes Cook: 30 minutes Time to Table: 45 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet, food processor
Serves: 3

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut vegetables according to directions (you can do this ahead of time and store in separate sealed containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, rinsed and sorted (remove any rocks – yes, you really can find rocks in dried beans)
  • 1 cup fresh parsley (about 1 bunch), stems removed
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (that would be about half a lemon, but I usually just use the juice that you buy in the juices section at the store)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • Hummus
  • 3 pitas
Optional Toppings
  • 2 oz lettuce, chopped
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • ½ red pepper, seeds and stem removed and sliced
  • ½ cucumber, sliced
  • Yogurt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Pulse the chickpeas, parsley, onion, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt, and 1 Tbsp olive oil in the food processor until finely ground (in case you are a newbie at the food processor, you turn the pulse setting on and off to keep things from liquefying). Stir in enough hummus to make it clump together (about 1-2 Tbsp). Form into patties about the diameter of a regular size coffee cup.
  2. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the patties and cook 3-5 minutes on each side, turning at least once for even browning (try to avoid turning too much as that makes it more likely it will fall apart), until crispy and golden.
  3. Serve the falafel in the pitas with vegetables, hummus, and/or yogurt as desired.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • For a gluten-free version, up the lettuce to 6 oz (for 3 servings) and serve as a salad.
  • Make a quick yogurt dill sauce to top your falafels (makes enough for 3 servings):
    • 3 Tbsp yogurt
    • ¾ tsp lemon juice
    • ½ tsp dried dill
    • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
    • Dash salt and pepper
  1. Mix together in a bowl, taste and add more seasonings as needed.Serve as a topping on the falafels