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!

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!

Sausage and Broccoli Casserole

Sausage and Broccoli CasseroleThis broccoli and sausage sauté with noodles and tomatoes makes a great, quick dinner – with simple gluten free substitutions to make it your own!   Plan this meal the week after the Kale and Kielbasa Soup to use up any leftover sausage (because no one likes to waste food!).  Oftentimes, you can plan on having the same protein more than once in one week to simplify your planning.  Kielbasa, however, has a very strong flavor, so putting it on two different weeks saves you from feeling like you are eating the same thing twice.  If you want to have them on the same week, you can try out one of the substitute proteins below!

Sausage and Broccoli Casserole

Needs Fulfilled: Quick Meal, Prep Ahead, Cook Once-Eat Twice (with rice substitution) Allergy Friendly (with substitution)
Serve With: Applesauce (if you like – this meal is complete on its own)
Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 20 minutes Time to Table: 30 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan, skillet
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut sausage and broccoli 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 macaroni
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¾ lb kielbasa, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • ½ lb broccoli, chopped (you can substitute frozen if you prefer)
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 15 oz diced tomatoes

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions or with the following quicker-cooking method: Use a regular size saucepan filled about half to three-quarters full of water, then add the pasta right away. Add salt as desired (it helps to improve the flavor but is not necessary). Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high so that the water continues to boil well. The whole time stir often! (This is the key because the smaller amount of water tends to make the pasta stick together.) Continue cooking the pasta until it is done (about 5-8 minutes after the water starts boiling). Drain.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kielbasa and brown (cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to turn brown). Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and the cooked pasta. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes until the broccoli is nicely cooked.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • For a gluten-free version, use 2 cups cooked brown rice (about 1 cup uncooked); omit step 1.Pair this recipe with a meal that uses rice the night before, saving the rice in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 day until ready to use.
  • Switch up the vegetables with the same amount of yellow squash, zucchini, or cauliflower.
  • If you cannot find kielbasa that will work for your family, you can use the same amount of ground meat or use this substitute recipe for 1 lb of breakfast sausage:
    • 1 lb ground pork
    • 1 tsp salt
    • ½ tsp dried parsley
    • ¼ tsp dried sage
    • ¼ tsp pepper
    • ¼ tsp dried thyme
    • ¼ tsp coriander
  1. Mix together in a bowl, then use as directed in the recipe.
Credits: The sausage and broccoli casserole recipe is adapted from Healthy Lunchbox by Rallie McAllister.

Toasted Quinoa Southwest Salad

Toasted Quinoa Southwest SaladAll-in-one meals are my favorite, and this easy quinoa dish with avocado, tomato, corn, beans, and some serious Southwestern flavor is no exception!  Not only do they make fewer dishes (yay!) but they also make meal planning a breeze!

Toasted Quinoa Salad

Needs Fulfilled: Quick Meal, Prep Ahead, Vegan, Whole Grain, Allergy Friendly
Serve With: Nothing!
Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 20 minutes Time to Table: 30 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan with lid and skillet
Serves: 4
STARTING PREPARATION:
-Cut up jalapeno and tomatoes. You can cut up the jalapeno and tomatoes ahead of time and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
INGREDIENTS:
  • 8 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cup canned corn, drained (about 1 can)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, and diced
  • 15 oz canned black beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 4 Tbsp fresh cilantro, stems removed and minced (about ½ bunch)
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Rinse quinoa if needed according to the package directions. Add the quinoa and saute (cook stirring occasionally) for about 10 minutes until it starts to brown (be careful not to turn the heat up too much as you can burn it). While that is toasting (browning), cut up the avocado and cilantro.
  2. Add the water to the quinoa, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the “tails” start to pull away from the center of the quinoa and it is soft.
  3. While that is simmering, heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin and let cook for about 1 minute. Add the jalapeno and garlic and let cook until the jalapeno starts to soften (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool.
  4. When the quinoa is done cooking, put the jalapeno mixture in a large bowl and whisk in the remaining oil (6 Tbsp), apple cider vinegar, and salt; taste for seasoning (you may need to add a bit more salt or vinegar). Add in the quinoa and the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.
MAKING IT YOUR OWN:
  • Not a fan of beans? Substitute 1 cup cooked chicken, chopped and warmed
  • You can omit the corn, tomatoes, and/or avocado – you could substitute in some peas or sautéed zucchini if you like
  • Like some heat? Increase the amount of jalapeno
  • Refrigerate and serve as a salad for a flavorful and refreshing dish
Credits: The quinoa salad recipe is adapted from the “Toasted Quinoa, Corn and Avocado Salad” in the Fresh & Fast Vegetarian cookbook by Marie Simmons.

Southwestern Chicken Pasta Bowl

Southwestern Chicken Pasta Bowl  Pasta, chicken, corn, and Southwestern goodness – how can this go wrong?  This quick and easy meal will delight you and your family!  Adjust the hot sauce to your family’s preferred spiciness.  I made mine using the Restaurant Style Salsa recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  Serve with tortilla chips and salsa if desired.
Prep: 10 minutes   Cook: 20 minutes   Total Time: 30 minutes
Needed Equipment: saucepan, skillet
Makes 3 servings

STARTING PREPARATION:
-Thaw chicken (in the fridge overnight, in a sink of cold water for a couple of hours, or in the microwave).
-Cube chicken (or use leftover cooked chicken)

INGREDIENTS:

  • ½ lb chicken (chicken breast or thighs or used leftover cooked chicken)
  • 1 tsp oil (omit if using leftover chicken)
  • ¼ tsp each paprika, garlic powder, and cumin (omit if using leftover chicken)
  • 6 oz fettuccine or spaghetti noodles – gluten-free if needed (use fettuccine noodles preferably)
  • 1 cup salsa
  • ½ cup frozen corn
  • 1-2 Tbsp chili sauce
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped (you can substitute 4 tsp dried cilantro, but add with the other ingredients)

DIRECTIONS:

1.Heat oil in the skillet over medium heat.  Add chicken to the skillet, sprinkle with the seasonings, and toss to combine.  Cook until no longer pink in the middle.  Remove from heat, drain off excess fat, and set aside until needed.

2.While the chicken is cooking, cook the pasta in the saucepan until not quite done.  While the pasta is cooking, chop the cilantro (be sure to use a clean cutting board, not the one you used for the chicken unless you washed it first).  Drain the pasta, keeping about ¼ cup of the water.

Pasta with Water
Leave about this much water
3.Add the chicken and the remaining ingredients except the cilantro and return to medium heat.  Continue cooking until pasta is done and the other ingredients are heated through.

Add in your ingredients

Adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook.