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!

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

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.

Fettuccine Alfredo So Good…You’ll Wonder Why You Ever Ate It From a Jar

Fettuccine AlfredoIf you ever needed an excuse to eat butter and cream (I don’t know why you would), this is definitely it, because this creamy masterpiece will NOT turn out without them.  So indulge with this easy peasy mac and chees-y…well, fettuccine alfredo!
Note: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.  When you purchase items through these links, I get a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra charge to you.

Fettuccine Alfredo

Prep: 0 minutes Cook: 30 minutes Time to Table: 30 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan, large skillet (preferably not non-stick)
Makes 3 Servings
STARTING PREPARATION:
None
  • 8 oz fettuccine noodles
  • 8 Tbsp butter (yes, that’s a whole stick)
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (buy a half pint rather than a big container if available)
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded (I just get a bag of the store brand)
  • Dash salt and pepper
1.Cook fettuccine according to package directions or by this quicker method. Drain pasta.
2.In the skillet, heat the butter and cream over medium heat until it starts simmering. Reduce heat to medium-low so that it continues simmering and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes until it starts to reduce (be patient – letting it reduce a bit is what gives you the lovely thickness of the sauce).  You can tell it is ready when it starts clinging to the sides of the pan a bit.
Alfredo Sauce CookingSLXLM

3.Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir gently until the cheese melts (again, patience is the key here). Pour over the drained pasta and toss to combine. Serve immediately.  Go ahead and it all, it doesn’t make good leftovers anyway!
Credits: The alfredo recipe is adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, Bridal Edition.

Go-To Side Dishes: Vegetables and Fruit

When you have an exciting main dish and you just want a basic side dish, check out one of these recipes!  For more side dishes, check out the grains and the potatoes posts.

Crudites

Prep: 0 minutes Cook: 20 minutes Time to Table: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: None
Serves: 4
Choose 3-4 of the vegetables below

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 bell pepper, cut into spears
  • 3 carrots, cut into spears
  • ½ lb broccoli, cut into florets
  • 4 spears celery, cut into large pieces
  • 20 cherry or grape tomatoes
  • ½ cucumber, sliced
  • ½ lb cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 avocado, cut into slices

DIRECTIONS:

  1. While your meal is cooking, cut vegetables and serve.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Serve with ranch dressing with desired

Fried Apples

Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 15-30 minutes Total: 25-40 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet
Serves: 3
Spiced cooked apples! The fried apples recipe is adapted from this Fried Apples recipe.

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Peel the apples if you do not like the cooked skin. Slice the apples thinly and remove the core (You can use an apple corer if you have one and then slice the pieces more thinly. It is easier to slice the apples if you cut from the skin side.).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cooking apples (red delicious golden delicious, Jonathon, or similar)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • Dash salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat butter over medium heat in a skillet. Combine apple and seasonings in a bowl and mix to coat. Add the apple mixture to the skillet and cook stirring regularly until the apples are soft.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Make it dairy free by using 1 Tbsp canola oil, vegetables, or regular (not extra virgin) olive oil
  • You can reduce the sugar to 1 Tbsp or substitute another sweetener such as honey or maple syrup

Fruit Salad

Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 0 minutes Total: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: None
Serves: 6
Fresh fruit salad that will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days without going brown.

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Cut fruit as directed

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 apples, cored and chopped
  • 2 pears, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 lb strawberries, stems removed and sliced
  • 20 oz canned pineapple chunks in juice

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine fruit pieces with enough of the pineapple juice to coat (this helps keep the fruit from turning brown).

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Substitute ½ lb grapes, sliced, 1 pint blueberries or blackberries, or whatever fruit you prefer (although I don’t recommend bananas as they brown more easily)

Rosemary Peas and Corn

Prep: 5 minutes Cook: 10 minutes Time to Table: 15 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Cut herbs according to directions

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the herbs and saute for about 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients and bring a sizzle, stirring regularly. Cook until the vegetables are heated through and crisp-tender.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Substitute any other fresh herbs for the rosemary
  • Make it dairy free by substituting 1 Tbsp olive oil for the butter
  • Substitute 1 cup frozen carrots, cauliflower, or broccoli for the corn or peas

Side Salad

Prep: 10-20 minutes Cook: 0 minutes Total: 10-20 minutes
Needed Equipment: None
Serves: 4
Start with the lettuce and dressing then choose 1-2 topping to add!
Tortilla Casserole

STARTING PREPARATION:

None, although you can cut your vegetables ahead of time and store them according to this chart.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 oz lettuce, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp salad dressing of choice
  • ½ cucumber, sliced
  • 20 grape or cherry tomatoes
  • ½ lb snap peas
  • 1 carrot, shredded or diced
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into strips or diced
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, and chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. While your meal is cooking, prepare ingredients and toss salad with or without dressing, according to preference (if you are tossing with the dressing, wait until you are ready to serve).

Spaghetti Squash

Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 30-45 minutes Time to Table: 40-55 minutes
Needed Equipment: Baking dish
Serves: 3
Easy baked spaghetti squash (the magical squash that cooks up with a taste and texture very similar to spaghetti)

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Prepare squash by cutting in half lengthwise and scraping out the seeds and strings.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 spaghetti squash

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place the squash cut-side down in the baking dish. Add a little bit of water around the squash. Bake at 400F for 30-45 minutes until the squash is VERY soft (you should be able to very easily poke the flesh with a fork on all parts of the squash).
  2. Remove from the oven, remove from the baking dish, and allow to cool for a minute. Drag a fork lengthwise down the side of the squash (this will give you longer “noodles”), repeating until you have removed all the flesh.

Go To Side Dishes: Potatoes

When you have an exciting main dish and you just want a basic side dish, check out one of these recipes!  For more side dishes, check out the grains and the vegetables and fruit posts.

Baked Potato

Prep: 5 minutes Cook: 10-60 minutes Total: 15-65 minutes
Needed Equipment: rimmed baking sheet (optional)
Basic baked potato, cooked in either the oven or the microwave
Serves: 1

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large Russet potato
  • ¼ tsp salt (optional)
  • ½ Tbsp olive oil (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Bake: Thoroughly clean the outside of the potatoes and dry. Poke holes all over the potatoes with a fork. Place them in a bowl and spread oil over them, and sprinkle with salt. Place them in a 350F oven directly on a rack in the middle of the oven; place a rimmed baking sheet underneath to catch anything that drips. Let cook for 45-60 minutes until the skin is crispy, and the flesh inside feels cooked.
Microwave: Thoroughly wash, dry, and poke holes in the potato as above. Cook the potatoes on high, 3 at a time, for 8-10 minutes.
Grill: Thoroughly wash, dry, poke holes in the potato, and add oil and salt as above. Wrap each potato in two pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure the potato is completely covered. Place on a medium-hot grill for 30-45 minutes until soft. You can remove the aluminum foil and cook directly on the grill for the last 5 minutes to brown the skin if desired.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes (Dairy-Free)

Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 30 minutes Total: 40 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 4
Shepherd's Pie
Creamy mashed potatoes without the dairy! The mashed potato recipe is adapted from the Vegan Mashed Potatoes recipe at The Blender Girl.

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Peel and cut potatoes into large chunks

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Dash 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. 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. ou 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.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

  • Substitute 1 lb parsnips or turnips for the potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Prep: 0 minutes Inactive Cook: 0-8 hours Cook: 0-60 minutes Total: 5-65 minutes
Needed Equipment: Slow cooker or baking sheet
Serves: 1

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 sweet potato
  • Dash salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Bake: Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly. Poke the potatoes all over with a fork. On a rimmed, foil-lined baking sheet, bake at 400F for 45-60 minutes until tender. Serve with salt and pepper.
Slow Cook: Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly. Put them into the slow cooker (stack if you need to). Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. To keep the potatoes from splitting, you can rotate the potatoes part-way through the cooking. Serve with salt and pepper.
Microwave: Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly. Poke each potato several times with a fork. Microwave 7-9 minutes until they squish easily to the touch. Serve with salt and pepper.

Sweet Potato Fries

Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 25 minutes Total: 45 minutes
Needed Equipment: Baking sheet
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Cut sweet potatoes according to directions – use a large, sharp knife for this. You can do this ahead of time and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days covered with a wet paper towel.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into spears (most sweet potatoes at the store are more than one serving)
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Toss the ingredients in the bowl until well combined. Put on a greased baking sheet and bake at 425F for about 25 minutes until lightly browned.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Substitute 1 lb rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, or cauliflower (cut into florets) for the sweet potatoes