Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Last Minute Change of Plans

Ever had one of those nights when you just didn’t want to make what was on the menu plan?  That’s usually bad news for me because it often means I hem and haw for too long and either end up with takeout or leftovers.  There’s nothing wrong with either option every now and then, but when I can overcome the urge to give up and I figure out something else to make instead, it’s a little victory.  Tonight I had Shrimp Stir-fry planned, but I wasn't really in the mood for it by the time four o'clock rolled around, which was good in that I hadn't thawed out the shrimp yet (so maybe I wasn't in the mood for it all day long...) and bad in that meant I had to come up with something equally fast.  I think I had kind of overloaded on rice lately, which is not easy for me to do.  Pasta is just as quick and easy as rice, so my mind went through quick pasta dishes.  Chicken Picatta Pasta Toss?  Nah.  Just had a chicken dish last night.  Spaghetti Bolognese?  There’s some in the freezer, but the last time I made that it was the last meal I had before I got hit with a nasty stomach bug a couple of months ago.  Not the bolognese's fault, but my stomach is still a little delicate from the bug I caught over the weekend, and I don't want to bring up bad memories (pun intended.)  Spaghetti and just sauce?  I briefly considered opening a jar of store-bought sauce I keep for "emergencies," but the homemade Quick Tomato Sauce from Cook's Illustrated is so much tastier and it's really not much harder than heating a jar of ready-made stuff.  The only thing that sometimes keeps me from making it is a lack of fresh basil on hand, but fortunately my FIL just helped me pot some last week, so I have a bit growing on the front porch.  Dinner dilemma solved!  The sauce cooks in the amount of time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta.  Here's my version of the Cook's Illustrated recipe.  Their version calls for sautéing the onion in butter; I use olive oil instead to make it a tad more healthy for my cholesterol-ridden hubby.

Quick Tomato Sauce
2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ c. onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater (will be juicy)
¼  tsp. dried oregano
Table salt
3 medium garlic cloves (CI calls for two put we like a little more)
1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (CI's latest review picked Contadina as tops so I get them in bulk at Costco, but I’ve made this with generic and it was fine)
¼  teaspoon sugar
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper

*This is one of those recipes that I don't measure for at all.  I just eyeball everything.  CI advocates mise en place when cooking, which means pre-chop, measure, and open everything before you start.  I'm trying to do that and it really does make this recipe go more smoothly, but remember not to chop the basil until right before you add it or it will blacken.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat (I use my Dutch oven.)  Add the onion, oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in tomatoes and sugar; bring to a simmer over high heat.  Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in the basil and oil; season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve over spaghetti, with salt, pepper, and grated cheese on the table to cater to individual tastes.
Onion, garlic, and oregano just ready for the tomatoes
Bubbling away!

With the spaghetti and sauce I usually serve a salad and good crusty bread; garlic bread if I have it.  Since I wasn't planning to have this when I shopped last week, we didn't have bread, but I did make my go-to savory salad.  I try to always have these ingredients on hand.

Mixed Greens Salad with Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper
For each individual salad:
Mixed greens, torn and washed.  I really like the artisan lettuce that Aldi has been carrying for $1.99.
About 1/3  medium tomato, chopped
Jarred roasted red pepper, snipped in the jar with kitchen shears to bite-size pieces
Chopped walnuts, toasted in the toaster oven at ~300 degrees until fragrant
Crumbled gorgonzola cheese to taste

Serve with light balsamic vinaigrette (We prefer Newman's Own, one of the very few things to which I'm brand-loyal.)
Yummy salad!
Salad ingredients

With the exception of the dressing, all the ingredients for the salad come from Aldi.  There’s nothing pricey in the spaghetti and sauce, either.  So this meal is the total package as far as I’m concerned—real, nutritious food that tastes delicious, is quick and easy, and pretty darn cheap to make.  Usually, the kids will just eat the pasta with cheese sprinkled on top, but last night all three—even the VERY picky 6-year-old—asked for sauce and declared it yummy!  I’m not sure what was going on with Mr. Picky last night.  He also asked to taste the gorgonzola and said he LIKED it!  What?!
Plenty of leftovers for lunch or another supper!

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