Tag Archives: pasta

Dinner Salads/Meat/Vegan/Pescaterian

Last night Number One Son stopped in and while here, grabbed a fruit and grain bar. I asked him if he was hungry, hoping he wasn’t, as he chooses not to eat pork and what I had ready was breaded boneless loin chops and polenta topped with sauce that contained Italian sausage.{We’ll be discussing Italian sauces in the future.]
But he was hungry. Fortunately, I had just made a salad to which for him I added wagon wheel pasta that was in the refrigerator and Italian-style chicken breasts which I had just removed from the freezer. I had made and frozen them a month or so ago when I hit a big sale on chicken. I have found it easier and much more convenient to freeze cooked food than raw.

Some years ago on an Ash Wednesday I had made shrimp-stuffed, twice-baked potatoes,

. One of the few times I made ‘just enough’ for all of us, but, as luck would have it, my husband invited his boss for dinner on a whim.
He had worked overtime and the boys and I had eaten. Fortunately, he arrived at home before the boss. He suggested that the boss be given his potion but there is no way one can let a guest be that uncomfortable.
I quickly made salad and added pre-made rice I had in the refrigerator , cubed cheese and tiny shrimp I kept on hand in the freezer. The boss was none the wiser and the men ate well.

You’re thinking, “All well and good, but I don’t always have enough (or any) fresh vegetables on hand” and that is a good argument, many people don’t or get caught off-guard. I have been to dinner where the my hostess broke up iceberg lettuce, poured ranch dressing on it and called it salad. I had a friend who had invited me to lunch and then lost her cool when she found that she had no cucumbers,(which I don’t particularly care for, anyway). There are many ways to make a salad and I seldom make any of them the same way twice.

Fresh veggie salad is extremely healthy, if the vegetables are clean and it actually gets eaten. The best way to insure that you actually eat the salad is to have it made with flavors you like. You don’t like cucumbers, tomatoes or radishes? Leave any or all of them out, add what you like, for instance: green peppers, carrots, fresh cauliflower. Non-traditional ‘salad’ vegetables are good, like slivered parsnips, celery, bok choy. There is a very wide variety of fresh vegetables out there, mix and match as you like.

Most salads start with a base of something green and leafy, often lettuces. There’s more than iceberg out there. There is endive and leaf lettuces. There are spinach leaves, kale, mustard and collard greens, (these are strong-flavored). But salads don’t have to be only ‘fresh’ vegetables. I suggest that you try out some styles and flavors, but in a pinch, you can probably come up with a salad if you have any staples on hand.

Hopefully , you have some fresh vegetables in your refrigerator. If you don’t, please do yourself a favor, buy and taste some. Learn what you like; you will not like them all, I sure don’t.

A salad can be made with whatever vegetables you have. With any fresh ones, you can go to your cabinet and add any reasonably firm canned vegetable. For example: cut green , wax or Italian beans, peas, sliced carrots, beets,(shoestring work best), and beans, (garbanzo, canelli ,lima, great northern , black, pinto, kidney; drain and rinse before adding to the salad). Even corn kernels, fresh or canned, will work, but I do like to use canned baby corn on the cob.

I always keep a jar of gardiniera around; these a pickled vegetables, which usually include peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Right now I have a huge jar that is half-full in my refrigerator as my husband loves it in his salad, as I use it when I don’t have a lot of veggies on hand. One company makes a nice canned garden salad but I can’t get it where I now live. Their ‘Three Bean Salad’ is good and makes a nice addition to salads. Roasted peppers are easily found in stores these days to add to salads and also sandwiches; pickled peppers will help in a pinch. Black or green olives are also a common addition I make especially when short on fresh vegetables.

To make a dinner salad, one must make it a complete meal , which mean that you need to add a carbohydrate and make sure there is a protein. Beans and corn will add carbs, plus that is in itself a meatless protein combo. [See Meatless Protein Combinations, July Archives]. You can add cooked pasta,(vegetable pasta is great), couscous, barley, re-hydrated Bulgar wheat, cooked rice, lentils or cubed potatoes, (the last three for gluten-free).

If you have guest and are not sure of their preferences or dietary restrictions, you can make your own ‘salad bar’ with multiple bowls, divided serving dishes or a platter. It is always a good idea as just within our little family, (even between just me and my husband), our tastes are radically different, especially when it comes to veggies.

If you are then inclined, you can add or offer cooked cubed meats, anything from, (as I had last night), chicken breasts precooked in your favorite recipe, (or rotisserie chicken),to leftover roasted meats , to sliced lunch meats,(turkey, ham, salami). You can add crab meat, imitation crab meat or shrimp. You can add nearly any kind of reasonably firm cheese, from Velveta, (I don’t recommend it), Muenster, Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, Havarti, whatever suits your taste. I am still working on my trials, but if Tofurkey or seitan is your thing, then toss it in.

[Note: You really don’t have to be caught unaware to make a nice dinner salad; you can actually plan for it!]

Here is a recipe which has been a big hit for me. I served it in my bakery/restaurant and used it for our special boxed lunches. If you really can’t deal with fresh veggies, this one is for you; even non-salad-eaters like this, so it would be good for a Sports buffet.(I hope to start on Super Bowl and March Madness foods next.) If you need something for a pot luck, you can have these things on hand. If you can open a can , a jar and boil water, you can make this.
(The little extra effort in making it a day ahead or the night before and adding another pasta shortly before serving is worth it if you can afford the time, trust me.)
The garbanzos and the pasta make a complete meatless protein.

Vegetable Pasta Salad

one can cut green beans,(preferably ‘kitchen’ or short-cut)
one can wax (yellow) beans
one can sliced beets (pref. shoestring)
one can sliced carrots,(pref. crinkle-cut)
one half-cup garbanzo beans (chickpeas), add more if you really like them
1/3 cup thinly sliced onion,(pref. red)
½ cup sliced black olives
one bottle Italian salad dressing,(not ‘creamy’)
2-3 cups cooked, firm pasta, divided in half, (or use two types; *see note below)

Open and drain all canned vegetables. Place in a large bowl and add the onion, olives , half the pasta and the dressing. Toss gently and refrigerate, preferably over night. If the lid is tight, rotate the bowl a few times or toss the salad gently a few times.(Fold with a large spoon or spatula). Add the rest of the pasta up to two hours before serving.

*Note: Please use a strong type of pasta; radiatore, wagon wheels, fiore, penne, shells, or  even elbow macaroni. (.Noodles, bow ties and other flat pastas will break apart after absorbing the dressing and are stirred; do not use these.) Please under-cook the pasta(s) slightly. The term ‘al dente’ is over-used and often misunderstood, but you need to have the pasta firm and separate for several reasons:
The pasta added in the beginning will absorb not only a great deal of moisture from the dressing ,
it will absorb flavor from it and from the vegetables
and it will turn pink from the beets,(as will the garbanzo beans).
The ‘new’ pasta, (which should have been also pre-made and chilled, whether it is the same type as added before or a different style), will not have absorbed the moisture,
flavors or color,
so it will add contrast in color, texture,(it will still be quite firm) ;
it will also add a ‘clean’ taste, since the strong flavors have not been absorbed.

I hope you try this. Enjoy!

Useful, Delicious Cheese Sauce

I have a recipe I want to share in the next post; it calls for my Cheese Sauce. I hesitated to add this recipe, as I very recently read that Martha Stewart makes a recipe close to this for her macaroni and cheese. I have never used this on macaroni, but I just might. However, let it be known that although Martha and I may have the same idea, I learned the basics at my mother’s elbow. Martha May have been making it before I was, I don’t know when she actually started to cook. She is a lot older than I am,(MEEE-OOOW!), but I learned the basics at my mother’s elbow.(My mother was old enough to be Martha’s as well; I’ll concede that).

First, you have to make a basic white sauce. It’s easier than you think.(Omit the onion, cheese and nutmeg and you have a basic ‘roux’,(pronounced “roo” or “rhoo”.) I will post recipes using it in the future.

Cheese Sauce
Take:
4 Tbsp. butter or margarine
2 Tbsp. minced onion,(fresh, or use 2 teaspoonfuls of onion powder, or onion juice and add after the sauce is thickened)
1/3 cup of flour (all purpose)
2 cups of milk
dash of white pepper,(or paprika)
dash of nutmeg,(optional)
dash of pepper sauce,(optional)
1 ½- 2 cups grated medium-sharp cheddar cheeses; I like a mix of both.If you throw in a piece of Gouda or other yellow cheese,it’s wonderful ( You can also make this with Pepper Jack, at your own risk..and it is not as versatile)

Melt the butter, (some people prefer it browned; I do not advise it). Cook the onion until tender, (again, not browned).
Remove from heat and slowly stir in the flour until it is as smooth as it can get with the onion bits in it; no flour lumps. It will be a thick paste.
Slowly add the milk,(a whisk comes in handy). Return the pan to the heat and stir constantly over medium heat ,(preferably with a wooden spoon), until it is quite thick. (If you need to leave it for any time, be sure the heat is very low and then whisk it strongly. Be sure to get the bottom of the pan and edges stirred throughout the entire cooking process).
Add the pepper or paprika, pepper sauce, nutmeg and /or onion options,(if using)
Lower the heat and add the cheese, stir until thoroughly melted and warmed through.
There you have it.

Now, serve it over any vegetable, baked fish, chicken, pork.

Pour over beef sliced thinly, piled on a bun thickly and make a delicious sandwich.

Serve over toast for a version of ‘Welsh Rabbit‘.

Mix with prepared rice or couscous for a side dish or as a complete non-meat protein,(rice/grain with dairy).Add cut green beans, peas or asparagus.

(Non-vegetarian: add grilled meat bits)

Pour over potato wedges, ‘Tater Tots’ or French fries for another tasty meatless protein; You can punch it up by topping it with meatless “Bacon Bits” or crispy-fried vegetable of your choice.

(Non-vegetarian: top with crumbled bacon).

Or, go ahead and pour it liberally over macaroni in a casserole dish. Top with extra cheese grated and bake until bubbly and browned..at least, that is what Martha would have you do. Make it with my blessing!

Placed in a sterilized jar and kept refrigerated, this will last for weeks;(do not freeze).

Kept chilled in a fancy jar or one with a fancy napkin or material square on the lid,this would also make a nice food gift.( You could add it to a basket of fresh vegetables, or pasta , couscous and/or fancy rice.)Just add a list of suggested uses and advice to keep it cold until use. Microwave or warm on stove on low,stirring often.

Zucchini and Vegan One-Bowl

Zucchini

My son brought a huge zucchini from his garden to me this summer .He said, “You’ve never seen a zucchini this big!”, but yes, I had.
When I was younger, we had a friend in the family who kept a part of his small farm going. He would bring tomatoes, string beans, squashes, massive zucchini, all sorts of produce and eggs,farm-fresh and dozens of them. We’d be overwhelmed sometimes.
At one such time, we had recently moved and need to have telephones installed. For those of you who are young, (and/or not in the U.S.A.), phones then were only land-lines and all the work had to be done by The Telephone Company. It was actually illegal to run a wire or fix a phone. We were at their mercy, but my mother didn’t mind this time, because a young, bright, good-looking Italian fellow was there doing a great deal of wiring all day.
My mother had a good time with the fellow, who must have been about 30 years old. I was home, but in and out of the room. I was about 19 or 20 and shy… and had no designs on the man and neither did my mother, but that isn’t how it looked…and he could hear her other-wise old-fashioned ideas.
After some time she did her best to get him to take some of the produce, which he wasn’t sure he should take, but he finally did. Just before he left, she offered some of the eggs to him. That was too much, no, no, he couldn’t. But she pressed him and then asked, “Are you married?” You could see the worst fears fly across his face, “I-I-I’m actually living with someone”, he stammered. My mother, who had no clue what she had done to him, just looked at him. I plucked-up every ounce of courage I had and said, “Oh, she’s not trying to match-make; she just wants to know if you have someone to cook it for you”.
“YES! Oh, YES! I DO!”, he cried in such a relieved manner, I had to turn to laugh!
My mother was mortified that I would say such a thing! After all, what had she said, what had she done? Oh, boy! My mother never realized how things sounded to others.
But out of all that zucchini came the recipe below, which she only gave to one other person, but I will share with you now. I made a lot this Summer, but only one container-full remains in the freezer and I am going to try to keep my hands off of it until the cousins come.

Zola’s Zucchini

Because my mother never measured unless she was baking, (and not always then, either;,the measurements are approximate.

2 TBSP. olive oil (pref. Extra Virgin)
1/2 cup minced onion
3 cloves of garlic,(1 TBSP dried-minced or granules, not garlic salt)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. marjoram
1 TBSP. dried parsley
½ tsp. salt
1+ c. crushed tomatoes

Sauté’ all until onions are tender; then add:

3 c. diced zucchini
1 c. water

Cook on medium heat until zucchini is thoroughly tender. Slowly add more water or salt or herbs if needed. Remove the bay leaf before serving, as it is bitter to bite into and some people are truly shocked to find a leaf in their food. My mother jokingly once told a shocked young guest that a leaf must have blown in from an open window. The kid was unfamiliar with bay leaves and a horrified look came over his face. My mother had to quickly explain.

I like this served with Angel Hair pasta; it would also be good with small pasta such as tubetini, risi or orzo.

Zucchini One-Bowl (Vegan meal)

One recipe Zola’s Zucchini

Add:

½-1 cup Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)

½ cup cooked rice, barley or small pasta ,slightly undercooked, (or ‘al dente’)

Simmer together for 20 minutes until the flavors blend. Serve.

{The beans and rice, barley or pasta make a complete protein)

Mini Meatball Soup and Stew/Broth

In continuing with the last post’s theme, here are two recipes using tiny ground beef meatballs that are homemade, easy, comforting. The Stew was a specialty of my favorite uncle-by-marriage, a brave Welshman who joined the crazy Italian side. It has always been a hit with family and friends. And it needn’t be a fiesta day to enjoy the Fiesta Day Soup; it was a staple for luncheon in my bakery/restaurant.

To make basic meatballs, take one pound of ground beef, sprinkle with salt and roll into balls approximately one to one and a half inch in diameter. (do not make them large but don’t worry too much about how big they are as long as they are of generally consistent size.) Pan-fry in 2 Tbsp. butter, margarine, regular olive oil or peanut oil, turning often to brown on all sides…or if you wish to make a larger number or have other irons in the fire, bake them on buttered, oiled or cooking spray covered foil-lined baking pan @350F until just cooked through. Drain of oil and fat, and place in a container or freezer bag. Cover with beef broth, (homemade broth recipes below), or bouillon reconstituted from cubes or granules. Freeze flat or in a square container if using bags, so that they might store more easily when solid.

Thaw slowly in a pot when ready to use and you can have homemade one-bowl meals in short time with the recipes below, just in time for cooler weather, when you are pressed for time or for unexpected company. These are great for after winter activities to warm you from the inside–out.

Baby Meatball Stew*

 

One pound prepared small meatballs with broth (or bouillon)

One cup of sliced carrots

One cup of green beans

One cup of diced potatoes

Salt and Pepper

Dash of thyme {optional

1 Tbsp. corn starch

Place all ingredients in a heavy pot; simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Mix corn starch with two Tbsp. water and add to simmering stew; stir to thicken. Serve with buttered bread, preferably whole-grain or crusty French or Italian breads.

EASIER  Baby Meatball stew:

 

Prepared meatballs with broth

1 can sliced potatoes {drained

1 can green beans {drained

1 can sliced carrots (undrained

1 Tbsp. corn starch

Mix or match fresh vegetables with canned, (if using any fresh, cook in broth with meatballs until tender before adding canned). Simmer all until thoroughly warmed and the flavors mix. Dissolve cornstarch in two tablespoons of water and blend into stew while it is simmering to thicken. Serve with breads, as above.

Fiesta Day Soup

1 Tablespoon of butter

One medium onion, diced

2/3 cup carrots, sliced

½ cup bell pepper, diced

1 cup tomatoes, diced, (can be canned)

1 cup tomato sauce

1 lb. prepared mini meatballs

Enough water to make 2 cups of liquid with the broth

2 cloves of garlic, crushed (or 2 tsp. dried garlic chips

1 ½   tsp. dried Basil

1 Bay leaf

½ tsp. paprika

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup tiny pasta (pastina, stars, achini di pepe, etc.

or ½ cup cooked rice

Melt butter and sauté  the fresh vegetables until soft. Add the meatballs, broth and water (if needed); add herbs, spices, tomatoes and  tomato sauce. Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add the pasta, stir and cook until the pasta is done. Remove the Bay leaf and serve.

(If using cooked rice, add after the soup has cooked for 30-45 minutes; add rice and simmer for 10-15 minutes .Remove Bay leaf and serve.

[Note: The pasta or rice will continue to absorb the liquid in any left-over soup. It will become thick, but the flavor will not suffer. If it becomes too thick, add a little water when  re-heating]

 

Broths are simple and easy and you should make them.I will focus on beef broth in this post.

I save any bones and trimmings from beef that I buy  and freeze them until I have enough for broth…or I will buy  beef ribs ; they are THE best, robust  flavor for broth.Either way, take whatever beef you’d like to use and place it n a large pot..Cover with at least 4 quarts of water.Add on chopped medium onion, 2-3 ribs of celery, 1/8 cup dried parsley, 1 Tbsp. salt and either 1 tsp. ground black pepper,(preferably course ground), or 5  whole  peppercorns. Do not chop the vegetables; they will be easier to remove when the  broth is cooked.(They will have spent their flavors and be useless afterward.)  Although many people do,I do not add carrots.I believe that it imparts too strong of a flavor into the broth.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced to one-third of it’s original volume.Taste for  salt and add more if necessary, re-taste to check for strength and cook longer if it is weak . Strain the cooked broth into a large bowl.If there are any good, lean pieces of meat you can remove them and add them to the strained broth; discard vegetables, bones, fat, cartilage. Chill.This is an important step; it will bring all the fat to the top and it will solidify, making it easy to remove and leaving you with practically fat-free, protein-filled, calcium  and vitamin-enriched broth. If there is meat, you can add vegetables, and noodles, pasta, rice or barley to a hearty  make soup.If plain,  you can freeze it in small batches and use it for gravies or as a base for other soups. Enjoy!