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Posts Tagged ‘main dish pasta’

It’s the beginning of the month, when most people stock up on groceries.  If you read my post about menu planning on a budget, you know that I approach grocery shopping a little differently than most.  Since the best deals tend to be in the middle of the month, I try to spread out my shopping and discipline myself to only buy what’s on sale or at the best price each week.  If it’s a really good price, I stock up.  This allows me to keep a well-stocked pantry with lots of variety and meal options throughout the month, even on a $100/week budget.

The key to stretching your grocery budget is to make sure nothing is wasted, because it doesn’t matter how cheap something is if it ends up going in the trash! I prefer to buy fresh fruits and veggies year round, but it requires diligent shopping and storage when you’re on a tight budget.  Over the years I’ve learned that there are simple things I can do to prolong the shelf life of perishable items, thus saving us money by reducing waste (and icky, squishy, “I think that used to be a lemon,” moldy things in the fridge).   These insights are probably obvious to everyone but me, but in case they’re new to you, I’ll go ahead and share what I’ve learned:

  • Take inventory of what you have before you go shopping.  This is a “duh” one, but sometimes I forget and end up loading up on perishable food that will inevitably go bad before it’s used.  Also, by paying attention to how often my family goes through certain items, I can better calculate how much to buy.  For instance, bananas may be on sale, but it’s pointless to buy more than I know my family will eat, unless I’m planning on making banana bread.
  • Speaking of bananas, buy bananas slightly green because they will continue to ripen at home.  Sometimes I break off 2 or 3 really green ones and buy 2 or 3 bananas that are closer to being ripe, so I’ll end up with perfectly ripe bananas when we are ready to eat them.  Store them at room temperature until peak ripeness, then put in the fridge.  (The peels will brown faster in the fridge, but the inside is often still fine.)  We almost never have to throw out bananas anymore since I started doing this.
  • Pears are also best if bought slightly under-ripe because they bruise easily when ripe.  I got tired of them getting gashed and brown before I even got home from the grocery store, so I started buying greener pears.  I use the same method with pears as I do with bananas, and buy them in varying degrees of ripeness.
  • Store most veggies loose in the crisper drawer or in a paper bag.  Those plastic bags you put them in at the grocery store might as well say, “Mold goes in here,” across the top because they make produce go bad twice as fast.  Cucumbers, zucchini/squash, peppers and mushrooms, especially, don’t like the plastic.  The same goes for soft-skinned fruit like peaches and pears.  Take the bags off when you get home, but wait to wash fruits and veggies until you’re ready to use them since moisture can speed up spoiling.
  • Store potatoes and yams at room temperature in a paper sack or box.  I also store my onions loose in a small cardboard box in my pantry.
  • This may seem obvious, but check berries thoroughly for mold before buying them, especially if it’s a jumbo-sized package where the entire center may be a big ball of mold that isn’t visible on the outside.  When you’re ready to use berries, always look for the darkest/ripest ones to use first, and inspect carefully for moldy ones (this is especially important with blueberries, since the moldy ones can easily hide and destroy the package).
  • Store bread in the refrigerator and it will last for a month.  If you find a good deal on bread, put extra loaves in the freezer and thaw when ready to use.  It makes no difference in taste.
  • The same goes for corn tortillas.  They will last a long time in the fridge, and can be frozen, as well.
  • If you have produce that’s about to spoil, but you’re not ready to use it in a recipe (like onions, peppers, berries), chop it up and store it in freezer bags.  You can use frozen onions and peppers straight from the freezer for recipes in which they’ll be cooked.  Berries can be frozen for later use in smoothies or jello.  Bananas can be cut up and frozen for smoothies or a summertime treat with a popsicle stick inserted in one end (my kids love frozen bananas on a stick).
  • When trimming chicken breasts, spray a frying pan with a little oil and set it next to you.  Cut off any little meat bits that are attached to fat that would otherwise be thrown away, and put those little pieces in the pan.  Also cut up any tenders that aren’t big enough to use in a recipe.  Sprinkle chicken pieces with a little seasoned salt and cook over medium heat until browned and cooked through.  These can be used in Caesar salads, barbecue chicken pizzas, or quesadillas (add some canned beans for more volume).

Another common challenge is what to do when you have just a small amount of something leftover from another meal.  And the winner of the “most often thrown out jar of something in the fridge” award goes to…spaghetti sauce.  For some reason, there’s always about a third of the jar left when we fix an 8 oz. box of spaghetti.  What in the world do you do with a third of a jar of spaghetti?  I’m glad you asked.

  • Tomato soup.  I made this happy discovery when trying to figure out how to make a dairy free tomato soup for my daughter.  The rest of us were enjoying a box of GF tomato soup (the condensed kind contains wheat), and my daughter wanted some, too.  So I poured that third of a jar of spaghetti sauce in a pan and thinned it with a little rice milk.  Voila!  Tomato soup that tasted just as good as our fancy-pants organic soup at a fraction of the cost.  You could also make this with regular milk.
  • Pizza Mac and Cheese.  I modified a favorite family recipe to make a quick, skillet dinner that can utilize leftover spaghetti sauce (especially good if it’s meat sauce).  Fix one or two packages of mac and cheese according to directions (1 box would work, but Annie’s GF mac and cheese makes less, so I use 2 boxes).  Meanwhile, pour leftover spaghetti sauce in a large, 12-in. skillet.  If there’s not enough sauce to cover the bottom, add a can of tomato sauce, 1 tsp. Italian seasoning, 1 tsp. minced garlic and a pinch of oregano (or season to taste with whatever spices you prefer).  Add leftover ground beef or sausage and some chopped pepperoni (the pepperoni is what gives it the pizza flavor).  You can also throw in any leftover veggies that need to be used up (like mushrooms, peppers, onions), if desired.  Heat sauce and let simmer while preparing mac and cheese.  Spoon mac and cheese evenly over top of sauce in skillet.  Sprinkle with pizza blend cheese or some mozzarella and cheddar.  Cover and let simmer until cheese melts.  If desired, sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes for a little heat.  This is, hands down, my son’s favorite casserole.

Now it’s your turn to share.  What’s your favorite way to keep leftovers from going to waste?

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A great way to give yourself a gift is by making one lasagna for dinner and one for the freezer.  Or, if you have a small family, break the noodles in half and make half of the recipe for dinner and the other half for the freezer.  When I make a lasagna to freeze, I prefer to buy a disposable foil pan (from the dollar store) and freeze it in that.  Not only does it keep me from having to use my baking dishes, it makes for quick clean up since I will likely serve it to company or give it away.

9 lasagna noodles (Tinkyada brown rice lasagna noodles are gluten free)
1 lb. ground beef or sausage, cooked
Chopped pepperoni slices, optional (adds more flavor if you’re using beef)
32 oz. spaghetti sauce or 4 c. homemade sauce (we like Ragu Roasted Garlic)
8 oz. (2 c.) mozzarella or Italian cheese blend, divided
1/2 c. cheddar cheese
12 oz. cottage cheese
1 egg
1 t. onion powder
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 T. dried parsley
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 c. chopped red or yellow bell pepper, optional
1/2 c. grated zucchini, optional (if cooking immediately, fresh spinach can also be used)
Parmesan for sprinkling on top

In a large bowl, mix 1 c. mozzarella, cottage cheese, egg, onion powder, basil, parsley and pepper; set aside.  Pour a thin layer of spaghetti sauce (about 1/2 – 3/4 c.) on the bottom of a lasagna pan or 9″x12″ baking dish.  Add remaining spaghetti sauce to ground beef or sausage, and stir in grated zucchini, if desired.

Layer 3 noodles and spread with half of cheese mixture.  (Don’t worry if the noodles are broken – it’s sort of like putting together a puzzle.)  If desired, sprinkle with pepperoni, bell pepper, and fresh spinach (but only use spinach if baking immediately).  Carefully spread 1 1/4 c. sauce over top.  Layer 3 more noodles and repeat with cheese, veggies, and sauce.  Top with 3 remaining noodles and remaining sauce.  Pour 3/4 c. water (or 1/2 c. if you like your pasta to be firm) into sauce jar and shake.  Pour around edges.

If Baking Immediately:
Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 45 minutes.  Uncover and poke down into the sauce any noodles that are sticking up (otherwise, they’ll be crunchy instead of soft).  Sprinkle remaining 1 c. mozzarella and 1/2 c. cheddar cheese on top.  Bake an additional 15 minutes or until pasta is done.  Sprinkle with Parmesan.

To Freeze:
Wrap tightly with foil.  (I like to write the baking instructions on the foil with a marker so I don’t have to dig out my cookbook when I’m ready to bake it.)  Place remaining cheese for topping in a freezer bag and attach to lasagna.  Freeze.

To Serve:
Thaw and bake 1 hr. at 375 degrees.  Uncover, poke down noodles according to directions above, and sprinkle with mozzarella and cheddar.  Bake an additional 15 min. or until pasta is done.  (If baking from the frozen stage, add an additional 15-30 minutes to the total baking time.)  Sprinkle with Parmesan.

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This flavorful dish has some kick.  If you don’t like a lot of heat, use a mild Italian sausage and omit the crushed red pepper flakes.  Or simply let individuals add red pepper at the table to control the amount of heat.

2 lbs. (about 9) plum/Roma tomatoes (my first time I misread the recipe and use 2 tomatoes – still good)
3 T. olive oil, divided
2 minced garlic cloves or 1 tsp. minced garlic from a jar
1 tsp. salt
8 oz. penne pasta (I use Tinkyada GF brown rice pasta)
2 c. fresh broccoli florets or substitute veggie of choice
1 lb. Italian sausage links, cut into 1/2-in. slices (we like Honeysuckle White’s Hot Italian turkey sausage)
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (if using hot Italian sausage, go with less red pepper)
1/3 c. shredded or grated Parmesan cheese (we prefer shredded)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Cut tomatoes in half, lengthwise.  Place cut-side down in a greased, 9″x13″ baking dish.  Drizzle with 2 T. oil, and sprinkle evenly with garlic and salt.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until tender.  Remove from oven and snip tomatoes into chunks with kitchen scissors while still in the pan.

While tomatoes are roasting, bring pasta water to a boil and cut broccoli florets off of stem.  Cook penne according to package directions, and add broccoli during the last 4 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, heat remaining 1 T. oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook sausage until no longer pink.  Add pepper flakes (or set aside for individuals to add later); cook 1 minute longer.  Stir in tomatoes and heat through.

Drain penne mixture; toss with sausage mixture.  Sprinkle with cheese.
Yield: 5 servings

This recipe is modified from the Aug./Sept. 2010 Taste of Home magazine

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