Perfect Pasta

pasta

I grew up on pasta. My blood is probably red from all of the spaghetti sauce I’ve eaten in my time. Noodles have been a staple for centuries, and many cultures around the world have their own version-German Spaetzle, Greek Orzo, Chinese Ramen, or Polish Pierogies.  Lately, pasta has gotten a bad rap. First from the anti-carbohydrate crusade and then from the gluten-free craze. Like any starch, pasta raises blood sugar, but I believe it can still be part of a healthy diet. Pasta is a relatively inexpensive starch. It is a great item to have in your food storage. Each serving has 7-8 grams of protein, and you can buy some really yummy whole grain versions.

Here are some tips for incorporating pasta into a healthy and budget friendly diet.

1. Choose the right pasta. The best pasta is made with 100% durum wheat semolina. Costco sells a great brand of organic spaghetti called Garofalo, and it costs around $1.26 per 1 pound package.garofalo

I also I like Ronzoni Healthy Harvest. This brand will go on sale for $0.50/box about 2 times a year at King Soopers. When it goes on sale I stock up! It has a mild flavor and great texture compared to some of the other whole wheat pastas I’ve tried.rz_healthy_harvest_spaghetti_right

2. Choose the right noodle. Spaghetti, Fettuccine, Orrechette…the list goes on and on. According to wonderopolis.org, there are about 350 different shapes of pasta in the world, and about 4 times that many different names for those shapes! To choose the right shape, just follow this simple rule: the thicker/creamier the sauce, the flatter the noodle you want. That is why creamy alfredo sauce is often served over Fettuccine. Thinner pastas like angel hair are best for olive oil sauces or thin tomato sauce. Also, the more ridges a pasta has, the more it will soak up the sauce, so use tubular shaped pastas like ziti or rigatoni for thick tomato/ragu style sauces. Small shapes are best for soups or salads. Bon Appetite has a great overview of how to choose pasta here.

3. Cook it Right. If you are not watching your sodium intake, add about a tablespoon of salt to the cooking water before you add your pasta. This is the only way to add flavor to the pasta itself. Cook the pasta according to package directions. The key is to test the pasta frequently to avoid the noodles turning into mush. When you can bite all the way through the noodle, but it is still firm, the pasta is done. This is referred to as “al dente.”

*Some studies have shown that when you eat your pasta “al dente” you feel satisfied sooner than if the pasta is overcooked and soft.

Drain the pasta immediately after it is cooked, but reserve a cup full of the starchy cooking water before you drain the pasta (keep this in case you need to add some additional moisture to your pasta later). If you leave the pasta in the water, it will continue cooking and turn to mush.

If you are not serving the immediately, or if you have leftover pasta, you can add a little bit of olive oil to the pasta to keep the noodles from sticking. However, the oil will also decrease the amount of sauce that will stick to the noodles.

4. Don’t sauce until you serve! Ever make a big pot of spaghetti, dump the sauce on top, and mix it all together? That is fine if you are going to eat all of the pasta in one sitting, but what happens if you put the leftovers into the refrigerator? That spaghetti loses its flavor and dries out by the next day. I’ve found that if you keep the leftover sauce and noodles separate until you serve, the sauce stays on top of the noodle making it easier for your taste buds to pick up the flavor. Plus, you will use less sauce. You will use about 25-50% less sauce if you wait to add the sauce. Cha-Ching!

5. Freeze the leftovers. Did you know that you can freeze pasta? The trick is keeping the noodles as firm as possible before they are frozen because when they are reheated, they will get softer. Also, freeze the sauce and the noodles separately if possible. Here is a great tutorial on freezing pasta.

All of this talk about pasta is making me hungry! Growing up my mom would let us choose what we wanted her to make for our birthday dinner. My choice was almost always some type of pasta, from mom’s prize winning lasagna, to spaghetti, or fettuccine alfredo with chicken, tomatoes, and green onions. When we would visit my Italian grandparents there was almost always a pot of spaghetti to go with Grandma’s chicken cacciatorre. My cousin, Jill, introduced me to the beauty of eating plain spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese. Today my children love bowtie noodles (farfalle) with alfredo sauce and peas. A couple of years ago my family started a tradition of making homemade ravioli for Christmas Eve dinner. I don’t think I’ve met a noodle that I didn’t like. What is your favorite way to eat pasta?

 

Meal Ideas, September 21-27

Breakfast

Chia Banana Bread
Yogurt and fruit
Scrambled eggs with bacon
Creamy Quinoa with Peaches and Berries
Whole Wheat Toast 3 Ingredient Strawberry Chia Jam

Lunch

Asian Tuna Salad
Annie’s Mac and Cheese
Quinoa and Black Bean Lettuce Wraps

Dinner

Grilled Balsamic-Garlic Crusted Pork Tenderloin
Chicken Sausage Spaghetti
Oven BBQ Drumsticks
Baked Burritos with Poblano-Sour Cream Sauce
Easy Beef Gyros

Snacks

Larabars
Triscuits and Sargento cheese sticks
Ants on a Log
Veggies with Creamy Carrot Dip

 

Meal Ideas, September 7-13

Breakfast

Mom’s Best or Kashi Cereal and Milk
Broccoli Spinach Frittata
Tropical Overnight Oats
Cantaloupe Coconut Lassi

Lunch

Grilled Almond Butter, Dark Chocolate & Pomegranate Sandwich
Pear, Pomegranate and Spinach Salad
Tostadas with refried beans
Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps

Dinner
Minestrone Verte Soup
Chicken Sausage and Broccoli Zucchini Pasta with Parmesan
Pork Loin Roast with Charred Green Beans with Garlic and Pomegranate Seeds
Mexican Zucchini and Beef
Vegan Red Lentil Coconut Soup

Snacks
Larabars
Organic Popcorn
Salsa and Chips
Frozen Grapes

 

Buy This…Not That!

This is the first of  a new segment called “Buy This…Not That!” In an ideal world, we would make everything from scratch, but come on…this is real life! I don’t always have the time  (or the energy) to spend hours in the kitchen, so I’ve found some products that save me time, and I can feel good about feeding to my family.

This week…refried beans. I’ve made some frijoles refritos before, and really the process isn’t too hard, but it isn’t quick. I use refried beans to bulk up taco meat, fill burritos, and and top tostadas. When I need a quick meal, having a can of refried beans in the pantry comes in handy.

Refried Beans2

But take a look at the ingredients in a can of Rosarita No Fat refried beans. In addition to beans there is autolyzed yeast extract (MSG), and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. YUCK!
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Interesting enough, the vegetarian style Rosarita brand beans do not include those ingredients, so when this brand goes on sale, the only variety I will buy are the vegetarian. They still contain “natural flavor.” Who knows what that might be?
Refried Beans

A can of O Organics Refried beans is even better because it doesn’t include “natural flavor.” The only drawback is a can of organic beans can cost twice as much as conventional beans at most grocery stores.

Refried Beans 4
My favorite brand of refried beans is Trader Joe’s. At just $1.29 a can for the salsa variety, that is a pretty good deal for organic refried beans. Trader Joe’s also has traditional flavored refried beans for those who aren’t a fan of the spice.

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How to Roast Peppers

It is Hatch Chile Season in Colorado!!! I can’t wait to make a green chile smothered burrito. When peppers are on sale, I buy a bunch of them and roast them. Roasting peppers brings out their sweetness and adds a smokiness that really enhances their flavor. You can roast any kind of pepper. The cost of roasted peppers at the store is outrageos-especially when the process is so simple. All you need is your oven, a cookie sheet, and a plastic bag! *See Note Below

Turn your oven on to broil at High heat. Place peppers on a cookie sheet. Use an old one that you don’t care about or line it with aluminum foil because the juices from the peppers ooze out as they roast, turning into a sticky, black mess.

Roasted Red Peppers 1

Broil the peppers until they start to turn black. Rotate the peppers and broil until that side turns black. Continue this process until all sides have been charred. Remove peppers from oven.

Roasted Red Peppers 2

Using tongs or oven mitts place hot peppers in a plastic bag and seal. Let the peppers rest for about 10 minutes. This allows the skin of the peppers to loosen.

Roasted Red Peppers 3

Using your fingers, peel off the skin of the peppers. Be careful as they will still be quite hot. Remove the stem and seeds. Cut in strips or leave whole. I like to leave mine whole and freeze them. Roasted peppers go great in dips (like Roasted Red Pepper Hummus), eggs, enchiladas, and pasta.

Roasted Red Peppers 4

*You can do this over a grill too. Just char the peppers on all sides, then follow the rest of the steps to remove the skins.

Do you have a bun in the oven?

Hot Dog Buns

If you don’t, you should! Hamburger buns that is. I have eaten plenty of white hamburger/hot dog buns in my time. They are a staple at summer BBQs, but they offer zilch in the way of nutritional value. Not to mention, they are loaded with sugar and preservatives.

Even if you buy the 100% whole wheat version, you are still ingesting strange chemicals and preservatives.

Buns

I’ve tried a few recipes for home made buns with varying success. It is hard to duplicate the soft, fluffy texture of those store bought buns, but I recently converted one of my favorite roll recipes to a hot dog bun. It worked great! The texture was soft and fluffy, and I knew exactly what ingredients were in them.

The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup of sugar. That is way too much in my opinion, so I reduced it to 1 TB. I used some whole wheat flour, and some bread flour to give it that light texture. The best part about this recipe is that you can make the dough in your bread machine.

It may be tempting to buy those all-white, chemical-laden buns, especially when you find them in the bakery markdown section for $0.50! But I dare you to make these awesome buns. They will change your life and your summer cookouts!

Ingredients:

2 cups bread flour
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup warm water
1 TBSP white sugar
1 egg
2 TBSP butter, softened
1 TBSP active dry yeast
1 tsp salt

Directions:

Place flours, water, sugar, egg, 2 tablespoons softened butter, yeast, and salt into the pan of your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select the Dough cycle and press Start. When the cycle is complete, remove the dough and press down to deflate.

*You can also make these in your stand mixer if you have one. Sometimes I make mine in my Kitchen Aid. I knead the dough for 10 minutes, let it rise for an hour, and then follow the rest of the instructions.

Divide the dough into 12-15 equal pieces. Shape into round discs for hamburger buns or long logs for hot dog buns. These rolls really rise, so don’t be afraid if they are a little flat when you shape them. The important thing is to stretch them so they are large enough for your hamburger patty. Place on a greased cookie sheet and let rise for 30 minutes.

Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Best when eaten fresh, but they can be stored at room temperature for a day or two. These freeze well too.

Real Food 72 Hour Kit

Known as a bug-out bag, 72 hour kit, or go bag, preppers assemble life sustaining kits that they can grab in an emergency. Our family has assembled our own 72 hour kits. Four years ago the Waldo Canyon Fire forced us to evacuate from our home. Although our house was not really in danger of burning, as the smoke enveloped our neighborhood, the smell of smoke hung so thick in the air that it caught in our throats and burned our eyes. My husband was out of town, and I had to get my 3 year old and baby into our car with our precious belongings in about 20 minutes. I remember the adrenaline coursing through my body. I was shaking and had trouble thinking clearly. It was terrifying!

I grabbed our photo albums and family treasures, a few clothes and some diapers. Funny thing…even though we had our 72 hour kits, I didn’t even think to grab them. We were fortunate enough to have family within 2 hours of driving distance who welcomed us. We stayed there for 3 days. Others were not so lucky. Some had to stay in gymnasiums and churches set up as emergency shelters. If we had to stay in a shelter, our 72 hour kits would have been invaluable.

I used to think that in an emergency my family and I would be out in the wilderness. However, since the Waldo Canyon Fire I have changed my thinking. More than likely a disaster might displace us, but we would probably find shelter somewhere in the city. My snake bite kit has been replaced with more useful things-activities for the kids, an extra pair of eye glasses, and extra cash.

What should go into a 72-hour kit? Food, water, clothes, basic toiletries, medication, personal documents, and cash. Each person needs 1 gallon of water per day, so that is a total of 3 gallons for each 72 hour kit. I don’t know about you, but there is no way I will be able to haul my 3 gallons of water along with 9 gallons of water for my children. I think that is a bit unrealistic. I have stored enough water in my home to last 72 hours, but in my go bag I have at least 3 liters of liquid and a Sawyer water filter.

Now, what about food? You can find MREs or other ready to eat packaged meals, but I don’t want to eat processed junk. Granted, in an emergency, I will just be grateful to have something to eat, but I regularly rotate my food supply in my go bag, and I don’t want to waste money on food that I never end up eating or feel like I have to choke down “cheese” cracker packets with fully hydrogentated oils or MSG laced MREs.

What’s a girl to do? I’ve come up with a list of acceptable foods that are portable and nutritious, easy to find in stores, and fairly economical.

You should aim for 2000-2500 calories per person per day, so a total of 6000-7500 for 3 days. Remember that in an emergency, your metabolism will speed up, and you will likely be more hungry, so err on the side of more calories. If you have small children, I would pack the same amount of calories as an adult. They will be hungrier than usual as well. If you end up with any extra food, you can share with others in need.

Because the food is not chock full of chemicals and artificial preservatives, it has a shorter shelf life. You will need to rotate the food once a year. That really isn’t such a big deal if you enjoy eating the food you have stored, and it is easily replaceable. The most important thing is that you do have a go-bag. You never know when a disaster will strike.

I’ve spent several hours reading labels, comparing nutrition information and prices to find the best products. I created a spreadsheet complete with nutrition information, prices, and where to shop. I’ve taken into consideration food allergies and created nut-free and gluten-free 72-hour kits. All products on the list are made with real ingredients and are non-GMO certified and free of artificial preservatives and colors. The best news is that the cost for each kit is between $26-$38!
 
If anyone is interested in seeing the spreadsheet I’ve created, please leave a comment below or email me. If you don’t want to schlep all over town to put together your own kit, I would be happy to assemble yours (if you live locally). In exchange, I am asking for a small donation to offset the cost of gas and time.
Whether you use my information or not, please don’t let yourself be caught unprepared!