Simple Spaghetti Sauce

A week ago I ran my first race of the year, the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon. It's an all female half marathon run in Grand Rapids, MI. This is the third year for the race and I've run it all three years now. It's fun race and I've really enjoyed being a part of it over the past few years. This year the race turned out the best yet both due to the weather and some course changes they've made. The first year of the race the weather was just awful, it was super cold (in the low 30s) with rain/sleet/snow the whole race along with a nice strong wind. Last year the temperature was okay, but I was scared it was going to rain the whole time. This year however, the sun was out the whole race and the temps were in the mid 40s or so. There was a little wind, but it was mainly a cross wind and not too bad, definitely could have been worse! The race organizers have also tweaked the course every year and this year it was by far the best yet. All in all a really nice spring run that I hope to be a part of for years to come. 

Although I'm not a big believer in the need to truly "carbo load" the night before a half marathon, I like to just pretend that it's necessary so I can whip together a big bowl of pasta and feel like it's a requirement that I eat it all! For this race a simple meat sauce was calling my name. This is the type of spaghetti sauce that my mom would make all the time when I was growing up, so for me this is true comfort food. It is so quick and easy to throw together and it always turns out simply delicious. Honestly, this is one of my favorite meals of all time, it will never get old, something I will return to over and over again. The perfect pre-race dinner for my first race of the year. 

There's no need to follow a recipe like this exactly, it's really easy to mix things up based on your preferences and what you have in your fridge/pantry. So don't feel tied to the recipe. You can use your favorite herbs and spices, the type of meat you prefer and really any type of canned tomatoes, whole, diced, or crushed. Other than that all a simple sauce like this needs is some onions and garlic and you're all set. In all honesty, this is one of my favorite meals of all times, and also a perfect pre-race pasta dinner. 

A few race pics; here's me at the finish, very happy that I'm almost done! And below me with some friends and fellow race participants, all glad to be finished!

Simple Spaghetti Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage (can use turkey, chicken, or beef)
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried oregano (or more if you like!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Olive oil 
  • Salt
  • Pinch of sugar

Directions

Brown meat in a large skillet. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel if desired. Add a couple teaspoons of olive oil to the pan and add the onions and a couple pinches of salt. Cook over medium to low heat until beginning to wilt and starting to turn slightly golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until nice and fragrant, a minute or two. Add the tomato paste and let it cook and caramelized for a few minutes without stirring, then mix it into the onion/garlic mixture. 

Add both cans of tomatoes and the meat back to the skillet and stir to combine. Add in the oregano, rosemary and red pepper flakes and stir again. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and let simmer. Taste, and add salt and a pinch of sugar as needed. You can eat it right away if in a hurry, but it tastes better the longer it can simmer and thicken, letting the flavors blend into a perfect sauce. I recommend at least 30 minutes but it will still be delicious if you can't wait that long. 

Serve over spaghetti and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and some julienned basil leaves or minced fresh parsley. 

Capellini with Chicken, Spinach and Camembert

So I've been in my new apartment for one week now and I am loving it! Having my own space is amazing and something I was completely ready for. Unfortunately, these first couple of weeks in my new place also coincide with a couple of week of night shifts for school. So with all of this going on I hardly know what day it is, or what is going on with the rest of the world. Even so, that doesn't mean I want to eat poorly so I made sure to stock my cupboards and pantry full as soon as I could so I would have the ingredients to make simple and quick meals during these crazy couple of weeks. 

This pasta dish was one of my first meals in my new apartment (the very first meal being a fantastic peanut butter and banana sandwich on freshly made bread, delicious, but not as fun to talk about!) I threw it together with the stuff in my fridge and I was very pleased with how it turned out. Some roasted broccoli was all I needed to round it out. 

There is nothing fancy about this simple dish. It's really just spaghetti with some wilted spinach and chicken, finished off with one of my new favorites, Camembert cheese. I also added in some onions and garlic for flavor. If I had been trying to make this extra fancy I could have made a sauce with the cheese, using a roux and melting the cheese into it until smooth, but I was much too lazy for that. I just threw it in at the end and let it gently melt into the hot pasta. Perfect technique, no; still absolutely delicious and so much easier, yes!

Capellini with Chicken, Spinach and Camembert

From Jana

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 small onion, sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 ounces whole wheat capellini
  • Handful spinach
  • 4 ounces cooked chicken
  • 2 ounces (or more!) Camembert cheese
  • Pasta water
  • Salt
  • Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling on top

Directions

Fill a large pot with water, add a good handful of salt and bring water to boil. While the water is heating, add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil to a saute pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and a pinch of salt. Saute the onions until they begin to soften and just start to brown, add garlic and cook until fragrant.

Once water begins to boil, cook capellini until just al dente. About 1-2 minutes before the pasta is finished cooking, add the spinach and the cooked chicken to the pan with the onions and garlic. Add a ladleful of pasta water and let the spinach begin to wilt.

When the pasta is finished cooking, add it to the saute pan along with the camembert. The heat from the pasta will continue to wilt the spinach and start to melt the cheese. Mix it all together in the saute pan, adding more pasta water if needed to form a nice sauce. Finish with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese if desired. 

Serves 2

Loaf Pan Lasagna

You may have noticed I've haven't been very on top of my blog for the last couple of weeks. I am currently studying for probably the biggest test of my life, so I've been a little preoccupied elsewhere. Only a little over a week more of studying and I'll be back for real! After sitting at my computer for 8-10 hours a day the last thing I feel like doing most nights is spending more time on my computer working on my blog. But I thought I had to put something up so it doesn't look like I dropped of the face of the earth completely. 

There's no recipe on this post, it's more of an idea really. Making loaf pan lasagnas has become one of my favorite ways to use up leftovers. Its fun and tasty and the perfect size. It's also a great way to use up the few lasagna noodles that always seem leftover when you make a loaf of lasagna. I never seem to use up the whole box and then there are a couple sheets hanging around the pantry for months. Well not anymore. Layer them up in a loaf pan with whatever you like and voila, dinner!

I've made several different versions of this over the past few months, and you can really use anything you have in your fridge. Anything that might work on a sandwich or a pizza seems to work great in a lasagna. Some of the variations I've tried are chicken cordon bleu (leftover chicken, a little ham and swiss cheese), a Mexican inspired lasagna with black beans, salsa and cheddar, and a white lasagna with spinach and ricotta. They've all been delicious and super fun to make. I think they usually end up baking for 20-30 minutes at around 375 degrees, but they're all a little different. Keep and eye on them and take them out when they look done. Let them cool a little before cutting to make your life a little easier, then dig in! This is the perfect place to let your imagination go wild!!

Cream Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

Cheese is one of my favorite things, any kind, it doesn't matter. Macaroni and cheese is therefore a no brainer for me. Pasta and cheese has got to be one of the best combinations ever. I've been wanting to make homemade macaroni and cheese for some time now, but I would just never get around to it. Either I didn't have the cheese, or the right noodles, or I wanted to eat something lighter for dinner, etc., I always seemed to have an excuse. A few weeks ago though I put my foot down and told myself I was just going to do it. I think the hardest part is picking a recipe. There are a million out there to choose from and they all sound delicious, how is one to choose? In the end I picked this recipe because I happened to have a block of cream cheese in the back of my fridge that I didn't know what to do with, and since I think cream cheese makes just about everything better I knew this had to be good. I was beyond right.

This mac and cheese turned out super cheesy and gooey and absolutely delicious. I chose three cheeses at random to go with the cream cheese and I think I picked the winning combination, it was so delicious. First I went with cheddar because I always have it in the fridge, and it just seems like the right thing to put in mac and cheese. Next I went with fontina because I love it, it is so creamy and flavorful, and it melts wonderfully. Finally I wanted something with a more unique flavor so I decided that something smoked sounded good. I ended up buying smoked mozzarella which I think was perfect. It added a hint of smokiness to the final dish without overpowering it. The smoky undertones from the mozzarella, the sharp bite of the cheddar and the creamy finish of the fontina made this a meal to remember for a long time.

The original recipe did not have a crunchy topping with it, but I love crunchy, cheesy breadcrumbs on top of my baked mac and cheese so I threw together my own version of a breadcrumb topping. It turned out quite delicious if I do say so myself. The butter, cheesy breadcrumbs are the perfect balance to the rich creamy pasta, don't skip it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

I actually halved the recipe as written and made it in a 9-inch square pan, but it would be just as easy to make the full batch and throw it into a 9x13. Even though I only made half I did have enough cheese for a second go at this dish. I just stuck it in the freezer, waiting for the perfect time to try again. Guess what I'm having for dinner this weekend?!

The star of the recipe, the cheese

Grate it up

Make sure you have some noodles, I like shells

Toast up your breadcrumbs

Add cheese and spices to make

a the delicious topping

Boil up the noodles, but don't cook them all the way

through, they'll finished cooking in the oven

Then you can start making the sauce,

start by melting the butter

Add in the flour

Stir it around and let it cook for a few minutes to 

cook away the raw flour taste

Then add in the milk and cream cheese, dijon, salt and pepper

Stir it all around until the cream cheese melts and the

sauce gets nice and thick and creamy, yum!

Throw in the partially cooked noodles

And the cheese of course!

Mix it all up until everything is covered in 

the gooey cheese sauce

Pour it into a greased pan

Admire all the cheesy goodness

Then cover with crunchy topping

And bake!

Dish it up next to something healthy, 

to make yourself feel better :)

Dig in!

Cream Cheese Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen
Ingredients

  • 1 pound Macaroni Noodles
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • ½ teaspoons Salt
  • ½ teaspoons Black Pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard (heaping)
  • 3/4 cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 3/4 cup Fontina
  • 3/4 cup Smoked Mozzarella

Topping

  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons each of the three cheeses used in the mac and cheese

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Start by making the topping. Place the breadcrumbs in an even layer on a baking sheet and toast for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes. When cool, add the remaining ingredients and set aside. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add noodles and cook until al dente; drain.

In a saucepan melt butter and stir in flour. Cook for about 1 minute, until smooth and bubbly; stirring occasionally. Mix in milk, cream cheese, salt, pepper, and Dijon mustard. Continue cooking until sauce is thickened. Add cooked macaroni and the 3/4 cups of each cheese.

Pour into a 2-quart casserole dish and sprinkle the topping mixture on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until heated through and topping is brown and crunchy. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes before digging in.

Pasta with Tomato and Peas

I never used to be a big pea fan. It wasn't the taste that turned me off so much as the visual appeal (or lack thereof in my opinion). However, in the past couple of years I've changed my mind about this little vegetable. I don't know what happened, but now I really like to put peas in different dishes.

This pasta dish (with peas) is one of my favorites. My sister and I have made it many times in the last couple of years. We almost always have the ingredients on hand, and it's easy to improvise if we're missing one or two things. It's quick, easy and healthy, three of my favorite things.

The finished dish in the early spring evening light. I am so glad daylight savings has begun again!

 Linguine, one of my favorite pastas (but then again, I pretty much like all pasta shapes)

The flavor players: fresh oregano, fresh parsley, carrots, onion and garlic

Not the most beautiful picture, but you get the point, a delicious mixture, ready to dress the pasta. 

Finished, topped with a sprinkle of freshly grated Pecorino Romano, yum!

A close up of all the deliciousness!


Here's the original recipe, I didn't follow it exactly this time, but it doesn't really matter. That's what I love about pasta, it's easy to improvise.

Pasta with Tomato and Peas
From Giada De Laurentiis
Ingredients
  • 1 pound linguine 
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 3 shallots, chopped 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 carrot diced 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 5 tablespoons tomato paste 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme 
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley 
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed 
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan 
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano 
Directions
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 2 cups of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, carrots, salt, and pepper. Cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and 1/2 cup of the hot pasta water. Stir to melt the tomato paste and create a sauce, adding more pasta water if necessary. Stir in the oregano, thyme, and parsley. Gently fold in the cooked pasta, peas, and the cheeses, adding more reserved pasta water if necessary. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.