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Posts tagged as “quick and easy”

Menu Inspiration: Easy Weeknight Italian

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Growing up in New Jersey, Italian food was a big part of my life. It seems like no matter where you go in the state, you can throw a stone and hit a pizzeria. In fact, a quick search on Yelp for "pizza" in Newark, NJ, the largest city in the state with a population of 285,154 in 2017 (Wikipedia) brought up over 620 search results for me. By contrast, a search of Flemington, NJ (Wikipedia says it had a population of 4,621 in 2017), the town where I went to high school and location of the famous Lindbergh "Trial of the Century", still brought up 28 results. I even worked at a few of those pizza places... three, actually, while I was in high school.

Coconut-Currant Steel Cut Oatmeal

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Have you tried steel cut oats? Sometimes also called "Irish oats", steel cut oats when cooked generally have a chewy, al dente texture and a nutty taste. They are oat groats, or oat kernels with no husk, that have been cut into smaller, coarse pieces using a steel blade. Size-wise, they remind me of tiny Acini di pepe pasta. Like their cousins rolled and instant oats, steel cut oats are a blank canvas for adding different flavors and ingredients. You can cook steel cut oats longer to make them a little more softer and creamier, as I usually do, but don't expect them to fall apart and turn to mush as instant oats would when cooked. Of course, adding a pat of butter or a touch of cream when cooking would help add creaminess and richness, as well. Much like my recipe for banana-pecan oatmeal, this one requires a couple more steps than just opening a package of instant oatmeal, adding water, and heating—but it's still very easy to make, and the results taste much better than what comes in a package. [caption id="attachment_1091" align="alignnone" width="900"] Raw steel cut oats[/caption]

Pantry Raid: Baked Penne with Vodka Sauce

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Fact: Anything homemade is always better. Sauces, especially. "Alternative" (ha, ha...) Fact: There are days when ain't nobody got time for that. As far as I'm concerned, there's no shame in opening up a good boxed, canned jarred, or otherwise pre-made sauce from time to time. I've used many -- Italian marinaras and vodka sauces, Indian and Thai simmer sauces... -- for the makings of a quick, easy, and tasty meal on nights when the last thing that I want to do is stand by the stove and cook dinner and take-out isn't the greatest option either. It's true that many pre-made sauces have extra preservatives and salt added to them, which are usually essential in the commercial canning process to ensure taste is consistent over time or from batch to batch. I often check the labels and find the ones with the fewest ingredients (where possible). 9 out of 10 times, these ingredients are also things that I can also easily pronounce. ;) This baked pasta dish is an alternative to a traditional baked ziti with marinara sauce. It starts off very similar to another baked pasta dish that I posted about in the past and recently tweaked to include an easy Alfredo sauce in place of the jarred sauce (although it's perfectly fine to still use jarred in the recipe.) Onions and garlic, an essential foundation of anything that's bound to taste great IMHO, are cooked along with frozen spinach and sun dried tomatoes. A quality vodka sauce (I used Victoria) and cheese are added to cooked pasta in a large skillet, then the whole thing is topped with more cheese and baked. So, clearly the message here is this: baked pasta is extremely versatile and can never be bad. ;) Easy to make ahead and freeze or make the same day, a delicious meal is on the table in just an under an hour.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

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These sweet and sour meatballs are better than take-out and can be made in less than 30 minutes -- talk about a fast dinner! I like adding extra Sriracha to mine and topping with some cilantro, but it's totally optional. Quorn meatless meatballs are available in many of the grocery stores near me. If you can't find them, make these with frozen beef or pork meatballs for a non-vegetarian take on the recipe, or with another brand of vegetarian or vegan meatballs that you might prefer better or can find easier in your local stores. The sauce also works great with chicken or a chicken substitute, like Quorn chick'n products, which are vegan and I've used many times before.

Smoky Eggplant Dip

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I made this dip recently out of both necessity and a need for something healthy to snack on. I had a Japanese eggplant in the fridge that I bought with the intention to make stir-fry as a quick weeknight dinner. Plans changed one night and by the time I revisited Mr. Eggplant, several days later, he was starting to look a little wrinkled and my taste for stir-fry had also dissipated. I didn't have tahini to make baba ghanouj and I was tired of hummus, so I decided to try something a little different. Roasting the eggplant and a few leftover baby carrots, then processing them with some spices (whole cumin seeds and smoked paprika included), harissa and light sour cream—one of my fridge staples—yielded a tasty, vegetarian-friendly dip. If you've never tried it, harissa is a hot and garlicky red pepper condiment with origins from Libya and Tunisia. For this recipe, I used prepared Mina brand harissa that I had in my refrigerator; the "mild" variety was the only option in the store at the time, but they have a spicy variety that you might be able to find, too. There are plenty of recipes out there that outline how to make it, like this one from Epicurious, and look easy enough. Making your own allows you to tailor the heat level to make it spicier, if you so choose, by adding extra chiles—it's something I'll be trying at some point, but suffice to say today wasn't the day. Tasting like a cross between hummus and baba ghanouj, the dip ended up having a lovely reddish color from the smoked paprika, carrots, and harissa. As a bonus, it can easily be made vegan-friendly by omitting the sour cream—try it and let me know how it comes out.

Taste Testing: Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta

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Move over, cat videos. Tasty videos are the new online obsession. We've all seen these posted on Facebook from Buzzfeed Food and others. These videos feature a person making a recipe, all filmed from his or her point of view. Some are narrated and others just feature catchy music and captions to go along with the video. The end result is often a delicious and mouthwatering dish that we're lead to believe (because we just saw whole the process) is a cinch to make. Tasty videos are always entertaining to watch, but there are some recipes I see and my immediate reaction is, Really? Looks like a hot mess to me... About a month ago, one really caught my eye as something that could just be crazy enough to work: Chicken Bacon Ranch pasta, posted by Twisted Food on Facebook.