Tag Archives: pasta

Must-Haves For Your Pantry

Single parents always watch their budgets—so I know it’s a hard sell to convince us to stock up our pantry with expensive items. But believe me, it will make life SO much easier if you do. With certain go-to items always on your shelves, you can whip up a last-minute pasta, chicken or fish dish that is healthy and flavorful for your kiddos. And from an expense perspective, stocking up the pantry with these items each month will save you money in the long run. Ordering pizza or grabbing fast food two or three times a week isn’t as cheap as you think. If you haven’t read this New York Times article, “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” I highly recommend it!

Even if you don’t go out to eat much during the week, serving your children processed foods like chicken nuggets and hotdogs or frozen or canned meals— loaded up with sodium—sets them on the path to obesity, or a limited palate at the very least. My time living in Europe inspired me to try to always serve one meal and eat with my children—helping them to develop healthier, broader tastes—and letting us enjoy more quality time together. Trust me, kids will eat what you do, eventually. I saw my son when he was three (now 10) eating chicken curry pie with beats and parsnips at his nursery school in London. It’s eye-opening, but for another blog post.

So, as I was saying, I know it’s exhausting after a long day at work to come home and cook and then have clean-up later. But I promise you if you can aim to do it five nights a week, it will improve your health, your waistline and your children’s health dramatically. Here are my monthly must-have pantry items. They have been lifesavers on many evenings as I’ve been able to throw together tasty pasta or add more flavor to veggies, sides or invent a quick pork or chicken dish. If you have a Trader Joe’s or a CostCo near you, you can really save money stocking up on these. And if you have any to add to my list, please chime in! I’d love to know your favorite staples.

Laura’s Must-Haves In the Pantry:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Capers
  • Whole Grain Mustard
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Olives (I’m in love with spanish green with whole garlic cloves in the center at the moment, but also have canned black, green and mixed on hand.)
  • Canned White Tuna Fish in Water. (Only eat once a week, at the most, due to methyl mercury. Read this article I wrote about the top pollutants for our children.)
  • Crushed Ginger Paste
  • Dried Oregano
  • Pitted Prunes
  • Dried Apricots
  • Lazy Chopped Garlic
  • Mango Chutney
  • Marinated Artichoke Hearts
  • Jar of marinated sun-dried tomatoes
  • Pine nuts
  • Marcona almonds
  • Can of large white beans
  • Chopped walnuts
  • All fruit spreads: raspberry, blueberry, apricot
  • Soy sauce
  • Figs
  • Good Large can of cream Tomato Vodka Sauce
  • Cans of Chopped Tomatoes.

Stuffed Shells: What’s NOT to Love?

This week my son and I made stuffed shells together. (Don’t you love the picture taken by my son?! One might get the idea that I’m June Cleaver … Ha! We all knowbetter!) While my two-year-old was in school, my oldest and I set up an assembly line in the kitchen and stuffed shells, shredded Parm and made a bloody mess. This is such an old-school, yummy recipe, and you can make enough for two dinners and freeze some for another time. (Which should be some consolation for all the clean up involved!) I served mine with a mixed salad, but you could add sauteed spinach to your sauce to make a complete meal. Sorry, this isn’t fat, gluten or dairy free, but so good for a special treat!

Prep: 50 min. Bake: 30 min. Oven: 350 F

Ingredients:

12 oz dried jumbo pasta shells

3 – 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef, organic preferred

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped, or two teaspoons pre-chopped lazy garlic

2 28-oz cans peeled and diced tomatoes, or whole and squeeze and chop yourself. (Doctor this with Italian spices, basil, pepper.)

2 handfuls of garlic-marinated mini button mushrooms (found at Trader Joes or other stores in section with olives)

1/3 medium red onion chopped.

1 15 oz carton ricotta cheese (low fat if preferred)

1 1/3 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a baking pan or two, as you may want to freeze a batch.

2. Bring a large pot of water with a pinch of salt to boiling. Add shells and cook until slightly tender, 5 minutes. Drain and arrange a single layer in baking pans.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and salt and pepper to your liking. Stir 2 to 3 minutes. Add beef and continue to stir 5 minutes or until no longer pink.

4. For tomato sauce, in a second skillet over low heat, combine remaining olive oil, garlic and undrained tomatoes and mushrooms. Season with Italian spices: a dash or oregano, pepper and basil. Simmer and cook 15 to 20 minutes.

5. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the tomato mixture into ground beef, add ricotta and 2/3 cup of the Parmigiano cheese; combine well.

6. Fill each pasta shell with approximately 1 tablespoon meat and cheese combo. Arrange shells into prepared baking dishes and spoon sauce ontop and around. Sprinkle remaining shredded Parmigiano cheese on top.

7. Bake 30 minutes. Enjoy!