#TBT – Clam Spaghetti

Here is one of my family’s favorites that comes together quickly and is a great choice for a meal when you have guests. The sauce cooks in the time it takes to prepare the pasta, and if you keep canned clams on hand, you probably have everything else you need to make it. It is good served alone, but is even better (and more balanced) if you add garlic bread and a salad.  

For the original post, click here.

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Weight Watchers – 12 Last Minute Meals

I am doing something a little bit different today in my series of Weight Watcher posts.  One of the hardest parts of doing Weight Watchers (or any other avoiding-processed-food plan) is what to fix for dinner on busy days.

Sometimes life gets in the way of your good intentions to plan your meals out ahead of time and fix delicious balanced meals for your family.  When that happens it is so easy to just order in a pizza or hit the closest fast food place.  If you have a few staples that you keep on hand all the time, you can avoid that and still quickly feed the hungry hordes. I am not posting WW points here, because there are so many variables in the ingredients. This may also be a good time to use some of those extra bonus points to minimize your stress level. Here are a few suggestions (I have included what you need to have on hand):

Fried burritos (flour tortillas, refried beans, cheese) These come together in literally five minutes’ time and are surprisingly good.  It is always a plus if you have some leftover cooked meat (my favorite is a crisp slice of bacon) to add to the filling, and salsa, chopped onion, diced tomatoes, sour cream, crumbled feta and/or shredded lettuce to top them with.  If you need more info, click here.
Leftovers buffet bar – This was actually one of my kids’ favorites when they were growing up.  All the leftovers were put on the counter, and everyone got to select how much of what they wanted (first come, first served).  Try to have plenty of raw veggies and/or fruit available to round out the meal.
Soup and sandwich (canned soup, sandwich makings) A traditional favorite is tomato soup and grilled cheese, but any kind of soup pairs well with a sandwich.  You can also use tortillas, English muffins, biscuits or even crackers to make the sandwiches.
Snacky dinner (crackers or bread, cheese, cold meat, raw veggies, fruit)  Set out an assortment of whatever you have on hand, and it is a plus if you add a dip.  Try to make sure it is somewhat balanced with a grain, a protein, and fruits and/or veggies.

Feta  Pesto Pasta  (pasta, cooked chicken, feta or goat cheese, tomatoes of any kind, and pesto sauce).  This comes together in about 15 minutes.  For the recipe, click here.       
Kayte’s Motley Rice (uncooked rice, chicken broth or bouillon, veggies, salad dressing).  If the veggies are raw, make sure they will cook in the same time as the rice.  For the recipe, click here.
Homemade Ramen Soup (broth or bouillon, frozen mixed or leftover cooked veggies, oregano, ramen noodles or uncooked thin spaghetti, soy sauce) So much better than the packaged kind!  For the recipe, click here.
Hamburger Gravy (ground beef or turkey, Cream of Whatever soup, and something to serve it over – bread,  rice, potatoes, quinoa) It’s a plus if you add veggies. For a recipe, click here.
Breakfast Tacos (tortillas, eggs, bacon, cheese – cheddar and/or feta, tomatoes, onions, lettuce or cabbage).  I often eat this for a meal other than breakfast.  I like to top mine with shredded cabbage instead of lettuce, but either one works.  Sour cream is also a great addition.  For the recipe, click here.

Clam spaghetti  (spaghetti, butter, canned clams, garlic, parsley, Parmesan cheese, lemon pepper) This makes a good meal for unexpected company or just a last minute meal for your family.  The sauce is done in the time it takes for the pasta to cook.  Don’t skimp on the Parmesan cheese or the lemon pepper! For the recipe, click here.
Fried rice (cold cooked rice, veggies, egg, soy sauce)  This is a great way to use up little bits of  veggies and cooked meat if you have cold cooked rice on hand.  The recipe (click here) is just guide since you can add just about anything.

Breakfast for dinner  (eggs, bacon or sausage, bread, pancake mix, frozen waffles, French toast)  This, too, was a family favorite when my kids were growing up. Let your imagination be your guide – even a bowl of cereal can work. Add some fruit to make it even more special.

Here are some previous posts in the Weight Watchers series:

#TBT – Clam Spaghetti

Although I love to cook, when the weather is hot and the days are long, the last thing I feel like doing is standing over a hot stove.  Clam spaghetti is a good choice since it comes together in minutes, and it is also a perfect solution when cooking for company.  It is something I have been making for years, and it has become a family favorite.  For the original post, click here.

Clam Spaghetti

Clam spaghetti doesn’t sound very glamorous, but it is one of my family’s favorites and has been for years.  It also works great if you have unexpected company for dinner as long as you have some canned clams on hand.  One of the best things is that it utilizes ingredients that are staples and/or shelf stable.  The sauce cooks in the time that it takes to bring water to a boil and cook the pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans (6.5 oz) chopped or minced clams  with their liquid, divided
  • 1/2 cup butter (you can substitute up to half of it with olive oil if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 4 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 16 oz. thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta
  • Lemon pepper (to taste)
  • Parmesan cheese (to taste)
Directions:
Start heating the water to cook the pasta (follow package directions).  Melt butter in small saucepan, add garlic and cook for 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not brown.  Add only the liquid from the canned clams, reserving the “meat”.  Add parsley and simmer until the you have added the pasta to the boiling water.  Add the clams and heat, making sure not to boil.  (Boiling makes the clams tough.)  
Drain pasta and combine sauce and hot pasta, mixing well.  (I like to slightly undercook the pasta and then let it set for a couple of minutes after stirring in the sauce.  The pasta continues to cook and really soaks up the sauce.)  After dishing up onto a plate, sprinkle with lemon pepper and Parmesan cheese – don’t skimp!  Do not skip the lemon pepper or the cheese – it really adds to the taste.
About the only side I usually fix is some garlic bread, but a salad goes great with it also.

If you really want to get fancy, you can add some white wine and/or small shrimp to the sauce.

What To Do With Your Pressure Cooker (Part 2)

So you’ve succumbed to your (wiser) instincts and bought an electric pressure cooker. Perhaps you read my previous post about Why Everybody Should Own An Electric Pressure Cooker. Now what?

I completely understand how intimidating it can be (took me 4 days), but you must simply plug that bad boy in and just do it. These days I’ve become quite cavalier with my pressure cooker, and use it 2-3 times per week. Generally speaking, anything you can do in a slow cooker you can accomplish in a pressure cooker, but within minutes instead of hours. When in doubt, I will flip through Miss Vickie’s cookbook to find cooking times for a comparable dish. I find that many people vastly overestimate the time required, so having a reliable reference is invaluable. For example, I can cook 8-10 chicken breasts in only 5 minutes, maybe 8-10 minutes if frozen. Frozen ingredients don’t require much extra time because the pressure cooker only begins counting down once internal temperatures are adequate and it begins actual pressure cooking. So it will simply take a little longer reaching pressure in these cases.

A good example of how convenient this doohickey is: Last night we ate our first spaghetti and meatball meal from our previous freezer cooking session, and I was able to throw the partially thawed sauce and frozen (cooked) meatballs into my pressure cooker and cook for 3 minutes, resulting in boiling sauce and meatballs that had the flavors of the sauce literally “pushed” into them under pressure. I started the pressure cooker and boiling water for pasta at the same time, and it was able to get up to pressure and finish cooking by the time my pasta hit the strainer.

Here are a few of my favorite things to make in the pressure cooker.

Rio Chicken 

Chicken Tacquitos. Photo courtesy of SkinnyMs.

 

We featured this in our last freezer cooking session, and since then Rachaelle has made it for the first time and loved it enough that she made 5.5 lbs of it within 24 hours! I use frozen chicken thighs from Costco, simply dumping them in my InstantPot, then pouring the ingredients on top. Lock the lid in place, make sure the vent is pointing straight forward in the pressure position, push the “Meat” button, set the timer for 15 minutes, and walk away. When it’s done cooking, you can either let it depressurize naturally over about 10 minutes, or flip the vent. I like to shred the chicken and place it back in the broth for maximum flavor. The broth this produces is mind-blowing with a Mexican flair, and can be used in almost anything that calls for chicken broth. It is particularly tasty as the liquid base for rice. Zesty Italian dressing is not negotiable, and coming soon MaryP will be sharing her recipe for homemade Ranch Dressing seasoning for those of you who have the time and want to skip any artificial flavoring. I, alas, do not have the time, but I am completely willing to let her make and provide it! Our favorite way to eat Rio Chicken is as Skinny Tacquitos, which take all of 5 minutes to throw together. Dipped in sour cream….forget about it.

Chicken Broth

So easy, so fast, so delicious, so I-am-a-Domestic-Goddess-smell-my-house brag worthy. Rachaelle recently wrote a post about it. Browning the bones is key for making the broth’s flavor more intense, and adding 2 tablespoons of vinegar helps to leach the calcium from the bones so the broth is more nutritious, will gel when cold, and and make you attain the status of Domestic Goddess. This broth is obviously wonderful in any recipe, but other uses include making dried beans, soup, or rice.

Rachaelle’s frozen 1 oz. chicken broth cubes

Carnitas 

My brother-in-law got me hooked on this dish, something which my husband will be forever thankful for. We also made this dish during our last freezer cooking session. Some fun twists on this recipe include adding a jar of Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde or a can of crushed pineapple. I used to eat these as tacos with cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and onions, but have since discovered I like them best with nothing but a flour tortilla and sharp cheddar. Easy and delicious!

Shredded pineapple carnitas ready for the freezer.


Pot Roast (recipe coming soon)

My favorite pot roast recipe comes from Miss Vickie’s cookbook, and is Apple Cider Pot Roast with Sour Cream Gravy, which I’ve already mentioned tastes and smells like Thanksgiving. My favorite way to serve it is to remove the pot roast at the end, throw in baby carrots and large chuncks of peeled sweet potatoes, and cook under pressure for 2 minutes, Heavenly! With the added bonus of being Paleo friendly and lower carb than potatoes. For traditional pot roast, you can sear your pot roast on the “Saute” setting (adjust heat setting to High), then add a cubed onion, onion soup mix packet, and enough water to cover the meat half way, then cook on the “Meat” setting for 35 minutes. Open, remove meat, add your desired veggies, cook again for 2-5 minutes, and enjoy!

Spaghetti Sauce (recipe coming soon)

For as long as I can remember, my mother (MaryP) has made homemade spaghetti and meatballs, which simmered on the stove for no less than 8 hours and made us all salivate like Pavlov’s hounds. By dinner time we’d be a pack of wild animals descending upon it. It feels almost sacrilegious to cheat and make it in under and hour in my pressure cooker while I take a nap [HAHAHAHA! More like write a thesis, do the dishes, do laundry, pry my toddler’s fingers out of the light socket…]. The great thing about the InstantPot is that you can begin by searing the Italian sausage on the “Saute” mode (adjust heat setting to High), then saute the diced onions without dirtying another dish.  I cook this under pressure for 50 minutes, depressurize, gently add browned meatballs (recipe coming soon!), then cook again under pressure for 5-10 minutes.

Ribs, Baby!!

I literally bought Harris Teeter out of ribs the last time they were on sale (50% off!) and have been slowly rationing out my freezer stock of beef ribs. I cut the meat into individual ribs before cooking.
1. Place wire rack (comes with InstantPot) .
2. Add 1/2 cup water to pot.
3. Coat ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce, mine is Jack Daniels Honey Hickory.
4. Cook on “Meat” setting for 12 minutes (20 if frozen).
5. Brush on more BBQ sauce.
6. Broil in oven (parchment paper is aluminum-free and mess-free) till browned ~ 5 minutes.
7. Flip ribs, brush on more BBQ sauce, broil again till browned ~5 minutes.
8. EAT!!

These ribs make me really happy.

Why Everybody Should Own An Electric Pressure Cooker (Part 1)

We are all well acquainted with the pressure cooker of old, the one who we cower in fear of blowing our faces off. Every grandmother I know has a horror story of scalding hot [insert food here] exploding in their mother’s kitchen, coating the walls and ceiling with molten-lava and nearly maiming or killing the entire family. These stories usually end in “…thank God nobody was hurt.” I am here to tell you that today’s electric pressure cookers are smarter than we are, and have computer chips to prevent such mishaps. I love mine so much that I would possibly save it from a house fire before I would my cat. My pressure cooker has never bit my children or peed on the clean laundry. Just saying.
Sasuke- Handsome, but a bit evil.

I dabbled in pressure canning with my monstrous 23 quart canner years ago, but with small children in the house I was usually too concerned with keeping their faces where I like them (attached to their skulls) to actually use it. One day about three years ago I was at work when I overheard one of my fellow nurses talking about how much she loves her electric pressure cooker. My ears really perked up when she told about how she made a frozen piece of meat into pot-roast for dinner in under an hour. When I told her about how I like the idea of pressure cooking in theory but that for me its just too terrifying to actually utilize, she gave me a knowing smile and patted my knee. She then explained that the modern electric pressure cookers are fool-proof and virtually impossible to commit homicide with. It also allows for maximum flavoring of your food, because the seasonings and aromatics are literally forced into the food under such high pressures.

I’d marry my instant pot if I could.

I rushed home and did extensive Amazon review reading and price comparisons and ultimately decided on the…. (can you hear the angels in heaven singing?)… InstantPot. Best. Investment. Ever. What sold me on this model is that you can brown meat, saute, pressure cook, cook rice, and slow cook all with a push of a button. Most of my recipes start with sauteed onion or seared meat, so with this bad boy I can do just that without having to dirty an additional pan. My only slight complaint in the past is that the saute option could be hotter, but my fellow blogger extraordinaire Rachael, informed me last week that you can increase the heat setting (low, normal, high) on all cooking modes by hitting the “adjust” button then the “+” button. *swoon!*
When I received my InstantPot in the mail, I removed it from its packaging tenderly and in awe, then sat down to immerse myself in the instruction manual because I wanted to overcome my intimidation and fear of pressure cooking. I was shocked and scandalized to discover that the manual was a small leaflet and only a measly five pages long, most of which was a Chinese translation. I read it over and over, getting quite upset that it pretty much said 1.) Put food in pot 2.) Put lid on pot 3.) Push button for what you want to cook 4.) Use plus/minus buttons to adjust time. That’s it. I was so frustrated I conferred with my mother and fellow blogger who is my all-things-food-related-mentor, who told me to just do what it said and see what happens. *deep breath*

It took me 4 days to work up the nerve to use it, but when I did I realized why there were not more instructions. It really is that easy! There isn’t even a start button to push once you’ve entered the time, I guess its smart enough to figure you wouldn’t be fooling around with time settings if you had no intention of actually cooking. It just magically starts cooking after about 5 seconds. It will even yell at you and repeatedly beep with flashing instructions if you fail to put the lid on properly. Depending upon the size and temperature of the ingredients used, it takes a few minutes to reach core temperatures high enough for the countdown and cooking to begin. When the food is finished, it beeps five times then automatically switches over to “Keep Warm” mode until you open it. You can either let it sit about 10 minutes to depressurize slowly on its own, or you can flip the vent on the top and it will spew heavenly smelling steam until the pressure is gone. It is impossible to open the lid until the pressure is completely gone, so there’s zero chance for injury unless you decide that putting your face directly above the spewing hot steam seems like a good idea. Seriously, a monkey could use this thing.

So now on those nights that we find ourselves at 5 p.m. with a hankering for pot roast, we have time to run to the store for ingredients, throw it in the pressure cooker, and have dinner on the table by 6 p.m. Maybe 6:30 p.m. if I’m using frozen meat. Unheard of! At first I only used proven pressure cooker recipes, and Miss Vickie’s Big Book of Pressure Cooking Recipes  is an absolute must-have. It is written for conventional pressure cookers, so you are able to disregard about 80% of the actual cooking directions and skip straight to how many minutes it should be cooked under pressure, and simply program in that number. So far everything I’ve made from this book is amazing, and one of our favorites is Apple Cider Pot Roast with Sour Cream Gravy. It smells and tastes like Thanksgiving.
In Part 2 of this post, I will go into more detail on some specific things that I do with my pressure cooker.  Stay tuned!

Freezer cooking session

Kayte and I (Mary) got together this past week for our first freezer cooking session.  Kayte is cooking for a family of four (one of them a toddler) and I am cooking for one.  Her family does not like leftovers, so everything needs to be (or appear to be) freshly made.  Kayte is also staying low-carb, so the meals also need to reflect that. 
We decided to select five recipes and make 3 meals for each of us of each recipe.  The dishes we made are spaghetti sauce, meatballs (made and packaged separately, not in the sauce), rio chicken, cashew chicken, meat loaf and carnitas.  (Yes, we really can count, but decided the meatballs kinda sorta went with the spaghetti sauce, although they can also be used for other recipes.) The special equipment we used was a 6-quart slow cooker, a food processor and an electric pressure cooker. 
A messy kitchen

We divided the shopping, with Mary checking the sale adds, then going to Costco and Publix, and Kayte hitting Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter.  We spent a total of about 30 minutes on Friday prepping and cooking the rio chicken in the pressure cooker, and the spaghetti sauce in the slow cooker.  We got down to business on Saturday, and spent about 3 hours completing everything.  Kayte’s husband was very helpful, taking the kids out of the house (it’s really hard to be efficient with a toddler hanging on your leg, being very helpful with the raw meat, etc.). 

We ended up spending a total of $122.57, but when subtracting out the unused portions (honey, onions, cashews, parmesan cheese), the meals cost $94.07. We didn’t count the staples that we already had on hand, and this also does not include any side dishes or add-ons that will be needed for serving (such as tortillas, rice, bread, veggies, etc.) .  The meals were divided up with 2/3 for Kayte and 1/3 for Mary.  We each ended up with 15 entrees at an average cost of $4.18 for Kayte and $2.09 for Mary.  A side benefit was five links of cooked Italian sausage (makes a great sandwich especially if you add provolone cheese) and several portions of broth from the rio chicken and the also from the carnitas.  (The broth makes a wonderful base for rice, beans or soup.)  Most of these meals will also have leftovers that we will use for lunches the next day.

Some lessons learned: do as much prep before hand  as possible, such as chopping onions, mixing spice blends, etc.  These tasks can be divided up between everyone cooking and brought with them.  Figure out a game plan for cooking day – what order will recipes be prepared, who will do what.  I ended up doing most of the meat handling such as shredding the rio chicken and carnitas, chopping the raw chicken for cashew chicken, and mixing the raw hamburger for meat loaf and meatballs, since that grosses Kayte out.  Kayte mixed other ingredients, spice blends and sauces, cooked the recipes that needed to be cooked, and packaged (and photographed) the finished food.  The meatloaf and cashew chicken will need to be cooked on the day of serving, and everything else will just need to be briefly heated. Here is a run down of what we prepared:

Rio chicken in pressure cooker
Packaged up, broth in jars

 Rio chicken, fully cooked –  great as a filling for tacos or taquitos, or would be delicious on a bun.  A great side dish, especially with the tacos or taquitos, is rice cooked in the broth – no other seasoning needed.  This is a slow cooker recipe that we made in the pressure cooker.

Free form meatloaves ready for the oven

Meatloaf, frozen raw  – a wonderful Alton Brown recipe that you really should try even if you don’t like meatloaf.  His recipe says to smoke it, but it is good cooked in the oven instead.  In the interest of keeping the carbs low, we substituted BBQ pork rinds for the potato chips.  We also used ground beef only instead of the mixed meats to keep the cost down.  A double recipe was made and divided into 3 large loaves for Kayte and 3 small ones for Mary.  The glaze for the tops (to be added before cooking) was packaged in small ziplock bags and packaged with each loaf.

Chicken & sauce in baggies, cashews packaged separately

Cashew chicken, frozen raw in sauce – needs brief cooking before serving, cashews packaged separately and included with each bag of the chicken and sauce, to be added right before serving.  We both add some veggies, usually broccoli or a stir fry mix, quickly sautéed, but we always have something on hand that we can quickly grab and add when we prepare for serving. 
Spaghetti sauce & Italian sausage
Spaghetti sauce, fully cooked – I don’t really have a recipe for this.  I combine any combination of tomato sauce, canned tomatoes (break up if using whole), fresh tomatoes (whatever I have on hand or is cheapest), diced onion, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, and Italian sausage (optional).  Everything goes into the slow cooker and cooks as long as possible.  It can also be done on the stovetop, once again cooking as long as possible and stirring often.  The Italian sausage can be eaten with the spaghetti or makes a great sandwich, especially if you add some good provolone cheese.
Meatballs

Meatballs, fully cooked – once again, I don’t really have a recipe.  Let me know if you need one by commenting, and I will try to write down how I make them.  Usually I use bread crumbs, but in the interest of going low carb, we substituted almond meal.  We used 3 pounds of ground beef for the meatballs, and baked them in the oven without browning in a skillet first.  The meatballs ended up being pretty big (I was getting tired and just wanted to get them finished!).  If they had been more normal size, we would have had more packages.  We will put them in our spaghetti sauce, but they could also be used for Swedish meatballs or other recipes.

Carnitas, ready for the freezer
Carnitas, fully cooked – this is the best tasting and easiest recipe I have ever found for pulled pork or tacos.  The linked recipe calls for making your own tomatillo salsa, but I use Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde.  It can also be used as enchilada or taquito filling.
Freezer meals all together

In the freezer

Here is the end result of our cooking session. We are starting to plan our next one, gathering recipes and watching sale ads.  Give us your feedback and any tips you may have to make it more efficient.