Did you know how easy it is to make spaghetti squash? I recently learned how, so I wanted to share a quick tutorial. Then I needed something to serve it with, so of course I turned to pasta! I’m Italian, it’s getting cold out, and I have a carb-hungry toddler to feed. I got the inspiration for this pasta from a former co-worker whose wife made a similar dish that came out so well he raved about it on Facebook (what a guy!) I thought, “you know what? I haven’t simmered sausage in tomato sauce for a really long time. I’ll bet Mark would like that.” So I did. And he did.
Rotini with Sweet Italian Sausage
1 package sweet (not hot) Italian sausage
1 lb. rotini pasta, or similar shape
1 jar marinara sauce, preferably something simple (I chose chunky roasted tomato and garlic from Classico, which is among the healthier brands)
grated cheese for topping, such as parmesan
optional: eggplant (I had some leftover from another recipe, sliced and grilled with fresh tomatoes, so I added it into the sauce)
In a skillet, cook the sausage over medium either in an inch of water or plain in the pan until they start to brown. I chose to break mine up with the spoon to cook faster, but you can also leave them whole and then simmer longer once you add the sauce so they cook through and stay moist. You can choose to keep the fat and pan scrapings, or drain them off before adding the sauce.
Meanwhile, in a separate (good sized) pot, boil water for the pasta and cook until al-dente; drain and set aside.
When the sausage is sufficiently browned, add the eggplant (if using) to the pan, then the jar of tomato sauce. Cook on low until the flavors meld, as long as half an hour if you’d like. Finally, add both into the reserved pot of drained pasta, and cook on low for a couple minutes so the flavors blend.
Top with freshly grated cheese, such as parmesan.
Now what better to pair with this hearty pasta than a light fluffy squash? The kind you can cook in a jiffy? Enter our spaghetti squash. Here are the simple steps to cooking this tasty vegetable, which I’ve seen people serve like they do regular spaghetti, complete with tomato sauce and other pasta toppings. I’m not sure it would quite satisfy my carb cravings that way, but I know many folks who swear by it as the staple of a weight-loss diet. I think it makes a lovely side, and all you have to do after cooking is top it with shredded cheese — or have it plain!
HOW TO: COOK SPAGHETTI SQUASH
I don’t know why I thought this was difficult, but it’s beyond easy. As long as you have a high-quality, sharp knife and a sturdy cutting board, the hardest part is the first slice to cut it in half.
Step by Step
1) Preheat the oven to 400.
2) Cut the squash in half and scrape out the seeds (they’ll look similar to pumpkin seeds) and discard.
3) Place face down in a glass baking dish and pour in water until the edges of each half are just submerged.
4) Cover with tinfoil and cook for at least 30 minutes in the oven, or until tender when poked with a fork.
5) Transfer to a bowl and scrape out the “spaghetti” strands with a fork.
6) Top with cheese or serve plain. That’s it!
In other news, have a great Halloween tonight! Maybe check out this network of dentists that will buy your extra candy to make care packages for the troops? — and while you’re watching the sweets, go easy on the soda, too! Apparently it can age you as much as a daily smoking habit. If you’re near a Chipotle tonight, you’re entitled to free goodies for showing up in costume. And when we are all candied out, this is the refreshing-looking fruit I’m going to share with G (all the yum, no tedious chopping and scooping just to get to the good parts). Speaking of G, here she is at our office “trick or treat” party, sporting her ladybug getup a few days early 🙂
Turns out, there is a right and a wrong way to store things in your refrigerator! I always knew you shouldn’t store food on top of the fridge, but many other things in here were news to me. Olive oil in the fridge? Tomatoes on the counter? Read on and learn how to save money by preventing premature food spoilage while conserving the energy it takes your refrigerator to run every day.
A couple of these were new to me.
I always used to throw onions in the crisper, but now they are hanging out on the counter so they don’t spoil as fast.
Conversely, I never refrigerate nuts or nut butters, and I didn’t realize you should!
Thanks to this graphic, I’ve started storing my eggs on the bottom shelf instead of the top, and dairyproducts off the door (although that’s very challenging, because my top shelf can only fit milk cartons along one side. I have the smallest fridge in the universe! And we go through so much milk now that we have Georgia around).
Thanks to the article accompanying this graphic, I now know that the lower levels are the coldest levels, which is why raw meat and eggs belong here, while the top levels have the most consistent temperatures.
I also discovered that packing your freezer full saves energy, but packing your fridge too much actually inhibits cold air from circulating freely and can jack up your energy bills. Good to know!
I have to re-blog Sarah Fit again today ~ she has a helpful and funny guide to the top five candies you should avoid on Halloween, with great tips on how to scan labels for sneaky hidden ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup masquerading under a different name. And tragedy of all tragedies, Butterfinger is the worst one. My favorite!!
Real Simple also has a fun side-by-side comparison to help you pick the ‘better’ candies. I was happy to read in here that Snickers — my other favorite — edged out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and that Peanut M&Ms won out over Skittles. Read the whole article to compare your favorites!
Looking for more Halloween alternatives to giving out (and eating) tons of candy loaded with crap ingredients? Check out Mama Natural’s complete guide to Halloween, including information on her “80/20 rule” for eating the trick-or-treat haul, and some cool information on helping kids with allergies to enjoy Halloween. I’ll be busy decorating the house and my office for trick-or-treaters! We always put up these ghost lights to line our walkway, and how pretty is this Halloween-themed wreath from Etsy?
In case you are wondering, Georgia is going to be a lady bug this year. Pictures, of course, are forthcoming!
When I do my Trader Joe’s run every few weeks, I always make a point of picking up the ingredients for this recipebecause they are all pantry staples that never spoil and can pull together into a super basic meal very quickly. Pasta, sauce, and artichokes are a yummy combo, but the other night I made this and realized I had a couple other ingredients on hand that made it a little more special!
I added in Kalamata olives (refrigerated, from Trader Joe’s), sun dried tomatoes and a few sliced pepperoncini that gave it the heat equivalent of red pepper flakes, and WOW — it was like a whole other dish! I realized that next time I should save some leftover sweet sausage if I make it on the weekend and crumble that in, and I think that would make it perfection. Chicken would also be delicious in here but sadly I didn’t have any on hand! I’m definitely going to make it this way from now on. Especially since it makes great toddler leftovers, too.
BASE RECIPE — Penne with Artichokes
1 can three-cheese tomato sauce from Trader Joe’s (or similar)
1 can artichoke hearts in water, rinsed and chopped smaller
1 lb. penne pasta, cooked al dente
ADD-INS — mix and match
sliced pepperoncini and a dash of their liquid
sun dried tomatoes (not in oil, if you can help it)
Kalamata olives (Trader Joe’s refrigerated, or similar)
crumbled cooked sweet Italian Sausage
Leftover shredded chicken
what else??? you tell me!
Ugh this was so good that I almost ate two portions the other night when I was just lounging in my PJs trying to get caught up on Scandal! <<ahem>> I mean doing laundry and putting away clothes instead of leaving them in folded piles on my husband’s dresser.
Trader Joe’s had some fun, new ingredients the last time I visited, including cold brew coffee concentrate, coconut cookies, ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil cooking spray and pomegranate vinegar. And of course, who can live without their pear cider at this time of year?? I’ll be sharing a recipe for using that cider to make some yummy apple topping for cooked pork chops in another week or two. I was so disappointed to see that they discontinued their mobile app, which featured lots of new foods just coming into stores. I guess I’ll just have to keep going in person to see what’s new and interesting.
The pictures for this came out terrible, but it’s a hearty soup that comes together really quickly. We picked up all the ingredients at Trader Joe’s but you could easily make this from any store with comparable products! This isn’t soup from scratch, but it is fast, creamy and satisfying, and uses up leftover prepared pesto that you may have made yourself or bought for another recipe. Plus, it’s vegetarian and filling without being bad for you.
Tortellini Roasted Red Pepper Soup
INGREDIENTS (all Trader Joe’s)
1 bag dried tortellini, with cheese filling (pesto filling is also OK)
1 carton creamy Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup
1 package frozen Melange a Trois (tri-color bell peppers)
1/2 jar pesto (adjust amount to taste)
optional: grated cheese for topping
Set a medium pot of water to boil. Boil the tortellini until they are just cooked (usually when they float to the top). Set aside.
In another large pot — I used a cast iron Le Creuset dutch oven — heat the entire package of soup over medium until simmering. Add in the whole package of frozen bell peppers and pesto, then stir in the tortellini. Once it’s all heated, it’s ready to serve!
Top with grated parmesan or pecorino and enjoy warm.
(This makes a thick soup; if you’d rather it be a bit thinner, use half to 2/3 bag of cooked tortellini instead).
The great thing about this recipe is that you can adjust it however you like. Don’t want to use frozen bell peppers? Go for frozen peas, or string beans. I threw in half a can of corn that was lying around from my Shepherd’s Pie a few days before! Love pesto? Add the whole darn jar. Not a fan? Scale it back or omit entirely. You can use any brand of creamy tomato soup, but I really like how the roasted red pepper element adds flavor here. It’s relatively healthy and will also leave you with a few tasty lunches for the week. Plus, even though I love that it’s vegetarian, you can always change that by throwing in some chicken sausage, kielbasa, ground beef or leftover rotisserie chicken. The possibilities are endless.
Hey everyone! We’ve been busy with Mark’s show opening (check out his cool writeup in the Boston Globe last weekend) and as a result I’ve been eating pretty lame lately. One of my favorite things to do when I’m dining solo after baby’s bedtime is to whip up a fried egg over Trader Joe’s frozen tikka masala or palak paneer. As with any frozen entree, you have to watch the sodium, but they are great vegetarian options for those no-effort nights. I particularly love serving their soft Tandoori Naan Bread alongside, and boy does Georgia love nibbling on Naan as a snack! It’s a great size and consistency for babies to grab.
Has 4 p.m. got you hunting for something non-work-related to read? Here’s a roundup of some fun tidbits from the world of food. Have a great week!
My favorites are the Silly Skin Straw Tops, which turn any cup into a sippy cup; the Chicco Lulla Go basinnet; the new Aden & Anais toddler bedding sets that have a layer at the end so kids can’t kick off their sheets; the Puj Filla Cups for toddlers that attach to your fridge; and the new Britax Click Tightconvertible car seats that use your seatbelt (not the LATCH system) to make moving form car to car simpler. (As I mentioned in my last post, we pre-ordered this immediately because we have three sets of grandparents, occasional sitters, taxis and flights to Florida to contend with). There were also some cool updates from Baby Jogger, Orbit, UppaBaby, Bumbleride and others, but I refuse to contribute to the culture of stroller-as-status-symbol in this country…if you are buying a new Bugaboo because it now comes in camo, you need something better to do with your time and money! ($1300 on that one, to be exact). I did drool over Balmoral bringing its line of totally old-fashioned, impractical and gorgeous prams to the US from across the pond, though. Now when Georgia meets her future husband Prince George she can do it in the proper style of buggy! 🙂
Happy Friday everyone! And Happy Belated World Vegetarian Day, which was this week (October 1). I found this handy HuffPo article with 22 new vegetarian recipe ideas to share, and I’m definitely going to try the pumpkin mac n’ cheese and the sweet potato pizza this weekend, which is the only time I can really plan ahead and pre-cook things for the week to save time after work. We’ve been doing a great job at eating out less, and encouraged by our success I am now trying to tackle a few other areas where I waste time and money. Though we’ve saved a lot through inertia of not having to buy formula and being able to serve Georgia table food, I feel there’s always more I can do to save my sanity.
What do you do to streamline life? I’ve always been a lover of efficiency, but nothing has made me more organized and adept at shaving time off of things that used to eat up my entire day than having Georgia. To think that I used to shower and blow dry my hair every single day before work, and spend 15 or 20 minutes putting on makeup! To be honest, the post-partum body changes from having Georgia were another tool for me to simplify my life, too, because I was forced to eliminate anything that didn’t work for me and to reduce my wardrobe to the key essentials. In turn, it has allowed me to feel OK about buying things that really do work for us, even if they are a little more expensive (case in point: the convertible car seat we just bought, which was more expensive than other models but is so simple to install that I don’t know how it took someone this long to invent it. Anyone who’s wrestled one of these things into a cab or rental car will feel me on this). So how else do I, a not-so-new-but-still-frazzled mom, shave time in my daily life?
Prep the night before
I make Georgia’s food and bottles and lay out her clothes every night before bed. This means chopping fruit, bagging up crackers, cheese and yogurt, slicing meatballs or shredding rotisserie chicken and packing it all in her lunch bag. Even just taking 5 minutes to pour whole milk into her bottles and sippy cups saves you from a hectic morning. That way, when we are running out the door, I just grab leftovers or an Amy’s Frozen Organic Meal for my lunch, take her day care bag out of the fridge, and then buy a breakfast sandwich & coffee or myself on the way to the train after school drop-off. This is the one meal I routinely eat out; everybody has one. If I do make my own breakfast, it’s either a smoothie, a slice of casserole, egg muffins or an overnight yogurt and oatmeal fruit parfait.
This is a biggie for me. From getting our diapers and wipes every six weeks from The Honest Company, to ordering gifts, toiletries, toys and craft supplies from our Amazon Prime membership (free 2-day shipping! Instant streaming for those nights in with a sleeping toddler!), we try to minimize our trips to any store because we have one car and zero shared days off per week. We also recently joined Costco, so that we can really stock up and not have to make extra trips to Target or the grocery store for another 12-pack of toilet paper or seltzer, and I’ve recently been considering checking out other subscription product membership services such as Fabletics, Popbasic, Stitch Fix and Dollar Shave Club (which I am dying to try; I feel like we spend so much money on razors). I even order stamps from the postal service by mail now, and I long ago switched almost entirely to shopping online for clothes (both ours and Georgia’s), especially via consignment sites like ThredUp, Kidizen and my favorite place for well-priced trendy baby duds, Old Navy and Gap. (And if you try any of the services above, I’d be tickled if you use my referral links!)
Get off social media
Seriously. If you need more convincing, read on. You can’t spend more time with your family, your hobbies and your home improvement projects until you minimize screen time. And this is coming from a blogger who manages websites and social media platforms for a living!
Minimize your beauty routine
This happened out of necessity both while I was pregnant (read: exhausted) and after Georgia came along. Of course in those first few weeks you don’t wear any makeup, good clothes or basically anything clean or flattering; about a month in, though, you start to want to venture out, and realize this can only happen if you drastically lower your standards for your appearance and/or consolidate a few aspects of your morning routine. I did this in a few key ways: eliminating steps, and buying products that do double duty.
As I already said, I started showering every other day, taking advantage of simple buns, dry shampoo and (let’s be honest) hats, and by picking up multi-tasking products like this Benefit blush that doubles as eye shadow, or this blush that doubles as a lip stain. This concealor can cover up under-eye circles and blemishes, and then I just swipe some mascara and I’m good to go. At night, I reach for a do-it-all makeup remover and cleanser that can handle tough mascara, like these Kat Von D wipes (amazing). I take my skin care routine seriously, so whenever possible, I wash with Cetaphil (can double as baby wash in a pinch!), tone with witch hazel wipes (good for you-know-what after childbirth, plus bug bites, cuts & scrapes) and moisturize with Olay Regenerist. In the shower, I share my Honest shampoo and body wash with Georgia, and we also both use the Honest conditioning detangler now that she’s got some wavy, crazy hair. Finally, if I need to polish my nails in a hurry, I’m a huge fan of this Sally Hansen insta-dri fast color (like literally dry in 30 seconds, and has a huge color selection).
A couple other quick tips: diaper rash cream can also be used to dry up a breakout; Rosebud salve can tint your lips, tamp down flyaways and frizz, and soothe your cuticles, dry elbows and paper cuts; and things like dryel and febreeze fabric freshener can really cut down on the time and expense of all those trips to the dry-cleaners.
Work out in short bursts
I wouldn’t get any exercise at all if I tried to make it to an actual yoga class twice (or being real here, even once) every week. I also suck at getting up early enough to exercise before my unpredictable child decides to start her day, which can happen any time between 6 and 7:30 a.m., so that’s out. What’s a girl to do? Well, I’ve come up with a couple creative solutions, and they all revolve around cramming shorter workouts into more days per week.
I try to grab a snack when G is eating dinner around 5:45, then it’s digested by the time she goes to bed between 6:30 and 7, and this fuels me for a quick workout after her bedtime and before my own dinner. We do a long walk every weekend together, then twice a week, we walk home one mile from her daycare. Once a week my office hosts a short yoga class in one of our conference rooms, which I don’t always make it to, but which is great to have. See if your company is willing to do the same!
Cook in bulk
This goes for big things like making stuffed shells, chili or a huge batch of risotto so there’s plenty of leftovers throughout the week, all the way down to slicing and mixing Georgia’s daycare meals on Sundays so I can grab and go in the mornings. We bought (and labelled) a ton of food containers that we can stock up on weekends and just plop into her daycare bag every other day when she goes. I also like to pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store one night, then make the leftovers into chicken salad for Mark to have for sandwiches throughout the week. Since we often eat dinner separately, he either buys his on break from work, or I make a huge pan of shepherd’s pie or spaghetti carbonara for him to take every day (and I pretend like he’s having a side salad with it, but probably it’s more like a side soda).
This week, to get Georgia more veggies in her diet, I bought a pre-cut butternut squash at Costco and then roasted and mashed it with a touch of pumpkin butter. She devoured it, and the whole thing lasted us an entire week!
Last but not least, keep baby wipes in every single corner of your house — preferably fragrance free and eco-friendly — and use them to do everything. I’ve washed my walls and baseboards, wiped down kitchen counters and the high chair, dusted the car interior, freshened up the sink and toilet, and even cleaned all my vinyl siding before Georgia’s birthday party this summer, using just baby wipes. They are also amazing post-workout when you don’t have time to shower, and I’ve grabbed them in a panic when the cat has gotten sick or walked through something gross and tracked it into the house. I honestly don’t know how I ever survived without them.
So what did I miss? I know there are some great life hacks out there waiting to be discovered and shared. I’d love to hear about them.