Cooking truly can be easy. When I was young, I thought cooking was hard and I was intimidated by the kitchen. After many years of cooking for my family, I realized that I was making it much harder than it really is. Cooking CAN be EASY!
The basic pasta dish has 5 main ingredients: pasta, sauce, meat (beef or chicken), cheese, and vegetables. Mix and match, to make a variety of pasta recipes: Chicken Spaghetti, Baked Ziti, Rigatoni Bake, Creamy Fettuccini, Spaghetti & Meatballs, or Cheesy Hamburger Mac.
Cook pasta & drain. Return to pot; add meat, pasta sauce, cheese, and vegies. Spaghetti is great, but if you want to add a little variety to your menu, try a different pasta: farfalle (bowtie), angel hair (thin spaghetti), penne, fettuccini, elbow macaroni, rigatoni, or ziti. (Healthy tip: Use wheat or whole-grain pasta.) The cooking method is exactly the same; the timing may vary.
Mix one jar pasta sauce (red or white) into pasta. We prefer Bertolli or Newman’s Own pasta sauce, but Ragu or Prego are great also. For more flavor, choose a sauce containing garlic, basil, onion, mushroom, or four-cheeses.
Meat (beef or chicken):
Brown hamburger in a skillet; or bake chicken in the oven – at 350 degrees, for 1 hour. (Kitchen tip #1: Always cook on both large stove burners. If you’re going to stand at the stove to cook, double up and make tomorrow night’s dinner at the same time.) At the same time, bake boneless skinless chicken breasts at in two casserole dishes. Now, you have chicken for four additional meals, cooked and ready to throw into an easy recipe. (Kitchen tip #2: Use a Kitchen Aid mixer to chop chicken breasts. It takes less than 5 minutes to shred 16 chicken breasts, which is much faster than dicing.)
Add in 2 cups mozzarella, or 2 cups cheddar cheese, or a mixture of 2 cups mozzarella and ½ cup parmesan). Stir into hot pasta, to melt the cheese. For creamy noodles, add a package of cubed cream cheese to a crockpot recipe. (Healthy tip: cut calories and fat by using reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses.)
Add onion, zucchini, squash, broccoli, tomato, fresh spinach, or fresh mushrooms. (Kitchen tip #3: To easily sauté any vegetable, dice vegies, top with 1 tbsp butter or margarine, and microwave for 2 minutes.) If you like a bold flavor, spice up any Italian recipe with garlic powder, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper.
Budget tip: Most grocery stores have monthly sales (or “Buy One Get One”, if you’re really lucky) on pasta, meat, and pasta sauce. Cut your grocery bill in half by stocking up on pantry staples when they’re “Buy One Get One Free”. Just check your local grocery store’s website or smartphone app. No couponing required!
Cook-ahead tip: Mix all of the above ingredients into a casserole dish, and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Or add to a crockpot and cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours. Mix it in the evening, and store the casserole dish or crockpot in the fridge. Casseroles are ready in half an hour, or plug in the crockpot before heading out for the day and “Voila!” Dinner is ready when you get home!
Pasta recipes are simple, for teenagers learning how to cook. My teens each have an assigned night of the week to cook for the family. Spend quality family time in your kitchen, and teach your children how to cook easy recipes. Healthy eating habits can be taught by discussing how to shop for reduced-fat cheeses, whole grain pasta, and adding plenty of vegetables. Set your children up for cooking on their own, as adults, and teach them to NOT be “afraid” of the kitchen! Cooking can be EASY!