Be prepared for lots of Italian inspired meals in the next several months, as I am studying abroad in Florence this semester! Living in Tuscany is a food lovers dream; every morning there are street markets with beautiful fruits and vegetables, the wine is perfecto (and inexpensive), and the smell of good cooking can be found rolling out of every restaurant and home. However, being raised in the states, where we are supplied with large appliances and microwaves, cooking can be a bit of a challenge here. I’ve decided to take on this challenge to learn how to cook simply and learn new, authentic Italian recipes. I’ve started going to the market nearly every day, and rather than planning meals, I allow my meals to be inspired by the freshest meats and produce at the days market. While this new method of shopping and cooking has been challenging, it is also making me a better cook, who can think on my feet and quickly find substitutes for ingredients. Even if you aren’t living in Italy, I challenge you to try this sometime. Believe me, you will be amazed at what you come up with.
In the mean time, you can also try the recipes that I create, like this Mushroom Ravioli with Balsamic Tomato Dressing.
- 1 8 oz. package of mushroom ravioli
- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes; halved
- 1/2 cup sweet onion; sliced
- 1/2 red bell pepper; chopped
- 1 clove garlic; minced
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Salt and Pepper; to taste
- Fresh basil
- Boil a large pot of water.
- While water boils, heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; saute for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and bell pepper; saute for 4 minutes or until tomatoes are tender and onions are translucent. Add the garlic; cook 30 seconds or until garlic is fragrant. Add the remaining oil, vinegar, salt and pepper; saute for two more minutes, allowing tomatoes to soak up the vinegar. Remove from heat.
- Add ravioli to the boiling water and cook according to package directions.
- Dish ravioli evenly among 2 plates and top both with tomato mixture. Garnish with fresh basil if desired.
It’s back to school, and that means back to fending for myself! And no access to a grill (sad face). But that won’t stop me from eating delicious food! I take it as a wonderful opportunity to try making new things that my family would otherwise avoid. The first on my list of new meals for the new school year: Light and Creamy Mac ‘n Cheese. My mom would never choose to make mac ‘n cheese for dinner because it’s too heavy and there isn’t enough protein or veggies. I would usually agree with her, however, I found this delicious and light version of a creamy homemade mac ‘n cheese. A side of vegetables that have been roasted with garlic, salt and pepper adds color to the plate and completes the meal.
- 10 ounces rotini pasta
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 1/4 cups unsalted chicken stock
- 1/2 cup 2% reduced fat milk
- 8 tsp all-purpose flour
- 4 oz Neufchatel cheese
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Set aside
- Preheat broiler to high
- Heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add oil to pan, swirl to coat. Add garlic to pan and cook 3 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant, stirring frequently. Stir in one cup chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute.
- Combine remaining 1 1/4 cups stock, milk, and flour. Stir with a whisk until flour dissolves.
- Add milk mixture to garlic mixture, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil and then cook for 5 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Remove mixture from heat and add cream cheese, stirring until smooth. Stir in salt and pepper.
- Add cooked pasta to milk mixture, tossing to coat. Let stand 5 minutes. Pour pasta into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle cheddar evenly over pasta mixture. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. (makes 6 servings)
I have to warn you, this recipe makes A LOT of food. The plus side is that it keeps well in the fridge, so it’s perfect to have as a lunch the next day or to save for a night you don’t feel like cooking. Usually I am not a fan of left over mac ‘n cheese, but this mac ‘n cheese tastes almost as good reheated as it does fresh out of the oven.
So here is the break down of the cost:
The recipe cost me about $6.23. I’ve gotten six meals out of it, making each meal only $1.04! That’s about the same, if not less than, a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese. And, might I add, this tastes way better than that processed powdered cheese. If you decide to complete the meal by adding roasted vegetables (i.e. broccoli and red bell pepper) it only adds about $1.33 to the cost of each serving.
A quick side note; all of the groceries for this meal were purchased at a Walmart Superstore. If you have not tried shopping at one yet, I highly recommend it. The prices are amazing and the food is of the same quality as a generic grocery store. Believe me when I say, it will save you a lot of money.
- Mac and Cheese Grows Up (thenakedchip.wordpress.com)
- Stacked Mac (and Cheese) (blogthebackyard.wordpress.com)
- Creamy Low-Calorie Fettuccine Alfredo (weightloss.answers.com)
Recently I cooked a big container of yummy chicken ravioli, however, my store bought marinara sauce just wasn’t cutting it. What it really needed was my mom’s favorite homemade tomato sauce. Sadly, her sauce calls for white wine and, being under age, I am not allowed to buy wine (even if I try convincing the cashier that it’s for cooking purposes only). So I embarked on an endless search for an equally as delicious recipe that does not call for wine. In the end, I resorted to two different recipes that I have now fused together to make my own twist on a homemade tomato sauce.
I am actually making this sauce ahead of time to be used throughout the week in several dinners and lunches, but it can easily be made the night of (keeping in mind that it has to simmer for at least an hour).
If I were to follow the measurements of the original recipes it would make around 5 or 6 servings. Seeing that I’m only cooking for myself, I reduced the size of the recipe by about one half, making only 2 to 3 servings. I have provided the measurements for both the original size and for what I have done (my measurements are shown in parenthesis).
(my measurements for the half-recipe are in parenthesis)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium (small) sweet onion, finely chopped
- 4 (2-3) cloves of garlic, minced (I like garlic so I used 3 cloves instead of cutting it directly in half)
- Pinch of red pepper flakes (~1/2 teaspoon or more, I like my sauce spicy)
- 2 (1) 28 oz cans crushed tomato
- 1 6 oz. can tomato paste (I only used half the can, and the rest I covered and put in the fridge for a later use)
- 1 (1/2) teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 (1/2) teaspoon dried basil
- 1 (1/2) teaspoon sugar
- Black pepper
- Fresh basil, coarsely chopped (optional, but highly recommended)
- Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat
- Add the chopped onion and sauté for one minute, stirring occasionally. Then add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes and continue to sauté until the onions are translucent, stirring occasionally.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, dried basil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Then I filled about half the can of tomato paste with water and added the water to the sauce, to make it not so thick.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered for about 1 to 2 hours. (It gets better the longer you let it simmer)
- Finish the sauce by adding a handful of fresh basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve the sauce over your favorite pasta, ravioli, or what have you. (If you don’t want to use all of the sauce right away, you can store it in the refrigerator for about a week and use it when you please)
So here is the low down of how much this meal really costs (when following my measurements). I already have all of the spices and olive oil so I did not need to purchase those when shopping for ingredients. For those who just started cooking and don’t have spices, I can guarantee that you will use them again if you continue making your own home-cooked meals, so don’t be scared away by their prices.
- Tomato Paste $0.75
- Crushed Tomatoes $1.55
- Sweet Onion $0.51
- Fresh Basil $1.99
With a grand total of only $4.80, each serving only costs about $1.20-1.60 depending on how much sauce you like on your pasta. Grant it, this doesn’t include the cost of spices and pasta, but as an avid cook I almost always have those ingredients in my cupboards, making this a frugal foodie meal!