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Scraps to Scrumptious: Post-Flight Dinner

Spicy Tomato Pasta

A few nights ago, after returning home from a trip for a travel piece I’m writing, I needed to make a late dinner. Rummaging through the refrigerator, I threw away remnants of meals from the week before consisting of leftovers we didn’t have time to eat. Virtually all that was left–aside from the food that belongs to our live-in guest–were the typical fridge staples: jams, cheeses, flours, and the like. In such circumstances, however, a well-stocked pantry means that with a little creativity, there’s no excuse to say there’s nothing to eat.

I had half a box of rigatoni, a can of diced tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and chili flakes, and that was almost all I needed to put together a satisfying late-night dinner, a veritable midnight snack.

What are your favorite pantry creations?

Spicy Post-Flight Pasta
A Nooks & Cranberries original

1/2 pound rigatoni
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
6 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
Small handful of Kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise
4 garlic cloves, pressed
Generous sprinkling of dried chili flakes
1/3 stick butter
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, bring diced tomatoes to a simmer in a medium saucepan, then add sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and garlic, and continue to cook, turning up the heat to bring to a light boil. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the liquid reduces slightly. Stir in butter and allow to melt, then add garbanzo beans and cook until heated through. Drain pasta and add to the tomato sauce, stirring to combine. Serve.

Serves 3-4.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Weeknight Pasta with Kale, Zucchini, and Tomatoes

Weeknight Pasta with Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Kale

What are you eating for lunch today? Or dinner? I’m serious–tell me. I don’t want to hear that you’re skipping the meal because you’re on deadline and don’t have time. We all have time, even if just a few minutes while waiting for the computer to restart or while giving ourselves a 15- or 30-minute brain break.

I still remember the old days of working on the newscast at the TV station I used to work for. Whether I was writing or producing the show, there was seldom a moment from the early part of my shift until the later hours when I felt like I could even leave my desk for a moment. When I needed to fortify myself with a little food before heading up to the booth to produce the show, I’d literally run or jog from my desk to the lunchroom to get my food. And guess what? I’d run back to my desk where I would eat it, hurriedly, not even stealing a moment in which to notice the flavors right there waiting for my tastebuds to notice. That’s a sad story for a food-lover like me.

These days as a freelance writer I still work on deadlines, but I’m dealing with stories due on a given day versus needing to have a show ready to produce by a certain minute and a story ready by a specific second in order for it to be ready for an anchor to read. That doesn’t make the pressure of deadlines any less real, however, and taking the time to stop and get something to eat can sometimes feel like a chore.

Thankfully I have a lot of excuses throughout the day to cook, from having a son who depends on me for his meal preparation to being a food writer who often has to cook as part of the gig. There’s usually something in the fridge to make a quick meal out of when the child is napping and the husband is away at work. But in those times when leftovers are scarce and tight deadlines are looming, it’s good to have a repertoire of quick meals at the ready.

One of my quick meals involves canned chickpeas and other pantry staples, with a handful of fresh herbs tossed in at the end–I’ll have to share that recipe with you soon. Another is canned salmon mixed with some mayonnaise, capers, and herbs, and eaten as a salad on a bed of salad greens or on top of baguette slices. Come to think of it, I’ll have to share that recipe with you too. Do you notice a trend? These recipes involve nutritious items found in a well-stocked pantry.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today comes together quickly and makes several lunch or dinner portions, leaving you with leftovers to reheat the next day. Even if you can’t always personally justify spending a lot of time preparing a meal for yourself when you’re on deadline, I’d like to encourage you to give yourself 30 minutes sometime this week to put something delicious together. I’m speaking to myself as much as you here when I tell you that it is possible. And I’d like to share with you a simple pasta that you can put together in little more time than you need for your brain break.

Weeknight Pasta with Kale, Zucchini, and Tomato Sauce
A Nooks & Cranberries original

1/2 pound rigatoni
extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch slices
1 small bunch kale, ribs removed and discarded and leaves cut into thin slices
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
Dried chili flakes

Bring a pot of water to a boil while you do the dishes, start a load of laundry, and work on prepping the ingredients. When the water has come to a boil, add a little olive oil and generously salt the water. Add pasta and cook according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan until it shimmers, then add garlic and sauté until fragrant and tender (but not so long that it starts to turn golden), about 1 minute. Add zucchini and stir for a minute or two. Add diced tomatoes, juices included, and stir to combine, giving it a minute for the tomatoes to start heating up. Stir in the kale and cover, and cook until the kale is softened and tomatoes are hot.

Drain the pasta, discarding the water, and add to the pan. Stir until combined and serve with a generous sprinkling of dried chili flakes. Eat while sitting at a proper place setting–not at your computer–and then put the leftovers in the fridge and leave all the dishes and cooking equipment in the sink to soak until your next brain break.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Baby Edition

Mac 'n' Cheese

Mac 'n' Cheese

Things look much different in the Writer’s Kitchen since my last post–and in the most wonderful way. I may not have been whipping up homemade marshmallows lately (that will happen again when the little guy is old enough to enjoy those sugary treats), but I have been discovering the exciting world of cooking for babies.

Before I go on, let me assure you that I’m not one of those supermoms who manages to do it all–including cooking every meal for her baby while keeping the house spotless, working her dream job, going out for lunch dates every day and keeping her toes perfectly pedicured. I am, however, managing to feed my baby good, whole food while maintain my writing career. The trick, at least for me, has been identifying how I want to feed my baby (i.e. mostly organic, with safe packaging, and with varied flavors so that he’ll develop a mature palate), and then preparing homemade food when possible and supplementing it with high-quality prepared baby foods in BPA-free pouches (our go-to brands are Happy Baby, Ella’s Kitchen, Sprout, and Plum Organics).

Last week my husband and I took the baby to one of our favorite brewpubs and ordered him his first meal off a kids’ menu: Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Having mostly been fed a healthful diet of milk, fruits, vegetables, and nutritious puffs and cheese cubes for finger food, this new creamy creation was a delight to my son. I cut the fusilli into tiny, bite-size pieces, but even when an entire noodle got past me, the boy was just fine. The dish was such a hit, in fact, that I whipped up a batch of Baby Mac ‘n’ Cheese last night so he could have a more healthful version at home this week.

Our modified recipe went something like this: Cook half a bag of organic pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat whole milk over low heat. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the milk, along with shredded cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Bake for 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven (probably only necessary if you wish to add some Parmesan on top), and allow to cool to an appropriate temperature before serving.

This version is more subtle and less rich than restaurant mac ‘n’ cheese or the kind that comes in a box–probably because it’s a simple mix of pasta, cheese, and milk with no butter, cream, or strange ingredients. But it’s also healthier and lets him practice eating slippery pasta as finger food without making a gooey mess. We’ll graduate to more advanced versions as time goes on (I’m thrilled to have an excuse to find the perfect mac ‘n’ cheese recipe–if you have any pointers, let me know!). But in the meantime, I am proud to know that there are a few servings of pasta, made with a mama’s love, in the fridge for my son.