Sunday, June 27, 2010

Recipe: S&J Spaghetti

We used to eat spaghetti pretty often because we both love it so much.  But recently we've really been working hard on eating well and portion control, and spaghetti always tends to turn into quite a hefty meal.  So it's been quite a while since we had some, and in our weekly grocery shopping yesterday we decided to make some this weekend.

I cooked it all up last night, and it was the first time we'd had it in a long time... and I swear I think it was the best version yet.  The sauce was so tantalizing even while just stirring it on the stove... yummm.  Jason happened to eat the first bite, and his eyes opened wide while his spaghetti-filled mouth muttered "mmm-MMM!!"  I think I had the exact same reaction as soon as I had my first bite.  Maybe we just haven't had it in so long that we just forgot how good it was, or maybe this really was the best batch yet.

The back-story here is that when we first met, we knew we were both fans of spaghetti.  We learned the specifics of how each other likes their spaghetti... such as the fact that J likes a lot of extra sauce, and he hates watery sauce oozing liquid onto his plate under his noodles.  He will choose homemade sauce every time over storebought sauce in a jar, and he will always prefer meat (preferably ground beef) in his sauce over just marinara.  He doesn't like other types of pasta besides spaghetti, and he likes parmesan cheese on top of his sauce.  I think he's also incapable of having spaghetti without some type of bread... gotta have that bread to sop up the extra sauce (hence the purpose of the extra sauce).  I, on the other hand, prefer the perfect ratio of sauce to noodles - I can easily do without bread most of the time, and I don't like to have a lot of sauce left over with no noodles to use it up with.  Even though I wouldn't choose it purposely, watery sauce doesn't bother me so much - but I definitely don't want sauce that's so thick it lacks moisture and is hard to get down.  I don't mind switching up pastas, and I actually love a little cheddar cheese melted up under my sauce.  I don't mind meat, but sometimes a nice smooth marinara with chunky tomatoes is sooo good too.

So every time we made spaghetti for a while, we experimented with what we liked.  And this "spaghetti experiment" has been going on for quite some time.  We had some meatless sauces, some with beef (even different types of beef) and some with ground turkey, various types of pasta, various brands of pasta, different sauce brands, different ingredients, different spices, different ratio mixtures, sometimes with tomatoes, sometimes with spinach or zucchini blended in, sometimes with beans.  Sometimes a salad on the side, sometimes Texas Toast, sometimes loaf bread with butter and garlic.

A few things always remained constant from the beginning of our experiments.  We avoid "white" food whenever possible because we try to stick to low GI foods.  So we always go with either a brand we like that has lots of fiber and low net carbs, or a whole wheat brand, which was an experiment in itself to find one that actually had some good flavor to it.  And with the exception of one of the very first times, we have always made the sauce mix ourselves - no jars of ready-made sauces.  At one point I was using a canned sauce as one of my ingredients that was flavored with various spices, but I've since moved on to regular sauce and adding the spices myself.  And I think we've come up with what seems to be the perfect spice mix.

Last night's version was a mix of both types of pastas since I had a box of each available.  But we're on our way to using all whole wheat, because I'm really making an effort to eliminate preservatives from our intake.  And these other pastas that still taste like white pasta but have low net carbs still have some preservatives in them.  But really, even the whole wheat pasta we like has some additives in it.  So until the day that I get the ultimate mixer and learn to make my own pasta... this will have to do.

I can also say with utmost certainty that the meat makes a huge difference.  Whether you want to use ground chicken, turkey, or beef, the quality needs to be good.  We were buying a lot of very high quality ground meat for a while at the grocery store, which was also the lowest fat content possible, and it was putting a big dent in the grocery budget.  So we found one day that our buy-in-bulk warehouse carried 93% beef, which was great compared to the only previous choice of 80/20.  I have a vacuum sealer, so for a few months we bought the 93% 4lb container and divided it up into 1lb sections for sealing and freezing.  The freezing and cooking never adversely affected it, but we both definitely noticed a quality difference in our sauce due to the meat itself - much more grit found in our bites, and the meat was a lot greasier and watery when cooking.  So we've since gone back to purchasing the best beef I've ever tasted - the cows are fed a purely natural diet, and I wholly believe that has a huge part to do with how good the meat is.  This meat even smells better when cooking.  When we were experimenting with other meats, we made sure we used quality ground turkey breast or ground chicken breast as well.

The final version has kidney beans in it, as a result of us trying to work in more fiber and make the meal a little more filling when we were taking it as lunches to work a while back.  Sometimes I like to add in a can of tomatoes, and I don't think J prefers this, but sometimes even some spinach leaves thrown in towards the end are really good.  The beans/tomatoes definitely add more bulk to the meal, and the 4 servings it makes are already pretty large in my opinion.  But they're filling without making you feel overly full, which is what's great about fiber and low GI meals.

So, in light of the "spaghetti experiments" we worked on together and pretty much years put into perfecting it, I've dubbed this recipe...

"S&J Spaghetti"

Makes 4 hefty servings.
(Updated to actually add the numbers I had published without and had to go look for...)

4 servings (224g/8oz) dry spaghetti (we've been liking Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Blend)
Sea salt
EV Olive Oil
1 lb ground beef
1 15oz can Hunt's regular tomato sauce
1 6oz can Hunt's regular tomato paste
1 16oz can Bush's dark red kidney beans
Garlic powder
Paremsan cheese


Put water on the stove to boil for pasta.  Also put a large pan on medium-high heat.

When water is boiling, add a little sea salt, then break spaghetti in half and add to the pot.  Add a few drops of EVOO to water and give everything a stir.  Turn heat down a bit and let pasta cook, stirring occasionally.

When pan is hot, add the beef.  Cook beef fully, and make sure that it is broken up enough that there are no large chunks remaining.

Add the can of tomato paste to the pan, then add the can of tomato sauce.  Use a little water to get the extra sauce out of the can and add to pan.  Use a large spoon to break up the tomato paste and mix everything together.  It will take a few minutes of the heat and stirring to disperse the paste.

When the paste, sauce, and beef are smoothly mixed, turn down the heat to about medium.  For the spices, you'll have to learn how much you prefer, but ours is not overly strong or spicy by any means.  I sprinkle the garlic powder into the sauce, probably using a good 1/4 tsp, if not more.  Then I add the oregano and basil, probably using at least a good full tsp of each.  Stir in the spices.  (Add in tomatoes or spinach leaves here if used.)

Rinse the kidney beans in a colander under cool water until bubbles no longer appear on the beans.  Drain well, add to the sauce, and mix everything together.  Keep it on the heat for another minute or two, then remove from heat.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and separate into 4 servings.  Then add the sauce to the pasta servings until all of the sauce is used.  Top servings with parmesan cheese.

Serve with preferred sides... salad, bread, etc.

We like to treat ourselves to New York brand texas toast every now and then - sooo good, and suits the spaghetti perfectly.  (Not exactly non-white and non-preservative, but hey - it's a treat.)  This recipe does have what most people would probably consider "extra" sauce, but the noodle serving is actually a great portion size.  And the sauce really isn't that much once you mix it on your plate - the beans take up a lot of the room that you'll see.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

More Bug Torment

Ok people, this is getting ridiculous.  No joke, the evening of my last crazy post about all the bugs, I had the pleasure of almost having a conniption fit at the finding of this...

...on. my. TOILET. SEAT.  I lift up the lid and get the surprise of the month.  I think I probably jumped back a few feet while simultaneously gasping... I think my mind was reeling at the ickiness I would have experienced if I hadn't looked first...  Anyway, I'm in my pajamas, getting ready to go to bed, J is already asleep, and I have to take care of this thing myself.  The thing didn't move at all, but the moment I tried to push it into the toilet, the thing half jumped/half floated through the air and landed on the floor - it all happened so fast that I'm not sure if it flew or what.  So as I try to work up the courage to do the deed, I keeping hering these small shrieks and gagging sounds, before I realize they're involuntarily coming from me.  It's pitiful, really.  I just get these tight feelings in my chest and gut that I can't get rid of, even now just writing and thinking about it.  In the end, it took a huge wad of TP, a quick flush of the toilet, some clorox wipes, and some fun TV to help me get over the event.

I think all this craziness and bug surprises have made me a little jumpy.  Today a bulb blew in my bathroom when I turned on the lights, and I think I gasped and jumped about 2 feet.  I really need to chill, haha.

And just for reference, I cleaned out my phone and found a picture I'd taken of the lovely surprise in my cup inside my lunch box last week...

So much fun...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Creepy Crawlies Are After Me

So, long time no blog... but I had a realization that I figured was blog-worthy.

Tuesday morning as I was eating breakfast, I saw movement in the kitchen out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see a lighting-fast-crawling-freak-of-nature-thing scooting across my kitchen floor and onto the carpet. By the time I got up to grab a trapping method (benefit of having husband around - I do the trapping, then call him in for the kill), the thing had disappeared. I searched all over the place for the thing but never found it.  Unfortunately, I ended up having to leave for work knowing I had a huge creepy-crawly pet somewhere in my home.  Makes me shudder just thinking about it - I promise you the thing was at least 2 inches long.

When I got home that day, I started straightening up a few things.  Low and behold, this thing came crawling directly across my path in the hallway (must not be very smart, if you ask me).  I hurried to the kitchen to get my trusty plastic cup that has been my go-to trap for monsters on the carpet.  Thankfully, he didn't scoot as fast as that morning for some reason, so I was able to catch him up under the cup.  The plan from there is typically to let the cup sit there till J gets home, who then gets the honor of doing the bug duty. With tiny creatures, he usually just grabs a paper towel or tissue and does the deed.  But with big monsters, a lot of times he'll do the slide-cardboard-under-the-cup deal and take the thing back outside somewhere.  That ended up being his method of choice yesterday as well when I showed him the waiting cup.

Now, you're probably thinking I've got some sort of bug phobia.  And I'd probably agree with you.  I don't know at what point that changed, but years ago I used to have no fear when it came to squashing things that were unwelcome in my home.  Now I can't even squish one - I almost get sick if I do and hear the noises of bug death.  BLEGH... gives me the goosebumps.  Maybe the change came when I was off at college by myself and was BOMBARDED by bugs.  I swear to you, my apartment senior year was a direct line to some sort of colony.  Literally for a few months, my bathroom and kitchen always surprised me with a bug of many different varieties... on the ceiling above my head while I'm at the sink, on the wall while I'm in the shower, shooting across the floor at me.  I ended up with bug traps up under my bathroom cabinet, spraying poison all over the place, and I even had to set off those stupid bug bombs (which ended up setting of the smoke alarms, which I had to leave on because you can't go back in for hours with the exploding bombs... I just couldn't win).  And even after all that, I still had bug issues.  The apartment office was no help either.  So I checked everything - every last corner in the house for holes and cracks, places in the doors and windows where they might squeeze through...  My last resort was to duct-tape up the overflow hole in my bathroom sink, and for some strange reason, my bug issues were mostly resolved after that.  Go figure.  So unless they finally ate the poison from the traps and carried it back to their immense colony somewhere, they were entering through my sink??

Fast forward to now, in my current apartment, and I still have bug issues.  It's actually a townhome, so I'm on the ground and have a door directly leading to a sidewalk surrounded by landscaped areas with mulch and bushes - perfect hiding ground for the crawlies that want to sneak in my front door and windows.  And I promise you that multiple times a week I'm calling J into the room I'm in to kill a bug that I see.  The typical breed is spiders - a lot of them fairly small, but we've had some monster spiders that require me running and getting out the cup trap.  We also get the little rolly pollies in the back room, which obviously are coming in via the stupid sliding doors, but I don't mind them so much.  But I just can't imagine where these monster things come from.

I started to think about it a while back, and I wondered how many cracks and holes are probably in this place in areas that I can't check - back behind/in kitchen cabinets, behind the frig, behind the washer and dryer... I mean it's not like they swoop in the front door unseen for the 2 seconds that we have it open every day.  Yet I constantly find them trying to make a run for it across my living room floor, across my kitchen, down my walls, and even defying gravity and scaling my ceiling.  The worst was when I had a spider DROP DOWN onto me from the ceiling like a ninja, web and all, while I'm sitting peacefully on my couch watching TV.  Talk about a freak-out moment - who the heck could be prepared for that??  Then of course the couch is dark and patterned, and the spider elusively got away and wasn't found that night.  GAH.

Earlier in the spring, I began to do some investigating in our kitchen.  Ever since I've lived here, the corner cabinet in the kitchen has had some black and white spots on the floor under it.  I'd clean it, and a few weeks later, the spots are back.  After checking it out, I realized that the cabinets had an open area up under the front that creates a perfect haven for these creatures.  I'd swear to J that something is living up under there and leaving its nasty deposits on our floor for us.  And with every kitchen spider I killed, I figured I might have finally gotten the culprit.  But no, the spots kept reappearing.  So finally one day, I got out the most trusted common tool in the world - duct tape.  And I taped up the underside of the front of the cabinet - completely sealed it.  No more spots in the corner... but they began appearing under other parts of the cabinet.  So one day, it occurred to me to use a mirror instead of craning my head upside down against the kitchen floor.  I examined the entire length of the cabinets... and in one right in the middle lived one of the creepiest spiders I've ever seen.  And right beside it... an egg sack.  So we'd finally found the culprit, but getting rid of it was another thing - apparently everything with more than 4 legs that barges into our house has lightning-fast speed capabilities.  But J got it... and I took a picture.  I haven't yet done the research to identify what it was, but it sure was ugly.  And after going back and looking at these pictures again, I don't think I'm going to do the research.  This particular spider memory will just fade into oblivion... because rest assured, all of the cabinets in my kitchen and 2 bathrooms now have completely duct-tape-sealed areas up under the front.

"Hey guys... mind if I shack up under your cabinets and excrete on your kitchen floor? No? Ok then, see ya around the house..."

(yes it's in an old snack bag from my lunchbox - I wasn't about to examine this thing up close without some sort of physical barrier giving me superiority...)

J pokes fun sometimes and says I have bug radar, but it's probably true.  I think growing up my mom was always spotting bugs and just things in general that were out of place on the floor, walls, etc., and that very well may be where I inherited the radar from.  It's not like I'm constantly on the lookout specifically for bugs, but I do have an eye for detail.  I can't help it if I'm looking around while making dinner and I see an odd black spot on the floor or wall - wouldn't that ring a bell for you that all is not right in the home, that something is there that shouldn't be?  Well, I think so... so I check it out.  And 98% of the time I've just spotted a bug.  The other 2% is random stray dryer lint in the hallway, a string from somebody's pants or socks, or outside paraphernalia such as leaves or mulch.

You know, I think I have more than bug radar.  I think it's a bug homing beacon or something that I have no control over.  Because how many bugs has J spotted since we've met?  Um, I can't even remember any.  I'm always the one stumbling upon them at home, or having them drop on me on the couch or in the car (yes, in the car too... yet another freak-out moment).  Then yesterday, when J took this massive creepy crawly thing with a hundred legs outside and THREW it into the parking lot, the thing continually seemed to turn around and start crawling back towards our place.  No matter what J did with sticks or shoes to shoo it the other way (conveniently into the path of cars through the lot), the thing would eventually turn back around, like it had a signal set on our place.  Needless to say, I came back inside before the inevitable happened.  When J came back in, I was informed that he didn't get bug guts on his new tennis shoes, but I didn't need to worry about this particular crawly coming back in here anymore.

So fast forward to yesterday morning.  I come downstairs to get my bags together, and head to the shoe rack that sits at the base of the stairs.  I grab my shoes, sit on the 2nd stair to put them on, and what do I see out of the corner of my eye?  No joke, another of these creepy crawlies like the previous day shoots away from the stairway into the living room.  There's no telling how close I came to this thing actually touching me at the stairs and creating a major freak-out moment again.  But thankfully, I was able to book it with one sock on, grab a cup, and trap the sucker in front of the door.  No clue why, but my curiosity got the best of me and I raised the cup for a hot second to get a better look at the type of thing that's apparently trying to torment me.  I should have known better from the lightning-fast one the day before, but it shot out from under the cup.  I tried trapping it again, and in doing so laid the cup down halfway across the monster, hearing a nasty buggy-cracking noise, I get the shudders and gag, and thankfully trap the thing again in its entirety.  With all of this happening before 7am, I can assure you that I was ready and willing to get out of the house of creepy crawlies.  I think J ended up taking this out outside again but not even giving it the benefit of the doubt as he did yesterday, since he was headed to work too and had on the infamous steel toe boots.  Ick.  I informed him that he was not to walk around the house in those boots now.

I was also reminded that this same type of creature (although dead) had surprised me last Monday morning at home from inside my LUNCH BOX.  Although there was no food in it, I guess he was curious, and ended up meeting his fate at some point over the weekend at the bottom of my plastic water cup (which was directly put in the dishwasher after discovery).  So, in an effort to become more familiar with these unwelcome guests, I've done a little research of my own.  The immediate words that come to mind are centipedes and millipedes.  These crawlies are definitely somehow related, and I think I've found the one that's been trying to drive me crazy these past few days.  I was so grossed out that I wasn't even about to take a picture of it myself at home.  And I can't even stand to look at the photo on this internet article, so it's definitely not earning a photo spot on my blog.  But you can see it here - it may not be the exact thing, but it's close enough.  Talk about gross...

Anyway, the plan this weekend is to do another round of the bugspray around the doors and windows (even though we did it about a month ago and it's supposed to last 12 months).  And I know you could be wondering about the cleanliness of my home, but I promise you I keep this place straight and clean.  So I just don't understand the torment.  But I will deal, as I always have, and rise above.  Yes, I will rise above the bugs.

...but I still wish they could be like these bugs instead... at least they'd be nice and talk to me.

Heck, maybe they are, and I just have the evil ones invading my home...