One Pot Pantry Raid Pasta

Pantry Raid Pasta

Last night I had one of those nights where I didn’t really want to go out, nor did I want to buy more groceries, nor did I particularly care to be overly healthy. It was a night where the starving artist looks at what he has and figures something out: pantry raid.

As I stared forlornly at my cabinets I came across a ziplock bag full of bow tie pasta that had been sitting in there for roughly two years. I rarely eat pasta anymore, hence why it has been kicking around for so long. Of course I love it, but it’s just too easy. Too easy to cook an entire pound and eat all of it in one sitting. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. I decided it was time – I was simply in the mood. And it turns out there was just enough pasta for one (three) servings. I was put even more in the mood when I realized I had grated Parmesan in my fridge. Destiny.

Here’s how it went. Boil 2 cups of pasta in heavily salted water according to package directions. I just used my two quart saucepan with lid. While the water heats up, use a strainer to rinse two cups of frozen peas under very hot tap water until they soften. Set the strainer over a bowl to let the peas dry off while the water boils. When the pasta is cooked, strain thoroughly, do not rinse, and return back to the hot pot you just boiled it in. Add two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil to the hot pasta. Stir to melt the butter. Using a garlic press, mince one or two cloves of garlic directly into the pot along with the peas, 1 cup of grated Parmesan, two teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine all ingredients. Add more cheese, butter, and pepper to taste. Devour immediately directly from the pot using the wooden spoon you used to stir the boiling pasta. Starving artist class.

There are of course 10000 variations you could do for this dish. And the best part is that I made it entirely from ingredients that were already in my kitchen. If you’re not in the habit of keeping frozen peas in your freezer, you should start. It is one of my top go-tos when making meals on the fly. And if you happen to have leftover chicken or sausage in your fridge that would send this quick humble little dish right over the top. And for you heat-lovers, try some crushed red pepper flakes mmmmm.

Raid your pantry. Tell me what you find.

Quick and Sinful Caramelized Banana Pudding

Whilst in the throes of death and plague last week, I found myself at the clinic numerous times for various ailments. On one of my trips I asked the PA what kinds of foods I should be eating, since my appetite was pretty much gone. One of the first things she mentioned was pudding….pudding… dear god I don’t even remember the last time I had pudding. That cool, smooth, creamy concoction straight from the refrigerated plastic tub. It was settled. I would go get my prescriptions filled, get my hands on some vitamins, and purchase some vanilla pudding. Yes, vanilla – chocolate just doesn’t do it for me. Go figure. I had very little energy on this day, so I only made it to two stores before giving up. Neither had cold, ready-made vanilla pudding. Only chocolate and tapioca… ew. God bless my roommate, she had gone out later to grab dinner and had checked at another grocery store – still nothing.

Later that evening I was feeling feisty (me, feisty? never ;)) and irritated that I still had no pudding. So, I started searching for recipes to make it on my own and found a very promising recipe involving egg yolks, whole milk, and a whole vanilla bean. Totally over the top, but I was in a mood, so I decided to do it. I assembled the pudding and though it was tasty, I was disappointed to see that after it chilled in the fridge, it reverted to a soupy liquid, not a thick, rich pudding that I so craved. As I contemplated this vanilla soup, I saw I had a bunch of almost-too-ripe bananas on the counter. If there’s one thing I like more than vanilla pudding, it’s banana pudding… hmmm.. So I decided to saute the bananas in butter and sugar and blend them into my vanilla pudding base. With just a little more corn starch and a heap of crushed nilla wafters, I had me a sinfully rich and decadent banana pudding. I tried this on three friends and the feeling was mutual – completely ridiculous.

But, I realized that while this was a good recipe, it wasn’t really starving artist practical. I mean come on, heavy cream, vanilla bean, four egg yolks…. sure, it was a fun and a good little project to have when you’re sick, but it’s not something you could throw together on a whim (or on a budget). And besides, I still needed vanilla pudding! At the advice of my mother, I sought out the Jell-O instant vanilla pudding mix, a mere $1.39 that requires only two cups of milk. So I whipped it together and was astonished at how fast it came together. Once chilled, it was everything I was wanting. And the best part? It can also be used to make a quick and sinful caramelized banana pudding for a fraction of the cost and time. And I don’t even miss the yolks or the vanilla bean. Even in sickness, the starving artist still thinks creatively yet practically… and then collapses.

Caramelized Banana Pudding (Recipe PDF)

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat Sauce

Tonight I was poking through the depths of my fridge and pantry (and by pantry I mean the cabinet above the sink) to decide what to do with the rest of the beef-less ground beef I bought for yesterday’s Sloppy Trader Joe recipe. To my surprise I came across a jar of marinara sauce I had bought for my Christmas party. As you may have guessed, I never do jarred tomato sauce since it is so easy to make your own, however it can be just the thing when you’re in a jam and need something quick. Seeing the jar of red made me think of meat sauce, something I haven’t had in ages… hmmm. As much as the idea pleased me, if I’m going to use a jarred tomato sauce, I sure as hell better find something to dress it up with lest I incur the disdain of my family. I went to the fridge and discovered two zucchini and half an onion, all left over from my Simple Springtime Orzo – perfect. I diced the veggies and sauteed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flake. Once nearly cooked I added the beef-less ground beef and let it brown up a bit. At the very end I added in one minced clove of garlic, then poured over about 3/4 of the jar of  marinara sauce, let it heat through, and prest0 – “meat” sauce.

I was feeling exceptionally good this evening so I ate the sauce just as is with a little grated cheese. The zucchini are substantial enough that they make it a hearty meal without the calories and empty carbs of pasta or rice. Cheap, hearty, satisfying, AND healthy – that is what the starving artist likes. Having said that you could most certainly serve this over elbow macaroni, penne, or even white rice (I promise I won’t tell). My roommate sampled the sauce and was utterly impressed by the flavor and texture of the meatless ground beef – she was shocked to hear it wasn’t real. For even more ideas you should check out my Weeknight Tomato Sauce.

Now I realize some of you are probably reading this saying, “really? you opened a jar of tomato sauce and dumped it over sauteed vegetables. Astonishing”.  But that’s exactly the point: I didn’t just crack open the jar and heat up the sauce. I dug around and found ingredients laying around my kitchen that transformed an ordinary jar sauce into a satisfying, versatile meal.  When times are tight and paychecks are scarce, this is exactly the kind of thinking and resourcefulness that can get you through crunch times without  sacrificing flavor, style, or self respect. You starving artists know what I’m talking about ;-)

Weeknight Red Beans

Are you ever in need of a hearty dinner for less than two dollars? The starving artist has the answer: beans and rice. Yes, I’m going with a bean theme this week. I find few things more comforting than a big, steaming bowl of New Orleans style red beans and rice. Much like the black beans I shared earlier this week, I use a potato masher to get that slow-cooked release of starch that normally takes hours of soaking and then hours of cooking on the stove top. Satisfying that slow-cooked craving in a matter of minutes – that is how the starving artist rolls. Now I am sure that my spice combination is not at authentic New Orleans, but you know what? I’m not apologizing. As always, you should modify the amounts and combination to suit your tastes and budget.

Weeknight Red Beans (Recipe PDF)

And ok, yes, you could just crack open a can of beans and eat them as they are, but come on, this isn’t Brokeback Mountain – this is the starving artist! Taking a cheap and ordinary food item like canned beans and elevating it to a tasty meal using a few ingredients you have laying around your spice rack is exactly the kind of creative cooking I live for.

What are some of the ways you spice up ordinary pantry items?

Quick Slow-Cooked Black Beans

Does anyone ever get a craving for something rich and hearty that usually takes hours if not days to make, but the mere thought of having to assemble the ingredients, never mind cook it, causes you to immediately get over it and throw something in the microwave instead? I feel that way often… particularly about beans. Black beans. I love black beans. Those thick, slow cooked black beans you find in really good Mexican restaurants. But come on, soaking beans over night? Slow cooking on the stove top for hours? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good day-long cooking project, but I want black beans right now. Starving artist to the rescue. I came up with a clever way to turn a can of black beans into a thick, flavorful, slow-cooked concoction in no time flat. The secret? A potato masher. Seriously. What makes slow cooking any beans so amazing is the slow release of starch into the cooking liquid. You can replicate this by gently mashing your beans until it thickens. Serve over rice and you have dinner for less than $2. Perfect for those weeks where you’re selling your body to make rent. Or even in college when you’re feeling too cheap, drunk, and lazy to put any effort into eating something other than microwave popcorn and Bud Light. This also makes a great burrito filling or a side dish for the Rustic Veggie Patties I shared earlier this week. And hell you can double the recipe and feed your roommate. The starving artist has you covered, baby!

Quick Black Beans (Recipe PDF)

Artists, you know those body-selling weeks I’m talking about. What creative ways have you eaten to survive when money was tight?