Last week, my wife and I had our grandparents over, and so I spent much of the day cooking. Recently, we went to one of those ‘junk-food’ Italian places, wherein the menu is primarily lasagna, fried/breaded cutlets, thick sauces, and lots of salt. Can’t say that it was bad — it was junk, after all — but I’ve slowly, mechanically, been improving my pasta dishes for a number of years, now, usually cooking them once a week or so, trying to polish them every time. It’s taken a lot of forms: pasta and broccoli in a red sauce (which was my mainstay for a while), experiments with pasta and potato (sucked!), the use and mis-use of various greens, tomato varieties, oils, and, of course, different pasta brands.
Since I strictly eat whole grains, it is hard to find a whole wheat pasta that is firm, dry, and not too overpowering. Supermarket brands are no good, so I’ve experimented both with cheap and artisan pastas. Bionaturae is good, but not worth the cost. Garofalo is hands down the best, and better than most white pastas, but too expensive for anything but special occasions. Yet the lowly Trader Joe’s brand pasta is just a little over $1, rivals Bionaturae in taste, and — if cooked right — indistinguishable from white.
For my grandmothers’ visit, it was best to keep things simple. They’re old, and have a bland palate, while I’ve settled, over time, on a recipe that calls for thin shiitake mushrooms (as opposed to the meaty ones in Chinatown and Flushing), a pound or two of tomatoes, a pound of turkey sausage, half a pound of mixed green leaves (chard, spinach, and kale), half a pound of fresh basil, a large onion, a few heads of garlic, two or three tri-color peppers, parmesan/romano, raw butter, olive oil, black pepper, pink Himalayan salt, and half a jar of Trader Joe’s basil marinara. The shiitake, in particular, imparts an MSG or ‘umami’ flavor to the dish that mixes nicely with the rest, but not for THIS little dinner party. So, I just dumped a jar of the basil marinara into a pan, added 20-30 chopped garlic cloves, some lemon, butter, cheese, basil, mixed leaves, and olive oil, mixed the result with the spaghetti, then apportioned the remaining sauce on 4 grilled swordfish steaks. Grandmas love mushrooms, so I grilled that on the side. The recipe is as follows. Serves 4:
Pasta & Swordfish Recipe (Serves 4):
- 1 box of Trader Joe’s whole wheat spaghetti
- 1 jar of Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara
- 1 bag of Trader Joe’s “Power Greens” (baby spinach, kale, and chard)
- 4 swordfish fillets
- 1 bunch of fresh basil, chopped
- 3-4 heads of garlic (20-30 cloves), chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons of rice brain oil
- 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 oz of grated parm/romano
- 3 lemons; 2 squeezed into sauce, 1 squeezed over fish
- salt, strictly for the fillets
- Cook the spaghetti for 10 minutes and 30 seconds. After messing around with the times, this is the best one.
- Add the rice bran oil to the bottom of a 4-quart pan. Then add the jarred marinara, lemon juice, chopped basil, leaves, garlic, black pepper, and cheese.
- Cook for 20 minutes, covered. Add olive oil. Any earlier, and it’d possibly oxidize/break down, hurting both the taste, and you.
- Grill swordfish fillets on high heat, atop a salt-and-peppered rice bran oil/butter mix. Add lemon and garlic when nicely browned, cooking slightly more.
- Mix cooked sauce with spaghetti, leaving 1/4 of the sauce.
- Place fillets on top of spaghetti, split across 4 plates, and cover each fillet with remaining sauce and a little more olive oil.
That’s it. This is indistinguishable from white pasta, tastes better than most restaurant fare, is heartier, more filling, and better for you than the ill-timed olive oils, simple starches, and little to no vegetable matter you’d otherwise confront.
I assume, however, that you wish to do the right thing, and grab some bread, cheese, and have something to dip into the remaining sauce and olive oil? I got ‘chu, bro:
As for the carrot cake, I used this recipe, but with some alterations.
First, I replaced the white flour with Trader Joe’s whole wheat white flour. This is not white flour with added nutrients, but a variety of wheat — hard white spring wheat — that is simply closer to the taste and texture of white flour. Thus, it is not de-natured in any way, and safe.
Second, I made one layer instead of three, in a 9×13 pan that had to cook for close to hour, as opposed to the recipe’s shorter cook time.
Third, I substituted xylitol for sugar, and used only about 1 cup for the cake, 1/2 cup for the cream cheese frosting, and 1/3 cup for the buttermilk glaze. And don’t skip the glaze, as it will keep things nice and moist.
Fourth, I did not use a random vegetable oil, but specifically rice bran oil. Although this has no effect on taste, it is far healthier since rice bran oil has a high smoke point and is quite resistant to oxidation, even after multiple, high-temperature uses. This prevents the creation of oxysterols which are one of top causes of dietary-based heart disease, as is explained here. Plus, rice bran oil has a unique antioxidant that further diversifies your diet in a way that empty, refined vegetable fats do not. The rice bran oil will also help offset some of the effects of cooking nuts (which one generally should not do) under such high temperatures, because the 350 F the recipe calls for is much hotter inside the cake than out, thus breaking down the pecans’ delicate oils and doing much wrong by you.