Freezes Beautifully – Penne a la Vodka (with or without the vodka)

Welcome to our new feature, at the Starter Kitchen roommate’s request: Freezes Beautifully!

I’m a busy woman. I work full time, commute two hours every day, write this blog, freelance part-time, and go to the gym most evenings. Cooking a healthy meal at the end of those weekdays? Not going to happen.

Making the transition from cooking for my family in high school, to cooking for myself and my ex-SO, to cooking for just myself has been…interesting. Recipes aren’t designed for one, and neither are packaged foods.

The solution is FREEZING. Every week I pick two or three recipes, cook up the parts that will freeze well, separate into servings in small Glad-ware containers, and stick them in the freezer. Giving yourself a few options means you won’t get bored, and keeping the freezer stocked means you won’t have to ruin a healthy day by ordering greasy take-out when you come home starving and exhausted.

What freezes well? Most veggies, cheeses, and cooked meats make great freezer foods. Exceptions: lettuce, cucumber, celery and cabbage.

Some foods don’t fare as well when frozen and thawed and become soft, mealy, or mushy, such as pasta, white rice, and potatoes.

The Recipe:

Penne a la Vodka was always a “special occasion” dish in my house when I was growing up, but when I started making it myself I discovered that it was simple to make and the recipe was easy to slim down (my aunt’s version had over two times the fat of the one below). The recipe can also be doubled (or even tripled) if you have a big enough pot. The sauce will freeze perfectly or will stay good in the fridge for up to a week. Cook and store your pasta separately, and only cook what you’ll be eating in one meal.

Tools:

  • Large pot or skillet (you will want the larger pot if you are doubling or tripling the recipe)
  • Ladle
  • Sharp knife
  • Can opener
  • Cutting board

Already in Your Starter Kitchen:

  • Onions
  • Olive oil
  • Penne (whole wheat or white)
  • Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Crushed red pepper 
  • Garlic (optional) 
  • Vodka (optional)

Shopping List:

  • Two cans diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup low fat cream (you can substitute fat-free half & half or regular cream)
  • Frozen peas
  • Basil (optional)

Steps:

  1. Coarsely dice one large onion. Don’t worry about getting uniform dice; the onions turn sweet while cooking, so chunks are fine.
  2. Peel two cloves of garlic and cut into thin slices. Feel free to omit garlic or, if you’re a garlic lover like me, add in a few extra cloves. (optional)
  3. Finely chop basil. (optional)
  4. Pre-heat your pot or skillet for one minute, then add one tablespoon olive oil.
  5. Add onions and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until onion is soft, but not burnt.
  6. Add two cans diced tomatoes and heat until boiling.
  7. Add 1/2 cup vodka and heat until boiling. (optional)
  8. You’ll want to start boiling your water for pasta now. Cook pasta according to the packaging instructions.
  9. Add 1 cup frozen peas, basil, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, and 3/4 cup cream.
  10. Let the sauce come back to a simmer (light boil) and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  11. Serve your sauce over pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

What’s a serving?  The slimmed-down version of this sauce (low-fat cream and no vodka) is mostly veggies, so I split this recipe into two servings. When I make this on the weekend for freezing, I usually double the recipe and divide it into four Glad-ware containers. It’s a lot of sauce, but not too many calories or too much fat. Served over whole-wheat pasta, this is a great healthy comfort-food option.

Have a question about this recipe or freezing foods? Ask the Starter Kitchen by e-mail or in the comments section.

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How To: Host the Perfect Easter Brunch

So you’re on your own for your first Easter Sunday, but you want something a little more complicated than cheerios.

Host a perfect make-ahead Easter Brunch! The whole meal will cost less than $50, serves up to seven, and most of it can be prepared the night before in less than an hour! Sunday morning, wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee while your oven does the rest!

 Menu:

Three-cheese egg basil and tomato casserole
Baked pecan and blueberry french toast
Bacon
Hash-browns
Mimosas

Tools
Two cookie sheets
Aluminum foil 
2 glass casserole pans ($11.99 at Shaws)
Frying pan
 

Already in Your Starter Kitchen: 
Cooking spray
11 eggs
Orange juice
Milk
Sugar
Nutmeg
Vanilla extract
Butter
Flour
Baking Powder
Salt
Pepper

Your Shopping List:
1 loaf french bread
1/2 cup pecans
Blueberries
1 pound jack cheese
4 oz cream cheese
1 pound cottage cheese
Bacon
Frozen hash-browns (pre-shredded in the potato section of your frozen foods isle)
Basil
2 ripe tomatoes
Champagne

The Night Before:

French toast

  1. Break four eggs into a mixing bowl. Add 2/3 cup orange juice, 1/3 cup milk, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 vanilla extract, and whip together using a whisk or fork.
  2. Slice french bread into 1 inch thick slices.
  3. Place slices of bread in a single layer – don’t worry about keeping the slices seperate; put as many in as you can fit.
  4. Pour the egg mixture over the bread, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  5. Turn the bread with a spatula once before you hit the sack.

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