Perfecting Pasta

The theme of my Learning Project this week: pasta.

Image result for pasta

Photo Image: Jasmine via grazeme.com

The reason why I wanted to learn how to cook pasta is because pasta is such a versatile food — not just in the type of noodles you can buy but in the types of pasta dishes you can create. Pasta dishes, for the most part, are also relatively quick to make — pasta is an easy meal to whip up after work. I wanted to expand on the one, boring pasta dish that I knew how to cook (read: spaghetti and store-bought tomato sauce) and see what other pasta dishes I could learn. To help me decide what pasta recipes to try, I took requests from my family: my brother requested “anything with shrimp”, and my mom asked that I try making a vegetarian lasagna.

My brother’s request for “anything with shrimp” didn’t give me much direction, but I ended up picking a recipe for spicy parmesan shrimp pasta which I found on the Damn Delicious — a food blog created by Chungah Rhee which focuses on quick and easy meals for the everyday home cook. Here is the breakdown of how much I spent on this meal:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)
  • Parmesan cheese – $0 (had at home)
  • Garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Brown sugar – $0 (had at home)
  • Soy sauce – $0 (had at home)
  • Red pepper flakes – $0 (had at home)
  • Shrimp – $10.63 (I bought a 1.7 kg bag for $31.99 and used roughly 1/3)
  • Penne – $1.88 for a box
  • Green onion – $0.21 (I bought a bunch (6) for $1.28 and used one)

Total = $12.72

On my Learning Project blog from last week, my ECMP 455 classmate Randi commented with some cost-effective cooking tips that I took into consideration when buying my ingredients this week. Randi suggested trying to buy my ingredients, especially the protein, in bulk whenever possible, so I bought the shrimp that I needed for this recipe from Costco. Overall, the bag of shrimp was more expensive then it would have been at another grocery store, but because I bought such a large bag, I was able to freeze the shrimp that I didn’t use and save it for another meal. So, in the big scheme of things, I ended up saving money (thanks, Randi!). I also had most of the ingredients for this recipe at home, so, overall, I didn’t spend much at all.

In terms of cooking, this recipe is super easy to make. I left the shrimp out to thaw during the day on Friday while I was at school, and Friday evening I washed the shrimp, took the
tails off, and made the marinade. Then, I left the shrimp to soak in the marinade overnight in the fridge.

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The shrimp soaking in the marinade (olive oil, Parmesan, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce, & red pepper flakes).

Aside from that little bit of prep work, the whole meal took me 20 minutes to make on Saturday afternoon.  I had never cooked shrimp before, so that was a bit of a learning curve. According to the recipe, the shrimp are cooked when they turn pink, but to me, they always looked a bit pink, so I had trouble telling when they were done and had to sample a few to find out (which I’m not complaining about). Aside from that minor blunder, though, man, was this recipe delicious.

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The finished product.

Because the recipe is so easy to make, I was a little uncertain of how it would taste. But, it was incredibly flavourful and had a nice kick to it from the red pepper flakes. A word of caution: If you’re not a fan of heat, I would cut down on the amount of red pepper flakes — a little bit goes a long way. I used the amount the recipe called for and it was very spicy. My brother loved the dish, as did my mom and I, but sadly, he only rated it 8.75/10 because he wished that I used spaghetti noodles instead of penne noodles (thanks, bro.).

The other pasta dish that I attempted this week was a vegetarian lasagna. While I was researching a recipe, I was surprised to learn just how many different types of vegetarian lasagna there are. The recipe that I ended up choosing I found on another food blog called Eating on a Dime (which I found convenient considering the stipulations of my Learning Project).  Unlike the spicy Parmesan shrimp pasta recipe, I had to buy most of the ingredients for the vegetarian lasagna, so the meal ended up costing me a little more than anticipated:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Lasagna noodles – $3.85 for a box
  • Mushrooms – $1.56 for an 8 oz. container
  • Zucchini — $2.04 for two small zucchinis
  • Green bell pepper – $1.53 for one
  • Onion – $0 (had at home from when I cooked Shepherd’s pie)
  • Garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)
  • Pasta sauce – $3.97 for two 24 oz. jars
  • Basil – $0 (had at home)
  • Ricotta cheese – $6.28 for a 500 g container
  • Mozzarella cheese – $6.98 for a block
  • Eggs $0 (had at home)
  • Parmesan cheese – $0 (had at home)

Total = $26.91

When I started cooking, I was a little worried about how this dish would turn out. The recipe calls for two jars of pasta sauce, which is normal, but unlike a traditional lasagna,

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My soupy sauce.

there is no meat in this recipe to absorb some of the sauce, so when I was putting the layers of the lasagna together, it looked a bit soupy. The lasagna was still soupy when it came out of the oven, which made me even more worried that I had screwed up. However, the recipe calls for the lasagna to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving, and I learned that there is a reason for that — the sauce sets during that 15 minutes, so the lasagna ended up being quite firm when I went to cut it.

Another thing that I was worried about was that, without meat, there would be no substance to the dish.  That did not end up being a problem, though. The lasagna was full of flavour and it ended up being quite filling with all of the vegetables — you honestly didn’t even miss the meat. In fact my mom rated it a 9/10 and said that she enjoyed it more than a meat lasagna.

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Right before going in the oven.

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The finished product.

That being said, if I were to make this recipe again, there are a few things that I would change. First, I would try sautéeing the zucchini by itself for a few minutes before adding the other veggies because the zucchini was still a bit firm in the lasagna. Second, the recipe called for a box of lasagna noodles, but I only used nine, so I ended up throwing out the rest which was really disappointing and a big waste of money. The recipe also seems quite adaptable, so if I were to try making it again, I would try adding other vegetables like spinach, squash, and maybe even some grated carrots.

Again, these were two meals that I was able to make for under $50 (less than $25 a meal), and we had tons of leftovers which will last us early into the week. However, the prices that I’m quoting for the meals don’t include the basic ingredients that I already have at home.  So, while these meals may be cost effective, they would cost more if I were living on my own. One thing that I’m starting to realize from this project is that when I move out, I’m going to have to put money into stocking my fridge and cupboards with basics, everyday ingredients like spices, condiments, etc. In addition, I’m already starting to see that when I’m living on my own it might be worth it to cook several large meals over the weekend and freeze the leftovers for lunches and suppers during the week. While cooking at home initially might be more expensive than eating out, the fact that I’m able to cook one meal and have leftovers from that meal saves me money in the long run.

With the February break coming up, I’m hoping to do a lot of cooking. Any suggestions on what I should try next? Let me know in the comments!

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13 thoughts on “Perfecting Pasta

  1. carmellekgerein says:

    I can’t say I’m a fan of shrimp but I’m glad the meal turned out great! As always, your posts are detailed and filled with pictures that look super delicious! That’s my favorite part about cooking are the leftovers. My recommendations would be Parmesan chicken, Mac and Cheese and spaghetti and meatballs. Can’t wait to see what you cook next!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ms.sonen says:

    Pasta is my absolute favourite! Both of these creations look delicious! Including all of the prices in your posts really makes people aware of how cheap it can be to have great meals.I think it is awesome!

    I also love breakfast! Have you made any delicious breakfast foods?

    Liked by 1 person

    • amypmartin says:

      Thanks for commenting, Shania! I haven’t tried making any breakfast foods yet, but it’s on my list! My mom got a waffle maker for Christmas so I’m thinking of learning how to make homemade buttermilk waffles. What are some of your favourite breakfast dishes? Any suggestions for me?

      Like

  3. roxannwaelchli says:

    Hey Amy, that was a great post! I love making vegetarian lasagna! I like to buy the cheap throw away tins and make up large batches of traditional lasagna to take to people when they have babies, or are sick. I am almost 30 so everyone around me is having babies, and I will tell you having food brought to you after a baby is the BEST! I find it cheaper and more time efficient to make up 4 or 5 at a time and have them ready to go whenever I need to take one to someone.
    I have been trying to make granola bars at home for my husband and daughter, Amilee does not like the store bought ones and I do not really either- they put a bunch of garbage into something that is meant to be healthy! Amilee is not really a picky eater so when she says she does not like something I take it kind of personally lol! She has not liked any of my granola bars yet, so maybe you could help!
    Best of luck cooking over the break!
    Roxann

    Liked by 1 person

    • amypmartin says:

      Hey, Roxann — thanks for commenting! I haven’t found a recipe for granola bars, but I did recently try a recipe for baked oatmeal banana cups which are a quick, healthy breakfast or snack idea. I agree — store-bought granola bars are often full of unhealthy crap. I think these oatmeal cups could be a good alternative. The recipe is in my latest Learning Project blog if you’re interested!

      Like

  4. mackenziethompson8 says:

    Those both look very good! I would recommend putting spinach in the lasagna- I mix mine with the cheese layer when I make lasagna with meat and I really enjoy it. I also have a love/hate relationship with cooking shrimp. It seems so easy, they are done when they’re pink, but it happens so fast! I very often overcook mine. And rock hard shrimp sucks. Good luck with your future meals! (and yes, the first grocery shop of the semester to fill the cupboards when I come back to Regina really hurts the bank account)

    Liked by 1 person

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