Thursday, October 29, 2009

Favorite Recipes: Tips to Spice Up Spaghetti

When we think of Spaghetti, many of us immediately think of our favorite Italian restaurant where they serve a generous bowl of pasta, a house salad and hot fresh bread straight from the oven. However, when we think about making spaghetti at home, we may get a different kind of picture, like a jar of plain sauce poured over the top of boiled noodles. I must confess, for many years I made spaghetti just like this, until one day I decided to spice things up a bit. I was tired of serving the same meal, the same way, over and over again.

So I started paying attention to what was on the menu when I ate out. Every time I tried something new that I thought I could make at home, I made a mental note of it. Then I would go home and try to fix something similar for my family. This has really made a big difference in the way I cook and I think it will help others as well. Sometimes we just need to get out of the rut we are in and use our imagination. The food we serve to the most important people in our lives should look and taste great, because they are worth it.

To help you get started, here are a few tricks I use to spice up my spaghetti. When it comes to the noodles, I usually choose traditional spaghetti noodles, but I prefer the thin noodles as apposed to the thicker ones, because I like the texture better. I boil my spaghetti in a little bit of salt water until al dente, which is firm but not hard, and I add a little olive oil to the water.

Sometimes I use different shaped noodles like linguini or angel hair pasta. There are also special flavored pastas now available, which you can try. Just experiment around. Remember, it’s your kitchen so do what you like. That’s part of the fun after all; you get to have it your way.

When it comes to sauces, I still start with a jar of store bought sauce. I have learned that by using the jar sauce as my base, I can make all kinds of different specialty sauces of my own in a fraction of the time it would take me to make it from scratch. Some sauces are sweeter than others so keep this in mind when you’re cooking. I like using a sweeter sauce when I make meat sauce or spaghetti and meatballs, and tangier ones for my other types of sauces.

To make my meat sauce, I brown a pound of ground beef and season it with onion salt and black pepper. You could use sausage if you like, or some people like to use a combination of the two. Try adding onions or green peppers to give it an even different flavor. Once the meat is cooked, I add my jar sauce, along with some garlic powder, oregano and an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce.

To make a hearty vegetable sauce, I simply sauté diced onions and zucchini in olive oil. To this I add a can of diced tomatoes and some red pepper flakes. Then I let the juice cook down slightly before adding about a cup of sliced mushrooms. The mushrooms soak up the rest of the tomato juice as they cook; when it does I add my jar sauce, garlic powder, oregano and some parsley. Sometime I make a meatless spaghetti dish and at other times I top my spaghetti with sliced grilled chicken or even shrimp that has been cooked in olive oil and garlic.

If you are an Alfredo fan, you might want to try my Smoky Alfredo sauce. Add a cup of grated smoked Gouda cheese and a teaspoon of tomato paste to a jar of store bought Alfredo sauce. Heat until the cheese has melted and pour over your pasta. Then top this with grilled portabella mushrooms and wow it tastes amazing.

On a final note, to make your meals even more interesting, try serving your spaghetti with different types of salads, sides and breads each time you make it. It will be like eating out at your own favorite restaurant every time. The combinations are as endless as you want to make them, so never settle for that same old spaghetti again. Mix it up a little and I’ll bet your family will be glad you did.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Decorating Ideas: DIY Kitchen Chalkboards

Years ago my husband and I purchased a house with an unusual piece of wood molding on one of the kitchen walls. We asked everyone about it, including the previous owners, but no one seemed to know what it had been used for. At first we were going to remove the molding, but instead decided it would make a perfect frame for a large kitchen chalkboard, which would go nicely with our bistro/café decor.

I bought a can of chalkboard paint and some primer from our local home improvement store. Since the frame was already there on the wall, I simply masked it off with some tape and primed the wall in between the slats. Then I painted it with a couple of coats of the chalkboard paint. After it was dry, I used colored chalk to draw my design. The top of the frame had a shallow lip on it, which provided a convenient place to arrange a decorative basket, bottles and vegetables.

Making this chalkboard was so easy; just follow the directions on the back of the paint. When you are done you can write and erase it just like a regular chalkboard. If you don’t want to paint your wall, you could easily make your own chalkboard out of any flat surface that takes paint. It’s easy to work with, so have some fun.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Money Saving Tips: Take-N-Bake Pizza

Welcome to Clays Kitchen

I love pizza. I could eat it almost every day. I like it whether it is deep dish, thin or with stuffed crust, hot from the oven or straight from the refrigerator in the middle of the night. That’s right, you know what I’m talking about, all that cheese and toppings piled high on that perfect crust. Just thinking about it is making me hungry.

Now before I go on let me say nothing takes the place of piping hot pizza straight from a pizzeria. However, if you are looking for a way to cut your expenses and still have good fresh made-to-order pizza, then check out your local Take-N-Bake pizza shops near you. I get my pizzas from Papa Murphy’s and I can highly recommend them to you.

I shop at the Papa Murphy’s in Olathe, Kansas. The store is always clean, the staff is polite and helpful, and I can usually get in and out very quickly. Their supplies are well stocked and fresh, and you can watch them make your pizza with any combination of toppings on it that you like. You can also order other items like salads, pop and pasta. You don’t even need a pizza pan, because each pizza comes with its own specially designed pan that goes straight in the oven and then to the table. They even have a special pan you can purchase to cook your pizza on your grill if you like.

Papa Murphy’s is very generous with their toppings, their pizzas are easy to cook and taste great every time. Because they always run specials, hand out coupons and have other customer appreciation incentives, you can spend less and get more for your dollar. So the next time you’re in the mood for pizza, Take-N-Bake it yourself.

To see if there is a Papa Murphy's in your area to to:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Favorite Recipes: Shellroni

Welcome to Clays Kitchen

 It’s mid October and already the leaves are starting to turn. There’s a cool crispness in the air, which means it won’t be long until we start smelling everyone’s cozy fireplaces. I love this time of year. The smothering hot days of summer are passed, the trees are showing off their beautiful fall colors, football season has begun, and all the small towns are having fall festivals.

As soon as it gets cool outside I start thinking about making meals that stick to your ribs like chili, hot soups and casseroles. One our family favorites is called Shellroni, which consists of shell noodles, ripe diced tomatoes and ground beef. This simple meal is filling, tastes great, and it’s inexpensive to make.

Through the years I have discovered there seems to be a lot of different versions of this dish. Some make it with tomato soup and call it goulash. My mom used to put diced onions and whole canned tomatoes in her's. My recipe is a variation of my mom's, except I substitute the whole canned tomatoes with diced canned tomatoes, and I leave out the onions for my boys. My oldest son told me last week he's changed the recipe again. He substitutes one can of tomatoes for some V-8 juice and he really likes it. Sounds like Mom is going to have to give it a try. No matter which way you make it, I hope you enjoy Shellroni with your friends and family.


2 - 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
1 lb. ground beef 
1 lb. medium shell noodles
onion salt
black pepper
1 tsp. salt


  1. Brown ground beef over a medium-high burner in an extra large skillet.
  2. Season generously with onion salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Break up meat with a spatula as you brown the meat.
  4. Add canned tomatoes and 1 can water.
  5. Reduce heat and mix all ingredients together on low.

  1. Put the shell noodles in a large sauce pan and add enough water to cover the noodles an inch or so above the noodles.
  2. To this add the salt, then bring the noodles to a boil.
  3. Cook until noodles are done, not mushy.
  4. Drain noodles in a colander and rinse with hot water.
  5. Add to the meat mixture and mix well.
  6. Add more onion salt and pepper if needed.
Serve alone as a one-dish meal or with a side salad, bread or crackers and butter.
This recipe will feed 4-6 people.

Cooking Tip:
  • I recommend using 90% lean ground beef or better for this dish so it is not greasy from the meat fat. It just does not taste the same, even if you drain and wash the meat.
  • Don't over brown your meat, you don't want crunchy crisp bites of meat.
  • Make sure you rinse your noodles well so the dish does not taste starchy.
  • Make sure you buy ripe canned tomatoes