Saturday Night Special

Emergency Dinner

I’m insanely competitive, but only with myself. Many mistake this for low self-esteem; on the contrary, I’m just not that concerned with everyone else. Since becoming a stay-at-home mother, I’ve had to institute policies that keep me on my toes, as the lack of a supervisor translates into the lack of a glowing annual review. For example, I try to cook as many meals out of the week as possible, not for the warm contentment that comes from nourishing one’s family, but because an uninterrupted string of “HCD”s (home-cooked dinner) on my wall calendar reassures me that I’m earning a nice pointy A. The only real feedback I get from my subordinates comes in the forms of screams, wails and tantrums, and the occasional “I love you” is usually a last-ditch attempt to elude the repercussional time-out nap. So my need to self-monitor/praise manifests in my psyche’s constant addition of items to my daily to-do lists, while conscious executive-me gripes through each chore, cursing the perfectionist work ethic instilled by a former Catholic (nicely done, Mrs. S!).

There are no corners that the tiny slacker who lives deep inside me and constantly undermines my cultivation of hustle won’t cut, so a good percentage of HCDs involves prepared foods, to my chagrin. I reserve jarred sauces for the end of the week, which usually finds me too disoriented and frazzled to be trusted with a measuring cup. It would be impressive, indeed, to screw up this mindless but tasty pasta dish, and I don’t offer it because I assume you need help putting spaghetti together, but to reassure you that even I don’t start every dinner at the farmers’ market. In fact, I avoid farmers’ markets as well as the California attitude they promote.

1 jar Newman’s Own Roasted Garlic and Peppers Sauce
1 16-oz box spaghetti (1/2 box per 2 eaters)
1 pkg sweet Italian sausage (5 or 6 links)
olive oil

Cover and heat up the sauce in a medium saucepan over low while you fry the sausage in 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high/medium until completely cooked (fill the emptied — not rinsed! — sauce jar with hot water and add as needed to the sauce to achieve the desired consistency). Toss the completely cooked (it’s never redundant) sausage into the sauce along with 1 tbsp of the pan sludge, and continue to cook over low, covered, stirring occasionally, while you boil well-salted water for the pasta and cook it. When the spaghetti is done (drain, but don’t rinse), so is the sauce. Look at all that free time! Let’s find some trim that needs a fresh coat of paint.

Sometimes you want your dinner in a bowl.

West Meets West Rice and Sausage

Thanks go out to Sra. C for this hearty, sinus-clearing, one-pot meal. My mother in law freely admits that she’s an easily distracted cook, but when it comes to white rice, she’s always on her game. Plain Puerto Rican white rice is one of the most difficult things for an outsider to master, but that will be an entirely separate post, and a snarky one at that.

The base for this button-popper is a sort of sauce called sofrito, a Puerto Rican staple used in many rice dishes, soups and stews. Every home cook on the island has their own signature recipe for the blend of peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro, but the two essential ingredients are an herb called recao, and ají dulce, a sweet pepper grown on the island. The red color comes from the annatto oil in which the vegetables are cooked, and oh yeah, that stain’s not going to come out. Since I have neither access to the necessary peppers nor a life-long cultivated sense of pride in the matter, I use Goya sofrito, which comes in a jar found in, you guessed it, the international section.

1 16-oz pkg spicy Italian sausage
2 C uncooked medium grain white rice
4 C boiling water
1 8-oz can Spanish style tomato sauce
1/2 C sofrito
1/2 C vegetable oil
1 tbsp capers
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Slice the sausage into 1″ rounds, keeping the casing intact on as many chunks as possible. Heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-high, and brown the meat on all sides (it does not need to be completely cooked), then transfer the sausage to a bowl. Leaving the drippings in the pot, add the tomato sauce, sofrito, oil, capers and spices. Mix everything together and cook it over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the sausage and rice, then pour in enough boiling water to come up 1″ above the rice. Stir once, and boil uncovered over medium-high until all the water is absorbed. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot, and cook for another 30 minutes.

I trust that by this point I’ve got you feeling appropriately nervous about undercooked meat, but I assure you, this method gets the job done.

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