Sunday, January 24, 2010

Guest Blog: In a pinch, go for the noodles

By Seth R. Hawkins

Noodles are one of the first foods that kids discover they love. We can blame Kraft for that. After all, who doesn't love a little bit of fake cheese with some soggy noodles? But as we get older and our taste buds get a bit more refined, we start to discover there is a whole world of noodles out there. To be completely honest, my eyes were opened to noodle heaven when I started buying groceries for myself. I was overwhelmed by the plethora of options (by the way, any sentence with the word 'plethora' in it is bound to be a good one).

But, the multitude of options doesn't have to be complicated. At the same time, this doesn't mean any noodle will do. Yes, I am going to be a stickler on this one. There is a right type of noodle and a wrong type of noodle to every meal.

Believe it or not, so much of cooking comes down to texture. Most noodles taste essentially the same, but you get a different experience with different noodles. For instance, spaghetti has long been known to be dominated by long, thin strands of noodle. That's how it works. You wrap it around a fork and it's a nice meal. Try that with wagon wheel noodles. Sure, the kids love it, but somehow the quality of the meal has been downgraded in your eyes. Is it still essentially the same? Yes, but the experience is completely different.

That's why I say there is a right and a wrong noodle to every meal. That being said, there is no official government Oversight Committee on Noodle Texture. It all comes down to your texture preferences.

Personally, I hate sea shell noodles. I think they are slippery and the sauce never seems to coat them properly. However, my wife loves them. So, she uses them for more kid-friendly leftover type meals and I use real noodles for everything else.

By real noodles, I mean my favorite three:
  1. bow tie
  2. penne
  3. angel hair

These three noodles have common shapes, but they also have a certain level of sophistication to them. But, not every meal can accommodate each type of noodle. Remember, you're after experience, so select a noodle that will pair well with your other ingredients without overwhelming them. The noodle is the base of the meal, but it should not be the dominant feature of the meal.

This brings me to this week's creation:
Sausage with a cream sauce (sorry about the lame title)

This was another, "Honey, what do we have in our fridge," meal. I knew I didn't have a lot to work with, so I went to one of my favorite standbys - noodles. We'll get to the other bases in another post.

I searched through my options and selected the penne noodles because I knew they would be firm and filling, a great complement to a meal that very little else in it.

1/2 pound sausage
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
diced green onions
1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz sour cream
penne noodles

Herb/Spice Rack
cajun spice

Slice sausage in diagonal slices no larger than 1/4-inch thick. Dice green bell pepper and green onions. Saute all of the above, including the mushrooms, in olive oil for only a few minutes. The goal of the sauteing is to just start to break down the vegetables and brown the meat without overdoing it. The sauce will take care of the majority of the cooking, but this will keep the veggies from being too tough, plus it adds a nice flavor. Remember, when you are sauteing, it is always a good idea to add a pinch of salt and pepper. You can be more adventurous if you like.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by placing the can of cream of mushroom soup in a saucepan. Heat until it starts to get smooth. Add the sour cream to thicken. If you accidentally add too much, pour in a bit of milk to smooth it out. Add spices as desired (the cajun spice really adds a nice touch to this meal). Put sausage and veggies in sauce and heat thoroughly. Serve over a bed of pasta, served al dente.

This was a simple meal that tasted surprisingly good. Sometimes it can be stressful to come up with a sauce from scratch, but using "cream of ___" soups will often serve as a good starting point. The noodle selection was extremely important to the texture of this meal. The veggies had a light crunch and the sausage is soft and round, so the tubular shape of the noodles added great contrast, making for an enjoyable eating experience. Go ahead, try it.
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