As an adult, male or female, you should be able to prepare one entire tasty meal completely, competently, and quickly on your own that feeds four adults. Assuming you have access to a stove and a refrigerator, you don’t need a microwave oven. Plus, the credibility you earn from not using a microwave will only enhance your status in the eyes of your fellow diners.
If you are a fan of cooking, then branch out and make a chicken and vegetable stir fry – a dish that is very flexible and forgiving though a bit time-consuming because of all the chopping required. (Contact me and I will send you an easy recipe for stir fry). If you are a bit nervous about cooking a meal with or without a microwave, then stick to basic Americanized spaghetti (recipe below). Both are appetizing and can stretch to feed another person at the last minute.
Part 1) Sauce:
Start with one finely chopped onion and one pound of 90/10 ground beef. If you are feeling authentic, use one pound of ground Italian sausage in place of the ground beef. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil (less if you are using sausage) in a large skillet or sauce pan. Heat oil on medium-high and toss in the onions. Pay attention and don’t let the onions get too brown. Burnt onions are icky and you have to start over. When onions are translucent and tender, put the meat in the same skillet. Turn the heat down a bit and separate the beef as it cooks. When there are no pink bits, add the next ingredients which consist of a jar of good spaghetti sauce – Bertolli, Paul Newman, 365, whatever. You are not striving for authenticity here, just a hearty meal. Add a little water along with some red wine if you are feeling really adventurous and bring the meat and sauce to a boil. Immediately lower heat a lot and let it simmer at least 30 minutes while you make the rest of the meal. Cover the pan while cooking the sauce to keep it from evaporating and splattering. Stir in a bit more water and continue to cook if the sauce starts to look too thick or too dry.
Part 2) Noodles:
Fill a giant pot about ¾ full of water. Add a couple dashes of salt. Bring to a full, rolling boil – strive for big bubbles, not tiny ones. Add as many spaghetti noodles as you need for your friends and cook as long as the package says to. Taste test a noodle for doneness; no one wants raw chewy spaghetti. Then drain the pasta well. Cook the pasta right before you are ready to serve the meal after the sauce is done and salad prepared.
Part 3) Salad:
Open a large package of fresh mixed greens into a large bowl. Add whatever extras you like – grape tomatoes, pinion nuts, onions, cucumbers, flax seeds, etc. Just before serving, pour just a medium amount of good Italian salad dressing over the greens; no one wants soggy salad. Toss well just before serving. More casually, put the bottle on the table and let everyone help themselves.
Part 4) Bread:
Buy a loaf of pre-sliced sourdough or french bread. Lay the slices in one layer on a cookie sheet and lightly butter one side of each slice. A faint sprinkle of garlic powder over the butter will keep away vampires. Turn oven on to ‘low’ broil, put the cookie sheet in the oven, and watch those babies like a hawk. The smell of burned bread takes a while to dissipate.
To serve, have the bread and salad on the table to serve family-style. Of course, you already have silverware, napkins, drinking glasses and a small bowl of real grated parmesan cheese on the table, right? Dishing up the pasta in the kitchen simplifies things. Do not mix the noodles and sauce together in one pot. Trust me – it is against the law in Italy. Place an equal amount of noodles on each plate. Carefully ladle an equal and generous amount of sauce on the top of the noodles. Clean up the edge of the plate with a damp paper towel (not your finger) if the sauce drips. If you are really going all out, sprinkle a bit of basil on top of the sauce and serve your entrée to the delight of your guests.
Preparing dessert is optional. An ideal, easy post-spaghetti dessert is to scoop some high-quality gelato into small cute bowls and serve. If you make a stir fry, simply provide an assortment of fortune cookies and debate the merits of the advice they dispense. You can provide your diners a more lavish dessert the next time they come over and if you do this right, they will be clamoring to dine at your place again!