Friday, October 31, 2008

Saturday Dinner - Rotini Pasta with Vegetable Marinara, Banana Cake, Miniature Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (Special Edition)

Tonight was a special edition of Jade and I's Saturday night dinners, being that it's Friday. That's because tomorrow is my birthday! And I'm going to my cousin's for some fresh boiled crab. Mmm.

But back to tonight! We made a version of a dish that I used to make a lot when I was a poor legislative correspondent on Capitol Hill, making peanuts. This was a favorite meal because it was fast, cheap, filling, and had some nutritional value. But back then I only ever used pasta sauce that came in a jar, and usually made it with long pasta such as spaghetti or fettucini. Tonight, however, I made my own sauce, and as I was out of long pasta, used rotini -- which actually might have been a better choice.

We each made different desserts -- I made what was supposed to be a low-fat banana cake, except I didn't have milk, so used canned coconut milk instead, so the low-fat thing kind of went out the window, which is okay for me since I'm not restricted to having 10 grams of fat per meal, as Jade is. Predictably, the cake was soft, moist, and delicious, which means I'll probably have to continue to make it with the coconut milk! Still, I think it would still be great with the nonfat milk the recipe originally called for. Jade made miniature low-fat pineapple upside-down cakes, which looked so yummy I wish I could have had one! They were made in honor of her mother's birthday, which happened to be today.

All in all, a very simple, satisfying meal that was good and low in fat! Well, more so if you were at Jade's house instead of mine.

Rotini with Vegetable Marinara

  • 1 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 8oz can tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (I used Merlot)
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1/4" rounds and then cut in half
  • 1 celery rib, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 5-6 white button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cooked rotini
  • 8oz fresh broccoli
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, divided


  1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan or Dutch oven.
  2. Toss in the diced onion and stir to coat. Add the sugar. Cook onions until they're translucent and getting soft. If it seems there's not enough oil for the onions you have, add a little more -- you don't want them to turn brown and burn.
  3. Carefully pour in the red wine, and cook for a few minutes until it's reduced a bit.
  4. Add the can of tomatoes, juice and all. If you're pressed for time, mash the tomatoes a bit so they're not quite so chunky. If you plan to let this simmer for a couple of hours, you can skip that step.
  5. Mix the tomato paste with the water, and add to the sauce. Bring it to a boil.
  6. Toss in celery, zucchini, and mushrooms, and stir to coat. Let that cook for a couple of minutes.
  7. Add the garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Let the sauce simmer for 2-3 hours on low heat, stirring once or twice. The resulting sauce should be chunky, but the vegetables should be soft and there should be plenty of sauce.
  9. About half an hour before you're ready to serve, make the pasta as directed on the package.
  10. In another saucepan, heat 1/2 tbsp of olive oil. When it's hot, add the broccoli and stir fry until the broccoli is bright green and just about done. If you need to, add more oil as you definitely don't want the broccoli to burn.
  11. Add cooked rotini and stir a bit, but don't actually cook as it'll stick to the pan.
  12. Ladle in the vegetable marinara sauce and stir until all the pasta is coated. Add more if your preference is for more sauce.
  13. Cook for a minute or two, then ladle into a pasta bowl and serve. We left out the cheese to keep this low fat, but you can sprinkle some parmesan on at the end.

I had to wait for the steam to dissipate to take this photo -- and even then some remained. I didn't want it to get totally cold, though, since I still had to eat it!

Banana Cake

  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (or nonfat milk for low-fat version)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Prepare a 9" square baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine bananas, milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract.
  5. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
  6. Spread batter into prepared pan.
  7. Bake for 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (If you use nonfat milk, it may only take 25 minutes as originally directed, so watch the cake to make sure it doesn't overbake!)
  8. To prepare glaze, combine honey and cinnamon in a small bowl. Mix well. Drizzle over warm cake.

If you make the low-fat version, you can check out specific nutritional information here, which is the recipe I adapted.

Miniature Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes


For the cake:

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 15oz can's worth of drained pineapple juice (see topping)

For the topping:

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 7 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 15oz can of crushed pineapple, drained (save the juice)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  3. Slowly stir in the eggs and milk to the dry ingredients. Add some of the crushed pineapple to the batter if desired.
  4. To make the topping, melt butter in a sauce pan.
  5. Slowly add brown sugar until you get a nice-looking glaze. Pour the glaze into a pan (or distribute evenly among mini pans, if making small cakes).
  6. Add the crushed pineapple, spreading it evenly in the pan(s).
  7. Pour the cake batter over the glaze and pineapple.
  8. Bake for 35 mins if making a large cake, 15 to 20 if doing minis. You can slice and serve directly out of the pan(s), or turn over so that the pineapple glaze is on top, for upside-down cake!

Note: To make low fat, use 1% low fat milk, and substitute 4 egg whites for the eggs -- it makes the cake a little heavier than is ideal, but the fat to taste ratio remains intact.

Miniature pineapple cakes, with a cell phone to show size.

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