Cook | When reality bites, mom goes to Plan B

josie_shapiroEven the most strategically planned meals can devolve into disaster. Which is why one must embrace weeknight recipes that require next to no work, and then still have a backup plan at hand.

The Night It Didn’t Work Out, I thought I was prepared. My plan was to bake spaghetti squash for 30 minutes while the kids scribbled.

I envisioned myself as the perfect 1950s mother with  calm and productivity all around. And why not? Dinner was a simple stir-and-serve situation. That it also happened to introduce a new “spaghetti” to the pickiest of eaters was further proof of the four-star mother status I was hallucinating.

It all went to pieces following a scuffle over a purple pen. While I soothed the tears and wailing, a coveted book was tossed aggressively into the toilet by the toddler.

It strikes me as remarkable how quickly simplicity can erode. When in dramatic despair, it’s best to have leftover mac and cheese at your disposal and move on to the wine portion of the evening quickly. All this to say that the following recipes make a perfect and easy meal, as long as no one is sobbing on the floor.


Spaghetti Squash with Parsley Pesto

Serves 4

1 whole spaghetti squash

4 Tbs. olive oil, divided

2 Tbs. lightly toasted walnuts

2 small garlic cloves, peeled (or 1 large)

1/2 cup parsley leaves, packed

3/4 tsp. lemon zest, grated

1 Tbs. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 small pinch granulated sugar

1 Tbs. grated Parmesan, plus additional for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Split the squash in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Line an oven tray with aluminum foil. Rub the spaghetti squash with 1 Tbs. olive oil (reserve remaining 3 Tbs. for the pesto) and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place flesh side down and bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes until skin begins to brown, and you can depress slightly with a firm touch.

Meanwhile, in a food processor combine walnuts and garlic. Pulse till the texture of coarse sand. Add remaining ingredients, including 3 Tbs. oil. Pulse till smooth.

When squash cools, use a fork to scrape strands from inside of skin. Place in a large bowl. Toss with pesto. Place in a casserole and sprinkle with Parmesan to serve.


Fog Coast Kale and Citrus Salad

Serves 4

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 Tbs. fresh Meyer lemon juice

3 Tbs. fresh orange juice

1 tsp. lemon zest, grated

1/2 tsp. salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

8 cups Lacinato kale, stems removed, leaves torn

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

2 clementines, segmented

1 avocado, diced

1/4 cup shelled pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped

In a pint-size glass jar or sealable container, combine olive oil, lemon juice, orange juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Shake vigorously. Place kale in a large salad bowl. Add about half the feta cheese, clementine segments and avocado. Toss with dressing. Place in large serving bowl or individual dishes. Top with remaining feta and pistachio nuts.


The Backup Plan

Serves 6-8 children

1 lb. elbow macaroni

2 Tbs. butter

3 Tbs. milk

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. granulated garlic

1/4 tsp. celery salt

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Cook macaroni according to package directions and drain. Return empty pot to stovetop. Melt butter and add milk, Dijon, granulated garlic, celery salt, salt and pepper. Mix. Add cooked macaroni back to pot. Add cheese. Stir till cheese melts.

Josie A.G. Shapiro won the 2013 Man-O Manischewitz Cook-Off, is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet” and works at the JCC of San Francisco. Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Her website is

Josie A.G. Shapiro

Josie A.G. Shapiro won the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff and is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet.”