This recipe is simple, but it takes a little time and some patience. This recipe also allows for many distractions which proved helpful this evening.
I started around 4:00 by finely chopping a small sweet onion. I then put it in a large frying pan with two to three tablespoons of olive oil and turned the heat on low. (By sautéing them on a very low heat you don't have to keep a very careful eye on them.)
Next I began to chop two large carrots. I like to slice them in circles so my daughter can pick them out of the sauce with her little fingers.
Halfway through the slicing of the carrot I was summoned to referee an impromptu tooth-brushing session. It was Daddy-Who-Wants-To-Brush versus Daughter-Who-Only-Wants-To-Suck-The-Water-Off-The-Toothbrush. Unfortunately for Daddy, it was clear who the winner of this one was going to be. I left my daughter happily playing with the water in the sink to return to the kitchen and finish cutting the carrots. Then I sliced three stalks of celery and put everything in to the frying pan.
By this time my daughter had moved on from brushing teeth to blowing bubbles. She insisted that mommy had to blow the bubbles so I left my husband in charge of stirring the pan every five minutes. After about 15 minutes of enthusiastic bubble blowing she was ready to move on to something else and I was able to return to the kitchen. The celery and onions were clear and the carrots had began to soften so it was time to add the meat.
Most recipes call for you to remove the vegetables before adding the meat and then returning them after the meat has been browned, but for simplicity and to cut down on dishes I just put the meat on top. I break about one pound of defrosted ground beef into two inch chunks and turn the heat up, but only to medium. It takes longer to brown the meat but the lower the temperature the less tough the meat will be. I mix and stir the meat every couple of minutes until it is cooked through. The meat breaks apart during this process but leaves big enough chunks to spear with a fork or pick up with little fingers.
Then I use a large spoon to drain the fat. You can also use a baster to do this. Once the fat is drained I add one small can of tomato paste, 1 and 1/4 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to the frying pan. I stir well, bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. At this point you could also add any other seasonings you would like. My mom includes a bouillon cube (which I eliminated because I am gluten-free) and some oregano (which I eliminated because I don't like it). You could also add fresh tomatoes, canned diced tomatoes, bay leaves etc.
The key to this recipe is to let this simmer for a while. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't get dried out. If the water gets all absorbed add some more. I think professional chef's call this "reducing". I call it haphazard, play-it-by-ear simmering. Sometimes I add extra water once and sometimes I add it three of four times depending on how long I want to leave it simmering. The sauce is ready once the water is mostly absorbed and the carrots are soft. If you make this in the middle of the day you can just turn off the heat, put a lid on it and save it until dinnertime.
This evening while it was simmering I got to pretend I was at the beach with my big hat and flip flops and then had a pretend snowball fight. I love the imagination of a toddler!
About twenty minutes before dinner I began to prepare the spaghetti according to the directions on the package. Tonight I cooked regular spaghetti and quinoa spaghetti. (I like to use Ancient Harvest Quinoa Spaghetti) I haven't sold my husband on the quinoa pasta... yet.
Finally, I drained the pasta and served it with several large spoonfuls of sauce. Tonight I was feeling lazy so we just ate spaghetti... I didn't feel too guilty since it includes meat and vegetables! You can also serve this with salad or any other vegetable. When I was growing up my mom often served it with carrot sticks.
We love this meal. It is warm, nutritious and comforting. I also usually have enough sauce left over for the next day or to freeze. But the best part is that my daughter asks for it for dinner... and lunch... and snack!
Here is the full recipe:
Approximately 1 pound ground beef
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small sweet onion
3-4 celery stalks
1 can tomato paste
Optional: Diced tomatoes, Chicken or Beef Bouillon for flavoring, Oregano etc.
Finely chop onion, celery and carrot. Saute in a large frying pan with olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside. Brown meat. Drain fat. Return onion, celery and carrot to the pan. Add tomato paste, water, garlic salt, pepper and any other desired seasoning to the pan. Mix well, bring to a boil and leave to simmer until all water is absorbed. Add more water and repeat if the carrots are not yet soft. Sauce is done when most of the water is absorbed and the carrots are soft.