Many of us lack time, energy and imagination at the end of a long day to create a tasty dinner for our families.

My friend and colleague Becki Schumacher gave me a cookbook a few years ago called "Desperation Dinners! Home-cooked Meals for Frantic Families in 20 Minutes Flat." Becki is a busy mom with hungry boys and found this book to be a lifesaver on nights when she is short of time.

Pasta is the perfect choice for evenings when you are wondering how you will get it all done. It cooks quickly, it's filling and almost everyone likes it. Pasta is possibly the most versatile food. You can put your spin on it any way you like.



Pasta Two-Ways

Through the magic of Facebook I reconnected with an old friend, Dawn Walker Strelow. Dawn, her mom, Sharon, and her sister, Megan, lived in Carroll when she and I were in middle school. Dawn is now living in Omaha, Neb., with her husband, two little boys, and a third child on the way. Dawn shared this family-friendly recipe with me. She said it is really easy, comfort food and she has yet to meet someone that doesn't like it as it's crowd pleaser for sure.

There are three components to this recipe:

1. Pasta of your choice

2. Meat sauce

Brown 1/2-3/4 lb ground beef, then drain and add spaghetti sauce of choice.

3. Alfredo sauce

In a large saucepan combine all ingredients. Stir over low heat until smooth.

8 oz cream cheese, cubed

3/4 c grated parmesan cheese

1/2 c milk

1/2 c butter

To serve, you can put the pasta on the plate then add both of the sauces over the top, or you can toss the pasta with the Alfredo sauce and then top it with the meat sauce.



Pantry Pasta

This is a recipe from my friend Becki that comes from the "Desperation Dinners" cookbook. Becki has two teenage boys, Chase and Wyatt. They are very busy with sports activities and always hungry for their mom's cooking.

All of the ingredients in this dish can be found in the pantry (with a little planning) so even a hectic evening can mean a good meal.

2/3 bag (8 oz of a 12 oz bag) yolk-free wide egg noodles

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/3 cup frozen chopped onions

1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic

1/3 cup fat-free canned chicken broth

1/3 cup peanut butter

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice from frozen concentrate (optional)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon bottled chopped ginger (optional)

2 scallions (green onions; for ¼ cup chopped; optional)

1 large can (10 oz) white-meat chicken (optional)

½ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts (optional)

Cook noodles according to package directions (do not overcook). Meanwhile heat oil in a large nonstick skillet and cook onions and garlic for 1 minute. Stir in chicken broth, peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, and ginger. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. Finely chop scallions. Drain noodles and chicken (if using) and place them in a 3 qt or larger serving bowl. Add scallion. Pour sauce over the noodles and toss well to mix. Garnish with chopped peanuts and serve.



5-Minute Noodles

My friend and former colleague Molly Hagkull just moved from Des Moines to Ohio with her family. She was also Kellan's Kindermusik teacher, and her talents will be greatly missed in Iowa. Molly has two growing boys, Brady and Connor, and always needs something good and quick to serve them before or after hockey practice.

Make a package of chicken Ramen noodle soup according to the directions, stir in 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (creamy or crunchy).

Molly's Note: If I want to make it "healthy" I'll shave a couple of baby carrots and add them to the water while it's boiling.



Greek Spaghetti

My mom gave me a cookbook that was compiled for the husband of her late friend. Her friend was going through cancer treatments, and her husband needed ideas of simple dinners to prepare for the two of them.

This pasta dish is meatless, however, grilled chicken or shrimp could be easily added.

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 large clove garlic, minced

3 cups diced tomato

½ cup sliced green onion

¼ cup chopped parsley, divided

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 cups hot cooked thin spaghetti

1 cup (4 oz) crumbled feta cheese, divided

pepper to taste

Cook spaghetti as directed on package. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and oregano to skillet and sauté for 30 seconds. Add tomato, onion, 2 tablespoons parsley, and lemon juice. Cook 2 minutes or until heated through. Add spaghetti noodles to tomato mixture. Add ¾ cup cheese. Mix gently. Top with remaining cheese and sprinkle remaining parsley.



Asian Pasta

Most think of pasta as Italian, but Asian noodle bowls are one of my favorite things. They are healthful and fresh. Any kind of pasta can be used for this dish and feel free to experiment and add veggies of your liking.

2-3 cups penne pasta

handful of baby spinach

1 head of broccoli

1 cup chopped button mushrooms

Parmesan cheese (optional)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce (a little bit sweet, found in the Asian section)

1 lemon (juice and zest )

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove (chopped)

1 teaspoon thyme

Cook pasta according to directions. In a large saucepan over medium heat add olive oil and mushrooms until they begin to cook down then add the garlic and thyme. Now toss in the broccoli, and let it begin to brown (about 2 minutes). Combine soy sauce, hoisin sauce, lemon juice and zest in a bowl and mix together. Pour into mushroom and broccoli mixture. Add spinach and cooked pasta and stir to mix thoroughly. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.