8 Rules of Pasta

Pasta is not a side dish. It should be either the first course, or served as the main dish. I did not make this up. It's well known to all Italians and since they are the pasta masters of the universe, they get to have their say about it here. And pasta, it turns out is too complex, to important to be served with an accompaniment. It should stand alone and be enjoyed without distraction.

Rule #1: Use appropriate servings.

When serving pasta as a first course, you should expect to make about two ounces dry(or three fresh) per person but when the pasta is the main dish, it should be more like four ounces dry (or 5 fresh). A one pound bag of dry pasta should serve four people as a main dish and up to eight as a first course.

Rule #2: Keep Pasta Hot.

This is easily accomplished by serving it with still piping hot sauce. To minimize surface exposure which can lead to rapid cooling, consider serving your pasta in bowls instead of flat plates. If you insist on using flat plates, you can keep them in the oven on warm until it's time to dish out the pasta. This is a nice touch if you are trying to impress your company with your thoughtfulness.

Rule #3: Use a Fork.

Despite the trend of using a fork and spoon, it is not actually the proper way to do it. Use your fork to catch a few strands of pasta and twirl them around it while holding the tines of the fork against the inside of your bowl. For heavens sake, leave your spoon in place. You are not a child.

Rule #4: No Knives.

Pasta should be eaten with a fork, not hacked apart with a blade. Long pasta is twirled. Baked or filled pasta's are cut with the side of your dinner fork. No knives. Ever. Period.

Rule #5: Napkins are a Go.

Surprisingly, it is not only okay, but it is actually a very good idea to hold your napkin over your chest to prevent splashing and staining. Tucking it in your collar is more informal and should only be done in the comfort of your own home.

Rule #6: No pre-grated Cheese, Please.

Grating the Parmesan over a dish of fresh pasta is a time honored tradition. Not only that, fresh just tastes better. Pre-grated cheeses get dried out and lose a lot of their character rather quickly. Instead, if you are going to serve pasta, buy a chunk of the good stuff and go ahead and feel a little fancy. You are worth it.

Rule #7: No Cheese with Seafood Pasta.

It is true. Cheese over powers the delicate flavor of seafood pasta's. Fish and shellfish don't need the help to be delicious. I don't care how much your grandmother insists otherwise. No Parmesan with the shrimp scampi. It's just wrong.

Rule #8: No Wasting the Leftovers.

This is a serious problem. Many people simply toss their left over pasta because they think it can't be reheated with any grace. They are wrong. Day old pasta makes the best lunch. If you are afraid it will dry out in the microwave, cover it with a damp paper towel. Or, you can reheat it in a skillet with a little olive oil. You can even reheat it in the pot by adding just a little water to prevent scorching and stir until it's warmed through.

Now that you know the rules of pasta, you will always be prepared. But remember that Mrs. Manners is adamant that pointing out someone else bad manners is the worst kind of social mistake. Besides, Pasta is all about the sheer enjoyment of food. Pasta is good! Enjoy it!

PHOTO: Kanko* via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Shades of Green: Garnishing a Salad

When the appropriate garnishes are chosen, for visual appeal as well as taste and texture, a simple green salad can become a stunning appetizer or a satisfying main dish. The trick is to keep the balance, in this sort of salad, the greens must remain dominant and the garnishes should enhance, not overtake the dish. If you over do some things, like bacon garlic or green olives, you run the risk of drowning out all other flavors. The first thing you must determine is if your greens are mild, like most lettuces, spinach or kale- then they can support stronger flavors. If your greens are already flavorful, such as arugula, cress, or some of the stronger sprout varieties, then you should use less and less assertive flavors.


There is a disagreement of sorts when it comes to tomatoes and tossed salad. Some people think it is unwise as the juices from the tomatoes will invariably thin the dressing. If this is a concern for your dish, then prepare the tomatoes separately and serve them on the side of the salad instead of tossed in, or use a less juicy variety such as a beefsteak. You can also simply slice cherry tomatoes in half, they produce far less fluid than their larger cousins.


If you are serving a salad with a carb heavy meal, like pasta or rice, you should consider forgoing the crouton crunch. If not, then the addition of these savory bread bites can be just the thing to brighten your salad. Always wait until just before you serve your salad before adding the croutons. If they sit in a dressing dampened bowl of greens, they can become soggy and unappetizing.

Nuts and Seeds

If you really want to add some pizzazz to your salad, you can't go wrong with a handful of nuts or seeds. Sunflower seeds, walnuts and almonds can all be used with great success. The feeling of the dish can be varied by toasting them lightly in a skillet before adding them to the salad. Be sure to let them cool a moment first though or you run the risk of wilting your greens


Vegetables are a wonderful addition to any salad. Choosing which ones to add is at least half the fun of preparing the dish. Each vegetable should be sliced thinly. Consider shredding or grating some of your heavier vegetables, like carrots and cabbage so their weight does not drag them to the bottom of the bowl. Some other great vegetable sidekicks are cucumber, mushrooms, peppers, or celery. In the right dish, broccoli, cauliflower, corn and even green beans can be delightful additions

Ideal Garnishments

There are literally no limits to what you can add to a salad to make it special but it is true, some are more palatable than others. Here is a list of possibilities to inspire your own salad creation:

  • Artichokes should be marinated and tender. The marinade makes it's own dressing and often, that's all you will need.
  • Avocado's should be served fresh. They can be thinly sliced or mashed in with the dressing.
  • Bacon is usually crumbled but a couple of thin slices on top is an inviting sight.
  • Beans, especially kidney beans give a salad substance and add a lovely color.
  • Cheese of all kinds belong in a salad. Crumbled feta and shredded cheddar impart very different and distinct flavors.
  • Chickpeas are a favorite among many Mediterranean salads and remain a favorite addition.
  • Eggs, Hard boiled and either sliced or crumbled, are very satisfying and add a protein source to your salad.
  • Fruits are a refreshing addition. Both fresh and dried varieties work well. Remove citrus skins and seeds before hand
  • Herbs create depth and snap to an otherwise bland salad.
  • Meats of all sorts are another protein source that go well in salads. Best to stick with cured or at least boneless varieties.
  • Olives, green or black, go well in any salad but should always be pitted or served on the side instead.

PHOTO: jefferyw via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

4 Steps to Restaurant Train your Children

To people without children the topic seems a little silly. I mean, when faced with the decision to go out- either you do or you don't. But to the millions of people who have braved the restaurant crowd with their disapproving glares or sympathetic smiles, as they tried to tame their wild beastlets- it's a very important topic to broach.

We've all seen them, those well behaved, clean children who look positively happy to be sitting quietly and waiting for their dinner and we think “those parents are so lucky they have nice kids” but here's the secret: no parent was born with perfect children. They just don't exist. Using proper manners when dining out must be taught by the parents and learned by the children- just like potty training or sitting in a desk at school and it must be taught early. That means going out to eat often and facing the crowds head on while you teach your kids how to behave in public. Don't worry though, if your older-than-toddler children are still not restaurant trained, you're in good company. A lot of parents have trouble getting their kids through a meal without temper tantrums and tears.

Here are a few ways to ease the experience and expedite the training:

Step 1: Prepare

This seems like such a simple thing, but when you think about it, you may find that you haven't been preparing your child thoroughly enough before going out. You should tell them what to expect beforehand. They need to know where they are going, how long it will take (even if they can't tell time.) and most importantly what you expect from them. It's not enough to tell them to behave; you must tell them what good behavior looks like; what bad behavior is, why it's bad and why they should not do it. Then, you need to clearly tell them what the consequences of bad behavior are. Make sure that it's something you will be willing to go through with and make sure they know you will do it. (this might take a couple of outings to really sink in).

2: Back it Up

If you've ever gone head to head with an obstinate child, you know that they will test you every chance they get. Do you really mean what you say? Just how far can I push it? What exactly can I get away with tonight?
A lot of this can be avoided by telling them what to expect but most of it needs to be backed up so you had better be prepared to mean what you say. If your children misbehave and ruin your dinner, you should definitely tell them so! Let them know that their behaviors affect you and you don't like it. If you told them they would be grounded- ground them. If you told them they would go to bed early, send them to bed early. Whatever you choose, just follow through.

3: Bribery

Some kids don't respond well to a lot of discipline but do remarkably well with rewards. Whoever said that you should not bribe your kids to behave should be rounded up and shot. If it works and you can train your kids to behave well by promising them dessert, a movie before bed or a trip to the park- do it. Go ahead, their your kids, after all. You know what works better than anyone.

4: Start off Simple

I don't mean Mc Donalds or anywhere else that inspires wildness. Be sure that you take them to sit down restaurants where they will be expected to stay seated and behave through the whole meal but somewhere where you won't die of embarrassment when your kid throws a tantrum. There are any number of family diners that are used to children. These are the training grounds of most families with well behaved children.

As your child gets used to behaving in this environment, you can up the ante and the stars until you are sure your kid knows what to do in any dining experience.

Photo: Prayitno via Flickr

Which Wine for What Meal?

Unless you are a wine connoisseur, choosing the perfect wine for your perfect dinner date can be a daunting task and the wine lists at most restaurants lack the information you need to make the best decision. The options are endless and the differences can be subtle.

Here are some general rules to follow when choosing your wine:


Vegan main dishes are becoming more popular in restaurants across the globe as the benefits of vegan diets are getting more publicity. Knowing what wines will improve your dishes palate can make a huge difference in the whole experience of dining out.
When you are opting for vegetable main dishes, it is best to stick with a dry white wine. This is simply because vegetable dishes often have subtle flavors that can be over powered by a rich wine. Another good choice when serving vegetables as the main course is a sparkling white wine.

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted vegetables are also often served with dry white wines but can be paired nicely with a good light red or even a bold red when the flavors in the sauces are more robust.


Meat courses are usually what most of us think about when we think of main dishes. The meat dish can range in intensity and so the wines you should choose should likewise vary.


Fish should only be served with a white wine. Reds are just too rich and will not do the fish dish justice. Do not choose a particularly sweet wine though as it will confuse the palate and ruin the experience. The only exception is when serving a rich fish, or seafood such as crab or lobster, in which case a nice light red is most satisfying.

White Meat

Pork and poultry do well with a rich white or a light to medium red. The rule here is to avoid extremes. You don't want anything too dry or too sweet, nor do you want a rich red wine. It would simply steal the show and your main course will seem pale and plain in comparison.

Red Meat

It's a simple thing to remember but it will save you a lot of trouble in the long run: red meat= red wine- the bolder the better, but if you are not fond of really bold reds, a medium red will do the trick. The point is that only red wines will stand up to the deep and full flavors of red meat. Anything else is like drinking water.

Cured Meats

Cured meats should also be paired with reds although they will do nicely with a rich white or a dessert wine as well.


Carbohydrates are the fillers of most meals. Sometimes, they fill so much space, they are the main point of the meal, this is true in the case of most pasta dishes. The really great thing about these starch heavy meals is that you really can't go wrong with your wine choices. Carbs love wines and vise-verse. Go ahead and order your favorite. It will work out fine. The only exception is the really sweet wines, like the sweet white and the dessert wines. Save those for dessert.


This is what sweet wines were made for. If you waited until dessert to order your wine, you waited too long but just in case you did- this is where a sweet white wine or a dessert wine will really make you smile.


Okay, so maybe you don't want a full meal. Maybe you just want to order a glass of wine and nibble on a cheese plate. No problem.

Cheese and wine are old friends. Both are beloved by connoisseurs and both taste better with age. Choosing the right wine for your cheese plate is not as difficult as it may seem. Like meats, cheeses take on different characteristics and like meats, this means that different wines will bring out those flavors.

Soft Cheeses: Soft cheeses run the show. Try to avoid a really dry wine as it can wash out the simple, creamy flavors of the cheese. Instead, when choosing a white, pair it with a sweet white, a rich white or a sparkling white. Avoid reds, unless you are going for a dessert wine, which will change the experience of the cheese dish but not in an unappetizing way.

Hard Cheeses: Like with soft cheeses, you really want to to stay away from dry white wine, instead, choose a sweet, rich or sparkling variety. Likewise, avoid the light reds. You can play it safe with a medium red of go ahead and go for the bold red wine. You won't regret it.

Photo: Jing from Flickr