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14 Things You Didn't Know About Pasta

14 Things You Didn't Know About Pasta

Whether we’re twirling it on our forks or baking it into a creamy, cheesy American casserole, there's no denying that we love pasta. According to the National Pasta Association, Americans alone eat about 19 pounds per person per year. Italians also make the most pasta in the world, producing nearly 3.5 million tons a year. Yet, despite our love of these starchy noodles, we’d be willing to bet our weight in dried penne that most people don't actually know very much about it.

Click here for 14 Things You Didn't Know About Pasta slideshow.

When we think of pasta, most of us picture the semolina flour-based noodle stocked on supermarket shelves in a colorful cardboard box, but pasta comes in a range of different varieties both dried and fresh. Fresh pasta can be found in the refrigerated section of stores; because it is made with little more than wheat flour and egg yolks, it is highly perishable. Dried pasta starts with a paste made of flour and water which is then passed through an extruder or pressed into molds to create various shapes. It is dried for several days at a low temperature, so that the moisture evaporates, making it shelf-stable. Dried pasta was made out of necessity — it traveled and stored well.

Though pasta is traditionally (and most commonly) made with wheat flour, gluten-free varieties are available for those with allergies or sensitivities to the gluten found in wheat flour. Gluten-free pastas are typically made with rice, quinoa, or corn flours.

If all this talk of pasta is making you hungry, go put a big pot of well-salted water on to boil (and please, no oil — it’ll just make the pasta sauce slide off the noodles) and read on. We've got 14 fun pasta facts to keep you busy until your noodles reach a perfect al dente.

Al Dente Pasta Keeps You Fuller Longer

When pasta is cooked al dente (which literally means “to the tooth” or “to the bite) it takes longer to digest. Not only will that keep you fuller longer, it also helps the paste keep your blood sugar levels more stable.

All Pastas and Sauces Are Not Interchangeable

Part of the reason that there are so many shapes of pasta is that the weight, texture, size and shape of the pasta all contribute to the way that it holds onto sauce: basically, certain shapes of pasta are better paired with certain sauces than others. Creamy sauces, for example, cling well to long, flat strands, while short, tubular shapes are better paired with thick, chunky sauces.

Additional reporting by Recipe Editor Milagros Cruz.

18 Ways to Cook with Spaghetti You Haven’t Tried Yet

For a kid meal that’s anything but boring, give your standard spaghetti recipe a new twist! We’ve rounded up ways to revamp your noodle dish into something tasty and creative. Scroll down for our favorite variations on classic pasta recipes that are cheap, easy to make, and ready in no time.

It Makes You Less ‘Hangry’

It's filling, which means it can curb your desire for food for a long time. That’ll make you less likely to get snippy or grumpy -- you know, “hangry.” Try a round pasta called orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe, a traditional Italian dish with a red chili kick.

14 Things You Didn't Know About Alton Brown

Host Alton Brown, as seen on Food Network's Cutthroat Kitchen, Season 1.

Photo by: Jeremiah Alley ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Jeremiah Alley, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Most fans believe Alton Brown's a walking food dictionary (and he is). He's the ultimate commentator on Iron Chef America, he's a mentor and judge on Food Network Star and no one will ever forget Good Eats. But there's still so much to learn about this pillar of Food Network. FN Dish caught up with Alton on the set of his newest show, Cutthroat Kitchen, where he chatted about survival techniques for future competitors and even a couple things you may not know about the man who so many admire and look up to.

1. When Alton was younger, he always thought he would end up directing movies, which is what he trained for. "Only I got sidestepped into commercials for a long time."

2. Alton spends a lot of time flying airplanes.

3. Alton plays multiple instruments including the guitar. "I always travel with a guitar when I'm on the road." He also sings with his trio on his live tour.

4. Going along with music: Alton almost always listens to music while he cooks. The playlist depends on the day. "I'm anywhere from opera to Led Zeppelin — and everywhere in between. My daughter is 14 and listens to a lot of pop stuff, so I tend to gravitate way, far away from whatever she's listening to. I have music on in the kitchen all the time. The last 10 things I cooked were probably to mid-'70s Elton John," Alton shared with FN Dish.

5. Alton is terrified of calf's liver. "I've tried it and I can't make it edible. I don't like anyone else's either — and mine is just worse," Alton adds.

6. "While I like eating artichokes, I hate cooking them. It's so much work. Who decided we should even eat that?"

8. Alton has a lot of glasses. "When you have to wear them every day, you tend to switch them up."

9. Alton's bow tie collection: "I have 200 bow ties at home. I inherited most of them. When an art school professor retired, he sent me his collection, which was 145 bow ties that he collected over a 30-year period."

10. What's the most-memorable item Alton's received from a fan? "Just last year someone gave me a homemade ceramic dog treat jar made to look like my corgi, Sparky. And darn if it doesn't look just like him."

15 Things You Didn&rsquot Know Your Microwave Could Do

This versatile home appliance comes in handy for everything from taco night to spa day.

Leftovers reviver, popcorn maestro, mug cake wizard: Your microwave wears many hats, but might be the most underrated tool in your kitchen. Since this handy appliance was invented some 70 years ago, it’s become a staple in American homes: 97 percent of U.S. households own one, according to U.S. Census data. Yet believe it or not, you might not actually even be using this essential to its full potential.

Microwaves can save you a ton of time—not only on food preparation, but with non-food-related applications, too. We talked with experts to learn their best hacks for this ubiquitous appliance, covering all meals of the day and beyond. (Note: Not all of these are approved uses according to microwave manufacturers, so proceed with caution𠅊nd a friendly reminder, never microwave anything that might contain metal.)

1. It&rsquos your new favorite disinfectant.

Did you know you can use your microwave to get rid of gross bacteria lurking on some of your kitchen’s dirtiest items? One study shows that microwaving sponges for 2 minutes at full power kills more than 99 percent of all living germs, including E. coli. Be sure to thoroughly wet the sponge first and place it in a bowl inside the microwave. Some sources say you can also use a microwave to disinfect things like soft pet toys and baby toys, but be sure to test the items first to ensure they won’t melt.

2. It&rsquos the easiest way to make eggs.

Skip dirtying a pan and make a breakfast sandwich in the microwave instead. Simply beat two eggs in a 2-cup glass Pyrex measuring cup misted with cooking spray, then microwave for 60 to 90 seconds until firm, says Summer Yule, a Connecticut-based registered dietitian and recipe developer. Pop out the egg patty and place it on a toasted English muffin, along with a slice of cheese (the heat of the eggs will melt it, Yule says).

3. It&rsquos a handy tool for homemade cheese.

Making lasagna tonight, but forgot the ricotta? You can easily make your own homemade ricotta with your microwave and a few simple ingredients. Sarah Bond, the nutritionist behind vegetarian food blog Live Eat Learn, shares how: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine 2 cups whole milk, ¼ cup lemon juice or white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of salt, then microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes. When milk is bubbling at the edges and you can see that it has curdled, remove from the microwave. Next, place two layers of paper towels in a wire mesh sieve and set over a large bowl, then gently pour the milk mixture over the sieve to strain out the liquid. Let this strain for up to an hour, and you have fresh ricotta ready to use.

4. It makes the best crispy bacon.

You may never reach for a frying pan again once you’ve tried the microwave method for making extra-crispy bacon. Simply place a few layers of paper towels on a microwave-safe plate, lay about six slices of bacon on top, then add two more layers of paper towels on top. Microwave for about 4-6 minutes, checking periodically after the 4-minute mark to ensure the bacon doesn’t burn. The paper towels absorb much of the fat, making for a super-easy cleanup (no pans to scrub or bacon grease to deal with!).

5. It can whip up a sweet breakfast in minutes.

You’ve heard all about microwave mug cakes, which are everywhere on Pinterest and even infiltrating restaurants (chef Jason Vincent even has a blueberry microwave cake on the menu at the acclaimed Giant in Chicago). But there are also plenty of recipes out there for people who have a sweet tooth for breakfast, including microwave French toast and a microwave blueberry muffin. All you need for both is a mug, a handful of pantry staples, and a few minutes in the microwave, and a weekend-worthy breakfast on a weekday is yours.

6. It&rsquos a fool-proof way to brown butter.

Using the microwave to brown butter (to make things like these delicious haricots verts, cider-glazed chicken, or carrot-apple spice cake) is less messy and can even be faster than doing it on the stovetop. A major benefit of doing it this way is that you can avoid sputtering butter all over your kitchen, too. To brown butter in the microwave, place butter in a large, covered bowl and microwave on high for 6-10 minutes, checking on it in regular intervals after 6 minutes, says baker Jessie Sheehan, a recipe developer and cookbook author. When it’s darkened in color and smells nutty, and you can see brown bits on the bottom of the bowl, it’s ready to use.

7. Surprise&mdashit can cook a full turkey!

If only you𠆝 been armed with this information for Thanksgiving! If your oven is stuffed full of side dishes, you can actually use your microwave to cook a full turkey (up to 12 pounds). This method is Butterball-approved, with its Turkey Talk Line experts offering the following instructions: First, thaw turkey (never microwave a frozen one). Place it on a microwave-safe plate, breast side down, and microwave 4 minutes per pound on full power. Remove drippings, then flip it over on its breast and cook at 50 percent power for 8 minutes per pound in four intervals, checking the turkey temperature at each interval (look for 165 degrees). The downside to this method is you won’t get the golden-brown, crispy look of an oven-roasted turkey, so be sure to baste and add a browning sauce for a little extra color.

8. It can add major flavor to your stovetop dishes.

But not in the way you might think. You can use this kitchen appliance to help prep other ingredients you’ll be adding to dishes cooked on the stovetop, such as herbs. Chef Vincent of Giant microwaves fresh herbs, uncovered, on high in 5- to 10-second bursts for a total of 1-2 minutes, tossing them in between. This is an excellent way to 𠇍ry” fresh herbs—it works best for ones with woody stems, such as rosemary, oregano, marjoram, and thyme, which can stand up to the heat, Vincent says. Similarly, Executive Chef Ryan McQullian of Plough in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, microwaves fresh herbs on high for 3 minutes between two paper towels. Then, he puts them in a spice grinder to create powders to use in spice mixtures. This is an excellent way to use up herbs before they go bad, too.

9. It can make a seriously annoying kitchen task easier.

Peeling garlic can be one of the most frustrating jobs of cooking, especially when the peels stick to everything and make your hands smell like garlic for days. Enter the microwave hack: Pop cloves in the microwave for 10 seconds, and you can squeeze them right out of their paper skins, says Chef Ellie Golemb of cooking gift box company Culinarie Kit. “It’s not long enough to cook the garlic, so you can still retain that spicy, raw garlic flavor with less fuss,” she says.

10. It can make Mexican night even better.

There’s nothing worse than prepping for Taco Tuesday and realizing your avocado is still as hard as a rock. Luckily, you can get it ready for guac in just a few minutes, says Shena Jaramillo, a registered dietitian with Peace and Nutrition. Simply prick the skin of your green avocado with a fork a few times, then microwave for 30 seconds. Test firmness and repeat until the avocado reaches your desired texture. Jaramillo says this method won’t affect the flavor of the fruit. You can also use your microwave to make tostadas the easy way, says Maggie Unzueta, who runs a Mexican food blog. Place a corn tortilla in the microwave and cook on high for 1 minute, then flip it and cook another 30 seconds. Voila: You’ll have a crunchy base ready for topping, no oil required.

11. It works as a proof box.

Baking cinnamon rolls and in a hurry for them to rise? Enter the microwave. Help your yeast dough recipes rise faster by placing a cup or bowl of hot, boiling water in the microwave, then putting your dough beside it, says Joe Martinez, founder of meal delivery service Healthy Meals Supreme. Keep the door closed so none of the steam escapes, and your dough will rise quicker than standing out on the counter, he says.

12. It can be put to good use for a DIY spa day.

Copy the hot towel method used at many spas and nail salons. Wet a towel of your desired size and squeeze out excess water, then place it in a bowl inside the appliance, says Martinez. Microwave on 30-second intervals until you reach the desired temperature (be careful, as the towel may get very hot). The hot towel can then be used for facials, hair treatments, and more when you need added moisture, Martinez adds.

13. It can help you repurpose old candles.

If you finish a scented candle and want to repurpose the pretty jar, it can be time consuming to try to chip out the remaining wax from the bottom, but your microwave is up to the task. First, carefully remove the bulk of the wax with a knife, says Lily Cameron, cleaning supervisor at Fantastic Services. Then, pop it in the microwave for 20 seconds to melt the remaining wax before using a paper towel to wipe out the inside.

14. It&rsquos the perfect incubator.

Want to keep a dish warm for a family member who’s running late to dinner, or maybe your Uber Eats delivery arrived before you’re ready to dine? Instead of leaving the food on the counter to get cold, place it in the microwave and close the door, advises Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company. The confined, insulated, air-tight space will help insulate the food and keep it as fresh as possible for about an hour, he adds.

15. If you don&rsquot use it often, consider it an extension of your cabinets.

Say you’re on a raw diet or just don’t use your microwave regularly. You can repurpose those few square feet taking up space in your kitchen by using your microwave as a storage space for items like bread or baked goods, keeping them out of sight and also well preserved. (Just don’t forget to remove them before using it again!)

12 Things You Didn't Know About Cracker Barrel

We recommend pondering these fun facts over a Chicken n' Dumplins platter.

Even if you're a die-hard fan of the Tennessee-based restaurant chain, we're willing to bet at least a few of these tidbits will surprise you.

The first Cracker Barrel location was opened off Interstate 40 in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1969 by a man named Dan Evins. Back then, even the cornbread was made from scratch, a practice that is still going strong today. (Unrelated fun fact: Lebanon is also where we hold the Country Living Fair in Tennessee!)

When Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel, he was working for his grandfather's gasoline business. Back in the late '60s, the interstate road system was still in its nascent stages, and Evins wanted to find a way to better service the needs of drivers, while also expanding his family's oil business. He thought a down-home country store inspired by the ones he'd visited as a boy in Tennessee would be more enticing to homesick travelers than fast-food restaurants.

More Cracker Barrel locations were opened throughout the early '70s, all of which included gas pumps, but when the oil embargo of the mid-seventies hit, new locations were built without pumps. These days, Cracker Barrel is no longer in the fuel game&mdashhowever, 32 current stores do have electric vehicle charging stations.

All of those tools, signs, photographs and toys that decorate the walls of your local Cracker Barrel? They're all authentic vintage items&mdashno reproductions allowed. Back when the first Cracker Barrel opened, founder Dan Evins asked Don and Kathleen Singleton, a couple who ran a local antiques store, to help him decorate the space in the style of an old country store. Today, the couple's son, Larry Singleton, is still in charge of finding unique regional artifacts for new restaurant locations. In fact, Larry runs an entire decor warehouse filled with over 90,000 artifacts at the company's headquarters in Tennessee, where his team restores and archives every fabulous antique item that he purchases.

In the early years, Don and Kathleen would store their vintage finds in Larry's grandparents' bedroom. Now, Larry says he loves visiting the old Cracker Barrel stores that his parents decorated, like Stewarts Ferry Pike in Nashville. Today, he gets a lot of calls from dealers asking to buy various antiques from the stores, but he always says no.

Each restaurant features unique local finds that reflect the community's history, every Cracker Barrel Old Country Store has an ox yoke and a horseshoe hanging over the front door, a traffic light over the restrooms, a deer head over the mantel, and a cookstove used as a display in the retail sections. (CB currently owns 783 cookstoves!)

To keep up with the dusting, Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores are staffed around the clock. When the store closes, a staff comes in to clean and dust everything.

Cracker Barrel restaurants also serve 151 million eggs, 121 million slice of bacon, 56 million pancakes, 37 million portion of grits, 13 million pounds of chicken tenders, and over 4 million Moon Pies annually.

American country stores in the late 19th century stocked barrels of soda crackers, which customers would often gather around to chat and socialize (think of them as the water coolers of their day). The term "cracker-barrel" eventually came to refer to the simple, rustic informality and straightforwardness that was characteristic of these conversations and the country stores they took place in.

Have you ever wondered if the Cracker Barrel cheese you see at your local grocery store is affiliated with Cracker Barrel restaurants? It's not. In fact, Kraft Foods&mdashwhich has sold cheese under the Cracker Barrel label since 1954&mdashfiled a trademark infringement lawsuit against the restaurant chain in 2013 when it licensed its name to a division of Smithfield Foods for a line of meat products to be sold in grocery stores. While the line did not sell any cheeses, Kraft was concerned that customers would get confused by the two similarly named brands. Today, bacon, hams, deli meats, baking mixes and more are available at grocery stores under the CB Old Country Store&trade brand to avoid confusion.

Cracker Barrel often partners with some of the biggest names in country music to release exclusive albums that can be purchased at its Old Country Stores and on its website. In addition to working with singers like Alabama and Alan Jackson, the chain teamed up with the one-and-only Dolly Parton to release a two-disc album titled An Evening with. Dolly Live in 2012, which went on to be certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. Cracker Barrel also released Dolly's Backwoods Barbie Collector's Edition disc in 2008.

Over 10 million peg games have been made exclusively for Cracker Barrel stores. And everyone who has ever been to a Cracker Barrel knows that playing the peg game found on every table is the best way to pass the time while waiting for your food to show up. Thanks to this genius tutorial, now you can impress your friends and family by solving the game in three simple moves.

Comparing the Healthier Pastas

Most of the whole-wheat pastas I found featured whole durum wheat flour, which is the same as saying "whole semolina flour." Apparently, "semolina" is another word for "coarsely ground durum wheat." You'll probably only come across this type of wheat when reading pasta labels. Durum wheat is thought to be the best wheat for pasta-making, thanks to its higher protein and gluten content (gluten is a type of protein in wheat that helps give baked products structure).

I'm not going to lie to you: The 100% whole-wheat pastas may take some getting used to. I actually didn't mind that they were browner and heartier, especially when they were part of a fab recipe that included several other ingredients.


Which healthier pasta is highest in fiber or protein, and which brands boost your plant omega-3s as a bonus? Here's a table to help you compare (fiber, protein and fat are measured in grams).

77 Cheap And Easy Dinner Recipes So You Never Have To Cook A Boring Meal Again

You don't have to drop major dough to make something delicious for dinner&mdashsave money by choosing cheaper proteins like chicken, ground beef, and tilapia, or go vegetarian with bean-based meals. Whatever your style, these delish meals will please your entire fam without breaking the bank. Need more easy eats? Try these slow-cooker chicken dinners.

Sometimes things go viral because they're really, really delicious.

Say hello to your new favorite salmon dish!

The perfect cozy meal any time of the year.

With only 5 ingredients these black bean tostadas are the easiest and fastest meal to throw together.

Allowing the shrimp some time to marinate adds an extra layer of flavor to really make those five ingredients stretch.

Make no mistake: this slow cooker version isn't authentic, but it is quick, easy, flavorful, and filling.

Hasselback your chicken stuff it with bacon and a creamy spinach and artichoke filling.


Eat This, Not That!

Did you whip up some pancakes and get stuck with the rest of the pint?

"Place some small paper cups on the tray and fill each with a half cup of buttermilk each, then place the tray in the freezer," Bolling says.

Then you can thaw a container at a time—or about enough for a single-serving short stack—as you're brunching throughout the month.

“If there is a heaven, that’s who I’d be partying with,” she told Food Network. “My grandpa would want spaghetti with a lot of sardines or anchovies and Boo would want butternut squash.”

After hearing her on a public radio show in 2001, the network offered her a $US360,000 contract.

Since then, Ray has written multiple cookbooks. Ray’s pet food line, Nutrish, sold more than $US650 million worth of products in 2017, which was reportedly sold to Smucker in a $US1.5 billion deal in May 2018.

Celebrity Net Worth estimated she’s worth $US80 million.

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