Category Archives: pasta

NaNo? No Problem!

Okay, this novel writing stuff? Yeah, It’s ridiculously easy. 50k in 30 days? No problem. Go ahead, make it a 100k, I triple dog dare ya!

It’s only the 25th of the month and I am INCHES away from winning. Like 500 words away. Woo hoo! Eat my dust, NaNo! Next stop, the winner’s circle.

Of course, I’ve sacrificed every weekend afternoon and all my favorite TV shows in the evening to get this far. I ate Zatarain’s Jambalaya mix for dinner. Quite a few delicious Lean Cusisines as well. And, I have to be honest and admit that the entire thing a huge, gigantic pile of crap, that no will ever get to read, but hey, I’ve managed to crank out 49,000 words plus in just 25 days. That’s gotta count for something.

Why am I not getting paid for this?

Anyway, I’m pretty psyched I’ve been able to stay ahead of the game with NaNo and update my blog as well. Last year, I couldn’t do it. I could not multitask and write a novel and blog at the same time. This year, I’m more comfortable, cruising at a comfortable speed of anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 words a day. It must get easier the longer you do it.

Again, why I am not getting paid for this?? LOL.

I think the reason I’ve done so well with this is because I thought I was going to fail miserably. See, I woke up on November 1 sick. Sick, sick, sick. And remained so for the next three days. You might think, oh, it’d be easy to get a head start when you’re home sick, all you have to do is lay there with a laptop and type. Well, yes, in theory it should work that way, but in reality, my brain was so fogged and medicated I was having trouble concentrating. My word counts the first three days were dismal. I was off to such a rough start, I thought there’s no way I can do this. The minute I felt better I started working extra hard to make up for my loss. Which I did, and then some. Go me!

On one of those sick days, after deciding that the blinking cursor on my screen was making me dizzy, I tossed my novel to the side and turned on the TV instead. To Rachael Ray’s talk show. I’ve said it before, I like her talk show. (This is so embarrassing.) I can take or leave 30 Minute Meals but if I have the chance to catch her talk show on a weekday afternoon, I always do. Come on, Michael Buble was on. And he sang his new song ‘Haven’t Met You Yet’ to an audience member’s pregnant belly. I coughed. I sneezed. I swooned!  He’s adorable.

And she made a delightful fall twist on lasagna that I knew I just had to try! Roasted butternut squash, layered with sweet Italian sausage and a creamy sage béchamel sauce. Sign me up, please!

Well. Making this was quite the ordeal. And all the while, I’ve got my novel breathing down the back of my neck. “Work on me!” It whispered in my ear. “You should not be cooking, you should be working on me! Order pizza!”

I had a few…issues. This recipe and I had a bit of communication problem. You will notice the recipe calls for TWO boxes of no boil lasagna sheets. You will then notice it says that it serves six. Say WHAT? Two entire boxes of noodles for 6 servings. No freakin’ way.

On the show she layered all the ingredients into one casserole dish. Okay, that must have been one HUGE honkin’ dish because there’s no way in h-e-double hockey sticks anything I owned was going to accommodate two entire boxes of noodles. Of course, I didn’t realize this until I was well into the assembly process.

So let me tell you how this ended up working out for me. In the end, it was edible. Not just edible, quite delightful actually. I really like the combo of sweet butternut squash and flavorful sausage. But it was touch and go there for a while.

I made a couple changes to lighten it up a bit, subbing 2% milk for whole and using my standard turkey sausage instead of pork. My package of sausage was 20 ounces, so not quite two pounds. I meant to pick up a second package when I shopped for groceries earlier that day, but for some reason they didn’t have any. Sigh…typical. I figured, okay I’ll just lighten it up even further by decreasing the amount of meat. I kept the quantities of squash puree and béchamel sauce the same.

So I start assembling. In a 13×9 inch pan. I realize when I’m half way through that I should have laid the noodles in the pan horizontally, thus allowing for four sheets per layer. No. I did them vertically and only got three. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two- I really poured on the puree and the sauce. I mean, practically drowned the thing. It was then I realized, I’m not fitting all these noodles in this pan. Meanwhile, it’s swimming in sauce.

Hm. Due to my error in laying my noodles, I actually didn’t even get ONE whole box in my pan. And even though I doused the thing in puree and sauce I still had quite a bit left. Scared and with the phone in my hand ready to call up for that pizza after all, I tossed that thing in the oven and said a little prayer.

When I removed the foil cover from the pan after 30 minutes, as per the recipes instructions, all I saw was a white, runny, bubbling mess. Eek. I left in uncovered for another 15, as the recipe says to do. Still didn’t like what it looked like after that, so gave it five minutes more. Finally, I decided to take it out and hope for the best.

I let it rest before taking a knife to it. I let it rest a good 20 minutes actually. And when I cut it into it and lifted the first piece out, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it held together. Yes, it was soft, but overall, not too bad. Plus, it tasted good! Really good actually! I’ve only recently started purchasing whole squash and this was a GREAT way to use one. Roasting it in the oven makes it easy to work with.

So, if you decide to take on this recipe, here are my suggestions. 1. If you make the entire recipe, be ready with a giant casserole or two 13×9 inch pans. Then be prepared to be able to feed at least a dozen people. Otherwise, I would plan to use one box of noodles, half the puree and the sauce, and use about a pound and half of sausage. That would probably fit nicely into one 13×9 inch pan and give you 6 extremely generous servings – Actually, more like 8 if you want to be realistic. I will be making this again for sure…with a few adjustments, of course.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND SAUSAGE LASAGNA (Recipe adapted from: Rachael Ray)

Note: The recipe below is adjusted to make one 13×9 inch pan, serving 6 to 8. For the entire recipe, click the link above. If you know six people who can eat all that then…wow, you have some very hungry friends!

Oh, and in the interest of full discretion, the photo below was actually taken the following day, after the lasagna had a chance to set in the fridge overnight. The actual first pieces out of the pan after it was made were a bit oozier, so heads up there.


  • 1 pound butternut squash or pumpkin, halved and seeded
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for liberal drizzling
  • Salt and pepper
  • Freshy grated nutmeg
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoons honey
  • 1.5 pounds sweet Italian turkey sausage
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 6-8 leaves fresh sage, very thinly sliced
  • 1 box no boil, flat-edged lasagna sheets
  • 2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400ºF.
  2. Drizzle the squash with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Roast cut-side down until tender, about 40 minutes. Let cool until it’s cool enough to handle, then scoop the flesh out of the skin and add to a food processor. Puree the squash with the stock and honey and set aside.
  3. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and brown the sausage, crumbling it into very small bits as it cooks, about 7-8 minutes.
  4. While the sausage cooks, heat a pot over medium heat. Add the butter and melt, then whisk in the flour, cook for 1 minute and then whisk in the milk. Season with salt, pepper, a little freshly grated nutmeg and sage. Cook until thickened, about 7-8 minutes, whisking occasionally.
  5. Dot some squash puree in the bottom of a 13×9 inch dish, then add a layer of pasta. Top with a third of the cooked sausage and cover lightly with squash puree. Cover with another layer of pasta, a third of the béchamel sauce and 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano. Repeat with two more layers, ending each with béchamel sauce and using all of the remaining cheese for the top layer. Sprinkle parsley across the top, cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook 15 minutes more to brown the top. Let set a few minutes before serving.


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Filed under pasta, sausage, veggies

He’s Gone

My husband left me.

Yup, you heard that right. Last Friday he packed his bags and walked out the door. I begged him stay, pleaded with him to reconsider, professed my love, graveled, cried, whined. Nothing worked. He still left. There may or may not have been tears. The horror! The heartbreak!

Oh, three days later, he came back, of course. You didn’t think I meant he left for good, did you? Like LEFT me, left me. No, no, no, of course not. He went to see family and friends for the long weekend and I stayed behind. I could have gone with him, of course, but all my summer travels had left me tired and craving a little bit of me time. Just because I decided to stay home doesn’t mean I didn’t pout a little bit when he left. I just tend to be a little…overdramatic when he leaves. Why? Because I’m needy like that.

Just call me a Stage Five Clinger very loving wife. 😉

The only plus side of my husband leaving town with out me is the opportunity to cook up something I know he wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. I love him and I miss him terribly when he’s away but it’s nice to cook for me. I have a tendency to put his tastes before mine in my cooking because, well, it’s just easier that way. All that goes right out the window when he’s gone.

The first thing I did when he left was run down to the farmer’s market and stock up on fresh veggies to eat over the weekend. Tomatoes, zucchini, red peppers, oh my! And let’s not forget eggplant – cute and purpley eggplant! Yum! I love to enjoy a nice meatless meal loaded with veggies when he’s away. I’m STILL waiting for him to get just a TINY bit better about eating his vegetables. He’s gotten a million times better in the last year but there is room for improvement (sorry, babe, it’s true. but I still love you!)

When I saw this recipe for Spicy Sesame Noodles over at Joelen’s blog What’s Cooking, Chicago, I immediately thought Mmmmm! Then I thought, boo, Eric won’t like that. Bummer. It immediately got pushed into the never ending Recipes to Try when Eric’s Not Home file.

With the abundance of late summer veggies available, I thought this would be a great recipe to load up with freshness and turn into a main dish instead of a side. Turns out, I was right! I added a chopped red bell pepper, a zucchini sliced thinly into long ribbons and planks of delicious grilled eggplant. Mmmmm…

For the noodles, I was going to scope out the Asian foods aisle at the store to see what kind of noodle offerings they had. I forgot. I do this a lot. I don’t think I have once in my life ever been to store without forgetting SOMETHING. Even with my list I can’t seem to remember everything. So, needless to say, I had to go with my usual store-brand 100% whole wheat penne that I always have on hand. In the end, I think the nuttiness of the whole grain pasta paired well with the sauce.

Speaking of the sauce – I really enjoyed it! I did end up adding about of a cup of the starchy pasta water to thin it out a bit before tossing with the noodles, but that’s just my personal preference. I don’t care for really thick, goopy sauces. Since this sauce has a peanut butter base, it was pretty thick. The pasta water was the perfect addition. In the past with similar recipes I have used a dark toasted sesame oil and I think that it really provides an intense sesame flavor. I didn’t have that on hand this time and used a regular light sesame oil. While still good, I did miss the really intense sesame flavor. I also knocked back the cayenne at bit because I didn’t use quite a whole pound of pasta. Next time, I’ll go ahead and do the entire 1/2 teaspoon. I’m not afraid of little kick! Overall, this meal totally hit the spot. Perfect comfort food when I’m missing my hubby. And tasty cold for lunch all week! 🙂

SPICY SESAME PEANUT NOODLES WITH GRILLED EGGPLANT (Recipe seen at What’s Cooking, Chicago, adapted from


  • 1/2 box whole wheat pasta
  • 2/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • juice from one lime
  • 1/2 tsp. canola oil
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • 1 smallish zucchini, cut into thin ribbons
  • 1 smallish eggplant, cut into diagonal slices 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds


  1. Cook pasta, reserve one cup of cooking water, drain and set aside
  2. Heat canola oil in small saute pan. Cook red pepper until tender. Set aside.
  3. Combine peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic, green onions, sesame oil, ginger, cayenne, and lime juice in a sauce pan, stirring until smooth.
  4. Brush a tablespoon or two of sauce on eggplant slices. Prepare outdoor grill or grill pan to medium heat.
  5. Add red pepper, zucchini ribbons, and cooking water to sauce mixture. Stir to combine.
  6. Grill eggplant for about a minute per side until just tender.
  7. Toss pasta with sauce, add eggplant and garnish with sesame seeds


One year ago: A MANLY meal – Bacon Cheeseburger Calzones with Spicy Cajun Ketchup


Filed under pasta, peanut butter, sides, veggies

Creamy Pasta – Hold the Cream, Please!

I like the idea of cream-based pasta sauces. What’s not to like, right? Thick, rich, cheesy. On paper, in a picture, on a plate it SEEMS great.

Well, guess what – Foodie confession #465….I’m not a big fan. In fact, if a recipe calls for heavy cream (except if it’s ice cream or used sparingly in desserts – like ganache) I will always skip over it. I don’t cook with cream. Ever.

Let’s just pretend it’s because I’m trying to avoid the calories and fat. Really, that’s just a bonus. I would like to enjoy a creamy sauce or soup every now and then – everything in moderation – but, alas, it is not meant to be. I can’t eat things like that. 😦 I get sick. What a bummer!

I’m always on the lookout for a way to get a creamy fix without actually using cream. I’ve had great luck with cheese and bechamel sauces with a low-fat milk base but I’m always up for something new and different. This recipe from Ellie Krieger totally hit the spot. I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty this was, given how simple the ingredients were. The bright orange color of the sauce, made from roasted red peppers and feta cheese, was surprisingly appealing too. The only changes I made were that I swapped out fettuccine for penne and topped with shredded parm cheese instead of additional feta. I only had about 4 ounces total, so I used all the cheese in the sauce. All in all, a very easy, delicious weeknight meal. I’ll be making this again for sure!

One year ago: “Fried” Vermicelli and Green Onions – This is one of our FAVES. So good and so easy! 🙂

PENNE WITH CREAMY RED PEPPER SAUCE (Recipe Source: The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger)


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
  • One 16 oz jar roasted red peppers, drained, rinsed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • One box whole wheat penne
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley


Heat the oil in a medium heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the peppers and cook until heated through. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Transfer the red pepper mixture to a food processor, add the broth and all but 2 tablespoons of the feta (I added all my feta). Process until combined and smooth, about 30 seconds.

Cook the pasta to al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding the pasta water by the tablespoon if needed. The sauce should cling nicely to the pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among serving bowls. Sprinkle with parsley and reserved feta (or parm!) and serve.



Filed under pasta, veggies

I Give Myself Very Good Advice. . .

But I very seldom follow it. ~Alice In Wonderland

I’ve been feeling much like Alice with my cooking lately (hence the lack of blog updates in the last two weeks or so). She wanders around lost in Wonderland, sees a little bottle of a strange liquid with a tag that says “drink me” so she drinks it. She thinks about for a second. . .

“If one drinks much from a bottle marked poison, it’s almost certain to disagree with one sooner or later.”

But in the end, she drinks it. Why does she drink it, you ask? Well, because that’s what it says to do, of course! Duh. What would YOU do? Not drink it? Oh, please. You’d be curious too…just like Alice!

So how does this relate to my kitchen conquests? Let’s say I find a recipe that I’m interested in trying, but in reading over it I think of a couple things that I think may improve it. But then I get nervous. I’m not the expert, right? The person who wrote the recipe for this magazine/major website/cookbook are the experts. I should do what they say. They say “drink me,” I say “okay, get me a glass with some ice.” I give myself good advice, but I never want to follow it!

Here’s the thing though….9 times out of 10, I should. The reason I haven’t updated my blog lately is because the last few new recipes I’ve made have been mediocre at best. I can’t put something in my blog that I don’t recommend. That just defeats the purpose of blogging all together! The worst part is, those recipes would probably be in here had I just followed my gut and made the changes I thought I should make. First, I tried a pie that had a pat in the pan type of crust (a butter/flour/oat mixture pressed into a pie plate). The recipe did not call for baking it off before adding the filling and the crumb topping and baking it again. I wanted to because I thought it might by soggy if I didn’t. I ended up following the recipe and guess what….SOGGY! Still tasty, but not blogworthy. It fell apart when I tried to cut slices and put them on plates. BOO!

Then I made a baked pasta dish that was a complete and total flop and I think it would have been delightful had I just went with my gut and subbed regular marinara for a big can diced tomatoes with juice. But I didn’t…cuz I’m not smart like that. That one was so awful I could hardly eat it. Blech!

Tonight, I took a recipe that I know we love and put my own spin on it. This Chicken Marsala Pasta Toss is inspired by this recipe from my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. I had cooked chicken on hand so breading and pan frying like I usually do was out of the question. Instead I cubed the chicken, made a quick marsala pan sauce and tossed it with whole wheat rotini. The results were totally yummy!

CHICKEN MARSLA PASTA TOSS (Recipe Inspired by: Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)


  • Half a box of whole wheat rotini
  • 2 tsps olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced button mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, cut into cubes
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram, crushed
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 2 tbs. flour
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry marsala wine


Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente. Drain and set aside.

Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a large skillet, cook green onions and mushrooms until tender, about five minutes. Season with a pinch of salt. Remove from skillet and set aside. Add remaining olive oil to skillet and add chicken. Season with salt and pepper and add marjoram, stirring until just warmed through, about 3 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Melt butter in skillet and add flour, stirring to form a roux. Cook for one minute. Slowly add chicken broth and wine, stirring constantly. Simmer sauce until bubbly and thickened. Add chicken and veggies to the sauce and heat through. Add sauce mixture to pasta and toss to combine. Garnish with additional green onion strips, if desired.



Filed under chicken, pasta

The Pasta Problem

Have you noticed how pasta has almost crossed over into the land of junk food? Sad, huh? Cookies, candy, pop and pasta? Hmmm…that doesn’t sound right, does it? You would think that you would have to eat all your pasta before you went ahead and had your cookies and candy. LOL. This makes me quite sad, seeing as I’m pretty much addicted to pasta, even if it is pretty much void of any and all nutritional value.

Luckily, there is a solution! I love the wide variety of whole wheat and whole grain pastas available now. They have really taken off! Where was the whole wheat pasta 5 years ago? 5 years ago, I was quite the conisour pasta…I would have starved to death in college without it, and I swear in all the time I spent in the pasta aisle I didn’t notice any whole wheat varieties! I’m sure they were there, but there was probably only one ot two to choose from. Now you can get it in almost any shape. Hooray! I can have my pasta and eat it too…and not feel like I’ve just stuffed my face full of a couple donuts and a case of Mountain Dew when I’m done. LOVE it! They are tad bit more expensive, but worth it, in my opinion. I have completely eliminated regular dried pasta from the house, except in special situations.

This meatless meal from Cooking Light is insanely delicious. Whole wheat pasta, chunky, meaty mushrooms, woodsy thyme…all smothered and baked up in an asisago cheese sauce. So.freakin.good. I swear you don’t even miss the meat! Even my meat loving hubby loves this one! MMMMM!

MUSHROOM RIGATONI BAKE (Recipe Adapted From: Cooking Light)


  • 8  ounces whole wheat penne
  • 2  teaspoons  butter
  • 1/4  cup  sliced shallots
  • 8  ounces  sliced button mushrooms, ( Okay, so the original recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms….however….those were not on sale at the store. Great price on the buttons this week so that’s what I used. I apologize for my foodie sin, I am a tightwad before anything else)
  • 4  ounces  sliced cremini mushrooms (aka Baby Bellas)
  • 1  tablespoon  chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 3  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  tablespoon  dry sherry (I subbed Marsala because that’s what I had on hand)
  • 1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
  • 2  cups  2% reduced-fat milk
  • 1  cup  (4 ounces) grated Asiago cheese, divided
  • Cooking spray
  • Thyme sprigs (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Cook pasta according to the package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain well. Set cooked pasta aside.
  3. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, 1 tablespoon thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic; sauté 8 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add sherry; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.
  4. Place flour in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; gradually add milk, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring mixture to a boil; cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat; add 1/2 cup cheese, stirring until melted. Add pasta and mushroom mixture to cheese mixture, tossing well to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired.



Filed under pasta, veggies

Twwaaallk to me, Illinoi-sssssss!

My craving for all things saucy, cheesey and carby this weekend got me thinking about my one and only trip to New York City and a dinner a couple of my gals and I had in Little Italy. During my junior year of college, I had the opportunity to go to NYC over spring break. For 2 hours of credit. Um, I signed up quicker than a New York minute. What a great way to spend spring break and earn some points toward graduation!

(Most of ;)) that trip was A-MAZ-ING. I had so much fun! Of course, our professor was so rattled by the behavior of some (not me, I swear. I swear, not me! I was NOT a troublemaker) that he vowed he was never taking students on that trip again. Perhaps more structured activities in the evening would have been a good idea, instead of turning 20 immature and rowdy college students loose in Manhattan, but hindsight’s 20/20, right? 😉

Anyway, one night a couple of friends and I were wandering around Little Italy in an awful, horrible, cold March rain. We were tired of walking, soaked to the bone, and freezing. Not to mention starving. We decided the next restaurant we saw, we’d go in and eat because we couldn’t stand walking anymore. We stumbled on a tiny, hole-in-the-wall place that was practically deserted. Hell if I can remember the name. We went inside, sat down and were immediately approached by a hilarious waitress who pulled up a chair and sat right on down to join us at the table and asked where we were from. She told us dirty jokes and made fun of us three blond haired, blue eyed very un-Italian looking girls. When she got up to bring us food and drinks, every time she walked by she’d yell at the top her lungs and her thick New York accent – “Twalk to me, Illinoi-sssss!” Complete with a hissing “s” on the end. Best.Dinner.Ever. What a blast!

So I guess Iowa is pretty far removed from NYC and Little Italy, but luckily the ingredients to put together some yummy Italian fare is available everywhere. More importantly, they are usually available in my fridge/pantry. I was looking for something easy to throw together using some stuff I had hanging around in the house. The result: turkey Italian sausage and spinach stuffed shells with quick kicked up tomato sauce. Easy and comforting. Totally hit the spot.

ITALIAN TURKEY SAUSAGE AND SPINACH STUFFED SHELLS WITH QUICK KICKED UP TOMATO SAUCE (Recipe source: This recipe came from me tossing together what I had in the house. I’m sure there are similar out there, but I really didn’t consult any sources before I put this together.)

‘Scuse the sloptastic photo, please. These types of dishes are never pretty on a plate. That’s just the way it is!


  • 1/2 box of jumbo shell pasta
  • 3 links sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how much heat you like. I like mine HOT!)
  • 1 15 oz container ricotta cheese (I always use part skim)
  • 1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess moisture
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese


  1. In a large pot of boiling water cook pasta until al dente (you can add a splash of olive oil if you are worried about them sticking together, but I just used a big enough pot so they had enough room to move around and had no problems.)
  2. In a large skillet, break up the sausage and cook until browned and no longer pink. Toss into a bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat oil in the same skillet. Add onion and cook until tender. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Add tomato, s&p, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
  4. To the sausage add ricotta, spinach and parmesam cheese, stir to combine. Scoop rounded tablespoons of mixture into pasta shells. Place in a greased 9X13 inch pan, cover with sauce, top with mozzarella cheese and bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until heated through and the cheese melts.



Filed under pasta, sausage, veggies

California Dreaming?

More like California Begging-for-Mercy!!

What in the world am I talking about? Ha…. Read on, my friends!!

Anybody that’s ever had the pleasure of living crammed into tight quarters with hundreds of strangers in a college dorm probably has some not so fond memories of the dining hall. Lucky for us down at the U of IL, the gag-inducing, horrible, completely and totally inedible meal only appeared about once a week. And for those days there was always cereal….or the the make your waffle or nachos bar….or the ever popular pizza bagel which involved nothing more than a plain bagel (left out all day since breakfast, of course, for that special day old taste) and trip through the condiment line where it could be loaded with sauce, cheese and veggies and then nuked in the microwave for a minute. Bam. Pizza bagel.

Now, there was one menu item that didn’t make us moan and groan and grumble and reach for those bagels that had been sitting out all day. In fact, it actually made us look forward to heading down for dinner — creamy, cheesy, delicious California Medley soup. Mmmmmm….

California Medley was essentially broccoli cheese soup, except that in addition to broccoli it was also loaded with cauliflower and carrots. So.freakin.good.

So where does the begging for mercy part come in? Well, my dear friends, it turns out that California Medley harbored a deep, dark, dirty little secret. Oooooo. It was a really hard secret to keep too, since at least a few dozen of us shared the same….facilities. For that very reason I know for a fact it wasn’t just me who was inflicted, but California Medley TORE YOU UP. Sorry for the TMI but DAMN! Must be the leathal combination of heavy cream, cheese, and gut busting veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, but about 45 minutes after consuming the deadly delcious concotion you were going to need a potty break. Bad. HA!! California Medley left the entire floor begging for mercy, cursing the dining hall for inflicting such pain on innocent bystanders.

I decided after a semester or so that the deliciousness of California Medley was just not worth the side effects. I had to give it up for good. But I always glanced longingly at the bowls gracing the trays of other brave souls and silently wished I could sneak a taste. I never forgot how good it was.

I decided to see what I could come up with that was reminiscent of the soup’s yumminess without the very unfortunate side effects. I wanted it be something quick that I could throw together after work and hopefully convince Eric to try. He’s not a big soup guy. I decided to stick with the veggie trio of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, bulk it up with a little whole wheat pasta and toss the entire thing in a cheese sauce that had a lowfat milk base instead of heavy cream. The result — California Medley Pasta Toss! A yummy, meatless meal loaded with cheese and veggies. Of course, it didn’t hold a candle to that delicious UIUC dining hall soup, but it was pretty good. Brought back a lot of good (and bad, I guess) memories. And, I am happy to report, we were completely void of any….emergencies. LOL.

CALIFORNIA MEDLEY PASTA TOSS (Recipe inspiration: the fabulous dorm dining of UIUC and this Rachael Ray recipe from

Sorry about the terrible photo…I was starving by the time it was ready to eat!! I can’t wait for Daylight Savings this weekend! I am willing to sacrifice an hour of sleep for the greater good of my food pics!! Ugh!

  • 1 lb. of whole wheat rotini pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup fresh broccoli florets, chopped
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 cups milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3 cups of shredded sharp yellow cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Heat olive oil in a small skillet, add onion and cook about 5 minutes, add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Add pasta to salted boiling water and cook until about three quarters of the way done. Add veggies for the last quarter of cooking time. Drain and return to pot.
  3. While the pasta and veggies cook, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, cayanne and paprika and whisk until well blended. Cook until the mixture bubbles. Add milk and broth, and turn up the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Cook and stir until thickened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and add cheese, stirring until melted. Add mustard, onion/garlic mixture and parsley, and stir to combine. Sesaon liberally with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over pasta and veggies, toss to combine. Serve!



Filed under pasta, veggies

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The last time Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday was in 2004.  I had been dating Eric for a couple months at that point and I would say that by then we were pretty serious. We were seniors in college so when Eric said he wanted to take me out for dinner for Valentine’s Day, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We hit the swankiest place we could afford…the Red Lobster in Champaign, IL. Yeah!!!

We got there early…about quarter after 5. The line was out the door already! Everyone in the tri-county area decided Red Lobster was the perfect place to take their sweetie for a special night out. We sat at the bar for nearly two hours while we waited for a table, sucking down draft beers and shooting the breeze with the old, chain-smoking couple sitting next to us. I confiscated a couple of those red mardi gras bead things with the lobsters on them they’ve got there and wore them out to the campus bars later that night when we finally got back to campus. An appearance at the annual Bitterness Bash was still a given…who cares if we weren’t technically single. It was actually a really great night….for a couple of college kids. Now….um….fighting the crowds at Red Lobster and bar hopping has completely and totally lost it’s charm. Gee, I wonder why?? LOL.

We’ve had a number of great Valentine’s Day since then…not that we need an excuse to show each other how much we love each other, we do that everyday. But it is fun to have a little holiday to celebrate in the middle of the winter when it’s cold outside and there’s nothing to do. I laughed when Eric suggested we should stay in for Valentine’s Day. I think the conversation went something like this:

Him: “We should just stay home for Valentine’s Day”
Me: “That’d be fine”
Him: “You can cook for us.”
Me: “Oh really, can I? Wow, thanks!” ::insert sarcastic eye roll here::

LOL. I’m just kidding, of course! Staying in and cooking for Valentine’s Day sounded like a great idea to me! See, here in Waterloo, IA, our restaurant choices are pretty limited anyway and on a day like Valentine’s Day, unless you’ve made arrangements three months ago, forget about getting a table at one of the five (that’s right…five…that’s it) nice places. Can’t be done.

When I was deciding what to make, I wanted it to be something special that I probably wouldn’t make on a regular day, and I wanted it to be something we’d both enjoy. Eric is a red meat fan, so beef was a given. I am a sucker to anything pasta, so I knew I wanted to combine those two. I had been eying this Short Ribs with Tagliatelle recipe from Giada for quite sometime, but never got around to making it due to it’s long cook time – about 3 hours total. Since I was going for out of the ordinary for this special occasion, I decided to go for it.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe – I had to sub in fettuccine for the the tagliatelle, I can’t find specialty shapes like that in any of the stores around here. Worked out fine. And I subbed thick cut bacon for the pancetta. Again, it’s just not available. I’ve looked and looked. It’s a good thing bacon is a great sub! I had never bought or made short ribs before, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. They scared me a little bit when I picked them up at the store…as they are kinda weird looking but I pressed on.

The end result, after a long slow afternoon on the stove top, was really very good. The meat got tender and pulled apart very easy and the flavor was very deep and rich. It’s extremely filling. I just served it up with a Ceasar salad and crusty bread. However, I feel I must point out, so it doesn’t surprise you if you try to make this, that an insane amount of grease and fat separates from the sauce and floats to the top of the liquid while it’s cooking. I guess that’s not a huge surprise, as it’s meat on the bone and marbled with fat. No need to worry though, skim it off and discard and your finished product will not be greasy at all. We popped a bottle of Gnarly Head Zin (one of our faves) and lingered over dinner and dessert in our pj’s. It was a great night! One of the more memorable Valentine’s Days we have had. Cheers to many more!

SHORT RIBS WITH TAGLIATELLE (Recipe Source: Giada de Laurentiis –


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ounces chopped pancetta (about 1/2 cup) (I subbed thick cut bacon)
  • 2 1/2 pounds short ribs (I used slightly less than 2 1/4 pounds and it was plenty)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 (14-ounce) can tomatoes (whole or diced)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1 pound fresh or dried tagliatelle (I subbed fettuccini)
  • 4 to 6 teaspoons shaved bittersweet chocolate (I omitted. Would have been a nice touch for Valentine’s Day but I didn’t have bittersweet on hand. I sprinkled with parm cheese and parsley instead)


  1. Place the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium heat. Cook the pancetta (bacon) until golden and crisp, about 4 minutes. Meanwhile, season the short ribs with salt and pepper, and dredge in the flour. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta (bacon)  from the pan and set aside. Add the short ribs to the pan and brown on all sides, about 7 minutes total.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the onion, carrot, parsley and garlic in a food processor and blend until finely minced. Then add the tomatoes and tomato paste and pulse.
  3. Once the short ribs are browned, carefully add the mixture from the food processor to the pot. Return the pancetta (bacon) to the pot and stir. Add the rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, beef broth, and wine. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another hour and a half, stirring occasionally. Remove the meat and bones from the pot. Discard the bones. Shred the meat and return it to the pot. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes for dried pasta and 2 to 3 minutes for fresh. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the pot and stir to combine. Add the reserved pasta liquid 1/4 cup at a time, if needed, to moisten the pasta. Transfer to serving bowls, top each bowl with 1 teaspoon of chocolate shavings. Serve immediately.



Filed under beef, pasta

Welcome to My Weekday

Last week, Eric and I both had the day off on Monday for MLK Day. It’s a rarity that we are home together during a weekday, so it was fun to have an extra day to hang out. I think he was a little surprised to have a first look at my “home during the week” routine. LOL. I was off work all summer, so I got lots of practice in the whole home all day thing. My summer days usually consisted of getting up at a decent time (no later than 8:00, but usually closer to 7:15-7:30. LOL) and then making sure I had a good, productive day of chores and errands so I could relax a bit in the afternoon before Eric came home.

On weekday afternoons, I always watched a rerun of Full House (LOL. I am so lame. I admit it) and then tuned in to Rachael Ray’s talk show. Say what you want about her but I LOVE her talk show. Her segments are interesting and relevant. She’s not pretentious at all. Not getting to see it is one of the things I miss most now that I am back to work! LOL. I was pretty psyched for my Monday off last week so I could watch. Eric was in an out of the garage working on something and when he came through the living room he said, “Full House reruns and now Rachael Ray?? I can’t believe this!” I just smiled and said, “Welcome to weekdays at home with me.” He just shook his head and laughed.

She always does her what’s for dinner tonight segment and it’s usually something really quick and simple. She did this Cheeseburger Chili Mac and Cheese that day and I decided it was a perfect Eric-Friendly meal. This recipe was just begging for the addition of bacon. Because what’s better than a cheeseburger…why, a bacon cheeseburger, of course! The originally recipe calls for one and half pounds of beef but I just did one pound and I found it to be plenty. I also omitted the olive oil. I just didn’t think I needed it, having cooked bacon in the skillet before browning the beef. Rachael broiled hers in the oven before serving but I baked mine at 400 for about 25 minutes instead.

I was actually surprised how much I liked this!! Sometimes I find dishes like this to be kind of bland and blah, but this was totally yummy! Tasted JUST like a bacon cheeseburger in a bowl. YUM. Eric, of course, inhaled it. I just know him oh so well, don’t I? I will be making this again for sure! Plus, it’s super easy!



  • 6 slices of bacon
  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 1-2 cups beef stock (I used about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp yellow cheddar


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Drain off most the grease, leaving about 1/2 tsp. or so. Add meat and cook until browned. Drain in necessary.

Return meat to skillet. Add the onion and chili powder, salt and pepper and cook until the onion is tender, 4-5 minutes. Add the ketchup, mustard and beef stock, bring up to a bubble and simmer until slightly thickened, 4-5 minutes.

Salt the boiling water and add pasta. Cook to al dente, according to the package directions, then drain thoroughly and return it to the pot.

Add the chili and the bacon to the pot with the pasta and give everything a good toss. Transfer to a casserole dish and top with the shredded cheese. Bake for 25 minutes until cheese is melted and golden brown.



Filed under beef, pasta

I Dream in Sausage…

I have this…thing…for sausage. I love it. Any kind, any time, any place…if its full of sausage-y goodness, I’m pretty much in love. My favorite part is that it’s already perfectly seasoned… a lot less work. I have to say that Italian sausage is for sure one of my faves. I love it with pasta, in chili, on a chewy roll and smothered in sweet bell peppers. Hello, deliciousness!

Now the problem……you could choke a rat with the grease that renders off bulk pork sausage. Everytime I make it, I think, wow, now here’s something I shouldn’t be eating. LOL. In effort to save our hearts and our waistlines, I have given up my beloved pork Italian sausage (unless I’m at Portillo’s…which is a whole different ballgame) in favor of turkey Italian sausage. Man, I love that stuff! I honestly can’t tell the difference and I feel much better about eating it. I almost always have it in the freezer to break out whenever that sausage craving hits.

This recipe from Giada is perfect quick, light, sausage supper. This was on the table in 15 minutes. Add a salad and you’ve got a complete meal. Loved the kick of spice here. I’m for sure adding this to my quick weeknight meal arsenal.

ORZO WITH SAUSAGE, PEPPERS AND TOMATOES (Recipe Source: Giada de Laurentis as seen on Serious Eats)


  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 links (7 ounces total) mild Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 jarred roasted red bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped (The tomato selection at the store was a particularly hideous brand of nasty on Sunday for some reason…you’ll have that. I subbed two whole canned tomatoes.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (I subbed 1 tbs. dried)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


1. In a large saucepan, bring the chicken broth and 3 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey sausage and sauté until cooked through, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the bell peppers, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes (if using) to the pan and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

3. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, and transfer it to a large serving bowl. Add the sausage mixture, 1 tablespoon of the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well to combine, adding the reserved cooking liquid if needed to loosen the pasta. Top with the Parmesan and sprinkle with the remaining parsley.



Filed under pasta, sausage