Tuesday, January 28, 2014


This simple pasta dish has such fresh flavor.  It came together in about half an hour and only used one skillet.  Perfect for a weeknight dinner, then packing the leftovers for lunch the next day.  This was one of the first ever meals I cooked for my man.  That was way back in the days when I thought putting bagel bites in the toaster oven rather than the microwave made me a true cooking connoisseur.  Seriously.  If this meal was easy enough for that girl, it's easy enough for anybody.

Saute mushrooms until beautiful!

Cook your pasta in delicious, meaty broth

Gorgeous.  Time to add some cheese!

Eat up, buttercup!


1 lb sliced mushrooms (I used baby bella)
3 cloves minced garlic
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 1/2 cups rotini (or any short pasta)
2 cups beef broth
2 cups water
6 oz baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup grated parmesan
crushed red pepper, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Add mushrooms to large skillet and cook over medium high heat.  Cook mushrooms until tender and cooked down a bit, 5-10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, then add 1 clove of garlic.  Stir until fragrant, about a minute.  Remove to plate.  Add sausage to skillet, crumble and brown until fully cooked.  Drain off fat.  Add remaining 2 cloves of garlic and stir for about 30 seconds.  Pour in pasta, broth and water.  Bring to a boil then simmer for about 15 minutes, until pasta is done and most liquid has evaporated.  Turn off heat.  Add spinach by handfuls, stirring until wilted.  Stir in mushrooms and parmesan.  Taste, then add necessary salt and pepper.

*Notes: feel free to use spicy sausage, chicken sausage, whatever floats your boat.  Sub sundried tomatoes or another veggie for the mushrooms if you'd like.  This meal can easily be suited to your tastes!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Are you trying to eat healthier for the new year?  Are you choking down lots of boring, low calorie canned soups?  Frozen diet meals?  Munching on celery?!  Stop it.  Stop it now.  Eat this salad instead!

It is so simple.  Throw some fresh, boneless, skinless chicken tenders or breasts in your slow cooker.  Pour on a combination of BBQ sauce, Italian salad dressing, and Worcestershire on top.  Cook.  Shred right there in the crockpot, then stir so it soaks up that delicious sauce.  EAT.  See?  Told you it was easy.  Important note: USE GOOD BBQ SAUCE!  Use your favorite, if you have one.  If you use bargain sauce, you will be able to taste the difference.

For the chicken

When you take the lid off your crockpot, it may look super liquidy!  Have no fear.  Just grab a wooden spoon, tongs or two forks and break that chicken apart.  It'll soak up the sauce in no time.

For the salad


For the chicken:
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken tenders/breasts
1 cup BBQ sauce
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

For the salad:
6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 can corn, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
BBQ sauce
Tomatoes (my tomatoes were past their prime, had to omit)
Corn chips

Place chicken in crockpot.  In small bowl, mix together BBQ sauce, Italian dressing and Worcestershire.  Pour over chicken.  Set crockpot to low for 4 hours.  If chicken is frozen, increase time to at least 6 hours.  Shred chicken in crockpot and mix into sauce.  Serve immediately, or cook on low for another 30 minutes.  Place romaine in giant bowl.  After draining and rinsing corn and beans, toss with romaine.  Top with chicken, ranch and BBQ sauce then mix again.  Add chips last so they don't get soggy.

29 of these yummies only have 150 calories!

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Have I ever told you how much I love pasta?  How whenever I want a snack, and people suggest crackers, raw veggies, granola bars, fruit, chips, pretzels and other worthless calories, I'd like to have just a few bites of pasta to tide me over until my next meal?  How my pantry has an entire shelf dedicated to various shapes?  How finding a new or rare shape gives me a euphoric high?  How I had a love affair with the (sadly) short lived mac and cheese from Wendy's?

Now that my secret is out, let's talk about this pasta I made today.  It's a spin on a top recipe from Tim's favorite website, Kevin & Amanda.  I've made it a few times and have tweaked it a bit.  Whenever I cook with cream, sauces end up too watery.  According to myself and several comments on the recipe, this may happen.  I have two strategies I use to avoid a runny pasta sauce in this particular dish.  So you can use the original recipe, or stay here and follow along.

Reasons why this recipe rules: I get to use my cast iron skillet.  It's cheesy, meaty and pasta...y.  It only dirties one pan.  It takes about half an hour to make.  It tastes fab leftover.

Once out of oven, LEAVE POTHOLDER ON HANDLE so you don't grab it barehanded!


1 lb smoked sausage
1.5 cups diced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 cups chicken broth
1 can Rotel tomatoes and green chilies, mild
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 ounces pasta, any medium or large short shape will work
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1-2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese

Heat oven proof skillet over medium high heat, then add sliced sausage.  Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until crispy and browned on both sides.  Add chopped onions, cook and stir for about 5 minutes until onions are tender and slightly browned.  Add garlic and stir for about a minute.  Pour in Rotel, broth, cream, pasta, salt and pepper.  Stir until mixed well.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for about 8 minutes.  Remove cover and simmer for another 8 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.  Remove from heat and stir in about 3/4 cup of cheese.  Sprinkle the remainder of cheese on top, making sure it's enough cheese to create a nice brown crust.  Turn your oven's broiler to high, then put skillet in oven.  WATCH CAREFULLY and let the cheese brown, about 5 minutes.  Remove skillet from oven and let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving. 

Special notes:  Original recipe calls for 8 ounces of pasta, but that isn't enough to keep it from getting too liquidy.  You can add more pasta, like I did, or if you want to stick to 8 ounces, cut the chicken broth in half.  If you notice the sauce is a bit on the watery side, take off the lid earlier and let that liquid boil away and reduce.  I've used large shells, penne and campenelle pasta for this and they all work well.  I use Barilla pasta, which I've found takes the longest to cook.  Store brand pasta usually cooks faster, so you may want to reduce the liquid if you're using a quicker cooking pasta.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Do you ever buy those bags of frozen veggie steamers?  They're actually quite good.  The veggies are bright, crisp and full of flavor.  However, it turns out you can do that yourself and make them taste even better!  Can you tell I lack experience cooking vegetables?  My friend Aaron was making fun of my blog posts due to the lack of fresh produce.  I explained that I simply do not know how to make them.  He told me that his wife, Emily, the lovely and talented pasta maker, taught him to become a veggie lover.  "She just throws olive oil and salt on them and roasts the crap out of them in the oven!"  Simple explanations are all I really need, people.  Feel free to share with me.

Apparently, the produce section and I have struck up a friendship.


2 broccoli bunches (sold next to the broccoli heads!)
2 packages sliced baby bella mushrooms (or whatever kind you like)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
coarse kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
garlic powder

Preheat oven to 450.  Wash broccoli and break into florets.  Place in large roasting or baking dish.  Add mushrooms.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on seasonings.  Using your hands, mix well until everything is evenly coated.  You don't need to use too much olive oil since the mushrooms will release enough liquid to cook both veggies without risk of drying out.  Bake for about 15 minutes, mixing veggies once halfway through.  When mushrooms look cooked down and broccoli starts to get a little color, take out of oven.  Serve immediately.


This is one of the first things I learned to cook when I became domesticated.  My other half has an obsession with potatoes: baked, fried, smashed, mashed, sauteed.  The only "recipe" I knew was chopping them up, shaking them in a bag with a packet of onion soup mix, and baking them.  Which is delicious, by the way!

Anyway, I had to learn new methods to make my man's favorite food.  I came across this recipe several times on different cooking blogs.  It's simple.  Cook potatoes until they're soft.  Place them on a baking sheet, smash them flat, drizzle on olive oil, season, bake.  The first step is up to you.  Do you have time to boil potatoes, or would you rather microwave them?  I've only done the microwave method, and they've been delicious each time.  Toppings are also up to you.  Salt and pepper, seasoned salt, cheese, bacon and mushrooms are all fine choices.  This is a recipe you can truly make your own.  Just make sure you salt the potatoes well, since salt is a potato's best friend.  You can also use whatever size potato you want.  The smaller ones allow you to eat several and be able to justify it since they're so teeny.  If you go big, you'll probably only be able to eat one or two without feeling shame.  


3-4 small potatoes or 1-2 medium potatoes per person
extra virgin olive oil
coarse kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
seasoned salt, shredded cheese, sauteed mushrooms, bacon, whatever you want to top these babies with!

Preheat oven to 450.  Wash and scrub potatoes well.  Poke holes in each potato with a fork.  Microwave potatoes on plate covered with a paper towel for about 8 minutes, or until fork tender.  Lightly drizzle a cookie sheet or the broiler pan from your oven with olive oil, so the potatoes don't stick during cooking.  Place potatoes on pan, then smash them flat with a fork or potato masher.  The skin will crack open so you'll have yummy soft potato, but also some crispy skin.  Drizzle each potato with about half a tablespoon of oil (enough so they won't dry out, but aren't soaked; use your judgement here) then generously sprinkle on salt and pepper.  Bake for about 25 minutes, or until potatoes are browned and crispy.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


I have several cooking habits.  Some good, some bad.  I have a particular cooking habit which inspired tonight's dinner.  I won't call it a "bad" habit just yet, so let's just stick with calling it a normal, regular, run of the mill habit.  Deal?

That's right, a 4 pack.  I buy this stuff in bulk now.

The habit is: repetition.  When I start cooking with a new ingredient, I try to use it again, and again, and again.  I become slightly obsessed with finding new and exciting ways to incorporate it into my cooking.  Since the first time I used Hidden Valley Ranch powder, I couldn't stop thinking about new ways to bring it into my dinner rotation.  So far, I've used it in buffalo and taco shredded chicken, turkey burgers and a cheesy bacon dip.  It gives an unexpected tangy flavor to normally tame chicken and burgers.  I really love ranch, but pouring ranch dressing on all my food isn't really a healthy idea.  I also happen to be a salt fiend.  Ranch powder allows me to season foods without reaching for the salt grinder as frequently.  It's a fantastic, and dare I say, even MORE delicious route to ranch heaven!  This chicken was juicy and bursting with flavor.  AND, I only ate one piece.  A meal of chicken and veggies is extremely filling.  Who knew???

Yum.  Love these flavorful breadcrumbs!

These simple chicken breasts were the main course for a quick weeknight dinner.  We served it with amazing smashed baked potatoes and tasty roasted vegetables.  Those recipes will be posted tomorrow!


6 boneless, skinless, split chicken breasts
1/2 cup flour
1 egg
1 cup Italian seasoned Panko breadcrumbs
1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch powder
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil or butter for cooking the chicken

Mix ranch powder and breadcrumbs in shallow bowl.  Beat egg in shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Set up dredging station.  Plate of chicken, shallow bowls of flour, egg, and breadcrumb mixture.  Season chicken with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour and shake off excess.  Dip in egg.  Press into breadcrumb mixture, making sure both sides are well coated.  Repeat with each chicken breast.  Heat skillet over medium to medium high heat, then melt butter or add oil.  Cook chicken in skillet for about 5 minutes, flip when golden brown.  Cook for another 5 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked and juices run clear. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014


MAKE THIS RECIPE.  Seriously, make this now.  Even if you've never cooked before in your life, you can make this pasta.  It is foolproof.  The Pioneer Woman has a section of 16 minute meals on her website, and I am so glad this is the one I chose to make.  It was easy, quick and so flavorful.  I'm making it again this week!  It would be the perfect "leftovers lunch" to bring to work.  Original recipe here, including the always fabulous PW step by step photos.

This recipe calls for "your favorite" jarred pasta sauce, so make sure you don't choose blindly.  If you make your own sauce, definitely use it.  Someone recommended Rao's pasta sauce, but it had an $8.99 price tag at Target.  It was surrounded by several other brands which were selling for between $1-3 a jar.  I really do think Prego is delicious; it's what I always purchase.  But this meal was already a bargain, so I decided to splurge.  OH. MY.  Let me tell you, it was beyond worth it.  I don't think I'll ever purchase any other brand.  This sauce was legit.  I could actually taste and smell the herbs and it was a perfect consistency.

The jar was too messy to take a pic of; my sister dropped it in the skillet!

I followed the recipe, except for a few tiny adjustments.  I added a full cup of mozzarella, a tad more sour cream and I used the entire 16 oz box of pasta.  It was the perfect amount to feed four hungry adults.


1 lb bowtie pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb ground chuck
1 jar spaghetti sauce (or 3 cups homemade)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 heaping teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup sour cream

Boil pasta in large pot of salted water until al dente, drain.  In large skillet, brown and crumble ground chuck until fully cooked, drain fat and return to pan.  Pour cooked pasta on top of meat, then drizzle on olive oil.  Pour on jar of sauce, salt, garlic powder and Italian seasonings.  Stir.  Add cheese and sour cream.  Stir over low heat until cheese is melted and all ingredients are combined.  Taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary.  Serve with parmesan or additional mozzarella, if desired.

This pasta makes me so happy. 


With all the football games happening, you are going to need some serious snacks.  Here is an incredibly easy dip that requires only 5 simple ingredients.  The creator of this dip also makes a chilled version, which is next on my list to try.  I found the recipe here.

The dip has a fluffy, light consistency, which kind of makes it seem like diet food!  Just ignore the cream cheese, cheddar, sour cream and bacon.  It's diet food.  Serve with Fritos scoops, tortilla chips, or to stick with the diet theme, scoop it up with raw veggies.


8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch powder mix
1 bag Oscar Meyer bacon bits, 3 oz
2 cups shredded cheddar
16 oz sour cream

Combine all ingredients in large bowl, mix well.  Transfer to 8x8 baking dish and cover.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.  Stir and serve.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Remember when I said I wanted to use this cheese in new recipes?  Well, I did it!  I'm also still sticking to my vow of not grocery shopping, and only using what I've currently got in the kitchen.  I used the remainder of the delicious pimento cheese, but I think next time I'll use even more for ultimate cheese flavor.

This is a simple recipe.  One pound extra lean ground turkey, one packet Hidden Valley Ranch powder seasoning, and of course, Spicy White Cheddar pimento cheese.  These burgers had so much flavor that while cooking the second batch, we ate the first batch without toppings or buns!  Yum.  There were some ripe avocados and romaine lettuce leftover from salad night earlier this week.  By the way, I just realized that I bought the romaine on Monday, washed and dried it in my new salad spinner, and it's still fresh today.  I am now officially a salad spinner convert.

Begin by combining turkey, ranch seasoning and cheese in a large bowl with your hands.  Form and flatten into patties.  Heat some oil or butter in a large nonstick skillet, then cook burgers over medium heat.  Flip them after about 7 minutes, when they've got a nice brown crust.  Cook on other side until cooked through.  We had ours on delicious, soft pretzel slider rolls.

Moisten the tops with a little water...
then, sprinkle on some coarse salt.


1 lb extra lean ground turkey
1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch powder
Pimento cheese, anywhere from 1/3 cup to half the package*
Butter or oil for cooking
salt and pepper

Using your hands, mix turkey, ranch powder, and cheese in large bowl.  Form into 4 patties for burgers, or 8 patties for sliders.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat, then heat up oil or butter.  Cook burgers 2 or 3 at a time, and cook sliders 4 at a time.  You don't want to crowd them in the skillet.  Cook for about 15 minutes, flipping once halfway through.  Serve on hamburger buns or slider rolls.  Top with additional cheese, lettuce, avocado, thousand island, etc.

*Note: I've made the burgers using the entire container of cheese and it was a DISASTER.  I could barely form patties, and when I finally did they just fell apart.  Don't use more than half the package, unless you want a bowl of turkey crumbles for dinner.  It was still delicious!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Do you ever have that moment of, "Ugh, I really need to go to the grocery store because I have nothing to make for dinner!" even though your pantry is jam packed?  I took an inventory and realized that our kitchen is housing plenty of shelf stable meal ingredients, which means I can make dinner without a trip to the store.  Time to get creative!

The only fresh ingredient I had on hand: mushrooms.  Pantry finds: gnocchi from World Market and a packet of Alfredo pasta sauce mix.  I love alfredo sauce, but it's not the healthiest option to top pasta.  There are jarred "light" sauces out there, but I really can't get down with the flavor of alfredo sauce in a jar.  Knorr offers a variety of sauce starters, including alfredo.  If you use skim milk and a lighter margarine option, you can have creamy, dreamy alfredo sauce with minimal calories and fat. 

Freezer finds: Dorot garlic and basil cubes.  Have you heard of these?  I found them at Trader Joe's and they are fantastic!  Mincing or crushing fresh garlic can leave your hands reeking for days.  Keeping fresh herbs in the kitchen and using them all before they go bad?  Impossible.

These cubes are perfectly portioned and live safely in your freezer, away from expiration danger.  You can read more about their magical powers here.

How cool are these?

I sauteed the mushrooms for about 15 minutes while waiting for the water to boil.  Throwing dry mushrooms in a pan without any oil or liquid always makes me nervous, but then I remember how much liquid they are holding.  After only a couple of minutes, they release enough moisture to cook themselves way down.  After they've cooked for a bit, add some salt and pepper.

Help me!  I'll burn without any cooking liquid!

Just kidding!  I make my own*

Meanwhile, boil your gnocchi and get started on that sauce.  Once sauce is simmering, whisk in 3 basil cubes and 1 garlic cube.  The gnocchi only take about 3 minutes, then they float to the top and are done!  Drain, then throw in the saute pan with the mushrooms.  Pour on sauce and stir to combine.  Done!  I've also made this alfredo sauce with mushrooms and spinach, then mixed it with hot, cooked pasta or tortellini.  Equally delicious.


1 package gnocchi, 16 oz
1 package alfredo sauce mix, plus required milk and butter
2 packages sliced mushrooms, 8 oz each
3 basil cubes, or fresh basil
1 garlic cube, or 1 clove minced garlic
salt and pepper, to taste

Boil gnocchi according to package directions.  Saute mushrooms for about 15 minutes, while gnocchi water comes to a boil.  Prepare alfredo sauce according to package directions, adding basil and garlic.  Drain gnocchi, then saute with mushrooms for about 5 minutes.  Pour on alfredo sauce, season with salt and pepper, then stir to combine.  Serve immediately, with grated parmesan if desired.  

*Yes, there were talking mushrooms in this post. 


As I've previously mentioned, I am lactose intolerant.  I totally geek out when I find a new (lactose free) cheese product.  I first discovered this delicious cheese spread when my friend, John, served it for some Sunday football viewing.  It was love at first bite.  I have since developed an addiction and purchase it regularly.  So far, I've only seen it for sale at Harris Teeter, but let me know if you've spotted it elsewhere.  I searched their website and you guys, they've got RECIPES!  Tons of recipes which include delicious, hot, bubbly melted cheese.  I cannot believe it's never occurred to me to melt this delicious stuff.  Probably because I'm usually too busy scooping it up with pita chips to ponder other possibilities.  Note how "it's meltable" is printed on the lid.  2014 resolution: pay more attention to details.

We usually get the "Spicy White Cheddar" flavor, which has a little kick to it.  The other flavors are equally delicious, but definitely tamer in the spice department.