Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes and Cheese

Baked Pasta with SausageSome dishes have been given names which don't impart the reader with any clue as to what the dish might actually be. It draws you in, makes you curious as to what on earth it could be and how it will taste. For instance, in my husbands family there is a dish called "Heavenly Casserole" and the only way to know that it is a hash brown casserole is to actually take a bite of this heavenly concoction. Some dishes, however, were given names that clearly state what they are. There was obviously no imagination what-so-ever in the naming of it. No magic at all. I wish there was a better name for this dish. The name is clearly unimaginative, quite dull, and really doesn't spark a lot of desire to run into the kitchen and instantly make it. That is quite unfortunate, since this dish is quite the opposite. 

It is simple and rather easy to prepare, but don't let that fool you. It's the perfect meal for a cold day, or a warm day, or just whenever you feel like eating it. Which for me, is all the time. Everyone needs a "Go-To" dish, and this is mine. I almost always have the ingredients on hand, so I can make it whenever I want. And it makes enough for lunches the next day (which is always a plus in my house).

I'll keep thinking of a better name...

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese

1 medium white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 package sausage. I like using sweet sausage best, but you can use whichever gets your taste buds going.
2 cans petite diced tomatoes, Italian seasoned are best
1 can tomato paste
1 box noodles. Any bite sized shape will do the trick.
basil, either fresh or dried
salt and pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet. I find one that has tall sides works best, since you will be putting all the ingredients in this pot to mix it up later. Saute' the garlic and onion. When the onion is almost clear, add the sausage. If you got sausage in the casing, remove the casings first. Chop up the sausage as it cooks to get small pieces. Put a  pot of water on to boil. When the sausage is cooked, add the tomatoes and the tomato paste. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally. While the sausage and tomatoes simmer, cook the noodles according to package directions. When the noodles are done, drain and add to the sausage and tomatoes. Also add basil, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix everything well. Coat a 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Pour half of the tomato/sausage mixture into the pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the mozzarella and a 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese on top. Add the rest of the mixture, and coat with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Enjoy!!

Creole Panko Chicken Fingers

Without fail, almost every household plays the same game of "What do you want for dinner?" "I dunno, what do you want?". Often times this goes on and on and on, until both people are seriously annoyed and starving, and then finally settle on something quick and easy like boxed macaroni and cheese (not that there is anything wrong with that...)

When we play this game at my house, my husband always ALWAYS wants this. Even if we just had it the night before. In fact, whenever we have company over, he wants to make this. Or whenever we talk about what to eat for dinner that week, he wants to make this. Actually, my husband practically wrote this post for me. I'm supposed to tell you that this is "irresistible" and that it will "Leave you wanting more!". Interested yet? Next time you play the "What Do You Want For Dinner" game, give Creole Panko Chicken Fingers a try!

Creole Panko Chicken Fingers

  • 1 1/2  cups  panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • 3/4  cup  nonfat buttermilk
  • 1 1/2  pounds  chicken breast tenders (about 12 tenders)
  • Cooking spray
  • tablespoons  fat-free mayonnaise
  • 2  tablespoons  Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup  chopped fresh parsley
  • 1  tablespoon  salt-free Cajun-Creole seasoning (actually I usually just dump some in until it tastes the way I want it)
  • 1/8  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • dash  salt

Cut the chicken breasts into tender or nuggets. In a shallow dish, combine the panko, pepper and salt. In another dish, pour the buttermilk. Dip the chicken into the buttermilk, and then coat with the panko. Press the panko firmly onto the chicken. Place the chicken on a wire rack and let it stand for 10 minutes. Do not skimp on the time here, or you will end up with soggy, mushy chicken instead of it being nice and crisp. While the chicken stands, preheat oven to 400 degrees and place a pan in the oven to heat. I find that a pizza pan with holes works really well to let the air flow better. When the oven is preheated, remove the pan from the oven. Place the chicken on the pan and coat the chicken with cooking spray. Bake for 23 minutes or until chicken is lightly browned. 
While the chicken is cooking, mix the creole sauce. Combine the mayo, mustard, Cajun seasoning, pepper, salt, and parsley in a bowl. Store in the fridge until ready to use. When the chicken is done, serve with the creole dipping sauce. 

Better for You Lemon Blueberry Muffins

Lemon Blueberry Muffins

Bread is one of my best friends. Muffins, rolls, freshly baked bread, I love them all. Especially fresh and warm from the oven. Nothing makes a day better than having a warm muffin slathered with a piece of melting butter. MMMmmmMMM!

I happened to have a carton of fresh blueberries in my fridge, just begging to be made into something wonderful. And low and behold, there was a lemon in the crisper as well. Having never before made fresh blueberry muffins from scratch, and never combining lemon and blueberry together, I thought this was definitely a worthy way to spend my evening!

I fiddled around with a low-fat recipe I found online and came up with this version. It turned out beautifully - a lovely lemon flavor that complemented the blueberries really well! The muffins turned out to have a wonderful texture. 

Low Fat Lemon Blueberry Muffins

·         2  cups  all-purpose flour
1/2  cup  sugar
1  teaspoon  baking powder
1/2  teaspoon  baking soda
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/8  teaspoon  ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4  cup  butter, cut into chunks and very cold. 
A little less than 3/4 a cup of low-fat buttermilk 
A little less than 3/4 a cup non-fat sour cream
1  large egg
1 lemon worth of grated lemon rind
1 lemon worth of lemon juice
1 cup  blueberries
A palmful of Wheat germ (really exact, huh?)
Cooking spray
Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (flour through nutmeg) in a medium bowl. Whisk together. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives or forks until mixture resembles coarse meal . Use really cold butter for this, it works much better. Stir in wheat germ.

In a second bowl, combine buttermilk, egg, vanilla, lemon juice and rind; stir well with a whisk. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moist. 

I found that the batter was really thick here, so I added a dash more buttermilk until it was a little more liquidy.

Roll blueberries in a combination of 2 Tbsp flour, a pinch of sugar, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg. This helps them not sink to the bottom of the muffin while cooking. Gently fold the  blueberries into the batter.

Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until the muffins spring back when lightly touched. Remove muffins from pans immediately, and place on a wire rack to cool.


The Pure Awesomeness of Smore's Cookie Bars

Smore's Cookie Bars
I'm feeling rather generous today, and so I am going to share with you one of my super favorite dessert recipes. Smore's are one of summer's favorite desserts - great for BBQ's, camping trips, and anytime you grill out. Even having your face and hands turned into a sticky gooey marshmallow-ey mess isn't enough to deter people away from it!

I am not sure where I found this recipe since it was scribbled onto the back of a used envelope and stuffed into my recipe file. But it is definitely one that I could never do without. Its simplicity only enhances how amazing it truly is. Am I gushing too much? I don't think so. Anytime I make this, I only ever get one piece. And I usually have to throw the pan at a horde of people trying to fight for the last piece.

Smore's Cookie Bars

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup crushed graham crackers (about 7)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 ounces chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cup marshmallow fluff

Cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and the vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add this to the batter and mix well. Divide the batter in half. 
Press half of the dough into the bottom of an 8x8 pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Spread the marshmallow fluff on top of the dough. This is easiest if you spray the spatula (or whatever utensil you are using) with cooking spray, and you have coated your hands. Trust me, the marshmallow stuff gets everywhere otherwise! Spread the chocolate on top. I usually use a combination of Hershey's chocolate bars and dark chocolate chips. Why? I have no idea. You can use whatever you want! Spread the remaining dough on the top. This can be accomplished two ways. The first way is to put the dough in a gallon sized ziplock back and roll the dough out. Then use a pair of scissors to cut one side of the bag out, flip upside down and place on top of chocolate. Or you can pull off small chunks of the dough and then use your hands (again coated with cooking spray) to pat the dough flat. 
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown, in a 350 degree oven. 

This recipe easily doubles to fit into a 9x13 pan. I recommend making a double batch!

Taco Night!

Steak Tacos

These steak tacos are adapted from ones I found in Cook's Illustrated Magazine (Sept/Oct 2008). They are relatively simple to make, but definitely have some "wow" factor! Much fancier than a simple ground beef taco, but still easy enough to make during the week. These are great because it makes just enough for both my husband and I, without a lot of leftovers. 

One of my favorite parts about these tacos are the pickled onions! Sounds wierd, I know, but give them a shot! I find myself craving them. 

Steak Tacos

1 bunch cilantro leaves
3 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
a handful of green onions, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup olive oil
juice from 1 lime
2 Eye of Round steaks 
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
cooking spray
12 tortilla shells
lime wedges
1 medium white onion
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Combine 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, garlic, green onions, and cumin in a food processor until finely chopped. Add oil and process until mixture is smooth and resembles pesto. Transfer 2 Tbsp of this mixture into a bowl and whisk in the juice from 1 lime.

Trim any excess fat off of the steaks. Stab both sides with a dinner fork about a dozen times or so, to tenderize. Take the remaining herb paste (NOT the stuff with the lime juice) and spread evenly over the steak. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. 

While the meat is marinating, take 1 medium onion and slice thinly. Seperate the layers of the onion and place in a shallow dish. In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to simmer until the sugar dissolves. Pour this over the onions and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for now.

Once the steak has been marinating for 30 minutes, scrape the herb paste off the steak and discard. Sprinkle the sugar, salt and pepper evenly over the flank steak. Coat a skillet in cooking spray and bring to medium heat. Cook steak in skilled until well browned and reading an internal temperature of 125 to 130 degrees. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice steak pieces against the grain into thin pieces. Transfer the sliced steak into a bowl and toss with the herb paste and lime juice mixture. 

Serve the tacos on warmed tortillas, with the steak and onions, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and any additional toppings you might want. 

A staple of everyone's weeknight dinner rotation are tacos. Easily changed, it is simple to morph them into something different based on the ingredients you happen to have on hand. They can as simple as you want - often times when we are short on time and super hungry, our tacos consist of nothing more than some ground beef and queso wrapped up in a shell. However, tacos can easily be as gourmet as you wish. 

Vodka Cream Pasta

Vodka Cream Pasta

I have tried many versions of this dish, some ridiculously high in calories and oh so heavenly and other pathetically sad "light" versions with barely anything in the way of flavor. I did some tweaking and combining of recipes and came up with this one. I must say I did a pretty good job! I love the creamy texture, and the flavors blend together wonderfully. You have got to try it!

Vodka Cream Pasta

1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 Medium White Onion, chopped
1 Cup Vodka
1 Cup Low Salt Chicken Stock
1- 32 oz. can of Crushed Tomatoes - the Italian Seasoned ones are best, but any will do
Salt and Pepper
16 ounces Pasta - any kind will do, I like Penne
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
Basil (fresh or dried)
Parmesan Cheese

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and sautee 3-5 minutes. Add Vodka and reduce by half (about 3 minutes). Add chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. While this is simmering, cook the pasta. When done, drain. Once pasta is done, stir the cream into the sauce. When the sauce returns to a boil, remove from heat. Toss hot pasta in the sauce. Garnish with parmesan cheese and a handful of fresh basil, minced, or a palmful of dried basil. 

If you want to fancy this up a bit, you can add shallots and a few tablespoons of butter with the garlic.

 This is one of my favorite meals of all time. Yes, of all time. And that's a big deal, since I pretty much adore all food. I was first introduced to it while watching Rachel Ray. I believe she was a guest on Oprah's show, and they were making this dish together. She credits this dish with turning her boyfriend into her fiance! It looked amazing and I thought, 'Hey, if it can work for her, I had to give it a try!'

Chicken and Summer Vegetable Tostadas

Chicken Toastada

Chicken and Summer Vegetable Tostadas (Cooking Light Magazine, August, 2006)
Yield: 4 servings
  • ·         1  teaspoon  ground cumin
  • ·         1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • ·         1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
  • ·         2  teaspoons  canola oil
  • ·         3 chicken breasts, diced
  • ·         1  cup  chopped red onion (about 1)
  • ·         1  cup  fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
  • ·         1  cup  chopped zucchini (about 4 ounces)
  • ·         1/2  cup  green salsa
  • ·         3  tablespoons  chopped fresh cilantro, divided
  • ·         4  (8-inch) fat-free flour tortillas
  • ·         Cooking spray
  • ·         1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese


Preheat broiler.
Combine first 3 ingredients, stirring well. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over chicken. Add chicken to pan; sauté for 5 minutes. Add onion, corn, and zucchini to pan; sauté for 2 minutes or until chicken is done. Stir in salsa and 2 tablespoons cilantro. Cook 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring frequently.
Working with 2 tortillas at a time, arrange tortillas in a single layer on a baking sheet; lightly coat tortillas with cooking spray. Broil 3 minutes or until lightly browned, flipping halfway. Spoon about 3/4 cup chicken mixture in the center of each tortilla; sprinkle each serving with 1/4 cup cheese. Broil an additional 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Repeat procedure with remaining tortillas, chicken mixture, and cheese. Sprinkle each serving with about 3/4 teaspoon of remaining cilantro. Serve immediately, with black beans or rice. Or both.

  • Nutritional Information
  • Calories: 398 (30% from fat)
  • Fat: 13.1g (sat 5.9g,mono 4.1g,poly 1.2g)
  • Protein: 32.5g
  • Carbohydrate: 36.7g
  • Fiber: 3.1g
  • Cholesterol: 75mg
  • Iron: 1.4mg
  • Sodium: 799mg
  • Calcium: 236mg

I’m always excited for summer to arrive, not only for obvious reasons of porches and hammocks and pools, but also for the abundant variety of food that is available to eat. Sometimes winter can just bog you down with its heavy meals. There are times in the dead of winter that I just crave fruits and vegetables. 
This is one of those meals that I adore in the summer. Its quick and easy, making it perfect for weeknight dinners, but it is also good enough to serve for company. The corn and onion lend a slight sweetness to the meal, but it still retains some of the well known Mexican food flavors without becoming overpoweringly spicy. 
And I love how versatile it is. It can handle just about any substitution you want to throw into it. You can morph this recipe into tacos, quesadillas and tostadas, and switch out ingredients so often that you will never tire of it. Leftover toppings are great to pack to work for lunch the next day, especially when served over a bed of rice.

An Amazing Carrot Cake For A New Beginning

Carrot Cake
I decided to start this adventure in blogging with a special cake I was asked to make for my cousin’s graduation party. I thought that would be fitting since graduations are the end of one part of your life and the beginning of something new and uncharted. Just like this blog!
I only decide a recipe worthy enough to make after countless hours of online searching, reading hundreds of reviews, looking at pictures, and finally deciding which one, or a combination of them, will work best.
I found this recipe at It was originally published in Southern Living Magazine in October of 1977. I was drawn to this recipe because (a) it didn’t have any raisons, which I abhor in a carrot cake and (b) it had other unique ingredients added to it like coconut and pineapple and a good amount of cinnamon. I was also intrigued by the Buttermilk Glaze that is poured on the cake directly after pulling it from the oven.
I always try and start baking by first collecting the ingredients I need, getting my “mise en place” in place. As I was grating the carrots I found it surprising that the whole bag of carrots was not needed. In the end, I only needed two large ones!

The timing of when to start the Buttermilk Glaze depends on if you decide to make a triple or double layer cake. If you want a triple as the recipe calls for, you should start making the glaze almost immediately after you shut the oven door. If, however, you do as I did and make a double layer, you have about five or ten minutes of down time.

When making the glaze, make sure you use a LARGE pan. Even though the recipe says to use a large pan, I decided to use a small one because, well, I didn’t think I would be making much. How wrong I was. While boiling, the sauce easily overtakes the pan, almost quadrupaling in size. Luckily my husband was available to make a quick pan switch-a-roo before the glaze overflowed and made my burner a sticky mess. I decided to stir the glaze continuously. As the butter, sugar, and corn syrup carmalize, they had a tendency to stick, and I didn’t want a burnt tasting glaze. I didn’t use the entire batch of the glaze. I stopped once it started overflowing my cake pans. I would probably be plenty if you make a triple glaze, however, but since I only made a double I had about a half a cup left over.

When removing the cakes from the pans to cool, the cakes will be ooey, gooey, and still quite warm. Luckily the cake didn’t stick to the pan at all, so it was a quick procedure to accomplish once my faithful helper stepped in to assist.
I wasn’t too confident about the Cream Cheese Frosting. It seemed really sweet, and was really soft, it wasn’t a nice thick buttercream like I am used to. I was worried that it wasn’t going to set up well.
So what was the verdict? “Amazing!” “Superb!” “Fantastic!” Let’s just say that at the party, there were three cakes. By the end, two cakes were half eaten, and one cake was completely wiped clean. Not even any crumbs left! So I think it went over really well! Is that a little boastful? Maybe. But I'm going with it anyway! 

Best Carrot Cake
  • 2  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 2  teaspoons  baking soda
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  teaspoons  ground cinnamon
  • 3  large eggs
  • 2  cups  sugar
  • 3/4  cup  vegetable oil (I used half cinnamon applesauce and half oil) 
  • 3/4  cup  buttermilk
  • 2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 2  cups  grated carrot
  • 1  (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1  (3 1/2-ounce) can flaked coconut
  • 1  cup  chopped pecans or walnuts
  • Buttermilk Glaze
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
Line 3 (9-inch) round cakepans with wax paper; lightly grease and flour wax paper. Set pans aside.
Stir together first 4 ingredients.
Beat eggs and next 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed until blended. Fold in carrot and next 3 ingredients. Pour batter into prepared cakepans.
Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Drizzle Buttermilk Glaze evenly over layers; cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks. Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.
Buttermilk Glaze
  • 1  cup  sugar
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  baking soda
  • 1/2  cup  buttermilk
  • 1/2  cup  butter or margarine
  • 1  tablespoon  light corn syrup
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Boil, stirring often, 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla.

Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 3/4  cup  butter or margarine, softened
  • 1  (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1  (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 3  cups  sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
 Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until smooth.

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