Creamy Tomato & Beef Noodle Casserole

I love it when a plan comes together. Or, more appropriately in this instance, I love it when a meal comes together. Especially when I walked into the kitchen at 5:00 with no idea what was going to be dinner. Not one piece of meat defrosted. Not a clue in sight. Nothing. Nada, Zip. What I did have, however, were ingredients. Ingredients that were waiting in freezer and pantry for their rightful place on the dinner table. I’d say they found it.


8 oz Penne pasta
1 lb ground beef
1 cup frozen (or fresh) chopped onion
1 tsp minced garlic (or 1 whole clove)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sour cream (change it up and use prepared alfredo sauce, pesto, heavy cream)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (or mozzarella; just about any cheese you like)


Prepare noodles according to package directions. Preheat oven to 375.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and brown beef with onion, garlic, oregano, and salt. Add tomato sauce, water, and sour cream. Stir to combine and allow sauce to bubble.

Drain pasta and return to pan, add meat and sauce mixture. Stir together. When completely mixed, add to a casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Top with cheese. Bake about 20 minutes until cheese is melted and casserole is bubbly. Serve with warm French bread and salad.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:


Serves 6 to 8

Total time: 30 minutes

Featured image

Creamy Tomato & Beef Noodle Casserole

*Original Serves4 Recipe

Baked Ziti

I have an almost irrational obsession with baked ziti.  And I can pinpoint exactly where it comes from.  It was, I’d say, wow, about 10 years ago.  My wonderful Hubs (who was not my  Hubs yet) invited a coworker to go to dinner with us.  We went to Pasta Pomodoro in Rockridge (amazing outside seating with equally amazing heaters).  I very clearly remember ordering the very rich and creamy baked ziti.  When the waiter brought our food and said, “baked ziti?” I watched in dumb-founded amazement as Hector said, “Yes, right here.”  Right here?!??  “No, RIGHT HERE!!!” I silently screamed.  I don’t even remember the non-baked ziti dish I ended up with that night.  How could I?  It wasn’t baked ziti.  Ever since that fateful evening I have been on a baked ziti quest.  Each variation of a recipe that I try gets put in the “never again” pile, the “hmm, give it one more try” pile, or THIS could be the ONE” pile.  I made this ahead for our Tahoe trip.  My dad loved it, which is a whole other story, but got it added to the THIS could be the ONE pile.  🙂 


16 oz dry ziti pasta
1 small / medium onion chopped (depends on preference)
1 lb extra lean ground beef (can sub turkey or chicken)
2 (26 oz) jars pasta sauce (such as Classico Tomato & Basil)
6 oz sliced provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream
6 oz mozzarella, shredded
2 Tbs grated Parmesan


Add ziti to slightly salted boiling water.  You want to cook to al dente because this dish will go in the oven.

Over medium – high heat, in a large skillet, sweat onions until soft, add ground beef.  Once browned, add pasta sauce and simmer 15 minutes.

While simmering sauce, preheat oven to 350°.  Spray a 9×13″ baking pan with nonstick spray.  Layer 1/2 of the ziti, provolone cheese, sour cream, 1/2 sauce mixture, remaining ziti, mozzarella cheese and remaining sauce mixture.  Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake 30 minutes, or until cheeses are melted

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Pinot Noir

Serves 10
Total time: 1 hour

Baked Ziti

Not a great picture, we got busy in Tahoe and I forgot to take another when cutting into it!

*Derived from

Ravioli Lasagna

Who does not like ravioli? And who doesn’t like lasagna? Also, though, who doesn’t like or have all the time it takes to make lasagna? I’m a total cheater when it comes to the rav, so I won’t even go there. That being said, I love ravioli, little pillows puffed with ricotta and maybe a meat, or even just the ricotta and some spices. They are, really, a blank canvas. You can  add a sauce making them as rich and decadent as you’d like. Or, you can add a sauce bursting with fresh flavor from the garden. Filling you up, but not leaving you heavy. Pretty much the same idea goes for lasagna. There are so many amazing, and completely opposite ends of the spectrum options. But, what if you took ravioli and made it into a kind of quasi lasagna? Oh my, now you’re talking!

*For this dish, the recipe called for a 26-28 oz jar of tomato pasta sauce. Being typical of a cook that wants to use what is available to me, I used the 1/2 jar of 24 oz Barilla Organic Olive Oil, Basil, and Garlic pasta sauce and 1/2 of the jar of the 15 oz Barilla Alfredo Sauce already opened in the refrigerator both from a past lazy night of wanting something especially quick. With both of these leftover jars I’d say I used 28 oz., total.

I also loved this recipe for all of the options. While I used just cheese ravioli, I could have easily used chicken or sausage rav. I could have also added sliced, fresh mushrooms; I could have even added frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to drain. Or, how about pepperoni. Maybe some Italian sausage crumbles? So many options! Oh, Oh, Oh! You could also go with a Tex Mex theme. Simply sub the pasta sauce for a jarred salsa (such as Old El Paso), add corn and change the cheese to cheddar or a Mexican blend. Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Hmmm, it JUST got interesting!

There is also the most wonderful make-ahead option. Simply layer the ingredients in the baking dish, cover tightly with foil and refrigerate for up to 24 ours. Then bake as directed. So this dish COULD be made on a week night! I LOVE that option.

Ingredients (as I made it):

1 1/2 cups pasta sauce (any variety)
1 1/2 cups Alfredo sauce
1 pkg (25 – 28 oz) cheese filled ravioli
3 cups shredded mozzarella (low moisture used)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Heat oven to 350°.  Spray 13×9 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Spread ¾ cup pasta sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.  Arrange the ravioli in a single layer over sauce; top with mozzarella cheese.  Next layer, spread ¾ cup Alfredo sauce over ravioli, top with mozzarella cheese.  Repeat layers.  On the final layer, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes (if using frozen ravioli, bake 40 minutes).  Remove foil; bake uncovered 15 – 20 minutes, or until bubbly and hot.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with warm bread and Daniela’s Caesar salad.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Cabernet Franc
Pinot Noir

Serves 8
Total time: 1:10

Ravioli Lasagna

Ravioli Lasagna

*Derived from Betty Crocker

Corner- Cutting Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti

Chicken parmesan is one of those enveloping comfort foods. And let me tell you, today I needed some comfort food! It was just one of those days, heck, it’s already been one of those years. It started two days before Christmas and again on Christmas morning with a major plumbing leak in the family room. Next, with the very start of demolition asbestos was detected. That prompted us 1) not being able to use our kitchen (or even enter it) for 48 hours, and then a move-out to a hotel for about 4 days. All of the nights at the hotel, my usual 5:00 a.m. girl slept way past that. When we finally get back into our house all of that changes and girlfriend brought herself into our room at 5:15 this fine Sunday morning. Sometimes there is just not enough coffee in the world. Sometimes one just needs a major food hug. And sometimes one that has been a mite grumpy needs to share that food hug with those that she was grumpy with. In walks my corner-cutting chicken parmesan with spaghetti. The Italians have really got this food hug thing down!


4 oz uncooked spaghetti
2 (14.5 oz) cans unsalted diced tomatoes
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil, divided
6 cloves garlic diced (time saver tip: use jarred minced garlic, such as Spice World)
1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
3 Tbs finely chopped basil (time saver tip: one of my fave products  – Gourmet Garden Basil Paste, it’s amazing!)
4 skinless chicken breast tenders
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp garlic powder
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs
1 tsp butter
4 oz shredded mozzarella


Cook pasta according to package directions,omitting salt and fat; drain.

While pasta cooks, empty cans of tomatoes in food processor; process until almost smooth.  Heat saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add 1½ tsp oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute, or until fragrant, stirring occasionally.  Add tomatoes and 3/8 tsp salt; cook 15 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.  Stir in basil (or basil paste).  Toss 1 cup sauce with pasta, keep warm.

While sauce cooks, combine flour, garlic powder, and remaining 1/8 tsp salt in a large ziploc bag.  Add tenders one at a time and shake bag to coat.  Shake off any excess flour mixture.  Place lightly beaten egg in shallow dish.  Place Italian bread crumbs in another shallow dish.  Dip tenders in egg mixture and then dredge in bread crumbs.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add remaining 1 Tbs oil and butter to pan; swirl until butter melts.  Add chicken to pay; cook approximately 4 minutes on each side, or until browned and cooked through.  Place chicken on a backing sheet, top with mozzarella.  Broil 2 minutes or until cheese melts.  Serve over pasta with sauce spooned over chicken.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Sauvignon Blanc

Serves 4

Total time: 45 minutes

Chicken Parmesan

*Original Serves-4 recipe

Mini Meat Loaves

A few awesome things about these mini meat loaves: 1) they are mini, so everyone gets their own personal meat loaf, which is key if you are 5 and 6 years old; 2) you can even kind of make them to order, as far as the toppings go since they are pretty small, and; 3) the cook so much faster than your grandmother’s meat loaf.  The pasta sauce, basil, and cheese really made these tasty.  Add a nice green vegetable (such as the roasted asparagus with parmesan cheese that I did) and you’ve got the start of a quick and filling meal.


1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup prepared marinara sauce
½ cup Italian style bread crumbs
2 Tbs Gourmet Garden basil paste (one of the best inventions ever)
1 lb lean ground beef (can use turkey, chicken, etc)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ tsp salt


Preheat oven to 450°.  In a large bowl, combine egg, 1/2 cup marinara sauce, bread crumbs, basil paste, and salt.  Add beef and 1/2 cup of cheese; using hands, mix well.  Divide mixture into four equal parts.  Shape into a small loaf.  Place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Spoon remaining marinara sauce over the top of each and sprinkle with cheese.

Bake 15 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 160°

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Petit Sirah
Syrah / Shiraz

Serves: 4 large helpings (or 6 smaller servings)

Total time: 25 minutes

Mini Meat Loaves

Mini Meat Loaves

*Original Serves-4 Recipe

Quick Pastitsio

You know how a craving starts out as something that just sounds good, quickly moves into an itch you can’t seem to scratch, and then makes its way to a tick causing your eye to twitch or walk with a limp?  Even though it’s still warm here in Cali, I just had to prepare some comfort food.   I had been really craving it lately and the craving was moving into the tick phase.  As soon as I saw this recipe in my binder, I knew it would put that tick to rest and my eye would finally stop twitching.  Let me tell you, it did not disappoint!  The only thing I’ll do different next time is add some fresh basil.  By the time the pasta came out of the oven the kids were starving and begging to eat, asking, “Oh Mommy, what is that smell?  It smells SO good in here.  Can we eat right now?  I can’t wait any more!”  I completely forgot to run outside and snip some basil.  This dish could easily be made vegetarian by subbing the meat for mushrooms, mushrooms and Japanese eggplant, mushrooms and artichoke hearts.  So many veggie options!  PS – Yum!  Reheat for lunch is just as good as dinner!


8 oz uncooked penne (or any tube-shaped pasta)
Cooking spray
1 lb lean ground sirloin
1 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
5 cloves minced garlic
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (recipe called for fat-free, I used 2%)
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
7 oz Neufchâtel cream cheese
3/4 cup shredded parmesan or mozzarella
2 Tbs chopped fresh basil


Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting fat and salt.  Drain.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add beef to pan; saute 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.  Remove beef from pan; drain.  Wipe pan clean with paper towels.  Add oil to pan; swirling to coat.  Add onion; saute 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic; saute 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add beef; sprinkle with salt.  Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.  Stir in milk, tomatoes, and Neufchâtel, stirring until smooth; bring to a simmer.  Cook 2 minutes or until heated through.  Stir in pasta.

Preheat broiler.  Coat a 13×9 inch broiler-safe baking dish with cooking spray.  Spoon pasta mixture into dish, sprinkle with parmesan or mozzarella.  Broil 4 minutes or until golden.  Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil.

Serves 6 large helpings

Hands on time: 17 minutes; Total time: 40 minutes

Pastitsio 3

*Derived from Cooking Light