Broccoli and Cheese Penne

Along with the slow cooker, this time of year brings a distinct desire for all things . . . casserolish.  Anything baked in a big dish with cheese.  Making it oozy and gooey.  The house gets warm from the heat and the aroma makes everyone come running, mouth-watering, asking when dinner will be ready.  Fall is by far my favorite time of year.  We’ve been so exposed during the summer, to the sun, to the heat, to the chlorine from the pool.  With Fall, I welcome that chance to cover up a little.  Wear v-neck sweaters and boots.  The mornings are chilly, the evenings crisp, but the afternoons still shine brightly beckoning at lunch or the early evening to head outside and soak up the final rays.


1½ cups penne pasta (or use whatever tube pasta you have on hand)
1 lb broccoli, cut into florets (or by the fresh broccoli steam bags in the produce section, save yourself a step!)
3 eggs
1 cup cream
1/3 cup milk
1-2 cups grated cheddar cheese (depends on how cheesy you like it.  I used 2 cups)
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 425°.  With nonstick cooking spray, evenly spray the inside of a deep, 8-cup baking dish.

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Add broccoli to pasta water the last 5 minutes of cooking time; drain.  Rinse pasta and broccoli under cold water; drain, cool.

Combine pasta, broccoli, eggs, cream, milk, and cheddar in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper.  In small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, parmesan, and garlic.  Spoon broccoli mixture into prepared baking dish; sprinkle with breadcrumbs mixture.

Bake, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until browned lightly and set.

Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Burgundy, White
Chardonnay, New World (fruity)
Chardonnay, Old World (buttery)

Serves 6 large portions

Prep time: 20 minutes; Cooking time: 40 minutes

photo (1)
*Derived from Food Republic

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Quick Chicken Pasta Dinner

I like to keep things around that I’m going to use a lot of.  I don’t want to, nor do I have the time to, run to the store before making dinner, lunch, or really, any meal.  Some people love going to the store before each meal.  I have a good friend that won’t plan the meals ahead because she doesn’t know what she’ll want for dinner on, say, Thursday.  I’m just the opposite.  I thrive on order.  Schedules are bliss to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love spontaneity, but a last-minute trip wine tasting, not to Safeway.  So, I purchased a ginormous bag of Tyson Grilled and Ready, Frozen Grilled Chicken Breast Strips.  It’s great for last-minute enchiladas, pastas, taquitos, etc.  The problem came about, well, I don’t actually know how I got myself into this mess of chicken.  I think we were getting close to the end of the first bag, so our next trip to Sam’s Club, I grabbed another.  And on our next trip, yet another.  Even though we hadn’t 1) finished the first bag or 2) even opened the second bag.  For some reason I was all frenzied that we were going to somehow run out of the grilled chicken that I, quite frankly, kept forgetting I had so didn’t use it as much as I thought. This meal was planned several days ago (Sunday, to be exact) with that exact chicken in mind.  Because I know you are wondering, this pasta was made with the final portion of the first bag.  Yes, I still have TWO bags in the freezer.  Chicken anyone?? 


1 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups marinara sauce
2 cups water
1 pckg (9 oz) refrigerated fettuccine
1 bag (12 oz) frozen cut green beans, thawed.  You could really sub any vegetable here.  I’d love to try zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms.
2 cups cubed, cooked chicken
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


in large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic; cooking about 30 seconds, until softened.  Stir in marinara sauce and water.  Cover, heat to boiling.  Add fettuccine, green beans; stir to separate fettuccine.  Return to boiling, cover and boil 3 to 5 minutes, or until beans are tender.

Stir in chicken, Cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is heated.

Remove from heat.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Cover; let stand for about 2 minutes to melt cheese.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Fume Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc
Chinon, Loire
Cabernet Franc
Loire Valley, Red

Serves 6
Prep time: 20 Min; Total time: 25 min


*Derived from Pillsbury

Middle of the Week “Spaghetti”

Have you ever seen a 5 and 6-year-old attempt to eat spaghetti?  Let me tell you, it isn’t pretty.  And neither is the table, chairs, the floor, and their clothes when they are done.  Especially my son, who is 6.  He LOVES to hold that long dangly noodle as far aways from his mouth as he can and try to suck it in.  I know, I know, we’ve all done that, but not when I was the one doing the laundry!  And then there is sauce all over the place, including his face.  His little sister thinks it’s awesome to copy her brother.  You can see where I’m going with this and what my dining room looks like when dinner is over.  I thought my problem was solved when Barilla started selling their cut pasta.  How smart was that??  Already cut pasta!  But then I discovered that was almost harder for them to eat because the cut pieces would slip and slide off their fork.  So we tried spoons.  Same thing.  So, I went back to using elbow macaroni, penne, rotini, rigatoni, etc.  And that usually results in wrinkled noses and requests to make “pascetti”.  Not this time, though!  They were perfectly happy with the elbows and my son even had 2 helpings!  PS – You can easily make this vegetarian by subbing the meat with mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant whatever you have.


1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbs olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can water
1/2 can tomato paste
8 oz elbow macaroni
1 Tbs Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese


Cook pasta according to package directions.

Add olive oil to a large nonstick skillet.  Sauté onions and garlic over medium high heat until translucent, 2 – 3 minutes.  Add ground beef and cook until browned, then spoon off any grease.  Add tomatoes, water, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to skillet with beef and onion mixture.  Turn heat down to low and allow to cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While sauce bubbles away, drain pasta.  When sauce is done, slowly add pasta to sauce and mix to combine.  Serve topped with Parmesan cheese.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Pinot Noir


Serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes; Total time: 35 minutes

*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

Quick and Easy Pasta Sauce

I don’t know about you, but pasta is a staple in our house. That means I’m always on the lookout for new recipes. What I like about this one: it WAS quick and easy; the sauce was not heavy, but was flavorful; and, I liked that my kids used the little slices of bread to make spaghetti sandwiches 🙂 You can easily make this vegetarian by leaving out the sausage. Want it meaty, but still vegetarian? Add some mushrooms. Or, use whatever meat you have on hand, such as chicken or ground meat. What I would do different next time: this recipe called for the sausage to be cooked in advance (or if you are not completely paying attention because you keep hearing, “Mommy can I . . .,” like me, you’ll need to grab a separate skillet for the sausage at the end). I would cook the sausage at the beginning, drain the grease, remove the sausage to a plate and then cook the onion, etc, in that skillet. Also, while it had nice flavor, it seemed rather one-dimensional. Next time I’ll run out to my basil plant to snip a few leaves to hit the sauce with at the very end. All in all a tasty and satisfying recipe that leaves you feeling comfortably full, but not weighted down.


2 mild Italian sausages, casings removed
1/4 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups canned tomatoes (whole, diced, puree, etc)
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (or a pinch of dried)
1/4 – 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt


In large saucepan preheated to medium high heat, add sausage and crumble as cooking.  When sausage is browned, remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain grease.  Remove all but 1 Tbs of oil from pan.  Add onion and saute until translucent, 2 – 3 minutes.  Add garlic and saute another minute.

If using whole tomatoes, chop them (easiest is to just cut them with scissors right in the can), add tomatoes and juice to pan.  If using diced or puree, just add directly to pan.  Stir in sugar, rosemary, and salt.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce hs thickened, about 20 minutes, stirring often.  Return sausage to pan and simmer for an additional 5 minutes, until heated through.

Serves 6

Prep time: 10 minutes; Total time: 45 minutes


*Derived from KitchenDaily

Easy Peasy Linguine

Tonight was the first night, as my family snuffled quietly in their beds and I retreated downstairs to make sure all of the windows were closed (or to pour another glass of wine, maybe?) that I smelled fall. I leaned over the kids’ tub to close the window and stopped short. That unmistakable smell, even here in Cali, was fall. How can that be? It seems like just yesterday I was filled with the excitement of all summer had to offer. Finally one drop off as Berto heads into the first grade and D into kindergarten. A summer filled with swimming; catching our first lizard; saying goodbye to my sweet, sweet German shepherd Lobo; growing tomatoes and basil in our first attempts at a garden; surfing for the first time; losing 2 bottom teeth (resulting in feeling oh so big now); day trips; a vacation; and, the return of summer hours at my office. But all of that is coming to a close, with a shiver in the early evening air. Makes me glad there is always comfort food. And, what is better comfort food than pasta?


The wonderful thing about this dish is all of the possible meat options. Feeling healthier than extra lean ground beef? Sub ground turkey or chicken. For something different try pork or sausage (be sure to removed the casings first!). How about going even meatier? Use ground sirloin. Or, you can make it vegetarian like I did tonight by subbing the meat with mushrooms.

1 (9 oz) pkg fresh linguine
1/2 lb extra lean ground beef / or the item you are subbing
1/2 cup pre chopped onion (I use prepared veggies as often as possible, such a time saver)
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbs tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (whatever you have on hand; shaved, grated, shredded)
Handful of basil leaves, sliced thinly (nothing like walking into the backyard and picking your own basil!)


Cook pasta according to package directions. Omit oil and salt. Drain and return pasta to pot.

While pasta cooks, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, onion, garlic, oregano, and salt; cook 5 minutes, or until beef is browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 3 minutes or until thickened. Serve over pasta and top with cheese and basil.

Serves 4

Total time: 30 minutes

photo (1)

*Derived from Cooking Light

Italian Pasta Cooking Guide

Pasta all'uovo (egg pasta)

Pasta all’uovo (egg pasta) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We spent the last week soaking up the sun in beautiful (and HOT!) Cabo San Lucas. But, knowing that I owed everyone a post, took my info along for the cooking pasta installment. Unfortunately the resort did not offer free wifi (can we please get with the times Sheraton??), though each room was allotted 30 minutes a day. Oh, did I mention you had to haul your sunscreened “cookies” to the lobby for that? To the lobby. Who wants to do that? Especially when we’ve got mid morning margaritas poolside!

This is a very basic Italian pasta cooking guide. I can tell you that there are so many opinions out there about cooking pasta, I was confused and didn’t know what to believe. This being so basic made it very clear for me and corrected some of the mistakes I had been making. I hope it clears up any confusion anyone else has, too!

Oil:  The first tip is something I’ve always done, added olive oil to the water to prevent the pasta from sticking.  Which doesn’t actually work, and if you use enough water, it won’t be an issue anyway.  Instead, use that olive oil for drizzling over the sauced pasta for a final hit of flavor (unless using a butter- or cream-based sauce).

Pasta:  1 lb of dried pasta can generally serve 4 to 6 people as a main course, depending on whether the sauce is light (such as a simple tomato sauce), rich (creamy Alfredo), or bulked up with other ingredients such as vegetables, meat, or seafood.  Also, sauces that are smooth or have very small bits, such as garlic and oil, are best with long strands of pasta.  Chunkier sauces are best matched with short tubular or shaped pastas.

Water and Pot:  For 1 lb of dry pasta you’ll need 4 quarts of water.  Less water can result in the noodles sticking together in one big clumpy mess (yes, this has happened to me).  You want to use a pot that is at least 6 quarts, which helps you avoid boilovers.  Dont forget the salt!  Adding salt to the water is important for good flavor.  I have always underseasoned the water, not knowing that you need 1 Tbs table salt (or 2 Tbs kosher salt) for 4 quarts of water.  If you are worried you are going to forget the salt, add it directly to the box of pasta as you take it out of the pantry.  Finally, don’t add the pasta to the water until the sauce is almost ready.

Draining Pasta:  Don’t forget to reserve some pasta water to thin the sauce.  A tip to remember this is to place the measuring cup in the colander at the start of cooking.  That way, when you go to drain the pasta, there is no way you’ll forget!  Also, since pasta has a tendency to cool quickly, it’s a good idea to warm the serving bowl.  Here is a great trick: if you’re using a large serving bowl, put it under the colander while draining the pasta.  The hot water will heat up the bowl which will keep the pasta warm longer.  Once the pasta is drained, shake the colander a couple of times, but not to the point that the pasta is bone-dry.  The little bit of cooking water that clings to the pasta will help the sauce coat it.

Sauce:  I’ve always just dumped the sauce on top of the mound of pasta and proceeded to fight the pasta to get the sauce mixed.  This always left me frustrated and pasta that wasn’t very well mixed.  The best way to handle all of this is to transfer the drained pasta back to the hot pot and add just enough sauce to coat the pasta evenly, along with enough reserved pasta cooking water to thin the sauce slightly, if needed. 

Pasta Fork:  It’s finally time to eat!  Grab your plastic or stainless steel pasta fork and start serving!

 *Derived from Cook’s Illustrated

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