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

Quick Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Pasta is a staple in my house.  For the most part, you can make it fast.  But, there are also some amazing dishes that take a while (lasagna, baked ziti anyone?).  I kind of have to admit, too, that one of the reasons I love pasta has to do with the control freak in me.  It’s also the same reason I prefer texting and email.  It’s all on my time. I get to decide, do I want/need a quick pasta tonight?  Do I need/want to respond to this text right now? Basically, whether a text or pasta, it comes down to me.  And no one knows the elements that brought me to the decision.  This dish, however, I’ll share with you the behind the scenes thought process.  I already had defrosted the extra lean ground beef.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it simply because my family is just coming back from a quick little vacation to Kings Beach in North Lake Tahoe (one of our fave places and I encourage everyone to go) and anyone that knows me understands that I spent the week leading up to Tahoe planning, cooking, and packing for our trip (those recipes to follow).  By the time we got back home I was 1) exhausted from a wonderful trip, 2) really tired of planning and cooking, and 3) completely out of groceries save for the staples I had on hand.  I can tell you, quite confidently, this was a huge hit!


1 lb extra lean ground beef (can sub ground chicken or turkey)
1 (14.5) oz diced tomatoes
1 (14.5) oz tomato sauce
1/2 of (6.5) garlic & herb spreadable cheese (such as Alouette)
1 Tbs dried basil (such as Morton & Bassett) (I prefer fresh, but since my GSD puppy ate my plant, I had to go with dried)
Handful of dried spaghetti
Parmesan grated, shredded, shaved (your preference) for serving


Boil pasta according to your doneness preference.

While pasta cooks, brown meat. Once browned, drain off any excess fat. Add diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Reduced heat to medium low and heat through. Add the garlic and herb spreadable cheese. Stir to completely incorporate through. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer 5 – 10 minutes. Add basil the last few minutes and stir (if using fresh basil, wait until ready to serve.

Mix pasta with sauce, in batches, stirring to combine with each batch. Top with favorite Parmesan. Serve with crusty bread.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Pinot Noir

Serves 8
Total time: 40 minutes

photo (5)

*Original Serves-4 Recipe

Quick and Easy Enchilada Sauce

This has got to be one of the easiest and tastiest enchilada sauces I have made.  Not to mention so authentic the hubs gave it a thumbs up!    He even asked that I make some more so he can make huevos rancheros for breakfast.  This will make a regular rotation in my kitchen, and there is plenty with this recipe to freeze.  (I promise to include a picture next time!)


2 Tbs cornstarch
2 Tbs Morton & Bassett Mexican Spice Blend (my “go to” Mexican seasoning)
Kosher salt to taste
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 Tbs canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced


In mixing bowl, combine cornstarch, Mexican Spice Blend, salt and pepper.  Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, broth, spice mixture, whisk to combine.  Set aside.

In a medium skillet, over medium-low heat, add canola oil and sauté garlic until fragrant, being careful not to burn.  Gradually stir in tomato sauce mixture.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Continue to simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.  Serve in and over your favorite Mexican dishes.

Serves: 6

Total time: 40 minutes

*Derived from


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

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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