Super Fast Dinner: Gnocchi with Red Pesto and Asparagus

For some weird reason, I had a hankering for Gnocchi the other night and decided to get a tiny bit creative with it.  Normally, I just boil it and serve a yummy meat sauce over it.  Delish!  Not tonight, folks!!  Here’s somewhat fancy looking dish that came together quicker than the amount of time it takes to bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.  Seriously.  We’re talking minutes here, friends.  Minutes.


  • 1 lb. package Gnocchi (found in the frozen foods section)
  • 1/4 c. sundried tomato pesto (can sub pre-made basil pesto too its you’d like)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
  • Asiago cheese for garnish
  • Fresh lemon zest for garnish, optional

Boil 2 quarts water and cook frozen gnocchi according to package directions (usually 3 minutes – do NOT thaw the gnocchi).  During the last minute of cooking, add asparagus pieces to pot to par boil.  Cook for additional minute and strain.  Return gnocchi and asparagus to pot and stir in pesto.  Serve immediately topped with freshly grated Asiago and lemon zest.

Categories: American, Entrees, Pasta, Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Lighter Chicken Parmesan

Italian Food.  All those carbs…so yummy on the tongue but usually not so great for the waistline.  Enter: Lightened Chicken Parm.  I love chicken parm (and eggplant parm for that matter.  Okay, so anything that includes the word Parmesan).  Several years ago, my momma found a recipe I think from Giada DeLaurentis for a chicken parm that wasn’t breaded.  I’ve since lost track of the original recipe but stick to the basics with this recipe that I put together on the fly (and most likely do it differently every time seeing its just one of those things in my head).

Serve this with your favorite pasta sauce and pasta.


  • 1 lb. chicken breast cutlets (or boneless, skinless chicken breasts butterflied and pounded thin)
  • Italian Seasonings
  • Sea Salt
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 c. marinara sauce (store-bought or homemade)
  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 TBS butter

Preheat the broiler.

On a sheet pan, spread marinara sauce making sure to cover the entire pan (add a bit more if needed).  Season chicken with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.  In a large skillet sprayed with cooking spray, sear each chicken cutlet for about 1 minute per side (make sure not to crowd the chicken – work in batches to ensure that the chicken gets a nice golden color on each side and doesn’t come out looking pale and lifeless).  Place on sheet pan once seared.

Top each chicken cutlet with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  Place 1/4 TBS of butter on top of the pile of cheese on each chicken cutlet (I said this was LIGHTER, not fat free!).

Broil on top rack until chicken is cooked through and cheeses are melted.  Serve with spaghetti and additional sauce.

Categories: Entrees, Italian, Pasta, Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Pasta with Shitake Mushrooms & Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Sauce

This was one of those recipes I had to make while Branden was out of town because he hates blue cheese.  He has a complete aversion to both the taste and smell of the stuff which I find quite sad because I love it, especially when its accompanying a good steak.  Yum.

I have just a couple things to say about the original recipe.  Too many onions and not enough mushrooms.  Don’t get me wrong, I love onions (and usually use more than what’s called for) but I felt like there were just as many onions as noodles in this dish.  On the flip side, I didn’t feel like there was enough mushrooms.  I wanted more.  So what you’re seeing below is the recipe with my adjustments.  Aside from my tweaks, this was a really good fall-flavored pasta that I will be making again…when Branden is out of town.


  • 1 lb. uncooked pennette (small penne)
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 5 c. thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps (about 3/4 pound whole mushrooms)
  • 3 c. vertically sliced onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 TBS cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 TBS cold water
  • 1/2 c. (2 ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. grated whole nutmeg
  • Fresh sage sprigs (optional)

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Keep warm.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, and garlic; cover and cook 3 minutes. Uncover; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
Combine chopped sage and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Combine cornstarch and water, stirring with a whisk. Add cornstarch mixture and cheese to milk mixture, stirring with a whisk. Cook 2 minutes or until thick and smooth, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in pumpkin, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Add pasta and pumpkin mixture to mushroom mixture; toss well to combine. Garnish with fresh sage sprigs, if desired.

Adapted from Cooking Light

Categories: American, Entrees, Pasta, Recipes | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Shrimp Pad Thai

Confession: A lot of times I sit down to write some posts and have COMPLETE writer’s block  Like, for real writer’s block.  Today’s one of those days.  Its not that this dish wasn’t delicious – I just can’t find anything witty or insightful to say with it.  So all you get is a really good recipe for Pad Thai and a picture to drool over.  That is all.  Hopefully my brain comes back to consciousness for the next post…


  • 8 ounces uncooked flat rice noodles (pad Thai noodles)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha or chili garlic sauce
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup (2-inch) green onion pieces
  • 8 ounces peeled and deveined large shrimp
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • 1/2 c. shoe-stringed carrots
  • 1/4 cup chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain.

While water comes to a boil, combine sugar and next 4 ingredients (through Sriracha) in a small bowl.

Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion pieces, shrimp, and garlic; stir-fry 2 minutes or until shrimp is almost done. Add cooked noodles; toss to combine. Stir in sauce; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly to combine. Arrange about 1 cup noodle mixture on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1/4 cup bean sprouts, 1 tablespoon peanuts, and 2 teaspoons basil.

Adapted slightly from Cooking Light

Categories: Asian, Entrees, Pasta, Recipes, Thai | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pastitsio: Attempt I

Branden loves Pastitsio and ever since his favorite Greek restaurant closed its doors forever, he has been yearning for a Pastitsio that even compares.  There are a million different recipes for Pastisio, some with beef, some with lamb; some with a thick red sauce, some with a creamy bechamel.  Branden and I both prefer the bechamel variety with lamb (or a lamb/beef combo), but we’ve been pretty hard pressed to find a recipe that comes close to what we like.  We have finally found a recipe though that is a good starting point.  I figured I’d start with posting the original recipe because we did follow it completely (okay, so we added an additional 1/2 lb. of meat – and swapped veal for a beef/lamb combo, but I swear that’s it!!).

This recipe was good, but we have some ideas for the next time…starting with the bechamel.  It was fine, but lacking a tad in flavor.  Next time, the plan is to add some white pepper and a bit more nutmeg.  We also couldn’t find the Greek Kefalotyri cheese, so we went with a young parm and I just don’t think it was sharp enough.  We’ll be moving towards a slightly sharper parm (or driving the distance to track down Kefalotyri) for a bit more flavor.  For the meat “sauce,” we decided we needed a bit more wine, more garlic and more salt…and maybe a pinch more of rosemary.

Now don’t get me wrong, this recipe was very good as written, we just were looking for something a bit different.  Its all about personal preference when cooking.  Aaaaaand trying to recreate food memories.  We’ll get there…eventually.

By the way, here’s the original recipe.  This guy’s blog is pretty cool and has some authentic Greek recipes…reminds me of my month in Greece.  Sigh.  Enjoy!

Categories: Entrees, Greek, Pasta, Recipes | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Short Rib Ragu over Homemade Pappardelle

Being a chef herself, my Mom likes to do food-themed gifts for Christmas.  I once had a baking Christmas focused on pies and tarts; I got pie plates, cookbooks, pie weights, a good rolling pin, etc.  Bliss.  This past Christmas was the year of pasta!  She got Branden and I a pasta cookbook, pasta drying rack, a hand-crank pasta roller/cutter, and the pasta attachment to our Kitchen Aid mixer.  Sad to say, we finally just had the time to dedicate to making homemade pasta – I just wish it would’ve happened sooner!

Branden found this recipe in our Pasta cookbook on Christmas Day and has been drooling over it ever since so of course, this is where we decided to start on our pasta adventure.

We’ve also recently stumbled upon a couple local butcher shops lately that we are in love with (and they only source local meat…SCORE!).  We really like both The Spoon Market and The Butcher Block and Deli.  Today’s meat came from The Butcher Block – we couldn’t beat $2.49/lb. for beef short ribs!

The meat...they didn't have 4 lbs of short ribs, so we added a soup bone cut to ensure we had enough meat in our ragu. Worked like a charm!

Now the fun begins, you have to sear all sides of the meat before letting it melt for 3 hours in a Dutch oven.  Golly do we love our Dutch oven for dishes like this!   Now that we’re all good and seared, its time to prepare for the magic to begin!  Throw those veggies in the Dutch oven.  No need at all to clean up after the meat searing.  This recipe is getting better and better (I’ve only used one pot!).
Branden and I ALWAYS fight over who gets to stir. So childish!
Everything is resting beautifully in the Dutch oven and we’re on to making the pasta.  This definitely took some teamwork!  Homemade noodles are really quite easy to make, its just a labor-intensive process.  I’ve got two pieces of good news for you, though: 1) Homemade noodles are really inexpensive.  Seriously.  2) Homemade noodles can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator or freezer.  So take a day and make some noodles, its so worth it!

Rolling out the pasta by hand. I think we eventually got the hang of it.

 And here’s the finished drying rack of pasta: (we ended up cutting our noodles with a pizza cutter because we needed thicker noodles.  Clearly we were a little bit inconsistent with our noodle width).

A tree of carbs! My dream come true!

Once our pot of heaven was down melting down, it was time to pull the meat apart and discard the remaining fat and bones.  This is a man’s job…thank goodness we were making this meal together!

Its really a shame that this is what we had to throw out. That’s a LOT of fat but it makes the meal oh-so-delicious!

And the trimmed meat goes back in the pot where it belongs.  It smells like heaven!!  Before we dig in, we have to actually cook the pasta that we left hanging on the “carb tree.”  Here’s where a pasta insert for our stock pot would come in handy because unlike dried pastas, the cooking time is only a matter of seconds, so you have to work quickly or you’ll end up with mush…and nobody likes mush!

We don't own a pasta pot, so Branden tied some kitchen twine around the handles of our metal colander. #kitchenmacgyver

Okay, so you’ve been really patient through all these pictures (this is one of those meals that I thought multiple pictures would be nice for), so here’s the grand finale…the finished product at last.  The quintessential fall dish, heaven in a bowl! 

The 3+ hours of waiting for this was totally worth it!

Short Rib Ragu:
  • 4 lb. beef short rubs, each 2″ long or 2 lb. beef top round
  • 3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz. port fatback or proscuitto fat, cut into matchsticks, or 4 TBS unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 3 inches long
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 TBS tomato paste, diluted with 3-4 TBS water
  • 1/2 c. full-bodied dry red wine
  • 3 1/2 c. beef stock
  • Egg Pasta (next page)
  • 2 TBS unsalted butter
  • 3 oz. fresh wild mushrooms, brushed clean, tough stems removed, and sliced
  • Kosher salt for cooking pasta
Trim the beef of excess fat. If using the beef round, cut into 1 1/2″ dice. Past the meat dry thoroughly with paper towels.In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot over medium heat, warm 1 TBS of the olive oil. If using the fatback or prosciutto fat, add to the pan with the olive oil and saute until lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large platter and reserve.
If using the butter, melt it with the olive oil. Working in batches to avoid crowding, add the beef to the pan and brown on all sides, about 12 minutes for each batch. Transfer the beef and its juices to the platter with the fatback.
Add the remaining 2 TBS olive oil to the pot over medium heat and stir in the onion, carrot, garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, and cardamom. Saute until the vegetables are softened, lightly colored, and aromatic, about 10 minutes. Return the beef and fatback (if used) to the pan, add 1 tsp. sea salt and several grinds of pepper, and stir well. Stir in diluted tomato paste, the wine, and enough stock to just cover the meat. Cover partially, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally and adding additional broth or water as needed to prevent the pan from drying out, until the meat is tender, about 3 hours.
While the sauce is cooking, make the pasta dough as directed, then roll out and cut into pappardelle. Let dry for 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.
Just before sauce is ready, in a frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender, about 4 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and move and discard the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Fold in the mushrooms, cover, and let rest while you cook the pasta. In a large pot, bring 5 quarts water to a rapid boil. Add 2 TBS kosher salt and the pasta and cover the pot. When the water returns to a boil, incover, cook for about 5 seconds, and then drain. Transfer the pasta to a warmed large, shallow serving bowl or individual shallow bowl. Top with sauce and serve immediately.
Egg Pasta (in a machine, because its easier that way.  And cleaner.  Okay, cleaner is debatable)
  • 2 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. olive oil

Fit a food processor with the metal blade. Add all but 1/2 cup of the flour and salt to the bowl and pulse to mix. Set the reserved flour aside; you will use it later to adjust the consistency of the dough.

Crack the eggs into a liquid measuring cup and remove any stray shells. Add the oil; there is no need to stir. Pour the eggs and oil into the food processor work bowl.

Process until the flour is evenly moistened and crumbly, about 10 seconds. Test the dough by pinching it; if it is very sticky, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, processing until it is incorporated. After about 30 seconds total, the dough should come together in a loose ball and feel moist, but not sticky.

Dust a clean work surface with flour. Remove the ball of dough from the work bowl and place it in the center of the floured surface. Using your handsm flatten the dough into a disk.

Using the heel of your hand, push the dough down and away from you, fold it in half back towards you, rotate a quarter turn, and repeat the kneading motion. After about 10 minutes, the dought should be smooth and elastic.

Shape the dough into a ball, cover with an overturned bowl, and let rest for 15 minutes before you roll it out. The gluten in the flour will relax, making the dough easier to roll. Do not let it rest longer or it will be too dry.

Roll out the dough using a pasta machine and until its about 1mm thick. Cut into strands 3/4 to 1 inch wide.

Hang to dry for 30 minutes and up to 3 hours before cooking or storing in refrigerator or freezer.


Recipes courtesy of Pasta by Williams-Sonoma


Categories: Entrees, Italian, Pasta, Recipes | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Healthy Homemade Mac ‘n Cheese

Update on the surgery (in case you’re curious or missed the memo that this blog is going to get pretty boring for the next two months.  Everything went well on Monday and my foot is supposedly straightened but I can’t confirm that (I NEVER ever look at the surgery site until its completely healed, it really grosses me out).  I’m definitely in pain now that the block wore off, but trying to keep busy by blogging a few posts that I didn’t get to before the operation and working on photo books.  Hopefully these sentences make sense because vicodin and I don’t always play nice together.  Moving on…

This recipe was on the cover of one of my recent issues of Cooking Light that came in the mail.  Branden and I were really curious about this recipe, especially as lovers of homemade mac.  I was really unsure about subbing heavy cream and pounds of cheese with low fat milk and butternut squash.  How could this possibly be delicious (or at least taste like traditional mac and cheese)?  Seriously, Branden came home from work while I was throwing it in the oven and asked if I had high hopes for it…I admitted I still wasn’t sure.

To our suprise, this is actually good.  Like, really good.  For those of you with kids that hate veggies, try this out, they won’t ever suspect there’s a pound of squash hidden in there.  Cooking Light somehow found a way to take a traditionally 900 calorie meal and make it about 400 calories per serving (I think they were so successful because of the cheeses chosen – much stronger cheeses than in most mac and cheese dishes).  That in and of itself is enough to make me add this recipe to my collection.  Is it as good as its full-fat sibling?  Not quite (because let’s be honest, cream and lots of gooey cheese is hard to compete with), but it is pretty darn close.  Branden and I both really enjoyed this recipe and will be making it again for sure.

I did add a couple things to this recipe to make it a little more adult-ish…nutmeg, white pepper, and truffle oil.  These three flavors lended a earthy taste to the dish that I really liked.  Omit them for a more classic taste (and the original recipe).


  • 3 c. cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 1-pound squash)
  • 1 1/4 c. fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 c. fat-free milk
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 3 TBS truffle oil
  • 2 TBS fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/4 c. (5 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 1 c. (4 ounces) grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 c. (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
  • 1 lb. uncooked cavatappi
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place the hot squash mixture in a blender (you can also totally use an immersion blender here if you have one – I did because I hate dirtying extra dishes). Add salt, pepper, white pepper, nutmeg, truffle oil, and Greek yogurt. Remove the center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Place blended squash mixture in a bowl; stir in Gruyère, pecorino Romano, and 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir until combined.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain well. Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until combined. Spread mixture evenly into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add panko, and cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture. Lightly coat topping with cooking spray.

 Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.

Categories: American, Entrees, Pasta, Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Zucchini Mania! Zucchini & Basil Lasagna

So this weekend, Branden brought home 10 pounds of zucchini for me “make stuff with.”  His boss apparently had an over-abundance of the stuff and Branden apparently got overly excited.  10 pounds.  What am I going to do with 10 pounds?  I’ll tell you…this week I plan on making Chocolate Zucchini Cake, Zucchini Bread, Zucchini and Basil Mini Muffins, and Parmesan Zucchini Sticks with Smoky Roasted Romesco Sauce.  Until then, I started my zucchini adventures with tonight’s dinner of Zucchini & Basil Lasagna.

So stay tuned because I clearly have zucchini coming out my ears and intend to use it in some creative ways (other than my normal favorite of plain old grilled zucchini with salt and pepper).  I probably won’t be grilling any from this batch because zucchini usually isn’t as good plain when it gets as big as these monsters…these are made for other goodies!


  • 2 c. fat free cottage cheese
  • 1 c. chopped fresh basil
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 c. chopped zucchini
  • 1 c. chopped red onion
  • 2 1/2 c. bottled spicy pasta sauce (I used Classico’s Spicy Tomato for simplicity’s sake – use the whole jar)
  • 9 oven-ready lasagna noodles (this is a totally new concept to me – I never knew these existed until tonight.  I guess that’s what happens when you grow up with a chef for a Mom!)
  • 1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350º.

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth.

Heat a large skillet lightly coated with oil over medium-high heat.  Add zucchini and onion; saute 5 minutes or until tender.  Stir in sauce and remove from heat.

Spread 1/2 c. zucchini mixture in bottom of greased 9×13″ baking dish.  Arrange 3 noodles over zucchini mixture; top with one-third cottage cheese mixture, one-third zucchini mixture, and one-third mozzarella.  Repeat procedure with the remaining noodles. cottage cheese mixture, zucchini mixture, and mozzarella.

Cover and bake for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until lasagna is thoroughly heated.

Adapted from Cooking Light, April 2003

Categories: Entrees, Italian, Pasta, Recipes | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Soba Noodle Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

I was desperate for a fresh tasting and healthy Asian dish the other night, so I was pretty pumped when I found this recipe.  It was so delicious that I ate more than I should have, but I couldn’t help it (not to mention I was starving).  My only word of caution with this recipe is the vinaigrette kind of absorbs into the noodles when saved.  While this was decent packed in my lunch the next day, I was kind of sad that the flavors had melded together.  My advice would be if you know you’re going to have leftovers, toss each serving individually in a portion of the vinaigrette only when ready to serve.  Other than that, this dish was really yummy and I have no complaints!


  • 1 (8-ounce) pkg soba noodles (look for these in the Asian/Japanese section of the grocery store)
  • 1 1/4 c. frozen, shelled edamame
  • 3/4 c. matchstick-cut carrots
  • 1/3 c. sliced green onions
  • Small handful fresh, chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 tsp chopped serrano chile (I had to use a seeded jalapeno because my grocer didn’t have Serrano peppers, much to my dismay)
  • 1 lb. peeled and deveined medium shrimp (31-40 ct)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 TBS fresh orange juice
  • 2 TBS fresh lime juice
  • 1 TBS low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 TBS dark sesame oil
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  1. Cook noodles in boiling water for 7 minutes or until almost al dente.  Add frozen edamame to pan; cook 1 minutes or until thoroughly heated.  Drain.  Place noodle mixture in a large bowl.  Add carrots, onions, cilantro, and chile; toss.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Add shrimp; cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side.  Add shrimp to noodle mixture.
  3. Combine orange juice and remaining ingredients in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk.  Drizzle juice mixture over noodle mixture; toss well.

Cooking Light December 2007

Categories: Asian, Entrees, Pasta, Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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