Pasta Sauce


Recipe courtesy of Elizabeth Levesque


1 large onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, shaved or minced

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

4-15 oz. cans tomato sauce

2-14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained well

2 bay leaves

Italian seasoning

granulated garlic

red pepper flakes

salt and fresh ground pepper


sliced mushrooms, optional

chopped green peppers, optional


1. Prepare garlic by peeling and mincing or shaving into very thin slices.

2. Heat olive oil til hot. If using fresh mushrooms, add to pot with sliced garlic and onions.  Saute in olive oil until soft, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add tomato paste and continue to saute until the onions and garlic are translucent.

3. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, optional chopped peppers, and bay leaves.  Stir and keep the pot on simmer.

4. There are no amounts listed for the rest of this recipe because everyone likes a different taste.  Add the seasonings, pepper flakes and sugar to your taste, a little at a time until it is just right.

5. Simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes.  This will make enough sauce for about 3 pounds of pasta.


Ravioli Lasagna


Autumn nights call for meals that warm us as well as nourish our bodies.  However, the kids are back in school, sports are on t.v., and there’s a dip in the temperatures. Time is precious and we need go-to meals that can get us out of the kitchen quick.  Casseroles by nature free up the cook to work on other projects like homework, laundry, Halloween costumes, Christmas gifts, etc.

This quick version of Lasagna is perfect for busy weekdays.  There is nothing homemade in this casserole, hence the speediness of the preparation.  I purchased these ravioli at the grocery store and they are average-sized, but Sam’s Club sells some very large 3-cheese ravioli that work even better with this casserole.   Typically I make two of these at a time; one for dinner, and one for the freezer.

If you decide to make a pan of lasagna to freeze, buy the aluminum disposable pans that fit in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag.  To freeze; Wrap the pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Slide the pan into the 2 gallon Ziploc bag and seal it.  Using a straw, suck as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing it for good.  That is a trick that I learned from my friend, Bev.  It really does help keep the ice out of the bag when you are freezing for long periods of time.

If you are really in a hurry, just open a bagged salad to serve with this.  I always tape a paper with the name of the dish, the date it was made, and heating directions right to the foil, before I place the casserole in the plastic bag.  This encourages others to help make dinner.  Not really, but it does refresh my memory when I’m buried deep in fabric, need a quick dinner, and am concentrating on making a quilt or getting the flannel  PJ pants done in time for Christmas Eve.  Enjoy!



3-25 oz. bags Cheese Ravioli (you only need 2 1/2 bags, saving the leftovers for another meal).

3-8 oz. bags shredded Mozzarella Cheese

1-67 oz. bottle Prego pasta sauce

Parmesan cheese, for topping

2-8×11 inch aluminum disposable pans (I reuse mine)

1-2 gallon Ziploc bag




1. Spray the pans with Pam.

2. Pour enough pasta sauce in each pan to lightly cover the bottom.


3. Place an entire row of frozen ravioli over the sauce.


4. Sprinkle the casserole with Mozzarella cheese.


5. Pour some pasta sauce over each casserole, and spread to cover.


6. Continue this sequence of ravioli, Mozzarella, and sauce 2 more times (3 rows total) to finish the casserole.

7. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top of each casserole.


8. Wrap, label, and freeze one casserole for later use.  Cover the other casserole with foil and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes.  Uncover pan and cook about 10 minutes more, or until casserole is bubbling and browned a little.

Pittsburgh Steelers Mac-n-Cheese


Pittsburgh Kielbasa and Bacon Braised Cabbage Mac-n-Cheese

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Christopher Bonfili of Avenue B

5501 Centre Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232

Continuing with the football theme, this is the recipe that I make for Danielle’s team.  The first time I made this it was such a hit with everyone.  Even though there is a lot of work involved, this recipe makes a ton, and I even cut the original recipe in half.  You will have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day, and believe me, it gets even better after it sits.

The list of ingredients is long and diverse, and you may look at it and be discouraged or think that some of those things do not go together.  Stick with the plan and you will be pleasantly surprised.  You will need a large skillet, a casserole dish, a pot, several bowls and three hours to soak your cabbage before you can even start cooking this dish, but it is so worth it.  Avenue B’s Chef Bonfili came up with this recipe, which is a nod to the Polish heritage of Pittsburgh.  As you take a bite, you are bombarded with so many different flavors.  It is Polish comfort food at its best.  Enjoy!



1/2 head green cabbage

1 pound elbow macaroni

6 strips bacon, chopped

1/2 large Spanish onion, diced

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 pound Kielbasa, sliced into 1/4 inch slices

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1/2 cup Sharp Cheddar, shredded

1/8 cup Tabasco (If you don’t like spicy food, this is a lot of Tabasco.  Tone it down a little if you must, but don’t remove it totally.)

1 1/2 teaspoon honey

salt and pepper


1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, snipped

3 green onions, sliced



1. Dice cabbage and soak in cold water for 3 hours.


2. Preheat oven to 350°F .

3. Cook elbow macaroni until al dente, drain.

4. Spray a large skillet with Pam and saute sliced Kielbasa until the edges are blistered.  Remove Kielbasa.


5. Cook bacon in the large skillet til done, remove bacon but leave the fat in the skillet.

6. Saute onions in the bacon fat until they are translucent.  Drain the cabbage and add it to the skillet.  Stir.


7. Mix together the vinegar and sugar.  Add the mixture to the skillet, stir,  and reduce the heat.  Cover the skillet and cook on low until the cabbage is tender.


8. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, Kielbasa, bacon, braised cabbage, cream, cheeses, tabasco and honey.  Stir until thoroughly mixed.  Season with salt and pepper and mix again.

9. Spray a large casserole dish with Pam and transfer the mixture into it.  Cover the dish with foil and bake @ 350 degrees for 30 minutes.


10. Mix Panko breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, and green onions together in a small bowl.

11. Remove foil from pan after 30 minutes and sprinkle Panko mixture over top of casserole.  Bake uncovered until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.


Countdown to Football Season


Back, Back, Back, Back Ribs by Chris Berman and Texas Caviar by Gale Sayers

Adapted from The NFL Family Cookbook, published by SMITHMARK Publishers, New York, NY

Well it is finally here, that time of year that all of us sports fans live for, football season.  College football kicks off next week, and the NFL kicks off the week after that.  Whether you are tailgating, watching a game with friends, or screaming at the tv with 100 other patrons in a sports bar, one thing is for sure…there will be food.


If you are planning a football party, know this; there must be food before the game, snacks for during the game, something special brought out at half time, and a little dessert to nibble on throughout the day.  I always try to make as much food ahead of time as possible and have Mark operate the grill so that I’m free to watch all the pre-game stuff, and visit with the guests.


Two of the following recipes come from The NFL Family Cookbook.  The first recipe is Back, Back, Back, Back Ribs from Chris Berman, the humorous ESPN sportscaster who is so well-known for giving the players funny nicknames in his broadcasts.  The second recipe is Texas Caviar from the legendary NFL Hall of Fame Running Back, Gale Sayers.


Ribs and Brats, along with the Pasta Salad are great for eating before the game.  Texas Caviar with tortilla chips can be munched on all during the game, along with a veggie tray that includes your favorite dip.  Make some Chili in a crock pot and have all the fixin’s (shredded cheese, chopped onion, crackers, macaroni, etc.) ready before the game starts, then at halftime you can serve a great Chili Bar with very little effort.  Peanut Butter Cookies and Buckeyes are yummy at any time and will be gone before you know it, so make extras.  Here’s hoping your team has a great season…and Go Bucs!  Enjoy!


Football Party Menu

  • Ribs
  • Brats
  • Pasta Salad
  • Halftime Chili Bar
  • Texas Caviar
  • Veggie Tray
  • Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Buckeyes



Baby Back Ribs Ingredients

6 pounds baby back pork ribs (each rack is about 3 pounds)

32 oz. ketchup

1/3 onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 Tablespoon Liquid Smoke

1 Tablespoon Louisiana pepper sauce



1. Set up your gas grill for indirect cooking with the setting on low.  Cook the racks of ribs for about 2 1/2 hours.

2. After 1 1/2 hours prepare the BBQ sauce. Bring the sauce to a low boil and then simmer for about 1 hour.


3.  Brush the BBQ sauce on the ribs and cook over a medium, direct heat for about 5 minutes. Flip the ribs, brush on some more BBQ sauce, and cook on the other side over the direct heat for about 5 minutes or until the ribs are browned to your liking.  Keep basting the ribs with sauce and move them to the back of the grill ( indirect) if necessary to allow the sauce to cook in to the ribs.



Texas Caviar Ingredients

2-14 oz. cans black-eyed peas, drained

1 -15 oz. can white hominy, drained

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

4 green onions, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (I used the tame jalapenos)

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped or snipped (cilantro would work well in this recipe, too)

1 8 oz. bottle Italian dressing



1. In a large bowl, combine the black-eyed peas and hominy.


2. Add the tomatoes, green onions, and garlic.  Mix well.

3. Add the green pepper and jalapeno peppers, onion and parsley (or cilantro).  Toss well.


4. Pour the salad dressing over the vegetables and toss gently to coat well.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.


5. Drain, and serve with tortilla chips.

Nona’s Pasta


Recipe is courtesy of Kale, by Stephanie Pedersen

Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.  387 Park Avenue South, New York, N.Y. 10016

A few years ago I was asked to be part of a blog tour featuring a book about kale.  I love to cook and I love vegetables, but up to that point in my life I had never tasted kale.  After reading the book, and realizing how many nutrients are in the kale leaf, I wondered where it had been all my life.  Here are some handy tips from the author:

  • Buy dark, leafy greens that are still springy and moist, with no yellow spots.
  • Once home, wrap the kale in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator crisper drawer for no more than 5 days.
  • DO NOT WASH the kale until you are ready to use it.
  • De-rib the kale with your hands (you won’t need a knife) before cooking or eating.
  • For maximum health benefits, eat kale at least 3 times per week, 1-2 cups at a time.
  • Kale can be eaten steamed, pureed, baked, fried, boiled, sautéed, blanched, raw, etc.  However, if you have issues with gall stones, or kidney stones, limit your intake of raw or cooked kale to 1-2 servings per week (the oxalic acid in kale can crystallize in the gall bladder and kidneys).


Kale is considered a superfood because it contains Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, K, and folate, insoluble fiber, protein, glucosinolates, anti-inflammatory flavonoids, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, chlorophyll, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and tryptophan.  What does all that mean?  Well according to the author, kale provides the following benefits:

  • Makes your skin look great (Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, Vitamins A, C, and E).
  • Provides sustained energy and increased physical stamina (Omega-3 fatty acids).
  • Helps joints feel better and helps you heal quicker between workouts (Vitamin K, Omega-3 fatty acids, anti-inflammatory flavonoids).
  • Makes you feel full (fiber).
  • Improves eyesight (high beta-carotene content).
  • Improves immune system functions (antioxidants).
  • Helps prevent and heal heart conditions, high cholesterol, cancer, and diseases of the gall bladder and liver (numerous nutrients).

We are pasta lovers and so I thought this was the best chance I’d have at introducing kale to the family.  Turns out that Danielle and I love it, Bobby will tolerate it, and Mark will eat it if it’s in something (Sausage and Kale Soup) and does not dominate the flavor profile. Enjoy!



2 cups cooked lentils ( use the French Green Lentils, they taste better)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced ( I used 4 cloves)

1 bunch kale, deribbed, blanched, squeezed dry, and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 pound dried elbow or ditalini or other short tubular pasta, cooked until al dente ( I used mini bow tie pasta, and I only used 1/2 pound)


grated Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese to sprinkle on top

salt and pepper, to taste

red pepper flakes




de-ribbed kale


blanched and squeezed kale- it shrinks quite a bit


1. In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, warm olive oil until hot but not smoking.  Saute onion and garlic, stirring, for about 1 minute.  Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally (near the end especially), until the onions are soft and golden, about 20 minutes.  If using red pepper flakes, add those in now.  Remove lid and increase heat to moderate, then cook, stirring frequently, until onion is golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes more.


2. Add all remaining ingredients, stir,  and increase heat to high.  Cover pan and allow to cook for 1 minute.


3. Season with salt and pepper.  After dishing up the pasta, sprinkle grated Parmegiano-Reggiano on top.

Bobby’s Going-Away Party


Our son is a member of the United States Air Force.  He recently re-enlisted (on my birthday) for four more years.  We are so very proud of him and the path he has carved out for himself.  Four years ago I wrote the blog post for his going away party on a now defunct website.  In honor of Bobby and his renewed commitment to serving our country, I’m publishing the original blog post again.  Enjoy!


August 2011

I knew from the very beginning that part of my job, as a parent, was to nurture and assist our kiddos in their maturation process.  I also understood that eventually leaving the nest for good was the ultimate goal.  Sending two confident, responsible adults out into the world was how I had planned it from the very beginning.  What I failed to take into consideration was how hard it was going to be to let them go.  Danielle is gone, but only an hour away, and she comes home to smooze me when she or I need a little Mom and Daughter time.  Bobby, on the other hand,  is leaving us for good to begin a career in the Air Force.

I suppose if he had caused a lot of trouble, this would be easier, but he has been a great kid.  Bobby has a bubbly personality and enjoys being the life of the party.  Every day he cracks me up with his take on life, we follow sports together fanatically, and there’s never a dull moment when he is around.  I’m really going to miss him and I’m struggling with my emotions as the time for him to leave draws near.

In eight days we will go to Columbus and watch as our son swears his allegiance to the United States and commits to a life of serving his country.  He enters the Air Force following in the footsteps of his Mother and Father, a new generation carrying on the family business, and I’ve never been prouder of him.

Bobby wanted a burger and dog cook-out.  We were so fortunate that the weather held out, all week they were predicting rain (I did say a little prayer for that).  I made a lot of Bobby’s favorite side dishes and desserts; Snickerdoodles, Pasta Salad, Black-Eyed Pea Salsa, 7 Layer Dip, Brownies, fresh fruit, fresh veggies with Ranch dip, and these light-as-air cupcakes.  I got the recipe from one of my favorite websites, King Arthur Flour.  They were quick to put together and very tasty for a white cake.








Tender White Cake is courtesy of King Arthur Flour


2 3/4 cups KAF Cake Flour Blend

1 2/3 cups sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoons salt

3/4 cups butter, softened

4 large egg whites, plus 1 whole egg

1 cup full fat vanilla yogurt or 1 cup whole milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract ( I used 2 teaspoons Princess Cake and Cookie Bakery Emulsion instead of almond extract)



1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place cupcake papers in pans, set aside.

2. Mix all dry ingredients on low-speed of mixer, to blend well.  Add soft butter, mix until evenly crumbly, like fine damp sand.

3. Add egg whites, one at a time, then whole egg, beating well after each addition.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt (or milk) with vanilla and almond extracts ( and/or bakery emulsion).  Add this mixture, 1/3 at a time, to the batter.  Beat 1-2 minutes after each addition.

5. Scoop or pour batter into cupcake papers and bake 18-20 minutes.  Makes 20-24 cupcakes.

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes


recipe adapted from Pasta Con Pomodori Ciliegino (Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes) by Arianna Perkins and Pandy Reed

We were very fortunate to spend time overseas as a military family.  Not only did we get to immerse ourselves in the people and culture of the country we were in, we also met many people from other countries than the one we were stationed in.

One such lady was from Italy and she taught a cooking class to our Hilltop Coffee Group at Misawa, Japan.  Arianna Perkins and her Italian friend, Pandy, demonstrated 3 quick pasta dishes; simple meals for eating on an average weekday.  The most interesting thing I learned from the cooking class was the difference between what we as Americans consider Italian food, versus the way real Italian people cook.  Arianna explained that the food is made simpler in Italy, but always with fresh ingredients.  The recipes that the ladies made (and we all had the privilege to eat) all had pasta, vegetables, very little garlic or seasonings (usually just torn fresh basil), and none of the pasta was floating in a red sauce.  Arianna also told us that in Italy, dessert usually consisted of fresh fruit.

This new-found information didn’t make me want to run home and throw out the can of Parmesan cheese I had in the fridge, but it did make me want to start using more fresh ingredients.  Whenever possible, I do prefer to use fresh basil, real parmesan cheese, etc., there really is a big difference in the taste.  Enjoy!



1 pound spaghetti ( I prefer the Barilla Piccolini mini Farfalle)

grated parmesan cheese

40-50 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 garlic clove, halved (I use 3 garlic cloves, minced)

6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 Tablespoons plain breadcrumbs (I grated a hard french baguette)

4 basil leaves, torn (I used dried basil, but fresh basil is soooo much better)


red pepper flakes (I used a big, fat pinch)




1. In a frying pan, warm the olive oil and lightly saute the garlic.  Add the cherry tomatoes, salt and red pepper flakes (if using dried basil, add it in now).  Cover the frying pan and cook over a medium-high heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, being careful not to crush the tomatoes.  If using fresh basil, add it in at the end of the cooking time.


2. Warm the plain breadcrumbs in a little pan until they are lightly toasted.  Remove from heat.

3. Boil the pasta until al dente.  Drain the water, reserving about 1/2 cup for later use.


4. Add the drained pasta and the toasted breadcrumbs to the cherry tomatoes in the frying pan.  Cook gently for a minute or so, stirring to mix the sauce, tomatoes, breadcrumbs and pasta.  Add some of the pasta water to the mix if necessary (to keep the pasta from being too dry).  Serve immediately with parmesan cheese.