Pasta Sauce

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Recipe courtesy of Elizabeth Levesque

Ingredients

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

sugar

sliced mushrooms, optional

chopped green peppers, optional

Directions

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

Ravioli-Lasagna-ingredients

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!

 

Ingredients

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

Pam

 

Directions

1. Spray the pans with Pam.

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

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

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4. Sprinkle the casserole with Mozzarella cheese.

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

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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.

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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

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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!

 

Ingredients

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

Topping

1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, snipped

3 green onions, sliced

 

Directions

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Nona’s Pasta

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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).

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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!

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Ingredients 

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)

Optional:

grated Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese to sprinkle on top

salt and pepper, to taste

red pepper flakes

 

Directions 

Nonas-Pasta-and-a-Cookbook-Giveaway-deribbed-kale

de-ribbed kale

Nonas-Pasta-and-a-Cookbook-Giveaway-blanched-and-squeezed-kale

blanched and squeezed kale- it shrinks quite a bit

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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.

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

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

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes

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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!

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Ingredients

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)

salt

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

Directions

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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.

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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.

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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.

Pasta Salad

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Recipe courtesy of Elizabeth Levesque

Pasta salad is our favorite comfort food.  Over the years I have made it about a zillion different ways and they were all yummy. To make pasta salad, you have to begin with pasta; Spiral pasta (fusilli) works well, as do bow-ties (farfalle), but this corkscrew pasta (cavatappi) caught my eye at the store so that is what I’ll be using this time. It is really important to only cook the pasta until it is just al dente.  There is nothing worse than mushy pasta in a pasta salad or just mushy pasta in general.

I add the cheeses in last, along with delicate things like the marinated artichokes. In the picture above I have just added the pasta to the meat and veggies.  Today’s pasta salad was an homage to an antipasto platter ( hard salami, mozzarella cheese, black olives, red peppers, marinated artichokes, etc.), but it is equally good made with grilled chicken and broccoli, ham chunks and pepper jack cheese, or tuna with cucumbers and halved cherry tomatoes.  The sky is the limit.  Plus, pasta salad is a great meal for the hot, hot, dog days of summer.  It can be prepared early (before it is too hot) and refrigerated.   If you add enough goodies it becomes a one dish meal, nice and easy for dinner.  Enjoy!

 

Ingredients

Pasta-Salad-cheese-and-meat

1 pound pasta of choice

veggies of choice;

artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, beans, mushrooms, olives (all kinds), onions (every type), fresh peas, peppers, squash, tomatoes (especially the grape and cherry tomatoes, halved), zucchini…

protein of choice;

grilled, fried, canned, baked, or leftover rotisserie chicken/ chunks of ham/ deli cold cuts (like hard salami), sliced/ tuna, crab, lobster, or other fish, flaked/leftovers of any kind-except maybe roast beef

cheese of choice;

Asiago, Cheddar, co-jack, pepper jack, swiss, mozzarella, etc.

Italian dressing of choice (we normally use Kraft Zesty Italian, but the marinated artichokes were in their own dressing and I just used it)

Parmesan cheese

 

Directions

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1. Cook the pasta al dente, drain, rinse it if you want, and cool.

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2. Chop all veggies, protein, and cheese.  Use your imagination to chop things in an interesting and appetizing way and not all the same (matchstick, slices, julienne, chunks, ,etc.)

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3. Put the chopped goodies in a big bowl, add the cooled pasta.  Add just enough dressing to keep the ingredients from sticking together.  Don’t go overboard, you don’t want your pasta salad floating in dressing.

4. Add parmesan cheese.  Start with about 1/2 cup and go from there ( I was a little heavy-handed with the parmesan cheese today).

5. Mix everything together and transfer mixture into a container for the fridge, or stand at the foot of the stairs and yell, “come and get it”

Meatless Lasagna

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Recipe courtesy of Elizabeth Levesque

We are not an Italian family, but we sure do eat our fair share of pasta.  Lasagna is one of my favorite dishes to make; it tastes better the next day (which means 1 day of cooking yields two meals), and if I make an extra pan and freeze it, one messy day actually yields four meals.  You’ll probably notice that the mushrooms are sliced quite large, that is because only half the family likes mushrooms.  It is easier to pick out big pieces of mushroom if you don’t care for them.  On the other hand, if you like mushrooms, then you get a real taste and not a tiny speck of mushroom.  I was in the mood for a fresh tasting lasagna, not a meat based sauce.  The mushrooms give the sauce an earthy, robust quality and you don’t miss the meat at all.  Enjoy!

Elizabeth’s Pasta Sauce

2-4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 pound mushrooms

3-4 nice cloves garlic

4 -15 oz. cans tomato sauce

1-60z. can tomato paste

sugar

granulated garlic (or garlic powder)

basil

oregano

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper

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Pasta Sauce Directions

1. Wipe off the mushrooms with a paper towel.  Trim the bottom of each stem and slice the mushrooms to the size you prefer.  Chop the onion.

2. Heat the olive oil.  Using a garlic press, press the cloves of garlic into the warm oil.  Stir and do not allow the garlic to stick or burn.  You want it to flavor the oil before you add the vegetables.

3. After about one minute, add the onion and mushrooms.  Stir to coat the vegetables.  Allow the vegetables to simmer on low for about 10 minutes, or til soft but not mushy or browned.

4. Add the tomato sauce and paste.  Add the seasonings.  Taste and add the sugar (start with a Tablespoon and taste until you get it where you would like it to be).  I typically add about 1/4 cup of sugar with a large pot of sauce.

5. Once you have everything in the pot, turn the heat up a little until you see it trying to boil.  Stir to keep it from sticking, turn the heat down and allow it to simmer for about 30 minutes.

 

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Meatless Lasagna Ingredients

12 lasagna noodles ( my pan fits 4 noodles across and 3 layers deep, but cook more if you need to)

about 15 oz ricotta cheese

about 24 oz. shredded mozzarella

1 cup parmesan cheese, divide in 2

pasta sauce-either homemade, or a large jar of Prego, Ragu, etc.

Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped or snipped

 

Lasagna Directions

1. Cook the lasagna noodles in a pot of boiling water for about 4 or 5 minutes.  You just want to cook them long enough to make them pliable, not done.  Drain and cool.  To keep them from sticking together, rinse with cold water so you don’t burn your fingers, then drape the noodles around the colander to allow them to drip and cool.

2. Mix the ricotta cheese with 1/2 cup of the divided parmesan cheese and parsley.

3. Spray your lasagna pan with Pam.  Use a soup ladle to place 2 or 3 large scoops of sauce in the lasagna pan.  Spread it out evenly.

4. Fill the pan with a row of  lasagna noodles, they can overlap a little, but don’t leave empty spaces.

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5. Spread the ricotta mixture in a thin layer across the noodles-I use a small off-set spatula for this.  You can find them in any Wilton cake decorating display.

6. Ladle on enough sauce to cover the ricotta mixture, again use the spatula to spread it all evenly.

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7. Sprinkle on mozzarella cheese to cover it all.  You have completed 1 layer.  Save some sauce for the end, then repeat this process two more times, ending with the saved sauce.  Sprinkle the last 1/2 cup of parmesan over it all.

8. Bake at 350°F. for about 45 minutes, or til very bubbly.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting.  Garnish each piece with fresh parsley.

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Mika

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Jasper

These are our furry babies, Mika and Jasper, enjoying a beautiful spring day.  They are Korean Jindos, we got them 14 years ago from PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving), a shelter at Misawa AB, Japan.  They are brother and sister from a litter of puppies that were thrown away in a box on the side of the road.