Baked Rigatoni

Baked Rigatoni

I go through stages with pasta. Sometimes I can’t get enough of it and others I can go for months without having any pasta at all. This spring was one of those times when I was on the pasta train headed toward the corner of noodles and cheese.

Yes I went there.

Anyway….

In March my sister broke her hip ice skating. My mom and dad just happened to be visiting at the time and my mom ended up staying with my sister to help out for a while. On the weekends Mom would come over to spend time with us to give her a little break. She joked that since we live in the mountains of Central Maryland that we were her “Camp David”. I joked back if we were then we needed an indoor pool. I’m not even sure if the actual Camp David has a pool, but when I dream I dream big. Why not?

When she was visiting I made a few things that I had wanted to try and this rigatoni had been simmering in the back of my head for quite a while. When I made it the first time I forgot to put the goat cheese in and it was good, but it was missing something. The next time I made it I added in goat cheese and it was perfect!

This is a relatively easy, hearty, comfort food dish that is fabulous with a side salad and some garlic bread. If you’re going to go pasta, why not go all out?

What You’ll Need:
1 – 16 ounce package of rigatoni, cooked
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small container of mushrooms, sliced
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 a large red onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (Note: You can use whatever color you like.)
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of dried basil
A generous pinch of sea salt
Finely ground black pepper
1 jar of marinara sauce
1 cup of ricotta
1 cup of finely grated Parmesan
16 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled
16 ounces of fresh mozzarella cut into small cubes
More mozzarella and Parmesan to top

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cook rigatoni according to package directions. Drain and set aside:

Baked Rigatoni: Rigatoni

In a large skillet over medium heat saute mushrooms, garlic, onion and bell pepper, with oregano, basil, sea salt and black pepper in a little extra virgin olive oil until tender:

Baked Rigatoni: Vegetables

In a very large bowl mix together pasta, vegetable mixture, marinara, cheeses and a little more salt and pepper until incorporated:

Baked Rigatoni: Ready for Baking Dish

Brush a large baking dish with olive oil and pour mixture in to the dish and then top with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan:

Baked Rigatoni: Ready to Bake

Bake covered in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes until hot and bubbly:

Baked Rigatoni: Baked

Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes: I like to take the covering off for the last 10 or 15 minutes of cooking. You could add meat if you wanted, but I prefer this without.

Creamy Egg Noodles with Vegetables

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies

Jamison and Alexis are big fans of pasta, lasagna and spaghetti to be exact, and to be honest while I like both, I get bored with eating the same thing over and over and over and over….Well you get the idea! So sometimes when they are eating one of those two I go out on a limb myself and make some sort of pasta. It’s easy to make a vegetable topping to go with any kind of pasta and it’s so much better than you standard fare!

The fun thing about this dish is that there are no wrong answers. You can add whatever appeals to you, you can switch around the herbs, you can use fresh vegetables, or even frozen, you can use egg noodles, spaghetti, penne, bow ties, etc. Did I mention there are no wrong answers with this? It’s the ultimate mix and match sort of dish!

Another fun thing about this is that you control what goes in to the dish even more than mentioned above. You don’t have to worry about preservatives, or weird chemicals that sometimes are present in prepared sauces. It’s a win, win all around!

What You’ll Need:
1/2 a package of egg noodles, cooked according to package directions and set aside
Extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cups of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1-2 cups of zucchini
1-2 cups of yellow squash
1 cup of baby Portabella or button mushrooms, sliced
1 onion chopped
2 teaspoons of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
A generous pinch of sea salt
Finely ground black pepper
1/4 a cup of heavy cream or half and half

Cook your egg noodles, drain and set aside:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Egg Noodles

While your egg noodles are cooking begin preparing your vegetables. I like to cut/chop the vegetables all at the same time and put them in a bowl.

First slice your tomatoes in half:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Tomatoes

Next chop your zucchini and squash and add them to the tomatoes:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Zucchini and Squash

Then slice your mushrooms and add them to the veggie mixture:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Mushrooms

And finally chop your onion and add to the bowl:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Onions

Once all the veggies are chopped get ready to add everything to a large pan:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Veggies, Herbs, Sea Salt and Pepper Ready to Go in the Pan

Add a thin layer of olive oil to a large pan over medium heat.

Then add the vegetables, herbs, salt and pepper:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Veggies Beginning to Cook

Cook the mixture, stirring often, until tomatoes start to fall apart and vegetables are just tender:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Ready for Cream

Next add heavy cream or half and half and cook for an additional five minutes:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Ready for Noodles

And then add the noodles and toss to coat and distribute the vegetables:

Creamy Egg Noodles With Veggies: Ready to Serve

The vegetables tend to stay on the bottom no matter how much you toss, so when serving make sure to “dig deep” with the spoon to make sure each serving has plenty of veggies.

Serve with a side salad and/or garlic bread. And if you’re really feeling crazy why not top it with a bit of shredded Parmesan cheese? ;oP

Notes: Sometimes I like to use rosemary and thyme. Red onions or shallots are particularly good in this sort of thing, but I was out of both when I made this. Peas are also a good addition. Like I said, mix and match it! That’s what dishes like this are all about!

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

I first had eggplant in college. Being a poor college student, when I went out with friends and they chose Olive Garden, I would often order the Eggplant Parmesan because at the time it was the cheapest main course on their menu. I wasn’t sure what I thought about eggplant at first and I never actually bought one and tried other things with them until a few years ago. I didn’t know what I was missing!

Eggplant is a really versatile little fruit, which most people call a vegetable, and is a very good source of fiber. You can use it in soups, in casseroles, in salads, pretty much any way you can think of. Eggplant Parmesan isn’t exactly an every day food, but it’s a really great treat from time to time!

Eggplant Parmesan does take a bit to put together, but it’s worth it and it isn’t difficult at all. You basically set up an assembly line and go! Plus it isn’t an exact science. You can use as much of the things that are in the dish as you want. You can make a big dish, or a small dish. It all depends on how many you’re feeding. Alexis loves helping with these sorts of things, so it’s a good dish to get the kids in the kitchen too and that’s always a good thing!

What You’ll Need:
1-2 large eggplants, sliced
2 cups of Panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of finely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of dried basil
3 eggs, beaten
Extra virgin olive oil
Marinara sauce (Note: I like Organic Newman’s Own Marinara sauce, but you could make your own if you wanted.)
Shredded mozzarella
Shredded Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Slice the eggplant into rounds and set aside:

Eggplant Parmesan: Eggplant

Next put the bread crumbs, salt, herbs and spices in a pie dish and stir to mix:

Eggplant Parmesan: Breading

Then add eggs to a separate pie dish and beat until mixed. Once the eggs are beaten set up your assemble line:

Eggplant Parmesan: Assembly Line Set Up and Ready to Go

Once the assembly line is set up you’re ready to bread!

First place a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of a large skillet and turn heat to medium. Let the oil heat up as you’re breading your eggplant.

Next take a slice of eggplant and dip both sides in to your beaten eggs:

Eggplant Parmesan: Egging

Now it’s time to dip the the egg covered eggplant into the breading mixture:

Eggplant Parmesan: Breading

Make sure both sides of the eggplant are covered with the breading mixture like this:

Eggplant Parmesan: Breaded and Ready to Fry

Now it’s time to start frying!

Continue breading your eggplant slices as the other slices that are ready are fried and repeat the process of breading until you run out of eggplant.

Place the eggplant slices in the skillet:

Eggplant Parmesan: Frying

And then brown both sides:

Eggplant Parmesan: Eggplant frying

Once browned on both sides remove from the skillet and drain on a few paper towels:

Eggplant Parmesan: Eggplant Draining

Continue frying until all of the eggplant is browned.

Now you’re ready to assemble the Eggplant Parmesan! I usually start doing this as the eggplants have drained, while I’m still frying the other pieces to speed the process along.

Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray or brush it with olive oil. Choose a baking dish based off of the amount of eggplant you’ve prepared. I used a medium sized dish for this batch.

Place a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the dish:

Eggplant Parmesan: First Layer

It’s OK to cut the eggplant in half to fill the corners if you need to.

Next a a little marinara:

Eggplant Parmesan: Middle Layer

Again it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just make sure most of the eggplant is covered.

Now you add a layer of Parmesan Cheese:

Eggplant Parmesan: First Layer

Continue this process until you get to the top of your dish:

Eggplant Parmesan: Last Layer

The top layer will be topped a bit differently. Add Parmesan AND mozzarella cheese:

Eggplant Parmesan: Ready to Bake

Place Eggplant Parmesan on a baking sheet and cover with foil. Bake in a preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove foil for the last 20 minutes of baking.

Eggplant Parmesan: Baked

Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving.

This is just perfect with a side salad and a slice of garlic bread.

Notes: I have wanted to try this process with Portabella mushrooms, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Remember you can make this as big or as small as you like.

Spinach Alfredo Lasagna

Spinach Alfredo Lasagna

I actually made this dish over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend when Jamison’s family was here. I normally make a gluten free lasagna with meat for the guys (or more aptly Jamison who only wants sauce, meat, cheese and noodles in his lasagna) and a vegetable variation for the girls or for anyone other that Jamison who is interested. Jamison’s mom has developed an intolerance to tomato sauce so this let me be able to experiment with other options…And you know how I love to experiment!! ;oP

I often see recipes that call for spinach in lasagna and I have to admit I wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea. I usually don’t pair spinach and tomato sauce. I don’t know why, but I’m just not that big of a fan of the combo. But it did make me start thinking it might be interesting to make a lasagna using an Alfredo sauce in place of the tomato sauce and I really liked the result. If you’re a fan of spinach and Alfredo then this is the lasagna for you!

What You’ll Need:
1 large package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 bottle of your favorite Alfredo sauce (Note: I have yet to experiment with making my own. I plan to, but just never seem to get around to it. Just look for a good bottled version, but be careful…Some of them have high fructose corn syrup in them! Why??? Alfredo isn’t supposed to be sweet!)
Uncooked lasagna noodles (Note: I like these because they are the perfect length for an 8 X 8 inch dish without having to break them! But any lasagna noodles will work.)
Mozzarella, shredded
Parmesan, shredded

Preheat oven to 375 F.

So basically you’re just doing you basic lasagna layering operation….

First spray or coat an 8 X 8 inch dish with non-stick spray or olive oil. Next add a layer of lasagna noodles. (Note: There is no need to cook them beforehand. They will cook as the lasagna does! The only time that I actually cook lasagna noodles is when the dish isn’t going to be baked immediately. Any type of lasagna noodle will cook while baking, the box doesn’t even have to say that they are “oven ready”!) Top with a thin layer of Alfredo sauce. Place a thin layer of spinach on top of the Alfredo and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. Repeat process until you run out of sauce/spinach or you reach the top of your baking dish. (Note: On the very top layer you just want mozzarella and Parmesan. Omit the spinach and Alfredo sauce.)

Spinach Alfredo Lasagna

Cover your dish with a lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes or until noodles stick done. Remove cover for the last 5-10 minutes to let it brown slightly. Take the dish out of the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes: It’s nearly impossible to get a decent picture of lasagna, but trust me this is delicious! You could also add in cooked onions and/or mushrooms along with the spinach if you liked. A layer of ricotta would be great too. I would add it directly to the noodles before the Alfredo layer.

Better Bites: Zucchini Lasagna

Vegetable "Lasagna"

First of let me just say that I’m not a fan of “low carb” anything and in fact I didn’t take the noodles out of this dish to make it that. To be completely honest when I hear the term “low-carb” I cringe. Any “diet” (also another word I’m not that fond of…Focus on healthy eating not starving yourself to death on some “diet”!) that tells you it’s ok to eat a slice of fatty bacon over an apple has more than a few issues! All things in moderation and if you want a piece of bacon, then plan for it, but all of that to say I can’t tell you the carb content of the dish…I could figure it out if I wanted to, but I won’t. I can however tell you my way of thinking…I believe in good carbs (whole grains, vegetables, fruits) versus bad carbs (refined sugars, flours, etc.). In fact you can make a perfectly healthy pasta dish using whole grain pastas just as easily, but I thought it would be fun to shake things up a bit.

Second, let’s touch on the subject of dairy. Most fat free dairy is just nasty. It tastes like cardboard. The exceptions to this are skim milk, ricotta and some cottage cheeses. Low-fat dairy on the other hand isn’t half bad and in some cases you can’t even tell the difference. It’s still something you want to use in moderation, but then again the key to these sort of things to begin with is moderation.

This dish pairs low-fat dairy, with zucchini to take lasagna to a whole new level. Who says you can’t have “lasagna” when you’re trying to eat right? This is just the dish for you!

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What You’ll Need:
1 – 16 or 18 ounce jar of marinara sauce (Note: Read the label. You want something that is made of tomatoes, perhaps some garlic and some herbs. If it has sugar, or god forbid high fructose corn syrup, put it back!)
3-4 large zucchini, cut in half and then cut into long slices roughly 1/4 of an inch thick
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of sliced mushrooms (Note: I usually slice them myself, but you can buy them sliced if you like.)
1 red onion, chopped
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 a small container of fat-free ricotta
8 ounces of part skim mozzarella, shredded or sliced thing (Note: I buy a 16 ounce package and cut it in half and then shred or slice thin. Lately I’ve been slicing it.)
6 ounces of freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Vegetable "Lasagna": Vegetables

In a large skillet sauté mushrooms, onion and garlic in extra virgin olive oil with a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

(Note: This next step you can follow as written, BUT the next time I make this I am going to roast the zucchini FIRST. When you cook zucchini, as with most vegetables, they let off moisture, so it made the dish a bit most overall. It won’t affect taste, but for presentation value it would be nice to roast it first. To do that you would simply pan “fry” or roast in the oven until tender and then cut the cooking time for the “lasagna” to 15-20 minute to just heat through and cheese is melted.)

Now to assemble the “lasagna”…

Spray an 8 X 8 inch dish with non-stick spray or brush it with olive oil. Layer it with a single layer of zucchini slices:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for Ricotta

Next add some ricotta:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for Marinara

Then a layer of marinara:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for Vegetables

Next add the sautéed vegetables:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for Cheese

Next add a little mozzarella and Parmesan:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready for the Next Layer

Repeat this process two more times and the top the top of the “lasagna” with the remaining cheese:

Vegetable "Lasagna": Ready to Bake

(Note: I like to go sparingly on the Parmesan on the in between layers and put the majority of it on the top.)

Bake covered for 35-40 minutes if you didn’t cook the zucchini first or 15-20 if you did. In the last five minutes of cooking take off the cover so it can brown slightly. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes: You could add in herbs if you like, but the marinara sauce that I used was nicely herbed to start with. You could also make your own sauce. As with anything, even though this is lighter than the original dish, it’s still something to be eaten in moderation, but it’s much lighter than other versions! This is also gluten free.

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Lasagna

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Lasagna

As we progress on Jamison’s gluten free journey we often come back to pre-Celiac favorites such as pasta. We finally found some spaghetti noodles that are very good in terms of gluten free products, but at first I wasn’t able to find any gluten free lasagna noodles in stores locally. Finally however My Organic Market started carrying a rice lasagna noodle from DeBoles that really is comparable to a version made with wheat! With this discovery lasagna was back on the menu!

Jamison and Alexis LOVE pasta. Seriously, they could eat it at every meal! While I like pasta too, I would tend to be this way more with Mexican food than Italian, but that is neither here nor there. This past weekend Alexis and Jamison both had asked for lasagna and I had fully intended to make it for them, but we had a crazy/busy weekend (which I might add hasn’t seemed to stop!) so it just never happened.

On Saturday the day slowly got away from us as we did things that needed to be done and ran errands. Soon it was time for dinner and there wasn’t time to put together lasagna so I bumped it to Sunday. On Sunday I ended up spending the majority of the day lesson planning and getting things ready for this week’s classes. Dinner time rolled around and again no time for lasagna. On Monday I was determined we were actually going to have lasagna for dinner even if I had to get creative!

For a while now I’ve wanted to try to make lasagna in the slow cooker, but I just had never gotten around to actually trying it out. When Alexis and I ventured back down stairs from the school room for lunch on Monday I decided this would be the perfect time to test out my theory!

What I ended up making was gluten and dairy free, but given it was for Jamison it did have ground beef, but you could just as easily make it a vegetable version as well. The lasagna turned out perfectly! If you haven’t tried this method I highly recommend giving it a whirl…I think you’d be impressed!

What You’ll Need:
Gluten Free Lasagna noodles (Note: You can use any type of lasagna noodle that you want if gluten is not an issue for you. If I were making this for Alexis and I alone I would use whole wheat.)
A large jar of spaghetti sauce (Note: Again this is up to you. Jamison is extremely picky as I’ve mentioned before so I use Ragu Traditional Organic sauce, but any type of sauce will work. I like some of the other organic sauces that are heavy on garlic and/or mushrooms.)
Rice mozzarella, shredded (Note: I used a block of this type of cheese. Again had I been making this for Alexis and I would have used regular mozzarella, some Parmesan and perhaps some goat cheese. What you use is up to you.)
1 pound beef, cooked and crumbled (optional)

Spray the bowl of your slow cooker with non-stick spray or brush it with olive oil. I didn’t do this, but next time I will. It wasn’t a huge issue, but there was some sticking.

Next you use your basic layering process that you would use for regular lasagna. I didn’t get a picture of the layering of the noodles, but just put a layer of noodles in the bottom of your slow cooker. Don’t worry if they aren’t whole or anything, just make sure the bottom is covered and if you have to break them up that’s ok too!

Next add a layer of ground beef:

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Lasagna: Second Layer

(Note: You could also use ground turkey or if you wanted a completely meat free option you could add in textured vegetable or soy protein. You could also add onions, mushrooms and peppers if you liked.)

Next add a layer of sauce:

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Lasagna: Third Layer

If you wanted to get really creative you could make your own sauce using tomato sauce, some garlic, oregano, basil, etc.

Next top with a little cheese:

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Lasagna: Fourth Layer

Now keep repeating that process until you run out of sauce.

Next completely cover the top generously with cheese:

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Lasagna: Ready to Cook

Now place the lid on and cook for 3-4 hours on low and voilà you have lasagna for dinner!

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Lasagna

Dinner is served!

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Lasagna

Notes: I was really surprised how fast this cooked on low so watch it and make sure it doesn’t go too far!

Creamy Tomato Soup

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

Earlier today when Alexis and I were at the grocery store there was a heavenly smelling tomato basil soup near the salad bar. It was one of those smells that just screamed out “Eat me! Eat me!” So when I got my salad for dinner (which I didn’t end up eating and will eat for lunch tomorrow instead) I got some of the tomato soup for lunch since we were running behind schedule. We bustled home and I couldn’t wait to try the heavenly smelling soup! Unfortunately it smelled much better than it tasted as is often the problem with store bought items.

The first bite of the soup was sickeningly sweet. I was shocked by the sugar content in this soup! Then after you got over the sugar shock you were hit by a secondary spicy heat sensation that was disturbing in that it didn’t hit your tongue in the area that normally senses heat! It was just weird! I tried to eat a little bit of it to see if I could figure out what they had done to the soup, but I just couldn’t get over the weird sweet/hot flavor combination that sort of made you feel as if you had vertigo!

So as always my brain kicked into gear and I started thinking about how easy it would be to make a simple Creamy Tomato Basil Soup and I decided to test my idea and what do you know…It worked! And it was perfect with the No Knead Bread I made yesterday! It’s simple, fast and delicious! You can have Creamy Tomato Basil Soup on the table in under an hour!

What You’ll Need:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
2 large button mushrooms, chopped fine
2 baby portabella mushrooms, chopped fine
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons of dried basil
1 pinch of sea salt
1 pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 – 15 ounce cans of tomato sauce
1 – 6 ounce can of tomato paste
1 cup of cream

In a medium sized pot saute onion, mushrooms and garlic with basil, sea salt and black pepper until tender in a little olive oil.

Add tomato paste, tomato sauce and cream and stir until mixed.

Bring to a quick boil and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-minutes to an hour and serve.

Notes and Thoughts: Tomato sauce in and of itself is sort of sweet so I’m not sure why they thought they needed to put so much sugar into the soup. I’m all for letting nature do it’s thing and there was absolutely no need to ruin the entire soup by sugaring it up.

If you wanted you could add some red pepper flakes for a kick if you like that sort of thing.