Pasta with Creamy Greens and Chicken Sausage

I’ve been making a real effort to find creative and tasty ways to eat more greens.  Smoothies only satisfy once a day, so it was time to get serious about incorporating more leafy greens into things other than a salad or juices.

Pasta is one of my favorite canvases.  I took a look inside my pantry and refrigerator last night and went to work.

Get out a food processor, and put on a pot of water.  This dish will satisfy served piping hot for dinner…or cold or room temp for lunch or a side dish.


Pasta with Creamy Greens and Chicken Sausage

2 Large clove garlic

4 c.  Loosely packed fresh spinach

4 c.  Loosely packed fresh kale, chopped

8 oz. (or 1/2 c.) cream cheese, softened

4 oz. (or 1/4 c.) goat cheese, softened

Salt and pepper to taste (1 t. Salt, 1/2 t. Pepper)

16 oz. Short pasta (like penne, rigatoni or rotini)

4 links chicken sausage (I used Parmesan Chicken Sausage from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market)

1/4 c. Grated Parmesean

1 tomato, sliced and 1 T. Chopped parsley (for garnish)

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta al dente.  Heat a grill pan or frying pan and prepare the sausage until it’s browned on the outside and cooked through.  Combine the rest of the ingredients (except for grated cheese, tomatoes and parsley) in a food processor or a blender, like a Vitamix. Blend until smooth, then taste to adjust seasoning.  Drain pasta and reserve about a 1/2 cup of the pasta water to loosen the sauce later, if necessary.  Slice the sausage into bite sized pieces.  Transfer pasta to a serving bowl and add greens mixture and sliced sausage.  Stir until until everything is combined.  Top with tomatoes, grated cheese and parsley.

Serves four.  If you’re using the new Vitamix Ascent, your should double the recipe for the volume minimum.  Sauce will keep for about a week  or your can freeze the extra.

I am always looking for better ways to eat, or drink, my greens.  I’ve shared my newest secret…what are yours? 

 

Working Mom Gourmet: Weeknight Dinner Solutions

Now that the school supplies are purchased and orientations under our belts, it’s time to settle into to this school year’s weekday routine. And for most people that means juggling carpools, sports practices and games, piano lessons and lots of homework. Oh yeah, you gotta squeeze in dinner somewhere too.

Resist the urge to hit the drive thru, order take out or give in to expensive pre-made or frozen dinners. We almost never do any of those things in my house and I am a pretty busy gal. My friends are convinced I’m a vampire because of all I manage to get accomplished.

A couple of followers have asked for my suggestions for easy weeknight meals with little prep or cook time.  Happy to share!

pesto.jpg

Presto, pesto!  Make a batch now, while the basil is abundant and fresh. Freeze it in ice cube trays or small containers for use when you need it.

Pasta is the obvious pairing with pesto. Choose a quick cooking pasta like angel hair to get dinner on the table faster.  Add the pesto to cooked pasta with olive oil, and toss, and you’re in business.

Grill some chicken ahead of time, or add in some quick cooking shrimp for a protein add-in for the pasta. For a creamy option, add a tablespoon or cream cheese or goat cheese to the pesto mixture. So delish!   If you’re over (or off) pasta, pesto is GREAT on zucchini noodles. Or you can also spread it or chicken, fish or shrimp too, for an herbaceous baked protein.

See below for my go-to basil pesto recipe (I use almonds instead of pine nuts because those are too expensive, plus I always have this super food around). I also like to mix it up and use walnuts for a variety, and I often make parsley, mint or cilantro pesto which is incredible on fish.

For a dinner that’s super kid friendly and fun for both them and adults, try my walking turkey Frito pie. (see previous post, A Portable Picnic, for this recipe)  You can always chop your veggies and cook the rice for build-your-own stir fry bowls the night before. 

Or mix up fresh pizza dough in the morning or the night before (so cheap to make and uses so few ingredients). The dough will be perfect by dinner time.  I use Leanne Brown’s recipe from her book, Good and Cheap.  Getting the kids involved in topping their own pizza always ensures they’re more likely to eat it!  It’s not rocket science, but it is science.  It’s proven!!  Crank up your oven to 500 and that ‘za will be ready in 10 minutes.

pizza

Cut down on cook time for family-friendly favorites like meatloaf, tuna noodle and broccoli, cheese and rice casseroles, pot pie or baked mac n cheese, by portioning them out into ramekins, or cupcake tins. Adults can control their portions better and cook time is cut in half! My kids always get a kick out of eating things “just their size” too.

For tonight’s dinner, I sneaked in some finely chopped zucchini and kale into mini meatloaves for a helping of greens that my children (and husband) won’t even know they are eating. Pillsbury has a really easy crescent roll mini pot pie recipe that I like, too.

Another favorite among my kids is carrot soup. It’s colorful, sweet and savory. Plus it keeps well so you can make all, or portions of it, ahead of time. I usually make it on the stove top with lots of fresh shaved ginger. But I had a bunch of HUGE carrots and some red/yellow peppers from the farmers market so I decided to roast them!  (recipe follows)

If you’re a fan of Mexican food, make baked taquitos.  I like to mix up shredded leftover chicken, cheese, rice and/or beans, and any veggies I have hanging around.  Put a spoonful of the mixture in a tortilla and roll them up tightly.  Place them in a baking pan seam side down and bake at 350 until they’re just barely browned. It’ll take no time at all!  You can dip them in salsa, guac or sour cream. Great way to use leftovers and not repeat taco night!

I always feel better when we have dinner together, especially one that I made myself.  And when it doesn’t take me all night, I’m happy.  We all know, when mama’s happy….

Roasted Carrot and Pepper Soup:

3 large carrots, peeled
1/4 of a red onion
1/2 a red or yellow pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled
3-4 sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Salt/pepper
1 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
Heavy cream or half and half (optional)

Cut the veggies into similar sized pieces, about one inch chunks so they will roar evenly.
Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat oven to 400*.
Drizzle veggies, and garlic in olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss to coat. Spread evenly on the baking sheet and roast for 30 min.

This can be done ahead of time. And if you double the portion, use the half roasted veggies for a side dish today, use the rest for soup tomorrow!

Place the roasted veggies in a blender with 1 1/2 c. broth (chicle or vegetable). Blend until smooth.

Put the soup in a sauce pot and cook a little longer to thicken. Add salt and pepper if needed. Add a tablespoon of heavy cream or half and half of you want a more creamy consistency.

Basil Pesto:

1/2 c. Pine nuts (pignoli) or almonds
2 c. Loosely packed fresh basil
1 Clove of garlic
1/3 c Parmesan cheese (or Romano)
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste (careful with the salt as the cheese is salty already)
1/2 c. Of olive oil

Add the nuts to the food processor first. Blend until they are crumbs.
Add everything else but the oil. Turn on the processor and slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste and adjust (you add more of anything you like to find the perfect balance)

The Feast!

I spent most of Sunday with a glass of homemade wine in my hand, and sat at an old kitchen table stuffing “Aunt Sue’s” hand made cannoli.  That can only mean one thing-time for The Feast of the Assumption.  It’s a holy day marking Mary’s ascension into heaven.  And for Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, it’s the busiest week of the year.  Marrying food, faith, family and heritage.  For me, it’s a can’t miss event.

This year we returned to the house that belongs to my future sis-in-law’s great Aunt Sue.  The 90 year old cooks enough to feed an army, and opens her home, adjacent to Holy Rosary Church (the center of the celebration), to dozens of people…whether or not their last name ends in a vowel.  The home made spread was hearty and true to neighborhood.

Pizza, Cavatelli and meatballs, Eggplant Parmesan, Caprese salad, Stuffed Peppers, Breaded Chicken, Sausage, Pepperoni Rolls and Beef Braciole.

I sampled everything on the table, of course!  My kids went right for the meatballs.  But quickly moved on to all things sweet, most colorful of which was the layer cake made like the Italian flag.

When I was done with round one…after all, this is a marathon, not a sprint, I eagerly volunteered to help my Alisa fill her grandmother’s hand made cannoli shells.  She was so grateful for the help, she even shared the secret ingredient to her cannoli filling (Dream Whip)  and invited me back to do the same job on Christmas Eve.

It was time to walk off some of our feast and check out the rest of the action.  We walked through the carnival portion (with short detours for a Ferris Wheel ride, and obligatory gambling at the church…we’re Catholics, after all) then past the gauntlet of food stands and vendors all serving up the neighborhood’s best.  Sausage and peppers wrapped in pizza, steamed clams, Stromboli.  You could linger for the entire length of the four day festival and still not eat everything you can smell as you walk down Mayfield Road.

We stopped by the historic Alta House, a community center that once served as a place for Italian immigrants to get help with housing, employment and language skills.  Now it’s mostly a recreation center, including several bocce courts that played host to a coed tournament.  But before we could take off our belts, to help determine who was closest to the “pallin” (really spelled pallino)-common practice-it was time to head back to Aunt Sue’s for the private concert in Sue’s driveway, courtesy the Italian Band of Cleveland.

It was such a treat, not only to listen to this charming group, but also to watch generations of people enjoying it together.

 

I’m so pleased to have spend another weekend among good people, great food and strong traditions.  Buona Festa, everyone!

Food is love.  And love is food. 

If you’re like me, you like to show love with food. As Valentine’s Day draws near, I teamed up with someone I love, my friend Rachel from Roaring Acres, to create three lovely events aimed at showing those close to us just how much we care. Cozy up with your girlfriends for PJ Potluck, entertain your kiddos with a Valentine’s themed play date, or romance your honey with an enticing sweetheart’s brunch in bed.

lovely events pj potluck setup

Week nights can be exhausting. The idea of cooking for a crowd probably doesn’t appeal to many. Make a few easy things (some ahead of time) and ask your gal pals to contribute the rest, potluck style. Throw what you need in a silverware caddy and dish out sweets in small, portable portions. Trade work clothes for yoga pants, pop in a movie (or three) and indulge in some serious comfort food.  

Take movie night to the next level with tomato and truffle popcorn soup shooters. Saw this recipe in Food Network Magazine and had to give it a shot. I actually used half the recommended amount of truffle oil and found it to be just enough. Make the soup a day or two in advance, then just heat and serve. Garnish with popcorn and share the rest of the bag with easy-to-pass-around tins.

lovely event chocolate penne

I wanted to give local entrepreneurs some LOVE in this post by making an indulgent and (appropriately flavored) pasta dish using chocolate penne from the Little Lakewood Pasta Company.  Recipe follows. 

And I also LOVE friend and fellow TV news veteran, Tiffani Tucker’s, new Bundt cake business. Have a Slice mini heart-shaped cakes were the perfect complement for our Valentine’s Day dessert. She prepares five different flavors that could also double as favors.


Over the weekend, create a no-frills craft and healthy lunch. Served in the middle of the action, the kiddos can help themselves while they decorate cards for the local nursing home, or a children’s hospital. Dig up that heart-shaped cookie cutter and make sandwiches with strawberry jam and almond butter.
Since my little sweeties like to dip things, I roasted some red peppers and added it to homemade hummus, and provided a pile of sweet and crunchy sliced red and yellow peppers. Recipe follows.

For something to sip on that’s also good for the heart, I made smoothies in my daughters’ favorite color–purple. Toss in frozen berries, a banana, almond milk, and a generous splash of this vibrant fresh pressed juice from Restore Cold Pressed, made with raw and organic apples, beets, carrots and lemons. Use a fun glass so they can slurp them up happily.

Dessert doubles as a holiday-themed activity with decorate-your-own mini cupcakes.  More sprinkles ended up on the floor than on the cupcake display…but kids love to be involved in the fun.

lovely events brunch set up

And don’t forget to to treat your honey.  Create a beautiful brunch or breakfast in bed. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then deviled eggs are the fast lane.


Hard boil eggs and make the deviled filling the night before. (I add mayo, yellow and Dijon mustard, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and salt/pepper) Fill and top them on Valentine’s Day. I painted hearts with Sriracha, sprinkled capers on a second set, then used the remainder of my pancetta from my pot luck pasta recipe for a third variety.

lovely events breakfast stack

To satisfy meat eaters, make this impressive Breakfast Stack with sausage, cheese, sautéed veggies and potatoes. Recipe follows.  This can also be prepped ahead of time to allow for less labor and more snuggle time on this romantic day.

And for a decadent dessert, my go-to is a Chocolate Strawberry Panini, a recipe from my culinary crush, Giada De Laurentiis. I used my Panini press, but if you’ve got a Foreman Grill or a grill pan, those will do the trick too.


Skip the heart-themed setting and create a Valentine pink bubbly by dropping in a few Red Hots for color and just a hint of cinnamon flavor. Or brew up your love’s favorite blend, and finish it with the care and attention of a seasoned barista.

lovely event coffee

A trio of Valentine’s Day menus, delivered. My love to you all!!

Chocolate Penne: 1 lb. dried chocolate penne pasta, 1 jar prepared Alfredo sauce, or about 2 cups homemade, ½-1 c. asparagus, cut into bite sized pieces and blanched, 2-3 T. pancetta or bacon cut into 1 inch pieces, 1 Roma tomato, halved and sliced, pinch of nutmeg and cardamom (optional)

Cook pasta according to package directions, 7-10 min. In a sauté pan, fry up pancetta, then set aside. To the same pan, warm sauce and add nutmeg and cardamom. Toss the pasta in the sauce, and then add asparagus. Top with sliced fresh tomatoes and crispy pancetta.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: 1 red pepper, olive oil and salt, 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained, I lemon, juiced, 1 clove garlic, chopped, 1 T. parsley, chopped, ¼ t. sesame oil, ¼ c. water, ½ c. olive oil, salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425* Coat the red pepper generously with olive oil and salt. Roast in the oven until skin is slightly charred. Set aside to cool then peel the skin and remove seeds and stem. In a food processor, combine beans, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, sesame oil, water, salt/pepper and the red pepper (cut into strips).  Blend until smooth, gradually pouring in the olive oil.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Chill and serve.  

Breakfast Stack: ½ lb. breakfast sausage, ½ c. shredded cheddar cheese, 2 T. each, red and yellow bell peppers, 1 T. white onion, chopped, 1 small potato, shredded, 1 egg, beaten.

Preheat the oven to 350.* Brown the breakfast sausage and set aside. Shred the potato like hash browns and then wring out as much moisture as you can, with a cheese cloth or clean dish towel.  Season and pan fry until golden brown.  Set aside.  Combine chopped veggies, season and sauté until softened.  Generously coat a medium ramekin (about 10 oz. size) with cooking spray.  Sprinkle cheese on the bottom for the bottom layer.  Add a layer of sausage, then veggies, then potato.  Pour  in the beaten egg, making sure it filters through the layers. Finish with a final layer of cheese.  Bake 20-25 min.  Cover with a plate and flip to remove from ramekin and serve. 

Cut. Chop. Dice. Sharpening my knife Skills.

My New Year’s Resolution was to do more focused things to accomplish my food related goals.  Take classes, strengthen my network, identify my strong suits, learn, and sharpen my skills.  So what better way to kick off 2016 than with a Basic Knife Skills class?  (insert sound effect of knife sharpening) 

I’m fortunate to live very close to the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking and ICASI, or International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute.  The pair provide incredible resources for both the recreational cook and the professional chef.  I’ve attended several classes at the school before, but all were recipe based and themed, like “A Night in Tuscany,” “Phyllo Baking,” etc.  This time around it was more skills based, and I was eager to get after it.

knife skills carrot demo

Our class of about 15 was lead by Chef Tim McCoy, a guy who’s taught there for just as many years and who spoke about cutting his teeth at a Japanese restaurant.  Can you imagine how much cutting and dicing goes on in the prep kitchen of a place like that?  Instant credibility.

McCoy started with the bare bones basics, like how to stand when cutting (where to place your feet, and best posture) and of course, how to hold the knife.  Immediately I began to liken this process to golf, tweaking my stance, grip and follow through to better my game.  And that analogy stuck with me throughout the evening, as I fought years’ worth of muscle memory and tried to correct what I’d been doing wrong for years…sub-par grip and lack of follow through.

knife skills carrots

After a series of demos, McCoy tasked us students with cutting a couple of carrots-julienne cut, dice, brunoise, cube.  I moved my knife much slower that usual, while even holding the vegetables differently than I have my whole life, with that “claw” grip, so as not to expose my fingertips to potential cuts, but only my knuckles.  Chef McCoy quipped you can still cut your knuckles, but there are fewer nerves there and less blood.  Good takeaway.  I felt my middle finger start to blister and knew I was doing something wrong…adjusted and kept going.  The food nerd in me was excited about doing this right.  Finally. Speed, and consistency would come along eventually, right?

Next we moved on to dicing tomatoes, and learned the chiffonade, technique for leafy greens.  Then it was the skill that brought tears to many eyes in the room…dicing the dreaded onion.

knife skills onions

I watched my fellow students’ minds being blown…as they learned and applied the proper technique that will save them enormous amounts of time and aggravation in the kitchen.

When none of the veggies were whole any longer, we set about making dinner for ourselves, splitting up into teams to tackle five recipes that required us to apply our new knife skills.

My team prepared a crisp antipasto salad and a fresh angel hair pasta primavera.

The other students made a creamy garden vegetable chowder to start, plus a tender chicken cacciatore and mixed fruit mini strudel for a  sweet finish.

I left the class in a state of mind that I like-inspired.  Now, I’m ready to tackle a new year…and a pile full of onions too! #bringiton

Chef’s Table: Date Night at Flour

Old friends are the best.  Old friends, and good food…now that’s a great night!  My husband recently reconnected with a childhood friend (through a chance encounter I had with him during one of my cooking segment shoots).   They quickly caught up over the phone and decided to plan a night at the restaurant where he is a chef, Flour.  We scored the Chef’s Table on Saturday night so that we could chat up Brett and enjoy the incredible menu the place offers.  

Flour Salumi 

Seems only fitting in a restaurant labeled an “Italian Kitchen” that immediately after being seated, Brett greeted us with a stunning Salumi plate (complete with delectable selections like mortadella, coppa picante and salametto framani)

Flour cheese plate

And before we could even look at the menu, I was won over by the cheese plate that had fresh sliced turkey figs, Calabrian pecorino. langherino, humboldt fog and aged gouda.

Flour Allison and Andy

We had the pleasure of dining with another couple of old friends of the chef, Allison and Andy.  They too were ready to indulge in all that the menu offered, toast, taste and celebrate the success of their childhood buddy.

When I mentioned that we were coming to Flour, a friend who dines there often recommended one of the appetizers.

flour big a$$ meatball

“I have dreams about the Big A$$ Meatball at Flour,” she said

Didn’t take much to convince us.  We ordered a pair of these softball sized portions, which were placed on a rich whipped ricotta and topped with fried sage.  Heaven indeed.  We also tried the chorizo stuffed dates and a plate of mussels.

Flour Mussels

Since Brett is the self-proclaimed pizza master of the kitchen, we had to try one of the wood-fired pies that people rave about here.  Didn’t need to hem and haw about this choice…it was the potato carbonara for us and we were not disappointed.

Flour carbonara pizza

This killer pizza incorporates potatoes as part of the base beneath the aged provolone, egg and pancetta.  You’d think that was enough food…but once again our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we decided to order three entrees to share as well.  We went for the Mediterranean Branzini, a tagliatelle with a bolognese, and the show stopper, a lobster strozzapreti with pancetta, bone marrow and cream.

Flour Lobster Pasta

This was a noodle new to me, and worth every single calorie.  Just when we thought we were done, Brett brought out dessert, a cereal panna cotta, sweetened from Frosted Flakes!

We shared a couple bottles of wine, plenty of memories, more food than we should’ve eaten, and some good laughs.  That’s a good date night no matter what your taste in food, or friends!

The Feast! Food, Faith, Family. Little Italy’s Feast of the Assumption

I’m stuffed.  And so very happy.  The Feast of the Assumption is my favorite food festival of the year.  It’s the marquee event of Cleveland’s Little Italy.  

the feast-madonna

It is a sacred event, commemorating Mary being taken up to heaven.  But you kind of feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven when you stroll down the street, taking in the delicious atmosphere and mouth watering food.

The Feast-Murray Hill

I count down the days until The Feast every year.  If I was smart, I’d fast in the time leading up to it.  Instead, I psych myself up like a competitive eater at Coney Island on the 4th of July.  In the end, since I can’t really pack away as much food as I’d like…I prefer to graze and share…graze and share.  That way I can sample, and experience, as much as possible.

The Feast-pizza and sausage

I always start at the “church lady” stands adjacent to Holy Rosary Church, the focal point of the four day event.  Italian sausage wrapped in a slice of pizza (as a bun) and topped with peppers and onions.  That I won’t share!

The Feast-natalies pizza

My girls opted for simple and classic slices of cheese pizza…which they ate in between turns on the carnival rides behind the church.

The Feast-ride with natalie

For a second course, I like to share a couple dozen steamed clams dunked in drawn butter.

The Feast-clams

Usually we sit outside on a patio, listening to Italian music sung by the same trio of crooners and button box player who appear on the corner of Murray Hill and Mayfield Road every year.

The Feast-italian singers

But this year…we were also treated to something special.  My brother’s fiance and her family invited us to her Great Aunt Sue’s home, just a stone’s throw from the church at the center of all the action.  She cooks for two weeks leading up to this event.  Friends and family chatted outside, sipping generous pours of the family’s famous home made wine.

The Feast-home made wine

The fun surprise of the evening was when the The Italian Band of Cleveland came to play a private set for the guests congregating in Aunt Sue’s driveway. (a testament to her own commitment to the neighborhood, and stature among those who call it home)

The Feast-Italian bandThe Feast-TubaThe Feast-Italian tuba

Full yet? Nope! Next it’s on to cavatelli and meatballs.  By this time, my eyes are usually bigger than my stomach.  But I can’t leave without diving into a bowl of this classic.  My girls didn’t argue.

The Feast-julias cavatelli

If the timing is right, in between courses (or during) you can catch a couple of tunes from folk singers on the street, dance to music from DJs, or tap your feet to live bands in tents behind some of the restaurants on the block.

For several of the restaurants in Little Italy, The Feast represents their year of profits.  And estimated 100,000 people attend.  They go all in for the event.  Beer tents are up, bands are blasting crowd-pleasing anthems, meatballs are served by the thousands, and pasta sauce is simmering in pots big enough to swim in.

The Feast-bocce

At the end of the street, you can hear the distinctive sound of bocce balls colliding and slamming in to the wood-framed courts at the Alta House.

Teams of four encased in clouds of cigar smoke and Old-World Italian accents.  Drink it in.

Couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition of a statue of “The Madonna”  sitting solemnly in front of a rock band setting up on a ledge there.

The Feast-madonna at Alta House

Time for dessert.  Did you think we were done?  This I never falter on.  The sweet finish to this incredible feast must always be the tiramisu at Presti’s Bakery.  Of course there is cannoli, cassata cake and lemon ice at various booths.  But for me, dessert begins and ends with the best tiramisu in the city.

The Feast-tiramisu

I always leave The Feast of the Assumption full, in both stomach and spirit.  It makes me proud to be an Italian American and a Clevelander.  Mangia!