Tag Archives: cheese

Valentine’s Day Soup & Sandwich.

I feel like tomato soup is just ideal for Valentine’s Day. If you’re not in Florida, where it hit 80 today, it’s still cold enough for soup in February. Plus, the soup is PINK! Could this be any more perfect? Yes, if you add a heart-shaped sandwich!

For our little family, I made a half recipe of this creamy tomato soup, with one tweak, & then served it with grilled cheese sandwiches on whole-wheat bread cut into heart shapes with a large cookie cutter. Comforting & delicious! (Oh, & lower in fat than a cream-based soup!)

Here’s how I made it:

  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 small clove garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 3 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped, plus additional leaves, chiffonade, for garnish
  • 3 oz. softened Neufchatel cheese
  • 3/4 cup skim milk
  • 1 can condensed tomato soup
  • 1 can (15 oz.) petite diced tomatoes, undrained
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion & garlic & saute about 2 minutes, until tender.
  2. Reduce heat to low & add paprika, basil, & cream cheese. Gradually stir in milk & soup & stir until smooth.
  3. Turn heat back up to medium & add tomatoes, stirring constantly & breaking up tomatoes further by squashing them with the back of a wooden spoon, until hot.
  4. Serve with heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches!

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Filed under Holidays, Recipes

Delicious potatoes au gratin.

Unlike my last recipe post, this is not resolution-friendly. At all. In all fairness, I did make this for Christmas dinner, before New Year’s Resolutions would have been made. If you’re like me & feel you can justify the extra calories because you’re growing a small human in your belly, go for it! It’s so worth it. If you did make a resolution to eat better, then maybe just pin it on Pinterest until a) you make it to your goal weight, or b) you do what I inevitably do & reneg on your resolution in mid-February.

This is a Pioneer Woman recipe, so when it says “serves 8,” it really means “serves 8 hungry cattle ranchers, or 27 cityfolk.” The recipe below is a half recipe, which our family of 3 ate for days afterwards. I also subbed half & half for her 3-to-1 cream-to-milk ratio for two reasons. First, it lightened it up just slightly. But mostly, that’s what I had on hand, because I had made this for Christmas breakfast.

  • 2 whole Russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 large clove or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup (or to taste) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Grease a small baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Cut potatoes into third- to half-inch slices, then cut each slice into fourths.
  3. In a smallish bowl, whisk together half & half, flour, garlic, salt, & pepper.
  4. Place half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, then cover with half of the half & half mixture. Then place the rest of the potatoes over the top & pour the rest of the half & half over the top.
  5. Cover with foil & bake for 30 minutes. Uncover & bake another 20 or until the potatoes are golden brown & fork-tender. Then sprinkle generously with cheese & bake another 5 minutes or until the cheese is nice & bubbly.

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Pasta salad a la you.

I LOVE pasta salad. LOVE it. A few weeks ago, I decided I needed to make a batch to snack on during the day, so I decided to poll some of my friends on Facebook: “Best pasta salad you’ve ever had. Ready… GO.” I loved all the variations they came up with! Pasta salad’s endless versatility is one of its many virtues.

My friend Mandy suggested penne, hard salami, mozzarella, & Bernstein Italian salad dressing.

Lauren said orzo, kalamata olives, feta, red pepper, cucumber, & a lemon/EVOO vinaigrette.

Joy submitted “penne mixed with pesto, spinach mixed with ranch/milk, feta, tomatoes, & olives.”

Momo flattered me by saying my pasta salad recipe was her favorite. Isn’t that nice of her?

Stephanie said “orzo with lemon, olive oil, garlic, parsley, and STUFF. Whatever veggies you have on hand. Various parts of animals! STUFF. And CHEESE, Gromit!”

Thanks to a weird olive allergy (just the whole olive, not olive oil…don’t ask) & fear of Listeria while pregnant, olives & deli meats (sorry Lauren & Mandy) were out. But Stephanie’s comment — combined with all the other delicious suggestions — got me thinking. Can you really go wrong with pasta salad? I submit that the answer is NO!

My “usual” pasta salad recipe — the one I bring to parties & barbecues — is generally rotini, Good Seasons Italian dressing mix, tomatoes, feta, & parsley. Maybe a little Italian seasoning sprinkled in. But guess what? I don’t like tomatoes! So this time, since it was just for me, I subbed in red peppers. This is how I made it… do it your own way!

  • 1 pkg. Ronzoni Garden Delight pasta
  • 1 packet Good Seasons Italian dressing mix, prepared according to the packet directions but with a little less water
  • diced red peppers
  • crumbled feta
  • parsley
  • Italian seasoning
  1. Prepare the pasta as directed, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking & cool it off.
  2. Meanwhile, marinate your red peppers (or whatever crunchy veggies you’re using, like onions) in the dressing for awhile to get rid of that “raw veggie” crunch. You may even want to do this an hour or two before you start with the pasta. This was a great tip from my friend Carolyn!
  3. When you’re ready, toss the pasta with the dressing mixture. Then toss in your other tasty “STUFF,” as Stephanie said, until it tastes perfect.

What’s your favorite pasta salad?


Filed under Recipes

Easy Funeral Potatoes.

Before I answer your question, “Funeral potatoes???” please let me draw your attention to the fact that — I actually cooked something!

(Let’s just hope that my cooking skills haven’t atrophied as much as my photography skills apparently have during the last month or so…)

Okay, so, funeral potatoes. They’re basically au gratin-style potatoes so named because of their prevalence at (well, after) Mormon funerals. I don’t really know why honeybaked ham & au gratin potatoes are the unofficial official food of Mormon funerals — & at Easter, now that I think of it… irony? — but they’re tasty, so that’s all that matters, right? Oh, & they’re easy. At least this recipe is. Which my I-haven’t-really-cooked-in-forever-&-I-may-need-to-run-to-the-bathroom-at-any-moment self is a big fan of.

There are a million different variations of this Mormon staple (in fact, there were no fewer than 4 different delicious varieties at a potluck I attended Saturday… which may explain my irrational craving for them all week…), but here’s a basic easy version my friend Chelsey shared with me from Cooks.com.

  • 1 pkg. (2 lbs.) frozen Southern-style (cubed, not shredded) hash browns, thawed
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (we use the reduced-fat kind to make up for the stick of butter)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream (again, reduced-fat, for the same reason)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Optional topping: 2 cups corn flakes plus 1/4 cup melted butter
  1. Let your kitchen helper help you mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.
  2. Optional: sprinkle on corn flakes & drizzle with melted butter.
  3. Spread into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.
  4. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

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Chicken enchiladas with red sauce.

So delicious & so easy!

A half recipe more than filled us up, but I’ll post the full recipe anyway. I got it from Better Homes & Gardens.

  • 4 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1 can (4 oz.) green chilies
  • 1 cup lowfat sour cream, plus more to serve with
  • 8 oz. shredded Mexican blend cheese, divided
  • 16 6-inch tortillas
  • 2 cans (10 oz. each) red enchilada sauce
  1. Preheat your oven to 375.
  2. In a large bowl, combine chicken, undrained chilies, sour cream, & 1 cup of the cheese.
  3. Spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Spoon chicken mixture down the center of a tortilla, roll up, & place, seam side down, in the bottom of the dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas & chicken mixture.
  4. Bake, covered, 20 minutes or until heated through.
  5. Remove from oven, remove foil, & sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake another 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.


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Filed under Recipes

Skinny Veggie Ziti.

It looks like I need to adjust my schedule slightly… I usually write my Monday-morning post on Saturday evening, but I just got called to teach the 3-year-olds at church — there are 8 of them & only 1 of me — so guess what I was doing Saturday night? How did it go? Well, let’s just say that I need to prepare more than I did last week. MUCH more.

So here I am, writing my Monday-morning post on Monday night. But it’s worth the wait, I promise!

Have you visited skinnytaste.com? If you haven’t, you definitely need to head over there & browse Gina’s recipes. She’s great at replicating the tastes of favorite meals & decadent desserts, but making them lowfat & better for you! She even includes Weight Watchers points values, for those of you who have the willpower to do that (I applaude you). This is her vegetarian baked ziti recipe. It’s low in fat, delicious (a huge hit with my whole family!), & makes a TON. So as always, I make a small pan (8×8) for now — we still had leftovers! — & freeze the rest for later.

But I’ve been running into a problem lately with my beloved foil pans: as you probably know, tomato sauce reacts with the aluminum, causing the entire dish to taste like you’re eating a can. No good! For tomato-based dishes like my stuffed shells, I had been lining the foil pan in parchment paper & then adding another layer of parchment on top before covering it with foil, but I just discovered something new & SO much easier!

Paper baking pans! I honestly can’t remember who makes them — Hefty, maybe — but I just know when I saw them at the grocery store I NEEDED THEM. They seal up so nicely with their own little lids too, don’t they? The only negative is that they don’t fit into my gallon freezer bags like the smaller foil ones did, so we’ll see how leftovers fare for extended periods in the freezer, but at least there’s no more metallic taste or parchment paper lining! Hooray!

Okay, now for what you really came here for: the recipe.

  • 1 package (usually they’re 14.5 oz.) high-fiber short pasta (we used Piccolini penne because they’re cheap at Costco)
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed & drained
  • 28 oz. crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil (I used 1 Tbsp. dried)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 8 oz. fat-free ricotta (I could only find part-skim, so I used that)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan
  • 2 cups (8-oz. pkg.) shredded part-skim mozzarella
  1. Preheat oven to 375. Spray baking dishes with cooking spray.
  2. Cook pasta as directed on package. Drain & return to pot.
  3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil on medium heat in a medium saucepan. Saute garlic until fragrant.
  4. Add spinach & tomatoes.
  5. Stir in oregano, basil, & salt & pepper.
  6. Pour sauce into the pot with the pasta & mix well. Add ricotta, Parmesan, & half of the mozzarella (1 cup). Mix well.
  7. Spread in bottom of prepared baking dishes. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Put extra dish in the freezer.
  8. Bake 27 minutes (for an 8×8 pan — 30 min. for a 9×13 if you’re not freezing leftovers) or until bubbly, cheese is melted, & edges are beginning to brown.

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Filed under Recipes

Cheesy Beefy Stuffed Shells.

Sorry, no Martha pictures yet… My friend Halley took all the photos (she’s a professional, so I knew they’d turn out better than if I took them), so when she gets them to me, you’ll be the first to know! But I will tell you that we showed up for the 999th show (missed the big 1000 by ONE DAY!) & Jason Priestly was the guest, if you’re looking for it on Hallmark Channel. More details to come later!

The following recipe is probably my most-requested by dinner guests. It’s also one of The Munchkin’s favorite dinners, if not her absolute favorite, & one of my husband’s favorites too.

Oddly enough, it came out of a Pillsbury cookbook mini-magazine — you know, the ones in the checkout aisle at the grocery store. (It happened to be the only worthwhile recipe in the whole $3.99 thing, but it was worth it.)

You see, when I was first married, I was the queen of semi-homemade. Not like Sandra Lee — I didn’t even know who she was back then — but as a full-time student, part-time employee, & new wife, my version of cooking a balanced meal was adding a chicken breast & some frozen broccoli to a box of Pasta-Roni. (I think we’re all glad those days are over.) Fortunately for everyone involved, this semi-homemade recipe has enough different flavors that it doesn’t taste like you opened a jar of this & a box of that & mixed it all together.

These shells freeze well, reheat well for leftovers, & are just a great comfort-food dish that looks like you put more work into it than you did! I also like taking it, unbaked, in foil pans, with cooking instructions, to new moms so they can just heat it up when they want.

  • 24+ jumbo pasta shells (in case of breakage, add a couple more. Also, some brands of “jumbo” shells are less “jumbo” than others. You may need as many as 30-32 if you’re shopping at, say, Kroger in, say, Indiana. Just saying.)
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 jar (26 oz.) chunky pasta sauce (I like the Ragu tomato & basil)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 container (8 oz.) chive & onion cream cheese spread
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, if desired
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Cook shells, as directed on package, to al dente. A couple minutes before they’re done, add a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Rinse shells with cold water & drain (you may need to do this a couple times) to stop cooking & make them cool enough to handle.
  2. While shells are cooking, brown ground beef in a skillet over medium-high heat. Season with a little garlic salt & Italian seasoning. Drain & let cool slightly.
  3. Pour a little of the pasta sauce (about down to the top of the label on the jar) into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. (I usually split the recipe in half, using a smaller dish for the half I’m making now & using foil cake pans for the half I’m freezing until later.) Add a little of the water & spread it evenly on the bottom of the dish. Add the rest of the water to the jar, screw the lid back on, & shake to incorporate.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine cheese spread, 1 cup of the mozzarella, the parmesan, egg, & cooked ground beef.
  5. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the mixture (I actually use a table spoon, like from your silverware set) into each shell & arrange the shells over the sauce in the baking dish. (This is the most time-consuming part.)
  6. Pour the remaining sauce over the shells, making sure to cover the shells completely.
  7. Cover with foil & bake 40 minutes or until bubbly & filling is set. Remove foil; sprinkle shells with remaining mozzarella. Bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with parsley if desired.

If you choose to freeze part of your batch, use the foil pans for easy cleanup, cover with foil, & put the whole thing in a freezer storage Ziploc bag. Store it flat in the freezer. The night before you’re planning on making it, put the whole thing, bag & all, into the fridge to defrost. Then bake as usual (you may need to add 5 minutes). The filling will be a little less firm than the fresh batch, but otherwise, it tastes the same & you only had to do the work once for two meals!


Filed under Recipes