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Dinner Menu: Pasta with Marinated Vegetables and Bruschetta

Photo courtesy FoodNetwork

Photo courtesy FoodNetwork

Just finished giving the Beast a bath. He hasn’t been in the tub all summer because he loves sprinklers, his pool and my neighbor hosing him down. The first thing I noticed: he’s grown. I’ll post pictures later.

Keeping in the vegetarian theme, here is this week’s dinner menu.

On the board:

  1. Pasta w/ Marinated Vegetables
  2. Tomato & Olive Oil Bruschetta
  3. Grapes

Pasta w/Marinated Vegetables

  • 10 oz Rotini pasta
  • 1 tray ice cubes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small eggplant, peeled & chopped
  • 4 mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 zucchini, sliced
  • 10 to 12 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 6 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts
  • 1 red onion, sliced in rings
  • 2 oz black olives
  • 2 oz grated parmesan


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 oz fresh basil, minced
  • 1 tsp minced oregano leaves
  • 1 to 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Saucepan, skillet, bowl, serving bowl

Mix together dressing and refrigerate. In saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions, drain, rinse in cold water and toss with ice cubes. Set aside and let cubes melt. While pasta is cooking, in skillet, heat oil and sauté eggplant, mushrooms and zucchini until tender. Remove and cool in refrigerator while preparing remaining vegetables. In bowl, toss all vegetables with dressing. Remove any un-melted ice cubes from pasta, and toss with vegetables, refrigerate 10 minutes. Add cheese.

Tomato & Olive Oil Bruschetta

  • 1 loaf Italian bread, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (more if needed)
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 4 basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 3 green onions, chopped

baking sheet and bowl

Gently toss 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp crushed garlic, basil, tomatoes and green onions and set aside. Mix togethere 1 tbsp oil and 1 tsp garlic. Spread on sliced sides of bread. Broil bread until golden brown on top (watch carefully). Layer tomato mixture on each half of the bread and then slice each half into quarters or eighths.

Shopping List:

  • 10 oz Rotini pasta
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 4 mushrooms
  • 2 zucchini
  • 10 to 12 cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 6 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 loaf Italian bread
  • Large bunch of basil
  • Small bunch oregano
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 3 green onions
  • Grapes or any in season fruit

Also: crushed garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar




Soup Season: Updated Tomato-Spinach Soup

Spinach Tomato Soup

It’s been a rough week – mostly for people around me. I found myself retreating to the kitchen often to cook. Definitely helps clear my head and regroup. Soup season is in full swing as Autumn is fast approaching. We may actually blow off work tomorrow and head up to the mountains to see the colors.

Today I decided to make a big batch of one of my favorite soups. It did not disappoint. I ‘beefed’ it up because I had some ground beef that I needed to use up. I’ll do that again. Yum.

Tomato-Spinach Soup

  • 1 lb ground beef (or 1/2 ground beef, 1/2 spicy Italian sausage)
  • 1/4 of a small onion, chopped
  • 24 oz diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • 2 cups loosely packed baby spinach, cleaned
  • 8 oz sliced carrots (I use frozen)
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 1 cup water, as needed
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp dried basil, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (opt)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated Parmesan for garnish
  • spinach chiffonade for garnish

blender, saucepan

In saucepan, brown ground beef and onions. In a blender, blend together spinach and tomatoes, until smooth*.  Add to beef mixture, along with vegetables and spices.  Bring to low boil, stirring frequently, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve with Parmesan and spinach chiffonade.  Makes 4 generous servings.

*Blending the spinach, tomatoes together gives you a nice hearty tomato base for the soup.  You can add some additional spinach leaves at the end if you like, letting them get limp but not overcooked.

Original vegetarian recipe is here.


Lemon Ricotta Pasta with Chicken and Spinach

Lemon Sunshine

Someone asked me if I could post a few recipes that limited the amount of salt, so this week I thought I’d focus on that. I’ll start with lemon. It makes a great substitute for salt, it adds flavor, a bit of bite and enhances the flavors of many things like fish, chicken and pastas. In this recipe, both ricotta and Parmesan are salty enough that additional salt should not be necessary.

Lemon Ricotta Linguine with Chicken and Spinach

  • 1 lb boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 10-12 oz dry linguine pasta
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water
  • 6 oz baby spinach, washed
  • 12 oz ricotta cheese
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh shredded Parmesan, additional for garnish

shallow dish, large pot, skillet

Place chicken between plastic wrap, pound flat and place in a single layer in a shallow dish. Zest lemons and then juice them. Reserve 2 tbsp of juice, mix the remaining juice with 1 tbsp of oil and basil leaves and pour over chicken, making sure it’s well coated. Cover and marinate for 30 to 60 minutes, turning the chicken halfway through.

Cook pasta according to directions. While it is cooking, heat oil in skillet, remove chicken from the marinade (toss the marinade) and cook chicken breasts over medium high heat until cooked through. Remove from heat, cover and let rest. Alternately you can grill the chicken.

When pasta is al dente, remove 1 cup of water and then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Over low heat, add lemon juice, ricotta, lemon zest, 1/2 cup of Parmesan and toss. Slowly add a 1/2 cup of pasta water, tossing to make a sauce, until the pasta is coated evenly. Add more water as needed. Slice chicken into strips and add to pasta mixture, then add spinach leaves and toss. Add pepper as desired and serve immediately with more shredded Parmesan. Serves 6

p.s. Schedule is still crazy this week, so time for recipes, but not photos. I may update later with pix as time allows. ;-)


Panera’s Broccoli Cheese Soup

DSC_0785 (1600x1060)I wish I’d gone with the white bowl for this, I really thought there would be more contrast.  This is a copycat recipe, as far as I know, nowhere does it indicate it’s an actual Panera recipe.  I stayed right with the recipe as written except I added an extra handful of shredded Parmesan I had out for the garlic toast.  I can say that it’s a damn good soup, we both gave it two thumbs up.DSC_0788 (1600x1060)I couldn’t resist making a sammich out of the leftovers.


DSC_0734 (1600x1060)I’ve been on a fruit salad kick.  Lots of fresh fruit at the market this time of year.  Grapes are a mainstay, I use both red and green grapes and I like to cut them in half unless they are really tiny.  Seedless grapes are easier but I have spent a lot of time scraping seeds away when those aren’t available.  Also in this one are pears, peaches, kiwis, pineapple, oranges, and bananas.DSC02695 (1600x1200)

Kitteh!  Here’s a 3 month old male.  Mrs J says they named him Diti but she will not swear to the spelling.  D. T.?  DeeTee? Ditty?DSC_0723 (1600x1060)Mmm… cheeseburger.  This one has Swiss cheese and a pile of pickled peppers.DSC_0718 (1600x1060)More of those roasted rosemary Parmesan potatoes.  These are Yukon Golds and they are plated with sesame green beans and a piece of roasted chicken.DSC02699 (1600x1200)Moar Kitteh!  This is Kaitlyn, an 8 week old female with interesting coloration, a tabby/calico look.IMG_20150806_113021225 (1600x1200)That’s Kaitlyn there – right up against the blue watchband on this kitten house staffer.  They call that staffer “the cat whisperer” because she can really get a feral cat calmed down and purring.DSC_0728 (1600x1060)Country ribs and fries.  I have my best luck with these pork “logs” when I braise them, covered, in a low oven, say 225 to 250.  I use broth as the braising liquid, adding bbq sauce at the end and uncovering them to help reduce the sauce.  These were finished on the outside grill but they can be done under a broiler – watch them close so they don’t char.DSC_0653 [1600x1060]Here’s another cheeseburger, this one is garnished with some of those refrigerator pickles.  On the side is one of my favorite summer salads of tomatoes and cucumbers with onions in a vinaigrette.  It’s better the next day but isn’t bad when freshly made like this one.

Rosemary Parmesan Roasted Potatoes

DSC_0701 (1600x1060)

I saw these potatoes on a new food show on TV and they were pretty good looking, better than these.  He used a deep fryer to finish his off and I went with the oven for mine.  Start by boiling/steaming  large Russet potatoes – put them in a pot and add enough water to half cover them, bring to a simmer on the stove, then cover the pot and finish them in a 400 oven for about an hour.  When they cool a little break them up into pieces, add salt, and douse them with olive oil on a baking tray.  Toss on a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary and roast them in the hot oven until they brown sufficiently.  Toss the roasted potatoes with grated Parmesan and serve .DSC_0700 (1600x1060)I’ve been seeing people using basil butter here and there for a while now so I decided to give it a try.  I used a good handful of basil leaves, a couple cloves of garlic, a squirt of lemon juice and the zest of a lemon along with a little sugar.  Chop those up and run them in a food processor until they are are a fine paste, then add butter and spin that until everything combines.  Roll the soft butter mixture into a tube in some plastic wrap and then refrigerate to make handling it easier.  It’s pretty good on steak.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

DSC_0666 (1600x1060)I look forward to making this dish every year when the little tomatoes come in strong.  We have grape tomatoes this year instead of the cherry variety but they are much the same thing.  I saw this recipe where the tomatoes were roasted in the oven before they were mixed with the usual herbs and garlic and went with that method today.  I think it worked very well.

Pizza Pr0n – Margherita

DSC_0658 (1600x1060)I let my bread machine do the dough for this one while we were making a quick store run.  I knew I wanted a thin crust so I made a half recipe from here.  They were out of the mozzarella pearls I wanted so I made do with slices.  The tomatoes are a grape variety that I halved and cored with a spoon to leave just the shell.  I’m a big fan of what they would term “meat lover’s pizza” – several different meat toppings and mushrooms and olives and onions and on and on, but these minimalist types are really very good.DSC_0655 (1600x1060)I usually add the fresh basil after these come out of the oven so that it doesn’t turn black and crispy but I’ve seen them made that way, pretty sure there isn’t a rule about it.

Shrimp Mornay with Broccoli and Garlic Butter Fettuccine

20150616_170819 (1600x1060)This is another of our favorites, I know I’ve done this here before but that’s never stopped me.  This one is made with Swiss cheese and Parmesan.  I lightly steamed the broccoli and the shrimp and layered them in a casserole with the cheese sauce poured on and a mixture of Parmesan, olive oil, chopped parsley, and bread crumbs spread on top of it all.  If you combine everything while it’s still hot you can finish it under a broiler but you can make it ahead of time and then reheat in a 375 oven until the bread crumbs are toasted.  Today we went with fettuccine in garlic butter but rice or mashed potatoes would work well.

Friday Recipe Exchange: Revisiting Fun with Ricotta

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Things are not slowing down here. I put a bid in on a cute little Victorian house, only to face 15 other bids this past week. I did not realize house hunting was going to turn into a full-time job that feels like an episode of the Bachelor, where I go home without the rose each week. Between that and raising a rambunctious 10-month old Great Dane, the weeks are slipping by. Speaking of the Beast, I had to clean out the freezer to make room for his frozen apples halves (apples were on sale, so I stocked up) and his giant beef bones (again, on sale, so I stocked up and boiled a good two week supply). Deep in the freezer, behind the pumpkin, cranberries and leftovers, was a pint of ricotta.

Decided I needed to use it up, so I dug into the archives looking for my vegetarian meatball recipe. That became tonight’s featured recipe, and I pulled up the previous recipe exchange where it was featured and said, “hey, that looks good.” In other words, tonight is a repeat. Next week, though, I’m planning on sharing some fun recipes I’ve been playing with this week.

To start tonight, how about homemade ricotta? JeffreyW has made it and if you click here and he’ll take you step by step through the process.

He then puts his homemade ricotta to good use with Stuffed Shells, as pretty to look at as they are delicious. (recipe and photos here)

I have a great alternative to regular gnocchi, a lighter, easier version using ricotta cheese and a fire roasted sauce to make a simple, quick Baked Gnocchi. (recipe here).

A quick Skillet Lasagna (recipe here) is great for weeknights and a breeze to make.

And a yummy dessert from JeffreyW, a beautiful Cannoli recipe, pictured above and found here.

Finally, for the pet lovers, a Bixby update from the pup himself. If you click here, be prepared, he’s a Beast, standing at his full height on his hind legs.

What’s on your menu for the weekend? Anyone else house hunting? Have you started your gardens in earnest yet?

Now on to the featured recipe. These are very simple to make and are delicious. It’s a great vegetarian alternative for your pasta dishes. They’re light and once you get the technique down, you can play with the flavors and customize them to your palate.

Veggie Meatballs

Most of the recipes I looked at used Italian Breadcrumbs. But I really feel these need fresh breadcrumbs, so I’ve included instructions for making your own. I didn’t season mine because I didn’t want them to overpower the delicate flavors of the cheeses. Fresh breadcrumbs absorb flavors and moisture more than packaged ones, so I thought it gave the whole meatball a better, lighter texture. I added a bit of  garlic powder (fresh garlic did not work with this, it was overpowering and a touch bitter), basil, oregano and fennel. The fennel really took it up a notch. My second round of these, I added a bit of red pepper flake.

Spinach and Ricotta Vegetarian Meatballs

  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (instructions below)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese mix
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
  • 2 tsp fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried basil, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder (not salt)
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten


  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese
  • Olive oil

Breadcrumbs: this took a full 1-lb loaf of day-old Italian or French bread. I bought it from the day-old rack for cheap. I tore it into small pieces, spread out on a baking sheet and dried it in a 200 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. I didn’t want them toasted or seasoned because I thought it would overpower the delicate flavors of these meatballs. Once they were dried, I ran them through the blender. I reserved 1/4 cup for rolling the balls in before cooking.

Meatballs: Mix together ricotta, grated cheeses, spinach and spices. Add the eggs and mix well. Then add the breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup at a time. You want it to come together to form soft balls, but you don’t want it to be dry. Once you can form a soft ball with some structure, you don’t need to add more breadcrumbs.

Scoop up a heaping tablespoon (I used my cookie dough scoop) and roll the mixture into balls.

Mix together 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup grated cheeses in a bowl and roll each meatball in the mixture, coating on all sides.

You can bake or pan fry these. I chose to pan fry, it used a bit of oil, but it gave them a nice flavor. Baking them would be my option if I was doubling the recipe.

To fry: heat olive oil in a skillet on medium and add the meatballs, leaving enough space between them to easily turn them. They are soft, so it’s a delicate process. The good news is, if you really want them round (instead of kind of flattened) you can reshape them after they come out of the pan. Turn them until they are golden brown on all sides.

To bake: place them on a well oiled baking sheet or use parchment paper. Brush them with a bit of oil if desired. Leave space around each one so they brown evenly and bake at 375 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. You can turn them halfway through if desired.

Serve them with your favorite pasta and sauce. If you need sauce ideas, click here for Garden Fresh Sauce and click here for Awesome Sauce.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend – TaMara



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