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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




Friday Recipe Exchange: Not Afraid to Experiment

Spinach Tomato Soup

What a week we’ve had here. I retreated to the kitchen often, cooking truly reduces my stress and helps me refocus. And since everyone needs to eat, I have a perfect excuse to retreat and regroup.

Cool weather blew in today, signalling the start of soup season, a great time of year. I have quite a few soup recipes and I began the season with one of my favorites, Tomato-Spinach, pictured above and recipe here.

Next up, Pumpkin Bars, because I needed something to share with friends and this recipe makes a lot. Click here for recipe and photos.

JeffreyW went to the Farmer’s Market and made Refrigerator Pickles, there are plenty of great photos and the pickle recipe here. He went on to use the beans he purchased to make Three Bean Salad, here.

And finally, for the pet lovers, some Bixby pictures and a bit of an update.

It’s the last official weekend of summer, how will you usher it out? What’s on your plate for the weekend? We are going to head up to the mountains to take in some color, which is predicted to be a short show this year.

Sausages with Grapes

For tonight’s featured recipe, I decided to experiment with flavors I would have never thought of on my own. Facebook and blog friend Michael F, shared a recipe on Facebook from Italy, in Italian no less, and the photo intrigued me. I let google translate the recipe (which was a hoot) and went about putting my touches into it.

It was so unusual, my most reliable recipe testers politely declined my dinner invite. Totally understandable. But I will tell you I was pleasantly surprised how well this turned out. If you like pork and apples, this has a similar flavor palate. It was also quick and easy to prepare. I’m glad I decided to experiment.

All right, if you’re up for something new and different, here you go, tonight’s featured recipe.

Sausage and Grapes

  • 8 links Italian sausage (I used spicy, but you could use any style sausage you favor)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 cup green seedless grapes, washed, dried and halved lengthwise
  • 1 cup red seedless grapes, washed, dried and halved lengthwise
  • salt and pepper to taste (I used none, didn’t need it)
  • angel hair pasta
  • freshly grated Parmesan


Slice sausage links into four pieces each, add to skillet and fry on medium high for about 10 minutes. Add onion and fennel seeds, cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent. Add grapes, stir until well mixed, cover and let simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes while pasta cooks.

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain well.

You can toss with the sausage mixture, or serve separately. Serve with Parmesan.

The pasta was my addition. When I asked Michael what would be a good side, he suggested eggplant or roasted potatoes. Roasted zucchini spears would probably work well, too.

Here is the original recipe.

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



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.


Sammich Pr0n

DSC_0973 (1600x1060)This was so good yesterday that it seemed like a good idea to make another one for lunch today.DSC_0977 (1600x1060)We are taking full advantage of those great tomatoes from the farmer’s market!DSC_0981 (1600x1060)


20150709_164335 (1600x1060)The local Amish run store stocks a considerable selection of different flours and I took a chance on these two, not having much of a clue just what they were, exactly.  The durum name rang a bell and I thought it might be useful in making pasta but the prairie gold meant nothing at all to me.  Google to the rescue!

I didn’t have these in mind when I started looking around for a pizza dough recipe that proofs in the fridge overnight using just a little yeast, but when I came across this “Now or Later” recipe from King Arthur they seemed perfect.  I went with 1-3/4 cups of the prairie gold and 1-1/4 cup of the durum.  The mention of their pizza flavoring sent me on a separate track, trying to see if I could make something like it with ingredients on hand.  I went with a half teaspoon each of garlic and onion powder, and a couple teaspoons of dried thyme.  I let my machine mix it all, then placed it into a bowl, covered the dough with plastic, and left it overnight in the fridge.DSC_0592 (1600x1060)

After pulling from the refrigerator and letting it warm enough to be pliable it was stretched out into a baking tray, covered with plastic wrap and left to rise a little more before topping it, half with tomato sauce, ham, sausage, onion, pepper rings, and fresh mozzarella and half in the classic margherita style.DSC_0595 (1600x1060)The flours did give the dough a golden hue, and the pie tasted pretty good.  I don’t know if the flour seasonings I added helped all that much but they sure didn’t hurt it any.DSC_0596 (1600x1060)

Dinner Menu: Carne en su Jugo


I had big plans for cooking this week, which all went to hell by the end of today. So perfect time for a Men Who Cook/Guest Recipe.

Tonight we have a guest menu from my friend Alton Gunn, who has provided us with several good recipes.  It’s delicious, I’ve been lucky enough to have it several times (good are the friends who feed you).

On the board tonight:

  1. Carne en su Jugo
  2. Pico de Gallo
  3. Tortillas
  4. Margarita Melon Salad

Carne en su Jugo

  • ½ lb bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 lb sirloin steak, sliced thin and then cut in 1-inc pieces
  • 1 can (28oz) tomatillos
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • salt
  • 2 can pinto beans
  • sour cream for garnish
  • shredded cheese
  • chopped onions for garnish
  • fresh lime juice for garnish
  1. Brown the bacon in a large dutch oven. Add the beef and cook until brown (leave the bacon grease in the pot).
  2. Blend the tomatillos in your food processor and strain well to remove the seeds. Add about a cup of the tomatillo liquid back into the food processor and blend with the cilantro, and garlic.
  3. Add the tomatillo/cilantro/garlic sauce and the rest of the strained tomatillo liquid to the beef and bacon. Add salt to taste.
  4. Stir in pinto beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beef is tender, about 1 hour.
  5. Ladle into bowls  and garnish with pico de gallo (recipe below),  fresh lime, sour cream.
  6. Serve corn or flour tortillas on the side.

Al’s Notes: I’ve made this with beef and pork. The basic sauce is good for stewing pretty much any meat. Will try chicken next.  Works well in the crockpot

Pico de Gallo

  • chopped onion
  • chopped tomato
  • chopped cilantro
  • splash of lime

Mix together 20 to 30 minutes or more before meal.

Margarita Melon Salad

  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 shots tequila
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Triple Sec)
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ cantaloupe, seeded and cubed
  • ¼ honeydew melon, seeded and cubed
  • ¼ small watermelon, cubed

Many markets sell halved melons and wedges of watermelon, making it easy to prepare this salad closer to desired amounts.

Combine lime juice, tequila, liqueur, and sugar in a bowl. Add melons and toss to coat with tequila and lime. Serve in shallow bowls.


Originally posted July 2010

Dinner Menu: Mambo Italiano Edition

Spaghetti and Meatballs2

Going old school tonight.  I thought you may still have some zucchini and tomatoes that needed to be used up and this menu does both.  Growing up, spaghetti was a weekly occurrence.  I’m not sure where my mom learned to make it, because it is my dad’s half of the family that is Italian, but it was always a hit at our house.  Over the years we’ve all played with different variations, but this is pretty close to the original. Whether it was at a weekly family meal or the Christmas dinner at my Gram’s, this basic sauce ruled.  And the good thing is, it is simple to modify depending on your tastes.  If you want to spice things up, add 1/4 to 1/2 lb of spicy Italian sausage and reduce the ground beef by as much.

Quick, easy and freezes well, I usually make double so I have some on hand for quick dinners.  Trust me, you will never find any jar sauce in my house.  Ever.  If you’d like to have meatballs instead, recipe is here.

On the board tonight:

  1. Spaghetti w/Meat Sauce
  2. Zucchini Italiano
  3. Crusty Italian Bread
  4. Sherbet or even better, Gelato

Spaghetti w/Meat Sauce

  • 9 – 12 oz pasta of choice (I like angel hair for this recipe)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 3 tomatoes, diced (or 14 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3 tsp dried basil, crushed*
  • 3 tsp dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 tsp rosemary, crushed
  • 1 carrot, finely grated or 1/2 tsp sugar (these reduce the acidity of the sauce and bring out the spices – trust me on this one)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

2 saucepans and large skillet

In skillet, heat oil, sauté pepper, onion, garlic.  Add hamburger and cook thoroughly.  Add tomato paste and 1 tsp ea of crushed basil, oregano and rosemary, mix well.   In saucepan, add remaining ingredients and bring to a low boil, reduce heat, add meat mixture and let simmer for 30 minutes.

Cook pasta according to directions, drain well and serve with sauce and Parmesan cheese.

Zucchini Italiano

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • ½  tsp oregano, crushed
  • ½  tsp basil, crushed
  • 4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

medium skillet

Clean and slice zucchini, heat oil in skillet, add zucchini, garlic and spices. Stir-fry over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon water and let steam until zucchini is tender.  Toss with parmesan and serve.

*CRUSHING Spices – when using dry spices, to get the best flavor, you should crush them, either by rubbing them in your hand or using a mortar and pestle before adding them to a recipe.

Shopping List:

  • 9 – 12 oz pasta
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 3 tomatoes, diced (or 14 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 carrot
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • Crusty Italian Bread
  • Sherbet or  Gelato

Also: olive oil, crushed garlic, dried basil, dried oregano, rosemary, salt & pepper


Originally published Oct 2010 copyright What’s 4 Dinner Solutions Cookbook Spring Edition

Dinner Menu: Stuffed Burgers and Cajun Sweet Potato Fries

Stuffed Burger Uncut Snap

Thought it was time for some end-of-summer burgers. I make these all the time because they really are easy and a great way to have a cheese burger without losing half the cheese to the grill. And the sweet potato cajun fries are the perfect sweet, spicy combo.  Grill some plums or peaches and dinner is done. Enjoy.

On the board tonight:

  1. Jalapeno-Cheddar Stuffed Burgers
  2. Kaiser Rolls
  3. Cajun Sweet Potato Fries
  4. Raw Vegetable Tray
  5. Plums

Jalapeno-Cheddar Stuffed Burgers

Stuffed Burger Final

Ingredients for each burger:

  • 4 oz ground beef
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed garlic (opt)
  • 1 oz sharp cheddar, sliced thin
  • 2 or more slices of pickled jalapenos

Mix salt, pepper and garlic into the ground beef. Form two, 2-oz patties. Place jalapenos on one burger, cheese on the other.


Place the two sides together and seal the edges completely. Gently flatten the burger, but be careful because you don’t want the cheese busting out of the center.


The key to grilling or frying these is low and slow. Medium heat seals them and allows the cheese to melt without drying the burger out. I flipped at the 5 minute mark, but depending on the heat, 3-4 minutes may be enough to flip. They’re thin, so the beef cooks quickly, but you want to make sure the cheese melts. I would say minimum 4 minutes per side.

If cheese starts to leak out, flip and flip again as needed. DON’T press down on these burgers while you grill, you’ll have a cheesy mess.

Now the warning. Did I say WARNING? Yes I did. You’ll need to rest these burgers to let the cheese cool a bit. Otherwise you could be biting into a scalding cheese center. You’ve been WARNED.

That’s the basics, now let your imagination run wild. Maybe I should have titled this, How To Stuff A Wild Burger.

Cajun Sweet Potato Fries

  • 3 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
  • 1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • ¼ tsp cumin (opt)

large bowl or baking dish and baking sheet

Cut potatoes into quarters lengthwise, then cut each quarter into 2 or 3 lengthwise slices. In bowl, toss with remaining ingredients and place in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 450° for 15 minutes, turn and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown outside and tender inside.


If you grilled the burgers you can also grill the plums. Slice in half, remove the pits and grill over low heat

Shopping List:

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 4 oz shredded cheddar or jalapeno jack
  • sliced jalapenos (I use pickled)
  • 4 green onions
  • 1 tomato
  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 4 large Kaiser rolls
  • Favorite raw vegetables
  • Vegetable dip
  • 4 to 8 plums

Also: cumin, Cajun spice, sugar, salt, pepper, olive oil, crushed garlic


Caprese Bruschetta

DSC_8715 (1600x1060)Thin sliced bread, brushed with olive oil and toasted, topped with my homemade mozzarella, a slice of my patio grown San Marzano tomato, and fresh basil.  That’s kosher salt on that basil leaf, not some kind of scaly bug!  LOL DSC_8713 (1600x1060)These are a few caprese bites I tried with balsamic glaze.  Pretty good stuff.

I just could not wait…

for the garden to produce a fat juicy ripe tomato to slice for a BLT.DSC_8557 (1600x1060)I suppose we could have gone with the grape or cherry tomatoes that are coming ripe but they are not the same.  We have a few tomatoes from Kroger’s that are closing in on their use by date.  That is a commercial blend of Creole seasoning sprinkled on the sammy.


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