Red Lentil Pasta with Chicken Sausage and Veggies

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know how much I love a good quick weekday meal.  This one came together in about 10 minutes and I got all the ingredients at Trader Joe’s! And it is super healthy!  Winning all over the place!

Alternative pastas are having a major moment right now, but keep in mind they are not all created equally. Not all are as good as others. Studies* show this is one of the legit ones.

*Studies conducted by me.

1 bag of red lentil pasta

1 jar traditional marinara sauce (or your favorite tomato sauce)

1 package garlic and herb chicken sausage, sliced into coins

½ 12oz bag baby spinach

¼ to ½ bag frozen asparagus spears, thawed, cut into fourths

Grated parmesan cheese

While a pot of water is coming to a boil, slice the sausage and cut the asparagus.

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a hot skillet with a little bit of olive oil, sauté the sausage until golden brown and warmed through. Add the asparagus and cook until softened and warm. Add the spinach and cook until wilted (won’t take too long).

Drain the pasta and add back to the pot. Add the veggie/sausage mix to the cooked pasta. Add the jar of marinara sauce. Use as much or as little as you’d like.  Mix altogether and serve with a sprinkle of parmesan.

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Avocado Pesto Pasta

About a week or so ago, I discovered Banza Pasta. It is pasta made out of chick peas and IT IS AMAZING!!!!!!!  I seriously can’t tell that it isn’t regular pasta. I’ve tried healthy pasta alternatives (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta), and they just don’t cut it. This Banza pasta is 100% legit.

I promise. I mean, I’ve made it 3 times since I discovered it. I would not lie to you.

I recently bought some avocados, and as they usually do, they went from not ready to EAT ME NOW overnight, so I decided to make some avocado pesto. Yeah, there are lots of healthy ingredients going on here. But you’d never know, because it tastes sooooo good.

This made a delicious, healthy, and easy dinner that my whole family loved.

For the pasta
You can use whatever you want. I highly recommend the chickpea pasta. I found it at Sprouts and Target (if you can believe that), but I’ll bet they have it at Whole Foods too.

For the Avocado Pesto
1 whole ripe avocado
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons lime juice
olive oil

handful of basil

pinch of salt and pinch of pepper

In a food processor, add all the ingredients. I wanted to use fresh basil for this like I usually do, but the store was out, so I bought this basil paste. It is still fresh and it tasted good, so I think it’s an acceptable substitution.



Blend everything together until smooth and creamy. I didn’t give an amount for the olive oil on purpose. Start with a couple tablespoons and then add more to get the consistency you want.


Toss the pasta with the sauce and enjoy! For this particular dish, I added some caramelized leeks, but that is totally optional (although a delish addition!).


 

Spaghetti Carbonara 

I’ve always loved pasta. I mean, who doesn’t, really? But I feel like I’ve been taking it for granted my whole life. No matter what diet you decide to follow or how you plan on eating healthy, pasta is usually one of the first things to go. Sure, there are healthy alternatives to regular pasta like veggie noodles, whole wheat pasta, brown rice pasta, even garbanzo bean pasta. The problem is, it just really isn’t the same!

When I made a commitment to eat clean and healthy last year, it put me and pasta on the outs. Now that I’m in a good “maintaining” place (though those last 5 pounds would be nice to see gone!), I feel like I can reacquaint myself with my carby friend again. Every once in a while, of course. For special occasions, like New Year’s Eve, for example.

We don’t usually go out for NYE mostly because everywhere you go is super crowded, crazy expensive, and not nearly as much fun in practice as in theory. All the best New Year’s I’ve ever had were always spent at home or at someone else’s home. It’s warm, you can wear comfy clothes and it’s much cheaper. Plus, there’s still booze, so it’s still a good time!

Since we don’t go out, I always try to make a special dinner for the hubby and myself. This year I decided to make pasta from scratch and use it to make carbonara. Carbonara is one of my favorite pasta dishes and making it with homemade pasta was such a treat! 

I’ve made homemade pasta before when I first got my pasta attachment for my stand mixer, but I just never could quite get it right. This time I tried using Semolina flour and I really think it made all the difference. I used the Bob’s Red Mill brand from Sprouts, but I think you can get it at any grocery store.


It does take some time to make the pasta, but once you do, the rest of the dish just comes right together in minutes. If you don’t want to make your own pasta, go ahead and use store bought.

Spaghetti Carbonara (makes enough for 2-3 plus a little leftover)

For the pasta, I just followed the directions on the package:

1 ½ cups Semolina Flour

½ tsp Salt, optional (I included it in mine)

2 eggs or 3 egg whites, beaten (I did 2 eggs)

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Carbonara:

4 oz diced pancetta

1 leek, chopped, white and light green parts only

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese

2 eggs

Black pepper to taste 

Make the pasta according to the package directions. I tried to be fancy like on tv and just make it on my cutting board. It does work this way, but it is a MESS. This is the part that takes awhile, because once you have all the ingredients mixed together, you have to knead the dough for 10 minutes. It is well worth it though, so pop on some tunes and get to work.


Once the dough is kneaded, cover it in plastic wrap and let it sit for 20 minutes.

When you are ready to actually make the pasta, you can either roll it out to your desired thinness and cut it into the shape you want or you can use your pasta maker if you have one. I think pasta makers are worth it and they come in a wide range of prices and sizes. 

I used my attachment with the spaghetti noodle disk in place and got to pumping out some pasta. This time, I didn’t make the little nests that I did before, and they did not clump together, so WIN.

 

Once your pasta is cut (or during the process, if you can do both), make the sauce for the carbonara. In a bowl, whisk together your two eggs, parmesan cheese, and some black pepper. It is important to have that ready to go so that you can add it to the hot pasta right away. The pasta needs to be hot to cook the eggs.


Cook your pancetta and leeks in a skillet until the pancetta is brown and the leeks are softened. When they are almost done, add the garlic and cook until soft.

 

While the pancetta mixture is cooking, add your pasta to a pot of boiling water and cook until done. It only takes about 5 minutes to cook fresh pasta, so keep your eye on it. When it is ready, add it to the skillet with the pancetta and leeks over LOW heat and mix together.

Add in the eggs and parmesan and toss until all the pasta is coated. Some people say to do this off the heat so the eggs don’t scramble, but I’ve never had a problem with the eggs scrambling. I just make sure to keep tossing so the eggs cook through and I am left with a creamy, dreamy sauce.

Then, turn off the heat and serve it up with a little more parmesan on top.

When you spell it out, carbonara seems like a lot of work, but in practice it is actually pretty simple, but it makes a really rich, decadent dish that you will want over and over again.

Meaty, Cheesy Lasagna 

Recently, some friends of mine had a baby, a little boy. This was baby number 2 for them (their oldest daughter and my oldest son are the same age).

As someone who has had a couple of kids herself, I can attest to the fact that after having a baby, the last thing you want to do is worry about making dinner (or breakfast or lunch for that matter). Not only are you exhausted in the first couple weeks while adjusting to this new person now living in your house, but you are also just completely engrossed in the sweet, sweet baby snuggles that your newborn is providing you with. 

That’s why I think one of the best things you can do for someone after having a baby is to bring them food. Preferably something that will create leftovers that will last them a few meals. I’m talking some good comfort food here. It will give them one less thing to worry about taking care of and they will appreciate it more than you could even imagine. Trust me. 

There are many options that would make for a good meal to take to someone, but this is one of my favorites. This lasagna is so good. It’s meaty and cheesy and pasta-y (yeah, I said it…). Paired with some warm, buttery garlic bread and a nice salad (you gotta get a little green in there!) and you’ve got yourself the perfect comfort food meal. 

I’d like to point out that this lasagna freezes very well and lasts up to 2 months in the freezer. This makes it a good addition to any freezer meal plan you may have if you do the make-ahead meals, or if you know lots of other people will also be bringing someone food. This way they don’t have to eat it right away. 

Lasagna may have different components to prep, but it is very easy to put together: 

9 Lasagna noodles, boiled per package directions

1-1/2 to 2 pounds ground beef (you know those packages at the store aren’t exact. You can also use turkey if you want.)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tsp each salt and pepper

15 oz tub of ricotta cheese

2-1/2 cups of Italian cheese blend

2-3 cups tomato sauce (homemade or jarred; it doesn’t matter)

Boil your noodles per the package instructions and set aside. If the noodles are done early, drizzle a little olive oil on them so they don’t stick together.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown your ground beef. When it is almost done, carefully drain as much of the rendered fat as you can, put it back on the stove and add the garlic, oregano, basil, and salt and pepper. You don’t need much salt because of all the cheeses you are going to use. Mix together until the meat is cooked through.

Add the tomato sauce and let simmer for a few minutes.

Now assemble:

Spread a little tomato sauce on the bottom of your pan. (PS: I love these disposable aluminum pans for freezer meals and meals to take to friends.)

Add a layer of noodles, then 1/3 of the ricotta, 1/3 of the meat sauce, and a 1/3 of the Italian cheese blend.

Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese blend on top.

Bake covered at 350 for 40-45 minutes, then uncovered for another 10-15 until the cheese is all bubbly and golden brown.

 

Sorry I don’t have an “after” shot of the baked lasagna, but since I was giving it to a friend, I didn’t want to bake it first. I did receive a text message the next day saying they all loved it so much and everyone had seconds. They barely saved room for the chocolate cake I made them for dessert, which I will share in my next post because it was super easy and the frosting was to die for.

What’s your favorite take-along or freezer meal?

Spicy Shrimp and Ham Pasta

Whenever I have a really good meal somewhere, I like to try to recreate it at home. Eating out can get expensive, so sometimes it’s nice to be able to satisfy a craving for something you had out without having to spend the extra cash.  

Also, you get to stay home and eat it in your sweats and watch TV, so just go ahead and add that to plus column too.   

I especially like to try to recreate yummy dishes we have on vacation. This is a fun way to relive those moments when you were blissfully away, not ruled by the clock or responsibilities. If the recreation is successful, you just have to try not to book the next flight out at the dinner table. 

If you remember, on the last night of our vacation a couple weeks ago, we ate at a restaurant called Saints & Sinners and I had this amazing shrimp and tasso pasta. Channing Tatum apparently owns the restaurant, and while I doubt he had much to do with the creation of this dish, I will give him a shout out for hiring the chef who did because it was one of my absolute favorite meals of the whole trip. I was so full but I couldn’t stop myself from eating it because it tasted so good. I didn’t want to waste a single bite. (PS I did my best, but my husband ended up finishing up the last few bites.) I knew as soon as I took my first bite, I was going to have to figure out how to make this at home.

When I got home, I started researching two components of this dish: 1. how to make the rosé sauce, and 2. Where to get tasso. 

Tasso is a smoked ham found most specifically in south Louisiana cuisine. It’s actually made from the pork shoulder (ham is from the hind leg), which is cured and then covered in a spicy rub and smoked. It can be eaten alone, but it is usually used for the delicious flavor that it adds to other dishes, like pasta, seafood, and jambalaya. 

Tasso is such a specialty item, I wasn’t even sure where I could get it. It wasn’t at the regular grocery store, but I figured a place like Bristol Farms or Whole Foods might have it. Nope. I looked on the website for a butcher called Huntington Meats at the LA Farmer’s Market. This place is really pretty amazing for all the different meats they have. They have it all from beef and chicken to pheasant and alligator. According to their website, they do in fact carry tasso ham. The only problem is that it really isn’t all that convenient for me to go there. It’s not that it’s far, but it is a bit out of my way. Maybe if I was making this dish for a dinner party with, say, Channing & Jenna Dewan Tatum, or something, I would take the extra step and head over there, but since it was just for us, I went a different, easier route and just got regular ham and added the spicy seasoning separate. Plus, if I want to make this more often, I’m definitely not going to Fairfax every time I want tasso. 

I was actually really pleased with how this dish turned out. I’m going to tell you how I made it and then give you a few notes at the end for what I would different next time. And there will absolutely be a next time. 

Copycat Shrimp and Tasso Ham Pasta 

For the sauce:

Olive oil (just a couple tablespoons)

½ an onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ tablespoon dried thyme

½ tablespoon dried oregano

½ tablespoon Cajun/creole seasoning

Pinch of red pepper flakes

7 oz can of tomato sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup white wine

¾ cup heavy cream 

For the ham:

Olive oil (just for a light saute)

2 smoked ham steaks, diced small 

For the shrimp:

Olive oil (just for a light saute)

Shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed

Cajun/creole seasoning 

1 pound Rotini pasta, cooked to package directions

¼ to ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese  

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In a large skillet, saute your ham in some olive oil until warmed through and slightly browned on the outside. Set aside on a paper towel to drain. I used these Farmer John smoked ham steaks from the store since I didn’t have tasso and I think it worked great.   

  
In the same skillet, make the sauce. Add a little bit more olive oil if you feel like you need it. Add your onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, Cajun/creole seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the onion and garlic are soft and fragrant. 

  
  
Add the tomato sauce, sugar, and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the heavy cream.

  
Add your cooked pasta, the reserved ham, and some parmesan cheese to the sauce and mix together. Let them hang out and the flavors get all yummy while you make the shrimp. 

  
In another skillet, add some olive oil and your shrimp. Sprinkle with more Cajun seasoning. Flip when one side is pink and cook until done. 

Taste the pasta and add salt to your preference and finish with more Cajun seasoning if you want. I did both. 

  
Serve and enjoy! 

Here are a few notes for next time: 

· I would either use chicken broth instead of the white wine or do half of each because I felt the wine was a bit of a stronger flavor in the dish than I wanted. It was still good, I just wish the flavor had stayed in the background more.

· Either double the amount of ham or make less pasta.

· I added Cajun seasoning 3 times: once at the beginning of the sauce, once at the end, and to the shrimp. I never thought it was enough as I was adding it, but then I ate it and it definitely had a kick! If you like things spicy, season away, but if you want it a bit milder, just add it at the beginning of the sauce and then taste it to see if you want more or not.

· I was looking at the picture I took at the restaurant and there is a lemon twist on top. I don’t know if that was strictly for garnish or if they somehow incorporated lemon in theirs. I didn’t taste it in theirs and I didn’t include it in mine.

· I think the salting at the end was a really good idea. There are so many flavors going on in this dish, I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. This allows you to salt to your preference.

· Let me explain why I didn’t mix the shrimp into the pasta: one, if I take this to work for leftovers, I do not want to be the person who reheats seafood in the microwave and make the whole office smell like seafood. Also, I thought I had more shrimp in my freezer than I actually did. I only ended up making about 12 shrimp. I would absolutely make more next time. Or, like I said before, make less rotini.

 

The restaurant inspiration!

 
 

My own version! Looks pretty good, huh?

 

Homemade Spinach Pasta 

If you remember, my hubby got me a pasta maker for Christmas. The first time I made pasta turned out pretty good, but not great. I think the problem was I left the fresh rigatoni in a pile and it stuck together. I also don’t think I cooked it long enough, so it was a bit chewy. My dough didn’t look quite right using the recipe from the instruction manual, but the flavor was good, so I don’t know what the exact problem was.I decided to give it another try, but this time I made spinach spaghetti. I used this recipe from Williams-Sonoma as a guide. Since this recipe was for a different type of pasta maker, I just used the dough, but not the steps that followed. Even if you don’t have a pasta maker, I think you could probably still use this recipe. Just make sure your dough is rolled out thin enough and then cut it out how you want.

I admit I was a little bit concerned about how this would taste. It uses a pound of spinach and I was afraid it would taste too spinachy. My fears were totally unfounded. This pasta was so good! It wasn’t too spinachy at all, it tasted great and I let it cook a lot longer than the rigatoni, so it wasn’t chewy at all. The only problem was I let it get stuck together. I made little piles of the pasta as it was coming out of the machine. Literally, the only reason I did this was because that’s how Aziz Ansari made his pasta on Master of None and I thought that was a thing to do with fresh spaghetti. Either I did it wrong or I should not take lessons about pasta making from a comedian. I think I did it wrong, though, because I just Googled “fresh spaghetti” and there are lot of little spaghetti nests out there.

Fresh Spinach Spaghetti

1 pound fresh spinach, stems removed
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour


In a large skillet, add the spinach and cover. Let it cook for about 3 or so minutes until wilted down. It will look like a lot at first, but when it wilts down, it will be just over a handful.

Put the spinach in a sieve and run cold water over. When it is cool enough to handle, ring it out in a towel until mostly dry.


Add the spinach to a blender or food processor with one egg and blend until combined.


 On a cutting board, pile up your flour and make a crater inside. To the crater, add your spinach mix and the second egg (slightly beaten). Using either a fork or your hands (I used my hands), mix the egg and spinach into the flour until well combined, working the ingredients into a solid dough.



If using a pasta machine, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for making the pasta of your choice. If not, roll out the dough and make the pasta shape of your choice.


I served mine with a chicken and veggie stir fry in a Thai peanut sauce and it was really such a delicious and healthy meal. I will absolutely be adding this to our arsenal!

Lemon Pepper and Roasted Vegetable Pappardelle 

We are almost a week away from The Big Day. That’s right, Thanksgiving is almost upon us and I am so excited!!! I know it seems like a lot of work, but my mom, brother, and I all split up the cooking duties and it all comes together at my house for a delicious and wonderful time with family. And A LOT of food!

Since there is going to be a lot of food, that means plenty of leftovers as well. I like to take this time to try to clear as much space in my fridge as possible.  Sometimes that means pretending your fridge/cupboard is a Chopped basket and you have to just create something.

That’s how this dish came about. Everything in this dish is good, so I figured it would be at least edible. It was actually SO delicious!! I would make this even if I weren’t just trying to clear room in my fridge.  It was really easy too, and you guys know how much I like recipes that are easy and weeknight friendly!

All you need is:

An assortment of veggies. I used carrots, zucchini, and asparagus because that’s what I had.
Olive oil, garlic salt, and pepper for roasting
1 package lemon pepper Pappardelle. You can use plain too, just add lemon pepper seasoning to the dish at the end.
4 oz mascarpone cheese (you can use cream cheese if you’d rather)
1 handful of shredded Parmesan cheese

Start out by chopping your veggies and laying them out in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. I tried to keep my pieces on the thicker side because they will shrink when they roast and you don’t want them to burn. Also, try to keep them uniform in size.

Cover the veggies in garlic salt, pepper, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Mix it all around to get all the pieces covered.

Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Stir halfway.

I found this pasta at Trader Joe’s and it is so good! If you don’t have a TJ’s near you (you have my sympathies), or you just don’t want to make a special trip, you can use regular Pappardelle. Or you could even us fettucini if you wanted to. I just like how the thicker noodle really held up under the creamy mascarpone and roasted veggies.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and immediately add back to the pot. Add the mascarpone and parmesan and stir until melted. I turned the burner on low just to help melt the cheeses. You will be left with a nice creamy sauce. If you want it a bit thinner, save some of the pasta water and add it in.

Also, if you are not using the lemon pepper pasta, here is where you would add about a teaspoon of lemon pepper seasoning. Obviously, you can do this to your specific tastes, but I wouldn’t skip it because the flavor is so good.

Once the cheese is all melted in, add the veggies. Here is a neat trick: Just pick up the foil and slide the veggies into the pot. Easy clean up!

This was really good and very comforting! And a great way to get more veggies into our dinners. It really hit the spot!