Summer pasta salad

This chicken pasta salad is easy to make and absolutely addictive. I made it for a friend who said that she kept eating a little every time she passed the refrigerator. I made it for a work potluck (back in the days when we went to the office and had potlucks) and it has been requested for every potluck since.

Blackened Cajun Chicken Pasta Salad

  • 2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts split
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 oz. cajun or blackening seasoning mix (I don’t actually measure it, I just dump a bunch in a glass pie pan.  I mixed 3 different types together for this batch.)
  • 1 lb orecchiette pasta
  • 3 – 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups mayonnaise

Melt butter.  Dredge chicken breasts in melted butter and then in seasoning mix.  Sear 3 minutes per side in a heavy oven proof skillet and then cook in a 350 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes until done.  Chill.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking.  Chop chicken into bite size chunks and toss all ingredients together.  (If you want spicy, you can add extra seasoning.)

chicken pasta

Planning ahead

I am back in my office two days a week. It’s nice to have the change of scenery but important to return to planning ahead. This Thai pork is a great choice – everybody likes it, it’s pretty healthy and I made the marinade and sliced the pork last night. It spent the night soaking up flavor in the refrigerator and when I got home I just needed to skewer the pork so Keith could grill it. We had ordered carryout Indian food on Saturday so we had leftover rice. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

Thai Grilled skewered pork

  • 1 pork tenderloin trimmed of fat and thinly sliced into strips against the grain
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 TB coriander (cilantro) stems, chopped\
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 TB black peppercorns
  • 2 TB rice vinegar
  • 2 – 3 TB brown sugar
  • 2 TB dark soy sauce
  • 1 TB fish sauce

Place pork strips in a dish.  Grind pepper, coriander stems and garlic together in a mortar and pestle until they form a paste.  Whisk sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and fish sauce together and then add in about 1/3 cup of the coconut cream that is on the top of the coconut milk.  Pour into the mortar and pestle and stir together.  Mix well and pour over pork.  Marinate for at least an hour and up to all day in the fridge.  Skewer pork strips and broil or grill about 4 minutes a side.  Serve over rice.

Samantha had a late babysitting job so by the time we ate dinner, I was too hungry to take a picture!

Pizza night

This is a great dinner when you want to do the prep ahead and then finish at the last minute.  I had the topping assembled and the oven pre-heated so as soon as Keith walked in the door, I could put the topping on the crust, put it in the oven and voila, dinner in 10 minutes!  (If you put the topping on the crust early, the pizza gets soggy.)

  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 lb sweet Italian turkey sausage, removed from casings
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 TB Cajun seasoning
  • 1 pizza crust
  • 1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 425.  Spray a non-stick pan with cooking spray.  Cook sausage until no longer pink (8-10 minutes).  Remove sausage from pan and place on a plate on top of paper towels.  Drain most of oil in pan and add veggies.  Cook until soft.  Add tomato sauce and Cajun seasoning and cook for 2 – 3 minutes.  Place on pizza crust and top with cheese when ready to bake.  Bake 8 – 10 minutes and serve.

new orleans pizza

Cooking ahead

I took advantage of the holiday yesterday to get ahead.  I roasted chicken breasts, used some of the meat to make hot chicken salad and saved some to have as sandwiches with cauliflower soup.  I made the cauliflower soup yesterday also.  Since both tonight’s and tomorrow night’s dinner are made, I let Keith choose which to have.  He selected the hot chicken salad.

My sister has made the hot chicken salad for ages and I  have heard a lot about it.  This is her go-to dish to take to a friend in need (mine is the herbed quiche.)   I had never made it before as I am generally suspicious of recipes that include cream of chicken soup.  I decided to give it a whirl.  Pretty straight forward and quite delicious.  Glad to add it to my repertoire.  (My sister says you can shortcut the process by using chicken salad from the deli in place of the cooked chicken, mayo, celery and onion but I was happy to have the extra chicken for sandwiches.)

Hot chicken salad
  • 3 c. cooked chicken
  • 1 c. chopped celery
  • 1 c. cooked rice (I fixed in the microwave)
  • ¾ c. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. chopped onion
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 4 oz. can water chestnuts
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 3 chopped hard boiled eggs
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 c. slivered almonds
  • 1 c. crushed cornflakes
Mix first 10 ingredients and put in 9×13 dish. Melt butter and brown almonds and cornflakes. Sprinkle over casserole and cook at 350 for about 30 minutes.
This can be made ahead – my sister says it’s better to reheat in oven so you recrisp the cereal and almonds.
hot chicken salad

Chicken Avocado Casserole

Many years ago we went to a dinner party where this was served.  I loved it then and I love it still.  The hostess grew up in California and I think of it as a California casserole because of the avocados.  Leftovers freeze well.

Chicken Avocado casserole

  • 2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, split
  • milk for poaching chicken breasts
  • 2 TB butter
  • 2 TB flour
  • 1 cup milk or half and half
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 dashes Tabasco
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds, toasted
  • 2 avocados

Place chicken breasts in a glass baking dish.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pour in milk to cover about halfway.  Cover with a sheet of wax paper sprayed with Pam and cook at 350 for about 40 minutes.  Let cool and chop.

Melt butter in a heavy pan over medium low heat and add flour.  Stir to combine and gradually add milk (or half and half), chicken stock and wine until smooth and thick.  (If mixture gets too thick, turn down heat – if it is too slow to thicken, turn up heat.)  Add Parmesan cheese, Tabasco, rosemary and basil and remove from heat.

Melt remaining butter in another pan and saute mushrooms until soft.

Place chopped chicken in a casserole dish.  Pour mushrooms over top and then cover with cream sauce.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Add almonds and return to oven for another 10 minutes.  Serve with sliced avocado on top of casserole and a side of rice.


I like to make lasagna on a weekend so it’s available for a weeknight dinner.  (It’s easier to manage if it has had a chance to set in the refrigerator.)  We have discovered that if you cook it, chill it and then cut into squares, you can freeze the squares on a sheet pan with space between them.  You can then freeze the pieces in freezer bags without them sticking together.  These are a few of our favorite lasagnas:

Classic lasagna

  • 1 package lasagna noodles cooked per package instructions and drained
  • 4 cups tomato sauce (I used a mix of Graul’s homemade marinara and their bolognese)
  • 1 large container ricotta cheese mixed with 1 beaten egg
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350.  Spread a small amount of sauce in the bottom of a lasagna pan.  Top with a layer of noodles, more sauce, ricotta and mozzarella.  Repeat with another layer of noodles, more sauce, remaining ricotta and mozzarella.  Top with one more layer of noodles, remaining sauce and Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray and cover lasagna.  Bake covered for 30 minutes.  Then remove foil and bake a remaining 10.

Eggplant lasagna

  • 3 large eggplant, skin removed from one side and then sliced about 1/4 ” thick
  • olive oil
  • 16 oz shredded Mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 oz grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb sweet italian turkey or chicken sausage (removed from casing)
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Preheat oven to 425.  Spread eggplant on baking sheets and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Let sit for about 30 minutes and then wipe with a paper towel.  (The salt will sweat some of the liquid out of the eggplant.)  Brush eggplant with olive oil and roast for 20 minutes until golden brown.

While eggplant is cooking, heat about 2 TB of olive oil in a heavy saucepan.  Sauce onion until translucent (about 3 – 5 minutes).  Add garlic and cook stirring for about 30 seconds.  Add red pepper flakes and sausage.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring often until sausage is cooked through.  Add tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.

Combine ricotta with 1 oz of the Parmesan cheese, the egg and basil.

Assemble lasagna in a 9 x 13 pan.  Start with a thin layer of sauce, then eggplant, ricotta, Mozzarella, sauce.  Add another layer of eggplant, ricotta, Mozzarella sauce.  Then a layer of eggplant, ricotta, Mozzarella and remaining Parmesan cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil (spray with Pam first) and bake at 375 for 15 minutes covered and 30 minutes uncovered.

Mushroom Lasagna

  • 2 Tb butter
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 pounds assorted mushrooms (I used cremini, shiitake and oyster but use whatever you like), cleaned and sliced
  • 1 package dried Porcini mushrooms (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 package lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 lb Fontina cheese, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

In a heavy skillet, melt butter and olive oil.  Saute shallot until soft.  Add mushrooms and cook stirring occasionally about 15 minutes.  Add wine and cook an additional minute.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil.   Add dried porcini mushrooms and boil 5 minutes.  Strain through cheesecloth or a coffee filter, reserving stock.  Rinse mushrooms and add to mushrooms in skillet with reserved stock.

Add milk and half and half to mushroom mixture and simmer about 5 minutes.

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions.  Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.

Butter a 9 x 13 pan and spread with 1 layer of lasagna noodles.  Top with half of the mushroom mixture and half of the cheeses.  Add another layer of lasagna noodles and remaining mushrooms and cheese.  Top with lasagna noodles.  (I dotted the top with butter and additional Parmesan cheese but next time I would brush with melted butter and/or olive oil to keep from getting too crisp.)

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes covered with aluminum foil and then 15 minutes uncovered.  Serve hot.

Seafood Lasagna

  • 1 package lasagna noodles, cook according to package directions and drain
  • 2 cups tomato sauce (store bought or homemade)
  • 16 oz ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 1/2 lbs shrimp, steamed and peeled and cut in half
  • 1 cup Alfredo sauce (store bought or homemade – I made mine by melting butter and cooking with half and half and Parmesan cheese)
  • 2 lbs crab meat
In a lasagna pan layer ingredients as follows – 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 5 overlapping lasagna noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, ricotta cheese, shrimp, 6 oz mozzarella cheese, 5 overlapping lasagna noodles, 1 cup Alfredo sauce, crabmeat, 5 overlapping lasagna noodles, remaining tomato sauce and remaining mozzarella.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Remove aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes.
This is best if you cook it the night before and let it set in the refrigerator overnight.  Reheat desired portions and freeze remaining pieces.
NOTE: You could reduce the calories tremendously by eliminating the Alfredo sauce layer – it is very rich (but it really goes well with the crabmeat!)  🙂  You could reduce the cost by substituting fish or scallops for the crabmeat.  Or you could just do shrimp and tomato sauce and cheese and skip the Alfredo and crabmeat.  Experiment based on what you like.

Family favorites week

I’m working on using up some of what I stored in our freezer.  Last night was chicken pesto lasagna:

Chicken Pesto Lasagna

  • 1 package lasagna noodles
  • 1 lb. Chicken Scallopini
  • 1 lb Ricotta cheese
  • 1 lb. Mozzarella cheese
  • 8 oz Pesto
  • 8 oz Tomato Sauce
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes, well drained

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions and drain.  Run under cold water to stop cooking.

Pound chicken to flatten.  Spray a nonstick pan with Pam and cook chicken in batches until browned.  Set aside.  When cool enough to handle, slice chicken into thin slices.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a large baking dish.  Top with 4 or 5 lasagna noodles.  Spoon pesto over noodles and top with chicken.  Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over chicken and top with 4 or 5 lasagna noodles.  Spoon ricotta cheese on top of noodles and top with diced tomatoes.  (I drained thoroughly because I do remember that the last time I made this the tomato juice made it a little too juicy.)  Top with 4 or 5 lasagna noodles, remaining tomato sauce and mozzarella.

Bake it covered with aluminum foil at 375 for about 40 minutes and then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes.  Let chill overnight and then cut into 12 pieces.  Put the pieces on a sheet pan lined with wax paper and freeze overnight.  You can then transfer the pieces into freezer bags and they won’t stick together.

Tonight was one of Samantha’s favorites:

Grilled Hoisin Pork

  • 1 jar of Hoisin sauce
  • 3 TB honey
  • 2 TB sherry
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 pork tenderloin

Combine Hoisin sauce, honey, sherry and sesame oil in a small saucepan and heat, stirring for about 5 minutes until thick.  Let cool.  Use about 1/2 of the marinade on the pork and refrigerate for 4 -6 hours (or overnight).  Grill pork about 10 minutes or until 140 on a meat thermometer.  Heat remaining sauce and serve with pork.

We had this will grilled asparagus and cous cous.  Very easy!

hoisin pork and asparagus

Pork and potatoes

I tried a new pork recipe with my tried and true baked sweet potato fries.  The pork was a universal hit (except for the fact that there wasn’t more of it!).  The sweet potato fries were the perfect accompaniment.  A definite do-over and since you marinate the pork ahead of time, it was quick and easy.

Citrus-Chili pork

  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 2 TB Dijon mustard
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 2 TB light brown sugar
  • 1 TB paprika
  • 1 TB Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pork tenderloin

Whisk first 8 ingredients together in a bowl.  Marinate pork in mixture overnight.  Remove pork from marinade and grill over medium-high heat for about 18 minutes, turning frequently until temperature is 130.  Let sit (meat will come up a bit more in temperature.  Boil marinade for 2-3 minutes and serve as sauce for the pork.

Oven baked sweet potato fries

  • 2 – 3 sweet potatoes cut into strips
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried chipotle pepper

Preheat oven to 450.  Toss potato strips with all other ingredients and spread out on a sheet pan lined with foil.  Bake 25 – 30 minutes stirring halfway through.  NOTE: You can tweak the seasonings to suit your tastes.  (I mix up a batch and keep it in a jar.)

pork and potatoes



My new toy!

I planned on a soup and sandwich dinner tonight to keep things simple.  I made the butternut squash soup on Sunday afternoon.  I had been thinking about getting an immersion blender.  I make a lot of soup and it’s a nuisance scooping out cupfuls to blend and pouring them back in.  Keith did some research online on Saturday and ordered me a nice Kitchenaid model.  Through the miracle of technology, I had it in time for my soup making on Sunday!  The soup turned out beautifully and went nicely with chicken sandwiches from leftover chicken.

Roasted butternut squash soup

  • 2 packages cubed butternut squash
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 2 – 3 TB olive oil
  • 4 – 5 cups chicken stock (I used a quart of storebought and a cup of homemade)
  • 1 – 2 tsp curry powder
  • cashews

Preheat oven to 425.  Spread squash, onion and apples out on sheet pans and toss with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper.  Roast for 30-40 minutes (toss about halfway through).  Remove from oven.

Heat chicken stock in a heavy pan and add vegetables and curry powder.  Using an immersion blender (or blending in batches) puree soup.  Serve hot with cashews (and a chicken sandwich if you planned ahead)


We actually made the chili over the weekend.  It’s better if you make it ahead as it gives time for the flavors to combine.  This recipe makes about 7 quarts of chili so a great way to fill up your freezer.

Beef and Sausage Chili (courtesy of Keith – adapted from The Silver Palate)

This is the chili that converted me (I was not a fan of chili prior to tasting this one.)  It makes enough to serve 15 – 20 people so you’ll need a good sized stockpot (we use a 12 qt pot).

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 lb of chopped yellow onions
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 2 lbs sirloin, cut into small cubes
  • 3 tsps fresh ground pepper
  • 1 12 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 TB minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 oz cumin
  • 2 oz chili powder
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 TB salt
  • 2 TB dried basil
  • 2 TB dried oregano
  • 3 lbs canned  plum tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 4 TB lemon juice
  • 1 dash Tabasco
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cans (5 1/2 oz) of pitted black olives, drained

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot.  Add onions and cook over low heat, until tender (about 10 minutes).

Add sausage meat, ground beef and sirloin cubes and cook over medium high heat until meat is well browned.  Drain as much fat as possible.

Reduce heat to low and add all ingredients except olives.  Stir well and simmer for about 25 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Add olives and heat through.  Serve with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped red onions and jalapeno peppers (for those who like it spicy) and cornbread.