Chicken Jalapeno Popper Pasta

I’m sure I’ve mentioned how much I love Gray’s school, Agathos Classical School.  It’s this amazing place filled with gifted and loving teachers, wonderful families, and kids that soak up knowledge by the buckets full.

Gray’s teacher this year, Mrs. Marler, reminds me a lot of my sister — fun but no-nonsense, straight forward but with a kind heart, and filled with a passion for sharing knowledge with little minds.  Recently at the school picnic, Mrs. Marler and I were talking and somehow we got on the subject of how summer Beth is way more fun than school Beth, and by the time she gets home from school, she’s out of steam and doesn’t even want to think about dinner.  So, I offered to make something on Monday that she could just throw it in the oven when they get home from school.  (Now I cannot take credit for this idea.  I remembered another parent doing the same sort of thing for the Vice Principal, so I stole the idea from her.)

Chicken Jalapeno Popper Pasta
  • 1 pound penne pasta, cooked according to the package and drained
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup bacon, crumbled
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
  • ¼ cup diced jalapeno
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ⅓ cup half and half
  • 2½ cups cooked and chopped chicken
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.
  3. In a large mixing bowl add cream cheese, bacon, 1 cup cheddar cheese, and jalapeno. Mix well.
  4. Stir in cream and half and half.
  5. Add pasta and mix well.
  6. Stir in chicken.
  7. Pour mixture into baking dish.
  8. Spread bread crumbs over pasta and dot with little pieces of butter.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and return to the oven for 5 more minutes.

So after school on Monday, I delivered this pasta along with salad, homemade bread, and brownies.  All three of her girls happened to be in her class, and they seemed quite pleased with the menu.

Whenever I do something like this, I typically double the recipe so that we have the same thing for dinner as well.  I’d never made this recipe before and was a bit nervous about letting them be guinea pigs, but I think my selection was a good one.  Matt and Gray both raved about the pasta, and I’d definitely eat it again!

But the best part of the whole thing was helping someone.  The smile on their faces as I made the delivery, the special hug, and the nice text the next morning made the little bit of extra effort and cost so worthwhile.  Bless someone with a meal……you’ll receive a bigger blessing in return.


Baked Angel Hair with Eggplant

When the boys are gone, I make the food that I like.  This dish, which is basically puff pastry stuffed with pasta, is one of my all-time favorite dishes ever, but while Matt will eat it, he doesn’t love it.  So in my never ending desire to wow my husband with food he loves, I only make this when he’s gone.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that I haven’t made this since we moved from North Carolina.  When Gray saw some leftovers in the fridge, he asked what it was — mostly because of the crust.  If I hadn’t used spicy sausage, I bet he’d be a fan of this one given that he’s such a fan of chicken pot pie — and not because of the filling.

Baked Angel Hair with Eggplant

  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 6 Japanese eggplants (about 2 pounds total), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 pound mild Italian turkey sausage (I used spicy), casings removed
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces angel hair pasta
  • 1 pound mozzarella, diced
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 (17 1/4-ounce) package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed

Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the eggplant and toss to coat in the oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute the eggplant until it is golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium. Add half of the garlic and saute until it is tender, about 2 minutes longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant mixture to a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining 1/4 cup oil and the remaining eggplant and garlic.

Add the sausage and wine to the same frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the wine evaporates and the sausage is brown, breaking the sausage into pieces with the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Add the sausage, marinara sauce, and crushed red pepper to the eggplant mixture, and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the angel hair and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until pasta is still slightly crunchy and under cooked. Drain. Toss the angel hair with the eggplant mixture. Cool completely. Add the mozzarella and Parmesan and toss to combine.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out 1 pastry sheet on a floured surface to a 13 1/2-inch square. Transfer to a 9-inch springform pan, allowing the excess pastry to hang over the rim. Spoon the pasta mixture into the pan. Place the second pastry sheet atop the pasta filling. Pinch the edges of the pastry sheets together to seal. Trim the overhanging pastry edges to about 1-inch. Fold the pastry edges in to form a decorative border. Cut a slit in the center of the top pastry to allow the steam to escape.

Bake until the pastry is brown and puffed on top, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Let stand for 20 minutes. Remove the pan sides and serve.

Drive In Movie Night

We are strategically located out in the middle of nowhere; it takes a little over 20 minutes to get just about anywhere – school, the gym, the grocery – but it takes a mere 18 minutes to get to the drive in!  It had been several years since our last trip to the Highway 50 Drive In, and I’m not exactly what caused Matt to look and see what was playing, but I’m certainly glad he did.  We saw Cars 3 (loved it) and Wonder Woman (didn’t love it) and had a terrific time snuggled in the back of the truck with pillows, blankets, games, and snacks.

When I was telling Matt the menu I’d chosen, I could tell he was less than thrilled.  “But I want bar-type food,” he said.  “How in the world am I going to serve fancy burgers and cheese fries at a drive in?” I replied.  “They don’t allow grills or fryers there, and the food would be cold and soggy if I made it at home and then packed it up to eat there.”  Perhaps it was that I tried to make the menu somewhat healthy with a fattening dessert, but give me some credit here because I did pack real Coke and Doritos too.

Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (I used thin chicken breasts)
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 ciabatta rolls halved as for sandwiches (I used sub rolls)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons Sun-Dried Tomato Spread
  • 6 tablespoons pesto (I skipped this part because Matt’s not a big fan)
  • 6 slices fresh mozzarella

Lay out the chicken thighs and sprinkle both sides generously with salt and pepper.  Heat grill to medium. When the grill is up to temperature, lay out the chicken thighs. Grill the thighs, turning a couple of times, for 10-12 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the thickest part reaches 165°F. Just before removing the chicken from the grill, lay out one slice of mozzarella over each chicken thigh. While that begins to melt, drizzle olive oil over the cut sides of the ciabatta rolls and lay them directly on the grill. When the cheese is hot all the way through, use a spatula to transfer the thighs and toasted rolls to a platter.  Spread 1 tablespoon of the Sun-Dried Tomato spread on the bottom, half of each roll, then 1 tablespoon of the pesto on the top half of each roll. Use a spatula to transfer one chicken thigh, melted cheese side up onto each roll’s bottom half. Position the top half, pesto side down, on the chicken. If desired, slice the sandwich in half on the diagonal. Serve hot, warm, or room temperature.



Pasta Salad

  • 8 ounces spiral pasta
  • 8 ounces green beans
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 splash Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 cups baby arugula (I used spinach)
  • 2 ounces feta cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions, adding green beans during last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain and run under cold water to cool.  Using a vegetable peeler, remove 3 strips of zest from lemon; thinly slice. In a large bowl, squeeze 2 tablespoon lemon juice. Whisk in olive oil, Parmesan, mustard, Worcestershire, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Add pasta, green beans, and lemon zest and toss to coat. Fold in arugula and feta.

Double Layer Brownie

Brownie Ingredients

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Fudge Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 12 ounces evaporated milk
  • 7 ounces marshmallow fluff
  • 12 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 12 ounces milk chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter 13×9-inch pan. Melt chocolate and butter in small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until completely melted; cool.  Beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture. Stir in flour, walnuts, and vanilla. Spread evenly in prepared pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes or just until set. Do not over bake.

Meanwhile, prepare Fudge Topping.  Combine sugar, butter and milk in large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat; boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add remaining ingredients except for the walnuts. Beat until smooth.  Remove brownies from oven. Immediately pour topping evenly over hot brownies. Cool in pan on wire rack. Place in freezer until firm. Cut into 1-inch squares.

Everything was delicious – especially the brownies!  But of course we still had to hit the concession stand for hot buttered popcorn.  And next time, I’ll try harder at the bar-type food.  I don’t think I can make nachos work, but I could try taco dip.  That’s pretty close.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta

“I miss having a garden,” I recently said to my father-in-law. “I thought you hated the garden,” he replied. I went on to explain that I have a love/hate relationship with having a garden. I love walking out at about 4:00 in the afternoon to see what is fresh and deciding what I can use for dinner that night. I hate the fact that a garden refuses to follow my schedule. I can’t tell you how many nights — after I’ve gotten up at 4:30 to run so I can volunteer at school until 2:30 and then come home and work while Gray does homework, then make dinner, and while I am trying to clean up, Matt brings in 2 buckets full of purple-hull peas to be shelled, washed, blanched, bagged, and then frozen. That doesn’t fit my schedule at 7:30 at night after a long day. But yet somehow I still miss the first part of the whole garden thing.

Toward the end of every July, Gray and I visit my parents for a week. We grace them with our presence so that they can spoil us with lots of fun, good food, oh and my birthday party. More on that last thing next week.  A bonus for visiting this time of year is that the garden is really coming on. So a few weeks ago, I traveled back to Tennessee from Indiana with a backseat full of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and squash (plus homemade blackberry jelly). Gray quickly demolished the cucumbers, and I slowly worked on the other items, making my grilled cheese with tomatoes and having plenty of BLT’s. I made zucchini bread, grilled squash, and I still had quite a bit of stuff left. Produce from a parent’s garden is like gold — you should never let it go to waste, so Saturday night I put the remaining tomatoes, zucchini, and squash to yummy use.

First, I made homemade marinara sauce using this recipe.

marinara 2016

Next, I chunked up zucchini, squash, and onion; placed them on a cookie sheet; drizzled them with olive oil; seasoned them with sea salt; and roasted them at 400 degrees for 35 minutes.

zucchini squash mom and dads garden

After the vegetables were done, I cooked rigatoni pasta to al dente, then mixed it with about half the sauce, the roasted vegetables, a ball of diced fresh mozzarella, placed all of it in a casserole dish, topped it all with freshly grated parmesan cheese, and then baked it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

roasted veggie pasta


roasted veggie pasta 2

And sadly now the produce from my parent’s garden is gone……. Hey Mom and Dad, didn’t you say you felt like coming to Tennessee this weekend?

Beefy Manicotti

“I don’t like manicotti,” said my obviously unhappy husband.  I knew that, but I had a surprise up my sleeve.  “It’s beef manicotti,” I replied, and suddenly he looked a bit more pleased.  But not as pleased as he was after he took the first bite.  Home run.

beef manicotti pan

First, I made a batch of marinara using my favorite (and really the only one I use) marinara recipe.

Filling for the shells:

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. oregano
  • 1/2 t. basil
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 1 cup mozzarella
  • 1 cup marinara

Brown the ground beef with the onion, herbs, salt, and pepper.  Allow to cool slightly.  Mix in the remaining ingredients.

Cook 1 box manicotti shells in salted boiling water for 5 minutes.  Drain and allow to cool slightly.

Place a layer of marinara on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.  Stuff the shells with the meat mixture and place them in a single layer on top of the marinara.  Top the whole thing with a ladle or two of marinara, another cup of mozzarella, and a cup of grated parmesan.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

And then you get this:

beef manicotti plate

Delicious man-friendly, meat-filled manicotti along side one of my favorite salads — Italian Chopped Salad by Giada De Laurentiis

  • 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped romaine lettuce (from 1/2 head)
  • 2 cups finely chopped radicchio (from 1/2 large head)
  • 1/2 cup drained canned white beans, rinsed and patted dry
  • 8 oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves, drained and chopped

Whisk the vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper in a large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in the oil to blend. Add the lettuce, radicchio, beans, and sun-dried tomatoes. Toss to coat. Season the salad, to taste, with more salt and pepper, and serve.

Delicious dinner, plus I had enough meat mixture and marinara leftover to make an 8×8 lasagna.  Score!

Rigatoni with Sausage Tomato Sauce

Periodically, Matt gets on a no-carb kick.  It absolutely kills me, but being the good wife that I am, I make adjustments to our meals.  One morning while at the gym sweating my tail off on the elliptical, The Rachael Ray Show happened to be on.  (There’s something so wrong about working out while watching a food show.)  And wouldn’t you know it, she had several chefs on teaching someone how to make pasta dishes.  Just shoot me now.

My mouth watered as I huffed and puffed.  I could no longer take it.  I had to have pasta.  I apologized to my husband, and he blew his no-carb kick.  Here’s the link to Lidia Bastianich’s Rigatoni with Sausage-Tomato Sauce.  I made some minor adjustments to the recipe when I made it.  Here’s how I did it:

Rigatoni with Sausage Tomato Sauce

  • 1 1/2 pounds mild Italian Sausage
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepperoncino flakes
  • 2 diced zucchini
  • 6 cups crushed tomatoes
  • Handful basil, torn
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing

Pour the EVOO in a skillet.  Brown the sausage and onions.  Then add the garlic, salt, and pepperoncino.  Deglaze the pan with the wine.  Add in the zucchini, tomatoes, a cup of water, and the torn basil.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to simmer and cover the pan with the lid slightly ajar, and allow the sauce to simmer for an hour.

When the sauce is almost ready, cook the rigatoni in salted water according to the package directions.  Drain.  Stir 1-2 cups of the sauce in to the pasta and add the parmesan cheese.  When plating, top with more sauce and sprinkle with more cheese.  You should have some sauce leftover.

Lidias rigatoni

It’s a delicious dish.  I’m certain it was extra-delicious because I was so carb-deprived.

The First Annual Treading of the Grapes

Last Sunday on the way home from church, Matt had an epiphany.  He wanted to have a grape harvesting party, let the kids stomp the grapes, and then serve Italian food.  Have I ever mentioned that Matt has a ‘vineyard’?  I like to poke fun at him — and he typically takes it well.  He has around 40 plants and has tried his hand at making wine for the last few years now.  It has gone from flat-out terrible to relatively drinkable.  I’d call that progress.

Last Sunday the vines were loaded with ripe grapes, but he wanted to wait one more week as last year he felt he picked them a bit too early.  He extended invitations to The First Annual Treading of the Grapes, 22 folks committed, and then he left for Greensboro for the week.  I, of course, never paid a bit of attention to the grapes while he was gone.  All last week I made preparations for Saturday’s big meal by doing all the shopping, making meatballs ahead of time, and chopping vegetables.  Friday afternoon, I made Nutella Cookies and an Italian Cream Cake.

Saturday morning I had just finished my run and was walking toward our house, and Matt, in his truck, started heading my way.  He stopped, and I could just tell something was wrong.  “Have you seen the grapes?” he asked.  Of course, I don’t pay a bit of attention to the grapes so I missed the fact that critters of some sort had nearly stripped the vines clean.  He was so disappointed.  But, alas, 22 people would be there in a few hours….so the party went on with a small token picking and no stomping.



There’s always next year for that.

Now the meal was a huge success.  We started with Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus and Rosemary Parmesan Breadsticks while the kids enjoyed Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies.

me and food 3

Dinner consisted of Arugula Salad and Spaghetti and Meatballs. (Here’s the link to the marinara recipe I used.)

me and food 4

The troops were happy.


Finally dessert of Italian Cream Cake and a Gelato bar.

me and food 1

me and food 2

And while the grape thing was a bust, it was an evening of sheer happiness for me — getting to feed lots of people.