Top Your Own Pasta Bar

For Dad’s bday we did a top-your-own pasta bar. It was really fun and I loooove customizing dinner with a group. Mom made everything and the rest of us just reaped the benefits.

We started with an antipasto which is actually Dad’s signature dish.
Antipasto - The Three Bite Rule
The pasta bar started with cheese tortellini in a light cream sauce. Then the toppings were all separate and allowed perfect customization.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Bar
We had grilled chicken tenders.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Bar
We had carrots, zucchini, and some tomatoes, onions, with a little pesto.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Bar
We also had peapods, artichokes, and capers.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Bar
It was really good. I had mine with zucchini, chicken, and onions with tomatoes. Topped with Parmesan.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Bar
The man of honor, had chicken, artichokes, capers, and some lemon.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Bar
We wrapped up with blueberry pie which was gone before I remembered to snap a pic.

Happy Birthday DAD!!

Kale Pesto Pasta Salad

Last fall Mr. J found a recipe for roasted kale pesto that he served over pork chops and polenta. I loved it and figured the pesto would be great for pasta salad.

The Three Bite Rule - Roasted Kale Pesto Pasta Salad


1 head of kale
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts
2 tbs lemon juice
3 tbs Parmesan
1/2 pound pasta


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Tear the kale off the stems and spread onto a sheet pan.
Drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper.
Bake for 5 minutes, check and flip being careful not to let it burn. Cook for another 3 minutes.
The Three Bite Rule - Roasted Kale Pesto Pasta Salad
Transfer into a food processor with walnuts, lemon juice, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.
The Three Bite Rule - Roasted Kale Pesto Pasta Salad
Blend until smooth while slowly streaming in the olive oil until you reach your desired thickness.
The Three Bite Rule - Roasted Kale Pesto Pasta Salad
Let cool. Boil salted water for the pasta. Cook until al dente and drain.
Toss with the pesto.
The Three Bite Rule - Roasted Kale Pesto Pasta Salad
Refrigerate over night, or at least 8 hours.
Toss with a drizzle of oil if it is too dry.
The Three Bite Rule - Roasted Kale Pesto Pasta Salad
I loved this. It could easily be a cool meal for some hot-weather. The pesto is unbelievable. I love this pesto but I think it blows regular pasta salad out of the water. That creamy mayo-heavy sweet pasta salad has nothing on this.

I couldn’t believe how much the color changed. The flavor deepens with time.

Mexican Mac & Cheese

These Mexican-inspired flavors into mac & cheese are sooo good. I made it wayyy back in 2011 but I thought since I love it so, it deserved a photo re-do. I use cheddar, corn, salsa, taco meat, and top it with tortilla chips. Sometimes I throw in tomatoes, green chilis, and black beans.



1/2 pound ground beef, chicken, or turkey
4 tbs taco seasoning
1/2 pound elbow pasta
1 cup corn
8 oz shredded cheddar
3 tbs flour
3 tbs butter
1 1/2 cup milk
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup salsa
1 cup tortilla chips, crumbled


Bring plenty of salted water to boil for the pasta.
In a large pan, cook the ground meat until cooked through. Drain, and add taco seasoning, a splash of water, and reduce heat to low.
Add the pasta to the boiling water, and cook according to the package. Be careful not to overcook.
In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir as the roux becomes a paste. Cook for about 3 minutes until it changes from yellow to light tan.
Whisk in the milk and until smooth. Add in 3/4 of the cheese, stirring until smooth. Add the last 2 tbs of taco seasoning.
When the pasta is mostly cooked, add in the corn for the last 2 minutes of cooking.
Remove from the heat, and stir in the taco meat and tomatoes.
The Three Bite Rule - Mexican Mac & Cheese
Preheat the oven to 375-degrees.
Drain the pasta and the corn. Then add to the cheese sauce mix.
The Three Bite Rule - Mexican Mac & Cheese
Gently add the pasta in and mix. Then spread into a baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray, dotting with salsa and sprinkling in the last of the shredded cheese.
The Three Bite Rule - Mexican Mac & Cheese
Top with crumbled tortilla chips.
Cover and bake 15 minutes.
Uncover, and bake another 10 minutes.
The Three Bite Rule - Mexican Mac & Cheese
Serve with salsa and enjoy!

I really love the taco seasoning flavors and some of the taco-inspired-additions. The baking time gives it a chance to really come together, and is perfect timing to get everything else washed and away by the time it comes out. I don’t make it very spicy but you can amp it up a notch if you like!
The Three Bite Rule - Mexican Mac & Cheese

Tortellini Salad with Spinach & Tomatoes

This tortellini salad could easily be a side dish but this ended up as the whole meal one warm night. It is addictive and packs a fresh and flavorful bite after bite after bite.

The Three Bite Rule - Tortellini Salad


9 oz cheese tortellini
1/4 cup Italian dressing
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups baby spinach leaves, chiffonade
1/4 cup cheddar
1 tbs creamy Caesar dressing


Boil salted water and cook the tortellini according to the package.
Let cool, and toss with Italian dressing. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, or overnight. I did this much before work.
The Three Bite Rule - Tortellini Salad
Stir in tomatoes, spinach, cheddar, and creamy dressing.
Salt & pepper to taste.
The Three Bite Rule - Tortellini Salad

I loved the juicy tomatoes adding a bit more moisture to this. The spinach acted like an herb while providing the benefit of vitamin A & vitamin C. The cheese was subtle but a great bite behind the freshness of everything else.

This was a great one-bowl-wonder dinner. It hit a few food groups and was suuuuper easy.

The Three Bite Rule - Tortellini Salad

Brown Butter Pasta with Summer Veggies

I figured out how to take the mystery out of brown butter. Making it in white-bottomed pot made it sooo much easier. There wasn’t a risk of the butter going too far.

The Three Bite Rule - Brown Butter Pasta


1 stick butter (not margarine or a butter substitute)
1/2 pound of pasta (rigatoni or penne or other short pasta)
asparagus spears
1 cup corn
1 1/2 cup tomatoes (cherry or grape)
6-8 basil leaves (optional)
2 tsp grated Parmesan


Heat a large flat pan to medium heat.
Cut the butter into chunks and add to the pan.
The Three Bite Rule - Brown Butter Pasta
Preheat the oven to 400-degrees.
Whisk the butter as it melts, watching for it to foam up.
Cut the asparagus into 4ths, and spread out onto a baking sheet with a drizzle of olive oil. Roast the asparagus for about 7 minutes.
Boil plenty of salted water for the pasta.
When the butter starts to get light tan specks on the bottom, start whisking.
The Three Bite Rule - Brown Butter Pasta
Keep whisking as it gets brown all over the bottom of the pan, and then remove from heat, about 2 minutes. If it stays heating too long it will burn and you’ll have to start over.
Add the tomatoes and the corn onto the pan with the asparagus and return to the oven for about 5-7 minutes.
The Three Bite Rule - Brown Butter Pasta
Put the pasta into the salted water, cook according to package.
Drain the pasta.
Toss the pasta with the roasted veggies and the brown butter. Sprinkle with basil and a touch of Parmesan.
The Three Bite Rule - Brown Butter Pasta
I loved this. The veggies were a great blend. The asparagus still had some crunch while the tomatoes added some moisture. The corn was pretty much for color and a touch of sweetness. I looove brown butter.

When I’ve made it in my dark-bottomed pots I found it hard to tell when it was done – versus too-done. This time I made it in a flat dutch oven. The glazed pot made it really easy to tell when it was ready. I love the nutty flavor. It is seriously the easiest sauce for pasta. It is good on filled pasta that still need to be the highlight…like lobster ravioli or pumpkin ravioli.

Baked Gnocchi with Meat Sauce

I was scrounging around in the freezer to see what I could come up with and this just all came together. I had a bag of frozen gnocchi and I found some ground sausage. I whipped up some meat sauce and added ricotta, parmesan, and some fresh mozzarella. It was meant to be! This would be great with gnocchi or tortellini, or ravioli. I could have done the same thing with a tubular shaped pasta as baked “ziti”-ish.

I always keep tomato sauce around. My fav is plain crushed tomatoes. It has a fresher flavor than jarred sauce and doesn’t have lots of weird stuff in it. It’s handy and if I can’t use it a few ways than I pop the rest in the freezer.

The Three Bite Rule - Baked Gnocchi


frozen or refrigerated gnocchi
28 oz Pastene kitchen ready tomatoes
12 oz sweet Italian Sausage
6 oz fresh mozzarella
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup ricotta


In a large pan over medium-high heat, brown the sausage until cooked through, about 7 minutes breaking it up into smaller pieces.
Drain and return to the pot. Add in the tomatoes, cover, and reduce heat to low.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and preheat the oven to 350-degrees.
Boil the gnocchi according to the package, they will raise to the top when they’re cooked.
Ladle some sauce onto the bottom of a baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray.
The Three Bite Rule - Baked Gnocchi
Gently toss the gnocchi with some sauce, and spoon half into the baking dish. Sprinkle half the Parmesan and dollops of half of the ricotta.
The Three Bite Rule - Baked Gnocchi
Ladle some more sauce in, the rest of the gnocchi, the rest of the ricotta, and the rest of the Parmesan.
The Three Bite Rule - Baked Gnocchi
Sprinkle in some basil/thyme/Parsley and then ladle in a little more sauce.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Add sliced mozzarella and return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes.

The Three Bite Rule - Baked Gnocchi

Ohh wow. I loved this. It had great flavor and texture. The cheesiness was so great, and varied from the ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella. I only had a small amount of mozzarella so that went onto the top. I almost always have ricotta kicking around…ricotta is a typical breakfast on toast with sliced avocado.  I love the sweet sausage in the sauce.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta

Today is a weird day. Our heartstrings are tight here today for the 118th Boston Marathon. Last year’s events don’t feel that long ago. I still can’t believe it and Boston is so small that it all felt like my back yard. The event production in me cringes that these terrible events forever change this race. The foodie in me feels badly that there were several restaurants nearby with servers and bartenders who are still dealing with it. Every time I listen to the first hand accounts I cannot keep the tears back.  I can’t believe how many people have suffered hearing disabilities. There are so many who are still recovering, and I feel sorry for those who will not recover.

I’m thankful to have today off, for the first time ever. Mom and I are letting the pups run in the yard, whipping up something fun for lunch, and we’re casually watching the marathon. It seems right to settle in, enjoy the little things, and be together. In honor of the Boston Marathon, I figured on this day I should post pasta. It seems marathon-y. Not that this pasta is appropriate pre-marathon but it is a treat. It is true comfort to share today.

The Three Bite Rule - Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta


2 slices bacon, chopped
2 chicken breasts, chopped and marinated in Italian dressing
3 tbs ranch dressing mix
3/4 pound of spaghetti or fettuccine
2 tsp butter
2 tsp flour
1 1/2 cup milk
2 cups arugula, diced


Pan fry bacon until crisp. Remove and drain the bacon leaving the bacon grease in the pan.
The Three Bite Rule - Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
Add chicken to the bacon pan, and cook through stirring occasionally.
The Three Bite Rule - Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
Add in a tsp of ranch mix to the chicken.
Bring salted water to a boil for the pasta.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the flour and combine to a paste. Cook for 2-3 more minutes, then whisk in the milk.
Add the rest of the ranch mix, reserving 1 tsp separately. Reduce the heat to medium low.
The Three Bite Rule - Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
Cook the pasta until al dente.
Add the pasta to the chicken skillet, with the sauce (if large enough) over medium heat.
Add in the chicken, bacon, arugula, and remaining ranch mix, tossing well to combine. Cook for 2-5 more minutes until the sauce reduces a bit.
The Three Bite Rule - Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta

This was so good. I loved this. The flavors were strong. I liked the peppery arugula and just enough bacon but lots of bacon flavor with the chicken. The ranch is really undeniable. It was so good. This is so good with strong elements so I was glad I didn’t muck it up with too many flavors…like cheese.

suggested adaptations:
premade sauce + a grocery store roasted chicken = an easier chicken bacon ranch pasta
chicken bacon ranch pasta – arugula + spinach + chopped tomato – half the ranch mix = lighter flavored chicken bacon ranch pasta

Pasta Carbonara

I love pasta but try to limit it to quickie dinners or really good mac & cheese…otherwise I might want it nightly. I figured it was time to make some legit pasta. Carbonara is an easy one to whip up needing only eggs, cream, and bacon. Ohh, and lots of Parmesan. Don’t forget the Parmesan.

It is delightfully creamy but has a lightness to it. There are so few ingredients which is also awesome.

The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Carbonara

I used refrigerated pasta that makes a great impression for this dinner. I always can tell the difference but really, I don’t discriminate. Fresh obviously costs a bit more but when pricing out this dinner, you’ll see it was so cheap it didn’t really matter.


9 oz package fresh fettucchini
4 slices of thick cut bacon
1/4 cup white onion, chopped finely
4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
3 eggs
1/4 cup half and half (increase if making a pound of pasta)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tsp garlic powder
salt & pepper


Bring plenty of salted water to a boil.
In a medium flat pan, fry the bacon until crisp. Then remove and drain on paper towels.
Leave 1 tsp of bacon fat in the pan to fry the onion. Add garlic after 2 minutes.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Carbonara
Add eggs, cream, Parmesan, garlic powder, and a sprinkle of salt & pepper to a large bowl.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Carbonara
Boil the pasta according to the directions (fresh pasta = about 3 minutes; dried pasta = about 12 minutes)
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Carbonara
Whisk together the sauce mixture.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Carbonara
Put a bowl underneath a colander, or ladle out a few cups of the starchy water.
Drain the pasta shaking it well, but do not run water over it. Then start tossing with the creamy egg mixture.
Spoon in the onions, garlic, and bacon.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Carbonara
Toss well and let sit for 5 minutes to absorb the sauce. If it is too thick, spoon in a little of the reserved starchy water.

I like the simplicity of this dish. The fresh pasta is a huuuuge addition in this dish. The creamy sauce is light, the bacon is crisp, the Parmesan is salty. It is such a perfect combination. I love pasta carbonara and it doesn’t have to just be reserved for restaurants.
The Three Bite Rule - Pasta Carbonara
I didn’t add peas, because I don’t like ‘em. I had some flatleaf parsley for freshness but I forgot it. This is the perfect reminder that some of the best meals are really very easy. I really loved this in any way it sat before me.

fresh pasta: $3.29 (mine was 9oz, not a pound)
4 slices of bacon: approx. $2.66
3 eggs: approx. $0.70
half & half: $0.50
Parmesan: $0.80
total cost = $7.95 for 3 servings or just $2.63 per person

Kale Mac & Cheese

Mac and cheese becomes healthy if there’s a leafy green ingredient. Right? I love mac & cheese. It is one of my favorite wintry comfort foods. We Are Not Martha posted a great adult-flavored mac & cheese a few weeks ago. I figured mac and cheese was a great use for some of my leftover cheese fondue.

The Three Bite Rule - Kale Mac & Cheese
Some of my favorite mac & cheeses:
Fontina Mac & Cheese with potato chip topping
Bacon Ranch Mac & Cheese because these are the best. flavors. anywhere.
Mexican Mac & Cheese with taco seasoning and taco inspiration
Mac & Cheese Taste-off to try 11 different mac & cheeses while stuffing your guests


1 cup cheese sauce (or leftover cheese fondue)
1 cup chicken or veggie stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded cheese (I used swiss)
1 egg yolk
1/2 pound pasta (I used mini rigatoni)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup of crackers, crumbled
2 tbs grated parmesan
salt & pepper


Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Boil salted water for the pasta.
In a medium saucepan, warm cheese sauce over medium-low heat.
Add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook until al dente, being careful not to overcook.
Add in the broth and heavy cream, mixing well.
Tear the kale off the center stocks by pulling from the base towards the other end. Then chop the leafy parts, discarding the stocks.
Drain the pasta and mix into the cheese sauce.
The Three Bite Rule - Kale Mac & Cheese
Sprinkle in the kale and mix well.
The Three Bite Rule - Kale Mac & Cheese
Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray.
Mix in the egg yolk and shredded cheese to the pasta mixture and transfer to the baking dish.
The Three Bite Rule - Kale Mac & Cheese
Bake for 10 minutes.
While mac and cheese is baking, mix together melted butter, cracker crumbs, and parmesan.
Sprinkle topping onto the mac and cheese and bake for another 15 minutes.
The Three Bite Rule - Kale Mac & Cheese

I loooved this. It was a great use of some leftover fondue. It’s been such a cold year and this was exactly what I needed. The kale was earthy against the cheesiness. The egg yolk is a secret ingredient that adds a velvet texture like carbonara.
The Three Bite Rule - Kale Mac & Cheese

Traditional Lasagna

Wayyy back in early blogging days here at The Three Bite Rule I did a post about lasagna, circa 2011. I shared some tips on how to build a better lasagna. I figured that old post, with terrible photos deserved a redo. Lasagna is one of my favorite foods. I absolutely love the combination of flavors. The meat and noodles, and ricotta, and melty mozzarella are all my favorite parts! Also, not eating red meat means I can’t usually order it at restaurants.

Since that old post I blogged a butternut squash lasagna which I totally love.
The Three Bite Rule - Butternut Squash Lasagna

I also posted some lasagna tips in my father-in-law’s honor. He tested Italian restaurants by their lasagna, and I’m proud to say he liked mine!

I did a white chicken lasagna with spinach that had some amazing flavors in a comforting dish.
The Three Bite Rule - White Chicken Lasagna
You know how they say not to grocery shop when you’re hungry? I advise not to start lasagna when you’re hungry. It isn’t hard, but it dirties a lot of dishes, takes some prep time and some bake time, and is a “labor” of love to get assembled. When I made this lasagna  recently, I had already eaten a really simple dinner before whipping up lasagna.

You always could split up the work into 2 by assembling one night and baking for the first time another night when you have the oven on already. It might sound nuts but it is more fun when you aren’t trying to hurry up. I alwayssss make 2 smaller lasagnas. I prep one for early use and another for the freezer. I think lasagna is amazing as leftovers and can really be baked a few times (at a low temperature) to taste even better.

I have some adaptations and a few cooking tips. I apologize in advance that once again while making 2 lasagnas my pictures ended up as a mix between the two. Don’t get thrown off when you see an entirely different pan enter the photos. Oops! This is a recipe I totally recommend reading through, doing your prep and this will seem much easier. Make a few different lasagnas for your next gathering and you’ll be relieved by how all the prep happens in advance (as in days in advance). Poof. Instant dinner.


3/4 pound ground chicken/pork/beef
3 sweet Italian sausage links, removed from casing
1 pound lasagna noodles
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 egg
~10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
28 oz Pastene Kitchen Ready Tomatoes
6 oz tomato paste
1 cup alfredo sauce (jarred or make yourself)
1/2 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
16 oz shredded mozzarella
3 cups baby spinach


Boil water for pasta if using traditional noodles and cook according to package (I used no-cook lasagna pasta sheets)
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
In a large skillet, over medium heat, brown ground meat, draining any excess grease. Then brown sausage, drain, and mix with cooked ground meat. Don’t overcook as the whole lasagna will bake again. Just cook through.
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
In a large pot gently warm tomatoes and tomato paste over low.
Mix ricotta, egg, basil, salt, and pepper together.
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
Set up your ingredients into a mini assembly line. I suggest prepping/planning your layers before you start layering. It also helps to do some math to know how many noodle sheets you’ll need per layer. It is wicked annoying to get to the end, aka the top, and be short on pasta layers.
In a 13×9 pan (or 2 9×9 pans to make one & freeze one) spray with non-stick spray and ladle some tomato sauce, topping with noodles.
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
Drizzle on half the alfredo sauce.
Layer on some of the meat mixture (about 3/4 of it) and sprinkle with just a bit of mozzarella
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
Top with the cream of chicken soup mixed with milk “sauce” and more noodles (don’t skip this, it will be your secret ingredient to add a different creamy/rich/dynamic flavor).
Add some marinara to the layer and spread on the ricotta mixture.
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
Top with more noodles, a drizzle of alfredo, mozzarella, and spinach.
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
Sprinkle on the rest of the meat mixture, and mozzarella.
Add on the noodles for the top, with marinara on the very top.
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
Bake 350-degrees for 45 minutes covered.
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
Uncover, top with mozzarella (if eating right then) and bake another 10 minutes (or until cheese is melted).
The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna

Tip if enjoying another night:
bake the 45 minutes, let cool, refrigerate to eat within a few days. On the night it is served, bake again for 30 min at 350-degrees to heat through, uncover, top with mozzarella, and bake another 10 minutes.
Tip if enjoying weeks/a few months later: bake the 45 minutes, let cool, then freeze. The day before serving, defrost by switching the lasagna from the freezer to the refrigerator for 24-hours. Then bake 30-45 minutes at 350-degrees until heated through. Uncover, top with mozzarella, and bake another 10 minutes.

some suggested adaptations: 
traditional lasagna + sautéed onions/leeks/eggplant/zucchini – spinach = more veggie centered recipe
traditional lasagna + meat and tomato sauce mixed + ricotta & alfredo mixed = easier layering recipe
traditional lasagna – meat + chopped mushrooms = vegetarian lasagna
traditional lasagna – sheets of lasagna – ricotta mixture + cheese ravioli = easy weeknight assembly option
traditional lasagna – sheets of lasagna + short pasta (rigatoni or penne or ziti) = instant lasagna
traditional lasagna – sweet Italian sausage + hot Italian sausage + pepperoni = lasagna with some zing!

The Three Bite Rule - Traditional Lasagna
Phew! That’s it. Those are my tips. Enjoy one of my favorite foods! Any family traditional ingredients I’m missing?