Pasta Pie

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Dr. Seuss (whose birthday is my birthday’s eve) has a cute book people give to high school graduates about Oh, The Places You’ll Go. After celebrating all the ups he then turns to:

“Except when you don’t cause sometimes you won’t
I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.”

Then he goes into decisions and second chances yada yada yada. Well, this is how I felt making this Pasta Pie. Mostly I share my triumphs and surprises but I have a doozy for you.

I saw this recipe on Pinterest by way of another blog but it sounds like it originated with Martha. I thought it looked so fun and it seemed genius! It didn’t work that well but was still totally edible.

Ok, let’s start from the beginning.

I don’t have a springform pan. The last time I made cheesecake I figured it was safer in a circular pan anyway. Well, I have a new rockin’ baking piece from Le Creuset and I thought this Pasta Pie would be perfect in it too!
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Ingredients

1 pound rigatoni
3 cups pasta sauce
8 oz sweet Italian sausage
1 cup shredded cheese (Asaiago and Parmesan blend)

Directions

Cook pasta partially, until just before al dente (it will cook more in the oven)
Brown sausage.
Transfer cooked pasta into baking dish or springform pan and stand up pasta.
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Spread sausage and sauce over the top and finish with cheese.
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Bake 20 minutes at 375.

I didn’t take the time to push the meat and sauce into the upright noodles so mine didn’t stay together at all. I also think my sauce was too chunky and the sausage chunks were too big. I definitely should have tried to get it into the holes though.
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Standing the pasta seemed daunting at first until I figured out my technique. I couldn’t get them to stay even with the help of a wooden spoon corralling them. Then I dumped ALL the pasta in and the ones I hadn’t stood up yet helped to keep the others standing.

It actually reheated better than it was even that night. It mixed well like baked ziti would and the pasta wasn’t overdone.

They can’t all be winners…can they?

Perfect Sauce at Sauce

 

As often as I travel for work, I rarely blog about my eatings during those trips. Seriously. I worked four cities this year so far and this is the first one you’re hearing about. San Fran deserves it though. I simply adore the city and I always know there will be unexpectedly amazing meals coordinated by the local staff. Did you see this other treat in San Fran?
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For the past two years we’ve eaten at Sauce, an unassuming little restaurant & bar in the Hayes Valley area. The menu features comfort food in a classy and sophisticated atmosphere. The food is not pretentious…it’s just all done really well.Feeding our large group, in a timely fashion, on a serious budget is no small feat. That’s why I greatly appreciate how generous and accommodating Sauce is.

Probably 90% of the group visited the bar before dinner. There were fantastic cocktails. I had my eye on a lemon-looking one garnished with a sugared lemon slice!

They started us off with the lincoln logs of portabello mushroom fries and fat boy ranch dipping sauce. AMAZING. These are so lightly battered and make you want to play Jenga when you see the tower. Ms. K who doesn’t even like mushrooms was impressed. We also got the meal going with some bruschetta. I loved it and could have enjoyed the appetizers as my whole meal.
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Dinner was family style with salad, buttery carrot coins, brussels sprouts, veggie lasagna, and a side of meatballs.

I’m not a huge fan of carrots but these were so delicious. They were thin and warm with the littlest bit of pepper made them this memorable.

The lasagna was so good. It was cheesy and the sauce made it bright and really flavorful without being too acidic. The crispy edges made me swoon.
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They served a really delicious chilled red wine. I knew it was coming so I hadn’t hit up the bar. The owner explained it and assured us it was meant to be chilled. Needless to say our table of 6 finished every last drop.

We even got dessert. I also knew this was coming from years past so I kept room. It was delightful cinnamon sugared donut bites with a vanilla burbon dipping sauce. Ooo that sauce! These were the perfect bites to finish the meal.
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I love this place and thought we were so well taken care of. The extras like appetizers, wine, and dessert were greatly appreciated. I loved every sauce we ate. The owner introduced himself and told us how happy he was to have us given his connection to the cause as well.

 

 

I’ve Got An Ap For That…

While I sadly do not yet have an iPhone I may have just made the best restaurant APpetizer at home!

In honor of my Mac & Cheese-loving-Mrs. Z, I made some fried mac & cheese bites when she was visiting Boston with her husband (who planned a guest blog post for me!). Mrs. A & Mr. D joined us for a mini staff (and husbands) dinner party.
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They were amazing. Albeit not perfect, they were still delectable and I’m onto a good thing. I think the technique was really important. I stole a tip from a blog, Dinner With Julie. She recommended making the mac & cheese then refrigerating it so it can easily be cut. Definitely a good tip. Check it out on her blog!

 

You may have seen me make mac & cheese before here or proclaim my love for it here. I wasn’t sure how this would go so I just whipped up some basic mac & cheese with small shells and cheddar.

Ingredients

mac & cheese (boxed or prepared as you like it)
2 cups vegetable oil for frying
2 eggs whipped
1 cup panko

Directions

Prepare mac & cheese
Refrigerate several hours in square dish 1” thick
Remove from dish in 1 piece and cut into cubes while oil is heating on medium heat in large skillet.
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Dredge the mac & cheese cubes in egg and panko before dropping into oil. Turn halfway until evenly golden brown.
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My oil wasn’t quite hot enough at first so the first round wasn’t as crisp but they were still good. Next time, as I’m sure there will be a next time, I would mix in some shredded cheese after preparing the mac & cheese so the bites would be more cheesy. I rarely fry anything because I think it’s such a bother and I don’t like the sputtering oil. Mr. J and I had JUST started a wedding registry and joked when we saw the a deep fryer…as if anyone needs that at home. Dangerous!

They were fun and more unusual than I go for aps. I was really happy with them but plan to only break them out on special occasions. I’m glad I attempted them. I now wonder if they could be made ahead of time and broiled briefly before serving to stay warm? We’ll see…

Baked Orzo Flop

I thought I was super clever when I started waking up earlier. This gave me the chance to get stuff done before leaving for work. I unloaded the dishwasher, I poked through my RSS feeds, and I planned dinner.

Once again, I started thinking about what I could make with what I had around…anything to avoid grocery shopping. Baked Orzo came to mind and I thought a Greek dish was exactly what I wanted. I had orzo, artichokes, tomatoes and high hopes for this quick meal.
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Ingredients

1/4 pound Orzo
1 tbs garlic
1 jar artichoke hearts
1 cup plum tomatoes in liquid
½ cup red wine
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin

Directions

1) Cook orzo
2) Saute garlic, atrichoke hearts, and tomatoes with liquid on medium high.
3) Add wine and spices and simmer for 5 minutes.
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4) Turn to low and stir in orzo.
5) Sprinkle with Parmasan before baking for 20 minutes.
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Partway through my super speedy meal I hear:
Mr. J: is there cumin in there?
me: yup
Mr. J: ohh ok.
me: why?
Mr. J: ohh. {silence} Cumin is not my favorite.
me: hmmm

That’s where the dish goes awry…but it didn’t have to. I wanted to mellow out the cumin so I peek into the fridge and spot 2 ingredients I think will make the spices not taste as strong. Ricotta or sour cream. I went with the former. I had been a bit heavy handed with the wine so already my Baked Orzo had lost the great red color from the tomatoes (the wine made it a bit purpley).

I chose ricotta thinking it would be creamy and rich. It was indeed creamy but it also wasn’t smooth & silky. It was a bad choice, but you know…they can’t all be winners.

After I got it going I wasn’t feeling great about it. I actually said we might need to order pizza (which we never do to replace a meal). Mr. J was a trooper and ate it. It wasn’t amazing but I think it easily could be a great dish.

This Baked Orzo sounded amazing and is my inspiration to give it another go!

Better luck next time. Spoiler alert: I’ve since grocery shopped.

Build a Better Lasagna

I haven’t been cooking a ton, nor have I been super creative with meals lately but it’s my crazy season at work. See me at the end of May and I’ll have space in my head to think. Until then, I’ll keep concentrating on work, wedding planning, and meals that don’t require TONS of effort. Also, mother nature seems to be holding spring just out of the reach of us New Englanders.

The other night I decided to grab lasagna ingredients so I’d have a few meals in my back pocket for nights I am too crazed, googly-eyed, and have brought work home with me. Lasagna is such a great freezer item, especially since I’m cooking for just Mr. J and myself. One batch makes 2 small ones…one for now and one to freeze for later! There’s a tiny bit more time in the season for delicious meals like this.
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Lasagna is something I can’t usually order out (red meat factor) so I make it myself. I also think there are wayy too many bad lasagnas out there so I wanted to share a few tips. I think lasagna is best when baked. Let to rest, and baked again another time. I think the small touches are what make lasagna better. Using different sauces is a big one. I sneak some pesto and cream sauce into my lasagna in small amounts. I have one additionsl sauce in there, but it’s a secret. Hey, I can’t give away ALL my secrets!

Ingredients

1 pound lasagna noodles
¾ pound meat mix of your choosing (ground turkey & sausage / sausage & ground chicken / ground pork & ground turkey etc)
chopped leeks, onions, or shallots
2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 egg
2 cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup shredded Parmesan
2 cups baby spinach
spices: dried oregano, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, & red pepper flakes

Directions

Cook lasagna noodles unless using no-bake
Mix ricotta with egg, and dried spices
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Cook the meat layer (I used ground chicken and crumbled sausage) and add in somebody in the onion family
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Spread marinara into pans and layer with noodles and a few red pepper flake shakes
Then add the meat layer with leeks/onions/shallots, some pesto, shredded cheese, and more noodles.
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Spread some marinara or alfredo, and top with ricotta, parmasan, and chopped spinach before adding more noodles.
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Top the whole thing off with more marinara, spices and bake for 45 minutes. If eating right then, top with mozzarella until melted.

The meat mix is important. It is better when there is more than one in there. A few shakes of seasoned breadcrumbs will also make sure it’s not greasy or bland. Different cheeses are also a huge part in a good lasagna. Mixing shredded mozzarella with some Parmasan provides a good flavor combo. I’ve learned my lesson with part skim ricotta…not a corner to cut. It ends up dry & crumbly, not creamy, and even with the help of the egg, it doesn’t bind well.

I like veggies in there, and think it’s a good balance with all the meat and cheese. Mr. J liked the baby spinach this time over shredded zucchini I’ve done in the past. Some mushrooms in there would be good too, but somebody doesn’t like ‘em. I had some leeks so I tossed ‘em into the meat layer.

I used no-bake noodles for the first time. While it would definitely save some time, I was using a circular pan for one of my batches and these buggers were tricky to fit in. If I made a 9 X 13 pan I’d definitely use them again.

Lasagna always reminds me of the time I ate “veggie lasagna” at the home of a very important Children’s Book author who shall remain nameless (well, she didn’t cook it so ohh well). The quotes are important because there weren’t any noodles, instead there was squash slices. There wasn’t any cheese, sauce, or meat…instead, there was spinach. Ohh it was interesting let me tell you…

Any lasagna tricks up your sleeve? What makes yours better than the average lasagna?

Mac & Cheese Taste-Off

The much anticipated Mac & Cheese Taste-Off finally arrived! Ok, so I was probably the most excited…but it was amazing! So good! So fun!

Birthdays are a super big deal to me. This year I had about 5 birthday celebrations. Each amazing and all involving delicious food. I decided to have a dinner party style Mac & Cheese Taste-Off at my apartment with friends.

I read about an annual mac and cheese face off on a blog I love: Wicked Good Travel & Activities and thought it was a fantastic idea. I was brainstorming taste-off ideas since the Wine Off in January.

I invited everyone to come and enjoy. They were welcome to enter one, or enjoy one of the many mac & cheeses here. We got many more than I even expected! There were 10 entries! I made 2 thinking that it would help the number of entries. Ha! My competitive and culinary inclined friends proved we didn’t need help with the entry numbers!

Mr. J made really awesome ballots with criteria including: cheesiness, noodle texture, creativity, and overall taste complete with voting bubbles and printed on orange and yellow paper. We had name cards for chefs to name their dish and let everyone know what the featured cheese is.

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Here they are:

1. Bacon & Scallion Mac & Cheese in a calzone (or outside the calzone!)
featuring: Cheddar & Cream Cheese score: 278

mac&cheese_calzone_290_200 2. Spicy Sausage Mac & Cheese
featuring: Cheddar score: 289
3. Chicken Bacon and Ranch Mac & Cheese
featuring: Cheddar, Asiago, and Monterey Jack score: 232
mac&cheese_ranch_290_200 4. Southwestern Mac & Cheese (that was mine!)
featuring: Pepper Jack & Cheddar score: 292
5. Classic Mac & Cheese (mine too!)
featuring: Gruyere & White Cheddar score: 229
mac&cheese_290_2006. Jalapeno Surprise
featuring: Kerrygold Cheddar score: 258
7. Children in India Are Starving
featuring: Gruyere score: 234
mac&cheese_india_290_2008. White Truffle Mac & Cheese
featuring: Asiago score: 284
9. Winning
featuring: Cheddar, American, Mascarpone score: 270
10. Pepper Jack Mac & Cheese
featuring: Pepper Jack & Cheddar score: 161

I was wowed! They were all soooo good. Not a bad one in the bunch! One recent Mac & Cheese I made wasn’t amazing, you may remember it here. This time I really turned it around. My Southwestern mac and cheese had ground turkey with taco seasoning, roasted red peppers, cheddar, pepper jack and taco seasoning in the cheese sauce. I took my Dad’s advice and mixed in some sour cream before it baked. My classic had orecchiette, Gruyere, Sharp White Cheddar, and breadcrumbs on top. This one was by far my favorite. I use buttermilk and I think it made a nice difference.

Tallying the scores was very hard. It was fun to have different categories with so many entries but it made scoring take a long time. We awarded prizes of grow-at-home herbs, Easy-Mac, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Annie’s Mac & Cheese, and naked mac (aka noodles). The top 3 also got fun award ribbons.

I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked but there’s always next time. I think next time I’d do it in rounds or recommend half batches to better fit them into the oven. Somebody had a great idea of bringing a crock pot to keep it hot (I should have done that)!

We brainstormed all the other ideas. 10 may have boarded on too many. Half mac & cheese and half brownies would have been a fun competition. Wings? Burgers? Pizzas? The sky is the limit of taste-offs!

There was beer, wine, champagne, and sangria (red wine, cranberry vodka, lemonade, and apples) as well as some light aps. I was really grateful that there were so many friends and so many mac & cheeses! It was a great way to celebrate 27.

Itsa meatball!

I made meatballs for the first time ever. Well, not never, but I made them by myself for the first time. I can’t eat red meat so if I want meatballs, they have to be turkey and it usually means I eat them at home after buying them.

When I was little I remember making meatballs. My mum would put all the ingredients into a bowl and dad would let us help roll and cook them. I think as a kid I probably thought she was “letting us help” but it was probably more that she doesn’t like to handle meat with her hands because of the “ick” factor.

We would get some cooking and then make a big one with all the remaining mix and giggle relentlessly before continue to roll them.

Even after buying some frozen turkey meatballs at Trader Joe’s (theirs are the best!). I decided to make some and they were AMAZING, if I do say so myself. This is a prime example of a simple meal, made with really great ingredients, and letting them speak for themselves.

Ingredients

¾ pound ground turkey
2 links sweet Italian sausage
1 egg
1 cup bread crumbs
½ cup milk
2 tbs parsley
2 tbs minced garlic
2 tbs Parmesan cheese
½ cup red wine
salt & pepper

Directions

Remove sausage from casing.
Mix bread crumbs and milk. Let sit a minute.
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Combine ground turkey, sausage, egg, parsley, garlic, Parmesan, wine, salt and pepper. Add breadcrumb mix and combine well.
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Form into balls depending on your size preference. I went with larger ones.
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Heavily oil a baking sheet.
Bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees, turning every 10-15 minutes to evenly brown.
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I was so happy with these! I thought sausage would provide enough fat for moist meatballs instead of proscuitto or bacon, but those would be good too. I was super diligent about turning them to ensure that they cooked evenly. I could have fried them but baking them was way easier.

I’ll continue to purchase them but they weren’t a big deal to make myself. The wine was a HUGE flavor enhancement. A few glug glug glugs of a pinot noir that was already open definitely added some depth of flavor.

They smelled simply amazing! Have you met my sous-chef Windsor? He was standing by, under my feet in our tiny kitchen as usual. I think he was super excited to see what delicious item was coming out of the oven! Even with that cute face he still doesn’t get anything I make.
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Part of my inspiration to make some came from another blog I love We Are Not Martha. Theirs were featuring prosciutto and were pan fried. I literally read the recipe and thought, ooo red wine would be good with these as I channeled my wine-loving college roommates as inspiration. Parsley isn’t my favorite so I just used dried parsley. Rosemary would be good.

I served these with a basic red sauce and spaghetti. I thought my meatballs were good enough and deserved to shine! I’m so proud!
meatball_plate_290_200I didn’t make a ton of meatballs but now that I know this recipe is a winner I’m sure I’ll make more and freeze them. I will probably also make some cute little ones to freeze for appetizers or soup. They aren’t that much effort and I keep thinking about all the exciting additions! Spinach very finely chopped would be good, sun dried tomatoes, maybe a little nugget of mozzarella? Mmmm the possibilities are endless. I also love sweet & sour meatballs which would definitely highlight these guys.

Raving about Pumpkin Ravioli

Pumpkin Ravioli

I was thumbing through a Cooking Light magazine and came upon this recipe for Pumpkin Ravioli with Gorgonzola Sauce. I don’t love Gorgonzola but I was up for the challenge of making my own ravioli.

They definitely tasted amazing but the final product didn’t look 100% perfect. This was a great meal with wintery tones from the pumpkin, nuts, and cranberries. Sage would have been a good addition but since I love it, I tend to be heavy handed with it and Mr. J doesn’t love it like I do.

Ingredients

½ canned pumpkin
2  tablespoons  dry breadcrumbs
2  tablespoons  grated Parmesan cheese
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1/8  teaspoon  ground nutmeg
30  wonton wrappers
1  tablespoon  cornstarch
½ cup butter
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup toasted walnuts
¼ cup toasted cranberries

Preparation

To remove some excess moisture spoon pumpkin onto several layers of heavy-duty paper towels, and spread to 1/2-inch thickness and let stand 5 minutes. Scrape into a medium bowl using a rubber spatula. Stir in breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
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Working with 1 wonton wrapper at a time, spoon 1 teaspoon of pumpkin mixture into the center of wrapper. Brush edges of wrapper with water and fold in half, pressing edges firmly with fingers.
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Then pinch the end points together to form a tortellini shape. Place on a large baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch. Repeat procedure with remaining wonton wrappers and pumpkin mixture.
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Bring a pot of water to a simmer. Add half of ravioli to pan. Cook 4 minutes or until done stirring gently. Remove ravioli with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining ravioli.

When the second batch goes into the water start on the sauce. Melt butter in small saucepan. Add heavy cream and stir to combine. Drizzle over ravioli, sprinkle with toasted walnuts and dried cranberries. Serve immediately.
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I was patient and really tried to take the time to seal each ravioli really well. I didn’t want them bursting in the water and that helped. I could have been more conscientious about the air inside and spreading the filling more. Otherwise, these were a hit!

I thought about making a brown butter sauce but wasn’t sure if my spreadable butter substitute would work for that. Any know about that or has anyone tried?

Mac & Cheese, no box involved

I was bringing a meal to my NYE weekend in the Berkshires and I was thinking about what would be easy, travel well, and was good for a group of 8. I came up with mac & cheese. Who doesn’t love it.

Well, I didn’t love mine as much as I anticipated when making it the night before BUT I know what I’ll do for the next time around. It was too dry. The night I cooked it, there was an amazing looking creamy-ness and cheesy texture I couldn’t resist sampling a macaroni before baking.  I cooked it part way before packing it, but maybe I should have kept everything separate since I knew I would have access to a kitchen.

It was good, but it wasn’t amazing. I based it off Alton Brown’s mac & cheese recipe. I switched up the topping to crushed potato chips instead of bread crumbs. I also added some other cheeses.

Ingredients

*special note: this serves about 6 so I doubled it for 8 and had leftovers*
1 pound large elbow macaroni
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons mustard
5 cups milk
1 large egg
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
½ cup mozzarella, shredded
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
1 teaspoon koshersalt
Fresh black pepper

Topping:

5 tablespoons butter
1 cup crushed potato chips
¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to a bit firmer than al dente.
3) While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep whisking until it is free of lumps for several minutes.

4) Cook bacon until crisp then chop into pieces.
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5) Stir in the milk and simmer for ten minutes.

6) Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the sauce into the macaroni in the casserole dish. Mix in chopped bacon. Top with remaining cheese.

7) Melt the topping butter in a saute pan and toss the chips in to coat. Top the macaroni with the chips. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

Leftovers need some additional help to recreate the creamy texture so I add a dribble of milk or cream and a sprinkle of leftover cheese.

I think next time I make mac & cheese I will greatly increase the liquid and severely undercook the pasta since it’ll cook a bit when baking.

Other great additions to baked mac & cheese are: caramelized shallots; cherry or grape tomatoes whole and basil; sometimes I make it Mexican with taco seasoning, pepper jack cheese, green onions, salsa, and topped with crushed tortilla chips. What should I add next time?

Sweet Potato (Take Deux) Pasta

I made mashed sweet potatoes and, as is the case with all mashed potatoes, there was so much more than we needed. I actually googled to find out more about freezing them. Most of my findings remarked about how inexpensive they are so what’s the point. What’s the point? The point is that I hate grocery shopping and recreating leftovers is a challenge I’ll gladly accept! Reusing leftovers is in my blood.
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This pasta was based on a pumpkin pasta I love and worked pretty well as my leftover re-do. I should have blended it for a smoother texture but it was pretty good. Carbs + carbs = yummy.

Ingredients

-Salt
-½  pound short pasta (farfalle)
-1 cloves garlic, chopped
-½ cup chicken broth
-1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree OR 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
-½ cup heavy cream
-1 pinch ground cinnamon
-1 pinch nutmeg
-4 leaves fresh sage, thinly sliced


Directions

Cook pasta

While the pasta is in the water, in a medium skillet, heat 2 tbs olive oil olive oil and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the chicken broth, pumpkin and cream. Add cinnamon and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper.

Lower the heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sage.

Toss the pasta with the sauce.