Monday, February 25, 2013

Feed A Crowd Pasta Bake

Some meals are meant for a crowd. And there is nothing easier (or better) for a hungry college student (and his roomates) than a pasta bake.  Some time is involved in boiling water and grating cheese, but this is definitely not rocket science.

Easy to make. Plenty to share. Leftovers rare. Mix, bake, serve.

Cheese can be expensive, but anyone planning to eat at the table can chip in a few bucks--flavor totally worth it!
If you like pasta cheesy, add a little more cheese.
If you like more moisture, add a little more sauce at the end.
Yep, that's about it in a nutshell, or Pyrex.

If your are really 'forward thinking' put half of the mix (uncooked) in a Tupperware and freeze it...sealed with duck tape and your name on it! Just be sure it's thawed before baking!


15"x10" Pyrex Rectangular baking dish
2 12" x 8"
(Or any combination of Pyrex)
PAM Spray

5-qt sauce pan (for boiling pasta)

Water with 2 tsp of salt

Large, large mixing bowl


2 lb Penne, Rigatoni, Rotini, or other short tube pasta, partially cooked, drained, set aside.

1 to 1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese
1 to 1 1/2 cups Fontina cheese
8 oz Ricotta, part-skim
4 oz Cream Cheese or (Mascarpone), softened
1/4 cup Half-and-half
1 1/2 (28oz cans) crushed tomatoes including the liquid / puree in can
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley
2 tsp basil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg
Salt & Pepper

1/2 cup Mozzarella, shredded
1 jar of your favorite Marinara / Vodka sauce


1. Wash your hands.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
3. Partially cook 2 lbs of penne pasta in salted boiling water (approx 8 min), drain and set aside.

Otherwise, this will turn to a hot, soggy mess.

4. In a large mixing bowl, mix the cheeses and rest of ingredients (to salt & pepper)together. Combine well.

5. Add drained pasta to tomato/cheese mixture. ( It should be slightly soupy, key word 'slightly', NOT 'swimming, drowned, submerged')
6. Empty into the prepared Pyrex dish(es)
7. Sprinkle pasta with 1/2 - 3/4 cup of marinara sauce and 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella.
7. Cover with aluminum foil.

8. Bake covered @ 425 degrees for 15' Remove foil and bake another 10-15' until top is golden.
9. Cool for 10' before serving.
10. Add salad, garlic bread--you got a meal!

Easily made the night before to throw into the oven after classes the next*

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sea-Salt Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I started this recipe today...other than how much our son liked these bars on one of his home visits. He subsequently asked if I would post it and I added it to the queue.

The recipe is not hard, but for someone who doesn't cook much it may be a little challenging since it has a few intermittent, prep-steps, and requires some degree of focus and multi-tasking.

About half way into making the recipe, I realized he's not gonna have a hand mixer (much less a KitchenAid stand mixer or flour sifter)...all the things I take for granted.

Oh well...the rest of you with mixers might enjoy it nonetheless.
I found this recipe on Pinterest from twopeasandtheirpod blog. Enjoy!


1. 11" x 7" Pyrex dish.
2. KitchenAid Hand or Stand Mixer
3. Borrowed, if necessary.
4. Whisk or sifter.
5. Rubber spatula
6. Preheated oven 325 degrees.

Spray the pyrex dish with PAM 'Original' Non-stick spray and set aside.

a.  Whisk together and set aside:

2 1/8 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of baking soda

b.  Cream together well:

12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated (regular white) sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

On low speed, add a. (the dry-ingredients) in steps, slowly to b. (the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla mixture).
Mix well between additions and ensure properly incorporated.
Use spatula to scrap down walls of bowl between additions of dry ingredients.
At this point it will be a dense, thick and heavy dough.

c. Fold into dough with the spatula :

1 3/4 cup mid-size dark chocolate morsels / chocolate chips

At this point, you and your roomates may just decide to enjoy the cookie dough and skip the baking altogether.  I have put some of the dough into a ramekin or cupcake holder by itself--quite tasty.

d. Combine in a microwave proof bowl and melt in microwave.  Stir frequently, about every 20 secs, until it becomes liquid caramel sauce.

14 caramels, UNWRAPPED
2-3 Tablespoons heavy cream


1. Divide the dough (or what's left of it) and press half of it into your prepared pyrex dish.
2. Drizzle a few strands of the caramel sauce over the dough.
4. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.
5. Break up remaining spoonfuls of remaining dough onto the caramel layer.
7. Drizzle a tiny amount of caramel over top.
8. Sprinkle flakes of sea salt.

Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes until golden brown and edges begin to pull away.  If you like a more gooey, cookie dough consistency, bake it a little less.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Guacamole Your Way!

Guacamole is one of things that comes in a gazillion different variations and preferences. Not one tastes the same from one restaurant to the next.

Heat. Spice. Chunky. Smooth. Cilantro. Jalapeño. Onion. Roasted Corn. Lemon. Lime. You name it, people add it, people try it. And so should you. Experiment to your liking!

I'm sure there is some authentic base recipe, but the one I make at home is what I mimicked after eating at Cantina Laredo, Chicago, IL where the guac is prepped fresh at your table.

3-4 avocado, ripened,
1/2 jalapeño, diced small
1/2 small red onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
(Or garlic powder 1/8 tsp)
Juice of one lime +\-
Kosher Salt
Tajin Classic Chile salt
Drizzle of olive oil
+\- cilantro

1. Prep the ingredients.
2. Combine in bowl or mortar and mash to the consistency you prefer.

3. Add more or less of any ingredient until your tastebuds are happy.

Grab a bag of tortilla chips or add to a sandwich, burrito or taco salad (see last weeks recipe). Nothin' to it!

Avoid brown discoloration of the avocado by rubbing with lime juice / lemon.
When storing the guacamole (should you have any left), sprinkle with lime juice, and tightly cover with saran wrap / plastic wrap directly on the guacamole.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Quick-Fix Taco(s) Salad

Tacos are perfect for any college kid who needs volume and substance. Variations are endless. Just put out the fixin's and let everyone do their own thing: salad, soft taco, hard-shell...whatever!

1. 10-12" Non-stick skillet
2. Lots of bowls for condiments

1. 1 lb Ground Beef, browned
2. 1 bottle Ortega Medium Taco Sauce,
3. Hard-shell Taco Shells
4. Soft Tacos
5. Tortilla Chips

1. Crumble the meat into the skillet and let brown as seen in picture before flipping or browning the rest
2. Once meat is almost browned, add 3/4 bottle of the taco sauce.
3. That's the hard part.  If the meat is done, you are golden.

A.  Leave out meat altogether.  Substitute black beans or refried beans.

B.  Brown a diced jalapeño with the meat.  Add garlic powder, Tajin Classic Seasoning, salt and pepper for a more savory option. Finish off with squeezed lime.


*Sharp Cheddar, shredded and lots of it
*Sour Cream
*Jalapeños, fresh or pickled
*Re-fried Beans or Black Beans

The Assembly Line--any which way you like it:

Dig in! Oh can't, it's just a picture.  You will need to get cookin', I guess.
Don't tell me your roomates won't love you if this is served tonight!