Cheesy Chicken and Cauliflower Orzo Bake

A delicious casserole filled with meat, pasta, veggies, and creamy white cheese sauce. Special enough for company and holiday dinners too!

Um, so cauliflower seems to be whispering to me from the supermarket seven blocks down the road in the produce aisle.

It somehow manages to taunt me through the double sliding glass doors – the same ones I happened to knock off the tracks with the giant race car shopping cart my daughter was riding in the other day.

And, well, this cheese sauce seems to be trailing me too. Continue reading

Pasta e Olio

What’s not to love about pasta and olive oil?

Especially when you add in a little butter, loads of garlic, a few flecks of red pepper and top the whole thing off with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

I feel like Giada with a big toothy grin when Pasta e Olio is the dish of the evening.

I’m indulging the child in me who just wants pasta and butter, but pretending it’s more grown up – which – who are we kidding – it’s not.

But it’s romantic.

I’m not kidding here. Continue reading

Veggie Stuffed Shells

Let’s explore some things that are all shoved full-up with goodness:

Letters from long-lost friends.

Time capsules.


Our favorite magazines.

Breakfast muffins.

The giant bag of fresh produce on grocery day.

The dryer load full of fresh, warm blankets.

The cooler on beach day.

Your son’s hands when they reach out and hold yours (when you thought he thought he was too old to do that anymore).

A nice long phone call with another woman, because we are the only ones who truly understand one another. That’s just Truth.

Fresh from a nap baby cheeks.

The secret stash of jellybeans in my nightstand. (Not such a secret anymore, is it?)

The stack of novels waiting for me on my end table.

The rack of fabric scraps at Joanne’s.

Favorite cookbooks.

These pasta shells – that’s what my little guy says anyway.

He says:

1) that they’re awesome.

2) that they are “giant pasta rolls shoved up with broccoli, cheese, and mashed potatoes”.

If you are afraid of anything in the kitchen, I suggest you tackle it and conquer it sometime soon.

I feared making a bechamel, and now I don’t.

The whole process was interesting and delightful in a science-project-gone-perfect sort of way.

I feel so much smarter now.

Which brings me to another observation.

I SO would never, ever, in a million years, make it on Master Chef.

Unless I could squeak by like poor David Martinez.

If someone handed me a sea urchin and told me I had one hour to cook it, I would squawk and hide under the table.

If I had to soft boil an egg to impress Gordon Ramsey? I’d burst into tears instantly and make a bee-line sprint to the wine cooler, seeing as how I am repulsed by hard-boiled eggs so I’ve never even ventured seriously into the territory of cooking eggs in the shell – except for a couple of weeks ago when my kids claimed they wanted to try hard-boiled eggs and I had to look up how to make them.

Yes. That’s me.

Somehow though, learning how to hard boil an egg was not nearly as satisfying as making this pasta and conquering the bechamel.

I know this is very “wintry” food, but you can make summery excuses for it.

You can make it ahead and store it for later, so that when you come home from summering all day, you can just pop it in the oven.

You could use zucchini or summer squash to fill the shells.

You could serve it with sparkling white wine – very summery.

It makes enough for at least 8 people, so you could eat it outside at sunset with a big group of friends and drink sparkling white wine.

I believe those are all sufficiently summery excuses. Capisce?

Veggie Stuffed Shells

A fantastic tutorial, if you are new to bechamel, is available here, where I found the inspiration for this dish.


  • 1 (12 ounce) box large pasta shells
  • 5 ounces prepared pesto
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella, divided
  • 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, cooked and mashed
  • 2 cups broccoli, steamed, and roughly chopped
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, a couple modest shakes
  • For the Sauce:
  • 2 cups reduced fat milk, heated
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 ounces prepared pesto
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • dash of kosher salt
  • shake of garlic powder
  • shake of cayenne pepper


Cook pasta shells according to package directions, less two minutes. When shells are finished cooking, drain and cool them on a tea towel until you are ready to stuff them.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the 5 ounces of pesto, ricotta, Parmesan, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella (reserve 1/2 cup for topping), mashed potato, chopped broccoli, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and cayenne.

Prepare either two 9"x9" baking dishes, or one 9"x13" baking dish by spraying lightly with cooking spray.

If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Stuff each shell evenly with filling.

Place stuffed shells in a single layer in the baking dish(es). Set aside.

To prepare the bechamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Once butter is melted, add flour bit by bit, stirring with each addition until it is well incorporated. Continue to stir and cook for a couple of minutes.

Start adding hot milk a little bit at a time, mixing continuously, and not adding more until each addition has been fully incorporated.

Once all of the milk is incorporated, slowly add the pesto, then the Parmesan cheese.

Continue stirring, and cook on low until the sauce thickens.

Add in pepper, salt, garlic powder, and cayenne.

If your sauce ends up lumpy, either run it through a blender to puree and smooth it, or if you have an immersion blender, that'll do the trick as well.

Pour sauce evenly over the stuffed shells. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella over the top, and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Finish by broiling for 5 minutes, or until the cheese on top is beautifully browned.


inspired by, and adapted from Manu's Menu

Six Cheese Penne Rigate Pasta

Take a deep breath. . .

and DIVE. IN.

This pasta totally makes up for everything Tuesday’s post lacks.

It’s divine.

It seriously would be a difficult decision for me if I were faced with having to choose between chocolate bundt cake and this here pasta.

And we all know how I feel about sweets.
Continue reading

Pasta With Bell Peppers and Chicken Sausage

I sent my little guy to school with a peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwich today. Is that bad? It’s bad. . . . Right?
No, I don’t think so. I had a momentary flash of guilt that his lunch entrée included marshmallow creme, but I pretty much talked myself out of it right away. It’s just to help the peanut butter go down. And peanut butter is good. It’s the protein item for the day, and it’s sandwiched with the marshmallow creme in whole wheat bread – so, overall, the sandwich is good.
I’m a big fan of protein. In my house I have the reputation for being protein’s number one cheerleader. I don’t really know why I love it, I just do. It goes with all the other healthy things – fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy, and protein – it’s just quicker to say than, “meats and nuts”. To exaggerate my love for all things protein, we tend to say it with an accent – with a long ‘I’ at the end instead of the long ‘e’: “Prot(eye)n”. It’s best said as though it’s skater lingo.
No big surprise then, that my favorite part of this dish is the prot(eye)n. This particular sausage has a great healthy factor to it, and it’s incredibly tasty. Even the little guy chows it down.
The dish is really nothing special. I’m sure similar things have been whipped up by zillions of other people on the fly, but I thought I’d share anyway. I love that it comes together VERY quickly, there is minimal prep involved, and it appeals to adult and kiddo palates. Kids can pick out big chunks if they’re not fans of the peppers, adults can add seasoning on at the end if it’s not spicy enough. The sausage?
Well, who wouldn’t love it? It’s prot(eye)n.


Pasta with Bell Peppers and Chicken Sausage

1 box of Rotini pasta
1/2 of a medium red onion, diced
about 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (maybe a little more for drizzling on at the end)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, sliced or diced, (however you like them)
4-6 links Aidelle’s Sundried Tomato with Mozzarella Cheese chicken sausage, diced.
12 – 15 fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
1/4 cup or more fresh grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat and saute red onion until almost translucent. Add garlic and cook for about a minute, being careful not to let the garlic brown. Add the sausage and cook till it starts to brown. Add the bell peppers and cook until they are tender but still a little on the crunchy side. Remove from heat and add pasta, basil, kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper. Toss. Drizzle with olive oil if needed, and sprinkle individual servings with fresh grated parmesan.

By the way, sorry about the sub-par photo. It was a hurried snap before we devoured dinner! Better blurry than nothing though, right?