Stovetop Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese

We’ve been majorly struggling with Noah’s eating habits these days. All he wants to eat is junk and I’m really starting to worry. I don’t know what caused it to happen so suddenly. We haven’t been eating perfectly lately but certainly not terribly. So I told him our vacation this week is the last hurrah then we’re getting down to business and eating clean again. I don’t think anybody in our house, except for me, is happy about it.
Stovetop Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese 2This recipe isn’t clean but it’s a surefire way to get my kids to eat vegetables. I’m always an advocate for sneaking them in wherever I  can. Though they can see the broccoli, there’s enough pasta and cheese to distract them. Stovetop Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese 4
I’ve always loved broccoli in my macaroni and cheese (even as a kid) so I loved this quick and easy stovetop version. I grew up on baked macaroni and cheese, which is still my favorite, but it’s nice to have a fast option for weeknights. I love to serve this with grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts slathered in barbecue sauce. Something about the combination is perfect for me.
Stovetop Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese 1Feel free to switch out the cheese for your favorites but I have to tell you, the combination of the sharp cheddar and colby was pretty magical. Buuut, I feel that way about most cheeses. When my Grandma was visiting recently, she asked if I could ever be a vegetarian or vegan. I told her I think I could give up meat/poultry but never, ever cheese. Because of recipes like this. Stovetop Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese 3
Stovetop Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. short cut pasta
3/4 lb. broccoli, bite size
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
2 cups whole milk, warmed
8 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded
8 oz. colby cheese, shredded

1. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli. Drain. Put back into empty pot.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk for 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper. Slowly add about 1/3 of the milk, whisking while adding. Stir until slightly thickened then add another 1/3. Stir again until combined and slightly thickened then add the last of the milk. Stir until thick and creamy. Remove from heat and stir in cheeses until melted. Combine the cheese sauce with the noodles and broccoli and serve.

Caprese Tortellini Salad

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In a few weeks, we’ll be driving to Colorado for our annual family vacation. Road trip with two kids, yay…. Really though they should do well since it’s not too far of a drive. The first night we are staying in Denver and going to Elitch Gardens Theme Park. We’ll be there on my birthday so I need some good family friendly restaurant suggestions. After our day in Denver we’re going to a little town about 45 minutes from Colorado Springs for the rest of our trip. Again, restaurant and activity suggestions are more than welcome.
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With the kids, we’re going to try and keep it more low key which totally goes against everything I stand for when it comes to vacation but it makes it much more enjoyable in the end. We learned that the hard way with our first family vacation after Noah was born. He was about 9 months old and we went to Chicago. I’d never been before so I wanted to see and do everything in the city. Although Noah was a really easy going baby, those kind of plans aren’t always kid friendly. He was miserable and overtired by the end of each day which in turn made us grumpy. It turned out to be a not so fun trip which was really a bummer for our first trip. I don’t know why we though we could run the way we did pre-child. And also, why we thought it would be a good idea to bring a full size stroller on the train. Seriously, we did that. I’m sure people hated us. I would have. The whole trip is funny to look back on now but man were we ticked back then.

Since we’re staying in a house in Colorado, we are going to be cooking most of our meals but not every meal. It is vacation after all! We’re planning quick, easy meals to maximize our time in the beautiful mountains. And this pasta salad is the perfect side dish for the occasion. It comes together in minutes and is even better if made the night before.
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For the homemade balsamic vinaigrette, simply place all ingredients in a mason jar and shake, shake, shake. Then chop the tomatoes and mozzarella. All of this can be done while cooking the tortellini. Boom. Throw some brats and veggies on the grill and dinner is served.

This would be great to serve for the 4th of July. And since it contains no mayo, you don’t have to worry about it sitting out for awhile. Quick side dish = more time to blow up stuff. That’s always a plus in my book. Speaking of fireworks, let me leave you with this little tip. Several firecrackers in a Sams Club size can of corn (opened completely of course) is always, always a good idea. Not that I speak from experience…..
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Did a bit of my redneck just come out?

Caprese Tortellini Salad

1 cup balsamic vinaigrette (recipe follows)
12 oz. cheese tortellini, cooked according to package directions
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
3 oz. mozzarella, finely diced

For the balsamic vinaigrette:
recipe adapted from Goodness Gracious

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. onion powder
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. kosher salt

1. For the dressing: combine all ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Store in refrigerator.

2. Combine the tortellini, 1 cup dressing, tomatoes and mozzarella in a bowl and gently toss. For best results, make at least a few hours in advance.

 

Pistachio Pesto Pasta

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Pesto is a food of love or hate in our house. My kids and I are big fans but Joel makes gagging sounds just at the mention of it. Dramatic, I know. He was in Boston a couple weeks ago for a work conference and although I hate when he is out of town (especially for 6 days!) it is nice to have the opportunity to make something he despises.
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We’ve been addicted to pistachios lately so we had a big bag in the house so I decided to use them in place of the pine nuts in a traditional pesto for a fun twist. Pretty sure I will never use pine nuts again. The pistachios lend a slightly sweet taste to the pesto along with a little punch of salt.
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I prefer my pesto with a little bit of texture but blend until you are happy with the consistency. And this sauce isn’t just for pasta. Try drizzling it over roasted or grilled veggies. Or mix it with a little mayo and spread it on your sandwich.
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Does garlic breath seem stronger in kids or is it just mine? Man, Noah and Hannah reek after they have had something with onions or garlic. Pesto for dinner? No waiting for bedtime to brush your teeth because child, you stink. And I mean that in the most loving way possible.

Pistachio Pesto Pasta

1 garlic clove
3/4 cup pistachios
1/2 cup basil
1/4 cup parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
Pinch salt and pepper
8 oz. short cut pasta

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, place garlic, pistachios, basil and parmesan in a blender or food processor and pulse into course crumbs. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, while pulsing, until sauce forms and desired consistency has been reached.

2. Drain pasta and toss with pesto.
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Sugo Sauce

Sugo Sauce 1
Joel and I went out on a date last month and we ate at one of our favorite Italian restaurants in town. When we go there, I always get the same thing. It’s just so good I can never bring myself to order anything else. But this time I was determined to go out of my comfort zone and get something totally different.

Red sauce is not my favorite, I know, how un-American of me. That combined with not being a huge fan of chocolate should get me thrown out. Anyway, it’s something I have to be in the mood for to really enjoy. Well, when I read the description of a sugo sauce made with cabernet, spicy sausage and pepperoni over penne I was won over. I had never had a sugo sauce before and was intrigued. I’m so glad I tried it and knew right away I would have to try a version at home.
Sugo Sauce 2
For this recipe, I skipped the sausage and pepperoni since I was serving it over homemade ravioli and thought that was decadent enough. This is a really simple recipe using common ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. Onions and garlic are sautéed then simmered for an hour with whole tomatoes, herbs and a good amount of red wine. The result is a rich, full sauce with a hint of red wine in the background. From what I can find, a chunky sauce seems pretty traditional but that just doesn’t fly around here so after simmering I zapped it in the blender until smooth. Do whatever floats your boat. Or whatever doesn’t elicit complaints.
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I can’t wait to try this with spicy sausage and diced pepperoni, served over fresh linguini.

Sugo Sauce
recipe adapted from Epicurious.com

2 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium white onion, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 (28 oz.) cans whole tomatoes
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1/2 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup red wine

1. Heat olive oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and salt and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often.

2. Add remaining ingredients to onions and garlic. Using a potato masher, break up the tomatoes. Simmer on medium low for 1 hour. If you like a chunky sauce, it’s done. If you prefer a smoother sauce, fish out the bay leaf and pour sauce (in batches) into a blender and blend until desired consistency is reached. Serve over pasta.

 

Homemade Ricotta Ravioli

Last week I registered Noah for Kindergarten. Yesterday, he had his pre-Kindergarten check up. Is this real life? I know us moms say this constantly, but where has the time gone?

It’s seriously hard for me to comprehend that he will be in elementary school in a few short months. He will be away from me for 6.5 hours on a regular basis. Someone get me a paper bag because I’m having a hard time breathing. My heart feels heavy.

I know it will be nice to have a break. I know I will get to spend quality time with Hannah like I was able to with Noah when it was just him. There are days now that I think Kindergarten just can’t come fast enough. But when you sit down and think about it, when you set it in motion, then it hits and it hurts. My awesome friend sent me this article today and by the end I just couldn’t keep it together. Truth. It was perfect and horrible timing. Gah, the feels.
Homemade Ravioli 1
You know what helps with all those feelings. Homemade pasta. Better yet, homemade pasta stuffed with cheese. My name is Meg and I’m an emotional eater.

These delicious pockets of goodness are started with my homemade pasta and a simple 3 ingredient filling. I swear, I will never purchase store-bought ravioli again. The pasta is so tender and the filling is light and creamy. Carbs and cheese all rolled into one, emotional eating at its finest. Don’t judge.
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They do take some time to make but trust me, they are completely worth it. Next time around, I’m going to make a double batch since I will already be taking the time to make them, then freeze half so we have them ready for a busy night.

For now, you can find me with a plate of these. Or a package of frozen thin mints. Or both.

Homemade Ravioli

1 recipe homemade pasta, rolled out into sheets (one setting thinner than recipe states)
1 cup ricotta
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

1. Combine ricotta, egg, parmesan cheese and salt and pepper.

2. Lay out a pasta sheet on a floured surface. Place 1 tablespoon of the filling about an inch apart on the front half of the pasta sheet. Fold the top of the dough over the filling. Press firmly around filling, ensuring that it is completely sealed and no air bubbles remain. Using a ravioli cutter, press down firmly around ravioli. Lift and place on a floured baking sheet. If you don’t have a ravioli cutter, you can cut squares using a sharp knife or pizza cutter. Keep covered with a clean kitchen towel until ready to cook.

3. To cook, place in boiling water and simmer until they start to float (it took 2 minutes for me). If you want to freeze them for future use, place them in the freezer on the floured baking sheet in a single layer and freeze for 4-24 hours. Place in a labeled freezer bag.

 

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup 1
We ran errands today with the car windows down. DOWN. It was 70 degrees outside. We’ve had quite frigid weather the past month or so with a decent amount of snow so it was a total miracle. And it’s supposed to be this nice all week. Do you think winter is maybe, just finally over? Or am I getting ahead of myself? I don’t care, we’re soaking it all in and loving it.

It’s also Noah’s spring break this week so we have lots of outdoor fun planned. Oh, and yogurt pie. We were talking about fun things we could do this week and I suggested playing outside, science experiments and making something yummy. His immediate reaction was that we should make yogurt pie. We’ve never made or eaten it so it was just something he thought up on his own (probably because he eats yogurt pretty much every day for breakfast). I know I’m biased, but he’s so darn creative to think of that on his own. Definitely a chef in training! So keep your eyes open for that.
Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup 3
But for those of you that are still cold and not quite ready for talk about Spring-y pies, I have some delicious soup to share. I made this a few weeks ago when the temperature was in the single digits and it totally hit the spot. Tomato soup has never been my favorite but add some cream and pasta and it definitely changes my opinion.  It’s creamy, warming and so comforting on a cold night. Especially with a super crispy, gooey grilled cheese to dunk in it.
Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup 2
Classic Americana with an extra dose of carby goodness.

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup
recipe adapted from Soup Addict

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. dried basil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
10 ounces cheese-filled tortellini, uncooked
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and basil and sauté another minute. Add the tomato sauce and broth, stirring to combine. Place in a blender and process until smooth. Pour back into the pan and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.

2. In a measuring cup, whisk together the half and half and flour. Pour into the tomato soup, stirring constantly until well combined. Add tortellini and cook according to package directions, being sure not to bring to a boil.

 

Homemade Pasta

Homemade pasta is totally where it’s at. You’ll never want to go back to the store bought stuff and you won’t believe how simple it is. Only 3 ingredients to fresh, delicious pasta from scratch.
Homemade Pasta 10
Last week Noah and I were making macaroni salad and he was pretty insistent that we make homemade noodles for it. I’ve been loving his interest in cooking and photography lately so I didn’t want to discourage him by saying no so we did a little negotiating and I promised him that we would make some on the weekend. He asked every single day if it was the weekend yet. The kid doesn’t forget anything. So finally when Saturday rolled around it was time and he was over the top excited. Like couldn’t stop moving or talking or dancing on the counters excited.

So we got to work mixing the flour and salt then made a well for the eggs.
Homemade Pasta 2
Homemade Pasta 1
Then he “lightly” (or as lightly as a 4 year old can) whisked the eggs in the well.
Homemade Pasta 3
And started to pull in the flour from the sides of the well and mixed until a shaggy dough was formed.
Homemade Pasta
Then it was time to knead the dough. I lost him for awhile on this one since it was “boring” and he doesn’t like to get dirty (he gets that from his mama, kneading is the worst). Slowly add in water as needed for the dough to come together. Then cover and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Homemade Pasta 4
We then divided the dough into 6 pieces and rolled them out starting with the lowest (thickest) setting and continued to smaller settings until we reached the desired thickness.
Homemade Pasta 5
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Then, what he was most excited about, we cut the pasta using the fettuccine attachment.
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Although the process takes a little bit of time and planning, it probably took us about an hour, the end result is definitely worth it. And keep in mind I had an active 4 year old helping me which added some time.

Plus, I got to check off another item on my Top 100 (I admit I’ve made fresh pasta before but have never photographed and shared it here). I’ve kind of neglected the list lately so it was nice to have accomplished something there. We may just have to start fresh pasta Saturday’s around here.

Homemade Pasta
serves 4-6

3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 eggs

1. Mix flour and salt then make a mound and make a well in the center.

2. Crack eggs in well then whisk lightly. Slowly pull in flour from the well walls until a shaggy dough is formed.

3. Knead dough until smooth and elastic (5-7 minutes), adding water by the tablespoon if it’s dry. Then cover with clean towel and let rest 15 minutes.

4. Divide into 6 pieces, work with one piece at a time and keep remaining pieces covered. Flatten into a rectangle and pass through pasta roller on lowest setting, fold in half then pass through the roller another 2-3 times. Crank to next setting and pass through another 3-4 times, then again on the next setting. Lay on floured surface then cover with a towel. Proceed with remaining pieces. Switch to the pasta cutting attachment (we used fettuccine) and pass each pasta sheet through. Place cut pasta on a floured surface and cover with a towel while you complete the remaining pasta. Boil 2-3 minutes in salted water.