Pasta Bolognese {recipe}

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It is with great remorse that I recall how late bolognese entered my life.  Yes, there was a time when “bolognese” just sounded too fancy, too French, for my liking.  But if there’s one way to get me to eat something, it’s slipping it into lasagna, right there between the layers of pasta and creamy cheese.  And for this very thing, I say THANK YOU to Papa Joe’s (one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Akron, Ohio) for their bechamel lasagna with bolognese.  It was love at first bite, as they say.

For the record, bolognese is not French.  It is, in fact, a hearty Italian meat sauce.  I’ve come so far.

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I succumbed to eating bolognese without much arm twisting, but I didn’t attempt to cook the sauce myself until I sat in on a cooking class with my friend Keia (her blog:  Ink and Fork) at Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen at the Atherton Market this fall.

Here’s the deal.  This sauce takes time.  The more time you put into the sauce, letting it gently simmer on the stove, the richer the flavors will be.  The good news is the sauce gives you an excuse to open a nice bottle of red wine (as if you needed an excuse…), and you, lovely chef, can enjoy the remainder of that bottle while the sauce slowly cooks down.  It’s precisely the sort of relaxing kitchen moment I crave.

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This sauces freezes well, and even if you double the recipe, you’ll still have plenty of wine to drink, so go for it, friend.  For my bolognese, I like a medium to full-bodied dry red wine, like the Alamos Malbec I used in this batch.  Whatever varietal you choose, make sure to pick a wine you’d actually enjoy drinking.  Which is exactly what I did with the rest of my Malbec…  This one is going into my regular rotation!

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Bolognese from Chef Alyssa

Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen — Healthy & Sustainable cooking classes
If you’re looking for a fun date night or girls night out, check out Chef Alyssa’s cooking classes.  Chef Alyssa does an awesome job of breaking down intimidating recipes into easy, step-by-step chunks.  Keia and I had a great time in the class, and this bolognese recipe is one I’ll be making for years to come.  Check out the class schedule here.

Chef Alyssa

  • 2 tbsp cooking oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped (about 3/4 of a cup)
  • 2 ounces thinly slice pancetta (I used 3 ounces of smokey bacon)
  • 8 ounces ground beef (I used 90% lean)
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine (I highly recommend Alamos Malbec)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 pound pasta of choice (I used fettuccine)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan
  • Fresh parsley, chopped

Heat oil in a heavy pot over (or large saute pan) medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots and saute until soft, about 8-10 minutes.

Add beef and pancetta (or bacon); saute, breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon, until browned, about 15 minutes. Add wine and balsamic and boil for 2 minutes, stirring often and scraping up browned bits.

Add the stock and tomato paste. Reduce heat to very low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors meld, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper.

Finish sauce by adding the milk, then bring to a simmer until absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Transfer the sauce to a large saute pan.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 1 minute before al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cupful of the pasta water, and add the pasta to the bolognese sauce. Turn heat to medium-high, toss to coat.  If the sauce is too thick, add a few splashes of the pasta water to loosen it up.  Top with parmesan and parsley before serving.

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Spaghetti with roasted sprouts and cherry tomatoes {recipe}

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I’ve realized lately that the kind of food I enjoy most is food that is uncomplicated.  Sure, it’s awesome to tackle a difficult recipe, but there’s something to be said for the simple satisfaction of grabbing fresh ingredients from the fridge and transforming them into a great tasting meal without consulting a recipe every five seconds.

One night, while wandering up and down grocery store aisles, searching for something that might satiate me, I became increasingly agitated.  It was mega-mart overload.  I set my basket on the ground and considered abandoning the whole thing and ordering a nice hot pizza.  After a short silent debate (during which time I’m sure I got a couple woah-crazy-lady looks), I took one final lap of the produce aisle and grabbed the things that looked best:  cherry tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, a hunk of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano (which the uptown grocery store conveniently keeps in the middle of the veggies), and a bottle of red wine.  I had no recipe, just a bunch of things I eat often and love.

These days, we are inundated with recipes.  They are everywhere.  And if you’re like me, you’re constantly clipping and pinning and bookmarking things to try.  The recipe pool is big and bottomless, and while these are great qualities for a mimosa, I often find myself completely flummoxed when I try to decide which one to make for dinner.  I call this recipe paralysis.  We’ve all become so reliant on recipes, we’ve forgotten how simple cooking can be.

spaghetti with roasted brussels sprouts and cherry tomatoes

When I got home from the grocery store, I poured a glass of wine and cranked the oven and some tunes (and by tunes, I mean NPR, of course).  I put the halved Brussels sprouts and cherry tomatoes on a sheet pan along with a few cloves of thinly sliced garlic, drizzled on some extra virgin olive oil, and seasoned with salt.  I roasted the veggies in a 425 degree oven for twenty minutes, during which time I cooked some whole wheat spaghetti (or was it linguine?) on the stove top.  Saving a mugful of the starchy cooking liquid, I combined the drained noodles with the hot roasted veggies, a drizzle of evoo, red pepper flakes, some salt, a little of the cooking liquid, and a generous grating of the fresh parmesan.  Dinner was served without the guidance of a recipe (what?!) and it was delicious.

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Mama Ricotta’s—Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

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Shortly after moving to Charlotte, I fell in love with Mama Ricotta’s.  I blame it on the goat cheese and mascarpone dip, which was my first bite of food on my very first visit to Mama’s.

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Mama’s is the type of place where families feel equally comfortable as couples on hot dates.  The dining room is cozy with large family-sized booths plus intimate tables for two, vintage family photos, and a large wood-fired pizza oven.

If you have any Italian friends or family, you know the importance of sharing food in the Italian culture.  Food is love.  This holds true at Mama’s, where most of the pasta dishes are available family-style and are served in deep dishes that are passed around the table, just like at home.

It didn’t take long for me to realize Mama Ricotta’s had common ownership with Bad Daddy’s (one of my favorite burger spots in town) and Midwood Smokehouse (my favorite barbecue joint).  I’ve eaten at these restaurants dozen of times, and many of those meals have ended with toasts to Frank Scibelli, the owner and man behind the amazing food.

I’m a big fan of bread, and Mama Ricotta’s bread basket alone is worth a visit.  The housemade rolls are served with olive oil sprinkled with crushed red pepper flakes for dipping.  As for appetizers, there’s that amazing dip I mentioned–it’s a warm goat cheese and mascarpone dip served with grilled crostini and a warm tomato basil sauce, a steal at $8.50.  I also highly recommend the new house made burrata ($12).  Burrata is fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, and Mama’s burrata is soft and supple and accompanied by olive oil poached tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic, and grilled ciabatta.

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Baked Shrimp with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes {recipe}

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One of the perks of working in the city is having the world at your fingertips on your lunch break.  When the clock hits noon, I like to hit the street.  Often, I’ll swing through the library or take a stroll through the 7th St Public Market.  When it’s warm, I find a nice table in the shade and read while I eat, and when it’s cold, I saddle up next to the fireplace at Carribou.  There’s a grocery store just a few blocks away, and I’ve found squeezing my shopping into my lunch break to be not only productive but surprisingly liberating.

Shrimp and Fire Roasted Tomatoes

Last week, on a lunch-break grocery shopping spree, I picked up ingredients for this shrimp and tomato bake.  It’s a low-stress meal that can easily be made after work or prepared the day before.  (I find that recipes using canned tomatoes taste even better when they’ve had time to sit.)  Shrimp, tomatoes, and a bit of cheese–it’s a dish built for carbohydrates.  I recommend a crusty bread or a twirly noodle.

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Shrimp Linguine Fra Diavolo {recipe}

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Call it Shrimp Fra Diavolo, as the Italians say, or simply spicy shrimp with tomatoes and onions in a garlic wine sauce.  Either way, this easy pasta dish is one to add to your recipe repertoire, pronto.

Spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo Linguine

When it comes to pasta, I’m usually a marinara kind of gal.  I find cream sauces heavy and overly rich and oil based sauces often taste bland and greasy.  This fra diavolo sauce is the perfect middle ground—light, yet flavorful, with a kick of heat from the red pepper flakes.  Two bites into our pasta Saturday night, Jarrod and I agreed we’d be making it regularly.  That’s when you know you have a good recipe on your hands!

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Bruschetta Chicken Pasta

The process of planning out a dinner for the BF and I usually involves 1-3 hours of research, googling, cookbook flipping, blog reading and a substantial amount of quality time spent on allrecipes.com.  This will result in a list of 3-6 options with corresponding website links and/or attached photos, which I will then email to the BF for his consideration.  If I’m lucky he’ll rule out 1-2 items on the list that aren’t striking his fancy and then leave the final decision up to me.  More often than not, he’ll respond that all the items on the list in question look fabulous and that “everything you cook turns out delicious” (LIES!!!!!) and then leave the final decision up to… you guessed it.  Moi.   This is a little game I like to call For the Love of God Will You Make a Decision, Man, or FTLOGWYMADM, as we say.

I wouldn’t say I’m indecisive.  The problem is my decision making abilities are clouded by my gluttonous desire to eat the world once over.  When I do finally reach a decision I stick to it with a supernatural stubbornness, but getting to that point can be a wee bit exhausting.  Decision making on an empty stomach is horrid after all, and I’ve mentioned a time or five before that bad things happen when I don’t eat.

All I want is a plate full of deliciousness.

A mound of this, perhaps:

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After playing our normal round of FTLOGWYMADM and going through the subsequent mental debate, I decided to go with this recipe for Bruschetta Chicken pasta I saw on Iowa Girl Eats.  It’s really not much of a recipe, and that makes me love it all the more.

This pièce de résistance of this dish is the balsamic drizzle.  Simply simmer a cup of balsamic vinegar over medium heat for 15 minutes.  The vinegar will reduce by about half, and once removed from the heat it will continue to thicken as it cools.

While I waited for the balsamic vinegar to reduce, I got to prepping my veggies.

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The asparagus was for the pasta and the sprouts were our side dish.  Love me some veg.

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Jarred bruschetta sauce is the secret behind the simplicity of this pasta dish.  Thank you Trader Giotto 🙂

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This pasta was so simple, in fact, that I decided to squeeze in a little nap.

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Before I fell asleep at the pan, I cut the chicken into big chunks, seasoned with S&P, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder and tossed into a saute pan with 2 tsp olive oil.   Then I dropped 6 ounces of penne pasta into boiling water.

Once the chicken was cooked through, I sautéed the veggies with garlic salt, black pepper, and 1 tsp olive oil.

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When the pasta reached al dente, I combined the chicken, asparagus, jar of bruschetta, and penne in the skillet and sautéed until everything was heated through.

Last but not least, I topped the pasta with a little balsamic drizzzzzzle:

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This pasta was DELICIOUS, filling, and balanced, and the tangy balsamic drizzle wowed my tastebuds.  I will definitely be adding this recipe to the playbook.

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Bruschetta Chicken Pasta Ingredients List (serves 4)

Recipe from Iowa Girl Eats

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 6 ounces penne pasta
  • bunch of asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 jar of tomato bruschetta
  • 12 ounces chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • Seasonings of your choice (S&P, garlic salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder)
Step One:  Simply simmer a cup of balsamic vinegar over medium heat for 15 minutes.  The vinegar will reduce by about half, and once removed from the heat it will continue to thicken as it cools.
 
Step Two:  Cook pasta to al dente as per pasta box instructions.  Meanwhile, cut the chicken into chunks, season with S&P, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder and saute with 2 tsp olive oil until no longer pink.  Remove from pan.  In the same pan, saute asparagus until crisp tender.
 
Step three:  Combine cooked pasta, chicken, asparagus, and bruschetta mix in the pan and saute until heated through.  Serve with balsamic reduction drizzled over top!
 

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Shrimp & Mac & Cheese

WOW guys.  WOW.

Drooling yet??

For the big game this past weekend, I was looking for a something a little different to take to the family party… Something a little healthified but that still packed a little somethin somethin.  During my search, I stumbled upon the the Mac and Cheese Light recipe from the September 2010 Cooking Lite, and it looked like the perfect fit!  You can never have too much cheese on super bowl Sunday, I always say.

What really drew me to this particular recipe was that it started off with the “secret weapon” – a puree consisting of one whole LARGE onion and 9 cloves of garlic. 

Hello lover. 

Clearly this was destiny. 

First up, I put a big ole pot of water on the stove to boil, then tossed a large Vidalia onion and 9 cloves roughly chopped garlic into a bowl with 1/2 cup water. 

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I covered this guy with plastic wrap and nuked in the microwaved for 10 minutes.  Prepare to smell like onions and garlic for the remainder of the day.  Don’t worry.  I won’t judge you.

After 10 minutes, you dump this onion garlic goodness out into a blender and pulse until smooth.  It should look like grits, ya’ll:

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By now the water should be boiling, so drop in 8 Ounces Barilla Plus Elbow Macaroni and cook until al dente.

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Meanwhile season up you onion garlic puree with:

  • 1 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I used A LOT)

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Once the pasta is done, drain and set aside.  Then heat your onion garlic puree up in a pot (large enough to hold the sauce and the pasta), and once hot and bubbly slowly whisk in 2 cups shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese. 

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It should be gloriously thick.

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Once the cheese is all melted in, take it off the heat and whisk in 2/3 cup fat free plain greek yogurt, then add in the cooked pasta.  Once everything is combined, pour the mac and cheese into a casserole dish greased with cooking spray.

Sprinkle the top with

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Sprinkling of dried parsley

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Baked at 425 for 15 minutes:

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Cheesy deliciousness:

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Just to balance things out, I also made a big arse salad for the game:DSCF5263

No joke.  Big. Arse.

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Of course I finangled one serving of the mac and cheese to take home with me after the game, and I decided to spice it up a bit for dinner tonight.

I LIBERALLY seasoned up 4 jumbo shrimp with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper and sautéed them up on a pan:

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I also roasted up some broccoli  that I had liberally seasoned with S&P … and I also microwaved the mac and cheese.  Don’t judge.

VOILA!

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That is a seriously grown up healthified mac and cheese masterpiece!!!

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I havent had roasted broccoli in months!! I practically lived off of roasted veggies last summer, and I had somehow forgotten how friggin delicious they are! 

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The mac and cheese by itself was a little too mild for my tastes – so, at the super bowl party I topped it off with some Frank’s Red hot.  But for tonight’s dinner this spicy cayenne shrimp added plenty of kick:

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Can’t get over how delicious!

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Get in my beeeeeeeeeeeelllllllllllllllllllllllllllllly!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Stats on 1 serving mac and cheese (no shrimp):  275 calories, 30g carbs, 10g fat, 17g protein, 3g fiber

Stats on 1 serving mac and cheese WITH shrimp:  322 calories, 30g carbs, 11g fat, 26g protein, 3g fiber

 

Mac & Cheese Ingredients List (serves 8 )

  • 1 large Vidalia onion
  • 9 cloves roughly chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 8 Ounces Barilla Plus Elbow Macaroni
  • 1 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups reduced fat cheddar
  • 2/3 cup fat free Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Sprinkling of dried parsley

 

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Mock mac and cheese

One of life’s true pleasures is a big ole plate of macaroni and cheese.  I’m talking homemade oven-baked cheesy glory.  Once fall rolls around, I start to get some serious cravings for comfort food.  I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.  Comfort foods.  The foods that make you feel warm and cuddly from the inside out.  The foods that make you want to hug your belly and sway side to side just because they taste so dang good.  The foods that you’d like to pour into a giant tub so you could jump in and swaddle yourself in their heavenly gooey warmth….  What.. that’s just me?!

Anyway, tonight I decided to give healthified mac and cheese a go in an attempt to satisfy my comfort food craving.  I remember seeing a recipe a while back on the Hungry Girl email blast, and that was the basis for my dinner (though I couldn’t find the email).

The main components of my mac and cheese were Carba Nada pasta and lightly sauced broccoli:

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 And 1 light French Onion laughing cow wedge:

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Carba nada only takes 5 minutes to cook, so this meal was ready for chowing in no time!  While the pasta cooked I also threw together a small salad with romaine lettuce, tomato, onion, and some Ken’s Lite Caesar dressing (LOVE that stuff).

All together:

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The flavors were a little mild, so I added some red pepper flakes and black pepper on top:

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Cheesy goodness:

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Not too shabby!  If you could get laughing cow in light cheddar that would take this dinner to a whole new level!

Stats on 1 serving mock mac and cheese:  235 calories, 32g carbs, 5g fat, 16g protein, 8g fiber

On a separate note, I’m debating on whether or not to join a gym for the winter.  Twice in my life I had succumbed to signing up for a year-long gym membership, and BOTH times I stopped going after only a couple months… yet still had to pay for the entire year.  I’m really not big on gyms… but without a gym, I see myself simply not exercising this winter.  Any tips for making the gym FUN?

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Dinner in under 10 Minutes

Change of plans!  Due to the torrential down pour that’s being dumped on us in northeast Ohio, there was no cooking out today.

Instead, I was left with the task of cooking myself a dinner using only ingredients I had in the house.  I opened up the pantry to find a bag of Carba Nada pasta begging to be eaten:

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I also happened to have some grilled chicken breast leftover from Tuesday night’s cookathon, and in the deep dark depths of my freezer I was lucky to find a single serving of Classico Fire Roasted Tomato & Garlic pasta sauce.  Just another perfect example to validate my love and obsession for freezing foods in individual servings 🙂

Batch cooking your meats saves a TON of time throughout the week, but towards the end of the week the meat (especially chicken) can start to get a little dry.  When I make pasta sauce with any sort of meat, I like to steep the meat in the sauce, which makes it nice and juicy and tender.

So, while I was waiting for the pasta water to boil, I put the pasta sauce in small pan and added about 3 ounces of grilled chicken and my typical  pasta sauce barrage of spices:  S&P, Red Pepper Flakes, Dried Oregano, Dried Basil, Onion Powder, and Garlic Powder.  All you really need to do is open up your spice cabinet and toss in a few shakes of whatever sounds good to you 🙂

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Once the water was boiling, I dropped a serving of the Carba Nada pasta into the pot.  Carba Nada only takes 5 minutes to cook (awesome!) and is only 140 calories (AWESOMER!), 24g carbohydrates, 12g protein, and 6g fiber.  And it ACTUALLY tastes good.

While the sauce and pasta were getting their grooves on, I made a small side salad with some lettuce, tomato, onion, and Ken’s Steakhouse Light Balsamic Dressing.

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Dinner is served my friends!

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Pastalicious

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Chow time!

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Dinner in under 10 minutes… sure tastes good! 

Stats on dinner:  398 calories, 48g carbs, 8g fat, 32g protein, 13g fiber

If you are interested in trying out the Carba Nada pasta, I recommend ordering from Netrition because they have $4.95 flat-rate shipping.  (I also order my Mama Lupe low-carb tortillas, PB2, and Joseph’s Bakery products on this site)

 

QUESTION:  What’s your favorite done-in-under-ten-minutes dinner? 

 

 

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Cajun Chicken Pasta

Change of plans for dinner last night!  Jarrod decided he wanted to make us some dinner, and of course I was not opposed to such a wonderful idea 🙂

Jarrod and I LOVE pasta.  Prior to my 2010 plan to healthify my life, I’d eat pasta 2-3 times each week.  Nowadays, it’s more like 0-1 times per week.  As evidenced by the pasta dinner we had on vacation (and again, and again, and again, and again), we just don’t really EVER get sick of a nice pasta dinner.

First, Jarrod sautéed some garlic, sliced onions, sliced white mushrooms, and the rest of the banana pepper I grew in my garden:

Once the veggies were nice and tender, he added them to a simmering pot of Classico Fire Roasted Tomato & Garlic sauce.  Meanwhile, he threw some chicken breasts on the george foreman grill.  They were seasoned up with a little olive oil and A TON of cajun seasoning.  And he also dropped some Dreamfields Penne Pasta.

Pasta dinner comes to fruition:

On the side, we had a delicious salad consisting of romaine lettuce, sliced red onions, roma tomatoes, green pepper and Ken’s Steakhouse Lite Balsamic Dressing:

LOVE me a good salad!  I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again:  that Ken really knows a thing or two about salads!

This dinner rocked my socks 😀

Jarrod didn’t measure all of the ingredients out like I do, so calculating the stats was more of an art than a science this time. 

Stats for 1 4 ounce boneless skinless chicken breast with 1 tsp olive oil, 1 serving Dreamfields Pasta, 1/2 cup Classico Fire roasted Tomato & Garlic sauce, 1/4 cup sliced white onion, 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms, 1/4 cup sliced banana pepper: 434 calories, 57g carbs, 8g fat, 31g protein, 9g fiber

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