My Kind of Comfort Food

We’ve been enjoying some unseasonably warm weather here in Wisconsin. Sunny days in the 60s aren’t typical in November, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining. However, all good things must come to an end, and it looks like things are headed back to “normal.” Not that normal is bad by any means. Living somewhere with four seasons is one of my favorite things about living in the Midwest.

Comfort food is another one of my favorite things about fall, and I made this dish on a very typical late fall day – cool, cloudy and rainy. Andy had spent the entire afternoon working outside (raking the leaves, washing and waxing the car, mowing the lawn), and even though I was feeling lazy, I didn’t think I should tell him to make a peanut butter sandwich for dinner. 🙂 So I went ahead and tried a recipe that one of my coworkers shared with me a couple weeks beforehand.

He raved about the recipe. “It will make squash edible!” With that ringing endorsement, I took a copy of the recipe but told him I’d probably make some tweaks, especially since the original recipe called for eight ounces of mushrooms. “You can’t omit the mushrooms,” he said. “They make the dish!” Umm… not in our household. Caramelized onions, on the other hand, are something I can get behind. I added an extra slice of bacon (because more bacon is always better), and I roasted the squash on the bacon pan, rather than microwaving it. Not only was the oven already on, but I figured that roasting the squash (especially in bacon grease) would give things even more flavor. I used my cast iron skillet to caramelize the onions and make the sauce, and since it was already dirty, decided that it would be the perfect pan to finish baking the dish.

Wow. The squash was more than edible; it was amazing. The flavors came together in the perfect way. We ate half of the pan for dinner, and I seriously contemplated warming up the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. And it’s safe to say that the rest of our butternut squash may not be destined for soup after all.

If I was a better food blogger, I’d have a much more appetizing picture to share. But it was dark and we were hungry, so I snapped this one with my phone and dug in.


Baked Butternut Squash Pasta

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed (Approximately 3-5 cups of squash. The recipe called for three cups; my squash yielded closer to 5, and I used every bit of it.) 
1 large onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces short pasta
2 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons AP flour
4 green onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
5 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
3 slices of bacon
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
coarse salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place the uncooked bacon on the sheet. Bake bacon until it is crispy, then remove the pan from the oven and allow the bacon to cool on paper towels.

If your bacon left an overabundance of grease on the baking pan, drain off a little. Spread the squash cubes on the bacon pan. Place the thyme sprigs on the squash and season the pan generously with freshly ground black pepper. Roast until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes.Remove the squash from the oven. Place the squash in a large mixing bowl and lightly mash with a fork.

While the squash is cooking, melt one tablespoon of butter in an oven-safe skillet. Place the onion slices in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium to medium low heat until the onions are caramelized. Remove the onions from the pan and transfer the onions to the bowl with the squash.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then drain and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet and saute the white parts of the green onions. When the onions are tender, add the flour and cook, stirring often, for a minute. Slowly pour the milk into the skillet, whisking constantly. Keep whisking the mixture until it has cooked and thickened. Remove the pan from the heat.

Pour the sauce over the squash and onion mixture and stir to combine. Gently fold in the cooked pasta.

Spoon/pour about half of the squash/pasta/onion mixture into the bottom of an oven safe skillet or casserole dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded fontina cheese. Add the rest of the squash/pasta mixture to the pan and top with the remaining cheese, bacon pieces and green onions.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until the dish is heated through and the cheese is bubbly. Serve warm.

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, courtesy of my coworker, Rich

Click here for a printable version.

Putting My Spin On Things

Like dips, pasta salads aren’t something I make very often. Since only 50% of our household enjoys it, I usually opt for other pasta dishes. I don’t even make it for potlucks because, “what if EVERYONE makes pasta salad and that’s the ONLY thing at the party?!” (In Andy’s defense, this did happen once… seven years ago. He still hasn’t let me forget it.)

But when I started looking for a different way to prepare asparagus (because variety is the spice of my life), I stumbled on the idea of an asparagus salad. And then I realized that if I bulked it up with some pasta, I could get away with only making one dish for dinner. Plus, if I served it warm and called it “pasta with asparagus and feta,” Andy probably wouldn’t associate it with the chilled, mayo-slicked salads that give him flashbacks to that fateful day in 2008. It’s all in how you spin things. 😉

I made a couple changes to the original recipe. I added pasta (obviously). I roasted the asparagus since our grill is on the fritz, and I upped the lemon, adding the zest and juice from an entire lemon. I used my “good” Italian olive oil from my brother-in-law to finish off the dish, since its flavor would come through. We enjoyed it warm the first night, and I liked the leftovers at room temperature as well.



Lemon Asparagus Pasta Salad with Feta 

1 lb. of asparagus spears
8 ounces uncooked short pasta
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup feta cheese
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Wash the asparagus and trim off the tough, woody ends. Cut the asparagus spears into 3″ long pieces. Place the asparagus pieces in a large bowl and drizzle them with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place the minced garlic in the bowl and toss to combine.

Spread the asparagus in an even layer on the baking sheet and roast until golden brown in spots, about 12 minutes. Hang on to the bowl – you’ll use it to mix everything together at the end.

While the asparagus is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and place it in the bowl you tossed the asparagus in earlier. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice over the cooked pasta. When the asparagus is done, remove it from the oven and add the asparagus to the pasta. Scrape any garlicky oil from the pan into the bowl with the pasta.

Mix the feta cheese in with the pasta. If the mixture seems too dry, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil to the  bowl. Toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Adapted from Once Upon a Chef

Click here for a printable version.

Who Wouldn’t Want This?

Remember me? You know, the long-lost blogger who has been MIA most of the summer? I’m going to blame my latest absence on our two-week vacation to Maine and New Hampshire, OK? And, for what it’s worth, I thought about blogging on our trip, but somehow never got around to it. (It’s the thought that counts, right?) We thoroughly enjoyed our time off and did our very best to eat New England out of seafood, ice cream and wild blueberries. I kid you not – we picked this vacation solely because blueberries were in season. See?

Andy and his brother picking blueberries for our pancake dinner.

We were lucky enough to pick up some tomatoes from Andy’s parents on our way home from Maine, and we spent a steamy Friday evening processing tomatoes. (Literally. It was 80+ outside when we got started, and with three cauldrons pots of boiling water, our kitchen turned into a sauna in no time at all.) We put up 7 quarts and 27 pints of tomatoes, so I think we’re going to call that good for the year.

In other news, I feel like this has been the summer of the zucchini for me. I don’t remember receiving nearly as many zucchini and summer squash in our CSA last year. And while we love our fritters, I can only handle so much of the same thing. (Unless that same thing is chocolate. I have yet to reach my limit there.) So when this  recipe popped up in my Facebook feed, I figured it was worth a try… after I made a few modifications, that is. I eliminated the mushrooms (still don’t like them, sorry Mom!), added sausage (I tried it with bacon as well, but it’s better with sausage), added some broccoli and onions, and used Swiss chard instead of spinach.

And… we have a keeper here. It’s filling and hearty without being too heavy. It’s loaded with summer veggies, which helps keep the crisper drawer under control. The leftovers reheat well too. As Andy likes to say, “Who wouldn’t want this?!” 😀

First thing, you’ll have to forgive the questionable picture. I was hungry. This picture is from the time I used bacon, but you get the idea…

Zucchini / Summer Squash Pasta Bake

8 ounces penne pasta, uncooked
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium-large zucchini or summer squash, sliced and cut into half-moons
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium head of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
6 ounces spinach or Swiss chard, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
3 ounces cooked sausage, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ounces cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese, cut into 1″ chunks
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly oil a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, saute the onions until they begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add the zucchini and garlic and saute for another minute or two, until the zucchini begins to brown. Add the flour to the pan and cook for a minute or so, stirring often. Add the spices to the pan, and then add the stock, scraping up all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the broth has thickened and cheese has melted, about 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the broccoli about 3 minutes before the pasta is done. Drain the cooked pasta and broccoli and set aside.

Spread the pasta and broccoli mixture into the prepared baking pan. Stir in the zucchini mixture, sausage, Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and spinach/chard. Gently stir until pasta is coated and everything is well-combined. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the pasta.

Bake, uncovered, until cheese is browned and bubbly and mixture is heated through, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve hot.

Adapted from Taste of Home

Click here for a printable version

Mac & Cheese, Upgraded

Apparently, I can’t leave well enough alone. (See also: grilled cheese.) I mean, did macaroni and cheese really need changing? It’s carbs (yum) with cheese (double yum). But when you have extra bacon in the fridge and broccoli in the freezer, why not take things up a notch? 😀

I have several mac and cheese recipes saved in my Google reader, but this one from Confections of a Foodie Bride really caught my attention, mostly because it didn’t start with a flour/butter roux. As much as I love a standard “white sauce,” eliminating a step sounded like a good idea for a weeknight meal. I didn’t have plain yogurt on hand, so I ended up substituting sour cream. (I was a little unsure of that step, since Andy is NOT a fan of creamy white “sauces,” but after it cooked together, he had no idea it was in there.) 

In my attempts to eliminate steps (and dishes!), I cooked the broccoli with the pasta. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, I don’t think I’ll go that route again. Each little broccoli floret became a cheese magnet, grabbing the shreds of cheese and refusing to let go. While it wasn’t the end of the world, it made the sauce a little thinner. So, learn from my mistakes and stir the cooked broccoli in AFTER the cheese.


Broccoli & Bacon Mac & Cheese

4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled*
8 ounces of short pasta
12 ounces frozen broccoli
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
4 ounces freshly shredded cheddar cheese
4 ounces freshly shredded fontina cheese
salt & pepper to taste
olive oil

In a small skillet, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Saute the sliced onions until they are soft, golden and fragrant.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the pasta water, and return the pasta to the pot.

In a separate pan (or in a bowl in the microwave), steam the broccoli until it is crisp-tender. Drain and set aside.

Stir the sour cream and cheese into the pot with the pasta. Mix together until a smooth, creamy sauce forms. If necessary, thin the sauce with the reserved pasta water, adding about 1/4 cup at a time, until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.

Mix the onions, bacon and broccoli into the pasta. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride

*My friend Bethany turned me on to the idea of cooking bacon in the oven. I line a baking sheet with foil and bake the strips at 375. It takes about 20 minutes in my oven for the bacon to reach our desired level of “crispiness.” There’s no splatter, no mess, and I don’t burn the bacon anymore! I do turn the slices about halfway through baking, but other than that, it’s completely hands-off. Consider me converted. I’m never pan-frying it again. 

Click here for a printable version.

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Ever get an idea stuck in your head? You know, one that won’t go away until you at least attempt it? Welcome to one of those days in my world! It all started when Annie posted this super tasty-looking recipe for beet ravioli. Since I had used up all of my beets just a few days before (and since I don’t own pasta rollers…), I sighed, mentally bookmarked the recipe and went about my day.

Except… all I could think about was filled pasta. Tasty little pockets of pasta, brimming with savory goodness. Hmm.

Then, out of the blue, it hit me! Butternut squash ravioli! I have lots of squash at home! I can do this! (Keep in mind, I’d never had butternut squash ravioli before. And I still didn’t have a pasta roller. AND, my one and only prior attempt at making homemade pasta had been, well, less than stellar. No matter. I was going to make squash ravioli, I just knew it.) The weekend couldn’t come soon enough.

After spending some quality time with Google, I had decided two things: One, I would serve this with a brown butter sauce (never mind that I hadn’t made that before either), and two, I wasn’t going to mess with making the pasta this time. I’d focus on getting the filling right before I tried to roll out pasta dough by hand. I bought some wonton wrappers, put my Pandora stations on shuffle, and got to work.

To make the puree, I used the smallest butternut squash I had on hand, roasting the peeled squash cubes with some olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs. It smelled so good after roasting that I had to sample a few chunks (quality control, you know) before I pureed it.

Assembling the ravioli went fairly well, and cooking it was a breeze. My biggest mistake was to put the cooked ravioli in a large bowl while I finished the sauce. Turns out that cooked wonton wrappers immediately adhere to each other, which made serving them a little difficult. Thankfully, Andy’s not worried about appearances, as long as it tastes good. 🙂

And taste good, it did. Holy yum. Even though I had sampled the filling, I was amazed at how good this dinner was. The combination of the squash with the brown butter… wow. Mind-blowing, I tell you.

And I still have wonton wrappers in the fridge… hmm. Guess I’ll have to make ravioli again!

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter and Spinach

1 cup roasted butternut squash puree
5 tablespoons chopped shallots, divided
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
Salt and pepper
3 tableaspoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
pinch of nutmeg
wonton wrappers
1 teaspoons lemon juice
pinch of sage
handful fresh spinach, chopped

In a large pan, melt one tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add three tablespoons of shallots and saute for about a minute. Stir in the squash puree and cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about three minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the cream, Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set mixture aside to cool.

When the squash mixture has cooled, place one teaspoon of filling in the center of a wonton wrapper. Dip your finger in water and moisten the edges of the wrapper, then fold the wrapper over on itself, pressing to seal the edges. Place the filled wonton on a baking tray, and continue filling and sealing the wrappers until all of the squash filling is gone. Try not to stack the filled ravioli, as any moisture will cause the wonton wrappers to stick together.

To cook the ravioli, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place three to four ravioli in the pot (depending on the size of your pot) and cook until the ravioli float to the top, about two to three minutes. Remove the cooked ravioli with a slotted spoon and continue cooking the rest in batches.

To make the brown butter sauce, melt four tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add the remaining shallots and sage and cook until the butter starts to brown. (I was paranoid about burning the butter here, but it all worked out OK!) Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice. Toss the chopped spinach leaves with the sauce and stir until they wilt down.

Pour the sauce and spinach over the cooked ravioli and serve immediately.

Filling adapted from The Food Network
Sauce adapted from Serious Eats
Wonton tips from

Cabbage & Noodles

We have wonderful neighbors, who seem to to have the world’s greenest thumb (after my parents and grandparents, anyway). They often share things from their garden, which I really appreciate (especially since our   gardening skills leave a lot to be desired). A few years ago, they gave us what might known as the world’s biggest cabbage. As this was before Andy decided he like coleslaw, I was at a loss as to what to do with a head of cabbage bigger than a basketball.

With the cabbage staring at me from the kitchen table, I went straight to my computer and emailed my sister-in-law, Kim. (My logic: She’s married to Andy’s brother. If Dan likes her cabbage dish, odds are, Andy will too.) 

“HELP! I have a giant cabbage! What do I do?!”

She came through for me, and this has become our go-to solution for cabbage (along with a tangy, vinegar-based coleslaw that I serve with fish tacos, but that’s a post for another day…).

Cabbage & Noodles with Bacon

1 head of cabbage, chopped
1 pound of bacon*
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 large handfuls of egg noodles*
Black pepper

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels, then break into bite-sized pieces. (Warning: there’s a chance that you could end up snacking on the bacon bits while you’re finishing dinner. It’s been known to happen here.)

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the egg noodles. Add the noodles and cook until done. Drain the noodles and set aside.

Drain some of the bacon fat from the pan, reserving enough to cook the onions. Add the chopped onion to the pan and cook for about 1-2 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften. Add the cabbage to the skillet and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. When the cabbage is tender, add the egg noodles and bacon, mixing thoroughly. Season with pepper. Serve immediately.

*I use these amounts as guidelines, rather than strict rules that must be obeyed OR ELSE. Last time I made this, I used about three quarters of a head of cabbage, six slices of bacon (because that’s what I had on hand) and a couple handfuls of egg noodles. You can play with the amounts to get proportions that seem “right” to you. 

From my sister-in-law Kim

One of our favorites…

Once upon a time, right after college, my grandma gave me a gift subscription to a great little magazine: Cooking for Two. I loved it – I was living on my own and didn’t need tons of food hanging around to tempt me. And then Andy and I got married, and the magazine was still great; after all, there were just two of us. (Granted, sometimes that meant no leftovers, but if it wasn’t a great recipe, we weren’t stuck eating it for weeks on end… like that one time with the failed chili mac.)

And then, one day, tragedy struck: The publisher discontinued “Cooking for Two.” Apparently, families of two are a small and shrinking market. (My guess is that many of the couples that started out cooking for two suddenly found themselves cooking for three, four, five… funny how that happens.) 

Thankfully, before the magazine folded, they published this recipe. And, one day, Andy stumbled upon it and suggested we give it a try. I made a few tweaks (mushrooms? um, no thanks.), and the rest is history. Apricot Chicken Pasta has become a staple at our house. It’s easy, fast, and very tasty. In fact, it’s the first “real” meal I cooked when we put our kitchen back together after the big remodel last year.

Apparently, I added some chopped parsley when I made this batch. Totally optional.

Apricot Chicken Pasta

1/2 cup dried apricots, thinly sliced
9 teaspoons of white wine or chicken broth
1 chicken breast, diced
1 cup bowtie pasta
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/4 teaspoons soy sauce
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Cracked black pepper

In a small saucepan, combine the apricots and wine/broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions. (I try to time this where I have the pasta done at the same time as the rest of the dish, but I’m not always successful with this. If your pasta gets done before you have the rest thrown together, simply drain it and set it aside.) 

Saute chicken breast pieces in olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until opaque and cooked through. Add the garlic when the chicken is nearly done and saute till fragrant (another couple minutes). Pour the cream and soy sauce into the skillet and cook until slightly thickened, about five minutes. Add the cheese, stir till melted and remove from heat. Stir in the onions, apricots and toasted almonds. Season with pepper to taste. Toss with cooked pasta and serve hot.

I like serving this with either a tossed salad or broccoli on the side. For days that I’m really pushed for time, I throw the broccoli in with the pasta and cook it that way. Bam! One-plate wonder! 🙂 

Adapted from Cooking for Two/Taste of Home.