Category Archives: Pasta Dishes

Pasta Dishes

Spaghetti with Meatballs


Spaghetti with MeatballsLast Sunday was another cold and snowy day, just like beef stew Sunday last week. Time for some more good old-fashioned classic comfort food– spaghetti with meatballs!



  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 small onion, very finely diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed in garlic press
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3-4 green onions (optional)



  • 1 28 oz. can crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil if available, or 1 tablespoon dried basil or oregano
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4-5 green onions (optional)


Serves 4

First, we prep by cutting up the ingredients that need to be cut up for the meatballs and sauce– the pepper, the onions, the garlic; if you can find fresh basil in the grocery store this time of year, that’s always good. To cut the basil, make stacks of basil leaves, largest on bottom, smaller on top, roll the stack of basil up and cut into thin ribbons for the sauce. Otherwise dried basil or oregano is fine for this time of year. I still have some basil from my garden that I had chopped up in a food processor and froze in single-serving containers– a little flavor echo of summer in the dead of winter.

Now we make the meatballs. There’s a few schools of thought on how to cook meatballs. One is to brown them in some oil in a pan before adding them to the sauce. Other people just add the raw meatballs to the sauce and let them cook that way. That’s nice and easy, but I like to at least partially cook the meatballs before I add them to the sauce so some of the beef fat cooks out and less gets in the sauce. If you have no saturated fat concerns, starting with raw meatballs in the sauce will make for some very tasty sauce. But I decided to cook them in the oven– a little easier than browning them, and a little healthier than adding them raw to the sauce.


Ready for the oven

If you decide to start the meatballs in the oven, start heating it at 350 degrees, then mix the meatball ingredients together thoroughly. When all is mixed, take a handful of meatball mixture, about enough for a golfball-sized meatball, pack it well and roll it until it’s reasonably round. Then place it on a foil-lined cookie sheet and just repeat that until you’re done. You should get about 12 or so meatballs out of this recipe (the tray of meatballs in the picture was from a larger batch I made). Cook the meatballs for about 20 minutes at 350.

Green onion note: I had green onions that I diced up and added to the meatballs, and used as a garnish for the sauce, only because we had green onions that needed using, and I thought it would be an interesting variation on ordinary spaghetti and meatballs. And it was! Kristina said she really liked it with the green onions. But this is completely optional.

Now for the sauce. Add the diced onions, pepper and olive oil to a pot and cook until they start to soften. Add the garlic and cook a little longer, then add the tomatoes. As the sauce starts to heat up add the rest of the ingredients and turn heat down to a simmer. Add meatballs to the sauce when you take them out of the oven. It’s done when a test meatball cut in half is cooked all the way through. Serve over spaghetti and top with some grated Parmesan cheese (and some of those green onions, if you like). Enjoy!

Cajun Pasta


My wife ordered something called “Cajun Pasta” from a restaurant once, and she really liked it, so much she asked me to give it a try sometime. She liked my version, and it’s since worked its way into a semi-regular rotation on the weekend meal list.



  • 12 Raw peeled-deveined jumbo shrimp
  • 1 Boneless chicken breast
  • 2 Andouille sausages, or Mexican chorizo
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes or several fresh tomatoes
  • 2 Cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 Cup olive oil
  • 2-3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Green pepper
  • 1 Large onion
  • 4-5 Cloves garlic
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • Cajun/Creole seasoning to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 Tsp. thyme
  • 1 Tsp. oregano


Serves 4

Chop up vegetables, cut up chicken and sausage.

Cover the chicken pieces liberally in the Cajun/Creole seasoning of your choice– I used Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a pan, get it good and hot, and brown the chicken and sausage. Then add the vegetables and cook until the veggies start to soften up, then we’ll take the cooked meat and veggies off the heat and set aside.

Most other Cajun Pasta recipes online call for adding heavy cream, and I’m sure those versions are really good, but I like to keep it a little lighter with my version (and I didn’t have any heavy cream anyway). So I made a roux, as with the Gumbo/Jambalaya recipe, but using 1/4 cup or a little less of olive oil. Add the olive oil to a pot large enough to finish cooking all the ingredients. Heat the oil on medium heat and gradually add the flour, stirring it in constantly. Since we’re using olive oil, which doesn’t withstand heat as well as butter or peanut oil, don’t cook the roux until it’s browned, we’ll go with a “blond” roux– just cook and stir until it’s the consistency, but not the color, of peanut butter.

When the roux is ready, add the cooked meat and veggies, the tomatoes, and slowly add and stir in the chicken stock. Add the seasonings, including more of the Cajun/Creole seasoning if you like. Simmer for about 20 minutes- 1/2 hour. Add the lime juice when it’s almost done cooking.

Serve over your favorite pasta (I used penne rigate), and add shredded parmesan cheese, and some chopped parsley if you like. Enjoy!

Tomato-Basil Sauce from Scratch

Tomato-Basil Sauce

The weather here in Michigan was unusually cool for much of the early part of the summer, so our tomatoes have been slow to ripen, but we’re finally getting lots of ripe tomatoes. I was able to collect enough tomatoes from our Roma plants to make a batch of sauce from scratch. It turned out to be just enough sauce for Kristina and I, so double or triple this recipe up as necessary.

A lot of people who otherwise enjoy cooking Italian food might think making tomato sauce from whole tomatoes might be too difficult or daunting. It takes a little time, and it’s a little messy, but it’s pretty easy. I made this today and the time from picking the tomatoes and basil to serving was less than two hours– and that was while making a batch of pesto on the side. And the result of sauce made from fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes and basil directly out of the garden is transcendentally delicious. I couldn’t believe how good this was the first time I made it.

As mentioned, the tomatoes typically used for making sauce are Roma, or Plum tomatoes. If you want to try making this sauce and don’t have a garden with Roma tomatoes and basil plants, find a local farmer’s market. I wouldn’t bother using grocery store tomatoes for this sauce– they’ve usually been bred for hardiness when shipping, not flavor, and they’re harvested and shipped when not fully ripe so they can be transported with less damage.


  • About 28 medium-sized Roma tomatoes
  • 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 Cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)


Special Utensils:

  • Blender
  • Cheesecloth


Serves 2

Choose a batch of nice, ripe Roma tomatoes:

Blanching tomaotesHeat a pot of water and Rinse your Roma tomatoes. When the water is boiling, add the tomatoes a few at a time, leaving each batch in for a minute of so at a time to loosen the skin of the tomatoes which makes them easy to remove. Don’t throw them all in at once like I did in the pic here– it’ll take a while for the water to get boiling again and you don’t want to cook the tomatoes too much, just enough so the skin pulls right off. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Once the tomatoes are out, rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking process and cool them off enough to handle.

Now here’s what to do to each tomato:

Cut off the stem end and remove the skin.


Cut in quarters and scoop out the seeds and jelly, leaving the “meaty” part of the tomato.

Dice it up. Now just repeat a few dozen times.

cheeseclothNow we take the diced tomato pieces and put them in a ayer of cheesecloth folded double. wrap up the cheescloth around the diced tomatoes and tie the top of the cloth around a wooden spoon. Twist the spoon to tighten the cheesecloth and squeeze the excess water out of the tomatoes. This step is important– if you skip it your sauce will be watery.

When you’ve squeezed out all the water you can, put some or all the diced tomato pieces in a blender and puree. I like my sauce a little chunky, so I reserve a half to a third to stay diced and process the rest.

Now we’re ready for cooking. Heat up a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a pan and sautee the diced garlic. When the garlic is softened up, our in the tomato sauce. Add the salt and pepper to taste and simmer for about ten or fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.

sauce-basil2While the sauce is cooking, cut up the basil leaves. A simple way to do this is to stack batches of basil leaves from large to small and roll them up, cutting the rolled up leaves into strips. Add the basil and cook for 5 more minutes.

The sauce is complete! Add to your favorite pasta and serve with a little grated Parmesan cheese if you like. Enjoy!


Mac and Cheese, Clarkston Union Style

Mac & Cheese

We had some friends over on the 4th of July yesterday, and I barbecued some marinated pork tenderloin. But I’ve been  wanting to try something special for a side dish. There’s a restaurant called the Union Woodshop in Clarkston, Michigan that serves fantastic barbeque. there’s often several hour waits for a table there– even at 5 pm on a weekday. This place rocks. Along with your main choice of pulled pork, ribs or beef brisket you get two sides– and one of the side options is their legendary mac & cheese.

An episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network had Kid Rock taking host Guy Fieri to one of his favorite restaurants, the Clarkston Union, which has the same owners as the Union Woodshop just down the street. That’s where the Clarkston Union mac and cheese was created, and Kid Rock’s favorite, most mackinest mac and cheese, was the featured item in this episode.

I’m planning to have a barbeque later this summer where I want to reproduce the Union Woodshop menu as much as possible–with pulled pork, ribs, and a few sides like collard greens, slow-cooked smoky beans… and the mac and cheese. So our friends who came over were guinea pigs for my first mac and cheese trial effort– and they weren’t disappointed.

I searched online to see if anyone had tried to reproduce the Clarkston Union recipe, and my recipe is a combo of the few I found. I leaned most heavily on this guy’s recipe, so I give him props: Triple D in the ‘D’ Most Macked Mac & Cheese! I changed a few things– I added finely chopped bacon, and I used a little different mix of cheeses than the recipes I found online and in the video of the Kid Rock episode of Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. The bacon was just my effort to really knock my mac and cheese out of the park. The reason I used a couple different cheeses was mostly due to availability, but in future mac and cheese experiments I’d like to try out more different types of cheese. One last note– I was a little surprised to see the nutmeg in the recipe list. It seemed like an odd ingredient for mac and cheese. But it really makes a difference– it’s the secret ingredient that really makes it special (other than the massive quantities of cheese and heavy cream). So don’t leave the nutmeg out if you find it to be an odd ingredient like I did at first. It works!

Of course, this doesn’t have to be a side dish- it could easily stand out on its own as a main dish. And our kids, who are 7 and 10 and believe that the stuff that comes out of the box with the neon orange powder is the pinnacle of great mac and cheese making, actually really liked this. That was the best endorsement of all. Not a heart-healthy dish by any means, but once in a while, hey, ya gotta live a little.


1 lb. Box Penne Rigate pasta
2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream
2 Cups 2% Milk
½ Tsp. Nutmeg
½ Tsp. Salt
½ Tsp. Pepper
4 Tbsp. Butter
4 Tbsp. Flour
3-4 Cloves Garlic, crushed in a garlic press
1 Small to Medium Onion, diced very fine
6 Slices Cooked Bacon, cut into small pieces
2 Cups Shredded Parmesan Cheese
10-12 Slices Sharp White Cheddar Cheese (or Pinconning, that’s what the restaurant uses)
2 cups Shredded Yellow Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 cup Panko (Japanese-Style) Bread Crumbs


Special Utensils:

  • Garlic Press
  • Baking Dish


Serves 4-8, depending on how hungry they are and how much they dig the mac and cheese

Boil the penne pasta until al dente– make sure not to overcook, since it’s going to bake more in the oven. Drain and set aside to cool. I mixed the pasta up with a little olive oil so it wouldn’t stick together.

Onions Bacon Butter

Getting started with the onions, bacon, garlic and butter

Add the chopped onions, crushed garlic, bacon and butter to a pan and cook on medium heat until the onions are turning translucent. TIP: if you don’t like to do a lot of chopping, you could run the onions, garlic and bacon in a food processor to get them diced up nice and small. Just don’t go too overboard and puree everything.


Getting there…

Now add the flour a little at a time while constantly stirring, to make a roux. Who woulda thought that good old-fashioned down-home mac and cheese has origins in fine French Cuisine? Keep stirring until the roux is the color of peanut butter.

Milk, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper warming up in its own pan

Milk, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper warming up in its own pan

While the roux is cooking, add two cups milk and one cup of the cream to a separate pot with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and heat on low to medium heat, stirring regularly, until warm.

Adding the cheese...

Adding the cheese…

When the roux is ready, add the warm milk/cream mixture to the pan and mix thoroughly. Stir until the mixture just starts to simmer and thickens up. Add the two cups of shredded parmesan a little at a time. I was a little low on parm, so I made two cups worth with 2/3 parm and 1/3 shredded sharp cheddar.

Let the roux/milk/cream/cheese mix cool. Since this mix and the pasta need to cool down, this is good to make ahead of time so it’s quicker to put together and throw in the oven just before dinner.

Next, mix the roux/milk/cream/cheese mix with the pasta. The milk/cheese mix will be very thick at this point after cooling, so the best way to mix with the pasta is with your hands. Add some of the remaining cup of heavy cream to help thin the milk/cheese mix a little and help get everything mixed together.

Almost ready for the oven...just have to add the panko crumbs

Almost ready for the oven…just have to add the panko crumbs

Now add the first half of the pasta/cheese mix in a baking dish. I used a porcelain dish that was approximately 8″ x 10″ x 3″ deep, and the amount of this recipe just happened to fit perfectly. After the first layer is in, add the slices of extra-sharp cheddar on top (the Clarkston Union video showed the chef using slices of Pinconning, so you can use that if you can find it). Then layer the rest of the pasta/cheese mix on top, cover with shredded yellow cheddar (once again, the restaurant used shredded white cheddar here), and finally a layer of panko crumbs on top.

Bake in a 425 degree oven for 20-30 minutes (the chef on the DDD episode recommended 425 at 12 minutes, but he was cooking in a small single-serving size dish. I found that after 20 minutes the mac wasn’t hot enough in the center). I saw in the postings I found for this recipe, and a few people who posted replies who tried this recipe, that the cooking temp and time specified in the episode did not result in a real nice brown crispy breadcrumb crust for them. That crunchy browned top is important to the recipe; it contrasts nicely with the creamy cheesy underneath. They recommended maybe cooking longer at a slightly lower temp like 400, and then forming the brown crust using your oven’s broiler setting. I had a nice brown crust form at 425 without the need of the broiler, maybe because I left it in a little longer. But if your mac isn’t browned enough on top, try the broiler trick to finish it. Enjoy!

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata

Here’s my version of an old Italian classic. This is a quick version that uses mostly ingredients that are not too perishable and that you’re likely to have on hand (if you’re like us and have garlic available at all times) so if you have unexpected company for dinner this is an easy and impressive meal to throw together at a 1/2 hour or hour notice.


  • 4 Boneless Chicken Breasts
  • 1 14 oz. Can Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
  • 1/2 Cup White Wine
  • 1/2 – 1 Bulb Garlic
  • 1 Can Quartered Artichokes
  • 1/2 Red Pepper
  • 4 Tbsp. Capers
  • 1 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • Juice of 1 Large Lemon
  • Salt/Pepper to Taste
  • Shredded Parmesan Cheese
  • Pasta-Spaghetti
  • 2 Tbsp. Flour

For Breading:

  • 3 Tbsp. Flour
  • 1 Tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tsp. Granulated Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp. Pepper

Serves 4

For this meal I used some homemade chicken stock and simmered it down, but you can use canned chicken stock and simmer it to reduce by 1/2. This meal is all about intense flavors. Use low-sodium stock since you’re concentrating it. It’s a good idea to start simmering the stock first since it will take around 1/2 hour to reduce it.

Dice up the red peppers very thin (most Chicken Piccata recipes don’t use red pepper, but I added a little here for vitamins and color). Dice up the garlic very fine, or use a garlic press. I like garlic so I use nearly a whole bulb of garlic, but you might want to just use a few cloves.

Butterfly the chicken breasts so they are the same thickness throughout (that means cutting into the thick part of the breast from the center, so you can fold it open like a book). It’s also a good idea to pound the chicken thinner so it cooks through quickly. You can put the chicken between two pieces of clear wrap and roll or pound it thin with a soup can or just about anything handy. I just used my fist, caveman-style.

heat up some butter or smart balance, and olive oil in a pan, and while that’s heating up, mix the flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder together, spread it out on a plate and cover the chicken breasts.

Heat up a skillet with the butter and olive oil, and brown the chicken on both sides. When it’s nicely browned on the outside, take it out and put it in the oven at 350 degrees to finish cooking. Add the red pepper and garlic to the pan and cook until it’s softened up. Pour the white wine into the pan to deglaze it, scraping the browned stuff off the pan. Add the chicken stock, artichokes, and capers and simmer a little longer.

Mix the 2 tbsp. flour with a little water to make a paste and stir it into the chicken stock mixture to thicken up. Mix in lemon juice.

Take chicken out of oven and add to plate with cooked spaghetti. Cover all with sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve. Enjoy!

Serves 4