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Pasta with Ham and Mushrooms in a Creamy Spinach Ricotta Sauce

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If you celebrate Easter, it’s likely that come Sunday, you may find yourself with an excess of boiled eggs, some ham, and maybe even some candy. With that in mind, I’ve gathered up a few tasty ideas on how to make delicious use of those leftovers, including a brand new, super-simple recipe for pasta with ham and mushrooms in a creamy, cheesy spinach ricotta sauce.

What to do with Leftover Boiled Eggs…

Creole Deviled Eggs

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Deviled Egg Salad

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Pasta with Bacon, Eggs, and Spinach

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What to do with Leftover Candy…

Cadbury Creme Crepes

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What to do with Leftover Ham…

Ham and Corn Chowder

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Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad with Creamy BBQ Dressing (use sliced ham in place of prosciutto)

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Grilled Brie, Prosciutto and Apricot Sandwiches (use ham in place of prosciutto)

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Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

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Pasta with Ham and Mushrooms in a Creamy Spinach Ricotta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if necessary
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 2 cups baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 6-ounce bag baby spinach leaves, chopped
  • 2 cups leftover ham, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound pasta, cooked al dente
  • Additional parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper, for garnish

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms. Cook for 7-10 minutes until tender and lightly caramelized. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Add a touch more olive oil to the pan, if necessary, then add the onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes until tender and golden. Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add the ricotta cheese, milk, and parmesan cheese. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until hot and well blended. Add the mushrooms, ham and spinach. Gently simmer for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as desired. Pour the sauce over cooked pasta and toss to combine. Garnish with crushed red pepper and additional parmesan cheese, if desired.

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Treat Your Valentine

Treat your valentine to a day’s worth of mouth-watering meals. Here are three ideas for each meal, from super simple to more elaborate. Click on the pictures or the links to see the recipes!

You can also check out the Recipes section at the top of the page for more ideas to delight your sweetie.

Breakfast

Super Simple: Strawberry and Nutella Stuffed French Toast

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A Bit More Complex: Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

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Manageably Elaborate: Eggs Benedict

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Lunch

Super Simple: Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup

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A Bit More Complex: Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad

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Manageably Elaborate: Quiche Lorraine

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Dinner

Super Simple: Penne a la Vodka

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A Bit More Complex: Pork Chops with Fontina and Marsala

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Manageably Elaborate: Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs over Creamy Brie Potatoes

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Dessert

Super Simple: World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies with Raspberry Coulis

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A Bit More Complex: Chocolate Raspberry Torte

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Manageably Elaborate: Fresh Berry Mousse with Vanilla Panna Cotta

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Buffalo Chicken Pasta Bake (and Giveaway Winner!!)

Well, we did it! We made it through Halloween. I enjoy Halloween, especially now that I have kids to celebrate it with – but to be honest, for me it’s mostly just the gateway holiday to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those are the holidays which really have my heart. I’ll admit, a small tear of joy may have run down my cheek when I walked into Target the other day to find the first of their holiday decorations hung from the ceiling. I have no problem with celebrating Christmas even as we prepare for Thanksgiving. The two go hand in hand for me.

But Halloween was fun this year. Really fun. The boys dressed up for the pre-Halloween party at their school. There was a dj, a disco ball, and hundreds of costumed children, half-blinded by masks, crashing into each other on the school gym dance floor. All varieties of goblins, ghouls, princesses and superheroes roamed the school cafeteria with slices of pizza and pumpkin cookies hanging from their mouths.

On Halloween, the boys put on their costumes for their school parade. Liam was Harry Potter, a costume I’m certain he selected for the pretend glasses it came with. Lucas was a terrifying werewolf, a costume I believe he selected for the shredded jeans it would give him a reason to wear. The kid’s got a weird love for jeans, as long as they have a real, functional button and zipper…none of those faux buttoned, elastic-waisted toddler jeans for him!

After school, we attended a pre-trick-or-treating party at our friends’ house. I dressed as a princess with baby James as my frog prince. We brought along a bucket of spooky eyeball cake pops, which everyone enjoyed after the delicious dinner served by our friend. There was pasta and meatballs, a vibrant pasta salad, Italian bread and butter, jumbo shrimp, fresh veggies with dip, cheese and crackers, baked ziti and chicken wings.

And that’s when the seedling of an idea began to take root, right there surrounded by ninjas and vampires – baked ziti and chicken wings…

Y’all know I’ve got a little thing for inserting buffalo chicken wing flavor into all varieties of other foods…chicken wing dip, buffalo chicken lasagna, buffalo chicken monkey bread, buffalo chicken pizzabuffalo chicken meatballs, buffalo chicken potato skins… so, why not buffalo chicken baked ziti? As my sister put it, “Why have we not eaten that before???” It’s a practically ludicrous idea to consider. Fortunately, we no longer need to commiserate over the absence of buffalo chicken baked ziti in our lives. I made it last night and my hybrid baked ziti-buffalo chicken world is now beautifully complete.

Focus on Technique – Poaching Chicken

It’s common to find recipes calling for poached chicken. Poaching is simply the process of very gently simmering a food until it’s cooked. Eggs, poultry, and fish all responded well to poaching. Foods can be poached in a variety of liquids, including water, milk, wine, and broth/stock. Various herbs and seasonings can be added to the poaching liquid to impart delicious flavor into the chicken. When poaching, it’s important to control the heat in order to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer.

Properly poached chicken breasts remain moist and tender. Poached chicken works well on its own, in chicken salad, on pizza, in soup, or mixed in with pasta.

To poach chicken breasts, place the chicken in a pot large enough for the chicken to fit comfortably. Cover the chicken with cool water (or chicken broth). Over medium heat, bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Adjust the heat so that the liquid maintains a gently bubbling simmer. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. An instant read meat thermometer is the most effective way to determine doneness. Chicken is done once it’s reached 165 degrees.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 1 pound of chicken, poached and chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce (or your other favorite hot sauce)
  • 1 cup blue cheese dressing (I always recommend Marie’s)
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the pasta for about a minute less than the package directions call for. Strain and rinse with cool water to prevent overcooking. Return the cooled, strained pasta to the pot. Add the chicken and chopped celery.

In a bowl, combine the hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. Pour the mixture over the pasta. Add the ricotta cheese and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, or additional hot sauce, as desired.

Transfer the pasta mixture into a large 13×9 baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and the crumbled blue cheese (optional) over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes.

*You can prepare the entire dish, up to the baking step, ahead of time. If preparing ahead of time and refrigerating, allow for approximately 10-15 minutes of extra cooking time. 

Werewolf and the frog prince

GIVEAWAY WINNER!! We have a winner! Using http://www.random.org to select a number at random, out of the 28 entries received for the dairy-themed gift bag giveaway, the winner is #12 , Jessica M. Congratulations, Jessica!! I’m going to send you an email at the address provided with your comment to get the information necessary to send you out your prize!!

Spicy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

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Many years ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to watch the movie, Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. We went down to our local Redbox machine to pick up the movie. We grabbed a six-pack of beer, some snacks and settled in to enjoy the film. About thirty minutes into the movie, one of us commented that it was odd that we hadn’t seen Jake Gyllenhaal yet, but we kept watching. An hour past; no Jake. We kept watching. Then, the screen went black, in the moment just before the credits rolled. And somehow we were still expecting Jake Gyllenhaal’s appearance. He never appeared. Turns out that we had rented The Zodiac, starring nobody you know. The length of time it took for us to discover our mistake leaves some room for concern.

And then there are movies whose titles sound similar, yet whose content is nothing alike. This can also lead to some interesting mishaps, like the time our father intended to record The Goonies for my young sisters and I to watch as children. Had he truly recorded The Goonies, we surely would have enjoyed watching the movie together. But, my well-intentioned father had not in fact recorded The Goonies. What he had inadvertently recorded was a horror movie about small toothy monsters called Ghoulies. The movie opened with a terrifying scene which gave us nightmares for weeks afterward and caused me to discard my once favorite nightgown, which was creepily similar to the one worn by a short-lived character in the opening scene; the opening scene which will forever be burned into my mind.

Note to self: Double check that I have in fact recorded Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the kids to watch and not Mickey Mouse’s House of Torture and Pain.

Watching tv can be tricky. Good food doesn’t need to be. This family-pleasing pasta salad marries sweet summer corn with tender broccoli and crispy bacon in a spicy ranch dressing. It’s a perfect balance of flavors and textures which would make a great summer side salad for your next picnic or barbecue. There’s no room for confusion here. This is good stuff, people!

Spicy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound small pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions
  • 2 cups broccoli, lightly steamed and chopped
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels
  • 5-6 slices bacon, cooked and chopped

For the dressing:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 5-6 chives, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2-3 tablespoons diced chiles, fresh or canned*
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more, if desired)*

Directions

To make the dressing: Stir together the sour cream and mayonnaise, until smooth. Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, dry mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. Stir in the chopped chives, diced chiles, chile powder and cayenne. Taste and adjust seasoning, as desired.

Toss the pasta, broccoli, corn, and bacon with the dressing. Refrigerate until serving.

*You can adjust the quantities of chiles and cayenne pepper based on your family’s preferred level of spiciness. As written, it will produce a medium spicy dressing.


Fishy Friday – Lenten Round-Up

The kids have been home from school this week for their mid-winter break, which I’m now convinced is some sort of cruel joke on parents. I mean, seriously…whose idea was it to schedule a week off from school in the middle of winter, leaving me stuck inside with three very loud, very active, and very needy children?? I’ve been jumping through hoops all week trying to keep everyone sufficiently content, which has left little time for things like thinking or writing…hence the lack of blog posts this week. Even now, as I attempt to type, the baby is grabbing at my fingers, while the other boys are playing a game which seems to center around making an unusually loud and abrasive growling sound.

This morning I took the boys to meet up with some friends at  a local bounce house, followed by lunch (which turned into second breakfast, since we vacated the bounce house sooner than planned) and ice cream at Friendly’s. It was a feeble attempt to encourage the kids to burn off some of their excess energy so that I had a small chance of a calm afternoon. Though I think the ice cream may be working against my plans. Ugh…this parenting thing is hard!

New recipes coming up next week, but for now here’s a round-up of fishy recipes, which may come in handy for any of you who are observing meat-free Fridays during lent.

Pan-seared Scallops with Pina Colada Salsa and Coconut Rice

Pan-seared Cod over Bean and Basil Puree

Creole Fish Tacos

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad

Asian-style Fish Tacos

Lobster Pot Pie

Lobster BLT Sandwiches (skip the bacon)

Salmon, Cucumber, and Orzo Salad

Codfish Cakes

Shrimp Scampi Flatbread Pizza (and last year’s Lenten recipe round-up!)

Italian Wedding Soup

I’m about to eat my words.

“I guess I just don’t really think too much about soup. I never crave it. I rarely get the itch to make it. ” – Me, October 26, 2010

Well, I’ve changed my mind. A girl’s allowed to change her mind, right?? I think about soup all of the time lately. I crave soup frequently. I always have the itch to make it. In fact, I can barely think of anything more comforting on a chilly autumn day than a bowl of soup; a creamy pumpkin bisque, savory chicken noodle, or spicy sausage and bean. I love them all.

While I’m busy eating my words, I might as well admit that my lifelong, passionate distaste for Rod Stewart has been gradually waning. Rod Stewart, the thought of whom used to give me unpleasant shivers. I now find myself singing along to his songs on the radio. I may have even raised the volume once or twice. What’s happening to me?

I’m swimming in soup this week as I prepare for our littlest guy’s upcoming baptism. I’ll be serving a menu of soups, salad, and assorted breads. There will be a Roasted Pumpkin Caramel Bisque, a Sausage, Bean, and Rapini soup, a Spicy Beef Chili, and this Italian Wedding Soup.

Italian wedding soup is typically composed of a chicken broth with meatballs, leafy greens, and pasta. It’s a simple, but perfectly married combination of flavors. I start my soup with a homemade chicken broth. You can skip this step and use prepared chicken broth to save a whole bunch of time. But, if you make the broth from scratch you’ll have the added benefit of enough cooked chicken to make meals for the rest of the week! Totally worth the small investment in time!

Italian Wedding Soup

Ingredients

For the broth:

  • 2 whole chickens
  • 2 cups carrots, coarse chopped
  • 1 head celery, coarse chopped
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 6-8 cloves garlic

For the meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Pepper

For the soup:

  • 3-4 teaspoons salt
  • Pepper
  • Splash of hot sauce
  • 12 ounces baby spinach, coarse-chopped
  • 1 pound small pasta (ditalini or orzo)

Directions

To prepare the broth, place two whole chickens into a very large pot (12-16 quart stockpot). Add carrots, celery, onions, and garlic. Add enough water to cover an inch or two above the chicken and veggies. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 3.5-4 hours. When cool enough to safely handle, use a slotted spoon to remove most of the chicken and veggies. Pour the remaining mixture through a fine-sieve strainer. Save the chicken for other uses (salads, quesadillas, chicken salad, pasta dishes). Discard the vegetables. Transfer the broth back to the pot and bring to a boil. Boil, uncovered for 20-30 minutes to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavor. Allow to cool. Use a spoon to skim some of the fat from the surface of the soup. (If desired, you can cool the broth completely in the refrigerator to easily remove the excess fat, which will rise and harden on the surface of the broth. This is not a necessary step, but is the most effective way to remove the fat.) Reserve 16 cups of the broth for the soup. Freeze any remaining broth for other uses.

To prepare the meatballs, combine all meatball ingredients until well-blended. Roll the mixture into 1 inch balls. Bake on a baking sheet for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

To prepare the soup, bring 16 cups of the full-flavored broth to a simmer. Add salt and pepper, as desired. About 3-4 teaspoons of salt should do the trick. (Store-bought broth, which has already been salted, will require less salt. Taste as you go to prevent over-salting the broth.) Add a splash or two of hot sauce, as desired. Add the meatballs and spinach. Simmer until the spinach wilts. In a separate pot, cook the pasta for 2-3 minutes less than directed. (It will finish cooking in the soup.) Strain, then add the slightly under-cooked pasta to the hot soup.

How to Prepare Fresh Pumpkin

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Welcome, October! Quite possibly my favorite month of the year. Well, maybe except for December.

Because December means Christmas. And Christmas makes me burst with happiness.

But October means beautiful changing leaves, my birthday, Halloween candy, warm sweaters, soft hoodies, and pumpkins; lots and lots of pumpkins!

As I write, there are a few pumpkins roasting in the oven, making my home smell like autumn. I’m working on a new pumpkin recipe today. Think fresh, roasted pumpkin with rich cream, and perhaps a touch of caramel. Oh, and it’s not a dessert! Look for it later this week.

In the mean time, I thought you may want to brush up on your procedure for preparing fresh pumpkin puree by taking a look back at my no-fuss step-by-step guide. Click HERE to begin your pumpkin journey.

You may also want to check out these delicious pumpkin recipes:

Fresh Pumpkin Coconut Pie

Autumn Harvest Buns

Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Bread

Pumpkin Gingersnap Parfaits

Fettucine with Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce 

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The Gourmand Mom

Good food, seasoned with a dash of life

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