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Food & Recipes

Pumpkin Rigatoni with Turkey Bacon

October 23, 2015

PumpkinMac_1I’ve been making some version of this easy pumpkin sauce for more nights than I can count. It’s ultra-easy once you get the hang of making it and goes with pasta as well as roasted veggies. Although my husband’s preference leans strongly toward pasta with turkey bacon, my preference is for spooning it on top of roasted broccoli with a side of toast.

This dish could easily be made a day in advance and tossed in the oven for a quick dinner. Since it’s just me and Joe eating dinner (and feeding small bites to Ainsley now and again) I scaled this dish down a bit from the typical casserole size. We love eating leftovers but not leftovers for an entire week!


Pumpkin Rigatoni with Turkey Bacon
Recipe type: Main Dish
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 to 3 servings
  • 2 cups rigatoni pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup chicken stock (or broth)
  • ¼ cup 2% milk
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin puree
  • ¼ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of salt and ground black pepper
  • ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 4 pieces turkey bacon, crisp-cooked according to package directions and crumbled
  • Additional grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat oven to 350F. Spray a small baking dish with cooking spray - I used a 6x6-inch dish. Set aside. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain.
  2. In a small saucepan or skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the flour and whisk together until smooth. Continue to cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until flour is cooked slightly. Whisk in the stock and milk and continue to cook 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken just slightly. Whisk in the Parmesan cheese, pumpkin puree and ricotta cheese. Stir in the basil, thyme, nutmeg, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Add the pasta to the sauce along with ¼ cup of the mozzarella cheese and all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon. Spoon mixture into the prepared dish.
  4. Top the pasta with the remaining ¼ cup of mozzarella cheese, an additional 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese and the remaining crumbled bacon.
  5. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.



Quick Weeknight Pastitsio

October 27, 2014

Quick Pastitsio (1) | Espresso and Cream
Even as someone who cooks and develops recipes for a living, the question of what to have for dinner frequently leaves me a little bit weary. I love cooking when I have plenty of time to plan and prepare, but the weeknight routine of figuring out what to eat serves more as a stressor than a stress reliever. Usually dinner is sandwiched in between after-work plans and trips to the gym and by the time it’s actually mealtime, I just want to eat NOW. You know the feeling?

I’m always looking for easy weeknight meals to add to the rotation of favorites, and this simple creamy pasta dish has quickly made its way onto the list. It comes together in just about 20 minutes and is super family-friendly. This dish is modeled after Joe’s favorite dish, Ina Garten’s Pastitsio, which is a recipe that’s labor-intensive and a total calorie bomb, so it’s reserved for special events and holidays rather than everyday meals.

My version is made creamy with a small amount of cream cheese to mimic the creaminess of the traditional pastitsio along with a can of crushed tomatoes, marinara sauce and lean ground beef seasoned with spices to mimic the higher-fat sausage that’s commonly used. It’s not nearly as indulgent as the real thing, but for a weeknight meal it certainly makes the cut.

Quick Pastitsio | Espresso and Cream

Quick Weeknight Pastitsio
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 4
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (14 to 15-oz) diced tomatoes
  • 2 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1½ cups marinara sauce
  • 1 box rotini pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, if desired
  1. In a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium high heat, heat the oil. In a medium mixing bowl, combine ground beef, Italian seasoning, salt,cinnamon, cayenne pepper and black pepper until well combined. Add ground beef to skillet and cook until browned; drain if necessary. Add garlic to pan and cook 3 to 4 minutes more until garlic is lightly browned and fragrant.
  2. Add diced tomatoes and cream cheese and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until cream cheese is evenly incorporated. Add marinara sauce and cook until heated through, about 1 to 2 minutes more.
  3. Divide pasta among bowls. Top with the marinara sauce. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.




Tortilla-Crusted Baked Chicken Strips with Sriracha Aioli

September 7, 2014

Baked Chicken Tenders 4 | Espresso and CreamRemember when I mentioned that I’m working with Food Should Taste Good to create some great recipes for game day? Well today marks the second installment  of this three part series and boy is the recipe I have to share with you good. Although the recipe for these chicken strips only makes two it can easily be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled depending on how many people you have coming over to watch the game. Since it was just Joe and me watching football this weekend, I kept the serving size to two.

I’m a huge fan of a certain chicken-based southern fast food chain that makes the world’s best chicken sandwiches. When I did a little digging, I found out that the key to their juicy, flavorful chicken is to marinade the chicken in pickle juice before cooking. Or, at least that’s what the internet told me. I’ve since started deploying that same strategy at home and it’s amazing how well it works! It’s a step I included when making these Tortilla-Crusted Baked Chicken Strips and it makes all the difference. The chicken is so juicy and flavorful, not dry in the least bit.

After marinading the chicken in pickle juice for at least 12 hours, I cut the boneless, skinless chicken breasts into strips and coated them in a mixture of crushed Food Should Taste Good multigrain tortilla chips and panko bread crumbs, along with a little salt, pepper and cayenne for a little kick.

Personally, I love that these chicken strips are baked, not fried, but still have a ton of crunch thanks to the crushed tortilla chips and panko. And to make things a little extra special, I served these with a simple sriracha aioli, which is really just a fancy name for a flavored mayonnaise.

Baked Chicken Tenders 3 | Espresso and Cream

Tortilla-Crusted Baked Chicken Strips with Sriracha Aioli
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 2
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup dill pickle juice (from a jar of dill pickles)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cups Food Should Taste Good multigrain tortilla chips, finely crushed
  • 1 cup plain panko bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
  • Sriracha Aioli
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha
  1. Place chicken breasts and pickle juice in a plastic air-tight container or zip-top bag and allow chicken to marinade 24 hours or at least 12 hours.
  2. Heat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.
  3. Cut each chicken breast into 4 or 5 strips. Place egg in a shallow bowl. In a second shallow bowl, combine crushed tortilla chips, panko, kosher salt, pepper and cayenne.
  4. Dip chicken in egg, followed by the tortilla mixture. Place coated chicken strips on baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until chicken is baked through and no pink remains.
  5. To make Sriracha Aioli: Stir together the mayonnaise and sriracha in a small bowl. Serve with chicken strips.

This post is brought to you in partnership with Food Should Taste Good. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


Healthy Mexican Chicken Soup for Two

August 28, 2014

Healthy Mexican Chicken Soup 1 | Espresso and CreamI know it’s August, and I’m supposed to be posting all about summer produce and salads and using up the last of what summer has to give us. But here in Minnesota, we’re experiencing a bit of a cool down that has me convinced fall weather is just around the corner, which means we’ve got football and sweaters and comfort food to look forward to, along with about 10,000 different ways to eat pumpkin. Believe me, I’m excited.

Today, in honor of cooler temps and the start of college football season I’m kicking things off with a soup recipe that’s healthy, easy and incredibly filling. Every time I make soup, I wonder why I don’t make soup more often. I think somewhere deep down inside I have this idea that soup has to be difficult, when in reality it’s just a matter of throwing whatever you have on hand together into a single dish.

One of my biggest requirements when it comes to soup is that it has to be thick, not watery. I don’t mind the flavor of broth-based soups, but when it comes to eating soup for dinner, I believe soup has to be thick and hearty in order to really satisfy. Instead of adding cream to this soup, I blended up a can of white beans into the base to give the soup thickness and body without adding a lot of fat. An added bonus? The beans provide fiber and extra protein, in addition to the chicken.

I hope you all have a wonderful Labor Day weekend and watch more football than humanly possible! Also, don’t forget to enter the Food Should Taste Good giveaway before time runs out!

Healthy Mexican Chicken Soup | Espresso and Cream


Healthy Mexican Chicken Soup for Two
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 2
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 can (15 oz) cannellini beans, drained but not rinsed
  • 2 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • Juice from ½ of a lime
  • Additional fresh cilantro, shredded Mexican blend cheese and tortilla chips, if desired
  1. In a medium stockpot over medium high heat, heat olive oil. Add onion to pot and cook 4 to 5 minutes or until onions are tender and translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Add the cumin, salt, pepper and cayenne to the soup and cook 1 minute more, stirring frequently.
  2. Pour chicken broth into pot along with the beans. Use an immersion blender to blend the mixture until nearly smooth but some texture still remains. (Alternately, you could use a blender, just make sure the liquid isn't hot.)
  3. Add the chicken, cilantro and lime juice to the soup and bring mixture to a simmer. Spoon into bowls. Top with additional cilantro, shredded cheese and tortilla chips, if desired.




Summer Bounty Pasta Bake with Fresh Homemade Tomato-Basil Sauce

August 25, 2014

Summer Bounty Rigatoni Bake 3 | Espresso and Cream
As I’ve grown in my faith over the years, I’ve learned more and more that what we get in this life (both good and bad) is so rarely directly related to how many good works we do or how many times we stumble and make mistakes along the way. Of course that’s not to say that when we make mistakes there aren’t consequences, but I think that subconsciously I’ve lived with the mentality that if I do enough good in this world, then good things would happen to me.

Along the way I’ve realized that this simply isn’t true and that God doesn’t work on a system of tallies and check marks on a to-do chart. Our stories are mapped out by Him with purpose and intention, specifically designed to grow us in different ways.

This past year has been difficult, filled with lots of tears and more than my fair share of fearful moments. Many times along the way I asked God, “Why not us? Why don’t we get a baby like so many other people? Why do we have to lose our little ones?” But now that we’ve been blessed with this little miracle baby, I’ve been overwhelmed with feelings I didn’t expect. More than a couple times I’ve broken down in tears asking God, “Why me? Why do we get this miracle?” I feel so incredibly undeserving of this gift God’s given us and of the prayers people have prayed on our behalf.

Summer Bounty Rigatoni Bake 1 | Espresso and Cream
I guess my garden is an appropriate example of how you don’t always get what you “deserve” in life. We’ve given our little garden everything it needs to grow and be fruitful, including plenty of water and weeding and the like, and yet our harvest has been completely disappointing. Just a handful of zucchini and yellow squash, no peppers, the rabbits ate our green beans and our spaghetti squash never came up.

Thankfully our tomato plants have done relatively well and we’ve just started experiencing the overflow of tomatoes from our garden. I can’t tell you how many batches of this homemade tomato-basil sauce I’ve made (maybe 4 or 5 in the last handful of weeks?) but it’s quickly become a staple in our house, transforming even the most basic pasta dish into something special.

When I served this baked rigatoni pasta to Joe last week, his eyes lit up and he quickly declared this one of the best things I’ve ever made. Considering how much I’ve cooked for him over the years, that’s saying something, friends. An added bonus? It’s easy to prep this dish in advance, cover and then cook it up when you get home from work at the end of the day!

Summer Bounty Pasta Bake with Fresh Homemade Tomato-Basil Sauce
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups seeded and chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (my cloves were on the larger side)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh basil
  • ¾ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • ¾ teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • Pasta Bake
  • 2 cups rigatoni pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped into small pieces
  • 4 oz feta cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 2 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 1 cup shredded rotisserie chicken)
  • ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat oven to 350F. Spray an 8x8-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add in the tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar and herbs. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes or until the tomatoes are completely broken up and the sauce begins to thicken slightly. Remove from heat and stir in the cream.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pasta, tomato sauce, zucchini, feta cheese and chicken. Spoon into prepared baking dish. Top with the Italian cheese blend and grated Parmesan cheese.
  4. Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until cheese is melted and zucchini is tender. Spoon into bowls to serve.



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