Spicy Penne with Italian Sausage, Red Sauce, and Fresh Basil

17 06 2012


It has been a-whhhile since I’ve visited with y’all.

[Do you notice an accent??!?]

Yeah… I’m thinkin’ it has been about 4 months or so.



Well, all I can say is time flies when you’re having fun!


You knew I’d say that, didn’t you?

Here’s the [long and the] short of it!

  • Get offered a job (after 5 grueling  interviews!) with one of the most amazing, pioneering and premiere real estate firms in the nation, Krisstina Wise’s GoodLife Team, in Austin, Texas ~ check.
  • Do a great BIG HAPPY DANCE ~ check.
  • Pack up the Nevada house (sounds simple – SOOOO wasn’t) ~ check.
  • Realize I had a ridiculous amount of c-r-a-p ~ check.
  • Donate lots of said c-r-a-p ~ check.  [Minus shoes, of course.]
  • Do another great BIG HAPPY DANCE ~ check.
  • Bribe a neighbor to help us drive (all our c-r-a-p) 1,750 miles to Round Rock, Texas.  [Note – you cross the Texas stateline, and it feels like you’re almost home… You’re not, Texas is a gi-nor-mous state.  Holy cow.] ~ check.
  • Arrive at our awesome new house in Round Rock ~ check.
  • Survive and thrive in the 8-week Bootcamp for work at the GoodLife Team ~ check.
  • Another HAPPY DANCE!!
  • Run off and get married to my soulmate and best friend in beautiful Aruba ~ check.
  • Have a relaxing stateside reception (hosted by my amazing sister-in-law, Roxanne) at her home in Lake Conroe (near Houston) ~ check.
  • Return to my lifelong passion, career and my amazing clients here in the Austin~Round Rock area ~ check.
  • The rest of our lives…. Begin NOW.  Yes!!!

So, as Jake and I embark on this awesome journey in life together, there’s one meal that we keep coming back to… The base of it started with this simple recipe that I came up with on a busy weeknight.  The options are endless, and the ingredients are interchangeable ~ the sky’s the limit ~ just like life.  :)

Enjoy, Friends, and check out our pictures from the last few months (following the recipe)!

* 3 Tbsp olive oil

* 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press

* 1 lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed

* 1 (14 oz) can chipotle crushed or diced tomatoes

*1/2 jar of Prego Traditional spaghetti sauce

* 3 1/2 to 4 cups water

* 3/4 lb to 1 lb whole wheat penne pasta (or farfelle, or whatever you like)

* 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (start small)

* 1 tsp dried parsley

* 1/2 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional, but it’s delicious and adds great color to the dish)

* Salt, to taste

* 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

* 1 cup shredded mozzarella (I don’t buy the pre-shredded because it contains more preservatives; I buy the block, then shred)

Heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the garlic (make sure the garlic doesn’t burn or turn brown – this will taint the dish). Allow the garlic to cook until fragrant and just-golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until browned, breaking them into bits as they cook. Drain the oil and return the sausage to the pan.

Add the tomatoes and Prego to the pan; mix. Add the water and pasta; mix. Increase heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a light boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the pasta is tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes, dried parsley, asparagus and salt (to taste); mix well. Cook at a light simmer until the asparagus is bright green and just-tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Transfer to a large serving bowl and stir in basil. Ladle into bowls and top with mozzarella.

Note ~ this is a great “base” recipe that I play with constantly. It’s great for a crowd (easily doubled), and there are so many creative ways to switch in and out ingredients. Sometimes, I use chicken sausage with jalapeno, sometimes I add more red pepper flakes for a real zip (be careful – a little goes a long way), and fresh Parmesan is always a great switch-out for the mozza.

Monster Chocolate Chip Cookies

11 03 2012

Seriously.  The. Best. Chocolate Chip. Cookies. I’ve ever had.

Not tooting my own horn, I promise, but these are dang good!

These came from a whole lotta trial and error.  And cookie tasting.

Dang.  That cookie tasting stuff is h-a-r-d.


Think puffy, thick, rich cookies… And soft.

[I bribe our garbageman and postman with them regularly… Not even kidding.]

* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened/partially melted

* 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened/partially melted

* 2 cups sugar

* 2 cups brown sugar, packed

* 2 tsp vanilla

* 4 eggs, lightly beaten

* 1 tsp salt

* 2 tsp baking powder

* 2 tsp baking soda

* 4 cups flour

* 5 cups rolled oats

* For chocolate lovers:  2 bags (about 4-5 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips
~ not so many chips?  I use 1  1/2 bags (about 3-3  1/2 cups or so)

* 1 bag (about 1  2/3 cups) chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream butter and white sugar on medium-high for 3 to 5 minutes (consistency should be fluffy).   Add the brown sugar and mix for another 1 to 2 minutes.  Gradually add the eggs and vanilla.  Mix completely.

Meanwhile, process the 5 cups of rolled oats in a blender until it turns to a thick powder.  Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and oats powder and sift.  Gradually add to the mixer (you’ll have a FULL mixer bowl).  Gradually add the chocolate chips and nuts.

Scoop 1- to 2- tablespoonfuls of the cookie dough and form into a ball.  Leave about 2 inches of space between the balls on the cookie sheet.  Bake for 11 to 13 minutes or until just barely golden (do not overbake).  Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack (after enjoying a warm cookie and milk for yourself)…:)

Did this recipe make you Smile?  I would be honored if you’d become a Facebook fan of mine!  Click here (or copy and paste this link into your browser:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Smiles-in-the-Kitchen/143789102327574).

Easy Vegetarian Baked Ziti

8 03 2012

I have been on a serious Italian food/pasta kick lately…

I dunno why.

Seriously.  It’s getting out of control.

I crave tomato-ey based food.

I crave pasta.

I crave cheese.

[Duh.  When do I not crave cheese???]

Pasta… Hmmm.  Craving carbs, I suppose…  It could be the intense lifting workouts lately… And the 1/2 hour stints on the stair mill…


[What?  I got 2 weddings to get ready for!!]

No pain, no gain.

Oh, and I can’t give up wine.

So, an intense gym regime, it is!!


Enjoy, Friends!  Sometimes, pasta is the spice of life!

* 1 lb whole wheat ziti (usually about 1 box)

* 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided

* 3 garlic cloves, minced

* 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or 1/4 tsp for a little less spice)

* 1/2 tsp dried oregano

* Salt and pepper

* 2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes

* 1 (15 oz) container part-skim ricotta cheese (skinnier recipe – cut the ricotta to 8 oz)

* 1 tsp dried parsley

* 1 tsp Italian Seasoning

* 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (skinnier recipe – cut mozza to 1 cup)

* 1 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese (don’t used the container-ed stuff)

* 1/4 cup fresh basil, torn into small pieces

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (think 1 Tbsp kosher salt to 12 cups water).  Add ziti and cook until just al dente.  Reserve 1 cup pasta water.  Drain ziti and toss with a bit of olive oil (to prevent stickage).  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Wipe the same pot out with paper towels.  Heat 1  1/2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic, red pepper flakes and oregano.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute (be careful not to burn/over-brown the garlic; it will taint your dish).  Add the tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and gently continue to simmer until thickened a bit, about 10 minutes.  Add the pasta water and ziti.  Toss to coat.  Remove from heat.

Mix ricotta, parsley flakes, Italian Seasoning, 1  1/2 Tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper in a small bowl.

Pour half of the pasta mixture into a 13X9 oven-safe dish.  Dollop the ricotta mixture evenly over the first layer of pasta.  Cover with remaining ziti mixture.  Top evenly with mozzarella and Parmesan.

Bake until cheese is melted and dish is heated-through, about 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with torn basil pieces.  Serve with warm, buttery garlic bread and Caesar salad.

Want some meat?  Consider adding browned and crumbled sweet or hot Italian sausage to the ziti-tomato mixture…  Oooh-la-la!

Did this recipe make you Smile?  I would be honored if you’d become a Facebook fan of mine!  Click here (or copy and paste this link into your browser:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Smiles-in-the-Kitchen/143789102327574).

World’s Easiest Baked Chicken Parmesan with Penne (SO Tasty!)

8 03 2012

Long day at work?  Kick up your heels (well, sorta), and enjoy a quick and delicious classic Italian dinner… On ME!

(No, not really… Kidding.)


But, trust me, this is one of my favorite ways to use baked chicken nuggets

* 1 bag breaded, white-meat chicken nuggets (about 1 lb, 8 oz)

* 3 (14 oz) cans crushed tomatoes, Italian-seasoned

* 2 Tbsp olive oil

* 7 garlic cloves, minced

* 1/4 tsp dried oregano

* 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or 1/4 tsp if you don’t like too much of the spice)

* Salt and pepper

* 2 cups water

* 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

* 4 cups whole wheat penne (about 1 box)

* 1 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese (SO much better -and cheaper- than the container stuff)

* 1  1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

* 1/3 cup chopped basil

Bake chicken nuggets according to package directions.

Adjust oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Cook garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and 1/4 tsp salt until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, water, 1  1/2 cups broth, and pasta.  Cover and simmer, stirring often, until the pasta is tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.  Stir in the remaining broth and Parmesan, mixing well.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Scatter chicken nuggets evenly over the pasta mixture.  Sprinkle mozzarella over the top.  Transfer the Dutch oven to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the cheese is melted and the dish is warmed through, about 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and scatter chopped basil over the top.  Serve with warm, buttery garlic bread.

Did this recipe make you Smile?  I would be honored if you’d become a Facebook fan of mine!  Click here (or copy and paste this link into your browser:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Smiles-in-the-Kitchen/143789102327574).

Chorizo, Roasted Red Bell Pepper, and Fresh Basil Spicy Linguine

28 02 2012

Some of you may know… But Jake and I have decided to relocate to Austin, Texas!!

WOOOO-HOOOO!!!  We are so very, very excited for the new opportunities and positive challenges!!

But, in the glory of moving (ha, ha!), we’re trying to clean out as much unnecessary STUFF as we can.

Including, but not limited to, the refrigerator.

[Cleaning out the fridge… Yeah.  Not so fun.  Ugh!]

And with the busy-ness of packing and getting everything ready… Well, sometimes, my focus is taken off cooking from recipes and toward improvising.  It’s actually a good challenge for me…  Hmm… What flavors, textures and colors are going to taste delicious and look great in presentation at the same time.  Challenge.  It’s a beautiful thing!

So… This is what I came up with tonight… It was sooo YUM.  And super easy.  Enjoy!

* 3 Tbsp olive oil

* 1 lb spicy chorizo

* 1/3 cup roasted red bell peppers slices, drained (in the jar)

* 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into chunks

* 1/4 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

* Large handful linguine (technical measurement, here)…  :)

Bring a pot of salted water (think 2 Tbsp kosher salt to a large pot, added when water is boiling) to a boil.  Add linguine, cooking until just before al dente (pasta should still be just a tiny bit firm).

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the chorizo and cook, breaking into bits as it cooks.  Once the chorizo is fully-cooked, drain the chorizo.  Discard the oil, and wipe out the skillet with paper towels.  Over low heat, return the chorizo back to the skillet and add the red bell peppers.  Add the linguine and 1 cup of the pasta water.  Bring to a light simmer, reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook until the liquid has thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Add the Parmesan and torn basil leaves.  Serve immediately.

Did this recipe make you Smile?  I would be honored if you’d become a Facebook fan of mine!  Click here (or copy and paste this link into your browser:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Smiles-in-the-Kitchen/143789102327574).

Baked Artichoke Brie Spread

23 02 2012

Okay, okay… So most baked artichoke spreads are good.  Some are even delicious.  They’re a solid, dependable dip from a Super Bowl party to an elegant bridal shower.

So, what happens when you add the kick of melted Brie to the mix?  It’s subtle, simple and the tastiness runs right off the chart!

Truly, I was blown away at the sheer flavor of this dish.  It was impressive.  And sophisticated.

* 8 oz cream cheese, softened

* 1 cup mayo

* 2 Tbsp chopped green onions (about 4 onions)

* 1  1/2 tsp minced fresh oregano

* 1/2 tsp coarse salt

* 1/4 tsp black pepper

* 12 oz marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped

* 9-10 oz Brie cheese, rind removed and cut into small pieces

* 1/4 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

* Crackers or a small baguette, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray an 8X8 oven-proof dish with non-stick spray.  Mix together the cream cheese, mayo, green onions, oregano, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Fold in the artichokes and Brie.  Place the mixture in the prepared dish.  Sprinkle freshly-grated Parmesan over the top.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly and just-golden on top.  Serve warm with crackers or a sliced baguette.

Recipe adapted and slightly altered from Peace Meals by the Junior League of Houston.

Did this recipe make you Smile?  I would be honored if you’d become a Facebook fan of mine!  Click here (or copy and paste this link into your browser:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Smiles-in-the-Kitchen/143789102327574).


Lemon Coconut Cookies

23 02 2012

Light, delicate, and beautifully-flavored, these cookies are perfect for a party, bridal shower, baby shower, garden party… You get the idea.  They are simple, yet elegant.

* 2/3 cup shortening

* 1  1/2 cups sugar

* Grated zest of 1 lemon

* 1 egg, beaten

* 1/4 cup milk

* 2 Tbsp lemon extract

* 2 cups all-purpose flour

* 2 tsp baking powder

* 1/4 tsp salt

* 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

* Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream the shortening, sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Mix in the egg.  Add the milk and lemon extract.  Stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.  Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the sugar mixture.  Mix in the coconut.  Drop the batter, by the tablespoonful, onto a baking mat or greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes; edges should just be beginning to golden.  Allow cookies to completely cool on a wire rack.

Once cool, dust with sugar (I use a mini sifter to evenly sprinkle the powdered sugar onto the cookies).

Recipe from Peace Meals, by the Junior League of Houston.  You can buy their cookbooks here.

Did this recipe make you Smile?  I would be honored if you’d become a Facebook fan of mine!  Click here (or copy and paste this link into your browser:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Smiles-in-the-Kitchen/143789102327574).


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