Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Make-Ahead Meal: Baked Rotini Pasta w/ Meat Sauce!

Funny story...

This morning I made a big batch of Baked Rotini Pasta w/ Meat Sauce, a pre-'baked' and freezer-friendly recipe, to take to my friend who is having her 5th child over the weekend.  I figured she could pop the pan in the oven and feed her family tonight (so she didn't have to worry about making dinner), or throw it in the freezer and then heat it up sometime over the next week or two.  I love making Italian dishes for make-ahead meals; they are so comforting and filling, heat up great, and the leftovers store and re-heat well too!  Plus, who doesn't like pasta?!

When the pasta dish was finished, I stuck it in the fridge since my plan was to head over to my friend's house around 1pm with the pre-made meal and a batch of brownies (yum!).  But at 11:30am my phone rings... she's in labor and on the way to the hospital!  So I wrapped up the pan with some foil and stuck it in the freezer... it looks like dinner will have to wait until she is home from the hospital with her little one.  I hope the brownies make it that long.... ;)

This pasta dish is very easy to make and it only calls for a few ingredients.  Every time I make it, it gets rave reviews!!

Baked Rotini Pasta with Meat Sauce

  • 1 lb. ground beef (you can use 93/7 or 80/20 or even ground turkey)
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. crushed garlic
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 (28 oz.) jar pasta sauce
  • 1 box (13.25 oz.) whole wheat rotini pasta (any shape pasta will work)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. fresh basil, chopped

Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  When pan is warm, add 1 tsp. crushed garlic and the ground beef.  Cook until ground beef is browned.  Place a few paper towels on a large plate.  When meat is cooked thoroughly, drain oil from the pan and then pour the ground beef on top of paper towels (the paper towels will soak up the excess oil).

Fill a large pot with enough water to boil the pasta.  Add a few drops of olive oil and a pinch of salt to the water.  Bring the water to a boil over high heat.  Once water is boiling, add the pasta.  Cook for 10 min., stirring occasionally.

While pasta is cooking, spray a 9x9 inch baking pan (I bought a 9x9 tin pan so my friend could just throw the pan away when she was done) with cooking spray.  Add a thin layer of pasta sauce to coat the bottom of the pan.

When the pasta is done cooking, drain off water (do not rinse) and pour into a large bowl.  Add the jar of pasta sauce (reserving enough for a drizzle over the top) and cooked ground beef.  Stir until pasta and meat are coated in the pasta sauce. 

Spread half of the meat and pasta mixture evenly in the pan, then top with 1 cup shredded cheese.  Spread the second half of the mixture evenly over the shredded cheese layer.  Top the mixture with the last of the pasta sauce, 1 cup shredded cheese, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and the chopped basil.

Here's where this dish can become a Make-Ahead Meal....

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and 1) bake now... OR... let the pasta cool, cover the pan with aluminum foil then 2) put it in the fridge or 3) put it in the freezer.

Heating Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake thawed pasta for 20-30 min. or until hot in the center.  Bake frozen pasta for 45-60 min. or until hot in the center.

Nothing is better than being able to pull a meal out of the freezer, pop it in the oven, and have a delicious dinner ready with no effort!  This dish would also be great for a large dinner party or a pot luck. :)

Update:  It is now 8pm and my friend is still in labor.  Looking forward to taking her and the family some pre-made comfort food tomorrow... and of course, meeting the newest member of their family!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On the Grill: 'Lightened-Up' Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza

What do you like on your pizza?  I have always been a pepperoni and mushroom pizza kind-of-girl.  Unfortunately, regular pepperoni is high in calories and fat and definitely not a diet-friendly food.  So when I make pizza at home (which is often) I use lower fat turkey pepperoni instead!  Turkey pepperoni has a lot less calories and fat, but still has that delicious "pepperoni" taste.

Grilled Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza
w/ Tomato and Basil
(lightened-up version)
  • 1 naan bread of flat bread
  • 2 tbsp. tomato sauce (see my slower cooker tomato sauce recipe)
  • 1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 15 pieces lower fat turkey pepperoni
  • 3 mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 italian tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. fresh basil, chopped
  • red pepper flakes (optional)

Once again I am attempting to use the mandolin to thinly slice my mushrooms and tomato.  To my surprise, the tomato worked this time (last time was an epic fail)!  I think it's because I used a Roma tomato... a meatier, harder tomato. But... the mushrooms broke apart while I was trying to slice them on the mandolin. :(
Ok, pizza time... Preheat the grill.

While grill is preheating, assemble the pizza. Place naan or flat bread on a large plate or baking sheet. Spread 2 tbsp. tomato sauce (or pizza sauce) across the top of the naan or flat bread. Sprinkle 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese evenly over the top of the sauce. Layer with pepperoni, mushrooms, and tomato. Add remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese to top, then sprinkle with chopped basil and red pepper flakes (optional).

Set pizza on the grill over medium-low heat. Close grill top and allow pizza to cook for 10-12 minutes. Keep an eye on the pizza to make sure the bottom doesn't burn!

Remove pizza from the grill and allow to cool before devouring!

ENJOY!!!! I sure did... :)


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kayak Love!

Me and Amy are always looking for new fun, fitness-related activities to try on the weekends.  This summer we tried kayaking for the first time!  I didn't know how I would feel being confined to a small vessel on the ocean that I had to power myself... but I loved it.  Over the last couple months we've rented both double-kayaks and/or single-kayaks for our outdoor adventures (they aren't too expensive to rent, plus there are always internet deals for kayak rentals).  I'd say the double-kayak is good for first-timers or a leisurely kayak with a partner, but we prefer the single-kayaks now that we know what we are doing!  We've had the pleasure of introducing some of our friends to kayaking too, and they really enjoyed it.  Kayaking can be a fun group or solo activity.

Here are some of the health benefits of kayaking... it's stress-reducing and relaxing, calorie-burning, and muscle-strengthening all at the same time!  It is a low-impact workout (you don't actually feel like you are working out)... but the average person burns 300-400 calories in 1 hour of kayaking.  Kayaking also works most of your upper body muscles, even some core and leg muscles.

So if you live near a body of water and are looking for a fun, fitness-related activity to try out over the weekend... find a place that rents kayaks and go for a paddle... by yourself or with a friend!  It'll have you feeling relaxed and fit... :) 


p.s.  You can also get a great tan while you're out on the water too... just remember your sunscreen!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Easy Baked Salmon

Janel and I have been fishing with our family since we were little girls. Our grandparents kept our fishing boat up in Washington state for the majority of my life. Boy, did we catch some beautiful salmon up there! This is us on a fishing outing in Ilwaco, WA.

While store-bought salmon will never taste as good to me as fresh salmon, I still enjoy an occasional store bought fillet every now and then. This recipe is simple & easy, perfect for a work week meal!


First, I always start off by buying my fish from a seafood counter at a grocery store, if possible. The fillets are usually much fresher and taste better in my opinion.

Salmon Fillet(s)
Mayonnaise (I use Organic)
Onion Powder (Fresh onion slices would work too)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. While the oven is heating up, put a piece of parchment paper or foil into a pan. Rinse off the salmon fillets before putting in the pan.

3. Apply a thin layer of mayonnaise to the top the salmon.

4. Sprinkle the top of the salmon with onion powder, then sprinkle on a thin layer of dill.

5. Bake for 20 minutes.

6. Enjoy!!

Salmon is high in protein and low in fat! This dish is a great dinner entree with a side of veggies or salad!

Enjoy! Amy

On the Grill: Fish and Foil Packet Veggies!

I had an abundance of those little colorful, sweet bell peppers left over from my Ladies Night In! party that I wanted to incorporate into my dinner tonight.  As I searched the freezer for a protein to pair with the little peppers, I came across some frozen Pacific rockfish filets. (We catch a lot of rockfish when we go fishing off the coast of San Diego... and since we don't get around to eating them all at once, my dad vacuum seals the filets so we can put them in our freezers)

Amy checking the size on this little rockfish

Rockfish are the most common near-shore fish on the West Coast, there are over 70 different varieties! While there are taste differences in several varieties, all rockfish -- also known as rock cod or Pacific snapper -- are firm, lean, mild-flavored fish.

I soon had a colorful, healthy fish dish beginning to develop in my mind..... Grilled Rockfish with Sweet Bell Pepper, Corn, and Tomato Salad!

For the Rockfish:

In a small bowl I combined 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 tsp. crushed garlic, 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons fresh, chopped basil. I placed the rockfish filet (skin side down) in a baking dish and poured the marinade over the fish. I then covered the dish with plastic wrap and placed in the fridge for about an hour, turning the fish occasionally.

For the Sweet Bell Pepper, Corn, and Tomato Salad:

In a bowl I combined about 1/2 cup corn, 1/2 cup chopped sweet bell peppers (I used red, orange, and yellow), a big handful of cherry tomatoes, and 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped basil.  When combined, pour mixture into a large piece of foil.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar over the top of the mixture, then season with salt and ground black pepper. Close foil packet, gathering at sides and top.

While the fish was marinating, I did a quick workout of push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, and jumping jacks... and then preheated the grill. :)

On the preheated grill, I placed the fish (skin side down) and the foil packet of veggies. I was doing other things around the kitchen and lost track of time, but I would say I grilled the fish for about 6 minutes on each side over medium heat.

You can tell the fish is done because it will get flaky.  I moved the foil packet around on the grill a few times to make sure all the veggies were getting heated. When the fish was done, I removed the fish and the foil packet from the grill.

I placed the cooked fish on a plate and topped with the sweet pepper, corn, and tomato salad.

I also threw some baby spinach on the plate for some more color and to balance out my dish... plus, baby spinach is nutrient-rich addition to any meal!

I seriously love grilling.... it's quick, easy, healthy, and there is barely any clean up!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ladies Night In!

I love party planning!  I also love getting my girlfriends together for food, drinks, and laughs... so over the weekend I hosted an "adult-themed" ladies-only party.  When I decided to host the party, I got really excited for the menu planning... a "ladies night in" called for food and drink selections that were both delicious and FUN!  Below is my subtly 'naughty' party menu, which would be great for a bachelorette party too..

Ladies Night In!

Fruit platter
Vegetable platter with ranch dip
Hummus and pita chips
Brie and Sausage

Party Meat Balls (recipe below)
Parmesan Pastry "Pups" - cocktail wienies wrapped in puff pastryw/ parmesan cheese 

Better than Sex Cake (recipe below)
Melting Moments cookies
Pink rice crispie treats

Pink sangria (recipe below)

Crockpot Party Meat Balls:

Put party size meatballs into a crockpot or slow cooker (I used 3 bags of Trader Joe's Party Meatballs).  Cover with 2 bottles BBQ sauce.  Add 1 - 1 1/2 cups water.  Add 1 cup apple cider vinegar.  Add 1/2 cup chopped cilantro.  Stir until meatballs are coated with sauce. Cook on high for 2 hours, stirring often.

Better Than Sex Cake:
original recipe via

  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
  • 1/2 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 ounces caramel ice cream topping
  • 3 (1.4 ounce) bars chocolate covered toffee, chopped (I used Heath bars)
  • 1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 2 drops red food coloring

  • Bake cake according to package directions for a 9x13 inch pan; cool on wire rack for 5 minutes. Poke holes across the top of the cake, making sure not to go through to the bottom.

    In a microwave safe dish, combine sweetened condensed milk and caramel topping.  Microwave on high for 1 minute at a time, removing and stirring each time until mixture is warmed, smooth and blended. Slowly pour the warm topping mixture over the top of the warm cake, letting it sink into the holes; then sprinkle the crushed chocolate toffee bars liberally across the entire cake while still warm.

    Stir 2 drops of red food coloring into the whipped topping. When cake is cooled completely, top with pink whipped topping. Decorate the top of the cake with some more chocolate toffee bar chunks and swirls of caramel topping. Refrigerate and serve right from the pan!

    This cake is DELICIOUS.... so moist, rich, and indulgent.

    Pink Sangria:
    original recipe via

    1 bottle rose wine (750ml)
    1 cup sliced strawberries

    1 lemon, sliced
    2 tbsp limoncello
    2 cups sparkling lemonade or soda (I used 7-up and Squirt)
    2 cups crushed ice

    Pour the wine into a large glass pitcher and add the fruit pieces and limoncello. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow flavours to infuse. Just before serving, add the lemonade or soda and crushed ice. Stir gently before serving.

    It was a fun night with a bunch of great ladies!


    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    On the Grill: Yellow Squash and Tomato Flatbread Pizza

    Today was a long, exhausting full day of errands and housework... but I have a full propane tank again!!!!  Oh happy day!  Let the grilling begin...

    Grilled Yellow Squash and Tomato Flatbread Pizza
    w/ Balsamic Reduction
    (makes 1 flatbread pizza)

    1 Naan Bread or Flatbread
    2 Tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
    1/4 cup yellow squash, thinly sliced (zucchini would work too)
    1/4 cup tomato, thinly sliced
    handful of baby spinach
    2 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
    1 Tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
    pinch of salt and pepper
    red pepper flakes, to taste

    Balsamic Reduction:
    1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

    To thinly slice the yellow squash and tomato, I am attempting the mandoline again...

    Squash worked great! Tomato... not so much, had to use a knife (I think it was TOO ripe).  All fingers are still accounted for! :)

    Preheat grill.

    Place the naan bread on a plate. Spread 2 tsp. olive oil on the naan bread, coating evenly. Lightly sprinkle salt and pepper over olive oil. Top with mozzarella cheese (reserving about a handful), then yellow squash, tomatoes, and spinach. Sprinkle 2 tbsp. parmesan cheese, oregano, and red pepper flakes over the top. Transfer on to preheated grill.

    Bake for 10-12 min. over low heat. Halfway through cooking process, top with a handful of mozzarella cheese. Keep an eye on it to be careful bottom does not burn.  When done, take off grill and allow to cool.

    While pizza is cooling, make the balsamic reduction. In a shallow, preheated pan, pour 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar and turn heat to medium. Roll pan, or stir continuously to keep vinegar from burning. Allow vinegar to simmer. As it begins to boil, the liquid will become thicker.
    *** A successful balsamic reduction is approximately 1/3 of the original amount. For example, if you start with 1 cup of vinegar, you will have 1/3 cup of reduced vinegar sauce when you're done.

    Remove the pan from the heat when the vinegar is almost the consistency of pancake syrup.  (Add a little water if your vinegar reduction becomes too thick. Once the liquid begins to thicken, it may do so very quickly but you can always add enough water to bring it back to the right consistency.)

    Drizzle balsamic reduction over the pizza.

    OMG! YUM......

    I enjoyed mine with a Green Flash Brewing Co. West Coast IPA!


    Snack Attack!

    Trader Joe's has the BEST snack food, hands down.  While salivating my way through the aisles today, I came across a big display for Trader Joe's Organic Popcorn with Olive Oil.  Popcorn... and olive oil... AND on sale?!  How could I say no to that?  Well, I didn't even wait to get to the car to tear the bag open.... I was so excited to try it and so hungry from a day of power shopping!  Before I knew it, I had devoured almost half the bag... ooops.  But at only 130 calories for 2 CUPS of popcorn, I didn't feel too bad about my uninhibited snacking episode.  This popcorn is the ultimate healthy snack food... crunchy, a little salty, completely satisfying, low in fat and calories, and high in dietary fiber.  Not to mention, it's only made with 3 organic ingredients.... popcorn, olive oil, and sea salt.  So if you must snack during the day... snack smart!

    Thanks Trader Joe's. GOOD STUFF.


    Sunday, August 12, 2012

    How to Properly Cut a Pineapple

    Cutting Pineapple

    To me,  nothing tastes better on a warm, summer day than fresh fruit. Consumption of fruits and juices help to reduce body heat and helps in controlling body temperature. No wonder it tastes so refreshing!

    When I don't know how to do something in the kitchen, I always ask my mom. So, naturally, we had a hands on lesson on how to cut pineapple. Now that I have done it on my own quite a few times, I feel comfortable sharing my technique with you all!

    When I pick out a pineapple at the store, I try to find one that is not too soft when I push on it. If it is soft, it probably means it is too ripe. Likewise, if it is too hard, it might not be ripe enough. So, somewhere is the middle is usually good. When in doubt, ask someone who works there!

    First, I start by cutting off the top of the pineapple.

    After I cut off the top of pineapple, I start shaving off the sides of the pineapple, as close to the skin as I can go. There is some brown, hard circles that you don't really want. When I use the pineapple chunks in my smoothie, I don't really mind the brown circles though. It's really just preference. My mom says it's extra "fiber".

    You'll want to "shave" the pineapple all the way around. When you are have shaved all the sides, you can go around and cut off any remaining green or brown pieces that you don't want.

    Next, you have to cut off the bottom of the pineapple. Try to take as little as you can off, as there is some nice pineapple "meat" down there.

    Place the pineapple back upright. Now, you have to cut around the core in the middle. You can see the core is a harder, lighter shade of yellow. You'll just want to get as much of the pineapple as you can off the core. You'll end up with four big chunks of pineapple.

    Once you have your four big pieces of pineapple, you can cut it into smaller pieces, as big you desire. Since I mainly use mine in smoothies, I cut them into slightly bigger chunks.

    That's it. Store in the fridge and enjoy all week!

    I am still trying to perfect the cut of cantaloupe, so stay tuned!