Pasta with Squash-Sausage-Sage Sauce

Recipe here.

This was easy-peasy, very low-fat and quite tasty.

I made a few substitutions to the original recipe:

For Vegetarian Girl, I left out the sausage, of course.

I used linguini that I had on hand, rather than make my own pasta.

I deglazed the pan with 1/4 cup of white wine, rather than the specified chicken stock, just to add more flavor and a bit of acid to balance out the rich flavors of the cheese and squash.

This was a great, filling rainy-night dinner.


Yum.  We love artichokes around here and are always so excited when we start to see them in the springtime.  It seems a little early this year, since it’s still unseasonably frigid right now, but we love ’em, so we’re going for it.

Stay tuned and I’ll show you how to disembowel these suckers and get ’em fit for human consumption.  You do have to wonder what the first guy to try to eat these was thinking.  He must have been pretty freakin’ hungry to even attempt it; these things are a lot of work for not a lot of sustenance, but, what tasty sustenance it is!

Lop off the bottom of the artichoke.  Leave  maybe an inch of the stem.  Remove any small, shrimpy leaves from around the stem – there are usually 4 or 5 that are inedible and just in the way…

Off with her head!  Chop off the pointy top of your artichoke – maybe an inch or an inch and a half.

This is about what it should look like.

Trim off the pointy edges of each leaf with scissors or kitchen shears.

This is what your fully-prepped artichoke should look like.

Give the entire artichoke a quick rinse in some running water, if you’re finicky.  Them rub down all of the cut surfaces (top, bottom and leaf tips) with half of a lemon, squeezing a bit of the juice onto the artichoke as you go.

Repeat with as many artichokes as you are planning to cook.  I can only fit 4 in my largest stockpot, so that’s what we usually do.  For a family dinner, we usually will each have our own artichoke as a first course, but if I’m serving a crowd, I’ll make some for everyone to share.

Place the artichokes in a very large stock pot and cover them with water.  Sprinkle in a generous amount of kosher salt and squeeze the rest of the lemon juice into the water, too.  Or just throw the lemon in the pot.  Whichever.

Cover the pot and cook over high heat until the artichokes are soft enough that you can pull a leaf off, but not so soft that they’re falling apart.  This can take up to an hour, but I’d start to check them after about 40 minutes.  This is the only tricky part, but even if they’re a bit overcooked, they’re still pretty fabulous.  Undercooked, however, is NOT good, so err on the side of cooking them to long, if you’re in doubt.

While they’re cooking, you can make the dipping sauces.  The first sauce is VERY easy:  Get a ramekin.  Put about 6 Tbsp of butter in it.  Melt it in the microwave.  Sprinkle a little kosher salt in it if you used unsalted butter (which you should be doing, by the way, but that’s a whole other topic…)

The second sauce isn’t much more difficult.  Mix the following ingredients together in another small bowl or ramekin:

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 garlic clove, minced or pressed

a sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice (about 1 teaspoon)

When the artichokes are done, pull ’em out of the water (be careful – use BBQ tongs) and serve ’em along with the dips.

To eat ’em, pull the leaves off, one at a time, drip them in the sauce of your choice (or naked’s good, too) and use your teeth to scrape the meat off of each leaf.

Once you get to the center of the artichoke, you’ll see a fuzzy thing that looks like the inside of a flower (well…it kind of *IS* the inside of a flower.)  This is called the choke.

You don’t want to eat that, so gently pull out that fuzzy choke with your fingers (if it’s cooled down enough) or a gently scrape it out with a spoon and discard it.  That bottom (under the choke) part?

Well, that’s your reward for all your hard work, baby…that’s the artichoke heart.  Dip it in some butter or aioli (that’s the fancy name for that mayo sauce we  made earlier) and DIG IN.  If you’re really disciplined (or full,) you can save it, after you eat all the leaves, and toss it into an omelet for your breakfast the next day.  Yum.

Thai Noodle Salad with Sautéed Tofu

From April 2008 Cooking Light magazine.  Recipe here. This was REALLY good and very easy.  It tasted a lot like a spring roll, only without the wrapper.  The only thing to be aware of is that the tofu has to marinate for 2 hours before cooking, so be forewarned that, although the hands-on time investment is pretty small, this is not a recipe that can be thrown together at the last minute. I cut the amount of chili-garlic paste in the dressing down from 3 Tbsp to 2 Tbsp (and didn’t even use all of the dressing) and it was still pretty spicy.  Definitely still edible, but if your kids/family are spice-sensitive, I’d cut it back even more.  If you love the hot stuff, this is definitely your kind of dish.  Hubby LOVED it.  It would be great with some chopped peanuts sprinkled over the top of it.  Chopped cucumber would be a nice addition, too.

Lemon Shortbread Bars

Recipe here.

Mmmm…what is there to say?  Probably my favorite dessert EVER.  A true classic.  Buttery, crispy crust and tangy, creamy lemon filling?  Yes, please.  These were easy and wonderful.  The recipe, as is not uncommon, makes a bazillion lemon bars, so send them in for your kids to share with their classmates and teachers or you’ll still be eating lemon bars next year sometime.

Barefoot Contessa’s Cranberry Orange Scones

Recipe here.

These were wonderful.  Even dried fruit-hating Hubby and Boy liked them.  They are easy to make, but the texture is perfect.  Crumbly and moist at the same time, with a rich and creamy flavor.  I will absolutely be making these again.

One caveat:  this recipe makes a TON of scones and one scone is very filling, so I would plan to make these when you have company, or plan on serving them as afternoon snacks or for two breakfasts or give some away or freeze some.  As good as these were, we were getting a bit tired of them on the third day.  After a day or two, also, the icing starts to sink into the scones and the texture suffers a bit.  These are definitely best when they’re fresh, so invite some people over for breakfast to help you eat these!

Chickpea Pasta with Almonds and Parmesan

From January 2008 Real Simple magazine.  Recipe here.

This was quite good and was ridiculously fast and easy.

A one-pan pasta meal?  Unheard of!

I used spaghetti instead of vermicelli, because I already had some.  It took a little longer than 6 minutes to cook, but not much more.  The reduced stock makes a tasty, glaze-y sort of sauce.

The crushed red pepper adds a bit of a kick, so if your family/kids are particularly heat sensitive, feel free to cut back a bit.  Those that like more spice can always add more at the table, although the amount of heat wasn’t too much for my kids at their current ages, it might have been “too spicy, Mom!!!” when they were younger.

We, of course, used vegetable stock to accommodate the Veggie Girl, but I will say that, although this pasta was very nice, it would have been MUCH better with chicken stock instead.  If you’re a carnivore, a bit of cooked, crumbled bacon on top would have been pretty fabulous, too.  We served it with salad topped with balsamic vinaigrette and garlic croutons.

Acorn Squash Lasagna with Bechamel Sauce

Recipe here.

This lasagna was OUTSTANDING.  I will definitely be making it again.  Boy hasn’t historically been a big fan of lasagna, because he’s not wild about tomato sauce (although he’s getting MUCH more open-minded lately,) but he loved this mellow, rich sauce.  It was SO good.  My only criticism is that I don’t really care for the “no bake” noodles.  They just never seem to reach the right texture; they’re always still just a bit too chewy.  It all depends upon the consistency of your sauce and how much available liquid there is for the noodles to absorb, so maybe I overcooked my sauce and it was too thickened for the noodles to cook in, but, either way, I will be using “regular” noodles when I make this again.

Even with the chewy noodles, though, this was fantastic.

Banana Tart Tatin

Recipe here.  Helpful video here.

Serve this RIGHT AWAY after unmolding it from the baking pan.  We weren’t quite ready for dessert yet when ours came out of the oven, so we let it sit a little bit too long and the puff pastry got soggy and chewy.  We all pretty much just ate the bananas off the top, which were delicious, but that wasn’t exactly the idea, was it?  I would also highly recommend watching the video, to help you visualize how to assemble and unmold this dish, before attempting to make it.  Quite yummy, but I will probably try it again to see if I can do better next time.  Oh, and the ice cream?  Not optional…it’s a must.