kid-friendly · Recipes

Rotini with Asparagus, Peas & Goat Cheese

Clearly, I am revving up for spring, because this is a decidedly non-wintery dish. Fluffy rotini drenched in a light, lemony goat cheese sauce mingles nicely with whatever vegetables you have on hand; I love the blend of asparagus and peas, because it’s like a signal to my taste buds that nicer weather is around the bend.

This is perfect for meal prep Sundays, or for throwing together right after work. All you need on hand, after all, are your vegetables of choice — even frozen work well — and a small package of chevre, one lemon, plus a box of pasta. This is a great one for little helping hands, too, because there are just a few simple steps and easy tasks to share!

By the way, chevre and goat cheese are the same thing. They are a goat’s milk cheese which can be easier to digest for anyone with low tolerance for cow’s milk; chevre is also a bit lighter in fat and has a pleasingly tangy flavor and smooth texture. I save about a cup of the pasta cooking water here, and add it in gradually to the dish to loosen up the goat cheese and thin it into a silky, smooth sauce.



  • 1 box rotini pasta (or similar shape)
  • 1 bunch asparagus (or bag frozen, such as Trader Joe’s grilled)
  • 1/3 package frozen peas, or about a good palm full (I estimated)
  • 1 small log goat cheese, about 4-5 oz.
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water
  • salt and pepper to taste


If you are using fresh asparagus, I like to roast them on a sheet of aluminum foil in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper at 425 for about 12-15 minutes, or I pick up a frozen bag of the Trader Joe’s grilled spears. No matter which way you prep them, frozen or fresh, chop into rotini-sized pieces after they are done cooking and set aside.

Next, boil water for the rotini and cook the pasta until al dente, or 8-10 minutes. I like rotini because it really grips sauces, but any shape of pasta is OK. If you are using frozen peas, cook them at the same time as the pasta.

Drain pasta (and frozen peas if using), reserving one cup of cooking water.

Return rotini to the pan, stir in the asparagus and goat cheese, and zest the lemon into the pan. Halve the lemon and juice both sides into the pasta, being sure to catch the seeds (using an inexpensive hand-held citrus press is a great way to do this). Lastly, pour in the pasta water a little at a time, stirring until you reach the right consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm!


This makes such great leftovers for the work week, and actually tastes good hot or cold. I haven’t tried this yet, but I bet it would be good to bring to a cookout in the summer as a cool pasta salad. If you try that, let me know. Until then, happy meal prepping, and stay safe if you’re impacted by the Nor’Easter hitting the East Coast right now!


kid-friendly · Recipes · Slow Cooker · Tips and Tricks

Super Bowl Ideas

I’m just going to assume everyone reading this is rooting for the Patriots like we are on Sunday … ha!

As a kid we watched football every weekend, though the Pats were pretty much abysmal until I went away to college (figures) so I struggle to imagine what it must be like to have grown up watching Tom Brady and Bill Belichick dominate the NFL for basically your entire lifetime. That said, I’ll enjoy the dynasty while it lasts. Once this particular season is over, I can focus on my favorite sport — hockey — and before you know it the Red Sox will have opening day at Fenway Park and it’ll be spring again.

Until then! Here’s what we love to cook up on game day. You know I’m going to start off with my Brown Sugar Kielbasa, don’t you?


This one is a star for a reason. It has two ingredients unless you want to embellish it, and you just set it and forget in the slow cooker. Giving myself more time with my guests, and to prepare the rest of the game day food, works for me!

We also love to make delicious and simple Shepherd’s Pie. This one is so easy! My friends always ask for this and it is hands-down one of my husband’s favorite dinners that I make. All you need is ground beef, creamed corn and regular corn plus mashed potatoes, and somehow it all comes together and tastes so much more complex. This is a recipe I originally got from my mom, and she used to make it for me in little ramekins that I could take for lunch every day. I don’t even own ramekins!


Another must-have for snacking is tortilla chips and salsa. I always, always make my own salsa, because it so fast and tastes approximately a thousand times better than canned salsa. I like to use Rotel, fresh tomatoes and heaps of cilantro and jalapenos, but you can very much customize things if you don’t care for the heat or the taste of cilantro.


If you are hosting vegetarians and are in need of good chili options that involve more than just a ton of beans, I’ve got a few ideas. This recipe has literally four ingredients and very little simmering time, and can be made with ground beef or vegetarian “meat” crumbles, which I normally don’t love but end up tasting delicious here. Morning Star Farms and Gardein both make excellent veggie crumbles.

Another awesome recipe that packs a little heat with a hint of sweetness is this tasty Soy Chorizo Chili, which I usually make by shopping all Trader Joe’s ingredients, from the chorizo itself to the sweet potatoes, black beans and salsa. Serve it with some vegan shredded “cheese” on top or, if dairy is an option for your crowd, some sour cream or (even healthier) plain Greek yogurt. Yum! And spicy!


You really can’t go wrong with food, friends and football for any game day, so no matter who you are rooting for, I hope you have a blast this weekend and that this post gave you some good ideas. As Georgia says, “go ball players! you’re doing a great job!” haha.


Christmas · dessert · Holidays · kid-friendly

Our Christmas 2017 Menu

Everyone in my house was thrilled to see a dusting of snow on the ground this morning, the last work day ( for 9-to-5-ers at least; Mark is working all weekend) before Christmas! We’ve sent our greeting cards, bought our presents, (mostly) wrapped them, watched the obligatory preschool Christmas pageant, and now all there is to do is get ready to eat.

christmas card 2017.jpg

We celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then I’m thrilled Mark and I are both taking a week of stay-cation until New Year’s Day. It is so hard to get time off together! Up next for him this winter is playing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, so he’s been on a bit of a fitness spike lately, getting in shape for that…and growing his hair. It’s like I’m dating my 90’s boyfriend (which, as you know, was still him!) all over again.

All we have planned for vacay is to eat leftovers, take G to the movies (Coco? Ferdinand? BOTH?) and relax. OK, and reorganize our toys to make room for the new stuff. But back to the menu for Christmas: here’s what we are eating this weekend.


We have a lighter crowd this year, just seven of us, so the dinner is a teensy bit pared down.

  • Swedish meatballs with gravy & lingonberry jam
  • Buttery mashed potatoes (here’s how I make them a day ahead)
  • Spiral ham & applesauce (& mustard of course!)
  • Broccoli casserole
  • Sweet corn
  • dinner rolls

For dessert this year, we are having Christmas cookies & pumpkin pie with whipped cream and ice cream! Like the rest of the world, I’m now obsessed with Halo Top ice cream, so I picked up a pint of their low-sugar, high-protein cookies n’ cream flavor, and I am dying to try their oatmeal cookie (!!!) and s’more options… but both were all sold out near me. Last year, we made this amazing sticky toffee pudding that was SO easy and liked by everyone. You can probably make it with ingredients you already have on hand right now, just by picking up a package of dates!

For appetizers, we always put out a nice cheese plate with crackers and sliced apples, plus our New Englandy favorite, Cape Cod chips and onion dip, and probably shrimp cocktail. Mark always makes his favorite Sausage Bites, and we serve it all with lots of beer, wine, apple cider and egg nog!

This year, we are also starting a new tradition of Christmas Eve books. Have you heard of this? In Iceland, families get to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it’s meant to be a new book. Then you spend the evening relaxing and reading! While we probably won’t do much relaxing with a hyperactive four-year-old who is VERY concerned about Santa reaching us without a proper chimney, it sounded like an awesome thing to start doing. I also bought me and G Christmas jammies for the first time this year, but we have already been too eager to start wearing those this week, so we won’t be opening those on Christmas Eve like I know lots of families do! The ones we got at Old Navy are all sold out, but I love their pajamas all year round and Georgia has already asked for a pair for Valentine’s Day. That is, adorably, one of her favorite holidays.

From our household to yours, have a blessed, relaxing and cheer-filled Christmas. See you in the New Year!



kid-friendly · Recipes

Classic Baked Ziti

I dread the onset of winter with its cold, dark, depressing ways, and anyone with little kids can tell you the havoc daylight saving time wreaks on family sleep schedules. We had an oddly warm fall here in New England; it was 70 degrees out Monday, when I started writing this, and as nice as that felt, I’m ready for the casseroles to start showing up again — even if Mother Nature isn’t. I’ve also been ready to dig into hibernation food for months now!

In that spirit, I’ve made this wonderfully simple Baked Ziti a lot this fall, including for potlucks, Sunday dinner, and for friends with new babies.


This makes the perfect dish for visiting a newborn: it is comforting, filling, and reheats very easily, and can be eaten with one hand while holding a baby. It can also be frozen if your friends don’t have room to eat it right away. As a bonus, little kids like it, too, which is always an implicit goal of any recipe I post! Georgia simply gobbles this up, and it’s one of Mark’s, favorites, too. Win-win.

Classic Baked Ziti.png

This recipe was inspired by Smitten Kitchen with a few adaptations to make it my own.

Cook time: 30 minutes    Serves: 4-6

Classic Baked Ziti


  • 1 pound ziti, cooked al dente
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning (I like Wildtree)
  • 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a few handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated
  • 2/3 cup finely grated pecorino (or parmesan) cheese
  • fresh basil slivers
  • optional: red pepper flakes


To start, preheat your oven to 400 F.

Heat a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta very al dente, or at least 2 minutes less than the normal cooking time stated on the box. Drain the pasta, reserving half a cup of the cooking water.

Heat a large skillet over  medium and add a swirl of olive oil until warm, then add the meat alongside the onion, garlic, seasonings and a healthy dose of salt and pepper over medium-hihg for up to 8 minutes, or until the beef is browned, stirring often.

Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for five minutes. Add in the reserved pasta water and then the spinach, cooking until milted (maybe another minute or two). Here, I like to add in some fresh basil, slivered, and maybe a couple fresh tomatoes from my garden if I need to use them up.

Stir in the drained pasta and mix together. Pour half into a 9×13 glass baking dish or lasagna pan, and sprinkle with half the two cheeses; repeat with another half of the pasta then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake in the heated oven for 30 minutes or until nice and crispy and browned on the edges. You can even run the dish under the broiler for a minute if you’d like it extra crispy! Enjoy warm.



  • You can also use Italian sausage, casings removed, if you prefer the taste.
  • To cook al dente, shave 2 minutes off the cook time stated on the package of pasta. Taking care not to overcook is essential for this not turning mushy!
  • Seasoning the ground beef well with salt and pepper is essential; it’s less important if you opt for Italian sausage.
  • I like to serve this with more slivers of fresh basil and, if you have it, fresh ricotta. But that’s totally optional!
  • I have never tried this week meat substitutes, but it’s certainly possible. Other good substitutions to make it vegetarian would be mushrooms, beans, or lentils.


Stay tuned for my first holiday shopping guides soon, and some inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner! I’m so excited Christmas is right around the corner. I basically live for the holidays once Halloween is over every year 🙂 Have a lovely, cozy weekend.

Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly · Recipes

Tomato Tortellini Soup

New weeknight staple alert! This is a 20-minute meal that tastes like scratch (and mostly is), and provides delicious, warm little lunches. That is, assuming you even have leftovers. It really is that scrumptious.

We had parents night at Georgia’s school recently, and we got home that day with less than an hour to spare before we had to turn around and head back out the door. Patting myself on the back for buying fresh tortellini a few days earlier, I quickly realized I had the makings of a fast, filling dinner that would also serve the dual purpose of helping us move through our tomato stash. Which, if you’ve been following my Instagram since late August, is significant.


Even with the cooler temperatures slowing down the ripening in our garden, I’ve put up 68 ounces (!!!) of tomato sauce, and made countless batches of creamy tomato soup for freezing and eating since September. I probably gave out 100 tomatoes to co-workers, too, and am now moving on to bringing in the green ones for folks who have good recipes for things like relish, fritters and stew. And all that came from just two plants!

tomatoes on wall

I did tons of caprese salad and homemade pizza during the weeks of late summer and early Autumn, but eventually that gets repetitive, and in the fall soup just starts to feel right. Georgia has never been a big fan of the texture of soup or stews, but I figured if anything could change her mind, it would be something chunky, creamy, and filled with cheesy pasta. And I was right.

tomato tortellini soup2 (1).png

Inspiration for this recipe came from The Kitchn, but I made my own modifications and tweaks because I like more tomato chunks and a little less heft than heavy cream.

Tomato Tortellini Soup


  • 2 TBSP butter + a swirl of olive oil for the pot
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
  • salt and pepper to taste (don’t be shy)
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 or 3 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 cans (4 cups/32 ounces) chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 package (about 14 ounces) cheese tortellini
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
  • grated parmesan cheese, to taste


In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil together over medium until warm, then add the onion. Cook until soft, then add the garlic, making sure it doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the vinegar, then add the crushed tomatoes (with the liquid in the can) and the broth, cream and bay leaves to the pot. Add in some chunks of fresh tomato. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the tortellini and cook for about 3 minutes (5 minutes if using frozen). Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves, and stir in the basil. Serve topped with fresh grated Parmesan. Enjoy warm!

tomato tortellini soup vertical


You can use either fresh or frozen tortellini; just adjust the cooking time up a bit for frozen to give them time to thaw by cooking in the sauce.

Subbing vegetable stock is fine; I like the taste of chicken stock better. You can also use another type of shredded cheese on top, such as pecorino.

Feel free to put that heavy cream back in there if you want it extra rich!

tomato bunch

For me, this kept in the fridge just fine for 5 days. I also froze two small containers of it for later. To reheat, either warm over low/medium on the stovetop or microwave for about one minute, covered.


I hope you are having a wonderful fall getting ready for Halloween, Thanksgiving and (gulp) Christmas. I am actually already starting to shop for the holidays! Starting early is the only way I can stay on budget. We just took our annual family photos with our favorite photographer — here’s a sneak peek of one image so far 🙂 I can’t wait to get the full package so I can start designing my photo album gifts and Christmas cards.




Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly · Recipes · Uncategorized

2 Summer Salads For Using Up Tomatoes

It’s August in New England, which means tomatoes are busting out all over. Every year we scale back the number of plants we put in, but we are blessed with a very sunny raised bed alongside our house that simply churns out tomatoes, basil, lettuce, eggplant, peppers and zucchini, so we are once again in abundance! Last year we added rhubarb, and it grew like crazy. I’ve already made one strawberry-rhubarb crisp this  year, and am going to have to harvest and freeze a bunch more before the first frost. I’ve learned a lot about the proper ways to harvest and grow rhubarb so it comes back healthy every year, and I’ll post more about that soon!Today I’m sharing two easy salads that only require you to pick up a couple ingredients in addition to tomatoes — primarily the mozzarella and feta cheese — assuming you are growing your own basil, lettuce or cucumbers. Both salads are crowd-pleasers that keep well at cookouts and on buffet tables, and taste refreshing, not heavy or overly filling. Dig in and get your summer greens!

To make the Greek Salad:

Wash, dry and chop your lettuce, or just buy a box of fresh organic mixed greens, which is what I usually do. Place in a large bowl then top with sliced fresh tomatoes of any variety, diced red onion, Kalamata olives, sliced and halved cucumbers and crumbled Feta cheese. 

Drizzle with the dressing of your choice, or make your own Greek salad dressing by shaking together 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 tsp dried oregano, 2 minced garlic cloves, a squeeze of half a lemon plus 2 TBSP red wine vinegar. You can add more zip by swirling in some Dijon or other mustard, and you can make it creamier by stirring in a spoon full of Greek yogurt. Yum! Just add to a jar and shake to emulsify.

To make the Caprese Salad: 

On a serving plate, drizzle some good olive oil in a zig-zag pattern. Lay down half-moon tomato slices, top with a basil leaf, then finally place a slice of fresh mozzarella on the stack. Season with a little bit of pepper (fresh cracked is best tasting, but any kind is fine) and then drizzle with good balsamic vinegar over top. Serve!

Both salads will keep in the fridge for a few days, too, which is great for lunch. The caprese salad in particular travels well if you pack the slices tightly in a shallow container, and it’s that rare healthy item that my entire family will eat, so it’s going to be on rotation in our house for as long as our tomato plants are producing! I love anything that extends the feeling of summer, even when vacations and beach days are winding down and school is starting up.

Are you in Boston between now and Labor Day? Check out the 2017 Fermentation Festival happening this weekend at the Public Market! Join Boston Ferments from 10 am to 4 pm at the market, above the Haymarket MBTA station (orange and green lines) or on foot/by bike at the corner of Congress and Hanover streets. There will be demos, book signings, make-your-own-sauerkraut, food tastings, a libation garden and more!


Boston Ferments is an all-volunteer group of fermentation and pickling enthusiasts based in the Boston area, and willing to share starters for fermented foods, like yogurt, sourdough and kombucha. Why fermentation? Fermented foods — those made by converting sugars to acids, gases or alcohol — have preserved nutrients and are easier for the body to digest. Many cultures have traditionally fermented foods, from kimchi, pickles and miso to sauerkraut, kefir and tempeh. Eating fermented foods can introduce beneficial bacteria (“probiotics”) to your system, easing digestion and immunity. A proper balance of gut bacteria and digestive enzymes helps us to absorb nutrients in food more readily, and can contribute to better overall health. Fermented foods also last longer than canned food, making them very budget friendly, too.

Find out more at, and have a great weekend!

kid-friendly · Recipes

Trader Joe’s Tag: Teriyaki Steak Tips & Grilled Asparagus

For the latest installment in my not-frequent-enough series on Meals You Can Make Exclusively Using Trader Joe’s Products, I offer these delicious, grill-ready steak tips and sides. Made using things you can find 100% at Trader Joe’s, this meal comfortably fed our family of three with leftovers, and came together in half an hour on a weeknight after work and camp. It’s also pretty healthy, with just 240 calories per serving of beef, or a total of 10 Weight Watchers points if you eat a really big helping. We cooked this indoors because it was raining out, but these tips are made for the grill. You could also broil them to mimic that fresh-off-the-barbecue sear!

Teriyaki Steak Tips.png

Teriyaki Steak Tips & Grilled Asparagus


All from Trader Joe’s:

  • 1 package refrigerated teriyaki steak tips (in the meat case)
  • 1 package frozen grilled asparagus spears
  • 1 packaged refrigerated scalloped potatoes or boxed potatoes au gratin*

*Or, substitute a similar potato side. Looking for different options, or rather make something from scratch? Check out my mashed potatoes, homemade scalloped potatoesroasted potatoes, or classic potato salad.


Prepare potatoes following package directions (or use from-scratch recipes above) while heating up a grill pan/large cast iron skillet/Dutch oven to cook the steak tips. (Or grill ’em outside!) I used my large Le Creuset dish and it worked perfectly by giving all the tips room to brown without crowding on the bottom of the pan.

You can also stick these under the broiler for a few minutes and that would work great, too. You’ll be cooking them for about 7 minutes or to desired level of done-ness.

While the tips are cooking, heat the frozen asparagus either in the oven in a glass dish, or in the microwave in a safe dish, until cooked through, following package directions.

Serve the tips with some pan juices alongside the grilled asparagus and potatoes. Garnish with any additional steak sauce you like; Trader Joe’s island soyaki sauce might be nice here, as would any other sweet condiment that won’t fight the teriyaki marinade. Enjoy!

There’s no need to season these further, as they come already marinated in a sauce that you can just throw right into a hot pot with a little olive oil. This would also go really well with any type of rice side, as well as any other type of vegetable if you don’t like asparagus. I love these frozen asparagus because you can really taste the grilled parts, and they aren’t very mushy, which kind of tricks your taste buds into thinking that you cooked them fresh. Other awesome frozen sides at Trader Joe’s include their Organic Superfood Pilaf (tri-color quinoa with sweet potatoes, kale and carrots),  Fire Roasted Bell Peppers & Onions, and Misto Alla Griglia (marinated grilled eggplant, zucchini and red peppers). I also keep their boxed frozen rice on hand at all times, because you can just steam-heat a two-serving pouch in the microwave to go with dinner at the last minute, and they have a wide variety ranging from organic jasmine rice to organic brown rice to barley mix.

Looking for other Trader Joe’s meals? Check out:

Roasted Red Pepper & Tortellini Soup (vegetarian!)

Chimichurri Rice with Chicken Sausage

Lemon Pepper Pappardelle with Hummus Pesto

Soy Chorizo Chili (vegetarian!)

Butternut Squash, Sage & Sweet Chicken Sheet Pan Meal

And, like most people who shop at Trader Joe’s, one of our top meals is their frozen orange chicken sauteed in a pan with TJ’s frozen vegetable fried rice. It’s our #1 takeout substitute for busy weeknight dinners and now even Georgia asks when we can have “OC” again! I make a big batch on a busy evening and she loves to share a plate with Daddy while watching a movie. What other Trader Joe’s foods do YOU love?

Have a great weekend everyone!