Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Baked Ziti - Fit For a King and My 300th Blog Post

Ziti was my favorite pasta growing up but so hard to find here in the Bay Area.  I have made an attempt myself - http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2014/08/neapolitan-baked-ziti.html, but having to substitute with penne, since even boxed ziti is not readily available. 

With a recipe influenced by Rachael’s own Mama, I knew this one had to be a winner satisfying a true Sicilian so I had to make sure to do it justice with actual ziti noodle and a bottle of passata, both found at Molinari’s in North Beach.  I cannot think of a better recipe for my 300th Blog Post, featuring one of my favorite dishes!


  1. Two cans of San Marzano tomatoes are way too much especially if you already have a jar of passata.  One can is more than sufficient if required at all. 
  2. Just used bagged shredded mozzarella vs. shredding fresh mozz     
Price:  $18 for 6-8 servings = $2.25-$3 per serving

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Turkey may be the star of a Thanksgiving dinner - http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2014/11/tips-for-moist-turkey-happy-thanksgiving.html, but its sidekick, the side dishes complementing the turkey is what makes the star shine. 

Green Beans - With so many rich dishes already on Thanksgiving, I like to keep my veggies healthy so Green Beans Genovese is my favorite way to make green beans and my side dish this year - http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2014/05/green-beans-genovese.html

Mashed Potatoes – Mashed Potatoes with Turkey Gravy is a nice traditional way to serve it up or you can add some creamy Camembert to it and skip the gravy - http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2015/01/camembert-mashed-potatoes.html

Sweet Potatoes – Sweet Potatoes in itself is such a super food but with the marshmallow crème and tons of sugar, it becomes more like dessert.  As a compromise, maple sweetened smashed potatoes with the optional chopped bacon will let you choose a less guilty sweet or sweet and savory - http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2014/12/maple-bacon-smashed-sweet-potatoes.html

Brussels Sprouts – I use to hate the taste of Brussels Sprouts especially if it is just served boiled out of the pot.  However, once I tried it roasted, I absolutely love the nutty flavor and cannot get enough of it these days -    http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2014/03/chicken-cacciatore-with-roasted.html

Do not forget to take the time out to be thankful for the little things and no shopping on Thanksgiving as everyone deserves a holiday!!  Your family needs you more than the crazy mobs of bargain hunters. 


Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!! 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Autumn Breakfast

I had discovered the pumpkin pancake mix around this time last year at Trader Joe’s so we got in one breakfast before the pumpkin craze of Halloween and Thanksgiving made way for the peppermint of the Christmas season.  So this year I made sure to start those pumpkin pancakes before Halloween with more time to enjoy the flavors of the season from that almost full box that was relegated to the back of the pantry last year. . 

So Rachael Ray always points out that she has a “bread stunt double” on her show to toast them in the oven as she always burns bread.  Well, pancakes are my bread in this situation.  I have made multiple attempts and always find a way to burn pancakes, whether it is the blueberry ones I made from scratch or mixes like I get from Hawai`i or Trader Joe’s.  So adding to outdoor BBQing that I refer to my husband is pancakes! 

You already know that my love of Mickey Mouse is up there with my love of Hawai`i and I had noticed a bunch of Yelpers enjoying MM shaped pancakes recently and they weren’t even in Disneyland! 

So here is my hubby’s attempt at Mickey pancakes for me using that TJ's pumpkin mix following directions on the box. 
If pancakes is not your thing or you don’t have a pancake stunt double, make an easy Stuffed Apple Butter French Toast with apple slices - http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2015/07/apple-butter-french-toast-sandwich.html instead since it is apple season too!!  TJ's has apple butter but I got mine from my favorite place on the Central Coast, Apple Farm.  If you haven't already, start planning a visit to the Apple Farm to check out their holiday decorations that will rival these from last year - http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2014/12/apple-farm-you-had-me-at-pie.html



Friday, November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving Week

For years I have been saying that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday but lament that it comes and goes at the blink of an eye.  I always appreciated it as a holiday that was not commercialized, that is until Walmart, Target, Macy’s and other greedy retailers decides to “make a buck, make a buck” like Alfred complains in Miracle on 34th Street.  I will not only refuse to shop on Thanksgiving as usual but will be going a step further and make an effort to frequent retailers for the rest of the season who are closed on Thanksgiving.  Just one day out of the year, it allows people to take the time to find at least one thing to be thankful for and come together with family or friends, which is the family you choose, over a meal.  For those who cook, including us home cooks and/or those of us who live to eat food and not just eat food to live, Thanksgiving is the biggest food holiday of the year. 

So since I have made it a point to also celebrate Thanksgiving in May for the past few years, I have decided like last year to celebrate Thanksgiving Week vs. just day.  To make a small scale and simple version of Thanksgiving for 2, Meal #1 is Turkey Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes with Fresh Turkey Gravy and Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Meal #2 is Stuffing Muffins with the leftovers. 



Camembert Mashed Potatoes or skip the camembert and do Mashed Potatoes with Turkey Gravy - http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2015/01/camembert-mashed-potatoes.html


Stuffing Muffins


1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 pkg of TJ”s peeled and cooked chestnuts coarsely chopped
1 pkg of TJ’s Cornbread Stuffing Mix
2-3 cups of Chicken Broth
1 (8 oz pkg of mushrooms chopped)
2 stalks of celery chopped
Sage leaves sliced
Salt and Pepper
1 tbsp butter


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Heat olive oil in skillet on medium heat and add chopped mushrooms and celery and cook until softened
  3. Stir in chestnuts and sage and mix until warm
  4. Stir cornbread stuffing mix in batches so it picks up the juice from the mushrooms
  5. Add broth one cup at a time and mix until all is moist
  6. Season with salt and pepper
  7. Melt butter and “grease” the bottom and sides of muffin tin with the melted butter and place stuffing in tin
  8. Dot the top of stuffing with a little more butter and bake for 20 minutes

  1. Because this had no bacon or sausage, there was not enough fat to really hold the muffin together so better to just put in a buttered Pyrex and back for 35-40 minutes instead. 

Price:  Less than $20 total


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Salmon Lettuce Wrap with Tropical Salsa

I thought I had finished my sockeye salmon stash from Costco but I recently discovered a few more packs buried in my freezer.  Fate intervenes yet again as I had bought a butter lettuce for lettuce wraps but was trying to figure out what kind to make.  My favorite method for cooking salmon is super easy, just roasted with some garlic infused olive oil and with little cleanup.  Although I took out two packs of fish which would probably have been perfect for a no-carb dinner, I also did not want someone to say he was hungry an hour later either so I did put a small bit of rice in each wrap to make it more filling and to stretch the number of servings. 

Since simply roasting it gives me almost a blank canvas for toppings, I just made a tropical salsa with what I had in my fridge, my backyard grown tomato, my 50 cent avocado, and popped open my bottle of Sweet & Spicy Pineapple from Maui Preserved - http://mauipreserved.com/product/sweet-spicy-pineapple/ that is part of my annual stock up.  Since the ingredients are just Maui Gold Pineapple, filtered water, Maui Brand Natural Cane Sugar, and Hawaiian chile pepper, I even drizzled a smidgen of that pineapple infused liquid for a little wow factor.  As they would say in Hawai`i, Ono or I got the grindz!  


Butter lettuce
Jasmine Rice
Sweet and Spicy Pineapples


1.  Salmon was just roasted in this super easy method- http://www.cookwithzee.blogspot.com/2014/06/roasted-salmon.html
2.  Assemble wraps


  1. You can definitely leave out the rice but I needed to add a little filler so we do not consume an entire lb of salmon each in order to be satisfied
  2. Our 1 serving ended up being about 4-5 lettuce wraps
  3. As of today, Maui Preserved is on sale for the Sweet and Spicy Pineapple!!  They do also have a new diced pineapple too without the chile pepper which I have yet to try but would be great with this dish. 
Price:  $18 for 5 servings = $3.60 per serving

Monday, November 16, 2015

Too Much Celery and Carrots Minestrone

Yep, still have celery and carrots but no, not another 4 course meal.  So I was originally thinking about just putting out a raw veggie plate of celery sticks and baby carrots and make a little thousand island to dip them in.  Now that would be a meal fit for Bugs Bunny but not so much for us.  With the weather being on the chillier side these days, a hearty soup is a great way to warm up our bones. 

Italian minestrones usually has pancetta which I had none so substituted with some leftover chorizo I found in my freezer but left most of the same flavors I would find in a traditional minestrone, carrots, celery, rosemary, thyme, sage (since I had some leftovers from my baked pasta recipe).  The canellini beans and medium shells made it hearty enough to be a meal with some toasted baguette (on sale for $1) on the side. 


3 tbsp olive oil
½ yellow onion, diced
3 celery stalks cut on the bias
1/3 bag of baby carrots
3 garlic cloves minced
1 fully cooked chorizo diced
2 sprig fresh rosemary – leaves minced
Sliced fresh sage (optional)
1 15 oz can canellini beans rinsed and drained
1 ½ containers of chicken broth
8 oz medium pasta shells
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded parm

  1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in pot over medium heat and brown the diced chorizo, remove and put aside
  2. Drain most of the chorizo oil and add remaining olive oil and add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic
  3. Saute for about 5-10 minutes until onion is cooked through
  4. As veggies are sautéing puree ½ of the beans with 1 cup chicken broth in food processor until smooth
  5. Add to the cooked veggies plus the remaining chicken broth, rosemary, sage, pasta shells
  6. Simmer for approximately 15 minutes
  7. Add remaining canellini beans and browned chorizo back in and simmer for another 5 minutes
  8. Ladle into soup bowl, top with a little parm and serve with toasted bread
I like sprinkling some parm on the baguette slices before toasting when I pair with soup. 

Price:  $5 for 4 large servings = $1.25 per serving


Friday, November 13, 2015

Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash and Ricotta

This is one of those recipes that as soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to make it, hence the short turnaround time.  With Rachael’s newest cookbook Everyone is Italian on Sundays just released, she has been making more Italian meals on her show as well and I have to admit, I cannot complain. 

Italian food had been my favorite cuisine growing up back East but up until about 5 years ago, I had a hard time finding ones in the Bay Area that compares.  Recently however, I have discovered some great gems like the Italian Homemade Company run by a husband and wife duo from Rimini, Italy.  They must be doing something right as they opened up another location since I went to their original just last year.  I am super excited to try E Tutto Qua this weekend for our belated birthday dinner owned by Italian born Enzo Pallico and recently featured in the Little Italy Challenge on Rachael Ray!  You cannot get more authentic than that!! 

In the meantime, I had this dish planned to stretch that 5 lb butternut squash I used for one of my favorites, the Autumn Pappardelle.  Rachael made this crowdpleasing Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash for her Italian family when she was in Italy renewing her vows.  I have to say, I am beginning to really like autumn even more and dare I say for me, Butternut Squash is the new Pumpkin in my book or in my household as someone ended up refilling 3 times, really taking the gobble gobble til you wobble to heart!  Warning, consuming large quantities may put you in a food coma as he was asleep before 9:30.  Otherwise, Mangia!!


  1. Instead of putting the brown butter sage leaves in the mixture to bake, I decided to add it at the end on top to keep it crisp, almost giving it the illusion of black truffle shavings at first glance. 
  2. I drained the Italian Sausage before adding to the mixture and just added a little more chicken stock directly to the mixture to loosen it up.
Price:  $12 for 6-8 servings = $1.50-$2 per serving