Stuffed Shells with Sausage and Mushrooms

Stuffed Shells has been my husbands’ birthday dinner request, and Father’s Day dinner request, since 2014. My 17 year old daughter also special requests this dinner on her birthday and has for the past couple of years. So it’s definitely a favorite. I personally don’t love pasta and I don’t eat sausage so this one is not high up on my list but I’m happy to make it for their special days. This recipe comes from one of the Our Best Bites cook books. They have lots of great recipes in their books and on their blog. I’m posting this recipe here in honor of Elisabeth who is moving out and going to college at the end of this summer and wants to be able to easily find this recipe.

1, 12 oz box jumbo pasta shells
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1, 15 oz container ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
3/4 tsp dried oregano leaves
2 tsp dried basil leaves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
12 oz italian turkey sausage
6 c loosely packed fresh spinach (or 9oz box frozen spinach, thawed)
2 1/2 c shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 1/2 c shredded parmesan cheese, divided
1, 26-32 oz jar marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta shells al dente according to package instructions. Heat a medium skillet to medium heat. Melt butter and add mushrooms. Saute 3-4 minutes until mushrooms are golden brown. Place ricotta in large mixing bowl. Add eggs, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. When mushrooms are cooked, add to ricotta mixture and return empty skillet to stove top. Squeeze sausage out of casings and add to skillet. Break up with a saptula and cook until browned and crumbly. Add sausage to ricotta mixture.

If using thawed spinach, squeeze moisture from spinach and roughly chop. If using fresh spinach, rougly chop. Add spinach to ricotta-meat mixture and fold together. Add 2 cups mozarella and 1 c parmesan to mixture.

Spread marinara sauce evenly on bottom of a 9×13 pan. Fill each pasta shell with 2 rounded Tbsp of filling and nestle snugly in the pan on top of the sauce. You should be able to fill and fit in about 24-26 shells.

Top with remaining 1/2 c mozzarella and 1/2 c parmesan cheeses. Cover with foil and bbake 50-60 minutes or until bubbly all over. Remove foil about 10-15 minutes before end of baking time.

Make ahead directions: To prepare ahead of time, cover pan tightly in plastic and then in foil. Refrigerate 1-2 days and then bake as directed (making sure to remove plastic layer underneath foil) or freeze up to 2 months. Thaw frozen dish in friedge overnight and then bake as directed, or bake from frozen, covered in foil (remove plastic wrap) about 2 hours or until heated and bubbly throughout. Cooking times vary from frozen so check periodically during cooking.

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Blackened Fish and Roasted Veggies

Blackened Seasoning Spice Mix(makes enough for 8-10 fish fillets; I usually make a couple and save the rest):
4 Tbsp smoked paprika (regular paprika works too)
2 T cayenne powder
2 T onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried Thyme

4 oz fillets (salmon, tilapia or mahi mahi)

Raw veggies chopped. I’ll usually do a 1/2 a sweet potato and a broccoli head.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover one half of your sheet pan with foil. Turn the edges of the foil up to create a tray to hold in fish juices. Place 2-4 fillets of fish on foil. Place chopped veggies next to it, directly on the sheet pan. Spray everything with oil. Sprinkle fish with blackened spices. Turn fish over and spray and spice the other side of fish. To the veggies add salt, pepper and garlic powder. Put in preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes. I like to cut up my fish with a fork when done and put it on a bed of lettuce with my roasted veggies.

*You won’t use all the blackening seasoning unless you’re cooking for a group of more than 8. The blackened seasoning will stay good for about 3 months.

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Banana Cream Pie

This is one of our favorite pie recipes. We make it for Thanksgiving every year and Charles always special requests this for his birthday in which we always make one for the family and one just for him.

1 3.4 oz box of instant vanilla pudding mix
1 c cold water
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 c heavy whipping cream
2, 9-inch pie crusts (store bought is great or try my favorite Lion House Pie Recipe below)
1 large, ripe banana

4 tsp cold water
1 tsp gelatin
1 c heavy whipping cream
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a medium bowl, combine pudding mix, cold water, and sweetened condensed milk. Mix well and place in the fridge to chill for a few minutes. In another bowl, whip 1 cup of cream until soft peaks form. Fold into the pudding mixture. Place banana on a plate and mash with a fork until all mushy and liquidy. Add to pudding mix and return to fridge.

Divide the pudding mixture between the two pies crusts.

In a small bowl sprinkle 1 tsp gelatin on top of 4 tsp cold water. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. While that’s sitting, in a medium bowl, whip the remaining 1 cup of whipping cream with 1/3 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla for one minute. Go back to your gelatin after 5 minutes; it will now be spongy, and put it in the microwave for 8 seconds. It’ll turn to liquid again. Add this liquid to your whipped cream adn continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream on top of the two pies. Place in fridge for a couple of hours before serving.

Lion House, 2 Pie Crusts

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 c butter-flavored shortening, chilled (or I’ve done 3/4 c non-flavored crisco and 1/4 c butter)
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp vinegar
1/4 c ice water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, sugar and salt. Cut the shortening into the flour until pea-sized crumbs form. Carefully stir in beaten egg and vinegar. Gently sprinkle in water until dough starts to hold tgoether. Shape dough into 2 disks. Use to make 2 single-crust pies or 1 double-crust pie. When recipe calls for a baked pie shell, roll out dough, press into pie plate, trim and flute edges, prick bottom of shell with a fork and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool before adding pie filling.


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Protein Bars- diy macrobars

Protein Bars-diy Macrobars
*makes 16 big square bars, or 32 smaller rectangular bars.

1 c almond butter
1/2 c sunflower butter
1 c brown rice syrup
1/2 c pure maple syrup
1 1/2 c vanilla protein powder
1/2 c rolled quick oats
1 c chopped puffed kamut or brown rice puff cereal
1/2 c chopped pepitas

In a medium, microwave safe mixing bowl combine butters and syrups. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir together. Add remaining ingredients. Stir to combine thoroughly. Press into parchment-lined 9×13 pan. Refrigerate 1 hour. Cut into 16 bars (or 32) and serve. Store in fridge in airtight container. Or you can individually wrap these in the parchement paper and put in sandwich bag or tinfoil for a quick grab-and-go snack when you’re on the run.

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Stevia Sweetened Lemonade

We love this lemonade and we go through about a bag of lemons a week making it. It’s fast and easy and since I make and drink it in a mason jar, cleanup is a cinch. I like to add a sprinkle of cayenne pepper to my lemonade, it just adds a little flavor and kick, but that’s totally optional.

Stevia Sweetened Lemonade
*serves 1

10 oz water

1 dropper full liquid Stevia

1 lemon, juice only

optional: pinch cayenne pepper (1/8 tsp or less)

4 ice cubes

Add all the ingredients in a quart sized mason jar. Put the lid on, shake and serve. You can refrigerate for later.

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Pesto Tuna Melt

As some of you know, I am vegetarian. Well, I guess I should say “mostly vegetarian”. I rarely eat meat. Mostly because I don’t like the way it tastes, and so I figure why eat something that I don’t like if I don’t even need it. Maybe me rarely eating it will compansate for one individual who over eats meat (environment wise). When it comes to fish, I figure Jesus ate fish so I should try ocassionally since it must be pretty good for you :). Anyway, chicken salads and this tuna melt, are one of the very few ways I’ll eat meat because it’s so maksed in the other flavors that it’s not that bad; and fish and chicken are a tiny bit more appealing than red meats.


Whenever making any sort of grilled-cheese-type sandwich, I always like to melt the cheese a little in the microwave first; then when I grill it on the stove, I can just grill it til the bread is a nice golden brown and I know the cheese will already be melted. These tuna melts don’t need very much cheese.

Pesto Tuna Melt

*Makes 4 sandwiches

1 can (7oz) tuna, water drained

1/3 c pesto

1 Tbsp Mayo or plain yogurt

8 slices whole grain bread

4 tomato slices

8 slices cheese (cheddar, provolone, Swiss etc)

Oil or butter for grilling (I use coconut oil)

In a medium bowl, combine the tuna, pesto, and mayo. Place a slice of cheese on each piece of bread and warm in microwave for 20 seconds. Spoon the tuna mixture on 3 of the 6 bread slices with cheese slightly melted, and then top it off with the remaining slices of cheese bread.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Spread butter or oil on top of bread. Place it on the heated pan and grill until golden and toasty. While grilling, quickly spread the second side of bread with butter/oil. Carefully flip and grill the second side until that side is also golden and toasty.

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Hugh Jackman’s African Sweet Potato Stew

I found this recipe in Mark Hymans cook book a year or two ago and have made it several times since. I love all the flavor from the curry, spices and peanut butter and the sweet potato adds a nice consistency and makes this stew more filling. My kids on the other hand don’t love this dish. But here’s the thing: at least once a week I make a dish they don’t like that I really do, because that seems more than fair considering all the other days of the week, I cook things most of them enjoy.

Hugh Jackman’s African Sweet Potato Stew

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger (or 1/2 tsp ground dry ginger)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp mild curry paste
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/4 c vegetable broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 c mushrooms, chopped
1 heaping cup baby spinach, chopped
3 Tbsp natural peanut butter (like Adams)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish (optional- I’ve made this without when I didn’t have it on hand and it still tastes great)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I just had it out on the table for people to sprinkle it on top if they wanted)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and cayenne and cook gently for 10 minutes. Add the curry paste, stir well, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the sweet potato and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add the broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the sweet potato is fork-tender. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes, then stir in the spinach.

In a small bowl, mix a couple scoops of stew with the peanut butter and stir well, then mix this back into the stew. Stir in the cilantro and add salt and pepper to taste(or just leave on table for individuals to add to their own). To serve, ladle the stew into bowls and garnish with additional cilantro.

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

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It has been awhile since my last post! I created a couple of new posts with recipes I love that I wanted to share, but I experienced several technical difficulties with wordpress and eventually forgot about it and moved onto other things(like my book I’m writing and training our new puppy!). Then we made these delicious, soft, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies and I decided to try to create a post again. Turns out wordpress has made some changes and updates since my last post attempt, so I’m crossing my fingers that this post will work, because I need to have this recipe saved with my other favorites on here.

This recipe was inspired by two recipes: the Lion House Bakery recipe which we’ve been making for years, and a recipe we love that comes from a friend of ours. I ended up combining the two (they were  similar already), and the combination was perfect! We live in Utah and they set up nicely in our high altitude area, and don’t require any shortening to do so. Here’s the recipe:

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
*makes about 32, fairly big, cookies (3 TBSP dough each)

2 c butter, softened (Not melted; if butter is so soft it’s melting, put dough in fridge for 20 minutes before baking. I use unsalted. If you use salted, you can decrease the salt to 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 c granulated sugar (white sugar)
2 c light brown sugar, packed
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
6 c white flour
1 1/2 TBSP baking soda
2 tsp sea salt
4 c chocolate chips (or whatever chips you like…I made a few with white chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a Bosch or Kitchen Aid with wire whisks, cream butter and sugars together. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Here I switch out my wire whisks for the cookie dough paddles. Add in flour, baking soda and salt and mix to combine. Add in chocolate chips and mix. Roll 3 Tbsp(I use an ice cream scoop) of dough at a time into balls and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet (or you can line the cookie sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper if you choose). Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until barely golden brown on top. They should look a little undercooked/doughy. Let them sit on the baking sheet for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack so they continue to set up(remember they’re a little doughy in the center when they first come out, but they’ll set up more as they sit on the pan during those few minutes, and then as they cool).

*these do not need to chill before being baked.
*you can freeze cookie dough balls for later. I usually bake half the dough right away and freeze the other cookie dough balls for a later day. I let them thaw at room temperature for a couple of hours before baking.

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Vegan chicken salad

Summer is here and I am loving the more relaxed schedule! It hasn’t gotten too hot yet, here in Utah, but warm enough that I’m not wanting to have oatmeal for lunch anymore and am preferring something cold. I often have a mexican salad (romaine greens, a chipotle black bean burger, tomato slices, salsa and guacamole), but when I want to mix things up, I’ll make this for dinner, and eat the leftovers for lunch over the next few days. This is a recipe I got from my sister last year when she was visiting from Seattle. We made it multiple times over the few days she was here, because there were several of us that loved it. But to be completely honest, most of my kids don’t really like this meal, so they’ll eat the croissant with a little bit of this salad. But I love it, so I’m happy to have leftovers to enjoy for lunch for a few days! My kids ask me why it’s called vegan chicken salad, when there’s no chicken in it. I tell them it’s because if I called it vegan salad, that could mean anything. This way we all know what chicken salad is, and it’s that, just minus the chicken with some white beans instead :).

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Here are the ingredients you’ll need. If you don’t have a red onion, that’s fine. You can use white or yellow. The color of the red is nice in this salad. Also, some brands of the garbanzo beans (like Walmart’s brand), are a lot harder to mash than others. So you may want to experiment.

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Here you see the beans I mashed up with the spices, mayo and onion. Next we’ll stir in the grapes and celery.

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It’s nice to be able to have something yummy to eat in the summer, without having to turn on your oven and make your house even more hot. I hope you enjoy it!

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Vegan Chicken Salad
*serves 8

2 cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 c red onion, chopped fine (white or yellow is fine too; but I like the color from the red)
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder, or dried chopped onion
3 Tbsp veganaise or Mayo
1 c grape halves
1/2 c chopped celery (about 2-3 stalks)

Place the garbanzo beans, onion, mustard, spices and mayo in a medium mixing bowl. Smash together with a potato masher. Stir in grape halves and chopped celery. Allow to sit in fridge for an hour before serving on croissant, or bread (I like to put it on a slice of toasted whole wheat bread; open-faced). *You can also eat this right away, but allowing it to sit in the fridge for a short time will not only chill the salad, but also allow the flavors to blend more fully.

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Creamy Coconut Korma

My husband and I love Indian food. Our kids are okay with some of the sauces, and they like Naan bread, but they are not big fans….yet. But, just as the author from French Kids Eat Anything says, they’ve got to try it many times (I think 12? And I’m going to go even further and say 20) to develop a taste for it. It’s also good for me to remember that food always tastes better when they’re hungry, so I’ve got to remember to not let them snack an hour or two before dinner.

As you can see, we use a lot of spices in this recipe. You might be wondering where in the world you can even find some of these things, like fennel seeds, and cumin seeds. Most you should find at your local grocery store, Walmart, Target, Sprouts etc and I picked up a couple from an Indian store near by but  you can also use the powdered form of any of these spices, and you should be able to find the powdered form anywhere. I like to use whole spices because they keep their flavor longer, so especially for things like fennel or cardamom, spices you might not use very often, having the whole spice is nice.

Also, you don’t have to use the entire jalapeno. I do. But I like spicy foods. And so does my family. Just as a frame of reference, when I order Indian food at a restaurant, I ask for medium heat, and that’s what you’ll get with this. Which, Indian medium heat, might feel too hot for some. So feel free to use half, a quarter or even less jalapeno if you’re not into the heat. You’ll still get a little from the cayenne and chili powders.

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There are a few ‘optional’ things you can do with this Korma. You can add cooked chicken, or steamed veggies, or paneer (a soft cheese), or raisins. If I’m doing chicken, I’ll usually throw it in the crock pot in the morning, on low with some broth, mostly because I’m lazy and I just want to dump it in and forget about it. If I’m adding in steamed veggies, I will steam them as I’m cooking my sauce. The paneer or raisins, I just add once the sauce is nearly done.

Alright, so first thing you’ll do is put your cashews in a bowl with some cool water and let them sit for 15 minutes while you’re putting the other paste ingredients, starting with your water, into your blender. By soaking the nuts, you break down the phytic acid so it can be more easily absorbed. Nuts also have enzyme inhibitors making them hard to digest, but soaking them neutralizes the enzymes for proper digestion.

Once all your ingredients are in there, drain and add the cashews and blend until smooth. As a side note, when I add my ginger, I just peel it and then drop the 1 inch piece in the blender.

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Once that’s done,warm your oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Cut up your onions like so (they don’t need to be diced because they’ll go into the blender), and add them to the warm oil. Next, add your spices to the pan and let them cook together for a few minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add your fresh and canned tomatoes and cook a few minutes longer.

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Add these veggies and spices to the blender with your paste.img_9401

Blend until smooth.

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Pour the blender contents back into your pan. Add about 1/2 cup  water to the emptied blender jar, put lid on, and swirl it around to get all the paste sticking to the inside of the jar, and pour into the frying pan. Keep pan on medium-low heat and stir in your coconut milk until blended together.

Add your optional cooked, shredded or cubed chicken/veggies/raisins,or just keep it as a plain Korma sauce. Allow the flavors to cook together another 5 minutes before serving over brown basmati rice (or any cooked rice; I often have it over just steamed broccoli and cauliflower). I don’t like to add a lot of salt to the recipe, so I will sprinkle a little bit on the top before, just before I add my chopped cilantro.  Also great with a side of Naan, or whole wheat pita bread that’s been toasted.

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Vegetable Korma

*serves 8

Paste:

1/3 cup raw cashews (soaked in a bowl of water for 15+ minutes, then drained)
1 c water
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 Tbsp coriander seeds (or 1 Tbsp ground coriander)
2 tsp fennel seeds (or 2 tsp ground fennel)
1 tsp cumin seeds (or 1 tsp ground cumin)
6 whole cloves (or 1/2 tsp ground cloves)
4 green cardamom pods (or 1/4 tsp ground cardamom)
1/4 tsp black peppercorn (or 1/4 tsp ground)
1 jalapeno (can do 1/2 or less if you’re more of a ‘mild’ spice person)
4 tsp minced garlic or 8 cloves
1 inch ginger, peeled

Combine all paste ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth.

2 medium onions, chopped (red, yellow, or white)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 large Roma tomato, chopped
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (or any cut)

1 can coconut milk with full fat (I like Thai Kitchen brand)
chopped cilantro to garnish
optional: 1-2 cups chopped and steamed veggies like carrots, potato, peas
optional: 1/3 c golden raisins or 1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans
optional: cooked, shredded chicken or cubed paneer. (I’ll usually put a frozen chicken breast in the crock pot with some vegetable broth in the morning and cook it on low all day)

In a large frying pan, add 1 Tbsp coconut or olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion with 1/2 tsp sea salt, yellow curry powder, turmeric, chili powder, and cayenne pepper, and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until they are mushy, a few more minutes. Add these veggies and spices to the blender with your paste. Blend until smooth. Pour the blender contents back into your pan. Add about 1/2 cup  water to the emptied blender jar, put lid on, and swirl it around to get all the paste sticking to the inside of the jar, and pour into the frying pan. Keep pan on medium-low heat and stir in your coconut milk until blended together.

Add your optional cooked chicken/veggies/raisins,or just keep it as a plain Korma sauce. Allow the flavors to cook together another 5 minutes before serving over brown basmati rice (or any cooked rice; I will also often have it over just steamed broccoli and cauliflower). Sprinkle your serving with a tiny bit of salt, and then garnish with chopped cilantro. Also great with a side of Naan, or whole wheat pita bread that’s been toasted.

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