Baked Ziti

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There’s this little neighborhood pizzeria about two miles from our house that has the best baked ziti recipe I’ve ever eaten. I don’t claim to be a baked ziti expert, but I know a good Italian recipe when I taste one.

What I love most about their baked ziti is that it’s simple. Just the right amount of fresh basil and fresh mozzarella, a sauce + ricotta ratio near to perfection, and barely a touch of their light marinara on top.

Did I mention ooey, gooey fresh mozzarella?

Over the weekend I decided to roll up my sleeves and take a stab at making baked ziti at home. I mean, it’s not difficult, and the ingredients are really no secret. And I, too, kept it simple – although I was lacking some of the fresh ingredients I would have preferred. Still, we were all pleased.

baked ziti recipe, baked ziti, how to make baked ziti

By the way, my easy homemade Italian bread (made the same afternoon) went perfectly!

You’re welcome.

Baked Ziti
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6
  • 1 23.5oz jar organic marinara sauce
  • 3-1/2 cups dry ziti or penne pasta
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt + 2 tablespoons for the pasta water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Bring water and 2 tablespoons of salt to boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and cook it to al dente. Drain.
  3. Mix the marinara, ricotta, ¾ cup mozzarella, ¼ cup Parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, and the basil together in a large bowl. Add the pasta, stirring gently to coat completely.
  4. Coat the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish with olive oil. Spread the pasta mixture evenly in the dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the baked ziti is bubbly and golden brown on top.

Grilled Cheese: American Caprese on Whole Wheat | #spon

Grilled cheese sandwiches are a weekend staple in our house, and have been since even before my kids were born. Ooey-gooey cheesy goodness, melted between two pieces of soft bread that’s been toasted just enough to become golden and crispy around the edges – is there anything more comforting?

My husband and kids are grilled cheese purists: straight up American between two slices of whole grain white bread. Don’t get me wrong, I love a classic grilled cheese as much as the others; however, I also like to be a little daring with my mixes and matches too.

One current favorite is grilled cheese on rye bread, with white American cheese and sautéed mushrooms. I get that a couple times a week at my work cafeteria with a cup of their homemade soup – best lunch deal in town at three dollars and change for the meal!

Land O’Lakes and Kitchen PLAY are celebrating National Grilled Cheese Month – April! – by talking about grilled cheese sandwiches for 30 days. They asked if I’d want to contribute a favorite flavor combo to their collection.

30 Days of Grilled Cheese with Land O'Lakes #ad

Um, of course!

With spring upon us, I’ve had fresh, clean flavors on the brain. My initial idea was to create a take on mozzarella caprese, using Land O’Lakes®4 Cheese Italian Blend. But, when I realized that my local grocery store doesn’t carry that particular flavor, and I had a hungry and tired four year old in tow, I had to decide very quickly if a caprese would work with classic American cheese.

Decision: It will work perfectly!

When I make grilled cheese, there are a few rules that always apply:

  •  Use salted butter that’s been softened in the microwave to evenly coat one side of each slice of bread. It’s important that the butter reaches ALL the way to the edges so that the bread gets totally golden and crispy on every square inch of its surface.
  • Cheese needs to hit both sides of the insides of the sandwich – this may mean multiple slices, and that’s definitely okay!
  • NO SMOOSHING. Be gentle with your spatula; there’s no need to flatten the bread. The only, repeat, ONLY exception is a Panini-style grilled cheese.
Land O’Lakes uses only high-quality ingredients to make their cheeses smooth and creamy – the perfect melty consistency for a grilled cheese sandwich. They have also supported the “farm to table” concept for over 90 years, because – get this – Land O’Lakes is a farmer-owned cooperative that consists of independent farms, both large and small. I love that!

And don’t miss this: Now through May 1, Land O’Lakes will donate $1 to Feeding America via Pin a Meal. Give a Meal. Visit their Pinterest board for all the details!

Grilled Cheese: American Caprese on Whole Wheat

 How to make a grilled cheese sandwich

Prep: 5 minutes | Cook: 8 minutes | Serves: 1

2 slices Italian-style whole wheat bread
2 tablespoons salted butter (maybe a little more), softened
1/2 Roma tomato, sliced thin
3 basil leaves, chiffonade

Warm a medium skillet over medium heat while you prep the grilled cheese sandwich.

Butter each bread slice evenly on one side only. Place a slice, buttered side down, into the preheated skillet. Add a layer of cheese, then a single layer of tomatoes, followed by basil and another layer of cheese. Top all of that with the second piece of bread, buttered side up.

Let the grilled cheese cook for 4 minutes. Use a spatula to gently flip the sandwich, give it a slight press (don’t squish it!), and then let it cook for another 4 minutes.

The cheese should be gooey and melty, and the bread should be golden and crispy around the edges. If not, give the grilled cheese 1 more minute on each side, or until it’s done the way you want.

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Let the grilled cheese sandwich rest for 1 minute, then use a sharp knife to cut it in half. Enjoy it by itself, or with a cup of your favorite soup.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Land O’Lakes as part of the Kitchen PLAY Sidecar series. All opinions given are my own!

Easy Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

Easy Creamy Scalloped Potato Recipe

I believe I could eat potatoes every day of the year.

I’m not sure my family would agree.

I mean, my son practically wretches at the sight of a potato – unless its form is that of a French fry. It’s true;  I’m not kidding. How does that even happen? Don’t all kids eat their weight in mashed potatoes? Not this one.

And my husband and daughter like a little variety in their dinner regime. Imagine.

So, there you have it. I manage one potato dish a week. Sometimes if I’m extra crafty, I can sneak in two.

That’s where scalloped potatoes come in to play. Not your everyday mashed or baked; a break from plain old herb roasted.

Creamy, cheesy, baked dish of yum.

So, there you go.

Easy Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4
  • 3 medium white potatoes
  • ½ stick salted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • ¼ cup freshly chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 green onions, diced
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Thinly and evenly slice the potatoes (use a mandolin if you have one).
  3. Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour until the mixture becomes creamy, and then let it cook for another minute. Pour in the milk all at once, add the garlic salt and pepper, and then continue whisking until the sauce becomes thick and bubbly. Remove the pan from heat, then stir in the Parmesan until it's melted through.
  4. Spoon just enough sauce to coat the bottom of a 1-1/2 quart baking dish. Place one thin layer of potatoes on top, then sprinkle them with sea salt, green onions and parsley. Pour more sauce on top (about ½ cup) and then repeat the layers until you're left with sauce as the last layer. Sprinkle a little more parsley and pepper on top.
  5. Cover the casserole tightly, and bake it for 30 minutes. Uncover it, then continue baking for another 15 minutes, or until the scalloped potatoes are golden on top and bubbling.
  6. Let the potatoes rest for 5 or 10 minutes before serving.



Orecchiette Pasta with Parmesan & Pistachios

Orecchiete with Parmesan and Pistachios

So, I’m cruising along, putting together my weekly American Food Holiday post the other day and I stumbled upon a recipe.

A recipe whose main ingredient is pistachio nuts.

Now lemme tell you. I can barrel through a bag of salted pistachio nuts – shells on – in less time than it would take the average person to, well, do almost anything. They are goooooood.

The thought of marrying pistachios with pasta seems divine (perhaps only trumped by pistachios and chocolate, but pretty much anything is better with chocolate, right?).

Orecchiete with Parmesan and Pistachios

I found the recipe in question on the blog Wishes and Dishes, and Ashley (from that blog) found the recipe in a cookbook called The Frankies Sputino – Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual. Are you ready?

Orecchiette with Parmesan & Pistachios
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6
  • 1 pound dry orecchiette
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1-1/2 cups salted pistachios, roughly chopped (Tip: buy them already shelled!)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons freshly chopped mint
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan & Romano cheeses
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup reserved pasta water
  1. Fill a large pot with water, add the salt and then bring it to a boil.
  2. Add the orechiette and cook until it’s al dente, about 11 minutes, then drain it. Don’t forget to save ½ cup of pasta water before draining the orecchiette! Add the pasta back to the pot and reduce the heat to low.
  3. Combine the olive oil, garlic, mint, cheese and pistachios in a mixing bowl, then add the mixture to the orecchiette along with the pasta water. Keep stirring until it’s mixed well and a creamy sauce starts to develop.
  4. Fold in the onions, and then serve the pasta warm with extra cheese and mint for garnish.

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