Panera Mac-n-Cheese

 

Every Friday my kids have a half day of school and one of our favorite things to do is go to Panera for lunch. 9 times out of 10 all of us order the mac-n-cheese. It’s seriously one of the best we have ever had. When I learned that they have the recipe on their website, I jumped for joy. Not only is this one of our favorites to make at home, it’s super easy. It’s just as creamy and full of cheesy goodness like the one you can buy. I’m so happy to be able to make this at home when we have cravings but can’t get out of the house. I know you’ll enjoy as much as we do.

Panera Mac-N-Cheese:

  • 1 (16-ounce) package of rigati pasta (or other small pasta shells)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups 2% reduced fat milk
  • 6 slices white American cheese, chopped
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) shredded extra-sharp white Vermont cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  1. Prepare pasta according to package directions.
  2. Melt butter over low heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute, whisking constantly.
  3. Gradually whisk in milk (or cream); cook over medium heat, whisking until mixture thickens and bubbles. Remove from heat.
  4. Add cheeses, mustard, salt, and hot sauce, stirring until cheese melts and sauce is smooth.
  5. Stir in pasta and cook over medium heat for 1 minute and serve.

Source: Panera

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Baked Penne with Chicken and Kale

Lately, I’ve been all about healthier eating. I am feeling a lot better and even losing weight. But I have to admit that I can’t cut everything out, I must have my baked pasta’s! But who’s to say you can’t eat baked pasta? As long as it’s healthy, go for it! That’s where this recipe comes in.

We really loved this dish. I was so happy to see my kids eat everything including the Kale. Kale is one of those greens that has many nutrients and vitamins. I don’t make it often, but I think that will change. I did omit the red bell pepper, but that’s because my husband can’t eat them. I’m leaving it in the recipe because I’m sure it tastes great in the dish. The recipe also calls for leftover chicken but I didn’t have any. I took chicken breasts and roasted them in an oven for 35 minutes, till they were done and shredded that. All in all, it’s a dish I do plan to make again. I really think you and your family will enjoy this meal.

Baked Penne with Chicken and Kale:

  • 13.25 oz box whole wheat penne pasta
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
  • 2 bunches kale, stems removed and chopped
  • 48 oz ricotta, part skim
  • 1 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 oz Parmesan, finely grated (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups leftover chicken, shredded. (you can roast 2 chicken breasts in the oven at 375 degrees for about 35-45 minutes, till done)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water before draining. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot pot.
  3. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high. Add onion and red bell pepper, cooking until softened, about 5 minutes. Add grated carrot and garlic, cooking another 2 minutes. Add kale, toss, and cover, turning off the heat and letting sit for 5 minutes. Transfer to the pot with pasta.
  4. Stir in ricotta, lemon zest and juice, hot sauce, 1/2 cup Parmesan, chicken, and reserved pasta water. Season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to baking dish. Top with remaining Parmesan. Bake until bubbly and the top golden brown, 30 minutes.

Source: Slightly adapted from Foodie Bride

Pasta Salad with Arugula and Sun Dried Tomatoes

I’ve been eyeing up this recipe for quite sometime now and decided that it would be great to serve at our 4th of July cookout. The peppery arugula and the sweet sun dried tomatoes really balance out nicely with the tangy dressing. If you make this ahead of time, you will need to freshen it up with a few drops of red wine vinegar and olive oil. The other thing I would recommend would be to wait and add the arugula until you are ready to serve. If added to early, the arugula will begin to wilt from the vinegar dressing. You could even change up the cheese, instead of using provolone, I think feta would go nicely. What’s fun about pasta salads is that you can create or change things to your personal taste.

 

Pasta Salad with Arugula and Sun Dried Tomatoes:

  • 1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed, patted dry and minced
  • 2 tbs minced red onion
  • 3 tbs red wine vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 8 ounces whole-wheat penne (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 2 ounces arugula (about 2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup shredded provolone cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 tbs minced fresh parsley
  • 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove minced to a paste*
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  1. Toss the sun-dried tomatoes, onion, 1 tbs of the vinegar, and 1/4 tsp salt together in a large serving bowl; set aside.
  2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and 1 tbs salt and cook, stirring often, until tender. Drain the pasta, rinse with cold water to cool and drain again thoroughly. Add the cooled pasta, arugula, provolone and parsley to the bowl with the vegetables and toss to combine.
  3. Whisk the remaining 2 tbs vinegar, oil, mustard, garlic, and red pepper flakes together until combined, then pour over the pasta salad and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.
*To make garlic into a paste… Mince the garlic and then sprinkle it with a pinch of salt. Scrape the blade of a chefs knife across the garlic, mashing the garlic into the board. After a few scrapes, the garlic will turn into a sticky paste.

Independence Day Goodies

A lot of us are planning big gatherings with family and friends this weekend. I’ve made a list of dishes that would be perfect for your parties. I’m very excited for the weekend, I am going to be surrounded by family and friends at my new house. We have gotten a lot accomplished and I am now able to start thinking about cooking and my blog again.

I hope everyone has a terrific 4th of July and that you are safe and surrounded by loved ones.

P.S. I am coming up on the 1 year Anniversary of Gina Marie’s Kitchen. I can’t believe it’s been almost a year. To thank you for all the support I am planning a little giveaway to one of my readers. Please stay tuned…

Pasta Mozzarella Salad has all the best summer has to offer.

What cookout would be complete without Baked Beans

Another great use for tomatoes is this Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart

This Potato Salad will be at our cookout this weekend. It’s a must have!

Want some ribs?

Stuffed Strawberries are the perfect 4th of July treat

Another use for berries is this Strawberry and Blueberry Crostata

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chili Cheese Pasta Bake

My husband has started his job 2 hours away from us and once the kids are done with school we will be joining him. Till then, we get to see him on the weekends. I worry about what he would be eating during the week I’m not around. He can cook if he has to, but he’s not comfortable with it. I’ve spoiled him way too much.

So, I’ve been making dinners on the weekends with enough to give him extra for dinners throughout the week. I love finding recipes that are great make-ahead dinners. I doubled this recipe to make sure I had enough for dinner that night and for hubster to have dinner later in the week.  The kids and I really enjoyed it. It had the perfect chili flavor one would expect and the pasta and cheese made it even better. I ended up freezing the dish I set aside for my husband and sent it off with him that way. When he was finally able to get around eating it, he said he loved it. This makes a great make-ahead dinner as it froze really well and tasted even better doing it that way.

Chili Cheese Pasta Bake:

*I doubled this recipe with no issues

  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni or any other twisty shaped pasta
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (85% lean)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 12 oz Colby Jack cheese, shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and add dry macaroni; cook until al dente. Reserve 3/4 cup pasta water and drain pasta. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Using the same large pot, wipe dry and heat over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat until shimmering. Add ground beef and break it up in pieces to brown. Once browned, remove from pot and discard drippings. Set beef aside.
  4. Add remaining oil to the same large pot and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add onions, garlic, red pepper, chili powder, and cumin; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and begin to brown.
  5. Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, brown sugar, reserved 3/4 cup pasta water and beef to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until flavors have blended.
  6. Stir in the cooked pasta, 1/2 cup of shredded cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to a 9×13 baking dish and smooth over with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until the mixture is hot and bubbling.
  7. Remove from oven and sprinkle the top of the dish with the remaining shredded cheese. Return the dish once again in the oven and bake for 5-10 minutes until the cheese begins to melt and brown. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Source: Joelen Blog via Cook’s Illustrated

Italian Pasta Salad

I made this pasta salad for the bridal shower I catered several weeks back. I can’t even begin to stress how easy it is to make and how versatile it is. You can put whatever veggies you want in it; asparagus, mushrooms, cucumber, green onions, yellow squash, etc… I made it so it was vegetarian friendly, but you could add diced ham, pepperoni or salami, if you want.  Try feta cheese instead of cheddar or mozzarella. It’s better made a day ahead of when you want to serve it. I like to keep a little extra of the dressing on the side, so when I’m ready to serve, I toss it with a tablespoon or two of the dressing to freshen it up. I also don’t add the tomatoes till ready to serve, if added to early they won’t taste fresh.

This is a basic pasta salad recipe, take it and add what you want to make it your own.

 

Italian Pasta Salad:

  • 2lbs Pasta (any shapes you want)
  • 3 small zucchini, diced small
  • 2 red or green bell peppers, diced small
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 can black olives, drained
  • 1 8oz block cheddar cheese, diced small
  • 1 8oz block mozzarella cheese, diced small

Dressing:

  • 1 package Good Seasons Italian dressing
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbs water
  • 2 tbs fresh lemon juice
  1. Boil pasta according to package directions, till Al dente. Drain and drizzle with a little olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking, set aside.
  2. In a very large bowl, whisk together the Good Seasoning, vinegar, water and lemon juice. Continue to whisk and slowly pour the oil, till combined.
  3. Add the pasta and all veggies but the tomatoes, to the bowl with half of the dressing, mix to combine; reserve the leftover dressing.
  4. Once the pasta has cooled down, add the cheese and refrigerate till ready to serve. Before serving, add tomatoes and a tablespoon or two of dressing to freshen up the salad.

Source: Gina Marie

Creamy Chicken and Spinach Casserole

I think I might have a new goal; trying to make as many dishes I can out of the America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook. I have made a handful of recipes so far and they all have been really good. The biggest plus is that they are healthier for you. The newest one I tried was the Creamy Chicken and Spinach Casserole. I ended up doubling the recipe to make sure we had enough for everyone and it doubled nicely. The only thing I didn’t double was the spinach. I felt the one box of frozen chopped spinach I had was just enough for the dish. If I would have added another 10 oz box, it would have overpowered the dish. The kids and hubby really enjoyed it and my son had more than his fair share so I’m glad I doubled it.

Creamy Chicken and Spinach Casserole:

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced thin
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbs all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups 1% lowfat milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and chopped coarse. (chopped spinach is also good)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 8 oz whole-wheat penne
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 2 oz)
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat an 8 inch square baking dish with vegetable oil spray and set aside.
  2. Heat 1 1/2 tsp of the oil in a 12 inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken, break up any clumps, and cook until lightly browned but not fully cooked, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the skillet and return medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
  5. Return the chicken with any accumulated juice to the skillet. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute. Off the heat, discard the bay leaf and stir in the Parmesan and lemon juice. Stir in the spinach, breaking up any clumps, until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and 1 tbs salt and cook, stirring often, until almost al dente but still firm to the bite. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
  7. Add the chicken-spinach mixture and reserved cooking water to the pasta and toss to combine. Pour the pasta into prepared baking dish and sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Source: America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook