Veggie Marinara Sauce (cheat)

I love Victoria marinara sauce (so does Chris). There are no scary ingredients (such as chemicals or sugar) in it, but there is olive oil and salt, the two ingredients that I try to avoid in the early stages of this nutritarian diet (I have just finished week 6 so now I can go back to olive oil as a treat! Yay!). This sauce is delicious, it’s the one food that I will not give up entirely.

I thought I would have some whole wheat pasta (I love DeCecco’s 100% whole wheat spaghetti) and wanted to sneak some veggies into the meal. The only hard part is limiting my portion to only 2 ounces of pasta… this is why adding more veggies is so important! Kids would definitely love this. It’s so yummy and you’d never know there was zucchini in it!


Next time I will definitely add spinach to it, I just didn’t have any on hand.

  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 2 yellow onions, diced small
  • 1 large zucchini (or 2 small), shredded and drained
  • 2 containers cremini mushrooms (about 10 oz each), cleaned and sliced
  • 2 cups baby spinach (I didn’t add this but definitely will next time)
  • One 25 oz. jar Victoria marinara sauce


  • Grate the zucchini using the small shred holes of a box grater. Let it drain in a mesh sieve. While you’re waiting for it to drain, prep other veggies.
  • In a large pan saute (in a little water) the garlic and onion until it starts to get soft. You could also add some red pepper flakes here if you like your sauce spicy.
  • Add the shredded zucchini and cook some of the water out.
  • Then add sliced mushrooms and cook down further, until you don’t see water in the bottom of the pan.
  • Add 1 jar of sauce and simmer on low for 10 minutes until it thickens.
  • Then add baby spinach, stir and simmer for another 5 minutes or until leaves are wilted.

Serve over whole wheat pasta with a big romaine salad on the side. Yum!


Zucchini, onions and mushrooms cooking down


Simmering away…

UPDATE 10/7/13: Tonight I heated up some of the remaining veggie sauce and sauteed 2 bunches of swiss chard with some shallots and then heated them together. This on top of a serving of whole wheat pasta (2 oz dry, 5.2 oz cooked) was sooo delicious! The chard made it  even better. Next time I’ll use three bunches of chard to make a full batch. The sauce really thickened up in the fridge, I guess the zucchini and mushrooms really soak up that liquid, but I liked it even more. I don’t like watery sauces.


Sauce and paste before I mixed them together. Yum!


The red stems and green leaves also add great color to the dish. The zucchini kind of fades during cooking so you don’t see much green from that.




Christmas Eve Dinner (for an army)

This year I tried to cook foods that caterers make so that I could make most of it ahead of time and heat it up right before everyone came over. Everything came out great, but I definitely could have made less! We had 8 for dinner and I made enough for 16!

Menu (what we cooked):

  • Fried Cauliflower (Mom-Mom Tribiano’s recipe)
  • Stuffed Mushrooms (Elaine’s recipe, from Dom DeLuise)
  • Meatballs (Elaine’s Recipe) & Sausage in red sauce
  • Stuffed Shells
  • Chicken Marsala

The cauliflower cannot be made ahead, but everything else was. We bought fresh stuffed shells from Pastosa. Delicious!

I made the meatballs the night before, and prepared and stuffed the mushrooms, but didn’t cook them, just covered them in cling wrap and tin foil. I also Made the chicken marsala the day before, but kept the chicken and sauce separate until I heated them together on Christmas Eve.

The best part? The leftovers on the days after Christmas!!!


Clockwise from bottom: Chicken marsala, stuffed mushrooms, Mom’s torta, fried cauliflower


Clockwise from bottom: Stuffed shells, fried cauliflower, stuffed mushrooms, torta, meatballs

Mom-Mom Trib’s Fried Cauliflower

1 cup of flour
2-3 tablespoons of grated cheese (Chris adds more cheese but doesn’t remember how much, maybe 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (should be like the consistency of pancake batter…not too thin or too thick…so it coats the cauliflower)


Break apart a medium head of cauliflower.  Try to cut all pieces about the same size so they cook evenly.  Add it to boiling water.  Let water return to a boil and boil for about 2 to 3 minutes.  Test cauliflower with a toothpick to see if it is tender but not too soft.  DO NOT BOIL TOO MUCH OR THE CAULIFLOWER WILL BREAK APART WHEN FRYING.  When done, immerse cauliflower immediately in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  You can do this step a day ahead.  After drying on a paper towel or towel, refrigerate cauliflower until ready to fry.
Put 1/2 inch of olive oil and a garlic clove in a large frying pan.  Heat oil until a drop of batter sizzles.  Fry cauliflower until golden brown on all sides, keeping the oil at a sizzle so cauliflower doesn’t get too oily or soggy. We fried it in an electric skillet that cooks a large amount at a time. For Christmas we doubled this, using 2 heads of cauliflower.

Elaine’s and Dom DeLuise’s  Stuffed Mushrooms

These mushrooms are moist and delicious, the secret is adding soy sauce and water to the bottom of the pan as it bakes, and keeping it covered in foil for a long time, much longer than the recipe calls for, only removing the foil once the mushrooms are soft, then allowing them to brown uncovered for a few minutes. I doubled the recipe.

  • 1 lb mushroom, medium-sized
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 -3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons parsley
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Remove stems from mushrooms, and set caps aside.
Chop mushroom stems.
Heat olive oil in a skillet, and brown onions and garlic.
Add mushroom stems, and brown over low heat.
In a bowl, combine onion mixture with egg, bread crumbs, cheese and parsley, and mix well.
Stuff mushroom caps with mixture.
Place mushrooms on a baking dish.
Add soy sauce and water to the bottom of the dish.
Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes 30 minutes until mushrooms are soft .
Remove foil and continue baking until golden brown, about 10 minutes more.


In progress (2 lbs of mushrooms)


Ready to cook, but I covered them and put in the fridge overnight for easy prep. Then toss in the oven.

Elaine’s Meatballs

  • 1-1/2 lb ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 C grated cheese
  • 1/4 C bread crumbs
  • 1 teas. dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped with onion
  • 1 teas. salt
  • 1/2 teas. oregano
  • 1/2 teas. dried sweet basil
  • 1/8 teas. pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil (if you are frying them. If you want to bake them, no oil is
  • necessary.)

Combine all ingredients except oil. Shape into approx. 18 meatballs. Either brown them in oil
in skillet or bake them in a 350 degree oven until brown. Turn them over when brown on first
side and then brown on the other. I baked them through and then put them in the sauce overnight, then heated the sauce with meatballs and baked sweet sausage links on the stove for an hour before eating.

Chicken Marsala (from Cooking with Sugar blog)

This marsala is delicious! I added cornstarch to thicken it, and it did better after reheating. I used 4 lbs of chicken which made two large trays, about 32 pieces. I also quadrupled the sauce recipe. It was a lot of work, took hours to pound the cutlets and cook them (I only had one pan in which to cook them so I repeated the process many times), but it was so good I will definitely make this again. The fresh parsley really freshens it up before serving. We had enough food for everyone to take home lots of leftovers. You can eliminate the prosciutto, just season to bring up the salt levels as necessary, but Marsala wine is salty, so you may not need it.


  • 4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds fillet and pounded thin)
  • 1-8 0z. container of fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ cup of flour, for dredging
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 slices of prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper


On a cutting board, fillet each chicken breast and trim off any fat. Place two pieces of chicken at a time between two pieces of parchment paper as seen in photo below. Pound with a flat mallet, until the cutlets are about 1/4-inch thick.  Set aside and repeat until all the chicken is pounded thin. Put some flour in a shallow dish. Season each side of the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper. Dredge each cutlet lightly on each side with flour.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is nice and hot, brown a few cutlets at a time for 3-5 minutes on each side until golden. Once the chicken is brown, place the pieces in a single layer on a cookie sheet with a rim, or a glass casserole dish. Continue until all the chicken is browned.

Lower the heat to medium and add the prosciutto to the drippings in the pan, sauté for a minute or two until browned. Add the mushrooms, season with a little salt and pepper and sauté until they are nicely browned on each side.  Turn up the heat and pour the Marsala in the pan and boil down for a minute so the alcohol cooks off. Then add the chicken stock and the butter.  Allow it to cook for a minute or two. Pour the sauce over the chicken, cover with foil and place in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes. Remove chicken and sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.

CAT’S TIPS TO PREPARE AHEAD: Sauté and brown the chicken breasts (but don’t cook completely), place them in a baking dish or disposable lasagna pan and cover it with foil. Then cook the sauce separately and set aside in a separate bowl. Refrigerate everything and take it out 40 minutes before company arrives. Then preheat your oven to 350 F, pour sauce over the chicken and cook for 20-30 minutes before serving.

chickenfloured chickencookedbeforesauce marsalacooking saucecookingdown

Pappardelle con funghi

Lots of mushrooms were hiding on the bottom… mmmm….

Lo amo i funghi ! They’re so photogenic and delicious! My sister-in-law Kathy and I share a love of fungus photography.  Family members are always frustrated with my vacation photos because they’re all of fungus and mosses… and a few of Chris, but not me.

Anyway, I ordered 4 packages of mushrooms (2 shitake, 2 chanterelle) and couldn’t wait to make this. I also ordered fresh pappardelle pasta from Fresh Direct. Yay fresh pasta!
I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe. Never a reason to modify his incredible recipes. He keeps everything so simple but everything tastes so amazing. Really makes you appreciate good, fresh food. That said, I didn’t use the red chilies (didn’t have them and Chris can’t have spice anyway).  This delicious dish serves 4 unless Chris is eating with you, then it serves 2.5  🙂

J.O. also had the great tip to buy 14 oz of mushrooms so that after cleaning and trimming it’s down to 9-11 oz (most packaged mushrooms come in 3.5 oz containers so buy 4 packages).

9-11 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (I used shitake and chanterelle this time)
3 tbsp evoo
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1-2 small dried red chilies, pounded or very finely chopped (didn’t use this)
salt and pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 pound pappardelle pasta (fresh!)
small handful grated parmesan (I used pecorino romano, less than a small handful)
handful fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 oz unsalted butter (1/2 stick)

Put pasta pot on stove to bring water to a boil (while you do this prep work and cooking).
Brush off and trim mushrooms, sliced (tear chanterelles in half). Put evoo in very hot frying pan (I used a large nonstick skillet) and add the mushrooms. Fry fast, tossing once or twice, then add garlic and pinch of salt. Continue to fry fast for 5 minutes, tossing regularly. Turn heat off and squeeze in lemon juice. Toss and season to taste.
While cooking mushrooms, cook pasta to al dente, 3-5 min for fresh pappardelle. Drain and add to mushrooms. Add parsley, cheese and butter. Toss gently co coat the pasta. Serve with extra cheese.

Mushroom Ragu (from Giada’s Everyday Italian cookbook)

Yummy! This is a mushroom lover’s dream.  🙂  Really fresh tasting with the parsley in it too. It was a perfect chance to use the wild mushrooms I bought at Wegman’s. I love that store! I’m so hooked.  🙂

Chris and I were drooling the whole time it took to cook (45 minutes!), but he was a great sous chef, chopping everything up so that I could cook it as quickly as possible. Especially helpful since I worked late and we were starving. This even works well for calorie counters, especially since I followed this recipe from her cookbook, which omits the cream, but the Food Network website uses cream (Chica, I added the recipe to Livestrong). I’m sure the cream would have made it super creamy and thick, but better for us that I didn’t use it!

I served it over strozzapretti pasta** (fun). I think it will be even better tomorrow (this is a picture of of the leftovers that I’m saving for tomorrow since I forgot to take a picture of our plates).


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound mixed mushrooms (cremini, oyster, shiitake) chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup Marsala [I used 1 cup following her cookbook recipe]
  • 2 cups chicken broth [can use vegetable broth of course]
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream  [Oddly enough, her cookbook omits this ingredient, so I cooked without it!]
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Parmesan [Cookbook calls for 2/3 cup]


In a large skillet heat the oil. When almost smoking, add the onions and garlic over medium-low heat until the onions have wilted, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Raise heat to high and saute until mushrooms are tender and all the liquid has evaporated. Remove pan from heat and pour in Marsala. Return pan to stove and allow wine to evaporate, about 3 minutes. Add chicken broth and simmer for 1/2 hour until the sauce has reduced by half. Add heavy cream and mix well. Take the pan off the heat and add the fresh herbs and Parmesan and mix thoroughly.

My note: Giada says it serves 6 but it is intended to go over a whole pound of pasta, so I consider that serving 8 (a pound makes 8 cups of pasta). It’s really filling too. I had just 1/8 of it and I was stuffed, but it’s sooo yummy and nothing bad for you anyway, except all of the salt from 2/3 cups of grated cheese! I used pecorino romano.

**Interesting Note: strozzapretti means “priest choker” in Italian!  🙂 Really!