Let’s Picnic!

Summer is finally here, and this means more outdoor activities and adventures. One of the best things about summer living is the picnic / BBQ. Whether with family or friends (or both!), a delightful summer picnic can be fun and easy to prepare and enjoy!

For ease and convenience, dishes assembled ahead of time (such as salads, slaws, deserts, etc) are always a good choice. Along with these classics, platters with assorted cheeses, sliced melons, chilled grapes, berries or nuts make an ideal arrangement. Prepared sandwiches are a perfect portable and packable offering and can be a great way to use up leftover meats and vegetables.

Other vegetables, such as carrots, celery, radishes & bell peppers pair well with a hummus, herb dip or other dip of your choice. Don’t forget that crunchy cucumber slices or spears work well with a dip, or even just plain!

When it comes to the grill, feel free to expand beyond the classic meats and corn. Have you tried grilled watermelon wedges? Just grill the wedges for two minutes per side, then drizzle them with a mixture of honey & lemon or lime juice for a delectable treat! Grilling extracts fruits’ natural sugar by caramelizing the surface, so feel free to experiment. Other ideas you might try: grilled peaches, bananas or even berries (although you’ll want to put the berries in aluminum foil so they don’t fall through the grill).

For refreshing summer beverages, your imagination is the limit. From juices to spritzers, wine, sangria, cocktails & beer, as long as it’s cold and tasty, it’s sure to be a hit. Classic lemonades can be taken to a whole new level with the addition of your favorite berries & fruits – you can even puree these and used as ice cubes – try honeydew, watermelon, cantaloupe, kiwi or mango. If you have any fresh thyme sprigs from your garden, try adding some fresh lime juice & crushed thyme, using a sprig of thyme as a garnish.

What’s on your picnic menu? Let us know – we’d love to hear your suggestions and ideas!

Enjoy folks!

Marin Mama Cooks Broccoli Lemon Pasta

Looking for an easy, family friendly, one-bowl pasta dish?  Look no further because this pasta fits the bill.  This is my weekly go-to pasta because it’s super easy to make (I could literally make this blindfolded) and it’s a one-bowl meal. It’s one of those pastas that my kids request often and I happily make.  It’s our family’s favorite comfort food.

Zoe often brings the leftovers to school for lunch and I now have to pack a huge container as all her friends all want a forkful 🙂  This pasta is the dinner of choice at all sleepovers.  You have to believe this is good if a bunch of 12 year olds are preferring a bowl of broccoli pasta to pizza!
Broccoli Lemon Pasta:

recipe from Barefoot Contessa
serves 6

  • 4 broccoli heads – use as much broccoli as you want here, the more the merrier
  • 1 box of your favorite pasta – we like to use cellentani
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 2 garlic cloves)
  • zest of 1 to 2 lemons  – the recipe calls for the zest of 1 lemon but we like to use 2
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • freshly ground pepper (for the grown ups)
  • optional – 1/4 cup toasted pinenuts

I love to prep all my ingredients ahead of time so they are ready to go when needed.  Wash and chop up the broccoli into small florets, zest the lemon/lemons, mince the garlic and squeeze your 1 tablespoon lemon juice; set aside in small bowls.  I put the lemon zest and minced garlic into the same bowl because they both get used together later.  Get out a small glass measuring cup and add the 2 teaspoons of salt and set aside.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil for the pasta.
Put your broccoli in a steamer over about and inch of water (or however you steam your broccoli), you can also blanch the broccoli in the boiling pasta water for about 3 minutes if you want.  Put the lid on and steam away.  I like to steam my broccoli while the pasta water is cooking so I get it out of the way.  We like our broccoli to be a bit underdone so it has a bit of a crunch.  You want to make sure not to overcook or undercook it.  Once my broccoli is cooked, I pour it in a bowl and put it aside.
Meanwhile, while the pasta is cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium low heat.
Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and lemon zest and cook for about 1 minute.
Pour this mixture into the glass measuring cup (that the salt is in) and then add in the tablespoon of lemon juice, mix the ingredients together.
Once your pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the bowl that the broccoli is in.  Add the lemon mixture (see above) and mix everything up together really well so all the pasta and broccoli is coated with the lemon mixture.
Serve the pasta up into individual bowls.  I make sure that each bowl gets a good amount of broccoli and then I add the pasta.  I top the kids pasta off with some freshly grated parmesan and I add freshly ground pepper and toasted pine nuts to John’s & my bowl.
The pepper just adds a bit of flavor and the pine nuts add a nice nutty crunch.

 The broccoli tastes amazing as the lemon gives it such a nice flavor and takes away the bitterness.  I can honestly say that I’m not the biggest broccoli fan when it’s just steamed, but I can eat a whole bowl of broccoli when its made this way.
You might even want to make this lemon sauce and just add it to a mess of broccoli one night.

My kids rate this dish a 10!
I hope this pasta becomes a family favorite in your house.

Did you know that organic broccoli is on sale this week at Paradise?  It’s the perfect reason to give this recipe a try.

Check out my blog at Marin Mama Cooks for more great family friendly and healthy recipes.

Marin Mama Cooks Recipe: Kale Salad

lacinato kale salad

I know this photo is not quote on quote “food porn” quality or pinterest worthy, but I guarantee it’s tastebud worthy.  It’s so tastebud worthy that I was literally licking the bowl after this salad.  I never thought I would be licking the bowl of a kale salad, but I was licking this one, seriously!  Who am I these days?  When did I start getting excited over kale of all things?  You won’t even realize that you’re eating kale as the garlic and lemon take away the bitterness of the kale.  You might surprise yourself and find that you just ate a whole head of kale with this salad.
I was interviewed the other day for the Marin IJ and the first question that the interviewer asked me was, “what’s your obsession with kale’?  I laughed, (you know that kind of snicker laugh that John Travolta does in the movie Grease) because I honestly didn’t think I was obsessed with kale.  I mean I have a few kale recipes posted, but nothing to over the top.  Do six recipes equate a kale obsession?
So, I did the phone interview the other day, and today the photographer is coming over to take the pictures for the paper.  He is going to photograph me while I make this salad and my sausage skillet pizza (see photo below).  I’m a bit nervous about being photographed cooking as I am not a pretty gal when I am cooking.  I get all flustered and crazy messy as I am constantly using my apron and clothes as a towel.  This time I have to look pretty and relaxed while cooking.  I’m not sure I can pull that off.
So let’s get back to this salad.  I made this for lunch on Monday because I had too much birthday cake over the weekend as we celebrated Zoe turning 12.  I wanted to do a mini Monday cleanse, so I made this salad for lunch and then paired it with some of my cauliflower soup for dinner.  I couldn’t have been happier and my body was thanking me for this mini cleanse.
This salad pairs with just about anything because the dressing is so simple.  It’s also a great make-ahead salad.  I made it in the morning and had some for lunch then refrigerated it and had some for dinner as well.  It’s the perfect bring to work salad because it gets better as it sits.  Do you hear this Yvonne?  Here is a salad you can bring to work!   Yippee!
Lacinato kale salad
Recipe adapted from Dr. Weil
  • 1 bunch Lacinato/dinosaur kale, large stems removed, thinly sliced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch of salt & pepper, to taste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste – If you don’t like things spicy you can omit the red pepper.  I loved it though.
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese – you can use more or less here, it’s up to you.  I used about 2/3 cup as I love cheese!
Ok, I thought I would treat you all to some step-by-step photos for de-stemming kale as well as cutting it into thin strips.  Thank you to Cathie for photographing me 🙂
Grab a stalk of freshly washed and dried kale, holding it by the stem with one hand while placing the pointer or middle finger and thumb of your other hand around the stem just above the leaves.  Pull your fingers along the stem, tearing the leaves off.
 See how easily the leaf pull away from the stem?
Here is how to cut your kale into thin strips.  You can also use this technique for any sort of lettuce and herbs.  Take the kale leaves and lay them on top of one another and then roll them up tightly.
 Take your knife and slice the kale into thin strips until you get to the end.
Aren’t the kale slices so pretty?
Throw your kale slices into a large bowl.
This recipe calls for the juice of one lemon.  Now, if I was to hand squeeze the juice out of a lemon, I would not get ton’s of juice, but when I use my hand juicer below, I get an ample amount of juice. I would highly recommend picking one of a hand juicer.  You can literally find them anywhere from your local kitchen supple store to your grocery store.
Now lets move onto the dressing.
Whisk together in a small bowl or glass measuring cup the following:
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch (or more to taste) of red pepper flakes
Make sure to whisk the ingredients together well.
Pour the dressing over the kale and mix well so that all the kale absorbs the dressing.  I actually massaged my kale a bit so the kale really absorbed the dressing.  You don’t have to go crazy massaging this kale salad.  When I say, “massage” your kale, I literally mean, get your hands in there and massage it.
After your kale is well tossed, add 2/3 of the parmesan cheese and toss again.
Let kale rest for at least 5 minutes to an hour.  This salad can be made hours ahead of time, even in the morning.
I think my body and taste buds are both thanking me today, as this salad is uber healthy and uber delish! This is such a simple salad but sometimes it’s the simplest things that turn out the best.
If you’re a fan of kale or just want to try more recipes that include kale, then check out my other kale salad here and my kale smoothies here .
Please let me know how any of these recipes turned out for you.  I would love to hear what you thought of this salad as well. My friend Cathie tried this for the first time the other day (and she is not a kale salad fan). She was amazed that she was eating kale as it tasted so good.  She is now a kale salad fan!
I want to make you one as well if you’re not already!
Have a blissful weekend and please include some kale in your plans 🙂

From Marin Mama Cooks: cheesy baked tortellini & homemade marinara sauce

cheesy baked tortellini & homemade marinara sauce

 Want an easy-peasy weeknight meal your whole family will enjoy?
I bet your saying yes, yes, yes!  
Well, read on, because my whole family loved this meal and I loved it because it was so quick (under 45 minutes) and easy to make.
This is definitely a family and kid friendly meal.  It is cheesy, hence the title, cheesy baked tortellini.  My kids rated this a 10+ dinner, so I am definitely adding it to my list of go-to weeknight dinners.
Life is getting busy around our house, and during this busy time I have to prepare my weekly dinner menu in advance.   Zoe now has lacrosse, dance and cotillion 4 nights during the week so goodbye (for now) to sit-down family dinners, and hello make ahead and easy meals.
On Sundays, I put together a list of potential weekday dinners and also try to cook a two-nighter meal that night.  When life is busy, I don’t want to compromise on eating nutritionally nor do I want us eating takeout every night.  I want to offer my kids their veggies and a fairly balanced and nutritious meal.  To accomplish this, I try and find recipes that I can either make ahead, or that will provide dinner for 2 nights or ones that can be put together in a flash.  I saw this tortellini dish and was excited.  You can throw it together in less than 45 minutes.  You can also make it earlier in the day and re-heat later that evening.   Oh yeah!!!

NOTE:  This recipe called for smoked mozzarella and I topped John’s and mine with that, but I used regular mozzarella on the kid’s dishes.  I had the kids try our pasta with the smoked mozzarella and they preferred the regular mozzarella.  John and I preferred the smoked version, but would of been happy either way.  Regular mozzarella is easier to come by and generally something you would already have in your refrigerator, so feel free to just use that.  

cheesy baked tortellini:
Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis Everyday Pasta
Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 cups marinara sauce – store bought or homemade – I made a homemade version from Giada the day before- Recipe to follow below
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 pound cheese tortellini
  • smoked mozzarella, thinly sliced or shredded – or you can use regular mozzarella cheese- I shredded mine.  The recipe called for 2 ounces, but really, who measures out their cheese?  Just top your dish with the amount of cheese you want.  
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese – I also did not measure this.  I just topped each casserole with some parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the tortellini.  Lightly oil an 8x8x2-inch baking dish or 4 individual gratin dishes.
Below is what mascarpone cheese looks like.  It resembles a soft cream cheese.
In a large bowl, whisk together the marinara sauce, mascarpone cheese, parsley and thyme.
Stir all the ingredients together. Once you mix all the ingredients together, it goes from this beautiful red color above, to this not so pleasant orange color.  I’m not even going to go there an tell you what it reminds me of.
Cook the tortellini until just tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain.  Add the tortellini to the sauce and toss to coat.
 Transfer the tortellini mixture to the prepared baking dish or dishes.  Not a great photo, but you get the step involved.
  Top with the grated parmesan cheese and smoked mozzarella or regular mozzarella cheese.
Cover the dish or dishes with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the cheeses melt on top, about 10 minutes longer.
My kids like brown and crispy cheese, so I put the dishes under the broiler for a few minutes. 

That is it folks!  How easy was that dish to prepare?
I paired this up with a salad for John and I and some broccoli for the kids.
This dish was a two-night meal for my kids and I (not the hungry hubby).  I just covered their leftovers in their gratin dishes and re-heated them in the oven the next day.
I’m actually re-heating up their leftovers as I write this post.
Here they are eating their leftovers!  Happy as clams!

If you want to make your own marinara sauce then you can follow along with me below!

This sauce is great because it can be made day ahead of time and it’s fairly easy to whip up.    The only thing that really takes time is chopping up all the veggies.  This is a wonderful marina sauce that you can use as a base for just about any Italian meal.
Basic Marinara Sauce:
Makes about 2 quarts
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 – 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 dried bay leaves
Prep your ingredients.  Chop up your onions, garlic, carrots and celery.

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 1o minutes.

Add the celery, carrots and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.

Remove and discard the bay leaves.  Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.
Let the sauce cool, and then refrigerate or freeze it.  This sauce freezes very well so I saved 2 cups for the above recipe and froze the remaining amount for a later date.
The sauce may be stored frozen for up to 3 months.

If you don’t want to make your own sauce, use your favorite store bought brand.  I love this one below from Dave’s gourmet.  I use this one when I make my chicken parm.

Easy-peasey family approved week-night dinner!What are your favorite go-to week night dinners?