Corn Alfredo Sauce

Corn Alfredo Sauce with Penne and Chicken

I love watching cooking shows (I’m sure you aren’t surprised), including Chopped.  I am always amazed by the random mix of ingredients in the baskets and the creative recipes that the chefs create.  I guess that is why I just had to try the Chopped contest sponsored by Del Monte and Food Network.  The virtual basket included fresh lemon, fresh basil, feta cheese, and one can of Del Monte corn. I had a few ideas that came to mind, but one I wanted to try was a Corn Alfredo served over Penne and Chicken.

corn alfredo sauce

  I replaced some the cream and flour typically used in an alfredo sauce with pureed corn, which also was a great way to sneak in some veggies. The alfredo sauce was seasoned with fresh lemon zest and feta to create a fresh and unique sauce that wowed my family.  I made a simple dish by tossing it with pasta and chicken, and then garnished it with fresh basil and black pepper. 

My recipe ended up in the middle of the gallery of entries for the contest.  Just browsing the submittals makes me hungry.  I can’t wait to try some of these other corn inspired dishes!

Corn Alfredo Sauce

Corn Alfredo Sauce with Penne, Chicken, and Basil

1 ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
15.25 ounce can of Del Monte Whole Kernel Corn, drained
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 pound penne pasta, cooked and drained
1 cup chopped, pre-cooked chicken
0.25 ounces fresh basil chiffonade
Black pepper for garnish

To make the corn alfredo sauce, place  whipping cream, corn, and lemon zest in a medium sized sauce pan and use an immersion blender to process until smooth.  Heat over medium heat until it reaches a simmer, then stir in feta cheese. Use the immersion blender again to process until smooth, then bring the sauce back up to a simmer. Place the pasta in a large bowl, remove the sauce from the heat and pour over the pasta.  Add the chicken, and stir until the pasta and chicken are coated with the corn alfredo sauce.  Garnish with the fresh basil and a dusting of black pepper and serve.


Smoked Salmon Alfredo

Smoked Salmon Alfredo

This week I had a taste for lox and all of the typical accompaniments – tomatoes, cream cheese, onions, etc.  But instead of making a breakfast spread, I turned it into a Smoked Salmon Alfredo. 

Smoked Salmon Alfredo

The cream cheese was blended into a smooth sauce for spaghetti, which served as the base for my other mix-ins.  The star of the entree is the smoked salmon, which is broken into chunks and scattered through the dish. Even my husband (who isn’t super fond of a pasta-seafood combo) loved it. I hope you enjoy this spin on a classic just as much!

smoked salmon alfredo

Smoked Salmon Alfredo

8 ounces cream cheese
4 ounce half and half
1 lb spaghetti
8 ounces baby tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup diced green onions
½ cup diced red onion
6 ounces smoked salmon, broken into chunks


In a small sauce pan, place the cream cheese and half and half and simmer over medium heat until the cream cheese is melt; stirring frequently.  While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to package directions. During the last minute of pasta cooking, add the tomatoes to the water with the pasta.  Drain the pasta and tomatoes and add to a large bowl.  Stir the salt and pepper in to the cream sauce, and pour the sauce over the pasta and stir to coat.  Add the green onions, red onions, and smoked salmon to the pasta, stir to evenly mix and serve.


Hot&Spicy Hero Salad

Hot and Spicy Hero Salad

My latest cooking contest challenge was to use any one of the Fortune Asian noodles in a cold salad or casserole for their Blogger Recipe Challenge. I chose to go with their Hot & Spicy noodles for a cold salad creation, hoping to capitalize on the built in flavor of the sauce.  After some kitchen tinkering this Hot & Spicy Hero Salad was born, which is a cold salad version of the classic hero sandwich.

Hot&Spicy Hero Salad

The salad is stocked full of colorful mix-ins that add tons of flavor: mild pepper rings, pimentos, red onions, tomatoes, baby spinach, mozzarella, and chicken.  The star of the salad is the hot & spicy sauce, which is used in the dressing as well as in to cooking of the noodles.

Hot&Spicy Hero Salad

While this may sound complicated, it is really easy to put together.  The Fortune brand noodles are precooked and only take an additional 3-4 minutes to prepare. Similarly, the popcorn chicken pieces only take a few minutes to cook, which means cooking really only consists of a bit of chop and stir time.

Hot and Spicy Hero Salad

Hot&Spicy Hero Salad

Fortune has many other noodles to choose from, and some other great recipes being submitted for the contest.  You can find the recipes and other details on JSL food’s facebook page or their twitter page.  Many big grocery stores carry the Fortune noodles, including Safeway, Albertson’s, Shaws, Star Markets, Tom Thumb, and Target. I encourage you to give them a try!

Hot and Spicy Hero Salad

½ cup mayonnaise
One 7.7 ounce package of Fortune Brand Hot & Spicy Yakisoba stir fry noodles
4 ounces frozen popcorn chicken pieces
½ cup diced red onion
½ cup quartered baby tomatoes
¼ cup jarred mild pepper rings, drained
¼ cup jarred pimentos, drained
2 ounces fresh baby spinach
¾ cup shredded mozzarella


Place the mayonnaise in a small bowl, then add two teaspoons of the sauce package from the noodles, reserving the remainder of the sauce package.  Stir the mayonnaise until the sauce mix is completely incorporated; set aside.  Place the noodles and the remaining sauce in a microwave safe bowl along with ¼ cup of water.  Microwave on high for 4 minutes, stir, then drain and let cool. Place the popcorn chicken pieces on a microwave safe plate and microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Once cooked, cut chicken into bite size pieces.  Roughly cut the noodle in quarters then add to a large bowl, along with the red onion, tomatoes, pepper rings, and pimentos.  Pour the mayonnaise over the noodles and stir to coat. Add the spinach, chicken, and mozzarella and stir gently until everything is coated with the dressing and the ingredients are mixed.  Divide between two plates and serve.


Broccoli Pesto

Fusilli Primavera with Broccoli Pesto

In April I wrote about coming up with creative ways to eat broccoli,  setting a goal of discussing seven different recipes.  Today I want to discuss four more ideas to bring the tally to seven.

First up is my most creative twist – Fusilli Primavera with Broccoli Pesto.  I subbed in steamed broccoli for basil to create a unique and tasty pesto.  It worked great as the sauce for a primavera style pasta that was stocked full of baby tomatoes and summer squash.

Broccoli Pesto

Broccoli Pesto

The next kitchen experiment used a grocery store find I have been waiting to try – sriracha powder. Blanched broccoli and honey roasted peanuts get a kick from a light sriracha mayonnaise dressing.

Sriracha Broccoli Salad

Third up is flash fried broccoli. I used my recipe for flash fried Brussels sprouts, though you only need to fry the broccoli for 2-3 minutes to get a crisp exterior.  This was just as much of a hit with my husband as the fried Brussels sprouts.

Flash Fried Broccoli

As the seventh and final way to eat broccoli in a week I’d be remise if I didn’t go with the classic crudité plate. My dipping sauce these days for fresh broccoli is a poblano ranch dressing.

Phew! Seven different ways to eat broccoli in a week.  Now you are either sick of broccoli or an addict.

Fusilli Primavera with Broccoli Pesto

¾ lb fusilli
½ lb fresh broccoli
½ cup pine nuts
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup grated pecorino-romano cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped baby tomatoes
1 yellow squash, chopped

Cook fusilli according to package directions.  Meanwhile, steam the broccoli for 5 minutes.  Add the steamed broccoli to a food processor and process until finely chopped.  Add the pine nuts and process until mixed, then with the food processor running, pour in the oil.  Scrap down the sides of the food processor if necessary, and blend until smooth.  Remove the bowl from the food processor and stir in the pecorino, salt, and pepper.  One the pasta is done, drain and place in a large bowl.  Pour the pesto over the pasta and stir to coat.  Add in the tomatoes and the squash, stir until combined and serve.

Broccoli Pesto

Sriracha Broccoli salad

½ lb fresh broccoli
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sriracha powder
¼ cup honey roasted peanuts

Blanch the broccoli,  drain and place in a large bowl.  In a separate small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise and sriracha powder until a smooth sauce is formed.  Pour over the broccoli, add the peanuts and stir to coat.  Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


Lucky Pasta by Experimental Epicurean

Lucky New Year Penne Pasta

The start of the New Year brings renewed, optimistic goals in addition to wishes of good will for family and friends. As I mentioned in last year’s lentil salad post, there are some food dishes that are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day as a symbol of good luck. One such dish is a combination of black-eyed peas, greens (such as collard greens or another leafy item), and a pork item, such as bacon. While the history of the tradition may be a bit murky, and its true impact on good fortune untraceable, I embrace the opportunity to consume a food item that I haven’t thoroughly explored – the black eyed pea.

Instead of making a traditional Hoppin’ John or salad, I opted for a pasta dish, which I have dubbed Lucky New Year Penne Pasta. I also swapped collard greens for chard and ham hock for prosciutto for an Italian rendition of the prosperity trio.

Lucky Pasta by Experimental Epicurean

I added the black eyed peas to my pasta water prior to the pasta, to make sure they had extra time to soften, and I added the chard at the last minute of cooking to just barely wilt the greens. The pasta gets smothered in a lemon butter sauce that is flavored with onions, prosciutto, basil, and pecorino Romano, giving it a fresh and light taste.

My exploration of a newer food – the black eyed pea – made me realize that I should use it more often. It has a mild taste, which means that it can easily be masked by stronger ingredients while offering a budget friendly way to add needed protein and fiber.

Lucky Pasta by Experimental Epicurean

Whether you try my Lucky New Year Penne Pasta, sample another unique black eyed pea dish (such as this curry from Strength and Sunshine), or opt out of “lucky” dishes all together, may your New Year bring success and happiness!

Lucky Pasta by Experimental Epicurean


Lucky New Year Penne Pasta

4 ounces frozen black eyed peas
12 ounces gluten free penne pasta
1/2 cup butter, divided
1 cup diced, yellow onion
½ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon Salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 cups chopped green chard
4 ounces diced prosciutto
½ cup Pecorino romano (plus more for serving)

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add the black eyed peas and boil for 10 minutes. Add the pasta and boil for an additional 11-13 minutes, or until tender. While the pasta is cooking, melt ¼ cup of butter in a non stick pan, and add onions. Saute onions for 8-10 minutes, or until just begin to brown. Add the remaining butter, lemon juice, dried basil, salt and pepper to the onions and bring to a simmer. During the last minute of cooking for the pasta, add the chard, then drain the pasta once the chard has wilted and turned vibrant green; transfer to a large bowl. Add the prosciutto to the butter sauce, saute for 1 minute, then pour over the pasta and stir to coat. Sprinkle on the pecorino Romano and stir to coat. Serve with additional pecorino Romano, if desired.

Lucky New Year Pasta


Spinach Lasagna

The dish that is the best blend of my mom’s and my mother-in-law’s cooking is my Spinach Lasagna. Pasta is a family favorite at my in-law’s house, and lasagna is at the top of the list. This recipe is their typical starting point, serving as the canvas for a variety of fillers.


The first tweak I made to the recipe was the cheese filler. Growing up, my mom always made a lighter version of lasagna using cottage cheese instead of ricotta. I have grown to prefer the cottage cheese, since the end result is not overly rich and has the benefit of boosted protein. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a light lasagna, since I tend to go heavy on the mozzarella (I may use more than the called-for pound of cheese. Occasionally. OK, maybe more than occasionally).

Spinach Lazagna

The second tweak I have made is to the timing of the uncovered portion of cooking. I have found that extending the uncovered portion of the baking time results in the perfect amount of browning of the cheese, and a less watery lasagna. This time may vary for different ovens, so make sure you check your lasagna frequently the first time you make it.

Spinach Lazagna

Spinach Lazagna

When my husband and I are missing home, Spinach Lasagna is an easy solution for dinner. For now, the dish makes enough for 2 dinners. However, as our two-year-old-going-on-linebacker gets older I fear I’ll have to make multiple pans to satisfy our family.

Spinach Lasagna

12 uncooked lasagna noodles
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 large egg
24 ounce container of low-fat cottage cheese
1 lb frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 jar of your favorite red pasta sauce
1 lb shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375 °F. If not using oven-ready noodles, cook and drain the noodles according to the package directions. Mix the Italian sesasoning and the egg into the cottage cheese. Lightly coat the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish with some of the pasta sauce. Place 4 of the noodles on the bottom of the dish, then spread half of the cottage cheese mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle half of the spinach over the cottage cheese, then 1/3 of the sauce, and ¼ of the cheese. Repeat the layering, then top it off with the last four noodles, remainder of the sauce, and the rest of the cheese, in that order. Bake for 45 minutes uncovered or until cheese begins to brown and then 15 minutes covered (or difference of an hour). Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving.

Note: I have found lasagna sets-up even better if cooked a day ahead. Once cooled, refrigerate until ready to serve, then re-heat individual slices.


Squash Spaghetti

Eat your vegetables! I’m sure we can all name one (or two) people whom frequently need this reminder. Sometimes I am looking for a way to make encourage my kids to each more vegetables, and other times I am just looking for a way to create a tasty & light side dish that delights mature eaters.

I have been intrigued by the idea of squash spaghetti and decided to give it a whirl. I cut zucchini and yellow squash into spaghetti-like ribbons (you can use a julienne peeler, as pictured below, or another specialty too like this which produces more fettuccine like ribbons).


Surprisingly, raw squash spaghetti is the best tasting. I have tried a quick saute, but it seemed to enhance the squash/almost pumpkin-like flavors that didn’t go over well with my family.  That’s fine with me since the raw noodles are (1) quicker, (2) creates less clean-up, and (3) healthier.


 I simply tossed my “noodles” with some sun-dried tomatoes, a bit of Caesar salad dressing, and a bit of pecorino-Romano cheese.



Squash Spaghetti

1 lb zucchini and yellow squash (about 4 medium-sized squash, 2 of each kind)

½ cup Caesar salad dressing

½ cup sundried tomatoes, drained

½ cup shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese

Using a julienne peeler or vegetable spiral slicer, create raw noodles from both the zucchini and yellow squash (you should have ~8 cups of noodles). Place in a large bowl and stir in the salad dressing and sundried tomatoes. Refrigerate until ready to serve, then divide between 4 plates and evenly sprinkle the cheese over the pasta.


Skinny Chicken Tetrazzini

One of the comfort food and potluck staples I’ve come to enjoy is chicken tetrazzini. The creamy sauce is hard to resist, yet it is not easy on the waistline. But what is the best way to make this dish in a healthier manner? My friend Kim Van Dunk of Life in the Van was the first to get my wheels spinning for this recipe. She has created an award winning pot pie which uses cauliflower as a main part of the sauce. What an inspiration! I had tried the popular cauliflower pizza crust (a pinterest favorite) last year and knew if was possible to make cauliflower taste like, well . . . not cauliflower.

This nugget of a recipe idea was in the back of my mind when I cleaned out my desk over the New Year’s holiday break. I found I had saved this recipe from Cooking Light which gave me the idea to use evaporated milk and cream cheese to round out the flavor of my sauce, without losing consistency.


The last inspiration was from a recent church potluck. Susan’s tetrazzini included pimentos, which gave it a beautiful pop of color and extra bit of flavor.


The end result was a delicious tetrazzini that wowed even my cauliflower-hating husband. If that doesn’t sell you on trying this skinny chicken tetrazzini, then hopefully the photos will!


Skinny Chicken Tetrazzini

2 lb cauliflower, leaves removed and cut into pieces (~ 5cups florets)
6 oz evaporated milk
4 oz cream cheese
1 teaspoon onion powder
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground thyme
2 tablespoons butter
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
12 oz fettuccini
3 cups precooked shredded chicken (~3/4 lb)
½ lb frozen peas
4 oz jarred pimentos, drained
½ cup shredded Parmesan
¼ cup Italian bread crumbs

Place the cauliflower in a large pot and cover with water. Boil over medium heat until florets are soft, about 15 minutes. Drain and add the cooked cauliflower to a food processor. Process until finely chopped, then add the evaporated milk and cream cheese and process until smooth. Stir in the onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and ground thyme; set aside.
Heat the butter in a large sauté pan and add the sliced mushrooms. Sauté until golden brown.
While the mushrooms are cooking, cook the fettuccini according to the package directions, drain and add to a large bowl.
Preheat oven to 375 °F and spray a 13-inch x 9-inch casserole pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Add the cooked mushrooms, chicken, peas, and pimentos to the fettuccini and stir to mix. Pour the cauliflower sauce over the pasta mixture, stir to coat and then pour into the casserole pan. Evenly sprinkle the top of the pasta with the Parmesan and bread crumbs, then place in the oven. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes, or until heated throughout and the cheese begins to brown.
Remove from the oven and serve.

P.S.  I made this recipe with gluten free noodles and amazingly they didn’t get hard.  Don’t be afraid to try this gluten free!


Orrechiette with Sundried Tomatoes and Porcini

This pasta looks scrumptious, doesn’t it? You might be surprised to find it is a macaroni & cheese food hack.

I’m not going to lie – some weeks are really busy. At the end of an extra long work week (or day) I’d rather spend my evening playing with my kids than whipping up something elaborate in the kitchen. You might even get a deer-in-the-headlights stare when you ask what is on my menu for the weekend. Sometimes I stall my answer, since a truthful response might include either (1) macaroni & cheese or (2) an easy staple, which in this house means tacos, rotisserie chicken, or a loaded salad.

The first option is a sure kid pleaser, and there is no denying the ooey goodness of boxed varieties. Plain macaroni & cheese, however, doesn’t quite feel adult. That is why this recipe is a good compromise between a creamy packaged treat and grownup flavors of porcini and sun dried tomatoes.


I started by preparing a box or my favorite creamy white cheddar macaroni & cheese, which happens to be Annie’s, per the package instructions.


Once it was done, I stirred in some rehydrated porcini, as well as some sundried tomatoes and thyme, creating a dressed-up dish that can be prepared in the same amount of time as the plain version.

I grudgingly shared the dish with my husband, since I’m pretty sure I could have eaten it all by myself in one sitting.


I guess admitting that you are serving macaroni & cheese for dinner can be a good thing!

Orrechiette with Sundried Tomatoes and Porcini

6oz package of Creamy White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese
butter and/or milk per package instructions
½ cup sundried tomatoes (packed in oil), drained
½ oz dried porcini, rehydrated per package instructions and drained
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Prepare the macaroni & cheese per the package instructions, then stir in the remaining ingredients and enjoy!