Recipe: Cajun Pasta with Andouille Sausage and Peppers

Serves: 4

Prep. time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Cajun Pasta with Andouille Sausage and Peppers


  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 andouille sausage links, casings removed; pulled apart into small/bite-size pieces
  • 1 yellow or white onion, chopped
  • Red, green, and orange bell pepper (half of each), diced
  • 1-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 dried chili peppers, minced, or a dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Approx. 1-2 cups chicken stock
  • Approx. 1/2 cup white wine
  • Approx. 1/2 to 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • Cajun seasoning blend
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Dried parsley
  • Cornstarch-and-water mixture, as needed
  • Long, semi-wide pasta, like fettuccine or linguine


Bring water to a boil for the pasta. In the meantime, heat some butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat, add the andouille and cook until browned on the outside and no longer pink on the inside, then remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the diced vegetables and chili pepper/pepper flakes to the pan with a little more butter and olive oil, and cook until crisp-tender, then add in the garlic and cook for another minute. Remove the veggie mixture from the pan, bump the heat up a little bit, then add the chicken stock, wine, and a generous heaping of Cajun seasoning and paprika. Let the mixture gently boil, then slowly whisk in the heavy cream. Season as needed with Cajun seasoning, paprika, parsley, salt, and/or pepper, and thicken with cornstarch-and-water if necessary; don’t be afraid to add more liquid to the sauce if it starts cooking down—you don’t want to end up with soup, but you want enough to generously coat the pasta. While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta (or start it earlier if you chose a style that will take longer than 3-5 minutes). When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the veggies and sausage back into the thickened sauce, then add the finished pasta in with the sauce and toss to combine. Serve hot, with a sprinkling of Parmesan on top, if desired.

Cook’s Commentary

This dish is hearty and packed with flavor—spicy, creamy, salty, and meaty—it’s perfect on a cold day but bright and flavorful enough for warm weather too. Andouille sausage has a distinct flavor like no other sausage and Cajun seasoning amps up the flavor. Bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes create a confetti of colors that swirl into the warm, orange-red color of the sauce created through the blending of heavy cream, chicken stock, paprika, and Cajun spices. You’ve gotta get a quality brand/blend of Cajun seasoning to make this dish perfect (I used McCormick and it was pretty good, but I saw some specialty brands at Fresh Market that looked even better), and the right one will make this dish fantastic.


Recipe: Pasta Bolognese

Servings: 2-4

Prep. time: 10-15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy


  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 strips prosciutto, cut into small pieces
  • 6-8 oz. lean ground beef*
  • Approx. 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • White wine (cooking/dry)
  • Marsala wine (cooking/dry)
  • Chicken stock
  • Cinnamon
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 8 oz. pasta**

*I prefer 90-93% lean.

**I used medium shells. Papadelle and other long, wide noodles are great with this sauce, but small pastas, like shells or orchiette, are great too.


Heat a large, nonstick pan over medium-high heat, then add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon to a plate covered in paper towels to drain. Add a little butter and olive oil to the bacon fat in the pan and add the onion and carrot, cooking until tender and fragrant, then add the prosciutto and continue to cook. Add the beef and cook, breaking the meat up as it cooks. Add a splash of marsala and splash of white wine and the garlic and continue to cook, letting the wine reduce and the beef continue to brown and cook. Crumble in the bacon strips and add the tomato paste, stirring to combine, then cook for approx. 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, a little more of each wine, and reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. Add in a pinch of cinnamon (a quick whiff of the sauce should let you know it’s there, but don’t add too much; 1-3 tsp. is probably enough) and paprika (1-3 tsp.), as well as some salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, covered. While the sauce is cooking over low heat, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 6-8 minutes, or until al dente, then drain, and add the finished pasta in with the sauce, tossing to coat. The finished sauce should be a brownish-orange color, scented with cinnamon and paprika, and it should be somewhat thickened.

The sauce, as it's cooking

The sauce, as it’s cooking

Pasta Bolognese

Cook’s Commentary

There are many different ways to make a bolognese sauce—some recipes call for plum tomatoes while others call for just tomato paste, some use ground beef and veal while others use ground beef and pork, some suggest pairing it with long pasta noodles while others encourage the use of smaller pastas—I looked at many of these differing recipes and went my own way. Beef is the bulk of the meat in this dish, while the bacon and prosciutto add a little texture and saltiness to the sauce. Cinnamon and paprika add a heat and sweetness that balances the tanginess of the tomato paste and the salty-savory flavors of the meats. Chicken stock and wine create a sort of brothy sauce that soaks deliciously into the pasta noodles. It’s a hearty meal perfect for cold weather, and the sauce is delectable sopped up on a piece of bread at the end of the meal, and absolutely perfect paired with a red zinfandel or other sweet red wine.

Recipe: Cheesy Polenta with Sausage and Chicken in a Creamy Tomato Sauce


  • Butter and olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2-3 links hot Italian sausage, casings removed, pulled into small pieces
  • 1 chicken breast, cut into small cubes or small slices
  • 1 yellow or white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Approx. 14.5 oz. canned tomato sauce or diced tomatoes*
  • Red wine (cooking wine)
  • Heavy cream
  • Dried basil
  • 1-2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 package instant polenta (serving size at least 4)**
  • Italian cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, Pecorino-Romano, or a mixture)
  • Garlic powder

*I prefer Hunts brand and I used sauce that I had leftover from another dish.

**I used Delallo brand (they’re based in western PA, where I’m from, and have great products). I cooked the entire 9.2 oz. bag and, after John and I each got a serving, there was enough left over for 2-3 more servings.


Heat some butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the chicken and sausage to the pan, season with a little salt and pepper (and garlic powder), and cook for a few minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes and continue to cook until the onions are soft and the meats are cooked through, then add the tomato sauce/diced tomatoes and a splash of red wine. Reduce the heat to medium low, add a little dried basil, then add heavy cream to the mixture and stir it in—the mixture should be a creamy orange-red color (it actually looked almost like an Indian dish to me); 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cream should be enough. Bring water (and chicken stock) to a boil for the polenta (I sub in 1 to 2 cups of chicken stock in place of some of the water—it adds more flavor to the polenta). Towards the end of cooking, stir in some butter, a little heavy cream, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and Italian cheese. Remove from heat—the mixture should be creamy and the add-ins should be well-mixed in. Serve the polenta in bowls, topped with the meat and sauce mixture, topped with a little Italian cheese.


Cook’s Comments

I kind of have this thing for heavy cream—it makes just about everything better (heavy cream to me is a little bit like butter to Paula Deen). A splash in this dish’s tomato sauce adds a velvety texture and rich flavor. A drizzle in the polenta helps keep it smooth and creamy. This is definitely a comfort meal with rich, delicious flavors—the polenta is thick and cheesy and soaks up the creamy tomato sauce (which gets a bit of a kick from the crushed red pepper flakes). My boyfriend suggested adding both chicken and sausage, and, boy, was that a great idea—two great textures and flavors that mix together beautifully. This dish reheats well (I had a lovely lunch of leftovers today) and if you have any extra, plain polenta, you can always cut it into chunks and saute it in butter and serve with another meal.

Recipe: Jalapeno, Bacon, and Chicken Pasta with a White Cheddar Sauce

Last week, I planned out my meals for the week, buying all of my groceries in one go at the beginning of the week and assigning different meals to each day. My plan got a little kink in it at the end of the week when I didn’t end up making the jalapeno-and-cream cheese stuffed chicken I had planned on making and instead used the cream cheese in my lemon and raspberry cheesecake. I also had green onions stashed in the veggie drawer that I had bought for a tuna dish I thought I would be making but couldn’t (due to the fact that my crappy local grocery store never has tuna; I grabbed the green onions before making my way to the fish counter and finding out they hadn’t gotten any tuna in for the day). So, I had jalapenos and green onions to use, plus the cheddar cheese that was called for in the jalapeno-and-cream cheese chicken recipe, plus half of a red onion from another dish I made, plus some heavy cream. I went through my quite common “What can I make with this assortment of ingredients?” routine and settled on making a spicy, cheesy pasta dish with chicken and a little bacon, for good measure. The resulting meal was quite tasty—tender chicken and pasta tossed with crispy bacon, lightly cooked green onion and red onion, jalapenos (minus the seeds, to help cut back on the spiciness), and a light and creamy white cheddar sauce.

Serves: 4
Prep. time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
  • 8 oz. rotini, or other small/short pasta
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into cubes and seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds removed, finely chopped*
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2-1 cup heavy cream
  • Approx. 4 oz. white cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Butter, as needed
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cornstarch-and-water mixture, as needed
*When removing the seeds from the jalapenos, use gloves or whatever is available to cover your fingers so as to avoid getting the seeds and oil on your fingers. The oil in jalapenos is very spicy/hot and stays on your skin for quite some time, even with frequent hand-washing. I made the mistake of not using gloves and I could still feel and taste the jalapeno on my hands after two days. On a related note, if you want more spice in your dish, add in some of the seeds—they’re where the real heat is. 
Heat water in a medium-sized pot over high heat. While waiting for the water to boil, heat a large pan over medium-high heat and add the bacon. Cook until crisp, but not overcooked, and remove to a paper towel-covered plate to drain. Leave the bacon grease in the pan and add the chicken, cooking until golden brown and cooked almost all the way through. When the water in the pot is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package instructions (approx. 10-12 minutes). To the pan with the chicken, add the green onion, red onion, and jalapeno and cook over medium heat until they are tender. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper (and butter, if needed) and reduce the heat to low. Crumble the bacon and add the bits to the veggies and chicken. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, add the heavy cream and heat slowly over medium high heat. Once simmering, slowly whisk in the cheddar cheese and some salt and pepper. Allow the cheese to melt into the cream. Add some cornstarch-and-water mixture if the sauce seems too thin. Cheddar doesn’t always melt very well, so the sauce may not be as smooth as you want, but once mixed with the other ingredients, this isn’t noticeable. When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the chicken and veggie mixture to the pasta and toss to combine. Pour the cheddar sauce over the pasta mixture and toss to combine. Add more salt and pepper, if desired. Serve topped with shredded cheddar cheese.
This dish is a perfect mix of spicy, salty, cheesy, and savory. The cheddar sauce pulls everything together and helps mellow and evenly distribute the heat from the jalapenos. Tender chicken and crispy bacon add a little dose of flavorful protein and the flavors of the green and red onions really kick the dish up a notch. 

Recipe: Hot Sausage and Mushroom Bucatini with a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

My mother was going to some dinner event with friends tonight and I was instructed to “make something your dad likes…you know, spicy, with mushrooms or peppers or whatever.” I took this to heart and made just that: a dish with mushrooms and peppers that was spicy. My dad and I both love heartiness in pasta dishes and red sauces, and this dish offered both. Bucatini, a thick, spaghetti-like pasta noodle with a hole in the center (down its length), is a unique pasta—it’s thick, with a bit of a bite or chew to it, and it always make me think that it’s more “old school” Italian than some of the other, more common pasta shapes on today’s grocery store shelves. My father tells me stories all the time about his Pap making heaping bowls of bucatini for the family and said tonight’s dish brought him right back to those dinners. Using roasted red bell peppers as the base of the sauce added a depth of flavor and a little punch that you don’t get in a plain tomato sauce and hot Italian sausage paired with meaty baby portobella mushrooms add a both meatiness and earthiness to the dish.

Serves: 4
Prep. time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Special equipment: Food processor or stick blender

For the sauce

  • 1, 12 oz. jar roasted red bell peppers, drained
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tbsp. red wine (cooking wine is fine)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • Dash of crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 tbsp. dried basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • Cornstarch-and-water mixture, as needed (this can help thicken the sauce just a little bit)

For the rest of the dish
  • 3 hot Italian sausage links (about 1/4 lb.), casings removed, pulled into small pieces
  • Approx. 1 cup baby portobella mushrooms, cleaned (stems/stalks removed), sliced
  • Approx. 10 fresh basil leaves (I ended up using one small packet of fresh basil from the grocery store), chiffonade cut (long, skinny strips)
  • 1 tbsp. red wine
  • Butter, as needed
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • 1 lb. (16. oz.) bucatini pasta (any other long noodle, like spaghetti or linguine, would work if you can’t find bucatini)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • Italian cheese, as desired
Add the roasted red bell peppers and diced tomatoes to the food processor. Heat a little butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat, then add the onion and cook until tender. Add the garlic and cook for less than a minute, then remove from heat and add the mixture to the food processor. Add the chicken stock, red wine, crushed red pepper flakes, dried basil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to the mixture and blend until fairly smooth and well-blended. Set aside. 
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. 
In the same pan used for the onion and garlic, add a little butter and olive oil and heat over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook until mostly cooked through, then add the mushrooms and a little more butter, reducing the heat to medium. As soon as you add the mushrooms, add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente (10-13 minutes). While the pasta and the mushroom and sausage mixture are each cooking, pour the red pepper sauce into a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Add the cornstarch-and-water mixture if desired, let thicken a bit, and reduce the heat to medium. Let cook for about 5-10 minutes, then pour it into the mushroom and sausage mixture. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder, as desired. 
When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot, then stir the fresh basil into the sauce, mushroom, and sausage mixture and add the mixture to the pasta. Toss to coat. Serve topped with more fresh basil and Italian cheese, as desired. 
This dish is hearty, a little spicy, and absolutely delicious. The size and shape of pasta is incredibly important in Italian dishes and this dish screams for bucatini. This noodle’s thickness is perfect with this relatively thin sauce, and it pairs well with the chunks of sausage and mushroom slices. Cooking the mushrooms in with the sausage allows them to soak up that oh-so-good sausage grease, giving them exceptional flavor. Using roasted red peppers for the base of the sauce makes for a nice change from a traditional tomato sauce—there is a mild spiciness and smokiness in the sauce that makes it ideal with the heat in the sausage. Overall, very very tasty and definitely fit the bill for a dinner that’s “spicy, with peppers and mushrooms and stuff.”

Recipe: Home-Style Meatloaf with Roasted Red Potatoes

Meatloaf seems to be one of those love/hate foods for most people: either it’s something your mom or grandma made for you when you were a kid and it brings back fond memories of tater tots and macaroni art, or it was a dry, gray, tasteless loaf of awful that the lunch lady slapped onto your plate on “Meatloaf Mondays.” It’s not a food you’ll see on most restaurant menus, likely being deemed too “humble” for out-for-dinner diners, and it’s probably not even in your family’s regular rotation of meals, but when it’s actually prepared and cooked well, it’s really quite tasty. The recipe I used for last night’s dinner came from my On Cooking textbook from the intro. culinary arts classes I took in the fall of 2011. A bit of tomato juice keeps the meatloaf moist and a few splashes of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce give it a little kick. Cooked in the oven for an hour, this meatloaf comes out perfectly tender, and the light brushing of ketchup over the top and sides give it great flavor without excess (one of the things I used to think of when I thought about meatloaf was the obs-and-gobs of ketchup that often get mixed in—so gross!). Roasted red potatoes are a little classier than creamy mashed potatoes, and pair perfectly with the flavorful meatloaf.

It’s kind of hard to make meatloaf look attractive, but I swear it’s delicious

Servings: 2, 9×5 loaves; Approx. 4 servings of potatoes
Prep. time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy


  • 1 large onion or 2-3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2-3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. ground beef (I usually go for 93% lean)
  • 1 lb. ground meat of your choice (I used ground venison that my dad brought back from a hunting trip—very very tasty. Ground pork or ground veal would work too. Mixing meats means more flavor.)
  • 3 oz. bread crumbs, fresh or dry
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice (I blended up diced tomatoes because we didn’t have juice on hand)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Approx. 2-3 tbsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • Approx. 10-12 red potatoes, washed and cut into halves or quarters
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Ketchup, as needed

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Heat a splash of olive oil and a pat of butter in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion/shallot, celery, and garlic and cook until tender (approx. 5 minutes). In a large bowl, add the two meats, bread crumbs, tomato juice, egg, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce and mix together until fairly evenly mixed. Add the celery, onion/shallot, and garlic to the meat mixture and mix together. Add salt and pepper, as desired (about 1 tsp. each, or more as needed), and mix. Divide the mixture up into two even batches and either form into loaves and place in ungreased loaf pans, or form into loaves and place in a large shallow pan (there needs to be a bit of an edge to it, because the loaves will release fat as they cook and that’ll drip right off a flat cookie sheet). When forming the loaves, be sure not to pack them too tightly or too loosely, and make sure there are no cracks in the loaves (cracks will inevitably cause the loaves to fall apart while baking). Brush the tops (and sides, if you’re baking in a large pan) of the loaves with ketchup. Place the potato pieces on a greased sheet of foil, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to evenly coat (I added Penzey’s Shallot Pepper to mine because I used shallots in the meatloaf—feel free to add some dried shallots or chives, or even a few slices of fresh onion or shallot to the potatoes to add flavor). Fold the foil over to create a sealed packet for the potatoes to cook in and place the packet in the oven. Place the meatloaf in the oven. Bake for approx. 1 hour, until the meatloaf has reached an internal temperature of 165*F and the potatoes are cooked through and tender. Remove them all from the oven and let everything rest for a few minutes. Slice the meatloaf and serve alongside potatoes and any desired condiments (my dad loves mustard with his meatloaf and I like to dip mine in just a little bit of ketchup).
This dish is an easy-to-make comfort meal that kids and adults alike will enjoy. The veggies and seasoning in the meatloaf give it great flavor, while the tomato juice and ketchup “glaze” help keep it moist (and colorful!—no yucky gray meatloaf here!). Tender red potatoes are the perfect accompaniment to the meatloaf and a big ol’ glass of Coca-Cola probably wouldn’t hurt the overall meal either. As for getting two loaves with this meal, just serve one for dinner later in the week or freeze it for a month or two and enjoy it later. 

Recipe: Balsamic-Red Wine Sirloin and Vegetables with Halved Fettuccine

Leftover sirloin steak, three bell pepper halves, an aging onion and tomato, and a handful of shiitake mushrooms meant dinner last night was going to be a “throw it in a pan and see what happens” affair. Slicing sirloin into thin pieces and searing it is a great way to cook it, and it’s a great way to cook veggies as well. I didn’t want stir fry again, so I opted for an Italian-style dish with the flavors of balsamic vinegar, red wine, Italian dressing base, and olive oil. Simple, flavorful, and colorful (and a great way to use up some leftover ingredients!), this dish is easy to make and a great way to get your vegetables and protein for the day.

Serves: 4
Prep. time: 15-20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy



  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • Approx. 1-2 tsp. Italian dressing base (I used a loose form from Penzey’s, but you can use the prepared packets)
  • Approx. 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. red wine (cooking wine is fine)
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper

Meat and veggies
  • Approx. 1/2-3/4 lb. sirloin steak, thinly sliced into 2-3 inch-long/1-2 inch-wide pieces (to be honest, I used half of a sirloin roast, but any steak appropriate for searing, like a strip steak, could work—I would use at least two steaks for four people, but you may want to do one steak per person if you want a lot of meat) 
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. red wine
  • Approx. 1 cup chopped bell peppers (I used 1/2 orange, 1/2 yellow, and 1/2 green, but any combo will work)
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced (I had shiitakes left over, but any small mushroom would work)
  • 1-2 tomatoes, center removed (unless you like all the seeds and goo), chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3-4 tbsp. fresh basil, chiffonade cut
  • 16 oz. (1 box) fettuccini, broken in half (when the noodles are halved, it makes them easier to manage; you could also use penne or a similar shaped pasta in this dish)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Butter

In a medium bowl, mix the ingredients for the marinade, add the slices of meat, and toss to coat. Set aside (if possible, let the meat marinate for an hour). 
Fill a medium to large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the fettuccini and cook until done (approx. 12-14 minutes). 
While the pasta is cooking, heat a little olive oil and butter in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and bell peppers, as well as the balsamic vinegar and red wine (a sprinkle of the Italian dressing base, along with salt and pepper, will add a little flavor). Cook until slightly tender, then push to the side of the pan and add the meat, laying the pieces out in an even layer. After a minute or two, turn each of the pieces of meat over and continue to cook. Reduce the heat to medium, add the mushrooms and tomato, and toss to mix the ingredients. Add the garlic and basil, toss to combine, and reduce the heat to low. 
When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a little butter, then add the meat and vegetable mixture to the pasta (I used a wok-like pan to cook my veggies and meat and it was easier to toss the pasta in with the veggies and meat rather than vice versa). Serve with Italian cheese, as desired.
This dish is simple, with clean flavors and a good mix of textures. You could sub in different vegetables if desired, but the bell peppers, mushrooms, tomato, and onion blend well in this dish. Adding steak to pasta is a little different and definitely a nice change from the usual chicken, meatballs, or sausage that are often included in pasta dishes. Sweet red wine and tangy balsamic vinegar are great flavors that balance each other out while adding a kick to the vegetables and the meat.