Baked Lentil Ziti

I'm always on the look-out for recipes that take a well-loved dish with meat, and turn it into a meatless version. I'm also a huge lover of beans. Even when meat-free dishes don't call for beans, I'm usually adding them in anyways. So I was really excited when I saw this recipe that took one of my favorite family dishes, baked ziti, and not only omitted the ground meat, but also added in lentils. It's been a very long time since I've had baked ziti but that's all about to change with this recipe. I thought it was delicious and I will definitely be holding onto this recipe for later.

This is a super easy dish to make. I feel like I say that all the time but I am a lover of easy recipes. You can cook the lentils and pasta ahead of time and set them in the refrigerator until you're ready to make the dish. You could even make the whole thing, put it in the casserole dish and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat, and then just pop it into the oven. Either way, it's as easy as cooking pasta and lentils, mixing everything together in the casserole dish, and baking it until it's bubbly. I loved the taste of this and definitely used a little bit more sauce than the recipe called for but that's because I don't like dry pasta.

 There are a couple things I want to point out that I did differently from the recipe. I used gluten-free pasta. I've tried using gluten-free pastas in the past for various dishes and have found that they don't always hold up, especially when it's a one-pot recipe where the pasta cooks in the liquid with everything else. However, the pasta worked great in this dish, but I did under-cook it by about 2 minutes, so it still had some bite to it before I added it into the casserole dish to bake. So, if you plan to use gluten-free pasta just be sure to under-cook it a bit so that it holds it's shape and doesn't turn to mush while the casserole bakes. I also didn't put the cheese on the casserole for the initial baking process. Mainly because the casserole came right up to the top and if I put foil on it, the cheese would have stuck... and I didn't feel like rummaging around my cabinet looking for toothpicks. So, I put the foil on the casserole without the cheese for the first half of baking and then when it was time to crank the heat and remove the foil, I put the cheese on and baked it until it was bubbly.  Like I said before, I really enjoyed this dish and it will be a winter staple in our house from here on out.

recipe adapted from Cookie and Kate

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic,  minced
  • 1¼ cups regular brown lentils, picked over for debris and rinsed
  • 3 cups water
Pasta and everything else
  • 12 ounces ziti, rigatoni or penne pasta
  • 2 cups grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (omit if sensitive to spice)
  • 24 ounces spaghetti sauce
  • 1 cup cottage or ricotta cheese

  1. To cook the lentils: In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is turning translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the lentils and water, and stir to combine.
  2. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer until the lentils are tender and cooked through, about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain the mixture well in a fine-mesh sieve and return the lentils to their pot. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta just until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and return the pasta to the pot. (if using gluten-free pasta under-cook the pasta. It will continue to cook in the oven)
  4. Add the lentils to the pasta. Add ½ cup of the cheese, reserving the rest for later. Season to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using).
  5. Pour 1 cup of the marinara sauce into a 13x9-inch baking dish. Spread the sauce around with a spatula so the base of the baker is evenly coated. Pour the lentil and pasta mixture into the baker and spread it so it’s evenly distributed. Using a spoon, dollop cottage or ricotta cheese in big spoonfuls over the pasta, then just lightly swirl the mixture a bit so the cottage cheese is still concentrated in those areas.
  6. Drizzle the rest of the sauce evenly over the dish (adding extra sauce if you’d like) and gently spread it over the pasta. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella evenly over the dish. Cover the baker tightly with aluminum foil—don’t let it touch the cheese—or stick a few wooden toothpicks down the center and place a generously sized piece of parchment paper, folded in the middle to make a “tent” over the baker.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the covering, increase the heat to 450, and continue baking until the cheese on top is golden and spotty, 3 to 9 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Three Bean Slow Cooker Chili

We've been experiencing a very wet and cold winter here in SoCal. So, I've been breaking out all my favorite winter recipes lately. One thing I love to make on a cold miserable day is chili. I don't know why those two things go together but they do. It's kind of like being sick and having soup. However, chili takes a lot of time to make, and depending on the style of chili you make, it can also be time consuming to prep. If you haven't noticed by now, I'm a lazy cook. I don't like to spend a ton of time in the kitchen slaving away. Which is why this slow cooker chili is my favorite. It's bursting with flavor, takes minimal time to prep, and the slow cooker does all the cooking for you.

I usually always make my chili in the slow cooker just because chili needs to simmer low and slow for some hours in order to really develop flavor. I don't know about you, but I don't hours to spend stirring a pot of chili making sure it doesn't burn or bubble over. I can put it all in the slow cooker and go to work, run errands, clean the house, read a book, binge watch my favorite shows and not have to worry about dinner. I love it! I used to soak and cook my beans before putting them in the slow cooker but I've recently discovered that you don't have to do that. You just have to rinse the beans to clean them, and then you just pour them in the slow cooker with your ingredients and extra broth to cook them. Making chili has never been easier than this. Now, I don't eat meat so this is for a vegetarian three bean chili. However, if you would like meat, I would brown a pound of ground beef and add it to the rest of the ingredients already listed.

  • 1 large carrot (about 2 cups), peeled and grated
  • 1 large zucchini (about 1 cup), grated
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 c. dried kidney beans
  • 1 c. dried black beans
  • 1/2 c. dried garbanzo beans
  • 1.5 c. frozen corn
  • 2 Tbsp. hot sauce
  • 1 packet low-sodium chili seasoning mix
  • 7 c. vegetable broth
  1. Rinse beans and make sure there are no rocks or debris mixed in.
  2. Add all the ingredients into your slow cooker and cook on high for at least 8 hours or until the beans are tender and the flavor has come together. 
  3. Top chili with toppings of choice (shredded cheddar cheese, avocado slices, chopped onion, or corn chips)

Tamale Pie

One of my favorite dishes that I make probably at least once a month is this tamale pie. Since I gave up meat some time ago, I haven't really been able to find and therefor eat a traditional tamale, and let's be honest, tamale making is no joke. It's definitely not something I'd want to do since I tend to be pretty lazy when it comes to cooking. So, when I saw a recipe that converted the tamale into a skillet bake, I knew I had to give it a shot.

The recipes I was finding online all had meat products in them and even though vegetables aren't normally in tamales, I wanted to incorporate more sustenance. So, I did some tweaking and kind of made my own tamale pie. One thing that I love about this dish is that it's so easy to make and yet it's bursting with flavor. It's also versatile and ingredients can be swapped out. For instance, if you don't want beans and in fact want meat, then use a pound of meat of your choosing. If you don't like bell peppers and instead want to use mushrooms, or omit all vegetables from the dish, you can do that, too. Like I said, I make this dish just about once a month and every month I made it a little different depending on what I have on hand. Sometimes I use plain diced tomatoes (not as flavorful as the tomatoes with chilies in them), sometimes I add a diced jalapeno, sometimes I've even added a mixture of beans because I didn't have enough of one kind on hand. You can also change the ratio of toppings as well, as long as the cornbread base stays the same, the ingredients you put on top can be changed around to your liking.

  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup plain fat-free yogurt (sour cream also works)
  • 1 cup corn, thawed if frozen and if canned be sure to drain and rinse the corn
  • 1 (10 oz) can Rotel diced tomato with chilies (I use habaneo but they have other varieties)
  • 1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 3 cups cooked pinto beans (or 2 cans of pinto beans, rinsed and drained)
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup salsa

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F
  2. Mix the first nine ingredients (from flour to diced tomatoes) and pour into a 14 in round skillet or cast iron pan. Bake for 20 minutes and remove from heat.
  3. Meanwhile, saute the onion and bell pepper, add the cumin and chili powder, and saute for another minute.
  4. Stir in cooked beans and cook until vegetables start to get tender. Mix in the salsa and removed from the heat.
  5. Poke holes in cornbread with a fork and pour the enchilada sauce over the top.
  6. Pour bean mixture on top of the cornbread and spread it out to evenly cover the cornbread.
  7. Top with cheese and bake for 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Cheddar and Chile Egg Casserole

So, you may remember me saying something about us moving recently. Well, on our first day, as we were moving in our stuff from the moving truck, our neighbor came over to introduce herself. She even invited me over for a brunch she was having with some of the other neighbors and thought it would be a great way for me to meet them. I was kind of nervous and excited to meet everyone. I didn't need to be because they were all super nice. One of the dishes my neighbor made for the brunch was this green chile egg casserole. I'm not a huge fan of eggs. I can stomach an egg sandwich, even a hard-boiled egg, but I just can't handle omelets. It's just too eggy for me. So, I cautiously took a small piece of the casserole, so as to not be rude, and wound up trying to not shovel it all in my mouth as quickly as possible. It was so light and airy. It practically melted in my mouth and I found myself clamoring for the recipe. I'm so glad I found it online because this is definitely a must for when we have company spend the night.

When I saw there was cottage cheese in the dish I was in denial. I didn't remember there being white chunks in my egg at the party. The flour also threw me for a loop. However, trust me, it will all work out. The cottage cheese adds that fluffiness to the casserole while keeping it super moist. I used low-fat cottage cheese but whatever you prefer will work. This is essentially something you can make the night before, store it in a airtight container or bag, and then the morning of just give it a good whisking to whip it all up before popping it into the over.

recipe adapted from Rachael Ray

  • 3 TBSP butter/margarine, melted 
  • 5 large eggs, beaten 
  • 1 cup cottage cheese 
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese 
  • 1 (4 ounce) can diced green chilies 
  • 1/4 cup flour 
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees . Brush an 8-inch square baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, chiles, flour, baking powder, salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Pour into the prepared dish and bake until set, about 35 minutes.

Healthier Spinach Artichoke Dip

Every weekend the Mister and I make a dip to enjoy while we watch movies, catch up on our favorite shows, or play games. I usually make your typical cream cheese salsa dip, but I've found myself wanting to try other dips. I'm one of those people that can't have the same thing too often, otherwise I get bored with it. So, I decided to look around online to see what interesting dips there were out there. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Kristin, spinach artichoke dip isn't anything new." While you would be correct, the dip is sort of new for me. You see, way back when, like eleven and a half years ago, I was a new bride trying to figure out how to cook. I had seen a recipe for spinach artichoke dip, probably on the Food Network channel and decided to make it. BIG mistake. HUGE! I remember that the dip consisted of a lot of mayonnaise, not something I usually ate because I was a Miracle Whip kinda girl. Come to think of it, considering the jar of mayo I put in the dip... it was probably a Paula Dean recipe. Anyway, while I was slightly grossed out by the mayo ratio in the dip, I had high hopes that I was going to impress my husband with the most fabulous, luxurious appetizer I've ever made. Fast forward an hour or two and The Mister came home from work to find all the window open, the oven turned off with the dip still inside, and me locked into our bedroom, nauseated from the smell. Needless to say, the dip went right into the trash and I spent the night curled up in the fetal position chomping on Tums. Ever since then, I've steered clear of anything resembling this dish... until now.

Now one thing that sets this one apart from that disastrous dip many moons ago is that this one doesn't have any mayo. None. Zero. Zilch. In fact, the creamy white base is yogurt and cream cheese... two things that I love. Two things that when they are heated up, do not make me nauseous. Now, as you see in the pictures, this recipe make a LOT of dip. It's insanely delicious and you will have no problem eating it all. However, if you made a New Years resolution that doesn't jive with eating a whole thing of dip, maybe invite some friends over. I served my dip with sliced bread but you could make this even healthier by slicing one of those huge carrots you see at the grocery into thick strips, and also eating it with celery.

  • 8 oz reduced fat cream cheese
  • 16 oz (2 cups) plain, non-fat yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp margarine (or butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese*
  • 14 oz artichoke hearts (not the marinated ones) , drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1 japapeno, diced (remove the insides and seeds of jalapeno if you don't like spice)
  • 10 oz frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced

  1. In a medium pot over medium heat, melt together cream cheese, yogurt, margarine and parmesan cheese, uncovered, stirring frequently until melted and an even consistency. It should start to bubble lightly.
  2. Stir in coarsely chopped artichoke hearts, jalapeƱos, and drained spinach. Finally, stir garlic cloves. Let it bubble for a few minutes and it's done.

*if you are a vegetarian, look for a vegetarian parmesan cheese.