Italian Christmas Cookies

Italian Christmas Cookies3

Every year I give out Christmas cookies and candies to my family and friends. And every year I try swap around the cookies and candies I make. I came across these Italian Christmas cookies. I noticed they traditionally use anise extract, but I’m not an anise (or black licorice taste) fan. So I substituted almond extract. You can choose to use either.


  • 3/4 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise or almond extract


  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Nonpareil sprinkles


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugars until creamy.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time. Then add the vanilla and anise flavoring.
  5. Slowly mix in the flour mixture. Do not overbeat.
  6. Refrigerate dough for one hour.
  7. When ready to bake, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  8. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Dip the bottom of a small glass into some powdered sugar and press each ball down slightly.Italian Christmas Cookies1
  9. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
  10. Remove and cool completely.


  1. Sift two cups of powdered sugar in a bowl. Whisk in milk and vanilla.
  2. Dip top of each cookie in the glaze. Garnish with some nonpareil sprinkles.
  3. Allow glaze to dry before freezing. Italian Christmas Cookies2



One Pot Lasagna Soup

Lasagna SoupHappy New Year everyone! I wish you a year of health, happiness and tasty food!

It’s been mighty chilly here in Northern California. We are having a week of much needed on and off rain showers. So today felt like a hearty soup kind of day. I know, lasagna soup doesn’t sound like the healthiest way to start your year. But eat in moderation and you should be fine. Right?!

Okay, will it make you feel better knowing I added spinach and mushroom to the recipe and used low fat cottage cheese instead of ricotta to make this soup a little healthier and lighter?


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 medium size red or yellow onion, diced
  • 4 ounces of white or brown mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (32 ounces) box chicken stock
  • 2 (14.5 ounces) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 10 uncooked lasagna noodles, broken into 2 inch pieces
  • 5 ounces baby spinach
  • low fat cottage cheese (1 tablespoon per serving)
  • chiffonade of basil for garnish


  1. Turn heat to medium high. Add olive oil to Dutch oven or heavy bottom large pot.
  2. When oil ripples, add ground beef and Italian sausage to pot and stir occasionally until meat is browned.  Add onions, mushrooms and garlic. Mix and continue to cook until onions become translucent.
  3. Drain any excess fat from pot.
  4. Add chicken stock, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce,Italian seasoning, sugar, kosher salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese and lasagna noodles. Mix well.
  5. Bring soup to a boil, then lower heat to simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. During last 5 minutes of cook time, add spinach to soup and stir.
  7. Serve soup with a tablespoon of cottage cheese and basil for garnish.

Lasagna Soup 2

Baked Penne Casserole

Baked PenneI was really in the mood for lasagna tonight. Then I checked my cupboard and refrigerator and soon discovered I was lacking lasagna noodles and a few ingredients. I also discovered that I was too lazy to go to the grocery store. So, I decided to make do with what I had and came up with this baked penne casserole. Don’t laugh, but I had to use provolone and mozzarella cheese slices that I normally would use in my sandwiches. I told you, I was too lazy to go to the grocery store. In the end it still worked out nicely.


  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 3 1/4 cup your favorite marinara or one 24 ounce jar pasta sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pound uncooked penne pasta
  • 1 container low fat cottage cheese (32 ounces)
  • 6 ounces provolone cheese slices (about 10 slices or enough to cover casserole)
  • 6 ounces mozzarella cheese slices (about 10 slices or enough to cover casserole)


  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, coat your 13 x 9 casserole dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a large skillet, brown your ground beef and mince it down to your desired size.
  3. Add diced onions and mushrooms to the ground beef and cook for 3-5 minutes until onions are tender.
  4. Next add the wine, sauce, sugar, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and pepper. Stir to mix well. Sauce should be a little watery, not thick.
  5. Once the sauce is mixed and comes to a boil, turn off the heat.
  6. Add a layer of sauce to the bottom of casserole dish.
  7. Then add half your uncooked pasta to layer the casserole dish. (Yes, uncooked. Let the meat mixture you just made do the work for you.)
  8. Next layer the cottage cheese over the noodles.
  9. Now add the provolone cheese slices to cover the casserole dish.
  10. Add the rest of the penne noodles. Be sure to make an even layer.
  11. Add the rest of the sauce mixture over the penne noodles.
  12. Finally, arrange the mozzarella slices over the top of the sauce layer.
  13. Cover loosely with foil. (Tip: spray foil side that will be in direct contact with casserole with cooking spray, so the cheese does not stick.)
  14. Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Baked Penne plated

One Pot Pasta with Sausage, Spinach and Mushrooms

One Pot Pasta PlatedA one pot meal done in 30 minutes? Challenge accepted. All those years of watching Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals must have rubbed off on me in more ways than I like to admit. For one, EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) is my oil of choice. Always. And if there is a way to make a complicated dish easier (and in less than 30 minutes) I’m all over it. I’m no Rachael Ray, but I think even she would approve of this recipe.  This recipe makes 4 generous to 6 small servings.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage (or mild your choice)
  • 2 cups Cellentani (corkscrew) pasta or small pasta shape of your choice
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 package (6 ounces) baby spinach
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated Parmigano Reggiano cheese


In your skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. When oil ripples, add onions and mushrooms. Saute for 3-5 minutes. One Pot Pasta 1

Once onions are translucent and the mushroom have browned, add Italian sausage to skillet. Mince the sausage and brown until sausage is cooked through. About 5 minutes. One Pot Pasta 2

Add pasta to skillet. Yes, uncooked pasta. We are going to let the chicken stock cook the pasta. One Pot Pasta 3

Add the chicken stock to skillet and stir to mix ingredients. The stock will cook the pasta and all the flavors from the onions, mushrooms and sausage will infuse with the pasta. Stir occasionally until pasta is al dente. ( Add 1 extra minute to pasta package instructions.) One Pot Pasta 4

When pasta is cooked to your preference, add spinach and incorporate into pasta mixture. Don’t worry, all that spinach will magically fit into your skillet.One Pot Pasta 5

Once the spinach has wilted, your pasta is ready to serve. Salt and pepper to your taste. Garnish with grated Parmigano Reggiano cheese. One Pot Pasta 6

Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken CacciatoreWell, what do you know? It’s another chicken dish from me. I’m told cacciatore is Italian for “hunter’s stew.” When I think of stew, I think comfort food. This dish is exactly that. Serve it with pasta, polenta, rice or fresh warm bread and your tummy will be thanking you. I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts for mine. But you are more than welcome to use skin on thighs or even a whole cut up chicken.


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and paprika for seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound baby bella mushrooms, sliced (you can substitute with white button mushrooms)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes with Italian spice blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Italian flat leaf parsley for garnish (optional)


Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat.  Meanwhile season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt, pepper and paprika. When the oil begins to ripple, carefully place chicken breasts in the pan. Brown the chicken on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan.Chicken Cacciatore 2

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and peppers. Stirring occasionally until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Chicken Cacciatore 3

Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms begin to brown. Then add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Chicken Cacciatore 4

Add the wine and cook until it is reduced by half. Chicken Cacciatore 5

Add the diced tomatoes and juice, thyme, turmeric and red pepper flakes and stir. At this time taste the sauce and add salt if needed. Chicken Cacciatore 6

Reduce heat to low. Return the chicken breasts to the pan and let simmer in covered pan for 40 minutes. Chicken Cacciatore 7

Garnish with Italian parsley and serve with pasta or whatever you prefer. Chicken Cacciatore plated 1

Creamy Bow Tie Pasta with Spinach and Bacon (Farfalle Spinaci)

Bow tie pasta 14How does bow tie pasta in a garlic cream sauce with spinach, bacon bits, caramelized onions and red bell peppers sound? It sounded good to my stomach. I know you’re thinking I’m trying to fatten us up by eating pasta, bacon and cream sauce in one dish. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There is no cream in this recipe. Instead I used two ears of sweet corn and chicken stock to make this creamy sauce. And I’m going to show you how easy it was.


  • 6 ounces uncooked bow tie (farfalle) pasta; about 1/2 a box.
  • 2 ears of corn
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 2-3 whole cloves garlic
  • 4-5 strips bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 1 small red onion, sliced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated Parmesan cheese to top (optional)


In a large pot, boil water and cook bow tie pasta for 10 minutes.

Bow tie pasta 7

Meanwhile, cut corn kernels off cob into a bowl. I turned over a small dipping bowl to use as a base for the corn cob.

Bow tie pasta 3

Add corn kernels to a blender along with garlic cloves and chicken stock. Blend until smooth. Set aside.

Bow tie pasta 6

In a large skillet, cook bacon bits and onions over medium high heat.

Bow tie pasta 9

When onions start to become translucent, add red bell peppers and continue to stir until bell peppers are tender. About 3 minutes.

Bow tie pasta 10

Using a strainer, pour corn cream sauce into skillet. Mix until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Bow tie pasta 11

Add pasta to sauce and mix well.

Bow tie pasta 12

Add spinach and mix until spinach is wilted.

Bow tie pasta 13

After a few minutes, spinach should be cooked and pasta is ready to serve. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and top with fresh spinach. Bow Tie Pasta plated

Pasta e Fagioli Beefed Up (Pasta and Bean Soup)

Pasta e FagioliOne thing I remember when I was little was what a treat it was to be invited to lunch or dinner at one of my friend’s house. Bless my dad for being the main cook in our family, but you can only eat so much Chinese food before you want something new. And getting an invite to my friend’s house was like winning the lottery. My friend’s mother made the best Italian dishes. When you walked into their house there was always the aroma of something cooking on the stove or baking in the oven. It was like walking into a tomato, basil and garlic cloud of yumminess. On a few occasions I was treated to a delicious bowl of pasta e fagioli. (Pasta and bean soup.)  Through the years I have added or changed out some of the ingredients that my friend’s mother used. Adding ground beef being the biggest change. (Sorry , Mrs. P.)


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup diced carrots (about 2 carrots)
  • 1 cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
  • 1 cup diced onion (about 1 small or half a large onion)
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 lb ground beef (if you are going meatless add 2 cups diced escarole or Swiss chard)
  • 1 28 oz can Cento San Marzano peeled tomatoes (or 1 jar spaghetti sauce and 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • 32 oz beef stock (you can substitute vegetable stock if you are going meatless)
  • 1 15 oz can red kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 15 oz can cannelini beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning (Basil, Oregano and Thyme mix)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8 oz dry ditalini noodles (or any small pasta of your choice)
  • Shaved parmesan cheese and basil for garnish (optional)


  1. In a heavy stock pot add olive oil on high heat. When oil ripples, add diced carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes.
  2. Add ground beef. Mince ground beef until browned. Once ground beef is browned, discard fat from pot.
  3. If using San Marzano tomatoes, mash-up with potato masher or your fingers. Add tomatoes to vegetables and beef.
  4. Add beef (or vegetable) stock, both types of beans, Italian seasoning and pepper. Stir and mix well.
  5. Lower heat to simmer for 45 minutes.
  6. If you have enough hungry eaters to finish the entire pot of soup, add ditalini noodles during last 10 minutes of simmer. Otherwise, cook ditalini noodles in separate pot and serve into individual bowls as needed.
  7. Serve soup topped with shaved parmesan cheese and basil. (optional)

Makes 6-8 servings.


Lasagna sliceCheesy, meaty, saucy heaven. Nothing beats a cold winter’s day than coming home to a hot plate of lasagna. Growing up, my mom worked swing shift so dinner was usually made by my dad. Needless to say, lasagna was not on his repertoire of dinner items.

So, lasagna was something I had to learn to make myself. Through the years my tastes and cooking style has matured. I’ve learned to make lasagna many different ways. But I always come back to my first recipe. This recipe is tweaked a little since the 10-year-old back then was not allowed access to wine. But otherwise, it remains true to my younger version.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion diced
  • 1 cup sliced brown or white mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, thyme mix)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 3 teaspoons sugar


  • 1 12-16 oz box of lasagna noodles
  • 1 32 oz carton of cottage cheese
  • 3 cups shredded Italian blend cheese (Mozzarella, Provolone, Parmesan, Romano, Fontina & Asiago)


  1. Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9X13 casserole pan with cooking spray or rub all sides of  pan with vegetable oil. Set aside.
  2. Add olive oil to sauce pan. Turn burner heat to medium high. When oil ripples, add diced red onion and mushrooms. Saute for 5 minutes until onions and mushrooms are tender.
  3. Add ground beef and separate and cook until browned. Once ground beef is browned, discard any fat from pan.
  4. Lower burner heat to low.
  5. Add spaghetti sauce, red wine, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and sugar and stir until mixed well and simmer for 5 minutes. (Yes. Sugar. My 10-year-old self thought spaghetti sauce was too tart. And grown up me still thinks so too.)
  6. Don’t forget to turn off burner.
  7. In the 9X13 casserole pan spoon a thin layer of sauce on bottom.
  8. Place a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles in pan. (Yes, uncooked. No need to boil noodles when the oven and sauce can do all the work for you. It just takes more baking time)
  9. Next add the entire carton of cottage cheese and half the shredded Italian blend cheese as a layer. (Why cottage cheese? 10-year-old self didn’t like the taste and texture of ricotta cheese. And a grown up plus is cottage cheese is less fattening than ricotta cheese.)
  10. Next add another layer of lasagna noodles.
  11. Now add half the sauce you prepared earlier over that layer of noodles.
  12. Add your final layer of noodles.
  13. Add the last half of sauce. Be sure to get more sauce around the edges of noodles, rather than the center. This will ensure the edges get cooked as well and not burn.
  14. Add the remainder of the Italian blend cheese on top.
  15. Cover casserole with foil. Cut vent holes in foil with knife or fork. Place casserole on baking pan to catch drips and prevent oven burn.
  16. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  17. Uncover and let sit for 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Enjoy a piece of my childhood!