Nacho Stuffed Shells

Did you know that October is National Pasta Month?

It’s like someone gave me free reign to load up on carbohydrates, because who am I to renounce celebrating a national holiday?

Back when I was single (and to be honest, when I was first married), one of my favorite “dishes” to make were what I called my “quick and easy weeknight burritos.”  Basically, it was taco meat, beans and cheese wrapped up in a tortilla shell.  That was about the extent of my cooking skills; plus, it was a relatively low-cost meal that I could stretch out over quite a few days.

I have to tell you though, it’s still one of my favorite dinner combinations, primarily because it requires very little effort and comes together in a flash–especially on those nights when I don’t really feel like cooking, but my family feels like eating.

But, since it’s National Pasta Month and all, I decided to stuff the filling in jumbo pasta shells.

It was a very good idea, if I do say so myself.  :-)

Nacho Stuffed Shells


  • 1 package jumbo shell pasta
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning or 1 package purchased taco seasoning
  • 1 16-ounce can refried beans (I used fat-free)
  • 1 4-ounce can diced green chilies, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2-ounce can sliced black olives, drained
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/2 cup cilantro


  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, brown beef in a large skillet. Drain, then add taco seasoning and 1 cup water. Allow to simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in beans, chilies, and 1 cup cheese and warm through. When your pasta is done, drain well. Fill shells with beef mixture; about 2 tablespoons per shell.
  3. Combine salsa and tomato sauce in a small saucepan and cook until heated. Spread 1/2 cup of sauce over the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Place stuffed shells on top of sauce, and top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle olives over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and back 35 minutes.
  4. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with green onions and cilantro.

Have a fabulous Monday! And if you haven’t yet, be sure to enter my pasta giveaway from the National Pasta Association. Today is the last day!

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Fajita Pasta {and National Pasta Association Giveaway}

We eat almost as much pasta in my house as we do Mexican food.

Since I live with a picky five year-old, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “Oh, it’s just like macaroni, but shaped different.”  This kid will eat about anything if you call it macaroni.  :-)

The Tall Boy is a huge pasta fan, too.  Any time I get desperate for menu-planning ideas and ask him to contribute, he always suggests either: A) spaghetti, or B) lasagna.  Now, as much as I love lasagna, it’s not usually something I tackle for a “quick and easy” weeknight meal.

There are, however, a million different ways to use pasta as a quick and easy, low-cost, and healthy weeknight (or anytime) meal.  Pasta easily fits into:

  • Your LifestylePasta meals can be fast and easy to make on the go! Many pasta meals can be on the table in less than a half-hour making pasta an ideal ingredient for everyone; from moms on the run to college students in between classes.
  • Your BudgetAs of March 2012, on average pasta costs $1.45 per pound. Add lean meats and proteins to your pasta for a low budget meal that the whole family will love!
  • Your DietWith roughly 100 calories per half cup serving, very little sodium or fat and no cholesterol, pasta is an ideal foundation for building healthy meals. Pasta is a great delivery system for protein-packed veggies and lean meats.

And, leave it to me…even when making a pasta dish, I can find a way to put a Mexican spin on it.  Although this dish was very light, it was heavy on flavor.  Since we like plenty of heat in our meals, I left the seeds in the jalapeño and sautéd them along with the peppers and onions.  If that’s not your thing, just leave ‘em out.  Or, go ahead and seed the jalapeño, and dice ‘em up fine for some extra flavor and not a lot of heat.  Also,  you could easily substitute chicken for the steak in this recipe.  Load up on the veggies, skip the shredded cheese, and you have a quick, easy, and healthy dinner.

Fajita Pasta


  • 1 pound medium pasta shape, such as penne
  • 1 pound lean boneless top round steak
  • 1 1/4 cup low-sodium tomato juice, divided
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 green and 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 1 cup sliced red onion
  • 1 cup nonfat sour cream
  • 1-2 jalepeno peppers, seeded and sliced


  1. Slice steak diagonally across gran into 1/4 inch strips. Place steak into a zip-lock bag. Add 1/2 cup tomato juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin and ground red pepper. Marinate in refrigerator at least 4 hours.
  2. Prepare pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, remove steak from marinade. Discard marinade.
  3. Coat skillet with cooking spray, add oil, and place over high heat. Add stead and cook 3 minutes, or until done.
  4. Remove steak from skillet and tent under aluminum foil to keep warm.
  5. Recoat skillet with spray. Add peppers and onion, and saute until tender.
  6. Drain pasta and place in a large bowl. Add steak, pepper mix, sour cream, jalepeno, and remaining 3/4 cup tomato juice.

And guess what?  The National Pasta Association wants to offer one of my readers a pasta prize pack consisting of: Dreamfields® Spaghetti, Mueller’s® Whole Grain Spaghetti, Heartland® Gluten Free Wheat Free Penne, Ronzoni Healthy Harvest® Spaghetti, Ronzoni Garden Delight® Rotini, and an Ultragrain Pasta® Spaghetti Spoon.

Cool, huh?

Leave me a comment letting me know your favorite pasta dish, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win.  Good luck, and happy cooking!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: The National Pasta Association provided me with samples of the various pastas described above, but all opinions are my own.

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The Best Pasta Salad Ever {Really}

The best pasta salad ever. That’s quite a bold statement to make, isn’t it?

With bacon and toasted pecans, Greek yogurt and red wine vinegar, this pasta salad has just the right balance of flavors.  So easy and so good!  #recipe #pasta

(photo updated 5/25/2013)

But let me give you the reasons why I love this pasta salad:

1. Since I don’t like mayonnaise, I substituted Chobani plain Greek yogurt instead. It was the bomb!  I scarfed this stuff down like it was my last meal.

2.  This salad has the perfect amount of crunch from the broccoli and grapes.

3.  Oh, and from the toasted pecans. I could eat toasted pecans all day.

4.  It’s slightly tangy from the red wine vinegar, yet with just the right amount of sweetness.

5.  Plus, it has bacon in it. Wait…should that be #1?

I look forward to grilling season all year long.  There is pretty much nothing I like more than foods right off the charcoal grill.  I know gas grills are more convenient, but you just can’t beat that charcoal flavor.  Or the smell.  I sort of rub my face against the Tall Boy’s shirt after he comes inside from grilling, take a big whiff, and fall into a charcoal induced coma.  Seriously, if there was a charcoal scented cologne, I’d buy that for him in an instant.

Does that make me weird?


The Best Pasta Salad Ever {Really}


  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 8 ounces small pasta
  • 1 pound fresh broccoli
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used Chobani 2%), or mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup diced red onion
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
  • 8 cooked bacon slices, crumbled


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your pasta according to package directions.
  3. While your pasta is cooking, cut broccoli into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Whisk together Greek yogurt and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl; add broccoli, hot cooked pasta, and grapes, and stir to coat. Cover and chill 3 hours. Stir bacon and pecans into salad just before serving.

XO, Ashley

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Spicy Bolognese

spaghetti 1

We eat a lot of spaghetti around our house.

A lot.

Like, maybe every week. If not that often, then at least every other week. Let’s face it, it’s quick, easy, economical, and even the pickiest toddler will eat it.  I have my go-to sauce that I typically make, and, since my guys insist on having some sort of meat with their pasta–I usually add in my homemade meatballs.  If you haven’t made your own meatballs before, you’re totally missing out.  Seriously, they are so, so easy, and better than anything that you can get in the freezer case.

When I found out that this month’s Crazy Cooking Challenge was for spaghetti and red sauce, I was a little hesitant to participate.  Simply because I love the way we usually prepare our spaghetti, and what can I say–I’m boring a creature of habit.  But then I decided this Challenge would be a great opportunity to try a different version of one of our favorite meals.

spaghetti 2

After searching Pinterest (time-suck, much???), I finally stumbled on the recipe I wanted to try: arribiata sauce from Live Love Pasta.  It caught my attention because arrabiata sauce is basically a spicy marinara–and you know how I feel about spicy foods!  Love ‘em!

If you’re not into the spicy scene, don’t worry.  The red pepper flakes listed in the recipe below won’t make this dish overly spicy (my four-year old gobbled it up).  But if you want a little extra heat, by all means, add a little more (we did!).

And, of course, I changed the recipe some, adding in meat, a bit of heavy cream to thicken the sauce, and a few extra spices.  It was a nice change from our norm, and now I have a new red-sauce recipe in my arsenal to change things up every now and then!*

spaghetti 3

*Cheese-sprinkles courtesy of Doodle

Spicy Bolognese


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground sirloin
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese


  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook until the meat has started to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for one more minute.
  2. Pour in the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up all of the yummy brown bits.
  3. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.
  4. Add the heavy cream and basil, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes, until thickened.
  5. Toss with spaghetti noodles and parmesan cheese.

I’m linking up over at Mom’s Crazy Cooking Challenge today, and if you haven’t checked out Tina’s site, you should. She’s got some great stuff over there.


Check out my previous Challenge entries:

Dark Chocolate Cake with Hot Chocolate Buttercream
Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup
Eggnog Fudge
Loaded Mashed Potato Casserole

And be sure to check out all of the other great recipes from this month’s participants!

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Garlic Spinach Lasagna

spinach lasagna

Spinach lasanga makes me think of my first date with the Tall Boy.  We dined over great conversation at a little Italian restaurant near my house, and this place had the best spinach lasagna ever. Ever.  I’m still kind of wondering what possessed me to order it the very first time I tried it, since back then I was not really a vegetable lover.

I’m still not a vegetable lover (no doubt, I would choose cookies and cake over greens and root vegetables any day), but their lasagna was to die for.

I ate it on our first date, the night we got engaged, and at our rehearsal dinner.

And then the restaurant closed.  I may have cried a little bit when that happened, because not only did it hold so many wonderful memories for me, but I’ve yet to find any other restaurant that served anything even remotely like it.  So I’ve been on a mission for quite a few years to recreate it myself.

spinach lasagna 2

I have to say, while this recipe isn’t exact, it’s pretty close.  I used egg noodles here, which the original version certainly didn’t have.  However,  these are quicker to cook, don’t clump together, and have a solid bite, so they are a fairly good substitution for traditional pasta.  Plus, it’s just a little easier to make if you’re attempting to assemble this on a work night while trying to frost cookies and entertain a 4-year old at the same time.  Just sayin’.

I absolutely loved the flavors in the dish.  The sauce was creamy and rich, without being too heavy, and the garlicky flavor of the pesto throughout was just lovely.  This is a wonderful vegetarian meal, though for meat-lovers, it would pair wonderfully with grilled chicken.  We’ll definitely make this again the next time we’re craving some comfort food, or just wanting to bring back the memories of some really special moments in our lives.

I love you, Tall Boy! xo

spinach lasanga 3

4.0 from 1 reviews

Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
For the Creamy White Sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup finely chopped shallots
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 cups milk, warmed
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
For the Lasagna:
  • 1½ pounds baby spinach
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces wide egg noodles
  • 2 cups creamy white sauce
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 4 tablespoons pesto sauce
  • 1½ cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the Creamy White Sauce:
  1. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until tender, about five minutes. Stir in flour for two minutes. Gradually whisk in milk, and bring to a boil and cook for two minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and salt and pepper, to taste.
For the Lasagna:
  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. In a large saucepan, bring two inches of water to a simmer. Add the spinach in batches, stirring until wilted. Drain and let cool. Squeeze out excess moisture and chop.
  3. In a large skillet, melt two tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until golden, about one minute. Stir in the spinach. Season lightly with salt and pepper; remove from heat.
  4. Cook egg noodles to al dente and drain (do not rinse) and stir in the white sauce to coat.
  5. In a greased 8×8 baking dish, layer in half of the noodles. Dot with half of the goat cheese, spread the spinach on top and press down. Stir three tablespoons pesto into the remaining noodles and spoon over the spinach. Dot with remaining cheese. Cover with foil and bake until bubbling, about 35 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the remaining two tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring until golden and crisp. Season with salt and pepper. Combine the remaining one tablespoon pesto with the olive oil. Drizzle the lasagna with the pesto oil and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.
from EveryDay with Rachel Ray, October 2011


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(Semi) Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

Not long ago, one of my good friends jokingly told me a story about how excited her kids were when she made a cake “from scratch”—a box cake mix.  I have many good memories of my own mother in the kitchen, making birthday cakes and other special treats (yes, from scratch), having dinner ready when we got home from school and work, and making it seem effortless.

But times have changed.  And try as I might, I am not my mother. 

Running a household is not effortless to me.  I’m tired most days.  Cranky.  Stressed–thinking about work when I am at home, and thinking about home when I am at work.  Wondering when I’ll get the laundry done, the juice cleaned up from the kitchen floor, and if I’ll ever have time again to sit down and watch an episode of Criminal Minds (in peace).

So in this hustle-bustle life we live, sometimes it’s just easier to buy the ready-made cakes and cookies and whatnot to send with the kids to school.  There are more important things in life than spending hours in the kitchen after getting home from an 8-hour workday.  I’m already missing my Doodle for 40-plus hours a week; the last thing I want to do is give up more play time with him to spend in the kitchen.  These moments are too precious.

However, we do still have to eat, and I try to make wholesome meals using as many shortcuts as I can.  I want my son to grow up knowing that “real” food doesn’t come from the Taco Bell drive through or in combination with a Hamburger Helper box (though believe me, I’ve eaten plenty of it in my day).  I want to make real stuff that we actually want to eat. Good stuff that our body needs.  Without slaving in the kitchen for hours.

Spaghetti is a staple in our house.  It’s economical, filling, and oh-yeah…thumbs-up approved by our (almost) 4-year old.  And while it is so easy to warm up a jar of Ragu, I can make my own sauce in almost the same amount of time, while adding in a few extra veggies for good measure.  Moms have to be sneaky, and often.

(Semi) Homemade Spaghetti Sauce (click to print)

  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic
  • minced1/2 yellow onion
  • diced1/2 green pepper
  • diced1/4 cup chopped carrots
  • chopped1/4 – 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pinch of baking soda (to help neutralize the acid)

While the water for your pasta is boiling, slice up your veggies.   Sauté until tender. Add remaining ingredients, and stir to combine.  Add cooked meatballs or Italian sausage.  Bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered about 25-30 minutes.

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Greek Pasta Salad

Carbs are not my friend.  Well, actually they are; just maybe a little too much.  I could probably live off of bowls of steaming hot pasta, warm bread straight from the oven, and my own personal downfall, tortilla chips and salsa.  In fact, I’ve found myself begging my husband to remove the chip bowl from the table at Abuelo’s, or asking him to throw his used, wadded up napkin into the bowl at the end of the meal so I didn’t keep eating them.

Embarrassingly enough, sometimes even that doesn’t stop me.

But not all carbs are bad, and certainly not in moderation.  Especially when you add a lot of vegetables, right?  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

We have the best mediterranean restaurant near our house, and besides their hummus, my favorite menu item is their pasta salad.  While my recipe isn’t exact, it’s still pretty darn tasty.  Also, this is a great summer salad recipe; you can take it to picnics or barbeques and not worry about it sitting around wilting.

Greek Pasta Salad (printable recipe)

  • 1 box penne pasta
  • 3 dill pickle spears, chopped
  • 1 small jar arthichoke hearts, marinated and quartered
  • 2 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • feta cheese, to taste
  • your favorite Greek dressing

Place a large pot of water over high heat to boil.  Make sure to salt your water; it helps ensure your pasta does not turn out too bland.  While your pasta is cooking, grab your ingredients:

As soon as your pasta is done, run it under cold water to cool off:

Add your chopped pickles, tomatoes, artichokes, capers and olives.

Then mix with your favorite Greek dressing.  I used this recipe:

Greek dressing, from Our Best Bites

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c. white vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. seasoning salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (this will not make the dressing spicy, just flavorful)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 c. canola oil (or other salad oil)
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
3/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. dry oregano

In the jar of a blender, combine all the ingredients through the garlic. Blend until smooth. While the blender is running, add the oil in a steady stream. Turn off the blender and add the feta and pulse the blender a few times (more if you want a creamier consistency). Whisk in the herbs.

If possible, allow salad to set for 1 to 2 hours before serving, to allow flavors to meld.

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