Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

Good news! I got back in the kitchen again this week and actually made and photographed a recipe!

Sorry I’ve been so lacking on recipe posts, I guess I’ve just been really lazy since my Christmas break and haven’t been able to get back into the groove.

This has been compounded by the fact that my computer is at death’s door and I dread having to use it because it’s SO SLOW and the battery dies in about 20 min. I’m going to start using Nate’s computer but it’s a Mac and I’m putting it off as long as possible since I’m a PC girl.

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

But anyway, let’s get to this recipe. I think we all know that homemade mac and cheese doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff in the blue box- although I’m partial to the Velveeta Shells and Cheese variety that comes with the pack of squeeze cheese.

Whenever I make macaroni and cheese from scratch, the cheese sauce looks so smooth, creamy and delicious in the pot, but then after you toss the noodles in it and put it in the oven, it kind of separates and turns to a texture I don’t like at all. It gets kind of dry (which I guess some people like) and just not cheesy at all.

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

Ever since I was little, I’ve loved Velveeta cheese. In fact I just remembered that for breakfast I used to eat an english muffins toasted with Velveeta melted on it and sprinkled with bacon bits. I don’t know how I came up with this, but MAN was it good….and I kind of want one of those sandwiches right now…

Anyway, I know Velveeta is artificially colored and probably so bad for you, but I’m convinced that in order for mac and cheese to be palatable, it needs to contain some of this delightful cheese product. Well this recipe is the best of both worlds. The cheese sauce is made using my favorite artificial cheese, keeping it smooth and delicious even after it’s baked, but then there’s real cheddar sprinkled on top for even more cheesy deliciousness.

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

This particular recipe gets a little kick from the tomatoes with green chiles, and I’ve made it extra healthy by adding loads of veggies. I also added tofu since Nate and I don’t love chicken but I wanted some added protein. You could definitely sub chicken if you’d like.

I could not stop myself from eating this!

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole
Serves 6
A spicy, cheesy pasta casserole chock full of veggies!
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  1. 16-oz. package corkscrew pasta (or whatever shape you like)
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 medium onion, diced
  4. 1 green bell pepper, diced
  5. 8 oz. mushrooms, diced
  6. 1 (10-oz.) can diced tomatoes and green chiles
  7. 10-oz. pasteurized prepared cheese product, cubed (like Velveeta, which comes in a box or shredded)
  8. 10 oz. frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
  9. 8 oz. super firm tofu, cubed and drained- i found a pre-cubed version (you could also sub chicken if you want)
  10. 1 (10 3/4-oz.) can cream of chicken soup
  11. 1/2 cup sour cream
  12. 1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Cook pasta for slightly less time than package recommends so it's al dente. It will cook more in the oven so you don't want it to be too mushy.
  2. Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms and sauté 5-10 minutes or until tender.
  3. Stir in tomatoes and green chiles and prepared cheese product; cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Stir in broccoli, tofu, soup and sour cream and stir well. Mix in hot cooked pasta until blended.
  4. Spoon mixture into a 9x13 baking dish; sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese.
  5. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Adapted from Southern Living
Adapted from Southern Living

Light Lemony Tuna Pasta with Fennel, Capers, and Olives ~ ElephantEats.com

I was recently sent some Ocean Naturals canned tuna to try. I rarely eat canned tuna because I just plain forget it exists, so I was so glad that this reminded me how great it is. 

Canned tuna contains high-quality protein and Omega 3 fatty acids. Tuna, especially canned tuna, is a convenient and versatile way for you to add fish to your family’s diet.

Light Lemony Tuna Pasta with Fennel, Capers, and Olives ~ ElephantEats.com

But I’m sure you guys know all that, right? What I didn’t know was that tuna is often over-harvested and some species are more endangered than others. Ocean Naturals guarantees that all of their “responsibly-caught” tuna is harvested:

  • From target species populations that are healthy and abundant and are currently being harvested at a level that promotes the stocks’ longevity
  • Using catch-methods that limit ecosystem impacts
  • In regions where the fishery is managed by regulatory bodies that help sustain the long-term productivity of all impacted species

Light Lemony Tuna Pasta with Fennel, Capers, and Olives ~ ElephantEats.com

Nate has made me really think about our impact on the ecosystem in general, so it made me really happy to know that some companies are doing their part to preserve it and limit their impact on it. 

Lately I’ve also become overly concerned with what I put in my body, and hate that everything seems to contain something that’s unhealthy either from the packaging or the food itself. For example, it scares me that those plastic water bottles I drink from daily could be leaching chemicals into the water. Well, Ocean Naturals  tuna doesn’t have anything added- it’s simply premium tuna with a dash of salt, packed in either olive oil or water. No fillers, additives, or preservatives. It’s nice to know that some foods don’t have anything artificial added!

Light Lemony Tuna Pasta with Fennel, Capers, and Olives ~ ElephantEats.com

Anyway, since I got sent this tuna, I didn’t want to just make a boring old tuna salad. Nate has been training for the NY marathon (it’s this weekend!) so every Friday is pasta day to fuel his long weekend runs. I decided to make a pasta that incorporated the tuna. It’s kind of based on the flavors of a sandwich he loves at ‘WichCraft Sandwiches.

**I was given these products free of charge, but all opinions are my own. I would never post about a product I didn’t love and plan to use again.

Light Lemony Tuna Pasta with Fennel, Capers, and Olives ~ ElephantEats.com

Light Carrot Dill Cream Sauce for Pasta ~ ElephantEats.com

First of all, let me say that Nate is officially back! Unfortunately there’s still no job, but he’s back nonetheless. While I’m happy to have him back, it was nice to have a fairly empty fridge rather than one stocked to the brim with Trader Joes. Have I mentioned the boy can eat?!

So I took it upon myself to clean out the refrigerator a bit before his arrival. During my cleaning I came across a bag of baby carrots that Nate had bought and never opened. Nate had given me a list of food to get for him before he got home and baby carrots was on it. He claimed the ones in the fridge, though unopened, were no longer edible.

Light Carrot Dill Cream Sauce for Pasta ~ ElephantEats.com

I wasn’t about to waste those carrots! Have you noticed that I’m big on not wasting? :) So when I was deciding on some sort of sauce to make for my homemade farfalle, I knew I wanted to include carrots. Plus, carrots scream Spring to me, and now that daylight savings has come and gone, I know the new season is right around the corner.

Farfalle is good with a cream sauce, so I decided I’d use the carrots pureed in a cream sauce, and then the addition of dill was a no-brainer for a fresh, light taste perfect for Spring!

This sauce is actually very low in calories for a cream sauce. I used carrots to bulk it up and thicken it, and it contains only low-fat milk, not cream. You’d never know from the taste though, the onions, garlic and lemon give it so much flavor!

Light Carrot Dill Cream Sauce for Pasta ~ ElephantEats.com

This recipe made about 3.5 cups of sauce. I found that 3/4 cup of sauce was plenty for the 6 oz of pasta that my farfalle recipe made.

6 oz is three proper servings….but in our household, 6 oz of pasta serves one Nate. So rather than making more pasta, I ate some of the sauce over spaghetti squash and it was delicious for what it was (I.e not pasta).

How beautiful is the color of this sauce? I just think it’s so perfect for Spring :)

Since this recipe made so much, I’m thinking I might use the rest of it in a lasagna. Maybe I’ll layer some zucchini and mozzarella in there? Yum!

Light Carrot Dill Cream Sauce for Pasta ~ ElephantEats.com

Light Carrot Dill Cream Sauce 

Print this recipe!

Yields 3.5 cups 

2 cups baby carrots (about 11 oz)
1 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp flour
1 3/4 cup 1% milk, divided
3 oz. light cream cheese
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
juice of 3/4 lemon
salt (start with 1/2 tsp) and pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add carrots and cook 15 minutes or until soft when pierced. Remove carrots to bowl of food processor but leave water on a low boil so you can cook the pasta later.

Melt butter in the bottom of a medium saucepan. Saute onions until soft. Add garlic and cook another minute.

Whisk in 1/2 cup milk and the flour until smooth. Whisk in 1 cup more milk and bring to a boil, whisking often. When it comes to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Add cream cheese to milk mixture and whisk til melted. Remove from heat and stir in dill. Set aside.

Add pasta to boiling water.

While pasta is cooking, puree carrots and 1/4 cup milk in a food processor until smooth. Add to milk mixture along with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

When pasta is done, drain and add sauce. (I found that 3/4 cup sauce covers 6 oz of pasta perfectly. So that means a pound of pasta should use about 2 cups sauce). However I recommend making a full recipe…the sauce is just so good!

Homemade Farfalle Pasta ~ ElephantEats.com

Sadly, two weeks ago one of Nate’s closest family friends, Henny Ray Abrams, passed away unexpectedly at the young age of 58. In the years of knowing Nate, I had gotten to know Henny pretty well.

He had, as an adult, learned to cook and had taken to inviting us over to dinner parties in his brooklyn apartment fairly regularly. He always served us a delicious 3 course meal including freshly baked french bread. He and I often talked about cooking, comparing knowledge and recipes. So it was only appropriate that when we got married, Henny’s gift to us was the pasta maker attachment for my kitchenaid mixer. I decided to pull it out this weekend, in honor of Henny, who I know would have been excited to hear that it got put to use.

Because Nate knew Henny much better than me, I thought that I would invite him to take over before I share the pasta recipe, telling us a little more about the man that he came to know so well:

I first want to thank Amy for allowing me to write this post since there is never a good way to deal with a subject like this. Last week a very close, way too young, family friend passed away suddenly.  His name was Henny and he was basically like an uncle to me.

Nate and Ethan with Camerasm

Nate peering into Henny’s Camera….backwards

Henny was a well-known and respected photographer, working in news, sports, entertainment, but mainly he worked in motorcycle racing as a photographer and reporter.  When I got a go-cart for one christmas he supplied our helmets with some of his old motorcycle helmets. To say they looked ridiculous on us would be an understatement, but they did the job.

Christmas is the time of year that I most often associate with Henny, which is odd considering he was Jewish. But, until I was out of college every year we would all gather a couple of weeks before Christmas and do our annual Christmas picture. When we were younger these seemed like interminable exercises, with what seemed like hundreds of pictures being taken. As I aged, I noticed how much quicker the process seemed to take. Yet, this was a family tradition that Henny always took part in and really seemed to enjoy. He never married or had children of his own, so we were probably as close as it was going to get (along with all his other friends kids).

The other christmas tradition we had with Henny was him coming over on Christmas day for dinner. I have a feeling this is going to be the hardest part of all of this to face this coming Christmas. It was the one time of year we would have steak (I know, I never eat it otherwise) and he would always cook it. We started this tradition about 15 years ago, but it seems like it’s the way it’s always been.

Nate Ethan and Tess Couch sm

Henny’s annual family photo of Nate and his younger siblings

I’m more in shock than anything else right now, considering Henny was only 58 years old. There are a lot of things that don’t seem real, like we still have a batch of his amazing chocolate chip cookies in our freezer that he made at Christmas. When we’d go to his dinner parties, he used to always send us home with extra of whatever dessert he had served and so we still have a piece of his tupperware in our apartment that we had intended to return on our next dinner with him at his apartment. I’ll never get to have those things again and I’m not sure I know how to handle that.

I’ll end this post by telling a story that I think encapsulates what kind of guy he was. Henny came down for our wedding in October and was driving back up to NYC right after it ended (which was around 8pm).One of Amy’s bridesmaids, and my friend Kim, needed a ride back up to the city. I didn’t even have to ask, he just offered to take a complete stranger friend of mine back up to Brooklyn. I asked Kim afterwards how the ride back was and she said they talked the whole way back, despite having just met 2 hours prior. He would do anything for us and his other friends. At least I still have the photographs he took of us, but I will miss him.

Nate with Ethan and Tess on couch with soccer ball copysm

I’m so glad Henny gave us this pasta maker for a present. He knew how much I liked to cook and now every time I use it, I’m going to think of him.

Homemade Farfalle Pasta ~ ElephantEats.com

I have to say that making pasta was SO easy. Like, almost so easy that I might make it fresh every time I want it instead of getting pasta from a box. The only issue is the pasta maker attachments that I have can only make large flat sheets (lasagna), fettuccine  and spaghetti. If you want farfalle you make the large flat sheet and then cut and shape it, but it takes more effort. To make any noodles with a hole in them requires another attachment. Unfortunately for me, Nate doesn’t like long noodles, but the next time I make this I’m doing fettuccine because it’s just quicker.

Homemade Farfalle Pasta ~ ElephantEats.com

So many bowties. So many adorable little bowties. Right? If anything, I will make these again for the cuteness. Oh and speaking of cuteness, how cute are Nate and his siblings in those photos :)

Next up I’ll share a recipe I made using this farfalle!

Homemade Farfalle Pasta ~ ElephantEats.com

Homemade Farfalle (Bowtie) Pasta

Recipe from Lesserevillife, technique from various sources 

Print this recipe!

makes 6 oz. pasta- 3 proper (albeit small) servings

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 egg
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Combine the flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Beat the egg in a separate bowl, then add to the medium-sized bowl. Start mixing, then add 1 tablespoon of water. The mixture should be starting to appear doughy. Add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. The dough should be ready to take out of the bowl and onto a flat surface to roll. If it’s still feeling tough, add an additional 1 tablespoon of water.

Knead the dough with your hands a few times for a uniform texture. Cut dough in half and set one piece to the side. Follow directions below depending on whether or not you have a pasta maker.

With Pasta Maker Attachment:

Pat one of the pieces of dough into a rectangle about 3/8″ thick. Run dough lengthwise through pasta maker on setting 1. Fold dough in half lengthwise and feed back through pasta maker. Continue this folding and feeding back through until dough is smooth and is the width of the pasta maker.

Turn dial to setting 2 and run pasta through. Move to 3 and run through again, then 4 then 5. After running pasta through on setting 5, lay it out on a lightly floured surface. Repeat with other piece of dough.**

Without Pasta Maker:

Shape dough into a ball, then flatten slightly. Use a rolling pin to roll it into a large oval, about ⅛” thick.

**continue here for both:
Using a knife, cut the dough into strips about 1” wide. Take a strip, and use a pie cutter or knife to cut the strip into about 1 ½” rectangles. The ridges of the pie cutter will give the pasta ends the traditional farfalle zig-zag, but a plain old knife works fine

With the rectangle’s long side facing you, put your pointer finger of one hand in the center of the rectangle. Using your other hand, pinch the middle sides of the long edges of dough together, towards the center and your finger. Release your finger from center of dough as you pinch together so the pasta meets the other side. Pinch hard enough for it to stay shaped. *If you’re visual and need a tutorial for the bowtie-forming, visit http://www.pasta-recipes-made-easy.com/farfalle-pasta.html.

Dry dough for an hour. If making immediately, cook pasta in boiling water for 2-3 minutes.

Otherwse, refrigerate or freeze in an air-tight container until ready to cook. Cook for 7ish minutes when ready.


Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rape

I just got back from visiting Nate in California again yesterday. It was another great, but too short, trip. I have to say that the weather out in LA is not as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I can’t believe it gets as cold as it does! I guess I could live out there if I had to…let’s hope Nate finds something in the job department soon.

I got to see my uncle’s new puppy…she’s so tiny!!!

photo (8)

And I got to see one of my best friends, and bridesmaid, Barrie. Nate and I met her at the LACMA where there’s this really cool lamppost sculpture.

photo (9)

Anyway, since Nate’s been gone, I haven’t done that much cooking. I would cook a small amount but I just don’t like spending all that time and effort on a meal that will only last a day or two. So instead I only know how to make large quantities, but with only me eating it I can’t be doing that very often.

Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rape

So I’ve been forced to go back to some recipes I made but never posted. The photos aren’t great because I rushed to take them so we could dig in. I actually made this meal during the 4th of July weekend! But actually, I think this makes a great meal in any season :)

I don’t know why I never posted it, since it’s totally delicious. I guess it’s kind of similar to a couple other pastas i have on my blog already, but honestly this type of garlicky sauce with sausage is my favorite kind. I got this from my mom’s recipe box, but I think it’s from Gourmet or Bon Appetit or something.

Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rape

I promise I’ll cook up something new for you soon. I actually had high hopes for an oreo bundt cake I baked up while out in CA, but it didn’t come out as pretty as I thought it would. It was tasty, but nothing special in the chocolate cake department.

You guys looking for me to make any particular types of recipes?

Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rape

Penne with Broccoli Rabe

Print this recipe!

Serves 5-7


1 lb penne
3/4 pound raw italian turkey sausage
2 bunches broccoli rabe (rappini)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp capers
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 grated parmesan plus more to garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Cook penne in salted water.

While penne cooks, cut stems off broccoli rape. Cut remaining stalks and leaves into 1″ pieces.

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in large skillet. Remove sausage from casings and cook, breaking up with wooden spoon until no longer pink.

Remove sausage from pan. Add another tablespoon oil and garlic. Saute garlic until golden.

Add broccoli rape, capers and white wine. Saute until leaves wilted and stalks are tender, 5 min. Season with salt and pepper.

When penne is al dente, drain and put in bowl. Add broccoli rape and cheese. Toss and serve with more cheese.