Taking the Training Wheels Off

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, you know that I am a recipe follower. As someone who never really cooked until just a few years ago, I rely heavily on recipes and follow them to a T. I rarely deviate from what the recipe says, simply because I am not confident in my cooking skills. That being said, I’ve been trying my best to try altering recipes to practice.

Recently, Michael was out of town and I decided I wanted to try my hand hand creating my own recipe from scratch–no recipe following here. This is that meal.

Lisa's Florentine Casserole

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 6

Calories per serving: 280


  • 2 cups elbow macaroni pasta
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup onions, sauteed
  • minced garlic
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • onion powder
  • Italian seasoning
  • Basil


  1. 1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. 2. Cook pasta al dente.
  3. 3. Saute the onions, zucchini and garlic in a skillet. I used Grapeseed Oil.
  4. 4. Mix all the ingredients in a big boil to coat with the sauce.
  5. 5. Pour into greased pan, top with some shredded cheese, and bake 20-30 minutes.

I chose to do a casserole type dish because I knew it would be pretty hard to screw up and I wanted to use some of the frozen shredded zucchini from last summer’s garden. I defrosted the zucchini (I’d shredded and frozen 2 cups individually packed and put in the freezer for later use) and tried to get as much of the liquid out of it. It was pretty soupy.

I cooked the pasta until it was al dente, drained the water and then mixed the following ingredients in a large bowl: pasta, pasta sauce, onions, zucchini. I added some of the shredded cheese into the bowl and then the spices.

Note: I used 3 cloves of garlic and minced it. I did not add enough! Next time, I will add more garlic. I defrosted one cup of frozen peas and added that to the mixture.

I topped the casserole with some of the leftover shredded cheese and then baked it.

While dinner was baking, I cleaned up the disastrous kitchen and made myself a small baby spinach salad to go with dinner. I also calculated the calories according to a website I use pretty frequently. I am skeptical about the calorie results, but that’s what the website said.

A dish with a bunch of pasta and cheese is less than 300 calories? Hmmm…I don’t know about that! (What do you guys think?)

The casserole was bubbling, the cheese was melted and the sides were looking a little crispy so I took it out.

The verdict: it was tasty but needed a lot more garlic, or a spice of some kind. Or both. It was a tad bland, but it wasn’t bad. I love the gooey cheese and the flavor of the vegetables in it.

I am not delusional in that I know this recipe is nothing special or difficult! But it was my first stab at creating something of my own completely from scratch. And it was a success!

QUESTION: Do you ever create your own recipes? Tips?

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Tuna Noodle Casserole is one of my favorite casseroles. I used to make it a lot because it was so easy and it tasted great. I loved the crunchy topping of toasted breadcrumbs and butter and the oozing cheese baked inside the noodles. Who couldn’t love that? Well, Michael for one. He is such a picky eater. And while I don’t dictate my food according what he likes (if I did, I’d be eating pizza and hot dogs every day!), I haven’t really made this casserole for years because it’s a lot of work to make a meal for just one person.

On Sunday I had a friend coming over to do some video work with me. My friend Kat was going to help me get my KATU news interview from January off the DVR and onto a disc that I could post here and share with other people. I was so glad she offered to help! She got her degree in video editing so I knew she’d be good at it. I offered to make us lunch and decided I’d do a tuna casserole.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 10

Calories per serving: 278


  • 4 cups dry whole wheat pasta
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 (6 ounce) cans solid white tuna , water packed, well drained
  • 2 (10 ounce) cans fat free cream of celery soup or 2 (10 ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • ½ cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 cup skim milk or 1 cup 1% low-fat milk
  • 1 (10 ounce) can sliced mushrooms , well drained
  • 1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash seasoning mix
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 cup grated reduced-fat cheddar cheese (or to taste)


  1. Set oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease an 11 x 7 or 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray (or use a casserole dish large enough to hold the mixture).
  3. Boil the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente; drain then transfer to a large bowl.
  4. Add in onion and tuna; toss to combine.
  5. In a saucepan heat soup with milk until smooth.
  6. Stir in mushrooms mayonnaise, Mrs Dash seasoning, garlic powder and black pepper until combined; pour into the bowl and toss to combine.
  7. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven then sprinkle with cheddar cheese, return to oven for 2-4 minutes to melt the cheese.


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Sunday morning I slept in and then went swimming in the pool to stretch out my mega sore muscles from weight lifting. I hurried home and then started cooking so that I’d have the casserole in the oven before Kat came over.

I had my own tuna casserole recipe but I went to the internets to find a lower calorie version. The above recipe is what I found. Around 300 calories a serving is okay by me. I was also looking forward to having a lot of leftovers for lunches during the work week. I did not have Mrs. Dash’s seasoning and I left out the mushrooms but for the most part I followed the recipe.

It was really easy to do. I halved the recipe and it still made a TON of food, so keep that in mind when making this dish. I cooked the past and then mixed it all together with the rest of the creamy ingredients. I also added some shredded cheese to the mixture, even though the recipe din’t call for that so my version is probably a little higher in calories.

I also used the crumbs from the crouton bag to top the casserole with some crunchiness. And I was glad I added that–it really made the recipe even better.

The verdict of the recipe: it was really good but it needed more tuna. Halving the recipe I only used one can of tuna and it really needed two. I also would mix all of the recipe’s cheese in the dish instead of using it just on top because the casserole needed a “glue” to hold it all together.

I kid you not when I say HALF of the recipe makes a massive amount of food. I have no idea how the recipe’s creators calculated their servings because not only did Kat and I have a big serving each for lunch, I had leftovers for four days worth of lunches!

Kat is going to work on the video clips and I hope that soon I will have something to share with you guys. 🙂

QUESTION: What’s your favorite casserole recipe?