May 042012

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.
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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?

Oct 072011

I’ll admit, I was pretty clueless about gardening when we set out on this quest to grow our own veggies. I guess I just assumed we’d plant and then the work was done. Boy was I wrong. Recently I wrote about things I learned for next year’s garden. It’s been a learning process every step of the way.

One of the big things I should have done is make a gardening calender for when I planted the crops, and when they should be ready for harvesting. Next year! I’ve been reading gardening books and consulting Google for advice on when my crops are ready–and HOW to harvest them.


I just cut off the leaves, wash them and eat them. The lettuce regenerates pretty quickly, so we always have lettuce. Here is the romaine lettuce when we first planted it:

And it turned into this:

The lettuce is the biggest success of the garden, I think.

Until it bolted and I had to pull it all out. I don’t think there’s anything I can do to prevent that next year, unfortunately.


Apparently onions can be picked at any stage but the thing to look for is the leaves to lose their color and flop over.  The instructions were to pull the onions up on a sunny day and let them sit in the sun for another day or so to dry. This drying kills the root system at the bottom of each bulb. The roots will be like little brittle wires when they’re dry. Onions are ready when the skins rattle and the roots are dry and wiry.

I pulled one really early and it tasted great–it was small, but tasty.


There are so many different kinds of squashes, and apparently different rules for all of them. For example, summer squash should be harvested when still tender and slightly “immature” but winter squash needs to be “fully matured.” How the heck do I know the difference?! I planted acorn squash.

Squash before:

Acorn squash is a winter squash (who knew?) and needs to be harvested when the rinds are tough. The easiest way to know when to harvest: it’s dark green in color and hard. This is where a gardening calender would have come in handy because the squash takes between 80-100 days to ripen.

Squash after:



The zucchini was the biggest surprise. I had no idea the plant would get so big and literally take over the garden. The advice from everyone was: “pick them young and pick them often.” Big zucchini is apparently flavorless or bitter. The zucchini can be picked in the “baby” stage and it’s supposedly sweet. The normal size when picked is 6-7 inches long. Baby zucchini:

To harvest, snip the fruit from the plant with pruners or scissors, or just give the zucchini a bit of a twist; the stem should come away from the rest of the plant easily. The zucchini is ready:

The zucchini was amazing. It would be tiny on a Tuesday and I’d get busy and forget to check them until Sunday and all of a sudden they’d tripled in size! I loved the zucchini. I gave tons away to friends and coworkers, plus we ate a ton of it all summer long.


These were pretty self-explanatory. When they are red they’re ready! Our tomato plants grew humongous and a few of them even toppled over because of the weight. There were hundreds of tomatoes growing on the plants. We got a few different varieties of plants so it was cool to see the differences in size and color as they ripened.

I picked some of the baby tomatoes that were ripe. They were delicious and sweet, tender and more amazing than anything I’ve bought in a store.

Once the tomatoes all came to fruition I had to become creative with ways to use them:

  • Mozzarella, basil and tomato salads (my favorite)
  • Tomatoes on green salads
  • Homemade salsa
  • Marinara sauce

Lots of yummy options!


I was really looking forward to harvesting this little guy:

For months I watched him grow,  plump up, turn a golden green. I was excited to see it change colors. Then one morning I found this:

Yep, some little bastard destroyed my pepper. So so so sad! :(

Luckily one survived the slugs and I was able to enjoy my pepper.



Michael had done tomatoes and jalapenos before and they were successful. We did jalapenos this summer to go with our tomatoes and (what I thought was) cilantro to make salsa.

We chopped up the jalapenos and put them in a lot of things–turkey burgers, salsa, everything. They were tiny but delicious.

Finally, the herbs I planted were massive. They flourished and I didn’t really have the opportunity to use them as much as I wanted to. I wish I had been on top of things to make a bunch of pesto with the basil to freeze. I am currently in the process of drying some oregano and parsley though.

QUESTION: If you are a gardening, what was the biggest success and failure of your garden?