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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pasta Dinner Just Like Grandma Used To Make

We had my husbands family over for dinner this past Sunday to celebrate Christmas.  I wanted to make something that could be made ahead of time so I decided to make a pasta dinner with homemade slow cooked sauce.  I made the sauce and meatballs last Sunday and then froze everything.  I took everything out of the freezer, thawed it, and cooked it up on the stove....tadah....dinner is served.  Well, of course it was not that easy!  But I did make things a bit easier on myself by making those things ahead of time.  It all came together extremely well.  Everyone had a great time and I believe everyone enjoyed the food.  I was pretty proud that I made a "Pasta dinner just like my Grandma used to make"!


  • 8 cups purchased eggnog
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 cup Kahlua
Stir all ingredients together in a large pitcher of punch bowl.  Add ice.  When cold, remove unmelted ice cubes and serve, garnished with nutmeg and a cinnamon stick in each glass.

*Recipe Courtesy of Cuisine At Home



  • 1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 container (16 oz) sour cream
  • 1 cup Hellmann's mayonnaise
  • 1 package Knorr Vegetable recipe mix
  • 1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, drained and chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped

 Combine all ingredients and chill about 2 hours.



* This is the  best...I mean the best and tastiest dip ever!  Very easy to make and I have found to be a huge, huge hit!

  •  2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup milk (adding a bit at a time)
  • garlic powder to taste
  • 1 TB. chopped fresh chives
  • salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Using a hand blender mix all ingredients until well "whipped".  Chill at least 1 hour before serving.  Potatoe chips go best with this dip, but you could use other "dippers" as well.


* This dip was an experiment of mine...gone well!  Again, it is a very easy dip to make. This dip goes best with pita chips, but can be served with vegies as well.
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 TB. fresh lemon juice
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • 2 TB. olive oil
  • 1 TB. chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup parmesean cheese
  • dash of garlic powder
In a large bowl puree the white beans, cream cheese and lemon juice.  Slowly add olive oil and puree all together.  Add salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, basil, cream cheese and garlic powder.  Mix all together with a spoon.  Place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Can be made one day ahead.



* For those of you who have been to Maggiano's italian restaraunt you know how good their Maggiano's salad is.  For those of you who have not eaten at Maggiano's or have not eaten this salad...please go eat there...but also please try to make this salad at home.  It is awesome!!
  • 10 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 red onion thinly sliced
  • 4 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
  • 4 oz. thin sliced prociutto, cut into 2 inch squares and fried in olive oil (dry on paper towel to soak up extra oil)
  • 1 recipe of Maggiano's famous salad dressing (see dressing below)
Place the lettuce in a large bowl or large platter.  Add sliced onion, blue cheese, and prociutto.  Add salad dressing and toss salad.  Serve immediately.

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dry  mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 3 tsp. sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegie oil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • oregano to taste
  • crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  1. Place garlic cloves, salt, dry mustard, red & white wine vinegar and sugar in a large bowl.  Whisk together. 
  2. Slowly add the vegie oil and olive oil whisking constantly.
  3. Add oregano, crushed red pepper flakes and pepper to taste.  Whisk well.
  4. Place in salad dressing bottle or smaller bowl and place in refrigerator. 
  5. Use when salad is ready.


* If you are italian you will know that everyone has their own "sauce" or "gravy" recipe.  No two "sauces" are the same.  I too, have a version of italian "sauce", and each time I make it it turns out a bit different, but always good.  The biggest compliment I have ever gotten from my older brother is when he turned and looked at me after taking a bite of my pasta and sauce and said " tastes just like Grandma's"!  Just hearing those words is enough to make an italian girl cry!  I make a great marinara sauce, but that is a quick sauce.  This "sauce" is a slow cooked sauce that is made with lots of meat and lots of time!

 This makes a ton of sauce so you can freeze a lot of it as well.
  • olive oil
  • 3 lbs. pork shoulder ( country style ribs)
  • 12 sweet italian sausage links - cut in half
  • 12 meatballs (see recipe below)
  • 2 TB. butter
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 5 cans (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 4 cans (14 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 TB. dried oregano
  • 12 fresh basil leaves finely chopped
  • salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • water ( 1 cup or more)
  1.  In a large dutch oven or large heavy pot heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil. 
  2. Brown all the pork on each side and remove to a plate.
  3. Brown all the sausages on each side and remove to a plate.
  4. Brown all meatballs on each side and remove to a plate.
  5. To the same dutch oven add butter and olive oil.  Heat.
  6. Add garlic and saute for about 3 minutes.
  7. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, oregano, basil, salt and pepper.
  8. Cook on a simmer for about 30 minutes.
  9. With a hand blender puree sauce until smooth ( I just don't like large chunks of tomato because my Grandma's sauce was always smooth)
  10. Simmer sauce for about 1 hour with lid on.
  11. Add all meat; pork, sausage and meatballs.
  12. Simmer sauce on low for at least 3 hours.  The longer the sauce cooks the better it is!
  13. When sauce is done take out all meat and set meat aside.
  14. You can either serve sauce and meat immediately with pasta or freeze for future use.


* I have a thing with meatballs...I base whether I like an Italian restaraunt or not based on their meatballs.  It is really hard to make great meatballs.  They are either too "meaty" where it tastes like you are eating a hamburger or they are too "doughy" and there is too much bread crumbs.  Again, my Grandma made the absolute best meatballs.  Each time I make my meatballs I strive to make them like my Grandma.  Unfortunately, I have not reached my goal of making them exactly like hers, but I think I am getting pretty close!
  •  2 1/2 lbs ground meat (either all beef or 1/2 beef and 1/2 pork)
  •  1/4 cup fresh chopped italian parsley
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesean cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups italian breadcrumbs (plus more for rolling the meatballs in)
  • 2 or 3 eggs - slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl.  I personally mix my meatballs with my hands, but you could also mix all together with a large spoon.
  2. Roll about 1/2 cup measurements of meatball mix into a round ball.  Place on a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.
  3. Place about 1 cup of breadcrumbs in a large flat plate.  Take each meatball and roll in breadcrumbs so there is a light coating of breadcrumbs all over the meatball.  I do this to form a barrier or crunchy coating on the meatballs for frying.
  4. In a large skillet place about 1/4 cup olive oil.  Fry / brown the meatballs on each side. * At this point you could also place all meatballs on a non-greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes.  I personally do not do this because I feel they get too "soft".  I would rather fry them.
  5. To finish cooking place the meatballs in the sauce while it is slow cooking.


  • 3 bags fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves sliced
  • salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Add garlic.  Saute for about 3 minutes.  Add spinach.  Toss to coat with olive oil.  Place lid on.  Stir spinach every so often.  Spinach will wilt fast. Add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper, stir. Place in serving bowl and serve immeditately.





* I was not going to make another dessert, but I decided to make one more thing that would go well with my peppermint ice-cream and Christmas cookies.  I found this recipe in one of my cook-books and it looked easy to make!  I am not a huge dessert person and either is my husband...but this pie was awesome! I have to pat myself on the back!  It was a mixture of cheesecake and apple pie mixed together with a little bit of tart from the cranberries.  This recipe of for sure going into my "keeper" recipe file!
  • 1 package ( 8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed ground sugar, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 1 (9 inch.) unbaked pastry shell
  • 2 cups peeled and sliced apples
  • 1/2 cup halved cranberries
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup old fashioned or quick cooking oats, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts ( I used walnuts)
  1. Mix cream cheese and 1/4 cup brown sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.  Blen in egg.  Pour into pastry shell.
  2. Toss apples, cranberries and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.  Spoon over cream cheese mixture.
  3. Mix flour, oats and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in nuts.  Spoon over fruit mixture.
  4. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool before serving.
* I made this pie a day before my party and placed it in the refrigerator.  I  took it out of fridge a couple hours before serving and dusted it with powdered sugar.


  1. I love Maggiano's salad and that dressing, how did you get the recipe? Funny thing, my brother and I recently were there and all he talked about was how good that dressing was. I have to give him this recipe. Are you from Chicago?

  2. A friend of our families produced a cook book for her church and she had this recipe in that book. The actual recipe makes a gallon of dressing so she actually broke it down into indivdual bottle servings. You can actually buy a bottle of the dressing from Maggiano's when you are dining there. I have done that as well...but I have to say when you make it at home it is so much better!!!!! I am from the Chicago area. We actually moved about 2 years ago from Chicago to Yorkville, IL when we had our twin daughters, but we get back to the city at least once a month! I looked at your blog...AWESOME!!! Looks like you love to cook as much (possibly even more) then I do! Thanks for visiting my blog. I would love to add you as a "site that inspires" on my blog!