Spinach Manicotti with Creamy Tomato Sauce

Let’s talk about the five main food groups. Carbs, cheese, sauce, wine and dessert. Pair this delicious manicotti with a big glass of wine and you’ve got 4 out of the 5 covered! My husband always jokes that the only thing I ever want to eat is bread, sauce and cheese. And he’s not wrong. Pizza is my one true love and melted brie with fig jam and sliced French baguette is a close second. I mean I do eat plenty of fruits and veggies and I love a nice big salad loaded with all kinds of toppings, but if I’m going to indulge, I’m having some kinda of carb topped with lots of sauce and lots of cheese. And this is my indulgence for the week.

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I can guarantee this will quickly become one of your family’s favorite meals. My toddler gobbled this stuff up. Like I think she ate two whole manicotti by herself. With a fork ya’ll. She’s getting so big.

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Have you tried baking uncooked noodles in sauce before? I remember the first time I ever heard of such a thing. It was a few years ago now. I was diving head first into a pan of my mother-in-law’s lasagna and when I came up for air she told me she did not boil the noodles before she baked the lasagna. Whaaaaa?????? I could NOT believe it. It was definitely an “aha” moment for me and I’ve never boiled a lasagna noodle since.

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I find that the lasagna (and manicotti in this case) holds together better when the noodles are not boiled before baking. I’m sure it has something to do with the starches being released during the cooking process or something. But I’m not into all that science stuff. That’s what I’m not much of a baker. Too much science and exact measurements.

Spinach Manicotti with Sausage and Creamy Tomato Sauce

  • Servings: 8
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Ingredients

  • 5 cups of my Secret Family Recipe Spaghetti Sauce (or your favorite brand)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan, divided
  • 1 (16 oz.) box of uncooked manicotti noodles
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 (16 oz.) container park skim ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley + more for garnish
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Kosher salt
  • fresh cracked pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl combine chopped spinach, ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 2 cups mozzarella, parsley, egg yolks, a large pinch of pepper and a couple large pinches of salt. Transfer to a piping bag (a gallon Ziploc baggy works well too).

Spread 1 cup of spaghetti sauce evenly in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Cut the tip off your piping bag about the width of the mancotti noodles. You’ll want a large opening so you can easily pipe the filling into the noodles. No need to cook them before you bake. They will do their magic in the oven and hold together much better. Pipe the filling into one end of the noodle, then flip the noodle and fill the other side. This technique will ensure that the entire inside of the noodle is filled. I was able to fill all 14 noodles.

Place filled manicotti in the baking dish so they are touching but not too smooshed together as they will expand during the cooking process. Pour remaining sauce in an even layer on top of the noodles. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 50 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over top of the noodles and bake for another 5 minutes uncovered. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and enjoy!

Fig Jam, Pear and Grogonzola Tartlets (7)

Bacon & Leek Pizza with Dill Pesto

Do you have a Woodman’s where you live? Have you tried ordering your groceries online? You literally pick out exactly what you want (including back ups in case they are out of something) and pick the date/time you want to pick them up. They text you a reminder when your groceries are ready and you text them back when you have arrived. They wheel the groceries right out to your car and even help you load it up. It literally could not be easier! It has saved us so much time it’s ridiculous! There is a $4.95 charge if your order is $50-$99.99 but get your order over $100 and it’s free! In the long run I’m convinced it’s also saved us money too, because there’s no impulse purchases as you’re navigating the aisles.

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The biggest plus for me is the not having to deal with the anxiety and annoyance of grocery shopping. I hate dealing with the aisle blockers, slow walkers, dilly dalliers, loud talkers, yelling parents, screaming children (mostly my own) and worst of all those shoppers who act like they are literally the only people in the entire store. You know the ones, blocking the entire dairy aisle with their perpendicular cart only to leave it in the middle of the aisle and wander down 10 feet to look at the sour cream. Meanwhile a line of 8 people is waiting to get around her. I may have lost my temper a bit and after politely saying, “Excuse me” also muttered under my breath, “Not like there’s a line of 10 people behind you.” This lady got super pissed and started yelling at me. Admittedly, I was being a bit snippy and I probably deserved the words she said to me. But damn lady, get outta the freakin’ way! We all have places to go and no one wants to stand here and watch you spend 20 minutes debating sour cream brands.

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So now it’s click, click, click, pick up my groceries and I’m done. No more starting shit at the grocery store for me!

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I do have one complaint though…I hate all the plastic bags! I have tried writing “paper bags only, no plastic bags please” in the notes section of every single order, and I still get everything in plastic bags. I could probably bring my own canvas grocery bags and switch them out, but you know they are just going to throw away those plastic bags and no reuse them, so what’s the point? At least when I get them home, I can recycle them. But, come on Eau Claire, let’s get on this “plastic bag ban” bandwagon please!

Rant over. This pizza is delicious and you need to make it now. It easy, it tastes great and your family will love you for putting this delicious creation on the dinner table.

Bacon and Leek Pizza with Dill Pesto

  • Servings: 2-3
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Ingredients

  • 1 (12-14 inch) pizza crust (1/4 of my no knead pizza dough recipe)
  • 1/2 recipe of my homemade dill pesto (or 1/2 cup of your fave pesto)
  • 1 medium leek, thinly sliced
  • 4 strips crispy bacon, crumbled
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Garnish: fresh chopped dill

Directions

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. If you’re using my no knead pizza dough recipe, line a pizza pan or baking sheet with foil and and sprinkle a thin layer of corn meal to prevent the crust from sticking. Turn the dough ball out onto a floured work surface. Gently shape it into a disc, then carefully working in a clockwise motion, gently press and stretch the dough into a 12 inch circle. Don’t overwork the dough; the less you touch it the better. If you’re using a pre-baked store bought crust you can skip these steps and just place your crust on a foil lined pan.

Spread pesto in an even layer across the pizza, leaving about a half inch of crust. Then add, leeks, bacon, mozzarella and Parmesan, spreading everything in an even layer across the crust. Bake for 15 minute or until the edges are dark golden brown and the cheese starts to brown as well. Garnish with fresh dill and serve!

Fig Jam, Pear and Grogonzola Tartlets (7)

The Best Ever Crispy Baked Fries

Spoiler Alert: If you just want the recipe keep scrolling because Olivia’s about to get real. I can’t say for sure what it is, but there’s a certain quiet loneliness about the late winter months that I just can’t seem to shake. The warmth of the holidays has worn off, the sun is out for like 3 hours and I’m not much of a cold weather person so I don’t really get anytime quality time with mother nature. Did anyone else feel the seasonal anxiety and depression that comes along with winters in Wisconsin this year? I honestly have never realized it before. But looking back, the last few years I’ve been buried pretty deep in those mid-winter blues. As the sun starts shining, the temps warm up and I come out on the other side now, I noticed that I have quite a distinctive pattern around the same time every year. Usually it’s late January or early February, but sometimes it even rolls into March. I start to feel really out of it and melancholy and start contemplating life and how crazy it all is. Which prompts me to schedule a visit with a doctor, who of course tells me everything is fine and then spring comes and I forget all about it. One year it was a few trips to the ER, a few EKGs and finally an echo-cardiogram because I was having palpitations and chest pains (which I later realized were actually panic attacks). A couple years in a row it’s just triggered me to schedule my annual exam and have some labs drawn; I can’t tell you the number of times they’ve tested my thyroid levels. This year it was some delightful rectal bleeding and lower abdominal CT, followed by a colonoscopy. Oh, and there’s usually a drastic hair cut or color thrown in there somewhere. How have I never noticed this about myself before? But with this realization comes the ability to do something about it!

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Move to a warmer climate, right?! JUST KIDDING. I do love Wisconsin; mostly because it’s where my family lives, but I also appreciate the seasons. Even if I go a little crazy for half the year. Every season has it’s pros and cons, but I like living somewhere where you get to experience each season so distinctly. Plus I hate big spiders, snakes and scorpions. So climates where it’s warm all year are out of the question for me. I need that deep freeze to make sure the spiders only get pretty big and not gigantic.

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This past winter my anxiety actually got so bad and constant that I considered adding some sort of prescription pharmaceutical to my daily routine. Which if you know me at all, is quite a surprising thing to hear (see my latest post regarding a sedation free colonoscopy) because I am someone who hates to even take Excedrin when I have a raging migraine with aura. But, almost like clockwork, the seasons have begun to change and I am feeling good again. Certainly not anxiety free, but leaps and bounds better than I had been feeling even just a month ago.

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*Just to clarify: I am in no way putting down those who take prescriptions for anything. I realize it is very necessary for many and might even be for me some day. I just really hate to put any medication of any kind into my body so when I started to consider it, it was a sign that my anxiety was really starting to take a toll on me. It’s so important to listen to your body and take it’s queues.

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The Best Crispy Baked Fries

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. russet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • salt
  • pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice each potato into 1/2 inch slices, then cut each slice into 1/2 inch wide sticks. So basically, cut the potatoes into french fries. Then add potatoes, oil, garlic powder, thyme and paprika to a large bowl. Add a couple generous pinches of salt and large pinch of pepper. Stir until seasoning is well distributed and fries are well coated.

Spread fries in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip the fries so all sides get nice and crispy. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Then crank the heat to 500 and bake for 15 minutes. Flip fries and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until desired crispiness is reached. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce. I’m not going to pretend like mine isn’t Heinz ketchup, because it is.

Fig Jam, Pear and Grogonzola Tartlets (8)

{Vegan} Quinoa and Lentil Tacos

You may have noticed that I’ve been pretty silent on the blog and my social media pages this past week. Well, that’s because I’ve been eating the blandest of bland food in preparation to be the lucky recipient of a colonoscopy! *insert shudder and disgusted face here* A colonoscopy at 30?? Yes, my friends. A couple months back I experienced some rectal bleeding that lasted about a week. To be honest, it scared the shit out of me. Pun intended… I can only attribute it too a few too many take out pizza nights accompanied by a couple too many glasses of wine. Other than that there was no change to my diet, exercise or sleep habits. I experienced no pain, no cramping, nothing out of the ordinary other than some very bright red blood in the toilet bowl and streaked through my stool. I know, too much information, but after doing some research, colorectal cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer related death is this country. So it’s time to start talking about your poop people!

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Even with the introduction of fiber supplements and ridiculous amounts of fruits and veggies, the bleeding continued every morning like clock work all week. By Friday morning I was feeling light headed and dizzy (most likely related to the unsettling feeling of now knowing what the hell is going on with my body). I could only get an appointment with the GI doctor if I had a referral from my primary care doctor or an urgent care doctor. I didn’t have a primary care doctor (although you can bet your bottom dollar that I do now and you should too!) and after a quick trip to urgent care I was told they don’t treat issues like mine and that I needed to go the ER. So, after an abdominal CT and some labs they said everything looked normal and I finally got that referral to the GI department!

Of course, the GI provider told me that while the CT didn’t show any masses or abnormalities, they really wouldn’t be able to rule everything out until they did a colonoscopy. Now I am one of those people who likes to really do my research and know exactly what I can expect before something happens. I told the provider I needed to think on it and mentally prepare for the colonoscopy before scheduling one. A little background info on the topic: My grandma is almost two years cancer free after her own battle with colon cancer, so this really hit close to home for me. She had a large mass removed from her colon along with chemotherapy treatments and to be honest, she handled it like a champ. Although they say your risk only increases if you have a first degree relative who had colon cancer, I have to imagine that my risk is still somewhat increased if I have a second degree relative who had it. In my mind, I knew that I had to have the colonoscopy but I needed some time to learn more about the process and what I could expect. The provider I had the consult with assured me that the risks were minimal and rarely occur, but there was the possibility of perforation of the colon (when removing a large polyp) and there’s always risks with sedating a patient (issues related to heart rate, blood pressure, etc.).

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Armed with my limited knowledge of the procedure, I started doing some research using the good old Google. I discovered that in most cases the patient is sedated for the procedure and has no memory of it at all. They wake up and hang out in the recovery area for about a half hour and then head home to sleep and relax for the rest of the day. Obviously sedation affects everyone differently, but many people feel foggy and out of it for the rest of the day. You aren’t permitted to sign legal documents and are considered legally impaired for the rest of the day. While having no memory of the procedure sounded great, being sedated and out of it for the rest of the day just did not sit well with me. The more research I did, the more articles I found about sedation free colonoscopies. I was surprised to find out that most health care providers, health care staff and those who are “highly educated” opt for sedation free colonoscopies because it’s just not necessary to be sedated. Now, I don’t have a college degree but I can tell you that I if I don’t have to put sedatives in my body, I don’t want to. I hate to put any anything in my body if I don’t have to (unless it’s wine or pizza…now you see how I got in this predicament). I don’t even like to take Excedrin when I have a throbbing migraine with aura so the thought of a sedation free colonoscopy appealed to me.

Contrary to popular belief, colonoscopies are not painful. Your colon actually does not have nerve endings that sense pain, temperature or touch. Most people who experience extreme pain or discomfort during the procedure are those with inflammation, digestive issues or obstructed bowels.

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Post Procedure Update:

WOW. Glad that’s over. But seriously, it was no where near as bad as I was expecting! Like I mentioned above, I started eating a low fiber, very bland diet about 4 days before the procedure and also reduced my overall intake of food. The day before the procedure I only drank clear liquids, ate gummy bears and lemon popsicles. While the lack of food for over 24 hours was not as hard as I thought it was going to be, I did have a lot of difficulty focusing at work and only lasted for about half the day before I had to go home and be foggy in the comfort of my own home.

I made sure to pump myself full of water in anticipation of the dehydrating prep that I had to drink the night before the procedure. In most articles I read, the prep portion was the hardest for patients to complete. It requires you to drink 16 (8 oz.) glasses of this nasty, salty liquid. You drink 12 glasses the night before and 4 glasses the morning of. I channeled my younger partying days and poured myself shots of the prep liquid which I threw back and then chased with white Gatorade. This made it a lot easier for me, but seriously drinking 72 oz. of liquid in 3 hours is quite a feat! The actual evacuation of my bowels really wasn’t too bad. I hadn’t eaten much over the last few days, so there wasn’t much left to come out! I heeded all the warnings and was sure to use baby wipes instead of toilet paper during the process which made things a lot less painful. Overall, while unpleasant, the prep was not awful. The worst part was just the sore bottom afterwards. Thank you Desitin!

Although by the time the first round of prep was completed things were coming out clear, I drank the second round of prep in the morning as instructed. I read many stories of people’s colons being too dirty to undergo procedure and having to reschedule and start the whole cycle over–no thank you! So I choked it down and then rested for a few hours before my appointment. My appointment was in the afternoon because they were able to squeeze me in on short notice with my doctor of choice, Dr. Jaime Zighelboim. He was a clear choice for me after reading this article about how he performed sedation free colonoscopies. I found my experience to be very similar to the lady in the article.

I do have to note that I was overwhelmingly impressed with the nursing staff and their ability to keep me feeling very calm, comfortable and relaxed during my entire visit. My admitting nurse had me laughing and was very encouraging when I relayed my plan to forgo sedation. He described the procedure in great detail so I knew exactly what to expect. He explained that the first part of the procedure they are just working on getting the scope all the way to the end of your colon, then the remainder of the procedure they are cleaning the colon with water and suction while they inspect every inch. Once you make it through the full insertion of the scope, the removal process is a piece of cake. He also explained that they would still place an IV in my arm in the event that I did choose to have sedation mid-procedure; they would be able to hook me up and get those going right away. It was comforting to know that if it was painful or uncomfortable, there was always the option of sedation.

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It seems like such a small thing but it also really helped to have the procedure nurse hold my hand during the entire procedure. She kept asking how I was doing and reminded me to breath during the times where I felt some pressure as the doctor guided the scope around the 90 degree angles of my colon. At first, I closed my eyes and didn’t want to watch the TV screen projecting the view of the scope. But as I relaxed, I opened my eyes and started watching as he steered the scope skillfully shooting water at little particles that were stuck to the walls of my colon. His movements were calculated and confident. I truly felt like I was in good hands.

For the most part, it really was an uneventful procedure. It lasted maybe 10-12 minutes. I felt some little wiggles from inside and I could feel the presence of the scope just at the opening of my rectum but it was well lubricated and was not painful during insertion or during the procedure. I did feel some poking and pressure once and it lasted for maybe 8 seconds. It was on my left side and it was just as the scope rounded a sharp corner. On a scale from 1-10 I’d give the pain maybe a 3-4. It was not a pain like when you cut your finger or even when you hit your shin on something. It was more just a poking pressure. I took a few deep breaths and closed my eyes again and it was pretty much over as quickly as it as it began. During this time the doctor explained that while the colon itself cannot feel pain, the pressure that I was experiencing  was the ligaments that hold the colon in place stretching and moving as scope navigated the corners. In the end, I was given a clean bill of health and sent on my way!

I realize this is like WAY TOO MUCH detail for some people. But honestly, it’s something we need to talk about. I wonder if my grandma would have had a colonoscopy earlier in her life if she’d known what to expect and known the consequences of not having regular exams after age 50 or before if you are having issues. It’s amazing that colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer related deaths in this country despite it being extremely preventable and treatable in many cases with early detection and regular screenings. So that’s why I chose to write about it. Because colonoscopies have a bad rap and they really don’t need to.

Personally, I would 100% do it again without sedation. Being awake and aware of what was happening to my body felt empowering. Being able to get up and walk out of the hospital after the procedure felt great. If you are contemplating a colonoscopy without sedation, I would strongly urge you to try it. You can also opt for the drugs if it’s not your cup of tea. It’s important to remember that you have options, and to find a health care provider you trust who is willing to discuss alternatives to traditional medicine.

{Vegan} Quinoa and Lentil Tacos

  • Servings: 8 tacos
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Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 cups cooked red lentils
  • 1.5 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium tamari
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • salt
  • pepper

Directions

Start by heating oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently for about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently for about 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with tamari and water. Then add lentils, quinoa, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, paprika and a liberal pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to combine and cook until just heated through.

Serve with your favorite taco toppings! I chose my favorite Chipotle Lime Slaw, sauteed veggies and fresh made guacamole.

Fig Jam, Pear and Grogonzola Tartlets (9)

The Best Roasted Breakfast Potatoes

I can guarantee these will be the best breakfast potatoes you have ever eaten. They are golden brown and crispy on the outside, while perfectly tender and soft on the inside. They are seasoned but not too salty or too herbaceous. These are the perfect accompaniment to a sunny side up egg with a buttered piece of toast a few slices of ripe avocado.

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I have never before cooked breakfast potatoes with such ease and grace and I owe it all to Ree Drunmond over at a little blog called The Pioneer Woman. Ever heard of it? I thought you might have. My recipe was adapted from her’s and I think we can all agree that Ree takes the cake when it comes to any sort of comfort food.

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These potatoes do all of their work in the oven, leaving you free to prepare other food on your stove top or just kick back and relax with a cup of tea. I used to dice my potatoes, boil them, drain them, saute them in oil and spices and every single time I’d end up with soggy, overcooked potatoes and still somehow never managed to get golden brown on the outside.

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Then while laying in bed on Sunday morning, I scrolled across this recipe from The Pioneer Woman. And I thought, hell yeah! This is worth trying. The potatoes are roasted at 425 for about 25 minutes to get them nice and tender, then you crank the heat to 500 for another 20 minutes to give them that golden brown color and crispiness on the outside. It’s genius. And if you’ve ever used any of Ree’s recipes before, I’m sure you’re not surprised. Her recipes are always spot on and super tasty.

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The Best Breakfast Potatoes

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs. baby red potatoes, large diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoning salt
  • large pinch Kosher salt
  • pinch fresh cracked pepper

Directions

Start by heating your oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Add all ingredients to a medium sized bowl and stir until potatoes are thoroughly coated. Spread potatoes in a single layer across the pan. Spread them out as much as possible to promote even cooking.

Bake for 25 minutes, stirring potatoes halfway through. Crank the heat up to 500 and bake for another 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve! Does it get any easier than that?

Fig Jam, Pear and Grogonzola Tartlets (1)

 

{Vegan} Sesame Ginger Pasta Salad

This salad is fast. It’s easy. It’s simple. And so, this post will be too! This is another one of my favorite meal prep recipes for lunches during the work week. I like to bring something cold for lunch so as not to fill our tiny office with the fragrance of my favorite curry recipe or roasted poblano soup. While I enjoy all those smells and flavors, I realize that everyone may not. So I usually save those gems for dinner and bring something equally as flavorful but slightly less offensive to the senses of those around me.

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Enter, pasta salad! You might be saying, didn’t you just post a pasta salad recipe last week?! Yes, I did. But that was last week and this is now. And when summer comes and you’re not sure what to bring to your friend’s BBQ, now you have this recipe and you have that Mediterranean pasta salad from last week. So you’re welcome!

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I like to use spaghetti noodles because I love to swirl them around on my fork but you could use any shape you want. Just try to make sure it’s whole wheat. It’s way better for you and once you get used to the toothier texture you might find that you prefer it over regular white pasta.

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{Vegan} Sesame Ginger Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 8
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Ingredients

For pasta salad:

  • 1 lb. whole wheat pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 1/2 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1/2 red pepper diced
  • 1/4 red onion, petite diced
  • 1/2 a small red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 3 large carrots, shredded
  • 3 stalks green onion, thinly sliced
  • 1.5 cups cooked, shelled edamame
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

For dressing:

  • 1 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/3 rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • fresh cracked pepper

Directions

This recipe really couldn’t be much easier. Add all pasta salad ingredients to a large bowl. Add all dressing ingredients to a large mason jar and shake it up real good. If you are planning to serve the pasta salad immediately, pour dressing into the serving bowl and toss until everything is well coated. Garnish with sesame seeds.

If you are planning to meal prep this recipe like I did, pour about 1/2 of the dressing into the serving bowl and toss until everything is well coated. Then divide into 8 containers and garnish each container of salad with sesame seeds. Each morning before work, or just before serving add another splash of dressing to the salad. This will ensure that the noodles don’t get too soggy and that your pasta salad is still flavorful a few days later.

Fig Jam, Pear and Grogonzola Tartlets (2)