Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook


Roasted summer squash and tomatoes

Recipe, Sides, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

Yellow squash, zucchini and grape tomatoes team up with herbs in this east side dish to sing the real song of summer. Nutritious and delicious, this simple side is surprisingly filling.


Hear that? It's my stomach growling. Skip to the recipe, please.

If you could only ever have one side dish ever again, what would it be?

Honestly, I don't know if I could answer that myself. I'm kind of a side dish fiend. Sometimes I need to remind myself that you don't have to have 2-3 with every single meal. 

I like it all. Mac and cheese. Tabouli. Stuffing. Fruit salad. Sweet potato casserole. I love sides so much, sometimes I'll get a bunch of them as a meal if a restaurant has good ones. I do what I want. 


Through it all, there's a soft spot in my heart for veggies. First, I just love the way they taste. Second, I love the way they make me feel. I know I'm doing something good for my body when I eat them, and it's a health solution that doesn't involve rocket science or too-good-to-be-true fixes.

As I get older... I can definitely feel if I'm not eating enough of them. 


So if I really had to narrow down to my top five, roasted summer squash and tomatoes would for sure make the list. It's one of my most-made side dishes. It's such a favorite that a form of it was one of the four(!) side dishes at my wedding. It was also a frequent item on the menu when I was doing personal catering. 


It takes a little prep to get it together, but what it comes down to is throwing a bunch of fresh foods on a sheet pan and roasting it until everything is nice and soft with some crispy spots. The zucchini and yellow squash are perfection when they start to get nice and roasty, especially with the garlic and shallots pitching in. The tomatoes add the perfect tangy twist, almost like a tomato sauce.

It's one of those dishes that tastes fresh and bright, but still comforting and satisfying. You're not going to regret only making one side dish if you choose wisely, and this is choosing wisely.


Need a shortcut?

Mincing garlic and shallots will be the thing that turns a lot of people off of this recipe, I think. Both can seem daunting to beginners, and it might seem unnecessary to people who just want dinner on the table.

Here's the deal. If you're TRULY in a crunch, you can just cook the squash and tomatoes with some olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, and any herbs you have on hand. 

I get it, I really do. We’re all busy, and taking the time to make dinner can seem like such a killjoy when you’re on a roll with other tasks. I’ll be honest, I do this almost as much as I do it my preferred way if it's a weeknight.

BUT... and this is an important but. 

Here’s the thing. If you don’t do the work, you’ll never get better at cooking. Do you believe there will ever be a time when you’re less “busy”? Do you believe there will ever be a “right” time? 

There might be. Then again, if you’re one of those people who is constantly saying “yes” to the next challenge and who enjoys work, there might not be. 

A 2016 New York Times article about health habits to build in your 20s points out the decisions we make may be more long-term than we realize. That goes for heart health, how we look and feel, and potentially how much weight we carry.

Cooking is like anything else you do. It takes work.

It comes to some people a little easier than others, but ultimately what you get out of it is what you put into it. If you take a little time a couple of times a week and learn how to effectively do the basics—chop an onion, mince a shallot, crush and mince garlic, cut a tomato in a way that doesn’t leave you wondering if you’re doing it right… you will slowly but surely learn how to cook confidently and more quickly.

That’s the hard truth of cooking. Sometimes what makes it take so long is being in the beginning stages. Wavering over how long it’s going to take to cut an onion, rather than knowing it takes a minute or two with experience. Wobbling as you cut the potato, because how are you supposed to cut something round anyway? 

It takes practice. It takes being slow for a little while. But it's an investment with clear, guaranteed results. 

Listen, you have to eat. No matter what, you’ll have to spend some money, go someplace to get the food (cooked or not), and spend time waiting for and eating it. If you take just a few nights a week regularly to work on making it yourself, you WILL get better. 

You'll need to look some things up, maybe more than once. You may need to ask for help. You may burn a meal or two. But soon, you’ll figure things out well enough that the struggle won’t be how to get something cooked. Instead, it will be how much effort you feel like putting into it tonight.

To add a new ingredient or not? To leave out that hard-to-find, expensive ingredient you’re out of, or try a substitute? To bother plating it, or to let everyone serve themselves right from the stove?

I'd serve that right. from. the. stove. 

I'd serve that right. from. the. stove. 

Not only will you develop skills, but your brain will start to recognize which flavors go together. What things cook similarly enough that you can put them together in the oven and not burn them. How to throw together a meal with what you found on manager’s special at the supermarket, or what came in your CSA box. 

You’ll learn to cook on the fly, and how to plan to cook based on your resources. THAT is how you get reasonably healthy meals on the table most days.

The goal for most of us, after all, isn’t to become a chef. That’s what culinary school is for. It’s to be able to cook tasty food that fuels your body. It’s to enjoy one of the pillars of life: creating food to eat with your loved ones.

Decent results for making a delicious side dish a couple times a week, right?

So, what's your favorite side dish of all time? Let me know in the comments! I'm always looking to add something new to my ever-expanding list. 

As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me! 

So let's get roasting!


Before you go, I want to let you know about a resource I created. If you're still a little intimidated by anything outside of microwaving, I created it just for you!

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. You can use as much or as little of it as you like, but I think every beginning cook should at least get familiar with the concepts in this booklet. 

Just click below for a free download and let me know how you like it! 

Tangy, roasted tomatillo sauce

Mexican, Recipe, Sauces, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

A tangy, summery sauce that's both comforting and refreshing. Versatile enough to use over meats or in vegetarian dishes, this sauce works wonders over steak, chicken and pork; in tacos, salads or rice bowls; as a dipping sauce and more.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy any of the products I recommend. I only recommend products I believe in. That means I've used it myself in most cases, and at the very least have researched it thoroughly and find the company trustworthy. I would never recommend anything I wouldn't buy myself. I would love to answer any questions you have!

My belly is growling. Just skip to the recipe pleaaaase.

I like to play this game at the grocery store. I pick one item that I've never cooked with or eaten before, buy it, and learn how to do something tasty with it. Several years ago I put some tomatillos in my cart, and they've been regular LLC cart club members ever since. 

Tomatillos feature in some of my favorite recipes ever. The first dish I created with them was my own take on chicken enchiladas. You can find that recipe for chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce here, as it eventually turned into the first recipe I ever posted to my original blog.

Yes, tomatillos started it all ;)

I’m betting at least a few of you are asking if this is the same thing as a green tomato. No, no, no and nooooo.

Tomatillos are much more flavorful, more substantial and is fully ripe. Green tomatoes are unripe red ones. That’s why they taste so much more “green” than ripe tomatoes. They haven’t had the time and sun exposure to develop the sugars and acids their vine-ripened counterparts are known for. 

So please don't replace tomatillos with green tomatoes in a recipe (or vice versa). 

Tomatillos are used heavily in Mexican cuisine, and they're widely used and grown throughout South America as well.

You can use them cooked or as a raw ingredient, though there's a little something special to them when they're cooked along with garlic and some spice. They’re perfect for sauces either way, because they have a high pectin content.

Pectin is what gives jelly its jiggle. It kindly offers tomatillos a rich texture that accentuates their sour flavor. They're also fairly low in sugar, so while you can enhance their sweetness when you cook them, they don’t lose their acidic punch.

Cook them with savory ingredients and you can take things up several notches.

Note: I did not use all the onions pictured for this recipe—some were for another application.

Note: I did not use all the onions pictured for this recipe—some were for another application.

Tomatillos aren’t necessarily hard to find in the U.S. especially in the South—the growing season is long, and nearly year-round in some places. Still, they’re kind of a specialty item, and it can be hard to find many good-looking, sizable ones at the same time. That’s why when you find a good bunch of them, you definitely seize the opportunity to make them into something delicious.

Another thing that's great about tomatillos? They're super easy to work with. This sauce proves it—when it comes down to it, all you really have to do is roast them with some onions, then blend them up with the rest of the ingredients. 

I use a slightly older version of this Ninja Master Prep Food Processor set for things like this. It was a wedding gift in 2014 and it's still going strong! I do a LOT of blending, and I highly recommend it. 

This sauce has a mouthfeel similar to gravy, and it’s just as comforting. On the other hand, it tastes fresh and light, not heavy and sleepy. It’s familiar enough to soothe, but also refreshing so that you won’t feel bogged down after dinner. 

If there is a healthy, summery comfort food, this is how it begins.

Another reason I love this sauce is that you can use it for SO many things. I developed the recipe when I was doing personal catering for clients on a paleo diet (loose paleo—yes, I know tomatillos are nightshades and discussed that with them :)). I wanted to make sure they weren't getting bored, so I served it over flat iron steak. Let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint. I was a little nervous that it would be drowned out against the strong flavor and texture of the steak, but it held its own with no problem. 

Since then, II've used this sauce over steaks, chicken, pork and sweet potato hash; in tacos and even in salads and rice bowls. It's been to my table more times than I can remember, and it hasn't let me down yet. 

Here it is with its dream date, steak.

Now, for any tomatillo newbies, here's what you need to know to find, buy, clean and store tomatillos. 

I'm kind of a tomatillo expert, just give me the recipe please.

Where to buy tomatillos

I have been able to find them at most large grocery stores, and some farmers markets. If you live in an isolated area—West Virginia born & raised right here, everything is on or between mountains—it might be a little more difficult. 

First, don't be afraid to ask for help if you have trouble finding them. I have found these papery beauties in multiple places in different stores, and even the people who sell them don't always know what they're for (or even what they are, in some cases).

I've found them with the tomatoes, with the garlic and shallots,  randomly placed among the rest of the produce, and in setups just for hispanic foods.

Choosing the best of the bunch

First, make sure you look under the husks before you take your tomatillos home. Typically they're pretty easy to pull back, and if they're too tight, you can just rip them back a little.

Tomatillos should be bright green and plump. The size can range from smaller than a ping-pong ball to almost the size of a billiard ball—the bigger ones will be a little more developed, but it doesn't make much of a difference. They should feel fairly firm to the touch. Not hard like an apple, but not squishy like a tomato.

They shouldn't have a lot of brown spots or wrinkles, and they definitely shouldn't have mold or punctures. If a tomatillo has a few imperfections but they don't look deep or affect the firmness, you can probably just cut the them off and no one will know the difference.

How to clean tomatillos

All you have to do to husk a tomatillo is peel back the papery shells and pop them off.

Once the husks are off, the first thing you'll probably notice is the sticky film on the tomatillos' skin, almost like pine sap. That's perfectly normal, and it's actually pretty easy to remove. 

Just put them in some cold water and rub them with your hands. If they're really sticky, add a little white vinegar to help break it down. You have to wash produce anyway, so this step hardly takes any time. If they still feel a bit tacky after washing, don't worry about it, that's just how they are. 

How to store tomatillos

Unlike their tomato relatives, you can store tomatillos in the refrigerator. I usually keep them on the counter and just use them quickly. You can actually clean and cut them ahead and they'll keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days. Just make sure they're dry before packing so they don't get moldy.

By the way...

It's toh-mah-tee-oh.

You may have guessed how to pronounce tomatillo already, but there's a good chance this saved at least a few people from frantically googling it (pretending to be texting someone—I know the drill) shortly before they had to say it out loud.

No judgement here. 

I mean, how could you even bother to judge anyone with this sauce proving the world is full of love and beauty?

As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me! 

So what would you do with this tomatillo sauce? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Now, let's get saucy!

Tuscan-inspired white bean tomato soup

Fall, Italian, Recipe, Soup, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

A simple, delicious, rustic soup inspired by the flavors of Tuscany. This recipe makes enough to feed a crowd, but it's incredible after the flavors mingle in the refrigerator overnight, so leftovers make this great for smaller families and individuals as well.


Need... food.... Jump to the recipe, please.

Cannellini beans are one of my favorite foods. That's probably kind of weird, but it's true. Beyond being creamy and delicious, they're so versatile. If you stock them in your cabinet—canned or dried—with just a few other staples, you'll have vast number of meals at your fingertips any time. This is one of them.

This soup is inspired by one I had at a farm in Tuscany. Fattoria il Poggio sits atop a hill in Montecarlo, Lucca, in the outskirts of San Gimignano. Everything we had there was perfect, but the standout item to me was the soup. It wasn’t the prettiest course. It wasn’t the most complicated. It was simple, rustic, resourceful and delicious.

The funny thing is... somehow we finished the dinner without actually figuring out what the soup was! We didn't have any menus, as everything was family-style and the dishes were all pre-planned regional specialties. 

Except the steak fries. Fairly certain those were to placate potentially picky Americans. I mean... I still partook.

It's pretty unlike me not to ask, but there was SO much food going around that my intentions were lost when—OH, TAGLIATELLE! Roast pork? Wait, ribs too? Hold up, sausage now? 

Anyway, I'm still not entirely certain what the soup was... so let's put on our detective hats!

What we know about "The Tuscan Soup": 

  • It was bean and tomato based
  • The beans were pureed, creamy and demure
  • Sage might be the main seasoning 
  • It had some kind of grain
  • Olive oil for daaaayys
  • That I was too excited to eat and only got terrible photos of it
Exhibit A: terrible photo.

Exhibit A: terrible photo.

Soup suspects:

So much of the food that comes to mind when we think of Italy is functional, and origin stories of Tuscan soups are downright utilitarian. They were designed to make the most of what was around to feed as many mouths as possible, but what they’ve evolved into is deliciouuuuus.

Possibility 1 — Ribollita

Of all our contenders, this is the most well known. Ribollita means “reboiled,” which cuts right to the chase. Originally it was last night’s soup reheated, plus stale bread to add bulk and avoid waste. It started out as way to cheaply feed lots of people, but it’s evolved into an intentional staple that generally features white beans, kale and cabbage, tomatoes whatever vegetables are fresh or on hand. It’s like the ultimate kitchen-sweep meal. You can follow a recipe, or just throw in whatever you’ve got following deliciously loose guidelines. A lot of variations puree most of the soup so it's crazy-thick.

Our soup was much lighter—so appropriate for the blanket of humidity under the July sun, not to mention all the courses to come. 

Possibility 2 — Zuppa alla frantoinana, a.k.a. Tuscan bean and vegetable soup

It’s also possible that the soup of the day was zuppa all frantoiana, another resourceful Tuscan soup utilizing "this and that" based on what’s abundant from local harvests—summery beans, vegetables and olive oil, finished with crusty bread. It's fairly similar to ribollita, if not a variation. The difference as far as I can tell is a heavier focus on vegetables and olive oil vs. bread. 

This one's generally pretty hearty with big chunks of vegetables, sometimes including potatoes, squash, and fennel depending on what's growing nearby. Wah-waaaah, not our soup. 

Possibility 3 —  Zuppa di farro (alla lucchese), a.k.a. farro and bean soup

This one is the most structured of the three, following what I’ll call a soup formula. It starts out with an Italian soffritto (dice of onion, carrot and celery), and the body is built with farro cooked in a stew of pancetta, tomatoes and borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans for their pink speckles. It's finished off with a big drizzle of olive oil, because it would be a crime if it wasn't. 

Winner winner chicken dinner! Maybe? Here's a delicious-looking recipe for zuppa di farro with photos... I'll let you decide for yourself, I'll be over here making some. For comparison.

Who knows though? It may have been something else. I love Italian food, but I'm hardly the world's foremost expert. If you have other ideas, what are you waiting for, tell me about them! I have serious food FOMO. 

If you've been there and I'm completely wrong... be gentle, please ;)

My take

Ultimately, I decided to create a recipe for a soup that I thought captured the spirit of our meal, though it's not exactly a recreation. I used ingredients that were easy to find in my local grocery store, tasted as I went, and let the spirit move me. The spirit of hunger and food lust.

I think that goes with the whole Tuscan vibe though, right? Using what's around? Making something delicious out of simplicity? Know what's delicious to me?

Cannellini beans. Tomatoes. Sage. Oregano. Cheeeese. Finish it off with olive oil and bread crumbs.

You know, for authenticity.

So I started with extra virgin olive oil, a soffritto of onion, carrots and celery (yes, same as a mirepoix in French, but with a little more leeway) and some garlic. 


This goes back to the "formula" I mentioned. There's no one formula. Soup is really more like a choose your own adventure food. A suggested order of common ingredient combinations. 

Next came the stars of the show, tomatoes and cannellini beans. Lots of them.  

Sigh. A beauteous bean.

Sigh. A beauteous bean.

I used some vegetable broth to spread it out, and seasoned it with the actual Tuscan soup in mind. Plenty of fresh sage and some dried oregano. Next I grated the cheese directly into the soup, which pretty much eliminated the need for salt.

But listen, I need you to use the real cheese here. Not the kind in the can.


If you grate cheese directly from the wedge, it's going to melt into your soup and make it nutty, earthy and well-seasoned. If you pour the canned kind in, it's going to clump into a ball and taste like salty pencil shavings stuck in your teeth, then you'll have to add a bunch of salt to make up for it. If you do use a pre-grated cheese, make sure it's a good one, and remember that even the best will dry out if it sits in your fridge too long. A wedge will last longer, as will its flavor and texture. 

One thing I like to do with a lot of soups is to throw in a few handfuls of spinach or whatever soft baby greens I have on hand. I just like to find ways to get more greens into my system. I mean, why not? 

I made the executive decision to purée  some of the soup with an immersion blender to make it creamier. You can get the same effect by putting a portion of the soup in a regular blender or food processor, but using an immersion blender is so much easier. You don't have to lug your blender out of the cupboard or worry about transferring hot soup. I've been using a slightly older version of the Cuisinart Smart Stick 2 Speed Hand Blender for about three years, and I highly recommend it (affiliate link, see disclaimer).

It was definitely the right call for texture. Like I said, it didn't need to replicate the actual Tuscan soup, but I wanted it to at least pay homage. I wasn't about to let celery and onion bits crash every spoonful and kill my vibe.

Bits don't kill my... Nope. Sorry. Okay, going home for the day. 

Please enjoy responsibly.

Nutrition facts are based on 1-cup servings, not accounting for breadcrumbs or extra cheese.

Nutrition facts are based on 1-cup servings, not accounting for breadcrumbs or extra cheese.


As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen.

Question for you: What's the most memorable food you've had while traveling? I want to hear allll about it in the comments :)

Roasted lemon & Parmesan green beans

Recipe, Sides, VegetarianLeannda Cavalier5 Comments


Everyone needs a few side dishes they can make in minutes from memory without a second thought. On the other hand, that can get boring real fast. Luckily it's so easy to spice things up in the kitchen. 

This is one of my favorite twists on classic roasted green beans. It's just enough of a change to keep things exciting, and it barely takes any extra effort. Besides that, I always have a wedge of Parmesan and some lemons on hand, and I highly recommend anyone who cooks to do the same. So no extra shopping if you decide to do it on a whim!

Savory and crunchy with just a twist of tang, this dish goes fantastically with fish and poultry. Don't let that limit you though, as this side is so versatile. I've served it with everything from steak to creamy pastas. 

One of the great things about fresh green beans is that they cook incredibly quickly, and fairly evenly. If you like them a little more crunchy (or you're just really hungry), try cooking them for just 10 minutes.

On the other hand, green beans get this wonderful, soft, crisp-edged texture and get more savory as you brown them. So if you're looking for comfort food, roast 20-25 minutes until they have brown spots. 

Now, let's get cooking.

If you try out this recipe let me know in the comments! If you post on social media, hashtag #whipsmartkitchen. I'd love to see your take!

Ravioli with pea pesto sauce

Adaptable for Vegetarians, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Pasta, Dinner, Winter, SpringLeannda CavalierComment

I'm in a hurry. Jump to the recipe, please. 

Since the beginning of the year, I've been cleaning out my kitchen to make things organized, clean and fresh. It's something I highly recommend, and I try to do it every few months.  

If you're like me, you probably find a lot of odds and ends you forgot about when you clean out your freezer. Half a cup of mango with freezer burn. Overripe bananas you meant to bake into bread. Things you froze to avoid wasting... and end up having to throw away because you kept it too long. 

Maybe you even have some UFOs—unidentified frozen objects. 

I've gotten a little better about this over the last few years. This time around I did find a few things I wanted to get rid of to make room for new additions, so I've been planing ways to use them up. 

One of those things was bag of peas leftover from making vegetable soup. They were still good, but a little past their prime. I happened to have some pesto in the fridge and some sausage ravioli in the freezer, so I decided to make a pea pesto cream sauce.

I'm gonna be honest with you here. It was SO much better than I thought it was going to be. Isn't it magical when that happens? It was rich and cheesy, but somehow bright and fresh. The basil and lemon juice gave the old peas new life. 

About that frozen ravioli...

As much as I shout to the rooftops about homemade being best and unprocessed foods, I believe processed foods do have their place. 

One of the staples of my freezer is frozen pasta, and I love to pick up refrigerated pasta from the grocery store every once in a while. You can get shockingly good store bought ravioli and tortellini these days. Some of my favorite selections are at Earth Fare, Trader Joes, and sometimes Sam's Club. Even the store in my small town has a decent selection.

I can think of few things that taste better than homemade pasta, and I still believe homemade is best... but making it takes time, counter space, and patience. I recommend you try it at some point. If you do, I think you'll realize it's not a mythical feat.

That being said, I'm not here to judge you if you buy it pre-packaged.

When you buy, just read the label and make the best choices you can. Here are a few common-sense guidelines on what to look for:

  • Refrigerated pasta with a close expiration date is a good sign, as it probably doesn't rely heavily on preservatives. The shorter the shelf-life, the more likely it is that valuable nutrients haven't been removed or altered to make them last longer. Read the packaging to see whether it mentions the use (or lack) of preservatives.
  • Pasta made in-store or locally was likely made recently (maybe even that day) with high-quality, whole ingredients. The more minimally processed and less transport, the better.
  • If it's made in small batches, even better. This suggests a person made it and that the recipe was created for quality, not manufactured for the masses.
  • Check for standard nutrition information such as sodium and sugar content, as that can be a drawback of processed food. 
  • Pay attention to how many ingredients there are, and how many you don't recognize or can't pronounce. This isn't gospel, but the more there are, the more processed it probably is.
  • Bonus points if the ingredients are local and don't include antibiotics or added hormones. 

All that being said, if it looks good and you want to eat it...

Do it! Even if it doesn't meet the above criteria. Just don't eat it every night and you'll be fine.

Being aware of what you're eating and making the best choices possible is great, but a bit of pre-made of pasta every once in a while isn't going to automatically give you cardiovascular/metabolic disease (or make you fat). Just be sensible. Don't overdo it or rely on it. 

When you eat it, don't feel guilty. Eat it slowly, savor every bite and appreciate it. 

Now, let's get cooking.

Now that I've shared, it's your turn! Tell me what role processed foods play in your life. Do you try to stick to minimally processed or unprocessed foods? Do you not care either way? Is this something you think about?  I'm so curious to know your thoughts, so let me know in the comments. 

If you make this dish, let me know! Leave a comment below, or post it on Instagram and mention @leanndacavalier and #whipsmartkitchen! I want to see you get cooking!



How to roast peppers in an oven

Method, Fundamentals, Recipe, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment
Roasted Peppers

It is absolutely incredible how much you can change the flavor of peppers just by roasting them instead of sautéing or sweating them. Let me count the ways: 

1. Roasting adds a smoky touch from the charred skin. The waxy skin of peppers burns up quickly in the oven, acting as a smoky shell for the flesh. 

2. It enhances the sweetness. Ripened bell peppers (red, orange, yellow) are already sweet when they're raw, but other peppers like poblanos, jalapeños and habaneros are decidedly not. Cooking breaks down cell walls, making the sugars much more noticeable. Cooking for a long period of time breaks things down even more, allowing them to react and intensify into more complex flavors. 

3. Both the flavor and the texture get richer, which is great for hearty dishes. Bringing out the oils and juices in the flesh of peppers makes it easier for your mouth to detect all the flavors.

4. The flavor intensifies, but the piquancy softens. Piquancy is the sharpness that leaves you fanning your mouth and reaching for crackers after you take a bite of a raw hot pepper. Roasted peppers are still spicy, but in a more palatable way. 

5. All of this goes double for green peppers, which are unripe. Imagine eating a green bell pepper. It's crunchy, a little astringent and you taste a lot of... green? That's gonna be our chlorophyll. Some enjoy it in raw peppers. Great for photosynthesis. Not so great for chili. 

I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but I think those five enhancements make a pretty strong case. 

Some people like to roast peppers over an open flame on a stovetop. Some people like to grill peppers until they're charred. Great methods. Probably quicker. But who has two thumbs, no grill and an electric range?


So what's a cook to do? Turn to the broiler. Yes, that button on the oven that's mysterious to people who don't cook, scary to beginners and a God-send to people who cook regularly. Fun fact: broiling is actually a form of grilling. Both are forms of dry heat that work through radiation. 

So now that we've got the why's out of the way, let's move on to the how. 

This method works best for large peppers like poblano and bell peppers. I've also tried it with jalapeños and habaneros, but they’re a little different. You have to watch them more carefully. The flesh is thin and will burn up easily, so reduce the time and watch more closely (noted in recipe). 

Stick around after the recipe for some suggestions for using roasted peppers. 


So what can you actually do with these peppers? Here are some suggestions:

  • Use them for chili. I swear by this. I tried it once as an experiment and I will never go back!

  • Blend them into a sauce or even a salad dressing. Red pepper vinaigrette is one of my favorites.

  • Throw roasted red bell peppers on a salad or over eggs. Or over a salad with eggs. 

  • Add to a pan with sautéed onions and garlic, then toss with pasta. Alternatively, use cooled roasted peppers to spice up a pasta salad. 

  • Stuff chicken with strips of roasted pepper and cheese. 

  • Mix with melted queso chihuahua (quesadilla cheese) for a smoky dip. 

Those are just a few things I've made and ideas off the top of my head. What are you going to make with roasted peppers? Tell me in the comments!

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Summer slow-cooker veggie lasagna

Slowcooker, Italian, Recipe, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

This post was originally published on my old blog. This version may contain minor edits and updates. The original is preserved at Recipe Repository


Making pasta the right way is an art.

Getting the perfect al dente bite. Building the flavors in your sauce for hours on the stove. It’s a process that’s been perfected, taught and argued over for years and years.

But you know what? Sometimes you just need to eat some freaking pasta right now.

Or perhaps you need it right when you get home from work/school/marathon/sockhop.

Two practical truths: 

  1. Compromising on traditional perfection is actually progress if it gets you fed in time to finish out your day and get some sleep. “Imperfect” homemade lasagna is much more healthful than making some “perfect” ramen.
  2. Sometimes pasta done the “wrong” way can be just as good as pasta done the “right” way.

I know. Burn.

I like authenticity as much as the next food-obsessed person, but there are days when you really just need a win. This is quick and easy victory that takes care of itself while you focus on everything else.

Considering the above, this lasagna is basically American Pharoah. 

It delivers on what I consider to be the true markers of a great lasagna: smooth, creamy ricotta layers; aromatic sauce with simple ingredients and complex flavors; plenty of gooey  mozarella; and above all a beautiful balance of acidity and richness. The vegetables make this summer dish surprisingly fresh and bright for both a lasagna and a slow-cooker meal. 

Another win: I consider this to be a pretty healthful meal. Lots of veggies, a good amount of protein and no added sugar. Pasta isn’t even so bad as long as you have it in moderation, as this meal encourages.

You know what else is pretty healthful? Using full-fat cheese. It tastes better, has a better texture AND guess what: eating fat isn’t what causes weight gain. 

Generally if something says fat-free or reduced-fat it actually means sugar and carbs have been added and THOSE are what make you gain weight. Backwards, right?

I’m gonna step down off that soap box and refer you both to Emily Schromm (so smart!) and the documentary “Fed Up” (on Netflix). I did Emily’s 21 Day Superhero Challenge in February. I’ve always been fascinated with food and nutrition and I learned a lot from her.

I also gained the ability to do push ups. It was a big deal.  Look her up after you read this!

Emily probably tell you not to eat the pasta though, so… I mean you could try sauteed eggplant slices instead?

Or eat the pasta. I triple-dog dare you.

Summer Slow-Cooker Veggie Lasagna

Serves 8-10

Special equipment:

  • 6-quart (or larger) slow-cooker
  • Apron or old t-shirt

Cheese Filling


  • 16-oz container full-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian spices
  • ¼ cup minced shallots
  • 2 cups spinach or other baby greens, cut into thin ribbons
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced thin
  • 2 cups finely chopped baby bella mushrooms or portabello mushrooms


  1. Combine ricotta, egg, shredded parmesan, Italian spices and shallots in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Stir in spinach, and mix until evenly distributed.
  3. Stir in zucchini and mushrooms until mixture is even.

Tomato Sauce


  • 2 28-oz cans whole tomatoes, in juice, no salt added*
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons
  • ½ tsp fresh rosemary, minced (or ¼ dried rosemary, crushed)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Drain tomato juice into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Crush the tomatoes by hand using the following method:
    1. Wearing an apron** or other cover, hold tomato in the palm of your hand over the same mixing bowl, fingernails facing down.
    2. Carefully pierce the stem end of the tomato with your thumb and gently squeeze out as much juice as possible.
    3. Keeping your thumb in the center of the tomato, close your fingers around it and squeeze as hard as possible to crush the tomato’s flesh. It doesn’t matter whether the fibers fully separate.
  3. Repeat with all remaining tomatoes.
  4. Add garlic, basil and red pepper flakes, then stir to combine.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste (start with a pinch of each).

Lasagna Assembly


  • Tomato sauce mixture
  • Cheese filling
  • 1 TBSP good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 15 lasagna noodles (about 12 oz)
  • 4 ½ cups full-fat shredded Italian cheese blend or mozzarella, divided


  1. Pour olive oil in slow-cooker and use a brush or paper towel to coat the bottom and sides
  2. Pour 1 ½ cups tomato sauce mixture in and spread to cover the bottom evenly.
  3. Lay five noodles over the sauce mixture, breaking as needed to cover as much sauce as possible. I find laying them lengthwise and breaking to cover the corners works best.
  4. Carefully spoon half of the cheese filling over the noodles and spread to cover, packing it down firmly and cover with 1 ½ cups of the tomato sauce mixture.
  5. Sprinkle 1 ½ cup of the Italian cheese blend over the sauce evenly.
  6. Add another layer of noodles, cheese filling, sauce and Italian cheese blend.
  7. Add the last five noodles, and remaining sauce. Reserve last cup of Italian cheese blend in the refrigerator for serving.

The layer breakdown should look like this, going in order from the bottom to the top:

  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 5 noodles
  • Half of the cheese filling
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 5 noodles
  • Half of the cheese filling
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 5 noodles
  • remaining sauce
  • (after finished cooking) 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend

9. Place lid on and cook on low for 4-6 hours OR on high for 2-3 hours.

10. Take the lid off and spread remaining shredded Italian cheese blend on top. Turn off heat, replace lid, and let sit for 45 minutes to allow the noodles to absorb the juices.***

11. Serve warm!


*You can always use pre-crushed or diced canned tomatoes and skip the tomato-crushing step. I personally prefer the rustic and varied texture of hand-crushed tomatoes.

**Hand-crushing tomatoes is messy no matter how careful you are! Move anything you don’t want tomato splattered on at least four feet away.

***In the picture above you can see a small amount of cooking liquid around the edges of the lasagna. That’s from all the veggies, and it’s the result of not letting it rest for 45 minutes. It’s not pretty, but it’s delicious—plus, it means the noodles are more firm because they haven’t soaked all the liquid up. If you let it sit, the noodles absorb all that extra liquid, meaning less sits on the plate, and the layers are easier to keep together, more like a traditional lasagna. To me it’s a toss-up in terms of taste, but letting it rest is definitely more aesthetically pleasing in the end. 

This recipe is loosely adapted from an “Eating Well” slow-cooker vegetarian lasagna recipe, which you can find here

Blog beginnings plus an incredibly useful, easy recipe

Salad, Italian, Recipe, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

This post was originally published on my old blog. This version may contain minor edits and updates. The original is preserved at Recipe Repository

First, I want to tell you how happy I am you’re still here if you got through Friday’s post. Looks like you’re my ideal reader! Thank you!

Friday I told you who I’m blogging for, why and the most important message I want to send you about cooking. Today I’m going to tell you my entrepreneurial story… and then give you a recipe I use at least once a week!

I’m writing this as part of Alex Beadon’s 7-day Feel Good Blogging Challenge. I’m a little behind everyone else participating because it came at a bad time for me, but whatever, I’m finishing it anyway!

Looking back, I think I’ve always been geared toward entrepreneurship. I love helping people and I love talking people into trying things. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I can be insufferable to some people on Facebook comment threads. I want to solve your problem and give you my full experience with things right there in the comments.

My reaction to someone asking for cooking advice is similar to a dog hearing the doorknob turn when his owner gets home from work. “YOU CAME BACK! TRY HITTING IT WITH THE BROILER FOR A FEW MINUTES!”

I’m just trying to help!

I toyed around with the idea of a food blog for about two years before I actually got serious about it, partially because people kept asking me to start one. I delayed it a long time because of fear of what other people would think and because I was a little nervous I wouldn’t have enough to say. Oh boy, I was so wrong on that count.

I mentioned in my last post that I was underemployed for nearly two years before finding my current full-time job this February. In January I happened upon one of stylist Hilary Rushford’sInstagram posts promoting her Instagram marketing class. I had been keeping my skills fresh with tons of webinars and this one actually looked fun, so I signed up immediately. During a Q & A toward the end of the class she mentioned she was thinking about hiring some brand ambassadors. I sent an email volunteering to help her out, not really expecting to hear back. A few weeks later I began helping maintain customer service on her 25k+ account along with three other talented ladies, for which she generously gifted us her full Instagram with Intention course. That was the beginning of my descent into the world of online entrepreneurship.

The day after I finished Instagram with Intention I scoured Hilary’s site for more info and landed on a video where she mentioned Marie Forleo’s B-School. I looked Marie up on YouTube and it was over. I was doing it. Seriously, if you want to do anything in this world, watch one of her videos. You’ll be doing air punches and cartwheels all the way to whatever it is you wanted.

She’s also hilarious, which is enough to keep me watching.

Related videos were a blessing here, because that’s exactly how I found entrepreneur Alex Beadon, the host of this blogging challenge. “How to Blog and Build a Following” showed up in the sidebar when I was watching one of Marie’s video. With that, I was down another (wonderful) rabbit hole, late for a very important date. Alex has been so supportive, and she is ALWAYS on. I am sincerely amazed at how much she’s taught me in such a short time.

I also found graphic designer Lauren Hooker of Elle & Company around the same time, either through Hilary’s IWI class or as another suggestion from Instagram. Her online course set me on my way to my next big project, the one I said I would announced soon in my last post.

I’m not getting paid for this, I promise. 

Being virtually surrounded by all these incredible people making the lives they wanted happen just with their passion, talents, the internet, a pinch of brilliance and ton of elbow grease… How could I not go for it?

Funny how things work out sometimes…

I finally found a full-time job in February. It’s shocking how quickly it happened after I searched for so long. I’m not a very woo-woo type of person, but I firmly believe that the change in attitude made it happen.

I went from feeling like a victim who had accomplished so much in my old job/school/home/life only to have it ripped away once I moved, to someone who was just going to go ahead and employ myself if no one else would. I would show everyone exactly what I could do, and it would be even better because it would involve my favorite thing: food. The fact that could use my skills in broadcasting, public relations and advertising just sweetened the deal.

The full time job means it’s happening a lot slower than I planned, but I’m just thrilled it’s happening, and people are starting to hop on board for the ride. I would love to think I could inspire and help someone as much as my forerunners helped me.

Thanks so much for reading, you have no idea how much I appreciate it. Growth with these kinds of things is generally slow (and a little painful), but every little bit is like a drug. A drug that vastly improves your life instead of ruining it and evicting all your friends/teeth.

Thanks =)

Okay, I promised you a recipe and you definitely deserve it after reading all of that. Enjoy!

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

Caprese Salad

Serves: 2-4


  • 2 large or 4-6 small tomatoes*
  • 10 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 15 large basil leaves
  • 1 batch of balsamic reduction
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cut the tomatoes into ¼ inch slices.**
  2. Slice the mozzarella into ¼ inch slices.
  3. Chiffonade the basil using the following method: stack the leaves on top of one another, roll them up lengthwise (so that the middle veins don’t bend) and slice thinly across with a sharp knife so that you cut tiny spirals. After you’ve sliced through the whole roll, toss the spirals so that they separate into thin strips.
  4. On a platter, arrange alternating slices of tomatoes and mozzarella any way you want, I like to line them in a circle toward the outside of the platter, placing any odd ends in the middle.
  5. Sprinkle the basil on top (I like to put a bunch in the middle and then a few pieces over the tomatoes and cheese) and drizzle a little olive oil and balsamic reduction on top. Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve with extra balsamic reduction on the side.

*My faves are bulky heirlooms or romas in summer, camparis/kumatos in winter. You can always use 8-10 oz cherry tomatoes, but it greatly changes the flavor.

**Halve or quarter smaller tomatoes, much less work!

Balsamic Reduction


  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 TBSP honey, brown sugar or coconut sugar


  1. Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat.
  2. Turn down heat to low and simmer until reduced to about ⅓ and can coat the back of a spoon. This takes about 10 minutes but watch it closely because burnt vinegar is acrid, awful and can ruin your pan.
  3. Allow to cool for 10 minutes or more. It should look a little like chocolate syrup.
  4. Drizzle away!

Note: You’ll notice my photo features little balls of mozzarella. That’s called ciliegine. Ten ounces of it works just fine, and it doesn’t even need to be cut!