Giada’s Stress-Free Pasta

After watching an episode of Giada that focused on stress-free Italian cuisine, I couldn’t wait to make her Fusilli with Sausage, Artichokes, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Now I’ve been known to watch quite a few cooking shows, so I am not easily tempted. But something about the combination of flavors in this dish inspired me.

Like all Hartley Confections recipes, I’ve revised Giada’s dish to suit my budget, available ingredients, and tastebuds. Hartley Confections’ Gemelli Medley features a hearty pasta accompanied by a medley of hot sausage, fresh cherry tomatoes, and spinach. Despite slight variations (using 7 items from the Top 10: Must-Have Kitchen Ingredients) all of the flavors remain the same and are equally delicious. I hightly recommend using gemelli pasta, which is probably fusilli’s sister, as it has a similar spiral shape though it is thicker and more narrow. I’ve found gemelli to be an easy pasta to keep al dente as it takes a great deal of time to overcook this particular type of pasta. I also recommend starting out with less cheese, and adding more as needed to keep the fat to a minimum!

I’ve halved the recipe which proves to be about three large servings that are great for stand alone meals. The Gemelli Medley is easily re-heated and makes a tasty, recession friendly, on-the-go meal which can made in 30 minutes!


Gemelli Medley


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound Italian hot sausages (pork or turkey), casings removed
  • 1 (8-ounce) can artichoke hearts
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1  cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 8-12 ounces (1/2 – 3/4 of a package) gemelli pasta
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan, plus additional for garnish
  • 1/2 bag fresh baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves (optional)
  • 4 ounces fresh or shredded mozzarella, drained and cubed, optional
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the sausages and cook until brown, breaking up the meat into bite-size pieces, about 8 minutes.
  3. Transfer the sausage to a bowl. Add the artichokes and garlic to the same skillet, and saute over medium heat until the garlic is tender, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the broth and wine. Boil over medium-high heat until the sauce reduces slightly, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Next add the cherry tomatoes.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the gemelli in boiling water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta (do not rinse).
  6. Gemelli MedleyAdd the pasta, sausage, 1/2 cup Parmesan, spinach, basil, and parsley (if using) to the artichoke mixture. Toss until the sauce is almost absorbed by the pasta. Stir in the mozzarella.
  7. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve with additional parmesan cheese, if needed.

Tyler Florence’s Blintzes

Blintzes are such an underrated food. They are delicate and creamy and sweet and everything you could want when your sweet tooth is calling. So when it came time to choosing a dessert for a Shavuot Shabbat I had hosted a few weeks ago, I knew that Tyler Florence’s Blintzes would make the perfect ending to my wonderful holiday meal.

A blintz is a thin pancake that is somewhat similar to a crêpe (with the main difference being the fact that yeast is always used in blintzes, but not in crêpes). Its traditionally made with a sweet cheese filling and accompanied by fresh fruit or a fruit sauce. Blintzes are especially delicious when served with whipped cream and chocolate syrup if you’re feeling naughty. But since we were observing the Sabbath, I felt it best to elude temptation.

After all, blintzes were popularized in the US by Jewish immigrants who served them on Jewish Holidays even though they have no religious tie to Judaism. And its likely that most of you reading this have never even heard of a blintz, let alone tasted one, which is why I’m proud to share its brief heritage and Tyler’s wonderful recipe with you.

Blintzes are quite versatile as they can be served for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert! And aside from cooking the actual blintz, they are fairly easy, and inexpensive to make. Like many other recipes I’ve posted, you can pretty much add anything you like whether it be a certain type of fruit or experimenting with spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg (in the blintz batter). I also tried to cut back on some of the fat and sugar in this recipe, so don’t be scared to use fat-free dairy products and cooking spray (instead of butter). I promise you won’t even taste the difference.

CLASSIC BLINTZES RECIPE (Adapted from Tyler Florence’s Recipe)

Classic Blintzes with fresh fruit


Basic Crepe Batter

  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Cheese Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and finely grated
  • 1 egg


Making the Blintz Batter

  1. Combine the milk, water, eggs, flour, salt and sugar in a blender. Blend on medium speed for 15 seconds, until the batter is smooth and lump-free. Scrape down the sides of the blender and pour in 3 tablespoons of melted butter.
  2. Blend it again for a second just to incorporate. Refrigerate the batter for 1 hour to let it rest. If the crepes are made immediately, they have a tendency to be rubbery; when you let the batter rest, the crepes have a better texture and a softer bite.

Assembling the Blintzes

  1. Put an 8-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat and spray with fat-free cooking spray. 
  2. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the pan and swirl it around so it covers the bottom evenly; pour back any excess.
  3. Cook for 30 to 45 seconds, until the crepe batter sets. Lightly bang the edge of the pan with a heatproof rubber spatula to loosen the crepe; then flip it and cook another 30 seconds.  The crepes should be pliable, not crisp, and lightly brown.
  4. Slide them onto a platter and continue making the crepes until all the batter is used. Cover the stack of crepes with a towel to keep them from drying out. This makes 10 crepes.

Making the Cheese Filling

  1. Combine the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, lemon zest, and egg and blend until smooth.
  2. Chill the filling to firm it up a bit so it doesn’t squirt out of the blintzes.

Rolling the Blintzes

  1. Think of rolling a blintz, like you would a burrito.
  2. Spoon 1/4 cup of the cheese filling along the lower third of the crepe.
  3. Fold the bottom edge away from you to just cover the filling; then fold the 2 sides in to the center.
  4. Roll the crepe away from you a couple of times to make a package, ending with the seam side down.
  5. Then heat an ovenproof skillet over medium heat, brush the blintz with melted butter, and pan-fry for 2 minutes per side until crisp and golden (you can heat them in the oven at 350 to keep warm).

Serving the Blintzes

  1. Place the blintzes on one plate (family style) and lightly dust confectioners sugar on top of the blintzes.
  2. Surround blintzes with fresh fruit and serve!

For other spins on this classic blintz recipe, check out Tyler Florence’s  Blueberry Blintzes or Ricotta and Orange Blintzes with Strawberry Sauce. Or, skip the baking all together and head to Veselka and try their classic blintzes topped with a wonderful variety of fresh fruit. Be sure to ask for extra whipped cream!

Whole Wheat Cous Cous with Apple, Raisins & Green Onions

Cous cous make a great side and especially for juicy flavorful chicken dishes! Although I don’t make cous cous often, its the perfect side dish for entertaining since it’s both easy and quick to make. Cous cous is also easily customizable and takes well to both sweet and salty food pairings from anything to olive to dried cranberries.

Since I paired my cous cous with Ginger Chicken with Seasonal Fruit I wanted to incorporate similar flavors in the cous cous to bring out the sweetness in the chicken dish. And adding raisins, apples, and green onions, not only added tremendous flavor to the cous cous but a wonderful melange of colors that brightened up the dish.

Whole Wheat Cous Cous with Apple, Raisins, & Green Onions Recipe


  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 small apple peeled & diced
  • 1 1/2 cups water (or chicken broth)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dry cous cous
  • 1/3 cup raisins


  1. In a large saute pan heat one teaspoon of olive oil. When hot add apples and green onions and saute until fragrant (about 2-3 minutes) and leave aside.
  2. In the same pan, bring the water, one tablespoon olive oil, and salt to a boil. When the liquid mixture has reached a boil, pour in the cous cous, take of the heat and stir the mixture to combine. Add the raisins and keep the pan covered for five minutes. 
  3. Remove the lid and fluff the cooked cous cous with a fork and add the onion and apple mixture. 
  4. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the cous cous medley and serve!

Key Ingredient: Basil

Why Basil?

Although Basil’s peak season doesn’t hit until July, I’m starting to see it floating around the Union Square green market. So when I decided to host Shabbat last Friday and heard that ramps were out of season, I knew that it was the perfect time to grab some basil!

Basil is the ultimate summer herb. Its rich flavor allows for endless food combinations  and makes the perfect addition to fresh fish, seasonal tomato & mozzarella salads, textured vinaigrettes, or flirty cocktails! And after deciding on making salmon for my Shavuot Shabbat, I knew a homemade pesto and some bucatini would be the perfect complement!

The How’s & Why’s of Using Basil

Basil is traditionally used fresh in cooked recipes. It is usually added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. I have also been told that basil should be torn rather than cut. When basil is cut, its edges turn black which is why pesto was previously made in a mortar and pestle. But to save time,  I like to make my basil with an immersion blender. In my experience, the pesto darkens in color over time so I’d recommend using your fresh pesto within three days or freezing it.

Tips on Storing Fresh Basil

Fresh Basil can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. I also like to make a big batch of pesto and then freeze individual cubes in my ice tray so that I can use them later for individual portions. After the cubes are frozen, they should be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in a freezer bag (in the freezer) for up to three months.

The Six Ingredients Behind Pesto

Pesto is traditionally made with 6 (easily substitutable) ingredients:

  1. Basil (Spinach, Arugula)
  2. Pine Nuts (Walnuts, Almonds, Macadamia Nuts)
  3. Olive Oil (Walnut Oil, Garlic Oil, Chicken Broth)
  4. Grated Parmesan Cheese (Pecorino Romano, Asiago)
  5. Garlic (Green Onion, Ramps, Shallots)
  6. Salt

Optional Ingredients: Lemon, Chili Pepper, Roasted Red Pepper

But for convenience and variety, I like to change it up a bit so this time I decided to use walnuts in place of pine nuts. Most bakers usually have walnuts laying around their kitchens and they also tend to be less expensive than pine nuts. So feel free to use any of the substitutions listed above to create your own fun variation or you can just follow my recipe below.

Basil-Walnut Pesto Recipe


  • 2 cups packed fresh basil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt, or more to taste


  1. Pull basil leaves from stems, wash and dry.Pesto Ingredients
  2. Place the dried leaves and remaining ingredients into bowl and blend with immersion blender until the mixture is completely blended and all of the ingredients have been broken down.
  3. Serve as a vinaigrette, sauce, or topping on a beautifully seared piece of salmon!Basil Walnut Pesto
Seared Salmon with Basil Walnut Pesto

Strawberry Lemon Cupcakes

I know it’s been a while since I’ve actually cooked or baked something and I do apologize for my recent food extravagance but it’s been an exciting few weeks of food events and birthday dinners. Fortunately I had some time on my hands this weekend to do some baking and just in time for my friend Allie’s birthday.

Although I’m a huge fan of Crumbs among other fine cupcake establishments, I wanted to bring Allie something from the heart AND something seasonal. Seasonal means limited which translates into special and THAT is what I wanted my birthday sweets to convey. Store bought cupcakes are wonderful but homemade cupcakes, well they’re a rare treat.

Since I happened to have some fresh strawberries and lemons on hand, I scoured the internet for a cake recipe that balanced the sweetness and tartness of both ingredients. And after seeing only a photo of the Strawberry and Lemonade Cupcakes baked by Annie’s Eats, I knew I’d found the perfect spring cupcake!

COOK’s note: I modified Annie’s recipe to cut down on the sweetness and some of the calories. Unfortunately my low-fat frosting didn’t come out so well, so for the time being I recommend using Annie’s frosting. Just be sure to whip the cream cheese and butter before adding the strawberry puree, as the mixture can easily thin out. Add approximately 7 tsp of puree or just enough so that the frosting keeps its firm texture.

Strawberry Lemon Cupcakes Recipe

Strawberry Lemon Cupcakes

Source: Cake adapted from Williams Sonoma, frosting from Annie’s Eats


For the cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 10 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup 1 % milk
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, roughly chopped
  • 12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 18 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

For garnish:

  • Fresh strawberries


  • Mixing bowls
  • Hand blender or stand mixer
  • Measuring cups and spoons


  1. To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line muffin pans with paper liners.  In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.  Stir together with a fork and set aside.
  2. Beat the butter on medium speed until it is light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat until well combined.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  3. Add half of the flour mixture to the bowl and beat on low speed until just incorporated.  Add in the milk and mix until smooth.
  4. Add in the remaining flour mixture and mix on low speed until just blended.  Fold in the fresh strawberries with a spatula.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the paper liners, filling them about 3/4 full.  Bake about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. To make the frosting, puree the strawberries in a food processor or blender.  Strain the puree through a mesh sieve to remove the seeds, and set aside.
  7. Beat the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and very fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
  8. Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract and mix until incorporated. Mix in strawberry puree, a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve your desired texture and flavor of frosting (I added about 7 tablespoons of puree).
  9. Frost cupcakes as desired and garnish with fresh strawberries.

Teriyaki Skirt Steak with Sesame Asparagus

Monday night I was just CRAVING red meat. Since I don’t eat red meat too often, outside of hamburgers (obviously),  I was uncertain on what cut of meat I wanted. Not knowing much about red meat I went for the skirt steak since it was on sale. After all, we’re in a recession! 

So now I’m thinking, what do I do with this good looking piece of meat (aside from the fact that it was labeled “diaphram”). I immediately called my dad, since he is always heating up steaks on the grill. He recommended cooking the skirt steak in any soy-based sauce. After doing some research online I found that I had two flavoring options: Chimichurri Sauce or Asian Marinade. And since I was hungry and not wanting to mess around with food processors or blenders, I chose the Asian Marinade.

Any soy-based marinade would work with the steak, so go ahead and create your own or use any store-bought marinade.  I had recently bought a new orange teriyaki sauce that I figured would be perfect. I also recommend using a cast iron pan to cook the steaks, as the pan will sear in the flavor and yield a much tastier result, as you will see below. And feel free to use whatever vegetables you have lying around your kitchen. This recipe initially called for spinach but broccoli or a frozen vegetable stir fry mix would also work well. Though since it’s spring time, you might want to take advantage of the delicious asparagus being sold at your local market (as it’s in season)!

Teriyaki Skirt Steak with Sesame Asparagus



  • 1 lb skirt steak
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup asian marinade (teriyaki, soy-vey, etc)
  • 1 tbsp garlic & ginger paste (optional)


  • 1  tablespoon  sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2  tablespoons  low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1  tablespoon  rice vinegar
  • 2  teaspoons  sugar
  • 2  teaspoons  dark sesame oil
  • 3  garlic cloves, minced


  1. Marinate your skirt steak in 1/4 – 1/2 cup terikayi and garlic & ginger paste for one hour or more in the refrigerator.
  2. Drizzle your cast iron pan with some olive oil or a few heavy sprays of cooking spray and bring to medium-high heat.
  3. Place your steaks on the hot pan and cook for approximately 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare (or 6-7 minutes for medium/medium-well.
  4. While the steak cooks, chop up your asparagus on an angle into about 1 inch pieces. Heat 2 tsp dark sesame oil in a medium sautee pan and sautee garlic and asparagus on a medium heat. 
  5. It’s probably been about 5 minutes, so go ahead and turn over your steak  and cook for another 5 minutes.
  6. Now you will make the marinade by combining the toasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk.
  7. The steak should now be about done, so let it rest for about 10 minutes so that the juices don’t run out of the steak.
  8. The asparagus should also be nice and tender. Take the asparagus off the heat and toss with sesame vinaigrette.
  9. After the steak has cooled place half the steak on a plate with 1/2 cup of sesame asparagus. Serve with steamed brown rice and enjoy!

Jessica’s Matzoh Lasagna

mac-cheese-matzoh-lasagna-0092Matzoh Lasagna is my go-to food when I’m just sick of eating typical Jew food like turkey, brisket, kugel, and sweet and sour meatballs. Don’t get me wrong, those Jewish delicacies are delicious but there’s only so much meat I can eat in a week. And, I’m not much a meat eater to begin with.

And since it was already Day 4 of Passover and found myself craving Lasagna and Mac and Cheese, I knew I needed to shake things up. And though I can’t really replicate mac and cheese right now (though they do sell k for p noodles), I figured I’d take my best shot at making the lasagna.

Truth be told, it’s not too tough. You get some cheese, sauce,  matzoh and POOF you have yourself a matzoh lasagna. But, if you want to get creative, then you consult an expert like myself. Well, maybe not an expert, but it’s known that I like to experiment in the kitchen.

Lasagna is one of those rare dishes that you really just can’t screw up. Unless you oversalt it or somehow dry out the noodles, or matzoh in this case, even the worst of cooks can produce a phenomenal end result. So go crazy! Throw in whatever you have lying around your kitchen and experiment.

Though the Matzoh Lasagna recipe below is fairly typical, I included frozen spinach to give the dish more texture and added a few Italian spices to enhance the flavor of the lasagna. You’ll find that this is both an easy and satisfying dish that truly isn’t too different from the original. It’s also a great way to finish off those family size packages of Matzoh!

Jessica’s Matzoh Lasagna



  • 4 Matzoh Sheets
  • 1 1/2 – 2 Cups K for P Pasta Sauce
  • 1 8 oz Package Frozen Spinach
  • 3/4 Container (12 oz) K for P Whipped Low-Fat Cottage Cheese
  • 1/4 – 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 4 Pieces K for P Cheese (for top of matzoh lasagna)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • a few turns of fresh ground pepper


  • Rinse the matzoh sheets under cold water and set aside stacked on a few paper towels. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Defrost the spinach and squeeze out all the additional liquid in a sieve.
  • Mix the spinach, cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, and last 6 ingredients (spices) until well combined (some people like to add an egg to bind the mixture together).
  • Coat the bottom of a pan (large enough to hold the matzohs) with marinara sauce and place the first sheet of matzoh on top of the sauce
  • Spread 1/3 of the ricotta and spinach mixture on top and then cover with another piece of matzoh.
  • Repeat twice with the sauce, ricotta and spinach mixture, then matzoh process.
  • Top the fourth and final sheet of matzoh with sauce and four pieces of k for p cheese (Meunster, Mozzarella, Gouda, crumbled Feta) and any additional herbs you may want to top it off with like basil or oregano.
  • Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until cheese bubbles.