Shells and Cheese with Kielbasa and Peas

Ever since discovering my favorite recipe for Easy Mac and Cheese almost 2 years ago, it’s become a regular in our weeknight dinner rotations. I love it because I can whip together in almost the same amount of time as a store bought packaged mac and cheese or side item, but it’s so, so, so much better. Plus I love knowing exactly what is going into my food. No mystery chemicals or high fructose corn syrups.

During my first trimester of pregnancy I was exhausted all the time and many nights I just didn’t have the energy for complicated dinners. This led me to do more experimenting with the recipe and add-ins to turn mac and cheese into a quick weeknight meal. This has been one of our favorite combinations. The kielbasa adds a nice smokey flavor and the meat that Jesse likes to round out his dinners. The peas add a light sweetness and make me feel just a tiny bit better about eating mac and cheese for dinner (even though I know peas aren’t the best vegetable choice in the world, still better than nothing!) I hope you like this combination as much as we do!


Here are some more Easy Weeknight Dinner ideas!

Easy Foil Packet Salmon
Easy Homemade Fish Sticks
Easy Pasta with Mexican Black Bean Sauce
Easy Mexican Lasagna


Chunky Beef Stew

I know that I am not going to get any sympathy from northern blog readers, but it’s been darn right cold in San Diego. It’s actually even been raining quite a bit. But to be perfectly honest, I kind of like it. There is something kind of nice about staying in to avoid the cold, wet weather and making the inside of my house warm and comforting. It also gives me a great excuse to break out one of my favorite cookbooks –  The Ski House Cookbook. Yeah I know, 50 degrees outside (it feels colder with the ocean breeze!) isn’t exactly snow ski weather, but it’s as close as I’ll get in San Diego!

This beef stew is a recipe that I have come back to every year since my aunt gave me this cookbook. One thing that sets it apart is the cooking of the vegetables and stew separately but at the same time. This helps to avoid mushy vegetables or having to keep an eye on the clock to add the vegetables at just the right time to cook them without overcooking them. You’re going to want a fork AND a spoon for this stew so you don’t miss any of the chunky vegetables/meat or delicious gravy.


Split Pea Soup

Split Pea soup is ugly. No way around it. It looks like a bowl full of green mush and the occasional chunks of ham/bacon or carrots really don’t help it’s visual appeal. That’s probably why growing up I thought I hated it. I can remember my mom making it at home or ordering it at restaurant and thinking that it had to be the grossest food ever. Something that looks like…. that, can’t be good. Well folks, I’m here to tell you, I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Split Pea soup is delicious, filling, warm, cozy, and everything else you want in a good fall meal.

To some people, this particular recipe may appear to be missing an important ingredient, ham hock. I can assure you that even without the ham hock this soup is great. The bacon helps to add some of that familiar flavor but helps save you a few grams of fat/calories (when was the last time you thought of bacon as a calorie saver?).

The only other important note for this recipe is to remember to account for the time needed to fully soften/cook the split peas. A lot of soups can be prepared and eaten right away but this recipe requires at least 30 minutes to cook the peas.

Split Pea Soup

6 slices center cut bacon, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups dry split peas, rinsed
1 32-ounce carton low-sodium chicken broth
Water, as needed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Cubed ham (optional)

In a large pot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon, drain on paper towels and set aside. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of bacon grease from the pot.

Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, or until vegetables become soft. Add the split peas, broth, bay leaves, and thyme. Add more water as needed to completely cover the peas. Bring to a boil then add half of the bacon back to the pot. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer until peas are soft, about 30 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves and transfer the soup in batches to a food processor or blender and puree to desired consistency. If you have an immersion blender, you can do the pureeing in the pot.

Crumble the reserved bacon over each serving of soup. I recommend serving with a grilled cheese sandwich, smoked Gouda cheese really compliments this soup!

Source: The Ski House Cookbook

Creamy Shrimp Pasta

Before I lived in San Diego I lived in Ohio. But, before I lived in Ohio I lived in Maryland (and before that Ohio, Maryland, Ohio, we liked to move). One of the things I remember most vividly about Maryland is the crab parties we would occasionally have. I can remember going to the docks and my parents picking up a bushel of live Maryland blue crabs. When we got them home my sister and I would pick out a crab and race them across the kitchen floor. Then they were boiled, drained, covered in Old Bay seasoning, and tossed onto a big table covered in newspaper.

OK, so racing your dinner across the kitchen floor before eating it off of a newspaper covered table might sound a little barbaric, but I swear we weren’t the only ones that did. There was usually a crowd of friends there to enjoy and partake in the barbaric activities. It’s kind of a tradition in Maryland, at least in the crowd my parents hung with.

It’s been years since I’ve enjoyed a crab party but one thing I have continued to enjoy is the flavor of Old Bay seasoning. It takes me right back to those parties and makes me feel warm and happy. I think when we first moved back to Ohio it was difficult to find in the grocery stores but now most stores carry it, conveniently near the seafood.

Now I know this is starting to sound like a cheesy commercial, but I promise you it’s not. This meal was just the perfect option when my sister was in town because she has the same memories as I do. I love that this meal is impressive enough to serve to company but easy enough to make after work on a weeknight (which is exactly what I did while my sister was visiting).

Creamy Shrimp Pasta

(Adapted from

1 16 oz box of pasta (I used bow ties)
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 Tbsp butter
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/2 Tbsp Old Bay, divided (low sodium kind if you can find it)
2 cups half-and-half
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 green onions, sliced thinly

Cook pasta according to directions on package. During the last minute of cooking add the peas. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shrimp and sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon of Old Bay. Cook for 3 minutes or until they start to turn pink. Reduce heat to medium-low.

Stir in the half-and-half, reserved cooking liquid, Parmesan cheese and the rest of the Old Bay. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat and add the pasta, peas and green onion. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving (this gives the sauce a few more minutes to thicken)

Serve with extra grated Parmesan cheese.