Comfort Food

Pasta, Prosciutto and Peas

I’ve saved the best for last.  This is one of my most cherished recipes, and I make it over and over again for my kids and friends.  I had this for the first time at Tre Vigne in St. Helena when I was 24 years old and on my first trip to the Napa Valley.

Michael Chiarello, now a very famous chef, vintner, TV host and sustainable farmer with his own restaurant, Bottega in Yountville, was the chef.  I still love this restaurant and had lunch there on my birthday this year (December, 2015).

Back then this entrée cost only $8, and we had lunch on the beautiful Tra Vigne patio.  I was with my sister, Sandra Sheehan and my Auntie Deborah. It was a hot summer day and there is nowhere on earth more pleasant than the Napa Valley in the heart of the wine country in the summer. What bliss. I returned many times and I always ordered this dish until it was taken off the menu a few years ago, but I highly recommend the Maltagliati Verde (herb infused pasta with slow cooked lamb) which we had on my last visit.

After the kids were born, I couldn’t make it to Tra Vigne as often, so I taught myself how to make Michael’s recipe at home, and my kids love it too. It’s perfect in a pinch when you find yourself with 12 unexpected and very hungry kids for dinner (double the recipe below), add a salad and some crunchy bread.

As for Michael Chiarello, he can still be found at the stove and was gracious enough to join us (on the patio of course) one afternoon at his restaurant Bottega for lunch.  He will forever remain one of my favorite chefs and inspirations.

Thank you Michael Chiarello!


▪ 1 lb of pasta

▪ 2 tablespoons of olive oil

▪ ½ lb chopped prosciutto, pancetta or bacon (shown)

▪ 2 cloves of garlic, chopped

▪ 1 cup of peas, fresh or frozen

▪ ½ stick of unsalted butter

▪ ½ cup of heavy whipping cream

▪ Parmesan cheese, as needed


Boil the pasta, as per the package directions, and then begin making the sauce.

Heat a large sauce pan or dutch oven to medium heat.  Once hot, add the olive oil, then the chopped prosciutto and garlic. Brown lightly.  When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the ham and garlic mixture.  Then, add the butter and cream and reduce heat to low. Stir gently until the ingredients are well combined.  Add the cream, fresh grated parmesan cheese, stir well and reduce for 5 minutes.  Serve immediately in a warm bowls with freshly grated Parmesan.


Kid Friendly Chicken Pad Thai – Gluten Free and Packed with Nutrients


I’ve made this 12 times over the last six months and both of my daughters still adore it.  I pack it with whatever vegetables are in season, so what’s not to love?

My 16 year old especially asks for this every time I cook.  As I’ve written before, my daughters both love Asian food, and I am much more of an Italian food flavor person.  However, the virtues of this dish are endless.  It is very healthy, low fat, gluten free (if you use gluten free soy sauce), packed with veggies, easy to make, can be eaten hot or cold and reheats beautifully.  This is an all around winner, but you have been warned, if you make it once you will get to make over and over again.

pad thai 2

Ingredients for the Sauce:

2 Teaspoons sesame oil

4 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce – stock

3 Tablespoons lime juice or 2 limes squeezed in pan

3 Tablespoons tangerine juice or 2 tangerines squeezed in pan

2 Tablespoons chopped or grated fresh ginger

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

Pad Thai

Ingredients for the Pad Thai:

8 oz. Pad Thai noodles

½ lb. thin-sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces

½ Tablespoon sesame oil

2 medium carrots purchased grated

1 red pepper chopped

1 head broccoli chopped into bite size pieces

1 zucchini diced Salted/roasted peanuts (optional)

2 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped


1. In a glass bowl, whisk together sauce ingredients and set aside.

2. You can cook the rice noodles by submerging them in a bowl of warm water until they are tender or let them sit while you do the following steps.

3. Heat a large wok and add sesame oil. When oil is hot add the chicken and ginger and cook until chicken is white.

4. Add vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes so they are still crunchy. Remove the pan from heat and toss in the noodles and sauce. Toss well to combine. Garnish with chopped cilantro and peanuts and serve warm.

*I do not use egg in my Pad Thai because my children do not like it, but if you would like to add it then scramble one egg along with the chicken and ginger in step 4.

Cooking for Teen Athletes: 2 Football Players, A Water Polo Player, Soccer Player, Lacrosse Player and Swimmer or Cooking for Highschool Athletes

Spring Tuscan/Asian Soup

On a recent Friday evening, even though I had a free ticket to the Pancake and Bacon fundraiser dinner at the local Junior High, I opted to stay home with the teens.

Earlier in the day, I had made my younger daughter a pot of her favorite Tuscan/Asian soup (there are several versions of this on this blog and in my cookbook) hoping to put most of it in the freezer in single serving containers, so she would have something to eat before soccer practice.  A toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich on sourdough bread, although I love this too, isn’t a great dinner for a girl with a 1.5 hour round trip commute and a 2 hour practice.   She practices twice a week, so I am always trying to come up with nutritious and filling on-the-go dinners for her.

The teens were happy I had plans for the evening and had invited friends over.  At first, they said it would be one friend and then it was five.  I like the kids having friends over, but they are often hungry and luckily I had this on the stove.  Normally, I would do what a normal mother would do  – order pizza, but the soup (this is actually almost a stew) was ready.  And I have to say they loved it.  One of the football players said, “This is the best soup I’ve ever had.”   This is my favorite kind of compliment.   Because the athletes liked this so much I wanted to share this spring variation and photos with you.


Spring Variation – Asian/Tuscan Soup for Teens


2 Whole Foods handmade sausages (Ginger and Soy)

1/2 white onion finely diced

2 cloves of garlic finely diced

1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger grated

1 cup carrots diced

2 cups organic chicken broth (see my homemade recipe in my book Real Food for Real People – Amazon)

1 can of tomato sauce (15 oz.)

2  cans (15 oz.) Cannellini beans rinsed

1 cup frozen cubed butternut squash (Whole Foods carries a nice size package)

2 zucchini cubed

1 cup frozen chopped spinach

Salt and pepper

Parmesan cheese (optional)


1. In a large soup or stock pot sauté sausage for 1 minute, and then add garlic and onion. The sausage has enough fat that you don’t need olive oil and starting the sausage first will help ensure you do not scorch the garlic. While these ingredients are browning you can chop the veggies.

2. Once the sausage is brown and the onions translucent add the ginger, carrots, broth, tomato sauce and reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 min.

3. Add the beans and frozen veggies and heat through.

4. Add the cubed zucchini last and cook for about five minutes.  Be careful not to overcook the zucchini as it will get very soft.

5. Salt and pepper to taste.

6. Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

This soup reheats and freezes extremely well. Freeze in single serving glass containers for easy reheating.

Cooking for Teen Athletes

I shop for food like other women shop for shoes.  It is my passion and the highlight of my day.  I have always been like this.  Even when I was in high school and my mom would send me to the grocery store.  I love food.  And I especially love going to Whole Foods.  I love everything about this place.  It is  my very favorite store in the world and on this occasion I was talking with the sales person that stands in the area where they sell all of the supplements.  I love that there is always someone there to help you with whatever problem you might have.  I was looking for a protein drink for my younger daughter who is mostly a vegetarian.  I was worried about her because she had been doing double soccer work outs.  I always think she looks really thin, but in reality she is a perfect weight for her height and is amazingly strong.  I am her mother and if I want to worry I can.

The sales person said, “It’s different cooking for athletes isn’t it?”  She had noticed that I was also buying a ton of veggies, chicken and yogurt. And yes it is different, but still I think every child should eat really healthy food, but families with athletic kids have the challenge of not always being able to sit down to a normal meal due to varied  practice times.  One child has practice from 5-7 and the other from 7-9.   I also have this sense, as a mother, that kids who practice at a high level for two hours should have a really good meal before and after.

For a while I made a lot of hot sandwiches (think chicken, cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce),  which the girls loved until they didn’t anymore, and then I switched to cold wraps (chicken caesar was popular for a long time).  Before that I frequently made soup and the White Bean soup in my cookbook (Real Food for Real People – Amazon) was a giant hit.  In the summer I make salads and stash them in the fridge and then broil some fish when I get a chance or I make a few pounds of chicken and serve it with salad or with this delicious sauce that is packed with fresh herbs.  It is great on anything (chicken, fish, steak or brown rice).


Chicken with Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce (click for recipe).

As the girls get more and more competitive athletically I have to work harder to make sure they are getting the proper fuel to help them do their best.  Last summer I asked my younger daughter what she wanted for lunch and she surprisingly said, “I want whatever will make me run faster.”

Nike Cup

Siena Soccer

I love soups for athletes, but they can be tricky.  Kids are not always excited for a bowl of soup.  But some soups are more popular with kids than others and this one is always a winner.  I make it all the time.  The ginger in the soup is a natural anti-inflamitory, so it is good for kids that have injuries or knee problems like my daughter.  This is an update on my classic Italian White Bean soup, but any soup with beans will provide long lasting lean protein for your child.   These soups also freeze amazingly well.  I store them in small containers, so I can defrost a single portion for them to (sadly) take in the car.


Vegi, Ginger and Sausage Soup (click here for recipe)

I have been experimenting with juicing and it’s an easy way to load the kids (and myself) up with the nutrients found in leafy greens.  Especially, the very iron dense, but kid dreaded, spinach and kale.  The girls really like the sweeter green juices, so I add pear and tangerine.  Apples and carrots are good, but the pear and tangerine are especially delicious.


By the way, I ended up not buying her a powdered protein drink and went back to food as the proper fuel for a growing athlete.   It takes planning to keep our kids healthy and well fed, but it is so worth it.

Summer Entertaining – Roasted Vegetables & Salmon for the Teens

Sara & Siena @ my house summer 2014
Sara & Siena @ my house summer 2014

The kids and a few friends decided they wanted salmon for dinner, so we headed to Whole Foods where I spent $33 on just the salmon, but because it’s less expensive than pizza I didn’t care.  I love it when I can make something really healthy that they like.  I let them pick out some vegetables and because they were so varied I decided to roast them.  I added some brussels sprouts that I made in the microwave and some jasmine rice with butter, lime and cilantro and served it all on small plates.

The small plates allow the four girls to serve themselves and not be overwhelmed by foods they were unfamiliar with and/or did not like.  I like using small plates with kids and letting them serve themselves.  They can have as much as they like and there isn’t any wasted food.  Especially with teenage guests I dislike guessing what they might like.   This is also an excellent menu for teen athletes.

More on cooking for athletic kids later…

Sara’s Plate

Roasted Vegetable Platter

2 small sweet potatoes

1 pepper (this one was orange)

1 bunch asparagus

2 small zucchini

Good olive oil

Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash and poke sweet potatoes with a fork and place on oven rack until fork tender.  Meanwhile wash and cut pepper and zucchini and set aside.   Trim asparagus.   Using hands toss vegetables until evenly coated with oil and arrange on a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper (I omitted the pepper due to the kids) and cook for about 25 minutes.  Keep an eye on the asparagus as cooking time will vary depending on the size.  Smaller stalks cook faster.  Once the sweet potatoes are tender remove from the oven, allow to cool, peel and cut into coins.  They are really good with butter and brown sugar, but for the platter I just added them ungarnished.



Broiled Salmon

With really good salmon like this the less you do the better.   The only really important thing is to make sure you do not overcook it.


2 lb. salmon

1 lemon

1/4 stick of butter

Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to broil.  Cover the top portion of your broiling pan with tin foil for easy clean up.  Rinse salmon and place  (skin side down) in the center of the broiling pan.  Cut the lemon in half and squeeze over the salmon.  Cut butter into tiny cubes and arrange evenly over the top of the salmon.  The butter will help the top brown.  Salt and pepper to taste and cook for 10 minutes or until fish begins to flake.  For large pieces like this I allow the center to not be totally cooked when I pull it out because the fish will continue to cook on the pan once removed from the heat.


Creating the Menu

All of the flavors in this menu compliment one another.  The cilantro and lime in the rice, the sweetness of the roasted vegetables and the earthy salmon all come together and create a very delicious meal.  And the kids loved it and that is all that matters.   Happy summer.



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