Rustic Sausage & Peppers Skillet (Vegan)

Sometimes the simplest meals are the best ones. I can tell this easy one skillet dish with classic flavors is going to be a family favorite.

The day I turned 17, I drove 20 miles out of my small town to look for a part-time job. That was how I chose to spend my birthday. I loved school and my friends, but I was eager to experience the world. The first place that was hiring was a restaurant called Johnny Carino’s Italian Kitchen, they’ve since shortened the name to Carino’s Italian.  The managers interviewed me that day and offered me a job on the spot. It was one of my proudest moments. I had gone out into the world and “made it.”

I took my hostessing job very seriously, organizing systems to make sure every waiter got the same amount of tables, the kitchen didn’t get slammed, and guests were greeted and seated promptly or quoted an accurate wait time. I loved it. The multi-tasking, the smell of roasted garlic drizzled with olive oil and herbs, Frank Sinatra crooning over the speakers, the dim light, the kind and the quirky guests, the power of controlling the flow of the restaurant. Waiters, be kind to your hostess, for she knows who the $20 tipper is, she knows his kids’ names and she knows you can impress him by greeting him with his glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. Be good to her and she may seat him in your section and share the inside scoop with you. She also knows the $2 tippers. Be kind to your hostess, waiters, and she’ll be kind to you.

From my hostess stand, I could see the open kitchen where the chefs pulled pizza out of the brick oven and sent out scalding hot plates of baked lasagna. I remember the sound of the skillets sizzling and the trail of smoke that followed the food runner as they delivered the piping hot skillet filled with spaghetti, spicy marinara, sausage, onions and peppers to the hungry guests.

Almost twelve years after taking that job in the “big city,” here I am living 20 miles in a different direction from that same Italian restaurant, back in a small town, happy to no longer work in the “real world.” Funny how life works and time changes us.

I got the hankering for Carino’s classic skillet dish the other day and created a simple vegan version using Apple Sage Field Roast grain meat sausages (100% vegan, soy-free). I don’t use a lot of fake meat products because they are so processed and full of non-organic soy, but these sausages are different. I know what every ingredient is: filtered water, vital wheat gluten, expeller pressed safflower oil, nonsulfered dried apples, yukon gold potatoes, yeast extract, onion powder, barley malt, garlic, hickory smoke, natural flavoring with torula yeast, sea salt, spices, sage. At least you know what’s in this sausage! Plus, it tastes delicious in this dish and packs 26 grams of protein per link. (I don’t have any ties to Field Roast, I just really like their product.)

Rustic Sausage & Peppers Skillet (Vegan)

Serves 2


  • 1/2 package of whole wheat pasta, cooked al dente (1-2 minutes less than recommended cooking time)
  • ~2 T. olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced in thin strips
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced in strips
  • 2 links of Smoked Apple Sage Field Roast Sausages, chopped into rounds
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced into thin “chips”
  • 2 cups of spicy pasta sauce (I used Emeril’s Kicked Up Tomato Sauce in a jar, my Arrabiata Sauce would be great too.)


Generously coat a large skillet (iron or stainless steel work better than a nonstick for this recipe) with olive oil and heat on medium heat. When warm, add onions and saute for a few minutes until they start to get soft. Add bell peppers and sausage and turn to almost med-high heat, stir every minute or so until the onions, bell peppers, and sausage are slightly charred. Turn off heat. Stir in garlic chips for a couple of minutes. Stir in al dente pasta and pasta sauce. You can turn heat back on to warm the sauce, but I didn’t need to. Serve immediately.

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Tri-Colored Pasta Salad

Tri-colored pasta, a classic party dish because it is so easy to make ahead of time, stores and transports well, and can sit at room temperature for hours.

Rachel, the daughter

This weekend we had Jackson’s first birthday party. I made a great big salad bar with every whole-foods, plant-based topping under the sun, plus pasta salad, three bean salad, corn bean salsa, an organic fruit tray, and even pb&j for the picky-eaters. At the snack table, we had homemade salsa, guacamole, regular hummus, white bean hummus, and cowboy caviar. And to top it all off, a two-tiered custom order cake from a vegan baker with both white vanilla cake with vanilla icing and carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

Surely, there would be something for every guest with a spread like this.

As I sat down with my plate, my best friend’s 4-year old daughter asked me very kindly if she could have a spoonful of peanut butter. I’d forgotten she doesn’t eat jelly on her peanut butter sandwiches. Her mom and I laughed. I have fourteen thousand options and the girl wants a spoonful of peanut butter. I, of course, obliged and made a special “peanut butter lollipop” just for her. After she licked the spoon clean, she came up to me where I sat in my chair chatting with her mom, and leaned her elbows onto my knees, looked up so we were almost nose to nose and said “Rachel, you make the best food ever.”

Talk about humbling. In all the frenzy of worrying about what to serve, this sweet girl had it right. I could have served spoonfuls of peanut butter and if it had been served with love and made especially for my friends and family, it would have been received the same way.

It was a great party, but not because of the cute antique toy decorations…

My mom found the old train, blocks, and boxtop at estate sales. The rest I had or got unfinished from Hobby Lobby and painted myself.

not because of the organic salad bar…

Make your own salad with toppings like roasted red peppers in garlic oil, olives, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, marinated artichokes, shredded carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, and roasted chickpeas.

or the fruit and pasta salads…

Pasta, three bean, and fruit salads add variety and substance to a meatless salad bar menu.

or the special order vegan cake…

A little hint, I wanted a stacked cake, but it was $25 more, so I just ordered two cakes. The bigger cake was supposed to say “Happy Birthday Jackson,” but it was blank….after I threw a little pity party, I stacked them myself and ended up with what I wanted in the first place!

not even because of the bounce house (though that was a hit)…

There is nothing like a huge blow up castle to put a smile on a child’s face!

or the presents…

or the color-coordinating family outfits…

It was a great party, because my house was filled with all nine of Jackson’s living great-grandparents, four of his grandparents, almost all of his great aunts and uncles, several cousins and our best friends. Though I got several sweet comments on the food and decor, it wasn’t the focus of the party…the birthday boy was…as it should be! He was fully aware that this was his party, and ate up all the attention. Jared and I are both shy-by-nature, but somehow we have a boy who loves being the center of attention. Forty sets of eyes on him didn’t overwhelm him in the least.

In church this Sunday, the message was on Matthew 18:1-5,

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

One of our other little 3-year old guests, held up every present Jackson opened for all to see and shouted “Look everyone! Look!”

This weekend was full of humbling reminders. Being a new food blogger and author may have put some imaginary pressures on me to throw a fabulous party with lots of delicious food that show a plant-based diet has plenty of options outside of tofu and carrots. But throwing the greatest party or cooking the best food isn’t really what it’s all about. Humbling myself to serve peanut butter on a spoon is what it’s all about. Throwing my hands in the air with the unrestrained joy of a child and shouting for everyone to look at how great a gift we have all been offered…that’s greatness.

I’m not saying I won’t throw big parties again or make cute banners again or make a big spread of yummy food again, I’m just saying I’ll remember that those things don’t make me great and don’t make a party great. People were having great parties far before pinterest came along!

The most complimented recipe I served was a simplified version of a classic recipe we’ve all had at one time or another, a humble tri-colored pasta salad. You’ve seen it so often because it is makes a lot for pretty cheap, is easy to transport, and can be served at room temperature, making it great for parties and potlucks or to pack for lunch on the go. I took some last night to a friend who just adopted a baby and my husband brought some to work for lunch today.

Tri-Colored Pasta Salad


1 17 oz package tri-colored bowtie or spiral pasta
1/2 bottle of your favorite italian dressing (I used a combination of a bruschetta italian and a balsamic dressing)
2 T. olive oil
1/2 a red onion, diced
1 cup of sliced black olives
salt and pepper
(optional mix-ins: diced red pepper, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, shredded chicken, Parmesan cheese)


Cook pasta according to package directions. Don’t overcook. Drain.

In a large bowl, combine salad dressing, onion, black olives, any other mix-ins you like, and pasta. Season with salt and pepper if needed. Refrigerate for two hours or up to a several days. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

(Note: If using meat as a mix-in, you’ll want to keep it chilled. I wouldn’t recommend saving leftovers with chicken that has come to room temperature.)

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Vodka Sauce with Chicken, Italian Salami and Artichokes

Vodka Sauce with Chicken, Italian Salami and Artichokes

One of my friends, Shirley, who knows me well, posted this picture on her facebook page and said it reminded her of one special person, and wondered if that person might recognize herself. I saw it and immediately claimed it.

If you saw our first post on this blog, you know that I’m famous for burning food. I am a good cook, but I just get distracted easily. So the smoke alarm, for many years, was often our dinner bell. One day my eldest son Zach walked into the kitchen as it was billowing with smoke pouring out of the oven. “Mmm mmmm mmm,” he said, “Smells like mom’s home cooking!”

When my second born, Zeke, was about five-years old, I made him a perfectly browned piece of toast. He took it, walked to the trash can and started automatically scraping it with a knife. “Zeke, Honey,” I said, “You don’t have to scrape it today. I didn’t burn it this time!” He looked at me, his eyes wide, and said, “Oh, I thought we always have to whittle our toast.”

Once when my youngest son Gabe was about twelve, he was home from school, feeling sick. I decided to make him some breakfast and put a pan of bacon on the burner to cook. Then I promptly forgot about it and went to take a nice long bubble bath. If it were not for Gabe’s quick action with baking soda and a pan lid, my kitchen could have easily gone up in flames.

Having heard these stories, and seen enough of my absent-mindedness up close, my husband Greg now hovers near when I cook, constantly asking if I remembered to turn off the stove and oven, ready to spring into action at the slightest smell of smoke. My children would agree that I needed, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Especially in the kitchen. With Greg on the job, they all rest easier.

Today’s recipe is one that I created last week, and I am pleased to report that no kitchen cabinets were burned and no innocent food was scorched in the creation of this dish.

This easy vodka pasta sauce turned out creamy and delicious with lots of flavor layers going on, from the thin salty pieces of Italian salami to the nice bite of the tomatoes and artichokes, to the smoothness of the melted cheese. I learned to make a simple pasta sauce from a New York-Italian friend of mine: it was just lots of fresh grated garlic, a few chopped fresh tomatoes, and about ½ cup of creamy cheese, like a brie or soft Buffalo mozzarella or even cream or goat cheese (or a combination).  You simply melt it all together over low heat, and pour over pasta. This sauce springs from that basic idea, but I’ve fancied it up a bit.

Vodka Sauce with Chicken, Italian Salami and Artichokes

Serves 4


¼ c. thin Italian style salami diced (any hard salami can be substituted)

1/2 c chopped artichoke hearts (mine were canned in water)

¼ c chopped sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 c. soft white cheese (brie, fresh mozzerela, cream cheese or goat cheese — or a combination)

3 cloves garlic, minced

¼ – 1/2  c. vodka (according to your taste)

1 c. crushed tomatoes or 1 c. fresh tomatoes whirled in blender until as chunky as you’d like in your sauce

1 t. dried oregano or Italian seasoning

1 cup chopped or shredded cooked or roasted chicken

Fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese  for garnish

Pasta of your choice, cooked al dente  (save some of the pasta water to add to the sauce) to serve four people


While the pasta is cooking (according to package directions), chop the salami and render out the fat in a skillet until it has crisped a little.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except for the chicken,  basil and Parmesan) and stir over medium heat until the cheese melts.

Sauce ingredients tossed in pan ready to be stirred and heated

Add pasta water until it is the sauce is at desired thickness. Finally, add chicken and stir until heated through. Serve over pasta, and garnish with Parmesan cheese and ribbons of fresh basil.

Vegetarian Option: Substitute roasted chick peas for meat and add 1 t. smoked paprika

Vegan Option: Sub roasted chick peas for meat, add 1 t. smoked paprika and sub vegan cream cheese like Tofutti for cheeses

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Pasta Arrabiata with Roasted Garbanzos & Kale Chips

One of our staple vegan meals: Roasted Garbanzo Beans and Kale and a Spicy Arrabiata Sauce served over whole wheat pasta with a side of extra roasted veggies and whole wheat garlic toast. Satisfies every time.

(Rachel – The Vegan-Eatin’ Daughter)

My husband had a few hours off this afternoon, so as I wrote a post for my literary agency’s blog, The Wordserve Water Cooler, Jared kept an eye on Jackson and helped out around the house. He was folding a load of laundry at the kitchen table with Jackson at his feet, and though Jackson can barely reach the table, he managed to grab a corner of one of the piles and pulled half of the folded clothes onto the floor. Looking up from my laptop, I knowingly grinned and said “I’m so glad you get to experience a little piece of my life every now and then.”

The other day, Jared came home and, for what seemed like the 100th day in a row, I was rocking our crying teething baby in the same clothes I was wearing when he left for work, the house a total mess, and no dinner on the table. I told him “Just once, I’d like for you to come home and me to be bathed & dressed, the house to be clean, blogs to be finished, my word-count to be completed, and dinner to be ready. I can usually get a couple of those done on any given day, but I think it would be a miracle to fit it all into one day and be present for our son.”

Here’s what cooking with Jackson looks like on a good night. Veggies are chopped, every piece of tupperware is on the floor. Next up, Arrabiata sauce and emptying the pots and pans drawer.

Never trust a tupperware container from the house of a toddler. It surely has been discarded onto an unswept floor, then thrown back into the cabinet without so much as a rinse.

I know Jared works VERY hard. In fact, I would probably cry every day if I had his job of taming teenagers in the classroom, followed by practice and games most nights and weekends. But it’s nice to know he understands that being a work-at-home mom is not all tickles and giggles either.

On this night, my house was a wreck and the closest I got to showering was sticking my feet in the tub while Jackson bathed and dotting my neck and wrists with a little “perfume” of coconut oil while I cooked. But dinner was on the table and it was delicious. And my husband kindly overlooked the yoga pants and tank top I was trying to pass off as an outfit and the ponytail I was trying to pass off as an intentionally messy updo.

I like to put the kale chips on the side and then crumble them into a tasty crunchy kale dust between every few bites. Jared loves his as chips and just eats them on the side. To each his own.

Pasta Arrabiata with Roasted Garbanzos

This makes a lot of sauce, enough to fill about 2 pasta sauce jars. You can easily freeze leftovers or store them in your refrigerator for up to a week.

Arrabiata Sauce


3 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 t. salt
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. Tomato Paste
1 28 oz can of whole peeled San Marzano Tomatoes
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup red or white wine
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. Italian seasoning
1 T. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped & divided


Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan. Add onions and salt and saute until translucent. Add garlic, saute for 2 more minutes. Add tomato paste and stir. Add the whole peeled tomatoes and break them up with a fork until nice and chunky. Add crushed tomatoes, wine, brown sugar, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes on low, stirring occasionally. Add 1/4 cup of fresh parsley before serving.
Roasted Garbanzos & Kale Chips

Makes enough to top 3-4 bowls of pasta


1 cans of garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), drained and rinsed
2 c. kale, washed, dried very well, and torn into pieces
3-4 t. olive oil, divided
4 t. Italian seasoning, divided
1 t. crushed red pepper flakes, divided

Preheat oven to 325.  Coat a large cookie sheet with a little olive oil or cooking spray. In a bowl, toss garbanzos in half the olive olive oil until all are lightly coated. Add half of the Italian Seasoning & crushed red pepper flakes and toss again. Pour onto half the cookie sheet. Repeat same steps with the kale, making sure to massage the olive oil into the leaves. Bake for 20 minutes, shaking the pan half way through. They are done when the kale chips are light and crispy and the garbanzo beans have a slight crunch.

Serve Arriabiata sauce over pasta and top with a sprinkle of fresh parsley, chickpeas and kale. I actually like to put the kale chips on the side and crush them over the top as I eat them.

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Seductive Puttanesca Sauce

Becky’s Seductive Puttanesca Meat Sauce over Lemon-Pepper Pappardelle

Now and then I get a hankering for something that tempts all the senses: salty/briny, sweet, garlicky, rich and tomato-y. And when I do there there’s nothing like Puttanesca sauce to satisfy.

There are hundreds of variations on Puttanesca, but basically, it is a rich marinara sauce with a touch of something salty and briny (capers, olives, anchovies, artichoke hearts, and or pepperocinis) to give it an extra tangy zip.  I also like to balance the zip with something sweet — chopped sun-dried tomatoes and/or brown sugar.

I recently served this dish, innocently, to a lovely group of female friends, many of them involved with some sort of Christian ministry.  They loved it, scraped the skillet clean!  In attendance that night was my good friend Lucille Zimmerman who is a writer and a therapist who loves to research little known facts with the passion of Curious George. She went right home and researched the meaning of the word, “Puttanesca.” She wrote to tell me that it means — oh, how shall I say this delicately? –“prostitute, whore, ladies of night, harlot,” just choose your favorite wanton woman term.  Probably not a “word of the day” you’d choose to teach your kids over pasta.

Apparently the potent aroma of this dish from Italy was so powerful that the scent lured in potential customers off the street, serving as an appetizer for, well, the other “desserts” on the menu.

Oh, well. There’s nothing I can do about the origin of this dish, but I can tell you there is something powerfully seductive about it!

Below is how I make my Puttanesca, but don’t be intimidated by the ingredient list: it is what I had on hand in the fridge. Just pull out whatever you have in your fridge or pantry — and as long as you have something salty & briny, and something sweet, to balance the basic marinara, you’ll probably love the results.

Becky’s Seductive Puttanesca Sauce Over Pappardelle Lemon-Pepper Pasta

puttenesca sauce 010

Becky’s Seductive Puttanesca Sauce

Into a medium high skillet (I love my cast iron for this) saute:

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 chopped onion in 2 T. olive oil

Throw in any mixture of the following that you have on hand, stirring after each addition. (I do highly recommend that you use the chopped artichoke hearts, to me they are the most essential ingredient!)

1/3 – 1/2 c. chopped marinated artichoke heart
1/2 c. to 1 cup, any roasted or left over vegies, diced.
1 T. capers
2 T. olives, chopped, any kind
2 T. pesto sauce (if you have it on hand… no worries if not)
2 T. chopped pepperocini peppers
2 T. chopped sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil, preferably)
1 – 2 T. brown sugar (this will depend on your taste and also how many “sour” ingredients that you put in your sauce that will need balanced by sweet)
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (I like the ones with basil and garlic)
1 t. Italian seasoning or oregano
Salt & Pepper to taste

Simmer until sauce is thick and chunky, then season with salt, pepper, and Italian spices to taste.

You can dress up the recipe from here and add some flavorful meat of your choice. It is delicious with ½ lb of ground beef sauteed with ½ pound Italian sausage (chicken or turkey sausage is great) tossed in.  Or you can go vegan and roast garbanzo beans (see recipe below) and serve over your favorite pasta,  or spaghetti squash (see instructions for this below as well).  My daughter and I made this vegan version together (she suggested we try it with roasted garbanzos),  and it was AWESOME.

I personally adore this sauce served over Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta (which is a wide ribbon-like pasta). I looked up the root meaning of “pappardelle” and to my great relief, it simply means “to gobble up.” Whew.  Much better  “Italian word of the day” for little ones.

A light sprinkle of Parmesan (Vegan Parm if you are going dairy-free) and it is ready to serve.  The aroma should draw hungry folks to your kitchen in no time.

puttenesca sauce 007

Roasted Garbanzo Beans ( Chick Peas )
Drain, rinse and pat dry a can of garbanzo beans. Pour them evenly on a cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with olive oil, then roll them around. Sprinkle with salt or your favorite spiced salt. Roast at 350 for 10 to 15 minutes or until they are browned and crisped. (Shake them once or twice while baking so they can brown on two sides.)

Spaghetti Squash
Take a spaghetti squash and cut it in half length wise. Scoop out seeds. Put 1/2 cup water in the bottom of a big microwave proof bowl. Put one of the squash halves in the bowl, hole side up. (If it wobbles, trim a thin piece of the squash off the bottom so that it sits more level in the bowl.) Put the other squash half on top of the squash in the bowl. Don’t cover it. Just put in microwave for 10 minutes. Test done-ness by squeezing the top squash with a pot holder. If it squeezes easily, it is done. Take a fork and scrape “strings” of squash in spaghetti-like fashion.
Lightly salt, then top with sauce and roasted garbanzo beans. (You can also serve leftover spaghetti squash with butter and pepper and nutmeg for a side dish.)

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