Easy Peasy Pasta Salad

I’m looking through my blog posts and I realized that I haven’t posted my go-to pasta salad recipe!  This recipe has been a staple in my house for years…it’s a great summertime, BBQ, feed a bunch of people kind of recipe.  What I love most about this pasta salad is its versatility; you can pretty much make this recipe however you like.  I also love the colors in the salad, with the Rainbow Rotini and fresh vegetables…it reminds me of summer and good times with family and friends.  Oh, and did I mention it’s ridiculously easy to make (hence the title)?


This is actually my husband’s original recipe.  My husband is not a big fan of cooking…his meals usually consist of Kraft Mac and Cheese, although he has become quite the griller as of late (is griller even a word?? Meh, whatever!).  My Mother-in-Law used to make this recipe when my husband was a kid, and he made it for me a long, long time ago.  We’ve made a lot of variations of this recipe; we’ve omitted the olives and bacon and added jalapenos, cilantro and pepperjack cheese (thanks to my friend Chi Chi for that idea!), and we’ve also added extra vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or cucumber.  You can add whatever you think sounds tasty!  The only requirement for this recipe (according to my husband) is that you MUST use Newman’s Own Italian Dressing. According to him, no other dressing tastes quite the same.  I haven’t tested his theory, but I trust him.  🙂

I make this recipe in large quantities because it makes great leftovers the next day.  If you don’t want to make bucket loads of pasta (okay, it’s not really bucket loads, but it does make a lot of pasta salad), just cut the recipe in half.





Here’s the recipe:

2 Packages of Rainbow Rotini pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions

1 Package of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 Red bell pepper, chopped

1 Yellow bell pepper, chopped

1/2 Medium red onion, diced or finely chopped

5-6 Slices of bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled (you can also use bacon bits if you don’t have time to cook bacon, but I prefer the real deal)

1 Can sliced black olives

1 Bottle of Newman’s Own Italian Dressing

2 Tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar (approximately-I just eyeball it)

1 Teaspoon garlic powder

1 Teaspoon seasoned salt

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1/2 Cup (about a handful) of parmesan cheese

There really aren’t a lot of instructions for this recipe; just throw everything into a bowl and mix it up!  I like to chill the pasta salad in the fridge for a few hours in order to serve cold, but it’s also good served room temperature or even warmed.  I sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the pasta salad right before serving.





Meltdown Macaroni Salad

My family and I moved to Arizona two years ago this month. Before living in Arizona, we were born and raised California residents.  While we miss our family and friends in California, it’s been fun exploring a new city and all the amenities it has to offer (like lots of restaurants!).

We really enjoy the Phoenix area. The weather is beautiful 9 months out of the year!  But, the other three months…well….it’s hot.  Really hot.  I mean, really, really hot.  We’ve adjusted to the heat over the last two years, but no matter how adjusted we are, 118 degrees is stifling.

There is a payoff for heat endurance. In December, when it’s supposed to be cold, rainy  and  grey(at least that’s what it was like in my home town), I’m wearing flip-flops and short sleeved shirts as I enjoy 75 degree weather. But although I know the blistering heat is reaching it’s yearly end and  beautiful weather awaits, a late summer meltdown occurs.  It’s happened every year since we’ve been here.  I reach a point at which my brain can no longer bear the sizzling heat, and I enter into a heat-induced rage.  It happened this year at the end of July.

Several of my friends that have moved here to Arizona also experience such a meltdown. But this year we decided to celebrate our meltdown, rather than lamenting it.  There’s nothing we can do about the heat, so why not embrace it?  So, to celebrate our love/hate relationship with the desert sun, we had a Summer Meltdown Party.

This meltdown party consisted mainly of tasty BBQ and summer sides, along with delicious cocktails (see Pear Martini), and swimming to cool off (at night, of course, because right now, it’s too hot to swim during the day).  One of those summer sides was the Meltdown Macaroni Salad.  This salad got its name because of the day it was made, and it’s a great way to chill out after a meltdown.  Enjoy!

Meltdown Macaroni Salad

1 Package of Small Salad Macaroni or Elbow Macaroni-I prefer salad macaroni

2-3 Hardboiled Eggs, chopped, (depending on how much egg you like in your salad)

2 Stalks Celery, Chopped

1 Carrot, Shredded

1 Medium Sized Onion, Finely Chopped

3/4 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed

1 Small Can Sliced Olives, Drained (optional, I usually add olives, but didn’t add it this time because I forgot the olives)

1 Cup Mayonnaise

1/4 Cup Sugar

1/4 Cup  White Vinegar

1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard

1 Tablespoon Dill Pickle Relish

1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Seasoned Salt

1  Teaspoons Salt

1/2 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper

About 1  Teaspoon Paprika

Additional Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Fresh or Dried Dill for Garnish

Cook macaroni al dente, according to package directions.

In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, mustard, pickle relish, garlic powder, seasoned salt, and salt and pepper.  

In a separate large bowl, combine macaroni, egg, celery, carrots, onion,  peas and olives (if you’re using them).  Mix the dressing in a little at a time to combine.  If you pour it in all at once, it will be hard to mix completely.  Once the salad has been mixed together, sprinkle with paprika, about 1 teaspoon, and mix the pasta with the paprika.

Chill the macaroni salad for at least three hours, or, if you can, chill overnight.  Sprinkle with a little fresh or dried dill, for garnish.  

Asian Slaw

I received an e-mail from my sister-in-law recently.  The e-mail was a recipe for Asian Slaw that she had recently made; she said she liked the recipe because it used fresh ginger (which she loves), but she was looking for something a little spicier and wanted to know if I had any suggestions.

First of all, I always have ideas to make dishes spicier!! If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making food spicy!  My husband and I are big fans of spicy food-like the kind of spicy that will make your eyes water and your mouth burn.  But not to worry; I always tone down the heat in the recipes I share with others.

Secondly, I was touched that she would come to me for recipe ideas!  I know it sounds cheesy, but that seemed to validate for me that people enjoy my cooking and recipes.

So, here’s my recipe for asian slaw, as inspired by my sister-in-law.  I didn’t try the original recipe, but I think this one has a lot of flavor.  It’s spicy, but not too spicy. I actually wanted to name this recipe “Spicy Asian Slaw”, but I didn’t want to set the wrong expectations. I also used this as a topper for the  Teriyaki Pulled Chicken.

If you REALLY want to make this spicy, you could add  a finely chopped serrano chili (about a tablespoon) with the membranes removed.  It wouldn’t cause your mouth to catch on fire since the membranes are removed, but it would definitely spice it up!

This will make a pretty large amount of Slaw-enough to serve 6-8, and you’ll probably have leftovers.

1 Large Head Napa Cabbage, Cored and Shredded

1 Bag (about 8 ounces) Shredded Carrots

6 Scallions, Chopped (okay to use green and white parts, but green gives it color)

Handful of fresh Cilantro, Chopped (about 1/2 cup)

For the dressing: 

12 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

8 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar or Rice Wine Vinegar

8 Teaspoons Sesame Oil

8 Teaspoons Soy Sauce

4 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard

2 -3 Teaspoons Red Chili Oil (you can find this where Asian foods are sold in your local grocery store) or 1-2 Teaspoons Red Chili Flakes ( add a little at a time and season to taste depending on how spicy you want it).

4 Teaspoons Fresh Ginger

4 Teaspoons Fresh Garlic, Minced or Grated

Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, rice vinegar,  sesame oil, soy sauce, chili oil or chili flakes, mustard, garlic, and ginger.  Add the cabbage, carrots, bell pepper, scallions, and cilantro and mix together with the dressing.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, but it’s best if you make it the night before and let it refrigerate overnight.  

Spicy Pasta Salad with Smoked Gouda

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a great fondness of smoked cheeses.  I don’t know what it is about smoked cheese, but love any recipe that includes it.  It doesn’t matter what kind of smoked cheese-smoked cheddar, gouda, mozzarella, whatever-I’m not picky; if it’s smoked, I love it. 🙂

As you also may have noticed by the recipes I’ve posted so far, I also love pasta.  Pasta dishes are easy to make, versatile, and great for serving large groups.  And of course, pasta is delicious!!  I could never survive on a low carb diet; I think I would be a starving, angry person without carbs!

So, this recipe has two of my favorite ingredients-smoked gouda cheese and pasta!!  I got my inspiration for this one from another blog, but added my own spin.

The chipotles add a little spice and a lot of flavor.  The pasta includes chicken, so it can be a main dish or a side.   And the longer you let the pasta chill, the better it will taste. I let it chill for 2-3 hours and it was amazing!

You can also use whole grain or whole wheat pasta if you want to make it a little healthier; I’ve made this dish twice, and used wheat pasta the second time I made it.  It was great with regular pasta and whole wheat pasta, but I did notice that the dressing didn’t absorb as well into the wheat pasta, and the nutty flavor of the wheat took a little away from the flavor of the dressing.  Still good, but definitely a different flavor and consistency; I think that’s pretty common with wheat or whole grain pasta.

This recipe should serve 4, with some leftovers for lunch the next day.

Here’s my recipe for Spicy Pasta Salad with Smoked Gouda.  Enjoy! 

1 Package Penne Pasta, Cooked Al Dente According to Package Instructions

1 Container Grape Tomatoes, Halved

4-5 OZ Smoked Gouda Cheese, Cut into Bite Sized Chunks

1 1/2 Cups Cooked Chicken Breast, Cut into Bite Sized Chunks

14-15 Basil Leaves, Shredded or Chopped

For the Dressing:

1 Cup Mayonaise

1/3 Cup White Vinegar

6 Tablespoons Milk

4-5 Tablespoons of Chipotle in Adobo Sauce, or One Chipotle in Adobo Finely Chopped (you can find this in a can, usually in the hispanic foods section of your favorite grocery store)*** 

Salt and Pepper, to Taste

***Usually when you cook with chipotle in adobo, you’ll have a bunch left over.  A cool trick to save the rest is to freeze it in a ziploc bag; then you can use it the next time you need it!! I learned this trick from Rachael Ray. 🙂

After the penne pasta is cooked and drained, transfer to a large bowl.

Combine mayonnaise,  milk, vinegar, and chipotles.

Combine pasta with dressing, tomatoes, basil, chicken and smoked gouda.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chill pasta until cold; the longer it chills, the better it tastes, so try to give it 2-3 hours.

Creamy Ranch Pasta Salad

Whenever I host an event or party, I like to prepare as much food as I can ahead of time.  As much as Chef PickyKid and I like to cook and be in the kitchen, it’s always a bummer being confined to the kitchen while everyone else is enjoying the party!  Plus, preparing ahead of time means that all the mess involved with cooking will be cleaned before the guests arrive!

This is a great recipe to make ahead of time; it’s easy to prepare and tastes better after it’s had a little time to chill in the fridge.

I usually make this salad when I’m cooking for a large group because it’s very easy to make.The recipe I’m posting is for 4-6 servings but I double it up for a party! I recently made this for Chef PickyKid’s birthday party and it was a big success!

Creamy Ranch Pasta Salad

1 Package Cooked Small Shell Pasta

1 Carrot, Peeled and Shredded or Thinly Chopped

1/2 Cucumber, Peeled and Chopped

1/2 Cup Diced Celery-Approximately 2 Stalks Celery

1 Cup Halved Grape Tomatoes (About 1/2 Container)

2 Hard Boiled Eggs, Chopped

4-5 Strips Cooked Bacon, Chopped

Dressing Ingredients:

1 Cup Mayonnaise

Approximately 1/2 Packet Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Seasoning (you can use 1/2 cup prepared ranch dressing, but I like the seasoning-it gives it a more ranch-y flavor! 🙂 )

6 Tablespoons Milk (I use 1% milk)

4 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Dried Minced Onion (you could omit the minced onion and add 1/2 fresh, chopped yellow onion or 2-3 chopped scallions to the salad.  I’ve tried all three options and they’re all tasty!)

1 Teaspoon Seasoned Salt

1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Mustard Seasoning

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to directions.  In a large  bowl, combine pasta and all vegetables, as well as the bacon.  In a small bowl, combine all dressing ingredients and pour over salad ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

NOTE: Add a little dressing at a time until you get the desired consistency.  You may not use all of the dressing, depending on your preference.  I like to make a little extra so I can be sure I have enough!