Monday, March 29, 2010

Baked Shells Casserole

I was looking for a tasty way to use up the rest of the Ricotta cheese from my homemade ravioli and the first place I looked was on Rachael Ray's show recipe archives. I rarely follow her recipes to the T--but I'm pretty sure that's how she would want it. Free Style Cooking. It's the best kind. You should try it.  In any case, I stumbled upon this baked shells casserole and new immediately that it was exactly what I was looking for. Not only did it use the perfect amount of Ricotta but it also allowed me to us the frozen spinach and medium pasta shells I bought recently for just this type of dinner. I've never used frozen spinach and frankly it grosses me out...but when it's mixed up in gloriousness, I'm totally in love with it. (Just don't put it on my plate alone. bleh.)  

I followed the recipe fairly closely with a few exceptions. 
1. I halved all the ingredients and baked it in an 8x8 glass baking dish. 
2. I didn't have fennel so I left it out.
3. I didn't have fresh parsley or nutmeg so I just estimated with the dry versions. (go very lightly on the nutmeg. barely a pinch will do!)
4. I eliminated the white wine--mostly because I don't like wine and don't use it for cooking (at least not yet.) A little extra water or chicken stock will do just fine.
5. I totally neglected to include the egg yolk. oops. It was fine.

Half of the recipe serves 4-6 adults. 
recipe adapted from 
5 tablespoons EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
1 large or 2 small to medium onions, finely chopped, divided
1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano or marjoram, half a palmful
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/3 palmful
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed by pressing under flat of your knife
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, 5 to 6 sprigs
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white or red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 28-ounce cans Italian crushed tomatoes
1 pound medium or large shell pasta (not extra-large stuffing shells)
2 boxes frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and wrung dry in clean towel
Freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/4 teaspoon
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus some to pass at table
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375. 
In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons EVOO, 3 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic, 3/4 of finely chopped onion and the carrot. Season with salt, pepper, oregano or marjoram, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds and thyme, and gently sauté 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add in parsley, stir, then add wine and reduce a minute. Add stock and tomatoes, bring sauce up to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer sauce 45 minutes. 

In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Salt water and cook pasta 5 minutes.
While pasta water comes to a boil, heat remaining 2 tablespoons EVOO in a small skillet over medium heat. Add remaining garlic and onion and sauté to soften, 5 minutes. Add spinach, pulling it apart and separating it as you add it to pan. Stir to combine well and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Turn off heat.

Drain undercooked pasta and return it to the hot pot. Add spinach mixture to pot along with ricotta and grated Parm. Stir to combine, adjust salt and pepper then add eggs and stir.

Pour a thin layer of marinara sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish. Fill dish with pasta then top with another thin layer of red sauce. Save remaining sauce to pass at table. Bake 30 minutes until bubbly.

Serve casserole directly from casserole dish, passing extra sauce and cheese at the table.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Three Cheese Ravioli

For my dad's birthday I promised him a homemade dinner and dessert of his choice. I knew he would choose Apple Pie for the sweet ending of the meal, and I was wanting to make homemade pasta for the main course. But in what form?  When I saw Aldi carry Ricotta cheese as a specialty item and then I recounted Annie's Ravioli recipe, I knew I had a winner.  Everyone was quite pleased with the meal and it came together in just an hour's time--including dough, filling, and cooking. 

The batch of dough I make fed four of us perfectly, but I did have leftover filling.  I refrigerated it and tonight made a half batch of dough and tried my hand at mezzalunas--half moon shaped ravioli. It was even easier to make and with the addition of Italian seasoning to the dough round 2 of raviolis turned out amazingly delicious. Kevin says he thinks it's the best meal I've ever made and that he would never get tired of having it. Alrighty, then! :D

Recipe Adapted from Annie's Eats.
½ cup part-skim ricotta
½ cup shredded mozzarella
 ½ cup shredded parmesan
1 clove garlic, finely minced
¼ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. dried basil
¼ tsp. dried parsley
¼ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 batch fresh homemade pasta
Marinara sauce, for serving

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, garlic, and spices. Mix well to blend. Roll out homemade pasta into long, thin sheets. To make ravioli, use a shaped cookie cutter or a biscuit cutter to cut out pasta shapes. Place about 2 teaspoons of filling in the middle of  half of the cut outs, leaving a clear edge around the perimeter. (OR to make Mezzalunas--half moons--fill the half of each pasta round with filling and fold over to seal.) Dip a finger in water and lightly brush around the edges of a heart topped with the filling. Place one of the remaining pasta rounds on top and press the edges of the pasta shapes together to seal around the filling, being careful to press out any excess air. Repeat with the remaining dough shapes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Cook the ravioli until al dente, about 5 minutes.  Serve in warmed bowls with marinara sauce.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

Recently I borrowed a great cookie resource from my local library--Martha Stewart's Cookies. I'm not in any way, shape or form a Martha fan, but I AM a fan of cookies and this cookbook is choc full of great recipes.  Some of them are just ridiculously extravagant for my taste, but I was pleasantly surprised to discovery so many "everyday" recipes.  When I tagged the page with this particular recipe, I noted that it contained fresh ginger and fresh nutmeg.  Though I didn't pick up any nutmeg (just sprinkled in a teeny tiny bit of dry nutmeg), I did buy fresh ginger for the first time as I wanted to follow the recipe as closely as possible.  I was also surprised at the lack of egg in the ingredients and the relatively large amount of molasses called for. Most molasses cookie recipes call for 1/4 cup molasses when about 2 cups of flour are needed.  This, however, only has 1 and 1/2 cups flour (plus 1 Tbsp!) and needs 1/2 cup molasses.  I hate using so much of a slightly pricey ingredient, but again, I wanted to try the recipe as written before making modifications.  

These cookies are quite amazing for the sophisticated palate, but would probably be a bit too "spicy" and overwhelming for younger foodies.  I love storebought gingersnaps and I believe these have a tang quite comparable to those molasses variety cookies.  They are obviously not "snaps"--in fact they're quite soft and gooey.  

1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp ground giner
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg 
1 Tbsp unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Tbsp freshly grated peeled ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp boiling water
7 ounces (~1/2 cup) best quality semi-sweet chocolate, cut into 1/4 inch chunks (or chips)
1/4 cup granulated sugar 

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and fresh ginger on medium speed until lightened, about 4 minutes.  Add brown sugar; beat until combined.  Add molasses; beat until combined. 

In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in boiling water.  Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture.  Beat in baking soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture.  Mix in chocolate; turn ont plastic wrap.  Pat out to a 1 inch thickness; seal with wrap.  Refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or overnight. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls; place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Chill 20 minutes.  Roll in granulated sugar. Baked until surfaces just being to crack, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating halfway through.  Let cool on pan 5 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.  Cookies are best the day they are made, but can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days. 

Makes: 2 dozen cookies

Bread Machine Pizza Dough

This is a Friday night tradition for Kevin and I.  It's so easy to throw together, I can't imagine buying a store-bought crust! We look forward to our Friday evening tradition of this pizza and a library-borrowed movie. And the great part about making pizza dough is you can save half for later in the freezer and you have even less work to do next Friday!

Feel free to add spices such as garlic or Italian seasoning into the dough before mixing for additional flavor.   

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp cooking oil or olive oil
3 cups bread flour (OR 2 cups flour plus 1 cup whole wheat flour OR 1 1/2 cups flour plus 1 1/2 cups wheat flour)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp active dry or bread machine yeast

Add the ingredients to machine according to manufacturer's directions.  (Always add liquid ingredients first, then dry ingredients (should be floating on top of liquids), then make a small well in the dry ingredients and add yeast LAST--being sure the yeast never comes in contact with the liquids or it will be activated too soon.) Select dough setting.  When the cycle is complete (approximately 2 hours), remove dough from machine.  Divide in half and either make two pizzas or freeze half for later. (To use frozen dough, remove from freezer 4 hours ahead of time and thaw on the counter. OR place in refrigerator to thaw for 8 hours. Continue as directed).  

Preheat baking stone in oven to 500 degrees. 

Sprinkle a pizza peal or parchment paper or silicon baking mat with cornmeal or flour.  Shape dough into a desired size using hands and a rolling pin, if desired.  Be sure the dough has not adhered itself to the mat. It needs to slide around easily to transfer to baking stone. Top dough as desired.  When oven and stone are preheated, gently slide the prepared dough onto the stone. Bake 18-22 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and golden brown.  Let pizza rest for 3-5 minutes, slice and serve. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Oatmeal Bread

While visiting my local library this week, I was browsing the recipe book section as per usual and stumbled upon  Betty Crocker's Best Bread Machine Cookbook.  This little baby is chock full of amazing recipes, providing nearly endless ways to enjoy the large kitchen appliance known as the bread machine.  Seriously.  You need to invest in one of these inventions.  Who doesn't love a loaf of freshly baked (in your own kitchen!) bread?!  

I needed to bake a loaf for the days to come as we finally finished up the store bought bread and so I asked Kevin if he had a preference as to the variety of bread.  He mentioned "oatmeal" and I found this recipe right away.  I made a few minor alterations which have been noted.  

This loaf turned out beautifully and is equally delicious!  Slather on some butter and you've got yourself a great snack, toast for your morning breakfast or use the slices to make the best sandwich you'll ever taste. 

Ingredients for a 1 1/2 pound loaf

1 1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp margarine or butter, softened
3 cups bread flour (OR 2 cups flour plus 1 cup whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup old fashioned or quick cooking oats
3 Tbsp packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp dry milk
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp bread machine or quick active dry yeast

Add ingredients to bread machine pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer.  (Always add liquid ingredients first, then dry ingredients (should be floating on top of liquids), then make a small well in the dry ingredients and add yeast LAST--being sure the yeast never comes in contact with the liquids or it will be activated too soon.) Select the Sweet or Basic/White cycle.  Use Light crust color option. Remove bread from pan and cool on wire rack.

Alternatively, select dough cycle.  When finished remove from pan and turn onto a lightly floured surface.  Roll out to a 9x12" rectangle. Roll dough tightly, pinching seams together after each turn.  Place in a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan.  Let rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake at 425 for 17 minutes.  Turn out of pan immediately and cool on a wire rack.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spicy Ranch Patty Melts

Yesterday was a long hard day. I didn't really want to spend an hour and a half in the kitchen making dinner but I am SO GLAD I did.  This was on the menu plan and I was craving a good burger and fries (minus the grease and grossness).  Because I had no hamburger buns nor did I have the time to make my own, I thought the patty melt would be the solution to my problems. I had this picture all developed in my mind of exactly how this patty melt would taste alongside my new recipe for Oven Fries.  I was SO hoping it would meet my expectations especially after all the time and work I spent in the kitchen throwing this and the fries together.  

This burger was AMAZING.  The best grilled sandwich I've ever had.  Take that Steak 'N Shake!  Seriously, you HAVE to try this! 

for the burger patties:
1/2 pound ground beef (90/10)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs

for the sandwich:
1/4 onion, sliced into thin rings
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 jalapeno, thinly sliced
4 slices sandwich bread (of your choice)
margarine/butter, for spreading 
Muenster (or other) cheese, sliced thinly 

for the dressing:
2 Tbsp Ranch dressing
2 tsp hot sauce 

Combine ground beef, bread crumbs and beaten egg (start with adding half, add more if desired) and salt and pepper.  Mix together with your hands, being careful not to overwork.  Divide meat in half and form two large flat hamburger patties.  Set aside. 

Heat a large skillet to medium and add oil to the pan (twice around the pan.)  When oil is hot, add onions, garlic and peppers. Cook until softened.  Remove veggies from the pan and set aside.  

Using the same pan over medium high heat, cook patties 4-5 minutes per side (to desired done-ness). Set patties aside. 

Use the same skillet or a large griddle  and preheat to medium low.  In a small bowl stir together ranch and hot sauce. Butter one side of each slice of bread.  Place butter side down on preheated skillet.  Spread with spicy ranch dressing.  Add the cooked hamburger patty, then garlic/onion/pepper mixture, then top with desired amount of sliced cheese.  Place the second slice of buttered bread (butter side out) on top.  Cook for 4-5 minutes (low and slow) until crispy and golden brown. Flip and repeat.  

Serve with Oven Baked Fries

Oven Baked Fries

Roasted potato wedges or fries are a frequent side dish in our house--especially when burgers are on the menu.  For me, you can't have one without the other.  In my experience it seems that every other batch turns out great.  The rest of them are just...meh. I could get the right flavoring and the wedges would be perfectly cooked, but I couldn't achieve the right crispness on the outside with the soft potato on the inside.  Annie solved my problem! By soaking the wedges in hot water for 10-30 minutes you allow for ample crisping time when the oven step comes. 

Though I didn't follow this recipe exactly--I altered various ingredient amounts to suit our hunger level--I believe I actually followed the directions to the T.  Well, that's not exactly true either.  At the end of the baking time I was getting quite anxious to eat and the patty melts were finished.  So I probably should have left the fries in for 10 more minutes for a bit more crispness, but what can I say, I was hungry!  

There are quite a few steps of this, but it's totally worth it! (and for a bit of a better photo see Annie's post!)

Adapted from Annie's Eats; originally from The New Best Recipe

3 russet potatoes (about 24 oz. total), peeled and cut lengthwise into even sized wedges
5 tbsp. vegetable, canola or peanut oil, divided
¾ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 475˚ F.  Place the potato wedges in a large mixing bowl.  Cover with hot water; soak for 10-30 minutes. (I brought a pot of water up to almost a simmer and left the potatoes on extra low for the 10 bubbling water!)  Put 4 tablespoons of the oil onto a heavy, rimmed baking sheet.  Tilt the sheet side to side to evenly coat the pan with oil (a pastry brush can also help with this).  Sprinkle the pan evenly with the salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Drain the potatoes.  Spread the wedges out on layers of paper towels or on clean kitchen towels.  Pat dry with additional towels.  Wipe out the now empty bowl so it is dry.  Return the potatoes to the bowl and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.  Arrange the potato wedges on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 5 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake until the bottoms of the potatoes are spotty golden brown, 15-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 10 minutes.  Using a metal spatula and tongs, flip each potato wedge keeping them in a single layer.  Continue baking until the fries are golden and crisp, 5 -15 minutes.  Rotate the pan as needed to ensure even browning.

When the fries are finished baking, transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain some of the grease.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm.

Spicy Fiesta Soup.

I wanted a hearty soup. 
I wanted spice. zip. intensity. 
I wanted Spicy* Fiesta** soup***.

*Spicy because it is.
**Fiesta because of the fun colors of the peppers and it's Mexican flair. 
***Soup because it has a broth base not a tomato base.

Yes, I had this ideal picture in my mind as I looked at the chorizo and pretty yellow and red peppers in my refrigerator. This was exactly what I wanted. Though the ingredients could be transformed into a great chili with the addition of canned tomatoes we decided to go with the thinner broth consistency to hold everything together.  Feel free to add small cooked pasta (like dittalini or cut up rigatoni) into the dish just before serving.  We loved this and hope you will too!  Just don't be surprised at the intense spice! :D 

1/2 lb Spanish chorizo
1/2 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 30oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 15oz cans diced tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth or bouillon 
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
salt (limit use as the broth is high in sodium)

Preheat a large dutch oven or heavy bottom pot to medium heat.  Remove chorizo from casing and cook thoroughly. Drain in a colander and set aside.  (You may want to rinse the chorizo and/or dab with paper towels to eliminate the excess grease.)  In the same pot add about 2 Tbsp oil.  Saute onions, garlic, jalapeno, and peppers until soft and fragrant. Stir into drained pinto beans (or other beans of your choice), tomatoes, chorizo, and spices.  Add chicken broth and stir to combine.  Heat to boiling and then lower heat and simmer at least 2 hours.  

Optional: Just before serving place the cooked pasta in the bottom of the individual serving bowls and pour soup over top.  Stir together.   

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies

I had a hankering for peanut butter. But what's new, right? If you know me at all, then you know I'm a peanut butter-aholic.  But this isn't about me. Nope, not at all. I needed to whip up a batch of cookies for the weekly bake sale at church. These people need their cookies. (Seriously.) And I'm happy to oblige. (Most of the time.) :) In any case, I wanted a new recipe. Spice things up a bit.

This recipe isn't exactly new. It's more of an adaptation of the Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies I invented for my husband some years ago. Mostly, it's just subtracting the chocolate chips. But it's definitely a big enough difference that it's totally worth printing. So here you be.

Adapted from and

½ cup shortening
½ cup margarine, softened
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1½ cup quick-cooking oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, cream together shortening, margarine, peanut butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well blended.
Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl.  Add into the creamed mixture in three additions. Mix in the oats until just combined. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until just light brown. Don't over-bake. Cool and store in an airtight container.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

These cookies live up to their name. Kevin was quite thrilled about them and I, of course, loved them too!

1 cup butter, softened (or ½ cup shortening and ½ cup margarine)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ¼ to 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
11/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Mix in the quick oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips.
Refrigerate dough (if using butter)
Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.
Bake for 8-9 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Taco Chili

When I saw a recipe for Taco Soup on a great recipe blog called For the love of cooking I new I needed to try it. The recipe ingredient list was filled with items I keep on hand and the techniques were simple. I am so glad I put this on our menu right away. It delicious and better than I imagined. With my alterations it becomes more of a taco tasting chili than a soup--namely because of it's heartier consistency. Try this TODAY!

Taco Seasoning Ingredients
1 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of oregano
1 tsp of chili powder
1 tsp of paprika
1 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp of onion powder
1 tsp of coriander
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Soup Ingredients
1/2 to 1 lb of lean ground beef
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced (not pictured)
1 can of pinto (or black) beans, rinsed and drained
1 can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of frozen corn
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 4.5 oz can of diced green chilies (or 1-2 jalapenos, diced)
1/2 oz of package of ranch salad dressing mix (half a packet) (I omitted this)
1 8oz can tomato sauce
8 oz (1 cup) water (rinse out tomato cans with water and add to soup)

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat then add the ground beef. Add all the taco seasonings and mix into the ground beef, making sure to break it up into crumbles. Add the diced onion and garlic then mix thoroughly and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, green chilies and ranch dressing packet, mix well then cover and simmer on low for 2 hours, stir occasionally. Taste and re-season with sea salt or pepper if needed.

Toppings Ingredients
Corn tortilla strips (directions below)
Sour cream
Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Green onions, diced

While the soup is simmering, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut a few corn tortillas into strips. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray then place the tortilla strips on it and spray them with cooking spray and season with sea salt. Bake in the oven for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown.

Ladle the soup into bowls then top with corn tortilla strips, soup cream, cheddar cheese and green onions. Enjoy.