Minestrone Stuffed Shells

 

When Matt and got married, there were 3 things he refused to eat: Beets, Tofu and Pesto.  The tofu was a man thing I guess, but I honestly didn’t understand what he had against beets and pesto.  Maybe together it would be an issue, but I really can’t see what the problem was with each individual food.  I got tired of him turning up his nose whenever I said there was pesto in something, so one night, I made a pasta with pesto (recipe coming later this week) and served it without saying a word.  He’s been hooked ever since.  As a matter of fact, as I was stirring the pesto into the filling tonight, he kept coming over and commenting on how wonderful it smelled.  These days, he reminds me when the basil is ready to be picked and takes initiative with adding it to recipes.  If there’s anything I’ve learned in these last 4 years, it’s to not make a big deal out of a change.  Just present it and go with the tide.
For tonight’s dinner, I made this recipe from Sweet Pea Chef.  It was a huge hit in our house and even though I made half a recipe, I still had whole other meal’s worth for leftovers.  Considering that I spent a great deal of today making meals for my freezer, this was a welcome result!  The only thing I changed in the recipe is that I used fresh pesto and added Provolone to the top of the shells before baking them at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Garden-Fresh Pesto
1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried

3 medium cloves of garlic

one small handful of raw pine nuts

roughly 3/4 cup Parmesan, loosely packed and FRESHLY GRATED

A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

As far as I am concerned, the key to good pesto is to be patient.  Put the pine nuts and the garlic into a food processor and pulse.  Then add in the basil and pulse.  Add the cheese and pulse.  Once it’s paste-like in consistency, stream in the olive oil until you have reached the consistency you desire.   Make sure you taste it to see if it’s salty enough or cheesy enough or basily enough for you.
Considering that our Realtor is making us live out of boxes and pare down all my kitchen utensils for the house showings, I’d have to say that the simple fact that I managed to get enough food for 2 weeks made, packaged, labeled and frozen is no small task. 

Lemon tart for the 4th

This is my second attempt at this dessert and my second recipe.  Suffice to say, this one won out.  The main reasons for the winning was simplicity of this recipe.  Whereas the night before Easter I was desperately trying to get a custard-like filling to not overflow as I put it in the oven, I only had to spend a great deal of time sweating it out over the stove for this to reach the correct consistency.  On my previous attempt, the tart overflowed out of the tart pan all over the baking sheet and came out with a harsh burnt top with an entirely liquid center.  After an hour of baking.  Disappointed does not even come close to describing how I felt about that.  No baking was required of this tart (other than the shell) and I am thrilled about that!

 Matt and I spent Saturday working at my grandmother’s house.  Upon her death, I became the owner of her home, property and all the contents therein.  I am completely conflicted about this new responsibility and unsure of our next move.  Saturday was spent moving all my aunt’s possessions out of the house and making a vain attempt at creating some order.  At the end of the day, I was feeling defeated when I got a phone call inviting us to a 4th of July picnic at a friend’s house.  I could taste a lemony dessert as I said we’d be there.  This dessert was perfect for the night and I’m debating whether or not I should make this again or move on to something else from my mastery list for my birthday!

French Lemon Cream Tart (Baking: from My Home to Yours by Dorrie Greenspan)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • the grated zest of 3 lemons
  • 3/4 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 10.5 oz butter, cut into small pieces and at room temperature
  • 1 9-in. tart crust (the book recommends one, but I didn’t like it as well as my usual crust recipe)

Zest the lemons and mix them together with the sugar in a heatproof bowl.  Using either your fingers or a spatula, mash the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist from the zest and a little bit grainy.  Your kitchen will smell heavenly!  Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.  Heat a pan of water to simmering and place the bowl over the top.  Once the mixture starts to feel warm, begin whisking.  Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees.  You will need to whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling.  I gave up measuring the temperature and went by the appearance of the cream.  When it was thick and the whisk left tracks through on each swipe, I took it off the heat.  (Dorrie’s instructions say it can take up to 10 minutes to reach the proper temperature, but because I was using such a heavy bowl, I whisked and cooked for almost half an hour.  It was 92 degrees yesterday.  I’ll be using a lighter bowl next time.) 

When the cream is cooked, remove it from the heat and allow it too cool to an approximate temperature of 140 degrees.  Once it has reached that temp, pour it into a sturdy blender and add a few pieces of butter.  You will need to add the butter a few pieces at a time until it is all incorportated before continuing.  If your blender is having trouble with the cream, which mine did, you can use a food processor or an immersion blender.  I used the immersion blender.  Blend the cream once all the butter is added for an additional 3 minutes, the cream is light and fluffy.  Chill the cream for a minimum of 4 hours before pouring into a baked tart shell.  I chilled mine again before serving and topped it with fresh raspberries.  

**Notes:  The photo in the book shows a cream that is much lighter than mine.  While I cannot say for sure, I’m going to believe it’s because of the eggs I used.  My eggs are home-grown and have an almost orange yolk to them.  Hence the rich yellow of my tart. 

Strawberry shortcake

It’s the very beginning of berry season here.  I’m beyond excited.  Excited in a way that I should probably be embarrassed about.  But I’m not.  In fact, as I type this, I’m messaging with a friend to try and get a load of people together to take the patch by storm next week.  I’m gearing up to fill my freezer once again and I am excited!  Last week, while I was at the market, I found local strawberries on sale for an excellent price, so I snapped some right up.  They weren’t very big, but they were so sweet and juicy that I had to make shortcakes.  Paired with some freshly whipped cream and my most recent attempt at a plain vanilla ice cream that didn’t contain only heavy cream as the base, it made for a wonderful end to dinner.  Shortcakes are essentially a sweetened biscuit, which I was thrilled to learn are rather simple to make.  My only down fall in this experience was realizing that I don’t own a biscuit cutter and had to use a mini tart pan in it’s place.  Biscuit cutter is now on my list of things I “need”!  I won’t lie, I didn’t make up my own recipe, I used the one from Martha’s book.  Honestly, there are somethings I don’t mess with and anything involving cutting in butter is one of those things.  You have to know your limitations.  Mine don’t involve any on strawberries, though.  You can never get enough!

Profiteroles

I am more than relieved to announce that I can wipe this one off my list.  Making the profiterole (also known as a cream puff here in the States) is really a very simple task; the baking of it requires a bit of attention.  Oh.  And you absolutely, certainly, should not open the oven to “peek”.  Be patient and back away from the oven.  I’m saying this because it was humid yesterday while I was baking, so we were already at a tenuous balance between the puffs puffing or not and I couldn’t control my anxiety and peeked.  Several times.  I might have been able to overcome the humidity issue if I had only been more patient.  Of the 4 dozen I baked, only about 16 turned out nicely puffed.  That should teach me.  Thankfully, I have made these several times so I know what my error was and am only telling you this so you don’t also make the same mistake.

 How beautiful your profiteroles can be if you don’t bother them while they bake!
The official name for the dough is Pâte à choux.  A choux dough doesn’t have any sort of a leavening agent in it; instead it relies on the moisture in the dough to create steam while it cooks and puff up the dough.  This type of dough what one would use to make profiteroles, croquembouches, eclairs, beignets,and gougères. I am anxious to keep trying this dough and working with it so I that I can become comfortable.  I have decided though that I should invest in a larger piping bag and tip so that I’m not covered in the dough by the time I’m done piping out my little puffs.  I’m also anxious to try these as a gougère in the winter with a hearty stew.
Basic Pâte à choux dough:
  • 10 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 6 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter, sugar and salt to a simmer so that the butter is able to melt.  Remove the pan from the heat and using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour to make a paste.  Return to the heat and cook, stirring constantly until the paste is shiny and easily pulls away from the pan (about 7 minutes).  Cool slightly.  Either transfer the paste to the bowl of a stand mixer or use a hand mixer fitted with beaters and then beat it for about 2 minutes on low-medium speed to cool the paste further.  Then, add in the eggs one a time.  Scrape the bowl as needed.  Once all the eggs are incorporated thoroughly, transfer the dough to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip.  Have 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper ready.  Pipe the dough out until it is about the size of a golf ball – you should have 4 dozen.  Wet your finger and smooth down the peaks of dough that will form from being piped.  Bake until they are puffed, about 15-20 minutes, and then lower the heat of the oven to 350 degrees to finish until the puffs are golden.  You can then turn off the oven and leave the puffs inside for up to 10 minutes to dry them out.  Once they are cooled, you can fill them with pastry cream.

The 16 winners for the baby shower… ignore the florescent icing on the cupcakes, please.  Due to a sick child throughout the week, I had to sacrifice some of my baking.  What suffered was the thing I hate the most: cake icing.

Happy Mother’s Day to ME!

When I was a little girl, we always went to Skyway East for special dinners. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Anniversaries, Promotions; you get the picture. Because I am such a creature of habit, I always (even now at 28 years old) would order the same meal. Deep fried shrimp with the salad bar and a twice baked potato. Skyway was one of those places when I was little where my brother and I were sure to be the only children in the dining room and we always had to dress up. I loved that they would have your name engraved on the matchboxes at your table and there was a cheese ball on the salad bar. But all that was nothing compared to the anticipation I felt upon ordering my twice-baked potato. I love the way the filling is creamy and cheesy and sometimes even piped in a nifty pattern. Over the years, I’ve made some fairly pathetic attempts at making twice baked potatoes or even purchased them from the (gasp!) freezer case, but nothing has compared to that memory. When Matt and I first started dating, I thought it would be fun to take him out to eat at Skyway. Not only was I disappointed to see that people now wear jeans there, but the waitress was rather snotty when telling me that they had “never” served twice baked potatoes in her 20 years of service. She’s wrong. I haven’t been back since. For Mother’s Day, I wanted beef brisket and potatoes. I got them. I made 8 potatoes, which is equal to 16 servings… all that is left from these potatoes are the 2 halves I put in the freezer last night. I might just hide them… they’re that good.

Twice Baked Potatoes

4 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed thoroughly and poked with a fork
3 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/4 c. minced chives
1 1/2 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
1 c. sour cream
2 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper

Bake the potatoes for about an hour (or until a fork easily pokes into the flesh) at 400 degrees. When they are done cooking, allow them to cool to a comfortable temperature before slicing them in half lengthwise. Scoop out the inner flesh of the potato and mix it with the butter, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add in the sour cream, cheese, chives and bacon. You can either mix the filling together with a sturdy spoon or use a hand mixer on a lower setting until the potatoes are fairly smooth and all the ingredients are incorporated. Using a large spoon, scoop the filling back into the potato skins, mounding it nicely. (If you have time and a large enough piping tip, you can pipe the filling as a fancier option.) Once all the potatoes are filled, bake them at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. This recipe makes enough to serve 8 people.

I made mine the night before and refrigerated them over night, putting them in a oven for a full half hour before we ate. I made a double recipe and ate more of the potatoes than I ate the brisket. And that adorable baby? He ate a potato, brisket, asparagus, and his first taste of watermelon. All that and a few hours later, he demolished another potato. It’s a winner!
Posted by Picasa

Soft Sugar Cookies

This isn’t so much a new recipe as a revelation.  I love sugar cookies, but sometimes, I don’t want a crisp, iced disk.  I want something that is soft and a little on the fluffy side.  So off I went in search of that.  I’ve been fighting with recipes and eating far too many cookies, when it occurred to me last week while I was weeding.  What if I tweaked my Snickerdoodle recipe?!  I’m such an over thinker!  Good grief, here I’ve been wanting a cookie that is the snickerdoodle, just without the dusting.  Although, now that I’ve typed that out, I don’t know why on earth anyone would want snickerdoodle with out the dusting… Anyway.  Here’s another cookie recipe for you to enjoy!

 

  • 2/3 c. butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. white sugar
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c. plus 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Cream together the butter and the sugar.  Add in the egg, followed by the vanilla.  Mix together the dry ingredients and incorporate them thoroughly.  Lay out some plastic wrap on the counter and put the dough on it.  Form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter.  Wrap the dough up and chill for 30-45 minutes in the fridge.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Slice the chilled dough into 1/4 inch thick disks and arrange them on a lined baking sheet so that they are not touching.  This cookie doesn’t really spread, so you don’t have to keep them too far apart on the pan.  Bake for 9-11 minutes.  Enjoy with a cold glass of milk.

Grandma’s Beef Stroganoff

As far as I am concerned, Beef Stroganoff is the ultiamate comfort food.  I never get tired of it and am currently drooling as I think of the rich, velvety sauce that accompanies this dish.  To be quite honest, I do not care what cut of meat you choose to use in your dish, I am here for the sauce.  Rich and fattening, I like it best smothering a bed of egg noodles.  

My grandmother made this dish regularly when I was growing up, but when my parents became vegetarians in the 90s, my father altered the recipe to contain only the mushrooms so that we could still use it as a staple dish in our home.  Grandma served it over buttered egg noodles, Dad over brown rice.  I always considered this dish something that was out of my reach until I tasted the aberration that Hamburger helper considers “stroganoff”.  I’ve made my own ever since.  I’ve made a few tweaks to the original recipe, but those are only to taste.  No matter how much I love what comes out of my kitchen, it will never hold a candle to that dish served by Grandma!

Beef Stroganoff:

– 2 Tbsp. flour

– 1 tsp. salt

– 2 lbs. beef sirloin cut into 1/4 inch wide strips

– 4 Tbsp. butter

– 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (optional)

– 1 cup sliced onion

– 2 cloves garlic, minced– 4 Tbsp. butter

– 6 Tbs. flour

– 1 tsp. oregano

– 1 tsp. thyme

– 1 Tbsp. paprika

– 2 Tbsp. tomato paste

– 2 cans beef broth

– 2 cups sour cream

– 4 Tbsp. Port wine

Combine flour and salt. Dredge meat in the flour mixture. Heat the skillet, add the butter and melt it. Add in the meat and brown on all sides. Add in the onions, garlic and mushrooms. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the onions are tender. When they are soft, remove the contents of the pan to a plate and start the sauce. Add in the next 4 Tbsp of butter, melt and then blend in the flour and herbs. Add in the tomato paste. The sauce will be a coppery gold, thick and bubbly. Slowly stream in the broth and cook slowly until the sauce thickens again. Return the meat mixture to the sauce. Stir in the sour cream and sherry and heat through. Serve over egg noodles or rice. Serves 8 to 10 people.

Pizza crust I actually want to eat

I’m not too much of a crust eater.  I generally tear mine up and give it to the dogs.  Sometimes, I dunk it in ranch dressing.  I don’t really care how thick and beautiful a pizza parlor claims to make their crust or if you can read newspaper through it.  I’m really here for the cheese.  And green peppers.  Matt had been a bachelor for some time when we met.  I never ate so much pizza as when we started dating.  Once we got married, it was his joke that when he “cooked” it came to the door in a box.  We always order Besta Fasta pizza.  I like that they make theirs fresh daily, so much so that sometimes, their sauce is super mild and other times, it’s so spicy that we are both sent searching for an antiacid!  

As much as I like the option to order pizza out, I still like to have the confidence to be able to whip up a batch at home whenever I like.  I keep pepperoni in the freezer, pizza sauce in the canning cellar and provolone in my fridge.  I like having provolone on my pizza.  If you ask, you’re going to find that many pizza places use a mixture of provolone and mozzerella on their pizzas.  I don’t know how I got started asking, but I did and was thrilled when I realized that that is why their cheese is so mouth-wateringly good!  I make this dough in my bread machine (on the dough setting) because it’s contained in there and I don’t have to worry about getting distracted by a diaper my increasingly dare-devilish child.  If you want to make this by hand, you only need to mix all the ingredients together gently, knead it well and let it rise for about 30-45 minutes in a warm place.  Nothing else needs to change.  Top it with your favorite sauce, toppings and cheese before baking it in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.  You can get 2 12-inch pizzas with a medium/thin crust out of this recipe or one giant, fluffy crusted one.

  • 2 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 4 1/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons warm water
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

**This dough is wonderful baked in the oven on a pizza stone or baking sheet.  It’s also sturdy enough to be prepared and grilled.  I also like this recipe because you don’t need to prebake it.  Just form it, top it and throw it in the oven.  The oven that is heated to 450 degrees.  This is my warning: a pizza stone coming from that oven is going to be hotBe careful.  I barely tapped my arm with fresh-from-the-oven stone 2 months ago and still have a nasty looking burn mark on my arm.  It’s embarrassing to have to explain that you were trying to go from the kitchen to the dining room and ducking around a Johnny Jump-up in the doorway when you burnt your arm.  Just so you know.

Chicken Parmigiana

I judge an Italian restaurant by it’s lasagna and by it’s parmigiana.  And if I like it, I go back.  If I don’t, well… I don’t.  I love eggplant parmigiana since that is the traditional Sicilian dish I grew up with.  My husband hates eggplant.  Loathes eggplant.  The only way I can get eggplant into a dish is to make it part of my tomato sauce and run it through a food mill.  I’m not kidding.  Since he is so adverse to the whole idea of eggplant parmigiana, I decided to compromise and settle for being really good at chicken parmigiana.  There is some debate over whether the dish is named for the Parmesan cheese in the breading or if it’s because it originated in the region of Parma, but I’m not really concerned over that.  My greatest concern is always the breading.  I’ve learned to take my time and season all the layers, but I wanted to come up with a recipe that works.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Below is the result of all my trial and error and the cause of the few extra pounds around my middle.  Apparently, the fact that I always serve this dish with green beans does not negate the fact that I always over indulge.

Chicken Parmigiana

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups finely ground bread crumbs
  • 2 oz parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • flour
  • Pasta and basic tomato sauce to finish the dish
  • Fresh mozzarella

The first step in this recipe is to pound out the chicken so that it is about half of it’s original thickness.  This of course, is specific to each piece of meat, but it’s easiest done if you first put the chicken in a large freezer bag, seal it and then pound it out with a meat hammer or heavy ladle.  Once the meat is to the desired thickness, season it lightly with the salt and pepper and set aside while you prepare the breading.  You will note that I call for 2 oz of cheese and by that I mean a hunk of cheese, not the kind in the shaker can from the grocery.  You can use that, but it won’t be as good.  I’ve tried.  It’s not the same.

Cut the cheese up into smallish pieces and whiz them in a food processor until they are finely ground.  Then mix them in with the bread crumbs.  Whisk the eggs together until they are well beaten.  Heat a small amount of oil in a saute pan until it is hot.  Then, coat the chicken first in the flour, then the egg and finally the breading as pictured here.  Place each piece of meat in the pan and cook until it’s nicely browned.  Then, remove the meat to a baking dish.  I don’t recommend cooking more than 2 pieces of meat at a time so as not to crowd the pan and drop the oil temperature.  This part of the dish requires some time and loving care, but it’s worth it in the end.  Once all the meat has been browned and the breading has formed a lovely golden crust, it’s time to put it into a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Don’t cover the pan, don’t poke the chicken, just put it in there and prepare some pasta to go along with the chicken.  The less you mess with the meat, the more tender and juicy it will be.  If you are serving this meal to people who must have their chicken parm smothered in cheese a la most restaurants, wait until the chicken is done cooking, them slice a bit of fresh mozzarella and run the chicken under a broiler until the cheese is melted.  This is a nice finish to the dish, but I didn’t feel it was totally necessary.  I liked it just with the tomato sauce and pasta.  But to each his own. 

Potatoes Anna

My youngest niece turns 5 this weekend.  It’s funny how fast time passes.  It honestly seems just like yesterday, I was driving up to the Akron hospital where she was born to hold her for the first time.  I had never visited anyone in the hospital for a new baby and I was nervous.  I took lots of photos of her little feet.  Today she is a petite blond with tiny feet but plenty of personality.  It is in honor of her, I chose to post about this recipe today.

The original recipe is credited to a chef in the Napoleon era who created the dish in honor of the dictator’s lady friends.  Whether or not this is officially true, I’m not sure we’ll ever be certain of, but if it is… thank goodness for the need to impress!  This dish is consisted of 3 ingredients: butter, potatoes and salt.  It’s time consuming and slightly labor-intensive (if you don’t have a mandoline), but the end result is like heaven.  Crispy, buttery, potatoey heaven.  First you smell the butter and potatoes marrying the oven and then you see them and then… ahem.  Sorry, had to wipe the drool off the keyboard.  I will take this moment to inform you that the French have a special pan for making these potatoes.  It’s made out of copper and is roughly the cost of an arm or a leg.  I kid.  I couldn’t actually find a price for any of the pans I found online, so I assume they expect sticker shock when people read it.  Despite the fact that it was a little bit ghetto, shall we say, I rigged up my own version out of twp 9-inch pie plates and a foil covered brick.  

 

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and melt 2 sticks of butter.  Then, using a mandoline, slice the potatoes on the thinnest slice and then set to work arranging them in the bottom of a buttered pie dish. Beginning in the middle of your pie pan, layer the potatoes around the pan, overlapping the slices.  Sprinkle some salt (and pepper as well if you like) and then pour in a bit of the butter, just to coat the tops of the potatoes.  Continue doing this sequence until you have filled you pie pan about 3/4 of the way.  Make sure that you have thoroughly coated all the potatoes with butter.  If you are skimpy with the butter, they will not crisp up and will be dry and disappointing when you serve them.  You certainly don’t want that!  Place the second pie plate on top of the potatoes and if you want, cover a brick with tin foil and place that on top of the second plate.  You don’t have to do this part, I just wanted my potatoes to be pressed together well so that they came out a little like a cake.  Bake for 20 minutes with the second pie plate and brick, then remove them and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  If you want the bottom to be really brown, you can add more butter in between the 2 bakings.  

Once you are pleased with the brownness of the potatoes, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool just a bit.  Then, brace yourself.  Get 2 oven mitts and a serving plate.  Place the serving plate upside-down over the bottom of the potatoes.  Get a good grip on the pie plate and the serving plate together and flip them over so that the potatoes come out of the pie pan and onto the serving plate.  It is wise to do this over the sink because any excess butter may dribble and make a mess on your floor.  It was a stressful moment, but sooooo worth it in the end!  To serve, you simply slice wedges of the potatoes from the round and enjoy.  I served mine with beef brisket, without a sauce or additional flavoring of any kind.  They don’t need it.  Butter is, in fact, the nectar of the gods and combined with the potatoes in this way, you will find all sorts of reasons to indulge in this rich and unexpected side.