Monday, December 9, 2013

Cheese Stuffed Pasta Shells with Meat Sauce

What can I say?  I love cooking Italian food.  The last time I had stuffed shells was at Buca Di Beppo for my 29th birthday party.  I think that was a lesson learned not to ever plan a birthday party or have a birthday other than the big ones.  I think once you celebrate the big 21 there's no need to celebrate and go all out with friends until the big 30.  Maybe 25 can be an exception.  My 25th was an amazing party with friends and family. My dad volunteered to host it and there ended up being a kid's jumper, a cotton candy  machine, and karaoke.  The latter was inevitable.  My dad will come up with any excuse to whip out the good ole karaoke machine.

These shells are topped with my basic meat sauce.  See the older post for the recipe.  I used whatever cheeses I had in the fridge and it came out perfect!


Serves 4 - yields about 20 shells

Ingredients
1 box of jumbo shells (you will only use half, but double the recipe if you want more shells)
Basic tomato meat sauce
1 cup of Ricotta Cheese
1 cup of Parmesan Cheese divided
1 cup of Mozarella cheese divided
4 tablespoons of chopped parsley leaves (I use about half a bunch)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 egg

Directions:

  1.  Prepare the meat sauce and preheat the oven to 350F
  2. Boil half of the jumbo shells in the box according to package directions
  3. In a medium sized mixing bowl, mix together the egg,  Ricotta cheese, parsley,1/2 of Parmesan, and 1/2 of the Mozarella Cheese.  Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.  
  4. Stuff each shell with the cheese mixture
  5. Spoon a layer of meat sauce to the bottom of a 9x11 baking dish.  Place stuffed shells seam side down and cover with the rest of the meat sauce.  Sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese and bake in middle rack for 25 minutes.  Sprinkle remainder of Mozarella cheese and bake for another 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.  


Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut Holes

Courtesy of girlversusdough on Tablespoon.com

I wanted some doughnut holes similar to the ones I had in Chicago at Lou Mitchell's.  Anytime you are in Chicago, you HAVE to go to Lou Mitchell's for breakfast.  Although the line maybe long, it is totally worth the wait.  They also have a girl that has a fresh basket of homemade doughnut holes to give to people in line while you wait.  Amazing!  This recipe was the first one that popped up on my Google search.  Super easy to make and you probably have all the ingredients in your cupboard.  

With this recipe I was able to make about 15 holes. The best thing about this recipe is the crunchiness of the outside and the fluffy goodness on the inside.  If you have kids, they will absolutely devour these.  Oh yeah, and husbands too.  So double the recipe.

Ingredients


1 1/4 
cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 
cup sugar
tsp baking powder
1/2 
tsp nutmeg
1/2 
tsp salt
egg
1/2 
cup milk
tbsp melted butter
vegetable 
oil
1/4 
cup sugar (for the topping) (optional)
tbsp cinnamon (for the topping) (optional)
1/2 
cup confectioners sugar (for the topping) (optional)

Directions:

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Add in milk, egg, and melted butter, and mix until well combined.
  • Fill a large skillet or medium pot with vegetable oil, about 2 inches deep. Using a fry thermometer, heat oil to about 375 degrees F. Make sure it stays around that temperature each time you fry the dough.
  • Place cinnamon-sugar (mixed together) and confectioners sugar toppings in two separate small bowls. Set out several stacked paper towels next to the stove for drying the doughnut holes, along with a cooling rack with parchment paper underneath.
  • When oil is ready, place about 5-6 teaspoonfuls of dough at a time in the oil and fry on each side for about 1 minute (2 minutes total). Remove from the oil and place on paper towel to soak up excess oil. Then, using a fork, roll doughnut in either the confectioners sugar or cinnamon-sugar mixture. Then place on cooling rack to cool slightly before serving warm

Cheesecake Factory Copycat Crusted Chicken Romano

I absolutely love this dish at Cheesecake Factory.  Unfortunately, now that I know how to make it, I rarely order it.  My go to order at CF is the Chicken Farfallle Pasta.  I have that recipe somewhere too.  I'll have to make it again so I can put down on paper the amount of seasoning and ingredients I use. The Crusted Chicken Romano recipe is so easy!

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 stick of butter
1 cup of Romano Cheese
4 tablespoons of heavy cream
Cooked spaghetti noodles
1 lemon
1 cup of bread crumbs (homemade in a food processor or store bought)
2 eggs
Flour
Salt and Pepper
1 16 oz can of tomato sauce
Parmesan cheese to top pasta

Directions

  1. Set up 2 shallow dishes with the following in each:  Scrabled eggs for dip, bread crumbs and Romano cheese mixed
  2. Slice the chicken breasts half wise to make it into two thin pieces.  Use a meat pounder (flat side) to flatten chicken to about 1/4 inch.  Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper
  3. Coat the chicken with flour.  (I usually just put the flour in a large ziplock bag and give it a good shake to coat all chicken).  
  4. Coat each chicken piece with egg, then cover with the bread crumb mixture
  5. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add about 1 tablespoon of butter to coat skillet.  Add chicken pieces to skillet and cook about 5 min on each side or until it is lightly golden brown.  Juice a bit of lemon on each side of the chicken.  
  6. Heat up tomato sauce in a small saucepan.  Add in cream until it reaches an orange color.  
  7. Serve chicken with a side of spaghetti with sauce and sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the pasta.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Perfectly Pleasing Potato Salad

I've never made potato salad prior to this first time at my mother in law's 65th birthday party.  I always just had to endure my family member's bland version, which I had no problem devouring after raining down a good amount of salt.  You see, I feel that the perfect potato salad is not too creamy, holds its shape, and does not run or seep into the rest of the food on your plate.  I am a picky eater in the sense that my food cannot touch.  I do not like my mashed potatoes or gravy making contact with my fried chicken.  It gives me some kind of anxiety like my food will be tainted if they mesh together, messing up the proportions of flavor.  My husband thinks I'm crazy sometimes.  I always have to proportion my bites, my meat to rice ratio, french fries to ketchup ratio, or how many bites I take to chew on something.  I always ask for my gravy on the side, or the dressing on the side.  Let me decide how much and to what degree I want to mix my food.  Now on to the potato salad.  It was such a hit paired alongside some 15 hour smoked brisket.  Several people asked for the recipe including the most helpful cake baking partner in crime Mrs. Nina Edmison.  I made the mistake of making this recipe for Thanksgiving dinner.  No one wants a cold potato salad when every other dish is hot.  So, I let my pride take over my better judgement and I had made enough potato salad to feed about 20 people.  It was a simple family dinner; about 8 of us.  Cold weather = no potato salad.

Feeds about 10 people

Ingredients:
5 pounds of potatoes (I have used russet, golden, and red) peeled and quartered
1/2 red onion chopped small
4 stalks of celery chopped
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons of mustard (Use your fave mustard)
1 cup of mayo
Dill Weed spice
Celery salt
1/4 cup of buttermilk


Directions:

  1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of water with 1 teaspoon salt until barely tender (about 15 min)  I keep checking using a fork to poke through
  2. Mix together the buttermilk, mayo, mustard, 2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper.  
  3. Remove potatoes and let cool.  Cut into small cubes and put in a large mixing bowl. Pour in buttermilk mixture in batches.  You don't want it to be too creamy so just use as much as you want.  
  4. Add in celery and red onions.  Stir until evenly  mixed.  Give your dill weed a generous number of shakes.  I would guess 1 tablespoon; just enough to coat evenly.  Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of celery salt.  SEASON TO TASTE! 


Focaccia and Eggs Breakfast

My version of Empire Cafe's Focaccia and Eggs.  Totally the same thing!
Feeds 4

Ingredients:
Sliced Focaccia or Ciabiatta Bread (4)
6 Scrambled Eggs
8 slices of thick bacon, cut into pieces
6 fresh basil leaves chopped
2 tablespoons of tomato sauce
2 Roma tomatoes diced
Shredded Mozzarella cheese for topping

Directions:

  1. Toast the bread slices in the oven at 200F for about 5-7 min
  2. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over each slice of bread
  3. Mix the eggs and bacon pieces and top bread with it
  4. Top each slice with some tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella
I wish I had a picture but I will make this soon and post it.  Trust me, I feel as I have uncovered Empire Cafe's recipe and it is exactly the same.  


Better than Cracker Barrel Chicken and Dumplings

So this weekend we were trapped within the confines of our apartment with nowhere to go because of the icy road conditions.  The 27 degree temperature mixed with rain and sleet caused a school closing on Friday.  I was unaware that I would be stuck at home for the entire weekend due to unfavorable and unsafe road conditions.  In addition to that, I would have to tend to a sick husband.  I attempted to swing by the grocery store late Friday morning but the entire meat section was almost obsolete.  I picked up a few items to get me through the long weekend which included: Nyquil, red nail polish for the holiday season, a bag of chips, a gallon of Blue Bell ice cream, and some staples for baking.  With the freezing temperatures outside, I wanted to cook something hot like chili or pho.  Although I would have loved to spend my entire morning prepping and cooking pho, I did not have the necessary ingredients.  Then it dawned on me:  Chicken and dumplings.  I had made this before a few years ago using a Paula Dean recipe but it failed to evoke a feeling of home style cooking.  Although my friends enjoyed it and raved about it, I knew I could do better.  So then it brings me to this amazing recipe I attempted on a cold winter's snow day.  If you are the type to follow a recipe to the T and need exact amounts, please be forewarned that this recipe calls for a cook that can season to taste and adjust based on personal preference.

Ingredients:

5 carrots peeled and chopped
4 stalks of celery chopped 
2 onions chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 tablespoons of fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons of dried thyme
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 pounds of bone in chicken - I like to use breasts but it is up to you
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 stick of butter

For the dumplings:
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
3/4 cup of buttermilk
2 tablespoons of chopped parsley leaves
3/4 cup of butter melted
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

Directions:

  1. Heat a large pot over medium high heat and add oil.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper both sides.  Brown the chicken for 4-6 min each side.  (you will not cook through b/c you will add it to the stock)  Set chicken aside on a plate
  2. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, onions, thyme to the pot with drippings.  Stir for about 7 minutes until the veggies are soft.  
  3. Add chicken, bay leaves and 10 cups of water.  Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes.  Discard the bay leaves and take the chicken out.  Shred the chicken off the bone and return the chicken to the pot, discarding the bones.  
  4. Whisk together 1/2 cup of the flour, 2 cups of your broth, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a small bowl.  Slowly add it to the pot and stir.  This will make the soup a little thicker.  Continue simmering.  At this point, you should add salt to taste.  I probably ended up adding about an additional tablespoon of salt.  Be careful as you don't want to over salt!  I like mine really thick so if you aren't satisfied with the consistency of the soup, read the next step.  Otherwise, skip it and continue to making the dumplings.
    • For thicker soup:  Melt 1/2 stick of butter in the microwave in a small bowl.  Stir in enough flour until it gets to a peanut butter consistency to make a roux.  Add to the soup and stir for about 5 min to thicken.  BEWARE:  slowly add the butter/flour mixture a bit at a time and wait.  It takes a while to thicken so you don't want to over thicken your soup.  Repeat for even thicker soup. If you end up with too thick of a soup, you can always add water and salt to even it out.  
  5. Make the dumplings.  Whisk together 2 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a medium bowl.  Whisk in the melted butter, buttermilk, and parsley.  
  6. Reduce the heat to low and drop large spoonfuls of dumpling dough into broth. Try not to drop them in the same area or let some cook a little first before dropping more in.  You don't want them to stick together.  Cover the pot and let the dumplings cook for an additional 10 minutes so they firm up.  
I hope you enjoy this recipe!  It will definitely be a hit!