Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stuffed Shells with Lee's marinara and homemade ricotta

It's been a while since I posted on my blog. So long, in fact, that I wonder if I have any followers left. When I began my blog I vowed to myself that I wanted it to be fun and if it began to feel like "work" I would hang back a bit.  I suppose that is exactly what happened.

The world of blogging has exploded since I started and frankly my dear, I have no desire to jump into that pool and try to compete with the big fish! I'm truly quite happy with simply making my little dishes and sharing them here for whomever wants to take a look. 

That said, I made a stuffed shells concoction the other night that was delicious and so here I am, once again, sharing it with anyone who wants to know about it. I hope you give it a try. The inspiration came from the back of the Barilla shells box, but I changed a couple of things.

I made it with Lee's "Marry Me Marinara" (a marinara recipe I came up with that has become Lee's favorite, and mine too). Plus, I used Ina Garten's homemade ricotta. Both recipes can be found here on my blog but you can use store bought if you want....however, the result won't be as good. Just sayin.

If you are going to make the ricotta (which is as easy as boiling water), do it one day in advance). You can make the marinara the day of.


1/2 box (12 oz) Jumbo Shells (I used Barilla brand)
4 C marinara sauce
1 1/3 C fresh ricotta
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1 C grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 clove finely chopped fresh garlic
4 TBL total of chopped parsley and basil
salt and pepper to taste

Here's what to do~

1. Preheat the oven to 375.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook the shells for 9 minutes. Drain and then cool the shells on a sheet pan.

3. Mix together the ricotta, mascarpone, half the Parmesan, garlic, parsley and basil, salt and pepper. Fill the shells with this mixture.

4. Spray with Pam (or grease however you like) a 9X13 baking dish; add enough marinara to lightly cover the bottom of the dish. Arrange the shells (opening facing up) in the pan and cover with the remaining sauce, and remaining Parmesan.  (Here's the truth of it - IF I'd had some grated mozarella, I'd have slathered it with that before baking, but I didn't have any. If you want to do that, we all know there's nothing more satisfying that pasta stuffed with cheese, covered with marinara and slathered with mozzarella. I say go for it).

5. Bake for 30 minutes.

I was planning on giving this a sprinkle of a bit of chopped parsley before serving, but I simply forgot!  Enjoy.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cranberry Orange Nut Bread

I love the taste of cranberries and orange (in my opinion, I have the BEST whole cranberry recipe in the world here on my blog, that I make every year at Thanksgiving....but I digress), and this bread has both, plus pecans! You can substitute walnuts if you like - they would taste fantastic as well.

I made this delicious loaf of quickbread last night and between Lee and I, it is already half-eaten this morning. I like to cut a slice and pop it in the toaster for a light crust. With a bit of butter......HEAVEN.

Super easy - and a wonderful go-to recipe to have in your collection. Here's how to do it:

2 C four
1 C sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powderSchedule
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 C fresh orange juice (Trader Joe's is the BEST)
zest of one orange
2 TBL shortening
1 well-beaten egg
1 1/2 C fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 C chopped pecans or walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9X5 loaf pan, set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

3. To the dry ingredients, add the orange juice, zest, beaten egg and shortening. You can mix by hand or use a mixer - making sure the shortening is well blended.
  *note: I like to use Spectrum organic shortening
             Click here to see Spectrum Shortening

4. By hand, stir in the cranberries and the nuts. Scoop mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

  *note: to chop the cranberries you can use a processor - be sure not to process too long  - you want a coarse chop. Or you can chop by hand. A bit tricky, but if you place a couple of towels around your cutting board, the rollers won't get away!

5. Cool in pan, on a rack, for 15 minutes, then remove from pan and let cool before slicing (if you can wait that long).


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Spiced Parsnip and Apple Muffins

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and this recipe is just in time with cinnamony-spicy goodness for breakfast tomorrow, whilst I begin the cooking of the turkey.

If you've never eaten a parsnip, think carrot with a slightly earthy flavor. The taste of these muffins are similar to carrot cake, but not quite as sweet - which is how I like it.

Here's what to do:

1 C toasted, cooled, chopped pecans
3 parsnips, peeled and grated (about 2 cups)
1 large apple, peeled cored and grated
2 C all purpose four
1 C sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 C golden raisins
2 large eggs
3/4 C safflower oil
1/2 milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1.  Preheat oven to 350. Prepare muffin tins with paper cups (I like to give the papers a quick spray with Pam, but you don't have to do that if you don't want to). Combine apple and parsnips in a large bowl and set aside.

2. In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon.  Stir in the pecans and raisins and set aside.

3. In yet another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla until thoroughly mixed.  Gently fold the egg mixture and parsnip mixture into the flour mixture JUST until combined.

4. Using a cookie scoop, divide batter into muffin cups and bake until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 - 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Almond Graham Squares

Do you remember "Magic Cookie Bars"? If not, it's a ridiculously easy recipe from about 30 years ago that is simply layering several things in a pan, including chocolate chips, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and sweetened condensed milk. It bakes together and forms a delicious cookie (I would scrape off the coconut because I don't like coconut.....which is why you won't find recipes featuring said  fruit* here). 

   * Some say coconut is not a fruit, but a nut. Either way, I don't like it.

Once again, I didn't take pictures of the process because I wasn't sure of how these would turn out. Lee devoured them, as well as a couple of my friends. So....I'd say the recipe is a success. 

I know you can buy a box of graham cracker crumbs - and feel free to do that if you are reeeeeeally in a hurry. But frankly, my dear, I think they don't taste as good as when you make them from scratch. They are SO easy to make. Just put graham crackers into a food processor and whirl away. I mean.....come on. OR....if you don't have a fancy processor,  put them in a baggie and whack away with a rolling pin.    DO IT.

These are truly easy to make - there are only 4 ingredients ~  It's like MAGIC!!

1 1/2 C graham cracker crumbs
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
2 C raw, sliced almonds


1. Preheat oven to 350. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan with foil, then spray with cooking spray (such as Pam).

2. In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sweetened condensed milk, and salt; stir until moistened. Stir in 1 1/2 C of the almonds and spread the mixture in the prepared pan. If it seems very sticky and won't spread, use moistened fingers to gently pat into place.

3. Top with the reserved 1/2 C sliced almonds and pat them gently into the mixture.

4. Bake until golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Remove form pan, peel off the foil and cut into 16 squares with a serrated knife.

Store in an airtight container.  YUM!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rustic Fresh Peach Tart with Cornmeal Crust

Lee had a gig the other day at a "fall festival" called the Pumpkin Extravaganza, where they had a petting zoo, a few carnival rides (a blues band...natch!  ~Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps Click here for more info on this fabulous blues band!~ ) and lots of fresh produce. Lee loves peaches and brought home a bag full. So, you know what you do when you have peaches? You make a tart! 

I felt a little adventurous so I decided to make a crust with a bit of cornmeal and added some fresh lemon zest and a tiny bit of vanilla extract to the peach mixture. The total combination was divine.

Ingredients for crust~
1 C flour (plus a little more for work surface)
1/4 C fine yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 TBL ice water (or up to 4, depending on humidity)

Ingredients for filling~
5-6 ripe peaches, pitted and cut into thick slices
1/2 C sugar
1 TBL flour
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg mixed with 1 tsp water (for egg wash)


1. In a food processor, pulse the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt several times to mix.  Take off the lid and throw in the butter. Pulse until the mixture becomes like coarse meal with tiny lumps of butter in it, the size of peas. 

2. Add 2 TBL of ice water and then pulse again, just a few times. The mixture should look crumbly, but holds together when you squeeze it. It may take up to 2 more TBL of water, depending on the humidity, but start with two.

3. Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on your work surface, then gently dump the mixture onto the plastic. Push the dough together, and knead it GENTLY, only a few times. Then form it into a disc and wrap it up with the plastic. Put the dough in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

  Cook's note: you have two choices when baking this tart:

  a). Line a baking sheet with foil and roll the dough on parchment paper with flour. Transfer the parchment to the foil lined sheet. I've used this method many times and it works just fine.


  b). Get a SILPAT. These mats were developed in France and can take super-high temps and NOTHING sticks to them!  Here's a link:

The juices from the tart may ooze out and if your baking sheet isn't lined with something, get ready to throw it away because the juices will become melded to the sheet. Trust me on this one. 

4. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it warm slightly for about 5 minutes before rolling. Flour the parchment or silpat mat. Lightly flour the top of the dough and roll out by rolling and turning, rolling and turning (1/4 turn every time) to a 14 inch circle. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet (still on the parchment or silpat).

I took this picture before I had completely rolled out the dough. It needs to be a 14 inch circle.

5. Preheat oven to 400. In a large bowl, toss together the peaches, sugar, flour, zest and vanilla. Mound the fruit mixture in the center of the dough, leaving a 2 inc border all around. Fold the border dough over fruit in a pleated pattern (no need to be exact here!).  Brush the edges lightly, with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little more sugar.

No need to be fancy here...

Then slide the whole dang deal onto the baking sheet.

6. Bake until crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 45 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a cooling rack; let cool 20 minutes. 

Slice, serve with vanilla ice cream and ENJOY!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Multi Grain Apple Muffin Tops

It was only about a week ago that the temperature here in SoCal was in the 100's...for a couple of weeks straight.  Everyone was crying "Uncle"!  Then, (in the words of Emeril) BAM! Temps dropped, and today it poured rain, along with thunder and lightening (very unusual for us).

Right about now you're probably thinking, "I thought this was a food blog, not a weather report". However, there is a reason for my weather-blathering. When it gets chilly and/or rains, mama has to bake.

I saw this recipe on a container of Multi Grain Hot Cereal (from Trader Joes - natch!) The name of it is "Country Choice Organic Multi Grain Hot Cereal. (I'm sure you could make this with good old fashioned whole oats if you don't want to search for this particular cereal - just don't use the quick cooking kind!).

Truly delicious!

The recipe looked pretty basic and healthy. I decided to add a fresh apple to the party, and instead of regular milk, I used buttermilk. YUM YUM YUM is the result. Lee ate 2 muffin tops, which would be a total of FOUR MUFFINS. may be wondering, "what is a muffin top?". I have a "muffin top" pan, that simply bakes the "top" part of a muffin....that yummy, bake-over, flat part of a muffin that everyone rips off and eats first, when they get a muffin. You know what I'm talking about. However, you can make this recipe in regular muffin tins just as easy. a muffin top pan.

And THESE are muffin tops.

SO....if it's raining where you are and you MUST bake something, try this recipe.

Here's how you do it:

1/3 C uncooked grains or oats
2 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS butter, melted
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 C uncooked grains or oats
1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 C unsweetened applesauce
1 apple cored, peeled and chopped (small pieces)
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2 C brown sugar
1/4 C vegetable oil
1 egg

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Line muffin tins with paper liners, or spray with Pam.

2. Prepare the topping by mixing the grains/oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add the melted butter; mix well.

3. Prepare the muffins by mixing the grains/oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a large bowl. Mix well. In a separate bowl, mix the applesauce, buttermilk, brown sugar, oil and egg. Mix well. Add the chopped apple to the mixture.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir gently until just combined.

5. Use an ice cream scoop for even measuring and bake for 18-20 minutes.

This recipe makes one dozen regular muffins, or 6 muffin tops.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Warm Red Lentils with Vermouth

I got a back of Red Lentils at Trader Joes the other day, and saw a recipe on the bag that was very simple and I thought I'd add my own touch to it by adding some traditional veggies - carrots, celery and onion. I also added some fresh bocconcini and  lemon juice at the end and it was SO delicious. The warmth of the lentils begins to melt the cheese and the vermouth and the lemon add an amazing brightness to the earthy lentils. Delicious!

Here's how to do it:


2 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 celery stalks, cut into small pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
1 C red lentils (other lentils will work just fine too)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 TBL vermouth
1 C chicken broth
1/2 C parsley, minced
Bocconcini, quartered
Lemon (for squeezing at the end)

1. In a large skillet, heat about 3-4 TBL olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrot, celery and onion to the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Saute the vegetables until soft, about 8 minutes, stirring often.

2. Add lentils to the pan with the garlic. Saute, stirring, for about 2-3 minutes. Do not burn the garlic!

3. Add the vermouth and stir. Then add the broth, starting with 3/4 C and then the parsley. Stir and reduce to low. Cover and let simmer for 10 - 12 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
     * How to tell if the lentils need more broth? Try one! If it is still a bit hard inside, add the rest of the broth. But they shouldn't be mushy. It's like pasta - the lentils should be al dente! Firm, not hard....not mushy. Hope that helps!

4. To serve, put a portion in a bowl or plate, and top with 3-4 pieces of bocconcini. Squeeze some lemon, to taste, and a bit more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.