Pumpkin Stew baked IN the Pumpkin!

A small pie pumpkin has been sitting in my kitchen awaiting its destiny for about a week. I purchased it at Giant with no plan or recipe in mind. I knew only that I wanted to cook or serve food IN the pumpkin. I pictured a stew of sorts, with sausage and white beans (two of my favorite foods), plus fresh sage and, of course, pumpkin. I scoured the internet in search of such a meal and came up empty. How has no one made this feast before??

Real recipe or not, I was determined to give my lonely little pumpkin a purpose. I found two separate recipes – one for a stew, another for how to bake a different dish in a pumpkin – and combined them into my own pumpkin creation. I sent a cell phone picture of the finished dish to my mom just before digging in and she texted back “You need to put this in your blog!!” so here ya go, Mom, this one’s for you. Continue reading

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Rigatoni with Sausage, Fennel and Ricotta

SNOW DAY!!!! I am currently sitting in my cozy living room drinking a giant cup of tea while the winds of Winter Storm Stella (aka #blizzard2017) howl outside. Knowing that we would be home from work today, Matt and I decided in advance that we’d make a big dinner last night that could serve double-duty as an excellent lunch after shoveling today. We settled on a riff of Ina Garten’s Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel, a warm, stick-to-your-ribs pasta dish with a creamy, rich sauce.

Our riff originates from the first time we made this: we didn’t have the heavy cream that Ina called for but we DID have ricotta cheese so we subbed that in. The ricotta melted into the sausage and pasta and tasted amazing. So good, in fact, that we never even considered going back to heavy cream for last night’s meal.

A note about the pasta for this dish… we made it ourselves!! Matt and I got a pasta machine last winter and we make fresh pasta all the time. Like, multiple times a week. Good thing I’m a runner and need my carbs!!! Homemade pasta tastes fresher and has a chewier, more complex texture than the boxed stuff. For our pasta we combine semolina flour, AP flour, eggs, salt and water and the Philips machine does the rest. It’s really crazy to watch it pump fresh pasta right out the front of the machine. I really should have taken a video but here are some photos. I never knew fresh pasta could be so easy to make!

Rigatoni with Sausage, Fennel and Ricotta
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey; serves 4 Continue reading

When the weather outside is frightful, make peppermint patties!

I woke up last Saturday morning and looked outside to find every tree branch, pine needle, and berry encased in a layer of wet, glistening ice. The 5K I had planned to run had already been postponed until Sunday, so Matt and I decided that we didn’t need to brave the slick roads and instead would spend the entire day at home baking holiday goodies.

I kicked off the bake-a-thon at 10AM by making blueberry-lemon scones for breakfast.  Matt and I then baked a double batch of sugar cookies before launching into the day’s big project: homemade peppermint patties. The goal was to make enough patties to share with our neighbors and friends, and 12 dozen chocolate-dipped treats later I think we succeeded!

Peppermint patties are surprisingly easy to make. Just combine peppermint extract, softened butter, corn syrup, and lots of confectioners sugar. Form this “dough” into balls and press the balls into discs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Coat with melted chocolate and, voila! You now have homemade peppermint patties! If you’re feeling extra creative, add some green food coloring to the filling or sprinkle the freshly-coated patty with chocolate jimmies. (But a note of warning… don’t get so excited about your batch of green-filling-patties that you totally forget to put the peppermint extract in. I might have done that on my fourth and final batch. Sorry to any neighbor who bites into a green one and realizes that it just tastes like buttercream candy instead of peppermint!) 😁

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Homemade Peppermint Patties
(From Butter With a Side of Bread; makes about 3 dozen patties) Continue reading

Parsley, Arugula and Ricotta Pesto

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I love basil pesto, but last week when I needed to make a side dish to bring to a party I decided to try something different. I paged through my America’s Test Kitchen Pasta Revolution cookbook and found a recipe for a tasty-sounding pesto with parsley, arugula, and ricotta cheese. I’ve now made this recipe two times in a week and can officially declare it a winner!

Like it’s basil-based cousin, this parsley pesto comes together quickly. Just toast the pine nuts and garlic in a hot skillet, then blend with fresh arugula, parsley, grated Parm, salt and olive oil. Then the best part… stir several spoonfuls of ricotta cheese into the pesto until the sauce is creamy and smooth. Combine with a pound of cooked pasta and you’ll have a bright, fresh, flavorful side that you’ll be proud to share with friends and family.

This pesto tastes extra delicious if you eat it while watching the Eagles crush the Steelers. Go Birds!

This pesto tastes extra delicious if you eat it while watching the Eagles crush the Steelers. Go Birds!

Parsley, Arugula and Ricotta Pesto
(Serves 4-6; from Pasta Revolution)

You will need…
1/4 cup Pine Nuts, toasted
3 cloves Garlic, toasted
1 cup packed Parsley
1 cup packed Arugula
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese, plus more for garnish
Salt and Pepper
7 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 cup Whole Milk Ricotta
1 pound Pasta

Directions:
Combine pine nuts, garlic, parsley, arugula, Parmesan, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a blender. Slowly pour in the olive oil as you blend the mixture for 30-60 seconds. Transfer the pesto to a large bowl and stir in the ricotta until well blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Before draining the pasta reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Mix several tablespoons of the reserved water into the pesto. Add the pasta and stir well until the pasta is evenly coated with pesto, adding more pasta water if desired. Top with freshly grated Parmesan and enjoy hot or cold.

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Pizza with Andouille, Kale and Cannellini Beans

Sometimes Matt and I spend hours making a fancy new recipe that seems like it will surely be “blog-worthy.” As we cook I painstakingly photograph each step and Matt waits patiently while I snap shot after shot of the finished dish before we eat. But guess what? Those elaborate, complicated meals don’t always live up to the hype. Sure, the food tastes good, but it’s just not special enough to warrant the time and energy to sort and edit all of those photos, especially if we know that we’d want to significantly tweak the recipe before ever attempting it again.

Other times a delicious recipe catches us totally by surprise. That was the case tonight when I spontaneously decided to combine Cannellini beans, kale and andouille sausage on a pizza. Matt isn’t a huge fan of white beans (or my tendency to try to work them into every meal possible), so he was rather suspicious about the whole idea from the start. I was more optimistic but still didn’t even bother to get my real camera out as I cooked… you’ll have to forgive the iPhone photos but after tasting it we both realized that this pizza was too good not to share!

Andouille Kale Cannellini Pizza

Hidden underneath those layers of spicy andouille sausage, melted mozzarella and wilted kale lies the secret ingredient of this pizza: a garlicky white bean puree.  I whipped up the puree using canned beans, minced garlic and a bit of thyme from my garden, then spread it like pizza sauce all over the uncooked dough. The beans imparted a thicker texture and heartiness to each bite of the finished pizza and complemented the bolder flavors of the kale and andouille perfectly.

Without further ado, here’s how I made tonight’s surprisingly blog-worthy pizza…

Pizza on the peel

Pizza with Andouille, Kale and Cannellini Bean Puree

You will need…
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 – 15 oz. can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves Garlic, minced
6 sprigs Thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
Salt, to taste
4-5 tablespoons Cornmeal or Semonlina Flour
1 package uncooked Pizza Dough
Small bunch Kale, stems removed and leaves torn into 3-5 inch pieces
8 oz. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
2 Andouille Sausages, fully cooked and sliced 1/8″ thick (we used Trader Joe’s Chicken Andouille tonight)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 490°F. Position the rack 6-8 inches from the top of the oven and place the pizza stone on the rack to warm up. Warm olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then add in the rinsed Cannellini beans. Saute beans for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gently stir in garlic and thyme and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes until garlic is very fragrant. Lightly salt, then transfer the bean mixture to a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding a little more olive oil if the mixture is too thick. Set aside.

Heap the kale leaves in the nonstick skillet you used for the beans. Saute the kale over medium-high heat until the kale is wilted.

Sprinkle cornmeal on the pizza peel then drop the pizza dough ball onto the cornmeal. Knead and spread the dough ball into a 15-17 inch pizza. Carefully remove the hot pizza stone from the oven and place it on a heat resistant surface. Transfer the dough to the stone and shape it into a nice circle the size of the stone.

Working quickly, spoon and spread the white bean puree onto the dough. Next, sprinkle a few handfuls of the shredded cheese over the pizza. Distribute the wilted kale evenly over the pie, leaving a 3/4 inch “margin” for the crust. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the kale and layer the andouille sausage slices over the cheese. Carefully slide the pizza stone back into the hot oven.

Bake the pizza for 8-9 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the edges of the crust are starting to turn golden brown. Keep an eye on the pizza as it cooks… if your oven heats unevenly (like ours does!) rotate the pie with a few minutes left on the cook time.

Remove the pizza from the oven, slice and enjoy!

Cutting the Pizza

Homemade Moose Munch

237 Piper Claus

Merry Christmas! Matt and I spent four of the last six evenings with our families enjoying big, yummy dinners. Piper spent the week looking out the window for the UPS truck… it’s almost like she knows where presents really come from. Smart pup!!

Today we’re unwinding from the holidays with nothing to do except watch a few episodes of Sons of Anarchy and the Eagles game. Sounds like a good Saturday to me!! While the Eagles battle the Redskins on NBC I’m trying to catch up on some long overdue blog posts, starting with this one for a holiday treat that’s perfect for sharing.

052 Caramel Corn

Every year Matt and I make some sort of home made treat for our families and neighbors.  Past holiday goodies include chocolate-dipped coconut cookies, candied nuts, and mint chocolate bark and this year we wanted to find a recipe for something similarly festive, delicious and easy to make in bulk.

After a little online research we settled on homemade “moose munch,” aka caramel corn covered in dark and white chocolate. Matt and I first made caramel corn a few years ago so we were already familiar with the basic concept: pop the corn, boil the caramel, toss with the popcorn and bake for an hour with regular stirring breaks.  Easy enough!

Moose Munch (Chocolate-Drizzled Caramel Corn)
(Adapted from Brownie Bites)

Ingredients:
18 cups popped popcorn (3 bags of light butter “healthy” microwaved popcorn)
2 cups mixed pecans and peanuts; roughly chop larger nuts if desired
3 cups Brown Sugar, firmly packed
2 1/4 cups Butter (4 1/2 sticks)
1 1/2 cups Light Corn Syrup
1 tablespoon Baking Soda
12 oz. Dark Chocolate Melting Wafers (we used Ghirardelli)
8 oz. White Chocolate Melting Wafers (again, Ghirardelli worked well!)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 250°F. Spread the popped popcorn out on several rimmed baking sheets and/or casserole dishes. The more shallow the layers the better, so try to use the maximum number of trays for your available oven space. Sprinkle the nuts throughout the popcorn.

In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup. Melt the butter and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the baking soda.  (Warning: baking soda causes the mixture to expand, so make sure you’re using a large saucepan!)

Pour the warm caramel over the popcorn, distributing evenly between the multiple pans. Use tongs or a spatula to toss the popcorn well until it is evenly coated in caramel. Bake the popcorn for 60 minutes, pausing every 15 minutes to stir each tray.

When the caramel corn has finished cooking, spread the hot popcorn in a single layer on parchment paper. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before proceeding with the chocolate.

044 Caramel Corn

Melt the dark chocolate wafers in a double boiler. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the cooled caramel corn with a spoon or fork. Wait 10-15 minutes for the dark chocolate to set, then repeat this process with the white chocolate wafers. Allow the finished moose munch to cool completely, then break into chunks and transfer to gift boxes, bags, or a cookie tin. Save a little for yourself and share the rest with your friends and family!

079 Caramel Corn

…and here’s one more gratuitous Piper pic to finish off the post. I took several photos of her in front of the tree and now that Christmas is over I’m looking for any chance I can get to share them!! 😄

115 Christmas Piper

Aunt Eileen’s Shrimp Curry

It’s time for another quick weeknight recipe! For dinner tonight Matt and I made this creamy shrimp curry over white rice. It came together so quickly that I had time to photograph it, eat it AND blog it all in the same night. Not a bad way to start the week!

1430 Shrimp Curry

The key element of this dish is the rich curry sauce that develops out of a surprisingly short and simple list of ingredients. Feel free to sub in cooked chicken for the shrimp or other veggies for the green pepper. Green beans, red pepper, broccoli… pretty much any vegetable is guaranteed to be delicious once it’s doused in this sauce. 😀

Aunt Eileen’s Shrimp Curry

Recipe from Matt’s late Aunt Eileen, who would make variations of this dish for family dinners.

You will need…
4 tablespoons Butter
Small Yellow Onion, chopped
Green Pepper, chopped
3-4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 pint Light or Fat Free Sour Cream
4 teaspoons Curry Powder
3/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Chili Powder
2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
1/2 teaspoon Minced Ginger (jarred or fresh)
1 lb. uncooked Shrimp, peeled and deveined
Hot Cooked White Rice (about 12 oz. uncooked)

Directions:
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and pepper and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the sour cream, curry powder, salt, chili powder, lemon juice and ginger.

Bring the sauce to a low simmer and add the shrimp. If you prefer a thinner sauce, stir 1/4-1/2 cup water into the sauce at this point. Allow the shrimp to cook in the sauce for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the sauce from heat as soon as shrimp turn pink and opaque. (Be careful not to overcook the shrimp!)

1428 Serving up the shrimp curry

Serve the curried shrimp over hot white rice. Enjoy!

1429 Shrimp Curry