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

Ingredients
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Fennel Bulb, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 Yellow Onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 lb. Italian Sausage, casings removed
2-3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Whole Fennel Seeds, crushed or ground in spice grinder
1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons Salt, divided
1 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 cup dry White Wine
1 cup Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese*
2/3 cup Half and Half
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 lb. Pasta
1/2 cup chopped Parsley
1 cup freshly ground Parmesan Cheese
*To stick to Ina’s original recipe, substitute 1 cup heavy cream for the ricotta.

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion and saute, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until soft. Add the sausage, crumble, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until browned. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and bring mixture to a boil, then add the ricotta, half and half and tomato paste and stir well.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer sauce for 20 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package instructions and drain. (Or go all out and make fresh pasta!) When the sauce has finished simmering, add cooked pasta to sauce and stir well to coat the pasta evenly. Cook the mixture over low heat for 5 minutes then, off heat, stir in the parsley and Parmesan, reserving some Parm as a garnish if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!

…and, just for fun, here are a few more photos to celebrate the snow day. 😀

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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!) 😁

1561-peppermint-patties

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

You will need…
1/2 stick (1/4 c) Butter, at room temperature
3 cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Peppermint Extract (adjust to taste; we liked this amount)
1/3 cup Light Corn Syrup
2 cups Dark Dipping Chocolate (we used Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Melting Wafers, yum!)
Green Food Coloring to make the filling green (Optional)
Chocolate Jimmies for Sprinkling (Optional)

Directions:
In a stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar, peppermint extract and corn syrup. Mix for a few minutes until the filling forms a thick, paste-like consistency.  Break off small pieces of filling and roll into 1″ diameter balls. (They will look deceptively like mozzarella balls at this point.) Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and use your fingers to flatten them into discs. Freeze the discs for at least 20 minutes before attempting to dip them into the chocolate. The harder they are, the easier they will be to dip!

Melt the chocolate according to package instructions. We used a double boiler which kept the chocolate at the perfect consistency as we dipped batch after batch of patties. Use a fork or a special chocolate-dipping tool like these Wilton candy dippers to dip a frozen patty into the chocolate. Coat both sides, tap off any excess chocolate, then transfer the coated patty to a parchment-lined tray. (Or, if you’re making a quadruple batch like us, just cover your counters with wax paper and line up the patties there!) If using jimmies, sprinkle them over the patty immediately after you coat it.

Allow the chocolate to harden completely, then transfer the patties to an airtight container. Share them with friends or save them all for yourself, your choice! 😄

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Parsley, Arugula and Ricotta Pesto

1504-parsley-pesto-pasta

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

Curried Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew

September has flown by!! This month was marked by several “blog-worthy” events, including a race, two vacations and a major room makeover. If only I could find the time to actually write these posts!! For tonight, however, I have an easy entry to share because I made it last fall and have been saving the photos since then. 😆

1203 Curried Butternut Squash Stew

This fantastic one-pot stew dish features curry-roasted morsels of butternut squash, flavorful red lentils, a hearty helping of kale and crumbled Italian sausage.  Sounds like a perfect fall dish, right?!? The curry-coated butternut squash smells amazing when it’s in the oven and the lentils, kale and squash cook down to form a thick, tasty mixture that completely makes you forget that you’re eating healthy food. Well, except for the sausage… but you can also use ground turkey (shown in my photos here from last year) or opt to leave the meat out altogether if you prefer a vegetarian dish.

1216 Curried Butternut Squash Stew

Curried Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew with Kale and Sausage

Serves 4-6; Slightly adapted from HealthyFoodForLiving.com.

Ingredients
For the curried squash…
4 cups cubed Butternut Squash
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
2 teaspoons Garam Masala

For the stew…
1 teaspoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
OPTIONAL: 1 lb. Ground Italian Sausage or Ground Turkey
1 Yellow Onion, finely chopped
3-4 Garlic Cloves, minced
3 teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
3 cups Chicken Broth (or Vegetable Broth, if going the vegetarian route)
3/4-1 cup Red Lentils
Curried Squash from above
1 bunch Kale, washed, stems, removed, and roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Naan flatbread

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss the cubed squash in olive oil and then add several grinds of salt and pepper plus the curry powder and garam masala. Stir well to coat the squash evenly. Spread the squash out in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway through. The squash cubes are ready when they are just starting to brown on the edges. Remove the squash from the oven and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add in the (optional) crumbled sausage or turkey and saute until cooked through. Transfer the cooked meat to a plate. Add the chopped onion to the leftover oil in the pot (drain off a bit if the meat was very fatty) and saute the onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, curry powder and garam masala and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Pour in the chicken broth and stir in the lentils. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the roasted butternut squash, sausage and chopped kale to the stew and stir to combine. Cook the stew for another 10-15 minutes or until the kale has wilted down. If you have a lot of kale covering the pot will speed up this process! Season with salt and pepper to taste.

1209 Curried Butternut Squash Stew

Serve a hearty portion of curried butternut squash stew with a few slices of naan. Enjoy!

Pork, Provolone & Spinach Stromboli

A few months ago Matt and I discovered A Casa, a local “bake at home” pizza shop that sells amazing homemade strombolis. A Casa’s strombolis are frozen and available in wonderful flavors like sausage, pepper and onions, Philly cheesesteak, buffalo chicken, and – our favorite – pulled pork and long-hot peppers.  YUM!

1239 Assembling the stromboli 2

Today we planned to pick up some A Casa strombolis but unfortunately the local market didn’t have them in stock.  A Casa itself is only a few miles down the road from our house, but it’s closed on Sundays so we found ourselves looking for other options.  Then we realized that we had 6+ lbs. of freshly smoked pork shoulder* in the fridge… we could make OUR OWN pulled pork stromboli!

After a quick stop to Trader Joe’s to pick up some pizza dough, provolone and spinach we were ready to go. The stromboli itself was very easy to assemble… just spread out the dough, add the cheese and fillings, fold and bake. The finished stromboli was delicious. Fresher, cheesier and less greasy than our beloved A Casa equivalent and so much more satisfying because we made it ourselves!

*Matt just got a smoker and this pork shoulder was the second recipe he’s made in it. Matt smoked a 9 lb. pork butt for 14+ hours yesterday and we had BBQ pork sandwiches for dinner. Now we have lots of yummy pork left over for lunch and dinner all week, but after tonight’s meal we also plan on using some of the meat to make a second pork stromboli to freeze for a future dinner!

I’ll post the smoked pork recipe at some point, but we want to make some tweaks to it first before it’s blog-worthy. 😄 For this recipe, you can use any left over slow-cooked pork.  (Try making it in a slow-cooker if you don’t have a smoker!)1264 Pork Stromboli

Pork, Provolone & Spinach Stromboli

Ingredients:
1 – 6-8 oz. bag Baby Spinach
3-4 spoonfuls Semolina Flour or Cornmeal
1 – 16 oz. ball Raw Pizza Dough
4 slices Provolone Cheese
1 cup chopped Roasted Pork Shoulder
4-5 spoonfuls chopped Long-hot Peppers or hot salsa; we used Trader Joe’s Hatch Valley Salsa which has a fiery, long-hot-like kick
1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Cooking Spray

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 475°F. If you have a pizza stone, put the stone in the oven while it preheats.

Heat 3-4 tablespoons of water in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the water begins to sizzle add the spinach and toss constantly for 1-3 minutes until wilted. Transfer the wilted spinach to a strainer and allow to cool for a few minutes. Once cool enough to work with, use a paper towel to press down on the spinach in the strainer and squeeze out as much water as you can. Transfer the spinach to a cutting board and roughly chop.

Spread a few spoonfuls of semolina flour onto a dry cutting board or pizza peel, then drop the dough ball onto the flour. Knead and spread the dough ball into a rectangle approximately 20″ long by 10″ wide.

1233 Assembling the stromboli 1

Place four slices of overlapping Provolone cheese on the dough, then distribute the spinach and pork over the cheese. Spoon the long-hots or salsa over the pork. Sprinkle a thin layer of Mozzarella cheese over top of the pork and spinach filling. Fold the long sides of the dough over the filling, then stretch and pull the dough on the short ends over top of the folded sides to close up the stromboli.

Carefully remove the hot pizza stone from the oven and place it on a heat resistant surface. Flip the stromboli over and place it in the center of the hot pizza stone so that the folded sides are facing down. (If using a pan, position the stromboli on the pan this way, too.) Poke the top of the stromboli with a fork 3-4 times to vent and spray the top of the ‘boli with 3-4 quick shots of cooking spray.

Bake the stromboli in a 375° oven on the stone for 12-13 minutes or until the top of the dough is golden brown. Rotate the stone 180° about halfway through the cook time to make sure that the stromboli cooks evenly. Remove the cooked stromboli from the oven, transfer to a pizza peel or cutting board, and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Cut the cooled stromboli, serve, and enjoy! 😄

1244 Finished Stromboli on the pizza stone