Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sausage and Eggplant Stuffed Shells in Tomato-Cream Basil Sauce

 We've been eating a lot of pasta around these here parts lately.  That is because a) It's easy b) It reheats well and c) It freezes well... which is why we can eat these little plump guys when I would never have time to make them right now.  I made a huge batch of these around New Year's Day and put aside a portion to freeze before I cooked the main batch.  I even topped it with the grated cheese because I had the forethought to think... I will not happen to have fontina in the fridge when I happen to pull these out in a moment of hungry desperation.

They do take a little time to make, but if you double the batch and freeze a portion or two you can feed an army (or two), and with no more work than it takes to make a single batch... can't beat that with a stick!

Cut up your eggplant....

 Cook all your filling... I like to mash it once it's all been cooked.  Sometimes it can look a little liquidy from the eggplant and spinach but it works out you don't have to drain it or anything.

Once the stuffing is cooled and you've added the cheese and such it's time to get messy and stuff the shells.

I made such a large batch I actually topped this layer with sauce and laid another layer on top.  Which worked but did not make it easy to serve individual good looking shells... hence the one decent looking shell the one slightly mangled shell in the photo.

Make your sauce... such an easy sauce from something so great.

 Top the shells with the sauce and then the grated cheese.  Cover and bake, then uncover and bake until golden and bubbly.  And now that this post is complete I'm going to raid the fridge to have some leftovers... jealous? 

Sausage and Eggplant Stuffed Shells in a Tomato-Cream Basil Sauce

adapted from Emeril Laggase


2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 cups chopped onion
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 7 cups cubed)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup ricotta or mascarpone cheese
12 ounces fresh spinach, blanched, squeezed dry, and chopped (about 2/3 cup chopped)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 (12-ounce) package jumbo pasta shells (about 18 shells)
2 cups Italian crushed tomatoes
3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
4 ounces coarsely grated fontina cheese


In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the sausage until golden brown, stirring to break up the pieces, about 6 minutes. Add half of the onions and the eggplant, season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the vegetables are lightly caramelized and very soft. Add 1 tablespoon garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl to cool.

When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, stir in the ricotta or mascarpone cheese, spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and sugar. Stir to combine well.

Lightly grease a deep 9 by 13-inch casserole or lasagna pan and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta shells until just al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Pat shells dry. Stuff the pasta shells with the sausage-eggplant mixture and place in the prepared casserole dish.

In a large saucepan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat and saute the remaining chopped onions until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Add the heavy cream and cook until the sauce is reduced in volume by about 1/3, about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Add the basil to the sauce and pour the sauce over the shells in the casserole. Sprinkle with the fontina cheese and the remaining Parmesan. Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the sauce is lightly browned in spots and bubbly around the edges, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower Puree

I've been on quite the vegetable kick lately, only I seem to be on a mission to make them as unhealthy as possible.  I also haven't really been cooking a whole lot lately so my vegetable intake has been fairly limited to salads loaded with ranch dressing, salt and pepper... again... not so healthy.  In my defense I haven't been cooking because I just happen to be concentrating on these little dishes right here.

Michael is a big brother!  A kind and adoring big brother to our surprise and delight!  And introducing.... as he says "that is baby sissy Juliet".  He is adorable and completely in love with her.  Whew!  Anyone that knows us knows he's a little ummmm.... hmmm how do we say this nicely..... a little high spirited.

I am very happy that I have pre-cooked several meals, and plotted out a couple of quick meals, and take out stops to make life around here easier.  The one thing I noticed is that if an entire family is home for about a week and they eat every meal in said home you make a lot of dishes, A LOT, A WHOLE LOT!

The one thing I did not make in advance was vegetable sides.  Small problem with that.  When you need energy and you should be eating healthy, you need your veggies.  Okay so this is the healthiest dish I've ever made but it certainly isn't the worse. 

I've made this dish a few times already from various recipes.  Some steam the cauliflower first, some mash it roughly so that it still has big chunks... so far they have all been good but none have been just what I wanted... so with a few major tweaks here and there I offer you for your viewing displeasure (ugly, ugly dish) Roasted Cauliflower Puree.  Now I wish I had another head of cauliflower in the fridge so I could make this again tomorrow.

Roasted Cauliflower Puree

from Eileen's Pea Brain


Head of cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tablespoons Olive oil, plus a little extra for shallots
2 tablespoons butter, soft
Kosher salt
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/3 cup grated gruyere
1/8 cup half and half
Shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon or less of flour


Cut a head of cauliflower cut into florets and toss w/ kosher salt and olive oil.

Roast at 400F for about 40 minutes, or until cauliflower florets are turning caramel color.

Thinly sliced shallots, sprinkle with flour. Heat a little oil in a pan. Toss in shallots until brown and crispy.

Throw cauliflower in a strainer and steam for about 2 minutes just to help soften and warm. Can skip this step if you’re not picky (I was making mashed potatoes as well so I actually just put the strainer on top of the boiling potatoes and threw a lid on it).

Put roasted cauliflower, butter, half and half and parmesan in food processor and pulse until desired consistency is achieved. Some like this a little chunkier for texture but I’ve made it a few times and I like it pretty pureed. Season with salt and pepper. Add the crispy shallots and give another pulse.

Place in your serving bowl and top with grated gruyere, stir in cheese, serve warm.
Garnish with fresh parsley.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Foodie Nesting

The stork is circling the house... any day now and our life as a family of four will be changed forever.  How exciting and scary at the same time.  You would think by our third child I would be used to this but I'm not.  Maybe it has to do with how many years there were in between Kylie and Michael, so that having Michael was like having a first baby all over again.  No one else to run around after.  In fact after Michael Kylie was able to run around for us being that she could drive already.

And with that mini-anxiety attack...welcome to our first post of the new subtopic blog... This and That... today it means... this is what I should be doing (homework, work-work, and studying), and that is what I did (laundry, cooking, cooking, grocery shopping, and more cooking).  I've been making an average of 2 to 3 things a day, which is helping with that freezer of food for post-baby dinners that I never got around to doing because I was doing the other stuff that I should be doing now.  Here were a few of the highlights and the links to their recipes.  I'm not sure if everything is just tasting really, really fantastic or if I'm savoring the last few days I will be able to eat warm food.  I think after Michael was born I did not eat a warm meal until my mother came to visit when he was 6 weeks old.  She bounced him through the whole meal so the husband and I could actually eat at the same time, and eat something that was not either cold because it came that way, as in cold cereal, or room temperature because the little monkey just knew when it was dinner time and he always wanted to eat with us bless his little heart.

Simple Roast Chicken by Thomas Keller.  So easy, so salty, so divine.  I stole this picture from Almost Bourdain because as soon as it came out of the oven people started ripping pieces off of it, and that didn't leave a very appetizing looking bird, although when it came out it was almost this gorgeous... allll-most.... scout's honor.

Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms by Smitten Kitchen.  These were FANTASTIC.  I am a mushroom junkie... well if they are cooked I'm not much for raw mushrooms, but these are drowning in butter, garlic, and capers, with a squeeze of lemon juice.  I wish these could be frozen (then again they are so fast they don't need to be) as I believe they would go with anything or as a meal with a loaf of baguette and a chunk of really good cheese... ahhh good cheese, I can eat that again very soon... so excited.  To make my case I made these as a side for spaghetti.  Yes I realize that is odd but I thought they might not last another day forgotten in the back of the fridge and I really wanted to try out this recipe, being that I love mushrooms... and now we're looping.... moving onward.

Swiss Chard and White Bean Stew again by Smitten Kitchen... which you all know I'm in love with. It's very rare that everything you make from someone is exactly as you were  hoping... minus that one chocolate cake that seemed to cause a lot of people problems from her site, but that's one ONE teeny little recipe out of dozens... I love her.... I'm sure if we were to meet I would gush about  how we are foodie soul mates, how i love her site, and how wonderful her recipes are and she would say... "Seriously lady get your own damn recipes." 

Now that I think of how many I make maybe I am co-dependent on her site... naaaah.  This was rich and creamy, and fantastic, and finally made me learn to poach an egg.  Only took me about 9 eggs to get 4 right, and that was after my 19 year old walked in and said.... what are you doing?  You go like this.... and proceeded to show me the simplest form of poached egg I have ever seen and it worked like a charm.  It goes like this... boil water until really boil-y..... drop in egg.  DON'T TOUCH.  Remove egg... ta daaaa.  Why didn't I think of that?  Oh and I used spinach instead of chard because... well I live in Lincoln, Nebraska you can't always get Chard when you want it, however you can normally get Kale so that will be the green of choice when I make it again.

I also made "The World's Best Meatloaf" according to my husband which is his childhood friend's mother's recipe that he scored a few months back, but I forgot to take an after picture before I sliced it up and froze it for post-baby.  I was thinking of doing a post on it then when I make it into "The World's Best Meatloaf Sandwich!"

Enjoy your week.  PS... all of these take NO work so you have NO excuse not to make them.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tuscan-Style Chicken Pasta

Look out... it's another pasta recipe, just what you wanted around the New Year with all those diet resolutions floating around.  Well have no fear, this is fairly low cal, and if you serve it with wheat pasta I would say you could consider it healthy even.... remember pasta is not the enemy, mammoth sized portions are.  I fear once again my lack of photograph skill has interferred with how bright and lively this dish really is.

However, I will trade a good photo for a quick meal and post any day.  Some days (like today for instance),  as I am wander through the blogs of others I actually get annoyed with them.  Horrible I know.  I love these people or I wouldn't have marked their pages as favorites, but I think... those cookies probably took you 30 minutes to make and setting up that shot with the perfect spray of spilled peanuts, or the miniature forks sticking out of this confection or that with a perfectly tied contrasting bow on each had to take you at least another 45 minutes.  Don't people like to eat in your house?  How many times did you stick your husband with that fork to keep him from spearing a potato while you adjusted your lighting?  I know I'm a crank-a-saurus.  I blame it on needing more sleep and less heartburn as I finish up the end of this pregnancy.

With that said... be prepared for random posts, and ugly shots of food taken while dragging a 2 year old on one leg, bouncing a newborn, and arguing with a teenager about whether or not she can have our car for the night.  In fact I was thinking of renaming this blog... This and That.  It will have gorgeous photos of things I have stolen off the internet and then the hideous food that I will be cooking.  As in... THIS is what I wanted to cook, but THAT is what we ate instead.

This is one of the hubby's recipe that he got out of Men's Healthy I believe a few years back.  It will be making a huge come back in our house as it is quick, fresh, healthy, and tasty.  Feel free to use real beans instead of the ones in the can, but I will be cheating and using canned beans for the  next 4-6 months as my priorities shift from all fresh, all natural, all the time.... to... can we still eat this thing in the fridge that may or may not be from this week to avoid cooking for one more night?

Warning... rinse your canned beans well.  I'm not sure if it's necessary but it freaks me out that they foam.... why do they foam?  What's in that can besides a bean that has detergent?

I did use fresh spinach... there's really not much in there.  PS... I don't recommend upping the pasta unless you've upped the other ingredients.  I tried that this time and it was a tad bland as this is not a saucy recipe.  Enjoy dinner on the table in the blink of an eye... no lighting crew required.

Tuscan-Style Chicken Pasta
Men's Health.... maybe

2 ounces penne
10 ounces chicken, pounded to ¼” thickness (I cheated and just sliced it into strips to cut the cook time)
4 cups baby spinach leaves
2 cups cannelloni beans, rinsed
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon dried rosemary, finely chopped
2 heaping Tablespoons diced roasted red bell pepper
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan


Boil ½ quarts of water, drop in the penne, stir, and cook until the past is al dente (about 9-11 minutes)

While the pasta cooks, sear the chicken in a skillet on medium-high (about 4-5 minutes per side), seasoning each side with a pinch of salt and pepper as the other side cooks. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set it aside.

Reduce skillet heat to medium. Add the spinach, beans, oil, garlic, rosemary, and bell peppers. Turn frequently until the spinach wilts (about 1 to 2 minutes)

Slice the chicken and toss it with drained pasta and the spinach-bean mixture. Top each serving with 1 Tablespoon of the cheese.

Makes 2 servings

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Marja Vongerichten's Mac and Cheese

I have a not-so-secret-secret.  I have a horrible Mac and Cheese addiction.  I'm a bit of a mac and cheese floozy the truth be told.  I may have mentioned how much I love cheese once or twice or ten million times, and yet I still do not make my own mac and cheese... until now.  And this mac and cheese is enough to make me a one pasta girl.  If you're going to do a basic dish you might as well do it right.  And what better recipes are the ones thta are right (i.e. yum-tastic), and soooooooooooooooo easy.  Here we go..... weigh and cook some pasta.

Grate some nutmeg.  I used to always leave out the nutmeg from recipes, and now I like it.  I don't know if it's the process of getting older or the process of switching to fresh nutmeg... maybe a little of both.

Mix together some ridiculously fatty, and creamy ingredients like heavy cream, whole milk, half and half, and lots o'cheese.

Combine the two parts

Throw in your favorite casserole/baking dish type thing, top with cream cheese... yeah if you're on weight watchers you can't stop reading now.  This will take up your entire week's worth of points.

Bake for 5 minutes, then smear the cream cheese... mine did not want to smear.  I don't know if I just cut them chunks too big, or if it was because I was using cheap cream cheese because all the good stuff was gone at the grocery store. I added another 5 minutes and tried again, still to no lucky, but next time I will just make the pieces smaller and call it day... no smearing.

Here is where I went to lay down for a nap, so my husband took the pasta out for me so no photo there.  Anyway... I split it at this point and put half in the freezer.  The other half got a small shaving of gruyere (not in the recipe), then broiled until it turned golden.... YUM.

Maybe the name Marja doesn't ring any bells but I would hope the name Vongerichten might ring a bell.  As in Jean-George... big restaurant guy... no?  Get out this minute.  Okay maybe just to go to the grocery store to buy your weight in cheese so you can make this.  We have half the batch frozen for after the baby comes.  Come on little baby, you need to come so we can dig into the mac and cheese stash!   

Marja’s Mac and Cheese

Food and Wine


3/4 pound elbow macaroni
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (4 ounces)
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes


Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the macaroni for 3 minutes (it will still be very chewy). Drain the macaroni and return it to the pot. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and toss well.

Butter a 10-by-15-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk the heavy cream with the half-and-half, milk, eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir in the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses and the macaroni. Spread the mac and cheese in the prepared baking dish and scatter the cream cheese cubes on top.

Bake the macaroni for 5 minutes. Using the back of a large spoon, spread the melted cream cheese cubes evenly over the surface. Bake for 40 minutes, until bubbling.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and preheat the broiler. Broil the mac and cheese about 3 inches from the heat source until richly browned, about 2 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 and up to 20 minutes before serving.

Make Ahead

The assembled mac and cheese can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking, or add 15 minutes to the baking time.