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Shiitake Mushroom and Sausage Stuffed Shells in a Coconut Pumpkin Sauce

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Hello All!

It’s finally cold enough in California to bake. The winter and fall have definitely been  mild and hot. Today it was a crisp 67 degrees outside. That’s right, this is what I have to call “crisp” weather. In any case, I took full advantage and decided to use up the tons of canned pumpkin I recently purchased from Trader Joe’s. I’ve seen similar recipes around, using the pumpkin as a creamy alternative to many sauces. I’ll be making spaghetti and pumpkin soon!

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Stuffed Shells in Pumpkin Sauce

  • approx 14 jumbo shells, already cooked and cooled
  • 6 oz of shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, and caps chopped
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese  (full fat please)
  • 1 1/2 hot Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix!)
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 cups of Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups of monterey jack cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with parchment paper or foil and lightly, and I do mean lightly oil. Add the butter and some oil (so the butter doesn’t brown or burn) to a skillet. Once the oil is heated through, add the mushrooms and let them brown, turning over maybe 3 times, for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, add the pumpkin and coconut milk to a 3 quart pan and set on medium-low heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a simmer.

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Place the ricotta in a bowl, and add the mushrooms when they are ready. Do not set on a paper towel before adding, even if some butter gets in, that’s fine, this is cold weather, delicious, good, rib-sticking food we’re making. Take the sausage and with your fingers pull off small 1/4 inch pieces. Brown on medium heat for 6-7 minutes, turning once. If you like, you can de-glaze the pan once the meat has had a chance to brown with either Port, Vermouth, or Marsala wine.

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Add the sausage to the ricotta and season again with salt and pepper. Add in 1 cup of Parmesan cheese and stir to combine.

Once the pumpkin-coconut milk sauce comes to a simmer add in some salt and pepper to taste, the cinnamon, paprika, garlic, and cornstarch. Add in the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Stir and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for 3 minutes.

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Add a ladle of the pumpkin sauce to the bottom of the baking dish. Take a shell in your hand and with the other use a soup spoon to fill it with the ricotta stuffing. Layer evening into the pan. Cover with remaining sauce (be careful not to completely drench the shells; I recommend using a ladle to pour it over the shells) and sprinkle on the monterey jack cheese. At this point you can also add some bacon/ panchetta to crisp up on top, or more Parmesan cheese. Whatever you like!

Bake in the over for 20-22 min.

Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

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Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranates

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I have a confession. First, I have never made chicken salad. Second, I don’t think until I’ve tried a waldorf salad I ever thought that a chicken salad could be delicious. I’m no expert, but I think it’s safe to say that when you add chicken, lemon juice, walnuts, and the kitchen sink you’ll get magic. And that’s exactly what happened.

You can omit whatever you like from the below recipe but I just thought what would be appealing, both visually, texturally, and …. well that’s it.

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Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranates

(makes approx 6 cups)

  • 2 chicken breasts, boiled in salted water and diced/ cubed
  • 3 tbsp nigella seeds, or black sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup or more of pomegranate seeds
  • About a handful of shredded sweet cabbage
  • juice from one lemon
  • generous salt and pepper shaking
  • approx 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • approx 1 1/2 cups grapes, cut in half
  • 2 celery stalks, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced
  • 2 cups of light mayo
  • 2 tbsp dried basil

Start off by dicing the chicken, if you haven’t already done so. Make sure that it’s not just in cubes, but in actual small pieces, the size of a grape, no larger. This really helps with the consistency of most salads you’re used to, like in the markets or restaurants. Add in the nigella and pomegranate seeds. Add in the cabbage (mine was already pre-shredded thanks to Trader Joe’s) and squeeze the juice of a lemon over the whole thing; add zest if you like as well. I was too lazy to be honest. 

Add the salt and pepper and mix together.

Add in the walnuts, grapes (cut in half), celery and basil. Finish off with Mayo. Stir until everything is coated. Add or decrease the amount of the mayo based on your taste. About 2 cups was just right for me to coat everything and not be COVERED in the mayo. Which would be too overpowering. If you can’t find pomegranate seeds, I’d recommend adding in apples for added crunch. 

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Lamb Bolognese

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Yesterday was my first time cooking with lamb. I decided to start small and go with ground lamb. I figured I could do a number of things with easy and versatile meat product. I thought about making meatloaf, meatballs, or a pasta sauce. Pasta always wins out for me. Always.

I started off making this more Italian, but the spices I continued to reach for made it more Middle Eastern. Maybe some Indian influence? Not really sure, but it sure did turn out amazing! By the looks of the ingredients this is obviously not a traditional bolognese sauce. But aside from the spices, it’s almost the same. I added in my own spices (as mentioned previously), and I subbed in the half-and-half for the whole milk you usually add.

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Lamb Bolognese

  •  1 small onion, minced
  • olive oil and butter (approx 1 tbsp each)
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground garlic
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp of paprika (or less, but I like the smokiness that it brings to meat)
  • 1-2 tsp of chili powder (depending on your tastes)
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tbsp various dried herbs, such as oregano, thyme, sage, or rosemary
  • 1 can tomato sauce (14 oz ones)
  • 1 tbsp of raw sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 tbsp of molasses
  • 1/4-1/3 cup of half-and-half (depending on your sauce preference, more is less thick and creamy, I used 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling

Start off my heating a heavy bottomed pot (about 3 quarts). I recommend a cast iron, those typically work the best with sauces. Take out your meat from the fridge and allow to rest. This takes the chill out of the meat and ensures even cooking (I read that just this morning, and lucky that I had done it completely unaware of its benefits).

Add the oil and butter when the pot is nice and hot.

Add in the onions and allow to brown. Do not add in the salt at this stage. After five minutes or so (the onions should be nice and golden), add in the lamb with the spices. Coat everything in the butter-oil mixture. Make sure the meat gets a chance to brown; stir it infrequently, and break apart into smaller chunks. After about 10 minutes add the herbs and tomato sauce. Stir in the sugar and allow to melt in.

Add the molasses and the half and half.

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Simmer on medium-low for twenty minutes. Stir about every 8 minutes or so, just to ensure the meat is getting evenly coated in the tomato sauce. Taste at this point and determine if you need more salt, more pepper, or maybe even more sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

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Take off the heat when the sauce has thickened and is nice and fragrant. Stir in the parmesan cheese. Top with pasta of your choosing. I would recommend small shells, rotini, or any other twisted pasta to catch the sauce in.

When serving sprinkle more parmesan cheese.

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The Apples are Here

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I was finally able to go apple picking this past weekend, and take a dear friend with me whose never yet experienced the joy of freshly picked apples, and the frustration when you cannot find one.

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Needless to say we didn’t give up, and ended up with some lovely apples. Not to mention some lovely snacks along the way. Nothing perks up the spirits like cider donuts and apple burritos.

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Instead of the traditional desserts I decided to start cooking, and working with, my apples in a savory way first. I can always make my apple butter and pies later. That being said, I introduce my apple stuffed pork chops and roasted potatoes with apples and halloumi.

Apple Stuffed Pork Chops (for one)

  • individual pork chop, approx an inch thick, and cut almost through halfways
  • half a small apple, sliced, with skin on
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup dry vermouth
  • 4 mushrooms (approx) sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp of roughly chopped fresh dill, optional (for garnish)

Start off my warming your skillet with oil and butter. You can always omit the butter, but I like the flavors of browned butter with the meat juices, it makes for a deeper flavored glaze. Stuff the pork chops with apples and place in skillet.

Make sure not to cut halfways all the way across as the top  meat piece won’t stay on well when you’re stuffing and searing the meat.

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As soon as the chops are in the pan season the top side with allspice, salt and pepper, and garlic powder. Cook for about 5-7 min a side. When flipping over for a second time, add in the mushrooms and vermouth. Cover, and let cook down for another 6 minutes.

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Uncover, and allow to sit with heat still on for 3 minutes to let some of the juices evaporate.

Serve with roasted potatoes and apples and a sprinkling of dill.

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Roasted Potatoes with Apples and Halloumi Cheese

  • Approx 4 yellow potatoes, cut into chunks
  • two apples cut into chunks with skin on (same sized chunks as the potatoes please)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
  • garlic cloves , crushed (as many as you like, I used about four)
  • granulated onion powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • approx 6 slices of halloumi cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix all ingredients except for Halloumi, in an oven safe container. Top with Halloumi and whatever herbs you find fit. I didn’t add any but rosemary and thyme or even some marjoram would be nice here. Please use fresh as dried wouldn’t work well in the oven and dry out too  much.

Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes unless everything is cooked through and apples are very soft and almost caramelized.

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Side Note No.1

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This is my first side note for September. I’m not expecting many, and I could have just added this to my brownie post earlier, but I wanted this to be separate. It’s  sort of a way for me to let you all know what’s going with me and what to expect for the future if everything goes according to plan.

apples

First off, it’s apple season Sept-Nov. Because the summer has been quite a hot one in the next two weeks I will be trekking out to Yukiapa (by Riverside County, CA) for some apples and apple cider donuts. If you care to check, last year I met a friend, a cat named Tom, whom I want to visit this year again.

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My September itinerary is as follows:

  1. Snow line Orchards (for Donuts) – Sept. 21,22
  2. Riley’s Apple Farm – Sept. 21-22
  3. Making Apple Pie and Apple Butter for some Pork Chops (week of Sept. 22-28)
  4. Disneyland! – Sept. 28 (If all goes according to plan)

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Gluten Free Brownies with Chocolate Chips and Espresso

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Yes, I have been away for QUITE some time. This year has started off with a bang or two and so I have been trying to stabilize my schedule, and my life. I’m slowly starting to get back into the swing of things, but in terms of cooking and baking, well, I’ve been going out more. Mostly because it’s fun, and it kills time, and also because it’s been so damn hot in Los Angeles lately that I can’t turn my oven on even for five minutes without the A/C yelling at me at making its’ job easier. 

Onto why I am finally writing after all this time. I stumbled upon this gluten free brownie recipe a week ago. Today was the day that I just had to try it out. I will be bringing it to work to determine if others liked it as much as I did, but I have no doubts. I didn’t taste like anything I’ve ever tried that has been “modified”, or anything less than fluffy, gooey goodness. 

What I found really interesting is that this recipe calls for some ground coffee, instant. Although I added instant espresso, I thought that it added a deeper richness, that most brownies don’t have. It wasn’t overly sweet, and the cocoa powder and semi-sweet chips add just the right balance so you’re not trying to drown yourself in milk after just one bite.

Overall, I’d say this is a keeper and then some. 

 

Also, wordpress has informed me that over 9 days ago it was my blog anniversary. Who knew!? I guess chocolate brownies were just the thing to post, in celebration. Happy Belated Breakfast Socks!

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Coffee Brownies

Taken from Snixy Kitchen

  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ chocolate extract (if you don’t have this, just double the vanilla extract measure).
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules (I used instant caramel latte mix because that’s what I had!)
  • 7 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, melted using a double broiler
  • ½ cup almond flour (or almond meal)
  • ½ cup brown rice flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons good-quality cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons dark chocolate chips

 Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8 Pyrex baking dish with parchment paper (or grease & flour with brown rice flour).

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, chocolate extract, and coffee granules. Add the melted chocolate chips and whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl, mix together the almond flour, brown rice flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing just until completely combined.

Pour the batter into the baking dish. Sprinkle the dark chocolate chips evenly on top.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean or only with a few crumbs.

Let cool for about a half an hour before serving to prevent them from crumbling (I cut mine into rectangular pieces, and got 6, the bigger the better).

 

Enjoy!

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Asparagus and Potato Tart with Honey

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Who would have thought that honey would work so well with roasted asparagus, laying lusciously  on a bed of mashed buttermilk potatoes? I did not, but then inspiration struck, and boy am I glad that it did!

I’ve been looking through my french cookbooks, and sadly, while this is something that would come from a french cookbook it was inspired by Jamie Oliver. I believe the book I was looking at was At Home with Jamie, and I saw a photo (that’s all it took), with some white asparagus laying on a very velvety mound of mashed potatoes, encompassed in some puff pastry. I thought to myself, hell, I can do that, and so I did.

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Asparagus Tart with Potatoes and Honey

  • about 16 asparagus soldiers, trimmed of the tough stems
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes ( I added buttermilk when making mine, to make sure it was extra creamy)
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • salt and pepper, to taste (If mashed potatoes are not seasoned)
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • parmesan cheese, approx 1/4 cup
  • clover honey, how much you use is to your taste, or omit

Season mashed potatoes with salt and pepper, or wait to season (if not already seasoned) till it’s laid out on the pastry sheet.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and grease. Lay out the puff pastry sheet (store bought is perfectly fine). Score the sheet so you get a 1/2 inch border. Make sure you use a sharp knife but don’t cut all the way through the pastry sheet. you can also use a fork to prick the sheet in the  middle to ensure it doesn’t get puffy with the ingredients on it.

Dollop the mashed potatoes on the sheet, making sure not to go over the border line. Smooth it out to an even layer of potatoes all around the pastry sheet.

Add the asparagus, laying them gently and closely together to make a line across the potatoes. You can add these in any lines you like: vertical, horizontal, or even diagonally. I did mine horizontally, but I rotated from left to right so it so that every other spear touched the left or the right side of the border (to get asparagus in every bite, essentially).

Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-17 minutes. Make sure the pastry boarder is puffing but isn’t get golden. Turn up the temperature up to 400 degrees F and bake for another 5 minutes or so. Checking to make sure the edges don’t burn.

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Take out and let rest two minutes. Drizzle with honey (I used organic clover honey, but any honey flavor will work here. I expect avocado honey will be especially amazing here), then let sit for another 4-5 minutes to allow honey to get slightly absorbed. Cut into squares and serve.

Don't mind that shiny thing in the corner, that's my knife. I couldn't resist a bite!

Don’t mind that shiny thing in the corner, that’s my knife. I couldn’t resist a bite!

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