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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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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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My Pasta Rosa

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I’ve been looking up recipes online and through pinterest for quite some time now. And something just dawned on me. I need to stop. I have maybe 20+ cookbooks that are just sitting in the bookcase, and they are screaming at me to be used. My last cookbook purchase was Nigella Lawson’s new book, Nigellissima. Almost every recipe that I open this cookbook to, is a keeper. The one that I’ve been eyeing the most is Nigella’s Pasta Rosa.

I didn’t quite have the ingredients for her version, but I will admit I was heavily influenced by her recipe when making my own.

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Pasta Rosa

  • 2 oz (or whatever single serving of pasta you prefer) of spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup small, cooked shrimp
  • 1/3 cup creme fraiche
  • 2 tbsp creamy horseradish sauce
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • milk, to texture (I used almond milk, but you can use coconut, whole or part fat milks)
  • 2 tbsp or so of fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Put a large pot of water on stove and heat to a rolling boil. Salt the water heavily, and add the pasta. Cook till al dente, about 8 minutes or so, depending on if you’re using thin or regular spaghetti.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Heat through, about 5 minutes or so, turning occasionally. Add creme fraiche, horseradish, and paprika to the pan. Let everything melt together, creating a sort of thick sauce. Add a little bit of milk to get the desired consistency you like.

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When the pasta is done use a pasta spoon or tongs to remove from the water, and allow to drain excess liquid while holding over the pot, very minimally. The starchy water helps the sauce adhere to the pasta.

Before serving sprinkle with parsley and parmesan. Serve immediately, and eat greedily.

What I Did for Valentine’s Day

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I’ve had quite an eventful weekend. This was the first weekend where I forced myself to do homework, tons of homework, after work  and throughout the week, instead of waiting for the weekend. This was because Friday, February 15 was my Valentine’s Day. I haven’t had a chance to really hang out and see Boyfriend the past three weeks or so. And I know there’s a chance I won’t be seeing him this weekend either (thanks odd work schedule). So we decided to be indulgent, and extravagant, and lovey-dovey (sort of), and have a Valentine’s Weekend.

Not so much because we’re lovers of the holiday (and I’ve read plenty of blog posts about how Valentine’s day should be every day, and why should men assume that they can be awesome this one day, and completely romantic and the rest of the time be completely ignorant in the ways of love) but because we haven’t seen each other in a long time, and we haven’t been alone in a long time, and just, couple-y, therefore Valentine’s way the perfect excuse to go over the top.

That being said, I was so happy with how our plans turned out that I, sadly, didn’t take many photos (being so lost in the many moments). My apologies. I did take a few photos. And I hope to be better in the future about it, however, there are recipes that I made (even though two photos are missing), that were completely amazing, and I can’t wait to make them again!

But first, say hello to my three new Otto fishes. I could only get a shot of two at a time, so you’ll have to imagine the third 🙂

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First recipe up, is this lovely Molten Chocolate Cake. 

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This was my first time making this recipe, so I followed it to the T, except for used two larger ramekins (to serve two, obviously), and adjusted the cooking time to 15 minutes. The original recipe follows.

4 pieces (squares) Bitter-sweet or Semi-sweet or just plain sweet Chocolate (this is a matter of preference)*
½ cups Butter, chopped into several pieces
1 cup Confectioner’s or Powdered Sugar plus an extra 1-2 Tablespoon for dusting, separated
2 whole Eggs plus 2 Egg yolks
6 Tablespoons Flour
*I actually used chocolate chips, and eyeballed what I thought 4 squares would be. It really doesn’t matter here how much chocolate you use. I think mine was roughly 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chips.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease/spray about 4 custard molds/cups or small ramekins with a non-stick spray and then place them on a baking tray (cookie sheet).The next step requires melting the butter and chocolate. You can use the microwave, in 20 second increments till the butter is melted and the chocolate is softened. Or, you can use a double boiler. (I used the microwave. It’ll look scary with all that butter surrounding the chocolate, at least it was scary for me, however you have to keep stirring, and it’ll all work out).
Add 1 cup powdered sugar then whisk together until smooth.
Add the 2 eggs and the 2 egg yolks then whisk together again until smooth. Stir in the flour till just combined. Divide the batter into the four (or two) ramekins you’re using.
Bake until the sides and top are firm, but center is slightly wobbly and gooey. Let sit for 2 minutes (no more and no less, I MEAN IT), and serve by inverting to a plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or top with whipped cream.
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Next recipe comes without a photo. This one came from Add A Pinch, and was really an amazing recipe. The only thing I can say I followed was the gorgonzola butter and improvised, to taste, the rest. Below is my rendition of the recipe, but you can follow the link to view the original.
Skillet Steaks with Gorgonzola Butter
2 Ribeye steaks
Salt and pepper
Herbs de Provance
1/2 cup cognac
Gorgonzola cheese, about 4 tbsp
4 tbsp butter, softened at room temp
Pat dry the steaks to they are free from blood. Take a fork and liberally stab the steaks throughout, on both sides, and by the fat areas. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Place the steaks in a ziplock bag and add the cognac. Close the bag and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, and up to several hours.
Next, season your cast iron skillet* and heat it over medium heat. Take out the steaks and let them come to room temperature (about 10 minutes) while the skillet is heating up. Dry the steaks again, when taking out of the cognac marinade. Do not do this liberally. I did because I was so hungry and in a hurry, and my steaks did not brown as well as I would  have liked.
Place in skillet, and cook about three minuets each side. I started off with two minutes a side, but had to turn mine about two and a half times because they were thick .
While the steaks are cooking, mix the butter with the gorgonzola cheese, and place in fridge, to wait for the steaks.
When the steaks are ready, sprinkle top with herb de provance and let sit for three minutes before plating. When placing on plate add a generous tbsp of the gorgonzola butter to melt and ooze around the meat.
Serve with potatoes, salad, bread, and good wine.
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Lastly, this recipe has been in the making for a while. I added more cheese than the recipe called for and added my own spices to the mix, however, the recipe basics were thanks to allrecipes.com.
This recipe too, was too good to be photographed. I even forgot to photograph this while writing up this post, when eating leftovers. So Sorry!
Baked Ziti
1 lb dry ziti pasta
1 onion, chopped
1 lb gound beef
2 (26 oz) jars of your favorite pasta sauce (I used tomato and basil flavor)
1 tbsp salt and pepper (or to taste)
1 tbsp herbs de provance
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp grouond garlic and ground onion powders
dash of liquid smoke
1 1/2 cups sour cream
6 oz of provolone cheese (sliced)– again, I used I believe 8 oz, a full Sargento bag of sliced provolone
6 oz of sliced mozerella—again from sargento, and I used the whole bag
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add ziti pasta, and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes; drain.
In a large skillet, brown onion and ground beef over medium heat. Add spaghetti sauce, and simmer 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F . Butter a 9×13 inch baking dish. Layer as follows: 1/2 of the ziti, Provolone cheese, sour cream, 1/2 sauce mixture, remaining ziti, mozzarella cheese, provolone cheese, and remaining sauce mixture. Top with remaining mozerella cheese slices and grated Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until cheeses are melted.
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Lastly, I want to say Happy Valentine’s Day again to all those that celebrate or enjoy the lovey stuff that comes with the holiday. The photo above has become a standard dessert treat I’ve been making myself after working out and a light dinner. I’m feeling great and happy, and I must say, nothing makes me feel better than strawberries, chocolate sprinkles, and whipped cream.

Ragu for Emergencies

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This is my fool-proof recipe for ragu. At least it will be. This is the first time that I’ve made it.  But I am not disappointed.

Today started off a little slow for me. I didn’t really get out of my pj’s till noon, and even then it took a few cups of coffee to really get started. I had a short list to start off, and added to it slowly. First off, I had to make lunch, and enough for leftovers for dinner as well as Monday’s word lunch.  I also had to clean my tub for tonight’s bath, and lastly I had to vacuum (it’s been too long). So I did what any sane person would do. I started with something that was totally off the list!

In the end, I cleaned the kitchen, bathroom, vacuumed, and even took out the trash all in an hour. In the meantime, this ragu was bubbling away on the stove. It’s very simple, but very necessary, especially when there’s a chill in the air. (Granted right now it’s about 78 degrees in So. Cal but I’m a bit under the weather and that’s chilly enough for me!)

RAGU

  • 1 lb ground chicken (organic if possible)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can (standard 14.5 oz Heinz) of tomato sauce
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cayanne powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder, or two cloves garlic minced
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pasta of your choice- cooked
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, to serve
  • dried basil, to serve

Heat oil in a 4 quart pot- or dutch oven (I used my cast iron Lodge).

Add in the chicken and the onion and cook together for about 7 minutes. It doesn’t matter that the chicken isn’t cooked or the onion isn’t perfectly seared. Add in all seasonings aside from chili powder. Add in tomato sauce. Stir and bring to a boil.

Add in the chili powder with the oregano and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

Add in the sharp cheddar, and stir till barely melted. Add in cooked pasta of your choice and sprinkle with basil and parmesan cheese to serve.

Simple, and perfect!

Spinach and Cheese Baked Manicotti

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There are days when I don’t want to be homemade. I don’t want to make everything myself, and marvel at how much better everything tastes. I also have days were making you’re own tomato sauce just seems like it’s too much of a hassle, even for me. Even adding extra oregano is a chore.

However, I do still have to eat. And on the days that homemade is too demanding I got for my partly-storebought-home-assembled dishes. This manicotti dish has almost nothing in it that’s homemade, and perfectly original, it is however, delicious, easy, and takes only 15 minutes to put together.

For the Filling:

  • 1 24 oz bag of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 bar of cream cheese
  • 1/2 lemon, juice and zested
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp of ground cloves
  • 2 tbsp of granulated onion
  • 1 tbsp granulated garlic
  • 1 box manicotti pasta, cooked and left to cool slightly
  • 1 large can of Heinz tomato sauce, in any flavor you like. I used garlic and herb
  • 1 cup mozerella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

Add all the filling ingredients into a bowl and mix together. Set aside.

Prepare an 8×8 inch square dish. By prepare, I mean, simply add 1/4 cup of tomato sauce to the bottom instead of oil. This will keep the manicotti from sticking and also keep it moist.

Stuff the manicotti, by using a teaspoon, and slowly adding the mixture into the hole. If this doesn’t work, you can always open up the manicotti and stuff it that way, and then close it back up. The stuffing should keep it together, because it’s very sticky by itself, thanks to the cream cheese.

Cover with tomato sauce when all manicotti is stuffed and in the pan. Sprinkle with mozerella and parmesan cheese, to your preference. I usually prefer tons of cheese!

Bake in over for 25 minutes, till cheese is melted.

Spaghetti with Meatballs

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I felt like making something that was homey and delicious this weekend. When I get into this sort of mood, usually it means something with pasta or potatoes. Something with starches, carbs, and rib sticking fat. Not that this is always good, but once in a while, it’s wonderful for the soul. I can attest to that.

This weekend was great as it was, and I got a lot done. Including getting a new vacuum cleaner which replaced by cheap, sad, broken Dirt Devil. I have to say, nothing is more stressful than purchasing a vacuum once you’ve already spent money (though granted, not a lot of money) on a bad one. You get flashbacks of no suctions, cheap parts, dirt everywhere, and so many dust bunnies!

Luckily as soon as I took this baby out of the box I was in love. I fell even further when I saw how quiet and powerful it was!

Nothing says happy and celebration of finding and even planning on buying a great new vacuum like the soul gratifying food I speak of above.

The recipe I decided to make for dinner, and for leftover lunch (which was even better!) which satisfied all these criteria is spaghetti and meatballs. Very simple, delicious, and easy. All you really need to consider  as labor intensive here is rolling the meat, and the dishes afterwards.

For the Meatballs:

  • 1/2 lb of ground pork
  • 1/2 lb of ground chuck
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • dash of salt
  • good grinding of pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs  ( I used original panko)
  • paprika, to taste
  • granulated garlic, to taste
  • fresh sage, four leaves, chopped
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • chili powder, to taste
  • 2 tsp herb de provence
For the Sauce
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 14 oz cans of tomato sauce
  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes (14.5 oz)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika, to taste
  • 2 tbsp oregano, dried, or 2 sprigs fresh
  • about 2 tsp granulated garlic
  • allspice, to taste
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • cumin, to taste (I used a good tbsp here)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

Put everything into a bowl and mix, preferably with own hands, it’s more soothing than you may think.

Prepare a baking sheet, lined with wax paper, or a large plate. Start rolling the meatballs! They should be roughly the same diameter of a quarter, maybe a little bigger, but they are supposed to be small, and bite-sized. I got about 40 meatballs out of this.

Place into the refrigerator while you work on the sauce.

Heat the oil and  butter in a pan while you’re chopping up the garlic and onion. Add in the garlic and onion only when the butter has melted and the oil has started to become loose, and glossy.  Cook the onions until soft on low heat (the low flame is important because you want the garlic to infuse the oil and not burn), about 7-10 minutes.

Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes and spices. Stir and bring to a boil (about 10 more minutes). Add the heavy cream and stir. Taste to see everything is to your liking. Once the meatballs are added, there is no opportunity to mix the sauce, nor to add more spices.

Take the meatballs out of the fridge, and add them, clockwise around the pot, one at a time. Do not worry if they seem like they won’t fit. Once all of them are in the pan, take the pot by the sides and wriggle it around until all the meatballs are covered or sunken into the sauce. Cover, and cook about 15 minutes.

Test a meatball to make it’s cooked through, and once you’ve confirmed that they’re not pink inside go ahead and stir them, gently to coat completely in the sauce. Simmer uncovered, about 8 more minutes, and in the meantime, make your pasta.

Assemble with pasta on the bottom of the bowl, and several generous ladles of the meatballs and sauce. Serve with grated gruyere cheese; that’s optional, but I don’t know of anyone that would say no to cheese!