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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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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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An English Tea Deserves Scones

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Now that LAUSD is out of session– yay summer– and I have a fairly regular working schedule that’s keeping me busy, yet open enough to do anything and everything in the mornings and afternoons, I decided instead of eating a very late lunch (after 3pm), I’d instead have a decent tea to hold me over till dinner.

I know 3 pm is also too late for a “traditional” tea, but I’m at work during the regular hours. An hour late won’t hurt, right? I love tea, I love clotted cream, jam, cookies and scones so why not? Firstly, I need scones. The ones in this post were a little dry, partly because of the oven temperature, however, the second batch was a lot better. Below is the adjusted temperature for the lovely muffins. Note that I also subbed in orange zest for lemon, and omitted the use of the glaze. I really don’t need it in presence of syrup and clotted cream. That’s enough calories for me, thank you.

Strictly Based on The Messy Baker scones.

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Blueberry Orange Scones

  • 2½ cups white whole wheat flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tbs. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 1¼ cups fat-free buttermilk
  • ¼ cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries (do not thaw frozen blueberries)
For the Glaze- I omitted
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 3½ tbs. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles very coarse sand (the mixture will still be a bit dry).

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In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, Greek yogurt, egg, vanilla extract, and lemon zest.
Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture. Gently fold in the blueberries. Scoop the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet using a large ice cream scoop.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top of the scones are golden brown. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Drizzle the glaze onto the slightly warm scones or slice open and serve with clotted cream, jam, and or syrup or honey.

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Glaze
In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and lemon zest. Slowly whisk in the lemon juice until smooth.

My First Time with Spaghetti Squash

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It has been a crazy few months. This last class has been too hard to put into words. Needless to say, I have been aware that I’ve been away far too long from the blog here. I am sure that I will be keeping up now that I’ve gotten my grade for the class back (an A- woo hoo!), and with some unexpected free time, be prepared for lots of summer, healthy fun.

Onto to today’s recipe…

I’ve never eaten or cooked spaghetti squash. Till today. I went out to my local grocery store and bought it. I did the deed. And I have to say, that it was fantastic! I can’t believe that I’ve been missing out for so long, on such a delicious and simple meal. A half or a whole, with marinara or alfredo sauce, with meat or without, it’s delicious.

It took an hour to actually bake the squash, and maybe ten minutes to make the sauce and prep everything. That includes cleaning and doing the dishes while the sauce was simmering. I’m in awe, simple as that.

Recipe  slightly adapted from The Comfort of Cooking

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  • 1/2 medium-sized spaghetti squash
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1/3 milk or heavy cream
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 Tablespoons extra for topping
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Crushed red pepper flakes and fresh parsley, for optional garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

First, prep the squash. Cut spaghetti squash in half using a large sharp knife, scoop out the seeds and place cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until tender, about an hour.

As an alternate way of baking: Poke a few holes deep into the whole squash with a paring knife. Bake for 60 minutes, remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes before slicing in half with a large serrated knife. Scoop out the seedy inside leaving the spaghetti strands.

Once squash is cooked, use a fork to gently scrape the “spaghetti” strands into the center. Place in a bowl.

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For the sauce, melt butter in a small pot over medium-low heat. Once hot, add garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in milk or cream until no lumps remain. Once hot, add cheese, salt and pepper and stir until smooth. Remove from the heat. Add to bowl and stir. Taste and season further.

Top each half with a pinch of red pepper flakes and fresh chopped parsley, if desired. Serve hot.

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Rabbit Organs in Garlic Cream with Sauteed Root Veggies and Pancetta

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As Rabbits come with organs, usually, at least they have them, as most living beings, you have to figure out how to cook them. Of course, you could throw them out, but honestly, rabbit liver is the best I’ve ever had. In any case, if you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and give this recipe a try if you’ve got some rabbit organs, and don’t know what to do with them. Use it up quickly, do not refreeze them!

This recipe is for one.

This will use up 1 liver, 2 kidneys, and 1 heart that comes with the rabbit. Although, I found a lung with my rabbit, I discarded that because I remember my grandmother telling me that (for some reason) lungs are not clean to eat.

I have to say, although I’m not a 100% liver fan, but I enjoy the occasional chicken liver pate, this liver was amazing. It’s not the same taste and about the same texture. Only silkier, smoother, much milder. Perfect over pasta, although I opted for veggies and potatoes. In total, this was enough to feed only 1 person, if you want to feed two I recommend you cut the liver in half and add it to pasta, with pancetta, or another salty meat, and carrots, peas, or lima beans to be more filling.

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Rabbit Organs in Garlic Cream with Sauteed Veggies 

  • 1 rabbit heart, 1 rabbit liver, and 2 rabbit kidneys (fresh, make sure they are no more than 3 days old out of packaging)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 baby potatoes quartered
  • 4 baby carrots, cut into thirds
  • 1/2 a celery stalk, cut in half, and into thirds
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 oz chopped pancetta (my butcher had pancetta so I was lucky enough to ask for 1/4 inch thick slice- if you’re this lucky I used half of a slice, cubbed)
  • Parsley, for garnish

Add oil to pan and heat. Add potatoes, carrots, and celery, season with salt and pepper and any other seasonings you would like. Cayanne works really well with Rabbit liver. Add in pancetta and brown, about 6 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of water to hot pan and cover. This will steam the veggies and ensure they cook faster.

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I added some cayanne, although that wasn’t part of the original plan when I first started cooking, and the spice paired nicely with the cream sauce, and the silky liver.

To another pan, add garlic and melt on medium-low heat. Add in the organs and season with salt and pepper. Brown for 3 minutes a side. Add garlic to the oil and allow to golden, swish the oil around the pan to make sure the garlic pieces and the,now, garlic infused oils are coating the meat.

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Lower heat and cook for 2 more minutes. When potatoes are done (check with a fork or knife to your liking), place on plate and add the meat. Put meat pan back on heat, and turn it up to high. Add in the heavy cream with a pinch of salt. Allow to simmer for 30 seconds, just enough time to pick up some garlic, meat bits, and thicken. Pour over meat.

you can add a splosh of red wine right before you simmer the meat for 2 minutes (as shown here) for added flavor.

you can add a splosh of red wine right before you simmer the meat for 2 minutes (as shown here) for added flavor.

Rip bits of parsley over the dish as garnish.

This is a very filling but light dish. There is maybe 3 oz or so of meat, so you’re eating basically veggies with butter and cream fat. Especially when eating celery and carrots, it’s important to add fat to your diet, to ensure that the nutrients are properly absorbed. I read that in women’s health- and it’s always stuck with me. I think it’s because it justifies me dipping my baby carrots into ranch whenever I “feel like being healthy”. Don’t judge.

This dish came to a total of about 327 calories, perfect for dinner for one. Enjoy!

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French Rabbit “Stew” with Mushrooms and Pancetta & Endive Side with Pancetta

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I am sick of chicken and pork. Totally tired of turkey meatballs and the pasta with endless varieties of meat and nonmeat sauces. Creamed and tomato alike. This weekend was the day(s) that was going to end! I found a recipe that I just had to try, to be more specific, an ingredient: rabbit. I got this french cuisine cookbook maybe a year ago, and I thought I’d master every recipe in it, including all those odd rabbit, eel, and veal ones, however, I haven’t opened since it first arrived in an amazon package.

I have to say, in Los Angeles it isn’t as hard as I thought to get rabbit. Although it was more expensive than in Europe. Mainly, that’s because in America we don’t really hunt it, and certainly not in Los Angeles. I’m sure if I lived in the Midwest or even in the South, or hell, even in Fresno, I’d be able to get rabbit for a lot cheaper than what Gelson’s was offering to sell me.

I did get lucky with a local butcher. And honestly, nothing is better than local. Seriously folks, I felt amazing just knowing that  I was supporting someone that had great produce, great service, and a reasonable price! Well, as reasonable as it could get.

And so I set forth to make this fancy (in my eyes) “stew”. I put that into quotations because my notions of what a stew was, were tested. I thought of stew as a thick soup, usually overly hearty, and filling. This was delicious, and filling, but certainly not hearty, and not thick. It was essentially Rabbit that was browned in butter and garlic, and then braised in a cup of white wine, with some flour added in to make a slightly thickened sauce for the finished product to cover the meat in.

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French Rabbit Stew with Mushrooms and Pancetta 

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 oz thick cut pancetta, cut in cubes
  • 5 pearl onions, or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 1/2 lb rabbit (I used a 2.8 lb rabbit) cut into serving pieces or dissected at butchers
  • 1 tbso all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 bouquet garni made with parsley, thyme, and bay leaf (fresh)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 lb white mushrooms, halved (I roughly chopped mine, and used brown)

In a flameproof casserole, or dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and onions and cook until lightly browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta and onions to  a bowl.

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Add the rabbit pieces and cook until nicely browned on all sides (I had to do this in two shifts). Stir in the flour and cook until lightly browned. Return the pancetta and onions to the pot. Add the wine, garlic, and bouquet garni and season with salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.

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Add the mushrooms to the rabbit and cook for 15 minutes.

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Remove the bouquet garni. Transfer the rabbit and sauce to a warmed serving dish and serve.

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Serve with Buttery Endives with Pancetta (below)

Endives in Butter with Pancetta

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 lbs endives ( I only used two endives, about .6 lb, and trust me, it was not enough, when cooked down, even for two)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 lb thickly sliced pancetta, cubed
  • 3 1/2 ounces dry-cured ham (optional)

In a flameproof casserole, or dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the endives and cooking until lightly brown all over. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons water. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to very low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

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Add the pancetta and ham, if using, and cook for 20 minutes. Transfer to a warmed serving dish.

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**Special Thanks to Boyfriend, who was patient and caring enough to take the photos for me this time, while was dashing to and fro in the kitchen trying to time the two recipes together. Thanks!**