Pasta with Home Baked Goodness

Miss L had me over for a delicious dinner. She made Baked Pasta as a deviation of Martha’s recipe. Ours didn’t include chicken sausage but Miss L has made it with it, or with chicken instead. The possibilities here are endless.

This was so good because of the strength of flavors but none were overpowering. Baked pasta warms the heart, especially in pink sauce with fontina. Yum!

Miss L was the perfect host by laying a premade dip (thanks to Trader Joe’s) and pita chips while dinner spent the last few minutes baking. Miss H poured the wine and the night began!

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Ingredients

Serves 8
-Coarse salt and ground pepper
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1 medium red onion, chopped
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1/4 cup vodka (optional)
-1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes with juice, lightly crushed with hands
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-1 pound rigatoni
-10 ounces baby spinach
-12 ounces smoked chicken sausage, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
-6 ounces fontina cheese, 4 ounces cut into 1/2-inch cubes and 2 ounces coarsely grated
-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic. Remove from heat; add vodka, if desired. Return to heat; cook until almost evaporated, 1 minute.
  2. Stir in tomatoes and oregano; cook until tomatoes are falling apart, 10 to 15 minutes. Add cream; cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente, according to package instructions. Add spinach, and cook just until wilted. Drain, and return contents to pot.
  4. Add tomato sauce, sausage, and cubed fontina to pot; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Divide evenly between two shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dishes.
  5. Top with grated fontina and Parmesan. Bake until browned and edges are crisp, 20 to 30 minutes.

This dish reminded me I don’t eat enough rigatoni or enough pink sauce. Martha kindly reminds her readers this makes enough for two smaller pans (to freeze one). The noodles were cooked perfectly and they absorbed the right amount of sauce to keep the flavor throughout.

I really liked this dish and thought it would be a great one to share with friends because this dish actually enables the host to enjoy the guests while it does it’s thang. There’s nothing worse than missing your company because you’re stuck in the kitchen.

Post Thanksgiving Pumpkin Beer Taste-Off

My Thanksgiving Day was with family but my the day after was with friends. I hosted a Non-Thanksgiving Pot Luck with a pumpkin beer taste-off. It was great fun and amazing food. Here are some highlights.
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While it was a true potluck, it wasn’t until the day of that we knew who was bringing what. The challenge was to stay away from the foods we had all enjoyed the day before: no pumpkin or squash, no turkey, no cranberries.falfel_sliders_290_200
I made falafel sliders & black forest bread pudding. We also enjoyed: buffalo chicken dip, bruschetta, pizza, breadsticks, 7-layer mexican dip.

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I know, this is a lot of food for nine people.

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Dessert included: banana chocolate “ravioli”, black forest bread pudding; and turtle brownies.Our only nod to the previous day’s holiday was a pumpkin beer tasting. I seemed to track down the last pumpkin beer in all the liquor stores in Somerville, MA. Apparently it is a Halloween thing, not a fall thing. Noted for next year. Here’s how it worked.

We labeled the cups everyone could pour his/her sips from. We made a list to keep track of which was which. I thought about having everyone rank them but decided to keep it easy and just let our guests learn which were the favorites and drink the rest. Check out the variety of the beers!

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I see more taste-offs in my future. When I first had trouble finding pumpkin beer, I decided my second option was for a seasonal beer taste-off. Who knows, maybe that’ll be next!

Gobble Till You Wobble

The sides and day full of snacking is just as important as the turkey, in my opinion. Lots of my family’s dishes are years of practiced tradition. Was it already two years ago that my friends and I had a sides-only pre-thanksgiving meal? This year’s Turkey Day was a fulfilling day complete with food, family, football, and early-to-bed before Black Friday shopping.

The fam might not support both political parties, but they fully support the stuffing and cranberry parties: stuffing from the bird, or baked on the side; and jellied cranberries complete with can ripples, or real cranberries.

We had lots of choices but since my parents are empty-nesters they prefer not to have too many leftovers after filling the tupperware of those no longer under their roof. It’s such a great meal I’m tempted to have a mini turkey-day sometime later in the year…maybe just fewer sides.
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This year I cooked the turkey, well, I prepped it and put it into the oven. My mum was the one basting and taking it out at the PERFECT time. Since it didn’t have a white-pop-out-when-ready devise, Mum pulled it out at precisely the opportune time. I think it was the best turkey I’ve had in years. Yum. Dad was the carver, as per usual.

My sis and I were in charge of some mid-day snacks. We didn’t have a large group, so she made my Greek Dip (hummus, feta, veggies, and pita chips) but sorry, no photo. I make it a lot so I’m sure it’ll make an appearance later. I made puff pastry pinwheels. These are so easy and are great to make with whatever is on hand.

Puff Pastry Pinwheels
Ingredients:

-frozen puff pastry sheet, defrosted
-shredded cheddar cheese
-sliced turkey pepperoini
-1 egg, whisked

Directions:

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Lay puff pastry sheet out before layering with cheese & pepperoni. Roll up, jelly-roll style. Slice about ¼ inch thick. If making ahead of time, freeze entire roll to make for easy cutting later. Lay on greased cookie sheet and brush with egg.
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Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, or until golden brown.

I make this with whatever cheese and fillings I have. Other tried and true fillings include: pesto, mozzerella, and sundried tomato is a great filler; cheddar and bacon makes a delightful bruch addition; and feta, roasted red peppers is great too.

We had pumpkin cheesecake and blueberry bars were our dessert but since neither option was chocolate, I don’t have any photos.

Cuchi Cuchi – ooo la la!

Yay! A new fav!

I went to Cuchi Cuchi on a Thursday evening at 6 PM with one of my favorite people to eat with, Miss L. We were so enraptured by the decor, costumes, and cocktails we couldn’t even order when prompted.

Miss L and I have been meaning to try this home-y vintage hideout. Normally, we study menus and read reviews anywhere one of us has plans to go, even if we not both going! I should have studied the cocktail menu more closely before awkwardly not being ready each time our adorable waitress came over…at least we warmed her up for when we weren’t ready to order food either!

Cuchi Cuchi is small, with a bunch of small tables, a few couch & coffee table lounge areas, and a great looking bar. The employees wear amazing costumes. I distinctly remember us commenting on a white flapper-style dress we saw pass by. Our waitress was friendly and maybe Russian? She donned a black velvet hat with a birdcage veil. Don’t you just wish everyone wore them nowadays? She genuinely wanted us to like everything we ordered and she applauded our drink choices and her return was timely. I chose a hibiscus martini and Miss L had a blackberry cosmo. We found them sweet, a good strength, and well made. I was impressed.

Cuchi Cuchi describes the food as, “international, ‘straight up’ smaller plates to be paired or shared.” They seem concerned people will call it tapas, which also seems to be a big deal to them.  We shared and really loved it. Our charming waitress suggested we order four plates to share. Given the price and being unfamiliar with the size, we started with just two to share.

After much deliberation, we got the potato croquettes with tomato curry dipping sauce and warm brie dipping sauce. Yum! I preferred the tomato sauce since the potato croquettes were small & cheesy so they need something to balance it. We also got the chicken kiev. I have no idea how they formed it the way they did. Mushrooms and herbs were cupped within an incredibly thin chicken breast shaped into a bowl. Must recreate this at home! Ordering anothing plate might have been a good idea but we were leisurely enjoying our bites, drinks, and convo so it was fine.

I’ll definitely be back. Clearly the Cuchi Cuchi crowd shows up at a fashionable 8 PM or later so 6 PM is definitely the time to sit back, and take your time. I envision a great drink and a bite at the bar in my future too.

Likes: memorable experience, amazing drinks, really unique atmosphere, historical references for the cocktails
Dislikes: prices were a bit high for me to truly be a regular.

Photo courtesy of Jason Bagley via Creative Commons

Baked Blueberry French Toast

This recipe is from Giada De Laurentiis. I know her recipes are supposed to be amazing, but this one must have a mistake. There is wayyy too much liquid. I adapted it and then baked it a second time to help with the consistency. Baked french toast is definitely the way to go. It means everything is ready at the same time! I’ll probably give it another go, but guessing the liquid amounts is probably a better method.

Ingredients

-Butter, for greasing (I used non-stick spray)
-6 eggs (I used 3 eggs)
-3 cups whole milk (I used 1 cup soy milk & 1/2 cup heavy cream)
-3/4 cup maple syrup, plus extra for serving (I used 1/2 cup)
-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus 1 tablespoon
-1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
-1 lemon, zested (I used 1/2 tsp lemon juice)
-3 (1-inch thick) slices (8 ounces) day-old challah or sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (I used about 6 slices of day old, oversized, French bread)
-2 cups (12 ounces) fresh or frozen, thawed, and drained blueberries
-3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions

Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until
frothy. Add the milk, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest. Add the bread cubes and mix until coated. Stir in the blueberries. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
In a small bowl, mix together the remaining cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle the
cinnamon sugar over the egg mixture in an even layer. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is golden and the filling is set.

I baked for about 60-minutes and then let it cool/set. It definitely had too much liquid so we ate the crispy top parts. For round two, I baked it again in ramekins with another dusting of cinnamon sugar.

Apple Sausage Pizza with Beer Sauce

I love pizza in all forms. You’d think my family had pizza night growing up. Since we didn’t, I seem to make it a lot or at least make calzones a lot. This pizza was a great fall flavor and was adapted to use ingredients on hand. Mr. J doesn’t eat mushrooms so I out they went and we had some red onion so in that went!

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I’ve tried dough of all sorts. I still claim that fresh-refrigerated dough is best. The refrigerated dough in a can comes in third. Today, I gave Jiffy Mix a try which was a surprising 2nd choice. The dough instructed me to mix with water and then keep it at 85-degrees. I put it on the back burner where the oven vents. I found it extremely sticky and feared too much flour would make it wicked hard. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with non-stick spray to keep it where it belongs.

Ingredients

- pizza dough
- wheat germ for the bottom of the pizza so it doesn’t stick
- 2 links of sweet Italian sausage
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 small granny smith apple, sliced thin
- 1 cup of cheese (I used a mix of mozzarella and cheddar)
- 1 cup of beer (I used Blue Moon)
- About two tablespoons of coarse grain mustard
- About 1 tbs sour cream

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Directions:
Remove the casings on the sausage and brown it in a skillet. Add onion half way through  Remove the sausage and onion and add the beer.  Let it reduce by half and then add the mustard and black pepper.  Let the sauce cool a bit and add the sour cream.  Meanwhile by rolling out the pizza dough into some flour until it’s evenly thin.  Sprinkle wheat germ onto the pan before spreading dough out. Top it with some sauce before topping with sausage, onion, apple and cheese.  Drizzle with the beer/mustard sauce. Bake for about 15 minutes.

Increasing the Fall in Pumpkin Bread

Nothing is more fall than pumpkin bread BUT with walnuts and Craisins that fall factor was just amped up about 10 times. I don’t bake much but bread seems more manageable than cookies. I have to say, while it won’t make me a baker, I’m quite proud of the results! Can you say breakfast for the week?

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Ingredients

-1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
-4 eggs
-1 cup vegetable oil
-2/3 cup water
-3 cups sugar
-3 1/2 cups flour
-2 teaspoons baking soda
-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
-1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
-1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
-1/2 cup Craisins
-1 cup walnuts 

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Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 7×3 inch loaf pans or one regular and 2 mini loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pumpkin pie spice. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended.

Pour into the prepared pans. Add Craisins and walnuts to taste. Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Pattypan, You’re So Darn Cute

The cutest vegetable in the WORLD is pattypan. Veggies aren’t always chosen by their endearing appearance but it’s such an easy one to cook and just so darn adorable. I can’t ever believe how cheap it is too. I bought 3 for $1 at a farmers market. After stuffing and baking it, refrigerate for a few days until you devourer all of them! I’ve had it as a whole meal but it would make a good side dish for 2 to share.

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Ingredients

-2 pattypan squash
-6 slices bacon, chopped
-1/2 cup onion, diced
-1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
-1/4 cup chopped spinach
-1/4 cup Parmesan cheese & another sprinkle
-dash garlic powder
-salt & pepper


Directions

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2) In a saucepan with one inch of boiling water add squash and cook for 10 minutes. Prick with a fork to ensure it is el dente.

3) Cook bacon until crispy adding onion partway through

4) Slice the top off of the pattypan, and scoop out most of the inside. (be sure to leave a 1/8 to 1/4 inch all the way around). Chop squash.

5) combine squash, onion, bacon, parmasan cheese, bread crumbs, chopped spinach, garlic powder, salt & pepper to taste and stuff into each pattypan.

6) Bake for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan to serve.

Why not skip the spinach and add in mushrooms? Or tomato? There are so many variations to stuff these guys with.