Stuffed peppers

I made this for you, you know.

Pepper stuffed with pilaf and feta. Simple!

In reality when I make stuffed peppers I don’t go through all this work. I made deconstructed peppers. By which I mean I just throw the chopped up peppers and pilaf in a pan and top with feta. Voila. No trying to stuff little pepper shells that don’t want to be stuffed.

But they look SO pretty when/if I  take the time to make them as the recipe intends.

Pepper stuffed with pilaf and feta. Simple!

We eat this as a dinner entree with a small salad. However it would also make a stunning side to pretty much anything. Your starch and veggie all in one. And beautiful too! Or be lazy like me and just toss it all in a pan. It is equally tasty. And much less messy to eat.

Pepper stuffed with pilaf and feta. Simple!

Stuffed peppers (makes 4)

Rice pilaf:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup long grain brown rice
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
salt & pepper, to taste

2 peppers
1/2 cup crumbled feta

Make the pilaf. In a small skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring, until onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Add rice and sauté for 1 minute. Add broth, and season with salt and pepper to taste; bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 45-50 minutes. Check rice occasionally and add water if necessary. Uncover and let rice stand for 5 minutes before using.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut the peppers in half and carefully remove the ribs and seeds. Fill each half with 1/4 of the rice then top with 1/4 of the feta. Gently place in a baking dish. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot or room temp.

Pepper stuffed with pilaf and feta. Simple!

Farro and Cauliflower Risotto

Sometimes things just happen. Like this dish. I was hunting for a recipe for dinner, perusing the indices of my favorite cookbooks (I know! Cookbooks! Not online recipe perusing!) looking up foods I knew I had in the house. Pork chops, ground beef, zucchini, etc. Finally, when reading names of recipes with cauliflower, this one jumped out at me.

Cauliflower and farro risotto

I’m not new to farro risotto. The first time I had it was at a spectacular restaurant in Seattle named Lark. If you are in Seattle don’t miss it. We ordered the most delicious farro mushroom risotto. It was rich and creamy thickened with decadent marscarpone. I grilled the waiter for the ingredients and managed to succesfully replicate it at home. Yes. Me. Replicated a recipe from one of the top chefs in Seattle. Booyah.

So when I saw the recipe I was so excited to make it. It got bonus points because I didn’t even have to go to the grocery store to buy any ingredients. You keep farro on hand too right? No. Oh. Go buy some. It is an amazing ancient Italian grain. Chewy, nutty, filling. The risotto doesn’t cook up exactly like a arborio rice risotto as it is much chewier but it does get that lovely creamy texture from the butter and cheese. Don’t skimp on either.

Cauliflower and farro risotto

I was just going to fix this for dinner, which meant no post or photos because it would be too dark by the time we sit down to eat. However, after I mentioned on facebook that I was making this recipe, I had a friend ask me to post about it. Little was particularly unruly yesterday afternoon but risotto needs wine. I wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to open a bottle of wine at 2:30 in the afternoon.  I pulled down my bin of staging linens for Little to play with, opened that bottle of wine, and got the stock simmering.

Little rumaging

Oh my goodness was it ever worth it. The farro takes a while to cook but unlike rice risotto you don’t need to stir it constantly. Give a stir every few minutes or so. It is ridiculously tasty. The lemon and bay in the stock give it depth and brightness. The farro chewiness is spectacular and the cauliflower adds another layer of texture. The cheese and butter hold it all together and give it that much needed creamy risotto like quality. Oh. My. Yum.

A perfect main for a light dinner. A perfect side to any meal.

(Enjoy Betsy.)

Cauliflower and farro risotto

Farro and Cauliflower Risotto (serves 3-4 as a main, 5-6 as a side)
from Gourmet Today cookbook

5 1/2 cups stock (I used chicken but you could use vegetable)
1 bay leaf
1 strip of lemon zest removed with a vegetable pealer
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
4 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup farro
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups chopped cauliflower
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more to taste
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine stock, bay leaf, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat but keep at a simmer.

Cauliflower and farro risotto

Melt 2 tbs of butter in a large sauce pan over medium high heat. Add the one and cook till translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the farro and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add wine, bring to a simmer, and simmer, stirring, until all the liquid is absorbed. Add the cauliflower and 1 cup of stock. Keep it at a strong simmer stirring often. Continue cooking and stirring adding 1 cup of stock at a time as the liquid is absorbed. After about 25 minutes of cooking taste the farro. You are aiming for chewy. Once it reaches your desired tenderness remove from the heat (you may have leftover stock). Stir in the cheese, remaining butter, salt and pepper to taste.

Cauliflower and farro risotto

Almond Joy Cupcakes

I love candy. Above all I love candy with good chocolate.I CANNOT do crap chocolate. Those little silver kisses? Ewww! I’ll spit them straight out. No matter how bad my chocolate craving those don’t count as edible to me. I can’t do snickers or the like either. The chocolate just isn’t right.

Can I confess that I cannot remember the last time I ate a whole candy bar ? It makes me feel smug. I feel way too guilty picking one up at the store and even more guilty devouring a whole candy bar at once. However I seem to have no qualms about eating lots of little bites off a large chocolate bar or repeatedly returning to the chocolates my parents had set out at their house yesterday. Somehow if you can eat them in two bites or less they are better for you. Right?

Almond Joy Cupcakes

My sister, God bless her, bought a tin of Quality Street chocolates (don’t know what they are? See here). We had to figure out what filling was in each colorfully wrapped chocolate and ate maybe four or more each in less than 10 minutes. Ok maybe it was closer to six. My absolute favorite out of the whole tin was the blue one- chocolate covered coconut. The second I bit in to it I was reminded of these cupcakes. I can’t believe I skipped sharing them with you.

So if the chocolate is small or comes with cake I have absolutely no self control. I’m glad the tin of Quality Street went home with my sister and that these cupcakes are long gone.

These cupcakes are impressive and ridiculously easy. If you are a fan of Mounds, or Bounty, or the blue Quality Street chocolates, or coconut then these are for you. I think the frosting would make a great filling for a layered cake too.

Almond Joy Cupcakes

Almond Joy Cupcakes (makes about 18)
adapted from Your Cup of Cake

1 batch of your favorite chocolate cupcakes (I used half this recipe. You could even just use a box mix if you want)

Coconut Topping:
1/4 cup butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2 cups chopped chocolate

Bake and cool your cupcakes per your recipe (or box).

Beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add shredded coconut and vanilla, mix again. Slowly add powdered sugar until you reach your desired consistency. Pipe your topping onto cooled cupcakes. Use a knife to smooth out the topping. Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and melt and stir until smooth. Dip cupcakes into chocolate and then sprinkle almonds on top. Do it quickly before the chocolate cools.

Almond Joy Cupcakes

The Very Best Pizza Dough

This post is another (yey!) guest post. Today’s recipe and detailed tutorial is from my amazing brother-in-law Ryan Rojas. The same one who got us in the gingerbread house fiasco. He has been making our pizza dough for months and has absolutely perfected the homemade pizza. Enjoy.

When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!
There are few things I love more than a good pizza, and the key to a great pizza is its base: the crust.

The perfect pizza dough tutorial

I started making my own pizza dough a while back in order to carry on a long standing tradition for us.  Tuesday night was always Pizza & Beer night, but when our favorite bartender at our local pizza place moved away, we decided to carry on the tradition at home.  We started with pre-made store bought doughs, but at $4 a pop, I thought “I can do that!”  And so can you… its as easy as, well, pie.

A quick warning, however: once you make your own pizza dough, you will never be able to go back to store bought dough.  It just won’t have the same amount of flavor.  So if you’re ready to commit to making the best tasting pizza crust you’ve ever had, here you go…

The perfect pizza dough tutorial

The very best pizza dough (makes two 8-10 inch pizza crusts)
Pizza Stone
Pizza Peel
Kitchen Aide Mixer with Dough Hook (sure you can do it by hand, but it will take forever)
Mixing Bowl for resting (2 for dividing the dough)
Candy Thermometer (if you are using Active Dry Yeast)
1 cup glass measuring cup
Cornmeal (for dusting the peel)

2 ½ cups flour
½ tbsp kosher salt
⅝ tsp Active Dry Yeast (or ½ tsp instant or 1 tsp fresh)
⅞ cup cold water
¼ cup semolina flour (optional: this makes for a crispier crust which holds up better to wet toppings)

First we start with the yeast:
I use Active Dry Yeast.  Apparently, instant yeast is the best for this, but I’ve only managed to find it in the little packets… and once you’re hooked on this dough, that is simply just not good enough.  I buy a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Active Dry Yeast (in the refrigerator section) and keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Active Dry Yeast is basically sleeping yeast, so it needs to be woken up to work.  To do this, add the yeast to a small amount of 110 degree water in the glass measuring cup.  This is where the thermometer comes in… make sure the water is 110 degrees… too cold and it will stay dormant, too hot and its toast.

While the yeast is waking up, add the flour and salt to the mixer.  Once the yeast is awake, add enough cold water to make ⅞ cup.  Pour the yeast/water mixture into the mixer and turn it on medium low (about 3 on a regular kitchenaide, 2 on the professional model).  Let it mix for 4 minutes.  Then let it rest for 5 minutes.  And I’ll tell you why in the next paragraph, which you’ll enjoy if you’re a nerdy type like me.  If not, feel free to skip the next paragraph, but I can’t promise I won’t mock you for skipping it… just warning you.

Why we let it rest: We let the dough rest to allow time for the gluten to form.  Gluten is what gives the dough its elasticity, so without it the dough won’t stretch and won’t form the right texture.  By letting the dough rest, the flour and water start to form the gluten chains, which we’ll be helping to develop by kneading the dough.

Now kick the mixer on to medium (about 4-5, still a 2 on the professional) and let the mixer do the kneading for you!  After 3-4 minutes I start checking the dough to see if the gluten is ready.  We do this with the “windowpane” test.  Turn off the mixer and pull off a small piece of dough.  Start gently stretching the dough piece into a flat disk, slowly turning it as you stretch. The dough is done when you can stretch it so that a thin translucent ‘windowpane’ forms in the center without the dough tearing.  If the dough tears, toss it back in the mixer for a couple more minutes and repeat the test.

The perfect pizza dough tutorial- what they mean when they say windowpane

Once the dough is finished kneading, remove it from the mixer and form it into a ball shape.  I do this while holding it in my hands, but you can set it down on a lightly floured counter and fold over each corner to make a ball.  Place the ball of dough into a lightly oiled bowl (I use olive oil), then cover with plastic wrap and let rest on the counter for 30 minutes.  Then put the dough in the refrigerator overnight.

Why do we put it in the refrigerator overnight?  Glad you asked!  (Ok, if you didn’t ask, skip to the next paragraph… but again, mockery might ensue!)

The perfect pizza dough tutorial

Why we refrigerate overnight: The yeast fermentation is what turns the blah tasting flour into the yummy tasting pizza crust.  The trick to the best tasting crust is to let the yeast work at the dough slowly.  By refrigerating the dough, it slows down those eager yeasties, and the result will be a very complex flavored crust that is worth the wait!

Remove the dough from the refrigerator in the morning and divide in half.  Reform each half into a ball and place each in its own oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Return the doughs to the refrigerator.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 3 hours prior to use.  Let it sit on the counter and warm up to room temperature, which will allow the dough to be more pliable.

Place the pizza stones in the oven and pre-heat the oven to 500.

The perfect pizza dough tutorial

Lightly dust the pizza peel with cornmeal.  And now for the fun part… tossing the dough!  I learned my technique from 8 time world pizza-tossing champion Tony Gemignani.  Ok, I learned it from watching his instructional video, which can be found here and here.

If tossing the pizza is too intimidating for you right now, or your ceiling is just to low, you can also form the pizza by using the pull and rotate method.  Once you have your dough formed into a disk pick it up by the edge grasping it with both hands next to each other, then gently stregth the dough by pulling your hands apart a few inches, then rotate the dough and repeat.  Keep pulling and rotating until you get the pizza to the size that fits your peel.

Place the formed crust on the peel and move it around to make sure it won’t stick to the peel.  You can continue to stretch the dough on the peel, if necessary… just make sure it slides freely on the peel before you add the toppings.

Top as desired… (One of our favorites is mozzarella and prosciutto then sprinkled with fresh arugula the second it comes out of the oven)

The perfect pizza dough tutorial- topped simply with mozarella, prosciutto and arugula.

Use the peel to gently slide the pizza onto the stone.  A few gentle shakes might be required to help the pizza slide off the peel, but don’t over do it, or you will have a misshapen pizza… or worse!

The perfect pizza dough tutorial

Bake at 500 for 12 minutes, then check for doneness.  The crust should be crisp but not burnt.

The perfect pizza dough tutorial

Gratin Dauphinoise

Again I apologize for things being quiet around here. While Christmas was absolutely lovely it has been a rough few weeks around here. Good riddance 2012. 2013 I am hereby putting you on notice that you have to be better than the end of 2012.

I love the feeling of a new year. I like the idea that I don’t know what the next 365 days will hold and that it isn’t a good year or a bad year yet. It is just a year full of opportunity. I also love the feeling that it is a chance to start fresh. Kinda like a Monday after a weekend of ridiculous eating where you resolve to eat better and make it to the gym at least twice this week.

I have consumed more comfort food and sugar in the past two weeks than I think I did in ALL of 2012. It has not been pretty. I am looking forward to getting back to our usual whole food centered eating. Shoving three to five cookies in my face multiple times a day has just got to stop. Plus I just don’t feel very well because of it. Nathan started making our bread again this past week so I think we are well on our way to resuming healthier eating habits (this does not mean you are getting a bunch of healthy post in the coming weeks. I have cupcakes, cookies, pizza and rolls to share with you).

Gratin Dauphinoise (fancy easy scalloped potatoes)

However today is still 2012 so I present to you comfort food. I have always loved scalloped potatoes and this is a grown up garlicky version of the standby favorite. I served this deliciousness at our Christmas party earlier this month. The best part? You LITERALLY boil the potatoes in half and half.

I recommend cutting the potatoes down to silver dollar sized chunks before cutting them on the mandolin. This way your finished slices are smaller (and not the size of dessert plates like mine were). Second there is no such thing as too much garlic in this dish. I promise. Third I’m trying to but our grocery bill down these days so I bought a cheddar Gruyere blend from Trader Joes. It was perfect and almost half the price. I bet you could even use cheddar. Just make sure whatever you use has lots of flavor.

Thank you for being a part of my little blog this year. It has been a wonderful adventure. Here’s to many more in 2013.

Gratin Dauphinoise (fancy easy scalloped potatoes)

Gratin Dauphinoise (serves 8-10)
Barely adapted from Gourmet

3 lbs boiling potatoes, such as Yukon Gold
4 cups half-and-half
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup coarsely grated Gruyère (or a blend)

Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Generously butter a 2 1/2- to 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish. Peel potatoes. Cut crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices with slicer and transfer to a 4-quart heavy saucepan. Add half-and-half, garlic, salt, and pepper and bring just to a boil over moderate heat. Pour potato mixture into buttered dish, distributing potatoes evenly. Sprinkle nutmeg and cheese evenly over top. Bake until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

The gratin can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cool completely, then refrigerate, covered. Bring to room temperature before reheating, covered, in a 350°F oven.

Gratin Dauphinoise (fancy easy scalloped potatoes)

Simple Caprese Appetizer

Merry Christmas Eve to you and yours! I pray you are spending time with your loved ones and treasuring the simple things in life.

Our sweet old man kitty Pumkin went to heaven yesterday. He has been a part of my family for 10 years and his passing was sudden and unexpected. It has given me pause and time to reflect on how important each moment is.

Simple caprese apetizer

The past year or so I have realized that is really the simple things that are the best things in life. Like this appetizer for example. Three ingredients yet so cheery and festive. It looks special and help you feel fancy yet is a snap to assemble and requires no cooking! I can’t take all the credit as I saw it on pinterest and copied it but I can take credit for these lovely pictures.

Do something special and simple with your loved ones today- homemade hot cocoa, a simple treat like these caprese bites, roll out and cut out some store bought cookie dough, anything really. It is about family and time together not about the presents and perfection.

Simple Caprese Appetizer
stolen from a pin I saw but forgot to pin

1 pint cherry tomatoes
basil leaves
1 tub small balls of fresh mozarella (marinated or not)
balsamic vinegar
olive oil

Take on tomato and skewer it on a toothpick. Next add a basil leaf then a ball of mozzarella. Lay them out in a single layer on a serving dish. Sprinkle generously with salt then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and a touch of olive oil. Try to not eat them all before they leave the kitchen.

Simple caprese apetizer

Banana Bread

Little has gone on a banana strike. He finds them interesting to mush and throw but refuses to eat them anymore. It would have been helpful if he told me he was going to go on this strike. Alas he waited till I was in the habit of buying 3-4 bananas every shopping trip before giving them up cold turkey. I don’t care much for fresh bananas so needless to say I have been watching many a banana expire on my counter. I hate wasting food. I hate making recipes I feel ho hum about even more.

Banana bread- with cream cheese! Rich and cakey. So good.

Banana bread is ok in my opinion. It is good with a cup of coffee but I don’t crave it. The very first recipe I posted on this blog was a vegan all real food banana muffin recipe. Those are actually quite good but still not what I was in the mood for. While the bananas were wallowing on the counter, now attracting fruit flies, I made more cranberry orange muffins for absolutely no good reason, which did nothing to help my expiring banana situation.

Thank goodness for Pinterest. The bakeshop board is here but my own personal boards are here. Last week, in the midst of rotting bananas, someone pinned a recipe for banana bread made with cream cheese. I had no idea how this ingredient would impact the bread but I’m always up for trying a new recipe- especially quick bread recipes that call for butter instead of oil.

Banana bread- with cream cheese! Rich and cakey. So good.

I did not anticipate this recipe would be so out of this world good. I was skeptical since the banana and vanilla go in at the end- which seemed odd to me. Trust me and make them this way. The banana and vanilla stand out SO much. The texture of this bread is more like a pound cake- dense and cakey. So ridiculously good.

These loaves would make lovely Christmas presents, especially baked in the cute gingham paper pans I found. Wrap ’em up and drop em off on your neighbors doorstep, tuck ’em in a basket for your mom, or surprise your boss with one. Sure to bring smiles all around!

Banana bread- with cream cheese! Rich and cakey. So good.

Banana Bread (makes 2 big or 4 small loaves)
adapted from Sugar and Spice by Celeste

3/4 c. butter, softened
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 medium bananas)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; gradually add to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in bananas, pecans, and vanilla. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8×4 inch loaf pans.

Bake 1 hour for large loaves of 45 min for small or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides pull away from pan. Cool bread in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans (if using, if in paper leave them on), and cool 30 minutes on wire racks before slicing. Share.

Banana bread- with cream cheese! Rich and cakey. So good.

Cheddar scallion drop biscuits

Soup never seems quite right without bread. I’m not a cracker and soup person. I prefer a good crusty bread to go alongside my soup. Something with a crunchy chewy crust that leaves crumbs all over the table.

When I made the saffron chicken veggie soup last week I had all the ingredients on hand and wasn’t about to make a run to the store just for bread. We will be fine with just soup, I thought. And yet as the soup got closer and closer to being finished I came to the sudden panicking realization that I needed bread. It had been a quiet lovely family day and the thought of sprinting out of the house didn’t appeal to me. Neither did the thought of eating the soup alone. In a moment of brilliance (or so it felt at the time) it occurred to me to ask Nathan to whip up some biscuits. He happily obliged.

Cheddar scallion drop drop biscuits

Biscuits are a husband job at my house. Do you have division of labor in your kitchen? Anything that involves yeast is his realm. The wok is his territory as well. And biscuits. All him. And, until my recent foray in to blueberry pancakes, pancakes were firmly on his to do list. As is french toast. I am sure I am forgetting some things but those are recipes I happily hand over and reap the benefits. He is GOOD at all of them.

So while I am posting this recipe, and I took the pictures, this is truly his.

Thank you Nathan for indulging me and solving our lack of bread crisis last week.

Cheddar scallion drop biscuits

Cheddar Scallion Drop Biscuits (makes 1 doz)
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt
6 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chopped scallions

Cheddar scallion drop biscuits

Preheat the oven to 450°. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt thoroughly into a large bowl. Drop in the cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces. Cut in the butter with 2 knives or a pastry blender, tossing the pieces with the flour mixture to coat and separate them as you work. Add the cheddar cheese and chives and toss to coat. Add the milk all at once and mix with a rubber spatula, wooden spoon, or fork just until most of the dry ingredients are moistened. Drop about 1/3 cup of the batter in mounds on a parchment lined baking sheet. No need to shape or anything. Bake until the biscuits are golden brown on the top and a deeper golden brown on the bottom, 10-12 minutes. Serve hot. Best eaten the same day.

Cheddar scallion drop biscuits

Baked penne with bolognese

I hugged my loves a little tighter today. Lingered a little longer over conversations. Treasured moments a little closer. Why? Because yesterday I found myself rearranging my day to make dinner for someone who wont get to hug her husband again. For a family that lost their dad.

Life happens in a blink of an eye and can get lost between dishes, laundry, errands, and general “have-tos.” All while cooking yesterday I brushed away tears thinking of how I would feel if God called Nathan home tonight. I felt for this family and poured all my love into, what I felt was, the least I could do.

Baked Penne with Bolognese

This recipe doubles easily which is what I did when I made it. One for a grieving family and one for my little family, for which I gave many thanks. I have made this recipe many many times and every time it comes out the same- delicious. Yes, it is time consuming. Yes, it is totally worth the 2+ hours it takes to go from recipe to table. It is nourishing. The kind of food that not only fills your stomach but also your soul.

So, please, stop and think of all that you have and what you can be thankful for. Call those you love that are far away. Hug those you treasure that are close by. Slow down. Breathe deep. Make dinner for your family. Sit and eat together. Laugh. Love. Live. All too soon it is gone. Life is happening right now- take it in all for all it is worth.

Baked Penne with Bolognese (serves a crowd- at least 6)

3 tbs olive oil
4 tbs unsalted butter
1 large onion diced
4 celery ribs finely chopped
2 carrots finely chopped
3 garlic cloves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh marjoram
2 bay leaves
1 lb ground beef (preferable humanely raised and grass fed)
2 tbs tomato paste
14 oz can crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 lb penne rigate
8 oz shredded mozzarella
4 oz grated Parmesan

Baked Penne with Bolognese

Heat oil and butter in a large pan over medium high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, garlic and herbs. Cook till vegetables are light golden brown. Add ground beef and cook till it starts to color, breaking up any large pieces as you go. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the tomato paste. Cook for 5 more minutes then stir in the canned tomatoes and 1 cup water. Cover and simmer for 1 hr.

In another pot bring 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add 2 tbs of salt, then the pasta, and stir well. Bring back to a boil and cook per the package directions. Once it has reached al dente drain in to a colander.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix the pasta and sauce. Taste for season and add salt and pepper as needed. Transfer to a large baking dish. Sprinkle with the grated cheeses. Bake for 30 minutes till golden brown and bubbly. Serve at once.

This dish reheats extraordinarily well.

Baked Penne with Bolognese

Mac and Cheese two ways

Often when I make dinner for someone else I make a double batch so I have dinner too. When I do my kitchen ends up looking like this.

Mac and Cheese two ways

Does this happen to anyone else? Every pot in the house ends up dirty? This time my wonderful better half husband cleaned up after me. He truly is a saint.

When I doubled the recipe this time I made the two pans of mac and cheese a little different. For my cousin Liz, the recipient of this dinner, I made it almost according to the recipe. Her kiddos are apparently not too big on cooked veggies so I was hoping they wouldn’t notice the cooked cauliflower (they didn’t!). For the batch I kept I went overboard on the veggies adding broccoli and zucchini to the cauliflower and using whole wheat pasta. So so so good.

I want to challenge you to experiment in the kitchen. You don’t have to make a recipe exactly how it is written. Read a recipe this week more like a suggestion. Then make it your own. Sub out ingredients. Add ingredients. Double the ingredients you like, omit ones you don’t. Be a chef!

Here is the recipe. Sorta. I tried to remember all the changes I made and I can’t. This recipe is super flexible. Make it your own.

Mac and Cheese two ways

Mac and Cheese with veggies (Makes a 9×13 pan. Served 4-8 depending on the number of boys)

16  ounces  penne pasta (can sub 12 ounces whole wheat as I did in version 2)
1  head cauliflower, roughly chopped ( can add 1 head broccoli chopped and 1 zucchini sliced for version 2)
2  tablespoons  olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1  onion, finely chopped
2  cups  grated Cheddar (8 ounces, I used white cheddar)
1 1/2  cups sour cream
1/2  cup  milk
1  tablespoon  Dijon mustard

Mac and Cheese two ways

Heat oven to 400° F. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the cauliflower (and broccoli if using) during the last 4 minutes of cooking time; drain. Return the empty pasta pot to medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Saute the onion, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Mix in the pasta and cauliflower, 1 1/2 cups cheese, sour cream, milk, and mustard. Transfer to a shallow 3-quart baking dish, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Turn broil on for 2-3 minutes for an extra crispy top layer.