Fresh Homemade Manicotti

The word ‘stuffed’ (when describing a dish,) typically conjures up visions of savory cheeses, spinach, and a variety of other delectable ingredients – delicately wrapped inside a piece of tender meat or hearty pasta.  Today I made homemade manicotti shells, a la crepe-style, and stuffed them with a mixture of Ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, spinach, toasted pine nuts, and crispy pancetta!  (Add anything you’d like – mushrooms and/or sun-dried tomatoes would have also been tasty!  Leave out the pancetta for your vegetarian friends.)  A real show-stopper, especially when your guests find out you made the manicotti shells!  It honestly couldn’t be easier:  Make the batter, quick griddle the manicotti shells/crepes, mix up the filling – and you’re ready to roll, literally!

Manicotti - Ready to Bake

Manicotti – Ready to Bake

Manicotti - Crepe-Style

Manicotti – Crepe-Style

Manicotti - Stuff and Roll 'Em Up

Manicotti – Stuff and Roll ‘Em Up

1.5 Cups Flour, 1.5 Cups Milk, 6 Eggs – Whisk together until smooth – drop onto lightly greased skillet or griddle – making thin crepe-style manicotti shells.  They cook very quickly – maybe a minute or two with a quick flip.  Remove from pan to parchment-lined sheet pan.

Spread filling in a thin layer, roll ’em, and place in a baking dish with sauce on the bottom.  Top with additional sauce and cheese, and it’s ready for the oven.  375 F (Covered – 30 Minutes) Remove foil and continue baking until bubbly and golden-brown!  Buon Appetito!

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Swordfish Milanese – Easy, Savory, and Delicious!

Picture of Swordfish Milanese

Swordfish Milanese

Looking to eat more fish?  Looking for a new way to prepare your home-cooked fish dinner?  You’re gonna love this – Swordfish Milanese – and it couldn’t be easier!  Using a kitchen mallet (or a rolling pin,) lightly pound swordfish steaks to about 1/2 inch.  Lightly salt and pepper, dip in egg, seasoned (Panko) breadcrumbs, then quickly fry in a drizzle oil, a few minutes on each side.  That’s it – serve with a side of arugula with a light lemon vinaigrette.  That’s what’s for dinner!  Buon appetito!


Turkey Pot Pie – Warm, Cozy, Delicious!

As the nights get colder, and very cold in some parts of the country, who doesn’t love a warm, satisfying, and delicious pot pie to help you settle into the night?  This particular pot pie was made with leftover turkey and green beans from Christmas dinner, and the gravy was made with some of the leftover turkey stock I had made to prepare the gravy.  (Shredded chicken and regular chicken broth will work just fine!)  In addition to that, I added a half bag of frozen vegetables and some cubed potatoes.  Could not have been easier!

Picture of freshly baked turkey pot pie

Ready to Eat!

Picture of unbaked turkey pot pie

Ready to bake!

Picture of freshly baked turkey pot pie

To make the gravy, use equal parts butter and flour.  (I used 4 TBSP butter/flour with about 4 cups warmed stock.)  Start by melting the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat.  Once melted, whisk the flour into the butter and keep whisking for a minute or two to cook out the flour taste.  Slowly add in the stock, whisking constantly until fully combined.  Let “gravy” simmer for a few minutes, adding salt/pepper to taste.  (You might want to add a little extra salt/pepper at this point as the frozen vegetables will need the flavor.)  Once the gravy is bubbling and thickened a bit, add in all the rest of the ingredients:  2 cups chopped turkey or chicken meat, 1.5 cup frozen vegetables, 1 cup diced potatoes (frozen hash brown size potatoes work here, too,) and any other leftover veggies you want to add in.  I also had some leftover green beans that I chopped and added.

For the crust and assembly, it’s up to you.  You can put the pot pie mixture into a buttered baking dish and top with your homemade or favorite brand of biscuit dough, or you can go with pie crust – either homemade or your favorite from the store.  If using pie crust, you can use both bottom and top crusts.  If using biscuit mixture, just lay on top of the pot pie mixture.  Before baking, I like to brush dough with an egg wash (1 egg beat with a tablespoon of water) and sprinkle with coarse salt.  I use Maldon sea salt.  Bake at 400-425 F for about 30-40 minutes until brown and beautiful!  Let rest for at least 15 minutes, dig in and enjoy!  Any questions, just ask.  Buon appetito!

 


Got Stock?

Nothing says Thanksgiving like delicious homemade gravy – poured over almost everything!  Don’t be stressed by the ‘on the spot’ timing of gravy making, depending on having enough pan drippings to make a decent gravy, or the fear that the gravy may or may not turn out to your liking!  The answer is in making a big batch of homemade turkey stock well in advance of the big day.

Every year, I make my big batch of homemade turkey stock, freeze it in quart size containers, then no worry about having the pan drippings that are going to make or break the star of the show – turkey and gravy!

2 Bowls of Turkey Stock

Homemade Turkey Stock

HERE’S HOW:  This time of year, you’ll start to see turkey wings, backs, and thighs in the grocery store.  I used 4 turkey wings and a few backs that were already packaged at the store.  Place them in a large roasting pan with a couple of cut up carrots and celery stacks (great time to use the leafy greens of celery,) one large onion cut in quarters and a full head of garlic cut in half lengthwise across (skins and all,) several sprigs of thyme and rosemary, generous coating of good olive oil, generous sprinkles of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Into a 400F oven for about 45 minutes to one hour – everything should be golden brown and crispy.

Transfer turkey/veggies into a large stock pot, cover with water by a couple of inches, bring to a boil, then simmer for a couple of hours. Taste along the way to ensure a flavorful broth, adding more salt and pepper to taste as this is going to be the flavor for your gravy.  After a couple of hours, remove the turkey wings (and any other parts with meat) to a side bowl.  Strain out all the other parts and veggies, reserving the hearty, delicious, flavorful broth.  You’ll probably end up with 5-6 quarts of stock, so use a couple for the gravy and store the rest as the base for some delicious homemade turkey soup!  (It’s also nice to give a quart or two away to a friend to help ease their Thanksgiving day stress.)  The turkey meat from the stock bones makes a great turkey salad!

MAKING GRAVY:  This step couldn’t be easier – and stress free!  Heat one quart turkey stock in pan on stove top – heated through to simmer.  In another large sauce pan, you’re going to make a roux (roo) as the base of the gravy.  (Fancy, right?)  Add equal parts butter/flour [6TBSP each] over medium heat.  (You can substitute good olive oil for the butter.)  Using a whisk (or fork) blend together over medium heat until mixed well and bubbly.  Continue whisking for a minute or two to cook out the flour taste.  From there, start adding broth, ladle by ladle, continuing to whisk with each addition.  You’ll probably use the entire quart of stock, so make the gravy to a consistency that’s to your liking.  Taste and add additional salt/pepper to ensure full flavor for the big bird!  Keep warm on very low temp, or turn off and reheat as you’re ready to gather around the Thanksgiving table.


Too many tomatoes?

UPDATE – Recommendation:  Here’s an added tip to the following directions for skinning fresh tomatoes and freezing before use to make a delicious pasta sauce.  If you prefer to ‘seed’ tomatoes (as much as you can’ before making sauce, then BEFORE FREEZING, cut out the stem area, cut each tomato in half across the middle, and the most of the seeds will squeeze right out.  (I found it harder to get the ‘seed’ the tomatoes once frozen whole, even after defrosting before use.  Hope that helps!

Now onto the original post:

Summer gardens are the best!  Fresh fruits and vegetables that pop with flavor and keep you coming back for more and more.  As much as we love them, we usually find that they are all ripe ready in large bunches – so what to do with all of them?  Here’s an idea for garden fresh tomatoes that can be put ‘on hold’ until you’re ready to make your next batch of homemade pasta sauce:  Fresh Frozen Peeled Tomatoes!

Picture of Fresh Frozen Peeled Tomatoes

Fresh Frozen Peeled Tomatoes

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil
  • Have a large bowl of ice water on hand
  • Rinse tomatoes and cut a small ‘X’ opposite the stem end
  • Drop in batches of 4-5 into boiling water
  • 45-60 seconds later you’ll see the ‘X’ start to split up the sides
  • Remove tomatoes to ice bath with slotted spoon
  • Skin will easily peel away!

Line a sheet pan with parchment or wax paper and place peeled tomatoes on sheet pan.  Place sheet pan in freezer until tomatoes are frozen.  Transfer to freezer bag and store for up to 6 months – defrosting when you’re ready to make fresh homemade pasta sauce!

Ciao e Buon appetito!


Stuffed Peppers – Turkey-Quinoa… in a Crockpot – yikes!

Okay, I admit it.  Never had, nor never wanted a crockpot.  I love to cook, so I never saw the point.  Given that, we got one this year and I did make a delicious Chicken Chili Verde.  Although that worked well for that purpose, I still couldn’t think of any reason to use, or want to use, a crockpot.  As my dad and I talk about food and cooking most every time we talk, he told me he had just made stuffed peppers in a crockpot.  (That surprised me because I never knew the crockpot to be his go-to cooking method.) . I guess I was hungry when we talked because that sounded so good to me, and I knew I’d make enough for a few to go into my freezer pantry.   Today being Father’s Day, though my father is 3,000 miles away, was the day I put crockpot stuffed peppers to the test!  Results:  AWESOME!

3.5 hours on high in the crockpot, then 20 minutes in the oven at 400F (I couldn’t help myself because to me it’s all about the golden color and added texture/taste.) . Here you have it, healthy, delicious, nutritious Turkey, Quinoa, Spinach, Feta, Crimini Mushroom, and Diced Tomato stuffed peppers!

(I had enough extra stuffing left for about 4 more peppers, so I made those directly in the oven.  Same result, but with 2+ hours with lots of checking, covering/uncovering, removing liquid, etc.)

Still not a crockpot convert, but it will be my go to cooking method the next time I’m craving stuffed peppers!  (Stuffed peppers allow you the freedom to put whatever you want in them, so get creative and have fun.  If you want more information about these peppers, let me know.)

Buon appetito!


Ready for the week ahead – and beyond!

Another fun day in the kitchen getting ready for the week ahead, putting a twist on an old favorite and sharing a nutritious breakfast cookie that’s perfect for those days you’re running out the door!

You know I’m a big fan of the versatile breaded chicken tender, so today I thought about preparing eggplant in the same way to make Eggplant Parmesan.  The original recipe shared back in 2011 starts by lightly frying the eggplant slices on the stovetop before assembling.  Today I decided to start with breaded eggplant slices that I baked in the oven before putting the layers together.  I even made some more of my favorite chicken tenders while I was at it!

Picture of breaded eggplant slices

Breaded Eggplant Slices

Picture of breaded baked chicken tenders

Breaded Chicken Tenders

 

 

 

 

As I was in and out of the refrigerator, I remembered I had some fresh basil that I bought last week to make the Basil & Goat Cheese Chicken Breasts, so in staying true to form with ‘never throwing anything away,’ in the food processor went the basil leaves and PRESTO, out come a few small containers of PESTO!

Picture of 3 small containers of basil pesto

Basil Pesto

 

 

 

 

Finally, I made another double batch of these delicious and nutritious Peanut Butter Power Cookies.  I found this recipe last August when I was looking for an ‘on the go’ breakfast treat to share as we headed out on a small group trip, and these have been a staple in our house from then on.  A double batch makes about 30 cookies, so I store them in the freezer and they are ready anytime.  I grab a couple to eat in the early morning hours on my way to the gym – feeling good about it all the way there!

Picture of Peanut Butter Power Cookies

Peanut Butter Power Cookies

 

Ready for the week ahead – and I hope you are, too!  Buon Appetito!