Monday Surprises and A Quick Fix Meal

I don’t know anyone that loves Monday’s, well unless it happens to be a three day weekend. I had a pretty bad case of the “Monday’s” yesterday, all stemming from feeling pretty crummy from a huge allergy flare up, so when I came home last night and noticed a huge package on my doorstep, I was instantly in a better mood, considering it was addressed to me. I opened it up and to my surprise there were three cookbooks and a letter stating that I had won a recipe contest through Tastebook.com and these cookbooks were part of the prize, another cookbook personalized by Felicity Hoffman (of Desperate Housewives fame) would be on its way.  Pretty sweet deal since I’m obsessed with cookbooks and two of the three were actually on my Christmas wish list.   An added bonus was that they all met my cookbook criteria for having at least five recipes I’d try out, this being said I will be keeping all three 🙂

For those who don’t know about TasteBook, I suggest you take a look sometime.  I discovered this site a few years ago while I was trying to sort through and organize my recipes.  I have horrible handwriting so anything that I can have printed is pretty much fine with me.  My first cookbook I made was for one of my best friends for her bridal shower, in fact because of the book I gave them I received one for my shower.   I liked the idea of creating a personalized book that can be added to over time.  Plus you can choose your own cover and add pictures of food as well.  I think I have over 200 recipes on this site and am always adding them to my different book projects.  The site is very user-friendly as well.  So if you’re stuck on figuring out a cool gift for someone now that the holiday’s are coming up, take a look at Tastebook, maybe make a cookbook full of you traditional family recipes for those you love.  BTW, Tastebook didn’t tell me to give them a shout out, they’re just that awesome that I want everyone to know.

Now it’s been a while since I’ve cooked dinner.  My mom was visiting us for a few weeks and I have to say having her cook every night was nice.  Last night the last thing I wanted to do was cook but we found this really fast and easy dinner on Hillshirefarm.com , of course I modified it a bit with things I had in the fridge already and didn’t want to go to waste.

Smoked Sausage Gnocchi with Sun Dried Tomatoes
(adapted from hillshirefarm.com-they have awesome looking recipes, take a look)

Ingredients

1 lb. gnocchi (surprisingly enough I found frozen gnocchi from a store brand, it was fab)

1 pkg. any flavor of sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices (I used Hillshire Farms low-fat turkey sausage)

1/4 cup julienne sun-dried tomatoes in oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup of caramelized onions (optional, my addition)

4 cups baby spinach (one bag is perfect)

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (I also added a handful of a 6 Italian cheese mix I had)

Directions

Prepare gnocchi according to directions; before draining, reserve about a cup of pasta water; drain and keep warm.

Heat oil a large skillet over medium-high, stir in sausage, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and onions, heat 5 minutes or until sausage is lightly browned.

Stir in spinach with sausage mixture, when it starts to wilt toss in gnocchi; heat through. If using additional cheese, stir in and add a few tablespoons of pasta water to create a sauce.  Stir to combine. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese; serve immediately.

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Verdict: I’m not sure if this meal took 15 mins, but it was pretty darn fast.  I’d definitely make this again, maybe even without the sausage.   Eric wanted to put red sauce on his, because he loves red sauce.  I’d think it was too many flavors going on, so I’d say use your own judgement.  It definitely was flavorful and delicious as is.   I had to put some aside for my lunch because I knew if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be any left!

Not sure what’s for dinner tonight, it’s Eric’s turn to cook…I’m pretty confident it will be yummy.

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The Tale of Two Raviolis

I’m a huge fan of easy and fast dinners during the week, however on the weekends, all bets are off. If a complex recipe sounds good I’ll attempt to make it no matter how time-consuming, praying in the process that all my work pays off and it comes out as good as I hoped it would, if not, pizza delivery is only a phone call away.

We usually wouldn’t have ravioli twice in one week, unless it was leftovers, which as you know we hardly ever have.  This past week I made a super fast and easy skillet ravioli dish that was pretty awesome.  I found the recipe in this months Food Network, along with a million other recipes I can’t wait to try.

Skillet Chicken and Ravioli (Food Network Magazine)

Ingredients

Kosher salt
1 9-ounce package small cheese ravioli
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes ( I used grape tomatoes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli and cook as the label directs; drain, then drizzle with olive oil and toss.

Meanwhile, season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken; cook, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring, 1 more minute. Transfer to a plate.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the skillet. Season with salt and continue to cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 more minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic and vinegar and cook until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet, then add the ravioli, broth and parmesan; bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes. Top with the basil.

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Verdict:  So good.  Again, the best part is its super fast and great for a week night meal.  I only added one chicken breast since I’m still not able to chew too well since my crown.  Even though Eric ate two pieces of leftover pizza as an appetizer (he told me this after dinner)  he did end of eating most of it himself.   I’d say a pretty successful meal.

So that was the fast recipe, now for the more time-consuming project.  This weekend we actually made our own ravioli, from scratch.   A few months ago we took a ravioli making class, which was fueled by receiving a KitchenAid pasta attachment for Christmas.   In all actuality making  ravioli doesn’t take all that long, it’s not quick, I’d say it took maybe an hour and half, maybe two, definitely less than 5, but totally worth the end result.

Here is the dough recipe I used.  You can use this dough for any kind of pasta you’d like.  The key is to find “00” flour.  We found some at a local specialty cooking shop, but you can buy it online or use regular all-purpose flour.   I found that my dough was a little bit on the dry side, so I just added another egg.  Not sure if that is what you’re supposed to do, but it worked great.  I’ll probably half the recipe next time, unless we’re having a dinner guests.   Also, be sure to keep the dough you’re not using covered, it will dry out.

Basic Pasta Dough

Ingredients

2-1/2 cups (12 oz.) all-purpose or “00” flour, plus more for dusting

1 Tbsp. kosher salt

4 large eggs

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place four and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.  Make a “well” in the center of the flour mixture and add eggs and oil.  Using your fingers, blend the eggs into the flour mixture, stirring the flour in from the sides of the well and working outward.  When the pasta dough is thoroughly mixed, turn it out on a lightly floured work surface.  Knead dough until it is smooth and flexible but not sticky, adding small amounts of flour as needed, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk.  Cover in plastic wrap and allow dough to rest for at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour at room temp.   You can keep dough for 24 hours in the fridge or freeze up to 1 month in an airtight container.

The process is pretty tedious to write out, but I found that the directions that come with your pasta machine (either the hand crank or KitchenAid) are the same, so just follow those.

I made a sausage and spinach filling.  I had a lot left over so I’m keeping that for this week’s round two recipe, sausage and spinach stuffed shells.

Sausage and Spinach Ravioli Filling

Ingredients

4 ounces bulk Italian sausage
3/4 cup packed fresh spinach leaves
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon snipped fresh sage or 1/4 teaspoon dried sage, crushed
1/8 teaspoon grated whole nutmeg

Directions

In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium-high heat until brown, using a wooden spoon to break up sausage as it cooks. Stir in spinach; cook and stir until wilted. Drain off fat. If mixture is too coarse to stuff ravioli, transfer to a food processor or blender; cover and process or blend with several on/off pulses until chopped.

In a medium bowl, combine egg yolk, ricotta cheese, sage, and nutmeg. Stir in sausage mixture.  Fill the ravioli, I used a ravioli mold but feel free to freestyle it.

In a large pot of boiling water, cook ravioli in batches for about 3-4 minutes until al dente.  Serve with your favorite sauce.

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fillingraviolis

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I think it took so long to make this dinner because I also made the sauce.  If you’re going to go to all the effort of making homemade pasta, might as well make the sauce yourself.  Though if you don’t make your own sauce and use a jar, I won’t judge you…maybe a little…

This would be a fun meal to make with kids, dough is just like Play-Doh, except tastes better (so I hear).

The only real problem with making your own pasta is when it’s all done you’ll never want to buy pasta again, guess what? You don’t have to!  I have a feeling that once I get more experience with the dough and machine I’ll be busting out different pastas left and right.   We take reservations, just give us 24 hour notice 🙂

Food Memories

Is there a certain food or meal that reminds you of someone?  I’m pretty sure it’s because all our family gatherings involve massive amounts of food (I’m not even talking parties, we have crazy amounts of food even if one person is visiting) that I tend to associate certain foods with the people I love.  For example, whenever McDonald’s brings back the McRib (I know, it’s gross, the smell alone makes me gag) I think of my Nanny.  I remember when she was in the hospital after her heart attack (go figure) that she begged us to bring her a McRib because she wanted to try it. Kraft macaroni and cheese  reminds me of my brother Jeff who refused to eat my mom’s homemade version (which is amazing) and insisted on smothering his noodles with ketchup (grosses me out to this day).  Cup o’Noodles takes me back to my college days when I would visit my Aunt Theresa and she would not only guilt me into eating the biggest Cup o’Noodle she could find but also included a sandwich followed by a waffle sundae and capped off with a pizza, can we say Freshman 40? (I’m actually glad she fed me so much, it was way better than anything in the dining hall).

There are many more food memories I could list, but I’ll end with the most recent one, Creamy Orecchiette with Spinach and Prosciutto,  reminds me of my dad.  I think this food memory makes me smile the most because it’s not a meal that I would have ever thought my dad would like, but really it became one of his most favorites.  The day before he went into the hospital I called the house, as per usual, and Dad answered, as per not so usual, the first thing I asked (as it was Valentine’s Day) was what he had for dinner.  His response was “We had the best dinner”  which was the orecchiette.  Not to get all sentimental or anything, but I’m glad that the last real meal he ate was something that not only made with love but something that he truly enjoyed.

My mom found the pasta recipe in the newspaper months ago  and I remember the first time she told me she had made it that Dad loved it.  I tried for months to persuade Eric into trying it, but he just didn’t think it sounded good, I even had my Dad try to talk him into it, no luck there either.  While we were in NY last month, my mom made it for dinner.  Let me tell you, I’m not sure what happened but Eric must have eaten 1/2 of what she made (she even doubled the recipe), he is now hooked on the deliciousness that is Creamy Orecchiette with Spinach and Prosciutto.

Creamy Orecchiette with Spinach and Prosciutto

Ingredients

Kosher salt
3/4 pound dried orecchiette
6 ounces baby spinach leaves (1 bag)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (I’m not sure if it’s 1 container, but that’s what I used)
2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
Zest of 1/4 of a lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
4 ounces prosciutto (about 3 or 4 slices), coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Two minutes before the pasta is done gently stir the spinach into the pasta and cook a few seconds until wilted. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Now drain the water from the pasta and spinach. While the pasta is cooking, chop the prosciutto and garlic.

While the pasta is draining in a colander, return the empty pot  to the stove over low heat.  Add a little olive oil, when the oil is hot add the garlic and prosciutto.  Cook for a few minutes, be sure to not burn the garlic. Add the mascarpone and Parmesan; zest the lemon right into the mixture. Cook until the mascarpone has melted, about 1 minute. Add  1/4 cup of reserved pasta water and stir, its the mixture is too thick still add a bit of water, be careful to not add too much. Return pasta and spinach to the pot, toss to coat. Taste; add freshly ground pepper to your liking. Serve immediately.

Pastawithspinach

Verdict:  We both loved it! My only disappointment was that my pasta was all broken when I opened the bag…next time I’ll get Wegmans brand, they don’t sell broken pasta 😉 Other than that it was soooo good. The best is that it’s basically a one pot meal, plus super easy and fast for a weeknight.  Next time I’m going to add sausage.  You can add all kinds of different ingredients, it’s really a blank recipe canvas with endless possibilities.  Truly one of the best dinners I’ve ever made.

I know I’m not the only one there out that has food memories, especially if your family is as food oriented as mine.    If you’ve never thought about it, try it, you’ll be surprised what food memories will being a smile to your face.