Easy Broccoli Gratin

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This is the perfect side dish for when you don’t have a lot of time to prepare but you want a hot savory dinner. This can be made the night before, then cover and put it in the fridge. On the way home,  just grab a rotisserie chicken and pop this in the oven while you set the table. Dinner on the table on 30 minutes – how easy is that?

Ingredients

8 cups broccoli, roughly chopped

4 tablespoons butter

2 cups half and half

1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (I like these)

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Directions
Preheat oven to 375° F. Fill a large saucepan with 1/2  inch of water, then add about 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil. Place the broccoli in the saucepan and steam 3 to 5 minutes, until just tender.  Drain thoroughly and transfer to a large bowl.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the half and half and simmer until slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the cheese, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Toss with the broccoli.
Transfer the broccoli mixture to a shallow 3-quart baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining half cup of cheese and the panko bread crumbs. Bake until bubbling and golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Manicotti with Fresh Basil and Parsley

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Cravings…everyone has cravings, right?  I have had a craving for this dish since we moved to sunny California three years ago. California is a wonderful place to live – the ocean, the mountains, the weather, the wine….a foodies’ paradise too, with all of the fresh fruits and vegetables available year round. They have some stellar restaurants here. The one thing I haven’t found is a real authentic Italian restaurant. I’m not talking “new american” Italian cuisine – I’m looking for an old school, dimly lit place, the menu filled with old family recipes hand carried over on the boat by great grandma Maria.  The kind of place they would film “The Godfather Part 4″ in (hey you never know…..) I have been to several wonderful old school Italian restaurants in New York City and also in St. Louis in an area known as “The Hill” where there are a couple dozen amazing and authentic Italian restaurants.

This recipe is an authentic manicotti made with crespelle (italian crepes), not those ridged tubular noodles called manicotti shells in the store. It takes some time but it is actually very simple to prepare – and the results are so worth it! The crespelle are made just like french dessert crepes – the technique takes a little practice – but after a few tries you will have your crepes all ready to stuff with the ricotta mixture.

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The photo is a little blurry because I’m moving the pan around…you have to get the crepes very thin and just lightly browned. I always make the sauce first, then the crepes, then the filling.  Bake 20 minutes in the oven and you have one amazing dinner.

Ingredients:

Marinara Sauce

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped fine

2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic (cloves or the jar kind found in the produce section)

1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 teaspoons fresh italian parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, cut chiffonade style, divided

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup red wine

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

salt to taste

Crespelle Batter

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 cup all purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

Ricotta filling

1 8 ounce container part skim ricotta cheese

8 ounces shredded mozarella, divided

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh italian parsley

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic and sautee until just lightly browned. Add the crushed tomatoes, and simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring often.  (you will be making the crepes and filling while this is cooking)  Add the wine, salt, pepper and herbs and simmer 10 more minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon basil for garnish.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients for ricotta filling, reserving 1/2 of the mozzarella.  Store in refrigerator until you finish the crepes.

Make the crepes by whisking together the eggs, milk and slightly cooled melted butter in a chilled mixing bowl. Gradually whisk in the flour and salt until the mixture is smooth. Lightly coat an 8 inch nonstick skillet with olive oil and place the pan over medium heat. With a 1/4 cup measuring cup or small ladle, pour the batter in the middle of the pan. Turn the pan at an angle and shake from side to side to coat the entire bottom of the pan with batter. Cook only about 30 seconds, or until lightly browned on bottom. Turn crepe over with a large spatula and cook 20 – 30  seconds more. Stack the crepes on a plate lined with waxed paper between each layer.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch pan with with 2 cups of the marinara sauce. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the ricotta about an inch from the end of each crepe. Roll evenly into a tube, keeping the filling even as you roll. Place seam side down in the sauce filled pan. Repeat with the remaining crepes. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over top of the manicotti, then sprinkle remaining mozarella over top. Cover loosely with foil and bake approximately 20 minutes, until the sides of the pan are bubbling. Let sit 10 minutes to firm up the filling. Top each serving with reserved fresh basil.

Amazingly Easy Potato Soup

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It has been a great Sunday – a lazy, stay in my pajamas, I dont want to do anything but sit on the sofa on my computer day. Then my daughter comes upstairs and says  “I want soup…. potato soup”.  At that moment, it sounded like the perfect thing to have for dinner.  This soup is so simple and easy to make –  savory and full of flavor – it will be your new go-to soup.  You will be amazed how good it is for so little work!

Ingredients

4 large potatoes

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1 cup chopped onion

2 cups half and half or milk

3 – 4  cups chicken or vegetable broth

sea salt and pepper to taste

optional – chopped green onion tops and shredded cheddar, if desired for garnish

Peel and cube potatoes. Place in medium saucepan with celery, carrots and onion.

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Add enough broth to not quite cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. Using a potato masher, coarsely crush the potatoes, but don’t mash them – you want some chunks left. Add enough half and half to thin soup to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. (about a teaspoon or two of salt – maybe more.) Makes 4 generous servings.

Nutrition info per serving: 345 calories, 2.6 grams of fat, 10 grams protein, 9.2 grams fiber

Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

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It is almost three weeks since the New Years’ “no more sugar” resolutions and that’s about long enough to go without some tasty bakery treats. The after the holidays pantry is always an assortment of odd holday and Christmas dinner leftover ingredients that I don’t want to save for a year and re use. I know canned goods are suposed to last for years but I am just not a fan of making dinner out of a three year old jumbo can of sweet potatoes. I checked out the far reaches of the pantry today and here were three of my favorite ingredients: Trader Joe’s  canned pumpkin, Ghirardelli mini chocolate chips, and Trader Joe’s candied walnuts, After checking out a couple of recipies online, I adapted one to fit what I had.

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The result is an amazing cookie – puffy, soft and cake-like. Amazing pumpkin flavor and the candied walnuts give it an interesting crunchy sweet texture. You can always skip the walnuts if you are not nuts about nuts…

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cups granulated sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

1 egg

1 can solid-pack pumpkin

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

1 1/2 cups semi sweet mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup candied walnuts

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine sugars, vegetable oil, pumpkin and vanilla. Mix on medium for about 1 minute. Add egg, mixing until just combined.

In a medium size mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until combined. Remove bowl from stand and fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts by hand.

Scoop by 1/8 cup onto prepared cookie sheets and place in oven to bake for 10-12 minutes or until the tops are firm and light brown in color. Remove from oven and allow to cool on sheets for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container or refrigerate.

Ghirardelli Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Susan:

These are still my favorite Christmas cookie….and they couldn’t be any easier to make. The oatmeal makes them **a tiny bit** healthier than a lot of your Christmas favorites….

Originally posted on Berries and Cocoa:

These are my all time favorite christmas cookie. My grandma made an amazing oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, which I think was a variation of a recipe she found on a Quaker Oats box years ago. My favorite chocolate for baking is Ghirardelli (if I had to choose one…) They make 60% cacao bittersweet, semi sweet and milk chocolate chips. I use a mixture of the bittersweet and semi sweet in this recipe because I think it gives a more rounded flavor to the cookies. After I mix up a batch, I stick them in the refrigerator for an hour or so to chill the batter before using a medium cookie scoop to make a 2 inch round ball. The chilling and using the cookie scoop to scoop them out makes a perfectly puffed cookie with crispy browned edges and a chewy inside.

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I love these stoneware cookie sheets from the…

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Pumpkin Macadamia Cheesecake

Susan:

I am making this for Thanksgiving – along with pumpkin pie and something chocolate ….

Originally posted on Berries and Cocoa:

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I had an old recipe for pumpkin cheesecake that used a pre made graham cracker crumb pie tin (I told you it was old!) I did some experimenting and I came up with this easy and much tastier alternative: fresh graham cracker crumbs , butter and macadamia nuts. I added my latest favorite ingredient – Torani Caramel Sauce – and the results are amazing!

Ingredients:

1/3 cup melted unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts

16 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

2 large eggs

Torani Caramel Sauce (find it here: http://www.webstaurantstore.com)

fresh whipped cream

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt butter in microwave, then stir in graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar and macadamia…

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Roasted Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar and Pecans

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This month I am writing exclusively about Thanksgiving recipes – why not? We are planning on trying some new things this year to shake things up. Beef instead of the big turkey, some new sides, and a pumpkin cheesecake – recipe to follow. My dad, who is an awesome cook, will be doing a lot of the cooking and is bringing some of his longtime favorite recipes. Every couple of days I will try something different and share my favorites…this is a new favorite and not just for turkey day…

Ingedients:

2 acorn squash

4 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons maple syrup

6 pats unsalted butter

4 tablespoons chopped pecans

Pinch each ( about 1/4 teaspoon) of ground cloves and nutmeg

Directions:

Trim ends so the squash will lay flat while baking. Wash, then cut each squash in half and clean out the centers. Score each half vertically and diagonally with a sharp knife. Salt and pepper each half.  In order, sprinkle 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1½ pats of butter, pinch each of cloves and nutmeg, and 1 tablespoon pecans in cavity of each squash half. Bake at 350°F until fork tender, about 30 minutes. Here are the ingredients…and this is what it should look like right before it goes in the oven. If you like, you can cut into quarters to serve – so your guests will have enough room on their plate for everything!

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