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.

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Manicotti with Fresh Basil and Parsley

Manicotti

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.

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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Mini Pumpkin Custards

mini pumpkin custards

These little treats are a great substitute for pumpkin pie – and with only 150 calories, 1.5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein – you don’t have to save them for a special meal like Thanksgiving.

adapted from Very Best Baking

Ingredients:

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin

1 can (12 ounces) Evaporated Fat Free Milk

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugars, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves and salt in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and dry ingredients. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour evenly into 6 ounce ramekins and place on baking sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until soft-set (knife inserted into ramekin comes out almost clean). Cool on wire rack for two hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel, if desired. pumpkincustards

Dark Chocolate Dipped Madelines

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The idea for this recipe came from Starbucks -they discontinued my favorite chocolate dipped madeleines and now just have the plain ones. Then I found this amazing product – Ghirardelli Dark Melting Wafers – that made this recipe even easier to make.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1/3 cup sugar

4 ounces Ghirardelli Dark Melting Wafers

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 degrees if using a dark metallic nonstick madeleine pan). Melt butter in microwave. Let cool for 5 minutes then brush butter lightly into each madeleine plaque. Let remaining butter cool another 5-10 minutes until just warm. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Combine egg, lemon peel, vanilla bean paste, almond extract and sugar and beat for 15-20 seconds at medium speed. Stir into flour mixture and beat a few seconds more. Add reserved butter and mix thoroughly until just combined. (do not over mix) Spoon into molds of pan, dividing equally (each mold should be a little more than half full) Bake 12-14 minutes until just golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes, then unmold and transfer to wire rack to cool thoroughly. Melt chocolate in a glass Pyrex measuring cup in microwave. Dip each madeleine in glass cup and set on wax paper to dry. These are best served the same day, or you can store in airtight container an additional day or two.

Gooey Butter Cake – a St. Louis original!

Gooey Butter Close Up

This weekend the hubs and I are invited to a friend’s Octoberfest party and of course everyone is supposed to bring German food to share.  We both have some German ancestors, but I rarely, if ever, cook German food. So I was wracking my brain to think of German dishes as I was browsing recipes on my laptop while sitting in front of the television watching baseball – then inspiration hit. Watching my favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, made me think of all of the uniquely St. Louis foods I remember eating growing up. My favorite was an awesomely decadent treat called Gooey Butter Cake.

Like most urban legends, there are several different versions of how it was created and each probably has some element of truth to it. This is how Wikipedia describes it: Gooey butter cake is a type of cake traditionally made in the American Midwest city of St. Louis. Gooey butter cake is a flat and dense cake made with wheat cake flour, butter, sugar, and eggs, typically near an inch tall, and dusted with powdered sugar. While sweet and rich, it is somewhat firm, and is able to be cut into pieces similarly to a brownie. Gooey butter cake is generally served as a type of coffee cake and not as a formal dessert cake. There are two distinct variants of the gooey butter: a bakers’ gooey butter and a cream cheese and a yellow cake mix variant. The cake was supposedly first made by accident in the 1930s by a St. Louis-area German American baker who was trying to make regular cake batter but reversed the proportions of butter and flour. John Hoffman was the owner of the bakery where the mistake was made. The real story is there are two types of butter “smears” used in a bakery: a gooey butter and a deep butter. The deep butter was used for deep butter coffee cakes. The gooey butter was used as an adhesive for things like Danish rolls and stollens. The gooey butter was smeared across the surface, then the item was placed in coconut, hazelnuts, peanuts, crumbs or whatever was desired so they would stick to the product. Hoffman hired a new baker that was supposed to make deep butter cakes, but got the two butter smears mixed up. The mistake wasn’t caught until after the cakes came out of the proof box. Rather than throw them away, Hoffman went ahead and baked them up. This was around the time of the Great Depression so that was another reason to be thrifty. The new type of cake sold so well, Hoffman kept producing them and soon, so did the other bakers around St. Louis. Today, the best place in St. Louis to buy it is here…

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This is Gooey Louie’s…yes an ENTIRE STORE dedicated to Gooey Butter Cake!

Tthey sell about 10 different variations in addition to the original recipe..my favorites are Chocolate Chip and “Hwy 40: Driving Me Nuts”.

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The version I make is the “shortcut” version with yellow cake mix but honestly I have made it from scratch and with cake mix and the taste is almost identical. Try it and you can call yourself a St. Louisan for a day…then tell me if you can stop at just one piece!

Susan’s St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

Ingredients:

1 box yellow cake mix

3 large eggs, divided

8 ounces unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or good quality vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 by 9 inch or 9 by 11 inch baking pan with nonstick flour based spray.  In a medium sized bowl, combine yellow cake mix, 1 egg and melted butter. Press into pan with your fingers, making a crust up the sides. It should look like this:

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Use an electric mixer to blend cream cheese, 2 beaten eggs and 2 cups powdeded sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Pour into pan and bake 35-40 minutes or until edges are browned. Dust with remaining powdered sugar after cake has cooled. Serve at room temperature. Store in airtight cake safe at room temperature. We are off to the party – hope the Butterkuchen is a hit!

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Awesome Artisan Bread

Berries and Cocoa

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This bread is amazing. I have been making it for several years – and it always comes out great. This is truly the easiest to make, best tasting and cheapest (less than a dollar a loaf) bread you will ever make – and when I say easy – you might not want to tell your friends and family how really easy it is to make or they will expect you to make it ALL the time! There are only four ingredients and while it does take some planning, it is easy even for the novice baker. This bread is easy to prepare but you need to do it the night before you want to serve it as there is a long “resting” time – that is what makes this bread taste so great!  This recipe is adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Bread, available on Amazon.com.

Ingredients:

5  3/4 cups…

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