Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Giada's Farmer Pasta - Loosen Your Belts, Friends

I had the pleasure of hosting dinner the other night with a dear friend from high school.  I hadn't seen my friend Heidi in years and since she's living the academic life in Boston (my buddy does research at Harvard which makes me awesome by proxy!), I decided to bake something rich and awesome.

That "something" was originally going to be crockpot beef stew, but as I was sitting on my ass in the living room on Monday night prior to Heidi's arrival, I just couldn't get excited about beef stew ... at that moment, it seemed like a Sunday thing, not something you serve in the middle of the week.  (Do not ask me where I get my arbitrary rules.)  So I found myself flipping through "Giada's Kitchen" and one of Rachael Ray's cookbooks (note: thank you to my "moms" - Gloria and Sharon for getting these for me) and I came across this Farmer's Pasta dish by Giada.

Oh dear God ... first and foremost - this dish demonstrates that there is no such thing as too much cheese.  Secondly, this dish is making me long for the gym because I can just feel my ass getting bigger with every bite and thirdly - I was "meh" on the first day, slightly smitten on the second day's leftovers and ready to embark on a love affair with this dish on the third day when I warmed some up for breakfast/ brunch.  It is an entree that just gets better after sitting in the fridge and letting the flavors meld.

The pain in the ass factor of this dish (beyond what it's doing to my waistline) is kind of high.  I mean - I'm bound to grate a knuckle when I haul out the box grater, so there's always that danger factor.  But I cannot stress the outcome - it is worth it.  And I am only making this dish for special occasions ... but man ...

Farmer's Pasta
adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis


    * Cooking spray, for greasing pan
    * 2 tablespoons (or more) olive oil
    * 6 ounces pancetta, chopped (**you can use bacon ... I probably would the next time)
    * 4 teaspoons minced garlic
    * 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    * 4 cups whole milk
    * 3 cups heavy whipping cream
    * 8 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
    * 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated
    * 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
    * 6 ounces provolone cheese, cubed
    * 1 pound penne pasta
    * 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
    * Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    * 1 cup fresh coarse bread crumbs (**I used panko breadcrumbs ... not sure I'd do that again)


Grease a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and saute until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a small bowl. Reduce the heat to medium. Add 3 teaspoons of garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and whisk for 2 minutes (you want to cook the raw flour taste off). Gradually whisk in the milk and cream. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Gradually whisk in the Fontina, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until almost al dente, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. (The pasta will continue cooking in the oven.) Drain pasta and add directly into the cheese. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, basil, provolone and pancetta and toss to coat. Season the pasta mixture, to taste, with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared dish.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat. Add the bread crumbs and toss to coat. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the pasta mixture. Drizzle the top with extra-virgin olive oil and bake until the sauce bubbles and the bread crumbs are golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Tis the Season: Nigella's Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Are you getting nervous yet?  It is the DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS!  Meh - as far as I'm concerned, my planning, my fretting and my actual work all goes downhill at this point.  Christmas starts for me today with a time-honored tradition: Christmas Eve with my dad's side of the family.

It's kind of funny - when I was a kid, I know I enjoyed the holiday from the sheer presents side of the equation.  Family was an additional bonus - for my dad's side of the family, Christmas Eve was one of those times where I'd get to see my cousins from out-of-town.  It also meant lefse and my Grandma Phyllis's beef stew (I think I was a foodie at birth ...).  But then as I grew up, Christmas changed meaning ... my rebellious teenage self didn't really like the get-togethers where my dad and his siblings would talk and talk and TALK and talk, usually ignoring us kids who would then conspire to throw my cousin Larry into a snowbank.  No kidding - this happened a couple years in a row until Larry shot up over six feet in height.

Then there was the year that I actually missed the Christmas Eve get together.  I was probably 24 or 25 and I had pulled the short straw to work Christmas Eve at the newspaper in Wisconsin.  So I hung out with my then-boyfriend, but my mind kept wandering to what my family would be doing at that time (eating and talking, perhaps?).  And as cheesy as it sounds, I promised myself that year that I wouldn't miss Christmas Eve again.  I can't guarantee that things won't come up, but I missed the simplicity of tradition that year.  I would have given my right arm to chat at my Uncle Gary about some obscure book or musician from the 1960s or to talk to my Uncle Bruce about movies.  I missed the hugs that I get from my aunts.  I missed the prayers that usually come from my Uncle Steve or my Aunt Robin.  I especially missed my Grandpa Bob ... he's the patriarch of the family.  He doesn't usually say much, but it's nice to have him near.  Every once in awhile, he'll just chuckle to himself and that's when I realize that me being random doesn't really have anything to do with me just being me - being random in a birthright in my family ...

So if you're reading this on Christmas Eve and are a little pressed for time, here's a recipe from my favorite Brit, Nigella Lawson.  (BTW - she's gorgeous. I know that's random, but it's so refreshing to see a woman who actually looks like she eats the food that she cooks on food TV.  She is God's gift to men and women alike.  Sorry - RANDOM!)

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
by Nigella Lawson


    * 2 1/4 sticks (18 Tbsp.) soft butter
    * 3/4 cup sugar
    * 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    * 2 cups all-purpose flour
    * 1/2 tsp. baking soda
    * 1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat the oven to 325° and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl and, when you have a light, soft whipped mixture, beat in the 1/3 cup cocoa powder (sifting if it is lumpy) and, when that's mixed in, beat in the flour with the baking soda and baking powder.

Pinch off pieces about 1 tablespoon in size, roll them into balls, then slightly flatten into fat discs as you place them, well spaced, on cookie sheets. You should get about 12 on at a time.

Bake each batch for 15 minutes.  Move to a cool surface and let sit for a bit before moving them to wire racks.


I found this recipe on and Nigella suggests topping these cookies with a chocolate frosting.  Although I am loathe to argue with the domestic goddess, I had some leftover powdered sugar frosting from my cutout cookies and just slathered that on top of the finished goods.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

'Tis the Season: Poor Man's Turtles

Candy intimidates the hell out of me.  And to be brutally honest?  I really suck at making it.  Just ask my father ... I made fudge for him one year that didn't set.  Although he assured me that it made a really good ice cream topping, I wouldn't blame him if he simply pitched it.  And then there was the caramel making incident of 2007.  I had such great intentions and they just sucked.  So while I call these candies the "poor man's turtle," I should really rename this post "the lazy girl's solution for trying to make candy that won't be an absolute fail."

That works for me.  So do these.

Poor Man's Turtles

small mini pretzels
chocolate covered caramel candies (**Although ShelleyBakes does not believe in name brand products, I can't imagine using anything but Rolos.  Find them.  Buy them.  Try not to eat all of them before the "candymaking" is done.)
pecan halves

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).  Arrange the pretzels in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Place one chocolate covered caramel candy on each pretzel.  Bake for 4 minutes. While the candy is warm, press a pecan half onto each candy covered pretzel. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Basically - make these until you're impatient or until you're out of Rolos.  Then your work is done.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the Season: Rosemary Roasted Cashews

My advice when it comes to this recipe? Make this ... now. Do not pass go, do not hesitate to get into your car and get the ingredients necessary at the grocery store. If you absolutely need to, come on over and I'll spare you some sprigs of rosemary.

One note though ...  I combined the ingredients as listed by my beloved Ina, but it caused some major clumpage that was unattractive in the finished product.  When I do this again (and I have four pounds of cashews waiting to be turned into this rosemary roasted goodness in my pantry), I'd combine the dry ingredients, dump in the roasted nuts and then drizzle the butter on top and combine everything together.

These yummy treats are going to my friends who are on Santa's good list.  You know who you are.

Rosemary Roasted Cashews
by Ina Garten

1 1/4 pounds cashew nuts
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon melted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the nuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until they are warmed through. Meanwhile, combine the rosemary, pepper, sugar, salt and butter in a large bowl. Toss the warm nuts with the rosemary mixture until the nuts are completely coated. Serve warm.  (If you make the nuts ahead of time, you can simply rewarm them briefly in a hot oven.)

But trust me ... these are just as good cold. :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

'Tis the Season: Gloria's Glorious Snack Mix

Although I have a laundry list of reasons why I give thanks for my mom-in-law Gloria, there are two that are forefront in my mind.  1) She gave birth to my husband and if that wasn't enough, she taught the boy how to properly do dishes and his own laundry.  God bless ya, Gloria.  2) She is as addicted to cookbooks and recipes as I am.

(I read that to my husband to make sure there wasn't anything overly offensive and he was like "are you looking for a certain Christmas present?"  I tell you this, he did not get his sense of sarcasm from his momma.)

Anyway - over Thanksgiving, Gloria concocted a snack mix - dried cranberries, almonds, peanuts, white chocolate chips and sesame snacks.  I'm not sure where the recipe came from, but my God - I think I can safely say that I gained about five pounds from eating this snack mix, along with all of the other food I managed to gorge myself on over the holiday.

I am planning to send some care packages to some of my friends who are out of state or no where the immediate vicinity of my kitchen.  This is making it into little treat bags ... if I don't eat all of it first.

Gloria's Glorious Snack Mix

measurements are approximate and can be tailored to your liking

regular package of Craisins dried cranberries
1 can of dry roasted peanuts
3 c. sesame sticks (**if you have no clue what I'm talking about, this is what they look like.  I found mine in the natural foods section of the grocery store in the bulk foods aisle.)
3/4 pkg of white chocolate chips

Mix together and store in an airtight container.  Both Gloria and I had some almonds in our pantries that we wanted to get rid of, so we chucked them into the mix.  I prefer to use unsalted almonds.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

'Tis the Season: Grandma Sophie's Cutout Cookies

While all my food blogging friends have been all awesome and getting ahead of the eight-ball when it comes to baking (ahem, Renee!), I have to admit that I have to be in a certain mood when it comes to preparing holiday fare.  Forget holiday music, that mood is usually sheer panic as in "oh shit, I need to finish those cookies for my husband's coworkers!" 

The other day I bought some beer (very conducive to baking) and a ton of groceries.  The recipes you'll see this week are going to be "gifts" that will be given to family, friends, etc.  There's even liquor involved, beyond the beer I drank to create these treasures ...

Thank you all for reading. Thank you to the food bloggers who inspire me and to my family members who share recipes with me.  I hope that you all have a blessed holiday season ...


I think the biggest connection that I have to my family and to those that I've lost over the years are the recipes that get handed down from generation to generation.  I do not remember a time (except when my mom fooled my dad and I with cutout cookies from U-Bake ... she claims it was dad who got pissed off at the substitution but I kinda remember throwing an absolute hissy fit that year ...) that these weren't a part of my mom's Christmas baking repertoire.

This recipe comes from my grandma Sophie.  Unfortunately for me and for the rest of her grandkids, Grandma Sophie was only with us for a short time and passed on in 1984.  Sometimes it is hard for me to remember what she looked like, but when I think about my grandma I think about cream soda, homemade Play-Doh, kindness and when I make these cookies, I let myself think that she's in the kitchen with me and probably shaking her head from the time in my novice cooking experience when I substituted butter for margarine.  Don't do it.  Just trust me.

Believe it or not, my favorite way to eat these cookies are plain ... don't need icing, don't need dusting sugar. Just give me stack of stars and I'll be a happy camper.

Sophie's Christmas Cutouts

4 cups flour                      
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt                                       
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup butter (no substitutes!)                 
1 tsp. soda
4 egg yolks                                           
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix the flour, salt and butter like piecrust.  Next cream egg yolks and sugar together.  Mix soda and sour cream, add to second mixture.  Then add to flour mixture.  Roll out and cut.

Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes until just brown on edge and set in middle.  Cool and frost. 

The following notes are from my momma:  "Have Joe and Cody up to shake on the sugars. (Those are my nephews ... they're a treat.)  I use powdered sugar frosting, but you can use white frosting already prepared too.  there are no better cookies in the world HOWEVER I did fool your dad one year and used u-bake cookies ... he was really pissed when I broke the news to him ... shit happens and I'm short on time."

I love you ma - as far as I'm concerned, you're the best cook in the world. :)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Turkey Dressing Sandwiches: One Fugly Looking Dish

When I made Michael Chiarello's Citrus Roasted Turkey pre-Thanksgiving, I really had one end-goal in mind: I'd be making a dish from my childhood that reminded me of Saturday's spent at my grandpa's auctions and utilized two classic elements from a basic turkey dinner - bird and stuffing. 

My grandpa Stan was an auctioneer in Northeast Iowa and when I got old enough to not be a total nuisance, many of my weekends were spent in opera houses, farmsteads and at homes, watching as my grandpa and his auctioneer partners called the auctions.  Grandpa's been gone for a few years now but I can hear his singsong voice - a little abraded by the Camel non-filters that he preferred but never tiring as he'd point to the spectators in the crowd and tracked the bids.  There was always something exciting about when a bid would conclude: "Twenty-nine and a HALF!"  I am grinning just remembering my grandpa's voice and seeing him on the auction wagon, his white hat on his head at an inimitable angle.  My grandpa could really wear a hat.

So while my grandpa never made turkey dressing sandwiches (he was in charge of the ham at Easter time), the food wagons at his auctions always stocked these delicacies that seem synonymous to me with the Midwest and fall afternoons spent at auction.  Upon making the recipe, I found it's a rather simple one - leftover turkey, a bag of sage and onion dressing, lots of celery, a big 'ol onion and some chicken or turkey stock.  I also rediscovered that turkey dressing sandwiches are pretty damn ugly looking and that they are up there as one of my husband's favorite foods.   It looks like nostalgia will turn into a regular occurrence at my house. :)

Turkey Dressing Sandwiches
adapted from

Bake turkey; take off bone (it will string).
In saucepan, combine: 10 c. chicken or turkey brother with lots of chopped celery (used 4 stalks) and onion (used 1 large).

Boil for 15 minutes. Put turkey bits in a large roaster. Put 1 large bag Brownberry sage and onion stuffing mix on top of turkey. Pour broth on top. Bake at 350 degrees until heated through. Stir while heating, making sure it is moist. You may have to add more broth. Serve on buns.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

PW's Beef Stew with Mushrooms

Have you ever seen a recipe on a website or a food blog that you could. not. wait. to make that very day for supper, second breakfast, lunch - whatever?  That was the case a couple weeks ago when I was on The Pioneer Woman's website and saw her recipe for Beef Stew with Mushrooms.  For once in my life, I actually had beef in the house - I had found some amazing steaks at Target when my husband and I were doing some post-rush Black Friday shopping - they were close to the expiration date, so they were reduced to $1.00 a lb and were a welcome addition to the freezer bags full of turkey stock that I had in the freezer. (Mi casa cannot live on turkey stock alone ...)  All I needed was beef consomme the mushrooms and voila!  This was one of the most amazing meals I've made in awhile.

The Pioneer Woman's Beef Stew with Mushrooms
Very loosely adapted from Ree Drummond

1 lb. beef stew meat (sirloin - cut into cubes - again, I just used a steak I happened to have in my freezer)

1 T. Flour
2 T. Butter
1 T. Olive Oil
1 shallot, minced
1 sm. onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. cremini or white button mushrooms
½ c. red wine
1 can Beef Consomme
Salt And Pepper (to Taste)
Pasta - Cooked And Drained
2 sprigs Fresh Rosemary
2 T. Flour

Preparation Instructions:  Sprinkle flour over meat. Toss to coat.  Melt butter with olive oil in heavy pot. Sear meat over high heat in batches; remove to a plate when brown.  Add shallots, onion and garlic to pan (without cleaning); saute for 2 minutes over medium-low heat.  Add mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in wine and consomme. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir.  Bring to a boil, then add browned meat. Reduce heat to low. Add rosemary sprigs to pot.

Cover and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. After that time, mix 2 tablespoons flour with a little water and pour into the stew. Allow to cook and thicken for ten more minutes.  Turn off heat and allow stew to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Ree notes that this dish is also good over mashed potatoes.  I am fearful of trying this, because I think that I would make this dish for every day in a week to eat it over potatoes.  So yeah - pasta was a good start for this.  Rice would also be good ...


Anyone who has spent a modicum of time talking cooking with me realizes that I pretty much adore Ree Drummond.  I am now grappling with whether or not I want to be Ree when I grow up or if I should be Tina Fey or Ina Garten. 

But since I am still me, I have a confession to make.  As much as I love Ree, I missed an opportunity to meet with her when she visited Minneapolis before Thanksgiving to sign copies of her cookbook "The Pioneer Woman Cooks."  Or I should amend that statement - I actually went up to the Mall of America for her book signing, but silly me didn't realize that the rest of the people in love with Ree would start showing up at 7 a.m.!  So when I arrived 15 minutes after the 1 p.m. book signing began, the line was already two hours long.  So as much as I adore the Pioneer Woman, I am not known for patience and I had a 4 p.m. date with my friend Deb.  We needed to see Taylor Lautner shirtless.  Sorry Ree!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Guest Post: Bubble Pizza

My friend Deb and I go back to fifth-grade when she moved into our school district and was the "new girl" in school.  So we knew each other throughout junior high and high school, but it was the summer after our graduation that we really became close and we've remained close throughout college and throughout our lives after school.  Deb is that friend who I email to ask random marriage advice ("What should I do when my husband changes the radio station in my car without asking me first and he pisses me off?" "Do I really need to trade in my car to get a more family-friendly vehicle?")  Deb's never afraid to tell me when I'm being an absolute idiot (see emailed questions above) and her advice is usually spot-on and stellar.  Plus, she's a brilliant mom and a loving wife with two equally brilliant kids and a crazy addiction to all things Pearl Jam.  That makes her even cooler in my book.

Deb's shared an old family favorite for today's guest post.  And this is making me salivate - it's simple, easy, and kid-friendly. 

Bubble Pizza
from Deb

1 lb ground beef
2 tubes buttermilk biscuits (I think generic works best)
1 C cheddar cheese
1 C Mozzerella cheese (I use the 'pizza' cheese mix...if you really like cheese you can use more.)
1 can (16 oz) pizza sauce

Brown ground beef, drain.  Quarter the biscuits; mix with ground beef and pizza sauce.  Put into a 9x13 pan.  Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with cheeses.  Bake for 8-10 minutes more.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

This is an OLD favorite for our family and gives us 2 meals for about $8.00.  You can also experiment with adding things like mushrooms, peppers, etc.  I haven't met anyone who didn't like this - especially kids!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Guest Post: Lentil BBQs

ShelleyBakes has been feeling exceedingly lazy lately and keeps forgetting to snap pictures with her meals (unless they are incredibly fugly, in that case - she purposely forgets to take a picture of said stuff.).  OK - wow, I'm going to stop referring to myself in third-person ... anyway - lucky for me, my buddy Deb sent me a couple recipes that are in her family's repertoire -- I love you as much as I love lentils Deb, and that's a lot. :)

Lentil BBQs

From Deb

2 cups lentils or 2 lbs ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, or a mix)
3 T butter (2 T if using meat)
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup ketchup or tomato sauce
½ cup water
2 T brown sugar
2 T lemon juice
1 T Worcestershire Sauce
1 T vinegar
½ tsp mustard (any kind – I usually use spicy brown)

For lentils: pick over, rinse, and put in pan with enough water to cover by about 1 inch.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until tender (about ½ hour – 40 minutes).  Drain.

For meat: brown in pan and drain.

Combine cooked lentils or meat in crock pot with rest of ingredients, mix, and cover.  Cook on low 4+ hours.  Serve on buns, over rice, with pasta with chips, in a tortilla, or whatever else you can think of.  It can even just be eaten by itself!