Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Baked Mini Ravioli in Creamy Lemon Sauce

I've recently succumbed to the addiction known as Pinterest.  I'm enjoying using it as a virtual corkboard for recipes I want to try (among other things I pin, such as fashions I'll never be thin enough to wear, home decor I'll never have enough money to buy, and sayings I wish I'd said first).  I do like looking at the popular boards and see the same thing getting pinned by many people.  

That's where I first saw this dish.  It hails from the blog "Our Best Bites" and when Sara posted it she used Barilla dried mini tortellini.  Well, for some reason, my daughter loves Trader Joe's mini raviolis but does not care for tortellini.  I personally feel like they are the same thing - small pasta, filled with cheese. But sometimes there is no reasoning with a three year old, so I decided just to go with her favorite pasta of all time and use the ravioli.  I guess what I am saying is you can use whatever cheese filled pasta you want here.   Quite frankly, you could use any pasta.

It's been pretty hot around here the last few days and a baked pasta didn't seem like a great idea by dinner time when the temps had been nearing 100 that day.  But I figured, "What the heck, the air conditioning is on, and I've got everything I need on hand to make this (and nothing defrosted)."  To say this wasn't one of my I-can't-wait-to-make-it dishes of the week, would be an understatement.  I really hadn't planned to blog about it.    Color me surprised, it was really much better than I anticipated.  I really chose it to be a quick, simple meal for one night when I wasn't in the mood to cook.  And it was probably my favorite meal of the week.  The lemon gave it an unexpected brightness and really lightened up what could have felt like a heavy meal.

Other than the pasta type, I made a few other variations to the original.  Instead of using just milk, I used half milk and half chicken broth. I typically always substitute dried herbs for fresh.  And I also halved the recipe for our small family.  The original says it feeds 4-6, but I fed three with a half recipe and had leftovers for lunch the next day.
This is definitely a make-again dish.  Really anytime I can get my daughter to eat spinach, the dish is a win.

Baked Mini Ravioli with Creamy Lemon Sauce
adapted from Our Best Bites
8 oz mini cheese filled ravioli
2 slices bacon or pancetta
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 cup grated parmesan, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add ravioli and cook for three minutes less than package instructions, so they are slightly underdone.

Place bacon in a medium sized skillet and cook over medium-high heat.  Cook until crisp, remove from pan, and set aside to drain on paper towels.   Reserve two tablespoons of bacon drippings in pan and discard the rest.   Add garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.   Add flour to pan and stir with a whisk for about 1 minute.   Slowly add milk and broth and continue to stir with whisk until smooth.  Add salt, pepper, basil and red pepper flakes.  Bring sauce to a boil.   When the sauce has thickened, remove the sauce from the heat and add the lemon zest and lemon juice.

Drain the pasta and place it back in the stock pot.  Reserve 1 tablespoon of the cooked bacon and add the rest to the pasta mixture.  Add spinach, 1/4 cup mozzarella, 1/4 cup of parmesan, and the sauce to the pasta.  Stir to combine.  Place pasta mixture into a baking dish and top with remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella, 1/4 cup parmesan and bacon.

Cover dish with foil* and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and pasta is bubbly.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

*If you want your foil to come off of the hot, melty cheese later, spray it with some cooking spray first.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Baked Artichoke Dip

Last week we went on vacation.  Before we go away, I like to run down our perishable groceries to the bare minimum.   On one of the last days in town, I didn't have much for lunch in house, so we had appetizers for lunch.  Which we love to do!

I had some artichokes on hand, but no spinach, so I made baked artichoke dip.  I could only work with what I had so I did a search of recipes that required closest to what I had on hand.   I found a recipe for artichoke bread on Closet Cooking, which I have had bookmarked for a while.   I made very few changes, I guess the biggest one being that I didn't bake the dip on the bread.   To be honest, at first I didn't have a baguette.  I was going to serve it with some crackers.  But as it was coming together, I decided to send my husband out for fresh bread.  

Also, in my  little game of "use it up", I didn't have any fresh mozzarella.  So I substituted three of my daughters mozzarella cheese sticks and ended up mixing the entire concoction up in my food processor.  It worked out very well.  And I was very happy with the dip.  I am not going to recommend you make yours with mozzarella sticks, I'm just saying in a pinch it can work.   I had a little more than I needed for two people, so I packaged the other half and put it in the freezer.  I'm not sure yet if that is going to work out for me, but I'll update this post and let you know when I find out.

Baked Artichoke Dip
inspired by Closet Cooking Artichoke Bread

1 12 ounce jar artichoke hearts, drained
2 green onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
3 ounces mozzarella cheese, diced or grated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1 loaf French or Italian bread, sliced for serving

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the artichoke hearts, green onions, garlic, cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, mozzarella and half the parmesan cheese until well combined.  Transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.   Serve with bread slices (and a glass of wine!).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Grilled Vegetable Couscous

Last summer, I learned to love Israeli couscous.  And this dish has become my favorite vehicle for it.   Couscous is a shaped semolina pasta.  It can be used similarly to rice or small pasta shapes.  It is higher in nutrition than other grain based products, though.  This is an added bonus when I see my daughter enjoying it.

The weather was in the high 80's/ low 90's at the end of last week so I thought it would be great to bust out my favorite warm weather side dish this week.   Except, with two kids underfoot, I don't religiously check in on the weather channel.  So today was in the low 60's.   C'est la vie.  I grilled inside on my grill pan (I love that thing!)

This recipe is originally from a Bobby Flay recipe I found on foodnetwork.com.  All the veggies were balsamic marinated and it had a balsamic dressing on it.  I thought the dressing totally overwhelmed the taste of the fresh vegetables.  So I just grill all the veggies in olive oil, salt and pepper.   I like to toss in some fresh herbs at the end, whatever I have on hand.  Tonight I had some parsley, chives and scallions. I also just throw in whatever veggies I have on hand.  But I always include zucchini, mushrooms and red onions.  Sometimes I have summer squash or asparagus.  I actually had some asparagus on hand and forgot!  I use whatever mushrooms I have, usually button or baby bella mushrooms.   Tonight I used large portabellas.

I can't say enough how much I love this dish.  It's great warm or cold.  It's a great option to have on hand for summer picnics since it has no mayonnaise in it.  It makes plenty so that when we have it for dinner, I have plenty to have for lunch during the week.

Grilled Vegetable Couscous
loosely based on recipe by Bobby Flay
1 large zucchini, sliced into rounds
1 large portabella mushroom, sliced
1 large red onion, sliced into disks
1 large red pepper
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 cup Israeli couscous
2 cups chicken broth

Brush the zucchini, mushrooms and red onion with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Grill over med-high heat until they are softened but still have some firmness to them.  Dice the vegetables and set aside.

Grill the red pepper over high heat until charred on all sides. When finished, place in a zip top bag for 5 minutes.  Remove from the bag and remove the charred skin.  Dice the pepper and set aside.

Add some olive oil to a sauce pan set over medium-high heat.  Add the couscous and toast until light brown.  Cover the couscous with chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Cook until al dente.  Drain, if necessary, although my liquid is usually all absorbed by this point.  Keep a close eye on your couscous as it cooks quick.

Toss the couscous and vegetables together in a large bowl and add fresh chopped herbs.  Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I am not a beer drinker.  My husband, loves a cold beer on a hot summer day.  When I'm not having a cocktail, I really love lemonade.  Really love it.  Last summer, while pregnant with my son, I could have drowned myself in lemonade, it wouldn't have been enough.

But in Austria, I discovered a drink that is half beer and half lemonade.  It was perfect for me!  Its called a radler,  which is German for "rider".  We spent most of the spring of 2007 riding our bikes along the Danube.  We'd stop for lunch somewhere and my husband would have a beer and I'd enjoy a cold bottle of Radler.

Although I can't find bottled here in the US, there is nothing to stop me from making my own during the hot Atlanta summers.   Since its pretty much equal parts lemonade and beer, I thought I'd make my own lemonade.


For the lemonade: 
adapted from Ina Garten
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (from about 5-6 lemons)
1/2- 3/4 cups superfine sugar (I used regular granulated)
4 cups cold water

Pour all ingredients into a large pitcher and stir well.   

For the radler:

Fill glass half way with lemonade.  Top with pilsner style beer (I used Warsteiner).

To quote the lovely Ms. Garten, "How easy is that?"  This could really only be easier if you used store bought lemonade.   Enjoy!  

Friday, May 6, 2011

Gram's Spaghetti Sauce

Family recipes are treasures.   They are like a love letter to future generations. The taste of something familiar can bring back memories of happy times.  When the same recipes get made time and again, we honor the past and those who lovingly made these dishes for us over the years.

The "Gram" that this sauce is named after is not my grandmother.   She's the grandmother of my very good friends.  Lisa and Phil, who married in 2000, are like family to me.  I was their maid of honor.  Phil's mom, Paula, and Grandma Mary treated me like family from the first time I met them at Lisa's wedding shower.

One year, Paula was kind enough to have me at her home for the holidays.  Back then, none of her three kids had children.  Phil was the only one who was married.   Even then it seemed like a lot of people.  I can only imagine what her house looks like now around Christmas.  With a few more spouses, three grandkids and another on the way added to the mix, I'm sure its blissfully full at their house.  Paula works tirelessly to feed her family.

Among other things, Paula makes this sauce, her mothers recipe, when everyone comes into town.   The smell of this sauce fills the kitchen.  I spent much of that visit in the kitchen with Paula.  She was kind enough to share her recipe with me and its been the only sauce I've made since.   Sure, sometimes I throw together a quick red sauce on the fly.  But if I want to spend a day making a batch of sauce, this is the one.  I've adopted it into my own family of recipes.

Be warned, this makes a lot of sauce.  You'll want a very large pot.  If you are feeding a small army over a week of holiday festivities, its probably just the right amount.  But since I only feed 3 in my house, I freeze a lot of this for later.   I love having it on hand for a quick spaghetti dinner or to make my lasanga.  The genius of this sauce is the long simmer with a whole onion.  Also, the addition of pork ribs in the simmer stage impart a lot of flavor.  Finally - as Phil puts it - "LOP" (lots of pepper), is a must.

While I may not see Paula much any more, and Grandma Mary has since passed away, when I make this sauce I think of these wonderful women, the good times I have shared with them and I am thankful for their generous hearts.  ♥

Gram's Spaghetti Sauce
courtesy of Mary Liptak and Paula Olshanski
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small cans tomato paste
5 (15 oz) cans tomato sauce, plus 3/4 can of water PER can of sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons basil
1 tablespoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1 whole onion, peeled
2 pork ribs, browned on outside (optional)

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large stock pot.  Add diced onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add tomato paste and mix with the onions to combine.   Stir in tomato sauce and water, stir to combine.   Add garlic, oregano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper.

Remove the outer paper and cut the stem end to remove the roots but leaving the core intact.
Nestle into the sauce with the pork ribs and simmer on low for as long as possible, but at least one hour, stirring frequently.  When the sauce is ready to come off the stove, remove the whole onion and pork and discard.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seared Scallops with Pea Puree

I've made all my own baby food for both of my kids.  I steam, puree and freeze all sorts of organic vegetables and fruits into little ice cubes so that I knew my little ones had the very best (and freshest) foods. There were very few exceptions to this, mostly when we traveled.  I had no way of packing up the frozen cubes and keeping them during a long day of travel.  So on those occasions I'd buy a few jars of Gerber when we got to our destination to carry us over for a few days.

A few months ago as my son started eating solids and I began making his purees, I was at Whole Foods one day getting new ideas for him.  There was a table set up and two women offering samples for a new baby food.  The concept was new to me.  Its called Nurturme and its simply pouches of freeze dried fruits or vegetables that mix with water.  What I loved were the pouches.  If I'm running out, I can throw a pouch in my bag and prepare it when we get to our destination.   It travels much better than jars.   I tried all four varieties and decided to buy a box of the peas.  If you look at the ingredients, it's just peas.  They tasted so amazingly fresh, better than any peas I'd had in a long time.

Well, last week, I wanted to make a pea puree to go under the scallops I was making for dinner.  The farmers market had NO peas!  I didn't want to use frozen (and certainly not canned!).  As I sat wondering what I could do, I remembered the freeze dried peas I had in my pantry.  I debated and debated, do I really want to use baby food for dinner?  What would my husband think?

Well I did it!  Not only was it prettier than frozen peas would have been, the taste is so amazingly vibrant and fresh.   I served the dish with some herbed basmati rice and steamed asparagus.  It was a perfect meal to get me in the mood for spring.   I know there are a lot of customers who use the powders to mix into toddler foods, but I am curious to see how I can utilize the other varieties in a family meal.

Seared Scallops 

1 pound dry sea scallops
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons oil
Kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Remove the side muscle from the scallops.   Clean with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.    Liberally salt and pepper both sides.

Add the butter and oil to a sauté pan and heat over high heat.   When the oil begins to smoke, gently add the scallops.  Don't crowd the pan, be sure they don't touch.  Sear for 1.5 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, mix the pea puree powder with water until desired consistency is reached.  Serve scallops over pea puree.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Strawberry Salad with Strawberry Champagne Vinaigrette

I love strawberry season. I really want to take my kids strawberry picking, but I'm having a hard time finding a farm that is organic.   Since strawberries are on the dirty dozen list, I don't want to pick berries grown with pesticides.

Our new house is walking distance to Whole Foods, though, and they were having a sale on organic strawberries.   I took an impromptu stroll over there one day after I found a recipe for strawberry champagne vinaigrette on Annie's Eats.   I could not wait to try it.  

Her salad is more simple than what I typically put into a strawberry salad.  She just used some spinach and sliced almonds with her sliced strawberries.   I have been using the same combination for my strawberry salad for as long as I can remember, which has more to it.  I love strawberries and balsamic so that's what I've used in the past.   I had some Cream of Balsamic on hand so I used that in combination with the strawberry vinaigrette.  Its a balsamic reduction that is rather sweet because of the addition of muscat grapes.  I liked the contrast of the dressings.  My husband did not.   I really did love this salad, but the star was the dressing.  Tomorrow, I am going to have it bare bones on a salad more Annie's style.  

I looked back at the original recipe that Annie got the recipe from on Epicurious, but I really enjoyed her addition of vinegar to the dressing.  I paired this salad with a glass of Grüner Verlliner, which was the perfect compliment.

Strawberry Champagne Vinaigrette
slightly adapted from Annie's Eats

1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
2 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp champagne
1 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt

In a blender or food processor, combine the strawberries, vinegar, champagne, sugar and salt.  Process until smooth and well combined. Transfer to an airtight container and keep refrigerated.

Served over choice of greens (I usually use spinach, but had some spring mix to use up), strawberries, goat cheese, sliced almonds, dried cranberries and along with a drizzle of cream of balsamic.