Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cookie-Baking Fuel

Tonight, Jeannene and I were in full-bore cookie & cupcake making mode, having a blast with gel food colors to tint the icing & sprinkles to scatter across the cupcakes. We needed some fuel, a supper that would be easy to throw together and delicious amidst the sweets-sampling. So, I made a simple lentil & pasta stew, which was delicious with ciabatta and fresh fruit. If I were serving it to company, I would add a big, leafy green salad. If I had a crew going out trick or treating, I would serve it to them before we left.

Lentil & Shells Stew

1/2 c. olive oil

1 lg. yellow onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

64 oz. chicken stock

1 lb. dried lentils

16 oz. tomato puree

1 bay leaf

1/4 tsp. ginger

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 c. small pasta shells

Grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Saute the onions & garlic over medium-low heat for a few minutes. Add stock, lentils and tomato paste. Stir well and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer. Add bay leaf, ginger, salt & pepper. Cover & simmer gently about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf. Add pasta, cover and simmer 15 minutes more. Serve dusted with parmesan.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Stuffed Shells & Spooks-Begone Stew

I took advantage of my day off yesterday to tackle a couple of semi-fiddly recipes I wouldn't normally try on a working day. I made spinach & cheese stuffed shells with a salad and a loaf of La Brea Bakery ciabatta. I had never made stuffed shells before because of the task of stuffing each individual shell, but I actually found it very relaxing and enjoyable. Not only that, but the end product was delicious! Dessert was another fiddly thing. I am not much of a baker and had never, that I remember, bothered making brownies from scratch. While brownies (at least the fudgy, chewy variety) are one of my very favorite sweets, I tend to be perfectly pleased with the results of the box variety. Furthermore, I have so often had brownies from scratch that are not so awesome. Add to that the monotony of unwrapping 24 miniature York peppermint patties and this recipe is not one I would usually make. However, it sounded so yummy when I saw it in the York ad years ago and I had the spare time, so I made York brownies and they were well-worth the effort! As Paula Deen says, any recipe that starts with 3 sticks of butter has got to be good!

Spinach & Cheese Stuffed Shells

12 oz. box jumbo pasta shells

18-20 oz. frozen creamed spinach

16 oz. ricotta

8 oz. shredded mozzarella

1 jar spaghetti sauce (I used Trader Joe's roasted garlic marinara)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the spinach according to the directions on the box. Mix with cheeses. Pour some of the sauce in the bottom of a 13x9" baking pan. Stuff uncooked shells (you likely won't use the entire box...the remainder might be nice to cook & serve with butter & parmesan to family members who don't dig the sauce/spinach so much) with spinach & cheese mixture. Place the shells in the baking dish and cover with the rest of the sauce. Cover with foil (or not...I forgot & the edges of a few shells got kind of crunchy, but it was just fine) and bake an hour and a half.

York Brownies

3 sticks butter, melted

3 c. sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla

5 eggs

2 c. flour

1 c. cocoa

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

24 mini peppermint patties (a 12 oz. bag fit the bill with one left over for me to pop in my mouth while the brownies baked)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix butter with sugar and vanilla. Add eggs. Add dry ingredients. Set aside 2 cups of the batter. Spread the rest in a greased 13x9" baking pan. Add the peppermint patties. Spread the remaining batter over the top. Bake 50-55 minutes. Cool before cutting. Makes about 36.

We haven't eaten yet tonight, but when the stew is done, we'll have it with rustic rolls from Whole Foods and slices of honeycrisp apple. On my commute, I am listening to a rather silly but fun novel by Jeaniene Frost called, I believe, "This Side of the Grave." In the book, we learn that, while garlic doesn't repel vampires, it does, when combined with marijuana carried on the person, repel ghosts. While I was smashing & peeling the entire head of garlic, I was thinking of this. So, in honor of the story & the season, I named the stew:

Spooks-Begone Stew

4 lb. beef chuck roast, cut in 1 and a half inch cubes

1/4 c. flour

12 oz. tomato paste

2 and a half pounds new potatoes (or small red potatoes, larger ones halved)

2 onions, diced

32 oz. beef broth

15 oz. Guinness (or other Irish stout)

1 head garlic, separated, peeled and smashed

Salt & pepper

18-20 oz. frozen peas, thawed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a big, ovenproof pot, toss the beef with the flour. Add tomato paste and mix. Add potatoes, onions, broth, stout & garlic. Season. Cover and bring to boil on stovetop, stirring occasionally. Put in oven and cook until meat if fork-tender, 2 and a half to 3 hours. Add peas. Adjust seasonings & serves. Serves 10. (I am hoping Jeannene will break her no meat but fish rule to help me eat it!)