Spinach and Ricotta (Vegetarian!) Stuffed Shells

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Are ya ready? This recipe is a family favorite (even with spinach!). It happens to be vegetarian but I often serve them along side meatballs (nothing fancy- frozen meatballs in a pot of jarred sauce). It makes about three dozen shells  (10-12 servings) and I often freeze half or pass it on to friends since it is easily assembles and heated.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 box jumbo pasta shells

4 cups (2lbs) Ricotta cheese (I use part skim)

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 eggs

1 package frozen chopped spinach

1 TBSP fresh chopped parsley

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3-4 cups marinara sauce (a 28 oz. jar does the trick)

 

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Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While I wait for the water to boil I set up a sort of assembly line. I hadn’t thought to photograph that.. oops, blogging fail. Basically I have the water boiling on the stove. Directly next to the stove I lay out parchment paper to lay the cooked shells on. Next to that I have my bowl (we’ll fill that in a minute) of ricotta mixture and then another parchment for the filled shells. Then I have several freezer bags (if I intend to freeze a batch) or my greased pans with marinara and Parmesan ready nearby.

Cook shells in batches of 5-8 (depending on size of your pot) according to the timing on the box. Slightly under-cooked shells are okay and actually easier to fill because they keep their shape and don’t tear as easily. An overcooked shell will work fine but will require more care when removing from the water and filling. Also, I recommend a splash of olive oil in the water to keep the shells from sticking together.

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Defrost the frozen spinach and drain well. For good measure I also use a large chef’s knife to chop the spinach again. I know, I know… The package says its already chopped. But I’ve found that chopping more makes the spinach less stringy and and more “bite size”. This is particularly helpful for the kids, as we want them to virtually forget about the spinach anyway, right?!

For the fill mixture: Beat 3 eggs. Add ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and season with parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir in spinach.

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As the batches of shells are ready, pull them from the water with a slotted spoon. Lay them on parchment paper and allow to cool. Carefully spoon filling into each shell so as not to tear the shells. Set aside to cool on parchment.

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pour thin layer of sauce in pan and arrange shells upright and tightly in baking dish. Spoon Marinara sauce over each shell and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350F for 35 minutes or until sauce is bubbly.  If you’re freezing some or all of your shells be sure to let them cool completely ad then place in freezer bags with as little air as possible and being careful to keep them facing upright until frozen. Once you’re ready to use the frozen shells, remove from freezer and assemble shells in baking dish as instructed above. Allow to “thaw” on refrigerator overnight to 24 hours before baking.

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Enjoy, as always, with a glass champagne!

xo,

Hilda

Grown up Mac-n-Cheese

Everybody loves a good macaroni and cheese recipe, myself included. I have a favorite classic recipe that I usually bring as a vegetarian friendly contribution to Thanksgiving so I think I’ll be sharing it later in the fall. But I also happen to have a more summer inspired hot pasta recipe that I like to call “Grown Up Mac-n-Cheese” and its always a hit. It’s based on a recipe my aunt gave me but I doctored it up a bit so it has a little bit of *zing* to it. It also is super easy and fast since it does not require making a roux like a traditional macaroni recipe.

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What you will need:

16oz of Sour Sream – I used reduced fat

16oz of Cottage Cheese – small curd is best

1 lb of Penne pasta

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 – 2.5 tsp (I’ve even been known to do 3 tsp) Worcestershire sauce

1 bunch green onion (diced)

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

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Preheat oven to 350F

Cook penne noodles according to box and drain.

Mix sour cream, cottage cheese, and Worcestershire sauce in large bowl. Use hand mixer to break up clumps and blend gently. Add green onion, salt and pepper in large bowl. I usually just toss them all in the stand mixer in one step.

In a large bowl, mix pasta with the sour cream mixture together. Pour into greased 9″x 13″ pan, cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and remove foil. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes or until bubbling. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

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Enjoy! It’s a favorite around here!

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Bag Lady

Well, we all know I’m a bag lady. But I’m not talking about purses or reusable totes here. Let’s talk Ziplock, shall we? And no, I have no affliation with the makers of Ziplock and the like. I do, however, like to make life a little easier whenever possible. And so I present to you: smoothie bags.

On the weekends I often spend a little of my down time to prepare for the week. Sometimes that means packing bags for our evening activities (swim lessons for O, American Cancer Society meetings for me and Futsal for Hubby) or prepping ingredients and meals ahead of time like this Sunday night meal that makes for great leftovers during the week. One thing that proves to be a lifesaver is smoothies. I can easily pack a ton of healthy stuff into a cool treat. And O thinks they are like dessert: Mommy tricks for the win! Oh, and if you have never heard of Futsal, join the club… my husband suddenly started coaching it… and I had to Google it.

Anyway, to save time and trouble I usually have a few “smoothie bags” ready in the freezer. This helps if we are in a hurry or low on fresh ingredients. Sometimes the bags are made at the end of the week when I have a small collection of fruits and veggies that are “on their way out” or just too many to eat before it all goes bad. It also makes the process easy for anyone to do when I’m not here. I even have been known to pack a smoothie bag and take it to work… and all that needs to be done is toss it in the blender. I wouldn’t say I have “recipes” but I definitely have a system.

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My secret is to take bottled Naked or Odwalla brand smoothies and make them into ice cubes in the days before. That is what you see in the center top of the photo above. This way you can get things that are either hard to blend (like carrots and citruses) or fruits and veggies that are out of season into your smoothie. It also eliminates the need to toss in ice cubes when it’s time to flip the switch. If you’re a juicer you can make cubes out of anything you juice as well. Then I lay out my loot. This is almost always spinach, strawberries (frozen and fresh), an almost-too-ripe banana or two, pears (I can’t seem to keep them long), and blueberries. Lots of other things can work too: pineapples, raspberries, melon, kale, and so on. Some of your choices may need to be softened by steaming or peeling them first. You can also toss in flax seed, wheat grass, supplements and protein powders. I usually don’t because I almost always share these with O but it’s a great way to down things that are just plain unpleasant when you do them alone.

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Next, I cut everything into easy to blend cubes and sort out what I’d like in each bag. Somethings can be put with any flavor… spinach, kale and banana are easy to mix with because they aren’t overpowering flavors and are easy sweetened up with other ingredients. Same goes for many of the juices I used to make the ice cubes. All berries go well together, at least I think. Basically, just mix ingredients into the bags that you would like together. If you would like to have a strawberry smoothie then put in 3 or 4 with a banana, spinach and a cube… in the end you’ll mostly taste the strawberry. I make mine “single serving” sized and they only take up 1/4 to 1/3 of the bag but if you want larger portions then you can fill your bags more.

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Last, I label (with your name or what is in them) all of the baggies and freeze them. When I’m ready to make one I just grab one and toss it in the blender with a liquid in order to thin it out. Consider using soy, almond, or cow’s milk. Sometimes I use yogurt, fruit juice or applesauce too. Why not enjoy a smoothie on your way out the door in the morning, or as a snack before or after a workout? We even treat them like dessert in the summer. The possibilities are endless!

My Mom’s Snickerdoodle Recipe

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My mom has never been a cook but boy, oh boy can she bake. Its something I did with her as a kid. She never cared about the mess while we were baking. It was about doing something together! Of course, one of her famous lines is, “Any mess you make, you clean up!” We did have to clean it all up in the end.

I cherish all of those memories so much that I now bake regularly with Z. I take it as an opportunity to make time just to be with him, let him be the leader and to give him an outlet. Baking with kids may sound hectic and unwise to some, but truth be told there is so much you can do to make it stress free and fun. We always start by washing our hands. Then we get out everything we need including the ingredients. I let Z measure, pour, turn on the stand mixer, stir and even lick the spoon. Isn’t that what its all about anyway? So many lessons can be rolled into baking (pun intended). Z has learned vocabulary such as “ingredients” and “recipe”. He also is getting the hang of measuring and knows the importance of taking your time, following the directions and doing it in order. I also love the little conversation that happens when we bake. He gabs on and on about school, his friends and what he wants to be when he grows up (a baker and a helicopter pilot).  My point is that baking isn’t always about the end product of getting to eat the cookies. It can be about the process just as much as the tasty results. I can’t wait for O to be big enough to help bake too. I love creating these memories.

The following is my mother’s Snickerdoodle recipe in her own handwriting. A classic, she even sent it to my cousin while he was in basic training. Obviously she skips the cream of tarter.

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Mix all of the wet ingredients above the line in a mixer, then add the dry. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Kids can roll the dough into small balls and roll well in the cinnamon/sugar mix. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Over-baking these will dry them out but if you get it just right they are super chewy.

Who used to let you help in the kitchen? Anyone have a favorite recipe? DO SHARE!

1-2-3 Lemon Pesto Chicken

I should start this post out by stating a little fact about myself: I don’t eat meat (fish, chicken, beef, veal, etc- but I do eat eggs and dairy). I haven’t for about 16 years. I do, however cook meat and such for Hubby. But when I make recipes up, its literally on a whim. I go “hmmm… I wonder if this and this would be good on chicken?” and then I run it by Hubby. I’m never surprised to have some total misses.

This is one of Hubby’s favorite home-runs though. I knew he loved pesto and I whipped this up. Here’s what you need.

Preheat your oven to 375, grease a glass baking dish. I make single servings, but basically you’ll need boneless skinless chicken breasts, lemon juice, pesto and olive oil. For each chicken breast measure 1 Tbsp of each: lemon juice, pesto (I keep Buitoni on hand but homemade, prepackaged mix or whatever will work), and olive oil. Mix in a small bowl.

Brush the mixture onto each chicken breast.

Bake 45 minutes, I like to take it out with about 20 minutes remaining and brush the remainder on to keep it moist and flavorful.

Ta-Da! You can serve this with a simple salad, garlic potatoes or slice it up and toss it with pasta, veggies, parm and more pesto. I often serve it with caesar salad and tortellini since I can eat those too. Whatever floats your boat. Enjoy!

Life Without Chocolate Syrup

I’m a sucker for chocolate. In fact, if you put chocolate on most anything I will probably devour it. The same goes for ketchup and pesto, but that’s a different post. In an effort to simplify our diets and budget, we’ve begun omitting items with high fructose corn syrup (and quite a few other things) from the fridge. I did quite well with this until I noticed that it meant no more chocolate syrup. Devistating! In a search for a decent replacement option I came up empty. I can’t afford $8 gourmet organic local blah blah blah chocolate syrup. SO not happening. So I scoured the internet for answers, asked healthy friends how they live without chocolate and even asked my mom for some direction. I present: THE ANSWER. (cue heavenly angel choir singing single high note, the cloud part).

{DELISH homemade chocolate syrup}

The recipe (originally from Glorioustreats.blogspot.com):

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (anything from Hershey to Ghiradelli)

1 cup water

a dash of salt

1 tsp vanilla

Heat water, sugar, cocoa and salt. Whisk well. Bring to a boil (stirring with whisk occasionally). Reduce and cook 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Your syrup will appear thin but thickens as it cools. Pour into a jar while still warm (easier) but if its too hot it can crack your jar. Allow to cool well. Store in refrigerator and enjoy.

PS- This takes less than 10 minutes. And it makes you look like super woman.