Monday, December 27, 2010

Cold day, warm dinner!

I love manicotti. Actually, I'm pretty sure you can just insert any sort of Italian food in place of 'manicotti' and it'll still be true. After making this recipe, I've come to the conclusion that there aren't really 'right' and 'wrong' ways of cooking/baking, but simply the 'easy' and 'hard' way to do things :) Manicotti are wonderful if you know the easy way to fill them (and I'll share my secret below)

From The Betty Crocker Cookbook; serves 7
14 uncooked manicotti shells
1 lb. lean (at least 80%) ground beef
1 large onion, chopped (1 cup...I didn't add this)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped (or 1 tsp. garlic powder)
1 jar (26 to 30 oz.) tomato pasta sauce, any variety
2 boxes (9 or 10 oz. each) frozen chopped spinach,
2 c. small curd cottage cheese
1 can (8 oz.) mushroom pieces and stems, drained (I didn't add this either)
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese (like the kind in the plastic jar)
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook and drain manicotti as directed on package using minimum cooking time (to help prevent the shells from tearing while filling).

Meanwhile, in a 10-inch skillet, cook beef, onion and garlic (only if using cloves) over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until beef is brown; drain. Stir in pasta sauce (and garlic powder if applicable).

Heat oven to 350*. Spray 13"x9" glass baking dish with cooking spray.

Squeeze thawed spinach to drain (I just used my bare hands); spread on paper towels and pat dry (if you still have soggy, watery spinach). In medium bowl, mix spinach, cottage cheese, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, and pepper.

In baking dish, spread ~1 c. of the beef sauce. Fill manicotti shells with spinach mixture. And here we have the hard vs. easy part...fully explained after the recipe. Pour remaining beef sauce evenly over shells, covering shells completely. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.

Cover (aluminum foil works nicely) and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 20 to 25 minutes longer, or until hot and bubbly.

Easy vs. hard:

-The hard way: use a spoon or skinny spatula to scoop and 'pour' the filling into the shells.

-The easy way: use a cake decorating bag (disposable or reusable, parchment or plastic, it doesn't matter; just don't use a coupler) to squeeze the filling into the shells. So. Easy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmastime is cookie time!

This is another recipe complements of mom :) I'm not sure where she found it, but it is delicious! Best of all, you can find all the stuff to make these cookies at Aldi (if you're being budget-conscious like me). My sister isn't a huge fan of white chocolate: she suggested trying dark chocolate chips instead white chocolate ones...if you try any variations, let me know!

White Chocolate Cranberry-Pecan Cookies
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. dried cranberries
3/4 c. white baking chips
1/2 c. chopped pecans*

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour and baking soda in another bowl. Gradually add to creamed sugar/butter mixture and mix well. Fold in the cranberries, baking chips, and pecans.

Drop by tablespoonfuls 2" apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375* for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

* An easy way to chop pecans is to stick them in a seal-able plastic bag and smush with a hammer. Or you can splurge and buy the little bag of chopped pecans in the first place. Whatever you like...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The best recipe you've never heard of...

My mom made this all the time (or at least I remember it that way) when my sister and I were younger. I loved loved loved it (except for the crispy edge parts...sorry mom) and haven't had it in eons...until very recently :) I introduce you to...

Spaghetti Pizza
Serves a lot of 10 or so
1 pkg. (16 oz.) spaghetti
2 eggs
1/2 c. milk
4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 jars (16 oz. each) spaghetti sauce, your choice of flavors/styles
1 1/2 tsp. oregano
1 pkg. (3 1/2 oz.) sliced pepperoni*

Break spaghetti into 2" pieces. Cook according to package directions. Drain and cool**.

Preheat oven to 400*. Beat eggs lightly in a large bowl. Stir in milk, 1 cup cheese, garlic powder, and salt. Add spaghetti and stir thoroughly. Spread in a greased 15" x 10" jelly roll pan. Bake 15 minutes; remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350*.

Spread spaghetti sauce evenly over spaghetti. (Make sure you cover all the spaghetti to prevent those oh-so-wonderful crispy edges.) Sprinkle on oregano and remaining mozzarella. Top with pepperoni. Bake 30 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before cutting.


* Hokay, so I bought turkey pepperoni for this recipe. It only comes in a 6 oz. package and I used most of it. Don't be afraid of the pepperoni! It is pizza after all :)
** To cool your spaghetti quickly AND prevent it from sticking together, rinse with cold water. Use your hands to toss it around as you're rinsing it with the cold water and make sure you drain it really, really well.


Since this is a pizza recipe, feel free to experiment with toppings and/or spaghetti sauce. You can also make this a vegetarian recipe really easily by just topping with fake meat stuff or just lots of veggies. For my version, I used green pepper sauce (since I really like green peppers on my pizza) in addition to the (healthier!) turkey pepperoni. J. agreed that it was an awesome success too!