I Love Presents!

Just after Easter the FedEx man arrived with a gift from the great people at FoodBuzz. Oooh, I love getting presents! 😉 It was marked ‘Keep Refrigerated’ and ‘Perishable’. What could it be? The Tartlets gathered around to see what treasure would come from the box. Imagine my delight when it was a package of Buitoni’s new Wild Mushroom Agnolotti. Especially delightful since three of the Tartlets turn their little noses up at mushrooms, leaving all the more for me! 😀

Oh, the ideas this lovely gift inspired. What kind of sauce to make? Hmmm . . . eggplant and zucchini in a tomato base? artichoke and leek in a cream base? maybe just a light toss with some fresh pesto? or a creamy sauce with ham and peas? oh maybe something with a little wine in it? Oh the agony of decision making! But this was just after Easter and I had a little bit of lamb leftover, which I usually save for a shepherd’s pie, and the sauteed mushrooms and onions were *sooooo* good with the lamb, that I kept thinking of how to incorporate the lamb into my pasta sauce.

The leeks couldn’t be passed up, so I started building a recipe in my head, combining things I had on hand with a few things I bought to add. Leftover half and half, leftover lamb, pignolia in the cupboard, and a lemon from the fridge were combined with a red pepper, leek, fresh grated Parmesan cheese, fresh oregano and basil to make a very tasty lunch. Tartlet 1 said that the only problem she could see with this recipe is that there wasn’t more of it!

In order to not be swayed by the flavor of my sauce, I tasted a wild mushroom agnolotti fresh from the boiling pot, and it was just amazing. Little bits of mushroom with a great flavor and would be a lovely meal without any sauce at all. Although the packages may be a bit spendy for feeding a family of six, I would absolutely buy this as a treat or for special adult meals. I loved them!

Speaking of spending money, I’d like to give a plug for buying day old bread at your grocery bakery. I picked up a day old baguette for $0.83. Now day old baguettes may seem to you like they are only useful as baseball bats or fending off would be attackers, but they make great cheesy toast. Cut the loaf in half, sprinkle with a little seasoning, top with shredded cheese and bake in a 350 – 400 F oven until the cheese melts. Not only will the bread soften so you don’t recognize it as day old, but you made a great accompaniment for your meal for a little more than a dollar (adding the cost of the cheese). It goes well with pasta and soups.

Make sure you check out what other people are doing with their pasta gifts and, if you like what you see, Buzz it!

Wild Mushroom Agnolotti with Lamb and Leek Cream Sauce

1 package Buitoni Wild Mushroom Agnolotti, cooked according to the directions

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium leek
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 crushed clove of garlic
1/2 medium red pepper, chopped
zest of one lemon
1/2 c. chopped cooked lamb

1 1/2 c. half and half (or substitute milk)
3/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese

1/2 c. pignolia

In a heavy pan over medium heat, heat olive oil and saute leek until bright green. Add basil, oregano, garlic, red pepper, lemon and lamb. Saute until fragrant and vegetables are tender.

Add half and half and continue to heat, stirring frequently, until sauce is warm. Add the cheese and stir constantly, allowing the sauce to thicken. If you like a thicker sauce, add a Tbsp of flour to 2 Tbsp cold water and mix well, then add to the sauce and stir until thickened; for a thinner sauce, add a little milk or half and half. Stir in pignolia and serve over Wild Mushroom Agnolotti. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, if desired.

Dinner Made Easy

I have mentioned my on again, off again relationship with the slow cooker, but this recipe could keep the love flowing. After reading several versions of this, I settled on using my own style. Since this was meant to be a time-saving dinner, I used jarred spaghetti sauce rather than homemade. The end result was pretty runny served hot from the crock. After it had cooled I pulled the liner out and stored it in a large bowl in the fridge overnight. The leftovers were reheated in the microwave, still in the liner inside the bowl, and the layers were firmer and attractive. It wouldn’t work to put it in the cooker and leave it all day, but I think you could cook it on low for 6 hrs since I did high for 3 hrs.

Slow Cooker Lasagna
1 lb ground meat, browned and drained (I used part chicken and part beef and cooked it with a little onion and garlic)

24 oz. ricotta
16 oz. small curd cottage cheese
2 c. mozzarella, shredded
1 egg

~ 40 oz. spaghetti sauce, fresh or jarred
8-10 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 c. mozzarella, shredded

Brown the meat and set aside (or leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian dish). In a large bowl, mix together the cheeses, egg, and parsley.

Line the slow cooker, if desired. Spread a few tablespoons of sauce on the bottom. Make a layer of dry noodles on top, breaking them as needed to fit. Top with more sauce, meat, and cheese. Repeat layers ending with noodles and sauce. Cook on High for 3 hrs. Top with remaining mozzarella; let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

I mentioned before that I made muffins for the Ladies’ Retreat I attended.  Because I didn’t want to offer a dull breakfast selection, I made some sweet muffins: Banana Muffins, both plain and with chocolate chips, Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, and Lemon Blueberry Muffins, as well as some savory muffins: Bacon Cheddar Muffins and Ham and Swiss Muffins. These muffins straddle the fence on sweet and savory.  The cheese makes you think savory while the pear lends a light sweetness, neither is overpowering and they complement each other nicely.

The original recipe called for 1/4 t. pumpkin pie spice but since I didn’t have that, I used a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves, and used more than the amount called for. I made a double batch and used some of the extra batter to make a mini loaf of bread. I hate it when a muffin recipe doesn’t come out evenly at 12 because I don’t want to have to bake a partial tin. The mini-loaves are a perfect way to deal with a little extra batter.

Pear Cheddar Muffins (adapted from The Muffin Cookbook)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/8 t. cloves
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

2 medium pears, pared, cored, cut into large pieces
1 c. milk
2 large eggs
1/4 c. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 F. Prepare muffin tin with paper liners or non-stick spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices; stir in cheese. In a blender or food processor, process pears, milk, eggs and butter until pears are finely chopped. Pour pear mixture into flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Spoon into prepared muffin tin. Bake 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm.

Makes 15 muffins.

What’s Not To Love?

I made some muffins for the Ladies’ Retreat I recently attended and I think the favorite, by far, was this Cheesy Ham and Pepper Muffin. Not only is it good for breakfast, it works fabulously with soups. I had this recipe on my computer and I remember first making it several years ago, but I have since lost the source or I would cite it. I know I didn’t come up with this one on my own because, left to my own devices in the kitchen, I’m always more likely to tinker with getting 5 kinds of chocolate into a dessert than making a savory muffin. Also, the copy saved on my computer left out the *ham* in the muffin (duh!), which I’m sure was a typing error in copying from another source. I’m not sure if I’ve missed anything else, but the muffin is quite good in the present form. The muffin itself has a light, tender texture.

I made more of these muffins today and this time I used 1 cup of whole wheat and 4 cups of white flour in making a double batch. I also ran out of baking powder and used a cream of tarter/baking soda/salt mixture, my bell pepper, although a ‘green pepper’ was mostly orange so the color doesn’t show up as well in these photos, *and* I was out of Swiss cheese and used some of the shredded cheddar I had on hand. So the pictures are not identical to the recipe given or what you may have had if you were at the retreat last weekend. I think they do taste better with the Swiss cheese rather than the cheddar, and they are more tender without whole wheat flour. The ‘ham’ in both cases was turkey ham as the pork ham in the store wasn’t thrilling when I was shopping late at night.

Cheesy Ham and Pepper Muffins

2 ½ c. flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 t. black pepper

1 c. milk
6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

3/4 c. shredded Swiss cheese
3/4 c. chopped ham
3 Tbsp. chopped red or green bell pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease or paper-line 12 muffin cups.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and black pepper in large bowl. Whisk together milk, oil, eggs and mustard in small bowl until blended. Stir into flour mixture just until moistened. Fold in cheese, ham and bell pepper. Spoon evenly into prepared muffin cups.

Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in muffin pan on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack 10 minutes.

Makes 12 muffins.

A Night Owl’s Breakfast

When we were in Montana, Aunt Leola made a breakfast casserole in the electric roasters to feed the large reunion crowd. It was hugely popular with many of our family members. When the bikers came to visit I tried something similar in the oven but it took more than an hour to bake, which ended up being a little too early for me and breakfast was still a little too late for them. I read a few different versions of this recipe and decided to tweak it for my own purposes. Enter the crockpot breakfast casserole, perfect for the night owl cook and the early bird eater. I popped it in at midnight and it was ready for a 6 AM breakfast, and my early risers love waking up to the smell of eggs and sausage.

I think I have a 5 qt crockpot, but you can easily adjust the quantities to suit your needs. It’s the sort of recipe that is easy to adjust to taste. I was tempted to put green chili in it, but it wouldn’t have appealed as broadly. Instead, I served it with salsa. The cheese around the edge gets brown and I wouldn’t make this without a liner in the crock.

Crockpot Breakfast Casserole

3 lbs. frozen hash browns (precooked shredded potatoes would also work, I think but I was being lazy)
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 c. shredded cheese
pre-cooked meat, if desired — sausage, bacon, etc
18 eggs, whisked
salt and pepper

Line the crock with a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner. Layer hash browns, onion, cheese, and meat; repeat. Whisk eggs with salt and pepper. Pour eggs over the top of the hash browns, allowing the mixture to seep into all areas of the crock.

Cook on low for 6 hrs.

Serve with salsa, if desired.

Colorful Cruciferous Veggie Pasta

People are sometimes surprised to hear that there are days that even I don’t want to cook. I’d rather bake than cook anyway, as you’ve no doubt deduced already, but I get tired of the same old reruns and thinking about what to make that will please most of the people at the table. Some days, about once a week, I just want to pick up the phone and call for Dos Reales take away or order a pizza. Unfortunately, as our family has grown it means that we can’t easily get away with that for under $30. So about once a week we have what I would consider the next best thing to ordering out — pasta.

I *LOVE* pasta. Unfortunately, The Husband not so much . . . or at least I thought so until The Great Impasta seemed to have become his favorite restaurant and then I finally realized that it wasn’t the pasta he hated, it was the tomato-based sauces that I love. He likes thick pastas like linguine and fettucini and he loves creamy alfredo and pesto, but *not* tomato. Tartlet 1 is the same — loves the pesto and cheesy pasta but rejects tomato-based sauces. So some days I please the rest of our family and we boil a box of pasta and open a jar of tomato based sauce and warm some Italian bread and have a salad or a bag of frozen veggies and we have dinner for $6 instead of take out and have to hear at least one person at the table complain about the meal (The Husband doesn’t complain, *ever*) and some days I do something a little different. Today was one of the latter.

I’ve seen purple cauliflower at The Grocery a few times but haven’t tried it before. It was on sale this week and Tartlet 2 was just talking about she likes ‘white broccoli’ (cauliflower) so I thought I’d see what she thought of purple. I picked up a variety of other veggies (broccoli, snow peas, zucchini, carrots, roasted red peppers, and onion) and lightly stir-poached them with some garlic and seasoned it with basil and a little oregano. Then I tossed it with some angel hair pasta and grated Parmesan cheese. A nice light meal with plenty of colorful vegetables.

Ruth at Once Upon A Feast hosts a weekly Presto Pasta event and I absolutely love the variety and old favorites served up there. Go check out the weekly roundups and I’ll serve up a plate of this.

Truffling With Your Affections

Today was the farewell for Mrs. V. The astute reader may remember there was a farewell last fall but only Mr. V. left us for TX at that time. Now their house has finally sold and they will be reunited (*yay!*) but we are sad to see them leave (*boo!*). Once again I wanted to make something that would suit her particular list of allergies. I made truffles.

You may be saying to yourself, “That doesn’t seem allergy friendly at all,” but I made several kinds. I saw some recipes online for goat cheese truffles, from several sources so I don’t have a specific link, and decided to play with that concept a little to make it edible for our friend. For the savory batch I simply copied a recipe I saw repeatedly — smooth some goat cheese around a grape and roll it in ground pistachios, all foods Mrs. V. can eat!

For the ‘sweet’ ones, I used agave syrup for the sweetener and used both unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder to flavor the cheese. I rolled some of these in pistachios and some in cocoa powder.

In addition, I made some non-allergy friendly cold s’mores. I rolled a large marshmallow (small ones would have been nice, if I had some) in chocolate ganache (heat whipping to simmering and add chopped chocolate, stir until melted and smooth), allowing the ‘excess chocolate’ (is there such a thing?!) to drip off before rolling the marshmallow in graham cracker crumbs. I made some ‘regular’ truffles as well.

And now I leave you for a week while we go play at the beach, my most favorite week of the year! I have a little something in store for you next week while I’m gone, so hopefully you won’t miss me too much. 😉

Chocolate Goat Cheese Truffles

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
5 Tbsp. agave syrup
2 Tbsp. canola oil
5 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
12 oz. plain goat cheese

In a small bowl, stir together chocolate, agave syrup, oil, and cocoa until smooth. In a medium bowl, beat the goat cheese for 30 seconds. Add the chocolate mixture and beat well. Roll into balls and toppings of your choice.