baked ziti

this baked ziti is most definitely, hands down one of my favorite pasta dishes.  quite a statement right?  but it’s true.  there is just too much to love about this pasta – from all of the cheesiness goodness to the flavorful sausage and fresh basil to the combination of the cream and tomato sauces  and of course you can’t forget the crunchy edges, there is nothing wrong about this baked ziti.

a few months ago, i started doing majority of the week’s cooking on sunday.  i make 2-3 dishes and then we split them up into several servings and we have lunch and dinner ready to go.  although it is a lot of work that day, it makes the rest of the week soooooo much easier.  after a long day at work, walking pua, going to the gym, etc. we don’t have to worry about trying to figure out what to make for dinner or lunch for the next day.  amazing.

i made this baked ziti quite a while ago and i think i need to make it again soon because looking at these pictures is making me crave some more.  it was one of the few dishes i didn’t mind eating multiple times in a week – often we end up freezing the last one or two servings of a dish because chris and i just can’t stand to eat it any longer (this isn’t a terrible thing though, because we have lots of homemade lunches and dinners ready to eat in the freezer).

first mix together the cottage (i used ricotta) cheese, eggs, and some of the parmesan cheese.  set aside.

p.s. grating your own parmesan cheese instead of buying the already grated cheese in the green container (you know which one i’m talking about ;-)) makes a huge difference!  so if you can, buy a wedge of parmesan cheese and grate your own fresh.  you’ll be glad you did.

then boil up the pasta.  i used medium shells because i didn’t have any ziti on hand.  it worked fine.

now time to make the sausage tomato sauce.  first brown the turkey sweet italian sausage in a medium skillet.

then add the onion and garlic.  cook until the onion is nice and tender and the sausage is fully cooked.

now pour in the diced tomatoes (including the juice), tomato sauce, and oregano.

the sauce needs to simmer for about 10 minutes.  then turn the heat off and add the fresh chopped basil, sugar, salt, and pepper.

the sauce is ready!

moving on to the cream sauce…  add the cream and cornstarch to the pot you cooked the pasta in.  yay for not dirtying up more pots!

mix well then over medium heat, simmer the cream mixture until it’s thickened up a little – approximately 3-4 minutes.  turn off the heat and add some of the sausage tomato sauce, a bit of the cubed mozzarella cheese, and the cottage (or ricotta) cheese mixture.

stir to combine…

and then add the pasta and mix to coat all of the pasta with the creamy tomato sauce.

pour the pasta into a 9×13 baking pan (i split up the pasta into 2 racheal ray’s bubble and brown baking dishes instead).

next pour the remaining tomato sausage sauce over the pasta.

finally sprinkle on the remaining parmesan and mozzarella cheese.

cover the baking dish with foil,

and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.  remove the foil and then bake for another 30 minutes.

although you’ll want to dig right in, allow it to cool for 20 minutes.  then sprinkle the rest of the chopped basil over the baked ziti and serve hot/warm.

for the recipe visit one of my favorite blogs, annie’s eats.

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spinach and ricotta stuffed shells

sorry the picture above is not all that pretty.  but you know what the one downside with food blogging is?  having to wait to eat dinner because you’re trying to style your food just right so that you can take a pretty picture to post on your blog.  poor chris has to wait all the time – just one more second and we can eat, i promise!  a million seconds later and it’s finally time to eat.

well sometimes, i’m just so hungry that i’m not able to take all the time i would like to make the plate of food pretty.  this happened when i made these spinach and ricotta stuffed shells for dinner.  it was already past our dinner time and when i’m hungry, i get just a little cranky.  so i just plopped a few of the shells on a plate, snapped a couple pictures and we dug in.

so please forgive me for the less than beautiful pictures, but please don’t let that keep you from trying out this recipe – because it’s amazeballs.  yes, that’s totally a word (anyone else watch giuliana and bill?).

anyway, i stuffed the shells with a flavorful mixture of spinach, ricotta cheese, garlic, onions and herbs and then topped it all with some crockpot bolognese sauce and melty mozzarella cheese.  if you don’t happen to have bolognese sauce on hand (but who really does?  we only had some since i was on a crockpot/slow cooker kick) just use a large can of diced tomatoes or a large jar of your favorite pasta sauce.  the original stuffed shells recipe i used had sausage in the stuffing mixture, but i took it out since the bolognese sauce already had meat in it.  but if you plan on using just diced tomatoes or pasta sauce, i would definitely suggest adding the sausage back in.

start by boiling the shells.

once they’re done, rinse and drain the shells well and set them aside to cool.

then make the filling mixture.  saute some onions and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  once the onions are translucent, turn the heat off and allow the onions and garlic to cool.

in a large bowl combine the ricotta cheese, spinach, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, breadcrumbs, egg, salt, pepper, and basil.

then add the onions and garlic.

now the filling mixture is ready to be stuffed into the shells.

get ready, this is going to make a lot of shells,  so get 2 pans ready one 9 x 13ish and 1 8/8ish pan.  spread a little bit of the sauce on the bottom of each pan.

then start stuffing the shells and line them up in the pan.  big pan done…

and the little one.

now spread some bolognese sauce over the shells.

cover each pan with foil.

then bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes.  take the foil off and sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the sauce,

and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

i’ll warn you, it’s going to smell really really good and you’re going to want to dive right in.  once you try it, hopefully you won’t blame me for not wanting to wait and take pictures and you too will want to just gobble these spinach and ricotta stuffed shells up.

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crockpot bolognese sauce

i have a problem.

i am officially obsessed…

obsessed with my slow cooker.

since we got a new slow cooker from our dear friend tammy, i have made a ton of different crockpot recipes.  it makes cooking soooooo much easier!  i can make a big batch of whatever it is and have some for a couple of meals through the week, plus a bit to freeze for later.  i have made everything from meatballs to black beans.  i’ll be posting all of the recipes slowly but surely and first up is this absolutely divine, crockpot bolognese sauce.

although it’s not a completely authentic bolognese sauce, it is completely delicious and perfect over a bowl of rigatoni pasta topped with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.  i also used this sauce to make stuffed shells which i will post about soon.  plus i saved a few cups and froze it so we can enjoy a quick meal in the future.

this sauce is full of vegetables, ground turkey, tomatoes, and even some bacon.  really, you can’t go wrong.  so bust out your slow cooker and whip up a batch of this crockpot bolognese sauce!

first up, the vegetables.  i used my small handy dandy food processor/hand blender to mince a bit of onion, carrot, and celery.

next cook some pancetta… i used bacon because i didn’t have any pancetta on hand.  be sure to cook it until it’s nice and crisp.  i failed to do this and there were still bits of bacon fat even after being in the slow cooker for hours.  boo.  oh well you live and you learn.

then add the vegetables and about a tablespoon of chopped garlic and cook for a few more minutes until the vegetables are tender.

ready freddy…

now add the lean ground beef or turkey.  i used turkey because i happened to have a bunch in the freezer.  also sprinkle on some italian seasoning.

cook until the turkey/beef is browned and then drain off the excess fat.  i actually used a baster to do this which worked really really well.

then add some red or white wine and cook until it reduces down a bit.

finally, the meat and vegetable mixture is ready to go into the slow cooker.

okie dok…

pour the crushed tomatoes on top of the meat and also add the bay leaves and some salt and pepper.

mix everything together and set your slow cooker to low.

cook for 6 hours.  p.s. i just love the fact that my slow cooker has a way to program it to cook at a certain setting for a certain amount of time.  when the time is done, it automatically switches to warm.  amazing!

once it’s done, add some basil.  i used my good ol’ tube of basil…

and a bit of half and half and some parsley.

mix it all together…

and it’s ready to eat!

since i didn’t make a ton of drastic changes to the recipe, i’m going to send you over to one of my new favorite blogs, skinny taste for the recipe.  just be sure to add about 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic to the pancetta/bacon and vegetable mixture, 1 teaspoon of italian seasoning to your ground beef/turkey, and about 1 tablespoon of chopped basil to the finished sauce.  

skillet lasagna

chris and i recently got the cutest little puppy in the whole wide world.

clearly i am biased.  but isn’t she cute!?!?  her name is pua danger brooks.  pua means flower in hawaiian and chris picked “danger” as pua’s middle name.  funny, huh. 😉

we just got her in november but i couldn’t imagine life without her.  having a puppy is certainly a lot of work, but it is well worth is because she is so much fun and i love her so much.  yup i am that crazy dog lady.  sorry!

so about this skillet lasagna… because we just got pua and have been super busy trying to keep up with our energetic puppy, i have been trying to be better at menu planning and figuring out meals i can make on the weekend that will last us through the week.  i saw this recipe for skillet lasagna on annie’s eats and immediately knew that it would fit the bill.  it makes six servings so we were able to have it for multiple dinners and lunches.  awesome!!!

it has all of the flavors that you love in traditional layered lasagna but is so much easier because you just make it in a skillet.  perfecto!  chris gave it rave reviews and i know we will be making it again soon!

to start, heat up a cast iron skillet with a little bit of oil.

then sautee some onions and green peppers with the salt and pepper.

  

meanwhile, chop the tomatoes.

back to the skillet, add the sausage – i used sweet italian turkey sausage.  break up the sausage as it cooks so that it is nicely crumbled and no longer pink.

  

now place the lasagna noodles on the sausage onion mixture…

and pour the tomatoes and its juices on top.

mix it together and cover it.  let it simmer for 20-24 minutes, stirring occasionally.

now mix in some of the ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese.

then top it with the rest of the cheese.

broil the skillet lasagna until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

finally, top it with some chopped italian parsley and basil.

yum!

for the recipe, please visit annie’s eats.

tomato jam

i actually made this tomato jam this past summer!  eeek!  i know it was a while ago.  but it was so good that i still wanted to share the recipe with you years later.

i talked about this before, but this past summer and fall there was an awesome farmers market right here on campus at university of maryland.  even though some things were kind of expensive for a farmers market, the convenience could not be beat and all of the vendors there were so nice and helpful.

i found the tomatoes above at the farmers market.  they totally look busted up but i got them “on sale” because they weren’t the nicest looking.  but the helpful vendor said that they would still be great, especially if i was cooking them down into tomato jam.  and you know what?  she was right!  they were perfect.  she helped me pick out a variety of tomatoes that would be good for jam and it worked wonderfully.

the jam is full of nice warm flavors from the cinnamon and cloves – actually it would be perfect as a fall or winter appetizer.  chris and i enjoyed the tomato jam on with wheat thins and a little bit of white cheddar cheese.  a to the mazing!  it was a bit too spicy for chris’ liking but he still ate it so that’s a good indication that this was some good stuff.

start off by putting all of the ingredients in a large pot or dutch oven.

mix everything together and bring to a boil.  then let it simmer…

and simmer some more.

finally after about 1 1/2 – 2 hours you have thick, sticky tomato jam.

serve with crackers and cheese or some crusty bread or use some in a sandwich, the possibilities are endless.

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