Monthly Archives: February 2010

Beware: Easy Stuffed Shells May Cause Extreme Silliness

I had leftover ricotta that I bought in case the cashew ricotta for my vegan baked ziti turned out to be a disaster. So, Claire and I got to work on some “real” ricotta stuffed shells to go along with the no-knead bread I had in the oven.

Although recipes for lasagna and stuffed shells often involve mozzarella cheese, veggies, or meat, I like to stick with my family’s recipe for basic manicotti when I’m making anything like that. So, this can be used for manicotti, lasagna, stuffed shells or even if you wanted to take smaller noodles (shells, elbows, etc) and just mix it all together in a casserole dish instead of stuffing anything (Thanks to my friend Tara for that tip, who I think got it from Rachel Ray).

Generally, the recipe is double the following, but with just the three of us eating it, I thought this would be plenty (And it was. I’ve eaten it for five days now!)

3/4 lb. ricotta cheese
3/8 c. Romano cheese
1 egg
1 T. parsley
salt and pepper
1 lb. large shells

Step 1: Put yourself in a very fashionable apron, of course.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Boil water and cook whole box of shells according to directions.

Meanwhile, mix together the rest of the ingredients.

Line a baking dish (or two) with a layer of sauce.

If you have a pastry bag, fill it with the cheese filling. If you don’t (like me) use ziplock bags, then snip off a corner of the bag to use as a pastry bag to fill the shells. I spent the first 20 years of my life scraping filling off a spoon onto the end of a manicotti shell (per Grandma June), then shoving it down into the tube with the handle of the spoon and repeating (thereby getting my hands covered in filling in the process).

Unfortunately, I switched to this Ziplock baggie method years before it occurred to me to let my mother in on the idea. After making Thanksgiving manicotti at her house a couple of years ago, my mother is now on board…

Fill cooked shells and place in dish. Because the noodles already are cooked, they won’t need much room to expand, as is the case with uncooked manicotti noodles.

Cover with a light layer of sauce (Claire likes to roll them around in the sauce at this point too). Cover pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

Remove from oven. Sprinkle with some Parmesan or Romano cheese if you like and enjoy!

Beware: These stuffed shells apparently cause extreme silliness and bouts of tickle torture.

Crusty No-Knead Bread

I finally got around to making the no-knead bread recipe my squeeze’s mom gave me, along with the cast iron pot to make it in, for Christmas. It’s nearly identical to the bread recipe G.P. made during Cooking Club S01E01 a few weeks back, but I’ll post it here anyway. It’s a little tough to cut because it’s so crusty (it just makes a mess of crumbs) but it was DELICIOUS. (If I do say so myself).

Here’s how you make it:

• Dissolve 1/4 t. dry active yeast in 1 1/2 c. warm water
• Mix in 3 c. flour and 1 1/2 t. salt

The dough will be sticky and shaggy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at
room temperature (warmest area of the room if possible – not by a window!) for
12-18 hours, at least until little bubbles dot the surface of the dough. For me this was
about 15 hours.**

(**4/26/10: I just made this again only this time got super busy and let it sit for 19 hours. It was much better! Rose up to be about 7 inches tall unlike the pathetic 3 or 4 of the first time. I’ll definitely let it sit longer next time!!!)

Remove from bowl onto a floured surface (I chose a floured cookie sheet). Sprinkle dough with flower and fold over onto itself once or twice. Cover loosely with the plastic wrap (right there on the cookie sheet) and let sit for about 15 minutes.

Generously coat a clean tea towel or kitchen towel with flour, cornmeal or wheat
bran (I did a little flour and a little polenta). Place dough, seam side down, on the
towel and dust with more flour, cornmeal or wheat bran (I also added some garlic
powder in there on this step). With floured hands, gently shape dough.

Cover with another towel (or fold this one over if it’s big enough like I did) and let it sit for one to two hours. It should double in size.

You’ll know it’s ready when you can poke your finger in it and it doesn’t fill back in.
The first time I checked it, after about 2 hours, it did bounce back/fill in. Twenty
minutes later — success!

At least 20 minutes before dough is set to be ready, preheat oven to 475 and place
a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex…) in the oven as it heats. For some pots (like mine) cover handle of pot with a few thicknesses of foil.

Slide your hand under the towel and flip dough over into the pot. Shake pot gently from side to side to even it out if you need to.

Bake for 30 minutes, covered. Remove lid and bake for 15 minutes more. It came out pretty disk like, but so did G’s, so I didn’t think anything off it. It was super crusty on the outside and soft and spongy on the inside.

We paired it with Italian food one night and the next, I ate it with asparagus and Hollandaise sauce (dinner of champions). I think it would be really good as a dipping bread with olive oil and spices.

This makes me want to try different bread recipes and mess with this one too. I just can’t leave well enough alone, I guess. 🙂

Creamy Cheesecake from Magnolia Bakery in NY

This recipe comes from S.Y. who signed up for dessert for Season 1, Episode 1 of the cooking club recently. This cheesecake was SO good and was a little different from any cheesecake I’ve ever had. If you’re a cheesecake fan definitely try it!

Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie with Graham Cracker Crust (from “More from Magnolia”)

1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/2 c. chopped toasted pecans (to toast, place on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven until lightly browned and fragrant…recipe says 15 min, but that was too long, started to burn…i’d say 10)
1/4 c. unpacked light brown sugar

1 lb (2 8 oz packages) cream cheese, softened
1 c. confectioners sugar
1/4 c. sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pint strawberries, sliced in half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
CRUST: In a medium size bowl, combine the butter with the graham cracker crumbs, pecans, and sugar. Press firmly into lightly buttered 9 inch glass pie dish. Place an a baking rack and back for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
FILLING: In a large bowl, on the low speed of an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the sour cream and vanilla, and continue to beat on low speed until well combined.

Refrigerate the filling while the crust is cooling. When the crust is completely cooled, spread the filling evenly in the crust with a rubber spatula. Arrange the sliced strawberries on top in a decorative manner.

Refrigerate the pie for at least 8 hours or overnight to ensure that the filling sets.

and that’s it..easy as pie 🙂

Vegan baked ziti and sweet potato hummus!

Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping

3/4 pound uncooked ziti or penne (just realized I used the whole pound! Seemed to work out fine!)
2 onions thinly sliced (one of mine was huge, so I used 1 1/2)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 recipe Cashew Ricotta (see below)
1 Tbsp. browns sugar
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
White pepper and cayenne (I probably used about 1/2 tsp each)
2 c. purred pumpkin or 1 15-oz can pumpkin
1/4 c. veg broth

Sage Bread Crumbs
2 1/2 c. bread crumbs (I threw about 5 slices of double protein wheat bread into the food processor.
Homemade bread crumbs are lighter and crispier! I threw in the walnuts to grind up at the same time)
1/3 c. walnut pieces (I put the whole 1/2 c. bag in there)
1/4 c. nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
2 tsp. dried rubbed sage
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground paprika
salt and pepper

Cashew Ricotta:
1/2 c. raw cashew pieces (about 4 oz)
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves fresh or roasted garlic
1 pound firm tofu, drained and crumbled (I squeeze it in my hands over a strainer. Works great!)
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp salt

I realize now Cashew Ricotta could totally be made ahead of time and refrigerated, if you want to cut down your preparation time on one day. Put cashews, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic into food processor. Once creamy, add tofu, then basil and salt. I ended up adding another half lemon of juice to help get all the tofu blended in. But that shouldn’t be a problem when you’re not using the tiniest food processor on the planet. I think this filling would be great in lasagna too, or even on sandwiches, etc.

The rest:
Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 9×13 pan with pam, etc.
1. Boil water for ziti, cook according to directions.
2. While water is boiling/ziti is cooking, thinly slice onions and cook until some of them are getting a little brown and caramelized. I used a great cast iron pot for this — highly recommend if you have one. This will take about 15 min.
3. Put cashew ricotta in a bowl and fold in pumpkin, brown sugar, nutmeg, white pepper, cayenne and veg broth — mix. Add cooked ziti and onions, stirring to coat pasta and evenly mix in onions.
4. Poor into 9×13 pan and spread out with spatula.

Bread crumb topping:
1. Melt margarine in a heavy-bottomed skillet (I used a saucepan…) over medium heat
2. Stir in bread crumbs, walnuts, dried herbs, paprika, salt and pepper.
3. Stir constantly until mixture is lightly coated, 3-4 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and sprinkle over ziti.

Bake for 28-30 minutes. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then dig in. Really easier than I thought it would be and really good. I love it even more the second day.

Sweet Potato Hummus
Makes 4 cups

* 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
* 1 can (19.5 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
* 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
* 1/4 cup tahini
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 2 teaspoons ground cumin
* 1 garlic clove, chopped
* Coarse salt and ground pepper
* Whole-wheat pita and crudites such as red pepper and broccoli (Note: It was really good with Wheat Thins — but what isn’t?)


1. Set a steamer basket in a large pot. Fill with enough water to come just below basket; bring to a boil. Add potatoes; reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a food processor.
2. Combine chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, oil, cumin, and garlic in the food processor. Puree, about 1 minute; thin with water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and let cool; refrigerate, in an airtight container, up to 1 week. Serve with pita and crudites.

Butternut Squash, Ginger and Shallot Soup and Crusty No-Knead Bread

This also from Season 1, Episode one of the cooking club, made by the lovely G.P. I love ginger stuff, so it was especially delicious. We ate it alongside her no-knead bread – a recipe originally printed in the NY Times. Both were amazing!

Butternut Squash, Ginger, Shallot Soup
Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 2/3 cup soup and 1 teaspoon chives)

4 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
4 large shallots, peeled and halved
1 (1/2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. (1-inch) slices fresh chives
Cracked black pepper (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a roasting pan or jelly-roll pan; toss well. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Cool 10 minutes.

3. Place half of squash mixture and half of broth in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large saucepan. Repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture and broth. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Top with chives and pepper, if desired.

*I used a food processor instead which was easier and worked well
*I doubled the entire recipe, using 1 large 3 lb squash and added extra ginger.

No-Knead Bread

Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 c. all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ tsp. instant yeast
1¼ tsp. salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Blanched Kale with Peanut Dressing from Cooking Club Season 1, Episode 1

Some ladies and I have decided to get together roughly once a month, each of us bringing a different course, sharing the recipes, learning some new things. Among the group are people who eat meat, don’t eat meat, don’t do dairy — lots of diets to take into account. I’m not sure how they all will pan out, but Episode 1 was all vegan and vegetarian, which works for me!

I tackled the vegan entree of Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Cashew Ricotta and Sage Crumb Topping, straight from the Veganomicon cookbook. Other deliciousness was squash/ginger/shallot soup, homemade bread, cheesecake, sweet potato hummus and the first recipe I’ll share:

Kale with Peanut Dressing, with instructions by A.A.

1 head of kale
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
A few dashes hot sauce or sriracha, depending on how spicy you like it
Ginger, fresh or powder (optional)
Garlic, fresh or powder (optional)
Agave or honey (optional)
Sesame seeds to garnish (optional)
Red onions to garnish (optional)

I put on a pot of boiling water, and while I wait for it to boil I
make my peanut sauce. You may already have a peanut sauce recipe you
love, so feel free to run with that. Mine is a mix of peanut butter,
soy sauce, rice vinegar, hot sauce, and water. I don’t really measure,
so the measurements above are really general. I usually heat a blob of
peanut butter in the microwave for 20 seconds. Then pour a little soy
sauce and stir. Then add the rice vinegar and hot sauce, stir again,
taste, adjust, then add a little water to thin it all out. (Sometimes
I’ll add those optional ingredients above, but when I’m doing it
quickly, I leave them out.)

Now your water’s boiling. Remove all the leaves from the kale stems
and then blanch the leaves in the boiling water for about 1.5-2
minutes, until soft.

Next, put it in an ice bath or run it quickly
under cold water to stop it from cooking further, and to keep it
green. Now you want to get the water out of it so it will soak up the
dressing. You can squeeze it with your hands (this will bunch it up,
but you can separate it again) or dab it with a clean kitchen towel.
Then mix it with the peanut dressing you’ve made. You can eat it right
away, but I actually like to refrigerate mine a little first.

The kale cooks down a lot, so a whole head of kale really makes about
2 portions.

This was delicious! AA confessed she put a ton of sriracha in it, but that’s just fine with me. So good! I can’t wait to try this on things other than kale too, as I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect peanut sauce.