Monthly Archives: August 2014

Stuffed Pasta Shells, lightened up

I happen to love stuffed shells, filled with a rich egg and ricotta and mozzarella mixture, covered in a hearty marinara sauce.  They’re great on a cold winter’s night, and frankly, they’re about the only way most of us eat stuffed shells.

Recently I made a version that would be nice and light for warmer days.

The quick summary:  I made a simple white sauce and added a little grated Parmigiano cheese.  Chopped cooked chicken and chopped frozen broccoli were stirred into the white sauce, stuffed into cooked pasta shells, and baked until hot.

You could substitute peas or corn or your favorite vegetable or a combination of vegetables, for the broccoli.

More detailed directions here:

Make a simple, light white sauce.  Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan and then add 3 tablespoons of flour.  Combine well and stir for about 4 minutes.  Add 2 cups of milk and stir until thickened over medium-low heat.  Add a handful of grated parmesan cheese and stir until the cheese is softened.  Remove from the heat.  By the way, I substituted canola oil for the butter and used skim milk.

To the white sauce, add about a heaping cup of chopped cooked chicken (leftover, or rotisserie) and an equal amount of chopped cooked or frozen vegetables (all one kind or a combination).  Stuff into cooked pasta shells and place in an 8 inch square baking dish.  Bake at about 350 degrees until heated throughout, about 30 minutes.

This amount makes a relatively small dish, not a big family casserole.  It can be doubled (or tripled).

 

 

 

 

More adventures with baked avocados: Roasted Guacamole!

Ok, I know.  This is NOT true guacamole.  Guacamole is an amazing blend of fresh avocado, lime juice and salt, with the addition of certain raw vegetables according to one’s preference and traditions.  There are hundreds of variations.  Some people prefer a specific type of onion, or leave the onion out altogether, and some add garlic.  Some cooks insist that tomatoes do not belong in guacamole and some wouldn’t call it guacamole if it didn’t have tomatoes.  Some people use hotter peppers, and some are minimalists, using simply avocados.  Then there are the people who add in sour cream or their own favorite additions, or who will argue over whether the guacamole should be creamy or chunky.  But nearly every guacamole recipe involves time and fine chopping or mashing, and requires that it be served immediately.

Thanks to my daughter, our family has a wonderful guacamole recipe.  It involves a lot of fine dicing (usually that’s my job) and then she is the perfecter of the proper ratio of spice, saltiness, raw vegetables, and acid, mixing with precision.  It must be served immediately, and it’s delicious.  Fresh guacamole starts to turn an dull brown after it’s exposed to air, and the myth of keeping an avocado pit in a bowl of guacamole to preserve it is just that: a myth.  A thin layer of water or olive oil will help keep leftover guacamole fresh for a short time, but the best way to deal with guacamole is to devour it completely right away!  More chips!  Tequila, anyone?

But since I’ve been experimenting with baked avocados lately, I wanted to try a simple roasted “guacamole”.  This will not be a beautiful blended typical guacamole, but more like a rustic roasted avocado salsa.  The upside of this is that it only takes seconds to prepare, and there’s no fine dicing needed.  You only need to know how to pit an avocado, and how to hack a vegetable in half.  Plus, since everything’s roasted, there’s no need to rush to serve it while it’s still bright green;  it’s already golden brown and tender! It could be served with chips, or as a topping for tacos or fajitas or nachos.

To prepare it, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  (That’s not essential, it means you can simply toss the parchment paper and have no cleanup afterwards.)

Gather your favorite guacamole or salsa ingredients.  I peeled and cut an avocado into quarters and then cut a few jalapeños, tomatoes, onions and limes in half.  Make sure to use several limes.   Throw everything on the baking sheet.

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Feel free to add different types of hot peppers and/or garlic and use more or less of a certain ingredient, according to your taste and what’s available.  Generously salt everything, and drizzle a bit of olive oil over all.  Roast at about 400 degrees until it’s all golden and tender.  This might take a half hour, but there’s no tending to it, no need to stir or fuss.

When it’s done, remove the limes and squeeze the juice from them over all the roasted guacamole/salsa.  You can let your family or guests choose their roasted ingredients, or you can place everything on a cutting board and roughly chop and combine everything.

This photo shows what it looks like just after roasting, before chopping into more manageable pieces,  with the lime still in there.   It’s not beautiful, but it sure is delicious!

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Baked Avocados – For an Easy Breakfast or Amazing Nachos!

How does this sound?  Breakfast that you can roast in a fruit and customize in dozens of ways?  No bowl needed, almost no cleanup?  Plus it’s healthy and delicious! (Avocados are technically a fruit).

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First, the basics:  you’ll need an avocado and two eggs.  This works best with a large avocado and smaller eggs.  Since I only had large eggs on hand, I cracked the eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl and poured off about half the egg white (I saved the extra egg whites in a bowl in the fridge to stir into scrambled eggs next time I make them).

Then, halve and pit the avocado.  Don’t do anything else to it.  Into the hollow area of each of the avocado halves, where the pit was, place one egg.  Put the avocados in a small baking dish (you can line it with parchment paper if you want, for easier cleanup).  Bake them at 350 degrees until the eggs are set.   Breakfast is ready!  (You can cook the eggs thoroughly, or you can take them out when the whites are set and the yolks are still a little runny:  your choice, your preference).

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Now, you can just dig a spoon into this and eat it.  The avocado is warm and delicious and smooth, and when you’re done, throw the “bowl” (the avocado peel) away!  No cleanup! Sprinkle with salt and pepper if you like, or cumin, or paprika, or hot sauce.

And here is the part where you can customize this, top it, spice it up, and make nachos!

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On top of the hot avocado and egg, you can add chopped tomatoes and grated cheese, chopped onions, or salsa (extremely mild or devilishly hot), or fresh pico de gallo (or all of those!)  You could top it with cooked crumbled sausage (hot or mild), or chorizo, or even soy chorizo (which is surprisingly good!).   You can keep your choices healthy, or vegetarian, or dairy-free, or make them as spicy and meaty as you like.  Add just a few simple toppings, or bury those avocados in a mountain of extras!

Another option is to make the baked avocados into amazing nachos:

 

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It couldn’t be easier:  spread some tortilla chips on a plate.  Using a spoon, scoop the baked avocados and eggs out of the avocado peel, and place them on the chips.  Just smash the avocados so they spread out on the chips (or, if you want to be neater, use a knife to cube up the avocados).  I topped them with cheese, tomatoes and salsa.  You can add lettuce, cooked black or pinto beans, salsa, fresh vegetables, roasted corn, cooked ground beef or sausage, or just keep it simple.  You could even omit the eggs and bake the avocados with halved cherry or tomatoes instead of the eggs.   Keep it super simple with just good salsa from a jar, or get creative with toppings!  Make it a healthy breakfast, or a delicious dinner!

So what would you put on these Baked Avocado Nachos?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

Baked Stuffed Tomato Pies with a Savory Crust

Here’s something new to do with large tomatoes.  You could use a large heirloom tomato, or one of the bigger ones that are still hanging on in your garden.  This can be a side dish, or a hearty entree, depending on the filling you choose and on the size of the tomatoes.

First, prepare a filling.  Really the only rule to follow is that any raw meats or proteins should be cooked before stuffing them into the tomato.

I used mozzarella cheese, some Panko bread crumbs, fresh chopped basil, cooked chopped bacon, grilled corn, salt, pepper and some freshly grated Parmigiano cheese.

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You could use Mexican inspired fillings, like cooked taco-seasoned ground beef, chili peppers, shredded Cheddar cheese, sliced jalapenos, and chopped fresh cilantro.

Another nice choice might be broiled shrimp, chopped or sliced garlic, lemon zest, and chopped scallions, with Panko bread crumbs and just a bit of mayonnaise to moisten the stuffing.  Season with a spicy Cajun seasoning if you like.

Or for a more gourmet choice, how about rare or medium-rare steak (cut into bite-sized pieces), grilled corn, chopped seeded tomatoes and a little blue cheese?

Go completely vegetarian with roasted or grilled chopped vegetables (zucchini, summer squash, corn, tomatoes, mushrooms,and any other seasonal vegetables that are available and affordable)!  Mix the vegetables with a little Panko bread crumbs, some fresh herbs and a little olive oil.

Or make a Greek stuffed tomato, with cooked lamb or beef pieces, chopped red onion, Kalamata olives, chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese, with fresh oregano.

The filling should be moist.  The Panko bread crumbs can be eliminated but they do add a little crunch and texture.  For a gluten-free option, crumble up some lightly toasted gluten-free bread and substitute that for the Panko crumbs.

Completely scoop out the insides of the tomato, and lightly fill with the mixture (don’t pack the filling in).

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Place the tomatoes in a baking dish, or if you’ll be cooking this on an outdoor grill, in a grill-safe pan or dish.  Drizzle with a little olive oil.

You can roast the tomatoes now, or bake them, until the tomatoes are soft and the filling is heated throughout (about a half hour at 375 degrees).

For something extra delicious, top the tomatoes with a savory crust.  I made a basic pie crust with flour, butter and ice water, and added chopped fresh basil to the crust.  I cut out a circle of dough roughly the size of the tomato and baked the tomato with the dough on it.  It was like a fresh tomato pie!  You could use a store-bought crust or even thawed puff pastry crust, and you can omit the basil or substitute another appropriate herb.20140727_175438

 

 

 

 

 

If you need a pie crust refresher course, it’s really easy.  The basic rule is 1 part flour, 1/2 part butter or other shortening (vegetable shortening or lard or a combination of those), and 1/4 part ice water.  So if you use 2 cups flour, use 1 cup shortening and 1/2 cup ice water.  For a smaller recipe, use 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup shortening and 1/4 cup ice water.   Simply place the flour in a bowl, use a pastry cutter or a fork to distribute the shortening into the flour (or pulse in a food processor) until the flour and shortening resemble coarse wet sand and stir in the ice water.  Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, and form the dough into a disk.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for about 45 minutes or an hour.  Then roll or pat the dough to the desired thickness and cut to the desired size.

For this tomato pie, I used all butter and kneaded in several large basil leaves that I finely chopped.  I wanted a savory rustic crust and didn’t make the butter pieces too small.  I also sprinkled some coarse salt over the crust before baking the tomato.

Let me know what fillings you can think of for these individual baked tomato pies!