Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly · Recipes

Tomato Tortellini Soup

New weeknight staple alert! This is a 20-minute meal that tastes like scratch (and mostly is), and provides delicious, warm little lunches. That is, assuming you even have leftovers. It really is that scrumptious.

We had parents night at Georgia’s school recently, and we got home that day with less than an hour to spare before we had to turn around and head back out the door. Patting myself on the back for buying fresh tortellini a few days earlier, I quickly realized I had the makings of a fast, filling dinner that would also serve the dual purpose of helping us move through our tomato stash. Which, if you’ve been following my Instagram since late August, is significant.

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Even with the cooler temperatures slowing down the ripening in our garden, I’ve put up 68 ounces (!!!) of tomato sauce, and made countless batches of creamy tomato soup for freezing and eating since September. I probably gave out 100 tomatoes to co-workers, too, and am now moving on to bringing in the green ones for folks who have good recipes for things like relish, fritters and stew. And all that came from just two plants!

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I did tons of caprese salad and homemade pizza during the weeks of late summer and early Autumn, but eventually that gets repetitive, and in the fall soup just starts to feel right. Georgia has never been a big fan of the texture of soup or stews, but I figured if anything could change her mind, it would be something chunky, creamy, and filled with cheesy pasta. And I was right.

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Inspiration for this recipe came from The Kitchn, but I made my own modifications and tweaks because I like more tomato chunks and a little less heft than heavy cream.

Tomato Tortellini Soup

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 TBSP butter + a swirl of olive oil for the pot
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
  • salt and pepper to taste (don’t be shy)
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 or 3 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 cans (4 cups/32 ounces) chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 package (about 14 ounces) cheese tortellini
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
  • grated parmesan cheese, to taste

DIRECTIONS

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil together over medium until warm, then add the onion. Cook until soft, then add the garlic, making sure it doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the vinegar, then add the crushed tomatoes (with the liquid in the can) and the broth, cream and bay leaves to the pot. Add in some chunks of fresh tomato. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the tortellini and cook for about 3 minutes (5 minutes if using frozen). Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves, and stir in the basil. Serve topped with fresh grated Parmesan. Enjoy warm!

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Notes

You can use either fresh or frozen tortellini; just adjust the cooking time up a bit for frozen to give them time to thaw by cooking in the sauce.

Subbing vegetable stock is fine; I like the taste of chicken stock better. You can also use another type of shredded cheese on top, such as pecorino.

Feel free to put that heavy cream back in there if you want it extra rich!

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For me, this kept in the fridge just fine for 5 days. I also froze two small containers of it for later. To reheat, either warm over low/medium on the stovetop or microwave for about one minute, covered.

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I hope you are having a wonderful fall getting ready for Halloween, Thanksgiving and (gulp) Christmas. I am actually already starting to shop for the holidays! Starting early is the only way I can stay on budget. We just took our annual family photos with our favorite photographer — here’s a sneak peek of one image so far 🙂 I can’t wait to get the full package so I can start designing my photo album gifts and Christmas cards.

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Christmas · Holidays · kid-friendly · Recipes

Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

Happy Cyber Monday! I’m pretty much done with my holiday shopping already, so today is more like Treat YoSelf Monday in my book — I’ve got my eye on a Beauty Blender and a new work bag that is way not in the budget this year (especially since we just had to buy a new car last month). Hard to resist when the sales are this good. I hope you all had a restful, relaxing Thanksgiving. We sure did! Eating out, while not something I’d want to do every year, was extremely stress-free, and I loved not having to wash a million dishes at the end of the night. The place we went was excellent, and it was so nice getting to talk, sip a cocktail, then enjoy a movie back at home while lounging on the couch together. I did a little Black Friday shopping from the comfort of my bed before I even got up the next morning, and then spent the weekend getting our Christmas decorations out! I’ll be sharing a 2016 gift guide later this week, but for now please enjoy this easy-peasy version of vegetarian stuffed shells that is comforting, savory, and just the right thing to throw together in those frazzled weeks between Thanksgiving and Hanukkah/Christmas when your brain just doesn’t have the capacity to cook anything complicated. Adding a salad to this — even a pre-made, store-bought salad — or some simple roasted veggies would complete the meal nutritionally and make your taste buds happy.

Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package pasta shells (the jumbo kind with 24 shells per container)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 cups ricotta
  • 1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 TBSP chopped fresh sage
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the garlic cream sauce

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used almond milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream (or half n’ half)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 35o and spray (or butter) a 9×13 glass baking dish.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, not mushy or overdone. Drain well and transfer to a paper towel laid out on the counter to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, ricotta, parmesan, egg, sage and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

To make the cream sauce, melt butter in a skillet over medium and add the garlic, then cook, stirring, until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Whisk in the flour gradually until lightly browned, about a minute. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring continuously, until well mixed. Stir in the light cream and cheese until thickened, another couple of minutes. If the mixture is too thick, add more milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread some of the cream sauce into the bottom of the buttered baking dish, enough to coat the bottom. Stuff the cooled shells with the pumpkin-ricotta mixture and nestle into the baking dish, then drizzle the remaining cream sauce over the top. Garnish with some sage if desired.

Bake 25 or until lightly browned and bubbling. Serve warm.

Adapted from Damn Delicious.

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Ready to start shopping and don’t want to miss the best sales today?

Check out my previous guides: Gifts for Toddlers (especially awesome for two and three year olds), Gifts for Babies (great for infants through 18 months), Gifts for the Guys, and eco-friendly gift ideas for that brand new baby in your life (like my special little niece!) Last but not least, in honor of #MakersMonday (which is today), here’s a post featuring Locally-Made Gifts.  

If you’re in Boston, don’t forget to swing by the grand opening of Eataly tomorrow. I’ll be there, ready to stock up on Lavazza, Fig Burrata, imported Olive Oil and Brunello. I might actually explode from excitement while shopping! Ping me if you want to meet up or plan to be there yourself. Doors open at 4 p.m. in the Prudential, off Boylston.

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another sneak peak from our holiday photos. Have a great week 🙂

Christmas · Holidays · Recipes

Scalloped Potatoes

As promised, here’s my recipe for scalloped potatoes from Christmas Dinner! Usually, I serve mashed potatoes at the holidays using this make-ahead recipe, but I wanted to change things up. This is simpler because it doesn’t require peeling or boiling, and it can be made the day before. In fact, next year that’s what I plan to do in order to save myself some stress on Christmas morning.

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SCALLOPED POTATOES WITH ONION & CHEDDAR

also known as Potatoes Gratiné en Français 🙂

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 or 6 medium baking potatoes (about 2.5 lbs.)
  • 1.5 C grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 4 C whole milk
  • 3/4 C light cream
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt & pepper

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a large casserole/baking dish.

Slice the potatoes very thin. I am terrified of the mandoline and don’t own a large food processor, so I did this by hand, very carefully with a large, freshly-sharpened chef’s knife. Do not rinse. Set aside.

Prep the onions and garlic: slice the onion thin and smash the cloves of garlic with the side of a knife and your fist, or a meat pounder or heavy mug (I put mine in a plastic bag to contain the splatter).

In a good-sized Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium (medium-low if using a cast iron or enameled cast iron pot). Add the onions and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the milk, garlic and Dijon and bring to a boil over medium. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Add the potatoes and allow to simmer until they are nearly tender, about 10 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, and discarding the milk once you’re done, transfer half the potatoes and onions to your greased baking dish, then cover with half of the cheese. Repeat, seasoning generously with salt and pepper, then spoon the potatoes and onions into the dish in a second layer and top with the remaining cheese. Season again, then pour the cream evenly over the top.

Bake uncovered for 50 minutes to one hour, or until the cheese is crispy and golden. Let cool a few minutes and serve!

Recipe inspired by thekitchn. 

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This is actually easy enough to do for a regular weeknight dinner, and would definitely give you enough to use a second time in one week (unless you have a family of teenage boys, in which case, I can’t help you! And hats off, my friend). I used packaged shredded cheddar this time around, but you could grate fresh — I just can’t deal with that stress on my wrists, which still battle some carpal tunnel syndrome left over from my pregnancy. And, of course, another type of cheese (gruyere? hmm) will do just fine.

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If you prefer, you can use another kind of milk — almond, soy, etc. — and you can substitute 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of water for the full 4 cups of whole milk called for. Many recipes also call for heavy cream in scalloped potatoes, but I don’t find that to be necessary. You can still get a very rich effect by using light cream as I did here. Some recipes also call for cooking the potatoes on lower heat for longer in the oven, but I like how this recipe recommends par-cooking on the stove top before you place them in the oven to ensure they are adequately and evenly seasoned. You can always save the discarded milk for another culinary use. And, if you’re interested, I used russet potatoes here; I was looking for yukon gold, but they weren’t available so I decided to try my luck and I’m pleased with the result. These held up very well structurally. If you want a tremendously thick sauce in the dish, you could thicken your milk with flour at the par-cooking stage.

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I really hope you like this recipe and that it broadens your taste buds if you grew up accustomed to the boxed version! These made great leftovers with some of the spiral ham and casseroles we had on Christmas. Georgia ate them enthusiastically, but then again the main ingredients are cheese, milk and potatoes, so I’m not surprised. The onion and garlic lend a visible flavor but don’t overwhelm, making them perfect for picky eaters while still being a little more interesting than mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

Recipes

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

What’s the best thing about mashed potatoes? How fluffy, buttery and delicious they are, right? But there’s a dark side — all that peeling, chopping, boiling and mashing by hand the morning of a big meal, which almost makes you dread having them. Well, not anymore.

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As I mentioned in my Christmas Dinner post, I used a new recipe (new to me, anyway) from the Pioneer Woman, which calls for baking the potatoes the day before (I KNOW) and then popping them in the oven just half an hour before you eat. I had to try it. I love, love, LOVE buttery mashed potatoes, and yet they are such a pain when you’re trying to time the rest of a big meal to be ready all at once. Well, this make-ahead tip 100% worked for me, so I am posting it here in the hopes it’ll save you some time down the line. Enjoy!

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5-lb. bag of Russet or Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 8-oz. container of plain cream cheese
  • 1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Peel and cut the potatoes evenly into halves or quarters. Set a large pot of water on to boil, and when the water is simmering rapidly, add the potatoes. Cook for at least 30 minutes.

Once the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them in a large colander. When they are done draining, place them back into the dry cooking pot on the stove over low heat. Mash by hand with a potato masher over low heat, allowing all the steam to escape.

Turn off the stove and add the softened butter, starting with one stick and adding more to your taste. Then add the cream cheese and half a cup of the half-and-half or heavy cream, again adding more to your taste. Mash until there are no more lumps.

Taste and season with salt and pepper, taking care not to under-salt.

Stir well and add to a medium sized baking dish. Top with a few pats of butter and put it in the fridge, covered, until you’re ready to bake it.

If you’re eating it right away, just bake at 350 until the butter on top is melted and the potatoes are warmed through. If you’re making ahead of time, take it out of the fridge an hour or two before your meal and heat for 25 to 30 minutes at the same temperature.

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Chopping the potatoes into smaller pieces hastens the cooking time. Half or at the most quartered should do it, otherwise they’ll fall apart in the water.

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Using a hand-held potato masher is the only way to go. An electric mixer sometimes makes the potatoes glue-y.

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Make sure you’ve set the butter out to soften for a bit before mixing it into the potatoes. I also like to leave the half-and-half and cream cheese out for a few minutes to come closer to room temperature before using.

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Make sure you taste before putting the potatoes into your baking dish to make sure they’ve been salted enough!

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Yum.

Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Garden Tomato Porn

This is all. Just…exist among their beauty.

Oh, you wanted a recipe? I suppose I can accommodate.

Quick Spicy Tomato Sauce

Courtesy of Wishful Chef

This one is so great because it’s fast, simple, and can make use of either fresh or canned tomatoes, making it very verstile for summer or winter. Plus, the sauce goes great in a multitude of dishes.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes (canned or fresh)
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • a splash of cream or half & half

DIRECTIONS

In a pot, combine olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt. Turn the heat on to medium-high and stir ingredients until oil bubbles and garlic turns sweet and becomes slightly browned, about 6 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes and sugar and simmer for about 3 minutes. Turn heat off and stir in butter and cream. Taste the sauce and add more salt, pepper if needed. Total time: 10 minutes. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

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I can’t end the post without shouting out my husband Mark, who actually grew these monsters. I had no part in it whatsoever, not even watering. (Unless you count my grumbling during those late-night “re-staking emergencies” after another heavily-laden stalk had tumbled sideways or otherwise faced certain death had we not intervened). For a novice gardener, he really turned it out this year!
Recipes · Tips and Tricks

Cashew Cream

What is Cashew Cream? It’s a nut-based substitute for dairy cream, which is great for vegans, those who are lactose-intolerant, or anyone who just wants to cut out the saturated fat and calories of heavy cream. It’s a staple in the raw food world, where it originated. Where can you use it? Desserts, sauces, soups, you name it! It reduces very well over heat, and will keep in the freezer for several months (or a few days refrigerated).

I’ve been meaning to try making my own cashew cream for a really long time — ever since a vegan restaurant near my old apartment told me that’s how they made creamy, decadent sauces that I couldn’t believe were dairy free.  Turns out, it’s really easy to make, and a little bit goes a long way.

The first thing you need is about two cups of good quality whole cashews ~ the raw kind, not roasted or salted. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both have good options, but I’m sure many supermarkets do, too. Why whole? Because cashew pieces can be dry, and you want the maximum creaminess.

Step one is to rinse the cashews very well under cold water.

Next, place the cashews in a bowl with enough cold water to cover them completely.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, rinse again under cold water and place in your blender with enough water to cover them by about an inch. Blend on high for a few minutes, until smooth.

If your blender leaves something to be desired, consider straining the cashew cream to eliminate lumps.

Use immediately, or save it in the fridge for up to three days. To keep cashew cream long term, store in a freezer-safe container for several months.

The first thing I made using cashew cream was a vegetarian pot pie (recipe coming soon). I also put it in a pasta dish I was making to mimic a creamy sauce that otherwise might have used cream cheese or bechamel. And since I had a little extra cashew cream in the blender when I first made it, I decided to piggyback on those leftovers to make a creamy fruit smoothie. Check back soon for that recipe, too!

To customize this recipe for your needs, simply reduce the amount of water you put into the blender with the cashews, and you’ll get a much thicker “cream.” Done normally, this recipe yields about 3 1/2 cups.

Recipes

Fat Kid Mac N’ Cheese

There is nothing healthy about this, whatsoever. Even if you use Smart Balance butter blend sticks or soy creamer, you are still loading up on tons of carbs and artery-clogging dairy here. Because those are the ingredients for traditional mac n’ cheese, and that’s what I made: Full-on, comfort-food, double-the-recipe “Fat Kid” Mac n’ Cheese. Enjoy.

Nostalgic, much?

Ingredients

  • 1 (16 ounce) package macaroni
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 8 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cup milk
  • 2 cup cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups cheese, shredded (I used a blend of cheddar & smoked gruyere)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, buttered

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook and drain macaroni according to package directions; set aside.

In a large saucepan melt butter. Add flour mixed with salt and pepper, using a whisk to stir until well blended.

Pour milk and cream in gradually; stirring constantly. Bring to boiling point and boil 2 minutes (stirring constantly). Take care not to let it burn.

Reduce heat and cook, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes.

Add shredded cheese bit by bit. Simmer an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese melts. Add macaroni to the saucepan (or another bowl) and toss to coat with the cheese sauce.

Transfer macaroni to a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs (I mixed mine with a bit of melted butter to moisten). Top with a few dollops of butter before putting in the oven. Bake 20 minutes until the top is golden brown.

This recipe was inspired by the old favorite, Fannie Farmer’s Classic Macaroni and Cheese. 

Modifications: Add peas and/or carrots to the mix; halve the recipe instead of using the whole pound of macaroni; add dijon mustard and/or hot sauce to the mix for a kick; add in crispy bacon pieces if you eat meat.

CSA 2011 · Recipes

Harvest vegetable pasta

I created this after roasting a bunch of root vegetables together with nuts and raisins in a (failed) attempt to make something compelling. Luckily, even though they bored me as a standalone dish, these harvest veggies tasted excellent once I tossed them with rotini pasta and a nutmeg-infused sauce. Easy as pie….kind of tastes like pie too, actually.

INGREDIENTS

  • Red potato, sliced into quarters (unpeeled)
  • Turnips, sliced in half
  • Pumpkin, peeled and cubed
  • Squash, peeled and cubed (or buy this way)
  • Raisins (I used about one small box)
  • Carrots/parsnips, sliced (unpeeled)
  • Almonds (handful)
  • Vegetable broth (enough so an inch or two coats the pan)
  • Cinnamon to taste (be liberal with it!)
  • Nutmeg (generous spoonful)
  • Ginger (to taste)
  • Honey (about a half cup)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375. Prep all the chopped ingredients (or do this a day ahead). Toss with olive oil, nuts and raisins on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger and drizzle with honey. Season with salt and pepper. Add an inch or two of vegetable stock to the bottom of the pan. Roast in the oven, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, boil your pasta — I used rotini because it can “grip” chunky sauces like what you’re making.

You can use premade white sauce (I bought a great nutmeg sauce at Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Davis Square that I used as a base); or, you can make a simple white sauce by whisking butter, flour and then cream together over low heat, and then add the nutmeg in. Here’s a great example. I also added some leftover cream cheese into the pan to thicken the sauce even more (I never claimed this was health food). Combine the veggies, pasta and sauce in a large pot with a dash of pasta cooking water to help it all stick together! You can loosen it up with some more milk (I like almond milk) if it looks too thick or sticky.

This reheats well, but I’d recommend pouring a dash of  almond milk (or whatever kind you use) into the tupperware container and also putting a pad of butter on the top of the pasta when heating up leftovers to re-moisten things in the microwave and to keep it all from turning sticky.