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 🙂

Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Garden-Fresh Tomato Sauce

Georgia’s party was this past weekend! The weather was gorgeous, the party was a success, and mama is tired. This is a recipe I made last week, while trying to use up even more of our garden tomatoes, which are ripening at the rate of dozens per day (!!) I like a chunky sauce but in this heat I don’t want to simmer it for hours, so I use a base to get me started, then just add tomatoes, fresh basil and seasonings. This time, I decided to see how shallots in butter would taste as a foundation for a quick summer tomato sauce, and I really liked the way it turned out. Here’s the recipe!

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I chose to make it with frozen turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s mixed into the sauce, with a side salad featuring additional tomatoes from our garden. Greens were just one head of romaine that I picked up at a sidewalk stand on my way home. The pasta pictured is penne, but you can use anything.

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Garden-Fresh Tomato Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 12-oz. (1 lb) can of crushed tomatoes as a base
  • 1 package frozen meatballs (or fresh) if using, such as Trader Joe’s
  • Handful of fresh basil, quantity to your taste, torn into smaller pieces (with stems removed)
  • 1 shallot, peeled and diced, then soaked in water for at least 5 minutes
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • ~ half a dozen fresh tomatoes, sliced and seeds removed (scrape out with a spoon)
  • salt, pepper and any other seasonings to taste

DIRECTIONS

Place the frozen meatballs in a medium sauce pan if you are making this sauce with them included, then pour in the entire can of crushed tomatoes and heat over medium-low, covered, while you chop the tomatoes from your garden, farmer’s market or CSA. I used between 5 and 6 smaller tomatoes, but eyeball it. You always want to have more sauce than not enough.

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Roughly dice your shallot and let it rest in a cup of water that just covers it (yes, I used a baby food bowl!) which helps them to get a little less sharp. In a small skillet, heat a tablespoon (approximately) of butter (or your choice of a substitute spread, such as Smart Balance) over medium-low until melted. Add the shallot to the butter and cook for a few minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper, until translucent. Turn off the heat.

While the can of crushed tomatoes and meatballs simmer, add any seasonings to the  sauce pan and keep covered over low while you boil water to cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse under cold water so it stops cooking.

Add the shallots (including the butter) and freshly-torn basil to the sauce. Season with salt, pepper, and your choice of other spices such as garlic powder, oregano, sugar, etc. I used a hearty Italian-style blend. Cover again and let simmer a little while longer. If the sauce looks too thick, add a splash of water or olive oil; if it looks too watery/thin or there isn’t enough, you can do what I did — throw in some leftover pizza sauce, which I always keep on hand — or add more garden tomatoes to bulk it up. Really, this is a very flexible recipe and you can sort of play it by ear!

I like to add in some more freshly shredded basil right at the end, and then more on top of the plate when I serve it. But I REALLY like basil, and there is a LOT in Mark’s garden right now. Pretty much, once the meatballs are cooked through (aka fork tender), this is ready to eat! I don’t mix the pasta and sauce together in one pan, but rather plate the penne and pour some sauce and meatballs over it, and finish with my side of salad. As Georgia says, “deeee-licious!”

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Basil: It goes with everything.

You can serve this however you like, with or without a side, and I’d bet you could also add meat to the sauce as well if you wanted to brown some sausage or ground beef up with the shallot. I almost threw in some roasted eggplant, too, but it was so hot I didn’t really want to put on the oven to bake it. Penne was great but any pasta you prefer will do just fine! This came out tasting like I’d simmered it for hours, when in reality it is done as soon as the fresh tomatoes have broken down to your liking. The longer you cook it the more they will fall apart and liquify, but they taste good no matter how chunky you leave them. I myself prefer them to hold a little bit of form. I also added my favorite spaghetti sauce seasoning, the organic blend from Wildtree, which added so much flavor.

I hope you like this! Party photos and recap coming soon! 

I can’t believe we have a two year old…this feels like just yesterday (although this doesn’t). Here she is on her birthday, at two minutes, one year, and two:

 

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

Homemade Cranberry Sauce (with a kick)!

It’s such a weird feeling for me to not be cooking the meal this Thanksgiving, but in truth I couldn’t handle it this year. Between 10-hour workdays, a major move, a husband juggling two jobs, and the fact that my recipes and pots are NOT unpacked, I’m lucky I managed to unearth the simple ingredients and saucepan needed to make my favorite side: Cranberry Sauce with a kick!

Here is the basic recipe (inspired by one of my first copies of Rachael Ray Magazine, from about 2006). I double this so everyone has plenty to take home with their leftovers.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick (add more if you like; I do!)
  • 2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp grated orange peel
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries

DIRECTIONS

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of water with 1 cup of sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, fresh ginger (or 1/4 tsp ground), orange peel and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved.

Stir in the cranberries and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.


Transfer the mixture to a bowl and remove the cinnamon stick (unless, like me, you let it simmer wayyyy longer than 10 minutes so that the sauce turns gelatinous and the cinnamon sticks practically dissolve). Let cool.

Enjoy! And have a very Happy Thanksgiving!