Friday, July 9, 2010

French Breakfast Muffins, 3 Cheese Pasta Pie, and My New Favorite Chocolate Cake Recipe

I had overnight company this week. My sister Karla and my friend Laura drove 5 hours to spend 24 hours visiting moi. I LOVE company. Not only was I excited for our "girl time" but I also enjoy the chance to cook for guests. I found all three of the recipes that I prepared for my guests on other food blogs that I frequent.

First, I made these French Breakfast Muffins, that I found on Katy's blog, Food for a Hungry Soul.

The first sentence in Katy's post about French Breakfast Muffins states, "If you grew up liking cinnamon and sugar generously sprinkled on your buttered toast, I can almost guarantee that you'll love these French breakfast muffins." Yep. That's me! I thoroughly enjoy toast laden with butter and coated with cinnamon and sugar for breakfast. I knew that my kiddos would like these too. I decided to serve them to my guests for breakfast with some fresh fruit. As it turned out, I had just finished rolling the warm-from-the-oven muffins in cinnamon and sugar when the ladies arrived. We ended up eating them fresh off the cooling rack for an afternoon snack AND again for breakfast the next day. You can click HERE to get the recipe.

For dinner, I choose to make a pasta pie. From the moment I found out my sister and friend were coming to visit together, I began contemplating what I would make for dinner. You see, my sister can be pretty picky and my friend is largely a vegetarian, not to mention 8 months pregnant! I didn't want her to be hungry. I recalled that the hard work of growing another person inside of me made me ravenous.(Hence the 60 lbs. I gained during my first pregnancy. Thank goodness I was able to exercise some discretion with my second pregnancy...purely from the memory of how un-fun working off those pounds could be.) "Picky" and "vegetarian" don't describe my eating habits at I thought long and hard about what to make that both of them would enjoy. I've seen pasta cake recipes on 3 separate blogs in the last couple of years. When I saw Dave from My Year on the Grill's recent post about a pasta cake that he made for his wife I knew that this was the solution to my "what to make" dilemma. My sister loves manicotti, so I knew that she'd enjoy this dish AND I could make a portion of it meatless. Perfect. This was a huge hit at our dinner table!

Finally, I made this flourless chocolate cake from Tried and True Cooking with Heidi. If you are a chocolate lover (like me), you HAVE to make this cake ASAP! And if you need to follow a gluten-free diet, please check out Heidi's site. I recently noted that she's got 66 gluten free recipes on her blog! This dessert was an after-thought. I was discussing dessert with my guests and I mentioned that I really regretted not making something decadent and chocolate-y to chase that pasta cake with. Then I started telling the girls about the flourless chocolate cake recipe that I'd seen on Tried and True Cooking with Heidi. I stopped mid-thought. "Wait. Maybe I have everything we need to make it now!" My sister (and fellow chocoholic)was like, "Check it out!" and you can bet that the pregnant lady didn't make any arguments. We all made the cake together. I'm so glad that I didn't make this ahead. My oldest daughter (who has inherited our chocoholic gene) was in charge of the sugar/water combination. My sister went to work creating a double boiler and melting the chocolate, my friend entertained my toddler, and I manned the mixer. We were women on a mission. It's amazing that I didn't mess up the recipe, because we were all catching up and visiting and laughing in my kitchen while we worked.

In this post, I'll walk you through the steps I took in creating the pasta pie and chocolate cake. I didn't remember to take any pics while I was making the muffins. I was busy getting ready for my guests, but please check out the links above.

A pasta pie is not difficult to make, just a little time consuming. I began by browning a pound of Italian sausage and then spreading it in bottom of a springform pan. Note the vegetarian segment of our pasta pie. I just made sure that I oiled the bottom of the pan in that section so that the spinach layer didn't stick.

Speaking of the spinach layer, that came next. I didn't measure here, I just grabbed a couple of handfuls of baby spinach and arranged it over the sausage.

Now for the pasta. I used a whole box of rigatoni. You want to cook it just to the al dente state. I boiled mine in two batches because I didn't realize that I'd need the whole box. I followed the cooking directions on the box for the first batch (12-14 minutes). Those rigatoni didn't stay open OR stand up as well as I would have liked. It didn't ruin the effect, I just had to work a little harder. For the second batch, I only boiled the pasta for 10 minutes. These rigatoni turned out more conducive to standing on end and easier to fill. For this reason, my recommendation is to shave a couple of minutes off of the recommended cooking time. Starting around the edges and working your way toward the center, arrange the pasta in an upright position over the spinach layer.

It looked like this when I finished.

Then I took a whole big tub of ricotta cheese and stirred it up with a little salt and pepper and garlic. I used garlic "juice" that I drained off of some minced garlic in a jar. Fresh minced garlic, jarred minced garlic, crushed garlic, or even garlic powder would work here too.

I used a cake decorating bag with no tip attached to squeeze the ricotta mixture into each rigatoni tube. You could also use a plastic baggie with just the corner cut off to fill the rigatoni.

Mmmm. Cheesy.

And....cheesier. I grated some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over the top of the stuffed rigatoni.

Then I dumped a jar of marinara sauce over the top of everything and spread it around to cover. If you want to make your own sauce for pasta pie, check out Cathy from Noble Pig's recipe HERE. You can put the pie directly into the oven now. I made this ahead, so I covered it and popped it into the fridge until I was ready for it.

My sister removed the pasta pie from the pool that had formed around it in the fridge when it was time for the oven. It also dripped all the way across my kitchen floor. Uh-oh. Before I began making this, I just grabbed the springform pan from my baking cabinet. I never bothered to check the seal or adjust it. Ooops. We cleaned up the mess and put the pasta pie on a baking sheet before baking. Good thing, because it continued to leak as it baked. Lesson learned: check that the base of your springform pan is properly aligned with the sides before assembling the pasta cake. Oven smoked pasta pie might not have been too tasty. I baked this for 15 minutes at 400 degrees and then I sprinkled on a couple of cups of mozzarella cheese and baked it for another 15 minutes until it got nice and "melty"

After removing the pie from the oven, let it sit for 15 minutes. Then, set it free from the sides of the springform. Then, put the pie on a plate for all to admire!

This was SO good and it looked really cool too! Served up with garlic bread and salad, this is the perfect dish to serve when company is coming.
Here's my recipe:

3 Cheese Pasta Pie with Sausage and Spinach

1 lb. Box Rigatoni, cooked al dente
1 tablespoon olive oil
Raw Baby Spinach, washed, stems removed
1 pound Italian Sausage, browned
1 large tub of Ricotta Cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic, crushed garlic, garlic "juice" or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2-3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
14 ounce jar of Marinara Sauce
2-3 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese

Prep work:

Brown 1 lb. sausage in a skillet. Drain. Set aside. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until slightly underdone. When done, rinse in cold water and drain again. Toss pasta with 1 Tablespoon olive oil to coat. Set aside. Mix ricotta, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Transfer either a decorator's bag or a plastic baggie with the corner cut off. Set aside.

To Assemble:

Place browned sausage in the bottom of a 10 inch springform pan. Top with spinach. Tightly pack pasta into pan, standing each piece on end. Fill each pasta with ricotta mixture. Top with parmesan cheese. Spread marinara sauce over the pasta.

To Bake:

Place in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top and bake another 10-15 minutes until cheese is golden. Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen and then unmold.


Now for dessert.

I cannot say enough good things about this chocolate cake. For me,(and my sister, friend, and daughters) it was AMAZING! I'm not even sure how to describe it. It wasn't quite like cake. Hmmm. Maybe I could describe it like the fudgiest, smoothest brownie EVER? But even that description doesn't do it justice. Whatever. It was spectacular!

We started with chocolate. The recipe called for 18 oz. of chopped bittersweet chocolate. I had 18 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate chips, so that's what I used. My sister fashioned a double boiler by boiling water in a sauce pan, then placing one of my glass Pyrex mixing bowls over the water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melting the chips until smooth.

My daughter was in charge of stirring together the sugar and water and notifying us of when it reached boiling. Working elbow to elbow with her Aunt Karla at the stove, she was in good hands.

While my sister and daughter worked the stove, I began cutting two sticks of unsalted butter.

The next few steps all take place in the mixing bowl. First the melted chocolate went into the bowl. Then I turned on the mixer and dropped in the butter, one slice at a time. Once the butter was mixed in, I poured in the hot sugar water and mixed some more. Finally, 6 eggs were mixed in, one at a time, until everything was incorporated.

Now pour the mixture into a greased (we used butter) 10 inch round cake pan. The batter was like chocolate velvet!

This cake cooks in a hot water bath. I highly recommend putting the cake pan (already on the baking sheet) in the oven first and then pouring in the boiling water. That way, you don't risk sloshing boiling water onto yourself as you carry the whole deal to the oven. Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes. The center should still look wet when you remove it from the oven.

Once out of the oven, cool the cake to room temperature, then chill it in the fridge overnight. Since we made this cake the afternoon before we ate it, we didn't follow this part of the recipe. We were all about instant gratification! I would recommend making this ahead as it would have been easier to remove from the pan if it had chilled overnight. I quick chilled it in the freezer for an hour before dinner, because it was still a bit warm on the bottom when we checked it a couple of hours after baking. We were so excited to try this, that I didn't get a great picture. The picture below does NOT do this cake justice. It's easily my new favorite dessert. I quickly garnished it with whipped cream...and dug in!

Here's the recipe just as it appeared on Tried and True Cooking with Heidi. I'm certain that I will make this again and again!
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup white sugar
18 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
6 eggs (I used egg beaters)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Grease one 10 inch round cake pan and set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, salt and sugar. Stir until completely dissolved and set aside. Either in the top half of a double boiler or in a microwave oven melt the bittersweet chocolate. Pour the chocolate into the bowl of an electric mixer. Cut the butter into pieces and beat the butter into the chocolate, 1 piece at a time. Beat in the hot sugar-water. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Have a pan larger than the cake pan ready, put the cake pan in the larger pan and fill the pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake cake in the water bath at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 45 minutes. The center will still look wet. Chill cake overnight in the pan. To unmold, dip the bottom of the cake pan in hot water for 10 seconds and invert onto a serving plate.

Note: I subbed 18 oz. of semi sweet chocolate chips for the bittersweet chocolate.

Have mercy, we ate well! It was such a great visit. As usual, we stayed up WAY too late into the night, chatting. Once upon a time, we could sleep in after such evenings. No longer! We were off an running this morning for my daughter's day camp, a little shopping, and a quick lunch before my company hit the road (to get back to their families and work). I returned home for a long, rainy afternoon with my kiddos. Thank goodness another friend called and convinced me to run 2 miles with her tonight. I was feeling lazy and sleepy, not to mention guilty from all of those calories consumed. (I may or may not have enjoyed another piece of that leftover chocolate cake after lunch). : )

I hope all of you have a wonderful weekend!


Julie said...

Yes, I was planning to come and visit you soon, so you'll need to be ready to recreate all these! Ha :) Looks like a scrumptious visit!

Jeanette said...

Wow this looks incredible! It looks low cal too, (LOL). but boy does it look great.

Kathleen said...

Whens the next girls weekend? I soooo want to come!

Chicago Mom said...

Wow - how impressive that pasta dish is! Thanks for the great photos too.

Diana's Cocina said...

What a beautiful spread ~ I would love to be a guest in your home!:)
Your chocolate cake looks yummy,

Anonymous said...


Heather S-G said...

Oh, everything looks fabulous! I've been wanting to make that ever since I saw it at Dave's place, more than ever...YUM! And yeah, must try those muffins as I grew up on cinnamon and sugar toast and my kids still love it! Delicious post =)

Katy ~ said...

That 3-cheese pasta pie looks AMAZING!! Oh my, my!!

And the flourless chocolate cake, big WOW.

Grins, glad you enjoyed the French breakfast muffins. They are fun, aren't they.

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