Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Baked Penne with Summer Squash, Tomatoes, and Basil

This was dinner last night. I have to say that it was pretty darn FABULOUS! Here's what a loved about this dinner: #1 It was deee-licious. #2 It used inexpensive seasonal ingredients. #3 My family liked it AND #4 it got my kids to eat a few veggies. Here's the downside: 1) It was time consuming to prepare 2) it's fairly high in fat and calories. Although, I did lighten this up a bit, using half and half instead of heavy whipping cream.

I found this recipe in Cover & Bake (Best Recipes)from Cook's Illustrated. No doubt, I am a big fan of Cook's Illustrated. This is the same cookbook where I discovered Skillet Cincinnati Chili back in February. I still dream about that stuff! But as I was preparing this recipe, I was sort of complaining to a friend over the phone, "Geez, these Cook's Illustrated recipes are SO detailed." This led us to a discussion about cookbooks and eventually my friend asked the question, "So what's your favorite cookbook to cook from right now?" To which I answered, "Anything from Cook's Illustrated." Why? Well, because the recipes are SO detailed. I love finding out the history behind the recipes that I am preparing and it's interesting to read all of the steps and trials that the Cook's Illustrated experts went through to come up the best possible end result. I mean, they test the heck out of the recipes that appear in their cookbooks! Which leads me to the final reason that I enjoy their recipes...almost every recipe that I have tried from their collections turns out pretty perfect (with the exception of one...and I can't remember which one it was now.)

This recipe uses 1 lb. of zucchini and 1 lb. of yellow squash. I sliced the zucchini in half first and then cut it into 1/2" slices, as recommended. I got two big beautiful zucchini from my local farmer's market last week for $1. Not too shabby. : )

Then I salted all of the chopped zucchini and yellow squash and set it aside in a colander to drain. (I used sea salt...kosher is fine too) The salt helps to draw out the moisture. I was surprised at how much water drained off of the squash.

While the squash drained, I set about preparing the bread crumb topping for my casserole. Fresh bread crumbs are really the best for this recipe, but I shuddered at the recommendation to use my food processor. First of all, I'd have to haul the whole thing out from the bottom of my pantry, then assemble it, and worst of all...clean it when I was finished. Yuck. I almost reached for the prepared bread crumb can in my pantry...and then inspiration hit and I grabbed my coffee grinder. After washing out all traces of coffee and slightly toasting my bread (I'd just purchased it that morning and I didn't want it to get all gummy in the grinder), I tore the bread into pieces and pulsed it in the coffee grinder.

It worked beautifully for making bread crumbs. Genius!

When the squash finished draining, I further dried it by patting with paper towels and then I transferred half into a skillet with a tablespoon of heated olive oil.

You want to cook the squash until it's golden brown...

and slightly charred. Then repeat with the remaining squash and another tablespoon of olive oil.

In between stirring the squash so that it evenly browned, I prepared the remaining ingredients. I chopped 6 medium shallots.

And a pint of grape tomatoes. The original recipe called for cherry tomatoes, but these grape tomatoes were on sale for 99 cents a pint at my local supermarket. I just cut them in half. I also chopped the basil and parsley for the sauce.

Once the squash is cooked to specifications, then wipe the skillet with a paper towel and add more olive oil, and saute the shallots until tender and slightly browned.

My oldest daughter arrived on the scene via the playroom while I was sauteing the shallots. "I want steak!" She announced as she breezed into the kitchen. This summer brought a new favorite meal into my daughter's life: Cowboy Steaks with Shallot Butter. Now whenever my kid sees steaks thawing on our kitchen counter, she asks, "Do you have any shallots, mommy? Will you PLEASE make the sauce! Puh-lease!" I've made shallot butter for our steaks at least 4 times this summer. The other day when I was chopping shallots for a batch of chili, she was watching. "Ooooh. Shallots. Do you want me to get some steak from the freezer?" She asked. She's possibly the only kid in her class that knows what a shallot looks like. Don't think that I'm not proud. Consequently, whenever she smells shallots sauteing, she assumes that we're having steak for dinner....and she's excited. (She inherited my carnivore gene). Unfortunately, tonight I had to burst her little bubble, "Oh honey. We're not having steak. I'm making pasta." Her face dropped for a minute and she gave me a disappointed, "Oh." But just as quickly, her face lit up and she asked, "Can I help?" To which I answered, "Of course!" I really do love our time in the kitchen together.

Once the shallots are tender, throw in 4 cloves of minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, until fragrant. Then stir in 1/4 cup of flour. Cook for another minute or so, until golden. I ended up adding another tablespoon of olive oil here, as the mixture was really dry.

Whisk in chicken broth and then cream, and cook and stir while it bubbles and thickens slightly.

Then stir in the grated Parmesan.

And the fresh herbs.

Give it a stir and then taste to see if you need to add salt or pepper.

Here's my taste tester, already in her pajamas before dinner after a grueling 3rd day of gym class and story time at kindergarten. She gave the sauce and taste and then savored and pondered for a moment. "Hmm. Maybe a little sea salt and some freshly ground pepper would work nicely, Mom." I try my best to keep a straight face as I grab for the recommended ingredients. I mean, this kid can eat pizza rolls and Ramen noodles with the best of them, but she really is developing into quite a food snob.

As I tossed together the pasta (I used mostaccioli rather than penne as it was on sale for $1/box at the grocery this week)and the veggies, my daughter announced, "I am NOT eating that!" To which I answered, "Oh yes, you are. This is what's for dinner." Sometimes when I lay down the gauntlet like this she flies into a whining, pleading, negotiating frenzy. (Apparently her carnivorous tendencies are not the only trait she inherited from me.) But today she just requested, "Can't I just have a bowl of that gravy instead?" When I answered with a "No ma'am.", she dropped it. Surprisingly. Man, she must have been tired!

Sorry that the color in this shot is so yellow. I'm not sure why...

Pour "the gravy" over the pasta and veggies and toss until everything is coated.

Then, spread the mixture into a casserole dish.

Top it with the bread crumbs and bake at 400 degrees until golden brown and bubbly.

Then, dish it up!

The vegetables mingling with the pasta, coated with that delicious shallot-cream-herb sauce, and topped with the crunchy golden bread crumbs was amazing! I know that I said that one of the reasons I liked this recipe is that it got my kids to eat their veggies. Well, it wasn't just the fact that the squash and tomatoes were coated in this decadent sauce that did the trick. It still took some prompting. About halfway through this meal, I noticed that my toddler was devouring the pasta and pushing the veggies to the side. "Hey, lady!" I called her out. "You need to eat your veggies too." To which she answered, "No! Yucky. I not yike STUPID veggies." ("Stupid" is her favorite word right now. She says it with amazing clarity and I am trying desperately to banish it from her vocabulary.) I didn't let it go (I mean the veggie issue, not that fact that she described the veggies as stupid). "No veggies?! But veggies make you grow big...and STRONG!" I punctuated this statement with my best muscle-flexing impression of a body builder, complete with Hulk Hogan sound effects. Both girls collapsed into giggles. Then, my oldest popped a bite of zucchini into her mouth and copied my impersonation. More laughter. Not to be outdone, my toddler shoved a forkful of squash into her mouth and struck her own "muscle man" pose. Dinner continued on this way. Bites of vegetables and body builder sounds and poses. Unconventional table manners, no doubt, but when dinner was all said and done, both girls had cleaned their plates, and by my estimation, ingested a serving of vegetables. Yay!

Baked Penne with Summer Squash, Tomatoes, and Basil from Cook's Illustrated

Topping :

4 slices white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 lb zucchini, halved lengthwise, sliced ½” thick
1 lb yellow summer squash, halved lengthwise, ½” thick
Kosher salt
¾ lb penne
4 Tbsp olive oil
6 medium shallots, minced
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
¼ c flour
2 ½ c low- sodium chicken broth
1 ½ c heavy cream (half and half or even milk would work here.)
2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
¾ c chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ c chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
Salt and pepper, to taste

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 400.
Toss zucchini and squash with 2 Tbsp kosher salt and place in a colander and set inside a large bowl to drain, about 30 minutes. Bring 4 quarts water to boil over high heat. Stir in 2 Tbsp kosher salt and pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot and toss with 1 Tbsp oil. Set aside.

Process the bread and butter in a food processor fitted with steel blade until coarsely ground, about six 1 seconds pulses. Set aside.

Spread salted squash evenly over a double layer of paper towels and pat dry with additional towels. Wipe off any residual salt. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and slightly charred, 5-7 minutes. Transfer squash to plate. Add another 1 Tbsp oil to pan and repeat with remaining squash.

Wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
Add 1 Tbsp oil to skillet and return to medium-high heat until shimmering.
Add shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth and cream. Bring to simmer and cook, whisking often, until lightly thickened, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in Parmesan, basil, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the sauce, tomatoes, and sauteed squash to pasta, stir gently to combine. Pour pasta into 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumb topping. Bake until bubbling and crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

As promised....Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake!

I realize that it's been over a week since I posted an actual dinner. Please bear with me for one more breakfast post. While this recipe isn't original, and I've seen similar versions in quite a few places, if you don't already have this coffee cake in your repertoire, then you'll be glad that I held off on dinner for one last night! This cake has become a staple at my holiday breakfasts, at showers, or when company is coming into town. This one is my favorite! That blueberry coffee cake that I posted last week was pretty amazing, but pardon the pun, this one TAKES THE CAKE! I first made this recipe 17 years ago. I was in high school. During the summer that I discovered it, I baked this recipe over and over...trying to get it "just right." All of that practice paid off because not only did this cake win the Grand Champion ribbon at my county fair, I got to bake it again for the Indiana State Fair where it won an honorable mention in the Dairy Foods category. A friend was complimenting this coffee cake a couple of weeks ago and so I shared this fun bit of trivia about my coffee cake recipe. "You were baking cakes like this back in high school!?" she asked in disbelief. Oh yeah I was. 4-H, baby!

I'm going to a take a moment to make a shameless plug for 4-H. 4-H was such a big part of my formative years. Not only did I learn how to bake a great cake (and decorate it), make my own prom dresses, or raise the perfect pig...I learned responsibility, leadership skills, and built some amazing life-long friendships. 4-H brought my family closer as we worked on projects together, celebrating our victories and learning from our mistakes. On top of it all, we had a lot of fun. Today, 4-H has grown into a community of 6 million young people across America learning leadership, citizenship, and life skills.

The 4-H Mission
4-H empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults.

The 4-H Vision
A world in which youth and adults learn, grow and work together as catalysts for positive change.

If you have a child or know a child that is looking for an opportunity for learning, fun, leadership, and friendship, then please consider 4-H as an option. 4-H is for every child and is offered in every county in every state, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and over 80 countries around the world. I used to love going on 4-H trips in my teenage years and meeting other 4-Her's from around the country. We came from all over and our circumstances were different, but we shared a common bond. 4-H also deepened my interest in local and national politics, giving me the opportunity to sit down, face-to-face with my representatives, congressmen and women, and discuss the issues as they affected our lives. You don't have to live on a farm and it's not expensive. Heck, you can even make money at it AND obtain scholarships. There are excellent 4-H opportunities for children in urban communities.

Clearly, I'm an advocate, but I have to say that being a part of the 4-H community is extremely rewarding. If you're interested, then check out the 4-H website, where you can learn more about 4-H in your area. It's definitely worth a look!

Okay, now back to the coffee cake.

I began by greasing and flouring my springform pan and preheating the oven.

Then I mixed together the flour and sugar and using my pastry blender (although a fork works fine too). I cut in the butter...

Until the mixture resembled coarse crumbs. Reserve a cup of this crumbly mixture for topping the coffee cake.

To the remaining mixture, add the baking soda, baking powder, salt, sour cream, egg, and almond extract. Blend well, until all of the ingredients are combined, but not too well....you want a nice tender cake. Over mixing can lend itself to a tougher finished product.

Spread the batter over the bottom and up 1 inch of the sides of the prepared pan.

Then combine the cream cheese, sugar, and egg.

Spread the filling batter evenly over the cake batter in your springform pan.

Now for the raspberry topping. It's really just seedless raspberry preserves. I find that the easiest, less-mess way to distribute the preserves is to spoon them into a plastic baggie. Then you can sort of mush and massage the preserves into a smoother state.

Then you can clip a corner off of the baggy and squeeze the preserves evenly over the surface of the cake.

Once the preserves are on the cake, I take a knife and swirl them in.

Next, I mixed some sliced almonds into the reserved crumbs for the cake topping.

Sprinkle them evenly over the cake and...BAKE! 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Cool the cake for 15 minutes on a rack, then remove the sides of the pan and either cool further or serve warm. I usually bake this the night before and serve it for breakfast.

This cake rocks! I hope that you all enjoy it as much as I do.

Here's the recipe:

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cold butter
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sour cream
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1.In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Remove 1 cup and set aside. To the remaining crumbs, add baking powder, baking soda, salt, sour cream, egg and almond extract; mix well. Spread in the bottom and 1 in. up the sides of a greased 9-in. springform pan.
2.For the filling, in a small bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and egg in a small bowl until blended. Pour over batter; spoon or pipe raspberry jam on top. Swirl with a knife. Sprinkle with almonds and reserved crumbs.
3.Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 15 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of pan to loosen; remove sides from pan. Serve warm or cool. Refrigerate leftovers.

If you're not a breakfast lover, thanks for hanging in there with me through the breakfast posts. I promise that the dinner I post tomorrow night is out-of-this-world good!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Meal Plan and Grocery List 8/30- 9/5

Can you believe that September is just 3 days away?! Fall is on the way and school is back in session. It's funny how fast the calendar fills up. We have a meeting, club, or practice every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday thru Thanksgiving and a few trips scheduled too. In addition, I begin teaching cooking classes next month. I'll be teaching six evening classes: Fall Tarts and Tartlets, a Meal Planning Workshop, Dream Dinners at Home: How to get the most out of your freezer, An Apple Dumpling Faceoff, Discover Duck, and Tortellini alla Panna. If you're reading this from the greater Cleveland area, please sign up! Being a newbie instructor, some of my classes are not full enough to run yet. I promise that it will be a fun 2 hours with great food! Bring a friend! Here's THE LINK to the course catalogue. Our family meal plan seems more important than ever now. Sure, we're busy, but we've still gotta eat! This meal plan utilizes seasonal ingredients as well as quick cooking and even a 5 ingredient dinner. Good stuff!

Monday August 30th

Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes, and Basil

Tuesday August 31st

Herbed Chicken Strips and Homemade Mac n' Cheese

Wednesday September 1st

Mexican Chicken with Jalapeno Popper Sauce

Thursday September 2nd

Chili Pie (using leftover chili from my freezer)

Friday September 3rd

Homemade Pizza (Ingredients not on the grocery list. Start with pizza dough, pizza sauce and mozzarella and go from there...or make your own crust, the recipe is in the link)

Saturday September 4th

Tote n' Slice Sandwiches

Sunday September 5th

Cook Out!

Grocery List


1 lb. zucchini
1 lb. yellow squash
6 shallots
fresh basil
fresh parsley
1 pint cherry tomatoes
dried tomatoes
red onions


6-7 boneless skinless chicken breasts
8 oz. salami


1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Parmesan cheese
shredded cheddar
2 packages cream cheese
shredded cheddar
sliced provolone

Canned Goods

olive oil
3 cups chicken broth
1 can of chili (or leftover chili)
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
prepared basil pesto
banana peppers
green olives

Dry Goods

penne pasta
panko bread crumbs
chili powder
corn chips (like Fritos)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mini Quiches

Two weeks ago, I served breakfast to a bride and all of her "ladies-in-waiting" at the salon where they were being styled for the afternoon nuptials. My friend (the groom's sister) who commissioned me to provide food, put in a request for mini quiches. I went with two varieties that I thought would appeal to a wide range of tastes: Ham and Cheese and Spinach Bacon. I served these lil' quiches alongside my Frosty Fruit Cups, a Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake (recipe coming soon!), Strawberry Mimosas, Sangria Punch, and OJ.

You can turn any quiche recipe into a mini-quiche. The individual serving sized mini-quiche is ideal for parties and showers and they re-heat better than a big quiche, should you choose to make them ahead.

Let's begin with the ham and cheese quiche. This one has a flaky, pastry crust. I made my own dough, but only because I didn't have any refrigerated pie dough sheets on hand. I'd forgotten to pick them up when shopping for this job. If you want to skip a step and save time, then buy the dough at the store. Once the dough is prepared, roll half into a 12 inch circle and cut 4 inch circles out of the dough. I used a big cookie cutter, but any 4 inch round cutter will work. Repeat with the other half of the dough until you have 12 circles.

Gently press the circles into 12 muffin cups.

This recipe is very versatile. Once you've got the cups in place, you can fill them with whatever you like. Shrimp, crab, ham, bacon.... I chopped a cup of shaved ham and evenly distributed it into the 12 cups.

I topped the ham with finely chopped onion and cheese.

I used Swiss, but again, you can use whatever you fancy.

Now here's where I might lose some of you with this recipe. The secret ingredient: mayonnaise. My sister, Karla, hates mayonnaise. Like, with a passion! She hates it so much that if she already loves a food and then finds out later that there was mayonnaise in it, she will NEVER eat it again. The discovery will disturb her for hours. I'm serious, I just watched this happen to her on my last visit home. We were enjoying a bourbon cheese spread that she'd brought back from a recent visit to Kentucky. As we sat in her new home, visiting and snacking, she happened to read the label. It practically ruined her day. I've witnessed her picky tendencies for my whole life, and I still thought that she was joking at first. She wasn't. I thought that she was going to develop a twitch! If you hate mayonnaise as much as my sister, then yeah, find another recipe. If you're just not sure about using it in this recipe, then please, give it a try. These little quiches were SO good!

Mix together mayonnaise, eggs, milk, and a little salt.

Then slowly pour the mixture over the quiches. Be careful not to let them overflow.

I poured a little of the mayo mixture over the quiches at first, and then as it soaked in, I went back through and poured more on, until I used all of the mixture evenly among the quiches.

And that's it...they baked and then I cooled them on racks. You can serve them right away, but I put these into the fridge and re-heated them in the oven the next morning before the event.

Here's the recipe, from Cooks.com


Pastry for 2 crust pie
1 c. chopped cooked shrimp, ham or bacon
1/4 c. chopped onion
4 to 6 oz. shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. milk

On floured surface roll 1/2 of pastry into 12 inch circle. Cut 6 circles 4 inch in diameter. Repeat with other half of pastry. Fit these circles into 12 muffin tins. Fill each with some meat (shrimp), onion and cheese. Beat together remaining contents and pour over cheese. Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes

The Spinach Bacon quiches were quite different from the ham and cheese. First, they are crustless. Second, there is no mayonnaise (you're welcome, little sister). But what these DO have is a TON of cheese. Yay for cheese! These were packed with ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella.

I began by frying 3 strips of bacon, until crispy. Then I drained the bacon on paper towels and crumbled it.

I sauteed half of a chopped onion in the bacon drippings until tender.

Next you are supposed to add the drained, chopped spinach and spiced to the skillet with the onion and cook it for another 3 minutes until the remaining moisture cooks off of the spinach. I didn't do this. I didn't read the recipe very well, I guess.
Ooops. Instead, I just combined all of the ingredients in a bowl. Luckily, the quiches turned out perfectly despite my oversight.

Here's what it looks like all mixed up.

Spoon the mixture into 12 muffin cups and bake. Super easy...super good!

Unfortunately, I was in the middle of working on 2 or three other recipes for the breakfast and I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished product. These did come out really nice. They were golden brown and popped right out of the muffin tins and tasted wonderful!

Here's the recipe, found on TLC's website.

Individual Spinach and Bacon Quiches


3 slices bacon
1/2 small onion, diced
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch salt
1 container (15 ounces) whole milk ricotta cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten

1.Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 10 muffin pan cups with nonstick cooking spray.
2.Cook bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Let bacon cool; crumble.
3.In same skillet, cook and stir onion in remaining bacon fat 5 minutes or until tender. Add spinach, pepper, nutmeg and salt. Cook and stir over medium heat about 3 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat. Stir in bacon; cool.
4.Combine ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in large bowl. Add eggs; stir until well blended. Add cooled spinach mixture; mix well.
5.Divide mixture evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake 40 minutes or until filling is set. Let stand 10 minutes. Run thin knife around edges to release. Serve hot or refrigerate and serve cold.

Serving Size: 1 quiche
Fiber 1 g
Carbohydrate 4 g
Cholesterol 105 mg
Saturated Fat 9 g
Total Fat 15 g
Calories from Fat 62 %
Calories 216
Protein 17 g
Sodium 405 mg
Related Posts with Thumbnails