Shake like a Giovanno

Stuffed Shells

In doing the post for this past month’s International Incident Party I started thinking about all the different meals I had growing up and realized I don’t make many of them very often.  Stuffed shells would be one of those meals, and it’s mostly because I’m afraid it won’t be as good as the ones my mom makes.  So I decided to branch out and make them totally different, that way they aren’t directly competed with my mom’s shells.  These are also perfect for a Meatless Monday since they come together rather quickly and should please even the pickiest eaters.
– 1 lb large shells
– 1 lb ricotta cheese
– 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
– 1/4 cup onions
– 1/2 cup mushrooms
– 2 cloves garlic
– 2 cups of favorite tomato sauce 
– 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1. Cook the shells per the directions on the box.  Rinse and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 375 and place 1/3 cup of the sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish.  
3.  Place the cheeses, onions, mushrooms, and garlic in a food processor and blend well.  Stuff the cheese mixture into the shells.  To stuff use one hand to gently pinch the shell open and use the other hand to spoon in the cheese mixture.  Pastry bags can also be used to stuff the shells.  
4. Place the shells in the casserole dish cheese side up, gently layering the shells if needed.   Top with the remaining sauce and cover.  Bake in oven for 35minutes.
5. Remove from the oven, top with the shredded Mozzarella Cheese and bake an additional 20minutes, uncovered or until cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbling.  Serve and Enjoy!

While these might not be mom’s shells they are still amazing and make a great quick dinner.  The vegetables inside can be switched up, try some sun-dried tomatoes or green peppers for a slight twist on things. 

She Dreams She’s Dancing

Choco Berry Cupcakes
as part of FrostingfortheCause

“It’s a tumor or it’s a tumor.”  These were not the words I was wanting, or expecting, to hear on the first day of my Freshman Spring Break.  I was suppose to by in TN with my friends visiting Dolly Parton, not in a doctor’s office in Northern Virginia being told that life as I knew it was about to change.  I remember fighting with my mom once we got home. I still wanted to go on Spring Break figuring if this was it, then I wanted to end on a high note, while she wanted me to stay at home.  I remember peeling out of the driveway and driving as fast as (legally) possible to my best friends house, emotions rapidly switching from anger to confusion to elation.  Yes, I said elation because after 5 months of pain I finally knew what was wrong with me.  After consuming my weight in Cookie and Cream milkshakes I returned back home 10yrs older and told my mom that I would stay but that if possible I would go back to classes the next week and drive to Maryland for my appts as needed.  The next three weeks passed in a whirl wind of activity.  People at school were use to seeing me on crutches so nobody asked questions that I didn’t want to answer, which provided a perfect escape.  It felt like I was living two different lives at this point, one a normal college freshman and the other a girl with an uncertain future.   The day of my surgery I remember thinking “this is it,” I couldn’t change the outcome of what they would find and I knew that I couldn’t stop them from amputating my leg if it came down to that.  I knew the odds were in my favor of waking up and everything going back to normal but I was also aware of the other possible options.  I was lucky, the best case scenario was my scenario.  The tumor, and some surrounding tissue/muscle, was removed and all the tests showed that I was good that it had been caught at the perfect time.  It has been 8yrs and 9 days from my surgery and while I’m not to where I was before the surgery I know that I’m in a much better place than I was 8yrs and 8days ago.  I learned a lot about myself, regarding what is (my family) and is not (Spring Break) important.  I learned that I can still dance and also found the motivation needed to perfect my left kicks.  Mostly I learned how fast life really can change, and how it amazing it really is. 
In the years since my encounter with parosteal osteosarcoma I have learned to accept that there are certain things that I can’t do, and that’s ok.  I’m finally able to ride a bike again but squatting is out of the question and have finally accepted that it’s ok to wear flats on occasion.  I have to be careful when I go hiking or running and I pay attention to when the pain in my leg escalates.  I am also ineligible to donate blood or bone marrow, but I have found other ways to help.  I ran a bone marrow drive in 2007 and I’m hoping to do another one sometime later this year.    
It was also during the years following my adventure that I discovered my love of cooking.  Being on crutches for a significant part of my college career kept me indoors more often than not and I needed something to do besides studying.  I started experimenting with cookies and cakes, using the frat boys next door as willing guinea pigs.  These cupcakes use the vanilla cupcake recipe that I started working on back then but the filling is one that I never would have attempted back then.  They might take awhile to assemble but they are worth it! 

Ingredients for Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Line a regular sized muffin pan with cupcake liners.
2.  In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  
3. Measure out the milk and add the vanilla extra.  Set aside in the fridge.  (Learned this trick from Martha Stewart)
4.  Cream the sugar with the butter until light and fluffy, about 3minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time and cream well.  Sift in half of the dry ingredients and stir in.  Pour in the milk/vanilla mixture and then slowly mix in the remaining dry ingredients until just wet. 

5. Spoon the dough into the cupcake pan, filling about 2/3rds full.  Bake in oven for 18minutes, or until a tooth pick pulls clean.  Allow to cool in pan for 5minutes before removing to a cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely before proceeding to fill and ice.

Ingredients for Filling:
24 Raspberries (half of these will be for topping the cupcake)
1 cup melted chocolate

Directions for Filling:
1.  Use a knife to gently carve a hole into the top of the cupcake.  Trim the extra cake off the “lid” so that it’s about 1/8in thick.  Be careful when carving the hole to not go through the bottom of the cupcake!
2.  One at a time gently fill the raspberries with the melted chocolate, and place chocolate down in the cupcake hole.  Cover the raspberry with more of the chocolate, until the whole is filled then cover with the lid. 
Ingredients for Icing:
8 oz cream cheese, cold
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

1.  Place all the ingredients in a large food processor and gently pulse until creamy. 
2.  Use a knife or a piping bag to ice the cupcake as desired.  Top with a raspberry and ENJOY!

For anyone interested in joining the cause please go to http://www.frostingforthecause.com/ and sign up!

I Feel Like

Chickun Tonight

IIP time, brought once again by the lovely Jeroxie! I apologize for an issues with this blog, I have been having one of those lost weekends. I am writing this from The Black Squirrel bar in Adams Morgan. The recipe for this month was probably one of the easiest for me to settle on, even though the Nostalgia theme gave me tons to work with.  Growing up my mom made dinner most nights, and it was understood that if you didn’t eat what was served there was always cereal.  in the early 90s a commercial emerged that rocked my world: adults doing the chicken dance on the highways, at work, in the cars, wherever.  All because they felt like “Chicken Tonight”.  It took some begging but eventually my mom picked up a jar and we had some Chicken Tonight and life was good.  The official jar made a few appearances at our place and then my mom started making her own version.  Every time we saw her pulling out the ingredients we would start dancing around the house chicken style, singing out “I feel like chicken tonight, like chicken tonight” looking like losers but feeling like winners.  in college i began experimenting with the standard ingredients in order to make a vegetarian version.  this is a more upscale version of the veggie version and even now almost two decades later I still feel the need to dance around like chicken.
1 can cream of mushroom soup

1/3 cup white wine
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2 cloves garlic2/3 cup veg stock

1 Heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and cook 5minutes, or until onion slightly clear.

2. Add the mushroom soup along with the stock and wine.  Bring to a simmer and cook qp minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.  Add the mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft.  Season to taste and serve over chicken or tofu.

The traditional way of serving this growing up always involved broccoli and white rice or rice ppilaf.  For those doing chicken the sauce can be poured over the chicken before adding the mushrooms for a more authentic experience.  I havent seen Chicken Tonight on the shelves in years but I hope it will make a return just so I can see grown men in business suits doing the Chicken Tonight dance.



Outskirts of New Orleans

Eggplant Etouffee

eggplantHappy belated Mardi Gras!  I have never been to New Orleans, I had the chance once upon a life ago but passed.  Looking back on this I have major regrets seeing as how I was suppose to go the spring before Katrina hit, forever changing the landscape of the city.  One day I will correct this wrong and until then I will stuff myself with cajon/creole food whenever I get the chance.  I have already shared my love for eggplant and when eggplant is mixed which a spicy tomato sauce life is good!  The first time I had an etouffe it was crawfish style and I was hooked.  The best part about it was that the dish had crawfish two way: diced/sauted and heads-on/steamed.  I succeeded in grossing out a few of my dining companions when I started sucking the heads out but that part is so juicy and amazing I couldn’t resist!  This version doesn’t have any crawfish mustard which makes it perfect for Lent.  A quick note: I don’t like celery so I use celery salt so I can have the taste without the texture.  Feel free to replace the celery salt with about 1 cup of diced celery.
Ingredients: 3 tbsp butter (unsalted soy if possible)1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 large onion, chopped1 green bell pepper, chopped4 cloves garlic, minced1/2 tbsp celery salt1 can diced unsalted tomatoes1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon chile powder2 tablespoons Essence (Emeril brand if possible)2 cups vegetable stock2 pounds eggplant, in large cubes
1. Heat a large Dutch Oven over medium heat.  
2. Melt the butter and then whisk in the flour and stir continuously to make a roux. Stir the roux over medium heat until a rich brown color, about 10minutes.
3. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery salt, and garlic to the roux, and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes to the pot and season with the bay leaves, salt, cayenne, and 1 tbsp of the Essence. Cook the tomatoes for 5 minutes and then stir in the vegetable stock.
4. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook the etouffee, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes. Season the eggplant with the remaining tablespoon of Essence and add them to the pot, stirring to evenly distribute. Cook the eggplant for an additional 30 minutes, or until tender.  Serve over steamed rice and/or with some jalapeño corn bread.

This meal is nice and easy and could easily be adapted to a slow cooker once the roux has been made. 


Do the Twist

Sour Cream Potatoes

Happy Saturday everyone! It's time for spring cleaning over here and I'm also using this time to reorganize my recipes. I'm bringing back some oldies from my college days and I'm also finally at a stage where I'm ready to start testing some more ethnic recipes. While I'm not sure how the new ones will turn out, some of these older recipes are easy classics from when I was growing up. My parents were both great at preparing fast and comforting meals, from my mom's "Chicken Tonight" to my dad's meatballs. While I no longer eat a number of these dishes, one of my favorites side dishes were my mom's garlic and Parmesan baby red potatoes. I made this many times in college and my friends were always HUGE fans. One night I decided to take her basic recipe and up the ante by adding some sour cream. My logic being that baked potatoes are boring without sour cream and these red potatoes were essentially baked. The result was a delicious new side dish that is great as a vegetarian main dish or as a side dish for chicken.
Ingredients:2 lb baby red potatoes, cut in half 1/2 onion, chopped3 cloves garlic, diced2/3 cup sour cream1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Directions:1. Preheat the oven to 400 and lightly grease a roasting pan.2. Place the potatoes, onion, and garlic in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sour cream and the Parmesan cheese. Pour the mixture into the pre-greased roasting pan. 3. Bake for 25minutes or until the sour cream on top has started to turn a golden color.
This dish is fast and simple and it also smells amazing which is also important. I have been known to have these potatoes with some nice crunchy bread, all the better to soak up any extra sour cream sauce that might remain. After all, leaving sauce like that behind would be a food crime!