Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sausage Manicotti

Hmm... pasta.... it seems to be the recurring theme around our house ESPECIALLY when we have guests or visitors. It's hard to go wrong with a wonderful filling pasta. It is a little tedious to make but is well worth the effort. Troy knows this recipe from heart so he usually takes the lead when making it. He's pretty much a pro and can simultaneously brown the sausage, boil the noodles, prepare the pans, etc. We make a ton of this so I can bring extras for my lunches at work. I swear it tastes even better the next day. Make it for a special occasion or for a lovely Sunday afternoon lunch.

It won't disappoint.

1 lb of Italian sausage (sweet, mild or hot is fine)
16 oz of mozzarella cheese (I prefer the shredded kind and my husband prefers the brick)
16 oz of ricotta
1 package of manicotti shells
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 1/2 jars 26 oz marinara sauce
fresh basil (as much or as little as you like, torn into small pieces)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Brown Italian sausage into small pieces then drain grease. Put into a medium sized bowl.
3. Bring large pot of water to rolling boil for manicotti shells. Boil shells for ten minutes. Then drain.
4. In the bowl, add ricotta, 8 oz of mozzarella cheese, garlic, crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning and basil. Stir until evenly mixed.
5. Use 3/4 jar sauce to create a bed for shells in two lightly greased baking pans.
6. Stuff mixture into shells. Then place shells in sauce beds.
7. Use remaining sauce to cover shells and bake for 20 minutes.
8. Remove, cover tops of shells with final 8 oz of mozzarella.
9. Cook five minutes, or until mozzarella is melted. Yum! Don't those look mouth watering?

Take out and enjoy!

The shells get slick and sometimes they tear but don't worry, just stuff as usual and place the torn part face down on the pan. It will still taste the same, I promise. Just recently we started to add different condiments like red pepper, garlic and basil. You don't have to add any of those and it will still taste delicious. The basil gives it some color and delightful flavor.

Once you make this, you'll be hooked.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day

Oh, Valentine's day. Either you absolutely love it or don't care for it. For years (well, most of my life), I was anti Valentine's day and would always make it a point to wear a black shirt or headband... basically something not pink or red. And of course, the year Troy and I started dating, everything changed and it became a huge holiday for me... HUGE!

Our first year dating, I was in FL in my senior year of college and he was in MS. My college roommate bff, Krista, was engaged to a guy living in Chicago so we felt the pains of the long distance. My wonderfully clever roommate helped me to make my first chocolate covered strawberries drizzled with some white chocolate. And she helped me make a Valentine's day picnic basket filled with chocolates, chamagne glasses, sparkling grape juice, the works. It was pretty spectacular. This year I didn't go all out but my husband sure did. He is fantastic and I couldn't imagine life without him.

A few weeks ago, I bought some Valentiney colored cardstock and ribbon and went to work to make a few Valentine's day cards.

The first is one I made for my sweet sister who is doing an internship in TX. I hot glued pieces of ribbon to the cardstock and originally, was going to put a big heart in the middle over the ribbon. But adding the ribbon took time and it looked so beautiful that I didn't want to cover it up so I added a few small hearts just hanging out on the ribbon.

The second card is for my parents in PA. It's simple. Elegant. Beautiful. I love it and am very proud of it! I absolutely love ribbons.

The third one is for one of my closest friends ever, Darla. This was a trifold card that modeled my parents'. There are hearts on the creases. It was a Valentine's day, get better, happy housewarming card all wrapped in one.

I love making cards. I used to do when I was younger (like middle school) and even did a speech on making cards in my 8th grade English class. I got an A of course!**

I took the pictures outside for the best lighting. Unfortunately, the background looks very bland and dull.

Share your creative ideas with me and let me know if there are any better materials to work with. Happy belated V day!

**I'm not 100% sure I received an A for my speech but most likely I did... or maybe it was a B.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chunky Tomato Basil Soup

Soup. It is fast becoming my new favorite thing to make and eat. Most of the time it is ridiculously easy to make... which makes it easier to consume faster. And really, what is greater than that?
One of the reasons soup is so great is that I can easily bring it along to work with me. Nothing beats homemade soup on a cold, semi snowy day.

2 tablespoons butter
3 small carrots, shredded (about 1/2 to 1 cup)
2 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1 cup half and half
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 jar (26 oz) chunky tomato pasta sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1. In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add carrots; cook and stir a few minutes or until softened. Add flour; cook and stir until moistened. Gradually add half and half, cooking and stirring about 2 minutes or until smooth.

2.Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover; cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, just until mixture comes to a boil.

3. Add extra basil for garnish if you desire (or you have some people you need to impress or you need to take a picture or something).

Yeah, I know, super simple, right? Chances are you probably already have most of the ingredients at your house which makes it even better if you're snowed in and can't quite brave the roads to go to the grocery store.

Thank you, Betty Crocker, for this awesome recipe. She is a newlywed's best friend... her and Martha Stewart. Pair this soup with a sandwhich (or for me, a calzone) and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Alfredo Penne Pasta

Today, they are calling for 3-5 inches of snow here in Northern Mississippi. I have lived here for a year an a half and have come to the conclusion that MS will close EVERYTHING at the sight of two snowflakes that haven't even fallen on the dry ground yet. As a Pennsylvania veteran, I am a little ashamed. But alas, it is how my new surroundings work. What is better than a cold, snowy day than some yummy pasta? I can't think of too many things to top that.

A few months ago, I was invited to be a substitute at a Bunco night (if you don't know what Bunco is, it's a competitive dice game that gets very loud and is a ton of fun and there are prizes involved. Need I say more?). And while I was there, our lovely host, Kim Steed, made an incredible pasta dish. About a week later, Troy and I tried to replicate it with items we had on hand and we fell in love. This is our go to pasta. It's simple. easy. and of course, ridiculously delicious.

1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cups of penne pasta noodles
1 jar of alfredo sauce (whichever kind you prefer)
8 pieces of bacon, divided (again, whichever brand is your fav)
Italian cheese blend
Olive or canola oil
Hidden Valley Ranch Packet
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Cut the chicken into small bite size pieces. Cook the chicken in a large pan over high heat. Add a little bit of oil to keep the chicken from sticking. Cook until there are no signs of pink and add salt and pepper to taste. You can also boil the chicken but since we're using a big pot to cook the noodles, we decided to use a pan.
3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. I've read that to boil water faster, add some salt and cover the pot. Boil the noodles uncovered for the recommended time on the box (about 10 minutes). Then drain.
3. While the noodles are cooking, use a skillet to cook 8 pieces of bacon at medium heat. Pat the grease with paper towels and crumble into tiny pieces then set aside.
4. Add the drained noodles into a pan (we used a glass, Pyrex pan). Add the chicken, HV ranch packet and approximately six pieces of crumbled bacon. Add the jar of sauce and mix so that the sauce is evenly distributed over the chicken, bacon and noodles.
5. Add cheese and remaining two pieces of crumbled bacon and bake for 10 minutes or until cheese has melted. Last time we made this, I broiled it for two minutes after baking.
6. Enjoy immediately. Pasta waits for no one and doesn't like to stay hot for long.

You can pretty much throw anything else in this pasta that you like... one time I added shrimp and sauteed mushrooms but I could only add it to one side since Troy doesn't care for either. This is one easy dish that needs to be added to your recipe book.... right now.

I'm pretty much starving by now.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jalapeno Poppers

Jala jala peno!

2 Christmases ago, Troy and I were invited over to lunch with a family we know from our church, the Longs, and they introduced us to this wonderful delicacy - jalapeno poppers. Once we had one bite, we were hooked. We have made these lovely appetizers for every occasion.... literally. We made them for football games, his 30th birthday, the Superbowl, Thanksgiving and well, any occasion we can think of like Saturday afternoons, random Tuesday evenings, etc.

You should pick jalapenos that are firm, smooth and not too big.

15 jalapeno peppers
1 eight ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1 package of bacon, cut in half (your favorite will do)
1 twelve ounce package of ground sausage
30 toothpicks

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Brown sausage in a pan on medium high heat.
3. Drain the grease and put sausage in a medium bowl. Add the softened cream cheese and mix together.
4. Now comes the fun part. Cut the stems off the jalapenos and cut them in half lengthwise. Remove all of the seeds. I've never done this before but I heard that you can fill your sink up with water and remove the seeds under water and the sting of the jalapeno won't be as strong. Don't touch your eyes after cutting and de-seeding (is that a word?) the jalapenos... you'll regret it immediately.
5. Let the stuffing begin! Stuff each jalapeno equally with the sausage/cream cheese mixture.
6. Wrap each jalapeno tightly with the halved bacon slice and secure with a toothpick.
7. Spray a baking sheet or two with PAM and fill with delicious jalapeno poppers. Bake for 15 or 20 minutes. After ten or so minutes, you will hear the crackling of the bacon and the smell will fill the room.
8. Take out and enjoy.

Beware. After you get addicted to these, you will want to throw jalapenos on anything - pizza, pastas, tacos, enchiladas, whatever. These are super easy to make and don't require many ingredients but can just be a little time consuming. Impress your friends and enjoy these yummy appetizers!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Focaccia Bars

Drum roll please.... here it is, my first ever blog post. Do I get a prize? It took me years to finally say the word, "blog" without cringing but I am coming around to it. I hated the word "hoodie" too so instead I said "hooded sweatshirt" but eventually, I figured it saved time to say hoodie so I incorporated it into my vocabulary.

One word my husband and I have been trying to learn is "focaccia." If someone knows how to pronounce it, by all means, please let us know! We come up with a new variation of it every time we say it. But regardless of how you pronounce it, these bars are delicious! I have this awesome cookbook called Incredibly Easy Silly Snacks that I got on sale with a gift card from Barnes and Noble and it has been well worth it.

1 package of refrigerated French bread dough
2 tablespoons of olive oil (we use canola if we're out of olive)
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
3-5 tablespoons shredded Italian cheese blend

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Sprinkle cornmeal on baking sheet (that part is my favorite!). Unwrap the dough and shape into a 16x4 inch strip on prepared baking sheet.
2. Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper; cook and stir for a few minutes or until pepper is tender and lightly browned. Remove and reserve oil.
3. Press fingertips into dough to create dimples. Drizzle leftover cooking oil into the dimples and all over the dough. Spread the pepper slices over the dough then sprinkle with salt and oregano. Top with cheese and be generous!
4. Bake 13-15 minutes or until cheese melts and the bread is firm and golden. Wait a few minutes for the delicious bread to cool and cut into however many slices you want.... usually this means 2 slices... one for me and one for the husband. Hey, there is a vegetable on it so that makes it almost nutritious, right?

You can freeze this bad boy for up to a month or refrigerate leftovers for up to two days (but why would you want to?).

Last time, Troy and I added some minced garlic to the bread and this time we added garlic salt instead of regular salt and it was delish! Let me know how it turns out when (not if) you make it!