One of my all time favorite pasta dishes to make are jumbo stuffed pasta shells. They are easy to prepare and are perfectly portioned for individuals and groups alike.The best part is the multitude of different fillings you can make them with.
Some years ago, Brion and I had the pleasure of eating lunch at Gayles Bakery & Rosticceria in the little seaside town of Capitola, California (see my blog article from July 2016 for Fig & Gorgonzola Chicken Breast). It was there I tasted Spinach-Gorgonzola Pasta. Until then I had never even tasted this kind of cheese. With a strong dislike for Blue Cheese, it looked suspiciously similar. Long story short, it seemed everyone was ordering this pasta so I decided to try it. It was just incredible! The combination of Gorgonzola, ricotta and parmesan make this dish especially decadent and delicious.
Info I found on Gorgonzola Dolce reads like this — Imported from Italy, this sweet or ‘dolce’ Gorgonzola has the characteristically creamy texture and nutty aroma Gorgonzola is known for, yet is milder due to a shorter aging period. A great option for those who normally shy away from blue cheese.
The fact that Brion and I are both seafood lovers, I decided to incorporate this kind of pasta with a little seafood medley. The end result did not disappoint, bringing back that ‘taste of a memory’ once again.
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat milk until hot but not boiling. Meanwhile, combine flour & butter in another heavy saucepan. Stir over medium heat with a wooden spoon or whisk until the mixture has gently bubbled for 2 minutes, being careful not to brown flour.
Begin to add the hot milk to the flour mixture a little at a time while whisking vigorously. Continue to add the milk until it is fully incorporated. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low; simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 6-8 minutes. It should resemble heavy cream. Crumble the cheese & add to hot bechamel sauce, whisking continuously until smooth. Add nutmeg & pepper & stir. Remove from heat to cool.
Pasta & Filling
Cook the pasta shells in salted boiling water to which a small amount of oil has been added for 8-10 minutes. Drain & set aside.
In a large skillet, melt butter. Saute spinach & mushrooms until spinach is wilted. Remove to paper towels. Add shrimp & scallops to skillet; saute for 3-4 minutes until opaque & just barley cooked; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, combine spinach, shrimp, scallops, crab meat, ricotta cheese, garlic & salt & pepper. Fill pasta shells. Spread some sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Lay filled shells single file in pan. Pour remaining sauce over all & top with a sprinkling of parmesan. Bake 20-30 minutes, until the cheese becomes a little brown.
In a small saucepan, bring sugar, salt & water to a boil. Add cranberries, reduce heat & simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly then process for a few seconds in a food processor. Add orange zest; stir & set aside to cool completely.
Pumpkin Spice Roll
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices & salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat eggs, vanilla & sugar until mixture is pale yellow & fluffy. Add pumpkin puree & mix to combine. Fold in the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, spread the cake batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake for about 10-13 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched & tests done in the middle.
While cake is baking, make CREAM CHEESE FILLING. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter & vanilla until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Remove cake immediately from the oven; invert onto a clean tea towel that has been lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. Remove parchment paper & carefully roll cake in jelly roll fashion in tea towel.
When cake has cooled completely, carefully unroll & spread with a layer of cranberry jam. Next top with a layer of cream cheese filling. Carefully re-roll cake. Wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.
Decorate with remaining cream cheese topping & cranberries (I saved a few whole ones from the cranberry jam). Add a few 'kiwi' leaves & you got it!
With tomorrow being Thanksgiving Day, it seems like baking some special little dinner rolls for the occasion would be in order.
Bread making has always been a carefully protected symbol of civilization. The Greeks would let only priests make bread — they reasoned that dealing with the ‘staff of life’ was the business of those trained in religious matters. The Romans, a practical-minded people, turned bread baking over to the Civil Service and enforced rigid sanitary regulations. In any case, it has always been an integral part of history.
Pan or dinner rolls, a name given to small pieces of dough, shaped and baked in a pan with their sides touching. This prevents them from flattening out, instead springing upwards.
At our house we love pan buns. For some strange reason, both of us enjoy baked goods when they are very lightly baked rather than dark and crispy. Pan buns usually fit that description.
These PUMPKIN DINNER ROLLS check all the boxes. For Thanksgiving, they’re just a little bit more special as well as being a suitable accompaniment for soups and stews during the fall and winter months. If you like pumpkin, I think you will enjoy them.
In a microwave-safe bowl, heat milk & butter about 45 seconds. Whisk until butter has melted smoothly into the milk; add egg, pumpkin puree & whisk again to combine. Heat again about 15 seconds to warm total mixture. In a large mixing bowl, add remaining dough ingredients along with pumpkin/milk mixture.
Combine & knead dough on a lightly floured surface 5-8 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Grease bowl lightly, place dough in bowl & turn to grease all sides of dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a draft-free place until dough has doubled in bulk.
Spray work surface with baking spray, punch dough down & turn onto surface. Divide dough into 10 equal portions; roll each into a ball. Place dough balls into a sprayed, 9 x 9-inch square pan; cover with plastic wrap & place in a draft-free area until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, melt butter & add honey; stir to combine. Before baking, generously brush the rolls with honey butter; reserving any extra to brush on after baking.
Bake 15-17 minutes or until puffed & golden. After removing from oven, brush with any remaining honey butter & allow to cool slightly before serving.
For some extra 'butter' to serve with rolls, whisk together equal parts softened butter & honey until fluffy.
MAKE AHEAD OPTION: Once you have the rolls in the baking pan, cover with foil & place in refrigerator overnight. When ready to bake, bring the rolls to room temperature & allow to rise about 45 minutes before baking.
The name of this pie definitely conjures up a cornucopia of fall flavors. The idea of combining fruit and vegetables has forever appealed to me.
I have always had a love for zucchini as far back as I can remember. Even though it is served as a vegetable, its technically a fruit because it comes from a flower. It has a golden blossom that grows under the leaves.
A member of the gourd family, zucchini is an easy to grow, summer squash, native to Central America and Mexico. Zucchini became quite popular after the 1940’s with the interest in Italian cookery.
In 1992, I came across a recipe in a little ‘Pillsbury Classic Cookbook’ for HARVEST PIE. It had a great combination of apples, zucchini, carrots and spices. If you like these ingredients, this ‘classic’ will become a favorite fall ‘go to’ dessert recipe for you.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a 9-inch DEEP pie with pastry.
In a large bowl, combine apples, zucchini, carrots, nuts & flour; toss to coat.
In a medium bowl, beat brown sugar & margarine until well blended. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, lemon juice, vanilla, orange zest & 2 eggs; blend well. Add to apple mixture; mix well.
Spoon filling into pie crust-lined pan. Top with second crust & flute; slit crust in several places. In a small bowl, blend egg & water; brush over top crust. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cover pie loosely with foil during the last 15 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning.
Serve with whipped cream if desired.
Oven temperatures often vary, so if you prefer, bake pie at a bit lower temperature.
Rhubarb was originally cultivated for its medicinal properties and was not used in European cooking until the late 18th century. The history of rhubarb is very complicated but simply put there are only two broad categories, medicinal and culinary.
Thought of by many as an old fashioned ‘vegetable’, it never has really fallen out of favor. In Germany, rhubarb season is from April until June. There are countless recipes using rhubarb as the German people are very passionate about eating produce they have grown themselves.
I have an inherited love of rhubarb — the way it tastes, its huge beautiful foliage, its hardiness, productiveness …….
RHUBARB SOUR CREAM PIE (German Rhabarber Sauerrahn Kuchen) has been in my pie ‘go to’ file forever. The combination of these two ingredients works magic. Just for something different, I decided to use the same recipe but make it into tarts today.
In a small bowl, combine oatmeal, brown sugar, margarine, flour & citrus zest. Cut in margarine until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon & nutmeg; beat in sour cream & egg. Gently fold in rhubarb. Pour into pastry shell. Sprinkle topping mixture over the filling.
Bake at 400 F. for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F. & bake for 35-40 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.
In order to obtain nice slices, refrigerate pie until cold then slice & heat a bit in the microwave if preferred.
The thought of rhubarb is a nostalgic thing for me. I have memories of my mother’s neat row of rhubarb plants growing along the edge of her garden. Magically each spring they would reappear from what had been frozen ground only a few short weeks before. While other plants still lay dormant, the large fan shaped rhubarb leaves quickly gathered enough sunlight to produce some juicy stalks.
Tucked in behind the water fountain, in Brion and my flower garden, are three rhubarb plants. Originally we had put them there to show off that huge foliage as well as being used in my cooking. Time has passed and with our trees becoming more mature, they are getting more shade than they like. Nevertheless, last year they were still producing in late September.
I’m going to start off this season with some RHUBARB CHEESECAKE SQUARES, a favorite recipe that comes from tasteofhome.com
In a small bowl, combine flour, oats & brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Set aside 1 cup crumb mixture; press remaining mixture onto bottom of a greased 9-inch square baking dish. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a small bowl, beat cream cheese & sugar until smooth. Beat in salt, vanilla, cinnamon & nutmeg. Add egg; beat on low speed just until combined. Stir in walnuts & rhubarb. Pour over crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until set. Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares.
If you are wanting to use frozen rhubarb, measure rhubarb while still frozen, then thaw completely. Drain in a sieve, but do not press liquid out.
From breakfast to dessert, healthy to decadent, traditional to innovative, the carrot cake is considered a timeless classic that never goes out of ‘style’. It was probably borne out of necessity, making use of the carrots’ natural sweetness, evolving from the carrot pudding of medieval times. Carrots contain more sugar than any other vegetable besides the sugar beet.
In the 1970’s, carrot cake was perceived as being ‘healthy’ due to the fact that carrots, raisins and nuts are all ‘good for us’. Then along came that glorious cream cheese frosting that forever bonded the pair. While raisins are undoubtedly the oldest compliment to carrots, pineapple, apples or applesauce as well as walnuts have all become modern day add-ins of choice.
I remember my mother making a jelly roll cake when I was growing up. It was a sponge cake baked in a sheet pan. She would spread a layer of jam over it when it was cool and roll it up. It looked unique and tasted great. Of course, today a cake roll is very common place with many variations. As far as carrots are concerned, you can transform this versatile veggie into everything from energy bars and smoothies to cinnamon rolls and cookies etc, etc, etc…. My choice today is to make a CARROT CAKE ROLL with CREAM CHEESE FILLING, yum!!
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a jelly roll pan ( 10 x 15") with parchment paper & spray with baking spray.
With a hand mixer, beat eggs on high for 5 minutes, until frothy & dark yellow. Beat in sugar, oil & vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt & spices. Stir into wet ingredients just until blended. Fold in dry carrots.
Spread batter in prepared pan. This makes a very thin layer; use a spatula to make sure it is spread evenly to the corners of pan. Bake 10-15 minutes. Test cake with a toothpick to be sure it is completely baked. While cake is baking, spread a clean kitchen towel on work surface. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. As soon as cake comes out of oven, turn it over on towel. Remove parchment paper carefully.
Working at the short end, fold the edge of the towel over cake. Using the help of the towel, roll cake tightly. Let cool completely while rolled, at least an hour.
While cake is cooling, make filling. Beat butter & cream cheese together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar & vanilla; beat until smooth.
When cake is cool, carefully unroll the towel. Spread the filling evenly over cake & re-roll tightly. Chill about 30 minutes to an hour. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, slice & serve.
German-inspired yeasted coffee cake is a very popular type of cake all over Germany and Austria. It is very different from the typical butter cake associated with streusel coffee cake in North America. Whereas a butter cake is rich, sweet and fine grained, kuchen is light and slightly porous with a complexity of flavor that can only be found in yeast leavened baked goods. Of course, there are many different variations, but the important part is the streusel or crumbled topping, which consists of a combination of flour, sugar, butter and spices.
In the past, most German towns and cities had orchards planted all around them, on land that belonged to the community. Cows or sheep grazed underneath the trees and people were free to pick the fruits when they became ripe. Today most of those common lands have been turned into suburbs and the trees are gone. Destruction of the remnants of ancient orchards is ongoing, contributing to the loss of heirloom varieties. Even though the diversity of choice is decreasing, the apple is still by far the most popular fruit in Germany.
Here is my best adaptation of an APPLE STREUSEL COFFEE CAKE that I think you might enjoy to try.
In a large bowl, combine yeast, 1/8 cup sugar & lukewarm water; allow to dissolve. Stir in remaining 1/8 cup of sugar, salt, milk, sour cream, lemon juice & vanilla; mix well. Add egg & blend.
With fingertips, rapidly work the butter into 2 1/2 cups of the flour until coarse, meal-like consistency. Add to the yeast mixture & knead in bowl, adding more flour if necessary to make a smooth, elastic dough. Shape into a ball & place in a lightly buttered bowl. Cover tightly and let rise in a draft-free place until doubled in bulk.
Peel & slice apples. In a small saucepan, combine all filling ingredients except pecans. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until apples are tender, & juice has evaporated. Stir in pecans; set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon & lemon zest. With fingertips, rub in butter until mixture is coarse & crumbly. Set aside.
When dough has doubled in size, turn out on a lightly floured piece of wax paper. Press out gently into a rectangle about 10 x 14-inches in size. Spread apple filling to within 1/4-inch of edges & very gently press into dough. Roll up from the wide end, jelly-roll fashion.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a 9-inch tube or bundt pan. Sprinkle half of the streusel in pan. Carefully, (dough will be very soft) with the help of the wax paper, fit the roll into the pan so that the ends of the dough join. Pinch ends of together. Sprinkle cake with remaining streusel. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven & allow cake to cool before slicing.
Now comes the time to use up all those remaining tidbits of holiday baking still in the freezer. For those who haven’t tried it, sweet bread pudding is perhaps the ultimate comfort food. It’s simple to make, requires no special equipment and uses basic ingredients. It’s not even particularly beautiful on the plate, but it sure tastes good.
Just about every culture that makes bread has it’s own version of bread pudding. An open textured loaf with lots of holes become little pockets of custard. If you choose a bread that is quite ‘airy’ but has good chewiness, your pudding will strike a satisfying balance between lightness and body. In contrast, a loaf with a tight crumb makes a compact pudding with a dense texture.
The custard is what binds the bread together and creates the pudding’s lusciousness. Milk, eggs, sugar and flavoring are the basic elements but of course, other variations can be layered in as well.
Bread pudding was definitely a dessert my mother made since she baked bread every week. At that time it was pretty basic but nevertheless homey and good.
Today, January 22, our family celebrates the birthday of my sister, Marilyn. Birthdays were always made to be special as we were growing up. Not so much as to gifts but in regards to the family acknowledgement of ‘your’ day. My mother loved having a reason to use her cake decorating skills, so your birthday cake was always very unique.
For something special to mark the occasion, I have prepared STOLLEN BREAD PUDDING with SPICED ORANGE SAUCE on my blog.
Arrange stollen cubes to fit compactly into a buttered 9 x 9-inch baking dish. Do not compress to tightly; set aside any leftover cubes. Whisk together eggs & 1 cup powdered sugar until the sugar is dissolved & the mixture becomes light yellow in color. Add cream, vanilla & Grand Marnier; whisk to combine. Stir in a pinch of salt, nutmeg, lemon & orange zest.
Pour mixture over stollen cubes. Cover & refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove bread from refrigerator, uncover & dot the top of the pudding with butter & sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar.
Set baking dish into a shallow roasting pan, larger that baking dish. Set them onto the center rack of the oven. Pour hot water into larger pan until it reaches about halfway up the side of the pudding dish. Bake until fully set & a knife inserted into center comes out clean, 60-75 minutes. Carefully remove the pudding from the water bath & cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Spiced Orange Sauce
Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in sugar, Grand Marnier, water, cardamom & salt. Over medium heat, stir until sugar is fully dissolved & the liquid is heated through. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, whisk egg until well beaten. While whisking egg, slowly pour 2 Tbsp. of the hot mixture into bowl with the egg. Then, while whisking the mixture vigorously, slowly pour the warmed egg mixture back into the sauce.
Place the saucepan back over low heat, gently stirring the sauce, raising the temperature slowly to medium. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Spoon over pudding & serve immediately.
I realize we are still weeks away from Christmas, but there are some things that are just better if given the time to ‘ripen’ and develop a rich and complex flavor. German stollen, also known as (Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen) is one of them.
In my previous blog I mentioned that stollen was a close ‘kin’ to fruitcake, but one thing it is not– is fruitcake! Stollen is a yeast bread that is fortified with a colorful collection of candied fruit, citrus peel, raisins/currants, nuts, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, mace or cloves, brandy or rum and lots of butter.
The tradition of Christmas stollen dates back to 14th century Germany. The sweeteners in this period were honey and dried fruits; until the 17th century, sugar was a scarce and expensive commodity. For this reason, sweets were only meant for times of great festivity and joy. Originally it was made without milk or butter because these items were forbidden by the church during Advent. That changed in 1490 when Pope Innocent VIII signed the ‘butter document’ allowing bakers to use butter. It was much later when the use of milk was finally permitted.
The cake’s distinctive shape, which it retains to this day, is meant to symbolize the Christ child ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager’. Baked loaves are brushed with butter then cloaked in a thick layer of powdered sugar.
Holiday food traditions are a miraculous mix of time, place, ideology and ingredients. Often times, a single person can be the catalyst for a family culinary tradition. They bring it to the table as a delectable ‘gift’, wrapped with their own cherished memories and life experiences, enriching our holiday celebrations.
When I think of German stollen, a very unique memory comes back to me. One of the few newspapers my folks were interested in and had access to was the ‘Free Press Weekly Prairie Farmer’. It was a small newspaper published by the Manitoba Free Press for the prairie provinces in Canada. The newspaper’s middle section, ‘Home Loving Hearts’, contained ads from people requesting pen pals across Canada as well as recipes, ads for patterns of aprons, dresses, pot holders, baby clothes and knitting.
It was here my mother acquired a pen pal by the name of Renate Leitner in about 1956, that lasted for over 20 years,until the time of my mother’s passing. Every Christmas, Mrs. Leitner would send our family a beautiful loaf of German stollen bread in the mail. I remember how we looked forward to receiving it and how good it always tasted. This definitely attests to the durability of this bread.
German Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen)
Marinate raisins, candied fruit & almonds in rum overnight, Stirring occasionally.
Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water with 1 tsp sugar. Set aside for 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, sift 2 cups of the flour. Stir in yeast mixture & lukewarm milk. Cover with plastic wrap & let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down dough firmly & work in beaten eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest, vanilla & pieces of softened butter.
Sift remaining 3 cups of flour with salt, nutmeg & cardamom & work in 2 cups to form a soft dough. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead in remaining cup of flour mixture to form a smooth and satiny dough without any stickiness. Work in fruit & nut mixture.
Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, pat or roll each portion into an oval shape about 12 x 8 inches (30 x 20 cm) & 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick. Brush each piece with melted butter & fold the dough over lengthwise, almost in half.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly press edges together to seal (brush tops with a beaten egg if you wish). Bake 35-40 minutes or until golden. Cover with foil if loaves are browning to fast. Brush warm loaves with melted butter & dust thickly with powdered sugar. Cool on a rack.
When completely cool, wrap tightly in foil & keep in a cool place for 2-3 weeks to ripen.
You can customize your filling ingredients any way you like. For example, use dried cranberries or cherries instead of raisins -- candied citrus peel or candied ginger instead of citron peel -- your favorite dried fruit instead of apricots. You can even use sweet poppy seed paste or marzipan to fill your stollen -- your choice!
Stollen freezes well so it can be made weeks in advance of Christmas.