Monday, December 12, 2011

Sausage Stuffed Manicotti- Cooking Light

There are certain recipes that I just can't wait to try, but never get around to making.  I can't even remember how long ago I printed this recipe up.  I was searching for something else and loved the look and sound of it so much that I couldn't wait to try it.  Of course, it took me at least a year to do it. 

The best kind of recipe is one that features items that I usually keep in my house and seems easy, but is also a little outside of the box.  This has it all for me.  It also uses a cream sauce instead of ricotta cheese, which excited me.  Shawn can't stand ricotta which really limits us in the baked Italian world.  I will, sometimes, make it with half ricotta and half not but its just not the same for some reason.  I hoped that the cream sauce would be a happy medium. 

I started by browning up turkey sausage with chopped peppers and onions.  In a separate pan, I used equal parts flour and butter and added 2 cups of skim milk.  Boiled until it got thick, stirring constantly.  I learned a long time ago to not do anything else while performing this step.  The sausage was off the burner at this point and I had full focus on the sauce at hand.  I really like the consistancy that it created and will give this a shot the next time that I make mac and cheese. 

I added about half of the cream sauce to the meat mixture and set the rest aside.  The recipe calls for uncooked manicotti shells.  I started filling them by using a spoon and that got old really fast.  I ended up using my (washed) hands to stuff the shells and placed them in a pregreased baking dish.  The recipe doesn't call for it, but next time I will add some sauce to the bottom.  I also would leave some more space between the shells, allowing sauce to fully envelop the shells.  There was a little meat leftover, which I added to the open spots in the dish.  Topped those bad boys with some mozzarella, then covered with the remaining cream sauce, 2 cups of marinara sauce, some parmesan cheese. 

It looks like a lot of sauce, but trust me.  It'll soak it all up. 

I baked it all for 30 minutes and then let it sit for a while.  The dish looked fantastic!!  The sauce didn't cook the noodles completely through.  They were a little al dente for my taste, but that's easily adjusted for next time.  The taste was ridiculous, though!!  So flavorful, creamy, and delicous.  I would just encourage you to make a side vegetable or salad with it to keep you from eating way more than the recommended portion size.  Oh, and the leftovers were just as good!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Chocolate Bark- Food Network Magazine

Its been a while.  Its funny, because I've been still using new recipes.  I just haven't written then out.  There's been a few awesome ones.  Cabbage with Bacon and Onions from Emerill should have been written about, and I suggest you try it.  But for now, I'll talk about one of my favorite things in the world.  Chocolate.

I have been making a seriously awesome and super easy fudge recipe for the past few years.  I wanted to try removing the sweetened condensed milk from the mix to see if I could make it a little lighter and remove a touch of the sweetness.  I took out all the dessert recipes from my accordian recipe file (I have a slight obsession with clipping good recipes from magazines) and found the one that best suited my mood.  The set up is simple.  Split into 5 sections:

1.  Prepare the pan.  Line a baking sheet with foil, shiny side up; smooth out the creases

I was curious about using foil only, but it worked just fine.  Peeled right off once the chocolate cooled.

2.  Pick your ingredients
CHOCOLATE; 1 pound
Bittersweet, Semisweet, White

CRUNCH; 1/2 cup, chopped
Almonds, Walnuts, Macadamia Nuts, Pecans, Peanuts, Pistachios, Cashews, Pine Nuts, Hazelnuts, Peppermints, Toffee, Peanut Brittle, Toasted Coconut Flakes, Peanut Butter Chips, Banana Chips

CHEWY TOPPINGS; 1/2 cup, chopped
Dried Figs, Dried Apricots, Dried Cherries, Dried Cranberries, Dried Mango, Raisins,
Mini Marshmallow, Candied Orange Peel, Crystallized Ginger

SPICES (optional)
Red Pepper Flakes, Flaky Sea Salt, Crushed Cardamom Seeds, Toasted Fennel Seeds, Crushed Pink Peppercorns

I made 2 variations.  One with Milk Chocolate, Mini Marshmallows, & Salted Peanuts and one with Semisweet Chocolate, Blueberry Craisins, & Peanuts.  I prefer semisweet choclate but the milk was just as good,  I loved the peanuts and the other toppings were decent.  I didn't use the full amount in the recipe and wish that I had.  It definitely needed more.  Next time I plan on trying semisweet chocholate with crushed candy cane topping. 

3.  Melt the chocolate
A.  Make sure that all of your tools are dry.  Chop chocolate into 1/2 inch pieces with a large knife.  Place all but 1 cup of the chopped chocolate in a mircowave safe bowl. 

B Microwave 30 seconds, then stir with a rubber spatula.  Continue microwaving and stirring at 30-second intervals until melted, 3 to 5 minutes total. 

C.  Immediately add the reserved chopped chocolate to the bowl.  Stir vigorously until melted and shiny.  Don't worry if there are a few small unmelted pieces. 

I used chips for the chocolate so there was no chopping involved.    The method worked perfectly, except I set the microwave for the full amount and kept forgetting to get the chocolate out.  I didn't think it affected the taste at all.  I only had to stir the extra chocolate for a minute or two and it melted beautifully. 

4.  Spread it out
Pour the chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet; use the rubber spatula to spread it into a 10-12 inch circle, about 1/4 inch thick.

This part was easy. 

5.  Add your toppings
Press your cruchy and chewy toppings into the choclate, arranging them so each bite has a mix of flavors and textures.  Sprinkle with spices, if desired.  Let the bark harden completely at room temperature, about 1 hour.  (if the room is warm, you may need to freeze the bark for a few minutes).  Break into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks. 

Don't rush the chocolate!  You definitely want to give it enough time to harden and it'll come right off the foil and break or cut into pieces. 

This was great!  Affordable and easy.  We loved it!  I'll make this again and again and can't wait to try all different combinations!