Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Patch Stuffed Shells

I'll be honest...I was skeptical about this recipe. I love pumpkin...but pumpkin pasta sauce? Well, these shells were absolutely DELICOUS! And, not to mention, my husband loved them, too! Plus, they are packed with good-for-you ingredients like spinach and pumpkin. A yummy and festive Halloween dinner that you MUST try. Recipe courtesy of Rachael Ray.

Salt and pepper
20 jumbo pasta shells
1 lb. baby spinach
4 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion
1 lb. extra-lean ground beef
1 1/3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups milk
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
Parsley leaves

Add 2 tsp. salt, a splash of EVOO and 20 jumbo pasta shells to a large pot of boiling water. Cook according to package directions. Drain and rinse until cool. Cover with damp paper towels.

 Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in the same pot. Add half of 1 lb. baby spinach. Let wilt before adding the rest; stir to wilt. Rinse with cold water; squeeze to get the spinach as dry as possible. Place the spinach on a cutting board and chop.

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. butter. Add 1 large onion, chopped; add 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until tender, 6 to 7 minutes.

Add 1 lb. extra-lean ground beef; cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the chopped spinach until well mixed. Stir in 1/3 cup shredded cheddar. Let cool.

Heat 2 cups milk in a microwave. In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tbsp. butter. Whisk in 1/4 cup flour; cook 1 minute. Whisk in 1/2 cup hot milk, then the rest. When it boils, whisk 1 minute.

Remove from the heat; season with 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Whisk in 3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree. Stir in 1 cup shredded cheddar.

Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Smear the bottom with 1/2 cup of the pumpkin sauce. Hold a pasta shell in one hand and stuff with a large spoonful of the beef-spinach mixture (about a 1-inch ball). Arrange the stuffed shells in the prepared pan with the openings face-down.

Spoon more sauce on top. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce is bubbling hot, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before decorating with parsley leaves.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chicken, Rice & Ritz Casserole

Well, it's October...and SNOWING in Pennsylvania! Here's a good comfort-food casserole recipe to whip up on this snowy day. Use fat-free soup and sour cream to lighten up this heavy dish!

3 medium-size boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked & chopped
1 can 98% fat-free cream of chicken soup
1-16 oz. container fat-free sour cream
1 cup cooked rice
salt & pepper, to taste

Ingredients: Topping
1 sleeve Ritz crackers
1/2 stick melted margarine

Mix all ingredients together (except topping ingredients) and place in a baking dish. Top with Ritz crackers. Pour melted margarine over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mini Caramel-Apple Cheesecakes

This recipe took some time to prepare, but ended up being totally worth it! Fall yumminess :) Makes 6 mini cheesecakes. Recipe slightly adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine.

5 small to medium gala apples (2 lbs. total)
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
8 graham cracker squares, finely chopped
1/8 tsp. salt
11 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts, chopped
Whipped cream, for topping

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut each quarter into 3 lengthwise slices. In a large nonstick skillet, melt 3 Tbsp. butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples, 6 Tbsp. sugar and the lemon juice. Cook, turning occasionally, until the apples begin to caramelize, about 8 minutes. Lower the heat to low, add 1 Tbsp. butter and cook until the apples are tender, about 5 minutes. Cool.

Line 6 cups of a jumbo muffin pan with jumbo liners and preheat the oven to 325°. In a small pan, melt 2 Tbsp. butter, then place in a medium bowl. Mix in the graham crackers and salt. Divide the mixture among the muffin cups. Press into the bottoms with a narrow drinking glass. Transfer to the freezer to set.

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar. Using a mixer, beat at high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl twice, until blended. Mix in the vanilla.

Arrange 5 apple slices in a single layer on the crust in each muffin cup. Reserve the remaining apples with their juices at room temperature in a covered bowl. Divide the cream cheese mixture evenly among the cups; bake until set but slightly jiggly, about 20 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and let cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours or overnight.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining 2 Tbsp. butter over medium heat. Add the walnuts and 2 tbsp. sugar and cook, stirring, until toasted, 4 to 5 minutes. Cool on paper towels, then break up the candied nuts.

Arrange the reserved apples with their juices on top of the cakes. Top the cakes with whipped cream and the candied nuts.

Perfect Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Icing

I found this recipe on a blog called 'My Baking Addiction.' So glad I did! Really enjoyed making and eating these delicious fall treats! Not to mention, I received many compliments! Makes about 4 dozen medium-size cookies. Note: These cookies should be refrigerated because of the cream cheese in the icing (which does not harden, by the way!)

Ingredients - Cookies
1 cup butter-flavored shortening
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
2 cups canned pumpkin (solid; not pie mix)
2 eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
4 cups all-purpose-flour

Directions - Cookies
Cream together: shortening, butter, white sugar and pumpkin. Add eggs and mix well.

Sift together: baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, salt and flour. Add to pumpkin mixture and mix well.

Drop batter from spoon to lightly greased cookie sheet (about 2 rounded tablespoons of batter per cookie...2 inches apart). Bake 13-15 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool on baking sheets for 1 minute, then move to cooling racks.

Ingredients - Icing
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. milk

Directions - Icing
In a bowl, mix the cream cheese with the butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract and milk. Using a butter knife, spread the icing on cooled cookies. Decorate with festive fall or Halloween sprinkles!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Who doesn't love homemade chicken noodle soup? Especially during cold and flu season!! (Or, just to warm you up on a cold, rainy day.) This is a really great recipe...and some serious comfort food.

**You can also make this soup in your slow-cooker (I did!) Combine all of the ingredients in your slow-cooker (except for the noodles) and cook on low heat for 3-4 hours to blend flavors. In the last 20 minutes, add the noodles. Yum!

1 rotisserie chicken or 2 (bone-in) roasted chicken breasts, meat shredded or chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
48 oz. chicken broth (1-1/2 boxes)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
8 oz. uncooked noodles (I used egg noodles)

Heat a large, heavy bottom pan over medium heat and drizzle bottom with olive oil. Add chopped celery, onions and carrots. Cook for approximately 6-8 minutes.

Add thyme and cook another 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Once the soup is boiling, add noodles and cook according to package directions.  Add the chicken in the last several minutes.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Homemade Applesauce

For those of you who don't know, I am working with preschoolers again! We have a class of 14 busy 4-year-olds, and our school year is off to a great start! Our first field trip was to Brown's Orchards in Loganville, PA. After a fun tour, each of the children had the opportunity to pick their own apple and tasted some homemade apple cider. Brown's also has an awesome country store, where they sell all of their different products. I left their store with Smokehouse apples to make sauce, a gallon of apple cider, apple dumplings, and 2 quarts of pumpkin pie ice cream! I could have spent lots and lots of money's a dangerous place :) Brown's also gave us apples to make sauce, as a preschool class. The kids had so much fun with it!!

This past Thursday was applesauce-making day at home with my mom and grandma. It was a fun day, for sure! And now, our freezers are full :) We used two different apples: Smokehouse (our favorite) and Golden Supreme. If you have any question about what kind of apples to buy or how many, just ask at your local farmer's market. This is how we make our applesauce...

20 medium-sized apples (about 1/2 a peck...our favorite variety is Smokehouse)
1-3/4 cups water
1 cup sugar (for tart apples) or 1/2 cup sugar (for sweet apples)
Desired amount of cinnamon (I use about 1 tsp.)

**Note: 1/2 a peck of apples will only make a few quarts of applesauce. Double/triple/quadruple this recipe, if desired! 20 apples will fill a large pot, so make your applesauce in batches of 20 apples.

Wash, core and quarter each apple. Place apple wedges in a large pot. You don't have to peel the apples if you are using an applesauce cone/strainer (you can also use a food mill or kitchen-aid attachment). If you prefer a more chunky applesauce, you can use a potato masher or cook the sauce in your crockpot (but you will have to peel the apples).

Add water, sugar, and cinnamon to the apples in the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook apples until very soft and mushy (about 20 minutes), stirring often.

Cool mixture slightly. Set up your applesauce cone/strainer over a large bowl. Using a large soup ladle, add apple mixture to the cone, a little at a time, using the wooden pestle to push the sauce through the tiny holes. Discard apple skins if your cone begins to clog.

Ladle the strained applesauce into freezer containers. Remember to label the lids. Enjoy your homemade applesauce all year round!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Apple-Brined Chicken

With fall, comes apples! Lots and lots of fresh, crisp, delicious apples! Because of the brining process, this chicken is extra moist and flavorful. You definitely want to try this one. Recipe lightly adapted from Taste of Home.

3 cups apple cider or juice (I used a combination of both)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium lemon, sliced
4 fresh rosemary sprigs
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar, divided
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. whole peppercorns
2 cups cold water
3-4 lb. chicken pieces (I used boneless, skinless breasts...only 1 1/2 lb. for the two of us)
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
3 medium tart apples, cut into wedges
1 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary or 1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. pepper

In a Dutch oven or medium pot, combine the cider/juice, onion, lemon, rosemary sprigs, salt, 1/4 cup brown sugar, garlic, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat; stir in water. Cool brine to room temperature.

Place chicken in a 2-gallon resealable plastic bag or large, shallow container. Carefully pour cooled brine into bag/container. Squeeze out as much air as possible; seal bag and turn to coat. Place in a roasting pan. Refrigerate for 2 hours, turning occasionally (I refrigerated for 6 hours).

Place beans and apples in a greased roasting pan. Drain chicken; place in prepared pan. Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 40 minutes.

Combine the minced rosemary, oil, pepper and remaining brown sugar; sprinkle over chicken. Bake 15-25 minutes longer or until a meat thermometer reads 180° and beans are tender. Yield: 5 servings.