Saturday, January 25, 2014

Give Me Manicotti or Give Me Death!!

Well after running around this morning getting needed supplies to continue packing and to finalize some last minute details,  I decided today would be a really good day to make my manicotti and Caesar salad for dinner.  I thought today was especially a good day for it since Chris doesn't have to work tomorrow either.  I had toyed around with my manicotti recipe several times trying to achieve the right balance of flavors until I settled on this particular combination.  It has become a favorite in our household and among some of Chris' fellow boilermakers as well.

Today I must add that I did not have any grated parmesan at home & did not want to go out and get any; the least amount of items in our refrigerator currently, the better for packing for the move. What I did, however, have on hand was a shredded blend of parmesan, asiago & romano which works perfectly in this dish also.  

Also, this particular recipe lends itself to those of you who don't have the time to sit over the stove for 8 hrs to tend to the perfect homemade pasta sauce.  I am particularly fond of Rinaldi brand sauces; I find it has the perfect balance of flavors and herbs and is not overly acidic either.  Today I went with the Tomato & Basil flavored one.

I have also found that an equal blend of ground pork and beef is perfect in the manicotti;  I, oddly enough, never find it in the pork section of the grocery store.  It is usually near the ground turkey and Italian sausage links, and also comes in lean.


1/2 lb ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs Italian seasoning
1/4 cup  Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 Tbs Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 Tbs olive oil
1-8 oz pkg manicotti shells
2 eggs
1 jar pasta sauce of your choice


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease 9x13 baking dish.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add beef, pork, garlic, onions, salt and Italian seasonings; drain and cool completely. 

In the meantime, cook your shells to al-dente (don't let them cook all the way or they will fall apart or tear; I cut the cooking time by 2 min).  Drain and carefully place shells on waxed or parchment paper.

Once meat mixture has cooled, transfer to a bowl and mix in bread crumbs, parsley, mozzarella, parmesan cheese and eggs (your hands are the best mixing tools you have, lol).

Spread pasta sauce over the bottom of your baking dish.  

Carefully stuff your shells with a small spoon -OR- you can cut the edge of a large ziplock back and fit with a large decorating tip.  Start on one end, stuffing tightly; flip around and continue to stuff being careful not to tear your shells.  Arrange in your baking pan, and cover with remaining pasta sauce. 

Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Dot with butter.  

Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for 40 min.  Uncover and continue to bake 20 min, unbubbly

Let rest for about 10 min.

You can serve with garlic toast and Caesar salad, which is our favorite salad for this dish.

If you should try this out, I hope it is a hit in your household as well.

Until next time, Happy Eating!!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gumbo Heaven

Today brings about a craving for chicken & andouille sausage gumbo; I've actually been thinking about it for a while since I had 3 very large bone-in chicken breasts in the freezer and recently found our favorite Holmes Smokehouse Andouille.  I must add that this particular brand is our favorite, not bland and is perfectly spicy.  I can never find it at HEB or Kroger either; it seems I can only find it at Wal-Mart or Randall's.

With our upcoming move, lots of my "tools" have been packed away leaving only essential day-to-day items. With that being said, I did manage to pack away my notebook of where I keep notes of my kitchen experiments but luckily opened the correct box to pull it back out and keep it handy.

For those of you who are busy or are leery about making gumbo, this is the perfect recipe for you.  Don't worry about roux and whether or not it'll come out right.  Tony Cachere's Creole Instant Roux Mix is the perfect shortcut and is delish.

All you need to do is mix 1 cup of  the mix with 2 cup of cold water, whisk well and voila!

So of course, I am not cajun or creole; but through trial and error, I have perfected my recipe and get great reviews on it.  Should you try it out, hopefully you will enjoy it as well.


1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
4 garlic cloves
1-1/2 Tbs olive oil
1-1/2 Tbs butter
8-10 cups cold water
2-1/2 Tbs Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base
3 bone-in chicken breasts
1 link andouille sausage
2 large or 5 small fresh bay leaves
1 cup Tony Cachere's Creole Instant Roux Mix
Tony Cachere's Creole Seasoning

The Trinity

If you have a microplane, run your garlic cloves through it which creates a paste consistency and blends better into your dishes.

Melt butter into olive oil in a dutch oven and saute veggies, garlic and 1/4 tsp Tony Cachere's for about 20 min or until browned and reduced.

Once you've reduced the veggies, add 1 cup Roux Mix and 2 cups of cold water and whisk thoroughly. Add 6 cups of water and mix again.

Add the chicken breasts (leave the bone in; it makes the gumbo that much better) and bring to boil; lower to a simmer, add the bay leaves, cover and simmer for approximately 2 hours.  Skim off the fat.

Remove chicken to a cutting board, remove skin and bone; chop and return to pot.

At this point, but andouille link in half, cut down the middle and slice entire link; add to the pot. Continue simmering for 30 more min; skim off any fat that may be remaining.  This would be the best time to start your rice; my personal favorite is Mahatma.  Basic rule of thumb for perfect rice every time is 2:1 ratio water to rice and simmer over low heat covered for 20 min.

**Important note: if you cannot find the Better than Bouillon base, you can substitute chicken stock.  I prefer Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock best because of the intense flavor profile.  If you decide to opt for the stock, replace 4 cups of water for 4 cups of stock**

You may add more Tony Cachere's during the last few minutes of cooking for added kick.  Serve over rice, sprinkle filé and scallions.  Yum, Yum, Yum!

As luck would have it, I forgot to buy green onions today to top garnish my gumbo.  Oh well, it's still killer.  Note that I did not use okra (I hate okra), but go ahead and be my guest if ya like that.

Oh and before I sign off for the night, this stuff is even better on days 2 and 3!

Well until next time, Happy Eating!!