Saturday, December 28, 2013

Beef & Cheese Manicotti


Darin loved manicotti, and I wanted to make something special for him for Christmas dinner. I read through reviews online, and adjusted the recipe according to them. The outcome was fantastic!

Many reviewers mentioned an all-beef mixture was too bland, so I did a 50/50 mixture of ground chuck and spicy sausage = lots of flavor. Also, make sure to use a good quality spaghetti sauce (I used Emeril's, and loved it), and it was crucial to the final taste of this dish. We paired this Texas Toast, and was in carb heaven.


Tip: Many reviewed said they placed the cheat/meat mixture into a quart-sized Ziploc bag, cut a corner of it, and filled the manicotti shells. The mixture seemed too thick for me to "pipe" the shells easily, so I just stuffed it myself. I also had a little bit of the cheese/meat mixture left, and just placed it on top of the stuffed pastas.

Ingredients

  • 3 tsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2# ground chuck
  • 1/2# spicy sausage roll (we used Bob Evans' spicy sausage roll)
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 8-oz package manicotti
  • 15-oz container whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan, divided
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 24-32 oz jar marinara sauce
  • 2 Tbsp butter, cut into pieces

Directions
  1. Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tsp olive oil, and saute the onion until tender.
  2. Once tender, add the ground beef, sausage, salt, pepper, and cook until the meats are cooked through.
  3. While the meat cooks, add water and remaining 1 tsp oil in a large pot, and cook the manicotti shells for 6 minutes (slightly softened but still very firm to the touch.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the manicotti from the pot to the oiled baking sheet and cool. 
  4. Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and dried parsley. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper to taste, and mix. Stir the cooled meat mixture into the cheese mixture.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Spray a 13x9 pan with cooking spray.
  7. Spoon 1-1/2 cups marinara sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish.
  8. Fill the manicotti with cheese/meat mixture. Arrange the stuffed pasta in a single layere in the prepared dish and spoon the remaining sauce over. (see "tips" above)
  9. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup Mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese over the stuffed pasta. 
  10. Dot the entire dish with the butter pieces.
  11. Bake the manicotti uncovered until heated through and the sauce bubbles on the sides of the dish, about 30-35 minutes. Let the manicotti stand 5 minutes and serve.

Source: Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Garlic Pesto Chicken with Tomato Cream Penne


Even though I generally save more time-consuming meals for weekends, it's nice to have quick and efficient meals on busy weekends. Or even on lazy weekends such as this past one. Darin and I lounged all day (in our PJs, no less) and it was pure bliss. We got caught up on emails, surfed the web, and watched some TV (we're currently re-watching all the seasons of Friends for the 3rd time) and some movies (he voluntarily put on Step Up and enjoyed it). It was laziness at its best, and although we didn't leave the house, we still had a great time. We ended our night with this creamy pesto dish (loved the addition of pesto in here!), and a serving of apple dumplings paired with vanilla ice cream.

Note- the original recipe calls for half & half; when I tried making this the first time, it was creamy but lacked a depth of flavor. I subbed in heavy cream, and that made this dish truly stand out.

Ingredients

  • 2# boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 1/2 bottle of Lawry's Herb & Garlic marinade or Italian salad dressing
  • 2 spoonfuls of pesto (homemade or we used this by Classico)
  • 8-oz penne pasta (we use 100% whole wheat)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 spoonfuls of pesto
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 8-oz tomato sauce
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt & pepper
  • Parmesan cheese (for topping)

Directions
  1. Place the cubed chicken breasts in a Ziploc bag. Add the marinade or salad dressing and pesto. Mix well, seal, and place in the fridge to marinate for 4-6 hours. (I marinated mine in Kraft Lite Italian salad dressing overnight.)
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, cook your chicken in a large sautepan on medium heat until it is cooked thoroughly. Set aside on a plate, and discard any remaining liquid.
  4. In the same large sautepan, add the olive oil, garlic, and pesto on medium heat. Stir until mixed.
  5. Add the chicken broth, and simmer it on medium heat until reduced by half (took 5 minutes for me.)
  6. Add the tomato sauce, heavy cream, and season with a dash of salt and pepper. Lower the heat to medium-low and allow it to simmer for 15-20 minutes (until it thickens and becomes more creamier in consistency).
  7. Once the sauce has thickened and reduced, add the cooked pasta, and top with cooked chicken. Toss to combine. 
  8. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Source: Adapted from Plain Chicken
 
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