heart and soul lasagna

Connolly is about as Irish as surnames get, and judging from my fair skin and face full of freckles, I don’t think anyone would argue about my heritage.  Oh Ireland, with its vast array of rolling emerald hills in every shade and tint imaginable.  It truly is a magical place.  A place I one day hope to retire, perhaps with some sheep that will provide me some warm wool I can use to knit up some fuzzy sweaters.  I certainly am one proud Irish gal, and the folks in Ireland have done a lot of things right, Irish coffee, the claddaugh ring, wool, and don’t even get me started on Jameson… but the one thing they have yet to perfect is their food… Beef, potatoes, and cabbage is hardly my idea of a delicious dinner.  Which is why part of my heart and soul will forever remain in Italy.  I might not look Italian, but I did spend a good five months of my life living, breathing, and soaking up all that the Italian culture has to offer, and it was magnificent.  The Italians do food better than any other culture.  In Italy food is not just about the food, it is about the experience – bringing together the whole family to sit and talk and enjoy one another’s company along with the delicious meal.  The Italians cook with love, putting their heart and soul into everything they make, which is exactly why I thought a lasagna would be a perfect entrée to bring to my aunt’s house for dinner.

Let’s grab the ingredients: 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 1 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, 6 ounces bufala mozzarella, 1 egg, 1 (32 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, 1 small white onion, 1 clove garlic, 3 tablespoons Italian seasoning (or mix 3 T worth of oregano, roma, and parsley), 3 cups fresh spinach leaves, 1 package mushrooms, 1 package of lasagna noodles, salt and pepper to taste, olive oil for cooking, and a 9 x 9 lasagna pan.

Let’s start cooking!  Start boiling a large pot of water to cook the lasagna noodles.  In the meantime grab out a nonstick skillet and put a little spray pam or olive oil in there and cook the spinach until it is nice a wilted.  You will want to really squeeze out all the excess water from the spinach once it is done cooking.  If you forget this step chances are your lasagna will be a tad watery.  Set the spinach aside and use the same pan to cook up your mushrooms.

While the mushrooms are cooking, pull out a bowl and mix the ricotta, parmesan, egg, and 1 T. of seasonings.  I know raw eggs are bad for you, but I had to taste test!  I love loooove ricotta cheese.  Making this lasagna made me realize I need to try some more ricotta based recipes, stay tuned because more recipes will be coming…

Make sure you don’t forget about the water.  When it comes to a boil toss in the lasagna noodles and cook them 2 minutes short of being done.  My package told me to cook for 12 minutes, so I only cooked them for 10.  The reason behind this is that when you bake the lasagna noodles will continue to cook, this way they are perfectly al dente instead of mushy when they come out of the oven!

Set the mushrooms aside and mix the cooled spinach into the ricotta mixture.  While the noodles are cooking let’s use the same skillet to mix up some sauce.  I am all about minimizing the dishes, since lasagna is one of those recipes that can easily lead to a messy kitchen if you are making everything from scratch.

Pour a little olive oil into the skillet and add the finely chopped onion and minced garlic clove.  Cook over medium heat until the onion is translucent.  Once you have cooked up the onion and garlic, pour the can of crushed tomatoes (if you prefer a thicker sauce just add a little tomato paste!) and remaining 2 T of seasoning.  Heat it up for a min or two over the stove while stirring.  Taste it and add a little salt, pepper or additional seasonings.

Layer upon layer upon layer.  Once the noodles are done cooking, drain the water and pull out your lasagna pan.  Spray the bottom of the pan with a little PAM so the noodles come out easy.  You can layer anyway your heart desires, I will usually try new methods each time I make this lasagna. This time I layered: 1) Noodles, ricotta spinach mixture, sauce.  2) Noodles,  bufala mozzarella, half as much ricotta spinach as the previous layer, mushrooms, sauce. 3) Noodles, remaining ricotta spinach, sauce and the shredded mozzarella.  DONE!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake 30-40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the shredded mozzarella is golden brown.  Make some toasty garlic bread and a delicious salad to go with the lasagna and enjoy it with some family or friends, because this meal is meant to be shared.  Mangia! (Eat up in Italian).

The best part of this recipe is how easy it is to mix and match cheeses or vegetables with whatever you find in your fridge.  I love to do 1/2 cup ricotta and a 1/2 cup marscapone, and substitute the shredded mozzarella for provolone.  The smokey provolone is a great compliment to the sweet marscapone.  But I don’t like to spend a fortune buying tons of cheese when I can use whatever I have in my fridge, so don’t be afraid to do the same!

Until we meet again, buon appetito!

banana butterscotch bread.

Have you been noticing that your bananas are over ripening before you get the chance to eat them?  I swear every few days we buy new bananas, and every time one or two of them are mush before I can get to them.  Solution: buy less bananas… OR MAKE BANANA BREAD!  I obviously chose the better of the two options.  Let’s get cooking before these bananas are completely brown.

First things first, let’s grab the colorful measuring cups and get our ingredients.  We need: 1 & 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, pinch of salt, 1 stick of butter (melted), 1 egg, 1/2 cup milk, 2 ripe bananas, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 3/4 cup butterscotch chips.

Now let’s get working on that batter.  Before we begin working, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  If you’re working with nonstick or dark coated pans don’t forget you need to reduce the oven temp on average 20 degrees.  Measure all the ingredients and pull out your handy dandy kitchen aid.  Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  If you don’t have a sifter, don’t fret!  Pour all the ingredients into a bowl and whisk them together for a minute or two until they are all blended together.

Now melt the stick of butter.  I chose to pop it in the microwave minute, but you can also melt it on the stove.  Which ever way of melting you prefer – just make sure you let the butter cool!  Next, pour the melted butter into the mixing bowl with the sifted sugar and flour.  Beat on medium until well combined and crumbly!

While the butter / flour mixture is mixing, grab another bowl out of the pantry.  Mash one of the bananas in the bowl.  Add the vanilla, egg, and milk to the mashed banana and stir it on up!  If your milky banana mixture looks a tad strange, or best described as resembling baby food… then you are doing something right.  Now pour the mashed banana creation into the mixing kitchen aid.  Beat for just a minute or until well combined.  If you beat too long your bread will be chewy, dense, and not quite as good as you had hoped.

Don’t you just love love love three day weekends?!  Since I had the extra time I was able to drive out and see my grandfather on the way to visiting my aunt and cousins.  It is so wonderful spending time with your family for no reason at all, especially when life has a habit of getting in the way, and it seems as though we only get to see one another on the holiday.  Since I was making this banana bread for my grandfather, I chose to just add butterscotch chips to the mix (he doesn’t like nuts too much).  But a good pecan would pair nicely with the butterscotch!  I poured the 3/4 cup butterscotch chips on the counter and took a chopping knife and cut them up into tiny slivers.  The small slivers disperse the melted butterscotch flavor throughout the whole bread in a subtle but delicious way.  Once you pick your mix ins, pour them into the batter along with the remaining banana (roughly chopped) and fold into the batter.

Spray your 9 x 5 inch banana bread pan and pour in your batter.  I originally thought the bread would take 35 minutes, but it took closer to 40-45 (I reduced the temperature after 35 minutes to 325 since it was browning faster than it was baking!).  Even though this little bread took nearly 45 minutes to bake it was well worth the wait!  The butterscotch and banana combo is the perfect breakfast, mid afternoon snack, or late night treat to any day!  Make sure you let the bread completely cool before trying to pop it out of the pan or you might have one messy banana butterscotch counter.  The lasagna I made to bring to my aunts for labor day dinner will be posted soon 🙂

Until then, enjoy the fresh baked banana bread smell in your kitchen and the smiles on everyone’s face as you cut them a slice.  

nutella cupcakefuls.

When I was younger, okay who am I kidding, I have always (present day included) had the hardest time spelling.  There is absolutely nothing phonetical about the English language and it drives me crazy.  Through countless errors and the beauty of spell check I have become quite proficient in spelling, though none of you care about that which brings me to my point.  I can almost guarantee every single one of you reading right now are going to spell this next word wrong.  I am going to blow your mind.  Are you ready?  How do you spell delicious?  No, no, no… D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S is in fact incorrect!  Delicious is actually spelled N-U-T-E-L-L-A!!!!!  To think, all these years you (and Merriam Webster) have been spelling it wrong.  Are you ready to bake some scrumptiously, delicious, and absolutely mouthwatering NUTELLA cupcakefuls?  Well, ready or not, here we go!

Oh yes, that is the 26.5 oz – jumbo size Nutella jar.  Go big or go home when it comes to Nutella, cause if there ain’t enough left for a spoonful to nibble on while your baking, something has gone tragically wrong in the world.

This post focuses on transforming ordinary chocolate cupcakes in nutella cupcakefuls.  So, go to your recipe book and pull out your favorite chocolate cupcake recipe (I used this one from the cookbook Cupcakes! – it is the cupcake recipe I have worn out more than all the others combined).  If you’re not a huge chocolate fan, or just want to live on the wild side, you can substitute any flavored cupcake (so long as they pair well with nutella – but let’s be real, what doesn’t pair well with nutella?).

pick, bake, and cool your favorite cupcake. First, I preheated the oven to 325 degrees.  Then, I danced around my kitchen with Pandora filling the kitchen while I grabbed all the ingredients.  I scooped, measured, and mixed up my cupcake batter following the chocolate sour cream recipe.  The two trays fit perfectly in the oven, baking for 21 minutes.  When the timer went off, I removed the cupcakes and set them on a cooling rack while I went for jog – which allowed me the perfect amount of time to let the cupcakes cool.

a spoonful of nutella helps just about everything. Take a sharp knife and cut out little divets into the top of each cupcake.  My divets were about 1 inch in diameter, but there is absolutely no correct way to do this, plus they will soon be covered with some buttercream frosting and no one will be the wiser if your divet was 1 inch or half an inch or two inches!  Once all your cakes are holed out, grab a clean spoon (not the one you have been using to nibble on the nutella with… or is that just me?) and fill each cupcake hole clear to the top with nutella.  This gets a bit tricky.  The nutella is that weird consistency – not quite as solid as peanut butter, but not quite as liquid as syrup.  So relax, shake out all the impatience urging to jump right out of you, and take your time filling the cupcakefuls, or these cakes will be everything but full.

buttercream time. Pull out your handy dandy kitchen aid mixer, or the nearest Olympic swimmer with bicep mixing capabilities.  Plop in two sticks of room temperature butter, 1 cup (or 8 oz) of nutella, and mix on medium until thick, fluffy, and buttercreamy (about 4 minutes).  Add 1 Tbsp vanilla (my mom makes our vanilla from scratch so it is potently delicious, but if you think you need a 1.5 Tbsp due to weaker extracts feel free to taste test and tweak accordingly), 4 Tbsp skim milk, a dash of sea salt, and 1.5 pounds powdered sugar (add in slowly).  Mix all the ingredients until incorporated, and then on medium until stiff peaks begin to form.  The salt will bring out the nutty hazelnut flavor of the nutella.  Taste to make sure nothing is missing.  When your buttercream is near perfection, get ready to decorate your cupcakes.

pipe and cover. I chose to scoop the buttercream in a plastic bag, cut of the edge, and pipe a circular design onto my cupcakefuls, but use your bakers creativity to decorate however you please!  Once you have finished decorating your cupcakes, let the frosting harden (a few hours) before placing them in a covered container to keep nice and moist until you are ready to serve.

cut in and devour. These cupcakefuls look even better from the inside, so make sure to take a knife, cut them right down the center, and appreciate how professional your cupcakefuls looks.  These cupcakefuls were quickly devoured at my office, with many coming back for seconds.  The blending of textures from crumbly cake, to smooth nutella, to creamy buttercream makes every bite melt on your tongue and lick your fingers.  They are a crowd pleaser and if you are short for time, swap a boxed cupcake recipe, and presto they are finished in half the time!

Until next time, buon appetito! ~~~

life.

Somewhere between here and there life decided there weren’t enough hours in the day for blogging.  These last few months were filled with: Pledges – they have since become new initiates.  Finals – haha like I had any of those… Second semester senior year – it really is the best semester of college, from crazy bucket list shenanigans (you’ll get your photos, Alyssa, don’t have a heart attack) to spending countless hours with my best friends.  Graduating – did that actually happen? verdict is still out on that one.  Backpacking Indiana Jones style through South America – sadly $ and work have constrained any future travel plans.  And officially starting my career – that is right, from now until forever I am a working woman.  I apologize for the weeks and months of missed blog posts, as I know each of you were frantically hitting refresh hoping a new post would appear…  Well your dreams have been answered.

The only thing I despise more than cilantro (yes, I absolutely cannot stand that little green spice… needless to say there wont be any cilantro recipes now or ever during my lifetime on this blog, but I am veering from the point) is failing to complete something.  I set out to create, cook, and blog about 52 recipes before midnight on New Years Eve, and by golly I am going to do just that.  So while I wouldn’t trade the last few months of life detours for absolutely anything (well expect maybe a genie with 3 wishes), I am happy the chaos has begun to settle so I can get back to cooking and blogging.

I hope you are ready for a whirl wind of cooking mishaps and victories, because we sure do have quite a bit of catching up to do over the next four months.  Ready. Set. Bake, taste, & repeat as often as desired.

gooey white chocolate goodness

One of my favorite cookies happen to be white chocolate macadamia nut.  There is something magical about white chocolate that turns ordinary into extraordinary.  Megha heard through the grapevine that I occasionally enjoy baking (extreme under exaggeration), and asked if we could bake together in the near future.  Nothing makes me happier than baking and spending time with my pledges, so the only thing we had left to decide was what we were going to bake!  Megha suggested some type of layered cookie bar dessert.  I walked up and down the baking aisle at the grocery store throwing things into the cart I thought might layer up nicely for our dessert.  I orginally planned on a white chocolate macadamia theme.  But, after visiting three grocery stores, I still couldn’t seem to locate any macadamia nuts… so I decided to give up the hunt and use pecans as a replacement.  They were still delicious, but if you are able to find macadamia nuts, first, tell me where you found them!  Then, substitute them for the pecans in this recipe.

Ingredients
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1 stick of melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup white chocolate chips
10 oz sweetened condensed milk
Chocolate/Caramel syrup  (optional)
2 cups coconut

buttery crumble crust.
Measure and pour 1 cup graham cracker crumbs and 1/2 cup oatmeal into a bowl.  Drizzle melted butter over the oat graham mixture and stir until crumbly.  Pour the buttery crumble mixture into an 8×8 pan and push down to form a crust.  I find that the back of a spoon works the best for packing down the mixture.

  

layer up some magic.
On top of the graham crust, evenly distribute the pecans and white chocolate chips. Pour the sweetened condensed milk all over the top of the chocolate and nuts.  Then, using the back of a spoon, push the nuts and chocolate into the crust a bit.  Now, the optional drizzle!  Megha and I were gabbing and making the bars and we thought they could use something more, so I pulled out the chocolate and caramel ice cream syrups and we drizzled half the bars with caramel and half with chocolate.  We topped the bars with flaked coconut and popped them in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

    

cool and enjoy.
We were already running late for a pledge family gathering event.. so we had no time to let these bars cool and set, which I would recommend giving them an hour to do so.  We grabbed a fork and grabbed a bite full (just to make sure they were tasty enough to bring to the party… they were!).  Then I grabbed a pot holder and the bars went straight from the oven to the party… Everyone gobbled up the ooey gooey bars, they were a melted mess, but couldn’t have been tastier!  Alyssa, Megha’s pledge mom, was a little angry I kept her from their family party for so long, but I think once she tried some of our white chocolate magic bars she forgave me…

Photo: Megha, Alyssa, and me (Kristina).
~~
Until next time, buon appetito! 

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